Sunday, August 9, 2015

Silenced Roar

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This column is a guilt-ridden obligation. I’ve never written about outdoor sports, despite frequently hunting and fishing in Southern Maryland as a kid.  My best childhood memories include catching crabs, hooking yellow perch in the McIntosh Run and hunting squirrels and deer in the fall.  But awful circumstances have forced the subject upon me.  As a human being and former hunter, I’m upset and outraged.   

I owe my outdoor experiences to two uncles who were, and still are, avid sportsmen.  They do things the right way and ensured their apprentice would too.  I took hunter safety courses and adhered to strict gun storage and handling protocol.  My licenses were always current.  All hunting was done in season.  Bag limits were gospel.  Game was clearly identified before taking a shot.  No mammal, fish or crustacean was harvested against the rules – ever – and every kill was used.  Nature and its species were to be respected.  Taking animals from the wild wasn’t a right; it was a privilege.  That was the Native American way.  That’s how I was taught.  That’s how it should always be.

Most sportsmen share those values.  That’s why most are disgusted by the recent death of a 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe.  His name was Cecil.  He will roar no more.

In life, Cecil was a national treasure: a majestic, black-maned beast who was a resident of Hwange National Park and a collared participant in an Oxford University study.  In death, he has become a symbol of disturbing human arrogance and excess.

Walter Palmer, an American dentist, killed Cecil.  Palmer, an avid big game hunter, paid $50,000 for the “right” (money…the root of evil).  He and his local guides allegedly strapped a carcass to their vehicle, lured Cecil beyond the park’s boundaries and Palmer shot him with a crossbow.  The injured lion was tracked for the next 40 hours (ugh) until Palmer finally delivered the kill shot.  Cecil’s head was decapitated, his collar removed and his body skinned and left to rot.  

Regardless of whether this was a technically legal hunt, does it sound like sport or the behavior of a human with any regard for hunting ethics or basic morality?  To me it sounds like an act by a disturbed individual determined to seek and destroy beauty…just for fun.  And it wasn’t Palmer’s first offense.  In 2008, he pled guilty to lying to federal officials investigating a black bear kill.  An elephant hunt was next on his agenda.  Nice guy, eh? 

Palmer’s life is now unraveling.  He’s in hiding, his dental practice is shuttered and Zimbabwe has requested his extradition.  I suppose his existence resembles Cecil’s during those 40 hours when the wounded animal had an arrow – Palmer’s arrow - protruding from his body.  That’s how I like to think of it.

Palmer’s burden is excessive, yet I lack sympathy.  This problem – senseless trophy hunting and the harvesting of endangered game – needed a victim to mourn and a perpetrator to vilify.  Cecil and Palmer have assumed the roles.  The truth is there are a lot of Cecils and Palmers.  In fact, while I wrote this piece, The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force reported another lion – I’ll call him Simba - was killed. 

If I’m blessed with grandchildren, it’s a virtual certainty that their world will be devoid of wild rhinos, a species brutalized for its prized horn.  Only four white rhinos remain on earth; the lone male is surrounded 24/7 by armed guards.  Elephants face a similarly bleak outlook; the amazing creatures could be extinct in Africa by the 2020s.  The future for big cats and many fish stocks isn’t marketably better.  And what of our precious blue crab?

What are we doing?  Aren’t we better than this? 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  Perhaps Cecil’s martyrdom will invigorate conservationalists, spur political action and change the world’s Walter Palmers.  Until then, whatever greatness resides in our capabilities will remain elusive.  What else am I supposed to say?  Feign optimism is all I can muster.  RIP Cecil.  RIP Simba.  RIP et al.     

My Dear Watson

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The story is usually about the winner: the person, depending on the sport, holding the trophy, being swarmed by post-game reporters, spraying champagne, doing burnouts or reveling in a downpour of confetti. That’s who gets the accolades, the attention, the endless SportsCenter loops and maybe – if the obstacles and drama were significant – a 30 for 30 documentary. Fits of strength, new levels of human athleticism, steely nerves under pressure, a killer instinct and absolute victory: that’s what fabulous sporting moments are made of.  Runners up or those buried deep in the field are soon-to-be-forgotten props on someone else’s glory train. 

