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Perpetual Organizational Failure

After four ill-fated seasons, Shanny’s done in Washington. But what now?

I couldn’t sleep last night.  It was one of those late Sunday night/early Monday mornings where I couldn’t get my brain to shut down long enough to fall asleep.  Lots of stuff was floating around up there: why no one has asked Peyton Manning to pee in a cup yet, how Aaron Rodgers continues to flog the upper Midwest, whether or not Jerry Jones died years ago and the man we now know is some sort of super-robot, stuff like that.

My brain has the capacity to not give a shit when it’s time for bed.  It’s a gift and a curse, for sure.  I’ve come up with every great idea I’ve ever had (that’s two ideas to date) while in my nocturnal quasi-functional state.  So, as I lay there last night with a limitless universe of ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams at my disposal…imagine my disappointment when the Washington Redskins were the only thing on my mind.

This morning, around the time I was finishing my second massive cup of coffee, Dan Snyder asked Mike Shanahan into his office for the last time.  After four seasons at the helm and an abysmal record of 24-40 in that time, Shanahan was relieved (and I do mean, he was incredibly relieved)of his duties as head coach, effective immediately.  He made nice with the media on his way out, checked his bank account one final time, and got the hell out of town.

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said?  Shanny wasn’t the guy for the job? I knew that before we hired his sunburnt ass.  Shanny and Dan Snyder didn’t get along?  Tell me something I don’t know.  The news of his termination is academic at this point, he wanted to be gone and he got his wish (plus $7 million dollars guaranteed for next year).  With Shanny gone it will allow the organization a fresh start (albeit we go through this “fresh start” thing every three or so years).

Now it’s time for us, as a fan base, to look long and hard in the mirror and accept a few things.

  •  Robert Griffin III is not the savior of the franchise we thought he was.  He’s not capable of carrying a mediocre team on his shoulders.  He was hurt last year against the Ravens, played out the rest of the season on a bad wheel, and his knee injury was clearly an organizational failure from top-to-bottom.
  • The subsequent marketing blitz by RG3’s representatives (along with the Redskins marketing team) put our young (and still very injured) QB in a situation to fail before he could even limp onto the field.
  • Due to unfair practices during the uncapped year, our organization (in another full-fledged organizational debacle) lost $36 million in cap space over 2 seasons.  That’s enough money to buy some safeties that can cover, or an actual second wide receiver, or maybe some steroids to keep London Fletcher young just one year longer.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, we went into this season defending NFC East Champions (quite on accident) with less money than every team in football, less talent on defense than (almost) every other team in football, a one-legged QB who was so full of himself he forgot he was human, and still the worst owner in professional sports.

And all of this was Mike Shanahan’s fault?  I’m not sure I agree.

So, now I’m going to say something that needs to be said.  It’s sure to be an unpopular opinion but the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one in the first place; and let me tell you guys, we have a big goddamn problem around here.

We, us, the fans are terrible.  For all the trash talking I do about Steelers fans or Patriots fans, or even Cowboy’s fans, at least those fan bases know who they are and who their team is.  Who are we?  Who the hell is this team we field every Sunday?  When your organization is constantly rebuilding itself it’s impossible to create any identity, any sense of team.

That being said, this season alone I’ve purchased a new Redskins hat, socks, two t-shirts, and a bottle opener (all for the low approximate price of $4,500).  In other words I bought more pieces of useless team apparel than the team had wins this season…and Snyder took that money with a smile on his face.

This guy is an asshole

Throughout this terrible season and it’s been god awful in every conceivable way, there was one silver lining that I hope everyone noticed.  At halftime of the Chiefs game (when we were down something like 101-3) the CBS cameras flashed a shot of FedEx field and it was almost entirely vacant.  The top bowl all the way down to field level was deserted; the national TV audience got a live look at Redskins fans saying “Enough is enough”.

Whether Snyder looked up from his gold-plated IPad long enough to notice our frustration we may never know.  He’s slowly but surely turning into Jerry Jones 2.0; he’s younger, he’s somehow less football savvy, and he care’s even less for what his fans and team want.  If there are any fans out there who don’t know this, listen up: Snyder is the one reason this organization can’t find consistency, he’s the reason I lost sleep last night.

As the news of Shanny’s inevitable firing came out this morning, no Redskins fans batted an eyelash, it’s commonplace for our team to make waves during the offseason.  We pour our hearts and souls into each season; last season culminating in one of the greatest Week 17 finishes we could’ve hoped for, this season ending with a resounding and deafening thud.

Looking at the video of Shanahan driving away from Redskins park, he looked more like a free man on his way home than an unemployed man thinking where he’d gone wrong.  Four years and forty losses later and this fan base still sees no signs of life from ownership.  All we can hope is health for RG3 and our other remaining stalwarts; everything else is entirely out of our control.

You see, I lost sleep thinking long and hard about the context of this 3-13 season.  My brain wouldn’t let me rest knowing there were ways we could’ve avoided this disaster, knowing there are still ways this team can climb out of hell.  Sadly, something tells me Dan Snyder sleeps just fine not thinking about those things, and that’s the fucking problem.

Hail.

The NFL Mid-Season Awards Spectacular!

For my money this has been one of the least predictable NFL seasons I can remember.  Granted, many of the familiar favorites from years passed are still relevant, still capable of getting hot and winning it all; but it’s the overall quality of the teams, the league depth that has peaked my interest thus far in the 2013 NFL season.

