Saturday, January 28, 2017

Just Access

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

As the words rifle across the screen, this week’s “View” feels small and insignificant against the large and consequential political backdrop.  Ah, but maybe small and insignificant in this case is also well-timed and therapeutic. 

With that, happy silver anniversary, D.C sports fans.  Let us weep together. 

It has been 25 years since Washington’s once dominant football team claimed the city’s last major professional sports championship.  The event was Super Bowl XXVI.  The date was January 26, 1992.  The location was the Metrodome in Minneapolis.  Washington QB Mark Rypien exited the field through a confetti storm with the MVP Award.  Head coach Joe Gibbs, the most important figure in the greatest sports era in D.C. history, claimed his third Lombardi Trophy and put himself in the discussion with the NFL’s greatest coaches.  Strike up the band.  Pop the champagne.  Schedule the parade.  Again.

There was no indication that this latest championship moment was some final act of glory.  Yes, the basketball team – the Bullets at the time – stunk, the Capitals were a perennial playoff flop (sound familiar?) and the baseball team was still 13 years from its move south.  No matter.  The football team was a machine that produced an annual contender and a championship every 4-5 years.  Super Bowl XXVI was grand; more would follow.

We were so naïve.  The party caravan drove off a cliff on that distant January night.  The needle skidded across the record, stopping the music abruptly.  Without even a “last call” or “last dance”, the lights were turned on and everyone was ordered home.  The fairytale was over; a long, dark period of relentless suffering began. 

A quarter-century later, the gloom persists.  The losing during this depressing period has been a combination of persistent – the ‘Skins and Wizards have combined for just six playoff game/series wins - and heartbreaking – the Nationals’ and Capitals’ recent playoff meltdowns.  If Jim Cantore was on location, he’d be predicting an endless cycle of morale-sapping storms while blizzard conditions tested the specification limits of his Weather Channel issued L.L. Bean gear.  Baby, it’s cold outside.

Prior to 2016, pity was not something D.C.’s plight would have legitimately earned.  But then, within just months, the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s misery and the Cubs…the Cubs…won the World Series.  Now when talking championship futility for major sports cites, it’s D.C. and Minneapolis, a town that last raised a triumphant fist after the Twins won Game 7 of 1991 World Series at…the Metrodome.  Creepy.

Don’t confuse this whining with entitlement.  D.C. is owed nothing.  Four championships – 3 Super Bowls, 1 NBA title – in the last 40 years is statistically solid.  But, the last 25 have been an absolute wasteland. 

It’s about to get worse.

After the Super Bowl concludes, Atlanta and one-time Washington (2012-13) offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is expected to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.  He will join Sean McVay, another former Washington offensive coordinator (2014-16) and the new head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, as consecutive Washington OC’s to earn a head coaching gig.  Salt, meet Wound.

Is this psychological torture?  Are the football gods incapable of mercy?  This is not the kind of “Back-to-Back” fans seek.  Of course, it should indicate - and something that would make it more palatable - that the ‘Skins are in the midst of a fertile period of winning.  See, when teams are successful and win Super Bowls, coaches get poached and other teams overpay for their free agents. 


Yeah...that’s not the situation in D.C.  It’s enough to make you feel jobbed and to kick and scream, “It’s not fair!”  Well, it isn’t.  Championships aren’t allocated fairly.  There is no promise of equity.  But with sports, there’s always hope – even after 25 years.  No team is disadvantaged.  No city is condemned.  Opportunity is given equally, but achievement is based purely on individual and team performance.  If only life, another often unfair game, was so just with its access to the dream, however that is personally defined.  Now wouldn’t that be something?  For the time being, though, it remains a goal, one that hopefully won’t take 25 years to achieve.

Wiki, Unemployed Joe and Patriot Bill

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I have an affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches.  The narrative story matters little; the “Career History” table on the right side of the page is the draw (check some out).  It is essentially a comprehensive, chronological and bulletized list of the subject’s college and professional football coaching history.  It’s fascinating stuff. 

