Broadway Joe

Football Great Talks About His Drinking Problem With Bob Simon

Joe Namath was football's first real superstar, the first quarterback to move from the playing field to popular culture and to dominate both.

They don't come bigger and, as we've heard so often, the bigger they are the harder they fall.

Joe Namath was crushed by linemen so often in his 13-year career that his knees turned to putty and he turned to alcohol. He is 63 now and he has written a book about his life called "Namath." It is about his football career, mainly. But he talked to correspondent Bob Simon about the flip side of his life, which he hasn't talked about much.



"I can remember the first injury I got that I turned to the foulest tasting stuff I could imagine or smell — and that was scotch. And I ended up drinking it for five years until I switched to the clear stuff," Namath says.

Asked why he did that, Namath says, "Because the doctor one time said, 'If you're gonna have to drink, drink the clear stuff instead of the dark stuff.' So, for medicinal purposes, I went to the clear stuff. That's right."

Namath says he drank "quickly" after a game but never before. His battle with the bottle continued for much of his adult life, until he found an extreme solution: abstinence.

"How many days?" Simon asks.

"A thousand and three," the football legend replied.

But he has an imaginary drinking buddy, "Slick," trying to lure him back to the bar.

"Slick man. Oh, yeah. Slick is there. Slick's whispering to you," Namath tells Simon.

"He's whispering, 'Just one more won't hurt,' huh?" Simon asks.

"He knows that's not enough you know," Namath replies. "You start getting flashes in your head and then fortunately I know that it's no contest. Lifestyle without is far healthier, more fun, more beneficial."

Whatever the pain, the injuries, the medication, Joe Namath was the man with the golden arm, No. 12, the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in one season. He was also a cultural icon. He stepped out of the stereotype with his fur coat and his lama carpet. He was outrageous. Men wanted to be like Joe Namath and women wanted to be with him.

On the DVD that accompanies the book, Namath says: "It seems almost un-American to me for a bachelor not to go around having a drink with a lady now and then."

Now, Joe's retired and living quietly on the Florida coast, a divorced father of two daughters. When he walks today, he carries with him all the injuries of his 13 year career; the knees he walks on are artificial.

He still enjoys the sporting life, but the sports are different now. They are easy on those knees.

"You could chart your career at least on one level through your injuries, huh?" Simon asks.

"Lookin' back, I had a few of them but if you're gonna play that sport, you know, you usually do," he replies.

These days, quarterbacks have it easy compared to what Namath went through. Back then, there were no rules to protect quarterbacks and they were savaged; tackled even after they threw the ball. Namath didn't just injure his knees, he also disjointed vertebrae in his neck, broke bones in his feet and hands, separated his shoulder, broke his cheekbone, suffered numerous concussions — and that's the short list. Now, as a Monday morning quarterback, Joe says he shouldn't have gone on playing so long.

"I went to the Hall of Fame and I saw guys in wheel chairs and stuff that I used to watch on television. And that was real to me. You know, you start thinking about the accumulative injuries over the years. The body just wasn't designed for it. Knowing that now, yeah I'd of quit. It's easy to say, 'I would've quit now,' " Namath says. "But back then, it was my life."

Ironically, Joe told Simon the injury that really wrecked his football career didn't happen on a football field — it happened waterskiing. He showed us where his hamstring muscles had been severed and remain curled up in a ball.

He said that after the accident the Jets team doctor assured him he could keep on playing football, in spite of torn hamstrings.

"He says, 'Your knee's great.' I said, 'Yeah, but doc…my hamstring.' We said, 'What do we do?' He said, 'Well, you need your hamstring to run. You're a quarterback. You don't have to run anyway,' " Namath recalls.



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  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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