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He Could Go 'All The Way': "Broadway Joe" Namath Enters His 4th Quarter

Super Bowl III, 1969: The New York Jets were playing the mighty Baltimore Colts. Nobody predicted the Jets would win. Well, except for Jets quarterback Joe Namath, who did more than predict a victory. "I guarantee it," he said before the game.

Fifty years later, his legacy is still tied up in those three words.

"I think that particular game, even though we're talking 50 years ago, man, anyone that was around then or checks out the history says, 'Hey wait, we can do it. You know, we can overcome these odds. I can do this,'" Namath says. "I'm respectful of that because I know, like life, it's not a one-man show. Life is a team effort. Having failure or having success — if you didn't have someone to share either one with, or those different emotions we have, where would we be? I like private time, but I don't want to feel alone."

Namath, who turns 76 at the end of the month, writes about the ups and downs of his life in a new book called All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters. In an interview, he talks about the Suzy Kolber incident, football's health risks and entering his personal fourth quarter in life.

Interview Highlights

On the inebriated 2003 sideline interview where he told ESPN's Suzy Kolber: "I want to kiss you"

I went through the process many times of reflecting on not just that moment, but how I got there. We drank, I drank, and at that time I was addicted to it. I have to admit that it's an addiction. I wouldn't be alive today had that incident not occurred, possibly. But Suzy was a beautiful girl in my eyes, and sometimes when you're under the influence of alcohol — maybe some other things I'm not sure about — then your inhibitions kind of wan and you say what's on your mind. ...

I can remember driving under the influence of alcohol, and by the grace of God, man, damn good luck, I didn't hurt somebody. I can remember times I was behind the wheel and I was trying to get between Commercial and Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale — and I was in Miami. They call it a blackout. And here I was driving a car. ...

Whenever I found out about [the sideline incident], which wasn't until the next day, Suzy was the first person that I called and talked with. Boy. And then I went and got help.

On if he would play football knowing what he knows now about concussions and traumatic brain injury

I don't know. It's a question that I can't answer but I've been asked ... if I had children, and I do have grandchildren, but: "if I had a child that wants to play football, would you let him?" Yeah, I'd let him to some extent. But football definitely is a sport that the body's not designed for, whether it be your knees, your ankles, your shoulders, your neck, your spine. Not everybody can play football. ...

I don't believe putting limitations on anybody is the right route to take. You could be a ballerina and your feet could be hurting you so many days of the year for the rest of your 30, 40, 50 years, man. You do that much dancing on those feet, and your back, you're going to come up with something down the road. Do you tell her not to be a ballerina? Do you tell her not to dance because her back is going to be bothering her 20 years from now? If they have a passion, and they're willing to pay the price to excel and make their dreams come true, it's — I'd have to be there, man, before I could say, "No, you can't do that." I wouldn't dare say that, and I couldn't see myself doing that.

On structuring his memoirs in four quarters, like a football game

I remember when I was getting ready to turn 50, a buddy had came up, or was busting my chops. He said, "Man, you going to be 50! You're old!" And I started thinking, "Damn, old?" I didn't feel old. And I started to think about my people, and how long my mother was living, and how long my dad lasted, and I decided to make a plan at 50. I plan to live to 100. Now, it might not work. ...

Fifty was halftime, man. And you've seen — I've seen a lot of games won and lost in the third and fourth quarter. I don't want to go out on a bad note. I want to keep growing, being productive, keep learning and keep loving, man. I want to be a positive dude the rest of the way.

Danny Hajek and Jessica Smith produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.