Imagine I’m laughing as you read this. Well, not really.
Just one week after my treatise on how teams don’t tank or try not to win to get a higher draft pick, we all saw it before our very eyes in the last game of the NFL’s regular season.
The reason they don’t, as stated here, is because players are trained to win.
No youngster ever tried to do anything but his best when he first put on a pair of cleats, and that mindset never wavered.
Why would he? Certainly, when you become a professional, the last thing you would ever do, is show a lack of hustle or desire, or attempt to do anything but try to win.
Everyone knows how important your personal resume is in the workplace.
For professional athletes, they know that anytime they take the field, their performance is recorded on videotape for all to see.
All, meaning coaches, General Managers, personnel folks from the players’ current team and those from all the other clubs.
You cheat yourself if you don’t go all out. And everybody can see it.
But last week, I included one caveat, where games can be tanked.
That’s when a club official, an owner, a GM, or a head coach makes a move that sends a signal that winning the game is not paramount.
I, and many other observers, felt that way when Doug Pederson, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles removed his quarterback, Jalen Hurts, in favor of Nate Sudfeld early in the fourth quarter with the Eagles trailing the Washington by only three points in a critical significant contest.
Hurts, who was the backup quarterback, playing the last several games for benched starter Carson Wentz, had already run for a pair of touchdowns.
Sudfeld, the third-stringer hadn’t thrown a pass since 2018 was intercepted on his second attempt. He also lost a fumble and was sacked twice.
This is not an indictment of Sudfeld by any means. He was brought in under difficult circumstances.
Pederson claimed he was “coaching to win” in the post-game news conference.
But it doesn’t ring true.
Here are the facts surrounding the game:
If Washington were victorious, they would capture the NFC East title and advance to the playoffs where they actually play at home because of winning their division crown.
It’s been a strange year in many ways, but in the NFL, the fact that no team in the NFC East could manage even a .500 season was mind-boggling.
If Washington won, they would finish first with a record of 7-9.
If they were beaten by the Eagles, the New York Giants by virtue of a tie-breaker would be the division champs, even though they would finish with as 6-10 mark, the same as Washington.
So a division championship and a playoff berth were on the line in this game.
Thus, with Washington leading 17-14 in the fourth quarter, Pederson changed quarterbacks.
Washington would ultimately triumph 2014, but the lasting effect of the final game of the regular season will not go away easily.
It’s about the integrity of the game.
There have been scenarios on the past when teams who have already wrapped up successful seasons have rested their stars, and avoided possible injuries that would damage playoff chances.
But the Eagles were just finishing up the season.
With a loss to Washington, Philly would see their draft position improve three spots. They would advance from the ninth choice to the sixth.
That is meaningful.
So here is what I wonder when the dust cleared.
Did Doug Pederson get word from above, from the owner or the General Manager to make the change making it difficult to win the game?
Or, did he do it on his own?
The one thing we know, is that the players representing the Philadelphia Eagles on the field, wanted to win the game. Go out with their heads high.
They weren’t thinking of the draft. They could care less.
It was an ugly way to complete a regular season in which the league, particularly Commissioner Roger Goodell, deserves plaudits for guiding the 17-week season, in which their were no cancellations.
Every game was played. There were closures of camps, teams having to play without stars, games delayed twice in a given week, games played on days not usually known as NFL days.
But the schedule was completed.
Practice squads were expanded and flexible.
We didn’t hear much criticizing the play on the field.
The quality of football has been remarkably better than it might have been.
And many games were high-scoring with thrilling and dramatic finishes.
Now, we move into post-season.
A new chapter. One can only hope it’ll be more of the same.
A final note on the Washington Football Team.
Before anyone claims they received a gift in winning the NFC East, realize this: They were winning the game when the Eagles made their puzzling quarterback switch. And when it was over they were the division champs.
In a season in which the long-time team nickname was erased, a season in which the owner was under siege from his partners, charges of sexual harassment, a wonderful man and head coach who was a cancer survivor, and a quarterback who rose from third-string to lead the team to its biggest victory in one of the great personal comebacks in league history, the team survived in storybook fashion.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who endured 17 leg surgeries, and a possible amputation of his right leg from a horrific injury two years ago, staged a comeback for the ages.
Finally, I know you don’t hand out Coach of the Year honors to a man who leads a team to a 7-9 record.
But Ron Rivera is my Coach of the Year in the NFC.
Battling cancer during the early stages of the season, Rivera kept his focus and kept his players focused on being prepared each week.
Rivera, as he has so many times in his career, is a division champion.
But that doesn’t begin to explain the resolve, the fight, and the determination of this special man.
The death of football great Floyd Little saddened those who saw his greatness as a player, as well as those of us who knew him as a person.
More on my personal experiences, and remembrances of one of the three legendary Syracuse running backs who wore the famed #44, next week.