"It was an act of kindness," says Weisman. "It made people feel good."
NBC was a great gig for Joe. There was little pressure, and a lot of time to stay home with the family. That was the cure, of course, domestic tranquility. It wouldn't mend his joints, but it soothed wounds he suffered as a boy at the top of the stairs. All he had deferred—from his wages to his wedding—was for this: to be a father, to have a family, to keep it healthy and whole.
The Namaths decided to raise a family in Tequesta, Fla., a quiet, affluent town in northernmost Palm Beach County. The home was four bedrooms, 6,813 square feet, with a pool, on the banks of the Loxahatchee River. Orange and mango trees dotted the property, but Deborah decorated with rustic European touches. "With an English garden for me," she said. For Joe, the water was filled with flounder and snook. He fished off his dock, and off his boat. He bought a new 25-foot Boston Whaler, naming it Team Game Too.
On Dec. 11, 1990, Joe and Deborah had a second daughter, Olivia Rose. She looked like her daddy.
Joe taught his girls to handle live bait, shrimp from the bucket. Before she was nine, Jessica had caught a ladyfish just north of Jupiter Inlet. The ladyfish broke the water four times before Jessica got it to the side of the boat. Olivia was four when she caught her first snook. "Reel," said Joe. "Reel!" It was, recalled the proud father, "the prettiest snook we had ever seen." Joe threw it back.
What was love? What would you the for? What would save you?
"Just having those little arms wrapped around you," he once said.
Bathing. Wiping. Feeding. Reading the stories. Tucking them in. Waking them up. Later, hobbling into the kitchen before dawn to make their lunch. Driving them to school. Picking them up. There were tennis lessons and soccer practices and ballet recitals. He helped with their homework. Broadway Joe became Mr. Mom.
What could the kingdom of television bestow upon him now? What did he care if he had a hard time using the telestrator? Why would he ever need a drink?
"He was with those kids every day, every morning, every night," says Hoot Owl. "The happiest thing in his life was his kids."