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Randy Hollis: Can the Colts lose? It's happened before

There's just no way that this powerful Colts team — with its Hall of Fame-bound quarterback — could lose today's Super Bowl in Miami, is there? Yes. Absolutely.

After all, that's the same way most of us (who are old enough to remember) felt 41 years ago when another seemingly invincible Colts team — one featuring its own legendary quarterback, Johnny Unitas — steamed into Super Bowl III at Miami.

This year's AFC champion Colts, who call the city of Indianapolis their home, and superstar QB Peyton Manning are only 5- to 6-point favorites over the NFC champion New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. (That's No. 44 for the Roman-numerically challenged).

A lot of Roman numerals have passed since that 1969 Colts team, which was based in Baltimore, was a whopping 18-point favorite — a prohibitive point spread that's almost unheard of in the NFL nowadays — over the upstart New York Jets of the American Football League.

But the Jets' flashy young quarterback, "Broadway Joe" Namath, made what seemed like a crazy prediction: "We're gonna win the game," he boldly claimed three days before the Jan. 12, 1969, championship showdown. "I guarantee it."

No way, I and millions more American football fans thought. I figured it was simply false bravado on the part of Namath, who came across as a cocky, party-hearty swinging bachelor who obviously had no clue what he was talking about.

Turns out he did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I just knew those '69 Colts, who had lost only one game all season, would show 'em who was boss. Certainly they'd knock that arrogant Namath guy on his keister and preserve the proud honor of the long-established, vastly superior NFL, wouldn't they? Well, as I continually and frantically kept calling home to get game updates that day from my Mom — I worked at a gas station, back in the day when we actually pumped your gas, washed your windshield and checked the air in your tires — Namath and Co. broke my heart.

My boyhood football hero was Unitas. The classy quarterback had been injured during the 1968 preseason and wound up as the backup QB to Earl Morrall, who was named the NFL's most valuable player that year.

The Colts lost only one game during the entire 1968 season, when they went 15-1 overall, boasted the league's best defense and its second-highest scoring offense. After a couple of impressive playoff victories, they were being touted as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Namath would have no chance to make good on his guarantee, would he? Well, he certainly did. The Jets seized momentum early, Baltimore puckered under pressure and Morrall struggled through a miserable performance. And even though Unitas drove the Colts to their only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, it was much too little and much too late.

The pro football world was stunned by the AFL's first Super Bowl victory. And the Jets' shocking triumph, along with the Kansas City Chiefs victory over the Minnesota Vikings the following year, helped set the stage for the two leagues' merger in 1970.

The NFL has since become the Big Kahuna of professional sports leagues in the United States, a multibillion-dollar business whose popularity continues to grow every year.

Which brings us back to Sunday's Super Bowl battle between the Colts and Saints. Should be a heck of a game, probably a high-scoring shoot-out filled with big plays by Manning and his New Orleans counterpart, Drew Brees.

And I'm sure the Colts will win it.

But hey, I've been wrong before. Like on Jan. 12, 1969, when I knew without a doubt that the Colts couldn't possibly lose.

Could they? Yes. Absolutely.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com