Some sports upsets merit a raised eyebrow. Some wind up called "the game of the year." Some rare few get a book or two written about them. But there's one and only one upset that redefined an entire sport: the New York Jets' defeat of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, a big bang of cosmic proportions, the game that created the modern pro-football universe.
It was the climax of a rivalry with no mean history behind it. For decades, the National Football League was the sport's dominant organization. Denied NFL entry, a group of richie riches started their own league — the American Football League — and opened competition beginning in 1960. In 1966, the NFL capitulated and agreed to a merger with the AFL, which wouldn't be consummated until 1970.
But the AFL was given no respect when it came to the field of play. The champions from the NFL agreed to play the AFL winners beginning in 1967. In that year and the next, the NFL destroyed its weaker competition with a pair of Green Bay Packers victories in games that came to be referred to as Super Bowls I and II.
So imagine the scene in January 1969 when, just days before the AFL's New York Jets were set to (ostensibly) take their own beating at the hands of the NFL's Baltimore Colts — 18-point favorites, called by some at the time the greatest team in pro-football history — the Jets quarterback guaranteed a victory. Incredulity! Outlandishness!
The QB was Joe Namath, and his Jets turned the sports world on its head with a 16-7 defeat of Baltimore, fueled by five turnovers and an irrepressible running game from fullback Matt Snell. But it's Namath everyone remembers, and he was named MVP despite not throwing a touchdown. It was his bravura statement in the face of history and wisdom that cinched the game's place as a great upset. It was the game's significance in the maturation of a sport — today, undeniably America's pastime — that made it the most meaningful of all time.
As a die-hard Cowboy fan, it pains me to say this, but as sports upsets go, there's no denyin' it's J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets! I guarantee it.
— Greg Akers
In measuring the greatest upsets in World Series history, I couldn't tell you the second-most shocking, and coming up with a top 10 would stir debate from Fenway Park to Dodger Stadium. But any baseball fan, scholar, historian, or hack will tell you precisely the greatest upset among the 104 Fall Classics to have been played: the New York Mets over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969.
Those Mets of 40 years ago — or "the Amazin's," as they've come to be known — had no business so much as dreaming of a postseason appearance when the gates were opened for spring training. Led by a single rising star — 24-year-old pitcher Tom Seaver — the Mets were coming off a season in which they'd gone 73-89, which happened to be easily their best season since the franchise joined the National League in 1962. They were seven seasons removed from the worst campaign — 40-120 — in major league history. Even with beloved former Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges in the manager's office, the Mets were to again be fodder for legitimate World Series contenders.
But in the first year of divisional play, the Mets pulled away from the rest of the National League East, winning 100 games, eight more than the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Their lineup was hardly a Murderer's Row. Only three players picked up 100 hits. No one hit 30 home runs or drove in as many as 80.
But how the '69 Mets could pitch. Seaver went 25-7 with an ERA of 2.21 to earn the first of his three Cy Young Awards. Jerry Koosman won 17 and Tug McGraw (Tim's daddy) went 9-3 with 12 saves. A 22-year-old kid named Nolan Ryan was only good enough to start 10 games on the hill for New York.
The Mets swept Hank Aaron's Atlanta Braves in the first National League Championship Series, then with heroics from Tommie Agee and Donn Clendenon (immortals, hardly) beat the mighty Baltimore Orioles (winners of 109 games) four games to one.
While the Orioles returned to the Series the next two seasons, the Mets fell to 83 wins in 1970 and third place. Which only further cements their 1969 club as the greatest Cinderella story baseball has ever seen.
— Frank Murtaugh