Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Kirk Cousins Accident

Published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

During the 2015-16 season, Washington QB Kirk Cousins started every game, threw for a team-record 4,166 yards, led the NFL with a 69.8% completion percentage and totaled 34 touchdowns (29 passing, five rushing), best in franchise history.  There were ups and downs, but Cousins was spectacular down the stretch and in several critical games where Washington’s uneven season hung in the balance.  Cousins, 27, displayed the expected growth from a fourth-year pro; he wasn’t expected to break records and entrench himself as the team’s starting quarterback.  But, in cranking out those aforementioned statistics and leading the team to nine wins and a division title, that’s 
exactly what he did.

Cousins’s season was an accident; merely suggesting such a thing three years ago, when Cousins was a curious fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, would have been predicting a disaster.  Prior to that draft, Washington had shipped a treasure trove of picks to St. Louis so it could select Robert Griffin III - the sexy, charismatic and gifted Heisman Trophy winner - second overall.  By 2015, Griffin was supposed to be the franchise quarterback.  He should have owned the town, stuffed his resume with multiple Pro Bowl selections and, like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, been considered one of the next generation of great signal callers.

That was the plan.  Of course, if you’re of adequate age, you know that life knows no plan it can’t upset.  Griffin, shall we say, didn’t work out.  His career in Washington was undone by ego, pride, injury, mismanagement, selfishness and unnecessary distractions – by player and organization. It’s ironic that his departure from Washington will coincide with the directionless Rams leaving St. Louis for Los Angeles.  Maybe Griffin’s a match for the Rams in the City of Angels.  That would be fitting.
Meanwhile, Washington’s moving forward with Cousins (a lucrative new contract seems a formality).  On the surface, it’s an unbelievable story – equally sad (because of the Griffin element) and joyous.  But when franchise history is considered, Cousins’s accidental ascension makes total sense.

Heralded, blue chip quarterbacks and the ‘Skins just don’t work.  I call it “The Curse of Sammy Baugh.”  Here’s a list of quarterbacks selected by Washington in the first round: Sammy Baugh (1937), Jim Hardy (1945), Harry Gilmer (1948), Jack Scarbath (1953), Ralph Guglielmi (1955), Don Allard (1959), Norm Snead (1961), Heath Shuler (1994), Patrick Ramsey (2002), Jason Campbell (2005) and Griffin (2012).  Baugh is one of the greatest players in NFL history; the others barely managed middling NFL careers…hence “The Curse”. 

Conversely, Washington plucked Sonny Jurgensen, a fourth round pick, from Philadelphia in a 1964 trade.  Billy Kilmer was acquired via trade after stints in New Orleans and San Francisco.  Joe Theismann, a fourth round pick by Miami, played three years in Canada before Washington traded for him in 1974.  Doug Williams, the one-time Tampa Bay quarterback, was signed after the USFL went belly-up in 1986.  And Mark Rypien was drafted in the sixth round.  These cast-offs, reclamation projects and late-round fliers did okay: Jurgensen’s in the Hall of Fame, Kilmer led Washington to its first Super Bowl, Theismann’s an NFL MVP and Williams and Rypien are Super Bowl MVPs.  With that historical context, it makes perfect sense that Cousins, the 102nd selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, would ultimately beat out Griffin, the can’t-miss prospect selected 100 picks earlier.

My wife and I attended a Rolling Stones concert last summer.  After Mick, Keith and the boys finished the song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want - a classic that includes the line, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need” - my wife quipped, “This song reminds me of how I ended up with you.”  I choose to attribute the remark to her fountain of sarcasm.  Regardless, the tune still resonates because it speaks to a common experience: Life has a way of bypassing our frivolous wants and delivering our needs.  Maybe Washington’s search for a quarterback followed a similar path.  Griffin was the quarterback they wanted; Cousins is the guy they needed.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Resolution: No Empty Stadiums

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It’s resolution time, an exercise to complete with care.  As most people are their own worst critics, an honest personal critique immediately threatens the New Year’s inherent optimism.  In his classic Happy Xmas (War is Over), John Lennon captured the dilemma when he sang, “So this is Christmas; And what have you done; Another year older; And a new one just begun.” Precisely.  What have we done, beyond age another year?  A personal evaluation includes many tough questions.  Was I kind?  Selfless?  Patient?  Was I a good citizen and steward of the planet?  Did I dedicate enough time to family and personal relationships?  Are my finances and career in order?  Am I healthy spiritually (however you define that term)?  Physically?  Am I happy?  Satisfied?  Content? 

Considering that brutal self-examination, the likely answer to Lennon’s question “What have you done?” is “not enough”, a conclusion that anoints New Year’s the battle ground between an inadequate past and a hopeful future.  Before that dark cloud envelops your tender 2016 sky, consider an alternative: Instead of an introspective search for a 2015 failure to correct, look to the external world for inspiration and resolutions.  It’s less personal.  Less…depressing…and maybe more productive.  Where in the external world?  How about a few lessons from our local teams?  They offered plenty to ponder.   

