INDIANAPOLIS — I wrote the obit for a friend Sunday night in an airport. An airport bar, to be exact, and it seemed right. Don Banks and I had spent many a pre-flight in airports from Seattle to San Diego, Phoenix to Miami, Fort Lauderdale to Boston, New York to Minneapolis. He liked white wine. I liked a pilsner. I have written obits for two brothers and two beloved dogs. It’s always painful. But this … this was particularly cruel.
“Big Dog!” Don Banks, writing his first story for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, exulted Saturday to me on the phone from Canton, where he was covering the Hall of Fame ceremonies. He called me “Big Dog,” for some reason, and I never stopped him.
“I’m back, baby!”
Don, 56, had been laid off by Sports Illustrated as the lead NFL columnist for SI.com in 2016, and he’d been looking for that next opportunity ever since. He worked for several outlets—NFL Media, The Athletic, Bleacher Report, Patriots.com—and continued his insightful and successful “Snap Judgments” Sunday night column all the while. He and I talked often—four, five times a week. He had his bouts of sadness, brought on by a retrenching business with few options for fifty-somethings. Depression crept in. I understood. And then, when he least expected it, the Review-Journal called this summer, and it was just what Don wanted—another shot at covering the NFL as one of the most impartial, fair, biting-when-necessary columnists ever to write about pro football.
So he took the gig, starting Aug. 1, and we had two or three conversations about story ideas. Over the years, he’d given me dozens, and I returned the favor on a few. He settled on his first one: With Vegas hot to trot over all things Raiders, he decided he’d do a preview of the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” with a unique angle. He’d visit the Browns, and find lessons for the Raiders from the Browns’ oft-painful “Hard Knocks” experience in 2018. That’s why he was exulting Saturday. The chase for the story—we’re always chasing unique and different pieces and, hopefully, ones with some edge—led him to a couple of Browns coaches sniping at each other on the record. He wrote, filed, and sent me the link late Saturday, and I read it. Loved it. It was the goods. And I tweeted the story out Sunday, thrilled for longtime friend hitting a home run in his debut. When I looked Sunday afternoon, that story was the leading piece in the newspaper’s online sports section.
For the last three weeks, we’d been talking about the new gig, The ideas, the excitement. On Saturday afternoon, he told me about a bunch of inside stuff he’d been able to get NFL Films to agree to do. “Has anyone ever been able to do this kind of stuff with ‘Hard Knocks?’ “ he said. Don’t think so, I said. This stuff will be read by everybody. Then he said:
“I’m back, baby!”
And then, hours later, in a Courtyard Marriott in Canton, Don didn’t wake up.
Cruel’s the only word I can think of.
Friends are fleeting in this business. It’s competitive, and there are jealousies, and you’re lucky if you have four or five really good ones. Don was one of those for me. This is when I knew he was a great friend: Early in his run at SI.com, I was talking to him about web traffic for my Monday Morning Quarterback column. I told him it was crushing everything on the site in whatever season it was. Then he started talking about his column, and some of his frustrations with how it was being treated on the site. I blurted out something incredibly stupid and unfeeling about him having to understand that SI had to spend resources to promote mine, and …
“HEY! You’re not the only sportswriter in the world! Can you be any more unaware of how you sound!”
He hung up. I woke up. From that point on, 15 years or so, I realized he was the only one who always would tell me the truth about myself. My wife Ann does that, thankfully. Other than that, in my profession, I had one person who did: Don Banks. How many people do you have in your life who do that? How many true friends do you have who will tell you when you’re a fool?
I hope you all have one. I had one. He didn’t wake up Sunday morning in Canton, Ohio.
One more story. In 2013, SI allowed me to found my Monday Morning Quarterback website, and allowed me to hire some full-time staffers. Also, I was allowed to take existing SI staffers and ask them, if they were agreeable, to write a weekly column.
“What do you want me to do?” Don asked when I called.
“Something from 10,000 feet,” I said. “Anytime I need to know if my stance on something NFL-related is fair, you know you’re the one I call. So I want you to be the arbiter of all things NFL. Be the conscience.”
He’ll keep his job. Of course he’ll keep his job, because even after Monday’s swift and stunning turn of events, you won’t be able to find enough NFL team owners who think Roger Goodell should lose it. But while his job may be safe, Goodell’s credibility has been badly damaged by the league’s botched and bungled response to the Ray Rice domestic violence saga. And without credibility, it’s very difficult to respect his judgment or authority going forward.
Don’s phone rang soon after the story was posted, and one league executive told him he’d been too harsh on Goodell.
He called me that day and I asked him what he said to that league official.
“Gotta call it how I see it,” Don said. “That’s how I’ve always done the job. I can’t do it any different.”
Till the end, that was Don Banks, good journalist and good friend.
Writer’s note: This is the brief obit I wrote for the family to distribute.
Don Banks, one of the leading NFL reporters in the country, died suddenly on Sunday in Canton, Ohio. He was in Canton to cover the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies over the weekend, and his first story in his new job, as NFL columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was published in Sunday’s editions.
Banks, 56, had a 36-year career in sportswriting, beginning when he covered prep sports as an intern in the Tampa Bay area for the St. Petersburg Times. He moved on to cover the Buccaneers for the Times, before moving to Minnesota to cover pro football for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and later the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It was there that Banks caught the eye of editors at Sports Illustrated. In 2000, he was hired as NFL columnist for the Sports Illustrated website, SI.com.
Banks was an NFL lifer. At SI, his Snap Judgments column on Sunday evenings became appointment reading for NFL fans. After an illustrious career at SI ended in 2016, Banks moved on to write about the league for NFL.com, Bleacher Report, Patriots.com and The Athletic. That led to the editors at the Review-Journal, needing a respected national presence to cover the NFL with the Raiders moving to Nevada in 2020, conducting a one-candidate job search. They hired Banks as their NFL correspondent. He started last Thursday, and his first story appeared on the paper’s website just hours before he died.
He was known for his absolute impartiality, covering the league at a time when he both lampooned and praised Roger Goodell, the commissioner who has been under fire for much of the last decade.
Banks, born in Coatesville, Pa., moved to St. Petersburg at a young age. He is survived by his wife, Alissa, of Auburndale, Mass., and son Matt, of Philadelphia, and Micah, a student at George Washington University; a brother, Doug Banks, a sister, Donna; and many nieces and nephews.
