ASHBURN, Va. -- The teasing began shortly after Taylor Heinicke arrived in December 2020, a fourth quarterback for Washington in case of a COVID-19 outbreak at the position. Heinicke hadn’t planned on staying long, so he packed lightly. He brought maybe two or three pairs of sweats and two pairs of shoes. None of them were of the Nike Air Jordan brand.
“Guys were poking fun at me, saying I had no swag,” he said. “That’s when I started diving into the game.”
Heinicke dove deep. He bought his first pair of Air Jordans at some point shortly after he arrived, and pretty soon he owned 10 pairs. He admitted an obsession.
Then he went deeper; buying a pair after every win, finding Jordans in the color scheme of the team Washington beat. He has spread the love to teammates as well.
It started one Monday in the 2021 season -- Heinicke doesn’t remember after which game -- when he was bored in the training room.
“When you spend so much time in the training room, there’s not much to do -- you’re laying there waiting for time to pass,” he said. “I would get on a sneaker app and look up sneakers. One day it dawned on me -- it would be cool to expand my sneaker game to get the same colors of teams we beat.”
A new ritual was born.
“I told him to pick it and roll with it,” tight end Logan Thomas said. “He started growing with it and it turned into a whole thing. He’s further down the line than I am.”
"It's kind of Taylor's shtick now," Washington coach Ron Rivera said last month.
That “shtick” -- a byproduct of a $125,000 bonus for winning games in which he plays 60% of the snaps -- has produced stylish reminders of Heinicke’s most memorable career moments. Each pair represents something different -- a victory over his favorite team growing up; a dream-come-true late comeback win; or a giant-slaying conquest of one of the NFL’s best.
His overall collection -- not just those attached to wins -- boasts more than 60 pairs of shoes that have cost him upward of $20,000, but these special few stand out above the rest.
The game: Washington defeated Green Bay, 23-21, on Oct. 23
The shoe: Oregon 5s
It was hard to top this one for Heinicke. He grew up rooting for Green Bay because of his Packers-loving father, Brett. One of Heinicke’s fondest memories: watching the Packers win the Super Bowl with his father after the 2010 season. Ten months later, his father died of a heart attack.
So, yes, Heinicke treasures the Jordans he purchased the next day. He said he won’t wear them as much because “it’s a shoe you can’t wear unless you plan an outfit with it.”
But they are meaningful.
“That’s the team I grew up rooting for. And to get to beat Aaron Rodgers?” Heinicke said. “It reminds me that I’m living my dream. Every time I look at those it reminds me we beat the Packers, but it takes me back to my childhood. The Packers are the reason I fell in love with football. It brings back memories of my father.”
It's not something he dwells on during the season. He says he always must look forward. But he certainly relishes the memory.
“But a game like that, right after the game I got to see my family. It’s a really cool experience,” he said. “They knew how much that meant to me, being against Rodgers and watching that Super Bowl with my pops for sure.”
The game: Washington beat Philadelphia, 32-21, on Nov. 14
The shoe: Metallic green Jordan 4s
While Green Bay might pack the most emotion, this game matters for another reason.
“That’s the biggest win of my life,” Heinicke said. “Obviously they were undefeated, Monday night, their place, a huge win for us. That stands out the most. Every time I look at those shoes I’ll think of that game.”
After the win, Heinicke was shown, via teammates’ Instagram accounts, on the team plane wearing some of their chains -- a nod to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his on-plane celebrations. Due to the videos, Heinicke -- along with a handful of others -- also was disciplined by the Commanders for violating a league rule about drinking on a team plane.
But that doesn’t dim the excitement of the victory. He says it is the gift that keeps on giving.
“There are times against the Giants when we tied them or when we lost to the Vikings where you’re like, ‘Are we that good?’” he said. “Sometimes doubt creeps into your mind, and you go back to that Eagles game. They’re the No. 1 team in the NFL and we went in and we do what we do. It gives you that confidence. You can go out any Sunday and beat any of those guys; you just have to be the best team that day.”
When he looks back, he doesn’t always recall the huge plays he made. Rather, he thinks about a first-and-10 play from the Eagles’ 48-yard line late in the first half in which he saved Washington from a potential 26-yard loss after a shotgun snap sailed over his head. The Commanders would later score a touchdown on the drive.
“There were a lot of plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but that were crucial to the game,” he said. “If I don’t do that, who knows what the outcome will be?”
For the record, Heinicke also likes these shoes.
“Those are cool,” he said. “It’s a really clean shoe, not something you wear too often, but when you do it looks good.”
He also bought his linemen some Jordan High 1s that were green, black and silver. They were waterproofed.
“I’m happy he does it for us; he literally doesn’t have to do it,” Washington left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said.
