How this happened is murky. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan stirred the thought around during the draft when he raved about Beck's potential and didn't pick a quarterback. That endorsement, along with the imminent dismissal of Donovan McNabb(notes) and the free agency of Rex Grossman(notes), gave a glimmer of hope to a nearly 30-year-old player with all of four losing starts and 60 thrown NFL passes to his name.
And by gosh John Beck was going to seize that opportunity.
Suddenly he was on the radio telling the world, "Screw the awkwardness I'm trying to be the starting quarterback," which drew the same reaction from most who watch the game:
Exactly who is John Beck?
"I believed," he says.
He burns with confidence. That much is clear. Even as his age and career to date say his standing as the Redskins' first-team quarterback is a technicality and will be relinquished once Grossman gets in the swing of things or a player with more experience is signed, he pushes on, refusing to hear otherwise.
"He's been relentless," says receiver Anthony Armstrong(notes), who received countless texts and phone calls from Beck during the lockout wanting to talk about plays and formations and even to run pass routes on empty high school fields.
This in itself wouldn't be remarkable except Armstrong was living in the D.C. area this summer and Beck was in San Diego. That meant Beck had to fly across the country at his own expense, which he did several times, just to throw to receivers. When asked about this, Beck shrugs. What's the cost of a few plane tickets when the chance of a lifetime beckons?
The hardest part was the distance and the connections. One night his flight was diverted to Pittsburgh and didn't get to Washington until around 3:30 a.m. He had scheduled a workout early that morning. Probably not ideal but just another day in the hunt for the destiny he always believed to be his.
Leonard Hankerson(notes) didn't know what to think. Newly drafted by the Redskins from the University of Miami, he received a call from Beck one day asking for his address. A couple days later a package arrived from UPS loaded with photocopies of plays from the team's playbook – essentially the Redskins' offense.
"When you want to win, you'll do pretty much anything to win," Hankerson says.
Beck knows people are probably rolling their eyes expecting him to be yanked off the top of the depth chart any day now. After all, in this NFC East of Eli Manning(notes), Michael Vick(notes) and Tony Romo(notes) – all of them tabloid sensations – it's hard to comprehend Shanahan placing his future in Washington on a quarterback who was discarded by the Miami Dolphins in the year the Dolphins lost all but one of their games. But since Shanahan dumped McNabb and can't afford to bring a new quarterback in from the outside with so little time to learn the offense before the season begins, Beck and Grossman become the best hopes.
"Years ago I believed I would be 'the guy' somewhere," he says while standing on the side of the practice fields at Redskins Park with two of his three young sons, hoping the experience will let them see that dreams can come true. "Even when it didn't work out in Miami, I believed in myself. I believed in my work ethic. I think if you just believe enough, recognition is going to happen."
Dreams do come true right? He's clutching hard to that thought. Back in that failed 2007 season, Trent Green(notes) told him to prepare as if he was going to be the starting quarterback regardless of his standing on the depth chart. That way he would be ready whenever he was called upon.
"You have to have your mind right," Beck says.
So he lives that advice. And he keeps pushing, walking the starter's strut, directing players, pulling together meetings despite the fact he spent all of last year as Washington's No. 3 quarterback behind McNabb and Grossman. Even in a six-win year, he couldn't find a way into a game, but he also figures he knows the offense. And since Shanahan has given him hope, how could he help but tell the world he's going to be the Redskins' quarterback?
"I know where I stand, and I know how I'm viewed," he says. "But I feel differently about myself. I know the questions are justified. I haven't thrown a lot of passes. I have to prove to everyone what I can do."
Disappointment? Beck knows that. He still remembers the summer day between his junior and senior years of high school when he went to a mall near his Mesa, Ariz., home to buy a special high school sports magazine to see where he had been placed on the list of top 25 quarterbacks in the area. He raced home and pulled it open, only to realize with shock that he wasn't ranked at all.
"I thought, 'Wow.' " Beck says. "That summer the guy who wrote the article came to a camp where I was at Arizona State University. I thought I was impressing him. I guess not."
He quickly waves his hands and says there is little comparison between a list of the top high school quarterbacks in Phoenix and winning the job as Redskins quarterback. But the emotions are the same. He knows what it's like to be told "no," that he wasn't good enough. Heck they've been telling him that for years. If now he has a coach who believes in him and a coach who has a great history with quarterbacks at that, well he's got to do everything he can to show he can run the team – as preposterous as that must sound.
"Coach Shanahan is giving me my chance," he says. "That's all I've been asking for in this league – a real chance."
The thing is, Shanahan does seem to believe. Even as Beck throws passes that appear to wobble after about 30 yards or misses open receivers too many times the first few days of training camp, the words that spill into the open from Shanahan are nonetheless reassuring. The coach has said that in the 2007 draft, the draft of JaMarcus Russell(notes), Kevin Kolb(notes) and Brady Quinn(notes), he ranked Beck higher than the other three who were chosen before him. The other day, he said he would "stake my reputation on [Beck and Grossman] that they can play."
Maybe this is why Shanahan wasn't surprised when stories started trickling back about Beck calling players together for meetings and handing out copies of the plays. In a way he expected it.
"He has kind of believed in himself," Shanahan says.
Then the coach smiles.
"All I said was, 'Hey, I like John Beck,' and it turns into this thing where he's anointed the starting quarterback."
He chuckles at the thought.
But hadn't Shanahan known what he was doing by dangling that tiniest of threads? Didn't he know he was tempting Beck to believe he can be the starter? The coach smiles.
"I think John has always had a lot of enthusiasm," Shanahan says.
And so in the summer of John Beck, a crowd had gathered at Redskins Park in one of the first days of training camp. Practice was over and the fans wanted autographs. Suddenly a chant rose into the summer sky:
"John Beck! John Beck! John Beck!"
And then came a lone voice above all the others.
"We believe in you John Beck!"
It must have been wonderful music to the man who believes he will shock everyone.
Even if half the people who watch the NFL don't even know who he is.
- Mike Shanahan