(WBRC) - Time can be a cruel thing. The clock is always ticking, never stopping, and it can sneak up on you in a hurry. With that, I bring you this: America's symbol of youth and virility has turned 75. Yes, the pride of Beaver Falls, Penn., the Super Bowl MVP, the shoot-from-the-hip American icon named Joe Namath was born May 31, 1943. And ever since that day, our nation has not seen another like him.
I've had the pleasure of interviewing the former Alabama quarterback on many occasions, but when I visited him at his home in South Florida a few days before the 2013 national championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame (following the 2012 season), Broadway Joe was in his element. Relaxed in shorts and water shoes. The then-69-year-old walked me to his dock along the intracoastal waterway and asked, "Hey, wanna see my scars?" Yes, Joe Namath has always been an open book - a man who has spoken openly about his achievements (oh, that Super Bowl guarantee in 1969) and about his failures (divorce and alcoholism). And because of his carefree, often astonishing honesty, we have love him all the more.
How talented was Joe Namath? The late Paul Bryant once said of Namath, "He's the greatest athlete I've ever coached." Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 200 pounds, Namath loved to dunk basketballs in high school even though his school district had a "no dunking" clause for high school games. A cocky young man with a strong arm, he was the real deal. In fact, I've had several former Bama players of the 60s remind me what a great athlete he was. Former Bama star Jerry Duncan has always told me that Namath was the greatest athlete he had ever seen. Namath, who was suspended by Coach Bryant before the national championship game following the 1964 season, came back to join the team and led Bama to a "natty" to finish his collegiate career with a record of 29-4.
Be honest - how do you remember Joe Namath? As that great college and pro quarterback whose body later broke down, or as the handsome bachelor who lit up New York City at his Bachelors III watering hole? The man who wore white shoes and panty hose (TV commercials only), dated the world's most beautiful women, had his own TV talk show, starred in movies and on TV (remember the Brady Bunch episode?) and the man who was a cultural icon with his face slashed on magazine covers worldwide?
I have always remembered Joe as both a great quarterback and a fast-living cultural phenomena, but after spending time with him as his home, I now think of him as being forthcoming and vulnerable. No subject was off limits during our interview, and man, did we talk it up: From athletics to alcoholism, from Marsha Brady to divorce, it seemed that the more he talked about his highs and lows the more cathartic it was for him. And as I sat only feet away from him and listened to Joe talk about his life's highs and lows, the more I thought to myself, "This is a really good man."
It seems like yesterday that Joe Namath was a twenty-something swashbuckler, but today he's 75. While the scars on his legs and knees remain from numerous operations, while his face holds more wrinkles, his effervescent personality remains. Behind the unsteady walk and a few less hairs remains one of the most interesting men in the world. I hope that time treats him well, because this world is much more fun with Joe Namath in it.