THE GIANTS HAVE A QUARTERBACK (CAP) PROBLEM

The NFLs most heavily scrutinized two-time Super Bowl MVP winner, up-and-down Eli Manning has been far from elite this year.  With 16 TDs & 20 INTs through 13 games, his current 74.2 QB rating is his worst since 2007—the year he led the Giants to improbable Super Bowl run number 1.

 Eli Manning (QB) 1/3/81 (32 years old) (via ESPN.com)                                                          Career Statistics

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Dissect Eli’s career numbers, and it’s clear where his critics originate.  A gunslinger at heart, he tossed 25 INTs in 2010 before throwing for almost 5,000 yards in 2011; He was rock solid statistically last year (26 TD, 15 INT, 87.2 QBR), and has been anything but solid this year.

You can make the argument that he’s exactly what you don’t want from the quarterback position: a model of inconsistency who happened to get (very) hot, at the right time—twice.

But you can’t argue that since being handed the reigns to the Giants franchise at the start of the 2005 season, he’s 82-59 as he finishes up his 9th full season.  You can’t argue that he’s never missed a game due to injury. You can’t argue that with the Giants now out of contention this year, he’s still led them to 5 playoff appearances in his 9 full seasons as the starter.

You can’t argue that he’s one of the few quarterbacks whose hands you’d want the ball in with a game on the line.  And, of course, you can’t argue with two Super Bowl MVPs.

 Eli Manning (QB) 1/3/81 (32 years old) (via Spotrac.com)                                                    Contract Details                                                  Image

Up until this year, Eli Manning’s salary cap figure was reflective of all this.  He was being paid, fairly, as a franchise quarterback—which he undoubtedly has proven to be.

But when he restructured his contract before the 2012 season, decreasing his 2012 base salary from $10.75 million to $1.75 million, the ramifications were that he’d be paid like a top 3 quarterback from 2013-2015.  Since Manning is certainly not one of the NFLs top 3 quarterbacks, this has the Giants franchise in a current bind.

Manning defenders will blame many of this year’s struggles on a lack of talent surrounding him.  At the start of this past offseason, Giants GM Jerry Reese cut veterans Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Ahmad Bradshaw—all respected locker room presences as well as valued on-field contributors.  Manning’s offensive line has also been one of the worst in football for the majority of the season.

But that is where the problem lies.  Manning’s salary cap figure denotes that he’s the type of QB that can win with moving parts—with a sub-par offensive-line or skill deficiencies at other positions.  With the NFLs 2013 salary cap set at $123 million, his $20,850,000 cap figure accounts for about 17% of what the Giants were allowed to spend this past year.  And with the salary cap not expected to increase much (if at all) in 2014, his $20.4 million cap figure will account for something in that same range.

Of course it’s not impossible to win while having a quarterback seize such a large portion of his teams total spending.  Drew Brees’ cap hit is $17.4 million this year while leading the 10-3 Saints, and Eli’s brother Peyton’s cap hit is $17.5 million for his 11-2 Broncos. Yet nobody is confusing Eli Manning for Drew Brees or his brother.

With Eli’s monstrous cap figures in place for the next two years, Jerry Reese is essentially betting on Eli Manning turning into something he’s not. And while I certainly would not bet against Eli having a better 2014 than his current 2013, I also wouldn’t count on him magically turning into his brother in his age 33 season.

So unless Eli Manning takes a pay cut this offseason (unlikely), gets cut (next to impossible), or restructures his contract again (very dangerous), the Giants roster will continue to be sapped of talent due to salary cap casualties (Antrelle Rolle, Mathias Kiwanuka & Justin Tuck are all veteran candidates). Manning’s cap figure also means the Giants will have a lot of trouble bringing in any difference-makers via the free agent market as well as resigning their own free-agents (like Hakeem Nicks).

At 5-8, the Giants will likely have their highest draft selection in some time. With Eli Manning’s contract strapping the franchise in the short-term, it’s more important than ever that Jerry Reese makes these picks count. If he doesn’t, 2014 could look eerily similar to 2013.

