We demand certain things from our athletes, including a singular need to play as much and as often as possible, consequences be damned. What story’s greater than Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel on a severely sprained ankle to help secure the 1970 NBA Finals or David Eckstein winning the 2006 World Series MVP despite having his legs sawed off at the kneecaps?
So when we hear stories like Greg Ellis telling Michael Irvin that DeMarcus Ware would take himself out of the game so Ellis could get more playing time, the alarms start going off. That’s not competitiveness! The balance of the sporting world is upset! Ed Werder has a boner because it’s bad news about the Cowboys!
One tiny problem, though; this is the Internet, where mountains of data about really insignificant stuff like football games gets kept, and fact-checking is really easy. To that end, the DALLAS MORNING NEWS then artfully juxtaposed Ellis’ claim with this paragraph:
Ware rarely sat out a defensive snap with the exception of late in the Thanksgiving win over the Seahawks, when he suffered a knee injury.
Perhaps Ellis would have been well-served to have that information presented to him by Irvin, but this is radio and facts don’t come quick enough when you’re tasked with keeping the flow of dialogue going for however many hours you’re on the air. Irvin did the next best thing, though, and asked for clarification of Ellis’ statement. Did Ellis say “okay, that’s not quite what I meant” or otherwise qualify his statement with a measure of sanity?
“On his own,” Ellis said. “He would say, ‘G, come on.’ And I would tell him, ‘No, DeMarcus, go ahead, man. You’re coming up on your contract year. Don’t mess that stuff up. Go ahead and do you, and we’re just going to do what the coaches, or whoever the powers that be, what they want to do.’”
Neat story. Probably either totally false or, at best, a serious exaggeration and misrepresentation of the truth.
As a matter of fact, Ware’s not having any of it, telling Dallas’ ESPN radio affiliate that if there was any reason why he was coming off the field, it was for a quick drink, not to save Ellis’ job:
You know, on the concept of hydration, I think I was probably going off the field maybe to get hydrated [laughs]. But I think that everybody at the end of the day got ample amount of time and I went back and looked at a lot of the things, and I, what, played in like 95 percent of the plays? And, you know, maybe sometimes guys rush better against certain guys, so I don’t know. I don’t know what the deal is, but at the end of the day, I did what I can do to help the team out last year.
Really, if you think about it, Ellis’ story doesn’t exactly hold water (hydration joke! topical! LOL? no? fine, whatever). Hiding from the coaches? Doesn’t that seem akin to sports team treason, especially with somebody of Ware’s caliber? Remember, Ware registered 20 sacks last season en route to winning the Butkus Award and his third Pro Bowl appearance of his four-year career. The notion that he was at the same time staying off the field more than he should have to let his backup play more often just plain doesn’t ring true.
As to why, then, Ellis might tell this story? Honestly, who knows? It was in part of a larger story about how he wasn’t allowed to be as much of a leader as he’s used to (see: play football next to younger teammates), and maybe he’s intentionally taking Ware’s comments out of context, but it doesn’t seem very leadery to impugn your All-Pro teammate’s sporting integrity in order to underscore a point about your own merits - especially when the evidence doesn’t support the tale.