No good way to segue after that. Let’s move on with football.
Several of the places I visited in the last week—New Orleans, Jacksonville and Miami—had to be put on hold Sunday afternoon and night as I processed the death of Don Banks and dealt with some issues related to it. Please check back next week for my thoughts on those three teams.
I’d started writing about the Colts, after being in Indiana on Sunday, so we’ll begin with my trip to Colts camp and continue with the rest of the column, which I’d filed by 1 p.m. Sunday after a week on the training camp circuit.
This Luck Injury is Bothersome
Sunday: Colts (Westfield, Ind.)
Heat index: 91.
Camp Name I loved: E.J. Speed. The fifth-round linebacker from Tarleton (Texas) State has a chance to work into a starter’s role.
Guy I totally forgot would be in this camp: Chad Kelly. Might be last-chance saloon time for Kelly, who had a checkered but talented college career, then behaved his way out of Denver.
On the surface, the calf strain keeping Andrew Luck from practicing in training camp this week shouldn’t be too concerning. Opening day is five weeks away. A calf strain has to heal in two or three weeks, right? Of course it should. Problem is, it’s been lingering since April, and after three MRIs found nothing more severe than a strain, and aftrer Luck has previously taken some time off to help it stop barking, it’s still there.
So that’s where the Colts were Sunday afternoon, as Jacoby Brissett took all the first-team snaps at quarterback and Luck was nowhere to be seen, presumably getting treatment on the calf.
I asked Luck if he had any doubt he’d be ready to play opening day. “No,” he said. “I certainly believe I will [be ready]. That’s certainly the goal.” But when I asked him how stubborn the injury has been, he said: “At times I do worry about it. It can be frustrating. The arc of an injury, whether it’s a big surgical one or something you’re rehabbing through. But no, because I’ve improved. Maybe I’m not improving as fast as I want and missing things is no fun. It eats at you. But I do know at the end of the day if I’m getting the most out of myself, if I’m being the best I can that day, then that’s what I need to do.”
Taken together, it sounds like Luck, and the Colts, are pretty sure he’ll play the opener at the Chargers on Sept. 7. It also sounds like this thing has been driving him nuts. He’s vague about when exactly it happened; I heard it stems from late last season. He says he thinks he aggravated a calf strain this offseason. Whatever, the MRIs don’t show significant damage. That’s why the organization isn’t chewing its nails. Yet.
“When will he practice?” I asked coach Frank Reich.
“We don’t know,” Reich said.
The uncertainty is sort of maddening, unless you consider Reich’s perspective on this. When I sat with him around noon Sunday, he sounded much like the man who interviewed for the Colts coaching job 18 months ago. He never asked GM Chris Ballard about Luck’s recurring and balky shoulder injury. The theory was, Reich had faith he’d win regardless who the quarterback was, and he wanted the job regardless whether Luck would play. Same stuff Sunday.
“As a former player and as a coach, it’s just always my instinct to trust the player,” Reich said. “I really don’t lay awake at night thinking about it. When our players have injuries, I’m not the guy who’s asking every five minutes how they’re doing. That’s just the way I am. Part of that is because I think my 14 years of experience as a player … I know he wants to be there as bad as anybody. Me asking him every five minutes how he’s doing doesn’t help anything.”
I sense the only reason why the Colts aren’t more nervous this morning is because backup Jacoby Brissett is having a very good camp, and the franchise considers him a serviceable starter if he has to play. You’ll recall he played okay in Luck’s place in 2017. On Sunday, Brissett threw a couple of beautiful balls, including an arcing 25-yard fade into the corner of the end zone to T.Y. Hilton in 11-on-11 drills. But there’s a difference between a hot Sunday against friendly faces, and road trips to the Chargers, Titans and Chiefs in the first five weeks of the season. For the Colts to duplicate or improve on their surprising success last year (11-7, including a wild-card win in Houston), Luck and a healthy left leg gives them the best shot.
Luck, paired with the longtime former NFL backup Reich, is coming off the best season of his professional life. His completion rate (.673) and passer rating (98.7) were career-bests; his plus-24 TD-to-pick differential was tied for his best ever. It’s odd to think that he’s already verging on 30 (his birthday is Sept. 12), which is usually the midpoint of a quarterback’s career. Maybe it won’t be anymore. But turning 30 gives any athlete pause.
Reich is comfortable enough in his skin to give his quarterback lots of power in the decision-making process, the same way Buffalo offensive boss Ted Marchibroda gave Jim Kelly and Reich power in the eighties and nineties. Carson Wentz saw it and felt it even at a young age when Reich was his coordinator in Philadelphia in 2017, and Luck felt it last year too.
“I think Andrew’s been in some really, really good offenses,” Reich said. “But I don’t know if he’s ever been in an offense that wants to turn him loose like we’re going to turn him loose this year. I use this illustration. It’s like if you’re playing a video game and there’s all these easy targets, worth 100 points. Every now and then there’s this little target that pops up and it just flashes for a brief second. It’s really small. That’s worth 1,000 points. And in NFL football, that’s what happens all the time. These little targets come up. The great ones can hit those 1,000-point targets. As a coach, I don’t know when they’re going to come up. Only he knows. So you want a guy pulling the trigger who can see them and know when it’s worth it to try to hit them, then go for them.”
Reich got excited as he spoke, clearly anticipating attacking the Chargers on Sept. 8 with a more mature Luck in his offense. Smart money’s on Luck making that start in southern California in five weeks. But the Colts are hedging their bets because of this odd calf strain that doesn’t seem to want to go away.
Three Notes From Jacksonville
Thursday: Jaguars (Jacksonville).
Heat index: 96 degrees.
Camp name I loved: Fish Smithson. The 25-year-old safety from Kansas is on his fourth team in three seasons. (Runnerup: Picasso Nelson Jr., a rookie corner.)
Guy I totally forgot would be in this camp: Cedric Ogbuehi. The 21st pick in the 2015 draft washed out with the Bengals. Could be the swing tackle for Doug Marrone.
