A Burgundy and Gold Obsession
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Cake or Death?

The Good Ole Days

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Two hours ago, I just finished When the Game was Ours by Jackie McMullen with the help of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I read it in two days, in between photographing 18 families yesterday, and couldn't wait to get back to it while working with those families. Terrific read. The book is ostensibly about Magic and Larry's relationship, complicated at first, but flourishing from 1985-on as they grew to like and eventually love each other even as they had always respected each other.

But what captured me as a basketball fan, heck, as a sports fan, was the concept of teamwork and loyalty. Going to the end of the book first, Jackie Mac touched on Bird's days as the President of the Pacers when the Malice at the Palace happened, and Magic's short tenure as coach in the mid 90's. Both men talked about the difference in the mindset of the players from when they played, and how much more selfish today's players seemed to them.

Moving to the beginning and the middle of the book, I was captivated by the stories both men told (and their teammates) about how hard they worked to develop and hone their skills, and how that forced their teammates to work that much harder to keep up with them. Basketball is a beautiful game, reliant on trust and teamwork, and these two men embodied the desire to make their teammates great, and in doing so, made themselves great. The common refrain from Byron Scott, James Worthy, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, et all, was that both players made the game easier for them. They could tell that Larry and Magic saw the game in slow motion, and that slowed the game down for them as well.

But the overwhelming theme throughout the book was the idea that both players had a burning desire to be great, and understood that the best way for them to be great was to make the other players around them great.

We can argue for days about what happened, but the bottom line is that I don't think we see that anymore in basketball, and I suspect we don't see it in sports in general.

Do we?

One of my favorite articles about the Redskins ever written is an account Bil Simmons wrote almost a decade ago about his visit with the Hogs. The article does a great job of articulating how much of a close-knit group that offensive line really was. We remember the Hogs as a dominating unit that crushed opposing defenses, keeping Doug Williams safe in that magical 2nd quarter, and keeping Rypien almost untouched during the '91 campaign.

Those guys got it, right? The Hogs understood that their best chance to be great was keeping the dirt off our QB's jersey. And Byner's, and Timmy Smith's and the host of other RBs Gibbs employed. Sometimes, our best chance at greatness is elevating someone else.

And I would argue it worked out pretty damn well for the Hogs. When most of us think of the Redskins in the 80's, we think, in order: 1) Gibbs 2) Hogs 3) Posse 4) Williams? Rypien?

So where is this unselfishness today?

We are beset with Albert Haynesworth drama seemingly 24/7 these days. DeAngelo Hall seems like a drama queen. Portis is a diva, to say it nicely. Heck, we've got rookies tweeting after a game that the fans shouldn't boo! Our owner is detested by most of the fan base for being too meddlesome and ruining the glorious tradition of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs.

So where do we look? Who can we point out to our kids, the way my Dad talked about Larry Bird's work ethic so admiringly?

How about London Fletcher and Phillip Daniels? How about the two guys are never quit, work tirelessly in the off season to prepare for another grueling season, and still interact with the fans with a smile on their face and gratitude for any support we can give them?

In all the excitement over new draftees and the rush free agency will provide if and when it ever gets here, let's pause for a moment and remember two throwbacks.

To Phillip and London: Honorary Hogs if ever there were any.


  1. Boone's Avatar
    I'm a huge believer that the most important element of success in venture involving multiple human beings, whether it's a company in business, a marriage, a little league team, or an NFL franchise, is culture. I think culture explains why teams like the Colts and Patriots have thrived for a decade, as well as explaining the woes of an organization like the Redskins over the past decade.

    Culture explains why Daniel Snyder, no matter who he has brought in, has only seen glimpses of success as an owner. Joe Gibbs made his own culture during his 2nd stint. We hope that Mike Shanahan has a forceful and dominant enough personality to impact the culture in the Redskins organization as well, but that remains an open question.

    Culture is a lot of things. It's knowing what your values are as an organization. It's knowing who and what you want to be and articulating how to get there. It's about bringing talented people who can understand your vision, embrace it, and help move you towards it. It's about knowing the things you must always do, and never do, and never violating those principles.

    Byrd and Johnson changed the culture of a team through sheer talent and force of will. The Redskins have been need of a paradigm shift organizationally for a long time. I don't know if Shanahan and Allen can make that a reality or not, but it's going to be interesting to watch.

    Nice blog entry James.
  2. Goaldeje's Avatar
    Thanks John. Your talk of culture and owners is interesting, an angle I almost went with. The interesting tng is that Magic's original owner was ... wait for it ... Jack Kent Cooke, who promptly sold the club to Dr. Buss pretty soon after Magic started. The Lakers had a lot of the same players whethey won the title Magic's rookie year that they had the year before, but feel short, getting swept in the second round by the Sonics. Magic was the main difference, and really the reason they won the title in 1980. Go look at the tape of his Game 6, without Kareem sometime. Stunning performance. Anyway, my point is that it CAN be the owner, but a player or even a coach can make a difference. Bob Craft won nothing without Belichick and Brady.

    Your point about culture is well taken however. I am hopeful Shanahan can reestablish the successful winning culture in short order.
  3. fansince62's Avatar
    nice piece Goal.

    I watched a bio on LaBron this morning that covered his history and those of his teammates at ST Vincents/St Marys HS over several years leading to an eventual National HS B-Ball championship. much as I dislike LaBron...the story sounded the same themes you trumpet.
  4. Goaldeje's Avatar
    Ugh, dislike LeBron, but have heard the same things. The problem with LeBron is the same problem I have with Cam Newton: he seems to be more interested in his brand than anything else. You need guys who understand winning will create the brand, then they maintain the brand by more winning.


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