This morning I woke up and read a column by Chris Chase in USA Today on the fact that football players Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe asked for an autograph and picture from NFL great Peyton Manning, respectively. This was an hour after the game where Manning threw two touchdowns to lead his Denver Broncos past their Kansas City Chiefs.

The column includes the following quote from former Chief Rich Baldinger, who had this to say when asked if he’d have ever done something like that in his playing days:

“No,” he replied. “I don’t understand it at that moment. They were smiling and laughing after the loss like that today. I just think it just goes to show what this team’s about. I don’t know if winning’s really that important.”

Chase notes that Charles ran for over a 100 yards during the game (psst, hockey people, that’s good), and Dwayne Bowe had four grabs that averaged over 10 yards per (that’s fine, not great). They played well, in sum.

I had a coach in junior hockey whom I’ve mentioned on this site a number of times who was in Baldinger’s corner: when you lose, you have to mope and pout and not talk because if you’re able to smile you obviously don’t give a shit, regardless of how you played.

At the time, I couldn’t have disagreed with that opinion more. I knew I cared about wins and losses, I knew I tried my bag off and put my body on the line, and to me, that was all a coach could ask for. I’m not in favour of having a laugh-fest in the dressing room after a loss, but I am in favour of being able to go out for a bite to eat after and laugh if something’s funny. The game is over – what are you supposed to do at that point? Go back in time and fix things? I remember trying to bury a smile at something before leaving the rink and thinking “what’s the point of this again?” Then I strapped the scowl back on, cause getting bitched at by coaches isn’t fun.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve recognized a couple things about judging player behaviour post-game, which, for those of you who don’t know, will almost always affect the line-up once or twice a season. Whether that means the happy-go-lucky guy gets bumped down (“kid just doesn’t care”), or the whole team bag skates for not showing enough frustration (“I don’t know if winning’s really that important to these guys”), or it’s time to trade someone away (“can’t win with him, no passion”), coaches tend to think this stuff matters. Old-school coaches, specifically.

So these are my overall thoughts on proper conduct post-loss:

* You should, of course, be sincerely frustrated. I now see that my coaches were pissed, and thereby expected that we were too, so I can now see how a smile or laugh in the wake of an “L” would be grating. In fact, I’ve got no problem with a display of that emotion upon a return to the dressing room. Whether that be some gear-tossing or cursing or a combination of both, go for it. Losing blows.

* Don’t single anyone out, as it only makes problems worse and doesn’t change any outcomes. In fact, don’t address the team either. After a tight loss, guys come in hot and sometimes say things they don’t mean. Like in any relationship, you’ve gotta give it some time and think it through before you speak up. (I should really write a full-post about post-game “closed door meetings,” AKA the worst thing in the hockey world.)

* Minimal chit-chat until you’re out of the dressing room. Ride the bike, shower up, dress, walk out the door…and let it go. That doesn’t mean don’t think about it again, but you’ve had a solid 20-40 minutes to settle down by then. As someone who once punched a hole in his bedroom door post-game, I can assure you that it doesn’t accomplish much to stew. I wrote this post “Flush It” about the idea of letting it go, which is easier to do after getting shellacked.

* After all that…be a human being. Honestly, if a coach sees you giving your family hugs after a loss and smiling, fuck ‘im. As long as you played your balls off during the game, I maintain that once you’re out of the dressing room, you don’t need to bring work home with you. Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are free to grab a picture with a legend – hell, they don’t even play against each other, being that they’re all on the offensive side of the ball. Who gets hurt in that process? It’s okay to admit you admire one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time after he beat your team, the same way it should be okay to chat with old teammates post-game that have since become opponents. It is, after all, still a game.

In hockey at all levels, as in all sports, pretending to be more angry than you are to appease a coach is more or less nonsense. Faking it isn’t going to change how a player really feels, so as a coach, it’s useless to demand they do.

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Jesse Spector brought up a fair point too:

And Nate Ewell had a solid note as well:

[For more on this, you can check out an older post of mine, "Love to win vs. hate to lose" here.]