The draft room in Phoenix was filled with the stale odor of cigarettes, Old Spice and cheap liquor, and when the time came to make the call to New York, there came through the room the additional smell of anticipation mixed with fear. Would they finally get it right this year? For decades the name “Cardinals” carried with it, both inside & out of the NFL, the tincture of “failure”. They finished 7-9 in their last season in the NFC East; realignment was going to be moving them to the NFC West. Pat Tillman had decided he’d rather go to Afghanistan than play another season in the desert. Jake Plummer was playing out the final year of his contract.
GM Bob Ferguson had his work cut out for him in this year’s draft. He’d done pretty well the previous year, and looked to follow that up with another bumper crop. He knew they needed a quarterback, because he expected Jake Plummer to leave via free agency, and knew the Bidwell’s wouldn’t open their wallets as wide as necessary. He looked at the list of available talent – David Carr out of Fresno State was the likely #1 pick, although Joey Harrington from Oregon was a dark-horse to go at the top. Further down the depth chart were names he’d heard in passing, like David Garrard, Patrick Ramsey, and J. T. O’Sullivan. In the middle of his depth chart he saw a name – Josh McCown.
The kid reportedly had a hell of an arm. Played at Sam Houston State. This might be a kid he could build a team around, if he could get him at the right time, and in the right round. Bob knew the Bidwells don’t open their wallets unless it’s for overpriced, aged-out big names, so he had his work cut out for him.
He prepared to call him, working over the speech in his mind – Josh m’boy, we want you to bring that magic arm of yours to the desert. We’ll give you whatever you want; why one day, this team could be yours. Whaddya say, son?
Josh knew what he was in for. He signed the contract willingly, and agreed to bide his time until the team would presumably be his. He was going to do what most rookies did in the NFL – ride the pine & watch the pro.
And what a pro they had – Jake “The Snake” Plummer . His nickname, “Jake the Snake,” was given to him as a tribute to professional wrestler, Jake “the Snake” Roberts, who adopted that nickname as a tribute to his favorite NFL player, former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, who was nicknamed “Snake.” Arizona’s Snake had had an impressive 2001 season – 3,653 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, only 14 interceptions, and a stretch of 142 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. They had finished 7-9; not great, but a good sight better than the 3-13 record they’d had in 2000. Josh figured he could learn a lot sitting behind a consummate pro like this. He was looking forward to possibly tasting some playoff action, if they could only find a way out of the NFC East.
Josh himself had had a pretty good camp. And it wasn’t just him who saw it that way, as the Cardinals released Plummer’s previous backup, Chris Greisen. Coach McGinnis said Josh “had all the background essentials you really liked” in an athlete, never mind a quarterback. It was good to see he was being valued, and the way they were planning to groom him, it was just a matter of time – watching; waiting; studying – before the team would be his to command. Hopefully by then, he’d have a nickname as cool as “The Snake”.
When photo day came, Jake was even kind enough to take him over to the session and give him some pointers:
- Look natural – act like it’s a game situation. Nothing looks stupider than a posed trading card
- Wear your helmet – no one can make true fun of your looks
- Find something to do with the other hand – if possible, try to hide it with your body. You don’t want to look like a spaz!
“Alright kid,” Jake said, “let’s go do this. After, I’ll take you out to the club & we’ll have a couple of sodas to commemorate the event.” They walked over to the tent where the photographer was set up.
“C’mon kid – let’s take your photo,” the man said. “Just look natural. Everyone remembers their rookie card.”
“Man,” he prayed to himself, “this is the life. I wish I could play this game forever.”
The scene in Detroit was glum. Not that every day in Detroit isn’t
but it just seemed that way to Josh McCown, as he prepared to enter the Silverdome to sign his new contract with the Lions. After four years in the desert, the Cardinals had decided to move on; his 5-11 2005 season wasn’t good enough from a performance/numbers standpoint to keep him around. Matt Leinart & Kurt Warner were the desert’s shiny new toys now, playing in their shiny new stadium in Glendale. Josh McCown was released to go ply his wares somewhere else, and the Detroit Lions were coming off a 3-13 season.
