"I haven't had a drink in 10 years and change," Namath says. "My last drink was on March 24, 1987. My wife doesn't drink, except maybe a glass of wine every now and then, and we made a deal early on that I would see if I could stop drinking. I had to know if I could quit. It was hard at the beginning...boring. Every day, for about a year and a half, I made a little note in a book about not having had a drink. I think there's a whole lot to be said for being on the same page as your partner. I don't put people down for drinking. A lot of my friends drink. I drank. I owned a bar. For me, though, it wasn't right not to be on that same page."
"Smoking?" I ask.
"I haven't smoked a cigarette since April 12, 1967," Namath says. "I was with my mother and some people in Miami. Connie Dinkier [a South Florida socialite] said, 'You shouldn't be smoking, you're an athlete.' I said I was going to quit during training camp. She said I should quit altogether, and my mother should quit too. It was bad for our health. My mother said, 'I'll quit when Joey quits.' Well, that was it. I smoked cigars every now and then when I played golf, but I quit in 1992. I had a cigar before I went in to have surgery to replace my knees. I just said, 'That's it.' "
The new knees work fine, much better than Namath expected. He says he finally decided to have the surgery when he fell down, smack, just like that, in the garden in 1991. Pain was one thing, loss of stability was another. Walking and moving now, with stability and without pain, amazes him. He had been bothered by pain since the middle of college.
He is able to work out on a NordicTrack, play golf, swim, do practically anything that doesn't involve a lot of bouncing, such as running. His days are almost the flip side of what they once were. He goes to bed early so he can be awake before his children rise in the morning, ready to join them for breakfast and send them off to school. He works out, plays golf, does business during the day, then tries to be home when the kids return.
The goal is to be around. Home is the adventure now. His main business activities are as a spokesperson for the Classic Sports Network, which replays vintage sporting events and shows on TV; CBS Sportsline, a national on-line service in Fort Lauderdale; and NFL Properties. He travels sometimes for these jobs, travels sometimes for autograph shows that pay as much as $60,000 for a half-day's work, but his emphasis is on family. He says he stopped doing television commentary on regular-season football games a few years ago when he realized he was away for 22 of the 52 weekends of the year. Why miss 22 weekends with his kids? He and Tatiana both put a moratorium on their acting careers after Jessica was born.
"This doesn't mean I don't want to be active, to achieve," Namath says. "I want to be a contributor. This is just the best for me now. I plan to be around for a long time. My mother's 85, and I plan on living to be 100. This is only halftime. The important thing to remember is your health. The things you do now will determine what your health will be 20, 30, 40 years down the line."
He seems at peace, but maybe at peace is too placid a description. Contented? Maybe still too placid. Time has allowed Namath to know and understand himself, to know what is important and what is folderol. Better. Yes, that's what he is. This is the middle of life, beyond the crisis. He eats more salads, less meat, almost no salt. His weight is down to 187 pounds, same as he weighed in college. His joys are simpler. A ballet recital involving a daughter can be as exciting as a night on the town anywhere. More exciting. Better.
What is important? Bryant is dead and Cosell is dead and Werblin is dead and Wayne, Gleason, Martin and Davis are dead, and maybe even Elvis is dead. Nixon and the enemies list are dead. Connie Dinkier, who advised Namath against smoking, is dead. An insulating layer of important older people just disappears. Years bring a perspective. What is important?
"You lead a more quiet life now," I say.