One by one, the 2021 draft dominoes fall. One month from tonight, Roger Goodell will take the stage in downtown Cleveland—set on the shore of Lake Erie between the football stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—to announce the first-round picks in the 86th NFL Draft. In the wake of 26 minutes that shook the NFL on Friday, it looks like the first three (maybe four) names out of Goodell’s mouth will be quarterbacks.
There’s been little mystery about the first domino to fall on April 29, but let’s make it officially official.
“Is there any real mystery that you’re picking Trevor Lawrence?” I asked Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer the other day.
“Uh,” Meyer said, not flinching, “I’d have to say that’s the direction we’re going. I’ll leave that up to the owner when we make that decision official. But I’m certainly not stepping out of line that that’s certainly the direction we’re headed.”
I loved it. Why hide what you’re doing, just for fake NFL drama? Meyer’s been laser-focused on Lawrence since, as a FOX college football analyst, meeting him during college football playoff prep. Meyer’s extremely close to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, and has a pipeline to all things Lawrence, on and off the field. Fair to say he couldn’t be more comfortable with his first pick as an NFL head coach.
“Trevor checks all the boxes, you know?” Meyer told me. “The number one common quality of every great player, not just quarterback, is competitive maniac. He’s 34-2. Won a national title as a true freshman. Is a winner. I’ve seen him up close and in person compete. And then character. I see him and I witness with my players, when the guys get drafted high, a lot of people get . . . They have influences in their live. Like, whether it be social media, whether it be other things that really don’t pertain to winning. What I’m really pleased with and I don’t want to say surprised, but him, his agent, his family, they’re focused on one thing. He wants to become the best version of himself for the National Football League, which is, well, it is somewhat refreshing.”
The rest of the draft got a little more fun Friday, in the time it takes to watch a “Seinfeld” rerun. I’ll get to my conversation with the savior of the Jaguars (they hope), assuming Meyer stays long enough to do the saving, after dissecting the meaning of Friday’s moves from all angles.
Twenty-six minutes on Friday threw a major changeup into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Friday, 1:04 p.m. ET: Adam Schefter reports Miami traded the third overall pick in the 2021 draft to San Francisco in exchange for the Niners’ first-round picks in 2021 (12th overall), 2022 and 2023, plus a third-round pick in 2022.
Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET: On Twitter, the Eagles report that they traded the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft to Miami in exchange for the Dolphins 12th pick and Miami’s first-round pick in 2022. (Two other low picks were involved.)
The ramifications/things that hit me over the head in the wake of the two trades:
1) Jimmy Garoppolo will have a chance, it appears, to beat back a challenge from the quarterback San Francisco drafts a month from tonight. The Niners, as of today, do not plan to trade Garoppolo before the season. An offer to blow them away could get Garoppolo—Carolina? New England?—but otherwise, Garoppolo and the new man will be in camp for the Niners in August. The 49ers have played very nice with Garoppolo since the end of the season, with GM John Lynch saying several times Garoppolo is their guy. Well, there’s a cost for going cold down the stretch of the Super Bowl season, and for missing 23 of the 48 regular-season games over the past three years. The cost is drafting a man likely to beat him out. The Niners are no longer willing to let a quarterback injury ruin their season.
It seems stunning to think Alabama’s Mac Jones could be the Niners’ choice—and “could be” is the operative phrase because the Niners have not decided who to choose at three. You can expect Lynch or coach Kyle Shanahan to say that today when they meet with the local press for the first time since January. But Jones is in the mix. Friend-of-Shanahan Chris Simms, an NBC Sports analyst, wasn’t predicting Jones would be the Niners’ guy when we talked Saturday, but he said: “Where Mac fits that offense perfectly is that Kyle will give him one or two clues about what the defense will do on a play, and the results will be top notch for Mac when he executes the play. He has Joe Burrow-type reading of the defense. Plus, other than Zach Wilson, Mac is the best bullseye-thrower in the draft.” If not Jones, my best guess is Trey Lance, athletic and strong-armed, would be the pick here.
Last point regarding the Niners, if they pick Mac Jones: There is a cadre of evaluators who do not think Jones is a great quarterback for 2021 football because he’s not mobile like a Lance or Wilson. Maybe those evaluators are wrong. We’ll find out soon enough. But if San Francisco picks Jones, the upshot will be stark. For a team to spend three first-round picks on Mac Jones will be the story to watch out of the 2021 draft.
2) Dueling Pro Days on Tuesday might provide a clue. For QB-seekers, what to do when the Pro Days of Mac Jones at Alabama and Justin Fields at Ohio State both happen on Tuesday? I hear the Niners will split the baby, with Lynch and Shanahan expected to attend the Jones workout, while assistant GM Adam Peters likely will lead a small delegation in Columbus to scout Fields. Not sure I would infer huge meaning to that, but it could be significant. How I view it: Jones could be the leader, but it’s not over.
3) So what, exactly, motivated San Francisco to pay so exorbitantly, and to do it a month before the draft? I am going to read some tea leaves now, based on knowing the parties involved. Follow the logic:
• Miami GM Chris Grier has proven adept at maximizing compensation for his assets.
• The 49ers were bound and determined to get one of these quarterbacks, and so knew they’d have to trade up to 2, 3 or 4 to do so.
• The fact that Deshaun Watson was not in the trade mix anymore because of the 20 sexual-assualt or sexual-harassment cases pending against him meant that the team or teams that considered Watson an option now wouldn’t be able to deal for him, at this time anyway.
• So a team thought to be very interested in Watson, Carolina, now would have to look elsewhere if determined to upgrade on Teddy Bridgewater in time for the 2021 season.
With all those motivational pieces in place, the Niners likely knew they’d have to overpay to move from 12 to the third overall pick, and the Dolphins just as likely knew that they could push hard for the two future number-one picks. That’s my interpretation of what happened here.
4) The Eagles, suddenly, have quarterback-insurance for the 2022 draft. Philly has two picks (its own and Miami’s) in the first round of 2022, plus the likelihood that the pick from Indianapolis in the Carson Wentz trade will be a first. If Jalen Hurts isn’t The Man in 2021, Philly will have some ammo to move up to get one in 2022. There was a dark cloud over the Eagles after a debacle of a 2020 season, plus the whacking of Doug Peterson and Carson Wentz. You don’t know how this trade works out, of course, but I like this deal for Philadelphia. It leaves the Eagles with a 40 to 50 percent chance, at number 12, to get one of the four top receivers/tight ends in the draft to fill a need for a franchise pass-catcher if that’s how they choose to pick.
This year’s draft, with all the opt-outs and uncertainty after an abridged season and scouting restrictions, is a total crapshoot. Next year’s draft will be a return to normalcy, most likely, and a first-rounder next year should have higher value than a first-rounder this year. The possibility of having three first-round picks in the first potentially normal season and pre-draft season since 2019 could be franchise-changing for the Eagles, who have 20 picks in the next two drafts.
5) That is an amazing, precedent-setting haul for the third pick in the draft. To move down nine spots in the first round, Miami got two future first-round picks and a third-rounder. Consider that, to move down 21 spots (from six to 27) in 2011, Cleveland got a first, a second and two fourth-round picks. Consider that, to move down 17 spots (from 10 to 27) in the first round in 2017, Buffalo got first and third-round picks. Miami got two future ones to move a shorter distance. And that Buffalo trade involved one of the best quarterbacks of this century, Patrick Mahomes, who Kansas City moved up to draft. This Dolphins-Niners trade could have tentacles in this very draft, if . . .