You’re processing “…affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches” and conclude “Football Nerd”.  I can’t deny that diagnosis – my wife often calls the NFL my “other woman” – but give me some leash.  Check out this Wiki example:

USC Graduate Assistant (1994-95).  Northern Arizona Linebackers Coach (1996-98).  UNLV Linebackers Coach (1999).  San Francisco 49ers Quality Control Coordinator (2000).  Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2001-06).  Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator (2007-08).  Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2009).  USC Linebackers Coach (2010).  San Diego Chargers Linebackers Coach (2011-14).  Washington Redskins Defensive Coordinator (2015-16).

This is the long, unstable, mostly progressive/occasionally regressive, college and professional football coaching resume of former ‘Skins defensive coordinator Joe Barry.  It paints practically every NFL coach’s journey: begin as a glorified intern, work through the ranks, live out of a suitcase for years, succeed, fail, recover, catch a break and, against all odds, make a name for yourself. 

Barry, who lasted only two seasons in Washington, was fired after his defense ended a second consecutive season ranked 28th overall.  That’s not good, but Washington’s defense, a woefully talent-deficient unit, was a known weakness.  And that was before injuries made a mess of the safety position and robbed Barry of Junior Galette, the team’s best pass rusher, for the second consecutive season. 

The firing was understandable, though, if not entirely fair.  After losing two out of the last three games and blowing multiple opportunities to solidify a playoff spot, a head needed to roll.  Barry was an easy, uncontroversial target.  But his dismissal won’t cure Washington’s woes. 

The reality is New England head coach and defensive guru Bill Belichick couldn’t have coached Washington’s defensive roster into top half of the league.  Barry was the classic chef with limited, reduced-for-quick-sale ingredients.  The best he could do was make an edible dish. 

And he often did.  The defense had its moments of incompetence, but it averaged 22 points/game over the last three, and just under 18/game if you subtract the seven points Carolina scored from the one-yard line and the six scored by the Giants defense, both products of ‘Skins offensive turnovers.  Again, Washington lost two of those games.  Barry’s fault?  Hardly.

Barry, like every NFL coach (check out those Wiki resumes for proof), is the product of the marriage between his dedication and acumen and the right circumstances and surrounding talent.  Consider Belichick’s journey.  He started as a graduate assistant with the Colts and worked for four teams from 1975-1978 before being hired by the Giants in 1979, where he coached a king’s ransom of talent, including Lawrence Taylor, the best defensive player I’ve ever seen.  As a head coach, he failed in Cleveland; once his Patriots career ends, he might be the NFL’s all-time greatest coach.  What was the difference between Cleveland and New England?  Maybe Tom Brady? 

Players aren’t any different.  Dallas Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott was sensational this season.  But he’s the equivalent of uber-talented RB Todd Gurley, a player whose statistics Elliott’s dwarfed.  The difference?  Elliot ran behind the best offensive line in football; Gurley, the poor soul, plays for the moribund Rams. 

We all arrive at any point in our lives via some unimaginable journey.  We win.  We lose.  We soldier on.  Success, particularly at the highest levels of any craft or personal endeavor, is complicated.  It requires considerable effort and resolve, but it’s ultimately beyond an individual’s absolute control.  

Success is also predicated on timing, luck, mentorship and surrounding talent, among other factors.  In a society increasingly quick to criticize, judge and dismiss, it would be wise to remain mindful of this fact, particularly when considering casting dispersions, and ponder if we are a catalyst or impediment to others’ success. 


Not everybody crosses paths with a Lawrence Taylor or Tom Brady.  Just ask Joe Barry. 

Ball Games and Togetherness

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This column started as a four-article experiment on the connection between sports and everyday life.   
That was nine years ago. 

It has been an amazing experience.  Humbling.  Challenging.  Fun.  Some of the most enjoyable pieces to write over the years have been those scratched out before New Year’s.  Here we are again, loyal Times readers.  I’d be lying if I denied feeling the pressure to deliver something special.  The blinking cursor…it’s a bit intimidating, even a little sinister. 

In prior New Year’s pieces, I’ve spun through expected angles: the rapid passage of time, the preciousness of the moment and the importance of meaningful giving during a season now mostly awash in the frivolous exchange of stuff.  The very first New Year’s “View” - at the end of 2009 and on the cusp of a new decade – opened with a melancholy review of the ills that marred the first 10 years of the new millennium: the circus-like 2000 presidential election, Katrina, steroids in sports, the murder of Sean Taylor, a cratered stock market and economy, Enron and, of course, 9/11 and the years of war that followed. 

