Namath Reflects in All The Way

Who’d have thought the guy considered the icon of the “Me First” decades of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s is actually most interested in helping others.

“We have to learn from each other’s shortcomings and triumphs,” Joe Namath told me this week from his home in Jupiter.

It’s a line also included in the forward of his latest book, “All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters.” Calling Joe a “reluctant author” the book chronicles the highest highs and the lowest lows of Namath’s very public life. At 76 years old, Namath said he wanted to share some of his life’s experiences.

“Sports taught me a lot of things,” he said when I asked why he decided to write another book, his fourth, in his seventh decade. “It taught me how to deal with life, with people. It taught me humility; we don’t accomplish much on our own, that was one of the major reasons.”

It was one of the few parts of the conversation that focused on sports. Namath was one of the most famous athletes on the planet when he helped engineer the New York Jets to the 1969 World Championship in Super Bowl III. He was a cultural icon. Recently he was voted the most interesting character in the NFL’s first 100 years.

His first book, “I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow . . .“Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day,” was about football and fun. He says that was easy because his co-writer Dick Schaap made it that way. “It was a first time experience. He didn’t allow it to be tedious. It made sense.”

But writing this book was more about giving people hope than about any on or off the field exploits.

Namath was approached about writing a book on the 50th anniversary of the Jets victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts that also corresponded with the centennial year of the league.

“The publisher contacted me and I figured they knew a lot more than me. I wasn’t thinking about it,” he said of the genesis for his latest narrative.

But it didn’t start out well.

“We were stumbling around and the process wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy with what we had done. We changed some things, co-writers. But my daughter Jessica, and my best friend Jimmy Walsh gave me a lot of encouragement. It was tough.”

The result is a unique collection of stories, told by Namath against the backdrop of him watching Super Bowl III on his iPad at home. It’s the first time he’d ever watched the whole game and his memories lead from one story to another. He chronicles the game and certain plays, feeling the same emotions he felt in the Orange Bowl that historic January afternoon. Although it’s separated into four quarters, the book doesn’t feel chronological and it follows no timeline. It’s as if you’re sitting at Joe’s kitchen table and he’s just talking about his rich and full life.

As you read along, you hear the stories in Namath’s distinctive Western Pennsylvania/Alabama voice. And because of that uniqueness, the audio book of “All the Way,” narrated by Joe, has been nominated for a Grammy in the spoken word category. It’s possible Joe will add a Grammy to all of his World Championship, National Championship, MVP and All-Star awards.

“When they asked to record the audio book I told them I’d do it on one condition: That I do it!” he said with a laugh. “I know about the relationships, my brothers, Coach Bryant. It only took a few days actually after we had finished the writing.”

And Namath had an inspiration while recording the audio book of “All the Way.”

“Yogi Berra came to mind,” he explained. “I can see Yogi in Shea Stadium when he was managing there. I was standing on the field with him talking about not to many fans coming to the game. He said, in the way only he could say it, ‘Joe, if they don’t want to come out to the ballpark there’s no way you can stop ‘em.’ That’s how I want to hear it! I want to hear Yogi talk about it! I thought I could do it better than anybody else”.

With his celebrity status and his penchant for helping out, Namath started his outreach with a football camp for kids.

“My teammate, John Dockery came to me with an idea to use the sport of football to teach kids about life. Winston Hill, John and I did a football camp but mainly for kids to learn about life. If it wasn’t for my coaches and mentors in sports, I’d have been in the Air Force. If I couldn’t play sports, that was my plan”

Through four locations and 46-years in New England, the camp was a summer home for thousands of kids 8-18 years old. Boys and girls.

“It started at a ski lodge in Vermont. We didn’t even have a real field! We had such a demand we went co-ed,” Joe mused. “We didn’t know anything about teaching football to girls. But we had some good girl players come through there.”

Throughout the book Namath talks about how alcohol, specifically Scotch, fit into his life. And how he lost control of it. He quit drinking once at the behest of his then-wife, but says their divorce gave him an excuse to start drinking again. He details his nationally televised,” I want to kiss you” debacle on Monday Night Football, his embarrassment and decision to get some help. He’s been sober since 2003. So its no surprise Namath has become an advocate for those who battle addiction.

