Originally published December 2002 (vol. 1, no. 5) in The Bootleg
Magazine. "The Next Elway" by Jim Rutter
"The next Elway"… Trent Edwards has heard it. T.C. Ostrander
wants to be it. Fans of the formerly formidable Stanford passing game
pine for it. We always want a promising new pigskin prospect, something for
which to live, to know when Stanford will find the next awe-inspiring,
entertaining, charismatic superstar. Come to think of it, another Elway might be
a tad greedy. We would settle for the "The Next Darrin Nelson,"
"The Next Kenny Margerum," or heck, at this point we’d even happily
settle for "The Next Anthony Bookman"!
Back in ‘79, a much-heralded, rifle-armed, pigeon-toed quarterback from
Granada Hills High School showed up and took part in the first day of Fall Ball.
According to local legend, two Card quarterbacks, Babe Laufenberg (a sports
anchor for CBS Channel 11 in Dallas-Fort Worth who actually interviewed Elway at
1:30 a.m. after John won his Super Bowl MVP) and Grayson Rogers (who is probably
a doctor somewhere), immediately decided to transfer, knowing in their hearts
that they would never stand a chance. Elway was that good, he had arrived
John Paye, the #1-rated prep QB in the country in 1982, came in after Elway
graduated and eventually proved quite the worthy successor, but technically, the
next in line after Elway was a fellow San Fernando Valley native, Steve Cottrell.
Let’s put it this way – Cardinal Coach Paul Wiggin once stated publicly,
"If John Elway is a 10, then Cottrell is a 7 or 8." Thanks, Coach.
precarious "Next" nametag. It involves the premature prognostication
of pigskin prowess. We always get ahead of ourselves. BootBoard recruitniks are
already talking about "The Next Teyo" when Teyo still needs to become
"The First Teyo"! In American society, we seem obsessed with
finding the next best thing. We want the next job, next diet, next house, next
growth stock. None of it is necessarily rational or fair. However, as ardent
sports fans, we crave a continuous frame of reference. We jump right in,
comparing apples with oranges. We want to put imperfect human beings into
well-defined categories. It is not that easy. Sport is an imperfect science.
Going from high school legend, to campus hero, to pro superstar, to landing in
the Hall of Fame is a rare thing indeed. 1953 Stanford All-American QB Bobby
Garrett, a one-time Hula Bowl MVP (as were Card QBs Jim Plunkett and Todd Husak),
was the #1 pick of the Browns in ‘54, but Garrett lasted only one year in the
NFL. Take the case of Michigan State’s Tony Mandarich, once dubbed "The
Best Offensive Line Prospect Ever"! The "Phenom of all Phenoms"
was the #2 pick in the NFL draft ahead of a few decent players like Barry
Sanders and "Neon Deion" Sanders. Mandarich was a physical monster,
sporting a 54" chest, yet five years later, Sports Illustrated was
calling him, "The Incredible Bust," offering him up as the poster boy
of steroid abuse. Remember when Kentucky center Sam Bowie was picked ahead of
Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft? Go figure.
Unrealistic expectations can put tremendous pressure on young athletes. Our
own hoops star Casey Jacobsen didn’t perform well in the beginning of last
season when he felt he had to take all of the shots. High expectations come from
a variety of sources – from fans, the media, coaches and even teammates and
families. We, the fans, are the worst. We don’t care about the odds of a
player reaching and maintaining stardom, we want to dream, and dream big. Is
amazing Ohio State freshman Maurice Clarett "The Next Hershel Walker"?
We don’t know yet. A lot can happen in contact sports. Eddie George became
everything OSU fans expected; however, another spectacular Big-10 back, Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter, was an overall #1 pick in the NFL draft, who due to injury, has done
diddly. Bo Jackson’s degenerative hip kept us from ever knowing just how
incredible he might have been. Closer to home, mid-80s Stanford linebacker Del
Detwiler was one of the toughest, craziest, hardest-hitting guys I ever met. He
was a clear candidate to be "The Next Dave Wyman," but he put his
forearm through a plate glass window, severed a major artery, and never played
another down. It isn’t always injury that gets in the way of success. U$C’s
"Robo-QB" Todd Marinovich was scientifically bred to be the perfect
quarterback, a "stone cold lock," but his rebellion from his famously
obsessed father nearly ruined him.
How can we project youngsters to become like athletes who have taken many
years to establish their greatness? Can a college player be realistically
labeled "The Next Gretzky" or "The Next Barry Bonds"? Can
anyone ever really be "The Next Tiger Woods"? Perhaps Kobe Bryant has
in some ways become "The Next Michael Jordan," but what about U$C
guard Harold "Baby Jordan" Minor, who won the 1993 and 1995 NBA Slam
Dunk championships in such spectacular fashion? Where is he now? Hanging out in
Vegas from what I last heard.
It seems to get worse and worse. The expectations and the accompanying
pressures seem to rise every year. Ohio’s two-time Mr. Basketball LeBron James
became the first high school junior to ever receive the Gatorade High School
Basketball Player of the Year Award. This "miracle-in-high tops" has
already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which declared him to be
"The Chosen One." LeBron has so much raw potential that Michael
Jordan, Shaq, Kobe and numerous other NBA superstars have actually attended his
high school games! An Italian league team supposedly offered him $9 million
to skip his final year and play overseas. Wow!
Unrealistic expectations can lead to unjustified disappointments. Notre Dame’s
Ron Powlus was, statistically, a fine college quarterback, but he is viewed by
many as a tremendous disappointment. The pressure on Powlus came from constant
media hype. Frightening-looking Beano Cook, the crown prince of college football
hype, once predicted that we would see at least two Heisman trophies for Powlus
during his career in South Bend. Never happened. Oklahoma’s Marcus Dupree was
supposed to become "The Next Billy Simms." Never happened.
Rating high school players is useful, but hardly precise. Running back Darrin
Nelson was considered by many to be "too small," arriving in 1977 at
about 159 pounds, soaking wet. He was listed at 5’9", 170. (Yeah,
and Troy Walters was 5’9"!) True, Darrin was a First Team All-CIF 4-A
(All-State in CA), but so was wide receiver Randy Risser. Randy who? Exactly.