Joe Namath is like a lot of football fans across the country in that he's curious to see how the Tom Brady drama plays out with the New England Patriots. The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback doesn't feel it's his place to offer "stay" or "go" advice, although he certainly can speak from experience.
In 1977, Namath opted for the "go" route, and the result was a career-ending season with the Los Angeles Rams, a decision he now regrets. At the time, he was the most iconic player in New York Jets history -- still is -- but he felt it was time to head west. The old video clips of him in a Rams uniform ... well, they're hard to stomach for Jets fans and football purists.
"I wish I knew what I learned in making that transition before making it, meaning it turned out to be a very difficult transition," Namath said in an interview with ESPN.
Namath doesn't believe it will get to that point for Brady, 42, who is poised to become a free agent for the first time. It's not that Namath has inside information on the NFL's juiciest offseason story; it's just that he can't wrap his brain around the idea of Brady leaving the Patriots after 20 years.
"It's almost beyond my belief that he would go to another team under any circumstances," said Namath, who considers Brady the greatest quarterback in NFL history. "I can't imagine that separation. Moving out of the New England area that he's been so accustomed to, and his family, that's a hard thing, too. I don't think he'll ever leave that totally behind, I really don't.
"I want to see him play as long as he physically and mentally wants to, man, because we've all seen over the years the execution that has been superb more times than not. We don't get to see that kind of player, that kind of character, very often. It's very rare."
Back in the day, Namath was unique in that he was one of the most famous athletes in the country. He delivered an improbable Super Bowl championship in 1969 and became synonymous with the Jets' brand. A lot of people wanted him to retire with the Jets, but he didn't get a happily ever after.
His body, ravaged by injuries, was breaking down. In 1976, the Jets drafted a quarterback in the first round, Richard Todd. There was a new coach coming in, Walt Michaels, and the franchise was in the midst of major rebuilding.
Namath recalled a meeting with Jets owner Leon Hess.
"We had dinner, and he asked me to stay," he said. "I regret to some extent not being positive and saying, 'Yes, sir.' He really asked me to stay, and I had to explain to Mr. and Mrs. Hess that night it was time for a change.
"I didn't recognize being the focal point of the team. It sounds silly. You hear, 'Oh, you're the face of the franchise.' That was not my way of thinking. I wanted to play, and [Rams coach] Chuck Knox offered the opportunity to be part of a team that was really competitive."
Broadway Joe was off to Hollywood.
"I really felt like I could still play even though I lost a lot of the physical skill that I was able to play with earlier," Namath said.
At 34, he started four games for the Rams. He went 2-2, with three touchdown passes and five interceptions. The old magic was gone. Asked to describe his emotions when he sees video of himself in a Rams uniform, Namath paused a moment. Finally, he said:
"I didn't play well enough to win. I'm disappointed. When I see myself in that uniform, I remember Chuck Knox. I remember Freddie Dryer. I remember Lawrence McCutcheon. I remember Jackie Slater -- guys I played ball with. I remember the guys, the people. I'm just disappointed with the way the season ended."
In his recent autobiography, "All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters," Namath describes a poignant scene on the sideline during the Rams' playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Knox made eye contact with Namath, who didn't start the game. Knox's eyes pleaded, "Can you save us, Joe?" Namath didn't budge.
"We looked at each other's eyes," Namath recalled. "I don’t know who looked away first. It was probably me, because I just sensed I should have ...
"It's the old shoulda, woulda, coulda you try to eliminate in your life. I should've been like, 'Put me in coach, let me give it a shot.' I didn't do that. I regret that to this day."