by Playthell Benjamin
It is not often that we are afforded an opportunity to witness history in the making; last Tuesday was an exception. For in the National College Championship game played in the billion dollar Texas play-pen euphemistically called “Jerry’s World” – because it was built by Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones – we witnessed the making of history in the event itself and in athletic performance. There has never been a game to determine the national championship for major college football under the new NCAA playoff system, and there has never been a quarterback like Cardale Jones.
A month ago he was the third string quarterback sequestered in anonymity riding the pine on the Ohio State bench. Tonight he became the winning quarterback under the First college football playoff format when Ohio State mugged Oregon State in full public view. No quarterback began his college football career as the starter in the Big Ten Championship Game, and none before Cardale went on to beat the #1 team in college football, and then leading the team to victory in the Championship game.
Hence Cardale Jones should turn a deaf ear to all of those who are counseling him to stay in college. I am amazed at some of the unsolicited advice from so-called football wise guys among sports commentators like Mike Golic, the co-host of the ESPN morning show “Mike and Mike,” even if they are former pro-players. For despite their pretensions of prescience in football matters, we have too many examples of when they were wrong about the potential of players to succeed in professional football, and they are most often wrong about quarterbacks.
We need only look at the examples of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Ryan Leaf, Jemarcus Russell, Todd Marinovitch, RGIII and Russell Wilson, et al. Ryan Leaf was one of the most heralded college quarterbacks to enter the National Football League, everybody predicted that he would be a sensation, but he was a spectacular bust and is now serving time for having turned to a life of crime. Jemarcus Russell was even more hyped and he too went bust.
On the other hand Tom Brady barely made it into the league; he was drafted with the 177th pick. He was not only unsung when he came out of Michigan but nobody expected him to get much beyond the practice squad. Like Cardale at Ohio State, Brady was a third stringer with the New England Patriots and might never have gotten off the bench in a real game unless both the starting quarterback and the backup were sidelined due to injury, a very rare circumstance; one was just as likely to be struck by lightning. But it did happen, Brady got a chance to play, and he didn’t lose a game, right up to the Super Bowl and a world Championship. Cardale Jone’s college career has mirrored Brady’s experience in the pros. One other notable example of a third stringer who has found even more spectacular success is Russell Wilson, quarterback with the reigning World Champion Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson, a great all-around athlete and outstanding young man who graduated from college in three years, was drafted by three professional baseball teams. But after playing baseball for a year he decided that he liked football better and went back to college in order to play out his final year of eligibility. He systematically chose the University of Wisconsin because of the huge size of their offensive lineman, averaging 6’ 7” and weighting over 300 pounds. Wilson’s intention was to answer a pressing question about his ability to perform on the professional level due to his height: the ideal pro-quarterback is 6’ 4” and above weighing at least 220 pounds. Russell Wilson is around 5’ 11” 205 pounds. Thus despite an impressive winning record in major college football he was drafted in the third round and destined to play on the practice squad.
However Russell was so impressive when he went to camp with the Seahawks he won the starting job in practice before the season began! This was unprecedented in professional football, especially since they had just signed Mike Flynn as the starting quarterback for ten million dollars. Over the last three seasons Russell Wilson has won more games than any quarterback in the history of the NFL over the same period of time.
He has also set some all-time records – such as passing for over 300 yards and rushing for over a hundred in a single game. Yet many teams passed over him because of his size. But John Gruden, the former Super Bowl winning coach and astute evaluator of quarterback talent as host of the television show “Gruden’s Quarterback Camp,” predicted that Russell would be great after working him out and interviewing him to assess his football skills physically and intellectually. He also predicted that the teams that passed over him would live to regret it, and history has proven him right.
I am going to make a similar prediction about Cardale Jones: If he enters the draft he will be chosen, and when provided an opportunity to play he will emerge as a star in the National Football League. My certainty on this question stands on firmer ground than that of the Supreme Court Justice who said although he couldn’t define pornography “I know it when I see it.” In the case of Cardale Jones, I not only know that he is the real thing from just watching him play, I can also define the things that contribute to his greatness.
He is 6’ 5” and weighs between 250 – 260 pounds. He has such a powerful throwing arm that his teammates nicknamed him “12 gage” because it reminds them of a shotgun. Not only can he throw the ball 70 yards with the accuracy of a rifle with a flick of the wrist standing in the pocket or on the run. Hence he is a true “dual threat” quarterback who can tuck the ball away and run with speed, power and elusiveness. He obviously has a high football I.Q. based on the sound split second decisions he makes about when and where to throw the ball and when to run with it. And his poise in the pocket – i.e. grace under pressure – is worthy of an experienced NFL quarterback. These are the tools of the trade that successful pro quarterbacks have employed.
Despite these obvious and indisputable assets, there is a chorus of naysayers who argue that Cardale should stay in college. The reasons they give all sound like spurious nonsense to me. The least convincing of these is that he should not enter the draft because we have not seen enough of his college play to get a solid sample of his abilities since he has only played in three games. Here we have serious confusion between quality and quantity. When Professor Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his now famous treatise on the formation of American character “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” the gravitas of his argument was such that nobody was willing to dismiss it because it expressed a game changing view of American society in a paper of only 13 pages rather than a book of a thousand. Sometimes it does not require an extended view in order to recognize greatness.
When I look at Cardale Jones I think of my grandfather, who was an excellent tailor who learned his craft on London’s famous Saville Row, which is reputed to turn out the best tailors in the world. He was so good at it that he was in charge of the entire coat making division for Botany 500, which produced the finest suit one could buy “off the rack” anywhere in America. The fact that he had hundreds of white tailors working under him – whom he hired and fired – in a racist American society where a black tailor could hardly get a job on this level attests to his mastery of the tailor’s trade. One day he was talking about how he assessed the quality of the tailors who applied for jobs. “They all think that I make my decision based on how they cut the pattern,” Pop said, “but I can tell what quality of tailor they are by the way they balance the scissors.”
That’s how I feel about Cardale Jones, and talent scout worth his hire should be able to see his greatness on the three games he played in college; if the can’t tell what quality of professional quarterback he will make they should find another line of work. To those who argue that he lacks experience and thus is unprepared to lead an NFL team just now I say: so what? For most of the history of the NFL young quarterbacks were expected to sit and observe a master at work for about three tears; it is only recently that rookies have been expected to start.
Quarerbacks were chosen on the basis of their talent and the potential it represents. Most of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks did not start as rookies, and a prospect who promised a decade or more as a great starting quarterback is a damn good bet; the kind of pick that could make a coach and General Manager’s career. Cordale Jones was pitted against this year’s Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota – who was being discussed as possibly the #1 pick in the draft, over the sensational Florida State quarterback Jamis Winston, last year’s Heisman winner and quarterback of the national champions whom the Ducks blew out in the first round of the playoff competitions – and he looked like a grown man competing with teenage boy. I believe Jones is a superstar waiting in the wings; he is ready to perform on the big stage in prime time. Despite what the so-called football wise guys say, I predict that Cardale Jones will be drafted in the first round should he enter the draft.
I am also convinced that he would be one of the biggest fools the Gods ever blew breath in should he return to Ohio State. There is no upside to it, he has already declared in a tweet that he came to Ohio to play football and he has been here and done that splendidly. There is nothing more to be gained by staying in college; he can get a degree when his pro football career is over, as he will still be a young man and rich enough to do whatever he wants in life. Alas, football is a violent and dangerous game in which a career can be ended in a single hit; hence it is folly to play one more down of college football… let alone another season. And if I were Cardale I would throw my hat in the ring, kiss college goodbye – where he is making millions for the colleges and coaches – take the money and run!
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.