GLENDALE, Ariz. — The just-out-of-the-box pearly white baseball stood out among the Cardinal helmets, Cardinal mini-helmets, Cardinal posters, T-shirts, a leg cast, mini-footballs, real footballs, Cardinal banners, arms, autograph books, football cards.
“Sign my baseball! Sign my baseball!”
Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray signed along one sideline after practice Saturday for 27 minutes, covering about 65 yards in a glacial walk. He signed long after his teammates went into the locker room on the last day of Cards’ training camp Saturday afternoon. He took 13 selfies. The love washed down on the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
“Love you Kyler!”
“Thank you sooooo much!”
“Kyler signed it Dad!!!”
“I got it!”
“Kyler, have an awesome career! Love you!”
“Thanks for signing!”
“You the man!”
“Selfie? Please? Pleeeese?”
“THANK YOOOOOOOOOOOOO! THANK YOU KYLER!”
“Appreciate it, man.”
Like a metronome he signed. Then, another baseball appeared in a hand over the railing. Then a third baseball a minute later.
“Can you sign the baseball, Kyler?!”
Kyler Murray signed his name 300 or so times for the adoring fans, on everything from helmets to a leg cast to an arm.
Kyler Murray did not sign a baseball.
This is not even a story about Kyler Murray’s long-term future, or to speculate about whether, when he’s 35, he might try to take a shot in the twilight at roaming center field for the A’s, his drafting team in baseball. He can’t know the future now, so it’s futile to speculate on it, and he’s certainly not going to ruminate on it in his first training camp. My point: Bypassing the baseballs was jarringly interesting to me and said he’s pretty much all-in, as he should be, on being great in this game and parting the Red Sea, as the Cards like to call their all-red game-day crowds. I saw and heard nothing in my day here as evidence of anything other than Murray being a football nerd in training camp, studying the Kliff Kingsbury offense, pushing Kingsbury to take the reins off him so he can actually play the attacking version of the game he loves instead of the milquetoast show-nothing preseason version. The only non-football thing he does, in the Renaissance Hotel next door to the Cards’ stadium, where they hold camp practices, is try to kill teammates at Fortnite. “Not much bothers him,” Kingsbury said Saturday afternoon, “except, I think, losing at Fortnite.”
When Kingsbury got the coaching job at Texas Tech after the 2012 season, one of his first acts was to offer a 5-foot-8 quarterback from Allen, Texas, a full ride to come play quarterback for him in August 2015. When I met Murray after practice, I asked him if that surprised him, a Big 12 coach offering high school sophomore a full ride.
“No,” Murray said matter-of-factly. “I got my first offer from Clemson after the state championship game that year.”
Well, okay. Talk about how college football history may have changed. Kingsbury has been chasing Murray ever since, and now their partnership could impact football for a long time.
It’s always dangerous to make any judgments on a team based on one football practice, and I shall not do that here. Except to say three things:
• This offense is going is going to be fast, and it’s going to rely on spread principles, and it’s going to put lots of decision-making on the quarterback’s shoulders because of the multiple choices he has to make when he surveys the field. Murray threw a couple of interceptions Saturday, one by trying to fit a throw into way too small a window. My guess is Kingsbury will stress to him that if the receivers are running precision routes, he should have a fairly clean option on most plays.
• David Johnson will still have a chance to be a dominant back. He’s going to be Murray’s sidecar an awful lot. One of the most interesting plays I saw Saturday reminded me of a CFL play, with the pre-snap speed. There were two backs in the backfield, on either side of Murray in the shotgun, and smurfy second-round UMass rookie Andy Isabella came in jet-motion (sort of a sprint motion behind the backfield) and two receivers flanked left. At the snap, your eyes focus on Isabella and then quickly to the action left, and you missed Johnson leaking out to the right, away from all the shiny traffic, for a big gain on a swing pass. In Kingsbury’s last full season as Texas Tech coach, 2017, the Red Raiders threw it 551 times and ran it 459. So keep in mind that Kingsbury’s last team for a full season at Tech averaged 35 rushes a game. Johnson will not go hungry, in the running or passing game.
• Murray throws such an effortless and beautiful deep ball, a consistently perfect spiral. No question in my mind that with a couple of speed guys (Isabella and Christian Kirk) and a breakout camp performer in KeeSean Johnson—all three are 22 years old—as well as old reliable Larry Fitzgerald, Kingsbury will be tempted to challenge the deep areas for four quarters.
Overall, there is something weird and illusory about watching the Arizona Cardinals this summer. People have come to two preseason games here wanting to see the Kyler Murray show, and they see the Joe Gibbs Washington teams or something old-fashioned like that. Thursday night against Oakland, you saw a bunch of two-tight-end plays, three on a couple of snaps. There were 76 snaps played by Arizona tight ends in all, conservative and slow … stuff you won’t see when the season starts and Kingsbury is calling his offense. It’s ridiculous to ask people to pay for what is nothing but a faux dress rehearsal, but that’s what the Cardinals have put out when the games begin. Here, in the practices, that’s when Kingsbury can mold the real offense.
“The games, we’re trying to keep it close to the vest, obviously,” Kingsbury told me, sitting on a golf cart before practice. “We’re trying to get our players used to playing with each other. But … it’s interesting for me, because this is the NFL, and I’ve never called a game in my life where I wasn’t in straight attack mode. Kyler and I are adjusting to that.”
“So what can you do that’s just not going through the motions?” I asked.
“That’s a great question,” said Kingsbury, choosing his words carefully now. “For us, it’s operations. Getting guys lined up. Proper footwork. Things like that. It’s a challenge for Kyler. He wants to play. He wants to have success right away. He wants to light up every field he gets on. He’s been trying to get more put in to these game plans. ‘Are we game-planning this week? Are we game-planning? Can we do what we do?’ That’s been fun to see. He wants to go out and shine. He always has been the best, wherever he’s played. He expects to be the best. That’s what drives him.”
Of all the practices I saw on my camp tour, this one was the most interesting, Kingsbury worked with the quarterbacks constantly. When the offense was on the field in 11-on-11 work, he wore the headset and talked to his quarterbacks—Murray and Brett Hundley mostly—and Murray, in particular, played with tempo. You got the feeling, with seven of the eight receivers in serious contention for the final 53-man roster 26 or younger, and six in their first camp with the Cardinals, that Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim have hand-picked receivers specifically for the spread coach to use as modeling clay.
After practice, Murray described the fun of playing in this fast, attack-style offense. He said he considered Texas Tech, but, “I didn’t know how many guys I could get to come with me to Lubbock. But I loved it. I loved that style of play. I thought about going there for sure.”