Every now and then, though, there’s a story that cuts through the darn near exclusive celebration of victory.  With all due respect to the ultimate winner at this year’s Open Championship, a coronation that was delayed until Monday due to weather and perhaps not coincidently beyond my due date for this piece, THE story – for me anyway - happened at the end of Saturday’s rain-soaked and wind-swept second round. 

As Tom Watson, 65, approached the Swilcan Bridge to cross the burn (love the terminology used across the pond) bisecting the 18th fairway at famed St. Andrews, it was far from picturesque.  Weather delays had pushed the moment to the brink of sunset and left but a few brave and beer-infused souls in the grandstand.  Nevertheless, a series of photos was in order.  The first was with playing partners Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker and the caddies for all three players.  A photo of Watson with his son/caddie followed.  Finally, Watson, a gentleman among gentlemen and the definition of grace, stood alone on the stone bridge as cameras popped. 

Watson was 11-over par at the time of the photo op and ended up 12-over, a career-worst for the five-time Open champion.  He not only missed the cut, Watson finished next to last.  So why the fuss over this forgettable performance?  This was Watson’s last Open tournament.

Of 1972 vintage, I don’t remember many sporting events prior to 1981. Jack Nicklaus, golf’s leader with 18 major championships, won 17 of them prior to ’81.  Watson, an eight-time major champ, won The Open and U.S. Open Championships in ’82 and repeated as The Open champ in ’83.  My impressionable young mind didn’t understand all the Nicklaus worship; Watson was the best golfer in the world. 

Those ’82 and ’83 titles created my “thing” for Watson.  Childhood memories will do that to you, I suppose.  Huge moments and competitors get chiseled onto your blank, impressionable canvas and that’s it…they’re forged like stone tablets.  Characters become larger than life.  Players and teams become better than they actually were.  And no one better try to convince you otherwise. 

Oh to recreate that young, unencumbered mind: there was no distracting static, no historical context, no disputable data and no cynicism.  There was only the now, and the now was fabulous.  Moments were never overanalyzed and, as a result of pure thinking, the present was better than it had ever been before and likely as good as it would ever be.

During summer break in the early 80’s, only Wimbledon and The Open Championship broke my morning routine of cartoons, Atari and professional wrestling.  Watching The Open engraved Watson’s legend in my mind.  Thirty-plus years later, his illustrious Open career is over and his farewell will quickly fade.  The storylines marinating at St. Andrews are just too good for nostalgia to hold its grip.  Will Dustin Johnson recover from a U.S. Open meltdown?  Could Sergio Garcia win his first major championship?  Or amateur Paul Dunne?  Will Jordan Spieth claim the third leg of golf’s grand slam and take the next step toward becoming the best golfer of his generation (and to a current 10-year-old what Watson was to me)?  The winner will dictate the ultimate headline for the 144th Open Championship.  But before getting there, before showering the latest man who hoists the Claret Jug with praise (forgetting all others), I had to pause to appreciate Watson’s excellence and an uncluttered child’s mind, the confluence of which made Watson the first “greatest golfer” I ever saw.  

Max: The Intoxicating Workhorse

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In January, the Washington Nationals, already stocked with superb starting pitching, signed former Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, the crown jewel of free agents, to a seven-year $210M contract that is paid out over a mortgage-like 14 years. 

My initial reaction: I hope the Nats locked in a low interest rate and avoided private mortgage insurance…and what a ludicrous waste of financial resources. With a starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, was the addition of Scherzer necessary, especially considering teams typically use only four starting pitchers during the playoffs? Dollars aside, was the impact on team chemistry considered? With several key players – shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span and the aforementioned Zimmermann and Fister – facing free agency in 2016, signing Scherzer signaled many Nats would be playing elsewhere next year. And wouldn’t Scherzer’s presence at the top of the rotation cause the would-be/wanna-be/just-hasn’t-been pitching alpha dog Strasburg to pout?

That’s what I thinking in January.  Today, I’m an idiot. 

What does a $210M pitcher look like? I don’t know, but it must resemble Max Scherzer – he’s crushing it. The ace hurler became “one of the guys” immediately (scratch that chemistry concern off the list) and has been everything – fun, fiery, reliable and consistent – that the mentally and physically fragile Strasburg isn’t (he’s back on the disabled list…shocker). 

