Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Namath Has Lions To Blame (Partially) For His Injury-Ravaged Career

Joe Namath said he only knew how to play football one way: full throttle.

It was that kind of desire and approach that contributed to the end of his career---and the Lions played a big part in that.

Time to turn on the wayback machine and take you to Tampa, FL for an exhibition game between the Lions and the New York Jets. It happened this week, back in 1971.

It was the exhibition opener, and Namath was coming off a season in which he missed several games due to a wrist injury. At age 28, he was still in his prime.

Sometime in the first half, Namath faded back and delivered a pass. It was intercepted by Lions MLB Mike Lucci.

On the return, Namath, instead of staying the hell out of the way---being the franchise player and all---went for the tackle.

Bad idea.

Joe Willie tore up his knee trying to tackle Lucci, and was declared out for the season.

After the game, Namath defended his decision to try to tackle Lucci by declaring that "I only know how to play football one way."

Namath would end up watching too many Jets games in fur coats and other street clothes following his injury against the Lions in August '71

The Jets struggled through the season, sans their prize quarterback. Namath did return ahead of schedule, but only a handful of games remained and the Jets were out of contention.

Namath didn't miss a game during his first five years in pro football, but then missed 30 of the next 58 due to an assortment of injuries---including those to his knees, which would eventually be ravaged.

The knee injury Namath suffered against the Lions in Tampa in August 1971 was one of the most severe he would encounter, and his eventual limited mobility due to that incident would contribute to more hits to his knees---which clearly shortened his career.

One of the most enduring moving images I can recall seeing on NFL Films is the clip of Namath, in overtime in a game against the Giants in 1974.

The Jets were within the 10-yard line and Namath went back to pass. His receivers covered, Namath made a run for the end zone. Actually, he made a gimpy, excruciating ramble.

Somehow, Namath had enough to score the game-winning touchdown, on two legs that were about as healthy as Lindsay Lohan's movie career.

It's impossible to declare with any degree of assurance that had Namath stayed out of Mike Lucci's way in 1971, that he wouldn't have suffered any subsequent injuries. But he did, and it's also impossible to not factor in the Lucci incident as a contributing factor to those injuries.

See? The Lions sometime even ruin the other teams' quarterbacks.

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