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The Cardinals’ 55 Year QB Odyssey from Joe Namath to Kyler Murray

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

I woke up this morning feeling a little nostalgic about one of my favorite AFL turned NFL teams of the 1960s, the New York Jets. As I look back on it now, to have been a kid when Joe Namath was the QB of the Jets was pretty special.

In our backyard games of tackle football, all of my friends and I relished playing the QB position because it gave us a chance to emulate “Broadway Joe” and his brash, cocky, quick as a New York minute release. “Joe Willie” had a unique way of holding the ball at his waist with both hands and after spotting his open receiver, cocking the ball in an abrupt twitch and then bang, letting it rip in one powerful, forward thrust.

My pals and I were proud to don Namath’s patented white headbands and wristbands (everywhere we went)—-and some of us even convinced our parents to buy us white cleats and fur coats. Yup, we all had our chance to be Joe Willie.

Fast forwarding to today, I am struck by the history of the surprisingly few quarterbacks the Cardinals have selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft, going back to their selection of Alabama QB Joe Namath with the 12th pick of the 1965 Draft (which took place at the Summit Hotel in NYC on November 28, 1964). On that same day, with the 1st pick of the AFL Draft, the Jets also happened to select Joe Namath.

As legend has it, after being selected by the Cardinals, Namath, who was preparing to play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s day, told the Cardinals that he would sign with them only if they gave him a salary of $200,000 (which was a record salary back then) and a brand new Lincoln Continental.

At first, the Cardinals considered Namath’s request to be outrageous. However, upon further consideration, the Cardinals agreed to honor Namath’s requests, as long as he would sign with them immediately. However, by signing his pro contract immediately, Namath would be ineligible to play in the Orange Bowl.

Namath not only played in the 1965 Orange Bowl, he was the game’s MVP, despite his #1 ranked Alabama (10-0) losing to #5 ranked Texas (9-1), 21-17. Alabama’s legendary head coach Bear Bryant reiterated after the game that despite Namath’s nagging knee injury, “Joe Namath is the greatest athlete I have ever coached.”

On January 2, 1965, Joe Namath rocked the football world by signing a 3 year contract with the New York Jets for a reported $427,000 contract, which back then was the most lucrative contract in the history of pro football.

Alas, the Cardinals lost out on acquiring Joe Namath—-and perhaps in doing so, they lost out on winning a Super Bowl, as Namath did on January 9, 1969, with his heavy underdog Jets in their historic 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Interestingly, the Cardinals’ only Super Bowl berth came 40 years later in Super Bowl XLIII in a fierce QB shootout between Kurt Warner, arguably the most famous undrafted QB of the modern era, and Ben Roethlisberger, whom the Steelers selected with the #11 pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, the same draft where the Cardinals selected WR Larry Fitzgerald with the #3 pick.

In that 55 year interim since Joe Namath passed on signing with the Cardinals, the Cardinals, perhaps still feeling left at the proverbial altar by Joe Namath, only committed 1st round picks to these QBs:

1977—-Steve Pisarkiewicz (3 years—-4 starts)

1987—-Kelly Stouffer (held out for his entire rookie year and was traded to the Seahawks)

2006—-Matt Leinart (4 seasons—-17 starts)

2018—-Josh Rosen (1 season—-13 starts)

2019—-Kyler Murray (1 14 seasons—-20 starts)

If you would like to go back a do the research, there is a veritable Who’s Who of franchise-type, Pro Bowl QBs the Cardinals passed on in the NFL Drafts from 1966 to 2017.

Therefore, it is with profound excitement and a deep sigh of relief to know that 55 years after Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets, the Cardinals have their own legitimate 1st Round franchise QB in Kyler Murray.

While Kyler Murray is rather subdued in comparison to the old Broadway Joe in terms of personality and lifestyle—-in terms of passing the football, Kyler Murray is very Namath-esque in terms of his ball skills, his quick trigger and release.

Joe Namath was once such an outstanding athlete that back in high school, he could regularly dunk the ball in his high school games at Beaver Falls, PA. Back in those days, high school dunks were rare.

It’s a shame that Namath’s pro career was mired by chronic knee injuries, because before his injuries Namath was a gifted runner.