 

TIME TO COME CLEAN RYAN

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A few weeks before this season, a report surfaced foreshadowing PED suspensions for some of MLB’s most prominent players..  The report came from Joe Bisceglie of the Dog And Pony Show, not exactly a major outlet for breaking sports news, so it’s entirely possible this report passed you by.  And if you did happen to catch this headline, I don’t blame you if you were a bit—or entirely—skeptical of its authenticity.

But Bisceglie and his Dog and Pony Show did not come with zero merit.  Bisceglie had predicted correctly on this steroid front before, tweeting: “My sources tell me that Melky Cabrera will be suspended soon for violation of MLB’s PED policy” on July 18th 2012.  Cabrera was subsequently suspended for 50 games on August 15th 2012.

Turns out, Bisceglie may be right again—at least partially   Tuesday’s atomic bomb in association with Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis Report, which was first reported by ESPN’s TJ Quinn, could be the biggest drug bust in sports history.

This initial report from ESPN includes about 20 names that Major League Baseball will seek to suspend.  While not all of Bisceglie’s predictions made the list, two of his prominent names did: Alex Rodriguez & Ryan Braun.  Personally, I’ll only pay attention to one of them; let’s all agree that A-Rod is no longer worth any of our time.

But Ryan Braun? He’s got some explaining to do.

Braun was initially suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season for a positive steroid test in October of 2011—a year in which he won the National League MVP.  The suspension was ultimately rescinded after the appeals process, in which Braun’s representation didn’t challenge the failed test, but rather the urine sample collection procedure.

Yes, I realize in America we’re governed by the “innocent until proven guilty” principal.  And nobody knows for sure what happened inside that urine sample container besides Dino Laurenzi Jr., the man who collected Ryan Braun’s drug sample.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an educated look at the facts at hand:

(via http://www.nytimes.com/, Braun Blasts ‘Flawed’ Testing Process)

-On October 1, 2011, the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks 4-1 at Miller Park in             Milwaukee.  After collecting three hits in the game, Braun, along with two teammates, got his urine collected by a longstanding employee of the “national testing operation that baseball has used for years.”

— “The collector’s son indeed was there that day, acting as what is known as a ‘chaperone.’ Chaperones routinely accompany collectors to stay with the other players waiting to be tested. The son, according to people involved in the case, was a formal employee of the testing company who had performed the role before.”

—“ The collector left Miller Park in Milwaukee around 5 p.m. that day and, according to Braun, could have stopped at one of at least five FedEx locations within five miles of the stadium that were open until 9 p.m. The collector could have also dropped off the sample at one of the nearly 20 FedEx locations between the ballpark and his house.”

—“Although there are several FedEx locations near Miller Park and they were indeed open late that Saturday, the samples would have had to have been dropped off at one of two locations by 5 p.m. to make it onto the last FedEx flight from Milwaukee. Even then, the sample would not have arrived in Montreal until noon on Monday, according to Scott Fiedler, a spokesman for FedEx.”

—“In cases like Braun’s where the sample would have sat in a store or drop-off box over the weekend, collectors have been told by the test administrator to keep possession of the sample until it can be shipped.”

Braun and his people argued that there was no documentation of where his sample was between the time it was collected and the time it was shipped.  Braun also contacted scientists and biochemists, who told him that a sample could be easily corrupted if someone was motivated to do so.  With motivated being the operative word there.

Policemen and detectives look for motives when trying to solve crimes for a reason; people don’t commit criminal acts by accident.  And while Dino Laurenzi Jr. may have some sick, twisted vendetta against Ryan Braun, this is highly unlikely; all signs point to him being a hard-working, upstanding citizen.

Laurenzi’s motives aside, reports from the arbitration process confirmed that the “seals on Braun’s sample bottles weren’t broken”, while there was “no outward evidence that the contents were altered.”   On top of this, “doping experts added that the process has been refined over many years to eliminate opportunities for collectors or anyone else to surreptitiously damage a sample.”  Not to mention that the urine samples of the two teammates stored in the same place as Braun’s both tested clean.

