- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Blood is thicker than water -- except when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Joe Namath knows that as well as anyone.
Namath will be rooting for his beloved New York Jets Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, but he's not going to have the support of his family members, many of whom still live in and around the iconic quarterback's hometown of Beaver Falls, Pa.
"I promise you, the Steelers are a way of life in western Pennsylvania," Namath told ESPNNewYork.com Thursday morning. "My entire family is for the Steelers. My sister told me, 'Joey, we love you, and if you were on the field we'd be pulling for the Jets, but you're not going to be on the field, so we're pulling for the Steelers like the rest of the family.'
"I'm the one Namath rooting for the Jets," he said with a laugh. "I might be the only person from western Pennsylvania pulling for the Jets."
As a kid in Beaver Falls, located about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Namath was a Steelers fan. You had to be. It was as much a part of life in western Pennsylvania as the old steel mills, where his father and grandfather earned their living.
But Namath said there were strong feelings in his town for the Baltimore Colts, who had a tight end named Jim Mutscheller, a Beaver Falls product. Mutscheller caught a pass from Johnny Unitas -- another western Pennsylvania legend -- to help set up Alan Ameche's game-winning touchdown in the famous Colts-Giants NFL championship game in 1959.
Namath doesn't think he'll make it to Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, but he'll be watching from his home in Florida. Naturally, he likes the Jets' chances. Always has. During a training-camp visit to Cortland, N.Y., last summer, he predicted big things, calling the 2010 Jets "the most legitimate contender we've had."
On Thursday, he echoed that sentiment.
"This is the best team they've had yet," Namath said. "I remember the other [championship-game] losses, but we've never had a dominating defense like this. The last two weeks, against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, were wonderful displays of how well we can play on defense."
Namath stopped short of delivering a guarantee. Naturally, he believes the Jets can win, but he wouldn't make a bold prediction.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "The problem is the Pittsburgh Steelers and that monster defense ... The really, really good news is the Jets know they can win. They've already won there (last month 22-17), and they expect to win. It's not false bravado. As long as they play smart, aggressive football, they'll have an excellent chance."
When Namath led the Jets to the Super Bowl championship in January 1969, he figured the second wouldn't be far behind. They haven't been back since that historic day in Miami's Orange Bowl, when the Jets stunned the heavily favored Colts 16-7.
"We fully expected to be back the following season and the next season, but things happen in football," Namath said. "There's no way any of us, or any Jets fans, could've dreamt it would be as long as it's been. But this is a legitimately very good team. Hopefully, it's good enough to get over the hump."
17hEric D. Williams