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30th Anniversary Issue / Joe Namath: Jet-Setter

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The Jets were ahead of their time. Sonny Werblin the team’s part-owner believed in the star system. He believed that sports was entertainment. He knew, by paying the numbers that he paid, how many heads would turn and what attention he’d get. He’s the one who I think created the star system as we know it today.

Winning the Super Bowl in 1969 was important for the AFL, because we were literally looked at as a second-rate league. But for us, the individuals on our team, for Joe, it was an opportunity to achieve the goal that we started out with. I was always taught you have two goals: to make the team, and to win the championship. When we left the stadium that day, I was going to the hotel, and my body just kept kind of exploding with good feeling. The sounds that I made were kind of like a laugh bursting out, or joy bursting out. I wasn’t even trying to. And that happened not just after the game, not just that night, but afterward. The feeling lasted and lasted. I played in New York another eight seasons after that. And we didn’t win a lot. But the feeling of elation, the good feelings of people genuinely enjoying what you’ve done has only grown, only got better.

Sports have changed a lot. It became more entertainment, more individual. The media focused in on individuals, players, characters, justified or not. So the younger generations naturally evolved toward more showmanship and individual expression. Change. It’s inevitable everywhere, whether you like it or not. And I’ll tell you, I don’t like it in some sports. I used to love basketball. Nowadays I have a hard time watching professional basketball. The behavior. The attitude. You know, I love the game, but when they play the kind of schedule they do, it’s hard to give 100 percent every night. I’ll still tune in for the playoffs, because I really believe that what heart is true is in the playoff. But during the regular season, when I see how some guys behave, I can’t take it like it’s a serious business.

Interviewed by Michael Gross


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