5 Minutes with Broadway Joe
September 20, 2012 — As I wrote in a blog entry last week, I had the privilege of interviewing Joe Namath on September 11 at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan for a “5 Minutes with…” piece that will appear in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine.
The interview took place on the deck of the 17th floor suite we reserved at the private hotel.
Broadway Joe arrived at the room at 9:30 in the morning, and before we walked out onto the deck, he grabbed a cup of coffee and spent about 10 minutes carrying on a light-hearted with me, Yankees team photographer James Petrozzello and the rest of our group.
From the start, Namath was as kind and as down to earth as any athlete I’ve been around.
After our initial conversation, we went out to the roof and sat at a table that was positioned in front of (and above) a picturesque view of Central Park and the New York City skyline.
I found myself having a cup of coffee with one of New York City’s greatest icons, Joe Namath, while looking down at the Big Apple from a balcony. The weather was perfect, as was the moment. It was so perfect, in fact, that it didn’t even seem real.
But it was real. It was happening.
In the interview, which lasted about a half hour, I asked Namath about his childhood in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and about the experience of moving from Western Pennsylvania to Alabama to play for Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide.
“It was a big-time change for me,” Namath said about his arrival in the South. “Coach Bryant understood that where I came from was very different from Alabama, and he made a terrific effort to help me out. He helped me get acclimated, and he helped me get my mind in the right place. Most importantly, he helped me understand the social structure down there. If he wasn’t my coach, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Of course, I asked Namath about the guarantee he made prior to taking on the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. And, although I’m too young to have followed Broadway Joe’s career, hearing him repeat the guarantee in the same cadence and with the same gusto as he did before to the biggest game of life, was a powerful experience.
“The confidence I had was because of how good our team was,” Namath said about the 1968 New York Jets. “Also, for two weeks, we were told that we didn’t have a chance, so when I said, ‘We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it,’ it was just a reaction. I didn’t plan on saying it, but I felt that way. A few days before the game, someone said something that got to me, and I just responded by guaranteeing the win. That really came from the confidence Coach Bryant instilled in me years before.”
While we were on the topic of Super Bowl III, Namath discussed his emotions when he walked to midfield for the coin toss and met his childhood idol, Johnny Unitas — who was nearing the end of his career with the Colts.
“The voice in my head was saying, ‘Here you are, man. This is where you want to be,’” Namath said. “I savored the moment. It was a thrill shaking hands with Johnny, looking him in the eye and seeing the guy whose number I wore in high school. I didn’t walk back to the sideline. I ran. All I could think was, It’s time to go to work.’”
Lastly, I asked Namath to talk about his friendship with Mickey Mantle.
“One night during my rookie season, I was at a club in New York City called The Pussycat,” Namath said. “I was standing at the bar, and the manager asked me if I had ever met Whitey Ford, Billy Martin or Mickey Mantle. I began to laugh as I reminded him that I hadn’t been in New York for long and that I could have only wished to have met those guys. The next thing I know, the manager escorted me to a booth where they were sitting. They invited me to sit with them, and it was a thrill. Over the years, Mickey and I got to know each other better. We played golf together, we did some charity work, and we visited with each other quite often. He reminded me of some of the dudes I was friendly with in Alabama, and he reminded me a lot of myself. We were country boys in the big city. He was a wonderful friend, and we lost him too soon.”
Following the interview, Petrozzollo took a portrait of Namath (below), which will accompany the interview in the October Issue of Yankees Magazine. In my opinion, this photograph is as impressive as any that have been taken of Namath. Talk about a perfect setting … Broadway Joe perched above the city that he gained iconic status in.
When the photo shoot came to an end, Namath joined our group for another cup of coffee in the suite, and again proved to be a class act.
“This was a fun visit,” he said. “I enjoy talking about positive things, and that’s what we did today.”
–Alfred Santasiere III