Finally, Kolber addresses Namath incident

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For many younger football fans, the name “Joe Namath” doesn’t conjure memories of Broadway Joe or Super Bowl III but a drunken pass at ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber during a December 2003 edition of Sunday Night Football.  His “I wanna kiss you” moment became the stuff of TV legend, even making its way into an epic auto-tune mash-up from D.J. Steve Porter, who coincidentally now crafts similar projects for the four-letter network.

In an HBO documentary on Namath’s life, which debuted at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, Kolber addresses the incident for the first time.  Without saying “don’t blame us, we didn’t know Joe was drunk,” she seems to try a little too hard to offer up not-so-subtle excuses for not knowing Joe was drunk, even though perhaps everyone involved should have known, or at least suspected, that Joe was drunk.

Especially once he started talking.

“Joe was escorted onto the field by a number of Jets personnel,” Kolber says of the subject of her eventual interview.  “And what I recall is that he and I never really had a chance to chat, because he wouldn’t stand still.”

Kolber creates the impression that she didn’t have any opportunity to observe his behavior (Namath admits that he’d been drinking all day and night) until the interview started.  “When we were really getting to close to when our producer wanted to have him on, I took his arm because I just didn’t want him to walk away,” Kolber says.

And even when the interview began, Kolber explains (with her trademark perky nonchalance) that no one thought anything was amiss as he gave a stumbling, incomprehensible answer to the first question:  “What impresses you about Chad [Pennington]?”

“I believe that anything anyone else has watched Chad play impresses me the same thing impresses them,” Namath said at the time, clumsily and awkwardly.

She attributed his off-kilter behavior to, yes, the weather.  “When we first started talking and he was slow and deliberate in his speech,” Kolber says, “what was going through my head was, ‘Maybe it’s just really cold.'”

But here’s the kicker from Kolber, the thing that made me think for the first time that ESPN adroitly has been able to avoid for more than eight years the question of how they put him on the air in the first place, and why they didn’t kill the interview after his initial rambling response.  “None of the executives in the truck were alarmed either, because nobody said, ‘Stop,'” Kolber says.  “The direction in my ear was, ‘Keep going.'”

None of this changes the fact that Namath was at fault for drinking too much and agreeing to go on camera and then acting like a jerk by saying “I wanna kiss you,” not once but twice.  But I’ve been involved in the TV side of this business long enough now to realize that there are (or at least should be) layers of folks who when trouble pops up can make good decisions in the blink of an eye, or even faster.  Still, until seeing Kolber’s roundabout effort to help ESPN continue to sidestep shrapnel for allowing the “I wanna kiss you” moment to happen by not ending the interview (or by never doing it in the first place), I never made the connection.  Joe was always the bad guy, and ESPN and Kolber were always without blame of any kind.

After hearing Kolber’s explanation, I’m starting to think that maybe a few tougher questions should have been asked back in late 2003.  It’ll be interesting to see if any of those questions are asked now.

63 responses to “Finally, Kolber addresses Namath incident

  1. The thing is, Namath was obviously smashed after they spoke with him the first time. They cut away to show away, then they went back. I kinda had a problem with that.

    It was an embarrassing moment for Namath, but at least it was the one that got him to quit drinking.

  2. Mike, are you suggesting that ESPN is a form of journalism? Same & Same in the morning, Cold Pizza er First Take, Outside the Lines, etc. They are all a bunch of clowns.

  3. Suzy cared about the team strug-a-leeeeeng, that’s why she asked Joe. Good thing he’s sober.

    Too bad he still likes the Jets, they may drive him back to drinking again.

  4. Kolber said she held Joe to prevent him from leaving the interview. I’m sure she may have smelled the liquor on his breath. Of course Joe was in the wrong but dont give me the crap about how she supposedly was protecting him from shame. Like many of you pointed to, I’m delighted it encouraged him to seek professional help. Joe represents what a little faith and courage will do under extreme adversity. He did it his way!

  5. I always think drunks trying to talk in front of a camera is funny.

    I especially love the gems from the camera passed around at a wedding reception.

  6. God forbid someone speak their true feelings at any point in time.

    It’s a crime that he didn’t spew some PC teamspeak gobbledygook instead of speaking what was really on his mind at the time…

  7. First of all, excellent post, Mike! No wonder you never hear about this; their hands are dirty. ESPN can be so smarmy.

  8. Wow O my God Joe Namath wanted to kiss Suzie and he was drunk, let crusifiy him ( ONLY KIDDING) I wouldn’t mind kissing Suzie either (Mean that in a clean way)LOL There is worse things in the world than Joe Willie wanting to kiss Suzie and getting Drunk.
    GET A LIFE PEOPLE I have been drunk a few times in my life LOL LOTS, who hasn’t and if you haven’t try it sometimes you may like it.

