In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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We heard from Redskins Super Bowl quarterback Joe Theismann during the preseason. We heard from former NFL head coach Herm Edwards.on ESPN. If the Washington Redskins had a quarterback competition during training camp, Kirk Cousins would have beaten out Robert Griffin III. Well, we've got a quarterback competition now.
It will be Kirk Cousins results vs. Robert Griffin III potential.
Cousins results weren’t great the last time he was a starter – the last three game of the 2013 season. That’s hardly a fair comparison, since he was taking over a 3-10 team in turmoil with a coach who was on the way out the door.
Now, taking over a 1-1 team with a new coach trying to prove himself, we’ll get a real measure of just how good of an NFL quarterback Cousins is. Even last week’s outstanding performance, leading the team to a 41-10 victory over the Jaguars, has the preparation asterisk next to it – Jacksonville prepared for Griffin, not Cousins.
No asterisks this week. The Philadelphia Eagles know that Cousins will be the quarterback they are facing. So will the New York Giants, the Seattle Seahawks and every other team on the schedule for the foreseeable future.
If those results are good, it will be hard to see how the Redskins can avoid a quarterback competition. Griffin showed just enough of a taste in the early minutes of the Jacksonville game of the great RGIII, running with the ball and throwing with accuracy and confidence. The potential is still too great to ignore.
But so will the results of Kirk Cousins.
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"It can be and that's important for us," Gruden told reporters. "We need to strike fast and strike early. Try to get the home field in our corner and make it very difficult on Jacksonville's offense. We learned that first hand last week, how hard it is as an offense when the crowd’s into the game on every snap. With the crowd noise, the snap count becomes more difficult. We had a fumbled snap, we were late on a snap and it creates chaos for your offense when the home field crowd is against you, so it's very important for our fans to be loud and very important for us as a team to make them have something to cheer about. We have got to do something early in the game to get the people excited so we get rolling."
It shouldn't take a question from a reporter for Jay Gruden to recognize this. He needs to learn this lesson right away -- a lesson that Mike Shanahan never learned.
Gruden needs to connect with Redskins fans.
People will say winning will do that -- and it will, to some extent. But winning has been the exception, not the norm, at Fed Ex Field. Yet this fan base keeps showing up, week after week, year after year, sharing the connection of being a Redskins fan.
Gruden needs to share that connection. It will help him during the tough times.
Connecting is not just acknowledging the importance of crowd noise. It's being part of the community. It's talking passionately about the importance of fan support, and not just for the benefit of tough snap counts for the opposing team. Fans want to know that you care like they care, and that goes beyond snap counts.
It's a great fan base that wants to fall in love with every coach who leads this team. The last guy never reached out. Gruden shouldn;t make the same mistake.
You're not just a football coach. You're the man in charge of everyone's hopes and dreams.
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Washington Redskins assistant coach John Levi, left, head coach Lone Star Dietz, center, and assistant coach Egbert Ward, right, on Oct. 28, 1929. (AP Photo)
Jay Gruden is about to walk down the same path of hot coals that 26 other men have before him – the head coach of the Redskins.
So, in honor of the day Jay Gruden’s feet have caught fire and he no longer is walking down the path that others have before him, we should mark this debut with the memory of those other men, some who triumphed, some who failed.
The first coach of this franchise, when it was born in Boston in 1932, was James Ludlow Wray – otherwise known as “Lud” Wray. He lasted one season. Redskins fans should know that he would go on to be one of the founders of a future Washington rival – the Philadelphia Eagles franchise.
Then of course came the controversial Lone Star Dietz, followed by Eddie Casey. None of them were winners.
When George Preston Marshall moved the team to Washington, he hired his fourth coach in five seasons – and hit the jackpot with Ray Flaherty, who led the Redskins to two NFL championships.
