' ' Cinema Romantico: The Career Of Frank Cushman

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Career Of Frank Cushman

Recently, feeling extraordinarily under the weather, I popped "Jerry Maguire", a film which never fails to make me happy, into the ol' DVD player, and as I watched it for anywhere from the 42nd to 327th time I really got to thinking about the career of "the great Frank Cushman."

Cushman (Jerry O'Connell) was the prized quarterback who begins as the most important client of sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) before falling prey to Jerry's unctuous rival Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr). After bottoming out, Jerry re-rises to the top with Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), of course, but what of Cushman? We are never told.

The story went that the Denver Broncos held the #1 pick but the San Diego Chargers were desperate to trade up and get him instead. However, Cush's not-so-honorable father (Beau Bridges) wanted his son to play for Denver. So let's say Cushman was selected as the #1 overall pick by Denver. What then?

He holds a clipboard and wears a ballcap for the first few games of his rookie season but when the veteran starting quarterback, who has seen much better days, Alan Ballentine, throws three interceptions and no touchdowns in a disheartening 20-7 loss to the so-so Seattle Seahawks dropping Denver to an inauspicious record of 1-4, Head Coach Don Karmelowicz makes a move and names Frank Cushman as the starter. He treads water the rest of the season, barely grasping the complicated offense, and finishes with a record of 5-12. And unfortunately, with few talented skill players surrounding him, his next four seasons in the Mile High City are less than pretty as the Bronco fan base turns on him after he goes snowboarding at Vail (snowboarding is strictly forbidden in his contract) and Cushman, in an ironic twist, is benched in favor of a new rookie hotshot QB, "Danger Mouse" Motley out of USC. (Motley has since been traded to the Redskins.)

Deemed a "failure", Cushman routinely turns up on "Biggest NFL Busts" lists before getting a second chance with a trade to the Chicago Bears whose 222nd quarterback in the last 25 years has flamed out. Re-inventing himself as a "game manager" and buoyed by a stout defense and the hard-nosed but shifty play of 3 time Pro Bowl running back Garrison West, Cushman (in the word of CBS color commentator Phil Simms) "guides" the Bears to a 9-7 record and a surprise playoff berth. Fighting valiantly, he has a chance to pull out an upset on wildcard weekend with a last ditch drive but, alas, fires an interception at the opponent's goal line. Nonetheless, sportswriters champion this as a "resurrection" of Cush's career, failing to note his stunningly ordinary passing numbers and that according to the "Norm Van Brocklin Team Statistical Ratio" he had, in actuality, contributed only 11.7% of the Bears' total offense.

The Bears whimper to a 6-10 record the following season and in the midst of another losing campaign the next year, Cushman is benched and then released in the off season. But in another twist, Cushman experiences his actual resurrection a couple years later north of the border, quarterbacking the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League to an improbable Grey Cup title which he uses as a springboard to one last shot in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Tragically, in a meaningless pre-season game, Cushman tears an ACL, derailing his comeback and ending his career.

He now works as a sideline commentator for the GFL (Greenland Football League) on ESPN8 (The Ocho).

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