By Mike Wise
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The plan sounded easy, no? Find an anonymous backup quarterback and create a blog caricature, a player on the very periphery of the NFL -- so removed that someone might believe it really could be him. It started less than two years ago as a gaff, a harmless way for two law school students at George Washington University to kill time.
"We picked someone for the sole purpose of that he'll probably never play," said Raul Flores, who along with Faris Ghareeb co-manages the blog Todd Collins: Diary of an NFL Quarterback (located at http://toddcoll15.blogspot.com). "He was the third-string quarterback when we started writing it. We had no idea. We didn't expect this to happen."
Be still, son; no one expected Toddball.
But now T.C. has become the toast of D.C., guiding the Redskins past the Bears and winning the NFC's offensive player of the week award. He starts tomorrow at the Meadowlands against the New York Giants, 10 years and two days since he last started for the Buffalo Bills, which makes him, what, a spry 36?
It will set the NFL record for longest gap between starts since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. It's a feat equivalent to Clark Gable winning best actor. In 2008. The Redskins don't merely go to the bench for their backup quarterbacks; they go on Jurassic digs.
And yet, since Jason Campbell went down with a dislocated kneecap and sprained medial collateral ligament, it's all Todd, all the time. TV. Radio. T.C. is everywhere. Everyone from the congregation genuinely believes Collins can keep Washington's flickering playoff hopes alive, presumably making them all Todd-squadders.
Which has made things good and bad for the bloggers.
On one hand, a Web site hardly anyone visited received 1,200 hits after last week's stirring win. Flores and Ghareeb, who did his undergrad at Michigan, where Collins played college, and who grew up a Buffalo fan ("That's why we chose Todd," Flores explained) is now updating the site routinely.
A Madden NFL 2008 simulation of the game posted on the site this week has the Redskins beating New York, 45-44, with Collins throwing like crazy and ending his post with: "Well, I've studied the defense, drank a few piña coladas, burned some incense, listened to the Grateful Dead, eaten the entire 5-5-5 from Dominos and made myself a better QB in the process. Therefore, it's time I take off. Be sure to check out my live in-game updates from the sidelines this Sunday . . . "
Blog Todd is portrayed as some carefree goof who lounges around, gets paid for doing nothing and once wound up on the Missed Connections thread of Craigslist. The blog kids posted a picture of a gorgeous woman in a hot tub and inquired, as the bather, about a sexy man she saw in Green Bay with a Redskins hat and jacket who was on the sideline with a clipboard and pad.
No, Mark Brunell did not respond. Neither did Collins, whose wife, Andrea, is due any day with the couple's second child. They're family men -- not GW kids who aced the LSAT.
"But we did get some actual e-mails from other guys, saying they're not him but they'd like to meet her," Flores said. "We figured it was innocent fun, you know. You got to remember: When we started this thing no one had any idea what his personality was like."
But here's the main rub against the blog: Since last week, Collins is now talking, telling his story. The real Todd is more amusing, off the wall and downright more perplexing than any cyberspace incarnation could ever hope.
Collins, teammates attest, will spend untold minutes brushing his teeth -- slowly, side to side, front to back, until his gums are raw or bleeding. He doesn't just smell the football; the man sniffs everything. Leather. Chick-fil-A's. His hands.
Once, he was talking scents with linebacker Matt Sinclair's wife: "I wasn't really paying attention, I turned away and all of a sudden I hear Todd say to my wife, 'You know, I have a great sense of smell.' "
Collins spoke of how he could pick out chocolate and certain berries in wine. "He's one of those guys, you have to know him to appreciate him," Sinclair said.
Born and reared in Walpole, Mass., he's a Bostonian through and through. He remembers the guy who drove the tractor in the legendary "Snowplow Game" between the Patriots and the Dolphins, in which an area was cleared away for a field goal amid a blizzard.
"Mark Henderson," he said of the man who at the time was serving a 15-year prison term for burglary and was out on work release. "1982. 3-0, right?"
Beyond family events, one of the greatest thrills of his life was the day former teammates Trent Green and Damon Huard kidnapped him and took him to Game 3 of the 2004 World Series in St. Louis between his beloved Red Sox and the Cardinals.
And, yes, Todd indeed can be odd. He's Mr. Miscellaneous Fact, the Shell Answer Man in helmet and pads.
"We were sitting at breakfast and he looks over at us and says, 'Do you know how many steps the soldier takes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?' " Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. "For some reason, I said, '21, Todd?' Like a guess. He's amazed I got the thing right.
"Then he pauses and says, 'Well, do you know how long he pauses for when he turns around?' He's unreal. He's easily one of the funniest guys on the team."
Blog Todd simply can't compete, which makes Todd mad. "It's an impersonation," Collins said. "I don't find it funny. It's not me. Some people think that's me. I'm not happy about it. Would you like it if someone was imitating you?"
Though they've had a disclaimer at the top of their blog since the summer, the GW kids don't feel good about this development. Remember, this was all in fun when it began.
"We just tried to do a blog about a guy who had the best job in the NFL," Flores said. "He never got hit. He just went to practice and got his check. Tell him we had no intention of it being widespread."
That's the problem with backup quarterbacks who seem as if they disappeared from the league a decade ago. When they resurface to astonishingly carry the postseason hopes of a franchise at 36 years old, no one is prepared. Toddball can do that to the best of us.