It is hardly surprising that Joe Namath consented to collaborate with Bob Oates Jr. on A Matter of Style (Little, Brown, $12.50), for Oates proves to be a passionate apologist for the Namath "style." But if his excesses of admiration are irritating, on the whole the book is unexpectedly useful.
As the price tag suggests, A Matter of Style is one of those oversized pictures-and-text spectaculars that crowd the bookstores every year for the Christmas market. As such productions go, it is handsome enough: most of the photos are fine, all are well reproduced, and people who get their jollies looking at Joe's face and torso will have a field day.
The first chapter is called "real life," but the accuracy of that title is debatable. Perhaps Namath is indeed as thoughtful, charitable and humble as Oates portrays him, but the latter's adulatory prose seems more a case of protesting too much. We are given Namath as all-round good guy, pal to kids, even tidy homemaker: "Doing the dishes every day might seem to be a trivial virtue, but in Namath's case a clean kitchen points beyond itself to a general way of handling his life: Joe takes care of business."
There is a lot of similar glop in the first 60 pages of A Matter of Style; the best advice is to skip it and concentrate on the rest, which includes a thought-provoking analysis of Namath's passing style and a detailed, informative discussion of the pro game.
Oates claims that Namath's throwing motion "is a breakthrough—the application of centrifugal motion to the art of passing." That may be a bit extravagant, but the power and accuracy of Namath's passing are beyond dispute—and he has never had arm trouble, which suggests that his motion gets the job done without undue wear and tear. So budding quarterbacks may find it profitable to study Namath's tips, which cover such matters as ball handling and footwork as well as passing.
For those who watch more than they play, the most interesting section of A Matter of Style is the discussion of strategy and the quarterback's role. Anyone baffled by the multiplicity of pro offensive and defensive formations—and who has not been?—may find a few mysteries unlocked by the excellent diagrams and photo sequences.
All of which is great for the reader but not much help these days for poor Namath, who once again finds himself sitting out the better part of a season. The lamentable truth seems to be that Broadway Joe is fated to a career consisting of a handful of brilliant successes that only deepen a pervasive sense of might-have-been. It is all well and good to have centrifugal motion, but it also helps to have sturdy knees and decent blocking.