Running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick sat dejectedly on the king-size bed in Joe Namath’s Ft. Lauderdale penthouse apartment making small talk with the famed New York Jets quarterback. “It just doesn’t make sense,” mumbled Csonka, who along with Kiick starred for the champion Miami Dolphins. “Joe is like me, and people like us don’t turn down that kind of money.” Csonka’s mutter was a reference to Namath’s surprising decision to turn down $5 million to play with the Chicago Wind of the floundering World Football League—a high price for a man whose knees must be braced with steel before each game.
The decision was a severe blow to the year-old WFL, which courted Na-math in hopes that he could bring the same excitement to the new league that he once had brought to the fledgling American Football League. (It was the 25-year-old Namath of the upstart Jets who quarterbacked the AFL’s first Super Bowl win over the NFL in 1969.) Chicago was so certain that Namath would come around that they changed their colors—red, green and white—to green and white so Namath could continue to market his famous No. 12 jersey in the Jets colors. The 32-year-old Namath decided in the end he did not want to assume the burden of putting the new league on its feet. A close friend explained: “Joe doesn’t like change. And the WFL would have been too much responsibility for him.” Csonka and Kiick and teammate Paul Warfield signed with the WFL for $3.3 million last year. Referring to Namath’s defection, Kiick pointed out: “It would have opened the floodgates for other NFL players.”
The man at the center of all this concern, shirt open to his hairy chest, slumped in an overstuffed chair in the two-bedroom condominium. Namath seemed somewhat embarrassed by his decision. His lawyer Jimmy Walsh, who was a schoolmate of Joe’s at the University of Alabama, was pained. “I tell you,” said Walsh, “it cost me an easy $2 million. But I can understand Joe’s decision—and it was his alone.”
Next morning Joe loaded a couple of six packs of beer on his 19-foot Boston whaler, A Lot A Heart, and with a group of friends set out into the Atlantic to swim. For hours Namath frolicked like a porpoise, oblivious to his upcoming stormy bargaining sessions with the Jets, who have offered him a mere $1 million, three-year contract.
Increasingly, Namath is becoming enmeshed in his outside pursuits—his Dudley, Mass. football camp for youngsters (Namath will spend four weeks there this summer), his merchandising tie-ins, his three restaurants and his acting career (lawyer Walsh is considering two scripts for his client). What if Joe happened to end up on a football team near Hollywood? “Well,” Namath says, “I wouldn’t complain. But before I move on, I’d like just one more Super Bowl.”