Outmanned, But Never Outgunned (Part 2)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: January 1, 2008

“Grits ain’t grocery, Eggs ain’t poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man.”

“Grits Ain’t Groceries” lyrics written by Titus Turner; my favorite version is sung by Little Willie John.

PHILADELPHIAThe Merriam – Webster Dictionary defines the word grit as showing “unyielding courage.”

With all the adjectives to toss around into the sports’ scribe’s salad shaker, grit is one of the few four-letter words that positively emanate many of the major aspects of sports — toughness, tenacity, power and passion.

Given the nature of athletics, you would think grit would be used to the point of saturation in a sport like football; but somehow this four-letter word is woefully omitted when it comes to describing how Black quarterbacks handle themselves on the field.

It’s that old code language thing again. Steve Young, a former player who I like a lot for his candor, could scramble for 15 yards on a busted play, and announcers would laud him for his “having the presence of mind to escape the rush.”

But Randall Cunningham scrambles for 15 yards, and those same announcers bleat out that Cunningham was “letting his athleticism take over.”

I use these two former field generals to make a point. While their styles were similar in using arm and legs to make plays, Young is a genius, but Cunningham is left-handedly applauded as some freak of nature.

Add to this, Cunningham, a Most Valuable Player and multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, is not on the list of finalists for this year’s induction class to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“With a toothpick in my hand I dig a ten foot ditch, and run through the jungle fightin’ lions with a switch…”

I’ll tell you this — Randall Cunningham had more grit and guile than any player at his position during his entire career. I would have loved to see Young, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw or John Elway try to eke out the same kind of offensive productivity with average (at best) receivers, a spotty ground attack and a Swiss cheese offensive line like what Cunningham had to work with.

The only rings they would’ve owned would’ve been the ones ringing in their heads from even more severe concussions.

It was no surprise that Cunningham’s best season came in Minnesota, where he had offensive stars like Randy Moss (remember him – the guy who shut up all those haters out there?) Cris Carter, Robert Smith, and, most importantly, a quality O-line anchored by Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy and Todd Steussie.

And you can’t look at Cunningham without looking at his fellow field general, Warren Moon. Moon, who refused to play any position other than the one he supposed to, was “overlooked” by the National Football League and went north to Canada, where he would win five consecutive Grey Cups as the unquestioned leader of the Edmonton Eskimos.

In America, Moon ran Mouse Davis’ Run-and-Shoot offense in Houston.

Simplistic in nature, the Run-and-Shoot was a difficult offense to run because receivers had to read coverage as well as the passer on every play. While Moon’s arm was always acknowledged as strong, he was never really given credit for being as cerebral as he was given his proficiency in running an offense no one has really been able to since; at least not on a pro level.

Moon would win 70 games as an Oiler before moving on to Minnesota, and was still winning by deploying the drop-back pocket passer skills so desired by the pigskin status quo.

With his induction into Canton, Moon became the only un-drafted quarterback to ever be elected into the Hall; and the only player to ever be named to Canada’s and the U.S. Pro Football Hall of Fame — not bad for someone the NFL didn’t want.

Grit & Groceries

“If they’re gonna let you cook the dinner, you should at least be able to shop for some of the groceries.”

— Miami Dolphins executive Bill Parcells while head coach of the Dallas Cowboys)

While shopping for groceries is one thing, buying them is another. If something is advertised as “Grade A” you’re surely likely to pick that up over whatever’s advertised as less than top quality, whether that’s true or not.

The following are descriptions of two players who will be in the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft:

Player A: “Off the charts intangibles; physical tools more than adequate.”

Player B: “Somewhat of a project; has as much upside as anyone in the draft.”

Can you tell which description depicts the white player and the black player? Whether you can or not, the presumption Player A has all these hidden goodies and Player B may not would maybe turn your head and linger longer around A.

But the question of grit and wherewithal to sustain the mental rigors of playing are answered by Black men every day on and off the playing field. Like anti-lock brakes, grit was standard equipment on Black men and women since the first models came off the original assembly line.

The presumption only white men were qualified to play quarterback was born out of other weak-minded white men and their even weaker egos. Too often these mental midgets moved to audible on the side of caution, because of the image that team’s organization wants to display. Even then for many of the teams in the League as it is now, winning was not as important as how and with whom.

True Grit

So when I see a team like Duke Ferguson’s Harlem Hellfighters stare racism in the face in a bastion of cosmopolitan atmosphere like New York City, I’m not surprised grit is the first word that pops in my mind.

Or seeing Byron Leftwich’s awesome performance while finishing his college career at Marshall; literally being carried by his teammates on the Thundering Herd’s winning drive against East Carolina.

Do you think his teammates were worrying about what color he was as they were heading downfield with 270 pounds of West Virginia Prime on their shoulders?

That the man who would one day take his spot as starter, David Garrard, beat him out for the position is the essence of the better man earning the spot, but does not take anything away from the gritty, gutsy effort of Leftwich.

If I said Steve McNair and Billy Kilmer were similar in playing styles, would that make McNair more acceptable because it’s a white player we’re comparing him to?

On the field Kilmer looked rough-and-tumble and played that way; but because McNair, just as tough if not more so, is considered the more natural athlete, his ability to run is pissed on as an attribute when the player doesn’t conform to type.

I strongly doubt Kilmer could make the kind of run McNair made to keep his Tennessee Titans alive on that fateful final drive before Kevin Dyson’s slant catch fell a yard short.

Make no mistake — conformity is an underlying issue of great importance here; because in spite of the fact there have been winning Black Super Bowl quarterbacks, there won’t ever be another rush to the market to get more of those “groceries.”

Next Time: Like It’s 1999.