By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
You think of the New York Jets and still, all these years later, you still think of Joe Namath, the quarterback who not only put the Jets on the football map but the entire American Football League, to say nothing of white llama rugs.
Now Geno Smith is going to be the Jets quarterback, so what should you think of?
Joe Namath, what else?
That’s how it was a couple of years ago for Greg Schiano when he was preparing his Rutgers team to face West Virginia University, a rather difficult prep considering he never did beat the Mountaineers while at Rutgers, having a couple of close calls and that first-year disaster that wound up 80-7 in favor of WVU.
“I kept looking at (Smith) and saying who is this kid like?’’ Schiano said to a New Jersey paper after a practice. “He’s not like anybody. Then, I remembered watching as a kid Joe Namath. That’s who he reminds me of.
“He’s lanky, and he has a quick release. He’s not running all over the place. He’s a true, drop-back, big-time passer. If I said that to the kids I don’t think they would know who Joe Namath was. The guy on television.
“But that’s who he reminds me of. He just delivers the ball with such precision, speed, zip and a quick release.”
Smith, of course, grew into a second-round NFL draft choice, and if Schiano is right, he’s looking at a long, successful career in the NFL.
Namath, you see, is a Hall of Fame quarterback.
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Here’s one no one around here really knew before someone asked Stedman Bailey about it following being drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals, joining fellow Mountaineer receiver Tavon Austin, who was that team’s first round pick.
His name, it seemed, was unusual enough to have one of the St. Louis media ask him about it.
“I was told by my mom that she got it from Oprah Winfrey’s boyfriend. His name is Stedman Graham and I guess she liked it, so that’s what she named me,” Bailey said.
But Graham is really quite a bit more than just Oprah’s boy toy.
He’s an educator, author, businessman and speaker who has been with the talk show host and media mogul since 1986, long enough to have been engaged to her back in November 1992 only to have them decide they would rather have a “spiritual union.”
Bailey’s namesake is CEO of S. Graham & Associates, a Chicago based corporate and education marketing and consulting firm and founder of AAD, formerly Athletes Against Drugs, a non-profit organization that provides services to youth and awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships since it was founded in 1985.
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The Rams ought to be sending WVU assistant Lonnie Galloway a bonus ... a big bonus.
Not only did Galloway coach WVU’s Austin and Bailey, being the prime recruiter on Austin, too, but he either coached or recruited current Rams’ receivers Briant Quick and Chris Givens.
He helped bring Quick to Appalachian State before coming to WVU for the first time and coached Givens in his two years coaching at Wake Forest before returning to the Mountaineers last season.
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You talk about the right man at the right time in the right place, you’re talking about Tavon Austin in the NFL draft.
At another time, Austin well might have been a third- or fourth-round draft pick rather than a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, but he comes along just as the league is reshaping itself, in part because of the way the rules have changed and in part because of the way college football has changed.
There was a time when the NFL would not even look at someone who was 5-8 and weighed 174 pounds, but in today’s NFL a player like that can not only survive but star if he has the skills Austin has.
This is the way Peter King of SI.com put it:
“I think Tavon Austin became the most desired skill player in the draft because of the way the game is going. People want multi-faceted offensive players, and Austin, though very small, scored four ways last fall. The Rams might get him killed doing it, but they plan to use him as a slot receiver (maybe 700 snaps) and a punt-returner (maybe 50 punts) and are open to using him as a kick-returner too. Think of Austin — after watching his highlights over the last few days — playing on the Ed Jones Dome turf. What a weapon.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.