6) I doubt it will happen, but what if the Jets stick with Sam Darnold and auction the second pick? First: I hear Joe Douglas is standing firm and is not interested in trading the second pick. But I believe there could be one team left that is interested in moving up, even at a ridiculous cost. That is Carolina, picking eighth in the first round. The Jets have the second pick, and odds are good that they stay right there and pick BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. So the table has been set now. For someone to move up to get the second pick, even from six picks down, it would cost first-round picks this year plus in 2022 and 2023. Would Carolina be willing to do that? I bet the Panthers, who seem lukewarm on incumbent Teddy Bridgewater and who have an ultra-aggressive owner in David Tepper, would think hard about it. Such a trade with the Panthers would leave the Jets inebriated on first-round draft choices: two this year, three in 2022, two in 2023. I don’t see Douglas doing it, but he just might be tempted.
7) The likeliest bet is New York sitting at two and taking Zach Wilson. After Wilson’s impressive workout Friday in Utah, he asked his inner circle: “So what’s gonna happen now?” No one knows for sure, kid. Also: Disregard what you hear about other staffs or people around the league knowing what the Jets are going to do. The decision-maker on the Jets is GM Joe Douglas, and I hear he’s not parceling out any clues about his preference for the second pick to coaches on his staff or others. Someone close to Douglas said over the weekend Douglas has learned to keep his draft preferences to himself. Wilson’s done what he can to prove he’s worthy of going second overall, an amazing rise considering he was in a three-way battle for the starting job at Brigham Young a year ago.
Last point about the Jets: It’s easy to say—if the Panthers come calling—that trading down from two to eight this year and picking up extra ones in ’22 and ’23 is a no-brainer. Easy, but perhaps painful, if Zach Wilson turns into a star, the quarterback the Jets have been seeking since the days of Joe Willie Namath. And isn’t that the tormenting part of the NFL draft?
8) I like Miami’s first trade, a lot. I believe I understand the second trade. The Miami owner, Stephen Ross, made it job one to get a long-term star quarterback when he took over the team in 2009. That was his mantra for years, and in 2012, he hoped that man would be Ryan Tannehill, picked eighth overall. It didn’t work out. So Miami kept scotch-taping the QB situation until 2020, when it entered the draft with the fifth, 18th and 26th picks in the first round. Miami would have loved to send a package to Cincinnati so the Dolphins could have picked Joe Burrow. The Bengals had no interest. So it came down to Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert at number five, and Miami picked Tua. Looks like the wrong pick now, of course, but there’s time for a course-correction.
At first blush, the second trade seems counter-productive. After the first trade, Miami had two first-round picks in each of the next three drafts. With four top picks in ’22 and ’23, GM Chris Grier would have been in prime position—if Tagovailoa flames out this year—to make a big play for a first-round quarterback next year. But now Grier will likely have only San Francisco’s first-rounder next year, likely to come in the second half of the round, to barter with if the Dolphins again feel a need for a first-round passer.
Regarding the logic of the second trade: It has to come down to one thing. Miami had to have wanted certainty that it could nab one of the four great pass-catchers in this draft—tight end Kyle Pitts or wideouts J’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith. That’s possible at 12. That’s certain at six. And knowing how smart a personnel guy Chris Grier is, it would not surprise me now, knowing he was in position to get a great receiver, if he tried to move one of his wideouts—maybe even DeVante Parker (just 12.6 yards per catch last year, and now 28)—if the compensation was right.
9) There’s a new breed of NFL general manager, and he’s not afraid to make big trades. This is the sixth draft run by Grier. He has already been involved in deals for eight first-round draft picks. Grier also dealt away a first-round safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, making it, really, nine first-round-involved trades since 2016. He made two of them Friday. I love GMs who believe the draft is a vehicle to get better in all ways and don’t treat first-round picks like untouchables. When I first started covering football in the eighties, GMs were almost irrationally tied to their first-round picks. No more. The free-wheeling Jimmy Johnson started to change that in Dallas, figuring he could always find a draft choice if he really needed one. Now, from Seattle’s John Schneider in the Pacific Northwest, to Grier down in south Florida, from John Lynch and Les Snead out West to Howie Roseman back East, it’s a trader’s game.
10) So how do the big passers stack up now? Trevor Lawrence goes one to Jacksonville. Wilson two, probably to the Jets. Mac Jones or Lance to San Francisco at three. I keep hearing Atlanta’s leaning QB, with logic having Lance sitting behind Matt Ryan for two years, then playing. So let’s say it starts Lawrence-Wilson-Jones-Lance, one through four. I’d guess J’Marr Chase, the LSU receiver, reuniting with Joe Burrow in Cincinnati at five, and then who knows. I’d guess Miami at six would be thrilled with one of the three weapons (Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith) on the board. Detroit could go tackle or weapon at seven. And then eight? For now, it’s Carolina. It’d be mock-convenient to slide Justin Fields, the fifth passer in the queue, to the Panthers, but I’m not so sure. Fields has his Pro Day on Tuesday in Columbus. He better hit all the right notes. No idea who’s picking him a month from today.
11) Rich teams, poor teams.
Most picks in the top 50:
Jacksonville: 4 (1, 25, 33, 45)
Miami: 4 (12, 18, 36, 50)
Fewest picks in the top 50:
Houston: 0 (first pick: 67th)
L.A. Rams: 0 (first pick: 57th)
Seattle: 0 (first pick: 56th)
12) Finally: Let’s stop this narrative, “You better get your quarterback this year, because the draft will be lousy at the position next year.” Drives me crazy. Had Joe Burrow been in the 2019 draft, he’d have been a day-three pick; he blew up that fall at LSU and got picked first overall in 2020. Zach Wilson, a year ago today, was a in a three-man competition for the starting job at Brigham Young; now he could be the second overall pick. Mac Jones won the Alabama QB competition last summer and had a great season, vaulting him from draft afterthought into high-first-round position. It’s okay sometimes to say you just don’t know what the future holds in prospect-forecasting, and this year it’s particularly smart.
The 2021 college season is likely to have more players playing full seasons (instead of opting out due to COVID concerns); likely to have regular and significantly more thorough scouting of players with pro scouts back on campuses; likely to have a much clearer picture of who’s actually good entering the 2022 draft. A year ago, not a soul in the Mel Kiper fraternity would have picked Zach Wilson to be a high pick or even a very good college player. So the best thing to do, trying to forecast the 2022 quarterback crop, is to watch the development of Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Bo Nix (Auburn)—and whoever emerges from the scrum of uncelebrated quarterbacks. History tells us we have no clue how quarterbacks will roll off the board 13 months prior to the draft.
Players being ticked off over the weekend, realizing NFL owners will this week approve a 17th regular-season game this week—an absolute formality of something that’s been certain for more than a year—reminds me of a voter who wakes up a year after a presidential election and screams: “Hey! I am ticked off this jerk is president! We’ve got to do something about it!” That time is long gone.
March 15, 2020: Players vote 1,019 to 959 to approve a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. As part of that agreement, the 1,019 yea votes approved the addition of one regular-season game per team.
