Typically, déjà vu is the feeling that what's happening has already been seen. It hasn't occurred before; it just feels like it has.
But for Josh McCown, history is repeating itself.
For the second straight year, McCown coached Marvin Ridge High School in North Carolina to the state football playoffs. And for the second year, days after coaching his final high school game, his agent called saying Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler might need to cash in his insurance policy: The Bears wanted McCown back at third-string quarterback.
Despite the striking similarities between 2011 and 2012, McCown was more prepared this time around.
"I've already been here," McCown said. "I'm not coming here meeting people."
McCown, 33, spent the past offseason with the team and went through training camp before his release in August. Before that, he spent time with the Arizona Cardinals (2002-05), Detroit Lions (2006), Oakland Raiders (2007), Miami Dolphins (2008), Carolina Panthers (2008-09), Hartford Colonials of the UFL (2010) and San Francisco 49ers (2011). It has made him a quick learner, an adapter and the perfect backup for Cutler.
In 2011, McCown started two games, losing 35-21 to the Green Bay Packers and beating the Minnesota Vikings 17-13. In 2012, he has yet to play.
"When you're growing up, you dream of leading your team to the Super Bowl," McCown said. "I'm grounded and focused enough to know that's not where I'm at right now. If I'm called to play, I will. If not, in my role, what can I do to help us be a championship team? You get back into coach mode. You're dealing with grown men, so you don't want to be a high school coach, but you try to help out."
It doesn't go unnoticed. In a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cutler offered praise: "There are so many different aspects to what he brings to this team, especially for me. He's been in a lot of different situations, and he's been in the league a long time. He's had success, he's had down years and he's just a positive guy. It's a grind-it-out-league, and you need some optimism and some positivity, and he brings that. … If I'm here, I want him here. That's how I feel about it."
It's easy to see why Cutler would want McCown around. As a veteran player with two years of high school coaching under his belt, McCown can see the game through both prisms.
"There's a different feeling when you're preparing to play a game and when you're preparing to coach a game," McCown said. "The player says, 'I'll just [make the play] when I get out there.' As a coach, you can't just get out there and do it. You have to know [the game] well enough that the player can go out there and [make the play]. The player has to be an extension of you."
McCown used that mentality when he was on the field at Marvin Ridge, working with receiver Carter Hill. Early in the season, Hill had been dropping balls and was beating himself up about it. McCown called upon his experiences with Bears wide receivers Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall.
"During camp, these guys are going down [the field] and getting catches," McCown said. "When I see Brandon Marshall work this way, catching that many balls a day, I know we should work this way because he is an elite receiver in the NFL."
McCown changed how he was coaching Hill. The receiver started getting more repetitions during practice and was told to focus on his hands.
"I told him: 'We need to set our bar high and work hard,'" McCown said. "He came on [the field during games] and caught the ball better the rest of the year."
McCown said his ability as a player and coach are thanks to his former high school quarterback coach, Matt Turner.
"Matt saw value in every kid on the team," McCown said. "He coached every kid the same whether they started or were the last guy. It impacted me. It's why I approach my job the way I do being the third quarterback here. I might be the 53rd man, but I want to bring value to the team. A lot of that comes from him."
Turner recalled a game during McCown's senior year against a team that included seven future college players. "We were the underdog in that game," Turner said. "But Josh raises the level of others. He played an unbelievable ball game. We lost in the last five seconds. We had no business being in that game, but as it turned out, with his leadership, we were right there at the end. He can get a group of people to come together and play hard and compete together as one.
"Of all the people I coached, he had a natural sense of how blessed he is to be able to play the game for as long as he has. Sometimes that gets lost in wanting to win, but Josh enjoys it. Some guys really love it when they're playing, and they enjoy it like they were when they were a kid. Josh never lost that."
That's why even though it meant missing a few of his oldest daughter's basketball games this season, McCown, a father of four, shows up for every practice with the Bears.
"My wife and I pray about [the decision to keep playing]," McCown said. "But we understand this doesn't last forever. There are only so many opportunities, and we feel like this is what we are supposed to be doing. I don't know how much longer we'll continue living the double life, but right now, I love playing. I love being involved in the NFL. That's where my heart is."