legs may have been worth the $1 million they reputedly were insured for, but
inch for inch that knee being gingerly dealt with on the opposite page has got
to be worth more. That is because it is attached to Joe Namath, the Alabama
quarterback recently engaged for $400,000 to play football for the New York
Jets. The hitch is the catch in his knee, an injury suffered in a college game
last October and aggravated twice more during the season. The Jets gambled that
with some judicious cutting the knee could be remade to hold up under the
rigors of the professional game. Last week the operation (described in detail
on the following pages) was performed.
Flying up to New
York on a Friday, Namath held a press conference, downed a couple of Cokes and
headed for Lenox Hill Hospital on the upper East Side of Manhattan. Lenox Hill
is a favorite haunt of wounded Jets, having also on its rolls at the time Joe
was admitted Marshall Starks (nasty fracture of the thighbone) and Pete
Perreault (torn ligament in the ankle). Namath's $65-a-day room was stuck off
in a corner of the eye, ear, nose and throat department to mislead inquisitive
reporters, but Starks found it and careered his wheelchair through the door.
There had been talk that other Jets resented Namath's fat contract, and Starks
meant to reassure his new teammate. "Hi," he said by way of
introduction, "my name's Dissension." Everybody guffawed at the
joke—and hoped it was just that. It probably was. Starks and Namath later
shared an ordered-in $4.50 pizza ("Pizzas come high hereabouts," said
On Monday, the
morning of the operation, a nurse awakened Joe at 6:30—a flashlight in one
hand, a hypodermic needle in the other. Scarcely had Namath had time to comb
his hair and brush his teeth than the drug began to take effect, and he was on
his way back to sleep. The operation was followed closely by the Jets' trainer,
a scout, a publicity man and Joe's lawyer, Mike Bite of Bite Bite & Bite,
Birmingham. Doctors and nurses, too, of course. When it was over, two observant
nurses stood over Namath's unconscious form. "He's not as good-looking as
they say," said one. "But look at his beautiful eyes," said the
other, flipping a lid.
indignity Namath was faced with another: when he revived his doctor made him
lift his right leg, a fairly unnerving and painful experience. Joe Namath was
equal to it and to the weeks of similar therapy ahead of him. "There's a
sign in the Alabama locker room that says 'It's all in the mind,' " he
said, "but I got something to tell Coach Bryant when I get back. It may be
all in the mind, but it hurts just the same."
AFTER THE KNIFE,
A KNEE STRONG AS BEFORE?
The knee, say the
medical textbooks with unusual and depressing unanimity, is probably the most
vulnerable joint in the body, especially from the viewpoint of athletic injury.
This is not only because it carries most of the body's weight and has had to
adapt to man's upright posture. The knee also is the joint upon which the
greatest strains are imposed in many forms of athletics, and some of these are
strains that nature could not have anticipated in the evolution of the
A prime example,
not foreseen by nature in designing man for "fight or flight," is the
stress that is put upon the quarterback's knee at the end of the roll-out in
football. After running to his right, the player slams on the brakes and puts
terrific strain on his right knee as he prepares to take off in another
direction to advance the ball.
Doing just that
is what put Joe Na-math in New York's Lenox Hill Hospital last week for surgery
to determine whether the American Football League Jets can hope to recover
their $400,000 investment in the University of Alabama senior. The chances are
better than even that they will be able to, since the knee's vulnerability can
be compensated for by increasing the strength of its muscles.
The knee's job is
fairly simple—to serve as a hinge—but its design is complex. Dr. Don H.
O'Donoghue writes in Treatment of Injuries to Athletes, which has become the
bible of dressing-room orthopedists: "While functionally the knee joint is
a hinge joint, physiologically it is a gliding joint." This gliding is
especially noticeable where the kneecap joins the thighbone (see diagrams),
"sliding up and down in the femoral groove as the knee is flexed or
extended." To keep the knee from bending too far when the leg is extended,
to keep it from bending sideways and to join its various parts in one supple
mechanism, there are strong bands of fibrous ligament.
To reinforce what
Dr. O'Donoghue calls "this anatomically unstable" structure are many
muscles. Perhaps the most important is the quadriceps, which runs from the hip
right down the top (front) of the thigh to its attachments with the kneecap and
tibia. It is the quadriceps that extends the knee to make the leg straight.
Running down behind the knee from the back of the thighbone are the hamstring
muscles. It is by contracting these muscles that we bend the knee.