Through last weekend, Scherzer has posted a 1.82 ERA (second to Zack Greinke), recorded 139 strikeouts (fifth in MLB), walked 14 (second to Phil Hughes among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched) and has thrown three complete games, two shutouts and a no-hitter.  “Going geek”, Scherzer’s advanced statistics layer on the superlatives: a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 0.78, a strikeout/walk rate of 9.93 and batting average against of .181…all tops in MLB. And then there’s Scherzer’s sick 1.25 Component ERA, a Sabremetrics formula that predicts a player’s ERA by analyzing surrendered walks and hits (thereby removing luck as a factor). Houston’s Dallas Keuchel is a distant second at 1.82.

But – and there’s always a but with D.C. sports – Scherzer’s usage is concerning.  In his 16 Washington starts, he’s pitched at least six innings and has gone seven or more 13 times. He has 118 innings on his golden right arm so far and is pacing to approach 240, 20 more than his career high. 

Remember, Scherzer is 30 and signed to a seven-year contract with a 14-year payment plan.  If you were going to make peace with burning him up, wouldn’t you do that in October? Why mid-season? And we all know pitchers are like sports cars: fabulous when running but often under repair.

Scherzer’s workload is odd too considering the kid gloves with which Washington has handled Strasburg. Who can forget the Nats putting Strasburg on ice just before the 2012 playoffs because he had reached a team-imposed innings limit in his first year back from Tommy John surgery?

But current manager Matt Williams wasn’t around in 2012 and he’s infatuated with Scherzer. Can you blame him? The man gets paid to win games and Scherzer’s as dependable as humidity during a Maryland summer. What do you do as a manager tasked with producing results – wins, earnings, etc? You rely on your best, those you can trust. They get “new opportunities”, code-speak for more work and responsibility. Burnout? Ahh…nonsense. I had a Scherzer in high school: a buddy who happened to be a straight-A student. I called the poor dude nearly every night for homework guidance. He never seemed to mind – like Scherzer - but it probably drove his parents nuts.

While Williams has managed other players carefully, he has identified his go-to man, his horse…and he’s riding him. Thus far, the Nats have reaped the rewards of Scherzer’s workload, but in late September, after 240-ish innings and roughly 33 regular season starts, will he have anything left for an October stretch run? And isn’t $210M justified only by October dominance and a World Series championship? Has Scherzer’s brilliance compromised his manager’s prudence? Is it possible Scherzer, like my homework lifeline, is too good?  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Birds

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Good evening.

Birds in nature: beautiful, melodic and peaceful creatures.

Birds, under interpretive genius: grotesque, swarming, vicious, psychopathic killers.

That was the bizarre premise behind Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror movie “The Birds.” But why take my word for it? Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 96% on the Tomatometer and offers this critique: “Proving once again that the build-up is the key to suspense, Alfred Hitchcock successfully turned birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history.”

Hitchcock’s birds: nothing like we knew or could have imagined. He turned a gift of nature into a star of horror. If only this avian alter ego had remained confined to the big screen. If only…

A friend of mine is a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. Me? The Nats…despite warts, wounds and October performance-anxiety. We are proud loyalists. Aside from that shared and arguably foolish trait, our sports discussions rarely find common ground – with one exception. We both hate – in an “I can’t stand their goodness” way - the St. Louis Cardinals.

Here are a few excerpts from our “The Birds” horror flick.

In 2012, the Nationals led the fifth and final game of the NLDS 6-0 after three innings. Print the NLCS hats and shirts. Ice the champagne. It’s over. Party time, D.C. It was 6-3 after the fifth inning. By the eighth it was 7-5. Gulp. After nine it was 9-7…Cardinals.

My buddy has better justification. After suffering through two decades of hideous post-Barry Bonds baseball, the Pirates snagged playoff berths in 2013 and 2014. The Bucs were a wildcard team – a position with a more arduous path to the World Series – because they finished second in the NL Central…to the Cardinals…both years. And in 2013, the Pirates lost the NLDS 4-2 to…do I even need to say it? Chirp, bleeping chirp. Tweet, bleeping tweet.

In hate there is often an element of admiration. After a few beers, my buddy and I would admit as much about the Cardinals. They are…an amazing franchise. Over the years, we watched long-time manager Tony LaRussa retire, future hall-of-famer Albert Pujols sign with the L.A. Angels and ace pitchers Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter suffer serious injuries. Yet the Cardinals keep winning. Since 2000, St. Louis has won two World Series’ and missed the playoffs but four times. They currently have the best record in baseball.

