FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- During a quiet moment recently in the New York Jets' quarterback room, Josh McCown pulled out his tablet and punched up a video of his son's first football game of the season. As dad watched with a critical eye, he was joined by Sam Darnold, who pulled up a chair and watched every snap of Owen McCown, the junior varsity quarterback at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Josh McCown took notes and texted them to his son, occasionally including tips from Darnold. As McCown said, "If Sam says it, sometimes it carries a little more weight than Dad." The middle man -- in this case, the old man -- was eliminated from the convo when Darnold, 21, and Owen, 15, started communicating directly.
"Snapchatting," McCown, 39, said, shrugging his shoulders. "It's what the kids do."
It was a priceless scene: father, son and surrogate son -- or little brother, depending on how you view that 18-year gap between Josh McCown and Darnold.
Quite clearly, their relationship -- only five months old -- goes way beyond starting quarterback-backup quarterback and pupil-mentor. It's beginning to extend beyond the office, with their two families joining what could be the most fascinating and feel-good quarterback situation in the NFL.
The vibe was apparent after the Jets' dominant victory Monday night in Detroit. When Darnold emerged from the locker room after his impressive debut, he was embraced immediately by his parents, Chris and Mike, who had flown in from San Clemente, California.
His mother, wearing a Jets cap and shirt, was fighting back tears. When she spotted McCown, she pointed at him and wrapped her arms around him. Mike, a former college offensive lineman, gave him a bro hug. It looked as if McCown was a member of the Darnold family.
In truth, they've only met three times, before and after games, but they share a connection. Once upon a time, McCown was a 23-year-old rookie with his parents, Pat and Robin, following him around the country. It creates warm feelings for the oldest player on the Jets, who has put aside his ego to help Darnold in his development.
"Sam and I spend so much time together that it's inevitable that our personal lives cross paths," McCown said. "He knows where my boys are playing and I know what's happening back in California. It's part of being around each other so much.
"It's obvious they care deeply about how Sam carries himself and, obviously, how he plays. They love the game. It reminds me a lot of my family. To see them starting out on this journey and understanding what's ahead, you appreciate that connection and appreciate their genuine love for not only their son, but for everything that's happening.
"We're all in it together to help Sam be the best."
McCown grew up in a football family. His older brother, Randy, played quarterback at Texas A&M in the late 1990s. His younger brother, Luke, played the position in the NFL from 2004 to 2015. Pat and Robin raised quarterbacks, and they've been zigzagging the country for nearly a quarter-century, attending as many of their sons' games as possible. In fact, they will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the Jets' home opener against the Miami Dolphins.
So will the Darnolds, who are accumulating frequent-flyer miles at an impressive clip. They're not the jet-setting type; they're middle-class folks from Orange County, California. Mike works as a foreman at a gas company, installing gas lines in hospitals and medical centers. He's out of the house by 5:30 every morning.
They raised their son to have an offensive lineman's mentality -- team first and blue collar -- and they were hoping he'd land in a situation where he'd have the opportunity to show those traits and flourish in a healthy environment. Quarterback competitions can turn nasty, with the incumbent giving a cold shoulder to the newbie. That kind of tension can create a toxic quarterback room.
When Sam was drafted by the Jets, his parents received a glowing report on McCown from former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, a friend of the family and Sam's personal quarterback coach. Palmer, also raised in Orange County, got to know McCown when they were teammates with the 2013 Chicago Bears. He raved about his old teammate's unselfishness.
For the last few months, Darnold has been gushing about McCown in phone conversations with his parents.
"My parents know how much he's helped me throughout the whole process," Darnold said. "He's been nothing but the best. I tell my parents all the time how awesome it is to have a guy like Josh, and how awesome it was to have a guy like Teddy [Bridgewater] -- two vets in here. Now even to have a guy like Davis [Webb], there's so much football knowledge going around. But to have Josh here is special for me."
Think of it this way: Imagine sending your son or daughter across the country to college, knowing he or she has been embraced by an elder or an entire family. That's how the Darnolds feel about McCown, who has four kids of his own.
McCown's two boys got to hang around with Darnold during training camp. McCown's oldest daughter, Bridget, texted him after the draft, saying she's less than a year younger than Darnold -- an unintentional poke at dear 'ol dad. McCown shared the text conversation in a funny tweet that went viral.
McCown said being around Darnold and his parents creates a sense of déjà vu.
"When I see them, I think of my folks and their experience on this journey -- professional sports," he said. "I think that probably lends itself to the connection."
The Jets are in a scheduling stretch in which McCown's experience is invaluable. Because of the Monday night opener, they have one less day to prepare for the Dolphins. Short weeks are tough for any quarterback, let alone a rookie. After Miami, they will have a quick turnaround against the Cleveland Browns, whom they face next Thursday night on the road.
"It's cool to have him in my corner, giving me tips and advice whenever I need it," Darnold said.
McCown was the first to greet Darnold on the sideline after his nightmarish start in Detroit, where he became only the third quarterback in the last 27 years to throw a pick-6 on his first career pass. Ever the mentor, McCown offered words of encouragement. Jets CEO Christopher Johnson didn't see the exchange -- he was in a Ford Field elevator at the time of the interception -- but he heard about it.
How much do the Jets appreciate McCown's wisdom? They're paying him $10 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid backup.
"I have no doubt he helped Sam get his head together and get set for the next series," Johnson said. "Josh is very valuable, whether he's on the field or not. It's not just Sam, but a lot of players talk about his leadership. I think he's money well spent."