Then came a procession of former Redskins players and future NFL Hall of Famers – all of them linked by their losing Redskins records – Dutch Bergman, Dudley DeGroot, Turk Edwards, John Whelchel, Herman Ball, Dick Todd, Curly Lambeau – yes, that Curley Lambeau, the former Green Bay Packers coaching great who was fired by Marshall during training camp in his second season because he let his players drink beer – Joe Kuharich, Mike Nixon and Otto Graham.
Then came Vince Lombardi, and everything changed. He said he couldn’t walk on the waters of the Potomac River, but you couldn’t prove it by Redskins fans after he led them to their first winning season in 14 years. Then, tragically, he died after just one year. Then came Bill Austin for a season, followed by the good times of George Allen. Jack Pardee fell short, and Joe Gibbs not only walked on the Potomac River, he parted the waters with four NFC championships and three Super Bowls – a pretty tough act to follow.
No one has come close since – Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (who stepped in as head coach after Norv's departure), Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Gibbs act two, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan and now, Jay Gruden.
There is a forgotten man in there, someone who was the head coach of the Washington Redskins for just a few days – Hunk Anderson, a Chicago Bears assistant under George Halas who was hired by Marshall to be the new head coach in 1951 – only to be told by Halas that he would not let Marshall hire his assistant.
Who knows? The Hunk Anderson era might have been great.
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We thought this preseason game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns was going to be a showdown between two giants of the world of media hype -- Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel -- but new Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn't have a flair for the dramatic.
The two may wind up on the field competing against each other, but Pettine took the ball out of Johnny Football's hands when he said the rookie wouldn't get the start against the Redskins. He declared the whole notion of who would start this game was overblown.
Really? The fact that a preseason game could be overblown by the presence of Johnny Football on the field shows what the coach there is in for, no matter how much he wants to avoid it.
Kyle Shanahan knows what's coming. He has seen it here in Washington.
The Browns new offensive coordinator -- RG III's former offensive guru here in Washington -- has seen the good times when a quarterback with a nickname before he even played a down in an NFL game is successful. He has seen how it can sweep up a team, and take it further than anyone thought.
He's also seen the bad times as well, when it goes wrong, when the nickname gets so big he thinks he knows best. He has seen how it can drag a team down further than anyone thought.
Meanwhile, new Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is in the same place as Mike Pettine. He's learning what it is like to turn the nickname into an NFL quarterback.
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Washington Redskins training camp has opened, and a new page with it in the Redskins organization -- a new coach in Jay Gruden, and Bruce Allen now fully in charge, with Mike Shanahan gone. But it's not exactly a fresh start.
The quarterback -- Robert "SuperBob" Griffin III -- has picked up where he left off last year with his passive-aggressive public shots at Mike and Kyle Shanahan, even though he is the victor of that war. His first public comments included another shot at his former coaches. "It’s really just a good thing to have two coaches that believe in you," he told reporters after the first practice in Richmond.
When Gruden was asked about his relationship with SuperBob, he said, "It is what it is."
I suspect that Gruden -- and Bruce Allen as well, now that he is fully in charge of football operations -- have gotten a look at what the Shanahans dealt with last year with the quarterback -- and his family. And I suspect "it is what it is."
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John Wayne was the great American film hero. He was the cowboy that saved the town, the soldier that fought the evil enemy. There are many things he was not on film -- a dancer, an artist (he once criticized Kirk Douglas for playing Vincent Van Gough), or maybe, a sportswriter.
Not so fast, Grantland Rice.
The Duke did play a sportswriter during his career in an obscure television film – his first dramatic appearance on the small screen. Four-time Oscar winning director John Ford directed Wayne in a 1955 short television film called “Rookie of the Year” – buried for nearly 60 years but unearthered recently by Turner Classic Movies.
For a profession that has been represented in Hollywood by the but sloppy Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau, Jack Klugman) in “The Odd Couple”, woefully henpecked Ray Barone (Ray Romano) in “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and vultures like Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) in “The Natural” – you know that John Wayne is going to deliver a heroic portrayal of the Great American Sportswriter.
He does, sort of, but not without first hitting all the lecherous notes that are part of the Sportswriting 101 syllabus.
