There was a bit of an awkward moment Thursday night in Baltimore after the Redskins’ preseason game. John Beck was patting his faux mullet with a white towel, carefully explaining how he doesn’t root for Rex Grossman to self-destruct as much he roots for himself to outplay his only competition for the starting quarterback gig.
“The best way I can explain it is, we know what each other has been through, you know what it’s like trying to be the guy to succeed,” Beck said. “But,” and he clearly enunciated the “but” part, “each of us want to be the guy.”
“There’s no way either of us are going to stand to the side and, well, you know . . .”
Beck stopped talking suddenly because I motioned with my eyes that Grossman was standing immediately behind him, gathering his belongings. (Like most players on NFL teams who play the same position, their cubicles were adjacent to each other.)
At the moment I don’t know why I felt the need to let Beck know Grossman was there.
Maybe I didn’t want Beck to say something that would have rattled Grossman without him at least knowing Rex was behind him.
Maybe Rex-Becks, 24-7, was feeling stale, that a training-camp duel and three exhibition games have produced a majority draw; enough already, it’s time for Coach Mike Shanahan to decide who will start.
Or maybe it was simple as this: Rex had fashioned a shiv out of his facemask and I needed to warn Beck before it was too late.
“Believe it or not, it’s not like that,” Beck said.
“Everything’s normal,” Rex added. “I don’t know how else to put it. I mean, how do you not root for a guy like that? He’s a really good guy. It is what it is.”
Beck: “Here’s the thing: you want to see your team do well, see guys catch balls, touchdowns scored. You want to see all that because you want to be part of that. But ultimately you want to be the one to play better.”
So much for two scorpions in a jar, huh? Two journeyman quarterbacks entering the octagon and one leaving sounded great, but it’s not reality.
This might come as a shock, but neither Beck nor Grossman roots like hell for the other one to throw three interceptions returned for touchdowns, so they can be guaranteed the starting job against the Giants in two weeks.
We’ve been pitting them against each other for a few months so much they almost seem inseparable, as if they might morph into a single hybrid: Ron Grossbeck? Rex starts the first preseason game, Becks starts the second. Rex gets two possessions against the Ravens, Becks gets the next two. Afterward, they trade turns in the postgame interview room — Becks first, Rex second.
Probed deeply for that tiny granule of information that could lead to a revelation of which one will start or who has the edge, they answer most everything diplomatically before dressing in relatively the same outfits, short-sleeve plaid shirts and jeans. They hop on the team bus back to the practice facility — each unsure whether he did enough to clearly emerge as the choice in Shanahan’s mind.
And the world of Ashburn turns.
“Saturday Night Live” once featured a hilarious skit with tennis great Chris Evert and an actor playing her rival in time, Martina Navratilova. Everywhere Chrissie went, Martina followed, to the absurd point where Chrissie was losing it because she couldn’t shake Martina.
At some point the next few weeks, Grossman and Beck have to feel the same way, that they can’t shake each other. That the only solace they can find is their common ground — two guys many NFL teams believe are not bona fide starters, trying to show they are.
That before Shanahan made them fight for a starting job, they bonded over not having one.
“Here’s the thing: Everybody wants to portray this like we’re not talking to each other in meetings, we’re not talking to each other on the field, because that whole rivalry thing sounds cool,” Beck said. “But I could remember last year during the season, watching tape together, talking about our roads, what we’ve been through. I’m thinking, ‘Hey, he’s trying to be a starter and I’m trying to be a starter.’ I remember him talking like, ‘I’ve gone to a Super Bowl with a team — and now I’m a backup and I’m trying to become a starter again.’ So I know he’s probably got the same chip on his shoulder.”
“When people get to this level,” Beck added, “everybody has had to fight through something, everybody is a super-competitive person, everybody wants it really bad.”
When they climb atop the dais and stand before the microphone, it feels more like the start of campaign season rather than an NFL season. They both are unfailingly polite. They smile and try not to say too much while critiquing their performances. Away from the masses, their guards lower sometimes and there’s more feeling behind the words.
All the while, we play the role of the bloodthirsty kids in the schoolyard, encouraging two kids to swap punches on the blacktop at recess, to see who is left standing.
Funny, no? Everyone wants clarity, a clear winner, someone once and for all to step to the fore and win the job. But what if we get an anticlimactic end to Rex vs. Becks?
What if whomever Shanahan names as his starter for the opener against the Giants is a starter in name only?
Depending on injury and performance, this could very possibly turn into a season-long game of leapfrog in which being named the guy one week doesn’t assure either quarterback of keeping it three weeks later.
It might be completely dissatisfying and in no way gives one a clear edge. But it might give Shanahan and the Redskins the best chance to win.
No matter how much Grossman and Beck put aside their mutual respect for each other’s journey aside to beat out the other on the field the past two months, they could both get behind that.