Lamar Jackson did not watch the Super Bowl. The game was on his home turf in south Florida for the first time in 10 years, and Jackson loves football, but he couldn’t bring himself to watch. Not the biggest surprise, really; players who think they should be playing in the game often don’t watch it—just hurts too much. Even so, that weekend should have been glorious for Jackson. Here he was, just turned 23, and at NFL Honors the night before Chiefs-Niners, the league handed him the MVP Trophy. In his hometown! Second unanimous MVP winner ever! With his mom beaming by his side! What a moment!
“I’d rather have made the speech on video,” Jackson, in his trademark flinty voice, told me over the weekend from Ravens training camp. “Like, ‘Sorry I couldn’t be there.’ But, I had to be there. I really didn’t want to be on that stage.”
“I saw him beforehand,” coach John Harbaugh said from his office Saturday. “Someday he’s going to look back on that and that’ll be one of those moments that, man, he’s going to cherish it. I was walking with some friends, and I saw Lamar standing with his mom in front of his hotel, which was next to the hotel that we were at. His mom had this big smile on her face . . . Lamar, he enjoyed it and it did mean something to him, and I think to his teammates. He said that. But he even said to me, ‘Coach, coach, we gotta be playing. We gotta be playing in this game. We should be playing in this game.’
“That’s all he carries around with him, 24/7. Of course, as a head coach, I love it.”
Jackson isn’t disdainful of winning the MVP in his second NFL season. But as GM Eric DeCosta of the Ravens said, “When he doesn’t win a game, it’s a failure. He had good coaches and mentors, and he learned it’s all about team goals.” Jackson told me a story—you can hear it, and Harbaugh tales too, on The Peter King Podcast this week—about winning and awards from when he was 11 years old, playing organized football in Miami. He was the quarterback (of course). And his team won the area youth football title. Though it sounds surprising to hear him say what he’s about to say, it really isn’t.
“In my fourth year playing youth football, I won the Super Bowl, and it I felt like that was the best time in my life. Like, I felt the whole team was MVP. We didn’t care about no awards. Coach was like, ‘Do you guys want to go to Disney World, or do you want rings?’ The whole team was like, ‘We want our rings!’ So I just always felt like Super Bowls is what I want to do.”
The guy wins the MVP, unanimously, in his hometown, is put on the cover of his beloved Madden game, and is voted the best player in football by his peers. All that happened in the past seven months. But winning a local football championship when he was 11 years old . . . I felt like that was the best time in my life.
And there’s a window into the real Lamar Jackson.
How about that? Real football in FMIA! With no decisions imminent on some of the heavy NFL issues of the summer—such as, How many simultaneous positive COVID tests would put a team in drydock?—I’m leading the column with the story of the most dominant team in the regular season last year and the most disappointing team in the postseason, and the men who lead them, Jackson and Harbaugh . . . and how they hope to make January 2021 brighter than the previous two Januaries.
Later in the column: the first college opt-out writes why he did it; unique approaches in New Orleans and Carolina; the stunning blow of the C.J. Mosley opt-out to the black-clouded Jets; the Raiders getting used to 110-degree days in Vegas; some awful looming road trips due to the pandemic; and an interesting idea from a former player the NFL just might have to consider.
First some things I learned from weekend videoconferences with the Ravens. For the last five months, Jackson’s days were like all of ours: Groundhog Day.
“I’m just like you, Mr. Peter,” he said. (That’s what he calls me, the sort of respectful Southern honorific.) “It was very awkward and very weird. We couldn’t be places. We had to be inside sometimes. Especially in Florida, they were closing things down for us. Sometimes my teammates couldn’t fly in. We had to just make the best of it. Like the guys who stayed in Florida, I worked with those guys. But the times when they were letting us, a couple guys flew down. A few rookies flew down and we got our grind on and worked.”
Otherwise, he said, “I guess I just quarantined. I stayed away from everything. Stay safe. Just followed the rules. I didn’t really go out. I didn’t go out to party, stuff like that. I don’t feel like I should be celebrating anything no time soon. They were telling us to stay inside, you know, keep your mask on, keep your hand sanitizer. And that’s what I did. I was missing football. I was missing OTAs. It was like, ‘Man, when we gonna be able to go back?’ We started waiting for the call. They’d be like, just wait on it, we’ll have to see come June. I’m like, God, we might never play football this year. But then we got a call. We gotta report in July. It was great. I’m happy to be back right now.”
For every team, it’s been weird since March. The pandemic and the distancing and the George Floyd-prompted examining of consciences and the impersonal virtual learning and the enforced banishment for six months from their workplace and the underlying question in everyone’s mind every day: Can pro football really get played in a pandemic, particularly without a bubble?
Jackson and Harbaugh both took off masks when they sat down to talk with me. It’s a new normal for everyone. Three times after games last year, I spent 10 minutes or so with Jackson, getting to know him a bit. This year, these videos or the phone will be it. “We’ll keep our social distance this year,” Jackson said with a chuckle. No more trips, for the time being, into a raucous and fun Ravens’ locker room, where Jackson, in his MVP season, became the unquestioned leader though he did it in a Brady way—quietly, with an easy confidence, letting others tell the loud jokes. Those others often looked to Jackson for approval. It’s tough to own a locker room at 22, but from what I saw (and what I heard from others in there), Jackson managed it.
The Ravens will be a fascinating team to watch, however this frenetic season plays out. They suffered but one major loss—borderline Hall of Fame-candidate guard Marshal Yanda, who retired—but added four big pieces:
• Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, who had every bit the Ohio State career but less fanfare than Ezekiel Elliott, was a bargain-bin draft choice at 55 overall, 51 slots lower than Elliott went in 2016—as if the Ravens needed a boost in the league’s top-rated run game. How could a run game that averaged 206 yards per outing be better in 2020? Maybe it can’t, but Dobbins’ presence might smartly cut down Jackson’s 11.7 rushes/exposures per game.
• Devin Duvernay, the third-round receptions machine from Texas, is a strong 4.39 40-time alternative to take some of the heat off Hollywood Brown; Duvernay went to Florida to run routes for Jackson in the offseason. You can be sure the Ravens, who traded Hayden Hurst to Atlanta before the draft, will move away from the tight-end-heavy offense in recent NFL annals. Amazing study in Aaron Schatz’s Football Outsiders Almanac 2020: Baltimore targeted tight ends on 42 percent of its passes last year, the most in the NFL in the last 35 years.
• On defense, 35-year-old physical marvel Calais Campbell, Pro Football Focus’s top-rated 3-4 defensive end last year, comes in to anchor a solid front.
• First-round linebacker Patrick Queen will have the chance to be the sideline-to-sideline player Wink Martindale’s defense craves in a linebacker.
