During the weeks leading up to the 2006 NFL draft, numerous clubs expressed concern over the astoundingly low scores posted by highly touted quarterback prodigy Vince Young on the “Wonderlic” intelligence test. Young, fresh off leading the University of Texas almost single-handedly to a national championship, proceeded to score a 16 out of a possible 50 on the test, one of the lowest ever scores by a top prospect at his position. So called “intelligence tests” are a funny thing. I also am not noted for my easy facility with such examinations, and on at least one occasion failed a mathematics test after mistakenly attempting to resolve a series of complicated formulas by drawing a picture of my favorite pro wrester. Such moments are embarrassing, and if they occur frequently enough, you end up in special school comprised mainly of those who prefer their cocktails from an aerosol can. I felt badly for Young when all of this was occurring, given that he strikes me as a plainly bright man, to say nothing of one hell of a football player.
What in the world is a Wonderlic test anyway? Does that have the ring of something you'd really like to excel in? With a name like that, I'm not really sure you'd want
anything higher than a 16. It sounds to this reporter like a real measure of degeneracy. “Hey boys, I got a 25 on the Wonderlic!” sounds like the sort of thing you might encounter in a Bukowski novel. Any score in high 40s and you probably make some kind of criminal watch list. What kind of questions do they ask anyway? Here, evidently, is an example:
Three individuals form a partnership and agree to divide the profits equally. X invests $9,000, Y invests $7,000, Z invests $4,000. If the profits are $4,800, how much less does X receive than if the profits were divided in proportion to the amount invested?
Why would anyone know the answer to this? And who would start a company with someone with a consonant for a name anyway? I can't even get a line of credit and Mr. X, Y and Z all have business licenses? Why you would ask this to a prospective NFL quarterback is absolutely beyond me. That said, I have long suspected that the vast majority of “scouts” are in fact little more than particularly well-compensated gym teachers. I came to this conclusion following many years of carefully studying such debates as: “Who will be the next great NFL quarterback, Heath Shuler or Trent Dilfer?” For those with a capacity to put such things out of your mind, allow me to remind you that Shuler and Dilfer were the two coveted quarterback prospects of the 1994 draft. After much wringing of hands and Socratic reasoning and Wonderlic testing and whatever else, Shuler was eventually selected third overall by the Redskins and Dilfer sixth by the Buccaneers. In an amusing irony, it turns out that they both absolutely sucked. I can laugh about this now, because it was twelve years ago and Heather Shuler turned out to be a Democrat, but at the time I was completely convinced that the Redskins had cracked the code and drafted the next Joe Montana. When it turned out that Shuler couldn't complete a pass to the Atlantic Ocean, I became sullen and bitter and wondered who I could sue. When it turned out I had no legal recourse of any kind, I made a mental note not to take this sort of pre-draft chatter so seriously. Basically it's a lot of sound and fury and no winning at all.
Things turned out all right for Vince Young of course. Overlooking whatever alleged red flags the Wonderlic test raised, the Tennessee Titans made him the first quarterback and the third player picked in the draft overall, and he has proceeded to look increasingly impressive in going 4-4 in his first eight starts. Lost in the hilarity of the Giants' boggling, Keystone Kops-style fourth quarter meltdown last week was the cool and collected leadership of the preternaturally gifted Titans rookie, who capitalized on the myriad mistakes of his opponents with nearly flawless play in the game's final ten minutes. A misstep by Young at any time could have salvaged the game for the Giants and deprived all of us one of the most captivating instances of epic schadenfreude in the recent history of sports viewership.
But what sort of a test did these teams give Eli Manning anyway? Eli, the celebrated younger Manning sibling, who the Giants moved Heaven and Earth to acquire with the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, has played recently like a deeply confused individual. It may be that he has lost his confidence, or perhaps he has forgotten certain fundamental and important aspects of "game theory," such as the important strategic stipulation that a quarterback avoid throwing forward passes to the opposing team. Coming out of college, Manning was coveted for his intelligence and preparation, but three years down the line these attributes have yet to manifest themselves on a consistent basis. Over the last few games he has been made to look veritably amateurish — throwing fluttering interceptions at crucial impasses in just the sort of manner that gets coaches fired. Manning may well end his career as a star player with All Pro and Super Bowl appearances to his credit, but the indisputable fact remains that at this point he has now fallen behind Philip Rivers and Ben Rothliesberger, players taken after him in the same draft. Further, he has failed to develop in areas that were purported to be the essence of his talents. Countless hours of interviews, workouts, and pouring over game film by scouts evidently could not reveal certain flaws in his make up as a player, anymore than they could detect the diamond in the rough that was the sinister Tony Romo
, who went undrafted the previous year.
As a constant, inveterate consumer of professional football, I frequently vacillate in my view of what I am watching. Sometimes I feel sure that the game is an impossibly complex high speed chess match, populated with genius-powered intellects employing the latest in cutting edge technology to stay one step ahead of their equally brilliant counterparts. Then I start thinking that maybe it's just a bunch of dunces with clipboards. The Manning-Young dichotomy does precious little to clarify this matter. To suggest that Young's evident mastery of the quarterback position is largely innate and intuitive seems completely unfair: surely he works as hard at the mental aspects of the sport as Manning, and his scrambling ability and improvisational flair should not be confused with an inability to execute a conservative, ball control style game plan. If anyone has proved reckless and mentally unprepared it is Manning, he of the long pedigree and high test scores. It is possible to make certain disturbing inferences about why it is that Young and Manning were characterized in their respective manners before entering the league. The congenital tendency of scouts and commentators to describe African-Americans as “running quarterbacks” while their white counterparts are almost inevitably “pocket passers” is rife with virulent subtext, to say nothing of being maddeningly inaccurate. Long-standing prejudices aside, the larger point seems to be that for all of the expense and manpower, the process of picking an NFL quarterback remains something akin to total guess work. During last Sunday's game circumstances unfolded in precisely the inverse manner that we were led to expect: Young outplayed Manning by managing the game and avoiding back-breaking mistakes. It is like we don't know these men at all. Regardless, both are far better than Heath Shuler, who is now thankfully in Congress where he belongs. I wonder if they have a Wonderlic test for elected officials? Sounds like grounds for impeachment...