GREEN BAY, Wis. — One word to describe Aaron Rodgers right now, at this moment, at 37, after five months of tumult, entering a Packers season he had serious doubts that he’d be part of a month ago:
You thought I might say blunt, or vindictive, or, if using a compound word, told-you-so. No. None of those.
Coach Matt LaFleur, in fact, was so impressed with the mindset and mien of this Aaron Rodgers who showed up on the eve of training camp that he asked him to break down the team after the first practice of camp. For the team that’s lost the NFC title game two years in a row, this camp is the start of a vital season, and so this first practice of camp is a big deal, for setting the tempo of the six weeks to come. And LaFleur chose to hand the first-practice message to the biggest headline-maker of the NFL’s 102nd season. Of course I wanted to know what Rodgers said. LaFleur hesitated, not wanting to disclose personal, team stuff.
“Ask Aaron if he’ll tell you,” LaFleur said.
Rodgers, on his first vet off-day of the summer, was sitting in the shade on a bench at the Packers’ practice field across the street from Lambeau Field, when I asked him about it. Wearing a ballcap and featuring the faintest spritz of gray around his chin in his customary scruffy short beard, Rodgers thought about that post-practice session. “I can’t remember the exact words,” he said, “but I said your thoughts are becoming real things. I talked about a positive mindset. I did want to assure the guys how special it was to be back, how committed I am to the team, how special the relationships are to me, how focused I am on this season and accomplishing all of our goals. But I talk a lot about positivity, about a mindset, about manifestation, about embracing the journey. That stuff that’s really important to me. Be present. This is a great time in our lives.”
When we look up at the ceiling at night, and we think about everything, of course we think about what the future holds. Rodgers too. But in 17 minutes together, he wouldn’t go there, to 2022. No speculation whether he’ll be traded somewhere, or whether he’ll stay in Green Bay, or the remote chance he’ll retire. His feet will stay where they are, as they say.
He did, however, say something I didn’t expect: “Last year at this time, I was looking at the season as my last year in Green Bay.”
Busy week in the league, as first preseason weeks go. I’ll take the temperature of the Bills and how Josh Allen is toning down the heroball stuff . . . Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t sound broken . . . A rundown of all the headlines of preseason week one, including Cam Newton leaving an opening for Mac Jones in New England and thoughts on the rest of the Round 1 rookie QBs . . . Jaire Alexander looks me up on Wikipedia (now there’s a guy who preps for an interview) . . . an Ehlinger grows in Indianapolis . . . Matt Nagy might have a plan for Justin Fields.
The info dump on what I know about Rodgers and Green Bay’s future at quarterback:
• Rodgers wanted out. The Packers held firm. Rodgers didn’t want to retire. Strip away everything about the terms of engagement going forward, and it comes down to this: In 2022, he will either agree to stay in Green Bay (and perhaps sign an extension) or request a trade, likely with some say about his landing spot. The Packers, I am told, will not release him in 2022. If Rodgers finishes 2022 in Green Bay without an extension, he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, at age 39. In that case, the pursuit of him would be even more intense than it was for 42-year-old Tom Brady in March 2020.
• I don’t think Rodgers knows what 2022 will bring. The Packers certainly don’t.
• His airing-of-grievances press conference 19 days ago angered Packers brass that had laid down olive branches to him since his offseason of discontent began. But it’s been harmonious in Packerland since that afternoon. “This is the best Aaron’s been around the team since I’ve been here,” coach Matt LaFleur told me. “I turn around at practice sometimes, and I see him with his arm around [rookie center] josh myers or maybe [right guard] Lucas Patrick, explaining everything they need to know.”
• Jordan Love, the pivot-point first-round pick of all the discontent, hasn’t wowed the team. Good days, shaky days. But I’d be cautious about saying the 26th pick in the 2020 draft is in trouble. Rodgers, the 24th pick in 2005, had more than his share of lousy moments in years one and two behind Brett Favre. Love’s decision-making must improve. But some quarterbacks take more nurturing than others. One of the biggest problems in football today is impatience with young quarterbacks, and I got the sense the Packers think Love’s not ready for prime time yet.
• No sign of any lingering pissed-offedness in Rodgers, on or off the record. The surprising thing, one confidant told me, about the rancorous offseason is that Rodgers never seemed angry about it. He controlled what he could control, and when he figured the Packers wouldn’t cave and trade him, he had to decide whether to come back or sit the season or retire. At one point, he was 50-50 about walking away from the game, at least for now. “I thought if he did come in, we’d get the best version of Aaron,” said LaFleur.
• Taking the temperature of the building—with execs, LaFleur, players, Rodgers—left me thinking this team’s going to be really good again. Every word Rodgers says will be micro-analyzed all season, but I’ll be surprised if he leaves many crumbs on his trail to 2022. I’ll be surprised if he’s a distraction. Green Bay should be the class of the NFC North again, and then, particularly with star left tackle David Bakhtiari projected to return from his ACL injury before midseason, Rodgers-Brady II for the NFC Championship isn’t far-fetched.
“Let’s face it,” LaFleur said. “It would have been bad for the game of football if Aaron wasn’t here.”
I don’t know this, but I believe Rodgers was leaning toward coming back for a while before he walked into the building July 27 for the first time in six months. Though he has so many other interests, nothing would have replaced football for him.
“I really do love it,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come back. I’ve got so many other things that I love and I’m passionate about. I love competing. I love practice, still. I’ve had a really good camp. Last year I felt like I started a little slow and then something clicked. I’ve actually had a really good camp here. I feel good about where I’m at.
“It was a little strange the first couple days. I came back knowing . . . Really, the reason I came back is because I felt like I could be 100 percent committed to the team and 100 percent focused and locked in. Knowing all the different responsibilities that I have, including side conversations with the Josh Meyerses of the world. I was ready for that and that’s why I decided to commit, come back.
“I think a lot of how I’ve felt is perspective. Perspective leads to a lot of the happiness in your life. If we’re looking for things to be upset about or pissed off about, I’m sure we can find them in our own life. If we’re looking for what we don’t have, I’m sure we can find it. But if we can focus on the thing we do have and the things we’re grateful for, then every day can be a little more special than the last because you realize how great of an opportunity we have.
“For me to still be playing, to still have these relationships, to grow relationships with guys like Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, David Bakhtiari and Marcedes Lewis, Jaire Alexander and some of these guys I’ve gotten close to the last few years. Part of what I love is getting to know these other guys—our tight end, Bronson Kaufusi, I love him. One of the happiest guys ever. My locker mate, [backup linebacker] Oren Burks, who’s a super-sweet, genuine, good human. Or the younger guys that we brought in off the street who are still trying to figure out how to talk to the old guy with some gray in his beard. You watch the speeches from the Hall of Fame guys and they talk about how the relationships are the most important thing. And when I walked in that first day, I wanted to reassure all of them where I was mentally—not that they really needed to hear it. I felt so much love from those guys.”
At practice, the wry Rodgers returned. If you’ve seen the legs of 247-pound running back A.J. Dillon, you’ve seen the thickest running-back legs in the NFL.
“Your legs get smaller this offseason?” Rodgers deadpanned to Dillon one day.
“Nope,” Dillon said. “Put four pounds on each of ‘em.”
