Joe Namath

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Joe Namath

Joseph William Namath (born May 31, 1943 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania) is a former Alabama Crimson Tide and New York Jets quarterback and a member of the NFL's Hall of Fame.

Namath retired with a record of 77 wins, 108 losses and 3 ties. In his career he threw 173 touchdowns and 220 interceptions. During his thirteen years in the AFL and NFL, he played on three division champions (the 1968 and 1969 AFL East Champion Jets and the 1977 NFC West Champion Rams), earned one league championship (1968 AFL Championship), and one championship (Super Bowl III). He was 2-1 as a starter in the playoffs.

In 1999, he was ranked number 96 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He was the only player on the list to have spent a majority of his career with the Jets.

He is known for publicly guaranteeing that his team would upset Don Shula's Baltimore Colts in the third NFL-AFL Championship Game in 1969, and then delivering on his promise.

Early life and family

Namath's Hungarian-born grandfather, known as A.J. to his family and friends, came to Ellis Island and worked in the coal and steel industries of the Pittsburgh Metro Area. Joe referred to his own ethnicity as "Bohunk." While growing up, Joe was close to both of his parents, who were divorced. Following his parents' split, Joe lived with his mother, Rose.

He was born and raised twenty miles away from Pittsburgh, one of the many steel towns in Beaver County. He was a standout in basketball and baseball. In an age where dunks were still uncommon in high school, Namath regularly dunked in games. However football prevailed, even though, upon graduation, he received offers from six Major League Baseball teams, including the Yankees, Mets, Indians, Reds, Pirates, and Phillies. Namath has told interviewers that he wanted to sign with the Pirates and play baseball like his idol, Roberto Clemente, but elected to play football because his mother wanted him to get a college education.

Namath had many offers from Division I college football programs, including Penn State, Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame, but initially decided upon the University of Maryland. He was rejected from Maryland because his college-board scores were just below the school's requirements; he scored in the low 730's, while Maryland required 750. After ample recruiting by University of Alabama's head football coach, Bear Bryant, Namath accepted a full scholarship to Alabama. Bryant states his decision to recruit Namath was "the best coaching decision I ever made."

College football career

Namath and Bryant at the 1962 Alabama-Tennessee game

At Alabama, Namath played under the legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant from 1962 to 1964. A year after being suspended for the final two games of the season, he led the Crimson Tide to a National Championship in 1964. Alabama went 29-4 with Namath at quarterback. Bryant would one day call Namath "the greatest athlete I ever coached." While many speculated on what was anticipated to be a stormy relationship between a freedom-loving player and an iron-fisted coach, Namath returned Bryant's praise, often referring to him as "not only the smartest coach I ever knew, but the man who taught me the meaning of integrity." When Namath was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, he broke down during his induction speech upon mentioning Bryant, who died from a heart attack in 1983.

Pro football career

Despite suffering a serious knee injury in his senior year at Alabama, Namath was drafted by both the National Football League and the upstart American Football League. The two competing leagues held their respective drafts on the same day -- November 28, 1964.

The NFL's St. Louis Cardinals selected Namath 12th overall in their draft, while the Jets selected him with the AFL's first overall pick. He elected to sign with the Jets, who were under the direction of Hall of Fame owner Sonny Werblin, for a salary of more than $400,000 (a pro football record at the time).

Namath was the American Football League Rookie of the year in 1965 and became the first professional quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a season (1967), a feat which remained a record for the 14-game seasons that were played during that time. [1] He was a four-time American Football League All-Star, although he was plagued with knee injuries through much of his career. These injuries, which caused his knees to swell up with fluid and require periodic draining, plagued Namath for the rest of his career. On some occasions, Namath had to have his knee drained at halftime so that he could finish a game. Later in life, long after he left football, he had to have knee replacement surgery on both legs.

In the 1968 AFL title game, Namath threw three touchdown passes to lead New York to a 27-23 win over the defending American Football League Champion Oakland Raiders. His performance in the 1968 season earned him the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. Namath was an AFL All-Star four times, in 1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969. He was a AFC-NFC Pro Bowler in 1972. Besides having the Hall of Fame distinction, he is a member of the Jets' all-time team and the American Football League All-Time Team.

The apex of his career was his performance in the Jets' January 1969 win over the Baltimore Colts in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, now referred to as the Super Bowl. The Colts were touted as "the greatest football team in history". Former NFL star and coach Norm Van Brocklin ridiculed the AFL before the game, saying "This will be Namath's first professional football game." Writers from NFL cities insisted it would take the AFL several more years to be truly competitive with the NFL. Much of the hype surrounding the game was related to how it would either prove or disprove the proposition that the AFL teams were truly worthy of being allowed to merge with the NFL; the first two such games had resulted in blowout victories for the NFL champion in the two previous years, the Green Bay Packers, and the Colts were even more favored by media figures and handicappers than the Packers had been.

