I’ve always been fascinated with backup quarterbacks. When I go into any open locker room period, they’re usually who I seek out first. The starters only talk once a week, typically in a press conference setting. But the backups know everything about everyone. Every time a starter gets hurts, it’s What’s this guy’s deal again? When did Case Keenum sign with Cleveland? (For the record, Keenum is currently on the Buffalo Bills.) Last year, so many starters went down that I had to make a guide to keep track of who played where.
This season, I’m starting a new project called QB2, an interview show with my favorite players in football. As far as I’m concerned, backup quarterbacks have the best jobs in the NFL, and I want to learn as much as I can about what goes on in their heads. Was there ever a game in which they didn’t feel prepared? What’s the weirdest quarterback battle they’ve been a part of? How do they catch up to the environment of a new team if they’re signed in the middle of the season? Are veteran backups expected to mentor younger quarterbacks?
My first guest had to be one of the best-known backups in recent NFL history: Josh McCown, who played 19 seasons for 12 different NFL teams.
McCown has bounced up and down the depth chart and all around the league. He was last on a roster in 2020 with the Texans, and he’s now coaching high school football in Texas, which was his dream job before he ever made it to the NFL. He’s often described as a “journeyman,” which is a term that he actually likes, even though it’s mostly used as a euphemism.
“You left out retread,” he said, after I listed some other not-so-nice terms for backups. “The most affectionate of them. I like ‘journeyman.’ The word itself, at a glance it means he’s been on a bunch of teams, whatever. But it is a journey, life is a journey, this is my journey to be on all these different teams. The number of coaches, players, training staff, everyone in the building you get to meet, it’s special. I think everyone would love to go 20 years with one team, because that means you are playing well, but this other world is not so bad, because you get exposed to so many other people’s journeys.”
Also on this debut episode of QB2, McCown talked about what it’s like to steal first-team reps in practice, the importance of mimicking the starter’s cadence in order to gel with the offensive line, the funniest quarterback room he’s been part of, and his weirdest demotion. Watch the full interview here, and follow Defector on Twitch if you want to be notified for the next episode.