The interviews he’d had with the GM led him to believe the Lions were on their way back, and he was assured by Matt Millen & Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz that he’d be surrounded with the best receiving corps the Lions could find. He was excited to learn the Williams’ tandem would be sticking around, and he figured on having a lot of targets available. He was going to have access to tools they didn’t have for him in Phoenix. This looked like a team he could grow with, and a GM that seemed to have a solid team-building strategy.
“Son”, Matt Millen said as he put his arm around him, Raiders Super Bowl ring digging into his shoulder, “let’s get your picture taken. Hopefully, we make you a collector’s item.”
He liked how that looked, especially when compared to the rookie card he kept in the attic at home.
He was sad to have left the Lions. He’d heard big things about that Calvin Johnson kid, and was looking forward to seeing if he could throw far enough for him. But going 3-13 forced GM Matt Millen to push the panic button on expendable positions, and the Lions were now in the capable hands of Jon Kitna & Dan Orlovsky. But being traded to the Raiders gave Josh a job back in the Pacific time zone. It was also nice to have Natalie in town with him – he’d refused to let her move to Detroit with the kids, and instead she’d stayed in Phoenix so they wouldn’t have to leave their friends. He wanted them to have the normal life he’d had, with stay-at-home parents and minimal upheaval. Playing in Oakland meant they could live in the Bay Area; Phoenix was a nice place to live, but this place was where you could be a family.
The Oakland Raiders had been the only team worse than the Lions in 2006, and had used their Number One overall pick to select the biggest prize in the draft, a can’t-miss prospect out of LSU named JaMarcus Russell. New head coach Lane Kiffin had sought out Josh, remembering his tape from McCown’s days at Sam Houston State. He wanted Josh to mentor JaMarcus, to help guide him into adjusting to the professional game. Coach Kiffin, and OC Greg Knapp, promised Josh he’d be the starter but also that he should hold no illusions about the fact that he was setting the plate for the Golden Child of Al Davis’ eye. “Josh,”, Coach Kiffin said to him, “if you can get us to the playoffs – or even one game out – when it’s time for JaMarcus to take over we’ll keep you as his backup. Hopefully, we can win some rings together.”
“Hey kid,” Coach Kiffin said – which was funny, because he was only three years older than Josh – “let’s make you part of the Raiders organization. We’ll get Jerry here to take your trading card photo.”
Now this was the confidence in him he’d never heard from his previous stops. It made him feel like he was finally part of an organization that had a plan, and someone other than him to build around. Josh knew JaMarcus was the Raiders future, and he looked forward to going along for the ride. After hearing a lot of boos and being blamed for things beyond his control, it was nice to be considered wanted.
When he got home, he pulled out the card album he kept on a shelf in the attic. He had a proof of the photo the Raiders had taken earlier in the day, and compared the two. It was a darn sight better than his rookie card, which Josh recognized seemed to be aging rather poorly.
“Huh – looks like water damage,” he thought to himself. “Must have been some bad card stock. Maybe something happened during the move.”
Josh McCown was happy to see the last of the Oakland Raiders. That first season under Lane Kiffin had been an unmitigated disaster, and he should know – he’d been through quite a few in his career this far. He started the first 15 games, and had performed reasonably well, despite the 4-11 record. But JaMarcus Russell was given the start in Game 16, and the Raiders felt he’d sat long enough – the losing also encouraged the boo-birds to vocalize their desire to have the rookie start, and Al Davis “always listens to the fans”. There was no place left in Oakland for Josh McCown.
That’s why he was so willing to sign with the Dolphins. They were even willing to give him a two-year deal, something he hadn’t had the security of since leaving the Cardinals. The $6.25 million sure helped as well. He didn’t want to upset the family again, so he told Natalie to wait until he was sure before they moved the whole family again.
He felt confident in his situation – the Dolphins had drafted a QB in the second round, some kid named Chad Henne, but Josh was expected to be the Opening Day starter. What made this situation seem different than Oakland was that Bill Parcells was in charge, and he had a history of letting veterans tutor young quarterbacks for extended periods. Plus, he’d already had his trading card printed up,
a sure sign he’d be sticking with the team.
