In the world of Joe Willie Namath, location and time really don’t matter. They are trying to call this immensely likeable 25-year-old by the name of Broadway Joe. But Broadway as a street has been a busted-out whorehouse with orange juice stands for as long as I can recall, and now, as an expression, it is tired and represents nothing to me. And it certainly represents nothing to Joe Willie Namath’s people. His people are on First and Second Avenues, where young girls spill out of the buildings and into the bars crowded with guys and the world is made of long hair and tape cartridges and swirling color and military overcoats and the girls go home with guys or the guys go home with girls and nobody is too worried about any of it because life moves, it doesn’t stand still and whisper about what happened last night. It is out of these bars and apartment buildings and the life of them that Joe Willie Namath comes. He comes with a Scotch in his hand at night and a football in the daytime and last season he gave New York the only lift the city has had in so many years it is hard to think of a comparison.
When you live in fires and funerals and strikes and rats and crowds and people screaming in the night, sports is the only thing that makes any sense. And there is only one sport anymore that can change the tone of a city and there is only one player who can do it. His name is Joe Willie Namath and when he beat the Baltimore Colts he gave New York the kind of light, meaningless, dippy and lovely few days we had all but forgotten. Once, Babe Ruth used to be able to do it for New York, I guess. Don’t try to tell Namath’s people on First Avenue about Babe Ruth because they don’t even know the name. In fact, with the young, you can forget all of baseball. The sport is gone. But if you ever have seen Ruth, and then you see Namath, you know there is very little difference. I saw Ruth once when he came off the golf course and walked into the bar at the old Bayside course in Queens. He was saying how f’n hot it was and how f’n thirsty he was and he ordered a Tom Collins and the bartender made it in a mixing glass full of chopped ice and then handed the mixing glass to Ruth and the Babe said that was fine, kid, and he opened his mouth and brought up the mixing glass and there went everything. In one shot, he swallowed the mixing glass, ice chunks and everything else. He slapped the mixing glass down and said, give me another one of these f’n things, kid. I still never have seen anybody who could drink like that. After that day, I believed all the stories they told about Ruth.
It is the same thing when you stand at the bar with Joe Namath.