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.