Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: "Namath" by Mark Kriegel (2005)

Joe Willie Namath, the man, the myth, the legend, laid bare with depth and skill by Mark Kriegel.  So many stories: the humble upbringing in a Pennsylvania steel town.  The high school pool hustler, white-boy basketball demon, the fast car driving Romeo, and of course the football star.

Onwards to the University of Alabama and the tough-love world of the infamous Paul "Bear" Bryant, where upon his arrival, Namath gets invited up into Bryant's field tower.  Maybe the only player to ever get invited up into the tower - and they immediately clicked.  A National Championship in 1964 followed.

Then the crazy draft / contract negotiation, where Joe shrewdly held out for more money, something that was to be a constant during his NY Jets career.  He took to NYC and all it had to offer like a duck to water and quickly earned the moniker "Broadway Joe".  His late nights and armloads of girls became legend.  He associated with gamblers and the mob, becoming so notorious that J. Edgar Hoover opened a file labeled "Namath".  The NFL Commissioner was in frequent contact.  Everyone had eyes on Joe.

And Joe got it done on the field, leading the upstart AFC Jets to the 1969 Super Bowl against the highly favored (+18) Baltimore Colts.  A couple of days before the big game and probably well-oiled, Joe Namath uttered the famous words: "We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it."  Against all predictions, the Jets won Super Bowl III by 16 to 7.

Sadly, this was the pinnacle of Joe's career.  Both his knees gave out.  The stout offensive line he had in 1969 was broken up and Joe took sack after sack and incurred many concussions.  He ended his NFL career in 1977, a shadow of the man that came into the league in 1966.  While he threw 173 TD's, he had 220 picks. Still he renowned for his ability to read defences and make changes at the line of scrimmage.  He elevated a good Jets team to great in 1969.

Off the field, Joe was was no stranger to the camera and Madison Avenue. He endorsed everything from pantyhose to shaving cream and appeared in several movies.  He owned bars and fast food chains and was smart enough to hire a very capable money manager who ensured Joe amassed serious wealth.  He had a successful stage career and in 1984 married a 22 year old actress (he was 41) and has two daughters. He got divorced in 2000 and ended up entering a clinic for alcoholics in 2004.  He is still heard from every now and then, grousing about the sad state of the Jets or making game predictions. For a full range of on and off the field activities, he may well be the all American boy.   Namath is a great read.

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