Sporting new knees, Namath back in stride

July 31, 1992|By Paul Needell | Paul Needell,New York Daily News

*TC Joe Namath at 49 is tanned and fit, grinning and in great spirits, happy and handsome as ever. The signs of wear and tear don't become evident until he begins to walk, or has to climb a step. Then, the most famous player in New York Jets history looks like he is learning to walk all over again.

To a large extent, he is.

It has been just three months since Namath underwent replacement surgery on both knees, but already he can get around without the use of a cane. He is not at all self-conscious about the scars, arriving at Jets camp yesterday appropriately attired in polo shirt and shorts.

But when the Hall of Fame quarterback entered the press room at Hofstra to speak with a few reporters, he had to pause before lifting his legs up to the raised table where he would sit. As Namath bantered easily, he occasionally crossed and uncrossed his legs, periodically rubbing his hands over his knees.

"My legs are doing well, everything looks good at this point," said Namath, who will be doing the TV analysis on three of the Jets' five preseason games this summer. "Just another couple of months of rehab. ... The knees are much better than they were in the past, but still not where they're going to be in a couple of months."

Namath's primary concern before the surgery was that his left knee, which had become very unstable, might buckle and cause him to fall as he carried his 2-year-old daughter, Olivia. Now, he gleefully reports, "The stability is back," and he can lift up Olivia without hesitation. "Even my 6-year-old [Jessica], too."

Namath won't be completely satisfied until his golf game gets back in order. He gave it a shot at the pro-celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe, earlier this month, "but I haven't played since."

"It was a goal I set, to go out there if I was reasonably fit," he said. "I want to play again, but I want to be able to not think about the wheels when I'm playing. And at this point, I'm still thinking about the wheels."

Then, motioning from his chair toward the floor, Namath added: "I get up from here and I step down there, I'm thinking about the legs. When I'm walking out of here, I'm thinking about them, and I feel the right one."

The right knee required a bone graft as well as the joint replacement. It's still swollen and might remain so for six months, but the long-range prognosis is excellent.

"We're going to have to wait and see," he said.

* Al Davis and John Riggins, who will be inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame tomorrow in Canton, Ohio, are two men Namath knows well. Davis and Namath go back to the great AFL Raiders-Jets wars in the late '60s. Riggins was Namath's teammate from 1971-75, until he left the Jets to join the Redskins as a free agent.

Always a rebel in his own right, Namath thinks Davis is "wonderful ... sensational ... I love him." He fondly remembers how paranoid everyone in football always seemed to be of Davis, who has been accused of just about every trick in the book -- and some not in the book -- to gain an edge.

"Are you kidding me?" Namath said. "I heard his name before I ever met him. I didn't know what this was, Al Davis."

He learned about the Davis mystique quickly, during a Jets practice with coach Weeb Ewbank at Shea Stadium. "I mean, Weeb's looking up at the top of the stadium, and sees someone sitting up there, so he sends our equipment manager, Bill Hampton, up to see if it's Al Davis," Namath said, grinning. "A helicopter would fly by, and you'd hear a guy say, 'I bet you Al Davis is up there.' It's a fact."

Namath shook his head. "We were always cognizant of Al Davis being around -- or maybe being around," he said. "Al got blamed for more things than he probably ever even thought about."

Riggins was a character in his own right, a free spirit who showed up at training camp one summer with a huge Afro-styled haircut and another summer with a Mohawk. But he sure could carry the football.

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