Picks and Pans Review: Namath: a Biography

updated 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Mark Kriegel

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Before Brett Favre and other NFL pinups, there was Joe Namath—the New York Jets quarter-back who embodied the notion of living large. Beginning with Namath's tough childhood in a Pennsylvania mining town, Kriegel chronicles a life of all-American turns: college stardom in Alabama, partying, a 1969 Super Bowl win, womanizing, fat endorsement deals and, by the mid-'80s, an evolution from "Broadway Joe" into domesticated dad. Kriegel, a former sportswriter with a facile streak ("Athletes are artists whose skills perish with age"), has more in mind than just recounting events; he wants to parse Namath's celebrity. Meticulous and lively (if a bit distant, since Namath declined to cooperate), Kriegel's book explores the development of sound bites and celebrity endorsements, both Namath specialties, while offering an endearing view of the legend who claimed that bingeing helped his game. Biographers don't always tread the line between hagiography and idol-smashing, but Kriegel's a master: In the end, his subject emerges as being flawed and lovable, egocentric and unassuming, giddy and downright compelling.

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