However, he hadn’t expected the Dolphins to bring in Chad Pennington after the first preseason game. As the summer went on, he saw his number of plays drop and Chad’s increase, to the point where by the fourth preseason game Josh had been downgraded to the #3 QB. It was certainly a surprise when he found he’d been traded.
Carolina needed a backup for Jake Delhomme. Delhomme missed a good chunk of the 2007 season, and his backups – David Carr & Vinny Testaverde – hadn’t exactly lit the place up. Josh was seen as a consistent, competent hand to turn things over to if needed. But everyone agreed that they hoped he wouldn’t be needed. The Panthers spent the offseason rebuilding their offensive line, with the goal of trying to keep their starter alive long enough to see if they had one more chance to get back to the Super Bowl.
Why, they did take a nice proof during warmups of the home opener.
But the card they’d made was more typical of how he projected his season unfolding –
on one knee, watching the starter.
It wouldn’t matter to him, as long as they won the Super Bowl. At least, that’s what he told Natalie when she showed up with the family. Carolina was nice – muggier than the West Coast, but more Godly, and that was important to him after hearing about the “yoga” the kids’ kindergarten teacher wanted to expose them to. They settled into a nice home in Waxhaw just south of Charlotte, and he looked forward to playing in the same city as his family.
He didn’t see many plays that 2008 season, what with Jake Delhomme having a monster year. To be fair, when your team goes 12-4, you accept that the hot hand runs the team, and that you’re getting well-paid to run the two-minute kneel downs. When it came time for the playoffs, their #2 seed meant they could rest a week while they waiting for their opponent, which turned out to be his first former team. Worse still, the Cardinals had changed so much since Josh was there that he was no help to Coach Fox during the week of game preps. The nightmares came true, and his former team – led by his replacement Kurt Warner – steamrolled the Panthers and kept Josh from getting any further taste of playoff action.
He went up to the attic after that game to look at his rookie card. In a dusty corner of his attic at home, Josh sat looking over the collected memorabilia of a career spent chasing a dream. The rookie card he’d put into plastic to try & save now appeared to be worsening in condition the longer he’d played.
He let out an audible sigh. “Honey? Are you okay?” his wife Natalie asked from below. He loved her dearly, and she had stayed with him through all the travels and travails. Soon he would hang up the cleats, but on his terms, and once the itch to complete was finally sated. “I’m good, dear,” he let her know. “Just looking through the past.”
He’d been in the League now six years, and had yet to create any real success of his own.
He returned in 2009, and again won the starting backup job behind Jake Delhomme, relegating Matt Moore to third string & the dreaded clipboard of doom. And in the first game of that second season, Josh was called upon to replace an ineffective Delhomme, who’d committed five turnovers in three quarters. But fortune does not smile but frown upon the McCown family, and after six passing attempts he sprained his knee and ankle, leading to Matt Moore taking over for Josh. Josh would be placed on IR after the game and would never see the field again in 2009. Fate had given him a chance, but fortune took it away – after the 2009 season, Josh was not resigned and again became a free agent.
Carolina never even bothered taking his picture that season.
It was a good thing he’d decided to not return to the NFL in 2010. He hoped this new opportunity would give him the closure he needed.
Hartford was the change he needed. The United Football League wasn’t the same level as the NFL, but it was “professional” football, and he was still good at it. More importantly, at this level, he was a star.
And he’d rediscovered his love of the game. The way the season unfolded, he felt reinvigorated. If he’d gone to the Bears, he probably would have sat on the bench, holding a clipboard while the kid from Vandy – Jay Cutler – ran the Bears’ offence. Instead, he was playing everyday, in front of fans that were appreciative to have a team in their town & a game to attend. The team provided the fans with free cards, and every day he was asked to sign four or five for adoring children who actually wanted his autograph.
