Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Best Laid Schemes

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

“May you live in interesting times.”

For some, it’s an ancient blessing; for others, it’s a curse – “interesting times” being code for some sort of upheaval.  Its origins might be Chinese; although it has links to British history.  Whatever the meaning, intent or source, living in interesting times certainly applies to a world now battling the spread of COVID-19, a virus that, ironically, began in China.  Or maybe, according to a wild suggestion by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was started by the U.S. Military.

Despite the mysterious history of the quote and rumors of this pathogen’s origins, this isn’t in question: the disruption this micro-organism will have on our lives has just begun.  Sports, in context of an evolving public health crisis, are an insignificant footnote to a developing new way of life, but last week it was the world of sports that first triggered the transition to our new normal.  The NBA first suggested playing games with no fans – how naïve and “early March that seems now.  Shortly thereafter, a Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled before tip-off after Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive.  Then the league suspended the season for 30 days.  The NCAA slowly followed suit, first cancelling conference tournaments and then making the unimaginable, but absolutely appropriate, decision to cancel March Madness.  NASCAR and the NHL quickly adopted the coronavirus shutdown protocol.  Golf nixed its near-term schedule and postponed The Masters.  MLB has delayed the start of the 2020 season and the NFL’s league events are fluid.  For all intents and purposes, the sports has been shut down indefinitely - and it all happened in a dizzying 48-hour period.

But the sports columns must go on, if not for your sanity, then certainly mine! 

Again, setting aside the true victims of this disease – those battling or who have succumbed to COVID-19 – and focusing only on those inconvenienced by its spread, my sports mind immediately extends sympathies to amateur athletes.  As Maryland closed out a victory over Michigan in the regular season finale to secure a share of the B1G conference championship, I applauded as senior guard Anthony Cowan was removed from the game in the waning seconds.  Little did we know that the victory over Michigan would be Cowan’s last game as a Terrapin and the end of the season for an exciting Maryland team. 

The disappointment extends far beyond College Park. 

Dayton and San Diego State, two unlikely basketball powers, had generational teams and legitimate chances to win it all.  Former Wizards head coach Leonard Hamilton had perhaps his best Florida State team and was poised to make a serious run at the national championship; the same can be said for head coach Mark Few and his Gonzaga Bulldogs, a perennial contender that’s never cut down the nets. 

Down a level, it’s hard to contemplate the number of high school athletes who didn’t finish winter sports or who will have spring sports cancelled altogether.  To lose a season at the college or high school level – one of only a precious four – is just a real kick in the knee; and for the seniors, it is an unfortunate end to one of the great experiences in life – amateur athletics.

Tom Hanks, who is currently being treated for COVID-19, channeled Jimmy Dugan, the character he played in the movie “A League of Their Own”, when concluding a social media post on his condition and the virus with “There’s no crying in baseball.”  Or in the world’s battle against a pandemic, so Hanks’s suggestion goes.  I suppose that frank statement applies to all athletes who lost a season or saw their amateur athletic careers end prematurely.  That seems a little harsh, but then life just has its way with us sometime.  As Robert Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse”, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”  

At the end of this, let’s just hope that lost athletic seasons remain among the most significant social consequences.  For if so, we won.  Until then, good health to all while we navigate these most - unfortunately - interesting times. 

No Trace of Regret

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Dusty shelves often hold our oldest memories - pictures are organized in albums or (more likely) crammed into boxes and share space with family videos on DVDs or VHS tapes.  Technology has claimed such antiquated media and created fancier storage methods for newer experiences – memory cards, thumb drives, computers, phones and virtual clouds.  No matter the form, the impetus is unchanged: capture and chronicle life into a library for strolls down memory lane.    

Reminiscing with old photos or videos is sure to create a feeling of nostalgia, a complex emotion combining joy and melancholy.  The joy comes from simply recalling the best of times through memories refreshed with assistance from priceless visual aids.  The melancholy is more complicated.  Artifacts of the past can include reminders of loved ones lost and eras when we were younger and perhaps healthier and happier.  Deeper within the melancholy is something more serious: regret.  “Those times were so good, those people were so precious and our youths were so fleeting.  Now it’s all just pictures, videos and images in my mind.” Or so the regretful thinking goes.  Tough questions follow.  “Did I understand the beauty of it all?  Did I cherish it enough?" 

‘Skins fans – this one included - no doubt find themselves under similar personal cross-examination when perusing relics of the once-storied franchise’s three Super Bowl championships.  After over a quarter century of mostly embarrassing losing, the common conclusion is likely no - we didn’t fully appreciate that decorated era of football.  Fortunately, the Capitals’ charge to a Stanley Cup title in 2018 and the Nationals’ World Series championship last fall offered a do-over.  And boy did D.C. respond. 

A special experience is happening again. 

So you may have noticed that Caps winger Alex Ovechkin is good.  He puts the puck in the net – a lot.  He’s a perennial All-Star and a Stanley Cup winning Captain.  The Capitals will retire his number and hang his jersey from the rafters at Capital One Arena.  He’s going to the Hall of Fame.
That is high praise, but it only begins to do Ovechkin justice. 

