Saturday, January 28, 2017
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
As the words rifle across the screen, this week’s “View” feels small and insignificant against the large and consequential political backdrop. Ah, but maybe small and insignificant in this case is also well-timed and therapeutic.
With that, happy silver anniversary, D.C sports fans. Let us weep together.
It has been 25 years since Washington’s once dominant football team claimed the city’s last major professional sports championship. The event was Super Bowl XXVI. The date was January 26, 1992. The location was the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Washington QB Mark Rypien exited the field through a confetti storm with the MVP Award. Head coach Joe Gibbs, the most important figure in the greatest sports era in D.C. history, claimed his third Lombardi Trophy and put himself in the discussion with the NFL’s greatest coaches. Strike up the band. Pop the champagne. Schedule the parade. Again.
There was no indication that this latest championship moment was some final act of glory. Yes, the basketball team – the Bullets at the time – stunk, the Capitals were a perennial playoff flop (sound familiar?) and the baseball team was still 13 years from its move south. No matter. The football team was a machine that produced an annual contender and a championship every 4-5 years. Super Bowl XXVI was grand; more would follow.
We were so naïve. The party caravan drove off a cliff on that distant January night. The needle skidded across the record, stopping the music abruptly. Without even a “last call” or “last dance”, the lights were turned on and everyone was ordered home. The fairytale was over; a long, dark period of relentless suffering began.
A quarter-century later, the gloom persists. The losing during this depressing period has been a combination of persistent – the ‘Skins and Wizards have combined for just six playoff game/series wins - and heartbreaking – the Nationals’ and Capitals’ recent playoff meltdowns. If Jim Cantore was on location, he’d be predicting an endless cycle of morale-sapping storms while blizzard conditions tested the specification limits of his Weather Channel issued L.L. Bean gear. Baby, it’s cold outside.
Prior to 2016, pity was not something D.C.’s plight would have legitimately earned. But then, within just months, the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s misery and the Cubs…the Cubs…won the World Series. Now when talking championship futility for major sports cites, it’s D.C. and Minneapolis, a town that last raised a triumphant fist after the Twins won Game 7 of 1991 World Series at…the Metrodome. Creepy.
Don’t confuse this whining with entitlement. D.C. is owed nothing. Four championships – 3 Super Bowls, 1 NBA title – in the last 40 years is statistically solid. But, the last 25 have been an absolute wasteland.
It’s about to get worse.
After the Super Bowl concludes, Atlanta and one-time Washington (2012-13) offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is expected to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He will join Sean McVay, another former Washington offensive coordinator (2014-16) and the new head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, as consecutive Washington OC’s to earn a head coaching gig. Salt, meet Wound.
Is this psychological torture? Are the football gods incapable of mercy? This is not the kind of “Back-to-Back” fans seek. Of course, it should indicate - and something that would make it more palatable - that the ‘Skins are in the midst of a fertile period of winning. See, when teams are successful and win Super Bowls, coaches get poached and other teams overpay for their free agents.
Yeah...that’s not the situation in D.C. It’s enough to make you feel jobbed and to kick and scream, “It’s not fair!” Well, it isn’t. Championships aren’t allocated fairly. There is no promise of equity. But with sports, there’s always hope – even after 25 years. No team is disadvantaged. No city is condemned. Opportunity is given equally, but achievement is based purely on individual and team performance. If only life, another often unfair game, was so just with its access to the dream, however that is personally defined. Now wouldn’t that be something? For the time being, though, it remains a goal, one that hopefully won’t take 25 years to achieve.
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I have an affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches. The narrative story matters little; the “Career History” table on the right side of the page is the draw (check some out). It is essentially a comprehensive, chronological and bulletized list of the subject’s college and professional football coaching history. It’s fascinating stuff.
You’re processing “…affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches” and conclude “Football Nerd”. I can’t deny that diagnosis – my wife often calls the NFL my “other woman” – but give me some leash. Check out this Wiki example:
USC Graduate Assistant (1994-95). Northern Arizona Linebackers Coach (1996-98). UNLV Linebackers Coach (1999). San Francisco 49ers Quality Control Coordinator (2000). Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2001-06). Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator (2007-08). Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2009). USC Linebackers Coach (2010). San Diego Chargers Linebackers Coach (2011-14). Washington Redskins Defensive Coordinator (2015-16).
This is the long, unstable, mostly progressive/occasionally regressive, college and professional football coaching resume of former ‘Skins defensive coordinator Joe Barry. It paints practically every NFL coach’s journey: begin as a glorified intern, work through the ranks, live out of a suitcase for years, succeed, fail, recover, catch a break and, against all odds, make a name for yourself.
Barry, who lasted only two seasons in Washington, was fired after his defense ended a second consecutive season ranked 28th overall. That’s not good, but Washington’s defense, a woefully talent-deficient unit, was a known weakness. And that was before injuries made a mess of the safety position and robbed Barry of Junior Galette, the team’s best pass rusher, for the second consecutive season.
The firing was understandable, though, if not entirely fair. After losing two out of the last three games and blowing multiple opportunities to solidify a playoff spot, a head needed to roll. Barry was an easy, uncontroversial target. But his dismissal won’t cure Washington’s woes.
The reality is New England head coach and defensive guru Bill Belichick couldn’t have coached Washington’s defensive roster into top half of the league. Barry was the classic chef with limited, reduced-for-quick-sale ingredients. The best he could do was make an edible dish.
And he often did. The defense had its moments of incompetence, but it averaged 22 points/game over the last three, and just under 18/game if you subtract the seven points Carolina scored from the one-yard line and the six scored by the Giants defense, both products of ‘Skins offensive turnovers. Again, Washington lost two of those games. Barry’s fault? Hardly.
Barry, like every NFL coach (check out those Wiki resumes for proof), is the product of the marriage between his dedication and acumen and the right circumstances and surrounding talent. Consider Belichick’s journey. He started as a graduate assistant with the Colts and worked for four teams from 1975-1978 before being hired by the Giants in 1979, where he coached a king’s ransom of talent, including Lawrence Taylor, the best defensive player I’ve ever seen. As a head coach, he failed in Cleveland; once his Patriots career ends, he might be the NFL’s all-time greatest coach. What was the difference between Cleveland and New England? Maybe Tom Brady?
Players aren’t any different. Dallas Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott was sensational this season. But he’s the equivalent of uber-talented RB Todd Gurley, a player whose statistics Elliott’s dwarfed. The difference? Elliot ran behind the best offensive line in football; Gurley, the poor soul, plays for the moribund Rams.
We all arrive at any point in our lives via some unimaginable journey. We win. We lose. We soldier on. Success, particularly at the highest levels of any craft or personal endeavor, is complicated. It requires considerable effort and resolve, but it’s ultimately beyond an individual’s absolute control.
Success is also predicated on timing, luck, mentorship and surrounding talent, among other factors. In a society increasingly quick to criticize, judge and dismiss, it would be wise to remain mindful of this fact, particularly when considering casting dispersions, and ponder if we are a catalyst or impediment to others’ success.
