The Post

This Year’s Army-Navy Game Was Pure Perfection, Again

Everybody likes “old school” in sports. We talk about the “old school” we argue about certain players today who are “old school” and we even dress up our teams occasionally in the “old school” uniforms. Or, well… new fangled things that kinda look like the uniforms of yore.

But it’s really hard to still DELIVER true “old school” stuff in sports. It’s especially hard to create a sporting environment of old school “give a shit” from players and fans. We are took distracted as a society, too into ourselves, too impatient.

The hardest part of re-recreating TRUE “old school” in sports, is to somehow convince everybody involved (players, coaches, fans, media) that no matter what happens…. IT’S STILL JUST A FUCKING GAME!

The world of sports that exists only in black and white film and television, didn’t bother getting too wrapped up in who won or lost. There were wars to fight. Men were waiting in line just to get a dangerous job building a skyscraper with zero concept of worker safety.

There wasn’t just no replay, there was NO TV! You WENT to the game, because you had to if you wanted to ACTUALLY SEE THE GAME!

Today we’re practically waterboarded in the games, the highlights, the viral videos, the GIFs and the memes. They are on our phones immediately, and they are in spectacular super-HD and shot in time-melting slow-motion.

Somehow, Army-Navy manages to bend the clock back to a black-and-white world.

The stadium is full. Nobody leaves early. The soldiers and their families root like the world depends upon it. There are no end zone dances, guys getting ejected for fighting, no drunks in the stands, no cheezy dance music blaring over the stadium speakers.

When it’s all over, there’s genuine heartbreak, and even more genuine joy. And sportsmanship the likes of which you can hardly find anymore.

And of course, the football is “old school” too. It’s awful. But who cares? There were two passes thrown in the snow on Saturday in Philly. Two. Total. Combined. Several careless false starts cost Navy a much better chance at a win. It doesn’t matter.

The faces of the Cadets and the Middies as they scream their lungs out standing shoulder-to-shoulder in their impeccable uniforms as they approach almost 7 hours of standing together is a pure time warp. How can they be so energized? How can they be so focused on a game with two passes!?

Well… it’s because they are better than you and me. And I’m more than happy to say that. These young men and women are exceptional. I get the chance to mingle with them and their families in the team hotel as part the USAA sponsored Army-Navy “radio row” each year. I never fail to be inspired.

Every year, I’ll spend at least one hotel elevator ride with a cadet and his family. I glance at the young man or woman, and I’m struck at how perfect they look. Ever piece of their uniform is perfect. Their hair. Perfect. And the parents carry this amazing look of awe and pride in their kids.

I wish every American could take just one of these short elevator rides. They are amazing.

Even the part of that game now which is certainly “New School” and not old – the now annualized wrinkle of special “alt” uniforms – is cool if you ask me. Once upon a time, each Academy had the same plain gold helmets. This year’s combos were great. Keep ’em coming.

I don’t know how much longer this game can keep delivering such pure old school, but I hope the answer is forever.

Oh. I forgot. Army 14, Navy 13. See everyone next year, back in Philly.

Anyone Still Think He’s A Good Parent?

It needs to be pointed out, that the Lavar Ball phenomenon in the American sports culture is essentially less than one year old. It just feels like he’s been around forever.

Even though Lonzo Ball was starting to do eye catching things at this time a year ago under Steve Alford at UCLA, only the most leatherbound hoop heads knew much about the kid from Chino Hills.

Fast forward to now, and Big Daddy Ball has become well known enough as a pop culture character, that mainstream shows like SNL can spoof him and not worry about 80% of the audience whispering “who?”

Lavar Ball has done a masterful job of gaming the current media system for maximum exposure despite minimum actual accomplishment. Sure his son may have gone #2 overall to the Lakers, but he didn’t play in a Final Four. He wasn’t named NCAA Player of the Year. And he sure isn’t lighting the NBA on fire as a rookie.

Along the way to creating a self-sustaining hypestorm of mostly nonsense (“My kid’s better than Steph Curry! I could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one!”), some commentators felt the need to defend Lavar Ball, as a father. Phrases like… “Even if you don’t like his bravado, here’s a father who’s done a great job raising his kids.”

Oh yeah, has he?

In the case of Lonzo, it looks like he didn’t even teach him how to shoot a fundamentally proper jump shot.

In the case of LiAngelo, yanking him from UCLA in a snit has essentially snuffed any longshot chances he had of being a pro.

And in the case of LaMelo, well…. there’s a lot more time to do the wrong thing by him too. He’s already withdrawn young Melo from high school, where he will homeschool the lad and “train” him for what he thinks will be a successful “one-and-done” college career.

But even that’s now in jeopardy thanks to a planned shoe for little LaMelo already.

Good luck with that.

The bar for calling a guy a “good father” I guess is just being around and keeping the bills paid at home. While it used to be said that his kids “never get in trouble” that now no longer applies, after the great Shanghai Sunglasses Heist.

Even if you only judge “LaVar Ball, The Father” by how is he serving as caretaker for his kids’ basketball careers, it’s a pretty bad report card. And now he’s starting to do more harm than good. While you can say he hyped his 1st kid into the 2nd overall pick, I’m not sure Lonzo would have fallen out of the Top-5 no matter if dad’s tongue had been kidnapped by ISIS this past spring.

Now he continues to heap pressure and attention on Lonzo, just when he needs it least. Worse yet, the Lakers are now having to craft LaVar Ball-specific guidelines regarding media access to family members who attend the games.

The kid’s shooting 31%.

In the case of LiAngelo, you could see this coming from the moment they safely got out of China. LaVar does not do “humble.” And so to watch his son sit out an indefinite suspension at UCLA had to be daily torture for the mouthy dad.

But that was still LiAngelo’s best spot to stay, if he truly wanted to someday make the NBA. Play at least 3 years there under Alford. Develop at least one enviable pro-level skill. Turn your “locked up abroad” embarrassment into a feel-good life lesson of growth and maturity.

Nah. That’s for suckers. Papa Ball said in a huff: “He’s out of there.”

Of course when LaVar spouted off about getting a head start on Gelo’s NBA draft prospects this spring, those who know were quick to point out Big Baller is completely delusional.

NBA savant Adrian Wojnarowski put it flatly: he’s not even on any scouts EXTENDED list of prospects! Ouch.

So again, I ask: “Is anybody willing to stand up and call LaVar Ball a good father?”

Have we forgotten that there are numerous athletic families that produce more than one pro player in their sport within a few years span? And do you know anything about THOSE dads?  The Mannings. The Watt Brothers. The Gasol Boys. Tiki and Ronde. The Matthews Clan. Pedro and Ramon. And the list goes on.

At this rate, LaVar Ball will become yesterday’s fad, almost as quickly as he arrived. And if you still want to call him a “good father” who has done well “raising his boys” then go right ahead. I’d say your bar is a little bit low.


Meet “The Capital Golf Gang”

You may have previously known us as “those golf dorks” on ESPN980’s “Sunday Tee Time” show during golf season. Yeah, same hopeless golf nerds. But we’ve decided to put in the work (at least :30 a week) talking golf ALL year long. Once March comes along, we figure to “simulcast” this podcast onto ESPN 980 in it’s usual 9 a.m. Sunday slot.

I have decided to call our ongoing podcast “The Capital Golf Gang” to reflect who we are and where we are from. We’re four golf fanatics, from four distinctly different “sectors” of the “industry” and we’ve lived here in the Washington D.C. area for most of our adult lives.

John Ronis is opening his own signature teaching academies at Piedmont GC, Chantilly National GC and River Creek GC in Loudoun County. John has been the director of instruction at Woodmont CC for 20+ years.

