January 9, 2013

Direct Kick: Who are we to say who should play?

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Every sports fan is an armchair quarterback. Especially when their team loses. That’s when every Joe Meatball and Sally Housecoat becomes smarter than coaches, players and general managers, because, you know, that’s why they are toiling away at their everyday jobs instead of being paid millions for their advice.

Sports writers are not immune to this. In fact, sports writers are the worst offenders. I guess because we cover sports we think we know what is best for a player or a team. That’s why we are doing this instead of being paid millions for our advice. I don’t know too many coaches or general managers who started out as a sports reporter. Maybe that should tell us something.

You might be asking yourself what has prompted me to write about this? Really it came about by accident.

As I was scanning Monday morning, I noticed a column written by Dan Graziano entitled “RG III should have come out of the game.” He was referring to the Washington Redskins-Seattle Seahawks playoff game on Sunday, in which Washington quarterback Roger Griffin III clearly was still bothered by his knee injury, yet coach Mike Shanahan elected to stay with him in the Redskins 24-14 loss, only replacing him late in the game with Kirk Cousins.

Graziano said that RG III should have come out of the game because “(A) he was badly hurt and (B) he was hurting his team’s chances.”

Yes, he was hurt. He wasn’t moving like the same quarterback who led the Redskins on their late season surge that allowed them to capture the NFC East. In fact, he wasn’t moving like the same quarterback who led Washington to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Shanahan gets paid $7 million dollars a year to make coaching decisions. RG III signed a four-year, $21 million contract, including a $13.8 million signing bonus, to quarterback the Redskins. Sports writers, believe me, don’t get paid anywhere near those numbers. Anywhere near. I mean, we aren’t even in the same ball park.

So why do we think we know better than those who get paid to make those decisions?

Shanahan said that it was a very tough decision, and that he had to go with his gut. “I’m not saying my gut is always right. I’ll probably second-guess myself,” Shanahan said. Graziano said he should, because he was wrong. But you see, he’s paid to make those decisions; Graziano, like all sports writers, isn’t. And I’m not just picking on him. His column was just the first one that I read. I know that many other sports writers are saying the same thing.

Griffin said his job was to be out there if he could play. He said he didn’t feel like his being out there hurt the team in any way. “I’m the best option for this team, and that’s why I’m the starter,” he said.

This was the playoffs. Win or go home. Shanahan did what he is paid to do. So did Griffin. Both thought that RG III was the Redskins best hope to win the game. And even though they didn’t, who is to say that staying with RG III was the wrong choice?

Was it Griffin that allowed the Seahawks to score 24 unanswered points? The Washington defense has to shoulder a lot of the blame. So does the Redskins running game, which accounted for only 104 total yards.

There was more to Washington’s loss than just Shanahan’s decision to stay with an injured Griffin. And it’s easy for sports writers and other arm chair quarterbacks to second guess that decision. Graziano said a decision like this shouldn’t have been left in the hands of a player who wants to play. Griffin admitted after the game that he did put himself at more risk by being out there. “But every time you step on the football field, you’re putting your life, your career and every single ligament in your body in jeopardy,” he said.

But that is what being a competitor is all about. Willis Reed probably shouldn’t have come out for Game 7 in the 1970 NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. He had a severe thigh injury, a torn muscle that kept him out of Game 6. But he played in Game 7, an inspiration that helped the New York Knicks to a 102-93 win and the championship. The moment he walked onto the court was voted the greatest moment in the history of Madison Square Garden. Had he not played, the Knicks might not have won the title.

Michael Jordan probably shouldn’t have played in Game 5 of the 1996-97 NBA finals against the Utah Jazz. The series was tied 2-2, and Jordan played despite being feverish and dehydrated from a stomach virus. Yet he did play, scoring 38 points, including the game-deciding 3-pointer in what is now known as “The Flu Game.” Chicago won that game, then the next for the NBA title. Had he not played, Utah probably would have been champs.

In Game 1 of the 1998 World Series, Kirk Gibson, with injuries to both legs, hit a two-run walk off pinch hit home run off Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A’s to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 5-4 win. The Dodgers went on to win the series, and that home run is regarded as one of the greatest home runs off all time, and was voted the “greatest moment in L.A. sports history” in a 1995 poll.

In the second quarter of the 1979 NFL playoffs, Jack Youngblood of the Los Angeles Rams broke his leg just above his ankle. X-rays showed it was broken, but he pleaded with trainers to tape it up and send him back in. They did. He even recorded a sack as the Rams upset the Dallas Cowboys.

In the Super Bowl he wore a brace in the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that wasn’t all. The following week he played in the Pro Bowl. That’s three games played with a broken leg.

You see, it’s easy for sports writers and arm chair quarterbacks to make calls from the safety of the press box or Lay-Z-Boy. These men are professionals. That’s why they get paid the big bucks, as the old saying goes.

Hindsight is always 20-20. The hard part is making a decision in the heat of battle. Sometimes it is the right one; sometimes it isn’t. But that’s only for the coach and player to decide. I know I am not qualified to make that decision. No sports writer is.