Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hell's Angels

I was only 11 years-old in 1997, which means that unless it was Charles Woodson, Brian Griese, Anthony Thomas, or Tai Streets, all I knew was vaguely what role a player had, or a few notable achievements. For example, Marcus Ray was the guy who I never really heard of, but famously laid out David “If I’m Incapacitated When The Cops Arrive, Hide the Winstrol; My Lawyer’s On Speed Dial” Boston. Dhani Jones was a thin linebacker who was fast, which was exactly what I thought Ian Gold was. At the time I was pretty sure Gold and Jones were the same person, although now I think Dhani has an extensive bow tie collection, likes Charlie Parker, and probably doesn’t own many undershirts.

I mention this because I recently read something on Kissing Suzy Kolber about Ian Gold, written in this book “A Few Seconds of Panic”. The author, Stefan Fatsis, was a writer who spent training camp as a kicker for the Broncos, and then detailed his experiences in the book. In it were two incredible Ian Gold quotes which, after becoming more familiar with him through Google, aren’t even that surprising:

Ian Gold: “This is a business. When I’m here on this field, it is absolutely business. When I’m in the meeting rooms, it is business. Don’t hug me, don’t touch me, don’t call me your buddy, don’t tell me you love me, because I know you’ll motherfuck me as soon as I leave the room.”

Ian Gold: “The hard part for me is dealing with a lack of loyalty, dealing with people who have such a lack of integrity that it’s just sickening… You have coaches that will smile in your face and they’ll shit on you the next second.”

I find his overall paranoia and vehemence fascinating, and the use of “motherfuck” as a verb is rare but always appreciated. (Would that be more of a sensual or an aggressive fucking? If it’s your dad doing the motherfucking with the lights off just because “It’s a Saturday and all that's on are CSI re-runs”, mom could probably sleep right through it. But getting prisonfucked, or “I’m drunk and wearing a condom, so I’m not going to feel anything unless I do it like this” fucked would probably be uncomfortable. I guess this really boils down to what kind of tact Jake Plummer had.)

All of this makes the fact that he was cut by the Broncos, and still hasn’t been signed by anybody, even more disheartening. Gold is almost too small; made the Pro Bowl in 2001 mostly because he was ruthless on special teams; and once negotiated his own 27 million-dollar contract while representing himself. (“The one message it should send to other guys around the league is that we are intelligent human beings. We don't just play football. We have the intellectual capacity to negotiate contracts,” he said.) He doesn't trust agents, plays chess frequently, and he does not hesitate in saying that NFL owners are conniving, soulless moguls.

I like him because he’s an underdog who it seems has always felt a little scorned and neglected. He plays recklessly and instinctively, motivated by emotion and desire; it's like he's consumed by something more transcendent and primal than the vast intellect that he has. On the field it disappears and, as Carr once said, "his intensity is so high, he runs right through blockers." He’s also blunt, uninhibited and prone to hyperbole. He said that Michigan’s win against Alabama in 2000 was “the best ending to a football game ever,” and in 2004 he said, “Around the league everybody knows, and I'm aware of it as well, that I'm the best outside linebacker out there in the free-agent market right now.”

Back in elementary school, when a teacher would ask her class what they did over the summer, I picture Ian giving the most vivid – possibly exaggerated – responses. Maybe sometimes he’s not as graceful as he could be, but like Mike Hart and Lloyd Carr, he’s hardly concerned with his acceptance anyway. He’s just as combative as Mike, but he’s not as easily provoked; when Gold says something, it’s on his own terms.

There are few characters as complex as him, and even fewer who are as willing to reveal it. I was reading about this impromptu interview session a few days before the game against Alabama, and in it Gold took the microphone and tried to interview Lloyd. It encapsulated the Shawn Crable-esque spontaneity he’s capable of, and it featured a brilliant Lloyd Carr moment.

Gold: “We have Mr. Lloyd Carr here… Let me ask you a few questions. . . . What kind of year did Ian Gold have this year?''
Carr: “Who?”
Carr: “Are you interviewing for a job?''
Gold: “I'm interviewing you right now! You're messing up the interview.”
Carr: “That happens a lot”

When that happened, I was 13. Too bad all I knew then was that one was fast and the other was old.

I saw tail lights last night in a dream about my first wife

I have three videos of Kevin Grady playing football for East Grand Rapids that I’m pretty sure I stole from a few years ago. He was too heavy and ran with short strides, almost clumsy but more so just impulsive and unrestrained, and there was an anxious struggle to reach top speed and an inconsistent flailing of his arms to keep balance. Sometimes it looked peculiar and not terribly imposing, but I always found something charmingly juvenile about it, like a math savant who still had to count on his fingers.

He usually sounded shy but decisive and polite in his interviews, and I saw this picture of him once where he was showing the camera how his bicep was as thick as his lady friend’s thigh. I thought it was pretty amusing. Grady has either been a colossal disappointment, or extremely unlucky, depending on what kind of person you are. Out of high school he was rated higher than both Rashard Mendenhall and Darren McFadden, and committed to Michigan on September 7, 2003 – a time at which their future running back situation could be gently described as “a desolate abyss.” The Messiah emerged about a year later, and that was, for the most part, the last we heard of Kevin Grady. Well, he fumbled often and ran timidly when he did play, and he tore his ACL last April and didn’t play a down all season.

Needless to say, Grady was always one of my favorite players – even before he became a hardened, jaded soul in search of redemption. He’d earned his chance, and with Mike gone and Rodriguez praising his work ethic, it seemed like he was going to get it. Instead, he was arrested one week ago for driving drunk, and has been suspended indefinitely. If Grady isn’t a ghost already, he’s dangerously close to becoming one; the other running backs empathize with him, but they have the same ambiguous, fleeting legacies that he has.

Brandon Minor runs too upright but is ferocious, borderline psychotic and faster than he’s ever been; I once heard a story where Carlos Brown was wandering around a residence hall on move-in day and just started helping a stranger carry bottled water to her son’s dorm; Sam McGuffie is a cybernetic organism obsessed with fitness and responded to a Myspace heckler with a bible passage; Michael Shaw speaks his mind, and on the field is playfully unhinged without any trace of self-doubt. These are more than tolerable alternatives -- they're replacements.

Outside of our hearts, everyone is expendable.