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Namath on Eli, Sanchez, HBO

I wrote a column in Thursday’s newspaper in which I discussed with Joe Namath everything from the new HBO documentary about his life to Eli Manning to the state of the Jets, all in about 600 words.

All three topics probably deserved their own stories. But that’s OK. Remember: I am a professional. Do not try this at home!

Anyway, some interesting stuff didn’t make the cut. Here are some leftovers:

On the first time he heard about Eli Manning:

“I was on an elevator in New Orleans and we were talking about Peyton Manning at Tennessee and I said, ‘That Peyton Manning is something, have you seen this kid?’ And this guy leans over and says [with a thick Southern accent], ‘Hey, Joe Willie, you wait ‘til you see his younger brother. You’re going to see something.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure, OK. If he’s anything like Peyton, fine.’’’

On his early impressions of Eli:

“I didn’t see Eli ‘til he got to Ole Miss and you could tell he was a passer, no doubt. You could tell he had that presence in the pocket. When he came to New York, then I really got to see him and you know, his appearance is he doesn’t give a lot of light in how he feels. That’s one of the things I heard early on why a lot of people were down on him. He’d throw a ball and the receivers would be doing something else. But as a quarterback, with my eye, I could tell what should have happened.’’

On Eli’s approach:

“It’s a matter of an intelligent, good player continuing to try to get better over the years. Some guys will settle in after the second, third, fourth year and maybe go through the routines in practice and go, ‘Oh, I know it,’ but not continually make an effort to try to improve on things. I believe Eli has done that. And it all starts at home. It comes from Olivia and Archie. It comes from big brother. He has a work ethic and pride about him, what he does in practice. He carries himself so well. He wouldn’t be wearing that C if guys didn’t believe in him.’’

On Eli’s work ethic:

“I never heard Eli complain. He just stayed in there and kept on fighting . . . Eli has improved because he’s that kind of guy.”

On agreeing to the documentary:

“When it was first proposed I said, ‘No.’ It’s not as comfortable as you’d like. I think I might have some things in the background, the closet somewhere, that I don’t like to talk about . . . It was very difficult because I don’t want to come off making anyone feel uncomfortable or wrong about it.’’ [For example, the part where he expressed surprise over segregation when he got to Alabama.] “I learned that very good people could have the wrong idea about things.’’

“I didn’t want to do it, are you kidding me? To talk about your life, it’s hard sometimes. It’s hard when you have parts of your life you don’t care to talk about or share. I didn’t want to do it initially but living long enough and going through enough experiences I know I don’t know everything . . . I basically trusted HBO and NFL Films.’’

On what he would say to Bear Bryant now:

“Coach, I wish I was a better student, not just in the classroom, but along the way . . . I wish I had been a better student, and that’s why I want my children to be good students, and their children, too.’’

On the Jets:

“Rex said himself he’s still learning on the job, so he’ll do some things differently next season. Maybe Santonio Holmes will change. I believe in change being a constant. Maybe with [Tony] Sparano that relationship will be a little tighter.’’

On Rex Ryan:

“He’s unique. I’ve never seen that kind of style all the years I’ve been around football. Whenever I see something happening on the field, I have a trained eye . . . I’ve seen a lot of ballplayers. You can tell by the way the body moves, by the way a guy acts after a play. The body talks in a sense. I see those things, I pick up on them. And I want a winner here.’’

On criticism of Mark Sanchez:

“Some of it’s deserved, just like when I see myself throw the ball right to the defensive back, it’s, ‘How could the quarterback do that?!’ Well, I didn’t see him. But you’re supposed to see him. Mark made some mistakes this year, no doubt. But he can play. It’s only his third year, his third year, man. You see guys out there who have been playing longer than that making those same mistakes. He’s going to learn from his mistakes. He needs help around him. He presses at times, he wants to do things, because he’s expected to. And I think he got a little bit tired of hearing he was the kid this, the kid that. Hey, he made it through three seasons now and he’s no kid. He’s a man out there. He’s a man, and when they get the people around him he’s going to be fine . . . Old Eli he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms and got nothing but standing ovations his first few years. He is tough, he’s wonderful and he’s improved and already won a Super Bowl. You have to have the team and learn through experiences.’’


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