Friday, November 13, 2015

The Dallas Cowboys: America’s Former Team

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The brand of the Dallas Cowboys, among the greatest in sports, was forged during the 1970’s. Dallas won less than 10 games only once, missed the playoffs but a single time, played in five Super Bowls and won two championships during the decade of polyester, disco and Watergate.

But the story wasn’t just the winning. The Cowboys carried themselves with professional elegance. Tom Landry, Dallas’s stoic, classy and fedora-adorned head coach, roamed the sideline with palatable regality. In Roger Staubach, a squeaky-clean Naval Academy graduate and Heisman Trophy winner, Dallas essentially had Captain America playing quarterback. They had the sleekest uniforms, most famous cheerleaders and the coolest nicknames – “Doomsday Defense” and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The iconic single blue star on side of their helmets came to symbolize the team’s fame as much as the state of Texas. The franchise even transcended sports: The television show Dallas included a flyover of Texas Stadium.

By the late 70’s, all of it – the threads, the logo, the characters, the panache and the winning – earned Dallas the moniker “America’s Team”, an outrageously grandiose handle that was impossible to dispute, even by Dallas’s staunchest detractors.

Everything had changed by the late 1980’s. After several losing campaigns, the Cowboys were sold to Jerry Jones, Landry was fired and a new business model was implemented, one that has proven to be less dignified. For the last 26 years, Dallas has been an extension of Jones’s prodigious, Trump-like ego. It worked early on, to the tune of three Super Bowl championships, but the last two decades have mostly fallen victim to Jones’s failure to arrest his confidence in himself as supreme football pooh-bah and his lust for victory, a primal urge that has birthed many dubious decisions.

The “Jones Way” led to the hiring of Jimmy Johnson and the acquisition of players like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Darren Woodson. That’s good Jerry. Bad Jerry, the one of more recent vintage, jettisoned Johnson after a fatal ego-struggle, foolishly traded for wide receivers Joey Galloway and Roy Williams, recklessly acquired malcontent Ryan Leaf and willfully gambled on Terrell Owens and Dez Bryant, two emotional volcanoes.

Win at all cost. Talent trumps character. Social responsibility is a minority aspect of decision making. That’s Jerry’s style. In the ultra-competitive, testosterone fueled world of professional football, it’s a widely accepted approach. However, in signing DE Greg Hardy, Jones crossed an admittedly gray line.

In July 2014, Hardy was convicted of assaulting Nicole Holder, a former girlfriend. Court testimony revealed the incident’s brutality. Hardy tossed Holder on a bed full of guns, threw her into a bathtub, dragged her around by her hair, slammed a toilet seat on her arm and threatened to kill her. The post-assault photos of Holder are extremely disturbing and consistent with an unconscionable beating. Hardy’s sentence was overturned on appeal after Holder failed to show in court. There is strong indication a civil settlement was reached.

Hardy spent all but one game last season on the commissioner’s non-exempt (suspended) list. After the court findings, Hardy was initially suspended for 10 games this year; the suspension was reduced to four games on appeal.

Dallas, with its typical disregard for anything but talent, inked Hardy to a one-year deal in March. His brief, but predictably eventful Cowboys career, has included a sideline shouting match with Bryant, insensitive comments about Tom Brady’s wife and no evidence of remorse for assaulting Holder. Jones has defended his employment of Hardy, stumping it as a deserved second chance. He even spun Hardy’s passion as evidence of his “leadership.”

To expect anything different from the myopic, self-serving Jones would be foolish. But what about the rest of us, those who pad his capitalistic pockets? What say you, sponsors of the Cowboys? And you, Cowboys fans? Are you comfortable supporting the star and, indirectly, Hardy? It’s a personal choice, I suppose. But let’s be clear: Dallas is no longer America’s Team.  Not this Greg Hardy-version. Domestic violence is too important and the NFL carries too much social weight for this Dallas team to represent America in any way.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Stable Majority v. Trolls

As published in The Calvert County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

When the undefeated Michigan Wolverines hosted the undefeated Michigan State Spartans a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t have an obvious dog in the fight. I’ve never even visited Michigan. Maybe I flew west via Detroit but I can’t say for sure. I’ve bought a lot of albums from Detroit natives Kid Rock and Eminem, though. I shamelessly sing Bob Seger songs in the car. The beers from Bells Brewery in Comstock, Michigan are delightful. Does that qualify me to choose sides in the state’s biggest rivalry? The Wolverine state’s collective response to my overture: “Meh”.   

Fair enough. True to my inescapable mid-Atlantic form, I watched the game with passing interest. Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, was fascinating, as always. Michigan State’s quarterback looked good. Maybe he could help a certain pro football team in D.C.? Other than that, the hope was simply for good competition.

