How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy?

*FAN SUBMISSION by Benjamin Barrett of Santa Barbara, CA.*

In these days of Saber-metrics and Moneyball, where coaches turn to Spygates and players look to deer antlers for any advantage to win, it surprises me that more NFL coaches haven’t crunched one of the most obvious (at least to us viewing in High-Definition) and strangest statistics that exists in the game of NFL Football. When it comes time to place your Superbowl wager, always bet on Blue. Silly? Asinine? Couldn’t be true? I’ve heard them all. Yet, I did not make up the numbers, I simply repeat what they tell me. As important to an NFL quarterback as arm strength or height, speed or intelligence, is the one characteristic that is largely ignored by the sporting community. A quarterback must have blue eyes.


Courtesy: NY Post

Courtesy: NY Post

As superficial as it seemed at first, facts are facts, and while the same doesn’t hold true for any other position, college quarterbacks or the NFL regular season, for NFL quarterbacks in the Superbowl it is practically set in stone. It struck me like an anvil to Wylie Coyote’s noggin one evening while I was watching an NFL Channel program on top quarterbacks, the brand new HDTV my wife bought me as a Christmas gift glistening bright with Dan Marino’s aqua eyes. As I sat enamored with the magnificent resolution of my recent gift (viewing through my own eyes, which are decidedly not blue), the oddest thing happened. As the program proceeded, the blue eyes kept coming like the bags of mail at the end of Miracle on 34th Street (the Natalie Wood version, not the one with the guy from The Practice). Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Fran Tarkington, Terry Bradshaw, all members of some secret blue-eyed clan.

Intrigued, I did a little research with the help of Google and, and it turns out that over 80% of Superbowls have been won by Quarterback with blue eyes, a ratio of over 4 to 1. What’s more, of the twenty-three modern era quarterbacks in the NFL Hall of Fame, twenty-one have light colored eyes. That is not a misprint. That is over 90%. If you were to include guaranteed first ballot HOFer’s Peyton Manning, Bret Favre and Tom Brady, it climbs to an astounding twenty four of twenty six. (In 2014, no quarterbacks were voted as HOF semifinalist; however, of the six quarterbacks eligible, only sky blue-eyed Phil Simms has won a Superbowl, setting a record for completion percentage in the game and winning the Superbowl MVP award).

Only two Hall of Fame quarterbacks have brown eyes, Warren Moon and Otto Graham. For any coach in the NFL (or vegas bookie), this should be a stunning revelation. According to a New York Times article by Douglas Belkin, blue eyes make up less than twenty percent of the people born in the U.S. today, about 1 in 6. Even when you concede the fact that racism played a large part in the earlier days of the NFL (and some would say even now), and therefore use only statics from the population of Caucasian Americans for comparison, blue eyes are still only found at a rate of approximately 34%, or 1 in 3. Only in Estonia and some Scandinavian countries does the percentage of blue eyes even approach that of the NFL Hall of Fame’s 90+%.

Of the brown-eyed quarterbacks who have won the Superbowl, the majority were fortunate enough to have played against other brown-eyed quarterbacks (The rare dual dark-eyed Superbowl taking place only about ten percent of the time, rather than an expected 50%). A perfect example is Kurt Warner, who beat the brown-eyed Steve McNair in Superbowl XXXIV, but then lost to the blue-eyed Tom Brady and the (Greenish-) blue-eyed Ben Roethlisberger in Superbowls XXXVI and XLIII.

When it comes down to it, only two brown-eyed quarterbacks have won more than one Superbowl over a blued-eyed foe, the always baffling Eli Manning, who beat Tom Brady twice, and whose hot and cold seasons leave everyone scratching their head; and the equally confusing Jim Plunkett, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 12 of his 16 seasons with the Raiders, has the second lowest QB rating of any to win a Superbowl and was outperformed in both games by both Ron Jaworski and Joe Theisman, respectively, but somehow found a way to win. Other chocolate apertured quarterbacks in the past leaned heavily on stout Defenses and running games, like Jim McMahan with the ’85 Bears, Walter “Sweetness” Payton and their legendary 46 Defense. Today’s current potential dark eyed candidates, Russell Wilson of Seattle and Colin Kaepernick with the Niners, follow much the same route, each sporting a top three defense and a running attack in the top four.

ESPN’s John Clayton recently ranked the current NFL quarterbacks based on their 2012 performance. Of the top six: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning – only Eli has brown eyes. It appears, even in these days of Wildcat and Read Option offenses which put a premium on quarterback’s legs, eye color is much of a decisive factor as ever.

