"Sure, Joe has matured a lot," says Linebacker Larry Grantham, "but we all do that. A football player comes out of college into the pros, and he's one of about 1,100 people in the country doing what he does. If you're a starting quarterback, then you're only one of 26. It takes everybody a while to get his feet on the ground. I don't see how he handled it as well as he did."
"Always, whenever you read about Joe's football ability, you have to multiply it to get a true picture," says Don Maynard, who has caught passes from Namath for eight seasons. "And what you read about his night life you have to divide."
"I never had any trouble with Joe," says Coach Weeb Ewbank. "I don't care anything about his social life, but he has always been a dedicated football player, willing to do anything to help the club. He'll take a movie projector home and study game movies for two, three hours a night, I guess. He plays with pain and never moans about it. And he hasn't changed."
Guard Dave Herman suggests a slight twist on that whole question. "It isn't Joe who has changed," he says. "It is the world that has changed toward Joe—or caught up with him. He used to be one of the only players with long hair, for instance. By now, he's one of the few players without a mustache."
Aside from the clean upper lip, the quick release, the accurate arm and the aura of confidence that can infect a whole team, Namath possesses something else every truly fine quarterback must have. He can analyze or read a defense instinctively. He not only recognizes what kind of a defense the opposition is playing—most quarterbacks can do that—but he picks up a significant detail in the three seconds or so he has to drop back, set up and pass.
A perfect example of his ability to react almost instantaneously to a new situation occurred in the Baltimore game two weeks ago in which he threw six touchdowns and gained 496 yards passing. In the final quarter, with the Colts threatening, Namath had thrown a 79-yard touchdown to Rich Caster, his tall, fast tight end. Caster had run a post, a pattern in which the receiver makes his last cut toward the goalpost. As soon as the Jets got the ball again, Namath called for another pass. At the last instant Namath noticed that a new defensive back, Rex Kern, had picked up Caster.
"I had two receivers open," Namath said afterward, "but when I saw those two clean white numbers, 44, I knew where I was going to go."
For his part, Caster faked the post this time and cut the other way. The Colts had played a zone in the first half, but Namath had handled that so well that the Colts had been forced into a combination zone and man-for-man. Caster was being covered man-for-man. "I was running my dig patterns deep and in the middle seams," little Bell said. "That took them out of zone coverage and, while they were wasting a man deep covering me, they let Richard alone. But he's too fast and too tall to stop one-on-one." The pass over the bright, clean numbers to Caster went 80 yards for the touchdown.
Of course, breaking any zone depends in large part on having the time to wait until a receiver can find the seams. Before the Colts got to Namath on a pass the Jets' offensive line had gone 11 straight games without letting an opponent once sack him. Says Herman: " Jerry Kramer was telling me after our Super Bowl win about the pressure of being the defending Super Bowl champions, but I told him that playing in front of a white-shoed quarterback taught you all you had to know about pressure."
"I worry about my pass blocking," says Riggins. "Of course, you never want to miss a block, but I think that if you missed when some other quarterback was in, and he got hurt, the coaches would say you did a poor job, but if Joe was in and he got hurt because you missed a block, they'd call it inexcusable."