Back in his glory years, when the Manhattan nights beckoned and the scandal papers proclaimed "Sanchise," as the savior of a frightening franchise of the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez There was no choice of daily distractions. He could sit at the front row of a Broadway show or sit in court at New York Knicks games, walk on the red carpet at a movie premiere or call a popular restaurant and ask for a large table all by yourself.
It was not, as they say, Broadway Joe. But he was young and dashing and was the star quarterback of one of the two NFL teams. The cameras liked to find him, and he looked like a man who liked to be found. His smile was shining. His name was pulsing from gossip pages in bold.
"He played his best playoff football for us," said Matt Cavanaugh, Redskins offensive coach and Jets quarterback coach during those years.
In his first two seasons in the NFL, Sanchez won four playoff games, defeated the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots, and scored a total of 18 points on two trips to the Super Bowl. So, as fast as it came, the victory is gone. He became famous not for his celebrity, but for a comical gambling error dubbed "the quagmire." He bounced back from New York to Philadelphia via Denver, Dallas and Chicago, before returning home in Orange County, California, this fall, nine years. after rising, wondering if he should bother to train for a last chance in the NFL which he was not sure would come.
And now this week he is sitting on a stool in the Redskins' locker room, surrounded by men whose name he does not know well. He has a new game sheet in his locker and all the hopes of a team of 6 to 6 freefall who desperately need his presence to lead the playoffs as if it was 2009 and 2010 still a time. His first match in two years will be against another New York team – the Giants – and it seems like somehow logical that the sensational New York is trying to put everything in front of the New York media who helped to to make it disappear.
Crusader on his stool, looking through this crazy luck that came from nowhere, he begins to laugh.
"It's just an amazing experience," he says. "That's what makes me appreciate it even more now that I'm here. From home to [signing with the Redskins] a few weeks ago, to get ready to start a game, to make a playoff push again. What else can you dream of? It's cool. "
Maybe Sanchez is exactly what Washington needs in the chaos of a once-promising season that went awry, with two defeating quarterbacks separating two weeks apart and two sets of starting guards falling into separate games. Who better to navigate the ruins than the quarterback who crashed from darling to a national victory and who survived the fall?
"He's a veteran," said Jay Gruden, Redskins coach, with a mixture of hope and resignation. "I think he'll do his best."
In hindsight, Sanchez must ask himself if everything came too fast. The Jets traded it in the first round of the 2009 draft, and then introduced it as a starter before he had a chance to understand what that meant. Some men at age 22 are ready for this, but Sanchez's mother still does laundry while playing quarterback at USC. A team of handlers and publicists hovered around him, ready to book interviews and do his dry cleaning.
He does not have to do much on his own unless he tries to play a quarter during the day and Mark Sanchez the night. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes this is not the case. But one way or another, the Jets won, and that's all that really mattered. He lived for a time at the Donald Trump Resort in New Jersey. Broadway wanted to do a show on him. When the Jets coach of the time, Rex Ryan, was photographed shirtless on vacation with the tattoo of his own wife, wearing simply a Sanchez jersey, on his arm … eh Well, it was only another moment of a scandalous moment.
"I have the impression that some of these things were glamorous and sensationalized because it was in New York and because we were winning and because the team was having a sensation so polarizing, you know? " Said Sanchez, sitting in front of his locker. "So it was like: Oh, you know that if you go out or you go out with someone, it's like going out every night. "He goes out with everyone!"
"Same thing with the season," he continues. "You are either the best or the worst. There is no average, right? There is no median, in the middle of the road, there is none in New York. So, I think some of these things have taken a life apart – on and off the field. It was incredible, some of these things. My family was like, "Has this happened?" I said, "No, I do not know where it comes from."
There has been so much going on in the last decade since he left USC, "he says with a sigh. One day, he might write a book. There are so many things, he says, that no one knows.
WWhat are the craziest things that have happened? it is asked.
"Oh, man, you do not have enough time for that [tape] recorder, "he says.
This recorder can hold 45 hours.
"As I said," he replies, "you do not have enough time."
Cavanaugh agrees on a bench just outside the Redskins practice center. As a man who worked every day with Sanchez, he saw everything. And there was a lot to see.
"Should he grow up? Of course he's done it, "says Cavanaugh. Think about it: you are 22 years old, you have a lot of money, you are the number one quarter of the team, you are a starter of Day 1 and life is rather pink. You are in a big media market in New York and everyone is talking about you and you are on the cover of all magazines and newspapers. You have a lot to do and if you do not have everyone's version of success, you risk being criticized.
"And when all was said and done, we did not win a championship and his last years there were not productive."
