Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Broadway Joe living with pain

May 12, 2002

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— Forget those notorious knees. Joe Namath wants to talk about his thighs.

He rises slowly from his chair and gestures toward the back of his left leg.

"It's a grapefruit!" he says.

Namath's hamstrings rolled up like window shades when he snapped them 30 years ago, and the repairs left a large knot in each leg.

He also has new knees, bum thumbs, a bad back and a foot that tingles at night. He has coped with arthritis since he was 23, and three years ago a divorce that separated the NFL Hall of Famer from his two daughters sent him into depression. There was more pain on Sept. 11, when he happened to be in Manhattan, a few miles from the World Trade Center as it collapsed.

New York City proved resilient, just like Broadway Joe.

"I plan on being around until I'm about 100," he says. "If that's the case, I'm just in the early third quarter."

The quarterback remembered for guaranteeing the New York Jets' Super Bowl victory turns 59 on May 31 and still embraces life with charismatic zeal.

His summer football camp will soon begin its 31st year, and he works for ESPN, CBS SportsLine, an investment group and a drug company. He speaks at arthritis seminars, recommending a good diet, attitude and exercise regimen to reduce the pain he knows so well.

He offers advice on other topics, too.

"If any of you ladies are unhappy with the pantyhose you wear, I'll let you know what kind I like," he tells an audience of several hundred in Coral Gables.

The mostly female crowd loves Namath and his big nose, stooped shoulders and Pennsylvania brogue.

Namath does not tell the audience that after 14 years of marriage, he divorced in 1999, and that caused his greatest pain.

He remained in Florida, where he has had a home since 1966, while his ex-wife and their daughters now 11 and 16 moved to California. He misses the kids terribly.

"At one point I had to take medication for depression," he says. "I started hurting and felt awful and had these chest pains. Depression can make your body do some strange things and feel some strange ways, man. You get up in middle of the night and you can't breathe. You're consumed."

The situation improved when Namath, who lives north of Palm Beach, bought a second home in Los Angeles. That allowed him to visit his daughters more often.

"There was a time, maybe a year and a half ago," he says, "when I was with my girls in California, and we were driving somewhere and they were laughing and seemed so happy. And that's what's important not necessarily how I feel or what we've been through, but that they're happy and healthy. It just dawned on me. So that was a help."

As for the other aches, knee replacement surgery 10 years ago allowed Namath to walk without hurting for the first time since 1965. Throbbing thumbs give him the most trouble now, but he says they're better since he started taking arthritis medication.

Not all of Namath's injuries resulted from football. He earned those knots behind his thighs water-skiing near Great Exuma Island, Bahamas, in 1972.

When a new rope snapped, so did Namath's hamstrings.

"No doctors were around, either," he says. "They helped me in the boat, and my body started vibrating because I went into shock."

Thirty years have transformed an awful injury into a funny story, and now he's shaking again, this time with laughter.

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