Throughout the annals of American sports history, and among literally hundreds of champions who have been invited to meet the President at the White House, there have been plenty of athletes who have chosen not to make the trip. Their reasons for RSVPing “No, thank you” have been various, ranging from political to petty.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, a devout Catholic, skipped his team’s trip to Washington, D.C., in 2013 because of President Obama’s support for Planned Parenthood. In 2009, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison was angry that winning the Super Bowl was the only reason his team was being invited to the White House, so he skipped the trip. Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, in 2005, just didn’t feel like going.
Oddly enough, Brock Osweiler skipped the Denver Broncos’ recent White House visit to do the most American thing you can do — roll up his sleeves and go to work — and for that he has caught more heat from Denver fans and media, who are clearly struggling with Osweiler’s decision to become Bill O’Brien’s franchise quarterback in Houston.
Indeed, Osweiler chose to stay in Houston to learn his new playbook and conduct OTAs with his new Texans teammates rather than bask in Obamapalooza with his former teammates, effectively sending the message to all camps that he has officially turned the page — Brock Osweiler is now a Houston Texan.
Osweiler is not the first player to skip a Broncos White House trip, nor will he be the last. Hell, he wasn’t the only 2015 Bronco to skip. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who, unlike Osweiler, is still with the team, just decided he didn’t feel like going, to relatively little hubbub or criticism. Osweiler seems to be the most scrutinized, with headlines and tweets originating outside Houston calling him everything from “petulant” to “mentally weak” for skipping the trip to our nation’s capital. Those blind character judgments on Osweiler are a microcosm of the “jilted lover” syndrome that fans in Denver and, to some extent, Broncos general manager John Elway have felt since Osweiler chose to accept Texans owner Bob McNair’s four-year, $72 million offer and bring his talents to Houston back in early March.
Since Peyton Manning skippered the Broncos to a Super Bowl title back in early February before retiring a few weeks later, it was widely assumed in Denver (and around the league, quite honestly) that Osweiler, who was 5-2 as a starter in Manning’s absence last season, would accept whatever Elway’s contractual offer was and dutifully assume the Bronco reins. Because, after all, Bronco sycophants will rhetorically ask you, “Who says No to the great John Elway?”
Well, their rhetorical question now actually has an answer — Brock Osweiler.
Clearly, while Denver and Elway were planning out the next decade of Osweiler’s life, the 25-year-old out of Arizona State had other ideas about the next chapter in his career, the genesis of which, some think, can be traced to Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak’s yanking him from a Week 17 game against the San Diego Chargers (his seventh start of that solid 5-2 stretch as the lead dog), reinserting Manning and never looking back. Many believe the embarrassment of that demotion angered Osweiler.
James Palmer covers the Broncos for the NFL Network, and he said Osweiler’s ouster as the Broncos’ starter was a source of consternation, even within Manning’s inner circle. “I remember speaking to [Peyton’s father] Archie Manning after Peyton’s retirement ceremony here in Denver and Archie’s saying, ‘If it was me or it was Peyton and either of us were getting pulled [from that San Diego game], I would’ve lost my mind,’” Palmer recounted.
“Brock did not deserve to get pulled out of that game,” Palmer continued. “If Archie Manning, of all people, is saying that about the guy who got pulled to help his son return to the lineup and win a Super Bowl, imagine what Osweiler is thinking.”
Former Texans and Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen is a close friend of Osweiler’s, and has had several conversations with the new Texans signal caller about his decision to leave Denver, and it’s clear, according to Dreessen, that this was not a rash, emotional choice for Osweiler. He took his time evaluating the end game in both Denver and Houston.
“Brock and I are very close, and after he made his decision, he and our wives took a trip to Mexico together,” Dreessen recalled. “He told me, ‘Joel, I just wanted to make the best football decision.’ He felt like Houston gave him the best opportunity to get the most out of his talents.”