Three days before the game, Namath responded to a heckler with the now-famous line: "We'll win the game. I guarantee you." His words eventually made headlines across the country, but were dismissed as mere bravado by most observers.

In the game, however, Namath backed up his boast and showed that his success against tough American Football League competition had more than prepared him to take on the NFL. The Colts' vaunted defense was unable to contain the Jets' running or passing game, while their ineffective offense gave up four interceptions to the Jets. Namath was the game's MVP, completing eight passes to George Sauer alone, for 133 yards. Namath acquired legendary status for American Football League fans as the symbol of their league's legitimacy.

Not long after this, Namath grew a Fu Manchu moustache, which contrasted him even more with his clean-shaven peers. In probably the most touted act in the history of shaving, Namath shaved his mustache off in a television commercial for Remington electric razors for a fee of $10,000.

After the season, Namath opened a popular Upper East Side bar called "Bachelors III", which quickly became frequented by social undesirables, with plans to open branches in Florida and Boston. To protect the league's reputation, the NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle, ordered Namath to divest himself of his interest in the bar. Namath reacted defiantly, retiring from football during a teary news conference. Down at the NFL offices panic ensued. His presence on Sunday afternoons meant millions of dollars in television ad revenue. Working through intermediaries, a meeting between Namath and Rozelle was arranged. It lasted well into the night, and in the end the antagonists reached a compromise. Namath would sell his share of the New York Bachelors III only. He would retain his shares of the Boston and Miami locations, as well as any that might open in the future. After missing most of training camp, Namath came out of retirement and reported to the Jets.

The head of ABC's televised sports, Roone Arledge, made sure that Monday Night Football's inaugural game would feature Namath and the New York Jets in a game against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. A record crowd of 85,703 and a huge television audience watched the Jets set a team record for penalties and lose on a late Namath interception.

After not missing a single game because of injury in his first five years in the league, Namath played in just 28 of a 58 possible games because of various injuries between 1970 and 1973 as the Jets struggled with records of 4-10, 6-8, 7-7, and 4-10. His most memorable moment in those four seasons came on September 24, 1972 in Baltimore, when he and boyhood idol Johnny Unitas combined for 872 passing yards. Namath bombed the Colts for 496 yards and six touchdowns in a 44-34 victory, New York's first victory over Baltimore since Super Bowl III. In that same game, Unitas threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns. This game is considered by many NFL experts to be the finest display of passing in a single game in league history.

When he played, Namath always managed to improve the Jets level of play. In a 1974 game against city rival New York Giants, Namath scored a game-tying touchdown on a five-yard bootleg, and then hit Emerson Boozer with a touchdown pass in overtime to lift the Jets to a 26-20 victory (the first regular season game in NFL history to be decided in overtime), launching New York on a six-game winning streak to end the 1974 season at 7-7. The Jets were poised to make another play-off run under Namath's leadership, and "Gang Green" seemed likely to win during the 1975 pre-season, but collapsed after the short NFL strike of September as 1975 and 1976 became a series blow-outs punctuated by punishing sacks of Joe Namath. The Jets were lucky to finish 3-11 both years.

In the twilight of his career, Namath was waived by the Jets to facilitate his move to the Los Angeles Rams when a trade couldn't be worked out. He was signed by the Rams on May 12, 1977. Namath hoped to revitalize his flagging career, but by this point his effectiveness as a quarterback was greatly reduced by his knee injuries, a bad hamstring and the general ravages of a long period of time playing professional football, as well as his "hard and fast" lifestyle. After a 2-1 start, Namath took a beating on a cold, windy and rainy Monday night game in a one point loss at the Chicago Bears and was through for the regular season.

He did not play again, but redemption and a Hollywood ending was there for the taking. After a disastrous three quarters of turnovers and only trailing by seven points in the opening round of the play-offs, Head coach Chuck Knox seemed ready to pull Pat Haden and insert Namath. Rams assistant coach Kay Stephenson said Joe looked great warming-up in the third quarter and advised Knox to put him in. The television audience was on the edge of their seat's as it appeared Namath would replace Pat Haden and save the Ram's season. But Knox hesitated. Haden's problems continued and the Rams lost to the Vikings by a score of 14-7 in a sea of mud at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Namath retired from the Rams after a single season. Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame despite being just a 50% career passer and throwing 50 more interceptions than touchdowns. Namath's bravado prior to Super Bowl III and reputation for having the quickest release of any quarterback in any era was responsible for his entrance into the Hall. Only Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins has been compared to Namath for his rocket release time.

