Joe Namath is an American treasure. The man often referred to as “Broadway Joe” achieved stardom at the University of Alabama, where he won numerous games and the 1964 national championship, and in New York, where he took the Jets to their only Super Bowl in 1969 and donned lavish fur coats on the sidelines.
The Hall of Fame quarterback’s name absolutely deserves to be in the same sentence as passers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, though Namath himself will tell you Brady is the G.O.A.T.
Namath accomplished pretty much everything one can tossing pigskins — a Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, MVP, NCAA National Championship and a Pro Football Hall of Fame plaque — but there’s still one glaring accolade missing.
Broadway Joe belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Namath may forever be remembered a New York Jets legend, but he’s also one of the Crimson Tide’s best quarterbacks of all time next to longtime Oakland Raiders QB Kenny Stabler and Green Bay Packers QB Bart Starr.
That should mean something considering Alabama is college football’s premier program over the last 100 years.
Joe Namath’s College Career
Joseph William Namath excelled in football, baseball and basketball at Beaver Falls High School in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. There, he caught the attention of many Division-I coaches. He committed to the University of Maryland but never attended due to poor grades.
Instead, he elected to play for Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant despite offers from several MLB teams such as the Yankees, Indians, Reds, Pirates and Phillies.
Namath was a hero for the Crimson Tide. He led the team to a national title in 1964 and went 29-4 over three seasons. He threw for 2,700 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for another 650 yards over his NCAA career, though Bryant’s teams in that era were notoriously run-heavy and limited his pass attempts.
In his final collegiate game for the Tide in 1965, Namath earned Orange Bowl MVP honors in UA’s 21-17 loss to the Texas Longhorns in Miami.
Namath’s impact on Tuscaloosa was immeasurable. As Bryant once said, recruiting the 6-foot-2 quarterback to play for him was “the best coaching decision I ever made.”
At 64, Namath earned his degree from Alabama in 2007, solidifying his legendary status as a member of the Crimson Tide.
Broadway Joe, The Fur Coat and The AFL/NFL
Namath was selected in the first round of both the American Football League and NFL Drafts in 1964. Namath turned down the National Football League’s St. Louis Cardinals and chose the newer AFL, in which the Jets took him first overall and signed him to a record three-year, $427,000 deal.
It didn’t take long for Namath to receive a nickname that would stick with him forever.
Broadway Joe graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a rookie for the Jets, and after one practice at Shea Stadium came into the locker room to find his picture on Broadway sitting on every football player’s stool.
Upon seeing the magazine cover, Jets offensive tackle Sherman Plunkett smiled and yelled out the iconic moniker for the first time, and from that day forward Namath was Broadway Joe. (Though sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to him as “Joe Willie Namath.”)
Namath gained even more fame for guaranteeing a win in Super Bowl III over the highly regarded 1968 Baltimore Colts. He was tired of hearing how great they were and how his Jets were huge underdogs.
Former Atlanta Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin took a slight at Namath and the AFL, saying “this will be Namath’s first professional football game.” The AFL and NFL didn’t merge until 1970.
The Jets won 16-7, their first ever title. Namath was named Super Bowl III MVP for tallying 206 passing yards and taking down fellow Hall-of-Famer Johnny Unitas. Namath played in just one more playoff game and went 2-1 in postseason games.
NFL.com called Namath’s win over the Colts “profoundly altered the course of pro football history” because it proved the AFL, which became the AFC, could hang with the NFL teams.
Thirteen seasons — the final of which he played with the Los Angeles Rams –, almost 28,000 passing yards and 173 touchdowns later, he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Acting Career and Retirement
Broadway Joe began to embrace his nickname off the field while he was still playing for the Jets.
Beginning with hosting his own show in 1969, The Joe Namath Show, his on-camera and on-stage career featured roles or guest appearances in movies (C.C. and Company) TV series (The Waverly Wonders, Here’s Lucy, The Brady Bunch, The Dean Martin Show, The Simpsons) and theater productions (Damn Yankees, Fiddler on the Roof) and even actually starring on Broadway in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.
Namath also guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Carson and made his way to the booth calling Monday Night Football games as a color analyst in 1985.
While the superstar was adored by fans across the country during his playing days, he faced some controversy later in his life.
When the Jets honored him as part of their all-time team during a Patriots-Jets game in 2003, Namath told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber during an in-game interview he wanted to kiss her. Namath apparently had too much to drink that day and subsequently apologized for the inappropriate comment. Six years later, he presented the Lombardi Trophy to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Super Bowl XLIII.
In a new book he released in 2019 — All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters — Namath discussed his struggle with alcoholism that nearly took his life. He said Kolber’s interview was a turning point for him in moving on from his dark days.
How Old Is Joe Namath?
The 76-year-old Namath was born on May 31, 1943. His father was a steelworker and his family of Hungarian descent.
When he was 41, he met his now ex-wife Deborah Mays, who was 22 at the time, at a voice class in 1983. The two went on to have two children — Jessica and Olivia — but divorced in 2000. Namath said he used the break-up as an excuse to start drinking again.
What is Joe Namath’s Net Worth?
Namath’s on-field success translated into off-field success in the form of endorsement deals and business opportunities. Celebrity Net Worth estimates Namath’s net worth to be a cool $18 million, which a nice chunk of change for the star currently living in South Florida.
There isn’t a whole lot Namath hasn’t accomplished on and off the football field, and Namath likely doesn’t need any more recognition. But I think it’s about time this Crimson Tide icon is inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.