St. Louis’ fifteen-year win/loss excellence compares to that of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’. After a recent ethical breech, the Cards are now the Patriots’ baseball synonym.

The Cardinals saw the Patriots’ “Spygate” and “Deflategate” controversies and raised them one “Hackgate.” It seems Cardinals front office personnel have been breaking into the information systems and stealing player evaluation data from the Houston Astros – a team whose General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, worked for St. Louis from 2003 through 2011 - since roughly 2012. The story is evolving. The FBI is investigating. It’s a hot mess.

This is life in 2015. Baseball’s rascals used to poach an occasional sign, use too much pine tar, cork bats or scuff the baseball. So cute. Then the mischievousness went rogue during the steroid era. Now, in the information and analytics age, it’s disintegrated into blatantly stealing organizational trade secrets.

When Cardinals hack/attack: Hitchcock’s once horrifying and extreme portrayal of birds now seems…appropriate. Holy cyber warfare, Batman.

It is routine shtick for graybeards to embellish childhood tribulations and playfully criticize the current generation’s softness. We worked harder in years past, trudged through snow in newspaper-wrapped shoes to get to school and always cleaned our plates – vegetables and all. Right.

The truth is, the world and life in it gets more complicated as time passes. I was 14 when Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro tried to inconspicuously toss an emery board from his pocket, only to be busted by an umpire. It was more hilarious than offensive. If you’re 14 now you’re dealing with the best organization in baseball intentionally launching a cyber attack to steal proprietary information.

Sorry about that, kids. As it was in 1963, so it is in 2015: when birds attack, it can be quite disturbing. 

Misconceptions, Rock Stars and MVPs

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

By Ronald N. Guy

His dirty blonde hair was shoulder length, a tad greasy and unkempt. Legitimately well-worn blue jeans, not the kind intentionally distressed to show age, and a tattered knit sweater over an old tee shirt comprised his preferred uniform. A few days of stubble always graced his forlorn face. Smiles were few. In a word, his expression was “elsewhere.” His eyes, when they could be contacted directly, were angry, distant and haunting, but they always hinted at a troubled, vulnerable core.

There was nothing obviously special about the man. No presence. No promise of greatness…or mediocrity for that matter. Had you passed him on the street in 1990, you likely wouldn’t have even taken notice, unless it was to shoot a judging, “get away from me, bum” stare toward the unassuming, inconsequential vagabond. A year later, this perceived nobody was the biggest rock star in the world.    

When Kurt Cobain strummed the first few cords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he and his fellow Nirvana bandmates – Chris Novoselic and Dave Grohl – ended hair metal and ushered in the grunge era. In Cobain, rock music and pop culture had found its latest antihero, even if it wasn’t knowingly searching for one.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, was three years old when Nirvana exploded in 1991. The Wiggles and Sesame Street were his rock stars, not Cobain and company. Years later, however, when it came time for Curry to select a college, a future NBA star’s story intersected with one-time Prince of Grunge. 

Curry played his college ball in North Carolina. Not for North Carolina. Or Duke. Or N.C. State. Or Wake Forest. In North Carolina…for tiny Davidson College. Despite his NBA genetics, no major college wanted him. Curry’s undersized, frail frame were his undoing, his shredded jeans, worn out sweater and far-off gaze.  

Playing in North Carolina – for anyone – proved prophetic. The Old North State’s slogan “To be, rather than to seem” describes Curry perfectly. The baby-faced, 6’3”, 185-pound (soaking wet) guard didn’t seem like much upon visual inspection, but Curry’s performance for Davidson was extraordinary.  In the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Davidson defeated college bluebloods Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before finally losing to Kansas by a bucket in the regional final. Curry averaged 34.5 points in the four games, a stretch that solidified his NBA prospects.

Still, there were whispers entering the 2009 NBA Draft.  Curry could shoot, but was he big enough to get his shot off against NBA competition?  Could he handle the ball well enough to play point guard?  And if so, could he absorb the physical toll of an 82-game season?       

