In 2003, Joe Namath became a national punchline and indirectly launched the careers of writers Drew Magary and Matt Ufford (of “Kissing Suzy Kolber” fame when he made an awkward pass at ESPN’s Kolber on air.
It turns out, however, that the circumstances that led to that moment were no laughing matter and may well have saved Broadway Joe’s life, according to an ESPN report.
Namath was plagued by the devil-on-the-shoulder that is often metaphorically used to describe our worst impulses and even went so far as to nickname his personal demon “Slick.”
And it was Slick, as Namath describes it, who launched a thousand mid-aughts Internet memes on that fateful night on ESPN.
Namath recounts this and other stories in his new book, “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters.” In it, he describes “Slick” and the effect his imaginary “frenemy” had on his behavior.
“Every now and then Slick whispers, but having a name for him makes me listen to him differently. And, health-wise, I’d probably be dead by now if I hadn’t stopped drinking,” Namath said.
Namath admitted what anyone who saw his interview with Kolber suspected: He was roaring drunk at the time.
But sometimes, hitting rock bottom can snap someone into finally admitting he or she has a problem, and “humiliated on national television in a way most of us can’t even imagine” is as rock bottom as it gets.
“I saw it as a blessing in disguise,” Namath said. “I had embarrassed my friends and family and could not escape that feeling. I haven’t had a drink since.
“That shame is where I found my strength to deal with the addiction. With the help of my recovery, I learned that I had used my divorce as an excuse to go back to drinking. That knowledge made me a stronger individual.”
Fifteen-plus years of sobriety has been good to the 75-year-old former sporting hero. To this day, the improbable win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III remains the only Super Bowl appearance, never mind championship, in New York Jets history and one of the few bright spots in the sordid annals of a franchise with the sixth-worst winning percentage in NFL history.
During Namath’s drinking days, his then-wife Deborah, insisted he see a psychologist in Brentwood, California, where the Namaths lived in the 1990s.
But every time Namath would see a shrink, he would find his way to the liquor store on his way home. The alcoholism contributed to his divorce in 2000.
Namath, in retelling the story, said what is so often obvious to everyone but the drunk. “I thought I could get away with that, but she could smell it,” he said.
“The drinking was what would kick my butt for a long time,” Namath said. “I believe any of us can be brought to our knees whether from physical or emotional pain. Over the years, I learned how fragile we humans can be. Emotionally, I used that as an excuse to start drinking again. … I would drink all day sometimes.”
Namath’s book is full of tales of everything from his legendary womanizing to his fears of the after-effects of his playing career. But the centerpiece is a tale of a man brought low by addiction, reduced to a laughingstock on national television and somehow finding the strength to turn his life around.
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