So we all know about the weird Russell Wilson’s-never-gotten-an-MVP-vote story. (It’s not an outrage, by the way, which I’ll explain.) But have you noticed something about the first two weeks of this strange NFL season, as it pertains to Wilson? He’s playing like he’s trying to put the MVP case so far out of reach that no one will be able to touch him by December.
Seattle is 2-0 after the scintillating 35-30 win over New England on Sunday night. After two weeks, Wilson’s the most accurate passer in football (82.5 percent), he’s got the most touchdown passes in football (nine), with the highest rating in football (140.0).
There’s something else, something as important as the gaudy numbers. We all talk about what an athletic gumby Wilson is, but he does take a pounding too. The Patriots had a good plan for him—envelop him, don’t let him escape much, don’t let him beat us with his feet. He had rushers in his face Sunday night. On three of his five TD passes against New England, he took a hard blow the moment he released the ball . . . and the ball was perfectly placed; on a fourth TD, he was hit, but not hard. TD 1, a four-yard sidearm job to Tyler Lockett, was the only non-punishable throw.
TD 2: A high-arcing loft job to DK Metcalf for 54 yards, over the coverage of Stephon Gilmore. WHACK! Chase Winovich nailed him from the back at the moment of release.
TD 3: Wilson’s best of the night, a deep throw, 46 yards in the air to the left pylon, for wideout David Moore. BANG! Up the gut, Lawrence Guy pounded him right in the sternum.
TD 4: An innocent-looking cross, right to left, to rookie Freddie Swain. WHAP! From Wilson’s right, Guy nailed him in the back as he turned to cushion the blow.
TD 5: A glancing blow from Winovich as Wilson lofted a perfect ball into the arms of running back Chris Carson for the winning points.
“Honestly,” Wilson said by phone from Seattle post-game, “I think you know they popped me pretty good on the touchdowns that you’re referring to. I think to be able to stay in the pocket and just be able to take all the hits and still make the throws is always the key. Give your guys a chance. My thing is always giving guys a chance. The guys make unbelievable plays. So many guys touched the football tonight. Makes it so hard on a defense when Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf—DK had a special game—David Moore played great, Freddie Swain scored his first touchdown. Chris Carson scored on a touchdown pass. I want to be able to spread the ball.”
Another MVP thing: He’s not throwing it to, nor handing to, bonus babies. Wilson’s TD throws Sunday went to players picked in the third round, second, seventh, sixth and seventh.
The 50 voters for the MVP, mostly media people, don’t vote for 15 weeks, till the day after the regular-season ends. Projecting now is silly, but Wilson’s off to the best start of a great career, and you can’t stop him from dreaming.
“I want to be the best in the world,” he said. “If I’m not thinking like that, I’m not going to be successful.”
The Lead: Wilson
When Wilson told Dan Patrick the other day he thought he was the best quarterback in football, eyebrows got raised. That wasn’t like the traditional Wilson, deflector of praise. “I think when you’re trying to be the greatest to do this, you always have to believe that way, think that way, and know that,” he said from Seattle early this morning.
My theory about the perception of Wilson: He’s a short quarterback drafted 75th overall in 2012. Being a Seattle quarterback in a more traditional offense that hasn’t given him the freedom of some other passers means he’s not going to have the gaudy numbers of other quarterbacks. He’s never thrown more than 35 touchdown passes, and never had more than 4,300 passing yards. Regarding the MVP vote, the 50 voters get one selection. In baseball, voters pick multiple players for MVP in a sliding order and then you see who finishes second and third and so on. In football, often times, one player has an incredible season and he wins in a landslide. Last year, Lamar Jackson set the single-season quarterback rushing record, led the league with 36 TD passes, and Baltimore was a league-best 14-2. The year before, it was the 50 TD passes by Mahomes, and the Chiefs winning the AFC’s top seed, that paved the way for him to win it.
Wilson traditionally has done more with less talent that many other star quarterbacks, and that matters. But if the Ravens are 14-2 and Jackson has what may be the best all-around season by a quarterback ever, it’s hard to vote for someone else.
This year, though, might be different. The “Let Russ cook” thing—fans and media wishing he’d be able to create more, the way he did at time Sunday night—is gaining traction, maybe even in the coaches offices in suburban Renton, home of the Seahawks. The tight seat-belted game plans that resulted in frustrations like the 24-22 playoff loss to Dallas two years ago are fading away. I asked Wilson if he’d be able to open a better line of communication with coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, to tell them what he likes and doesn’t like.
“I think I have a tremendous relationship with Coach Carroll and also Coach Schottenheimer. I don’t think Coach Schotty gets enough credit. He’s an amazing teacher of the game. Then, obviously Pete and I, we’re been together what is this, my ninth year now. We’ve had some amazing times together, amazing wins. We bond so well together.”
But it’s no secret Wilson has wanted a freer hand in the offense. “I’m trying to go somewhere, you know what I mean? I’m trying to help take this team somewhere special. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes everyone. It’s not just me. I’ve always strived to be the best in the world. I wanna lead my team.”
I’m trying to go somewhere, you know what I mean? To me, that’s code for, I’m trying to win a championship, and the more diverse we are on offense, the better chance we have. (That’s my interpretation, no one else’s. These are not exactly the best days to sidle up to players or coach and ask them the reality of what’s up.)
This game showed us so much of Wilson’s talent—even when he was throwing incompletions. Wilson knows when it’s smart to throw it away and live for the next down. Midway through the fourth quarter, nursing a 28-23 lead, Wilson threw two balls away, both times against a heavy rush. On third-and-seven with six minutes left, another heavy rush came. This time he had Tyler Lockett streaking across the middle and hit him. Now he was in comfortable field-goal range to take an eight-point lead—at least. But two plays later, Carson wheeled out of the backfield, safety Adrian Phillips was way late covering him, and Wilson, staring down the barrel of Winovich, hung in to make a perfect throw, 33 yards in the air.
This @DangeRussWilson touchdown pass to @ccarson_32 makes it 5️⃣ touchdown passes tonight!
📺: Watch live on NBC pic.twitter.com/R1QRJOEldH
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 21, 2020
“I’m super grateful,” Wilson said. “I just thank God every day I get to do what I get to do. I think about everything that’s going on in America and around the world, to be able to play this game is a gift. We’ve lost so many people. It’s very tough year. Despite it all, I keep the faith and just believe that better days are ahead. This game is a part of that. This game is a gift and I want to continue to cherish every moment of it.”
It’s only two weeks, and there are challengers new (Arizona) and old (a battered San Francisco and the Rams). The NFC West is 7-1, best division record in football. So there are miles to go before these teams sleep. Seattle looks dangerous and diverse, though, especially when Russ cooks.
