Joe Namath's Early Years


 Joseph William Namath  (Joe Willie Namath)  was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (western Pennsylvania) on May 31, 1943 to John and Rose Namath.  (Western Pennsylvania was also the birth place of other notable NFL quarterbacks--Johnny Unitas--University of Louisville and the Baltimore Colts;  Dan Marino--University of Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins; Jim  Kelly--University of Miami, the Houston Gamblers and the Buffalo Bills;  Joe Montana--Notre Dame University and the San Francisco Forty Niners.)  

His grandfather, Andras Nemet,  was a Hungarian immigrant who worked in the coal mines and steel mills in the vicinity of Pittsburgh.  Andras Nemet later  changed his   name to Andy Namath  in order to fit in to the American culture.  Namath's Dad,  Jonas Nemet, changed his name to John Namath.  John Namath worked in the steel mills prevalent in that time and location.  

Joe's boyhood was spent growing up in a section of Beaver Falls known as "The Lower End", a predominantly black neighborhood.   Namath was known as "Joe Willie" and  excelled in baseball and basketball, at that time  the most popular sports.  In the ninth grade,  Namath started playing football at the quarterback position.  It was at about this time that his father and mother divorced.  Young Namath took the departure of his Dad from their home very hard and turned to mischief and bad behavior to channel his pain and hostilities.  

At Beaver Falls High  School, Namath became a star athlete in three sports--football, basketball and baseball  but he continued his "bad boy" behavior  by hanging out in a bar known as the "Blue Room".  In the "Blue Room" Namath developed and honed his skills in the game of "pool".   Along with the physical skills to shoot "pool",  Namath developed a self confidence that would serve him well in later years as he progressed in his football career.  Joe Namath came to believe that he was as good, if not better than anyone he played against and that "luck" was a skill that could be learned and developed.   He also learned to impart this faith in himself to his team mates in high school, at the University of Alabama and at the highest level of football, with the New York Jets.  His team mates came to believe that as long as Namath was leading them, they  had a chance to win their football game.  Perhaps this was the greatest skill  Joe Namath learned in his childhood.

Joe Willie excelled in high school football playing the quarterback position.  During his senior year, Namath led his team to a record of 10 wins and no losses.  College football  scholarship offers from major universities  poured in from every part of the country.

Joe Namath was also an outstanding baseball player and at least six major league teams offered Namath a major league contract including the Chicago Cubs  who offered Namath a $50,000 signing bonus.  Joe Willie actually wanted to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates  (he idolized Roberto Clemente), but, at his mother's behest,  Namath turned down the major league contracts and chose to accept a college football scholarship because his mother wanted him to "get a college education".

Namath's "bad boy"reputation deterred Joe Paterno  and the Penn State University Nittany Lions from offering Joe Willie a football scholarship.  Paterno, at that time the Penn State backfield coach was quoted as saying "Namath isn't Penn State  material.  He isn't a good student".   Namath's "bad boy" reputation also prevented the University of   Michigan Wolverines from offering him a football scholarship.  

Woody Hayes, head coach at Ohio State University and a fervent believer in his "three yards and a cloud of dust" running game never attempted to recruit Namath.  Instead,  Hayes called "Bear" Bryant and, (according to Lee Roy Jordan, an All-American linebacker  for the Crimson Tide),  told  Coach Bryant to recruit Namath because he (Hayes) was not going to recruit a passing quarterback like Namath.  Woody Hayes would rather have Namath play for the Crimson Tide than  have to face Joe Namath on an opposing Big Ten team.  

Although a few "big time" football factories rejected Namath because of his reputation, many were more than willing to PAY  Joe Namath to play for them.  As Namath would later say, "it was strange coming out of high school and having colleges offer me as much money as my father was making in a year working  for the steel mills". 

Namath then decided that he wanted to attend the University of Maryland but his SAT  score was to low so he decided to accept a scholarship to the University of Alabama  who  was then coached by the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant.  "Bear" Bryant would later say that "Joe Namath was the greatest athlete I ever coached".  Coming from Paul "Bear" Bryant,  that is saying a lot considering the great athletes who played football for the Crimson Tide during "Bear" Bryant's tenure as head football coach at the University of Alabama. 


The 1950's were the worst decade in the history of the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.  At the end of the 1957 season, Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant  was hired (at the time he was head coach at Texas A&M University) to restore the Crimson Tide's football program to its former glory.  Slowly, but surely, the Crimson Tide football program again became competitive as each year,  Alabama's record improved. 

In 1961,  the Crimson Tide was undefeated, going 11-0 and winning the national championship. 

In 1962, sophomore  Joe Namath became the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide.  The Tide rolled to a 10-1 season and a #5 national ranking.  

In 1963,  Namath and the Crimson Tide finished the season with a 9-2 record and a 
#9 national ranking.  Namath was suspended for the final two games of the season by Coach Bryant for breaking team rules. 

In 1964,  Joe Namath led the Crimson Tide to a 10-1 season.  Their only loss was in the Orange Bowl to the #5 ranked Texas Longhorns 21-17.   

Joe Namath played football for the Crimson Tide from 1962 until 1964, compiled a won-loss record of 29-4 and won a disputed national championship in 1964  (the #2 ranked Universiy of Arkansas Razorbacks had beaten the Texas Longhorns who had defeated   the Crimson Tide in the Orange Bowl.   The Razorbacks then defeated the #6 ranked University of Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Cotton Bowl  to finish the season at 11-0).  