Three Jag notes:
1. I love when this happens. After practice, all I wanted to do was jump in a pool of ice cubes. How these guys do it in this heat, I have no idea. But after a two-hour, 30-minute practice, Campbell signed autographs in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes, and then he met me on the field for a seven-minute on-camera interview, and then he said I had to meet Josh Allen, his training-camp protégé. Campbell, 32 and entering his 12th year. Allen, 22 and a rookie first-rounder.
Campbell:“This guy’s flashin’. He’s flashin’. You gotta meet him. The real deal. The real deal.”
Allen:“He’s teaching me everything! Everything.”
(Campbell fist-bumps Allen.)
Campbell:“I got no choice!”
Allen:“I’m not gonna disrespect you. But every time I watch you on film bro … Man … Just knowing you, knowing how you are … Damn. I watch you play, and you still got it. You got it! I watch you, and you’re like lights out. Still.”
(There was a puppy-dog vibe in Allen just then, like, It is so cool to be Calais Campbell’s mentee.)
Campbell:“I tell you, I tell you. Take care of your body. Work. We gonna get to that conversation. We ain’t got there yet.”
For Campbell, this is passing along what he knows to the next generation. If Allen down the road takes his job or even some of his playing time (and they’re different players, Campbell a huge physical player, and Allen an edge rusher), Campbell will live. It’s what an unselfish veteran does with a promising rookie, and it will pay off for Allen long after Campbell retires. It’s a pay-it-forward thing. Allen, the sixth pick in the draft, will be on some team in 2029, and maybe the coach will say something to him about mentoring the first-round rookie lineman, and maybe the coach won’t have to say anything—Allen will just do it. And Allen will drop knowledge on the kid the way Campbell did him.
2. The Foles way. Observation: Nick Foles talked to a receiver or receivers after every pass he threw in this practice. There wasn’t a play that Foles walked away and was in his own world. After practice, Foles, a devout Christian, gathered some of the (presumably) Christian players on the team, maybe 15, and they broke down the huddle by saying, “1-2-3-Jesus!” He’s assumed a major leadership role, whatever that means, very early on in the process here.
3. Jalen being Jalen. I don’t know Jalen Ramsey, but I have immense respect for his game. Some of the stuff he does—ripping players before meeting them or playing them, for instance—is a little strange. But most of what he does is harmless, though it can be annoying. It can be fun too. At practice, I looked at Ramsey during a lull, standing behind him behind the end zone. I looked at his backplate (that piece of equipment that hangs down from the shoulder pads to protect the spine), and there was a $20 bill encased in the clear back of the piece of plastic. If you looked close, you could see, in black, “Twentyland” printed on the bottom of the bill. “It’s just swag,” he told me for my podcast dropping Wednesday. “Every time I go out there I’m trying to make some money. I’m number 20, so I chose a $20 bill.”
Podcast preview of the week: Me and Ramsey, post-practice, inside the Jags stadium:
Me: “Do you think you’re the best cornerback in football.”
Ramsey: “I know I am.”
Me: “You’re sure.”
Ramsey: “A hundred percent.”
Me: “Will you get paid like that?”
Ramsey: “Yeah I will.”
Me: “Do you think you’ll play your whole career in Jacksonville?”
Tuesday: Bucs (Tampa).
Heat index: 102 degrees.
Camp name I loved: Vincent Testaverde. Vinny’s kid, who played college quarterback at Albany and high school quarterback less than two miles away from the Bucs facility in Tampa, is a camp arm. He’ll have to shine in preseason garbage time to climb the depth chart here.
Guy I totally forgot would be in this camp till I saw the roster: Deone Bucannon. The hybrid safety/linebacker reunites with former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, now the Bucs DC. Amazing to see that Bucannon is just 26. Feels like he’s been in the league 10 years.
Favorite factoid: This has to be the most diverse coaching staff in NFL history. Thirty coaches. Eleven are African-American, including all three coordinators. Two are women.
It’s 6:27 p.m. It’s hot, the kind of heat for an extended period that makes a person think: Why’d I ever pick this line of work, and why did I choose to do this work in Tampa in late July? But here are the Bucs, practicing for two hours and 27 minutes in it. At least I get to find shade. There’s 90 players and 30 coaches out here in the unrelenting sun, and two hours and four minutes into the practice, Jameis Winston chased down a defender who scooped up a Ronald Jones fumble; sprinted 60 yards and tried to tackle the guy. I mean, these guys are working.
As the offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich, came off the field, he stopped to talk for a minute. When I say it looked like he had a drippy faucet running down both cheeks and his chin, I am not exaggerating. The man was drenched. And he was out there coaching, not playing.
“We are being real about this,” Leftwich said. “This is old-school football around here. This is how it’s got to be.”
One coaching staff already got fired because, among other things, coaches couldn’t turn the franchise quarterback around. The first pick in the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston, is in his crucial fifth season here. If Bruce Arians and Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christianson can fix him and eliminate some of the mindless errors on his pro résumé, then Winston gets signed to a rich deal and leads this team into the future. If not, well, it’s likely the Bucs go to market again, searching for the elusive franchise quarterback they’ve never really had in the 43-year history of the team.
Arians thinks Winston has had the weight of the first overall pick on his shoulders, and that’s been part of the problem. (Winston in four years: 21 wins, .616 completion rate, 88-to-58 TD-to-interception ratio. Mediocre at best.) Arians has stressed to Winston, even on the field during practice, to think about being one man of 22, to not overdo the leadership thing or the pressure thing. In all ways, he wants Winston to take the checkdown.
“Twenty-one other guys are gonna play their tails off with you,” Arians said in his office before practice. “You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to fit a ball into a window. Just dump it to the back. Learn to take your checkdowns. Don’t try to be Superman on every play because you were the number one pick in the draft. You don’t have to be elite. Just play quarterback.
“He’s finally [getting] it. You dump it off to the back 30 more times a year instead of throwing it into a pigeonhole, you’ll throw for 300 more yards in this game without the mistakes. And you see the light go on. He’s got so much pride, and this team hasn’t won, and the quarterback gets a lot of blame, and the coach gets fired, and he take a lot of responsibility for it.”
