Peter King is on vacation until July 26, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Mike Tirico, a veteran sportscaster who has 30 years of experience in front of the camera and has hosted some of sports’ biggest events from the Indianapolis 500 to the Olympics. Tirico currently works as the studio host for “Football Night in America” and is also NBC’s primetime Olympic host for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
TOKYO—Kon’nichiwa from soft quarantine at the Olympics.
Hello from Tokyo, where the NFL used to play some preseason games and the world is readying for the most unique and challenging Olympics since the Modern Games began 125 years ago. The Games are on schedule to start competition Tuesday night, with the Opening Ceremony on Friday morning (U.S. time). The Olympics will happen in a country under a state of emergency, which sounds far more ominous than the situation we have experienced since arriving here nearly a week ago. Slow vaccination rates and new variants led the local government to ban spectators at the Games, despite a crowd of 10,000 for a Japanese professional baseball game last week.
Our NBC team and other broadcasters from around the world are working essentially within an Olympic bubble. We are permitted to go between our accommodations and work locations for the first two weeks in the country. We are testing often, wearing masks, and following protocols while preparing to broadcast over 7,000 hours of Olympics action back to America. It makes for a first-of-its-kind run-up to these delayed games.
A thank you to Peter King for giving the 1984 Syracuse University field hockey beat writer for the Daily Orange (campus newspaper) a chance to dust off his very rusty column-writing skills. Raised in New York City as an avid reader of the sports sections from the Daily News and the Post in my youth, I always appreciated great sports writing. But the chance for a kid raised in Queens to follow in the steps of Syracuse legends Marv Albert and Bob Costas led me to turn the typewriter in for a microphone early in my college days.
As an extremely loyal reader of Peter’s column, there was intense pressure to deliver a game-winning-drive type of performance in the last guest-penned edition of FMIA for Summer 2021. NFL training camps open on Wednesday and the King is back at the keyboard next week. So, I reached out to a few familiar friends to provide some football insight to hopefully tide you over.
We have Drew Brees on life after the NFL, the guys battling for his job, the young NFL QB he is excited about and a word about his new gig in the booth with me for Notre Dame football. Plus, my old Monday Night Football partner Jon Gruden on the value of having the three preseason games that will fill our August and some words from my friends who also host the NFL Sunday-Monday studio shows on the teams they’re interested in watching this summer. Finally, a tale of when American football was in the Olympics (hint: it includes Pop Warner, and Tokyo’s place in American football history) and my thoughts on the Olympics. And, befitting my current place in Asia and an FMIA tradition, I’ve got a column-ending haiku.
Young Drew Brees was that kid—the athlete in school who was just great in every sport. So, with no time for pee-wee tackle football, it was only flag football until Brees began his career at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Those preseason practices opened in the summer of 1993. This week, as the first two NFL teams (the Cowboys and Steelers) start assembling for training camp, and the rest of the league gets packed and ready to head off to their camps, Drew Brees for the first time in 29 years is not getting ready for camp. His season will be with us at NBC – in the studio as an analyst for Football Night in America and in the booth for Notre Dame’s home games. So, in a massive downgrade, he has gone from weekends throwing to Michael Thomas to taking throws from Mike Tirico.
Brees exits the field with what is likely the most prolific 24 years of college and pro stats ever accumulated. The numbers amassed, first at Purdue, then with the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, are truly incredible.
Pass Attempts: 12,229
Passing Yards: 92,150 (52.3 miles)
Over the last six months, he has begun a new chapter of his career. One without stats but not without sports. “I went skiing for the first time in 25 years,” he told me by phone last week. “Like riding a bike, it came right back.” He also tried a few other sports that the NFL contract would frown upon (like eFoiling and mountain biking) and adds that with a little more practice he could hold his own with the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the made-for-TV exhibition golf circuit. But when the subject of our conversation turned to football, including the two players vying for his old job in New Orleans, I could hear the passion for the game that has come to define his Hall of Fame career.
On missing it: “I have been preparing for the next chapter, I’m excited about it. There is a feeling of gratitude and appreciation for all that the game gave me. I still have a chance (at NBC) to be connected with the game and stay involved, but I am excited to be able to pursue some other passions that I haven’t been able to up to this point.”