On the cusp of 2017, the underlying gloom of that piece has been rekindled.  Why?  The post-Presidential election blues?  Kinda.

For this piece, though, the winner and the loser of the election is immaterial; it’s the process that matters.  Mudslinging between candidates used to be the recurring, accepted low of political campaigns.  Not anymore.  We just witnessed the president-elect’s venom transcend his opponent and spew all over everyone not belonging to a narrowing segment of society.  It was disturbing rhetoric diametrically counter to the basic tenants of this country and Christian fundamentals.  Service-academy football even took its lumps. 

To many voters, the president elect’s messaging was politically fatal, no matter the flaws – and there were many – of the other candidate.  Others made peace with it after broadly considering all issues, the other option(s) and their personal situation. 

But here’s the thing: Six weeks after the election, with the dust settled, the political emotions calmed and the healing peacefulness of the holiday season, I suspect an overwhelming majority of Americans are feeling rotten about what went down.  Maybe not politically rotten (if your candidate won) but rotten in a human sense.  It was a bad look for America and a supposedly decent people. 

Another wild and likely popular guess: Washington isn’t going to instantly reinvent itself as a group of elected officials selflessly committed to constructive discord and producing for its customers.  If there’s any swamp-draining to be done, it’s up to us and whatever decency and togetherness we can cobble together. 

That aforementioned New Year’s 2010 piece didn’t just resonate because of its melancholy.  After ripping off a depressing list of 2000-2009 events, that version of this writer eventually countered with an overwhelming menu of feel-good moments courtesy of local sports: the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory, Maryland’s men’s (2002) and women’s (2006) basketball championship, Georgetown’s return to the Final Four (2007), the Expos moving to D.C., the Capitals drafting Alex Ovechkin, Cal Ripken getting enshrined in Cooperstown and Art Monk and Darrell Green being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just slammed the clutch to the floor ahead of another dramatic shift in tone, this time without specific examples and in concept only.  I needed sports ahead of 2010; I need sports again ahead of 2017.  More than the diversion, I need sports’ example of people at their best.  Between the lines, backgrounds, race, religion, politics and other “isms” dissolve; judgements are based on effort, attitude and talent.  Between the lines, success and failure are shared and a common cause unites every coach and name on the roster.  Deceit and indecency are not tolerated.


Sports aren’t always perfect, but if we were to vote on whether to nominate a football team or a presidential campaign as the singular example of human progress, I’m certain the former would win in a landslide.  No recount.  No hanging chads.  No Electoral College shenanigans.  There’s no vote in 2017, but there are plenty of games to watch…together.  That’s reason for optimism.  

Mike, Kenny and the Duke

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Duke Radbourne, mythical oracle of dude-knowledge and occasional character in this column, veered into my pattern last week.  It was a fitting meeting, as it turned out, because we had both spent the week trolling the MLB winter meetings at National Harbor and doing regular heat checks on baseball’s annual hot stove, figuratively anyway (like all things with Duke).

We never actually set foot on Harbor grounds or had a single conversation with a baseball executive.  In fact, the external optic indicated another conventional week tending our fabulously normal and pulse-flattening routines.  But mentally we were on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge pondering how the balance of power for the 2017 MLB season could pivot at any second. 
Specifically, Nationals General Manager and trade savant Mike Rizzo was on stage.  After the Nats lost again in the first round of the playoffs, and with a farm system stuffed with prospects, Rizzo was expected to make big splashes and exit the meetings with a World Series favorite.

Dreamers, we admittedly were, but since sports curses are dying – the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s suffering and the Chicago Cubs overcame billy goats and Steve Bartman to win the World Series – why shouldn’t D.C. and its 24-years-and-counting-without-a-professional-title be the next exorcism?  And given Bryce Harper’s pending 2018 free agency, the Nats’ time is now, as John Cena might surmise.

