Former Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green died Friday at age 67, which is sad news for the entire NFL community.
While Green was a successful college and professional coach with a 113-94 record over 13 seasons in the NFL, he’s remembered best for one press conference meltdown in 2006. Green’s Cardinals blew a big lead to the Chicago Bears, and in the post-game presser, the coach blew a gasket.
Green took a fair amount of ridicule for the outburst, and “They are who we thought they were” has become a punchline for NFL fans. But in honor of Green’s death, let’s take a minute for a genuine, snark-free appreciation of Green’s most famous moment.
Press conferences tend to be fairly boring because athletes and coaches strip away their emotions before they sit at the podium. If they’ve just won an uplifting victory, they qualify their excitement with cautions that it’s just one game and there’s still work to be done. If they’ve just suffered a tough loss, they talk about the need to look past this one and move on. Rarely do we see at a press conference the unbridled emotion that often comes with winning or losing a sporting event, the highs and lows we’ve all felt just watching on TV and that we know athletes and coaches feel on the field.
Well Green gave that to us that night. He walked into that press conference room and told the world exactly how he felt. He let us into his raw feelings, his natural reaction to watching his team blow a game it should have won. The scene wasn’t jarring because he was upset — of course he was upset! — it was jarring because we’re not used to coaches telling us what they actually think.
When the President of the United States steps up to a podium it’s fair that we expect him to act calm in the face of disaster and restrained when the news is good. But the coach of the Arizona Cardinals has a, uh, considerably lower-stakes job, and it’s not only unreasonable that we expect him to filter his thoughts through straight-faced cliches but also no fun at all.
Imagine how much more enjoyable sports would be if everyone responded to post-game questions like Dennis Green did that night (or like Richard Sherman did after the NFC Championship in 2014). “They are who we thought they were” is an all-time great press conference moment because it put on display the feelings we all have after a sporting event doesn’t go our team’s way. May every coach and player at every podium follow Green’s lead.
RIP Dennis Green.