Incomplete Passes Lead to Complete Successes
By Mark Brunell
(Brunell is a veteran NFL QB who has started over 150 games for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins. At one point he was a dynamic athlete at the QB position and a pro bowl performer. For the last three seasons he’s skippered the Redskins offense with a noodle arm and good, Christian values…and a propensity to give up on a play almost immediately after the ball is snapped.)
The ball is snapped. And immediately four to seven extremely large, sweaty, usually black men are running at you, their only goal to toss your person forcefully to the ground. No, this isn’t some nightmarish, medieval tale of barbarianism and torture. It is simply life as an NFL signal caller—a life I've lived since 1994.
Surviving almost 160 NFL starts is something in which I take great pride. After a brief stint in
Then, in the spring of ’04, as my career had clearly made the turn onto the back nine, as they say, I received a phone call I had never expected. It was Hall of Fame Coach “Joe” Gibbs, who had come out of retirement to again coach the Washington Redskins. To my astonishment, Coach Gibbs explained that he wanted me to be his quarterback.
Coach and I talked for hours that night—we discussed all manner of things: our love of Christ and clean living, and most notably—our shared hatred of turnovers of any kind. I’ve thrown 106 interceptions in my career, and am certain that Satan had a hand in every one of them. Coach Gibbs asked me if I thought I could avoid INTs whenever humanly possible, if he gave me the reigns to this team, and I assured him that I thought that I could.
And it was at this moment that I had an epiphany: You know where interceptions never take place? Out of bounds. Yes, it’s so true, and yet so simple. This moment was the beginning of what has now been an almost four year love affair I’ve had with throwing the ball out of bounds.
It’s undeniable that there is a serene beauty to watching a ball safely sail deep into the sidelines, where you can rest assured nothing bad will happen. I’ve encountered many a 3rd and 9 behind center here with the Redskins, and have almost always avoided successfully turnovers in those situations. Now, some will argue that I’ve also avoided first downs, but to be fair—what’s more important: one measly first down, or maintaining the right to return the ball to the opposition on our terms? I think that’s a pretty simple answer.
Some who don’t understand how these things work have pointed out to me that the year I threw the most interceptions (20) was the best year of my career (1996), when I passed for 4400 yards, rushed for 400, had a completion percentage of over 63% and averaged an insane 7.8 yards per attempt. These people just don’t “get it.” 20 interceptions? That’s more than one a game! I'm frankly surprised our team was able to persevere through that level of constant hardship—yet we did…all the way to the AFC Championship Game, come to think of it…though I attribute that all to the Lord’s grace in allowing us overcome my sinful INTs.
So, the next time you see me, whether it be in a preseason game or the regular season…or a backyard touch game at the church picnic, launching one skyward towards nothing and no one—make sure to reap the beauty of it. No one’s taking our ball a way—not on my watch. You can rest assured of that.