The draft continues to be a moving target in plans by the NFL, but with the first round 17 days away, a very different 2020 NFL Draft is taking shape. What I know this morning:
• Momentum is building for ESPN and NFL Network to do a combined draft telecast. Over the weekend I spoke with four people with knowledge of the ongoing discussions between the league, ESPN and NFL Network about draft weekend plans on April 23-25. It’s looking more likely that instead of the two football rivals doing info-warring separate telecasts, they’ll combine to do one telecast, likely out of the ESPN studio in Bristol, Conn., with NFL Network talent either co-hosting or being major contributors to the coverage. As it was explained to me, it’s looking more and more likely that West and East coast studios owned and operated by the NFL, in Culver City, Calif., and Mount Laurel, N.J., will remain closed by state decrees, while the ESPN facility is allowed to remain open on a limited basis. And the socially responsible thing, as one person told me, is to have one unified broadcast.
How will it look? TBD, though I’d expect NFL Network’s traditional host Rich Eisen and personnel expert Daniel Jeremiah, at the very least, to be have prime roles in the show. One good thing is while NFL Network and ESPN have a healthy rivalry, it’s not a bitter Red Sox-Yankees type; the executives and many of the anchors at each shop have mostly good relationships. This isn’t final, but it seems to be the way the league and networks are leaning right now.
This likely would not affect the scheduled ABC draft show. There are plans for that show to go on as scheduled, with the larger network doing less of a hard-core football telecast with different anchors and talent.
• There will be a Covid-19 Telethon element to the draft. The league is closing in on plans to weave a fundraising element into all three days of the telecast, complete with celebrity players and former players and coaches urging viewers to donate to coronavirus-related causes. Raising some number of millions for health-care providers or PPE gear or local causes or those out of work because of the pandemic could—could, I stress—make the weekend a positive event in a sea of terrible news around America.
• If you gave TV people a choice, they’d prefer Roger Goodell on draft weekend to do what all Americans are doing these days: stay home. I wrote last weekend that having Goodell announce the picks from his home in Westchester County, N.Y., was a “worst-case scenario,” but it’s clearly the preference of several people in the draft-weekend discussion. Though ESPN is just a 100-minute drive from Goodell’s home, optically it makes no sense with the national stay-home recommendation for Goodell to be on the spartan set of a TV show. I don’t know what Goodell will do, but being on a home camera is the smartest option for him on the Thursday night first-round show.
More on draft logistics and current NFL events later in the column, but it’s most likely coaches and executives will have to draft from their homes. Amazing that so much is up in the air with the draft 17 nights away. As one person involved with the planning for the draft this year told me: “This is obviously going to be a historic draft. It’ll never be forgotten, but hopefully it’ll never be repeated.”
The Lead: Colts Reality
I’ve been so curious about how a team actually has been functioning in the nearly two weeks since all NFL facilities have been shuttered—longer for some teams—and so I reached out to find a team willing to share how the job is getting done, virtually, these days. The Colts agreed to share a few employees with me, and it’s clear they have been affected by the outside world.
“There’s always the sobering reality of peoples’ lives that are affected and from a health standpoint, from an economic standpoint,” coach Frank Reich said. “My wife Linda and I, when we get together as the day is wrapping up, we pray for people . . . We pray for the health-care workers. We pray for the elderly.”
The jobs of some Indianapolis Colts, in these strange times:
Chris Ballard, general manager
Working from his home basement in Westfield, Ind.
“They’ll make a 30 For 30 on this draft one day.”
Ballard does not have a soundproof basement. When he’s watching tape of prospects there, he can hear the rhythm of the house, and of his wife and five kids (ages 10 to 17) and three dogs living life, and of baseballs pounding into gloves in the backyard. One recent afternoon three weeks before the NFL draft, with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders, Ballard took an hour to play catch with his baseball-loving sons—Cole, 15, and Cash, 12—in the backyard. “It’s the most time consecutively I’ve ever been home at this time of year,” Ballard said. “And to be with my boys, or to see my daughters Summer and Reign playing soccer out front, has been so good. I mean, really, really good.”
As for the job, much of the draft board work was done in February, when Colts scouts met for 17 days to dissect the prospects. Now it’s fine-tuning time, with info the coaches and scouts have learned through follow-up calls and virtual visits with players. Ballard hosts scouting meetings several times a week by video conference. Last Thursday, from 1-2:30 p.m., 19 scouts and coaches met via Zoom to discuss defensive tackles, with Ballard and assistant GM Ed Dodds hosting. Each scout and relevant coach sent in comments on the players to Ballard and Dodds, and the debating began. It’s helped that, on Zoom, Ballard can pull up a few plays that everyone can see. “We had some pretty intense discussions about two guys,” Ballard said Friday. “We dug into the character of a couple guys and moved them down. It wasn’t all that hard, compared to being in the same room. We ended up moving seven guys either up or down in that meeting.”
Ballard had to spend two half-days last week with his staff trying to figure where they might draft if the league allows a number of decision-makers on each team to gather in one spot outside the club’s facility. Otherwise, his days are mostly the same, give or take a backyard baseball break: up at 6:15 a.m., shower, downstairs to begin tape-watching or virtual meetings, lunch around noon, more tape, Peloton for 45 minutes at 5, dinner with the family (“a lot of talk about what’s going on in the world”), back downstairs for more tape by 7:15 “until I can’t watch anymore.” He might catch up on the news for a few minutes, or watch some of the “Lonesome Dove” series. He’s in bed between 10:30 and 11.
“We’ll be prepared for anything on draft weekend, and we’ll have our work done,” Ballard said. “All 32 teams will play by the same rules, so that’s fine with us.”
Amber Derrow, director of social and digital content strategy
Working from her apartment in Indianapolis’ Eagle Creek neighborhood.
“My couch is my office.”
Office hours are 8:30 to 5, but Derrow says it’s a 24/7 job, particularly with so many Colts fans home and looking for content about their favorite team. Working with her social, digital and video staff, Derrow, 27, uses the communication platform Slack for group and individual text-based chats; Zoom for meetings and discussions; email for regular communication; and texting occasionally. (“That’s old school now.”) Being home alone, with zero distractions, has allowed Derrow and social media manager Brent Hollerud to read every comment to everything they post on the Colts website, Twitter and Instagram.
“We’ve tried to get creative with our work-from-home content,” Derrow said. “We reached out to 10 players and asked for their five favorite movies and five favorite TV shows, sort of as a way to encourage people to stay home. It’s an easy ask for players. [Wide receiver] Parris Campbell sent back his list, and his favorite movie is Polar Express. I had to ask him if he was sure. He said, ‘It’s a classic!’“
The more Derrow talked, the more she sounded like working from the couch hadn’t made much of a difference in her life. “Our dynamic really hasn’t changed at all,” Derrow said. “We’re digitally based anyway. It kind of feels like we’re in the office, even though we’re not in the office.”
Dave Knickerbocker, in charge of “With the Next Pick” Colts draft video series
Working from his home office in Zionsville, Ind.
“My job is to tell the story of what no one saw coming.”
This is prime time for Knickerbocker, the Colts’ VP of content and production. His big project for the year is the four-show digital series that became a hit with Colts fans last year, “With the Next Pick,” with cameras inside the Colts’ pre-draft process and draft weekend. This year, the NFL shutdown happened as Colts’ cameras were at Clemson’s pro day March 12 to shadow area scout Jamie Moore; that was to be the highlight of episode three in the series. Now, episode three, due out April 22, will have a heavy dose of the new way the Colts are holding draft meetings: via Zoom video conferencing. Because GM Chris Ballard wants the series to have a real feel, he’s allowed Knickerbocker’s content-and-production partner, Matt Dominick, to monitor all the virtual scouting meetings, the 20th Colts employee to be included on the scouting sessions. Dominick and Knickerbocker will be able to show a filtered view of how the draft meetings got done.
“If the fans understand the process, and see the decision-makers, and see how hard they work, it’ll get them excited for the season,” Knickerbocker, 40, said. “How are our decision-makers reacting in these Zoom meetings? They are talking about franchise-altering decisions, and we see them in their basements and their home offices, just like you and I, with dogs hopping into the picture. This year, that’s part of the story.”
Parks Frazier, offensive quality control coach
Working from his parents’ home in Corinth, Miss.
“I never dreamed my undergrad major—computer science—would have helped me so much in my coaching career.”
The main offseason job for Frazier, a former quarterback at Murray State, is preparing the offensive playbook for virtual distribution to the Colts’ offensive players at the (presumed) start of the offseason program April 20. Last month, Frazier was tasked with another mission.
“Coach Reich said to me, ‘We need you to become a Zoom expert,’ “ Frazier said. “Life must go on. Maybe the staff had never dreamed of doing this, but now there’s no option.”
Colts IT people set up Zoom accounts for the coaches and scouts, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and Frazier got the system down, and Frazier taught the staff how to share screens on the platform, so everyone could see video of a play, or see a play diagrammed, as if they were in the same room together. Because each coach has an iPad with full video capabilities through the XOS Thundercloud system (common to NFL teams), and those plays could be shared via streamed video, the tools weren’t so different from the offensive staff meeting room. The staff just had to learn them.
Frazier, 28, could work from anywhere, so—once he thoroughly investigated the wifi at his boyhood home in Mississippi, seven hours south of Indianapolis—he decamped there with his fiancée Caroline Cann. “In coaching,” he said, “you have to adjust, and this is just another one of those circumstances. It’s a challenge, and quite honestly, there’s a joy in it for me. We’re getting pushed to find new ways of doing things.” Coaching for an Indiana team from a small town in Mississippi—that sure is a new way.
Anthony Coughlan, college scouting coordinator
Working from his apartment in Zionsville, Ind.
“We can get pissed off about this or we can find solutions.”
Coughlan (pronounced Cog-lin), 26, helps coordinate all the virtual visits with college prospects. Since players cannot come to Indianapolis, the Colts are allowed three contacts with players per week (that’s usually all they do with most prospects), and assistant GM Ed Dodds, Coughlan and cap guy Mike Bluem coordinate the logistics.
It used to be that a prospect, on a pre-draft visit to the Colts complex, would see several people in the building during the day. Now that prospect would have three Zoom or FaceTime contacts with the Colts: one with director of player development Brian Decker (the former Green Beret and Ballard’s character judge in the organization); one with the position coach; and one with the pertinent coordinator. Max per session: one hour.
With the probability that the Colts will draft away from the facility, the team now has its draft board on Excel spreadsheets. That’s a first. So many things are, for Coughlan and the Colts.
Frank Reich, head coach
Working from his home office in Meridian Hills, Ind.
“Information is king. I watched a player’s own pro day-type video on YouTube last night.”
Reich loved that. He wouldn’t say which player’s video it was, but it was important because it was a player whose Pro Day got canceled, and that player was desperate to be seen. Reich texted the kid, telling him he was impressed that the player went to that length to be scouted.
There’s so much for Reich to do, and it’s so different. He’s got to be ready for the start of the offseason program (with new quarterback Philip Rivers) April 20, and he doesn’t know if the program will start that day, and how much he’ll be able to do with his players virtually because in-person meetings are impossible now. He might have to sign off on drafting a prospective quarterback without meeting him in person.
Reich always loved the occasional 10-minute session with a coach this time of year, the office pop-in to talk about a play for the offensive playbook or what he thinks of a particular draft prospect. “You miss a lot of the impromptu stuff,” he said. But he said he reminds his coaches that virtual coaching and scouting still means coaching and scouting. “I do remind them every so often, ‘Hey, just because we’re home, we’re not on vacation. We’re not working half days, we’re working full days. Structure your day. Plan your day.’ “Reich also tells them to lock in with their families during the day if they can—just be sure to have the work done by the end of the day.
Reich feels he’ll be sufficiently prepared for the draft. “I don’t want to say this is better,” he said of hunkering down at home and scouting players on tape, “but as a head coach in your office, you get interrupted 20 times a day. There are no interruptions now.”
Knowledge of the Week10
What we learned about the uncertain future of the NFL:
• On the mechanics of the draft. “You have to be assuming right now you will be drafting from homes,” Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. On Wednesday, NFL IT departments were sent a memo that implied the league would be drafting either from team facilities or from homes of team coaches, GMs and executives. Roger Goodell has decreed that all 32 team facilities must be open for business for any team to be able to use its facility. Pretty hard to imagine governors who have ordered non-essential businesses to be closed to allow football teams to open up for the draft. So, the draft is more likely to be held either in socially-distant small groups, or with each individual decision-maker at a private home.
• On security, and Zoom. A month ago, most had never used Zoom video conferencing; many of us had never heard of it. Now, it’s the way many teams communicate. It’s possible the league could move their draft-weekend video conferencing to Microsoft Teams, which several NFL people have told me seems more secure. Zoom use across the globe has exploded 20-fold in the last two months, and the Washington Post reported Thursday that the private information of thousands of users, plus many thought-to-be private sessions on Zoom—including teachers schooling students remotely in March—has been hacked.
As one club executive told me Friday, it’s unnerving to think there’s even a small possibility that one NFL team with a smart IT person could figure how to hack another team’s Zoom sessions on draft night.