Ron Thomas is a former Division I player at the University of Maryland under Fred Funk in the late 80’s. He has also served as my Maryland Team Captain in the Potomac Cup for over 10 years now. He still plays in just about every high level amateur event in the region, and goes toe-to-toe with young punks in their 20’s with a reliable running draw off the tee and the chipping touch of a surgeon!

Jon Guhl is the Executive Director of the Middle Atlantic PGA. He supports over 1500 pros in the region, and also serves as a rules official for dozens of high level tournaments and qualifiers every year. This man knows his rules!

And then there’s me… the nerdy nerderson radio boy who fell in love with golf at age 10 when my dad first took me to Algonkian Regional Park one Saturday morning. I’ve been falling in love with the game every year, all over again, ever since.

Our goal for this golf podcast is to be ruthlessly entertaining, informative, and beholden to nobody. At times, our bare-knuckle truth will sound like four guys shooting the shit after a round in the clubhouse, over a beer.

Which is precisely the goal.

As such, don’t expect a bunch of bubble gum card names on this podcast. By being brutally honest, you accept the fact that you may not make friends with everybody in the game. But we’ll always be fair, and there’s enough divergent opinions to keep everybody in check.

We also are thankful to Buddy Christensen at GolfDom in Tyson’s Corner for serving as our location host, and podcast sponsor. Buddy runs an amazing shop, with the most knowledgeable staff in the area. Plus two fitting studios that are absolute marvels of tech. Please let them know you are a fan of ours when you visit!

SO… without further jibjabbery…. here we go. Below are the first THREE podcasts we recorded last week. I apologize for less than ideal audio. I forgot ONE key cable for my mixer/mic set up and we had to record “au natural” so to speak.

This will be fixed in all future episodes.

EPISODE #1: Who Are We, and Why Are We Here

EPISODE #2: Tiger’s Comeback

EPISODE #3: Golf Stocking Stuffers, Does The Ball Fly Too Far?

The Unified Cousins-for-Garappolo Theory

In the movie “Castaway” Tom Hanks manages to impossibly survive a plane crash in the middle of the ocean. He amazingly figures out how to spear enough fish to stay nourished and alive. He even befriends a volleyball with a blood drawn face.

But it was the damn toothache that finally drove him to attempt suicide.

You would think he’d be tough enough mentally and physically to say… “a damn toothache ain’t gonna kill me now! No way!” But I’d imagine that the constancy of that irritation and pain, the relentlessness of it, day in and day out, is what could drive a man (even fictional) mad.

Kirk Cousins is my toothache. Please God, just make it end.

(NOTE: I’m an IDIOT. Yes, he knocked the tooth out with the ice skate. He tried to kill himself out of boredom. I need to re-watch the movie. “Willlllsooooon!”)

His third straight winter of impending free-agency (“Franchise Tag U: Electric Boogaloo III”) is pretty much all we talked about last winter, spring, and summer. I remember taking calls about it during the frozen month of February during Super Bowl Week. I remember chatter about it during the glorious east coast springtime around the draft. I remember listening to Bruce Allen’s “we gave him our best offer” presser while sweating through my shirt mowing the lawn in the dead of July.

And now because the team essentially crapped out on 2017 last Thursday night against the Cowboys, it’s right back to where we left off with him. Just kill me.

Nobody’s mind has been changed along the way, either. Even though Kirk has produced at the same Top-5 rate he’s established the last two seasons, the arguments against him have remained constant. (Namely: “What have we won WITH him?”)

The potential machinations of Franchise Tag vs. Transition Tag are interesting, and worthy of debate. I’m happy to walk through them as part of the discussion. But let’s instead focus not on what’s technically POSSIBLE, and instead on what is SELLABLE.

Remember: we’re a marketing company that happens to play football on Sundays. It’s always… SELL, SELL, SELL!

What Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen want – what they NEED – is a post-Cousins narrative that passes the sniff test and doesn’t end up with them naked wearing beer barrels on suspenders.

Enter Garappolo. The devilishly handsome Tom Brady Understudy. Virtually no miles on him, and trained under the master Jedi himself. Better yet, Garappolo has never thrown a backbreaking pick at 8-6-1 to end his team’s playoff hopes at home. He’s a blank slate, upon which any team who gets him can project their wildest football dreams.

Both Cousins and Garappolo are scheduled to be free agents. Both will no doubt be franchised tagged if needed. Franchise tagged players can be traded, and have been traded. I don’t recall having a trade of one-for-another, but there’s nothing against it. And it makes perfect sense. Here’s why.

I have no doubt that Kyle Shanahan LOVES Kirk Cousins beyond description. Kyle also knows (and this is every bit as important, if not more so) just what the Redskins brass thinks of him, and how they operate. Kyle surely knows that Dan and Bruce are tired of being outflanked by their good but not great, contractually gutsy QB, who has won nothing yet thinks he should be paid more than Aaron Rodgers.

“But wait, Kyle just GOT his guy in Garappolo,” you say. Oh yeah, says who? That deal was one of the ODDEST DUCKS you’ll ever see in the NFL. A winless team, headed for a top-5 pick (at worst) in a rich QB draft. Plus, the Niners have a projected $110 million in cap space for next year. I don’t even know how that’s possible! But suffice to say, they have more than enough to splurge on Cousins.

But only IF the Redskins dare to hit him with a transition tag can they even back up that Brinks truck. And remember, Kyle KNOWS this front office. He knows they are NOT going to let Kirk walk out that door clean. No way. They would rather pay Kirk $34 million again next year, still draft a young QB in May, and then declare an open competition in camp before they would just let Kirk walk.

So back to that trade for Jimmy G: WHY? Why would the Niners ship a 2nd round pick for a short-term, about-to-get-paid QB in his prime when they are winless. And then, WHY would the Niners keep him in bubble wrap for three weeks while lying about how much they JUST LOVE future Ryan Fitzpatrick clone, CJ Beathard?

In a word: options.

In a perfect world, the Niners would have NEVER played Garappolo this year had Beathard not gotten hurt. Because now that Jimmy G is playing, a few complicating developments could occur. He could play GREAT, which would make it much harder to sell to their fans and front office to ship him out for Cousins. He could play like CRAP, which would cool the Redskins jets to get him. And he could get HURT, ala Teddy Bridgewater and then you not only can’t count on him as a starter, you can’t even trade him. You might just have to let him go.

In a way, this trade was the photo-negative of the Sam Bradford to Minnesota trade of a year ago. In that case, a complete team with playoff aspirations, gave up a lot for a plug-and-play veteran and rushed him into service immediately. In this case, a zombie team stocked with draft picks and cap space, gave up very little for an enticing, yet unproven, mystery.

Then they tried to bury him.

It’s stinky. But brilliant.

To ensure the Redskins don’t “spite-tag” Kirk an exorbitant 3rd-straight time (and don’t scoff, we’re in the “George Costanza drives to the Hamptons with the future in-laws” territory on this bluff) and to ensure they don’t have to fight for Kirk on the open market, the Niners needed the ONE thing that would get the Redskins all lathered up: an arguably better, younger, slightly cheaper QB.

So it goes like this: when the off-season comes, the Skins and Niners start talking trade of their franchise tagged QBs. They work out a rough deal. Then each team tells their QB to have preliminary discussions on new long-term deals in their new city. Kirk is ecstatic and hammers out a massive deal with Kyle and Niners. Garappolo is happy to at least come to Washington, where there is much more of an actual “team” in place right now, and he can work with a great offensive mind in Jay Gruden to get his career as a starter off and running. The Skins give Garappolo a YUGE deal, but one that ends up about 10-15% south of what Cousins gets from the insanely flush with cash Niners.

It would be a “trade-and-sign” (not sign-and-trade) which is perfectly legal, and what the Chiefs did when they got a franchise tagged (then rescinded) Matt Cassel from the Patriots.

