Friday, May 31, 2019

Happy Birthday Joe—And How Namath Got Into the Hall of Fame

By John Turney
Credit:  Leroy Neiman
Sometimes we refer to the old guard Hall of Fame voters as having ruled in "the Bad Old Days" because of reasons like the upcoming story.

The old school writers had agendas that were odd, unfair and even unsavory. A few years ago Sid Hartman said on radio that the night before the Hall of Fame vote he and a few select writers like "Billy" McDonough, Lenny Shapiro, John Steadman, and maybe a couple of others would meet secretly and "decide who was going into the Hall of Fame the next day".

We don't know it that's 100% true but we captured inklings of that in the 1990s when he began to follow the process closely.

Anyway, on to Namath.

As we know Namath had a big impact on pro football by taking his Jets team to the Super Bowl and beating an established NFL team. He was a passing maven and first, then injuries took his career path down, especially from 1975-77 when he didn't look very good, in fact, he looked bad.

He took chances, and threw a lot of picks, but he also threw passes (an out from one hash to the far sideline) that teams couldn't cover and no other quarterback could throw. That was part of his legacy, his skill set.

So for background, the following happens:  Namath retired after the 1977 season. After the 1978 season, Fran Tarkenton retires. And then, after the 1979 season, Roger Staubach retired.

After the five-year wait, Namath was eligible for the Hall of Fame class of 1983, and the voters met the day before the Super Bowl to discuss the candidacy of the Hall of Fame finalists.

Namath's case was presented, discussed, and was shot down by the NFL bloc of voters, the ones that represented NFL cities as opposed to the AFL voters, who covered AFL cities. Apparently, it was pretty heated (not uncommon then). Part of the criticisms were not just that Namath's stats looking mixed (with all the interceptions) or how injuries impacted his career, it was that his 4007 yards were "in the AFL" suggesting that even in 1967 the competition was not up to NFL levels.

Though some of the NFL voters were for Namath, not enough were to put him it so, Namath was not elected that year. he'd have to wait.

Then came 1984. That year, Fran Tarkenton was up for the Hall of Fame. When his case is presented by the Minnesota voter all the AFL voters crossed their arms in solidarity and sat silently during the discussion—they were making a point that they did not appreciate the Namath snub the previous year.

When the votes were tallied, according to reports, Namath was eight short, Tarkenton nine short. (Apparently, one of the old AFL voters did vote for Tarkenton—Remember the Colts, Steelers, and Browns were not AFL teams and the Seahawks were an expansion team so those four don't count so perhaps the Bengals voter wasn't a die-hard AFL guy?).

So, in 1985, Roger Staubach was voted in and so was Namath. Of course, some writers, not on the committee complained.

However, now that the AFL gods were satisfied with Broadway Joe in the Hall of Fame, in comes the vote for the Class of 1986. Sid Hartman, the Vikings writer, was confident Tarkenton would be voted in, and he was right. Tark sailed in now that the road was clear.
As poor as some Hall of Fame critics think the process is now, it is much better than the bad old days when these kinds of things occurred. And let's hope they don't occur again.


  1. I hope others read and comment on this article and blog overrall.

    Many people on the Internet believe Joe doesn't deserve to be in the HOF, but they really just don't understand Pro Football history, and especially that time and era.
    Simply put, Joe was a superstar, way ahead of his time, like Jim Brown.

    He couldn't sustain his greatness because his team kept changing, and Joe became more of a celebrity, than an athlete.
    But what an athlete !! Like you guys said, he could throw 25 yd outs to Maynard and Sauer that no QB other than maybe, Lamonica or Jurgensen could do. Not to mention, glide back ten yards and get the ball out of his hand quicker than anyone ever before. His dropback and release is probably why his great OT Winston Hill, still hasn't made the HOF yet.

    I firmly believe he had as much responsibility in the creation of nickel and dime defences as anyone...including the Baltimore Zone, which developed into the Cover 2 defence.

    Along with Johnny Unitas, he ushered in the television era better than anyone, and what a remarkable story, playing in the first nighttime television broadcast of a college bowl game that he lost in Miami's Orange Bowl, to winning the Super Bowl on the very same field just four years later !

