“Sam’s a lot like that.”
Hammer was 69 when he died in October 1999, just four months after Sam’s second birthday. He played basketball at Southern California and helped lead the Trojans to the 1954 Final Four. Hammer picked up volleyball after his hoops days were over and ended up making the United States’ 1964 Olympic volleyball team that competed in Tokyo.
He was a captain in the Los Angeles County Fire Department and played Captain Dick Hammer — yep, named after himself — in the first season of the 1970s television drama “Emergency!” Hammer also landed a gig as the cowboy hat-wearing Marlboro Man in the cigarette company’s advertising campaigns, despite not being a smoker.
It is that innate ability to pick up anything and excel at it that Darnold’s mother has always seen in her son, who was also a terrific basketball player in high school.
She said Darnold once joined his sister, who was playing volleyball at Rhode Island at the time, in a coed tournament on a whim.
“He was all like, ‘Uh, sure, O.K., I’ll go play some volleyball,’” Chris said. “We’re watching them play and they got to the playoffs and he’s doing all these dinking serves and playing like he’s been playing his whole life. That is a lot of what my Dad was like.”
Dick Hammer would certainly think his grandson is a chip off the old block. And Darnold now has a chance to create his own legacy.
Darnold, from Capistrano Beach, Calif., played just two seasons for U.S.C., but showed enough eye-popping ability as a playmaking passer to be rated by many as the No. 1 player at his position heading into the draft.
Darnold is now tasked with helping lift a franchise that has been seeking a savior since the glory days of Joe Namath nearly 50 years ago. The Jets have been to just one Super Bowl — you know, the one Broadway Joe delivered after his guarantee in 1969. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid who won’t even turn 21 until June, but Darnold is becoming fully aware of what he’s getting into.
“Winning a Super Bowl is everyone’s goal entering a season, whether I’m a backup or whether I’m starting quarterback,” he said. “Everyone on the team wants to win a Super Bowl. That’s the goal for everyone. Anything short of that is a failure, and we’re aware of that. Everyone’s aware of that. And whatever my role is, I’m going to star in that role to work us toward that Super Bowl.”
Darnold already has a prominent place in Jets history, being the highest-drafted quarterback by the team since the 1970 A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger.
“Getting that phone call, it changed my life,” Darnold said. “I know it’s going to change my life, and I’m very confident here that we’re going to win some games, and I think I’m going to be here for a long time.”
Coach Todd Bowles said Thursday night that the team won’t necessarily throw him into the fire, but also won’t hold him back. That means the rookie could have a chance at starting if he can beat out the veterans Josh McCown, the starter last year, and Teddy Bridgewater, who is still recovering from a knee injury that threatened his career nearly two years ago.
“There’s a ton of room for growth, and that’s the thing I’m really excited about,” Darnold said. “Just being 20 years old, I know that there’s a lot of room for growth, but I’m also very confident in my ability to go out there and play. But that being said, I’m going to do what the coaches ask me to do, and I’m going to come in here and learn right away and just go about it that way.”