|Harvard's All-American QB Barry Wood, who introduced the world to the idiom "Monday morning quarterback".|
A “Monday morning quarterback” is “one who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight.”[i] Or, as Frank Sinatra more poetically put it, in replaying the events leading up to a painful break up:
[I]t's so easy looking at the game the morning after
Adding up the kisses and the laughter
Knowing how you'd play it if the chance to play it over ever came
But then, a Monday morning quarterback never lost a game
In the United States, the National Football League (NFL) generally plays its games on a Sunday, so it is not particularly surprising that these hindsight quarterbacks would discuss the game on Monday. What is more surprising, however, is that the idiom first came into widespread use with respect to college football games played on Saturdays. Monday, it seems, was the day when people went back to work and picked apart the game with their friends.
In an earlier post, I traced the origin of “Monday Morning Quarterback” to a widely reported speech by Harvard quarterback Barry Wood to delegates of the 46th annual meeting of the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools on December 4, 1931. In the face of criticism of the evils inherent in the overemphasis on football in schools and colleges, Woods deflected blame from the game and its players, placing it with the “Monday morning quarterbacks” in the stands. The expression was certainly in use within the narrow subculture of Ivy League and other major football powerhouses before the speech, but it quickly took hold among sportswriters across the country after Woods’ comments appeared in print. The idiom was later used in an Army officers’ training manual and was frequently used in accounts of military action during World War II.
(See The History and Origin of “Monday Morning Quarterback” – it’s worth a look, if only to see a photo of General Patton wearing a football helmet with his Army uniform)
The earlier post is accurate, as far as it goes, but it missed the forest for the tree. “Monday morning quarterback” was only one, albeit the most popular one, of more than a dozen alternate hindsight quarterbacking idioms, and it wasn’t the first. “Grandstand quarterbacks” sat in judgment from as early as 1927. And many people did, in fact, get together to kvetch about the game on Sundays– and there was a name for that – “Sunday Morning Quarterbacks.”
Sunday Morning Quarterback
The earliest example of the expression “Sunday Morning Quarterback” in print I found is from 1927. It appeared, appropriately enough, in a syndicated column written by the archetype of the America football coach – Knute Rockne. Unlike other critics of football’s hindsight critics, Rockne respected the Sunday morning quarterbacks, even if he took their advice with a grain of salt:
It has been my experience, however, that no college quarterback has ever been able to compete with the Sunday morning quarterback. This latter species is always correct. He insists on the right of playing Saturday’s stock market on Sunday, whereas the poor little quarterback has to play it on Saturday. However, I wouldn’t be without the Sunday morning tactician for the world as they are always interesting, they add color and they are the barometer of interest.
The Sunday morning soothsayers are never harmful as long as they kept within bounds but none of them will ever make the All American.
The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa), September 28, 1928, page 16.
A few days later, a writer in Indiana (where Rockne coached Notre Dame University’s football team) used the expression:
A Corner in Pigskin, by W. F. Fox Jr.
Various coaches, successful and otherwise, throughout this country have refreshing names for the gents and ladies who devote half of Sunday morning and all of Sunday afternoon to the business of verbally firing a coach. Some coaches call them “Sunday morning quarterbacks”; others call them “boards of tragedy,” and still others resort to the more or less trite appellation “second guessers.”
The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana), October 31, 1928, page 26.
The expression “Sunday morning quarterback” appeared in print occasionally before 1932, but does not appear to have been as popular as “Monday morning quarterback” became soon after appearing in print in late-1931. Perhaps it was the alliteration; perhaps it was because more people did, in fact, discuss the games on Mondays. The widespread use of the expression, “Monday morning quarterback,” may even have paved the way for the various other hindsight idioms, many of which first appeared within a year or to following its debut.