Feb. 7, 2021: The NFL finishes its 267-game season, missing no games. Sports Business Journal reports the league’s revenue for the season was down $4 billion, or 25 percent, from 2019. Players receive full salaries, unlike players in basketball and baseball.
March 1, 2021: I report it’s “highly likely” that the NFL will institute the 17th game for the 2021 season, with the Super Bowl likely to be pushed back one week to Feb. 13, and with the 17th game duplicating the cross-conference matchups from the 2019 season.
Sunday: Adam Schefter tweets the NFL “is expected to” approve the 17th game as virtual league meetings this week.
The move was made 54 weeks ago. It’s not big news now.
Today is Meyer’s 75th day on the job. He hasn’t met his full team yet. That bugs him, as it would any coach trying to get to know his players. He’s adjusting to life in pro football, and he knew this was coming, but the rhythms of an NFL coach’s job are far different than what he got used to in 17 years as a college coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.
“Not much has surprised me other than the fact you just don’t get to be around your players as much,” Meyer told me from his office at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. You’ll be able to hear and see my conversation with Meyer, and on NBC Sports’ YouTube page, when The Peter King Podcast posts by 6 p.m. ET today.
“In college, you got 75 guys rolling through your facility every day. One of my favorite things to do is go down to the weight room and hang out with the players while they’re lifting weights. There’s about 20 guys rolling around here [now in the Jags’ weight room]. Nothing’s mandatory. I think a lot of people coach for a lot of reasons. Mine is relationship with players and it’s hard . . . I talk to them on the phone quite a bit. I have not had one team meeting. Think about that. I’ve been the head coach since January and we have not had a team meeting because we’re not allowed. So that’s the biggest adjustment.”
My biggest question about Meyer is staying power. He is 56 years old. He resigned from Florida in 2009 at 45 for health reasons (chest pains, severe headaches due to a brain cyst), then said it was a leave of absence, then returned to the job the following spring. He announced his retirement after the 2010 season, then returned to coach at Ohio State 11 months later. He retired at the end of the 2018 season, again citing health reasons. Then he started to get the itch again in January 2020.
“I gave a lot of thought to [his health issues],” Meyer said. “Obviously, this was not a knee-jerk reaction. This is something that I’ve been studying for at least 12 months, starting back in January. Studying the roster, studying the lifestyle, studying everything about it. I’ve done my due diligence on it. But I’m committed to Jacksonville. I told that to our owner.
“Florida was stress-related. At Ohio State, I went seven years and I kind of knew down the road, I was getting near the end. Plus I found the right guy. Ohio State’s very personal to me. When I found the right coach in Ryan Day, and he almost left the year before to become a head coach, I went to our president and I went to our AD. I said I found the right guy. All the assistant coaches, all the strength staff, the training staff, the infrastructure stays in place and the organization just continues to thrive. That’s everybody’s dream. That’s what happened at Ohio State. At Ohio State, I didn’t have stress-related issues. I had some health-related issues—the Arachnoid [brain] cyst issue I had dealt with. I had surgery in ’14 and some stuff. I worked through that pretty well.”
I told him the last superstar college coach to make the jump to the NFL, Nick Saban, lasted two seasons 15 years ago. Two years into a five-year contract, with a 15-17 record, Saban asked Miami owner Wayne Huizenga to be let out of his contract so he could coach Alabama. Huizenga gave his blessing. As for being a short-termer like Saban, I asked Meyer: “You think there’s zero chance that happens? Little chance?”
“Zero chance at that happening,” Meyer said. “What Coach Saban went through, I don’t know. That’s Coach Saban’s business. I’m not quite sure. At some point, I might talk to him about it . . . he’s a friend of mine and I got great respect for him. It is different. It’s completely different. My mind is set. There’s gonna be some losses . . . That’s gonna be miserable. I hate losing. We all do. But the reality is that you’re gonna lose. Hopefully you win more than you lose. But that’s something that’s gonna be new to me. I have to get my mind right and I’m working on that.”
The course of NFL history could have changed—college football history too—if the Dolphins signed Drew Brees in 2006 instead of Daunte Culpepper. But Miami docs wouldn’t pass Brees on his physical because of shoulder surgery. And 10 months later, Saban was in Tuscaloosa. Most Sabanphiles think he’d have stuck around if he thought he had a real chance to win. But without a good quarterback, he bailed after his 6-10 season in 2006.
Saban tried to rebuild on the fly with a bad QB situation. The difference with Meyer, of course, is Jacksonville will have one of the brightest quarterback prospects to enter the NFL in some time, and Meyer can refine and sculpt a great talent in his image. The Jags also had more cap room than any team in 2021 free agency, and they still have a league-high $40-million available to spend. Finally, Jacksonville has a league-best five picks in the top 65 of the draft. Saban never had any of that. Meyer understands that what happens this year will determine in large part whether he can turn around this franchise.
“The Jacksonville Jaguars had a nice run as an expansion team with Tom Coughlin, had some very great core players,” said Meyer. “And then they kind of fell off a little bit. And then in 2017, almost made it to the Super Bowl. This Duval County [home county of the Jags] is starving to win. It’s almost like it lined up pretty—I don’t wanna say perfectly, because you have a lot of draft picks, 11 of them. You have salary cap [room], which we addressed a bunch of needs. We didn’t maybe sign the big, big-name guy because we really couldn’t. But it just aligned. And then you have the number one pick in the draft. This will set the stage for the Jaguars’ future for several years, if we do it right. If we don’t . . . [pause] it’s not easy.”
Meyer has had two good NFL mentors. He’s become close to Jimmy Johnson (they were FOX-mates) and Johnson counseled him on NFL potholes. Meyer also had several visits to Patriots camp in recent years and got to know Bill Belichick. “I got something every time I visited the Patriots,” he said.
I asked him for an example.
“Well, Tom Brady,” Meyer said. “I got to witness Tom Brady first-hand and it was the last day of a mini camp in June. I had been to a few of those and usually people had one foot out the door. They just got done with a very long, seven/eight weeks in the offseason. You’re talking about the greatest quarterback of all time. Mike Vrabel was there. Tedy Bruschi was there. I was blown away.
“The last day of mini-camp, they’re in shorts, helmets, and they’re doing a two-minute drill. And Tom Brady is treating it like it’s the Super Bowl. He goes down and he scores with two seconds left to win that scrimmage. Ran around the field like a child—that’s how competitive he is. I went back immediately to my quarterbacks and shared with them that I just watched the greatest of all time, and the way you’re supposed to practice, the way you’re supposed to provide energy to the rest of your team and the way you lead your team. I was blown away at Tom Brady and the way he performed at practice. And the way I went into the offensive meetings with Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady and Tom Brady’s actually the one who had the clicker in his hand. It was amazing. He was in there running the film. He had the offensive line sitting there, running backs, receivers, and Tom Brady was running the clicker and watching practice film, dissecting the plays with the offense. Think about that for a minute. You can say he throws a great pass. But people that really understand the game—there’s much more than that that makes him the best of all time.”
Culture will be big for Meyer. It’s a major mantra. When I asked him about the NFL ethos that drags the great teams toward the middle and drags the bad teams to the middle, he said that was something he studied “quite a bit.” He believes maintaining greatness when the world works against it is part of an ethos built in an organization before the first games is ever played—how to avoid .500 when the league plots for teams to be exactly that.