Then, we get to the SELL. And this is paramount. I can see the beaming faces of Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen next spring, with the devilishly handsome Jimmy G between them at the podium. I can write their “pitch” to the media already. “We loved Kirk, but he was going to be too much money. Look instead who we GOT, and we think he’s even better!”

And knowing the Redskins, they may end up throwing a 2nd round pick back to SF as a “sweetener” in the deal, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. After all, San Fran has the leverage in this deal, because they have the options. They could keep Garappolo, and leave Dan and Bruce to their perennial Kirk Cousins headache.

Make no mistake: I’m not ADVOCATING for this. Jimmy G could be Cassell 2.0. Who knows!? I still want Cousins paid here, longterm. But it’s pretty obvious that the Redskins front office just isn’t that into him. And the only reason I think this crazy outcome is on the table, is because of Kyle. Any other team, any other coach, I don’t even tweet this, much less bang out (looks down at word count) 1300+ words on this.

It’s the only way the Skins brass can save face. It’s the most “sellable” outcome. It has to happen.

Tiger Comes Roaring Back

There’s no way to “yeah…. but” it. What we saw on Thursday from Tiger Woods’ first competitive round in 300+ days was nothing short of incredible. The fluidity, the power, the ball-speed. Even the whip-recoil on one particularly lashed drive.

Classic Tiger.

Most everything else was close to tournament-sharp, save for a chubbed chip here, and a badly mis-judged lag putt there. He might win this little friends-and-family outing come Sunday. If he does, then you’ll see Masters ticket prices quadruple overnight on the secondary market.

And there’s nothing wrong with getting a seat early on the Tiger Comeback Express. Should it stay on the rails, it’ll be the second greatest comeback in golf. Second only to Ben Hogan peeling himself off a hospital bed after getting flattened by a bus in a Texas fog.

It’s all improbable as hell to believe right now, given his low-point mugshot following a DUI on Memorial Day in Jupiter, Florida. Memorial Day? That was like, 2 seconds ago! I don’t even have the kids beach chairs hung up in the garage yet. And Tiger’s delivering consistent and findable ball speeds in the 180’s? He had 5 different pain killers in his system when he ran his expensive Mercedes onto the curb in the middle of Flori-nowhere! Now look at him!

Even when Tiger would leak a little baby-eight iron on social media this fall, I said: “Pffft. Okay, bud.” When it graduated to full blown stingers and drives, I said… “Yeah… I saw this movie….. LAST year!” And the past two weeks when Tour whispers were saying ludicrous things like “He’s killing it…. ” and “He looks fantastic…” I thought his fellow pros were just “fattening frogs to feed to snakes” as Coach John Thompson liked to say.

But then today…. <popping eyeball emoji>>!

I don’t know much about bad backs – thank god that part of me, is still working mostly as God designed – but I know many friends who unfortunately DO know about bad backs. Some of those friends said plainly: “Tiger’s done. No way. I know exactly what he has. It’s over.” But then there are guys like Rocco Mediate who told me last spring on the radio that he could fix Tiger in a second, and that he himself is living proof that even elite golfers can navigate their way around bad back injuries if they are smart and adapt.

On a macro level, I’m happy for Tiger. He seems truly elated that he’s got one last good chance to play Tour caliber championship golf in his 40’s. I always wondered if Tiger just loved winning, or if he truly loved the game. Like, Ben Crenshaw. That dude loves THE GAME. Tiger, I thought, seemed to love stepping on other players necks more than he loved the subtle design genius of a “redan style” par-3.

That said, the rational brain in my head would STILL bet heavily AGAINST him in this comeback. Not that there’s a “Will Not Win Again” line to be played. I just think that golf is now so deep with so many talented players who can go nuclear-submarine deep on any given week, that winning anything OTHER than the Masters – with it’s short field of 90+ players, softened up by amateur invites and past champions – is still a longshot.

Remember: this little tournament is not just an 18-hole world-golf-ranking bachelor weekend event. It’s also played on a tree-less tropical resort course, where you can pretty much hit it and find it everywhere. We’ll see. I’m not pulling FOR Tiger, nor am I against him. If he’s in the mix again this summer, it’ll be sure a lot more fun. But I’m a golfer, and a hopeless golf nerd.

I was watching this game religiously before he came along, and I’ll do the same once he’s finally done.

But for right now, it looks like ol’ Eldrick is going to give us something more to talk about than whomever is his new girlfriend.


If He Was That Good, He Wouldn’t Have Been Benched

At the end of the day, the above fact is undeniable. Very few “capital-G” Great quarterbacks have been benched mid-week, mid-season, when otherwise perfectly healthy. Oh sure, there are a few current Hall of Famers who had it happen to them.

Kurt Warner, ironically enough the guy whom Manning replaced 210 games ago, DID just get into the Hall of Fame despite losing his job while healthy. Of course, without Warner’s incredible “second coming” with the Cardinals and “should-have-been” 2nd ring vs. Pittsburgh, I don’t think there would be any case for Warner in the Hall.

Sonny Jurgensen was benched and/or swapped out with Billy Kilmer late in his career by the neurotic George Allen. And Joe Namath (who was arguably a Hall of Fame mistake based on nostalgia trumping horrible numbers) was also benched at one point.

But the list is short. And now Eli’s on it. Manning 2.0’s case for the Hall of Fame will be interesting. If I had to bet, I’d say he squeaks in. Although I disagree with it.

Compare Eli to his contemporaries at this age. Would you put him in someday alongside Brady, Brees, and Rodgers? Hell no. Brady has kept producing at insane levels, despite all kinds of guys getting injured (Gronk, Edelman, etc.). His INT totals are absurdly low, while Eli’s thrown 20 picks (twenty!) three different times in a season!

Drew Brees still put up scortched earth numbers while the Saints were limping home to three straight 7-9 seasons before this year. He averaged 5000 yards, 30 TD’s and completed almost 70% of his passes during that time.

And when Aaron Rodgers went down for Green Bay, the entire team collapsed.

More importantly, all three of those guys display an outward maniacal drive, that keeps everybody else on the team accountable and committed to winning. Eli, bless his tussled hair and confused face, inspires boat trips.

Sorry, Eli’s not on this level. Never was.

It doesn’t make the decision on a pure football level any less idiotic, however. The dual opinions that “Eli just isn’t that good anymore” and “starting Geno Smith to see what he has is insane” are not contradictory. Both are, in my opinion, quite solidly true.

So what’s going on then? I think this has to be the damn-breaking moment in what has probably been a simmering backroom discussion between the Giants and Eli. I am pretty sure the Giants went to Eli as this season started to unravel, and quietly asked “how firm, exactly is that no-trade clause?” Eli, I am pretty certain, said FIRM. And maybe a “fuck you” along the way.

So as the losses kept piling up for the Giants (not to mention injuries) the urgency of the moment came into focus for the Mara family. The palatability of rolling out Eli at the MetLife Complex next August at age 37 and 8 months, coming off the second worst season of his career, having just spent a top-5 draft pick on somebody OTHER than a new QB from a talent rich class, was becoming more unthinkable with every loss.

It’s a power move, no doubt. Something the Manning family knows well. It’s how Eli landed in NY in the first place.

So yeah, the time had come to signal to Eli: things are changing around here. And no, I don’t think Ben McAdoo thought up this gambit all on his own. The Code Red had to certainly come from the top.

I’ll give Eli the requisite “credit” for being classy about it, and not trying to keep his start streak on life support. The Giants already have one dubious NFL record in their trophy case – cough, cough, Michael Strahan – they don’t need another one. Besides, reaching Brett Favre at 297 was extremely unlikely.

But my god, people need to check themselves on canonizing “St. Eli the Great” right now. These takes won’t make it past a few weeks, much less a few years.

They say the Giants should handled this move in a more classy way. Okay, I suppose. But how should that have gone? Bake him a nice cake with “You’re Benched” on it? Take him out to dinner? Write a personal handwritten note?