Not everybody crosses paths with a Lawrence Taylor or Tom Brady. Just ask Joe Barry.
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This column started as a four-article experiment on the connection between sports and everyday life.
That was nine years ago.
It has been an amazing experience. Humbling. Challenging. Fun. Some of the most enjoyable pieces to write over the years have been those scratched out before New Year’s. Here we are again, loyal Times readers. I’d be lying if I denied feeling the pressure to deliver something special. The blinking cursor…it’s a bit intimidating, even a little sinister.
In prior New Year’s pieces, I’ve spun through expected angles: the rapid passage of time, the preciousness of the moment and the importance of meaningful giving during a season now mostly awash in the frivolous exchange of stuff. The very first New Year’s “View” - at the end of 2009 and on the cusp of a new decade – opened with a melancholy review of the ills that marred the first 10 years of the new millennium: the circus-like 2000 presidential election, Katrina, steroids in sports, the murder of Sean Taylor, a cratered stock market and economy, Enron and, of course, 9/11 and the years of war that followed.
On the cusp of 2017, the underlying gloom of that piece has been rekindled. Why? The post-Presidential election blues? Kinda.
For this piece, though, the winner and the loser of the election is immaterial; it’s the process that matters. Mudslinging between candidates used to be the recurring, accepted low of political campaigns. Not anymore. We just witnessed the president-elect’s venom transcend his opponent and spew all over everyone not belonging to a narrowing segment of society. It was disturbing rhetoric diametrically counter to the basic tenants of this country and Christian fundamentals. Service-academy football even took its lumps.
To many voters, the president elect’s messaging was politically fatal, no matter the flaws – and there were many – of the other candidate. Others made peace with it after broadly considering all issues, the other option(s) and their personal situation.
But here’s the thing: Six weeks after the election, with the dust settled, the political emotions calmed and the healing peacefulness of the holiday season, I suspect an overwhelming majority of Americans are feeling rotten about what went down. Maybe not politically rotten (if your candidate won) but rotten in a human sense. It was a bad look for America and a supposedly decent people.
Another wild and likely popular guess: Washington isn’t going to instantly reinvent itself as a group of elected officials selflessly committed to constructive discord and producing for its customers. If there’s any swamp-draining to be done, it’s up to us and whatever decency and togetherness we can cobble together.
That aforementioned New Year’s 2010 piece didn’t just resonate because of its melancholy. After ripping off a depressing list of 2000-2009 events, that version of this writer eventually countered with an overwhelming menu of feel-good moments courtesy of local sports: the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory, Maryland’s men’s (2002) and women’s (2006) basketball championship, Georgetown’s return to the Final Four (2007), the Expos moving to D.C., the Capitals drafting Alex Ovechkin, Cal Ripken getting enshrined in Cooperstown and Art Monk and Darrell Green being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I just slammed the clutch to the floor ahead of another dramatic shift in tone, this time without specific examples and in concept only. I needed sports ahead of 2010; I need sports again ahead of 2017. More than the diversion, I need sports’ example of people at their best. Between the lines, backgrounds, race, religion, politics and other “isms” dissolve; judgements are based on effort, attitude and talent. Between the lines, success and failure are shared and a common cause unites every coach and name on the roster. Deceit and indecency are not tolerated.
Sports aren’t always perfect, but if we were to vote on whether to nominate a football team or a presidential campaign as the singular example of human progress, I’m certain the former would win in a landslide. No recount. No hanging chads. No Electoral College shenanigans. There’s no vote in 2017, but there are plenty of games to watch…together. That’s reason for optimism.
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Duke Radbourne, mythical oracle of dude-knowledge and occasional character in this column, veered into my pattern last week. It was a fitting meeting, as it turned out, because we had both spent the week trolling the MLB winter meetings at National Harbor and doing regular heat checks on baseball’s annual hot stove, figuratively anyway (like all things with Duke).
We never actually set foot on Harbor grounds or had a single conversation with a baseball executive. In fact, the external optic indicated another conventional week tending our fabulously normal and pulse-flattening routines. But mentally we were on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge pondering how the balance of power for the 2017 MLB season could pivot at any second.
Specifically, Nationals General Manager and trade savant Mike Rizzo was on stage. After the Nats lost again in the first round of the playoffs, and with a farm system stuffed with prospects, Rizzo was expected to make big splashes and exit the meetings with a World Series favorite.
Dreamers, we admittedly were, but since sports curses are dying – the Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s suffering and the Chicago Cubs overcame billy goats and Steve Bartman to win the World Series – why shouldn’t D.C. and its 24-years-and-counting-without-a-professional-title be the next exorcism? And given Bryce Harper’s pending 2018 free agency, the Nats’ time is now, as John Cena might surmise.
Rizzo immediately fed the fervor. The Nats were rumored to be after former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and were major players in the sweepstakes for Chicago White Sox lefthander Chris Sale, a five-time All-Star. Acquiring either would be great. Nabbing both would set off World Series mania - and the Nats had the young talent to do it.
McCutchen remains in Pittsburgh; the Nats’ pursuit has gone cold. Sale was dealt to Boston for a package of prospects that the Nats didn’t match. After Rizzo went 0-2 on his primary targets (0-3 counting free agent closer Mark Melancon’s signing with the Giants), Duke and I no longer wanted to be at the winter meetings, we wanted to be seated at bar stools on either side of Nats GM, all of us at least three pints deep into the truth serum.
Rizzo eventually cut a deal, but it wreaked of a panicked executive with an itchy trigger finger. After methodically building an elite farm system and nurturing young pitching prospects, Rizzo flipped three hurlers – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning – to the White Sox for Adam Eaton, a zero-time All-Star. If Kenny Rogers, the bearded crooner, was asked his opinion, he’d declare that Rizzo played the hand like he was “out of aces”. Remember The Gambler?!?!
In college, Duke once asked me to name my dream job. “Working in the front office of a professional sports team”, was my reply. “What…you think you’re the next Roland Hemond (then Orioles General Manager)?”, he asked. Being a Towson student, I dismissed Hemond and named fellow Towson alum and long-time MLB executive (and recent addition to the Hall of Fame) John Schuerholtz as my professional hero. Regardless, I flew with eagles in my youth.
The sports executive career never materialized, a favorable scenario for my sanity. It’s hard to fathom Rizzo’s week at National Harbor: the options, the variables and, ultimately, the excruciating, franchise-altering decisions that the GM owns alone. For every get there’s a painful forfeiture; the hope, counter to the holiday season, is that you receive more than you give.
That’s a much drama as I can muster. I imagined more when I began typing but then dozen of people were killed in Istanbul and rumors of Russian cyberattacks broke – real world invasions and reminders of baseball’s comparatively inconsequential recreational roots. Rizzo’s decisions are tougher than picking a dinner option, but in the end, he’s the puppet master of a game, a reality I’m certain he embraces. In fact, had Duke and I had that moment with him at the bar, the bet is Rizzo would consider himself lucky for the spoils of making of living in that manner, even after netting Adam Eaton for a ransom of talent.