“I asked that same question to [Belichick] many, many times,” Meyer said. “It came back to me and that’s why I’m such a believer in culture. Culture survives. Culture survives injuries to players, transitions to players, transition of staff. Coach Belichick’s the best I’ve ever witnessed at it. There’s a Patriot way and a Patriot culture there. It’s not for everybody. Matter of fact, I’ve heard them criticized, too. That’s fine. That’s his way of doing it. My Utah days and Florida days, I like to think that’s what made us sustainable all the years.
“You can say, well, Florida, Ohio State, you have better players the most. But it’s also, you have to win every game you play. You’re in March Madness at Ohio State. You can’t lose one game or it’s a failure. We got to that point at Florida. I remember we went 14-1 one year, or 13-1. I heard people say ‘Hey, we’ll get ‘em next year. Tough year this year, coach.’ I say, My gosh. Those other teams had scholarships, too. I think—no, I don’t think, I know this. The thing that made the Patriots so strong is the culture that Bill Belichick and Mr. Kraft built in that organization.”
“Quarterback helped,” I said.
“Part of that culture,” Meyer said.
A very big part.
Two more things.
One: “What’d you learn from your experience with Chris Doyle?” I asked. Doyle, the former Iowa conditioning coach, left there under a cloud, accused of using racist language with players, got hired by Meyer, and “offered his resignation” (the press release said) the next day when the heat hit Meyer.
“I did our due diligence on that,” Meyer said. “But one thing that I made a self-promise—if it’s a distraction . . . it was the right thing for Chris to move on because it became a distraction to our team. Anything that’s a distraction to our team, I want to make sure we avoid.”
Anything that’s a distraction like that, Meyer should see coming, and should have people with the backbone to tell him. That’s why I thought the hire of Amy Palcic as Jags VP of Communications was smart. She’s got a spine and won’t be afraid to tell Meyer some hard truths. Never having worked in the NFL before, Meyer will need that. The Doyle situation won’t be the last ugly one—but some can be avoided before they ever happen. And the Doyle hire should never have happened.
Two: Standing uncomfortably close to Trevor Lawrence during his Pro Day. I don’t know—that was curious to me, and got some attention a couple of weeks ago at Lawrence’s Clemson workout.
“I was as close as I could be,” Meyer said. “I’m that way at practice, though. I like to be near a quarterback. I like to hear him talk. I like to hear a ball come out of his hand. I like to hear—”
“Do you really hear [a difference]?” I wondered. “You can really tell something by hearing the ball come out of a quarterback’s hand?”
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. The violence, the snap that the ball comes out with, the grunt or the effort. Some guys throw a ball effortless and some people have to really rear back and throw it. Absolutely. Someday, Peter, I’ll have you stand there and let you listen. I’ll have an average guy throw one and then I’ll have him throw it. You tell me if you can hear the difference.”
This summer, I hope. August. In Urban Meyer’s first camp as an NFL head coach.
Dick Stockton retired Thursday. He is 78, has worked in the sports TV business for 55 years, and figured it’s about time to go to Europe with his wife Jamie for long periods while he still has time. And maybe even in the fall, when the NFL is playing on the other side of the ocean. It’s time, he figures, to care about other things he loves: traveling, playing the piano (he taught himself how to play, and he loves the show tunes), playing golf, playing tennis, playing chess.
“I have never been bored for one day in my life,” he said, “and I won’t be now.”
In the last half-century, he has called Game 6 of the ’75 World Series (the Carlton Fisk home run game, for those of a certain age); four seasons of Red Sox baseball; nine NBA finals (three Celtics-Lakers classics); Michael Jordan’s 63-point game against the Celtics; Olympic medal events of Dan Jansen and Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair; the World Figure Skating Championships; the World Swimming and Diving Championships . . .
And 45 years of NFL games on TV.
“Did you know,” Stockton said Friday, “that I got to CBS because of the Rooneys? I was working in sports at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. I was there the day Chuck Noll was hired. Incredible days. Covered the draft when everyone thought Terry Hanratty would be the first pick, and instead it was Joe Greene. Everyone said, ‘Joe Who?’ Anyway, I got to be very close to Art and Dan Rooney, and they called CBS and told them, ‘We got a very talented young guy here in Pittsburgh, Dick Stockton,’ and they started using me.”
Now that I never knew. Ahhh, the trail of a TV life.
One baseball story: Back in the day, NBC did the World Series. In each team’s home ballpark, NBC used a home broadcaster for a couple of games, to give the local flavor. In 1975, Cincinnati led Boston 3-2 entering Game 6. Stockton, a Red Sox local TV guy, got the nod for NBC. Game 6 was at Fenway Park. Stockton and Joe Garagiola were in the booth. Stockton did the first four-and-a-half innings, Garagiola the next four-and-a-half. Tied after nine, 6-6. In those days, baseball-loving days for America, an estimated 76 million watched on TV as the game went to extra innings. “So we split the game, but NBC never figured out how we’d do it if the game went to extra innings,” Stockton said. NBC said Stockton would do the 10th, Garagiola the 11th, and they’d alternate from there. And so it was that Stockton took the mic in the 12th, and Boston catcher Carlton Fisk led off the bottom of the 12th, and on a 1-0 count, lifted a sinker high and deep to left field, into the Boston night.
“There it goes! A long drive . . . if it stays fair . . . Home run!!”
Stockton didn’t say anything for the next 36 seconds (timed by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci), letting the pandemonium wash over the images. Just after 1 a.m. on an October night, one of the great games in baseball ended, and a 32-year-old voice few around America knew told the country about it.
“We will have a seventh game in the 1975 World Series.”
Stockton let the game breathe, a lesson he’s taught so many broadcasters without even knowing it.
He started doing NFL games for NBC in 1976. “After the World Series in Boston,” Stockton said, “they said to me, ‘Why don’t you start doing some football for us?’ “ Two years, maybe 15 games. His color men: Paul Maguire, Len Dawson, Floyd Little.
CBS, 1978 to 1993. Roger Staubach was an early first partner. “Good story. We did a game in Atlanta, and between talking to the home and visiting team on Saturday, we had some time and stopped into a McDonald’s to get some food. The only seats were in the kids’ section. So there’s Roger Staubach—decorated Naval hero, Heisman winner, Super Bowl champ—sitting there, his knees up to his eyes. He said, ‘I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be doing this.’ What I liked about Roger: He talked when he had something to say, not just to talk.”
Stockton’s CBS color men: Staubach, Johnny Unitas (“Great quote from a Lions game we were doing—Johnny said we’re in ‘Detroit City’—and I never heard that before”), Lenny Moore, Tom Brookshier, Dan Dierdorf, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Hill, Hank Stram, Dan Fouts, Wayne Walker, Merlin Olsen, Randy Cross, John Madden. “Not sure of this,” Stockton said, “but I think I might have had Madden the last game he took a flight. I think he flew Tampa to Houston after the game, got off in Houston and never got on a plane again.”
FOX, 1994 to 2020. “Going to FOX, we were kind of unleashed, free, not really following a format the way typical NFL games were done,” Stockton said. “FOX wanted to be different.” His FOX colormen: Matt Millen, Daryl Johnston, Troy Aikman, Chris Spielman, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Brian Billick, Jim Mora Jr., Brian Baldinger, Donovan McNabb, Kirk Morrison, Charles Davis, Mark Schlereth, Brady Quinn, David Diehl, Jonathan Vilma, Greg Jennings.
