The 1968 AFL Championship Game was the ninth annual AFL championship game, played on December 29 at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York City, New York. It matched the defending champion Oakland Raiders (12–2) of the Western Division and the host New York Jets (11–3) of the Eastern Division, who were slight favorites. The Raiders had hosted a tiebreaker playoff game the week before against the Kansas City Chiefs (12–2) to determine the Western Division champion, while the Eastern champion Jets were idle.
The Jets defeated the Raiders 27–23 to win the championship and the chance to play the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
After Jets quarterback Joe Namath threw an interception that enabled Oakland to take a fourth quarter lead, he led the Jets 68 yards in just 55 seconds to score a go-ahead touchdown pass to Don Maynard with 7:24 left in the game. Then New York's defense stopped Oakland on their three remaining drives to hold on to victory, avenging their regular season loss to the Raiders in the infamous Heidi Game six weeks earlier.
A 28-yard punt by Oakland's Mike Eischeid gave New York the ball on the Raiders 44-yard line on their first possession, and they took advantage of the short field with a 4-play scoring drive. Namath completed two 14-yard passes to Maynard on it, the second one a touchdown to give the Jets an early 7–0 lead. Meanwhile, Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica completed just one of his first 13 pass attempts. His first completion was a 36-yard pass to Billy Cannon, but the Raiders ended up with no points on that drive when George Blanda hit the cross bar attempting a 45-yard field goal. New York then drove to a 33-yard field goal by Jim Turner, giving them a 10–0 lead in the final minutes of the first quarter.
After being completely dominated up to this point, the Raiders offense finally got into gear as Lamonica completed passes to Pete Banaszak and Fred Biletnikoff for gains of 11 and 15 yards. Then he hit fullback Hewritt Dixon for a 23-yard gain on the last play of the first quarter. As the second quarter opened up, Lamonica finished the 80-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Biletnikoff, making the score 10–7. The rest of the quarter would result in nothing but field goal attempts, with Turner missing one from 44 yards, but connecting from 35, while Blanda kicked a 26-yard field goal right before halftime to make the score 13–10.
Lamonica opened the third quarter with a 37-yard completion to Biletnikoff. Then his 40-yard pass to receiver Warren Wells gave Oakland a first down on the Jets 6-yard line. However, rush attempts over the next three plays resulted in just 5 yards. Faced with 4th and goal on the 1, coach John Rauch decided to play conservative and had Blanda kick a 9-yard field goal that tied the game at 13. New York responded by driving 80 yards in 14 plays to retake the lead, 20–13, on Namath's 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pete Lammons with one minute left until the 4th quarter.
Oakland responded to the touchdown with Lamonica's 57-yard completion to Biletnikoff setting up a 20-yard Blanda field goal, cutting the score to 20–16. Then Raiders defensive back George Atkinson intercepted a pass from Namath and returned it 32 yards to the Jets 5-yard line. On the next play, Banaszak ran the ball into the end zone, giving Oakland their first lead of the game at 23–20 with 8:18 remaining on the clock.
However, this turned out to be very short lived. After starting out the ensuing drive with a 10-yard completion to George Sauer, Namath completed a 52-yard pass to Maynard at the Raiders 6-yard line. On the next play, he connected with Maynard in the end zone, giving the Jets a 27–23 lead at the 7:47 mark. Oakland had three more drives with the time remaining, but failed to score each time. Oakland took the ball after Maynard's touchdown and drove to New York's 26-yard line, where they ended up faced with 4th down and 10. Even though more than 5 minutes remained in the game, Rauch decided to try to go for a first down rather than kick a field goal, but this did not pay off as Lamonica was sacked by New York lineman Verlon Biggs on the next play. Following a punt, Oakland drove to the New York 24-yard line, only to lose the ball again when Lamonica's intended swing pass to Charline Smith sailed behind him, resulting in an accidental fumbled lateral that was recovered by linebacker Ralph Baker. The next time the Raiders got the ball, it was on their own 22-yard line with 42 seconds left in regulation. The Jets defense manage to stop the drive at midfield as time expired to preserve their lead and win the game.
Neither quarterback distinguished themselves with passing accuracy. Namath completed 19 of 49 passes for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Lamonica completed 20 of 47 passes for 401 yards and a touchdown. Biletnikoff was the leading receiver of the game with 7 receptions for 190 yards and a touchdown, while Maynard caught 6 passes for 118 yards and a score. Jets running back Matt Snell was the top rusher of the game with 71 yards on 19 carries, along with a 15-yard reception, while Emerson Boozer chipped in 51 rushing yards for New York. In addition to his 32-yard interception return, Atkinson returned 4 kickoffs for 112 yards. Oakland lost despite outgaining the Jets in total yards 443-400.Referee: Walt Fitzgerald
Umpire: George Young
Head Linesman: Tony Veteri
Line Judge: Al Sabato
Back Judge: Hugh Gamber
Field Judge: Bob Baur
The AFL (and NFL) had six game officials in 1968; the seventh official, the side judge, was added in 1978.
The Jets players each received $8,000 and the Raiders players about $5,000 each.You Tube - 1968 AFL & NFL Championship Games (Highlights) - from NBC pre-game for Super Bowl III w/ Curt Gowdy