And as a 20-year-old who was surrounded by other 20-year-olds and who reported to 23-year-olds, there were basically a billion opportunities every day to do stuff I wasn’t supposed to do. My friends would routinely skip scheduled activities, steal desserts from the massive camp kitchen, stay out past curfew, make out with chicks in the woods, and sometimes even go “off-campus” to pollute themselves in some way or another. It was the nature of the beast, and it was how people stayed sane in the midst of working 120 hours straight and getting paid what roughly translated to two nickels per hour.
I didn’t really get to do any of that crazy stuff, because my brother was one of the directors of the camp at the time and had basically instilled the fear of God in me regarding extra-curricular/ knuckleheaded activities. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I certainly didn’t want to get fired. (Note: this in no way applied to the aforementioned stealing of desserts. I was all over that shit. In fact, at one point my co-counselor and I smuggled a large crate of ice cream sandwiches into our cabin and proceeded to eat five each before giving the rest to our kids. I assume most of them now have Diabetes.)
So my summer was spent largely playing by the rules. This isn’t to say I never used my time off to do the dumb things that college students sometimes do, or that I didn’t spend time wrangling babes down by the waterfront. But I almost never did anything that was against camp rules, especially when I was on duty. It was hard work, and while it was rewarding in most aspects, it was often really frustrating.
Which is why I so looked forward to counselors versus kids dodgeball games.
Obviously I no longer work at camp, so I probably am not qualified to make this assumption, but I HAVE to think that CvK dodgeball has long since been banned. Especially at YMCA camps, and ESPECIALLY the way we played.
See, being a camp counselor means living in constant state of confusion. On one hand, you love kids. They’re funny, they wear stupid clothes, and you can F with them endlessly as long as, at the end of the day, you’re still cooler than their parents.
On the other hand, you hate kids with every fiber of your soul. They never clean up their shit, their hands are constantly sticky, and almost all of them will lie to your face quicker than they’ll give away one of their Starbursts. Plus, at a sleep-away camp you’re CONSTANTLY around kids, all of which have 200% more energy than you. So telling them the huge counselor from Eastern Europe is going to feed them to his pigs only works for so long. Eventually you just get exhausted and let them read nudie mags, pee on the floor, and stay up until 1am talking about Zelda.
That’s why when the counselors versus kids dodgeball game rolled around every other Friday, it was like every member of the staff had just broken out of Alcatraz.
On one side of the court you had the counselors, scrambling to grab any ball we could because more balls meant more chances to blast Joey in the temple for pouring syrup all over the dining hall floor.
On the other side you had the teeming mass of pre-pubescent targets. There were the brave kids who held onto playground balls like they were life preservers, feverishly dodging the missiles that flew by their head and just trying to keep their heads above water. More often though, kids would either huddle against the fence at the back of the court or just constantly run back and forth in zigzags like drunk pigeons until a random drone clipped their knee.
These matches would almost never last very long. The kids that didn’t just lie down and play dead would get picked off really quick, and some games even ended prematurely due to a bloody nose or concussion (back then we called it “getting your bell rung”) or some wiseguy ‘committing suicide” (fleeing the scene and jumping into the nearby lake). And while these were therapeutic sessions for counselors to be sure, I can admit now (10 years later) that they were also completely unfair.
From the very start, the kids had a 0% chance. The counselors were bigger, stronger, faster, and more agile, not to mention much more motivated. We called it a “game”, but to the kids it was more like a frantic rite of passage. A gauntlet of sorts that offered only one possible outcome (abject failure). Each match was basically 30 minutes of destruction, where one team openly feasted and the other perpetually teetered on the edge.
The childcare worker/camp enthusiast in me knew that firing giant rubber balls at kids’ craniums was probably not very cool. But for a half hour every two weeks, that guy got put in a gimp suit and stuffed into a closet. When the figurative lights came on and every Tom, Dick and Bobby was running for safety, we counselors for once had our say.
* * *
The best way I can describe the Bengals season-ending playoff loss to the Texans on Saturday was that it was like watching a game of counselors versus kids.
In the first five minutes, I knew the Bengals had virtually zero shot of winning. Arian Foster was breaking off deflating runs, Andy Dalton was forcing balls to Jermaine Gresham even though he caught virtually nothing, and AJ Green was swallowed up by double and triple-teams.
Despite the countless stands the Bengal defense made to keep the game close, I just couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that the offense was completely overmatched/underprepared. Houston was clearly the better team, and it was only a matter of time before the loveable Bungles walked out with bloody noses, concussions, and another soul-sucking loss.
Unfortunately, that result (and that feeling) has become all too common for the Bengals and its fans. Besides a few blips on the radar (sweeping the division in ‘09, beating banged up Steelers/Ravens squads once each this year), Cincinnati has repeatedly carved out its identity as a second class citizen in the NFL. Sure, we can beat teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville and Oakland (an upgrade from Bengals teams past, admittedly), but when those odd Fridays hit and it’s time to play a heavyweight, the Bungles always end up doing a swan dive into the lake.
