Pat Mahomes the Minnesota Twins pitcher didn’t have an Andy Reid in his life when he made the Twins rotation in 1992. That April was great. Mahomes, in his third start, struck out Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco twice each, and he beat Oakland 8-4. But then, in May, he got knocked around at Fenway Park, walked six against Cleveland, and got lit up by the Yankees. “I learned the hard way,” Pat Mahomes recalled Saturday. “I was this hotshot prospect who started strong and then got hit around, and I’d linger on those bad games. I’d take the bad game into my next start. I found out that’s never good.”
His son Patrick was born in 1995, and started going to the ballpark when his dad was a key guy in the Mets bullpen in 1999. Take-your-son-to-work days lasted for 10 years, and they weren’t all glory days, like Alex Rodriguez giving 6-year-old Patrick batting tips in the cage in Texas, then Patrick following Rodriguez to shortstop and taking grounders there. In 2008, when Pat Mahomes was taking one last shot at the bigs by playing Independent baseball with the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Canaries, his son experienced some bus rides too—such as the nine-hour overnight trip from Dallas to El Paso.
“What was your big lesson for Patrick?” I asked the elder Mahomes. “What’d you want him to soak in back then?”
“I wanted him to see the work you had to put in to be a pro,” Pat Mahomes said. “He saw that in clubhouses for years.”
There was something else, something that came in handy in Super Bowl 54.
Pat Mahomes said: “I’d tell Patrick, ‘It’s always about the next play. It’s always about the next pitch.’ Forget what you’ve done. What are you gonna do next?”
One day earlier, I had asked Patrick Mahomes why the weight of the game, when he was in big trouble midway through the fourth quarter, did not get to him.
“All that matters is the next play,” he said.
This is the column I do every year, eight days after the Super Bowl, where I try to dive deep into why the game turned out the way it did, through the eyes of the most important player or people in the game. A couple of things lingered with me flying back from Florida the other day that I wanted to explore. One: How did Patrick Mahomes, after the worst 10-minute stretch of his NFL life, climb out of the pit to win this game? Two: As I reported last Monday, it was Mahomes who came up with the idea to call the play I had Reid diagram in this column last week, 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp; and I couldn’t get it out of my head how amazing it was that the 61-year-old Reid, the sixth-winningest coach of all-time, before the biggest play-call in his life, chose to trust a play second-year-starter Mahomes wanted to run to propel the Chiefs out of the hole with seven minutes left . . . on third-and-15.
But that’s what happened.
So I re-watched the game twice, once on the FOX telecast (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman aced this game), and also on the all-22 tape. I spoke to Mahomes the son and the father, and to backup QB Matt Moore, and to GM Brett Veach over the weekend, and had two pieces of key leftover info from Reid.
Patrick Mahomes was driving home from a workout Friday morning when he called. (Doesn’t that make you feel good, Chiefs Kingdom?)
After pleasantries, the first (unpleasant) topic: the interceptions.
The Tormenting Time
Niners 20, Chiefs 10, 2:35 left, third quarter. KC ball at its 25-yard line.
Watching the game twice in a five-hour span, you can see what a tireless monster San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa was. His strip-sack and Mahomes recovery midway through the third quarter led to a desperation third-and-12 play for the Chiefs and caused Mahomes to throw a ridiculous interception to Fred Warner, who looked like the intended receiver. Later in the quarter, Mahomes was thoroughly discombobulated by Bosa and friends. Three rushers, including Bosa, chased Mahomes into an incompletion on first down. Run for five on second down. Do not go three-and-out here; that’s the feeling every Chiefs fan had at that moment. Do not go two full quarters without scoring. On third-and-five, flushed right, Mahomes decided to sprint for the first down. Bosa, in pursuit as Mahomes turned the corner, did a full belly flop and slapped Mahomes left calf, hard.
“I actually didn’t even feel Bosa behind me until right when he dove,” Mahomes said. “And when he dove, I think that last second of me seeing him, kinda diving at my leg, I was able to get my knees up. That was a big thing when you’re running away from a guy that gets your legs, to keep your knees up and keep your feet from dragging on the ground. He hit me hard. He hit me hard—might’ve left a little bruise actually. But I was able to still get around the side to get a first down on that play.
“Like you said, that dude is a monster.”
Bosa, for the game, had one of the best days any defensive lineman had in the NFL this season, per PFF: one sack, one forced fumble, 11 quarterback hits/significant pressures, four tackles, 59 of 76 snaps played.
On this series alone, Mahomes was pressured or sacked on six of 10 pass-drops or scrambles forced by pressure. On the 10th, seeing Jaquiski Tartt making a beeline for Tyreek Hill on a short crosser at the Niners’ 13-yard line, Mahomes tried to protect him by throwing it slight behind him. Too far behind him. Another interception, his second in nine minutes.
