What can you say about El?

Football: Don't call him the King - `El' will do just fine for new quarterback Elvis Grbac.

March 08, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Let's get this out of our systems now and save ourselves a couple hundred headlines, talk show bits and stadium banners next football season in Baltimore:

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE STADIUM

HE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG

ELVIS IS MUSIC TO RAVENS' EARS

THE KING LIVES!

And ...

ELVIS SIGHTING IN OWINGS MILLS!

But nothing can be as low-down - or funny - as what the Ravens' new $30 million quarterback saw when he looked up into the stands in 1995. Replacing an injured Steve Young, the then-San Francisco 49er quarterback Elvis Grbac saw a banner that he remembers verbatim to this day:

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ELVIS GRBAC AND ELVIS PRESLEY? ONE IS FAT, SLOW AND HASN'T BEEN SEEN FOR YEARS AND THE OTHER IS ELVIS PRESLEY. (So disturbed was Grbac that he went out and beat the Rams 44-10 in his first NFL start.)

Grbac, the new jock in town, has heard all the Presley references before - first in San Fran, then in Kansas City. "Grbac's not The King in Kansas City. He's more like the crown prince," said one newspaper in October 1999, when Grbac was struggling as the Chiefs' injury-riddled quarterback. Not only has Grbac had to live up to the high standards of being an NFL quarterback, but he's also had to live up to his own name.

His own name really is Elvis. No, it wasn't a case of bong-toting hippie parents in the late '60s naming their kid Elvis because the name Moon Unit had already been taken. Grbac's parents, who immigrated from war-torn Croatia to Cleveland in 1968, enjoyed Presley's music (and music and singing in general) and did, in fact, name their second son after the pop icon. It wasn't an original idea.

"That must have been a popular name at the time because when I was growing up in Cleveland, the Croatian community had a ton of kids named Elvis," Grbac told a Kansas City newspaper in 1997. Had he been born a decade later, it's conceivable Sting Grbac would be the Ravens' new starting quarterback.

Also in our pre-emptive Grbac-coverage strike, readers should be made aware that Grbac's brother is named Englebert. His parents weren't trying to be cruel. Englebert was simply another popular name in Croatia, and Grbac's parents reportedly had no idea who crooner Englebert Humperdinck was.

For the eternal record, Grbac's friends call him "El," a name he prefers. And reportedly, he's never been to Graceland and isn't a huge Elvis Presley fan. (Elvis Costello maybe?) Grbac does own an honor even Presley never achieved in his lifetime, or his storied afterlife. In 1998, People magazine named Grbac its "Sexiest Athlete."

While Chiefs fans were booing Grbac that fall for the team's 0-3 start, People magazine wrote: "If you need a missile with laser-like precision by a stalwartly, handsome guy with a crew cut and a chiseled jaw, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac is your man."

Grbac also owns the dubious distinction of being the only athlete to publicly be called "an embarrassment to humankind" by the mayor of a major city. Grbac had thrown two crucial interceptions in a 49er loss to the Cowboys in 1996, prompting San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to verbally unload on Grbac. The mayor later apologized after learning Grbac's young son, Jack, had just undergone surgery to correct a form of spina bifida.

Grbac, it should be known, wears his love and pride for Croatia on his sleeve - or actually on his ankle. In 1992, when war in the Balkan republic was threatening the lives of Grbac's relatives, the Michigan senior got a tattoo on his right ankle. The tattoo - a green and red rose and cross - honors Grbac's father's village in northwest Croatia. The tattoo says, in Croatian script, "The Preferred City."

In Charm City, that story won't make for a snappy Elvis banner or headline. But give us time and space, we'll come up with something.

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