No one wants to be that guy. No, not just that guy. That Guy. The one that is expendable. The one that you can live without. The one you’re better off than when you had him.
No, not like Ahmad Carroll. We knew we were better off without him shortly after he was drafted. We never attached to Carroll, or thought we needed him in order to be successful. He wasn’t That Guy.
That Guy is the one who believes he’s the epicenter of the team, the one that is the glue that keeps everything together. He’s the one that has the stats to back it up, and manages to make his teammates, his fans, and sometimes, even his coaches believe that he actually is so integral to the success of the team, you can put up with nearly any crap he might dish out, because the thought of losing him is that frightening.
Sterling Sharpe was That Guy once. Through sheer will and ego, Packer fans, his teammates, and even his coaches thought that he was indispensable to the Packers’ success in the early 1990’s. Sharpe was a force of nature. He was larger than life on the field, a demanding presence in the huddle, and a stubborn man who refused to play any public relations with the press. He caught 90+ passes a year and was a very young Brett Favre’s security blanket, even if he wasn’t open. He was still coming back to the huddle and demanding the next pass be thrown his way.
When Sharpe was forced to retire in 1994 due to a neck injury, everybody wrote off the Packers in 1995. Sharpe was too integral to the offense, and any improvements that Favre made in his formative years would be lost as he would spend the season throwing to nobodies. But those “nobodies”—Robert Brooks, Anthony Morgan, Mark Ingram, Mark Chmura, and Keith Jackson—opened up that Packer offense and skyrocketed the one-time interception machine and gunslinger into a league MVP.
The Packers went deeper into the playoffs that year than they had ever gone with Sharpe. And when ESPN did a piece on the postseason Packers, they found Brooks, Favre, Bennett…all the players talking about what a great environment they’ve thrived in without Sharpe’s ego hanging over them, how Favre enjoyed success passing to a receiving corp that worried more about who was open than individual statistics. They laughed…no, they borderline mocked…Sharpe’s me-first attitude and how his departure opened up the team’s fortunes to new heights.
And then, Chris Berman cut to a response from an ESPN personality, who had been a wide receiver for the Packers the previous season before having his career cut short by a neck injury. Yep…it was That Guy.
You could see the emotions across his face, in his body language…furious at the laughter at his expense, now powerless to exert his ego and convince them once again that his 112 receptions were the only thing keeping the team afloat.
This week, we may have seen a glimpse of That Guy again, a departure that isn’t particularly missed by the people left behind. In a piece written for the Green Bay Press-Gazette about the new, young linebackers, Todd McMahon gives us some insight as to what the locker room has been like, and how it has changed.
“It’s really like a library right now,” starter Desmond Bishop said Wednesday, after the Packers held their final practice of the week before tonight’s exhibition game at Indianapolis.
The release of Barnett, in particular, meant the end of a prolific but injury-marred run of eight years in Green Bay for the team’s 2003 first-round draft pick, who also had a reputation for being one of its more vocal players. If he wasn’t turning up the music in the locker room, Barnett would chatter away about any number of topics in the more confined meeting rooms.
“It’s different not having Nick in the (position) room,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said this week. “Nick was a piece of work. So, it’s a quiet room this year. That’s a relief.”
It hasn’t been that long since Nick Barnett roamed the middle of our defense, calling the defensive adjustments and doing that Samurai dance after making a play. Barnett was always the over-the-top one, selling himself as the emotional leader. Just a few years ago, he took some flack for doing his celebration dance in the middle of a rather joyless loss to the Bengals. Not surprising, he took his indignation to Twitter, resulting in the first of many self-imposed suspensions from the social networking platform.
This became a rather familiar sight over the past few years. There always seemed to be a bit of controversy following Barnett, whether it was the ongoing issues with his Five-Six Ultra nightclub in downtown Green Bay, losing its license (then closing for good) following numerous police calls and battles with the city. Or, it could have been his arrest in 2007 at a different Green Bay night club due to an alleged altercation he was involved in. And, of course, this past February, his public petition to be included in the team Super Bowl pictures devolved into a public pissing match with Aaron Rodgers (and approximately his sixth self-imposed permanent Twitter ban).
Reading the comments from Moss, as well as divining what we know from his history, it’s not too difficult to see that Barnett’s departure may not only have been palatable by those within the organization, it may have been welcomed.
Barnett was a product of a different team, one of the last remnants of a regime long since vanished from Green Bay. That team featured perhaps one of the hugest megawatt egos at quarterback, a kicker that publicly threw his holders under the bus, cornerbacks and wide receivers that refused to come back and play for their team, and a head coach, Mike Sherman, who seemed hesitant to rein all of these egos in.
This isn’t meant to say that a team full of egos can’t win in the NFL (see: 1990’s Dallas Cowboys). Heck, Sherman’s regular season record is still mere thousandths of percentage points away from Mike McCarthy’s (though, I think we can all agree without looking up the statistics that the playoff records are nowhere near close).
But this is a different regime where large egos are merely tolerated at best, and jettisoned when possible. The Thompson/McCarthy Era of “Packer People” was once believed to be a term that applied to the moral fiber of a player, but it is becoming more and more clear it defines the style of player this Packer team values, exactly what Desmond Bishop described: students of the game who check their egos (and distractions) at the door.
There isn’t a player on the roster who has more justification to become an arrogant, egotistical jerk that might place his own fortunes ahead of the team than Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl MVP who has vaulted into NFL superstardom. Yet he remains the affable, team-oriented everyman who continues to dress with his teammates in the main locker room. No doubt, he learned from watching the titanic hubris of Favre lead to a meltdown he wants no part of in his career.
Barnett was one of the holdovers from that Sherman regime that saw veterans on the downslide or demanding disproportionate salaries quickly shed in the new Packer order. In 2007, Thompson chose to resign Barnett to a lucrative contract, perhaps in part to the belief that Thompson’s pick to replace Barnett, Abdul Hodge, wasn’t panning out. You might also wonder if Barnett’s time in Green Bay was extended when Dom Capers arrived in 2009 with the 3-4 defense, adding to the need for another starting-caliber middle linebacker.
But of all the injuries the Packers suffered last year, none were more easily replaced than Barnett, and was in fact improved upon by Bishop. Suddenly, the expensive, no-filter tweeter who disrupted meetings and the locker room was expendable.
And according to Moss and Bishop, the Packers feel like they came out ahead on the deal. Addition by subtraction. Yes, like Sterling Sharpe, Nick Barnett has become That Guy.
What lessons might we take from this fable? Over the last few days on Twitter, I’ve heard multiple people complain that tight end Jermichael Finley hasn’t been his usual, filterless Twitter-self. Fans miss his tweet-first, think-later daily monologues that sometimes landed him in hot water.
I say Jermichael Finley, who is in a contract year, doesn’t want to become That Guy. Smart man.