Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Quarterback for the Doubted

As published in The County Times (

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 (

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 (

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.