Enough, Arians says. We’ll take the pressure. You just play. In the practice I saw, Leftwich talked to Winston for 20 minutes it seemed. Arians was a satellite coach, golf-carting around to see the whole team. Leftwich was hands-on. “It’s fun working with him every day, because he gets it, he wants it,” Leftwich said. I had to stand back from him to avoid getting rained on. “We gotta fix some decision-making, but that’s my job. It’s about decision-making. That’s what quarterbacking is. The bad decisions, you gotta wipe them out. Everybody thinks quarterbacking is about arm strength, big plays. It’s really more decision-making in tough situations, about putting your team in the best situation to win. I’m trying to put that in him every day.”
Entering this crucial season, for the franchise and for himself, Winston seems to have put all his dark clouds, on the field and off, behind him. He has a 1-year-old son and a fiancé he plans to marry in 2020. When you watch him, you see the football reasons why GM Jason Licht fell in love with him and made him the first pick of the ’15 draft. Winston’s touch on deep balls is savvy, and he and Mike Evans are one on the sideline stuff. He’s certainly got a chance to salvage his career.
If he plays smarter.
I asked Winston about the emphasis of this staff. “Doing my job,” he said. “Be a quarterback. Be a game manager when I need to. Be a playmaker when I need to. Check it down when I need to. Cut my losses and throw the ball away when I need to. It’s a part of learning the game—understanding a throwaway is okay. If a defense gets you on a play, it’s okay.”
Now he’s got to follow that through. This staff will not let him slide.
“We are not f—ing around,” Leftwich said.
This looks like a quarterback getting a coaching change, and new mentors, at the right time. Now we’ll see if Winston can be the quarterback the Bucs have been praying for. It’s on him.
“On behalf of all the black men I mentioned tonight and many more out there who’ve had most of the same experiences I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all our white friends: When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen. Do not get caught up in how the message is delivered. Things that make us great on the field, like our size and our aggression, are the same things that can get us killed off the field.”
—Champ Bailey, the new Hall of Famer cornerback, in his rousing enshrinement speech Saturday night in Canton.
“We started this sh–!”
—Ty Law, in his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech Saturday. Law played on the first three Super Bowl championship teams in New England.
“I know it doesn’t look like it, but I do get haircuts.”
—Ed Reed, in his Hall of Fame speech.
That’s the most authentic bust I’ve seen of a Hall of Famer.
“We just came from the Jaguars stadium in Jacksonville. Nick Foles sends his best wishes.”
—Mick Jagger, to the sellout crowd at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field during the Rolling Stones concert.
“We lost one of our greats with the passing of Nick Buoniconti. He was a great football player, a true Hall of Famer, but he was much more than that. He was a lawyer and a successful business leader. Most of all he was a family man. The work he did with the Miami Project following the tragic accident with Marc will never be matched.”
—Nat Moore, the former Dolphins receiver and current team VP of Special Projects and Alumni Relations, on the death of Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, who also raised million for spinal cord research after son Marc was paralyzed in a college football game.
“I saw my picture and I’m not pleased … I want to get adjusted on looks rating. I look like I’m on ‘The Walking Dead’ in that picture.”
—Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, legitimately upset about his image in the “Madden NFL 20” game.
Bruce Arians • Buccaneers head coach • Photographed in Tampa, Fla.
Arians returns to the sidelines with the Bucs after retiring as Arizona coach following the 2017 season. “I had no thoughts of ever coaching again,” he said to me. “I was convinced it was over.” Then the Bucs called.
“Retirement is great. I failed at it twice now.
“Sitting back last year, I realize how much I missed the locker room, the players. To be honest with you, it’s the first time I felt old in my life. I was playing golf with old guys every day, and I’m one of ‘em. I don’t like feeling that way. This spring, I hadn’t felt this young in a while. Have a purpose. I have to wake up with a purpose. My golf game just isn’t enough.”
He will not have his coaches be automatons.
“I told my coaches in our first meeting, ‘If you miss a ballgame, a recital, anything to do with your children, I’ll fire you.’ Because I missed a lot of mine. And those years don’t come back. There’s plenty of time in this office to work; you can come back at midnight if you want to. But don’t miss that recital, don’t miss that game. Those things mean so much to your children and it means so much to you. The games I did get to see my son play, I know he felt different, and I don’t want those guys to ever miss that.”
I’ve long believed that Cliff Branch is a Hall of Fame wide receiver. But he isn’t in Canton. He died the other day at 71 in Bullhead City, Ariz., 34 years after playing his last snap for the Raiders. That’s the only team he played for.
Branch and Lynn Swann were the quintessential deep threats of their day, playing for the most fearsome AFC teams of the seventies post-merger. Swann got into the Hall of Fame in 2001. Branch never made it. It’s something Al Davis, till his dying day, fumed about.
We can argue about the relative impact and play in big games of the two men. Swann was balletic, Branch a burner. It’s tough to look at the pre-analytics-era data and think one man should be in the Hall and the other shouldn’t.
A tale of two young MVPs, per the folks at Sloan Sports Conference:
• Patrick Mahomes in 2018 (age 23): 5,097 yards, 66% completion rate, 50 TD, 12 INT
• Dan Marino in 1984 (age 23): 5,084 yards, 64% completion rate, 48 TD, 17 INT
The Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies ended, on my watch, at 11:53 p.m. on Saturday when Tony Gonzalez’s speech ended.
Gonzalez is a very good man and a great player. But Hall of Fame speeches should not last 39 minutes. His did.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn does not have a seat at his office desk. No chair over in a corner, no stability ball anywhere. No seat whatsoever. Not sure I have ever seen that.
Quinn has a standing desk with a PC and all the other accoutrements of a regular desk.
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr is building a home in Las Vegas next to the home of coach Jon Gruden.
I have covered the league since 1984, and I have never heard of the coach and quarterback living next door to each other, which apparently Gruden and Carr will do when the Raiders move to Nevada in 2020.