    Everyone knows that his signing into the AFL let every NFL owner know that the AFL owners had deep pockets, plus Sonny Werblins, NBC/MCA ties that could force the NFL to capitulate, which Lamar Hunt gracefully allowed the NFL to do, while accepting Pete Rozelle, when the merger happened in 1966...

    Joe deserves to be in the HOF, and anyone that disagrees needs to find an available time machine and find out for themselves...

  2. Joe Namath played 3 years longer than he should have. There were rumors that he would either retire or jump to the WFL following the 1974 NFL season but Namath re-signed with New York when the Jets made him the highest paid quarterback in the league. Namath took a physical pounding in 1975 & 1976 playing for two very bad N.Y. Jets squads and as a result his interception totals ballooned. By the time Chuck Knox brought him to the Rams in 1977 he was basically finished. However, it is a testament to Namath's courage and dedication that he played 13 years with knees so badly damaged that he was given a 4-F rating and a deferment from military service after coming out of Alabama. Jets team doctor's said he would be lucky to play 4 years.

    While Namath would miss 28 regular season games between 1970 and 1973 due to injuries, it is his body of work between 1965 and 1974 that made him a Hall of Famer:

    - AFL Rookie of the Year (UPI, SN)
    - AFL All-Star Game MVP (offense)

    - 2nd Team All-AFL QB (NEA)

    - 1st Team All-AFL QB (NEA)
    - 2nd Team All-AFL QB (AP, UPI, SN)
    - AFL All-Star Game Co-MVP (offense)
    - First AFL/NFL QB to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season - a feat that wouldn't be equaled until Dan Fouts did it in Week 16 of the 1979 season

    - 1st Team QB AFL/NFL Combined All-Pro Team (unanimous)
    - 1st Team All-AFL QB (unanimous)
    - AFL MVP (AP, UPI, Pro FB Weekly, SN, PFWA N.Y. Chapter)
    - AFL All-Star Game selection
    - AFL Championship Game MVP
    - Super Bowl III MVP
    - N.Y. Jets Team MVP
    - Hickok Belt Award Winner (Most Outstanding Pro Athlete)

    - 1st Team QB AFL/NFL Combined All-Pro Team (NEA)
    - 1st Team All-AFL QB (NEA, Sports Illustrated, N.Y. Daily News)
    - 2nd Team All-AFL QB (AP, UPI, SN, PFW)
    - AFL MVP (Associated Press)
    - AFL All-Star Game Selection
    - N.Y. Jets Team MVP
    - George Halas Award (Pro Football Writers Association)
    - Selected as First Team QB on the All -Time AFL Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Jan. 1970)

    - Consensus 1st Team All-NFL QB (NEA, Pro Football Weekly, Pro Football Writers Association)
    - 2nd Team All-NFL QB (AP, Football News)
    - Consensus 1st Team All-AFC QB (UPI, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News, Newark Star-Ledger)
    - NFL Pro Bowl Selection

    - NFL Comeback Player of the Year
    - 2nd Team All-AFC QB (Newark Star-Ledger)
    - N.Y. Jets Team MVP

    Playing in windy Shea Stadium, Namath finished as the AFL's 2nd All-Time ranked passer (1970 Official AFL History manual published by the Sporting News - page 112). It was a different era when Namath played. Only 3 of the top 9 all-time AFL rated passers threw more TD's than INT's and only Namath and Len Dawson finished with completion percentages over 50% (1500 or more attempts). The current passer rating system does not take in to account qualities like courage, dedication and leadership - all traits that Joe Namath possessed. An added note regarding passer ratings (from the NFL website):

    "It is important to remember that the system is used to rate passers, not quarterbacks. Statistics do not reflect leadership, play-calling, and other intangible factors that go into making a successful professional quarterback."

    Namath quarterbacked the Jets to the most significant triumph in pro football history. It was a game changer that finally brought credibility to the upstart American Fooball League.

  3. I was at the 1985 HOF induction banquet. Big stars at the head table -- but the choice of the people, the star of stars, was Joe.

  4. It is the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Talent. Big difference.

    1. You're right Fazsha ... but during the early 70s dead-ball era- where QBs and WRs were getting hit all the time and all over the field, Namath still lead the league in TD passes in 1972 and 74. His primary receiver, George Sauer Jr. retired after the 1970 season. That's like Joe Montana losing Dwight Clark for a number of years. Most of his worst stats came between 73 and 76, where the team was terrible and his knees were totally gone.