Meaty biography of Broadway Joe from sports-columnist-turned-novelist Kriegel (Bless Me, Father, 1995).
The sooty mill towns in western Pennsylvania have churned out a host of professional football players, but none left a mark on the sport like Joe Namath, the handsome bad boy, boozer, and womanizer from Beaver Falls. Just a few months ago, Namath turned to alcoholic rehabilitation and disappeared from the public eye. Good thing, too, Kriegel writes in this detailed work, for in his last public appearance on national TV, he drunkenly told a sports reporter that he could care less about the game and would rather be kissing her. But then, that was the Joe we knew and loved, “disheveled, but happy,” doing what he liked and thumbing his nose at authority (unless that authority wore the name Bear Bryant, who coached Namath at the University of Alabama). Kriegel does a nice job portraying the two Namaths. One was a football player of intuitive genius who could read the developing angles in sports where that type of calculus mattered (football, pool, golf). The second Namath had a far more difficult time reading the emotional complexity of his life, particularly all that booze and all those women. Some of his antics were stupefying, but others defined the new braggadocio beat that a few athletes brought to the culture. While not of the same ilk as Mohammad Ali, judges Kriegel, Namath was a touchstone in an age of defiance; he managed to get on the enemy lists of both J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. Plus, he was simply brilliant at what he did on the field, delivering on his promises in a way a politician never could or would. Kriegel has also uncovered a lot of terrific backstory from friends and coaches and sportswriters.
Namath was no angel, thank goodness, but this evocative portrait shows him at play in the fields of magic.