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Joe Namath, the Scholar

You may not want to see his transcript, but you've got to admire his perseverance.

It's been 42 years since Joe Namath left the University of Alabama fifteen credits short of a degree.

On Saturday, he'll get one.

Namath did not attend the University of Alabama for a degree, let alone an education. He enrolled at Tuscaloosa because Bear Bryant was coaching football there, and because the University of Maryland, Namath's first choice, felt his college board scores were so low they couldn't admit him, no matter how far he could throw a football.

For their flexibility regarding those scores, Alabama got a team that went 29-4 with Namath at quarterback and finished number one in the country in 1964.

Pro football doesn't care whether its employees have degrees. Namath was the first pick of the American Football League's New York Jets, who also didn't care that he'd shredded his knee at Alabama. Mobile or not, he would sell tickets. He was the league's rookie of the year in 1965, and, playing on ever-deteriorating wheels, he made four all-star teams between 1965 and 1969. At the end of the '69 season, when many people still regarded the AFL as a minor league and the term "Super Bowl" had yet to be coined, Joe Namath guaranteed from poolside that his Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in the championship game. They did.

In the years after that game, "Broadway Joe's" teams lost more than they won. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He made the news for owning bars and associating with types deemed unsavory by the N.F.L. He appeared on Richard Nixon's enemies list, though he voted for Nixon twice. He earned ten thousand dollars for shaving off his mustache on national TV.

Joe Namath bubbled up into the public's consciousness again four years ago when he slurred his way through a sideline interview, and on January 12, 2004, the 35th anniversary of the game he'd predicted the Jets would win, he acknowledged that he was an alcoholic and entered treatment.

Like most celebrities, Joe Namath has been both more and less than his image promised. In his triumphs and tumbles he has provided us with a cultural icon more enduring than many. So far as I know, he never predicted that he'd be a college graduate. What a goof that he's surprised us again.

This program aired on December 14, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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