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Bob Dylan came to me in a dream. We were seated at an ornate iron table, just the two of us, under a trellis in an outdoor garden. Despite the serene setting, I was nervous, but maintained a calm façade. My mind was racing (Bob Freaking Dylan!!!). Be cool, I thought. Don’t disintegrate into fan-boy mode. Act like you belong. Act like this is just another afternoon with greatness. Act like you’re not flirting with incontinence.
My rational brain was confident that I could handle this extraordinary moment. I’m no expert, but I know music pretty well and I’m respectably conversant in Dylan-speak. It helped that my dream delivered a 40-something version of the legend – a peer; the brilliant, young and enigmatic Dylan at his creative zenith or the current grandfatherly Dylan, fresh off receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, would have been far more intimidating. I had another ally: The copious amounts of adult elixirs we had consumed. The mental lubrication arrested my anxiety and tempered the annoyance Dylan would have otherwise felt toward his strange, unworthy acquaintance.
Dylan can be a tough conversation; he communicates best with mere mortals through music or written word. For some reason, my unconscious mind had put me one-on-one with him – hilarious (not really). There wasn’t even a background band to critique or fill the inevitable pauses in our conversation while I fished for engaging queries. I’m my own worst enemy apparently.
But I did okay. Dylan was polite and captivating. He was unmistakably pleased to be talking to me about his poetic music and place in history. I know, I know…”How can the life of such a man be in the palm of some fool’s hand?” Maybe I fooled him by how good my head felt under my “leopard skin pill-box hat”?
Had this crazy dream been reality, it wouldn’t have gone so well. The moment would have proven too big. I would have lost my poise and Dylan’s graciousness would have run short. Departing Dylan’s company with a signed “Blonde on Blonde” record and dry pants – if not my dignity - would have constituted a victory.
I was reminded of my imaginary Dylan encounter on Thanksgiving Day while watching a much younger man flawlessly handling a much bigger, more significant and very real NFL moment.
This is going to hurt.
QB Dak Prescott, a fourth round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the April NFL Draft, is (unfortunately for rival fans) re-writing the recent trajectory of the franchise. After starter Tony Romo and backup Kellen Moore were injured in the preseason, Prescott, originally envisioned as a third-string project, was thrust into a starting role.
Panic initially swept through Cowboys camp. A season seemed lost and a trade inevitable. Rumors swirled about Dallas acquiring embattled San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. At the time, the reaction and scuttlebutt were understandable: It was unfair to expect Prescott, despite a name right out of central casting, to be the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the most glamourous and scrutinized positions in professional sports.
The situation should have consumed the young Prescott; it most certainly has not. In 11 starts, Prescott has averaged 258 yards passing per game, completed 68% of his passes, thrown 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions, rushed for five scores and notched 10 wins. That’s not human for a rookie fourth round pick; it’s a Tom Brady stat line.
No one saw this coming. Entering the draft, Prescott wasn’t considered NFL-ready. His NFL.com draft report was unflattering: slow reads, poor footwork and inconsistent accuracy. Prescott’s ceiling in 2016 was said to be limited to short-yardage packages.
Yeah…he’s been a little better than that - like, in-the-MVP-conversation better. From his first opportunity, Prescott has produced and calmed a cataclysmic situation. His poise has been remarkable; his lack of drama or need for unnecessary attention – his professionalism - has been refreshing; his performance has been amazing.
Prescott provides an inspiring story for anyone facing an overwhelming challenge. Unfortunately, because he plays for the Cowboys, it isn’t a work of fiction, such as a novel, a movie or a dream.
Appeared on Football.com in June 2015
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Sports fans know the story better than a pack of 12-year-old girls knows a Taylor Swift hit song. Robert Griffin III was good – like, generational and change-the-league good. Then he wrecked his knee, shot too many commercials, tweeted too many workouts, sold too many submarines, drank too much Gatorade, passive aggressively tweaked too many coaches, created one too many personal logos, influenced – directly or indirectly via his dad – too many game plans and ultimately accepted too little blame for losing football and crappy quarterback play.
In other words, Griffin’s delivered too much bullsh!t and not enough winning. Before we knew it, this guy, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (remember him?)…
…regressed so significantly that former Washington tight end and current analyst Chris Cooley said the quarterback’s atrocious play made evaluating the offense impossible last year. Don’t believe Cooley? Monday Morning Quarterback weighed in with this damning piece. If pictures speak a thousand words, at least 800 of those describing these MMQB stills are FCC non-compliant. http://mmqb.si.com/2014/11/18/robert-griffin-iii-rg3-washington-nfl/
But as you were once ordered to ignore the un-wizardly man behind the curtain, pay no attention to the mounds of concrete evidence indicating Griffin’s tenure in Washington is likely to end before President Obama’s. It is early summer and in this post-OTAs/pre-training camp time, blinding, reality-distorting optimism abounds. Griffin looks great. His 2016 contract option was picked up. The team didn’t draft a young quarterback to threaten his job. He feels better physically. He’s more confident. Praise is being heaped on him. His wife gave birth to their first child. Cue the Lego them song. Everything is awesome (with Griffin); everything is cool when you’re part of a team.
Parsing fact and fiction with Griffin has always been a challenge. Other than becoming a father (which undoubtedly is awesome), only time and real NFL games with live NFL defenses intent on destroying him will provide proof of progress. Until then it’s just more Griffin rhetoric. This is edition four of his summertime pep rally.
Complicating Griffin’s latest and perhaps final attempt to regain his rookie form is the overwhelming success of his D.C. professional contemporaries. Three years ago Griffin owned the nation’s capital. His popularity now is plummeting like a second-term president’s. Alex Ovechkin has been as advertised and just wrapped up his sixth 50-goal season. John Wall was gotten better every season and is now among the NBA’s elite point guards. And then there’s the amazing ascension of Bryce Harper, the toast of Washington and hands-down the NL MVP thus far in 2015.
Compared to Ovechkin, Wall and Harper, Griffin is the football equivalent of the Bobby Jindal and Martin O’Malley presidential campaigns: inconsequential. The expectation of Griffin two years ago was that he’d miraculously return from knee surgery and lead a deep playoff run. Now it’s assumed that he will fall on his face and be pulled for either Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy by week 5…if he’s healthy that long.
Griffin has hit rock bottom. The buzz has turned negative. The pundits have picked over his carcass. Fans are now either apathetic about the once great hype/hope machine or are assuming one last great catastrophic failure. And maybe that’s exactly what Griffin needed: for everyone to stop believing so he could finally lose the audience for his self-promotion and blind faith.
The only way Griffin recaptures the fervor of 2012 and gets mentioned in the same sentence as Ovechkin, Wall or Harper again is if he develops NFL quarterback skills: the stuff that produces tangible results, can be replicated weekly and sustained over an entire season. If Griffin pulls it off he’ll be one of the greatest reclamation stories in league history and the hype and praise he receives will be legitimately earned. It’s all about football now, as it should have been (but wasn’t) all along.