It delivered. Michigan led 10-7 at halftime, 20-14 at the end of the third quarter and 23-21 with 10 seconds left. Then it happened: The cruelty of high-level, competitive athletics bit the Wolverines. Michigan’s punter mishandled a low snap and compounded the error by fumbling the ball. Michigan State scooped it up and scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.

In East Lansing, the reaction was joyous chaos. In Ann Arbor, and among Michigan nation at large, a celebration was replaced with complete devastation in ten seconds flat. Some handled the disappointment better than others.

The punter’s name is Blake O’Neill. He’s a 22-year-old graduate transfer from Weber State. He hails originally from Melbourne, Australia and has played a lot more Australian rules football than American Football. But none of that matters. O’Neill is now synonymous with the fumbled punt, the gut-wrenching loss and dashed national title hopes. He’s in the goat fraternity with Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood, poor souls whose gaffs lead their Wiki pages. 

Despite O’Neill’s botching of a basic football play at the worst of all moments, the majority of disappointed Wolverine faithful kept perspective. Was it a gut punch? Did it hurt? Might it be a bother for years? Will the sight of anything green or reruns of the movie 300 cause irritation? Indeed. But what was lost? Ultimately “just” a football game. The sun will rise. Taxes will come due. Donald Trump will insult…everyone. O’Neill will punt again. Michigan football will survive. Life will go on.  

The rational thought was far from universal, though. O’Neill received hate mail, including death threats and even suicidal suggestions such as jumping off of a cliff and guzzling bleach.
That’s the world now. Everyone has a microphone and when someone loses a game – a game – degenerates rush to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to wish death on their sudden enemies. Humanity is lost. Primal tendencies feast. There’s an alarming disrespect for the human being on the other end and how the denigration will impact the target’s life. Oh no, such moments inspire social media trolls, equipped with direct lines to the perpetrator, to exact revenge against those who wronged them: wedgie-administering high school jocks, employers who laid them off, girls who broke their hearts, the mom who didn’t hug them enough, the fraternity that rejected their pledge, the dad for passing down his balding gene and their god for not giving them elite athletic prowess. Because in O’Neill’s situation, the trolls (in their twisted minds) would have done better. They would have executed the punt. Sure. Truth is, their continence is challenged imagining such things; nerves compromise their performance while playing video games at noon on a random Tuesday.   

The good news is O’Neill is doing fine. The stable majority of the Michigan community and the school’s Athletic Director have come to his defense. Crisis averted…this time. But there’s a Blake O’Neill in every in every town and a lot of them are much younger, much more emotionally vulnerable and lack the support afforded a player at a major college program. Collectively, our stable majority needs to protect those kids. They are inevitably in our schools. They might be playing in our cul-de-sacs. They could even be our own.  

Something Like Cheating

As published in the St. Mary's/Calvert County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A fan has his or her teams; teams have their followers.  They are like spouses, a team and its flock, but the marriage is inequitable.  The fan’s adoration runs deep.  Game day worship resembles religion.  Losses ruin weeks.  Epic losses scar for life.  Wins improve moods.  Championships prompt irrational procurements of team gear, the conversion of basements into fan caves and the acquisition of regrettable tattoos.    

Teams return no such adulation.  They try to be good hosts by providing pleasant game day experiences.  Fan appreciation days and autograph opportunities are routine.  Savvy players always pay homage to fans around an open microphone.  But that’s about where the relationship ends. 
To the obligated team, fans are mostly a faceless entity; conversely, the fan is the ultimate, love-of-my-life, for-better-or-for-worst, for-rich-or-for-poorer loyalist. 

I’m a fan.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably one too.  We love our teams…and only our teams.  We wouldn’t think of wearing another’s colors.  Every now and then though, a player in another town or a vibe from another team catches our fancy.  We don’t overtly root for our team-crush, especially if they are playing our team-spouse, so it’s not cheating, per se.  But there’s something there; an attraction exists. 

I’m having a fling with the Cincinnati Bengals this year, okay?  There it is.  I’m not wearing orange on Sundays, I don’t sleep with a tiger stuffed animal and I haven’t gotten any Bengal-striped car seat covers.  I am, however, quietly rooting for Cincinnati. 