At that time, the American Football League and the National Football League had not merged into one league.  In those years, the AFL and the NFL competed for the best college football players available to them through intense bidding wars.  The NFL St. Louis Cardinals and the AFL New York Jets both drafted Joe Namath in the 1964  pro football draft.  The Jets were a new team in a new league and were struggling to gain acceptance in the big time sports world of New York city.  The Jets sought someone who would bring excitement  to the franchise and make the New York sports press take  notice of  the Jets.  

Namath chose to sign with the New York Jets whose owner,  Sonny Werblin, offered him a record signing contract of $427,000 and a Lincoln Continental.  Sonny Werblin realized that  Joe Namath was more than a great quarterback and upon signing  Namath, Werblin was quoted as saying,   "Joe Namath has the presence of a star."  "You know how a real star lights up the room when he comes in".   "Joe has that quality".

Namath had a decent pro football career but it wasn't an outstanding career as far as  statistics are concerned,  probably because of knee injuries and the failure of the Jet's management to surround him with quality players.  However,  Joe Namath became pro football's first true media super star and quite literally, transcended the pro game in that era.  

Namath loved the New York night life and became famous for dating beautiful Hollywood actresses such as Raquel Welch, Mamie Van Doren, Phyllis Davis,  Janis Joplin and Randi Oakes (amongst others).  In games, he wore low quarter white shoes (when all other players wore the standard "black" shoes),  long hair, a Fu Manchu mustache and occasionally, on the sidelines, a full length mink coat.   The New York sporting press named  him "Broadway" Joe  Namath, a moniker that fit him quite well.

 Joe Namath was a "rock star" in cleats.  He was charismatic, likeable, cocky, and a  rebel against the established norms of society.   The image he portrayed of the swinging bachelor, who played football and the game  of life by his own rules made him the most famous football player of  that era--literally  a star and a legend in his own day.  Joe Willie was quoted as saying "I like my Johnny Walker Red  and my women blonde". Namath was Elvis Presley in hip pads.   


In 1969, Joe Namath and two other investors started a club  on the East Side known as Bachelors III (all three owners were bachelors).   Bachelors III quickly became a huge hit on the night club scene, generating turn away crowds and great reviews.   The club was such a hit that Namath and  his friends considered opening similar night clubs in  Miami  and in Boston.  The night club became frequented by known gangsters which caused  NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle  great concern.  Fearing that the gangsters would influence Namath to gamble on football games or to "throw" a game, Rozelle asked Namath to sell his share  in Bachelors III.  Namath refused to do so.    A few weeks later, Namath called a press conference and announced his retirement from professional football.  Mayhem ensued at the NFL offices.  Joe Namath was the most well known and marketable pro football player of that day.  Namath and the Jets created millions of dollars in televesion advertisement revenue.  It could  be argued that Namath and the Jets had made the merger between the AFL and the NFL possible when they beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.  The head honchos in the NFL knew they had to resolve this issue quickly or they and the NFL would lose huge amounts of money.   They had to do whatever was necessary, within reason, to appease Namath and bring him back into the NFL--to much money was at stake.  Both sides  understood how much money was on the table so an ageement was soon reached.  Namath would sell his ownership in the New York city Bachelors III club but retain ownership in the Boston and Miami clubs and in any clubs Namath and his investors group would open in the future.  After two weeks of retirement from the NFL,  Joe Namath returned to pro football.  


Namath was the first pro quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards  in a season (during a 14 game NFL season instead of  the 16 game NFL schedule of today).  He played in an era when the rules gave quarterbacks and wide receivers much less protection than they are given today.  In those days,  defensive backs would maul wide receivers and never  have a penalty called against them.  Namaths's success as a quarterback helped change NFL offenses from a "conservative, run oriented, ball control  philosophy to a more wide open passing attack style of football. 

Joe Namath completed 1,886 passes for 27, 663 yards and 173 touchdowns while playing 12 years for the New York Jets and one year for the Los Angeles Rams.  

NFL Hall  of Fame coach Bill Walsh (who coached Joe Montana,  Steve Young and  the San Francisco Forty Niners), said that "Namath was the most beautiful, accurate and stylish passer with the quickest release I've ever seen".  Another Hall of Fame coach, Don Shula (who coached Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins) stated that "Joe Namath was one of the three smartest quarterbacks of all time". 



January 12, 1969.

Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida.

AFC--New York Jets.  Head Coach - Weeb Ewbank. QB -Joe  Namath.

NFC--Baltimore Colts.  Head Coach-Don Shula.  QB-Earl Morall & Johnny Unitas.

Super Bowl III was the first Super Bowl game to be officially known as a "Super Bowl". When the  underdog Jets defeated the heavily favored Colts, the game became  known as one of the greatest upsets in  the history of American sports.  Baltimore was considered by many in the sports media as the greatest team in the history of the NFL.  The Colts had been favored by 18 points and the Jets were given no chance of victory.  The win by the AFC  New York Jets over the unbeatable Baltimore Colts was the first win by an AFC team in a Super Bowl. 

Joe Namath's most notable accomplishment as a pro football player was in leading the Jets to victory over the Colts.  Three days before the game,  at the Miami Touchdown Club, Namath responded to hecklers who gave the Jets no chance for victory  by saying,  "we're going to win Sunday.  I guarantee it."  

In 1985, Joe Namath was inducted into the Pro Football Hall  of Fame.