As egregious as it may seem based on the presented evidence, Braun still became the first player to beat baseball’s appeal system for a steroid suspension—winning the appeal 2-1 on the swing vote of Shyam Das (who has since been fired by Major League Baseball as an independent arbitrator.)

But Das’ decision to overturn Braun’s suspension was not as outlandish as the way Braun handled his immunity, and that’s what’s truly troubling here.

Above is part of Braun’s post-appeal press conference, where he talks about the meaning of being wrongly accused.  I didn’t know Braun had it in him to stare into a camera and lie through his teeth for 6 minutes straight, but Ryan proved me wrong with his best Lance Armstrong impression.  He breaths  heavily throughout, and mixes in the word “um” quite nicely–like a pitcher mixing in his breaking stuff.  Some highlights of Braun’s major farces include:

“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally I’d be the first one to step up and say ‘I did it’”

—“This is the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life.”

—“By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions.”

—”I’d bet my life that this substance had never entered my body at any point.”

And best of all, that he

—“Recognized what’s actually best for the game of baseball and (he) put that ahead of what’s actually best for (himself).”

Since Braun maintained his innocence throughout the entire process, I understand the argument that he had no choice but to blatantly lie to the whole nation after his appeal was successfully granted.  After all, he couldn’t admit his guilt at this point.  And since he was so obviously guilty, it’s no surprise he does such a poor job in the press conference.

But what is not shown in this video is Braun completely crossing the line once and for all, verbally attacking Dino Laurenzi Jr.: “There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”

Cheating is one thing.  Lying is another.  But attacking the livelihood of the white-collar worker who collected your positively tested urine borders sociopathic.  That’s something A-Rod would do, the same A-Rod that we agreed is no longer worth our breath. (Laurenzi defends himself here)

This time around, it doesn’t look like there will be another Shyam Das to swoop in and save the day for Ryan Braun.  If Tony Bosch has the proper evidence linking Ryan Braun to the Biogenesis Report, and preliminary signs sound like he does, Braun will be suspended; Major League Baseball will make sure of it.  The only question will be whether it’s for 50 games or 100 games.

And at that point, Braun will have two choices: come clean or keep lying.

For a player so cognizant of putting the best interests of the game ahead of his own personal interests, it seems Braun is not much of a baseball historian.  He seemingly missed the aftermaths of the careers of Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.  Because if he saw what happened to them, or even followed the story of the recently confessed Tour De Liar Lance Armstrong, he should know he doesn’t have much of a choice at all.

Braun can follow in the footsteps of his superstar predecessors, allowing his ego to get in the way of his decision making process.  This is the more likely scenario, as Braun has already attributed his association with Tony Bosch as a “consultant” (yeah, right).  If he chooses to go this route, like those before him, his image will be tarnished forever.

But if he comes clean now, he’ll at least have a chance of remaking himself in the omnipotent Court of Public Opinion.  He’ll undoubtedly lose many fans forever, even in this latter scenario.  But Braun is only 29 years old, supremely talented, naturally marketable, and in the prime of his career.  It will take time, but everyone likes a good comeback story.  Oh, and he’ll be doing the right thing morally.  That too.

So get ready, Ryan.  You’re in for long ride.  Whichever road you choose to take, this time will really be “the biggest challenge you’ll ever have to face in your life.” Are you up for it?

REACHING OUT TO JUSTIN BLACKMON

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Justin Blackmon needs help.  The Jaguars’ 2012 first-round pick, the fifth overall selection who enjoyed a successful rookie season on the field, was suspended last week for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, testing positive for an undetermined recreational drug.  A DUI in college, a second DUI prior to his rookie season, and now this.  His NFL career is at a crossroads.  His life seems to be in a crisis, too.

I don’t know Justin Blackmon. I’ve never met him or spoken to him.  I also don’t know what recreational drug Blackmon tested positive for; the NFL conceals these facts from the public, and there surely is a difference between whether Blackmon was smoking pot or shooting up heroine.