See, there are great players and there are immortals.  John Riggins, Art Monk, Darrell Green, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Rod Langway, and Mike Gartner are all great, Hall of Fame, D.C. sports legends.  The nation’s capital has only two immortals, players who are considered among the best to ever play their sport: ‘Skins QB Sammy Baugh and Senators pitcher Walter Johnson.  As Tony Kornheiser would say, “That’s it, that’s the list.” 

Maybe not anymore. 

As I peck at these keys, Ovechkin sits at 698 career goals.  Only seven players in NHL history have scored over 700.  Ovechkin will almost certainly become the eighth in short order.  Here’s where it goes next level: Ovechkin’s only 34, is playing great hockey and is surrounded by a talented offensive core that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Gordie Howe’s second place total of 801 goals is absolutely within reach and with good health, Ovechkin has a legitimate chance to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals. 

Translation: Over the next handful of seasons, we will witness Ovechkin’s attempt to become the NHL’s most prolific goal scorer.  The potential fly in the ointment (this is D.C. sports, after all) is Ovechkin’s contract.  He’s a free agent after next season but it’s hard to imagine him leaving.  In fact, let’s not imagine such a thing at all.  Forget I mentioned it. 

Here’s what matters: We are in a moment.  As Ovechkin continues to ascend the goals scored list, passing names like Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) on his way to Howe and Gretzky, photos will be taken, videos will be shot, articles will be written and read and memories – with friends, a city, a team and a player – will be created.  Soak it all in, because one day, many years from now, the dusty chronicle of this whimsical time will be revisited and a nostalgic wave will be created.  Don’t let that future stroll down memory lane be tinged with even a trace of regret. 

The Game of Basketball

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Basketball makes a simple first impression – shoot ball through hoop, prevent opponent from doing the same – but possesses complex, ever-evolving intricacies that can captivate participants for a lifetime.  It can be played in various formats, from traditional five-on-five to one-on-none.  Young and old, male and female are welcome – separately or together.  Entry costs are minimal; no special (expensive) equipment is required, just a ball and access to a hoop.  Full or half court is fine.  The location can be as glorious as an NBA arena or as quaint as a high school gym, a well-worn public playground or a modest pallet and rim mounted to an oak tree. 

Few sports have transcended borders and bridged differences like basketball.  Dr. Naismith’s game, started humbly with a peach basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, first grew into America’s game and is now, with players like Rui Hachimura from Japan, Luka Doncic from Slovenia and LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, a global treasure.  Michael Jordan was ahead of his time when he referred to the sport as not just “basketball” or “the game” but as “The Game of Basketball.”  The phrase acknowledged basketball as, in the simplest of judgments, “just” a game, but the formality of Jordan’s phrase, and the proud inflection he used speaking it, hinted at much more.    

With that said, January was a difficult month for the basketball community.  On January 1, former NBA Commissioner David Stern, a catalyst for the NBA’s growth in the 1980s and basketball’s global appeal, passed away.  He was 77.  Morgan Wootten, the storied DeMatha High School basketball coach, died on January 21 at the age of 88.  And finally, Kobe Bryant, along with 8 others, tragically perished in a helicopter crash on January 27.  He was just 41 years old. 

Collectively, the sport lost the NBA’s most important executive, perhaps its greatest high school coach and one of its iconic players.  But basketball tells only part of the story of these three legends.
Stern was complex.  He could be combative and condescending, but he was also intelligent, ambitious and possessed a grand vision for basketball that few could have imagined, let alone realized.  Without David Stern, would Hachimura or Doncic be in the NBA?  What about former stars like Yao Ming, Mano Ginobili and Dirk Nowitzki?

For me, Wootten’s impact is personal.  I once attended his famous basketball camp.  It was a brutal and fantastic immersion into basketball’s fundamentals - the triple threat offensive position, the “reach for the peach” shooting stroke, developing the off-hand and defensive positioning (get your base…butt…low) – and personal discipline within a team concept.  Here’s what fascinating about Wootten: he chose to coach high school basketball at DeMatha for nearly 50 years, shunning more lucrative opportunities at higher levels.  Wootten clearly chose fit, happiness and the chance to impact young lives over anything money could buy; countless men from the DMV region are glad he did.   

And then there’s Kobe.  Why?  He had so much left to do.  Smart.  Thoughtful.  Driven.  Competitive.  Kobe taught us the power of self-confidence and determination; he was proof of the correlation between hard work and success; he embodied the importance of continuous growth and curiosity.  However, Bryant wasn’t without flaws.  In 2003, he was accused of sexual assault.  Bryant was acquitted, admitted to the extramarital affair and apologized to all involved.  It was a terrible situation of his doing, and part of his legacy.  But nearly 17 years later, Bryant’s rededication to his marriage and growth as a father is commendable and undeniable.  An amazing second act seemed in the offing; it will forever be unfulfilled.         

Stern, Wootten and Bryant.  Executive, coach and player.  Three very different men.  Three very different roles.  They are linked, though, by profound social impact through a common profession.  They are linked by “The Game of Basketball” – a grand pursuit, one disguised as unimportant recreation, that trivializes human differences and binds the globe through shared passion.  So play.  Dribble.  Take a few shots.  Work up a sweat.  Wherever and whenever you can.  For as long as you can.  Stern, Wootten and Bryant would want it no other way.