On if he will be tempted to come back if a quarterback is injured and a needy team inquires about his interest in returning:
“I better get my butt going if that’s the case. There is a saying that if you don’t use it, you lose it. That’s the truth, my arm is killing me because I haven’t been training to throw. I actually feel worse now than at any other point in my career. I may have one throw, one series, one drive.”
“Both guys have such a love for the game … and you can see it in the way they play. Taysom has an infectious love for the game. There is not a guy who is more respected for that and for what he brings to the team. Jameis was such a joy to be around. He also loves the game and loves to work at it. You can tell that football consumes his thoughts. He wants to be a great player and continue to improve. Whatever happens, in terms of whoever is the starter, I do think there is a scenario where both of them are playing. If Jameis is the starter I think Taysom is seeing a lot of action at quarterback, maybe even moreso than he did with me.”
On the young QB that has caught his eye:
Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers). “I don’t think I’ve seen an athlete quite like him. We played them last year, and I was impressed. Then I saw him at mini-camp in OTAs and was amazed at how big and strong he is. His forearms and hands look like he has been digging fence-post holes his entire life. He is good, smart and has those leadership qualities. You talk about building an offense around a guy, he can be a 15-year franchise guy.”
On what has caught his eye with Notre Dame:
“I am excited to see (new defensive coordinator) Marcus Freeman’s impact and I like the brand of football the offense is playing with (offensive coordinator) Tommy Rees. What they are doing conceptually reminds me of what we see in the NFL.”
After a 2020 season that saw hurdles, changing protocols, great amelioration in the quality of play after no traditional training camp and an on-time delivery of all 269 games…another season unlike any other is about to get started.
The 2021 season will be the NFL’s longest ever. With the 17-game regular season and postseason it will take 285 games to crown a champion in 30-plus weeks.
In two of America’s greatest football areas, the Metroplex in Texas and Western Pennsylvania, the 102nd NFL season will officially get underway in two days. The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, because they play in the Hall of Fame game, get the jump on the rest of the league. The pro football shrine off I-77 in Northeast Ohio is full of gold busts representing players who have helped secure those Tiffany-made silver trophies proudly displayed at the entrance of the facilities in Pittsburgh and Frisco, Texas.
On induction weekend next month, Steelers guard Alan Faneca, safety Donnie Shell, scout Bill Nunn, and Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson will be joining the group of enshrinees headlined by Peyton Manning’s induction.
To generations, the Cowboys and Steelers quickly come to mind when thinking of Super Bowl teams. At least one of the teams was represented on 10 of the first 30 Super Sundays. Their three memorable head-to-head matchups (X, XIII and XXX) are the most of any two franchises. Yet the last quarter century of Super Bowls has only brought three ultimate games with either team represented (Pittsburgh in XL, XLIII and XV a decade ago at Cowboys Stadium).
So, as they open camp this year, will either of the teams with the big brands and global following work their way back to the final Sunday of the season? Some thoughts on which one has the better shot to get there:
The Steelers should feel so much closer, after a 12-4 record last year in a division-winning season. Mike Tomlin, the 15th-year head coach, has a contract extension and a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback returning. That normally feels like a recipe for a championship run. But as so often is the case with offseason NFL narrative, it is tinged not in totality of the prior campaign but in how it ended. And in Pittsburgh it ended with a thud.
I will never forget leaving the network TV booth in Heinz Field with Cris Collinsworth on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving last year. We had just called perhaps the oddest football game in the most bizarre of seasons: a twice-delayed, Wednesday afternoon game, which had been scheduled for six nights earlier on Thanksgiving but got delayed by COVID-19. Baltimore had team members test positive for COVID-19 on ten consecutive days, yielding ten pregame practice squad activations for the game. The roster was so fluid I was writing in player names and numbers on my spotting chart with 10 minutes to go before kickoff. Despite their depleted opponent, the Steelers almost lost the game. So, you sensed that although the team improved to 11-0 on the season, there was trouble ahead.
Tomlin knew. As I turned on the radio to start the drive back home to Michigan after the game, it was as upset as I can recall hearing a winning head coach in his post-game press conference. The Steelers lost five of their last six. Ben Roethlisberger never regained the form he showed in the first half of the season. The home Sunday Night Wild Card avalanche from the Cleveland Browns started what has been a longer summer. A running game and more consistent medium-to-deep ball throwing is a must in 2021. First-round Alabama draft pick Najee Harris will be mentioned constantly and watched closely by Steeler nation this summer in hopes he reignites the run game this fall. Whether this is his last year or not, the Big Ben era is winding down. Can it yield one last ring?
