Grossman was figuratively on trial Monday, for the simple reason that he isn't John Elway or Jim McMahon. Or, particularly in this week, when both are on a stage offering more farce than drama, Peyton Manning.
Reckless Rex. Hopeless Rex. Courageous Rex.
He stands in there against NFL defenses. He sat in there against a phalanx of media, tossing out the repetitive thought the Chicago Bears have made it this far despite Grossman, not because of him.
Grossman could have cut and run. He could have defended himself, reminded that the ultimate judgment of a quarterback is whether his team wins or loses, and there is little doubt in Grossman's situation what the Bears have done. But Rex responded with a special elegance.
This must be understood. Where a player is chosen in the draft is not of his determination. The club makes that decision, so if someone fails to meet expectations, the team should be blamed. But of courseit's the athlete who is blamed.
Grossman was a first-rounder. With a fine arm. And a history of being tortured at the University of Florida by then-coach Steve Spurrier, who jerked Grossman around like a yo-yo. Then, before Rex's last college game, the 2002 Orange Bowl, Spurrier benched him most of the first half for
The Bears, "Da Bears," a team in search. "They haven't had a consistent quarterback since Sid Luckman, which is a long time ago," Grossman volunteered about a man who retired in 1951.
"A lot was said when I was drafted of the struggles they had at quarterback. My goal was to win a world championship here in Chicago and to be a franchise quarterback, be a quarterback who's in Chicago for a long time."
Jim McMahon was around for nine years. Won that championship, that Super Bowl, the season of 1985, but somehow no one remembers much more, except for the fact he mooned helicopters and sneered at journalists.
"Met him once," Grossman said, moving on.
Grossman, the grandson and son of football players, found out quickly enough about being the guy who's handling the ball. The fans would rather have the guy who's handling the clipboard. Until they get him.
"One of the things people told me," Grossman recalled, "was that the backup quarterback is the most popular player in town."
And one of the things Grossman's discovered, especially after several poor games, is the starting quarterback is the most unpopular player in town.
"It comes with the territory," Grossman conceded. "But it's great to have a head coach (Lovie Smith) who understands and sticks with you and has great confidence in your ability when you're not playing up to your best. He knows you're eventually going to snap out of it. That's what he's told me all year."
Chicago finished 13-3 in the regular season, winning a couple of games in which Grossman was ineffective, and since has taken two more in the playoffs. Grossman understands his failings, his strengths, and the coach's game plan.
When someone wondered if Grossman felt compelled to try to match Manning, the Colts' leader, in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, the answer was perfect from a man who hasn't always been.
"I feel I have to do what the coaches are asking me to do," Grossman explained. "Run the offense, make great reads, hit a guy when he's open, score as many points as possible."
While the Bears' great defense allows as few points as possible.
"I knew in college when I played bad people would say negative things," Grossman conceded, "but I didn't realize the way things would be exaggerated in the pros."
Grossman threw 23 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions during the regular season. But he never threw in the towel, even when the talk-show callers were demanding Rex be replaced by Brian Griese.
"A lot of situations I've had pressure put on me. I've put pressure on myself to perform. I'm doing what is best for the team to win, not for my statistics. I'm playing on such a great team that I don't have to do everything."
If you can get to the Super Bowl, you've done more than enough, despite the critics.
Art Spander has earned a spot in the
Pro Football Hall of Fame. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.