Watching it back, you could see Mahomes change the play at the line. “Do you regret that, based on the outcome?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I don’t regret it. I did change the play. I saw they were in a man coverage and so I changed it to one of our man-beaters that we run a lot throughout the season. The mistake I made was, I stayed on the first read just a little too long. I think it was Mecole Hardman, or Sammy [Watkins]. One of those guys was going on the shallow-cross route. I was thinking to hit him first but I stayed on it too long and by the time I got to Tyreek, the safety [Tartt] was coming down on him. I almost tried to slow him down with the football instead of just throwing that there and letting him catch it, take the hit. . . . I think if I would’ve hit Tyreek right off his break, on his slant route, he would’ve had a chance to maybe split the guys and maybe get in the end zone. For me, it wasn’t necessarily wrong changing the play. I put us in the right play. I just didn’t make my decision quick enough.”
Twelve minutes left in the biggest game of his life, down 10, and Mahomes was messing it up, with the help of the best pass-rush he faced all season.
“When I got back to Kansas City,” Veach the GM said Saturday evening, “I watched the NFL Films version of the game, with the players mic’d up. Right around that time, I mean, you know the outcome of the game, but I felt it. My hands were palm-sweaty nervous.”
Mahomes didn’t seem like it.
“Almost every single person that came up to me right there said, ‘We still got time left. You’re still good. We’re still gonna have time to go down there and put up points,’ “ Mahomes said. “It was almost a little annoying because I knew we had time left. There was one point, Matt Moore, a guy that was vital in us being where we were at this season, he came up to me, and he was like the last guy to come up to me and say something. He said, ‘We still got a lot of time left. You gotta believe.’
“And I almost gave him a little bit of an attitude. I was like, I know we got time left!!!”
Moore: “I think what I said was, ‘Hey Pat, it’s never over!’ And he was like, ‘I GOT IT! I GOT IT!’ I’m thinking, what the heck just happened? He’s not like that. Later, he came up to me and said sorry for coming at me so hot like that. ‘Dude, you were like the 15th person to say something to me. Sorry!’ “
The effect of the cheerleading wasn’t lost on Mahomes, though. “It gave me the confidence to go out there and keep slinging the ball around,” he said.
The Most Fortuitous Lost Challenge in NFL History
Niners 20, Chiefs 10, 7:17 left, fourth quarter. KC ball at its 35.
Second-and-15. Mahomes, still off, threw a worm-burner that Hill trapped at midfield. Not an impossible catch, but the pass should have been three feet higher. Mahomes hurried the Chiefs to the line and just before the snap, Kyle Shanahan threw the challenge flag. After a couple of replays, it was clear the ball hit the ground. The Niners would win the challenge. Mahomes, so out of sync, would face third-and-15.
“He’s not played well, Joe,” Troy Aikman told America. “That should have been his easiest completion of the night.”
While that was being said, Mahomes was talking to offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on the sidelines. He knew the play he wanted to call. “Do we have time to run ‘Wasp?’” Mahomes said, captured by NFL Films.
Reid liked it. “If he [Mahomes] feels it, I’m giving it to him,” Reid told me.
“They think alike,” Moore said.
Maybe sometimes we try to overthink things—we feel like, Coach knows best, just let him make the call. If you’re Andy Reid, and the Super Bowl might come down to this play, wouldn’t you feel like, Step aside kid—I got the call here. Just run this. Maybe that’s why the Reid-Mahomes partnership has been gold for the first three years of it, and maybe that’s why they’ve got an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl victory to show for it. Maybe this is why Donovan McNabb loved playing for Reid, and why Michael Vick did, and why Reid might have talked Nick Foles out of retirement, and why Alex Smith—traded after having his best NFL season so Mahomes could play—still texts him congrats after wins. It’s a partnership.
Moore started two games when Mahomes had his dislocated kneecap. He just learned the offense. And he had two 100-plus rating games, with zero turnovers. “What impressed me so much about this opportunity,” Moore said, “is here I was, pretty new to the offense, and we’re getting ready for the games, and [Reid] says, ‘You’re the one playing. You gotta be happy with what you’re running, man.’”
Said Pat Mahomes, the dad: “The best year I had in baseball was with Bobby Valentine, with the Mets. I went 8-0. We made the playoffs [in 1999] and I knew he had so much faith in me that I might pitch every game in the postseason. That’s when you feel best as a ballplayer, when you know your manager or coach has that kind of faith in you.”
Pat Mahomes told me his son called him the night of his pre-draft visit to Kansas City in 2017. Son told father Kansas City was where he wanted to play, and Reid was the coach he wanted to play for. He felt Reid would teach him everything he needed to win, and let him have the kind of freedom he’s played with through his high school and college career.
Freedom like picking Wasp.
It’s always about the next pitch.
As you read here last week, ‘Wasp’ (familiar name: 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp; name that Mahomes would call in the huddle: “Gun trey right, 3 Jets Chip Wasp Y Funnel”) called for three receivers to the left—Watkins, Hill and Kelce. Kelce, tightest to the formation, would run a deep slant to the right, Hill a deep post-corner to the left, and Watkins a 16-yard in-cut. The key: Would Niners cornerback Emmanuel Moseley follow Watkins across the formation on his in-cut? If so, Hill would be singled on safety Jimmie Ward, incredibly. Moseley did indeed follow Watkins. And Mahomes did indeed have time: 3.63 seconds till defensive tackle DeForest Buckner leveled him as he threw a high-arcing strike to Hill at the San Francisco 22.