Could it be possible Dallas enters the season with more optimism than Pittsburgh, despite going 6-10 in the worst division the NFL gave us in 2020? Sighting Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury and the poorest of Ezekiel Elliott first five NFL seasons, gives that argument some merit. By all accounts, Dak is heathy and is armed with his new deal (how have the morning TV sports talk shows stayed on the air without that topic?) while Zeke is purported to have worked incredibly hard this offseason. But for me, the high-profile players are not the difference in what type of season Dallas will have. It must be a defense that keeps the offense from digging out of double-digit holes all season. The Cowboys gave up over 30 points in half of their games last year. The impact of ex-Falcon head coach Dan Quinn as the new defensive coordinator and how quickly ex-Penn State Linebacker Micah Parsons and the following five defensive draft picks make an impact will be the deciding factor if the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
We expect no shortage of news and conversation out of Dallas camp between now and seven weeks from Thursday, when the Cowboys visit Tampa Bay for the Kickoff Game on NBC. It’s the perfect place to start the king-sized season, in the newly minted city of champions on the night Brady and the Bucs put up the second Super Bowl banner in Tampa history.
Jon Gruden’s Bucs put up the first championship marker in Raymond James Stadium. This year for Gruden is already year four of stint two with the Raiders. His team will finally get to see what kind of home field advantage the spectacular Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas can be — the Raiders played all last season with no fans.
After his days in Tampa and before this Raider run, I had the chance to ride shotgun with Gru for seven wonderful years on Monday Night Football. The football education was only matched by the great stories and camaraderie with our entire team. When this time of the football season would arrive, we would always debate the merits of preseason games. I was insistent that two would be the right amount and he would constantly point out that coaches want the four games to have things right for when the regular season rolled around.
As we enter this first year of a 17-game regular season with three preseason games, I checked in with Gruden to get a coach’s perspective on this summer’s schedule. For his team, it will include very early morning practices so the Raiders can avoid the Las Vegas August heat.
“Remember now last year we had nothing—no offseason, no preseason, nothing,” Gruden reminded me when the topic of our annual summer came conversation came up. After suggesting that last season started and finished just fine without preseason games, he reiterated the reasons coaches appreciate the tune-ups.
“After three weeks of going against your own team it’s valuable to see your players against different defenses like Seattle, the Rams and San Francisco (the Raiders preseason 2021 trifecta). We’ll get different red zone defenses, two-minute philosophy as well. It’s just a level of preparation you can’t get going against your own team.
“Certain techniques that you only get live – blocking and shedding for our offensive guys – taking on cut blocks, live full-speed blocking, even how you travel. The more experience you get for your team in the preseason, the more it goes right in the regular season.”
There is also the element of watching players under the lights that can separate camp wonders from impact players. We reminisced about calling the first NFL game ever played at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 16,, 2010. We were joined by Ron Jaworski for a Giants-Jets preseason game that was part of a four-game preseason. It is a night I will never forget for two reasons. One was a visit by the late Frank Gifford, one of the legends in the great history of Monday Night Football. The other was the splash (Gruden word) onto the scene of an undrafted receiver wearing number three for the Giants. Before his salsa dancing days, Victor Cruz was little known until catching six passes from the likes of Jim Sorgi and Rhett Bomar that night. His 145 yards and three touchdowns the springboard to making the team, a five-year career that included a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl ring.
Here is the entry from my game chart that night on Cruz, who was second-string because of injuries to other Giants wide receivers coming into that game.
|Raised – Paterson, NJ|
|Shining w/injuries to Smith, Nicks, Mario, Moss|
So, while some of us may lament the quality of the games coming up over the next month, it is worth remembering that, for some players, these dress rehearsals are career makers.
If you love the league—which most of you still reading almost certainly do—you likely share the feeling that there is nothing like an NFL Sunday. This year’s extra regular season week now means that over one-third of our Sunday’s provide us a slate of three, and when London hosts a game, four football windows. Most of you also probably have a routine you follow on those football feast days. Same is true for those of us who cover the league. For the last few years as host of NBC’s “Football Night in America,” the 13 hours leading up to Carrie Underwood, Al, Cris, and Michele have the same rhythm.