The Bengals, as they are currently constituted, shouldn’t exist.  Head coach Marvin Lewis was hired in January of 2003.  He is the second longest tenured head coach in the NFL, behind some guy name Bill Belichick.  Unlike Belichick, Lewis hasn’t won any championships.  In fact, Lewis has yet to win a single playoff game.  His 0-6 playoff record is worst in NFL history.  How is he still employed? 
And then there’s Andy Dalton, the habitually embattled Cincinnati quarterback.  Dalton is in his fifth NFL season and, having started every game since his rookie year, is a grizzled veteran.  He has had his moments in the regular season, but is plagued by inconsistency.  In the playoffs, when a quarterback is supposed to show his mettle, Dalton has thrown up all over himself.  His post-season record is 0-4, and in those four games Dalton has thrown six interceptions and but one lonely touchdown pass.  How is he still Cincinnati’s quarterback?  

I ask those questions about Lewis and Dalton because a head coach and quarterback with their shaky resumes typically don’t last.  They don’t get 13 years on the sidelines or five years behind center - not in professional sports today where everything is accelerated, warts are over-exposed and impatience is pervasive.  Coaches and quarterbacks get a few years, tops, to produce – except in Cincinnati.
That is the endearing element of these Bengals: that Lewis and Dalton, two dead-men-thriving (Cincinnati is 5-0 this season), remain at their posts.  The cutthroat nature of professional sports and the intolerance for losing is understandable.  The NFL is not a training ground; it is home to the sport’s most accomplished players.  Fine.  But even at this highest level of football competition, isn’t there room for failure and the application of lessons learned?  Isn’t there room for growth?  Or is everyone expected to be a plug-in-play All-Pro?  Isn’t success nothing if not a process?  A process that can takes years?  Say, maybe 13 calendars for a coach and a handful for a quarterback? 

Somewhere in there I stopped talking about the NFL and started considering life in general (such things happen in this column).  Cincinnati is an oasis of an endangered concept of success, one that vindicates the hastily labeled (after a bad moment or week, game or season) and indicts the impulsively judgmental.  So yeah, I want Cincinnati to win.  I want Lewis and Dalton to roar through the playoffs, slaying their postseason demons.  I wouldn’t mind if they hoisted an improbable Lombardi Trophy, provided my ‘Skins are eliminated.  Of course that shouldn’t be an issue, my “spouse” is terribly flawed…so be still my loyal heart.

Own It

As published in The St. Mary's/Calvert Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

He was, initially, just the long-locked first baseman on the Philadelphia Phillies team that lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series. Quite a fuss was made of this active icon but his mediocre play didn’t seem to match the verbal accolades. I suppose when you’re a kid, it’s all about the moment. There’s no concept of careers or the passage the time. And in 1983, there was no Google machine to confirm or deny the legend. So…history, schmistory.

I didn’t set eyes on Pete Rose until that ’83 Series. I was 10. He was 42. In the years to come I’d learn about his “Charlie Hustle” moniker (a hard-nosed style reminiscent of the old Rocking Chair softball league), his bulldozing of Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game and The Big Red Machine. I witnessed his astonishing MLB record 4,192nd hit in 1985 and came to understand - even appreciate - the obvious chip on his shoulder and the wealth of Donald Trump-like arrogance that made it all possible.

In 1989, Rose was infamously banned from baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on the game. Despite his fervent denial and appeals to two subsequent Commissioners (Fay Vincent and Bud Selig), the ban remains. I believed Rose for a long time. I read his book My Story and shook the man’s hand after he autographed it in the early 1990s. The 10-year-old child in us doesn’t die easily.
He was, as is now known, a spectacular liar, one fueled by the same pride that made him MLB’s “Hit King”. In 2004, Rose admitted to betting on the Reds to win while he was manager; earlier this year, evidence indicated that he bet on baseball as an active player. Yet Rose, robbed of his baseball identity and no doubt driven by the need for Hall of Fame immortality, continues his quest for reinstatement. Rose met with new Commissioner Rob Manfred last week; a decision is anticipated by year’s end.

Let him in. Why not? Yeah, he’s unethical. A liar. A violator of baseball’s golden rule. But isn’t a 25-year penance enough? And frankly, MLB applying a Puritan code on Rose wreaks of hypocrisy. Its “sacred” Hall of Fame is already filled with miscreants. Cap Anson helped establish the color barrier by refusing to play with African Americans. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis perpetuated baseball’s segregation for decades (Jackie Robinson finally integrated the sport three years after Landis’s death). Orlando Cepeda was incarcerated for drug smuggling. Gaylord Perry made a career out of doctoring the baseball. Babe Ruth was a drunk and a womanizer. And Willie McCovey pleaded guilty to tax evasion. All are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Where was baseball’s high moral standard, its reverence for the sanctity of the game, during the steroid era? Comparing crimes is difficult, but isn’t gambling – Rose’s sin – abhorred because it compromises competition? Doesn’t the presence of hulked up players capable of artificially-enhanced performance do the same thing? Why not let them all in? Excluded, Rose and the juicers are pariahs. With Hall of Fame passes, their baseball accomplishments and sins can be properly documented. Tattoo their baseball immortality with well-earned scarlet letters: “S” for steroid users, “G” for Rose the gambler. 

