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Leigh Montville
July 14, 1997
Joe Namath, erstwhile Super Bowl hero and playboy and sometime actor, now has the best role of his life: family man
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July 14, 1997

Off Broadway Joe

Joe Namath, erstwhile Super Bowl hero and playboy and sometime actor, now has the best role of his life: family man

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"The hardest part was coming onto the field. The Rams had a thing where the whole team came out of the tunnel, jogged around the entire field, then split up for calisthenics. I worried every week about that. I couldn't run. Some of those joggers were really moving. I couldn't keep up because my leg wouldn't stretch out anymore."

Werblin.... "He was from the entertainment industry, so he had a different idea about athletes as stars," Namath says. "Before him, I think, the idea in sports was to keep stars down, so you didn't have to pay them so much. Mr. Werblin thought that money made people even more interested in stars. I learned a lot from him. I'd go out with his wife and him four and five nights a week, go to the best restaurants, to clubs like the Copa. I remember once I went to see Funny Girl and after the show went backstage to see Barbra Streisand. There was a picture of the two of us in the New York Post the next day. Mr. Werblin was upset. I wasn't wearing a tie. He said, 'Joseph, there are times you have to wear a tie in public' "

The theater.... "I fell in love with it," Namath says. "I'd done movies, but in 1979 I got a call from a summer-stock producer in Ohio to play the role of Hal Carter in Picnic. A great role. William Holden did it in the movie. I didn't know if I could do it, but I figured if the producer thought I could, then maybe I could. So I did. I'd taken acting lessons. I took a class at Hofstra University on Long Island while I was playing with the Jets. It's hard. You go from one profession where you're one of the best to a position in another profession where you're not good, where you're at the bottom. It can be exhausting at times.

"A lot of people compare acting to sports. Eight shows a week can be physically and emotionally draining. You do a lot of the same things you do in sports;—work with other people, develop the production, get the choreography down, perform in front of an audience—but the difference is that in the theater there is no opposition. In sports, you prepare, try to make everything right and then, when you perform, the opposition tries to disrupt the choreography, ruin everything you've prepared. That's a big difference."

Marriage.... "Leon Hess, a co-owner of the Jets, always would say to me, 'Joseph, a man needs a family,' " Namath says. "I'd say, 'Yeah, that's cool,' but I never really thought about it. I went out with a lot of women, but I knew I wasn't in love. There just wasn't that allegiance. I knew it wasn't love the way it was supposed to happen.

"I met my wife in 1983 when I went to a voice teacher in Encino, California. She was an actress and had seen the teacher the hour before me. We talked a little bit and went out the next night, and I've never been with anyone else since. She was younger than me and didn't know anything about football. Her father did, though. She called him and said she had met Joe Namath, and her father started talking about me as a football player. Great player. Then she said she was going out with me. Her father said, 'Whoooooa, no!' Just like that. We've been married for almost 13 years."

He could be a guy from my 35th high school reunion, standing next to the hors d'oeuvres under the old school banner, filling in the blanks and telling the old tales, the greatest hits, one more time. Yes, yes. You don't say? Remember the day we put the frog on the teacher's chair in biology class? Yes. Of course. I could listen to this stuff forever. My time. Our time.

I have been to most of my class's reunions—every five years, be there or be square—and watched the changes in waistlines, hairlines, pocketbooks and what-have-yous that come to all of us. I went to the 35th a year ago and saw more change than ever. Maybe it was just me.

The drums didn't seem to beat as loudly as before. People weren't in quite the same hurry. The other reunions seemed to have been big on acquisition and accomplishment, on who was doing what and making how much. That didn't seem to matter as much at the 35th. Health and happiness were more important. There used to be a lot of talk about drinking beers and doing strange things. Now there was a lot of talk about golf. The same guys who left the reunion 10 years ago in search of an after-hours club where a patron had been thrown through a plate-glass window went this time to the house of the class president and star basketball guard. He was recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

"Do you drink anymore?" I ask.

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