Nothing Like Namath's Guarantee

Jets Coach Weeb Ewbank congratulates Joe Namath in the closing seconds of New York's 16-7 victory at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 12, 1969.
Jets Coach Weeb Ewbank congratulates Joe Namath in the closing seconds of New York's 16-7 victory at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 12, 1969. (Associated Press)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

MIAMI, Jan. 29 -- On an industrial road so close to the airport that the rumble of a jumbo jet can make your feet shake, the Comfort Inn and Suites rises unfashionably over the grumble of commerce. In the parking lot, workers painted new white directional arrows Monday afternoon and, inside the pink edifice, Pio Delgado peered at a visitor strangely.

"Right here, really?" asked the hotel's shuttle bus driver.

Once this was considered a fashionable part of town, the site of a sprawling resort where celebrities came to stay and flight attendants frolicked by the pool. And on the very plot of land where the Comfort Inn and Suites now towers stood the Playhouse, considered at the time to be among the area's finest banquet halls. Which is where three nights before Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969, the Miami Touchdown Club brought a brash young New York Jets quarterback named Joe Namath to receive its outstanding football player award.

Namath stepped before the crowd, and although his Jets were enormous underdogs to the Baltimore Colts, he said: "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it."

Guarantees haven't been the same since.

You see them everywhere now: bold proclamations for the most mundane. A Gonzaga University basketball player guaranteed the Final Four in 2004. The Bulldogs lost in the second round to Nevada. UCLA running back Chris Markey promised a win over Notre Dame this past fall. UCLA lost. And last September the Detroit Lions' Roy Williams assured everyone that his team would beat the Chicago Bears. It lost, 34-7.

"Anytime you make comments like that you have to get your team motivated behind you," Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher said Monday afternoon. "So if that's what you have to do, that's what you have to do."

Back when Joe Namath spoke through the smoky haze inside the Playhouse, there was no need for motivation. He wasn't trying to cosmically inspire the Jets, sequestered 30 miles away in Fort Lauderdale. If anything, he was probably trying to play games with the Colts, who represented the football establishment, an old guard that didn't understand spontaneous comments made by 25-year-old quarterbacks in banquet halls.

Mark Kriegel, the author of "Namath, A Biography," said Namath had privately been telling friends not to bet the points that weekend but to bet the odds, which at the time stood 7-1 against the Jets winning. The quarterback had watched plenty of film on the Colts and knew they could be beaten.

"My argument is he set the Colts up beautifully," Kriegel said. "Everything he learned as a teenage pool hustler in [his home town] Beaver Falls [Pa.], he put to use on Super Bowl week. He conned the Colts out of a Super Bowl."

The guarantee of victory, while spontaneous, was just a part of that larger plan.

Still it's hard to know just what impact Namath's great proclamation had. The banquet was in the evening, after many writers had long finished their stories and were either out to dinner or enjoying the ceremony from the back of the room. There were no television cameras to capture the moment, and the only mention of the guarantee the next day was 12 paragraphs squeezed into the bottom of the Miami Herald.

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