“[Kingsbury] is the kind of coach guys like to play for,” Murray continued. “I think everybody has the perception of his swag, his confidence, his offense. But for me that was from the outside looking in. I didn’t get to play for him at the time. I played against him at OU one year. What I admired was they never had the best athletes but they always put points on the board. They were never out of the game basically. It was just a testament to his offense.”
Murray and Kingsbury seem to have something in common that’s important at this level of football. They’ve been able to shrug off the stuff that’s not going to matter much at this level. Kingsbury had a losing record in college and his hire by the Cards was widely ridiculed; he hasn’t taken any of the justify-yourself bait. He has learned how to say very little in his dealings with the press; you won’t hear him brag (at least not yet) about his edgy offense. Same with Murray and the height thing. He’s the first sub-6-foot quarterback to be drafted in the first round in football’s modern era, never mind being number one overall. And he has very little interest in promoting his brand right now.
It’s a fascinating combo platter. A big chunk of people think Kingsbury didn’t deserve the job, but they’re fascinated to see if his offense will shred the competition or fall flat. A big chunk of people think a 5-10 quarterback should not go number one in the draft, but they’re fascinated to see how Murray will play. ESPN has dispatched Pedro Gomez to cover Murray as a beat this season, and you don’t send one of your star reporters to cover a story full-time unless he moves the needle. And Murray, whatever he does, will be one of the most fascinating stories in sports, not just the NFL.
For now, Murray just doesn’t care about it all.
“I think he’s incredibly competitive,” Gomez said, “but I don’t think the fame part is a huge thing for him.”
“He just doesn’t care for all the pub,” said Brett Hundley, the backup quarterback here. “He just wants to play football.”
“I think it’s natural for people to hear stuff and care about what people say,” Murray told me. “But I’ve been under the microscope pretty much since early in high school. I’ve learned to understand that you control what you can control. We’ve got a new head coach, a new offense, a 5-10 quarterback who chose football over baseball, and everybody’s looking at us. People cannot wait for us to … “
Fail, he wanted to say. But he didn’t.
“Like against the Raiders [Thursday night]. We didn’t look too good. Everybody’s trying to throw dirt on us or whatever. They couldn’t wait for that. But it is what it is. We’re not even … it’s not the regular season.
“To be honest, it’s like, I see why a lot of these superstars don’t play in these preseason games. It’s like, for what? You know? Four games. I get it. I’m right there with coach. There’s no point showing anything. It can’t help us. For me, just going out seeing a lotta bodies I think is very helpful. Other than that, it’s the preseason. If this was week four of the regular season and we were getting shut out first half, I think we’d have issues. For right now it’s part of the process. Let’s not forget this is a process.”
Murray is fine with the skeptics—and he might be one too, if he was on the outside. But on this trip, Jameis Winston said he admired Murray going back to his 45-0 run at Allen High School in Texas. Winston thinks something gets lost in the metric and analytics about the quarterback position. Winning counts. Winning’s the biggest thing, actually.
“People who know football know if you really study the game, like in detail, really understand the position of quarterback and how I play it, watching the film … they will know what I was doing in high school and college was not a fluke,” Murray said. “Obviously this is a new level. You’re playing the best of the best. It’s gonna be ups and downs. The winning aspect of it, I mean, I’ve won on every level. I think I guess people did kind of underrate that. It is what it is. Like I said, I try to control what I can control.”
That, for now, is getting the timing down, and picking the right targets, in an uber-tempo offense. “It’s really quarterback-friendly, I’ll say,” Murray said. “It’s a versatile offense. As soon as we get this thing rolling, we’ll all be on the same page. It’s really quick. It’s really fast. Takes a lot of attention to detail. There’s gonna be plays where the defense has the perfect call, which is football, and we’ll get stopped. More times than not, they’re not gonna have the perfect call. So, it’s putting people in space, putting our guys in space, our athletes in space, is going to be fun to watch. We got some guys that can make plays at this level.”
I told Murray I’d talked to his college coach, Lincoln Riley, before the draft, and Riley said he never called a game differently or made accommodations for Murray because of his size. I wondered if anything had changed early at this level.
“People make a big deal about me being a smaller guy,” Murray said, sounding resigned to the fact that no extended conversation will happen without a height reference. “Russell Wilson’s not the tallest guy, and look at him. So it’s like, I gotta take the heat for it, I guess. It is what it is. I’ll keep taking it. I just hope people understand, you know, I feel like if you can play, you can play, no matter how big you are.”
Then he brightened a bit. Say this about Murray: He may not care about being The Man in sports media in 2019, but he’s pleasant and polite and understands the duties of his job. He understands why ESPN dispatches Pedro Gomez to cover him. (“I will say this,” Gomez said. “This is a much easier assignment than covering Barry Bonds.”) He’ll play football, and play his part in it, and play Fortnite, and probably not pay attention to much of the outside-world stuff.
“I always try to keep a positive mindset about it all,” Murray said as we parted. “I’ve been playing this game my whole life so I kinda understand how it goes. Just try to keep pushing. That’s life.”
There is No More To Say About Antonio Brown and His Helmet
NAPA, Calif. — But I’ll say it anyway: The Raiders should put Brown on notice today by sending him the dreaded “five-day letter,” which every agent and knowledgeable player would absolutely dread. This letter would mean that Brown would have to return to the team by Friday and (be an adult and) play with a league-approved helmet, or he would be put on the reserve/left squad list, meaning he couldn’t play for the Raiders or any team in 2019. It’s also Belichick insurance, preventing the Patriots or some other contender figuring they can deal with the Brown headache for four or five months if it allows them to win a game or three more.
I did consider urging the Raiders to just fire Brown. It just might come to that. But the five-day letter is a good starting point, because it draws a line in the sand immediately. As Mike Florio reported at Pro Football Talk, not reporting after receiving that letter would end Brown’s season and prevent the Raiders from having to pay $29.1 million future guarantees on Brown’s Oakland contract. It’s worth doing. Brown has driven the franchise to this, and he deserves this.
Today is not the day to make any judgment about Brown’s mental stability or his frame of mind. He might be fine; he might be legitimately troubled in a way we don’t know. I just know the Raiders went out on a limb to acquire him from Pittsburgh, then paid him a rich contract. Since then, Brown has been beyond childish about an issue that more than 2,000 players have coped with: wearing only safety-approved helmets in accord with a $60-million initiative in 2016 to ensure that every player wear a helmet that has been approved by a joint NFL/NFLPA testing process. Every team has 63 active and practice-squad players. So 2,015 players (some of whom might be ticked off about it) will start the season wearing approved helmets. One wants to wear a non-approved—and relatively unsafe—helmet. That one is Brown.
