I have a bridge-building idea for the Aaron Rodgers dilemma. The more I think about it, the more I think, Why not?
The idea: The Packers commit to trade Rodgers, pacifying the angry quarterback—but the deal would not happen till next spring. Rodgers, in turn, agrees to give the Packers one more season in exchange for being allowed to transition to a new team before the 2022 draft.
Packers president Mark Murphy, who’s got to be Henry Kissinger here (look it up, kids), must be searching for an exit strategy. If I were in Murphy’s chair, I’d undertake another secret mission to meet with Rodgers and agent David Dunn, just the three of them, and propose one more year of Green Bay employment with the knowledge that Rodgers and Dunn could give the Pack a list of teams the QB would be willing to play for in 2022.
I think Rodgers and Dunn would want the quarterback’s freedom if he’d give the Pack one more season. And maybe that’s not entirely out of the question. But there is an historical omen that I think would make Murphy draw the line at 2022 freedom for Rodgers. Unlikely though it is, imagine Rodgers being a free agent next March, and Minnesota GM Rick Spielman swooping in to sign a player who’d love to stick it to the Green Bay front office by playing for the arch-rival—a haunting memory-relic from 13 years ago with Brett Favre. My bet is that would make Murphy say, “No chance we’re releasing him.”
When Favre was demanding his freedom from Green Bay after coming out of retirement in July 2008, then-GM Ted Thompson insisted he wouldn’t cut Favre loose. He knew Favre would likely sign with Minnesota or Chicago, and Thompson didn’t want to be hung in effigy in Wisconsin. He held firm, and Favre got traded to the Jets before eventually ending his career as a Viking. So wouldn’t it make sense for Rodgers, after this season, to give the Packers four destinations in the AFC, and let Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst make the best deal for the franchise?
If all sides agreed, the deal could be announced in mid-June. The Pack could enter training camp with the MVP in place, in his prime.
I would bet Rodgers, today, is solid on never playing for the Packers again, so maybe this is useless. But Rodgers might view this as the best way to get through an unfortunate situation.
Why I think it makes sense for Rodgers
• His words. He told Kenny Mayne two weeks ago he loves his coaches, his teammates and the fans, and he has spoken with reverence about the history of the Packers. This compromise allows him to prove it. Lots of fans would find his words to Mayne hollow if Rodgers is home in California in September and Jordan Love gets blown out on opening day at New Orleans. I doubt Rodgers wants a bridge-burning exit from Green Bay.
• His best championship chance. The Packers are 28-8 in Rodgers’ last two seasons in Green Bay, and there’s little doubt Green Bay is the place he’d have the best chance to win a Super Bowl this year. With Rodgers, I’d say it’s a Tampa Bay-Green Bay tossup for home field in the NFC playoffs. Is there any place in the AFC where Rodgers would have as good a chance to win his second ring in 2021? No, and it’s not close.
• His personal fortune. Rodgers won’t subject himself to massive fines and money losses if he reports and placidly goes on with a final year in Green Bay. This isn’t the biggest thing with him, but imagine his boycotting the Packers and the team coming after his $6.8-million roster bonus from the spring. It’s one thing to not earn money in the future. It’s another to pay back millions.
• His management of a bad situation. If he shows up, there’d be a relatively peaceful season. Rodgers could talk about the situation once, then no-comment everything else the rest of the season. The story would be wallpaper. Loud wallpaper, but wallpaper.
• His last big contract. Rodgers gets one more payday, a big one, with his new team in 2022. (More in a minute on that.)
Why it makes sense for the Packers
Murphy’s a pragmatist, and he has to be that above all as the caretaker of this franchise. No matter how many times he thinks, Aaron would never hold out and hold us hostage, does he know that? No. Rodgers is willful. Back him against a wall, and Murphy doesn’t know how he’d react. But it would not be good for the team.
Beyond that, the prospect of quarterback certainty in 2022 would motivate Green Bay to do what every team should be doing in the first 17-game season anyway. Whenever the Pack is up by 20 or down 20 in the last 10 minutes, give Jordan Love the last two or three series of the game. Give Love the Week 18 game if the Packers’ playoff spot in secure. That prevents overuse of a 37-year-old quarterback and could give Love 100 or so important snaps entering 2022.
The Packers need to extend an olive branch for a situation—whether they acknowledge the reality of it—that could turn into a football and fan disaster in 2021. This is that olive branch. It’s a face-saving thing for both sides.
Contractually, too, it makes sense. Rodgers was paid that $6.8-million roster bonus in March, and he’s due a base salary of $14.7 million this season. He has two years after this season left on his contract. If he’s traded next spring, the dead cap hit for Rodgers on Green Bay’s cap in 2022 would $17.2 million. Rodgers would have two seasons left at $25.5 million per. But it’s probable, in the event of a trade, a team would sign Rodgers to a big deal putting him somewhere north of $40-million a year, and I’d guess the term would be three or four years, perhaps with some cap-easing phony years on the end of the contract.
If the offer is made and Rodgers says yes, it’s a win-win for everyone. If the answer’s no, well, Murphy tried. And then we’d know exactly how much Rodgers dreads putting on the green and gold ever again.
Late Sunday morning, the inevitable happened with Julio Jones, the franchise receiver for the Atlanta Falcons for the past decade. Atlanta rid itself of an onerous contract—three years and $38 million for a 32-year-old receiver who missed seven games due to injury last year—by sending Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick to Tennessee for a second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth in 2023.
In the end, the Falcons made a deal with the only team that was really serious about obtaining Jones. The market for Jones wasn’t as hot as the Falcons thought it would be. Baltimore was interested before the draft but with Sammy Watkins arriving in free agency and Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace coming in rounds one and four of the draft, the Ravens dropped out. New England never had serious interest in committing $38 million to a 32-year-old receiver. Seattle was interested, but not for huge money. Tennessee was the last and best shot. But a source close to the deal told me there were three other teams involved in the last week, but none willing to give what Tennessee gave. That included taking on the entire amount Jones is owned through 2023.
That source also told me the key to getting the trade done was Tennessee’s willingness to add a second pick to the deal Sunday morning in a call between GMs Terry Fontenot of the Falcons and Jon Robinson of the Titans. Credit to Fontenot here. The rookie personnel czar, I’m told, reasoned that there was a huge difference between second-round picks. Tennessee, he thought, quite likely will have a pick in the fifties next year, and told Robinson he needed more to get the deal done. Makes sense. Tennessee’s second-round pick was 61st overall in 2020, and 53rd in 2021.
Robinson was willing to add another pick—but not without getting a lesser pick back. So in the Sunday call, after some negotiating, Robinson agreed to swap a four in ’23 for a six in ’23, and Fontenot signed off on it.
There will be much debate over the terms of the deal, and why the Falcons got primarily a late-second-round pick after getting a second-round pick for the forgettable Mohamed Sanu at the 2019 trading deadline from New England. I’ll give you 38 million reasons why the Falcons couldn’t get more. Jones is a fantastic player when healthy, but the combination of what he’s owed, plus the fact he doesn’t practice much now and missed nearly half the season last year, kept his future value down. I was told Sunday night that Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, who can be a demanding boss, did not press Fontenot for a better return than what he got.
When I spoke to Robinson on Sunday afternoon, he said judging Jones’ health “was big in the decision. Missing time last year, what were the circumstances surrounding that? And based on our evaluation of him, he’s healthy and doesn’t look like he’s lost anything to us.”
There’s also the change-of-scenery thing that should help Tennessee. Jones clearly wanted out of a rebuild in Atlanta and wanted to play for a contender. Tennessee’s defense will be a question after falling to 28th in yards allowed last year. But the offense should be uber-productive if Jones stays on the field.
“I just talked to Julio an hour ago, and he’s fired up to get here and start working with his new guys,” Robinson said. “He gives us real multiplicity on offense. We’re high on [free-agent wideout] Josh Reynolds too, and imagine Julio, A.J. Brown and Josh Reynolds in the pattern, with Derrick Henry in the backfield. You pack the box for Derrick and, I mean, someone’s gonna be open for Ryan to hit.”
