Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Namath

by Jack Bedell

“He moves like a human now. He did move like a cat.”

—Bear Bryant

 

I have a picture I bring with me to class

whenever I talk about what the lyric can do

even outside the world of time, how

it carries story, holds movement, seals

histories in one click.

The picture was taken

at Shea Stadium the year I was born.

In it, Namath has found his way to the edge

and has leapt to release a jump pass. The ball

is already out of his hand, spiraling

toward Don Maynard running the nine

forty yards up the right sideline.

The field at Shea is nothing but dirt, and a fog

of dust settles at the players’ waists.

Namath is already coming down, but his feet

are still inches above that dust. On one good knee

he’s three feet off the ground, not so much floating

as uncoiling toward the turf. Somewhere in the mess

the doctors made of his other knee, that cat

Coach Bryant talked about is clearly living

its other lives.

The photo cannot tell us

Namath won that game 52-13,

the score a simple fact for history

to bear, nor can it explain why

my family would travel to Houston years later

to watch this man stand on the sidelines, injured,

wearing a knee-length fur coat, my mother

following his every move with binoculars.

But somewhere in this single frame, each second

between then and now clears its throat

to begin a story of its own.