NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bringing movie star charisma on and off the field and a cannon arm that propelled his team to an almost unthinkable Super Bowl upset, quarterback Joe Namath embodied the megawatt glamour of New York City.
The first pro quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a single season, Namath was the architect behind one of American football’s biggest upsets.
He led the underdog New York Jets to Super Bowl victory in 1969, completing 17 of 28 attempted passes for more than 200 yards to upend the Colts, who were massive favourites.
The win added lustre to the much-maligned AFL a year before the league’s merger and saw the 25-year-old crowned Super Bowl MVP in the lopsided matchup against Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, whose picture a young Namath reportedly once hung above his bed.
The win was a shock to many but not Namath, who famously “guaranteed” the victory while speaking at a dinner in the days leading up to the game, forever cementing his star status in Jets folklore.
“A fella in the back of the room said, ‘Namath, do you know we’re going to kick your butt?’,” Namath recalled in a television interview years later. “And I said, ‘Wait a minute, I got news for you, buddy – we’re going to win the game, I guarantee it.’”
That same bold persona and attention-grabbing style helped him earn the nickname “Broadway Joe”, as he appeared on the football field sidelines in a full-length fur coat and beside a purring Farrah Fawcett in a provocative 1973 Noxzema commercial.
The four-time AFL all-star also featured in several popular television programs of the 1970s and 1980s, including “The Brady Bunch”, “The Love Boat” and “The A-Team”.
Namath, the only Jets player to throw multiple touchdown passes in consecutive games in his rookie year until Sam Darnold in 2018, stayed in New York for 12 seasons and spent one year with the Los Angeles Rams before he retired in 1977.
Inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1985, Namath was voted the NFL’s “greatest character” in 2019.
“He set the bar for what a super star is,” said Hall of Famer Mel Blount in a video celebrating his career. “He was doing it back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when it wasn’t heard of.”
Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis