They seemed to be the perfect match. The quarterback with an arm he claimed was stronger than John Elway's and the coach under whom Elway prospered and won consecutive Super Bowls.
It might as well have been another lifetime. Neither Jay Cutler nor Mike Shanahan is part of the Denver Broncos now. They meet again Sunday, when Shanahan and the Redskins take on Cutler and the Chicago Bears.
Shanahan fired. Cutler traded. Two mind-benders in three months in Denver.
"After my first couple of years there I don't think anyone would have saw this as a possibility of something that could happen in the future but it happens," Cutler said by phone from the Bears' training facility in Lake Forest, Ill. "The NFL is a funny league and crazy things happen."
The injury-strapped Broncos of 2008 went through seven running backs and scraped the waiver wire clean trying to field a defense. Even so, they led the AFC West from the first week until, unfortunately, the last. A three-game losing streak, capped by a defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers, sent them to an 8-8 finish. The Chargers, also 8-8 after a 4-8 start, won the division on a tie-breaker.
Soon after, Shanahan was dismissed after 14 seasons, two championships and seven playoff berths.
"If we win one of those games we're in and we're probably not even talking to you guys. You never would imagine a firing of a Mike Shanahan after going 8-8 and struggling through what we struggled through that year with the running back situation, the defensive situation. So you know it's just weird thinking back on it," Cutler said.
Shanahan indulged in stealth scouting in 2006, never letting on he had an interest in Vanderbilt University's record-setting passer. The Broncos traded down to the 11th slot and selected Cutler after Vince Young went third overall to the Tennessee Titans and Matt Leinart 10th to the Arizona Cardinals. The Broncos never even brought Cutler in for a pre-draft physical or look.
"I thought if we did bring him in, people would move up in front of us. We had to move down to get him at the time but I knew all the coaches that were evaluating all the quarterbacks and I saw on film what I wanted to see," Shanahan said.
Cutler started five games as a rookie and in 2008 made the Pro Bowl, passing for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. The departure of Shanahan and arrival of Josh McDaniels, and McDaniels' interest in acquiring Matt Cassel from the New England Patriots, angered Cutler and the Broncos responded by putting him up for bid.
The Redskins seemed closest to making that deal in the spring of '09 but couldn't outspend the Bears, who sent two No. 1 picks, a No. 3 and quarterback Kyle Orton to the Broncos.
Playing in Washington, Cutler said, was definitely a possibility.
"That's all we heard for a week or so was that Washington was trying to make it happen and at one point we were really close and I thought that's exactly where it was going and then at the last minute the Bears picked it up," he said. "If that would have happened, I would have been under Mike again. Like I said earlier, it's a funny league."
Cutler gave full props to Shanahan for helping him develop so quickly.
"He started with the basics of just how to be a quarterback, not only on the field but off the field and in the community and how you lead teammates and what it meant to be a quarterback of a franchise," he said. "He encompassed the whole thing."
Cutler didn't anticipate Shanahan using the '09 season to recharge before accepting the job with the Redskins.
"I was surprised he sat out at all, just the competitor he is and his love for coaching and for football," Cutler said. "I thought he might jump into something right away but you know I think he did the right thing, just taking a seat and getting the right situation that was right for him."
They can say nice things about each other but Sunday is all business.
"We kind of respect each from the time we spent together," Shanahan said. "But now it's time to go to Chicago and beat him."
QUOTABLE: "I'm not answering any questions about the Dallas Cowboys this week." – New York Giants defensive tackle (and former Cowboy) Chris Canty. The 1-4 Boys of Cow are home against the Giants on Monday night. ... "We're definitely not happy about being 4-2 because we could have been 5-1." – Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, after the 23-20 overtime loss to the New England Patriots, in which the Ravens lost a 10-point lead. ... "It was a humbling experience. There's only three guys in Clemson history to have their jerseys retired and to be amongst them speaks volumes. I couldn't have done it without my teammates." – Buffalo Bills rookie running back C.J. Spiller, who went back to Clemson University on the bye week to be honored by his alma mater. ... "We're third in the NFL in offense and fourth in defense. We have outgained our opponents by about 600 yards in five games. Usually when you're moving the ball and stopping the other team, you have a chance to win. We haven't been able to do that well enough." – Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.
AROUND THE NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward has a streak of 183 consecutive games with a reception and that ties him for fourth all-time with former Redskin (and Hall of Famer) Art Monk. Terrell Owens is ahead of Ward, with 185 in a row. Marvin Harrison is second (190) and Jerry Rice is the all-time leader (274). ... The San Diego Chargers are 0-4 on the road. ... The Kansas City Chiefs have outgained their opponents on the ground in six consecutive games dating to last season. They ran for a season-high 228 in their loss to the Houston Texans. ... Colt McCoy became the Cleveland Browns' 16th quarterback to start a game since 1999 when he debuted against the Steelers. Among the other rookies in that benighted span: Tim Couch, Spergon Wynn, Luke McCown, Charlie Frye. All of them, including McCoy, lost in their first outing. ... San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore cranked out 149 rushing yards against the Oakland Raiders and that moved him into third place on the club's all-time rushing list. He has 6,032 yards, trailing only Joe Perry (7,064) and Roger Craig (7,344).
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.