Iconic Interview with Broadway Joe and Derek Jeter
March 10, 2014 – A few weeks before spring training began, legendary quarterback Joe Namath accepted my invitation to attend a game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.
With the cooperation of Yankees skipper Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman, I arranged for Namath to serve as the Yankees honorary co-manager and to also toss a ceremonial first pitch.
Before the March 3 game, I conducted an interview that I had long coveted. With Namath in a full Yankees uniform — including a number 12 jersey — he and fellow New York icon Derek Jeter joined me in the dugout for a 20-minute discussion (see photo below).
From the moment that Namath and Jeter approached each other, just about every photographer and reporter swarmed them. Everyone wanted to capture the rare encounter between two of New York’s most storied athletes, and I felt extremely fortunate to have an audience with them.
As the interview began, Namath offered a classy comment that meant the world to me.
“First of all, I want to thank you both for doing this,” Namath said. “This is a real thrill for me.”
Then, with about 50 members of the media looking on from the area in front of the dugout, I asked Jeter and Namath how they maintained their outwardly calm demeanors in the biggest games they played in.
For Namath, the question brought him back to Super Bowl III, the game he so famously guaranteed a win in, despite being on a New York Jets team that was heavy underdogs.
“Well, my heart was beating pretty hard before I got out there on the field that day,” Namath said. “I learned to accept the nervous energy before a big game. But once I got out there, I was just repeating what I knew how to do. I was doing something that I had done since I was a child. I wouldn’t have been out there if I lacked confidence, and I always knew the difference between being cocky and confident. I was able to be calm once the game started, and that came from confidence in myself.”
“I agree with what Joe said about having butterflies,” Jeter then said. “I’ve always feel the butterflies before I take the field. I’ve always cared about winning and playing well, and that nervous energy is there before I get on the field. But I’ve tried to treat every game the same. Baseball is baseball, whether it’s a spring training game, a regular season game or a World Series game. There is more attention off the field during the bigger games, but once you get on the field, you have to treat every game the same way. Like Joe said, when you get out there, it’s just about playing the game you’ve played your whole life.”
I also asked Broadway Joe and the Yankees captain to discuss why winning in New York is extraordinarily special.
“The fans really care,” Jeter began. “They watch every game. It’s almost like life or death some times. They experience everything that happens throughout the year. Also, New York is the media capital of the world, so there’s a lot of attention and scrutiny, and if you’re able to win a championship in New York City, it doesn’t get any better. With no disrespect to any other cities or teams, if you can win it all in New York with all the attention that is on you, it makes it that much more special.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years,” Namath said. “What makes New York special? Well it goes back a few hundred years. New York was special from the beginning. The Big Apple is made up of a gathering of people from different backgrounds who have always had their own ways of doing things but still worked collectively together. The people are sharp, and they will let you know how they feel, especially when you win. It’s the greatest city in the world. I cherish my relationship with New Yorkers. I feel like I’m one of them.”
After the interview, Namath visited with players and coaches in a lounge inside the home clubhouse. Then, as we walked out to the field, he asked me to warm him up for the ceremonial first pitch. That experience was both thrilling and nerve racking.
In front of the packed Yankees dugout, I found myself playing catch with Joe Namath, and the Hall of Fame quarterback made one strong throw after another. Fortunately, I caught Nathath’s warm-up pitches, and I got the ball back to him without making any throwing errors.
Namath then took the field to a chorus of cheers, and from a few feet in front of the mound, he threw a strike to his catcher — Derek Jeter.
“I planned to walk out to the mound,” Namath said. “But I ended up jogging out there, because the adrenaline was going. I was really excited because of where I was. When I looked down there and saw Derek in the catcher’s stance, I couldn’t believe it. I knew he was going to catch the pitch, but I when I saw him out there, it was really special.”
When the game was over, I asked Girardi’s co-manager if he had to make any difficult decisions during the team’s win over the Washington Nationals.
“I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to keep Jeter in the game,” Namath joked. “For real, I kept thinking to myself, this is the early part of spring training, and he’s been out there for a while. Then, around the sixth inning, it dawned on me: Derek’s probably calling that shot. I realized that he was going to stay in the game as long as he wanted to.”
My entire interview with Namath and Jeter, along with sidebars on the former quarterback’s first pitch and his time in the dugout, will be published in the May Issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III