But I do know the ins and outs of addiction.  May 10th will mark two years sober for me.  Addictive behaviors have played a prominent role throughout my life, and I’m fully aware of what can happen when you don’t seek help. Now I’m not saying Justin Blackmon is an addict, as there’s a fine line between constantly making poor decisions and having addiction issues.  But based on his history, it certainly seems possible.

October 2010

“I’m embarrassed to be in this position,” Blackmon said, after his first DUI as a 20-year-old at Oklahoma State. “I’m truly sorry to my family, to my friends and to Oklahoma State all together. I look forward to redeeming myself and proving to everybody that this isn’t who I am. I’m not this guy. I’m humbled by this experience and I will grow from it.”

‘Fool me once, shame on you…’

June 2012

After his second DUI arrest, although Blackmon denied having a drinking problem, he vowed to abstain from alcohol for the time being. “I’m done,” he said. “Right now, I’m done with all that. … I can’t promise you 10 years down the road that I’m going to be done. I just know that as of right now and what I can speak of…”

Fool me twice, shame on me…’

Blackmon’s second DUI put him in the NFL’s drug testing program.  That means that unlike most players who aren’t in this program and are given only one random offseason drug screen (given between May 1st and August 1st), Blackmon is tested repeatedly in the offseason.  So if someone with a substance history like Blackmon’s chooses to use drugs, they have a much higher probability of getting caught.

Blackmon, fully cognizant of these circumstances,still chose to use drugs—and he got caught.  Financially, he risked losing $10 million of the remaining $18.5 million on his contract if the Jaguars decided to release him (and they still can), but  it seems like they’ve decided to hang on to him.  However, he’s surely lost money in future marketing earnings and further hindered his already battered reputation. Blackmon is still young, and athletes have repaired worse images than his before, but it’ll be an uphill battle.

Addiction and temptation enslave the body and mind, taking on lives of their own.  No matter how badly you believe you can control or own an addiction, the concept is bigger than any one human being.  It only takes one second of being peer pressured or convincing your brain to make a faulty decision to ruin thousands of hours of hard work.

In June 2012, Blackmon stated he was “done” drinking, and I’ll assume he meant he was done with illegal drugs as well.  I’m not debating his genuineness in these stated claims, but temptation can be a powerful weapon; it can pull you back in, even when there’s so much at stake.

April 2013

“I’ve made a mistake and I have no excuse. I am truly sorry and disappointed in myself for putting the Jaguars in this situation, and I look forward to putting this behind me and maturing and growing as a person. I will have a productive training camp and preseason with my team, and during the suspension, I will work hard to stay in top football shape and be ready to help the Jaguars when I return. I have chosen to be accountable for my poor decision, and I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches, the front office and Jaguars fans for the impact of my mistake on the team.”

This isn’t about football.  This isn’t about the Jacksonville Jaguars organization, or their fan base, or Blackmon’s teammates.  It’s not about having a productive training camp or staying in top football shape, which Blackmon can undoubtedly do.  It’s about a 23-year-old kid, who just so happens to be a supremely talented football player, who keeps making the same mistake.

Nobody knows what’s going on inside the mind of Justin Blackmon except for Justin Blackmon.  We’ve all seen this same horror story too many times before, young kids throwing their futures away at the behest of substances. So if this ever finds you, Justin, find help before it’s too late.  You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.

A HERO AND A COWARD

NBA veteran Jason Collins shook the sports world yesterday, announcing he was gay in an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/#all. Other athletes have come out of the closet after their playing days had ended, but Collins was the first active player to do so.

Everybody had something to say in regards to this announcement, the first of its kind but hopefully not the last.  Aside from applauding Collins’ massive amount of courage, most media members also seemed to agree that ‘we’re better suited as a society to accept a gay athlete today than we would have been ten or fifteen years ago.’  Collins himself even said this in his article. While this point doesn’t diminish the omnipotence behind Collins’ declaration, I don’t agree with it.

Collins cited fear as the major reason for the prolonging of his admission to homosexuality. The fear of being able to still comfortably play the game that he loved; the fear that he wouldn’t be accepted in a society where being gay is not the norm and homosexual’s are detested by the non-accepting.

