TAMPA, Fla. — The story about the Bucs this summer is whether they can be the first NFL team in 16 years to win consecutive Super Bowls. The quarterback back then, for Super Bowls 38 and 39, was Tom Brady. The quarterback trying to win a second straight title now, almost a generation later, sweating a few feet across from me, in a sliver of shade next to the old equipment shed on the Tampa Bay Bucs’ training ground, is Tom Brady, of course.
It always comes back to Brady, right? I’ve taken his temperature a lot over the years, and what I found in 19 minutes with him the other day was the kind of happiness and contentment we’d all want to have in the twilight of our professional lives. His 14-year-old son, Jack, is a ballboy at camp this summer, and dad and son have been playing catch a lot. Brady is mentoring another kid receiver in camp, fourth-round rookie Jaelon Darden of North Texas, a continuation of the fulfillment he’s gotten as a player-coach since arriving here last year. And the football . . . it’s just something he feels more in control. “When he calls a play this year, he knows the picture in his brain,” coach Bruce Arians told me. “Last year, it was just words.”
There’s nothing about the way Brady acts, talks, smiles, teaches, throws, throws, and throws that suggests he’ll retire in 17 months, after his contract realistically expires. (There are three void years built in to make his cap numbers tolerable in 2021 and 2022.)
In 2009, Brady told me in an interview he wanted to play till he was 41. In 2017, he raised that to his mid-forties. Now, I’d be mildly surprised if he doesn’t play beyond 45, beyond the 2022 season. Last year, in his age-43 year, he didn’t get in a huddle with his new offense (literally) till one month before the season-opener, and proceeded to throw for more touchdowns than Patrick Mahomes and more yards than Aaron Rodgers, and the Bucs won the Super Bowl by 22 points.
Read that again, what Brady did at 43. Threw for more touchdowns than Patrick Mahomes, more yards than Aaron Rodgers, won the Super Bowl by 22 points. Wayne Gretzky was in decline at 35 and out of hockey at 39. Michael Jordan was 34 in his last great year. Peyton Manning retired at 40.
Do we realize exactly what we’re seeing?
Wisely, after turning 44 this month, Brady will go year-to-year, but with life so marvelous for him right now, why put limits on himself?
“I’ll know when the time’s right,” Brady said about retirement. “If I can’t . . . if I’m not a championship-level quarterback, then I’m not gonna play. If I’m a liability to the team, I mean, no way. But if I think I can win a championship, then I’ll play.”
Headlines and strange storylines this week. Among them:
• A section on Urban Meyer and breast milk.
• A coach feeling like a leper.
• News of a vital preseason game, something we all thought was impossible, tonight in New Orleans.
• A once-great player turning skinny trying to be great again.
• A 1,593-day gap between the two oldest players in football.
• One player’s quest to drink 370 ounces of fluid per day.
• The prospect of Dalvin Cook being RB1, or very close, in fantasy football.
• A “star-struck” fourth-round mentee who cannot believe his good fortune.
• The wives’ influence over the continuing Covid saga.
• Mitchell Trubisky, returning to the scene of his non-prime.
The Lead: Bucs Camp
Back to the sliver of shade in Tampa on a 100-degree heat-index day.
Brady was excited about football, pensive, grateful, reflective about New England and the White House, and critical of the rising ethos in this country that says blame is a good substitute for work.
“Life,” Brady said, “is about always changing and adapting to different things. Today, the world wants to blame, and shame, and guilt, and fear everything all the time. We would never teach our kids that, you know? We would never say, ‘This is how you’re gonna get through life the best—you’re gonna blame everyone when things don’t go right.’ Or, ‘I always get it my way but you should never get it your way.’ It’s not how to live a joyful life.
“For me . . . I love playing football. [Offensive coordinator] Byron Leftwich said something really good the other day: It’s a very simple game that’s so hard to execute. It’s a totally imperfect game that you’re trying to do as perfectly as possible. Every day I come out trying to do it. I’m hoping this is my best year.”
Think it will be?
“That’s a prediction and I’m not for that. I’m into doing the work. Is the process gonna be right? I’m gonna work my ass off to get it right.”
Last year, in camp, Brady was a personal tutor for tight end O.J. Howard. Coaching points every day, up close and personal. This year, that guy is a fourth-round pick from North Texas, smurfy receiver Jaelon Darden. Nearly every day, Brady’s close to him in practice, giving teaching points about precisely where he wants him on every route of the route tree. He does this so, in the biggest games, he’s got weapons not named Mike Evans and Chris Godwin (likely to see blanket coverage) who he can trust. Think back to the Super Bowl comeback win over Atlanta. Brady’s most important wide receivers down the stretch of a 25-point comeback? Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.
