Saturday, September 30, 2006


The Case Against Joe Namath

Whether it's figuring out which NFL teams are most like female chefs or what players are most like characters from "The Big Lebowski", we here at MFR are dedicated to bring our core of 8 readers the truth about professional football. It is in that spirit that I write about the Hall of Fame credentials, or lack thereof, of Joe Namath.

I come here to bury Joe Namath, not to praise him. Yeah, that's right. I am here to "Swift Boat" Joe Willie. Every baby boomer's favorite football hero, was, in fact, just an average quarterback. Certainly not a player worthy of the Hall of Fame. Chances are that if you are a football fan, you already know this. But just in case, I am here to set the record straight on Joe Willie Namath.

Joe Namath probably benefited from one game more than anyone in the history of sports. As everyone knows, Broadway Joe boldly, and correctly, "guaranteed" his Jets would beat the Colts in SuperBowl III. I am the first to admit that this took a lot of balls. (Even if Bubba Smith says the game was fixed.)

Whether he was trashed when he made the statement doesn't even matter. He said it and backed it up, so for that I give him props. But one big game, even in the Super Bowl, shouldn't give you an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame. Otherwise, Desmond Howard, Larry Brown and Dexter Jackson would be headed for Canton.

Lost in all the hoopla of the guarantee is the rest of Namath's career. Here are the facts. Joe Namath played 13 seasons of professional football from 1965 until 1977- the first 5 were with the old AFL and the last 8 were with the NFL, after the two leagues merged in 1970. Namath played his entire career with the Jets, except for that one, final, miserable season with the Rams. The numbers, frankly, are mediocre. Namath threw 173 career TD passes, a respectable number, and over 27,000 passing yards. But he also threw 220 INTs. That's right- the man threw more picks than TDs. But, wait, there's more.

Even in his best seasons, Namath never managed to complete as much as 53% of his passes. His career completion percentage of 50.1 makes Mike Vick look like Steve Young. I know what you are saying- "But the game was different then- offenses didn't run the West Coast system- they threw down the field and valued big gains over accuracy. Plus the rules today give the offense a huge advantage."

There is some truth that pre-1980 QBs threw for lower completion percentages than we see today. Still, however, the greats of the past threw for a higher completion than Namath. Johnny Unitas' career completion rate was 54.6 percent. Unlike Namath, however, he also had 5 seasons where he completed 57 percent or more of his passes. Bart Starr's career completion rate was 57.4; Sonny Jurgenson's was 57.1. The point is that even among his contemporaries, Namath completed a low percentage of his passes.

Clearly the best AFL QB of all-time is Len Dawson, not Joe Namath. Dawson, a Hall of Famer in his own right, blows Namath away in every objective category except facial hair and attempts to seduce Suzy Kolber. Not only is his 57.1 career completion percentage much higher than Joe's, he also threw for 239 career TDs and only 189 picks. See Joe- he threw more TDs than INTs, not the other way around. His career yards per passing attempt is also better than Namath's- 7.7 to 7.4.

Another old AFL guy, John Hadl of the San Diego Chargers, puts Joe's career in even more perspective. While Hadl, isn't a Hall of Famer, and rightly so, I'd say that based on the numbers, he arguably was a better QB than Namath. Hadl played from 62 to 77, around the same time as Namath. Like Namath, Hadl has a low all-time completion percentage of 50.4 percent and threw a lot of picks- 268. But his 248 career TDs are better than Namath's and he also threw for more yards. Yet, somehow, the Hall of Fame voters continue to deny Hadl membership.

My point is that Joe Namath, while a decent QB, should not be in the Hall of Fame. His all-time passer rating of 65.5 is the second worst out of currentHall of Famers--the worst is George Blanda at 60.6--another charity case put in cause he was like 80 when made a Field Goal. Steve Young, to put these numbers in some context, has the highest career passer rating at 96.8.

So why is this guy in the Hall of Fame? Well, in addition to the guarantee, I believe its based on the romanticism the baby boomer generation has for this guy. Ever hear Costas talk about Mickey Mantle? Its kind of like listening to John Karr talk about Jon Benet. Joe Willie is given the same reverence by those from that generation as Mantle, even though he doesn't deserve it-- at least if the criteria is on-the-field production.

To the narcissistic baby boomers who voted him in, Joe Willie represents all that was good about that era and electing him to the Hall of Fame validates their existence. Namath personified changing times- he had long hair, liked to get laid and was generally viewed as a "rebel" in a game filled with straight edged coaches and players. In a way, he made the game safe for hipsters and cool kids everywhere to watch. Which is great. But the Hall of Fame? No way.

Namath getting into the HOF is pretty consistent with the voting ideology of the day. If you had one good game in the Super Bowl, you were in (see: Swann, Lynn).

The 1960s weren't like today, in that all the games were on TV and fans had an opportunity to see every team. We could replace Namath with a better-performing player from his day, but we have no idea who that would be.
Don't forget the hosiery ads.
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