The Watermelon Kick10
Fantastic day of football. Weekend, really. Start on Thursday. Coming-out party for Joe Burrow, 23 years old, putting up 30 points for a Cincinnati team with a lot of holes, losing to 25-year-old Baker Mayfield. On Sunday, Jared Goff (25), Kyler Murray (23) and Lamar Jackson (23) were in total control in dominant wins. Patrick Mahomes (25) needed to do some Patrick Mahomes things in overtime, Josh Allen (24) launched gorgeous and effortless deep balls for Buffalo, Dak Prescott (27) threw for 450 yards to win the craziest game of his life, and Wilson (the old man at 31) capped everything with the second five-TD-pass game of his career Sunday night. That game—Seattle 35, New England 30—definitely should not have been on TVs in any cardiac units around the United States.
The message this morning is three-fold:
1. The game misses the fans tremendously. But the drama Sunday, all the way till a half-hour before midnight Eastern Time when Cam Newton was upended on the last play of the game two yards shy of the winning touchdown in Seattle, was as good as it gets.
2. Zero players of the approximately 2,272 active and practice-squad players on rosters have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the season, a remarkable achievement. Though the injury bug is awful, the COVID bug is nonexistent—so far.
3. The quarterbacks just keep on coming. The over-35 set—Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Rodgers—went 4-0 Sunday, winning by an average of two touchdowns a game. But the QB farm system continues to churn out quality. Eleven of the 13 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 picks over the past five years started over the weekend. Justin Herbert, the 11th, who looks like he’s 17 and in bad need of a haircut, went throw for throw with Mahomes most of the day at SoFi.
The play of the day: the Watermelon Kick.
“That’s what we call it,” Prescott said with some glee 90 minutes after the game. “The ball just kind of sits there like a watermelon, not on a tee.”
.@DallasCowboys recover the onside kick!
📺: #ATLvsDAL on FOX
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/gdttfTQjuY pic.twitter.com/v6qAfH46hX
— NFL (@NFL) September 20, 2020
When I talk to players after games, quite often the answers are pretty plain, and they speak in press-conference-speak. But Prescott was fired up in his car driving home with his girlfriend. “Amen, AMEN!” he said about the win. “We could have been 0-2!
Dallas was down 39-24 with six minutes left. The Cowboys scored but missed the two-point conversion. “So we knew we needed two scores in the last five minutes,” Prescott said. “Not easy.” The Cowboys burned their timeouts and forced Atlanta to punt with three minutes left. In 68 seconds, they drove to a TD, Prescott running in his third TD of the day, and the extra point made it 39-37, Atlanta.
Dallas needed to recover the onside kick, or the team would be 0-2. Here came kicker Greg Zuerlein out for the kick. With no tee. Prescott described the next few seconds in vivid detail.
“I have never been in a game like this,” he said. “Maybe the playoff game my rookie year against Green Bay, but we lost that one, and it didn’t come down to a play like this one. It was incredible, honestly. We’ve seen it done in practice. [Offensive coordinator] Kellen Moore saw it get set up, and [quarterbacks coach] Doug Nussmeier told me, ‘Watermelon kick!’ “
It’s actually an ingenious idea. Because players can’t line up more than one yard from the spot of the kickoff (they used to be able to get a five-yard running start), kicking team players can’t get the kind of running start they used to on onside kicks. So Zuerlein and special-teams coach John Fassel had practiced a form of the onside kick where Zuerlein would kick a spinning ball diagonally, and fairly slowly. Cowboy players could run to the skidding ball and attempt to block out, as on a basketball rebound, any opposing players who might be trying to get to the ball.
Obviously, the Falcons hadn’t seen it before. They peered at the spinning, slow-moving ball like it was diseased and they didn’t want to touch it.
“I asked our punter, Chris Jones, why [the Falcons] wouldn’t just dive on it,” Prescott told me, “and he said the way it spins makes it really hard to do that. They were probably afraid that if they jumped on it, it might get loose and we’d recover.”
Better that than what happened: Dallas cornerback C.J. Goodwin, once the ball traveled exactly 10 yards downfield, jumped it and won a wrestling match for it with three Falcons. Prescott’s 24-yard dart to rookie CeeDee Lamb (“CeeDee is smart as hell, great feel for the game,” Prescott said) helped set up Zeurlein’s winning field goal with four seconds left.
It all was made possible by the Watermelon Kick.
Prescott: “In the locker room after the game, I saw [guard] Zack Martin, and we both said the same thing to each other: I don’t know if you realize what this means! No way we could start 0-2. It just couldn’t happen. We lost so many guys on offense. Three tackles, our tight end, Blake Jarwin. But you know that next-man-up mentality. We’ve got it here. We believe in the guys behind the starters. And I will tell you, they played great today.
“The other thing that was important today—not just the win—but the way coach McCarthy was with us at halftime. That was an important time for our team. We were down big [29-10 at halftime] and he said, ‘Forget the final score. Let’s see the team we’ve got out there in the second half. Let’s see the men we’ve got.’ He’s easy to follow.”
Amazing. Prescott threw for 450. He ran in three scores. No talk about that. Just the crazy onside kick, and an early season saved from the cliff.
Performance of the Day
I’ve never seen anything like what happened at the end of Kansas City 23, L.A. Chargers 20 (overtime). With two minutes left in overtime in a 20-20 game, this sequence occurred:
• KC kicker Harrison Butker, 53-yard field goal attempt. Good. Nullified by a false start by KC guard Nick Allegretti. Five-yard penalty.
• Butker, 58-yard field goal attempt. Good. Nullified by a last-millisecond whistle. Time out, Chargers.
• Butker, 58-yard field goal attempt. Good. No whistles. No flags.
Before Sunday, the 25-year-old Butker had never kicked a field goal of 58 or more yards in a game. In the span of 90 minutes, he kicked three of them, and two counted.
“Definitely the hardest situation I’ve ever been put in,” Butker said from the locker room post-game. “But what gave me a little confidence is how we practice. In practice, I have to hit eight to 10 long field goals, like 54, 63, 65, 58. So some kickers, maybe their leg would get tired kicking three long ones in a row like that.
“So I lined up for the 53-yarder, and I figured they might call a timeout. But I don’t hear a whistle, and I kicked. Then there’s a flag and we go back five yards. I smashed that one—knew it was good. I figured, let me make this thing and let’s get out of here. But then I saw they called time. And I just did it again.”
That was it. Except for this tidbit: “I kicked one from 67 pre-game, and then 70 at halftime. This is definitely the coolest stadium I’ve played in. Absolutely beautiful.”
