(Editor's note: With the start of his ninth training camp JP Finlay reflected on life and football, but some word choices needed to be changed. You can guess which ones.)
Looking ahead to a milestone birthday, 40 in this case, brings with it an odd feeling. An obligation in a way to do some accounting.
Not financial accounting, though that’s certainly a part of it, but more some record-keeping of life’s gains and losses. What I’ve done. What I need to do.
Basically, turning 40 has me wanting to get my stuff together. Or at least attempting to.
I look at my life and I’m happy. My greatest accomplishments are nowhere near a football field or TV/radio studio. They’re my two daughters and beautiful wife.
Earlier this year, however, our world got thrown upside down. My wife was pregnant with a third baby, and it was exhilarating and terrifying. All of a sudden we went from fairly settled - two kids and a dog - to needing a new house and a new car and maybe a new brain.
I started to do the math.
My father turned 40 in August of 1981. I was born a month later.
I will turn 40 in September of 2021. This baby was due a month later.
There was some odd symmetry in this unplanned excitement. Like my dad was sending me a message from beyond.
A few months later, when we learned we lost the baby, again our simple, stable life was thrown upside down.
It’s a gutting loss. Even early, it's simply gutting.
But like it has for thousands of years and millions of people, time marches on. Our world is not one for wallowing. Get up and get moving, or get lost.
So back to square one. Two kids and one dog. We don’t need to move. We did somehow still “need” the bigger car.
Perhaps it’s the losses that make the accounting so necessary.
My father was the most dynamic, charismatic man I have ever seen. He had It. When he was right. And far too often, particularly late in his life, he wasn’t. Lots of things combined to wreck him, but he played a plenty big role in that.
For years, particularly as we slowly drifted apart late in his life, I held a lot of resentment.
Actually, that’s not true. I was angry.
It wasn’t fair to him and it wasn’t fair to me. It wasn’t fair to my family.
Eventually, that wanes.
Now I just miss him. He would turn 80 this August. Just as I will turn 40 this September. And as this baby would have been born in October.
But that’s the will of the universe. Can’t alter it.
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.
So after some period of despair, back to the accounting.
My oldest turns six in August. She wants unicorns and rainbows and I’ll do everything possible to deliver them. She starts kindergarten this fall and is already better at math than I am. She’s a true delight. She weirdly loves commercials and slogans and I see her one day running her own advertising agency. Buckle up Madison Ave because Shelby is coming.
My youngest is wild. Butt crazy. I honestly think she will grow up to be in the X-Games in some event that doesn’t even exist yet. Riding a motorcycle down an ice mountain or something. She’s two and says boobooberries for blueberries and hearing that each day is one of the most pure simple pleasures I’ve ever known.
My wife is beautiful. She’s got great legs and brilliant blue eyes and I wake up every morning asking her to stay in bed. For whatever skills I have in life, and it’s a short list, she’s the perfect complement. She’s smart and tough and plans everything because I plan nothing.
I have my family. They’re great even if we’re all quite spread out. My sister lost her dog, and that was hard because Nola was a great dog.
My cousins want to move to the U.S. from Glasgow and that would mean a lot. They were all lined up - paperwork and jobs and everything - and then stupid Covid hit. I hate Covid.
I’ve got good friends. Old and new. Young and old. Loud and quiet.
So even with the losses, I’m way ahead in my personal life. Extremely lucky.
From an accounting perspective, I’m counting the register at an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.
Beyond that? There’s work.
I love it and I like it. I’ve been given more and more opportunities, and as always I push the gas at all times. Hard work and a positive attitude tends to take care of most professional issues though. Mostly. At least it has so far.
Then there is this other part of my life that’s tough to reconcile.
This damn football team.
For some it might seem silly to include a football team in a personal account of my life. But for me it makes sense.
It’s the Washington Football Team, but for plenty of others it’s the Browns or 49ers or Bills or Arsenal or Bayern or Oklahoma or Yokohama. I’m a sports guy. I’m almost 40. I’m done apologizing for that.
Washington was so good when I was a young boy that the entire city I lived in was obsessed. Lawyers and plumbers. Schoolteachers and old ladies. Everyone in D.C. Obsessed.
Then they slowly started to decline. And the slow decline gave way to a mudslide of decay. Then? An avalanche of crap. A crap avalanche. A crapvalanche. (I wanted to use another word here, but wasn’t allowed).
Vinny. Bruce. Albert. A bad stadium gave way to a bad stadium full of opposing fans. A source of pride became first a slight embarrassment before it became an outright eyesore.
They changed the name in 2020, but only because of money. Despite it being predictable that at one point the name would have to change, there was zero plan for a new name. It was astonishingly poor planning. A plane could crash on a desert island and there would be a better plan than Washington had. It was a joke.
The investigations into the culture of the off-field part of the team. The punishment.
But despite the repeated embarrassment, the constant upheaval and the deplorable toxicity, the Eagles fans and the Cowboys fans and Happy Thanksgiving, a funny thing eventually happened.
Washington might be turning the corner.
I trust Ron Rivera. He might not be Bill Walsh or Joe Gibbs, but he's got a track record for winning and respect from his peers and players. Nothing told me more about Ron Rivera than when Josh Norman complimented the coach even after the cornerback had just been cut.
If Rivera is allowed to continue to build - his way - perhaps the Washington Football Team can again become a source of pride. After two decades of losing and embarrassment, it's hard to trust the organization, but step by step things appear to be going in the right direction.
On the field, the roster has talent.
Defensively they’re the real deal. Chase Young is It. William Jackson is in position to make All-Pro. Kam Curl is a baller and Jamin Davis should make 100+ tackles as a rookie.
Offensively there are questions. The QB situation is obviously in some peril with no apparent long-term answer.
But Terry McLaurin should some day run for governor and Antonio Gibson can really go. I like the Logan Thomas signing. I think offensive coordinator Scott Turner is ready to roll and get a moribund Washington offense at least back into the Top 20 of the league.
If that happens, a Top 20 offense, and with that defense, Washington can win a double-digit amount of games this season. It’s far from a given, but it’s a real possibility.
The problem is it’s nearly impossible to not look at the Washington Football Team without some level of skepticism.
Rivera and team president Jason Wright are fighting like hell to break that skepticism and return trust to the organization, but it’s not always that easy.
There’s real talent and real coaching in Ashburn. But remember Robby Burns.
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. The will of the universe.
I’ll say this though and I don’t say it lightly - this is the best Washington Team in at least a decade. It’s not a Super Bowl team, but it’s tracking that direction, especially if an elite QB ever lands in Burgundy and Gold.
For all the ugliness of the last two decades, things can change quickly in the NFL. Rivera won a Super Bowl as a player and lost one as a coach. He knows what it takes to get there, and perhaps more importantly, he knows what real goals are for a real football organization.
There is no winning off the field. That’s a fallacy. That’s an insult.
There is winning. On the field. Where it matters. That’s what matters.
And Rivera knows it. He’s far too gentlemanly to ever speak that bluntly, at least publicly, but he knows it.
That’s the direction Rivera’s leading this club. His club. And that helps with the accounting.
I turn 40 on September 11th. Washington opens the season on September 12th.
Again, odd symmetry. The will of the universe.
At 40 years old I feel obligated to get my stuff together. I’m working on it. Seriously.
For the first time in a long time, maybe the Washington Football Team is too.