I need to give credit to my two co-workers on this trip: Annie Koeblitz, NBC Sports video producer, and production assistant Nicole Granito. Both 20-something former college athletes—Annie a Rollins College lacrosse player, Nicole the pride of Sacred Heart University field hockey. This trip, basically, is one camp per day, then it’s on to the next one, often driving into the night. So far, on this segment of the trip, we’ve driven in a big Chevy Suburban from Brooklyn to leafy Jersey (Jets), to suburban Baltimore (Ravens), to south Philly (Eagles), through Delaware and Maryland and the D.C. Beltway and Virginia and North Carolina to tidy Spartanburg, S.C. (Panthers), to northeast Atlanta (Falcons). And then, in a 503-mile slog that I truly do not recommend, through endless Georgia and down I-75 (past Ted Williams’ former hometown of Hernando, Fla.) to Tampa, where we found ourselves late last Monday night. Then across Alligator Alley to Fort Lauderdale (Dolphins), Jacksonville (Jags), and Metairie, La. (Saints) … and then we stopped by Brett Favre’s home in Mississippi late Friday afternoon. We flew to the Colts on Saturday and spent Sunday with them.
Side notes: Annie, a Clevelander, could have worked for Tom Coughlin. She’s a metronome. Worker bee. Never tired. Excellent idea person. (You’ll see a video out this week of Saints receiver Michael Thomas reading on-camera the best Tweets from famous people congratulating him after signing his rich new contract. Annie’s idea.) Always ready for the next video, next interview. Very valuable on a trip that requires quick and constant turnaround of video and ideas. Nicole drove the last 4.5 hours of the Atlanta-to-Tampa trip, past the peach farms of southern Georgia and through the thunderstorms of north Florida. What a horse. A driving machine. She’s done probably 60 percent of the driving, has a fleeting respect for the speed limit (she’s a Jersey girl after all), but is one of the safest drivers I’ve ridden with. She also is very good putting me in my place, which I need. Maybe 40 minutes out from the hotel Monday night, I said we needed to stop—I needed a rest room. “The next stop we make is going to be the hotel,” she said, icily. “You’ll have to hold it.”
But I’m 62! Old men have to use the rest room! Nope. We powered through.
On Tuesday morning, we went to see the Bucs. I was driving, and as we pulled into the facility, I explained that the gigantic Bucs flag on the flagpole, 66-feet-by-100-feet, on a 125-foot high flagpole, was the biggest flag in the world. “Pretty sure they set the Guinness record for biggest flag in the world with that,” I said.
Nicole is an enthusiastic person, and just then she said: “That is the biggest flag I have ever seen in my life!”
Sometimes I hear about the work ethic issues of young people in some walks of life. I don’t have that issue. I’m with two co-workers who, for a two-week driving span of the trip (I will fly on the last week of the trip, starting next Sunday in Arizona), work from the time we get in the car till the time they go to bed. Last Monday, this was the itinerary:
4:30 a.m.: Depart Westin Poinsett in Greenville, S.C., drive 114 miles to Falcons camp.
6:40 a.m.: Arrive Flowery Branch, Ga.
6:55 a.m.: Meet with Falcons coach Dan Quinn in his office. Watch some tape of Deion Jones.
Hang out. Watch practice.
1:30 p.m.: Depart Flowery Branch, drive 503 miles to Tampa.
9:45 p.m.: Arrive SpringHill Suites, Tampa.
“We’re savages, is what we are,” Nicole said.
That was a zany day—absolutely not normal. What was normal was how much work got done. One or both of Annie and Nicole worked all the way to Tampa, uploading and editing footage from the day’s work, sending completed stories and video shorts back to NBC headquarters so they could be posted to NBCSports.com, social media accounts and also prepared for use on Pro Football Talk Live. Anyway, this whole adjustment to TV/video/podcast (added to the writing part of my life) makes the job a lot different for me. Fortunately I have two good guides helping me.
Late Thursday night, I was just finishing a little writing before bed in Biloxi, Miss., 80 minutes from Saints camp. Stupidly, I scheduled an interview at Saints camp at 7 a.m. Friday, which meant a 5:10 a.m. departure. I felt bad for the two worker bees in our party, so I group-texted them and said I was sorry for working them into the ground, and I thanked them.
Two minutes later, at 12:58 a.m., Nicole texted: “No worries … we are all in this grind together!! Let’s keep kicking butt. Big day tomorrow.”
A minute later, this from Annie: “We’ve got this! Teamwork makes the dream work!”
On Friday, we stopped on Brett Favre’s house in Mississippi. We were there about two hours—half the time he and I reminiscing, half the time recording a podcast conversation that will air in the coming weeks. The late greatness and twilight of Favre’s football life played out in the formative years of Annie, 28, and Nicole, 23 (Annie: “He was always on TV when I was a kid”), and they were excited to meet him and talk to him. When we got back in the car to drive to Jackson, (we flew from Jackson to Indianapolis on Saturday), Nicole overflowed.
“I AM LITERALLY GOING TO TALK ABOUT THAT EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE,” Nicole said before we were out of the driveway.
She called her dad back in New Jersey and told him what it was like to meet Favre, and after a while, her father asked: “Where do you guys go from there?”
Nicole: “I don’t care. We just spent two hours WITH BRETT FAVRE!”
When we turned in the car at the Jackson airport, the odometer didn’t lie. We’d driven 3,255 miles in 10 days, starting in Stamford, Conn., and ending in central Mississippi. We did a lap of Florida—from the George-Florida line south on I-75 to Tampa, continuing down the west coast of the state till we crossed west to east on Alligator Alley (saw an apparent nighttime wildfire) to the Dolphins, then up the east coast to Jacksonville, then across the state and its endless panhandle (362 miles from Jacksonville to Alabama, crossing the southern edge of Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge). Now that’s a heck of an auto lap. Good times.
What’s your best habit, Matt Ryan?
“Best habit … I’m an early riser. I get a lot of stuff done early in the morning. It’s the best time of day for me. Five-thirty to seven, before my kids are up, no phone, no distractions, great time to focus on things I need to do.”
And your worst?
“I never have my phone on me. I’m horrible responding to people. Horrible. It’s not that I mean to not get back to you, it’s just … I’m here at the facility, I’m playing golf, I’m with my kids … I’m just in the moment. I’m here. I am not tethered to my phone, so sometimes, even with people I would normally get back to right away, it’s half a day or more before I acknowledge their text or call. That’s pretty annoying to people close to me.
“But, come to think of it, in some ways, maybe that’s actually a good habit.”
The Jaguars are considering playing a song over the PA system in their stadium this season when second-year wide receiver D.J. Chark does something great.
The name fits. Sort of kitchy. Same number of syllables.
