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When legends collide: Namath, Jeter meet

TAMPA, Fla. -- Two of the most celebrated icons in New York sports history had the chance to compare notes on Monday, as Joe Namath and Derek Jeter crossed paths for the Yankees' Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Dressed in a Yankees uniform with his old No. 12 stitched onto the back, Namath had a long chat with Jeter in the dugout during batting practice. He lauded the shortstop for the way he has conducted himself on and off the field during his career.

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"Knowing the scrutiny that he's had over the years, I can't imagine how the guy could be an angel like this," Namath said. "He's to be respected in every phase of his life, it seems.

"Many of us fell short with some of that, but you learn to bounce back. It's human to err, and I know about that. We do our best to come back. Derek hasn't made many errors that I've witnessed."

Jeter said that he met Namath once before, shooting a commercial for the now-defunct Nobody Beats the Wiz electronics chain in 1997, but their conversation that day had been brief. Jeter was pleased to have the chance to talk more with the 70-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback.

"I didn't watch him play football, because I'm too young, but I've admired his confidence, the confidence he played with," Jeter said. "It's one of the perks you get playing here; you get to meet a lot of special people over the years."

Asked if he might follow Namath's example and guarantee a World Series victory for the Yankees this season, as Namath did for the Jets before their Super Bowl III showdown with the Baltimore Colts, Jeter shook his head.

"No. He had less newspapers back then, less Internet," he said. "The story would go viral now."

Manager Joe Girardi said that it was a thrill to have Namath in uniform and on the bench. Girardi allowed Namath to serve as a co-manager for the afternoon, including bringing the lineup card to home plate.

"It was just awesome, just to listen to him talk about football," Girardi said. "We talked about where he grew up in Pennsylvania, and we talked about his days in Alabama with Bear Bryant, the national championship, his days with the Jets, and now."

Namath told Girardi that he had been a third baseman and outfielder in high school but that he had to give up baseball once he committed to playing football at the University of Alabama. He also lobbed a ceremonial first pitch that was received by Jeter.

"It's special. This was excitement from the get-go, when I talked to some folks about being here," Namath said. "I'm a baseball fan, I'm a Yankees fan, I'm a people fan. So yeah, this is very special."

Namath's daughter, Jessica, was a classmate of Yankees closer David Robertson at Alabama; they were briefly reunited in the dugout on Monday, and Robertson believes they shared an English class during his sophomore year.

Robertson recalls walking by Namath's statue and hearing his name spoken with reverence on campus, but he guesses that there were many other tributes behind closed doors.

"They didn't let baseball players in the athletic building," Robertson quipped. "It's football town."

Few people probably understand New York's mega-spotlight better than Namath, but despite his long-standing reputation as his era's nightlife king, "Broadway Joe" cannot quite wrap his mind around Jeter's success in the big city.

"He's special," Namath said. "Some of the things in life that athletes or people in the public eye go through, I can relate to a little bit -- but his career, where he's been and what he's done, I can't relate to all that.

"No, man. We accomplished a goal when I was a part of a couple of teams when I played and we won championships. He's done quite a bit more."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.

New York Yankees, Derek Jeter