There isn’t a single player in NFL history more directly tied to one franchise than Joe Namath is tied to the New York Jets.
He not only delivered the most significant victory in the team’s 56-year history — perhaps the most significant victory in the sport’s history — but he also guaranteed it. And a Super Bowl at that. And adding his Hall of Fame résumé to the manner in which he transcended sports to become a true pop culture icon, Namath’s decades-old connection to the Jets and New York City, long after retirement, is well-deserved.
But after years of uninformed, undignified, and often unsolicited commentary on the state of his former team — Sunday being only the most recent example — it’s time that Namath give up his role as the team’s unofficial pundit.
In the second quarter of the team’s 24-16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Jets quarterback Geno Smith suffered a knee injury, soon headed to the locker room, then later returned to the sideline out of uniform. He didn’t take another snap as Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was benched last week in favor of Smith, led the Jets to victory. Late in the game, Namath tweeted this to his nearly 100,000 followers:
“If you’ve got a right knee injury keeping you out of the game why are you standing on the sideline the entire 2nd half? How bad can it be?”
Broadway Joe apparently didn’t think Smith’s injury was all that serious.
Namath certainly knows knee injuries: they undercut his college and pro careers. Maybe he was just giving the fan’s perspective. Plenty of fans probably agreed with his assessment. And Geno Smith is an easy target. He’s been a tremendous disappointment for the organization, both on the field (throwing nine more interceptions than touchdowns in his four seasons) and off; see the broken jaw a teammate gave him in the locker room last preseason.
But this isn’t the first time Namath has been a bit too eager to tell the world what he thinks of his former team.
Last week, after another poor performance from Fitzpatrick in the team’s 28-3 loss to the Cardinals, he told ESPN, “If he were a more gifted passer, you’d have a chance.”
This summer, when the Jets had yet to offer Ryan Fitzpatrick a contract, Namath told a crowd at an awards luncheon that he thought Smith would win the job regardless and took something of a potshot at the Harvard-educated Fitzpatrick by saying, “as smart as he is, he just doesn’t recognize that it’s important to play with a good team.”
Namath’s very public criticism of the team is not relegated to the 2016 edition. He publicly disapproved of former Jets head coach Rex Ryan, routinely live tweets about the team’s deficiencies during games, and couldn’t seem to make up his mind about whether he liked or hated the Jets Tim Tebow experiment of 2012.
The Jets have enough problems without Namath’s rantings. Despite their win against the Ravens they’re still 2-5, in last place, and four games back in the AFC East race. And since Smith’s replacement and the quarterback they just gave $12 million to, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is pretty irritated right now — hinting that the owner and general manager had stopped “believing in” him — the team would be better served if the quarterback who last took a snap for the franchise during the Gerald Ford administration wasn’t taking shots at the quarterbacks on the roster via twitter.
The best defense for Namath’s frequent talk of the Jets is that people ask for his opinion, so he gives it. Even if he played in a much different era, he’s still an NFL legend and has perspective, much more than 99.9 percent of the population. And he very well might be privy to special knowledge due to his close relationship to the organization: although he’s probably not granted much insider access since he has been known to publicly criticize owner Woody Johnson.
So it’s only natural that local and national reporters and fans in general would want his assessment. And therein lay the problem with Namath and his connection to the New York Jets.
It’s been almost 50 years since the Jets reached a Super Bowl. Only twice in the last 33 years have they come even close. Still, Namath remains by far the greatest star the franchise has ever had. That’s not close either. And the organization is as much to blame as anyone. By trotting Namath out at so many team events, they’re clinging to a past that overshadows the present and future.
The Steelers eventually replaced Terry Bradshaw. The 49ers let go of Joe Montana. Even the Broncos moved on from John Elway…sort of….at least he’s an actual decision maker now. In short, Joe Namath seems to need the Jets a lot more than the Jets need Joe Namath.