Appeared on Football.com in October 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
On September 2, 1984, the Miami Dolphins traveled north to the nation’s capital for an opening week showdown with the ‘Skins of Washington. It was a battle of NFL heavyweights, a must see show with an epic cast.
Miami was coached by Don Shula, had second-year QB Dan Marino behind center and the “Marks Brothers” – Mark Duper and Mark Clayton – snagging passes. It was an electric offensive attack that would see Mario throw for a then-record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 yards in a single season and the Dolphins win the 1984 AFC Championship.
The ‘Skins, led by future Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs, were reigning NFC Champions and were one season removed from a Super Bowl title. ‘Skins quarterback Joe Theismann had won the league’s MVP award the year before. The Hogs, Washington’s famous offensive line, were two seasons into a decade of dominance. John Riggins was, with all due respect to then President Ronald Reagan, the most popular person in town. And the team’s nickname was still a source of unqualified pride. It was the best of times for D.C. football fans, an era that becomes grander with every passing year under Dan Snyder’s depressing ownership.
For the record, Miami won the game 35-17 behind Marino’s five touchdown passes. Seated in the RFK Stadium crowd that brilliant Sunday afternoon so many years ago was an eleven-year-old boy attending his first NFL game. The moment brought his heroes to life. In the days of analog T.V. and cable’s infancy, the players seemed larger and the team’s colors brighter than he could have imagined. RFK Stadium felt like home, a place where he belonged. Despite the loss, it was an experience that solidified a deep connection with the team and to NFL football, relationships that still thrive today.
The awestruck kid was me.
I am now 41-years-old and have attended many NFL games since that rookie adventure three decades ago. More importantly, I am now the father of two kids, ages 11 and eight. I want them to like NFL football and adopt my affinity for our home team. I want us to have the same wonderful Sunday afternoon experiences for the next 30 years that I’ve had with my dad for the last 30 years. I know that it is my responsibility to support that endeavor with gigantic moments that leave kids saucer-eyed and giddy. I also know that part of establishing that connection, forming that bond and sharing those unforgettable family experiences is attending games with my children – and that’s what troubles me.
My kids have never attended an NFL game and I have no intention of taking them to one anytime soon. It’s a different environment now, not one, in my opinion, for impressionable young eyes and ears. RFK Stadium wasn’t church in early 1980’s – there was plenty of indulgent tailgating and colorful language – but there wasn’t any discernable edge. You didn’t feel like the crowd was on the verge of becoming a mob at any moment. Conversely, I can’t remember the last time I went to FedEx Field, Washington’s current home, and didn’t see a physical altercation or hear vile language far beyond an isolated f-bomb released in frustration.
But words are just words. Here’s an example.
Two years ago I was in line waiting to use a portable bathroom outside of FedEx Field. It was about an hour before game time, a moment that had most parking lot dwellers lathered and jovial. I said most parking lot dwellers. As a door opened to one of the johnnies, a dude quickly filled the vacancy, leaving his girlfriend in line (what a rude dope). While waiting, she started up a casual conversation with the two guys behind her in line. When “boyfriend” emerged to find his girl chatting up another dude, the tool, assuming (incorrectly) that the other guy was hitting on his temptress, blew a gasket. With beer muscles swelled, he immediately rips in to the poor guy who he had identified as an opportunistic creep. “Boyfriend” was in this cat’s face, dressing him down, challenging his manhood and using every word not sanctioned by the FCC in all possible forms. It was…uncomfortable. And here’s an interesting tidbit. The psycho boyfriend was maybe 5’5”, 150lbs. The innocent guy he was verbally attacking with savage energy was every bit of 6’2”, 210lbs – plenty big enough to drop his overzealous assailant in seconds. I heard the guy’s friend whispering in his ear, “it’s not worth it, bro” and, to his credit, he backed down. When crazy boyfriend finally walked away, I commended the guy for his discretion. And to think, they were both ‘Skins fans! Needless to say, I’m glad neither of my kids was in tow.
I have plenty more evidence. After a ‘Skins-Ravens game, I watched a bus full of Ravens fans and a pack of ‘Skins fans in the parking lot exchange projectiles and, ah-hem, pleasantries. I witnessed a fight at a ‘Skins-Eagles game a few years ago just a section over from my seat. I’ve seen beer thrown and jerseys torn. Heated exchanges are commonplace. Bathroom heckling is routine. Those are just my data entries; every NFL fan that attends games with any regularity has their own disturbing story to share. And we all got a glimpse of how bad it can get when the horrific assault in the bathroom at Levi Stadium in San Francisco earlier this year was proliferated online.
Of course I recognize the bad apple spoils the bunch. The social deviants behind these sub-human acts are a very small percentage of an otherwise mass of humanity interested only in a good time and a brief respite from the stress of life in the real world. Regardless, I’ve arrived at this conclusion: NFL stadiums are not a place for this father to take his children…not yet anyway.
Skeptical of my instincts, I pulsed a few friends and fellow fathers of similarly aged kids to see if they too would avoid family outings to an NFL game. Their responses ranged from an emphatic “no” to a qualified “yes.” The qualifications included a series of wise strategies. Day games only. No divisional/rivalry games. Securing seats in the lower bowl. Avoiding the tailgating scene. Leaving early…particular if the game/atmosphere gets tense. Some even challenged my assumption that attending games live is a necessary childhood moment by suggesting that today’s living room experience – with HD T.V., massive screens and surround sound – is more than sufficient to sow your sprouting offspring/NFL fan.
My informal poll offered two surprises: first, that my buddies were capable of such deep thoughts and wisdom and second, that not one of them said they would take their son or daughter to an NFL game without a game plan.
I wonder if this – avoiding NFL games - is a widely held opinion among parents. I can tell you that I would have no reservations about taking my kids to a Wizards, Capitals or Nationals game. In fact, my wife and I did the latter this summer with thousands of other parents in the D.C. area (Nats Park is regularly filled with families). Perhaps that’s because I can’t remember a single fight or vulgar exchange at any of the dozens of MLB games I’ve attended in my lifetime. Think about that comparison from your average Joe parent and sports fan: I can’t remember the last time I attended an NFL game and didn’t observe some sort of altercation and, conversely, I have no recollection of ever seeing such an event at a MLB game.
Here’s something else I can confirm: there were no parental qualifiers or reservations when I attended that ‘Skins-Dolphins game in 1984. It was just a Sunday afternoon at the park. Camaraderie was prevalent. Human decency dominated. A good time was the overwhelming goal. As for today’s NFL games, my personal data and parental spider senses label them “for mature audiences only.” Perhaps I’m just more protective than my parents were. Maybe I’m even overly protective. I’ll take that criticism, because I know I need to be. The fact is life’s different now; and so, for the time being, the television experience will have to suffice…fingers crossed that my buddy who claims that it’s good enough to catch the NFL bug is right.
