Look Ma! I’m an NFL Quarterback! Talking to Gardner Minshew’s and Daniel Jones’s Moms
“I think surreal is the word,” Kim Minshew said. “This is definitely not what we expected.”
Minshew was on the phone from the middle school in Brandon, Miss., where she teaches seventh-grade math. In a few days, her 23-year-old son, Gardner Minshew II—he of “Minshew-mania,” the luxuriant mustache, the headband, and the comparisons to the eccentric “Napoleon Dynamite” movie character, Uncle Rico—will start again at quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars as they host the New Orleans Saints.
It was crazy, Kim Minshew said. She’d been using that word a lot with her friends. Crazy.
“I don’t think we could’ve written this script,” she said.
A month and a half ago, the script looked very different. As the season began, Gardner, a sixth-round draft pick, was slotted as a backup behind the Jaguars starter, former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
Entering training camp, Gardner was simply trying to make the team.
“He would not get an apartment until he saw his name on the roster,” Kim said.
When he made the squad, Kim decided it was safe to go shopping for some apartment essentials, which Gardner’s dad, Flint, drove down to Florida.
What sort of stuff?
“Oh, pots and pans,” Kim said. “Basics. I sent him everything he needed for the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.”
“Gardner is known for not spending any money,” Kim said. Her son still drives the used Acura they bought him when he graduated high school, she said. “I knew if I didn’t send him things for his apartment, he wouldn’t have them.”
The Minshews couldn’t have foreseen what was next. Flint was in the stands—and Gardner on the sideline—when Jacksonville opened its season against Kansas City. After Foles went down with a broken clavicle, Flint sent a text to Kim, who was watching the game at a friend’s house:
He’s warming up.
“That was the whole text,” Kim said. “I didn’t get another one.”
It was the beginning of Minshew-mania. There’d been some mild mania when Gardner quarterbacked the Washington State Cougars, but this was far bigger. The Jaguars didn’t win that opener, or the next week against Houston, but fans immediately fell for Gardner and his scruffy swagger, the way he seemed to imperturbably seize the moment. The Jags won their next two games, and that was that. Jacksonville now sells Minshew-Mania ticket packages with fake mustaches and headbands. The actor who played Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” Jon Gries, showed up to film an ESPN spot alongside Gardner.
“When I think about how many times we watched “Napoleon Dynamite,” I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s incredible.’ ” Kim Minshew said. “The things that he’s getting to do.”
Becca Jones can relate to some of this. Her son, Daniel, is another sudden rookie QB sensation, this one for the New York Giants. Details are different—Daniel, 22, was the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, just a few slots down from top pick and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. Jones’s high selection was questioned in the moment, but in Week 3, he took the quarterback reins from veteran Eli Manning, and looked born for the job, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
“Danny Dimes” was an instant New York phenomenon.
“It’s what he’s always wanted to do,” Becca Jones said.
But it did not feel like an overnight success, at least from where she was sitting.
“We’ve watched the little, incremental successes all along the way,” Becca said. There’d been plenty of highs and lows. “Most of it is unglamorous, to be honest.”
Like the Minshews, the Joneses are a dedicated sports family. Becca, who was recruited to play basketball at Davidson before a knee injury cut short her career, has another son, Bates, playing basketball at her alma mater, and a daughter, Ruthie, on the soccer team at Duke. The eldest Jones child, Rebecca, played field hockey at Davidson, and now works in New York City.
Meanwhile, Kim Minshew, who played basketball at Mississippi State, has two daughters at her alma mater, Meredith and Callie. Callie is on the volleyball team.
(Fun fact, according to Kim: Gardner Minshew has never beaten his mom in H-O-R-S-E. “I will shoot the baseline shot, and he can’t keep up with me,” she said. “I told him, ‘I may never play him again, because I need to keep this.’ ”)
Becca Jones was hesitant to give any sports parenting advice—it was all hindsight at this point, she said, laughing. Still, she noted that Daniel had not specialized in a single sport. He’d played pretty much everything growing up.
“I’m a big believer in having your kids try and play a number of sports, just for the team aspect,” Becca said. “You learn lots of lessons being on different kinds of teams with different coaches.”
Kim Minshew’s advice to sports parents and young athletes seemed apt, considering Gardner’s story: be prepared.
“You never know when opportunity’s going to come up,” she said. “Whether it’s today, tomorrow, six months from now…you have to always be ready.”
Being the mother of an NFL quarterback meant a whole new wave of attention. Becca Jones admitted she was getting a kick out of the commentary about Daniel’s low-key fashion choices.
“I like his style,” she said. “I know they give him grief about looking like he’s going to class in his khakis and [dress shirts], but he’s like, ‘I’m fine with this. I feel pretty good about who I am.’ He’s comfortable in his own skin, so it’s all good.”
Gardner Minshew does not appear terribly interested in cutting-edge fashion, either, though he did cause a stir when a photo resurfaced of a ’70s style ensemble (crimson leisure suit, unbuttoned silver shirt) he wore on a Washington State road trip.
As for her son’s increasingly famous mustache, Kim Minshew sounded fine about that, too.
“I like it better some weeks than others, depending on what he’s growing with the mustache—if he’s growing it down the sides, or whatever he’s got going on,” she said. “But in the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.”
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Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com
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