By Mike Wise
Saturday, August 23, 2008
A handful of quarterbacks overcame sixth-round selections in the NFL draft to forge decent careers: Mark Rypien, Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck and some scrawny guy from Michigan whom the Patriots gambled on.
Another who'd like to join that list stood outside the visitors' locker room in East Rutherford, N.J., last week, doing what Colt Brennan does:
Sweetening another of his raw deals, siphoning lemonade from the sourness of being selected so late, improvising -- always improvising -- when things get chaotic and don't go his way.
"Hey, if you don't go in the first you just wait for the sixth," he said in half-jest, months after Washington nabbed Hawaii's Heisman Trophy candidate with the 186th pick -- 185 slots lower than his college coach once told him he would go. "I mean, look at those guys. Tom Brady? You're money once you get in the sixth round."
Brennan began to laugh at his own logic. It was nearing midnight last Saturday, the night of his 25th birthday. Forty-five minutes earlier, he had caught the Jets' reserves in a blitz while running a two-minute drill at the end of the game. Brennan hit his hot read on the play, former Maryland tight end Jason Goode, across the middle, and Goode spun out of a tackle and sprinted 33 yards for the kind of pulsating, last-minute victory Brennan got used to in Hawaii, when the Warriors followed Boise State's 2007 lead into a Bowl Championship Series game.
He had the name and the game, breaking 31 NCAA records, becoming the most prolific touchdown passer in college football history, bringing the islands fame like only the late Don Ho could.
As perfect as Colt sounded for a quarterback with a gun of a right arm, Cult Brennan might have been more accurate. Because that's the kind of fanatical following his thrill-seeking play attracted.
"Charismatic," Jim Zorn, Washington's coach, calls him. "Colt is just one of those guys people like to be around and gravitate toward."
Even in three preseason games as a Redskins reserve, his penchant for flair, excitement and touchdowns against third-, fourth- and fifth-teamers can lead to clogged phone lines at WTEM radio (980 AM), where Steve Czaban, the co-host of the Sports Reporters' evening drive-time program, employs sound effects to catapult the flood of Colt callers into oblivion, as if to say, "Please, he's a third-string rookie. Call me if he's still in the league in two years."
Yes, unless the wheels completely come off Washington's bus offensively, Brennan knows the best time to see him play this season is tonight against Carolina and, especially, next Thursday at FedEx Field in the team's preseason finale against Jacksonville -- a game Jason Campbell, backup Todd Collins and other players will use to rest up for the season opener a week later.
But that's not what the last few months have been about for Brennan, the kid who, in two years, went from convicted felon in Colorado to Heisman finalist in Hawaii -- and still saw his draft stock plummet to depths not seen among prominent college quarterbacks since Florida State's Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman for Florida State but decided on an NBA career, or Nebraska's Tommy Frazier, who went undrafted and never played in the NFL.
"I just know there's been so much naysay and criticism involved around my name," Brennan said. "Every time I get a chance to go in there, it's really to prove a lot of people wrong."
In April, Brennan underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, an injury he played with in the Senior Bowl and at the NFL draft combine, where he was the only quarterback to complete all 22 of his attempts to receivers running different routes.
No matter. The draftniks saw what they wanted to see, believed what they wanted to believe. "They said I was too small, a gunslinger, a street-ball quarterback who only knew how to play in certain systems," he said. "I was beat up so much in that draft. I was belittled, berated."
"They said it was the system, that I played in the WAC," Brennan added, referring to Hawaii's pass-first-, pass-second and pass-third offense. "This isn't a dis' on Joe Flacco [Baltimore's first-round quarterback choice], but he went to a D-II school, played weaker competition, didn't have as successful a year as I did, yet he still went in the first round because he's 6-5 and can throw the ball 70 yards.
"You always used to hear Bill Walsh say accuracy and toughness are what makes a quarterback great, and that's like what I am, accurate and tough. To see me fall, to see so many people say, 'he'll never make it in the NFL, he's a worthless pick,' I couldn't believe it."
Brennan sighed and shrugged his shoulders, maybe realizing how he was coming across.
"That's all right," he finally said. "If you think it was hard to come back from being falsely accused of sexual assault, going through a trial and all that, it's real easy to come back from being criticized for not being a good football player."
Brennan indeed found out another painful lesson on draft day: Beyond football, his past counted against him.
The story bears repeating because of the fork in the road it became in Brennan's life. In January 2004, after a night of drinking while at Colorado, a woman who lived four doors down from Brennan accused him of sexual assault, indecent exposure, burglary and criminal trespass.
He was eventually found guilty of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass for not leaving the woman's room in a timely manner and wound up spending seven days in jail. He also received four years' probation, which expired the day he graduated from the University of Hawaii last December, a year early for good behavior.
"December 14 probation was up," he said. "I look back and know what I did and what I didn't do and I realize I can't ever put myself in a situation like that again. But I also do the reverse on it, too.
"I don't look at it like that's always going to be brought up," he explained. "I look at it as, I'm a convicted felon. That's how dangerous our society can be and how far I had to go to get here. I need to grow from that, the sensitivity of the issue, to make sure that doesn't happen to another kid in a similar situation."
Falling off the draft board to Washington in the sixth round, Colt Brennan was saying again, is not the worst thing to happen to a young player.
"Ever since that happened in Colorado, every dream I've ever had as a little kid is starting to come true," he said. "I was fourth-string walk-on QB. Two years later I was a Heisman Trophy candidate. And now I'm on an NFL field. I got a lot of faith, a lot of faith."