The tale centers on baseball’s greatest crime – the 1919 Chicago White Sox World Series gambling “Black Sox” scandal, which has been called upon in fiction like “The Godfather II” (Hyman Roth – “I loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919) and “The Great Gatsby,” when Gatsby describes Rothstein to narrator Nick Carraway, “That’s the man who fixed the 1919 World Series.”
It has traditionally been a go-to move for storytellers – perhaps to be replaced in future fiction by steroids, though it hardly has the same romantic grip as gambling and gangsters. After all, Brian McNamee is no Arnold Rothstein.
Wayne’s appearance as sportswriter Mike Cronin was part of a dramatic series in those early days of television called the “Screen Directors Playhouse," based on a radio show of the same name. The TV version ran for one season, with 35 half-hour episodes featuring major film stars like Robert Ryan, Errol Flynn, and Wayne.
Turner Classic Movies has begun showing these lost dramatic gems – not seen since their one season in 1955-1956 -- and the second one broadcast starring Wayne is based on a short story by W.R. Burnett, the novelist and screenwriter who wrote such classic gangster movies as “Little Caesar” and “High Sierra.”
The story opens in the newsroom of a small Pennsylvania town – the Henryville Post Gazette – with a copy boy named Willie checking the teletype for details of the starting pitchers for the upcoming World Series, which of course features the New York Yankees.
There is, predictably, a crusty small town newspaper editor.
“Willie, tell Mike Cronin I want to see him right now,” says Mr. Cully (we never learn his full name) played by Willis Bouchey, who was in nearly every TV sitcom in the 1960s (My Mother the Car, The Munsters, Gomer Pyle, McHale’s Navy).
Willie finds Cronin (Wayne) typing away at his desk. He tells him Mr. Cully wants to see him
Cronin: “Hey, quit reading over my shoulder. It’s bad manners.”
Willie: “What is it a novel? Cowboys and Indians?”
Cronin: “No. Call it a passport, a ticket from here to there. Maybe a stay of execution. But whatever you call it, it’s manna from heaven.”
Willie: “Gee, well, old iron lungs wants to see you right away.”
Cronin: “Well, he’ll have to wait.”
“Old iron lungs” has to wait because Cronin has a call into the press box at Yankee Stadium to Ed Shafer (played by veteran actor James Gleason, (who was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as a boxing manager in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” in 1941), a reporter buddy of his working for the big city New York Globe.
Cronin reaches Shafer, who is covering the game, and tells Shafer that he’s got a big story that will get him a job there on the big city paper. “The biggest sports yarn since David kayoed Goliath,” Cronin says.
Shafer says he will call Cronin back in between innings at the hotel where Cronin lives in Henryville, Pa. As soon as Cronin hangs up, “old iron lungs” does what newspaper editors do. He yells at Cronin for taking too many days off, then he yells at him for making personal phone calls.
Too which Cronin responds, “I’ve been taking it here for 10 years. Stuck. Trapped. I’ve got just three words for you Mr. Cully -- Drop dead.” (Two words, just to mess with his editor – the best part of the film).
Wayne, as Cronin, become the narrator, going back in time three days before, when he had visited Shafer in New York and saw “the kid” in person for the first time – Lynn Goodhue, played by Wayne’s son, Patrick Wayne.
Cronin: “It was just another ball game. The Yanks had sown up the pennant two days before. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that kid Lynn Goodhue? I couldn’t get over the feeling I had seen him before. And then he came to bat in the sixth.
“Then I knew why that kid looked so familiar – he was Buck Garrison all over again. Buck Garrison, probably the greatest natural ball player except for the Babe in the history of the game. He ran like Garrison, hit like Garrison, and when he struck out he did what Garrison never failed to do – that little trick of reversing his bat and bouncing the handle on home plate.
“It was crazy. It couldn’t be. Someone besides me must have spotted the same thing, had to. You don’t forget a player like Buck Garrison. And you don’t forget the Black Sox. And you don’t forget that news kid who waited out the clubhouse with tears running down his face, to choke out, “Buck, it ain’t true, is it?”
