What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Don’t get ahead of me…I’m not talking about Carson Wentz in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…it’s far too early for such talk. But given the fact the pride of Bismarck, North Dakota is having a “Most Valuable Player” type season quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s already made himself a lock for the de facto North Dakota Hall of Fame.
While it isn’t called a Hall of Fame, there’s a section of the North Dakota capitol building in Wentz’ hometown dedicated to the honoring it’s sons or daughters who reach a peak of particular distinction. Before Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States, he spent several years in his youth living in the North Dakota Badlands. Roosevelt often said that if it had not been for his experiences in North Dakota, he never would have achieved the highest office in the land. When one of their own reaches such a peak, the state of North Dakota bestows an award on them named for the state’s adopted son and former U.S. president.
When North Dakota recognizes present or former citizens are given this award, they are given the honorary rank of Colonel in the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders and a portrait of the recipient is put on display in the Capitol building. As of today, there are 43 people to whom this award has been given. This select group includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General David Jones, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and the award’s original winner, Lawrence Welk.
You might be asking why would a state have it’s own Hall of Fame? That’s a surprisingly complex question.
A year and a half ago, Carson Wentz was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the second overall pick in the NFL draft. While this was this was one small step for a “NoDak,” it was a giant leap for North Dakota. You might think going “man landing on the moon” might be a bit over the top, but it is part and parcel to why this state with a population of less than 750,000 people has a Hall of Fame all for its own.
What you need to understand about North Dakota is that while it is a place usually both out of sight and mind as it is the definition of the “middle of nowhere,” it’s also a place surprisingly vital to your very existence. Most don’t think about North Dakota’s mightyness of in terms of it’s agricultural importance or it’s wealth in coal and oil. Historians can point to it’s role in the Cold War and its role in national defense to this day. Even less ever get to see North Dakota’s greatest asset; its people.
There’s less people in North Dakota than there are in Charleston, South Carolina. But the population of North Dakota is spread out over an area as large as both Carolinas combined. For the most part, they’re descendants of immigrants who literally carved an existence out of dirt in a landscape with an inhospitable climate. Every harsh Dakota winter is a reminder of the conditions overcome by their forebearers, and every spring the rich farmland shows why thy endured such hardship. Several generations later, those earthen roots bind North Dakotans into the world’s largest extended family.
I just had a perfect example of this happen a few months back; a point in time 25 years after and 1,000 miles away from my Dakota days. Now, I live in a Big Ten university town nowhere near North Dakota, but as an alum of the University of North Dakota, I’m known to fly my colors on occasion. Right around “move-in” day for the aforementioned local university, I’m wearing a UND sweatshirt in the supermarket and as I’m strolling through the frozen pizza section when I hear I hear the following:
“Hey…are you from North Dakota?”
I turn around to see a guy about my age (orbiting planet 50) and he’s wearing a North Dakota State University baseball cap. Standing next to him is a college-age kid wearing a Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz jersey. To make a long story short, I’m facing a father-and-son combination, the son is starting his college career at the local university, the father is moving the son into his first apartment, and nothing is a better starter for your first college digs than a freezer full of Totino’s Pizza. It turns out they are from a town in North Dakota about 40 miles from the one where I was born, and the son is moving into an apartment about two blocks from where I live. The story ends with me telling these two fellow “NoDaks” that I know how hard it is to be away from home for the first time, and me giving them my digits with the stipulation to not be afraid to call if they needed anything.
There aren’t too many times in this world when you can go from complete strangers to “your kid can come to my house for dinner,” but as “PollyAnna” as it sounds, I’m pretty sure this happens a lot with “NoDaks.” That matters the spirit that makes “NoDaks” look out for each other is the same which makes them celebrate the success of one of their own.
That’s why NFL Draft Night 2016 was a national holiday in North Dakota. From Absaraka to Zap, from Fargo to isolated farmhouses across the state, the eyes of North Dakota watched one of their own take a step no North Dakotan had ever taken. The aforementioned North Dakota Hall of Fame isn’t without recognition of athletic achievement. Casper Oimoen captained the 1936 U.S. Olympic ski team and was inducted into the Skiing Hall of Fame in 1963. Cliff “Fido” Purpur was the first North Dakotan to play in the National Hockey League and played an instrumental role in turning the University of North Dakota into a traditional power in college hockey. Roger Maris appeared in seven World Series in the 1960’s which was more than any other player in the decade. He won three of them; one with the St. Louis Cardinals and two with the New York Yankees. Speaking of the Yankees, Maris also happened to be the first guy to eclipse Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record when he nailed 61 long balls in 1961. More recently, Phil Jackson is near the top of the mountain of NBA coaches with his ten NBA championships.
But no North Dakotan has become a star in the NFL, the nation’s most popular sports league…until now. For purposes of full disclosure, I’m a life-long Philadelphia Eagles fan, and to make sure I wasn’t flinging myself headlong into a full dose of Philadelphia homerism, I threw my thoughts on Wentz the football player past several other sports fans. Since that is where this all really starts, I just needed to be sure I’m not seeing just what I want to see. None of them disagreed with me.