“D.J. Chark, doo doo doo doo doo doo …”
“I didn’t know that,” Chark said when I spilled the beans to him. “That’s pretty cool. I’ve heard the song a thousand times. I didn’t know what it was at first, but after hearing it for a year, I got the lyrics. So … that’d be unique.”
Since he is only 22, I guess you could call him Baby Chark.
Send your questions or comments to email@example.com.
Novel idea about expanding the season. From Jeff Curtis: “If eventually, and we all know they will be, two games are added to the regular season, why isn’t the discussion on not the number of games that are being played but the number of plays? Maybe what the owners and players should focus on is how many plays are there in an average game and how do you reduce that without shortening the game itself. My solution would be to go to a straight running time quarter with the clock stopping only for change of possession, turnovers, injuries and penalties.”
Interesting, Jeff. The average game has about 63 scrimmage plays per game on each side of the ball. What you’re talking about is eliminating stoppages for incomplete passes. For players who play every snap, you’d have to eliminate about seven scrimmage plays per game on each side of the ball to have a player play the same number of snaps in 18 games that he now plays in 16. (Figure it this way, considering an average NFL offense: 1,000 scrimmage plays per season divided by 16 games is 62.5 snaps per game; 1,000 scrimmage plays per season divided by 18 games would be 55.5 snaps. I’d say it’s do-able. The side benefit for NFL coffers? The NFL would be able to play games in three hours, easily, and even add an extra couple of ad spots.
On the purchase power of South Carolina Sundays. (I thought it odd that you can buy fireworks in South Carolina on Sundays but in many counties not beer.) From David H. Jacobs of Corning, N.Y.: “The bigger question, and one that somewhat rhetorically shines the light on the hypocrisy of our society, is why can you buy semi-automatic weapons on Sunday in both North Carolina and South Carolina but not be able to buy liquor? One of the answers is the power the church and gun lobbies have in our country. Ironically, the gun lobby extols ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ as the driving forces behind their movement yet the church restricts those same elements by limiting access to alcohol on Sundays.”
Good points, David.
The Eagle fan has landed. From Dan Kyle: “HUGE Eagles fan here. So much so that in May 2017 I went out to Fargo to run the Fargo Marathon decked out in Eagles gear (the race began and ended in the Fargodome). Anyway, I was really not surprised by how well Carson Wentz has always done in school. [I wrote he never got less than an A in all his years of schooling.] When we traded up and it looked like Wentz was our guy, I told every Eagles fan who would allow me to do so about Wentz’s appearance on Jon Gruden’s quarterback show, when he was asked to break down a play on the board. That’s when I knew he was special. I knew if he could physically play in this league, his intelligence would get him to elite status. He broke the play down with such confidence, with no hesitation, keeping his tone conversational the entire time. I never saw any of the other rookies on that show ever break down a play like that.”
Wentz is the kind of humble guy who is embarrassed to talk about that. I learned about it at the combine in 2016 and when I pressed him for details, he was clearly uncomfortable. He’s an easy guy to root for.
On my praise for 75-year-old CBS correspondent David Martin for being at the top of his game still. From George T. McNeill of The Villages, Fla.: “As a retired Human Resources/EEOC Officer, I am attuned to matters concerning protected classes and stereotypes in both the workplace and life in general. In your column you wrote about David Martin. I ask the following question because you did not mention or highlight one single skill, trait, characteristic, or talent of his other than his being employed by CBS; however, you clearly stated that he is 75. (Bummer that you missed the chance to shout out Happy Birthday! He turned 76 yesterday—so says Wikipedia.) The question: What makes his reporting from an aircraft carrier so special? If the answer is simply his being 75, then you are unintentionally being ageist or patronizing or inappropriately stereotyping. The inference: 75-year-olds should “stay home on the porch,” not out climbing around on an aircraft carrier.”
I see. I appreciate you pointing that out, George. It was certainly not my intention to pat an old man on the head and say, Isn’t it nice that the old man gets up and goes to work every day. The news business is a highly competitive one. I bet the Pentagon correspondents for CNN and NBC would have killed to be reporting from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Middle East on the simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran. It’s the equivalent of me being inside an important team’s draft room on draft weekend and reporting what goes on way behind the scenes. I should have made that clear. Martin, clearly, is still very good at his job at (now) 76, and I didn’t mean to slight the quality of his work by emphasizing his age the way I did. Thanks for the email.
1. I think I hope the Pro Football Hall of Fame thought of all the unintended consequences when it announced the new policy for the class of 2020, the Centennial Class for the Hall. There will be a class of 10 senior candidates, two coaches and three contributors eligible for enshrinement in 2020. There will also be five modern-era finalists, as usual. That’s a potential of a class of 20 people. In recent years, the maximum class has been eight: five modern-era finalists and a combination of three contributors (including coaches) and seniors (men retired for at least 25 years). The difference this year, the Hall’s Board of Directors announced Friday, is that the 15 among the non-modern-era candidates will be nominated as a bloc by what the Hall said would be a 25-member blue-ribbon committee comprised of current Hall selectors and former players and league officials. A few thoughts:
• I’m a fan of addressing the backlog of Senior candidates from past decades, men whose cases have never been heard. I am not a fan of selecting the 15 in a bloc. It sets a precedent—a bad one, I believe—even though the Hall clearly intends this to be a one-time event. If you change the rules once, what’s to stop the Hall from changing them again?
• Let’s say I believe 11 of the 15 nominees are solid and should be admitted, and let’s say I’m waffling on one, and let’s say I do not think three are Hall of Famers. Should I vote yes on the entire class as a bloc, knowing I will be voting yes on three or four who I believe do not belong? For me, that would be a very tough call. An unnecessary one, I believe. We should vote on the 15 one by one, the way the Hall has been admitting the legends of the game since 1963. Though a few of these names will be altogether obscure (Lavvie Dilweg of the old Packers, for instance), my experience in almost three decades on the committee is that there’s tremendous respect for the early years of the league, and probably all of those candidates would be approved—in my opinion—by getting 80 percent of the vote from the 48 selectors.