The proliferation of second-guessing idioms may also have been spurred by technological advances that made it easier for more fans to enjoy and second-guess games. The All-American quarterback Barry Wood, who was Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, suggested as much in the same speech in which he introduced the world to the expression “Monday morning quarterback”:
In brief, Wood said the growth in public interest was due chiefly to increased means of transportation and the radio; that the press in printing what critics called “football ballyhoo” was only meeting the readers’ demands; that football coaches who strive for winning teams are forced to by the alumni and the spectators; that a football player who gets a false idea of his own importance, as critics charge, quickly realized he is “just one of the mob” when he gets into the football world. The answer to over-emphasis was to be found not on the field but in the stands where sit what Wood called “the Monday morning quarterbacks.”
Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, December 5, 1931, page 28.
With “Monday morning” and “Sunday morning” quarterbacks making the rounds, “day-after quarterbacks” might be the next logical step. However, I could find only a single, one-off example of the expression in print in 1939, illustrating once again that pop-culture and linguistic fashions are not entirely logical.
Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California), October 5, 1939, page 4.
But despite many coaches’ misgivings about so-called “Sunday morning” or “Monday morning” quarterbacks, Knute Rockne always knew where his bread was buttered and even his obituary noted his good relationship with the fans, as noted in an item published the day after his untimely death in a plane crash on March 31, 1931:
He knew his boys, he knew the thousands of “Sunday morning quarterbacks;” he knew the fair-weather friends who travel with only winners and he knew the loyal type who stick when the road is rocky.
All that acclaim that he won never changed him. He hated the “high hat” just as thoroly [sic] as he did the “drug store cowboy.” He never wore it.
Lincoln Evening Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), April 1, 1931, page 19.
Coincidentally, the final lines of this brief tribute hint at another pre-“Monday morning” quarterback idiom.
Drugstore Quarterback (and cigar store)
In November of 1931, two weeks before Barry Wood introduced “Monday morning quarterback” to the masses, little Hobart College of Geneva, New York was on the verge of breaking a 27 game losing streak. It was an away game at the home of their ancient rival, the University of Rochester, and their fans behaved poorly (at least as reported by the Rochester press):
Hobart supporters in the left end of the stand were in ecstasy. The drugstore quarterbacks from Geneva, who wore Hobart colors and little purple footballs on their coat lapels, were being just as scurrilous and low-lived and loud-mouthed as drugstore quarterbacks, under such circumstances, could be expected to be. College city “townies” have been ever thus.
Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), November 22, 1931, page 13.
“Drugstore quarterback” appears to be a riff on (or echo of) an earlier, more widely used idiom, “drugstore cowboy.” A “drugstore cowboy” seems to have been a dandified version of what became known as the “Urban Cowboy” in the 1980s; a ladies’ man who hangs out at drugstore soda fountains affecting the suave, debonair air of a silent film matinee cowboy:
|Logansport Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Indiana), February 29, 1924, page 5.|
The “Drug Store Cowboy is the latest classification given local “faddish” young men.
Beside “Jelly-bean” and “Cakeeater” “Drugstore-cowboy” will go down in the book the ever changing younger generation.
The dress of the “Drugstore Cowboy” is distinctive as is that of the “Jelly-bean” and “Cake-eater.”
The biggest and fussiest cowpuncher John E. available, classy boots, and in some instances the real thing – high heeled rough leather boots, a classy wool shirt of the right shade of blue or gray, and a neck scarf with lots of cow boy lingo compose the apparel distinctive of the “drugstore Cowboy.”
Winfield Daily Free Press (Winfield, Kansas), November 1, 1922, page 2.
The evils of the “Drugstore Cowboy” were well documented (or at least sensationalized):
|Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pennsylvania), October 18, 1923, page 7.|
|Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois), July 9, 1923, page 2.|
Although “drugstore quarterbacks” may have been less dangerous to the public welfare, they were still up to no good – or at least up to pointing out the faults of their no-good favorite football team:
Football coaches call them the drug store quarterbacks.