Good thing Jackson got to throw to his wide receivers in public parks in and around Hollywood, Fla., in the spring. Because he’ll almost certainly be more dependent on them this year.
Now for the 28-12 clunker the top-seeded Ravens played to end the season, the game that still embitters Jackson. The Ravens were successful on 71 percent of fourth downs last year (more on that in a minute), but four times in the maddening loss to the Titans they went for it on fourth down and failed. Just a bizarre bit of malfeasance for Jackson that afternoon: two fourth-down incompletions, two failed fourth-down conversion runs, and two interceptions inside the Tennessee 25-yard line. Five dropped passes. On the other side, 37 rushes for the Titans for 217 yards. No answer for Derrick Henry.
“A perfect storm of bad football for us,” DeCosta said. “Defense gave up some big runs, couldn’t make it on fourth down, dropped passes. Just one of those weird games. I do not know what to chalk it up to, honestly. And Tennessee was really, really tough.”
The numbers, though, are the numbers. Second straight year that a strong offense came up way short. Jackson in the regular season: 19-3, 104.7 rating. Playoffs: 0-2, 68.3 rating.
DeCosta: “I do not subscribe to the theory Lamar cannot win a playoff game. I saw him beat playoff team after playoff team—New England, Seattle, San Francisco, Buffalo, Houston. We just weren’t good enough that day. We own it, and we move on.”
“I just want to get back to that situation so I can perform different,” Jackson said. “Just put it on my shoulders and go from there. I gotta fight to get back to that situation. It’s gonna be a different result this time.”
“They played a really solid Mike Vrabel-type football game,” Harbaugh said. “It happens in football. We’re not . . . we’re not re-questioning everything.”
Watching the Ravens last year, you just got the feeling Jackson would make the play when they needed one. In the Tennessee game, Jackson ran for 143 yards . . . but on the two runs he really needed a hole, two fourth-and-one tries, he hit walls. But the great ones find a way to make plays when the games are difficult like that. Jackson knows that great players are defined by success in January, not October.
But it’s so early in his career, and two games do not prove a guy can’t win in the playoffs. In his short time at Baltimore’s helm, Jackson has shown he deserves the trust of his coach, and of his team, entering year three. A fourth down last October might be the biggest reason why. Baltimore at Seattle, Week 7, late third quarter, 13-all. Already in the game, Harbaugh had chosen to kick field goals on fourth-and-three and fourth-and-eight. Now, on fourth-and-two from the Seattle 8, Harbaugh sent the field-goal team on, content with taking a 16-13 lead with 17 minutes to play.
The offense came off. Jackson, winded after rushing for 13 yards to make it fourth-and-two, glared at his coach.
“I could just see it in his face,” Harbaugh said. “He was so ticked off. Like we’re surrendering . . . I’m like, ‘What? What? You wanna go for it?’ He’s like, heck yeah.”
On the TV replay, Harbaugh can be seen saying to someone on the sideline, “GO FOR IT.” One problem: On the field, the play clock is down to :08, kicker Justin Tucker just blessed himself (his pre-field-goal ritual), and, at :06, snapper Morgan Cox begins to flinch like he’s about to throw it back for the kick. Harbaugh, meanwhile, frantically went down the sideline to call time. At :05, they got the timeout.
Now here came one of the heaviest packages in the NFL: six offensive linemen, three tight ends, and 311-pound whamback (my word, not theirs) Patrick Ricard coming in motion as another pounder in the hole. Jackson, still a bit winded, took the snap, followed these giants to the right, forcing Bobby Wagner to get lost in the scrum, planted his right foot in the ground, jutted through the hole, and sprinted/dove for the touchdown.
Jackson stuck his neck out, even with just a glare. Harbaugh believed in him, and Jackson delivered. The cast will be a little different this year, and maybe Jackson runs for 900 yards instead of 1,200. But he knows success this year will be getting the Ravens deep into the playoffs. Very deep.
“I think about it a lot, to be honest with you,” he told me near the end of our time. “That’s where I wanna be. That’s when everything gets . . . crucial. It’s tough. I remember LeGarrette Blount DM’d me on Instagram. He was like, you know, playoffs is different from regular season. I’m like, nah. But it is, because it’s win or go home. And I’m tired of going home. I just can’t wait to get back in that same spot and perform at a whole ‘nother level.”
Assuming this COVID world allows winter football, Jackson should get that chance.
• The Saints are creating a bubble. Look around. See the landscape. Baseball, not in a bubble, might be on the verge of collapsing. Basketball, in a bubble, looks smart and might play to the title cleanly. Football, with Matthew Stafford sidelined in the COVID protocol, goes “Hmmmmm.” The Saints are trying to do something about it. The organization is inventing a semi-bubble. Beginning Wednesday, the team has contracted with the Loews Hotel to rent four floors of the fashionable borderline French Quarter hotel, so that most of the team’s 100 Tier 1 and 2 employees (all but some of the team doctors, cafeteria workers and security people) and many of the players would be able to quasi-quarantine in the luxe hotel till opening day. “It’s not a bubble,” coach Sean Payton told me Saturday night. “It’s a sequester. The message from the league is, ‘The show must go on.’ If so, we’ve got to do everything we can to be sure that happens.” The Saints have about 180 employees including Tier 1 (coaches, GM, personnel people), 2 (facilities, doctors, support staff) and players (80).
The team is fortunate; through the first round of testing—three tests per player—the team had zero positive tests. But Payton knows that might not last. He thinks about 150 of the 180 team employees/players will end up in the hotel through the first week of September. No one will be forced to stay. Payton equates it to coaching, trying to figure a way to limit the number of positive tests so the Saints have the best chance to play, and to win. “Isn’t that what we do for a living?” he said. “It’s like creating a game plan with a likelihood of success. We’re just trying to increase the odds of success.”
No word on which of the vets will do the personal quarantining, thought I’ve heard linebacker and team leader Demario Davis is in favor of moving to the hotel till the season starts. In all, there are about 40 veterans who will have to choose whether to stay home or sequester at the Loews. This gives the Saints a better chance than most teams to stay clear, but not a perfect chance.
• Doug Pederson tests positive. In the course of one weekend, a Super Bowl-winning head coach and two starting quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford, Gardner Minshew) either tested positive or went on the reserve/COVID-19 list—which means they’ve been quarantined for a positive test or because they’ve been in close contact with a player who has tested positive. Here we are on Aug. 3. The coach of a playoff contender and two starting quarterbacks, today, are out of the mix with their teams. Imagine if this happens five weeks from today, and Pederson tests positive the week before the opener, and Duce Staley’s the head coach at Washington; and imagine the Lions in the season of great importance open with Chase Daniel playing against the Bears, and the Jags have Mike Glennon playing opening day against Indy. Without a true bubble, these sorts of stunning new headlines become reality of the 2020 season.
