By DERON SNYDER
There’s loss and then there’s loss, all of which is relative.
In Washington, the Nationals and fans are lamenting the knee injury that ended catcher Wilson Ramos’ season.
In Miami and throughout baseball, folks are in mourning after a boating accident ended pitcher Jose Fernandez’s life.
Fretting about the impact of Ramos’ absence as the Nats enter the postseason is put in perspective when compared to the suffering in Miami, where teammates, fans and a pregnant girlfriend are steeling themselves for a final goodbye. The stark contrast adds weight to the words spoken by Washington manager Dusty Baker after Ramos was declared out for the playoffs.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” he told reporters. “We’ve just got to next man up.”
Sometimes it’s hard to not feel sorry for yourself when circumstances conspire against you. Losing the woe-is-me feeling is easier when a real tragedy occurs and breaks up your pity party.
But in the not-grand scheme of things, what happened to the Nats catcher stinks.
By DERON SNYDER
Remember when the national anthem prior to games was such a big deal that networks didn’t bother televising it? When many fans barely paid attention, too concerned with their concessions and conversations, their smartphones and last-second sprints to the restroom? When folks at home didn’t know and didn’t care whether players stood, kneeled, put hands over hearts or fists in the air?
Seems like a long time ago.
Now TV cameras pan the sideline during the formality, looking for signs of protest. Fans at the stadium make their own star-spangled statements, with homemade signs as back-up. Media members compile weekly lists of who did what as the song was sung, later seeking answers from the participants.
The national anthem has become a national obsession, thanks to a second-string quarterback’s opposition to oppression.
Colin Kaepernick was on the cover of Time magazine last week, with a headline that read “The Perilous Fight.” His decision to take a knee during the anthem has sparked a wave of similar actions, trickling down to colleges and high schools, too. The decision also has riled a considerable segment of society, unleashing a steady stream of invective at Kaepernick and his sympathizers.
Then the game begins and we sort of forget about the controversies (the singing and the shootings). Sports proceeds to work as the escape so many want.
Except the discussion continues because people keep weighing in on the protest (and police officers keep killing unarmed people). Then it’s time for the next game and the next anthem and the cycle repeats.
By DERON SNYDER
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The weekly referendum began with Kirk Cousins leading Washington to a field goal. And then another three points on the ensuing possession and another don’t-come-away-empty drive on the third series.
It ended with Cousins throwing two incompletions (drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty on one) and handing off to Matt Jones eight times for … you guessed it … yet another successful Dustin Hopkins kick to give the Skins a 29-27 victory in a wild and wacky affair against the New York Giants.
If this game proved anything besides the fact that Washington is a gritty, resilient team, it demonstrated that everything indeed doesn’t revolve around No. 8, despite appearances and airwaves.
Yes, quarterbacks receive too much credit and too much blame. But Cousins takes that equation to new, unbalanced extremes, receiving little acknowledgment for victories and the brunt of criticism for defeats. It’s like he can’t win even when the team does, which hadn’t happened in two outings entering Sunday’s contest.
Cousins did his part against the Giants – throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He completed 60 percent of his passes and finished with a 106.4 rating compared to his Super Bowl-winning counterpart Eli Manning (82.1).
True, the Skins were 0-for-4 in red zone efficiency and Cousins left points and yards on the table with several errant throws, But he put the Skins in position to salvage a desperately-needed win in their personal shop of horrors.
However, the list of significant contributors is lengthy and full of unexpected names.
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*Why controversy always surrounds Washington’s NFL team.
It didn’t take long for GM Scot McCloughan to stamp his identity on the Skins, but old habits die hard. McCloughan has overhauled the roster in two years on the job; culture change isn’t quite as easy. That’s why after only two games we’re already hearing of complaints, whispers and innuendos in the locker room again, just like seasons past.
This town’s political dramas have nothing on the football team’s state of affairs.
*How New England built such an assembly line.
The Patriots are 2-0 without Tom Brady, beating a popular Super Bowl-pick (Arizona) and a pesky division foe (Miami). Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has excelled, completing 70 percent of his passes for 498 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. When he was injured in the first half on Sunday, New England didn’t miss a beat with rookie Jacoby Brissett.
