Why do I get the feeling if Danton Barto were pursuing a last piece of birthday cake today, a bunch of children and a little old lady with a walker would be flying through the air as if George Costanza were sprinting from a small kitchen fire?
A football coach’s level of intensity during a season makes a Secret Service agent on duty seem apathetic. Losses eat at coaches like termites through wood. They tell the truth to reporters about as often as they fax a copy of the game plan to that week’s opponent, and they exist within a sheltered world of film and takeout.
Barto seems to fit the mold, save that part about lacking honesty. Candid doesn’t begin to describe the first-year Gladiators coach, proven by his frankness when discussing a 1-7 team that has lost six straight. Las Vegas isn’t any good and it’s killing him.
“I’m embarrassed about us being 1-7,” Barto said. “It’s embarrassing to put on this logo, because if you’re proud of anything about 1-7, you’re doing the wrong thing for a living. But the bottom line is, you either fight or you quit. I’m not a quitter.
“People always say losing is contagious. So is winning. We have to find a way to win, and that’s on everybody. Nobody is giving up. If we had quit playing hard or guys weren’t trying anymore, I’d tell you we’re doomed. But I just don’t feel that way.”
The business side of things is reportedly its best since the team arrived five years ago, not terribly shocking when you consider Sam Jankovich (who has spent much of his career around winning programs) is the first-year general manager and the new home (Orleans Arena) is a step or 10,000 above the dated Thomas & Mack Center.
But keeping locals interested in a gimmick sport is difficult enough when the team is successful, never mind when equaling last year’s record of 5-11 becomes more stretch than possibility. That’s the thing about professional sports, though. Assigning fault is never a difficult concept when dissecting the kind of opening eight-game stretch the Gladiators have offered.
It’s all on them.
They chose to go young and inexperienced (Las Vegas’ opening-night roster included 14 rookies and six second-year players), and it hasn’t worked. They thought former NFL quarterback Shaun King could make the transition to the arena game and were wrong.
It gets worse: A lack of confidence now seems as big a problem as one of execution. On Friday, the Gladiators managed five defensive stops at Colorado, which in arena football is like being able to shoot layups for an entire basketball game. They still lost. They were outscored 26-zip in the third quarter, almost impossible in a game in which points are as much part of the atmosphere for both teams as loud music between snaps.
“The (players) have self-doubt in their minds,” Barto said. “If we could just get a win and feel what that is like again … we could roll off some wins.”
The incredible thing is, he’s right. No level of football is more unpredictable than arena. It goes to the madness of all that scoring. It’s why a team like Dallas can be 7-0 and rolling over everyone before giving up 78 points in losing to Georgia, which Las Vegas was within a 2-point conversion of beating. It’s a crazy, erratic game week to week, which could end up helping the Gladiators in the season’s second half as much as it hurt them during the first.
It’s all Barto can really hope for, that getting five of the season’s final eight games at home (beginning Sunday against Orlando) and the fact Las Vegas has averaged 60.5 points since new quarterback Brian Jones replaced King is reason to hope complete humiliation might be avoided.
This is somewhat new for Barto. All this losing. His final three teams with Memphis in af2 went 10-6, 13-3 and 11-5, including an ArenaCup title.
“I never understood when people said if you’re rich and go broke, it’s worse,” Barto said. “I understand now after our first eight games. I’ve been winning for so long, you forget how losing feels. It’s worse than when I was first starting out and not a good coach and didn’t know how to win. It’s worse now. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”
The guy is really intense and really honest about his team, which isn’t any good right now.
It’s all on them. Fight or quit. I have a pretty good idea which side Barto will choose, which means the little old lady with a walker stood a better chance against Costanza.
Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.ED GRANEYMORE COLUMNS