But hatred and resentment are not issues that go away with time, not dissonances present in 2003 and gone in 2013.  Look around. Israel and Palestine are still fighting.  The Boston Marathon bombings just caused us massive distress.  There’s ongoing conflict all across the world, the same way there always has been and always will be.

What’s really different from ten or fifteen years ago is that we didn’t live in an age of total transparency, an age of “constantly refresh Twitter or Facebook whenever something newsworthy happens.”  Now when someone makes that uncultured statement or types that ignorant tweet, the whole “Twitterverse” is down their throat immediately.

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A la Mike Wallace.  He later deleted this tweet, but don’t for a second think that this was his idea, or that his views on the topic of homosexuality changed in the hour after he posted it.  Wallace happened to be this off-season’s big free agent winner and the beneficiary of a $60 million contract from the Miami Dolphins. Lucky for Wallace, that contract carried with it an agent, a publicist and Dolphins upper-management members with a lot more brain capacity than he was blessed with.  They operated their best damage control drill in the moments following his complete ignorance, and that’s why he deleted his tweet and tried to swallow his words.

While Mike Wallace can apologize all he wants now, he said how he felt.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have said it.  To go ahead and delete the tweets, “deleting the evidence”, obviously at the behest of his higher-ups, was as pointless as it was cowardly.  It’s already all over the Internet, I just posted a picture of these tweets that I didn’t get from his actual Twitter account.  Might as well leave the statements up there and take responsibility for your actions.

As for Wallace, his image is forever tarnished in my eyes.  Every time he catches a pass I’ll revert back to this tweet, the same way I’ll now always associate 49ers CB Chris Culver with the homophobic remarks he made at this past Superbowl’s Media Day.  Just how Tim Hardaway’s name is permanently connected with the homophobic rant he went on in 2007:  “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known.” Hardaway said. “I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”  Whenever I saw Hardaway in the stands cheering on his son, Tim Jr., during Michigan’s final four run this past March, wearing that stupid beanie halfway off his head, I cringed in disgust.  These type of things stay with you.

But guys like Wallace, Culver or Hardaway tarnishing their reputations is not the main issue here.  Anybody with the audacity to make these types of public statements are not meant to be public figures in the first place.

The issue is that there are plenty of other players who share this ignorance– they just realize stating these views publicly can cost them millions of dollars in potential earnings. And just because these athletes are keeping their thoughts to themselves doesn’t mean they’ll treat a gay player with the same respect as a straight player inside the locker room.

Reality is, we’re no better suited as a society to accept a gay athlete than we were 10 or 15 years ago.  What we are, however, is more closely monitored in this age of social media. Hate and jealousy are instilled inside of us as humans.  Social media can’t stop that.  It can only encage the haters.

IDZIK ERA STARTS TONIGHT

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The open Jets’ GM position wasn’t highly coveted amongst league executives this past offseason.  Former Jet boss Mike Tannenbaum, the supposed ‘salary cap genius’, left a cap mess and an aging roster that most NFL execs wanted no part of.  But John Idzik, a career front office assistant ready to head his own show, eventually volunteered for the task.

So far, Idzik’s done his best to completely disassociate himself from Tannenbaum. He’s released TE Josh Baker, LBs Calvin Pace & Bart Scott, NT Sione Pouha, S Eric Smith and OT Jason Smith.  He let DE Mike DeVito, RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller and S LaRon Landry walk in Free Agency.  Oh yeah, he traded Revis, too.

Add it all up and there’s 11 of 22 2012 starters gone.  Yet John Idzik has yet to actually make any true personnel decisions.  That starts tonight.

The Jets were in such dire straights at the conclusion of 2012, had Tannenbaum been retained and that “loyalty factor” been in place, most of those aforementioned players still would have been gone.  Everybody knew Pace & Scott weren’t gonna be back.  And when you make moves like guaranteeing $12.8 million in 2013 cap space for Mark Sanchez, you’re waving goodbye to many of your future free agents.