How will Manfred rule at Rose’s parole hearing? The bet (pardon the pun) is he remains banned. Regardless, Rose’s predicament is his own doing, the byproduct of pervasive, ego-fueled deceit. For decades Rose clung to his act, admitting the truth only after hard evidence exposed his charade. The purposeful concealment compounded the transgression and didn’t allow America to indulge its compulsive need to forgive (particularly the sins of its favorite sons). Had Rose just owned his error in 1989 and overturned every uncomfortable stone in his checkered past, he’d be back in the public’s good graces and would likely be a member of the Hall of Fame.

Despite all his on-field accomplishments, that – the brutal consequences from his lack of personal ownership and genuine remorse - is what the “Hit King” has taught that 10-year-old boy in the 32 years since their introduction. A melancholy “thanks” to you, Mr. Rose.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Failure To Learn Or Failure To Teach?

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The end is near. Let the eulogies begin.

It is shocking, this present state. He was so good, so fast that such a precipitous fall would have seemed impossible just three years ago. Three years ago. A lifetime ago.

On September 9, 2012, Robert Griffin III rolled into the visitor-unfriendly New Orleans Superdome and led Washington to a 40-28 victory over the Saints. He threw for 320 yards, rushed for 42, tossed two touchdown passes and definitively outplayed New Orleans QB Drew Brees, a future Hall of Famer.

A few bumps would follow: a concussion, a 3-6 record after nine games and a late-season knee injury against the Ravens. But Griffin was at the helm for six of seven consecutive wins to conclude the season, a stretch that delivered Washington’s first division title since 1999 and only its second home playoff game since 1992.

A hero was born.

By the end of the 2012 regular season, Griffin’s star transcended football. Bright, fun, confident, brave, charismatic, interactive with fans, African American and from a military family, nearly everyone could find something in Griffin they could relate to and/or respect. He was still a quarterback, but not just a quarterback. He was an entity. A fountain of hope. A source of pride. A reason to believe, not just in a football team, but that achievement – any achievement – resided at the confluence of opportunity, a positive attitude and strong work ethic.

Griffin, circa 2012, could do no wrong. Griffin, circa 2015, can do no right – on or off the field. Demoted and mired in controversy (much of his creation), his tenure in the town that once chanted his name seems near its conclusion and his future in the NFL, a league temporarily captivated by his talent, is murky at best.

I don’t have the space and it’s doubtful you have the desire to rehash the various reasons for Griffin’s fall. Like everything with the quarterback, it’s unnecessarily complicated. The factors include a serious and wholly avoidable knee injury (shame on you Mike Shanahan), distrust between organization and player, Griffin’s passive-aggressive manipulation, controversial tweets, personal logos and endless self-promotion. But mostly, Griffin’s failure can be condensed into this simply fact: post knee injury, he’s been terrible on the field.

The question is why? Why can’t he read defenses efficiently? Why is his footwork terrible? Why is his pocket presence so obviously deficient? Why, despite his physical gifts and after three full seasons in the NFL, does he still look so rudimentary behind center?

Did Griffin fail to learn or did his organization and coaches fail to nurture his growth and teach the position adequately?

These questions aren’t unique to Griffin and Washington. The NFL habitually chews up and spits out blue chip quarterbacks. Is it a player or team issue? In Cool Hand Luke, Captain’s famous “Failure to Communicate” speech includes this line: “Some men you just can’t reach.” In the risky business of quarterback prospecting, there will always be kids who are destined to fail, regardless of circumstance. But the burnout rate is still alarming. Literally half the quarterbacks drafted in the first round flame out. It’s damning proof that the formula for developing talent at the game’s most important position confounds the league and football’s brightest minds. 

As for Griffin and Washington, specifically, was the quarterback just another college spread-offense dynamo that failed to translate or the latest victim of a dysfunctional franchise? Who knows? Perhaps the pending documentary will provide answers. There’s certainly shared blamed between player and organization. And maybe that’s the usefulness of The Griffin Chronicles: a failed mentor-mentee relationship. Trust and respect were lost. Impatience and stubbornness were pervasive. One party failed to adapt its teaching techniques to a unique talent; the other failed to submit himself to a new situation’s demands. The result - a lost career and a franchise in an inescapable death spiral – indicts all involved. 

So…if you’re in a position to influence lives or a person in need of guidance, heed the mutual failings in Griffin’s cautionary tale. I suppose that puts us all on notice.

