As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Oh yeah, back in the saddle…or the bleachers (sparsely populated for safety, of course). It was swell of Uncle Duke to pinch hit and do his “nephew” a solid last week. What a read! Clearly he whipped himself into a familiar literary (and actual?) frenzy to rip off 700 words of, depending on the reader’s perspective, wisdom or irritating nonsense. Where the individual reaction fell on the ledger was, as always, immaterial; what matters is you felt something – that is when words flirt with art.
What injected the Corona pathogen with the best of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds’ special steroid sauce? Was it Thanksgiving? Is the fat dude in the red suit on the short list to receive the vaccine? Are flying reindeer immune? These numbers…in Maryland and across the nation…are racking up like a pinball score or any NBA team playing against the Wizards’ minimalist defense. Governor Larry Hogan sounded like a disappointed parent recently when he barked at us to “Wear the damn mask.” So much for the dude in the White House declaring no one would even talk about COVID after the election. For once I was hoping his diatribes connected with the truth. But alas, the wooden nose continues to grow…
Remember how well those hockey and basketball bubbles stopped the spread? Well, things are not going so well for bubble-less football teams. Colleges are cancelling games weekly, others are playing without key stars and there’s some question if Big Ten schools, playing only conference opponents due to a COVID-delayed start, will get in enough games to be viable for a conference championship game or the college football playoff. Things are not much better for the NFL. Last week, the Steelers defeated the Ravens’ backup team…on Wednesday afternoon. The Sunday prior, the Denver Broncos, the proud franchise of John Elway, played without a rostered quarterback. Think about that.
This here column is about sport imitating, inspiring and reflecting real life. Well, with fluid schedules, ravaged rosters and evolving quarantine lists, sports are looking a whole lot like our unpredictable, fatiguing, unprecedented and frustrating pandemic lives. Distanced learning, maximum telework, Zoom church and virtual family visits have modems and routers working harder than Southern Maryland sump pumps during the 2020 monsoon. Directional arrows and spacing signs in stores are giving me flashbacks to strict elementary school lines. Canceled events are stacking up. Holiday traditions are on pause. Takeout containers and delivery boxes are overwhelming garages and recycle bins.
But we’re all adapting – athletes and regular Joes and Janes. The thing is, while our nine-month battle against this pandemic flattened the first curve, we are worse off now than ever. It seems all the gains made from personal sacrifices, distorted lives and masking up have done little more than maintain status quo until science bails us out.
Ladling this harsh reality over sports, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. First, there was a leadership void. The head coach’s message meandered from dismissive, to half-hearted, to inconsistent with medical professionals and was eventually exposed as purposefully misleading. As for what we – the players – could control, some bought into the strategy, ran the plays with discipline and sacrificed for a greater, common cause. But some didn’t, especially after the initial crisis waned. Too many teammates freelanced and undermined opportunities with dubious decisions.
The summer was like a series of home games against inferior opponents. We ran up a few wins, beat the viral marauder back and slacked off. Now we’re on the road and getting our a---s kicked by a formidable opponent that has regained the momentum.
Fortunately there are several more rounds on the calendar. We’re trailing in the late innings, but we have a couple big bats left on our bench, courtesy of Pfizer and Moderna. They are getting loose but aren’t quite ready yet. Until then, we – all of us - have to bear down, tighten up on defense, stick to the fundamentals and limit the damage. There is no choice. See, this game doesn’t mercifully end. We will win, eventually. The only variables are time and victory’s ultimate price.