Rizzo immediately fed the fervor.  The Nats were rumored to be after former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and were major players in the sweepstakes for Chicago White Sox lefthander Chris Sale, a five-time All-Star.  Acquiring either would be great.  Nabbing both would set off World Series mania - and the Nats had the young talent to do it. 

But…

McCutchen remains in Pittsburgh; the Nats’ pursuit has gone cold.  Sale was dealt to Boston for a package of prospects that the Nats didn’t match.  After Rizzo went 0-2 on his primary targets (0-3 counting free agent closer Mark Melancon’s signing with the Giants), Duke and I no longer wanted to be at the winter meetings, we wanted to be seated at bar stools on either side of Nats GM, all of us at least three pints deep into the truth serum.

Rizzo eventually cut a deal, but it wreaked of a panicked executive with an itchy trigger finger.  After methodically building an elite farm system and nurturing young pitching prospects, Rizzo flipped three hurlers – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning – to the White Sox for Adam Eaton, a zero-time All-Star.  If Kenny Rogers, the bearded crooner, was asked his opinion, he’d declare that Rizzo played the hand like he was “out of aces”.  Remember The Gambler?!?!     

In college, Duke once asked me to name my dream job.  “Working in the front office of a professional sports team”, was my reply.  “What…you think you’re the next Roland Hemond (then Orioles General Manager)?”, he asked.  Being a Towson student, I dismissed Hemond and named fellow Towson alum and long-time MLB executive (and recent addition to the Hall of Fame) John Schuerholtz as my professional hero.  Regardless, I flew with eagles in my youth. 

The sports executive career never materialized, a favorable scenario for my sanity.  It’s hard to fathom Rizzo’s week at National Harbor: the options, the variables and, ultimately, the excruciating, franchise-altering decisions that the GM owns alone.  For every get there’s a painful forfeiture; the hope, counter to the holiday season, is that you receive more than you give. 


That’s a much drama as I can muster.  I imagined more when I began typing but then dozen of people were killed in Istanbul and rumors of Russian cyberattacks broke – real world invasions and reminders of baseball’s comparatively inconsequential recreational roots.  Rizzo’s decisions are tougher than picking a dinner option, but in the end, he’s the puppet master of a game, a reality I’m certain he embraces.  In fact, had Duke and I had that moment with him at the bar, the bet is Rizzo would consider himself lucky for the spoils of making of living in that manner, even after netting Adam Eaton for a ransom of talent.

Handling the Moment

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Bob Dylan came to me in a dream.  We were seated at an ornate iron table, just the two of us, under a trellis in an outdoor garden.  Despite the serene setting, I was nervous, but maintained a calm façade.  My mind was racing (Bob Freaking Dylan!!!).  Be cool, I thought.  Don’t disintegrate into fan-boy mode.  Act like you belong.  Act like this is just another afternoon with greatness.  Act like you’re not flirting with incontinence.    

My rational brain was confident that I could handle this extraordinary moment.  I’m no expert, but I know music pretty well and I’m respectably conversant in Dylan-speak.  It helped that my dream delivered a 40-something version of the legend – a peer; the brilliant, young and enigmatic Dylan at his creative zenith or the current grandfatherly Dylan, fresh off receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, would have been far more intimidating.  I had another ally: The copious amounts of adult elixirs we had consumed.  The mental lubrication arrested my anxiety and tempered the annoyance Dylan would have otherwise felt toward his strange, unworthy acquaintance. 

Dylan can be a tough conversation; he communicates best with mere mortals through music or written word.  For some reason, my unconscious mind had put me one-on-one with him – hilarious (not really).  There wasn’t even a background band to critique or fill the inevitable pauses in our conversation while I fished for engaging queries.  I’m my own worst enemy apparently. 

But I did okay.  Dylan was polite and captivating.  He was unmistakably pleased to be talking to me about his poetic music and place in history.  I know, I know…”How can the life of such a man be in the palm of some fool’s hand?”  Maybe I fooled him by how good my head felt under my “leopard skin pill-box hat”?

Had this crazy dream been reality, it wouldn’t have gone so well.  The moment would have proven too big.  I would have lost my poise and Dylan’s graciousness would have run short.  Departing Dylan’s company with a signed “Blonde on Blonde” record and dry pants – if not my dignity - would have constituted a victory.