I can’t think of an offense with two wideouts around 225 pounds or so (Jones and Browns) and a 247-pound back with back-to-back rushing titles. Robinson’s right. Playing the Titans will be a pick-your-poison deal.
“We believe in playing a physical game,” Robinson said, “with effort and finish, using our size. We think, sooner, or later, those big bodies will take a toll on you.”
We’ll know all about it in the first half of the new 17-game season. Look at this four-game stretch for the Titans in weeks six through nine: Buffalo at home on a Monday night, Kansas City at home, at Indianapolis, at the Rams. Easily could be four of the top 10 teams in football this year, and the Titans might need to score very big to go even 2-2 in those games. You get the feeling they’ll be able to, if Jones stays active. That’s the significant if facing the Titans.
Before I get to my annual June staples of graduation speeches that caught my eye and Father’s Day book recommendations, a few quick news-of-the-week topics.
• Where teams stand on the vaccine. This is an estimate, and only an estimate. But I’ve heard four to six teams have 60 or more players who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 on the 90-man roster, and about another 10 with at least 40 players vaccinated. To have a normal training camp, without limitations on in-person meetings and social gathering, teams will need approximately 85 percent (the presumed number the league will mandate) players vaccinated. That means 77 of 90 players will have had to be vaccinated by the end of July. As I reported last Monday, one team (as of May 28) had 65 players vaccinated, and there was confidence at the chance to get to 77 before late July.
But some teams—Buffalo most notably—seem to be having difficulty getting players to believe the vaccine is smart for them. I was surprised to read what Giants coach Joe Judge said about his approach to vaccinations with his players Friday: “Everyone has a choice to make, players. So that’s their decision. I’m not getting involved in that. Let them deal directly with the medical professionals.” Now, if Judge means he’s leaving all COVID-related advice in the hands of his medical and training staff, that’s understandable. But at some point, if the Giants aren’t at 85 percent, the coach needs to get involved.
Finally: Jon Rahm tested positive Saturday for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the prestigious Memorial Tournament in Ohio after the third round—with a six-stroke lead. The virus hasn’t disappeared, and without widespread vaxxing of teams this summer, there will likely be a few Jon Rahm stories inside NFL teams this fall.
• Race-norming. A decision last week by the league is the end of a very ugly look for the NFL, in connection with players challenging to be included in the massive 2017 concussion settlement between players and the league. ”We are committed to eliminating race-based norms in the program and more broadly in the neuropsychological community,” the NFL said in a statement. The league did not invent “race-norming,” a neuropsychological standard that has become more and more controversial in recent years; the practice has as its baseline that Black patients have lower cognitive ability than all non-Blacks. That has made it more difficult for Black players to get claims of cognitive diseases such as dementia approved.
In the case of former NFL players trying to prove that race-norming prevented them from getting payouts in the concussion settlement, former running back Najeh Davenport claimed he was diagnosed with dementia, but the NFL got the diagnosis overturned on appeal, using the current neuropsychological standards to judge Davenport’s condition. If Davenport’s post-football mental acuity was significantly below the data for all males of his age, but only slightly below the curved standard for Blacks, he wouldn’t be deemed to have dementia under current neuropsychological standards.
On a side note, I got some virulent emails and comments from people about this, attacking the NFL. And while it’s true the NFL didn’t invent the standards, the league did win an appeal in at least one case—Davenport’s—using those standards they claimed to be committed to erasing. At a time when the league seems so intent on fighting for social causes, it took too long to come out against race-norming. And the Black players intent on getting justice for head trauma shouldn’t trust the settlement or the league until justice is done for former players like Davenport.
• On Coach K. “I’m surprised no one has asked me about Coach,” Duke football coach David Cutcliffe told me the other day, a day and a half after news broke that Mike Krzyzewski would be retiring at the end of this basketball season—at 75—with the most wins of any coach in Division I college basketball history. I just thought: I wonder what the football coach at the basketball school has taken from perhaps the greatest to ever coach the men’s game. Three questions with David Cutcliffe, the Manning whisperer, on Mike Krzyzewski:
FMIA: What influence has Mike Krzyzewski had on your career?
Cutcliffe: “I’ll tell you how he has shaped my thinking. When I went into Duke [in early 2008] for my head-coaching interview, Mike was not on my itinerary. I thought about that. Not only was he the most successful coach in college basketball, but he was probably the most successful person in the history of the university. So we got him on my itinerary. When I met with him, quite honestly, I was in awe. We met down in his locker room. He knew more about me than I thought he would. It impressed me that he said, ‘I believe if we can get you here, we’re getting the football program right.’ The big thing he told me: This is a unique place that embraces excellence off the field. I would not even consider recruiting someone who doesn’t belong here at Duke. If you do, it’s not gonna work. And as you build your program, you will get better, and you will get better people. My takeaway, being the southern Alabama guy I am, I’m an old bass fisherman. If you want to catch bass, don’t go fishing a brim pond. In other words, recruit places that are gonna produce the students who will excel here.”
FMIA: Coach to coach, what did you learn?
Cutcliffe: “I have gone and watched his practice. If we have a common thread, it’s efficiency. He’s a West Pointer, a military guy. Time is the most precious thing on this earth; use it well. He’s got working parts going everywhere. No wasted time. The whole gist is he’s a teacher. A teacher, a coach, is a special title. He showed that to me over and over.”
FMIA: You’ve coached Peyton and Eli Manning, and they’ve worked out at Duke since you’ve been the coach there. Any interaction between them and Coach K?
Cutcliffe: “Sure. The first year they came, they wanted to watch [basketball] practice. They’re fans too. I’ll never forget the time Eli was down here with his receivers—Odell Beckham Jr. in Cameron! Wow. That was a show. They played pickup games, and that guy can play. But there’s something about coaching the best players. We talked about him coaching Team USA, coaching the great ones. We talked about coaching Kobe and LeBron. He understood. You can’t pretend with Kobe Bryant. You’ve got to bring something to help LeBron James be a better player. They don’t want to be buddied up to. They want legitimate coaching. They want you to take them to a higher destination. Just like Peyton and Eli. When I talked to Peyton and Eli, all they wanted was the truth.”
• Naomi Osaka, closed locker rooms, and what it all means. Imagine you’re Osaka, and you’re one match into one of the four big events in your world every year—the French Open. You withdraw. The thought of facing the press every other day is more debilitating than the prospect of the thrill of winning a major. That’s incredible. But it’s also real. We have to have respect for a player’s personal issues. And it’s led me to believe you can’t have a one-size-fits-all media rulebook.
Now, when the Washington Post reported Friday the NFL is likely to have closed locker rooms again this year, I thought that was wrong. Vaccinated reporters—even if the league mandated they be masked—should not be closed out of any locker room this year. Period. You might be reading this now and say, “Who cares?” Many of you don’t. But you can’t tell me the quality of the coverage didn’t suffer last year in the NFL, and the insight wasn’t as keen as in 2019. Example: Post-Super Bowl, KC-San Francisco, I’m in Andy Reid’s office after the game and he’s drawing 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp, the play that broke open the game in the fourth quarter, and he’s going step by step through it. When we’re done, I go to Patrick Mahomes and he walks me through his decision-making on the play. All that’s in this column five hours later. Fast forward to this past Super Bowl, KC-Tampa Bay, I get Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and Ron Gronkowski on the phone after the game. Insight on the game, of course. But no real flavor.
Do you need to see the drawing of 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp? Of course not. Is seeing the play outlined and dissected good for you, the reader? Good for the Kansas City fans celebrating their first Super Bowl in a half-century? Good for football lore? Good for football? Yes, yes, yes, yes. And if locker rooms are closed (I’m told that decision hasn’t been made with finality), so much of that is lost.
