R.I.P. Lou Michaels, who may have sparked Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee

Joe Namath and the Jets pulled off a monumental upset in the third Super Bowl.

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Lou Michaels, a defensive lineman and kicker during 13 seasons in the NFL who just died at 80, has a unique place in pro football history. It’s not for anything he did on the field, though.

Michaels may well be partly responsible for the most famous guarantee in NFL history, if not in American sports history.

Michaels played for the Baltimore Colts when they took on the upstart New York Jets in the third Super Bowl. The Jets, 17-point underdogs against Baltimore, were led by Joe Namath, the nightclubbing, white-shoe-clad quarterback, who, true to the anti-establishment hero he represented, showed no respect for the mighty Colts.


As the story goes — often recounted with slight or major variations — Namath and Michaels encountered each other at a restaurant near Miami early in Super Bowl week. In Michaels’ version of events he told The Baltimore Sun in 2009, Namath came into the joint — wearing a full-length fur coat, Michaels said — and immediately started in with him.

"He [Namath] looked at me and, without so much as a ‘Hiya, Lou,’ said, ‘We’re gonna kick the [expletive] out of you, and I’m gonna do it,’ " Michaels recalled. "Well, I got a little upset and said, ‘Yeah, but we’ve got John [Unitas] and Earl [Morrall].’ " Namath’s reply: "They’re both over the hill. And I’m told that you don’t run downfield under your kickoffs, so we don’t have to worry about you, either." Michaels exploded. "He [Namath] was across the bar, so I couldn’t hit him," Michaels said. "I told him, ‘I wish I had one minute with you outside.’ But he wouldn’t go."

Though everyone calmed down and no harm was done, in just a few days, Namath issued his guarantee of victory for all of the world to hear — then he and the Jets backed it up with a 16-7 victory that stands as the biggest upset ever in the Super Bowl.

Would Namath still have made his bold pronouncement if he hadn’t run into Michaels earlier in the week? Perhaps. But the fact remains that they did have a confrontation before the guarantee. And for that, Michaels deserves his special spot in NFL history.