Another exec, Demoff, talked on Zoom the other day of drafting “with the security aspect, which is probably the most important for teams. How do you make sure your conversations are protected? Someone could hack into this Zoom, and you’re probably not going to learn a lot. Hacking into a team’s draft room on Zoom is probably a lot different. That would be my biggest concern just from an encryption standpoint of how do you have these conversations confidentially.”
• Be prepared to see football games played without fans. No one knows the alternatives that will present themselves in the next six months. We don’t know if there will be any sporting seasons in 2020. But the NFL’s medical director, Dr. Allen Sills, pointed out to Judy Battista of NFL Media how far there is to go before we even think of playing games with any normalcy: “As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport. Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
What does that mean? Daily temperature-taking for every participant and coach, and perhaps daily testing. In this scenario, it’s certainly pragmatic to consider games without fans sitting in close proximity. As one NFL executive said to me the other day: “Everything [related to football] is on the table for discussion, and we’ve got a very large table.”
• How does the NFL schedule the Rams for a Week 1 opener at new So-Fi Stadium? With reports that Covid-19 could slow the finish to the new Los Angeles stadium—expected to be open by late July—and with California Gov. Gavin Newsom saying Saturday he is “not anticipating” sports events with full stadiums in his state in September, it’s hard to plan a celebratory launch in L.A. Around the NFL, and around Dallas and Los Angeles, there has been anticipation for a national-TV Cowboys-Rams season-opener. Speaking of schedules . . .
• It’s likely the NFL schedule-makers, led by Howard Katz, will spend their extra time this month working on 12-game and 14-game schedule alternatives. Roger Goodell sometimes sounds like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he says inside NFL offices: “Hope is not a strategy.” In this case, the league hopes it can play a full 16-game regular-season schedule with a bye week. But nothing is certain these days. In the wake of the league saying the schedule would be released on May 9 at the latest, it would be foolish to sit on the schedule that could be ready by next week and not take the next five weeks to prepare for alternatives. That’s why I’m sure they are working on shorter, compacted schedules.
Spitballing: A 14-game schedule could be as simple as the league assigning every team one home and one road game on the weekends of Sept. 13 and 20, and if the season couldn’t start till the weekend of Sept. 27, those first two games could simply be lopped off the schedule, and each team would be left with seven home and seven road games. A more radical idea, if the season couldn’t start till mid-October: Opening night Oct. 15 at Kansas City, opening weekend continues on Oct. 18 and 19, a 12-week regular season, no byes, final regular-season games on Jan. 3. In that case, imagine the NFL scrubbing all preseason games and having training camps, likely closed to the public, beginning in early to mid-September. That’s five months from now. So much can happen to affect the schedule, obviously.
• Andy Reid’s workspace. Reid lives about 13 minutes from the Chiefs’ offices next to Arrowhead Stadium. He has taken over the basement of his house with Suburban Reidland Draft HQ. “It’s kind of classic,” Reid said. “I’m sitting in my basement, literally, and I’ve got an arc trainer sitting here in case I want to jump on that to get a little exercise. I’ve got my monitor set up along with my computer and my iPad right next to that. I’ve got one of my wife’s antique tables here, a little coffee table, that I’m using to throw everything on. I’m in the basement, and you know what, it’s not bad.” The Super Bowl champ coach sounded almost gleeful describing it.
People of the Week
There are so many people around the NFL doing such good things, and several who have been impacted by Covid-19. On my radar this morning:
• Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. His $1-million gift to Penn Medicine in Philadelphia established the Covid-19 Immunology Defense Fund. It’s a fascinating pursuit. Lurie wants to radically expand testing of front-line health workers for immunity to coronavirus—I didn’t know that some people are naturally immune—so that those medical professionals could work without fear of getting the disease. Lurie’s gift also will contribute to more rapid testing for the disease and for the antibodies that fight it, and to find drugs that work against the virus as well as vaccine research. Lurie told me Saturday he started taking the disease seriously when he first heard about it.
“People here don’t realize it, but Wuhan is one of the biggest cities in the world,” he said. “It’s the size of New York. Once I heard it was infecting so many there, my alarms went off. Then I started thinking, ‘What can we do?’ “
Lurie figured it was not enough to simply know if a person has the disease or doesn’t, but testing of immune system at the same time was paramount. Penn Medicine has a flu lab and has experts studying the best way to fight this and other flu strains.
“We will not win this way till we do massive antibody testing,” Lurie said, and he hopes his gift not only gets others to contribute to finding the best ways to diagnose and solve the coronavirus mystery but to encourage people around the world to work together on it. “My overall macro worry is we’re living in a time of increasing nationalism. This is the time we need the best and the brightest all over the world, and we’re all contributing knowledge, and we have to be best at everything. We have to be the best at antibody testing, with very few false positives and false negatives, in high-level labs. We’ve got to be best at global cooperation.
“Now is the time we should work together. We can go on the offensive. This is the time to trust science and trust the humanity of people. Everyone do their small part and trust data, trust science.”
• Patriots owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft. As reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton, a commodity more important than gold—1.2 million N95 masks, the masks that are so important for health workers to avoid getting Covid-19—were boarded into the cargo hold of the New England Patriots team plane early Wednesday morning in Shenzhen, China. The plane took off for Alaska, refueled, and landed at Boston’s Logan Airport at 5:55 p.m. Thursday. Some 300,000 masks were off-loaded and put on a semi-truck for Manhattan, arriving at the Javits Center at 11:20 a.m. Friday for doctors and nurses desperate for them. (Another 500,000 masks purchased by Robert Kraft and the state of Massachusetts will be arriving this week.)
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Beaton explained, had a way to purchase the masks, but air travel in and out of China is severely restricted now because incoming flights and passengers are not allowed in China for now. Baker’s close friend is Jonathan Kraft, chairman of the board at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Kraft family made the team plane available for the mission. After cutting through massive red tape (Beaton’s story explains it well), the logistics got solved—including a stop in Wilmington, Ohio, so the plane could be fitted with proper gear to make such a long international trek. It’s really an incredible story, and the Krafts deserve tremendous praise for helping a desperate cause, and making it all happen in such a short period.
As the New York Post cover and reporting illustrate, these are man-bites-dog times. Jets and Giants fans love the Patriots . . . for a few minutes anyway. “I don’t like his team,” the Jets’ biggest fan, “Fireman Ed” Anzalone, told the Post. “They’ve been beating us up for quite some time. But Kraft is just a wonderful guy, so I’m not surprised by his actions.”
• Tony Boselli. In the span of one week at the end of March, the 47-year-old former all-pro left tackle for the Jaguars went from playing golf in sunny northeast Florida to the ICU at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville—testing positive for, and then battling, Covid-19. And things weren’t going well. Boselli, by his second day in the ICU (March 26) couldn’t get enough oxygen through his nose. He was feeling foggy.
