It Seems Like Yesterday

Joe at Pool Table_ @Harry Benson 1972 lg

January 12, 1969. The Orange Bowl stadium in Miami for Super Bowl III. The underdog American Football League (AFL) New York Jets, led by quarterback Joe Namath, upset all the sports writers’ predictions by defeating the National Football League (NFL) champion Baltimore Colts by a score of 16 to 7. Three days before the game, the young quarterback from the University of Alabama gained notoriety by brashly guaranteeing that the underdog Jets would win the Super Bowl. And Joe made good on his promise. Namath was named Most Valuable Player and the beginning of an iconic career was launched.

“Broadway Joe” became a superstar and was mobbed by fans wherever he went, not only in New York City, but all over America. Joe was easy-going and easy to like—as was his business manager and lawyer, Jimmy Walsh, who asked me to photograph Joe over the years in a series of ads (including one which caused a sensation when Joe put on a pair of Hanes panty hose).

After his knee injuries caused  him to retire from football, Joe guest-starred on all the popular television shows, including “The Dean Martin Show,”  and “Laugh In,” and  appeared in several films.

The billiards room in his Upper East side apartment, shown here, is from my 1972 LIFE magazine photo essay. Very protective of his private life, Jimmy Walsh helped arrange the photo session with the very private Joe who had not let his apartment be photographed before. 

Recently, I photographed the still-handsome and affable Joe at his Florida home with his beautiful daughter, Jessica, and her adorable young daughter, Jemma. It was most amusing to see the one-time most eligible bachelor in the world called “Grandpa”  by Jemma—and he loved it! Joe and I reminisced about the old days. Joe speed-dialed several of the Jets whom I had known, and we had a laugh. It was a good day, one to remember.