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Back in the Day: Joe Namath, Rams, Mystery Woman,Wrong Room

December 26th, 2019 · No Comments · Back in the Day, Football, NFL, Rams, Sports Journalism

Joe Namath has a new biography out, and in it the former New York Jets hero and leader of the great upset victory in Super Bowl III relates his spending Christmas alone, in December of 1979.

The episode is outlined in this excerpt from “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters.”

And nearly any time I read about “Broadway Joe” I am reminded of some odd events the evening before the last football game the quarterback played in — as the Rams starter in a Monday night game in Chicago.

I was in the ancient Soldier Field press box, which I recall as having weather-beaten, splinter-throwing tables and no heating.

I also recall a queer event the night before, when a well-dressed woman knocked at my hotel-room door — and I always wonder if lady-magnet Namath might have been involved in the confusing (for me) episode.

It was the fourth game of the Rams’ season, and the team was struggling. Namath had been signed and handed the starter’s job, but he clearly was near the end of his career — he was immobile and his accuracy was gone.

Back then, I was the home-and-road Rams writer for The San Bernardino Sun, so I had traveled to Chicago and was put up in the same five-star, downtown hotel the team was staying in.

It was the middle of the evening, the night before the game, and I was writing a preview for the next day’s paper, when I heard a knock at the door. I had no idea whom it might be. I wouldn’t be spending the night in the bar, as some of my colleagues did, and there is no access to players, the night before the game. In theory.

So, I open the door … and there standing in the hall was a very attractive, well-dressed woman, perhaps 30 years old.

I was flummoxed. I would guess I just looked at her for a moment and wondered where she intended to be … which most certainly was not my room.

She may have said something like, “You called?” And I said, finally able to speak, “No, that wasn’t me.”

I have a vague recollection of the “conversation” going on another question or two, but I was relieved when she said, “There must be some mistake” and I closed my door.

I may have thought this within the first few minutes … or perhaps it came an hour later … but Joe Namath was in that hotel on that Sunday night, and maybe my visitor had arranged a date with him. Or vice versa. Maybe Joe was a floor above me, or down the hall. And, of course, he might not have been the only Rams player looking for companionship the night before a game.

The next day, Namath got his fourth — and final — start with the Chuck Knox-coached Rams.

Joe was terrible. He threw four interceptions on 16-for-40 passing, 203 yards and two sacks. The Rams were losing a game they had been expected to win, and in the fourth quarter Knox called for backup quarterback Pat Haden, who threw for a late touchdown that made the final score: Chicago 24, Rams 23.

The story of the game was Namath being yanked and replaced by a quicker, faster kid.

As mentioned, Namath never played again. He suited up a few times, but his knees were shot and everyone could see it. Adding him to the team was not the answer.

Haden was the QB choice the rest of the season, and after the club had started 2-2 with Namath at quarterback, the Rams went 8-2 with Haden and reached the playoffs.

It was at the end of that season that Namath was sitting in his duplex in the trendy Belmont Shore area of Long Beach and found himself alone. The excerpt of his book (linked above) describes him walking on the beach and thinking deep thoughts.

I grew up in Belmont Shore, and as a kid had played in the water on the Peninsula, only a few blocks from where Namath would spend his last season.

It seems a weird confluence of events. Joe Namath, the Rams, Long Beach, Belmont Shore, Chicago, the mystery woman (a fan, a pro, just someone lost?) … a befuddled 24-year-old sportswriter.

I have no idea what went on in that hotel, the night before the Chicago game, but I think about it from time to time when the subject of Joe Willie Namath comes up.


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