Rodgers actually enjoys training camp. “Camp hasn’t really been a drudgery since they outlawed two-a-days,” he said. “Some of these young kids don’t realize how good we got it. The meetings can be beatings at times, as my old buddy Favre used to say. But, perspective. I can’t be upset about training camp because any old player like myself has been through some s— that it’s just not the same anymore. How can you be upset when you’re not practicing twice a day? And you’re not in there at 7 and out at 11? I mean, shoot, I get back to my house on a late day at 8 o’clock? That’s pretty damn good.”
The occasional vet day off helps in a player’s 17th year. “I was teasing Matt,” Rodgers said. “I said, Mike [McCarthy] used to say, ‘Hey head out to the golf course, man. Take a personal day.’ So I asked Matt, Is this a real vet day or a fake vet day? Matt was like, ‘I think it’s a fake vet day.’ So I did a workout, stretched, hung out with Marcedes Lewis. It wasn’t crucial for me. My arm feels really great.”
I said: “Today’s August 11. If you weren’t here, playing football, where would you be? What would you be doing?”
Rodgers responded, “I’d definitely be in another country, doing something. Traveling, outdoors. Maybe Europe. I’d like to go to parts of Europe I haven’t been to—the south of France, then some of the historical stuff in Germany, Poland, Belgium. Something like that.”
I asked about GM Brian Gutekunst and president Mark Murphy, and whether he’d be able to have civil or good relationships with them after the fluff of this offseason.
“I mean, the people I have to deal with every day is the staff, my teammates,” Rodgers said. “I have a really good relationship with the staff. Once you get into the football season, those are the most important relationships because you’re talking with them every day. I’ve always had a good relationship with Matt when it comes to play-calling and installs and stuff I like. Then obviously having [offensive coordinator Nathaniel] Hackett, who’s a close friend, in the room, and [passing game coordinator Luke] Getsy. Those are the most important relationships.
“The other one [Gutekunst], you know, I leave space and optimism for growth and change. But, you know, at this point, my focus is just on the football staff and making sure those conversations and communication are right going into the season.”
Maybe Rodgers said somewhere that a year ago he approached the season as if it was his last in Green Bay; I hadn’t heard that. He said it when I asked him if it was hard for him, or distracting, to know this might be his last year as a Packer. “Last year, I need to look at the year that way for perspective,” Rodgers said. “Just to enjoy all the little things that I’ve been able to be a part of over the last 15-plus years at the time. Helped me have a great season, mentally, quality-of-life-wise, happiness-wise. And I had so much fun.
“I think because of that experience, I got a template for how to have the right perspective on things this year. For me, it really starts with gratitude. I’m not bitter about anything. I might not agree with some of the decisions that are made or the way things have been carried out. I have a ton of gratitude for this city, and the organization, the opportunities I’ve been given here. That’s what I choose to focus on—the things that I do have. That’s a lot of great relationships in the building, an incredible fan base that comes out and watches us every day in training camp. It’s been 16-plus really special years.
“The future? Who knows what’s going to happen. Right now I’m focusing on how special this moment is and this opportunity is.”
The opportunity, of course, is the chance to win the first Super Bowl for this franchise in 11 years. Rodgers is already an all-timer at his position. He’s won two-thirds of his career starts, and his touchdown-to-interception margin (412 to 89) over 16 seasons is positively insane. But he’s in the same place lot of the great ones—Favre, Drew Brees—are in. One Super Bowl. It’s not a donut hole in his résumé, but it’s something certainly he’d like to add to.
In order to do that, lots will have to go right, of course. One of those things that must go right is what I’d call the sound of silence. Rodgers’ words, for years, have been parsed like Russia-watchers parse Putin. Rodgers can’t have even harmless musings about his future, lest they become grist for the 24-hour sports cycle, possibly infecting his own locker room. My feelings is he’s too smart to let something like that happen, but we’ll see. When I asked him if he might talk about all of this in a book one day—I mean, the real stuff—he said he didn’t know. Then he paused for a moment, looking out at the practice field.
“Some things are better left unsaid.”
Good words to keep in mind this season.
Sam Ehlinger: Story of the Training Camp Trip
WESTFIELD, Ind. — Saw my favorite play from 13 training-camp practices so far here Thursday, executed by the 10th and final quarterback taken in the 2021 draft, throwing to the 32nd wide receiver picked in the 2021 draft. Colts sixth-round QB Sam Ehlinger to Colts seventh-round wideout Mike Strachan. In a feisty practice against the visiting Panthers, from inside the Carolina 5-yard line, Ehlinger looked at his first option, covered; looked at his second option, covered. Ehlinger came back to the back side of the play, where the 6-5, 225-pound Strachan was blanketed by two Panther DBs—both of whom had their hands on him as he trolled the back of the end zone.
“‘Draped’ doesn’t describe it correctly,” Colts coach Frank Reich told me a day later. “In fact, with words, I don’t know how to describe how well-covered Strachan was by those two Panthers. There was no way to get a ball to him.”
Ehlinger threw it anyway, a line drive to nowhere. “I know covered in the NFL is different than covered in college,” said Ehlinger, who played 46 games at Texas. Well, of course it is. This throw, though, just looked, well, not smart. But Ehlinger burned a fastball at Strachan, through various body parts of the two defenders, and the ball just velcroed onto Strachan. Touchdown. “That play is perfectly indicative of Sam’s camp,” Reich said. “He’s been really impressive.”
Normally I wouldn’t be writing about a depth quarterback on my training-camp trip. That changed two weeks ago, when Carson Wentz underwent foot surgery after a fluky camp injury, and the Colts said he would be out five weeks, minimum. Now it appears Wentz has a good chance to play the Colts’ opener Sept. 12 in Seattle; he was out at the practices I saw with no boot on the surgically repaired foot, with no limp. But it’s a mark of how impressive Ehlinger has been in camp that he is seriously challenging presumptive top backup Jacob Eason, and based on his decision-making quickness and how he’s led the offense, I give him good odds of playing the opener if Wentz isn’t ready. But that’s not a decision that has to be made now, and Eason’s preseason play could change that.
Ehlinger, in his debut playing with the twos and threes, led the Colts to a late TD and ran in a two-point conversion to tie the game, then led the Colts to the winning field goal with seven seconds left to lift Indy past Carolina 21-18 on Sunday.
So much to Ehlinger’s story beyond football. His father died of a heart condition competing in a triathlon when Sam was 14, and five days after Sam was drafted, on his first day inside the Colts’ facility, his younger brother died of undetermined causes back in Texas. Great story by The Athletic’s Zak Keefer on Ehlinger’s path.
Imagine the first time Ehlinger was in Colts’ headquarters being the day his brother, the closest person in the world to him, died with zero warning. Reich told me at that moment, he didn’t even know Ehlinger—they hadn’t drilled down hard on him before the draft—beyond surface-y hellos and welcome-to-the-team.
“So the first time I’m with Sam is the worst moment of his life,” Reich said. “He found out in the building, then he went out to our practice field, and he’s on his knees, wailing, crying, totally grief-stricken, heartbroken. It was the depth of despair that has a feel you can’t put into words. I don’t know Sam, but he is a brother in Christ, and the amazing thing about this moment is he was pounding his fist on the turf one minute, screaming, ‘Why Lord?’ And the next minute he’s quoting Scripture. I just put my hand on his shoulder and tried to be there for him.”
GM Chris Ballard and Colts director of player engagement David Thornton went to the funeral for Jake Ehlinger. To their surprise, Sam Ehlinger got up and gave an eloquent eight-minute eulogy for his brother, thoughtful and meaningful, fighting through whatever emotions one has when something this earth-moving happens. When it was over, Ballard said to Thornton: “I don’t know exactly what ‘it’ is, but whatever it is, Sam has it.”