    JD Mastermind
    Has approved this message
    Deal with it
    The Boss of Bosses Has Spoken!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Thank you, Mike. It’s long past time someone called that out for what it was: ESPN using Namath’s intoxication as a ratings ploy. Of course, all the ESPN people who brought Joe into that interview knew he was in no condition to be on camera and kept rolling anyway.

    So ESPN exploited a great Hall of Famer in a moment of weakness, but Joe used the exchange as an impetus to get sober. Today he’s doing just fine. And we all know how ESPN does. Sean Salisbury, Steve Phillips … uh, Craig James … Mike Leach says Hey.

  10. First, I am in the “I would want to kiss her too” category.

    That said, ESPN was really unprofessional and irresponsible for keeping him on the air beyond his first answer. If you watch that youtube link, he was PLOWED, and basically totally incoherent. They should have told her to wrap it up right then.

  11. I remember watching that live….and it was very uncomfortable to watch. Most of us have been drunk like that before (I know I have)…. it just never made it on national TV. Glad he got some help for his problem.
    By the way, anybody in their 40’s should not call themselves Suzy.

  12. First clue that he was insanely drunk: he was “impressed” with Mark Sanchez. How do you miss that little tell?

  13. Yheeeher My Good Ol’ Boys agree! It’s gotta be that dumb woman’s fault, always is uh-huh. Drunks aren’t accountable for their actions, just ask Big Ben.

  14. For the love of god … it’s not like he dropped his pants on camera or anything. He just said he wanted to kiss her. Even Tipper Gore wouldn’t get her granny panties in a wad over that.

  15. I remember watching this in 2003 on TV and thinking to myself – oh boy they’re actually talking to Joe Willie “late in the 4th qtr”? He’ll be bombed for sure, I thought. What are they doing? And the proof is in the pudding.

    Wish she talk to me in the 4th qtr…

  16. What’s also interesting in the HBO piece (that they never really talk about) but after the Super Bowl Season the Jets only had one winning season during the rest of Namath’s career. He was hurt pretty much the rest of the way on and off…

  17. Anyone who ever knew Namath says he’s a mean, unpleasant, loud-mouthed, drunk. He was never a nice person … never will be. Take away that one lucky win and he’s an average football player with an average career. End of story.

  18. He’s a Hall of Famer because he played in NYC and won first Super Bowl for AFC. His stats were awful in that game by the way.

    His career too.
    140 games: 62 wins, 63 losses and 4 ties.
    173 touchdowns, 220 interceptions

  19. Let it go already,it’s been Almost 6yrs. Dude was drunk, that’s networks responsibility. They should have did a ”run thru” before bringing him on.

  20. I know, I know, judge not lest you be judged, but
    garyman1 says: By the way, anybody in their 40′s should not call themselves Suzy.

    Try: No one in her 40’s should call herself Suzy.


  21. jpb12 says:Jan 29, 2012 6:36 AM

    He’s a Hall of Famer because he played in NYC and won first Super Bowl for AFC. His stats were awful in that game by the way.

    His career too.
    140 games: 62 wins, 63 losses and 4 ties.
    173 touchdowns, 220 interceptions



    He’s in the Hall because of his boast about winning Super Bowl 3 and having it come true.

    That and because ladies everywhere back then had the thigh sweats for him, which made him more popular, both on and off the field.

    But put his career numbers on some other QB not named Joe Namath and that guy could never get into the Hall at all, even if he had a paid admissions ticket…

  22. It’s simple, really… Namath was liquored up, and Kolber IS hot… What else could have been expected?

  23. Joe Willie makes a pass and it’s intercepted or falls incomplete. Typical of his lackluster career. He does not belong the Football Hall of Fame.

  24. Really never understood how namath was sooo over rated – really – almost 50 more picks than td’s ????
    A lot of MUCH better qb’s are not in the hall of fame – boomer esaison, phil simms, and more – namath capitalized on 1 game more than anyone in the history of pro sports

  25. That night the Jets were honoring the 69 Super Bowl team. So… it was a big reunion of the greatest day in their football careers. I’m sure everyone was having a good time. I don’t blame Joe at all. After all that, he is still Joe Namath.

    I met him at a book signing and he signed anything you brought. People were telling stories of other times they met him and everyone said he was always happy to be there at appearances, after all that’s his bread and butter. He let my young son wear his Super Bowl ring.

  26. Nothing new here regarding ESPN. Ever since Disney took over the show, everything….and I do mean EVERYTHING, that they do is 100% geared towards ratings. Since Joe was a NY legend, they would have left the camera on him even if he would have followed up his comment by grabbing Suzy and planting one on her (not that doing that is a bad idea!). They also don’t take criticism very well, so I hope that they’re not able to remotely delete my comment.

  27. They were right to let it continue. He’s a legend and its better to let it continue and he humiliate himself, rather than the network humiliating him by pulling out the cane after one question. And as long as Kolber wasn’t destroyed by the “verbal sexual assualt” then everyone did the right thing.

