'Broadway Joe' turns 80
If you grew up watching those AFL games on NBC, then you probably remember Joe Namath, who was born in Beaver Falls, PA, on this day in 1943. What I recall is that all the girls in high school suddenly spoke about touchdown passes and the guys were jealous that Joe had girls chasing him.
Namath came out of Alabama and was signed by the new AFL. The league needed big college players to compete with the mature NFL. They also made Joe the face of the league and appealed to younger fans, especially women watching on television.
Joe did not disappoint the AFL. In fact, he won Super Bowl III, the game that gave the AFL instant credibility. The best part is that he walked the talk when he predicted a Jets victory. I saw that game with my brother and father. My sister did not watch, but she always said that Joe was cute. What girl did not think that? Maybe the Baltimore girls who found Joe a bit too much off a big mouth.
The game, not called Super Bowl until later, was the perfect stage for Namath. He was a genius that day, as they wrote back in 1969:
Almost no one thought the New York Jets could penetrate the fine Baltimore defense, but Namath was sure of it and said so. "We're a better team than Baltimore," he said before the game. He was lying by the pool at the Gait Ocean Mile Hotel, where the Jets stayed, tanned and oiled against the sun. Namath reminds you a bit of Dean Martin in his relaxed confidence and in the droop of his heavy-lidded eyes. He is a man of immense self-assurance and, as he showed early in the week, a man of startling honesty.
"Earl Morrall would be third-string quarterback on the Jets," he said. "There are maybe five or six better quarterbacks than Morrall in the AFL."
It was called loudmouthing and bragging, but as it turned out, Super Joe told it the way it was. In a surpassing display of passing accuracy and mental agility, he picked the Colt defense apart. Then, with a comfortable 16-0 lead, he prudently relied upon a surprisingly strong running game through most of the fourth quarter to protect that lead. He read the puzzling Colt defenses as easily as if they had been printed in comic books, and the Colt blitz, a fearsome thing during the regular NFL season, only provided Namath with the opportunity to complete key passes.
"We want them to blitz," Jet Coach Weeb Ewbank had said before the game. "Joe reads the blitz real well. We like blitzing teams." When it was over, Namath said, "I'll tell you one thing. No champagne in the dressing room of the world champions is a ridiculous thing. Of course, I've never been here before."
To be honest, I loved Joe but did not think that he'd beat the mighty Colts. The funny part is that everyone in school was talking about the game the next day. And everyone said with a straight face that they knew the Jets would win. Too bad we didn't have iPhones back then to show them all their videos or texts picking the Colts.
Beyond that game and all the TV commercials, Joe was also a very good quarterback: 173 TDs and over 27,000 yards passed. We remind you that most of the numbers came in his first five seasons. He was hurt a lot after winning that Super Bowl in 1969. Joe was more than numbers. He made the AFL and was responsible for the merger in 1970.
Namath is one of my all-time favorite sports personalities! The Jets knew something when they gave him all that money to play with them.
Time flies and Namath is 80.
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Image: NY Jets