Joe Namath Talks Tights, Salt, and Who's Styling Now

Former Jets quarterback and Super Bowl III hero reflects on food memories and style
Namath on Alabama barbecue: "Going back into the '60s, we used to get some amazing barbecue in a little town in Northport, Ala. It didn’t even have a name. A man owned it and it was in the alleyway. He cooked in the alleyway."

For all their glory, even the four championships that the Giants have won over the past four decades and the personalities of the coaches and athletes who made them happen don’t quite come close to matching the style and cool of the New York quarterback who made and delivered on one of the most epic guarantees of all time.

For that Super Bowl III success over the Colts in 1969, Joe Namath will always be loved by Jets fans and New Yorkers. So it’s great fun for New Yorkers to catch up with him, which they did on Pier 92 at 52nd Street with Mario Batali during the 2013 New York City Wine & Food Festival Jets + Chefs: The Ultimate Tailgate event. "It’s all about cooking out," Namath explained. "Sharing food, and bonding through the process of putting together great cookout meals. Football is part of it and just having a good time, man."

It's a pretty good time just talking with this Super Bowl legend and a treat to interview him, which The Daily Meal did during the festival, touching on food-related topics ranging from the iconic food moments from his childhood and his time at the University of Alabama and after his Super Bowl success, to his thoughts on Coach Bear Bryant. While the 2013 Jets team is out of the playoffs, they'll still be hosting this year's MetLife Stadium-bound Super Bowl at the 50 Yard Lounge, a food- and drink-themed event space showcasing chefs and Jets players from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2.

So no better time to talk to Broadway Joe and find out who in the NFL today he thinks best carries on his great tradition for style and flair, and hey, if he ever still wears pantyhose.

Growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa., were there any famous restaurants or any particular restaurants, sandwich shops, or corner food shops of any kind that particularly stand out in your memory as the town's iconic spots, or just places you really loved growing up?
You know, what may have been iconic as a teenager, might not be as iconic to the folks back home now, and you have to remember, that basically back in those days, I ate at home. You had to spend money to eat out. And that wasn’t the normal routine. It was different when I grew older and I had some change. In the evenings, you know how you get those after-dinner snacks with the boys… all the hot sausage, pizza, and sandwiches, also there was a place that had some great hot dogs. Other than that man, I didn’t get to eat out that much.

But if you had to pin down the name of one place?
Oh boy, I’d be guessing one of the placed sounded like B&B pizza, but I wouldn’t stake my life on that. On anything actually.

Do you remember any standout food joints from your days at the University of Alabama? Are there any barbecue joints or other favorite spots that have a warm place in your heart that deserve a shout out whether they're closed or still open?
Yeah, the Full Moon BBQ is an outstanding spot for sure. It’s been around a number of years. Now going back into the '60s, we used to get some amazing barbecue in a little town in Northport, Ala. It didn’t even have a name. A man owned it and it was in the alleyway. He cooked in the alleyway. I don’t remember his name, unfortunately. But that was another case, similar to what I mentioned before because in college we didn’t get out. We didn’t have to pay for the training table food, you know what I mean? We were fed pretty well there. In the summer times I’d stay and work. And I’d hit that barbecue spot in Northport. But Arthur, we’re going back to the days where you’d get a $104 ticket for the week and that could take you through seven days of eating. And that was with eating at Morrison's café and I don’t know if they’re still there or not, but they were throughout the South. A dollar something and change and you’d get a whole meal."My television watching with my dad... we’d watch Death Valley Days, that old western, and when it went to a commercial, I’d get running to the kitchen for a glass of water and my snack, which was a half a head of lettuce that my mother would dress with white vinegar and salt."

For all the buzz around your amazing sense of style and flair, you were also known for being very serious about your craft and having a serious training regimen. How did food play into that regimen? Did you have a go-to eating and snacking regime while you were training?
I thought I did. I tell you, Arthur, we’re much farther ahead in the game in terms of taking care of ourselves now. Back when I was playing ball, it wasn’t what you ate, it was worrying about how much you ate. The guys my size just took care of being able to endure. You had to be able to have the stamina to get through a game. And I would always train. But at the University of Alabama, we would take a half a year off. There was no such thing as having a training room in team headquarters. I had teammates during the season that had second jobs — they were going to work and going to practice.

Was it any different for you?
I was lucky being a bonus baby, so to speak, so where my focus was on the football, but heck, we didn’t know from nutrition and proper diet. I have often wondered what would have been if I’d known then what I know now. Heck, Sunday before the game for a 1 p.m. kickoff I would have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast maybe with a little honey. Guess what, when I started taking care of my own physiology, I started to understand… I mean, what in the heck kind of fuel did I have powering my body between three and four o’clock, when I hadn’t had one bite of food all day, and the most I’d had to eat was a piece of toast? We just didn’t know, Arthur.

