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Wind, Snow, and Matt Patricia

Wind, Snow, and Matt Patricia
November 16
17:41 2018

KYLE UNGER

Every week seems to bring something new when it comes to Lions’ new head coach, Matt Patricia. When he held a recent practice outside in the snow, the media quickly posted a photo of Patricia in shorts. People thought it was so weird you’d almost have thought Patricia wasn’t a football coach, but rather a general guiding his troops into a battle wearing nothing but lounge wear.

The big scream was that Patricia wore shorts outside in the snow, yet in Miami, in the blistering sun, he was dressed up for frigid temperatures.

A growing hubbub ensued, questioning why Patricia was holding practice outside in the snow rather than indoors, where they will play their next three games at a controlled seventy degrees. Even star cornerback Darius Slay made a comment to the media that showed maybe a bit of strain at being shoved outdoors for a practice.

Patricia did answer the next day, and the reporters counted how many words (somewhere around 891) he used in a mini-lecture about why he had practice outdoors. He gave some solid reasons, such as the turf being hard on joints, especially with the heavier guys, and being outside was a good change, despite the snow. I found the speech rather articulate and enjoyable as an outsider looking in.

I’m a naive NFL fan, and I’m an even more innocent human being, so maybe I’m missing something, but I thought playing in the NFL was largely hinged on being capable to play through all kinds of situations. Even if the Lions are playing indoors for the next three weeks, they won’t always play indoors, and eventually they’ll have to play in cold weather, and possibly they’ll have to run across a snowy field this season when the score counts.

Hell, in middle school we practiced in the snow. I hated it, of course. Our coach was as big and wide as a dump truck and he was equipped with an air horn instead of a voice box. His bellering could be heard across the field, and it struck fear in our young hearts. He kept shouting about “sound football”, which at that time, I thought he meant when the pads clapped together during a hard tackle. I was naive.

One day in 1997, we thought we’d be let off from football practice because of an early snow. I was even thankful for the snow, since practice was grueling and I only stayed on the football team because “once you start something, you’d better see it through”.

So, we thought we’d maybe get to take it easy and toss the football around the gymnasium and run a few shortened wind sprints across the basketball court.

When we didn’t show up outside, our coach wondered into the locker room looking for us. We told him what we assumed, and his face turned red and his neck bulged. “Suck it up!” he hollered. “Are you boys or men?”

I would’ve answered that I’m a boy at that moment, except our coach was known for kicking objects across classrooms and denting lockers with his fists. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to play football after that season. It wasn’t anything like what we did on the playground. I could catch the ball really well. But upgrading to the real sport felt almost like getting drafted into the army after a few years of playing laser tag.

Outside, our dump truck of a coach was swearing because we didn’t want to take our hands out of our pants long enough to block or catch the ball. While he was backing up, he tripped over a helmet and toppled backwards. His wind pants somehow ended up twisted around his ankles. Our coach stood and booted the helmet clear to the sideline. The pain in his foot registered in his face like the red mercury of a thermometer placed in the sun.

“Who put that gawdammed helmet right behind my gawdammed feet?” he shouted. He cursed and waved his clipboard in the air and then sent us running sprints around the field. “And don’t stop,” he said, “until I say so. Until I’m good and tired of watching you.” After a few laps we were ready to fall over in the snow, but he shouted, “Keep it going, don’t slow down! I’ve got all day long.”

It felt like a lot for junior high.

But it surely couldn’t be a big deal for the NFL. Not for players who have endured years of pain and running and physical exertion to get where they are. The best of the NFL is about spirit and toughness. It’s about enduring the cold and learning to develop the warmth of teamwork. Fundamentally, it’s about keeping your footing, learning how to execute in less than ideal situations.

Maybe Detroit won’t have snow in December. It’s never a guarantee. Maybe Patricia wanted to give them a chance at getting accustomed to the snow before the temperatures were closer to unbearable. Either way, he’s the head coach this year, and it would be good to let him take a legitimate shot at being one. Yes, the Lions are losing in ugly fashion at the moment, but they’re also in transition. Very few Lions fans want to live through more transition after multiple decades of perpetual losing, but there’s little we can do except let Patricia have his shot at creating a tough, smart, and sustainable football program.

[header photo courtesy of ElectricFootball; Wikimedia Commons]

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