On Jan. 5, 2020, Josh McCown became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to make his postseason debut. Almost two decades earlier, he was completing passes for Sam Houston State University on his way to becoming the 2001 Southland Conference Player of the Year.
A product of Jacksonville High School in Texas, 2001 was McCown’s only year with the Bearkats after he transferred from Southern Methodist University for his senior season. In 25 starts at SMU from 1998-2000 McCown accumulated 4,022 passing yards and 27 touchdowns (along with 37 interceptions). He wanted to find an offense more revolved around the passing game, and that led to his transfer to SHSU.
“I had just kind of gone through a cycle at SMU where we switched over offensive coordinators all three years,” McCown said in an exclusive interview with The Houstonian. “They were inconsistent. I was inconsistent in my play. So I knew I wanted to go somewhere where I could throw the ball around and have fun. With all that imbalance at SMU, football had lost some of its joy.”
He made the most of his lone season at SHSU. McCown not only led the Kats to a 10-3 record, but also recorded the first postseason win in school history with a 34-31 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs over No. 15 Northern Arizona at Bowers Stadium.
“[The atmosphere] was unbelievable,” McCown said. “It was electric. Bowers was rocking, and we had not seen it like that. We had never hosted a home playoff game, first one in school history, so it was a lot of fun. The facet in which we were able to come back and win that game, hold them off and get a field goal late…was huge.”
In one year at SHSU under head coach Ron Randleman, McCown racked up 3,481 yards and 32 touchdowns on his way to becoming the SLC Player of the Year. His journey was just beginning though. He had a strong performance in the 2001 Senior Bowl, completing seven of his 11 passes for 117 yards and rushing for a touchdown. His strong senior campaign was enough to open eyes, and McCown was drafted in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
“Sam Houston provided an environment for me to play consistent football,” McCown said. “At SMU we were kind of rebuilding. During a lot of games you’re on an uneven playing field from the talent around you, so I think [SHSU] actually gave me an opportunity to show scouts what I play like…on a level playing field.”
He made his professional debut Dec. 1, 2002 in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, exactly one year to the day after his postseason victory at Bowers Stadium. He then bounced around for his entire career, playing for 11 different NFL teams and even spending some time in the United Football League during the middle of his career in 2010. After the 2018 season, McCown was ready to hang up his cleats, but a call from the Philadelphia Eagles gave him one more chance at playoff football.
Plagued by injuries, the Eagles signed McCown to a one-year contract on Aug. 17, 2019, and a few months later on Jan. 5, 2020, he replaced an injured Carson Wentz in the NFC Wild Card game and made that coveted postseason debut at 40 years old in front of almost 70,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I’m very thankful for the chance to have played in that game,” McCown said. “To be the oldest [quarterback] to make his playoff debut is special. Hopefully that will stand for a while, not because I care about records but hopefully there’s not another old guy that waits this long to play in the playoffs.”
While Philadelphia lost 17-9, McCown did his job. He finished the contest 18-of-24 for 174 yards and no turnovers. What makes his performance even more impressive is that he played the entire second half with a painful and severe hamstring tear.
“Right before halftime I felt a pop,” McCown said. “Then in the third quarter I felt a pop and I guess I tore my hamstring tendons…off the bone. It felt like somebody put a knife or ice pick right under your left butt cheek. Didn’t feel the best for sure, but…there was nobody else. Carson [Wentz] was done. I had to go.”
With his playing career coming to a close, McCown now resides in North Carolina with his wife and four children, and will continue coaching high school football for a while.
“I definitely like being close to the game in a coaching capacity,” McCown said. “I really probably look at that as being my future.”
Whatever is next in life for McCown, three things will always be true: resilience pays off, faith and family are important and football is in his blood.