The reason for Namath’s big contract could only be partially traced back to his prowess on the football field. True, Namath had quarterbacked the Crimson Tide to a record of 29-4 during his three seasons, including a 1964 National Championship, but he was never a Heisman Trophy winner or even an All-American. Plus, he had a badly damaged right knee that had limited his playing time throughout much of his senior year. Whatever Namath was lacking in terms of formal accolades and awards, however, he more than made up for with his personality. Handsome and charismatic, he possessed a smooth self-confidence that belied his age and small town upbringing. Those attributes, along with an amazingly quick release on his passes, a superb ability to throw an accurate deep ball, and an uncanny propensity in finding the open receiver, made Namath a hot commodity in the winter of ’64-’65.
Among the many people he met who admired the aforementioned qualities was David Abraham “Sonny” Werblin, President and part owner of the New York Jets. Although Werblin had headed up a group that bought the Jets in 1963, his background was not in professional football. Instead, Werblin had made his name, as well as a lot of money, as the premier talent agent for the Music Corporation of America (MCA). In that capacity, he was influential in managing the careers of some of the most recognized entertainers of the 20th century, including Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Gene Kelly, and Ed Sullivan. So, Werblin not only had the rare gift of being able to identify a budding star, he also had the knowledge and skills necessary to make that star into a celebrity. Having maneuvered his way successfully through Hollywood, Werblin wanted to make a similar mark on football. With the New York Jets providing the proper stage, all Werblin needed to complete the production was someone to fill the role of leading man.
Several books available at the Birmingham Public Library are helpful in detailing Joe Namath’s life and his impact on professional sports. Although it was written without its subject’s cooperation, Mark Kriegel’s Namath: A Biography is still the most complete account of the quarterback’s journey from childhood all the way to his post-AFL/NFL career. An autobiography published in 2006, Namath, is especially noteworthy because of the copious photographs and a NFL Network produced documentary DVD. Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, and Dixie's Last Quarter provides the most comprehensive look at Namath’s years at the University of Alabama.
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