It sure beat the boo-birds and autograph hounds of the NFL. When he went home to Waxhaw after that season, it was the first time he’d felt good about how a season had unfolded since he had left college. Putting the memorabilia of the season away, he looked through the trading card album, and swore that the damaged card he was kind of obsessing over now seemed…better?
At least it didn’t look as old & faded as it had the last time he’d checked on it. “I must be losing my mind,” he chuckled to himself. He put the album back on its shelf and went outside to play with the kids. Christmas was just four weeks away, and this was the first one he’d be able to spend at home since he’d turned pro.
In retrospect, 2011 was the year everything changed for Josh. He’d spent the football offseason volunteering for the local high school – Marvin Ridge, the Mavericks – and discovered a passion for teaching. He had made enough money that he didn’t need the teaching job, but he longed to fulfill the Lord’s mission that he give back based on the bounty he had received over his career. After all, Deuteronomy 15:8 says “you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” And what Coach Chadwick needed was help in teaching young men learning the QB position how to throw the danged ball.
He was having fun right up until August, when the 49ers came calling.
They’d heard what he’d done in Hartford, and wanted him to start while they coached up their rookie QB, a rare talent from Nevada named Colin Kaepernick who could run like the wind & throw like a laser. The new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, was a guy like Josh – a career backup who’d tasted some success – and now that he’d turned into a successful college-now-professional head coach, Josh was certain he could learn from this experience. If he didn’t last much longer in the League, at least he was a person Josh could try and emulate into a second career in football. That’s why he signed for the League minimum of $810,000; it wasn’t the money he needed, it was the chance to learn and plan for a career beyond playing, something he’d never considered.
He went up into the attic to get his suitcase. He’d told Natalie to stay behind with the kids; there was no sense dragging them out west when he’d signed a one-year deal. When he told her his plans for the season, she was as excited for him as he was. She knew this was the business they were in, but she longed for the days when her husband would be home all twelve months, not just “the offseason”. She was happy to see that he was developing a strategy for after his playing days.
In his excitement to get downstairs & packing, Josh didn’t notice the trading card album had fallen to the floor. As he bent over to pick it up before leaving, he noticed it was open to the front page, where his rookie card was.
“What the Hell-…” Josh remarked to himself. The card now appeared to be aging. But that couldn’t be! He flipped through the album.
None of the other cards seemed to have had the same problem, just this one. It was a mystery – one he’d have to solve after the season.
Well, “after the season” was the Saturday before Labor Day. The 49ers decided at the last minute to re-sign Alex Smith, and with their rookie under contract they decided Josh wasn’t needed. He’d spent four weeks in Santa Clara training with the team, and all he had to show for it was $6800 in per diems and some nice gifts for the kids. At least he didn’t have to pay room & board while he was out there, and he picked up a couple of things from Coach Harbaugh:
- Family first. Make sure the job is about setting them up, not yourself; and
- RED-ASS THE FRESHMEN! They need to know who’s the boss.
He was appreciative that the Niners let him go in time for him to be back in Waxhaw for the start of the school year. He had a pretty sweet routine worked out – up with the kids; make sure they got off to school; then back volunteering with the Mavericks. He was usually home by 5:00, in time for Natalie to welcome him home before she started with dinner. After nine years bouncing around the NFL, this was the life for him.
And then fate once again stepped in, with an offer he probably should have refused.
The Bears called just before Thanksgiving 2011. Jay Cutler, the kid who played for the Bears when he was in Hartford, had broken his thumb and was likely out for the season. He was needed to be the backup to Caleb Hanie while the season played itself out. Josh figured it was a good idea: he’d make a pro-rated League-minimum, it would only be six weeks, and he could gain another year towards the NFLPA pension. Plus, if her parents were agreeable, she could come visit him up in Chicago, and they could enjoy the Second City almost like newlyweds again.
Natalie didn’t put up much of a fight. She could see the gleam in his eye at the prospect of getting back out there again, and the way he talked about having stories to tell the kids back at Marvin Ridge, as well as the idea of stolen weekends away from the kids, encouraged her to back the idea. “Heck,” she thought, “I’ll even get him his suitcase.”