“All I remember,” Boselli told me over the weekend, “is the pulmonologist looking at me and saying something like: ‘We’ll see where this goes. We gotta get your oxygen right. But if this doesn’t work, we gotta go to next level.’ It scared the crap out of me. What you want to hear is, We’re gonna get you better. What I heard was, We’re gonna try to get you better. No guarantee. All I could think was, this is real. This is no lie.”
The next thought Boselli had, through the fog of coronavirus playing with his head, was this: “I’m gonna find every one of those Hall of Fame voters who always tell me, ‘Don’t worry, Tony. You’ve got next year.’ And all I was thinking was, ‘Man, there is no next year for me!’ “ You may recall that Boselli, over the past several years, has been close to Hall entry over the past few years but never voted in.
Boselli was in the Mayo ICU for five days and lost 20 pounds. Overnight Thursday, his oxygen level got better. He didn’t need to be intubated, nor put on a respirator. And by late last week, he was feeling lucky. “This made me realize I’ve got a pretty damn good life,” he told me. “My family, people praying for me, people out of nowhere sending food to our house. I was alone in that ICU, but I was not really alone. I felt it. I’ll always be grateful for it.”
Gil Brandt's Top 1620
This will be the NFL’s 85th draft. This will be Gil Brandt’s 65th either working for a team—full-time or part-time—or working for the league.
Cooped up in his Dallas home instead of dropping into Pro Days this spring, Brandt, 87, still rates the players. “This is the hardest-to-figure draft,” Brandt said on Friday. “I’ll give you an example. There were 34 cornerbacks at the combine. Only 10 did everything. They were going to do stuff at their Pro Days instead, and then most of their Pro Days got cancelled. So teams are trying to figure out all those guys now. One of the ways you rank the corners is the cone drill. [The three-cone drill measures speed of players while changing directions around three L-shaped orange cones.] If you’re under 7.0 seconds in the cone, that’s a pretty good indicator you’re quick. So now you’re going back to drafting with 50 percent information on a lot of guys, because of no Pro Days and no individual workouts with teams. So your scouting of the games becomes more important.”
Brandt’s 16 top-rated players, the players he thinks should comprise the first half of the first round April 23, along with his comments:
1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU. Came farther than any player I can remember in his last year of college football.
2. Chase Young, edge rusher, Ohio State. The best football player in the draft.
3. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson. Played safety, slot corner and linebacker at Clemson. What’s amazing is he had 23 pressures last year on 70 pass-rushes.
4. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon. So much going for him. Very smart, better speed (4.68 in the 40) than you think. Strong arm.
5. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama. A left-handed Drew Brees. Longevity more than anything is the concern. You’ve got to trust your doctor.
6. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn. Stayed in school when he could have been a high pick last year. Wish he was a little faster than 5.12 seconds in the 40.
7. Jedrick Wills, T, Alabama. Only played right tackle, but I think he can be a guard or left tackle. Quick and athletic.
8. Tristan Wirfs, T, Iowa. Small-town Iowa kid, three-year starter, long arms, good explosion for a guy his size. He’ll get stronger.
9. Andrew Thomas, T, Georgia. Started 41 straight games at a high level of competition. Played 1,021 passing snaps in three years, allowed five sacks.
10. Mekhi Becton, T, Louisville. Another one of these freaky athletic guys, and huge. Started at both left and right tackle. Size/speed combination is great.
11. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma. Dez Bryant-type. Strong, tall, complete receiver.
12. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama. Excellent route-runner. Plays a lot like Antonio Brown, without the baggage.
13. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State. Shutdown corner with big upside. I probably have him too low.
14. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida. Good speed (4.39), and a starter against top competition. Will play a long time in the NFL.
15. Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina. Tore up the Senior Bowl. Productive three-year starter. Very strong. Will play early and could dominate.
16. Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama. You can teach a guy to catch better, but you can’t teach speed like he has. Ran a 4.27 40 at the combine.
Quotes of the Week
“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state. We’ve all seen headlines the last couple of days in Asia where they were opening up certain businesses and now they’re starting to roll back because they’ve seen some spread. There’s a boomerang. One has to be careful to not over-promise.”
—California Gov. Gavin Newsom, asked Saturday if the NFL could come back with crowds for games in August or September.
“I feel like if there was a game today, I’d be able to go out and perform the same way I was able to perform in previous years. I feel as mobile as possible. I feel 100 percent.”
—Tua Tagovailoa, to Steve Wyche of NFL Network.
“Planning remains fluid, given the state of the pandemic.”
—NFL director of special events Peter O’Reilly, on preparations for the April 23-25 draft.
“It was a big time in my life and I’m proud of it. But if that’s as good as I’m ever going to get in life, they might as well shoot me.”
—Tom Dempsey, the former Saints kicker who set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in 1970, to Jeff Duncan of The Athletic. Dempsey kicked with half a right foot, having been born with no toes on the right foot. Dempsey died Saturday of coronavirus.
“There are plenty of things we cannot do right now. But let’s focus on what we can do. We can adapt. We can adjust. We can make better decisions right now for the betterment of the future. As I tell our team, let’s keep stringing good days together, and we will get through this.”
—Bill Belichick, in a video released by the Patriots the other day.
“I wouldn’t have paid this turd.”
—Former Jets and Bills coach Rex Ryan, Friday on ESPN’s “Get Up”, on Dallas wide receiver Amari Cooper, who signed a five-year, $100-million contract last month. Ryan later apologized for the comment.
Just curious to know how Ryan really feels about Cooper.
The seeds of the last 14 teams to make Super Bowls, starting with Seattle-Denver in SBXLVIII:
1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 1.
Interesting, of course, to see nothing but teams with byes play in the Super Bowl in the last seven years. But I’m not sure it’s wholly indicative of the sport. Comparing the last seven champions with the previous seven:
The seeds of the last seven Super Bowl winners:
1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2.
The seeds of the previous seven Super Bowl winners:
3, 5, 2, 1, 6, 4, 4.
I don’t buy that the league is going to stay on the path of the 1 seed winning five of every seven Super Bowls—even when the 1 seed is the only team getting a bye in the foreseeable future.
Pro Bowl berths earned:
Jackie Slater, Hall of Fame offensive tackle: 7.
His son, Matthew, Patriots special-teamer: 8.
John Harbaugh said something to me the other day that made me think of my own life. No one likes to play Monopoly with me. I am vicious. I like to take your last dollar. I take glee when you get assessed for street repairs. I might give you amnesty on paying if you land on my hotel on Kentucky Avenue, but I will extract a heavy price from you if I do.
