Forget about New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, with his six Super Bowl Rings and supermodel wife. Or the NBA’s LeBron James, who signed a four-year, $153 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and started his own production company, SpringHill Entertainment.
The coolest athlete of all time for many was Joe Willy Namath, the former quarterback for the New York Jets. An article in the October 17, 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated, entitled “The Sweet Life of Swinging Joe,” proclaimed Namath “a happening.” Yes, he was. Here are ten reasons to prove it.
He made big bucks
Today, it’s pretty commonplace to read about athletes pulling in ridiculous amounts of moola. But big salaries weren’t always the norm…until Namath came along. As a rookie, he nabbed a $427,000 contract with the Jets.
Though conservative by today’s standards, at the time, it was the largest contract in the history of professional football. And Namath was worth every penny, giving the New York Jets their first (and only) Super Bowl. And he did it with style — read on.
He had guts
The New York Jets, the 1968 AFL (as the American Football Conference was known back in the day) champions were heavy underdogs against the NFL (today’s NFC) champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In those days, it was believed that the NFL/NFC, which had been around longer, had superior teams. (Indeed, they had won the first two Super Bowls by wide margins.) Namath wasn’t buying it. Three days before the big game, he told reporters, “We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it.”
Football fans across the country laughed. Jets’ head coach Weeb Ewbank steamed. “I could have shot him for saying it,” he’d say years later. “But Joe always had a way of delivering.” Apparently. Playing at Miami’s Orange Bowl, with millions watching on TV, Namath defeated the Colts, with a 16-7 win — and the legend of “Broadway Joe” was born. What’s more, the Jets’ victory gave the upstart AFL/AFC legitimacy, prompting the two leagues to merge in 1970.
He was a bad boy
Shortly after winning the Super Bowl, Namath opened up a night club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, called Bachelors III. It became the spot for celebrities, hot models, and, uh, various members of organized crime.
This didn’t sit too well with then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Pointing to a clause in Namath’s contract prohibiting any association with “notorious persons,” he demanded Namath sell his share in the club or face suspension. Initially, Namath refused to back down, insisting he was going to quit football. But he gave in a month later, joining his teammates at training camp.
He scored his own talk show
The Joe Namath Show aired 13 episodes in 1969. In truth, he was no Carson, though the show boasted an eclectic line-up of guests — among them, Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Truman Capote, and Peggy Fleming.
He was a movie star
It was only a matter of time before Namath crossed over into movies. His most famous: 1970’s C.C. & Company. In the film, whose tagline read, Loving, brawling and bustin’ it up! Namath played a biker, C.C. Rider, who rescues Ann-Margaret (a fashion writer, whose limo breaks down in the desert!) from an outlaw biker gang.
Reviews were not kind, though Vincent Candy of The New York Times offered a (sort of) back-handed compliment, calling the flick: “The picture to name when someone asks you to recommend ‘a good bad movie.’” Namath could also be found on the small screen — most memorably on an episode of The Brady Bunch (airing September 21, 1973). Playing himself, he comes to the rescue when Bobby Brady fakes a serious illness to bring the football star to his house, after telling friends he knows the athlete.
He rocked a Fu Manchu mustache
Namath only sported the distinctive facial hair for a few weeks, in 1968, but it caused a commotion nonetheless, particularly from parents who believed he was sending the wrong message to impressionable kids.
Namath countered that he wasn’t being rebellious — he just liked the look and people were being way too uptight. He was forced to lose the facial fur, though Namath turned it into a windfall, pocketing $10,000 from Schick to shave it off for a TV commercial.
…and a fur coat.
On the sidelines of a 1971 Jets game, an injured Namath caught the action, dressed in a white, fur-trimmed, full-length coat, which he paired with groovy bellbottoms and a pair of shades.
Four decades later, in 2014, Namath showed up for the coin toss at Super Bowl XLVIII wearing another fur — coyote with Norwegian fox trim — creating up a Twitter storm and ticking off the folks at PETA to no end.
He was pretty stylish on the field too
Namath was the first pro football player to wear white cleats. Actually, he wore black cleats wrapped with white tape since his days at the University of Alabama and continued the custom after he turned pro.
Equipment manager Bill Hampton ordered white cleats to avoid the task of taping the cleats. Namath showed up for a game and found a box of new shoes in his locker.
He had commercial appeal
Brut cologne, Ovaltine, Hamilton Beach Popcorn Makers, Double Mac Grills (two burgers in sixty seconds!), Vintage Olivetti Typewriters, Dingo boots, and Noxzema shaving cream (complete with a TV commercial co-starring a pre-Charlie’s Angels’ Farrah Fawcett). You name it, Namath could sell it.
His most talked-about commercial, by far: Broadway Joe, stretched out on the floor, modeling a pair of Hanes’ Beauty Mist pantyhose, telling gobsmacked women, “Now I don’t wear pantyhose. But if Beauty Mist Panty Hose can make my legs look good, imagine what they can do for yours.”
He scored off the field
In one interview, Namath claimed to have been with women the night before his games, including the Super Bowl.
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In 1972, he hit the mother load, escorting Raquel Welch to the Academy Awards.