And this was just the way things were for everyone?
I didn’t get a drink of water on the football field until my senior year in college. The trainers didn’t know anything back then in terms of replenishing the liquids we would lose. This goes back to high school when there wasn’t any water out there. There was a bucket of water during the actual game, but never during practice. We were just learning back then. Science was catching up as we went along. Thank goodness we’re learning how to take care of things better now.

Is there anyone playing in the NFL who you think best carries on your great tradition for style and flair today?
Arthur, style in the NFL has grown tremendously. That’s one of the things about today as opposed to yesteryear… I’d like to think a lot of this follows suit. What I mean is that the same way that when it comes to coaches coaching, they don’t invent new plays — they use what’s working, and then they tweak that to create other plays. It’s kind of the same thing when it comes to players styling. Fashion is a larger part, a bigger part than it’s ever been when it comes to how it factors into athletes’ society... I wrote a book with Bob Oates Jr. that I titled A Matter of Style. Well, life and the way you move along is a way of personal style as well. I used to like to do some things with an attitude and some things with my behavior that I felt like doing, that I had an eye for. It wasn’t always the norm you might say. You would say it was different. And over the years that grew!

And today?
Players, when it came to style and fashion, they took an interest in how they were presenting themselves and how they felt about it — what their style is — and made it special. Today you just watch athletes on every level, and certainly in the professional world, you seen them taking pride in their sense of fashion and enjoying what they’re wearing more so than ever. They have the wherewithal and they have the liberty now. There was a time when as a player, you were more regimented — more routine-oriented, limited. It was just understood: you dressed very similarly. And your hairstyle was very similar, and if it was different, you were an oddball. So yeah, we changed. And I started to have that freedom because of my confidence. And I have run into athletes who are part of the fashion world like Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk, who have been great players and put on great threads man, and they’ve given me a bit of thanks and that pat on the back about the way I started things. And I appreciate that. But it was the individual having confidence and wanting to enjoy what was right. That was the way I wanted to represent myself.

So as everyone knows, you played in college with Coach Bear Bryant…
If you don’t mind, I’d just like to say a few more words to answer that last question. I don’t mean to go on, but you know, we’ve seen so many athletes on TV, and the fashion thread has been passed down through so many. And I can see that with how Terry Bradshaw dresses, and how Dan Marino dresses, and the unique style of Steve Young. They all have their different and distinct styles and they take a personal pride in how they present themselves and they enjoy it! Just like Tedy Bruschi, the former lineman for the Patriots. And I notice these things. They’re very proud of the way they present themselves and they’re up with what’s happening today. Whereas in yesteryear, it was different. The game was different. We were more focused on the life we were living and how we were living it. Life changed. And I’m happy we’ve seen that change.

I worked at a newspaper where the most senior editor used to quote Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant all the time. Everyone knows you played for the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant — there seems to be something about the man, his beliefs, his philosophy, his sayings, that apply whether they're being applied to football, journalism, food, anything. What's the one thing Coach Bryant taught you that you learned the most from, that you think applies to any governing principle in life, or that even now is a guiding lesson?
Well a few things, a couple of simple phrases that I use today and have utilized in teaching youngsters — my own included — through the years. In Coach Bryant’s words, when you’re simply thinking about doing something or achieving it, if you think you can’t, you won’t. Well that is important for a lot of people in a lot of walks of life, and Arthur, to paraphrase Richard Bach who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, if you argue for your limitations, they’re yours. I’ve tried to teach that again to others important to me, and to try to utilize that myself.

And that’s what Coach Bryant was all about. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Don’t do something half-assed. I mean, if you’re screwing a cap on a bottle, make sure you screw it on the properly! If you’re picking something up, pick it all up. If you’re preparing for football game, a job, or school work convince yourself that you know what you’re doing, and you’ll execute what you need to do. Coach Bryant was basic guy when it came to making sure he believed he was ready, or when a player was ready.

I’ll tell you a funny story. It was sophomore year and I was playing Georgia, and Coach Bryant use to take players for a walk and talk with them, and he took me for a walk and asked me, "You got the plays down?" And I said, "Yes, sir. I think I do." And he said, "Hell, son, it’s time to know! The hay is in the barn! The cows are ready to eat. We gotta put up. We gotta go execute." He had a unique way of influencing students to be ready. And when it comes to football, Christ every game day you watch them, Arthur — teams that beat themselves have a better chance of losing, of dropping the ball, of throwing it away… the losers usually beat themselves. Or at least help the other side to beat them.