This is not whining. This is reality. I’ll be gone soon; I turn 64 this week, and soon you’ll throw brickbats at someone else in this space. But no matter who it is, understand that decisions like closing off important avenues to information will lessen your enjoyment of the game. I can’t tell you how. I can just tell you it will. The little asides you’ll miss, the inside information you’ll miss, the further enjoyment of the game, after the game, you’ll miss.
I’m empathetic to Osaka. No one wants to see her not play tennis. So let’s figure out a way she can play the game and we can watch her, and hear her in smaller bites than maybe we’d like. I’m okay with that. But let’s not use this, and living in the time of COVID, to change how the media does its job overall. It’s not necessary, and it’s certainly not good for football.
Every year, I love reading the words of notable people trying to send college grads out into the world with some message. I spend a few hours scouring the web (and, this year, your recommendations via email) and try to find some lessons that not only can resonate with 21-year-old people, but 63-year-olds like me. Segments from a few I liked this year:
John Legend, singer/songwriter/philanthropist
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
They say, “go big or go home,” right? But in my experience, some of the most important work you can do starts at home, whatever that means for you.
So often, we focus on major national issues. And don’t get me wrong, national issues matter. But municipal, county, and school-board elections determine the everyday realities of our lives. Who lives where? Who goes to school where? Do we all feel safe walking down the street? George Floyd’s murder mobilized a national and even global movement for change. But the truth is, most of the tangible reforms we need to reimagine public safety will come from local elected officials—the mayors and city councils setting budgets, the prosecutors deciding how justice will be served.
That’s not just true for criminal justice reform. Local non-profits and organizers know their communities—and know what they need in order to fight hunger and homelessness and violence in their local area.
I know some of you are about to move to a new community, each with its own unique historical context and social fabric. And just as many of you moved to Durham four years ago and adopted this city as your own, I hope you’ll learn about your new home’s past, present, and future. Find its changemakers and boundary-breakers. Bring your own unique gifts to the table, to engage in the real, tangible bettering of your community. There is wisdom, strength, and power in community.
Tim Allen, actor/comedian
Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Mich.
Biermann Athletic Center
The greatest boat of all time has no direction without a rudder. It’s a very simple thing. The only thing you control in a sailboat is the attitude of the sail, and that comes back to me.
You’ve got a good start here at Hillsdale College. Humans need each other, and I want to say this to the class of 2021: Go forth and conquer. You’ve got a world out there that is out of focus. There are substitute teachers and no adults. We need you.
You’ve got to save the world. No pressure.
Marty Baron, retired editor of the Washington Post
Suffolk University, Boston
Fenway Park, Boston
My purpose here is to talk about the need for strong institutions of all types. And the need for all of you to make them stronger at a time when the temptation has been to tear them down. Major institutions in this country over the decades have suffered a crisis of trust. The military and small business still inspire confidence. The medical system gained trust during the pandemic. But almost all others—religious institutions, police, Congress, the presidency, banks, technology companies, the press, even educational institutions—have seen trust erode among the public.
We can understand why. Many institutions have failed the public, and those failings are fresh in our minds: Abuses by police. Court systems that treat the powerful gently and the weak harshly. Technology companies that accumulate revenue but evade responsibility. Financial speculators who escape accountability when their gambles bring an economy to its knees. A press that acts as if it knows all the answers before it has gone seeking them. Politics that is more lousy performance art than serious problem-solving.
We have been left with weakened institutions. They need to be restored. They need your help. Only with your help can they become stronger and better. The past few years have highlighted the urgency of the task.
We once had confidence that our country was different from others that had tried democracy and failed. Ours, we believed, had a sturdy foundation in strong, vibrant institutions—Congress, the courts, the press, houses of worship, the scientific establishment. But we learned in recent years that our institutions were more vulnerable to pressure and manipulation than we ever imagined. Many turned submissive when a powerful leader demanded it. Others went quiet for fear of reprisal.
The truth suffered. Verifiable facts were denied. Expertise, experience, education and evidence were devalued or outright dismissed. Misinformation and disinformation flourished. A huge portion of the public was deceived and radicalized. Our democracy was pushed to the brink.
We can either give up on institutions that betray our values, or we can seek to repair them. I urge you to take the latter course. Repair them.
In his brief but remarkable and best-selling book, On Tyranny, Yale professor Timothy Snyder laid out 20 lessons from the 20th Century for how to protect our nation’s democratic heritage and keep us from slipping into tyranny. The second lesson was this: Defend Institutions. “It is institutions,” he wrote, “that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of ‘our institutions’ unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So, choose an institution you care about: a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union—and take its side.”
I chose a newspaper long ago, straight out of college. Choose your own institution. Make it more responsive. Make it more just. Make it more equitable. Make it more inclusive. Make it more creative. Make it better. Build it up.
Ruby Bridges, civil rights icon
Tulane University, New Orleans
Bridges was immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting in 1960, walking into first grade at a New Orleans elementary school flanked by federal marshals, integrating the public schools there.
Make no mistake about it: There came a time when I became aware of the hate that surrounded me as a child. Yet, the opportunity to change a system was more powerful. As a 6-year-old child in November of 1960, I became familiar with a phrase that has been a part of my lifelong journey. “To whom much has been given, much is required, and from that one, much more will be required.”
I was given a gift. An incredibly special gift. Knowing my journey, you might ask yourself, what gift comes packaged in hatred, and inequality, and bigotry? It is the gift of opportunity, and that is what my parents wanted for me because they did not have it—opportunity. You see, Class of 2021, opportunity comes packaged in many boxes and it often shows up with no return address. The sender is history, and she does not accept returns. Once the package is opened, you accept the gift, and you embrace the demands attached to it.
Dan Levy, actor, co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek”
Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.
The one thing that I would say is: follow through. That’s the greatest advice I could give because so few people actually do it. If you have an idea for something, in whatever form of the arts it is, if you have that painting you have in mind, and it gets tricky, and you are given that crossroads of, ‘Do I give up on it or do I keep going?’ always keep going. If you’re a writer and you want to write a book, or a book of poetry, or a television show, or a movie and it gets a bit daunting and intimidating and you get that writer’s block, don’t give up on it. Because at the end of that experience, you will have something. Ninety-nine percent of the people out there have all the ideas in the world but never follow through on it. So if you are that person who can walk into a room with something, some expression of your creativity that you have completed, you are so far ahead of a lot of people.
We expect things to land in our laps. We have cultural references on television. We have celebrities that have made it look very easy. The reality is, if you want to get far in an industry, you have to be so passionate about what you’re doing. You can never take a day for granted. When you get to that place when you are successful, I think it’s so crucial to never take success for granted and always use that success to help others. Because it’s a very lonely place, to be successful in something and not share that opportunity with other people. Paying it forward is such a crucial part of the whole process.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA Hall of Famer, author
Washington University in St. Louis
Francis Olympic Field, St. Louis
My retirement from the NBA was also a graduation. As with every graduation, there was that same scary feeling in my stomach of the roller coaster ratcheting slowly higher and higher. But, as with every graduation, I looked forward to the drop into the new challenges ahead. But as I looked forward to my next chapter, I also looked back over my previous chapters. I had accomplished pretty much everything I’d wanted to in basketball, but had I accomplished everything I wanted to in helping my community? Not even close.
I started writing books and documentaries to help educate Americans about overlooked Black inventors, scientists, artists, writers, musicians, athletes and war heroes. I also wrote about why they had been overlooked. Believe me, transitioning from basketball to writer was scary. I knew that some people would judge me harshly for daring to be an athlete who also had opinions, especially a Black athlete criticizing the society that had given him success. But to me, how could I call myself a success if I wasn’t helping others have a chance at success?
Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” Yes, the past is done, but it’s not over. History—whether it’s the world’s or your own—can be a roadmap for not only where you want to go, but for who you want to be next. Your past is prologue, but you are the authors of your next chapter and can be whoever and whatever you choose. I hope your story will include a few pages in which you went out into the world and demanded justice, demanded fair play, demanded equality for all people. Now, that’s a successful life.