During this time or working at home, the Ravens coach has taught his wife and daughter the favorite card game of his youth, Euchre. He said they don’t play Monopoly anymore because of the intensity of his daughter Alison when she plays. Said Harbaugh, chuckling: “Alison wants to take your soul.”
King of the Road40
Walking Chuck the dog in Brooklyn on Thursday around 6:45 a.m., out for 15 minutes, I spotted seven discarded sanitary gloves on the sidewalks or on the streets I crossed.
In my neighborhood, most of the street corners have garbage receptacles. Litter is not uncommon in New York City. We have way too much of it. But potentially toxic litter really ticks me off. Imagine you’ve finished doing whatever you’ve been doing that requires gloves: riding the subway, cooking in a restaurant, or anything just being cautious not to get germs on your hands in this changed society we’re in. You finish with the gloves and are either walking into your home or getting in your car, or whatever you’re doing. And instead of dropping the used gloves into a trash bin, you drop them on the ground. At ground zero of the coronavirus, you drop soiled and perhaps contaminated gloves on the ground.
As many stories of valor and heroism as we see daily on the front lines of this crisis, this is an example of the opposite. It’s disgusting, inconsiderate and dangerous. Shame on you who do this.
Tweets of the Week
Oh my would I love for the NFL season to open on time. Know what I’d love more? For the coronavirus to NOT come back like a wildfire because we carelessly flicked a cigarette onto dry ground.
— Gregg Doyel (@GreggDoyelStar) April 4, 2020
Doyel is a columnist for the Indianapolis Star.
'It's hard to sit here and watch, and people that you know are risking their lives underprepared to take care of people. It's good to be able to support those people, even though I can't do what they do.' – @KiyaTomlin on making masks for hospital workershttps://t.co/HVWRtvSSQy pic.twitter.com/b5kqsuCGjb
— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) April 3, 2020
Varley writes for the Steelers website. Kiya Tomlin, a clothing designer, has switched her business to making masks for local hospitals
'It hits different here': Coronavirus rules see closed basketball courts and blocked hoops https://t.co/OhspQdp5m4 pic.twitter.com/rgOUe1jH1R
— IndyStar (@indystar) April 1, 2020
The Indianapolis Star reporting on some cruel and unusual Covid-19-related punishment.
Dabo Swinney says Americans have stormed the beaches of Normandy, put man on the moon and created an iPhone. Says this is the greatest country in the history of the universe. Has no doubt football will play, says he's excited to see Death Valley rocking.
— Grace Raynor (@gmraynor) April 3, 2020
Raynor covers Clemson football for The Athletic.
Not sure if he means in September 2020 or ’21.
A leader doesn’t doesn’t look to criticize, a leader accepts criticism and learns. A leader doesn’t look for praise, a leader offers praise. A leader doesn’t ask for trust, a leader earns your trust. We all have those who need us to love them and lead them. Be a leader
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) April 2, 2020
Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks.
Thanks for so many comments this week. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you all have some time on your hands. Send email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
Email of the Week. From Todd Smith: “I miss loads of things as I’ve been on lockdown for about three weeks. My family and I all work with first responders, city and county governments and schools. My wife teaches, my parents were city administrators, my sister is a social worker with the VA and I build software that dispatches about 75 percent of America’s police, fire and EMT units. We are all involved in government in some way and know the heartbreak that we’re facing. We’re all aware of the risks we and those we serve face. When the downtime happens (which is less and less) my mind instantly misses sports. I get it but for the most part there’s something more important I’ve seen those I serve missing: their own families. Our public servants, healthcare workers, even sanitation workers and grocery employees are pulling long shifts to try to battle this. And they’re all missing their families. Doctors aren’t going home in fear of giving it to their families. First responders are barely able to get new clothes, a meal and some sleep before it all starts again. City and county employees are working to convert their capabilities into action while also attempting to work from home or in many cases they’re actually staffing their emergency operations centers. And there’s not one that doesn’t have a story to make you cry. There are some real heroic sacrifices in this world. As much as we love football, this break from the action only makes me appreciate it more. And frankly, it’s barely a sacrifice for me because losing a season will not hurt as badly as losing loved ones. Thanks for writing with humanity, representing real people and shining the light on things.”
Wow, Todd. Thanks so much. We need sentiments like this at this time in our lives. Of course we miss sports; a sad day comes every October when the baseball box scores go away. I look forward to games in all sports, and at all levels. But when I see things like the nurses, bone-tired and emotional about their work, making videos after their long shifts, everything about what I miss with sports goes away. I miss it, of course, but I have zero interest right now in pining over the loss of the Final Four or whatever ballgame is on TV when the news of the day comes on. You put it all into words, and so well. Thank you.
Thanks, Troy. From Troy Howard, of Hickory, N.C.: “I’ve been reading your column a long time. I enjoy the football stuff and the fair, honest, forthright way in which you approach the subject of the game and the people who make it happen, but I also enjoy your column more for all the ‘other’ stuff. I love the way you write about love and living and loss in your own life and in doing so compel me to look at how I deal with it in my own. I don’t always agree with your politics but I appreciate that you make me think, deeply, about critical issues facing our country. I’m grateful that you have enough respect for me as a reader to challenge me, honestly, in a space that I didn’t expect to see it when I first started reading your column.”
So nice of you to write, Troy. So many of the readers of this column have written to thank me for continuing to write the way I do, and I’m touched. But I need to thank all of you as well. Without you, there is no me . . . or, without you, there is no Football Morning in America and me writing for you. So I appreciate everyone reading and reacting, including those who argue (or worse) with me.
Thanks, Steve. From Steve Harper of Stourport-on-Severn, England: “The world is hurting and football is way down the list of priorities right now, but we need solace, we need that comfort blanket, to know, even just for a short while, that the world is still normal in certain places and certain ways. Football and in particular your thoughts, analysis and insights do that. Even in the UK, where I’m based and where soccer is king, I need my NFL/football daily intake, it keeps me grounded, sane and hopeful. So please, carry on.”
That’s the plan, Steve. Thanks for taking the time to write.
Good idea. From Neil Lieberthal, of Trumbull, Conn. “With teams spread out all over the country, the ability to give teams adequate time to discuss/make trades [leads me to suggest] the interval between picks should be extended perhaps to 25 minutes. And the start of the draft be pushed back accordingly, maybe to 5 p.m. Eastern. What with all of us home anyway the start time is of no concern; we’re always in prime time. This would allow teams to fully and adequately study their options and give the fans more to chew on.”
