Big Lead Sports Bar


Know Your Elders: Joe Namath

It's time for another installment of Know Your Elders. With the sports blogosphere being a relatively new phenomenon, I feel that a great percentage of sports history's off-field antics have gone virtually ignored. I want to right that wrong and let you know that no, players in the '20s, '60s, or '80s weren't necessarily altar boys.
The first installment in this series featured the hard-partying Bobby Layne. Next up is someone I believe you're a little more familiar with: Joe Willie Namath.

Beaver Falls HS:
Namath grew up in an area of Beaver Falls (a steel town eight miles outside outside of Pittsburgh) known as the Lower End, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. He would later get into arguments with his Alabama teammates while defending African-Americans.
He was a three-sport star, playing football, baseball, and basketball. Upon graduation from Beaver Falls, Namath received offers from six Major League Baseball teams, with the Cubs reportedly offering a $50,000 signing bonus.
Namath had offers from numerous Division I college football programs, including Penn State, Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame, but initially decided upon the University of Maryland. However, he was rejected by Maryland because his college-board scores (730) were just below the school's required 750. Alabama, here we come!

University of Alabama, 1962-64.
As a sophomore, he led a senior-laden squad to a 10-1 record, throwing for 1192 yards and 12 TDs. In his junior season, he broke curfew late in the year and was dropped from the team for the final regular season game and the Sugar Bowl by coach Bear Bryant.
His first knee injury occured against North Carolina State in his senior year when it collapsed on an abrupt stop. Two weeks later, it collapsed again, and while practicing for the Orange Bowl, it collapsed again.
While he was not expected to play in the Orange Bowl, he came off the bench and played well enough to be named the MVP. But that was not enough, as the previously-undefeated #1 Crimson Tide lost, 21-17, to Texas.

New York Jets, 1965-76. Namath was chosen 3rd overall in the AFL draft (and was also drafted 12th overall by the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals). He signed for $427,000, a record at the time, and his contract also included a Lincoln Continental. He actually signed the day after the Sugar Bowl.
Under coach Weeb Ewbank, he became the Jets' starting QB midway through his rookie season. By 1967, he became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards.
In 1968, he was the Jets' QB for the infamous "Heidi Game" on NBC, a 43-32 loss to the Oakland Raiders. They would meet the Raiders again in the AFL Championship, this time winning 27-23 behind three Namath TD passes on a windy and cold day.

That win meant the Jets would be the AFL representative in Super Bowl III, the third AFL-NFL Championship game and the first to be called "The Super Bowl". Despite the AFL being seen as an inferior league, a confident Namath answered a heckler at the Miami Touchdown Club three days before the game, proclaiming, "We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it."
And win they did, beating the Indianapolis Colts, 16-7. Namath completed 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards and was named MVP, despite not throwing a TD pass. Consider this an early example of "walking the walk".
After the 1969 season, Namath opened a Manhattan bar (Bachelors III), which was frequented by "social undesirables" (translation: gamblers). He was ordered by Commissioner Pete Rozelle to divest himself of his interest in the bar, but defiantly resisted, instead retiring from football at a teary press conference. An all-night meeting with Rozelle resulted in a compromise: Namath would be allowed to return and to retain his interests in Boston and Miami Bachelors III locations, as well as future locations that might open.
Namath's 1970 and '71 seasons were mostly lost to injury, as he started just eight of a possible 28 games over that time.

On September 24, 1972 in Baltimore, Namath (496/6) and boyhood idol Johnny Unitas (376/3) combined for 872 passing yards and nine touchdowns in a 44-34 Jets victory, New York's first victory over Baltimore since Super Bowl III.

1975 and 1976 were rough seasons for "Broadway Joe", as the Jets compiled back-to-back 3-11 seasons. '76 was notable for the fact that current ESPN talking head Lou Holtz was the Jets' head coach. That experiment didn't last too long.

Los Angeles Rams, 1977. Released by the Jets, Namath tried to jump-start his career. However, numerous lingering injuries combined with a party animal lifestyle meant that Namath was at the end of the road.

He appeared and started in just four games, throwing for 606 yards, 3 TD and 5 INT. In the first round of the playoffs, with QB Pat Haden struggggling, Rams Coach Chuck Knox decided to leave Haden in the game rather than dramatically bring Namath off the bench. The Rams ended up losing to the Vikings, 14-7, and Namath would never play again.

--Hall of Fame, 1985
--Super Bowl Champion
--5-time Pro Bowl
--5-time All-Pro
--Passing stats: 1866-3762 (50.1%), 27,663 yards, 173 TD, 220 INT, 65.5 QB Rating


--Appeared in the first-ever Monday Night Football game (Jets vs. Browns), played at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, on September 21, 1970. In front of a record crowd of 85,703 and a huge television audience, the Jets set a team record for penalties and ultimately lost on a late Namath interception.
--Father Frank Namath was a steelworker.
--Has osteoarthritis since 1965 and works with the Arthritis Foundation.
--Alabama coach Bear Bryant called Namath "the greatest athlete I ever coached".

--Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh: Namath was "the most beautiful, accurate, stylish passer with the quickest release I've ever seen."

--Hall of Fame coach Don Shula: Namath was "one of the 3 smartest quarterbacks of all time"

--Ranked #96 on The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players list in 1999.

