Todd Collins went to Joe Gibbs with a simple request last summer as the Washington Redskins were convening for off-season workouts: If there was no place for him on the roster, he wanted to be released so he could catch on somewhere else.
Gibbs, the man who would make that decision, watched Collins perform for a week and then summoned him.
"I told him, 'I think you can play a valuable role for us,' " Gibbs recalled Friday, less than 24 hours after Collins just did just that by leading the Redskins to a 24-16 victory over the Chicago Bears.
When starter Jason Campbell went down with a dislocated left kneecap, Collins came off the bench to complete 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Now the 36-year-old Collins, a backup for most of his career, gets to see whether he can take advantage of what could be a magical opportunity to star.
Gibbs "presumes" that Collins will start a week from today against the Giants in New Jersey. Campbell underwent an MRI on Friday that showed nothing more than the displacement, and likely won't require surgery.
But the team sent the results to several doctors it uses for consultation and asked them to check for things like floating bone particles.
Until he hears from them, Gibbs wasn't willing to speculate on whether Campbell would be healthy enough to return at any point this season.
"How long before he plays is still in the works," he said Friday. "One of the most important decisions you make is who's going to be your backup quarterback, because these days, there's a 60- to 70-percent chance he's going to play."
Collins was the key to a victory the Redskins had to have to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. At 6-7, they trail Detroit, Minnesota and Arizona in the chase for the last wild-card spot, but enjoy tie-breakers over the Lions and Cardinals. Also in the chase are Philadelphia, Carolina and New Orleans, all 5-7 entering today's games.
Collins also was one of a half-dozen or so extraordinary stories that took place Thursday night. Collins' wife, Andrea, is pregnant with their second child. She was home in Massachusetts awaiting the baby's arrival and missed much of her husband's first extended performance since 1997.
Gibbs got on the phone with her Friday and promised to send her a copy of the game video.
Collins said being ready at a moment's notice, no matter how long it takes for that chance to happen, "is kind of what drives me."
"I put in so many years of preparing if something did happen, I wanted to be ready," he said. "As the years and games piled up, if the opportunity did come up, I just wanted to be ready for it."
Gibbs rattled off a list of players who refused to let injuries stand in the way of facing the Bears:
The coaches didn't think cornerback Shawn Springs would play because of a back injury. But after working out before the game, Springs entered the equipment room and retrieved his own pads and uniform - a highly unusual move - and said he was ready. He ended up intercepting two passes.
Cornerback Fred Smoot became so dehydrated after vomiting on the sidelines that the medical staff carted him into the locker room.
Watching the game on TV, Smoot saw the Bears driving, distracted a medical staffer by asking him to find something for him, then dashed back onto the field when the man's back was turned.
Tight end Chris Cooley was kicked in the shin and left the field for X-rays at the same moment Campbell was being carted into the locker room. Gibbs didn't think he would be back; instead, Cooley caught five passes and averaged nearly 20 yards.
Running back Clinton Portis also vomited on the sidelines, but refused to abandon the game. He ended up turning a screen pass into a 53-yard gain that set up a late touchdown.
Offensive tackle Chris Samuels went to the trainers before kickoff and said one of his feet was in extreme pain and that he couldn't put any pressure on it. Yet, he played the entire game.
"That took a real determination on the part of those guys," Gibbs said. "If any of them had not done that, we probably don't win that game."
Although the coaching staff will work the next two days on a plan for the Giants, Gibbs has given the team off until Tuesday morning. The idea is to give their bodies a chance to recover and to have additional uninterrupted time to continue dealing with the death last week of safety Sean Taylor.
"The layoff is going to be good for us," he said. "I was worried last night whether emotionally we could play that game. But it seemed like people were having fun out there, and it had been a long time since anyone felt right about even smiling."