I WAS Bryant Mckinnie (kinda, sorta)

Street Talk I WAS Bryant Mckinnie (kinda, sorta)

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For weeks (months, years) we’ve had fairly animated discussions on RSR re one Bryant McKinnie, offensive lineman on the 2011 and 2012 Ravens. McKinnie, a former Pro-Bowl left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, started at left tackle in every Ravens game of the 2011 season but none in 2012, when he lost his starting job to Mr. Blind Side his-own-self, Michael Oher, whose play there is generally recognized as having occasionally risen to the NFL level of adequate–until the playoffs.

That’s when the Big Whopper stepped in and did a fine job guarding Joe Flacco’s blind side through the successful run for the Lombardi Trophy.

At the time of writing, McKinnie is an unrestricted free agent, and the question du jour (du mois, de l’an) is how earnestly the Ravens should attempt to sign him to a new contract—if at all.

I want to offer a bit of a different perspective on this question. Because, you see, ignoring for the moment 30 years, 200 lbs, legal & financial troubles (& a lot of other things), I was Bryant McKinnie… in a previous life…kinda-sorta..

I realize that’s a lot to ignore, but bear with me for a bit.

What do we know (or think, or think we know) about McKinnie?

Mike Rumph, a former NFL defensive back who was his teammate at “the U,” notably described McKinnie as “the best lazy football player [he’d] ever seen.”

McKinnie came into 2012 training camp late & out of shape & with a cockamamie excuse; he doesn’t seem to put much effort into practice; he seems to be more interested in a music business he started than pro football; and he’s had some questionable things on his resume (most notoriously the Love Boat scandal while a Viking).

From all appearances McKinnie is at best indifferent to everything about professional football except the paycheck (although he does IMHO take some pride in doing a good job on game day).

He doesn’t like to practice & doesn’t want to make the personal sacrifices to get into and stay in top condition. He will never be the first-ballot HOFer he might have been if he’d been willing to put in the work. He’s content to be a competent-at-the-NFL-level left tackle. Any team willing to accept his (lack of) work ethic will get exactly that, no more.

Let me ask a rhetorical question: Suppose you’re managing an important project with a key task that needs to be done. You can assign it to one member of your staff who’s really eager to do it and will put in 110% effort and might do an adequate job if you provided him some help.


You can hire this guy from the temp agency who you used a couple of other times and who you know can do it better. But you also know he doesn’t like the work–he’s only in it because he does it well and it pays well and he has credit cards and child support to pay.

He flouts conventions–shows up late, leaves early, takes two-hour lunch breaks, reads the newspaper at his desk–and always delivers the product at the last minute. He gives you major agita, and heaven help you if the rest of the staff started doing the same thing–but that’s how he rolls and he always delivers the goods.

That’s a pretty fair description of me when I worked in defense contracting starting in the early 1980s. I had a technical background plus the ability to write, which made me the go-to guy for proposals: No one had to try explaining to a “tech writer” who’d majored in 17th-century Albanian literature what we did and why the DoD should pay us to do it and pray they’d write it down halfway correctly.

Now, I would rather have been writing fiction or poetry–and frankly as a stalwart liberal Democrat I was unsettled working for the DoD.

My “Love Boat” equivalent came up when I was told I needed a security clearance: “Is it going to be a problem that in college I had hair down to my butt and marched in antiwar demonstrations and hung out with Trotskyites?”

“Did you ever officially join? Did you ever get arrested or anything?”

“Well no, but—“ “Don’t worry about it.”

I held a Secret clearance for 20 years; no one ever asked. But the money was good, I was good at what I did and took some pride at being so, and it was something to pay the rent until and unless one of my novels became a best seller (none of which ever got written, for the record).

And I drove my bosses—most of whom were retired military—up the wall.

What do you do, Mr./Ms. Project Manager? How do you deal with a guy like me?

A lot depends on how important the project is to you. A lot depends on whether there’s an Option C out there. And a lot depends on whether you’re a good enough manager and leader to keep that guy and the rest of your staff focused on the goal, knowing that you have to handle him differently from the others to get his best work.

McKinnie is the living, breathing counterexample to Harbaugh’s “you play like you practice” mantra–while Oher, with much less “natural talent” for the position, is constantly busting his butt on the practice field to make the most of his lesser tools.

A lot of the crap McKinnie went through last year was his own fault, but IMHO a lot of it was you’ll-do-things-my-way-or-not-at-all pettiness from Coach, who seems to think that if he doesn’t enforce iron discipline on every single member of the team the inmates will be running the asylum in an eye-blink.

Did that suddenly change as the playoffs approached?

Did Coach learn to ease up in order to get the best out of him?

Did the Big Whopper understand how to balance his approach to the game with the needs of the team? Or was it just a short-term act of necessity after Jah Reid got hurt?

I’ve seen less promising relationships work–hell, I’ve been in them. McKinnie and Harbs are (as of 6 AM March 22 anyway) still talking.

What that means is anyone’s guess.

Stay tuned!

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Joe Fanzone

About Joe Fanzone

Joe Fanzone grew up in Dundalk back when it was a great place to grow up in. Too much the klutz to make it out of Little League, he redefined himself as an athletic supporter; too nearsighted to qualify for astronaut training, he collected degrees in physics & applied math & made a career as an analyst in government and government contracting, an activist in progressive politics, and an author of poetry, fiction and book reviews. He has also performed with a folk-dance troupe and traveled in most of Europe west of Russia—watching the damned Replacements cost the Ravens a victory over the Eagles in September 2012 game from a bar near Wenceslas Square in Prague.

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