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Cowboys' Greisen takes long road back to NFL

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Posted Dec. 18, 2011 @ 5:14 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Want to win a cool bar bet?

Ask your friends this and keep them away from Google when you do: Who is the only quarterback from the draft class of 1999 still in the NFL?

Tim Couch is long gone. So too are Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown, Shaun King and Aaron Brooks. And when Donovan McNabb asked for and was granted his release last month, it has left one man standing from that group.

Chris Greisen.

The former seventh-round pick of the Cardinals after a record-breaking career at Northwest Missouri State is back in the NFL after eight years of barnstorming his way across the country (and world) at nearly every level of professional football imaginable.

After the Cardinals, Greisen has played for, in order:

  • The NFL's Redskins (practice squad only) in 2002;
  • NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in '03;
  • af2's Green Bay Blizzard in '04;
  • AFL's Dallas Desperados in '05 and '06;
  • AFL's Georgia Force in '07 and '08;
  • UFL's Florida Tuskers in '09;
  • af2's Milwaukee Iron (now the Mustangs) in '10;
  • Back to the Tuskers in '10;
  • On the Cowboys' practice squad and then the active roster for a week last season;
  • And then on the UFL's Virginia Destroyers, where he led the team to the championship under Marty Schottenheimer.

Now Greisen is back in Dallas, no doubt armed with enough frequent-flyer miles to take him, his wife of 14 years and his four kids somewhere warm and distant for vacation. One day. For now, he has a another job to do.

"I am lucky to have them. They allow me to follow my dream to play football," he said. "I know I have been all over the place. Luckily, I have a wife who loves football almost as much as I do."

The Cowboys signed Greisen, 35, to their practice squad — yes, their practice squad — last Wednesday after Jon Kitna was placed on injured reserve. Typically, the practice squad is relegated for young players, but Greisen has maintained his eligibility amazingly through all these years. League rules state that if a player has been on a team's game-day roster for nine or more games, he becomes exempt from the practice squad; amazingly, Greisen was the second-string QB for only eight games of his first three seasons in Arizona.

"One more game (played) back then and I wouldn't be able to do this," Greisen said.

The Green Bay native completed 7-of-16 passes in five mop-up appearances with the Cardinals in 1999 and 2000. He still remembers the first and only TD pass of his NFL career, in a blowout loss to Tom Coughlin's Jaguars team.

"My first touchdown pass was to Frank Sanders. What was cool was that Frank always kept his touchdown balls, but after he got in, he turned around and he knew it was my first touchdown and he gave it to me," Greisen said. "That was special.

"Of course, I also remember we had a little angle route to the running back, Thomas Jones, and I put it on his back number instead of his front number. Had I put it in the right spot, he probably would have still been running. I just remember that because I was so ticked off I threw it behind him. I remember that bad pass as much as I did the touchdown, as a reminder not to do that again."

Luckily for Greisen, the memory of that drop only motivated him to amass quite the prolific career, even though it took him until 2007 before he really took off. He set a number of Arena League passing marks with the Force that season. He played well in the UFL title-game loss with the Tuskers last year. He won the UFL title with the Destroyers in October. Greisen has had a more successful football career than, say, Smith or McNown, who flamed out early.

"My success has allowed me to keep playing and following the dream of playing at the highest level, as I am now," Greisen said. "I have had a lot of great coaches and great teammates who have helped me get to this place, and I can't thank them enough."

One was Will McClay, who is in his ninth season in the Cowboys' pro personnel department and was Greisen's head coach with the Desperados. Although Greisen was mainly a backup on that team, McClay kept in touch with Greisen and was the main reason the Cowboys brought him up last season.

On Tuesday, he called Greisen at 4 p.m. with the question: Can you be on a plane tonight? Jon Kitna was heading to injured reserve and the Cowboys needed a third QB.

"Luckily I live five minutes from the Green Bay airport, so it was no problem," Greisen said.

On Wednesday, he was re-learning the offense he got a brief taste of last season when the Cowboys put him on the active roster for the final week of the season. Different leagues, different terminology, different rules — Greisen has seen it all.

League people can't remember a player of Greisen's experience landing on a practice squad. When Greisen called the NFL's Cigna rep last season to get insurance set up after signing with the Cowboys for the final week of the year, she told him she had never seen a player with eight years between NFL seasons.

Chances are — and Greisen knows it — he won't be promoted to the 53-man roster in either of the Cowboys' two final games after their Saturday-night win over the Buccaneers unless Tony Romo or backup Stephen McGee both go down. It probably would take both getting hurt for Greisen to see the field, but Greisen is prepared for the unforeseen. His unusual career has prepared him never to expect the expected.

"God works in mysterious ways," he said. "When I prepare, I prepare to play, no matter what league I play in. One thing with Coach Garrett bringing me in, I am not just going to sit here and earn a check on the practice squad. I am going to be ready as if I am the starter. My role might be to back those guys up, but personally I have to be ready like I am the starter."

At this point, he's playing with house money. Greisen wasn't ever sure if he'd even make it back to this point.

"It was always in the back of my mind, let's just say, as far as the dream," he said. "I love football, I love competing, I love throwing the ball around and being that leader. When I had the opportunity in 2007 with the Force — most of the years before that I was a backup — to be the starting quarterback, the so-called 'franchise guy,' it was pretty special.

"Whether it's the Dallas Cowboys or the Georgia Force, anytime you are the starting quarterback, it's pretty special. I am not sure if that chance will come (in the NFL), but it would be pretty amazing if it does."

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