DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Of Football and Kings

The Redskins on offense against the Buccaneers
The preseason game between the Washington Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was still in the first quarter when the chant began. It started with the fans in the Redskins' end zone and spread around the stadium. "Bring Cooley back!" "Bring Cooley back!"

That morning it had been reported that the Redskins had released tight end Chris Cooley, one of the most popular and productive players in the team's history. Cooley had been plagued by injuries the past 2 seasons, but appeared healthy this year.

In the off-season, the Redskins had drafted star college quarterback Robert Griffin III in hopes that he could return the Redskins to the glory years when they were regularly winning Super Bowls. It was something Cooley, although he played hard and squeezed the most out of his ability, had been unable to do.

The fans in D.C. loved Cooley not just for his hard play on some pretty pathetic Redskins teams, but for the crazy incidents stemming from his oddball character. There are dozens of great Cooley stories, but none probably more widely told than this one. A few years ago, Cooley was photographed with the Redskins playbook. Now, in and of itself, that doesn't seem strange. However, at the time Cooley was holding the playbook in his lap. He was also naked. So the photo featured not only Cooley's playbook, but all of his genitalia as well.

If anyone had any doubts about how popular Cooley was, they would have been dismissed by counting the number of fans wearing his #47 jersey last night. But while fans are important, Cooley's dismissal proved that modern sport is a bottom-line business. In today's professional athletics,  there is little, if any, room for loyalty. Older athletes are replaced by younger, faster, and in many cases, cheaper versions.

Sports is a lot like politics. There are winners and there are losers. Old kings make way for new ones. In Washington, old king Cooley is gone. The young RGIII is set to take his place. All hail the new king. But no matter how the RGIII era unfolds, the fans made it clear last night that old king will not soon be forgotten.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Sonny Jurgenson as an Eagle
We had really good seats to the game which we had picked up on Stubhub for a total of $20. They were only about 15 rows from the field, right at the front edge of the end zone. Sitting next to us was a black Redskins father who had brought his 11-year-old son to his first professional football game. The game had been a surprise. The son had thought he was going to peewee football practice, but the father had gotten permission from the coach to let him come see the Skins in person. As I listened to the father explain the intricacies of the game, I couldn't help but think about my own experiences with football with my father. Even though he was a fan of the old American Football League, my dad knew I liked the local Philadelphia Eagles. I was one year younger than the young fan sitting next to me last night was when pro football became a Sunday ritual for my father and me. 50 years ago, my favorite Eagle was quarterback Sonny Jurgenson. In my eyes, he could do no wrong. That's why I was so excited when some of the Eagles were scheduled to play a charity basketball in my home town in the winter of 1963. Jurgenson, along with Tommy MacDonald, Pete Retzlaff, Ted Dean, Theron Sapp, and more of my Eagles' favorites would be in the same gym where I played City League basketball. I begged my father to take me. I just knew I could get all of their autographs, but most especially that of Jurgenson. After the game, I joined a crush of young fans outside the locker room. I got many signatures. But there was no sign of Sonny. One of my friends tapped me on the shoulder. "Sonny's already outside. If you hurry and get out there, you can catch him." I rushed out into the cold night without a coat.  I scanned the parking lot. I saw Sonny, his beautiful girlfriend on his arm, approaching a sports car. He opened the door for his girlfriend. I sprinted to the car just as he got in the driver's side. I held my pen and and notebook out for him. He looked at me, smiled, threw the car in gear, and sped away. I was stunned. I didn't understand, but I didn't cry. Why would my idol do something like that? A few years later, Jurgenson was traded to the Redskins, where he became an even bigger star. Last night, as now happens at pro games all over America, former stars of the home team are feted on giant stadium screens. During a time out, Jurgenson, in all his Redskins' glory, received such treatment. Long-time Redskin fans showed their enthusiasm for their great quarterback, cheering and clapping loudly. I did neither. Make no doubt about it, Sonny Jurgenson was a great NFL quarterback. But to me, he will always also be a fallen idol who sped off into the night, leaving a star-struck 10-year-old boy shivering in a dark gym parking lot, an unsigned piece of paper in his hand

Blog Archive

Popular Posts