But remember something: the NFL is uniquely built on parity.  On January 2, 2011 the Seahawks played the Rams on SNF, with the winner entering the playoffs as the NFC West division champs.  The Seahawks won 16-6, winning the NFC West, the laughingstock of the NFL at that time, at 7-9.

Fast-forward just over two years later, and it’s the 49ers and Seahawks who are your Vegas preseason favorites to win the 2013 Superbowl, both hailing from the NFC West.  They started from the bottom, now the whole team’s here—in just a couple of years.

In the NFL, quick turnarounds are only possible via building through the draft, something the Tannenbaum regime failed at.  With picks 9 & 13 overall and 8 selections in total, Idzik & the Jets are locked and loaded.  There are plenty of holes to fill.  It is Izdik’s time to show his worth and fill them.  The moment to get this turnaround started is now.

THE MOST AMAZING PLAY I’VE EVER SEEN

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The game was over—the announcer even said it: “And Mount Vernon’s gonna’ hold on and win!” But you had to credit New Rochelle’s fight. Down 59-49 in yesterday’s Section I AA Championship game with under four minutes to play, they could have phoned it in and called it a season. Instead they scratched and clawed, almost all the way back, closing the gap to 60-58 with 2.9 seconds to play.

Moral victories may not count for much in sports, especially in championship games. But given the opponent, it was hard for New Rochelle to hang their heads low.

After all, these were the nationally ranked Mount Vernon Knights, coached by the great Bob Cimmino, alma mater of Ben Gordon, Kevin Jones, Jabari Hines, among many other great talents. The program is a farm system for future Division 1 players, and Section I in Westchester County is their playground.

New Rochelle has beaten Mount Vernon before—even in a Sectional title game at the County Center. They’d done this in 2005 with Ray Rice (yes, that Ray Rice) as one of its most valuable pieces in what was another epic battle. So this wasn’t so much a David vs. Goliath affair as it was a rivalry game.

But don’t get me wrong, the more talented, two-time defending state champion Mount Vernon Knights were supposed to win. They were supposed to win before the game started, they were supposed to win when up by 10 with 3:58 to play, and they were supposed to win as New Rochelle was set to inbound the ball from their own baseline with 2.9 seconds to play.

And then Khalil Edney did the most improbable thing I have ever seen, in any sporting event, at any level.

As the in-bounder, Edney threw a baseball-style pass for one of his teammates near midcourt. The pass was deflected by one Mount Vernon player, and fell into the hands of another (Davonte Banner). Banner, like everyone else in the stadium, thought Mount Vernon had just captured another Sectional championship. So he threw the ball up in the air towards the basket of New Rochelle to run off the remaining two seconds, as Mount Vernon’s bench began to jump up and down in celebration.

Now I don’t know personally know Khalil Edney. I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 2007, before his time. What I do know is he was the quarterback on our football team who this past fall delivered New Rochelle our first state title since the Ray Rice era. What I’ve since found out is that his mother, who he was very close with, died of cancer not long ago.

When in a situation like the one New Rochelle was in, one where the chances of victory are so miniscule that that they’re impossible to statistically quantify, it’s almost human nature to be resigned to defeat. Looking at the replay, once Banner has control of the ball, three of New Rochelle’s five players begin walking. And I’m not knocking them for this—in this situation it has a lot more to do with accepting reality than it does a lack of effort.

But Khalil Edney never misses a beat. Running full speed, he intercepts Banner’s lob behind half-court, which didn’t have enough arc under it to run out the two-plus seconds remaining on the clock. In one fluid motion he then lets the ball fly in the other direction.

The most remarkable part of it all wasn’t the plays physical aspect, although it obviously required spectacular athleticism. It wasn’t even Edney’s required anticipation, though the way he angled his run made it seem like he read Banner’s mind.

No. The most amazing part was that as soon as the ball left Edney’s hands, he just skipped. First to the right, then backwards, as if he knew he needed a head start from the mob he was about to encounter. The quarterback of the football team, who lost his mother to cancer, knew it.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But if everything happened the way it was supposed to, why would we play the games?