What We Know20
What we know after one-eighth of the season for 30 of the 32 NFL teams:
We can’t be rash about the rash of injuries, but the NFL and NFLPA must study these especially closely. The kneejerk reaction to the injury epidemic—torn ACLs for certifiable stars Saquon Barkley and Nick Bosa on Sunday, and lesser injuries could keep Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Lock, Anthony Barr and Davante Adams sidelined for a week or more—is that without preseason games and normal training camps, players enter the season less used to contact and top speeds than usual. Could be. In the case of the 49ers injuries, the NFL should also look into the turf at MetLife Stadium.
I think one other thing has to be considered: the loss of a legitimate offseason program, with organized and enforced strength and conditional and speedwork for nine or 10 spring weeks. That vanished this year. Teams trusted players to work out on their own. For the Tom Bradys, workout and health freaks, it’s a given they’ll find a way to get in their work. But I recall a story from the summer, with Austin Ekeler of the Chargers telling me he’d go to a local California park and do chin-ups on the same monkey bars schoolchildren use at recess. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the kind of conditioning NFL players are used to.
Gardner might be good. Really good. Last week, on Colin Cowherd’s show, NFL Films tapemeister Greg Cosell raised some eyebrows after Gardner Minshew’s 19-of-20 opener against the Colts. ”I don’t believe the Jaguars need a quarterback. I think Gardner Minshew can play quarterback in this league and be very effective.” Cosell called Minshew “refined, accurate,” had “good feel in the pocket, and deceptive movement ability.” Some of the throws he’s made while starting with a 75.4-percent accuracy rate show great presence and touch, and he mostly knows exactly when to leave the pocket and when to hang in.
That Minshew-Chark combo is becoming something serious 🔥 @GardnerMinshew5 @DJChark82 @Jaguars pic.twitter.com/YpjmHS7ujT
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 20, 2020
Minshew took an idiotic 20-yard sack at Tennessee on Sunday, but made two great throws downfield: He hit D.J. Chark with a 45-yard strike between two Titans defenders, then dropped a touchdown into a bucket to tight end Tyler Eifert between three Titans. Two perfect throws, against a good defense. The rest of this year is going be very interesting for a team with four picks in the first two rounds next April—and three or four bright-prospect quarterbacks in the draft.
It’s Sept. 21, and Matt Patricia looks done already. The Lions have lost 11 in a row, and they’re the worst finishers since 2019 Edwin Diaz. In Week 1, they blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Mitchell Trubisky Bears. In Week 2, they blew an early 14-3 lead in Green Bay and lost by 21. Predictably, all the Lions stuck by their coach in the aftermath, but what are they going to say? The most troublesome thing about the Lions is that Patricia was considered a brilliant defensive mind and tactician in New England, and he just can’t get the defense right in Detroit.
The next two weeks likely won’t help. Detroit is at the 2-0 Cardinals, with the 1-0 Saints (playing tonight) coming to Detroit in Week 4. Then Detroit has its bye. There’s no way the franchise would fire him at 0-4 this year and 9-26-1 in his tenure, is there? Doubtful, but clearly, Patricia doesn’t have a lot of time to save his job, not when the Cleveland Browns have five more wins than Patricia since opening day 2018.
If the 49ers can survive these injuries to contend this year, they’ve got incredible depth. “The 49ers had one of the most solemn blowout victories in the history of the NFL on Sunday,” The Athletic’s Matt Barrows aptly wrote Sunday night. Defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both were carted off with suspected torn ACLs; starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a high ankle sprain; and starting back Raheem Mostert—he of the 80-yard TD sprint on the first play from scrimmage in the 31-13 rout of the Jets—has a milder knee injury. The Niners already were missing three of their top 10 players (who didn’t play Sunday)—tight end George Kittle, wideout Deebo Samuel and cornerback Richard Sherman. Wow. It’s Week 2!
The Niners de-camped to White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., after the game to practice/heal this week before returning to the Meadowlands to face the 0-2 Giants next Sunday. I’ve covered the league a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a championship-caliber team lose almost every big-star player to injury (for the short or long term) by the end of Week 2. The advantage San Francisco has? Two, I’d say. The Niners face the 0-2 Giants, 0-2 Eagles and 0-2 Dolphins in the next three weeks. And GM John Lynch has built some good depth. That depth helped hold a bad team, the Jets, to 197 total yards till a garbage-time drive at the end.
MNF turns 50
Sept. 21, 2020: New Orleans at Las Vegas, the 799th “Monday Night Football” game ever, on ESPN. First NFL game ever in Nevada, the debut game in glittery new Allegiant Stadium. ESPN is paying the NFL $1.9 billion for its package of games and other NFL programming—224 times what ABC paid the NFL for the rights to a peculiar package of games the league christened as “Monday Night Football” a half-century ago.
Sept. 21, 1970: New York Jets at Cleveland, the first “Monday Night Football” game ever, on ABC. The Jets and Browns played in the old barn on Lake Erie, Municipal Stadium, on the first weekend of games between a merged AFL and NFL. For many Americans, MNF was their first exposure to prime-time football, and to a New York sportscaster with a nasally twang, Howard Cosell.
The matchup made sense. Browns owner Art Modell, a showman, and commissioner Pete Rozelle negotiated the MNF contract with ABC’s Roone Arledge. The NFL got turned down for the Monday night package by CBS and NBC; ABC, the weakest of the three networks, was motivated to take the package because of its poor prime-time lineup. Modell wanted the first game at home badly. What better visitor than Joe Namath’s Jets? It was a year-and-a-half after Namath engineered the biggest upset in NFL history, the Super Bowl III win over the Colts, and he was the biggest star in football. “Pete knew it would be a great scene,” league executive Joe Browne recalled. It was: 85,703 packed the stadium on a hot September night to watch.
But not even the players were optimistic the thing would work, a football game starting at 9 p.m. on a work night, a school night, a night devoted to entertainment TV. They were right. That year, “Monday Night Football” didn’t crack the top 35 of the network TV ratings. In Monday night viewership totals in autumn 1970, MNF ranked eighth of 11 network shows. It got beat on Monday nights by Here’s Lucy, Gunsmoke, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (Goldie Hawn in a bikini was pretty risqué for the time), Mayberry RFD, The Doris Day Show, NBC Monday Night at the Movies, and The Carol Burnett Show.
As hard as it is to think about the NFL being a ratings bomb behind seven shows on Monday night, well, football in prime time had to start somewhere. And now, prime-time football’s pretty commonplace. NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the highest-rated show on television for nine straight years. That’s the longest streak for a top-rated show in TV history.
“That was a strange thought for all of us players,” Joe Namath, the visiting quarterback on the night of Sept. 21, 1970, told me the other day. “People are working. Monday night? Who’s gonna watch? Plus, for the players, since Pop Warner, high school, college, pro, whatever, who the heck ever played football on Monday night?”
