Sadly, such Namath sightings became commonplace. Tank Passuello, who counted Joe as a regular when he ran a bar near the Jets' training camp, saw him at a banquet. "He was a little woozy, to say the least," says Passuello. "He came up and started babbling, but nobody gave a s—- because they all loved him."
Everybody still loved him. Everybody wanted to help. But he was deaf to the best of wishes. He had become like a fugitive to some of his oldest friends, always changing his phone number. Finally, Al Hassan called Walsh's office in Manhattan, and asked Jimmy's secretary for the new number, which she gave him. Al left three messages, none of them returned.
"I can take a hint," he says, trying to hide his own hurt. "But the next time I see Joe, it will be like it never happened."
After 15 years, Mort Fishman had heard enough to stop waiting for an apology. "How could I hold a grudge?" asks Mort. "Joe has a good heart. He was probably just embarrassed." With two recently replaced hips, Mort drove to the camp, and Joe greeted him with a big hug. They talked golf and even made a tee time. But when Mort came to pick him up the next day, he discovered that Joe and his daughters had left town earlier that morning.
"I remember thinking: what would he do now?" says Mort. "I mean, a guy his age."
On Nov. 9, 2000, a crew from ESPN Classic showed up in Tequesta to interview Namath for the network's series on the outstanding sports figures of the 20th century. One subject Namath would not talk about was the divorce. "He made it clear that he didn't want to get into that," says Craig Mortali, the producer.
Mortali had been apprised of Joe's drinking and depression, but saw signs of neither. Still, Mortali found himself slightly disappointed to discover that the house in Tequesta contained no evidence of the cool life. There wasn't even a pool table. Rather, the playroom had dolls and a kitchen set. "It was still very much a home for children," he says.
At the producer's request, Namath thumbed through a box of old photographs. He stopped cold on an image of the whole family—himself, Tatiana and the kids. He made a face and mumbled something; then, gathering himself, he moved on.
The shoot went smoothly, pausing only to change film and, once, when the phone rang. It was Olivia on the answering machine. "Daddy," she was heard to say, "I was just thinking about you."
As requested, Mortali didn't ask about the divorce. Instead, he tried another approach, asking Joe to tell him about his daughters.