Joe Namath: http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
A hero for the city of New York
I interviewed Joe Namath shortly after his last game as a New York Jet. He walked into the room wearing a green and white polo shirt, a drink in one hand and a football in the other. I knew from that moment, the anxiety of interviewing such an athletic icon was unwarranted and destined to be epic. And, of course, it was.
It’s hard to think about Joe Namath without smiling. He is the American-original, a flesh-and-blood natural who excelled at any sport he took a shine to and guaranteed a Super Bowl win when his team was an 18-point underdog. He is the total guy, better known as Broadway Joe.
The son of a steelworker from Beaver Falls, PA, Joseph William Namath, came from Pennsylvania's rich football tradition. Namath starred for Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide teams in the 1960s and was drafted by both the National Football League’s (NFL), St. Louis Cardinals, and the rival American Football League’s (AFL) New York Jets in 1965.
Namath was known as a brash performer in college, and he signed with the Jets for a then-record $450,000, giving the upstart, struggling AFL instant credibility in their war with the NFL. Even though he didn’t turn the Jets into instant winners, he did improve their fortunes in his first three years. Namath had delivered on his promise as one of the most exciting players in the AFL as he became the first quarterback in history to pass for more than 4,000 yards.
The living legend
Namath was also popular off the field, especially with the ladies, and was known for his love of New York nightlife. That earned him the nickname of ‘Broadway Joe’ by the New York press. Namath gained his legend with his performance and mouth and after leading the Jets to the AFL championship over the Oakland Raiders. Namath, who was weary of all the press knocking him and his team and openly favoring the NFL champion Baltimore Colts, boldly lashed out and predicted victory for him and the Jets.
He also showed his poise by talking his way out of a potentially explosive situation with Colt’s Defensive Tackle, Lou Michaels. It happened when Namath and a teammate were in a restaurant talking about how the Jets were a better team than the Colts, triggering Michaels, who then responded by challenging Namath. The cocky quarterback instead bought Michaels’ dinner, drinks and gave him a ride home.
In the game that many felt made the Super Bowl the spectacle that today, Namath and the Jets were nearly flawless in beating the 17-point favorite Colts, 16–7. After that, Namath became a household name and gave the Jets and the AFL the respectability they were so desperate to have.
For many people, Namath will always be 25 years old with his right index finger pointed towards the sky, jogging off the Orange Bowl field as the Super Bowl III MVP, with his famous guarantee realized. Others will remember Namath in Hanes’ Beautymist pantyhose or a fur coat on the sidelines. For some, it will be throwing a football to Bobby Brady on “The Brady Bunch.” But, for others, it will not be an image, but that voice, that syrupy mix of Beaver Falls, Tuscaloosa, and New York, is one of a kind.
Joe Namath statistics
To prove just how great of a sensation Joe Namath was and what he meant for the New York Jets, his stats show you his full range and immense potential.
Living life in the Fast Lane
Namath says that he feels great both physically and mentally and currently lives in South Florida, even though he often returns to New York. The knees that cut short his football brilliance were replaced in 1992, and he hasn’t had any problems with them ever since.
When Joe speaks, he is sharp and recalls names and stories from 50 years ago with great ease. Sometimes, he forgets where he placed his keys and feels minor aches and pains, but Namath doesn’t see any reason to complain, says he doesn’t know what’s perfect, and it’s clumsy talking about breakdowns when they’re minor. He says he isn’t justified to talk about insignificant things when people go through life-threatening deals, and even though he has aging joints, Namath feels excellent.
When you walk through a room with Namath, do you get a small taste of what it must be like to be Joe Willie? All the eyes move on him, and adult men turn into 12-year old boys once again. He brings joy to people with just a glance and a smile since his days as a star at Beaver Falls High School. The $427,000 he received from the Jets in 1965 changed football and led to a merger between the NFL and AFL.
Namath had come along at the perfect time. Along with his sideburns and long hair, he quickly established himself as football’s Mick Jagger. He became an integral part of New York’s cultural scene.
He became the city’s top bachelor, entertaining ladies at his own nightclub Bachelors III and then his East 76th street penthouse with the white llama-skin rug and mirrored ceiling. He also famously proclaimed that he liked his women blonde and his Johnny Walker red.
For many, Namath had been the first to put sports and entertainment together, and his playboy image was tolerable for fans because Namath didn’t let it detract from his play. He may have partied before the 1968 AFL title game against the Raiders, but then he went out and led a fourth-quarter comeback, and two weeks later, he had led the Jets to their only Super Bowl win.
The leading light in the game
These days, most of Namath’s time is spent working on The Joe Namath Foundation to benefit numerous charities. Its primary focus is on helping children and addressing neurological issues.
There are many worthy causes, and Namath is trying to spread them around and help humble organizations worthy. Brain injuries became a personal cause for Namath when he saw what was happening with some of his contemporaries.
Namath hit home when he found out that teammate Dave Herman had begun suffering the effects of repeated blows to the head. He was the same Dave Herman, who played the offensive linesman and kept Bubba Smith away from Namath in that historic win over the Colts. Namath recalled his playing days when players were not informed if they had a concussion.
Namath said “the word concussion was not used . I had my bell rung many times. That is when I would be hit during games and ended up at the bench getting oxygen and water.”
In 2012, Namath decided to get his brain checked out at a hospital near his home because he wanted to know where he was going. The brain scan revealed dead cells on the left and back of his brain, and there was no blood flow. He then began hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and it worked.
Follow-up scans showed improved blood flow in his brain. In 2014, he opened the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center in Jupiter with doctors who had helped him. Now, he is trying to get the FDA to approve HBOT as a treatment for neurological issues.
The impact of leaving New York
There had always been something magical about Joe Namath, a rebel at a time when the country appreciated one. He was cocky but in a friendly way. The swinging bachelor's image and his rocket-like arm helped make him the most glorified football player of his time.
He was Broadway Joe, the guy who guaranteed a Super Bowl victory for a three-touchdown underdog New York Jets team and delivered. He was a charismatic presence who had become a larger-than-life figure. At the age of 21, he was a star; at 25, he became a legend. His roommate on the road described it best when he said that traveling with him was like hanging with a Beatle.
His move from New York was an incomparable loss for the city, as it lost one of its iconic heroes and would never be the same again. This living legend had managed to do the impossible and guided the New York Jets to the most improbable of wins, but this time was always going to come.
He was never the same player after he moved away from New York, and, in his last ever season as a pro-football player, he was warming the bench and then retiring from the game. The American Football League hadn’t come across a player like Broadway Joe, who had this type of mass appeal. He was a lovable rogue, admired by men and adored by women, and no one had his kind of charisma.
He had a profound impact when he left the New York Jets, as there would not be another Joe Namath coming anytime soon. Everywhere he went, fans came out in their droves to witness the glory of Joe Namath, and it left them devastated that they would not see another magical athlete with the same poise, the same majesty that Joe had.
He was never going to repeat the feat of his Super Bowl heroics, but in the eyes of the fans, he had become immortalized and was someone who didn’t have to play well to win their appreciation. He had done the unthinkable once, and for them, that made him a champion for life.
You can still hear the fans today chanting J-E-T-S.