I agree—I think the NFL should consider expanding the amount of time teams have to make picks. Right now it’s 10 minutes in round one, seven in round two, five in rounds three through seven. Seems fair to give teams 15 minutes in the first round and maybe 12 in round two and 10 after that. The problem I see for communication during the draft, particularly if teams have, say, an assistant GM or scout at home making calls on trades rather than being in the same room with the GM, is the difficulty of making split-second decisions with three or four teams on a trade (which happens in many draft rooms). I’m sure that’s going to be addressed before the draft.
Hmmmm. Would the Bengals want Burrow to be free after one year? From Patrick Magner, of Wixom, Mich.: “Being in the unprecedented times that we’re in, I have 2 unprecedented solutions: Option 1 is to put the draft off for a year, and double the draft picks next year. Either add seven more rounds, or have rounds 1A, 1B, etc. Option 2 is to have the draft as planned, but sign everyone drafted to one-year deals. If a player pans out, he could be a RFA. If he doesn’t pan out, it’s a one-and-done deal with no impact on future salary caps. What downside do you see to either option? On a personal note, I work at a retail pharmacy. I’d like to ask that people think of their neighbors. You don’t need 5 bottles of hand sanitizer when your neighbor has none. We will restock before you go through one bottle, unless you douse your whole body in it.”
Tremendous personal thought, Patrick. Just like with the toilet paper, the hoarding mentality seems pretty damn sad. As far as your draft options, my overriding concern would be what the draft class of 2020 would do for the next year. Sit? Go back to college, which seems fraught with problems? And so many teams have major needs they’ve planned for months to try to fill in the draft. I’d just say keep the draft as is. It’s a strange year to have a draft, certainly.
This is my first-ever email from Morocco, I believe. From Othmane Chiqui, of Rabat, Morocco: “I’m a football fan from Rabat, Morocco, who randomly picked up an issue of Sports Illustrated 11 years ago while going to college in Quebec, and fell in love with your articles and columns. I have been reading your column (MMQB, and later FMIA) for over a decade now, and it is my only must-read sports column of the week! It’s hard for me to watch NFL games from here, but the excellent coverage and interesting stories you provide compensates for it. A big thank you for the effort you put in to write such a detailed column every week.”
Thanks a lot, Othmane. So nice of you to say. You know, ever since my 12th or 13th viewing in full of “Casablanca,” I have always wanted to visit. If I get there one day, you will hear from me.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think, if I were Miami GM Chris Grier, and I liked Joe Burrow clearly above all other quarterbacks this year, I’d call the Bengals and offer four first-round picks for Cincinnati’s first overall pick. I think, if I were Cincinnati owner Mike Brown, I’d say no—under one important condition.
2. I think, now that you’d like to have me committed, here’s my logic:
Miami owner Stephen Ross has made it priority one in the organization to find the next Dan Marino, or at least some reasonable facsimile. At all costs, a franchise quarterback must be procured. Pronto.
Miami holds the fifth, 18th and 26th picks in the first round of this year’s draft, and two first-round picks next year.
Trading 5, 18, 26 and one of next year’s first-rounders (let’s estimate the 16th pick in the draft) would leave Miami over the next two drafts with one pick in the first round and four in the second round.
If you’re Grier, and you’ve got questions about Tua Tagovailoa’s long-term health or Justin Herbert’s upside, the sensible thing is to use a huge chunk of the draft capital you’ve accumulated for the purpose of being sure you’ve got the long-term quarterback you think is clearly the best one in a good class.
As for the Bengals, the only way I say yes to the deal is if Herbert or Tagovailoa is 1b to Burrow’s 1a. They’d have to be very close. If they are, and if the Dolphins make my fictitious offer, the Bengals should do the deal. I’ve heard there are some inside the Bengals who are true believers in Herbert, and if so, such a deal could be intelligent for Cincinnati. But we’ll see how it goes. Burrow has the toughness and ability and mental acuity to be a very good long-term quarterback.
Got a bone to pick with me? Hit me at email@example.com. I won’t bite.
3. I think Sammy Watkins’ one-year, $9-million contract with the Chiefs (per Terez Paylor) is smart for the club, especially, because of three things.
a. Watkins has averaged 37 catches per season over the past four years, and his value as a deep threat for Patrick Mahomes is certainly notable, but he is not irreplaceable; $9 million is the right price for him.
b. The Chiefs’ offense now returns its six most important skill players for 2020—Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson—and in a year when so many teams will be flying blind because of the vast disruption of any organized offseason activities, continuity on a great offense is hugely important.
c. Mahomes really trusts Watkins in big spots, as the 2019 playoff revealed. At a cost of 4.5 percent of the Chiefs’ 2020 cap, Watkins is reasonably priced.
4. I think the opening-game foe for Kansas City (now, we don’t know for sure there will be games this fall, but should there be) will be at a huge disadvantage. Top candidates: Houston, New England, Atlanta. Houston will be adjusting to life without DeAndre Hopkins, New England to life without Tom Brady, and Atlanta, well, does the league really want to put a team with a questionable defense that was 1-7 last year at midseason and has had to lose key guys due to cap tightness on the first game of the new season? Problem is, any of those games could be routs in the middle of the third quarter—not what the NFL would want for a season-opener. (Chalk that up at the top of the Least of the NFL’s Worries Dept.)
5. I think the retirement of Dallas center Travis Frederick at 29 is not nefarious or odd after seven starry seasons, particularly given the personal and professional circumstances. Per the website Over The Cap, Frederick has made $39.6 million in six years as a top NFL center and one year (2018) battling the nerve-impacting and debilitating Guillain-Barre Syndrome that robbed him of a season. He probably felt he wasn’t the same player in 2019 that he’d been before suffering this rare malady. PFF rated him the NFL’s eighth-best center in 2019, after ranking 2, 3, 3, and 2 in his previous four playing seasons. Returning from the disease, Frederick was his typical ironman self. He played 1,116 of 1,121 Dallas offensive snaps, and what’s particularly amazing about that is that Frederick never missed as many as five snaps in any of his previous five seasons anchoring the Dallas line.
As so many modern players are doing once they’ve cashed in, Frederick is a smart guy who realizes he’s got two-thirds of his left to live. Good luck to him. I’m going to try to get him on a future podcast. I had him once, a couple of summers ago, and we had a good conversation.
6. I think I’d like to wish Jac Collinsworth good luck on his new NBC Sports digital series, “Distanced Training: Ready to get back in the game.” It’s a cool concept, showing athletes who can’t be in any organized conditioning programs these days figuring out how to say fit, so when the games begin again they won’t be out of shape. The show’s done in a bit of a gritty way, by webcam and Zoom.
“All the athletes are trying to figure it out,” said Collinsworth, son of Cris. “They know they need to stay at home, and they also know they have to stay in shape.”