No Artificial Ingredients

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Hearts race.  Knees shake.  Perspiration dots foreheads.  Anxious spectators take one last deep breath and then…

A football is booted off a tee and flies toward a far off end zone.  An umpire yells “Play Ball” and a pitcher hurls a stitched sphere toward a catcher’s mitt 60 feet and six inches away.  Two giants leap to tip an orange-ish ball tossed skyward.  A puck is dropped at center ice as sticks violently clash.    
The games begin.  Viewers exhale, but only briefly.  Adrenaline quickly swells as relentless competition continues through quarters, halves, periods or innings and ends with the scoreboard, the ultimate authority, deciding the victor - the best on this day and for this single game. 

The essence of sport resides between the lines – the rink, court, links, gridiron, pitch or diamond; there, it is player versus player, coach versus coach, scheme versus scheme and team versus team.  The result is sometimes glorious (the thrill of victory) and sometimes painful (the agony of defeat), but the process is always captivating. 

The assumption, naïve as it may be, is the competition is pure.  No one is on the take.  The combatants achieved this height of athletic competition based on merit and dedication to craft; the integrity of the sport is held in the highest regard.

That simple ask is sometimes too much for humans in general, much less highly competitive, ego-centric humans, some of whom are afflicted with a lust for wealth and fame.  The same determination required for athletes, coaches and executives to reach the pinnacle of sports can entice some to cross ethical, maybe even moral boundaries to profit or gain an advantage…or both.

The Black Sox scandal happened.  Former NBA official Tim Donaghy did make calls to manipulate point spreads.  Point shaving has occurred in college basketball.  Bad actors have funneled talent to major college programs with financial overtures.  The NFL’s greatest and most recent dynasty, the Belichick-Brady Patriots, shook our confidence with “Spygate” and “Deflategate”.  And for many (myself included), sports completely lost its innocence with the shameful explosion of PED usage in MLB near the turn of the century. 

And now, not even a generation after “the juice” soiled MLBs sacred record-books, complicated Hall of Fame inductions and made us question baseball’s identification as the national pastime, the Houston Astros have been caught stealing pitching signs using live video feeds in their dugout (and maybe signal buzzers on their person).  Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers was the first to blow the whistle in November 2019; the internet and video sleuths took it from there.  Now we know: the Astros employed the scheme in 2017 through their World Series victory and in the 2018 regular season – at the very least. 

The fallout has been swift and significant: Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora (Astros bench coach in 2017) and Mets manager Carlos Beltran (a player on the 2017 Astros) have all been fired.  Beyond that, the Astros’ 2017 championship and the tremendous success of their talented, potent lineup is forever tainted.  This era of Astros baseball gets filed next to Barry Bonds’s flawed homerun record and Roger Clemens’s late-career revival – all accomplishments achieved with artificial ingredients.  Brand them with the cheater’s asterisk – Houston Astros* evermore.  What a shame. 

Mark Twain once said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”  How appropriate that quote is for gifted athletes who so cavalierly succumb to temptation.  But will this latest sordid episode in sports incite the universal outrage that prior scandals have?  A gaze across the American landscape suggests no.  The court of public opinion, once the nation’s great authority on standards of decency, seems more lenient.  Excursions from long shared tenets of right and wrong are quickly rationalized, sometimes even lauded, if the pursued outcome pleases certain sects of the court.  This suggests winning is valued over method or means.  And to the extent this is true, the Astros are America’s team and baseball, with its latest group of liars and cheats, is a fitting pastime.    

A President, a Hooky and a Plastic Bag

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

What in the world?  On 2 January, recluse Dan Snyder either crawled out of his dark, subterranean hole and into the light of day or begrudgingly descended from his insulated ivory tower into the realm of peons – choose your perspective – to announce the hiring of Ron Rivera as Washington’s new head football coach.  The socially accomplished and endlessly lovable Snyder started the press conference by offering everyone a “Happy Thanksgiving”. 

Happy what? 

Theories on the bizarre reference?  Snyder loves Thanksgiving – turkey, stuffing, yams, cranberries, etc. – and fixates on it frequently.  This is understandable.  Another angle: He meant “Happy New Year” and the Thanksgiving mention was an honest error by a guy whose modest public speaking skills have further atrophied after years of strategic seclusion.  That’s probably the real answer.  But my preferred theory?  Snyder mixed up the NFL’s annual “Black Monday” – the day after the regular season ends when numerous coaches and front office executives are fired – with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”, milestones synonymous with Thanksgiving.

Whatever the reason for the infamous Snyder-ism and awkward start to the Rivera era, the turn of the calendar always brings massive change in the NFL.  Washington is just one of this year’s NFL towns where unsuccessful regimes are getting whacked and change is creating uncertainty, excitement and hope.  Officially, NFL stands for National Football League; unofficially, the acronym is sarcastically referred to as “Not For Long”, a well-earned adaptation that perpetually looms over executives, coaches and players.    

But the NFL, with its non-guaranteed contracts and structure supportive of quick turnarounds, is just the best example of sports’ transience.  Truth is, all professional sports teams ruthlessly cycle through players and coaches like mad chemists in some frenetic search for the magic (winning) formula.  Down a level or two, eligibility limitations create recurring instability for college and high school teams.  Similarly, age constraints make any experience in youth sports short-lived.  It all comes and goes so quickly. 