That’s become a football cliché, and I thought a while before using it. It’s here because Ehlinger just radiates it, even in the short meeting I had with him.
“That’s an honor for people to say that,” Ehlinger said. “I think it’s just living in the present, really loving others and loving what you do and trying to be the best every single day and improving.
“It’s been very difficult for me. I’m not going to act like it’s easy. To get up there at the funeral and put together words was tough, but I wanted to provide hope for everyone and understanding what that situation was being his brother with the community, with the people we know. I wanted to provide some hope because I knew everybody was hurting. And then living on a daily basis with that is tough, for sure. It’s just important to let those emotions come, not suppress them and push them down, and it certainly comes. It’s not easy and some days are better than others, but continuing to press on, try to stay in the moment and remember the good times is kind of my motto.”
I asked about the message in his eulogy.
“I think the biggest thing I wanted them to take away was obviously what Jake taught me, but giving them hope in eternity. I think that’s something that death makes you face; if you don’t have death in your life you don’t really think about that. But comprehending eternity and how short this life is compared to eternity, and my belief Jesus Christ sacrificing his life for us. But . . . just eternity and putting into perspective how short this life is compared to eternity.”
There is no logical segue to football after what Ehlinger has been through. But around the Colts, after the blows he has taken, they want him to succeed at this level. It’ll likely depend on his ability to make those line-drive NFL throws to spots—his arm is just average—but knowing Reich, he’ll be able to figure out a game plan with offensive coordinator Marcus Brady to win a game or two with Ehlinger if he has to. The smartest thing Ehlinger said to me is hackneyed, but if you believe it, and he does, it’s smart: “Doesn’t do me any good to think about that. I can’t control anything outside of myself.” Point is, just do the work, practice hard. The chips will fall.
Maybe he becomes a starting quarterback one day, if he can show enough arm. Maybe he becomes Chase Daniel, a career backup who can win the occasional game. No one knows. But he makes quick and smart decisions, probably the result of starting 42 games in the Big 12 at Texas. And he is 22 going on 42, and that’s a trait a quarterback coach cannot teach.
Bills Pass Rush + Josh Allen’s Next Step
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Can I apologize in advance for something? I go to all these training camps, and before I arrive, I think of the biggest story of camp. Here, in the land of the table-crashers and the home of the Bills, that story is certainly, Has GM Brandon Beane done enough for the pass-rush to put salve on the team’s only real major negative? In the last two drafts, the Bills have had a total of three picks in the first two round, and each has been used on a pass-rusher—A.J. Epenesa last year (then limited by Covid), Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham this year.
FMIA Quiz: Who led the Bills in sacks last year?
Last year, in two meetings against the kingpins of the AFC, Kansas City, the Bills sacked Patrick Mahomes twice for minus-four yards. He threw five TDs with no picks. He was comfortable, passing for a combined 128.0 rating and winning by 14 and nine points. KC’s the Mount Olympus of the conference, built to last.
The Bills have built a very good team, the best here in a quarter-century, and optimism here is ridiculously high. But . . . there is a but. “We gotta be able to rush the passer better, and we knew that,” coach Sean McDermott said to me here. “Will we? I don’t think we know yet.”
That is the priority in camp. While Rousseau is still getting his feet wet in only his second season as a pass-rusher, I heard good things about Basham (57 tackles behind the line in four Wake Forest seasons) in camp. “His inside-outside versatility’s been impressive,” Beane said. We shall see.
So a few sentences ago I apologized, and here’s the reason. It’d have been good and understandable to write everything here about the pass-rush, and to dissect what I saw from the three kids and from the 33-year-old vet, Jerry Hughes, who the team hopes to get another good season out of. But there’s something else that interested me a bit more, and I apologized because I’ve been over-writing the quarterback. It seems to be a story in almost every camp I’ve attended.
The fans are euphoric, and rightfully so, about Josh Allen. No one’s begrudging him or the Bills for the biggest contract by far in franchise history, a deal that will pay him $2.56 million, on average, for each game the Bills play over the next six seasons. I like the contract, and I like the timing. Quarterback deals do not go in reverse. Great quarterbacks play contract-hopscotch, with Matt Ryan using Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson using Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott using Deshaun Watson, and now Josh Allen using Dak Prescott. (Mahomes’ deal is a bit of an outlier because of its 12-year length, but I digress.)
Allen is the justifiable heir to Jim Kelly as the greatest Buffalo has ever had, a 25-year-old with all the tools to be an all-timer. I would have done exactly what Beane did—lock up a guy who’s truly all about winning, who has shown he can come back late to win some big games (Rams, Pats last year), and who got much better throwing the ball to spots last year, completing 69.2 percent in an offense that relies on smart decisions by a strong-armed quarterback.
There is one thing he’s got to get better doing. He’s got to be better in the biggest spots for the Bills to win Super Bowls.
In the two meetings between Buffalo and Kansas City last year, Mahomes was a 78 percent passer, Allen 56 percent. The Bills were down by three at the half in the regular-season meeting and went punt, punt, TD pass, interception in the second half; KC won 26-17. In the AFC title game, the Bills trailed 21-12 at the half and went field goal, interception, TD pass, field goal in the second half. Good, but 19 points in two second halves against KC is not good enough. Buffalo didn’t lead in the second half of either game.
The day Allen was drafted seventh overall in 2018, New England was the AFC king. But Tom Brady’s gone, and now the king is in Missouri. Now the Bills have to figure a way to beat Kansas City, and Allen has to figure a way to go toe-to-toe with Mahomes. You might say it’s unfair to measure him against Mahomes, solely. But it’s not. Mahomes is the standard in the AFC; he’s won a Super Bowl, an MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. Mahomes is 25. Allen is 25. It’s not all on Allen. But the quarterback has to win in the NFL these days, somehow, some way. And it is fair to judge Allen against the best—because he has a good chance to be the best.
In part, that was a focus of Allen’s this offseason, working with his quarterback tutor, Jordan Palmer, in southern California. Palmer stressed with Allen to play with a quieter mind, and to be calmer. In the past, mistakes were too mentally taxing for Allen, who told me: “Back in the day I tried to play pissed off on the field and I found myself not playing very well, tensed up. Now, whether it be small things like listening to calming music pregame, to not be so hyped and anxious for the game.”
The goal, in particular, is to play a more level game. It’s hard to blame Allen, after being The Man at mid-major Wyoming and coming to Buffalo and having to be the same for the Bills to have a chance, for thinking he had to be Favrian late in games for his team to win. Of course he has to be great, but he also has to make the plays he can make and not stretch beyond. “Just trying not to be a hero,” Allen said. “Trust in the guys on the field with me, trust in the playcalls, and not try to do too much and I think that’s something that I kind of had in my rookie year was trying to play hero-ball and it’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve got an extreme amount of trust in the guys on the field with me, with coach Dabs [offensive coordinator Brian Daboll] and the relationship we have with calling plays and us going out and executing. So I’m in a really good spot mentally with that and I feel like I’m getting better every day with that.”
(Palmer also stressed something else cliché-y with Allen: Finish. Like, finish everything you do. That includes, for instance, not taking the gimmes on the golf course. Your approach shot lands six inches from the pin? Don’t pick it up. Putt it.)
