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This Mike Florio Paragraph Has Been Bouncing Around My Brain For 4 Years Now

12:16 PM EDT on May 11, 2023

Thurston Howell III / Clayton Thorson split image
Photos: Getty Images

Four years ago today, the Philadelphia Eagles were holding their minicamp. It seems like a lifetime ago in football terms. Carson Wentz was the team’s quarterback, and expected to continue the team’s recent run of success. Jalen Hurts was in college, and had just transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma a few months earlier.

The Eagles also had QB Clayton Thorson in camp, although he was there to compete for a role as a backup. A fifth-round pick from Northwestern the year before, Thorson apparently looked pretty good, at least according to Delaware County Daily Times Eagles beat writer Bob Grotz. That’s who Mike Florio cited when he wrote a lede that has been bouncing around in my brain since Pro Football Talk published it four years ago today. Get ready.

For those of a certain age, the name Clayton Thorson may spark memories of Thurston Howell. But the two men could be no different, especially since the latter is fictional and the former is real.

I have long been a connoisseur of absurd ledes in sports stories. Sportswriters, especially beat reporters, have to file a lot of copy, often under duress and on deadline. They try to be clever, but even the best writers have to confront the reality that there’s only so many times they can craft something eloquent under pressure. Also there is a long journalistic tradition of sportswriters who cannot write a lick. Florio is not one of those; it takes talent to write sentences that memorable.

Usually the misbegotten ledes I love come from newspapers. But Florio was blogging when he wrote that Thorson/Thurston masterpiece, and it has been in my brain ever since. I have many thoughts about it, which I shall list below.

We might as well start at the start. “Those of a certain age,” in this lede, includes a wide variety of ages. Gilligan’s Island has aired in syndication for 55 years now. Older people—this is what Florio means by “those of a certain age”—would know the show better. But I am almost two decades younger than Florio and I think I have seen every damn Gilligan’s Island episode ever made without even trying. The catchy theme song introduces all the characters by name or nickname! And yet, because of this lede, I have spent a lot of time over the past four years wondering if zoomers know who Gilligan or The Millionaire are.

Also Clayton Thorson’s name is not really very similar to Thurston Howell III’s. The last name Thorson only shares a little bit with the first name Thurston—an opening of Th and an s in the middle. If I read a story about Clayton Thorson’s performance at minicamp in 2019, I would not get the Gilligan’s Island theme in my head. But Florio’s point is actually not wrong! The last name Thorson has Norwegian origins and means “son of Thor.” The first name Thurston has Old English origins and means “Thor’s stone.” Holy shit! Mike Florio was teaching everyone a little bit about the etymology of names in this otherwise unhinged lede that refuses to vacate its permanent residence in my prefrontal cortex.

The next part of the lede, however, really doesn’t fit. Florio says “the two could be no different.” He notes Howell III is fictional and Thorson is real, in case anyone not of a certain age is reading. But I object to this framing. If Gilligan said something like this, the Skipper would hit him with Giligan’s hat. Two people, one fictional and one real, could certainly be more different. What if a writer compared Clayton Thorson to Mrs. Howell, for instance. Now there’s two people who could be no more different.

Finally, what does this have to do with football? My best guess is the Eagles ran out of footballs and had to use coconuts in that minicamp.

It has been four years since this lede. It will be 40 more before it is out of my brain. Thank you, Mike Florio, for your service.

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