Bina Venkataraman, Boston Globe editorial page editor
University of Southern California
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Sometimes courage in a world where people don’t want to rock the boat will mean making your social group or your political party upset, or that people won’t like you. But in exercising it, you get something more valuable, which is learning to like yourself. Here’s something else I’ve figured out: When you look for other people to inspire and fortify you in practicing courage, don’t have heroes—at least not in the conventional sense. Be skeptical of putting people on pedestals. Rare talent or genius is not the same as being a hero. And, as I’m sure you know, a talented artist or athlete can be an abuser, just like a brilliant scientist can be a eugenicist.
You can admire these people for their accomplishments and real achievements, but know that when you exalt people, when you expect them to be perfect and act like superheroes, you will inevitably need to tear them down from their pedestals when they turn out to be merely human.
Look for heroes not on the silver screen or the pedestal or even at this podium—but at eye level and within reach: the people in your life who have been afraid but done the right thing anyway, who have shown you by example how to be bold.
Prize bravery over bravado. Prize bravery over bravado.
Jimmy Dunne, investment banker
Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame Stadium
Dunne, a partner in a major firm that had offices in the World Trade Center on 9/11, lost 68 colleagues in the terrorist attack.
The mark of a great university is that you learn more than they’re teaching. Here, we talk about forming “the whole person,” and it’s a true commitment grounded in real things, permanent things. The aim is character, not just knowledge, moral aspiration, not just ambition. You’ve all got degrees in different disciplines, but you have a single major in common—and that is leadership.
The fashions that wash over higher education don’t get far at this university. Our goal is an independent mind, in the service of truth instead of fads or groupthink. The great problems and moral obligations of life are not suddenly discovered here. Those obligations have been the core purpose from the start. If you’ve got a Notre Dame degree, then the cause of justice, the hurts, the needs, the wrongs in this world, shouldn’t ever come as news to you. Notre Dame is here to inspire leaders of conscience. In my lifetime, never before has that leadership been more important than it is today.
[On 9/11], we faced a passage through the dark side of life—the kind no one is ever ready for. So many colleagues, gone all at once. Wives, husbands, children left to suffer loss and find a way to keep going.
Normally I would have gone straight to my two partners I knew best, but we had lost them, too. The question was, How do we recover? And more than that, What can we do for those families left behind?
At such moments, there isn’t time to reflect and figure out what you believe. All you have is your foundation, and you’re about to find out if it’s a good one. If you can get through, it’s going to be on the strength of what you have already. How we conducted ourselves would define who we were and what we stood for. If we were not honorable, then we stood for nothing.
So our attitude was, we are going to make brave decisions. If we fail, we fail. If we lose everything, we lose everything. But that’s what we’re going to do—especially for the children of our friends. They had lost a person in their lives who would fight for them. So, from now on, we would fight for them. We would keep faith with those families. I’m sure I could have done some things better. But as I closed my eyes at the end of each day, I knew I had given it my all.
A close friend of mine who died on September 11th was an outstanding man named Kevin Crotty. He was a superstar at our company and was always giving other people encouragement. Kevin had two sons and a daughter, and they have a great mother. One of those boys, Kyle, graduated from here three years ago, and the other is graduating today—your classmate, Sean Patrick Crotty.
For a company once located on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center, nothing is ever the same. The aftermath never quite ends. And we all learn that this is the deal in life. It won’t always be fair, but we take it as it is. Along with the good experiences, there’s no way around the tough ones.
I found a 37-year-old speech that I wanted to share. It seems appropriate today.
Mario Cuomo, governor of New York
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
The closed circle of pure materialism is clear to us now—aspirations become wants, wants become needs, and self-gratification becomes a bottomless pit. All around us we have seen success in this world’s terms become ultimate and desperate failure. Teenagers and college students, raised in affluent surroundings and given all the material comforts our society can offer, commit suicide. Entertainers and sports figures achieve fame and wealth but find the world empty and dull without the solace or stimulation of drugs.
Men and women rise to the top of their professions after years of struggling. But despite their apparent success, they are driven nearly mad by a frantic search for diversions, new mates, games, new experiences—anything to fill the diminishing interval between their existence and eternity. We know because we’ve been there. But do we have the right to tell these graduates that the most important thing in their lives will be their ability to believe in believing? And without that ability, sooner or later they will be doomed to despair?
Do you think they would believe us if we told them today, what we know to be true: That after the pride of obtaining a degree and maybe later another degree and after their first few love affairs, that after earning their first big title, their first shiny new car and traveling around the world for the first time and having had it all . . . they will discover that none of it counts unless they have something real and permanent to believe in?
Tell me, ladies and gentlemen, are we the ones to tell them what their instructors have tried to teach them for years?
That the philosophers were right. That Saint Francis, Buddha, Muhammad, Maimonides—all spoke the truth when they said the way to serve yourself is to serve others; and that Aristotle was right, before them, when he said the only way to assure yourself happiness is to learn to give happiness.
When I first started recommending books before Father’s Day, I was working on this theory: Most dads don’t read enough, and most dads don’t need another tie. Over the years, it’s actually forced me to read more in busy times. I read “Lucky Guy” by Will Leitch during draft prep time, and 487-page “Zero Fail” between May columns. I use “forced” in a positive way. I never finish a book and say, “What a waste of time.”
Anyway, the fact is I don’t read enough, and the four or five months before I write about a few books every year is good for me. I’ve gotten to experience different worlds with great works like “Know My Name,” by Chanel Miller, and “When Breath Becomes Air,” by the late Paul Kalanithi, and some great fiction by writers like Don Winslow. I hope to be able to share some good books with you every year, either for you to read or to give as gifts. And please use these Bookshop links; when you buy from Bookshop, you support local independent bookstores. The ones I’m highlighting this year:
Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service, by Carol Leonnig (non-fiction, $30, Random House)
In total, this book took my breath away about eight or 10 different times. Leonnig, who has covered the Secret Service for the Washington Post since 2012, documents in grim detail the drinking that Secret Service agents tasked with protecting President Kennedy in Dallas did till the wee hours on the early morning before he was shot, and the mistakes made by agents at the moment of the killing, and then there was drinking that clouded the protection of President Obama a few times, and the screwups that led to the a disturbed man shooting at the White House and very nearly getting away with it, and did I mention drinking to excess? It’s amazing how many stories involve drinking and loss of judgment. Imagine you’re a Secret Service agent and you stiff a prostitute while on a presidential mission in Colombia!
At the heart of the book are inside stories, like the one about agents the night before President Kennedy was shot, when they needed to be on duty at 8 a.m. and didn’t get off-duty till shortly after midnight. Keep in mind that agents are prohibited from drinking while on the road with the president. Wrote Leonnig:
“Nine Kennedy detail agents headed to the Fort Worth Press Club in a nearby hotel . . . They joined reporters for a few scotch and sodas and a few glasses of beer. Sometime after 1 a.m., press club president Cal Sutton told the group he had to shut down the party. It was against the law for the club to serve alcohol after midnight.”
The party moved to an after-hours club, The Cellar. Nine agents went. They had company.
“In the course of the night, three agents on the midnight shift took breaks from securing the stuffy hotel hallway outside the president’s suite to check out the cellar too . . . ‘The firemen are guarding the president over at the Hotel Texas!’ one said to a roar of laughter.”
This is one of the best-reported books I’ve ever read. It was 487 pages and I found myself wishing it was 787. I love books that take you deep inside a fascinating subject that you didn’t really know was fascinating. “Zero Fail” does that, page after page. As a reporter who at times has tried to find out things that powerful people didn’t want me to know, I have immense respect for the sources Leonnig has to have built up covering the Secret Service, sources who told her some incredible dirt on the agency. She makes it clear that this isn’t a tell-all to embarrass people inside the agency, but rather a way for so many agents who love the Secret Service to prod Washington and the agency to build a better Secret Service.