The team might like deflated footballs, but it seems to own blow-up QBs.
*Why Bryce Harper’s shoulder is such a mystery.
By DERON SNYDER
There aren’t many instances when “soft” is viewed positively in the world of sports.
A soft touch on jump shots and fade routes is good. So are soft hands for catching hard passes and wicked grounders. There might be a few more examples but they escape me at the moment.
Overall though, soft often is used as insult. And in the minds of some observers, it applies to an entire generation of athletes.
Today’s players don’t care much for the old standards of treatment modeled by the likes of Bear Bryant, Bob Knight, Frank Kush and scores of less-famous coaches. Concepts such as abuse and mistreatment didn’t apply in a world and time before Twitter, Facebook and ESPN.
Back then, coach was king – doling out tough love and tough tactics designed to strengthen young people … if not break them first.
In that world, sensitivity is a dirty word and hurt feelings are maladies to be treated and cured. Anyone who can’t get with the program is deemed a wimp or worse. Proponents of this approach believe that dissent is based on political correctness and “sissyfication” that are ruining our country.
That’s the camp behind guys like Mike Lonergan. George Washington University fired him as men’s basketball coach last week, despite three consecutive 22-plus-win seasons, after looking into complaints from multiple players.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – As you would imagine, Washington cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Josh Norman weren’t in great moods following Sunday’s 27-23 loss against Dallas game.
Breeland had spent the entire week at the center of a national debate after Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown basically torched him in the season opener. Pundits left and right wondered aloud why Breeland drew the assignment and not Norman, Washington’s $75 million corner. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry offered a simple rationale for using a right-left system opposed to a star-on-star alignment: He said flip-flopping would make life difficult for the other 10 defenders.
The defensive strategy remained intact as the Cowboys came to town … until late in the game. That’s when Norman started matching up with Dez Bryant – who finished the day with seven receptions for 102 yards – and Breeland went to the opposite side.
“I felt like I played pretty good to that point,” Breeland said. “We started switching in the fourth quarter. We never practiced it before as far as I’m concerned. But it’s easy for me. I can play all sides and the slot, too. I don’t have a preference. It’s just football.”
He answered every question and said all the right things, exhibiting the same admirable professionalism he displayed following Brown’s monster outing. But you know he’s not thrilled about being relegated to No. 2 cornerback just four days after Barry praised his coverage against Pittsburgh (results notwithstanding).
The emotion of the loss and the demotion in midstream left a bad taste in his mouth.
Norman was stewing for a different reason.
By DERON SNYDER
Raise your hand if you heard of the coracoid bone before this week.
I suspect I’m not alone in my ignorance regarding that segment of the human anatomy.
Now raise your hand if you’re surprised Robert Griffin III is the player who broke a bone you didn’t know existed.
Sadly, I suspect that’s most of us.
RG3’s incredible journey from star to star-crossed might have reached its painful end Sunday in Philadelphia. That would be a shame on several levels, including the fact he won’t be in uniform Oct. 2 when his Cleveland Browns visit FedEx Field.
We had the date circled on our calendars since the schedule was released, wondering which direction the story would take. Would Griffin return to Washington and find redemption after his unsightly decline and unceremonious departure? Or would he continue along the path that began Jan. 6, 2013, when his right knee buckled?
The expectations he engendered during that Rookie of the Year campaign were distant memories when he signed with Cleveland. Unfortunately, everything else about RG3 since he underwent a direct repair of his LCL and a re-do of previous ACL reconstruction was all too familiar in Ohio.
Only the colors and logo were different.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – There’s nothing like the season-opening game at home, when last year’s memories are fresh and hopes for the new campaign are high. And when you’re trying to establish yourself as a bona fide contender, there’s no better way to kick things off than to host a Super Bowl-caliber team that enters your stadium as a road favorite.
Then the game starts and you realize you’re further away than you imagined. You see the difference between being close and being competitive, between almost and not quite. You can a painful, unwelcome reminder that a play here and a play there can separate 10-6 from 6-10 at season’s end.
Washington took a step toward the latter Monday night against Pittsburgh, wasting a fast start before the Steelers laid waste to them, 38-16. What began with so much promise ended with sheer despair.
If only Washington had cashed in on two early drives instead of settling for field goals and a 6-0 lead. If only Ryan Kerrigan had fell on the ball after his strip-sack of Ben Roethlisberger instead of trying to pick it up and run, giving it back on his own fumble. If only officials ruled that Antonio Brown actually caught a pass and was striped prior to the Steelers first touchdown, instead of ruling the bang-bang play incomplete.
If only Washington’s defense could buy a vowel (to spell STOP) or uncover a clue against a unit that amassed 435 yards without suspended stars, top halfback Le’Veon Bell and dangerous receiver Martavis Bryant.
But the Steelers had everything they needed with Roethlisberger under center, DeAngelo Williams in the backfield, Bryant out wide and a defense that embodied its head coach, Mike Tomlin, on the sideline. It was a recipe for the home team’s disaster.
By DERON SNYDER
To err is human and to forgive is divine.
But to reject correction is stupid.
I’m all for the human element in sports, where receivers drop passes, infielders boot grounders and point guards blow lay-ups. Those mistakes happen and they’re part of the game. Nothing can or should be done about that.
However, not all blunders are created equal. If the coach is guilty of poor clock management or the center hikes the ball over the punter’s head, that’s one thing. They’re actors with a stake in the competition, actively engaged in trying to win.
Conversely, officials are supposed to be neutral participants. They should follow doctors’ lead and operate under a Hippocratic Oath of sorts: “First, do no harm.” To the best of their ability, referees and umpires should ensure that their gaffes have little-to-no bearing on a game’s outcomes.
There was a point when we simply accepted the fact that officials’ miscues can have a major effect, arguably creating the difference between a win and a loss. But that was before the use of instant replay slowly grew in acceptance. Thankfully, the powers-that-be realized the foolishness in allowing certain bad calls to stand when there’s clear evidence of a slipup.
Replay has its limits and limitations, rightfully so. Games would last twice as long if everything was subject to review. And we don’t change results after the fact; the final score stands when the game ends, no matter what we see afterward in endless loops.
By DERON SNYDER
The upcoming NFL season at FedEx Field won’t be the last. But the clock is ticking and it’s likely to run out before Washington’s lease expires in 11 years.
Team owner Dan Snyder, recently appointed to the league’s Stadium Committee, has been counting the days and talking about a new venue since January. That’s when he hired an architect to design a new palace, replete with a moat, beach and slightly transparent wave-lake structure suitable for rappelling – as seen in artist renditions that appeared on “60 Minutes” and went viral in March.
It seems odd to raise the subject of relocation when moving day is scheduled for 2027. There’s no pressing need for designs now, as if change-of-address forms are imminent. The Los Angeles Rams’ new facility is expected to be ready in 2019 and the team just announced its construction company in July.
But Snyder knows there’s no such thing as being premature in prepping jurisdictions and politicians for another round of “Who wants to pay for my stadium?!” He’s fully aware that fellow NFL owners have done smashingly well over the last 10 years and he’s anxious for his turn at the trough.
The game works best when owners can threaten to take their team elsewhere unless locals agree to foot a large portion of the new stadium. Los Angeles was used for blackmail so often, the city should’ve charged for its services.
Zygi Wilf’s Minnesota Vikings begin play this season in U.S. Bank Stadium, a $1.1 billion jewel that cost taxpayers $498 million. That’s nothing compared to the handiwork of Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons; they secured the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, set to open next season, with $594 million in public funds.
Exceptions to the rule are rarer than NFL players who think Roger Goodell is underpaid. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is privately funding his stadium, estimated to be the world’s most expensive playpen at $2.6 billion. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross dug into his own pocket for a $350 million renovation job at Sun Life Stadium.
I imagine Kroenke and Ross received a stern talking-to about showing up their fellow billionaires – if the pair hasn’t been ostracized altogether.