It was the longest air yards, 56, for a Mahomes completion all season, on the biggest play of the season.
Mahomes, on avoiding being down in the dumps: “I think it’s just a competitiveness and the way I’ve been raised my whole entire life. I don’t know if it’s from baseball, I don’t know if it’s from basketball or from my time in football. But I’ve always just been taught that you just have to play the next play. You have to go out there and compete no matter what’s happened earlier in the game. No matter what’s happened the whole season. All that matters is that next play. So for me, after that [replay challenge], I just wanted to have the best play called. We had talked about that play kinda throughout the game. . . . We thought it was good versus the defense that they were playing. I just kinda asked. I asked EB [Bieniemy], do you think we have enough time in the pocket to run this long developing play? He asked me if I wanted it on first down, or with down and distance. I just told him, I don’t care about the D&D, I wanna run this play.
“With that little bit of a break we had, when they were reviewing the catch, we were able to talk through all scenarios. I had already talked with coach Reid and coach [Mike] Kafka and EB. They had told me, if we [don’t] get after this right now, we’re going for it [on fourth down] . . . If I don’t have Tyreek or Sammy on these two routes, let’s get it straight to that check down and give ourselves a chance at fourth down. I think that having that little bit of time and being able to discuss with the coaches what our plan was, it gave us a good game plan to go out there and execute at a high level on a crucial down in the game.”
So the Chiefs would have gone for it fourth down. That’s one decision to clear up. The other: If Moseley had turned to run with Hill, would Mahomes have chosen the same throw to Hill, or would he have checked down to Watkins on the 16-yard cross?
“If he [Moseley] doesn’t stay there,” Mahomes said, “I throw that for the first down . . . Once I saw Tyreek get one on one with the safety, I mean, that’s a matchup that I’m gonna take every time.”
Mahomes finished the drive with a one-yard sprintout TD toss to Kelce. Three-and-out for the Niners (more about that later). Then 65 yards in seven plays for the winning drive by Mahomes.
Three touchdowns in seven minutes. Kansas City 31, San Francisco 20.
He’s just 24.
When the Chiefs were scouting Mahomes, the knock on him—and the big reason why so many NFL teams knocked him down pre-draft—is because he threw some interceptions (25 in his two full seasons as a Texas Tech starter), played a bit out of control at times, and generally was too reckless for many scouts. It was hard to judge, too, because the games were like Arena League affairs. In 2016, he threw 88 passes against Oklahoma. What Chiefs personnel czar Veach saw was a guy playing with three-star players at Texas Tech against teams with five-star guys. “So often Tech was completely overmatched,” Veach said, “but Patrick’s attitude was I don’t give a s— how many stars my wideouts have. You guys will remember us, and you guys will remember me. He was fearless. He didn’t care if he was down 21-0 to Oklahoma. You were getting everything he had for four quarters.”
When Reid chose to trade Alex Smith to Washington early in 2018, handing the job to Mahomes, he couldn’t have known this accelerated superstardom would happen this fast. Even after Mahomes beat the Chargers and Steelers, on the road, to begin his starting career in 2018, scoring 80 points and throwing 10 touchdown passes with no picks. Even Pat Mahomes, the dad, said Saturday, “This doesn’t really surprise me, that this would happen at some point. But the fact that it happened in two years . . . that’s something I didn’t really expect, this fast.” Mahomes has won the NFL MVP and the Super Bowl MVP before Peyton Manning or Tom Brady won either. He credits his mental approach to those baseball days.
Said Patrick Mahomes: “The main memory I’ll always have is whenever I’ve watched guys that my dad played with, or Alex Rodriguez or guys like Derek Jeter, and all these guys that were superstars . . . the best of the best at the time in the game and how much success they had . . . I watched how hard they worked. I got to see it every day, how they were the first people there and they were hitting off the tee like I was doing as a little kid and trying to perfect their game. That really was instilled in me. It told me that if I wanted to be great, I had to put the work in. When you’re at the top of the game, you have to still keep working in order to stay at the top. I think those memories were stuff that really stuck with me.”
That’s the sporting side. There’s a personal side too. In November 2018, when the Chiefs fired running back Kareem Hunt because they found out he lied to them about a striking a woman, Mahomes—the fifth-youngest player on the 53-man roster—asked to talk to the team. No coaches. No staff. Just players. Reid hesitated, then said yes. That’s how much he trusted Mahomes to see the right things when his team was teetering. “He knows how to tie a team together,” Reid said.
Mahomes knows Veach’s role in getting him to the Chiefs. The scout who hounded Reid to draft him, Veach got a surprise from Mahomes last year when Mahomes made his first Pro Bowl—a signed MAHOMES Pro Bowl jersey with the inscription, “Thanks for believing in me from the beginning! Let’s go get some rings!”
Last summer, I arranged for Brett Favre to fly to Kansas City on an off-day for the Chiefs, so he, Mahomes and the man who has coached both, Reid, could sit in a room and watch tape together for a “Football Night in America” feature story. Afterward, Reid had some Kansas City barbeque brought in for lunch, and seven of us sat in a room to eat lunch and talk. Five of the seats in the room had a bottle of water at them. The two belonging to me and Mahomes did not. When we all sat down, Mahomes left the room and came back 90 seconds later with two bottles of water, one for him and one for me. A simple thing. A polite thing. Reid told me later that’s what he’d do for the last guy on the practice squad too.