If the Ravens winning the title last year proved anything, it proved any good team can get hot at the right time and win a championship.  Going into last year’s playoffs I remember how average the Ravens seemed.  They’re offense didn’t scare anyone, their defense was old, and Joe Flacco was more famous for his poor mustache choices than his actual play on the field.  As that team kept winning games, eventually surviving the 49er’s late comeback in the Super Bowl, I kept asking myself, “How is this happening?”

Today, the defending camps are sitting at 3-5 in their division; behind the upstart Bengals and the…Cleveland Browns (?!) led by none other than the one, the only, Mr. Jason “Al Saunders ruined my career” Campbell.  The Cleveland Browns are alive! (Cut to every Browns fan silently waiting for the bottom to fall out).

Long story short, as I sat down to hand out my mid-season awards it was apparent just how wide-open this season has been.  Nearly every division is up for grabs; injuries have leveled the playing field all around the league, and an influx of young playmakers on both sides of the ball has created excitment for almost every franchise (sorry Jacksonville).

As we head down the final stretch we’ll find out who’s for real and who was just pretending.  Who, if anyone, wants to win the NFC LEast?  With Aarron Rodgers slated to miss time, can the Packers survive, or did they just conceed the division? Is Tom Brady back? Can the Chiefs beat the Broncos and win the AFC West? Is Case Keenum the second coming of Ty Detmer (cut to Ty Detmer sitting on his couch eating Cheetos, nodding)? Will (can?) the Jaguars win a football game?

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.

Let’s get to the awards:

Your 2013 NFL MVP

OMVP: Peyton Manning, QB Denver Broncos (2nd: Calvin Johnson , DET, 3rd: Cam Newton, CAR)

Say what you will about Peyton in cold weather or Peyton in the playoffs (and there’s plenty to say), but this guy’s been robotic the first half of the season.  He’s already thrown for 29 TD’s with only 6 INT’s while piloting the #1 offense in football.  Need I say more?

I put Calvin Johnson 2nd because I’m convinced if he wasn’t on the Lions, they’d be a 2 win team at this point.  And Cam, oh Cam, I’ve never been a fan, but the Panthers would be dead in the water without him.

There’s a ton of football left to be played, but barring an unforeseen injury, this one’s Peyton’s to lose. 

DMVP: Robert Mathis, DE Indianapolis Colts (2nd: Justin Houston, KSC, 3rd: Sean Lee, DAL)

This one was tough, mostly because at the halfway mark there’s no clear favorite.  I went with Mathis because he was second-fiddle to Freeney for so many years, now he’s leading the league in sacks as the #1 pass rusher for the Colts (also, currently on pace to break the sack record, but don’t hold your breath). 

ORookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy, RB Green Bay Packers (2nd: Geno Smith, NYJ, 3rd: Keenan Allen, SDC)

Maybe watching Lacy gash the Bears D last night on MNF is what did it, but man he’s starting to look like the real deal (cut to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson Alabama highlights).  While there are plenty of impact rookies to consider, Geno Smith being the next man up, Lacy has a shot at being the best of the bunch (the injury to Aaron Rodgers might hurt Lacy’s chances, or bolster them…I’m not sure)

DROY: Kiko Alonzo, LB Buffalo Bills (2nd: Star Lotulelei, CAR, 3rd: Tyrann Mathieu, ARZ)

Let’s be honest, unless you’re a Bills fan you don’t know who Kiko Alonso is.  Furthermore, unless you’re a Bills fan you don’t know where Buffalo is, but that’s beside the point.  He leads the team in tackles and INT’s, and hasn’t missed a snap for a surprisingly good Bills front seven.

Comeback: Robert Griffin III, QB Washington Something’s (2nd: RG3’s left knee, 3rd: RG3’s right knee)

As a Redskins fan, the health of RG3’s knees has become one of my pastimes.  I read about them, watch them on every play, and sometimes even dream about them.  Is there anyone else making a comparable comback this season? He’s still way too reckless for my liking, but nine weeks in he’s starting to look somewhat like himself again.  Kudos to Washington for handling RG3’s rehab the only way they knew how; terribly.

Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (2nd: John Fox, DEN, 3rd: Mike McCoy, SDC)

Every shot of Andy Reid in a bright red windbreaker is worth the price of admission.  Also, wishing John Fox good health and I’m legitimately surprised by Philip River’s improvement in year one under new HC, Mike McCoy.

 

Biggest Surprises:  The New York Jets, Terrelle Pryor’s upside, the Browns defense, any Browns QB not named Brandon Weedon, the Packers running game, hey look it’s a fun Buffalo Bills Team!, the AFC West, the NFC West, Cam Newton figuring it out, the Titans D, Greg Schiano still has a job.

Biggest Disappointments:The Atlanta Falcons, exporting the Jaguars and Vikings, the New York football Giants, the Houston Texans running game, the Bears defense, the Chip Kelly revolution (game, blouses), the Miami Dolphins buddy-system, Justin Blackmon’s long-term career goals, paying Joe Flacco $20 Million, the devolution of Ray Rice & MJD, “With the 3rd pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select…Trent Richardson.”

 

My Division Winners:

NFC East: That team in Texas NFC South: New Orleans NFC North: Detroit  NFC West: San Francisco

AFC East: New England             AFC South: Indy                   AFC North: Cincy        AFC West: Denver

 

Super Bowl Pick:  

                                                                   San Francisco vs. New England

 

Aldrick Robinson Still Can’t Catch, RG3 Still Can’t Slide and Regression to the Mean

With the game tied, RG3 dove head first and swung momentum back to Detroit with his early 4th quarter fumble

Man, rooting for these guys is tough. 

