11/28/2003 12:00AM

Not your ordinary Joes

Larry Spitzer/Louisville Courier-Journal
Roommates at the time, Joe Hirsch and Joe Namath enjoy the festivities at the 1965 Kentucky Derby.

Joe Hirsch and I have been close friends for nearly 40 years. Despite a 13-year age difference, Joe and I were roommates in New York from 1965 to 1976. Thanks to Leon Hess and Sonny Werblin, I was very fortunate to have met him, in late 1964 in Florida before signing my contract with the Jets.

Part of Mr. Werblin's desire for me to grow up was introducing me to Joe, for him to take me under his wing and be like a guardian to me. We hit it off immediately. He was living at the time at the Miami Springs Villas, as were a number of Eastern Airlines trainees, and a couple of double dates later with the young stewardesses and we were making plans to get an apartment together in New York.

Joe learned a lot about women from me over the years, but I learned so much more from him. He always tried to help point me in the right direction, to teach me about life. Because of him I learned some things about respect, a little about discipline, and a whole lot about people. I made more friends because of my friendship with Joe, because they respected and loved him and gave me a chance because of that. I had a similar experience in my relationship with Coach Bear Bryant. It was my good fortune to have been able to have both as friends and mentors.

In the 12 years that I was with the Jets, there wasn't a game that Joe didn't drive me home afterward. He knew more about winning and losing than most people because of what he learned from those in horse racing. He was always a tremendous supporter, especially after the tough losses. He always seemed to know when to say the right thing, or when not to say anything at all. One of the best drives we had together was after the Super Bowl.

That was a very special ride that we were able to share, going home after winning the championship.

There may not have ever been a greater writer who covered a sport. I was always amazed at his durability and determination. He never let anything get in the way of his work; even when we stayed out late together he'd always be up early to go to the track. I don't know how he found the energy!

I cannot imagine that there was ever a more dedicated or courageous sportswriter. Despite a 20-year battle against Parkinson's disease, Joe continued to travel the world to cover the sport he loved, even when those columns took longer and longer to type and complete. Horse racing, and the people in it, is still his life, that will never change. I know something about playing in pain and the body giving out on you as an athlete. Until finally calling it quits at age 74, his mind as sharp as ever, Joe Hirsch played in pain but never once complained.

I love Joe Hirsch. The pages of Daily Racing Form will never be the same. His words, and wisdom, his friendship and his character, will be greatly missed by all of those in horse racing.