River Phoenix & the Myth of Dancing
Rob Reiner's coming-of-age film Stand By Me *featured one of the seminal performances (from one of the seminal actors) of the 1980s: a teenage RIVER PHOENIX and his tough, passionate, James Dean-cool portrayal of street-smart anti-hero CHRIS CHAMBERS. (Not to be confused with the NFL's CHRIS CHAMBERS because no one, let alone two, would ever think of trading the movie version.) For a film full of memorable moments, arguably the most compelling came toward the end, in a transcendent, powerful exchange between Phoenix and his doe-eyed co-star™, WIL WHEATON, best known for...okay, pretty much just this, notwithstanding his hilariously awkward turn on *Star Trek: The Next Generation. (By the way, Wheaton is also known for "not being the fat *Stand By Me * kid who, by some miracle, wound up in *Jerry Maguire *
." He also had the distinction of delivering the best line ever to include the words "suck, fat one, cheap, dime-store, hood, you and my," not necessarily in that order.) But back to setting the scene for our metaphor...
Just a stone's throw from a smoldering campfire, in a clearing in the middle of the night and the verdant, fictional woods of Castle Rock, Wheaton's GORDIE LACHANCE listens as his friend Chris laments a label - "just one of those low-life Chambers kids" - he's sure he'll never shake:
CHRIS:No one even asked me if I took the milk money that time. I just got a three-day vacation.
GORDIE:*Did you take it? *
CHRIS:Yeah, I took it! You knew I took it. Teddy knew I took it. Everyone knew I took it. Even Vern knew it I think. But maybe I was sorry and I tried to give it back.
GORDIE: You tried to give it back?
CHRIS:*Maybe. Just maybe. And maybe I took it to Old Lady Simons and told her, and the money was all there. But I still got a three-day vacation because it never showed up. And maybe the next week Old Lady Simons had this brand new suit on when she came to school. *
GORDIE: *Yeah, yeah! It was brown and it had dots on it. *
CHRIS:Yeah. So let's just say that I stole the milk money, but Old Lady Simons stole it back from me. Just suppose that I told this story. Me, Chris Chambers. Kid brother to Eyeball Chambers. Do you think that anyone would've believed it?
Which brings us to...LAURENCE MARONEY. (No, seriously.) These days, you can't pass a Globe op-ed, message board or talk radio host without hearing some crack about the dredlocked # 39 and his alleged propensity for "dancing behind the line." He's not "hitting the hole!" He needs to think "more North-South, less East-West!" "Why can't he run like Morris/Taylor/Faulk or like he did at the tail end of '07?" Short answer: He can. Slightly longer answer: He can and does. Often.
Now, before folks start feverishly firing off e-mails about how he "has that reputation for a reason," allow us to restate our thesis: a bad rep is hard to shake. (See: "No one even asked me if I took the milk money that time. I just got a three-day vacation.") And, yes, in the past, there have been legitimate gripes, even admissions from Maroney himself, that he needs to be more decisive, that he could learn something from Bammin' Sammy's straight-ahead style, that it's not always wise to jitterbug for forty yards in the bush, when there's five right there in the hand.
But this dirty "dancing" meme has persisted into '09 and Out-Takes can no longer stand idly by. Because as easy as it is to knock the guy EVERY TIME he's stopped behind the line (no matter the reason why), as easy as it is to blindly blame it on the usual suspect, it's not justified. Nor is the tiresome, post-Miami talk that "something clicked" on Sunday, that he's "finally" hitting the hole "decisively" and "with authority." A review of his 81 rush attempts shows the vast majority of "negative plays" had less to do with gratuitous stutter-steps than a lack of room to run and a glut of lineman in the backfield. What appears to be clicking now, frankly, is the offensive bunch in front of Brady, not the single guy behind him. Don't believe us? Ask the guy who said this:
"I think Laurence has run the ball pretty well all year. When he's had space, he's been able to make yards. When he hasn't, he's run hard and kind of gotten what's there." That's BILL BELICHICK, whose relationship to kneejerk conventional wisdom is chilly at best. Pressed on the issue by "The Big Show" crew - "Is Laurence maybe one of those backs that to really get going needs more reps?" - Belichick laughed it off. "I think he's one of those backs who needs a little bit of room!" ('Though his tone may have given it away, the HC of the NEP was too polite to include the words "break, gimme, a, simpletons, traps, shut, your and you," not necessarily in that order.)