Skins vs. Ravens

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

My first memories of watching the Baltimore Colts date back to the early 1980’s – dark times in franchise history. Lenny Moore, Art Donovan and Johnny Unitas were long gone.  Losses were frequent – Baltimore hadn’t had a winning season since 1977 - and games at old Memorial Stadium were lightly attended. 

If memory serves, WMAR (channel 2) beamed the Colts into Maryland homes.  Truth is, I didn’t watch much.  The Colts were an NFL afterthought and the ‘Skins were elite. How different were the franchises?  In ’82, the Colts didn’t win a game…and Washington won its first Super Bowl.  A year later Washington repeated as NFC Champions and the Colts infamously left for Indianapolis under the cover of darkness.  Curse those Mayflower trucks…

In the 30 or so years since, the professional football teams in Baltimore and the nation’s capital have swapped roles.  Since 1999, three years after Baltimore poached Cleveland’s Browns, the Ravens have won two Super Bowls, made 10 playoff appearance and had just three losing seasons.  In that same time frame, Washington has had just four winning season and four playoff berths. Baltimore is now the model franchise; Washington is a perennial circus, a breeding ground for drama and dysfunction.

A strong indicator of team success is spotting gear - jerseys, flags, bumper stickers, hats, etc. – in public. In the early 80s, Colts paraphernalia was scarce; Southern Maryland was awash in burgundy and gold.  Now?  Ravens purple dominates.  Is this the result of reborn Colts fans or one-time, sick-of-losing ‘Skins fans adopting Maryland’s team? 

It would be easy to criticize those in the latter category for disloyalty, but I understand the Ravens’ appeal.  The 2000-2015 Ravens and the 1981-1993 ‘Skins are philosophically similar: value substance over style; flashy free agents have their place, but homegrown talent must be the franchise’s foundation; develop a blue-collar identity that announces itself to opponents before the opening kickoff; acknowledge the inevitability of roster turnover (the sport’s brutal) and ensure cultural and front office stability; and, most importantly, make Monday morning after playing the Ravens/Skins hurt a little more than usual. 

The results?  Washington won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.  It had one coach during its fabled ’81-’93 run (Joe Gibbs), expertly navigated the loss of great players (John Riggins, Joe Theismann, Dexter Manley, etc.) and was best known for smash-mouth football and its offensive line.  And the Ravens? They’ve won two Super Bowls with different quarterbacks, employed just two head coaches in 16 seasons (Brian Billick and John Harbaugh), absorbed the departures of Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and maintained a reputation for elite defensive football.

How did that happen in both Washington and Baltimore?  Why did Baltimore fail in the early ‘80s?  Why does Washington continue to fail now?

Leadership (or lack thereof). 

In owner Steve Bisciotti (majority owner since 2004), GM Ozzie Newsome (in place since 2002) and Harbaugh, the Ravens have a leadership trio that is aligned philosophically and empowered to execute their roles independently.  Washington had a similar structure with Gibbs, long-time GM Bobby Beathard and former owner Jack Kent Cooke.  Now Dan Snyder, a guy who has had eight head coaches since 1999, resides at the top of Washington’s org chart.  Baltimore fans can no doubt sympathize.  Charm City still associates the name Robert Irsay – Colts owner in the early 80’s and the villain behind the move to Indianapolis – with pure evil.

I suppose what this snippet of NFL history emphasizes is that just a few people, with the right approach and conviction, can flip the fortunes of many.  Opportunities to be one of these influential few are often obvious – parenthood, career, friends, community.  But formality is unnecessary.  Can’t we all greet someone with an earnest smile?  Sense a person’s struggles and tell them that we believe in them?  That we’ll be there for them?  That they matter?  That we care? 

Few people are qualified to alter the course of an NFL franchise, but none of us should lose sight of our potential influence on others.  Simply helping someone through their day is worth cheering, no matter what NFL colors you fly.   

Check Your Messages

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The names herein have been changed to protect the innocent; however, the story is completely true.

Duke Radbourn, a Southern Maryland native, hadn’t seen it in years, but with the anniversary approaching, a reunion was in order.  Of course it would take some doing.  It was buried in a storage room filled with Christmas ornaments, random crap and miscellaneous sports memorabilia acquired during a well-spent youth.

Tucked in a corner of the room he found a promising lead: a box of vintage baseball cards.  Rifling through rows of cardboard classics, he found it: a perfectly preserved ticket from the Orioles game on September 5, 1995…better known as Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,130th consecutive game played, a milestone that tied the immortal Lou Gehrig’s record.  

