Check out the first of a six-part series of opinion pieces by the ‘Bama Hammer’ staff of our favorite Alabama Crimson Tide player of all-time.
This new Bama Hammer series was originally conceived as a content substitute for the interval of little hard news. Alabama Crimson Tide fans are still interested in Alabama football content. Without much current information, looking at the past made sense.
The BH staff quickly embraced the idea. Concerned two or more might choose the same player, a certain player was excluded. When all the staff members and I made our selections, it turned out none of us would have chosen that player.
The purpose of the above explanation is to highlight how, really, really hard it is to pick one player. It is almost unfair to ask anyone to pick just one player. We did it anyway. Talk about writing about one’s passion – this task was it. Alabama football fans will have dozens of their favorite players. The Bama Hammer staff offers six selections of our ‘Favorite Alabama Crimson Tide Player of All-Time.
My Favorite Alabama Crimson Tide Player of All-Time is Joe Namath
Joe Willie Namath was magic. The choices in this series of posts are influenced by our age and what players we had an opportunity to see play. For most of the 1960s, the opportunities to see a televised broadcast of Alabama football were limited. At best it was two or three times per season. Otherwise, a game could only be followed by radio.
New QB starter, sophomore Joe Namath opened the 1962 season with Georgia. Namath threw three touchdown passes before sitting out most of the second half. Maury Farrell’s play-by-play always painted pictures in the mind. The way he described Namath’s talent and performance made me an instant fan.
Drawing from recollections of the past can be faulty but in my memory, Namath never disappointed. Before he became a football icon, he was the best athlete on the Alabama football team. He could have skipped college and played professional baseball but his mother would not allow it.
Writing in 1994, Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander explained Joe Willie well.
Once upon a time, Joe Namath had good knees, he was fast and elusive, and he could dunk a basketball two-handed. Of course, he could always throw a football, much like a great fighter whipping a right cross directly from a hunched shoulder, full of sting and accuracy and more force than seemed possible. University of Alabama head coach Bear Bryant called him “the greatest athlete I have ever coached.” But the knee injuries came in rapid succession toward the end of Namath’s Alabama career, and the surgeries followed, and the brash, working-class quarterback from Beaver halls, Pa., quickly metamorphosed into that most poignant of icons, the young, wounded hero.
The first of the knee injuries happened over 55 years ago. Early in his senior season, against North Carolina State, he rolled right and suddenly fell to the ground. No one had touched him. Namath later described it as he,
felt like he’d been shot
Namath played a week later and started the following game when he hurt his knee again. He missed a couple of games and returned again, including coming off the bench to orchestrate a one-touchdown victory in the Iron Bowl. Without Namath, it is unlikely Alabama football would have claimed the 1964 National Championship.
Days before the 1965 Orange Bowl, Namath hurt another knee in practice. Steve Sloan started the Orange Bowl against Texas. Midway of the second quarter, the Tide trailing 14-0, Namath entered the game. The Tide surged with Joe in the game. Trailing 21-17 the comeback was almost complete with an Alabama fourth down, inches from the endzone. On the fourth-down play, Namath ran a quarterback sneak. To this day he is sure he scored. Texas All-American linebacker, Tommy Nobis tackled Namath. Later when they were both pros, Nobis admitted he thought Joe scored. The officials said otherwise.
Namath finished his college career on what can charitably be described as gimpy legs. He would never be fully healthy again. He had his first of several surgeries a few weeks after the Orange Bowl. After the surgery, Dr. James Nicholas stated Namath had “the knees of a 70-year-old man.”
Though he was already legend to Alabama football fans, in January 1969 he became a legend to the world. The upstart and maligned American Football League Champion New York Jets were a 19.5 point underdog to the National Football League Champion, Baltimore Colts.
Some sportswriters predicted an even bigger blowout. Joe Willie, who came from humble beginnings, was always a brash boy from Beaver Falls. He guaranteed a Jets victory. He delivered and then some. The Colts were no match for the Jets.
I confess it was hard to not pick Kenny Stabler or Lee Roy Jordan or Wilbur Jackson or Ozzie Newsome or Johnny Musso, along with several others, including Tua Tagovailoa. All were great, but none of them were Joe Willie. Who, decades ago, just happened to be Nick Saban’s favorite player.
Stay connected with Bama Hammer. This series continues through the month of March.