On Redheaded Quarterbacks and Whether Linemen Can Swim

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, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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