Big man on campus, cultural icon, and Super Bowl champion all by the age of 25: Joe Namath was a marketer’s dream. From an impoverished childhood in Western Pennsylvania, Namath shot to national prominence as a quarterback for the University of Alabama under legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. A record $400,000 contract dropped him in New York City, where he reshaped the image of the professional athlete and fulfilled his brash guarantee of a Super Bowl win. But for all his promise, his "dime-store knees" and a predilection for alcohol took him out of the professional game early. His subsequent life as a family man and his continued struggles with the bottle round out this cautionary tale.
Viking. 512 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0670033294
"For all Namath’s magic, Kriegel does not try to make more of his subject than he was. Namath was no self-sacrificing political beacon, like his contemporary Muhammad Ali. And for all his rebelliousness, Namath was no hippie—in fact, in important ways, Kriegel contends, he was a precursor of the ‘Me Decade’ of the 1980s." Henry Kisor
"It’s a terrific read, an all-encompassing look at an American icon who, Mark Kriegel writes with some justification, was bigger in his time than anyone not named John, Paul, George or Ringo." Ron Cook
"For [football fans who came of age during Namath’s heyday], this will be a return to a nostalgic time when everything and anything was possible for a young person with moxie and guts, and a sad reminder that the hubris of youth too frequently fades into nostalgia and regret." Ken Goe
New York Times
"[Kriegel] shapes a colorful, detailed and essentially affectionate portrait. It follows the standard sports-hero trajectory, including hackneyed, pointless memories of the kid’s early years." Janet Maslin
"[W]hy does one come to the end of Kriegel’s biography more in sorrow than in celebration? Because the portrait he draws is of a man who won one Famous Victory but lost in a lot of more important ways." Jonathan Yardley
The divided opinion about Namath seems driven as much by its subject as by its author. Critics extol the coverage of Namath’s early career, but when the story turns post-football, many reviewers flinch. It is as if they can’t reconcile their memories of Broadway Joe with the drunken, luckless-in-love man he became (sadly demonstrated last year on live television when an inebriated Namath twice told ESPN’s sideline reporter Suzy Kolber that he wanted to kiss her). Kriegel, a former sports reporter, goes heavy on play-by-play breakdowns—too heavy by some accounts—but also captures the emergence of the American Football League as a competitive force. Told without the participation of Namath (who reportedly wanted compensation and creative control), the author offers a compassionate ear to this difficult tale. For one straight from the horse’s mouth (and full of that hubris of youth), check out Namath’s autobiography, I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow ‘Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day (1969).
When Pride Still Mattered (1999): Before Namath’s heyday, professional football was embodied by a very different man, Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi. | David Maraniss