It was my first day as a public relations intern at Redskins Park and my supervisor, Angela, was taking my future colleagues and I on a detailed tour of the most profitable American sport franchise's thirty-years-famous training facility, (which is not to be mistaken for the vintage staplers warehouse store located a few blocks up Loudoun County Parkway). My head buried taking notes in my white notepad, I was struck by a flash of blinding yellow light coming from over my shoulder.
"What's up, man" the golden-haired, Kirk Cousins greeted me, as cordially and welcomingly as if we were going to be roommates. "What do you do here?"
"I'm just interning," I said. With sublime economy and officialness, Angela explained that we were PR interns on our first day taking a tour of the building.
"Cool." Cousins said. "Where do you go to school?"
"I just graduated this May, actually."
"Oh, cool. Where did you go?"
"Yale University. You went to Michigan...right?" I asked, neglecting to add 'State' as if doing so would alert him to the fact that I knew that already, along with most other biographical facts about him, including his GPA. (Quite good, by the way.)
"Yale?" Cousins, the legendary Spartan, asked as he sagged behind our group. I nodded. Before he turned away into the team locker room, he smiled and called ahead: "We get the best interns here. Huh? Angela."
If you ever catch Kirk Cousins sounding the least beat insincere, make sure to get it on tape - because nobody will believe you.
Despite the fact that he would go on to have by far the most impressive preseason of any Washington Redskin, the defining highlight of Cousins's training camp, at least internally, came during the second week: when the first year-pro, parted his hair to one-side, dressed in his best golf shorts, italian belt and penny loafers without socks, and stood up at the head of the team meeting-room, chastising every last one of his ninety, ‘swinging dick' teammates.
An act which would no doubt have carried a certain amount of hilarity in its own right slayed every player and coach in the room even more because it was a perfect portrayal of my uncle, Head Coach Mike Shanahan's intra-team persona.
For days and weeks after the skit you would hear players and staff around the facility recalling Cousin's uncanny impersonation. Cousins appreciated the love.
"Guys were falling out. Guys were running up and down the aisles. Guys were giving us high fives," Cousins said to reporters when asked to describe the team-mandated rookie-skit he put together with
undrafted fellow rookie, tackle, Tom Compton. "I had to kinda wait for the laughter to die down before I hit my next joke."
Kirk Cousins, the ultimate straight-man portraying his coach, who at times appears to play the ultimate straight man on TV, as he really is when behind-closed doors - now that's good stuff.
One of the few last days of training camp at Redskins Park is Family Day, during which the team blows up slides and bounce-houses for the coaches, staff and players' kids and provides a large BBQ buffet for everyone else to eat on the artificial turf under the cool shade of burgundy tents.
After filling up a second ‘to-go' plate, I saw my uncle, Head Coach Mike Shanahan sitting cross-legged in penny loafers without socks, carefully separating and eating ribs in a professional manner that unlikely spilled any sauce even on his fingernails. I walked over and we talked in the mild breeze about the sweltering days of camp. Brandon Banks and Brian Orakpo had each made astounding grabs that morning, far more difficult than either of us had ever seen from them before. New acquisition, Dezmon Briscoe, too, was playing well.
Our conversation moved to the differences between camp at Ashburn and Dove Valley, Colorado. As a ball boy, I remembered nostalgically warming up with the quarterbacks and receivers before practice. No matter what time of day or who the player was, you'd always hate to drop a single ball.
"No, you don't want to drop the ball," coach surmised.
"Nah - and when you're throwing back to him. If you're throwing to the QB, you always want to make that perfect throw."
"Yeah, you always want to make that good throw."
See, my uncle Mike gets me. Innumerable times during our twenty minute conversation, the head coach paused to greet and shake ends with various people, some of whom he knew prior and some not yet. He sprang to his feet with extra vigor, however, when he saw a certain light-haired, middle aged couple dressed in fresh, new burgundy and gold gear duck under and into the tent.
Kirk Cousins swiftly followed behind: "Coach, I would like you to meet my parents" Cousins said, presenting: Don and Marianne Cousins. They apologized several times for the interruption. They just wanted to thank him personally for all that he was doing for their son, Kirk. It was no problem. It was his pleasure. It was good to meet them, too. Coach Mike introduced me and looking back I probably should have stood up to shake their hands.
Remaining standing, Don, Marianne and Mike remembered Kirk's career as told by a few big, Big Ten games.
"Yes, definitely everyone one," Marianne said, gleefully. "We went to every single game of his, up and down the Ohio turnpike, ever since those high school days."
"Is that right?" Mike asked, with a quick and sincere smile.
Folks that know my uncle Mike know he uses that phrase a lot, the transitional: Is that right? Personally, I like it. It's friendly. It's kind of a bridge between talking points when maybe you're not quite sure what should be said next if anything. Along with his top six pearly whites, he adds a subtle nod to the phrase, inviting you to continue to blabbering if you so chose. And you'd be surprised: you'll find yourself adding paragraphs if not chapters to small things you thought you already said.
The Cousins did go on some, as the phrase is wont to prompt. Going to all of his games, from high school all the way through college, they always dreamed Kirk would make it this far - to a situation like this. They thanked him again. Marianne Cousins smiling from ear-to-ear and tugged at Don's sleeve, as the father pledged his son's complete and utter commitment and loyalty. His implication being, if Kirk steps outline in anyway you just give me the word and I'll set him straight.
My uncle, Coach Shanahan makes more gracious small talk than most. It's a Chicago's suburbs thing, I guess - I know it well, but I don't quite have it. It's like a warm frankness or something. Hard to describe.
"He's a great kid," Coach surmised, "and you should be very proud."
The Cousins didn't want to take up too much of his time. Kirk nodded a shy 'thanks coach' and goodbye as he led his parents away like an embarrassed, straight-A-student finally heading home after parent-teacher conference night.
"That guy is going to be a heck of a good quarterback," my uncle told me sitting back down to his food. The phrase, which would mean nothing to anybody if said in a press conference, I knew here was a ringing, ringing endorsement about his ability and prospects.
When I agreed with him, and started to say how stupid I thought it was that people felt bad for him that he wasn't going to get to play this year even though every team in the league had had a chance to draft him, my uncle interjected:
"Drew Brees didn't play his first year. Brett Favre didn't."
On the last day of training camp, I waited bags in hand for the hotel elevator on my way to Redskins Park where the team was set to head off to Chicago for the Redskins second preseason game. When the doors opened, I looked up to see London Fletcher and Kirk Cousins standing on either side.
"What's up?"..."What's up," we said.
I came in and turned around and pressed the lobby button which was obviously already lit. My first instinct is always to talk in these situations involving famous people.
"So Kirk," I said. "I hear people say that you do a pretty good coach?"
Fletcher looked at Cousins for a second, before breaking into a booming laugh.
Cousins, the Chicago suburbs own, shook his head at me, before allowing himself to smile:
"Is that right?