Saturday, January 17, 2009

Leave Your Lifetime Achievement Award with the Security Guard!

Jon Gruden, coach of the only Super Bowl champ in Tampa Bay Buccaneer history, got fired yesterday. Mike Shanahan, coach of the only Super Bowl champs in Denver Broncos history, got fired in December. Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy, also coaches who won Super Bowls, retired.

Here's an odd thing. It's easy to find, make that it's impossible to avoid, fans and commentators who'll tell you each and every one of these coaches either deserved to get fired or was an overrated bum throughout his career. This is a reflection of the sick culture of 21st century sports in America. Nobody ever wins, and especially nobody ever gets beat by a superior opponent. The world of games is seen as composed exclusively of losers, chokers, and failures, plus the occasional winning cheat. Sure makes sports seem like fun, doesn't it?

Any NFL coach of a decade or more service who retires can only be congratulated. They shaved about that same amount of years off their life expectancy for the entertainment of the couch potato rabble calling up sports radio to blast their work. Nor am I about to criticize ownership for firing Shanahan and Gruden. Not enough data. Coaches as well as athletes can stay too long at the fair, and all human organizations eventually find a moment where it's time to start over.

It is likely, however, that Shanahan and Gruden's successors won't do any better next season than the Broncos and Bucs did in 2008, because they'll be stuck with the same players. Neither team has fallen far enough to be rebuilt. This will make owners Pat Bowlen and the Glazer family look foolish, a fate owners usually take out on the new coach. Note to new Tampa and Denver assistants. Lease everything-including your socks.

But I digress. The point here is, there have been a great many NFL coaches since the 1966 season, the first of the modern merged era, and only 25 of them have won Super Bowls. To put that number in context, let's just note that the Cardinals and Lions have had 29 head coaches between them in those 43 years, 30 if we count new Lions victim Jim Schwartz. By any objective measure, Shanahan, Gruden, Dungy and Holmgren rank among the very best of their peculiar, man-killing, profession. Sane fans in Denver, Tampa, Indianapolis, and Seattle (and I'm sure there are a few) are now hoping their teams' future can somehow come close to its past.

Sports is supposed to generate irrational passion. That's part of the fun. But once the game is over, an honest appreciation of the merits of one's foe is part of the fun as well. If everyone in sports is overrated, caring about winning and losing becomes rather pointless. There's no honor in beating a bum.

Marketing-driven hype is an annoying and destructive element of modern sports. By the time poor Tim Tebow hits the NFL, millions of fans will already be sick of him through no fault of his own. But anti-hype, the grass roots dementia that pervades sports culture, is hundreds of times more annoying, and thousands of times more destructive.


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