There was no “good” way to do this. And it was certainly “time.” Now, everybody buckle up for the Geno Smith Experience. It won’t be boring.

The Sean Taylor Tragedy, A Decade Later

Ten years after his murder, Sean Taylor still casts a long shadow on NFL players and fans. There had never been a safety quite like him. With the heft of a medium sized dump truck, Taylor was fluid and fast. Natural in every way. He could get sideline-to-sideline to hunt down indifferent passes. He could shoot the gap and erase ball carriers with a massive thud of pads, and a gasp from the fans. You don’t need me to tell you this. Go to YouTube.

Yet 10 years after his murder, the “teachable moment” involving Sean Taylor’s shocking death, is rarely spoken. Not by players, and not by most commenters in the media. It wasn’t Sean Taylor’s “fault” that a pair of soulless young punks broke into his house to steal some money and jewelry from what they thought was an empty house. It’s not his “fault” that Taylor only brought a machete to a gun fight. Nobody is blaming the dead.

But the Sean Taylor tragedy is deepened by the knowledge that so many simple little things could have prevented it. Sean Taylor wasn’t walking down the street when he got hit by a bus. Sean Taylor died because, sadly, his path to full NFL maturity had waited a little too long.

If you read the entire reporting on his death, you’ll see where Taylor would allow his half-sisters and her friends to sometimes use his house for gatherings and parties. Often, when he wasn’t even around. That was Sean Taylor. Generous and chill. No doubt his close friends and family were probably appreciative and respectful. Probably cleaned up on their way out. But all it took was bringing two bad actors through that door with them by accident one time. They ended up casing the joint from the inside. They knew that Taylor kept substantial cash and jewelry inside the house.

Then one night, when Taylor was supposedly gone – he should have been in Tampa with the team that night, despite being inactive with an injury – these punks made their move.

There was no gate to go through. No fence to jump over. No alarm to sound. No dog to bark.

The NFL had already established its “Rookie Symposium” to help young players deal with sudden fame and fortune by the time Taylor was drafted by the Redskins. The league does their best to prepare young men in how to say “no” to relatives, to be on guard for thirsty women, to be careful with their money. Sometimes the advice is… uh… well meant, but off-target. But for the most part, it’s stuff that young players should hear.

Sean Taylor skipped out on that symposium after one day.

Did you hear any of the current and former players talk about how important that rookie symposium is this past weekend, when it pertains to Sean Taylor? Probably not. Nobody wants to sound like they are blaming the dead.

In the immediate aftermath, several high profile media members called the murder “shocking” but not “surprising.” Taylor was known to have been involved in some degree of “trouble” both on and off the field in his young life. Still, he wasn’t out gangbanging when football season stopped. If Aaron Hernandez was an “8” on a scale of 1-10 as a wanna-be NFL gangsta, then Taylor was no more than a “3.”

Taylor was just young, headstrong, and a little bit careless. And obviously, too trusting.

I don’t want to see another Sean Taylor type murder again. I want both current and former NFL players to constantly reinforce the understanding for new NFL stars that you do not have time to “grow-up” at your own pace. When you are an NFL star and a millionaire, you cannot afford to be Mr. Netflix and Chill for the entire neighborhood.

Your home is your castle. Defend it as such.

Your money belongs in the bank. Keep it there.

Your friends can’t be dummies, deadbeats, or sycophants. Choose them carefully.

I don’t know if the story of how Sean Taylor was the victim of a cascading series of bad timing and bad outcomes that night gets told at the Rookie Symposium now. But it should. And doing so, isn’t pointing the finger of blame at anyone. It’s only about preventing the next one.


Why Do Announcers Think We’re Stupid?

Generally speaking, I like Cris Collinsworth. Compared to Troy Aikman’s “analysis” of an NFL game, it’s next level stuff. You can learn something while watching one of his games. Collinsworth will actually explain coverages, educate the viewer on technique, and usually has a good grasp on game strategy and play calling.

He’s better than Jon Gruden, who has virtually morphed into the exact spoof character Frank Caliendo does on ESPN. And I’m not yet sure about how I feel about the much-raved-about Tony Romo, who may be brilliant, or he may just be a guy who likes to call out plays before they happen. Romo also needs to let his games with Jim Nantz “breathe” a bit, by not trying to jam every moment between plays with chatter.

But on the whole, Collinsworth is pretty good. Which is why I almost choked on my remote when I heard him say late last night (paraphrasing): “I’m not sure Aaron Rodgers would have done much better tonite than what Brett Hundley did.”

Wait… what?

Sure, Hundley had one of his better (best?) games yet for the Packers, tying his career high with 254 yards passing, and 3 TDs over no INTs. But two of the TD’s were wide-open broken coverage plays to Cobb and Adams. The other was a 2 yard flip to Jamal Williams on a screen play that went 54 yards to the house.

Furthermore, Hundley got the ball 3 times at his own 40 or better, and also presided over 4 three-and-outs, including the final “non-drive” with 1:20 left in regulation.

So why would he say something so insultingly dumb like “I’m not sure Rodgers would have done any better?” It would be like Collinsworth grabbing a fistful of that grass in the picture above saying: “Mmmmmm! Tastes just like… CAKE!”

Is Collinsworth aware of what has happened since #12 went down? The entire team has collapsed like a fake Hollywood movie set in a gust of wind. If Rodgers wouldn’t have done “much better” than Hundley, then why was Twitter all moist between the keyboard when they showed #12 slinging warm-up passes almost 50 yards in sweats before the game?

Giving Aaron Rodgers the ball with 1:20 to play, and a timeout in his pocket, is akin to signing your own death warrant. And while the refs might have missed a flaggable helmet-to-helmet shot on TJ Watt, the point stands: saying Hundley=Rodgers was a ridiculous broadcaster gaffe. What Collinsworth SHOULD have said was: “Man… this is where the Packers would love to throw some pads on Aaron Rodgers and his broken collarbone. No offense to Brett Hundley, but this is what Aaron Rodgers lives to do. Win games in the final minute.”

If it seems like I’m making a big deal of one line, it’s only because I feel like the modern NFL announcer/analyst treats us viewers at home like we’re idiots. We also… listen – and far more carefully than they seem to think we do. If a buddy on the couch said: “I’m not sure Rodgers would have been much better tonite” he would be bombarded with insults and scorn.

Even my “Brother In Law Todd, Who Knows Just Enough Sports to Be Dangerous!” wouldn’t say such a thing.

I guess I just demand a lot from the top level broadcasters on NFL games. I expect an old dinosaur like Dick Stockton to fuck up 5 names per half. I assume an old warhorse like Dan Fouts will reference concepts in the game that went out in 1989. But last I recall: that song which comes on TV before this game every week, sings loud and proud that “Al and Cris are THE BEST ON TV!”

If Hundley played well, explain the precise how and why of it. But also point out where he didn’t play so well. And don’t peddle some nonsense that 245 yards passing was about all anyone could get against that Steeler defense. We’re out here, and we’re listening. Act like we didn’t start watching football last Tuesday.

We’re All Armchair Agronomists

The field at FedEx was ugly on Thanksgiving night. That is not disputable. But was it “bad?” I guess that depends on your definition, expectations, and aesthetic preferences.

The attention the browning, wheezing, less-than-pristine pitch has received from media members however, is a bit much. And everybody is an expert. Including model Chrissy Teigen, who made sure to weigh in via Twitter while cleaning up the gravy bowl at home. I’d be willing to bet she hasn’t operated a push mower in her life. But hey, way to fire that one in there C!

Making matters worse, in my opinion, was the Redskins themselves pulling a “Baghdad Bob” the day after, when the Washington Post made a routine inquiry about the field for a story they planned to run. According to the Redskins, the field was in “good condition” and that any complaints were a “non-issue” and blamed the brown on a recent cold snap. Then the team went “Full Belichick” and said we’re on to Cincinnati.