Collinsworth has done pieces with Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings and Jack Eichel of the Sabres, among others, including one woman who is hosting socially distant workouts at the end of her driveway in a neighborhood. The video’s a little gritty, as so many are in these days of Zoom and webcams, but the effect is very good and worthwhile. Collinsworth’s takeaways from his guests about staying mentally and physically fit these days: figure out a way to get fresh air every day; go back to the roots of working out—with pushups and situps and jumping jacks; be sure to address your mental health and not just physical health every day.
7. I think, reading the remarks of Bears brass discussing the quarterback situation from Friday . . . what a difference three months makes. In January, I was sure Mitchell Trubisky would take the first snap of the 2020 regular season for the Bears. Absolutely sure. In April, I’d bet my grande macchiato that Nick Foles is the man. It’s nothing that Matt Nagy or Ryan Pace said Friday. But it’s just the fact they’ve made it a competition now—and I can’t envision Trubisky beating out Foles the player and Foles the leader.
8. I think you probably won’t care about this note if you don’t follow the Ravens or the Browns. But the announcement of the retirement of Ravens executive vice president of public and community relations, Kevin Byrne, really hit me the other day. Byrne has worked in media-relations with the Browns and Ravens since 1981; I’ve covered the NFL since 1984, and so I’ve had many sessions and many long and helpful conversations with Byrne.
What we value in this business is truth. In 36 years of dealing with Byrne through some trying times (a few of them Art Modell-related), not only did he never steer me wrong, he never tried to talk me out of writing something that he knew would be disadvantageous to his employer. I never got anything but the truth out of him, no matter what that truth would mean inside his front office.
The other day, I asked the coach he’s worked with for the last 12 years to give me a Byrne review. “I’ve gotten really close to him,” John Harbaugh said. “The thing that’s so good about him is his calming way. He always has an elegant and smart way of understanding and explaining the things that are important for me to know and to consider. Protect the owner, protect the organization, protect the game, keep everyone together. A couple times early in my years with the Ravens, there were times when I wanted to say some things. We’d get a bad call, or an opposing player cheap-shotted. I’d be mad, and Kevin, after the game, he’d be like, ‘You might want to wait on that till tomorrow.’ We played Pittsburgh once. A couple things went against us. There was a terrible call. Well, I was going to say something after the game. I was hot. Kevin’s mad too, but he thinks about it. He says, ‘Before you do that, let’s give [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] a call. Steve was mad too. But of course he didn’t want me to say it. And by getting Steve on the phone with me, Kevin was thinking, ‘I might not have the juice to prevent my coach from saying something, but the owner does.’ Just a fabulous guy who’s been a huge help to me from day one.”
9. I think there’s no way I’m a lone wolf on this. I believe the NFL, in the 2021 season, should play one of its wild-card games on Monday night of the first playoff weekend. (It was a non-starter in 2020, because the college football national title game is scheduled for Monday night, Jan 11, 2021. The NFL doesn’t want to ruffle college feathers, nor dilute its own rating by competing with the college game.) But for the next season, there isn’t such competition.
The core question is this: Is it fair to have one team, playing Monday night, play a short-week divisional playoff game on the following Sunday? Well, yes it is. In fact, having two games Saturday, three Sunday and one Monday is more fair than the system of three games Saturday and three on Sunday. In a 3-3 system, with three games Saturday and three Sunday, you’re asking six teams to play Saturday playoff games on a short week. Let’s say in a 2-3-1 Saturday-Sunday-Monday system you eliminate the 1:05 pm ET game Saturday and add an 8:15 p.m. Monday. Two teams would then get an extra day of rest/prep time for the wild-card game on Monday. The winner of that game would have a short week before playing on the Sunday of divisional weekend.
So when you play one game on Monday night of wild-card weekend, instead of the two teams playing a wild-card game on short rest, you’d have one team playing a divisional game on short rest. (Of course, one or more of the Sunday wild-card winners could end up playing on the following Saturday, meaning they’d also be playing on short rest.) My point in all of this is the NFL not only could play a Monday night game on wild-card weekend in the 2021 season, but it should.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week: From the underrated nightly PBS News Hour show, a valuable piece on how learning changes when kids are not in school, from the perspective of both teachers and parents who in the blink of an eye have become teachers or educational facilitators.
b. Of the many ways coronavirus has upended America, re-doing lives to account for kids learning at home for seven hours a day instead of at school has to be the one that has impacted families as much as anything but the disease itself. The great thing about this piece is seeing the strain on some parents, and then listening to this (apparently) great and bright and optimistic teacher and mom from Alaska bring sanity to the discussion.
“You don’t need to be totally, solely focused on academics,” said Smith, a teacher and mom of two from Seldovia, Alaska. “Don’t beat up yourself as a parent. If your kid is not engaged academically all day long, they really are going to be fine.”
The story is 11 minutes long. Don’t be afraid of length. Don’t be afraid of thoughtfulness. Major-network news stories on topics like this are a fifth as long, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is so much right with doing a thorough deep dive into the topic with parents and teachers from Alaska and New Mexico and Maine and Vermont, connected by Skype or FaceTime.
c. Story of the Week: Nina Shapiro of the Seattle Times with a beautifully written and reported story on the Covid-19-related death of Seattle resident and Vietnam emigrant Hoang Dinh Nguyen, and what happens when a nurse takes the time to care about patient and family during this trying time.
d. The pure humanity in this story of a family and a dying man and a priest and a nurse, relayed so well by Shapiro, makes you cry. She writes:
Nurse Judy, as [daughter] Crystal came to know her, was with him, wearing a mask below her glasses, protective head covering, gloves, and a yellow gown covering her from neck to shins to wrists. She was from Texas, Crystal learned. As this area became a coronavirus hot spot, Swedish brought in nurses from around the country who travel where needed, according to Moss. Nurse Judy took on an extraordinary role.
Neither Father Dao nor another priest called by the hospital could get into the room to deliver last rites. So Nurse Judy dipped a Q-tip into oil brought by one of the priests and made a cross on Nguyen’s forehead and hand. The priests called out instructions and recited prayers through a walkie-talkie.
Nurse Judy gestured to [wife] Ty to press her hand against the window. The nurse held up her own hand to meet it on the other side of the glass and put her other hand on one of Nguyen’s feet — connecting husband and wife.
e. We should all have a Nurse Judy in our lives, at just the right time. Thanks, reader Keith Hansen of Mukilteo, Wash., for sending me the link.
f. You Are There Journalism of the Week: Jan Hoffman spent 12 hours with rescue workers/ambulance drivers/EMTs in Paterson, N.J., following these heroes on their daily mission.
g. Writing about the ambulance and a crew after one emergency run to drop a Covid-19 patient at the hospital, Hoffman did the right things: just told the story of what she saw and painted a graphic picture:
As soon as the ambulance dropped off the patient, it rushed to the firehouse to be decontaminated. During the trip, an E.M.T. scrubbed the interior with disinfectant wipes. Once at the firehouse, the decontaminator team posted a warning sign on the rear of the vehicle: Dirty Bus. Inside it, they hung an ultraviolet light. Six minutes of ultraviolet light should clean the interior properly, but department protocol requires 20 minutes. Then a decontaminator sprayed a powerful antibacterial liquid all over the cabin. The vehicle remained locked for another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, decontaminators wiped down the outside of the bus.