In the last 60 years, the Secret Service has grown from 300 agents and a budget of $5 million to a staff of 7,000 and a budget of $2.2 billion . . . and because the agency now has to protect so many more people than just the president, the place is woefully under-staffed and under-funded. The original mission of the agency wasn’t to protect vice presidential grandchildren, or Super Bowls, or the U.N. General Assembly, but it’s grown to have jobs with all those constituencies under its umbrella. Fascinating read.
How Lucky, by Will Leitch (fiction, $25.99, Harper Books)
You may recognize Leitch from his Deadspin days, or from his baseball writing, or for his reporting for New York magazine on a variety of topics. Until now, you wouldn’t have known him for his fiction, because this is his first book. What took you so long, Will?
I’m not the only one who feels that way, apparently. Stephen King Tweeted on March 27: “I’m reading a fantastic novel by Will Leitch call HOW LUCKY. Publishes in May, I think. It’s suspenseful and often wildly funny.” For Leitch, that had to have been like Derek Jeter tweeting about the great play of a rookie shortstop. Leitch’s reaction: “My goodness. Thank you, sir.”
The plot: Mostly confined to his home and a wheelchair due to a debilitating muscular issue (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), Daniel lives in Athens, Ga., far from his Illinois home; he wanted his mother to be able to live a semi-normal life instead of caring for him most every day. He has trouble making himself understood. Luckily, he has health aides and one close friend who help him manage his life, and he has a job with a regional airline calming insanely angry people. And one day, a day like any other, at 7:22 a.m., Daniel, on his front porch, watches the street in front of his home and sees a Chinese student at the University of Georgia—he assumes, because she is walking toward campus when he sees her daily—and the stage is set for really good whodunit. Wrote Leitch:
“She doesn’t look up, she is always by herself, she blends into the sidewalk. She has never seen me out here, and frankly, I would never have thought to notice her either if she weren’t out here the same time as I am every day. She just walks. That’s all she ever did.
“Until that day. That day, she stopped for a second. No reason: no car pulling in front of her to get out of the way of, or anything. She just stopped, looked up, and for the first and only time made eye contact with me. It was a clear accident. Her eyes darted away faster than they had landed on me. But she saw me. And I saw her. She then stopped again, glance back up at me, closer this time, with a little smile. She raised her right hand. Hello. Then she went back on her walk.
“The Camaro . . . pulled beside her and stopped.”
The rest of the book is about the search for Ai-Chin Liao, the pained and difficult and sometimes truly rewarding life that Daniel leads, and the heart-pounding prose of Leitch. It’s really something. Daniel, as it turns out, is a heroic figure, crafted beautifully by Leitch.
I Came as a Shadow, by John Thompson, with Jesse Washington (non-fiction, $29.99, Henry Holt)
Rarely is a preface or foreword of a book memorable, but Jesse Washington, a writer for ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” was prescient and vivid in A Note From the Author. These two pages are such an excellent tone-setter for one of the great American lives we just didn’t know enough about—until the publication of this book.
Thompson, who died before the book was published, told Washington several times, “I don’t want this to be a book about basketball.” Washington writes that Thompson “deliberated over every word on these pages to make sure they were exactly what he wanted to say. He knew this would be his final testimony.” It’s a perfect scene-setter for what’s to come.
I admire the way Washington tells the story because instead of trying to be Faulkner, he tries to be John Thompson. Washington succeeds in helping Thompson tell his story—the story of a Black child who grew up in the District of Columbia, struggled in school at an early age, experienced racism often in his early life, became a pro basketball player for a short time and earned two championship rings for the Celtics, and then got hired to coach a bad basketball team at lily-white Georgetown. One of Thompson’s great lines: “Over the twelve years since I had graduated from high school, Georgetown went from not recruiting me because I was Black to hiring me because I was Black.”
The best thing about this book, I thought, was Thompson’s ability to make you understand the whys of so many events in his life. One of my favorites was a basketball event, though it was about something else. I actually covered the NCAA Championship Game between North Carolina and Georgetown in New Orleans in 1982, one of the most memorable things that I’ve covered. That’s the game UNC freshman Michael Jordan won with a 16-footer with 16 seconds to go . . . and the game Georgetown’s Freddy Brown passed it right to UNC’s James Worthy, like he was the intended target, with seconds to go, sealing North Carolina’s 63-62 victory. The crowd at the Superdome gasped. America gasped. Every player on the floor must have gasped. One of the classic Final Four games ever, ended on one of the biggest mistakes in Final Four history. Wrote Thompson:
“What do you think in that moment, wth sixty-one thousand spectators in the Superdome and another twenty million watching on television? You don’t think. You react, based on everything you’ve experienced in your life up to that moment. You react, based on heredity, environment and time.
“My mother loved me unconditionally. When I had the most trouble as a young person, she hugged me. After Freddy got confused and gave away the ball, after the buzzer sounded and we lost the national championship to North Carolina, 63-62, the first thing I did was hug Fred Brown. I hugged him tight.
“Everybody made a big deal out of that, which I appreciate . . . I give my mother more credit for that hug than I give myself.”
Beautiful. And so well told.
He knew this would be his final testimony. The coach, and Washington, did themselves proud.
The Last Days of John Lennon, by James Patterson, with Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge (non-fiction, $30, Little Brown and Company)
The craziness of the murder of John Lennon is still fascinating to me and so many of a certain age, four decades after a deranged fan—just hours after getting Lennon’s autograph in front of his Manhattan apartment—approached one of the most famous people in the world and calmly pumped multiple bullets from his .38 revolver into Lennon. The authors on the immediate aftermath of Mark David Chapman murdering John Lennon:
“Now, in this moment, he has become the world’s most famous celebrity . . . The doorman, Jose Perdomo, rushes him and grabs his arm—the one holding the gun. The .38 falls from Mark’s hand. The night watchman kicks it away.
“ ‘Do you know what you’ve done?’ Jose asks incredulously, tears streaming down his face. ‘Do you know what you’ve done?’
“ ‘I’ve just shot John Lennon.’
“ ‘Just get outta here, man. Just get outta here.’
“Mark cocks his head to the side, confused. ‘But where will I go?’
“Jose doesn’t stick around to answer. Mark pulls out his paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye from his back pocket and starts to read.”
As a big Beatles fan, and a reader of a lot about Lennon’s life, I thought this came up short in mining a lot previously unknown about the death of Lennon. But there’s still a lot in here that was page-turning and new. The 12-room apartment at the Dakota, for instance, gets a thorough airing by Patterson, Sherman and Wedge, eerily. It’s across the hall from the apartment of singer Roberta Flack, in the same building as Lauren Bacall, just down the street from Jackson Browne. But first, there’s a co-op review board of the intended purchase by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono. They pass. Lennon, per the book, tells a German reporter: “It is a big apartment, and it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t have grounds. You know, it’s secure.”
On my night table—and I’ll get to them this summer:
• “The Upstander: How Surviving the Holocaust Sparked Max Glaubman’s Mission to Dismantle Hate,” by Jori Epstein. Epstein writes of a man whose mother, father and brother were murdered by the Germans almost 80 years ago—and why hatred did not rule Max Glaubman’s life
• “Finished Business: My Fifty Years of Headlines, Heroes and Heartaches,” by Philadelphia sportswriting icon Ray Didinger. If Ray’s writing, I’m reading
• “Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original,” by Mitchell Nathanson. Ever hear of “Ball Four?” Bouton, a bulldog (his nickname, actually) of a pitcher, lampooned the baseball establishment with the tell-all book a half century ago. Hoping to find out who Bouton was in this book. He’s always been a fascinating figure to me.
“I’ve been a fan of Deshaun and know him personally, but the opportunity to be able to start here is something I look forward to.”
—Tyrod Taylor, the (apparent) Houston Texans opening day starting quarterback.
“I think he has a decent chance to start the opener and be the quarterback this season.”
—Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal, on “The Greg Bedard Podcast with Nick Cattles,” on rookie Mac Jones.
I use this quote because I know Greg—we worked together at The MMQB—and I know how he doesn’t throw things out flippantly. On the pod, he describes a next-level throw Jones made at a minicamp practice. It caught my ear. The pod’s a good listen.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught. Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught you’re wrong, if you don’t you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate.”
—Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, to Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. Cowher is expansive on that and many other topics in his autobiography, “Heart and Steel,” written with Michael Holley.
“T.J. has a long road ahead of him, but today is a huge step forward. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for the outpouring of support through the journey.”
—Former NFL tight end Greg Olsen, on the prospect of a heart transplant for his ailing 8-year-old son T.J. The transplant was done over the weekend in Charlotte.
“My leg felt like somebody shot me 80 times.”
—Washington wide receiver Kevin Harmon, asked how it felt to tear his ACL last summer, per Sam Fortier of the Washington Post.
“So I don’t want to break any tradition. Do I need to spell my last name?”
—Jon Scheyer, who will take over for Mike Krzyzewski as the Duke basketball coach after the 2021-22 season.
For a man who just turned 30, and who has played just seven NFL seasons, Aaron Donald is verging on some very hallowed ground.
In 2019, the NFL released its 100-year all-time team. There were seven defensive tackles on it: Joe Greene, Randy White, Buck Buchanan, Bob Lilly, Alan Page, Merlin Olsen and John Randle. Check out the number of All-Pro first-team nods each of the players had—and I’ve included Donald on the list, to show where he fits in:
7: White, Lilly
6: Page, Randle, Donald
4: Greene, Buchanan
• All-Pro is the true measure of greatness. Pro Bowls are nice, but not at all meaningful when five and six players in a position group drop out because of injury/indifference/Super Bowl. Donald making six straight first-team All-Pros means he’s one of the two best defensive tackles in the game as voted on by a panel of 50 Associated Press voters who cover the game closely, each year from 2015 to 2020.
• Every one of the seven named to the NFL’s all-time team earned at least one first-team All-Pro nod in his thirties. White earned three.
• Buchanan earned his first first-team awards in the AFL from 1966-69, when there were nine or 10 teams. Most of Lilly’s and Olsen’s awards came in the 16-team NFL of the sixties. The NFL had 26 or 28 teams for most of Page’s and Greene’s awards, and the league was 28 or 30 teams when White and Lilly were named first-team.
• So if Donald is named first-team All-Pro twice more in his career, he’ll have earned the distinction of being the most honored defensive tackle in NFL history, and he’ll have done it against the most competition, in a 32-team league, of any of the all-time greats.
• Donald has earned PFF’s top-rated defensive interior grade in the NFL for six straight years.
I like his chances to top them all.
The Bears aren’t known as a fleet team, but they’ll bring four receivers to camp with sub-4.4-second times in the 40-yard dash: Marquise Goodwin (4.27 seconds), Damiere Byrd (4.35), Darnell Mooney (4.38) and Anthony Miller (4.38)—though Miller’s Chicago future is uncertain.
It’s good to have trusted correspondents. In this case, my daughter Mary Beth has come up with a good nugget.
The 39th episode in the 12-year TV mystery series “Murder She Wrote” aired in 1985. The writer/private investigator/star of the show, Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, inherits a small ownership share of a pro football team, the Happy Valley Leopards. Conveniently, the despised owner of the team is murdered in the team’s locker room.
Dick Butkus plays grizzled defensive captain Tank Mason, who becomes helpful to Jessica.
Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) plays injured Leopards star Zak Ferrell.
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) June 3, 2021
Peter Schrager, who is hosting a podcast called “Flying Coach” with Sean McVay of the Rams. This episode, a gem, featured the Arizona coach.
Loved the McVay admission about how often he takes plays from other coaches and other games: “All the best coaches are the best thieves.” So true.
Completely nonsensical: 70,000 fans can be stuffed in a stadium but 50 reporters can’t enter a locker room?
The NFL either doesn’t care about the safety of its fans or is using COVID as an excuse to limit media access. https://t.co/vWHKrWwyE3
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) June 4, 2021
Kyed covers the Patriots for NESN.
A Tom Brady rookie card goes for $3.1 million. (Eventually, only Brady will be able to afford to buy these things.) https://t.co/vxOYWjW5SI
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 5, 2021
Mike Florio runs the NFL site.
The Dodgers have signed Field Roast to be the official plant based hot dog of the team. It is the first hot dog made out of pea protein. pic.twitter.com/tNXQYIG6hq
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 3, 2021
There are just so many things to say about a hot dog made of pea protein. Where to begin?
Two useless cats for sale
I'll take any offer pic.twitter.com/rjZbmQUZ4e
— De Goede Volger (@VolgerGoede) May 24, 2021
DeGoede Volger is Dutch and likes Tweeting about cats.
This is my last column until July 26, so I am happy to get your comments between now and then at email@example.com, or on Twitter . . . but not a lot of them will be answered. Thanks for reading.
Kickers and the Hall. From Ed Dillon, of Longmont, Colo.: “While I agree that Adam Vinatieri is a lock for the Hall of Fame, there should also be a case for his contemporary, Phil Dawson. Dawson has the same career field-goal percentage, 83.3 percent, a slightly higher PAT conversion percentage and was above 80 percent through age 42. But Dawson doesn’t have the rings. Should the fact that most of his career was spent in Cleveland work against his consideration for the HOF? Does Vinatieri benefit from the fact he was with the right team that gave him the opportunity to make the clutch kicks?”
A few points, Ed. Fortunately or unfortunately, lots of players who have played for big winners get the benefit of the doubt when it come to the Hall of Fame. John Stallworth won four rings for Pittsburgh and was voted into the Hall. Two peers for other teams during Stallworth’s career, Wes Chandler and Harold Jackson, caught more passes than Stallworth. Chandler and Jackson three times between them led the league in receiving yards; Stallworth never did. I guess you could argue that a big factor in Stallworth making the Hall of Fame is that he was drafted by the Steelers, and that’s fair. Over the years, Hall voters have given great favor to championship rings.
With kickers, it’s a bit different. If you categorize kickers who have played at least 15 years and converted at least 83 percent of their kicks (that’s an excellent career, obviously), that’s quite a club. It includes Ryan Longwell (83.2 percent), Matt Stover (83.7), Adam Vinatieri (83.8), Phil Dawson (83.8), Shayne Graham (85.5), Matt Bryant (85.6), Stephen Gostkowski (86.3), Mike Vanderjagt (86.5), Robbie Gould (86.6). It’s absurd to think of nine kickers in the last two decades (plus if they make it, Justin Tucker’s very likely, so that’s 10, at least) making the Hall. So there’s got to be a line of demarcation.
Vinatieri has four Super Bowl rings and made two other Super Bowls, far more than any of those other candidates. Vinatieri scored more points than any other player in the 102 seasons of professional football—826 more than Dawson. Now, could Dawson have done the same great things in New England and Indianapolis? Maybe. But Vinatieri had the chance, and he did those great things, year after year. Unfortunately, Archie Manning played on bad football teams, or maybe he’d have the same bust as his son Peyton.
Pro-vaccine. From Tim Kirk: “Thanks for being unashamedly pro-vaccination. As someone who works in biochemistry research (some of our group were doing spike protein structure work 24/7 in shift in the early days of Covid) it is nice to see you making the simple basic argument for vaccination.”
Good of you to write, Tim, and thanks for the research you’re doing. I look at it this way: I don’t do my own taxes; I have had an accountant do them for about 30 years now. The basic reasons: I don’t want to devote hours of my life learning enough about tax code to be competent at doing the taxes, and I can afford to hire someone to do it. Similarly, I haven’t been in a lab or talked to the scientists about the efficacy of vaccines. I have read stories about them in reputable media. And I trust that it is the right thing to do to take the vaccine, particularly when you consider the alternatives. I just think we should listen to science.
Thanks, Pastor. From Pastor Brian Davies, of Illinois: “Thank you for your excellent column each week. It is always thoughtful, fun to read, engaging, and relevant. I pastor a Lutheran Church, so Sundays are a bit intense for me. Your Monday morning column is a nice diversion and start to the work week for me. I’ve even used some of your content in my messages, most recently the story of the founder of Make-a-Wish. That was awesome! I love that you have great NFL info, while also curating non-football content. Please keep that up. I live about 45 minutes north of Chicago. If you are ever looking for a home-cooked meal while you are on the road, you are always welcome in our home.”
