In between Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan there was Joe Namath, one of the few sports heroes to transcend the game he played. Novelist and former sports-columnist Mark Kriegel’s bestselling biography of the iconic quarterback details his journey from steel-town pool halls to the upper reaches of American celebrity—and beyond. The first of his kind, Namath enabled a nation to see sports as show biz. For an entire generation he became a spectacle of booze and broads, a guy who made bachelorhood seem an almost sacred calling, but it was his audacious “guarantee” of victory in Super Bowl III that ensured his legend. This unforgettable portrait brings readers from the gridiron to the go-go nightclubs as Kriegel uncovers the truth behind Broadway Joe and why his legend has meant so much to so many.
Avoiding the pitfalls of mythology while telling a larger-than-life story is never easy, but Kriegel does it grandly in this landmark portrait of the 1960s icon. From the segregated South to the era of showbiz sports, Namath has a Forrest Gump-like way of being there. All the important athletic moments are here, elegantly told: his hardscrabble western Pennsylvania upbringing; his unlikely pairing with Bear Bryant; his arrival in New York as a hard-partying, money-making star and, of course, the win in Super Bowl III. Namath comes off as both throwback (he played through unbearable pain) and hypermodern (40 years ago, he was already getting paid to wear certain brands of clothing). But to write of the first media-age sports star is to tell not just of an athlete but the changing nature of celebrity and society in the '60s-that is, the story of modern America-and the author manages the elusive trick of illuminating setting as much as subject. He documents how sports became both big business and pop culture through savvy TV deals and the merchandising of stars. If Namath feels like a distant figure, more statue around whom society scrambled to adjust itself than active change seeker, that's because Kriegel convinces us he was-a figure both epic and accidental in a world revolving too fast for one person to control. Kriegel has written a remarkable book: a feel-good sports story still abundant with insight and social commentary. Agent, David Vigliano. (Aug.) Forecast: Football books can be as vulnerable as a quarterback's extremities, but this will cross fluidly into pop culture-as has Namath himself. Expect adulation and sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.