Scouts, coaches, and fans use the phrase “Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” to describe a player that appears physically imposing, but plays at a level not consistent with their apparent physical gifts.

Tarzan and Jane obviously come from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but who coined the term in relation to sports?

My thought is that the NFL draft scouting process may have been the origin, as it is listed in a list of common NFL scouting lingo, so an old NFL scout may be the source, but I don't have any data to back up the claim. Any documentation that can attribute this phrase to a particular person and date of origin would be appreciated.

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    I think this is Not a Real Question. It's such a trivial juxtaposition that it doesn't make sense to ask who first thought of it. It's probably been "coined" independently hundreds of times. Oct 12, 2012 at 21:10
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    @MετάEd Push it back to 1978 Oct 12, 2012 at 21:30
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    @FumbleFingers: Or other variations thereof – for example, some years ago, outfielder Johnny Damon didn't renew his contract with the Boston Red Sox, and instead signed with their archrivals, the New York Yankees. During his days in Boston, he was known for his long hair and unkempt beard, but the owner of the Yankees had a clean-shaven policy for his ball club. Put all that together, and, the next thing you know, someone was selling T-shirts with his picture on it, along with the caption: Looked like Jesus. Throws like Mary. Acted like Judas.
    – J.R.
    Oct 12, 2012 at 21:44
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    ...OP's particular variant may well be inspired by "looks like Tarzan fights like Jane". Or maybe it's the other way around. Who knows? Oct 12, 2012 at 22:33
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    @FumbleFingers "It's probably been "coined" independently hundreds of times." On what basis can you make such a claim? Hundreds of times? Really?
    – Merk
    Oct 13, 2012 at 7:19

2 Answers 2


The late Joel Buchsbaum, who was the media's first NFL draft expert, and possibly still its best ever, has been credited with originating this phrase. He also used another one I like, "all-pro from the neck down".

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    Good answer! With a cited source, it would be even better. :) Welcome to EL&U. Feb 12, 2014 at 18:44
  • Hoping that you can provide a source, but happy to see the answer!
    – Zoot
    Feb 13, 2014 at 19:27

The source for this is very likely a quote by Ronald Reagan (then governor of California) from the 1960s which goes something like:

A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheeta.

The Cheeta in the quote is the name of Tarzan's sidekick, a chimpanzee, from the screen adaptation. Most of the sites which regurgitate this quote on the Interwebz erroneously use a Cheetah instead, which I'm sure misleads a lot of people.

According to The '60s for Dummies:

One way the establishment tried to deal with the FSM was with ridicule. The conservative media asserted that the movement attracted a bunch of “weirdos” from all over who saw the sitin as a giant sexual political party. Some referred to the demonstrations as a “civil rights panty raid,” and this assertion was partly true—although the students were serious and committed to their cause, they also had fun. Then-governor of California, Ronald Reagan used movie analogies to express his contempt for student protesters. “A hippie,” he said, “is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”

FSM = Free Speech Movement

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    I'm not sure you could meaningfully call that a "source". Apart from anything else, I think it's pretty certain Reagan actually said dresses like Tarzan - intended as a derogatory reference to hippie clothing style. In context, doubtless walks like Jane was another derogatory reference to the supposedly "effeminate" hippie demeanour, and obviously we're expected to assume Cheetah the chimp "stinks". My point is Reagan's usage has none of the "difference between appearance and actual performance" of OP's example. This is just an unconnected reference to Tarzan, imho. Oct 12, 2012 at 21:54
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    Nice research, but it needed no B-movie ghost to tell us this: Tarzan was all over the place in the 50s-60s, when 70s writers would have been growing up - not just the TV series (66-68) but constant reruns of the 30s-40s flicks on after-school TV. Oct 12, 2012 at 21:59
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    ...and... (I hate to have to correct my own comment) I now think it's more likely Reagan said "who has hair like Tarzan", but history rewrote his words to give something more "snappy". Oct 12, 2012 at 22:07
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    I'm eating my words. Push the sports usage back to THIS,1971 Oct 12, 2012 at 23:11

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