Josh McCown is calling it quits. A veteran of 17 NFL seasons, McCown was a third-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2002 who went on to play for seven different teams.
Green Bay Packers fans with short memories probably remember McCown as a thorn in their side in 2013. That year, McCown — then with the Chicago Bears — filled in for an injured Jay Cutler and led the Bears to a 3-2 record in his five starts. McCown almost certainly played better than Cutler did; he completed a higher percentage of his passes, had a much better yards per attempt number, and turned the football over far less than his counterpart. He also was the starter in week nine, helping the Bears to a 27-20 victory over the Packers when Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone.
However, ten years earlier, McCown was the architect of one of the most stunning throws in the league, and one that had a massive impact across the NFL and in Green Bay in particular. A second-year player at the time, McCown stepped in late in the season as the starter, taking over for Jeff Blake.
Entering week 17 of that season, the Packers and Minnesota Vikings were tied at 9-6. The teams split their season series, but Minnesota held the playoff tiebreaker due to a superior record against NFC teams. Beat the 3-12 Cardinals, and the Vikings were in the postseason. Lose and they would need to see the Packers lose to the 10-5 Broncos, who had already locked up a Wild Card spot and sat a number of starters.
To make things even more fun, the games kicked off within minutes of each other. However, it became clear that the onus would be on the Vikings, as the Packers drubbed the Broncos thanks to over 200 rushing yards by Ahman Green. However, Minnesota had trouble putting away the Cardinals, and after McCown led a touchdown drive to pull the Cardinals within five points, Arizona converted an onside kick to give them a chance.
That’s when McCown delivered the finest throw of his career (at least, the finest for Packers fans). With the clock ticking down and one final play on the season — and with nothing to play for — McCown lofted a pass to Nathan Poole in the back right corner of the end zone. Just listen to the reaction from Vikings radio announcer Paul Allen in the clip:
This throw and catch sent the Vikings home in January and gave the Packers a division title. Interestingly, though the Cardinals were 4-12 on the year, they also beat the Packers early in the season in an ugly 20-13 slog of a game.
Without this play, Packers fans would never have Al Harris’ walk-off pick-six against Matt Hasselbeck and the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round a week later. Of course, they also would not have had 4th and 26 the following week against Philadelphia either, so perhaps that ends up being a wash.
But on the day that McCown hangs up his cleats for good, let’s all give him a hearty “thank you” for delivering the Packers to the postseason in 2003.