An early-morning walk ends at a great coffee spot near our Connecticut headquarters before heading to the NBC studio mid-morning. Once there, the routine continues by watching all the morning pregame shows followed by a few meetings and the arrival of our teammates Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Chris Simms and Mike Florio. Come 1 p.m. eastern, sensory overload begins as we start consuming all the games at once in our screening room surrounded by the phenomenal behind the scenes brain trust of our broadcast. Together the many moving parts of “Football Night in America” come together. There is not a more fun place to watch football and Sept. 12th can’t get here soon enough. (Brees, you have no idea what you signed up for!)
Some of my favorite people in our business have their own Sunday/Monday routines—my friends who are also in host chairs for network NFL pregame shows. The last few seasons we have become connected via a group text and all of us carry a unique appreciation as we watch each other navigate through that week’s hot topics and analyst opinions. As you know, these Super Bowl MVP’s, gold jacket guys and NFL stars are not shy when it comes to their thoughts.
But just like you, those of us who tee up the topics have our thoughts on the league issues of the moment. So, I thought it would be fun to turn a bit of column space to them—and asked each pregame host for which team or teams they are most interested in watching this year and why:
(In order of show appearance on Sundays and Mondays)
Rich Eisen (NFL Gameday Morning, NFL Network)
Green Bay Packers. “Without a doubt, the most interesting team is the Packers, who have been the most interesting team in the NFL since Draft Day. We will be on seat’s edge until Aaron Rodgers shows up. Or doesn’t. Either way every snap means so very much.”
Samantha Ponder (Sunday NFL Countdown, ESPN)
Los Angeles Rams. “I can’t wait to see what Sean McVay does with Matthew Stafford. A home Super Bowl with a new but veteran QB feels like a realistic expectation after last year. Matthew’s ability and experience with Sean’s creativity and energy is going to be so much fun to watch.”
Charissa Thompson (Fox NFL Kickoff)
Washington Football Team. “I’m currently sitting in the Monterey airport after interviewing Ron Rivera for NFL Films, so maybe I’m biased here but I’m excited to see them build off last year. Look, don’t look at the fine print, but they made the playoffs last year, period. And Coach Rivera led them to the postseason while battling cancer. Now in remission, he’s healthy and so is his team. Ryan Fitzpatrick is magic. He had a winning record as a starter last year. Dude is a winner and finds ways to get it done. Their defense is among the best in the league. Chase Young is coming off a Defensive Rookie of the Year season and Montez Sweat is a stud. Offensively, Antonio Gibson is looking to build off his rookie campaign with 795 yards and 11 touchdowns. There are a lot of reasons to be excited if you’re a Washington Football Team fan.”
James Brown (NFL Today, CBS)
Buffalo Bills. “I am excited to see what unfolds for the Buffalo Bills, who have an excellent coaching staff headlined by Sean McDermott and coordinators Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier. They have a top-five QB in Josh Allen, whose year-by-year growth is impressive. Tough, talented and a well-liked leader. And a dangerous, clutch wide receiver who is also HAPPY in Stefon Diggs. Ingredients for continued success.
Curt Menefee (Fox NFL Sunday, Fox)
Chicago Bears. “While the world will be watching to see when/if Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers, I’ll be on Justin Fields watch. The Bears have been searching for a quarterback for decades, he could be the guy who not only gives the fans faith but saves jobs in the Windy City.”
Suzy Kolber (Monday Night Countdown, ESPN)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Jacksonville Jaguars. “I’m equally fascinated by opposite ends. Brady, Leftwich and Arians insisted all season, including during their Super Bowl run, that they were just scratching the surface of how good they can be once Brady is truly comfortable in the system. That, combined with the extraordinary effort to return all of their SB starters makes them incredibly intriguing. In Jacksonville, the great crop of young stars is led by Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence. The top overall pick combined with Urban Meyer’s approach to his first NFL head coaching job makes the Jags one to watch as well.
Over the years there have been several prominent connections between the Olympic Games and the NFL. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Games before his Hall of Fame NFL career. Speedster Bob Hayes took double gold the last time the games were in Tokyo (1964), and then his football career was highlighted by being a part of the Super Bowl VI champion Cowboys.