• Personal suites in Carolina. The imagination of some of these teams . . . so interesting. The Panthers have a horn guy. Every nine minutes during player gatherings—stretching, conditioning, walking through plays—Horn Guy blows it. That’s a signal for everyone to move around and get away from whoever they’re close to. With proximity monitors recording how long players are within six feet of each other (a COVID-positive person will force anyone within six feet for 15 minutes to quarantine), coach Matt Rhule wants to force distancing. “Every nine minutes, people scatter,” he said.
The Panthers aren’t a team with a palatial facility, like Minnesota or Dallas. So Carolina is using Bank of America Stadium in some odd ways. Every one of the 80 players reporting in camp this morning has his own suite on the loge level of the stadium, with open windows to ensure air circulation; in the suites, players use tablets to attend virtual team and position meetings.
“I can still walk around and stick my head into a suite and talk to any player I want,” Rhule told me. “We’re not going to have any regrets. What we can do in our facility is make it as safety and as disease-preventable at humanly possible. I think we have the best chance to stay healthy and safe and still be able to conduct our business and build the kind of camaraderie you need on a team.”
• Matt Birk has a good idea. The former Ravens and Vikings center is a partner in a new company called React, which produces what it calls “Pandemic-proof Contact Sports Schedules.” He told me React will have three versions of an NFL schedule this week that will feature 10 regular-season games, not 16, and would start later, with 11 to 14-day gaps between each game. That would allow for one of the key React ideas—two-day isolation periods for players and coaches and staff around each game, while allowing them to have time with family as well outside of the isolation periods.
I asked Birk about the league playing 160 games instead of 256 in the regular season, meaning less TV money. “Not necessarily,” Birk said. “In a normal season,” he said, “you have five TV slots per week—three on Sunday, one on Monday, one on Thursday. On our schedule, you’d have seven TV slots—a doubleheader Thursday, a doubleheader Monday and three on Sunday.”
For the 10 games, Birk proposes a full home-and-home division slate, which would take up six games. The other four could be on the baseball model: East versus East, North versus North, to limit travel. I don’t see this being embraced by the NFL, or even strongly considered, until or if the league has some outbreaks, a la major-league baseball and the league might have to consider fewer games.
• Mike Mayock is hot, and coping. “I’ve been all over the country, obviously, and I’ve been hot,” Raiders GM Mike Mayock said from the team’s new facility in Henderson, Nev. “But this is pretty hard to get used to.” What, you can’t take 113? That’s what it was in Las Vegas the day we spoke. “Jon wants to practice outside some. The good thing for us is, we’ve got three alternatives for practice—an outdoor grass field, an indoor [FieldTurf] field with one-and-a-half fields, and a climate-controlled stadium. When we’re outside, Jon wants to be off the field by 10 a.m.” That’s just slightly different than the Raiders’ old facility in Alameda. Forecast high for Wednesday: 64 degrees.
What I find interesting about the Raiders over the past few months is how malleable they’ve had to be. “Pretty bizarre last 19 months,” Mayock said. “I’ve been the GM of the team for 19 months and there are still people I haven’t met because a good portion of the business staff was already in Vegas last season, getting ready for the move.” Mayock and Gruden did free-agency out of Alameda this year. Gruden and Mayock lived about an hour apart in the Bay Area, and did draft prep and the draft from their respective homes. With the off-season program in tatters, Mayock drove with his wife and dog to his home in Philadelphia, spending a couple of months there and visiting his 86-year-old father before traveling back to Vegas around July 15.
The Raiders are getting used to everything—including not being so spread out, as they were in the Bay Area. “We have a young team that wants to make a difference in the community, especially on social-justice initiatives, and you can feel this community is just tighter because it’s closer together. Every one of our draftees is already a mentor to a local high school student.”
• The Competition Committee got a questionnaire. This isn’t big news or that big a deal, but members of the Competition Committee recently were asked for their opinions on various issues about the schedule if games for pandemic reasons cannot be played. I don’t know exactly what the questions were, but some were on the spectrum of: Should a team be able to win a division if it plays only 10 or 12 games? When I hear things like that, I think this league, as Richard Sherman said a couple of weeks ago, will do everything and anything to field teams and play a season.
• Travel nightmare 1. Eight teams that play in Eastern or Pacific time asked for and received a scheduling edge; they are scheduled to play back-to-back far from home. The Niners, for instance, play at the Jets and Giants this year, and the league slated them to be at the Jets in Week 2 and Giants in Week 3. San Francisco has done this before, and would have stayed back East between games and made a 10-day trip out of it in normal times. Maybe not now. The eight teams that have such back-to-backs will probably have to file “IDER plans,” which stands for infectious disease emergency response. These are detailed travel and sequestering plans that the league and the union will need to approve before a team is able to stay on the road for that length of time. I’m told the league is going to strongly urge teams not to stay on the road that long, despite the inconvenience for the teams involved. Stay tuned for that one.
The one back-to-back the NFL will likely have to bend on is New England’s pair of games at So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles on Dec. 6 and 10. The Pats will play the Chargers on Sunday, then the Rams on Thursday night. Returning home between those would be borderline crazy. (Home at 6 a.m. Monday in Massachusetts, return Wednesday mid-day for a 6 p.m. PT arrival. Nuts.)
• Travel nightmare 2. The NFL is also likely to put a rule in for this year that no team can travel two days ahead of a scheduled game. Seattle and San Francisco would travel on Friday to an Eastern Time game; some East Coast teams do the same in reverse. This year, the Seahawks have five games at teams in Eastern Time—four at the dreaded 10 a.m. PT bodyclock time, 1 p.m. ET.
The way it looks to me is players will take their final COVID tests of the week on Friday morning. So the Seahawks—it takes their tests about 24 hours to return—could have two disadvantages here if the NFL rules teams can’t travel on Fridays. They might not know if a player or players will be kept back from the trip till, say, 9 a.m. on Saturday, as the team is prepping to leave Seattle. And, of course, taking a five-hour flight, getting into the hotel at 7 or 8 p.m. local time, and playing the next day at 1 p.m. is certainly not what the Seahawks are used to doing.
• Mosley: $305,785 per snap. C.J. Mosley, the Jets linebacker, shocked the organization Saturday by informing the team he was opting out of the 2020 season for what NFL Network said was family health reasons. Now the Jets are without their two best defensive players for the 2020 season, Jamal Adams having been traded to Seattle nine days ago. Mosley signed as a free agent last offseason, and played only 121 snaps in two games because of a groin injury. Including salary and bonuses, Mosley has made $29 million from the Jets in his first two years, and whether he plays or not next year, he’s guaranteed at least $8 million in 2021. This Hindenburg of a contract, then, will cost the Jets at the very least $37 million, meaning if he never plays for them again he’ll have earned more than $300,000 per snap. And, if he chooses, he can also access opt-out money of either $150,000 or $350,000 this season. Imagine making the phone call to claim that money.