Appeared on Football.com in November 2015
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The list of Washington quarterbacks since Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann’s leg on Monday Night Football 30 years ago is long and mostly undistinguished. The post-Theismann 1980’s included the likes of Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Stan Humphries and Mark Rypien. That’s not a bad list (it does include two Super Bowl champions), but none were long for the job and no one is contemplating sculpting their heads or fitting them for yellow jackets. The 1990’s started with Rypien and degraded from there. Names like Rich Gannon (back when he was just a journeyman), Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, John Friesz and Jeff Hostetler cycled through. I’ll forgive you for barely noticing or trying to forget.
In 1999, lovable owner Daniel Snyder procured his pigskin toy and Washington’s quarterback attrition rate spiked. Sixteen years later, it’s a running national punchline. Silly us for not recognizing Snyder’s dubious ouster of Brad Johnson, a steady and professional winner, for Jeff George, a sexy, unstable and divisive force, during the 2000 season as a foreshadowing event. For the record, Snyder’s up to 16 different quarterbacks during his relentless pursuit of mediocrity and 10 since the New York Giants drafted Eli Manning in 2004.
Now that deserves some Eli face.
To borrow a phrase from late great author Elaine Gottshall, the drafting of Robert Griffin III in 2012 was supposed to break the vicious cycle. Experts labeled him a “can’t miss” prospect, a guy whose floor was “long-time NFL starter.” Yeah. I have written much about the Griffin soap opera during my time at Football.com. It is chronicled here, here and here for those seeking a stroll down a dark, dank memory lane. Suffice to say Griffin has proven the experts wrong…in all the wrong ways.
While Griffin was shooting commercials, promoting a self-serving comeback, tweeting obsessively, developing a personal logo, passive-aggressively influencing the coaching staff and offense and generally playing far below his rhetoric, Kirk Cousins, a guy drafted three rounds after Griffin in the 2012 NFL Draft, was quietly and deliberately working on his craft and earning the respect of a locker room. It hasn’t been a nice, steady progression for Cousins, though. Head coach Jay Gruden essentially put him on ice last year after several multi-turnover meltdowns. But year two under Gruden was immediately different and Cousins’s momentum throughout the offseason was palatable. By August, the inverse slopes of Griffin’s and Cousins’s careers finally intersected when Gruden, despite his steadfast endorsement of Griffin, anointed Cousins the starter for the 2015 season.
Now if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we assumed this season-long declaration would fall victim to pressure from ownership, Cousins’s mental fragility or the never-ending circus of social media. Griffin would start by Halloween. Then after he proved ineffective or broke down again, Colt McCoy would be handed the keys to the smoking, rusted-out jalopy. It would a quarterback controversy of sorts, one where only the most faithful fans cared to debate the best of the worst. This being Washington, the hot mess behind center would eventually cost Gruden his job and the entire organization would, once again, dissolve into a state of chaos.
Instead, the unheralded, hard-working, low-profile and zero-drama fourth round pick from Michigan State has managed uneven efforts, continued to grow and, as I type on first of December, solidified himself as the team’s starting quarterback. It has been a remarkable four-year journey for Cousins, one that has seen him progress from a dutiful backup who always deferred to Griffin into the team’s unquestioned starter.
Through 11 games this season, Cousins is third in completion percentage (68.4%), twelfth in passing yards and seventeenth in quarterback rating. The value of Cousins’s growth and the stability he has provided cannot be understated. You either have adequate quarterback play in the NFL or you are searching for coaches and general managers to handle a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. While Washington’s 5-6 record is unremarkable, it is good enough for first place in the NFC East and far better than any objective analyst would have anticipated in early September. Cousins’s play is the number one factor behind Washington’s unexpected decency. Beyond wins and losses, it has provided a footing for Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan and afforded the brain trust an ability to effectively evaluate the talent on offense.
Anything can happen over the season’s final five weeks, but right now Cousins has displayed enough ability to at least be the team’s near-term solution at quarterback. Considering how this season could have gone and the mockery it could have become, anyone with a shred of interest in Washington football should appreciate the answer Cousins has provided to the seemingly never-ending question at quarterback in the nation’s capital.
Appeared on Football.com in March 2015
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This time last year, Washington owner Daniel Snyder had a big problem. His football team couldn’t stay out of the headlines. Excessive attention isn’t normally a problem for the master marketer, but the press wasn’t for wins or losses, outrageous free agent contracts or the social media trials and tribulations of the team’s sensitive starting quarterback. Such football-related topics would have been welcomed. What flaw in Snyder’s billion-dollar biz was being virally attacked? Something it couldn’t escape: the team’s name.
Critics appeared on television and in print. A bloodthirsty posse emerged from the deepest regions of cyberspace. The crusaders of right wielded pens and spewed passionate prose. They tickled keyboards and barked into cameras. Anyone and everyone with a platform was stepping up and taking their cuts at Snyder’s dangling burgundy and gold piñata. The Daily Show took its shots. Bob Costas and Keith Olbermann had their turn. So did I. The media mob couldn’t hope to be contained by the sports pages. Oh no, this story had crossover appeal. It was a pop culture lightening rod. Rolling Stone gave it some run. The New Yorker put it ON THE COVER! War had been declared on the “R” word.
Despite the valid arguments, the breadth and depth of which would have rattled even the most ardent supporter, Snyder stood, arm-crossed and defiant. He knew what the term meant. He had questionable data to validate his position and his fan base – allegedly – was behind him. Everyone else was wrong. Change the name? Not on his watch. The Affordable Health Care Act would have a better chance of passing through the current Congress. The R—skins and all the associated Native American imagery would never change.
Snyder was so emboldened that he stared his misguided adversaries in the eye and launched an offensive. He issued a letter in the fall of 2013 describing the R-word as an honorable term representing pride and tradition. Then, in a letter issued in March of last year, Snyder touted an extensive tour he took through Native American reservations around the country. In his letter, Snyder noted the serious issues facing many Native American communities, made a commitment to help and announced the beginning of the Original Americans Foundations (OAF), the mission of which “is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.”
I wanted it to be a genuine sign of compassion and, perhaps, the first step toward an eventual name change. I feared it was organization based in more politics than charity. A year later, my wants have faded and my fears appear realized. The OAF’s website contains littler more than a mission statement, Snyder’s aforementioned letter, a picture from the owner’s tour and news updates that desperately need…well…updating (the latest entry is from March 2014). I also found no reference to the OAF on the team’s official website.
Undaunted, I turned to a tried and true information source: Google. Again, there was nothing of substance for months. Keeping hope alive, I emailed the OAF and the team requesting information – any information – on the organization’s recent activity. To date, I have not received a response.
In Snyder’s March 2014 letter, he said, “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation will serve as a living, breathing legacy – and an ongoing reminder – of the heritage and tradition that is the Washington Redskins.” A year later, the OAF appears to be either idle or the most stealth philanthropic organization in history. If the former is true, it is sad commentary on ‘Skins of Washington and the NFL…and there’s no reasonably available evidence to think otherwise.
In Batman Begins, the Caped Crusader said, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” On changing the name, Snyder’s actions define him as a staunch R-word preservationalist. Regarding the original promises of the OAF, the franchise’s trail of action has gone cold. But maybe I missed something. Perhaps Snyder and the OAF continue to, in accordance with its mission statement, “tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country.” I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love to just get an email acknowledging my queries.
Until then, I’m left to surmise that what Snyder really sought last year was what he got: a tempering of the “change the name” flames. It has slipped below the headlines. It isn’t a daily story anymore. Many one-time champions of change have fallen silent. Maybe their passion still burns. Human nature being what it is, I suppose anger and outrage are usually just temporary states. However, lacking constant opposition, Snyder, the one person whose opinion really matters, doesn’t appear inclined to do anything…not even to update a website that’s gone stale just a year after a passionate launch.
Appeared on Football.com in March 2015
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Weeks before the NFL Draft, a single free agent was signed or the San Francisco 49ers launched the on-going nuclear attack on its roster, Robert Griffin III was anointed the Skins of Washington’s starting quarterback in 2015. It was a move less about acknowledging the obvious and more about avoiding controversy and stroking a fragile ego (before it sought therapy via social media).
There is, of course, a reasonable, football-based argument to pencil in Griffin atop the quarterback depth chart. He’s still young. Things could click in year two with Jay Gruden - if the injury bug stays away. And given his cost, you have to definitively determine if he can or can’t play. That’s why you start him. That’s why you continue with the Robert Griffin III experiment.
The logic is sound, but the decision is wrong.
If Griffin isn’t either running like a wild man - something he is now less willing to do – or in Baylor’s spread offense – concepts that don’t translate to the NFL – the dynamic, Adidas wearing, Subway eating and Gatorade drinking RGIII vanishes and the pedestrian Robert is left holding…and holding…and holding the ball. I’ll be even more blunt: not only would Washington be better off with someone else behind center, it would be wise to divorce the ever dramatic and polarizing Griffin immediately.
In the game of love, hastily dumping a psychotic significant other and being left stark single and without a hint of a new prospect is usually advisable. Temporary loneliness is always better than overexposure to psychological instability. In football, releasing your starting quarterback without a Plan B is ill advised; someone needs to play the most important position on the field, eh? So calling for Griffin’s head can’t be done without a replacement in mind. What’s a better option for the ‘Skins? Kirk Cousins.
Truth and Mystery
It’s an admittedly curious choice. In five starts for Washington in 2014, Cousins’ play was, shall we say, uneven. Maddening decisions and dashes of frustrating incompetence offset - at the very least - his flashes of brilliance (such as throwing for over 400 yards on the road against Philadelphia). At this moment, here’s the ground truth: Cousin has talent, but he is afflicted with a fragile psyche – he struggles to overcome adversity and often compounds mistakes – and has a chronic case of the turnover flu. Has that mercurial space between his ears calloused over or does it remain as fragile as a spot on a professional roster controlled by Chip Kelly? Hmmm…I’m not sure. Is his turnover bug of Rex Grossman severity (i.e. ultimately fatal) or can he reign in his careless ways? Well…I dunno.
So Cousins can play a little bit. Sometimes big moments get the better of him. He’s a little too loose with the football. Okay…sounds like most young quarterbacks with limited NFL reps. Yet Cousins, after getting benched in favor of Colt McCoy in week seven against Tennessee, never saw the field again. Heck, he was barely seen in public again. The dude was put on ice. Left for dead. Exiled to the darkest reaches of the organization to pay some apparently unjust penance for common errors and routine flaws. Bizarre. Mysterious. Only in Washington.
The hunch is Cousins’ exile won’t last. Why? Gruden’s man-crush. Jay’s isn’t totally confirmed, but Jon loves him some Kirk Daniel Cousins. For Chucky, it’s KDC over RGIII every time. Jon is the awkward, slightly overweight and four-eyed kid in the stands who is frozen with infatuation. He’s sweaty and unable to speak in full sentences. Cousins is the jaw-dropping cheerleader. Beaming smile. Bright eyes. Long, flowing hair. Completely irresistible…straight from the pages of dad’s old confiscated porn magazine. Jay and Jon are brothers, of course. They both are coaches at heart and sorta like this football thing. And they talk, like brothers do. So if Jon digs Kirk then Jay…
Cousins indulged big brother Jon’s crush – and raised an eyebrow or two - this offseason by spending a little free time under the tutelage of the older Gruden. Cousins exiled in Washington, a team coached by Jay Gruden? The smart money is on “Not for long.”
Griffin has a better arm. Check.
He possesses greater athleticism and is more dynamic overall. Check and Check.
He has more upside than Cousins. Errr…
We once held that so-called truth to be self-evident. Not it’s an exposed myth.
On the five occasions when Cousins played the predominance of games last season, he threw 10 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions and averaged 314 yards passing. Conversely, in the seven games when Griffin handled the majority of the quarterback duties, the logo managed just four touchdown passes to go along with six interceptions and averaged a paltry 232 yards passing per game.
More numbers. Griffin completed 68.7% of his passes and averaged 11.5 yards per completion in 2014. And Cousins? Completion percentage: 61.8. Yards per completion? 13.6.
It’s Checkdown Robert vs. Downfield Kirk.
Despite throwing just 10 fewer passes in 2014 (204 to 214), Cousins threw two more picks than Griffin. But he notched a half dozen more touchdowns and his yard per completion indicates it was Cousins, not Griffin, who was pushing the ball downfield and attacking defenses through the air. You know, the stuff the really good quarterbacks do. The stuff teams need their quarterback to do.
Cousins probably isn’t the long-term solution for Washington, but he is a decent option and deserves a legitimate chance to play without the Griffin elephant lurking in the room. Cousins, unlike Griffin, has been the consummate teammate and has handled himself with a level of professionalism that Griffin has yet to reach. He is humble and unassuming; Robert is narcissistic and complicated. And there’s not definitive evidence that Griffin, post a second ACL injury, is any better – so why continue to pander to Griffin while a far less dramatic and comparatively effective option already resides on the roster? Jersey sales? Season tickets? Only Daniel Snyder would assume the fan base so shallow and simplistic.
Here’s another angle: what if Jay doesn’t love Cousins as much as Jon and suppose new General Manager Scot McCloughan isn’t sold on Captain Kirk? Well, Cousins has certainly demonstrated the ability to handle the team seeking or acquiring his planned replacement. And Griffin? Yikes.
For example, what if Washington wanted to select Marcus Mariota with the fifth overall pick or another quarterback in the second round? Could they do that and still retain Cousins as a possible early-season starter? Absolutely. A roster with Mariota and Griffin (or Griffin and any other quarterback with endorsement of the current regime) would be an absolute circus. Robert might break Twitter with new workout videos, relentless appeals for validation and a series of new hashtags. Washington would spend as much time on TMZ as it did on ESPN.
With several available quarterbacks already having found new homes, Washington should just tap Cousins to start the 2015 season. The Skins need to generate wins, not headlines and Cousins is every bit as good as Griffin. He might not be the starter Washington assumed it would have three years after the fabled 2012 NFL Draft, but he’s the one they need.
