In 1988, quarterback Mark Rypien's first start put him on a path to helping Washington win a Super Bowl -- and earning him game MVP honors. Rypien went from a sixth-round pick in 1986 to a part-time starter to a Pro Bowl passer.
Mark's first NFL start -- it was also his first appearance -- ended in a 30-21 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals 32 years ago this week. He completed 26-of-41 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a costly fumble.
But in 1991, Rypien threw 28 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions, averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and an NFL-best 14.3 yards per completion. In a 37-24 win against Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI, Rypien threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns, capping his second Pro Bowl season.
Mark spoke with ESPN, offering advice for his nephew and memories from his own first start.
What advice would you give Brett?
One of the things he needs to do, or to be asked to do, is manage the game and make decisions -- quick decisions. I've always been a huge advocate of when you're in the scoring territory, you have to be able to secure the ball and get points. I think he understands. He's not a guy who will take a lot of sacks, so he'll get the ball out and make quick decisions and do what he's coached to do. He's very cerebral. I talked to him about this in the past, when he first started as a young kid in college [at Boise State] as a freshman. The good ones are the ones who make plays and slow the game down.
One thing you really think watching from the sidelines, 'The game is way too fast. I can't do it.' So when you get in you feel you have to make quick, fast decisions that get you in more trouble. But I was amazed when I first played that it didn't look as fast on the field when I'm playing as it did when I was watching from the sidelines. He understands that and he knows he has to play well.
What do you remember about your first start?
I remember I got a call on a Monday night from [then-Washington coach] Joe Gibbs and he said, 'Ryp, get ready you're getting your first start this weekend against the Cardinals in Arizona. Doug [Williams] went in for an emergency appendectomy. We'll see you in the morning.' I said, all right I'll be ready.' From there it was a great week of practice, film sessions. I played well in the game. I remember making a lot of plays, but the feeling I had afterwards was mundane and sad because we lost. That's what you're out there to do, lead your team to victory. That's one thing I'd say to him, 'Brett, things might not go well for a series or two, but lo and behold keep your head up and the team in it.'
How important was that first game for you in building your career to where you eventually won a Super Bowl?
I spent two years on [injured reserve] -- they didn't have the practice squad -- so I was fortunate I got to learn the system and watch from a distance. I'd work with [quarterbacks coach] Jerry Rhome on the other field. I was out there working on my mechanics and things I needed to be good at to be a good pro when my time came. Then I had to do something so I wouldn't just waltz out there and flop around like a fish. If I'm going to a dance, I'd better be a good dancer or the gal won't ask you back the next week. I had to make plays and I did. But I fumbled on our last series. I remember scrambling out and I got hit and the ball came loose and they returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. We were going for the winning score.
I made some plays, but when you've got playmakers that helps, too. The likes of [running backs] George Rogers and Earnest Byner and guys that have been there before: [receivers] Art Monk, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and a stable of offensive linemen that made my job easier. I could rely on things I was taught, the reads they asked me to make. Take the things that are there and if not, live to fight another day. Always a quarterback's motto.
Does Brett starting bring up memories of your first start?
It does. The only thing is my mom and sister and wife all got a chance to be at the first game. Now his dad and mom and family won't be able to do so. That might be a good thing, because you won't have a bunch of distractions, or other things to focus on.
When family comes into town, back in the day when there wasn't COVID, you'd go out to dinner and then go do football stuff and you'd see your family walking in and you're like, 'This is real; family is here.' But now it's 'I've got the guys I'm in the bubble with and they're the only thing I know and I can relate to them' and maybe it makes it a little easier.
Do you look back on Brett from when he was a kid and how he reached this point?
Brett was always active. He always excelled. He was a great hockey player; he was 12, 13 years old and finally had to give it up and a lot of coaches said, 'Man, this could have been his calling.' He was just a skilled kid, a grinder. Sixth man in basketball; in baseball a catcher who had pop. Just a great athlete.
Then football came along. As a ninth-, 10th-grader the things that he did ... It was like, 'wow this kid is special.' He had an incredible college career and it was fun to watch him play. I'm excited to see it all unfold. I have no idea what the outcome will be. I know he'll play solid, because that's the kind of guy he is.