Anyway after any game there are several scores of people who can tell you the faults of both teams. They can tell you why a certain team lost and why a certain team won. In very few cases does the other team win because it was just good enough to win anyway, but usually because there was a certain break or a certain negligence of which the winner took advantage.
A drugstore quarterback can play one of the best retrospective games in the world. He can’t lose, for he is looking back over the game that has been played, knowing what the other team has done.
The Anniston Star (Anniston, Alabama), June 1, 1936, page 8.
If someone could hang out at the soda fountain talking sports, wouldn’t “soda fountain quarterback” make just as much sense?
And it did:
Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), October 24, 1932, page 7.
The early popularity and longevity of the expression “drugstore cowboy” (which is still in occasional use today) may help explain how “drugstore quarterback” survived for so many years. It was still in regular (if not frequent) use during the 1950s and it appeared in print as recently as the 1990s.
The expressions “drugstore” and “soda fountain” quarterbacks debuted during Prohibition, when alcohol could not be sold openly. Since Prohibition ended in 1933 there have been a few, scattered or one-off expressions that reflect the change; “beer parlor” and “beer garden” quarterbacks (just once, in the same article in 1934), “tavern quarterback” (just twice, in 1955 and 1972) and “bar room quarterback” (twice, in 1972 and 1975):
“Soda fountain quarterback” and several other alternate, second-guessing quarterback idioms debuted within a few years after “Monday morning quarterback” became widely known. And while “Sunday morning” and “drugstore” predate “Monday morning” with respect to quarterbacks, they are not the earliest known such idiom.
Grandstand Quarterback (and Bleacher and spectator)
In October 1927, one year before “Sunday morning quarterback” first appears in print, Joe Williams, the Sporting Editor of the New York Evening Telegram writing in his syndicated column, As Joe Williams Sees It, seems to credit Percy Haughton, who coached Harvard from 1908 to 1916 and Columbia from 1923 to 1924, with expression “Grandstand quarterback”:
Haughton made the observation that the stands surrounding the football fields held several hundred times as many quarterbacks as ever got into uniform. He never missed an opportunity to put the grandstand quarterbacks on the griddle. He wrote a book on the game and devoted considerable space to the subject. The grandstand quarterbacks, Haughton pointed out, fail to realize the quarterback is a mere boy who has probably not reached voting age, and that under the eligibility rules in force he could not have piloted a major football team for more than two years, and probably not that long.
“As Joe Williams Sees It,” Pittsburgh Press (Pennsylvania), October 17, 1927.
But although Haughton’s book, Football and How to Watch It (1922), addresses the subject, he did not refer to the second-guessing fan as a “grandstand quarterback,” he called them “Mr. Know-it-all.” It seems likely, then, that Williams was using a term that was already in use in 1927 but which may have been coined sometime after 1922.
And people in the grandstand were not the only ones who were critical of their team’s performance. If you could only afford a cheap seat in the bleachers, you might be a “bleacher quarterback,” which first appeared in print in 1932:
All the passes evolve from spinners, reverses, multiple spinners, end arounds, or some deceptive play. A [UC Santa Clara] Bronco never takes the ball from the center and just fades back so that even the bleacher quarterbacks in tier 42 can see it coming.
Oakland Tribune (California), November 18, 1932, page 27.
The early second-guessing quarterback idioms all presuppose seeing the game in person (grandstand or bleacher) or complaining about it after the fact (Sunday or Monday), perhaps at a drugstore soda fountain. But advances in technology gave rise to new opportunities. Radio and television made it possible for fans to enjoy the game at home, in their own parlor or living room, from the comfort of their favorite armchair or easy chair.
|Time Magazine, Volume 20, Number 24, December 12, 1932, page 44.|
But while listening at home has its comforts and benefits, you had to rely on the play-by-play announcer to fill in all of the details – and that wasn’t always pretty. Instead of second-guessing the game, a disgruntled "Armchair quarterback" might second-guess the announcer:
Now that Rt. Hon. R. B. Bennett, Hon. James G. Gardiner and Premier Bracken of Manitoba, have all joined in the paens of praise for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers it might not be remiss for a Saturday afternoon radio quarterback to make some observations.
