'Broadway' Joe Namath: Super Bowl Champ And Multi-Media Star
Left: Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett filming a commercial for Farrah Fawcett Shampoo in 1981. Right: Namath on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sources: Robin Platzer/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images; eBay
In his playing days for the New York Jets, Joe Namath was one of the most popular football players of all time -- because he wasn't just a football player. A champion on both the college and professional level, Namath was also known as "Broadway Joe" for his persona as a man about town in New York City.
Joe Namath was noted for his style and charisma; his appeal led to a movie career, a TV show of his own, advertisements, a clothing line and various dining and drinking establishments. Today, pro athletes are brands, and we expect them to diversify with business ventures and media plays. Joe Namath invented the true entrepreneurial celebrity athlete -- and nobody's done it any better since.
Young Joe Namath: 'Bama And The Bear
Joseph William Namath was a celebrated professional football player. He had always been known as a great football player and was a star quarterback in high school. Football wasn’t his only sport though. He also played baseball and basketball. He was just a natural athlete.
Playing under Paul "Bear" Bryant at the University of Alabama, Joe Namath quarterbacked the Crimson Tide to the 1964 national football championship, and in three years as a starter lost just four games.
Joe Namath's Glory Days As A Pro
Namath was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL and the New York Jets of the AFL. At the time, the two leagues were totally separate and competed for the same players, with the NFL considered more prestigious than the upstart AFL. Namath chose the Jets.
During his rookie season, Namath was photographed in Times Square for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Seeing the image, teammate Sherman Plunkett gave Namath the nickname "Broadway Joe," which was all too prescient given the celebrity and media savvy Namath would exhibit in the years to come.
A couple years after Namath entered the AFL, the two leagues agreed to play a championship game -- the AFL-NFL Championship Game, soon to be known as the Super Bowl. The first two Super Bowls, in 1967 and '68, went to the NFL powerhouse Green Bay Packers, and football fans lamented that the AFL just couldn't compete with the older league. That changed in 1969, when Namath led his Jets to the title game against the Baltimore Colts, hailed as possibly the greatest football team ever.
Three days before the game, Namath said publicly. "We're going to win the game. I guarantee it." When the Jets won Super Bowl III 16-7, Namath seemed prophetic and the AFL seemed legit.
Injuries Catch Up With Him
Namath didn't miss a game in his first five years with the Jets, but a knee injury he'd had since college eventually caught up with him. He was sidelined for half of the scheduled games from 1970-73. Although he made a comeback, it didn't last. His final season in football was 1977, which he spent with the Los Angeles Rams. He started the first four games, going 2-2, but spent the rest of the year glued to the bench, and retired at the end of the season.
Joe Namath Off The Field
Concurrent to his football career, Namath embarked on many entrepreneurial ventures, becoming one of the first athletes to leverage his celebrity into multiple businesses. After the Super Bowl win, he opened Bachelors III, a nightclub on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Customers ranged from the famous to the seedy -- specifically, organized crime figures. The NFL ordered Namath to sell his interest in the club to protect the league's reputation. Namath refused, and appeared to retire, but then acquiesced to the league's demand.
Namath had a big personality and was comfortable in the spotlight. He briefly hosted his own television talk show in 1969, and then went on to acting. Namath was seen on variety shows including The Flip Wilson Show, Laugh In, The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch.
Joe Goes To Hollywood
While appearing on talk and variety shows, Namath also made a run at a film career, appearing in two movies in 1970. His first outing was in Norwood, supporting Glen Campbell; he then starred opposite Ann-Margret in C.C. & Company. After this robust start, he starred in The Last Rebel (1971), then didn't have another film role until his appearance in Avalanche Express (1979), followed by Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984). In other words -- the film career fizzled.
Joe Namath, Inc.
At one point, Joe Namath and Mickey Mantle had pulled their collective fame and talents to form a temporary employment agency. It was called Mantle Men and Namath Girls, Inc., and was not sports related though. The timing of their venture was unfortunate, though. Because of the recession in 1969, they just couldn’t make it work.
Namath, who was known for his off-the-field style, also struck a deal with Arrow Shirts, which produced a Joe Namath line of polyester shirts featuring large collars and unusual abstract or photographic print patterns.
He's Got Legs, He Knows How To Use Them
Namath appeared on a television commercial for Beautymist pantyhose -- panning camera showed viewers very shapely legs in pantyhose, before revealing that the legs were attached to Namath. At the time (maybe even now), it was a little controversial to show a man, on television no less, dressed in what was considered women’s undergarments. Beautymist pantyhose sales skyrocketed.
Namath also did TV commercials endorsing Brut aftershave, Ovaltine, and Olivetti typewriters.
Shaving And Showering With Farrah Fawcett
Namath's most famous commercial might be the one he made for Noxzema that aired during the 1973 Super Bowl. Its success had something to do with his co-star -- a young model/actress named Farrah Fawcett. Namath shaved his mustache for the commercial, and was reportedly paid $10,000.00 for his performance. The suggestive ad began with Namath saying "I'm gonna get creamed," and ended with the tagline "Let Noxzema cream your face."
In 1981, Namath and Fawcett again teamed up, this time for a new Faberge product: Farrah Fawcett Shampoo. Namath, dressed in a towel, was to say "I just took a shower with Farrah Fawcett," to which Fawcett, also wearing a towel, would reply "He just took a shower with Farrah Fawcett Shampoo." The commercial shoot was covered in People magazine, although it's unclear whether the ad ever saw the light of day.
Joe Namath Today
Joe Namath was also very recognizable both on the field and off. He had very pronounced features and good looks. He was known at times to be a ladies’ man and bit arrogant but overall was well liked by both men and women. He was often seen in his signature fur coats (reportedly mink) and made no apologies for being flamboyant.
In 2019, Namath published his autobiography All The Way: My Life In Four Quarters.
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