My conversation with the legendary Namath about the birth of “Monday Night Football:”
FMIA: Were you aware that this 50th anniversary of MNF was coming up?
Namath: “No, I wasn’t. It reminds me of the some of guys who’ve passed on, like Howard [Cosell]. Wow.”
FMIA: Seems like the merger was a bigger deal at the time than the start of Monday night games.
Namath: “Yes. I don’t know all the details about [the merger]. I wasn’t sure by that time that we wanted to merge, as far as the players and at least one owner. I did remember how Al Davis was the one owner that was really against merging. We kind of took pride as the AFL in being the underdog, and then we won those last two Super Bowls [before the merger]. But you know, [Lamar] Hunt, Mr. [Leon] Hess, the other owners in the AFL, they knew what they were doing, I gather. When we look at it today, it certainly has blossomed and worked out well.”
FMIA: I remember that first game. I was 13. What was the talk in your locker room? Did you guys think it was crazy?
Namath: “We got over that part. We did start to feel that it was special. You did feel, ‘Man, this is the only game on.’ [ABC’s] Roone Arledge was a brilliant mind, knew what he was doing. Knew more than we did, certainly. We did understand that we were the only game being played. That uniqueness of playing on Monday night, with the nation watching as the years went on . . . Other than the championship game, that was unique. But the game was big for me because I grew up 60 miles from Cleveland. The Browns, Otto Graham and Paul Brown, I was a fan. Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, that was the birthplace. It was big going into that stadium because of the game and personally my background, wow, you’re going into Cleveland. I had seen it so many times as a kid. When we walked in there, the place was electric. That’s the word for it. Great atmosphere.”
FMIA: Sort of a crazy game too. You guys were chasing the Browns all game and had a chance to win there at the end.
Namath: “They had a guy that had developed this reputation in New York for not having the best hands with the Giants, Homer Jones. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t return a kickoff, I think it was to start the second half, for a touchdown.”
FMIA: That’s right—94 yards.
Namath: “I can still see Homer Jones running down the damn field, 50 years later. Damn!”
FMIA: They’re up 24-21 late, and you get the ball with a chance to go ahead.
Namath: “In my life, in my life, I still remember the last play we had the ball. I threw it behind Emerson Boozer right to a linebacker, Andrews, I think. [He’s right. Billy Andrews, a fourth-year linebacker, picked it off and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown—the only touchdown of his career. The Browns won 31-21.] We had the chance to win the game—and I blew it! All the good memories I’ve had from sports over the years, it goes back to what my college coach at Alabama, coach Bear Bryant, told us: ‘We’re gonna remember the bad plays, the bad times, the tough losses, quicker than we’re gonna remember the wins, the good times.’ He’s right. When he told us that I was 18 with a bunch of other freshman. I said what the hell is he talking about? You know, when that Monday night game is brought up, my mind’s eye goes right back to that last play when Boo was open and I threw it behind him, boy.”
FMIA: So the history of the game—not a big deal compared to the loss?
Namath: “That’s the only thing. The loss, and that interception. The play was called 74 C.I. And 74 was the number and C.I. means ‘close in’ for the back on the weak side. Close in is the release and getting through the line of scrimmage, the offensive tackle and faking to the outside and cutting across the middle of the field left to right. That was Emerson Boozer. He had Andrews beaten by two yards, at least. I ended up throwing it behind Boo and that was it, man. I’ve said this to Boo many times. Had I had that ball in the right place, Boo would still be running. When we looked at the film afterwards, Boo would’ve still been running. But you know, coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
FMIA: Did you watch the Monday night games as the years went on and you were still playing?
Namath: “I do recall watching the Monday night games. Well, I turned the volume off, actually, when I watched the Monday night game.”
FMIA: Because of Howard?
Namath: “Yes! Exactly! [Laughter] You know, it wasn’t just Howard. It was, as a player, getting critiqued. You weren’t used to hearing some of the critiques coming from people that weren’t really knowledgeable. You felt like they didn’t know what they were saying. I actually watched with my records on. Listened to music and watch the game. Played my albums. I watched about every Monday night game as a football fan. I still do watch, depending on the teams that are playing.”
FMIA: What do you remember about Howard, and your relationship?
Namath: “It was good. It was good. I knew he was smarter than I was. I would sometimes cringe at some of the things he’d say. He was harsh sometimes on other people as well. I didn’t know a person could know so many words in the English language that I had never heard before. You know how he always used to say, ‘I tell it like it is. I tell it like it is?’ I said, Howard, what the heck you talking about? First of all, you’re wearing that hairpiece and you changed your name from Cowen to Cosell. You telling me you tell it like it is, huh? [Laughter] Go tell somebody else.”
FMIA: Then you did Monday nights in the booth for ABC one year, 1985. You and O.J. and Frank Gifford. Remember the Giants-Joe Theismann game? (Theismann suffered a nasty broken leg, graphically shown on TV.)
Namath: “Oh god, yes! Thank you. I tell you what, when that happened, I saw it. They showed the replay. I saw the beginning of the replay and that ankle. To this day, I never looked back at that again. I think that even turned Lawrence’s stomach.”
Most interesting part of the discussion: A 50-year-old interception still ticks him off, royally, to this day.
“The loss outweighs everything,” Joe Namath said. “The loss stinks, and the interception’s what I remember. Oh, I can still see it right now.”
Time Suck of the Week30
It’s amazing, sometimes, to think that this is the 28th season that the NFL has had some form of instant replay on the books, and there are still times the system works like it’s 1965. Replay is a great tool, when used correctly. When it isn’t, and when a totally obvious call takes two minutes and 33 seconds to adjudicate, it just sucks the air out of the game and ticks off viewers at home and needlessly motivates people to change the channel because people just can’t realize why this officiating insurance policy, can take so long.
I refer to the first snap from scrimmage of Week 2. Cincinnati at Cleveland. Bengals ball. Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green made a diving 35-yard catch near the left sideline and fell out of bounds. The side judge, 12th-year NFL official Jimmy Buchanan, right on top of the play, ruled a completed catch, with both feet in-bounds. From the moment Green hit the ground, it looked dubious that both feet were down before he went out.
I went to NFL GamePass the next day to chart this play, second by second. I started the clock when Green hit the turf.
:00 — Green fell to earth with the ball, on the wide white sideline stripe, at the Cleveland 26-yard-line.
:13 — The first slo-mo replay from FOX showed clearly that Green’s right knee and foot were in the air when his body crashed out of bounds.
:16 — Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski threw his red flag, challenging the ruling of a completed pass with the receiver inbounds.
:26 — On FOX, Troy Aikman said: “I’m surprised the official missed that.”
:48 — The fourth completed replay on FOX ended, all of which showed clearly the right leg was not in bounds when Green hit the ground out of bounds.
