The Jets will have an open quarterback competition in training camp, but the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in franchise history has a clear favorite: Joe Namath is rooting for Christian Hackenberg to be the starter.
“I’d like to see Hackenberg get a shot, and I’d like to see him win the job,” Namath said Tuesday at the BTIG Charity Day event in New York. “That would give us the [hope of], ‘Hey, lookie here. Maybe we don’t do it this year, but boy, we’ll get ready next year. We’ll get ready the year after that.’ ”
Hackenberg, the Jets’ second-round pick out of Penn State in 2016, will compete with recently signed veteran Josh McCown and third-year quarterback Bryce Petty for the No. 1 job. Hackenberg didn’t play a down last season as the Jets went most of the way with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. But even after Fitzpatrick had been benched twice — the first time for Geno Smith and the second for Petty, a fourth-round pick in 2015 — Hackenberg never saw the field.
Namath hopes that changes this season.
“They need a quarterback, there’s no doubt about that, because that’s the guy that handles the ball on every play,” Namath said. “I know what Josh McCown can do. He’s a good leader. He’s solid. Hopefully the team can step up and give him support [if he plays].”
But Namath believes the best thing for the Jets in the long term is if Hackenberg develops enough to win the job in training camp.
“I’m not wishing Josh any bad luck,” Namath said, “but I certainly would like to see Hackenberg blossom.”
Namath isn’t a big fan of Petty. He initially thought Petty was no longer with the team.
“When I saw Bryce play some last year, he had some good moments and he had some tough moments,” Namath said. “I wish him luck. I hope Bryce plays 15 years.”
Namath led the Jets to one of the biggest upsets in NFL history by beating the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III, 16-7, in 1969. Namath can hardly believe the team hasn’t won a title since.
“It didn’t cross my mind that the Jets wouldn’t win,” said Namath, who turns 74 on May 31. “I was planning on being a part of another championship the following season, and the following season [after that]. Things happen. Lady luck plays a role with injuries. You lose different personnel, you lose coaches.”
In the end, Namath said, “One [championship] was enough. To win a championship at the top level, I didn’t dream beyond that. That was the goal, to win the professional championship, and we did it.”
Despite the lack of overall talent on this year’s roster, Namath isn’t counting out the Jets.
“I want the Jets to win, for sure, and it remains to be seen,” he said. “I’ve been around enough to know that all these players can play. They’re all pretty darn good, and not just on the Jets. Around the league, some teams have more players that stand out than others, but it’s who puts it together. We won a championship, and no one expected us to be able to do that. But it was a great team effort. When these cats [on the Jets] put it together and play together, don’t say they can’t do it. Don’t say they can’t make the playoffs. You make the playoffs, you’ve got a shot to win it all.”
Namath, who started the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center in Jupiter, Florida, continues to advocate for advances in the study of brain trauma among NFL players. He said his health remains good. He was disappointed to learn former Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau is struggling with the effects of post-concussion syndrome.
“I’m not shocked, with all the education we have, looking at what happens and what can happen [to football players],” Namath said of Gastineau’s situation. “It’s very heartbreaking, to a degree. It’s tough. Just say some prayers for him.”