What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films, largely because it’s not a movie at all. It’s an episode from the fourth season of my favorite television show ever.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Thanks to his devising and hosting this event, I get a second opportunity to write about my favorite television show ever.
You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
“The Competitive Edge” begins with Jim Rockford (played by James Garner) being hired to track down a missing banker named Barry Brauder (played by Jim McMullan). But in no time, what seemed to be a simple “missing person” case becomes a tale of a criminal enterprise hidden behind a club for the rich and powerful, kidnapping, and an insane asylum “somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line” where those who know too much are made conveniently to disappear.
Unbeknownst to the viewer at the time, that “funny farm” down south is exactly where Brauder is. What puts Rockford on the trail is a place called “The Alphian Club” run by a Dr. Herbert Brinkman (played by Stephen Elliott). On the surface, the club looks to be just another top-buck health club, but it doesn’t take long for Rockford to suspect it is little more than a “Dr. Feelgood” operation complete with masseuses who give “happy endings.” Once Rockford turns over too many stones, he is drugged and packed for shipment to said “funny farm.”
Once Rockford awakens, he is met by Dr. Carl Brinkman (played by Logan Ramsey). He tells Rockford that he knows who he really is, that Herbert Brinkman is his brother, and that if Rockford doesn’t “play along” with his new status as a mental patient, he will be introduced to a brain-erasing drug cocktail called “Head on a Post.”
According to Brinkman, one dose of “Head on a Post” and “in about five years, you might be able to pick out your initials from a set of alphabet blocks.” Naturally, Rockford pretends to comply, and once he is released into the general population, he discovers Brauder in amongst the “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” crowd in the asylum.
Speaking of which, there’s a great cast in this crowd. Fitting with the banner for this blog-a-thon, John Fiedler (who co-starred with Jack Klugman in “12 Angry Men“) plays a guy who thinks he is James Bond. If you need some real “James Bond,” another patient is played by Harold Sakata…also known as “Oddjob” from “Goldfinger.”
“Ensemble” casts are great collections of personality traits. There was almost none better than “Barney Miller.” so much so I once used that show to catalog most of my quirks. But fans of that show fans may recognize “Doc Holliday” (played by George Murdock) as Barney Miller’s old-school quasi-racist comic foil Lt. Scanlon.
Speaking of guys known primarily as old-school cops, there’s familiar faces throughout the hospital staff. The most recognizable is William Boyett; the steely-eyed, squared-jawed authority figure from “central casting” whom you will recall from television classics like “Highway Patrol,” “Adam-12,” and “Emergency!”
Now that I’ve worked in a way to mention a few of my other all-time favorite televisions shows, Rockford concocts an escape plan for himself, Brauder, and some select patients. But once on the outside, the Rockford-led escapees are quickly corralled by the local sheriff, played by another familiar face… James Garner’s brother Jack. But the plot twist with the “Shock Corridor” component comes as while the sheriff is questioning the escapees, one of them turns out to be a newspaper reporter who was undercover in the asylum investigating rumors of “shenanigans” which had been bouncing around the halls of the state capitol.
The episode ends with the sheriff looking like he buys the stories of Rockford and the reporter enough to haul everybody in until he can do some fact-checking. At this point. Dr. Carl Brinkman has a decidedly worried look on his face, to which Rockford quips “What’s the matter, Doc? See somebody’s head on a post?”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
In 1998, the football world suffered a schism with a level of fanaticism rivaling that of the split between Protestantism and the Catholic church. The “holy grail” of American football is the “franchise quarterback;” the guy who can take a team to the “promised land” by filling the skies with footballs while walking across a lake to heal an injured swan. OK, there’s a bit of mythology in that, but 90% of all religion is mythology with fancier robes, so it’s all good. That doesn’t change the fact that amongst National Football League (NFL) scouts, general managers, and owners, a guy seen potentially to be a “franchise quarterback” can quickly take on messianic tendencies.
It just so happened that 1998 saw two such pseudo-messiahs coming out of college football. Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Washington State’s Ryan Leaf had the football world split right down the middle as to which one should be the first one taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. On one side, the Manning disciples pointed to his having led the Tennessee Volunteers to a National Championship, his commanding presence as a “born leader,” and his pedigree…his father being NFL great Archie Manning. On the other side, the Leaf-o-Philes pointed to his raw and undeniable athleticism; Leaf was a 6’5″, 240-pound chunk of chiseled quarterback with a thunderbolt springing from his right shoulder.
One of these guys would end up as a two-time Super Bowl champion, five-time NFL Most Valuable Player, and has a children’s hospital named after him. The other would play in exactly 25 NFL games, get his name on several bail applications, and would become known as arguably the biggest NFL draft bust of all time.
The Indianapolis Colts held the first pick in that year’s draft, and general manager Bill Polian made it clear he wasn’t trading it; he was getting himself one of those two quarterbacks. Because he didn’t say which one he was taking, a “Gumball Rally” broke out of NFL teams heading for the door of the Arizona Cardinals who had the second pick. Eventually, the San Diego Chargers cobbled together a deal in which the Cardinals traded the pick to them.
Manning became a Indianapolis Colt with the first pick; the San Diego Chargers took Leaf second. This marked the last time the career arcs of these two would be even close. SPOILER ALERT: That children’s hospital is not in San Diego.
Leaf wasted no time in giving the Chargers a hefty case of “buyer’s remorse.” After they inked him four-year, $31.25 million contract bolstered with a guaranteed $11.25 million signing bonus (the largest ever paid to a rookie at the time), Leaf spent the night elbows-deep in the nightlife of Las Vegas. As a result, he nearly fell asleep during his introductory press conference the next day.
Not only was this the definition of “bad optics,” it was a preview of coming attractions. Leaf hadn’t even seen the field when he drew the ire of the NFL by skipping a mandatory symposium mandatory for all NFL draftees; a stunt which earned him a $10,000 fine. Despite this, at first Leaf delivered on the field. He played well during the pre-season, which led to the Chargers hoping Leaf was just a “diva;” a complete pain-in-the-ass off the field but who get the job done between the lines.
That hope didn’t last long. While the Chargers won their regular-season opening game against the Buffalo Bills, Leaf started showing signs for concern; he fumbled his first-ever NFL snap and threw two interceptions. The Chargers’ nerves were somewhat settled after a Week 2 win over Tennessee; Leaf had a lack-luster performance in the 13-7 victory, but he didn’t commit any game-killing mistakes.
That ended the next week in Kansas City. Three days before that game, Leaf was hospitalized for a viral infection; the “official” story was this was the result of an improperly-cleaned artificial-turf burn. Leaf recovered in time to start the game, but he had a disastrous performance. He completed only a single pass for four yards out of fifteen attempts. Leaf also launched two interceptions and fumbled four times, losing three of them to the Chiefs.
But that wasn’t even the real disaster.
That would come a few days later during a confrontation in the Chargers locker room between Leaf and San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jay Posner. What started as interview morphed into Leaf having a temper tantrum like a six-year old and eventually being led away Junior Seau and a team executive (at 2:56 of the following video). This became the general public’s first glimpse that something was wrong in this guy’s head and it not only destroyed his rapport with the sports media, it was the beginning of the end of his relationship with his teammates.
The next week against the New York Giants marked the beginning of the end of Leaf’s days as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Head coach Kevin Gilbride benched Leaf after his 4th first-half interception. Gilbride gave Leaf a shot at redemption in Week 5 against the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. Leaf played well, but blew a chance to win the game at the end. The end of the end came in November after a pathetic 4-for-15, 23-yard performance, complete with an interception against the Denver Broncos. Ryan Leaf would never start a game for the Chargers.
Leaf bounced around the league in an attempt to hang on, but his career was over at at this point…if it ever really actually began. But the question was this: Plenty of guys fail in the NFL, but why why was Leaf such a spectacular head case? The answer was simple; Barry Brauder from this episode of “The Rockford Files” and Ryan Leaf had a common problem: Drugs.
The Alphians got Brauder hooked on speed so he would do their bidding in a bank-embezzling scheme, and he ended up as an institutionalized wastoid. Nobody knows exactly when Leaf started self-medicating that which ailed him, but his first documented drug-related incident came in in November 2008 he was put on indefinite leave from his position as a volunteer quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M University when he allegedly solicited prescription pain-killers from one of the players. This allegation was never investigated because Leaf resigned the next day.
But in May 2009, Leaf was indicted controlled-substance charges in Texas. He was in a drug-rehabilitation program in British Columbia at the time and was arrested when he tried to return to the U.S. In April 2010, Leaf pled guilty to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance. As all eight charges were low-grade felonies, Leaf was sentenced to ten years of probation and fined $20,000.
But Leaf wasn’t done yet. In 2012, he was arrested on burglary, theft, and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. He got out on bail on those charges, but four days later Four days later, Leaf was again arrested on charges of burglary, theft, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. He would eventually cut a deal in which he pled guilty to one count each of felony burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug.
Meanwhile, since he was sill on probation in the “Lone Star” State and had left the state without permission, in April 2012 Texas authorities issued two arrest warrants for Leaf and set his bond at $126,000. These would eventually be somewhat moot as in June 2012 Leaf was sentenced to seven years in Montana. Originally, the deal was two of those years would be suspended if he abided by the conditions imposed by the judge. This included nine months in a “lock-down” addiction treatment facility. But in January 2013, Leaf was remanded to the Montana State Prison he did something which officials termed as “behavior that violated conditions of his drug treatment placement.”
May of the following year saw Leaf transferred the the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby, Montana, which was closer to his hometown. In December 2014, Leaf was released from prison and placed on parole. The last time we saw Ryan Leaf he was popping up occasionally as a college football analyst on ESPN. Putting up with the blow-hacks in Bristol has to be a punishment unto it’s own.
The Moral of The Story:
Drugs will fuck you up. Period.
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Of all the episodes of The Rockford Files, it is “The Competitive Edge” that I always remember the best. I am not sure if it is because of its cast (so many memorable actors) or if it is because the plot is not only unique for The Rockford Files, but for any TV show on at the time. I enjoy it every time I see it! Anyway, thank you taking part in the blogathon!
Good moral. I’ll have to remember that.
This Rockford episode didn’t ring any bells for me. I think it has been too long since I’ve seen any of them! Plenty of time for that currently.
The hubby and I recalled William Boyett’s very funny performance as drunken Senator Ned Dennehy on Murphy Brown. Priceless. Sergeant MacDonald as I’d never seen him before.
Always liked this show! Great write up!! It’s been forever since I’ve seen this episode!
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