A guy who hasn’t taken an NFL snap in three years may indeed start the season behind center for the Washington Redskins, just as he is Friday night in Indianapolis in the team’s second exhibition game.
And on the eve of John Beck’s debut in burgundy and gold, I’m really torn.
The idealist who was once unemployed at age 30 and just hoping for a shot openly roots for Beck.
The skeptic who has been writing about sports for 20-odd years, who has been trained to look at numbers and pedigrees and former employers before distilling conclusions, wonders deeply why this guy is playing on his third team in five years if he is genuinely starting-quarterback material.
“I always felt like nobody really knew what happened in Miami,” Beck says as he walks off the practice field. “Everyone just thinks I just got cut. Nobody knows I went in and said, ‘Hey, I want to be done here. Because I know I’m not going anywhere in your plans.’
“They were stringing the whole thing out. Nobody knows a trade with Dallas was done when I was there. My agent called me and said, ‘Probably by tomorrow you’re going to Dallas.’ The Dolphins said no, and ‘We’re going to hold onto him.’ Right to my face they said. ‘We know we strung you out here.’ ”
So, the Dolphins were going to make you the guy?
“No one knows the conversation I had with Bill [Parcells] before they got Chad Pennington,” Beck says. “There were a lot of things going on where I thought I was going to be the starter. I started the first preseason game. I don’t think they’re going to put the guy to go to start the first preseason game of the new regime if that’s the bum they’re going to cut a few weeks later.”
What happened with the Ravens, who traded you to Washington for a cornerback no longer in the NFL?
“No one knows the situation in Baltimore, but I did,” Beck says.
“Every time someone said to me, ‘Oh, you’ve been jobbed by these other teams,’ I didn’t feel I needed to correct anybody. Hey, I know. That’s all that really matters. I’m not trying to convince the world what went on behind the scenes. I know and I’m fine with that.”
After the Donovan McNabb experiment blew up in Mike Shanahan’s face, Beck is now less than a month away from his dream. The only guy standing in his way is Rex Grossman, a nine-year pro with whom, competition or not, Beck actually shares a nobody-believes-in-us kinship.
Beck loves talking about glacial journeys toward stardom, “Kurt’s road” and “Trent’s road” and “Steve’s road” — because Kurt Warner, Trent Green and another BYU quarterback with decent credentials, Steve Young, blazed the snail trail to starting for him.
“When he went to San Fran, everybody kind of counted him out,” Beck said of Young, whose counsel he seeks often. “One time I actually called Steve and said, ‘How’d you do this for all those years?’”
Young’s advice: “He said, ‘Every practice, you’re not practicing as a backup. You’re practicing for the day when you’re going to be a starter.’ It’s something I really bought into the last year.
“I’ve always believed an opportunity would come sometime.”
So euphoric about his chance with the Redskins, Beck has been called the “self-proclaimed starting quarterback” based on a couple of cocksure offseason interviews in which he said he felt like the starter.
“I just felt I’m shooting for the starting job, so why not believe I can really be it?” Beck said. “Everybody takes whatever is said and they try to take it to the nth degree. Like, I came out and said, ‘Hey, I believe I can be the starting quarterback.’ I never said, ‘I definitely am going to be the starter’ or went out on a limb.”
He is not in denial. Beck understands nothing is promised, that it’s not his call.
“I’m putting faith in everyone around me,” he says. “It’s why I’ve put in so much offseason and in-season work the last three or four years. Would it have been nice on Tuesdays [players’ off day during the season] to spend more time with my family? Yeah. But I was putting in time for somewhere down the road. I didn’t know if it was going to be the next year, two years, three years, five years. I didn’t know when it was going to be, but I was putting in time for when that day was going to come.”
In a perfect world, he was asked, how would this season end?
“Well, you play to win everything,” he said. “You play to win the big one. So you have to have that mind-set. But I think the good thing about our team is everyone is willing to work and everybody wants to shake free of all the stuff that’s been going on in the past.”
It’s easy to compartmentalize Beck and dismiss the possibility that a guy about to turn 30 with no NFL resume to speak of could be a leader and a winner.
It’s harder to have the conviction to give a corner office to a guy who has been stuck in the mailroom for years and hope that he can help fix the company.
In this corporation’s case, he can’t do much worse than the handsomely paid hired guns who managed just three winning seasons the past 12 years.
And just what if John Beck flourishes instead of flames out, what if he becomes that rare Washington commodity: the homegrown diamond in the rough, developed and polished right here instead of shrewdly purchased from another team where he already starred?
Believing in and building your own — what a tremendous concept for a maturing franchise to embrace, no?