The NFL and NFLPA are not softening on this. They can’t. Last season was the first the NFL mandated that players wear only the approved helmets, with the proviso that veterans who wore other helmets would have a one-season grandfathering of the rule so they could wear unapproved helmets in 2018. About 33 players, including Brown, took advantage of the grandfather clause and wore unapproved helmets last year. This may be an outlier, but preseason and regular-season concussions fell from 281 in 2017 to 214 in 2018, a decline of 23.8 percent. Addressing head trauma is the hottest-button issue in football today. The last thing, then, that the NFL will do is to start making exceptions for players, or to allow players to sign waivers to wear unsafe helmets. Where would that stop? And what would happen if Brown signed a waiver, played with the unsafe helmet, and was diagnosed with a brain disorder at 45? Would the public sympathize with the league or Brown? And the courts? It’s not morally right for the sport with an issue as explosive as head trauma to start making exceptions.
On Monday, I met with rookie Raiders GM Mayock in his office at Raider camp. The Raiders thought the Brown issue had been quashed, and he’d abide by whatever ruling an independent arbiter made on whether he could wear his obsolete Schutt Air Advantage helmet. Though Brown had been a headache to that point, Mayock told me: “Unfortunately there is a sliding scale—the more talent a guy has, the more opportunities he’s going to get. But in the case of Antonio, Jon [Gruden] and I both had the advantage of being in the media and seeing Brown up-close over the years and seeing him practice as hard as anyone we’ve seen. We felt like and still feel like when he’s on the field he’s the best receiver in football. We support him and we’re behind him.”
Then Brown, late Monday, lost his grievance to be able to wear his old Schutt helmet; the NFL argued that a clause in the rules that said players could not wear helmets more than 10 years old—which Brown’s was—automatically disqualified the helmet from further use. The arbitrator agreed. Brown thought if he found any Schutt helmet that was less than 10 years old he’d be able to wear that going forward, but in midweek the league ruled that even the later model of the Schutt Air Advantage (discontinued in 2014) that Brown wanted to wear didn’t pass the testing process. So Brown would have to wear one of the NFL/NFLPA-approved helmets.
On Sunday, Brown was absent from camp. Mayock stood in front of writers at Raider camp and issued a terse 39-second statement that made it clear the organization has had enough. “He’s upset about the helmet issue,” Mayock said. “We have supported that. At this point we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief. So from our perspective it’s time for him to be all in or all out. We’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails. We’re really excited about where this franchise is going and we hope AB will be a big part of it starting week one against Denver. End of story. No questions.”
Mayock is pissed off. Gruden is pissed off. Maybe they can scotch-tape this together and Brown will pout a little and find a helmet that he’d tolerate; I suppose if he does and reports in the next couple of days, they’ve got to try to make it work. But when is the next time Mount Antonio’s going to blow? Make no mistake—it’ll happen. How many things did Mike Tomlin tamp down in Pittsburgh that we didn’t know about? It got to the point that a top-three receiver in football just wasn’t worth the constant BS that Brown brings to a team. So whatever the financial cost—and though the Raiders paid Brown only a $1-million signing bonus, he and agent Drew Rosenhaus would file a grievance to get the guaranteed money in the new contract—the tightrope Gruden will have to walk just isn’t worth it unless Brown surrenders right now.
While in Seattle last week on my camp trip, my NBC team went to new helmet manufacture Vicis, which makes the top-tested helmet on the NFL market, the Vicis Zero1. Patrick Mahomes wears it. Julian Edelman wears it. About 200 players in the league wear a Vicis helmet. Vicis has some of the same equipment used by the NFL/NFLPA testers, including the kind of battering ram used to tests how much force is felt by the brain when the helmet is hit full-force. We were able to procure a 2006 Schutt Air Advantage helmet, close to Brown’s model if not exactly the same (his was at least 10 years old), and, with the help of the Vicis scientists, we measured three major areas.
Weight: The Schutt helmet weighed 3.70 pounds. The Vicis Zero1 was heavier—4.53 pounds. The fact that the helmet with more modern technology is .83 pounds heavier is a factor, to be sure. Players like to feel lighter.
Absorption of force. When impact-tested by the battering tool, the Schutt helmet recorded 73 g’s of force that would have impacted the brain. At the same force, the Vicis helmet, with its slightly malleable outer shell, recorded 53 g’s that would have impacted the brain. So, the brain of a player wearing this Schutt helmet would feel 37.7 percent more force of impact than the force on a brain protected by the new Vicis model.
Peripheral vision. Using a light to shine through the mask of the helmet and reflect onto a tool measuring the field of view, the Schutt helmet had a horizontal field of view of 210 degrees wide. The Vicis helmet had a 236-degree-wide field of view. The 26-degree improvement was a vision increase of 12 percent. The vertical vision was 40 degrees north to south in the Schutt model, 47 degrees north to south in the Vicis helmet—better by 18 percent in the newer helmet.
Let me be clear that I think there are new Schutt and Riddell models that could test very well versus the 2006 Schutt Air Advantage. I reached out to Vicis because I’d interviewed CEO/co-founder Dave Marver for a May podcast about the state of the helmet, and because I know I’d have some time in Seattle while visiting the Seahawks last week. I don’t mean to endorse this helmet or this company; I simply mean to compare a new helmet with the most modern technology to a helmet that is more than a decade old.
“We just want to protect as many players as we can at every level of the game,” said Marver, who said it was his hope that Brown accept one of the high-performing helmets, even if it’s not the Zero1.
Watch the accompanying video and judge for yourself. I just know it’s hard to do the sort of R&D that the league and the union have done, with real NFL dollars finally behind the effort, and think it’s smart to wear a vintage helmet. The owners injected $60 million into developing better helmet technology in a five-year plan beginning is 2016. You can’t be sure it’s having a major impact yet because of the 2018 concussion numbers. So it’s too early to pass judgment. But it’s too late to go back to old helmets now.
Ran into cornerback Richard Sherman at Niners camp and recorded a podcast with him. Regardless of your leanings on Sherman, he’s a player leader and member of the NFL Players Association executive board, and he matters these days. He matters for the 49ers, and he matters at the bargaining table with the owners as the two sides try to get a deal done in advance of the end of the current 10-year CBA that expires after the 2021 season. Clearly, there’s no hurry, but Roger Goodell ratcheted up expectations when he raised the possibility of getting a deal done by the start of this season. That’s out the window now, barring a true miracle, but I asked Sherman about the state of the talks, and about the state of Sherman.
Sherman: “I think these discussions have been much more amicable than the discussions in 2010, 2011, 2009 about the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The owners, even when we have intense disagreements on topics … Even when there’s an intense disagreement or guys not reaching the same conclusion on certain things, there’s more discussion. There’s not anyone throwing a fit and getting up and leaving. There’s ‘I see your point of view. We have our perspective. We can agree to disagree at the time and maybe revisit it later.’ I think that shows growth. That gives both sides a reason to feel optimism. Neither side is walking away. Both sides understand there’s a sense of urgency with the way the economy and just the way TV in general, the landscape of TV is changing.
