A fact of love is that when the relationship is over and you see your ex again the emotions depend entirely on your own place in life and so at this point, in 2017, when Matt Cassel shows up with a big smile at Arrowhead Stadium you sort of want to pinch his cheeks.
Matt, how you been?
How’s the fam?
“I’m good,” he said. “What’s new with you, still writing tough articles about me and everyone?”
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He said that with a smile, by the way. He says almost everything with a smile. He always did, even when the organization around him was falling to pieces. You either liked that about him, or you didn’t. I always did. The football was a different story.
Five years after leaving Kansas City in the whitewashing of Scott Pioli and virtually everything he did with the Chiefs, Cassel is entering the second and appropriate phase of his NFL life as a backup quarterback. He’s doing well, too. His wife is 38 weeks pregnant with their fifth child. The first three were all born in Kansas City.
“So many great memories here,” he said. “We made a lot of great friends here. I’m always happy to come back.”
Cassel is backup quarterback for the Titans, who lost 30-6 to the Chiefs in a preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday. It really was a good day for him, too. Met some old friends for lunch. Saw so many familiar faces before and after the game — former teammates, equipment managers, executives, and his good friend Alex Smith
“Everybody was such a big part of my time here,” he said. “It was great to see them.”
My favorite Cassel memory is him telling me he was out to dinner somewhere in town and excused himself to the restroom. He’s doing what you do in there, but it’s one of those places that puts the sports page above the urinals — thanks for the support, by the way! — and as it happened I wrote about the Chiefs that day.
Cassel said he didn’t pay attention to what was said or written about him, and I don’t know how honest that was, but we can probably agree it’s unavoidable when you’re the overwhelmed quarterback of a train wreck franchise and you picked the wrong urinal on the wrong day.
“C’mon man,” he said to me later. “You called me frumpy!”
Frumpy was probably kind, at least as a starting quarterback. That’s the conflict of remembering his time in Kansas City. Cassel was always a nice guy. Treated people well. Earnest, enthusiastic, generous. People in the building raved about him. As a man, if not as a quarterback.
The struggles weren’t his fault, either. He had the good season in 2010, when everything around him was right — including defenses dropping a startling number of interceptions — and then it all went to mistrust and egomaniacal leadership and airplane banners.
But that wasn’t his fault. Cassel never should’ve been given a $63 million contract and starting job for an NFL team trying to win games. He was a dustbuster trying to do a the job of a shop-vac. If you build a house out of plywood, it’s not the plywood’s fault when it collapses.
Cassel is now exactly what he should’ve been all along: a perfectly pleasant backup quarterback who’s learned playbooks for four teams and five offensive coordinators since leaving Kansas City.
He’s been asked to play in 26 games, completing 59 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. To borrow a phrase, he is who we thought he was — right down to the occasional unintentional comedy.
After he left the Chiefs, Cassel was traded with a sixth-round pick for a fifth and a seventh, then later traded with a seventh for a fifth. He has backed up Christian Ponder and Brandon Weeden. Once, while playing for the Cowboys, he threw an interception on a throw that was flagged for intentional grounding.
You read that right, and if you’re a Chiefs fan and saw the highlight, you probably giggled a bit, shook your head, and wrapped yourself in a warm blanket of better football.
That’s where this always ends up, right? This is why people lose weight for their high school reunions.
Seeing Cassel still on the grind is a reminder about how far the Chiefs have come. They are consistent winners now, from the moment Pioli was fired, a playoff regular that had nothing real to prove or work on this preseason other than down-the-roster tweaks and Patrick Mahomes highlights.
So this is a good time for Cassel to visit.
When you see these mileposts of your past, you can only be as happy as your current situation allows. And at the moment Chiefs fans can be pretty dang happy that a personally likable vestige of that miserable 2012 nightmare is happy when their own team won 12 games last year and has a rookie quarterback who can throw 50 yards downfield through a tire while running sideways and getting blasted by a pass rusher.
Because it doesn’t make you a bad person to wish your ex well, so long as you’re doing at least a little better.