Sailing the Seas of Cheese: You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em
On a warm summer evenin’ on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler; we were both too tired to sleep. So we took turns starin’ out the window at the darkness, ‘Til boredom overtook us and he began to speak. —The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Well now that I’ve given you a rip-roaring case of Kenny Rogers (before the hideous platic surgery that made him look like that puppet Madame from Solid Gold) tune cooties, it looks like Mike McCarthy was the Gambler who really did know when to hold his cards close and not make a bad situation any worse. And perhaps it was in that darkened living room or wherever Aaron Rodgers had been exiled during the middle of December that McCarthy drove home some of the most powerful lessons of the season.
I remember that weekend quite well. Was coming home from a conference in Hawaii (What, you think I’d go somewhere like Champaign, Illinois in December?) and it was that weekend of the horrible snowstorm that shut down most of Wisconsin. Our plane got rerouted to Atlanta and then somehow Washington, DC where everything came to a screaming halt because of fog. Had no luggage, a cheap replacement toothbrush and a voucher for some piddly discount at a hotel in DC. Watched the Skins blow it on a muffed kick in a truly spectacular display of sweet schadenfruede. Think my suitcase got to see the far corners of the globe without me. I like to think it went to Guam without me. Oh, and to top it off, the husband got a spectacular case of food poisoning where he was up half the night hurling his brains out. I blame the burger he thought was a bit off.
Looking back, I think the only other person on the planet that was having a worse weekend than me was probably Aaron Rodgers. For the record, that was the Sunday that they played the Lions at Ford Field last year. The fan in me grumbled that the Packers lost to, of all teams, the happily mediocre Detroit Lions. The doc me in really did not like how incredibly out-to-lunch Rodgers looked as his teammates tried to peel him off the turf. (Thank goodness Donald Driver convinced him to fess up and come out.) And the mom in me was just horrified with one of those on no, not again moments.
And it looks like McCarthy wore many hats that week as well. In a recent article at Yahoo Sports, his statement really hit home:
“I knew he wasn’t going to play, but I also knew he was going to argue with me all week long about it, so I didn’t tell him he wasn’t going to play. This was the second one he had. We had to do what was right by him for his long-term health. At a certain point, you have to think, What would you do if this was your own son?”
There’s no telling a Type A/Guilt Monkey type of quarterback that they are going to sit even if they’re head is dangling off their neck by just a string and not expect a signficant amount of pushback. They have been groomed from the very day in Pop Warner that they were told to go stand behind the center and take a snap that the game rests on their shoulders. That’s a pretty big burden to bear alone if you ask me. If you’re the face of the franchise you, without a doubt, have been told more than once that the sun rises and falls because of what you do on the field. You think you can’t let the Powers That Be down because of what feels like a trivial injury. After all, there’s no tangible proof like a torn ACL on an MRI or a broken ankle on an X-ray that an injury has even taken place–just that foggy daze you can’t shake or nagging headache that seems to linger.
As someone who’s had to make that judgement call and sat players for head injuries (yeah, it’s only on the high school level, but the pushback and frustration is probably no different. Only in that type of situation you usually have a parent that adds to the emotional mix,) it’s never a fun thing to do. Of course no one wants to see their shining star pouting on the sideline like someone took away his birthday. (Yeah, I thought Rodgers was scoring pretty high impersonating a Kicked Puppy during New England game.) But it’s so much better than the alternative. The NFL has done a great job bringing to light the very scary and real problem of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Yet for me Second Impact Syndrome is just as terrifying, but you don’t hear the NFL talking about that.
The one thing I try to stress to injured athletes is live to fight another day. Fortunately it appears that Mike McCarthy thinks along these lines as well. And perhaps that is why his team took the Lombardi Trophy home and coaches like Brad Childress are now collecting unemployment checks. McCarthy admitted that if he would’ve given Rodgers an inch, he would’ve gone for the whole mile. He didn’t give his QB a choice and maintained control of his team (and looked out for Rodgers’ long-term health as well.) Childress seemed to have no control while Favre tried to pound ten pounds of crap into a torn-up, five pound bag. Look where it got him? On the other hand, McCarthy grounded his star, and perhaps, as the Yahoo article suggests, allowed Rodgers to refocus and deliver a phenomenal final stretch leading up to Dallas.
And maybe that was the biggest lesson Rodgers learned last year, and it had nothing to do with the actual concussion: You can’t do it alone.
You can’t win a championship if you let an impaired player try to shoulder that burden by himself. Look no further to the inmates running the asylum in Minnesota last year. You can’t tell me that Favre playing despite his busted ankle (or any of the countless games in the past when he would probably help the team more by sitting on the bench than continue to play hurt) did that team any favors last fall. If memory serves me right, it was the beginning of the tailspin for that team.
Yes there are leaders on the field that are expected to take that team to the next level. We all remember Kevin Greene famously putting it all in Clay Matthews’ lap by telling him, It is Time. But a good coach also knows that sometimes it is in that player’s interest–as well as that of the team’s–to force them sit.
And in a side note, that Yahoo article also mentions that Rodgers wrote a lot of his experiences from last year. Wonder if he’d ever be interested in sharing it with the masses. After all,
despotic dictators blog owners like Wally are always looking for fresh meat new contributors. All kidding aside, I’m quite certain that would be a fascinating read.
*disclaimer: since I’m kind of talking about the real life unnamed job, this blog reflects my opinions and mine alone. They are at times, irreverant. The opinions expressed here, like my visceral dislike of bats, do not reflect those of my unnamed employer. I also like the color orange.