The Redskins aren’t necessarily wrong. The field could both look like crap AND be a “good” surface for a single game at the same time. Dormant bermuda (brown) can be fine for a game or two, but since it’s no longer growing, it’ll deteriorate pretty quickly with every game as the torn up roots do not regenerate with new growth.

The Redskins are not entirely cheap when it comes to the field, either. The areas between the numbers were certainly re-sodded at some point this season, and the newer sod is more susceptible to frost damage (hence why the outside edges of the field looked pretty good.)

Maintaining a firm, fast, real grass football field in our region is the most challenging trick in pro sports. We are right in the middle of the “transition zone” where “cool season” grasses get hammered in August and “warm season” grasses go dormant in November.

When fans say “how come Philly’s field looks so much better” or “Pittsburgh never looks this bad” they completely underestimate the difference a mere 100 miles of northern latitude can make. Not only can those cities use a blend of turf that’s more cold-weather oriented, but those fans also have bad memories. A punt once stuck like a dart in the field at Heinz after a poor-slap-jab sod-job and a rainstorm. And even 5 years into the Linc’s existence, and with an expensive part-synthetic field base called “DD GrassMaster” complaints were loud and long.

So why not go to “field turf” and call it a day? Because a lot of players still don’t think it’s nearly as good as real grass. Also, soccer. Yes, FedEx Field and the Redskins like having the ability to bid on international “friendlies” from time to time. And once you go full plastic, you are out of the running as clubs won’t play on anything artificial. (Though they will play on the DD GrassMaster hybrid surface).

The Kirk Cousins “stumble step” that led to the pick-6 off the hands of Byron Marshall was just the kind of “how about THAT Mr. Fung!” moment that fans jump on as undeniable proof that the field is junk, may well cause cancer if you step on it, and will surely lose us games if we don’t get it fixed immediately!

Truth is, Kirk can catch his cleats on a perfect field just as easily, if he doesn’t pick them up cleanly enough. Kirk was blunt in his assessment of the field the day after, but committed a logical fallacy in saying that one slip on a shoddy field could cost them the game. “There’s too many times where we have crucial plays where we have to have better footing, because it can be the difference in a win or a loss,” Cousins said. “Or in staying on the field or punting, when a guy slips and we don’t make the play.”

What Cousins forgets, is that a slip by the OTHER team at just the wrong time, could just as easily WIN you the game. Bad fields are like rain, wind, and snow. It’s the same for both teams.

The Seattle playoff game in 2012, featured the slo-mo disintegration of RG3’s knee on a pile of painted sand. Many fans blame the field. That’s fun. But likely a total reach. Griffin’s knee was already hanging by a thread in that game. He had been playing on it for 6 weeks after Haloti Ngada nearly took it clean off on a scramble. And against the Seahawks he admittedly hid a further aggravation of the knee from the coaching staff.

That knee was shot. It was only a matter of snaps.

But back to the current brown field. It looks like shit. We should have better.

But I agree with the Redskins that on Thanksgiving, it was perfectly playable and a total non-factor. I only wish they wouldn’t be so dismissive or secretive about the situation. Just lay it all out honestly: what kind of grass? How often does it get re-sodded. What can go wrong? What are they thinking about for solutions? What are they NOT thinking about? Who is in charge. How long has he been with the team?

By acting like they’ve got something to hide, it only invites the the worst kind of speculation and motives from the fans.

Greasy, Grimey, Glorious…. Win

The first half of Redskins-Giants on Thanksgiving night was the kind of game you would delete on your DVR, then do a complete disk reformat just to make sure none of it survived. The second half wasn’t much better.

But an NFL season isn’t an art gallery, where you hang the prettiest “W’s” on the wall and just gaze at them. All the wins and all the losses count the same. It’s binary. So don’t fight it. We’ve now got 5 wins, 6 losses. 10-6 might get you to January. So … the show goes on!

We recently saw the 30 for 30 of the 1987 replacement Redskins (aka “Scabskins”) from the strike year. This team won’t get any such documentary, but as chicken-wire and duct-tape jobs go, this season is getting closer and closer to that all the time. Tony Bergstrom played all 71 snaps at CENTER – not even his natural position of guard – on 2 days of prep. He’s been cut from 3 different teams in 2017 alone. He’ll be cut by us when the season’s over too.

Zach Vigil started at inside linebacker and played 39 snaps after getting here 8 days ago. Former Terp AJ Francis spends more time on our radio station guest hosting shows between practice squad stints than he does in shoulder pads. He played 14 snaps. Byron Marshall was stolen from the Eagles practice squad 2 weeks ago. 21 snaps. Arie Kuoandjio got dumped by us in August. The Ravens picked him up. We stole him back from their practice squad 3 weeks ago. All 71 snaps at guard.

And to be honest, the Giants aren’t much better when it comes to mass injuries, and key injuries. And from what I saw of Eli Manning, early retirement might not be such a terrible idea. Roger Lewis and Tavarres King at wide receiver are a scrub’s breakfast of targets, but Eli looked truly awful en route to a 13-of-27 for 113 and a pick night.

So here come the Cowboys next Thursday, with a chance to climb back to 6-6, and put a virtual season dagger in our hated rival’s back. Am I excited? Hell yes. (Feel these nipples!) We are still alive and in the mix of an NFL season heading into December. Football itself lasts way too short to begin with. And many teams end up dead by the holidays anyway. Like the team, I’m still grinding as a fan.

It’s tempting to ask the question: “Why do you still care about the playoffs, Czabe? You know this team was never good enough to do anything, and that’s even more true now with all of the injuries.” Fair point, and it’s probably correct. But as I pointed out to begin today’s post: all you have in this league is winning and losing. The more you do of one, begets more of the same, I believe.

I like having a team that grinds. A team that carries on. A team that doesn’t look for excuses on the way to tapping out. That is, after all, the very essence of football, no?

About this time last year the Redskins seemingly put the 2016 Packers to bed with a rollicking win at home, punctuated by a Kirk Cousins “how you like me now!” hair-tussle of Scot McCloughan. Next thing you know, the Packers run the table, and end up in the NFC Championship game. Sure, they have a nijna at QB. But the point is, anything can happen.

The Redskins haven’t had a “walk in” playoff season since 1999. The ’05, ’07, ’12, and ’15 seasons all saw year-end streaks of 5, 4, 7, and 4 games to make it. This is what we do.

As the spine-tingling opening montage of the NFL Films production “Football America” says…. “Theirs is a game that glories in it’s toughness… it’s willingness to endure.. and play on… when other games… would not.”

We’ll see everyone in Dallas next Thursday, and just keeping figuring it out from there.



Now Would Be A Good Time For Some Deep Redskins Introspection

As gut-wrenching losses go…. that one belongs in the pantheon, no doubt. It’s pretty hard to ring up a win-probability-index above 99% with so little time left in a game, and still lose. But they did. And so here we are.

There is a lot of wreckage to pick through following the Skins’ 34-31 loss in overtime to the Saints. Emotional wreckage. Psychological. Physical. But before we put on the forensic gloves, let’s remind ourselves of two things: 1) Never confuse results for analysis. 2) What we’ve been, has nothing to do with who we are.

Okay? Got it. Let’s begin.

From our view on the couch, it’s inconceivable how often we as fans watch so many NFL teams blow big leads late. We know they are playing some form of “prevent” defense, but we aren’t smart enough to properly decode it. Even if we just count pass rushers, that doesn’t always do it justice. All I know is this: no fucking way Drew Brees – Hall of Famer to be or not – should go 11-for-11 on his final two drives for 2 TDs, when we basically know he’s throwing every play. Brees went through our defense like a gas station egg salad sandwich goes through your system.