“But I do think it’ll get done sooner than later. I don’t think that it’ll reach the deadline. And if it does, it’d be because something astronomically went wrong and things fell apart. At that point, there’s a lot of worry on both sides.
FMIA: What’s your personal opinion of an 18-game schedule?
Sherman: “I think it has very little chance of happening unless something astronomical is conceded.”
FMIA: Have parents come up to you debating about whether their kids should play football?
Sherman: ”Honestly, no, fortunately or unfortunately. But I had to make those decisions for my kids. It’s an obvious yes for me because I understand the good and the bad that comes with this game. I understand the good and the bad that comes with life in general. You can say, These people got in a terrible car accident so don’t drive your car. Because these people you know got into a really bad accident. Now they’re paralyzed or now their arm doesn’t work … I understand that football teaches you values. It teaches you accountability. It teaches you work ethic. It teaches you how to be a teammate. It teaches you how to overcome adversity. How to deal with loss. How to deal with being coachable. All those are skills that translate to the real world. In just about any job, you have to be part of a team. Don’t go into other people’s lanes. Football teaches you those lessons. It teaches you at a young age. It teaches you to overcome fear. It teaches you, ‘Hey, I’m 190 pounds and he’s 305 pounds. I still have to have to have the courage to go in there and mix it up with him.’ Those are lessons I don’t know how to teach otherwise … There’s a chance you’re getting hurt but there’s also a chance that you learn these lessons, you have a great life, you have a career. If you don’t play professionally, if you don’t even play in college, those life lessons that you learn will translate and elevate you in life in general.”
FMIA: How do you feel physically?
Sherman: “I feel phenomenal! My legs finally feel under me. I feel confident. My weight’s right where it should be. Then I’m wiser—older and wiser. I feel really good. I feel good about our team. I feel good about myself. I’m excited to go.
FMIA: Gotten over the Malcolm Butler interception that cost you the second Super Bowl?
Sherman: ”Yeah, honestly. I haven’t thought about that for years. I’ve gotten over it as much as you can get over it.”
I talked to 116 people on the record and a few more off in the past month on my training camp tour, and here’s the fun part: picking the most loquacious and informative. (Catch up on many of our camp conversations on NBC Sports’ Training Camp Tour page.)
QB: Philip Rivers (Aug. 16), Chargers. Did the first Live Training Camp Podcast in my history of podcasting, with an audience of Charger crazies in Orange County cheering on Rivers after Friday’s practice. Rivers did reveal exclusively (stop the presses!) that he and wife Tiffany, who have nine children, might not be done yet. I told Rivers that Ryan Fitzpatrick had told he and his wife just had their seventh child, and while I asked him if he’d ever catch Rivers, he said, “I texted Philip and told him, ‘I can’t catch you if you keep having them.” That led to this exchange:
Rivers: “I don’t know if he’ll catch us or not. I don’t know where we’re gonna end up.”
Me: “Is it possible that you could go into double figures?”
Rivers: “Oh yeah. We’re just one away!”
RB: Phillip Lindsay (July 19), Broncos; Austin Ekeler (Aug. 16), Chargers. I love surprise stories and guys who made it against the odds. Two undrafted guys from Colorado—Lindsay from Colorado and Ekeler from Division II Western State—who did everything to just make the team. Ekeler told me he’d be working for a mining company if he wasn’t a Charger.
TE: Zach Ertz (July 27), Eagles; George Kittle (Aug. 13), 49ers. This says volumes about Ertz: When we talked, he sounded prouder of being Mr. Julie Ertz cheering on his wife and her U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in France than of setting the NFL record for catches in a season by an NFL tight end. Kittle’s so effervescent.
WR: Michael Thomas (Aug. 2), Saints; DeAndre Hopkins (Aug. 5), Texans; Jarvis Landry (Aug. 6), Browns; JuJu Smith-Schuster (Aug. 7), Steelers. The Idea of the Trip: Annie Koeblitz, chief videographer/idea person, suggested we do “Nice Tweets” from Thomas, a contrast of the Jimmy Kimmel “Mean Tweets” thing. When we finished with it—you’ll see it in the coming days—Thomas pulled me aside and said, “Thanks. That was a cool thing to do.”
OL: David Bakhtiari (Aug. 5), Packers; Keleche Osemele (July 25), Jets; Ronnie Stanley (July 26), Ravens; Joe Staley (Aug. 13), 49ers. I challenged Bakhtiari to a game of Monopoly and said a few untoward things about how I would win. Coming this season on my podcast. Bet you can’t wait.
DL: Grady Jarrett (July 29), Falcons; Cam Hayward (Aug. 2), Saints; Brandon Graham (July 27), Eagles; Calais Campbell (Aug. 1), Jaguars. Factoid of the Trip: Graham told me he has a video of him strip-sacking Tom Brady in the biggest moment of Super Bowl LI on his phone, and when he’s having a bad day, he’ll watch it.
LB: Darius Leonard (Aug. 4), Colts; Devin White (July 20), Bucs; Luke Kuechly (July 28), Panthers; Bobby Wagner (Aug. 15), Seahawks. White, 21, was so eager and so happy to be in the NFL. It shone through. Planning to write more about him next week.
DB: Richard Sherman (Aug. 13), 49ers; Chris Harris Jr. (July 20), Broncos; Johnathan Abram (Aug. 12), Raiders; Damarious Randall (Aug. 6), Browns; Earl Thomas (July 26), Ravens. Abram on being a classic Raider, and praising Jack Tatum, was a keeper.
K: Robbie Gould (Aug. 13), 49ers. Talked about the shock of signing the four-year, $19-million deal to stay in San Francisco in the offseason, after having the best two years back-to-back of any kicker ever. “I got paid $185,000 my rookie year, and I thought, ‘This is absurd!’ “
Coach: Sean Payton (Aug. 2), Saints; Dan Quinn (July 29), Falcons. Payton was a cross between proud dad/facilitating coach/realtor showing off the improvements in the Saints facility for more than an hour. The franchise has spent more than $8 million in the last three years sprucing up a once-drab facility. “The facilities and the equipment sometimes is … affirmation that we’re committed to being real good. We’re committed to excellence,” he said. Quinn’s a born teacher. He showed us how much better the defense will be, on his big screen with the all-22 coaches tape, with Deion Jones back anchoring the linebackers.
GM: Mike Mayock, Oakland. This is probably not such a big secret, but NFL Films has to be ticked off at the fact that the Raiders aren’t being the most forthcoming organization on the “Hard Knocks” front. And that is putting it mildly. But Mayock met with me, talked about Antonio Brown and his team, was guarded but answered the questions, and I appreciated his honesty in a tightrope-walking time for the rookie GM.
Assistant coach: Brandon Staley (July 20), outside linebackers, Broncos. The University of Dayton Flyer coaches and sounds like a rising star, and Vic Fangio is counting on him to help make Von Miller a complete player. Miller’s buying in. Staley on Miller: “He has a refreshing humility about being coached.”
“Tom [Brady] is one of my heroes. He’s taken a cutting-edge approach to nutrition and well-being. It just shows you you can feel okay … If we keep eating the way we’re eating, then you’re not going to feel good. You’ve got to work at it. We are eating our way into discomfort.”
—Pete Carroll, 67, grandfather, to me. He was spry as ever at Seattle camp. I asked him about his eating habits. “Plant-based,” he said.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Get your mat! Get your block! Get your strap!”
—Dallas coach Jason Garrett, in another stop on my Training Camp Wellness Tour, on the field at a morning walkthrough, calling out to a group of Cowboys gathering for a yoga session.
“Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. This is the next thing. For me, this is action. We help millions and millions of people or we get stuck on Colin not having a job.”
—Jay-Z, in a press conference with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, announcing a partnership between the NFL and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation group to work on the strange bedfellows of social issues and NFL entertainment.
“Denied work for 889 days.”
—Colin Kaepernick, in a message on a recent video about his absence from the NFL.
“What’s up, GOAT?”
“I got out, and I felt my foot burning. The next like 24 hours it swelled up. It got really big. The doctor came over, drained a little out. Scalpel the next day. Freaking scissors the next day.”
—Antonio Brown, describing his frostbite accident in a Paris cryotherapy chamber and the aftermath of it on “Hard Knocks.”
Jason Witten • Dallas tight end • Photographed in Oxnard, Calif.
“Are you going to be any good?” That’s the last question I asked Witten for “The Peter King Podcast” when I saw him the other day in training camp. He’s 37, coming off a year in TV.
“That’s a great question. Yeah. I’m gonna be really good. So many times, when you come back … What’s your role? … Listen: I’m not gonna get caught up in the roadkill of that. I think I’m gonna be really good. I’ve worked hard. My expectations have always been more than anybody’s put on me. Will I catch 100 passes? Probably not. Can I help this team win football games? I believe so. That’s the ultimate challenge. I gotta show that. This young team, it’s a talented roster. The impact you can have on a daily basis … every day I’m thinking, How can I make them [teammates] better through my personal experiences? It’s a show-me game. I was taught that early on, as a 21-year-old kid, green as can be, coming into Dallas. You better be able to show it. I’ll live with the results, because I know what I’m all about.”
Much more with Witten, with a major emphasis on his ill-fated ESPN experience in the “Monday Night Football” booth last fall, coming Wednesday in my podcast. Listen/subscribe to “The Peter King Podcast,” with a new episode every Wednesday.
Josh McCown, surprisingly lured out of retirement by the Eagles on Saturday to back up Carson Wentz, is no doddering old backup. He’s 40. In his mid and late thirties, he’s been one of the best backups in the NFL.
At 34, for the Bears, McCown threw for 348 yards in a 45-28 win over Dallas.
At 35, for the Bucs, he threw for 288 yards in a 27-7 win over Washington.
At 36, for the Browns, he threw for 457 yards in a 33-30 win over Baltimore.
At 37, for the Browns, he threw for 341 yards in a 31-28 loss to the Jets.
At 38, for the Jets, he threw for 331 yards in a 38-31 win over Kansas City.
At 39, for the Jets, he threw for 276 yards in a 27-13 loss to New England.
I have a Jerry Jones story for you.
At the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies two weeks ago, Jones went to a couple of Friday night parties for the enshrinees, including Gil Brandt and the late Pat Bowlen. Those parties are swanky affairs, and Jones, who can converse with any person having even the slightest thing to do with the NFL, never short-shrifts a conversation or blows anyone off. He takes photos with anyone, talks to anyone. On this night, as every returning Hall of Famer does, Jones wore his Hall of Fame gold jacket with great pride. He never quite got to the buffet line at either party. He never ate dinner.
It got to be very late, around 3 a.m., and the parties were ending, and Jones said his goodbyes. Accompanied by veteran PR aide/wingman Rich Dalrymple, Jones got in his car. He was famished. So he stopped at a convenience store in Canton. This is not a sight often seen in a 24-hour food mart in Canton, Ohio—a Pro Football Hall of Famer in his Hall blazer coming in at 3 in the morning. Jones asked the gal at the place, Would it be possible to put a couple of those hot dogs on the grill for me? Well, yes. Yes it would. So Jones and Dalrymple waited a few minutes for the dogs to get cooked on one of those circular grills that keeps hot dogs hot and blistered for hours, and Jones paid for them, and they got back in the car. Then the Dallas owner proudly wearing his Hall of Fame blazer ate dinner. At 3:30 a.m., a couple of fast-food hot dogs can be quite delicious for a starving man, even a yellow-jacketed one.
The NFC West has two gluten-free coaches. Pete Carroll and Kyle Shanahan are off the gluten.
Philip Rivers Factoid of the Week
Philip Rivers and wife Tiffany have nine children: two boys and seven girls.
Rivers’ mom was one of nine children: two boys and seven girls.
Rivers’ grandfather was one of nine children: two boys and seven girls.
The training camp trip is a hodgepodge of weird travel, with the object of the operation to see as many teams as possible while navigating a rubric of off days (camps now have one every five days) and trying to arrive in a camp when players have padded practices, which are not done every day. Hat-tip to Kaitlin Urka for her help on the third leg of the trips last week, and to Nicole Granito for her help on the driving leg, and to Annie Koeblitz for her help on 22 of the journey’s 24 days. They were invaluable.
Days on road: 24.
Teams seen: 23.
Longest day: Monday, July 29. Wake at 4:30 a.m. in Greenville, S.C., drive 114 miles to Falcons camp, work the Falcons for 6.5 hours, drive 503 miles to SpringHill Suites, Tampa, arrive 9:45 p.m. (Grady Jarrett made it all worthwhile.)
Strangest (but quite rewarding) day: Wednesday, Aug. 14. Sean McVay in his office at the Rams facility at 5:55 a.m., Brandin Cooks to tape a podcast at 7:30 a.m., drive a half-hour to Cowboys camp in Oxnard, record a podcast with Jason Witten at 11:40 a.m., interview Jason Garrett on the field at 12:25 p.m., make a 3:30 p.m. flight out of Los Angeles International Airport for Seattle, and make a 7:15 dinner with daughter Mary Beth and husband Nick at South Town Pie in Seattle. (Priorities, you know.)