Top 2021 draft prospect Caleb Farley, a cornerback entering his fourth year at Virginia Tech, became the first high-profile college player to opt-out of the college football season last week. Likely to be one of the first corners picked in the 2021 draft, Farley explained his decision for FMIA.
This was the toughest decision of my life. I live for football. But now that I’ve made the decision, I am totally at peace. I know I’ve done the right thing.
I grew up in a small town in North Carolina and started playing organized football at age 6. It was never a plan or a dream for me to play pro football—it was a mission. My parents—my mom was very spiritual, very protective of me, and my dad had a barber shop—supported me every step of the way. In my town, Maiden, N.C., starting in the Pee Wee league, everyone knew me for football. I was our starting quarterback in my sophomore year of high school. I felt like Lamar Jackson. That year, [coaches] Frank and Shane Beamer from Virginia Tech came to my school to see me, and from then on, I favored Virginia Tech.
In summer camp my freshman year at Virginia Tech, I tore my ACL. Even though that crushed me, it turned out to be a little bit of a blessing. I got to spend a lot of time with my mom, who was battling breast cancer. She raised me to have a superhero mindset, that God makes all things possible. I got to be at her bedside a lot in those last few weeks before she passed on Jan. 2, 2018. When she passed, and God didn’t save her, it attacked my faith. But I had to grow up fast.
Back at Virginia Tech, I got switched to corner before the 2018 season. I never played defense before. There were some growing pains, but I felt good about my progress. In the first game I ever played at corner, we played at Florida State, and I had two interceptions and a sack. By the end of the year, I felt like I was the best cornerback in college. In 2019, I stepped on the field every week with confidence. This year, I wanted to go out and separate myself from every cornerback in the country.
This year at Virginia Tech, at our workouts, I started having deep concerns about staying healthy. Guys were going home, going to Myrtle Beach, coming back to campus, and we weren’t getting tested. We’re all together, working out, close to each other, and you have no real idea who might have it, if anybody might have it. One day I looked around, and we were like 100-deep in our indoor facility, no masks. My concern grew more and more.
I started being really conflicted about playing. What this came down to is, I lost one parent. My dad is so important to me. Growing old with him means so much to me, more than football. I don’t know what I would do if I contracted it and gave it to him, and he passed. I couldn’t live with that. Part of me thought, I put all my eggs into this basket since I was 6 years old . . . just suck it up and play. Try to stay safe. But I couldn’t ignore all the doubts in my head.
People say I could have waited till the NCAA canceled the season and then just not play. Or play a few games and then announce I was opting out. But I couldn’t do that. I knew what I had to do. So last Monday night, I went to Coach [Justin] Fuente’s office. I was so nervous. I just took a deep breath and told him my decision. He tried to talk me out of it. But I was firm. What I will always respect about Coach Fuente is, he said he loved me and will always be a Caleb Farley fan. That meant the world to me.
So now I’ll spend time training for pro football. I’ll get ready for the scouting combine. What will the NFL think of my decision? I don’t know. I haven’t heard from anyone in the league. It’s kind of scary to think about it. If the NFL looks at this and doesn’t like it, I will just have to prove to them how dedicated to football I am. I will look NFL scouts and GMs in the eye and tell them my story. I don’t know if it will hurt me. But I do know when I get in the league, I have the ability to play ball with anyone on this earth.
I don’t know if I will be the first of many college players to opt out. I know a lot of guys are thinking about it and trying to build up the courage to do it. I just hope the testing in college football will be available and it will be frequent. Because there’s no way of knowing what you’re signing up for if there’s not a good testing program.
What I would say to guys thinking about it is: Pray on it, sleep on it, think about it and do what’s best for you. Nobody lives in our shoes but us.
My thanks to Farley for his illuminating column. One comment from me: How can college football be played without the players being subject to regular testing? The 400 athletes in the Pac-12 demanding their rights make it seem highly unlikely that there will be a normal college football season this fall.
Three questions with Keyshawn Johnson, who has now been a radio/TV analyst for more years (13) than he played football (11) after being the first pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. He will be one of three voices on ESPN’s new national morning radio show, with Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti, beginning Aug. 17.
FMIA: Surprised you’re still doing this media thing after 13 years?
Johnson: “No. It’s fun. I enjoy it, because what I try to do is get at the truth through my eyes. I try to share my experiences at all levels of what it’s like and how it really is in sports—how lots of times management is full of s—, what it’s like to be in a locker room, what it’s really like to talk to a coach. How many guys have had the career I had? Big college career at USC, first pick in the draft, confrontations with the front office and the media, Pro Bowl MVP, won a Super Bowl [in Tampa Bay], went right to the ESPN set when I retired. When I was having the conversation about taking this job over, I was excited. It’s like Leno following Carson on ‘The Tonight Show.’ Mike and Mike, then Golic and Wingo, those guys set the standard, and people all over the country listened, in their cars on the way to work, or on their 45-minute treadmill workout. It’s the number one sports radio property. But times have changed. That audience isn’t the same as it was.”
FMIA: How will the show be different?
Johnson: “I am going to say what I think. I am not gonna just stick to sports. I am going to tell the truth about the way life really is. If there is unrest in our country, I would be a fool to neglect my community just because our show is on in Chattanooga. I think our show’s going to be a fresh breath. I never worked with Jay. I don’t know Zubin. But I get along with everybody. You can drop me in a spaceship and tell me I’m going to the moon, and I’ll figure out how to do it. Done that my whole life.”
FMIA: Would you kneel for the anthem if you played today?
Johnson: “Absolutely. I understand what the message is. No matter how people have tried to hijack it, it has nothing to do with the military or the flag. It’s about the police injustice with black and brown and minority people. The thing is, if I kneeled, what are people gonna do? Boo me? They booed me my whole life. I would not be afraid of my career being derailed. If it’s derailed, it’s derailed.”
A bonus Keyshawn-being-Keyshawn line: “I’ve had an amazing run, and I’m not done. The only career I would trade mine for is Jerry Rice’s. How many guys have had the success and the career I’ve had?”
“I don’t know why it’s a controversy in our country. Put a damn mask on. What’s so hard about that?”
—Colts GM Chris Ballard.
Wish I knew.
“It’s what college teams do every year.”
—Bill Belichick, on the NFL playing no preseason games this year.