That’s what haunts me so much. Why not just play our “regular” defense (whatever it was that had worked so well all day long) in the final 3 minutes, and just walk out with a win? Maybe the all-22’s will tell more this week. Maybe the coordinators will admit to being insufficiently aggressive. Maybe the players were “tired.” Maybe there were injuries. I’m sure there were more than a couple of “mental mistakes” along the way.

As much as I have loved what Greg Manusky has done with this defense so far, this one he’s going to wear around his neck for a long, long, time. The damn game was won. Now close it out!

Now, on to other issues. Kirk Cousins is not the problem. Neither is Jay Gruden.

Don’t mistake me for saying these guys are currently Brady and Belichick light. They aren’t. They fuck up. Bad. Often at the worst possible time. But Cousins and Gruden are NOT the problem. So anyone who wants to let the former “walk” and then “fire” the latter, you can leave the room. I don’t talk to crazy people. Cousins and Gruden are likely the only thing keeping this team from a ceiling of 4 wins these past few years.

Gruden has shown an ability to deliver a team that is ready to play, week in and week out this year that belies his hokey-dokey demeanor. All of this, despite more than enough opportunities for his team to cloak themselves in a boo-hoo blanket of injury excuses, and just tap out. Not only has Jay’s team shown a professionalism and resilience that is a marvelous thing to see as a fan, but his offensive schemes and playcalling is absolutely first rate. Very few coaches are able whip up a good tasting meal while missing so many needed ingredients. Kirk’s three TD passes Sunday were wide-open walk-ins. Sure, the Saints might have blown a coverage or two. Sure, they missed their stud rookie Marshawn Lattimore once he tweaked his ankle early in the game. But alot of it is playcalling and scheme. And Jay’s got it. Tip your cap. He’s good. Someday, we’ll miss it when he’s gone. Badly.

Kirk is not the problem either. If you think he is, then I can’t help you understand pro football. Consistent production does not lie. Occasionally, you’ll get a one-year-wonder at QB (see: Foles, Nick) but Kirk is en route to delivering a third straight bomb season. And he’s doing it with virtually no wideout production. And just because you change the argument to “well, what’s his record” or “how come he folds under pressure so much” then again, I can’t help you. Kirk Cousins is keeping this team from being a 3 win joke.

And no, he’s not going to ride on the #1 homecoming float with the handful of “prettiest” NFL QBs. He’s somewhere on the second float. And yes he’s going to cost a damn fortune if you want to get off the 1-year rental plan. But so what? He costs a fortune now. If you can’t get out your wallet for a guy who takes a nuclear shot to the head deep in his own territory, then engineers a TD drive off a successful fake punt that ends in a cover-zero swamp-blitz where you get blown up, then you’ll never get out your wallet for anybody.

Now let’s talk about that fateful “Intentional Grounding” call. For starters, it was a borderline interpretation. The rule says you need to be in imminent danger of a sack. Everybody’s idea of “imminent” varies. Jay says the play was coming in from the sideline via hand signal, and that Crowder missed it. Okay. It’s fair to say Kirk should use his eyes and be a football player and not throw it to open acreage. He choked a little. No doubt. Like he choked in Week 17 last year. Like he choked for a moment at the end of the half in Philly two years ago (though it didn’t matter in the end).

But he’s not the problem. There are very few no-choke-ever QB’s in the world. And he also wins a lot of games too. Go ahead and look them up. Pro Football Reference is a wonderful factual resource. Besides, he shouldn’t have to win the fucking game THREE times. He already won it, once! (Shit, I sound like Giselle Bundchen right now, don’t I?)

My biggest gripe on that play was simply this: neither Kirk nor Jay lobbied their case nearly hard enough. If you want a Brady-Belichick comparison, well here it is. Both of those guys would have raised HOLY HELL as soon as the refs started to huddle up. I can’t tell what Jay did because the TV cameras didn’t show him for more than a split second. But they did show Kirk slump his head and put his hands on his helmet. The unmistakeable language of “oh, crap… I fucked up.”

No, Kirk, no! No a million times! Brady would have been right there in Walt Coleman’s face. Brady would know that changing Coleman’s mind as crew chief could be the difference between winning and losing. I’ve seen Brady do it a million times. You? You slumped your head and said… “oh… darn it.”

So from a results standpoint, that game totally sucked. They basically THREW AWAY a win, against all statistical odds of that even being possible. But let’s not confuse results with analysis. When I analyze who and what this team is, I am continually impressed at how hard and how well they play most weeks, despite an injury wave that would have capsized former Redskins teams. This team has something about it, you can really build on. It’s a damn shame that the brutal schedule, and massive injuries, will almost certainly leave us home come January.

Now, here’s my last thought I mentioned before: “What we have been, has nothing to do with who we are.”

I got a lot of feedback along the lines of: “Same old, same old, Redskins. I am sick of this team’s relentless mediocrity. Dan Snyder is the common denominator.” And so on, and so forth.

I get the angst. I’ve lived it, like you. This will now mark the 26th consecutive season in which the Washington Redskins will fail to win 11 games in a regular season. Winning 10 games is not much to brag about. If your team is actually any good, or worth talking about league-wide, you win at least 11. In fact, every single team in the NFL besides the Redskins have won 11 in that span, at least once! Every one! But us.

We’re going on 26 years of that. A full generation…. plus. It’s a damn shame. I know.

But all of that has nothing to do with what is going on right now, with this team, and this coach. Even the owner who must live with all of his past football idiocy, has improved considerably. I believe that this team, this coach, and this QB are on the cusp of being very, very good. Call me crazy, but I do. I believe that if we can get Kirk under wraps this winter, fix the problems at RB and WR, and keep layering in more young talent on defense, then next year could be a BIG year.

I’m not kidding.

The “blow it up” urge is always strong when disasters like Sunday occur. The desire to marry a new, young, and supposedly “hotter” QB girlfriend will never go away. But I pray that we can resist both impulses. I think this team in a “normal” injury year, with a slightly less daunting schedule and a dollop of good luck, could look alot like the team in green to our north does this year.

For now though, it’ll be a painful final month to watch, with a very nervous winter to follow.


Goodell Today, Goodell Tomorrow, Goodell Forever

Nov 9, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (left) and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Something is just not adding up on this Roger Goodell contract extension thing. Either that, or I’m as bad at “big picture math” as I am at.. well… REAL math. (Awful).

Goodell is asking for $50M a year in his extension, along with free airplane rides for life, and doctor visits for himself and Jane for life, as they grow old and gray and saggy together.


Any big contract for a coach, or executive, includes “throw ins” that make you look greedy, but really don’t cost the employer much – if anything. Sure, Goodell can afford his own fucking plane, and all the boob jobs and penis enlargements he likes for his family (along with you know, actual health care) on a $50M salary. That’s not the point. Sure, I can afford it, but you can too. So… gimme.

I’m just looking at the outrageous $50M price tag. Why? How? Explain?

Not only is that way out of line with what other sports commissioners make (Adam Silver is reportedly paid between $8 million and $11 million, for example), but very few ACTUAL CEOS make as much as $50M in annual salary.

Now… a caveat: those other CEOs have stock options and such, which push them well into that Goodellian range. But the NFL is not a publicly traded company, so they can’t give Goodell stock options even if they wanted to. (He’d probably eat them anyway, he’s so stupid).

Therein lies my point: why pay Goodell like he’s the head of an actual COMPANY, when he’s not! He’s just AN ADMINISTRATOR! He adds very little value to the league as a whole, and actually serves as a net-minus to the brand’s likability because every fan hates his guts. Every one.

Furthermore, nobody is coming after Goodell in the business world to turn around their company. Have you seen any headlines lately like: “Nokia Eyes Goodell To Boost Sagging Cell Phone Division?”

Fuck… and… no.

