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A couple of years ago, my colleague Jason Lisk explained why Joe Namath is a legitimate Hall of Famer. With each passing year, it seems as though Namath’s career gets more misunderstood, particularly by those who look at his career stats without context. One of the main pieces of evidence that sounds damning: among Hall of Fame quarterbacks who began their careers after 1950, Namath ranks last in both touchdown/interception differential and passer rating:

1Dan Marino1983199942025286.4168
2Joe Montana1979199427313992.3134
3Steve Young1985199923210796.8125
4Fran Tarkenton1961197834226680.476
5John Elway1983199830022679.974
6Sonny Jurgensen1957197425518982.666
7Jim Kelly1986199623717584.462
8Warren Moon1984200029123380.958
9Len Dawson1957197523918382.656
10Roger Staubach1969197915310983.444
11Johnny Unitas1956197329025378.237
12Troy Aikman1989200016514181.624
13Bob Griese1967198019217277.120
14Bart Starr1956197115213880.514
15Dan Fouts1973198725424280.212
16Terry Bradshaw1970198321221070.92
17Joe Namath1965197717322065.5-47

But analyzing a player by his career numbers is too broad a brush for advanced analysis. Brandon Jacobs is 107 yards away from matching Gale Sayers’ career rushing total. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey have caught more passes than Lance Alworth and Kellen Winslow. At quarterback, comparing players across eras by their raw numbers is a pointless exercise. Byron Leftwich, Kyle Orton and Aaron Brooks have higher career passer ratings than Johnny Unitas. As always, we can only compare players by how they compared to their peers.

Namath’s career is misunderstood for several reasons. Younger fans think he’s famous because of The Guarantee, but he would have been an elite quarterback (and was acknowledged as one by his contemporaries) even if he never won a Super Bowl. He was among the best ever at avoiding sacks, an often overlooked but key element of effective quarterback play. He played in one of the worst eras for quarterbacks to compile strong passing stats, which is why his numbers don’t compare to modern quarterbacks. And his career arc was unusual, which further makes the use of career numbers an inappropriate way to understand Namath’s career.

There are 17 Hall of Fame quarterbacks to enter the league since 1950, and we can add Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to get to an even twenty. Through age 26, Namath was outstanding, and was the second most productive quarterback of the twenty behind Dan Marino during those years. The table below1 shows how much value was added by each of the twenty quarterbacks through the age of 26:

Namath gives Rex Ryan tips on how to fly under the radar.

Namath was the AFL’s rookie of the year in 1965. The next season, he led the league in passing yards but also interceptions. Still, Namath gave the Jets a glimpse of what he was about to become, as his quick release2 helped the Jets become the first team to throw 500+ pass attempts but take fewer than 10 sacks; to date, only the ’88 and ’89 Dolphins have ever matched that feat. In ’67, Namath led the AFL in yards per attempt and became the first professional quarterback to eclipse the 4,000 yard mark; he made the Pro Bowl and split the All-Pro selections with Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica. The next year would define Namath’s career, of course, as he led the Jets to a victory in Super Bowl III. But he also was selected first-team All-Pro at quarterback by all six major AFL sources, and even was named Pro Football Weekley’s All-NFL/AFL quarterback. In 1969 he had another strong season and was named the AFL’s Player of the Year by the AP for the second season in a row. That season, Namath also made his fourth Pro Bowl in five years.

In fact, Namath, Dan Marino and Bob Griese remain the only quarterbacks to earn four Pro Bowls by the end of their age 26 seasons. And he remained the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl until Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI. Namath was one of the most hyped quarterback prospects of his era, akin to how Andrew Luck is viewed today. Namath then signed with the AFL instead of the NFL, adding legitimacy to the younger league. He was given the largest contract in the history of professional football, and then lived up to that hype by having one of the best starts to a career of any quarterback in football history. But injuries would soon begin to chip away at Namath’s prime years.

Namath broke his wrist in 1970 and injured his knee in 1971, limiting him to just 8 starts during those two years. But in 1972, a healthy Namath had perhaps his finest season. Even with Don Maynard on his last legs, Namath led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt. The Jets ranked 2nd in the league in both points and yards, behind only the undefeated Dolphins. Namath’s Jets also gave Miami one of their biggest scares of the season; the 24 points they scored were the most Miami would allow all year, but New York lost a fourth quarter lead and the game, 28-24.

In 1973, Namath missed most of the year with a shoulder injury, but he would win the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1974. After ’74, Namath was effectively done, but played for three more seasons and put up miserable numbers.

Namath’s completion percentage was bad, even for his era, but consider the context. Namath took far fewer sacks than the average quarterback, and an incomplete pass is better than a sack. He was a vertical passer, and while that would hurt his completion percentage, he led the league in yards per completion three times. Namath played in a dramatically different era than today’s quarterbacks, which explains why his numbers may look poor compared to modern quarterbacks. And he hung around too long, lowering his career averages.

But from 1965 to 1974 he was the game’s among the top three quarterbacks in the game. Take a look at the stats3 of all quarterbacks over that ten-year period who attempted at least 1500 passes:

1Fran Tarkenton35882643718913130525627.855.713.26.135.59
2Sonny Jurgensen27701965115510319816366.758.612.16.075.55
3Joe Namath30992368115117112211653.850.515.16.995.54
4Daryle Lamonica24021758015512614212445.65014.76.425.41
5Len Dawson25401938514712024521728.856.913.46.185.3
6John Brodie29872097414914413410484.355.912.66.385.26
7Craig Morton15451178989861249737.452.214.66.485.23
8John Hadl35992640719219120518825.450.514.56.455.2
9Roman Gabriel35862345616611825319026.653.412.25.615.1
10Bill Nelsen186113889969814412897.250.914.76.285.04
11Johnny Unitas21551592410311615712386.854.913.56.354.99
12Billy Kilmer21241473110310214110566.253.812.96.044.92
13Charley Johnson20861457310010215512536.951.413.65.944.79
14Jim Hart23361587410211513612005.548.813.95.944.67
15Bob Griese20141430911410320417909.253.713.25.644.58
16Bill Munson1532985864571359688.
17Norm Snead27471900912716018414506.353.812.95.994.4

Even among his contemporaries, Namath’s completion percentage wasn’t very good. But he also was #1 in both sack rate and yards per completion, an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. Thanks to Namath’s incredibly fast release and his big arm, the Jets designed a vertical offense that was effective at moving the ball down the field. In the most basic form of passing measurement, Net Yards per Attempt, Namath ranked 1st by half a yard per attempt. In ANY/A, which includes a penalty for interceptions and a bonus for touchdowns, Namath falls just 0.01 ANY/A out of second place.

