Bubba Smith was an outstanding, 6’7” defensive end who played nine years in the NFL for the Colts, Raiders and Oilers – from 1967 to 1976. He later became an actor, best known for his role as Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies.
In 1969, Smith started for the Colts in one of the most famous games of all-time, Super Bowl III. Before the game, Jets quarterback Joe Namath “guaranteed” an upset over the heavily-favored Colts, a prediction that came to pass when the Jets won 16-7.
But in 2004, in an interview I did with him for my first book, Bubba offered, shall we say, a different “take” on that storied game. (Sadly, Bubba died in 2011, at the age of 66.)
What was the hardest loss you experienced as a player?
The Jet game. Super Bowl III.
A lot of people talk about that game. They talk about Joe Namath, obviously. But they also talk about the game possibly being fixed? Were some players on the take? Do you feel your team just wasn’t up that day? Were the Jets that good?
No. The Jets were not that good….Something was happening and I didn’t know what it was. We were inside the 20 five times in the first half and came away with no points. That’s not characteristic of the Colts. You understand what I’m saying?
What do you think happened?
It was the difference between millions and billions and you just now are catching the billions side of it. When CBS went in to negotiate down…I think they were paying $750 million for four years and they wanted it to go back to $500 million. And they brought Rupert Murdoch in and he paid $1.5 billion. That was the start of the billions.
So was it the team? Was it the referees or the league?
It was the quarterback. Honest. Between you and I, Carroll Rosenbloom (the Colts owner) bet $3 million on the Jets. (Colts Coach Don) Shula told (QB Johnny) Unitas to warm up for the second half. And Unitas got warmed up and said, “Well, we’re going to go with Earl (Morrall) a little while longer,” because Unitas, he’s so prideful, there was no way in hell you were going to tell Unitas to do this. They didn’t put Unitas in until there’s six minutes to go in the game. And boom, boom, boom. He goes down to score. But he had to score three times in six minutes and no one can do that. You needed to give him time to do what he does so well, which is dissect the defense.
So that was the most difficult loss you’ve ever experienced?
I was wondering all along why (Jets QB) Joe (Namath) was guaranteeing a win.
Joe had those connections. Joe was connected.
Oh, I know he was connected.
At the time, there was a lot of scuttlebutt about that.
Yeah, but see – we would have had to go along with that for it to be a real connection. We had practiced a play all week to the point where my poor arm was bloody, (tight end) John Mackey was bloody. That play that (Colts running back Tom) Matte ran around 15 yards with, and we never ran it again. (Jets defensive end) Gerry Philbin was too small; Mackey was going to take him and wipe the whole side of that line out with him. That’s the way we practiced it. And we run it one time? Then Matte gets 58 yards and the one guy that Mackey had knocked down got up and caught Matte. After the game, they put champagne on the table. It was supposed to be a victory party. I don’t drink, but I took a sip out of a couple of bottles. But I couldn’t understand why they were all up on the floor dancing and having a good time.
Matte. And I said, “Why are you having such a good time?” I grabbed him and had him over the top of my head and I threw him on one of those tables. So they made me go home! I went back to the hotel and I got in a cab in front of Rosenbloom’s house and the cab driver kept looking at me in the rearview mirror. And he said, “Aren’t youBubba Smith?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Man, don’t be upset about that game. We knew about it Saturday.” “About what?” “You know, that the fix was in.” I’ll never forget that.
So you were on the outside, but you had a bunch of your teammates on the inside.
The only person they needed was Earl Morrall. And he had three interceptions in the first half, all inside the 20. Then we run the flea flicker and (Colts wide receiver) Jim Orr is standing there by himself and waving his arms like there isn’t anybody within 30 yards of him. He was the primary receiver, and (Morrall) never looked at him. He didn’t have to even know where he was, just throw the ball down that way. Jimmy was so wide open, he would have gotten it as long as he didn’t overthrow it.
I heard about that. What happened from there? How do you go back and play again?
Well, realignment happened after that. We were in the same division with the Jets. And the following year we beat the shit out of them! The same Jet team that won the Super Bowl.
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