Joe Namath has heard these questions before. Every time the New York Jets acquire a promising young quarterback, the franchise's most famous player becomes a magnet for reporters who want to know his opinion on The Next Great Hope.
On Tuesday, Namath was peppered with Sam Darnold questions at two charity events in Manhattan. Unlike Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, who said he believes the former USC star will lead the Jets to greatness, Broadway Joe took a measured approach. While he has high hopes for Darnold, he's not ready to put him in a fur coat, sipping Johnny Walker with a beautiful blonde at his side. (Google "Joe Namath" and "cultural icon.") At this early stage, Namath still doesn't know if Darnold can be the Week 1 starter.
"The players, the coaches have to be convinced he gives them the best chance to win," Namath said at the United Way of New York City gala. "Twenty years old and not having seen the animals -- the nature of the defenses he's going to be confronted with -- it's going to take time.
"Josh [McCown] knows what he's doing and Teddy Bridgewater was playing well -- well -- really before he got hurt. So between the three of them, you have to figure the [older] guys are ahead. But the future, no doubt, is lying with Darnold if he improves."
Darnold, picked third overall, performed well in last weekend's rookie minicamp. Team officials were particularly impressed by Sunday's practice, which was closed to the media. They noticed a considerable improvement in his command of the offense. The rookie will compete for the starting job in training camp, along with McCown and Bridgewater. It will be one of the hottest stories of the NFL summer.
How Darnold handles the spotlight will be important. Namath said "one of the things that saved me" was refusing to listen to the outside noise -- the criticism and the praise. For the record, Namath, the first overall pick in the 1965 AFL draft, didn't crack the starting lineup until the third game of his rookie year.
"I don't know that anyone can completely handle New York," said Namath, who believes Darnold will be just fine with proper mentoring. "It's a one-of-a-kind city with a one-of-a-kind population."
Speaking to reporters at a morning charity event, Johnson said the drafting of Darnold will be remembered 20 years from now as the turning point for the franchise, which has fallen on hard times in recent years.
"I can only say, God, I hope I'm around in 20 years to be able to look back with Chris to see if it panned out that way," Namath said, laughing.
While Namath believes Darnold must prove he's worthy of the starting job, fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Martin said the Jets should consider playing him right away.
"I'm a big fan of throwing him in the fire, if he's the best option," Martin said. "If they have better options, then, of course, I think you play someone else and let him develop under them. But if he has the ability, I think you get him in there as soon as possible."