Namath’s career wasn’t one of the best ever, and it certainly wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s well-documented that Namath was never able to fulfill his enormous potential because of a variety of injuries. But standing alone, even ignoring his post-season success, Namath’s numbers stand up as elite. He did throw too many interceptions, even for his era, although on more talented teams he would have likely been a more conservative passer. But for a decade, he was arguably the most dangerous passer in the professional football, putting aside all the glamour and glitz and guarantees.

I’ll close with a graph that doesn’t necessarily follow the rest of this post, but I made it for my own research and thought someone else might find it interesting. This graph looks at six Hall of Fame quarterbacks and shows how much value (as measured by ANY/A over average) each provided at various ages:

I’ve made Namath’s line twice the size of the others for easier viewing. It’s interesting to see how sharply Namath’s play fell off once he turned 32, one of the reasons his career numbers are so poor. But Aikman and Bradshaw also had multiple terrible years, just at the start of their careers. I’m not really sure what we can gather from this table other than I think it’s interesting to see the shape of a player’s career, and not just a summation in one number. Enjoy.

  1. This list is sorted by how much Adjusted Net Yards over average each quarterback produced each season. This is calculated by taking each quarterback’s ANY/A, comparing it to league average, and then multiplying the difference by the number of total attempts each quarterback had. []
  2. Bill Walsh once said that Namath was “the most beautiful, accurate, stylish passer with the quickest release I’ve ever seen.” []
  3. Note that individual sack data for the years 1965 to 1968 are estimated but unofficial, based on the data we currently have. []
  • Andrew

    I disagree. I don’t believe that Namath was or is a HoF caliber QB. While you stress his impressive sack numbers and yards per attempts, I prefer to look at his terrible interception numbers and terrible completion percentage. Whilst an incomplete pass is preferable to a sack, an interception is not. Overall, I’d call Namath an excellent young QB who never capitalized on his potential and thus joins the ranks of the good, but not great. As for the comparison to Bradshaw and Aikman, they’re on the lower end of HoF QBs. Aikman never had much of an arm, and he benefitted hugely from playing with HoFers at HB and WR (and his Super Bowl numbers are uninspiring, to say the least). As for Bradshaw, well, he won four Super Bowls while being an above average, but not great, QB. They both hugely profitted from excellent running games and defenses. Of course, this is all just my opinion, and I’m sure the people who get to vote on this kind of thing know a lot more than I about the subject.

    • Chase Stuart

      Many people have views on how the HOF should look. If you think the HOF should be limited to the very best — maybe 1 in every 200 players — then no, I don’t think Namath’s HOF-worthy. But if you think it should be the top 3% of all players (which is about what it is) and with a bias towards quarterbacks, then yes, in my view, Namath becomes worthy. No, he’s not Joe Montana, but I think his presence in the HOF doesn’t make less sense than Kelly’s or Layne’s or Griese’s.

      I think completion percentage is pretty meaningless, so I don’t really care what Namath did there.

      • Andrew

        Just out of curiousity, why do you believe completion percentage to be a meaningless statistic? The way i look at it, a high completion percentage means you got positive yardage on a high percentage of plays, a trait I find meaningful. A down where the line doesn’t move at all is less productive than a down where it moves forward, every time (well, most of the time. Some statisticians suggest being on the 1 yard line is actually disadvantageous for pass-heavy offenses, but as long as we’re somewhere in the middle of the field, positive yardage is a plus).

        • James

          I’m not Chase, but my arguments would be:

          1) A completion doesn’t necessarily mean the team gained yards (failed screen), or even that it was a good play (3-yard checkdown on 3rd and 7 vs an incompletion that went 10 yards downfield – at least he had a chance of converting).
          2) Completion percentage ignores when a passer takes a sack, but penalizes a QB for avoiding a sack. (See Alex Smith)
          3) Other stats measure QB effectiveness more accurately – YPA, NYPA, ANYA, etc.

          Ultimately, a completion by itself isn’t a good thing. Even you said that gaining yards is the desired outcome, so why not just measure the yards gained per pass and not worry about how those yards were gained?

      • Iown You

        Are you insane? Jim Kelly was a legit All-Pro QB who led a team to 4 straight Super Bowls. He ran one of the most prolific offenses in the history of pro football, he could make all throws throws, was an incredible leader, and put up fine numbers.

        No, Jim Kelly’s selection makes total sense. You have to be out of your freaking mind to even suggest otherwise. Wow!

        Even with Griese, he’s on the lower end of HOF QB’s but even he was considerably better than Namath. Joe Namath is in the hall because of the FAME aspect, not because of his play on the field, which was more often than not just awful. And I don’t want to hear the era-crippled-numbers nonsense when Johnny Unitas was putting up ridiculous numbers playing in the SAME ERA, even before Namath, and played his entire career in the NFL where defenses were superior to the AFL’s (AFL had superior offenses though).

        • John

          I didn’t start watching the NFL until the 1980’s, but I know that Griese wasn’t better than Namath. Case in point: When Bob got hurt in 1972, Earl Morrall kept Miami humming. However, when Namath would go down, NY was usually sunk. Bob was a nice player, but he was no Namath, and he doesn’t belong in the Hall.

          • Iown You

            So, a QB who won more games, won more championships, and had better stats than Namath DOESN’T belong in the Hall Of Fame,?

            Have you been drinking tonight?

            • John

              Don’t think so. And, I don’t know how Griese’s stats were that great. Some of his Pro Bowl invites (like 67, 68, and 73) are questionable. In 67 and 68, his stats were, shall I say, awful. And, in 73, Ken Anderson deserved the Pro Bowl over him.

              • Iown You

                Not talking about Pro Bowls or other players. You brought up Griese in comparison to Namath and Griese was simply better in every way except arm strength.

