Saturday, June 18, 2005

Between ESPN Classic and the book I'm currently reading, I still have football on the brain, and specifically old football. One of the highlight films I watched this week was the 1981 Jets. For whatever reason, they had a few more players that I remembered than some of their contemporaries--Richard Todd, Freeman McNeil, Wesley Walker, Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau--and so I particularly enjoyed this one.

Something in the narration gave me pause, though. They said that 1981 was the Jets' first winning season since 1969. That sounded so weird that I had to look it up, and it turns out it was accurate. This information, plus a little more digging, only confirmed something that I'd suspected for a long-time: I know who the most overrated player in football history and the least-deserving Pro Football Hall of Famer is, and he wants to kiss you.

One look at Joe Wille Namath's stats tells most of this story. Several things stand out. The Super Bowl III year, 1968 ('69 playoffs) was Namath's fourth season and his third over 3,000 yards, something he would never do again, even though he played every game in three more seasons and all but one in a fourth. Most strking to me, though, is this: in his rookie year, Namath threw 18 TDs and 15 interceptions. In his 12 other NFL/AFL seasons, only once would Namath ever throw more (or even as many) touchdowns as interceptions (1969, 19/17). For his career, Namath threw 47 more interceptions than touchdowns. That's downright bad. Here's a sense of how bad it is: 10 other quarterbacks who played in at least one of the same seasons in which Namath played are in the Hall of Fame. Of those 10, nine of them--Starr, Staubach, Tarkenton, Unitas, Jurgensen, Griese, Fouts, Dawson, and Bradshaw--threw more touchdowns than interceptions in their career. The 10th, George Blanda, is in the Hall as much for kicking and freakish longevity as for quarterbacking, but even he had a better ratio (236 TDs, 277 INTs).

Clearly, the injury bug was a major factor in Namath not having a better career; after 1969, he only played in 9 games the following two seasons, and then after one healthy season, only 6 the next. From 1974-76 he played all but three games, but was no doubt a lesser player due to repeated knee injuries.

The bottom line is that Namath's in the Hall for one game, Super Bowl III, in which he threw zero touchdown passes and for 206 yards. He's also in the Hall for charisma and for what might have been had he stayed healthy. All three of these are really bad reasons to be in the Hall of Fame. Luckily, football hasn't enshrined stinkers while keeping out much better candidates in the way baseball often has. Here, though, the gatekeepers were caught napping.

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