A Blast from the Past: Is There Any Such Thing as an Ugly Victory?

via AtlantaBlackstar

A lot happened in a very few days back in early December of 2011. As Hombre de Acero wrote:

Only a week has passed, but in that time the Steelers eked out an ugly victory against the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey are dealing with injuries, and James Harrison has been suspended. The bright side to all of the bad news is its given us plenty of fodder for this week’s Five Burning Questions on the Steelers.

Before we get to Hombre’s questions, I’ve posed a different one in the title to this article. We talk about ugly victories from time to time. They are the games we have a sneaking suspicion the Steelers didn’t deserve to win, but they did anyhow—the wins that have the fans wishing, in their heart of hearts, that they had just decided to take up stamp collecting instead of football fandom. The Double Tums sort of games.

But there’s a reason for that old canard, “Any Given Sunday.” No matter how dysfunctional the franchise, how incompetent the head coach, how overmatched the front office, there are 32 teams in the NFL who are stocked with the crème de la crème of the college football programs around the country. And the more dysfunctional the franchise, the more incompetent the head coach, the more overmatched the front office, the better the array of choices the team has on draft day. 

So I have a great deal of difficulty saying there is any team the Steelers (or any other franchise) categorically has to beat during any given contest. Because the truth is, these teams are stocked with young men. Young men with problems and fears and insecurities and what have you. Some of them come to light, such as our own troubled youngster Martavis Bryant. But I’m guessing for every case which sees the light of day there are many other players whose personal ways of coping don’t happen to fall afoul of the NFL’s regulations, and thus we never know about their struggles. And unless you have dealt with true clinical depression (assuming that Bryant, as his agent avers, actually is suffering from this) you probably have no idea how it sucks the joy and the life out of, well, life.

But these are the long-term struggles. There are other short-term problems which create a lack of focus, ranging from things like one’s wife being about to give birth to just plain being sick, and any number of possible things in between.

I’m sure most of us have had the experience of going to work when we weren’t at our peak. In fact, if you haven’t had that experience you must not actually have to work, because it’s inconceivable you won’t have had to do so otherwise. I have personally conducted concerts while suffering from the flu, bronchitis, and even on one memorable occasion conducted Carmina Burana while suffering an asthma episode. At the end of the performance I was wishing the audience, who received the performance with great enthusiasm, would stop clapping so I could go to the ER and get treatment.

And although I conducted these performances, and gave them the best I could, I certainly wasn’t at 100%. That requires a reasonable level of health and a focused mind. My singers were able and willing to help carry the day. In a team sport such as football or choral music you can hide a certain amount of dysfunction on a certain number of the participants, but sometimes the numbers just don’t add up to a winning effort.

Am I saying every Steelers loss is because half the team was in a funk? No. But it might explain the games where everyone complains afterwards that the team “came out flat.” The point I am trying to make, in my usual long-winded way, is that I think we give insufficient credit to a sort of group psychology, both for good and ill. And as anyone who works can attest, how much you are paid has, in almost all instances, very little to do with how hard you try. What matters is your attitude towards the job.

But back to Hombre’s questions. They ranged from his speculations about why Mike Tomlin’s support for the suspended James Harrison seemed “tepid at best” to whether one could now consider Antonio Brown to be the actual No. 1 receiver over Mike Wallace. But here’s the question I will pose again, because it certainly is germane to the season we just passed through:

5. Until the early ‘90’s, NFL teams could take people on and off injured reserve. Rules changed because, as Sports Illustrated chronicled, teams like Washington had earned themselves the name the “Redshirts”  by stashing healthy players on IR. With a number of teams starting third string QB’s and other high-profile injuries, do you think its time for the NFL to revisit that rule?

I guess the real question in my mind is, how could you monitor this? You just KNOW Bill Belichick would be gaming the rule the second it hit the books.

But is that even a problem? I have long contended that NFL teams need something equivalent to a farm team, like the NHL and Major League Baseball have—a way to move players back and forth to keep a stock of healthy bodies. Yes, hockey and baseball rosters are smaller. And in a sense there is already something equivalent, in terms of the practice squad. But the practice squad is a much more restrictive thing than a AAA team.

There is also, of course, the aspect of protecting the players. The equivalent in my world is a limit on how many stints a singer can be used as a so-called apprentice. Companies such as the Santa Fe Opera have apprentice programs, where young singers receive on-the-job additional training, perform on their own programs, and serve as the chorus and in very minor roles. They are paid essentially nothing—enough to live on, just, for the period of the apprenticeship, if they are careful. As a protection to the singers, they are not allowed to do more than a very limited number of such apprenticeships. At that point they either have to figure out how to get hired properly by opera companies or give up. But they can’t be strung along for years and years as barely-paid help.

One of the things I can see transferring from baseball would be a certain number of “protected” moves. For example, let’s say you expand the practice squad to 20 players, and you can move players back and forth at will from the 53-man roster without taking the risk of putting a player on waivers. I can see that you could limit these moves to a certain number of times, both for the season and for the players’ lifetime.

It seems to me it would be way better to be able to call up a young ‘un and let a guy who is injured sit out for rather longer than you would be able to if you didn’t have the call-up option. But I’m sure there are any number of problems I can’t think of which would be created. The main one is, perhaps, the players probably wouldn’t like it…

But let’s see what the folks back in 2011 had to say.

tannofsteel84 commented:

Well you’d have to have an independent doctor make sure they are really injured enough to go on IR and then healthy enough to come off of it. But I wouldn’t mind it being revisited. If Wallace got hurt in the pre-season and its a 12-week recovery period we could stash him on IR and when he is ready bring him back that way he isn’t holding a roster spot and we can get someone for the spot in the mean time if we have cap room.

This was, of course, before the owners voted for the IR designated to return. But of course this only covers one player per season…

The modestly-named average joe blow opined:

5. This is the best question of the day. I don’t know that I like the old way of doing things but I wish the NFL had something like baseball has with their disabled lists. It would be extremely beneficial to all teams to be able to put guys on a two week or month or two month disabled list and bring up guys from the practice squad to fill those spots. If we had a system like that, I wonder if Leftwich would be able to play this week. He’s probably pretty close to healthy right? Four months for a broken arm to heal sounds about right.

He’s obviously too modest, because he thinks like I do : )

Billy52 made an interesting point:

5. I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to move people onto and off of IR. One problem that the NFL seems to be dancing around, though, is inadequate pre-season conditioning. The reason we’re seeing so many injuries is because many veteran players don’t get the workouts in training camp that they need to prepare for the regular season. They get paid more money but are not expected to do the same amount of work.

As usual, Ivan Cole didn’t mince any words:

5. There is no reason besides misplaced frugality and/or greed that rosters are stubbornly kept at such low levels. And it puts the lie to the notion of there being real concern about player safety.

So has anyone got a better idea?

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