    • Arif Hasan

      When talking about Bradshaw and Aikman, get rid of rookie and sophomore numbers for a minute and take a look.

      Bradshaw ends up with an ANY/A of 5.24, or about one standard deviation above his competition. He did that for about 9 years. His INT% was generally slightly better than his peers and his TD% was even better (more than a standard deviation). Aikman’s ANY/A in his non-1st/2nd years was also above league average, sometimes an entire standard deviation above it (but not as often as Bradshaw). He’s well regarded fro a low INT%, but it too was often just above average. His TD% was never great, but he sure knew how to get yards.

      Compare those two relative to their contemporaries… then look at Namath. His ANY/A blew the rest of professional football out of the water.

  • Shattenjager

    Is it really even true that Namath’s completion percentage was bad for his era? His cmp%+ is at 93 or better for every season in his career except a three-game 1971 season and two of the seasons at the end of his career, 1973 and 1975, when it really looks like he was finished. Just weighting his cmp%+ by the number of attempts each year, his career number comes out at 101.8, which is not only not bad but above average.

    Another problem for Namath is that his injury problems coincided with the AFL-NFL merger, which makes it look like he dropped off a cliff right when the merger happened. His rate stats stay excellent in spite of the injuries, so I don’t think it’s a good argument, but I’m betting some look at his numbers and say, “Looked good in the AFL but couldn’t hack it when it became ‘real’ football.”

    I am really with you on Namath, and I find it rather amazing that it seems a fair segment of the public has really turned negative on his performance. His sack rates are otherworldly, and that is after all one of the statistics that seems to be most strongly connected to the quarterback himself as opposed to his environment. He was consistently excellent in y/a (and with those sack rates obviously even better in ny/a).

    The argument against him largely seems to come down to interceptions. His interception rate was not good, but touchdown and interception rates are more affected by environment than any other QB statistic. Even beyond that, we can see obvious reasons why he would have thrown more interceptions if we take it as a given that he was great: He played a high-risk style, which necessarily leads to more interceptions, and he played on some pretty untalented teams (Not John Elway-Vinny Testaverde untalented, but less talented than what most HOF QBs have gotten).

  • Chase Stuart


    I suppose it depends on who you view as his peers. For the AFL, he had a higher completion percentage, but the NFL average in the late ’60s had a higher completion percentage than Namath in four of five years, and Namath’s completion percentage from ’70 to ’74 was also under the NFL average at that time. Even in 1972, his completion percentage was exactly 50%, below league average.

    But yes, his sack rate was fantastic. Here’s another way to think about it. In 1972, quarterbacks were sacked on 7.8% of dropbacks; therefore, even with a 51.7 completion percentage, they only threw complete passes on 47.7% of dropbacks. Meanwhile, Namath that year threw complete passes on 48.4% of dropbacks even if he only had a 50% completion rate because he didn’t take sacks.

    I also agree with the Elway/Testaverde argument. To me, what Namath did in ’72 without an in-his-prime Maynard makes that his most impressive season (especially considering it was after a lot of his injuries).

    • Shattenjager

      I had never thought about looking at completions as a percentage of total dropbacks before (which seems like it should have been logical)–that is really awesome.

      • Rob

        As a former college QB, I have always had issues with how QB stats are kept, and from an NFL standpoint, it is magnified. The biggest issue is when you discuss completions, whether its versus attempts or dropbacks, the QB never gets credit for well thrown balls that are dropped, and are penalized with an INT for balls that are tipped into opponents hands. STATS never tell the whole story. The game has evolved over the years. I think a QB should be compared to his contemporaries, and what he did for his team.

        On another note, Namath deserves credit for truly popularizing the NFL and drawing fans to the game that would otherwise not give a second glance.

        Great article!

    • Arif Hasan

      It should also be noted (anecdotally) that Namath’s interceptions tended to happen a) when passes were flung further afield, so INTs were not as bad then (so an INT adjustment of 67/45 yards would be bad, and instead perhaps closer to 25/35). b) Namath in particular threw interceptions much, much further downfield (sometimes his y/c was four standard deviations beyond his contemporaries) which meant his interceptions simply mattered much less than for others.

  • Brian A. Kirkland

    Joe Namath was a force of nature. He was one of the most extraordinary athletes of his time.

    He put people in the seats and made the AFL legitimate. He was one of THE most excting performers in any sport during his era, surpassed only by Muhammad Ali. He was the archetypal modern athlete. He was a man of his time, who spoke up about the world he lived in, unlike athetes today. He was a media magnet, and handled it with aplomb. He played at great risk, from the start, and was one of the most courageous players of his era and he; never boring, even when he was injured on the sidelines.

    There has never been another like him, before or since. Had he not been immortalized in Canton, the game would have been ignoring one of the seminal events, the coming of Joe Namath, in its history. What Namath was to pro football can’t be quantified.

    • John

      My reply below under Jim’s also applies to Brian’s post.

    • Richie

      This kind of gets into the area of discussing what makes somebody HOF-worthy. Do they have to truly be an all-time great player, or a great champion, or an important player? I don’t think the HOF in any sport really defines what makes a player HOF-worthy.

      It seems to me that Namath was a huge star coming out of college, and went to the biggest city. He was extremely famous, and was succesful enough early on to maintain the fame. By age 27 he was having injury problems, but he was already such a star that he was mostly able to “coast” for a few more years as an elite QB. Maybe even like Brett Favre was kind of able to “coast” the last few years of his career, where he would seem to make bad interceptions and hurt his team. But he had enough good will, to still be considered an elite QB (that goes for both guys).

      Besides, SOMEBODY has to be the worst QB in the HOF – although I think that might be Griese.

  • jim

    What makes Joe’s sack ratios even more impressive was the fact that he was fairly immobile. Although he had quick feet and could drop back quickly, once he got set in the pocket, he wasn;t going anywhere.

    I agree that 72 may have been one of his best years, but to offset an aging Don Maynard, he had Richard Caster and Eddie Bell, both excellent receivers. Caster, early in his career, was notorious for dropping balls, but developed into a fine receiver.