My love for the Redskins is deep and complicated.  Deep because I don’t know any better and have no chance of ever getting over them, and complicated because I hate them more often than I love them.  The Redskins and I have long been that couple that shouldn’t be together anymore, but we stay together because the condo’s paid for and dating sucks. 

Yesterday’s 27-20 loss at home to Detroit was hard on me, hard on us, to be sure.  After two weeks of some of the worst first-half football I’ve ever seen the skins were—gasp—tied at halftime!  And although every ounce of me was thinking: They’ll blow it, there was a small hint of optomism floating around my house.  If there was ever a game the Skins would win by accident, it would be at home against the Lions who: A) hadn’t beaten the Redskins at home since 1933, and B) know how to blow a game better than almost every team in the NFL. 

Alas, Aldrick Robinson still can’t catch, RG3 still can’t slide and the Redskins are 0-3. 

So, where do we go from here?  The last time I wrote about the Redskins was more than three weeks ago, just prior to the Monday Night ass-kicking at the hands of the Oregon Ducks, er I mean, the Eagles.  That game scared the shit out of every Redskin fan.  Our offense turned the ball over, our defense resembled Swiss cheese, and our beloved QB savior looked, for lack of a better term, just awful.  Sports talk radio the next day felt like someone had just died, and the people calling for Kirk Cousins to play weren’t necessarily wrong, they were just too late.

At this point it’s clear, at least to me, that RG3 shouldn’t have started the season.  He certainly shouldn’t have played week one after not playing for so long, but we’re all-in at this point and there’s no going back.  All the talk, all the endorsements and commercials, the “All In for Week 1″ bullshit that RG3 and the team embraced all offseason has officially blown up in their faces.  He wasn’t ready, the team needed him to be ready to win, and now this has all the makings of a very tough season in the nation’s capital.

Now granted, it’s not all on RG3; hardly any of it should be the way the defense has played through three weeks.  This is the same defense from a year ago, the same defense that gave up huge plays down the field hasn’t changed, but the offenses ability to out-score opponents has.  Slow starts in the first two weeks led to garbage time passing from RG3 and the offense, inflating his stats and making his numbers respectable; when really he’s been unable to sustain drives, inaccurate at the worst times, and making bad decisions when flushed from the pocket.

This is the bed we’ve made, so it’s time for everyone to be quiet and lay down.

Moving forward, we’ll play the Raiders this Sunday.  They’ll be coming off a short week after playing the Bronco’s Monday night, they’re starting a glorified receiver and QB, and I legitimately don’t know who their coach is off the top of my head; so this has all the makings of another loss…just kidding, I hope.

After Oakland we’ll go into our bye week either winless or 1-3, either way it’ll be a bye week full of questions and media-driven speculation.  Last season the fans got spoiled by an overachieving team that got hot at the right time.  This season we’re witnesses to an expected regression to the mean.  There’s still time to turn this season around, did you hear, we’re in the worst division in football! 

Taking it one game at a time is what got us into the playoffs last year and it will be the only mantra around Redskins Park for the rest of the season.  I fear, however, with the way we’ve been playing it won’t be like last year where everything went right; sometimes things just go wrong, and it might just be our turn.

 

The 2013-’14 Washington Redskins: Denial, Acceptance, and the ACL Holding it all Together

Redskin’s fans are an interesting bunch.  Like most fan bases there are different versions of fan hood throughout the region, and the nation.  Me, I’ve always been a realist and cynic when it comes to my teams.  I can’t help it.  That’s what comes from an upbringing devoid of winning, or even competence most seasons.  Seldom has there been a time when optimism has crept into my mind while thinking about the Redskins.  I think what could go wrong, before I think what could go right.

There are those who are hopeless in their optimism.  Fans that see the light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of the long line of darkness clearly ahead of them.  I wish I was one of those people; football would be so much more fun that way.  I wish I could look at the upcoming season and ignore the red flags; ignore the reconstructed knee and terrible secondary, or the hardheaded coach and his complicit son, but I can’t do that.

The casual fans are some of my favorites.  They don’t live and die with every snap, nor do they know many of the players on the team, but they still show up almost every Sunday and root as if they care.  We can call them Miami Heat fans.  They remain in a state of detached apathy ninety percent of the time, only letting their guard down when it’s safe.  I truly wish I wasn’t as invested in this game, I wish I didn’t care as much, but I do and there’s no turning back now.

The diehard fan mentality is dangerous for those who practice it.  You put so much of yourself into the accomplishments of a team you personally have no affiliation with.  Every win or loss can have a major effect on your mood for the week.  As your team goes so go you; I like that.  I like sharing in the dread because it makes sharing in the triumph that much sweeter.  I’ll be damned if I sat through Shane Mathews, John Beck and Rex Grossman for nothing.

Still, this season and the offseason that has led up to it has the cynic in me screaming.  The Redskins overachieved last season.  They burst onto the scene with a rookie QB and RB tandem, running a fast-paced option-based offense, and they clearly took teams by surprise.  That worries me.  The all-knowing Shanahan put his prized rookie QB  in situations no quarterback should ever be in; exposed, alone and running for his life.  Now, with a rebuilt knee (his second reconstruction in four years) what are we to expect, more of the same?  I hope not, for our sake and for the sake of a young player who clearly doesn’t understand his own limits.

A leg is not meant to bend that way

Anytime I’ve listened to Griffin talk this summer there’s an arrogance about him.  Some people will call it swagger, and good for them, but it’s not swag, its ignorance.  This kid either really thinks he’s invincible or he’s incredibly naïve, or both.  How many times does he have to get hurt until he understands his limitations?  How many times are we, as a fan base, going to have to watch him limp off the field until it’s all over?

