Cut before the start of the regular season and brought back in October, the veteran tight end had a feeling this team could do something special.
“I did see the potential for this team. I saw this potential when I left,” Cooley said. “There’s only so much you can say about potential, but it was there with this group. So I was very, very thrilled to be back and to be a part of it.”
Cooley got to take part in the six-game winning streak that took the Redskins to Sunday night and the NFC East championship game against the Dallas Cowboys. The winner was division champion and the loser went home, by virtue of Chicago beating Detroit earlier in the day
But the Redskins’ goal was always bigger than that, even after their 3-6 start.
“A division title is cool, great — that’s no one’s goal,” Cooley said Friday. “The goal is to win the Super Bowl. If we win the division title and lose in the first round, no one gives a damn. We don’t care. I don’t think this group of guys cares; 90 percent of this team hasn’t been playing for the Redskins long enough to think we haven’t won the division in 13 years.
“We’re here to win. We’re here to win it all. I’m here to win it all.”
What this team accomplished in getting to the verge of the postseason is monumental. They found a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III, who had a Rookie of the Year-caliber performance even if he doesn’t beat out Seattle’s Russell Wilson or Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck for the award.
Meaningful football games were played at FedEx Field in December for the first time in five years. Sunday night was the pinnacle, with fans filling up lots more than four hours before kickoff, many chanting “RG3” well before the game even started.
The atmosphere rivaled and most likely surpassed anything the D.C. area had seen in recent history, such as Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park in October, or any Capitals playoff game at Verizon Center.
It was evidence not just of the fervent fandom for the Redskins, but this team’s clawing back from last place.
“I think it’s really special for me because it’s been a completely united effort as far as the group of guys,” Cooley said. “You’ve been around long enough to realize this is the first year that there hasn’t been distractions. There hasn’t been [drama] going on. There hasn’t been any outside influence. It has been a locker room and a staff that have kept working, kept believing in what they wanted to do and really played for each other and worked for each other.”
That’s all coach Mike Shanahan wants out of a team.
“The things I’ve always looked for is guys that, No. 1, were very consistent in the way they practiced, regardless of how much money they make, regardless of where they were drafted — guys that came to work every day and want to get better,” Shanahan said. “And if you’ve got a nucleus of a team like that then you have a chance to improve as a football team. And so you’re always looking for the intangibles, guys that will do anything they can to get better every day. If you get a nucleus of those guys, then you’ve got a chance once you get to the playoffs to do something once you get there.”