Monday, February 04, 2008
Rare Event: A Fan's Redemption
Tonight was shocking. Eli Manning joined a conversation that I never thought he would. The Giants became one of the most revered football teams in history rather than a stepping stone to history. Their defense put together one of the most inspiring performances I have seen in a super bowl in my life. And it was still the second most amazing thing I saw this weekend.
Growing up as a sports fan, I had no reasons to complain. My baseball team was mightily mediocre and the college team I cheered for was (and still is) a minuscule part of the national conversation, but the Celtics and Redskins always had the chance to make history. Both teams won championships during my formative years. Sure, there were bleak times, but I was lucky enough to have many bright spots. Two of those bright spots were given their due as Hall-of-Famers this weekend.
Imagine being a pre-teen and watching the lowly Redskins play the lowly Rams. Isaac Bruce-- an up-and-comer at this point-- is running a fly route and beats Darrell Green off the line. Easily. He has a step and a half on the veteran. Your hero, and a man revered for his abilities to match speed with speed, is getting smoked when the ball is thrown. Imagine groaning when everyone else in the stadium is holding their breath. This is your first live NFL game. You don't understand like the rest of the fans: don't give up on Darrell Green. Just don't. The ball floats a bit and he gains a full stride before diving to disrupt the pass just enough to see it fall harmlessly to the ground. You catch your breath long enough to see a punt the next play. This envelopes one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play the game. (By the way, Issac Bruce was approximately 1,000 years younger then Green then.)
Imagine playing wide-receiver. Just before the peak eras of Jerry Rice on the 49ers, Michael Irvin on the Cowboys, the most steady-handed wideout in the league (though, admittedly not the most exciting by any means) played for the Redskins. Art Monk, for all intents and purposes, might as well have been handed a team trophy for most valuable offensive weapon on three super-bowl bound teams (though injured for one of the championship wins itself). Without him, Sanders and Clark would have been shadows of themselves. He was responsible for over 10,000 Redskins receiving yards and, along with Darrell Green, made the Redskins a respectable team: his "Quiet Man" ideal and insane work ethic were as legendary as his routes from the slot (or flanker, as it were) position. The records he set were taken quickly, but only by the best receiver to ever touch a football (Jerry Rice). #81 was a calming influence to the Redskins team and fan, even when they were losing.
It's fitting, then, that these two men should make their hall speeches on the same day. The dignity and brilliance-- on both sides of the ball-- behind a pair of championships and a number of great teams deserve to be honored in tandem. For Green, this is the end of what we expected. For Monk, this is the end of a long conversation and the end of a long overdue call. Now, in an era where players are revered yet prodded more than ever, the "Quiet Man" and one of the first "shutdown corners" can walk together in immortality-- the way it should be. Perhaps the Hall had it right all along.