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All the Way
My Life in Four Quarters
With Sean Mortimer
With Don Yaeger
By Joe Namath
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Three days before the 1969 Super Bowl, Joe Namath promised the nation that he would lead the New York Jets to an 18-point underdog victory against the seemingly invincible Baltimore Colts. When the final whistle blew, that promise had been kept.
Namath was instantly heralded as a gridiron god, while his rugged good looks, progressive views on race, and boyish charm quickly transformed him – in an era of raucous rebellion, shifting social norms, and political upheaval – into both a bona fide celebrity and a symbol of the commercialization of pro sports. By 26, with a championship title under his belt, he was quite simply the most famous athlete alive.
Although his legacy has long been cemented in the history books, beneath the eccentric yet charismatic personality was a player plagued by injury and addiction, both sex and substance. When failing knees permanently derailed his career, he turned to Hollywood and endorsements, not to mention a tumultuous marriage and fleeting bouts of sobriety, to try and find purpose. Now 74, Namath is ready to open up, brilliantly using the four quarters of Super Bowl III as the narrative backbone to a life that was anything but charmed.
As much about football and fame as about addiction, fatherhood, and coming to terms with our own mortality, All the Way finally reveals the man behind the icon.
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I finished voluntarily reading my first book when I was in my early twenties. Growing up, our family didn't emphasize education much and definitely didn't have books lying around the house. We just weren't the kind of family to sit down and read. The paper only got a peek from me because it had the sports section. But, now, all these years later, my daughters, Jessica and Olivia, have the things stacked up around the house, and my granddaughter Jemma reads through those Harry Potter books like they're magazines.
I, too, have grown to love reading, but that took until the age of twenty-two to plant the first seed. I was at LaGuardia airport getting ready to leave for an away game and picked up a copy of a book about the Boston Strangler. An alarming set of eyes stared out at me from the cover and instantly grabbed my attention.
After finishing that book, and still to this day, I've always stayed alert in case a loose horse comes into play. And it certainly helped me establish my hotel room routine. The first thing I do is find my floor's emergency exits. Then I scope out the shadowy areas in my room where someone might be hiding—I check under the bed, behind the curtains, shower, and closets. Only after knowing I'm alone will I take off my coat, unpack, and really settle in. Call it my suspicious Gemini side, but I know my vivid imagination has helped keep me on my toes all these years. I can even remember a time back in 1951, when I was eight, going to see The Thing from Another World at a Beaver Falls theater with my buddies Linwood and Freddie. Maaan, I was so scared I ran for the exit but stopped just short of the doors. My brave Gemini side decided I could safely peek around the wall from the back of the theater and still have a quick escape route in case that creature jumped out of the screen.
I still have fear run through my bones from time to time. Heck, just the thought of writing another book intimidated me. But that's the thing about fear, it can cripple you or it can motivate you to overcome the fear itself. And an urge to triumph over adversity and challenges has always been part of my personality. So if you're reading my book you know I've managed to overcome this literary challenge.
At first, writing down my life, A–Z, from the beginning to now, seemed to make the most sense. But before I knew it, I basically had a bad book report on myself. Finding the right approach had been a real struggle until my daughter Jessica asked me what I wanted to accomplish. Sometimes blunt simplicity is a powerful tool to dig out what you need. Well, I found myself answering: I'd like to share good times, tough moments, and bad experiences. Hopefully you'll find your own inspiration from my journey through this life that I've been lucky enough to survive. So far, at least. And if these pages can accomplish that, then they'll be well worth my effort to find the words to fill them.
There was notoriety around my life—and some of it was true. Sure, I did enjoy the company of a lot of lovely ladies. I wore fur coats on the sidelines and a Fu Manchu when I felt like it. But writing this book helped me feel even more connected and grateful to those who have played a part in my life, even the folks who come up to me on the street and give a greeting or shake my hand—those strangers who we make connections with to feel part of a larger purpose.
There's a news clip of me being interviewed after winning the Super Bowl, and I'm sitting there, shirtless and sweaty, with black grease under my eyes.
"Joe, you're king of the hill," my buddy Sal Marchiano says.
"No," I said. "We're king of the hill. We got the team, brother."
I might have been referring to my brothers on the Jets right then, but now I know that all those people we interact with while on life's journey make up the team.
Because what if we really were alone and didn't have each other to share the good and get through the bad? We have to learn from each other's shortcomings and triumphs. Because change, man, that's a constant and a certainty that is always presenting us with two simple choices: We either change in a positive fashion and get better, or change for the worse and regress.