On Sunday night, Mahomes was escorted by a veteran publicist for the Ravens who works the Super Bowl every year, Chad Steele, for about 90 minutes to all the obligations a Super Bowl MVP has to fulfill—network and NFL partner interviews on the field, the Super Bowl stage, post-game media presser. “First thing he wanted to do was see Coach,” Steele said. “And he said, ‘Can I bring my family?’ ”
There’s also a 24-year-old-kid side. Did you see this?
Don’t you love the 24-year-old kid catching a line-drive beer one-handed at the Chiefs victory parade, then shotgunning it, then spiking it?
“It was fun to kinda let loose for a day,” he said. “Just be one of the guys.”
For a while. As his dad said Saturday: “He’s not done. He’ll get back in the lab this offseason. He’ll be better.”
It’s always about the next pitch.
• Stop killing Kyle Shanahan about his decision-making. I believe he erred about not being aggressive and trying to score at the end of the first half. I get that he thinks if he called time with 1:46 to play and the Chiefs punted it out at the 7-yard line, let’s say, that San Francisco would have had to get at least one first down to ensure Mahomes not getting the ball back before halftime. I’d rather have had a shot at, say, the Niners’ 10- or 20-yard line with two timeouts and 1:38 to go before half. Shanahan said he doesn’t have second thoughts in part because he had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. True. But you also had an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter too. Against a power offense like Kansas City’s, you need to take advantage of every possession to score.
• As for not running with five-plus minutes left, trying to eat clock . . . I don’t mind it. The Niners had a second-and-five at their 25 with 5:30 left, up 20-17. Raheem Mostert’s second-half rushes to this point: 5, 1, 6, 1, 2, 0. At the time, Jimmy Garoppolo was 18 of 22. Odds that Garoppolo would have thrown two straight incompletions here? Pretty slim. But he did it.
• Stop thinking Garoppolo should be on the block. Garoppolo, first 50 minutes of the Super Bowl: 18 of 21, 195 yards, one TD, one pick. Garoppolo, last 10 minutes: 2 of 10, 24 yards, no TDs, 1 pick. You’re dumping your quarterback of the future for 10 sucky minutes? Nope. You’re not even making the first phone call.
• Having said that . . . Garoppolo’s inaccuracy late killed San Francisco. He threw two batted passes (by Chris Jones) and overthrew Kendrick Bourne on the vital series trying to protect the 20-17 lead.
• Player of the game: Bosa.
• Play of the game, not including 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp: last play of the third quarter, Kansas City ball, third-and-one at the KC 44. Travis Kelce takes a direct snap and runs an RPO/wishbone thing, pulling the ball from Damian Williams and running toward the line with a possible pitch to Tyreek Hill. He barreled ahead for two yards and a first down. Three things happening there to sow confusion in the defense.
• Best commercial: Bill Murray, Ned Ryerson, the groundhog, in Groundhog Day.
• Best characters in the 3-minute NFL 100 piece at the start of the game: 1. Bunchie Young, the Odell-quaffed kid who ran the football all over the country and into Hard Rock Stadium; 2. Virginia McCaskey; 3. the Pat Tillman Statue—a chilling moment; 4. Carli Lloyd, making a long field goal; 5. a ticked-off Jerry Jones; 6. a stiff-arming Alvin Kamara; 7. a hard-tackling Justin Tuck; 8. Young/Montana/Jimmy G, a perfect triumvirate of old and new; 9. Saquon Barkley; 10. Christian McCaffrey.
• Officiating? Thought it was fine. The OPI on George Kittle that cost the Niners three or seven points late in the first half could have gone either way, but I like the fact it was called; on the second Kittle stiff-arm on the play, he created enough separation so the catch could be made.
• Re the MVP: It’s stupid for the NFL to open the fan voting for MVP after three quarters. I don’t like fans voting for such a prestigious honor anyway, but to ask them to vote when 25 percent of the game is remaining is absurd. In this case, suppose fans voted when the Niners had a 20-10 lead after three quarters, and suppose Garoppolo got a landslide of votes in the first 15 minutes of the fan voting. (Quite possible; it took at least 15 minutes in real time for the Chiefs to score their first touchdown of the fourth quarter.) Suppose all those people made their votes then without waiting for the outcome of the game. That vote could (if the NFL was being honorable about the vote) have swayed the final tally, easily. Just a stupid way to do it. It’s like baseball opening the All-Star voting in May.
• On Taysom Hill. I asked Sean Payton on “The Peter King Podcast” whether he thinks a team will make an offer to restricted free-agent QB Taysom Hill, who has become hugely valuable since being claimed on waivers from Green Bay in 2017. Payton thought for a minute and said: “Yeah, I think someone is going to make him an offer. But the first thing the fan has to understand is . . . if we tender Taysom as a one [meaning placing a first-round tag on him], the team that makes the offer on him and signs him to an offer understands they’re going to give up a first-round pick if we don’t match. That’s easier to do if you’re pick 22, 23, 24, 25. We might very well see it if it’s a team in the second half of the [first round].” I’d expect the Saints to tender him with a first-round tag, particularly if Drew Brees retires. I told Payton I’d like to see him coach for the next 10 years. “I’d like to do that,” he said. “He was a valuable claim for us. Like gold bullion.”