Washington Nationals

Last spring, the Nats were a chic pick to win the World Series.  Bryce Harper even infamously asked, “Where’s my ring?” before the season.  Reality: The Nats finished 83-79 and missed the playoffs.  Perhaps a bit more humility, an acknowledgement of the uncertainty of tomorrow, would be wise.

Baltimore Ravens

Injuries, gut-wrenching losses…it was an awful year for Edgar Allen Poe’s blackbirds.  The Ravens had every right to quit.  By all accounts they should have quit.  Waved the white flag.  Tapped out.  They never did, competing to the end.  Bravo.  Adversity reveals character.  You’ll encounter the former in 2016, let it reveal your mettle too.

The ‘Skins

Washington was supposed to be a six-win team at best, a cauldron of chaos.  Instead, the ‘Skins morphed into the NFC East’s most stable team and became what no one thought they could be: division champions.  The lesson?  You will be doubted too.  In 2016, believe in yourself because it will occur to few others to do so.

Baltimore Orioles

The seminal moment in local sports last year occurred on April 29 at Camden Yards.  That afternoon, the Orioles played against the White Sox…in an empty stadium.  No fans were permitted entrance because Baltimore, a city I love and called home for six years, was on lockdown in the wake of the violent response to the unconscionable beating and handling of Freddie Gray by city police.  Gray died from his injuries, and while Baltimore’s buildings burned and public outrage boiled over in the aftermath, Camden Yards, a cathedral of civic pride, good times and unity, fell sadly, but perhaps appropriately, silent.

There’s a lot going in the world.  North Korea.  Paris.  ISIS.  The Middle East.  There’s a lot going on in the United States, too.  Ferguson, Missouri.  Charleston, South Carolina.  San Bernardino, California.  Baltimore, Maryland.  Lists of despair.  If there’s one resolution I hope that every single one of us is making for 2016, it’s to commit ourselves to our common humanity and to halt our compulsive tendency to stereotype and to focus only on our differentiating characteristics - race, religion, sexual orientation and politics.  In 2016, love must dominate hate. 

I’ll leave you with three thoughts from far greater minds.  First, this quote from Yoda: “Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering.”  Second is this thought from James Baldwin’s essay Everybody’s Protest Novel: “…panic motivates cruelty, this fear of the dark makes it impossible that our lives shall be other than superficial.”  And lastly, back to Lennon’s song for a few more poignant lyrics: “And so happy Christmas; For black and for white; For yellow and red ones; Let’s stop all the fight”…“A very merry Christmas; And a happy New Year; Let’s hope it’s a good one; Without any fear.”

To a peaceful 2016…and no more empty stadiums.

Afforded An Opportunity, Luke Awakens

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Remember when NBA bluebloods dominated the league?  From 1980 through 2014, just six teams – the Lakers (10), Bulls (6), Spurs (5), Celtics (4), Pistons (3) and Heat (3) – claimed 31 of 35 championships.  The NBA was consistent.  Predictable.  Familiar.  Stars gravitated to a few elite franchises in glamorous basketball destinations.  The result was an insult to open competition: an inequitable concentration of power and riches created an NBA aristocracy and a just-happy-to-be-here proletariat.  The era gave us Magic, Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.  Larry’s Celtics.  The Bad Boy Pistons.  Tim Duncan’s Spurs.  Jordan’s Bulls.  And Wade and LeBron’s Heat.   

Now, a coup might be upon us.  To quote Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.”  The best team in the Eastern Conference is the Cleveland Cavaliers, a pre-LeBron James also-ran. The champs are the Golden State Warriors, a long-time basketball wasteland.  And the best rivalry going isn’t Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Pistons…it’s Golden State and the inconsequential Milwaukee Bucks, a sub-.500 that somehow managed to deal the Warriors their only loss and darn near pulled the trick again in the rematch last week.  Maybe there’s hope for the Wizards?  If my visions (hallucinations?) of free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant in a ‘Zards jersey become reality, it will affirm that a basketball revolution is underway.

Regarding those champion Warriors, they opened the season with 24 consecutive wins and are, as of last Sunday, 26-1.  So much for success spoiling the team’s hunger.  With a title on the resume, the Warriors seem intent on trying to become one of the best teams in league history.  Considering the casual nature of the NBA’s regular season (let’s face it, maximum effort isn’t prevalent), Golden State’s approach is refreshing.

Continuity is on their side: The Warriors carried over largely the same squad from last season.  Reigning MVP Stephen Curry is even better.  Fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson rounds out the NBA’s best backcourt.  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes all remain in the rotation.  But there was one alteration, one that’s been oddly ignored.  Head coach Steve Kerr has been out all season recovering from multiple back surgeries.  His assistant, Luke Walton, has quietly - an understatement because no one is talking about him – been a masterful substitute teacher. 