You see, and this might be oversimplifying, but one of my goals here is to show you how I've changed, both positively and negatively, through the course of life. I also hope to communicate this evolution like I've been taught to communicate while calling a play in the huddle. Because when I'm talking to teammates, I need to say it clearly and with confidence. If a player has any doubts when he breaks the huddle, odds are that the play is not going to work.
How the heck did we start with the Boston Strangler and get talking about the positive power of connections and huddle etiquette?
That's life, man, all the way.
Something isn't right. My chest is tight, and I'm just distracted, man, distracted. I'm drinking my daily eight-ounce Cheribundi at the kitchen table as an afternoon storm starts rolling in, slowly darkening our summer sky. Nothing out of the ordinary for August in south Florida, but I'm sure outta my element. I decide to pull up the definition of "memoir" on my iPad: "A record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation." Boy, that just isn't me. I don't have a lot of practice talking about myself unless I'm answering questions. Growing up with three older brothers, somebody else was always talking, louder than I ever could. It just feels negative, man. Negative.
I'm into that Gemini astrology stuff, you know? We're versatile, able to adapt to situations just as easily as we can (hopefully) find our way out of them. So the idea of having my life drawn out, step by step, makes me uncomfortable. Has me feeling boxed in. But thinking out of the box is what got me into this mess. Am I sharing things that I don't really need to share? My mind always checks itself, always asks questions. Always weighs the "What if?" Checking alternatives is just part of who I am. In elementary school I didn't ask questions, like a dope. There was a side of me embarrassed to let on that I didn't know the answer. Now, I just keep searching or ask for help until I feel satisfied with the answer. To say "I don't know" is not embarrassing anymore. I don't like not knowing, and when something makes me aware of my limitations, I try to go beyond and find the answer. And, man, is there a lot out there that I don't know.
As I thought about different approaches to the book, though, family members and friends had offered suggestion after suggestion. I tried the obvious, like starting from my birth on May 31, 1943, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and then going into a childhood with siblings spread out in front of me. John, who we all called Sonny, because Dad called him son, was twelve years older; Bob came in at nine my senior; and Frank and Rita only had six years on me. We adopted my sister, Rita, when I was four, so Mom finally got a daughter and all us boys landed ourselves a sister.
The day Rita arrived, I was peeking from behind a wall outside of the front room, too shy to introduce myself but unable to stop staring. A quiet girl with long dark pigtails down to her waist, she wore a straw boat hat and "car coat," which came to about mid-thigh. Much later, I heard rumors that she may have been my father's daughter with another woman, but I didn't know or care enough to investigate any further. And if that was the case, then my mom was raised to a level of sainthood in my eyes because she immediately seemed to love my sister unconditionally. We all did. She fit in so naturally it felt like she'd known us forever. Or however long forever could feel to a four-year-old. In due time though, I could annoy her just as well as I could my older brothers. And vice versa.
Starting at the beginning doesn't seem like such a bad way to begin, I suppose. After all, Beaver Falls was and is a beautiful small town, something Norman Rockwell would have painted, with rolling hills, rambling creeks, and railroad tracks. A few mills manufacturing pipes, steel tubing, glass, and enamel speckle the background, adding grit to the landscape. That's not a dig, of course. My dad worked at one for decades, and our town seemed less affected by much of the ugliness and turmoil that other parts of the country struggled with at the time.
Dad stayed in decent shape with his millwork and often took me to the bowling alleys for his league games. Hanging out with him one-on-one was the best. I'd watch some of the games with my dad, all gussied up in his fancy team bowling shirt sponsored—and paid for—by some furniture store or local gas station. But sponsor or not, dress or casual clothes, Dad was always neat and clean.
The older kids, just out of high school, hung out at the pool halls, and I'd see them playing through the haze of smoke at the back room of Woolworth's bowling alleys. You'd sometimes hear rough talk and racial slurs in the poolrooms, but schools weren't segregated, and friends came in all colors, and if there was a dividing line, it wasn't boldly drawn. I'm not so sure it ever is on the side of the tracks I come from. Lower End neighborhoods were filled with ethnic mixtures of other steel plant workers.
