Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Quarterback for the Doubted

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last June, Kyler Murray was selected by the Oakland A’s with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.  He may have been picked higher except for one little wrinkle: After backing up Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Murray was slated to be the Sooners’ 2018 starting quarterback. 

This football thing didn’t end up where it seemed headed last summer.  Murray, who played sparingly as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2015, sat out 2016 after transferring to Oklahoma and saw only spot duty in relief of Mayfield in 2017, entered last season as a talented but unknown commodity.  The likely scenario: he would have a nice season while running head coach Lincoln Riley’s potent Sooners offense.  As for the A’s, the only real risk seemed to be an injury on the gridiron.

By season’s end, Murray’s resume included nearly 4,400 yards passing, over 1,000 yards rushing, 54 touchdowns (passing and rushing), a Big 12 championship, a berth in the College Football Playoff and a Heisman Trophy - a “nice” year indeed.  More accurate descriptions include “amazing”, “transformational”, “unbelievable” and “generational” – pick one, they all fit.

Murray’s performance created a dilemma – stick with the A’s and baseball or jump to the NFL.  Murray recently chose the latter and will enter the 2019 NFL Draft.  He is projected as a top-15 pick.  A no-brainer, then?  Hardly.  Murray’s transition to the NFL will involve all the normal challenges as well as the negative perceptions of fault-finders.    

At just 5’10” tall and under 200lbs, Murray lacks prototypical NFL quarterback measurables.  The issue of Murray’s size is further compounded by his athleticism and willingness to scramble; Riley, his former coach, called him Barry Sanders at quarterback.  It’s an alluring skill-set, but as Washington fans know, there is great consequence to a slight franchise quarterback running through NFL defenses.    

It will matter little on draft day.  Murray is the most fascinating prospect in the draft and quality quarterbacks are in short supply; an early first round pick he will be. 

Regardless of Murry’s ultimate destination, I’m already a fan.  Not because I have an affinity for Sooners football or even Murray himself; rather my affection is based solely in the fact that Murray is so unorthodox.  The NFL likes its quarterbacks to be at least 6’2”, have a cannon arm and possess just enough athleticism to extend plays.  Having played only football since age 10 and only quarterback since age 14 is desired.  And why not?  Games are won by big quarterbacks, utilizing precision footwork and throwing mechanics, delivering throws mostly from the pocket. 

That is conventional wisdom. 

Murray can probably do stereotypical quarterback things, but he’ll never be 6’5”, he’ll routinely use his legs and his mechanics will include a dash of baseball flavor, as needed.  Every time he takes a snap in the NFL, coaches will question what thought they knew and fans will doubt the promulgated (and stale and unimaginative) “franchise quarterback” profile.

And I love it.  I love that Murray played multiple sports and that he confronted his body and mind with diverse endeavors.  I love that he will challenge NFL organizations to think differently and to recognize and adapt to the game’s evolution.

Murray’s not the first quarterback to put the NFL’s groupthink on tilt.  Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are others with baseball backgrounds.  Wilson, at 5’11”, shares a similar vertical challenge.  And league-wide mobility at the quarterback position might be at its highest ever.  Still, Murray’s specific profile – his overall size, athleticism and multi-sport background – still qualifies for unicorn status. 

But that’s just the football side of Murray’s story; his NFL journey carries broader relevance.  Murray will play for everyone who has ever been doubted or outright dismissed for being too much of one thing or too little of another.  Be it because of race, gender, age or some other baseless or blatantly unjust qualification, Murray will play for those who didn’t fit a pre-cast mold and succeeded anyway. 
I’m rooting for him.  How could anyone root against him?

Atlanta 2019; Brooklyn 1947

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Another NFL season has ended.  March Madness is over a month away.  The NHL playoffs seem a far off oasis. The NBA hasn’t reached its All-Star break.  Pitchers and catchers have made travel reservations, but none have yet reported to spring training.

Oh baby it’s cold outside…and for sports fans the post-Super Bowl psychological swoon is biting hard.  If only B.B. King or Muddy Waters had of put sports fans’ blues to song. 

Perhaps it’s best they didn’t.  An anthem would validate the unbecoming sympathy grab and distract from what the uncluttered sports calendar is: an invitation to reflect.

And with that…February thoughts from Atlanta, post-Super Bowl LIII... 

The first thing that comes to mind is African American History Month.  And the first name?  Jackie Robinson: the most important player in MLB history and arguably the most important athlete ever.  Robinson would have turned 100 years old on January 31.  In April 1947, he courageously took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first African American to play in the major leagues. 

