On New Year’s Day, Joe Namath watched the Rose Bowl with his daughter, Jessica. A devoted Alabama alum, Namath wanted to check out the Georgia-Oklahoma game in his anticipation of a potential matchup against the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
It was a wild, back-and-forth game, and Namath remembers his daughter asking, “Daddy, have you ever seen anything like this?” Georgia won 54-48 in double overtime.
Namath’s response: “No, I haven’t, honey. These two teams are good. I wouldn’t want to play against that guy, let me put it that way.”
He was referring to Baker Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback.
Count Namath as a Mayfield fan.
On Thursday night, Namath’s former team, the New York Jets, may select the fiery quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen also could be considerations, but most of the pre-draft buzz is focused on Mayfield.
“I haven’t met them, but I’ve watched them and the most outrageous, so to speak, that I’ve seen has been Mayfield,” Namath told ESPN in a phone interview.
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The legendary quarterback doesn’t want to come off as a know-it-all scout. He said it’s impossible to form a true evaluation of a player until you meet him and get to know him personally.
That said, Namath saw a lot of college football last fall and, yes, he watched the NFL scouting combine. He played the position, won a Super Bowl and made the Hall of Fame, so his opinions shouldn’t be discounted. He’s Broadway Joe, after all.
“Hey, it wasn’t just Georgia, it was a couple of years, early on, when I saw him play,” said Namath, tracing his affinity for Mayfield. “I saw him a couple of years back. I never saw him look bad. I don’t know how tall he is. I still don’t know big he is. Size can be a major asset, yes, size can be an asset in today’s game. But Drew Brees, his size was questioned many times and he’s one of the greatest players who’s ever played.”
Speaking of Mayfield, Namath said, “When I see his quick feet and I see him throwing every which way, I see the accuracy, I see the intensity, his hustle. Hey, I tell you, I wouldn’t want to play against him. I didn’t want Alabama to play against him.”
Mayfield is a shade under 6-foot-1, a fraction taller than Brees, who will join Namath in Canton one day. The other knocks on Mayfield are that he comes from a spread system and that his brash personality can incite opponents.
Namath knows a thing or two about swagger. He’s famous for guaranteeing a win over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III — and delivering.
“I’m not as big on the outward swagger, so to speak, but the confidence, the leadership qualities … and that damn confidence, man. Don’t tell me I can’t do it, I’m gonna get it done.”
Referring to the top “four or five” prospects in the draft, Namath said, “Physically, they look great.” He also said he was impressed by Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson, both of whom have been overshadowed by the top four.
“No one mentions Jackson,” Namath said. “I wouldn’t say he’s not going to be a player, either. ‘Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.’ (A quote from author Richard Bach.) We start putting limitations on people and we don’t know them. He might be around for 10 years; who knows?”
Namath said he hopes to watch the draft live. If he’s not busy with his charitable foundation or running errands, he’ll make sure to set the DVR. None of his 12 full-time successors have led the Jets to a championship. Maybe his old team will order a Baker’s dozen.