Of all the bonds that a man can enter into — father to a child, husband to a wife, life-long best friends — there is none more solemn or unbreakable than his commitment to an NFL franchise. The fact that this blood oath is frequently entered into capriciously, in early childhood, and without the appropriate guidance from those who should know better is nothing less than one of the great ills of modern society. As one too young to protest its onerous consequences, I was indoctrinated into an abiding obsession with the Washington Redskins during the late 1970's. This affection yielded dividends in my childhood years, as the team achieved magnificent on field successes and I felt rampantly engaged with life's fruitful possibilities. But for sometime now the downward trend in the franchise's fortunes has paralleled my own disconcerting spiral into something resembling a nineteen-car pileup. Some might elect to blame exogenous factors other than the Redskins. I myself perceive an inextricable link.
Under what circumstances can one disentangle themselves from their chosen team? What corrupt abuses must occur before a fully sanctioned change in loyalties may occur? Certain established religions regard those who divorce and remarry as existing in a permanent state of sin. Much the same can be said for those who abandon football teams without just cause and explanation: such apostates are necessarily humiliated and shunned at public gatherings. A society in which an individual just roots whimsically for whatever NFL team they feel like on a given day is teetering on the precipice of anarchy.
But what is the deal with the Redskins? When did I volitionally consent to this unending torture? Sometimes I wonder if my own team is in fact consciously acting against its own best interests. From the front office to the coaching staff, down to the execution on the field, I feel I can detect a pervasive, possibly incurable strain of mental illness. Is this grounds for annulment? Owing to a fearsome loyalty easily outstretching that of a mother elephant to her newborn calf, I suppose we will never know on my account. But the question does merit pondering. On the heels of a recent three-game losing streak, one ponders the question: when is too much quite enough? How many viscerally scarring and debilitating disappointments and recollections is any one man supposed to live with? After all, an elephant never forgets...
NFC East Mid-Season Roundup
When the 2006 NFL schedules were released last Spring, a cursory glance at the crushing year-long crucible facing the New York Giants suggested nothing less than a full-scale conspiracy headed by the league's front office Olympians to bury Coughlin and company before they could ever get untracked. Not even Hercules in his labors ever had to start out with Indy at home, then travel to Philadelphia, then across the country to face the defending NFC champs in Seattle. Theseus may have conquered the Minotaur, but how would he have fared in back-to-back road games weeks six and seven in Atlanta and Dallas? And surely wily Odysseus would have frowned and fretted and found some way out of playing Jacksonville and Chicago in consecutive weeks in mid-November. And yet here the Giants stand, 4-2 and looking for all the world like the team most likely to derail the Bears NFC juggernaut.
Tom Coughlin took Bill Parcells to the woodshed this past Monday night. It was a little unsettling to witness such a one-sided outcome between two such evenly matched long-term adversaries. Parcells had entered the Monday night match-up in Dallas anxious to make a statement about his team's Super Bowl potential, and walked off the field looking bewildered, disgusted and not a little old. It is now becoming apparent that the imperious old bastard will not turn the corner with these Cowboys — not this year and not ever. His final, desperate second half switch from limited but experienced quarterback Drew Bledsoe to untested Tony Romo served principally to underscore the main theme of the Big Tuna's final act as an NFL head coach. Having now tried in relatively rapid succession Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Bledsoe, and now Romo, it seems manifestly evident that the Tuna never really had a chance with any of these guys. Samuel Coleridge himself never conjured a more woeful refrain than that which has echoed through Parcells’s fraught four seasons in Dallas: "I just don't have a quarterback." The Cowboys will be the first team he has ever coached that he did not get remotely close to a championship.
As one of Parcells' unvarnished antagonists over the course of his two-decade coaching career, I am finding it weirdly difficult to glory in his Waterloo. Maybe it is the platinum dye job and shrugging resignation, with all of the vulnerability it implies. More likely this has to do with the melancholy with which I experience his long-standing rival Joe Gibbs spiraling into a similar state of ineffectual disarray with the equally hapless Redskins. Notably, Gibbs suffers from the opposite problem as Parcells — a sort of pathological loyalty which prevents him from making a change at quarterback even when it is apparent to a unanimous consortium of observers that he cannot ever win big with his hand-picked starter Mark Brunell. In his prime Brunell was a brilliant player, and part of the frustration as a Redskins fan is that he would, at age 36, still make an ideal backup. On a given day, with a rested arm and his legs under him, he is capable of rendering a defense helpless. The problem is that playing every week he is never fully healthy, and has various frailties have combined to make him all too easy for opposing teams to defend. With the Redskins now 2-5 and falling precipitously from playoff contention, it feels like time to turn the starting job over to last year's first round pick from Auburn, the promising, strong-armed Jason Campbell. But true to form, Gibbs appears unwilling to make the move during the bye week, loyal to his guys, to a fault.
The finest quarterback in the division if not the best player overall remains Donovan McNabb of the Eagles. That this overpowering one-man wrecking crew remains in many ways overlooked and under-appreciated next to the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world remains a sort of troubling imponderable, on par with the unexplained disappearance of “Funyuns” from supermarket shelves. At 4-3, McNabb and the Eagles have been unlucky. Beaten earlier this year on a miracle comeback by the Giants, and last week on a preposterously unlikely 62-yard last-second field goal by the Buccaneers, they could easily be leading the division. Regardless, McNabb, head coach Andy Reid and the rest have clearly put last season’s injury ridden, TO-addled debacle behind them and returned to the sort of physical, high-quality football which characterized their domination of the division from 2000 to 2004. Though unlikely to catch the Giants in the race for the NFC East title, it seems exceedingly likely that these two may cross paths in the playoffs. And when they do, the Giants may be the better team overall, but McNabb will be the best player on the field. Sometimes that alone can steer the ultimate outcome.