On July 18, 1969, Joe Namath announced he was coming out of retirement and would return as the quarterback for the New York Jets. Wait, Joe Namath retired in the middle of his career? That’s right.
Earlier in the year, Namath, along with 2 other men, opened a popular bar called Bachelors III on the Upper East Side of New York City. The success of the bar–which was frequented by many celebrities and athletes–gave Namath and his partners the idea to open similar establishments in Florida and Boston. However, with the bar’s success came conflict when Bachelor’s III became the hang out of choice for bookmakers. When NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle found out about the clientele, he gave Namath an ultimatum: Sell your shares of the bar or be suspended from the NFL. Namath responded by doing neither, but instead, on June 6th, calling a press conference at Bachelor’s III where he tearfully announced his retirement from the sport to over 200 media members. (Read the actual article from the Tri City Herald about Namath’s retirement)
After Namath’s press conference, the NFL offices went into a panic. The game’s most polarizing and popular player would no longer be occupying people’s television sets on Sunday. Rozelle arranged a meeting with Namath that eventually resulted in the quarterback selling his shares of the New York branch only, and 43 years ago today, Broadway Joe came back to pro football.
Here’s a look back at Namath’s return to the league as originally presented in 2005 on Pete Rozelle: Building America’s Game: