Saturday, May 20, 2017

Useful Dysfunction

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Warning and a hedged promise: A tired, perhaps psychologically unhealthy topic follows.  Brave it…there’s a 50% chance you’ll be glad you did.   

For my entire childhood and through my teenage years, the NFL team in Washington was a source of joy and tremendous pride.  It provided many victorious Sunday afternoons, great memories with family and dear friends and a little strut in my step on Monday mornings as I confronted the prior week’s naysayers.  

The metrics Washington produced between 1982 and 1993 are unimaginable now - 10 winning seasons, eight playoff appearances, 16 playoff wins, four Super Bowl appearances, three championships and five Hall of Famers.  That’s fairytale stuff, but it happened…I think.  I have trinkets – magazines, shirts, pennants, Wheaties boxes, etc. – that indicate it did.  Faint memories still exist in my aging, overloaded and overheated brain.  Dusty VHS tapes and YouTube videos provide concrete visual evidence.  But it seems like another lifetime, so long ago that I may have been another organism in this distant earthly realm, or myself on another planet altogether. 

Washington’s once great franchise is now two-and-a-half decades into an absurd period of persistent losing and managerial incompetence.  That joy and pride I once felt as a child has been replaced by frustration and embarrassment. 

Over the years, disregarded or ill-spent draft picks, grotesquely overpaid free agents, fumbling away internal talent – like a 28-year-old potential franchise quarterback named Trent Green (does this scenario resonate in 2017?) – and misguided impulsiveness have been the organization’s identity.  The pervasive lack of vision, discipline and leadership is beyond criticism now, it’s is downright comical.     

Recently, though, there had been flickers of hope: The organization had adopted a traditional front office structure, restrained reckless spending, committed to the draft and acquired a respectable core of talent.  The result was something that hadn’t happened since grunge music’s arrival: two consecutive winning seasons.

This brief flirtation with stability and success was apparently intolerable.  Enemy of the State/Owner Dan Snyder has recoiled and pressed the self-destruct button…again.  So far this offseason, the General Manager, Scot McCloughan, was jettisoned under suspicious circumstances, acrimonious negotiations with Kirk Cousins have become an omnipresent albatross and talent is departing for other teams.  Uncertainty is the prevailing forecast.

They were so close.  After 18 mostly humiliating years as an NFL owner, Snyder almost had it figured out.  An extended period of competitive, respectable football was within reach.  Now Snyder, The Master of Chaos, and his merry band of yes men has the franchise back to being a national punchline – on TMZ as much as ESPN – and vying for another dubious “30 for 30” documentary.

Like many long-time and aging fans, this latest chapter has left me despondent but philosophical.  I’m wondering, sometimes aloud and to the chagrin of my wife/therapist, what usefulness this team and its constant dysfunction has in my life.  Do I need the added angst and negativity?  Would this relationship pass any rational test of healthy living?  Don’t I have better things to do with my time? 

But then it occurred to me: This is no longer a football team, it is a metaphor for life.  Washington fans are following a team while trapped in a Bob Dylan song.  They almost had it figured out only to fall victim to ever-present shortcomings and familiar trappings.  I’ve almost had many things figured out in my life.  School.  The opposite sex.  Relationships.  Marriage.  Career.  Parenthood.  The meaning of it all…the meaning of life!  Almost.  So close…so many times. 

Then the curve ball comes, an unforeseen element or a layer of complexity my modest mind couldn’t have anticipated.  And I fall short.  I’m humbled and confused.  I’m left searching again for some footing.  But I’m never broken.  Life moves on and I’m still in the game, still striving to uncover a better me.  I remain a contender, if endearingly flawed.  Next time I’ll get it right.  Next time I’ll nail it.  And if not, there’s always the “30 for 30”…or whatever the equivalent is for a well-intended, try hard dude/friend/colleague/husband/son/brother/dad who is perpetually finding his way through a series of false starts, curious decision and ill-fated excursions.   

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