Karaoke-est moment: King, Urka, Koeblitz mangling “Under the Sea,” from “Little Mermaid” near Thousand Oaks, Calif. Soon to be seen on my YouTube channel. (A lie. I will never have a YouTube channel.)
Best meals: 1. Mozza, Newport Beach, Calif. (Aug. 16). My favorite pizza in the land. 2. Williamsburg Cucina, a food truck outside Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. Had the Rustico sandwich on sourdough, with hot salami, asiago cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and arugula. That was the wow surprise food of the trip.
Most picturesque drive: I’d never driven the Florida Panhandle, and that’s underrated on the scenery scale.
Best hotels: T-1. Ironworks Hotel, Indianapolis; Lodge Kohler, Green Bay. 3. Hotel Raphael, Kansas City. Most of the others were cookie-cutter (but reliable) Marriott jobs like SpringHill Suites. The Ironworks is a real gem on the northwest side of town, about 10 miles from Colts camp in Westfield.
Training camp trip scene that simply cannot be unseen:
At the Los Angeles airport Wednesday afternoon, in a men’s room in the Delta Terminal, a man washed his left foot in a men’s room sink, hopped on his right foot to the air dryer, dried his left foot, leaned against the wall, slipped his left sneaker on, walked to the sink, slipped his right sneaker off, washed that foot, hopped to the dryer, dried the right foot, then put that sneaker on.
It was quite a show.
Driving in Seattle late Thursday afternoon. On the way to SeaTac for a flight to LAX to see the Chargers and Saints practice Friday. Annie Koeblitz, videographer, driving. Me in the passenger seat. Kaitlin Urka, our other videographer on this portion of the trip, in the back seat.
“I could have hugged Pete Carroll today,” said Urka, 32, a former big-time high-school golfer from northern Michigan.
(NBC likes to hire athletes, and I see why. They are, by and large, competitive and have a strong work ethic and understand how sports work; as I often said to these women in the last month, You guys get the bleeping job done. In our business, excuses don’t matter. Getting the job done does. That’s how coaches talk, and I guess NBC figures athletes have heard the nothing-else-matters-but-production line often.)
That morning, Koeblitz and Urka had videotaped a podcast of me and Carroll (it‘ll drop in the coming weeks), and he said the NFL was missing the boat by not supporting women as players more. Women as consumers of the game is fine, but as players—particularly at a young age—that’s what Carroll would like to see more of. Urka got excited and a little emotional when Carroll said that.
“I was a Punt, Pass and Kick champion when I was young. In my neighborhood in Michigan, the boys in the neighborhood would come by, and we’d play football. Touch, tackle, I would always play with them. My dad installed these floodlights on the top of our house. Kids came to play, including two girls who were very athletic. My dad would play quarterback. We would play for hours. It would get completely dark. It was pretty physical. It’s amazing no one got really hurt. I would say we started around the time I was in first grade and went on to when I was in high school.
“Just about every year in the fall, when all my guy friends would sign up and go play football, my dad would have to consistently remind me, ‘This is something you can’t do.’ I would constantly say I wanted to play. I played soccer, and that went from co-ed soccer when I was very young to finally having girls teams, and I just thought it would be the same in football. It never was. The most I could do was Punt, Pass and Kick. My dad and I watched football together. We talked football. It was very much a part of our lives. I was that kid at the high school football games shagging the balls in warmups and throwing them back, because I wanted to be as close to the action as I could.
“I was so devastated I couldn’t play with them when it was time to play competitive organized football. I wish there was someone like Pete Carroll around when I was kid. When I was young, there were no men saying—certainly not Super Bowl champion coaches—that girls should be encouraged to play football.
“I never wanted to be the cheerleader. I always wanted to be the quarterback.”
Periodically during this season, pro football’s 100th, I’ll give you a snippet of history. Those snippets will vary, from game memories to living history of big plays to what’s been happening in the United States that impacted a football season. That’s where we go today.
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the day Rocky Bleier was wounded in a firefight in Vietnam. ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi traveled to Vietnam with Bleier last August, and recorded his trip back to the battlefield where troops in his battalion were killed and he was wounded in the left thigh, lower right leg and foot. Rinaldi’s complete story of Bleier’s experience in the most unpopular war in American history airs Tuesday night—exactly 50 years to the day when Bleier was shot up. Bleier, you may know, went on to win four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a running back alongside Franco Harris, and he is still a hero to the Terrible Towel-wavers around the country.
There was a time when famous American athletes went to war and had to miss seasons of their sport. Ted Williams missed three full seasons and parts of two others to serve as a combat pilot in World War II and the Korean War. To most of a certain age, Bleier is one of the last athletes we recall being drafted to serve in a war. (Pat Tillman, the former Cardinals safety, was killed in the Afghanistan conflict in 2004. Undrafted, he enlisted to do what he felt was his patriotic duty after 9/11.) Bleier returned to the Steelers, where he was a low-round draft pick as a running back out of Notre Dame, and made the team as a complement to Franco Harris. He played on four Super Bowl championship teams.
I talked to Bleier about his experience with Rinaldi on the trip back to the rice paddy where men in his platoon died. It’s clear that, 50 years later, the story still resonates deeply inside him. With Rinaldi in Vietnam, Bleier broke down at least twice, and collapsed in the field from heat stroke and the emotion of the moment. The overwhelming feeling seemed to be summed up in two words. “For what?”
“Growing up, I was not political,” Bleier told me. He grew up in Appleton, Wis., a half-hour from Lambeau Field. “In my family, you get drafted, and you go and serve your country. You do your duty. I grew up in a do-what-I-say culture. You don’t think about the political motives. I didn’t know much about the protests going on back here and what exactly drove the young people to protest. I just did my job. But 57,000 young people died, including men in my unit, and you come to realize, ‘For what?’“
With me, Bleier didn’t directly criticize out government, but he walked right up to the edge. The senselessness of that war, and the length of it, will haunt the legacy of the leaders of that day. “That was a time of uproar in our country,” Bleier said. “We wondered, ‘Is this country going to hell?’ But we survived and built a better country.”
But the dichotomy of those times … the week of that firefight, Woodstock was happening in upstate New York. When Bleier returned, he took a while to get healthy. Steelers owner Art Rooney felt strongly about giving the wounded war hero—Bleier got a Purple Heart for his combat bravery—a chance to make the team. And he did, returning to play 10 more seasons with the Steelers, rushing for 1,036 yards in 1976 and becoming a beloved overachieving Steeler.
I asked Bleier if he and coach Chuck Noll ever had a conversation about his Vietnam experiences.
“I never had a conversation with Chuck Noll,” he said.
Rather amazing. He meant not just about Vietnam. He meant ever.
What’s your best habit, Kliff Kingsbury?
“Working out in the morning, even when I don’t really have the time. Getting at least 30 minutes in to take care of my health. I’m usually in there around 4:30. I gotta move. I gotta be consistent with that or I just won’t feel right.”
