Before Sam Darnold and Joe Namath were New York Jets, they were college quarterbacks who went down as legends. Just how similar were their college careers?
Sam Darnold the newly minted heir to the New York Jets throne, had a whirlwind college career filled with championships, MVPs, and headlines.
Joe Namath the most famous quarterback in Jets history, spent his college years setting records, winning a national title, and playing for arguably the greatest coach in Alabama Crimson Tide history, Bear Bryant.
Though before these two quarterbacks became leaders at their respective schools, they almost signed elsewhere.
For Namath it was the University of Maryland, where he accepted a scholarship offer yet failed to get an acceptance from the institution itself after failing to score high enough on their admission tests.
The high school football state champion quickly landed himself on Byrant and Alabama’s radar and had a tough decision to make.
What many people don’t know is that Namath also had an opportunity to play Major League Baseball with the Chicago Cubs, which also came along with a $50,000 signing bonus.
Though the money was an enticing advantage to going the baseball route, Namath wanted a chance to strap on the football pads at the next level.
So the kid from Pennsylvania with the shaggy dark hair headed south to the land of yes ma’am and the religion of football.
Namath passed up the glitz, glam, and money that signing with the Cubs would have brought him. Little did he know only a few short years after his time at Alabama, his name would be synonymous with those three things
For Darnold his talents almost led him east to Duke University, for USC was late to offer the four-star quarterback from San Clemente High School.
He had offers and took visits to Utah, Northwestern, and Duke, and his crystal ball predication on 247Sports had him set to become a Blue Devil. Though after participating in a football camp USC hosted on campus, both former head coach Steve Sarkisian and then offensive coordinator Clay Helton realized the hidden gem that was the red head from San Clemente.
Like Namath, Darnold also had a tough decision ahead of him. The road to becoming “the guy” for USC was not going to be easy.
USC already had incumbent starter Cody Kessler for another year and after that Max Browne the class of 2013 five-star, was set to become the next Trojan heir to the quarterback throne.
Not to mention five-star and fellow class of 2015 quarterback Ricky Town had already committed to USC ahead of Darnold.
All of the analysts, reporters, and insiders had Town’s name splashed across their headlines. Darnold was just a name they figured would end up transferring if he signed with USC.
There is something to be said about a childhood favorite sports team. It creates a dream that starts before a kid is able to consider the logistics of college football. Before depth charts and playing time get in the way of an innocent commitment that came when a little boy first dawned a school’s jersey.
The quiet quarterback from San Clemente had been wearing cardinal and gold his whole life, he wasn’t about to switch colors now.
Receiving an offer from the Trojans was the nail in the coffin for other schools courting Darnold and like Namath he too is now cemented in college football history.
Their college accomplishments are eerily similar, both having no trouble breaking school records and marching down the field into end zones and championships.
In his three years are the starting quarterback for Alabama, Namath went 29-4. Darnold though only starting two seasons for USC, recorded a win/loss record of 20-4.
As a first year starter Namath broke single season records and notched an Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma, which made him one of the hottest names in college football heading into the 1963 season.
Joe Namath throws a pass during Alabama's game against Tennessee on Oct. 20, 1962 at Neyland Stadium. pic.twitter.com/xL09HWuiRQ— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) September 3, 2016
Darnold went the same route, having no trouble setting multiple USC and Rose Bowl records as a redshirt freshman starter.
Namath continued to lead the Crimson tide to championships one of which came again in 1963 with the Sugar Bowl victory against Ole Miss, the other in 1964 with Alabama being awarded the national title.
Headed to the NFL Draft as a first round draft pick, Namath left Alabama with a couple shiny trophies and position records in pass attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns.
Darnold also headed to the pros as a first round draft pick, and left the Trojans with drought-ending Rose Bowl and Pac-12 Championship trophies. He set single season records for passing with 4,143 yards and total offense with 4,225.
For Namath and Darnold their legacies at their respective schools are the same. They came, the conquered, they won big.
The Jets selected Namath at No. 12 in the 1965 NFL Draft and Darnold at No. 3 back in April. Both quarterbacks will be placed in Jets history forever, though it is still yet to be determined how New York will rank Darnold when his career is over.
Joe Namath in 1975, rocking a fur coat, velour shirt and low-top Nikes: pic.twitter.com/6oGxiqlc— SI Vault (@si_vault) July 26, 2012
While Namath has already made his name in green and white as Broadway Joe hoisting a Super Bowl trophy above his head, Darnold has years to prove his high draft selection right.
For one, his college career was an origin story that gave way to a New York legend in a fur coat. Jets fans shouldn’t expect to see the modest kid from Southern California in such a bold fashion statement, but there is every reason to believe Darnold’s career at USC is only the beginning.