Namath, Joe

views updated May 29 2018

Joe Namath


American football player

Joe Namath's bold guarantee before Super Bowl III made him an instant legend in the world of professional

football, but it was his glamorous image off the field that made him a celebrity and an icon to the rest of the world. In the sporting world of the 1960's, Namath represented the counterculture in a way that no athlete had before. While some athletes used their platform to advance their political views, such as Muhammad Ali , Namath seemed disinterested in playing any role other than the one that earned him the nickname, "Broadway Joe." His love of the nightlife and women brought youth culture to the normally conservative world of football. Starring for the New York Jets, owned by entertainment mogul Sonny Werblin, Namath indulged in the high life and made no excuses for his behavior. His celebrity lifestyle, however, never seemed to interfere with his performance on the field and was the reason his actions were not only tolerated, but celebrated. His guarantee of victory over the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl helped make the game the media event that it continues to be today. It also helped secure the reputation of the competing AFL, which was considered inferior to its rival league the NFL, and proved a victory for underdogs all over the country.

Born Joseph William Namath on May 31, 1943, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, he was the youngest of five children. His parents divorced when he was in the sixth grade and because of a lack of money the athletically gifted child learned to hustle to get by. Namath had little interest in going to college and was set on following his brother into a military career. His mother's wish that her son get an education along with the fifty-two offers he received from colleges desiring his passing skills, however, would ultimately determine his fate. Namath decided to go to Maryland, but failed to score high enough on the college board exams, so settled in at the University of Alabama, where he played for legendary coach Bear Bryant. Bryant would later call Namath, "the greatest athlete I have ever coached."

The College Years

His quarterbacking skills were so great while at Alabama that coach Bryant eventually changed his offense to accommodate his star player during Namath's sophomore year. Things did not always go as smoothly for the handsome college football star, being benched for two games for directing traffic while intoxicated was one such incident. His reputation for hijinks, however, would be quickly erased when he returned to take his team to the 1964 national championship. The injuries he would endure during his college days would continue to plague him throughout his professional career and would lead him to later claim that he left his game in college.


1943Born May 31 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
1960Leads high school team to undefeated season
1962Wins Orange Bowl with Alabama
1964Drafted by the New York Jets
1965Makes professional debut
1965Named AFL Rookie of the Year
1967Breaks single season passing record with 4,007 yards
1968Leads Jets to AFL Championship
1969Leads Jets to Super Bowl III victory
1977Signs as a free agent with the Los Angeles Rams
1977Retires from professional football
1984Marries Deborah Lynn Mays
1985Inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Awards and Accomplishments

1965Named AFL Rookie of the Year
1965Named Most Valuable Player at AFL All-star Game
1968Named Super Bowl III Most Valuable Player
1968-69Named AFL Player of the Year
1969Wins George Halas most courageous pro player award
1972Named All-Pro
1985Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Coming out of Alabama with a reputation and a freshly repaired knee, Namath was far from a sure thing. He was drafted by both the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL and the New York Titans of the AFL. In New York, the team had a new owner and soon a new name, the New York Jets. The offer he received set records and proved too much to turn down. Owner Sonny Werblin gave Namath a contract worth $427,000, which led to legendary Green Bay Packers' coach Vince Lombardi 's public outrage. This not only signaled the arrival of a new star but also an escalation in the amount professional athletes could demand. In addition to his salary, Namath was rewarded with a number of lavish bonuses and jobs for his brothers.

Instant Celebrity

His first few years in New York were more notable for his antics than his play. Namath quickly became a fixture in New York's nightlife partying until the wee hours with Johnnie Walker Red and filtered cigarettes. His dalliances with numerous women were the talk of the town. He grew a Fu Manchu mustache, invested in a Manhattan club called Bachelors III and claimed that he'd "rather go to Vietnam than get married." Although his behavior may not have been so different than that of his peers, Namath was as unafraid in the public eye as he had been on the field which led to greater press coverage of his lifestyle. In contrast to old fashioned NFL superstars, such as Johnny Unitas , Namath's white shoes and unruly hair scared the establishment and foretold things to come. Throughout his thirteen year career, Namath would be seen with everyone from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, to Raquel Welch and Elvis. "I used to drink with Sinatra and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis at Jilly's in New York," he'd remember years later. "Those guys were crazy. They stayed up all night. Every night. They didn't have anything to do in the morning. Didn't have to get up. Me, I had to go to practice. The good thing, though, was that the Jets practiced late. I didn't have to be there until noon. I could stay up pretty late and still get some sleep before practice started." At the age of twenty-six, he would title his autobiography I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow'Cause I get Better Looking Everyday and would even make it onto President Richard Nixon's enemies list.

