Mike Shanahan is My Uncle

Win McNamee

All of the qualities I heard a great quarterback needed growing up are all of the qualities Robert Griffin III boasts.

One of the proudest moments of my childhood happened at the age of fourteen when I beat the Denver Broncos 49-42 with the Atlanta Falcons in Madden 2004 during a family reunion in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. My eldest cousin played with the Broncos and I played with the Falcons. The entire game I lined up in the goal-line formation and ran one of three plays: a QB sneak with Vick (injuries were off); an off-tackle power run with Warrick Dunn; or a play-action throw on which I could either hit Dunn in the flat, throw deep for the tight-end, Alge Crumpler, or scramble for the sideline, picking up five or more uncontested yards.

My cousin could not stop the combination of a good offensive line and a fast quarterback who could throw well enough to keep a defense honest. The one turnover-on-downs I forced out of my cousin's seven possessions ended up being the difference in the game.

Later, my cousin, my uncle and I were standing out on the porch of the lake house my uncle had rented for his entire extended family. My cousin, who had recently been hired as an offensive quality control guy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, congratulated me on my Madden victory, laughing that all of the plays that he worked on in the pros didn't work at all when he drew them into the video game.

I thanked him and admitted I had more time to practice because I was still a kid. Plus, I said, I had Michael Vick and with the new controls - the ‘play-maker stick' was the big innovation for the 2004 edition of the series - there was no team that could really stop him

My cousin, Kyle, nodded and noted that the same was almost true in real life. He said[1]: "Vick could wind up being the best quarterback the league has ever seen".

My often mannered and reserved uncle Mike couldn't help but grunt at his son's assertion. He stepped back into the house, where my mom and my late great aunt Cathy were playing a dice game. Reconsidering his thought, my cousin Kyle called in his direction: "I mean: he's someone that has all the tools."

***

Two years later I was lucky enough to be a ball boy for the Denver Broncos during Jay Cutler's rookie season.

One night that summer my uncle took me out to a nice steak dinner. After the dinner, he brought me into the cigar lounge in the back of the restaurant, where he ordered a Grey Goose on the rocks. All of sixteen years old at the time, I had a Guinness. We each smoked fine cigars.

When I asked the question that was on everyone's mind in Denver at the time, my uncle was very candid, saying: "Both Jake [Plummer] and Jay are good quarterbacks and can win. But Jay will be better down the road." He pointed his index finger around his temple: "He gets it better up here."

Back in Rhinelander Wisconsin, I realized, my uncle had scoffed at my cousin's bold claim that Michael Vick could wind up being "the best quarterback" the league had ever seen because my uncle did not believe that the six inches between Vick's ears contained the mental processing power of the elite quarterbacks he had worked with in his career.

Vick had most of the tools, but perhaps not all.

During the opening of OTA's back in June, my uncle proposed that Robert Griffin III could redefine the position of quarterback in the NFL.

Although, unfortunately, in real life you can't turn injuries off, I get the feeling my cousin knows as well that - given the right set of play calls - there will come a time when no one will be able to stop him.


[1] All quotes in this article are paraphrased from memory.

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