Stockton also did nine teams’ preseason games. Worked with John Riggins and Joe Theismann doing the Washington exhibitions, and new owner Daniel Snyder decided he wanted to go with an all-local crew. So Stockton, unbowed, went a few miles up I-95, and he and Daryl Johnston started to do the Ravens summer games. “I see Snyder at the Super Bowl,” Stockton said, “and he said, ‘I see you’re doing the Ravens games. You should be doing our games!’ I said, ‘Well, you fired us.’ “
Years in NFL booths: 45. Football colormen in regular- and post-season: 33.
I gave him a chance to pick his greatest moments in all sports, and to tell stories about Magic and Larry and Johnny Bench and the football greats, or maybe how he used to exchange cigars with Michael Jordan before games early in Jordan’s ascending career. This is what Stockton said:
“I never really counted the games, never figured out how many big games I did, never said, ‘Look what I’ve done.’ It’s the way I’m wired. I never worked a day in my life. My thoughts, even courtside for a Lakers-Celtics championship series, or a World Series, or NFL playoff game, have always been: There’s a guy out there. He just toiled 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, probably at a job he didn’t particularly love, and now he was going to relax with a beer and a pizza and watch a game on TV. Could I enhance the game, even a little? Could I make the game a little more enjoyable for him? If so, then I’ve done my job.”
I hope you can join me for a pre-draft fundraiser to benefit a youth literacy charity I work with, Write on Sports, based in New Jersey. Write on Sports encourages middle-school students, many of them from inner-city areas in New Jersey, to improve writing and reading skills by writing and doing multi-media projects about sports. Write on Sports fills curriculum gaps in needy school districts with after-school programs, summer camps and year-round workshops.
On Thursday, April 22, I’m going to host a virtual fundraiser from 8-9:30 p.m. ET to discuss all things draft with three friends in the media business: ESPN fantasy football maestro Matthew Berry, NFL Network reporter and host Steve Wyche and former GM and current ESPN NFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum. Each will join me for a segment of the program. In addition, I’ll host a pre-show private event with another special guest (to be announced) from 7-7:50 p.m. to take a small group of people inside the draft with the latest information that we know.
Wyche, who was at the Zach Wilson Pro Day on Friday, will continue to report on the draft in the weeks leading up to it, so his insight will be vital. Tannenbaum can speak from a GM’s perspective, and will know good stuff from his contacts. Berry will have the fantasy impact for all the top picks.
The live show will be free to watch, and you’ll have the chance to donate (every dollar is vital to us) throughout the night. Starting today, you can purchase tickets to the pre-show event, which will allow you to ask me and my guest all the draft questions we can fit in.
I hope you’ll be able to join us that evening. I can assure you the cause is a great one. More info coming in the next few columns.
“When people ask me try to ask me what I do outside of football, football is really my life. It’s like everything I’ve got going on.”
—Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson, after his Pro Day workout Friday.
“The 17-game schedule, I think, will work out well. This year will be the first year for it.”
—Steelers president Art Rooney II, eliminating all doubt that the league’s 32 teams will play 17 regular-season games this year in a call with fans.
“I don’t see any way Watson plays here again.”
—Houston Chronicle Texans beat man and veteran NFL columnist John McClain, on the future of Deshaun Watson with the Texans, on “Pro Football Talk Live.”
“I feel like it’s not going to be any different than college. I have played in the SEC. I feel like it’s the toughest conference there is. I know a lot of people that are bigger than me that have more problems than me, so I’m not worried about it at all.”
—Alabama wide receiver and first-round NFL prospect DeVonta Smith, to ESPN on what he sees as the difference between pro and college football.
Ask the 170-pound receiver that question—Is the NFL any different than college?—in two years, and I bet his answer won’t be the same.
“Back in the day, when I was young, in my 20s, I would extend the [Super Bowl] celebration probably for like a month or two. I wouldn’t even know what’s going on in the world. But you live and learn. I’m in my 30s now, so that parade was enough for me.”
—Rob Gronkowski, (sane) Florida Man.
“The ancillary rights, footage, highlights across linear and digital cross-platform … is essentially oxygen for ESPN on a 365-day basis for us to cover the league, promote the game, and then pay it off with a nice games package.”
—ESPN VP Burke Magnus, to Richard Deitsch of The Athletic.
This is what too few people think about when they see ESPN has paid $2.7 billion a year to do Monday Night Football through 2033. Think of “NFL Live” and “SportsCenter,” and all the endless midweek and offseason shows ESPN does with NFL news. Those highlights have to be purchased from the NFL, essentially. So while the rights fee might seems inordinately high, it covers a lot more than football games.
NFL owners will soon vote on further empowerment to the Replay Official, the official with currently limited power who works games from an upstairs booth. That Replay Official would be given authority to communicate with the referee and crew on plays he believes have been called incorrectly or not called, including catch/no catch and in-or-out on sideline plays. This likely will not stop the push by some coaches and teams for a “Sky Judge,” an official upstairs who would be treated as an equal eighth member of the crew, with the ability to throw “flags” from on high. As I wrote last week, league hierarchy seems to have no interest in having an official with the power to throw more flags in a game.
It’s interesting to look at the recent trend of accepted penalties over the past five years. The calls fell off a cliff last year—and you won’t hear the upper echelon of NFL people complain. The accepted penalties in recent seasons, per the website NFL Penalties, including the 11 playoff games per season:
This might be the best number of all, better even than the 16-percent reduction in accepted penalties from 2019 to 2020:
Average time of game, 2019 regular season: 3 hours, 6 minutes, 50 seconds.
Average time of game, 2020 regular season: 3 hours, 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
The NFL loves the three-hour game. It fits neatly into a broadcast window. And to cut 100 seconds from the average game was a piece of very good news to those packaging football games.
Never in NFL history have we seen a Super Bowl champion return as weaponized as the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All 22 starters from the 31-9 Super Bowl LV victory over Kansas City are returning, with Friday’s free-agent signing of Leonard Fournette, the Bucs’ starting running back in the title game.
All four major subs in the Super Bowl return. The Bucs who played more than 25 snaps from scrimmage in the game—tight end Cameron Brate, defensive tackle Vita Vea, safety Mike Edwards and defensive lineman William Gholston—are in the fold.
The head coach, all three coordinators and GM return.
So, let’s see. We can argue about value of people on a team and in an organization. But I would argue that the top 30 players on the Super Bowl team are back. The four biggest coaches are back. The architect of the team, GM Jason Licht, is back.
That’s 35 for 35, back in the house.
P.S. Antonio Brown. Should he be on the list? I don’t think so. He still might sign in Tampa. But if he doesn’t, I am fine with not including him among the 35 most important people. He played 30 percent of the snaps in Tampa last season, and though he has value, I can’t see him being more important to the offense than five pass-catchers—Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate.
— NFL (@NFL) March 26, 2021
Daniel Jeremiah enthusing about the great 58-yard throw, off-balance, fading left, in Zach Wilson’s Pro Day session Friday.
The game is played on the field. But what we saw from Zack Wilson today, there is no comparison between his workout and Trevor Lawrence’s. It was out of this world awesome. The degree of difficulty of the workout was high and he made so many high level throws.
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) March 26, 2021
Former NFL QB Chris Simms, after watching Zach Wilson’s Pro Day at Brigham Young.
