Joe Namath in the AFL

By Fred Del Bianco Jr. | March 18th, 2024

The quarterback and the 10-year run of the American Football League

Joe Namath waiting on the sidelines. Image by Jerry Coli

In this excerpt from “Fifty Favs of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s,” author Fred Del Bianco Jr. remembers quarterback Joe Namath. The book spotlights the leading people, music, sports, movies, and events from those decades of change.

The American Football League, which started in 1960, was in the middle of its 10-season run when one of its clubs, the New York Jets, signed University of Alabama quarterback sensation, Joe Namath, in 1965.

The multi-year, $427,000 contract (almost half of which was paid as an up-front signing bonus) struck many in professional football as exorbitant. Namath, however, would soon begin to demonstrate his worth by being named 1965’s AFL Rookie of the Year. Two years later, the Jets improved to a club-best 8-5-1, handing the 13-1 Oakland Raiders their only defeat of 1967 and narrowly missing a rematch with them in the AFL Championship Game.

Namath’s unprecedented 4,007 yards was more impressive, however – the first time in pro football history that a quarterback had thrown for 4,000 or more. It would prove to be the only instance of this in the fourteen-game (or fewer) regular-season era that lasted through 1977.

While the aerial display moderated in ’68, he still racked-up over 3,000 yards. And with a strong running game and solid defense, the result was a fine 11-3 showing and the team’s first-ever division title. Now they would play the Raiders for the AFL championship!

In the matchup at Shea Stadium, a Namath-to-Don Maynard touchdown pass in the late in the fourth quarter put the Jets ahead for good, 27-23, avenging the “Heidi Bowl” loss to them a month earlier during the regular season.

Advancing to the third AFL-NFL Championship Game, the Super Bowl, they would meet the powerhouse, 13-1 Baltimore Colts. Even though odds makers favored the Colts to win by two TDs and a field goal, “Broadway Joe” had other ideas. Representing an already confident Jets team, he went as far as to “guarantee” a Jets victory … and helped deliver it by a score of 16-7 on January 12, 1969. It was among sports’ all-time greatest upsets.

Namath’s performance won him not only the AFL Associated Press Player of the Year Award, but also the Hickok Belt, issued from the 1950s to the 1970s for the year’s finest overall pro athlete.

The Jets repeated as division winners in the 1969 campaign, but they were beaten in the first round by eventual Super Bowl champs the Kansas City Chiefs; Namath’s numbers, though, were enough to repeat as AP Player of the Year in what was the last year of the American Football League.

1969 in sports, in the U.S. and Richmond, VA, by sports writer Jim Ducibella

About a week after the Jets loss to the Chiefs, his Joe Namath Show, which had been airing since early October, had its final broadcast. The short-lived, syndicated talk show featured an interesting mix of guests (including some top celebrities), while modeling the host’s stylistic inclinations, as he donned the latest fashions in men’s suits, and sported longish hair and sideburns. Besides the famous white cleats (which during the seventies would become the norm), Jets fans had recently become familiar with his garish mink coats and “Fu Manchu” mustache.

This marked the end of Namath’s exciting early career phase. The 1970s would be topsy-turvy for the QB, whose frustrating injuries sidelined him for a significant portion of the remainder of his career that lasted until 1977; nevertheless, the Super Bowl feat, along with individual season achievements and his general cultural impact, was enough for voters to elect him to the Hall of Fame in 1985.

"Fifty Favs" book coverLearn more about author Fred Del Bianco Jr. and his two books – “Fifty Favs of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s: Fifty Favorites from Three Dynamic Decades” and “Late Boomer: A Baby Boomer’s Take on Late-Twentieth Century Life” – at his website,

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