Just in case you’re not sufficiently depressed over the Ravens’ playoff loss on Jan. 6, here’s another piece of Baltimore football history to lament – this weekend, Jan. 12, is precisely 50 years since Super Bowl III.
Just imagine the legions of TV football analysts waiting to remind the whole country of that ignominious moment.
Do we need a recount of the embarrassment felt by every Baltimorean – already preconditioned to feel inferior any time runty Bawlmer was compared with mighty New Yawk – when our powerhouse Baltimore Colts were knocked down by the upstart New York Jets in front of the whole disbelieving world?
Do we need a reminder that this was the same year that our powerful Orioles would be upset by the previously awful New York Mets in the World Series? Do we need a reminder that in that same year our Baltimore Bullets – the fabulous Bullets of Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson – lost in the NBA playoffs to the New York Knicks?
It still hurts, doesn’t it?
Of course, it’s only been 50 years.
Fifty years since the Jets’ Joe Namath blithely “guaranteed” the Jets would win. Fifty years since the Colts, entering the game at 13-and-1, seemed to sleep-walk through the entire contest. Fifty years since they entered the game as 17-point favorites and yet lost, 16 to 7.
I was a young sports writer at the time, working for the legendary John Steadman at a newspaper called The News American, doing sidebar features on the Colts as they marched toward a championship that seemed inevitable.
When they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the conference championship game at Memorial Stadium, I covered the post-game Vikings locker room and watched as his teammates had to carry in quarterback Joe Kapp. He looked as if he’d been beaten up in an alley fight. He looked as if he’d be in traction for the rest of the decade.
There’s your evidence of the Colts’ power, I thought. The great Vikings’ offense had no chance against the Colts’ Bubba Smith and Ordell Braase and Mike Curtis.
Then, at Cleveland’s ancient Municipal Stadium, with the wind whipping off nearby Lake Erie and Tom Matte scoring three touchdowns, the Colts utterly dominated the Browns, 34-0, for the NFL championship, setting up the Super Bowl appearance.
Flying back to Baltimore that night on the team plane, we hit some awful turbulence. How bad was it? Bad enough that kick return specialist Preston Pearson, sitting next to me, bowed his head and folded his hands and prayed aloud that we’d land safely.
But I never worried. These were the mighty Baltimore Colts! No God in heaven would attempt to harm them in their hour of invincibility!
We only had to wait for some other hour.
At least I didn’t see the Jets game in person. Steadman assigned me to stay in Baltimore and do a fan reaction piece – hit the bars and the Colts Corrals, make some phone calls, do a mood piece on jubilant Baltimore celebrating its championship.
That piece was never written. The piece I wrote was about a town where disbelief and depression had taken hold. “Taken hold?” Well, not really. It’s only 50 years later. Sooner or later, when we think of that game, and that loss, we’ll get over it.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.