Having said that, my “man-crush” on Carson Wentz started during his days at North Dakota State University when the Bison were in the midst of their streak of winning five consecutive FCS championships. That level of success brought ESPN’s College GameDay to Fargo, where this town of 150,000 people put on a show like had never been seen. They shot the show in the middle of downtown, and what looked like the entire population turned out…the streets were lined, the rooftops were packed, and there were what seemed to be six people clad in green and yellow hanging out of every window.
But the star of the show was clearly Carson Wentz. That was the moment I knew this guy had “it.” Good, bad, or indifferent, there have been a choice few times in my life when the first time I saw somebody, I knew they were headed for the “big time.” In the early days of MTV, I remember the first time I saw some oddly-dressed blond belting out pop tunes that weren’t at all my “cup of tea,” I knew this woman was going to be huge…that was Madonna. Ten years ago, I recall seeing this guy playing quarterback for the University of Florida; he was built like a truck and he threw the ball like an East German shot putter, but he turned out arguably to be the greatest quarterback in the history of college football…that was Tim Tebow.
Wentz has that same kind of aura around him; the first time I saw him I knew this guy had a future beyond the usual “ex-jock turned high school gym teacher.” But I really didn’t know where his ceiling was.
I still don’t.
Going back to the original GameDay appearance, I had no idea what Wentz was as a football player. It wasn’t until the 2016 Senior Bowl when I saw he was 100% “the real deal” in terms having all the tools the NFL covets in a quarterback. That’s when I begin having the fear that Wentz is on the precipice of being yet another talented player sucked into a vortex of career destruction by being a high draft pick exiled to an NFL graveyard. That’s when I saw Wentz headed for Cleveland where he would get a nice contract, get beaten to a pulp, be unfairly labeled a “bust,” and taking his money back to North Dakota to become the biggest car dealer in the state.
Then, the Eagles make a trade for the Browns’ pick, and I’m thinking Philadelphia has a shot at it’s first “big-time” quarterback in at least a decade (two if you don’t count Donovan McNabb, which I do not…). Since then, every Sunday I see this guy play, I have no clue how much better he is going to get. The last guy I felt that way about was Tom Brady. I spent the first five years of Brady’s career saying this guy can’t keep getting better because the has the athletic ability of a floor mop. It was after the third Super Bowl…you know, the one where Brady made Donovan McNabb yack his guts out like a frat-boy after too many Jagermeisters…that I finally was forced to drop that narrative.
Now, I’ve been a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles since Nixon was in the White House, and now my team has a quarterback who has that same skyward trajectory…oh, except he has orders of magnitude more athletic ability than Brady. Wentz can throw the ball 50 yards on the flick of a wrist. He’s a mountain of a man who has already trucked more than one tackler. That’s why if I’m not the first guy in America not related to him to have a Wentz jersey, I want to know who was.
But I think football is really only the beginning for this guy. A year and a half ago when Radio JDub was still in production, I elaborated on why the NFL needs Wentz after the Los Angeles Rams made a deal to get the top pick in the draft. Then, I said the NFL needed to get Carson Wentz in the media capitol of America. Don’t get me wrong, once the Eagles made a similar deal, I wanted nothing more that see get Wentz in Eagle green, but I knew keeping this kid of of Cleveland would lead to a star in the making.
So far, I’m right.
That’s because Wentz is everything the NFL needs; a good, likeable guy who gets it done on the field and doesn’t look to be a pain in the ass or worse off of it. Beyond that, he’s the kind of guy fathers want their daughters to bring home, and he’s done something I’ve never seen before. In a city known for the fans booing Santa Claus, Carson Wentz has unified one of the roughest fan bases; nobody…and I mean NOBODY…has anything bad to say about him. They love him, because he’s embraced them.
That’s what North Dakota and Philadelphia have in common; in either place, once you are accepted as one of their own, it’s like being a “made man” in the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. Philadelphia fans took a long time to warm up to Julius Erving and Moses Malone, but one they did, great things happened. Ron Jaworski has been forgiven for the sins of the past once he embraced Philadelphia as his adopted home town. And now comes Carson Wentz.
Wentz is having a MVP-caliber season on the field, and the deeper the Eagles go into the play-offs, the more of America is going to get an introduction to this guy. They haven’t seen him yet as the Eagles are a team that draws the huge viewer numbers, and let’s not forget about the NFL’s tanking ratings. But if the Philadelphia Eagles make it to the Super Bowl, a star will be born in the media circus in the two weeks preceding it. Even if the Eagles don’t get that far this year, it’s really just a matter of time before Wentz becomes the next “face of the NFL.” It won’t be long before Wentz replaces Peyton Manning as the guy every advertiser wants associated with his product, and every media outlet wants to feature.
That’s when America will learn about Carson Wentz what North Dakota and Philadelphia already know. Once that happens, North Dakota will get it’s next native son to climb the mountain. In other words, it’s time to think about where the portrait of Colonel Carson Wentz is going in the North Dakota Capitol Building.