The good thing about Allen’s contract is now the Bills know they’re going to be contenders every season for the foreseeable future. They’ve got a quarterback who can play at the highest level of the sport. Now he’s got to take the next step. He’s got to win the biggest games.
I Like This Plan For Fields
CHICAGO — I realize the last thing voracious Justin Fields fans will want to hear this morning, after seeing him have a B or B-plus preseason opener Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field, is that he might not play much this year. I really have no idea how much he’ll play, or when he’ll take over for Andy Dalton, if he does. That’s because it’s unknowable right now.
But a few notes about how much various quarterbacks who debuted in this century played as rookies:
• TOM BRADY. Mopped up in one game as a rookie in 2000. Threw three passes all year. Second on the all-time passing-yards list.
• DREW BREES. Played in one game as a Charger in 2001, completing 15 of 27 throws. First on the all-time passing-yards list.
• CARSON PALMER. The first pick in the 2003 draft didn’t play a snap till 2004. Ended up throwing for more yards than Dan Fouts and Joe Montana.
• AARON RODGERS. Threw 16 passes as a 2005 rookie. Didn’t start a game till his fourth season, 2008.
• PATRICK MAHOMES. Played one game as a 2017 rookie behind Alex Smith in Kansas City. Won it. Carried the clipboard for the rest of his five rookie months.
“And,” said the offensive coordinator of that 2017 Kansas City team, Matt Nagy, “I was in that meeting room every day for those meetings. I saw how Patrick earned Alex’s trust. What I mean by that is like from the start, we would watch tape and Alex would ask me and Alex would ask [backup] Tyler Bray what we thought about the certain coverage that we saw against the defense. He’d ask us. He wouldn’t ask Patrick. He didn’t trust Patrick yet. By about Week 10, he was asking Patrick. ‘Patrick, what do you think they’re doing right there?’ That’s trust. He earned that. That red-shirt year was so huge for Patrick’s development. He grew in practice. He really grew in the meeting rooms.”
It’s folly to suggest Mahomes would been an incompetent player as a rookie. Lots of quarterbacks play as a rookie and prosper. But Andy Reid’s plan with the best young quarterback in football—sit Mahomes, play a good vet in 2017—sure looks good now.
I met Nagy at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Bears’ hotel, four hours before they kicked off the preseason against Miami. Nice opening performance for the 11th pick in the draft, Fields, who played about two quarters and completed 14 of 20 passes and threw for one TD.
The topic: When to play Fields, how long to stick with Andy Dalton, and when exactly to move on to the future.
The answer: Unknowable, as of 8 a.m. on this morning, Aug. 14, 2021. Whatever happens, Nagy says, will happen organically. And he’s at peace with that.
But he also has a riff: He’ll be darned if he puts Fields in the lineup before he’s ready, and before it’s best for the team. Both must be true for Nagy to make the call, barring an injury to Dalton.
“If we play Justin early to satisfy our needs, and not to do what’s best for Justin and the Chicago Bears, we’re going to ruin Justin and hurt the Bears,” Nagy said. “We need to do is what’s best for the Chicago Bears—not only right now but we want this to be something that lasts 15 years. Not two years. See what I’m saying? What happens is, people get stuck in the moment, and they do it to satisfy themselves. I’m gonna do what’s best for Justin Fields. Not for Matt Nagy. People can say the save-your-job deal. Let me tell you how much I care about that part, okay? I don’t. When you start doing things to do things for yourself, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong. You’re dead wrong. I’m not letting that happen. We are going to develop Justin right, and we’re sticking to it.”
Seems pretty definitive. I like it. Every player’s different. But the last time Nagy had a rookie high pick in his charge was Mahomes, and he sat, and it worked out well. Others have played the first year recently—Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert last year, for instance—and that turned out great for their teams (at least till Burrow tore his ACL in November). But look at the five greats of this century I listed a few paragraphs ago. And don’t tell me the fans are tired of bad quarterback play and deserve a great young player NOW and blah, blah, blah. The Bears need an adult in the room and a 15-year plan that works with a quarterback, finally. We’ll see if this works with Fields, but I can’t see how it’s a bad plan, particularly with a reputable if limited starter, Dalton, likely playing come September.
Nagy must be patient and stick to this plan. For 35 minutes at the dawn of the new season with a franchise quarterback in the saddle, he swore he will.
I had good conversations with a few people over the past week. They weren’t exactly the big stories of their camps, but they have value.
In Westfield, Ind., at Colts camp, here was the man who won a Super Bowl in Philadelphia just 3.5 years ago, standing in the end zone with the Colts head coach, Frank Reich, his former offensive coordinator in Philly. Maybe 25 feet away, at the goal line, was Carson Wentz, the prodigal QB who Pederson had benched near the end of last season in Philadelphia. Since Pederson was run out of Philadelphia seven months ago, and since Wentz was traded to Indy, the shock of the Eagles’ dissolution has worn off for both. They hadn’t spoken or met since the end of Philly’s season . . . until Thursday, when they saw each other at a Colts position meeting that Pederson sat in on. Pederson, who is not coaching this year, wants to get back in it next year.
Pederson: “I really wanted to go to Indianapolis, to see Frank especially. But I knew Carson was there, of course, and I wanted to see him too. Carson and I were together for five years. We accomplished so much together. I wanted to run into Carson. I wanted to hug his neck and wish him well, and I think the feeling was mutual with him.
“We did that, on Thursday. It was very positive, something I really wanted to do. It was natural, it was real. I saw him and hugged him. Carson and I always had a great relationship, and I have great regard for him, and I didn’t want what happened at the end to tarnish that. He moved on, I moved on, and let’s be men about it.
“We as coaches are hard on players. We want the most out of players. I’ve been coached hard when I was a player, and I didn’t always like it. There’s been times I didn’t like my coaches, but now, I’m grateful to them for helping make me the player and the man I am. It’s life. Everything’s not always smooth, and you’ve got to adapt and move on. I think we both have.”
I met the rising-star corner (Pro Football Focus’s top-rated cornerback in 2021, allowing just 50.7 percent completions on 69 throws in coverage) for the first time Wednesday. Alexander, 24, has already had the game he’ll never forget. In the NFC Championship loss to Tampa, he intercepted Tom Brady twice in the fourth quarter inside the Green Bay 30-yard line.
Alexander: “I played some of the best people every week. My first two years it was just going so fast. You play a game, next game. You play a game, next game. Last year was my first year that I really blocked out the distractions from everywhere else and really locked in on my craft, being the best. And the championship game last year, I was like ‘Yep, you know, I picked off Tom Brady twice.’ My confidence was through the roof. I know what it took to get there. It took me being disciplined, consistent. Like you said, fearless. That’s what I am though.
“Coming into the game I wasn’t sure I would get that many and it happened. I don’t know how to explain it but I was locked in on a whole ‘nother level. I mean, it’s so easy for Tom to throw one over your head [for a big completion]. To get two, it was just a sign of my work. I celebrate all my wins because at corner, so often, you’re alone out there. You should celebrate. [Laughter] Because if you get beat deep, ain’t nobody celebrating. They’re all like ‘Oh, oh! I don’t know about this guy!’ “
Trubisky is where he needs to be—in Buffalo, on a very good team, behind a very good quarterback, with smart offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and QB coach Ken Dorsey helping him rebuild his game. After a practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., I asked about his place now, and the impact of not performing anywhere near the men picked behind him in 2017, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Trubisky: “I don’t think by any means my journey is even close to being over. Already I can tell I made a really good decision to come here. I love football. I love football. I love this game. I know a lot of people couldn’t go through what I went through and still be standing, as you said. It’s just made me stronger as a person, as a player. This was my dream as a fifth-grader. I said, ‘I want to play in the NFL someday,’ so looking back at that kid, I’d be doing that kid a disservice if I ever gave up.
