Last January, after almost beating Texas in the Orange Bowl on one leg, Namath had an operation on his right knee to remove the torn cartilage that had plagued him through his senior year. There have been disquieting stories that he will not only be unable to play this year but must undergo another operation. "I can't tell you what I'll do tomorrow," Namath said recently. "Any athlete who has had a knee injury might get hurt again. But my leg's in good condition." But later he added, "I can't do right this season. People are going to be looking for so much. If I throw three touchdown passes, they'll say why didn't I throw four. If I throw four interceptions, I'll be shot at."
Namath and Huarte are contrasting types. Namath slouches; Huarte is ramrod-straight. Namath is easygoing, Huarte is reserved. Huarte wears conservative suits and rep ties. He is precise and analytical. He never does anything without a reason. "I think it makes good sense to approach things in an analytical way," he says. He happened to attend Notre Dame not just because of football—"I didn't know if the football would turn out"—but because he wanted to study at a good major university. Similarly, he signed with the Jets instead of the Philadelphia Eagles for several reasons. "One, the total sum was the most attractive offer," he says. "Then there was New York versus Philadelphia for future employment. Then there was the type of team, the growth life of this club. Then there was the kind of coach and the kind of system that they have. And, of course, there was the spirit. There is tremendous spirit at Notre Dame and tremendous spirit around here. I like to play in front of fans who show appreciation for merits and demerits." During the off season Huarte will live in New York and attend graduate school in business. He reads
The Wall Street Journal
and is thinking of a career on the Street. "Football is a very important part of my life now,'" he says, measuring each word. "My main interest is to refrain from limiting my future."
Huarte, who is 22 (11 days older than Namath), was born in Orange County, Calif. He has four brothers and one sister. His father, who is of Basque descent, used to play minor-league baseball. Mrs. Huarte is of German descent. The Huartes own an orange and avocado ranch in Anaheim, and John threw oranges long before he ever threw a football. With all the groves around the house, open space was rare, and Huarte used to play football in a nearby cemetery. "I used the large markers as defensive halfbacks," he says, "and I practiced field goals with the only thing that resembled a goalpost, a family mausoleum with crosses at the ends. Any ball between them was good. Everything was great until one day I hooked one a little too much. You can still see where the cross broke off." At Mater Dei High School he was an outstanding quarterback. "John always was an excellent passer," says his old coach, Dick Coury, a onetime Notre Dame player. "However, his biggest asset was his attitude. He worked so hard that we used to have to chase him off the field."
Huarte came very close to not even getting on the field at Notre Dame. In his sophomore year he was injured, played only five minutes and failed to win his letter. In his junior year, when Hugh Devore was the interim coach, he played only 45 minutes and again failed to letter. When Ara Parseghian came to Notre Dame as coach in 1964, he told Huarte, "You're going to be my quarterback even if you throw 11 straight interceptions." As a result, Huarte won his letter, the Heisman Trophy and a pot of gold from Sonny Werblin.
Aside from an instinctive feeling that Namath will project better than Huarte in the star system he seeks to install at Shea Stadium, Werblin does not particularly care which boy wins the Jet quarterback job. The main thing is that the Jets hopefully will have their star while Sonny Werblin, the real star of the show, operates in the background, just as he always has done.
Born in Brooklyn, Werblin was the oldest of three boys and is now the only survivor. One brother, Theodore, was killed in an auto accident at 19; the youngest brother, Lee, died of a heart attack last month at 46. The father died when Sonny was only 14, and Sonny is the only member of his immediate family who has lived to see a son graduate from high school. When Werblin was only 30 he had a massive heart attack that sidelined him for a year. Then he bounced back, fatiguing only his doctors.
Sonny was raised in comfortable circumstances—his father was a partner in a paper-bag company—and he had the usual boyhood interests. He made a radio crystal set and built a boat that was too big to get out of the cellar. He was a good student and a fair athlete, playing center on a James Madison football team that lost only one game in two years. He was voted the handsomest boy in his graduating class, but he says, "You don't know what an ugly class we had."
Because of his father's death, Sonny gave up plans to go to Dartmouth and instead enrolled at Rutgers to be near home. At Rutgers he played lacrosse and football, briefly, and studied economics and journalism. He was an energetic campus correspondent. Indeed, in his junior year he was working for seven newspapers, including
The New York Times
, the Sun, the American, the Journal and the Brooklyn Eagle. On the side, he read copy for the New Brunswick, N.J. Home News. "I made so much money that they broke me up as a monopoly," he says. Upon graduation, he was offered a job by the Times, but the salary disappointed him. Moreover, his late father's partners had bought out the family interest in the company and Sonny, hankering to prove that he could do well in the field on his own, went to work for another paper-bag company. He worked in a mill and served as a salesman. "I was making $17 a week," he recalls. "This was really the Depression, but at least I was doing something." One day in 1934 he had lunch with Jack Carney, a college chum (and older brother of Art Carney) and Carney introduced him to Harry Pinsley, a fraternity brother from Illinois. Sonny and Pinsley became friends, and Pinsley, who was working in the New York office of the Music Corporation of America, suggested Sonny go to work there. MCA, which had been founded in Chicago in 1924 by Dr. Jules Stein, an eye doctor, and Billy Goodheart, a piano player, represented bands for a flat 10% commission. Since Sonny was earning so little anyway and MCA sounded interesting, he went to work for Goodheart in New York as an office boy.
Goodheart hardly lived up to his name. Each morning he tried to beat Sonny into the office to berate him for being late. He would empty his inkwell out the window and break pencil points, then summon Sonny to bawl him out for not having the office ready. He also sent Sonny on a variety of fruitless errands. After four months of torture Werblin passed all the tests and went out on the road as a band boy for Guy Lombardo. Later on, when Sonny succeeded Goodheart, he adopted some of his techniques. He sent a new agent to Albany to sign a band leader. "I told him not to come back unless he signed him," Sonny says. "He never came back."
As a band boy, Sonny arranged for transportation and hotel reservations, had the musicians' uniforms cleaned and pressed, set up the instruments, laid out sheet music, checked the lighting and, above all, made certain that the band got its fair share of receipts. "When I started, being a theatrical agent was one of the lowest forms of humanity," Sonny says. "With MCA, there was no cheating of anybody. I soon learned how to judge the size of a house and to know that doors that were locked were really locked." Until he could get to a Western Union office, Sonny carried the receipts in $1,000 bills in a money belt. On one occasion Lombardo's band was being taken by a local dance-hall promoter. "I knew we were getting swindled," Werblin says. "This promoter had relatives all over the place taking money. I went up to him—he was a great big man in shirtsleeves and suspenders—and I asked, 'Can you change $1,000 bills?' He said, 'Sure, son,' and he began emptying his pockets, which were full of money. I just grabbed what I could and ran for the bus."