Duke owed his possession of the ticket and its associated memories to a person he had picked on endlessly growing up: his little sister.  Here’s how the acquisition went down…    
September 5, 1995: Duke arrive home after a long day at the office and checked his answering machine.  As he milled around the apartment within earshot, a frantic message from his sister played.  She and her college roommate were going to the O’s game. They had an extra ticket…for him.  She left specific instructions: meet at the Eutaw Street entrance just before game time and she would hand him the unused ticket through the fence.  After that, radio silence.

Dear God.  She has what?   

Duke’s mind was on tilt.  This was his shot to witness live baseball history and he literally had no time to spare.    

Duke ran out to his truck and drove down I-83 from his Cockeysville apartment to the Inner Harbor like a bat out of hell.  The scene near the ballpark was chaos. He dumped his wheels in the first available lot figuring if it got impounded, it wouldn’t matter…as long as he got in.  Sprinting to the stadium he started doubting if he heard his sister correctly.  Was this real?  What gate did she say?  What time?  He was so close…

Camden was a circus, a sea of orange.  Huge 2-1-2-9 numbers adorned the warehouse beyond the right field fence; they would change to 2-1-3-0 shortly.  Duke snaked through the frenzy and got to the gate.  He had made it - somehow.  Where was she?  Scanning the crowd for his 5’2” sister, he heard his name and locked eyes with his suddenly wonderful sibling.  Meeting at the fence she handed him the ticket…the ultimate golden ticket (sorry Willie Wonka).  Duke ran back in line and within minutes, he was in the stands.  He was in the freaking stands for #2,130!!!

Twenty years later, as he clutched the ticket and pondered the very different world of 2015, Duke realized the ticket isn’t the only timepiece; the story associated with it is too.  If the same scenario was reenacted today, there would be no answering machine.  Sis’s message would have been sent to bro via text, giving Duke ample time to divert course and drive directly to the stadium, thereby avoiding the white-knuckled drive down I-83.  The ticket exchange would have been casually and precisely coordinated via cell phone – no excitement, no uncertainty.  And the ticket itself?  It would likely be no more than a stale computer printout from Stubhub or a scan-able barcode on a smartphone, neither of which would have produced the keepsake that Duke fished out two decades later. 

Of course such considerations are purely hypothetical.  Just as the technology has changed, so too have our athletes.  Suffice to say, Ripken’s ultimate record of 2,632 consecutive games played will never be broken.  Few athletes possess the skill and the health to execute such a feat, and even if they did, it would never occur to them to try. 

With the ticket tucked safely away, Duke exited the cluttered room smiling.  He was happy to be in amazing world of today and happy to have experienced Ripken’s career and the pre-internet age that produced his unforgettable 2,130 adventure.  Mostly, though, he was grateful his sister called and that he thought to check his answering machine.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Silenced Roar

As published in The County Times (

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 (

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 (

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, market share growth, etc? You rely on your best employees, 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. He was my ace; 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 that Scherzer, like my homework lifeline, is too good?  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Birds

As published in The County Times (

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 (

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 (

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 (

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. 

Tom Brady’s Not A Patriot

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

There is a long history between sports and the nation’s presidents.  In 1910, William Howard Taft threw out the first presidential “first pitch” on opening day of the baseball season.  Every U.S. president since, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has followed in Taft’s enormous shadow.  And while it wasn’t opening day, the most consequential presidential fastball occurred when George W. Bush, just weeks after 9/11, threw a strike from the Yankee Stadium mound before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series.

Other sports share a White House connection too.  President Obama, who is a huge basketball fan, annually completes a March Madness bracket.  Football owes its very existence, in part, to Teddy Roosevelt.  As a proponent of physical athletic confrontation, Roosevelt advanced game-saving rule changes to curb an alarming number of on-field fatalities.  Gerald Ford was an All-American offensive lineman for Michigan in the 1930s.  And it was a common love of football that prompted an unimaginable private chat between Richard Nixon and raging liberal journalist (and Nixon hater) Hunter S. Thompson during the 1968 presidential campaign.     

Ronald Reagan gets the primary credit for the presidential tradition of hosting sports champions.  I have fond memories of The Gipper hitting Ricky Sanders on a crossing route on the White House lawn – literally - after the ‘Skins won Super Bowl XXII.  Four successors and three decades later, champions still visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue regularly.

But all is not well.  Athletes have occasionally left the president hanging.  Michael Jordan cited a schedule conflict in 1991 when he no-showed on George H. W. Bush.  In 1997, Packers TE Mark Chmura, a guy once charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl at a high school party (when he was in his 30s), passed on Green Bay’s visit with Bill Clinton because of his moral disgust with the president in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. 

