I put those words in quotes because they're not mine. I do think the Chicago Bears have a great chance of springing the upset this Sunday in their Super Bowl showdown with the Indianapolis Colts. You longtime football fans will recognize the quote. It comes from none other than Joe Namath, on the eve of Super Bowl III.
It's all part of sports legend now. Namath's New York Jets of the old American Football League were underdogs of almost three touchdowns against a much superior foe. Many so called experts thought the line was too low. AFL teams weren't very competitive in Super Bowls I and II. This one was going to be even worse.
Then...Namath guaranteed a win, and got it...
*As an underdog...
*After a relatively poor statistical season by quarterback standards...
*As a guy who played college ball in the SEC before heading north to play in the pro's...
*Against the Colts!
I haven't read any media reports yet about the many things that Joe "Willie" Namath has in common with Rex Grossman. The similarities between the two QBs are surprisingly striking. It's hard for people to imagine because Namath is considered in the pantheon of all time greats, while Grossman is seen as a boob who stumbles around the field and keeps getting bailed out by his defense.
Check out these numbers from their Super Bowl seasons:
2006 Grossman: 73.9 (very poor for a QB on a playoff team)
1968 Namath: 72.1 (even worse!)
2006 Grossman: 23/20
1968 Namath: 17/15 (in an era with shorter schedules)
2006 Grossman: 55%
1968 Namath: 49%
Would you have guessed that in a million years? Your humble author grew up worshipping Joe Namath, as Namath's heyday came during my elementary school years. I have a vague memory of wearing a simulation Namath jersey every day and night for a week one summer (they didn't sell "official" jerseys back then). I knew Namath was one of the best ever, because that's what the media kept saying.
I was stunned a few years ago when doing a stathead project comparing quarterbacks from different eras. The game has definitely changed over the years. But, it hasn't changed so much that you can make any sort of case that Namath was a great quarterback. In fact, he was a pretty HORRIBLE percentage quarterback. He'd have big plays every so often. But, he'd throw so many incomplete passes and interceptions in the effort to make the big play that the team was worse off in the big picture. Imagine Brett Favre during his stubborn years...then imagine a decade or so of that.
I heard some media talk this week about Grossman supposedly being the "worst quarterback ever" in the big game. I wondered how his stats compared to those of Namath. Now you know what I uncovered. Amazingly, you can make a reasonable case that Namath was worse in his Super Bowl season than Grossman was this year.
1968 was the only season the Jets made the Super Bowl (winning in January of 1969). It made Namath's reputation and career...and set up a post-football career as a TV announcer. Stat-wise, it was a typical season though. Right place...right time...right things happened. He wasn't a great quarterback.
You might be thinking that ALL quarterbacks had low passer ratings back then because the game was so different. Here's how Namath stacked up against Earl Morrall, the Colts quarterback that afternoon. By the way, Morrall was considered more of a journeyman starter than a superstar in the league.
1968 PASSER RATING:
1968 TD/INTERCEPTION RATIO
1968 COMPLETION PERCENTAGE
1968 YARDS PER ATTEMPT
You get the sense from the history books that the Colts were such big favorites because of oddsmaker ignorance or media insanity. The fact is...the Colts were the best team in a much superior league, and their quarterback was having a strong season. The Jets were the best team in a much weaker league, and their quarterback was scatter-armed and inconsistent.
The Grossman/Namath similarities aren't necessarily a function of time. Morrall broke 90 in passer rating, and threw 26 TD passes in a shorter season than we have now. Namath wasn't playing in any sort of "dead ball" era where quarterbacks had artificially lowered rankings. He was just a different version of Rex Grossman, playing in New York at a time when the sports world revolved round New York even more than it does now.
They didn't call it "managing" a game back then. But, that's largely what an out of character Namath did for the Jets in what turned out to be a dull 16-7 victory over the Colts. The Jets took good care of the ball, moved the chains, and put some points on the board.
SUPER BOWL III
Total Yardage: NY Jets 337, Baltimore 324
Time of Possession: NY Jets 36 minutes, Baltimore 24 minutes
Turnovers: NY Jets 1, Baltimore 5
I've rounded to the nearest minute. Note that if you figured yards per minute, then projected to 30 minutes per team...you'd get Baltimore winning a yardage rout 405-281. The Colts were the more explosive team. They could only turn their 324 yards into one touchdown because of all the turnovers.
The rest of Namath's career was spent NOT playing this way. He did when it mattered, and the rest is history.
Will Grossman be making any sort of history this weekend? Even if the Bears win, it won't be historic. The most similar recent Super Bowl to the Bears/Colts game stylewise was the Tampa Bay/Oakland battle a few years ago.
*Oakland was the up tempo passing team from the AFC, while Tampa Bay was the more conservative side anchored by a fantastic defense.
*Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was as celebrated that year as Peyton Manning is in most seasons.
2002 Gannon: 97.3
2006 Manning: 101.0
2002 Gannon: 26/10
2006 Manning: 31/9
2002 Gannon: 68%
2006 Manning: 65%
YARDS PER ATTEMPT
2002 Gannon: 7.6
2006 Manning: 7.9
*Brad Johnson of Tampa Bay wasn't (and still isn't) seen as an "impact" quarterback in the NFL. He's the kind of guy who can manage a game though, and keep you from losing it.
*Oakland was a 4-point favorite over the Bucs. I've talked to many in the wagering/handicapping industry who think the Colts/Bears line should be closer to four...but has been inflated because of the public's affection for favorites and Manning.
It's a pretty good match all things considered. Though the scoreboard suggests a wildly different kind of game...the boxscore of the Bucs upset of the Raiders is surprisingly similar to that of the Jets upset of the Colts:
SUPER BOWL XXXVII
Total Yardage: Tampa Bay 365, Oakland 269
Time of Possession: Tampa Bay 37 minutes, Oakland 23 minutes
Turnovers: Tampa Bay 1, Oakland 5
It's basically a dead ringer. Tampa Bay had the ball an extra minute, which helped expand their yardage differential a bit. The scoreboard was nutso because Tampa Bay had three defensive touchdowns while Oakland returned a blocked punt for a score. You wouldn't think a 48-21 game would be a stylistic match for a 16-7 game. The key stats show that it was a virtual replay.
And, those same stats explain how Chicago can, and will in my opinion, beat the Colts on Sunday.
*Ball control on offense
*Forcing turnovers on defense
*Putting up some cheap points off those turnovers
Manning doesn't have to make five turnovers for the game to get out of hand. The Colts defense is soft enough that Chicago is fully capable of holding the ball for more than half the game. If we see a full replay of those earlier samples, then it's going to be a Chicago rout. If we see a partial replay, it's going to be a Chicago victory. If this weekend's game doesn't follow the model, Chicago is still capable of winning and covering anyway. Don't forget that the Bears have a great kick returner matching up against horrible special teams coverage for the Colts. That could result in a TD (or two) that counteracts anything Manning can do if he's sharp.
Projected Final Score: Chicago 34, Indianapolis 27
A win for Grossman wouldn't "make" history. It's not much of a stretch, though, to say it would be a case of history repeating itself. Chicago's defense compares very well to the Tampa Bay defense that humiliated Oakland. And, Joe Namath proved that a QB with a passer rating in the 70's can win a Super Bowl if he manages the game properly and avoids mistakes. It's a neat coincidence that he proved that in Miami against the Colts!