“Irrational exuberance” is a phrase one sportswriter used to describe the hero-worshiping that has accompanied Cardale Jones and his mesmeric rise to the top of college football.
One friend, also a sportswriter, argued that Jones, quarterback for Ohio State, was going to walk after the BCS Championship Game tonight and land among the Top 10 picks in the NFL draft.
Jones might do all of that for my alma mater, but he might do what third-string quarterbacks with inexperience written all over their résumé do: melt under the white-hot heat of a national event.
No matter what Jones, who grew up in the same neighborhood I did on the East Side of Cleveland, does tonight against Oregon, he will have had his 15 minutes of fame, and if he does the improbable – win the game – his fame will last him a lifetime. He will do what Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Troy Smith, Craig Krentzel, Orlando Pace, Cris Carter and an army of others have done at a college whose football history is as storied as any other college’s: cement his name in Buckeye lore.
Yet it’s hard to predict – impossible to predict, actually – what Jones, a 22-year-old redshirt sophomore, will do. His two performances as a fill-in for J.T. Barrett, himself a fill-in for Braxton Miller, suggested Jones might be the second coming of Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck, a mobile quarterback with a big arm.
In two starts, Jones showed Buckeye Nation and everybody else what a big-arm quarterback can do. He used that “12-gauge” arm of his to dismantle Wisconsin last month in the Big Ten Championship game, and he displayed its power again 11 days ago in leading Ohio State to a victory over No. 1 Alabama.
Still, you’d have to be the most diehard Buckeye fan or the most myopic to not see that banking too much on green talent might be folly and a bad chef’s recipe for disappointment.
It is delicious to think Jones can pull off the improbable, though. To think he can lead us to a richer narrative. For who else has done what he’s being asked to do?
Ohio State fans haven’t asked him to win once or twice; they’ve asked him to win three times.
His first two victories were easier, and Jones might not have understood what he had done. Like his Black peers who grew up in our neighborhood, he had visions as fanciful as anybody else’s. A few years back, he had led his all-Black high school to within a minute of a state title. He and the Glenville Tarblooders were oh-so close to a place in history, because no other all-Black high school in Ohio history had won a state football championship.
Maybe the memory of that disappointment drives Cardale Jones. He knows the hurt that comes from losing the last game of a season, and for Jones and the Buckeyes, the game tonight will be their last; it will also be his biggest ever.
“Everybody’s making a big deal, like I was born a day before the game or something like that,” he said in an interview with ESPN.
If he can forget the game’s bigness, Jones could flourish in the spotlight of a national TV audience. If the man can keep his cool in the face of this irrational exuberance that has engulfed him, he will evermore be a sports legend, even if his fame doesn’t translate into a NFL career.
People will then remember the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones as the third-string quarterback who didn’t let the moment overwhelm him.
An utterly crazy thought, ain’t it?
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(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)