• The key to this class should be the old timers. We are fixated on the three or four decades when getting outraged about who’s in and who isn’t. What about the first 40 years of the league? This blue-ribbon committee, whoever is on it, should be focused on righting the wrongs of pre-1960 football. Ralph Hay, the owner of the Canton Bulldogs, the first power franchise in history, and the man who led the founding of pro football in 1920, should be one of the contributors. Clark Shaughnessy, vital in the college and pro games in developing the forward pass, should be one of the coaches. Another good candidate? Buddy Parker, a starting back on one Lions championship team and the head coach of two other Detroit title teams, deserves a hard look too. I am bullish on the mantra of Rick Gosselin, one of the smartest football minds on the committee: “This should be a Centennial Class, focusing a lot on the early years of the game.” This should not be the cleanup class for hotly debated candidates of the last 30 years, in my opinion.
• Another issue … Let’s say that a couple of the popular old-timer candidates—Tom Flores, for instance, or Joe Klecko—get bypassed by the blue ribbon committee. (I could use any deserving player. I used Flores and Klecko because there is passion behind the cases for both.) And let’s say big Klecko supporters think he got the shaft. Or let’s say the multiple California voters in Flores’ corner get ticked off he’s not one of the 15. What happens if one or more of those voters, angry at the process already, vetoes the entire class? Not saying it will happen and not saying it’s probable. I am saying it’s possible. What a black eye that would be, if enough voters vetoed the class so that none of the candidates got in.
On that score, my advice to the blue-ribboners: Do not put Paul Tagliabue on the list of three contributors. He’s too divisive a figure right now.
• You will think, “Oh, he’s pissed the Hall of Fame is bypassing him to admit this class.” Not exactly, though I’m not happy about that part of it either. We as a group of 48 selectors are told the Hall is so grateful for our service and the homework we do and the passion put into selection the class each year. I can hear those words in my head right now. So now the Hall plans a process to admit 15 people to Canton without the 48 selectors as gatekeepers as they normally are. Since 1963, the selection process has been the same. And now, instead of whittling lists of seniors, contributors and coaches down the way it’s been done for 56 years and 56 Hall classes and 326 Hall of Famers, this class is going to be decided in a brand-new way.
The bloc of 15 candidates will need 39 yes votes. That means if 10 people vote no on the bloc, and none of the 15 get in, the Hall of Fame will have major egg on the face, and there will be no Centennial Class.
• Will this class have an asterisk? Something like: * Admitted under different voting standards by the Hall in 2020. That certainly won’t be noted by the Hall of Fame, but it’s the way I’ll think of the Class of 2020.
2. I think Antonio Brown’s bum foot—he’ll see a foot specialist for it—has cast a pall over Raiders camp. The season opens a month from today, and Oakland’s middling offense cannot afford its best weapon to be gimpy, or to not play. That’s a given. How serious is his foot condition? David Chao, an orthopedist, writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune and contributed this piece of information, which is interesting.
3. I think it’s incredible that a judge in Louisiana is allowing this lawsuit against the NFL and two game officials who blew the call in the NFC title game. How possibly, with no evidence that intentional fraud took place, can a judge allow game officials and commissioner Roger Goodell to waste their time being deposed over a bad call? Four Saints ticket-holders allege the NFL failed to enforce its rules. Well, no kidding. Get over it. The best thing in this case was said in March, by Saints owner Gayle Benson, who, despite still being angry over the blown non-interference call, said: “You understand what happened and you move on. You can’t dwell on the past.” Is there a shred of evidence that anything other than a blown call happened? No. I’m sure every fan would love to see Goodell squirm in a deposition, pressed hard by an attorney. But there no justification for it. It’s a travesty that a state judge allowed this case to go on.
4. I think my friend and a former SI editor Dick Friedman said it best about the death of Nick Buoniconti in an email the other day. Buoniconti, the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and so much more, died last Wednesday. Wrote Friedman:
“As a charter Pats fan, I was hit particularly hard by Buoniconti’s departure. In many ways he symbolized those mid-sixties Boston teams: a savvy, hustling, overachieving crowd-pleaser. Of course he went on to more success with the more talented Miami teams. But here’s my other thought about him: Has any single individual literally embodied the highest highs and lowest lows of this sport? He played for the most glorious college program, Notre Dame. He was the defensive anchor of the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. He is enshrined in Canton. He became a respected commentator. But then came tragedy. His football-playing son was paralyzed during a game. Then, as with so many players, Buoniconti descended into dementia, which we probably will find was precipitated by the many hits he took on the gridiron. Gives us much to ponder. And in the end, maybe there is no way to make sense of it.”
5. I think I urge you to catch the HBO documentary on Buoniconti—“The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti,” directed by Bentley Weiner—if you missed it when it aired last February. I wrote about it then. A few notes: It’s a story of one of the most interesting lives in football history—and how grateful Buoniconti is for it, and at the same time how tormented he is by what football did to his family. His son, Marc, was paralyzed in a football game for The Citadel 33 years ago and remains in a wheelchair today, and Buoniconti struggled with dementia, knowing the likelihood that his condition is due at least in part to a life playing the game. Marc is terrific in the documentary.
“When we were growing up, football gave everything to us. And then look what it did to me. And now look what it’s doing to him. I mean, do you love the game? Do you hate the game? Do you love it and hate it?” he says.
Buoniconti, the son of a baker in working-class Springfield, Mass., used football to get out—to Notre Dame, to the American Football League and later the perfect 17-0 Dolphins in 1972, to law school while he was playing, to practicing law while he was playing, to being a sports agent, to being an executive with a tobacco company that led him to defend smokeless tobacco to Ed Bradley on “60 Minutes,” to a 23-year career on HBO’s “Inside the NFL,” and to raising more than $500 million for spinal cord research for The Miami Project.
Weiner told me last winter: “It’s a classic story about what football has given a man and a family and what football has taken away,” Weiner said Saturday. “You love it, you hate it. That is the thing I really want to get across. I mean, football got Nick to Notre Dame, and he preached to his kids about the importance of education. He never wanted to get by on football, and he didn’t. He didn’t want his kids to get by on football, and they didn’t. He realizes that, and he’s grateful, but he’s angry too. It’s just … complicated.” Great work.
6. I think I agree with Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge, who wrote almost despairingly of the four-hour, 50-minute marathon Hall of Fame evening and the need to shorten it: “I’m not sure what the solution is, but the Hall better find one.”