While that evidence concerning the rapid cycling of the sports world and athletic endeavors is factual, it is also metaphorical; I trust the faithful, veteran readers of bleacher views didn’t miss broader reference to the pace and fluidity of, well, everything.  And with that, we have reached the The Great Crescendo - the part when President Barack Obama, Ferris Bueller and a plastic bag meet in a sports article… 

A convergence so odd it must be an introduction to a joke?  Maybe, but for now it will stitch this meandering story together.  First up, Bueller: Our favorite hooky, warned long ago that “Life moves pretty fast…if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  President Obama, broached despair with this: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.”  Lastly, the plastic bag is from the movie “American Beauty”.  In a poignant scene, characters Ricky and Jane watch a video of an ordinary plastic shopping bag swirling in the wind.  It remained airborne, whipping right and left, and up and down, depending on nature’s whim.  The bag appeared to dance to some magical, unpredictable and silent, but completely enrapturing beat. 

Which is to say what about the speed of life?  Well, a few things.  That we all can and should occasionally press pause to absorb the fabulous madness (Bueller).  That when the relentless pace threatens or derails progress, we must find the internal energy to move forward, to persevere, even if the direction is unsure and the destination unknown (Obama).  And finally, that we are all tossing in the wind – operating with an uncomfortable (and unacknowledged?) lack of control – but that there are benevolent forces in the world to guide and that sometimes life’s most beautiful aspects are found in its perpetual motion and unpredictability (plastic bag). 

I’ll now look forward to President Obama’s feedback that a commander in chief has never been so honored by an association with a disobedient high schooler and a plastic bag.  What?  He’s an avid reader.  There’s a chance he reads “The County Times”.

A Toast to George Harrison

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In 1970, shortly after the start of another long-ago decade, former Beatle George Harrison released his solo album “All Things Must Pass”.  The title undoubtedly references the end of The Beatles just months earlier, but in classic, unassuming Harrison style, it conveys neither bitterness nor excessive optimism; rather, “All Things Must Pass” is a matter-of-fact statement of the obvious – time moves on, people evolve, situations change, doors close and others open.  The passage of all things isn’t good or bad; it just is.

Now, at another transition between decades, Harrison’s art is worth revisiting.  The changes in Harrison’s life during the 1960s are difficult to imagine, much less understand.  Perhaps that familiarity with upheaval is why he confronted his post-Beatles life with an album carrying such a nonchalant summation.  Ah, but such thinking would further underestimate the most underrated Beatle; more likely, he had a deep understanding of time, life and change.    

Considering the last decade in sports, Harrison’s prediction of fluidity held – mostly but not entirely, at least for now.  When 2010 arrived, the NBA was a very different place.  Kobe Bryant, now long retired, was on the verge of winning his final championship with the Lakers.  The Golden State Warriors were bottom feeders and offered no indication that they would win three championships by the decade’s end.  LeBron James, the best player on the planet, hadn’t yet won a championship 10 years ago; he has three now.

Talking baseball, the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, the team’s first since 1908.  1908!  Keeping it local, the Orioles started and ended the decade among MLB’s worst but did manage a few 90-ish win seasons and playoff berths between the swoons.  As for the Nats circa 2010, Stephen Strasburg was still months from his debut, Bryce Harper was about to be drafted, Anthony Rendon was a sophomore at Rice University and Juan Soto was…11 years old.  Insane.  From 69 wins in 2010, through much playoff heartache and eventually to a World Series championship in 2019, it was an epic decades for Nats nation.

The NFL you ask?  Okay, fine.  Tom Brady and Drew Bees, two 40-somethings, are still slinging it.  Lamar Jackson was 12 in 2010; he’s the NFL MVP now.  Comparing Baltimore and Washington football, the Ravens were 12-4 and ‘Skins 6-10 in 2010.  Those Ravens were coached by John Harbaugh; he’s still Baltimore’s coach.  Washington has had three head coaches in the decade and will soon have a fourth.  So, in other words, nothing much has changed in a decade – Baltimore is a flagship NFL franchise and Washington remains astoundingly incompetent.  Bah humbug. 

After that channeling of Ebenezer Scrooge, let’s end on a bright note: hockey.  In 2010, the Caps won the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy – one of three in the decade – but, true to form, lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Canadians.  It was just the latest entry in a multi-decade, seemingly never-ending, playoff horror film.  More excruciating playoff losses followed.  Then 2018 happened.  The Caps won the Stanley Cup (never gets old typing that). 

Who could have written that script?  And as a ball sits perched in Times Square waiting to introduce a new year and a new decade, who could write the next?  George Harrison already did, at least in abstract.    

The title track of Harrison’s classic album includes these lyrics: “Sunrise doesn’t last all morning…sunset doesn’t last all evening; darkness only stays the nighttime…in the morning it will fade away”.  Harrison, at least in song, predicted and found comfort in the permanence of impermanence.  What awaits on the journey to 2030?  Wins and losses, joys and sorrows or, as The Dude might say, “strikes and gutters” - all vague references to change and the unknown.  The specifics?  Stay tuned.  Harrison’s tip is to embrace it and know, good or bad, that all things must pass.  Not could.  Not might.  Must.  But his words are unmistakably hopeful, a feeling that permeates every New Year’s.  A toast then: to George Harrison, timeless advice, this moment, good fortune and quick sunrises to end any darkness.  Happy New Year!      