I was reminded of my imaginary Dylan encounter on Thanksgiving Day while watching a much younger man flawlessly handling a much bigger, more significant and very real NFL moment. 
This is going to hurt.

QB Dak Prescott, a fourth round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the April NFL Draft, is (unfortunately for rival fans) re-writing the recent trajectory of the franchise.  After starter Tony Romo and backup Kellen Moore were injured in the preseason, Prescott, originally envisioned as a third-string project, was thrust into a starting role.

Panic initially swept through Cowboys camp.  A season seemed lost and a trade inevitable.  Rumors swirled about Dallas acquiring embattled San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick.  At the time, the reaction and scuttlebutt were understandable: It was unfair to expect Prescott, despite a name right out of central casting, to be the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the most glamourous and scrutinized positions in professional sports. 

The situation should have consumed the young Prescott; it most certainly has not.  In 11 starts, Prescott has averaged 258 yards passing per game, completed 68% of his passes, thrown 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions, rushed for five scores and notched 10 wins.  That’s not human for a rookie fourth round pick; it’s a Tom Brady stat line. 

No one saw this coming.  Entering the draft, Prescott wasn’t considered NFL-ready.  His NFL.com draft report was unflattering: slow reads, poor footwork and inconsistent accuracy.  Prescott’s ceiling in 2016 was said to be limited to short-yardage packages.

Yeah…he’s been a little better than that - like, in-the-MVP-conversation better.  From his first opportunity, Prescott has produced and calmed a cataclysmic situation.  His poise has been remarkable; his lack of drama or need for unnecessary attention – his professionalism - has been refreshing; his performance has been amazing.


Prescott provides an inspiring story for anyone facing an overwhelming challenge.  Unfortunately, because he plays for the Cowboys, it isn’t a work of fiction, such as a novel, a movie or a dream.  

As D.C.’s Other Stars Rise, Robert Griffin III Hits Rock Bottom

Appeared on Football.com in June 2015

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Sports fans know the story better than a pack of 12-year-old girls knows a Taylor Swift hit song. Robert Griffin III was good – like, generational and change-the-league good. Then he wrecked his knee, shot too many commercials, tweeted too many workouts, sold too many submarines, drank too much Gatorade, passive aggressively tweaked too many coaches, created one too many personal logos, influenced – directly or indirectly via his dad – too many game plans and ultimately accepted too little blame for losing football and crappy quarterback play.

In other words, Griffin’s delivered too much bullsh!t and not enough winning.  Before we knew it, this guy, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (remember him?)…


…regressed so significantly that former Washington tight end and current analyst Chris Cooley said the quarterback’s atrocious play made evaluating the offense impossible last year. Don’t believe Cooley? Monday Morning Quarterback weighed in with this damning piece. If pictures speak a thousand words, at least 800 of those describing these MMQB stills are FCC non-compliant.   http://mmqb.si.com/2014/11/18/robert-griffin-iii-rg3-washington-nfl/

But as you were once ordered to ignore the un-wizardly man behind the curtain, pay no attention to the mounds of concrete evidence indicating Griffin’s tenure in Washington is likely to end before President Obama’s. It is early summer and in this post-OTAs/pre-training camp time, blinding, reality-distorting optimism abounds. Griffin looks great. His 2016 contract option was picked up. The team didn’t draft a young quarterback to threaten his job. He feels better physically. He’s more confident. Praise is being heaped on him. His wife gave birth to their first child. Cue the Lego them song. Everything is awesome (with Griffin); everything is cool when you’re part of a team.

Parsing fact and fiction with Griffin has always been a challenge. Other than becoming a father (which undoubtedly is awesome), only time and real NFL games with live NFL defenses intent on destroying him will provide proof of progress. Until then it’s just more Griffin rhetoric. This is edition four of his summertime pep rally. 

Complicating Griffin’s latest and perhaps final attempt to regain his rookie form is the overwhelming success of his D.C. professional contemporaries. Three years ago Griffin owned the nation’s capital. His popularity now is plummeting like a second-term president’s. Alex Ovechkin has been as advertised and just wrapped up his sixth 50-goal season. John Wall was gotten better every season and is now among the NBA’s elite point guards. And then there’s the amazing ascension of Bryce Harper, the toast of Washington and hands-down the NL MVP thus far in 2015.

