Joe Namath doesn’t remember that interview with Suzy Kolber.
He remembers drinking all day, and that he was at a game at Giants Stadium, the Jets playing the Patriots, on a frigid night in December 2003. He doesn’t remember fumbling his words, though, or telling the ESPN sideline reporter he wanted to kiss her. Though the clip lives in infamy, he didn’t even know he did any of that until the next day, when he got a phone call and was told what had happened.
“I was stunned,” he said Tuesday at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan while promoting his new book, “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters,” with moderator Mike Greenberg of ESPN.
“If I continued to live the way I was living, I would not be here today. I was so lucky I didn’t hurt somebody.”
The 75-year-old Jets legend has two main takeaways from his life that are reflected in his book. The first is that people need other people to survive, and he certainly did both times he got sober. And the second is to keep trying, even if you don’t think you can.
“We have more underdogs in this world, in this country, than people who expect to do well,” he said, tying it back to his time with the Jets when they upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. “We inspired many people who didn’t think they had a chance to do something.”
That’s reflected in his fight with addiction – a fight, he said, he wasn’t always sure he could win. He never thought he had a problem, he said, although he drove drunk in the '60s and '70s. It was considered a common practice, he said. He never got in trouble, except for a few missed curfews. But two years after his first marriage, and after the birth of his daughter Jessica, his then-wife, Deborah, told him he had a problem.
“When she said I needed help, I didn’t believe her,” he said. He agreed to go to a mental-health specialist, and the first visit went great, he said. So did the second. “So I stopped at the store and bought a pint of vodka and drank it by the time I got home,” he said. He did it again after the third visit, until Deborah called him out. Then he quit for 13½ years, he said, until a divorce “gave me an excuse."
He began drinking again. It took 2½ to three years before the reckoning began -- that infamous night when he did the interview with Kolber while drunk and disoriented. It culminated with him saying he wanted to kiss her. Kolber said thank you, though her discomfort was visible. Namath describes it as the low point in his life.
“I had let down my family, my friends and a lot of people,” he said. “It was awful. It’s not a game. This is the big game … I knew I had a problem.”
He went to rehab, then joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He calls the demon in his head “Slick.” He’s the one who tells him he can handle half a glass of wine and be fine. He ignores it now.
“I thank Suzy Kolber to this day,” he said. “It’s tough to be alone in this life. We need to share … Don’t be afraid of asking for help.”