Mom and Dad bought a corner house on Sixth Street and Eighth Avenue with a potholed dirt road on the side, often sprayed with oil to keep the dust down. Sixth Street was laid with cobblestone and you could hear the horses pulling wagons of fresh vegetables and fruit a block away. My grandparents emigrated from Hungary, so my parents fit right into a neighborhood filled with Italians, Hasidic Jews, blacks, Greeks, Polish, Irish, and whoever or whatever. On the Lower End we all just mixed it up and the only designation with us kids was how well somebody hit the ball or who ran the fastest.
So my biggest issue with the chronological timeline format is simply that my memory doesn't work like that. There are ebbs and flows, with some moments expanding into great big bursts of joy affecting so much of my life, while other times, entire years even, seem to skip by. Being locked into one certain way, having only one option in a given situation—that's always something I try to avoid. To this day in football, the best play is the run-pass option, because you have flexibility to go with more than one choice. Knowing my choices and calling plays from the read and feel I was given on the field is something I'd loved since high school. When I first started playing pro ball for the Jets, our head coach, Weeb Ewbank, would walk up to me on the sidelines and ask what I liked, meaning what play I'd call when I got back on the field.
"How can I know?" I'd say. "I'm not out on the field with the ball." I didn't have enough pertinent information to know what I'd like to run, play-wise. I didn't know how much time would be left on the clock, where we'd get possession, how the defense would set up. Things that quarterbacks today aren't even bothered with. I'm amazed at the efficiency of the game and how it's evolved because looking back, it's certainly far less sophisticated.
Sometimes in a huddle, I wouldn't have a feel for a play so I'd ask, "Anybody got anything?" The guys knew that meant that I was asking them for input—a particular play they'd like to run. Other times they'd let me know if someone kept lining up on their outside or inside shoulder and they could get an angle block on a particular play. Or outside receivers would mention they could run a route on a cornerback, knew they had someone beat. I liked including my teammates and I think they liked being included. So if they had something, we'd run it. If they didn't, then I'd just give a formation and call a "check with me." That meant I'd let 'em know what play we'd run when we got on the line of scrimmage. The key was to see how the other team set up against our offensive formation. I'd notice small, specific things the defense would give me, maybe see who was limping, or a certain detail I'd picked up from watching film the week before, and my decision would be made. I'd call the best play for the defensive look they gave us.
A great example was a strong safety for the Boston Patriots my rookie year who would stagger his feet differently when rotating deep outside or inside as opposed to playing man or zone under. He was a nice guy, though, so after a game we were at a bar together and I mentioned it to him. I shouldn't have, since we played each other again, and that was the only time I did that, but I liked him. And I knew I'd find another nuance that would trigger me to call an audible; some play that'd let Maynard find a hole to settle in or let Snell punch through the line with the ground game. I'd wait and keep my options open.
So I had meetings with the book people and talked to my longtime friend and advisor Jimmy Walsh and my daughters, all the while fishing around for something that felt right. At one point or another, they all mentioned the 1968 World Championship. I know, it's Super Bowl III, but back then I can't remember anyone calling it that. Not that what the game was branded mattered much. What's important were the stakes. This was a tale of two leagues: the best of the straitlaced and respectable National Football League, established with a solid sense of history and respectability, against the best of the scrappy American Football League, generally considered subpar and peppered with misfits and rejects who were cut from the NFL.
I'd only ever watched that game from start to finish once before, and that was at the beginning of the 1969 season with the rest of our team at training camp. Maybe not even the whole game then. You see, the offensive team watched the offensive clips and the defensive team, of course, watched the defensive clips. Forget iPads and smart phones, we didn't even have videocassette recorders back then. To see a game that wasn't on television, the Jets had to get ahold of an actual film copy of the game and thread the reels on a projector.
In fact, the Jets furnished each quarterback and defensive play caller with a film projector for our homes. I'd walk out of practice with three or four reels under my arms. I studied those films hard, too. Certainly with more enthusiasm than any other type of studying in my life. Most early evenings, I'd set up the projector, thread the film, get my notebook and pen—and pour myself a Scotch on the rocks. I either watched from my couch or set it up so the film projected on a wall I could see from the kitchen. I always kept a notepad, too, while reviewing the next opponent's tendencies in case there was something I wanted to share with the appropriate people. I'd watch a play, rewind it, make notes on foot placement and what defense they played on, say, first-and-10. I'd visualize a lot so when I was on the field I'd be able to recognize what they were doing before the snap: I'd anticipate if they were gonna play man, zone, or zone–man under—one of the toughest defenses to read. By the time we were given reels most weeks, the coaches would have already broken the film down, given us the plays we were going to use, and told us what to expect given down and distance. I never had a set amount of time that I studied. I'd just keep going until that gnawing feeling of not knowing enough, not being prepared for all imaginable situations, faded. Then, well, I'd be finished with my homework, and that meant it was time to go out and play.