“The Chiefs are great — unfortunately we have to play them twice — but we got the toughest opponent. We gotta beat this virus, man.”
—Raiders coach Jon Gruden, to Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
“I would probably say we weren’t the only quarterbacks and receivers doing that across the league, although I think we were the only ones that had a helicopter above us filming it. That was interesting for sure.”
“When I saw that headline, I thought I was reading The Onion. Eric Sugarman’s one of the most conscientious guys I met in the football business.”
—Matt Birk, the retired former Vikings center, on the news that Sugarman, the Minnesota head athletic trainer and Infection Control Officer for COVID prevention, tested positive for the virus.
“It just has to light a fire under you, which it has for me.”
I never know how serious to take any of these quotes from guys whose jobs are being challenged. “Light a fire under you” is sort of the classic cliché when your team brings in a serious challenger for your position. When I read something like that, my first reaction is: I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean you’ll work harder this year than in the past to keep the starting job, because that would imply you’ve not been putting everything into it in your first three years as a Bears quarterback.
“It’s not just where I go. I have to be conscious of where my wife and children are. Who are they around on a daily basis? What am I bringing back to the team? If the biggest thing we have to do for half a year is wear masks around each other, distance a little bit and when we go home, be home, I think it’s a pretty fair trade-off to be part of the National Football League.”
—Giants coach Joe Judge.
The Indianapolis Colts opened camp last week with two kickers not named Adam Vinatieri, one of the many interesting football items overwhelmed by the weirdness of NFL training camps in 2020. Chase McLaughlin—the former 49er, who had the famous 47-yard make to send the Niners-‘Hawks game to overtime last November, then famously missed a 47-yader that would have won it in OT—and Rodrigo Blankenship, the bespectacled Georgian who looks like he’s auditioning for the 2020 re-make of “Slapshot,” will compete for the Colts kicking job.
Vinatieri, 47, has not retired. He’s still rehabbing/working out, and I hear he still wants to play. Maybe he’ll get signed (if a normal season happens) late in the year for a playoff contender desperate for a clutch kicker. A few things about Vinatieri, the leading scorer of all time, whether he plays again or not:
I will always be fascinated by the fact that Vinatieri got better as he got older. Look at these numbers, including playoff games, of Vinatieri’s field-goal accuracy through the years:
Field-goal percentage in his twenties: 80.9 percent.
Field-goal percentage in his thirties: 84.0 percent.
Field-goal percentage in his forties: 85.7 percent.
Other than occasional brief injury replacements, the Patriots have had two kickers—Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski—since opening day 1996, an amazing display of consistency at an important position in a sport with such narrow margins. The third kicker in that string of continuity, presumably, will be New England’s fifth-round draft choice this year, Justin Rohrwasser. When Vinatieri debuted for New England on Sept. 1, 1996, the mother of Justin Rohrwasser was six months pregnant with him.
When Vinatieri is enshrined in Canton, people will probably think of him more as a Patriot than Colt. But he played four more seasons in Indiana (14) than Massachusetts (10).
Head coaches in Vinatieri’s first NFL game: Bill Parcells (New England), Jimmy Johnson (Miami). First game for the Dolphins after the retirement of Don Shula.
The players who have chosen to opt-out with the highest career earnings to date, and what they will lose this season (including likely bonus payments such as per-game roster bonuses) by not playing in 2020, per Over The Cap:
• Giants tackle Nate Solder: $13 million (career earnings through 2019: $71.0 million).
• Baltimore tackle Andre Smith: $1.1 million (career: $52.1 million).
• New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower: $8.9 million ($43.1 million).
• Buffalo defensive tackle Star Lotulelei: $4.6 million ($42.4 million).
• New England safety Patrick Chung: $2.4 million ($35.3 million).
Drew Rosenhaus, one of the game’s most powerful agents, has had none of his approximately 100 NFL clients opting out, as of now. He said Friday he hasn’t had a serious conversation with a client yet about the prospect of opting out.
“I’m rarely stunned by what happens in the NFL,” he said Friday, “but to see some of the players making the money they’re making and moving on . . . it’s a huge, huge sacrifice. All the work these guys have put in, and then to opt out, it’s very surprising.”
Rosenhaus made an excellent, point, I thought: This isn’t just players skipping this season and returning next year. This is players missing an off-season program, OTAs, a full training camp, a season, and then perhaps time next spring if the nation isn’t ready to open without restrictions yet. Rosenhaus said, “It’s not easy to miss a season, then try to come back when your team played a year without you.”
That’s the key point, to me. New England Dont’a Hightower, for instance, will be 31 next summer, and Bill Belichick drafted linebackers in the second (Josh Uche) and third (Anfernee Jennings) rounds this year. Safety Patrick Chung will be 34; the Pats took safety Kyle Dugger with their first pick (37th overall) this year. Hightower’s decision looks extremely logical—he just had his first child, and his mother has Type 2 diabetes. It’s likely at least Hightower will be welcomed back next year—if he chooses to come back—but you never know. And you never know if these players will like life on the outside better too. When you’ve made more than $35 million as a player, and you’ve got multiple Super Bowl rings (Hightower and Chung have three apiece), and the health and safety of you and your family is priority one, the decision of the accomplished Patriots, at least, seems understandable.
Solder recovered from testicular cancer in 2014, and his son Hudson has battled cancer. Chiefs running back Damien Williams—coming off a 104-yard rushing day in the Super Bowl, with two touchdowns—was just bursting onto the NFL scene and hadn’t gotten a big payday yet; but his mother has stage 4 cancer, and he said that made his decision easy. Those seem pretty logical too.
Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote about touring the Vikings training facility in Eagan, Minn., checking out the COVID-19 preparations and precautions. As you probably read last week, Minnesota’s Infection Control Officer, Eric Sugarman, tested positive for the virus—he believes it happened away from the facility—but regardless, he spent last week quarantining. Though he didn’t show signs of the illness till six days after we spent time together, I still wanted to get tested. I live in Brooklyn, and my health care provider, One Medical, has a testing tent in Crown Heights, a 25-minute walk from my apartment. I’d been tested in early June for the virus and the antibodies; negative on both. So last Monday afternoon, I walked over to the tent and got tested with that mid-nasal swab.
“How long?” I asked.
“Never know,” my swab tech said, “but it’s likely to be a week or so. We have been swamped.”
Bummer, but I wasn’t going anywhere, at least for now.
That was Monday at 3:05 p.m. On Wednesday at 9:27 a.m., the test results hit my email inbox. Negative.
How many times can you say you’ve been pleasantly surprised by the machinery of the medical establishment, particularly during this pandemic? That was cool. But I feel for everyone who has to wait so long for their results, particularly those who are symptomatic. That just defeats the purpose of testing.