So who are the NFL owners bidding AGAINST for this buffoon? And what happened to the stingiest league ever, when it comes to money? Have you ever read one of the league’s proposals to a possible SuperBowl host city? The phrase “at no cost to the league” comes up more often than “amen” at Sunday service.

This is the league where the owner of the Giants mused that cameras placed in the endzone pylons might be too expensive. Yeah, he really said that.

So why throw away $40M annually on a commissioner? You could get a competent CEO – with actual business experience, acumen, and some higher degrees than just Goodell’s econ major from Washington and Jefferson College – to do a better job, for $10M a year.

They could get this guy or gal, tomorrow.

So why? Why, Goodell? Why Goodell today, Goodell tomorrow, Goodell forever?

As Jerry Jones pointed out this week, there’s no RUSH on this contract extension. The old one isn’t up for 18 months!

I don’t buy the argument that Goodell is the perfect human shield, to keep fans’ ire away from the owners. For one, plenty of fans hate their owners anyway. For another, this is not Vince McMahon and pro wrestling.

The NFL doesn’t need a “heel” at the top of the org chart to loathe. Goodell himself, his existence, his incompetence, and surely by now his outrageous salary, serve as a significant drag on The Shield’s brand.

If you don’t think some fans are watching less NFL, or taking an extended break in part because of Goodell, you are wrong. I talk to these fans everyday, I get amazingly detailed emails explaining the how and the why of it all.

But now the NFL’s Compensation Committee presses ahead, even under the threat of Jerry’s never-gonna-happen-lawsuit, to shovel this guy another $200 million mountain….. (“uh… don’t forget the plane!”)

I don’t get it.

My only rational theory, and it’s a far fetched one, but it’s all I got… is that Goodell has something on the NFL owners. Something, really, really bad. Possible collusion. Fraud. Racketeering? I don’t know. It just seems like the owners want Roger Stokoe Goodell INSIDE the tent, pissing out, then suddenly OUTSIDE the tent, pissing in.


Redskins Meandering Season of Uncertainty… Meanders On

On the whole, this was hardly a bad loss. To lose to a solid Minnesota Vikings team 38-30, where you once again left points on the board due to “easy 7’s” becoming “stupid 3’s” it’s again more frustrating than depressing.

Not that anyone’s gonna hang a banner… but we did put up more on Minnesota than anybody has so far this year.

Not to make excuses, but Minnesota was coming off a bye, while we were in a stone-cold letdown spot after the stunning win in Seattle.

Not to play the “what-if” game, but can we just have Kirk’s backbreaker INT “taken off our bill” at the end of the first half, and can we just have Josh Doctson not trip over his own shoes at the goal-line?

I know. Excuses, excuses. Win the damn game. I’ll shut up now.

There were plenty of reasons why the Redskins were not good enough on Sunday. The d-line was dominated all day, barely getting a sniff of Case Keenum, while getting gashed repeatedly by the Vikes ground attack.

The secondary was lit afire with Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen making like Jerry Rice and John Taylor in their prime.

The coach panicked by going for it on 4th and 6 way too early in the game, while calling two dud plays on 3rd and 4th and 1 later on.

We still have zero run game.

And the tough schedule keeps coming, with a date this Sunday against the NFL’s fast strengthening Cat-3 team the Saints. All they did was rush for nearly 300 yards and 4 TDs on the road vs. Buffalo. These dome daisies went outdoors in cold weather, and punished a quality opponent with defense and running.

So here we are Redskins fans, lumped into the “in the mix” category on the network post-game show “Playoff Picture” graphics. By most guesstimates, it’s gonna take 10 wins this year. And that means a 6-1 finish.

I count 5-2 as best-case scenario. Which won’t be good enough. Which will lead to a very unsatisfying and uncomfortable off-season yet again.

We’ll ask ourselves: “What are we doing, and where are we going?” When the answers are: “I’m not sure, and probably nowhere” it can lead to chronic apathy. It was shocking, but yet not surprising, how many Viking fans invaded the lower bowl of FedEx Field on Sunday. This happens alot to us “at home” these days.

It’s easy to dismiss the Cowboys (America’s team, the fact the Skins were the last team to integrate) and the Eagles (it’s a short drive, they love to drink in our parking lot and start fights) the Giants (lot of lawyers and money men who split offices in NYC and DC) or the Steelers (they have a national fan base, you know) or the Packers (same)… and down the list.

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any fanbase from any far flung NFL city that can’t put a big dent of color into our best seating areas at home games.

Humans crave narratives in life. Larger “story arcs” that give a framework to an unknowable future. The Redskins are not giving the fans a narrative that they can see, or buy into, to gut out these uneven times.

At least when a team starts over and drafts a QB with it’s first overall pick, you have a framework for the future laid out for you. We’re gonna struggle this year, but that’s fine. Let’s see what the new kid can do. Next year we’ll add another high pick, and maybe some free agents. We might be in the mix for the playoffs. And hopefully by year 3, we’ll be a legit contender with all of the pieces in place.

The current Redskins organization – far more competent, and far more professional than previous incarnations under Dan Snyder’s ownership – has everybody stuck in a wait-and-see mode because of the Kirk Cousins drama.

Every loss that’s even close, gets boiled down to the question of: “If we had a slightly better quarterback…. would we have won that game?”

It’s a normal thing for fans and media to do, even though it’s utterly silly. If, if… if…. there’s a million “if’s” that turn the outcome of a typical NFL game each week. By always looking at the QB, it’s akin to the old saying “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Until the Redskins plant their foot firmly in the ground and make their move on Kirk Cousins, we’ll all feel vaguely lost and wandering with this team, unless they are winning big, and winning a lot.

What Jay Bilas Doesn’t Understand About Sports Leagues and Markets

Let me begin by saying that Jay Bilas is one of the best college basketball analysts on television. He understand the game deeply, and has a communicator’s touch when it comes to relaying that understanding to the audience.

Jay Bilas is also smarter than me, on the whole. He attended Duke, and earned his law degree at Duke, while serving as an assistant to Coach K.

However when it comes to the issue of paying players in the two major “revenue sports” in college, Bilas either has a blind spot, or is wracked with a degree of guilt at his own attractive TV compensation.

Here’s what Bilas wrote most recently, in the wake of the shoe-company bribing scandal that has rocked college basketball.

These players are worth a ton of money, to schools, to agents and to shoe companies. And these players are worth far more than a scholarship. In fact, a scholarship is the LEAST they are worth. Schools do not have to offer scholarships, but do. They do not have to offer stipends, but do. If they didn’t, they would be hurt in the marketplace, even though there is a unilaterally imposed wage cap on athletes.

When have you ever heard of a coach being steered to an agent? When have you ever heard of bribes to get a coach to accept a job? When have you ever heard of a bribe to get an athletic director to switch schools? You don’t hear such things because those people are allowed to be paid in a free market. It is an aboveboard business, and it works in an orderly fashion. There are contracts with contract remedies.

That pesky free market works incredibly well and efficiently for everyone else; it is foolish to assert that it would not work just as well for college athletes. After all, these schools know exactly whom to recruit and whom to play the most minutes in the games. They know whom to pay and how much.

But coaches are coaches, and players are players. The former are middle aged professional adults, who, if they are good, can last a school 20 years or more. The players are still adolescents, who have a mandated maximum shelf life of just 5 years.

Bilas wants a “pesky” free market for college athletes, but fails to account for a significant reality of big time sports in America.

Our leagues, are distinctly NOT free markets.

Every pro league we have, is essentially a closed shop for talent. This is not Formula One, or the English Premiere League where the biggest pile of money rules. In the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and MLB…. there are drafts, salary caps, trade deadlines… and on and on. To simply wish that the “pesky” free market should allow collegiate players to be bid upon as precious commodities, is to say that these commodities once purchased, should also be allowed to be owned and controlled by their respective schools.

Surely, Bilas would recoil at that idea, no?

