Joe Namath was my favorite Quarterback growing up …so much so I wore his jersey in the same package that came with shoulder pands, pants and a a jets helmet. He is the only athlete whose jersey I actually bought and wore. I played quarterback because I wanted to imitate Joe Namath. He was smooth and had a great throwing arm and he was accurate. If he could only stay healthy … if you thought his stats were good if he were healthy during his time his stats would have been even better. Don’t forget his stats came at a time when the NFL was not the pass happy league it is now.
Despite suffering a nagging knee injury in the fourth game of his senior year at Alabama, Namath limped through the undefeated regular season to the Orange Bowl. He was a first round draft selection by both the National Football League and the upstart American Football League. The two competing leagues were at the height of their bidding war and held their respective drafts on the same day: November 28, 1964. The cartilage damage to Namath’s right knee later designated him class 4-F for the military draft, a deferment from service during the Vietnam War.
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Namath twelfth overall in the NFL draft, while the Jets selected him with the first overall pick of the AFL draft. He elected to sign with the Jets, who were under the direction of Hall of Fame owner Sonny Werblin, the day after the Orange Bowl for a salary of $427,000 over three years (a pro football record at the time) and never put on a Cardinals uniform. Offensive tackle Sherman Plunkett came up with the nickname “Broadway Joe” in 1965, following Namath’s appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July.
As a rookie in 1965, Namath split time with Mike Taliaferro, as the Jets were winless in their first six games. They won five of the last eight and Namath was named the American Football League Rookie of the year. He became the first professional quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a season (1967) when he threw for 4,007 yards in a 14-game season, a record broken by Dan Fouts in 1979 (4,082) in a 16-game season. He was a four-time American Football League All-Star, in 1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969, although he was plagued with knee injuries through much of his career and underwent four pioneering knee operations by Dr. James A. Nicholas. 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. He was an 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.
A high point in his career was his performance in the Jets’ 16–7 win over the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl in January 1969, before the AFL-NFL merger. Namath was named MVP of Super Bowl III, the win made him the first quarterback to start and win a national championship game in college, and to start and win a major professional league championship and a Super Bowl. The 1968 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 in Miami with the now-famous line: “We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.” His prediction was initially ignored, but it became legendary after the Jets’ upset of the Colts.
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. When he was asked by reporters after the game whether the Colts’ defense was the “toughest he had ever faced”, Namath responded “That would be the Buffalo Bills‘ defense.” The AFL-worst Bills had intercepted Namath five times, three for touchdowns, in the their only win in 1968 in late September. They finished at 1–12–1 and were awarded the top pick in the 1969 Common Draft; they selected Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson.
Namath is in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. While his career statistics are not exceptional (e.g.: Career passing percentage 50.1, QB rating 65.5, 50 more interceptions than TD’s), Namath was the game’s first true media superstar, and also the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards during the 14-game 1967 season. Nobody achieved this feat again until Dan Fouts in 1979, a year after the NFL adopted a 16-game season format and enacted new rules that gave more protection to quarterbacks and wide receivers. Namath’s style of play in the years before his knees limited his mobility helped evolve the quarterback position in the NFL, and also initiated a gradual change in the typical style of an NFL offense from a run-oriented ball control game to a more open passing style. Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh stated that Namath was “the most beautiful, accurate, stylish passer with the quickest release [he’d] ever seen.” Hall of Fame coach Don Shula stated that Namath was “one of the three smartest quarterbacks of all time.”
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday Salutes…Broadway Joe …Joe Namath.
Career highlights and awards