Last season was incredible.  A rags-to-riches team rides a hot rookie quarterback to a surprise division title and home playoff game; that’s about as good as it gets for a fan.  But now there’s uncertainty and apparent division between the coach and quarterback, don’t tell me otherwise.  It was clear during the playoff loss to Seattle that Shanahan and RG3 both botched the decision to play on his bum knee. I’m in the minority who said from the moment his knee was initially hurt against the Ravens he should’ve been shut down for the remainder of the season.  Why risk the future of the franchise?  Think long term, am I right? Isn’t that why we drafted and groomed the talented Kirk Cousins?  Did he not show enough against Cleveland to earn another start? Was I the only fan who watched as RG3 limped at half-speed the final three games of the season?

The final snap of his knee was the end of a long line of decisions that ultimately brought our season to an end.  From the concussion against Atlanta, to the incredibly hard hit by Haloti Ngata of the Ravens, to the gut wrenching final game when it was clear he wasn’t able to run; it was a laundry list of mistakes that the team did not learn from. RG3 is too full of himself to know how to lose; he’s too brash and confident to understand that he too will fail if he continues this way.  Shanahan needs to do better, he should’ve known better, and his legacy now rests in the right knee of his young star.

 

Are the 2013 Redskins better than last year?  I’d say yes.  There are holes on every roster in the NFL and the Redskins have a few more glaring than others; namely both safety spots and depth along the offensive line.  We’ll have an improved pass rush with or without the oft-injured Brian Orakpo in the lineup.  Ryan Kerrigan continues to improve every facet of his game; he should be a Pro Bowler (if there is such a thing) for years to come.

When your teams’  best player in the secondary is DeAngelo Hall it’s hard to be confident in the pass defense.  Still, a strong pass rush makes the back-end look better and that’s clearly what DC Jim Haslett will be going for this season.  If the preseason has shown us anything it’s that we finally have enough pass rushers who fit in the system to compete in the NFC East.  Containing Mike Vick and Tony Romo is important, while hitting Eli Manning every single snap wouldn’t hurt either.

The defense was strong against the run last year; good for 5th best in the NFL (they were 30th in pass D).  There’s room for improvement.  The cynic in me says it’ll be more of the same for the Redskins defense.  Solid run D but way too many big plays down the field will lead to shoot-outs for the offense; that’s not how you sustain winning in the NFL, you have to get stops.

The offense is predicated on a healthy RG3 at the helm.  If he plays at or above the level he played last season for 13 or more games, we’ll have a chance to repeat as division champs.  If he struggles with rust after not playing all preseason, or worse gets hurt and misses substantial time, the offense will sputter and the defense will fold and that will be the tale of the 2013-2014 Washington Redskins.

It’s only ten days away, you know?  The start of the NFL season.  Once it starts there’s no stopping the machine.  Will it end in the same heart breaking fashion as last season, with our hero clenching the dirt, writhing in pain?  Will we surpass all odds (18/1 Super Bowl odds to date) and keep getting better?  Or will the team regress to the mean and fall back to Earth after the offense surprised people last season?

There’s no way to know.  All I know is I’m invested like a dad watching his kids play little league.  The coach is an asshole who doesn’t listen to anyone, the fans range from not caring to overly invested, and all the players want to do is play and forget about all of the outside distractions.  I’ll be watching, white-knuckled and tortured anytime my adopted son runs down the field.  I only hope we haven’t seen the peak and we’re descending into the valley now. 

Like our QB’s knee, my heart was broken last year.  He say’s he’s 100% healed, I’m not so sure…only time will tell.

 Next Game: Redskins vs. Eagles —Monday, September 9th

Defending A Legacy

All season long, in the honeymoon period following his first NBA title, LeBron James seemed to be effortlessly scaling the mountaintop to basketball immortality. He turned in the best statistical season of his career, leading the Heat on an unprecedented 27-game winning streak and drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan as potentially the greatest player of all time.

Oh, but how quickly we forget. Three games into the fourth NBA finals of his career, James looks like a mere mortal as his Heat trails the seasoned San Antonio Spurs two games to one. Through the first three games, James looks like a shell of the mythic figure that dominated the league this season and looked well on his way to joining the pantheon of greats who have come before. He has been passive and looks lost as the upstart Spurs are dominating the action. Greatest of all time? James hasn’t even been the best player in the series. That distinction has belonged to Spurs’ point guard Tony Parker, who is in the midst of bolstering his own legacy as the best player on a championship team.

So what’s really at stake here? If the Spurs go on to win this series, with LeBron continuing to post pedestrian numbers, he will fall to 1-3 in NBA finals appearances, 1-2 since fleeing Cleveland to join the Heat. He is in serious danger of doing irreparable damage to his legacy in a sport where success is quickly forgotten, but failure has a way of lingering.

James is and will remain the preeminent player in today’s NBA, regardless of the outcome of this series. His size, strength, athleticism and court vision are unparalleled and he is a marvel to behold. Physically and maybe even from a skill set standpoint, he is superior to anyone who has ever played the game, Michael Jordan included. But the truly great ones, and there are really very few of them, aren’t measured by mere skill, it’s there transcendent will and refusal to lose that really sets them apart. It’s a pretty played out phrase that some players love to win and others hate to lose, but greatness really is that simple to measure.

The one quote that always resonated with me when defining Michael Jordan’s greatness came from long-time NBA coach, George Karl. “People don’t understand that it’s not his jumping, or his jump shot or his defense. It’s his inner guts and his inner heart. You’re gonna have to cut Michael Jordan’s heart out to beat him.”

Could that ever be said about LeBron James?