A week later, after beating Houston, Nike got word of Heinicke's buying shoes for his offensive linemen, so the company sent the starting offensive linemen Jordan Cherry 11s.
“That was cool,” Heinicke said.
The game: Washington defeated Atlanta, 19-13, on Nov. 27
The shoe: Off-white Jordan 5s
Heinicke also could have singled out beating the Falcons in Atlanta last season when he led a late game-winning drive. But he had not yet started his ritual of buying Jordans.
It’s a meaningful win, nonetheless, because he grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, 40 miles from Atlanta, and attended some Falcons games as a kid. His dad took him and his sister to a few games to watch quarterback Michael Vick in the Georgia Dome.
“I knew a lot of Falcons fans growing up, and to be on the same field as the Falcons it’s a cool experience and brings me back to my childhood,” Heinicke said.
There were no magic moments for him in the November win. He did throw for two touchdowns but completed just 14 of 23 passes for 138 yards and an interception. But the magic did occur when the defense intercepted a batted pass in the end zone with 58 seconds left.
Heinicke said he’s not a “huge fan” of the Jordan 5s -- he likes the 1s, 4s and 11s best -- but he liked the style and color.
“It looked really good and brings a lot of swag to an outfit when you wear them,” he said.
A week earlier, Heinicke bought Jordan 3s for the tight ends after beating Houston. After the Falcons win, he bought the running backs Jordans, but he let each of the three backs choose his shoe.
Next up: the receivers.
“I’m scared because they all got a bunch anyway,” Heinicke said. “I have to let them choose and they might pick pretty pricey ones.”
But wideout Cam Sims said his unit will be appreciative.
“Anytime we get J's we’re going to like it, you add it to the collection,” Sims said. “It just shows he cares for you outside of football. That’s all it is.”
The game: Washington defeated Indianapolis, 17-16, on Oct. 30
The shoe: Storm Blue High 1s
After this win, Heinicke opened up the decision process, asking fans on Instagram which shoe he should purchase. However, he accidentally put shoes that matched Georgetown University’s colors -- the Hoyas use a different shade of blue -- and not the Colts’. Naturally, fans picked that shoe.
So, with help from safety Jeremy Reaves, he settled on this pair.
“It’s a really clean-looking shoe, just white and blue and you can wear those with anything,” he said.
But Heinicke included this game for a simple reason: He helped lead an 89-yard game-winning drive in the final 2 minutes, 29 seconds -- with a big assist from wideout Terry McLaurin. Heinicke completed all five passes on the drive for 76 yards and he scrambled twice for 10 yards.
One play stood out, though. With 41 seconds left, from the Colts’ 34, Heinicke lofted a ball that McLaurin had to stop and outjump cornerback Stephon Gilmore for, wrestling the ball from him on the way down at the 1-yard line. Heinicke snuck in on the next play.
“That was a huge one for me,” he said. “To have the resiliency we did as a team, the defense kept giving us chances, a two-minute offense and the throw to Terry to get a big win for him in his hometown. Every time I look at that shoe I look at that game.”
It’s another moment that takes him back to childhood.
“Those are the moments you dream of as a kid,” he said. “When you dream of being in the NFL you don’t dream of handing the ball off. You want to be the guy making the play or helping the team win in some respect. I’ll think of throwing the ball to Terry and having him make an unbelievable catch in crunch time.”
The game: Washington beat Las Vegas, 17-15, on Dec. 5, 2021
The shoe: Retro 1 OG Highs Yin Yang
Heinicke was used to being in this spot in Las Vegas: needing to direct a late drive to win the game. It happened in wins earlier this season over the New York Giants, Falcons and Carolina Panthers two weeks prior. But the win in Las Vegas ended a stretch of four consecutive wins.
It also resulted in one of his favorite pairs of Jordans.
“It’s classic, you can wear it with anything,” he said. “They’re probably the ones I wore the most out of the teams we’ve beaten.”
In the game, after throwing an interception on a previous drive, Heinicke led a late drive by completing 4 of 5 passes for 37 yards to set up kicker Brian Johnson’s game-winning 48-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining. Johnson had been signed earlier in the week.
“No one knew his name,” Heinicke said, “and there he is kicking the game-winning field goal and everyone is pumped for him. That added to the whole craziness of the year last year.”
One other play stood out.
“I remember Maxx Crosby laying me out and I could barely see out of my right eye for a good 10 minutes during the game,” he said.
This win concluded a stretch in which Washington beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady, Carolina and Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, and Las Vegas and Derek Carr.
“There’s a lot of MVPS, a lot of Super Bowl wins in there,” Heinicke said. “It was a really cool stretch. ... I don’t like to dwell on things, but after last season I go back and look at those things and I got to accomplish that. It’s something I look back on.”