Too damn hot out here…🤦🏽♂️ https://t.co/zgzaxLLReB
— Kyler Murray (@K1) July 31, 2020
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, running outside in midday heat (yes, 110 degrees) in Phoenix on Friday. But it’s a dry heat.
“Opt out” spelled backward —> Uh oh.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) July 28, 2020
Sam Farmer is a veteran Los Angeles football scribe.
Eagles have pass game coord., run game coord, sr. offensive asst., asst. hd coach/RB coach and former QB as hd. coach. Too many off. cooks? " We're starting to find our way as far as how we all mesh together and are going to collaborate,'' said pass game coord. Press Taylor.
— Paul Domowitch (@pdomo) July 31, 2020
Paul Domowitch is a veteran Philadelphia football scribe.
The idea of a bus load of COVID-infected Miami Marlins players riding a bus to Florida as a hurricane approaches the state is one of the most Florida things I can imagine.
— Jason Cole (@JasonCole62) August 1, 2020
Jason Cole is a veteran Florida football scribe.
Ed Orgeron on playing football this fall and being flexible:
"You call us at midnight, we'll play in a pasture." #LSU
— Brody Miller (@BrodyAMiller) July 29, 2020
Brody Miller covers LSU football for The Athletic.
We should not be slaves to the almighty pigskin. From Nicki F: “I think you mention three or four times in the [July 27] column things like, ‘Football will be good for the country.’ With due respect, this is simply a justification to play a football. The notion that we NEED football or that it will be good is absurd on its face. Football increases the risk of someone getting the virus. Most importantly, the idea that in a country where we are waiting too long for test results due to capacity constraints football is going to take up 5,000-plus tests every day for two weeks is absurd. Your comment that you doubt more people would get [the tests] doesn’t really seem to be based on anything other than your desire for football to come back. It’s all well to say I would give up the football season if it meant schools were able to operate, but here is a tangible item the NFL is doing to delay school reopening and you are basically hand-waving it away.
“Secondly: Football is coming back for the money. It’s not for country that they are coming back. If it was for the country, they would be out there encouraging social distancing, masks and not taking up test capacity.
“Thirdly: If football comes back, people will view it as a sign of a return to normalcy, there will be more gatherings to watch games, more friends meeting, more incentive to go to the bar. More opportunities to spread the virus. Let’s be real and have the courage to call it what it is—a desire to make money. This nonsense of it being for the good of the country is claptrap and you pretty much know it Peter.”
Interesting point, Nicki. Of course a huge part of the effort to play this year is the $9 billion in TV and national revenue that will flow to the teams if the season is played. But you claim it’s nonsense that football is good for the country in the time of a pandemic. Do you not think something that 25 million people every Sunday spend a good deal of time doing (and enjoying) is not good for the country? No question the 5,000 tests a day (that’s low) for these next two weeks is an ethicist’s delight. My point about the testing is simple. The NFL, a private business, is paying for the testing to try to ensure that the football season is played this year. Let’s say the NFL decided to not play. Would you expect, then, that the NFL would pay for those tests to be used, say, by a school system that needed 5,000 tests per day to operate safely? And what is the NFL doing to delay school reopening, exactly? I get that no one is on the side of filthy rich NFL owners, but part of any hope for pro football to operate this year is regular mass testing of players and those who touch players every day. Either you test players on this scale or you skip the season.
Goodell still has some explaining to do. From Scott, of Duluth, Minn.: “I want to see games this year as much as any other fan, but I’d like to ask if Roger Goodell has been asked or has answered these questions: Is it worth the risk to play the season if one player or coach gets sick and dies as a result? Is it worth the risk to the local communities if away teams bring a (yet unknown positive) sick player that spreads the virus and sickens or kills someone, even unaffiliated with the league? How is it morally or ethically fair to consume testing resources that are needed for the general public?”
Those are good questions, and fair ones. I do not think Goodell has answered many or any questions about the return to play in recent weeks, but I agree that these are applicable ones, and I’d love to get to ask them. For the record, I have requested an interview with Goodell since I returned to work and the request has not been granted. I’m hopeful I can speak to him in the coming weeks.
Josh does not like the word ‘czar.’ From Josh: “This is not limited to just you, but I have always wondered why media people so frequently use the word ‘czar.’ Czars are pretty universally agreed upon to be some of the most sadistic, ruthless murderers, rapists, and oppressors in world history. As someone whose family fled murder and rape in Russian pogroms at the hand of czars it’s always kind of bothered me to see their title so casually thrown around as if we’re almost honoring them.”
I looked up “czar,” and Merriam-Webster defines it as “emperor,” or “one having great power or authority,” and uses the example of “a banking czar.” The White House has had a “drug czar.” It could be that I over-czar in my copy, and I’ll watch out for that, but it seems pretty acceptable today that the word is a sort of slang for “boss.”
1. I think I agree with Devin McCourty of the Patriots: The league should not be able to change the terms of the late-July deal with the NFLPA so players would be rushed on whether to opt out of their current contracts. The original deal between the sides called for players having seven days from the time the deal was signed to choose whether to play this season or opt out because of concerns over COVID-19. The deal has not been signed yet as final legal points are agreed to. Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the league may want to set the opt-out date as Wednesday—obviously because more players opted out than the league thought would do so. New England has had eight players choose not to play this season, and McCourty, the defensive captain and biggest leader on the defense, hasn’t said definitely if he’s playing this year or not. Regardless: Barring a concession on some other issue that the players would agree to, the NFL can’t change the rules of the game during the game.
2. I think I learned a lot from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, who reported Sunday night that two months ago this week the NFL’s TV negotiating team, led by commissioner Roger Goodell, chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp and Broadcast Committee chair Robert Kraft, met over a two-day period with all the incumbent network rights-holders to open talks of new network TV deals. It’s not that surprising that the two sides would want to get things going, even though ESPN’s deal for Monday night games runs for two more years, while the FOX, NBC and CBS deals run through the 2022 season.
Two interesting nuggets from Ourand: ESPN wants a better deal than the Monday night games; that package has been inferior to NBC’s Sunday night schedule consistently. And the Thursday night package on FOX “is the most likely package to change hands,” Ourand reports. What’s going to be difficult is trying to predict the economic future of TV deals during this pandemic, which is why it seems likely these negotiations will continue into 2021.
3. I think if I had to put $5 down on Antonio Brown’s team for this year after his eight-game ban is served, I’d put it on Seattle. Russell Wilson is a fan and wants it to happen, Pete Carroll isn’t afraid of risky guys, and John Schneider (Percy Harvin, Josh Gordon) is okay with taking shots on game-breakers with baggage.