Jordan rose to the moment time and time again on the game’s biggest stage. He always seemed to save his greatest performances for the NBA finals, with adversity staring him straight in the face; going 6-0 and delivering indelible, historical moments in almost all of them.

1991: Switching hands against the Lakers
1992: Six three pointers in the first half against Portland
1993: The three point play against Charles Barkley
1997: Pouring in 38 with the flu in Utah
1998: Stripping Karl Malone and hitting the game winner

The only finals that doesn’t really have a lasting image was in 1996 against Seattle, which the Bulls still wrapped up in a tidy six games.

Now this doesn’t mean that we should condemn LeBron for his playoff failures, but can we please cease with the absurdity of comparing him to Jordan? LeBron is a transcendent talent and we should all appreciate that and enjoy watching him play, but he isn’t close to Jordan.

That being said, if James wants to keep his legacy intact, he had better find a way to come out more aggressive in game four and start to dominate the action. Great players can’t disappear on the game’s grandest stage and not seriously damage how they are perceived.

To this day, I still think that the greatest basketball performance I have ever seen was the 48-point game LeBron posted against Detroit on his way to willing an undermanned Cavaliers’ team to the finals. So we’ve seen it. There’s no denying the talent and the flair for the dramatic is there.

But do you have to cut out Lebron’s heart to beat him? Or simply put him on the game’s grandest stage?

It’s showtime, LeBron. What are you going to do now?

Protect the King: LeBron’s Moment is Here

Tonight the Eastern Conference Finals will come to a close in Miami.  One way or another the defending Champion Miami Heat or the young upstart Indiana Pacers will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, that series is slated to start Wednesday night.

In the grand scheme of our world the outcome of tonight’s game means very little; it won’t bring peace to warring nations or prosperity to the underprivileged.  Still, within the confines of the NBA Universe, this is the most important game since Michael Jordan pushed off on Bryon Russell to clinch his sixth and final championship.

Nine seasons into his NBA career LeBron James has done almost everything he’s been expected to do.  Four MVP trophies, three trips to the NBA finals (1-2 in those trips), two Olympic Gold Medals, and he, and he alone, holds the title of “Best Player on Planet Earth” to date.  He’s the best player we’ve seen since Jordan, whatever side of the argument you’re on; everyone admits there’s an argument to be had.

It’s win or go home for the Man who would be King

There’s never been a more polarizing figure in the NBA.  LeBron tiptoes that line between most hated athlete and the guy who clearly wants people to like him, and like his brand.  Jordan never gave a shit; love him hate him, he was going to rip your favorite teams’ heart out right in front of you and make you respect him.  LeBron shows flashes of Jordan’s levels of stubbornness and attitude at times, but when he teamed up with his friends in Miami he lost any and all leeway the media may have given him had he stayed in Cleveland.

LeBron needs to win tonight.  For himself, for the NBA, for Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra, for NBA Commissioner David Stern and future Commish Adam Silver, for Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and for every fan of his who mentions him in the same sentence as His Airness.

When the Heat were cruising on there way to a modern-day NBA-best 27-straight victories earlier this season they looked like the best team the NBA had seen in at least half a decade.  A healthy Wade and Bosh had learned how to play off a mind-bogglingly efficient LeBron while the Heat’s veteran bench seemed to get better as the season wore on.  Players like Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, and even “The Birdman” Chris Anderson looked as though they fit perfectly with the Heat’s Big 3; a second straight NBA Title looked all but assured.

Still, no team is infallible, no team is without weaknesses and throughout their mid-season domination there were always national pundits harking on the Heat’s glaring holes.  For instance, any team with a dominant front court (big guys who can clog the lane, defend, and block shots at the rim) would give the Heats’ undersized big men trouble, and make slasher’s Wade and LeBron work for every basket they got.  Also, an injury to any one of the Heat Big 3 would spell doom for their playoff hopes; simply put: LeBron can’t be expected to do everything.

Game seven’s are the perfect storm in sports.  The teams truly loathe one another after playing six tough games.  The coaches have made so many adjustments, counters, counter-adjustments, and changes to their game plans even they would admit a game seven always comes down to the old adage: who wants it more?  It all comes down to the best player in the series; they’re supposed to find a way, any way, to lead their team to a victory.

Roy Hibbert has carried the Pacers throughout the playoffs.  The one-time young stiff center from Georgetown University has, quite remarkably, transformed himself into a top three center in the NBA.  Watching Roy at Georgetown was like watching Frankenstein’s monster lumber up and down the court; today Roy’s an updated version on Dr. Frankenstein’s creation; a monster with post moves, great hands, and perfect positioning and timing on defense.  He’s been the best player in this series, arguably.  Sure, LeBron’s stats, even with

Roy Hibbert’s size, toughness, and improved game have transformed the Pacers into contenders during these playoffs

limited help from his counterparts have been phenomenal, but it’s the Pacer defense anchored by Hibbert that has turned this into a series.

The very future of the NBA is hanging in the balance tonight.  Cap restrictions paired with two failures in three years would all but force the Heat to make significant changes to their roster if they were to lose.  LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all under contract for next season, with player options for a fourth run-at-it.  If they lose tonight with Wade and Bosh looking like shells of their former selves while LeBron continues to revert back to his Cleveland playing style (over-dribbling, isolations that go nowhere, selfishness) this will be the last game these three play together.

A loss would also change our newly formed perception of Champion LeBron.  Don’t forget it was only a year ago that he had the best season that any professional basketball player had ever had; winning a NBA Title, Olympic Gold Medal, NBA MVP honors, and Finals MVP.  Is LeBron in jeopardy of losing much of the respect and admiration he earned just a year ago if he can’t find a way to bounce these pesky Pacers?

