As Stetson Bennett IV’s quarterback reputation seems to be emerging from the Rodney Dangerfield no respect syndrome—with mention of the Heisman trophy falling latently on his ears—another quarterback of his dimensions has lined up solidly against those who hold the view that the Baron of Blackshear should forget about the notion that he might not be playing football on Sunday in the fall 2023.
I have been given to say that Stet’s dream of playing for the glory to ol’ Georgia for some time has been the fulfilling of a longtime goal but watching him maneuver about the behemoths of his world as he leads his team to victory, has also had me deep into wonderment about the next level.
That is not a concern of his now. He still loves playing for the school he has adored since he was in short pants, engaging in touch games at Herty Field on North campus where UGA’s football beginnings began.
Another quarterback of note who was wont to dream about greatness in his precocious college years, is one who didn’t do badly himself—Fran Tarkenton.
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On Sunday morning following Oregon, my phone rang, and I heard this preachment from No. 10, who at one time held all the passing records in the NFL: most yards, most attempts, most completions, most touchdowns and most yards rushing by a quarterback. His NFL records stood for 17 years.
“Let me tell you,” Tarkenton began, “Stetson Bennett will be playing on Sunday next fall. Somebody will draft him because he has ‘the chip.’ (More about that later). And it won’t be in the late rounds. Somebody will draft him in the first two or three rounds, and somebody is going to get a winner.
“I don’t care how tall he is. I don’t care how well he does on any of those stupid tests. The kid knows how to make plays. He’s got quick feet, and that is important, but what I like about him is his brain.”
Anyone with the beneficiary of a long-time relationship with Fran would easily conclude that this Hall of Fame quarterback sees a lot of himself in Stetson. Tarkenton was castigated for not being fast enough, not big enough but he outsmarted everybody. He had quick feet, too, and he also had the chip. He could master a defense as well as any quarterback who has ever played the game.
I have heard him say over and over that the best way to win in football is to run the ball and stop the run. You have heard that as often as Kirby Smart and Bill Belichick or any coach who has ever had a piece of chalk in his hands. Nobody appreciates football fundamentals more than Tarkenton.
As a head shaking aside, Tarkenton was castigated for not being a classic strong armed QB who could hum it 70 yards. He could manage that distance until his high school coach made him participate in “tackle to the ground” drills which resulted in a dislocated shoulder from which he never fully recovered until he got a titanium replacement long after NFL retirement.
Still, he set all the records, took his Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls which made his coach, Bud Grant, proclaim that Tarkenton was the toughest and most competitive quarterback ever. “A quarterback’s greatest ability is durability,” Grant told me at the Viking headquarters in Minneapolis a few years ago. No NFL quarterback was more durable than Tarkenton.
“Stetson is a fine SEC quarterback, but the critics focus on his height and his arm strength. He led his team to the national championship. What more do you want in a quarterback? I don’t care how good a quarterback looks in warmups, I don’t rate him off the charts for his arm strength. I prefer to rate him on his ability to make plays, to understand the game of football and to win games. This kid has all those qualities,” Tarkenton says.
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The chip, by the way, in Tarkenton’s view is using the brain to master it all. You must have talent in football, yes, but the key to succeeding in this game for a quarterback is the brain not a cannon arm.
Tarkenton, a multi-millionaire, studies quarterbacks, but he also studies titans in business and can rattle off the names of brilliant CEO’s who were not college graduates. “Bill Gates didn’t finish college,” he says. “Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was a college dropout, Michael Dell of Dell Technologies was also a dropout. What did these billionaires all have in common? They had the chip. They didn’t need a college education.
“The one I find to be so intriguing is Sam Walton. He started his first Wal-Mart store at age 51 and died at 74, the richest man in the world. He developed the biggest company in the world, an unbelievable empire in 25 years. Mr. Sam did go to college, but nobody had a greater chip than he did.
“The best quarterbacks in history had the chip. Guys like John Unitas, Joe Montana, Tom Brady all were high draft picks but they had the chip. Just look at their records.
“I think Stetson Bennett has the chip and have no reason to think this young man cannot play in the National Football League.”