Josh, Jay and the Monsters of the Midway
January 11, 2009: The date that will live in infamy for all Denver Broncos fans. For that was the day former Bill Belichick disciple and franchise savior Josh McDaniels was hired by owner Pat Bowlen to reclaim the Lombardi Trophy for the Broncos. It was puppy dogs and ice cream for the orange crush faithful. The “It” coach with the high football acumen would be manning their sidelines come September.
McDaniels’ resume spoke for itself: The genius behind the record-setting 2007 Patriots’ offense that scored 75 touchdowns; the offensive guru responsible for rescuing the 2008 season from oblivion after Tom Brady’s opening weekend knee injury; the immortal being who utilized his Svengali-like powers to transform hasn’t-started-a-game-since-high-school quarterback Matt Cassel into the next, ahem, Tom Brady.
It seemed like a perfect match; a marriage that would defy the odds. McDaniels sashayed into Broncos’ headquarters as if he were Gisele strutting down the catwalk at a Paris fashion show. He smiled ear-to-ear and proudly displayed quarterback Jay Cutler’s #6 jersey. It was a veritable dance party in the Rocky Mountains. Good times, good times.
Then the CD skipped. What ensued has quickly become part of pro football lore. Here’s how wunderkind Josh McDaniels managed to ruin a great situation, and drag the Chicago Bears along for the ride. Forgive the haphazard time line, but it’s the easiest way to extract the meat and potatoes of this classic off season saga. (One note: Some of the sources used for the following trip down memory lane cannot be considered reliable.)
- As free agency kicks off, McDaniels goes spend crazy in order to acquire broken-down has-beens and career backups to destroy rebuild the core of the roster.
- On February 28, the New England Patriots deal Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick and linebacker Mike Vrabel. Fantasy Football enthusiasts convene to discuss the repercussions.
- Chief backers rejoice over the arrival of an overrated one-year wonder quarterback.
- Broncos’ receiver Brandon Marshall gets arrested again. Bengals’ receiver Chris Henry takes notice. Marshall is gaining on him.
- On March 2, rumors surface the Broncos were in discussions with the Patriots, Lions and Bucs about swinging a three-team trade that would have sent Cassel to Denver and Jay Cutler to either Detroit or Tampa.
- McDaniels beats his head against the nearest wall and repeats “I am… in a world… of !@#$.”
- The excrement hits the fan. Cutler demands a trade. McDaniels botches damage control.
- Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen intervenes. An impersonal phone call and a heated closed-door meeting between Cutler and McDaniels end ugly.
- Like a Lindsay Lohan relationship, things unravel fast.
- Cutler employs the juvenile silent treatment. He is spotted picking up his ball and returning home.
- On April 2, the Broncos grant Cutler his wish and trade him to Chicago in exchange for quarterback Kyle Orton, the Bears’ first- and third-round draft picks in 2009 and a first-round selection in 2010.
- Fantasy Football enthusiasts convene to discuss the repercussions.
- Bronco fans express their displeasure at giving away a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback. In protest, Coloradoans stop skiing for ten minutes.
- Chicago fans try to recall the last time they had a Pro Bowl quarterback. Heads explode in the process.
- Kyle Orton arrives in Denver with a full beard.
- The next day, Orton is clean shaven. Sales of Gillette razors reach a 12-month high in Denver.
- There is a Chris Simms sighting. The Broncos backup signal caller realizes his chances of starting have increased, so he climbs from his spider hole to let everyone know he’s still alive.
- ESPN and the NFL Network decide to trim back their McDaniels/Cutler coverage from 24 hours a day to 20.
- Pat Bowlen issues a letter of apology explanation for the Cutler trade.
- Thousands of Bronco fans suffer panic attacks upon realizing that either Kyle Orton or Chris Simms will be under center in 2009. Denver therapists book expensive vacations to Fiji.
- Meanwhile, Bears fans purchase massive quantities of cigars and champagne in anticipation of a Super Bowl victory in February 2010.
- Jay Cutler parties in downtown Chicago. Cute single women snicker at his awful hair, but go home with him anyway.
- McDaniels burns the midnight oil in preparation for the upcoming NFL draft. He maps out the best strategy to alienate the fan base further.
- While downing Jell-O shots at a strip club, Cutler uses his iPhone to Google the names of Bears’ receivers.
- McDaniels is caught watching game tape of Michael Vick.
- Cutler places a call to Plaxico Burress. A gunshot is heard on the other end of the line. Cutler quickly hangs up.
- New Bronco Brian Dawkins accepts the fact he will retire having never won a Super Bowl.
- Draft weekend arrives. The experts conclude the Broncos need defense, while the Bears require help at receiver.
- Denver’s first pick is Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno. The other 17 backs on Denver’s roster prepare to draw straws.
- Fantasy Football sage Mathew Berry declares Moreno a solid option as a #2 running back.
- After trading out of the second round, the Bears nab YouTube sensation/defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert in the third round. He likes to jump out of swimming pools. Next stop, Canton.
- In the second round McDaniel trades a number one pick in 2010 for Danny Devito-sized cornerback Alphonso Smith. A collective “What the hell is Denver doing?” sentiment fills Radio City Music Hall.
- Oklahoma receiver Juaquin Iglesias is chosen by the Bears. Fans deliberate whether Un Hombre Solo was his greatest album.
- The Broncos select Notre Dame safety David Bruton. McDaniels crosses his fingers that Bruton’s association with “Touchdown Jesus” will improve Denver’s luck in 2009.
- The Bears take another receiver in the fifth round. His name is Johnny Knox. Wee-Man and Steve-O drunkenly high-five each other, then staple jock straps to their chests.
- Like a hobbled horse, the 2009 NFL Draft is shot dead on the evening of April 26.
- The draft pundits and gurus are not impressed with Denver’s take. Later that night, McDaniels is seen watching the movie Falling Down in his office.
- The Bears receive favorable draft marks. The inclusion of Jay Cutler in the evaluation results in an A+ grade.
In the game of football, youth will always be served on the field. However, handing the coaching keys to a 32-year-old assistant in way over his head doesn’t seem very prudent. So far, things have not gone swimmingly for Josh McDaniels. On the bright side, they can’t get much worse. Right?
As for the Bears, they volunteered to become participants in this offseason fiasco. But at least they were able to land a franchise quarterback for all their trouble. Which of the two teams got the better end of the deal won’t be known for years. Until that time, football followers will be left to wonder what might have been if Pat Bowlen had not elected to hire the “It” coach.