So nice of you to say. I’m putting your name and email in my phone, and when I am in the Midwest on my camp trip this summer, I will reach out if I have time. I really appreciate you reaching out and I’m glad I can give you a bit of a respite.
On NFL nepotism. From Robert Gray: “Please don’t applaud in your article the nepotism of Bill Belichick (or Andy Reid or anyone else). The league has an ongoing discussion about providing open opportunity to minority candidates. Nepotism is the total opposite of that (and unfair to non-minority candidates as well). How can nepotism possibly be consistent with the NFL’s stated goals?”
Thanks for the note, Robert. A lot of ways I could go. First, I’m not applauding Belichick for having his sons on the staff. I’m simply acknowledging that Belichick would probably feel good about being able to get them started in a business they both want to work in. Whether they succeed or fail ultimately will be up to them. You could argue—and many would—that it’s unfair for a head coach to put his kids on the coaching staff. But Don Shula’s kids, Bill Belichick’s kids, Mike Shanahan’s kid, Pete Carroll’s kids, Mike Zimmer’s kid—they all get an unfair edge. For lots of team owners, it becomes a family business, just like family businesses outside of sports. Isn’t that the way of the world? Don’t law firms look kindly on the law school-grad kids of their partners? Did John David Washington get his foot in the door in Hollywood because he’s the son of Denzel? Don’t many universities open the admissions door wider for legacies? In politics, the Romneys, Bushes and Cuomos all have been able to smooth the way for their sons into politics. The NFL for years has had a nepotism problem when it comes to coaches. But because in most places the head coaches control the makeup of the coaching staff, and because owners don’t feel it rises to an offensive level, they just let it go.
Now this is a wonderful idea! From Matt Fredlake, of Peoria, Ariz.: “Any chance you will do a brewery Q&A this summer in conjunction with training camps?”
Hmmmm. You have planted the seed of all seeds, Matt. I am going to think about that. Assume you’d want me to do one in the Valley of the Sun. Email me with some suggestions and let’s see if I can make it work. I’m guessing an August evening in Phoenix would be rather toasty.
1. I think I don’t do this very much in my coverage of the NFL. But every time over the years that I’ve covered a game in Pittsburgh, I brought a radio with me to listen to the radio call of the Steelers broadcast team. At first it was to hear Myron Cope, the most colorful colorman in NFL radio history. Then it was to hear Cope in a booth with Bill Hillgrove and a second analyst, ex-Steeler guard Tunch Ilkin. Ilkin and Cope playing off each other was classic football theater. But in recent years it was to hear Ilkin, a smart and unassuming man who let the game breathe and told the truth about what he was seeing on the field. He loved the Steelers but never covered for them. And what a good and decent man.
Last week, after 23 years in the booth, Ilkin, 63, retired. I’m sure it’s not something he wanted to do. But a year ago, he announced he was battling ALS, and he is leaving the booth and his film study to get everything out of life that he can with this scourge of a disease. On a personal note, I bet there were 20 times over the last 20 years I picked up the phone to ask Ilkin something inside-ish about the Steelers, mostly X’s and O’s but sometime more sensitive stuff. Always, the truth came from the other end of the phone. Such a good man, and I wish him peace and good days.
2. I think this really interested me, from a golf correspondent, Robert Lusetich, after Jon Rahm tested positive for COVID and had to withdraw as the leader from the Memorial Tournament Saturday: “Got this from a tour insider after Jon Rahm news broke: ‘Plenty of guys still aren’t vaccinated. Watch the mad rush now.’“ Curious: What have you been waiting for?
3. I think, not that I’ll be paying much attention to it, it’s great the USFL is back. But this USFL could never be like the USFL that Donald Trump killed in the mid-eighties. Reggie White played in that USFL. Imagine Aaron Donald playing in this USFL and you’ll get some idea of what a real rival league to the NFL would be like. For the last 35 years, league after league has come into view. They all talked very big games and never had enough money to last. We’ll see the plan of the second coming of the USFL. My advice: Think Trace McSorley, not the top quarterback in the 2022 draft, whoever that is. It’s the only way to survive.
4. I think it comes as no surprise that Frank Gore, 38, wants to keep playing football. “I know I can help a team,” he said the other day on KNBR in San Francisco. Maybe he can, but a guy who’s averaged 3.6 and 3.5 yards a carry in the last two years and likely won’t play special teams . . . just not much of a market there. The best thing for Gore is to stay in shape—he’ll be doing that till he’s 93—and wait till a team gets two running-back injuries and needs a veteran who can grind out yards between the tackles. That’s what I’d do if I were him.
5. I think I have three thoughts on Patrick Mahomes saying his goal this year is to go 20-0:
• Would you want your quarterback to say, “I hope we go 13-7?”
• Kansas City, in three seasons with Mahomes at QB, has made two Super Bowls and lost in overtime of the AFC title game in a third season. It’s not revolutionary, when you’re on the cusp of a world title every year you’ve played in the league, to say your goal is perfection.
• Who cares?
6. I think the NFL Players Association’s strong recommendation to players to limit the anti-inflammatory Toradol use is smart and long past due. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the NFLPA sent a memo to players that said: “Toradol should not be used prior to, during, or after NFL games or practices as a means of reducing anticipated pain.” Until the last few years—I first recall hearing John Elway rave about how it used to make him be able to play pain-free late in his career—players have been cavalier about using this popular anti-inflammatory, and now there are warnings that excessive use can cause kidney and heart damage and strokes. Using is not worth the risk.
7. I think this is my let’s-have-some-more-outrage-over-Tim Tebow-being-one-of-2,880-players-in-training-camp-this-summer thought of the week: Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the Titans have signed wrestler Adam Coon, who failed to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. He has not played football since his high school graduation in 2013. Pelissero said Coon is expected to try out as an offensive lineman.
8. I think if you think there aren’t five or 10 players (at least) on 90-man rosters around the league right now who have some unusual connection to the owners or coach or GM or franchise in some way, you’re way off.
9. I think this is my last column till July 26. For the next six Mondays, you’ll have the pleasure of reading some excellent writing from some smart people. Guest column time! Be sure to give them your time. Next Monday, the writer will be a player who just played deep into the playoffs and who has a lot to say about gratitude. You’ll enjoy his take on football and life. Thanks for reading every week, and see you after a few weeks out in the real world.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: David Gauvey Herbert of Esquire, on one of the best Little League dads story of all time.
b. The author writes of a highbrow baseball facility on Long Island called Baseball Heaven, with uber-aggressive baseball dad John Reardon, father of Jack, in a ridiculously over-the-top rivalry with fellow baseball nutter Bobby Sanfilippo. There was the time Reardon, whose professional life was roiled by his involvement in a Ponzi scheme (man, what a Long Island story this is), began to fear for his life:
One June morning, it was John Reardon’s turn to drive the car pool to school when he noticed a blue Mini Cooper on his street. It was unusual—people rarely parked there. As he pulled away, the Mini Cooper did a quick U-turn and followed him and the four kids in his car all the way to Burr Intermediate.
Reardon walked Jack and the others into school and then headed off. The blue car stayed in his rearview.
Reardon made a right turn, then another right, figuring he was just paranoid. But the driver, a bald guy, continued to follow. On a dead-end street, Reardon made a U-turn, hoping to box in the Mini Cooper, but the tiny car slipped away. Two months later, on August 23, 2012, Reardon was at a business dinner when his phone buzzed with a text. He peeked down.
“See you at Baseball Heaven, scumbag.”
Three minutes later, his phone beeped again. This time he was staring at a picture of his own home and a message: “I’m your bad dream moth——–.”