    He also threw the deep ball better than anyone. Today’s quarterback throws the ball as high as he can and let’s the reciever go get it. Joe used to throw darts 40 yards downfield and hit his receivers in stride. I used to get very angry watching him play, trying to make the big play, when it seemd he always had Boozer or Riggins in the flat wide open for a five to seven yard pick up. The other QB in New York, Fran Tarkenton was always throwing these dinky five yard passes to a running back or tight end which pumped up his completion %. But Joe lived and died by the sword and was always fun to watch. No quarteback before or since has had his charisma. Defensive players of his era feared playing against him. How many players actually changed the way the game was played? Because of Joe, the league allowed receivers coming off the line to be bumped by the defensive back

    • John

      Jim’s reply nails it. It is about influence and impact on the game. Joe Namath was a super star who transformed the professional football by his mere presence. No other single player has ever had that level of influence. His impact is immeasurable. Professional football was transformed from a blue collar sport to the mainstream entertainment giant it is today. A good analogy is the old MasterCard “priceless” ad, you can add up all the stats but at the end his value was priceless. For those who debate his deserving of the HOF truly missunderstand his significance to the game.

  • danny

    I watched Namath play on tv, He was the most exciting and pure passer the game has ever seen. He’s the reason The afl is part of the nfl today! I wished he had’nt got hurt in college and drank as heavy as he did, but he still deserves to be in the hall of fame even if he had’nt of won the super bowl! The Game changed when he stepped on the field!

    • Dan

      I vividly remember watching Namath play on TV and at Shea. He was and is the best quarterback I have ever seen. Two of the greatest and most successful, respected coaches of all time say that Namath was the best they have ever seen.

  • heywood friedman

    Reference to statistics alone, or even in part, can never capture the impact of an individual player. Joe Namath was an elite player. The Hall of Fame would be incomplete without him. Not unlike the omission of Pete Rose from Cooperstown. The eyes of the sporting world focused on Joe the entirety of his carrer. He was an irresistable force.

  • Andrew

    I would just like to remind everyone that popularity isn’t really a criterion on which you should get into the HoF, nor is the completely immeasurable “impact” you had on the sport. Those are arguments cited in favor of players or coaches who can’t get in (or shouldn’t) on measurables and statistical merit.

    • Alan

      Andrew I am a diehard Jets fan 47 years old and I agree 100% with you. I feel that he is so overrated just because he was a pretty boy on a NY team during the early years of the NFL on TV. I think he was very good QB and 1 of the best ones during his early career. But he was mediocre to poor the second half of his career. I had made a statement on A jets post on FaceBook that I wished that Testerverde was a Jet his whole career and I felt he was the best QB Jets ever had.

  • Rudy Iacono

    Joe Namath was a fearless competetor on and off the field. Yes Joe Namath had his own demons to deal with as many of us do however he was a player who took chances on and off the field. I laugh when young football fans try to compare today’s QB’s to those who played in the era of Joe Willie. I have been telling these same young fans that QB’s and WR’s were both mugged in broad daylight and DB’s and DL took pleasure on beating up the QB’s and WR’s. Joe Namath made the vertical passing game one of which transcended the game of football and their was no other QB who could throw a football so effortlessly down the field as Joe Namath. Bear Bryant called Joe Namath the greatest football player that he ever coached. Joe Namath was loved by New Yorkers for his charismatic personality and he became an instant icon when Sonny Werblin gave Joe Namath the most lucrative contract of any sports figure of his era. This idea of comparing touchdowns versus interceptions when most QB’s of today throw short range passes is quite laughable. Namath threw the ball long and his stats do not give him the justice that he deserves as the passing game of the Jets was a vertical game one of which these same Jets have not seen since Joe Namath was our QB. Today the young fans try to compare Joe Willie to Mark Sanchez and its a shame that most of us who saw Joe Willie play have to defend the greatness of Joe Namath. I am glad that Joe Namath has been outspoken about the Jets for the new ownership has done little to create excitement for their long starving fans. I will always think of Joe Namath as a HOF QB for what he did to change the game of football but more so for his brilliance as a QB for I have never seen a QB throw a football so effortlessly as Joe Namath and if their were one other QB that I could say comes to mind it would be Dan Marino. Joe Namath remains an Icon in Jet folk lore and no one will ever replace his greatness in the anals of NY sport.

    • DanNY

      I hate to be that guy, and I really loved your post, but you misspelled annals. That’s a word you really don’t want to misspell.

      • John Shook

        Priceless post … funny as hell!! -John5086

    • Iown You

      Putting Joe Namath and Dan Marino on the same level is utter blasphemy! HOLY COW! Namath couldn’t even carry Marino’s water bottle.

  • Bowl Game Anomaly

    I don’t want to denigrade Namath, but I hope that all the commenters talking about how exciting he was and how much impact he had are also planning to stump for Michael Vick to make the Hall of Fame. After all, all those arguments apply to him, too.

    • JWL

      Vick didn’t lead a team to a championship yet.

    • Iown You

      Randall Cunningham was more exciting than Vick. He was also a better QB.

  • Richie

    There are only 17 QBs in the HOF who began their careers since 1950? I probably would have guessed 40 or 50! It seems like a QB is inducted almost every year.

  • Johann Cat

    I have said this before–without this excellent statistical backing, however. (I am the author of the Encyclopedia of Alabama article about Namath.) More subjectively put: I think one needs only to watch Namath’s performance in Super Bowl III and some footage, from various other games, of him throwing the ball ~ 40 yards to Sauer or Maynard to know exactly why he is a Hall of Fame QB. He got rid of the ball unbelievably quickly in Super Bowl III, by 1969 standards; he also called most of his own plays in that game in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage, and the Jets not only beat the Colts, they stunned them. The Jets were 18-point underdogs against one of the most feared teams of the decade (the Colts had defeated Cleveland 34-0 in the NFL championship game). Finally, as many point out here, the aesthetics of Namath’s passing game–and I echo Bill Walsh and John Madden here–define what a drop-back, long-range QB can look like. Madden said Namath had “the best-looking drop, release, and pass” that he had ever seen.

