The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

SB III still king

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Good for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that the underdog Saints upset Indianapolis in the Super Bowl Sunday, a wonderful gift for a region still recovering from an apocalyptic hurricane four years ago. Good for CBS and the NFL, as well, for a football game watched by more viewers than any television show in the history of the medium.

Still, does that make SB XLIV the most significant Super Bowl of them all? Hardly.

Let's go back to another huge upset involving the Colts, then residing in Baltimore. We're talking about Super Bowl III, also played in Miami in 1969, when the N.Y. Jets, a 17 ½ point underdog to the Colts, managed to win the game, 16-7, fulfilling Jets quarterback Joe Namath's guarantee four nights earlier that his team would prevail.

The Jets were alums of the old American Football League, considered by many NFL fans as an inferior product. Evidence for that putdown was provided by the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowl games in blowout fashion--a 35-10 victory over Kansas City and a 33-14 triumph over Oakland, both dominant AFL franchises in the past.

But here came the brash Jets, led by their Broadway Joe quarterback, a fun-loving, fur-coat wearing fancy passer in white football shoes, beating the Colts and finally convincing any skeptics that an AFL team could hold its own and beat the best any traditional NFL team might throw at them. The Jets' victory legitimized the merger, turned Namath into a folk hero and launched the newly merged league into an unprecedented stratosphere of popularity and huge television ratings, eventually pushing football far ahead of baseball as America's national passion and pastime.

There were other super-significant Super Bowls after that. Miami's 14-7 triumph over the Redskins in SB VII completed a 17-0 season for the Dolphins, a feat that has never been repeated. Pittsburgh's 31-19 victory over the then Los Angeles Rams in SB XIV marked their fourth title in a six-year span of dominance and marked the Steelers as arguably the greatest NFL dynasty. And New England's 24-21 victory over Philadelphia in SB XXXIX was their third in a phenomenal four-year run and solidified the franchise's status as the first great team of the 21st century.

One last note. In the days since New Orleans' triumph this past Sunday, Saints owner Tom Benson keeps popping up as one of the heroes of this piece. Oh please. Anyone remember that in the days after Katrina that Benson was ready to abandon New Orleans and move his franchise to San Antonio, where it could be high and dry and far away from the lower ninth ward?

Fortunately, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had no intention of abandoning New Orleans, nor did his successor, Roger Goodell. Those two deserve a parade through the French Quarter, not the buffoonish Benson.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  February 10, 2010; 12:31 PM ET  | Category:  Indianapolis Colts , Super Bowl Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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