Hate Mail: In Doyel v. Vols fans, Doyel wins
Jim Brown was the best player in football in 1965, but he wanted to do movies. So he retired. He was 30.
Barry Sanders was the best running back in football in 1998, but he wanted to be done. One season away from becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher, he retired. He was 30.
Doak Walker retired after the 1955 Pro Bowl. Robert Smith ran for 1,521 yards, then retired after the 2000 Pro Bowl. Both were 28.
All four of those guys retired with dignity, so it can happen. A player can bail out on his career, his team, his teammates, and he can do it with dignity.
Or he can do it like Carson Palmer.
Since 2004 Palmer has been the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, but if you believe him -- and I do -- he's now their former quarterback. Because he says he will retire before playing another game for Cincinnati. He's 31.
Unlike those who came before him, Palmer isn't retiring for noble reasons. He doesn't have another career to pursue and he hasn't exhausted the competitive drive that resides in all professional athletes. He hasn't hit the wall that Brown, Sanders, Walker and Smith hit.
Palmer doesn't even want to retire.
He just doesn't want to play for Cincinnati. He's pointing his soft, little finger at the Bengals and saying, This is their fault. I'm not leaving because of me. I'm leaving because of them.
Well, technically, Palmer isn't saying anything. He's letting everyone else talk for him: An anonymous source here, a confidant there, even the Realtor who announced that Palmer was so serious about leaving the Bengals that he had put his house up for sale. Typical Palmer. Silent, right to the end.
Giving the Bengals an ultimatum -- trade me or I retire -- is Palmer's right, but it will destroy his legacy. He'll always be one of the guys who won a Heisman at Southern California, but he'll also be the baby who took his NFL football and went home.
By telling the Bengals he'll retire before playing another game in their uniform, he has done something I didn't think possible: He has made me root for Mike Brown, one of the silliest owners in sports. Brown isn't a bad guy, just a cheap one. And he's not a soft guy, just a naïve one. Brown welcomes problem players from other teams, possibly because he believes in second chances, but also because it's the only way he can get that kind of talent onto his roster.
Unless they draft a game-changing athlete like Pacman Jones or a Hall of Fame receiver like Terrell Owens or even a run-clogging defensive tackle like Tank Johnson, the Bengals would never get those guys. Because those guys, when they behave, cost too much. But let a guy like Pacman or Tank or T.O. become available on the cheap, whether it's because of a rap sheet or a bad attitude, and Mike Brown jumps at them.
Mike Brown is not someone to like, not as a fan of the NFL or as a resident of Cincinnati. I'm both, and Mike Brown makes my skin crawl. But I'll tell you what: I want him to beat Carson Palmer, even if winning this battle means losing the larger war.
Calling Palmer's bluff and letting him retire is not in Brown's best interests in the short term. Palmer has trade value. Not as much as he should, given his recent mediocre numbers and his soft mental makeup, but he has value to the 2011 Bengals as a trade asset. He has no value as a retired player, although Brown would be doing himself a service in the long run by standing up to Palmer. Not every player would follow through on such a bluff -- Chad Ochocinco cried "wolf" so many times, the Bengals tuned him out -- but by standing up to a franchise quarterback, Brown would demonstrate to future disgruntled Bengals the futility of playing hardball.
But that's not my concern. I don't want Mike Brown to be firm now so the Bengals win in the long run. I want him to be firm so Palmer loses right now. Loses everything -- his career, his reputation, his legacy.
Again, don't compare Palmer to men like Brown and Sanders, Walker and Smith. Palmer isn't retiring from football so much as he's giving up on the Bengals. There's a difference, and it's not subtle. It's not semantics. Palmer was the Bengals' quarterback, their leader -- he had the power to reign in the malcontents in his huddle, idiots like Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Owens -- but he passed the buck. Palmer pretended he was just one cog in the machine instead of acknowledging that his position and salary made him as powerful as anyone in the building, including coach Marvin Lewis.
Nope, Palmer let it go. He let Houshmandzadeh and Ochocinco pout, whine and scream. He forced the ball to Owens all last season, even as Owens repeatedly quit on throws that would have required tough or painful catches, simply because forcing the ball to Owens beat the alternative -- having T.O. savage him in the press.
The Bengals' passing game didn't hit its stride until the final two games of the season -- Palmer threw for 574 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and completed 73 percent of his passes -- and those were the only two games the team played without Ochocinco and Owens. Coincidence? Of course not. Those guys dragged down the team, and Palmer let it happen.
And now he's standing up for himself? Now? That's not leadership or even independence. It's passive-aggression, and it's pathetic, and it cannot be allowed to succeed. Palmer can be finished playing, but let's be clear on our terms.
He's not retiring.