  • Chase Stuart

    Another good Namath quote I found, when Bill Walsh was talking about Ken Anderson:

    “At the moment,” says (Bill) Walsh, “I would say that (Kenny Anderson) is the most effective quarterback over a 14-game season. I think Namath’s the greatest quarterback in a given game to beat a team that has to be beaten, but Kenny—from the standpoint of 14 games, staying power against the rush, efficiency and everything that goes with it—is the best.”

    • James Kness

      Bill Walsh was coaching Ken Anderson; of course he would promote the talents of his quarterback. Ken Anderson was a fine quarterback. In 172 games as a starter, Anderson threw 197 touchdowns; in 129 games as a starter, Namath threw 173 touchdowns.

  • Gene

    Thank you! I agree completely. I am tired of defending Joe Willie’s career. You neglected to mention that he threw for 4,000 yards in ONLY 14 games. The next player to throw for 4,000 yards was 12 years later in a 16 game season. He truly does deserve to be in the HOF.

    • Iown You

      He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because of ONE season where he threw for a ton of yards against historically bad AFL defenses?

      Did you note the number of INT’s he threw that year?

      Surely you can see why you’re reasoning is questionable at best.

  • Glenn

    Namath was a happening. He did more then any other payer to make the merger between the AFL&NFL happen. Without a strong NY AFL team, and Namath’s charisma and rifle arm the AFL would have failed. He helped make the Super Bowl what it is today. The Super Bowl never even sold out in It’s two previous years. You can also make a case for him being partly responsible for the NFL taking over as our nations number one sport, overtaking baseball in the late 60’s while Namath was getting world wide notoriety. You cant just look at the numbers with Namath. This young generation only looks at the numbers, and Joe was so much more then that for the NFL and deserves his place in the Hall.

  • Michael

    How about this. Not only should he be in the stupid Hall of Fame, they should name the building in his honor. He made the game what it is.

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  • murphy

    in a span of 9 years namath won a championship at every level he played at high school college and the super bowl, namaths game was vertical takeing the ball down field not short dump offs to pad his % stats ,as for the int’s my god could a qb have played for worse teams the jets just sucked after 72 and in namaths era the qb’s did not wear a dress they did not get coverd by the yellow flag, from 1970-1977 namath missed 58 starts due to injuries thats over 4 seasons in a 14 game season so a healty namath would have at least 75 more td’spasses and 10,000 more yards and close to 90 wins as a starter. in my view if namath was not in the hall of fame then the hall of fame would not be worth being in,

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    your worms and start a new farm because of their rapid reproduction rate.

  • Andy B

    The kids that say his numbers are not good look at the TDs by Marino and others in an offensive era where the game has been designed to be a “programmed” passing game. They only look at a few statistics. Joe was one of the best and his numbers as a mostly support that. Joe Willie played in an era where the receivers were beat up on their routes. As a pure vertical passer, try timing a pass in that environment. The rules have changed over the years to make the game more exciting. Joe called his own plays. No real time video with Offensive coordinators analyzing during the game, no real time info like today. His 4007 yards in his 3rd year is amazing in 14 game season for this era and was not broken until we had rule changes and high tech enter the game. Let’s face it – the NFL is moving closer to Arena – flag football.

    In 1972 in one game against the Colts, he completed 15 passes, for 496 yards and 6 TDs. Do the Math on the yards per completion. Unitas threw for almost 400 in the same game. What a game! I did not attend that game, but saw it on TV, and I was lucky to go to a few games and see him play at Shea. I think he is HoF for his play and what he did for the game as a whole. He played with thick knee braces that squeaked when he dropped back. Four knee operations in pre-arthoscopic times I do wish he dumped it off more often, and but he was a stubborn pure passer.
    I met Joe Namath when I was a kid and got his autograph at Hofstra University. Joe came out of the locker room last and the crowd erupted (during pre-season). I lived close by and saw him frequently. He did this every evening. He stood patiently and after practice he signed every single autograph, allowed photos and always polite, at no charge! As he walked away one night across the parking lot, my friend and I rode our bikes and yelled “hey Joe,how about a picture”? and he stopped and allowed us to take pictures with him with our Kodak. One other evening, his red convertible Cadillac was parked and a nice blonde was sitting on his hood hoping to meet him after practice. No one like Joe has come into the NFL since. His last 3 years he should have stayed home. He made so much money he had to keep playing. But his last 3 yr TD-INT was 22-49. a diff of 27 which is a big piece of the -47 above (his sophomore year -8 and in 1971 he was injured after 5 games and had a -7 ), so a few bad years, and then he played 3 yrs too long. So when you watched Joe the bulk of his career, he was amazing. Ask the defensive backs and coaches of the era.

    • Iown You

      “The kids that say his numbers are not good look at the TDs by Marino and others in an offensive era where the game has been designed to be a “programmed” passing game”

      This is nonsense speak. I’m probably a little older than you are and I can state factually that Joe Namath’s numbers were bad even comparing to QB’s of his OWN era. So forget about Marino, his numbers weren’t even as good as Staubach’s or Griese’s.

      “Joe was one of the best and his numbers as a mostly support that.”

      Actually, his numbers prove he was one of the worst of his era. On most lists, he ranks near the bottom statistically.

      “Joe Willie played in an era where the receivers were beat up on their routes.”

      Cop out. Unitas played in the same era, even playing BEFORE Namath when the rules were even MORE stringent on passing, AND Unitas played his entire pro career in the NFL where defenses were at their best in pro football, and yet Unitas put up INSANE numbers.

      Look Kiddo, Namath was a flashy, good-looking guy who had a good arm and got lucky with a guarantee. But the fact is, if you strip away the guarantee and Super Bowl 3, we wouldn’t even be talking about Joe Namath today. He didn’t win a lot, his numbers stunk, he blew more games than anyone seems to be willing to admit, and he wasn’t even the AFL’s best QB. Daryle Lamonica was, only problem for the Mad Bomber is that he never won a Super Bowl, but Lamonica had the arm, the leadership and the ability to win (he only lost 16 ball games in his whole career!) And unlike Namath, Lamonica continued to play great after being integrated with the NFL; Namath was terrible after the merger.

      Joe Namath belongs in the Hall Of Fame because of the FAME part of his career, but not because of his play on the field. On the field, he was a below average QB who at times showed flashes of brilliance but more often than not showed he was a below average QB.