Highs and Lows

In 1967, Namath earned his money becoming the first player to pass for over 4,000 yards, but his team was far from championship caliber. His fearlessness of play was overshadowed only by the pain he played through from his ailing knees. "I never played a down of pro football with a good knee. My game was left in college," Namath would recall. "Dr. Nichols of the Jets didn't see my knee until I'd hurt it for the fifth time. I'd had it go out and ripped five times before he operated on it the first time." Because of his reputation as a playboy, with his New York penthouse, white llama-skin rug and enormous oval-shaped bed, he wouldn't get credit for the courage and toughness he displayed until he proved himself the following year.

The Guarantee and Super Bowl III

After his record setting performance in 1967, Namath followed with a more conservative approach that had sportswriters scratching their heads. With a more complete supporting cast the Jets were poised to make a run for the Super Bowl. The game, a new phenomenon resulting from an agreement between the two leagues to match their two best teams in a battle for bragging rights, was the first step toward their eventual merger. The AFL, however, was considered the lesser league because of its wide-open style of play and characters like Namath. The league had suffered defeats in both of the previous Super Bowls to Lombardi's Packers and with Namath's Jets pitted against the ultraconservative powerhouse Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III it was widely considered a fore-gone conclusion. The Colts, with crewcut quarterback Johnny Unitas, represented the old NFL and the Jets with their young brash quarterback, the flashier AFL.

Career Statistics

LA: Los Angeles Rams; NYJ: New York Jets.

The Jets were seven-point underdogs going into the game in January 1969. Namath, frustrated with the lack of respect given to his team, guaranteed a victory before the game. "I try to explain that it wasn't an arrogant line, it was an angry one," Namath has said. "I was at the Miami Touchdown Club dinner at the Miami Springs Villa, and I was up at the mike, and someone yelled something nasty from the back and I said, 'Wait a minute, let's hold on. You Baltimore guys have been talking all week, but I've got news for you, buddy. We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it.'" The quote set off a media storm and the stage for what has become one of the most memorable Super Bowls in the game's history

The Jets made good on Namath's promise picking apart the Colts for a 16-7 victory in which he completed seventeen of twenty-eight passes for 206 yards. His offense dominated the Colts and the defense sealed the victory intercepting the Colts three times in the first half. The image of "Broadway Joe" trotting off the field after his team's shocking victory would be forever burned into the memories of football fans everywhere. "I got letters from a lot of high school coaches who told me they used the game as a motivator," Namath said. "Maybe it motivated some other people, too. There are a lot of underdogs in the world. Maybe it meant something to the underdogs in life."

The AFL and the NFL merged during the off-season and Namath once again made the papers. He was offered an ultimatum by Football Commissioner, Pete

Rozelle . Rozelle demanded that he sell his nightclub, because of the "undesirables" that frequented the establishment, or face indefinite suspension. Namath responded by announcing his retirement from football at the age of 26, saying he had to follow his conscience. Although he would reconsider and sell the club in time to participate in training camp, he felt the agreement went against his instincts.

Namath would stay with the Jets through the 1976 season without ever again reaching the heights he had achieved so early in his career. Because of chronic injuries and his advancing age the Jets placed their super-star quarterback on waivers after that season. Picked up on waivers by the Los Angeles Rams, he played for one more season before retiring at the age of thirty-four.

Hall of Fame Introduction Speech: Delivered by Larry Bruno

Thank you, Jim. Members of the clergy, Honorable Mayor, newly inducted members of the Hall of Fame, distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen. I am sure it is the dream of every professional football player to some day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Today that dream comes true. Gentlemen from the City of Champions, Beaver Falls, PA., let me congratulate all of you. Joe, the people of Beaver Falls and Beaver Valley want you to know they are very proud of you especially for not forgetting where you were born and raised. I am also sure the late Coach Paul Bryant is somewhere up there looking down today wearing his famous hounds tooth hat and if he could send you a message he probably would say in his deep southern voice, "way to go Joe, be brave." Joe, I want to publicly thank you for selecting me to introduce you today. This was one of the greatest events of my life. Again, thanks Joe.

