Quarterback Controveries Plague Numerous NFL Teams

The New York Jets are one of many teams with a quarterback controversy headed into the new season. But in New York, it seems that controversy attaches itself to everything the Jets do. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath reflects on the difficulties of leading the Jets.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. NFL training camps are now open and in several, trouble is already brewing. Trouble as in who will be the starting quarterback. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders face QB controversies. So, too, do the New York Jets, whose embattled starter begins another season with big questions looming about his ability and leadership.

NPR's Mike Pesca is in New York and caught up with the greatest Jet of all time, Joe Namath, to get his thoughts.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: There are about 502 elements to a quarterback controversy. The two are the incumbent quarterback and his challenger, the 500 are the members of the media to fan the flames. Of course, if the site of the controversy is New York and the team is the Jets, 500 media members may be a conservative estimate. Here's a smattering.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTSCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...quarterback controversy this summer...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...Geno Smith will have gotten the addition tie...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Who's gonna be the Jet starter week 1?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Mark Sanchez is now a laughing stock, a butt fumble laughing stock.

PESCA: Yes. Mark Sanchez is the embattled incumbent. Geno Smith is the promising rookie. Joe Namath is the sagacious legend.

JOE NAMATH: It is a team game.

PESCA: Namath is backing Sanchez, who he knows and likes. Plus, Namath points out that a lot of the criticism placed at Sanchez's feet is not Sanchez's fault.

NAMATH: I did see Mark have a couple off seasons, but I think he's endured in rather good style, often been said you get more credit than you deserve when you win and more grief when you lose than you deserve.

PESCA: Last year, Mark Sanchez threw the second most interception in the NFL. That's bad. But did you just hear, Joe Namath said he had good style. That is great. No athlete in New York history is as central to the identity of a particular team as Namath is to the Jets. The Jets are the only New York team to have won but one championship and Namath was the central player on that team.

Plus, he was catnip to the press, which as an institution has expanded relentlessly since Namath's time. I asked him how many more media members cover the team these days.

NAMATH: Five time more, 10 times more, yes. It wasn't an everyday thing with us back in the '60s and '70s.

PESCA: We tend to discount this, picturing Namath as existing in the middle of a media vortex. Mark Kriegel, in his biography of Namath, wrote of droves of reporters following the quarterback around in the week before SuperBowl III.

MARK KRIEGEL: Typically, he would take a seat by the pool, his beach chair inevitably forming the epicenter of the media crush. Never had a man in a checked boxer-style bathing suit attracted such crowds, whether of reporters and cameramen and columnists or of kids and old ladies.

PESCA: But photos of this crush reveal Namath talking to half a dozen reporters at a time. In contrast, 4,786 credentials were granted at this past Super Bowl's media day, which is why no Geno Smith facial expression is undocumented, no Mark Sanchez statistic unexplored. And, yes, it is true that Sanchez threw 18 interceptions against only 13 touchdowns. But did you know that Joe Namath's completion percentage in his Super Bowl-winning year was 49 percent?

Did you know that over his Jet's career, Namath's average year was 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions? To be fair, the rules were tougher on passers 40 years ago and as Namath says...

NAMATH: There are more things to it than just the numbers.

PESCA: Yes. Leadership, flair, that hard to quantify greatness. This weekend, Namath will be in Canton, Ohio, to mark the pro football Hall of Fame's expansion and renovation. It's the 50th anniversary of the hall. They're saying that the 100-plus retired greats who will attend will be the largest gathering of hall of famers from a single sport in a single place.

Up at Jets training camp in Cortland, New York, they're just hoping to find a signal caller who can fill Joe Namath's former position, hopefully better his numbers, but of course, not come close to his legend. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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