      • Bob D.

        Amazing how Namath managed to fool nearly everyone while he was actually playing, but dumbasses born 20+ years after he retired know the truth. Yeah….right.

        • Iown You

          Bob, you have no clue what my age is, but I can tell you that I’ve forgotten more about Pro Football before my morning piss than you’ve known your entire worthless, failure of a life.

      • James Kness

        Namath was terrible after the merger? 1972 season: Namath led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per
        attempt, net yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt and adjusted
        net yards per attempt. Terrible — for defenses.

        Lamonica had four good seasons as a starter and then fell off sharply.

        As noted in the article, Namath’s career stats are skewed because of the very ineffective last few seasons.

        • Iown You

          >>>>Namath was terrible after the merger?<<<>>1972 season: Namath led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per<<<>>Terrible — for defenses.<<>>Lamonica had four good seasons as a starter and then fell off sharply.<<<>>As noted in the article, Namath’s career stats are skewed because of the very ineffective last few seasons.<<<

          No way. His stats were never great. His numbers are what they are because of his ENTIRE body of work. The man led the league in INT's twice… IN TWO DIFFERENT LEAGUES, LOL!

          • James Kness

            I recently (two days ago) watched the two-part NFL Films documentary on Namath. I didn’t hear anything about Namath simply “throwing to a spot” because coached to do it. The implication is that Namath was simply delivering the equivalent of fastballs, without a sense of timing, touch, or leading the receiver, which is patently not the case.
            I did see ample evidence of Namath calling most of the plays, including many audibles.
            For instance, in the 1968 AFL Championship game, when he took Don Maynard’s suggestion that Maynard could beat George Atkinson if Atkinson played up on him, with the result being a 52-yard completion that set up the go-ahead touchdown. The go-ahead touchdown happened when Namath saw his primary receiver was covered, then his secondary receiver was covered, at which point Namath saw a small opening to Maynard and fired then ball to him. Hardly simply “throwing to a spot” as I think you are intending.

            Lamonica was the backup QB to Jack Kemp in his first four seasons in the AFL. After he was traded to Oakland, he excelled for four seasons, 1967 – 1970. His yardage and touchdown production notably slipped in the next two seasons. Ken Stabler replaced Lamonica in the 1972 divisional playoff game which was decided by the Immaculate Reception; Stabler became starting quarterback in 1973.

            Honors: Lamonica was first team in two Pro Bowls (1970, 1972) out of the five he was in. Lamonica was on three AFL All-Star teams (1965, 1967, 1969). Lamonica was voted to three All-AFL/AFC teams (1967, 1969. 1970). Lamonica was AFL MVP in 1967 and 1969.

            Namath was the starter in one Pro Bowl (1972) of the five he was in, four AFL All-Star teams (1965, 1967-1969) and All-AFL in 1968. Namath was AFL MVP twice: in 1968 and 1969 (shared with Lamonica). Lamonica and Namath were the only AFL players to be voted MVP twice

            Lamonica can certainly be seen as a challenger to Namath. His winning percentage as a starter is second-best in pro football history — unarguably impressive. Lamonica had two seasons leading the league in touchdowns with 30 and 34. Namath’s best touchdown production for a season was 26 in 1967. And then there are the interceptions. One factor in the interceptions, mentioned elsewhere in this discussion, was the weather factor: Shea Stadium was an often inhospitable locale for the passing game. Also mentioned elsewhere in this discussion is that Namath’s interceptions tended to be punts by another name. In any event, turnovers they were. The interceptions were balanced to some degree by Namath’s high yards per attempt stat, which was dragged down by those regrettable last two seasons.

            Namath was a superb athlete whose performance was steadily compromised by his injuries. When he was good, there was no better quarterback. Like the proverbial girl with a curl, when he was bad, he could be awful. As for the Hall of Fame, Namath ultimately held one card higher than Lamonica: a Super Bowl ring, and an historic Super Bowl at that.

  • will

    Joe changed the way quarterbacks played. I swear , am I the only one who saw this? In the superbowl, unitas hunching over center, not even looking at rhe defense, being typical johnny. Namath standing behind center INTIMIDATING THE DEFENSE!, being condident, aware, and mixing it up, intimidating! If there was no Namath, no quick reads, maybe no marino, elway, or manning. He changed the position! That alone warrants hof

    • Damaged Goods verified ✔️

      Namath couldn’t intimidate a Pop Warner football team defense, let alone an NFL team defense.

      You have got to be joking with all this bullshit you are spouting about “If there was no Namath, no quick reads, maybe no marino, elway, or manning.” That is fucking hilarious, Namath couldn’t read a menu let alone the field. He was told to throw the ball in spots on the field, and did just that, never once actually checking to see if his players were there. That is why he holds one of the highest Interception to TD ratios in the NFL for a starting QB.

      • Craig Collins

        You are totally clueless, and one of the ignorant posters I’ve ever had the displeasure of running across on the internet.

        • Iown You

          Actually, Craig, he’s right, and there have been documentaries showing Namath’s lack of football knowledge and how his coaches had to drop all of it and just have him throw to spots.

          My guess is that you know very little about Joe Namath outside of the IMAGE the media sold you on. When you dig deeper, you find a passer who couldn’t read defenses well, who relied only on his arm strength, which most of the time betrayed him as he was more likely to throw a game-killing interception than a game-winning TD pass.

          • James Kness

            Tune in to NFL Films and catch their Super Bowl III program, or their A Football Life bio of Namath and be reminded of how Namath called the plays, ran the offense, and did it very well. He wasn’t throwing to a spot.

            • Iown You

              I’ve seen everything on Namath, including every snap he’s ever taken that was recorded. I KNOW he wasn’t even remotely as good as his legend has been built to be.

              “He wasn’t throwing to a spot.”

              That’s funny, because the NFL Films Documentary on him has Namath HIMSELF saying that he WAS doing that based on the coaching he was given. Look it up.

              • James Kness

                I recently (two days ago) watched the two-part NFL Films documentary on Namath. I didn’t hear anything about Namath simply “throwing to a spot” because coached to do it. The implication is that Namath was simply delivering the equivalent of fastballs, without a sense of timing, touch, or leading the receiver, which is patently not the case.

