By People Staff
April 19, 1999 12:00 PM

In his ’60s heyday, Broadway Joe Namath was the quintessential swinging bachelor. As the cocky quarterback of the New York Jets, he cruised the hottest clubs and bars and squired bombshells like Raquel Welch around town. Then, in 1984, the dashing former football hero got married, later fathered two daughters and happily traded his playboy lifestyle for some quiet family time and a whole lot of golf.

But the transformation from Broadway Joe to Fairway Joe has taken Namath, 55, to the brink of bachelorhood again. After 14 years of marriage, he and Tatiana Namath, 37, an aspiring actress he met at a voice class in 1983—and the mother of his daughters Jessica, 13, and Olivia, 8—have filed for divorce. Tatiana, formerly known as Deborah Mays (she changed her name after a namesake cousin was killed), cites their placid existence as the reason for the split. “Joe has lived an exciting life, so he’s happy to relax now,” she says. “I had children at 24, and I’ve grown in a way that I’d like to be more stimulated.”

That has meant fleeing the couple’s rambling riverfront home in Bay Harbor, a posh community in Tequesta, Fla., for Santa Monica, Calif., where Tatiana is dating plastic surgeon Brian Novack, 44, and embarking on a career as a playwright. “It’s better for my kids to see me happy and fulfilled,” says Tatiana, who admits that the divorce “is not something Joe wanted.” (Namath would not comment.) Still, Namath, who led his underdog team to a historic 1969 Super Bowl win, has remained the doting dad, recently going on a friendly vacation with his family in Utah. (The Namaths plan to share custody of their children.)

Yet for the once and future bachelor, divorce is undoubtedly painful. “My family’s the most important thing in my life,” he told USA Today in January. Deep down, says Tatiana, “he’s proud of me for making a difficult decision to reach my potential. He just wishes it wasn’t in this way, I’m sure.”