According to my wife, (a certified retinal angiographer who has worked with America’s top retinal surgeons), it is well known amongst eye surgeons and ophthalmologists that there are dramatic physiological differences between light and dark colored eyes. In fact, light eyes, or those with less melanin present, are at a greater risk for macular degeneration as well as reacting very differently to certain stimuli than dark colored eyes. For example, when given dilation drops before an exam or surgery, it is common knowledge that brown eyes require more medication, sometimes up to twice as much, take longer to dilate and stay dilated for a shorter period of time than their lighter colored counterparts. If eye color accounts for this diverse a reaction to a temporary medication like dilation drops, it stands to reason that they would react differently to other stimuli as well, like air temperature or perhaps even the bluish tint of the winter sun. This concept has largely been ignored by the athletic community.

Researchers from Copenhagen University discovered that everyone with blue eyes descended from the same ancestor who lived 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This particular individual had a genetic mutation to the OCA2 gene which turned off the mechanism which produces melanin in the iris of the eye. Without melanin to give eyes their brown color, they became blue. (Perhaps the mutant had a rifle arm as well). While most genetic mutations pose a disadvantage, thus die out quickly or immediately; however, the blue eye mutation did not go the way of the Dodo, instead proliferating, even thriving. The blue eye gene can now be found in some quantity in almost every race and corner of the globe, and while there is a very remote possibility that the only advantage to blue eyes is ascetics, it is far more likely, given the anecdotal evidence, blue eyes posed some real world advantage (perhaps accurately throwing a spear) that caused them to flourish in the distant past. These days, that advantage seems to show its stripes in the skill set of top NFL Quarterbacks.

If any other occupation required a similar visual skill as the NFL quarterback, the men often admiringly referred to as gunslingers, then perhaps actual sharp shooters, or what we might call a sniper today, is a good place to look for validation. As it turns out, it was once common knowledge that the best sharp shooters possessed light colored eyes. In a famous 1890 short story by Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the author writes, “He observed that it was a grey eye and remembered having read that grey eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them.” In reality, it was so well known light colored eyes made for the best snipers that the Canadian military conducted tests in the late 1800’s on the very subject. They not only found lighter eyes seem to perform better as snipers, but certain colors can be seen at great distances better than others resulting in a change of their infantry’s uniform color from red to grey, the very first official camouflage and, what would suddenly appear to be a huge advantage for the Oakland Raiders. (Jim Plunkett finally comes into focus).

Suffice it to say, there seems to be a testable, physiological, statistically supported difference between light and dark colored eyes, which apparently tends to have a profound effect on the performance of an NFL quarterback, particularly in late January and February. So, as much as a coach may be enamored with arm strength or speed, the numbers say that eye color should be at least a consideration before choosing a Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez, or even the golden armed Andrew Luck to pilot your NFL team. That is not to say that a brown bombers can’t get you to the playoffs, or that blue-eyed quarterback can’t be a bust. Of the four quarterbacks left in the playoffs this Sunday, two are staring through coffee beans, and NFL busts come in all shapes and sizes. For every Jamarcus Russell, Akili Smith or Rob Johnson, there’s a Tim Couch or Rick Mirer or Ryan Leaf to keep him company. But on that ever elusive final Sunday when you need to get over the hump, when you’re desperate for a franchise quarterback, one who’s not good but great, not a competitor but a winner, not a playoff contender but a Hall of Famer, it seems to go without saying… blue is for you.

In the end, the statistics bear witness that if you are an NFL coach who wants to win the big game, have your best sayings quoted in the NFL history books and procure that ever illusive shot at Canton, then your best odds are to tie yourself to a quarterback with cerulean sight, otherwise you could be watching highlights of a butt fumble while a sky-eyed Joe Flacco smooches another Lombardi.

Written by
Benjamin Barrett
18 W Islay St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101


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Comments (2)

    Mike wrote (01/10/16 - 4:27:03PM)

    It’s because there are so many quarterbacks with Irish ancestry and blue eyes are more common there.

    Brad wrote (01/11/17 - 10:18:16AM)

    Great read. Enjoyed it a lot. I have been saying this for years and no one believes me or says I’m crazy / racist. which i am mixed with dark brown Eyes. I am a Bills Fan and would Love for them to find a Blue eyed gun slinger. Haha Thanks