:56 — Referee Shawn Smith announced to the crowd the play was under review.
1:11 — “Everyone knows this is incomplete,” Joe Buck said. Aikman chuckled derisively. Sixty-five seconds of prime-time filler followed.
2:22 — “The crowd of 6,000 is getting restless,” Buck said.
2:33 — Referee Smith announced: “Incomplete pass. It will be second down.”
I get wanting to be correct. The league can rightfully say, “We got it right, and that’s what matters.” But that’s not all that matters. This game was a 3-hour, 21-minute affair that should have been 3:19, if one simple call took seconds, instead of two-and-a-half minutes, to fix. What should happen, in cases like this, is that senior VP of officiating Al Riveron, in charge of replay review on game days, should have the power to get in the on-field ref’s ear and say, “Overturn it. Guy was clearly out of bounds.” That should happen instead of the ref, in this case Smith, going under the hood and going through the motions of fixing a call everyone knows was blown. In that case, it would have been a 35-second delay, not 2 minutes and 33 seconds. (Adam Schefter reported that Riveron was sidelined in week one because of COVID-19 but was back at work in Week 2. Riveron is a good man, and here’s hoping he’s in good health now.)
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Jared Goff, quarterback, L.A. Rams. What a start, three time zones from home: 12 of 12 for 145 yards and two touchdown passes, leading the Rams to a 21-3 first-half lead at flawed Philadelphia. And for the second straight week, Goff led the Rams to a win over one of the two best teams in the NFC East. He finished with three TD passes, all to tight end Tyler Higbee, and he’s rapidly dispelling doubts about his ability brought on by his 16-pick season last year. Great game for Goff in a tough place to play—made very much easier by the no-fan edict.
Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay. There won’t be many better games for a running back in the NFL this year: 22 touches from scrimmage, 236 yards, 10.6 yards per touch, three touchdowns. Imagine producing a first down, in effect, every time you touch the ball. What’s so interesting about Jones is his ability to make up for the lack of depth in the Green Bay wideout corps with his ability to produce winning plays in the passing game downfield.
Defensive Player of the Week
Kenny Vaccaro, safety, Tennessee. The Titans allowed the Jags to score 30 points, and so why is the defensive player of the week on a team that allowed Gardner Minshew and friends generate 480 total yards. Good question. I’d say it’s because without Vaccaro, it would have been worse, and maybe much worse. Vaccaro had 11 tackles, one sacks, two tackles behind the line, two more pressures of Minshew on blitzes, and two passes broken up. It’s a terrific all-around game by a terrific safety.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Harrison Butker, kicker, Kansas City. As I explained higher in the column, quite a day for Butker. His 58-yard field goal in the third quarter brought KC within eight, 17-9. His 30-yard field goal at :00 of the fourth quarter made it 20-20 and sent it to overtime. Then he worked overtime in overtime for the win, winning it with another 58-yarder.
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker, Tennessee. The least effective kicker in the league through two weeks has two game-winning field goals through two weeks; he’s the first kicker this century to kick game-winners in the last two minutes of the first two games. You explain it. I can’t. His 49-yard field goal with 1:41 left Sunday beat the Jags 33-30. Last Monday, his 25-yarder with 17 seconds left beat Denver 16-14. All of that, of course, happened after missing an extra point in each of the two games, and missing three field goals last week in Denver. So for a guy who’s missed five kicks in two weeks, it’s fairly amazing he’s won both of them with field goals.
Coach of the Week
Matt LaFleur, coach, Green Bay. Barring the Saints or Raiders scoring in the fifties tonight in Las Vegas, the Green Bay Packers will exit Week 2 as the highest-scoring team in the team in NFL. They’ll do that with one standout wide receiver, a fifth-round running back and a tight-end-by-committee that has combined for four receptions in two games. LaFleuer could have used receiver help in the draft, but what he got was a quarterback project whose presence could have messed up the good chemistry LaFleur built in an NFC North championship season in his rookie coaching year in 2019. But the Pack has scored 43 and 42 in two games, and LaFleur is 16-4 (including playoffs) in his first 20 games piloting this storied franchise. For all those (like me) who thought the Packers’ stay atop the vision would be brief, LaFleur and his team have demonstrated in eight quarters that 2019 was no fluke.
Goats of the Week
The Atlanta kickoff-return team. Particularly tight end Hayden Hurst, wideout Olamide Zaccheaus and safety Sharrod Neasman. On the worst play by any team of Week 2, the Falcons, up 39-37 with 1:49 to go and lined up to receive a kickoff, let a Dallas onside kick roll and roll and roll, clearly not knowing the rules. The receiving team, of course, can recover an onside kick at any time, and one of these three men closest to the sliding football should have jumped on it before it went 10 yards and ended the game. Obviously, there was no guarantee they’d have recovered it; it could have squirted away. But the alternative was way worse. Once the ball traveled 10 yards, Dallas cornerback C.J. Goodwin dove on it. Dallas drove 26 yards to the winning field goal, and Atlanta’s worst football game since the blown 28-3 lead in Super Bowl 51 four seasons ago was complete.
This is legitimately one of the craziest onside kick mistakes I’ve ever seen in the #NFL. pic.twitter.com/bYk1qoqK7Z
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 20, 2020
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota. The Vikings are 0-2, and Cousins was the biggest culprit in number two, the feeble 28-11 loss at Indianapolis. Cousins’ first nine series ended like this: field goal, punt, punt, safety, interception, interception, interception, punt, punt. No TD passes, three picks, 15.9 rating.
Quotes of the Week40
“Two-eight, we love you bro! We love you bro!”
—New England safety Devin McCourty, after returning an interception for a touchdown in the first half in Seattle Sunday night. “Two-eight” is running back James White, number 28, who was de-activated for the game after his father was killed in a Florida car crash Sunday.
“We’re still figuring each other out right now. We have to understand each other’s weaknesses, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at and work with it and try to get better with it as a unit. Coach [Bruce] Arians said it’s a 16-round fight. We have a lot more fights to go. This is just the second one.”
—Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette, after the Bucs beat Carolina to improve to 1-1 Sunday.
“I think if the NFL can add more leeway for the home team to add noise at appropriate moments in the game, it would make the viewing experience much better. If the home team gets a big sack on third-and-10, let them crank up the crowd noise because that gets me at home excited. They haven’t allowed them to go over whatever certain decibel [level] yet because I know they don’t want it to be an advantage one way or the other. But homefield should be an advantage.”
—Joe Thomas of NFL Network.
“It’s stupid. It’s selfish. It’s dumb.”
—Houston’s J.J. Watt, after rookie defensive tackle Ross Blacklock was ejected from the Baltimore-Houston game for unnecessary roughness.
