The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Just Win, Baby’

Posted on | November 11, 2011 | 44 Comments

“There was a time, about ten years ago, when I could write like Grantland Rice. Not necessarily because I believed all that sporty bulls–t, but because sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

When I was 12 years old, the Sweetwater Valley Red Raiders got a new coach, Terry Kipta. Unlike many of our other rec-league coaches who had never played beyond the high-school level, Coach Kipta had been a starting lineman in college and had even spent a year or two on the lower rungs of pro ball.

We had a battle for quarterback that year, because there was a kid named Latimer who had previously played halfback, but had worked hard in the off-season on his passing. He actually had a better arm than our quarterback, but Latimer had a goofy sense of humor and thus was judged deficient in the kind of “leadership qualities” desirable in the quarterback role. Also that year, we had an end named Sims, a lanky kid with blinding speed, and this combination of Latimer and Sims led to a certain magic.

Coach Kipta was the first coach in our league to use what was called a “pro set” formation on offense: Two running backs, a split end and a wingback who could line up either as a flanker (outside the tight end) or on the other side in the slot between the tackle and split end. In the early 1970s, the triple-option wishbone was the most common offense, although some teams used the power-I or even the old straight-T.

One of the plays Kipta used was a halfback option pass. We practiced and practiced that play, and used it with devastating effect.

Our very first game of the season, when we came out on offense, broke the huddle and lined up, it was clear that our opponent had not prepared to defend against the pro set. Their coaches started yelling for their linebackers and defensive backs to cover the flankers, and there was a Chinese fire drill as the opponents went scrambling around to try to get in position. And then we did the “silent soldier.”

The “silent soldier” was another sneaky genius trick in Coach Kipta’s bag, The quarterback called “down,” “set” and then – nothing.

However, we were counting silently inside our heads: “Thousand one, thousand two . . .” So if it was “silent soldier 3,” the center would count to three before snapping the ball, at which time the whole play went into motion simultaneously. The other team, naturally expecting the quarterback to call “hut-hut-hut” as the signal for the snap, would be caught off guard, a step behind, unless they had been relentlessly drilled (as all defensive players should be) to watch the ball instead of listening to the quarterback’s signals.

Our opponents had never seen anything like the pro-set offense, and had never encountered the “silent soldier,” so they were already badly off-balance when our center Royce McAllister snapped the ball without warning. Caught by surprise from the start, the play they saw developing looked for all the world like a standard toss-sweep, as the quarterback pitched the ball to the halfback Latimer. The opposing linemen, of course, didn’t take long to notice that those of us Red Raiders on the line (I was at right guard) didn’t “fire out” across the line of scrimmage but instead were forming a protective pocket of pass blocking.

Their linebackers were completely fooled, however, and by the time any of the defensive linemen (and their coaches on the sideline) started yelling “Pass! Pass!” the linebackers were already chasing toward Latimer under the assumption that he was running a sweep. The other running back was there to block for Latimer — who, of course, had the option of running if he saw an opening — but instead he was looking downfield for Sims, who was racing deep on the fly down the right sideline.

We had practiced that play over and over, you see, and our opponents had never seen anything like it. Between the unusual formation and the “silent soldier” snap-count, their defense was confused and off-balance because, in those days of wishbone triple-option football, no team in that league ever threw the bomb on the first play from scrimmage until Coach Kipta’s Red Raiders did it — and did it on a halfback option pass.

Latimer unleashed his lanky arm and his pass went spiraling downfield in a precise arc to where Sims was three steps ahead of the defensive back. Latimer led him just right (I tell you, we had practiced it over and over) and Sims didn’t have to break stride as he scooped in the pass and raced straight into the end zone for a touchdown.

Mr. Brown, whose son Robbie was our tight end, snapped a picture of that play at just the moment Sims reached out to catch the pass and, at the end-of-the-year Red Raiders award banquet, Sims received an 11-by-17-inch framed enlargement of that photo. We used the halfback option pass sparingly that season — never more than once a game — and as I recall, the only variable in its success was if Sims dropped the ball. But the play was never more beautifully executed than it was on that first play from scrimmage in our first game of the season, when our opponents were caught completely by surprise.

Now, why did I tell that story? Am I just lost in nostalgia, re-living the glory of my youth? Or is there a moral to the story?

There is no such thing as an unfair advantage.

In any competition, each competitor has advantages. The key to success is in maximizing your advantages, employing your strengths to greatest effect, and there is nothing in the rulebook that requires you to explain to your fellow competitors how you plan to win the game.

Al Davis, the legendary owner of the Oakland Raiders who recently died, had a famous motto: “Just win, baby.”

In the rough-and-tumble world of pro football, it is a substantial understatement to say that Davis’s Raiders did not always adhere strictly to the rules. But infractions like holding and unnecessary roughness are only penalties if the ref throws a flag, and Oakland’s outlaw team of yore seemed to count the occasional 10- or 15-yard penalty as the necessary cost of doing business according to Al Davis’s motto.

And let’s be honest: Everybody in football breaks the rules sometimes, or else there would be entire games played without a penalty flag ever being thrown.

Is it a fair analogy to say that politics works the same way? I’ve been criticized for saying that the “Blame Perry” response that the Herman Cain campaign used last week — blaming Rick Perry’s campaign for the Politico story about sexual harassment allegations against Cain — was “pure genius” as strategy. Mark Block told me that he still sincerely believes that the Perry campaign was responsible for pushing that story. And I’ve said all along that my gut-hunch suspicion was the same.

Suspicion is merely suspicion, and circumstantial evidence is not proof, which is as true of the allegations against Cain as it is for Block’s casting blame on Team Perry. But if I were working on Team Perry — or any other rival campaign — and had known of these decade-old accusations against Cain, would I make sure the press found out about them? You’re damned right I would. And on the other hand, if I were working on Cain’s campaign and these accusations suddenly popped up in the press just about the time it looked like Cain had established himself as the GOP front-runner, I would automatically suspect that a rival Republican’s campaign had pushed it.

Cui bono? You can say that there is no proof that another Republican campaign pushed the Politico story, but you cannot say that it’s because Republican campaign operatives are too decent and humane to do such a thing. Some of my best friends are Republican operatives, and it’s not the kind of job that attracts a lot of Nice Guys. Hell, they brag about what ruthlesss cutthroats they are.

Maybe Block was wrong to suspect the Perry campaign, and Block has admitted it was wrong to blame Curt Anderson by name. But when a candidate is targeted by the kind of allegations made against Cain, it’s hard to say that the target is obligated to obey the Marquis of Queensbury Rules in defending himself. The Cain campaign was in crisis mode, with everything on the line, and a fight for survival can be judged by no standard except whether the fighter survives.

Let people condemn Mark Block as a loose cannon, an incompetent manager or an unscrupulous son of a bitch. Block’s reputation was already pretty shady, and he probably doesn’t care what any pundit thinks of his personal character at this point. Block has exactly one job, to get Herman Cain elected president of the United States. Thirteen days after Politico broke the story that many people expected would destroy Cain’s candidacy, Cain remains very much undestroyed.

Call it luck. Call it dirty politics. Call it whatever you will, and it makes no difference to me, because I am merely the sportswriter in the press box covering the game. But I think that if you could ask the late Al Davis what he thought about it, his answer would be three simple words.

“Just win, baby.”


UPDATE: Neither Dan Riehl nor Peter Wehner appear eager to join the Mark Block Fan Club.


44 Responses to “‘Just Win, Baby’”

  1. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    The Vatican issued a statement that they were appalled by the Penn State allegations. And they don’t understand why Jerry Sandusky wasn’t immediately transferred to another school.

    How do you separate the men from the boys at Penn State?  You don’t. 

    An older woman going after young boys is a cougar.  An older man going after young boys is a Nittany lion. 

    Sorry, I just had to throw those out there. 

  2. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 12:58 pm
  3. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

    You may hate Jerry Sandusky, but at least he drove slowly through school zones.

    These Jerry Sandusky jokes are old……unlike those boys in the shower.

    Sandusky is set to remake two Schwarzenegger films into one…It’s going to be called Kindergarten Predator.

    Jerry Sandusky walks into an elementary school just as classes are let out for the day, when a teacher approaches him & asks, “so which child is yours?”Sandusky replies: “I don’t care, surprise me.”

    At Sandusky’s arraignment, the judge reportedly asked him, “How does 8-9 years sound?”He replied, “secksy.”

  4. wordygirl
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    No matter how much deflection, or how much money Block has been able to rack up for Cain, the campaign is in real trouble.  As you posited in your earlier post, Stacy, Cain is the first one to tell us that we will have to rely on his judgment in selecting experts to advise him in certain areas.  His choices thus far have been less than inspiring.

  5. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    OK, no cheap anti-Catholic jokes allowed. We have Catholic readers who are deeply offended by that stuff.

  6. Nelson Ocampo
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    This isn’t about Block’s reputation.  It’s not even about Block’s actions behind the scenes.  He could be the slimiest SOB in the world for all I care.

    But when his public statements end up making Cain look like he can’t control his people, it’s a problem.

    In my opinion, Block may be very valuable to the campaign.  But if he really does want to “just win, baby”, he should take on a different title (even if it’s just for show), and keep out of the spotlight.  The guy can just do a lot better job for the campaign if he keeps quiet.

  7. Zilla of the Resistance
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    I am not a football person, but I loved your story, Stacy, and I think it’s a great analogy. The Cain campaign has been doing what nobody expects or anticipates that it will do, and it is catching the opposition totally off guard and by surprise, just like that team you played against, and of course the other thing Herman Cain keeps doing that none of the ‘smart people’ expect is WINNING.

  8. Danby
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    1)  The only people upset that he named Perry as the source of the story are die-hard Perry supporters. You can see them in all the conservative political fora, whining about it. Since they constitute, at most, 6% of the GOP electorate, who cares what they think? They weren’t going to vote for Cain anyway.

    2) The Blame Perry gambit helped to move the story off of the “dribble out a little more each day” tactic of the accusers and take it meta, which helped Cain.

    3) The “See how badly he handled this” argument is pure BS. If this didn’t kill  him, and it darn well could have, then it wasn’t handled badly. What I saw was a man being as genuinely honest as he could about a vague and baseless accusation.

  9. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    Hey, I am Catholic myself.  I threw one Vatican joke in there. 

  10. ‘A Million Miles an Hour’: Interview With Herman Cain Campaign Chief of Staff : The Other McCain
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    […] ethics. They pay me to get the story. I’m like the sportswriter in the press box. And like Al Davis said, “Just win, baby.”Category: Election 2012, Herman CainComments JoeWell how cool is that…they listen to Robert […]

  11. DaveO
    November 11th, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    “Republican Operative” and “ruthless” does not compute. Unless the SLC sent them over to help out.

  12. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    How do you separate the men from the boys at Penn State? 

    Same way you separate Muslims from goats: a crowbar applied to a head.

  13. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    Actually, I am a Perry supporter — who’ll vote for Cain before Romney and smile.

  14. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

    I suspect what his campaign lacks is a skeptic someone who can see the downside of every proposed action.

  15. Mike
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    Actually Joe, people who have had personal experience with a child molester don’t find these jokes particularly funny.  

  16. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    That an idea is novel or unheard of doesn’t necassarily make it genius. Thankfuly most of the really bad ideas I’ve ever heard I only heard once.

  17. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

    Jokes are a way of coping with things.  To those people who have been victims of this sort of thing, I have a lot of sympathy for them.  But to say you can never even joke about it?  I am not so sure about that. 

  18. Danby
    November 11th, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

    I should have been more clear. I meant the die-hard Perry supporters who whine about Block and Cain blaming Perry would never vote for Cain int the primary anyway. I’m pretty sure almost every Perry supporter would vote for Cain in a general, just as almost all Cain supporters would vote for Perry.

