Joe Namath has to say 'what I feel'

NEW YORK -- Joe Namath has mellowed from his party-boy days, but there's one thing he's not planning to change: His sharp opinions about the New York Jets.

On Wednesday, speaking after the premiere of the HBO documentary, "Namath," at the HBO Theater, he expressed some regret about criticizing his former team, which he's done often over the last few months but insisted he's just telling it like it is.

"I feel awful about it, I feel awful about my relationship with the Jets right now," Namath said, referring to owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan. "I don't want them upset with Joe, but damn it, I have to say what I see, what I think, what I feel. I think they can do some things better, no doubt."

Namath believes the problems stem from the franchise's leadership, not embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has been criticized in recent weeks by teammates following an 8-8 finish that left New York on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

"Mark made some mistakes this year, no doubt, but he can play," Namath said. "It's only his third year, man. You see guys out there who have played longer than that, making those same mistakes. He's going to learn from his mistakes and he needs the help around him.

"He presses at times, he wants to do things because he's expected to, and I think he got a little tired of being, 'The kid this, the kid that.' Hey, he's made it through three seasons now, and he's not a kid. He's a man out there. He's a man and, if they get the people around him, he's going to be fine."

Namath did not say Sanchez needs to be a better leader because he doesn't believe a quarterback can boss around his linemen.

"I didn't push any kind of leadership," Namath said. "Lead by example as a football player, as the quarterback: to know the plan frontwards, backwards; be able to answer; know my guys; convince them I was ready and would give it my best. But no taking over a locker room. You have to have someone with the strength of the guy over in Baltimore -- maybe Ray Lewis -- you've got to be a beast to do that kind of thing, man."

Namath mentioned New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and how he turned around his career. Manning has won one Super Bowl and will play in a second Feb. 5 against the New England Patriots.

"How about our man, Eli?" Namath said. "Hey, excuse me, he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms and ... standing ovations those first few years. He endured. He's tough, he's wonderful and he's improved ... Eli is better than he was three years ago, two years ago. Right now, Mark Sanchez is going to better than he was this past season."

In "Namath," a revealing documentary that recounts the legendary quarterback's incredible life from Beaver Falls, Pa., to Broadway, there's a part about Namath maturing in his fourth season and becoming a team leader. "Enough Playboy," former teammate John Schmitt recalls saying to Namath.

Maybe there's a lesson in there for Sanchez.

Rich Cimini covers the New York Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.