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On Redheaded Quarterbacks and Whether Linemen Can Swim

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Quarterback in the NFL is the position that drives the franchise, sometimes into a sinkhole that swallows reasonable chances of success for years on end.


No wonder teams spend so much pre-draft time prodding, probing and analyzing quarterbacks. The decision is so costly and important that the term "pre-draft" as it pertains to the evaluation and measuring of QB prospects has been expanded to include college career, choice of high school prom date, kindergarten teamwork skills and, this year, conception.


An NFL coach doing his homework (and more) in advance of tonight's prime-time NFL draft hinted in last week's Sports Illustrated at a concern about whether TCU quarterback Andy Dalton can lead a team, seeing as how he's got red hair and not many great red-headed quarterbacks came instantly to the coach's overtaxed mind.

"Has there ever been a red-headed quarterback in the NFL who's really done well?" the coach asked. "It sounds idiotic, but is there any way that could be a factor? We've wondered."

True enough.

It does sound ridiculous.

The Brady 6

Quarterbacks are almost always the story of every draft, even when they aren't the story of the draft. Just wait a few years and they will be.

ESPN just aired a documentary on "The Brady 6," the six (mostly) failed quarterbacks who were chosen ahead of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in the 2000 draft. Chad Pennington was the only first-rounder of the group, and he did manage to make a name for himself with the New York Jets. Marc Bulger acquitted himself well enough, too.

Pennington, Bulger, Tee Martin, Chris Redman, Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn came off the board before the New England Patriots made Brady the 199th player chosen.

That would seem to add to the genius reputation of New England head coach Bill Belichick...once he explains why he took Adrian Klemm, J.R. Redmon, Greg Robinson-Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott and Antawn Harris before he got around to Brady.

The moral is quarterbacks are the greatest risk-reward position in the draft. And Andy Dalton's chromosomes aren't the only thing under the microscope this year.

Cam Newton's Fake Smile

A Pro Football Weekly evaluation of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was hardly kind.


"Very disingenuous," writer Nolan Nawrocki wrote of Newton. "Has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them."


"Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law - does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room..."


"Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness - is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."


Auburn quarterbacks coach Fred Whitfield ripped Nawrocki when he found out about the assessment.

"Nawrocki spent 10 (minutes) with Cam? Drunks can say that."

The critique of Newton could be called "damning" if the Carolina Panthers weren't expected to take Newton with the first overall pick tonight. It's difficult to go higher than first.

One NFL team threw Newton a curveball in the NFL Scouting combine interview period. Newton was asked why he changed a play from the sideline during Auburn's national championship win. The play worked. Newton supposedly got defensive about the question.

Teams test players that way. In fact, they test players so many ways they get away with inane questions because players figure there must be a deeper meaning, even when there isn't.

Questionable Questions

Washington quarterback Jake Locker told a Seattle radio show about the strangest question he was asked during the process leading to Thursday's draft.

"I was asked if I had a 16-year-old daughter whether I'd let her be on birth control or not," Locker related. "That one kind of threw me for a loop. It caught me off guard. I didn't know what to say at first."

Locker said he wouldn't.

Teams apparently give it their all when trying to come up with questions for quarterbacks. They don't waste just any questions on the men who will direct their teams for seasons to come.

It's standard to ask players if they'd rather go to five Pro Bowls or win one Super Bowl in an attempt to find out how me-oriented they are. Most players see that one coming a football field away.

Ohio State offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley, who would go on to Pro Bowl status in New Orleans, was asked if he could swim for some reason. Other players have been asked if they can sing.

Some years ago, one team official asked Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton if he'd rather be a dog or a cat.

"You wonder if it's a house cat or a tiger," Barton said at the time. "If it's a tiger, then you're solid. But a dog can beat a regular cat. I always pick the dog."

And -- coincidentally -- more than one team will pick a dog in the 2011 Quarterback Class.

The Obligatory Ryan Leaf Mention

For every Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, there's a bust like Ryan Leaf.

The Indianapolis Colts picked Manning No. 1 in the 1998 draft. The San Diego Chargers picked Leaf No. 2.

"You can go five to ten years without getting a chance to draft a quarterback like this," former San Diego GM Bobby Beathard said of Leaf that day.

As it turned out, only if you're lucky.

The Quarterback Ghosts of Past Drafts Gone Bad

As NFL teams ponder Newton at No. 1, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert in the Top 10 and other possible first-and second-rounders like Dalton, Locker, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder -- other names must be rattling around in the heads of personnel men along with all that information about size, mechanics, leadership and hair color.

Consider this list:

Chuck Long, Detroit (No. 12, 1986), Rick Mirer, Seattle (No. 2, 1993), Heath Shuler, Washington (No. 3, 1994), Tim Couch, Cleveland, (No. 1, 1999), Cade McNown, Chicago, (No. 12, 1999), Akili Smith, Cincinnati (No. 3, 1999), David Klingler, Cincinnati (No. 6, 1992), Andre Ware, Detroit (No. 7, 1990), Kelly Stouffer, St. Louis (No. 6, 1987), Joey Harrington, Detroit (No. 3, 2002), David Carr, Houston (No. 1, 2002), Jack Thompson, Cincinnati, No. 3, 1979, Todd Blackledge, Kansas City, No. 7, 1983 and Art Schlichter, Baltimore (No. 4, 1982).

Oh, and Todd Marinovich, Raiders (No. 24, 1991)

Come to think of it, didn't Marinovich did have red hair?

[Cam Newton image: © Gene Lower/ZUMA Press/Corbis]

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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