                I did see ample evidence of Namath calling most of the plays, including many audibles. For instance, in the 1968 AFL Championship game, when he took Don Maynard’s suggestion that Maynard could beat George Atkinson if Atkinson played up on him, with the result being a 52-yard completion that set up the
                go-ahead touchdown. The go-ahead touchdown happened when Namath saw his primary receiver was covered, then his secondary receiver was covered, at which point Namath saw a small opening to Maynard and fired the ball to him. Hardly simply “throwing to a spot” as I think you are intending.

                • Garry Butler

                  sounds like cheerleaders talking football… John Madden said , ” If I had to win one game I would take Namath .. when he was well he was the best ” Now we have folks posting that probably never played football as if they are experts ….

                  • Iown You

                    The cheerleaders are the people like yourself trying to make Namath out to be a God. And with all due respect to John Madden, that was a dumb quote (if he actually said it), because he declared Joe Montana to be the best QB ever, so he’d take Namath an interception prone, inconsistent, oft-injured QB who blew WAY more games than he ever won with extremely dumb interceptions, over Joe Montana a QB who was the exact opposite? Let’s get serious.

                    Bill Walsh, yes the great Bill Walsh, once said that RICK MEYER would be the NEXT JOE MONTANA. How did that pan out?

                    If you’re an adult you should’ve learned by now not to take anyone’s word as gospel no matter what their credentials, especially in football where most of these so-called experts miss on all-time greats. Hell, Bill Walsh himself passed on Joe Montana several times in the same draft before picking him in the 3rd round. Tom Brady was passed on by New England several times before being picked in the 6th round, and then think of all the other so-called league experts who passed on Montana and Brady before they finally got picked? None of these guys know as much as a simpleton like you believes they do.

                    In short, learn to think for yourself.

      • Bob D.

        You’re inconceivably stupid, and obviously never saw Namath play, other than in a few YouTube clips. You have no clue what you’re talking about. At least your screen name is appropriate. Sad that the doctor dropped you on your head when you were born. You might have at last had a career at Burger King.

        • Iown You

          Bob, you are nothing more than an ignorant, childish, know-nothing who can’t formulate a valid counterargument so you have to resort to ad hominem attacks. Grow up, kid.

      • John Cox


    • Iown You

      “Joe changed the way quarterbacks played.”

      No, actually Johnny Unitas did that and pretty much every football historian agrees. Johnny Unitas was one of the first QB’s to run all of his own plays and have the power to audible any play, becoming like a coordinator on the field; he was the prototype for what we see in Peyton Manning today.

      Also, against some of the toughest defenses in any era of Pro Football, Johnny Unitas put up numbers that would be considered good even in THIS era. In his time, his numbers were GODLY.

      I’m sorry, but your assertions are ridiculous and have no historical/factual basis. Namath had ZERO impact on the playing of football itself. Namath’s impact was on the IMAGE of pro football. He made it cool and hip and helped sell it to a younger generation.

      • Bob D.


        • Iown You

          Bob, you are nothing more than an ignorant, childish, know-nothing who can’t formulate a valid counterargument so you have to resort to ad hominem attacks. Grow up.

  • Joe Namath is in Hall of Fame because he won a Super Bowl in New York, end of discussion. End of story. There is no other reason this loud-mouthed, noodle-armed nobody is polluting Canton except of the iron deathgrip the wretched scum of New York has on this country.

    The East Coast media bias is so blatant and transparent in this case that it absolutely proves how warped, destructive and dangerous US media has become, how narcissistic and self-indulgent it is. All of you New York journalists are vile, self-promoting liars who deserve to be thrashed.

    • Craig Collins

      Noodle arm? ROFLMAO! You embarrass yourself with your ignorance. Namath had a VERY strong arm. Did you read the articles? Did you see him play? Funny that his peers and colleagues thought he was an all-time great, and they certainly know more than you.

  • Alex Wroblewski Jr

    Joe Namath record as a quarterback was horrible. The only reason is in the Hall of Fame is because of the New York sportswriters. His touchdowns to interceptions is horrible. His only clame to fame is when he beat the baltimore colts.

    • Bob D.

      Another dumbass who never saw Joe Namath play football.

      • Iown You

        I doubt you ever seen him play. After all, it’s impossible for you to see anything since your head is so far up your own ass…

  • Marvin

    Great comments here. A couple of points that I can add:

    1) As it pertains to the HOF argument, it’s important to understand the conditions in Shea, where Namath played his meaningful home games. It was notoriously windy, being an open ring close to Flushing Bay. While the cold was not abnormal for his era, when weighing his performance against more modern QBs with domes and enclosed stadia, Namath’s playing conditions were certainly worse.

    2) There’s something to be said for freakish talent, gamechanging talent. Someone mentioned Vick. He doesn’t come close to Namath as a football talent. Namath’s first major knee injury was against NC State while he was at Bama. Prior to that injury, he was an incredible runner. Basically, he was Roger Staubach’s legs with Dan Marino’s arm. I think it’s very natural to want to compare QBs from different eras–difficult and fraught with peril–but natural. And once you more beyond the naive comparison of simple stats that a lot of young folks go by, you tend to ask yourself some version of the question: If you put other QBs into this guy’s career circumstances, how would they perform? I think of you plug Joe Namath into the modern game he’d have truly amazing numbers, even with the injuries, some of which he might never have sustained given the way the league polices contact with the QB today. Conversely, I don’t think any HOF QBs could have done what Namath did in his career circumstances. Granted, some might have won more because they played more conservatively, but none would have accomplished what he did as a passer . The game is constantly evolving with teams and players trying to find new ways to win, new angles to exploit. Namath signaled a new evolutionary stage in the passing game that prefigured the product we see on the field today, 50 years later. He was a game changer and a champion doing it his way. That’s HOF material.

    • Damaged Goods verified ✔️

      Science has proven cold weather doesn’t effect a football game, and wind only effects kicking. The most effective thing in Football in nature is the Sun and Shadows.

      • Endlessfoulu .

        I’m curious as to what “Science” you refer to. Every source that I’ve looked at indicates that temperature and wind affect passing efficiency.