If a left tackle is deemed worthy of a $100,000 annual salary – and not a $45,000 scholarship and room and board – then what are the terms of his contract? How many years must he play in college once signed at that rate? Can he be traded? Can he be cut? Can he be fined for violating team rules? Would he still have to go to class, or maintain a C average?

What would be the entry mechanism for these valuable players into the college sports ecosystem? Even our pro leagues don’t just let teams “buy” the best college talent available. There’s an entry draft for each, designed to create “parity” amongst member teams (although the Browns are certainly putting that theory to the test).

Would players be okay with Division I holding an annual high school “draft.” (I’m sure ESPN, and Bilas’ cadre of well paid pundits would absolutely delight in such a thing! Programming!)

Would the next great high school left tackle be willing to be drafted by say, Tulane, instead of Alabama in order to earn his ‘pro’ salary of $100,000? What if he hates gumbo?

Mr. Bilas, hello? Are you still there?

The fallback position of the “pay-the-players” crowd, is that they should at least be allowed to capitalize on their name and likeness while in college. At quick glance, reasonable. For instance, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were exciting, nationally known talents at both LSU and Stanford.

So what if they sign with Nike or Pepsi while still in school, right?

Two problems.

One is the fact that yes, both players are famous, but only because of the stage they play on – a stage built by colleges and universities who have been playing football for 100 years or more. A stage that likely has siphoned general tuition funds and student fees to build and expand. These are colleges that maintain a fanbase, a massive stadium, an alumni network, and have negotiated television deals with entities like Mr. Bilas’ ESPN. While wonderful, they are only marketable if anybody has ever heard of them. Neither would be worth much to Pepsi had they chosen to play at Eastern Illinois or Northern Arizona.

The second problem would be the inevitable “astro-turf” endorsement deals for good-but-anonymous players on big programs, who actually have no real marketability. Let’s call this: legalized “under the table” payments to players. You would have programs like Alabama and Ohio State finding their free safeties and centers with local car dealership “endorsements” that pay mid-five-figures. Prominent boosters might find “endorsements” for these kids in their various businesses, acting as a shadow payroll to the program.

Selling your autograph for “what it’s worth” falls under the same problem. It won’t be long until an Alabama left guard is being paid $50,000 to hold an “autograph session” that is really just money funneled through booster clubs or alumni.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing… in theory.

Only it would split most conferences in half like a piece of aged firewood in no time. Vanderbilt isn’t going to keep letting a professionalized Alabama program beat it senseless every year, with 25 players on local endorsement deals. Neither would Wake Forest to Duke in basketball.

At that point, you would have completely demolished the college sports ecosystem that most people think is still a pretty good thing, despite the absurd buyouts of failed college football coaches.

The strict rules on extra benefits in college athletics, helps ensure the relative parity that makes D1 sports such an attractive thing to televise for millions of dollars. Without it, the excitement of Iowa beating Ohio State would become even more unlikely.

In exchange for not being paid hard money to play their sport, the college athlete is free to choose where he wants to play, and for how long. They aren’t drafted. They can’t be traded. They can quit if they like. And they still get a mountain of benefits (and yes, even up to $5,000 in living expenses) without paying a lick of taxes on it all!

An academic scholarship, dutifully pursued toward a degree, has benefits to the student athlete which extend far into their future. Best of all: it’s a benefit that cannot by its nature, be wasted on frivolous luxuries. A $100,000 a year college sports “salary” showered on 19 year olds, is almost sure to be utterly squandered by many of them on fancy cars, women, and other typical nonsense.

I know damn well, the 20 year old ME couldn’t safely stash that kind of money in the bank and forget about it!

In his piece, Bilas say: “Instead, we should endeavor to change the rules to make them fair, reasonable and moral.”

Sounds nice. But who has the final say on what is “fair?” Or, good grief, “moral?”

The NCAA should only go as far as to make their rules a) Legal and b) Sustainable.

As long as there are legions of high school players eager to get that “full ride” which Bilas finds to be “immoral” then there’s no reason for the NCAA to change. The “pesky” market is sending a clear and un-mistakable signal: “Playing for Alabama for nothing more than room, books, board, and the chance to be on ESPN and CBS…. is a fantastic deal! Sign me up!”

And unless I’m missing something, these colleges are nowhere near running out of takers.

I’ll finish by posting this excellent piece by ESPN’s College GameDay about the power of a scholarship, and what it means to real people, and real families.  Try telling them, that their sons are being exploited. I bet you’d get a real education on the matter.

It’s the Quarterbacks, Stupid

The NFL is currently in a slump. This is not debatable. TV ratings are on a multi-year slide, after enjoying a bull market rise for several years prior. The peak of the NFL’s TV hot-streak came sometime in the early teens.

It coincided with the Golden Age of QBs: Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Big Ben, Brees. Every one of those marquee QB’s punched their ticket as a SuperBowl Champ, certifying them as “must-see” TV going forward. Even Eli Manning got two rings of his own, although he was always considered a lower level “A-List” QB. Being of pedigree (a Manning) and playing in Market #1 (New York) was TV ratings gold.

Super Bowl after Super Bowl featured incredible QB vs. QB showdowns. Brees vs. Manning. Rodgers vs. Big Ben. Brady vs. Eli.

Even the QBs who did not win a ring – or even make it a Super Bowl, were exciting appointment TV. Tony Romo was always worth a watch with Dallas, while Kurt Warner had a spectacular desert resurrection. Brett Favre authored two impossibly great seasons in Minnesota.

Then you layered in exciting young talents like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII and the NFL could do no wrong. It was hard to even put a bad game on national TV!

The league had become what I’ve said for a while now it is: “A television show, about quarterbacks.”

But then Warner, Favre, Manning and Romo retired. Big Ben is apparently on the doorstep. Eli now stinks. Kaepernick and Griffin are out of the league! Andrew Luck has been ruined. Rodgers is hurt. Cam is increasingly inconsistent and un-likeable. Even the unspectacular but competent QBs like Dalton, Flacco, and Rivers are now zero fun to watch.

My own Kirk Cousins, good as he may be, is nobody who gets you out of your seat on the couch. Ditto Alex Smith.

The league keeps planting the seeds of replacement QB flowers, but too many are just not taking hold. Winston and Mariotta are buried on small market deep south teams, and have not yet made the playoffs. Bortles is a bust. Denver is lost in the weeds of bad QB ideas. Bridgewater got snuffed out by a freak injury. DeShawn Watson is now on indefinite hold with the same.

Thank god for Wentz and Prescott, because otherwise the landscape for QB’s would look even more bleak. Imagine if Brady has something go “snap!” in the next 8 weeks, and Luck never returns to ever being fully healthy. Throw in Big Ben retiring and just one more “name” guy hanging it up in the next 2 years (Eli, Brees) and you’ll have full blown QB market collapse.

I’m old enough to remember when QB’s in the NFL didn’t matter nearly so much. They weren’t so long ago. There were decidedly below-average guys like Trent Dilfer, or mostly-average guys like Brad Johnson winning Super Bowls behind awesome defenses. Go further back, and there were transient QB talents that happened to land in just the right spot at just the right time – as my Redskins found with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien.

Now the NFL has become an unending unicorn search, a frantic quest for a do-it-all QB who is not only good, but has sizzle. And if you think the sizzle doesn’t matter to owners, Kirk Cousins still not being under a long-term contract is my “Exhibit A.”

Given the tightening rules on defensive which has made the game far less punishing, there are fewer aveneues to building a winning team. All roads, now lead through a true “franchise” QB.  I’m not sure the NFL can ever go back to 15 or 20 years ago, and I’m not sure they want to. But they need to start growing some more exciting QB’s for their “TV show” and they need to do it quickly. There’s really nothing the NFL can do to stop the current ratings slide. Yes, the anthem issue has hurt, but I still say it’s all about the quarterbacks.