• On the retirement of Eric Weddle. Even though Weddle did make six Pro Bowls, I always thought he was under-appreciated. He drilled people like John Lynch, had the instincts of Eric Reid and though he didn’t make the flash plays of a Troy Polamalu, he was always around the football. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to compare Weddle with the two Hall of Fame safeties from his era—Reed and Polamalu—by comparing them vis a vis Pro Football Focus numbers. PFF has been grading every play of every player formally since 2006. Reed had eight starting seasons graded by PFF since 2008, Polamalu nine and Weddle 12. Weddle’s average grade per season: 12.98. Polamalu’s was 11.90 and Reed’s 9.01. A little food for thought there. Plus, as you can see by this 2018 training-camp photo I shot of Weddle at Ravens’ camp, he did have one heck of a beard.
• The NFL needs to start using the chips it’s embedded in footballs since 2017. I must have been asleep for this. The NFL has the technology to tell us precisely how far from the goal line Seattle tight end Jacob Hollister was in the NFC West championship game in Week 17 when 49er linebacker Dre Greenlaw stoned him inches (we think) from the goal line. Sean Payton is on the competition committee and he told me the technology “is coming, it’s coming.” It should be here now. “I’m telling you,” Payton said, “the ball crossing the plane of the goal line, and the uprights flashing yellow, just like the shot clock in the NBA. . . . And then you can see where the knee is, and decide whether it’s a score or not.” If he’s right, that technology is too valuable to not use now.
“HTTD … Sell the team Dan”
—A sign at the first game of the D.C. Defenders of the XFL at Audi Stadium in Washington, playing on the “HTTR” fight song of the NFL team in the Capitol, and urging owner Dan Snyder to sell the local NFL franchise.
“I will be back here. I will be back here, and I will be back with a vengeance. You will not get the best of me … no sir.”
—San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, whose words were caught by NFL Films as time wound down on the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss.
“I’ll give him a tip, all right.”
—Joe Montana, in the NFL 100 commercial before SB 54 kickoff, responding to Steve Young suggesting Montana do something nice for Jimmy Garoppolo the bellman in the ad.
—Former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, returning to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., for the first time in forever Saturday, in a short message to the crowd that came to cheer him.
“Leadership, to me, is often about what you preach, your pillars of what you believe in. Leadership’s also about what you tolerate and I tolerated too much.”
—Fired Houston manager A.J. Hinch, to Tom Verducci of MLB Network, referring to the electronic cheating scandal that cost him his job.
Comparing how old Patrick Mahomes was when winning the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP to others great passers of this century:
In cases when a player won multiple MVPs, age when he won his first is used.
I led this column with some tales about Pat Mahomes the major-league pitcher. In 11 big-league seasons with six teams, Mahomes was 42-39 and pitched in 308 games.
Ken Griffey Jr., Wade Boggs, Ichiro Suzuki, Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Tino Martinez, combined, batted .088 (6 for 68) off Mahomes.
Kevin Young, Brent Gates, Geronimo Berroa, Stan Javier and Shannon Stewart, combined, batted .526 (30 for 57) off Mahomes.
I heard one of the funniest things on an airplane last Monday, flying home from the Super Bowl—fortunately in first class on a Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale to LaGuardia. The meal was either barbeque sliders or some sort of Asian salad. The guy behind me asked the flight attendant, “Is it possible to get shrimp with that salad?”
No sir. You’ll take the lettuce and cabbage, and you’ll damn well like it.
Rovell covers sports business for Action Network.
Former NFL player and scout Louis Riddick is an ESPN NFL analyst.
Sam Farmer covers the NFL for the Los Angeles Times.
DeMatha, a Washington, D.C. high school, established a scholarship fund in the memory of longtime basketball coach Morgan Wooten.
I blew it. From Joe Benvignati, of Philadelphia: “Your take on NOT voting for Troy Polamalu for the Pro Football Hall of Fame literally floored me. I’d rather you just came out and said he’s just not first ballot-worthy (where I’d disagree mightily with you again) but to think he’s top five but he’ll get votes everywhere else? That’s completely unprofessional to me. By now I’m sure you’ve heard from certain places that if 30 other voters thought like you what a disaster that would’ve been. I always took it as your position as a HOF voter was a sacred one and respect the fact that you actually print your ballot, but I feel this admission taints your role on the panel. You really dropped the ball on this one.”
You very well might be right. I’m going to spend some time in the coming weeks soul-searching on this, because I’ve always thought it was our job to vote for the best five in the class. Troy Polamalu was among the best five. I appreciate you and many others calling me out on the vote, and I’m not just saying that to be a magnanimous guy. By the way, it had nothing to do with first ballot—it was only about wanting to be sure Tony Boselli, Steve Atwater and John Lynch all got votes for the final five. I do realize the potential danger in that approach, however, which is why I’m going to take some time to re-evaluate my decision.