On the constant reminders of Mahomes/Watson: “It didn’t bug me. I think from the city of Chicago it brought more pressure because that’s kind of what they were expecting and that’s what I was expecting too, that’s what I wanted to do. As a competitor, you want to be putting up those numbers and you want to be winning those types of games as well. But I do know that I was able to put that aside because I know everybody’s process is different and everybody’s situation is different. Pat has a great situation in Kansas City. Everyone goes through a different process, but I think it’s all about how you embrace your journey. Mine’s not over yet and I’m just waiting for that next step and it is what it is. Here I am now.”
“If people are sleeping on the Jets, if they have that same mentality, you’re going to get your ass blown out.”
—Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, after the Jets won the preseason opener against the Giants.
We shall see. People tend to have that mentality when a franchise averages 4.5 wins a season over four years.
“That was probably the most fun I’ve had since I came into the league.”
—Dwayne Haskins, the Steelers’ backup quarterback, after going 16-of-21 on four straight scoring drives to lead the Steelers over the Eagles in a preseason win. Haskins, of course, flamed out of Washington after being its first-round pick in 2019 and is trying to rebuild his career under Mike Tomlin.
“There’s reports out there that I don’t listen to [technology advancements]. I sarcastically say that just to make some of my adversaries happy. I’m not an idiot. We practice in the Mojave Desert here. We’re practicing at 7 in the morning, so we do gather all kinds of information. We have some of the best trainers and doctors and people here you could imagine. So we’re going to be real careful and smart, and you’re darn right we listen to that stuff.”
—Raiders coach Jon Gruden, on practicing outside in the desert in August.
“This game has done everything for me. Obviously, there were some things that I regret along the way, getting kicked out of school and obviously injuries come with the game. For the most part, this game has given me, my family, a tremendous life. A life that I couldn’t possibly dreamt of growing up in New Orleans. And then too, the people I met along the way. Some great coaches. Some real good dudes. I’m extremely blessed and I’ll probably say I’m the most fortunate guy in the NFL.”
—Kansas City safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has a firm grasp on his good fortune in life, to me.
—Former NFL QB Shaun King, to Fox Sports Radio.
Consider it written.
Monday, Aug. 2, 4 p.m., Indianapolis: Dr. David Porter repaired a broken bone in Colts quarterback Carson Wentz’s foot. The Colts gave a five-to-12-week rehab prognosis.
Tuesday, Aug. 3, 4 p.m., Indianapolis: Dr. David Porter repaired a broken bone in Colts left guard Quenton Nelson’s foot. The Colts gave a five-to-12-week rehab prognosis.
T-shirt of the Week: From the gift shop/sundries store inside Buffalo Niagara International Airport
On July 10, Frank Reich, an ordained minister, officiated at the wedding of his youngest daughter Hannah in South Carolina.
It was the third daughter whose wedding Reich has presided over. Previously, Lia and Aviry Reich were wedded by their dad.
When you check into the boutiquey Northlands Hotel in Green Bay, this is the framed photo that greets you at the front desk:
A day in the life of the training-camp trip, in brief, driving with NBC videographer/sidekick/driver extraordinaire Nicole Barros:
Mile 0: Indianapolis, 5 a.m ET — Depart JW Marriott for Chicago. Drive-thru Starbucks stop 45 minutes into trip on I-65. Barros drives. I write in back seat of our rental tank, a Nissan Armada.
Mile 179: Chicago, 7:25 a.m. CT — Arrive at downtown Chicago hotel for 8 a.m. interview with Bears coach Matt Nagy. (Thanks to him and Bears for squeezing me in on the trip through Chicago. I wanted to see Dolphins-Bears Saturday at noon, but I’ll catch up that night on the replay.) Back in the car at 9:05 a.m. in quiet Chicago, me driving, Barros napping in back, for 149 miles. Never been to see the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers minor-league team, but at least I can now say I passed a highway sign for the Snappers stadium.
Mile 328: Madison, 11:40 a.m. CT — Panera Bread, outskirts of Madison on I-94. Big bowl of corn chowder. Two visits to the rest room. (I’m 64, after all.) Back in the tank, 12:20 p.m. Barros driving for the duration to the Twin Cities. Me writing.
Mile 380: Near Wisconsin Dells, Wis., 1:05 pm CT — Doug Pederson checks in by phone, discussing his reunion with Carson Wentz in Indiana on Thursday and Friday. At some point, we pass a highway sign for HO-CHUNK CASINO.
Mile 596: Minneapolis, 4:35 p.m. CT — Arrive Pizzeria Lola, south of downtown, a Korean pizza place I’ve wanted to get back to since the week of Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Well worth it. Then to an interview, then to a downtown hotel to write the rest of the column. This was fun. Glad I don’t get carsick typing on a MacBook Pro.
So you wonder: Why not fly? Two reasons. One is I can write fairly fluidly in the back seat of a car, when the car is being driven carefully and without lots of lane shifts; Nicole Barros did that well on Saturday. Two is simpler—I like America. I like seeing all of America from the ground, particularly when I know I have time and I can be productive on the ground.
Preseason football makes the summer league feel like the NBA finals
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) August 14, 2021
Middlekauff is a former NFL scout now working in media.
Just a reminder. https://t.co/5xiCxiK4F3
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) August 13, 2021
Clark, of The Ringer, presciently.
Shoeless Joe Jackson hit one career walk-off homer. It was against the Yankees. #IfYouBuildIt
— Daniel Brown (@BrownieAthletic) August 13, 2021
Brown, who writes for The Athletic, on a precursor to what Tim Anderson did in the cornfields of Iowa on Thursday night.
Chase Young …. Oh man 😳pic.twitter.com/Dnat12fiTU
— National Football Post (@FootballPost) August 12, 2021
National Football Post in a site devoted to the gridiron game.
Young turnstiled a 2018 first-round draft pick, Isaiah Wynn, by the way.
First on the story: @meganschobert, who probably has pretty good sources herself.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 12, 2021
Pelissero covers the league for NFL Network.
He wonders about Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the COVID hero. From John Watson, of Milton, Ontario: “You and everyone else I’ve read this offseason has been talking about the big upgrade in the Chiefs line but no one is mentioning the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. In fact, no one seems to be giving him a chance to make the starting lineup. Given the huge sacrifice he made last year, taking a year off football to try to help save lives using his medical training during the pandemic, did he also sacrifice his entire career?”
Great question, John. I should have asked questions about him while there—it’s a hole in my reporting. But the team’s free-agent and draft priorities tell me the franchise wanted to upgrade at guard anyway. In 2019, per PFF, among the 63 NFL guards who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, Duvernay-Tardif was the 55th-rated player. That’s one reason of many why I think KC went hard after linemen in this offseason.
He has big problems with me. From Jeff Breitenfield, of Madison, Wis.: “You are such a coward and a fraud. You blame anyone in the NFL who doesn’t get the Covid vaccine (notably Cole Beasley), as ill-informed, or stupid, or whatever, but you ‘magically’ never rip Lamar Jackson for the same thing, and of course everyone knows the reason why. And no, I’m not talking about what you posted that the Maryland governor said either, I’m talking about YOU ripping him . . . Who is the one group of American citizens that refuse to get the vaccine by far? African-Americans, but once again you’re too afraid to actually tell the truth to your readers. Gee, I wonder why?”
