Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.
- Gene's latest chat
On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
Greetings, update readers.
In the absence of the regular sports columnists of The Washington Post, whose job this would ordinarily be but who were unaccountably collectively unavailable yesterday for required tuchus-kicking duty, I am stepping forward today on behalf of this newspaper (if without its official approval) to formally demand the head of Mike Shanahan. Not his life or even his job, but the head itself, sunk in shame, bald-spot pronated, wretched, groveling, stammery and hangdog, confessing into a mike what is or should be apparent to everyone who watched the grisly end to the Redskins’ first playoff game in 6 years: He blew what might be the most important call of his career, and he did so through a combination of foolishness and cowardice. You deserve his apology, rich, nuanced, and textured. You won’t get it. Instead you get this thin gruel.
Yes, I do believe you should have read this in yesterday’s Post, a newspaper with the best and most fearless team of sports columnists I know of – a team that, perhaps hearing footsteps, punted on this one. It was not a pretty punt. It was shanked off the side of the foot, weak and wobbly, a real stinker, all a-flutter with wincing stoicism and good cheer (“Loss Aside, Bright Future Awaits”) avoiding the central issue of the day with an awkward side-step. Get it? An awkward side-step. Like a step to the side made by a foot without the approval of the knee. My friend Caitlin Gibson calls this sort of sports-knee horror a “storking.” You never want to see a storking, even of an opponent. I am a Giants' fan, and I want RGIII to be ineffective. But not because he's crippled.
Joining the half-hearted Post punt coverage team yesterday was my good friend Eugene Robinson, the brilliant and wise op-ed columnist who nonetheless wrote (“Don’t Blame Shanahan for Leaving RG3 in the Game”) that Shanny had no obligation to remove a hobbled, ineffective quarterback who was tottering around on a knee barely held in one piece by a wisp of tissue, and who actually, demonstrably was losing the game because of his physical haplessness. Why did Shanahan have no such obligation? Because, you know, it’s a rough sport. Stuff happens.
This is like not blaming The Chicago Tribune for declaring Dewey president in 160-point type -- on the grounds that news is fast-breaking and hard to cover. If it’s what you do, if it defines your job, then you must get it right or, sorry, you have to perform the bald-spot pronate at a microphone.
Without The Post having identified the elephant in the room, the task fell to talented outsiders -- the likes of Dave Kindred, the great sportswriter, author of a book on The Post -- who tweeted before the game ended: “FIRE SHANAHAN. NOW. YOU KNOW WHY.” Taking an equally strong but slightly different tack was a guy named Hruby, whom I don’t know but will begin reading. Hruby's point, basically, is that we cannot forgive Shanny but we can understand him, on the grounds that he is an insane, spit-flying, nostril-flaring, eyeball-rolling lunatic madman. I’m down with that.
What we cannot and must not do is pretend that what Shanahan did was justified or excusable on any level, even considering – ESPECIALLY considering – the cruel mayhem that is NFL football. In a way, that is exactly the point. If the game is to be any less of a horror, we must count on the adults to take a semblance of control.
Listen, here’s what it is really about, well stated by Dan Wetzel.
Or look at it this way:
Like any big-time leader – say, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company – Mike Shanahan is paid primarily to do two things. The first is to set a tone. A big organization either prospers or rots from the top down. That’s where the corporate culture is set, and that affects everything -- how hard people work, how they relate to each other; everything. We don't know how well Shanahan is doing there, so we must judge him on his second big job: Making about five decisions a year. Huge ones. And you have to get them right. This is part intelligence, part hard work, part intuition, and, in largest measure, character.
I’m not sure what decision is bigger for Shanahan than how to handle the man who is going to be the team’s franchise quarterback – a man not only of generous talents, but winning personality, grit, guts, and smarts both on and off the field. The only thing RGIII does not have, yet, is judgment. He is playing a game with reckless abandon under unrealistic rules of conduct that equate a suicidal temperament with courage; you play until you must be carried off the field, otherwise you are not a team player. You owe it to the team to play EVEN IF YOU ARE HURTING THE TEAM, which RGIII was manifestly doing. They had a shot with a healthy backup quarterback. I think everyone understands that, now. I think they very well might have won with the impressive rookie Kirk Cousins.
So why did Shanahan leave Griffin in? First, the stupid, foolish part:
Shanahan says he felt he owed it to RGIII to keep him in; that they wouldn’t have been there without him. This is the dopey part, buying into the myth of sports; this is heart over head, and it's inexcusable in a leader. This is the manager sticking with a franchise pitcher several pitches too long (Grady Little, Red Sox 20003) when everyone else in the ballpark knows it’s a stupid call. This is poor personnel evaluation. It cost Grady Little his career. This is a mistake that Shanahan should be ashamed of, as a coach.
But the second part, the cowardice part, is one he should be ashamed of, as a man.
The score is 14-0, a rout. If you take out your franchise quarterback, and then lose, you will be adjudged to have made a terrible mistake. This is where the “character” part of the equation kicks in. Shanahan failed, and he deserves to be held accountable.
Why the punt by the Wapo? My guess: Character. It’s easy to be critical, and easier to pile on when others are doing it, too. Maybe they felt the high road was to give Shanahan a break. If so, I disagree. I think it looks bad.
I do note that today The Post's Jason Reid finally comes out and says it. "Mike Shanahan Failed the Redskins and Robert Griffin III." It's right out there, plain as the nose on your face, right there in black and white, on page D-7.
Urgent: the next full chat is January 29th. Here's a link to submit questions.