Future generations of Washington fans will never understand the connection that current Washington fans have with Taylor Heinicke or why today is a bittersweet day for most of us.
Fans will one day look back and analyze Taylor Heinicke by looking at measurable things. They will see his size — maybe 6’ tall and 210 pounds — and scoff. They will look at things like passing yards and touchdown-to-interception ratio and point out that those stats are merely pedestrian. They will look at Taylor’s won-loss record in Washington and laugh about him being barely over .500.
And they will have missed the point entirely.
Taylor Heinicke became a “legend” in Washington, not because of what can be measured, but because of what can’t be measured.
Sport is filled with aphorisms, and professional athletes often embrace them — ‘no pressure, no diamonds’ or ‘you play the way you practice’. Such sayings often lose their power through repetition to the point of mundanity.
There is one such saying that comes to mind whenever I think of Taylor Heinicke, and it’s one that he has often mentioned in interviews: “play every down as if it were your last”.
Taylor Heinicke certainly isn’t the first to say it, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player who embodied this philosophy more than Taylor Heinicke. A quick Google search tells me that Taylor Heinicke played 1,658 snaps for Washington. I feel confident that I watched every one of them live, and I’ve certainly seen each one on replay at least once more. I can say with total conviction that I saw Taylor Heinicke play 1,658 snaps as if each one were his last.
What is inspiring about Taylor Heinicke is not his physical gifts — he’s not Cam Newton or Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers. It’s not his statistics — he’s never going to match Tom Brady’s 7 championship rings or Drew Brees’ passing records.
What is inspiring about Taylor Heinicke is that he went onto the field 1,658 times in the burgundy & gold uniform and played as if it were his last-ever play in the NFL. And that’s what your kids are never going to understand about #4.
All of us who watched him play for the Football Team and Commanders will remember one play above all others — his dive for the pylon against Tampa Bay in Washington’s last playoff game. More than any other, that play typifies the “leave it all on the field” mentality that is synonymous with the name of Taylor Heinicke.
He had the kind of story that legends need; he was out of football, sleeping on his sister’s couch, ready to hang up his cleats and try to get into coaching when the call came from Scott Turner saying, ‘not so fast; we might need you’. You don’t need me to recount the story; it’s been told by the guys in the broadcast booth of every NFL game Heinicke ever played for Washington.
It was that ‘nothing to lose’ return from NFL oblivion, I’m sure, that fueled Heinicke’s ascent into Washington football mythology. We’d seen more gifted players fail; and, while Taylor Heinicke didn’t always succeed, he always gave every drop of blood, sweat and tears that he had on every single play. Somehow, as a fan, you rarely ever felt as if there was no chance as long as #4 was in the game, and, even when we lost, it was usually exciting, and when we won, no one celebrated victory with more enthusiasm.
Taylor Heinicke drinks cheap domestic beer from the can, and when he’s not on a football field, he nearly always has tobacco tucked in his lower lip. He is a working class hero of sorts, who has always been the easiest guy in the world to root for.
Of course, Taylor Heinicke’s tenure in Washington has ended. Today, he agreed to a fairly lucrative contract with the Falcons (2 years, $14m with upside to $20m) that will take him home to Georgia, where his family lives. I couldn’t be happier for him. This is what he deserves.
But, like most fans, I will miss his fiery spirit, his red-faced passion, and his pylon dives. Some who are less nostalgic will talk about ‘hospital balls’ and a host of physical limitations. They will point to an unimpressive win-loss record and snort.
They will have missed the point.
In 26 regular season and playoff appearances (24 starts) in Washington, Taylor Heinicke ignited the passion of his teammates and gave beleaguered fans of the Redskins/Football Team/Commanders franchise a reason to cheer.
I’ll honestly hate seeing Taylor Heinicke in a Falcons uniform. It seems somehow that he should belong to us and we to him, but if Brett Favre could play for the Vikings and Tom Brady could leave New England, I guess I need to accept that Taylor Heinicke can leave DC.
Best of luck, Taylor! When it’s all over, come back and see us. You made yourself one of us, and, though our kids and grandkids will never truly understand why, you’ll always have a place in Washington football lore.