Friday, July 19, 2019

Books: Joe Namath's "All the Way"

All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters
By Joe Namath; with Sean Mortimer and Don Yeager
Little, Brown and Company; hardcover; $30.00

Joe Namath became a New York sports icon in the 1960s when he led the Jets to victory in Super Bowl III against the mighty Baltimore Colts after he predicted his team would deliver.

When the final whistle blew, that promise had been kept, and the Jets of the AFL were triumphant despite being 18-point underdogs.

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of that legendary Super Bowl “Guarantee,” the NFL icon who first brought show business to sports shares his life lessons on fame, fatherhood, and football in the new book All the Way.

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. He writes about what it was like growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa. and playing at Alabama before joining the Jets. If you're a Jets fan, you will love the information he gives on the history of the team and the battles in the 1960s between the AFL and NFL for superiority in pro football.

Namath was instantly heralded as a gridiron god after the monumental win, while his star power continued to rise. His rugged good looks, progressive views on race, and boyish charm quickly transformed him 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.

As much about football and fame as about addiction, fatherhood, and coming to terms with our own mortality, All the Way finally reveals the complexities of Broadway Joe.

The book is structured around Namath viewing Super Bowl III, giving it a very conversational, documentary-style feel, and he writes of the start of the game, "It's strange though, watching this film now, how I couldn't remember who won the coin toss in '69 at the Super Bowl or if we even wanted the ball first. Well, the game is about to begin so I guess I'll find out. I have my pen and notepad out, and I'm feeling an odd mixture of excitement and nostalgia sitting here at the kitchen table. And not just because one of our four dogs just chased my grandson out of the room as he went running by with a bag of dog treats. I have to admit, the dogs are a little crazy. One was kidnapped and returned three years later. Two were rescues, and they're both losing their minds right now, whining and barking as the storm kicks up outside. I'm older, I've had my bell rung a few times, but I think anybody would have a hard time concentrating with this pack when they're acting up.
"And then, kickoff! The Colts' Lou Michaels got some power behind it, but Earl Christy could run, boy, and his return put us in a good position.
"For the first play, Weeb wanted to give Baltimore something to think about. So we shifted formations at the line of scrimmage, a little move we hadn't done all year long. That was a solid hustle, one of the most important plays in the game that no one talked about.
"We had a plan that was, in a certain sense, much more AFL than NFL. We weren't rigid and inflexible. Even in life, never be too unbending. When I was growing up, Beaver Falls had two pool halls and I was a regular who stayed for hours. I knew who not to play, having watched some older sharks hustle. Pool was about making shots and getting in position to make more shots, handling pressure, but really, at that joint, I learned how valuable it was to use all the tricks available to win.
"So Weeb had devised a play to mess with the Colts' heads, just a little bit. Nothing gimmicky, just a quick flick of unpredictability. I was comfortable with this type of game, too. As I mentioned, the magician himself, Coach Bruno, was my high school coach and he, too, was big on teaching us how to employ a deceptive offense. He really brought a street-level hustler meets magician style to my game - using physical talent and some sleight of hand to get the job done. Don't just play the team with the eyes and feet and hands - get into their heads so they aren't even sure where the ball is.
"Second down and 6. Man, Snell came up behind me full stride already, charging in such a tight formation that all I had to do was reverse pivot and he was ready to tuck the rock into his arms. John Schmitt cleared the way as he cut through an opening, where Rick Volk took Snell down on our own 34. But he was so low that Snell's right knee jack-hammered Volk's helmet.
"It was an effective play. Snell carried for nine yards and we got our first down. Watching the broadcast, you see the cameraman focus on Snell getting up and walking toward the huddle, but glancing over his shoulder at Volk, who was on the ground. I knew Volk had been hurt when we were playing, but I didn't know the injury was that bad and the hit so violent. I certainly don't recall seeing Volk going instantly limp after making contact. He was a foundational element of the Colts' defense and such a wonderful player. Then, boom. He's out cold. To me, that was a big influence on their defensive performance.
"Regardless of who was playing, though, our plan was simple: take what they give us. We were running away from the strength of their defense. That meant running the ball to both sides, deciding at the line which direction to go. Or to air it out. The Colts weren't going to change their defense for us. Why would they fix what's not broken? It's first-and-10 and we lost three yards with a (Emerson) Boozer run to the right. Next, I throw a swing pass to Matt Snell and he gains nine yards. But then I missed high on a subsequent pass. George Sauer was open, and I just rushed the throw. Even on my computer five decades later, it still irritates me. No wonder I hadn't watched this game in so long - I get too angry, still caught up in the mistakes."

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