Arians said what he learned most from Brady last year is the complete understanding of what it takes to win at quarterback. “He is such an unbelievable coach to younger players,” Arians said. “Not just on the field, but off the field, with TB12 and some of the things that he does to teach young players how to do it the right way.”
Brady embraces that role, being precise with guys on route-running, because it’s so essential to winning. Doesn’t it make sense? If he’s going to work on being precise throwing to a spot 15 yards downfield, say, of course he would want to work on techniques and strategy to be sure that receiver is open at least a small window at 15 yards.
“The first time I met him after the draft, I was star-struck,” Darden said. “He said, ‘Hey Jaelon. Happy to have you on the team. I studied your film.’ What an honor. Then he took time to teach me how to win against coverages. Like, ‘When the corner plays you here, I’m gonna have the ball at this exact spot.’ Every day, I put my hard hat on and work and learn.”
“It’s really hard for a rookie receiver in the NFL,” Brady said. “Everything is new. You have a play, then I change the play, then I look at you and I change the route, then I see a defense that we didn’t necessarily talk about. Every play I’m like, hey this is what I’m thinking. And you gotta have someone who can take the critique.
“No one can fix it except the quarterback and receiver. Doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I’m throwing the ball. You’re catching it. We gotta literally have a bond, a connection between us. You gotta think what I’m thinking all the time. The more you talk and the more you do it, the better it is. The longer I play with guys, the better it is. The shorter you play together, you can’t cover everything in five weeks of training camp. Or in two years together. Five years together? Maybe. Seven years together, okay, that’s pretty good. You play seven years together with a receiver, you can make a lot of magic happen. But after a year or two, there’s still things. There’s so many variables that you gotta get right. We’re playing a chess game.”
Brady has figured out that football is a collection of the things no one sees—like spending 20 seconds here, two minutes there, day after day, with an awestruck fourth-round receiver who might make it and might not. So that, in the NFC Championship Game, nursing a five-point lead with 1:37 to play, with third-and-four at his own 37-yard line, knowing if he failed on this play Aaron Rodgers would get the ball back with 90 seconds and three timeouts left . . . and he picked out the 161st pick in the draft just nine months earlier, Tyler Johnson, to target. Super Bowl berth on the line. Brady threw to Johnson, who got grabbed by a cornerback for pass interference. First down. Two weeks later, the Bucs lifted the Lombardi.
To lift another one, Tampa’s got the ultimate resource person in Brady. In the last four seasons after getting to Super Bowls, the Brady/Belichick Patriots won 12, 12, 13 and 12 games. They didn’t repeat in any of those, but they played in January in each of the following seasons. The feeling around camp here is, as VP of Football Administration Mike Greenberg said, “Tom Brady won’t allow it.” I heard 19 similar refrains in my day at camp.
Let’s get a little granular about the gang’s-all-back story. You know about all starters and the six or seven key reserves/kicker/punter being back, and the key coaches and front-office staff. But the Bucs got a little greedy. There were two players the Bucs really wanted on the team this year, two non-starters who would fill specific roles: third-down back Gio Bernard (the Bucs didn’t have a good third-down back like James White was for Brady in New England) and backup guard Aaron Stinnie.
Bernard you know. Nice player who should get 80 touches for the Bucs if healthy. Stinnie you don’t know. When right guard Alex Cappa broke his ankle in the Bucs’ wild-card win at Washington, Stinnie subbed for him in wins over the Saints, Packers and Kansas City, allowing one sack in 106 Brady pass-drops. As a fourth-year free-agent, Stinnie would have demanded the Bucs pay him a restricted free-agent tender of $2.3 million. That’s money they didn’t want to allocate to a swing guard. But look at what happened to KC in the Super Bowl when injuries the offensive line. “Our depth was huge in carrying us through the playoffs,” GM Jason Licht said. Stinnie wanted to be a Buc, and so eschewed the chance to make a little more elsewhere.
Each signed a one-year contract, Bernard for $1.2 million, Stinnie for $1.25 million. That investment in one player Licht is sure will help them win (Bernard) and one player who will help him sleep at night (Stinnie) cost Tampa Bay a combined 1.3 percent of its 2021 salary cap. Seems extremely smart.
These are players who want to be part of a winner. There are others who’ve made big money and just want a shot at another ring and love playing with Brady (Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh). Such a mass return to take one more shot has never been done exactly this way in recent NFL history.
