Forget RGIII, this Saturday’s game has far more important storylines. In fact, it has more connections than a Chicago alderman . . .
I mean, the NFL is a very exclusive fraternity after all, so often times inter-team connections are so prevalent that they’re not really worth a second thought—especially in a preseason game.
But when the Bears and Redskins face off this Saturday, preseason or not, there’s sure to be some family competitiveness in the air. These two teams, after all, are connected more than most, and the last time they shared an exhibition stage was 33 years ago.
Mike Shanahan, the Redskins current head coach and three-time Super Bowl champ, personally drafted Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in 2006. While Shanahan had lofty expectations for Cutler, Marshall was a fourth-round selection who has since gone on to vastly exceed expectations on the football field.
Cutler and Shanahan were a big part of that. “It was Jay’s confidence in Marshall,” Shanahan said. “They really tore it up when they were together [in Denver].”
“You could tell early on they had a special chemistry,” Shanahan said. “I knew Jay was going to be that franchise guy. When Jay went to Chicago, I knew it was just a matter of time before he would really play well if they gave him the right supporting cast.”
Not to be dismissed, the addition of Jeremy Bates to the Bears’ coaching staff this offseason serves to add just one more crucial piece to that supporting cast—a group of guys who shared their best seasons together as relative youngsters, now set to give it another go in their prime.
One has to imagine that Shanahan, who grew up in Oak Park, IL and played quarterback at Eastern Illinois, must, if only a little, covet the Bears’ current offensive cast, and he joked to the media on Wednesday about the idea of joining them.
“It would cost me too much in tickets,” Shanahan said, and noted how he will have about 50 guests (family and friends) at Saturday’s preseason contest alone.
But Shanahan, Cutler, Marshall and Bates are not where the connections end.
The two teams each boast one of the other’s former first-round draft selections as their back-up quarterback.
Bears’ backup QB Jason Campbell was drafted by the Redskins 25th overall in 2005 and started 52 games over five seasons (2005-09), completing 1,002 of 1,637 passing attempts for 10,860 yards, 55 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. His 61.2 completion percent is the highest in Washington’s team history, and his 82.3 passer rating is second in team history.
And, of course, Redskins’ QB Rex Grossman was selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft and posted a 23-13 record for the Bears from 2003-08. He completed 521-of-962 passes for 6,164 yards, 33 TDs, 35 INTs and a QB rating of 70.2, while helping lead the team to Super Bowl XLI, where they lost to the Colts in 2007.
Rex made it clear to the media on Wednesday that Saturday’s game in Chicago will in fact mean something to him.
“I’ve had a lot of great experiences in that stadium,” Grossman said. “They’re the team that drafted me, and doing everything we did there those six years—that will always be with me. So going back there is a big deal to me, personally. That city and that stadium will always be etched in my brain as one of the biggest times in my life.”
As if there weren’t enough quarterback-coach connections between the Bears and Redskins, there is also a little known wide receiver-coach connection that has nothing to do with Brandon Marshall. Chicago Bears’ wide receivers coach Darryl Drake actually played WR for the Skins in 1979, albeit a negligible career.
And of course, Washington picked up former Bears safety Brandon Meriweather this offseason, after a failed year in Chicago led to him being repeatedly benched and/or fined. But Meriweather at least appears to have rebounded in Washington, and is on the fast-track to earning the team’s starting free safety position.
“I know in Chicago it was mainly two, three deep (coverage),” Shanahan said in reference to Meriweather. “He is more of a safety like he was in New England, a box guy who plays a lot of different coverages. I’m not sure he’s a very good straight two deep or three deep player. But our scheme kind of fits what he does.”
The family ties don’t end there, either. There are plenty or roundabout connections between these two clubs, only less intriguing ones. Redskins’ LB London Fletcher played under Lovie Smith in St. Louis; Washington wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard played under Rod Marinelli in Tampa Bay; and Bears backup G/C Edwin Williams entered the NFL by way of Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2009, playing in four games for the Redskins.
While none of the above will serve to change anything about what we’ll see on the football field this Saturday, for a fan, I think they do make what is set to be an otherwise meaningless game interesting to watch. (The first quarter anyway.)
At any rate, the Bears are probably happy to face the Skins in the preseason, as opposed to the regular season. In their last four regular season meetings, Washington has won them all.