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Issue Date: May 2014 Issue

Game Changer

Joe Namath brings his gridiron memories to this month's Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest.
by Barry Goodrich

In a sport filled with flat-top haircuts, high-top cleats and off-tackle play calls, a rookie quarterback emerged with long hair, white shoes and an arm that would one day help save the American Football League. Joe Namath, outfitted with sunglasses, fur coats and blondes, was not only the game's first media star but also the player who orchestrated the New York Jets 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. "I really believe most of the people were rooting for us in that game," he says. Namath, who will be at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest, which brings together 100 Hall of Famers May 3 and 4 for panel discussions, football clinics and other activities at the I-X Center, talks about winning a Super Bowl and playing against the Browns.

Q. The Jets were 18-point underdogs against a Colts team considered to be one of the best of all time. And you guaranteed a Jets win. Why?

A. As a league, we weren't quite accepted by our peers, but don't keep telling me [the Colts] were going to beat us. We were continually told that we didn't measure up. I was a little bit angry about that, but I was also confident in our team. [The AFL] had lost two Super Bowls in a row. I don't know what would have happened if we lost again. That would have been an exclamation point for the NFL and its fans.

Q. You won a national title with Paul "Bear" Bryant at Alabama, were drafted by both leagues and signed with the Jets for an unheard of $427,000. How did that go over with the veterans on the team?

A. The veterans were PO'd. When I told coach Bryant what I was going to ask for, he took a long drag on his Pall Mall and told me to double it. [Jets] coach [Weeb] Ewbank was also the general manager, and he ran a tight ship. He told the guys there was a battle between the league and the game was changing. How he handled it was sensational.

Q. Where did the "Broadway" Joe persona come from?

A. Our owner Mr. [Sonny] Werblin believed in the star system. He knew the media was important. The fur coat was his idea. I liked to have fun, but the bottom line is that I could play.

Q. In 1970, the first Monday Night Football game was played in Cleveland with the Jets losing to the Browns. What do you remember from that night?

A. Near the end of the game I threw a pass behind Emerson Boozer, and it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Billy Andrews. If I put that ball in the right place, Boozer is still running.

Field Day

Huddle up for these three interactive fan fest experiences.

Hall of Famers Round Table: Kicking off Saturday and continuing Sunday, panels with such standouts as Jim Brown, Harry Carson and Lynn Swann will be moderated by broadcasting legend Larry King. "Fans will hear about lessons learned by the players on their way to Canton," says George Veras, Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises president.

Draft Chalk Talk: Browns fans who love to debate who the team will pick in the 2014 NFL draft should catch former players such as Art Shell, Shannon Sharpe, Richard Dent, Warren Moon, Franco Harris and Joe Namath weighing in with their opinions.

Field of Dreams: A regulation 100-yard turf field will be set up inside the I-X Center for clinics, says Veras. Local teams will be spotlighted on Saturday with the John Carroll University Blue Streaks joining JCU alum Don Shula from 11 a.m. to noon, while head coach Chuck Kyle will lead St. Ignatius High School on the field from 2-3 p.m. with Marv Levy and Warren Moon in attendance.

Iron Man

For a player who failed his first NFL physical, Joe DeLamielleure became one of the most durable players in the history of the league, competing in 185 consecutive games for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. The 63-year-old Hall of Fame offensive guard appears at the Fan Fest.

I'm the ninth of 10 kids who lived in a house with one bathroom. Who would ever believe I would play in the NFL? When the Bills drafted me [in 1973] I had just been married, had $150 in the bank and was driving a 1964 Ford.

When I got traded to the Browns in 1980, I told Brian Sipe he was going to win the MVP. Brian could see the whole field. I used to look at him and wonder how he could be so good — he looked more like a movie star than a football player.                                                                              
                                                                                                                —as told to Barry Goodrich

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