“I’ve experienced things in the last twenty years, people coming up to me on the street or in airports to say hi and shake hands,” he explained. “And at the end of the conversation they’ll lean in and whisper, ‘I’m a friend of Bill’s’ (identifying themselves as recovering alcoholics). “I always say ‘Speak up! Don’t be ashamed of that!’ We’re creatures of habit. We get addicted to things. We can do something about it. My dad was a cigar and a cigarette smoker most of his life. I saw him quit, cold, one day after he got emphysema. I knew if he could do that, I could do it. Without knowing about substance abuse we can get caught up in it. I wanted to emphasize that in the book, don’t be afraid to reach out and get some help.”

“I enjoy reminiscing but I also enjoy helping,” he continued. “Any of us can reflect on our past, we’re darn lucky to not to have made a bad mistake. I was under the influence of alcohol plenty of times driving and lucky and I didn’t hurt anybody. I believe I had two guardian angels. There wasn’t any skill to that. That was pure luck.”

Recently Namath has lent his name to the Neurological Research Center at Jupiter Medical Center. They’re studying how to treat traumatic brain injuries, specifically though hyperbaric chamber oxygen treatments. Again, Joe wanted to help out after hearing a teammate’s story.

“I was lucky. Our offensive guard, Dave Herman shared the problems he was having at our camp. I saw him deteriorate over four years. He was a guy who was afraid of nothing but he was terrified by what was going on.”

“I know I had some concussions, we didn’t know what that was at the time,” he explained. “You know, get your bell rung, come to the sidelines, go back in the game. I figured I owe it to myself and I owe it to my children to find out about my situation.”

Namath had brain scans done beginning in 2012 when he says the left-rear portion of his brain was just dark on the scan with no blood flow. After over a hundred hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments, he says current scans show things have changed. “I’ve seen my brain before and after. What we saw initially is not there. The cells are getting blood. It works.”

Namath has pledged to help raise $10 million for neurological research through the Joe Namath Foundation. His foundation also supports children’s charities. He’s helped raise over $33 million for the March of Dimes over the last thirty years.

Two times in the book Namath recounts being alone working on big decisions that changed his life. Once in Central Park following a dispute with the league over his “Bachelor’s III” nightclub ownership and once on the beach in California while playing in Los Angeles for the Rams pondering his football future. While not talking about religion specifically, Joe refers to his spirituality and some clarity he gained in those situations. He told me that hasn’t been uncommon in his life.

“The first time was after my senior season in January of ’65,” he said. “I was driving out of Tuscaloosa, headed to New York. I had that kind of experience. Spirituality, call it what you want but I had that voice in my mind. I was thinking ‘Joe if you ever do anything in your life where you have to look over your shoulder again you’re a damn fool.’ Whether it was taking pop bottles off somebody’s porch as a kid for two cents or something else, I hated that feeling, looking over my shoulder.”

“That time on the beach in California I felt smaller than a grain of sand. It was energy, spirituality. The first time I came off morphine after my knee operations, I was so uncomfortable, I wanted to get out of my own skin. I was going crazy. I was reaching for that button and I heard that voice that said, ‘Joe, calm down, you’re with doctors and nurses in a hospital.’ Reach out for help, don’t be embarrassed.”

Still watching football and cheering for the Jets, Namath says how the game has evolved is “wonderful.”

“It’s so much more efficient,” he said of today’s NFL. “There was a time where we didn’t work as efficiently. Guys used to sell insurance in the morning and then come to practice. The way it’s operated on the field is so much more efficient. They get a chance to work together so much. I watch these guys now and how they use every second.”

And then Joe left me with this:

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said “But I’ve had chances. You have a chance to make it right. Don’t get down on yourself.”

Jaguars At A Crossroads, Again

It’s a crossroads for the Jaguars franchise, again, against Tennessee in Nashville this week.

There are a lot of factors that go into the cauldron of who the Jaguars are now and who they’ll be in the future but they’re all lined up for the game against the Titans. How they perform could set the course for the foreseeable future. A win and there’s hope. A loss and they’re looking again to the future.

In back-to-back games, sandwiched around the bye, the Jaguars have been outperformed, outpaced and outclassed by division opponents. It’s not a good look for a team that’s been specifically built to compete in the AFC South. The Texans looked more talented, faster and smarter while dismantling the Jaguars in London. Last week, the Colts flat-out manhandled the Jaguars defense, pushing them around at will.

The team is healthy, outside of the tight end position. They’ve gone “back to the fundamentals” according the Head Coach Doug Marrone. The attitude is good in the locker room and they have six games left to right the ship on the 2019 season. Jaguars’ radio color analyst Tony Boselli predicted the team would go on a 7-0 run after the bye. Right now, going 4-2 to finish the season would look like a massive victory.

