He walked around the Diplomat Presidential course in a blue rain jacket and with that round-shouldered, slouchy walk of the campuses and First Avenue. He had sideburns and a mustache and Fu Manchu beard and the thick, shaggy hair at the back of the neck which upsets older people so much, and therefore is a must with the young. I watched the Super Bowl game on television with 14-year-old twin boys, and Namath, slouchy and long-haired, came on after the game and said, “All these writers should take their notebooks and pencils and eat them.” The two around me burst out of the chairs. “Yeah!” one of them yelled. “Yeah, Joe Willie! Outasight!” the other one yelled. It was Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate all over again. Screw the adults. I knew that Joe Namath was going to mean a lot more than merely the best football player of his time.
After he finished playing golf, Namath went right for the bar. He had his money up and was ordering whiskey while he kept looking at the people with him to make sure that they didn’t get a chance to pay.
“I’m drinking a lot lately,” he said.
“Do you drink a lot all the time?” he was asked.
“I might as well. I get the name for it whether I do it or not. In college, this fella Hoot Owl Hicks and I were out one night and we had two cans of beer in the car, that’s all we had all night, and we’re coming home in one of these four-door, no-door cars. Thing couldn’t do over 35 miles an hour. But the Tuscaloosa cops stop us. They loved me. Huh. ‘Hey, Penn-syl-vania kid.’ I take the two beer cans and throw them out the car. There’s a damn hill there and here come the two sonsofbitches rolling right back to the car. I grab the two cans and throw them back up again. They come rolling down again. The cop says, ‘Hey, Penn-syl-vania kid, just leave ’em there.’ I said to the cop, ‘You’re a real piece of work. Now I know why mothers like you go on the police. Can’t get a job nowhere else.’ That did it. I got put in jail for being a common drunk.”
“Do you drink during the football season?” he was asked.
“Just about all the time.”
“What do you, taper off before the game?”
A grin spread from his mouth. His light green eyes had fun in them. “The night before the Oakland game, I got the whole family in town and there’s people all over my apartment and the phone keeps ringing. I wanted to get away from everything. Too crowded and too much noise. So I went to the Bachelors Three and grabbed a girl and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red and went to the Summit Hotel and stayed in bed all night with the girl and the bottle.”
The Oakland game was in late December and it was for the American League championship. On Sunday morning, the Oakland Raiders football team, fresh-eyed from an early bedcheck and a night’s sleep, uniform-neat in their team blazers, filed into a private dining room in the Waldorf-Astoria for the pre-game meal. Meanwhile, just across the street in the Summit Hotel, Joe Willie Namath was patting the broad goodbye, putting an empty whiskey bottle in the wastebasket, dressing up in his mink coat and leaving for the ballgame. It was a cold, windy day and late in the afternoon Namath threw one 50 yards to Don Maynard and the Jets were the league champions. The Oakland team went home in their team blazers.
“Same thing before the Super Bowl,” Namath said. “I went out and got a bottle and grabbed this girl and brought her back to the hotel in Fort Lauderdale and we had a good time the whole night.”
He reached for his drink. His grin broke into a laugh. “It’s good for you,” he said. He held his arms out and shook them. “It loosens you up good for the game.”
In the Super Bowl game, the Baltimore Colts were supposed to wreck Namath, and they probably were in bed dreaming about this all night. As soon as the game started, the Baltimore linemen and linebackers got together and rushed in at Namath in a maneuver they call blitzing and Namath, who doesn’t seem to need time even to set his feet, threw a quick pass down the middle and then came right back and hit Matt Snell out on the side and right away you knew Baltimore was in an awful lot of trouble.