UGA football great Fran Tarkenton on QB Stetson Bennett and the NFL
While Stetson Bennett IV’s quarterback reputation seems to be emerging from the disrespectful Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome – with mention of the Heisman Trophy falling latently on his ears – another quarterback of his dimensions has lined up solidly against those who think that the Baron of Blackshear should forget the idea that he might not be playing Sunday football in the fall of 2023.
I’ve been given to say that Stet’s dream of playing for Old Georgia glory for some time has been the fulfillment of a long-held goal, but watching him maneuver on the behemoths of his world as ‘he leads his team to victory, also had me deeply in wonder about the next level.
It’s not his concern now. He still enjoys playing for the school he’s loved since he was in short pants, indulging in touch games at Herty Field on North Campus where UGA’s football beginnings began.
Another notable quarterback who used to dream of greatness during his early college days is one who did pretty well himself: Fran Tarkenton.
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The Sunday morning following Oregon, my phone rang and I heard this preaching from No. 10, who at one point held all NFL passing records: most yards, most attempts, most completions, most touchdowns and most yards by a quarterback. His NFL records stood for 17 years.
“Let me tell you,” Tarkenton began, “Stetson Bennett will play Sunday next fall. not in the last rounds. Somebody will draft him in the first two or three rounds, and somebody will have a winner.
“I don’t care how tall he is. I don’t care how well he scores on those stupid tests. The child knows how to play games. He has quick feet, and that’s important, but what I love about him is his brains.
Anyone with the beneficiary of a long-standing relationship with Fran would easily conclude that this Hall of Fame quarterback shows up a lot at Stetson. Tarkenton was castigated for not being fast enough, not big enough but he outmaneuvered everyone. He also had quick feet and he also had the chip. He could handle a defense as well as any quarterback who’s ever played the game.
I’ve heard him say time and time again that the best way to win in football is to run the ball and stop the run. You’ve heard this as often as Kirby Smart and Bill Belichick or any coach who’s ever had a piece of chalk in their hands. No one appreciates the fundamentals of football more than Tarkenton.
As a header shook aside, Tarkenton was lambasted for not being a classic strong-armed QB who could hum it from 70 yards out. He could manage that distance until his high school coach put him through “ground tackle” drills that resulted in a dislocated shoulder that he never fully recovered from until he gets a titanium replacement long after he retires from the NFL.
Yet he set all the records, took his Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls, leading his coach, Bud Grant, to proclaim Tarkenton to be the toughest, most competitive quarterback ever. . “The greatest ability of a quarterback is durability,” Grant told me at Viking headquarters in Minneapolis a few years ago. No NFL quarterback has been more durable than Tarkenton.
“Stetson is a good SEC quarterback, but the critics are focusing on his size and the strength of his arms. He led his team to the national championship. What more do you want in a quarterback? I don’t care how good a quarterback is in warmups, I don’t rank him off the charts for arm strength. I prefer to rate him on his ability to make plays, understand the game of football and win games. This kid has all of those qualities,” Tarkenton says.
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By the way, the chip, according to Tarkenton, uses the brain to control everything. You have to have talent in football, yes, but the key to succeeding in this game for a quarterback is brains, not a cannon arm.
Tarkenton, a multimillionaire, studies quarterbacks, but he also studies business titans and can rattle off the names of brilliant CEOs who weren’t college graduates. “Bill Gates didn’t finish his studies,” he says. “Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was a college dropout, Michael Dell of Dell Technologies was also a dropout. What do these billionaires have in common? They had the chip. They didn’t need a college education.
“The one I find so intriguing is Sam Walton. He opened his first Wal-Mart store at 51 and died at 74, the richest man in the world. He built the biggest company in the world, a incredible empire in 25 years Mr. Sam went to college, but no one had a bigger chip than him.
“The best quarterbacks in history had the chip. Guys like John Unitas, Joe Montana, Tom Brady were all high draft picks, but they had the chip. Just look at their records.
“I think Stetson Bennett has the chip and has no reason to think this young man can’t play in the National Football League.”