Fighting Dictators

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In the 1980s, Michael J. Fox was one of pop culture’s biggest stars.  For young boys he was a cool as it gets; for adolescent girls, his posters occupied prime real estate on bedroom walls. 

Fox rose to prominence playing the right-leaning, Ronald Reagan loving Alex P. Keaton in the hit television series “Family Ties”.  His on-screen charm quickly transcended the small screen via the role of a lifetime: the DeLorean-driving, time-travelling, guitar shredding Marty McFly in the iconic “Back to the Future” trilogy.  Somehow avoiding the Keaton/McFly typecast, Fox successfully returned to television in the 1990s on the show “Spin City”.

Life, of course, is never only about adoring fans and blockbuster films, literally or figurative.  And it certainly hasn’t been for Fox.  Not-so-great news arrived in 1991: Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  The actor would now have to figure out how this curve ball would impact a role he had been playing his whole life – that of Michael J. Fox.

Fox’s 2009 autobiography, “Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” offers a powerful window into this evolution.  The title is a humorous play on Fox’s modest 5’4” stature and a direct introduction to the essence of the book - an inspirational story on coping with challenging circumstances.  Fox addresses many topics – his youth, career milestones, alcoholism, family life, parenthood, religion and his political fight for stem cell research – but the book is centered on a brutally honest account of his daily and progressive struggles with PD.

I just finished the book and am not ashamed to say that it stirred considerable emotion.  One excerpt, among many, that resonated was how Fox talked about fighting the progression of PD tooth and nail so that it did not dictate how he lived his life. 

The concept of a life-dictating force – and resisting it - is powerful.  The dictators are everywhere - some realized, some anticipated others inevitable.  They arrive early, on-schedule or by complete surprise.  No one avoids them all. 

The connections with sports are obvious.  There are many reasons for sports’ broad appeal; one that transcends teams and rivalries is an underlying appreciation for the journey each athlete took just to make it and the challenges all face in dodging dictating forces - day to day, week to week and year to year - to remain on the field, the ice or the court.   

In the ever-present battle between athlete and dictator, there are many inspiring stories of human achievement.  Let’s start with a trio of quarterbacks.  Tom Brady’s battle against age is redefining paradigms.  Russell Wilson, all 5’10” of him, successfully overcame the naysayers who labeled him too short for the NFL.  Lamar Jackson, “cursed” by elite athleticism, was once now infamously dismissed by former NFL executive Bill Polian as nothing more than potential NFL wide receiver.  

When considering athletes who have defeated the dictation of injury, I think of our World Series champion Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder, foot), Howie Kendrick (Achilles), Trey Turner (broken hand/finger), Stephen Strasburg (elbow) all fought their own battles against serious injury to make October magic.  NBA players DeMarr DeRozan and Kevin Love have braved struggles with and removed stigmas attached to mental health.  Washington Mystics All-Star Elena Della Donne persevered through chronic Lyme disease.  Former Washington defensive tackle Tony McGee, one of “The Black 14” – 14 African American players kicked off the 1969 University of Wyoming football team for seeking a way to protest the prejudice policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – made it to the NFL despite the overt racism present in a desegregated America.  For years, female athletes fought for equal access and equal institutional support; the US Women’s National Team has renewed the fight for equal pay.  And so many athletes have made it despite seemingly insurmountable social and/or economic conditions.

Age, injury, illness, racism, sexism, un-even access to opportunity, unconventional and misunderstood talent – these are just a few of the dictators that threaten what we do, how far we go…fundamentally how we live our lives.  Encounters are inevitable; as Michael J. Fox and the sports world prove, capitulation is not.

The Way They Were

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Before getting to the nostalgia, a fond farewell is in order. 

Fred Cox was the kicker for the Minnesota Vikings from 1963-1977. He played in four Super Bowls and retired as the NFL’s second leading scorer. My introduction to Cox came only upon his passing last week at the age of 80; I, like many others of my vintage, owe him a tremendous debt.

Beyond his football accomplishments, Cox was a chiropractor and, most significantly, an inventor.  In the early 1970s, Cox and collaborator John Maddox developed a kid-friendly football.  The prototype, made of foam, was adopted by Parker Brothers and, voila, the NERF football was born. 

When you are 10, there isn’t much you can do with a regulation football.  It’s too big to throw, too hard to kick and catching it can be painful.  But a NERF football makes a kid an instant NFL quarterback.  I had one my entire childhood (who didn’t?).  It was at the center of epic backyard football battles and begrudgingly accepted indoor games of catch with my dad (mom rejected outright a real football being thrown inside, but a NERF offered a reasonable compromise).  The NERF football evolved into NERF basketball, another staple of my childhood.  I had a hoop in my parents’ rec room, in my college dorm and my son has one on his bedroom door now.  Simple foam sports balls created many great memories and I…we…owe them all to Fred Cox – kicker, chiropractor and contributor to happier childhoods.  Thank you, sir.

Onward, then, to unfortunate breakups and squandered futures…

In the four seasons from 2014-2017, the Pittsburgh Steelers ripped off 45 regular season wins and made four playoff appearances.  How good is that?  Context (you know where this is going): Over the same period, the Fightin’ Snyder’s of Washington won 28 games, made one brief playoff appearance and never tallied more than nine wins in a season.  Further, those 2014-17 Steelers won more than 10 games three times, something Washington hasn’t done since…1991.