Nowadays you just swipe the screen to get a video, and Scotch is no longer necessary to relax me. So I got to thinking, why not watch the game film for old times' sake and see if gets my creative juices flowing. There are certainly times when somebody asks me a question about the game, about a certain play, and man, it just pops me back onto that field. But I wonder if I remember it the way you saw it?
The NFL posted the entire NBC broadcast online in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary, so as the late-afternoon thunder rumbles, I pull the link up and turn the volume off, something I've always done so I'm able to focus on the game without the play-by-play distraction. The old NBC logo zooms onto my screen. NBC SPORTS PRESENTS THE AFL/NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME—THE SUPER BOWL. Huh, I guess they really did call it the Super Bowl. I watch as the camera pans over Miami's Orange Bowl field, scanning the marching band. Seeing the field again gets the memories going and feelings start to flow.
The game started at three p.m. on Sunday, January 12th. But already my head is back to hours before that, in Fort Lauderdale, as the New York Jets walked out of the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel and into the thick Florida air. Why had we stayed at the Galt? Because Coach Vince Lombardi and the NFL's Green Bay Packers had booked it the year before and won the World Championship by beating the AFL's Oakland Raiders. Coach Ewbank had picked the hotel, and Frank Ramos, the Jets media director, told me, "Weeb figured if it was good enough for Vince Lombardi and his victorious Packers, it was good enough for us." And it was terrific. I didn't know where our opponents were staying—nor did I care—but it wasn't the Galt.
Watching the commentators talk silently, I begin remembering things I thought about that morning, like hoping the skies would clear. Rain obviously makes stuff slippery and I've yet to meet a quarterback who prefers throwing a wet football. I had big enough hands, but a wet ball and wet hands can lead to some slippage and sloppy throws, a problem I once tried to solve by getting Hamp, our equipment manager, to clip the points off five thumbtacks. By the time he was finished they were down to maybe one-sixteenth of an inch. We then got tape and fastened them onto the tips of my fingers and thumb—sharp side out, slightly sticking through the tape. It was a rainy, muddy game day at Shea Stadium against the Denver Broncos and when I went out onto the field and started warming up, throwing short tosses, the ball stuck to the tacks just long enough so the release was too low. My passes were going right into the ground.
And we were screwing up the balls. After half a dozen or so bad passes, the pigskin was torn up. So the tacks didn't work, but hey, in the days before playing gloves, the idea was worth a try. And blaming rain for a bad throw simply wasn't an option. Nobody wants to hear excuses, even a legitimate one. Just ask my brothers.
Bob and Frank were the ones who taught me how to throw a football from the ear to get a quick release. That makes a difference of split seconds. Bob played quarterback until he quit high school, so he played the position the best. I've gotta believe Frank developed his throwing style from studying Bob, too. I'd noticed how Frank as a catcher would throw the baseball without a long windup motion. And the fact that I was still small for my age didn't stop him from throwing it with a lot of heat when we played catch. Growing up with rough, all-American brothers, they were going to teach me things, sure, but in a rough, demanding, do it now and how I tell you style. They could have just showed me once and left it at that, but they wanted me to do it perfectly.
And I loved tossing the ball around! I was a baseball fan, especially of Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. I'd mimic the way he caught fly balls and even bobbed my head like he did when he got into the batter's box. We lived about thirty miles from Pittsburgh, and my uncle Joe and my older brother Bob used to take me to Pirates games.
I remember one specific night game with Bob—the Pirates were behind by three or four runs so Bob made us leave. We were driving out of Pittsburgh, listening to the game on the radio, and the Pirates started coming back. I'll be damned if they didn't end up winning. Even Bob was angry at himself.
But I still got to see Roberto, the first player whose style spoke to me. While he was an athlete, there was something else about the way that he, and only he, threw and caught the baseball. He carried himself like royalty on the field. Maybe it was the combination of his swagger and seeing how my older brothers dressed that got me blending sports with fashion in my head. And then, when the varsity baseball team sat for our photo, I was in the front row along with the other seniors. I always wore sunglasses in the outfield and called them "cheaters." I liked the way they looked so I'd figured, what the heck—I might as well wear them when I wasn't playing. It wasn't anything specific and I wasn't trying to be disrespectful—there was no "look" I was going for. But it isn't the glasses that I focus on when seeing that photo today. For me, what pops are the shoelaces. I had specifically taken them out of my high-top Converse that I used for basketball and added them to my baseball shoes. I distinctly remember the white laces popping against the black shoes.
