Richard Carrier’s Extra Points
By Richard Carrier
Jan 02, 2008
“I wish I had said that”
Writers are constantly looking for that original combination of letters blended into words that perfectly describe an event or a person. The recent coverage of two historical events in professional football brought back a statement that I would’ve given my write arm to have made.
The New England Patriots pursuit of a perfect season was running on a track parallel to the Miami Dolphins’ dubious probability of not winning a game in the regular season. The real irony here is that the Patriots, should they go undefeated in the regular season, would share that record with the Dolphins.
Miami eventually won their fifteenth game, and headed into this final week of the season 1-14. Their fourteen regular season losses tied those of the absolutely hapless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the National Football League’s expansion to a sixteen-game season leaves the Bucs still holding the bag for a no-win regular season. The probability of this record being broken is there, but Tampa Bay holds another negative record, which they will certainly own forever.
The year was 1976, the inaugural season for the expansion franchise in Tampa Bay and a 0-14 record can probably be forgiven even under College Hall of Fame coach John McKay.
McKay had won four National Championships at the University of Southern California and turned down numerous overtures to join the pro ranks before reluctantly agreeing to captain the Buccaneers, a decision that he would immediately and forever regret. The Bucs couldn’t run the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball or do even the most fundamental things. They lost 26 straight games..
McKay had an acerbic wit and he quickly served notice that it was not a talent he intended to hide. After the very first of his team’s 26 losses, coach McKay commented on the Bucs’ fundamentals.
“Well, we didn’t tackle well, but we made up for it by not blocking.”
But somewhere during the Buccaneers’ agonizing slide into football bankruptcy the coach delivered the best one-liner ever to come out of sports, the Nobel Prize for Paternal Putdowns. “Coach,” asked one reporter “what do you think about your team’s execution?”
“I’m all for it,” McKay declared.
The ability of John McKay to encapsulate all of his frustrations in but ten letters is pure literary genius. Almost anyone can make an effective argument in several paragraphs; you’ll note it took me over three hundred words to get to this point, but it is the astute one-liners that make the hair stand up on the back of one’s neck. Herm Edwards, Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach, has become an icon of sports quotes with the simplest of explanations for our participation in all sports: “You play to win the game.” Robert Morley delivered his doomsday declaration: “a ball is man’s most disastrous invention.”
Vince Lombardi was also known as a man of few words. The great Green Bay Packers’ coach was also known for keeping it real. “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do we keep score?” was his response to the pragmatic and “we didn’t lose, we just ran out of time,” to the fatalists.
Nowhere in sports is there a greater commitment to winning and winning as a team then there is on the gridiron. Joe Jacoby confessed to it. “I’d run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl,” he said. Teammate Matt Millen agreed: “To win, I’d run over Joe’s mom, too.”
The distaff side also had some pithy comments about sports, particularly football. Satirist Erma Bombeck truly didn’t understand the lure of the game when she opined “if a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.” On the other hand, Phyllis Diller obviously had inside information of the exclusion of football from Title Nine. “The reason women don’t play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public,” she revealed.
The football fraternity has questioned the intelligence of its own. James “Hollywood” Henderson rated the mental acuity of Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw as “so dumb he couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A.”
Bradshaw disagreed. “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.” Joe Theisman fully supported Bradshaw’s contention. “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”
In all fairness, football is not alone in its somewhat skewed perspicacity. New Jersey Nets precocious point guard Jason Kidd was enthusiastic about the future of his new team to the point he promised “we’re going to turn this team around 360 degrees.” Shaquille O’Neal, the self-proclaimed Great Aristotle, thought his winning attitude would be contagious; after all “I’ve won at every level, except college and pro.”
Even college football players couldn’t escape scouting reports on their intellect by rival coaches. Prior to facing rival Auburn, Florida football coach Steve Spurrier advised Gator fans of a fire in the Auburn football dorm in which 20 books were burned.
“The real tragedy,” he reported, “was that 15 of them hadn’t been colored in yet.”
And sometimes the words of star athletes come back to haunt them. Did Isiah Thomas inadvertently quote his own epitaph prior to losing a huge sexual harassment suit and failing miserably as both a coach and executive with the New York Knicks when he said “If all I’m remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I’ve done a bad job with the rest of my life.”
But in the end it is the enthusiasm for the game that buries the negatives. How can you not laugh at the story of one basketball coach who asked a referee “will you give me a technical for thinking bad things about you?”
“Of course I won’t,” replied the ref.
“Well then, I think you stink!”
The ref gave him a technical.
“You just can’t trust those guys,” recalled the great Jimmy Valvano.