There’s a lot of finger pointing outside the stadium, a lot of it directed at Marrone and his coordinators, Todd Wash on defense and offensive coordinator John DiFillipo. Wash says, “We have to get off our blocks,” DiFillipo says, “We have to be better on third down.”

“It’s scheme, it’s motivation, it’s culture,” is the cry from interested, ticket-buying parties.

And while those things might be a factor the answer is actually simpler than that:

Play better.

Looking around the Jaguars roster, they’re pretty talented. But they’re not playing to what the roster looks like on paper.

The offensive line hasn’t developed the way it should with a combination of high draft picks and free agents involved. D.J. Chark is having a breakout year at wide receiver but the rest of that position looks pretty ordinary. On defense better play at linebacker would change their run stopping ability as well as help with pass rush up front and pass coverage behind.

Going to Nashville isn’t the exact recipe for the Jaguars to get well. They’ve lost five straight there, including last year’s embarrassing, Thursday night, nationally televised 30-9 loss that included a record tying 99-yard touchdown run by Yulee’s Derrick Henry.

In another Thursday night contest earlier this year the Jaguars beat the Titans here behind two TD passes from Gardner Minshew and a stout performance on defense.

Oh, how things have changed since then.

Switching quarterbacks and getting healthy seems to have invigorated Tennessee. Their improbable come-from-behind victory against Kansas City two weeks ago has buoyed their confidence. They’ve won three of their last four and are coming off their bye week. In contrast, the Jaguars had gotten to 4-4 but have looked miserable since.

With Nick Foles returning, the Jaguars have a few more options on offense and should have a level of consistency a veteran quarterback can bring. But with only nine rushing attempts last week against the Colts, they became predictable and easy prey. Leonard Fournette is frustrated, Foles says don’t press and freak out, and DiFillipo says it’s a “fair question” to ask about getting away from the running game so quickly in Indy. (As if he has some secret in his pocket that none of us know about.)

At least Head Coach Doug Marrone was straight forward in shouldering the blame.

“I thought we needed to score points in a quicker fashion and I think that’s what led to the increased pass attempts, so that’s on me as the head coach,” he said this week. “And I know we need to be more balanced moving forward. I was wrong, I made a mistake.”

Doug is easy to like and his quality as a “stand-up guy” is laudable. But that’s the kind of mistake a coach of his experience shouldn’t make. And it’s an unforgiving game. Opponents exploit your mistakes and make you pay. It’s a results oriented business and now, the Jaguars aren’t getting results.

But you can’t just point at Marrone and say he’s the problem. You have to go deeper into the organization to give his position some context.

When Owner Shad Khan tapped Tom Coughlin to run the football operation, Coughlin said there were two coaches he could work with. One was Marrone, the other reportedly was former Jaguars defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Both have distinct personalities and styles, but their core ideas on how to coach align with Coughlin’s. No matter who the head coach is for the Jaguars, with Coughlin in charge, he’ll be expected to coach a certain way.

“I look at the situation as being perfect, at least for me,” Marrone told Sports Illustrated last year. “He takes some things off my plate that are a little outside the realm of the team.”
When Khan assembled Coughlin, Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell, the decision was met with skepticism throughout the league. Khan was advised against it. Too many egos, too many cooks in the kitchen his friends said. But the success in 2017 and a trip to the AFC Championship game quieted the critics.

For a while.

Earlier this year Khan was asked about Coughlin’s future with the franchise and he said something like, “I couldn’t imagine anyone better.”

Although Khan gave the Jaguars brass a vote of confidence after last year’s 5-11 season, he did set some parameters.
“There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season,” he said when he announced Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell would be retained for this year. “And that cannot repeat itself in 2019.”
But is it?
There’s no denying Coughlin’s success in New York, winning two Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. But those are both nearly a decade ago and the league has changed. While the Jaguars are built to run the ball, throw it off play action and stop the run on defense, the rest of the league has gotten faster and more innovative on offense. You’re not going to beat the elite teams 17-9 any longer. You’ve got to be able to score points in bunches and the Jaguars aren’t built that way.

Is the current Jaguars decision-making brain trust willing to move in that direction? Probably not. Do they believe a team built to win the Super Bowl a decade ago can still win in the NFL? Probably so.

I don’t buy into noted NFL scholar Jalen Ramsey’s assessment that Coughlin didn’t care to understand “this generation of guys — us as players or as people in general.” Do you think Bill Belichick is worried about understanding “this generation of guys?” Football is about blocking and tackling, not about whether or not you’re hurting somebody’s feelings.

