From their inception in 1960 as the AFL’s New York Titans through the 2013-2014 NFL season, 1,018 Jets have donned the green and white.
This melange encompasses nonentities who languished on the bench, mediocre journeymen, productive pros, and even a few stars. Included are players who rose from the depths of obscurity to become major presences on the field, and others who failed to fulfill outsized expectations.
But on the pantheon of players who can call themselves a member of Gang Green Nation, one man stands above the rest, both for his panache and his magical Super Bowl III victory: Joe ‘Willy’ Namath.
Known as much for his fur coats as his on-field achievement, ‘Broadway Joe’ is a New York sports icon who remains the only Jet to lead the team to the promised land. In fact, because of decades of woe coupled with jealousy of their über-successful division rival New England Patriots, his legend has grown to mythological proportions.
Precisely because of that fact, Joe Namath is the most overrated Jet.
Is it possible to be one of the greatest players for a team in their history, and at the same time be considered overrated? Absolutely, especially when the pollyannish view of the good-old days only grows sweeter with time.
The truth is that Namath, in his career as a Jet, had more losses than wins. He chalked up 60 victories, 61 losses, and one tie in 12 seasons with the Gang Green. Overrated? For a man looked to as a franchise’s hero, it begins to look that way. For comparison, the detested and deposed Mark Sanchez compiled an aggregate 34-30 record as starter, and for his efforts he was booed (and butt-checked) out of town.
It is true that Namath led the Jets to a Super Bowl victory in 1969; however, the facts of the game itself matters less than the memory of Namath making a confident victory guarantee beforehand.
In that fateful game that would cement his legacy, Namath did not throw nor rush for a touchdown. In fact, halfback Matt Snell ran for a touchdown and placekicker Jim Turner booted three field goals in the 16-7 triumph. Namath did not even attempt a pass in the 4th quarter. In spite of those facts, he still managed to come away from the game with the Super Bowl MVP award.
In his career in a Jets uniform as a whole, Namath’s completion percentage was 50.2%. The league-wide average completion percentage for the years encompassing Namath’s Jets tenure was 51.75%. Based on that, he was a mediocre, if slightly below average quarterback.
When those numbers are compared with the quickly-forgotten playcaller Chad Pennington, Namath pales in comparison. In the six seasons Pennington started for Jets, his average completion percentage was 65%. The league wide average over the same time period was 59.8%. Pennington was actually an extremely above average quarterback (based on those metrics), and yet he receives a tiny fraction of the love apportioned to ‘Joe Willy.’
Shall I make another comparison to Mark Sanchez? In Sanchez’s first four seasons as a Jet (his only four he saw playing time), he threw 69 interceptions. In Namath’s first four seasons as a Jet, he chucked 87 interceptions, despite playing in 7 fewer games than Sanchez due to a 14-game season at the time (the NFL now plays a 16-game season).
Sure, the league was different at the time, more physical and less offense-friendly, but any reasonable Jets fan, when asked, would probably assume Joe Namath compares favorably to Mark Sanchez on every statistical level, just based on pure reputation. Yet that’s not the case. It is foolish to think Joe Namath is not overrated as a player. After all, numbers never lie.
Basically, because Joe Namath is considered the greatest Jet of all-time, he also earns the distinction of most overrated Jet of all-time. That does not mean he cannot be venerated for his Super Bowl win; it just means that any reverence for Broadway Joe must come with a grain of salt.
Perhaps he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It is possible any other quarterback could have won Super Bowl III (especially since Namath actually played a minimal role in the outcome), but because of his charisma, charm, and that fateful guarantee, he has became a supernova who grew brighter as time went on.