PILING ON WHEN BUDDY'S DOWN
Buddy Ryan is a better football coach and a better man than all his detractors rolled into one big, fat jellyroll.
I predict Ryan will demonstrate his coaching mettle this Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals defeat the Minnesota Vikings at Sun Devil Stadium. The Cardinals will stomp the Vikings.
With that victory under their belts, the Cardinals will battle the Dallas Cowboys to a standstill the following week. By that time, every member of the local sports intelligentsia, which has spent all its energy knocking Ryan, will be trying to find a way to crawl back on his bandwagon.
For most local sportswriters, that won't be difficult. They have made a career of crawling. It comes naturally to them.
Having taken over a Cardinal team that was in deeper trouble than anyone suspected, Ryan has now lost his first three games of the season. What's the big deal?
Now the locals are hot on his trail. They want nothing less than Ryan's scalp. They also want to humiliate him and turn him into a joke.
Some even have the temerity to suggest a rehiring of that greasy-haired cheerleader, Joe Bugel.
As you might suspect, courage is a commodity in short supply among the sporting press in this town. Notorious front-runners, they are willing to genuflect before the powerhouses of the local sporting scene--like Jerry Colangelo, the owner of the Suns.
As you may have noticed, there is a dearth of criticism leveled at Colangelo. He has already stuck this town for America West Arena and is now working on the construction of an even grander stadium, this one for baseball.
Colangelo is proof positive that the unexamined life is worth living. No one in the rest of the press seems even remotely curious to learn how much Colangelo has been enriched by these various enterprises.
And now, while local sports scribes spend all their waking hours attacking Ryan and the Cardinals, Colangelo and his investors continue working in the dark on still another financial coup.
If Colangelo gets his way, the taxpayers will build him a luxurious baseball stadium with a retractable roof. This edifice will cost not only the taxpayers of this generation, but those for a hundred years to come.
Are any local sportswriters taking the trouble to check the paperwork on the proposed stadium, to see what it will actually cost?
Of course not. It's too much fun piling on the hapless Ryan and the Cardinals.
Up until two weeks ago, every member of this gang was at Ryan's feet. Now they are at his throat.
To understand this phenomenon, you need realize only one thing. For the average sportswriter, every strong opinion tapped into a computer is first carefully screened for public acceptability before the save button is pushed.
They know an opinion defaming Ryan will receive great acceptance, both in the office and outside on the street.
"Stick it to Buddy," their friends tell them. "Let's run him out of town on a rail."
If this sounds like a media lynching, you've got it exactly right.
If Ryan was still playing Steve Beuerlein at quarterback, you can be assured the sports media would be blaming him for that, too.
But when Ryan benched Beuerlein and hinted that he was a "cancer" on the team, they were shocked by Ryan's frankness.
So everyone heads for Beuerlein's dressing stall to get the word from the horse's mouth. Beuerlein's undeniable advantage is that he looks the part of the all-American boy. He smiles politely and answers questions in a respectful fashion. He acts like a quarterback who is studying to be in a TV control room on game day.
The surprising thing is that everyone seems to think it would be a terrible injustice to fire Beuerlein and his $2 million salary. To me it makes eminent good sense. He won't win for the Cardinals and sure as hell won't win for any other team in the National Football League. Rest assured that no other team in the league would ever be tempted to pay him such an incredible amount of compensation, as they say in the law firms.
Doesn't anyone remember Beuerlein's days as Notre Dame's quarterback? The wonder is not that he was the Cardinals' No. 1 quarterback, but that he is in the league at all. He can't run. He can't throw adequately. On top of that, he's a whiner.
Ryan called the shot on Beuerlein correctly. If the Cardinals can get rid of him anytime soon, they should avail themselves of the opportunity. Swiftly.
One of the reasons Colangelo seldom receives criticism is because every member of the sporting media knows all too well how powerful a presence Colangelo remains in the front offices of the Pulliam Press.
Say an unkind word about Colangelo, and he will be in the office of the Arizona Republic within hours, demanding his just deserts.
Listen to Colangelo being interviewed on any sports-radio show and you'll suddenly experience trouble with your digestive tract. The immediate inclination upon hearing a softball question from a simpering talk-show host like Brad Cesmat is to throw up.
I will admit that Colangelo manages to exude a certain charm.
How else do you think he could prepare for the unloading of Charles Barkley, right out in the open, with no one catching on to his ploy?
Why else do you think Colangelo has acquired two forwards who play Barkley's position?
Are you naive enough to think that Colangelo paid big money to send the team's trainer, Robin Pound, to stay in Philadelphia to help Barkley actually work out?
If you believe that, then you will undoubtedly believe the fanciful tale that Barkley actually did work out diligently and is now in the best shape of his life.
If this is so, why did Paul Whataburger, the Suns coach, announce a week ago that no training sessions up in northern Arizona will be open to the press? Nor will any practice sessions during the season.
First of all, Whataburger fears that an out-of-shape Barkley will once again fall to the ground like Humpty Dumpty, and it will take a dozen trainers to lift him onto a gurney.
But I digress. We began today's essay by scolding about the treatment Buddy Ryan has been forced to endure.
This is no time to sing a sad song for Ryan. He has been in tight spots before. He knows how to get out of them.
One of the tenets of his coaching philosophy has been to instill in his players the certainty that everyone is against them. When you have your backs to the wall, as the Cardinals do now, the only way to save yourself is by fighting your hearts out.
That's precisely what I predict the Cardinals will do this Sunday. The interesting thing will be to see how most members of the local sports media work their way out of the corner in which they have painted themselves.
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