Joe Namath, 69, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, played in the AFL and NFL from 1965 to 1977. He recently launched Broadway Joe, a vitamin-enriched sports drink. Mr. Namath was interviewed by reporter Marc Myers.
When I first came to New York in 1965 to play football for the Jets, I couldn't believe the city.
I was from Beaver Falls, Pa., a small town, and had gone to college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Being in New York was magical, like being led around by the spirits.
After I got to town, my friend Joe Hirsch, a horseracing columnist for the Daily Racing Form who also was close to the Jets' owners, was sort of assigned to look out for me—to help me with the city. The Jets' owners back then wanted me to be happy and have a high profile, since they knew that celebrities sold tickets.
Joe and I found an apartment at Yorkshire Towers—a white-brick building at 86th Street and Second Avenue. I was a little shocked. In Tuscaloosa, I had been living in a three-bedroom house, paying $115 a month. Now I was looking at apartments for $360. Most of the Jets lived in houses on Long Island, but I was told Manhattan was the place to be.
Joe and I took a two-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor. I had to pay extra to park the hunter-green Lincoln Continental convertible that the Jets had given me. To park in the building, I could pay either $40 a month for a space or add $20 to have it washed. I went for the wash, but the car became nicked and dented so often from other cars in there, it was heartbreaking.
New York in '65 was exciting—and lonely. My celebrity came only after we won Super Bowl III in January 1969. In the years before, I could walk around town and be anonymous. When it came to knowing the ladies, that was nice, but I wasn't that well known yet. Most of the time they could hear right away that I was from out of town and weren't interested.
Other times I got lucky. In November 1965, I was out on our apartment's balcony with Daryl, a go-go dancer at a discothèque called Dudes and Dolls at Third Avenue and 47th Street. The lights started blinking out block by block. That was the big blackout. We had to walk down 16 floors to get out. To this day, my calves get tingly when I stand on a high balcony.
Moving to a penthouse in 1966 was someone else's idea. I was comfortable at Yorkshire Towers, but Bobby Vanucci, who owned Dudes and Dolls, had suggested the switch. He was planning another club on First Avenue in the 70s called Jet Set and thought I should move someplace nearby.
Bobby told me about Newport East—at 370 E. 76th. I liked the idea of a penthouse, so I rented the space, which cost just a little more each month than where I had been. Joe came with me as my roommate, but when he was out of town covering races, which was often, Jets defensive back Ray Abruzzese stayed there.
Before we moved in, I hired a decorator to design the apartment. I was introduced to the guy by one of my friends who frequented the East Side clubs with me. The decorator and I spoke, he made drawings and showed me how the apartment would look. I didn't know anything about that stuff so I just let him do his thing. Thinking back, I guess it wound up a little over the top.
From the building's lobby, you took the elevator to the 17th floor, where there were several penthouses. When you walked into my apartment, you were in a small foyer with large black-and-white marble tiles. The wet bar was ahead of you, and there were smoked mirrors on the walls.
A STORIED PAST
In the 1960s, the draw of Newport East, the building where Joe Namath lived, came down to one amenity: a rooftop pool. Back then, that feature was rare and drew other celebrities, such as tennis great Arthur Ashe, to the 19-floor building with 367 units. The Upper East Side neighborhood is quieter now; then it was full of bars and other late-night destinations.
By the late 1980s, rents for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit at Newport East had doubled from Mr. Namath's nearly $400 a month to about $800 a month. In 1986, the building was converted from a rental to a co-op, and about 50% of its renters became owners. One current resident and board member says he bought his two-bedroom, two-bath unit for$188,000 and now estimates it's worth $1.2 million. —Alyssa Abkowitz
If I close my eyes now, I can see the layout. The living room was to the right as you entered. The first thing you noticed was the llama-hair carpeting. It was wall-to-wall and 8 inches thick—like a cloud. I wasn't crazy about it. The hair was long and such a nuisance. You'd be looking for an earring in that thing for hours. It also was a nightmare for the woman who cleaned our apartment.
The furniture was upholstered in zebra, snow leopard and other animal skins. There were two sofas—one without a back that was up against the wall with a view facing out the north window. The other sofa didn't have a back and was against the east wall with a west view. There also was a bench covered in zebra on the west side of the room.
The bedroom suite was off the foyer, down a short hall. My bedroom was small, so there wasn't a lot of furniture in there. I had a king-size bed, and on the ceiling was a smoked mirror the same shape and size as the bed.
The outdoor terrace wasn't exceptionally large—but it had a great westward view. The roof was the thing—there was a community pool up there. Before 1969, I wasn't all that popular, so there wasn't a crush of people always trying to meet me when I went up to swim. Actually, I was the one who went up to see who was there.
The kitchen was small. I had a lady friend who lived down South who came up to visit from time to time and cooked Southern food. Ray was Italian, and his uncle often came over and made great red sauce. But most of the time I ate out—at the '21' Club, Toots Shor's, Gallagher's Steakhouse and a variety of delis and coffee shops.
We had a good stereo system. I listened to everything back then: the Rascals, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, the Shirelles—anything that moved me. I was the first to bring a radio into the Jets locker room to listen to music because I always felt good hearing and feeling the vibes.
In 1968, I needed a few color TVs for the penthouse. By then I had been out to dinner with so many people and remembered a guy who said he was in the TV business. When I went up to see him at his office, he was sitting behind his desk—a sweetheart of a guy and a suave cat.
He said, "Hi, Joe, what can I do for you?" I told him I needed some color TVs and asked him where I could get them. The guy just smiled and we talked football for a bit. And that was that. The next thing I knew, color sets were being delivered to my apartment. The guy was Robert Sarnoff, who I later learned was the head of NBC.
Corrections & Amplifications
Argenta Images was misspelled as Agenta Images in a photo credit in an earlier version of this article.
A version of this article appeared February 1, 2013, on page M1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Replay: Joe Namath's Bachelor Pad.