LOS ANGELES. E.J. Gaines of the Los Angeles Rams didn’t realize something was missing from his life until he opened up this morning’s New York Times.
“I was looking for the review of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s upcoming season when I noticed something in the sports pages,” said the cornerback. “All of a sudden it hit me–I should have been playing football,” he says as he fires up a homemade particle accelerator he uses to make zucchini fritattas with the heat generated by collisions between quarks and gluons.
The Rams are the NFL’s smartest team based on their collective performance on the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a standardized exam given at the NFL Scouting Combine to college football players who hope to make the pros. Despite that surfeit of grey matter, the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005.
The Wonderlic exam includes questions such as: “Rope is selling for $.10 a foot, and Bob is on a train traveling 60 miles an hour from Kansas City to St. Louis. You should be in: (a) a seven-man front, (b) a nickel defense with a Cover 2, or (c) a basic 4-3 alignment with RE and RT stunting.”
Former head coach Jeff Fisher says the team’s IQ sometimes gets in the way of its performance on the field. “I told the guys to suck it up in training camp, we had a shot at a wildcard spot,” he said with disgust, “but no, they’d rather play chess and conjugate irregular French verbs.”
Cuthbertson’s Irregular French Verb Wheel: I have one you can borrow.
“Don’t blame me,” said tight end Temarrick Hemingway as he looked up over a paperback copy of Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones. “Our playbook is bo-ring.”
Among the teams with lesser intellectual gifts who made the playoffs were the Houston Texans, the only NFL team never to have played in a conference championship game. The Texans’ coaching staff credits a top-to-bottom overhaul of the team’s learning environment.
“The guys were listening to ‘Hooked on Phonics’ and Beethoven’s late quartets in the locker room,” says Joe Bob Dunham, place-kick holders coach. “We bought some heavy metal and alternated it with rap and Jessica Simpson, and I guess you’d have to say it worked.” The Texans were AFC South division champs this year, and rolled over the Raiders in yesterday’s AFC wildcard game, 27-14, thanks to an Oakland game plan that included short passes on first down and heavy doses of phenomenology. “You don’t get out of the wild card round if you’re MENSA material,” notes Cooter, referring to the high-IQ membership organization.
Fisher says the problem with this year’s Rams squad is common among intellectuals. “They’re like a bunch of absent-minded professors,” he notes. “They know which sonnet of Shakespeare has the ‘bare ruined choirs’ line in it, but they can’t remember where they put their car keys.”
“‘Bare ruined choirs’ is Sonnet 73, line 4, left side.”
But cornerback Gaines is unapologetic. “Scientists are on the verge of incredible breakthroughs in nanotechnology, and all we ever talk about in team meetings is blitz packages,” he said, and he blames the Rams’ coaching staff for the team’s poor performance this year. “I told coach Fisher to put ‘Make playoffs’ on his to-do list, but he went and stuck it in a copy of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Once you drop that in the library book return, some other knucklehead will check it out and you’ll never see it again.”
The Rams’ may de-emphasize their reliance on the Wonderlic test next season and draft players based on athletic rather than cognitive skills, according to Fisher. “Kurt Warner is the kinda player we need,” he said, referring to the team’s quarterback during its “Greatest Show on Turf” years. “Kurt’s a snake-handling religious nut who used to tell reporters God made him throw for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. He wasn’t the brightest bulb on the scoreboard, but he got us to the Super Bowl twice.”
A slightly different version of this article first appeared in Flak Magazine in 2007. It will continue to appear annually, mutatis mutandis as the lawyers say, until the Rams make the playoffs.