With Caleb Williams Comes a “Little Bit of Star Quality”

| May 10th, 2024

“What’s new Buenos Aires?I’m new–I want to say I’m just a little stuck on youYou’ll be on me too!

I get out here Buenos AiresStand back–you ought to know what’cha gonna get in meJust a little touch of star quality!”

Evita, lyric by Tim Rice

What is star quality? How does one quantify it? Richard Zanuck, one of the producers of Jaws (and countless other non-shark films) tried to sum it, saying, “Star quality is one of the most difficult things to describe. It emanates from the person, and he may not even understand it himself. It’s a quality that separates the star from the rest of us.”

Star quality, when it comes to sports, is perhaps even more difficult to define than it is in Hollywood, but there are correlations. Michael Shannon and Campbell Scott and Cherry Jones are brilliant actors, but are they stars? Of course not. “I’m going to see the new Cherry Jones film” is a sentence that has never been uttered outside of my apartment. D.J. Moore and Jaylon Johnson are a brilliant wide receiver/corner combo, but how many tickets do you think the two players are responsible for selling? I would argue very, very few. If Jaylon Johnson walked into my local bar for trivia night, there’s a chance I wouldn’t even recognize him.

Brilliance does not equal stardom in sports, but it is a requirement, because stardom without brilliance is mere celebrity. The Kelce brothers are stars in the NFL not just because of pop star girlfriends, shirtless beer guzzling and a top podcast. That helps, and their personalities enable those things, but they are stars in the NFL because they complement those personalities with two of the greatest careers seen at their respective positions.

Baker Mayfield has the personality, but not the game. Justin Jefferson has the game, but not the personality. The list of those who combine both attributes is a short one and that’s what makes a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Randy Moss, etc. so unique. Hell, Aaron Rodgers might three clubs (or more) short of a full golf bag but his stardom, and the attention it receives, are undeniable. (Joe Burrow and Cam Newton always struck me as fake stars. Great players who put on funny outfits to gain the attention they believe accompanies stardom.)

Cade McNown could have been the greatest QB to ever play but that “personality” was never going to breed stardom. Same with Rex Grossman and Mitch Trubisky. Jay Cutler had a remarkably unique personality, but he polarized the cities in which he played to such a degree that transcendent stardom seemed an impossibility. Justin Fields had electric moments on the field but offered very little elsewhere. Could you imagine Fields in these State Farm commercials Mahomes does?

Caleb already does the commercials. Dr. Pepper. Wendy’s. You name it.

But in the NIL age, college kids with an ad resume will be more the norm. What strikes me about Caleb Williams is how comfortable he is being the center of attention, an intended consequence of being asked to quarterback the Chicago Bears. When meathead fans from Wicker to Edison Park found themselves uncomfortable in their own masculine skin after Williams was spotted with pink fingernails, Caleb didn’t shy from the “negative” attention. He responded, brilliantly.

Worried about that scary Chicago media? What on earth do you think Dan Wiederer can ask or write that would bother this young man? (I’m assuming Dan still covers the Bears.) What Monday midday Dan Bernstein or Silvy rant do you think will manage to get under his skin? When @MomBanger766944833 comes at Caleb on Twitter, it’s more likely Williams publicly humiliates the anonymous critic than is impacted emotionally by incoherent social media drivel.

Caleb still has to produce. But if he does so at a high level, he is going to be the biggest star in the sport. That’s not hyperbole, it is a fact. A source close to Roger Goodell has told me the commissioner believes the greatest untapped resource in the NFL is a star quarterback in Chicago. With New York City split between two teams that play in New Jersey, Chicago is the most expansive football market in the United States. (Dallas’ monopoly over a huge chunk of the nation is its primary challenger.) Caleb can be bigger than Mahomes. Bigger than Rodgers. Bigger than Dak and Burrow and Josh Allen combined.

Because Caleb comes with more than just the talent required to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. He also comes with that bit of Evita, that little bit of star quality. It’s what separates him from the rest of us.

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