I really blew it. From Gary Brant, of Pittsburgh: “You have lost my respect as a Hall of Fame voter with your admission of not voting for Troy. Your job is to vote for the best five, not to assume a guy is automatic.”
It’s a good point, stated succinctly. Thank you.
Parting ways with the truth. From Ross Wallace: “Finally, acknowledgement from a sportswriter that there is no workplace in the world other than in the sports world where employees ‘part ways’ with their employers. They’re fired, they quit or they retire.”
It’s a way for everyone to look good, even if it’s not the truth.
Praising Damien Williams. From Jon Asher, of Glorieta, N.M.: “Didn’t you predict last week that the player likely to have the most impact on the game would be KC running back Damien Williams? He kept KC in the game until Mahomes got himself together. The MVP was Williams. Our viewing group of four was disappointed he didn’t get it.”
I think when a quarterback, regardless how he’s played for the first 52 minutes of the game, orchestrates two touchdown drives in five minutes to erase a 10-point deficit and makes an incredible 44-yard completion to keep his team alive on the biggest play of the game, is going to get the award. But Williams (yes, I did say he would be the surprise standout for Kansas City) made more plays in this game than the vaunted 49er backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman combined.
On the 17-game schedule. From Gary Huber, of Dallas: “Whenever you say, ‘Why would players and owners want 6 percent more games with 6 percent more injury risk,’ I always say, ‘Because it’s 6 percent more money.’ If the players and owners agree to 17 games that is their right. If the players agree to a 17-game season and accept the extra money and then complain about the injury risk of an extra game, that my friend is hypocrisy.”
And let’s make sure we all call them on it.
1. I think the underplayed story of the week is Jacksonville announcing it will play two regular-season games in London in 2020. The Jags have played one game per season in London for the last seven seasons. Owner Shad Khan deciding to play two games in London next year (and possibly in the future as well) will just re-stoke the fear in the fans of Jacksonville that the franchise will eventually move to England. This comes at the same time that a Patriots Place kind of mixed-use collection of offices, restaurants, hotels and residences is planned for the stadium complex. The rabid fan group Bold City Brigade started a petition to protest the decision and said: “Decisions like the one announced today only serve to perpetuate negative perceptions and surely cannot be framed as being done ‘for the fans’ or ‘for the long term health of the market.’ . . . We, as the largest organized group of Jaguars fans, would like to propose that Mr. Khan put more of a focus on producing a decent product on the field as a potential way to build a sustainable franchise. We would contend that a record of 38-90 and only one season at or above .500 over the past 8 years would not create much sustainability in any market.” Yikes.
2. I think one of the most interesting stories in the league in the coming weeks will be that of Sammy Watkins, who:
• At 20 was the fourth pick of the NFL Draft in 2014, by Buffalo.
• At 24, and after missing 11 games in three seasons in Buffalo due to injury, was traded to the Rams in August 2017, the last year of his rookie contract.
• At 24 (his birthday is in June), signed a three-year, $48-million deal with KC in March 2018. In two regular seasons, he caught 92 balls with six touchdowns . . . and made $34 million.
• At 26 now poses a major question for the Chiefs: After Watkins missed eight games in the last two years, do they keep him for the final year of his three-year deal and pay him $14 million—while the Chiefs already have three fast receivers (Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman)?
Watkins is a good teammate and valuable piece of the offense (14 catches, one TD in the Super Bowl playoff run), and my feeling is Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach will try to wedge his deal into the salary cap for one more year. If cut, Watkins would be a fascinating free-agent find for some team looking for a sub-4.4 receiving threat if he’s cut loose, a six-year vet with big-game experience. But at what cost? He’s who averaged only 12.2 starts per regular season.
3. I think my heart is warmed by the poll taken by Pro Football Talk on Twitter asking the public if it desires a 17-game regular season. PFT got 56,000 votes, with more than 62 percent saying no. Only 37-plus percent said they favored an increase from 16 games to 17.
Why is my heart warmed? Because the NFL spends the vast majority of its PSA persona crowing about how much it values player health and safety, and about how hard it’s working to decrease the number of concussions and head trauma. By working hard for a 17th game (saying the tradeoff would be one or two fewer preseason games, which is nonsensical because most starting players play very little or not at all in the preseason), no one should believe a word from Roger Goodell or any league official or any owner about how much they care about player health and safety. You care about player health and safety and you’re okay with 8.5 more concussions—based on 145 concussions during a 17-week season this year, and adding an 18th week—and having starting players play 6 percent more snaps during the regular season? It’s the most classic lip-service lie I’ve seen from the league in years. And if the players agree to it, then don’t ever let me hear a player on the negotiating committee complain about the league not doing enough to take care of players.
4. I think the only way I’d be in favor of a 17-game regular season, as I’ve said, is if players could play a maximum of 16 games in a season. And then, imagine the poor ticket-buying sap in, say, Cincinnati the year the Bengals host the Chiefs and Andy Reid chooses that week to sit Patrick Mahomes. All of this comes down to how much money is enough? Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys 31 years ago for $140 million. Forbes now values the Cowboys at $5.1 billion. The franchise has increased in value 36-fold in 31 years. I know it’s the American way to make as much money as you can for as long as you can. That allows Jones to buy a yacht (with a glass five-story elevator) for $110 million MORE than he paid for the Cowboys in 1989. Enough is enough. Sixteen games should be the forever cap.
