Joe Namath recently turned 78, so Jets X-Factor remembers the New York Jets legend’s most memorable on and off-the-field moments.
Once upon a time, a gifted athlete from Beaver Falls, PA roamed wild. He did so on the football field, though his muddy, messy and oftentimes dangerous gridiron is foreign to today’s turf. He did so off the field as well, as it related to the ladies and Hollywood.
This Western Pennsylvania kid roamed so wild that a mink coat made its unlikely and outrageous professional football debut.
Joe Namath, a man who’s just as responsible for today’s modern professional football landscape than any one individual, roamed wild during a magical time simply known as The Sixties. It’s one of the significant reasons this New York Jets legend became America’s first true sports pop culture icon.
Granted, one’s definition of a “sports pop culture icon” varies. For instance, Brooklyn Dodgers great and pioneer Jackie Robinson can easily fall into that category. Arnold Palmer also came before Namath, and the golf legend’s business prowess also led to his obvious crossover into the mainstream.
But it was the decade of the 1960s that initially allowed athlete-celebrity-entertainment crossover to truly blossom, and two men were at the forefront: Muhammad Ali and Namath.
He was larger than life, nearly a mystical presence that hit the scene at the perfect time. How fans reacted around The Beatles during those early days is in the late 60s-Namath ballpark.
Hysterical young ladies and polarizing opinions on the man’s day job simply set the stage for one of the more unique professional sports careers of all time.
Joe Namath turns 78 years old today, and, as usual, he's still simply "trying to get by." (courtesy @nflnetwork 'A Football Life') @RealJoeNamath #Jets 🚨NY Jets all-time team: https://t.co/OuSSwxMegz pic.twitter.com/sCOFXP8fTM
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) May 31, 2021
The quarterback with several movie credits to his name—C.C. and Company co-starring Ann-Margret at the top of the list—turned 78 years old on Monday, Memorial Day 2021. And yes, the smart money is on the idea that he’s still just “trying to get by.”
With this most recent milestone in mind, Jets X-Factor remembers Joe Namath’s most memorable on and off-the-field moments.
Super Bowl 3 guarantee
Joe Namath’s most memorable moments list always stars this inclusion.
Perhaps the real-time guarantee wasn’t as boisterous or frenzied as history would not have us believe. And maybe No. 12 didn’t blow away the competition with his golden right arm on this specific day. But it still happened, and it represents the turning point in American sports.
Think about what the NFL has become. Back then, baseball still ruled the land. Boxing was still up in the mix, perhaps even still as a close second. Even horse racing enjoyed its place in line. Namath’s defiant guarantee in the face of 18-point-underdog odds against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3 is what provided the AFL with a hint of legitimacy. For the time ever, football fans and those who operated within each league understood that something bigger was possible.
Up until January 1969, the AFL was considered a joke. This AFL-NFL Championship Game in professional American football was considered a joke up until Super Bowl 3. The NFL viewed it as a necessary chore in order to rid themselves of a nagging and incompetent lookalike.
Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers delivered on everybody’s preconceived notions for two straight years until Namath and the Jets changed everything. One Kansas City Chiefs championship later and the merger’s official endpoint became a reality.
Namath did manage to throw for 206 on 17 of 28 passing en route to Super Bowl 3 MVP honors, but it was his unwavering belief and on-the-field management that changed the course of football history that day.
To throw for 4,000 yards in a season back then was considered flat-out ridiculous. Remember, both leagues still featured a mere 14-game schedule. (Actually, how those guys would react to a 17-game slate with just one bye week is an interesting thought.)
Namath hit the 4,000-yard mark (4,007 to be exact) in 1967. He played in all 14 games and just got over the magical number, accomplishing something many thought would never be done at the time.
The previous AFL season-high was 3,465 yards in 1964 by the Boston Patriots’ Babe Parilli. Only San Diego’s John Hadl could ever surpass Parilli’s mark, throwing for 3,473 yards in 1968. Never had an NFL quarterback reached that level either. The closest was Sonny Jurgensen’s 3,723 passing yards in 1961 and 3,747 in 1967, the same year Namath hit 4,000.
Namath managed to throw for 26 touchdowns as well, but George Blanda’s 36 in 1961 stood the test of AFL time. Namath did also throw a league-high 28 interceptions that year, but make sure that number is always neatly placed into the correct context. Quarterbacks threw many more interceptions during that time period.
No matter how it’s dissected, 4,007 yards over 14 games was an absurd accomplishment for a changing sport looking to move the excitement needle.
Namath’s arrival-$400K contract
Joe Namath’s arrival was an event unto itself. His decision to choose the AFL’s Jets over the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, who decided to select Namath 12th overall in the 1965 NFL draft (held in November 1964), was a massive headline.
Namath’s decision to choose the AFL over the longstanding and solidified NFL was a major boon. It also didn’t hurt Namath’s pockets.
Then-Jets owner Sonny Werblin was an entertainment industry executive who understood what Namath’s presence meant, so he offered the Alabama product a contract reportedly worth $427,000.