To be fair, if the Heat do lose tonight all of the blame shouldn’t go to LeBron, but it will.  He’s the only reason the Heat are even still in this series (having saved their asses in Game 1).  He’s the best player on the planet, a once-in-a-generation type of player, but what does it say about him in year nine if he still has to prove doubters wrong?

If you want to go down as the greatest of all time it’s on him, and him alone, to win this game.  The Pacers know it, the Heat know it, everyone in the area will know it.

On June 14th1998 Michael Jordan watched as John Stockton hit a three to push the Jazz up three with forty-two seconds left.  What happened next is the reason Michael’s the best ever, anyone arguing otherwise just needs to watch the tape.  The greatest player of all time simply decided he wasn’t losing.  Down 86-83 Jordan scored on the next possession cutting the Jazz lead to one.  With less than nineteen seconds left Jordan stole the ball from the Jazz’s best (arguable) player, Karl Malone.  Down one, on the road facing one of the best tandems in NBA history, nothing was going to stop Jordan from winning number six.  We all know the story; the shot over Russell (the push off), and moments later the Bulls were celebrating their final Jordan championship on their opponents home court.  It was a game the Bulls had no business winning, but they won it because Jordan didn’t know to fail.

MJ’s final shot as a member of the Bulls, the shot that cemented his legacy

It’s not about skill anymore, or pedigree, nor is it about the number of wins or trophies you collect along the way.  Right now, this time of year it’s all about your will to win, the simple act of wanting it more than everyone else on the planet.

RUSSELL, MAGIC, BIRD, JORDAN

They’d die before they lost a game seven on their home court to a lesser team; it’s time to find out about our reigning King.

1998 NBA Finals Game 6 (Click for Video)

The Pesky Washington Wizards and the NBA Hierarchy

I had a moment during the black out at the Super Bowl, a terrible, unexpected moment of clarity and understanding that shook me to my core.  Through the beer and brandy mixture in my stomach, over the yelling and arguing that comes with a 34-minute break during the Super Bowl I found myself thinking; not about the impending 49er’s comeback or the fact that I would have to take the most-obvious sick day possible tomorrow, but about the end of the NFL season.  I was spoiled during the 2012 NFL season.  Not only did my Redskins actually compete and win the division (still in disbelief), they played a home playoff game (and lost in the most heart-crushing fashion possible)?!  I was plugged in, cynical as ever, but still trying to believe.  It was around the time I saw RG3′s knee go in ten different directions that my heart sank deep, deep within my rectum.

The NFL season ended, somehow Ray Lewis did what every aging vet hopes to do, going out on his terms.  But even as the confetti was still falling in New Orleans I was hit with a hard truth.  I’m going to have to really get back into Wizards BasketballYou read that right, I’ve made a concerted effort to watch, not less, but more of one of the least watchable teams in basketball!  And you know what?  This team isn’t half as bad as you might think.

Following the blackout I knew football was ending. Now my DVR’s full of Wiz games I’m not sure I want to watch.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned since returning to the hardwood:

1) These guys really defend.  Say what you will about them on offense, and there’s plenty you can say, these guys defend their asses off.

2) The jury is still out on John Wall; his ceiling as a player and his value as a former #1 overall pick.

3) Nene can ball, Beal will blossom.

4) Ariza and Okafor can contribute, but it’s their expiring contracts in 2014 that make them important pieces in the rebuild.

5) The Eastern Conference is going through changes from top-to-bottom.  If the Wiz are careful it’s not crazy to think they could make a run at a playoff spot, next year. 

The end of this season and next year will be paramount in the development of our “Star”, John Wall.

With less than 30 games remaining in the season there are still too many variables up in the air to fully assess what direction the Wizards are headed.  John Wall, having just recently returned from a knee injury, needs to show improvement this last half of the season.  Yes, we took him #1 overall,  he struggles with his jump shot and is turnover-prone.  But figuring him and his game out as soon as possible should be #1 goal for the organization.  If Wall can begin to use his strengths (explosive speed, active hands on D, superior athleticism) while hiding his weaknesses better (poor range on his jumper, one-gear mentality, poor decision making) he could  start playing like a top-tier point guard.

Where there’s nothing but uncertainty and misguided hope in Wall, Bradley Beal gives the Wizards a real building block at shooting guard.  The 19-year old rookie, #3 overall selection out of Florida has come on these last two months (winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in both December and January).  He’s still learning how to use angles on the court, but when his game is on, watch out.  His, then, career-high 28 points in an upset win over the Thunder (dropping in the winning bucket with 0.3 seconds remaining) gave Wizards fans a glimpse at the type of player he can become.  Now the real question becomes: Can the Wizards player development staff actually develop some home grown talent?

A season ago the Wizards shed a lot of young, albeit frustrating talent (Blatche and McGee are now both causing other fanbases to scratch their heads) and opted to re-start with more savy veterans surrounding Wall and Beal.  Emeka Okafor, Nene, and Trevor Ariza are those savy vets, and they’ve all contributed for the team this season.  Nene, the oft-injured PF/C from Brazil, has shown he can demand double-teams and rebound well in the post.  Even with his high $13 million price tag, he should hold down the center spot here in Washington, assuming he can stay healthy, for years to come.  Both Okafor and Ariza have gone through injuries the last few seasons but have contributed in big ways these past few weeks.  Their contracts expire at the end of the 2014 season.  Those expiring deals will give the Wizard’s front office some must-needed flexibility when it’s time to possibly re-sign John Wall long term.