At the root of the Steelers’ success was a dynamic “Killer B’s” offense – QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell.  During the stretch, Roethlisberger put up gaudy numbers, Bell was arguably the best dual-threat running back in football and Brown was simply the NFL’s best wide receiver.  Together, they seemed destined to be the newest additions to a long line of Steelers immortals and to ultimately share busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Just two years off that high, two of the B’s – Bell and Brown - are gone and the third, Roethlisberger, is on injured reserve.  How did it happen?  Well, it’s complicated…too complicated for this space.  Suffice to say, those tried-and-true culprits of greed, ego and selfishness were involved.  So too were the harsh realities of the business side of the NFL.  Brown’s saga is a soap opera.  Something personal happened between him and Roethlisberger and the Steelers organization.  In under a year, Brown’s gone from being the best wide receiver in football, to traded (to the Raiders), released twice (by the Raiders and Patriots) and now out of football altogether.  Bell, meanwhile, was mired in a contract dispute – understandable for running backs with short earning widows - that saw him miss a season and ultimately sign with the moribund Jets.  And while Roethlisberger’s still in Pittsburgh, he’s hurt, the team is 5-5, the future is uncertain and it’s hard not to wonder why the face of the franchise couldn’t broker a deal and make this all work.  There was much to lose and, ultimately, all involved did.     

Look, life is messy – professional athlete or not.  It is filled with forks in the road and there is no natural inclination toward happy endings.  But these three…sheesh…they botched it.  They had long-lasting legacy stuff in their hands and let it slip away.  The greenest of grass was beneath their feet in Pittsburgh.  Not one of them will be as great apart as they were together.  

Penny for their wrapped-in-Wonder-Woman’s-truth-lasso thoughts now.  Do they long for the way they were?  As a football fan, I sure do.  

Common Cause

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The late nights have ended.  The confetti has scattered to the wind.  The steady flow of beer has run dry.  The shirtless players at Capitals games and the euphoric mobs that lined Constitution Avenue have gone home.  Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, among others, are free agents and shopping their considerable wares to all of MLB.  Sports headlines have turned to other towns, other sports and other teams.

On the surface, life has moved on.  I’m still stuck in late October.

It has been just over two weeks since the Nationals won Washington’s the World Series – two weeks of awe, jubilation and now reflection.  Are you still in shock?  I was not prepared for all of this.  A playoff berth felt like a resounding success.  After beating Milwaukee, I felt we were playing with house money; beating the mighty Dodgers seemed but a dream, the kind of stuff that happens in other sports towns.  Now I am debating what “Fight Finished” and World Series championship gear to request from Santa Claus.  And as I type, I am surrounded by various editions of The Washington Post that captured all the fabulousness – tangible proof of this glorious, if not yet fully absorbed, reality.

How did this happen?  No, seriously…how did this happen? 

The well-known storylines - Bryce Harper’s departure, a rash of early season injuries, 19-31 in May, coach on the brink of being fired, a historically bad bullpen and the presence of clearly superior teams in both leagues (Braves, Dodgers, Yankees and Astros) – left little hope for a jubilant fall.  In full disclosure, I sent this tweet on May 18: “Embrace the panic.  It's over.  Done.  End the Martinez watch; a change is inevitable.  Start the Rizzo watch. Put odds on trade deadline sells. The spring claimed the boys of summer.”  Facing a complete organizational reboot, I was gripping.  We were all gripping! 

And then something special happened.  Actually, a lot of things…little things that turned into big things.  Journeyman free agent Gerardo Parra was signed on May 9.  Parra immediately brought positive energy to a lifeless squad…and then he added the Baby Shark phenomena.  The rest of the roster gradually got healthy, Juan Soto got hot, Mike Rizzo, Vice President of Baseball Operations, cobbled together a serviceable bullpen, the starting pitching remained stellar and Anthony Rendon played like an MVP.

The wins added up, the outlook changed and by September, we were all dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire’s song of the same title as the Nats sashayed into the playoffs.  In October, the Nationals beat better teams on paper (Dodgers, Astros) and accomplished what other more talented Nats teams could not.  Trophy presentations, parades and pandemonium followed. 

It defies logic.  But it happened.  How?  My theory: Somewhere on this journey, the Nats became a case study and a data point validating long-held principles of team achievement.  The dugout was filled with a diverse cast - various ages, ethnicities, nationalities, skill-sets and, no doubt, political leanings.  In the end, the differences where insignificant as compared to their common cause.  In May, that cause was getting back to respectability.  Then it was getting into the playoffs.  By October, it became about “finishing the fight” and winning the whole thing.  The inconceivable journey required resilience, steadfast leadership, individual and collective accountability, contributions from every player and a complete commitment and sacrifice toward a shared goal.

Reflecting now in the afterglow of the World Series, the 2019 Nationals have become more than just a baseball story.  This team, what they accomplished together, and how they accomplished it, is worth pondering on a national level.  As outlined in our founding documents, Americans have a unique moral, ethical and legal foundation that binds us.  Collectively we share this common cause and a responsibility to preserve it (to include holding accountable those in opposition).  This great idea of America transcends politics, party and personal gain; it is beyond reproach from individual, institution or leader.  We don’t always agree, but on that fundamental point we should be as tightly aligned as locker room sharing a champagne shower or mass of fans witnessing a championship parade.    