Any organized gym activity? Maybe Orange Theory?
“Noooooo. I can’t do anything where girls will kick my ass, so I stay away from the Orange Theories.”
And your worst?
“The worst, that’s tough. Probably holding on to bad play calls, bad play design, too long, because I really believe in them. I have a tendency to go back post-game and hang onto things too long. If something doesn’t work, I have to pay attention to that instead of loving a play or play design that looked so good during the week.”
To the point on Antonio Brown. From Damian Shaw of Henderson, Nev.: “Antonio Brown is not acting out because he has thoughtfully decided that his old helmet serves him best for safety purposes. He’s acting out because he’s learned that’s how he gets his way. My 2-year-old did that all the time.”
Those are two pretty smart sentences right there. Thanks, Damian.
Hmmmmm. From Brett Myers (via Twitter): “I’m sure you’ve answered this a dozen times but maybe you’ll indulge me. Over the last 100 years of football who’s the one NFL influencer that you never got to interview that you wish you could for just 15 minutes?”
Actually, I haven’t been asked this very much. I would chose from among two people, and I would pray for more than 15 minutes:
1. Vince Lombardi. Because, well, he’s Lombardi, and he’s been dead for 49 years, and he’s just a name on a trophy and a quote on a plaque for most people.
2. Ralph Hay. Ninety-nine years ago tomorrow, Hay, an auto dealer in Canton and owner of the Canton Bulldogs, gathered midwestern pro football team owners/managers at his showroom, the precursor for a larger meeting a month later, and birthed the American Pro Football Conference. That league became the NFL in 1922. I’d love to know why he did it, what the early problems were, and, well, everything about football in 1920.
On the thorny issue of gun control. From D. Drake Daggett: “I’m a longtime reader of your column. I feel that I have a sense of your frustration over what seems like a uniquely American thing: mass shootings. I’m retired USAF, 20 years. I’ve sworn an oath on many occasions to, among other things, support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The fact that I’m retired is immaterial to that oath. I didn’t abandon it when I retired; I prefer to think that I’m now protecting it against domestic enemies. Like you, I’m beyond frustrated by mass shootings in the US. What is it about American culture that makes someone go want to shoot up a bunch of innocents? I’m coming to the opinion that the only way to truly enable effective gun control is to change the Second Amendment. There was once an amendment that outlawed alcohol, and that amendment was later overturned. The Constitution isn’t rigid, by design it was made to be flexible to reflect the will of the people. It’s a difficult and thorny issue, gun control in the US, and I don’t see an easy solution. Suppose we’ve got gun control. What do we do with the 300 million plus firearms and the upwards of a trillion round of ammo that are out in the general population? IT IS HUGE, COMPLICATED, AND MESSY. I don’t know what the right answer looks like. I don’t know anyone that does, either.”
Mr. Daggett, first: Thank you for serving our country for 20 years. That’s so much more than I ever did, and what you did allowed me to chase my silly dreams knowing my freedom was being protected. (And my apologies for significantly editing your email, but I could not run it in its entirety.) In the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten more than 100 emails about the gun issue in our country, and this was the smartest and most nuanced. It expresses precisely what I feel. A few people have asked me, It’s easy to say, ‘Fix it.’ But what’s your idea to do so? Like you, Mr. Daggett (and you would be far, far more qualified than I), I don’t know the answer. I do know the answer begins with all of us having the will to do something—having the right to ask this question without being shouted down as un-American: “Is the right to possess some of the killing machines now produced such an inalienable right that it supersedes the right to live without fear of being gunned down on a random trip to Walmart, or in a third-grade classroom?” It is not un-American to ask that question. It is un-American to not ask that question.
I love the Flight 93 National Memorial, and I’m glad I could bring the experience to you. From Joe Campbell: “The best thing about this week’s Football Morning in America was the story on Flight 93. Truly inspiring [and] we should never forget the sacrifices made on that fateful day. Thanks for taking the time to share. Have followed you for years and always enjoy but this was special.”
I get goosebumps thinking about the trip. So many of you apparently did too, and that makes me so happy. Please, please, please: Visit this underrated national park 65 miles from Pittsburgh or 120 miles from Washington (or from anywhere) near Shanksville, Pa. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
It’s heaven. From Joe Gregory: “You mentioned you haven’t owned a car since 2015. What is that like?”
Marvelous, actually. The first four years my wife and I lived in New York City, we owned a car and had to pay $500 a month for a space in a garage, and we drove it maybe once a week. Occasionally the battery would be dead and we’d have to get it jumped because it lay dormant so long. We finally said it’s silly to own it, so we gave it to our daughter who lives in Seattle. I haven’t regretted it since. In New York, the vast majority of the time the subway or bus is the way to go. I find on the rare occasions that I drive in the city, the slowness of the process drives me nuts. The subway isn’t nirvana, but it’s hugely efficient compared to the auto. And on the occasions when I have to travel somewhere out of the city but close by, I either take the train or rent a car. The savings have been significant.
1. I think we have reached the breaking point on the preseason thing now. Now it’s not only prime-time players sitting out most if not all of the preseason. Two 2018 playoff teams, the Bears and Rams, sat all 22 starters in Week 2 of the preseason. More and more teams are inching toward that, and it’s not the first time it’s happened. But we’ll see about the honor of those who run this league and those who own teams, if they can look their patrons in the face knowing that, in many cases, 20 percent of the season-ticket fees being paid are for off-off Broadway performances. Do you pay the same for a play in a dinner theater in New Haven as for “Hamilton” on Broadway? Of course not. For owners to continue to ask fans to subsidize scrimmages at top prices is an insult to anyone’s sense of fairness.
2. I think I have one reaction to the NFL/Roc Nation partnership: Prove it. The league announced last week that Jay-Z and the league would join forces to promote social and social-justice initiatives favored by the league and its players, and also for Jay-Z to become a co-producer of the Super Bowl halftime show. At first glance, the hire of Jay-Z seems like a blatant Halftime Show move. Last year, the league struggled to find a halftime act for Rams-Patriots because many performers were angry that no NFL team would sign activist quarterback Colin Kaepernick. According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, at the press conference announcing the partnership, “One reporter compared the league’s partnership with Jay-Z, one of the most influential African-Americans in the world, to ‘putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound when it seems like Colin is getting blackballed by the NFL.’ “ While I don’t think efforts at promoting and aiding causes favored by the league and its players are misguided, I do think reporters and the public should be extra vigilant to be sure this isn’t the NFL engaging Jay-Z to make the halftimes shows great while doing only moderate social work. If that happens, this partnership will be a sham.