The racist vitriol that Robinson endured – verbal assaults, hate mail and death threats - is shameful.  But he kept playing – with uncompromising dignity and exceptional skill.  Opinions changed and other African American players soon followed – Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks, to name a few.  Eventually (a word too often used to describe the pace of social progress), the Supreme Court found school segregation to be unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 ended segregation in public places and made discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin unlawful.  Robinson isn’t the lone impetus behind this progress, but he gave us a strong nudge toward a better America in Brooklyn in 1947.          

I thought about Robinson, and the influence one exceptional person can have, when contemplating the latest Pro Football Hall of Fame class and the Super Bowl participants.  As something of a Hall of Fame induction speech junkie, I’m fascinated by this one common component: a coach, teacher, parent, guardian or spouse, without whose influence said player may not have played a down in the NFL. 

Two stories that stick with me have local connections.  During his induction speech, former Kansas City Chief defensive back and Washington coach Emmitt Thomas talked about his mother’s death when he was eight and credited his grandfather with being the reason he made it – in life and football.  The other is former ‘Skins offensive lineman Russ Grimm.  While attending the University of Pittsburgh, Grimm, then a linebacker, was “encouraged” by head coach Jackie Sherrill to move to offensive line after several players graduated.  Grimm didn’t initially like it, but stayed the course and became the very best player on the most famous offensive line in NFL history – The Hogs.

As for the Super Bowl participants, there are two profound “if my career hadn’t intersected with this person” stories.  Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are both future first ballot Hall of Famers.  Could one have been successful without the other?  Sure, but together they are the greatest coach and quarterback ever. 

The Rams may have something similar brewing.  Three years ago, under then head coach Jeff Fisher, rookie QB Jared Goff was 0-7 as a starter and posted a putrid 63.8 quarterback rating.  He was the next great quarterback bust.  In two seasons under current head coach Sean McVay, Goff’s quarterback rating has been over 100 and he’s been to two consecutive Pro Bowls.     

We all have our extraordinary people, the ones we would lavish with accolades and credit during our own “Hall of Fame induction speeches”.  We also have the opportunity to be that extraordinary person, the one that enables something grand, for others (and to receive credit in their “Hall of Fame speeches”).  That hardly makes us worthy of a Jackie Robinson comparison, a man who influenced a nation and millions of people, but maybe by positively impacting one life and one person and making the world just a little bit better in the most modest way, we keep his spirit alive.

A Washington Institution Crumbles


As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.net)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

I have watched football with my dad for as long as I can remember.  My earliest memories of Sundays include scanning the T.V. Guide to see what games would be covered and hoping the D.C. and Baltimore stations fed a strong signal into the funky, arrow-ish looking antenna on our roof. 

Time has certainly improved the viewing experience.  Cable television replaced the rusty antenna and birthed the ESPN era.  High definition television followed.  Now it’s the RedZone channel, a spectacular guided tour of live NFL games.  Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  The RedZone channel is too.

Despite the changes, my dad and I have remained steady football consumers.  Our viewing location is different, the television is bigger and the picture is sharper, but it’s still father and son, barking at referees, cussing the Dallas Cowboys and rooting for our home team. 

About that home team: Love of football aside, our deep affection for the ‘Skins of Washington is what has brought my dad and me together on Sundays through all those years.  Our relationship with the burgundy and gold is understandable.  When George Allen took over as head coach in 1971, my dad was just 23-years-old.  I was eight when Joe Gibbs took the reins and 20 when he retired from coaching (the first time) in early 1993.  During this 22-season run, Washington enjoyed 18 winning seasons, 13 playoff appearances, five trips to the Super Bowl, three championships and universal respect throughout the NFL.  Those teams ended up sending 11 people to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – eight players, two coaches and one executive. 

It was the best of times.  The twenty-five-plus years since, a period with just eight winning seasons and two measly playoff wins, haven’t been.  The losing is, in a strange way, tolerable.  It’s the football incompetence, dismissing of the fan base and embarrassing social missteps – all hallmarks of owner Dan Snyder’s “leadership” - that have scarred the team’s faithful.  And the world is watching – according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, the Washington football team is the fifth most hated American company.  Not just football team…company. 

My dad and I often fill the losing vacuum by discussing the best organizations in the NFL; that’s what you do when yours is mostly inconsequential by Thanksgiving.  We talk about the Steelers, the Seahawks, the Packers and, of course, the Patriots.  But the team we might discuss the most is the New Orleans Saints.    

The Saints signed QB Drew Brees before the 2006 season, an acquisition that altered the course of perennial loser and created a unique love affair between city, team and player.  When you think of New Orleans, the Saints are very much in the discussion with jazz, the cuisine, voodoo and the French Quarter.  And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a jubilant and united Big Easy after a Saints victory, count yourself fortunate.    

That how it used to be in D.C.  The ‘Skins were once a binding force, one that dissolved the often stark differences in a diverse fan base.  They were something to feel good about, something to take pride in.  No more.  Once the most elusive ticket in town, the team now struggles to sell out home games and FedEx Field is routinely overrun with fans from opposing teams.  The team’s name, for anyone with an inkling toward American history, is at least awkward, if not completely unusable.  The Washington pro football team, a former bedrock franchise of the NFL, is now arguably the league’s worst.  The disintegration of a D.C. institution is complete.

It’s hard to type those words.  At this point, with no indication better times are ahead, I feel fortunate to have experienced that incredible run under Coach Gibbs.  And I suppose, in football and in life, the suggestion of this story is to enjoy the best of times and use the memories to sustain you when life deals a losing hand, even if that just means a father and son maintain their relationship by steadfastly watching a gloomy football team. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Marriage Counseling

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had but three head coaches - Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin – since 1969 and have been run by the Rooney family since the franchise’s inception in 1933. 

I’ve used those statistics in this column before, but that doesn’t make them any less amazing.  The three head coaches over five decades is particularly mind boggling, considering the transient nature of the career field.  Professional coaches live out of suitcases in pre-furnished, rented apartments.  Their families don’t immediately uproot to move to their latest employment destination.  They pay monthly storage fees in multiple cities.  Absentee ballot has been their voting method since the Reagan administration.  Papa was a rolling stone; wherever he laid his hat was his home.  Ditto for professional coaches. 

Except, of course, in Pittsburgh.  Except, of course, for the Steelers.

Organizations talk about stability, establishing core values, brand creation and developing a symbiotic relationship with their city, the type that oozes into the pores of locals and, over decades, creates a nationwide fan base.  Some succeed briefly or even for an era; most fail miserably and quickly.  Coaches are then fired.  Executives are run off.  Organizational reboots follow.

Except in Pittsburgh.  Except for the Steelers.

Until now? 

What is going on in western Pennsylvania?  First Le’Veon Bell – one of the top running backs in football - gets into the mother of all contract disputes and sits out this season.  Now Antonio Brown – among the NFL’s best wide receivers – essentially goes AWOL before a pivotal season-ending game and seems determined to finagle his way out of Pittsburgh for the contentment that apparently awaits in some other NFL locale.  QB Ben Roethlisberger is doing damage control, head coach Mike Tomlin seems fatigued by the public drama and Steeler nation is likely befuddled by why Bell and Brown wouldn’t want to join Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris and Lynn Swann and John Stallworth as fellow Steelers Hall of Fame running backs and wide receivers.  The situation is hot mess, so much so that TE Jesse James likened the Steelers…the Pittsburgh Steelers…to the Kardashians.  

For D.C. football fans, this dysfunction, lack of logic and loss of direction is routine.  The Washington football team has been a rudderless, overly dramatic and substance-lacking disaster for at least 20 years – a period coinciding with Daniel Snyder’s ownership.  Kirk Cousins’s exhausting multi-year contract squabble and ultimate exit from D.C. is not identical to Bell’s or Brown’s situation, but it shares similarities.  Like Bell, Cousins felt under-valued and never could reach a long-term agreement; like Brown, his relationship with the organization became irreparable.  Cousins left for greener pastures - and a lot of greenbacks - in Minnesota.  Bell’s a free agent and on his way out of Pittsburgh.  Brown, who remains under contract with Pittsburgh, doesn’t seem far behind.

Business is business, but who’s winning here?  Minnesota, Washington and Pittsburgh all regressed this season.  Cousins’s performance fell far short of his $26M price tag.  Washington’s fix at quarterback – Alex Smith – suffered a horrific injury and may never play again.  Bell didn’t earn a dime.  Brown is laying waste to his Pittsburgh career and reputation.  If Pittsburgh loses both Bell and Brown, the once irreproachable Steelers organization deserves criticism.  And none of them, neither the teams nor the players – are participating in the playoffs this year. 

How all this came to pass is unclear.  The suspects?  Pride, ego and money – in spades.  Maybe Cousins eventually plays up to his contract in Minnesota or Washington finds a better solution at quarterback.  Pittsburgh might be better without the Bell and Brown distractions; a fresh start on a different NFL team may serve both players well.  The bet, though, is that all of the above, soon or on some distant day, will wish they had of worked a little harder to make it work.  Familiarity can breed contempt.  Change can be seductive.  But sometimes staying the course – and the character-building scar tissue, the relationships and the deep satisfaction it can yield - is worth the grind. 

I’ll stop there because this is starting to feel like marriage counseling…and that’s way beyond my qualifications.

A Law Firm Of Inspiration

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Another year in recorded time is nearly in the books.  Unreal.  Are we great again?  Or at least better than we were?  More tolerant?  Appreciative?  How do we feel about our government?  International relations?  National security?  Fundamentally, are we closer to the nation we want to be…or should be?  Does that great concept expressed in our Declaration and codified in our Constitution remain elusive or an end state we are steadily marching towards?

