It was 50 years ago this month when Joe Namath, essentially, stopped being Joe Namath. He’d had that bum knee at Alabama. And early in the 1970 season, there had been a wrist injury that halted Namath’s iron-man streak of having played in 77 straight games for the Jets, and cost him seven games.
But it was in Tampa, at old Tampa Stadium, where a then-record crowd of 51,214 people had come on Aug. 7, 1971, to watch an exhibition game between the Jets and the Detroit Lions, that Namath’s destiny as a Jet hit an unmistakable and irretrievable oil skid.
In the first half of that game, which the Lions won 28-24, Detroit’s Mike Lucci was returning a ball fumbled by the Jets’ Lee White. Now remember: It was an exhibition game. But Namath, 28 and still feeling pretty bulletproof, saw Lucci with the ball and decided there was only one thing to do: Tackle him.
“I only know how to play football one way,” Namath said later.
Namath landed wrong. The knee ripped, audibly according to the players on the field. Namath let out a yelp, then a scream. On Aug. 8, he had major knee surgery. At Lenox Hill Hospital’s Einhorn Auditorium — a place Post writer Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman later dubbed “Namath Hall” — Joe Willie acknowledged this was a game-changer for him.
“Before, when I hurt my right knee, I had my good left leg to hold me up,” he said. “Now I’ll have to rely on that right leg to hold me up and I don’t know how good it’ll be. I don’t plan on retiring. Everything is up in the air.”
He missed 30 of his next 58 games as a Jet. He was never the same. And 50 years later, his latest successor, Zach Wilson, has endured the daily blare of will he/won’t he, can he/can’t he be the new Next Namath. There have been 50 years’ worth of Next Namaths, with so many of the men who have followed showing aspects of the original without the full package.
How do you build the real Next Namath?
I’m glad you asked that …
You would start with a dash of Richard Todd’s toughness. Yes, few Jets fans look back fondly on Todd’s tenure, but he played through a remarkable assortment of injuries and in what was probably his finest hour, a stirring 16-15 win over Miami in 1981, he played with three broken ribs.
Add in Ken O’Brien’s 25-game stretch from early 1985 through mid-1986 when he was every bit as good as any quarterback in the game. A combo of getting blasted too often by defenders and his own coach ruined him, but across the 27 games from Week 1 in ’85 through Week 11 in ’86, he threw 48 TDs against 16 picks.
Throw in a healthy dose of Boomer Esiason’s confidence. And maybe half a dash of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s irrational confidence.
And Vinny Testaverde’s arm. Actually, duplicating Vinny’s arm is probably a statistical impossibility, but something close would be awfully helpful.
A couple of gallons of prime Chad Pennington’s poise would go an awful long way. Pennington was hardly a perfect QB, but he was smart and he was excellent in the red zone and you knew he was never going to kill you with a bad decision. His arm wasn’t great even before he got hurt, but he was a winning player.
Yes, we will include a couple of cups of Mark Sanchez in the mix. Look, ultimately he was a frustrating player. But he also led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games. He won more playoff games than Namath, Pennington and Testaverde combined. That still counts for something around here.
Is that an impossible formula? Maybe. Possibly. Probably. But it’s been 50 years of mixing and matching. One of these days it’ll work out for someone chucking the rock for the NYJ, no?
Is it me or does it feel like Jeurys Familia has been giving up season-altering home runs for the Mets every year going back to the 1973 World Series? I think Joe Rudi got him that time.
I must say I am quite looking forward to young Mr. Miles McBride learning the NBA ropes from the firm of Thibodeau, Walker & Rose.
Let’s just put it this way: If you are a public figure who may or may not have a skeleton or three in your closet, the best way to ruin your day is to pick up your phone and hear your assistant tell you, “Ronan Farrow is on the line for you.”
Sure, I’d like to see the Yankees keep those ultra-cool retro road uniforms they wore in Iowa the other night. Might be more helpful to the Yankees if they can keep the versions of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton who played in Iowa the other night.
Whack Back at Vac
Dan Salogub: On the heels of the “Field of Dreams” game, what are the odds Manfred would have Dodgers and Mets in Brooklyn (Maimonides Park)? The Bums in Brooklyn once again!
Marty Carus: How about Knicks-Nets at the 69th Regiment Armory?
Vac: Sign me up for both!
Matt Deakin: Could there possibly be a more appropriate place for Aaron Boone to manage a game than the Field of Dreams? Listening to him day after day telling us that, obviously, this hitter or that pitcher is ready to break out. Obviously he is quite the dreamer and sees what the rest of us don’t.
Vac: Sometimes the readers get all the good lines, you know?
@TFrei: Stick taps for Jay Greenberg. He helped me as I was getting my feet wet. Well, and later, too. What we had in common was that we covered the Devils before they were the Devils — Jay the K.C. Scouts, me the Colorado Rockies. A very nice man.
@MikeVacc: So grateful to see the outpouring of love and memories the last few days for one of the genuinely good people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
Alan Hirschberg: Wednesday’s game completed a 53-game stretch during which the Mets got four wins from their starting pitchers. The 1919 White Sox got three wins from their starters in a World Series THEY WERE TRYING TO LOSE!
Vac: I love stuff like this. Though I doubt Mets fans love it quite as much.
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