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A Farewell To Chris Cooley And Captain Chaos

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Chris Cooley will be just fine in the booth. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images.
Chris Cooley will be just fine in the booth. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images.

Chris Cooley, the long-time tight end and fan favorite of the Washington Redskins, recently announced his “retirement” — or rather his intention not to play anymore (he hasn’t filed official retirement papers) — and his signing with Red Zebra Broadcasting, better known as Dan Snyder Radio in the D.C. region. The announcement certainly marks the end of an era in ‘Skins football, but Cooley’s athletic talent might be equaled by his skills with a microphone in front of his face. Without uttering a single word, Cooley immediately increases the entertainment value of the team’s radio coverage.  He’ll be a natural, so that’s that. As is the case so often, the star player is now a broadcaster.

Not quite. I’m not going to let Cooley transition so quietly and without a bit more ceremony and reflection. 

Cooley was just a few years ahead of his time. Drafted by the Washington Redskins in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft, the Utah State product arrived in the NFL at a time when pass-catching tight ends were still used only as accentuating features of passing attacks. Now, talents like Cooley are centerpieces of NFL offenses. Amassing 429 catches in his nine professional seasons, good for fifth all-time in ‘Skins history, Cooley certainly got his share of looks. However, he was consistently and maddeningly underutilized in the red zone. At 6-2 and over 250lbs, he played during a period where the team had no legitimate red zone target, catching only 33 touchdowns and never managing more than eight in a single season. In 2010, he tallied a paltry three scores on 77 receptions. Those are numbers befitting a minute slot receiver; not a big, ornery and sticky-fingered tight end.

Cooley’s career stats were also retarded by mediocre quarterback play. Cooley snagged balls from the likes of Mark Brunell (well beyond his prime), Todd Collins, Jason Campbell, Rex Grossman and the D.C. version of Donovan McNabb (think disinterested and allegedly cardiovascular-y … challenged). By the time the team got around to securing an elite talent at quarterback (someone named Robert Griffin III), Cooley’s knees were shot. He may now have a front row seat to 2013 draftee Jordan Reed becoming the tight end he always knew he could be.

So in a slightly different circumstance, Cooley could have been a Hall of Famer and the latest in a long line of greats in ‘Skins history, right? I’ll answer that question with a confounding term that sums up Cooley’s career: maybe. Cooley endeared himself to ‘Skins fans with a goofy, beer-drinking and “I am every man” attitude. He was an eccentric and a modern day John Riggins (right down to the long, curly, afro-worthy locks he sported for a time). He married a former ‘Skins cheerleader and even tried to negotiate a stipend of beer into his last contract with the team (that’s right out of the Riggo manual for contract negotiations and winning over the crowd). It was a cute act, but it sometimes left you wondering if he was really all in, and if he could be serious enough, for long enough, to lead the team beyond a token playoff appearance and a record more than a game or two above .500. Even the source of his career-altering knee issues left his most ardent supporters perplexed. Cooley himself admitted to sustaining damage to his meniscus after a teammate’s wife kicked him in the knee in a limousine after a night on the town. The injury required surgery, and Cooley never fully recovered.

The hard, cold truth is Cooley fell a little short of expectations, and won just a single playoff game in his career … one. While his act was Riggins-esque, his output wasn’t. Is that Cooley’s fault? Not entirely, but you wonder if the fact that, win or lose, the post-game beer would be cold (literally and figuratively) tempered Cooley’s drive just ever so slightly. Maybe that’s fair; maybe it’s not. There’s that word again: maybe.

Here’s what I do know: Cooley, or “Captain Chaos” as he was known, was unique and a whole lot of fun. He was one of the better players on many not-so-talented ‘Skins teams, and his absence will dull the locker room atmosphere. But the radio gig offers a nice glide-slope into (hopefully) a long-term relationship with the team. Still, had a 22-year-old Chris Cooley come along a decade later and landed in today’s game with RGIII, he could have been among the franchise’s very best and potentially a Hall-of-Fame player. Well … maybe.