I get it.  He’s “just” Luke Walton.  He’s not Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader’s kid, but he is the son of basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton.  Luke was, in his own right, a 10-year NBA player, but he was nothing more than a rotation guy on loaded Lakers teams that featured the likes of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.  After Kerr took a leave of absence, Walton was also handed an obnoxiously talented roster.  Iconic father, famous teammates, decorated head coach and star-studded roster: It’s understandable that Walton, a man perpetually in the shadow of others, remains an afterthought despite coaching the Warriors to a 26-1 record. 

But it isn’t justified.

Walton’s not just a warm body who mindlessly fills out a lineup.  He’s placating egos, manipulating rotations, strategically responding to in-game situations and managing the team’s mental and physical burden of being the champs and getting every opponent’s best.  Yes, he comes from good stock, was a teammate of Bryant, one of the league’s best ever, and was given the coaching opportunity of a lifetime by Kerr’s balky lower lumbar – the shadow-man can’t deny any of it.  But Walton’s in the light now, front and center every night…and he’s crushing it. 

It bothers me when cynics dismiss individual accomplishment as the product of name value, surrounding talent, accidental circumstance or some other cheapening ingredient.  Whom among us has accomplished anything of significance organically?  Whatever summit a person ascends, at the foundation of the journey are advocates - teachers, parents, coaches, colleagues and a community/economy – personal Yoda’s or Obi Wan’s, if you will.  Walton stands on many supporting shoulders, but Luke’s success isn’t merely luck or the product of The Force.  The young Jedi/coach has seized the moment and is coaching at a high level.  He deserves some credit.  Acknowledging his existence on the Golden State bench would be a start. 

Ronda Rousey: Broken And Beaten…Now What?

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Roaming my well-worn paths of SoMD, I spotted a yard ablaze with Christmas lights a mere week after Halloween. Is it already time for flying reindeer, a financial hemorrhage and the rotund distributor of dreams come true? A bucket of bite-sized sugar bombs still resides on my kitchen table. What happened to…November? It’s a nice month. Veteran’s Day. Endless football. College basketball’s kickoff. National Epilepsy and Native American Heritage Month. It’s even National Novel Writing Month. Whoa…I’m feeling the pressure

And there’s November’s crown jewel: Thanksgiving, my top seed of underrated holidays (that aforementioned way-too-early Christmas display is proof). Turkey Day is steeped in American history. It offers a brief respite (hopefully) from the daily grind, time with family and the opportunity to reflect and be thankful. And if you’re upright, healthy and not desperately fleeing a terrorist-infected homeland or picking up the pieces after a tragic attack, there’s much to appreciate.
Sports seem so small considering the disturbing nature of recent world events. Nevertheless sports are what I do and sports are why you’re reading this column. I suppose as fans we’re all grateful that games continue to be played. As for the athletes themselves, there are many who should feel particularly indebted at the moment. Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors are blazing hot. Alex Ovechkin recently broke the Russian record for NHL goals. Bryce Harper was awarded the National League MVP award. And Ronda Rousey, after being knocked out by Holly Holm, is the former UCF bantamweight champion. Wait. What?

On the surface, that makes no sense. While contemplating her battered body and wounded pride, it would undoubtedly make little sense to Rousey too. Thankful for losing her belt, an undefeated record and title of the most overwhelming MMA fighter – male or female – the sport has ever seen?


Rousey was a perfect 12-0 entering the fight with Holm. Nine of her matches had ended in submissions, via her trademark arm bar; the three other victories were by KO/TKO. Only one fight had gone past the first round; eight had ended in less than a minute. She was devastating, charismatic and attractive. She was the sport’s biggest attraction, its first cross-over star. The ceiling on her future was raised with every convincing win.

So now what? Holm left Rousey bloodied and in a heap on the canvas. After rising to congratulate her victorious opponent, the one-time Queen of Destruction resembled the Cowardly Lion after Dorothy popped him in the nose. The rage was gone. She looked…broken.

And therein lies the opportunity and Rousey’s reason to be thankful.

Not unlike society, the sports world loves champions. Winners are showered with adulations. Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But it isn’t that simple. What appeals to people isn’t just winning, it’s triumph after adversity. Few can relate to perfection and total dominance – the pre-Holm Rousey. We are flawed. We fail. We dominate…nothing. So victory after apparent catastrophic failure is inspiring. Michael Jordan, on his way to six championships, was beaten back for years by Boston and Detroit in the playoffs and, after his baseball fling, lost to Orlando in the conference semifinals. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson took turns getting the better of each other throughout their careers. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, the greatest rivalry I’ve witnessed, split their 80 matches 37 (Evert) to 43 (Navratilova). Each player failed as much as she succeeded. Even Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the best quarterback and head coach of their era, have been uneven. Yes, they’ve won four Super Bowls. But they’ve also lost two and grinded for 10 years between their third and fourth titles. Mike Tyson never did recover from the Buster Douglass loss. Personal and professional adversity seems to have gotten the best of Tiger Woods, too. 

What does the future hold for Rousey? Currently bloodied and beaten, she has a chance to author her own Rocky Balboa-like return to glory. I hope she does. An epic Rousey comeback would offer us evidence to believe in the never-ending series of our own. We could all use the encouragement.