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Joe Namath on Joe Burrow

A Q&A with the Hall of Fame quarterback on the latest Joe taking the NFL by storm, the Super Bowl in L.A. and what he hopes to see on Sunday.

Joe Namath belongs to one of the most exclusive clubs in NFL history. The only other member is Joe Montana, who, like Namath, was a quarterback who won both a national championship in college* and a Super Bowl in the pros. As another Joe—Burrow, of course—seeks to obtain his membership card on Sunday, Namath spoke with Sports Illustrated by phone to discuss his slice of history, Burrow’s ascendence and Los Angeles hosting a Super Bowl.


Sports Illustrated: Had you ever heard of—what we’ll call—the Joe’s Club?
Joe Namath: I had never even thought about that until it came out. I don’t know who did the research on it. But the first time I heard was (last) week.

SI: With all the great quarterbacks in NFL history, were you surprised that only two have won titles in college and the NFL?
Namath: That’s amazing. I really do find it hard to believe. I don’t know. Man, I guess it was just a matter of lady luck, a couple of Joe’s being with the right team at the right time. Montana winning four times is just remarkable.

SI: What do you remember about 1964–65?
Namath: I can’t remember which polls were which, but the ones (where they were declared champions) were voted on after the regular season. We did end up losing the bowl game, and some folks voted for Arkansas. Jerry Jones played for that team. So did Jimmy Johnson. Both were offensive linemen.

SI: What do you recall when you think back to Super Bowl III?
Namath: [laughs] Man, we won the championship. A dream come true. It’s all steps. When you’re starting out way back on your little league team, you just want to make the team. The next goal is to win the championship. And being able to have done that in high school and with my college program, I’m just thrilled. It’s not corny. You've got to have the rest of the pieces other than yourself, the team effort.

SI: When you beat the Colts, because you had won championships at every level, did you assume you’d just keep winning?
Namath: You certainly have the intention the next season and the next season and the next season. Yeah, I always believed we could. We just didn’t play well enough. We didn’t have the pieces, or I didn’t play as well. We didn’t measure up to the to the competition, but we damn sure always tried. I never went into a game looking to lose and never went into a game thinking we couldn’t win.

SI: When did you first become aware of Joe Burrow? What did you see when you watched him?
Namath: The first time I saw him was when he was playing at LSU. And the whole team was impressive. And he wasn't doing as much as he’s called upon to do in the pros. He wasn’t moving about on his feet. I didn’t see him be that elusive. But watching him in college was an introduction for me to see how well he threw the ball. And I’ve watched him grow. He’s smart. He’s got every attribute that the guys in the past have had, the guys that have won championships. If he can get the Cincinnati team to improve some, they’ll win more than one.

Namath [unprompted]: I’d like to see them win. But I don’t pull against the Rams, because I like [Matthew] Stafford. But it’s the old AFL thing for me. [With Burrow,] I also watch the head movement. Man, he’s not hesitating. It’s nice to watch him move around to his options. Tom Brady is a special animal. But Burrow has a nice way about changing speeds on his passes, and he can throw everything, not unlike Tom. He’s stronger, and he’s from Ohio, and you know Pennsylvania [where Namath grew up] and Ohio. We always thought we could play football. He can.

SI: You played with as much style as anybody. What do you make of Burrow’s vibe?
Namath: Well, with the cigars, my daughter, Jessica, asked me about it when it first occurred. I said, ‘Well, honey, that’s not new.’ It was a tradition, when we beat Tennessee, that coaches and managers would pass out cigars. LSU probably had the same tradition. I can’t believe they let him smoke now, but God bless him. He’s smiling. Takes me back.

SPORTSSTARS 169 Joe Namath

SI: We’ve obviously just lived through the most incredible quarterback era in NFL history. What do you make of the next one, with Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and the rest?
Namath: Going back some years, athletes in general are bigger, stronger, faster; they’re better athletes. They train year-round, you know. Back in the days, you didn’t do that. You didn’t have a nutritionist. You didn’t have people that were constantly helping you to be the best you could be—physically as well as mentally. It’s like: James Naismith invented basketball. I’ve often thought of this. When I was in high school, I could dunk a basketball. I could dunk a basketball two-handed when I was at Alabama, and that was one of the biggest thrills I ever had. I don’t think Naismith ever envisioned the game being played above the rim like it is today, right? Oh, my God. They’re so physically gifted and mentally they've got to be strong. Whole different deal.

SI: You ever wonder what your career might have been like had you trained that way? Had it been available?
Namath: Maybe on early on. ‘Yeah, I wish would have had this. I wish I had that.’ Yeah, sure. But guys had to go to work. First of all, we had teammates that were making $10,000. We used to have to come to practice at noon because we knew some guys had to go to work in the morning. Now there are maybe 20 different guys listed as assistants. It’s so much better these days.

SI: What do you make of the Super Bowl being held in Los Angeles? Remind you of your Rams cameo?
Namath: That’s another thing. I didn’t realize that until I heard it last year. That’s a different animal, entire area of Los Angeles; it’s a different kind of world compared to the rest of the country. You’ve got the glamour, you’ve got the sparkling stuff going on.

SI: Prediction?
Namath: I know either one of them can win. And whoever beats themselves probably will lose the game. Going back to being a freshman in college, at the very first meeting coach [Bear] Bryant had with the freshmen, I didn’t understand what the hell he was talking about. He said, ‘I’m going to teach y’all how to stop beating yourselves.’ That’s why I know either team can win. They’re both good enough to beat the other. But are they both good enough to overcome the errors they’re going to make?

SI: Would you welcome another Joe into the club?
Namath: Yes. That would be fun. It would be fun for Cincinnati to win a Super Bowl championship.

* — Namath won a disputed college championship with Alabama in 1964; Arkansas was chosen by some groups after the Crimson Tide lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl. Namath, of course, won Super Bowl III after making good on his guarantee the Jets would triumph. Meanwhile, with Montana at quarterback, Notre Dame edged out four other 11–1 teams to win the college title in 1977, after beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Montana, of course, won four Super Bowls in the 1980s with San Francisco. Burrow’s feat would be arguably more impressive, as he won an undisputed college title, via the College Football Playoff, with LSU.