The core of Wall, Nene and Beal has looked solid in their brief time together this season. What’s their ceiling moving forward?

Since the All-Star beak and John Wall’s return before that, the Wizards have shown flashes of the team they could be in the near future.  With long athletic guys on the wings, big sturdy defender/rebounders in the paint,  paired with enough shooting around them to space the floor the Wiz have gone 7-3 in their last ten games and have actually started to develop some home-court advantage at the Phone Booth.  This last month of watching the Wiz has easily been the most enjoyable for me, as a fan, since Gilbert was draning gamer winners.  But in the grand scheme of things how good can it really get?

Watching this team bottom out, ship out all of their talent and rebuild has become commonplace in the DC area.  Even now it’s almost a foregone conclusion that John Wall, when his contract is up in another year, will opt to leave for a more attractive market.  The Washington DC basketball franchise has long been without an identity.  With only one NBA Title, two finals appearances (none since 1979), and only a handful of playoff appearances in the last twenty years a Wizards/Bullets fan will often ask themselves “What’s the point?”

And that’s where I find myself today.

I watch the games, learn the players, judge the coach and front office, but atthe end of the day (and this goes for any small-to-mid-market franchise in the NBA) we’re not winning championships any time soon.  So what the hell are we doing?

Part 2 Coming Soon

Jubilation, Reclamation, Devastation

Our global culture changes faster than the weather.  What we like, hate, root for, vote against, and otherwise hold an opinion on comes and goes with the wind.  Sports are one of the few constants that we as a people can count on to be there.  The Olympics is the only event, save for the World Cup that can engross our entire planet with a sense of fanatical patriotism.  Every two years we come together and praise the men and women who represent our respective homelands.  It’s an absolutely beautiful spectacle in most cases; the games give people hope, inspire the masses, and truly connect the planet; if only for a short time.
 

The Men’s 100m Final in London gave us more than one story to follow

Some people care more about sports than others, it’s inevitable.  There are those who couldn’t care less about the Olympics, or any organized sport for that matter.  To them sports are just games, pointless and overblown, that fill in time between commercials.  That viewpoint isn’t wrong per se, but it’s a shortsighted way to think of sports that are so much more than running, jumping, and finishing first.

 
It’s hard to connect with athletes today.  Yes, we have Twitter, Facebook, Four Square, Instagram,  eight different ESPN’s and other avenues to use, but it’s harder to connect on a personal level.  Years ago, before TV money and multi-million dollar player salaries, professional athletes had day jobs to help make ends meet, just like me and you.  They were the people.  Today, they’re the elite and it’s that fact that can turn prospective fans away from these great games.
 
What gets overlooked far too often now is the work these great athletes put into their craft.  Too often are we distracted by DUI arrests, bar brawls, and reality TV shows, when we should be concentrating on how hard these men and women work.  Every event in these Olympics had stories of triumph and heartbreak, second chances and last shots, and poignant examples of the human condition overcoming unimaginable pressure and adversity.
 
On August 5th, 2012 the Men’s 100 meter final was set to begin in London.  Each runner, the fastest men in the world, had worked their entire lives to earn a spot in the final.  Each man, no more and no less worthy of their lane in the race, had the same goal in mind: Gold.  Only one man would win, the other seven would ultimately be disappointed with the result; but it’s their stories, their lives that should take center stage.

Jubilation

Usain Bolt is a showman.  What he did at the Beijing Olympics made him a hero in his home country, a legend in the world of Track & Field, and a worldwide celebrity worth millions.  The hardest thing about being the fastest man in the world, however is the fact that it can’t last forever.  When his fellow countryman, Yohan Blake beat Bolt leading up to these Olympics there were serious questions surrounding Usain.  Can he repeat?  Is he in shape, at the top of his game?  Has the younger Blake passed him by already?  All through the qualifiers for the Olympic final the questions remained.

“Without a doubt, the top is harder than anything else.” Bolt said.  “Sometimes you lose sight of what’s going on around you.  Yeah, you know what it takes to get there, but sometimes you lose sight because everybody is praising you.”

Bolt, the unquestioned Fastest Man Alive, dominated the 100m & 200m in London

If you saw the 100 meter final, you saw what most people expected from Bolt; dominance in the home stretch.  The field was even midway through the race, but with Bolt’s long strides and unparalleled power he pulled away to clinch his second consecutive gold medal and retained his title as Fastest Man in the World.  He finished with an Olympic Record breaking time of 9.63, second fastest time ever to his own 9.58.

For all of the celebrating we see him do, all the posing and smiling, it’s his work ethic and motivation that got him to this legendary point.  Bolt’s friend and training partner, Blake (22) finished second with a time of 9.75.  It was Blake who pushed Bolt to raise his game and rise to the level we saw in London.

“When Yohan beat me twice, it woke me up.  It opened my eyes.  Pretty much he came and knocked on my door and said, ‘Usain, wake up.  It’s an Olympic year.  I’m ready.  Are you?”In Bolt’s victory we saw the best his sport has to offer.  We saw hard work and incredible talent overcoming the pressure that is defending a world title.  The happiness expressed by Bolt following the final is one of the purest, most sought after feelings in the world; not just in the realm of sport, but in life.  In Bolt winning we can find inspiration to strive for greatness and motivation to work harder than everyone else.

Reclamation

Justin Gatlin is a warrior.  In 2004 at the Athens Olympics he took gold in the 100 meters and found himself at the top of his craft.  But he knows now how low things can get.  In 2006 he was stripped of his world record in the 100m and suspended from competing for four years after testing positive for a banned substance.  Then 26, it was thought to be the end of his career.  He would not be allowed to compete in Beijing and would be 30 by the time the London games came around.  The four year ban seemed like a death sentence to some, but Gatlin had other ideas.  At first though he bulked up and lost sight of what really mattered.  He grew depressed and started to believe that his time was really over.  A four year ban for a runner in his prime can do that.

