When I was a kid, I had no doubt in my mind that, when I grew up, I was going to be a professional athlete. I was willing to settle for playing second base for the Montreal Expos (somehow I knew they would make it to DC), but I really had my heart set on suiting up as a middle linebacker for the Washington Redskins.
I watched both the morning and afternoon SportsCenter broadcasts took notes on all of my favorite players for my fantasy team waiver wire, used my birthday money to purchase a custom #52 jersey with my name on the back, and spent countless hours poring through stats and fun facts on the back of my sports card collections. I was more than eager to tell anyone who would (or I thought should) listen that David Patten and Walter Peyton are the only two players to run, throw, and pass for a touchdown in the same game; or that only Sammy Baugh has led the league in passing, punting and interceptions in a single season. I’ve been told that I’m a blast at parties.
Unfortunately, the accumulation of this minutiae was never particularly helpful when it came to on-the-field performance. Although I excelled in lightweight football where it was possible to play interior line positions despite weighing 120 lbs. soaking wet, those games resembled roaming 11-on-11 bobbleheads in oversized helmets and shoulder pads.
One year of playing (a very generous characterization) high school ball, a solid bell-ringing put an end to what was certainly be a long and illustrious career that would have ended with my bust in Canton. Instead, I settled for being granted the Coach’s Award, which in retrospect I have no shame in admitting was likely presented out of pity.
Though my playing dreams were dashed, I channeled my efforts into serving in other supporting roles, as a student-assistant coach breaking down film and calling plays from the booth, and then as a broadcaster and communications assistant in college. Truthfully, I was much better suited being as far away from the bottom of a dogpile as possible, and commentating combined my love of the game with my equal passion for hearing myself talk.
As a native of the DMV area, my sports fandom, much like many of yours, can be characterized with merit as being "long-suffering." It is not an uncommon practice to channel our past frustrations, hopes, and desires from years of disappointment and futility on our current crop of players, many of whom are not from here, but still carry the torch of our sports tradition.
"C’mon! I could have [insert athletic thing you couldn’t ever possibly have done]!"
Admit it -- you’re guilty of shouting that at your television on a Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday, or the occasional weird Saturday) while watching a football game. I know that I have done it more than my fair share.
For the past several months I have had the opportunity to help contribute to Hogs Haven, beginning with evaluating seventh-string preseason players with our annual Mason/ Brennan Hype! Awards (a favorite of mine long before I wrote about them myself). I have sought to share my perspectives on the Redskins with our many loyal readers, and to bring my A-game to our top of the line community-based coverage of professional D.C. football coverage. Traditionally, that coverage has focused exclusively on notes, updates, opinions and analysis on the Washington Redskins.
Truthfully, this blog is one of the only places where I am not only willing, but eager, to break the sacred rule of "don’t read the comments section," because I’m routinely impressed by the level of informed discourse that goes on down there.
Several weeks ago, I learned that Monumental Sports and Entertainment (owners and operators of the Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics) was set to bring another form of football to the District: the Washington Valor, an expansion squad which will become the ninth current, active franchise in the Arena Football League. Additionally, as explained by Head Coach Dean Cokinos, in an effort "to find some quality players who can contribute to our organization" from our "talent-rich region," it would be holding a "free agent open tryout" as the team prepares for its inaugural season.
Ever vigilant for opportunities to find new ways to bring unique coverage to our site, and armed with a cursory knowledge of the Arena League (back in the day, I once rented EA Sports Arena Football from Blockbuster), I made preliminary plans to attend the combine. I thought it might be intriguing to see what we have to look forward to from the Valor, to evaluate the level of competition, and to seek out local football ties that might be relevant or interesting for Hogs Haven.
But then, on a whim, I contacted our noble leader Ken with an unusual idea to take it one step further. In his infinite wisdom, he agreed that it would be a good idea to participate in the combine and try out for the team myself.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
To be clear, I have no delusions that I can make the team, or even that I can even be remotely on a par with the other competitors.
I want to be clear that I plan on taking the process very seriously, and in no way want to devalue or belittle the experience for the far more likely legitimate candidates vying for a spot on the Valor. Rather, my goal is some combination of fulfilling unrealized and improbable childhood dreams, while shedding a light on the challenges of preparing (however abbreviated) for a pro tryout, and possibly to lend a measure of pause to the "I could do [thing you couldn’t ever actually do]" couch-cushion quarterbacks, myself occasionally included.
While this is certainly a bit of a departure from our normal coverage here on the site, it is also my hope to perhaps generate some excitement about the prospect of having another football team to root for in DC.
Per the Valor’s press release: "The open tryout will feature traditional combine testing drills which include the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and broad jump. Participants will also be placed into individual position and group-specific drills."
With little to no experience doing any of those things, I have enlisted the help of Colin Quay, the Owner/President of Elite Athlete Training Services, to run me through a crash course to help prepare for the combine. Colin is an extremely accomplished and highly regarded strength and conditioning coach who has worked with thousands of athletes from the High School, College, and Professional ranks, and is one of the top training specialists in the DC area.
Colin has agreed to indulge in my quest for Valor, and to offer a glimpse into the process that athletes undergo preparing for a professional tryout. In addition to documenting my training, I plan on engaging in research that will span learning about the history of the AFL, to a reflection on the seminal work that I will ultimately be emulating, legendary participatory journalist George Plimpton’s "Paper Lion" which details his time in preseason training camp with the Detroit Lions in 1963.
One of my former broadcast partners was fond of the expression that "discretion is the better part of valor." In other words, although bravery is a virtue, there is wisdom in avoiding unnecessary risks. This maxim rang true for me whenever I saw players pick their battles: a quarterback who opted to slide in the face of oncoming pressure, or a receiver who ducked out of bounds instead of taking a hit along the sideline. So, rather aptly, I look forward in the coming weeks to recounting my Indiscretion For Valor, detailing my attempt to take a new risk and stay in bounds (and one piece).