Movie and television career

Namath went on to a minor career as an actor in several movies and starred in a brief 1978 television series, The Waverly Wonders. He guest-starred on everything from The Brady Bunch to The Flip Wilson Show and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In to The Dean Martin Show and The Simpsons to The A-Team and The John Larroquette Show. He was guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson several times, as well as hosting his own show, the 1969 cult classic The Joe Namath Show (co-hosted by Dick Schaap) with its eclectic guest pairings and open-bar attitude.

He was also used as a color commentator on broadcasts of NFL games for a while, including the 1985 season of Monday Night Football, but never seemed to be particularly comfortable in this role and slightly over-critical of then current players.

Controversial moments

By far, his most controversial moment was the long multimedia event reported above under Pro Football Career when his words made headlines across the country and were discussed wildly on talk and sports programs preceding the January 1969 game, now called Super Bowl III. Three days before the game, Namath responded to one particularly loud heckler with the now-famous line: "We'll win. I guarantee it." which sparked the media feeding frenzy. (It is noted, however, in at least one Namath biography that Namath's guarantee, while being made before the game, did not get widespread press until after the Jets won Super Bowl III.)

Some would argue that the term 'Super Bowl' came about as he aptly made the AFL's case on the field that day. Shortly afterwards, his fame assured, Namath created new controversy by starring in a succession of commercial advertisements as something of a playboy 'sex symbol', including an outrageous commercial for pantyhose (with Namath wearing them) that for the time, in the 'plain vanilla' TV-culture then, were viewed by many as borderline tasteful. This spawned a new era of television advertising with athlete sex-symbols that continues today.

In December 2003, during a Jets game broadcast on ESPN, an inebriated Namath told interviewer Suzy Kolber, "I want to kiss you. I couldn't care less about the team strugg-a-ling." He has since apologized. Later, he publicly admitted to an alcohol problem, and entered into an outpatient alcoholism treatment program on January 12, 2004, the 35th anniversary of Super Bowl III.


Namath, who makes his residence in Tequestas, Florida, returned to the University of Alabama to complete 15 hours of course work toward the bachelor's degree he never earned. He graduated on December 15, 2007.


Namath's nickname was "Broadway Joe"; he is sometimes called "Joe Willie Namath", a characterization popularized by Howard Cosell. He originated the fad of wearing a full-length fur coat on the sidelines, a habit which was adopted by many players after him. He also appeared in television advertisements both during and after his playing career, most notably for shaving cream (in which he was shaved by a then-unknown Farrah Fawcett) and pantyhose; they contributed to his becoming something of a pop-culture icon. He has appeared in advertising as recently as 2003. He reportedly lived a somewhat hedonistic lifestyle and many anecdotal reports exist of women propositioning him for dates whenever he was seen in public places.

Namath also opened several bars using his nickname Broadway Joe's in both New York City and in Tuscaloosa. These continue today with moderate success.

Namath spent many years appearing as a booster for golf tournaments and other good causes, for years for youth camps including football camps and lately for arthritis. He has served as a March of Dimes volunteer for over 40 years. Most recently he was the March of Dimes' WalkAmerica Honorary Chair from 1998-2007. He also holds a celebrity golf outing annually on Long Island to benefit the March of Dimes.

Namath had many notable lines during the NFL Films presentation of NFL 75 Seasons. Recounting his 1969 Super Bowl performance, he said "It was such a feeling of elation, joy, tickling explosions inside, the teammates we did it, we were #1". "The same three words keep coming back: 'We did it. WE DID IT.'" Namath's infectious and genuine joy at recounting this made it natural for NFL Films to feature this quote in advertisements for its historic series, somewhat ironic, since Super Bowl III was a resounding American Football League victory, and an ignominious defeat for the arrogant NFL.

Talking about the Raiders he said, "You were always playing a tough football team, and some of the guys cheated. Some of the guys kicked and bit and hit ya in the back, some of that kind of stuff, hit ya in the back of the head, and it's on film".


  • Joe Namath. (November 23, 2007). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:09, November 27, 2007 [1]
  • Anderson, Dave (December 10, 2003) "PRO FOOTBALL; Namath, 60, to Earn Degree." New York Times
  • Roberts, Randy & Ed Krzemienski (2013) Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath & Dixie's Last Quarter. New York: Twelve Books. ISBN 9781455526338