Appeared on Football.com in January 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This is a story about a game, two teams and an equal number of fan bases. It is a commentary on victory, defeat, a great game and human passions. Its conclusion, very simply, is this: sometimes three hours can change everything for the NFL’s most accomplished winners and losers…if only for a day.
The occasion was a week 16 contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and ‘Skins of Washington played at FedEx Field, just outside the nation’s capital. Locale aside, it felt like non-descript bowl game played at a neutral location. An eye test of tailgaters indicated that somewhere between thirty and forty percent of the attendees were clad in some hue of green. The clash of colors was hideous, particularly for those adorned in burgundy and gold.
Despite being slightly outnumbered, the Philly contingent was a spirited group, as one would expect from a fan base supporting a consistent winner and a team playing meaningful football in December. The Italian Stallion himself would have been proud of Gang Green’s fighting spirit. They were lathered and ready for Apollo Creed, Clubber Lane, Ivan Drago and anyone else Washington or Hollywood threw at them. The narrow ‘Skins majority, a once-proud lot beaten down by decades of losing, was easily drowned out. The pre-game approach to FedEx Field was filled with heckling outbursts regarding Washington’s nonexistent home-field advantage, drunken renditions of the Eagles’ fight song and repetitive, chanted spellings of the team’s name (no doubt to the joy of elementary school teachers across eastern Pennsylvania).
The passionate minority was, needless to say, confident in a triumphant result. And the dispassionate majority in burgundy and gold? Nearing the end of another impossibly disappointing and dysfunctional season, they hardly managed a single counter-punch. The outcome was known by both groups of fans. This movie had been leaked. The book had been read. Just ring the bell/kick the ball off and wait for the anti-climatic ending – a presupposed loss for Washington and a casual win for Philly.
Here’s a funny thing about the NFL: it hates the obvious. It toys with it. Makes a mockery of it. When everything seems to favor one team, the apparently hopeless opposition become Spartans for a day. At 4:30pm EST (kickoff), the Eagles were certain victors; three hours later the ‘Skins had stolen Philly’s Christmas and essentially ended their season with an improbable 27-24 victory.
You Don’t Have To Go Home But You Can’t Stay Here
With Goliath out cold, the mood exiting the stadium was decidedly different. Jovial ‘Skins fans managed a few isolated renditions of their fight song, but the feeling of disbelief far exceeded cocky joy. Eagles fan were enraged. This was the team’s third consecutive loss and this final act of failure came against a clearly inferior foe. They were as shocked as Jack Buck when he summed up Kirk Gibson’s home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series with this iconic declaration: “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
The only difference was Philly’s finest contorted Buck’s phrase with several Grinch-like expletives. One particular Eagles fan summed the world-turned-upside-down-in-three-hours-flat when she responded to a group of ‘Skins fan happily singing the fight song to no one in particular by screaming…and I mean blood-red faced, eyes bulging out screaming…”F--- YOU, YOU STILL SUCK!!!” At least she didn’t spell it via group chant?
Losing Scars The Heart
I don’t begrudge the young lady. At some level I respect her deep, personal connection with her team and complete inability to avoid a public nuclear meltdown. Many years ago, I was just like her. For example (and something of an act of contrition), I attended an NFL game with a buddy in the late nineties and by the fourth quarter our creative use of the English language while rooting for our team had emptied the seats in a 10-foot diameter all around us. We were like “Stinky Tom” and “Greasy Ron” at the lunch table: the two disgusting kids everyone in the school avoided. But those days of un-tempered emotion are gone. The losing has gotten the best of me.
My proof? I was one of those dazed and confused ‘Skins fans that offered no resistance to the Philly’s pre-game party, a primer of sorts for the Mummers Parade. I just didn’t care enough to fight - a shocking fall into despondency.
For the better part of my life, Washington’s NFL team – my team – accounted for a huge wedge of my “mood influencers” pie graph. Losses bothered me for days. Wins increased my productivity at work the following week more than any leader’s or motivational speaker’s words. Sorry Anthony Robbins. I rank the three Super Bowl championships among my very best childhood memories. I ripped up a piece of turf after the last game at RFK Stadium and toured FedEx Field when it was still a symbol of civic and fan pride. I have traveled many miles to various training camp locations over the years and dutifully watched every game for over 30 years.
Now I just don’t care like that anymore. After a loss I calmly walk downstairs, provide my wife a humorous account of this week’s debacle and go out in the yard to play soccer with my son as if absolutely nothing happened. When the ‘Skins manage a win, I smile at the good fortune but know it means nothing within larger context of what will undoubtedly be an unfulfilling season. I’m like a person that has agreed to remain with an unfaithful spouse. The relationship still exists and the superficial appearance is unchanged, but it will never be the same.
Why? Excessive, relentless and never-ending losing.
The ‘Skins have completely disintegrated. Depths known but to the Raiders have been reached. They are the unquestioned champions of dysfunction east of the Rockies. The ‘Skins haven’t won more than 10 games since 1991. They have had just three playoff appearances and have won but two playoff games since 1992-93 season. Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 – for the first time. There was no Internet in 1992. Grunge music was dominating the airwaves. Cell phones were like a piece of luggage. Flannel shirts were hung in our closets with care. It takes a diabolic commitment to lose to that extent and for that length of time.
A Moment For Every Fan
This particular ‘Skins-Eagles game was but a moment in time. It took place at one NFL stadium and featured two distinct teams and fan bases – but it wasn’t special. Truth is it could – and probably does – happen throughout the league. At a very basic level this was just a game between a long-time loser and a perennial contender. I could have been a faithful supporter of the Browns, Jaguars, Raiders or Jets. Fans of those teams manufacture half-hearted hope in August and are lamenting a comedy of missteps and a sub-.500 record by Thanksgiving. Buffalo might make the cut too. They haven’t won much in fifteen years. What about Detroit? They are competitive but you can almost feel the distrust and guarded enthusiasm when watching Lions home games.
As for that Eagles fan who was pushing the limits of her cardiovascular integrity, she could have easily been decked out in Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos or Packers gear – all consistent winners. Such teams give a fan reason to lose his or her religion in defeat. An emotional meltdown after a loss to the ‘Skins or a team of similar incompetence justifies a two-year-old fit (at least in my mind). From the team that gives much to its fans, much is expected, I suppose.
And for the fans of teams who give nothing but consistent heartache, if not abject embarrassment? Life is too short. The remote is too close. The NFL RedZone channel and access to quality, meaningful NFL football is too convenient. I am 42 years old and I don’t have to let my miserable football team ruin my Sunday afternoon. I don’t have to have to let every loss trim a year off my precious life. It just isn’t worth it. My focus now is less about the ‘Skins and more on building a fantasy contender, enjoying the accomplishments of elite players in other NFL locales and generically enjoying the great game of football – all changes made for the sake of my mental health. Sanity is vastly underrated.
The bottom line is that defeat-crazed Eagles fan was right. The ‘Skins do still bleeping suck. As do the Browns. And the Jags. And the…you know who you are. The ‘Skins stink and there’s little evidence of change. I accept it…calmly and without a trace of emotion. Am I a broken fan or an evolved fan? Yes - it’s just that uncomplicated.