Unlike most parents back then, Dad was always involved with my athletic activities, but the family situation had gotten complicated long before that varsity baseball picture was taken. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade. Frank and Rita had graduated and moved out, and I was living alone in an apartment with Mom above a tavern called Club 23.
I still had a good relationship with my dad. Most Christmases, if not every one, I'd meet him at the CIO Union Hall, Local 1082, where the kids would each receive a brown paper bag with an orange, an apple, a candy cane or some hard candy. He was also there at games and even some practices, observing the goings-on.
I know this because I must have been fourteen, playing in some Pony League game—the sort that some of the dads helped shuttle us to—when a teammate made an error and my dad yelled at him as he was coming off the field after the inning. He was off to my right in the dugout, and the tone of voice that Dad used made me react. My teammates looked away, embarrassed, clearly hurt, and it made me protective. We never yelled at one another when we messed up—we all committed errors. So I turned around and in a harsh tone said, "Dad, don't do that. Don't yell at him."
I didn't know what I was expecting, but my dad transformed, snapping his head toward me. His eyes lit up and he said, "Shut up," and he raised his hand like he was going to give me a slap.
I instinctively put my hands up, bracing for a blow that never came. We looked into each other's eyes and he turned and walked away.
After that, we did not talk to each other for two years or so until I was in high school.
When we eventually saw each other again, we spoke about what had happened in the dugout that day. It wasn't complicated. He was angry that I had challenged him. I was mad that he came down on my teammate. Finally, he got to the heart of the matter.
"Son, you raised your hands to me."
I didn't know what he was talking about at first. Had to think back to the situation. Then I remembered that I really did put my hands up, but those open hands must have meant one thing to me and another to him. Dad, it turns out, thought I wanted to fight him. When I explained I was being defensive, protecting myself because I thought he was about to hit me, we both agreed to put the moment behind us and learn from it.
And we did. Because otherwise, most of the memories around my baseball-playing days are the kind I hope I never forget. In fact, my senior year, we won the WPIAL—the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League—championship. I realize that might not be the World Series, but baseball was a serious sport in western Pennsylvania, and being high school champions was an achievement that we were all proud of. I have always had two goals in sports: the first is to make the team and the second is to win the championship. I wanted to be a champion—that was the ultimate goal.
But when in that batter's box, or fielding and throwing from the outfield, I knew I had a lot of room for improvement. I wasn't fooling myself, man. Sports were taken very seriously in my area—they were a way to get into college and a better life. Dads often said, "Son, you're going to get a uniform when you get out of school. It might be an army, navy, or marine one, or a baseball, football, or basketball one—it's up to you." So getting noticed always gave me a little dose of self-confidence, the variety that can't help but make you move on up at whatever else it is you're doing in life. Sports provided future opportunities as well as confidence.
I gotta tell ya, though, I was surprised. And truly thankful for all the attention I was getting as a high school kid from major league teams interested in signing me. Bonus offers of $15,000, $20,000, and $30,000 were coming in. The Cubs were the jackpot and offered me $50,000 my senior year. My dad asked what I planned to do with the money and I told him I'd picked out a new convertible.
He wasn't too impressed with that answer.
- "Even casual sports fans will find this an enthralling read. For all his flaws - and the author does not hide them - Namath is a likable and lively raconteur. What's more, his is a remarkable life. He not only beat the Colts, he whooped alcoholism, evolved into a doting grandfather and endures the many side affects of gridiron fame with nary a complaint."—USA Today
- "So here we have it: a reflective football icon-76 years old, incredibly-and an elder statesman...he tells a good yarn, guaranteed."—The Wall Street Journal
- "As exciting as it is personal."—247Sports
- "I have read everything about Namath for years....But this new book is different, better than all of the ones before it in a sense. All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters is told in Namath's words. And those words are powerful and instructive.—Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- "A pleasure for fans who remember way back to Namath's glory days-and an entertainment for those who are new to the gridiron hero."—Kirkus
- "Namath is refreshingly candid throughout...[his] razor-sharp recollections bring a bygone era of football to vivid life in this illuminating volume."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- May 7, 2019
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Little, Brown and Company