Which brings us back to Chris Chambers and Stand By Me. Castle Rock's general populace may have given up on Eyeball's little brother, but Gordie Lachance refused to. He pushed him into the college courses, which led to his becoming a lawyer and "getting out" - of Castle Rock AND from under the label he'd been tagged with. As New England continues to monitor every step - stutter or otherwise - in the development of the dynamic, mercurial Maroney, we'd advise the same level of faith. We'd also advise not buying into the kneejerk conventional wisdom of op-eds, message boards and radio hosts, the everyday yakety-yak of folks who should take the lollipop out of their mouths and get a job. 'Cause the last thing Patriots Nation wants to see is # 39 in another team's colors, flying like great balls of fire down the field, running all the way home.
~ Even after putting consecutive W's next to all those L's by beating a bunch of Jags one week and the 9ers the next, Tennessee continues to hear about the "TERRIBLE TOWEL CURSE" they've been battling ever since KEITH BULLUCK stomped all over one of those lame, yellow security-binkies Steeler fans hold dear (and wave, Scarlett O'Hara-like, at every home game). Including last year's playoff loss vs. the Ravens - the one where instant replay failed to weigh in on the obvious expiration of a play clock - a once 13-3 team has won just twice in nine games.
While everyone loves a good conspiracy (Who's not a fan of *Nostradamus Week *on the History Channel?!), Out-Takes isn't buying. Don't get us wrong, we believe in curses, but in this case we think these titan struggles stem from the "Expect Medicare-eligible KERRY COLLINS to give you yet another year of championship-level Quarterbacking Curse" or the "Assume your defense can withstand the loss of ALBERT HAYNESWORTH Curse." But the Terrible Towel Curse? Come on. It's nuts. What's next, JEFF FISHER slipping into a Peyton Manning jersey?!
~ Good news, Jets fans! This week, even with your team on a bye, VERNON "That One's On Mangini" GHOLSTON fell short of his usual statistical pace by one measly assisted tackle! Even better news, Jets fans! The guy got injured during a WALKTHROUGH the other day. No word yet on how REX RYAN's D will manage to find some other player to jump on the pile at the end of one play per game.
~ Dear JOEY "Goose Egg" PORTER, after all the game week trash-talk, Out-Takes eagerly scanned the stat-sheet Sunday afternoon, but couldn't find your name. Anywhere. Way to do your talking off the field.
~ Anyone else wondering if Raiders defensive assistant RANDY HANSON is considering photo-shopping TOMMIE HARRIS's in-game haymaker for the upcoming TOM CABLE civil suit?
~ The next pundit, owner or exec to pontificate about cutting back on pre-season games because "four is too many," should check with RANDY MOSS to see if the early season Patriots offense was "ready for some football." If we had to watch # 81 direct pre-snap traffic one more time, we were gonna hold a potluck to raise money for his "whistle, white glove and fluorescent vest" fund.
~ Dear GREG OLSEN, "classic" *90210's * IAN ZIERING and that GREATEST AMERICAN HERO guy called. They want their hair back. (Mrs. Out-Takes: "At least you match your sister Nellie.")
~ Are we the only ones who think that, peering out over the secondary, Dolphins QB CHAD HENNE bears an alarming resemblance to WILL FERRELL's squinting impression of George W.?
~ Remember back when JOSH MCDANIELS made that trade, and everyone was thinking, "Well, he got those two #1 picks and all, but gosh, giving up a young, elite quarterback in a league where QB play is king? And now they have KYLE ORTON behind center? Ugh." Well, we're not writing off JAY CUTLER (as a football player, anyway) but FIVE picks last night? Talk about ugh. Looks like organization and scheming isn't the only thing Hoodie Jr. picked up from his old boss.
~ Pats-Colts. Brady-Manning. Belichick and a bunch of young pup DBs vs. perfect records, piped in crowd noise and Polian pounding the press box. Let's do this thing.
Get well soon, KAREEM ABDUL-JA-ROGER MURDOCK, airline pilot. We want you healthy enough to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)