Golden State eventually selected Curry with the seventh overall pick, after NBA busts Hasheem Thabeet (second overall) and Jonny Flynn (sixth overall) and lesser NBA players like Tyreke Evans (fourth overall) and Ricky Rubio (fifth overall).  It was an appropriate spot for Curry’s name to be called, one that both acknowledged his talent and the persistent concerns with his atypical NBA size. 

If you’ve been watching any basketball lately, you know how this ends. In six NBA seasons, Curry has transformed himself into a superior point guard and one of the best shooters in league history. This year Curry won the MVP award and Golden State, after logging the NBA’s best record, is playing for its first championship since it swept our Washington Bullets in 1975 NBA Finals.  Curry’s doubters have been silenced.

Society is quite accomplished at burdening individuals with misconceptions - encountering them on life’s trail is practically inevitable. Rare is the person who hasn’t at some point been considered too short, too tall, too slow, too frail, too large, insufficiently educated, just not right for the part, incapable of performing a task or saddled with some other unfair or patently false limitation. Of course not everyone is destined to redefine “rock star” or go from unheralded college recruit to NBA MVP, but when doing battle with our personal naysayers, and attempting the tall task of overwhelming perceptions with an alternate reality, it is comforting to draw inspiration from those who did. 

Cornerstones, Breaks And Chemistry

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

My wife wears me out for my alleged man crushes. She latches on to many suspects - Hunter S. Thompson, Keith Richards, Art Monk, Martin Luther King Jr., Batman, Abe Lincoln, Sam Calagione (Mr. Dogfish Head Brewery) and The Dude from The Big Lebowski – and produces an avalanche of comic relief…at my expense. Admittedly, it’s quite a list, an (apparently) irresistible cornucopia of material for her needler gene. 

Of course she often (and intentionally for the sake of laughter) mischaracterizes affinity for awkward infatuation. But I am guilty. I have man crushes, like my little thing for Gary Williams, former Maryland men’s basketball head coach and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Williams’s rebuild of the Maryland basketball program after Len Bias’s death and the NCAA sanctions in the late 1980s is legendary. Williams inherited a program in 1989 that was in the midst of a near death experience. Thirteen years later, Williams’s Terps won the 2002 National Championship. His signature now appropriately adorns the court at Xfinity Center on the Maryland campus. 

Man crush? Oh yeah, I love me some Gary Williams. But it was another Williams – Walt Williams – that Gary often credits with much of his success. Walt arrived at Maryland a year before Gary and by all accounts should have transferred. He was too talented to languish on a bad team and with a program banned from postseason play. But Walt stayed and became the cornerstone player for Gary’s great reclamation.

Current Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon found himself desperately seeking a program cornerstone last year. In three seasons at Maryland, Turgeon hadn’t produced a NCAA tournament team and several talented players had transferred. The program was flailing – again – and Turgeon was on the hot seat.

Then Melo Trimble arrived and changed everything. Trimble, a McDonald’s All-American point guard from Upper Marlboro, was sensational last season. He distributed the ball. He scored. He calmed. He inspired. After ripping off 28 wins, Melo and the Turtles gave a school and its coach their swag back. 

Turgeon was fortunate to get Trimble. Gary was lucky to keep Walt. Such is life. Getting a break is one thing; doing something extraordinary with it is special. Gary did (hence my crush). Turgeon might too.

Since Maryland’s season ended with a third-round NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia, no school has improved more than the Terps. Turgeon, already with highly touted Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter inbound for 2015-16, used Trimble’s decision to return for his sophomore season to score Diamond Stone, a five-star recruit, and Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon. The additions have Maryland, a program that just made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, tucked well within the preseason top five.

What a difference a year makes. Turgeon was Robert Zimmerman last summer; he’s Bob Dylan (yes, another man crush) now. Turgeon’s no longer fighting for his job, but the recruiting success has created new concerns. The Terps will sneak up on no one next year and will face expectations Maryland hasn’t seen since Juan Dixon was playing at Cole Field House. But those are uncontrollable, external forces. Turgeon’s biggest challenge is internal: molding this massive collection of randomly assembled talent into a cohesive unit.

