He was called the greatest athlete that Alabama’s Paul Bryant had ever coached. He led the Crimson Tide to a second national championship under coach Bryant in 1964. He didn’t allow education to take a back seat, as he graduated with a degree in 2007, but through it all former Alabama quarterback Joe Namath had his own mountains to climb in becoming a champion.
Namath, also known as “Broadway Joe” and “Joe Willie,” was Alabama’s quarterback from 1962-64. He would set Southeastern Conference records as a freshmen, including being first in passing yards (1,192), passing touchdowns (13) and total touchdowns (17) in 1962.
Alabama’s offense averaged 26.3 points per game in the 1962 season. It finished with a 10-1 record, culminating in a 17-0 shutout victory over No. 8 Oklahoma in the 1963 Orange Bowl.
Namath and the Crimson Tide were at it again in 1963. Alabama was 7-2 heading into its matchup against Miami, despite a 10-8 loss to Auburn in the previous week. Nick Saban isn’t the only coach that enforces team rules. Coach Bryant started the trend at Alabama in the 1960s. Bryant had the team on a strict no alcohol policy during football season.
Alabama had a bye week before its meeting with the Hurricanes. Namath initially wanted to watch the Army-Navy game, but decided to attend a local bar instead. He admitted to taking a few sips of beer, which caused Bryant to make a difficult decision. Namath was suspended for the last two games of the 1963 season. Bryant trained backup quarterback Steve Sloan, and got him ready to play. Alabama won its final two games with Sloan under center, including a 17-12 victory over No.7-ranked Ole Miss in the 1964 Sugar Bowl. It ended the year at 9-2.
With all father/son and coach/player relationships, the pupil usually gets another opportunity to impress the teacher. Namath got his shot in 1964 and navigated Alabama to an 8-0 record in conference play. He completed 64 percent of his pass attempts, and Alabama averaged 22.7 points per game. It fell to No.5-ranked Texas 21-17 in the 1965 Orange Bowl, but the Associated Press and the Coaches’ Poll both recognized Alabama as national champions.
Namath recorded 3,276 total yards (2,713 passing, 563 rushing) and 39 touchdowns in three seasons at Alabama. He compiled a 29-4 record as a starting quarterback.
The St. Louis Cardinals (now Rams) selected Namath in the first round (12th overall pick) of the 1965 NFL Draft. The New York Jets also made a pitch for Namath, selecting him as the No.1 overall pick in the 1965 AFL Draft. He went with the Jets, and had a prolific 13-year career (1965-77) with the Jets and Rams. In 1967, Namath became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season.
Namath was a four-time AFL All-Star selection (1965, 1967-69), and a two-time AP AFL MVP in 1968 and 1969. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1972, two years after the AFL/NFL merger. Namath was named AP first-team All-AFL in 1968 and was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1974. His defining moment came in his fourth season in New York.
Namath led the Jets to an 11-3 season in 1968. It clinched a playoff berth, and faced the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL Championship Game. New York outscored Oakland 14-13 in the second half, and won the game 27-23. Namath is one who is not afraid to speak his mind.
He boldly assured the media and his team that it would defeat the Baltimore Colts the Super Bowl. Namath’s words proved true, as New York won Super Bowl III in Miami, Fla., by a score of 16-7 over the Colts. Namath threw for 206 yards and was named most valuable player.
Namath’s No.12 jersey was retired in New York, and he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. His statistics weren’t gaudy, but Namath was the first true media superstar in the NFL. His passing style opened the door for other quarterbacks to have more freedom in the offense.
Namath went on to become an entrepreneur and actor after football. He opened a popular bar called “Bachelors III” on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Namath scored a few roles in movies and television shows, including The Love Boat, The Brady Bunch, The Simpsons and the A-Team. He’s served on broadcasts as a color commentator of NFL games.
It takes something to be a champion at both college and professional levels. Coach Bryant molded Namath into a champion by teaching him to be responsible. Bryant’s coaching style and tough love showed Namath that on any given day one can be replaced. Namath blended his confidence with the lessons he learned from Bryant and became a true champion.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.