HBO takes advantage of the dead weekend heading into Super Bowl week to present a 90-minute documentary on one of the NFL's most colorful performers. “Namath,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Saturday, provides a fascinating profile of former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.
Nicknamed “Broadway Joe,” Namath is best known for guaranteeing a Jets' victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and then backing up his talk with an MVP performance in the Jets' 16-7 victory.
Namath, 68, adds his memories and opinions about his life, which are interspersed with film footage. Also in the documentary is commentary from teammates, rival players and coaches as well as from media members, friends and family members.
“That guy was very important to the game as a cultural icon,” says former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Fred Dryer, Namath's teammate in 1977. “He brought professional football into the television era and with it a whole degree of excitement.”
After a star high school career in Beaver Falls, Pa., he earned national recognition at Alabama (including leading the Crimson Tide to a 17-0 victory over OU in the 1963 Orange Bowl). He signed with the Jets after negotiating an unprecedented deal at the time, including a car and a home for his mother, worth $427,000.
His off-the-field activities brought him even more notoriety in the New York media market. They included nightclub carousing, owning a club that Commissioner Pete Rozelle later forced him to sell, movie and TV appearances, numerous romances, colorful wardrobes and a failed marriage. Namath laughs when reminiscing about wearing pantyhose for a commercial.
The documentary doesn't shy away from Namath's lifelong battle with alcohol. Embarrassing incidents include him offering his ABC boss a beer early in the morning of his only season as a “Monday Night Football” analyst in 1985 and kissing ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber in 2003 after slurring his words during an interview.
Near the end of the program, Namath tears up during a segment when he returns to Beaver Falls for a celebration of the school's 1960 state championship.
“Something's been guiding me around throughout my life,” Namath said. “I keep saying I'm a lucky guy.”