Sept. 29, 1968 – The Bills entered the day with a 0-3 record on the year, already with a -62 point differential for the season—just 36 points for to 98 points allowed. They ranked last in football with 597 yards total offense and they were slated to play Joe Namath—who, to this point in the season, had a 96.1 passer rating, at a time when league average was just 63.7—and the undefeated Jets.
The game was played at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo and began at 1:30 p.m. on a 53 degree Sunday, before a crowd of 38,044.
Joe Namath connected with George Sauer on a four-yard touchdown pass, supplemented by a Jim Turner extra-point kick, to kick off the scoring. Giving the Jets a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Bills would answer with at 35-yard field goal from Bruce Alford and then a two-yard touchdown run from Ben Gregory, PAT good, and the Bills took a 10-7 lead into the second quarter.
Namath, just as he started the scoring in the first quarter, got it going in the second; however, this time it was on a 100-yard interception return by Tom Janik — which stood as a Bills record until Tony Greene returned an interception from one-yard deep on October 3, 1976 — Bills now lead 17-7.
The Jets would score twice more in the second quarter — sandwiching a 41-yard field goal by Bruce Alford — on an Emerson Boozer one-yard rushing touchdown, PAT good, and a 55-yard passing touchdown from Joe Namath to fellow future Hall of Famer Don Maynard, PAT again good. The Jets went into the half with a 21-20 lead.
The only scoring in the third quarter came off of the foot of Bruce Alford, a 37-yard field goal. Giving the Bills a 23-21 lead.
The Bills struck first, and second, in the fourth quarter on interceptions returned for touchdowns by Butch Byrd — 53 yards — and Booker Edgerson — 45 yards, extra-points good, giving Buffalo a 37-21 lead. The Bills 37 points would stand to win the game; however, Namath did connect for two more touchdown passes, but would not throw another touchdown pass for the next six games, to Matt Snell, PAT good, and another to George Sauer, PAT good, of three and ten yards, respectively. Final score: Bills 37, Jets 35.
The Jets would go on to win the Super Bowl, beating the Baltimore Colts, who were favorite by 18 points, 16-7, after Broadway Joe famously said days before the game, “we’re going to win the game, I guarantee it.”
The Bills were not quite as fortunate as the Jets and would not win another game that season. Their 1-12-1 record that season, however, brought them another kind of fortune: the first overall selection in the 1969 NFL Draft, a choice which landed them 1968 Heisman Trophy winner out of USC, O.J. Simpson.
Stats Wizard: The Bills three interceptions returned for touchdowns on Sept. 29, 1968, represents one of just six games during the Super Bowl era in which a team had at least three pick-sixes in a game. One of the others, by the Baltimore Colts, occurred on the exact same day. Only one team has ever returned four interceptions in a single game, the Seahawks, on Nov. 4, 1984.
This game represents one of 18 games in franchise history in which the Bills had at least five interceptions, 12 of which came before, five after. Most recently was, of course, four years ago today on Sept. 29 2013. In five of those games, the Bills had six interceptions, most recently on Oct. 18, 2009.
Did you know? Tom Janik, who had the 100-yard interception return in the win over Namath and the Jets on Sept. 29, 1968, and totaled a league-best ten picks the year prior, would become the starting punter for the Boston Patriots the following season in 1969.