The AFL splash ultimately led to the famous July 1965 Sports Illustrated cover etched in our minds to this day.
Namath and Ali on TV
Namath’s entertainment career began to take off following his shocking Super Bowl 3 victory. The Joe Namath Show, hosted by Namath himself and the legendary Dick Schaap, only lasted 13 episodes (one season, 1969-70). But it didn’t go off the air until after Muhammad Ali paid a visit.
Namath’s talk-show prowess left a lot to be desired, but the mere sight of these two icons together at the time is something those who lived the era always remembered.
Namath to Maynard at Shea-AFL title
Namath’s single-greatest throw happened at Shea Stadium en route to Super Bowl 3.
Down three points in the fourth quarter of the 1968 AFL championship against the tough Oakland Raiders, Namath found Don Maynard down the right sideline for a 52-yard chunk. (Pay no attention to the fact Maynard’s catch would have been overturned or ruled incomplete by today’s standards.) It was the springboard that led to the game-winning 6-yard score from Namath to Maynard a little later.
Rumor has it that Namath was out partying the night before, yet it didn’t stop him from leading the Jets to their first and only AFL title.
Namath shocks the world in pantyhose, more commercials
By 1973, Namath was a household name. He had won a Super Bowl, starred in movies and even had his own talk show. What could possibly come next?
Namath shocked the world with a Beautymist pantyhose commercial that was immediately deemed controversial.
Another notable Namath commercial was his famous Noxzema shaving cream job with Farrah Fawcett.
The first Monday Night Football game
The Jets’ very first game of the 1970 season placed them in the spotlight yet again. Namath’s team, along with the Cleveland Browns (now of the same league), played in the first Monday Night Football game. Obviously, Namath was the main attraction and the man TV execs targeted in order to get this crazy primetime football idea kickstarted.
New York lost 31-21 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, but history had been made. Namath threw for 298 yards and a touchdown to three costly interceptions on 18 of 31 passing.
‘C.C. and Company’ and Hollywood
Though Namath will never be considered a great talk show host, he had no problem taking on the challenge. No greater challenge could come his way than Hollywood, yet Joe Willie accepted it with open arms.
Following the cancellation of “The Joe Namath Show,” Namath took to Hollywood to play a role in the film Norwood” released in May 1970. Shortly thereafter, he co-starred alongside Ann-Margret in C.C. and Company, released in September 1970.
By the time it was all said and done, Namath had starred in several movies. (No, No. 12 never received an Academy Award nod.)
The Dean Martin Roast
The moment anybody’s invited to The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast is the moment that individual realized he or she had made it big. It happened for Namath in 1978.
The star-studded dias featured Lee Meriwether, Angie Dickinson, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, David Doyle, Tom Bosley, Bernie Kopell, Rich Little, George Blanda, Dick Butkus, Mel Tillis, Norm Crosby, Jackie Gayle, Bruce Jenner, Jimmie Walker, Orson Welles, Joey Bishop, Sandy Herdt, Ruth Buzzi and Charlie Callas.
The Bachelor’s III-retirement saga
The strangest moment in Namath’s career occurred during the Summer of 1969. A lot happened following Super Bowl 3, in fact. Not only was Namath set to embark on his entertainment career, but he also briefly retired from the game.
When then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted Namath to cut all ties from his bar, the popular Bachelor’s III on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, due to the idea it was attracting frequenters of organized crime, Namath felt no other choice remained but to retire from the game.
Imagine that. Your Jets just won the Super Bowl, yet the quarterback retires during the prime of his career. Only the Jets.
Fortunately for all involved, Namath eventually relented, sold the nightclub and reported to the Jets in time for the 1969 season. Interestingly, he threatened to retire prior to the 1970 and 1971 seasons as well, but that never came to fruition.
New York (magazine) reported at the time that he never followed through on the threats thanks to some poor investments. He simply needed the money.
Ironically, Namath ultimately hung onto the sport for too long, playing a forgettable 1977 season with the Los Angeles Rams prior to his 1976 stinker with the Jets.
The mink coat
Yes, Namath wore a full-length fur coat on the sideline during his playing days. Forget shock for a moment; the bold move traveled far beyond anything previously witnessed on a football field at the time.
The mink-coat-wearing icon decided to break it out again at Super Bowl 48 for MetLife Stadium’s big moment—the Seattle Seahawks blowout victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Namath’s Jets number retirement ceremony
Namath’s football career officially wrapped up in 1985 when he was both inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was honored by the Jets by way of a number-retirement at Giants Stadium.
On October 14, 1985, Namath’s No. 12 was officially retired by the Jets. It happened on Monday Night Football with the Miami Dolphins in town. That part of it was perfect, yet it also felt strange for those in attendance and watching from home as the ceremony took place in New Jersey’s Giants Stadium (the Jets had moved there the season prior).
One of the notable moments was Namath’s insistence that the diehard Jets fans not boo owner Leon Hess—who bought the Jets in 1963 but bought out his partners in 1977.