There's a new team playing in Winston Salem, N.C. in the collegiate summer baseball league and its name and logo are glorious. pic.twitter.com/4ZR1fYVT1h
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 24, 2021
Rovell covers the business of sports and gambling for Action Network HQ.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) March 22, 2021
Cotillo covers the Red Sox for Mass Live.
Seems a bit small, after your team wins the World Series, to taunt the team that traded your team a player that helped his team win.
Officer Eric Talley, who lost his life at a Boulder King Soopers, once rescued 7 ducklings who were stuck in a pipe. He carried them to a pond, where they swam away safely with their mother. https://t.co/1kMQlS9JCM
— Vic Vela (@VicVela1) March 23, 2021
Vela is a host for Colorado Public Radio.
RIP, Dr. Bobby Brown. A true gentleman who led an extraordinary life.
What he once said to his future wife:
— Mike Teevan (@MRTeevs) March 25, 2021
Mike Teevan is Major League Baseball’s vice president of communications.
So I got 10 or emails with the same theme: You wrote about the TV deals in depth in your last column, but nothing about Sunday Ticket. What’s the fate of that piece of the TV package? Currently, the Sunday Ticket package is owned by AT&T, operated under DirecTV, with a contract set to expire after the 2022 season. So on The Peter King Podcast this week, one of my guests was Richard Deitsch, the sports media columnist for The Athletic. I asked Deitsch if he thought the Sunday Ticket package would be streamed in the next TV deal.
Deitsch said: “I would predict it will. Again, having talked to a number of the executives who would be negotiating with the NFL . . . They all sort of, with the exception of NBC, seemed to indicate, ‘We’ll take a realistic look at this. And we’re interested in talking to the NFL.’ And certainly it came off to me that Amazon and ESPN would absolutely take a real look at it. For ESPN, that feels like a game-changer, if Sunday Ticket’s on ESPN+. That feels like rocket fuel for that streaming service. I know Disney+ has amazing numbers and ESPN+ has great growth since it started.
“And then we get back to Amazon. Again, the numbers that Sunday Ticket has cost in the past are nothing for Amazon. Not saying it’s a rounding error, but it’s not much more. So if I had to handicap it, I think one of those two places will get it. I don’t think there’s any chance in the world DirecTV’s gonna have it again. Streaming becomes like the place where you can get every NFL game and I think that would have really big implications as we head down the road. The only thing I don’t know, because obviously I don’t have access to Disney and ESPN’s books is, how would they feel about after paying $2.7 million for the traditional NFL rights that they have, throw in another $2 billion for Sunday Ticket. Like, do they have the kind of resources where they are willing to invest nearly $5 billion in football? I don’t know the answer to that question. I think Amazon wouldn’t blink if that’s what they want.”
So, ESPN+ or Amazon for the Sunday Ticket package seems logical. The new TV deal is really going to be a different world.
On the heels of that, here’s a good question. From Bruce Skilton: “I am a Cleveland Browns fan living in Michigan. Do I have any options to stream the Cleveland Browns game live each week? I am not interested in streaming every NFL game, only the team that I follow. I realize DirecTV has the NFL Sunday Ticket, but I do not have DirecTV (even though it is available in my area). Any clarity you can provide would be greatly appreciated.”
Bruce, I don’t have a lot of clarity, but I have asked someone with a lot more knowledge on this subject than I have. So the Sunday Ticket package, as you may know, has two more years to go, and will be opening up in 2023. As of now, of course, you know you can’t simply buy every Browns game. But I am told that this is an option on the table for the new package starting in 2023, and if the NFL can figure a way to split the baby, I think they would be open to doing it. Of course, by having only one price point—all the games or none—you’re forced to buy the entire package and just watch the Browns. I would suggest writing a note to Brian Rolapp, the NFL EVP for all media affairs (345 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10154), to explain why you think it’s a good idea to have a package available for one team’s games only, as well as every game.
Regarding the addition of authority for the Replay Official. From Ken McManus, of Kokomo, Ind.: “The second advent of the XFL had its ups and downs, but one of the ups was the transparent way it handled replay. If that’s what the NFL is considering, then I’m all for it. If we’ve learned anything from seeing New York do all the reviews, it’s that ‘that man behind the curtain’ (as Jon Gruden calls those people) is no more infallible than the men and women on the field. With the possible exception of having New York be involved in ejections, I’d much rather see everything be handled at the stadium by the officials there. There’s something psychologically unnerving about the unseen hand from so far away having the final say.”
I don’t think this is about improving replay, Ken. It’s more about correcting obvious wrong calls that have occurred on the field, in most cases before challenge flags have been thrown. The Replay Official, in the first 15 seconds after a play has ended, should be able to review the play with enough clarity because of his familiarity with the replay system, and should be able to buzz down in the event that a call has been missed. The only way I see this being convoluted is when the offensive team rushes to the line to get another play off before the official upstairs can examine a play fairly; in that case, the defensive team’s coach is going to have to decide, as is the current custom, whether to use a challenge right there. I don’t see much of a fair way to fix that.
1,855. From Kenn Fong: “How many numbers do you have in your phone? I’m constantly amazed to see how you can reach out to people in nearly every U.S. sport. I know you earned your chops in your career, so I’m not questioning your ability. I’m just amazed at the breadth of your contact list.”
Thanks Kenn. It’s 1,855. But I would bet many people in this business have more. It’s funny how it works—someone whose number you don’t have calls you back (player, coach, whoever) and I automatically put that name and number (unless it shows up as a private number) in my contacts. My favorite: Anthony Fauci. We spoke last spring, and I wrote about him and he thought about football re-opening, and then texted him a link to what I’d written about him in the column. Second-favorite: Don Banks. Gone, but never forgotten—and never will leave my “Favorites” list either.
1. I think this is what I know about the NFL’s virtual league meetings Tuesday and Wednesday:
• Two-hour sessions each day, 1-3 p.m. ET.
• The league is delaying the discussion of all Competition Committee matters, new rules and bylaws, till an unspecified date in April. I was told it’s basically because too many people glaze over once Zoom meetings last longer than two hours. So the biggest matter on the agenda—adding power to the Replay Official upstairs instead of adding a Sky Judge with full power to throw flags—will not be heard till later in April.
• Tuesday’s meeting will concentrate on detailing the new $113-billion media deals (still hard to fathom writing that figure) to owners, confirming the 17-game regular-season schedule, with details on where the league stands now with COVID and vaccinations. As I reported two weeks ago, it’s unlikely the NFL will force players to be vaccinated to play this year, but there will be restrictions (perhaps including testing, masks, social distancing) on those who are not vaccinated. There will be reports on health and safety (including the 2020 injury and concussion reports), and on the status of the 2021 draft in Cleveland.
• It’s expected that soon, as early as this week, the NFL will make official the moving of Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles from Feb. 6, 2022 to Feb. 13.
• Wednesday’s meeting will concentrate on diversity (including the 2021 hiring cycle results for coaches and GMs), social responsibility, budgeting and finance, including Washington owner Daniel Snyder buying back the minority shares of his franchise. Also, international games, and the prospect of requiring every team to host at least one home game internationally every eight years, will be discussed and perhaps voted on. And there will be a session on legalized sports betting.
• Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to speak to the press, likely on Tuesday.
