I feel like I must respond to something I saw the other day on SB Nation New York. It was a post written by site editor Ed Valentine pointing out how an ESPN vote rated Joe Namath as the most overrated player of all time. I find any list of "overrated" players that contains the NFL's all-time leading rusher, who also was integral to three Super Bowl winners, as somewhat lacking. This list also absurdly has Joe Montana's name on it. Ed seems to agree with the list, though.
Take that, Broadway Joe. Sadly, I am not going to argue with it.
Here are some of Joe Willie's career numbers, from Pro-Football-Reference.com, via ESPN.
- Career Record: 62-63-4.
- Completion Percentage: 50.1 (1,886 of 3,762).
- Touchdowns: 173.
- Interceptions: 220.
Closest comparison I can find in today's game is Rex Grossman(more INTs that TDs for his career, 54% completions). What is Grossman now? A backup quarterback. I am not saying that is what Namath would be today, but it's amazing that his 'Hall of Fame' resume includes numbers that equate to a current backup QB.
Usually we get some member from The Phinsider writing stuff before the two Jets-Dolphins games each year. I think there is a case to be made that Namath was overrated. There is no case to be made that Namath was as bad as Grossman.
When comparing a quarterback of Namath's era with a quarterback of Grossman's era, you absolutely cannot treat numbers the same. It's not an apples to apples comparision. The rules of the game have changed markedly in favor of wide receivers, which makes the passing game a lot easier. What happened to receivers on a typical play in Namath's day would be pass interference more often than not in today's league.
The numbers back this up. Let's not compare the raw numbers. Let's compare how they rated relative to their respective eras. Since pro-football-reference.com was the website of choice when making the Namath-Grossman comparison, let's use that. Namath led his league in passing yardage three times. He was in the top three on three other occasions. Grossman was never in the top ten. Namath led his league once in touchdown passes. He was second three other times. One top ten showing for Grossman, when he finished seventh in 2006. Yards per passing attempt is a significant statistic. There are guys who complete a high percentage of passes, but if they are a bunch of check downs for no yardage, it doesn't do the team much good. Namath led his league twice and finished top three three times more. Zero again for Grossman.
The numbers indicate Namath finished his career 9% better than the league average in yardage per attempt. His completion percentage was 2% better than league average. Grossman's completion percentage is 20% below league average. He falls 9% below league average in yardage per attempt.
Namath twice won his league's Player of the Year award. One of them was in 1968, the year the Jets won that Super Bowl. The fact he was regarded as the AFL's best player over the course of that season makes the notion he's only remembered because he made a guarantee a tough sell. Grossman never won a Player of the Year or MVP.
There is another factor in Namath's career, his knees. He had chronic knee problems during his career, including a 1971 injury that he felt for the rest of his career. I have heard anecdotal reports from medical professionals that with today's medicine he would have been fine by the next year. He had some good seasons after that, but the knee problems existed.
Let's use pro-football-reference.com's comparisions. They have crunched the numbers and produced players with the most similar careers. If you take him from before the point of his career when the knee injuries ravaged him, names like Troy Aikman, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Fran Tarkenton, and Dan Fouts appear.
Rex Grossman he was not.