Published January 25, 2012
NEW YORK – Joe Namath had just watched a film about a young quarterback who threw too many interceptions, then learned to trust his teammates and led his club to a championship.
He believes someday the same story could be told about Mark Sanchez.
The Hall of Famer saw the new HBO documentary about his life for the first time at a screening in Manhattan on Wednesday night. Images of the glamorous QB leading the New York Jets to a Super Bowl title inevitably lead to questions about whether the current photogenic starter at that position can finally lead the franchise back to glory.
"He's going to learn from his mistakes," Namath said. "He needs the help around him. He presses at times. He wants to do things because he's expected to."
"They get the people around him," he added, "he's going to be fine."
Just look at the city's other quarterback, Eli Manning, Namath said. He's rooting for the Giants in the Super Bowl, by the way.
Namath has been vocal in his criticism of the Jets' leadership at times in recent years and makes clear that's where his concern lies — not with Sanchez.
"I feel awful about my relationship with the Jets right now," he said.
"I don't want them upset with Joe, but dammit I have to say what I see, what I think, what I feel. I think we can do some things better," Namath said, still referring to the Jets as "we."
He won't say Sanchez needs to be a better leader because he doesn't believe a quarterback can boss around those big linemen.
"I didn't push any kind of leadership," Namath said. "Lead by example as a football player, as the quarterback: to know the plan frontwards, backwards; be able to answer; know my guys; convince them I was ready and would give it my best. But no taking over a locker room. You have to have someone with the strength of the guy over in Baltimore — maybe Ray Lewis — you've got to be a beast to do that kind of thing, man."
Of course, Namath always did things the unconventional way. Teammates in the documentary tell of how he would show up with a hangover at games and still somehow play well.
Namath says he was sober for 13 years after the birth of his children, but his divorce sent him back to drinking. That was revealed very publicly during an on-air interview at a Jets game in 2003, when a visibly drunk Namath repeatedly told ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber he wanted to kiss her.
"I think the way I felt about it at the time was, he's a really good guy having a bad moment that happened to be captured on national television," she says in the film.
Namath didn't cooperate with an earlier biography about him, but he said he agreed to help with the documentary because he trusted HBO and its partner in the movie, NFL Films. "Namath" premieres Saturday.
As Namath spoke to reporters after the screening, a young woman brought over a coffee. He joked that he initially thought it was Johnnie Walker: "You see how things have changed."