Cowardice is exactly how you survive in a field of work for 41 years. As for the brunt of your aggrievement—that I am afraid to criticize Black players because they are Black. (I think that sums up your point.) On ESPN Radio on Tuesday, I said I thought it was wrong for Jackson to say it’s a “personal” decision on the vaccine, because if he tests positive during the season on a Friday and is symptomatic, he could miss two games—an eighth of his team’s season. Of course it’s personal in the strict sense of the word, but as I said, it’s not so personal when your behavior affects 52 other players, all your coaches, the Baltimore fans, and quite possibly whether your team makes the playoffs. I think there’s a selfishness to that.
As far as Beasley goes, it’s obvious that I disagree with him not getting vaccinated, but your note made me go back and look at the things I’ve written about Beasley since he emerged as a voice for those who don’t want to be vaxxed. I think this would be the worst, from my Aug. 2 column: “I’m starting to think, really, that the Bills season is going to be impacted by this campaign [Beasley] can’t stop waging that will convince no one he is right.” Never called him stupid, never name-called him at all, other than to say I think he’s wrong.
He thinks I use faulty logic. From Matt Weaver, of Carlsbad, Calif.: “You inferred, like Tom Brady, that players are ignorant because although the cap decreased, the value of franchises is increasing. Of course the Super Bowl champion franchise will have increased, but that’s one team. As soon as Aaron Rodgers leaves Green Bay or Deshaun Watson leaves Houston those franchises will decrease. And the value of a franchise has nothing to do with the salary cap. The salary cap is tied to cash flow and teams have much less cash to spend on players because their revenues are way down due to the pandemic.”
Thanks for the note, Matt. You might turn out to be right on franchise value, but I don’t think so. The Patriots, for instance, were valued by Forbes in the last season they won the Super Bowl, 2018, at $3.8 billion. This year, coming off the first season without Tom Brady while going 7-9, their valuation was $4.4 billion. That’s an increase in franchise value of $600 million over three years—without the greatest QB of all time on the roster. For players to truly affect change on how they’re paid, I’ve always felt it would take a strike, sacrificing a season to get either significantly more guaranteed money or a much bigger cut of the owners’ net. That can’t happen for the next decade because of the CBA that was approved by players in 2020—and I doubt it would happen anyway because players’ careers are short and the buy-in from the short-term players would be tough to get. Brady was mostly referring to the fact that owners are getting richer owning teams at a faster rate than players are getting rich playing for them. Hard to argue with that.
He thinks my backup QB stance is flawed. [I wrote that the backup quarterback is a severely under-valued position.] From Peter Greene: “If for some reason Zach Wilson goes down, the Jets are better served to see what their other young backups can do. As a Jets fan I think the key to this year is to see what they have player-wise with the new coaching staff. Next year if they are close enough to feel like they can contend for a playoff spot, then bringing in experienced back-ups makes sense.”
Disagree. The Jets have a hugely important new asset, Wilson, the second pick in the draft, and need to support him with as many resources as possible. With the tragic death of passing game coordinator Greg Knapp, the mentor who could have been so crucial to Wilson is gone. And with no veteran backup there (the way Josh McCown has been there for so many young QBs, and the way Nick Foles was there in Philly and Chicago), Wilson is losing out on two important sounding boards and educators. It’s absolutely not the way I would want to go.
He’s educating me on almond milk. [I pointed out the Fairfield Inn in St. Joseph, Mo., did not have almond milk.] From Gary Alexander, of Hanford, Calif.: “Of all the things to write to you about this morning, it’s almond milk. It takes 1900 gallons of water to grow one pound of almonds. California is projected to harvest almost 3 BILLION pounds of almonds in 2021. We are a state without water and the famers, more specifically the nut tree farmers, are killing us. Just thought you might appreciate a different opinion. Love the writing.”
Thanks, Gary. Appreciate the education. Curious: What about oat milk? That wouldn’t take as much water to produce, would it? Let me know. I can drink that too.
1. I think the best discussion I’ve had on my camp trip so far came with a head coach who was eloquent—on background, because he didn’t want to throw stones at any other houses—on the subject of how fast the NFL world judges highly drafted quarterbacks. It’s a travesty, he said, to think we judge quarterbacks playing early with finality. We’ve gotten spoiled by the early great play of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, but as I wrote higher in the column, Mahomes sat for all but one Sunday in his rookie year, learning from Andy Reid and Alex Smith. I still think that’s the best formula, despite how precocious so many young quarterbacks are. On this trip, in consecutive days, I was in Buffalo and Green Bay, and saw Mitchell Trubisky and Jordan Love, one man trying to rebuild his football life after four battered seasons in Chicago, the other struggling trying to create a career behind Aaron Rodgers. Quarterbacks come in all forms, and just because one is a high first-round pick doesn’t mean he’s ready to play opening day in year one.
2. I think, having said that, young quarterbacks are going to play, and play early. Thoughts after watching (mostly highlights, some stretches of first games) the debuts of some rookies who might play early for their teams:
• Mac Jones, New England (round one, pick 15). Bill Belichick/Josh McDaniels will likely err on the side of the veteran if Cam Newton gives them enough hope he could get the Patriots off to a good start. But he didn’t have a good debut in his two series against Washington. His throwing, as last year, looks labored. Jones entered to a standing ovation Thursday night in Foxboro and made a nice throw up the right seam in traffic to rookie Kristian Wilkerson. Seems like a matter of time before Jones wins this job.
• Trey Lance, San Francisco (round one, pick three). Had the single best play of the rooks this weekend, starting his second drive of the evening against Kansas City with this:
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) August 15, 2021
As he’s done in camp, Lance looked bold and ready for the moment, firing this 46 yards in the air for an 80-yard score. This isn’t a case where the vet is laboring and a contender needs a shot of young adrenaline—Jimmy Garoppolo has done what the Niners thought he’d do in camp. Less than four weeks from opening day, the Niners can afford to be patient with Lance.
• Zach Wilson, New York Jets (round one, pick two). “This man’s potential is through the roof,” coach Robert Saleh said after Wilson started, played two series, and, impressively, was three-for-three on third downs for 38 yards against the Giants. Best throw: an anticipation throw, a nine-yard out route, to Corey Davis that showed good timing and early chemistry between Wilson and a receiver. (Davis was the fifth pick in the 2017 draft and came from Tennessee in free-agency.) It continues to bother me that the Jets don’t have a veteran backup for Wilson; the pressure on him in New York is going to be immense, and who’s going to be his Josh McCown/Nick Foles to help him get through those moments? I’ve got one: Foles. With the Colts unlikely to go after Foles now that Carson Wentz’s foot injury seems short-term, the wise Foles is the best guy for GM Joe Douglas to target, even at an inflated backup price.
• Justin Fields, Chicago (round one, pick 11). Fields had a careless scramble that resulted in a forced fumble, carrying the ball free and it got poked away against Miami. Other than that, he looked poised and prepared. His best play, I thought, came on an early snap, backed up at his own 5-yard line, pressured and rolling right, and zinging a nine-yard completion to get Chicago out of a hole. He made a nice back-shoulder jump-ball throw to free-agent wideout Rodney Adams in the third quarter. I thought Fields played confidently for his first time out.
• Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (round one, pick one). Uneven. He held the ball too long on his first career snap and got strip-sacked by journeyman defensive tackle Sheldon Day of the Browns. Liked the throw Lawrence made on his first series, from the right hash to the far left sidelines, 21 yards in the air and perfectly placed to Marvin Jones. That’s exactly the throw a pressured quarterback with a rebuilding team—or, quite frankly, any successful NFL quarterback—is going to have to make often. With the experienced Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer designing and calling this offense, I’m sure you’ll see lots of quick and short/intermediate throws by Lawrence to jump-start an offense that put up only 19 points a game last year.
3. I think it was interesting to hear from Doug Pederson that he had two opportunities to be offensive coordinators in the league after being fired by the Eagles. “I had two chances to get back in, but it just didn’t feel right, to rush back after what happened,” he told me. “I needed time away, to clear my head. But I do want to coach again. I’d love to coach next season. The longer you’re out, the harder it is to get back in.”
4. I think it makes even less sense now than it did on day one of training camp for Deshaun Watson to be a living, breathing distraction to the Texans. The other day, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Watson flared at the media covering the Texans, asking why they video him every day. Well, gee. Wonder why. Smith wrote:
He hasn’t answered a single question from the local media since the end of the 2020 season, when he was still publicly pushing the Texans to re-sign his favorite teammates and build a serious Super Bowl contender around him. He’s never discussed his (intentionally leaked) trade demands or the fact that he turned on the Texans months after signing a four-year, $156 million contract extension. He didn’t participate in offseason activities and has barely participated with the 2021 Texans during training camp, despite the fact that first-year head coach David Culley went out of his way to stand behind Watson in March. Watson also hasn’t publicly addressed all the serious off-the-field issues he’s facing, which could ultimately lead to an NFL suspension.
5. I think the smartest thing the Texans could do—and should have done three weeks ago at the start of camp—is to say to Watson: Okay, you’ve reported to camp. We’re going to count you among our 90 players. We won’t fine you or discipline you. Now, go work out on your own somewhere and we’ll call you if anything changes. He’s not playing for the Texans again, or at least he’s not playing for them till this situation with his 20-some accusers is resolved. What good does it do to have him around training camp every day? The whole thing is not good for the coach, the players, or the franchise. I am reminded of Marshawn Lynch and “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.” It’s embarrassing for everyone.
6. I think one news event of the week that is particularly worrisome is the C.J. Henderson story in Jacksonville. The ninth pick in the 2020 draft, Henderson’s a promising cornerback struggling with off-field issues, to the point that coach Urban Meyer and assistant head coach Charlie Strong went to Henderson’s home for a personal meeting. I don’t know that I’ve heard of that, coaches going to a player’s home either pre-camp or during camp. That’ll be on my radar.
7. I think this will go down as my Unprecedented Training Camp Story of the Summer: As I go from camp to camp, I request a few players to talk to while I’m there. I always like to include a player or two who I don’t know. In Green Bay on Wednesday, my list was chock-full: Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Elgton Jenkins (never met him), Jaire Alexander (never met him). And so at the end of my time with Alexander, in a hallway outside the Packers locker room, he began quizzing me about the place of my birth, Springfield, Mass.
Jaire Alexander: “Nice meeting you. Hey, Springfield. You from Springfield? What’s up with that?”
Me: “Born there, yeah.”
Jaire Alexander: “What’s up there?”
Me: “My, uh, parents were from near there. Yeah, that’s where I came out.”
Jaire Alexander: “I’ve never been there. Just wondering. I read up on you. Read the quick bio.”
Jaire Alexander: “I checked you out. Birthday June 10th?”
Jaire Alexander: “I just like to know things.”
Me: “Wow. Well, thanks. Have a great year.”
Jaire Alexander: “Peace.”
8. I think that has never happened to me before in all these years, a player investing time to read about me on Wikipedia before we met. Or at least, I’ve never been aware of it. Part of me thinks, Silly guy. The other part thinks, I bet this guy studies the crap out of his opponent every week.
9. I think, for the record, if I were Cleveland GM Andrew Berry, I would not pay Baker Mayfield this year. I know that might mean the cost for a long-term extension for Mayfield would go up over the next year. But I would not be comfortable committing, say, $135 million guaranteed in a $40-million-a-year package for a player who was 30th in the NFL in accuracy (62.8 percent), 18th in passing yards (3,563), 15th in passer rating (95.9), 16th in yards-per-attempt. Mayfield is coming on, and he was quite good down the stretch last year for the Browns (15-to-2 TD-to-interceptions in his last 11 games of 2020). But the big issue is being sure beyond any reasonable doubt that you are paying the guy you want to lead your franchise for at least six years into the future. Three of these recent contracts have been lead weights on their franchises: Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, Deshaun Watson in Houston, Jared Goff with the Rams. I believe the Browns would be smarter to risk costing themselves $3 million a year over the life of a new QB contract than to pay a guy they like a lot but are not fully convinced about yet.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I loved the Field of Dreams game. Just loved it. So fitting that paunchy Lance Lynn, who looks like one of the old-time overweight hurlers, took the hill for the ChiSox.
b. The Yankees in Dyersville, Iowa. So cool. Eight home runs, mostly into corn stalks and corn mazes. You know what was incredible, I thought? Ten minutes after the gut-wrenching loss, a loss that can have playoff implications for a team trying to play in October, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has the presence to be able to say:
“That’s probably the greatest setting for a baseball game that I’ve ever been a part of. It was awesome. Major League Baseball has done an amazing job creating that experience. I’m sure everyone enjoyed it. Obviously, it was a pretty special game that unfortunately didn’t go our way, but as far as the atmosphere, the playing field, the perfect weather night, it was something to behold. I mean, we’re here with business to do and these games are huge. It sucks to walk in here after a tough loss after it looked like you stole it back . . . That was as special and breathtaking a setting for a baseball game that I can ever remember being a part of.”
c. And that’s a foul ball by Judge into the corn stalks behind first base.
d. The one thing I loved seeing: Jose Abreu hit a home run that disappeared into the corn stalks in left. What I didn’t like: the video board in left field. Can we do without the amenities in a game trying to look like it was a century old?
e. Nice straw hat, Verducci.
f. Tim Anderson Story of the Week: Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, on the beacon of hope for Black baseball players, Anderson, who won the Field of Dreams games with the dramatic ninth-inning home run into the corn. Wrote Diamond:
For Anderson, 28, it isn’t just about what he does, but how he does it. He wants to beat the other team and look good in the process, whether that’s with a daring stolen base, a dramatic bat flip after a crucial home run or the stylish cleats he wears on the field. He points to the top NBA players, who have built themselves into brands off the court and emerged as cultural icons, something baseball players have struggled to replicate.
It wasn’t always this way. When Anderson was a child, there were few athletes in America more popular than Ken Griffey Jr. The reason for that, Anderson said, is that “he was cool, on and off the field.” Anderson might not ever hit 50 home runs like Griffey, but he can still try to have his swagger.