Then during Thanksgiving 2012, in a game against the Patriots, he turned around trying to give the ball to a half-square, turning to save the game. The ball is banged against the back of his goalkeeper, Brandon Moore. The collision hit the balloon with his hands and threw it to the ground. Steve Gregory of New England grabbed the ball and ran the other way for a touchdown.
Sanchez has played four more games for New York after the downsizing and 11 more in the next four seasons with Philadelphia and Dallas. Last spring, at the end of his career with the Bears, following a suspension of the PED from four games for a substance he claimed to not know prohibited, he had finished. More bold, his name caused laughter and blindfolded.
Maybe Sanchez should be angry, troubled by a career story he never had to write himself. Instead, he smiles. He tells jokes about the fumble of the buttocks. It amusingly hits the back of a sports reporter who asked him a hesitant question about the play.
"Listen," he said. "I learned from all of this that when you sign up, you sign up for everything. All. Good, bad, ugly, criticism, fame. If I complain for a second, kill me. "
Without football, it would not have caused a sensation. Without football, he would not have Broadway, the Knicks, the first and the last pages. He thinks of the night when they beat the Colts in the playoffs and that there was a problem with the bus of the team. He returned to the stadium with his nephew. Together, they played on this pitch where the whole country had seen him win a match that no one expected him to win.
And the price for that is an escape?
"Come on, dude, let's be realistic, the race has been amazing," he says. "I loved every second. Honestly. And my dad said the same thing: "There are a million people who would like to do everything you have lived." Everything. Because it's so much fun. I am so lucky and so blessed. I would not change anything. It's too good.
Do you want humiliation? How about being a Mexican quarterback from Southern California, suddenly a hero for all Latino fans and not knowing how to speak Spanish? That, said Sanchez, was a real shame. There were many Spanish-speaking journalists around the Jets at the time, all wanting to write about the quarterback with the Mexican name who had taken his team to the edge of the Super Bowl.
But Sanchez was a third-generation American. Spanish has never been spoken at home. So, when the Univision and Telemundo cameras arrived in his locker, he could only look in the lens and mumble words in English.
"It was embarrassing," he says. "I looked like Ritchie Valens in" La Bamba ", I could only freeze and I had nothing."
During this third year with the Jets, he bought a Spanish course on tape and listened to it every day while visiting the team's premises. "The best thing I've ever done," he says. He was learning, growing up, thinking about what life after football could bring, even as his career started to get tough. He pitched for 3,474 yards in 2011 and never more than 3,000. By the time he had finished with the Bears, he had exactly as many career steals, 86, as touchdowns. It will never win anything in the NFL.
Those who know him best say that Sanchez has always wanted to be good. Giants coach Pat Shurmur, who was his offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, remembers the player who diligently drew the team's games on cards, writing the names on everyone's back. "Very studious," says Shurmur.
"When all is said and done, he just wants to play football and help the team win," said Cavanaugh.
Sanchez knows that he would not be there if the Redskins had not been so desperate when Alex Smith broke down last month and the team needed an emergency backup. He had qualified for Washington because he had worked with Cavanaugh and assistant head coach of the offensive line Bill Callahan, and was a former Jets teammate of the passing game coordinator Kevin K'Connell.
He did not know the Redskins' pieces, but he quickly understood when Cavanaugh explained that certain concepts of the Washington offensive were similar to those of New York, but with different names. It was the emergency option and, when Colt McCoy fractured the fibula against the Eagles, Sanchez had one more chance to play.
While Cavanaugh was watching Sanchez during recent practices, he recognized the mannerism of the 22-year-old man thrown into the New York fire. But it was no longer a kid straight out of college who licked his fingers before every shot, but a man with the scars of a quarterback was going through years of 24-hour news cycles.
"I think he's enjoying it now," says Cavanaugh. "When you're out of the game, you appreciate how much you enjoyed being there and you take nothing for granted. And I think that when he was young – again with all the publicity he was getting – with everything that had been thrown at him to represent the franchise, I think it was a little too much for him.
"I think that he now knows how much the game means to him and what the game means to others, and he takes it very seriously."
One of the lessons that Sanchez drew from Pete Carroll, his head coach at USC, was to always treat everyone well. You never know who you'll meet again, Carroll would say. And while Sanchez was moving the Redskins down at the end of the first Monday in Philadelphia, he caught the attention of the team's special teams coordinator, Ben Kotwica, who was coaching the Jets. At the time, he was looking at Kotwica and asking how much he needed the New York coach to confidently try a goal.
Now, he started again, shouting "what do we have to do?" To Kotwica.
"The 35 … 31 would be nice!" Kotwica shouted.
Thinking of this as he sits on his stool in a still strange cloakroom, a nostalgic glance slips over Sanchez's face.
Almost 10 years later, it's the same, even though everything has changed.
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