Lots of questions there.  The guess is they produced many different answers.  That’s democracy – messy, passionate and diverse in thought.  At the height of discord, though, there must be mindfulness of our ever-binding ideals and an absolute, unwavering respect for the pillars of our nation – which is a fancy way of saying we’re all on the same team and in pursuit of vastly similar goals.  Some of that important perspective was lost in 2018, I think, individually and certainly at a leadership level.

How to reset then (at least personally)?  Another good question, my loyal readers.  Thumbing through 2018’s “Views”, it seems your friendly neighborhood sports writer was struggling mightily with that daunting question throughout the year.  The easy answer: just always be cognizant of our shared goals and love of country.  But given human tendencies to be short-sighted and impulsive, a little additional inspiration can’t hurt - and I found some from the world of sports, of course, via the “law firm” of Gordon, Gleason and Alexander.

“Gordon” is one Josh Gordon, the former New England Patriot, who announced last week that he was taking a leave of absence from football to focus on his mental health and was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the terms of his prior reinstatement.  “Gleason” is Steve Gleason, a former member of the New Orleans Saints who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.  “Alexander” refers to Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander who was just announced as the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the second consecutive year.

How to stitch this together into something useful for 2019?  More questions.  Here it goes…
On the surface, Josh Gordon appears to have it all – big, physical and uber-talented.  He’s the physical mold for an NFL wide receiver.  But Gordon has struggled for years with his mental health.  I was hopeful that his trade from Cleveland earlier this year would give him fresh start in New England.  If it was only that easy…

Gleason was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award.  In his acceptance letter, he noted that his ALS battle has entered its eighth “season”, matching the length of his NFL career.  Gleason also noted another parallel between his football career and life with ALS – the good fortune to have a strong “team” of supporters around him. 

Alexander…where to start with this guy?  An undrafted free agent, Alexander bounced across three teams before finally making his debut with Washington.  He spent time as an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a special teams dynamo and, ultimately and in his thirties, a Pro Bowl linebacker (no, that’s not a joke).  Through it all, he’s been an endless source of positivity and do-good-ery, as those back-to-back Walter Payton Man of the Year nominations attest.  Alexander is simply one of the best dudes in professional sports…or the planet. 

Collectively, there is much to be learned and applied from this “law firm” in 2019.  In Gordon, we are reminded that the surface rarely tells the story and that every one of us is struggling with something life has dropped on our doorstep; so be gentle, patient and kind with fellow humans.  In Gleason, we see the power of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity and also the humble admission that no mountain is climbed alone.  And finally, there’s Alexander.  His challenge is simple but perfect for the holiday season: Find a way to give back and, to steal a lyric from Diana Ross, “Make this world a better place, if you can.” 

To you and yours, a happy and healthy 2019. 

Sports Yield To History

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Running household joke: I suffer from SAD – Sports Affective Disorder.  If the Terps, Caps, ‘Skins, Bullards or Nationals win, I’m happy.  If they win big – think Caps hoisting the Stanley Cup – I am manic.  If they lose, I’m grumpy…lose in disastrous fashion and I’m best avoided by all of humanity.

It’s unfair.  There may have been a shred of truth to it once upon a time.  But I’m good now.  The euphoria associated with winning big is still there, but I don’t psychologically crater with losses.  I mean, there’s been so many defeats over the last two decades, adaptation was inevitable.  Beer helps too…and whiskey when things get a little desperate.  That’s a statement, not a suggestion…necessarily.  If you take it for the latter, remember to be of law abiding age and consume responsibly. 

Cured of SAD I am not.  D.C. sports still test my resolve, like when the football team starts 5-2 and six games later is 6-7 and wasting away into dust like a victim of Thanos’s Infinity War.  Ah, but it looks like the ultra-villain spared my life.  Thanks, big guy.  Now I get to enjoy three more weeks of The Mark Sanchez/Josh Johnson Experience.  Joy to the (bleeping) world.  “The most wonderful time of year”?  My derriere… 

I almost started feeling sorry for myself.  Despite the Caps’ Stanley Cup respite, it still takes little evidence for D.C. sports to regress into martyrdom.  And so, while contemplating a football season gone awry, the starting quarterback and backup quarterback spending a night in the hospital in adjacent rooms after breaking their legs (true story), I was almost there.  Bah humbug.  Full-on Mr. Scrooge.  I was ready to hang with The Grinch and plot a new attack on Whoville.

Then history intervened. 

Whatever your opinion of the state of our nation, every American should have seen December 7 on the calendar last week and felt very, very fortunate and tremendous gratitude.  On that day, 77 years and a few generations ago, Americans learned of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.  With Europe already consumed by war and the Japanese advances in the Pacific, the attack almost certainly meant America’s formal entry into World War II.  A day later, President Franklin Roosevelt confirmed as much in his famous speech regarding that infamous day.  It is humbling to consider the subsequent sacrifices that ensured the freedoms we enjoy today.

