Today in Sports History: January 2nd

Joe Namath signs with the Jets. (Photo courtesy of AP)

1/02/1965 - Jets sign Joe Namath

Joe Namath, the Alabama quarterback who led the Crimson Tide to a championship in 1964, signs with Sonny Werblin's New York Jets of the American Football League. The Jets had selected Namath with the first pick of the AFL draft, while the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL had chosen him with the twelfth pick of their draft. (Both drafts were held on the same night.) A bidding war ensued, and it became apparent the Cardinals would be unable to match the unprecedented salary the Jets were willing to give him. They attempted to deal his draft rights to the New York Giants, "thinking perhaps the Giants, in need of quarterback help, might be willing to meet the competition," as the Associated Press reported.

But it was not to be. In forgoing the NFL, Namath received a contract from the Jets that payed him $427,000 a year, making him the highest-paid athlete in football. He insisted, however, that his decision was more than a monetary one, and that the Jets and Cardinals made "about the same" offers.

"I took both teams into consideration," Namath told the AP. "I wanted more than money. I was interested in the coach and the organization. ... New York City is a fine place. The sports fans are great and Weeb Ewbank is an outstanding coach."

"We feel that in getting Joe, we got the No. 1 college football player in America, and with him we will give New York fans the finest football team in America," Werblin pronounced the day they got him. "This is the start toward many championship years for the Jets."

Namath's signing was a godsend for the American Football League, which had been struggling since its inception to compete with the NFL. Now that the sport's biggest star was playing in the most populated city in the country, the AFL reached new levels of popularity. Namath, who was beset by knee injuries, did not have a very good rookie year, throwing for 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while appearing in only nine games. (New York went 3-5-1 in those nine.) Eventually he got healthy and in 1967 became the first professional quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a single year. The following year, Namath won the league's MVP award and led the team to an AFL championship and, a few weeks later, a Super Bowl win over the NFL's Baltimore Colts.

"The $427,000 contract he signed with the Jets in 1965 had shown the NFL that the AFL was a serious competitor, and, once other players began commanding similar contracts, forced the smug, conservative NFL to capitulate," Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post wrote in a review of Namath: A Biography. "The Super Bowl victory to which he led the Jets in 1969 -- followed by another AFL win, by the Kansas City Chiefs, the next year -- left no doubt that the upstarts could play ball with the old guard, and opened the way for the phenomenal success that the merged and further expanded NFL has enjoyed ever since."

1/02/1982 - Chargers battle Dolphins in Orange Bowl

In one of the greatest NFL games of all time, the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins play an overtime thriller in the Orange Bowl.

To read more about this story, click here for an in-depth Inhistoric article:

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