The supertest for both Namath and the Jets came last Saturday night, however, and they were more than up to it. While Shea Stadium shook from the noise of 63,497 New Yorkers—an all-time AFL record crowd—who had come to cheer their town's only winning team against unbeaten San Diego, Joe Willie's arm was right when it had to be. He threw a touchdown pass to Matt Snell early that gave the Jets a 10-9 lead, which they carried into the last 10 minutes. Then, after San Diego pulled ahead 16-10, Namath rapidly fired three straight completions and whirled his team 66 yards to the winning touchdown and the final 17-16 score. He had shown once more that he could deliver in the clutch, and the Jets had the only defeatless record (4-0-1) in the AFL as proof.
If there is a single myth that Joe Willie would like to have destroyed about pro football, it is the widely held belief that the game's quarterbacks are pampered by opposing defensive linemen; that they are not "shot at," particularly himself because of his bad knee and what his drawing power means to the AFL.
"O.K.," he says, "How about the Houston exhibition in Birmingham in August? Don Floyd comes at me after the whistle, and I move to miss a shot and reinjure my knee. What's that? Of course, Don didn't mean to. He says he didn't hear the whistle, and I believe him. But he was comin' at me and I kind of think he'd of hit me if he could have. What about the Denver game? I still got a wrist bandage and a sore back from that one. Johnny Bramlett, one of their linebackers, is a buddy of mine—he played for Memphis State—and he had me over to dinner the night before the game. His wife cooked an Italian feast, plenty good, too. But the next day he was after me like a tiger, and he'd cuss me when he missed. He wanted to win, man. That's the way it is. I don't think any of our opponents are too interested in my health."
If he stays healthy, Joe Willie may achieve his deepest ambition, which is "to become known as a good quarterback, not a rich one." He may even become what Boston Owner Billy Sullivan says he is now: "The biggest thing in New York since Babe Ruth." Slowly, because trying to fathom youth is always a slow process, you get the impression that Joe is quite serious about it and, despite his hip ways, is working hard to make it. Beneath the gaudy surface there somehow beams through a genuine, considerate, sincere, wonderfully friendly and likeable young man. But he's going to be himself. He's going to do it his way, and nobody else's.