No matter.  These were one-offs.  Anomalies.  There was no trend of athletes stiffing the highest office in our land – until recently. The White House snub is now commonplace.  Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison blew off Bush in 2006 and Obama in 2009.  Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas bailed on Obama in 2012.  St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and star Albert Pujols declined Obama’s invitation in 2012.  Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk and three members of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team – Jim Langer, Manny Fernandez and Bob Kuechenberg – cited political reasons for their White House absences last year.  At least they were honest, I suppose. 

Add New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to the growing list of presidential rejecters.  Brady used the tired and lame “schedule conflicts” line to excuse himself from the Patriots’ recent visit with President Obama.  Sure Tom.  Non-specific scheduling conflicts and family obligations.  Got it.  Sounds similar to Brady’s insulting “the public is so dumb they’ll buy anything” bull he offered in response to “deflategate.”

The evidence is clear: it is now routine for self-absorbed athletes who get a White House invitation for playing a game – a game – to disrespect our nation’s highest office.  It is beyond their meager ability to bite their political tongues and participate in an apolitical, celebratory event.  Tom Brady might be a Patriot, but don’t mistake him or any of his fellow White House boycotters for patriots – my opinion. 

This overtly rude political behavior has coincided with debilitating partisanship – a sad situation created by both parties - in Washington.  What’s the cart and what’s the horse?  No matter.  It seems a Democratic or Republican label now trumps our common identity as Americans.  Discord is fundamental to a representative government, but for that discord to yield national benefit, active listening, mutual respect and an understanding that political gains are realized through commensurate political gives is required.  Otherwise, it’s just arguing for arguing’s sake.  In that case, why even bother to show up and attempt to govern?  In other words, why act differently from Tom Brady, et al.

Brady and his boycotters stiffed the White House to express some sort of political disgust and to promote change.  Ironically, they have the exact government they created…and deserve.     

The Yips

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I’ll start where the last column ended - with Tiger Woods.  Show of hands.  Who read it?  To those reaching for the heavens - assuming you aren’t shameless liars - thanks.  Hopefully you were entertained.  For those fiddling with phones and refusing to make eye contact, you have some explaining to do.  To assist, “I was north of Antarctica on a Greenpeace vessel battling illegal whaling”, is a good excuse, but I’ll need proof.  “Trust but verify”, a wise man once advised.

Why Tiger?  The alternative was a loathsome diatribe on the punchless Washington Nationals, a team currently scoring as often as a World Cup soccer team. Such depressing things could threaten a community’s spring groove and he who dares interrupt the spring groove after a heinous winter invites the people’s wrath.   

Of course Woods’s story is hardly uplifting.  The once incomparable Woods entered The Masters last week ranked a 111th in the world, sandwiched between Tomohiro Kondo and Hennie Otto.  Who coulda thought such things?  Tiger Woods?  Fourteen majors?  Greatest golfer of his generation?  111th in the world?  That’s two more “1’s” in his ranking than we are used to. 

The long descent from numero uno to 111th took a while and was filled with enough drama to fuel a reality show.  Woods lost his father Earl, a significant influence on his life and career, in 2006.  He had reconstructive knee surgery in 2008 and detonated his marriage a year later. Woods dumped his long-time caddie, Steve Williams, in 2011, has rifled through swing coaches like mistresses and had his schedule disrupted by nagging injuries and last year’s back surgery.

While Woods hasn’t won a major championship since 2008, he has remained competitive and shown flashes of dominance despite that burdensome personal and professional chronology.  This year, however, Woods has been inconsequential.  He finished seventeenth at the Hero World Challenge in December, missed the cut at the Waste Management Open in January and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February due to non-competitive play.  “Non-competitive” is being nice.  Woods lost the ability to strike a golf ball flush with a wedge.  He sent balls ripping past the hole or launched chips over the green altogether.  He looked…like me!  Tiger Woods had the yips.  His days as one of golf’s best appeared over.

My wife asked me once when I learned the rules of football.  I’m sure I did – no one is born being able to identify illegal procedure – but for the life of me I can’t remember not knowing the game.  I doubt Tiger Woods, once featured on That’s Incredible! as a five-year-old golf prodigy, ever remembers not being the alpha dog on a golf course.  Yet there he was in February, completely lost on the links, his lifetime haven.  He was a suit-less Iron Man, Sampson without his hair, Superman adorned in kryptonite.  It was equally fascinating and disturbing.

Work, save for the few who pursue their passion professionally, is not typically the desired human condition.  Recreation, hobby-indulgence or sleep are preferred.  But work we do, to meet obligations, pay the bills or to just pacify our consciences.  We teach, build, supply, farm and engineer and procure defense systems.  In time, we get quite good at it – what we do – and assume that our skills and the opportunity to continue our craft will persist.  The professional yips?  An afterthought. 

