Joe Namath is one of the most recognizable and charismatic players in NFL history. There’s certainly no denying that.
Perhaps best known for guaranteeing a win for his New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Namath played 13 seasons overall, first in the AFL and then the NFL after the merger. It’s true that “Broadway Joe” was a great character. The media loved it and Joe loved the media.
But was Joe Namath really a Hall of Fame quarterback?
Joe Namath’s early days with the New York Jets
Following a stellar career at the University of Alabama, where he won a national championship and posted a 29-4 record in three seasons, Joe Namath joined the AFL’s New York Jets in 1965. The team went 0-6 to start the season, with Namath splitting quarterback duties with Mike Taliaferro. With Namath as the full-time quarterback, the team won five of their last eight and Namath was named the AFL Rookie of the Year, throwing for 2,220 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
He became the first quarterback in history, in either the NFL or the AFL, to throw for 4,000 yards in 1967, his third year in the league, but threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26), something that would happen in all but two of his 13 seasons.
Constantly battling knee injuries, Namath was named the 1968 AFL MVP, leading the Jets to an AFL title, earning them a spot in Super Bowl III.
Namath guarantees victory in Super Bowl III
Heading into Super Bowl III, the New York Jets were the clear underdog against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. However, Namath, wasn’t having it.
The AFL was still considered the inferior league and the Jets were mocked relentlessly in the media. Even Colts head coach Norm Van Brocklin got in on it, saying that Namath had never even played a real professional game because he was in the AFL. Namath, clearly upset by this, guaranteed victory for the Jets.
The guarantee did happen. The New York Jets did win Super Bowl III, 16-7, and Joe Namath was named the MVP. However, he didn’t throw one touchdown pass in the game. Yes, he did outplay the great Johnny Unitas, who only threw for 110 yards as the New York defense shut him down. Namath was good, completing 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards, but it certainly wasn’t an all-time great performance by any means. And MVP? The defense as a whole might have earned that one.
But Joe Namath was now a star. He played in New York on a Super Bowl-winning team and he was everywhere. When Monday Night Football started in 1970, ABC made sure that Namath and the Jets were in the first telecast. The Jets lost to the Browns after a late Namath interception.
Joe Namath played with the Jets through the 1976 season and then played one season with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
The numbers just don’t add up to the Hall of Fame
It’s true that nagging knee injuries kept Joe Namath from reaching his full potential. Yes, he won that one Super Bowl but he really wasn’t the main reason that happened. And, honestly, the numbers just aren’t there to ever truly see him as a Hall of Fame quarterback.
As a starter, including playoff games, his record was 64-64-4, right at .500, which is just below his career completion percentage, which is 50.1. The lowest completion percentage in the NFL in 2019 was Josh Allen at 58.8.
Then there’s the matter of touchdowns versus interceptions. Yes, Joe Namath threw for 173 touchdowns in his career, which puts him in 65th on the all-time list, but he threw 220 interceptions. His career quarterback rating was 65.5, which barely puts him in the top 175. Rex Grossman is ahead of him. Bubby Brister is ahead of him. David Carr is ahead of him. Tim Couch is ahead of him. Erik Kramer is ahead of him. The list goes on.
Joe Namath was a good quarterback. But it’s the great ones that belong in Canton and he simply wasn’t that.