Speaking of December 8, FDR’s speech shares the day with another significant moment in history: the murder of John Lennon.  Connecting the two, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  Lennon, particularly after his break from The Beatles, discussed, wrote and sang about ideas.  Perhaps his greatest idea for humans was expressed in his iconic song “Imagine”.  In Lennon’s musically simple and lyrically powerful masterpiece, he challenges us to contemplate a world where there is no heaven or hell, no countries, nothing to die for, no religion, no greed or hunger and where all people are living in peace.  A powerful idea indeed.

When contemplated together, and in today’s very divisive times, the post-Pearl Harbor, World War II era and Lennon’s “Imagine” beg us to acknowledge the power of togetherness and our shared cause.  The immense challenge of World War II, and the consequences of defeat, offered little tolerance for petty differences.  Similarly, Lennon’s “Imagine” demands confrontation with our too common inclination to obsess over differences – in race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion and anything else the mind can manufacture – rather than seeing one another, first and foremost, as fellow humans with the shared goals of love, peace and happiness.  Or, as more eloquently stated by former President Bill Clinton, “The world is awash in divisions rooted in the human compulsion to believe our differences are more important than our common humanity.” 

History: It certainly has a way of making a putrid football team completely insignificant…and it arrived just in time to reset, rejuvenate and refocus a troubled mind for the holidays.  Hopefully Mr. Grinch won’t be too disappointed when I decline his invitation to visit Mount Crumpit. 

Favorite Cowboy

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The Nationals, with Bryce Harper on the open market, are staring down an uncertain future.  Washington’s football team, with a broken quarterback and a declining defense, is falling apart…again.  The Wizards are an embarrassing combination of long-term, nine-figure contracts and spectacular dysfunction.  So much for the Capitals’ Stanley Cup win being contagious; everything is back to the suffering norm for D.C. sports fans. 

But hoisting the Stanley Cup did sugar the bitterness.  It took the edge off and created a different perspective on the world of sports.  Back in September, the Stanley Cup afterglow had me, a proud and passionate long-term D.C. sports fan, expressing genuine happiness for Philadelphia Eagles fans – D.C.’s most hated mob of rival fans - and their overdue Super Bowl title.  I did this previously unthinkable thing in this column.  In print…forever. 

It felt good.  Appropriate.  And here we are again, at yet another bizarre moment when adoration will be heaped on perhaps D.C. sports’ greatest enemy.  Why not?  ‘Tis the holiday season…

For nearly 30 years, I have cussed and mocked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  I loathed his resuscitation of “America’s Team” and Dallas’s three Super Bowl championships in the 1990s.  I celebrated his ego-driven divorce from head coach Jimmy Johnson and the destruction of one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.  I have enjoyed his often misguided impulsiveness, the jettisoned coaches – Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcels and Wade Phillips – and high-profile acquisitions gone awry – Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, Terrell Owens, Greg Hardy, Ryan Leaf, and Roy Williams (to name a few).  I relished in the fatally flawed Tony Romo era and have found comfort in an unrestrained Jones habitually being his own worst enemy.

It’s different now.  I’m older…and a little less chippy.  What I feel most for Jones these days is appreciation.  No, no, not for his fabulous defects.  I appreciate Jones’s passion, commitment and fearlessness.  He absolutely loves being the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, isn’t afraid to take big risks and is impervious to criticism.  His best friend is his gut instinct and he’ll keep betting on it until he gets it right.  The proof?  For nearly every one of Jones’s personnel swings and misses, he’s hit a homerun.  Take the recent acquisition of WR Amari Cooper.  Jones was criticized heavily for shipping a first round pick to Oakland for the receiver.  But it was Cooper, Jones’s latest gamble, who ran wild through the ‘Skins’ secondary on Thanksgiving to the tune of 180 yards and two touchdowns. 

Loving what you do and having the courage to do it your way – may we all be so fortunate.  But that’s only part of Jones’s appeal.  What I like the most about the man I shouldn’t like at all is that he makes football fun.  I often disagree with his opinions on the league and social issues, and I root passionately against his team every week, but the dude puts smiles on faces.  To steal a phrase from Reggie Jackson, Jones is one of the straws that stirs the NFL’s drink.

Confession: The Caps aren’t completely to blame for this Cowboys love; a cab driver was a co-conspirator.  Two days before Jones’s Cowboys whipped the ‘Skins on Thanksgiving, a family had booked an early morning boat excursion and was frantically searching for the appropriate dock.  A cabbie driving through the area noticed the group, guessed (correctly) that they were looking for a particular boat and knew they were off-track.  He slowed, wound down his window and casually offered a welcomed re-direction. 