5. I think Carli Lloyd should be a kicker in the XFL.
6. I think Philip Rivers and Colts seem like a sound marriage.
7. I think I was flipping through Mark Leibovich’s 2018 book about the NFL the other day (“Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times”) and ran across this quote from Tom Brady Sr., on how he thought it would end for Tom Brady the quarterback in New England: “It will end badly. It’s a cold business. And for as much as you want it to be familial, it isn’t.” Just FYI.
8. I think this is my Football Story of the Week: Darryl Slater of NJ Advance Media wonders if Giants co-owner John Mara has lost his touch when it comes to franchise architecture. Writes Slater:
“As other front offices get younger—the Browns just hired 32-year-old Andrew Berry as general manager—the Giants are a home office for old-school football: Mara is 65. Co-owner Steve Tisch, who says he will become more involved in football decisions, is 70. General manager Dave Gettleman is 68. And Accorsi, who is one of Mara’s most trusted advisers, is 78. So while some say the NFL has passed him by, Mara insists those years have made him better. He believes he fully understands where he went wrong, and how to not repeat those mistakes. He has made changes to his strategies for the Giants’ major decisions, like assessing potential draft picks and determining how much patience to show with a head coach and general manager.”
9. I think my biggest issue with the Giants in 2020 is that if they’re anything less than a rising 7-9 or 8-8 team by season’s end, Mara is going to have to fire Gettleman. And that means hiring a new GM and forcing an arranged marriage between a neophyte head coach and whoever the GM is. If they’d made a clean sweep (as unfair as it might have been with the Giants’ usually patient front-office approach) and fired the coach and GM, then they’d have gone into 2020 with a fresh look on the coaching staff and the football ops side. Hiring a new GM in 11 months could make the franchise sputter in 2021 as well. Mara had better hope the defense shows signs of life this fall so Daniel Jones in a new offense doesn’t have to score in the thirties to win consistently.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Steve Hartman of CBS News does so many stories that tug at the heartstrings, but there’s more to his piece this week that is so important. Hartman tells the story of a businessman from Toledo who gave free tuition to college or trade school for the entire Scott High School graduating class in Toledo—with a similar gift to one of the parents of each grad. “I ask you only one favor in return,” Pete Kadens told the grads. “Please don’t ever use the word ‘gift’ to describe what I did here today.”
b. You need to watch the piece to see what he means. I wish everyone in the country would watch it.
c. Sports Story of the Week: Bob Kravitz of The Athletic, who spent 36 hours inside a mid-major college basketball program, Indiana State, and did a great job making the story sing.
d. The Kravitz story, centered around a decent program with a coach dangerously around .500, Greg Lansing, is filled with real talk like this:
“There also is this issue, and it’s not a small one: Lansing used to have a rolling five-year contract, but athletic director Sherard Clinkscales, who is in his fourth year, stopped it when he arrived. As a result, next season will be the final year of his contract. It’s not a comfortable place to be in for Lansing.
“ ‘If they had the money, they would have bought me out three years ago,’ Lansing said. ‘Now, he [Clinkscales] is finding out how tough the job is and what you’re up against. We’ve had success and we’re going to be good again. We’re starting two freshmen and a sophomore and have another freshman getting minutes off the bench. Hopefully this year or next year, I can get an extension because everybody is using that against us in recruiting. I wasn’t happy about it [the cessation of the five-year rolling contract], but we weren’t winning enough for me to bitch about it.’”
e. The way you do you-are-there inside stories is to be sure you’re going to get real feelings and reactions from people who don’t quickly say, “That was off-the-record,” when they’ve said something meaty. That’s why the Kravitz story is significant and seems like such a good reflection of what trying to win in places like Terre Haute, Ind., is like.
f. College Football Story of the Week: Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune on retiring Big Ten football ref Dan Capron, who had some interesting things to say about some famous coaches.
g. Greenstein gave a 20-year ref the floor, and Capron said what he thought—which a ref cannot do while he’s working.
h. Capron on Urban Meyer: “He is unlike any other Big Ten coach. He is distant, uncommunicative. Any time I would approach his sideline, he would turn and go the other direction.”
i. Capron on Jim Harbaugh, after Harbaugh threw a clipboard onto the field during an argument: “You have to be able to control yourself. There’s a tremendous amount of gray area with the unsportsmanlike conduct call. His actions were black and white. If that head linesman doesn’t make that call, he’s going to get downgraded by the boss. And it’s going to cost him. You throw something out on the field, I can understand that . . . if you’re a fourth-grader. If you’re an adult that’s paid [more than] $5 million a year to coach a major college football team, I would expect more.”
j. Capron on a football coach he will not miss: “The worst coach I’ve ever worked for, ever, not even close, no one within 10 miles, is Bo Pelini.” Read the story to find out why.