As a junior high school kid who grew up as a Jets fan going to old Shea Stadium, I remember Johnny ‘Lam’ Jones more for being the number two overall pick out of Texas who never panned out than his 1976 Olympic Gold in the 4×100 relay. At the 1992 Barcelona games, James Jett was on the gold medal 4x100m U.S. team, and the next year he began a nine-year, 30-touchdown career as a Raider for speed-loving owner Al Davis. And Herschel Walker, whose career accomplishments include winning a Heisman, playing in the USFL for Donald Trump, the infamous Cowboys trade and his days in Minnesota and Philadelphia, also has a ninth-place finish in the bobsled of the 1992 Winter Olympics.
More recently players like Jahvid Best, and Nate Ebner (rugby) have also taken part in the Olympics. But the current NFL name most closely tied to the Games is Marquise Goodwin. Tenth in the long jump at the 2012 London games and a silver medalist at the 2015 Pan Am Games, Goodwin took one more run at Team USA this summer. He finished 19th out of 24 at the U.S. trails last month in Eugene, Oregon and missed the team in Tokyo. But don’t count him out just yet from making a 2021 impact. Goodwin, who opted-out last year, is back in the NFL and was sharp in summer workouts with the Chicago Bears. A deep threat to go with Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney makes for an interesting mix on a Bears Offense that will have a lot of attention this preseason.
This year’s Super Bowl is at the spectacular second-year home of the Rams and Chargers, SoFi Stadium, which is scheduled to host the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 2028 Olympics. That year, Los Angeles will tie London as the only cities to host the games three times. Those old enough to remember the 1984 games recall the Soviet-bloc boycott which helped fuel a huge medal haul for the US. The four golds won by Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton’s gymnastics gold come quickly to mind. But you probably don’t know much about LA’s first Olympics, the games of the 10th Olympiad in 1932. The global event landed in Southern California in large part because no other city bid to host the games.
Olympic protocol of the day provided the local organizing committee the chance to arrange two demonstration sports to share new events with the world. The organizers chose lacrosse and American football because it was unique to our nation and the most popular form of the sport, the college game, was played by amateurs – still a distinction point of the Olympics back then.
So, two teams of graduating Seniors were assembled form the East and West. The East squad made up of players from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. Players from Cal, Stanford and USC comprised the West team, which was coached by Howard Jones, who was in the midst of his four-national-championship run at USC. One of his advisory coaches was Glenn S. Warner of Stanford; you probably know him better as Pop Warner.
The West won the exhibition 7-6, in what was described in the Official Report prepared by the 1932 Olympic Committee as:
“a spectacular contest with…a wide variety of running plays and a reasonably successful forward passing attack. It could hardly have been a better demonstration of the American game.”
Still nine decades later as the NFL continues to try and spread the reach and connection of the sport, the next paragraph of the Official Report resonates with me:
“The foreign athletes and press representatives were interested in the game but bewildered by its complexity. The consensus of foreign opinion was that American Football is a hard, bruising physical combat with a little too much emphasis on complicated technique. Most of the visitors commented chiefly on the great amount of time out and the numerous substitutions.”
Thus, it remains likely the only football we will continue to see as part of the Olympic program is the game played by the likes of Team USA’s Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd (who did hit a 55-yard FG in Eagles camp two years ago).
There is nothing that unites American sports fans, or for that matter all of America, like the Olympics. At some point over the 17 days that begin with the Opening Ceremony, some athlete who you have perhaps never heard of and might not ever see compete again, will lift you from your couch – have you bursting with patriotism, give you chills and might make you shed a tear. The joy of these Olympics will feel quite different than ever before, surrounded by the specter of a global pandemic, which has now changed our lives for 18 months and is still impacting the daily lives of most of us on planet earth.
The question and criticism of holding these Games have been a constant drumbeat leading up to the start and will remain part of the story until the flame is extinguished in three weeks.
The Olympic movement has and continues to have imperfections. Back home, in a country where everything feels ripe for a sarcastic social media snipe – the Olympics provides plenty of fodder.
But getting ready to serve as a host of NBC’s coverage for the third time, the second time as the host of the Primetime broadcast, there is one huge factor that makes me believe in the power and strength of the Games: the athletes.