3. I think I’ve got a darkhorse candidate for breakout rookie of the season: Niners wideout Jalen Hurd, from Baylor. He didn’t look like a third-round pick when I saw him Tuesday at practice. He looked like a three-year vet—powerful, smooth and confident. The Niners love him, and he could emerge as a major threat in a receiving group that doesn’t have one.
4. I think those who write and talk about “Hard Knocks”—I heard one ESPN radio voice the other day call this year’s show “complete fluff” because of the limited reporting on the Antonio Brown story—should be mindful of this: I would bet my last dollar that NFL Films wants to show more, and has significantly more that it’s gotten on tape during the week, but the Raiders have nixed some scenes. Perhaps many scenes. I’ve said this multiple times: Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock do not want any part of “Hard Knocks,” and because teams have the opportunity to view the prospective show before it airs each week, there’s no question in my mind that the Raiders are being heavy editors. That’s why this past show was almost Jon Gruden Live. Just my guess, but NFL Films knows at least that Gruden’s shtick is good TV, and if they can’t spend 12 to 15 minutes on the Brown melodrama, at least watching Gruden coach football is eye and ear candy to distract from the non-news of the week.
5. I think baseball’s announcement that it’s playing a real game in Dyersville, Iowa, at the Field of Dreams, which is a fun idea, points out just how greedy and tradition-short-sighted the NFL is in choosing—at least for now—to not play a game in the birthplace of professional football in 2020. The Pro Football Hall of Fame was pushing for a Thursday night Bears game in Week 2 2020 in Canton. That’s the 100-year anniversary of the date pro football was formed into a 10-team league, including the Decatur Staleys, owned by George Halas, which later became the Chicago Bears. The game will make more money at Soldier Field, of course. But this was a cold decision by the NFL. If the league truly revered history, it would play a historic game in a historic year in a historic place. Now it’ll just be another game.
6. I think it was sad to hear about the death of Cedric Benson, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft by the Bears. Sad for dying young in a motorcycle accident in Texas Saturday, of course, but also sad because he never seemed fulfilled by his football career. It’s tough to live up to the expectations of being the fourth pick in the draft (in 2005), but Benson came into football at a time of the beginning of the devaluation of the running back, and he wasn’t particularly crafty or quick. He was productive and physical. In his second stop, Cincinnati, he toiled for a while as the kind of workhorse back he wanted to be in Chicago. For a short time—16 games over the end of 2008 and all of 2009—Benson averaged 100.3 yards per game. Not many players, regardless of draft position, average 100 yards a game for a season, and Benson, in effect, did that. I hope he died knowing he had a positive career.
7. I think one of the most interesting things—and I’m developing it for a story this fall—on the camp trail this year is NFL teams trying to find edges through better sleep for its players … and coaches. I’ve asked in most of my stops, and sleep is clearly a new frontier in the player performance realm. More to come there.
8. I think the transaction of the week happened Saturday. Josh McCown, even at 40, will be a godsend for Carson Wentz in Philly.
9. I think Al Davis and Jerry Jones found the best places to have training camp. Both are in California. Not saying Napa (Raiders) is particularly idyllic on-site, because there’s nothing particularly picturesque about being in the backyard of a Marriott hotel, where the Raiders train. But the environment is perfect—as private as the Raiders want, with cool mornings to make practice tolerable, and perfect turf fields, and a half-outdoors weight room where players can smell the cool sweetness of flowering trees nearby. Nor is Oxnard (Cowboys) the site of beauty. But when coaches and players need to wear sleeves and fleeces for the morning walthroughs, you know it’s something the players covet instead of working in the stifling August heat of Texas.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Very cool to spend time the other day with Kevin Youkilis (“Yoooooooooooooook”), Tom Brady’s brother-in-law, for a video story on his brewery, Loma Brewing in lovely Los Gatos, Calif.
b. Story of the Week: Ali Watkins, Sanielle Ivory and Christina Goldbaum of the New York Times, on the final days of Jeffrey Epstein in a squalid New York City jail. “Inmate 76318-054: The Last Days of Jeffrey Epstein” is rich in detail and well told.
c. Great end, which you will understand after reading: “By late in the week, there was one small difference: The vending machines were full again.”
d. Story of the Week II: Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin and John Muyskens of the Washington Post, on climate change all around us. “Extreme climate change in the United States: Here are America’s fastest-warming places.”
e. Great lead about the softening of winter ice in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., and having to cancel 11 of the past 12 annual ice-fishing contests there, for fear of anglers falling through thin ice. And about the rise of temperatures over the last century of 2 degrees Celsius (a rise of about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in New Jersey, one of our most populous states.
f. July was the hottest month on record on the planet.
g. The newspapers this week … a good example of why they matter—at least to me. On a trip like this, when I do not turn on the TV and only occasionally am able to catch a news show on NPR in the car, it was eye-opening to pick up the Seattle Times at Starbucks near the Seahawks complex last Thursday morning and read this headline: “As recession indicator surfaces, stock market dives 800 points.” What?!!!! That’s going to get your attention, and it got mine, and I speed-read what just happened. I love newspapers. Also got a chance to read about California’s recycling crisis in the Ventura County (Calif.) Star as I rode to Cowboys camp. I really enjoy seeing the papers from coast to coast. Of course, I’m worried about how thin they are.
h. Congrats to Albert and Emily Breer on the birth of Ginny Breer, who is one lucky girl. The third child of the Breers has two wonderful brothers and two nurturing parents, and those are tremendous assets in life. Have a great life, Ginny.
i. I do not know how Albert worked the way he did this summer and saw more football than I did while prepping for his third child. Man, that guy works.
j. And welcome to the world, Brody Theodore Raanan, son of Jordan. Have a great life.
k. Congrats, Chris Melvin of the Cardinals. The PR man turned 40 on Saturday, and he has spent 20 of those working for the Cards, starting as a PR intern.
l. Coffeenerdness: Do not, I repeat, do not, get the coffee on American Airlines. Whoever makes and serves that coffee is just blasé about coffee.
m. Beernerdness: Anyone who tells you that there’s something better than having a couple of Boulevard Wheat beers on a warm and cloudless August afternoon at Kaufman Stadium is a liar. What a pleasant pastime.
n. All those who had Rafael Devers as the first man to pass the 100-RBI mark in 2019, and had it happening on Aug. 18, well, you know your baseball.
o. What a cool thing Vikings PR men Tom West and Bob Hagan did, putting this wonderful memorial in the press box Sunday before the Seahawks-Vikings game. Don Banks covered the Vikings for both papers there, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was a beloved and respected guy in the press corps.
p. I have the best of both worlds. I love this month when I can reconnect with the NFL world, and meet who’s next (Kyler Murray, Devin White). I love going home even more. I miss home.
Mike Mayock stands strong.
Mike Tomlin chuckles to self.
He’s seen this before.