Bob from New York

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr

In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here and what it is ain’t exactly clear.”  But by the time you read this, the verdict will be in - the Washington Nationals will have won the World Series or have fallen painfully short – and I…we…will have lived, for better or for worse, what was previously unknown. 

Crazy statement: The outcome doesn’t matter.  Some context…

I worked with a Yankees fan in the early 2000s.  A keen eye will recognize the timeframe as a glorious, multi-championship era (the Yankees won four championships between 1996 and 2003) and question my colleague’s authenticity.  No need – “Bob” arrived in Southern Maryland from New York and the shadows of Yankee Stadium.  He wasn’t a Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera bandwagon fan; the pinstripes were in his bones. 

At the time, I had never had a baseball team of my own – the Nats wouldn’t arrive until 2005.  I casually rooted for the Orioles as a kid, but once Cal Ripken Jr. retired, I abandoned them and Peter Angelos, their curmudgeon owner, altogether.  Me and the O’s?  There was never any love.

This is relevant because loving a baseball team is different from other sports.  Baseball is beautifully antiquated, a unicorn of sorts in this otherwise instant and over-stimulated age.  It forces us to slow down, to contemplate, to think carefully and notice little details normally smudged by life on fast-forward.  During the regular season, sitting in the park on a beautiful summer day offers a therapeutic calm; during the playoffs, watching this untimed sport filled with mind-racing dead-time can torment like no other. 

Bob and I worked together for about three years and his beloved Yankees made the playoffs every fall of our professional overlap.  Sometimes things went the Yankees’ – and Bob’s – way, and sometimes they didn’t.  Whatever the outcome, the games were usually long, dramatic affairs with an emotional, anxiety-inducing crescendo with every pitch. 

I loved talking to him the morning after epic games (easier if the Yankees won).  The outcome wasn’t my primary interest; instead, I was intrigued to hear from a true, diehard fan, what it was like to root for a baseball team - your beloved baseball team - during a deep October run to the World Series. 
Bob had a light-up-the-room, beaming smile that was typically accompanied by a warm chuckle.  I remember pressing him once after a particularly epic Yankees playoff game, “Bob what was it like for you watching that…pitch after pitch, inning after inning?”  Bob grinned and said, “Ronnie, you can’t understand…it is like misery and joy at the same time.”

Bruce Springsteen is known to scream, “Is anybody alive out there?”, before ripping into his song “Radio Nowhere”.  It’s a rousing pulse-check, just to make sure his audience is appropriately frenzied.  This October, as the Nationals marched to the World Series, obsessive pacing, sweaty palms, guttural screams of joy and anguish and a permanent knot in my stomach became evening norms.  Sleep…was in short supply.  At all points, I felt very much alive.  Or was I accelerating toward a premature, stress-induced demise?  Maybe both? 

Regardless, and like Bob earlier this millennium, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  The Nats didn’t just inject my October…our October…with adrenaline, they brought us together in a way that few things other than sports can.  We rallied behind the excellence of Juan Soto, who just turned 21, the irresistible story Ryan Zimmerman, the 35-year-old, lifelong Nat, and “Baby Shark”, the Gerardo Parra walk-up song that galvanized Nats Nation.  It was all highly contagious, memorable stuff.

Whatever the ending, we rallied together and shared much - ups and downs, hope and doubt, joy and anxiety.  Curly “W’s became our trademark; wearing red, white and blue represented more than patriotism; and starting work days with discussions of baseball was certainly more fun than, you know, actual work.  D.C. in the fall of 2019 transformed into the New York that was described to me so many years ago.  What a time to be alive.

Wherever Bob is, I picture him smiling while he whispers, “Now Ronnie understands”.   

A Letter to Younger Fans

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

If you were born after 1983 and before around 2000, and are an ardent supporter of Washington D.C.’s football team, you have my condolences.  You grew up hearing of Super Bowl championships and sustained excellence, but, sadly, you have no conscious memory of it.  You also were born into a fervent football atmosphere – a still passionate, win-drunk fan base in the afterglow of a glorious decade and confident that the next great era would arrive soon.  That is the two-fold curse of your date of birth.  I’m sorry.  You were done wrong.  But then again, what was the alternative? 

It’s not your fault.  Anyone would have been sucked in by the still-shiny Lombardi trophies and tractor beam of euphoria.  When you were growing up, it was still cool to root for the ‘Skins, wear the gear and attend games.  You just happened to come of age in a bear market; the bull, the raging bull, would soon return.

But it hasn’t and, the harsh reality is, it never will. 

After a 0-5 start, head coach Jay Gruden was fired last week.  This would normally mark a franchise reflection point, a chance to chart a new course and build a brighter future.  For Washington, it doesn’t matter – not in the least.  Gruden is just the latest name added to the Norv Turner, Terry Robiske, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan scroll of 1999-present unsuccessful Washington head coaches.

Say “1999” and I immediately think of Prince’s classic song.  I know, I’m showing my age, but check out this opening verse:

“I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray; But when I woke up this morning, could’ve sworn it was judgement day; The sky was all purple, there were people running everywhere; Trying to run from the destruction, you know I didn’t even care.”

Change “purple” to “burgundy” and Prince could have easily been issuing a warning to Washington football fans of dark times at the millennium’s close.  And as you know, 1999 was the year Dan Snyder became majority owner.  Coincidence?  Maybe…but consider this: Prince released “1999” in 1982, the year of the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.  Creepy, eh?