2. I think this summary, by Kalyn Kahler of The Defector, of the lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson, illustrates why we both need to take this story very seriously, and we need to not make judgments till both sides of the story are told in full. This is some very weighty evidence, as Kahler writes:
In seven of the lawsuits, the women allege that prior to arriving for his appointment, Watson asked them if anyone else would be there at the location or asked if the location was private (these appointments happened in a spa, plaintiff’s office suite, or the plaintiff’s house, one was an unspecified Houston location) to make sure he would be alone with the woman. In another lawsuit, the woman alleges that Watson told her that he “liked his business confidential.” And in another, the woman alleges her boss told her that “the client liked his privacy.” In another lawsuit, the woman says that she went to a Los Angeles house where Watson was staying, where Watson led her to a room, then shut and locked the door behind him. “At this point, Plaintiff got out her mace,” the lawsuit says. “Watson saw the mace and chuckled but didn’t say anything.”
Reading this piece—summarizing the legal actions in each case—it’s difficult to think this is a frame job. As I said last week, the significance of this story for football reasons only is that no team can trade for Watson now, or until these allegations are either proven false or until the cases are settled, dismissed or withdrawn.
3. I think it’s going to be odd, getting used to the new 17-game records of NFL teams. The worst teams will be 2-15 or 1-16, the best one maybe 14-3. Weird to see a different number of regular-season games for the first time in 44 years.
4. I think if we didn’t know about the emergence of Devin White as one of the great defensive players in the NFL, we do after watching the NFL Films Super Bowl film about the Bucs, “Super Bowl LV Champions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” from Cinedigm and NFL Productions, produced by Todd Schmidt of NFL Films. There’s always good wiring of players in these NFL Films post-Super Bowl shows. You’re tempted after this season of Brady, Brady, Brady to think the film’s going to be all about Tom Brady leaving New England and winning his first Super Bowl somewhere else. There’s plenty of that. But the best stuff, I think, is with White.
Early in the season, Christian McCaffrey called him the best linebacker in the NFL. White spends the rest of the season trying to prove it. In the second half of the divisional game at New Orleans, Bucs down 20-13, White, wired for sound, said, ‘’Gotta get me a takeaway.” Next series: Antoine Winfield Jr. knocked the ball loose from Jared Cook of the Saints, White recovered, and White ran it back to the New Orleans’ 40. Five plays later, the Bucs scored the tying touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, Tampa nursing a 23-20 lead, White said on the sidelines: “I’m gonna put the dagger in it! Watch.” Five plays later, White, prophetic, picked off Brees. Ballgame.
Good to see NFL Films spreading the wealth, and the wiring, around the team. And good for them that White had the game of his life in one of those wirings. Find the film here.
5. I think I could live another 65 years on this planet and gain all sorts of understanding about the meaning of life, but I will never understand the Green Bay Packers paying Kevin King $6 million to play football in 2021.
6. I think, speaking of interesting signings, the Texans have had about 54 of them. Houston’s an expansion team. Or the NFL’s version of a Silicon Valley tech startup. GM who’s never been a GM, head coach who’s never been a head coach, and a roster bound to look very much like the ’95 Jags or Panthers or the ’99 Browns . . . but even worse than those teams, really. Those three teams all owned high first-round picks in their inaugural seasons. Houston has one very distressed asset (Deshaun Watson) and doesn’t pick in this draft till 67th, all the way into round three.
7. I think Houston signing or trading for 23 players—including Pharoah Brown, Terrance Mitchell, Chris Moore, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Vernon Hargreaves III, Justin Britt, Justin McCray, Joe Thomas (no, not that one), Tavierre Thomas, Ryan Izzo, Cole Toner, Alex Erickson, Cam Johnston, Jordan Jenkins, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Ryan Finley—leaves me with one observation and one question. The observation: Nick Caserio understands a budget, I guess. The question: What will be the season-ticket-renewal rate in Houston this year?
8. I think one thing about the 17-game schedule that hasn’t been decided, or at least made public, is which teams get the ninth home game this year. As I was told recently, it’s very likely that teams in one conference would have the 16 additional home games in 2021, with the other conference getting the full slate in 2022, just to be sure that any division doesn’t have an imbalance of home games to give one team a possible playoff advantage. And I also heard it’s likely that the AFC would get the ninth home game first—likely but not certain. Some points of interest with international football, also to garner some discussion in the move to 17 games:
• In 2021, it’s likely no more than two games get played internationally, both in England. Doubtful that the NFL could plan a well-attended game in Mexico City in 2021 because of COVID concerns. Jacksonville likely would host one of the London games.
• In 2022, four regular-season games out of the U.S. are possible—but not all in London. The NFL sounds like it would like to play two in England, one in Mexico City and perhaps one elsewhere. Germany is a strong possibility, with increasing TV ratings and high sales of TV packages for NFL games. England remains the main focus because of strong stadium situations at Wembley and Tottenham.
• The NFL also will look at Canada and South America. As Mark Maske reported in the Washington Post, the NFL would like to use the 17th game as a way to make teams more amenable to playing overseas, with each team likely to play out of the country at least once every eight years.
9. I think this is an excellent look, by the equally excellent Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin, at the Hall candidacy of Cliff Branch. I do favor Branch’s candidacy, but Gosselin’s got a good point: The Raiders have more Hall of Famers from the seventies than Dallas and Miami—and the Cowboys and Dolphins each won more games and more Super Bowls than the Raiders. Good topic to chew on.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Happy birthday, Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Man, 76! What a life he’s led.
b. Meandering point in a busy week, but I heard someone (wish I could remember the analyst) talking about the Nets on ESPN radio recently, and this analyst said Kevin Durant was a top-10 player of all time, and James Harden was close to entering the top 15. Both could be true. I am not a big NBA person. But I started to think about the top 10 basketball players ever. Again, check me on this, and understand it’s just a guess. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant . . . and who? Jerry West? Tim Duncan? Shaq? But Kevin Durant in the top 10? Seems a stretch.
c. Remembrance of the Week: Bob Ryan, one of the greats to ever cover sports, on the legacy of the late Elgin Baylor, who’s not a top-tenner but certainly is in the top 25.
d. “Most influential basketball player of the last 60 years.” That’s a wow coming from Ryan. Read this:
Elgin would have many a big night in Boston, most notably his 61-point, 22-rebound dazzler in Game 5 of the 1962 Finals. That was the capper of the strangest season Elgin Baylor, or any great player, ever had.
Baylor played only 48 games that year, and it had nothing to do with injury. It had to do with the whim of his Uncle Sam. In the wake of the Berlin crisis, Baylor was one of many healthy 20-something American males called into Army service. (Paul Hornung was another.) He was stationed as a reservist at Fort Lewis, Washington.
“I would get a weekend pass that began at midnight Friday, and I had to be back at midnight Sunday,” he explained. “I’d take the red-eye Friday to wherever the team was.”
One might assume that such a disruptive lifestyle would hamper an athlete’s performance. And perhaps it did. We’ll never know if, absent the, shall we say, interruptions, he might actually have done better than settle for the nightly 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds in the 48 games Uncle Sam allowed him to play. And the Celtics might have appreciated it had Baylor not been granted an 18-day leave in order to participate in those 1962 playoffs.
e. All I ask: a little more respect for sports history.
f. Suez Canal Story of the Week: Sudarsan Raghavan and Antonia Noori Farzan of the Washington Post on the monstrous ship stuck in the Suez Canal, the 120-mile stretch of water that reduces the distance ships have to travel by about 5,500 miles going from the Far East to Europe and the U.S.
g. Imagine a traffic jam. Traffic totally stuck. And you had to take the only alternate route available. And the alternate route takes nine days and 5,500 miles and is dangerous because, according to the Post, sea pirates roam the area on the route around Africa. Wrote Raghavan and Farzan:
On the ship-tracking service Marine Traffic, several ships could be observed changing course Friday.