k. Story of the Week: Helen Sullivan of the New York Times on the “world’s strangest mammal,” the platypus, and its struggle to survive in Australia, with dried-up lakes and fries threatening its survival. Zookeepers needed to catch as many as possible in the muck of the former lakes or they’d soon die. Writes Sullivan:
“Platypuses are difficult to catch; they are fast, slippery swimmers and desperately shy. The males also have a sharp, venomous spur behind one of their hind feet. The venom is not lethal to humans, but there is no antidote, and the pain can last months. The scientists dragged a net through the remaining water in four areas of the reserve. With the help of a small aluminum boat and a pool scooper, they caught two males and five females. The animals were placed into cotton pillowcases, then given health checks — while suspended upside down by their tails — and driven to the zoo in Sydney, where they will probably remain for months, until enough rain has fallen to replenish [Lake] Tidbinbilla’s supplies.” People are so amazing, so laudable, working so hard to save an animal most people in the world will never come in contact with or even see.
l. On Mookie Betts, after the trade with the Dodgers for Betts and David Price went through. What I want to say: Thanks for the memories.
n. I watched it on vacation in 2018, on my phone, in an airport in Reno, making a pickup on a family trip to Tahoe.
o. This is a complicated issue. I never thought chances were great that he’d sign long-term with the Red Sox, and apparently that’s what new GM Chaim Bloom thought too. The team had approached him about it, and unlike Mike Trout, who re-upped with the Angels rather than hitting the free market in the near future, there was never a sense that the team would have any sort of edge when he got to free agency and could demand, say, $40-million a year and expect that someone would pay it. And maybe the Red Sox should have just said, We’ll pay whatever it is. The Yankees would, and we should too. I just have had this uneasy feeling that, even if it came to that, Betts might re-sign and he might not. And yes, the Red Sox got 32 cents on the dollar for Betts now. What would they have gotten at the trading deadline this year? Maybe not even Alex Verdugo. Who knows?
p. My first reaction when this was getting close was to say just let the season play out and take your chances in the offseason. That’s probably what I would have done. It’s all well and good to scream, How can you not re-sign Mookie!!!!! But the fact is, two parties have to agree to that. And what if you have legitimate concern that you couldn’t sign him? Or the knowledge that it was less than 50-50 that you’d be able to sign him?
q. Emotion, and $225-million spent on Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi, contributed heavily to this decision. After Eovaldi’s John Wayne effort in the 2018 World Series, the smitten Sox handed him $80 million over four years, and then something like $145-mill to a dominant pitcher, Sale, showing signs of breaking down. The moral of those contracts is, as much as you want to show gratitude for past performance and guts and loyalty, those contracts collectively were a major player in not having any sort of war chest to be able to sign Betts.
r. Regarding the loss of David Price: Meh. He was pissy and unhappy in Boston almost from the moment he signed and stupidly picked a fight with the beloved Hall of Famer-turned-TV guy Dennis Eckersley, refusing to admit he was wrong when it was clear to everyone he was. He did have some good days, particularly in the ’18 postseason, so there’s that. But man, the guy had a black cloud over his head—a black cloud he put there—the whole time he was in Boston.
s. Good analysis by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Particularly smart is Rosenthal’s reasoning about the new pressure on Betts in his free-agency prove-it season, with the widespread assumption that he’s the final piece to the World Series puzzle for a team that hasn’t won the Series in 32 years.
t. Got your back, Gayle King. Good interview, and anyone who knows anything about journalism knows your Kobe question was twisted and taken out of context.
u. The coarsening of America, 2020, last week included a speech by the president in the White House in which he used a curse word with the initials BS, called the leaders of the FBI “scum,” and said of a female member of Congress: “She looks good—she looks like good talent.” The speech generated roaring applause. This happened four days after he was caught goofing off during the playing of the national anthem. Imagine what he would say about an enemy if that person had treated the anthem the way Trump did.
v. In the New York Post, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up her copy of the president’s State of the Union speech (which I did not like), columnist Cindy Adams called the speaker “Pelousy” and wrote: “She’s a pig . . . She lost. She’s a loser. Even worse than a plain pig—she’s a losing pig. Fry her like bacon. Stick her snout in a sty.”
w. That was written by a columnist in a major newspaper in the United States. The editors let it run.
x. I’m not a news junkie, though I pay attention to it. It’s just incredibly disheartening to see our country devolve into such an angry and disrespectful place, with a president who delights in tarring-and-feathering those who do not pledge blind loyalty to him in all ways, and with so many citizens who would proudly back him no matter what he did.
y. Thank God for Mitt Romney, by the way. He knew his career was likely ruined if he voted his conscience in the impeachment trial, but he did what good and decent people do. He stood for what he believed in, instead of doing the expedient thing to mollify his constituents.
z. Congrats on the Romney scoop, Mark Leibovich. When are you coming back to the NFL beat? You know you love it more than Washington.
Finally, RIP, Roger Kahn, author of one of the best sports books of all time, “The Boys of Summer.” Baseball is lyrical. Football will never be. This book, and this writer, swooned for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the fifties, opening with these four sentences:
“At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams. During the early 1950s the Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers were outspoken, opinionated, bigoted, tolerant, black, white, open, passionate, in short, a fascinating mix of vigorous men. They were not, however, the most successful team in baseball. During four consecutive years they entered autumn full of hope and found catastrophe.”
How good does it feel,
KC, having Mahomes for
the next 15 years?