If I had to choose one word to describe the fabulous career of Joe Namath, that word would be confidence. When Joe played football for Beaver Falls High School, the entire football team believed whatever play Joe called it would work, they would make it work because they knew Joe had confidence in them. A few years later, when Joe was playing professional football for the New York Jets, and the Jets were playing the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Joe made this statement, "I guarantee we will beat the Colts." This was not a cocky, or brass statement. The Jets were a 17-point underdog, but again, when Joe said we could win, his teammates believed they could win.

Just like in high school. The Jets did win that Super Bowl III and pulled one of the greatest upsets in modern football. Incidentally, the quarterback of the Colts that day was Johnny Unitas, Joe's idol in high school. Joe even wore number 19 in high school and that jersey will be included in the Hall of Fame, thanks to the late Athletic Director, Bill Ross. If Joe continues to have that same kind of confidence in his new field of entertainment, maybe someday we will be watching the Academy Awards program and the emcee will say, "the envelope please and the winner is ladies and gentlemen, Joe Namath."

Source: "Joe's Hall of Fame Speech." (November 23, 2002).


With his celebrity status intact and his continuing success as a corporate pitchman, Namath concentrated on a career as an actor in the late seventies. So enthralled with the craft he took acting classes to improve his abilities, he eventually gave it up under the strain of going from the top of his field to the bottom of another. Namath would continue to invest in business opportunities and enjoy a short stay on ABC's Monday Night Football. His main focus would become his family once the confirmed bachelor settled down and married a woman he met at a voice class in 1983. After having two daughters, Namath virtually dropped out of the public eye, moving to Florida because of the beneficial effects of warm weather on his still troublesome knees. "I have four dogs, two cats, two daughters and a wonderful wife," Namath said. "I wouldn't exactly call that quiet. Different, I guess." His picture perfect life would be disrupted, however, in 1999 when his wife of fourteen years filed for divorce.

Where Is He Now?

Namath lives in Florida and stays out of the limelight. He stopped broadcasting years ago because it took too much time away from his family. He now devotes his time to family matters and golf. The football camp that he has run for thirty-two years with friend and former teammate John Dockery in Massachusetts is also still a priority for Namath. The camp, for kids between eight and eighteen, concentrates on fundamentals, attitude and nutrition. Namath insists he has no interest in coaching or becoming more active in football.

Although Namath was not a perennial winner, playing for only four winning teams in his thirteen-year career, he was one of the game's greatest superstars. He achieved the highest honors possible during his career while continually making waves in the press. He gave a face to a struggling football league and nearly single-handedly created the art of pre-Super Bowl hype. With his heroic play on the field and his sex-symbol status off the field, Namath was an athlete that appealed to both men and women. Because of what he represents, perhaps even more than what he achieved, Namath continues to be larger than life even to fans too young to remember his impossible victory.



St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.


"Broadway Joe Doesn't Sell Here Anymore." Forbes (June 2, 1986): 206.

"Guaranteed Cool." Sports Illustrated (January 28, 1991): 72.

"Jilted Joe." People (April 19, 1999): 64.

"Joe Namath." Sports Illustrated (September 19, 1994): 96.

"Joe Namath and the Jets Changed the Game." The Providence Journal (January 29, 2002).

"Joe Namath is Intercepted for the Last Time." People (November 26, 1984): 50.

"Off Broadway Joe." Sports Illustrated (July 14, 1997): 76.

"Revolutionaries." Sports Illustrated (August 17, 1999): 78.

"The Sweet Life of Swinging Joe." Sports Illustrated (October 31, 1994): 50.

Sketch by Aric Karpinski

Namath, Joe

views updated May 21 2018

Namath, Joe ( Joseph William) (1943– ) (“Broadway Joe”) US football player. Joining New York in 1965 as quarterback, he had a phenomenally successful career over 13 seasons. In 1967 he passed for a record 4,007 yards.