Joe Namath was born on May 31, 1943 in Beaver Falls, Pa., a steel-mill town located 28 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Joe Willie -- as his friends called him -- grew up in an area of Beaver Falls known as the Lower End, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. (Namath would get into arguments with some Alabama teammates when he would defend African-Americans).
At Beaver Falls High School, Namath excelled in football, baseball and basketball. Six baseball teams sought to sign him, with the Chicago Cubs reportedly offering him a $50,000 bonus. But Namath declined, opting for college.
After being rejected by Maryland because his college board scores were not high enough, he enrolled at Alabama to play for Bear Bryant. The legendary Bryant would one day call his rebellious quarterback "the greatest athlete I ever coached."
As a sophomore, Namath led a senior-dominated team to a 10-1 record, completing 76-of-146 passes for 1,192 yards and 12 touchdowns. Late in his junior season, Namath broke curfew, and Bryant dropped him from the team for the last regular-season game and the Sugar Bowl.
As a senior against North Carolina State, Namath suffered the first injury to his right knee. On a rollout, his knee collapsed under the impact of an abrupt stop. Two weeks later, Namaths knee collapsed again. He injured it a third time practicing for the Orange Bowl. It was not expected that Namath would play in the bowl, but with No. 1 and undefeated Alabama losing to Texas, he came off the bench. Though he played splendidly and was voted the games MVP, the Tide lost 21-17.
The next day -- Jan. 2, 1965 -- Namath signed his three-year contract with the Jets. Owner Sonny Werblin saw more than Namaths passing arm. It was gilt by association.
"Namath has the presence of a star," Werblin said. "You know how a real star lights up the room when he comes in. Joe has that quality."
Brought along slowly by coach Weeb Ewbank, Namath became the Jets starting quarterback midway through his rookie season. In 1967, in his third season, Namath lit up AFL defenses for 4,007 yards and 26 touchdown passes.
The next year, he passed the Jets to the AFLs Eastern Division title. In the championship game against the Oakland Raiders, whom the Jets lost to in the Heidi game six weeks earlier, Namath threw three touchdown passes despite icy winds in New York. His six-yard touchdown pass to Don Maynard in the fourth quarter overcame a 23-20 deficit, giving the Jets a 27-23 victory and a berth in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969.
At a Miami Touchdown Club dinner three days before the game, Namath answered a heckler by saying, "We
e going to win Sunday. I guarantee you." His brazenness made headlines, though many journalists passed it off as bluster or self-delusion.
It was neither. Namath calmly directed the Jets on four scoring drives, completing 17-of-28 passes for 206 yards and being voted the MVP in the victory over the stunned Colts. The Jets were the first AFL team to win the Super Bowl.
Namath reaped a harvest of awards for 1968: AFL MVP, Hickok Belt winner and Pro Player of the Year.
In 1969, Commissioner Pete Rozelle told Namath to sell his share in an East Side bar, Bachelors III, because gamblers frequented it. If Namath didn , he would be suspended. In June, he announced his retirement from football because of the dispute. However, Namaths love of the game prevailed, and a month later, he sold his share of Bachelors III and returned to the Jets.
His endorsements kept him comfortable, with his panty-hose spots and his shaving off his mustache for $10,000 being his most famous commercials. He acted in movies and on television as well as in the theater, but was not another Olivier.
Through the years, Namath has maintained his status as an icon. Unlike another legend, Joe DiMaggio, Namath goes out of his way to be people-friendly. "Im lucky," he said. "I was born with the gift."
Namath has a new book out published by Rugged Land Books, which is currently on the New York Times extended Bestseller List (#23) and was recently interviewed for the November 19, 2006 edition of 60 Minutes on CBS network. In 2006, Namath enrolled in the University of Alabamas External Degree program (he was 15 credits shy of graduating when he left Alabama in 1965). He earned his bachelors degree in December 2007. His youngest daughter just gave birth. He currently lives in the ritzy village Tequesta, Florida.