Do you have any beloved tailgating recipes you can share?
Tell you what, I do most of my own cooking. I rarely eat out unless I’m on the road. I’m a pretty simple eater. I don’t have any special recipes. Folks would laugh at me and say, "Come on! You don’t have a tailgating recipe and you don’t use salt?" I don’t even use the salt shaker. I stopped using salt in 1977. I went and had lunch with Carroll Rosenbloom who owned the Rams, and he and I were sitting at his house and I reached for the salt shaker. And he said, "Joseph, you put that down." And I said, "Sir?" And he said he was just released from the hospital, that he had high blood pressure, that he had cardiovascular issues, and he told me that salt was one of the worst things for you. And I used to carry a salt shaker around with me in my back pocket. I tell you, I would put salt on anything as a kid: watermelons, peaches, pears — you name it. My television watching with my dad... we’d watch Death Valley Days, that old western, and when it went to a commercial, I’d get running to the kitchen for a glass of water and my snack, which was a half a head of lettuce that my mother would dress with white vinegar and salt. I used salt on everything. And I have not used a salt shaker since 1977 on my food. And what I learned is that the taste buds adjust!

But you still eat salt when it’s in dishes prepared for you, right?
Now, when there’s a special occasion, or when someone else is cooking for me, that’s another story. When I’m going to be eating Mario Batali’s cooking and the food made by other chefs, as at an event like Jets + Chefs at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, well, I’m not going to not eat it the food. I’m going to love it. And they’re going to use salt when preparing their food. It’s just important to remember that as the creatures of habit that we are, that salt is the first thing that we’re naturally inclined to reach for. And our buddies who don’t avoid salt, it’s the first thing they pick up. Where it’s like, "Hey, you know, before you reach for the salt, remember that the chef really prepares the food to taste. Taste it before you salt it!"

And tailgating?
So when it comes to seasoning, well, I know that our taste buds do adjust if you give them a chance, and there are some seasonings that I like that can help replace the use of salt. I like cinnamon, mint, turmeric, thyme, and just a whole bunch of other different herbs. But beyond tailgating, usually, to season, I use a little bit of vinegar. I don’t like too much vinegar, but I occasionally use a little to stay away from adding salt.

One of the things that’s very important to you these days is the Joe Namath Rapid Cooker. What’s so important to you about this product?
This goes a few years back. I have a cousin who is a chef and we were talking about how to cook and what lies behind much of the difference in the taste of different foods when they’re prepared professionally, but basically and done at home, and one of the things that we did figure out was that there is a huge temperature difference in how things are made in restaurants. He’d worked at top-notch restaurants and knew how they cook, and what we did was put together something where the heat source is on the top and the heat comes through a ceramic brick and we can get the temperature up to sear the meat so the juices stay inside for the most part.

Now, you mentioned tailgating, well, the Joe Namath Rapid Cooker is stainless steel, and it’s a unit that only weighs 39 pounds in total. Even the lady of the house could put it in the car if you were going out fishing or going out to tailgate. I’m very proud to say that it’s USA-made — it’s made in Ohio. We have three levels for cooking the food inside the cooker. You can put your meat closer to the heat source, and farther away. There are three levels for cooking with the heat source, and you never have any fire or flame-ups. Arthur, you know how you see those flames jumping up on the grease usually? Well, we have a drawer that collects the grease that will start fires, and the juices are seared inside. There are no flare-ups or smoking, and it’s the easiest thing to clean — it’s stainless steel — you just clean out that little drawer.

What's the best food moment you can recall associated with your Super Bowl success?
The meal after we won the championship, the Super Bowl — sitting with friends, with the New York Jets, and the owners. We were at a place on the 79th Street Causeway called the Bonfire. I enjoyed that meal as much as any meal as I’ve ever enjoyed. Of course, the outcome of that Super Bowl had a heck of a lot to deal with it! I‘ve had the luck to experience the amazing variety of restaurants in New York City, and the opportunity to sample the different ethnic foods that you can find there. Whether it’s Asian, Italian, Hungarian, or whatever you can imagine, it’s there! It’s there and it’s good. So New York City is still my favorite place for food, and I have been all around the country and a few cities around the world, and the feelings of home has something to do with it, I know, but and New York City is where it’s at.

I have to ask, Joe… do you still wear pantyhose?
[Laughs] You know what, I don’t shave my legs anymore. When you play football, well, some people find it beneficial to shave their legs. And I did shave my legs and wear those pantyhose in the commercial because it was a brilliant idea by the ad agency. I also wore pantyhose and fishnets a couple of other times, most notably in the theater production of Sugar. You know, I played the Tony Curtis part in the musical play based on the screenplay of the film Some Like It Hot, you know with Marilyn Monroe. Well, the theatrical version was called Sugar. Having performed in it coast to coast, for different companies, we had to wear ladies’ clothes and high heels, and regular stockings — you know, the storyline we have to perform in a band to escape from the mob. Anyway, that’s the last time that I had nylon stockings and wore heels.

Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Read more articles by Arthur, reach him by email, or click here to follow Arthur on Twitter.

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