Then, thirty minutes later, a blurry photo, taken with a long-distance zoom lens, of Reardon’s wife. The texts went on through the afternoon, including two more photos of his home. “Figured you for a nicer house, did you spend all of that money you stole on lawyers, you fat jerk—?”
Reardon wondered if the texts were from an aggrieved Ponzi-scheme investor, someone still pissed about money lost a decade earlier. Or maybe it was a prank. Reardon didn’t tell his wife. He didn’t want to worry her.
But the messages continued into the following day, with more fuzzy, long-distance photos of his wife. “You will never see it coming Reardon,” read one.
Reardon’s phone soon buzzed with a new photo: a crystal-clear image of little Jack Reardon waiting for the school bus with the message “Maybe I’ll pick him up at the bus stop for you next week.”
c. The travel teams in the story: the Long Island Inferno, the Long Island Vengeance. What, “Long Island Sopranos” was taken?
d. I remember coaching a 10-and-under girls softball travel team in my Jersey days. We never had too many sickos to deal with, but there was one game in Saddle Brook, N.J., that we led in the middle innings, and there was a disputed call that went the Montclair Bears’ way, and the Saddle Brook coach went into orbit. He verbally attacked the umpire so viciously that the guy walked off the field, into his car, and drove away. Ballgame.
e. I must say most of the time I coached travel ball at the young kid level, we had good coaches in our league with a low nut-job factor. I loved one time in a year when we were good seeing the coaches of another good team sitting in the bleachers at a game of ours the week before we played them. Impressive. Scouting. I coached third base and gave the signals. We had four: bunt, take the next pitch, swing away, and the complicated one—bunt for a hit and keep running till you get to second base. (That was something you could use once a game, maybe.) When we played this good team that had scouted us, I realized they had deciphered our oh-so-complex signals because they’d call out “watch the bunt” when I put on the bunt sign (finger on nose, which was the indicator, then touching right ear). So between innings, we gathered our players and told them, “Forget everything with the hand signals. Just listen to me. Whenever I use a “B” word when I’m talking to you, that means bunt.” For that game, I kept signaling and they kept advising their players when I’d give the traditional bunt sign. But I’d say, “Fabiana, get a good swing here. Hit this one to Boston.” And Fabiana would bunt.
f. I think the girls loved the cat-and-mouse game, but you’d have to find out from adult Fabiana now if she thought it was fun or pathetic—or if she even remembers.
g. RIP, B.J. Thomas. This man, and this man alone, was responsible for 12-year-old me—every time I was outside and raindrops were fallin’ on my head, to think of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
h. RIP, Mike Marshall, the only Cy Young Award-winning kinesiologist of all time. This man saved a lot of pitching arms, as well as having a great one of his own. Which brings me to . . .
i. Obit of the Week: Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times, on the life of one of the most noted lawyers in history, F. Lee Bailey, the lead of the legal team that got O.J. Simpson acquitted.
j. Now this is a great first graf of an obit, from McFadden:
“F. Lee Bailey, the theatrical criminal lawyer who invited juries into the twilight zone of reasonable doubt in defense of Patricia Hearst, O.J. Simpson, the Boston Strangler, the army commander at the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and other notorious cases, died on Thursday in Atlanta. He was 87.”
k. So many great cases, and such a well-researched obit. I didn’t know that Bailey, late in life, declared bankruptcy and lived in Maine, running a consulant business “out of an apartment above a Yarmouth [Me.] hair salon owned by his girlfriend.” As McFadden wrote, many of his court performances were all-timers:
He was a riveting courtroom performer, a stocky badger-like man with a cleft chin, intimidating blue eyes and a widow’s peak that refused to recede with the rest of his hairline. He had the ventriloquist’s trick of directing questions at the witness box but throwing his points at the jury box. He had an actor’s voice, by turns bullying, cajoling, sarcastic or sympathetic, searching for seams of doubt. Under his reductions, a prosecutor’s “fact” could be whittled down to a probability, then to a mere possibility or just a silly idea.
l. Coach K Column of the Week: Steve Politi of the Newark Star Ledger. Mike Krzyzewski said no to the Celtics. He said no to the Lakers. But could he say no to the awful New Jersey Nets? Wrote Politi:
This was 2010, and the Nets were in their final, forgettable days on this side of the Hudson River. They were a truly horrid team that started the season that lost 15 of its final 17 games, playing in front of friends-and-family-sized crowds at the Prudential Center in Newark and awaiting the moment when they could flee for Brooklyn.
They had one thing going for them: Mikhail Prokhorov. He was the mysterious new owner who brought an unlimited supply of rubles with him to the NBA, and while he couldn’t buy himself an All-Star roster, he could spend whatever he wanted on a head coach. And the hot rumor in the NBA was that he would target the biggest name in college basketball.
“The guy’s Russian, right? You think he’d hire a Polish guy?” Krzyzewski told reporters when asked about the persistent rumors that winter. “No one’s contacted me and if they do, I think ‘nyet’ would be easy for me to say.”
But that Russian was willing to offer as much as $15 million a year, according to reports at the time, which meant that the story wouldn’t go away.
m. Hero Cop of the Week: Travis Anderson of the Boston Globe on the retirement of the Watertown, Mass., police sergeant, Jeff Pugliese, who shot and tackled one of the Boston Marathon bombers in a case that riveted the nation. Wrote Anderson of the night cops confronted brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and shot and tackled Tamerlan:
As Pugliese responded to the scene on foot, he said, the terrorists set off pipe bombs and two officers taking cover behind a vehicle shouted, “Sarge, Sarge, get down they’re shooting at us!” He said he later fired four or five rounds at Tamerlan Tsarnaev and was confident in the moment that he struck the suspect. “I said, ‘I’ve got to be hitting this guy, I’m a good shot,’” Pugliese said. “He wasn’t reacting like he’d been shot.”
So Pugliese shifted tactics, he said, firing rounds at Tsarnaev’s feet, which he could see underneath the carjacked vehicle.
“I hit him a couple of times with my skip shots,” Pugliese said. “That’s when he realized I was there, and he came running out firing his gun at me.”
There was a small chain link fence separating the two, he said, and at one point they were about six feet apart as Tamerlan’s gun jammed and he took off running. He said he chased Tamerlan and tackled him, and two more officers helped place handcuffs on the bomber.
“That’s when one of the officers said ‘Sarge, Sarge, the other guy’s in the car,’ ” Pugliese said, adding that he leapt back and “felt the breeze of the car [Dzhokhar was driving] go right by my face” as it passed over Tamerlan.
Even after that, Pugliese said, Tamerlan was “still actively resisting,” despite the fact that Pugliese shot him nine times in the feet, ankles, and torso.
“He had so much blood on him,” Pugliese said, and afterward “my hands looked like I had red gloves on.”
n. Pugliese called law enforcement “the greatest profession in the world.” He worked on the Watertown force for 41 years.
o. Survival Story of the Week: Denise Grady of the New York Times, on Dr. Tomoaki Kato, his hospital’s “Michael Jordan,” an intestinal and liver transplant surgeon in New York.
p. So many people needed Dr. Kato to live, and he did. Wrote Grady:
After two months in the hospital, Dr. Kato emerged with a determination to get back to work and a new sense of urgency about the need to teach other surgeons the innovative operations he had developed. His own illness also enabled him to connect with patients in ways that had not been possible before.
“I really never understood well enough how patients feel,” he said. “Even though I’m convincing patients to take a feeding tube, and encouraging them, saying, ‘Even though it looks like hell now, it will get better and you’ll get through it,’ I really never understood what that hell means.”
He approaches those moments differently now: “ ‘I was there’ are very powerful words for patients.”
q. You may have seen the Steve Hartman “Taps Across America” on CBS last week, or clicked the link that I had in last week’s column. Hartman, for the second straight year, got thousands of musicians across the country, at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, to play Taps, a tribute to our fallen soldiers from years of fighting for our freedom. CBS asked for recordings of this year’s Taps renditions, and it’s a keeper.
Like my Pack idea?
The olive branch compromise?
Wonder if 12 will.