        • Damaged Goods verified ✔️

          The most recent one is on Sports Science. But you know you actually have to look up the information not just saying you did Endlessfoulu. A simple use of Google would obviously show that it doesn’t effect the football sans kicking.

          • Trepur

            I’ve only seen two comprehensive studies on weather.



            Both indicate a clear disadvantage to passing in windy or cold conditions

          • Garry Butler

            Weather does not affect a football game if you play in a dome …lol. It certainly does if you play out in the elements .. Wind , severe cold , rain , snow all have effects on the game especially the passing game… I have never heard anything as silly as ” cold weather does not affect a football game…

          • John Cox

            That which is “proven” one day may be “disproven” the next. Consider all of the reversed conclusions in medical science, for example.

            It is completely impossible to know all of the variables. We NEVER have absolute knowledge of anything. You may run the same controlled experiment a billion times with the same outcome, only to find a different result on the billionth and one test..

            As for myself, I will err on the side of common sense.

            • John Cox

              Beyond that, it is possible to manipulate any set of data so as to “prove” any hypothesis.

              • John Cox

                To correct my own overstatement:

                Substitute “almost any” in both instances of “any” in my previous statement.

      • Bob D.

        You’re obviously a blithering idiot.

      • John Cox

        I very much doubt that. What about the Sub Zero Super Bowl in the early years? Chicago and/or Green Bay.

        • Chuck Abbuhl

          There were no sub zero super bowls, it started in 1968 and has either been played in the south, California, or in domes.

          • John Cox

            Wrong. There was a Super Bowl played in either Minn, Wis. or Chicago that was as bad as 30 below zero. I watched it.

            • Fortunately, it’s very easy to verify locations.

              • John Cox

                Well, I seem to be in error. Perhaps my memory is of a playoff game.

                • The 1965 title game was in Green Bay and had a windchill of 16.

            • Chuck Abbuhl

              As I said there have been super bowls played in domes, Minnesota and Detroit. But NO super bowl has been played in freezing cold conditions. The old NFL championship games were played in the city with the best record that’s how we got the “Ice Bowl”, it was played in Green Bay in December but Super Bowls have always been played in warm cities or domes.

              • John Cox

                Okay, thanks for clearing up my misconception.

    • Kev J

      Yeah, why even try to actually help your team, you know, win. After SBIII, a game many believed to be fixed, Joe Namath never won a playoff game again. heck of a career, 1 single year with a playoff win. Put him in the Hall…idiots.

  • Damaged Goods verified ✔️

    Namath is overrated, the only reason he was inducted into the Hall of Fame was because there were no one else to induct at the time. He is one of the most overrated QBs of all time, he wasn’t even good for players of his time, he would have been benched a long time ago if he started his career in this era. Back in the day they didn’t have many options, Namath was a joke, and still is. No one says “I was inspired by Joe Namath”

    • Craig Collins

      You couldn’t be more wrong. Your user name is very appropriate.

      • Damaged Goods verified ✔️

        Texans fan, and I have seen Namath play, and he is considered a comeback QB, he is 100% a Monday Night QB. In the top 200QBs of all time he would barely make the top 200, he has a legacy that was built off of 1 season that was never repeated. I read tons of articles about Namath, and can show proof of how overrated this POS is.

        • Bob D.

          You’ve obviously watched nothing more than a couple of Joe Namath YouTube videos It’s droll to listen to ignorant young football fans spew nonsense based on reading “tons of articles,” but you’re seriously pathetic, and obviously not very bright.

  • RegularGonzalez

    Great article. Thanks. I thought I knew more than I did about this era.

  • a57se

    Namath injured his knee at Alabama and after the Jets signed him, immediately had surgery. The doctors told the Jets they would be lucky to get 4 years out of him.

  • Richard

    I don’t know about Joe Willie’s numbers but I loved watching him play, a phenomenal short drop and quick release. I remember a game against Miami I believe and a great cornerback, Namath throws a quick out to the corner of the end zone. Incomplete, broken up by the corner.
    Second down, same play! Same result.
    Third down, same fucking play but it’s complete for a touchdown! He challenged that cornerback, he called the same play 3 times! I thought ,he’s got balls! And for that alone he gets my vote.

  • James Kness

    Thank you, Chase Stuart, for providing some thoughtful perspective on Namath, whom NFL Films has called “the most polarizing quarterback in NFL history.” That observation is evidenced by the comments here.

    Namath drew me to pro football. I saw some preseason publicity on TV in 1968 which had a segment on Namath, posing the question of whether he would live up to his potential and his reputation. Jets games were shown almost every week in .the West Coast city I lived in, and I followed the team throughout the season. By the time of the playoffs I was hooked. And then, of course, Namath finished off the season with the seismic upset in the Super Bowl III. My experience was typical of many other people, I think. Namath made fans out of people who had not thought much about pro football.

    Whatever the evaluation of Namath in terms of historical comparisons, when he was at his best he was the most exciting figure in the game.

    How many ex-jocks remain cultural figures almost forty years after their career ended?

  • James Hill

    As starting qbs, only two men, Joe Namath and Joe Montana, have won championships at the college and pro level. Only Namath did it in high school for the trifecta. I’m pretty sure that being a ultimate winner still trumps all else when it comes to the gold jacket. They still “play to win the game” right? When telling the “story” of the NFL AND AN ENTIRE OTHER LEAGUE, AFL, Joe Namath is mentor more than once, right? Who was the moron who said he doesn’t belong?

  • Chuck Abbuhl

    You can talk all you want, I saw Namath play on TV and in person, he was not a good QB that didn’t scare anyone and DOESN’T BELONG IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!. And yes the ONLY reason that he is in the Hall of Fame is because of the stupid guarantee, which by the way Snell and the defense had more to do with making come true than Namath did.

  • Kev J

    Wow someone went through a heck of a lot of trouble to polish this turd.

  • Michael Skelton

    Namath was much more important then career stats. He was the Babe Ruth of his time. He changed the game forever ,from the way the game was played , from the actual structure of professional football , the pay players got to how popular the game was to become.. He did for football what Bird and Magic did for basketball. At the height of his career Men wanted to be him , women just wanted him. He handled it all like a star. Today’s young fans will not understand what that time was like but the truth was Namath was an American Icon.