Joe Namath sits in a high canvas chair with his legs awkwardly crossed, the wear and tear from 13 seasons of professional football all too evident in his less-than-elegant posture. Like many former NFL players, Namath experiences daily pain, stooping as he gets up to walk on his two artificial knees.
He no longer resembles the svelte and sinewy Jets quarterback he was in the '60's and '70's, but Broadway Joe, 68, still holds a room like he did when he was dating models and roaming the sidelines in a fur coat. That much is clear in Namath: Beaver Falls to Broadway, a 90-minute HBO biographical documentary that will premiere at 9 p.m. Saturday, and re-air throughout the following week.
The documentary features excerpts from over 15 hours of interviews between Namath and producers from HBO Sports and NFL Films. Namath guides us through his story, entertainingly talking about some of his more famous exploits and emotionally reflecting on some of his less proud moments. He's candid, funny and revealing, helping give the film a refreshingly human look at a man who was once viewed by so many as larger than life.
HBO and NFL films interviewed Namath's friends, former teammates and media members for the piece, which was spliced with images from his childhood in Beaver Falls, Penn., and footage from his time at the University of Alabama and his groundbreaking Jets career.
But it's Namath's remarks that make up the most interesting part of the documentary. Listening to him recall how he explained to his mother why he had mirrors on the ceiling of his Manhattan bedroom is hilarious. Watching him gesticulate wildly as he relives the first time he met Alabama coach Bear Bryant is engrossing.
Of course, the documentary wouldn't be complete if it didn't discuss Namath's lifelong struggle with alcohol. HBO and NFL Films devote a significant chunk of time to the Hall of Famer's battle with booze. The film does a particularly good job covering the infamous 2003 incident that saw a drunken Namath ask ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber for a kiss on national television during a Jets game -- a highly embarrassing moment that landed Namath in rehab.
Near the end of the program, Namath tears up when discussing his return to Beaver Falls for a 50th anniversary celebration of his high school state championship team.
"I can remember sitting in a movie theater back in Beaver Falls back when I was 10, 11, 12, whatever the age, and vicariously living through the people I see on the screen," he said. "Then to have that actually happen to me...
"Something's been guiding me around throughout my life," he added. "I keep saying I'm just a lucky guy."