It was nothing.  It was everything.  I’m indebted to a stranger. 

Kindness: We seek it, we endeavor to spread it.  Every day is a test, but especially this time of year.  Are we still capable of going over-and-above, doing the right thing, making another human feel good or simply helping them through their day (even one with vastly different sports affiliations)?  When no one is watching?  When there is no possibility of personal gain? 

That cabbie passed the test.  He sprinkled a little kindness on me.  Cowboys fans, I just sprinkled some on you.  Pass it on.    

Digging Deeper

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Life is fast, faster than ever.  We are connected…constantly.  Attention spans are shrinking.  Patience is thin.  Information better be condensed into a headline, a hyperlink, a slideshow or a brief video, otherwise…don’t bother. 

I’ve lost half my readers already. 

Superficial facts produce superficial and often inadequate knowledge.  We are aware, but are we informed?  What are we missing?  A lot…

Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite writers, is best known for popularizing Gonzo journalism.  He is famous for embedding himself within the Hell’s Angels (and the resulting novel), coining the phrase “fear and loathing” and embracing the nation’s drug culture – both personally and in his writing.  In perhaps his most well-known book (and movie), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson took readers on a dizzying ride into the Nevada desert in search of the American dream.  It was a wild collection of drug-induced hallucinations and debauchery that left the line between fantasy and reality indistinguishable.    

At the end, it leaves the reader wondering what exactly they just read.  Could it be real?  What kind of mind creates such actual and literary mayhem?  Much of Thompson’s writing followed a similar script.  The raw brilliance is obvious, but the sheer madness is what immediately sticks. 

That is both Thompson’s gift and his curse.  His wildly entertaining work is marked by quick, intense introductions (suggestion: read…or reread…the opening to Hell’s Angels) - irresistible hooks – and relentless unfolding chaos.  It is all so outrageous that it feels surreal – screeds penned by a semi-sane/semi-mad genius lost between fact and fiction.  Thompson is so good at wreaking havoc with words that is easy to dismiss him as a purveyor of the absurd.

But to accept Thompson as just that is to dismiss half his story.  As Timothy Denevi passionately argues in his recent book Freak Kingdom, Thompson’s political writing, starting after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and continuing into the Nixon administration is arguably his best and certainly his most historically important work.  Thompson’s coverage of the 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns and biting criticism of Nixon, in particular, is as relevant today as it was when it first flew from his typewriter.  

It is an odd connection, but like Thompson, the most substantive aspects of sports often get crowded out by seductive statistics, flashy plays, tweets and clickbait.  The evidence is extensive, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit it to a quarterback, an NFL owner, a few professional teams and an NHL raffle.

The quarterback: Drew Brees.  Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer and among the best of his generation.  Undersold?  Indeed.  Brees is the New Orleans Saints and, in the end, he will have meant as much to The Big Easy as Louis Armstrong (well, almost).  Brees is 39 years old.  His time on the field is short.  Player-city marriages like this are rare.  Enjoy it.  Appreciate it.

The owner: Paul Allen, the former Seattle Seahawks owner, passed away last month.  He is best known as Microsoft co-founder and savior of the Seahawks franchise in the Pacific Northwest.  But his legacy will be this: he arranged for the proceeds of the sale of the franchise – estimated at over $2B - to go completely to his charity, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. 

The Teams: Given recent and on-going events in their communities, do you think the professional teams in California and Pittsburgh are playing for more wins on the field?  As an example, Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth donated last week’s game check to the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting.

The Raffle: The Capitals hold 50/50 raffles at home games – a ho-hum promotion…until it wasn’t.  In a recent game against the hated Penguins, the winning Caps fan donated the haul - $19k – to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA. 

The Message: Dig a little deeper.  Read beyond the headlines.  Pierce through the force-fed stuff (which is often designed to distract and provoke).  Wrestle conventional wisdom.  Find substance…or at least a quarterback, a billionaire owner, a couple of teams or an unknown fan that, through their character, compassion and decency, make you smile. 

The Beautiful Formula Inside The Lines

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This was cued up to be a screed about a sports fan’s mid-life crisis.  While watching MLB’s playoffs this year, he found himself alternating between mumbling under his breath and barking loudly at the television - odd behavior given he had no rooting interest or particular disdain for the participants. 

He loves baseball, a game that is as much thought as played.  Between pitches, stuff happens – lots of stuff.  Pitches are called, defensive alignments are set, runners are checked and batters look for clues about the pitcher’s next offering.  When the ball is in play, the game is a masterpiece of moving parts.  Properly choreographed defensive play is elegant.  Something as simple as running the bases – the angles, the feel for time and distance, knowing an opponent’s arm strength and sound sliding techniques – is an undervalued, highly trained skill.

