Joe Namath was one of football's first marquee stars, best known for his New York Jets' 1969 win over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III -- a victory the quarterback guaranteed beforehand. "Broadway Joe," who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, played most of his career with the Jets. But lately, Namath, who turns 70 on Friday, has been highly critical of his former team.
Namath recently caught up with The Huffington Post to talk about Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, the NFL's rule changes and why his publicly tenuous relationship with Jets owner Woody Johnson is not as bad as it seems.
Define your legacy on the game of pro football.
We won a championship. The other things that may have left an impact, I'd rather other people talk about. It was nice for example, when we, and I say we, passed for over 4,000 yards in 1967 -- first time ever. Offensively, in the passing game, that was really a special record, but we didn't know that until after the game. We'd thrown one pass the second half because it was the last game of the season and we were beating San Diego so bad that the opposing quarterback, John Hadl, on the other sideline, was waving a white towel. You know being a part of a champion, that was the goal, that was a dream come true. And then of course, being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it's hard to explain. Being recognized is something that is so big.
Given your history with injuries, and specifically your knees being replaced after your career, is the league doing enough to protect its quarterbacks?
Well, yes, are you kidding? I think the league's done a wonderful job protecting the quarterbacks. I know the body's not designed to take the abuse the head gets playing football. I really think the NFL's doing everything they can to make a safer experience.
Are you happy with how the NFL has dramatically shifted to the aerial attack?
It makes me wish that we had those rules when we were playing. I can remember playing against the [Pittsburgh] Steelers when bump-and-run was in vogue, and it wasn't any of this one-bump-within-five-yards. You could be harassing those receivers until the ball was in the air. I remember the offensive linemen were not allowed to extend their arms out to block. You had to keep your fists inside and not extend your arms.
They opened up the game more in 1978. The fans I believe appreciate more offense. The rule changes have really made the game more interesting, I think. The NFL has been very good about changing things and making it a better spectator sport.
You've talked about your sour relationship with Woody Johnson. What is your take on the organization right now as a whole?
I cringed when you said "sour." It's not fair. Don't say that, please. I didn't say that, and it's not sour. It's civil. It's just not as warm as it used to be. Again, I don't think any of us and not many of us like being critiqued in a negative way. Now I forgot what you asked me. That word "sour" really threw me off.
What about the Jets as an organization in terms of where they are heading, especially with Mark Sanchez?
They changed some things, hopefully in the right direction. I think Sanchez can be a better quarterback or will be a better quarterback than he has been, not just the last two years but probably in his first two years. He has had a couple off seasons, but if you look at the rest of the team, they haven't performed the last couple seasons as well. Quarterbacks again get a lot of credit and a lot of the blame -- it's part of the job. They've got a chance to even make the playoffs.
In terms of playing quarterback, what role does confidence play?
I remember playing on some teams that weren't so good and would hear guys say, "Well, we gotta go out there and play with confidence." You've got to earn the ability to be confident, and that comes through repetition of doing things the way they need to be done to be successful.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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