Kirk Cousins wore a wireless mic during Washington’s recent win over the Packers, allowing us a rare glimpse at this $20 million man’s on-field demeanor during the game of his life. The verdict? Let’s turn to his teammates. First, allow them to stifle their giggles.
“Very goofy, and very corny,” running back Chris Thompson said.
“Oh, it’s super corny,” agreed long snapper Nick Sundberg. “He’s a square.”
“It’s kind of dorkish a little bit, but cool at the same time,” offered wide receiver Jamison Crowder.
“He’s very corny, but it’s cool corny,” added defensive back Will Blackmon. “You love him; he’s not annoying. He’s like a dork with swag.”
Cousins grins at these reviews. He’s well aware of his locker-room reputation, and even embraces it. This is a 28-year old man who drives a conversion van, wears plain black cleats and a slightly ill-fitting uniform, quotes liberally from “Lord of the Rings,” and was captured by NFL Films going to the sideline and demanding a high-five party from his teammates. No, really: a high-five party.
“High-fives from everyone!” he said. “High-fives from everyone! Everyone get in on the high-five party!”
You imagine successful pro quarterbacks being icy assassins, part boardroom and part Bond, the coolest guy in every room. Then you listen to Cousins spend the final few minutes of his news conference on Wednesday talking about his love of musical theater, how he saw “Jersey Boys” in college, how he wants to see “Hamilton” and “The Lion King” and “Book of Mormon,” how he has “a huge appreciation for singing and dancing.” Tight end Vernon Davis reported that Cousins sings, dances and raps to show tunes in front of his locker. That’s . . . uh . . . not necessarily cool.
“I joke with people — and Kyle Shanahan used to say this — that my swagger is having no swagger, but that kind of becomes my thing,” Cousins said Wednesday. “That’s just kind of the way I am, and I almost try to play off of that and celebrate that. We’ve got too many cool guys for me to try to be cool. We’ve got enough of that. I can just be boring and dorky.”
But it’s often dorkiness with a purpose. Take the NFL Films clip in which Cousins exhorts teammates to touch each other during warm-ups. It seems faintly ridiculous, until you find out that Trent Williams used to break down the pregame and pre-practice huddles by doing a special handshake with each of his offensive teammates. With Williams suspended, Cousins was the lone remaining offensive captain, and he wanted to pay tribute to the missing Pro Bowler.
“We felt a void there,” Cousins said. “We said no one can fill [Williams’s] shoes, so just everybody touch everybody. Everybody dap up everybody.”
And so that’s become the new ritual, during the last huddle before practice starts and on the field before games. Some players give out 10 handshakes, and some hand out 10 helmet pats. Rob Kelley has jokingly shouted out “Free Trent” during these moments. Crowder experienced the routine for the first time at practice Wednesday; he dapped as many teammates as quickly as he could. And while it sounds amusing, several players described this new routine as a blast of solidarity. “Everybody’s touching everybody, everybody’s taking care of everybody, everybody watches everybody’s back,” Ty Nsekhe said.
As with Cousins’s on-field euphoria — “Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! As a team! Celebrate!” he yelled at one point during the Packers game — there’s an earnestness to this that teammates on both sides of the ball seem to cherish. It’s a dorkiness that you couldn’t really fake, and when it’s accompanied by 300- and 400-yard passing performances and more wins than losses, it sort of works. One teammate after another broke out in laughter when asked about their quarterback’s on-field, full-throated and G-rated outbursts, but it was a fond laughter, paired with praise.
“He’s genuine. He doesn’t do it for the camera,” said rookie Su’a Cravens. “I just think he’s bought in. You can tell who’s faking and who’s not. And I don’t think Kirk’s faking. He’s really excited. That’s who he is.”
“I love it because he is who he is,” Blackmon said. “He doesn’t change for anyone. He can have a conversation with anyone. He’s appealing to everyone.”
“That’s him, and that’s our guy,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “I don’t know what it is to you guys, but for us, it’s just Kirk. I mean, we see this side of him every day.”
For those of us who have watched Cousins mature from an easily flustered fourth-round pick into a veteran set to break the bank, this self-assuredness might be easy to overlook. But then listen to Kelley talk about how Cousins has become his on-field guide, the person he leans on for advice and turns to for support. Kelley never knew the old Kirk Cousins; he only knows the $20 million version.
“I mean, he takes the nervousness away from me,” Kelley said. “He’s telling me everything. He makes the game so much easier for me. He’s not nervous, he’s not big-eyed when he gets in there. He plays like the guys I look at on TV — like Drew Brees, to me — somebody that the game never gets too big for.”
Ditto for Davis, who arrived in Washington this year to find a fully formed starting quarterback.
“He’s been amazing, he’s been spectacular, each and every way, every step of the way,” Davis said. ” It’s just an honor to be here with him and be able to play ball with him.”
It goes without saying that this wouldn’t be quite as charming on a losing team. No one wants to hear about “Hamilton” when you’re 3-8. And the go-get-em advice Cousins dispenses during wins — “Hey, we’re gonna take the two-minute [warning] so you can relax and feel good about yourself, okay?” he said during the Packers game — might not sparkle in losses. Still, for the past calendar year, this dork with swag has played like one of the best quarterbacks in the world. So bring on the goofiness.
“He says a lot of things, and we laugh about it, but when your quarterback has that type of attitude all the time and is just always positive, we get positive results,” Thompson said.
“That’s just Kirk. A little cornballish, but that’s him,” Chris Baker said. “Whatever he does is cool as long as he’s winning and throwing great touchdowns and leading our team. . . . It works for him. That’s all that matters.”
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