Fall in New York is my favorite time of the year.
As a kid, I hated when summer vacation ended and school started.
But fall meant the World Series and in October, as the days grew shorter and the light dimmed and football collided on the gridirons and we got a day off for Columbus Day and the first banshee wails of Halloween echoed across New York, I always got into the spirit of the season of the witch.
Fall became a time when our baseball bats and mitts were stored in the back of the hall closet and we pulled out our football jerseys and Wilson pigskins and played touch-and-rush and tackle football. We cheered ourselves hoarse rooting for Tom Seaver’s Mets and the New York Giants and then for a totally cool character named “Broadway Joe” Namath of the New York Jets, who swaggered into town like a howling wind that made beautiful women turn their heads.
Growing up, we rooted for Namath because he grew his hair long, sported a cool Fu Manchu ‘stache, and posed for ads with sexy models, with ad copy: “I like my women blonde and my Johnny Walker Black.”
#MeToo was then a term used by crooked politicians.
Namath got paid an astounding $10,000 to shave his moustache on a TV ad for a razor company. Faberge signed him to a $5 million endorsement contract. He wore audacious white cleats on the muddy gridiron and guaranteed New York Jets fans of Super Bowl III victory 50 years ago this year, the same year that Seaver hurled the Mets to a World Series and the Knicks won the NBA championship and Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind on the surface of the moon.
Sadly, Seaver, another true legend of the New York fall, is in the autumn of his life, suffering from Alzheimer’s, cruelly cheated even of the memories of the great Mets parade down Broadway.
Almost as sad is that Namath also has no memory of his great parade down Broadway for leading the Jets to Super Bowl III glory in a 17-6 victory over the Baltimore Colts. Namath is held together with pins and bolts and lives with physical pain that probably led him to over self-medicate with Johnny Walker Black and painkillers across the decades of retirement. But Namath has no memory loss. He doesn’t suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the brain injury that afflicts so many college football and NFL players.
Broadway Joe might have taken a few too many sacks and head bangs in his career. But it isn’t CTE or dementia that prevents Broadway Joe from remembering his great Super Bowl Parade down Broadway.
Namath doesn’t remember the parade because no one remembers it. Because there wasn’t one.
To the lasting shame of New York and the Jets organization and the NFL, the only victory parade for Namath after dancing his white cleats into Super Bowl history books was in his hometown of Beaver Falls, PA — population; 8600.
The prevailing theory on why Namath and the 1969 Jets didn’t have a ticker tape parade down Broadway was because New York Giants owner Wellington Mara threatened then-Mayor John Lindsay that if the city threw a parade for the Namath and the Jets, he would move the Giants, who played at Yankee Stadium, to New Jersey.
Lindsay caved. Instead of giving the Jets a parade, Lindsay held a photo-op Jets/Namath ceremony at City Hall.
Then both the Giants and the Jets lammed to Jersey anyway.
Fans still like to call both teams who play in another state a New York team. Well, if City Hall and Governor Cuomo, of Queens, still consider the Jets a “New York” team, then give the great quarterback his damned parade 50 years later while Broadway Joe is still alive.
Listen, in 2010, when “New York” was chosen as the site of the Super Bowl in the Meadowlands in Rutherford, NJ, then Governor Chris “Bridgegate” Christie made a point of snubbing New York, saying: “I look to where that stadium is, and that’s New Jersey. When everyone gets on the train or in their car or on the buses, they’re going to be coming to that game in New Jersey.”
He was right on that one.
And yet then New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg closed 13 blocks of Broadway, renamed it Super Bowl Boulevard, for a Super Bowl parade for teams from Seattle and Denver. But no parade down Broadway for Broadway Joe Namath, the man who most epitomized New York night life as a swinging bachelor of the hottest night spots in town.
In 2001, I interviewed Nick Mellas, who was celebrating his 50th anniversary of bartending at Gallagher’s Steak House in Manhattan. He’d served all the sports greats, including Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Joe Louis, Tom Seaver, Joe Frazier, and Walt Frazier. He even served the astronauts who walked on the moon in 1969 when they had their parade down Broadway.
When I asked Mellas his favorite celeb he ever served in Gallagher’s, he didn’t blink before saying, “Broadway Joe Namath. One day, a bunch of kids spotted Namath eating lunch. And we used to have these little dinner rolls shaped like footballs, and Namath started signing them and passing them across the restaurant to the kids. It was a great little scene. If I never forgot it, you know those kids never did.”
That guy with the 10,000-watt smile, that legend of the New York fall, he never got his damned Super Bowl parade down Broadway. For shame.
A half-century after leading the Jets to an upset over the Colts, Broadway Joe Namath — who holds his annual golf outing on Long Island, raising over $100 million for children’s causes and research into neurological brain injury like CTE — has received only a bupkis medal from Mayor Lindsay and a one-horse parade through Beaver Falls.
The Jets are having the kind of season that doesn’t warrant a parade to anywhere but the unemployment office. But if we can have parades for so-called New York teams that play in Jersey, and teams from Washington and Colorado, can’t we throw 50th Anniversary Parade for Broadway Joe and the 1969 Jets down Broadway?
That would be the way to treat a living legend of the New York fall.