Carolina Panthers: The Guarantee Business is Not Good for the Football Business
Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil suffered a left foot ligament injury last week and will miss the rest of the season on the IR. Why should you care about a center? Well if you have Cam Newton in fantasy, prepare for him to become even more uncomfortable during a time he’s already under the gun.
But, more importantly, we might have gotten a lesson in sports karma.
Kalil, a clubhouse leader and an emotional captain on the team, this summer guaranteed a championship for the Panthers in the form of a full-page ad in a local newspaper. While the guarantee took the form of a letter to the fans (a gesture not enough athletes do while they are actually playing in a city), Kalil was questioned and scrutinized by the media about the guarantee. His coach, Ron Rivera, made t-shirts for the players that declared “I’ve got Ryan Kalil’s back.”
While the idea of matching t-shirts sounds cozy on one level, the words of Bill Parcells echo in my head…”You are what your record says you are.” The Panthers are 1-4 with a struggling second-year quarterback, and are now missing their All-Pro center and emotional leader.
I can think of a ton of words rather than “champions” to describe that situation. Most of them I couldn’t use in this space, but would be prominently featured in an HBO program.
We all know about guarantees. Namath made them famous. While it worked out for that one single game, ask most Jets fans about whether he traded his soul to the devil for that lone win and cursed the very franchise he lifted a generation ago. Most will tell you yes. Mark Messier guaranteed a win in the Eastern Conference finals Game 6 almost 20 years ago. But, let’s face it – it was a game 6 and, after all, it’s just hockey. Barely counts.
And then there’s Rex Ryan.
Consider a rookie coach who inherits an historically underachieving team, whose offense is led by a rookie QB, and that coach takes them to the conference championship game in his first year. And then again in his second year. Oh, and by the way, they play in the Patriots’s division and qualified for the playoffs as a wild card both times with not a single home playoff game. Pretty good job, right?
Yeah, except he guaranteed a Super Bowl win – in both years.
(I, as a Jets fan, think the team overachieved in the first season particularly, partially because of the guarantee. You had a rookie California quarterback with magazine cover good looks entering the media maelstrom of New York, and what did Rex’s guarantee (and other antics) effectively do? Took the spotlight off the kid, who was brilliant on third downs and 4th quarter comebacks that year.)
So, of course the Jets don’t win the ring, and in Ryan’s third season they destroy their own post-season fate against the cross-town (cross-stadium?) Giants, for whom they create a post-season fate. The ordinary Giants of course go on to win the Super Bowl, again against the Jets’ most bitter rival, The New England Patriots.
You see where I’m going here with the guarantee business?
The guarantee business, if I have to spell it out for you, is not good for the football business. It can be cute and headline-grabbing and tongue in cheek. But it sets a marker for everyone else to see. It’s like carving you and your girlfriend’s initials inside a big heart in a giant oak tree when you’re teenagers. That shit ain’t going away and unless you become the one single high school sweetheart relationship that defied the odds, was a benchmark for the loving respectful marriage, and remained together entering the diaper years, your friends will mock you for it for generations.
And even when a football guarantee works (see Namath, Joe) you end up drunk on ESPN declaring your lust for Suzy Kolber.
Do I feel bad for Ryan Kalil? Absolutely. I hate when solid, unsung players miss any time, much less three-quarters of a season. Do I begrudge his outreach to fans and confidence in his team? No. Would I warn him about the possibility of injuring a ligament in the middle of his left foot in Week 5 should he declare the Panthers champions before the season begins. Oh yes, I would.
Mr. Kalil, leave the guarantees to the politicians in this election year. Not only are they better at making empty, unrealistic promises, they will get rewarded for it, while you get a bum left foot.
* photo credit – ngngsports.com