Up in the attic she noticed, amongst the dust & dirt, an album that looked freshly opened. She knew it wasn’t the wedding album, because that was downstairs on the shelf in their living room. She wondered why it looked recently opened, when everything else about the space looked like it hadn’t moved in years. She certainly wasn’t prepared for what she saw on the first page
The 2012 offseason was one of turmoil around the McCown household. Natalie was certain Josh was done playing football. He’d come home from Chicago angry that he’d missed Christmas, wondering aloud if the game check to take that beating from the Packers was worth disappointing the girls. But $50,000 per game was still pretty good money.
Still, she was confident that he was finished. The Bears had signed his as a third-string QB, and all they’d offered him at the end of the season was another third-string contract. She figured that whatever pride he had wouldn’t allow him to spend an entire season watching kids younger than him play the game he once lived & breathed. He had four kids, and they were becoming too much of a handful for her to raise on her own during the season. Many times, she thought about applying what her mother called “the guilt trip” – just a series of subtle hints to let him know that, while she supported him, it was becoming harder for her to provide that support alone. Plus, while she’d enjoyed their mini-vacations in Chicago, he had to know that her parents weren’t able to look after the kids for four solid months.
She figured that she’d done enough when she saw him go into the attic to put away the memorabilia from his season with the Bears. He’d gone upstairs with his suitcase, some envelopes and the phone. From downstairs, she tried to listen yet not, wanting him to make that clear decision without him feeling her pressuring him. After all, if a woman forces a man to give up his dream, then that becomes a poison pervading the relationship, which can fester for years – and even decades – leading to marital strife or worse. She could barely make out what he was saying, but she thought she heard him sobbing.
In the attic, Josh began the task of unpacking his goods and putting them onto their respective shelves. He knew Natalie was paying attention to all of this, but giving him some respectful distance. He loved her dearly, and knew she wanted him to quit football and spend all his time with the family. Sure, a man may measure success by the non-worldy things he has acquired; his family was Josh’s prized possession, and he loved them more than anything.
Yet there was something tugging at his soul, and it had to do with this cursed game. He’d been close with the Panthers, but had never really tasted success on his own. He didn’t tell Natalie this, but the envelope she thought was his retirement papers was instead a contract offer from the Bears. They wanted him back – as a third-stringer – and given what he’d seen from Jay Cutler, Josh knew it was only a matter of time before he got hurt again and it would be McCown time in Chi-town. He’d never lied to Natalie before, but he felt confident that he could win her over to his reasoning about how this could play out.
He opened the contract to read it over once more before signing it and calling GM Phil Emery that he was good to go. Opening the envelope, the flap cut him ever so slightly, and a drop of blood fell onto the paper where his signature should go. He sloppily wiped it off, leaving a small red smear alongside where he’d be signing.
On the table he’d be using when he affixed that signature, the album was open to where his rookie card was. The Bears hadn’t taken his photo that year, because – as NFLPA rules stipulate – only starters & #2 QBs get an official card. He didn’t have anything to put in from this season, but figured he might after next season because he’d heard rumors that the Bears were also inviting Jason Campbell to training camp, and Josh thought he could beat out that kid.
He had just finished that pleasant thought when he looked down, and was horrified at what looked back at him. It seemed to be aging right in front of him.
“My card!” He screamed inside his head. “What in Heaven’s name is going on here? I must be dreaming.” And then his thoughts turned to Natalie – what was he going to tell her about his decision? He had to work out his story before going downstairs – just one more season; the team’s turning a corner; he was getting closer to the lifetime pension…
And as he started formulating the words he was going to tell her, the lie he himself was starting to believe, he swore the card was changing right before his eyes.
He slammed the album shut, and dialed the number in Chicago that sat atop his new contract. From the soffit vent behind him, he thought he heard what sounded like laughter coming from outside on the lawn.
It had all been worth it, at least from a career standpoint.