Fortunately, golf - as any golfer will attest - is far more mercurial than the average job.  Woods, with a solid performance at The Masters last week, appears to have rebounded.  Still, the site of Tiger lost with a golf club in his hand was jarring.  Oh, look at the time.  I need to end there.  It’s past my bedtime and work beckons tomorrow.  My commitment is renewed.  Bills are inbound and retirement is a distant dream.  I have to drill it down the middle when I “tee off” tomorrow…and the next day, and the day after that.  Hope you do the same.  I suspect a case of the professional yips for either of us would be far more consequential than a double-bogey or a missed cut.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Perfect Day

Rough night of sleep.

Shitty day at work.

Heinous traffic on the way home.

Take out dinner order was screwed up.

Driving range was closed.  

At home, greeted by smiling kids and hugs.

See the title.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sports & Parenthood In The Aggregate

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

You’ve been barking the entire game.  Clueless officiating and sketchy coaching by the home team have your blood boiling.  The press is giving the team fits. They need another ball handler on the floor.  The rebounding is awful.  Their archaic zone defense is gift-wrapping offensive put-backs.  And is the team going to run organized offense?  It’s all freelancing.  No one is moving without the ball and everyone has a hero complex.  Is this “he who takes the most bad shots wins”?

It’s so obvious from the bleachers.  In fact, your verbal lashings were so wise, an assistant coach requested your presence in the locker room at halftime.  Entering the team’s inner sanctum, 12 sets of eager eyes stare at you.  The coach admits he’s lost and hands the team over to you.  This is a Hoosiers adaptation and you’re cast as head coach Norman Dale.

Just before the second half begins, a voice from beyond asks, “Coach, do you want a tie game or a two point lead.”  What?  You realize you’re dreaming, but this is too good to quibble.  The choice seems obvious: take the lead.  Or is it?  Context is required.  Is the team clinging to a two-point lead after being up 15 or did the boys draw even after trailing most of the half? Given those scenarios, you take the tie…and the momentum.  

The alarm wails.  Another day begins; another dream ends prematurely.  You’ll never get to coach your Jimmy Chitwood.  Now conscious, the tie/two-point lead debate lingers.  There’s something to that, beyond an imaginary basketball game.  Moments and circumstances can complicate fact.  Take Tiger Woods.  What if someone had said in 1997, shortly after he won The Masters, that Woods would have 14 major championships at age 39?  Would you have bet on him to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18?  Probably.  But you wouldn’t now, having witnessed his mental and physical meltdown…even though he’s 39 with 14 majors.

What about the Bryce Harper?  Rewind to 2010, the year he was drafted.  Would you have considered a Rookie of the Year award, two All Star appearances and 55 home runs before age 23 successful?  Absolutely – and he’s done it all.  So why does Harper feel like a disappointment so far?

For reasons I cannot explain, this dichotomy between facts and perceptions had me thinking about parenthood, a trade where the truly accomplished often feel far from successful.  For the best - and there are many – a parental audit revels many accolades, from the basic to the complex.  Fact: kids sleep in warm beds and with full tummies.  Fact: they are doing fine in school; perhaps they’re even on the honor roll (I see your bumper stickers on the Southern Maryland roadways).  Fact: many are involved in extracurricular activities – band, swimming, baseball, cheerleading, etc – and, judging from their smiles, they’re having a blast.  Fact: kids are loved more than they can possibly know.  Fact: they think mom and dad are super heroes, even though they don’t know Taylor Swift’s latest song.    

(Written with the Cowardly Lion’s “Courage” speech in mind…)

Who provides the roof and the rations (veggies included)?  Parents.  Who runs a non-stop taxi service?  Parents.  Who’s the teacher’s evening assistant and a child’s emotional foundation?  Parents.  Who dries the tears, cleans the cuts and breaks up the fights?  Parents.  Who does it all from the morning’s misty mist to the evening’s dusty dusk?  Parents.

Yet parents frequently feel inadequate.  Why?  We rock!  I suppose because when we aren’t our best, it weighs heavy on our hearts.  Dog tired and stressed, we can be impatient.  Work sometimes causes us to miss activities.  We occasionally yell when we should have hugged or order when we should have listened.  The moment can produce our worst, a pesky blemish on an otherwise stellar body of work.  In the aggregate, we are overwhelmingly loving and hard-working.  In the aggregate, we have momentum.  In the aggregate, (say it with me) we’re doing just fine.  Just like Bryce Harper will be just fine.  Woods?  Okay, you got me.  I still wouldn’t bet on him winning 18 majors.