“We haven’t shown progress.”
—Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins. New York has lost its first two games by 10 and 18 points and looked hapless doing so.
Much has been made in the past week about the Rams’ salary cap, and the big contracts given to Jared Goff and Aaron Donald (last year) and to Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods (this year). But this year isn’t the issue for the Rams. The next two years are.
In 2020, the combined cap numbers for the five big contracts will be $73.9 million, which is 37.3 percent of the NFL’s 2020 cap number, $198.2 million per team.
But look how the numbers inflate next year, with a cap that’s likely to be about a $175 million. The cap numbers of the Rams’ golden five:
Goff: $34.63 million
Donald: $27.9 million
Ramsey: $22.5 million
Kupp: $14.5 million
Woods: $12.4 million
Total of those five: $111.9 million.
On a $175-million cap, those five contracts would take up 63.9 percent of the Rams’ salary load, and leave $63.1 million for 48 other players on the active and the practice squad. Say it’s 10 on the practice squad. That creates an incredibly bottom-heavy roster.
But I do not expect the Rams to stay status quo on those five deals. In the NFL salary space, teams can convert base salary to signing bonus at any time, meaning, for instance, that Goff’s salary next year could be reduced from $25.33 million to $1 million. That would allow the Rams to spread $24.33 million equally over the cap numbers of the last four years of his contract. Upside: Goff’s cap number in 2021 would be reduced by $18.2 million. Downside: Each of the last three years of the deal would have the cap number jacked up by $6.1 million.
That’s why—and the Rams aren’t the only team thinking this—it’s vital that the NFL get back to some semblance of normalcy in 2021, so the 2022 and future caps are not continually hamstrung by the economic effects of this COVID-affected season.
The Dolphins put 13,000 tickets on sale for their home-opener against AFC East rival Buffalo.
They sold 11,075.
That had better be a commentary on fans not wanting to go to a public event during a pandemic, and not a commentary on the interest in the Dolphins in south Florida.
Saquon Barkley, if the initial reporting of a torn ACL is proven accurate, will finish his third NFL season with 34 rushing yards in two games—with 10 carries of positive yardage and nine carries of negative yardage.
Jacksonville plays Miami on Thursday night this week. The NFL often tries to pair two underachievers (nice way of saying “bad”) on a Thursday night game—Bengals-Browns this weekend, for instance; Dolphins-Jags in Week 3—to get their lone annual prime-time game out of the way.
A couple of interesting points about the Jaguars and prime time.
They have not played a Sunday or Monday night game since a December Monday night loss to the Chargers in 2011. Last Sunday night appearance: 12 years ago.
Between 2014 and 2019, they played five times on Thursday nights—all against Tennessee.
King of the Road
No travel for the time being because, well, you know. But I was on the subway Friday afternoon, the B train, on the way back from an appointment in Manhattan to my home in Brooklyn. I thought I would take a count on my car of those wearing masks. The city made mask-wearing mandatory on subways recently, with masks available for free in any subway station, and a $50 fine for anyone who refused.
As we left the Rockefeller Center station, I counted 34 people in my car. All 34 were wearing masks.
Along the way, the dour conductor, in a thick New Yawk accent, said over the PA, with zero emotion or feeling: “Spread love. Wear a mask. It’s the New York way.”
Tweets of the Week40
Gardner Minshew is NOT tanking for Trevor.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 20, 2020
Barnwell covers the NFL for ESPN, and Tweeted after the Men of Minshew roared back to tie Tennessee in Nashville.
So heartbroken to hear the news of the tragedy of my great friend and forever teammate @SweetFeet_White. There are few people that come into your life that do EVERYTHING the right way…
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) September 21, 2020
Brady’s ex-teammate, Patriots running back James White, was grieving the death of his father in a car crash Sunday.
The BigTen is back! Here’s how that zoom call went…🏈 https://t.co/WW9e7SRsCd pic.twitter.com/ttLYwPFDb8
— Annie Agar (@AnnieAgar) September 16, 2020
Agar is a reporter for WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich.
If I can fit this over MY nose, none of you have an excuse #WearAMask pic.twitter.com/ZdTluQW1ds
— Joe Torre (@JoeTorre) September 16, 2020
Torre is the Hall of Fame former Yankees manager.
Burrow is SPECIAL! He has the “IT” for sure.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 18, 2020
LeBron, tweeting in the first half of the Bengals’ Thursday night loss to the Browns.
Lots of comments about column length after reader Dave Smith last week said FMIA was getting too long in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I mean, more than 100 emails and tweets about it. A few of your thoughts:
Rene Bugner (Mainz, Germany): ”I strongly disagree with Dave Smith here. This column can’t be too long. I understand that some people aren’t willing to read it from beginning to end BUT scrolling is an option.”
Jack Finkle: “I thought I was the only one skimming your columns, because they are too long. Thanks for letting your readers know, including me, that other readers are doing the same thing. You could shorten them by getting rid of your writing about your coffee and beer indulgences each week. It comes off as ‘Owner’s Box’ talk snobbery. You can also shorten your columns by deleting your travel discussions. Covering the NFL is a privilege, not a hardship.”
Bill Kennemer (Fayetteville, Ark.): “Write as long a column as you need to, to tell the stories you think need to be told. If it’s book length, that’s OK. Better than a lot of drivel I read, and it’s my first read every Monday morning. Don’t back off the politics either.”
John Burton (Phoenix): “Please go back to your old column style of writing. FMIA is simply way too long, obscure in focus, and non-compelling. I try to read titled select categories and subcategories (63 total today), but even that is a chore. Your column has become a long wandering mess that I no longer can commit reading time.”
Mike Kreiner: “Kurt Vonnegut once gave great advice that helps me in this situation: ‘Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.’ “
Ken Boyer (Redmond, Wash.): “Stop the crazy talk! Peter King talking about shortening his column? Say it ain’t so!”
Joe Stephen (Chicago): “Some of us love the little asides, detours, and back roads you take. We’d prefer more, not less. Brevity is far too prevalent in life.”
Rafa Chapa (Monterrey, Mexico): “I couldn’t agree more with Dave. Have a suggestion for you to consider: You may take advantage of the internet medium and have a few paragraphs to get people interested in whatever story you don’t consider as a ‘core’ part of the week’s NFL and leave a link for the full text. So the column would be shorter and show the most important current issues and function as a kind of index to more compelling coverage of the league.”
Craig Alt (Australia): “I don’t think you should cut down your column length. One of the things I love about your column is that, in this age of bite-sized columns, it is long enough to keep me occupied for quite some time (sometimes even days depending on when I get opportunities to read it). I do indeed skip or skim some bits. Last week I skipped through the pandemic stuff about the broadcasters and the Seattle beat writer because I am just not interested in the impact on the commentators or the covering of the game. My opinion: Forget about column length, concentrate on quality. If you think it’s good, print it. You’ve been in this game long enough and earned the right to print what you think is good stuff.”
