Even as a lifetime New York Jets fan, I would be be pretty surprised if Joe Namath was ever designated as the “best” quarterback ever. I would love to see it, but there are too many odds against him.
Not that I don’t think Broadway Joe wasn’t one of the greats, because he most definitely was, but I would be rather shocked that he would make it considering the competition and overall bias against New York sports teams (no doubt inspired by the often lubricious Yankee “legacy”).
There was a golden age of sorts in football during a different time in sports (and American life in general). These were the sort of innocent (or perhaps naive) days of the 1970s. I can recall debates with friends about the best teams and best quarterbacks. It always seemed incongruous that my good friends (and fellow New York Mets fans) didn’t like the same football team as I did. They were Cowboys, Steelers, and Vikings fans for the most part (the successful teams of that era), and only those teams had the quarterbacks that seemed to be held in highest regard.
First there was Roger Staubach, gunning the ball out of the “shotgun” like nobody’s business. Along with Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw (having the good fortune to have someone like Franco Harris as a halfback) and Fran Tarkenton of the Vikings (probably the best running quarterback I have ever seen), these were the formidable “stars” during the 70s, leading their teams and seemingly always garnering the spotlight.
Before them came Johnny Unitas, still talked about as the greatest by many fans, and since that time guys like Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino are held in the highest esteem. Still, yesterday Joe Namath wasted no time in mentioning the guy he thought was the best ever: Peyton Manning. In a self-deprecating (and refreshingly sober) manner, Joe forgot his glory days (and his inglorious days of asking ESPN’s Suzy Kolber for a kiss) and just spoke from his heart about Manning’s skills and grace. Okay, Joe, now you are acting like a real Hall of Famer and all around class act.
In his time, Broadway Joe “Willie” Namath had his share of the glory. Playing in the windswept confines of Shea Stadium (I still think games there were infinitely better and more enjoyable than at the current Jets’ home at the Meadowlands in New Jersey), Joe defied the laws of nature and brought his Jets all the way. His off the field antics were as exciting (if not more so than) as when he was in uniform, and what young kid would not have been enamored of this glamorous, hotshot QB who seemed to get the girls, party all the time, and trip the light fantastic all over New York City?
What probably qualifies Joe as big-time, most of all, was his “guarantee” of victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Sort of like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield and hitting a homerun, Joe’s boastful promise was realized and fulfilled the dream of young fans like me (starting off the best year of my young life at the time, for the Mets would win the World Series that October). Joe’s skills were there for sure, but more important than anything was his inherent guts and ability to play through pain to get one for the team. People always admired that about Joe and no doubt still do.
Is Joe Namath the best quarterback ever? He doesn’t think so. He believes it’s a young man who just might go out and win it all for a very different Colts team. Still, in my humble opinion, Joe rises to the top because he played with a rough and tumble mentality. Though not a native New Yorker (he hailed from western Pennsylvania), Joe was truly all Broadway and probably became the game’s first modern superstar (due to the easy access to media coverage of his exploits here in New York).
So, here’s my vote to Joe Willie Namath as the best-damned quarterback who ever (and probably no QB will ever again) played home games for the real New York football team based in Queens. Thanks for the antics, the bravado, and the victory that made 1969 a year that New Yorkers and all sports fans will always remember as the time of miracles, the year when the mighty Colts and Orioles of Baltimore would learn a lesson from the upstart teams from Queens, New York.