  19. richard mcenroe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    It may be that the Roughentumble Raiders never played strictly by the rules, but it was the wholesome cleancut New England Patriots who institutionalized their cheating.

    Yeh, I’m looking at you, Mitt…

  20. Adjoran
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    Cain was in single digits until after the Florida Straw Poll on September 24.  He got about a ten-point bounce in national polls right away, but was still no better than even with Perry until about two weeks later.

    Politico told Cain the story was coming ten days before it broke, so that is October 21.  They had four people on the story, so we presume they were working on it on their own at least a week, right?  By October 14.

    So the Perry theory assumes Perry’s camp foresaw Cain becoming the main threat immediately, that they – someone besides Curt Anderson – knew about this DC-centered story and had someone on the Politico staff they could trust never to out them.  And did it all BEFORE Cain’s rise in the polls could be seen as more than a temporary bump, and before he was actually ahead of Perry.

    If they were that darned efficient and prescient, why couldn’t they get Perry to a  debate coach in July?

    But if you also believe that  Cain saying there was no settlement, he knew nothing of a settlement, well there was a settlement but he thought it was an “agreement” instead, the settlements were normal severance packages, and the settlements were only 2-3 months’ pay was in no way a LIE, you can surely believe in the Perry Fairy Tale, and magical unicorns pooping Skittles on your pillow.

  21. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    That is Romney’s problem.  Way too careful. 

    I love Herman’s speed chess game, but I see a lot of poor moves that could cost him later down the road.  And Team Obama can sit and wait to exploit them if he is the nominee. 

  22. Joe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    Is that where those Skittles came from?

  23. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    Perry is better than Newt and Newt is better than Romney.

  24. AngelaTC
    November 11th, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    Since when do you bow to political correctness?  I’m guessing that if I told you I found your weekly celebration of scantily clad women young enough to be your daughter offensive, you’d tell me to take a hike. And rightfully so.

  25. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    Romney’s problem id that he’s a squishy big government Republican who’s been trained to serve the purposes of the SD’s.

  26. DaveO
    November 11th, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

    The goat’s head or the Muslim’s?

  27. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Oh, the Muslim’s — but with guys there’s always a choice of which head.

  28. DaveO
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    A 3-time winner of the race for Texas Governor doesn’t enter a race unarmed. He came out shooting against Bachmann, and Romney. I don’t believe Perry sponsored the Cain hit, but I don’t believe Perry’s not going to capitalize, and come up with something just as rough and tumble. Perry has plenty to squish Paul, and Huntsman should the need arise.

    My money is on Axelrod being the mechanism, and OFA being the sponsor of this Cain hit. Obama gains the most, politically, of all the candidates should Cain quit the race.

  29. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

    The difference is that cheap anti-Catholic jokes lack virtue whereas “Rule 5” epitomises it, in that it is a homage to the beauty of the female form.

  30. Fortyniner Dweet
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    OK, I can live with the “no cheap Catholic jokes” rule, but does that mean expensive Catholic jokes are OK?

  31. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

    The timing doesn’t make sense for it to be an Obama hit.

    Cain was busily wrecking the rest of the Republican field, something Obama was certainly happy to see happen.

    If it was Obama’s people, they’d have waited to trot this out until after Cain had given Romney a black eye in New Hampshire and South Carolina, so as to maximize the effects.

    The timing says it was Bachmann.

    All of which is neither here nor there, except that it gets us where we are: Cain is no longer a contender, but remains a factor. He’s too damaged for the veep slot, but in a hypothetical (very hypothetical 2013 GOP administration, he might turn up in the cabinet. Commerce, most likely.

  32. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

    Your token Papist on staff is offended that people can’t find any better material than that. Those jokes were old when I was a kid in the Sixties.

  33. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

    If you can find something that doesn’t date back to the Reformation, I’ll consider not editing your comment into gibberish.

  34. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

    Stinks of Rove to me.

