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Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Game Plan: Off-Field Sizzle

great quarterback need not be a handsome hunk, a marketing icon, a charmer or a serial-dating dude.
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Jason Szenes for The New York Times
Mark Sanchez, a quarterback with off-field panache.
Times Topics: Mark Sanchez
But it doesn’t hurt when you occupy sports’ glamour position.
Consider Mark Sanchez, the No. 1 draft choice of the New York Jets, a team in desperate need of panache, personality and victories.
Sanchez has curly hair, an electric smile, a Mexican-American heritage and an easy manner with the news media. He is polished, bright and articulate, and understands big-market media after being a star in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California.
He ended his only full season as U.S.C.’s starting quarterback by leading the Trojans to a 38-24 rout over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
And he is arguably even better looking than the young Joe Namath, who glamorized the quarterback species in the 1960s and ’70s (with Farrah Fawcett wrapped seductively around him), slipping on Hanes Beauty Mist pantyhose (if it made his legs look good, well), advertising Noxzema shaving cream, opening a Manhattan bar (calling it, quite appropriately, Bachelors III) and squiring Raquel Welch to the Academy Awards.
Sanchez hasn’t yet hawked Noxzema, but he has posed topless for GQ. And it seems he may be the closest thing the Jets have to a quarterback with Namath potential. And even Namath was not Namath immediately.
Sonny Werblin, the entertainment impresario who was a part owner and the president of the Jets, “introduced Joe to New York society,” said Mark Kriegel, author of “Namath: A Biography.” He “brought him to the bars, not just as a social mission, but to create an archetype.”
“He did such a good job with Joe,” Mr. Kriegel added, “that we’re talking about Mark Sanchez playing the same role.”
Sanchez was a national stud even before he knew the Jets’ playbook.
He posed for GQ’s June issue in bathing suits and shorts on a California beach, nuzzling the bikini-clad Hilary Rhoda. His teammates seized on the pictorial and imagined him in a male model walk-off, like the one in “Zoolander,” against Jets defensive back Kerry Rhodes, who is nicknamed Hollywood.
“Walking sex has a new name,” reported The New York Post, as if a lost Sanchez porn film had been found. The “succulent” Sanchez, it wrote, “is bona fide cougar bait.”
And then, as if to prove that a bona fide player lurked inside, Sanchez’s first pass in the Jets’ first exhibition game last week was a 48-yard completion — part of a drive that ended in a touchdown. But Sanchez has yet to win the starting quarterback position. Rex Ryan, the Jets’ coach, has not chosen between Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, a career backup.
And even once chosen, he must do more.
“You’ve got to win, baby, win,” said Steve Rosner, a principal at 16W, a sports marketing firm.
“All the stars are lining up for him to be a marquee player for a decade,” Rosner said. “Now he’s got to go out and do it.”
Winning is the essence of quarterback glamour. Joe Montana had oodles of glamour. So did John Elway. Michael Vick could have had it, but glamour cannot abide dogfighting.
Though not classically handsome, Peyton Manning has an Everyman appeal. He has fulfilled the requirements of quarterback greatness by being clutch and winning a Super Bowl; he has exploited that by being perhaps the most heavily-marketed quarterback ever. His brother, Eli, the Giants quarterback, is slightly less glamorous, but he has a Super Bowl victory, too.
The apotheosis of modern quarterback glamour is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. He has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories, which has placed him in the historic elite.
Brady has good looks, he’s cool, he’s had a relationship with the actress Bridget Moynahan (who gave birth to their son after they broke up) and is married to the supermodel Gisele Bündchen. He looks good in a tux.
Still, the New York quarterback is a species unto itself, if only because of the size of the market, and the potential financial rewards.
Sanchez’s contract is worth anywhere from $28 million to $60 million. (Namath’s first deal was $427,000 — not inflation adjusted, but even with that, the numbers aren’t close.)
“If I were the Jets,” said Kriegel, a columnist for Foxsports.com, “I’d take comfort in the fact that he did the GQ spread and he didn’t feel any false modesty.”
That’s one small step to glamour.

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