Which leaves Khan with the ultimate decision. Let this group add a few pieces (including two first round picks in 2020) and see what happens or blow it up and start over.


Foles Leadership Unquestioned

For the Jaguars, Gardner Minshew is fun to watch as a leader. He is a jorts-wearing, mustache sporting, sunglasses-headband owning, cool guy who gives a swashbuckling tone to everything he does. He’s fun to be around. He jokes with his teammates and inspires them with his performance.

So what kind of leadership can they expect to get from Nick Foles?

When they’d show Foles on the sidelines recently while injured, the hoodie and glasses gave a “Who’s that guy?” impression to those who didn’t know he was the multi-million dollar quarterback of the Jaguars future. He didn’t jump off the screen as a team leader.

But don’t be fooled by what appears to be a detached demeanor. Foles has a quiet confidence and a clear head that allows him to take things as they are and perform at the highest level on the biggest stages. He’s very devoted to his Christian faith that follows the doctrine; he’s really not in control. But he uses the tools he’s been given, when he can, as good as anybody.

When he was injured in the Kansas City game at the beginning of the season, Foles immediately created clarity of mind, leaning on his faith.

“I was going into the locker room, I just realized this wasn’t exactly what I was thinking when I came to Jacksonville,” he said this week. “Obviously, you come here, and you want to create a culture and impact people, but at the end of the day, I was like, ‘God, this is the journey you want me to go on and I’m going to glorify you in every action, good or bad.’”

Leadership comes in many forms on a football field. Some players show it with toughness, others with a vocal exhortation of their teammates. There’s a common refrain among players who say they like to “lead by example” and still others who just have an aura that inspires their teammates.

Quarterbacks are, by nature and position, leaders. But how they get there oftentimes is very different from one another.

Tom Brady commands respect with his preparation and execution under duress. Patrick Mahomes leads with a joyful playfulness that brings his teammates along. Deshaun Watson does things that dazzle his teammates and makes them want to be a part of it. Same with Lamar Jackson. They all ooze confidence from the moment they step in the building.

For athletes and just anybody in a decision-making position, it doesn’t have to be religious faith that carries them in tough situations.

In his latest book “Stillness Is The Key,” author and researcher Ryan Holiday notes that Christians aren’t the only ones who call on a higher power to give them clarity in those situations. Every culture through the ages has recognized the need for a certain calmness of mind in times of adversity.

Roman philosopher Seneca and other Stoics called it apatheia. The Greeks refer to it as euthymia. Ancient Christians used the word aequanimitas. Buddhists, Muslims and Hebrews all had a particular word for the place you can go to in your own head to see a situation for what it is and can be, good or bad, without judging it as the best or worst thing that can happen.

That’s where Foles exhibits his leadership and his character. He’s solid as a rock when it comes to shouldering adversity.

Sports fans know his football odyssey with five stops in eight years including two different times in Philadelphia and a Super Bowl MVP Trophy. You might have read about the debilitating syndrome his wife Tori fights called POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Or perhaps you read the couple’s announcement of Tori’s miscarriage last May.

So when Foles starts to talk, like he did this week for the first time since being injured, people listen.

Here’s how he explained how he approached the more than two months he’s been out of the starting lineup for the Jaguars. He believed that was his purpose for that time, rehabilitating his injury and helping Minshew in the quarterback room. But also getting to know his teammates on a whole other level.

“My purpose isn’t football, it’s impacting people, and my ministry happens to be the locker room,” he said. “And I’ve been able to get to know people, get to know these guys through an injury. Though I might not be playing, that is difficult from a fleshly perspective, but from a spiritual perspective, from my heart, I’ve been able to grow as a human being to where I feel like I’m at better situation here as a person then I was before because of the trial I just went under.”

If that sounds a bit like the beginning of a sermon, it was, and Foles said as much, adding he didn’t believe in the “Gospel of prosperity,” where only good things are supposed to happen.

Even though he hasn’t been in the lineup, Foles spoke to the team as they split up for the bye week, imparting a message to his teammates that had very little to do with football.

“You think your identity needs to be as a football player,” he told them. “You need to take a step back and realize you are more than a football player. Take this time to go into family time and take a breath. Step away from the game, clear your mind. Staying in the moment and just attacking the day at hand and simplifying things in your mind. The message was really simple.”

He’ll be able to make the throws, read the defenses and get the Jaguars offense into good play and out of bad ones. But what he’s focused on is every player getting the most out of their talent and then winning will take care of itself.

