The son of a steel worker from Beaver Falls, Pa., Joseph William Namath (Joe Willie) came from the rich football tradition that is in Pennsylvania. After starring for Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide teams in the 1960s, Namath was drafted by both the National Football League’s (NFL) St. Louis Cardinals and the rival American Football League’s (AFL) New York Jets in 1965. Namath, known as a brash performer in college, signed with the Jets for a then-record $450,000 and gave the upstart, struggling AFL instant credibility in its war with the NFL. Although he didn’t turn the Jets into instant winners, he did improve their fortunes his first three years in the league. Namath delivered on his promise as one of the most exciting players in the AFL, by becoming the first quarterback in history to pass for more than 4,000 yards. Namath was also popular off the field, especially with the ladies (which he indulged in, happily) and was known for his love of the New York nightlife. Because of this, he was dubbed “Broadway Joe” by the New York press. Namath gained his legend with not only his performance, but his mouth. After leading the Jets to the AFL championship over the Oakland Raiders, Namath, weary of all the press knocking him and his team and openly favoring the NFL champion Baltimore Colts, boldly lashed out and predicted victory for him and the Jets. He also showed his poise by talking his way out of a potentially explosive situation with Colts’ Defensive Tackle, Lou Michaels. Namath and a teammate were in a restaurant talking about how the Jets were a better team than the Colts, when Michaels (who was in earshot) challenged Namath. The cocky QB, instead, bought Michaels dinner, drinks and gave him a ride home. In the game that many felt made the Super Bowl the spectacle it is today, Namath and the Jets were nearly flawless in beating the 17-point favorite Colts, 16-7. Namath became a household name and gave the Jets and the AFL the respectability they were so desperate to have. Namath continued his all-star performances in New York, although he never again played in the Super Bowl. For several years, he was the entertainer of the NFL (the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970) and even dabbled in movies and television (including a memorable performance in pantyhose for a commercial). He was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1977, but his failing knees finally gave out and he retired at the end of the season. Namath was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and, for a few years, was a member of ABC’s NFL Monday Night Football (1970) crew. Namath now lives in Florida.
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