Many of those fundamentals are eroding in this obsessed-with-the-long-ball era.  That bothers him, but what really sticks in his crawl is the lack of an assumed fundamental – hustle.  It’s not just Manny Machado; at least he admits to dogging it.  Few players really bust it down the line, and on batted balls to the outfield, many don’t run hard until they’re half way down the first base line.  And this is in the playoffs.  If you can’t hustle then, then when?

But his…my…mid-life crisis as a sports fan seems trivial now.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all, not given recent events.

A white man killed two African Americans in a grocery store after trying to enter a largely African American church.  Another man allegedly sent a series of bombs to former democratic presidents and political opponents of the current president.  Then an anti-Semite entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered 11 people in their place of worship.

This horror happened over three days in the United States of America.  The violence, depth of hate and loss of innocent lives is difficult to process. 

Sports seem insignificant in times like these.  But there is still something important in these games - and it has nothing to do with effort or even the score. 

Over the years, this column has been nothing if not an on-going commentary about how sports inform, challenge and inspire our everyday lives.  While watching the World Series in the aftermath of the recent acts of domestic terrorism, I sought comfort in that basic attraction of team athletics and what it indicates about our capabilities human beings.    

And so, in these very disturbing times, here’s where I am as a sports fan.  I don’t care about Machado’s too-cool-for-school play anymore.  It doesn’t bother me that players stroll down the first base line admiring a would-be homerun only to see it clang off the wall leaving them scurrying to leg out a double.  Or that David Freese couldn’t catch a pop up.  Or that Jasiel Puig air mailed a ball to home plate as if the cutoff man didn’t exist.  Nope, none of it matters.  Not a bit.  Not at this moment.  My mid-life crisis as a sports fan is on pause.

What matters, from this now concluded baseball season, is that Machado, a Dominican-American from Florida, Puig, a Cuban, Hyun-jin Ryu, a South Korean, Justin Turner, a white dude from California, and all of their other Dodger teammates, tried to win the World Series.  The Red Sox, with guys like Mookie Betts, an African American from Tennessee, Xander Bogaerts, an Aruban, and Andrew Benintendi, a white guy from Arkansas, won Boston’s fourth championship since 2004.  And that they all competed last weekend, in front of Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, a Jewish American, makes the power of the moment all the more poignant. 

These men, from all over the globe, working together, trusting and respecting each other, leveraging complimentary talents and chasing a common goal – that’s the formula.  If this great country has any chance of reaching its grand documented idea, that is the formula its residents must pursue.  Those competing between the lines, across all major sports, have figure it out; those of us living outside the lines still have a long way to go.

Coexistence

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

She exited a fast food restaurant loaded with rations.  One hand held a large bag of food; the other clutched a drink carrier bowing precariously under the weight of several 32oz beverages.  As she shuffled across the parking lot, disaster seemed likely. 

But she made it to her car – mostly. 

Halfway through the journey, a straw was blown to the ground.  She wisely abandoned the accessory, focusing instead on safely delivering the primary cargo to her car.  Best case, it could be retrieved.  Worst case, she’d return to the restaurant for a replacement.

Neither was necessary.  As she got to her car and turned to check on the straw, a man brought it to her.  He saw the errant straw, stopped his vehicle, fetched it from the parking lot and walked it over to the grateful woman. 

It was a small thing.  A simple act of kindness.  In context, it was a powerful moment.
There has been much of late, in the world of sports and otherwise, to challenge even the most stubborn optimist’s faith in humanity and belief that the world’s good outweighs its bad. 

Catholics, in the wake of the unconscionable and disgusting sexual abuse scandals, are left wondering how this church could preach its moral code – and burden the non-compliant with heavy consciences - while so many of its clergy preyed on children and its leaders protected the predators.  Was Catholicism a ruse?  Did all those financial contributions at mass do good or support the legal defense fund of pedophiles and a corrupt institution? 

The presidency, often a source of wisdom and calming perspective, has of late created consistent national inflammation.  President Trump’s expressed opinions on immigrants, minorities, Muslims, women and a free press, in addition to a long list of personal indiscretions and curious international interactions, have deeply disturbed critics.  But it is hard to imagine that his free-thinking political supporters, in their heart of hearts, aren’t troubled by the rhetoric and influence on the country, one founded on the ideas of freedom and equality and heavily influenced by Christian ideals.

Sports and politics have recently intersected on the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence.  Steelers fans cheer Ben Roethlisberger.  Yankees fans cheer Aroldis Chapman.  Some Americans are cheering the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.  Ohio State University has moved on with Urban Meyer as the face of the institution.  Whatever your opinion on each issue, the collective message is unacceptable.  Women deserve better.       

