For all but 16 guests, including best man Jimmy Walsh, Joe's old friend and longtime agent, the wedding remained a secret. It took place on Nov. 7. "I took my time to find the perfect girl," Namath said afterward. "I've always said I'm going to get married only once. This is my first and last wedding."
Arthur Joseph learned of the nuptials in the newspaper. The voice coach might have once considered Joe and Deborah like family, but the more the couple saw of each other, the less he saw of them. After a while, they stopped their voice training entirely. He never heard from Joe or Deborah as to why. "I found it so mean," says Joseph.
He wasn't alone in his misgivings about the new bride. For some, the first meeting with Deborah would be the last. Marv Fleming, a friend of Joe's since their USO trip to Vietnam in 1969, recalls meeting Deborah at the Namath football camp. Later, he was walking across the practice field toward the locker room when Joe asked if he had called Deborah "Randi" (one of Joe's old girlfriends) by mistake.
"No," said Marv. "I did not. I'll apologize to her if she thinks I did."
No need, said Joe. "Just be cool."
Marv felt regret wash over him as they walked to the locker room. "I could see she was creating a problem, getting rid of everybody," he says, referring to Deborah. "I didn't want to be a problem. So I just faded away."
Joe's old friends Mort and Carol Fishman also met Deborah—Walsh had instructed them not to call her "Debbie"—at the football camp. Namath came off the practice field and was clearly happy to see them. Joe gave Carol a kiss on the cheek and a big hug, almost twirling her around. At Joe's insistence, they made plans for lunch and dinner that same day. Just then, Deborah approached. "You could see," says Mort, "she was boiling over."
She asked to have a word with Joe, and the two of them stepped away. When Joe returned a few minutes later, he told Mort and Carol, "Gotta take a pass on dinner tonight. Matter of fact, I won't be able to have lunch, either."
Mort went home thinking Joe would phone to apologize. He waited, but no call ever came. "Just like that," he says, "never talked to the guy again. I was brokenhearted."
Shirley Mays has heard some of this before, how her daughter drove off Joe's friends, but protests, "She's getting a raw deal all the way around." Deborah, she explains, didn't like big drinkers, or hangers-on. Having married a man who was famous for not marrying, Deborah also became acutely aware of all the women who had been cast in bit parts and supporting roles in the Broadway Joe story. She couldn't turn on the television without wondering whom he had been with. Even absolute strangers spoke to him with a degree of intimacy.