They are not signing Trevor Lawrence rookie contracts or Ryan Ramczyk record right tackle contract extensions. In fact, almost all Olympians will never make the median annual NFL salary ($860,000 last year). Yet, the athletes you are about to see (American and International) are the best in the world at what they do. They have the most significant judgment of their accomplishments come down to minutes or even seconds, usually four, but this time, five years in the making.
Imagine if the Super Bowl were played once every four years.
This is their Super Bowl – and most only get one chance to win it. While many are products of the American collegiate system, they are not the celebrated stars who shine on television every Saturday and become the household names who eventually get analyzed by Mel Kiper, Jr. For the over 600 members of Team USA, it gets no bigger than these two-and-a-half weeks.
So, when you sit and watch them over the 17-night run of the games, appreciate their sacrifice instead of searching for the item that might divide. Be thankful they have given of themselves to play for a team that helps unite. If there is a divide and separation at the core our country, let’s enjoy one of the few things that unite us.
American football is no stranger to Japan. The island nation of 125 million was a regular NFL preseason stop for many years. The Tokyo Dome hosted the American Bowl every year from 1989-1996 with a total of 12 games here. Barry Sanders played in that same stadium the night he won the 1988 Heisman Trophy. The Oklahoma State back had 44 carries for 332 years in a 45-42 win over Texas Tech. It was the first ever college football game in Tokyo and one described by the Associated Press as one of the longest games in college football history at 3 hours 37 minutes. Times have changed.
According to our exceptional NBC Olympic Research Group, which provides almost all the information for the 41 sports in the games, the parade of nations at Friday’s Opening Ceremony will include 206 countries and territories. There are 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly. So, the Olympics truly represent the largest gathering of nations around the world.
While I don’t have an exact count, my total of NFL games as a play-by-play announcer total somewhere near 200. The very first was here in Tokyo, a Falcons/Colts preseason game on August 6, 2005. It was Peyton Manning vs. Michael Vick for a bit. The Falcons won 27-21.
This fall I start my 27th season of covering the NFL on network television. Before NBC and the Monday Night Football booth, it included serving as the first host of NFL Prime Monday (now Monday Night Countdown) on ESPN. That initial year the show was housed in a garage studio in Bristol, Conn., and the cast included Phil Simms, Skip Bayless, and Downtown Julie Brown. Over this last quarter century-plus from calling games to hosting expansion drafts I have truly enjoyed every second associated with the NFL. Thank you to the fans and the good people who make up the NFL family from public relations to players who have made each fall something special.
The @StanleyCup did sustain some damage during today’s festivities. It’ll be sent to Montreal for repairs and be back to resume Cup celebration with @TBLightning next weekend pic.twitter.com/MEbZGZFxSD
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) July 12, 2021
And they worried about Tom Brady’s Lombardi Trophy toss.
1. I think as we head into a shorter preseason, I still campaign for my NFL preseason plan. It should be two games no matter the length of the regular season. For the last few years, I have suggested that on top of the preseason game, each team should schedule one road and one home scrimmage against another team. The teams (as most do now) can practice against the opponent for two days at their practice facility, then hold a full scrimmage in their stadium. Under a plan like this, you might see Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers get 20 snaps against a number one defense with no contact. That’s a lot better option than today’s preseason that sees some teams not even play their starters in games. Perhaps there can even be a 20-minute period for a game involving rookies and free agents. This could help coaches with their evaluation of younger players in game conditions. One last suggestion – price the tickets for the scrimmage lower than the regular season face value. It might bring fans to the stadium who otherwise are priced out of the in-person experience.
2. I think the Bills have a really tough prime-time slate.
Week 5: SNF at Kansas City
Week 6: MNF at Tennessee
That is back-to-back prime time road games against two of the other three AFC teams who, like the Bills, have made it to the playoffs each of the last two years (Baltimore is the other and the Bills miss the Ravens this season).
Then another rough back-to-back prime time stretch:
Week 12: Thanksgiving Night on NBC at New Orleans
Week 13: MNF home versus New England
Especially given the home field advantage they enjoy at home; those three road prime-time games will go a long way to determine how good the Bills are this season.