It’s widely known around the NFL that, as an offensive coordinator, Kubiak maintains an iron hand over play calling. In other words, his system allows for quarterbacks to have very little control over what they can and can’t do once a play is sent in. Changing plays is practically taboo. Conversely, O’Brien’s system involves far more trust in his quarterback, something that appealed to Osweiler.
“Everybody knows that Gary Kubiak likes to call a play and run it,” Dreessen said. “There’s not a lot of flexibility for the quarterback to get to the play he wants. Brock got to see both sides [in Denver], running Kubiak’s offense and also watching Peyton Manning, who got to run the plays he wanted [before Kubiak arrived]. Brock gets the freedom to do that in Houston.”
John Elway’s tenure running the Broncos began in 2011, a reign that has been largely successful, with division titles an annual occurrence and a Super Bowl title in February. Elway is Denver’s “chosen one,” its prodigal son. So when Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback, comes out on the wrong end of Osweiler’s “quarterback business decision,” clearly it must be a “Brock issue” in the eyes of the Bronco legend.
“We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here. That’s been a successful approach for us,” Elway said after Osweiler accepted the Texans’ offer. “While we did offer a very competitive and fair long-term contract to Brock, we ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships.”
In other words, “Hey, Houston, you overpaid for this guy. How do I know this? Well, I’m John Elway. You’re not.” It’s quite telling that the side that was rejected in this scenario is essentially calling Osweiler’s choice a money grab, while everyone assessing Osweiler’s decision through non-Bronco-colored glasses can come up with a half dozen football reasons the move makes great sense.
Denver, as a city, is taking its cues from Elway, and collectively they’ve reacted to Osweiler’s leaving with the shock of an ’80s movie beau hunk getting rejected by the prom queen. “But, but, but this never happens to me!!” How sad did it get for the Broncos in the hours after Osweiler left? So sad that Elway was on Twitter touting the signing of journeyman scrub Mark Sanchez as Osweiler’s replacement as some sort of coup, which is like Elway tweeting out pictures of a dilapidated rowboat and bragging about his new yacht.
For his part, Osweiler has put his head down and gone to work here in Houston, ignoring the fiery-hot takes on Denver television and radio about what a “big mistake” he has made. His new head coach loves him. “Thus far, he’s been exactly what we’ve expected. He’s come in here, he works extremely hard. He’s a very, very bright guy. He’s a really good communicator with his teammates,” said O’Brien after the first mandatory minicamp workout.
“Every day he comes in, he has a sheet filled with questions as to maybe something that he’s looking ahead at, whether it’s red zone, two-minute or something he knows is coming on the horizon,” O’Brien continued. “‘How are we going to handle this? How are we going to handle that?’ He’s a fun guy to be around, fun guy to coach, very competitive on the field, so he’s been exactly what we expected to this point.”
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After a two-year revolving door at quarterback that’s looked more like a reality show than an NFL position group, O’Brien finally has “his guy,” someone he can anoint the starter and groom. Meanwhile, Denver is left with Sanchez, a second-year guy in Trevor Siemian, and a rookie, Paxton Lynch, as its quarterback possibilities. All roads lead to a Monday night in late October, with the Texans traveling to Denver in prime time on October 24.
Just last week, Les Shapiro and Eric Goodman, afternoon hosts on Mile High Radio, spent an entire segment scolding Osweiler for skipping the Broncos ring presentation ceremony on June 12. Indeed, chastising Osweiler’s choices may as well be an Olympic sport in Denver at this point. “I hope some of the Broncos defensive players are upset enough that when they play the Texans, they literally mop the floor with [Osweiler],” said Shapiro.
This is where we are — Brock Osweiler’s rejection of Elway and the Broncos has enraged a city. That’s a lot of vitriol over a guy with just seven career starts. Maybe someday, Denver will turn the page. Osweiler will be busy writing the first chapter of his Houston book.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanCablinasian or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.