February 6, 2009

Sounds of Silence

Three kinds of silence have been on my mind this week.

I. The one coming from Ashburn. I don’t know about you, but after the clamor of recent offseasons past, I'm finding the current calm quite comforting.

And why not? For once, all the really big questions are off the table. For better or worse, we know who is going to be owning the team, we know who is going to be generally managing it, and we know who is going to be wearing the headsets on the sidelines.

Beyond that, we know who is going to man the high profile positions on the field.

We know who is going to be the quarterback–or at least we think we do. We’re pretty sure we know who is going to be at running back. We’re pretty sure the receivers who will take the field on opening day are on the roster today.

We’re not in bad shape in the secondary, either, and we're arguably okay for at least one more year at linebacker (he says solemnly, burning incense and chanting for the continued health of one London Fletcher).

The line of scrimmage, of course–both sides–is another matter. Predictions of total disaster ahead may be overly dramatic, but there is definitely cause for concern–if not at the start of the year, certainly as another marathon season that it is grinds into December.

But the point here wasn’t to break down the roster--that’s for another day. The point is to acknowledge something or a rarity in these parts of late ... the reality that well into February, the Washington Redskins are not a nightly lead story on Sportscenter. No coaching tumult, no serious player unrest, no legal drama, nothing.

I find it ... soothing.

II. Okay, it’s another day.

This silence, despite all attempts at reason, is making me nervous. It’s the silence that is not getting broken by word out of Redskins Park that it is no-kidding, get-out-of-our-way, dead damn serious about fixing the lines of scrimmage.

Oh sure, I know they can’t tip their hand.

I know they’re feverishly working the draft and free agent boards.

I know in their heart of hearts they know their offensive line will be an average of 32 years old come September, and cannot possibly be expected to last another entire season without injury or attrition leaving them, once again, marginally effective in crunch time.  

And I know they know they haven’t had a legitimate, consistent, double-team-eating, elite pass rusher since Charles Mann left for the West Coast after the 1993 season.  For those scoring at home ... that was in Richie Petitbone Era.  

You know what it is?  It’s that this sounds like same silence we have heard about this matter for so very long.  And it’s that in recent years past I’ve written confidently, at time of year, that this is surely the year the Redskins pull the trigger, that this is surely the year they’re going to finally get serious about upgrading their lines. 

I don’t want them tipping their hand, I really don't.  And I'm only half serious here.  But the half that is would seriouly like to hear something–anything at all–that might quiet the nagging thought in my head that free agency will again come and go, and the draft will again come and go, and when the dust has settled, we’ll all look around and realize the song remains the same.

It’s quiet. Too quiet.

III. A man died Tuesday.

When he was a young man, he laughed and cried Washington Redskins football with his friend. They were in their 20's then, young and immortal, lives and the universe spread before them. The team they loved was not just winning championships and sealing lifelong memories in those days, they were doing so with a degree of class rarely seen in professional sport.

Those were glorious times for these men. They were a rich and lasting building block in a relationship that eventually turned friends into brothers.

When life eventually led, as it often does, to one brother living here and the other living there, taking from them the ability to live and die burgundy and gold on Sundays together, they adapted. They developed a code.

A highlight-reel play ... one ring.

A key score ... one ring.

A victory ... one ring.

The man who died Tuesday was a big man. Big in size, big in heart, big in personality. He had big appetites, for many things ... things that at times themselves were left to dictate when enough was enough. He was not an easy man; he had a stubborn streak as deep as his heart was big, a fierce independence that often ran counter to the interests of his relationships, his health, his life.

As the years passed, the man’s life sometimes got away from him. But the child behind the eyes never faltered. He was all too often unable see his faults as reflected in the eyes of his people or his world, but was as loyal and forgiving of the faults in others as any man likely to have walked the earth. 

Well, this man’s time came on Tuesday. It came suddenly, quietly, naturally and utterly unbefitting a man of such outsize dimensions.

Some men go through life waiting for it to happen. Others charge through it full throttle, hair on fire, beating their chest with a twinkle in their eye, talking too loud, charging ahead heedless of the furniture crunching underfoot, living, loving, laughing and crying ‘til the day their final sun comes up.

That was my friend.

For the rest of my days, when the burgundy and gold highlight-reel play unfolds, when the key score is tallied, when the final victory gun sounds ... my phone will be silent. It will not ring.

Not even once.

Godspeed brother.

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