Jim Zorn's 1979 Commencement Address
Will Jim Zorn do better in his second go-round than he did in his first? Well, you could look at Zorn's history. Like, as a Seahawks starter? The first time he got two wins and threw 12 touchdowns, the next time he earned four wins and 16 touchdowns. Modest improvement.
Or, you could listen to his 1979 commencement addresses at Cal Poly Pomona. Zorn--who played at Cal Poly but hadn't yet graduated at the time--was the school's featured speaker that year, and he delivered his address twice, once in the morning session and once in the afternoon. The school was kind enough to send me audio of both addresses, which are about as entertaining as you'd imagine, filled with airplane noises, explanation of class gifts (outdoor furniture!) and an unusually candid lead speaker.
"I've never done this before, so I have to, Mr. President, uh, everybody," Zorn began the first time, to loud laughter.
By the time he took the mic that afternoon, he was a different speaker. Modest improvement. Listen to yourself on the audio file below.
"Man it is NICE out here, all right," he said, with that classic Zorn zest. He said how excited he was, and he mentioned the weather in Seattle, and then, finally, he remembered his manners.
"I've got to start it out in proper introduction," Zorn said. "Mr. President, distinguished guests, and...everybody."
More laughter. So ok, it wasn't exactly Obama, but it was an improvement.
As a speaker, Zorn was unmistakably Zorn. He made sound effects. He showed off parts of his wardrobe. He made self-deprecating jokes. He pulled off repeated aw-shucks laugh lines, and used words like "stud" and "neat" and "super!"
The speeches shared the same basic outline, and the same basic message: that Jim Zorn's life improved once he stopped believing in the wonders of JIM ZORN. The story began at Cerritos Junior College, where Zorn played before arriving at Pomona.
"And to be a football player there, you were a STUUUUD," Zorn said. "I mean, you could walk around in your t shirt and your jeans, boy, and everybody thought you were SHARP. And if you went to class, you could pretty much pass that class, as long as you kind of showed up. But there wasn't too much study involved. Well, I was all for that."
Then, Zorn explained, he showed up at Cal Poly, and people wanted him to study, even though he was a physical education major.
"They weren't treating football players like they were somebody neat," Zorn said. "And I was really disappointed for a while, I thought, 'What's going on around here? Didn't I take the right teachers?' "
So he had to hit the books, which he did. Still, he was something like 60 credits short of a degree, when the NFL talk suddenly accelerated. Teams were working him out, and the word was that he'd be a 7th or 8th round pick, and suddenly all he wanted to talk about was the gridiron. His head, he said, was the size of a pumpkin. His friends asked about the draft. He planned out his post-draft speech. He anticipated the headlines.
"Man, it was fantastic," he said. "Boy, I'd be walking around campus, I'd be shaking my head, 'Yeahhhh. You know, I'm Cal Poly Pomona quarterback, Southern California player of the year, it's nice to meet you.' Enough to, ohhhh, guh, I must have been really sickening."
The first day of the draft arrived. Nothing happened. The second day came and went. Nothing.
"Now my head went from a pumpkin to a prune in about, oh, must have been two seconds," Zorn told the graduates. "Just went whoooop.
The lesson, he said, was that material success is fleeting, and shouldn't be a graduate's goal. And the lesson, he continued, applied equally to him and his burgeoning NFL career.
"For the last four years our city and our team have been going absolutely berserk," he explained. "We are going WILD. It is so much fun to be a Seattle Seahawk and to live in Seattle. We have a team of 45 guys and we're all pretty young. I just turned 26, and we love it up there. we're BIG-time up there. Oh, I'm on potato chip boxes, I've got football cards out, I've got TV commercials. Oh, I'm all over the place, I'm sharp up there. I walk down the street--'Hey! What's happening Jim!'
"In professional football, there's a lot of success. I make a lot of money. Well, you know how that goes. I've got two houses. Oh man, I've got everything."
And Zorn told the graduates that, just like him, they had now achieved their success: a diploma, a degree, the chance to flip their tassel from one side to another. But he told them not to plateau, and here, the speech turned to God: true and everlasting success, Zorn said, at great length, could only be found in a higher power.
Which is all well and good. But this, to me, was the passage I'll remember. Because after Zorn told the graduates about how rich and famous and fabulous he was up in Seattle, he essentially added one caveat: "You'd best stay medium, son," in so many 1979 words.
"I've really made it, man," he said to laughter. I'm on radio. I've got money. Right, in football you make a lot of money. Man, fantastic. Look at me, speaking to Cal Poly alumni.
"Let me explain to you that this stuff is absolutely worthless the next day. I was All-Pro last year, the next day it's no big deal. You win a game one week. you beat a team, you beat the Minnesota Vikings in the last second of the ballgame, man it's fantastic. The next day it's all over the spread, it's all over the newspaper, I did this and Sherman Smith did this and Steve Largent did this.
"And the next day, it's nothing. You've got to always prove yourself, you have to always keep doing something more. And this is how it's gonna be all of our lives. After this graduation, the next day, you've got to start. Just like [the school president] said, it's a growth. It's a beginning."
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