Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On a Crowded Sports Page, Edgerrin James Sticks Out to Me; Question on TV Shows

There were a number of big stories in this morning’s Washington Post. The Washington Wizards, who appear to be at least a playoff team once again, lost to the nemesis, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in Cleveland. The Washington Capitals are preparing to deal with life for at least a little while without Alexander Ovechkin. To put that in perspective that’s like me trying to live without a computer for an extended period of time.

There was also a story—the lead in the sports section naturally—about the fact that Dan Snyder had broken his ‘policy,’ of not speaking to the media during the season (at least on the record) to speak briefly at a Redskins charity event about the god-awful team he and henchman Vinny Cerrato put together.

Snyder said he felt terrible for the fans and was sorry things had gone so poorly. That’s progress—a little tiny first step—but he never said the words, “I screwed up.” That would represent actual progress. My guess is someone told him if he wanted to avoid a possible fullscale boycott in two weeks or, worse, some serious unrest in the stands, he better say SOMETHING. So he did his ‘I feel sorry for the fans,’ bit—Joe Gibbs would have been proud—and went back into seclusion.

None of those stories, however, really caught my eye. After all, the Wizards are supposed to be better with Gilbert Arenas finally healthy and with some smart offseason moves by Ernie Grunfeld and one doesn’t need to know the shape of a hockey puck to know that Ovechkin on the bench for any extended period of time is trouble for the Caps no matter how many times the other guys talk about, ‘stepping up.’ And Snyder speaking? Yeah, that’s a surprise but if you read carefully he said just about nothing.

Here’s the story that got my attention: The Seattle Seahawks released Edgerrin James. It was one paragraph, mentioning he had rushed for 125 yards on 46 carries this season (under three yards per rush) and 12,246 yards in his career. That’s a lot of running and a lot pounding.

James is only 31-years-old. Think about that: he’s two years YOUNGER than Tiger Woods, who is just coming into his prime as a golfer. There is no job in sports that spits you out and beats you up like being an NFL running back. My most vivid memories from the year I spent watching from the sidelines (2004) while researching my book on The Baltimore Ravens were the hits Jamal Lewis—who announced last week he’d retire at the end of the season—took week-after-week as he charged ahead with the football. I honestly wasn’t sure who to feel worse for: Lewis, who is about 6-1 and 230 pounds or the guys trying to stop him.

During one game, Lewis carried six straight times on a possession. He came to the sidelines during a TV timeout and took off his helmet. I was standing right there and I just said, ‘you okay?’

He smiled. “I’m like novocaine,” he said. “I’m the needle that keeps digging in deeper and deeper until they scream for mercy.”

I might have thought he’d be screaming for mercy but he was just fine. The timeout over, he put his helmet back on and ran over two defenders on the next play.

But there’s more to it than just the pain players go through. There is now all sorts of documentation about the injuries players suffer during their football careers and you can bet there’s plenty more to come especially with new union chief DeMaurice Smith insisting that both the league and the union have swept the problem under the rug for years.

Whenever I read an item like the one on James or look at transactions and see a note on someone being waived or cut, I think back to that year with the Ravens. I go back as far as their mini-camps when all the undrafted free agents showed up, each one of them honestly believing they were going to play in the NFL at some point.

Brian Billick called guys who couldn’t play ‘slap-dicks,’ when the coaches would meet to discuss cuts. He wasn’t being cruel, he just didn’t want the meetings to go on for hours and hours as they easily could. “The guy is a slappie,” he would say. “I wouldn’t even recommend he stick around for NFL Europe. He needs to get a job.”

Back then NFL Europe was still out there as a developmental league for the NFL. It was the lifeline for a lot of players who didn’t want to give up the dream. Billick would often tell players when he cut them that they should consider staying in shape in the fall and catching on with an NFL Europe team in the spring. That’s no longer there. Most guys go home and wait—hope—for the phone to ring.

There was one player on the Ravens that year who had been, if I remember correctly, a third round draft pick. He was a rare Ozzie Newsome mistake. The team had kept him on the practice squad hoping he’d get better but he hadn’t. They finally concluded he was a slappie.

As Billick did with every player he cut he asked him if he had his college degree. The player looked at Billick as if he was crazy. “No I don’t coach, what’s that matter?”

Billick, who was a slappy himself in a couple of training camps after graduating from Brigham Young, was always very good in these situations.

“It matters for a lot of reasons,” he said. “Mostly it matters because, and I could certainly be proven wrong, I just don’t think you’re going to play football at this level. I think you need to think about another route. Sometimes you have to move on from the dream.”

“No,” the player said emphatically. “I’m NOT moving on from the dream. I know I can play.”

He stood up to go. He was the only player cut that morning who didn’t’ shake hands with Billick on the way out. I’ve never seen his name on an NFL roster since then.

James is no slappy, that’s for sure. He may very well end up in the Hall of Fame someday. But I have no doubt he’s hurting today. The mother of his four children died in the spring from cancer and now, after being a star all his life, he was called in yesterday and told it was time to move on from the dream.

I don’t care who you are, how old you are, how accomplished you are, that hurts. There is always a moment—or even a long period—of denial. That’s why great players like James end up being journeyman towards the end, searching for some kind of happy ending that isn’t likely to come.

I’ve never met Edgerrin James. But I feel for him this morning.