4. I think if I had to guess after this remarkable week of opt-outs, this would be the starting Patriots Defense on Sept. 13, in Foxboro, when the Dolphins come to Gillette Stadium:
DEFENSIVE LINE: Lawrence Guy, Beau Allen, John Simon.
LINEBACKERS: Shilique Calhoun, Josh Uche, Ja-Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland.
SECONDARY: Jason McCourty Stephon Gilmore (cornerback), Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips (safety).
Starters missing from 2019: Line—Danny Shelton . . . Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy . . . Secondary—Patrick Chung (Duron Harmon started eight games but wasn’t a full-time starter).
5. I think this was one reaction from a non-NFC North coach (no dog in the fight with the Lions) about Detroit’s COVID-19 list: “If you want to understand how seriously you need to take this virus—and why would anyone need to be lectured on this now—just look at the Lions. I bet they’d say their three most important offensive weapons are Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay and T.J. Hockenson. Well, maybe that’s a stretch with [tight end} Hockenson, but Stafford and Golladay for sure. So all three of them are on the COVID list. Imagine what would happen during the season if they all end up on that list on a Friday and can’t play in their game that week—and it happens, poof! All of a sudden.” See what the Saints did that I wrote about higher in the column?
6. I think if the Jets didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.
7. I think I really liked the Chris Simms “Unbuttoned” Podcast with Kyle Shanahan. The Niners coach is pretty frank throughout. My favorite chunk, on getting over the Super Bowl loss, particularly after being up 20-10 with nine minutes left and losing 31-20: “Your depression leaves. I went February and March, wasn’t in the best state. No one died, I still had my health, still had my family, but man does it hurt. You know how close you were to something and how big of a deal that is. And how easily you could have done it. Especially when you feel like you kind of earned it. It wasn’t a lucky thing, we were that good . . . That’s where you get over the depression and get ready to compete again . . . But holy s–, dude, do I want to get back to there. And get that done. And that’s why I’ll never let it go. I’ll never let it go. But, I can deal with it, I can live with it, and I can go do it again. And I’m not scared to lose. I’ll go do it again and give it everything I have. That’s what I mean when I say I can deal with it. I’ll lose eight times in a row and still try to go for another. And I definitely don’t plan on that happening. But that’s how you know stuff can’t break you no matter how bad it is. And it does kind of make you stronger. If you ever told me when I was little, ‘Hey you’ll be at this point in the Super Bowl and this is what happens’ I would’ve said “Oh my God! What do I do? Do I just go cry for the rest of my life?!’ You’d be like, ‘No, you had a tough couple of weeks, but you moved on and you were the same person.’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t think I could handle that.’ And you do.”
8. I think this could be the postscript for Shanahan: And you do, and then you sign a three-year contract extension, and, at age 40, you’ve got the job security of Belichick, and you’ve got one of the best young rosters in football. Life, other than this damn pandemic, is pretty good.
9. I think one of the things I like about this generation of football GMs is a willingness to take risks and do deals that football architects of a couple of generations ago wouldn’t do. When I started covering the game in the mid-eighties, trading for draft choices was pretty common, trading for players in their prime less so. As Seattle GM John Schneider told me on “The Peter King Podcast” this week, the generation gap between the eighties/nineties and today is huge. Today, he said, “you’re dealing with other general managers that are similar in age and closer in experience. There was a pretty big gap there for a while where there were guys that were 15, 20, 25 years older than me and I didn’t have that same type of relationship. So, I think this group is much more—just easier to deal with. I don’t think there’s a lot of people that are out there trying to completely take advantage of people. I’m not saying that happened in the past but I mean, I’m sure there were certain people that thought they could do a better job than others and that’s fair.”
Look at this generation of general managers, and look at some of the moves they’ve made in recent months:
• Miami GM Chris Grier, who traded veteran players to build a new core with 2020 and 2021 picks; the Dolphins had six of the first 70 picks this year, and will have two first and two second-round picks in ’21, and acquired their likely QB of the future in Tua Tagovailoa.
• Eagles GM Howie Roseman traded third and fifth-round picks for cornerback Darius Slay. Eagles signed him to a three-year, $50 million deal.
• Cardinals GM Steve Keim traded running back David Johnson and a second-round pick for wideout DeAndre Hopkins. (They also swapped fourth-rounders.) Keim has traded for four starters: linebacker Chandler Jones, tackle Marcus Gilbert, running back Kenyan Drake and Hopkins.
• Ravens GM Eric DeCosta made three significant trades in the past 10 months, acquiring cornerback Marcus Peters for linebacker Kenny Young and a fifth-round pick, acquiring defensive lineman Calais Campbell for a fifth-round pick, and trading tight end Hayden Hurst to Atlanta for a second-round pick and a swap of lower picks.
• Buffalo GM Brandon Beane traded first- (22nd overall), fifth- (155th overall) and sixth-round (201st overall) choices in 2020 and a 2021 fourth-rounder for wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a seventh-round pick.
• Niners GM John Lynch, on draft weekend, acquired left tackle Trent Williams for fifth and third-round picks.
• And Seattle GM John Schneider, perhaps the league’s most aggressive trader, dealt two first-round picks for Jets safety Jamal Adams.
One more point about the Adams trade: The uncertainty of the 2021 draft and the potential opt-outs of more Caleb Farleys will have something to do with the value of a first-round pick next year. How will teams value first-rounders who either opt-out of college football, have their seasons cancelled, or have college football in some leagues delayed till next spring? I bet that played into Schneider’s thinking.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I know this probably doesn’t mean anything, but I’ll just tell you that my three or four encounters/conversations with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz over the years have been positive, and everyone in the NFL who I’ve heard speak of him respects him as a person and a coach. FWIW. Obviously some of the bullying and borderline racial allegations against an Iowa staff member and in the program are worrisome. Just telling you my impression.
b. Get well soon, Howard Mudd. One of the great line coaches ever was in a motorcycle accident Thursday.
c. Football Story of the Week: John Keim of ESPN.com, on the 2,380-mile road trip to Washington training camp for fifth-round draft pick, San Diego State offensive lineman Keith Ismael. Keim on the 10-week odyssey of Ismael:
“When he started, the coronavirus pandemic was dominating the news. On his way, social justice protests began in many cities and the team that drafted him changed its name. ‘What a way to enter my rookie year,’ said Ismael.”
d. Just a cool self-awakening time for a young player, well told by Keim.
e. College/Fall 2020 Story of the Week: by Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn of the Wall Street Journal, less than a month out from the start of fall terms at campus across the United States, where academia stands in a pandemic. Just goes to show how different the reactions and preparations are across the country. From Belkin and Korn:
In Waterville, Maine, Colby College plans to open most of its campus to students and faculty with one of the more ambitious testing protocols in higher education. The small school expects to administer about 85,000 Covid-19 tests this fall, including testing students, faculty and staff at least three times during the opening weeks of the academic term. With fall semester just a few weeks away, the Covid-19 pandemic has stumped the brightest minds at universities across the U.S. There is no consensus about how college campuses are going to open, and what they will look like if they do. There are as many plans as there are institutions, and their guidebooks are being written in pencil, leaving families and students in limbo.
