…it is the East and Joe Namath is the Sun.

“Most Valuable Valentine”

Both of my parents’ families are originally from New York, and I myself lived for roughly six years in the Empire State. Over the years, especially at Baecher (my mother’s maiden name) gatherings, my father and I– as well as anyone else with the misfortune of being in the room– would occasionally be lectured about an alleged car ride that my mother and some siblings took in Joe Namath’s car, and a Valentine’s Day card that she mysteriously received the following year. (At the time, Namath was an NFL superstar on the New York Jets and was coming off a Super Bowl III victory before which he famously guaranteed his team’s victory, despite their status as decided underdogs.)

In fitting with the nature of these wistful reminisces, I remember mine and my father’s groans and complaints that accompanied these stories far better than I remember the stories and “facts” themselves. To address this, I asked my mother to give her account of the events, and she did not disappoint. Here is a portion of the email, which speaks for itself:

“With a family of 13, vacations were a challenge, even though – due to an age span among the children of 18 years – we never all vacationed together. Still –  for 9 or more people (at any given time,) vacationing was prohibitively expensive. Instead we usually visited relatives. My mother’s sister Jody (and her family of 11) lived a couple of hours away in Peekskill, NY and my uncle Tom worked at the Peekskill Military Academy. PMA was the only excitement in a very small town and my cousins often hung around the campus. As luck would have it the NY Jets used the PMA as their practice facility at that time and my cousins were regular spectators, and even befriended some of the players.

I’m not sure now of the order of events but one of our vacations in Peekskill occurred the summer after the NY Jets won the Super Bowl. It was all very exciting watching them play at PMA – even for an impressionable 10-year girl! And Joe Namath was a superstar who my cousins actually knew and introduced us to. At one point several of us piled into his car (I think it was a Mustang) which he had won as Superbowl MVP, and went for a ride. I was smitten! I had never been so excited in my young life and I developed a serious crush on Joe Namath. (In the interest of full-disclosure I don’t remember if Joe Namath was actually driving the car – I just remember the ride – but he must have been.)

I’m sure I nursed this crush for many months. And the following February – out of the blue – I received a huge valentine from none-other than Joe Namath himself. The card was made out of a sheet of red poster board, folded in half. Inside was an autographed 8×10 photograph personalized with my name. It was magical. My brothers teased me tirelessly and tried – without success – to convince me that the valentine was a prank of some sort – that there was no way it was from Joe Namath himself. I was not swayed. The envelope was post-marked from Virginia (I think) or some other exotic location. Wherever it was, it made sense that Joe Namath would be in that state, and I certainly didn’t know anyone who lived there. And besides, I’d met him – ridden in his car even – it seemed quite possible that he might send a valentine to his greatest fan, and it was one of my proudest possessions. (I remember taking it to school and sharing it – bragging about it – with my 4th grade classmates. I even showed it to Sister Lourdel!)

This story has resurfaced periodically over the years with occasional teasing from various family members – which eventually gave way to good-natured ribbing. I still held to my belief that the valentine was genuine – though half-heartedly. Eventually I accepted that it was probably a prank of some sort but a culprit was never identified and no one ever stepped forward – until 33 years later.”

After all of the excitement, it turned out the card had come from none other than my grandmother.

—Ryan

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