Broadway Joe Namath made Super Bowl what it is

"Broadway" Joe Namath steps from a vehicle at Broadway and 46th Street in Manhattan as he arrives at the Fox Sports Super Bowl set. (Jan. 29, 2014) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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All these years later, and New York still lives within Joe Namath. It will be that way until he takes his final breath. The former Jets quarterback will always be Broadway Joe.

"I feel a part of the history of the city, and it will always be a part of me,'' Namath said in an interview with Newsday. "I'm still tickled to share that Broadway handle, because I know the sparkle, the energy. It's a positive vibe. Anytime you're on Broadway, it's just full of energy, and you don't get that anywhere else.''

It has been 45 years since Broadway Joe led the Jets to the greatest upset in NFL history, a 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl. The Jets haven't gotten back to the Super Bowl since then, which makes Namath's moment more mythical -- and more of a painful reminder of the Jets' futility. They have been to four AFC Championship Games since Namath famously wagged his index finger to the sky while jogging off the field on that amazing day in Miami.

Now that the Super Bowl is in the New York area for the first time, Namath has returned from South Florida to his ancestral NFL home to enjoy the festivities and relive memories of his iconic accomplishment on Jan. 12, 1969. A lifetime ago in years, perhaps, but the memories remain vivid for Namath and his teammates.

"I'm excited to spend time, rub shoulders and visit with the folks leading up to the game,'' said Namath, who will make a few public appearances and will be at MetLife Stadium Sunday night for Broncos-Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

"The week leading up to the game is one of the best, if not the best, in sports. There isn't a loser yet, and everyone's so damn happy to be there and the competitive spirit. It will be good feeling that energy again the way only New York can do it.''

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Guarantee changed NFL

Namath is largely responsible for the spectacle that Super Bowl week has become, all because of an impromptu moment during a speech at the Miami Touchdown Club three days before Super Bowl III. He was being heckled by some fans, and Namath, growing agitated, guaranteed the Jets would win.

"It wasn't preplanned or anything,'' Namath said. "It just happened.''

Former Jets center John Schmitt, who lives in Brookville, remembers the first moments of the fallout from Namath's prediction.

"The next morning, I'm sitting at one table with my wife, and Joe's with his girlfriend, a beautiful woman named Suzie Storm,'' Schmitt said in a telephone interview.

Schmitt noticed coach Weeb Ewbank walking up to the table, a newspaper under his arm, and looking angry.

"Joe says to Ewbank, 'Is there something wrong?' So Ewbank opens up the Miami Herald and points to the headline that says, 'Namath Guarantees Win.' Then he says, 'Joseph, did you say that?' ''

Namath says he did.

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"Weeb is just tearing into him,'' Schmitt said. " 'Why'd you do it? You know what they're going to do with this article? They're gonna put it up on their wall and they're gonna go try to kill us.'

"Namath calmly looked at Ewbank and said, 'Coach, you've been telling us for two weeks we're going to win. I just told them what you've been telling us.'

"Weeb just walked away and shook his head,'' Schmitt said.

More than four decades later, the guarantee still resonates. The Jets' shocking win helped legitimize the 9-year-old American Football League, which until then had been considered vastly inferior to the more established NFL. Namath's place in history was assured.

"It meant a lot because nobody thought we had a chance,'' Namath said.

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Still an A-list celebrity

Even now, at 70, Namath remains immensely popular, a larger-than-life figure swarmed by well-wishers and autograph seekers whenever he goes out in public. Especially in New York, where he has been referred to as Broadway Joe ever since teammate Sherman Plunkett, a massive offensive tackle, started using the nickname for Namath during their days together in New York.

Namath, a Jet from 1965 through 1976, has a website that uses his popular moniker -- BroadwayJoe.tv -- and remains involved in a handful of commercial endeavors, including "The Joe Namath Cooker'' and "Joe Namath Steaks.''

Namath actually did appear in a Broadway play, "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.''

It was one of several well-publicized off-field ventures for Namath, who was one of the most magnetic media figures of his, or any, era. There were television advertisements, including one in which he was shaved by an obscure actress named Farrah Fawcett in a Noxzema commercial. He posed in pantyhose for a magazine ad. And there were plenty of pictures of his ventures into Manhattan, where he enjoyed the night life.

Namath loved the lifestyle back then, but if he were playing today, he might not have become the kind of charismatic figure he was during his day. In today's world of social media, where every public moment, and even some private ones, can be beamed worldwide in seconds, Namath said he might have begged off.

"In today's climate, I'm not sure the players can relax as much as we did back then,'' he said. "Away from the practice area, out by the swimming pool, out to dinner visiting. It's a lot more difficult for the players to relax. So no, I wouldn't .

"Let's not elaborate on whether I could or not. I wouldn't attempt it. Of course not. There's a time to be on stage and do what you need to do, but there's a time to be offstage and do what you need to do privately.''

 

No regrets

Namath wouldn't trade his own life for anything, though. Not the football career. Not the off-field opportunities. And especially the Super Bowl experience.

"I can remember George Sauer and I were sitting on the sideline during Media Day at practice several days before the game, and George looked over to me and said, 'Man, the enormity of all this, it's amazing.' It wasn't big by today's standards, but it was big to us then. It was the biggest thing in our lives at the time.

"It was the biggest chance we had for a dream to come true to be a champion. You play pee wee ball, junior high, high school, college. Each time you're climbing the ladder trying to get to that next level.

"I was a kid watching football on black and white TV. You visualize yourself back then winning a championship, and we were able to do it. That was a special time, just an amazing time.''

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