As some Washington Redskins fans question whether or not we saw enough of Robert Griffin III in Thursday’s preseason opener to feel good about him, and others bask in the glory of Kirk Cousins’ strong performance against players who won’t even make the Cleveland Browns’ roster, it may be time for a preseason quarterback cautionary tale to remind everyone about what they are seeing — and what they aren’t.
Sunday, Aug. 16, was Colt Brennan’s 32nd birthday.
Brennan was perhaps the Redskins’ greatest novelty act at quarterback, even more so perhaps than legendary preseason star Babe Laufenberg.
He joined the Redskins as probably the best known sixth-round pick in franchise history. Football addicts had watched Brennan light it up at Hawaii in those late Saturday night Western Athletic Conference games. He still holds the NCAA record with 58 touchdown passes in a season and the two-season record with 96 touchdown passes.
He held the record for passing efficiency in a season, with a 186.0 mark in 2006. Who passed him five years later? Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III.
Brennan was, though, had some health questions, along with a poor Senior Bowl performance, and was still available in the sixth round when the Redskins selected him. But he became a preseason Redskins star the minute he stepped on the field in the 2008 Hall of Fame Game in Canton — the year that both Art Monk and Darrell Green were inducted — against the Indianapolis Colts.
Brennan completed nine of 10 passes against the Colts for 123 yards and two touchdowns for a 157.5 quarterback rating, leading Washington to a come-from-behind 30-16 victory. With the induction of two Redskins greats in Canton, the arrival of new coach Jim Zorn and Brennan looking like found money, all things seemed possible for this franchise.
“More than [Brennan’s] throws, what I was pleased with is how he was looking to the right guy when he was backpedaling,” Zorn told reporters after the game. “He knew the plays, knew the routes. He should feel very good about his performance.”
He knew the plays, knew the routes. He should feel very good about his performance.
When’s the last time we heard coach Jay Gruden say that about Griffin?
“When it comes to just getting myself acclimated, Coach Zorn is the guy I go to,” Brennan told reporters during training camp. “He’s the one who coaches me up and I appreciate that he has invested some time in me. When he is out there coaching everyone and I need help, I can always go to Jason [Campbell] or Todd [Collins]. They’ve been both been awesome toward me. It is always competitive, but here everyone has been great about making sure I have everything down.”
Three quarterbacks and a coach — just one awesome family.
The next time we saw Brennan on the field was two weeks later in a preseason game against the New York Jets, when he went 4-for-5 for 79 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 33-yard pass to Jason Goode.
When the 2008 preseason was over, Brennan led all rookies in touchdown passes, passing yards and quarterback rating. He went 36-for-53 for 411 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, with a 67.9 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 109.9. And, he had won the hearts and minds of Redskins fans, with chants of “We want Colt” heard thoughout FedEx Field.
It was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?
“Taking my first snap, I went to the line, took a deep breath and thought to myself, ‘Just have fun out there,’” Brennan told reporters after the victory over the Colts. “And I had a lot of fun.”
Nothing has been fun for him since.
He never took a regular-season snap in 2008, and then tore a hamstring and sustained a severe hip injury — he had injured his right hip in college and required surgery in April 2008 — before the start of the 2009 season. He spent the season in Washington on injured reserve, and was released in August 2010.
Brennan signed with the Oakland Raiders but was cut after one month. He surfaced again in the United Football League in 2011 as quarterback for the Hartford Colonials, but the team folded three months later. In February 2012, he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL, but was cut five months later.
The last time we saw Brennan on the football field was on reality television last year — “4th and Loud” — as quarterback of the Los Angeles Kiss in the Arena Football League. He was cut after continually battling a brain injury sustained in a 2010 car crash.
Two years earlier, Brennan had been arrested in Hawaii on charges of drunk driving and promotion of a dangerous drug, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
“There is more here as to how you get to being on top of the mountain to being in the gutter somewhere,” Brennan’s attorney, Michael Green, told Hawaii News Now.
There always is more to the story of a fairy tale turned into a cautionary tale. Brennan’s story may be the ultimate cautionary tale of getting caught up in the fairy tale of preseason football.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.