Joe Namath, known for transcending the game on pure personality, got his fame education early on during the shoot for his 1965 rookie card while being laid up from knee surgery before the season.
“I was in the hospital for eight days and lost 27 pounds when in walks Jets media director, Frank Ramos, carrying shoulder pads, a jersey and a football,” said Namath. “He just looked at me lying there and said, ‘Joseph, the show must go on.’ ”
And so it began.
Ramos and the photographer dragged him out of bed, propped him up against a wall and snapped the iconic shot.
Namath, who was in New York Tuesday to promote Topps football cards, and specifically their “Super Bowl Legends” collection, is regarded for elevating the sport with his flamboyant style and gregarious character – not that it was always easy for him.
“Growing up the youngest with three brothers and a sister, I joke that I was 15 before I found out that my name wasn’t ‘shut up,'” said Namath, who added that the family dynamic kept him humble along with his Alabama coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, who wouldn’t let his players speak to the media until they were seniors.
He had to learn fast after being drafted as the highest paid player at the time, making a then record $427,000 and packing for NYC.
Before his rookie season even began, Sports Illustrated posed him in Times Square and placed him on their cover, which prompted his nickname after offensive tackle Sherman Plunkett picked up the magazine, studied it for a minute and then yelled across the locker room with a big smile, “Ole Broadway. Broadway Joe!”
He eventually lived up to the moniker of course, but it took a little adjusting for Namath who was sensitive to the press in the beginning.
“I used to get so teed off at the criticism that I stopped reading about myself for my own peace of mind,” said Namath. “But I was at dinner early on with Jets president Sonny Werblin and his actress wife, Leah Ray, and I was angry about something that was written and she just said, ‘Oh honey, it’s show business.’ I yelled back, ‘No it’s not. It’s football.’ She just sweetly looked over and responded, ‘What do you think football is Joe? It’s entertainment.’ ”
Fast forward 44 years to his hopeful heir apparent, Mark Sanchez, who uses the negativity as his own personal blackboard material by keeping a blown up Daily News article with the headline “Broadway Schmo” framed on his bedside after a particularly hapless loss to the Bills his rookie year.
“Sure, I guess it can be a motivator for some guys but it wasn’t for me,” said Namath. “It depends on the animal.”
Namath is more comfortable in his own skin now more than ever, even letting HBO cameras trail him for six months for a documentary set to premiere in January 2012 — although he’s still a little hesitant about what comes out of his mouth.
“It’s been a little scary,” said Namath of the experience. “I’m as truthful as I can be and afterward I think, oh no why did I say that? I worry about offending people, but the footage is candid and real if anything.”
Namath has stepped up his exposure recently Joe being Joe means he is even more free these days by tweeting throughout Jets, revealing his penchant for cheerleaders — and wet ones particularly, which has drawn attention to his unabashed honesty.
He also does postgame web shows on broadwayjoe.tv with infectious enthusiasm for his old team, although he’s a little worried about their chances.
Namath described the Jets’ 17-3 preseason win over the Giants Monday as “an ugly game.” He’s concerned about the lack of depth in the Jets offensive line, as well as Sanchez working out his timing with new receivers, blaming the work stoppage for the latter problem.
And for someone who so famously made “the guarantee” going into Super Bowl III, how does Joe Willie feel about Rex Ryan‘s repetitive guarantees about bringing home a title with Gang Green?
“It’s a coaching style and Rex’s players love him,” said Namath. “Plus they made it to two AFC Championship games so excuse me, but how can anyone say he shouldn’t do that? The actions are close to backing up the words.”
And with that, he was up and being rushed into a SUV across town to tape “The Late Show with David Letterman” — his umpteenth media appearance of the day, which included the NFL Network.
But this was all well and good by him since, as Namath knows ever since his first schooling when he was dragged out of his hospital bed, the show must go on.