“Joe Montana was 37 years old when I worked with him. But he had that edge.”
You wonder if the Redskins coach ever gets frustrated with the hand he’s dealt himself here. Really, from Montana vs. Steve Young in the 1992 training camp of the Super Bowl-contending San Francisco 49ers to John Beck vs. Rex Grossman in tear-it-down-and-build-it-back-up Washington. Even Jake Plummer vs. Jay Cutler was higher-caliber competition for Shanahan in Denver.
“People don’t really understand. . . ”
Understand what? That most observers don’t believe he has a bona fide starting quarterback on his roster? That the questions don’t revolve around whether one can win a Super Bowl but, in fact, are much simpler: Is Grossman really an answer at the position? Heck, can Beck even play?
“What was Steve Young’s record when I got ahold of him?” he asks, defiantly.
“What was he at Tampa Bay? How many wins?”
I don’t know, 10-6?
“Try 2-14,” he says. “In Montana’s last year, when he went down for the 49ers . . . [Steve] went 5-5. So a lot of people said, ‘Hey, Steve Young could never do what Joe did.’ That’s constant. John Elway had it for 14 years. People wanted him to retire.”
What this has to do with Rex vs. Becks you don’t know, but Shanahan keeps going:
“With John, even though he was established, he had the monkey on his back. People don’t realize how he fought for 14 years — a daily battle with the TV guys, the talk shows and the newspapers, ‘Yeah, you can get us there but can you win the big one?’ Fourteen years and three Super Bowls, that monkey can get big.
“Same thing with Steve Young. For two years he had all the different stats but he lost in the NFC championship twice to the Cowboys. He finally beat them the third year, threw six touchdown passes . . . and scored 49 points against San Diego to win the Super Bowl. That took the monkey off his back. It was incredible to be a part of that.”
It’s an amazing leap — from Beck, who hasn’t taken an NFL snap in four years, and Grossman, a backup to Donovan McNabb for most of last year, to three of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
But as Shanahan pauses while reminiscing, you suddenly get it. You see the thread that runs through his analogous reaches. It provides a window on Shanahan as well, on the one burning question above all others:
Does he still have it? Ten days before he turns 59, 24 years after his first NFL training camp, is Shanahan at the top of his game? Does he have Montana’s edge? Can he fix what Daniel Snyder damaged, especially after failing to do much with the mess he inherited in 2010?
“I could sit here and say anything, but talk is cheap,” he says. “We were 6-10 last year, that’s the bottom line. The key is what direction are we taking this football team. We made some tremendous strides, offensively, defensively and special teams. My job is to build this team into a Super Bowl [team.]”