Broadway Joe Namath, for some people, is the greatest quarterback of all time, and those people are wrong. But should Namath be considered the most important and influential quarterback in history? There is a pretty strong argument to suggest he is.
Namath was already a household name before he even turned professional, thanks to his three seasons spent as the quarterback for the Crimson Tide. His time in Alabama ended with a national championship in his senior year, playing through a knee injury for the majority of the year.
The very same injury made Namath inegible for military service in Vietnam. His exploits at Alabama saw him taken in the first-round of both the NFL and AFL drafts. Broadway Joe was taken 12th by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL, and 1st overall by the AFL's New York Jets.
Both leagues were in the middle of an intense battle for talent, and a bidding war for Joe's signature quickly developed, which the Jets won. He signed a three-year $427k contract, the largest ever signed in professional football. Broadway Joe was heading for the bright lights of the big city, it was a match made in heaven.
But there were other parties competing to secure Broadway Joe's services, namely the Chicago Cubs of the MLB. The Cubs offered him a $50000 signing bonus to commit to baseball, but Namath's heart was with football.
The birth of Broadway Joe
Namath was originally christened Broadway by teammate Sherman Plunkett. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he had even taken a snap for his new team. The Jets legend has recounted the story many times, saying:
"We were in the locker room the day the magazine came out, and offensive tackle Sherman Plunkett looked at it, kind of shook his head a little, and said, ‘There goes Broadway Joe.’ And it stuck"
Despite getting off to a slow start, which meant he did not pick up his first win until week seven, he would quickly turn things around. Namath finished a respectable 5-8-1 en route to the AFL ROTY award. Broadway Joe had arrived and he was a box office attraction, both on and off the field.
For the next two seasons, Namath led the league in yards, touchdowns and interceptions following the merger of the NFL and AFL. Fans were tuning in to watch Joe as he became the league’s biggest attraction, for his flomboyant style, care-free attitude and private life escapades.
When the charismatic Jets quarterback wasn't entertaining on the field, he was regularly pictured with a host of female companions. The places you would see them at were some of the most popular clubs and restaurants.
Namath became the first quarterback to throw for over 4000 yards in a season. However, his do-or-die approach was risky and did not deliver the desired results for Gang Green. Namath was still unphased and said at the time:
"I’m convinced I’m better than anybody else. I’ve been convinced of that for quite a while. I haven’t seen anything out there that I couldn’t do and do well…I get annoyed with myself for doing something wrong…I tell myself, ‘you’re the best, damn it, do it right"
In 1968, Joe's assessment proved to be accurate as he etched the name Broadway Joe in NFL and American cultural history. During the regular season, the Jets complied an impressive 11-3 record, although Namath would still throw more interceptions than touchdowns. New York overcame the Oakland Raiders in the AFL championship game to set up a meeting with Don Shula's Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
The Jets were +17 point underdogs heading into the game, as the Green Bay Packers had won the Championship for the NFL the previous two seasons. The Colts were expected to do the same.
Joe had other ideas and was his normal confident self. Three days before the game, he provided the press with this legendary prediction when responding to a heckling Colts fan:
"We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee you,”
Namath delivered on his promise as the Jets defeated the Colts 16-7, and in truth it wasn't that close. But more importantly, the Jets laid a marker down for the AFL that they would no longer be considered inferior. The Jets showed that the merged football league was here to stay, thanks largely to Joe Namath.
His stats are not a reflection of his skills and his status within the game, Namath was a charismatic leader of men and a player people would pay to watch. He put fans in the stands and in front of the TV, without him the NFL would not be what it is today, it might not be here at all.