Compared to Ovechkin, Wall and Harper, Griffin is the football equivalent of the Bobby Jindal and Martin O’Malley presidential campaigns: inconsequential. The expectation of Griffin two years ago was that he’d miraculously return from knee surgery and lead a deep playoff run. Now it’s assumed that he will fall on his face and be pulled for either Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy by week 5…if he’s healthy that long.

Griffin has hit rock bottom. The buzz has turned negative. The pundits have picked over his carcass. Fans are now either apathetic about the once great hype/hope machine or are assuming one last great catastrophic failure. And maybe that’s exactly what Griffin needed: for everyone to stop believing so he could finally lose the audience for his self-promotion and blind faith.  


The only way Griffin recaptures the fervor of 2012 and gets mentioned in the same sentence as Ovechkin, Wall or Harper again is if he develops NFL quarterback skills: the stuff that produces tangible results, can be replicated weekly and sustained over an entire season. If Griffin pulls it off he’ll be one of the greatest reclamation stories in league history and the hype and praise he receives will be legitimately earned. It’s all about football now, as it should have been (but wasn’t) all along. 

Kids Attending NFL Games: Worth The Trip?

Appeared on Football.com in October 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

On September 2, 1984, the Miami Dolphins traveled north to the nation’s capital for an opening week showdown with the ‘Skins of Washington. It was a battle of NFL heavyweights, a must see show with an epic cast.

Miami was coached by Don Shula, had second-year QB Dan Marino behind center and the “Marks Brothers” – Mark Duper and Mark Clayton – snagging passes. It was an electric offensive attack that would see Mario throw for a then-record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 yards in a single season and the Dolphins win the 1984 AFC Championship.

The ‘Skins, led by future Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs, were reigning NFC Champions and were one season removed from a Super Bowl title. ‘Skins quarterback Joe Theismann had won the league’s MVP award the year before. The Hogs, Washington’s famous offensive line, were two seasons into a decade of dominance. John Riggins was, with all due respect to then President Ronald Reagan, the most popular person in town. And the team’s nickname was still a source of unqualified pride. It was the best of times for D.C. football fans, an era that becomes grander with every passing year under Dan Snyder’s depressing ownership.

For the record, Miami won the game 35-17 behind Marino’s five touchdown passes. Seated in the RFK Stadium crowd that brilliant Sunday afternoon so many years ago was an eleven-year-old boy attending his first NFL game. The moment brought his heroes to life. In the days of analog T.V. and cable’s infancy, the players seemed larger and the team’s colors brighter than he could have imagined. RFK Stadium felt like home, a place where he belonged. Despite the loss, it was an experience that solidified a deep connection with the team and to NFL football, relationships that still thrive today.

The awestruck kid was me.

I am now 41-years-old and have attended many NFL games since that rookie adventure three decades ago. More importantly, I am now the father of two kids, ages 11 and eight. I want them to like NFL football and adopt my affinity for our home team. I want us to have the same wonderful Sunday afternoon experiences for the next 30 years that I’ve had with my dad for the last 30 years. I know that it is my responsibility to support that endeavor with gigantic moments that leave kids saucer-eyed and giddy. I also know that part of establishing that connection, forming that bond and sharing those unforgettable family experiences is attending games with my children – and that’s what troubles me. 

My kids have never attended an NFL game and I have no intention of taking them to one anytime soon. It’s a different environment now, not one, in my opinion, for impressionable young eyes and ears. RFK Stadium wasn’t church in early 1980’s – there was plenty of indulgent tailgating and colorful language – but there wasn’t any discernable edge. You didn’t feel like the crowd was on the verge of becoming a mob at any moment. Conversely, I can’t remember the last time I went to FedEx Field, Washington’s current home, and didn’t see a physical altercation or hear vile language far beyond an isolated f-bomb released in frustration.

But words are just words. Here’s an example.

