It has long been known that the most popular person in any big city in America is the backup quarterback. Of late, Cooper Rush has been the most popular person in DFW. His popularity extends beyond North Texas, too, because the Cowboys fan base is so widespread and diverse.
They love the way he came off the bench and burst onto the scene. They love the fact that two of his first five wins were against the teams that were in the Super Bowl last year. They love his poise and confidence in leading America’s Team.
Cooper has been popular for a long time. Born and raised in the Lansing, Michigan area, Cooper has been turning heads ever since he stepped on the field to play. He played football, baseball and basketball through Junior High. In fact, my nephew Robbie Caruso was his teammate on the Shamrock basketball team and reports that Cooper was one of the nicest “superstars” on the team. Robbie says, “he was a friend to everyone.”
As he moved up to Lansing Catholic High School he dropped baseball and basketball so he could concentrate on his best sport, football. There, another nephew of mine was one of his offensive lineman. That nephew, Drew Pence is not surprised that Cooper was doing what he was doing because they recognized his greatness then.
Like that time in the regional championship game against Dowagiac Union High School, when Cooper set Michigan state records with five touchdown passes in one quarter and eight for the game. He led the Cougars to undefeated regular seasons in 2010 and 2011. Flint Powers beat them in the State Championship game Cooper’s senior year.
There were many accolades to come that year. He was named the Associated Press Michigan Division 5-6 Player of the Year. He also won Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year honors. His career path was set; it was on to a Big Ten school and great college career. The only problem with that plan was that Michigan and Michigan State only offered him preferred walk-on status. He got scholarship offers only from Toledo and Central Michigan.
None of my nephews were his teammates at Central Michigan University. None of my nephews were good enough to play at that level. But Cooper was. He was the scout team player of the year during his red-shirt season. By his sophomore year he began to shine, throwing 27 touchdown passes and earning a quarterback rating of 149.4. His junior year with the Chippewas was record-setting. In 2015 he threw for 3853 yards, which was the single season record. Add 25 touchdowns and a QB rating of 144.8, and it is not surprising that the Cowboys took notice.
They did not draft him but signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He stuck with the Cowboys as a second or third string quarterback after beating out the likes of Mike White and his current offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Until this season, the highlight of Cooper’s professional career came in week eight last year against the Vikings, his first NFL start with Dak Prescott out due to a calf injury. He passed for 325 yards in the game and two touchdowns, including the game winner in the final minute to Amari Cooper. The Cowboys won his first start 20-16.
The network showed several shots of his joyous family that night, and when they did I could not believe my eyes. There sitting with Cooper’s dad was my step brother Pat Conklin. Pat and I went to high school together, and my dad and his mom married a few years ago after both lost spouses. Turns out Pat is Cooper’s Godfather. Matthew Rush, Cooper’s dad and Pat Conklin were roommates at Notre Dame.
Since that great NFL debut Cooper has done nothing but make himself more popular in this marketplace. It is amazing what an undefeated start to your career will do for your place in the hearts and minds of a fan base.
With Dak healthy again, Cooper will go back to being the backup quarterback, the most popular person in DFW. If his popularity wanes we will just try to get him in touch with all those members of my family who are so proud to have been part of this journey.