This will be a long offseason for the whole Bengal family. 2011 was a surprise, in that a team that was supposed to be terrible overachieved. 2012, on the other hand, was a surprise in that a team that was supposed to improve lost in the same way to the same team two years in a row, in the game that mattered most. For eight months Cincy will try to answer some tough questions, and chief among them will be “how the F%^& can we become a winning franchise, not just a franchise that wins a couple games?”
Now, the key to achieving that goal could just be the development of the young franchise cornerstones (Dalton, Green, Gresham, and Geno Atkins, to name a few). But relying on that and only that would be a classic Bengal blunder (on par with getting into a land war in Asia). The Pittsburghs and the Baltimores and the Houstons of the world have good young players too, and way better organizational structures to boot (Bengals owner Mike Brown will never stop being a nimrod, for example.) I’ll never claim to have the mind of a GM, but in order to truly take a step forward, Cincinnati needs to make sure they make a few key moves this offseason.
Here are three they could start with...
1) Sign/draft a strong safety. For whatever reason, the safety position has developed into an afterthought in the NFL. One needn’t look any further than the draft to come to this conclusion. Cornerbacks and pass-rushers have become the premium positions, positions teams are willing to pay for while being content to draft/sign safeties and linebackers once everything else is taken care of. Well, call me old-fashioned, but if the Bengals draft one more safety in the fifth or sixth round, only to watch him constantly get beat in the preseason and subsequently released, I will personally hire Ronnie Lott to drive to Mike Brown’s house and tear down his gutters. Sure, CBs and pass-rushers are important, but safeties ARE cornerbacks and pass-rushers. Watch ten minutes of a Steelers game and you’ll see Troy Polamalu jump four snap counts, register one-point-five sacks, and sprint 30 yards to break up a deep ball attempt. These guys have the opportunity to HUGELY affect the game, yet the Bengals seem to be content running guys like Taylor Mays and Chris Crocker out there and watching them get burnt black by marginal receivers. I can’t look at it anymore. It’s hideous.
2) Cut Rey Maualuga. I’ve had enough. Since the Bengals drafted Maualuga in 2009, he’s gone through one position change, about three body-type transformations, seventy-five minor injuries/scapegoats for playing poorly, and approximately seven billion missed tackles. He’s been the Drew Stubbs of the Bengals; aka worlds of talent/hype, and average production at best. I think we all liked Rey because of his crazy hair and his college highlight reel slobberknockers, but it’s now clear that the teams who passed on him in favor of his fellow USC ‘backers (“Wait, who the hell is Clay Matthews??” - Every fan outside of SoCal, April 2009) might have been onto something. He is not quick. He does not have good instincts. He cannot tackle. What’s more, Cincy recently struck gold with Vontaze Burfict, a college middle linebacker and a guy who could make a great argument for being the second best defender on the team (although Hall might have something to say about that.) I say allow Maualuga to walk, slide Burfict to the middle (Thomas Howard returns to the outside next year) and draft his replacement in one of the later rounds this April. After all, everyone knows linebackers/safeties are a dime a dozen.
3) Please sweet baby Jesus, draft a running back. There was a time when I thought Benjarvus Green-Ellis was exactly what the Bengals needed. Then again, that was when I thought offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense would be able to consistently put together sustained drives through the air, wherein a chain-mover like BJGE would come in handy. Unfortunately, the Bengal offense (ranked 22nd in the league) was anything but consistent, so the Law Firm’s “two yards if I’m lucky” M.O. got tiresome really fast. If Gruden’s short passing game can’t pick up crucial yardage in crucial times, he’ll need to develop a running game that presents some sort of threat to defenses. If not, they’ll crowd the box and laugh as Jermaine Gresham runs the wrong route or Andre Smith misses a key block. Step one towards this end is drafting someone who is everything BJGE is not. That is, someone who can see holes, get to them quickly while staying on his feet, and run faster than the linebackers who are trying to tackle him. And hey, if he can pick up a few blocks along the way so that Dalton’s pocket doesn’t close like a Death Star trash compactor on speed, then all the better.
That’s all for now, sports fans. If history is any guide, the Bengals will do none of these things and instead sign someone like Brandon Jacobs in the offseason to “compete with Benjarvus Green-Ellis”, leaving me to spend the fall of 2013 slamming myself in the face with a rubber ball. Make sure to tune into JOURNEYMEN next week and all the weeks thereafter as we plunge into the new year. I promise to write a few things that entertain you, and I promise to continue to ignore the fact that once my team was ousted from our fantasy playoffs, I immediately stopped writing about it.
JOURNEYMEN Village Director and Accomplished Tennis Court Assassin