What’s in a quarterback’s name? More than you think.
If the Los Angeles Rams are smart, they’ll pick Carson Wentz over Jared Goff in this week’s NFL Draft.
I base this not on any scouting data – though we’ve seen that predicting draft success is a crapshoot for even the savviest scouts – or even from having seen them play. In fact, I had to look up which school each played for. No, my prognostication that Cal’s Goff will flop while North Dakota State’s Wentz may fly is based on a criterion given short shrift in NFL front offices: Their names.
Simply put, I cannot envision the name “Jared Goff” inscribed on one of those funny-looking busts that NFL Hall of Famers get upon entry to Canton. Can you?
The NFL has a longstanding tradition of interesting names, from the steel-mill tough Chuck Bednarik to the fashionably unique Amani Toomer to the evocative Johnny Blood. That’s to say nothing of Chad Ochocinco. The point is, the wide and wild range of fun names cuts through the No Fun League’s otherwise corporate stodginess. It certainly makes listening to the broadcasts more interesting.
Quarterbacks are no different, but their names require a certain flair. Like the heroes of westerns or science fiction films, a quarterback’s name should evoke his leadership, his poise, guts, his derring-do. You’d never forget a name like Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon, or Inigo Montoya. Since their position is football’s most important, great quarterbacks have names that befit their status as “field generals.” They certainly do not have surnames that sound like Ray Romano coughing up a hairball.
I mean no disrespect to Jared Goff. But the way letters fit together matter. It may even be a matter of destiny. Through time immemorial, great quarterbacks have had three distinct types of names:
Classic Northern European-sounding names. These are the kinds of names you might expect to see on the registry at the yacht club. It doesn’t matter whether the individual is actually Anglo or Dutch or whatever, just that the name sound esteemed. Examples: Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Len Dawson, Terry Bradshaw, Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton.
Tough, working-class-sounding names. These are the guys that sound like they just got off their shift at the steel mill or the auto plant and are down at the pub having a few Schlitz together. Examples: Arnie Herber, Tobin Rote, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen, George Blanda, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger. (Why Tom Brady and Jim Kelly fit into different categories is a question I can’t answer. They just do.)
Literary-sounding names. These guys really could be fictional cowboys or spacemen. Examples: Bobby Layne, Sid Luckman, Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Boomer Esiason, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, and the name to end all names at the position, Bart Starr.
You can randomly pick a quarterback and put him in the right group easily. Bernie Kosar…Beer-drinking factory man. Roman Gabriel…That’s a name from a book if I ever heard one. Byron Leftwich…Do I even have to say it?
Fitting into one of these categories does not guarantee wild success. We’ve had plenty of Ryan Leafs, Art Schlichters, and David Carrs to go around. And every once in a while, someone with a weird name like Trent Dilfer might win the big one. But if your name falls outside these three categories, suffice to say you’d better finish that college degree, because you might need it in a few years.
That goes for the unfortunately-monikered likes of Tim Couch, David Klingler, Danny Wuerffel, Blayne Gabbert, Blake Bortles, and yes, Jared Goff. See what I mean? Goff is a great surname if you’re a linebacker.
Now, “Carson Wentz” is by no means a home run. The last name fits in with the Schlitz-drinkers. The first name sounds a little yacht-clubby, but since the first pick goes to the team playing in Los Angeles, it fits better. Think Johnny Carson, or quarterback Carson Palmer (who played at USC). Or even Carson Daly. If you’re playing in Tinseltown, you want a guy named Carson leading your team.
NFL general managers should really take this into consideration. These are names that could be in rings of honor, halls of fame, and on plenty of merchandise. It’s true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But can it thread the needle on 4th and long?