The 2012 season had almost led to his divorce; waived by the Bears right before the season started, he re-signed with them again after Thanksgiving in November, after a Jay Cutler concussion. But fate played him a cruel hand as Jason Campbell performed admirably, so Josh never saw the field, and when Cutler unexpectedly returned Josh was reduced to third-string and never saw game action.
But when Jason Campbell left for Cleveland in the 2013 offseason, the Bears backup job was Josh’s. Why, they even took his picture for the team set.
It was a shame they never included it.
And he made the most of that opportunity when, inevitably, Jay Cutler got hurt. He went 3-2 during that period, was named an offensive player of the week,
and at the end of the season won the Bears highest team award, the Brian Piccolo Award, for “exemplifying the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo”. When the season was over, he directed his agent to shop his name around to team with openings at the QB position. Surprisingly, there were multiple offers, and certain voices in the Chicago press saying they should let Jay Cutler go instead. But of all the teams and openings available, the closest opening to Waxhaw was Tampa Bay, which would allow Josh to spend a couple of days per week at home between games. Natalie wasn’t exactly happy about things, but none of the kids had turned goth so he figured he was clear to keep pursuing the dream. Why, at his contract signing, they’d even brought along his new jersey & some pads, so he could take his card photo right away and get it out for sale to hungry fans.
No one had ever shown him that much confidence. He was on top of the world!
It had taken two years, but Josh McCown has spun the straw that was his time with the Bears into the gold that was his new two-year, $10 million contract with Tampa Bay. And he sure didn’t give a fuck about what was happening to that card in the attic, which he noticed now seemed to be taking on a unique hue as it aged.
“I really should order a new one from Topps,” he thought to himself. “I should tell them what’s happened and ask for a version on better paper.”
Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall is what Proverbs says, and a Biblical man like Josh McCown should have known better than to fall victim to the self-indulgence of being satisfied with one’s position on this earth.
He didn’t know where to begin. The coach that believed in him in Chicago, Lovie Smith, was his coach in Tampa and had given him the starter’s job. He’d had a great training camp, and the players they’d drafted were all on the offence side of the ball, and even brought in Logan Mankins from New England to be his main guard. And their schedule looked favorable; finishing 4-12 guaranteed that, outside their division rivals & crossover games, they’d be playing other last-place teams.
And then the season started. When pain emerges, guilt usually follows.
Losing close games to Carolina and the Rams, they went into their Week 3 game against the Falcons looking to finally break things open. Instead, they left Atlanta humiliated after a 56-14 defeat, and Josh himself with a broken thumb. Matters sure weren’t helped when his replacement, Mike Glennon, took Josh’s team into Pittsburgh the next week and beat the Steelers.
But why Josh felt guilty was in hoping for Mike Glennon to fail. Josh was meant to be the starter, and he couldn’t bear to see someone else succeed in his absence. He longed to return under center, and said a small prayer to himself that he hoped would influence the decline in productivity for Mike Glennon on his team. Josh needed to be back in control of the team, to prove to Natalie that the sacrifice was worth the result. More than anything, he wished – for the first time in his life – for someone to be wronged so he could benefit.
After that prayer, things at first looked up for Josh. Mike Glennon did indeed have bad things happen – he went 0-4, even losing to the Cleveland Browns. The resulting uproar forced Coach Smith to put Josh back into the lineup as starter. Why, he even won his second game back – over Washington, on the road! But the butterfly effect of his prayer had brought bad things back onto him – the team went winless the remainder of the season, finishing with a 2-14 record, and 1-10 of that total was on Josh. They finished dead last in the NFL, qualifying for the first overall draft pick. Josh was released one week after the season ended, and Tampa used their pick to select some kid named Jameis Winston.
In the attic back home in Waxhaw, Josh forced himself to look through his albums. “Was this the time to hang it up?” he thought to himself while flipping the pages. He knew what Natalie’s answer would be. At the front of the album, his rookie card stared back at him, unrecognizable at this point,
except for the fact that he now hated that card, and vowed that he would show himself, his family, AND THAT FUCKING CARD that he was nowhere near being done with football.
He’d show them.
He’d show all of them.
(Ron Howard voice: “He did not show any of them.”)
