Just 12 days into 1969, "Broadway" Joe Namath sent a message to America: This year would be like no other.
After boldly — and foolishly, most fans thought — guaranteeing that the American Football League champion New York Jets would beat the National Football League's heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, Namath cemented his legend in Super Bowl III by completing 17 passes in 28 attempts for 206 yards, winning the game's Most Valuable Player award without throwing a single touchdown.
Not only would Namath's prediction go on to serve as a mantra for underdogs everywhere, the guaranteed victory proved to be a watershed moment in pro football history, marking the first time an AFL team won the yet-to-be-named Super Bowl, the Jets' lone championship and the game that solidified pro football's place in American culture.
Namath, then 25, made the brash guarantee just three days before to the game at the Miami Touchdown Club, where the hirsute quarterback was honored as its player of the year.
Responding to a heckler who said the 19-point favorite Colts would dismantle the Jets, Namath replied, "I've got news for you. We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it."
Namath later claimed he didn't plan the exchange, saying he only responded to the "loudmouth" who popped off, but the message was clear: The Jets weren't going to roll over against the mighty Colts, regarded by many sportswriters at the time as one of the greatest football teams ever assembled.
Prior to the Jets' monumental upset, AFL teams were regarded as inferior to the mightier, more talented NFL squads. The NFL's Green Bay Packers had dismantled the AFL representatives in the first two "Super Bowls," defeating Kansas City 35-10 and Oakland 33-14, respectively.
But all that changed on Jan. 12, 1969, before a capacity crowd of 75,389 at Miami's Orange Bowl and millions more watching at home. According to Neilsen ratings, an estimated 71 percent of televisions turned on at the time were tuned in to the big game, a figure undoubtedly padded by Namath's peacockish prediction just days earlier.
Apparently, no one was more shocked by the outcome than the Colts themselves.
"Leaving the field, I saw the Colts were exhausted and in a state of shock," the Jets' split end, Matt Snell, said in 1997's "Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives." "I don't remember any Colt coming over to congratulate me."
Namath, whose career would never again reach such heights, celebrated the victory he had the gall to guarantee by running off the field with a raised index finger. The Jets — the American Football League Jets — were Number One. He would later be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite having just three winning seasons with the Jets and more career interceptions (220) than touchdown passes (173).
"We sent a message to all the underdogs out there," Namath would later tell profootballhof.com. "If you want something bad enough and you aren't afraid to lay it on the line, you can do it. It's an important message because if people don't have hope, really, what do they have?"