Chip Caswell (Panama City, Fla.): “Your column, and the journalism that I find at the Sunday Long Read, allow me to disconnect from all the noise, and immerse myself in great writing. Your column is a guaranteed read from start to finish.”
Thanks for all the input. Rafa’s idea is interesting—link to longer things; I’ll think about it. My fear there, of course, is that people won’t go down the rabbit hole to, for instance, read Tony Dungy on John Thompson. I do like what Rene wrote about scrolling. Jack, I think you need to read the column a little closer if you think my travel notes are weekly bitch sessions; some are complaints, but I’d guess 70 percent are not. Thanks to everyone for checking in and giving your thoughts.
10 Things I Think I Think30
1. I think I would disagree with Anthony Lynn, the Chargers’ coach who said Sunday night that if Tyrod Taylor is “100 percent ready to go,” he’d remain the Chargers’ starting quarterback. Uh, why? Sometimes, life ain’t fair. Justin Herbert played well enough Sunday to keep the job, for now.
2. I think I wouldn’t fret too much about being 0-2 if I were a Texan. It’s a hole, of course, But honestly: Did you think the Texans would win at Kansas City? No one did. Did you think they’d beat a powerhouse Baltimore team, the same team that slapped them around 41-7 last year? Maybe a few thought they’d win, but that was a long shot too. Houston has played, possibly, its two toughest games of the season in the first two weeks, and now, after a sobering but understandable start, they head into three reasonable games: at Pittsburgh, then Minnesota and Jacksonville at home. If they’re 1-4 in three weeks, then it’s time to worry. But not yet.
3. I think that was a huge win for Baker Mayfield and the Browns on Thursday night. Huge. This, of course, is referendum season for Mayfield—Browns legend Joe Thomas called it a make-or-break season last week—and Mayfield was confident and accurate in the win over Cincinnati. The 43-yard TD to Odell Beckham Jr. was placed perfectly and timed just as well. There’s a yeah-but element here — Yeah, but it was Cincinnati. But with a run game that good, Mayfield’s got a chance to finally be the quarterback he was drafted to be. Now he’s got to do it. The next five weeks—Washington, at Dallas, Indianapolis, at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati—will tell us everything about where he and this offense are. No team is a killer; no team is a pushover, even Cincinnati with Joe Burrow. If the Browns are going to finally get off the non-contending schneid, they’ve got to be 3-2 or better in this stretch.
4. I think many times we assume the male influence, particularly when the male influence is a football coach, becomes the biggest influence on a person in football. And what does it matter, really, about the respective contributions of parents Steve and Jeannette Belichick on the fate of the best coach of this era, Bill Belichick? Suffice to say they’re both very big factors in what he became. But you should not underestimate the power of Jeannette Belichick, who died last week at 98, in forming the person and coach Bill Belichick is. She was an absolute giant in his life. In 2004, to research a profile on Bill Belichick after the Patriots’ second Super Bowl victory, I went to Annapolis, Md., to see his childhood home and to talk to his parents about him. Steve, of course, was a long-time college football assistant coach and wrote the first authoritative book on scouting. Bill, a huge football nerd at a young age, used to sit silently in Navy meetings when Steve broke down the upcoming opponent for the team. Jeannette, who knew seven languages, emphasized education. To this point: Sometimes, while his mom was getting dinner ready, Bill would sit in the kitchen and read to her. She loved to read, and read the New Yorker cover to cover most weeks. She was such a sweet lady. Sympathy to the Belichick family.
5. I think a re-read of that 2004 SI profile on Belichick is in order. How I led my story 16 years ago:
“Would you like to see Bill’s room?”
The kindly voice belongs to Jeannette Belichick, a petite 82-year-old who is standing in the living room of her Annapolis, Md., home. Back when she taught Spanish at Hiram (Ohio) College, Jeannette spoke four languages fluently and understood seven, but now, as she says with a smile and a twinkle, “The only language I speak is football.”
It’s a short walk to the onetime bedroom of Steve and Jeannette Belichick’s only child, now 52 and coach of the two-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The twin beds are made pristinely, as though awaiting military inspection. Two maritime paintings done by amateur painter Steve—hang on the walls. A high school graduation photo of Bill sits on the dresser. The bookshelf is crammed with volumes from his days at Annapolis High. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. The Case of the Screaming Woman, a Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner. There’s The Gettysburg Civil War Battle Game and a signed football from the 1963 Navy team and four trophies from Bill’s childhood athletic triumphs. “That room hasn’t changed in 40 years,” Bill says, asked about it later.
The room is, to be frank, a little barren. “It’s not a big deal,” Jeannette says. “That’s the way we live.”
The contents of the room provide a window into the mind of Bill Belichick. They tell us that the hottest coach in the NFL is well-educated and uncluttered in his thinking.
6. I think there is much to be optimistic about with the Bengals. But those uniforms are awful. JV unis.
7. I think the Chargers, despite the loss to Kansas City in the SoFi home opener, avoided a potential big embarrassment with the no-fans edict. Imagine the opening game for the franchise in the new city and the new stadium, with a sea of red in the stands—or at least red throughout the stadium in big splotches. Kansas City fans travel very well, and would have been fired up to go to Los Angeles with the novelty of the first road game after winning the Super Bowl, and with the novelty of the first game in a shiny new stadium.
8. I think the one thing that the summer of 2020 has proven is that pro football certainly does not need four preseason games, and it does not need three preseason games. I don’t think it needs two. One seems fair, to make sure a team can get whatever work it wants for the starters (two quarters, three quarters, no quarters) and to see on-the-edge-of-the-roster young players in competition. Because owners won’t want to surrender all the money from the golden goose that is the preseason, I’d settle for two games apiece. But absolutely no more.
9. I think it’s amazing that, 50 years ago this morning, most people in the United States had never heard of Howard Cosell.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Pensacola, Destin, Mobile, and everyone in the vicinity: I feel for you, and hope your wonderful places can survive rainfall the likes of which most of us have never seen.
b. California, Oregon and the West: I feel for you. What a tragedy these fires are.
c. RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a great American, and an inspiration to every young girl striving for precisely what we tell our daughters—you can be anything you want to be, truly.
d. Column of the Week: (Actually, it’s from 2016, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg) Advice for Living, which she wrote for the New York Times.
e. Two passages I loved:
Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.