Many people viewed Cleveland as a place where careers go to die, but Josh McCown instead saw it as a land of renewed opportunity. Just two weeks after being cut by Tampa Bay, Cleveland came calling with a three-year contract worth $14 million, and new coach Mike Pettine announced he’d be the starter. His perspective only improved when he saw that the Browns drafted a wild card from Texas A&M named Johnny Manziel, an act that all-but guaranteed he’d be the starter for most of the 2015 season.
That optimism lasted a whole 12 minutes, as Josh received a concussion while trying to run in for a score against the Jets. He was replaced by the rookie Manziel, and even though the Browns lost the season opener, Josh was not cleared for the Week 2 home opener. Thus, the rookie Manziel started in his place, and led the team to victory over the Mariota-led Titans. It seemed fate had again stepped in front of Josh to prevent him from regaining his promised starting position.
Back at his apartment in Cleveland, Josh had settled in for a night of “South Park” and reflection. He probed his mind to try and figure out a way to return to the field, before the rookie took his starting job. In desperation, he again resorted to pleading – earlier with his doctors and his coaches; now with his God. He stammered out a prayer for guidance and direction.
He also turned to his past. He’d brought the card album with him to Cleveland. His promised job as the starter had been committed so early he was able to order a stock of his new cards, and the team was eager to have them prepared for opening day. Despite his condition, he proudly examined its place within his album,
and wondered to himself, “How can I be that man again?” Then he flipped to the front of the album, and there is was – the accursed card.
It had become uglier than even he remembered. He had wanted to throw it away, but could not bring himself to do it. “It would be like throwing away my career,” he thought to himself. But the hideousness of the card seemed to be mocking him, laughing at his desire to get his job back. “WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE ME DO?!” he screamed at the card, forgetting for a second it was an inanimate object.
On the TV, Dr. Mephisto was laughing. Josh thought it was part of the story, but wondered why he couldn’t hear any other characters.
The Cleveland experiment had lasted two years. There had been some highs, like after he replaced Manziel in 2015 and rattled off three straight 300+ yard games, becoming the first Brown to ever do so, in the process besting a team record held by Brian Sipe.
But as quickly as the accolades came, so too did the injuries. Right after those performances it was the ribs, followed in the same game by the shoulder. But he played through. Two weeks later, he hurt the ribs again, and was replaced by the rookie Manziel. On December 1, after fighting his way back into the lineup, he broke his collarbone and was declared inactive for the rest of the season.
The 2016 season was no better. The rookie Manziel was gone, but in his place was RG3, whom new coach Hue Jackson had named starter. Although injury would force Jackson to play Josh by Week 2, Josh himself was injured in that game, and replaced in the lineup by something named “Cody Kessler”. And although Coach Jackson had promised the starting job was anyone’s to claim, when Josh returned he found that Jackson favored Kessler, and upon RG3’s return Josh was again demoted to third-string and sidelined.
All that remained from that season was bumps, bruises, $4.75 million in game pay, and his team card for the album. As he opened it to insert the card,
he barely noticed the changes to his hated rookie card.
Or if he did, he didn’t care. The Jets were waiting on his response to their offer of one-year and $6 million.
Josh McCown has played 16 years in the NFL, most recently in his second year with the New York Jets, where he serves as a mentor to their #1 draft pick, Sam Darnold. He has only played on one winning team, the 2008 Carolina Panthers.
He has acquired two more trading cards for his collection,
and is currently performing his role as backup to a talented rookie, which his $10 million contract surely helps with. He takes no pleasure in this position, but accepts it as part of the bargain for income security he has made. Over his sixteen years, including his guaranteed 2018 salary, Josh McCown will have earned $49.67 million.
He is destined to play forever, never aging on the outside,
2011 2014 2016 2018
but all the hatred, rage & impotence show themselves on the one image of his youth, the one that had held his innocence in its visage, when he vowed he would play this game forever. The one that cannot correct until he has finally finished his quest.
If only he knew what that was. The card cannot die until his career does.
He hates the card.
He needs the card.