Two years ago I was in line waiting to use a portable bathroom outside of FedEx Field. It was about an hour before game time, a moment that had most parking lot dwellers lathered and jovial. I said most parking lot dwellers. As a door opened to one of the johnnies, a dude quickly filled the vacancy, leaving his girlfriend in line (what a rude dope). While waiting, she started up a casual conversation with the two guys behind her in line. When “boyfriend” emerged to find his girl chatting up another dude, the tool, assuming (incorrectly) that the other guy was hitting on his temptress, blew a gasket. With beer muscles swelled, he immediately rips in to the poor guy who he had identified as an opportunistic creep. “Boyfriend” was in this cat’s face, dressing him down, challenging his manhood and using every word not sanctioned by the FCC in all possible forms. It was…uncomfortable. And here’s an interesting tidbit. The psycho boyfriend was maybe 5’5”, 150lbs. The innocent guy he was verbally attacking with savage energy was every bit of 6’2”, 210lbs – plenty big enough to drop his overzealous assailant in seconds. I heard the guy’s friend whispering in his ear, “it’s not worth it, bro” and, to his credit, he backed down. When crazy boyfriend finally walked away, I commended the guy for his discretion. And to think, they were both ‘Skins fans! Needless to say, I’m glad neither of my kids was in tow.

I have plenty more evidence. After a ‘Skins-Ravens game, I watched a bus full of Ravens fans and a pack of ‘Skins fans in the parking lot exchange projectiles and, ah-hem, pleasantries. I witnessed a fight at a ‘Skins-Eagles game a few years ago just a section over from my seat. I’ve seen beer thrown and jerseys torn. Heated exchanges are commonplace. Bathroom heckling is routine. Those are just my data entries; every NFL fan that attends games with any regularity has their own disturbing story to share. And we all got a glimpse of how bad it can get when the horrific assault in the bathroom at Levi Stadium in San Francisco earlier this year was proliferated online.

Of course I recognize the bad apple spoils the bunch. The social deviants behind these sub-human acts are a very small percentage of an otherwise mass of humanity interested only in a good time and a brief respite from the stress of life in the real world. Regardless, I’ve arrived at this conclusion: NFL stadiums are not a place for this father to take his children…not yet anyway.

Skeptical of my instincts, I pulsed a few friends and fellow fathers of similarly aged kids to see if they too would avoid family outings to an NFL game. Their responses ranged from an emphatic “no” to a qualified “yes.” The qualifications included a series of wise strategies. Day games only. No divisional/rivalry games. Securing seats in the lower bowl. Avoiding the tailgating scene. Leaving early…particular if the game/atmosphere gets tense. Some even challenged my assumption that attending games live is a necessary childhood moment by suggesting that today’s living room experience – with HD T.V., massive screens and surround sound – is more than sufficient to sow your sprouting offspring/NFL fan.

My informal poll offered two surprises: first, that my buddies were capable of such deep thoughts and wisdom and second, that not one of them said they would take their son or daughter to an NFL game without a game plan.  

I wonder if this – avoiding NFL games - is a widely held opinion among parents. I can tell you that I would have no reservations about taking my kids to a Wizards, Capitals or Nationals game. In fact, my wife and I did the latter this summer with thousands of other parents in the D.C. area (Nats Park is regularly filled with families). Perhaps that’s because I can’t remember a single fight or vulgar exchange at any of the dozens of MLB games I’ve attended in my lifetime. Think about that comparison from your average Joe parent and sports fan: I can’t remember the last time I attended an NFL game and didn’t observe some sort of altercation and, conversely, I have no recollection of ever seeing such an event at a MLB game.


Here’s something else I can confirm: there were no parental qualifiers or reservations when I attended that ‘Skins-Dolphins game in 1984. It was just a Sunday afternoon at the park. Camaraderie was prevalent. Human decency dominated. A good time was the overwhelming goal. As for today’s NFL games, my personal data and parental spider senses label them “for mature audiences only.” Perhaps I’m just more protective than my parents were. Maybe I’m even overly protective. I’ll take that criticism, because I know I need to be. The fact is life’s different now; and so, for the time being, the television experience will have to suffice…fingers crossed that my buddy who claims that it’s good enough to catch the NFL bug is right.