Grossman learns to bear criticism

March 21, 2007|By RICK MAESE

I wake up each morning, and instead of a good-morning kiss, some coffee and a bagel, I'm greeted by at least a dozen e-mails and voice mails that outline how little I know about the Terrapins, Ravens, Orioles or basically everything else that has ever lived, breathed or died under a sports umbrella. Most mornings, I'd probably prefer a good-morning kiss.

It's probably because of this that I'm especially impressed and intrigued by how players and coaches handle criticism. I've always been in awe of the physical attributes of an elite athlete, but, more and more, it's the mental fatigue they overcome that's especially astounding. Some of these guys have skin thick enough to protect a king's palace -- guys like Rex Grossman.

"I'm extremely harsh on myself, anyways," Grossman says. "It only gets more frustrating when I think I did something right or correct, and someone else wants to say I'm doing it wrong. When I think I'm doing OK, that's when it's hard to hear sometimes."

Grossman was in town last night to accept an Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to an NFL player from each team who stiff-arms adversity and finds success. Grossman overcame injuries in each of his first three seasons and led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl in his fourth. To an outsider like me, batting down the criticism that has been levied his way is just as admirable. No coach, no late practices, no Lombardi tome from the bookshelf can prepare you for the feeling of the entire world's hating your existence.

Just check out what Rick Reilly had to say after Grossman's Bears lost in the Super Bowl last month. Reilly is the funny columnist in Sports Illustrated who flung a pie Grossman's way, hiding a brick under a layer of whipped cream.

"There is bad, there is terrible, and then there is Wrecks Grossman," Reilly wrote.

Reilly's pen was filled with ink so poisonous it caused pages of the magazine to curl. He said Grossman was built like a paperboy, reminded him of an Olive Garden waiter and posted stats one would confuse with Paris Hilton's Wonderlic scores.

"No brain-bearing fan can actually believe in this guy," he wrote. "He couldn't do the simplest of things. He muffed snaps. He was intercepted twice. He fumbled twice. He sacked himself. He seemed to be playing in ski boots and oven mitts. He came into this game with the reputation as possibly the worst quarterback ever to reach the Super Bowl and somehow tarnished that."

Grossman hasn't watched the Super Bowl. He hasn't talked about it much and, until yesterday, hadn't done interviews in the past six weeks, allowing everyone else to pick apart his performance like starved vultures feasting on roadkill.

"There's a couple of plays I wish I could have had back," Grossman says. "Obviously, you get to that point, and it's so frustrating to not win. That's what you're there for. There are so many things I wish would've been different about that day. I can narrow it down to four or five plays on my part, the weather, the flow of the game, we didn't get as many offensive plays as we like. We didn't play real well, and there was miscommunication at critical times."

He hasn't listened to the post-Super Bowl rip jobs. It's not especially new to him. Grossman had doubters and critics from Day One. Even when he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September and when the Bears reeled off seven wins to start the season, fans, analysts and pigskin pundits -- folks who derive their expertise from Madden 2006 and a video game controller -- questioned Grossman's abilities.

"What I've noticed in this league is that it's exaggerated in both ways," Grossman says. "The media would never tell you if you're just good. You're either great or you're terrible. People have a short memory, especially if you aren't established in this league."

Last season was Grossman's first injury-free season. The Super Bowl was his 23rd start of the season (including four preseason games) for the Bears, a challenge no level of football fully prepares a quarterback for.

"In some of those games, I was bad. I had 13 or 14 games I'm extremely proud of and five or six that were really bad," he says. "After those really bad games, they wanted to kick me out of the league. And it wasn't that long after I was Offensive Player of the Month. The swings of criticism were much bigger than swings in my play."

After trying to avoid football for a few weeks, Grossman sat down with Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner one day earlier this month and reviewed every interception he threw last season. The next day, they looked at every touchdown pass. He says he's looking forward to capitalizing on the experiences and lessons over the past six months.

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