I recently took the time to watch the HBO documentary Namath. I always knew Joe Namath was praised for his toughness, confidence, and gun-slinger mentality, but I did not understand the impact that he had on the game of football. I was in awe of his early athleticism and pride of his home town Beaver Falls.
Namath credits his throwing style from the help of his brothers. In this video Namath describes his throw as one that is cocked back and rifled from the ear http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRKXyfQgOQA. He would be praised for his arm strength and delivery. It is amazing to actually see Joe throw and hear the release of the ball.
Namath is idolized in Beaver Falls, with many crediting him as the best player they have ever seen. Namath was an all around stellar athlete who batted .667 in his senior year of baseball. That led to numerous draft options. However, Namath turned down the offers due to the respect of his mother's wishes for him to attend college. Numerous top level teams were after Namath, however the fun loving Joe was not academically inclined to attend many schools. Luckily for him Bear Bryant wanted him solely for his football ability. The rest is history.
When Joe first visited Alabama he was ushered by Bryant to come oversee practice with him in the sacred watch tower. It was said that he was the first and only player to earn such an honor. The hardest transition for Namath came in the form of segregation and racial tension. Namath was friendly with many African Americans in Beaver Falls and found it hard to adjust to the Southern mentality. He said he was inspired when Vivien Malone entered the auditorium to register for classes.
Joe was praised by his fellow Crimson Tide teammates for his deception, knowledge, and athletic ability. His tradition was to tape his cleats in white wrap. One game Namath decided not to tape his cleats and sustained a serious knee injury that hindered his running ability. Players said it is a shame that fans never got to see a completely healthy Namath.
Namath would lead the Crimson Tide to a national title in 1964. He would butt heads with Coach Bryant over his social life. Bryant would suspend Namath after a night of drinking. He was on the verge of releasing Namath, but opted not to. Namath would praise coach Bryant in his Hall of Fame speech, stating that Bryant was " the man who taught me the meaning of integrity."
After his senior year, Namath had offers from both the AFL and NFL. He sought the help of Bear Bryant for a contract option. Coach Bryant told him to ask for $200,000. After negotiating with the Cardinals and Jets, Namath signed with the Jets for a contract package totaling over $400,000 (including a green Lincoln Continental, jobs for his brothers, and a home for his mother). At the time this was a record breaking contract.
Suddenly Namath blew up across the nation and New York. Every aspect of his life was publicized, including his knee surgery. He had the full package from looks to ability. Namath earned AFL rookie of the year honors. He became the first professional quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in 1967... in a 14 game season.
As Namath's fame grew so did the pressure to win. He had put up stellar numbers, however none of it mattered without a ring. He would would lead the Jets to the Superbowl after battling in what he called the toughest game he played in the 1968 AFL championship game against the Raiders.
The showdown was set between the Jets and the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. The Colts were favored by a whopping 17 points. Namath shocked the world by guaranteeing a win. What awed me the most about Namath was his confidence. It was borderline cocky, but extremely appealing. He was assertive, which is something the Jets organization (from coach to quarterback) lacks today.
Namath would play against his childhood idol Johnny Unitas (after starter Ear Morall sustained an in game injury) and lead the Jets to a victory. Namath would explode as an icon afterwards. He was covering numerous magazines, starring in commercials/films, and taking the sporting world over. He opened the infamous Bachelors III, where he frequently partied with New York's most heralded socialites. Life was good for Namath, or so it seemed.
He battled nagging injuries and substance abuse problems. As he once said, "I like my Johnnie Walker red and my women blonde." Namath would continue to play and receive abuse from opposing defenses. He would finish out his career with the Rams having limited success. Namath would retire after the 1977 season.
Namath ventured in acting roles and plays post-NFL, and would even settle down with a much younger Deborah Mays (nearly 20 years younger than Joe). Life turned around for Namath after the birth of his daughters. He would stop drinking and be a role model in his daughters life. Mays had differences with Joe. While he was winding down and enjoying the simplicities of life, Mays wanted to venture out. They would divorce and Joe would fall into a dark spiral of alcohol and pain.
Perhaps his darkest moment was the December 20, 2003 interview with Suzy Kolber. Namath and the all-time Jets team were honored at the game. Before the game he drank heavily. Kolber claims that she was not aware that Joe was intoxicated. I personally am disgusted by such a concept. It is easy to see when someone is inebriated and Kolber and ESPN took advantage of Namath. She had the poor excuse that she thought Joe was "too cold", therefore leading him to slur. ESPN would continue interviewing Namath despite his state. The incident was deeply saddening for Joe and he would apologize to Kolber and seek help.
Life would turn around and Namath would finish his degree at Alabama in 2006. Namath would return to Beaver Falls in an emotional turn of events. He was honored along with his state championship team at Beaver Falls High. You could see the genuine love for his hometown on his face.
Namath embodies all that football is. He had tenacity, passion, confidence and knowledge. Although his interceptions outweigh his touchdowns, Namath is praised for his toughness. One needs to look at the era and the difficulty of playing against ferocious defenses. Also look at the weapons Namath had. He did have players like Don Maynard, however he didn't have options that Peyton Manning, Montana, or Elway had.
I would always ask my dad who some of the greatest quarterbacks were and he would point to Namath. I never understood why until I watched his documentary. What he did was revolutionize football and the media. His personality and perseverance are what made him great and I am proud to say that he played for a team that I adore in the Jets.
If anyone was able to see Namath, feel free to cite some memorable moments and opinions.