It takes a certain personality to engross an area like New York City, but Joe Namath captivated the masses as few others could.
The legendary New York Jets quarterback turned 78 today (May 31, 2021), and his former franchise is still looking to find his replacement.
It’s been a long harsh road for the Jets since “Broadway Joe’s” 1969 Super Bowl guarantee, and the longer the championship drought continues, the more Namath’s legend grows.
Born and raised in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the future Hall of Fame quarterback started from humble beginnings. His father was a steelworker, but early on it was clear that Joe had a different gift.
A natural athlete in high school, Namath dominated the sports of football, baseball and basketball in his area. He actually had several legitimate offers from MLB franchises to play outfield, but in the end, football was the only sport for Joe.
The iconic Jets’ No. 12 continued his journey on the gridiron at Alabama, leading the Crimson Tide to a 29-4 record over the course of three seasons from 1962-64. This collegiate run coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant culminated in a 1964 national championship.
At Alabama, Joe threw for 2,713 yards and 24 touchdowns, which was groundbreaking at the time. Phillip L. Beard of Auburn University wrote that Namath, “helped redefine the quarterback position so that long passes and split-second deciphering of defenses became a professional norm.”
After being drafted to the AFL by the Jets, Namath was offered a record-setting $427,000 deal. He promptly made every dollar count, winning the AFL Rookie of the Year award in 1965 with 18 touchdowns in 13 games.
Known for his explosive arm on the field and his love for the spotlight off it, Namath encapsulated the life of a big-time celebrity athlete. Few players in any sport were able to balance the two lifestyles as he did throughout his career.
In 1968, that flare led the Jets to an AFL championship. Going into the third-ever Super Bowl, which took place in January of 1969, the Jets and Namath were massive underdogs. That brings us back to the famous guarantee that has withstood the test of time.
The Jets won the 1969 Super Bowl by a score of 16-7, with Broadway Joe winning the Super Bowl MVP honors. Although his career probably peaked at this moment, Namath’s impact on the sport, the merger and the Jets franchise as a whole were priceless.
To acknowledge this, the NFL inducted Namath into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 for his 13 memorable seasons. The Jets also honored Joe, retiring his infamous No. 12 for all-time.
Joe’s Long Shadow
As mentioned above, the Jets have yet to find the next Namath almost 60 years after drafting him in 1965. Many quarterbacks have cycled through the organization, including players like Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold and even Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre for one 9-7 season.
Yet there stands Namath, number one on the Jets’ all-time passing list with 27,057 career passing yards.
Many fans tend to immediately compare Gang Green rookies to Namath, which adds to the lofty expectations that come with playing in the New York area. The next franchise QB to feel this pressure will be rookie Zach Wilson.
Current State of the Jets Franchise
Although we’ll have to see it on the field to be sure, the current state of the Jets franchise is promising, and not just because of Wilson.
General manager Joe Douglas has begun to rebuild this organization from the bottom-up since taking over the role in 2019. The roster purge may have led to a horrid 2020 campaign, but sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward.
Douglas isn’t looking for fleeting success, he wants to breed something sustainable, and that starts with coaching and the draft. Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur headline the Jets new staff, while a massive 2021 draft class received top grades from various analysts.
As for Wilson, he does bear some similarities to Namath — small-town roots, talented high school guard in basketball, rare arm talent, and a personality loaded with confidence and poise — but it doesn’t matter if the Jets newest face of the franchise isn’t an exact clone of Broadway Joe. What will matter is whether or not he’s different than all the rest.
Happy 78th Joe!