September 16, 2008

Confidence Game

Ouch … has it really been 8 days since the last update? Apologies. Time flies when the mierda hits life's ventilador.

Forgive me for cheating, but given what happened Sunday against the Saints, and that I may not be able to update again this week … here’s a draft of the piece I was working on last week I didn’t get to finish.

I think you’ll understand why I’m posting it now.

Confidence Game

Not to be all dramatic, but on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Redskins QB Jason Campbell may well play the biggest football game of life.

It’s not so much the game itself (although given the angst suffered by Redskins fans in the wake of the ugly opening night loss to New York, it’s a big one). No, this feels like a bellwether game for the young quarterback because it could define the rest of career.

Hyperbole? You decide.

In high school, Jason Campbell was the BMOC—the local stud. His high school bio reads like a Marvel comic book. At Auburn, in his senior year—his second as full time starter—he quarterbacked that storied SEC program to an undefeated season and share of the NCAA’s water-cooler championship. All of which translated into becoming a first-round NFL draft pick in 2004, by none other than returning Hall of Fame legend Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins.

The point? That up until the last couple of weeks, Jason Campbell has lived his athletic life as The Man … and suddenly finds that precious commodity in jeopardy.

You know The Man … you've met him in your own school or community. He’s the one standing tall in middle of the huddle, locker room, auditorium, awards ceremony, whatever, even at tender age, with every other face staring attentively back. He’s the one whose success transcends the local scene and catapults him onto the national stage. He’s the one who exudes a natural, calm assuredness, no matter the circumstance, as if born to it.

We’ve all been around The Man at some point in our lives. And I’d wager most us have recognized, watching him, that much of what made him special was Confidence—in himself, and, every bit as importantly, as reflected back in him by those following his lead.

It’s that confidence, that calm assuredness, that got my attention the first time I saw Campbell in a Redskins uniform. He just looked like a guy who knew he belonged. That it was just a matter of time before he synced up with the pro game, teammates and latest system he was being asked to run, and he and the franchise would take off together.

Except that at some point, for some reason, he stumbled. And today—on the heels of a very tough opener to the regular season, shaky showings in the last three preseason games and less-than-stellar outings in his last few starts last season—he suddenly resembles the guy who just tripped over the rug and is falling, in slow motion, all flailing arms and legs, trying to regain his balance while maintaining some dignity.

If you’ve ever tripped over a rug, you know that’s a rough assignment. And you didn’t have super-slo-mo cameras zooming in on your facial expressions, either. Just saying.

I don’t think he’s lost his own confidence—not entirely. I think it’s shaken, but still there. What I am far more concerned about at this point is where he stands in the eyes of his teammates. Because that’s a much harder fall to overcome.

They all say the right things, of course, in public. But as anyone who has ever competed on a team or been in a locker room knows, there’s a fine line between belief and confidence in the leader, and nagging doubt, half-heard whispers and the first cancerous signs of resentment or frustration.

I can’t prove any of that’s happening in the Redskins locker room, of course. No player would confide it to someone who might write about anyway. But I feel it. And I think I’ve seen hints of it in some of the body language and the tone in some of the voices. And it feels like it's all coming to a head this weekend.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I don’t think so.

From where I sit, Sunday is about far more than one game early in yet another season of muted expectations and calls for patience. It’s about watching a strong-armed young quarterback’s every move—from his own body language to his demeanor to the way he actually plays the game—for signs that the guy I thought I was looking at all along, and have seen in flashes on and off for three years now, has not maxed out.

Because few franchises have ever been in greater need of The Man than the Washington Redskins are heading into just the second game of a season. If Jason Campbell is going to be that guy, says here if he doesn’t show up and take the job by the horns this week, it will likely be the beginning of a long, slow descent; the beginning of an erosion of confidence in himself, and far more damagingly, among his teammates.

A great performance won’t mean he’s “arrived”—not saying that. I’m saying that if he’s going to be The Man his team so desperately needs, this is the week he needs to show it. Something tells me this is the game history will look back on, one way or the other, and say “That’s when we knew about Jason Campbell.”

All eyes on #17.


With 9:57 to go in the game, trailing 24-15, backed up 2nd-and-22 on his own 6 yard line … I was thinking the Redskins were in trouble. Big trouble. Not just in terms of the 2008 season, but because they were once again back at square one at the single most important position in the sport—quarterback.

The name Colt Brennan was uttered in the room (not by me, though I admit I’d thought it), and I found myself mumbling, “Yeah maybe, but it’s a good couple of years before he’s ready.”

What happened next shut me up. Which ain't no mean feat. And it put a smile on my face that even life’s mierda hasn’t been able to completely erase since. Why? Because we may not be out of the woods into sunlight yet, but suddenly, damned if we can't see it from here.

A sincere tip of one man's cap to young Jason Campbell.

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