It’s 50 years since Super Bowl III, the game that made you a legend. How’d you deal with the tension before the game?
We had fun in the locker room before the game. Coach [Weeb] Ewbank didn’t know whether to have the defense or offense introduced first. Having played in a couple of bowl games, I said, “Coach, introduce the seniors first.” Everyone laughed.
You famously guaranteed to win that game. Did that upset your teammates?
For 10 days, we’re being told by oddsmakers and the media that we did not have a chance. The Colts were a good team, but we knew what we could do. I was angry when I said that. It was in response to a wise guy in the back of the room [at a large banquet]. He said, “We’re gonna kick your ass.” I said, “Wait a minute, big boy, we’re gonna win the game — I guarantee it.” Yeah, my teammates were upset but in a humorous way. They knew me.
And you won, 16-7. Why did that game touch so many people?
There are more underdogs in the world than there are favorites. Our win was enjoyed by so many people because they are underdogs like we were. We’re all underdogs from time to time.
You were a ’60s trendsetter — sports, fashion, nightlife. Do you ever think you were recognized more for style than substance?
It is all a matter of style. I wore white shoelaces in high school when my teammates wore black. I taped my shoes white in college. In the ’60s, the turmoil, Woodstock, peace and love, the flower children, the attire, I was part of it. I was getting recognized for it because I was in New York. But you have to catch somebody’s eye with substance, not just because you are stylin’.
Your TV pantyhose ad in the early 1970s broke new ground for a male sex symbol.
I got a chuckle out of it. I thought, “This is cool.” Our secretary said, “I don’t think my Dad would like seeing that — it’s not masculine for a football player.” So we thought about it awhile. We knew there would be a segment of society that wouldn’t understand it, or would find it offensive. Then I said, “Wait a minute, this is terrific. I need to go for it.’’
You’re by nature upbeat. How do you get yourself out of a funk?
I continuously remind myself, Whoa, slow down, buddy. Be thankful. I get back to basics when I start feeling overwhelmed with whatever life is throwing at me. If we’re fortunate enough to be spiritual and healthy, those are the two most important things in life. But you get tested. Things can wear you out, if you allow them.
At age 75, what is it that makes Joe Namath want to get up in the morning?
I have a lot of things happening that excite and inspire me. It starts with my immediate family [two daughters and four grandchildren]. We are blessed with good health. I keep active. I look forward to each day. I get up with the sun and get started.
Can you talk about projects you have in the works?
A book, the fifth one I’ve worked on. I will explore things that have transpired over the years, many of them philosophical. I still look at myself as a pebble on the beach, a speck of sand. I look up in the sky at night and see all those stars and realize I am very small. I am thankful, and lucky to still be here, I promise you.
Some believe revised rules to limit excessive on-field violence are ruining the NFL. Agree?
Ruining the NFL? [Laughs] You aren’t going to please everyone. The game, and the rules, are better than ever. The body is not meant for the game. It’s a great sport for spectators and there always will be players willing to sacrifice to play the game.
In 2012, you were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from your playing days. Any lingering cognitive decline?
I feel like I am more active mentally than I’ve ever been. It’s an effort. When I was younger, I just let things roll by. I am more aware today. I feel more alert than I’ve ever felt — unless my memory is failing and I don’t remember when I felt better!
You’ve formed the Joe Namath Foundation. What are its goals?
It is a team effort. The March of Dimes [one of the foundation’s beneficiaries] is a cause I believe in. Single mothers need help with children, too. I used my sporting life to realize we’re all in this together. It would be awful to think that you are alone. We need other people — I need other people. I need love from others.