Detouring around Africa is likely to add a week or two to most itineraries. It will also mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fuel costs. With more ships potentially being diverted to the Cape of Good Hope, piracy could increase. Pirates have long preyed on ships moving in the waters off the Horn of Africa, and the seas off oil-rich West Africa are now considered among the world’s most dangerous for shipping.
Over the past two days, the U.S. Navy said it has been contacted by shipping firms from multiple countries concerned about the heightened risks of piracy to ships being rerouted, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, told the Financial Times.
h. Story of the Week: Faith E. Pinho of the Los Angeles Times, with a story that grabs you by headline alone: “As a 9-year-old, she was saved at sea. Thirty-five years later, she reunited with her rescuers.” Wrote Pinho:
Kept afloat by her orange life jacket and the bow of her family’s capsized boat, 9-year-old Desireé Rodriguez had watched helplessly as one family member after another let go of life.
First her mother began foaming at the mouth and then went still. Her 5-year-old sister died soon after. Her uncle went next, followed by her aunt.
Now she was alone, with no idea where her father was. He’d been at the helm during what started as a routine fishing excursion on the family’s boat. Soon after it flipped over, miles from land, he had insisted on trying to swim for help through the dark and thick fog.
Just as Desireé, too, began to give up, the skipper of a commercial sportfishing boat spotted an orange smudge bobbing in the water through his binoculars.
i. Such a tale. Young Desiree was probably minutes from drowning when saved. “I was just kind of done,” she told Pinho.
j. RIP, Howard Schnellenberger. Distinctive white mustache, distinctive suits, and a heck of a coach. Some around the Giants felt he was going to replace Bill Parcells after the latter’s first head-coaching season in 1983, when the Giants were 3-12-1. Think how that would have changed the course of Giants history. Maybe you knew Schnellenberger coached Louisville and the University of Miami to prominence. But did you know he was the prime recruiter of Joe Namath to Alabama out of Beaver Falls, Pa., when he got to Alabama as offensive coordinator in 1961? And did you know Schnellenberger was the offensive coordinator of the 17-0 Miami Dolphins in 1972? That’s some career.
k. The problem with the NHL this year? Same-foe fatigue. I mildly root for the Devils, and every day I look up and they’re playing the Capitals. Or the Sabres. Sheesh, it gets old. I understand the pandemic reasons, but this is ridiculous. The Sabres, in a three-week span starting Feb. 15, played the Islanders and Devils nine times—including March 4, 6, 7 at the Islanders. Arizona played St. Louis seven times in two weeks. Ottawa-Calgary five times in 11 nights. San Jose-Colorado four games in six days. I mean, enough.
l. Radio Segment of the Week: Noel King of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” talking to Erika Mahoney, daughter of one of the 10 people slain in the Colorado supermarket massacre.
m. You might have seen Erika Mahoney’s tweet, about her dad walking her down the aisle last summer on her wedding day. Now you’ll hear the rest of that story, and it’s going to be tough to not cry listening to it.
I am heartbroken to announce that my Dad, my hero, Kevin Mahoney, was killed in the King Soopers shooting in my hometown of Boulder, CO. My dad represents all things Love. I'm so thankful he could walk me down the aisle last summer. pic.twitter.com/SLS2bdm5Hc
— Erika Mahoney (@MahoneyEb) March 23, 2021
n. I’ve listened to those 6 minutes and 19 seconds four times. The senselessness of this shooting, and of so many mass shootings, creates the kind of collateral damage that will echo forever. A granddaughter who will never know the goodness of her grandfather, except in stories. Just listen to this. I don’t know how so many Americans can listen to this pain and think, Let’s do nothing about the proliferation of these killing machines in the hands of unstable people. It’s is madness.
o. Fifty, 100, 200 people will somehow respond to this and say, “Okay, genius. Give us a solution.” I don’t have one, other than we must do something drastic about a system that allows ANYONE, never mind an apparently significant unstable person, to be able to buy the kind of killing machine that this disturbed 21-year-old man did six days before the murder of 10 innocents. We must ban those weapons. Why are they allowed to be purchased by any civilians? If that is allowed, why not sell sticks of dynamite in WalMart?
p. It’s so disheartening that for the next month, a bunch of people will yell defensively about the rights of gun owners—many of them people who could do something about this in the halls of Congress—while ignoring the rights of women working long hours in Georgia spas, or a retired man in Colorado so excited about spoiling his granddaughter when she is born.
q. What is wrong with us? Really. Tell me.
r. Come on, CBS Evening News. You can’t even pronounce Megan Rapinoe’s name correctly? That’s a pretty famous name to be mispronouncing. It’s not “RAP-in-oh.” It’s “Ruh-PEEN-oh.”
s. Nice defense on Caitlin Clark, Christyn Williams. (Though that was about a 32-foot three-pointer Clark hit in the third quarter.) Clark’s the real thing. Her three at the third-quarter buzzer, double-covered, was beautiful. My incisive and oh so deep comment on the NCAA women’s tournament: UConn’s a lot more than Paige Bueckers. That’s a deep team.
t. TV Series of the Week: “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” There’s something about cooking shows, and meandering around Italy, that is just soothing and fun and so interesting. Tucci goes waaaaaay off the beaten path. My favorite thing: chasing the best pizza in Naples—not found at the cutest place. Dying for season two, Stanley.
u. It’s another year for the Montclair Pedroias, for those of you who follow my rotisserie baseball team. Around the diamond: Travis d’Arnaud, Freddie Freeman, Cavan Biggio, Dansby Swanson/Marcus Semien, Nolan Arenado. Outfield: George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Lewis. Hurlers: Kyle Hendricks, Sixto Sanchez, Zack Wheeler, German Marquez (and a cast of thousands). Pen: Ryan Pressley, Alex Colome. Almost took Liam Hendriks over Kyle Hendricks, and when I didn’t, Liam Hendriks was the next pick after Kyle.
v. I think Cavan Biggio will be a top 20 player by year’s end. Maybe that’s the reason why I always end up fourth or eighth in my league—I fall in love with young players on the come, and quite often they turn out to be nice players, not big stars.
w. And finally, something with some bright light . . . Good News of the Week, from Philadelphia: The Eagles Autism Foundation, in partnership with Divine Providence Village (a local care facility for people with intellectual disabilities), teamed to administer more than 1,000 vaccinations to people with autism and their families on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. (Owner Jeffrey Lurie’s brother is autistic, and Jeffrey Lurie has been a local leader in autism projects.) The Eagles created quiet environments inside the stadium, with sensory-friendly areas. Said Ryan Hammond, executive director of the Eagles Autism Foundation: “We wanted to create an environment that was dedicated to their specialized needs so that members of this important community could be vaccinated in a safe and efficient manner.” All those vaccinated were given appointments to return in April for their second doses.
What a move, Niners.
Bummer of a Friday, though,