Work-life balance was a term not yet coined in the years my children were young; it is aptly descriptive of the time distribution I experienced. My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane. I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her. After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.
f. Radio Story of the Week: Thanks, Rachel Martin, for the Cat Stevens interview on NPR, and the interesting story of re-recording every song on the iconic Tea For the Tillerman album.
g. Tea For the Tillerman is 50 years old. Where’d my life go?
i. Now Yusuf Islam, he told Martin he once sold all his guitars because he was “being weighed down with an image of me that I was no longer willing to serve.” And then . . .
j. “There was a point when the Bosnian War was taking place — and it was a big, big shock, because this was Europe and we were seeing a genocide right on our doorstep. This was quite frightening. But I was involved in relief and delivering aid to these people, and when I got there, I found that they were singing these songs. I mean, these songs lifted their spirit at this time when it was so dark. I think it was that that made me realize that music has a very important part to play in the shaping of our dreams and the shaping of what we want for tomorrow.”
k. Podcast of the Week: (It’s a short one.) Ten minutes, from “The Daily,” the New York Times podcast. Producer Bianca Giaever, who works in the fire-scarred West, asked a Utah-based writer she knows, Terry Tempest Williams, to write “An Obituary to the Land.” Williams wrote a poem, discussing in part one of the miraculous things about these fires—that some plants, before being incinerated, drop seeds so that trees and plants will soon sprout and life will begin again:
I will never write your obituary
Because even as you burn, you throw down seeds that will sprout and flower.
l. Will Leitch, you’re correct: If today’s athletes want things to change, they might have to stop playing. Not recommending that, simply stating a fact.
m. Basketball Story of the Week: Gina Mizell of the New York Times on the great Diana Taurasi, in the twilight. “Finding the beauty in the struggle.” Interesting words from Taurasi. Those who know the women’s game—I am an interested bystander, but not intense fan—would be the ones to answer this question: Is Taurasi the best women’s player of all time? I truly do not know; simply asking. I am an admirer, because she plays the game like her idol did. That’s Kobe Bryant.
n. My Taurasi story is a tangential one. It involves Al Davis and the 2004 draft, and the four TVs in his office: On the night before the NFL draft, Davis was giving me a tour of his offices at the Raiders’ facility in Oakland. In his inner sanctum, there were four large TVs on the wall, in a diamond configuration. He said he watched games in his office quite often. “Basketball, women’s basketball, baseball,” he said. “All the sports.” I decided to test him. I asked him which team just took Diana Taurasi with the first pick of the WNBA Draft? He scoffed. “Oh, come on. That’s easy. Phoenix,” he said. Davis wanted you to know he paid attention to everything in the world and knew something about everything. But just think how long Taurasi has been relevant, and a star.
o. Taurasi, even without Brittany Griner, led the Mercury to the playoffs, even as it took her two hours to physically prepare to play a basketball game. “If you would see my body, it’d look like I got beaten up in an alley,” she told Mizell.
p. Taurasi seemed sort of honored that Portland superstar Damian Lillard wore a Taurasi T-shirt to a playoff game this year. But, as she said: “I never played for that type of fame. I never played for the money. I literally played for the love of the game. I played because I love to compete. I love being on the court.” Good story idea and execution by Mizell. We need to know more and read more about players like Taurasi.
q. Journalism “Get” of the Week: Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, interviewing one of the great sportswriters ever, Roger Angell of the New Yorker, on the occasion of his 100th birthday (Saturday). From Angell:
“I’ve memorized quite a lot of poetry, which is very useful now that my eyesight is declining so rapidly. I have about 30-odd poems and stretches of plays from Shakespeare and John Donne to Ogden Nash. And these sustain me. When I go to sleep, I’ll say some of these poems to myself. I never thought I would lose my eyesight. The biggest thing that has happened with my rapidly declining eyesight from macular degeneration is that I’m beginning to lose movies. I’ve been a big movie buff and watched movies over the years, with great happiness. But I can’t quite see the actors anymore. Baseball, I can still follow because it’s more expansive. Individuals are spread out. I know who is where and what position. I can follow a game pretty well.”
r. Baseball idiocy of the week: Examine this snapshot from the Thursday game, with major playoff implications, between Minnesota (31-20) and the White Sox (32-17), AL Central on the line, in Chicago. With the game tied at 2 in the top of the sixth, Josh Donaldson of the Twins had a pitch that was outside called for a strike by umpire Dan Bellino. Then Donaldson hit a home run to put the Twins up 3-2, and as he crossed the plate, Donaldson kicked dirt on home plate. If you know baseball, that means the dirt-kicker thinks the home-plate ump is awful and missed one or more ball-strike calls. Bellino ejected Donaldson. The internet exploded in glee. Oh, that wacky and funny Donaldson! What a cool thing, shoving it up the ump’s rear! The White Sox took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. In the top of eighth, Donaldson’s spot in the order came up. But it wasn’t Donaldson, one of the most dangerous hitters in the Minnesota lineup, coming to the plate. It was utility infielder Ehire Adrianza, batting .184, coming up. Strike swinging, strike looking, strike swinging. Three strikes, and the banjo hitter was out. White Sox 4, Twins 3. Final.
s. What a stupid, stupid play, Donaldson.
t. I see none of the PAC-12 schools has a sanity major.
u. Coffeenerdness: I’ve got a new coffee favorite, which my Brooklyn coffee shop Gran Caffe di Martini makes so well. A cortado: three shots of espresso, topped by a dab of steamed milk. When espresso is excellent, a cortado is perfect.
v. Winenerdness: I’ve got a good $15 bottle of Cab for you: Kendall Jackson Cabernet. Classic can’t-tell-the-difference Cab. When a $15 Cab is pretty much the same as a Jordan or Frog’s Leap, you know you’ve found the right wine.
w. Do you want to know what’s just disgracefully wrong? I’ll tell you what’s disgracefully wrong. (You’re waiting, of course, for one of about 200 things I could write about.) What’s disgracefully wrong is the disparity in these two events:
Our elected officials refusing to hold hearings or vote on a Supreme Court nominee put forth by a Democratic president in 2016, an election year, though the vacancy occurred 245 days before the presidential election. The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
On the same day Ginsburg died, 45 days before the presidential election, the same Senate majority leader, McConnell, announced the Senate will take a vote on whoever the president nominates for the Court. The American people, thus, will not have a voice, because McConnell knows the fix is in and he believes he has the votes to game the system and force another justice onto the Court.
You can tell me all about how the Republican president and the Republican senate have the right to do whatever they want. But that was not what McConnell said in 2016. He said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.” Now it’s six months closer to the election. And now, in 2020, McConnell deems the American people should not have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice. What a fraud McConnell is. What an anti-patriot he is.
Why trust the system when it’s fixed? And you want to know why this election is so important.
The Adieu Haiku
Las Vegas Raiders.
It kind of snuck up on us.
It all starts tonight.