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"After I moved to Los Angeles, I met Brian Novack. Now I'm in love with him. Brian is totally different from Joe. Joe's a jock and Brian's more of an artist than a surgeon. He wears his hair long for a doctor and he's very sensitive."
Tatiana described case #99-4051, now on the docket in Broward County, as "a friendly divorce."
After his account of Broadway Joe being "sacked" by a plastic surgeon, South noticed that women around the office—the Enquirer was based in Palm Beach County—seemed particularly saddened by the news. "They would see him dropping the girls off for soccer practice," says South. "Total family man. Quite the doting father."
Namath sought custody as "primary residential parent." Tatiana never contested the divorce.
The legal papers cited a Latin term: a vinculo matrimonii. Namath had been released from the bonds of marriage. The dissolution left him in a position much like his mother had once been in. A vinculo matrimonii. The worst was still yet to come.
Joe was awarded custody of the two girls and the house in Florida. He had been the primary parent since Tatiana left in 1998. But by 2000, his daughters, now 14 and 9, came to him with a request. They wanted to join their mother in Beverly Hills. Here was irony in its crudest form. He loved the girls more than anything; that much was beyond question. But after all that had happened, did he love them enough to let them go?
Namath would call his daughters' departure "the most devastating thing I've ever gone through." The pain could not be considered in relation to mere football injuries. It was beyond calibration, beyond metaphor, almost beyond words. "I can't compare family to athletics," he said. "There's a lot more...boy, I don't know...love."
Love. He let the girls go because he loved them. That was about as much love as he could survive.
Now he couldn't sleep. He'd wake in the middle of the night unable to breathe. The attacks were without pause. "First thing in the morning, it's on your mind," he said. "You're consumed." Then came the pressure on his sternum. Once, the chest pains lasted for two straight days.
Not long after the kids left, Joe received a visitor. His old friend Sal Marchiano, the New York City sportscaster, had been in Florida, palling around with some of the old crew; he pulled up in a rental car. Though Sal can't remember the time, it felt late. Sundial shadows cut across the Loxahatchee River and all through the house in Tequesta. The new millennium had just begun, and here they were: a couple of guys in their 50s comparing notes on daughters and divorce. Sal had been through his some years earlier, and survived it. "One day," he told Joe, "you'll be sitting with your daughters in Paris, laughing about all this."