Jack­son makes Bal­ti­more proud

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Alexan­der E. Hooke

Bal­ti­more is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a once-in-agen­er­a­tion ath­letic phe­nom­e­non named La­mar Jack­son. He’s not just the talk of the town; he’s the talk of the sports world. MVP? Next Su­per Bowl champ? Maybe. But one thing is clear: Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son is the most ex­cit­ing ath­lete to wear a Bal­ti­more uni­form since Earl Mon­roe.

Con­sider the par­al­lel.

Earl Mon­roe was the start­ing guard for the Bal­ti­more Bul­lets bas­ket­ball team from 1967-1971. Af­ter a record-break­ing se­nior year when he led the Win­stonSalem Rams to a col­lege bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship, Mr. Mon­roe’s rookie year as a pro took the bas­ket­ball world by sur­prise. He mixed herky-jerky, fade­away jump shots with the smooth ma­neu­vers of a whirling dervish. His sleight-of­hand an­tics changed the rules on drib­bling, and his no-look passes be­dev­iled op­po­nents.

In­deed, sports writ­ers used terms such as spec­tac­u­lar, sen­sa­tional or un­be­liev­able to ac­count for Mr. Mon­roe’s court wiz­ardry. Though a col­lege sports writer nick­named him “Earl the Pearl,” to his team­mates and fans he was “Magic.” He could make some­thing out of noth­ing.

Like­wise, La­mar Jack­son can turn a 10-yard loss into a 15-yard gain. He can fake out quick lineback­ers and out­run speedy cor­ners. His pass­ing tech­niques look un­ortho­dox at times, yet he re­mains a marvel to watch. In a re­cent touch­down run, one hard-nosed sports re­porter, The Sun’s Mike Pre­ston, could only de­scribe Jack­son’s play as “stuff from an­other planet.” To pull off such stuff be­fore the best play­ers in any sport is a rare ac­com­plish­ment.

Truly ex­cit­ing ath­letes do more than just en­ter­tain — they also im­prove their teams and fel­low play­ers. In Mr. Mon­roe’s rookie sea­son the Bul­lets im­proved by 16 games. Michael Jor­dan’s Bulls won 11 more games, and Earvin John­son’s Lak­ers had 13 more wins. The high­est scorer in the NBA dur­ing his first two sea­sons, Mr. Mon­roe led the Bul­lets from last place to first place.

In his first 16 games as a starter, La­mar Jack­son’s team is 13 and 3 — a game bet­ter than cur­rent MVP Pa­trick Ma­homes’ first 16 starts with Kansas City. And his quar­ter­back rat­ing of 94 tops fu­ture Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady’s 90 score. He di­rected a medi­ocre Ravens team into the play­offs last year, with a sec­ond play­off spot likely this sea­son.

We all should try to en­joy La­mar Jack­son while we can. He is de­light­ful, in­tense, con­sid­er­ate, com­pet­i­tive and down to earth. Thinkers and mys­tics in­vari­ably pon­der over what for­tune will present us the day af­ter to­mor­row. Earl Mon­roe abruptly left the Bul­lets af­ter just a few sea­sons, traded to the ri­val New York Knicks.

We can­not guess the bless­ings or curses that await La­mar Jack­son. He’s only 22 years old, and some raise con­cerns that a run­ning quar­ter­back like Mr. Jack­son is at greater risk for se­vere in­jury than a pocket passer (though the re­search varies on that). Great and early suc­cess might lead ex­ces­sive pride to over­come Mr. Jack­son’s cheer­ful hu­mil­ity; nu­mer­ous stars have un­der­mined their ca­reers with a scan­dal in which they suc­cumbed to one vice or an­other. Should Mr. Jack­son’s star con­tinue to rise, free agency and the big busi­ness of sports might tempt him to aban­don the Ravens.

Bal­ti­more fans have been spoiled with an ar­ray of ath­letes who rank among can­di­dates for Great­est Of All Time: John Uni­tas, Wes Unseld, Ray Lewis, Cal Rip­ken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ed Reed, Jim Palmer, Earl Mon­roe and the great­est of all greats, Babe Ruth. Now we are be­ing spoiled again by an­other ma­gi­cian at work.

Thank you, La­mar Jack­son, for giv­ing Bal­ti­more some­thing more to be proud of.

BRYAN WOOLSTON/GETTY

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son waves to the crowd af­ter a game in Cincin­nati last week.

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