Alabama quarterback Joe Namath was voted MVP of the 1966 Orange Bowl, even though the Tide lost to Texas 21-17. The next day, New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin signed Namath to a three-year AFL contract for the phenomenal sum of $427,000.
The St. Louis Cardinals owned the NFL rights to Namath. A number such as that would have caused permanent shortness of the breath for the Bidwills, the team’s tight-fisted owners.
It’s my theory Namath is the reason disco was invented, because to equal the coolness of Joe Willie Namath, America needed flashing lights, insane clothes, and a whole new style of pulsating music.
Namath’s coolness reached its zenith in 1969: first in January, fulfilling a guarantee of a Jets victory over the 18-point favorite Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl; then in June, retiring briefly rather than bow down to Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s edict to sell his share in the Bachelors III bar in New York.
Rozelle got his way after a meeting in mid-July, but Joe Willie had done battle with The Man, and we admired that attitude in 1969.
The one time Minnesota received a full dose of Namath was the Jets’ visit Oct. 12, 1975, and it was a phenomenon. “I can’t remember so many people I didn’t know asking me for tickets,’’ Vikings coach Bud Grant said.
The Vikings had a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. Namath led a couple of touchdown drives to put the Jets in front 21-20. Joe Blahak’s blocked punt for a safety turned the game back to the Purple. The final was 29-21 Vikings.
And then the fun began. Somehow, several hundred fans — 80 percent women — made their way to the corridor of Met Stadium’s basement. It was pandemonium when Namath was the last player out of the visitors locker room, surrounded by 12 security guards.
“Joe, we love you … Joe, you look great in the pantyhose [ad] … Please, Joe, sign this,’’ were the shouts.
He smiled the Broadway Joe smile, said, “I’d like to but I can’t,’’ and left behind scores of ladies with racing hearts. And by then, Joe was 32 and no longer at the height of his coolness.
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick.
More on Namath vs. the Vikings:
• There was a Dayton’s ad in the Sunday Tribune of Oct. 12, 1975, featuring Namath as the model for Arrow multi-colored shirts.
• The Vikings and Namath’s Jets had played three exhibitions, in Phoenix, Winston-Salem, N.C., and at Met Stadium in August 1970. Namath played only briefly in a Vikings 52-21 victory.
• The 12-2 Vikings lost on the road to the Jets 20-12 on Nov. 29, 1970, with Namath injured and Al Woodall playing quarterback.