Looking back on Joe Namath's career
There aren’t many names more synonymous with big-time football than Joe Namath’s. From leading the most prestigious college football program in the country to talking a big game and backing it up on the biggest stage in America, Broadway Joe broke the mold as a quarterback and earned a reputation as one of the most unique figures in football history.
Namath is the son of two Hungarian immigrants, Rose and János. Their original last name was Nemet, but it was changed to Namath when they came to American in 1911. Joe was born in Beaver Falls, Pa. on May 31, 1943, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh in an area that would come to be known as a quarterback hotbed. Growing up in a steel town, Namath would eventually blossom into a three-sport star at Beaver Falls High School in football, basketball and baseball. Namath was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and considered signing with the baseball club out of high school. Instead, he accepted a football scholarship from Alabama and Bear Bryant after failing to qualify at the University of Maryland.
Alabama days (1962-64)
When Namath got to Tuscaloosa, he shifted his middle name from William to Willie, thinking that it sounded more like the name for an Alabama quarterback. The nickname, Joe Willie, stuck with him for the rest of his career. At the time, Bryant called Namath the greatest athlete he’d ever coached.
At Alabama, Namath led the Crimson Tide to a 29-4 record over three seasons and the 1964 national championship. During his time in Tuscaloosa, Namath’s individuality began to come into the public eye. Having grown up in a predominantly black area and going to college during the height of the Civil Rights movement, Namath reportedly clashed with many of his white teammates while defending African Americans. Namath was also suspended for the 1963 Sugar Bowl after violating curfew, a game that Alabama won anyway.
In his final season on campus, Namath suffered a knee injury that prevented him from starting the Orange Bowl, although he came into the game and was named MVP. Despite suffering a loss to Texas, Alabama was still crowned national champion. Namath left Alabama as the school record holder in several passing categories.
Professional career (1965-77)
If Namath was unusual at the college level, he truly broke the mold in the pros. When he came out of college in 1965, he signed a then-record three-year, $427,000 contract with the New York Jets, then in the AFL, and was drafted No. 12 overall by the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. The bidding war for Namath sparked the NFL and AFL to come together to hold the first Super Bowl in 1967.
There wasn’t a ton of fanfare around the first few championship games, but Namath changed that, too, in Super Bowl III. Leading up to the game against the favored Baltimore Colts, Namath publicly guaranteed the Jets would win, and they did, pulling a 16-7 upset over Johnny Unitas’ team.
Namath suffered through a slew of injuries over the next several years, including a recurrence of the knee injury he suffered at Alabama and several other maladies that he became well known for. Despite his injuries and relatively unimpressive statistics (although he was the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season), Namath still compiled a Hall-of-Fame career, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Namath was as much known for his image away from the gridiron as he was for his play on it. For instance, he owned a bar in New York, called “Bachelors III,” which he was ordered to sell his stake in to preserve the NFL’s image, as it came to be associated with an unsavory type of crowd. He initially refused and retired prior to the 1970 and 1971 seasons, but eventually changed his mind both times. Namath was known for his long hair, his Fu Manchu mustache and his propensity to wear mink coats, even on the sidelines during Jets games — something he still does today.
Namath also pieced together an acting career, starting with the 1970 film C.C. and Company. He starred in a host of commercials, many of which poked fun at his playboy reputation, and had a role in his own TV series. He made appearances on a host of shows, from The A-Team to Married…With Children to The Brady Bunch.
Namath married Deborah Mays in 1984 and the couple had two children, Jessica and Olivia, before divorcing in 2000.
Namath has also become known for an incident on Monday Night Football when, after too much to drink, he told ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber he wanted to kiss her. Namath enrolled in alcohol rehabilitation shortly after.
After leaving Alabama without a degree, Namath earned a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies in 2007.