“The biggest thing is I go out and I strap ‘em on every day and try to give people a show and try to be entertaining to the kids and to the fans,” Anderson said. “The game is changing to get a lot more exciting.”
g. Congrats to Nate Burleson for his bump at CBS to co-host of the morning show there. When I read about his new appointment Thursday, I immediately thought of what he said on my podcast a couple of years ago—he wanted to follow in Michael Strahan’s footsteps off the field. Burleson is smart, versatile, quick, and can appeal to all ages. But the secret in his toolbox is work. Simply work. He can’t know where the business is headed (Nickelodeon? Good Morning Football? Something else we can’t see yet?), so he does a bit of everything. There’s a big lesson in the rise of Nate Burleson that young people—and old—in the business should heed. That is: Don’t dismiss anything, and try everything, and work hard at everything.
h. Investigative Story of the Week: Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated on the investigation into Deshaun Watson, and details of the NFL’s inquisition that sound creepy. Writes Vrentas:
By the time Ashley Solis met with NFL investigators, via Zoom call in April, she had already cleared many of the hurdles that come with bringing serious allegations against a high-profile celebrity. The 28-year-old licensed massage therapist was the first woman to file a suit against Deshaun Watson, describing sexual misconduct by the Texans quarterback. She forfeited her privacy by naming herself even before the courts required it, opening her up to a torrent of online abuse. She also met with Houston police to file a report. Even after all that, Solis was taken aback by questions posed by NFL investigators.
“This woman asked me what I was wearing, which honestly really pissed me off,” Solis told Sports Illustrated in what was her first interview with a media outlet. “She explained that that’s something that she has to ask—which I don’t believe at all. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be wearing that would suggest that I don’t want you to put your penis on my hand. Do I need to wear a turtleneck?”
While Lisa Friel and Jennifer Gaffney, the former prosecutors who now run the NFL’s personal-conduct investigations, needed a detailed account of her March 2020 massage appointment with Watson, Solis says their approach left her “worried my words were going to be used against me.”
i. Kudos to Jenny Vrentas, who is driving the coverage on an important story.
j. Story of the Week: Rivka Galchen of the New Yorker, with a story that we could use to take our minds off the world we live in today for a few minutes. (The mag also has the story in audio form, which some may love.) The idea is to show how a $10-billion telescope, in the works for 25 years, can show us the beginnings of the universe.
k. I know you may not care. I understand if you do not care. But I was totally taken with how we can discover something so incredible ancient today by incredibly hard work and by people who refuse to say we can’t find out precisely how the universe has its roots.
l. It’s a complex story, not for the short-attention-spanned. But if you’re into discovering something you’d never know, it’s a fascinating story. Writes Galchen:
It’s easy to forget that light takes time to travel. But when we see the moon we are seeing it as it was 1.3 seconds earlier; Jupiter we see as it was forty minutes ago; the Andromeda galaxy—the nearest major galaxy to ours, and the most distant object we can see without a telescope—2.5 million years ago. “My students are often frustrated to think that they can’t see the things in space as they are today,” David Helfand, an astronomer at Columbia University, said. “I tell them it’s this great advantage. It means that the universe is laid out like a book. You can turn to any page you want. If you want to see ten billion years into the past, you look out at ten billion light-years away.”
m. NFL Story of the Week: Jim Wyatt, longtime beat writer covering the Titans and now of the official team website, on the lifelong search by Titans QB coach Pat O’Hara for his birth mother, and what happened when he found her.
n. #ImAnAdoptee. Finding his birth mother, and then getting her to agree to meet him, is a goose-bumpy story told well by Wyatt. Writes Wyatt:
“There was some apprehension on her part—she had never told anybody,” O’Hara said. “So, over the last year-and-a-half, there were a lot of phone conversations, working through things. And she was finally at a point where she was ready to meet.”
On July 4, O’Hara and his family – his wife, Billie, and his two boys, Tyler and Trace – flew to New York for the meeting. He’ll never forget what happened next.
“It was a blur,” O’Hara recalled. “It really was really a blur, because I look exactly like her. It is hard to describe, really. I am still kind of at a loss for words. I found my birth mother, and a whole family from New York that I didn’t even know about, and they are wonderful … It has just been a great experience.”
o. Beernerdness: I know. I understand Spotted Cow Ale (New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, Wisc.) is a bit of a cliché old standby because of the uniqueness of the brand. (You cannot buy Spotted Cow outside the state of Wisconsin, which means that idiots like me have bought a case in Kenosha, while exiting the state to the south, and driven it through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to get it to New York City, a long day of driving for some beer that by any means isn’t the best beer you’ll ever have.) But it’s good, it hits the spot, it has a familiar taste that is just perfect at a very cold temperature on a hot training camp day.
p. Cheeseburger of the Week: Krolls West in Green Bay, across Parking Lot 6 from Lambeau Field, is the kind of burger that’s worth traveling for. The other day, videographer Nicole Barros and I were leaving the Packers for the day, maybe around 2 p.m., and had the cheeseburger at Krolls West, with a frosty cold Spotted Cow. I really like Hinterland, but I hadn’t had one of those cheeseburgers in three years. The burger won, and it was worth it.
q. Radio Story of the Week: Xcaret Nunet of National Public Radio on a topic that every parent of a young person should be concerned with—what kids eat. Reported Nunet:
Two-thirds — or 67 percent — of calories consumed by children and adolescents in 2018 came from ultra-processed foods, a jump from 61 percent in 1999, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the medical journal JAMA. The research, which analyzed the diets of 33,795 youths ages 2 to 19 across the U.S., noted the “overall poorer nutrient profile” of the ultra-processed foods.
“This is particularly worrisome for children and adolescents because they are at a critical life stage to form dietary habits that can persist into adulthood,” says Fang Fang Zhang, the study’s senior author and a nutrition and cancer epidemiologist at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and policy.
One reason for the increase may be the convenience of ultra-processed foods, Zhang says. Industrial processing, such as changing the physical structure and chemical composition of foods, not only gives them a longer shelf life but also a more appetizing taste.
“Things like sugar, corn syrup, some hemp oil and other ingredients that we usually don’t usually use in our kitchen, that are extracted from foods and synthesized in the laboratory, those are being added in the final product of ultra-processed foods,” Zhang said. “A purpose of doing this is to make them highly palatable. So kids will like those foods that somehow make it hard to resist.”
During the same two-decade period when the study data was collected, the consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreased to 23.5 percent from 28.8 percent, the study found. The greatest increase in calories came from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals such as pizza, sandwiches and hamburgers, rising to 11.2 percent of calories from 2.2 percent.
r. Two-thirds of everything a kid eats being “ultra-processed foods.” Not good.
s. I’ve had a few Elaine Benes moments (“Mrs. Seinfeld, I beg you, PLEASE turn on the air-conditioner”) out here on the road. Like, PLEASE turn off the Jurassic rock. I beg you. The worst was working out at the JW Marriott in Indy on Thursday. Glorious hotel gym, by the way. But here it came, loud, in the gym. “Proud Mary.” “Carry On My Wayward Son.” “Rhiannon.” “Hungry Like the Wolf.” “Time After Time.” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” American businesses, restaurants, hotel lobbies and gyms, frozen in musical time.
t. Make it stop. Make it stop! Music didn’t stop being made in 1987! Give us Kygo! Or anything in the last 15 years!
u. Weather Channel Push Notification of the Week: “Breaking news: July was Earth’s hottest month on record.” Well then.
v. The week ahead:
• Vikings (Eagan, Minn.) today
• Bucs-Titans practice (Tampa) Wednesday
• Jaguars (Jacksonville) Thursday
• Saints (New Orleans) Friday
• Lions at Steelers (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh) Saturday
• Sunday, writing day
• Ravens (Owings Mills, Md.) next Monday.
Know what time it is?
time. Yearly event.