A new call was coming in: Another ambulance, freshly deconned, sped off.
While the first ambulance was being sterilized, the men stepped into buckets filled with a bleach solution, to clean their boots. They held out their arms, as a buddy sprayed each head-to-toe with Lysol. Then they isolated themselves in a corner of the parking lot for 10 minutes, while the Lysol dissolved germs.
h. The detail there is so vivid. It’s so well done.
i. The other thing I thought about Paterson, the hardscrabble neighbor to the north of Montclair, where we raised our kids: Mary Beth King threw a no-hitter in Paterson in her freshman softball season at Montclair High. What a world.
j. Profile of the Week: Sean Gregory of Time Magazine on chef Jose Andres, who mobilizes good emergency food around the world when needed—like right now.
k. Gregory followed Andres on his mission of mercy to feed those on the doomed cruise ship that docked in Oakland with Covid-19 patients on board. He wrote:
At the port of Oakland, where the Grand Princess finally docked, Andrés’ team made its own statement. Setting up a tent at the side of the ship, it forklifted fresh meals not only for the quarantined passengers but also for the crew. “When we hear about a tragedy, we all kind of get stuck on ‘What’s the best to way to help?’” playwright and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who first connected with Andrés in 2017 during the Hurricane Maria relief efforts, tells TIME. “He just hurries his ass over and gets down there.”
Andrés, at the age of 50, is charismatic, impulsive, fun, blunt and driven, an idealist who feeds thousands and a competitor who will knock you out of the lane on the basketball court. He is also among America’s best-known cooks. His ThinkFoodGroup of more than 30 restaurants includes locations in Washington, D.C.; Florida; California; New York and five other states; and the Bahamas. They run the gamut from avant-garde fare to a food court that the New York Times restaurant critic called the best new establishment in New York in 2019. But in recent years, Andrés, an immigrant from Spain, has attracted more attention with his humanitarian work. World Central Kitchen prepared nearly 4 million meals for residents of Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastation wrought by Maria (he titled his best-selling book about it We Fed An Island). The organization has launched feeding missions in 13 countries, serving some 15 million meals and corralling more than 45,000 volunteers. Andrés was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
l. Grandfather Essay of the Week: Kevin Manahan of NJ.com with a lovely and moving piece about how much he misses his grandson Ben—and the bummer of not knowing when he’ll see Ben again. Manahan writes:
“FaceTime doesn’t replace face time.”
m. You should write more, Manahan.
n. Newspaper Lead of the Week: Priscilla DeGregory and Laura Italiano of the New York Post on the expectation of a rising rate of divorce during this stay-at-home time:
Cooped-up New Yorkers are flooding lawyers’ phone lines with divorce inquiries—and an avalanche of filings are coming once the courts reopen. “People are realizing they can’t stand each other,“ said Manhattan lawyer Suzanne Kimberly Bracker.
o. Maybe it’s me, but I’m not into watching great games of the past. I’d rather binge “The Crown.”
p. Which my wife and I did. We finished the 30th episode the other night. (Not the best one, but at least it set the stage for what should be a fun Season Four starting sometime this year.)
q. Hard to say this about many TV shows of some age, but “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was never better than this year. And every time I think Susie can’t be better, she irascibly tops herself.
r. Baseball Reminder of the Week: Today’s April 6th. We’re 11 days into the season. The Orioles and Tigers are undefeated.
s. Happy trails, John Minko, who retired/took a buyout last week at WFAN in New York. Minko, FAN’s update man, did the headlines for every New York sports fan for 32-plus years. Just the facts, Mink Man. Just the facts. You set the standard.
t. RIP, Tom Dempsey, the Saints kicker with a special place in NFL history. He died Saturday at 73 after contracting Covid-19 in a New Orleans nursing home. Dempsey suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He was born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand, and he kicked right-footed with a half-shoe. At 255 pounds, he was a powerful kicker, and out of tiny Palomar (Calif.) College, he caught on with the Saints in 1969. He did more than catch on: Dempsey kicked 22 field goals his rookie year and was voted the NFL’s all-pro kicker at age 22.
The next season he made history. On Nov. 8, 1970, at Tulane Stadium, with two seconds left and trailing Detroit 17-16, Dempsey lumbered onto the field. The goal post was on the goal line in those days, not 10 yards deep in the end zone, and with the ball at the Saints 45-yard line, Dempsey lined up with his holder at the New Orleans’ 37-yard line. Crazy. No one had ever kicked a ball that far. But as the clock ran out, Dempsey’s kick sailed over the crossbar with three or four yards to spare. No one in the NFL kicked a longer field goal for the next 43 years—until Matt Prater made one from 64 yards in 2013.
Dempsey went on to kick for four other teams, but his heart was in New Orleans. He married a local woman, raised a family, and, after his home was severely damaged during Katrina, fans sent him memorabilia from his career to replace some that was lost in the flood. Saints owner Gayle Benson spoke for the city when she said Sunday: “Tom’s life spoke directly to the power of the human spirit and exemplified his resolute determination to not allow setbacks to impede following his dreams and aspirations.”
u. RIP, Bobby Mitchell. The wide receiver was known most for being one of three players to break the color barrier in 1962 in Washington, and it’s a noble thing to be known for. What a great receiver he was, too. In his first two seasons in Washington, 1962 and ’63, he led the NFL with 1,384 and 1,436 yards receiving, respectively, averaging 101 yards a game over two seasons. Jerry Rice did that only once, averaging more than 100 yards a game over a two-year span, in his singular NFL receiving career. A good and passionate man, Mitchell died on Sunday at age 84.
v. Man. What a week. I thought this was the offseason.
The Week Ahead40
Tuesday, New York/Tampa: Happy 45th birthday to the best twins in NFL history, Tiki and Ronde Barber.
Wednesday, New York: Tom Brady’s scheduled to appear on “The Howard Stern Show.” Over/under on references to Giselle Bundchen: 61.
Thursday, Orchard Park, N.Y.: Happy 58th birthday, Steve Tasker, the best and most complete and most disruptive special-teams player I ever saw.
The Adieu Haiku
Stay home. Please stay home.
Okay, you can walk the dog.
Otherwise, sit. Stay.