Before I get specific about Broadway Joe, let’s give a shout out to western Pennsylvania for its unbelievable string of great quarterbacks. Joe Willie Namath is one, but the list also includes Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Johnny Lujack, George Blanda, Jeff Hostetler, and others. Namath grew up in Beaver Falls, about 20 miles from Pittsburgh. He received several offers to play Major League Baseball, but chose to play college football for Bear Bryant at Alabama.
That’s a little bit of a puzzler, looking back on it. It’s not that Namath couldn’t play within a team concept, but his personality was so large that it might have been expected to conflict with his coach’s. He was suspended for a couple of
games once, but he came back the next year and helped the Crimson Tide win the national championship. Instead of signing with the NFL, he chose the rival AFL, whose New York Jets had made him the first pick in the draft. He was a four-time all-star, and led the Jets to the AFC championship in 1968.
1969 was the third year that the AFC champion took on the NFC champ in the Super Bowl (the leagues merged the following year). The first two games were NFL blowouts, and Namath’s Jets were huge underdogs in Super Bowl III. In one of the great upsets in sports history, Namath guaranteed that the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts – and he made good on his promise. It’s no doubt the single game he’ll always be known for.
Namath was a party guy, and he got in trouble for opening a bar in New York City called “Bachelors III.” What you might call your “unsavory types” became regulars, and the NFL ordered Namath to sell his interest in the club. But far from ruining his reputation, this walk on the wild side actually enhanced it. He’s now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite what are actually very ordinary statistics. But he was a legend, and even today, everyone still loves Broadway Joe.