--Despite his celebrity, there is no mention of Namath around the town of Beaver Falls. Check out this little documentary about why.

Joe's 1970s Pantyhose commercial:

A signed piece of art (limited edition of 69), priced at $7,500.


--"I Wanna Kiss You": Shortly after the Jets' celebration of their All-Time Team at a December, 2003 game, Namath was asked about Jets QB Chad Pennington by ESPN's Suzy Kolber. His infamous response: "I want to kiss you. I couldn't care less about the team struggggling."

--Entered an alcohol treatment program on January 12, 2004, the 35th anniversary of Super Bowl III.
--Shaved his mustache off in a TV commercial for Remington razors for $10,000.
--Starred in the 1978 television series The Waverly Wonders.
--Daughter Jessica was accused of homewrecking in 2006.

--Guest-starred on The Brady Bunch, The Flip Wilson Show, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, The Dean Martin Show, The Simpsons, The A-Team, and The John Larroquette Show.

--Was offered to host "Family Feud" when the show was revived in 1988. However, the producers had second thoughts about him, and ultimately hired Ray Combs, instead.

--Did several commercials including Ovaltine, Noxema Shaving Cream, popcorn machines and pantyhose.

--In 1999, he filed for divorce from wife of 15 years Deborah Mays (born 1962), who called herself "Tatiana".

--He was guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson several times.

--Appears on the Master list of Nixon political opponents.

--Color commentator on Monday Night Football in 1985.

--Will be portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in an upcoming film of his life, possibly the worst casting in the history of movies.

--Had a reckless driving charge in Miami dropped.

--Dated Marilyn Monroe lookalike Mamie Van Doren.


"I like my Johnnie Walker Red and my women blonde"

"I don't know whether I prefer Astroturf to grass. I never smoked Astroturf. "

"Till I was 13, I thought my name was "Shut Up."

"When we won the league championship, all the married guys on the club had to thank their wives for putting up with all the stress and strain all season. I had to thank all the single broads in New York. "

"When you win, nothing hurts."

So there you have it. I could've gone on and on about Joe Namath. In fact, he's the inspiration for this entire series. People are making a fuss about Matt Leinart? Please. Matt Leinart is amateur hour. If Namath played today, he might blow up the entire internet with his antics. A freaking fur coat on the sidelines? If that were Terrell Owens, Skip Bayless' head might explode in anger.

To recap the cultural signficance of Namath: he brought together two football leagues, he became the first football star to crossover into pop culture, he made the most famous guarantee of all time, he was booted from the league in his prime, and decades after he left the game, he pulls the Kolber stunt. He won over New York and the nation, and he's from our backyard. You'll always be the man, Mr. Namath.

Know your elders!

Required reading:

Joe Namath [Wikipedia]

Joe Namath [IMDB]

Joe Namath [Sports Placement]

Joe Namath statistics [Pro Football Reference]

Kissing Suzy Kolber

Know Your Elders: Bobby Layne []


Jim said...

I can't imagine why Joe Namath would never want to come back to Beaver Falls. Manhattan is cool and all, but have you ever seen Beaver Falls on a Saturday night? He must be crazy for turning his back on that thriving metropolis of a town and never looking back. He put BEAVER FALLS ON THE MAP! Did you watch the movie Kingpin? It really makes me want to leave Manhattan and come back.

Seriously, these people hold this against him? Just name a freakin street after him already.

Anonymous said...

Once a Jet, always a Jet.

Dame said...

"People are making a fuss about Matt Leinart? Please. Matt Leinart is amateur hour. If Namath played today, he might blow up the entire internet with his antics. A freaking fur coat on the sidelines? If that were Terrell Owens, Skip Bayless' head might explode in anger."

Great Article

and Point Taken

Backyard Scrawler said...

Good stuff ... another good quote is the title of his 1969 biography by Dick Schapp, "I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow...'Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day."

Unknown said...

freakin' fantastic article. thanks!

sass said...

If you check out some or all of Jake Gyllenhaal's movies, i.e. Homer Hickam in October Sky, you might find that he is a wise choice to play this iconic figure of football. He is athletic, looks remarkably like Joe, and Broadway Joe chose him; a real compliment to Jake as an actor.

After giving Jake so much praise, I have to let you know that I am a Jake Gyllenhaal fan.

Fingers xxed that none of us will be disappointed.

Huge Broadway Joe FAN

sass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

One of the most overrated QB's ever.

Uncle Woody said...

I did the documentary on Namath. It's amazing that the people that live in his hometown of Beaver Falls could care less about him. Beyond that, many actually don't want anything in the town to acknowledge he was from there.

I am going to get some more interviews about Namath in the future and see if I can press the town elders to at least name a street after him...I don't think that's too much.

okel dokel said...

Great article...this is the reason Mondesi's House is a cut above the rest.

So quit griping about the sarcastic Pirates coverage...please.

Laser Rocket Arm said...

Joe Namath partied like a rock star before the term was even coined. He was the first QB I remember. I was ten when he got released by the Jets. I cried for two days.

Oh--and in the Super Bowl the Jets beat the Baltimore Colts.

Emilio.M said...

Thank you for sharing this article on Joe Namath, I'm a big Jets fan. I'll be sure to share this article as well.
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