The father sat his son in front of the computer night after night pulling up clips of the great quarterbacks, the John Elways and Warren Moons, and this skinny young kid would watch and focus so intently. Jayden Daniels told his father, Jay, at a young age that he wanted to be a quarterback, and the former Washington and Iowa State defensive back knew he had to find the right traits to instill in his son if he was going to be great.
The most common clips the 49ers fan played were of Joe Montana — Joe Cool — but rarely to show the highlights. Jay wanted to show the reactions, or the lack thereof: the way Montana would throw an interception and have the same response as a touchdown. The story of Montana pointing out actor John Candy to humor his teammates on the final drive of Super Bowl XXIII was told like scripture in the Daniels home.
“The team goes as you go,” Jay recalled telling Jayden. “So if you’re emotionally out of whack, more than likely your team will go emotionally out of whack. You have to find an even keel.”
Maybe the son, now LSU’s quarterback, always had it. A naturally quiet Southern California kid from San Bernardino, Daniels never showed much emotion, never got too high or too low. It became the trait that an outsider could twist any way they saw fit. It would prove that he didn’t care, or that he wasn’t a vocal enough leader, or that he wasn’t committed. Or it could be Daniels’ superpower, the thing that’s got him this far, the ability to ride the chaotic wave and still see the big picture.
Because the past three years haven’t gone how it seemed scripted for Daniels his freshman year at Arizona State. No, it’s been a roller coaster since breaking out as a star 18-year-old quarterback in Tempe.
A pandemic. A program in free fall. Family loss. A recruiting scandal with his family at the forefront. Declining performances. A cross-country transfer. A rocky start with some wanting him benched.
If it weren’t for that superpower, Daniels might not be where he is, playing his best football for No. 10 LSU as No. 6 Alabama comes this week to Tiger Stadium. Through it all, Daniels never showed the world what he was thinking.
He just moved forward.
Daniels had just turned 20 when he lost his best friend. William “Danny” Daniels’ other grandchildren were mostly teenagers and grown by the time Jayden came along, meaning he had a blank slate on which to place all his attention. He was retired, so he had all the time to pick Daniels up from school, take him to football practice, get Slurpees or just sit around the house. He was a constant presence as Jayden grew up, another figure instilling that casual coolness.