  28. I agree. ESPN should be held accountable. I’ve always though Namath was a bit over-rated, but he deserves a better legacy. It’s a real shame that a younger generation of fans only think of him as a sloppy drunk.

  29. Now, if Howard Cosell in his cups on Monday Night Football had said, “I want to kiss you” to Dandy Don, this story would be a more interesting attempt to stir things up on a dull Sunday morning.

  30. TheWizard says:Jan 29, 2012 11:23 AM

    The fact the Jets haven’t won one since solidifies Joe being in the Hall.


    If Joe had been a better QB, the Jets would have
    had multiple titles back in the early ’70s.
    The main reason the Jets won that 1 title is
    because of their running game and defense.

    Look at the stats from the game. The Jets
    runners ran for over 140 yards against that Colt
    defense. The Jet defense had 4 Ints. and allowed
    only 1 big play on a run of 58 yards. Joe’s
    numbers were “okay” but not super by any means.

    They won that game mainly due to their defense
    kicking butt and their running game controlling
    the ball. But (as usual) the QB on the winning
    team gets too much credit from the team’s fans.

    Just look at how Steeler fan glorify Big Bum’s
    performance VS Seattle and his numbers were
    even worse than Joe’s were…

  31. jenniferxxx says:

    Anyone who ever knew Namath says he’s a mean, unpleasant, loud-mouthed, drunk. He was never a nice person … never will be. Take away that one lucky win and he’s an average football player with an average career. End of story.


    I know a lot of people who know or have interacted with Namath–including my own family members–and say he was perfectly pleasant. Maybe you’re talking to the wrong people. Then again, I really doubt you’ve ever talked to anyone who knows Namath.

    Super Bowl III had nothing to do with luck, and Namath’s career was about much more than one game. You lil stats hounds need to put his career in the context of the time he played and his influence on the game during that era. And do try to realize football didn’t start the minute you discovered it. The players who came before Brady and Manning may not have their stats, but they helped make the game what it is today. Maybe you need to take another look at the totality of that HBO Special to get some perspective on who Joe was to the game.

  32. quitsburghstoolers, you are a fool. I’m accustomed to your obsession with my team, but it seems you’re also ignorant about the people who built the NFL. Apparently you’re a 12-year-old fantasy fanatic with no understanding of the evolution of the sport and no appreciation for anyone who hasn’t amassed uber stats. Isn’t there an X-box somewhere calling your name?

  33. Joe and a few other guys went a long way toward making the old AFL legit and worthy of the eventual merger. If you never watched Joe play you’ll never know why he’s in the Hall.

  34. Kolber is harassed on the air — not once, but twice — and you think she owes an explanation?

    And reassigning some of the blame to her for not cutting the interview short smacks of blaming the victim. Is that how PFT rolls?

  35. @rubbernilly …

    No one is blaming Kolber for Namath’s sexual advances. But ESPN knew Namath was drunk when they tapped him for the interview and dragged him in front of the cameras. The on-air personality doesn’t make the decision to continue or cut short. Those calls are made by the producers. The producers put him in front of the camers and left him in front of the camers to create a story. Responsible news organizations report news, they don’t create news.

  36. @Deb: The article paints Kolber with the same brush as the producers, saying that she attributed his behavior, “to, yes, the weather.” It includes her when it questions why “no one” was aware he was drunk, and then, more specifically about her, goes on:

    she seems to try a little too hard to offer up not-so-subtle excuses for not knowing Joe was drunk

    The whole interview is famous not because Namath was drunk, but because of the pass he made at her. They can’t really be separated. And, if so, then the above statement (effectively, “she should have known better”) sounds a bit too much like the classic, “she shouldn’t have worn that skirt” excuse for lewd behavior.

    BTW, this statement of yours:
    Responsible news organizations report news, they don’t create news.

    …takes on a whole other level of meaning on this blog, and specifically this post. What is this post (other than a laughably transparent swipe at ESPN) if not trying to manufacture a story? In answer to the author’s wonderings whether “questions” will be asked now, let me say…. er, no. They won’t.

  37. Anyone know how Joe Willie got home that night? I was watching the night of the indecent and it was uncomfortable to say the least. I watched the special and thought it was a fair piece and uncomfortable after all the time that has elapsed. Namath was the first QB to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season and he did that in an era that had only 14 games. No he didn’t have all the numbers but he had a charisma that was unequaled at the time. Generally there are two kinds of people, those who enjoy the memories given us by those how performed and those that enjoy seeing someone get taken down a notch or two.

  38. @rubbernilly …

    This is a blog, not a responsible news organization. PFT’s job is to comment on what’s out there, not to report news. They’re two entirely different animals. And speaking as someone with a journalism degree, I wouldn’t have gone on air with Namath in that condition. I’m not blaming Suzy because Namath made a pass at her, but yes, I’m blaming her along with ESPN for a lack of ethics in putting him in front of the cameras. She’s making the half-hearted excuses because she knows what she did was wrong.

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