  35. ThePaganTemple
    November 11th, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    You make a good point, but there’s plenty of reasons Obama would like to derail the Cain train, chiefly among them being he doesn’t want to have to hear in a general election campaign how the Democrats take the black vote for granted and have herded black voters on a “Democratic Party plantation”, etc. It’s true, Democrats know its true, but Cain is the only one that can get away with saying it. Or at least, he’s the only one who they think has the guts to say it. Plus, Cain seems to think he can win at least one third of the black vote. I think that’s overly optimistic myself, I would say it would be more like twenty percent. But even that could make all the difference in a close race.

  36. Anonymous
    November 11th, 2011 @ 11:53 pm

    Well, that’s the thing — “all the difference in a close race” is irrelevant when there’s not a close race to make that difference in. And Obama v. Cain wouldn’t be a close race. I’d frankly be surprised if Cain carried a single state versus Obama.

    The only opponent Obama would rather have is Palin. Cain or Palin would be Reagan/Mondale ’84 in reverse, only it’s not certain that either of them could even carry their home states. But Obama will be happy to settle for 440-460 electoral votes versus Romney, too.

  37. richard mcenroe
    November 11th, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

    You’ve never read a military manual, have you? *g*

  38. Dave
    November 12th, 2011 @ 2:40 am

    I find this post hard to believe. I’ve met you Stacy, you’re a scrawny news rat, you expect me to believe you played guard?

  39. Danby
    November 12th, 2011 @ 3:17 am

     Wait just a gol darn minnit there, partner. Cain is still leading the Republican race. You are writing him off on what basis? If Cain’s not a contender, no one is a contender.

    Whether you like him or not, and it’s apparent you don’t, he’s very OBVIOUSLY still a contender.Whatever damage is going to be done by this whole mess is likely already done. He may continue dropping in the polls, a la Perry, or he may begin to rise again, but counting him out is just… stupid.

    Honestly, your comment reminds me of all the people in 1980 who told me Reagan couldn’t win, so the closest we could get to a conservative president would be George Bush, or Howard Baker, or (shudder) John Connolly

  40. ThePaganTemple
    November 12th, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    I can only speak for my own state, but I can promise you Cain would win Kentucky, and Palin most definitely would win it. I think you are dead wrong in your analysis. Things are going to have to get measurably better before Obama has a chance of winning in anything more than a sqeaker, or at best a 51-49 split. I don’t think he’d do much better than that even if things got drastically better, as in the best they’ve ever been.  There are just too many people bad about Obamacare, Fast And Furious, EPA dictatorial mandates that flout Congress, etc.

    I think he knows that too. It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t take out Ahmadinejahd. I think he’s been floating that trial balloon now for a couple of months.

  41. ThePaganTemple
    November 12th, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Cain is starting to lose support, as of right now its practically a three way statistical tie between Romney, Cain, and Gingrich, with Cain’s support dropping, Newt’s rising, and Romney’s as static as ever. This is according to the latest Marist poll, which I think is probably pretty dependable.

  42. Anonymous
    November 12th, 2011 @ 9:56 am

    “Cain is still leading the Republican race. You are writing him off on what basis?”

    Yesterday’s McClatchy/Marist poll had him not in first place, not in second place, but in third place (behind Romney and Gingrich). Even if that’s an outlier, other polls had his position softening over the last week. He’s not going gently into that good night, but he is going.

  43. Anonymous
    November 12th, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

    Taking what might be the beginning of a trend to it’s “logical” conclusion is problematic. None of these candidates including Huntsman are likely to drop out of the race until they run out of money and drop so low in the polls that they aren’t allowed to participate in the debates.

  44. Anonymous
    November 12th, 2011 @ 2:20 pm


    My “logical” conclusion isn’t that he’s going to drop out of the race.

    My “logical” conclusion is that he is not going to win the race, and that from here on out he is in “factor” rather than “contender” status.

    That is, he still has enough support for it to matter a great deal where that support goes as it leaves his campaign, but he doesn’t have enough support to win, and he is going to lose, rather than gain, support from here on out.