This week we’re bringing you a trio of voices from the Jets’ championship past, three players who played in the three AFL/AFC title games in franchise history. Today, John Schmitt, Joe Namath’s center, reflects on the 1968 Jets, who came from behind to defeat Oakland at home for the penultimate AFL Championship, then proceeded to rock the football world in Super Bowl III.
The game against the Raiders was big not because it was the AFL Championship Game but because they had beaten us in the Heidi Game. We were ahead by three points with a minute and seven seconds to go in that game and we lost by 11.
Four weeks later we got to play the Raiders in New York City for the AFL Championship at Shea Stadium. Needless to say, we wanted to get even for what they did to us in that game. We ended up winning, 27-23. That game, No. 1, it was freezing, it was 10, 15 below zero wind-chill factor. And then that game was more physical and tougher on us than the Super Bowl game was. We hated Oakland and they hated us and we just wanted to kill each other and we did.
The biggest memory in all honesty, the score was 27-23 and they were coming down the field like our defense wasn’t there. They got to about the 20-yard line and they threw this lateral pass that went backwards and Hewritt Dixon dropped the ball and Ralph Baker picked it up and that’s how the game ended. I can still see Ralph back there picking up that fumble and running with it. He couldn’t advance it. He did advance it — he brought it back to the end zone but it didn’t count because the rules back then were that you couldn’t advance a lateral fumble. That was the most exciting thing.
The scariest thing, of course, was seeing them come down the field. Daryle Lamonica couldn’t miss anybody. From their 18 they went straight down the field in like a minute and a half. I said, "Oh, my God, here we go." But the Lord was with us and Ralph made a great play and the rest was history.
After the game, the satisfaction of beating Oakland was just unbelievable. I don’t remember ever beating Oakland while I was with the Jets. We may have but I don’t remember. To beat them to the AFL Championship game and to be able to think about "Hey, we’re going to the Super Bowl." Of course, that wasn’t such a good feeling because then it was all about ‘Uh-oh, we’re going against the Colts."
Football is not just Xs and Os. It’s about believing in yourself, believing in your coach, believing in your quarterback, believing in the leaders of your team. When we played in the championship game, we had an offensive line that played together for five years. That can’t ever happen now with free agency but you have an offensive line that’s been together for two years and that’s really important, especially when you have a rookie quarterback. There’s no guessing on that offensive line. If your right tackle makes a step to the right or your right guard makes a step to the right, they’re all in sync. Those guys play together as good as any offensive line in football today. They are playing super. They are just a terrific bunch.
The defensive unit, they don’t care, they don’t get upset. One-two-three-kick, one-two-three-kick, and they’re back in there just like last week. They don’t get upset, they’re just out there playing and somewhere along the line one of them comes out with the big play. I think they really believe in each other, they trust each other. And they trust in their coach. Rex has done a great job with that team.
I believe the Jets can win Sunday at Indianapolis. Is there any guarantee? Should we be favored going in? No. Manning is unbelievable. You take Manning out of that mix, the Colts are just an average team. With him on the field, he’s a commander, he’s really a coach and a quarterback and we have to make sure we hold onto the ball, we grind it out and keep the ball for eight or nine minutes because it only takes him two minutes to score.
We have to keep Manning on the bench and us on the field. If we can do that, then we can win that game. We have as good a chance as anybody to win.
Tags: Indianapolis Colts, John Schmitt, Oakland Raiders, Peyton Manning
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