3. I think it’s a whole new set of challenges this year for Ron Rivera in Washington. At Super Bowl 54 in South Florida, I spent some time visiting with Rivera, who had just taken the job with as Washington Head Coach. He was thrilled to be back in the league at that time, not knowing the difficulties ahead for the franchise and with his own cancer battle. His character and strength shown last year will stay with me for years. If WFT repeats as division champions it will likely come down to the last five weeks: Dallas at home, at Philadelphia, at Dallas; Philadelphia at home, then closing at the Giants.
4. I think I have never been prouder to be a part of the sports TV industry than over the last 15 months. The quality of sports on television didn’t dip significantly while so many incredible engineers, producers and talented folks behind the scenes working under very different and challenging conditions. We have learned a lot about the future, including efficiencies from expanded technology that will deliver a better product to fans in years to come. But there is still nothing that matches having the announcers in-person at an event.
5. I think this one is for Peter. There is not much time for beer tasting on our Olympic schedule, but Sapporo Yebisu is a notch above Kirin and Asahi in pre-Olympic taste testing. And on a Coffeeneerdness note, one of the best things about the International Broadcast Center is a 24-hour Starbucks—a must for these Olympic marathon broadcasting stretches.
6. I think this is my game timing thought: What if the early games each Sunday kicked off at (all times Eastern) 12:30 p.m., 12:45 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. While it might take some starch out of The RedZone Channel, it would allow the networks to take audiences to the end of multiple early games. Then start all late games at 4:15 p.m., and Sunday Night Football at 8:15 p.m.
7. I think I believe in the Browns. We flexed into Cleveland’s Sunday night win at the Giants in December and got a first-hand look at the connection between first year head coach Kevin Stefanski and the evolution of Baker Mayfield. That along with the star defensive performances of Myles Garrett will keep the Browns as a major player in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL this upcoming season.
8. I think for me the NFC West will be the NFL’s toughest division top-to-bottom this year. Matthew Stafford with the Rams, renewed health for the 49ers, the Seahawks are always in the thick of it and the Cardinals with Kyler Murray are never out of a game. No easy games there. Every one of the 12 division games amongst these four teams will make for good viewing.
9. I think I still would like to see teams put a safety as the deep back at the end of a game when they take the kneel-down victory formation. If there was a fumble, I would rather have one of my best defenders making a must tackle than a running back or wide receiver.
10. I think Detroit has long been a terrific baseball town, with the Olde English D on ballcaps everywhere you look in Motown. Dee-troit basketball had the state of Michigan rocking during the Pistons great play in the early 2000’s. The Red Wings terrific play for a quarter-century helped earn the city the nickname of Hockeytown. But if the Lions ever won a Super Bowl, the parade down Woodward Avenue would rival, if not surpass, the celebration in Philadelphia after the Eagles beat the Patriots three seasons ago. Beyond the quotes, I think the brand of football new head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are building will connect with the Ford Field fan base.
One last point: My alma mater Syracuse may be a little lighter than in past years with players on NFL rosters (15 are going to training camps. But can your school claim multiple NFL starting punters? Riley Dixon kicks for the Giants, Sterling Hofrichter had a successful year one in Atlanta and Nolan Cooney will be battling for the job this summer with the Saints. Moms and dads, if you have a son who would like to become an NFL punter – send him to the Carrier Dome – but hopefully this season there will be less fourth-down opportunities to audition!
There is one place the Orange is represented in high numbers on NFL weekends, that is the broadcast booth. In addition to my weekends in the booth we are very well represented every Sunday. My great friend Ian Eagle is starting season 23 for CBS this year and is as good as it gets. Andrew Catalon has been calling games at CBS for years and the legendary Dick Stockton just retired after a network career that spanned six different decades. Dave Pasch (Cardinals), Dan Hoard (Bengals), and Greg Papa (49ers) are three of the best radio play-by-play guys in the league. No matter which version of the RedZone you watch, you have alums of the great Newhouse School of Public Communications in Andrew Siciliano and former SU football player Scott Hanson. Even this column doesn’t have the space to the many members of television production teams and writers who cover the league on a regular basis. It is a privilege for all of us to keep the Orange legacy in the media alive every NFL Sunday.
Thanks to Peter for letting me borrow this space. We hope you join us the next few weeks for Olympic coverage from Tokyo and can’t wait to see you on NBC all season long.
From Haiku’s homeland
Faster, Higher, Stronger time
Then can Tom Get 8.