What Kyler and Joe Willie also have in common is they were outstanding baseball players. As we all know, while Namath had to choose between the NFL and AFL, Murray had to choose between MLB and the NFL, having been a Top 10 1st round pick in both leagues #9 to the Oakland A’s and #1 to the Arizona Cardinals).

Just as Namath elected to play in the Orange Bowl, Murray elected to stay at Oklahoma to play QB after he was drafted by the A’s.

Joe Namath received numerous offers coming out of high school to sign with the Indians, Reds, Phillies, Pirates and Yankees. In fact, Namath once admitted that had his mother not insisted that he go get a college degree, his ultimate dream was to sign with the Pirates so that he could be teammates with his childhood idol, Roberto Clemente.

As our nation continues to find itself in the throes of racial injustice, Joe Namath and Kyler Murray are ardent supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both men attended high schools that were/are predominantly black. Namath’s lifelong best friend, Linwood Alford, is black and when Namath enrolled at Alabama he was astonished to find that the University was segregated. Namath described his assimilation into the campus at Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1962 as a pure “culture shock.”

According to David Holahan in an May 8, 2019 article he wrote for USA Today:

“He (Namath) was in the crowd the following year as Gov. George Wallace stood in the doorway in a failed attempt to block the admission of two black students. Namath writes that he admired the courage of Vivian Malone, who endured Wallace’s tirade and would become the school’s first black graduate in 1965.”

It was not until six years after Namath left the University of Alabama that Bear Bryant offered football scholarships to black athletes. The year was 1971.

Back in early June, Kyler Murray, via a home video, offered his opinion of how people can educate one other about racism and racist attitudes. He said:

“If you have any racist friends, it’s on you to stop that immediately and let them know why that’s not right, or what’s wrong with the way they think or just opening their eyes and allowing them to understand what’s wrong with their thought process because, to be honest, I mean, we’re all human. And I feel like we should all be treated equally. I don’t get the debate on why everyone should be treated equally because of their skin color. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it is what it is right now. We’re trying to fix that.”

One of the most famous statements Joe Namath ever uttered was, “I like my women blonde, my Johnny Walker Red and I can’t wait until tomorrow because I get better looking every day.”

While you will never hear a flamboyant statement like that from Kyler Murray, when one takes a closer inspection of what Namath and Murray were/are like as teammates, there are uncanny similarities.

In the locker room and while eating with his teammates in the cafeteria, Joe Namath was very soft-spoken and personable. Namath’s All Pro left guard Randy Rasmussen said of him: “He was the most down-to-earth, regular superstar.”

During last year’s 50th Super Bowl Anniversary celebration for the Jets at Met Life Field, according to Off Broadway media which covered the October event:

The Jets wanted to move the Lombardi Trophy from the sideline to the middle of the field so that the 1968 team could recreate a team photo. They wondered how to transport the hardware that is typically handled by security men wearing white gloves.

Someone suggested that Namath carry the trophy onto the field.

When he was asked, Namath demurred.

“Have Gerry and Don do it,” he said of his old teammates Philbin and Maynard. “They’re the senior guys. Maybe one day I’ll be the senior guy.”

The twinkle returned a few minutes later, after each of the team members posed alone holding the trophy.

Namath was the last to go. He stood for a moment, then reared back, as if he was going to throw that silver football one more time. There was a gasp of surprise and then laughter. The sounds Namath has heard all these years.

In essence, Namath’s insistence that his teammates get the spotlight is in the same spirit as what Kyler Murray said after he was named NFC Offensive Play of the Week in Week 5 of last season—-Kyler demurred, saying that he is not all that much into personal awards, but the recognition was good in the sense that it shows how much he and his teammates have improved over the first five weeks.

Well, here we are on the cusp of Week 5 this year and the Cardinals, with their franchise 1st Round QB Kyler Murray, have a chance to bounce back from consecutive losses, following their auspicious 2-0 start.

Surely, Joe Namath will be watching very intensely from his home in Florida. It might be very interesting to hear what he has to say about the QB taken in the 1st round by two leagues—-the one—-unlike 55 years ago—-who chose the Cardinals.

In honor of the occasion, I will be donning my white headband and wristbands.