By Bob Glauber
If you want an idea of just how good this Jets team has turned into after back-to-back road playoff wins over Peyton Manning’s Colts and Tom Brady’s Patriots, let the only man to ever lead the Jets to a Super Bowl championship tell you.
“I would expect this Jets team to be one of the best we’ve ever seen,” Joe Namath told Newsday on Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview.
And by “best we’ve ever seen,” the answer is yes: as good – or maybe better – than Namath’s Super Bowl III championship team.
“They’ve certainly outmanned our Super Bowl team with ability and speed,” Namath said. “You have to feel good about this team. When I look at the physical abilities of the players, there’s no doubt they’re bigger and faster and stronger than we were.”
Namath feels so good about the Jets that he believes they’re about to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the former quarterback’s 1968 team got to the title game. Broadway Joe guaranteed a Super Bowl victory over the Colts, and delivered with a 16-7 win 42 years ago.
“This team’s better than last year’s team, and it’s doable,” he said of the possibility of beating the Steelers in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. A win over Pittsburgh, and the Jets would reach Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on Feb. 6 against the winner of the Bears-Packers NFC Championship Game.
“I really do feel better about this game, about the team, and we all know what it takes,” Namath said. “They have to play the best game they’ve played in terms of execution and self-discipline. Now, to play together collectively as a group, win a championship game against the kind of opponent you’re faced with, it takes a special effort. You’re not only trying to beat an opponent, you have to play smart football.”
Namath gives the Jets the edge on Sunday, in part because of their 22-17 win over the Steelers on Dec. 19 at Heinz Field. But he knows it will take another huge effort, especially now that All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who missed last month’s game with a leg injury, is back in the lineup.
“They’ve already beaten Pittsburgh at home, and granted, Polamalu was out of the game,” Namath said. “I expect them to win because they’re playing better than they’ve played all season long, and they’ve made a nice habit of winning games they’re not expected to win, and winning on the road, too. They travel well. I know these players expect to win.”
Another factor that bodes well for the Jets, according to Broadway Joe: the vastly improved play of quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose on-field swagger is in many ways reminiscent of Namath’s demeanor. Sanchez has now won four playoff games _ all on the road. That’s twice as many career playoff wins for Namath, and tied for the most road playoff wins by a quarterback in NFL history.
“We sometimes forget Sanchez is in his second year, but this young man already has experience in big games,” Namath said. “So I don’t think the jitters are anything big here, and I don’t think it will affect the way Sanchez feels. Sanchez is a better player now, and that shows.”
Final score: Jets 27, Steelers 24.
It’s the same score he predicted last week, and it was almost dead on: The Jets beat the Patriots, 28-21.
No guarantees. But a lot of self-assuredness.
“I think they’re gonna do it,” Namath said.
As for the Jets’ trash talking in recent weeks, Namath doesn’t mind it all that much. After all, his infamous “We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it” comments before Super Bowl III were the stuff of legend. But he doesn’t mind the fact that the rhetoric has cooled off now that coach Rex Ryan indicated on Monday he respects Steelers coach Mike Tomlin too much to get into a war of words.
“The only time I mind is when you see it and read it over and over again on different outlets,” he said. “But it was fresh when it was said, and they meant the things they said. They have their perception and point of view. So let’s give them credit for winning the games.”
Namath can only imagine if he’d made his famous victory guarantee if today’s social media was around.
“Every time I do think back over the years and how things have changed, I come up with one thing,” he said. “When I was in New York, the Triborough Bridge cost 25 cents to cross.”
Now it costs $6.50. And it’s not even called the Triborough Bridge anymore. It’s the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
But even Namath is now fully engaged in the world of social media. While he’s watching Sunday’s game from his home in South Florida, he’ll offer comments and insight on his Twitter (Twitter.com/RealJoeNamath) and Facebook (Facebook.com/JoeNamath) accounts. Namath also has his own Internet television setup (BroadwayJoe.tv), where he goes over game plan specifics before and after games.
“I don’t like to travel, so I’ve been afforded the chance to stay close to home, but still share the football thoughts that I have and the frustrations I have as a sports fan,” he said. “It’s fun for me, because I’ve lived it. I still feel what (the players) feel. Change is constant, and I know Joe changes a bit every day. The key is to change for the better.”
But there’s still that old Namath confidence that always rises to the surface.
“I still am rather smooth,” he said.
And he’s still confident the Jets _ his Jets _ reach the Super Bowl for the first time since he pulled off the most improbable upset in NFL history on Jan. 12, 1969, when it was Jets 16, Colts 7.
He’s hoping Sanchez & Co. can add another championship a little more than two weeks from now.