Maryland's pending chemistry experience will likely include three new starters (Stone, Sulaimon and Carter), a handful of players with designs on the 2016 NBA Draft and talented incumbents vying for playing time. Turgeon will have to compel this fabulous collection of 18 to 21-year-olds, many stars in their own right, to sacrifice and accept roles for the betterment of the whole. It’s a better problem to have – any manager in any facet of life would choose excessive talent over a talent deficiency - but Turgeon will be tested, as a master of basketball X’s and O’s and human behavior. I wish him luck. I can’t get my kids to collaborate on modest household chores.

With Maryland’s recent success and bright future, am I crushing on Turgeon? Not yet…but if the Turtles cut down the nets next April, suffice to say my wife will have some new material.

Risky Business

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

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In 2008/09, a flushing toilet would have been the perfect sound to describe the U.S. economy.  “Bailouts” and “toxic assets” were common terms.  The unemployment rate was spiking toward 10%.  The financial sector, after years of reckless lending, was about to collapse.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average, hovering around 7,000, had lost nearly half its value in less than two years.  The Great Recession, a dark, menacing entity, had arrived baring fangs and wielding a razor-sharp scythe.  The Grim Reaper likely feared for his financial future.  Can you imagine planning for a retirement that lasts an eternity?

As my buddies and I watched our 401(k)’s get halved and our children’s 529 plans dwindle, we debated our “now what?” strategies.  Everything we had learned in business school indicated that opportunities existed.  As an Economics professor once told me, when a market correction occurs, “stocks go on sale.”  Right.  So weren’t equities discounted when the Dow was at 11,000?  And 10,000?  And 8,000?  Where was the bottom, Doc?  Wall Street was a dumpster fire.

Ultimately we lacked the courage necessary for an aggressive stock purchase, instead opting for modest individual investments.  It worked, but with the Dow now near a record high, history has proven that stocks weren’t just on sale in 2009, they were trading at clearance prices.  In hindsight, it was largely a missed opportunity.  Although given the little mouths to feed and futures to secure, we’re all happy to be employed and to have benefited from the economic recovery.   

Credit this revisited experience with The Great Recession to the Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones.  Despite our area’s widespread disdain for that godforsaken blue star, this much can be said for “Jerry’s ‘Boys”: they are consistently entertaining.  During Jones’s 26-year tenure, Dallas hasn’t always been good, but they don’t do boring.  High profile coaches, extravagant free agents and big trades have been the norm.  Jones even built a massive new stadium, pole dancers and all, to house the circus. 

But Jones may have lost his outlaw spirit. 

Since gambling on troubled WR Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Dallas’s personnel moves have been, by Cowboys’ standards, benign.  Jones has had only one head coach – Jason Garrett – since 2010 and he resisted the temptation to draft Johnny Manziel last year.  Rational.  Measured.  Patient.  Conservative.  Jerry? 

Apparently Jones’s gambling spirit was tempered only by Dallas’s recent run of mediocrity.  Invigorated by last year’s NFC East championship, Jones is back at the table doubling-down.  During free agency, he signed talented DE Greg Hardy who is currently serving a suspension for domestic violence.  In the second round of the NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected DE/LB Randy Gregory, a top-10 talent with a well-documented affinity for marijuana.  Last week, Jones added to his all-in offseason by inking offensive lineman La’El Collins, a first round talent who went undrafted after being named a “person of interest” regarding the murder of his former girlfriend.      

Since Roger Goodell was named NFL Commissioner in 2008, he has made “protecting the shield” and policing the conduct of players, coaches and executives a priority.  “Bountygate” cost Saints head coach Sean Payton a one-year suspension.  Colts owner Jim Irsay was bounced for six games after a DUI conviction.  The ‘Skins received a $36M cap penalty for creative accounting.  Players are routinely suspended for conduct detrimental to the league, as Tom “Deflategate” Brady will soon discover.   

Goodell’s actions have left most organizations less nervy about taking risks.  Jones smartly and cautiously capitalized on the pervasive forbearance.  Hardy’s on a one-year “prove it” contract.  With Gregory, Jones will leverage the structure and support that turned Bryant into an All-Pro.  And Collins, questioned by authorities after the Draft, is not considered a suspect.

Time will tell if Jones’s moves come up aces.  If nothing else he took a calculated risk in an environment excessively risk-averse - not a bad plan in sports, business or life.  Jones probably bought a ton of stocks in 2009 too, another reason to hate…and respect…the guy.  Of course with stocks, he had more margin for error than the average Joe…or Ronnie.