DON’T BUST JOE WILLIE!!
The Jet’s quarterback was Joe Namath, nicknamed Joe Willie or Broadway Joe. Namath was brash and anti-establishment in an age when the term anti-establishment was invented. Joe was a great athlete and a very good quarterback, even though he played most of his career with knees so bad that most people would not even consider taking the field.
Before the big game, brash Joe predicted, actually guaranteed, the Jets would beat the great Baltimore Colts. He was footballs answer to Mohammed Ali.
The Jets won the game. Namath was named the most valuable player, and he was a hero to much of the New York tri-state area.
In June of that same year, Namath was told by the Football Commissioner Pete Roselle that he had to divest himself of a New York City bar he was partners in, Bachelor III, because of it being a reputed hangout of gamblers and mobsters. Namath didn’t like the commissioner giving him orders on his personal life and elected to retire from football rather than do as he was instructed.
On June 6, 1969, Joe Namath announced his retirement.
1969 was a year of protests. The Viet Nam war was dividing the country. People of color were demanding equal rights, and women were burning their bras symbolically declaring their liberation from the dominating male establishment.
The young Cranky Old Man avoided protests against the war, for civil rights, or for woman’s liberation. The young Cranky was not political, but the young Cranky was outraged that the Commissioner of Football was forcing Joe Namath to retire.
My first and only public protest against anything was a protest against the treatment of Joe Namath. My best friend, Charley Widmer, was equally incensed. On June 7, 1969, we constructed a banner that we hung on the rear bumper of my VW Bug:
DON’T BUST JOE WILLIE
We drove that day to play golf, an hour’s drive from home. We expected support for our cause. We expected other cars to honk and give us the thumbs up. We would stir emotions and start a drive to force the commissioner to back down. Our banner would be the beginning of a tidal wave of support to get Joe Willie back on the field.
No one honked. There were no thumbs up. No one even pointed or gave us the finger. We were completely ignored. After a round of golf we returned to the car with the banner, and not one person made mention of our support for the great Joe Namath.
Instead of feeling like trend setters to stir emotions and start a movement to bring back Joe Namath, we quite frankly felt really stupid. Without even discussing it we pulled the banner off, rolled it up and tossed it in the trash. We drove home, stopped at our favorite watering hole and never mentioned it again.
Several weeks later, Joe Namath realized he was broke without playing football. He sold his interest in Bachelor III and he came out of retirement.
I never joined or started another protest or made another banner. I doubt if Charley ever did either.