“In the end,” said Licht, “we didn’t want to disrupt a good thing, and we could afford to use the credit card with the salary cap.” Example: Brady will be owed $23 million in 2023 if he walks away from football—or if he chooses to play more, the Bucs could extend him again with more phony years, pushing the money they owe him further down the road. It’ll come due, of course; but Licht and Arians obviously want to take their best shot, cap be damned, while Brady still has some prime left.
The other important part of having Brady in the house, as one Buc operative told me: “Nobody’s a turd when Tom’s around.” Meaning no one on offense is going to bitch about not getting the ball enough, or about his contract. At least now. Tampa’s got a real chance to win again. But no one ever sees the disease of complacency coming. We shall see.
“Football’s the ultimate blame game,” Brady said. “General managers, head coaches, players, quarterbacks, receivers, defense, offense. It’s so easy to blame someone else. It’s so hard to say, ‘I didn’t get the job done and we collectively didn’t get the job done.’ That’s the best part about team sports. I picked a team where everybody’s like, ‘Hey, we gotta get better.’ It’s not, I got all the answers. You guys just all screwed it up except me.’ Exact opposite way to play the game. You know? You gotta play it together.
“If you’re doing what you love doing and you’re with people you love doing it with, it’s all good. You can go to the Bahamas and play golf with the worst threesome of all time and you’re gonna have a horrible time. Or you can go to the local muni with your three best friends and have the best time. I love the guys I’m working with. This is nothing about New England. I love New England. I love the players. I love the coaches. It was magical.
“I’m very fortunate to find something I love and get to do it a long time. I was doing my treatments this morning with [personal trainer] Alex [Guerrero] this morning, and I told my son Jack: ‘I hope you find something you love to do in life. Your dad loves this. Alex loves this. If you just find what you love, you’re gonna love it every day.’”
No Brees. Winston Or Hill?
NEW ORLEANS — As the Saints’ traveling party deplaned for the first preseason game in Baltimore 10 days ago, coach Sean Payton boarded Bus 1 and took his customary seat in the first row, next to the boarding stairs, the seat next to him, as always, unoccupied. Twenty, 25 Saints people got on after him, all walking past the empty two seats across the aisle from Payton. The door closed. The seats across the aisle, empty.
Payton took out his smart phone and took a photo of the empty seats. He texted the photo to the person who’d been sitting in those seats on every Saints road trip since 2006, the year they both arrived in Louisiana.
He wrote this message to Drew Brees, under the photo: “Every once in a while, I miss you.”
A few days later, before the Saints practiced in the Superdome on Friday night, Payton reflected on the body part that’s been missing this summer. “Every road trip I’ve been on since 2006, it’s been me and Drew, only me and Drew, in those seats,” he said. “On the trip to Baltimore, no one sat there on the way from the hotel to the airport, or on the way from the hotel to the game the next day, or on the way from the game back to the airport after the game. I’m all alone. Remember the movie ‘Papillon?’ I felt like the leper in the penal colony in Papillon.”
Jerry Glanville once famously said in an NFL Films piece, “You know what NFL stands for? Not For Long.” Brees, of course, defied that, lasting 15 seasons in New Orleans and registering 151 wins. His relationship with Payton was symphonic. I sat in on a 2018 Saints play-calling meeting the Saturday night before a game, and Brees went up and down the playsheet and ID’d 46 plays he hoped would be called the next day. I asked Payton how many of those he’d dial up. “Every one, I hope,” Payton said. “What he wants to run, I want to call.”
Payton is energized, truly, by the duel between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to replace Brees. He likes the life-goes-on part of this camp. He’s smitten with Winston’s arm, knowing how motivated he is to make the most of his second chance in the NFC South. Payton is a true believer, maybe one of the few, in the ability of Hill to be a playoff quarterback, especially after seeing him win three of four starts in relief of Brees last year.
“But there are times, maybe not every day, when I’ll think about Drew. How can you not?” Payton said. “The decision does weigh on me.”
There is, though, no time for gauzy sentimentality for the Saints this year. They’ve got Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay, totally reloaded to try to repeat, in their division, and Payton has to make one of the biggest decisions of his coaching career this week. Who wins the job as heir to Brees—Winston, the classic pocket quarterback trying to overcome his turnover bug; or Hill, the spritely unicorn of a passer/football-weapon? Monday is a huge night for The Decision.
Rarely do games in August mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of the balance of power in the NFL. But when the Saints host Jacksonville today (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) in the Superdome, Winston will have a chance to make his closing argument to win the job. After Hill got the start in Baltimore last week, Winston gets this one. Payton told me he hopes to name his starter before the final preseason game Saturday against Arizona, so Winston’s performance with the first team for multiple series will be the most important game he’s played since he lost his job in 2019 in Tampa Bay.
