JFK Remembered: Joe Namath

Joe Namath remembers what he was doing at Alabama when he heard the news. AP Photo

The former New York Jets Super Bowl-winning quarterback reflects on the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

“I know exactly where I was and exactly how I felt, and who I shared it with. I was a junior at Alabama, in my dorm room, catching a nap before practice. A buddy of mine from Youngstown, Ohio, Frank Cicatiello, came in and woke me up and told me President Kennedy had been shot. I wasn’t even standing up yet. I got up and there was confusion in the dorm, not believing it could actually happen.

“It was an athletic dorm, just a bunch of players, a couple of hours before practice. Everybody was shaking their head, not knowing what the hell to do. Frank and I went to church -- St. Jude. We said some prayers and went to the athletic facility. We got together with Coach [Bear] Bryant, and we all stood still. We called off everything -- practice, everything. We absorbed the shock and talked about it as a group.

“It was awful, just awful. You get the wind knocked out of you without anyone laying a hand on you. For young guys like us to be so stunned and feel such emptiness ... none of us had ever experienced anything like that before. There was things going on in society and history, and there was a suddenness to it. It knocked all of us down.

“I remember walking across campus to the practice area, but I don’t think everyone had heard the news. We didn’t carry radios around, like a boom box and stuff like that. There were only three TV networks at the time, and we didn’t have TV sets everywhere. When we got to the facility, there weren’t any TVs. We didn’t have radio. It was all word of mouth.

“I can still hear Coach Bryant. What he said still resonates with me. He said it was something we couldn’t do anything about except stay together and share our feelings, and believe that something good would come out of it. He told us not to get caught up in the down side of things.

“We didn’t play that Saturday. I don’t remember if it was a bye week or they canceled the game. I just know we didn’t play. It would’ve been tough, but we would’ve done it. You have to do what you have to do. The world doesn’t stop because of a tragedy, but when it’s your president and your leader ...

“It shocked the country. Whether you liked Kennedy or not, your leader went down. Somebody did something to your leader. It was awful. Hopefully, it brought us together and made us a better country. As a 20-year-old, you’re stunned. I didn’t know something like that could happen. The only thing in history we knew about was Abraham Lincoln.

“It’s frozen in time. I’ve had older folks tell me about where they were at the time President Kennedy was shot, the time Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston, the time Bill Mazeroski hit the ninth-inning home run to beat the Yankees, where they were when the Jets beat the Colts in the Super Bowl. Those were happenings, things that stand out in your mind’s eye that we personally experienced. I can see it in my mind’s eye, hearing Frank Cicatiello. I can see it to this day.”

-- Namath, 70, as told to ESPN.com Jets reporter Rich Cimini