Thursday, November 27, 2014

Moral Victories, Beer & Complacency

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Warning: melodrama lies ahead. Your favorite bleacher-dweller is feeling sorry for himself.  Empathy is expected, and darn near assumed, from understanding readers and fellow local sports fans.

As I rehash last week’s offerings from the sports gods on a fall-chilled evening in Southern Maryland, I’m left to conclude that this is a divine test of our devotion.  Salvation must lie ahead.  Let’s break this mess down by beltway, starting with the 495ers.

The Nationals, after running up the best record in the National League, promptly dropped three of four games and the series to the San Francisco Giants. There goes the season, D.C. baseball fans. At least the neighborhood's still intact.  In some sick attempt to deliver a tonic, actually featured a recently uncovered video of the 1924 World Series. Guess who won that one? That’s right – the Nats!  Am I supposed to feel better? So much for 2014…but at least we have the memories (or grainy silent video) of ’24!

The pain would roll on. The ‘Skins lost to Seattle on Monday Night Football, the Capitals dropped their opener to Montreal and Wizards guard Bradley Beal broke his wrist in a preseason game. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks. Oh…and four Wizards players were suspended for the first regular season game after a pre-season skirmish with the Bulls. Somewhere LeBron is snickering.

Ready for the 695ers? Fresh off a dominating American League Division Series win, the Orioles promptly lost the first two games of the League Championship Series (LCS) to the Royals - at home.  But there’s still hope, hon - or is there?  As I was hammering out this piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney sent out the following tweet: “ELIAS: No team has ever won a best-of-seven LCS after dropping the first two games at home.” Alrighty then. Thanks, Buster.  Apparently solace can only found at the bottom of several Natty Bohs.

Speaking of Bohs, my wife tempered my anguish by reminding me that October is beer month. Yes it is…yes it is indeed.  So there’s that my fellow D.C and Baltimore sports fans, and “that” – beer – is a significant elixir.  Perhaps Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff was on to something when he titled his book, “It’s Not Who Won Or Lost The Game – It’s How You Sold The Beer.”

But wait, before getting well with your favorite combination of water, malt, hops and yeast, there’s more gloom.  After that aforementioned Monday night loss to Seattle, the Sons of Washington were apparently clowning around in the locker room, almost as if they had won the game.  The ‘Skins apparently were thrilled with the moral victory – losing by only 10 - achieved against the Super Bowl champions.  The behavior inspired a scathing piece by Jason Reid of The Washington Post and considerable debate nationwide regarding appropriate behavior for losing teams. 

Like many, I initially fumed at the thought of a jovial professional locker room after a loss.  But time has offered a different perspective, if not an explanation or justification.  I think that most people, regardless of profession, have an inclination toward complacency.  Fatigue, routine and resignation can be its fuel.  We expect athletes to be as emotionally invested as we are as fans, but the grind and mounting losses can sometimes get the best of even the most competitive.  In September, every player is fired up.  By mid-October, and with a season slipping away, a casual shrug replaces anger after losses and a passionate game is reduced to a routine occupation.

Here’s something else I think: consistently successful teams and organizations possess an elite, almost super-human energy source.  Some people – and I’ve been fortunate to rub shoulders with a few – aren’t infected with the complacency gene.  Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are of this stock.  Seattle’s Russell Wilson is too.  They are competitors without an off switch.  Early arrivals and late exits are the daily norm.  They are the conscience and the standard.  They raise the performance ceiling of colleagues and are an antidote for complacency.  Organizations that lack such people accept mediocrity; teams that lack such leadership celebrate moral victories. 

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