Michael Young, president of Texas A&M University, helped draft a plan to unify East and West Germany when he worked for the State Department three decades ago. He said that was easier than figuring out how to bring back 65,000 students, 3,500 faculty, and thousands of staff this fall to the campus in College Station, Texas. At present, the plan is for some students to come back to campus to take small, in-person classes, while others will take them remotely. According to the most recent tally by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49% of schools plan to bring students back for in-person classes; another 13% will offer only online instruction; and 35% will have a mix of both.
f. Only-in-the-SEC Column of the Week: Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer on the odd relationship between ESPN host Paul Finebaum and the Alabama fan who came on Finebaum’s talk show years ago to say he’d poisoned two of the famous oak trees at arch-rival Auburn. Tree-poisoner Harvey Updyke died last week at 71.
g. Crazy, crazy story, which Wright Thompson wrote so well a few years ago, and which Fowler reprises here after talking to Finebaum. Wrote Fowler:
Updyke and Finebaum stayed in touch, off and on, for nearly a decade. “There was an attraction to him,” Finebaum said, “like there’s almost an attraction from a newspaper reporter to a serial killer. You want to leave those lines of communication open, because when he was calling me he was still in the news. But he just became, sadly, a carny barker as time went on.”
h. COVID Story of the Week: “I’m just so, so tired,” by Jenny Deam of the Houston Chronicle.
i. Another hero in the COVID fight, LaTonya Rafe, a Houston nurse, gets inured to death after death. “It is relentless,” Rafe tells Deam. And Deam writes: “Nearly five months into this health crisis, another, more hidden toll is emerging as those on its front line are becoming exhausted, overworked and overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally.”
j. Radio Story of the Week: Forgiveness has a PR problem, by Stephanie O’Neill for NPR. Reports O’Neill:
Without forgiveness, accumulated resentments extract a toll, says forgiveness coach Kym Kennedy. “Those emotions turn into disease,” she says. “We just stuff it, and that becomes toxic . . . it turns dysfunctional.” Kennedy became a certified forgiveness coach in 2008 after reading Radical Forgiveness, by the late Colin Tipping.
k. Orel Hershiser on TV the other day during Dodgers-Astros: “I view the 2017 Dodgers as World Champs. I think their legacy should be that. It won’t be, but it should be. They were ripped off.”
l. John McNamara died the other day. The longtime major-league manager was vilified for his handling of the Red Sox during the blown ’86 World Series. I knew him four years earlier, when I was a young reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, and we had an experience that became one of my enduring memories as a sportswriter. I Tweet-threaded it the other day, and adjusted it a bit here with a few more details.
m. McNamara managed the Reds when I was the backup beat guy to Ray Buck at age 25 in 1982. When Buck took a few days off, I battled vet beat guys like Hal McCoy, Earl Lawson and Paul Meyer on a big beat, the remnant days of the Big Red Machine. McNamara handed me my first scoop on the beat. The Reds were in St. Louis for a weekend four-game series in July. Amazing to think what it was like to cover baseball then. There was a Budweiser tap in the press box, and writers could drink at will. (I waited till the end of the game, when my last story was filed for the evening. But I did take advantage, liberally, then.) Particularly on a steamy night in downtown St. Louis night, as was the case that weekend, that tap got a lot of business. I covered that series. McNamara, as he did before each game, had a pregame on-the-record meeting with the four Cincinnati/Dayton writers. Mac seemed peeved. News of the day: Tom Lawless was being called up from Triple-A to play second base and lead off. A Mac favorite, Ron Oester, was moving to third.
n. The session ended. We left. (Now, I’m not positive what followed happened on Thursday or Friday of this weekend. My head says Friday, but I could be wrong. Either way, McNamara seemed peeved about it all weekend. And whether it was after Thursday’s pre-game media session or Friday’s, Mac hadn’t changed.)
o. After one of the pre-game sessions, McNamara called out: “Peter, you stay.” I walked back in. “Close the door,” he said. Then he said to me: “Ask me if I agree with the decision to call up Lawless and bat him leadoff.” Stunned, I asked him. He said no. Not his call. GM Dick Wagner‘s call. He went on. Thought the manager should make these calls, not the GM. Mac knew the morning Enquirer would have his quotes, and his anger about being forced to make a move he didn’t want to make. He also knew, as autocratic as Wagner was, this could have job consequences. Wagner was not pleased. When the team got back to Cincinnati, McNamara was summoned to meet with Wagner, who aired him out, then fired him. Insubordination. Press conference called. And McNamara was fired.
p. I called McNamara. I forget what I said. But McNamara said: “Peter, you got me fired.” I froze. Then he chuckled. He said it was coming. Don’t worry, best for all involved, all that stuff. Anyway, that’s the story of my first scoop (probably last) on the Reds beat. Thanks to a good man, 38 years later. RIP, John McNamara.
q. I continue to wonder about our sanity.
r. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tested positive for COVID-19 last week. He has been publicly anti-mask and said he has worn one occasionally in recent weeks before testing positive. On Tuesday, he and Attorney General William Barr were seen walking together, maskless. Asked about testing positive, Gohmert said: “I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place that if I might have put some germs, some of the virus, on the mask and breathed it in. I don’t know. But I got it.”
s. Politico reported that an employee of one member of the House of Representatives said in that congress person’s offices, “While mask use isn’t banned, it’s also not encouraged, and has been derided on several occasions by the [chief of staff] and the [House] member.”
t. I . . . I . . . I . . . will let Elaine Benes speak for me.
u. I’m genuinely curious about something. The job, recently, has been very much about the fate of football this year, not actual football. I tried to do something about that this week with the lead of the column about Lamar Jackson and the Ravens (with football and non-football topics). But I’d like to know what you want to read. I see myself as a reporter trying to tell you about what I’m hearing and what those in and around the game are thinking about. Which, right now, is not a lot of pure football talk, the way it normally would be this time of year. So, please give me your feedback this week: Do you want me to be writing about the latest stuff I’ve learned about what’s going on in the NFL regarding the virus and the weird new world? Or do you want me writing more about football than I have been in my first three columns of the summer? I’ll listen to your feedback as we move forward. Thanks so much for reading, and thanks for your feedback.
Can baseball make it?
Hope so, but I have my doubts.
Quarantine well, Cards.