Appeared on Football.com in Dec 2014
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
It is a word, just sitting there, naked in space and without an identifiable meaning. It could be a reference to Nike shoes or a defunct 1970s Ford sedan that’s better off forgotten. For anglers, it might cue up thoughts of a series of Bassmaster fishing tournaments. In the context of NFL quarterbacks, though, the term “elite” is exclusive and profound. Casual or premature application is strictly prohibited. It is a label to be respected and reserved only for the best of the best.
Why? It demarcates franchises. The quarterback position has evolved into the most important position in professional sports (hold that thought). Elite signal callers define eras, possess Super Bowl rings and break the hearts of opponents. Teams that have one behind center play in packed, raucous houses deep into January; teams that don’t lead the NFL Draft.
There are four presently in the elite fraternity: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and (despite a down year) Drew Brees. This version of quarterback Mount Rushmore has been in place essentially since 2009, Rodgers’ second season as a starter. The foursome has dominated fantasy drafts for years, won six of the last seven league MVP awards, eight of the last nine passing titles and at least one has played in six of the last eight Super Bowls. Oh, and their collective Super Bowl ring and MVP award tally is six and five, respectively. Again, Mount Rushmore stuff…
Quarterbacks, By The Numbers
Regarding that brash coronation of the quarterback as the king of all positions in sports, consider these supporting statistics. The last time a quarterback led the league in passing while throwing for less than 2,000 yards was in 1946. Excluding the strike-shortened season in 1982, Joe Ferguson was the last quarterback to claim the passing crown with less than 3,000 yards. The Buffalo Bills “bomber” did that…in 1977. The last time less than 4,000 yards passing was good enough to lead the NFL? 1997 (Jeff George). Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 yards passing in 1984 stood until Brees broke it in 2011. Marino’s mark has now been surpassed in each of the last three seasons. In fact, 2010 was the last year when less than 5,000 yards passing led the league.
Some of those inflated passing numbers can be explained by an increase in games played. The NFL regular season ranged between 10 and 12 games until 1960 when it expanded to 14. By 1978 it had grown to the 16-game season we now know and love. Still, three consecutive seasons with a 5,000 passer is video game stuff. Statistics don’t lie but you can tell lies with statistics - but not in this case. The road to a Super Bowl championship is much smoother with a quarterback capable of anticipating throws, delivering the ball into tight windows and consistently challenging defenses with a vertical passing game.
Okay, so Manning, Brady, Rodgers and Brees are really good and the forward pass is dominating football. And? Here’s the issue: father time is undefeated. Age claims even the greatest athletes and the Grim Reaper looms for the NFL’s best quarterbacks. At the start of the 2020 season - just six years from now - today’s Mount Rushmore quarterbacks – Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers- will be, in order, 44, 43, 41 and 36 years old. That means in all likelihood Manning and Brady will be out to pasture. Brees might still be hanging on, but his play will be like “reduced for quick sale” meat: long past peak. At 36, Rodgers could still be slinging it at a high level but the underrated mobility he uses to make so many jaw-dropping plays will be waning.
And what of the current second-tier quarterbacks? In 2020, Tony Romo will be 40 and Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers will be 38. Rivers might still be playing at a high level at 38, but it is difficult to imagine Romo, given his injury history, or Roethlisberger, given his propensity to find violent contact, playing in six years.
So what will the quarterback position look like in 2020, the year we will supposedly make contact? Not as good as it is today (unless alien life forms can diagnose exotic blitzes and sling the rock). That’s the problem behind all these passing numbers and advancing ages. That’s the point of this piece.
Here’s the list of current quarterbacks (and their respective 2020 ages) who will still be in their primes in 2020: Matthew Stafford (32), Cam Newton (31), Russell Wilson (31), Andy Dalton (32), Colin Kaepernick (32), Matt Ryan (35) and Andrew Luck (30). Who on that list quickens your pulse? Who keeps you up late on a Monday night or scares you when they appear on your team’s schedule? Stafford? Maybe, but Calvin Johnson will turn 35 during the 2020 season. Newton? He is a good candidate but has taken a tremendous beating. Kaepernick? Come on. Ryan, 29, is in his prime right now…and his prime is “good.” Is he going to make some sudden improvement and morph into Tom Brady at age 35? Wilson could be a must-see, but he is a long way from reaching the passing proficiency of Manning-Brady-Rodgers-Brees and his reliance on his legs is not a formula for longevity.
That leaves Luck and, frankly, only Luck in the quarterback pipeline. He’s the one guy that consistently makes the throw-it-ages-before-you-see-it plays on a consistent basis. No window is too small. No deficit is too large. He makes the plays kids dream up on the playground a reality on Sunday afternoons. By 2020, Trent Dilfer’s popular “Dilfer’s Dimes” segment on ESPN will mostly be an Andrew Luck highlight reel.
Another Round, Please
The naysayers are convinced this nonsense is the talk of a football Chicken Little or a doomsday prepper, the kind of guy who gripped in the final seconds of the twentieth century and obsessed over the Mayan calendar. Fair enough. But consider the top three quarterbacks selected in each of the last five NFL Drafts. Ready? Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater (2014). EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon (2013). Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill (2012). Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert (2011). Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen (2010). This pain train could continue, but that’s enough to make the point.
Quarterback speculation has always been a dangerous game but that list is alarming. It is littered with broken dreams, trashed coaching careers and barely worn jerseys available at yard sales nationwide. With the exception of Luck, Newton, Tannehill and the 2014 draft class (who can’t yet be judged), it’s a wasteland. And again, Luck’s the only bona fide heir apparent, the only quarterback on a Hall of Fame arc.
If you’re betting the next five drafts will produce three or four more Andrew Luck’s, I suggest going light and using house money. Where are the elite, can’t-miss prospects? The college game that is producing Heisman Trophy winners and gaudy, basketball-like scores, isn’t producing Manning’s, Brady’s, Rodgers’ and Brees’. It’s producing that above list of busts. Unless the NFL figures out how to effectively translate the college game to the pro game – organizational patience and a commitment to methodical development would be a good place to start – there is absolutely nothing to indicate that this trend of chewing up and spitting out prospects won’t continue and the overall play at the quarterback position will be its victim.
In The Moment
That said, here’s a suggestion: recognize that we are approaching the end of a golden era of quarterback play and enjoy what time is left with this rare collection of elite players. What Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers and (welcome to the fraternity) Luck do week in and week out is simply amazing. In the NFL not even the next play is guaranteed, but assuming good health, time is short for at least three of them. Should Denver win the Super Bowl this year, could Manning retire? Absolutely. Brady seems to have a few more years left but a fourth Super Bowl ring could change his thinking. Brees has had a rough year. What if he has another one in 2015 and his long-time coach Sean Peyton were to be relieved his duties?
Ah, this is the stuff of nightmares for football fans and a problem for another, hopefully far-off day. The state of the quarterback position in 2020? Forget about it. For the time being, let’s all relish the moment.