“At this point, culture is a really big thing,” he said of regaining the starting position from a popular teammate and not upsetting the balance in the locker room. “That is the biggest challenge of stepping back in there and playing football when it has been a while. I am a firm believer that in the fourth quarter, players make plays. If you trust the guy next to you, you are probably going to execute better than if you don’t. That is sort of what we are building here.”

The Greek philosopher Plato once said “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.”

If that’s truly the case, Jaguars fans should pick up the remote, clear their minds, take a deep, cleansing breath and flip on the game today to see where Nick Foles might take you.

Stats Can Make You Better

Each September my brother Gust invites me to play in the fall Member-Guest golf tournament at his club in Detroit. It usually happens near the middle of the month and I’ve always been amused at the conversations we have with our competitors.

It’s one of their final tournaments of the year so much of the banter is about the hockey and bowling leagues that are forming that week. They’re lacing up their skates on Sunday following the final round to get ready for the winter season. Their golf clubs are going in the deep freeze for the cold weather.

Here, we’re on the opposite schedule. It might be the middle of the NFL and the College Football seasons, but most local golfers are also working on their golf games to enjoy the weather over the next nine to ten months

With a six to eight month golf season up north, ours can be year around, especially if you’re willing to play in the heat of July, August and September. They don’t have that option in the snow and cold of much of October through April.

My brother recently won the Senior Championship at his club. So how has he maintained his near scratch status when he has to quit playing half the year because of weather?

These days it’s simple. Technology has allowed us to take the game indoors to small spaces. Players up north can keep their games sharp through data and information.

Two companies, FlightScope and TRACKMAN have developed computer generated data that analyzes your swing, equipment and shot selection and can make you a better player.

“People love the technology,” says former professional golfer John Schroeder who’s the owner and an instructor/fitter at MasterFit Golf in Orange Park. “It makes it so easy for people to understand why the ball flies the way it does.”

Schroeder and MasterFit have been in business for 25 years both on Phillips Highway and in Orange Park. But nothing has accelerated his ability to do his job like the technology explosion. MasterFit was an early adopter of Flight Scope. Fifteen years ago they were the first practice range to have the technology in the state of Florida and have partnered with them ever since.
“There’s a fine line between the artistry of golf and the advancements in technology,” Sea Island Golf Performance Center Manger Craig Allan said from his teaching and fitting spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. “We walk very carefully along that fence.”

Sea Island and Allan use TRACKMAN technology developed by a Dutch company that’s been in the swing data business from the beginning.
It used to be that an instructor told you to “keep your head down,” or “get to your left side.” With the modern technology how the equipment performs is part of the equations. Spin rates and launch angles are a big part of the conversation when it comes to the equipment they choose.
“I can push a player toward game improvement technology in clubs but the player has to like the club they’re looking at on good days and bad,” Allan explained.
“We can look at 28 different parameters of your swing and ball flight,” Schroeder, who played college golf at UNF, added. “Ball, flight and swing parameters. Launch, landing, smash factor, spin rate swing speed, angle of attack, club path, face to path they all are invaluable from a teaching standpoint.”

Instruction has come a long way even from the time when a video camera and a radar gun seemed advanced. While the technology can help instructors improve your golf game, it can also match your game with the right equipment.

“We’re building a shaft that matches your swing speed,” Schroeder said. “You want to get your driver from 50 feet to 80 feet in the air? We can measure the data, we know what different shafts can do so we match those two things up.”

With over 40,000 shafts to choose from onsite at their 8,000 square foot facility on Wells Road, Schroeder says the data from FlightScope and watching your swing allows him to improve your game almost instantly.

“We’re looking at launch, spin and landing angle when it comes to optimizing your ball flight. FlightScope measures the shaft how it’s loading and unloading. That helps me build a shaft for you.”

With the right equipment in your hands, you can be a better player. It also allows instructors to develop your game the way you play it.

“Much easier,” Schroeder said when asked if his job as an instructor has gotten easier or more complicated.

“We’re not going to focus on all 28 data points. We’ll focus on one or two and when people see that, they can understand it much easier. ‘Why did I slice it 30 yards to the right?’ It shows your clubface was 13 degrees open at impact. And that’s easy to understand.”
Allan said he and tries not to rely just on the equipment to make better players. The combination of the “hands-on” traditional instruction combined with the technology takes learning the game to a new level with the right equipment.
“Some great players have gotten away from the artistry of the game and relying on technology,” Allan said about the blend he tries to use in his work. “But it’ll always remain a game that relies on feel and athleticism. We’re just trying to enhance that.”