To begin with I didn’t see the game. I sat in a comfortable overstuffed chair at home, and while the radiators hummed with heat I heard of the frozen ground at Lansdowne Park; how men, women and children sat huddled in fur coats, parkas, mackinaws, rugs and buffalo robes, while a “cross” wind blew in their faces.
I sipped tea while the Blue Bombers gave the coup de grace to the Rough Riders. It was a typical football broadcast with all the old school tie traditions of sportsmanship. . . .
We started off with the lineups of both teams but the announcers didn’t bother much with the substitutions. Poor Tony Golab must have been on for a few minutes because we suddenly heard he made a nice gain. Then “Tony” became the forgotten man. We wondered about his ankle, too.
Once in a while our jittery announcer made life really interesting. Ottawa had intercepted a Winnipeg forward just before half-time, but the Blue Bombers came right back with the ball. It was one of life’s little mysteries, so we threw a few lumps of sugar in the tea.
The Ottawa Journal (Ontario, Canada), December 12, 1939, page 16.
Luckily, play-by-play announcing has advanced to a higher art form, so it’s unlikely that you will have the same difficulties today (although I seem to remember the local announcer bungling a few high school and local college games when I was in school a few decades later).
Easy Chair Quarterback
|Decatur Daily Review (Decatur, Illinois), September 28, 1934, page 14.|
|Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota), October 20, 1936, page 9.|
Next Saturday is the blank space on plenty of college eleven schedules as the teams rest up for strenuous Thanksgiving day games. But the radio quarterback can still turn his dial to a goodly number of not-so-bad tilts.
Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), November 18, 1934, page 9.
|Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), October 15, 1939, page 1.|
Another of [Bo] McMillin’s stock phrases used in admonishing the parlor quarterbacks is “Say son, I’ll bet you were nine years old before they’d let you go bye-bye.”
The Advocate-Messenger (Danville, Kentucky), December 12, 1936, page 3.
|Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), November 12, 1942, page 3.|
|Chicago Daily Tribune (Illinois), September 14, 1952, page 212.|
As radio gave way to television, the “radio quarterback” gave way to the “television (or TV) quarterback,” further complicating the life of football coaches under pressure from an ever increasing number of hindsight “quarterbacks”:
Sol Kampf, assistant football coach at the University of North Dakota, was asked by a New Yorker whether fans saw the Dakotans games on television . . . “We don’t have television in North Dakota,” replied Kampf . . . “You’re lucky,” commented the New Yorker. “At home we not only have grandstand and Monday morning quarterbacks, but now we have television quarterbacks . . . .”
Pampa Daily News (Pampa, Texas), September 21, 1949, page 7.
Living Room Quarterback
As some combination of home design, marketing and linguistic fashion transformed the Victorian “parlor” to the mid-century modern “living room,” second-guessing quarterback idioms followed suit, as evidenced by this discussion of the changing economics of football:
The ridiculous thing about a “blackout Saturday” was the blacking out of a city which had no actual game. It happened one Saturday in New York when neither Columbia, NYU nor Fordham had a home game. This was one Saturday when the NCAA couldn’t find TV’s so-called impact on football attendance.
Whether TV helps or hurts the college gate is not important to the guy who watches the game from his parlor easy chair. The fact remains that there are more living room quarterbacks than there are grandstand quarterbacks. The NCAA should take these fellows into consideration.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska), January 5, 1952, page 4.
Relative Frequency of Use
“Monday morning quarterback” is, and has been, far and away the most common hindsight quarterbacking idiom since it first appeared in print in late-1931. To get a sense of the relative frequency of use of the various hindsight idioms and how that changed over time, I recorded the approximate number of newspaper archive search-hits for each of several such idioms during the period from 1925 to 1945 and from 1950 to 1959.