The Milwaukee Brewers’ won the first game of the ALCS last week.  During the post-game interviews with Ryan Braun and Josh Hader, the elephants in the room were unmistakable.  Braun parlayed PED use into a massive contract from the Brewers.  He vehemently denied the allegations in 2012; a year later he issued a disingenuous “okay, you got me” apology.  Hader, an ace reliever, once sent racist and homophobic tweets that were discovered earlier this year.  He’s sorry too, of course (at least for getting caught).  But the cheating, lying and hate fades to the background in the glow of sweet victory!  Go Brewers! 

So what about all of that?  A powerful theme throughout Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the coexistence of good and evil (and the eternal struggle it begets).  Both are apparent, too, in our games, our government, our institutions – in all facets of life.  It’s a sobering thought.  But all isn’t hopeless – it can’t be.  Our games – sports - make tremendous contributions to society and our government, despite its flaws, remains one of humanities best ideas.  As for religion, individual faith in something greater than “this” is at the core of just about all of them; that’s powerful when “this” is so corrupt. 

We are, as a nation, a people…a species…a work in progress.  To grow into something greater, we share a responsibility to keep this whole thing tilted in the right direction, at least in the aggregate if not in every instance.  This demands that every person condemn evil and spread good wherever possible, even if it’s doing something as simple as stopping to retrieve a stranger’s lost straw. 

Heart and Faith

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)


By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It is fascinating how a story finds you.  One minute you’re lost, out of ideas and incapable of creative thought, then a daydream, a song, a headline or a random event delivers the goods.  It’s the chase - the pursuit of inspiration.  That’s the best part of the writing process.  The words themselves…that’s a love-hate thing.  Sometimes the sentences come easy and the final product does the original idea adequate justice; other times it’s a grind to type a coherent sentence.

For this “View”, the idea arrived by accident – the best kind of delivery.  A deliberate, early-morning search of the infinite World Wide Web offered nothing.  I was trying too hard.  The topic was waiting in my in-box. 

It wasn’t obvious.  A friend sent an innocuous YouTube link to an NFL Films segment on one of our favorite players.  I clicked on it with no expectations other than a distraction from my lack of leads.  Minutes later I was feverishly searching for a killer excerpt from a poet and a poem I had never heard of.  That’s the chase.  Love it.  And now for those sometimes troublesome words…

The player was ‘Skins Hall of Famer John Riggins.  The poet?  Robert W. Service.  The poem?  “The Law of the Yukon.”  And the excerpt?  Well, I’ll get to that.     

It is easy to underestimate Riggins.  A self-proclaimed horse of a different color, his showmanship and appetite for debauchery always lead his story.  Yes, he did drink a couple morning beers during his first visit with new ‘Skins coach Joe Gibbs.  Yes, he was “El Presidente” of team’s infamous post-practice beer-slinging “Five O’clock Club.”  And yes, he did once encourage Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to “loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re way too tight” in an obnoxious drunken stupor.

But Riggins was and is more than an inebriated jock.  He is very thoughtful and a keen skeptic of conventional wisdom.  He possesses both the intelligence to see situations for what they are and the courage to speak about them honestly.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “Every man is born an original, but sadly, most men die copies.”  Riggins isn’t “most men.” 

During the NFL Films piece, Riggins talked eloquently about how the nasty business of football affected him personally.  He described his initial naiveté, his quick loss of innocence and how it bothered him to see teammates cut.  Riggins loved the game between the lines; the game played outside the lines weighed on him. 

The process of tearing through veils and uncovering the truth isn’t unique to football; it is part of growing up.  Eventually the fairy tale of youth diminishes and the world is seen through an adult lens.  From that more complex and conflicted perspective, politicians become less virtuous, corporations less just, churches less wholesome and many people less genuine than advertised.  It’s the messy truth…making peace with it is an on-going internal wrestling match within us all. 

Riggins eventually found some peace with the underbelly of professional football.  When reflecting on his infamous playoff run after the 1982 season, Riggins, by then an 11-year veteran, talked about being aware of the moment and the opportunity to rewrite his legacy.  This awareness was the impetus for him demanding carries from the coaches.  Riggins was all-in.  Football was going to be just a game again, if just for this brief stretch. 

Riggins’s run to glory ended with Washington’s first Super Bowl championship and the Super Bowl MVP trophy for its eccentric running back.  Riggins was lost in the moment, a grown up once again playing a child’s game.  He found something in the competition between the lines that allowed him to play true to the excerpt he quoted from Service’s “The Law of the Yukon” poem: “Men with the hearts of Vikings and the simple faith of a child.”

Riggins found something pure during his legendary playoff run, something that, despite knowing the impurities of football, allowed him to play with all his heart and believe with the uncorrupted faith of a child.  While navigating our own complex and imperfect worlds, may we all find something worthy of such unqualified commitment.