One of the White Sox players implicated in the 1919 Black Sox scandal was Buck Weaver. And the story goes that a young boy stood outside the courthouse during the players’ trial and said to Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Cronin goes with Shafer into the Yankees clubhouse after the game and meets Lynn Goodhue (Patrick Wayne).
Cronin: “I just wanted to say hello and congratulate you. But I wouldn’t have picked you for Rookie of the Year.”
Shafer: “Is that so?”
Cronin: “You’re out of the rookie class, kid. You’re a regular on any man’s team.”
During the conversation, Cronin asks Goodhue how he learned to play ball, and he says from his father. Cronin asks if he ever heard of Buck Garrison, and Goodhue said he remembers hearing about him from the Black Sox scandal. Wayne gets an autographed baseball from Goodhue. He leaves New York and heads for Goodhue’s home town of Coaltown, West Virginia – yes Coaltown.
The film comes back to the present, with Cronin in his hotel room, waiting to give tell his big city newspaper pal about his big scoop about Buck Garrison’s kid. But when Cronin answers his door expecting his cleaned suit delivered, it is a woman with a gun – Ruth Dahlberg (played by Vera Miles), the young woman who we find out is Lynn Goodhue’s fiancée and who had helped Cronin find Buck Garrison during his visit to Coaltown.
She begs Cronin not to print the story – that it would ruin Lynn Goodhue.
Dahlberg: “How can a man be so evil? How can you honestly be so evil?”
Cronin: I’m a newspaperman. I don’t make the facts – just report them.” (Who among us in the newspaper business hasn’t said this when described as evil?)
The story shifts back to Cronin arriving in Coaltown. He meets Dahlberg, who tells him where to find Larry Goodhue – Lynn Goodhue’s father, who is, as we know now, Buck Garrison – played by Ward Bond, who was in 22 movies with Wayne, including “The Searchers” and “Rio Bravo.”
He is at McKinley Park, teaching kids baseball.
Cronin approaches him: “Hello Buck. Your boy gave me this Sunday (the autographed ball). He’s good Buck, but he will never be as good as you were."
Garrison: “That’s where your wrong, mister. He’s already better now than I ever was.”
Cronin: “I’d like to quote you saying that.”
Garrison: “A newspaperman. No newspaperman ever did me any good, before or after the trouble.”
Cronin: “It’s our job to print the news.”
Garrison: “It had to come out sooner or later.”
Cronin: “It’s a great story, Buck. Only one question – does the kid know?”
Garrison: No, he don’t. You better go write your story mister. Go ahead. Print it. You don’t think I’d beg now, do you?”
Cronin: I gotta print it Buck.”
Garrison: “Sure, who wouldn’t? It’ll be a great break for you.
Cronin: “One I’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”
Garrison: “I’m glad somebody gets some good out of it.”
But while newspapermen may be evil, John Wayne is not. Dahlberg convinces Cronin (without the gun) not to print the story.
Cronin: "No story, Ed. Oh, I thought I had a good one on the Rookie of the Year, but no dice.”
Shafer: “Mike did you say you had an angle on Lynn Goodhue? Oh, you silly jug head you. Mike, that angle wouldn’t be that he was really Buck Garrison’s boy, would it now? My pal, you need a change. I didn’t know you could get jungle fever in the sticks, but brother. Of course, we all know it. Anybody who would print a story like that and tell that kid….”
So it turns out the entire Yankees press corps knew Lynn Goodhue was Buck Garrison’s kid – and nobody reported it.
Still, Shafer sets Cronin up with a story for the Globe, and good triumphs over evil.
As Cronin leaves his hotel, he walks by the offices of the Henryville Post-Gazette and throws the autographed Lynn Goodhue ball through the second floor window, where it hits his editor on the head, and the story ends.
It’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s John Wayne as a sportswriter, and we should all be walking a little taller today.
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