Four decades after he delivered on his guarantee to win Super Bowl III with the Jets, Joe Namath evokes certain images: a fur coat, a Fu Manchu mustache, a pair of white cleats—even the panty hose he dared to wear in a famous commercial in 1974. But for a new documentary, Namath, which premieres on Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. on HBO, David Robidoux, the director of original music at NFL Films (which co-produced the doc with HBO Sports), considered the Hall of Fame quarterback and conjured up something different: a blues guitar.
Charged with scoring the 90-minute film, which paints Namath less as Broadway Joe and more as Average Joe from the steel mill town of Beaver Falls, Pa., Robidoux was asked to convey Namath's central theme in a way that transported viewers back to the Jets star's hometown even when the story veered hundreds of miles away, to New York City. Enter the guitar.
"Beaver Falls wasn't necessarily a set of notes," as Robidoux saw it. "It was a bluesy electric guitar sound," he says. "The guitar represents Joe. He's tough, he's confident. And the guitar has a real tough, confident sound. The grit, you can't get away from it."
Such is the creative vision of a man who has written more than 850 compositions and won nine Emmys in his 20 years at NFL Films, headquartered in Mount Laurel, N.J., where his soundproof office boasts a synthesizer and eight wall-mounted guitars, should he be struck by the urge to riff. Robidoux, 42, spends countless hours writing music, much of it orchestral composition--which also features heavily in the Namath musical score—that is then recorded in an adjacent studio (above). "You need the orchestra to tell an emotional story, the struggle, action and injury. There can be unbelievable triumph or heartache in football," says Robidoux (below). "My job is to [evoke] the right emotion."
"To walk downstairs and see an 80-piece orchestra recording music for a film that you're working on is the coolest part of this job," says NFL Films senior producer Keith Cossrow. "Everyone has already seen Namath [raise his index finger] after Super Bowl III. But it's the music that makes it seem like you're seeing it for the first time. It's the music that gives you goose bumps."