Dedication of Super Bowl III mural enhanced with surprise appearance of football icon Joe Namath.
The moment Joe Namath arrived, the atmosphere became electric at the dedication of a mural inspired by the legendary quarterback’s upset victory in Super Bowl III.
With Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, at the microphone outside the Cultural Center for the Arts, a buzz swept over the gathering of spectators as the former New York Jets star strode through the crowd, attired in his Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket. Heads turned, people smiled and Hankins beamed as he welcomed the icon.
David Baker, president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also was there to greet Namath, whose attendance had been rumored but uncertain due to flight delays en route to the Canton area.
Friday afternoon’s event was in honor of that January day in 1969 when the brash young quarterback jarred the sports world by guaranteeing he would lead the upstart Jets of the AFL to a victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. He did just that at the Orange Bowl, zipping passes, handing the ball off to a powerhouse of a running back and maintaining his poise on the grandest stage of professional football.
A towering mural pays homage to the moment on the side of the Cultural Center, the vivid imagery created by artist Dirk Rozich of North Canton.
During the dedication ceremony, Rozich spoke of the nearly 400 hours of work he devoted to the mural, from conception to painting. Hankins explained how the creation is one of 11 NFL-themed art projects being sprinkled about the downtown Canton area. And Baker also praised the role of art in the community while drawing analogies to the game of football.
But Namath’s presence instantly dominated the event. Following the celebration, Namath flashed his charismatic smile and was gracious in taking photographs with admirers while signing a few items for children.
“Thank you for honoring so many of the guys that helped the sport along or get recognized,” Namath said at the podium. ”... Over the years I’ve learned life starts with family ... and sports is another kind of family, and life itself is a team game, so I’m just part of a team.”
Thanking Rozich, he said, “This is terrific.”
During the festivities, Rozich detailed the effort invested in the Namath-themed mural: 18 gallons of paint, six gallons of primer, seven gallons of clear-coat, 29 paint brushes.
The mural measures 38 feet tall and 37 feet wide. The image of Namath alone is 27 feet tall.
“This game changed football forever,” Hankins said of Super Bowl III. “That’s why it was selected.”
Balloons were launched to mark the event. Also attending was Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei.
The ELEVEN public art project is a work in progress, Hankins said. Each art piece depicts one of the greatest moments in professional football history. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selected the moments.
ArtsinStark is raising the funds and coordinating installation. A total of 30 local artists applied for the Super Bowl III project. The first four projects were done by American artists from outside Ohio.
Sponsors include the Deuble Foundation, Hoover Foundation, Stark Community Foundation, Timken Foundation and in-kind supporters Hilscher-Clarke Electrical Contractors and Engineers, and Coon Restoration & Sealants.
Passion for art
Working together, the art pieces will create a tourist attraction in downtown Canton, Hankins said. All 11 will be within walking distance of the others, he said.
Rozich thanked Hankins, describing him as “the wizard behind the curtain.” He also extended appreciation to Baker, the Hall of Fame and Namath.
The artist said the two-month project was the most fun he has had creating a painting.
“Every single day I was just happy. I was excited,” Rozich said.