Still, through it all he found the right mixture of training, support, and love to push him through the hardest period in his life.  He says his son was a major reason why he kept working.

“When I bring him to the track, he empowers me.”

“This gave me an opportunity to understand life as a whole.”  Says Gatlin in regards to his ban and road back to an Olympic final.  Since his youth all he knew was sprinting, he was sheltered from the outside world.  When all of that was suddenly taken away from him Gatlin knew he would have to mature, grow up and work harder than he ever had.  Now 30, Gatlin knew this would be his last shot at an Olympic medal.  With the Jamaican tandem of Bolt and Blake all but assured a 1-2 finish, Gatlin was considered a long shot for a medal from the start.  But in the closest 100 meter final in Olympic history nothing was impossible and every runner had a chance at a medal.

When Gatlin crossed the finish line with a time of 9.79 (1/100th of a second faster than 4th place) he reclaimed a spot in the winner’s podium after many had counted him out.  His work ethic, determination, and never-say-die attitude is something we can all learn from.  Gatlin wasn’t supposed to make it to London, his career was supposed to have flat lined six years ago.  Now he brings a bronze medal home to add to his collection and he can rest easy knowing he’s once again an Olympic medalist.

Devastation

Tyson Gay is a worker.  For his career he’s one of the fastest Americans ever but he also holds the distinction of never winning an Olympic medal, of any color.  During the summer of 2011 he opted to have hip surgery hoping he’d heal in time to compete in the London Olympics.  As recently as four months before the games he was still only running on grass, unable to put the needed work and stress on his body that comes with training on a track.  He, like Gatlin, was a long shot to even run in London.  But as we’ve learned over the years a winning mentality and unrelenting drive can overcome a lot more than surgery and rehab.

Having run and failed in Olympics past Gay knew what was at stake.  Always coming up short by only margins of a second surely sat heavy on his mind.  Still, through it all he never gave up hope that he would get his chance, one final shot at a medal.  Through the surgery, the rehab, and the excruciating training that led up to the London games he was questionable to compete at all.

Gay did in fact make it to London, still not considered 100% healthy, but healthy enough to challenge Bolt and Blake in the 100 meter final.  What happened after the sub ten second race will remain one of the lasting moments from these Olympics.  Gay crossed the finish line 1/100th of a second behind his American teammate, Gatlin and missed out o n another chance at an Olympic medal.  He collapsed to the ground exhausted and emotional as Bolt, Blake and Gatlin rejoiced in their medal winning efforts.  Gay was an afterthought in that moment, with joy all around him he lay on the ground began to weep.

Tyson Gay left everything he had out on the track

 

Gay eventually did what he always does, he got up.  As he made his way off the track the cameras found him and a microphone was stuck in his face.  “How do you feel?“ An interviewer asked.  Gay couldn’t fight back the emotion as tears flowed down his face.

 ”That’s all I had man.  I gave it my all.  I feel like I ran with the field, and came up short.”

 In a moment of such triumph for some there will always be disappointment and devastation only a few feet away.  Gay finished with a time of 9.80 seconds, one of the fastest times ever run in the 100 meters, but he will never win an individual medal in an Olympic games.  For him, he should find solace in the fact that he got there and only missed out by a fraction of a second.  For us, we should learn how much of themselves these athletes put into every single race.  How much love and passion they have and how in the end there is only one winner.

But they’re all champions.Usain Bolt would later go on to win the men’s 200m final in London, further growing his legend and beginning debates about his legacy that will last far longer than his career.  Gatlin and Gay both won the silver medal in the men’s 4×100 relay, second only to the power team from Jamaica.  Gay finally earned a medal, not the medal he had set his sights on, but a medal nontheless.  Both he and Gatlin will come home having accomplished something special.

What’s often lost in all of the hoopla surrounding professional sports are the stories of humanity.  Far too often do we view these athletes, not as people but as brands; larger than life figures that aren’t susceptible to the average person’s tribulations. Stories like Gatlin’s, a man who had been counted out by everyone in his field, banned and shunned from the only life he knew only to persevere and transform himself; that’s a story people can relate to, it’s a story that inspires us. 

At a time when genuine inspiration is low, sports can give us something we all need.  Yes, they’re just games, the same games we played growing up.  But these games have the innate ability to show us ourselves, the true human condition, in it’s most raw form.  In one race we saw the happiest man in the world, a man who rebuilt himself and his life, and a man at the depths of misery; just in one race, one ten second blip.  Stories like these are in every game, every arena, every sport around the world.

The next time you find yourself watching a sporting event, any event, try to put yourself in those athlete’s shoes.  Whether it’s a quarterback who just threw a interception to lose a game, a pitcher who just clinched a perfect game, or a runner who just missed his shot at an Olympic medal, try to put yourself in their stead.  You’ll find sports can help you learn things about yourself, the people around you, and how to reach goals you set out to acheive. 

Don’t scoff, just watch and learn.

Redskins vs. Bills–Preseason Game 1 Podcast (8/13)

Frank and David discuss what they liked, what they didn’t like, and where the Redskins go from here following week one of the preseason.  Also, Dwight Howard and the Lakers, Adrian Peterson’s super-human ability, and the return of fantasy football.

7/18 Podcast

Frank & David discuss a plethora of topics including: Penn State, the Redskins, and other news around the NFL.