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Looking back on Joe Namath’s remarkable 1967 season

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Remember how incredible Joe Namath’s 4,007 passing yards in 1967 were? If you don’t, it’s time for a refresher. If you do, it’s still time for a refresher!

NFL: Super Bowl LI-NFL Honors Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It is Records Week here at SB Nation. Each team site has been asked to discussed one record significant to their team. Today we are going to examine how incredible Joe Namath’s 4,007 passing yards in 1967 were.

Back during the 1919 baseball season, Babe Ruth hit 29 homeruns. That sounds solid but unremarkable by today’s standards. In proper context, however, it was spectacular. The production came at the end of baseball’s dead ball era, when homers were much more difficult to come by than they are today. Nobody else in the American League had more than 10 homers that year.

In many ways, Joe Namath’s career has come to suffer from the failure of many to understand the context of statistics. People look at Namath’s production and compare it to the output of quarterbacks in 2018. By that measure, Namath doesn’t look very good.

You have to remember, however, that back in Namath’s day offensive systems weren’t the sophisticated machines you see today. Quarterbacks didn’t have 21st century refined play design creating a ton of easy completions. Defensive backs were allowed to get much more physical to impede receivers than they are today. These are just a few of the things that must be considered to understand the context of Namath’s era.

The 4,007 yards Namath gained through the air in 1967 look good but unspectacular by today’s standards. Eight quarterbacks threw for more yards in 2017.

In Namath’s day, however, it was remarkable. That was the first time a professional quarterback ever eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in a single season. It wouldn’t happen again for another twelve years. When Dan Fouts achieved it in 1979, he played in 16 games. Namath played in 14 in 1967.

Now consider the context of where Namath rated relative to his peers. The average AFL team had 2,562 passing yards in 1967. Namath threw for 56.4% more yards than the average team in his league.

Tom Brady led the NFL with 4,577 passing yards in 2017. That was 27.8% more yards than the average team. 56.4% more than the league average would put a quarterback over 5,600 yards.

This isn’t to say that Namath automatically throws for a record-smashing 5,600 yards if you drop him into today’s NFL, but it should offer some perspective of the extent to which he towered over his peers when he played the game.