Toiling as a backup tight end for an average Division I football program six years ago, Chris Cooley’s mind wasn’t focused on playing in the NFL, earning a Pro Bowl selection, starting a popular Web site, depositing a $1.8 million check at a Bank of America drive-through or becoming one of the District’s most popular athletes.
No, standing on the Utah State sideline during a game against Boise State, Cooley’s future was clear. Get his art degree, teach high school and maybe coach football and wrestling.
But then he got his chance - by no doing of his own.
Casey Poppinga, Utah State’s starting tight end, lost two fumbles during the first half. In the locker room, offensive coordinator Bob Cole stormed in and told Cooley, “I’m not dealing with this. You’re in.” He finished the game with only two catches for 23 yards but…
“It was over,” he says.
Yet it was just the beginning. To dominating college opponents for a year-and-a-half. To becoming a Redskins third-round draft pick. To four years of big catches and touchdowns. And to his status as the team’s most popular player.
As the Redskins begin their first training camp Sunday under new coach Jim Zorn, one player he can rely on is Cooley, who has become one of the Redskins’ faces because of his production (231 career catches and 27 touchdowns), contract (his six-year deal starts this season) and personality (approachable for fans, interesting practice-uniform choices and occasional wild haircut).
In a franchise accustomed to roster turnover, coaching turmoil and general tumult, Cooley wants to remain a constant.
“Everything’s been great here,” he says. “I love the area, and the people have been unbelievable to me. With the contract, I can say I’m going to be a part of the Redskins’ organization for a long time. I want to be loyal. I’m not going to be bouncing around and playing in another city in three to four years. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
He doesn’t want to play anywhere else, but Cooley will talk about anything and put whatever’s tasteful on his Web site, chriscooley47.com. His embrace of celebrity has endeared him even more to the team’s fans.
Says Tanner, Cooley’s younger brother: “He’s a young, open guy who doesn’t mind sharing his life.”
And his stories.
The bacon eating contest
“We were in St. Louis, and during breakfast I ate the first piece of bacon. I was like, ‘Oh … My … God!’ and I pushed the rest of the plate away,” Cooley says. “The best bacon of all time. Me and [Brian Kozlowski] go back to the buffet, and he’s like, ‘Bacon eating contest.’ Koz would always want to do these stupid contests, but he never had to play. He would have his fun and then watch me dying on the sidelines. I get a mountain of bacon, and I sit there and eat 39 pieces. It was thick bacon, not the stuff you microwave. I’m dying, and I drag myself to the bus. I’m laying on the floor of the locker room. And then I had the best game of my career up to that point. I graded out at 98 percent. I played awesome.”