It’s dangerous to make any predictions now, because I believe (based on a 45-minute conversation with Payton on Friday) that a lot rides on the game today. I do think he has not decided anything with finality. But a strong game by Winston tonight would be influential. Picking Winston would crush Hill, who went 3-1 at QB with Brees hurt last year, and is sure he’s ready to be Brees’ heir. But it would allow Payton to retain Hill as his Swiss Army Knife weapon on offense and special teams. With the loss of trusted tight end Jared Cook in free agency and with wideout Michael Thomas out till October after ankle surgery, Hill—who had 108 snaps at tight end/wide receiver/slot last year—is the kind of weapon Payton would miss if he was the starting quarterback. Hill also has been a prime special-teams weapon, and that would go away if he started at quarterback.
It would be a cruel irony for Hill if he wasn’t named quarterback—and the reason was because Payton didn’t want to lose his snaps as a gadget/special-teams player.
Hill’s athleticism was on display Friday night in the team’s Superdome practice. It wasn’t a great night for him passing the ball, but he scored twice on bootlegs (called or coverage-forced) that showed off his 4.45 speed and great running instinct. Hill’s faster than Steve Young, and he’s built with a Tebow chest that makes him hard to bring down.
There’s also this: “We knew we could win at a high clip going 5-0 two years ago with Teddy Bridgewater,” defensive Cam Jordan said. “Then last year, Drew’s down again and we go 3-1 with Taysom. The change in the guard is shocking and hurts for sure, but at the same time, we know what we can do as a defense now. We know the identity of our team isn’t just Drew Orleans.”
I’m always hesitant to make anything much about one practice—that’s what I see in most camps. But in this one slice of Saints 2021 camp life, Winston was the more impressive thrower, for sure. When I talked to Payton pre-practice, one of the things he said was, “Where you really miss Drew is the two-minute [offense]. His command of the offense, his decision-making, his accuracy. Just so good.”
It’s like Winston heard Payton’s words in the last few minutes of practice in the cavernous empty ‘Dome. From about his own 20-yard line, Winston sent free-agent wideout Chris Hogan—one of Tom Brady’s former favorites—on a double-move up the left seam. Winston let it fly, maybe 50 yards in the air, and it nestled perfectly in the arms of Hogan, who had a step on the secondary. Touchdown.
Winston, of course, lost his Tampa gig because he turned the ball over more than any quarterback in football from 2015-19. He’s been better under Payton, but the bright lights haven’t been on him. Yet. Winston told me he thought his two training camps in New Orleans and time spent learning from Brees last year have given him a new perspective on the position. “One thing Drew blessed me with,” Winston said, “is that even though he didn’t have the [tools] last year that maybe he had early in his career, he was still one of the top quarterbacks in the league because he knew what he could do. For me, it’s been about believing that game plan to game plan, there’s different ways to beat a team. I had to learn there are 10 other guys out there counting on Jameis. He doesn’t need to be Superman.”
Of course Winston heard that from the coaches in Tampa too. He just couldn’t be disciplined enough to check it down and be content with being great in the short and intermediate field for the Bucs. He needs those traits if he wants to play for Payton. Tonight, we’ll see if Winston can put everything he’s learned, from Payton and Brees, into one very important outing.
The Urban Meyer Show
JACKSONVILLE — Well, it’s hot. You can’t know whether Urban Meyer can turn around this wayward franchise, but judging by the effort I saw in a two-hour practice Thursday afternoon (109-degree heat index), 85 guys are playing hard for him in some unbearable conditions. A couple of updates on the Urban Experiment, and whether he’ll be the college football expat who has a Jimmy Johnson NFL experience, or a Steve Spurrier experience:
The first cliché: Losing will beat down Meyer
After the Jags stumbled around in their opening preseason loss, getting shut out through three quarters by Cleveland, Meyer said, “I don’t want to be one of those slow, wallowing offenses.” Meyer, looking morose, passed veteran center Brandon Linder in a hallway post-game, and Linder stopped, playfully massaged Meyer’s tense shoulders, and said: “Coach! It’s a f—ing preseason game! Relax!” Impossible to judge a coach’s mindset two weeks into the preseason; time will tell on this. But Meyer, in 17 years coaching college football, was never worse than three games over .500 (2010, 8-5 at Florida) in any season. The equivalent of that, this year, would be the Jags going 10-7, and that looks like a fairy tale right now, turning around a 1-15 team.
