Sunday, May 25, 2014

Joe Namath Was More than a Showman

Joe Namath Topps Rookie Card

Joe Namath was born on May 31, 1943, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a steel-mill town outside of Pittsburgh.  His father and grandfather worked in the mills.  Namath was an excellent baseball and football player.  He turned down offers from professional baseball teams and decided to take a college scholarship.   

Namath played at the University of Alabama under Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.  He was the first overall pick in the 1965 draft by the AFL New York Jets.  New York Jets Coach Weeb Ewbank traded away draft rights to quarterback Jerry Rhome to the Houston Oilers in 1964 for their first round pick in 1965, which was used to snag Namath.  

On January 2, 1965, the Jets’ President Sonny Werblin signed Joe Namath to a 3-year no-cut contract that paid a reported $387,000 and a brand new Lincoln Continental.  Ewbank would say that the Jets would be the laughing stock of the NFL if Namath did not produce. His $387,000 salary would be worth about $3 million in today's dollars.  That's middle of the road at best for an NFL quarterback pay today.  

 Namath was at the center of a number of highly visible competitions.  He was the star player who might give a big popularity boost to the Jets versus the Giants in New York.  He was the AFL star who would give recognition to the new league that was dwarfed in so many ways by the NFL.  He was one of the big names that would help drive TV viewership under a big television contract that had been doled out by CBS.

Statistics would never accurately reflect Namath’s value to the Jets.  He would excel in big games and draw attention to his team in a town that was rich in sports teams.  Incredibly, some thought Namath lacked the intelligence to play in the big leagues.  Ewbank would say: “Our quarterback doesn’t have to be Phi Beta Kappa, but he has to be a thinker and a worker.” Namath fit the bill on both counts.  

In the 1968 season, Namath led the Jets to the NFL championship in Super Bowl III.  New York will never forget Namath--it remains the Jets sole Super Bowl win. 

Namath was the most critical man on the Jets’ offense and the early 70s would see Namath struggle to stay healthy.  While he had more than his share of injuries, he would play for 13 seasons.  In his 12 seasons with the Jets he would play roughly 80% of the games with injury riddled seasons mostly in 1970, 1971, and 1973.  Namath came into the pros after having knee injuries, but he worked through them. 

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.   

This article is taken from Patrick McCaskey's new book Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships

To catch up with Broadway Joe see Joe Namath on Facebook.