Dan Snyder.  He had me fooled.  You?  I was happy when he acquired the team.  After years of ownership uncertainty, including the failed Howard Milstein bid, the team ended up in the hands of a young, aggressive, long-time fan of the team.  What could be better?

Literally anything.

I’ll spare you the painful details of Snyder’s 20-year reign of terror.  You lived it too.  It’s the macro-level concern that matters now.  This team, the one you came to love based on its reputation and the promise of future Super Bowls to call your own, is fatally flawed.  Snyder will never field a consistent winner.  Never.  Executives, coaches and players have changed.  He is the constant.  He is the culprit.  And he, as the 54-year-old owner, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Snyder’s profound incompetence has transcended sports; the ‘Skins have become a case study in organizational rot – the one-time hottest ticket in town is now peddled on-line to opposing teams’ fans.  The primary causal factor of Snyder’s failure is his astounding lack of self-awareness.  He neither knows what it takes to win in the NFL nor does he recognize his franchise’s fundamental flaws.  His utter delusion is a cautionary tale on the misleading power of arrogance and an insular world where “yes-men” are promoted and dissenters are dismissed.  Hmmm…that sounds familiar.

Wilhelm Stekel and Elie Wiesel identified the opposite of love, not as hate, but as indifference.  Love and hate are emotional responses; indifference is a numbed apathy.  I now watch what I once loved with indifference.  Part of me is ashamed to admit that; another part of me is happy to have transcended Snyder’s carnival.  But I wonder about you.  I have gotten to this point despite having lived the good old days - experiences you don’t have.  So do you still love them?  Do you still care?  If so, you have both my respect and deepest sympathies.

Like a Rolling Stone

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Gotham, June 1965

Bob Dylan, equipped with song lyrics from a short story he had written, walked into a New York City studio and recorded “Like a Rolling Stone”.  Forty-six years later, Rolling Stone magazine, partially named after the song (along with influences from The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters’s song “Rollin’ Stone”) named Dylan’s masterpiece the greatest rock and roll song - ever.  Take umbrage with that ranking if you like, but “Like a Rolling Stone” must at least be on anyone’s short list of greatest tunes – this is undebatable. 

The metaphor-drenched song (classic Dylan) is about a woman of insulated, high society falling from her fragile perch and being forced to confront the real world and those of lesser means - people she once mocked and pacified with her loose change.  As things go awry, the profound loss of privilege is dramatically captured in Dylan’s iconic chorus where he, presumably a man of modest lineage, takes a hint of pleasure in asking, “How does it feel? To be without a home? Like a complete unknown? Like a rolling stone?”

That’s a theory, anyway.  No Dylan song can be completely understood, nor is there ever a singular meaning.  Nevertheless, it appears to be a timeless lesson on the thin line between the haves and haves nots and that karma will have its day with those not remaining mindful of how quickly the order can change. 

Gotham, May 2019

Fifty-four years after Dylan recorded his classic in New York City, the Washington Nationals left the Big Apple on May 23rd with an abysmal 19-31 record.  They had just been swept by the struggling Mets and were in fourth place in the NL East. 

The offseason and spring training – more insulated worlds - in no way predicted such a disaster.  The Nationals did lose Bryce Harper, but they added stud pitcher Patrick Corbin to an elite starting rotation, upgraded at catcher and compiled a versatile roster mixed with veterans and rising stars.  The bullpen was the apparent weakness, but there seemed to be adequate arms to bridge from the starters to proven closer Sean Doolittle. 

When the regular season – the judge and jury - arrived, the verdict was clear: the Nats stunk.  The team was plagued by cold bats, a leaky defense, injuries and bad luck.  And then there was the bullpen.  Other than Doolittle, it was jaw-dropping bad.  Chuck the remote bad.  The eighth inning, the frame where the pen was consistently grotesque, became a thing - first a trending hashtag, then a bad word, and finally, like Fight Club, something you didn’t speak of.

At 19-31, with no ability to hold late-game leads, the season looked lost.  Embattled manager Dave Martinez would surely be fired.  But more than that, an organizational reboot felt imminent.  Could Mike Rizzo, president of baseball operations, be out?  There was even talk of trading Anthony Rendon.  Do what???

But instead of franchise-altering firings and blockbuster trades, the Nats just started to win…and win…and win some more.  The bats got hot.  The lineup got healthy.  The defense tightened.  Rizzo made subtle, discount rack moves to cobble together a serviceable bullpen.  The result: the Nats recorded a post-23 May record of 74-38 to finish 93-69 and secure the top wildcard playoff position.      
We never found out if Dylan’s subject found her way.  Did she find a home?  Did she again become known?  Did she establish herself, gather some moss and cease to be a rolling stone?  We will soon know the outcome for the 2019 Nationals – perhaps by the time this story goes to press.  Will they win the wildcard game and move on to the NLDS?  The NLCS?  The World Series.  They say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (some John Lennon to accompany all this Bob Dylan).  Regardless, we know this left-for-dead baseball redemption project re-established itself and will play games in October, a preposterous thought in late-May.  It is an encouraging story for anyone struggling to find their way or who has had their fate left hanging in the balance by a Dylan song…metaphorically speaking, I hope.