Entirely different subject: With no baseball last night and almost no hockey (Islanders have won four in a row folks) I did what I often do: watched “The West Wing,” on DVD. I still think it is the best written show in TV history, especially the first four years when Aaron Sorkin was writing it. Last night I watched the first two episodes of season two: ‘In The Shadow of Two Gunmen.’ I’ve probably seen those episodes ten times and I STILL can’t get enough of them. They’re brilliantly written and acted.

Anyway, I was just wondering: If you could have ONE TV show on DVD to watch in quiet moments what show would it be? And, on that show, what episode is the one that makes your hair stand on end (like the start of season two of ‘West Wing,’ for me) or makes you laugh every single time you watch it. (For me that would probably the ‘Festivus,’ episode of Seinfeld).


Anonymous said...

For me it would be Hill Street Blues. Unfortunately, only the first two seasons are out and it doesn't look like they're going to bring out the rest. My favorite episode is still Captain Freedom's final appearance.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big The Wire fan....especially the season that dealt with Baltimore and Maryland politics. So, after yesterdays topic, can you reveal if it was as dirty and corrupt as the show made it out to be?

Dana King said...

My vote also goes to The Wire. Picking a single episode is tough, as the shows ran together so seamlessly, but the episode in which Detective Griggs gets shot sticks out in my mind.

Number 2 would definitely be Deadwood, with the "Mr. Wu" episode from Season 1 getting the nod.

Rich said...

The West Wing is a fine choice. For your second question, the pilot of LOST is a show I still find very compelling, many years and viewings later.

ebuzzmiller said...

Mad Men and Breaking Bad, have watched first seasons of both more than a few times...

Anonymous said...

West Wing would be my choice. The box set basically runs on a loop in front of my treadmill.

Episode wise. There all lost of options but the '20 hours in America' rises to the top of my brain this morning.


Matt Dick said...

My wife gets to endure my near constant complaint that Sports Night (another Sorkin creation) is no longer on the air.

Its second season was really uneven because Sorkin was spending so much time on the West Wing (a fine choice and maybe my favorite drama of all time), but the first season was as fine a sitcom as has ever been created, and I'm an old M*A*S*H fan.

As for episode, I guess I can't pull one out as they were so fast-paced that I can only keep them straight while I'm watching them.

I'm going to go whine about this to my wife.

Anonymous said...

I love The West Wing. A few months ago I was late to work, because Bravo replays a couple episodes early in the morning, and over breakfast I stumbled across the episode where Josh has to go to therapy (w/ Adam Arkin). I couldn't turn it off. The scene at the end between Josh and Leo ("I've been down here before, and I know the way out) makes me want to cry everytime I see it.

Ok, geek time. I could watch episodes of Star Trek (original or Next Generation) over and over for eons. If I go to bed around midnight on a weekday (which is normal), I can't turn on the TV in the bedroom, because I am magnetically drawn to the local channel that shows Next Generation episodes at that time every night. Then I'm not going to bed until 1am.

And, there are dozens of episodes of The Simpsons that will make me laugh hysterically every time, even though I've seen them 30 times and can recite them by heart.

JJ said...

Millenium....I have the entire series on DVD...

Jeremy said...

The Wire. The episode where D explains the drug game in terms of chess and says "The King Stay King..."

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia every episode makes me laugh...Dennis and Dee go on Welfare has some of the funniest moments in that show's history.

Sean said...

"Homicide: Life on the Street." I'm always a little amazed David Simon's "The Wire" gets singled out while his "Homicide" is often overlooked. It's based on his book from his days as reporter at the Baltimore Sun on the cop beat, and it seems he worked out so much of what would later appear in "The Wire" on "Homicide." Andre Braugher was excellent as Det. Frank Pembleton. It was a critical favorite and NBC kept it around longer (seven seasons) than its ratings probably deserved, but it never found a wide audience. Great writing and acting and its directing style of quick cuts edits and hand-held camera shots later became standard fare on so many other shows. Season 3 is a personal favorite, particularly the trilogy of shows surrounding the ambush and shooting of three of the detectives. Any episode where Pembleton got a suspect in "the box" was must see TV.

Anonymous said...

Great question...Deadwood season 1 was unlike anything I had seen at the time. The 4th episode was phenomenal. A close second is Firefly, only 12 episodes aired, they filmed 15 and it is available on DVD. It had such a vocal fan base that Joss Whedon was able to make a feature film (Serenity) based on the show...not sure if that has ever happened to a TV program that was canceled before its first season was complete.

Greg said...

Six Feet Under.

Funny, Sad, Serious, Droll.

Just like life.

Jeremy said...

Sports Night (also written by Aaron Sorkin) two episodes for me were "Six Southern Gentlemen" and "Eli's Comin'". This show was never a hit although critics seemed to notice Sorkin's gift for writing TV dialogue. Again, well written and although it had very little to do with sports (which is fine), one of my all time favorite series.

mitch said...

How about the Sopranos. I really miss that show. I've heard they were thinking of making a sopranos movie. The best episode was the one where they had the russian mafia guy in the trunk of the car and the were going to dump his body out in the woods, but he was still alive and escaped. A really good show that is on now that is similar to sopranos is Sons of Anarchy on the FX channel.

Gunnar said...

24 for drama. WKRP in Cincinnati for a chuckle.

cd1515 said...

the Larry Sanders Show

case said...

west wing also--in fact we're watching season 2 currently
our fave is toby going to check on the dead vets identity at christmas