Friday, March 2, 2012

Namath: From Beaver Falls to Broadway - HBO Sports Documentary

HBO Sports' documentary on the legendary NFL player, Joe Namath is a superb look at the life of a famed athlete who ultimately became as famous for his off the field exploits as for his on the field exploits.  Perhaps, his fame off the field superseded his professional football career's hall of fame achievements, but that would not be a fair assessment of Namath's athletic abilities and skills.  He was indeed one of the finest quarterbacks in NFL history.

After viewing the HBO documentary on Namath's life I immediately walked over to my bookcase featuring the autographed version of Namath's 1969 autobiography, "I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow...Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day."  Joe Namath signed the book on Saturday, March 15, 2003. That night is one of the best memories from my career.  It has a lofty place in my home. It sits alongside books autographed by Margaret Thatcher, Tom Wolfe and Shirley Temple. 

The documentary fleshes out the life of Namath in a fact filled, non-stop and entertaining fashion. Over the course of my career I've met dozens of famous people. Movie and television actors, entertainers, astronauts, elected officials, athletes and world leaders.  Most of the meetings were basically mundane moments in life.  A few were highly memorable, including an intensely entertaining one hour meeting with one of the world's most famous rock band frontmen.  The meeting was so memorable that fellow work comrades still comment on it from time to time. I've usually held the position with famous folks that I absolutely don't care that I am in their presence.  It worked well for me over my career.

Namath had flown in for the 50th anniversary of the ABC Television Network's big bash. We were prepping for a major television special, but we were also hosting a party under a tent. I hobnobbed with everyone from Stephanie Powers to Robert Conrad, but it was Namath that made the event. I don't know why I like him so much, but I do. Since we were doing an on-air special I had been assigned to do a wide variety of elements attached to the special.  Meeting Namath was a big thrill for this Chicago Bears fan.  He engaged me in conversation. He asked a series a questions about my life, about why I collected books and what I did at ABC. He, of course was as charming as I assumed he would be based on reputation. I ended up chatting at the rehearsal and then cordially going up to him at the event the following night and I ended my two shining Namath moments in life by giving him a big hug.  I would normally never do this, but I just did it. He remembered on night two that I met him the night before and and that alone made me love the guy for the balance of my days.  Most famous people don't remember your name.  He remembered and no, I didn't mess around with Joe Namath.    

Namath played for the New York Jets from 1965 through 1976 with a final year in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. To say he had an amazing career would be a severe understatement. He passed for 27,663 yards with 173 Touchdowns.  He was the first quarterback to pass for more than 4000 yards in a season (another QB wouldn't do this until 1979) and he guaranteed a Super Bowl victory in 1969 at it became a reality at Super Bowl III. The Jets would defeat the Colts with a 16-7 upset.My brother-in-law, brother and late brother all still believe the NFL cheated since they wanted to make the AFC equal to the NFC. Conspiracy? I think Namath got lucky. 

The documentary takes you through his growing up years in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania through his  successful college career playing for the Crimson Tide (University of Alabama) under the coaching skills of the late Bear Bryant. Namath became the literal overnight star when he signed with the Jets and it is difficult to assess his stardom, fame and success if you didn't have some life experience of seeing Namath, when Namath was Namath.

Much of this documentary is of Joe sitting in a chair uncomfortably due to the wear and tear on his body after years of daily pain and two artificial knee replacements. Namath is witty, charming, upfront, candid and revealing without embarrassing himself.  We hear from friends, former teammates, assorted other NFL players, sports reporters and a few family members. Footage of his mom and sister are priceless.

Namath is completely upfront about his alcoholism and his downright "why did this have to happen to me" moment with ESPN's Suzy Kolber.  For her part, she is gracious, generous and obviously, forgiving.

We see movie legend, Ann-Margret (see the 100 most beautiful actresses of all time post at, her husband, Roger Smith (who hasn't been seen publicly in more than ten years), and former NBC "Hunter" star and former NFL player, Fred Dryer making insightful comments about Namath's football and one-time movie career.

This is easily one of the best documentaries HBO Sports has produced.  It's as good as "Mantle" if not better. Namath was one of the first true media superstars, but he was also a highly respected player. NFL Hall of Fame Coach, Don Shula said he was one of the three smartest quarterbacks of all-time and another NFL Hall of Fame Coach, Bill Walsh said Joe Namath was "the most beautiful, accurate, stylish quarterback with the quickest release I have ever seen." Vince Lombardi said he was "the perfect passer. He brought it up to his ear and zipped it." Those are quotes you want on your bio!

This is a must see. Check HBO's schedule for upcoming airdates.  Don't miss this.

It's unfortunate that most people never saw Namath play uninjured.  His arm was a cruise missile in action. 

The documentary is part of the HBO Legends and Legacies series; and it is touchingly without any false sentimentality narrated by actor, Liev Schreiber.

Copyright Read On Read Now 2012

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