Josh McCown has embraced the misery, welcomed the torment and finally understood the meaning behind all the intense pain inflicted by people taking care of his 38-year-old body.
With friends like this, who needs angry defensive linemen paid to snap him in half?
McCown’s success in the twilight of his career can be traced to his team of trainers, chiropractors and masseuses loaded with innovative ideas to keep him rolling along. The Jets quarterback is having the best year of his life thanks, in part, to an around-the-clock plan designed to stiff-arm Father Time for just a little while longer.
“I just think it’s vital,” McCown told the Daily News about his body maintenance routine. “I didn’t know how much I believed in it until I put myself through it this year. I really feel like it’s helped me a ton.”
He’s spent nearly as much time with his teammates that don’t wear a uniform than the guys in the huddle with him. Head athletic trainer John Mellody and assistant Dave Zuffelato devised a plan in the spring to help the oft-injured veteran stay on the field.
The original blueprint has been adjusted throughout the season for McCown, who has appeared on the injury report five times for ribs, right shoulder, back and left wrist issues.
It’s a time-consuming process that has included intense stretching, continuous cold and hot tub treatment, Epsom salt baths, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, chiropractic assistance, acupuncture, one or two 60-90-minute massages per week, Active Release Technique therapy to alleviate muscle and/or ligament issues and an app to monitor his sleep patterns.
“That dude’s got Superman genes,” backup quarterback Bryce Petty said. “He’s had a routine since he got here. I think ‘marvel’ is a great word especially at our position. He’s done an incredible job keeping his body healthy. He throws the ball better than a lot of people that I’ve seen at 21. So, he’s doing something right.”
McCown has been the team MVP this season, a lovable geezer having the time of his life on and off the field. He’s fourth in the NFL in completion percentage (67.8) with a career-high 18 touchdowns. He joined Jim Thorpe (Jim Thorpe!) and Doug Flutie last week as the only 38-plus-year-old quarterbacks in history to rush for two touchdowns in a game en route to AFC Player of the Week honors. McCown’s 13th start on Sunday at Denver will tie his career-high set in 2004 with the Cardinals.
“I love the guy to death,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “He’s an older guy on the field yet he’s jumping around, running around like everything is alright. But you know he’s sore. He’s doing a phenomenal job showing guys how to take care of their bodies and what it takes to be a pro and be in this league for a long time.”
McCown’s commitment knows no bounds. He’s spent time in cold tubs at MetLife Stadium after games to get his body-maintenance process started for the next week. He’s gone back to the team facility in Florham Park after games on Sundays to work with trainers if something was bothering him.
Mondays are reserved for re-watching the previous game’s film and getting his body worked on by anyone and everyone in the rehab center. Tuesdays are meant for 3-4 more hours of rehab, including the most annoying and rewarding part of his week: Stretching with Mellody and Zuffelato.
“If you’re not naturally flexible, it sucks,” McCown said. “Because it hurts to do it. It’s literally painful to stretch. It’s not like a spa day, where it’s like, ‘Oh man. THIS IS GREAT!’ No, dude, this is the worst part. I mean, I like those guys, so I enjoy being in their company, but it SUCKS.”
“Dude, they’re about to stretch me and make me not feel good right in the moment,” he continued. “When I get up, I feel great. And the next day, I feel great. So that’s the key. I had to embrace that part of it. In the past, I’ve gone, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ Like it ain’t worth it to me. But I’m seeing the benefits of it now and it’s totally worth it.”
McCown might look like a 6-4, 218-pound tank with great hair, but he’s taken a beating through his 15-year NFL journey. Consider the agony: He has injured his thumbs, hands, shoulders, collarbones, feet ribs and head in the past decade and a half. He once suffered a sprained left knee and left foot on the same play, for Pete’s sake. There was even a chainsaw incident with his brother once upon a time that resulted in a finger injury.
It’s a wonder that the guy is able to grip a football, let alone still throw one so well.
“I remember a few years ago in Tampa, I was taking a lot of hits,” said McCown, who was sacked 36 times as a 35-year-old with the Buccaneers in 2014. “It was like you just started feeling better Sunday morning when you had to play another game. I’ve had a few weeks where it’s tough here, but for the most part, I feel like I’m bouncing back a lot faster. I think it’s the work that we do.”
“What I think a lot of young guys don’t understand and what I’m learning is it’s the work that you do every day that makes you better two weeks from now,” he added. “You can’t just judge it off Sunday to Sunday. It’s the cumulative work that affects your body and allows you to recover. You might go, ‘Man, I stretched Monday and Tuesday, but I don’t feel better this Sunday.’ Yeah, but if you keep doing it, pretty soon you’ll start bouncing back a lot faster. That’s what I’m feeling. It really works.”
McCown is meticulous about everything, including the importance of getting at least eight hours of sleep each night to maximize recovery. Mellody & Co. recommended the sleep app that calculates a sleep score for the quarterback each night.
For the first time in his career, McCown has taken all the comforts of home with him to the team hotel the night before games too. So, he uses the app and brings a mini-fan (“Got to have noise”) before going to bed.
His unsung teammates in the training room have made all the difference.
“I can’t credit those guys enough,” McCown said. “It’s paid off, for sure.”
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