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Get Smart!
Richard Hoffer
September 05, 1994
That's what every NFL prospect tries to do when he sits down to take the Wonderlic IQ test
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September 05, 1994

Get Smart!

That's what every NFL prospect tries to do when he sits down to take the Wonderlic IQ test

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Hey, kid! Would you like to play in the NFL? Can you bench-press 410 pounds and run a 4.3 40? Do you have the body fat of Susan Powter and—assuming you're willing to play line, where looks are not a consideration—her haircut, too? You're a human torpedo, right? Great. The NFL might be the place for you. But let me ask you a question.

Three men form a partnership and agree to divide the profits equally. X invests $5,500, Y invests $3,500, and Z invests $1,000. If the profits are $3,000, how much less does X receive than if the profits were divided in proportion to the amount invested?

Pencils down! Look, kid, you're quite a specimen, and you shouldn't feel bad about what's missing, neck up. A lot of good athletes have washed out on the Wonderlic, that pocket IQ test they administer at the scouting combine. You can block or tackle, or you can do some exotic things with a football cradled under your arm, but you're not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to book learning. It happens.

Then again, you might not be the dullest, and as it turns out you can throw a football through a Pirelli at 60 yards. Try another question—and eyes on your own paper! For $2.40 a grocer buys a case of oranges, which contains 12 dozen. He knows that two dozen will spoil before he sells them. At what price per dozen must he sell the good ones to gain one third of the whole cost?

Well, thanks for coming all the way to Indianapolis, kid, and I hope you at least got to see Market Square Arena. But, let's face it, the NFL might not be the place for you. Could I make a recommendation? There used to be a player in the NBA pulling down $3 million a year who, the story has it, scored a 0 on the Wonderlic. You pretty much have to be flat-lining to score a 0. But nobody seemed to mind. Can you dribble?

Nobody can say for sure just how much the mysterious Wonderlic—a 50-question test designed to be taken in 12 minutes—matters as the teams begin to shape up this year. Almost all the NFL teams participate in the testing. Some have been doing so for the last 26 years. Yet they do not rely on the scores equally. The Chicago Bears blow them off; only team president Michael McCaskey sees the scores, and in the last draft he discussed only two of them with Dave Wannstedt, his coach. Ron Wolf, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers, doesn't put much stock in the test, either. "There are so many negative factors today to steer you away from players," he says. He doesn't need any more in the form of standardized testing.

Many more teams, though, have come to regard the game of football as a fast-paced and slightly more unruly version of Jeopardy!, and they won't let anyone through the locker-room door who isn't conversant with quantum physics. Some teams have even established minimum Wonderlic scores for each position. They won't reveal them, but the formula works out something like this: The closer you are to the ball, offense or defense, the smarter you ought to be. So it was that the Dallas Cowboys, during the Tex Schramm era, required their quarterbacks to score at least 19, their less-evolved wideouts just 12. When was the last time, now that you think about it, that you saw two cornerbacks playing Scrabble?

The Wonderlic, and the battery of personality tests that teams increasingly develop, may be the most important thing in pro football that you've never heard of. Athletes bounce up and down in the draft, even disappear altogether, perhaps in part because of the Wonderlic. "It can turn a first-round pick into a third-round pick if he's got just a terrible test score, no question," one personnel director says. It might even drop him right through the draft. In April the Atlanta Falcons passed on Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who was rumored to have bombed the Wonderlic (and went undrafted), and picked Perry Klein out of C.W. Post in the fourth round. Judging from the buzz on the talk shows, a lot of Falcon fans wondered if maybe the folks in the front office shouldn't be taking the Wonderlic instead of the kids.

Nowadays, a promising player might be asked to take as many as 15 tests before draft day. Some are personality tests that leave the players shaking their heads for years. On the Pittsburgh Steelers' test, for example, players are asked to say whether they always/sometimes/never are honest. But the granddaddy of all the tests remains the Wonderlic, a quick little job that was created back in 1937 (clue: a case of oranges was real cheap back then) and a variation of which has been administered to some 90 million people to screen potential employees at more than 15,000 firms. The Wonderlic test was introduced to the NFL in 1968 by George Young, a former high school teacher, who was then with the Baltimore Colts. "I wasn't interested in finding a kid's IQ," says Young, now general manager of the test-happy New York Giants, "just identifying the extremes. Being a schoolteacher by profession, I know mostly what tests don't tell me. I would be the last to say that it establishes intelligence."

Still, the Wonderlic was one more way to put a stopwatch to a kid. And as the NFL expanded from 330 players in the '60s to 1,500 now—as it became harder and harder to evaluate all these prospects, to find kids who could be coached—another tool of measurement was welcomed.

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