7. I think the 25th-season-of-the-Jaguars festivities should really be fun when Tony Boselli and Fred Taylor are called to the stage.
8. I think this is my pet football peeve of the week: calling the Pro Football Hall of Fame “the NFL Hall of Fame.” It’s not. It has players who played in other leagues—most notably the Canadian Football League, the All-America Football Conference (1945-49) and the American Football League (1960-69). If this were “the NFL Hall of Fame,” Jim Otto and Joe Willie Namath and Otto Graham would not be in it.
9. I think it was interesting to see and hear peers last week say some form of The Jets solved their gaping hole at center by signing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. They did? The Jets replaced PFF’s 24th-rated center in 2018, Jonotthan Harrison, with the 25th, Kalil, who’d been retired. I don’t know if Kalil, 34, has anything left, and I don’t know if it’ll turn out to be a smart signing or not. But Kalil did not play well in his last two years (granted, he was hurt for part of 2017) in Carolina. This is no elixir signing for the Jets.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Tattoo of the Week: Amie Just, the Saints’ beat writer for the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, has this ink on the inside of her upper right arm that caught my eye at Saints training camp Friday:
b. If you have trouble seeing the tattoo, it says, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press.” Those are the core words of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and they seem rather important these days. I was blown away by young Amie Just, and impressed. I asked why she had those words on her arm. Just said in an email:
“I came up with the idea of getting a tattoo of an abridged version of the First Amendment while I was in my First Amendment class my junior year at the University of Kansas with professor Genelle Belmas. Her passion for the First Amendment definitely rubbed off on me. Her class made me passionate about sunshine laws and the rights journalists have. I got the tattoo a short time after I graduated, on May 24, 2017, at Skin Illustrations in Lawrence, Kansas. It took about 45 minutes to an hour or so. That was the same day that my future Congressional representative Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter. That news was the first thing I saw when I grabbed my phone off the table after getting my tattoo. I’m proud of my tattoo. It may be a little nerdy, but it’s an ever-present reminder that the work journalists do is important.”
c. How great is that? I hear things like that and meet people like Amie Just and I think that in such a turbulent time in journalism and in newspapers and in our country, we’re going to be okay.
d. Story of the Week: From The Wall Street Journal: “Why everyone hates customer service,” by Sharon Terlep. Stories like that make the WSJ worth subscribing to.
e. Great lead by Terlep: “In corporate parlance, it’s called the ‘breakpoint.’ It’s how far customers can be pushed before their heads explode.” And she writes: “Today, companies crunch data and use artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to bolt. Many are walking right up to that line.”
f. So many good writers out there, writing so many good stories.
g. Jersey Story of the Week: From Jessica Remo of NJ Advance Media. Apparently, Mick Jagger went to the diner of my forties.
h. I mean, if you’re from north Jersey or have lived there, you have eaten at the Tick Tock, four or five west of the Meadowlands. Man, I once did a interview there over breakfast with a young Giants receiver named Mark Ingram. Crazy. Mick at the Tick Tock.
i. NJ.com reported exclusively that the Stones were served by a waitress named Kalliopi. And they ordered ham, egg and cheese sandwiches. And disco fries: crinkle-cut French Fries covered by thick beef and melted cheese, which is very much a north Jersey thing. And they were there at 10 a.m. the morning of their Meadowlands concert..
j. No one recognized them.
k. Kalliopi served them.
l. THE STONES ORDERED DISCO FRIES AT TICK TOCK. THE NEWS DOES NOT GET BIGGER THAN THAT.
m. Thanks to the staff of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos Southern League baseball team. We stopped by the lovely new ballpark on Pensacola Bay on Thursday night, and I was invited to throw out the first pitch (actually, there were five first pitches, and I threw the last, so I think I threw out the fifth pitch), and play-by-play man Chris Garagiola (who hosted me for an inning in the radio booth). It’s a beautiful park, with Pensacola Bay beyond the outfield fence. Loved our evening there.
n. Good to see you in Jags camp, Austen Lane. Good luck in your next life, in radio.
o. Coffeenerdness: Best coffee stop on this trip: The Blind Tiger Café in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, where I had some terrific iced coffee, rich and dark, the Single-Origin Brazil Cerrado. I think I shocked the president of the company there, Roberto Torres. “Can you take off your sunglasses?” he asked. I did, and he was surprised it was me. Cute.
p. Beernerdness: Finally made the pilgrimage to Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, not far from the Bucs facility. Cool place, with a couple of tasting rooms and wonderful merchandise too. I tried the Florida Cracker Belgian Wit, and it was mindful of Allagash White—not quite as yeasty- or citrusy. But a solid beer. And what a cool spot.
q. Hey Adam Schefter: Great podcast conversation with Tedy Bruschi. So compelling to hear Bruschi, also of ESPN, talking about his recent stroke, and what a stroke actually feels like when it starts. That’s valuable for people to hear, and good for Bruschi for being so stark and open about it.
r. When are we going to do something about these shootings? When? People shopping for school supplies in Texas, blown away. Lord God. Can someone in our government do something? Anything? Vote all these people out if they won’t do something, and vote in people who will do something about gun violence. What should we do? I do not know. It’s not my job. It’s the job of our elected officials, who need to be bolder and not so married to the NRA. Stop pussyfooting!
s. How much is enough? How long will we keep turning away from the story and ignoring it? What does a 21-year-old person need an AK-47 for? What!!!! When will we actually do something other than offer thoughts and prayers? When?
t. Damn it! When?!!!
Today: Packers, Green Bay, Wis. Checking in on the Rodgers-LaFleur chemistry experiment.
Tuesday: Browns, Berea, Ohio. One day isn’t enough to analyze the Browns this summer. Wish I had nine, but one will have to do.
Wednesday: Steelers, Latrobe, Pa. Time marches on everywhere but Latrobe, and for every team but the Steelers. (Well, and maybe the Patriots.)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday: Home. Brooklyn, sweet Brooklyn. Home court advantage for me for a few days.
Sunday: Cardinals, Glendale, Ariz. Flying portion of the trip, eight days long, commences with The Kyler Show.
To Alissa Banks:
Your old man will be missed by
thousands. Mostly me.