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An outstanding sports bio for any fan.
on October 19, 2005
I am a New York Jets fan, which means that my life on Sundays usually sucks. There have been a few exceptions, such as the Jets' charge to the AFC Championship game and the Monday Night Miracle against the Dolphins, both of which were led by the much-maligned Vinny Testaverde, but mostly my memory of Gang Green has been of Rich (f%!@$&*) Kotite and of Chad Pennington's rotator cuff. However, I have been constantly reminded of the days when the Jets whipped up on everyone and their quarterback was the mythical Broadway Joe Namath, when the overrated Balitmore Colts were embarassed by a guy who guaranteed he'd beat them. So when I saw "Namath" on the shelf, I had to buy it.
I don't read many sports biographies, but in every regard "Namath" stands out as a compelling book that is shocking and emotionally jarring all at once. Mark Kriegel does much to wreck the mythical stature of Broadway Joe, but in doing so he presents a depiction of Ol' Joe Namath that most football fans have never considered. Above all, he impresses upon the reader that although Joe did not have jaw-dropping statistics as a quarterback, his impact on the NFL has been unparalleled - *nobody* influenced the entertainment machine that is the NFL more than Namath.
I grew up in the era of Marino and Montana and all the god-like 80s quarterbacks (heck, I think to this day that even Bernie Kosar was a killer QB), so I heard little about Namath until I became a Jets fan. First I heard about the Guarantee (which, as Kriegel writes, didn't make many headlines at the time - Namath had said many things equally as shocking), then I heard about the Booze and Broads. Kriegel reminds us that Broadway Joe's nickname was no exaggeration - he was an integral part of the New York scene for a decade or so and was the biggest American-born celebrity in, well, the world. He famously stole Mick Jagger's girls and hung out with Mickey Mantle. Even John Wayne said Joe was his hero. I didn't realize the impact Joe (and his huge contract) had had on football.
The early portions of the book concentrate on Joe's rough family life as a kid in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He was a child of divorce and had older brothers that loved to beat him up, but Kriegel implies that this upbringing allowed him to survive atrocious hits in the NFL. His time at Alabama is also crucial to the story, especially Namath's father-son relationship with the tyrannical genius Bear Bryant. Of course the story of the Jets, the Super Bowl, and the New York parties are told, but many readers may be surprised by the path that the last fourth of the book follows as Joe goes from sports diety to has-been to father to divorcee to drunk. It's a rather depressing ending, but Joe Namath's story isn't over yet.
"Namath" is exhaustively researched and reveals a Joe Namath that is much more than just the Guarantee, the girls, and the booze. Joe is shown to be a man to whom the most important things are always family, loyalty, liquor, - and nothing else. Joe's aloofness toward his former teammates and his unfortunate reliance on his money-mongering agent Jimmy Walsh are offset by the unparalleled beatings he took as the most hated quarterback in the NFL (which he always came back from) and the sad flight of his self-absorbed wife. Joe is, fortunately, shown to be a devoted father - yet he cannot shake his dependence on alcohol.
Perhaps most significantly, this book describes the phenomenal athletic ability of Joe Namath that was ruined when his knees first began to betray him. One can only wonder what a healthy rookie Joe Namath would do today in the NFL. All that aside, "Namath" is a wonderful biography and deserves a look by any football fan (and especially Jets fans). You'll be awed by the heights to which Joe rose and to the depths to which he fell. But most of all, you'll be enthralled by the truth behind the legend of Broadway Joe.