If you read the recent excerpt of "Namath" in Sports Illustrated and were put off by the apparent focus on the iconic Broadway Joe's personal life, be comforted that Mark Kriegel's 441-page biography includes plenty of football, too. The book is exhaustively researched and includes telling anecdotes from Beaver Falls, Pa., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to New York.
Kriegel takes pains to place Namath in a social and cultural context, with references to presidents and movie stars, civil rights and television. Rather than being woven into the fabric of Kriegel's narrative, however, such notations seem larded on, more afterthought than insight.
Still, Kriegel makes a reasonable effort and raises a fair question as to whether Namath represents more than just the cocksure jock in sunglasses who guaranteed a win in Super Bowl III. And it's beyond argument that Namath's braggadocio -- and abiding talent -- helped make the Super Bowl the secular national holiday we celebrate today.
The issue of Namath and mortality, however, has never been questioned. Chronically bad knees shortened his career and the swinging bachelor persona was mostly a media invention. Less obvious were Namath's interpersonal struggles and lifelong problems with alcohol, at least until last December when he slurred on national television to sideline reporter Suzy Kolber, "I want to kiss you."
Kriegel is entitled to view Namath as larger than life, but to many, the '60s hero is just another victim of fame's excess, another star who once burned bright, another athlete memorialized in a book that's too long.
-- Jim Hage