Meyer brought in Johnson, his friend and confidant, to speak to the team in camp, and Johnson emphasized it’s the locker room that has to set the tone for a hatred of losing—not simply the coach. Jacksonville is 12-36 over the past three seasons. Meyer didn’t lose those, but he was imported with a huge dustpan and mega-contract to clean up the mess. “We are all-in,” Linder told me. “He’s won everywhere he’s been. Now it’s on us to buy in and follow the plan, and we’re buying it.”
The second cliché: The pro game’s different, and Meyer will struggle replicating college dominance on a more level NFL playing field
Of course it’s different. He had waves of five-star recruits to sub in to overwhelm Illinois and Vanderbilt over the years. Now he’ll have 53 players—and as he told me the other day, that’s far and away going to be the biggest difference for him . . . the numbers. But there is something else he’s trying to win at now. I’ll explain it with a story about third-year pass-rusher Josh Allen, the seventh pick in the 2019 draft who is vital to a Jags’ defensive renaissance.
Allen and his wife Kaitlyn were at the hospital after their baby daughter was born recently, and they were upset about advice from a nurse that for the baby’s health early, a specific formula was needed as a supplement to breast milk. Kaitlyn wanted to use breast milk only, and it was very important to her. Josh Allen didn’t know anyone at the hospital to appeal to. In conversations with players after taking the job, Meyer emphasized that we’re all one, we all have to care for each other. “If you have any conflict,” Meyer had told the players, “we’ll help you fix it.” So here was the time for Josh Allen to see if he meant it. He called Meyer. Meyer told him to stand by.
“I called the CEO of the hospital, and asked for his help,” Meyer told me. When you’re the hottest guy in town, the coach of the local NFL team, you can do that. The CEO got the wheels in motion to solve the problem, and Baby Allen would be breast-fed. Exclusively.
The other day, Allen told me that proved to him that Meyer means what he says. “After he helped fix that situation, I knew I could go to work with the peace of mind that my wife’s going to be okay,” Allen told me. “It meant everything to me.”
Maybe coaches in the eighties don’t do that, because I doubt coaches in the eighties would ever get phone calls like that from players. In fact, I’ve never heard of a player calling a coach and discussing breastfeeding. But the topic to Meyer doesn’t matter. Productive players must be focused players, and how can you focus with a crisis at home?
“I’m just glad he had enough confidence in me to call me,” Meyer said. “It’s a dysfunctional organization if he doesn’t feel confident that he can call me about anything. Of course his mind’s on his wife. Guess what? His mind should be on his wife. That’s our job. That’s why he calls his coaches.”
Interesting approach, and a different approach than the traditional coach.
“I’ve been in a laboratory with this game for 35 years,” Meyer said. “What I’ve come up with over those 35 years is when a player or coach is unsuccessful, it’s for one of three reasons. Number one, the player doesn’t trust me, their position coach, the weight coach, the organization. A player, if he doesn’t have trust, it’s the same reason relationships break up. Number two is their skill set is not developed or it’s not utilized. That means you’re asking a guy to do something on the field but you don’t practice it. Number three: The player’s in conflict. That means drugs, alcohol, somebody not healthy at home, or money issues.
“So we’re on call, the coaches. I’m on call. There’s no time our phones are off. It’s a 24/7 business.”
It’s a fascinating change in the game. But Meyer also knows his success, and every team’s success, is based on having a quarterback. In the practice I saw, I got to be up-close to Trevor Lawrence throwing the football for a few minutes—and in particular, throwing to a spot on a five-yard out route to the right sideline, on a three-step drop from under center, happening under the eye of passing-game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Each throw was a rope. Imagine a Max Scherzer fastball, throwing without grimace or a groan. It was effortless and a bullet. “His poise, his football IQ, they’re so advanced,” said Linder, Lawrence’s partner in making line calls and, as a veteran, the man keeping the rookie sane. “He’s ready for this.”
Lawrence is an all-business dude on the field, from what I saw. Assuming he starts—it’d be a stunner if he didn’t—his first month is manageable: at way-down Houston, Denver and Arizona at home for potentially broiling 1 p.m. September starts, and at Cincinnati. The league did the Jags a favor, hoping they don’t get in an early abyss to spoil the Meyer rookie year.
“The skill set’s as good as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said of Lawrence. “Very twitchy, athletic. Plays like a 6-foot guy, but can throw it over the top of people.” That’s the goal.
Patrick Peterson, Reborn?
EAGAN, Minn. — Who is that very thin man wearing number seven on defense for the Vikings, shutting down receivers for two hours on an August dog day of camp?
It’s Patrick Peterson, one of the vital vets coach Mike Zimmer is counting on to wipe away memories of the worst defense Zimmer has ever had (29.7 points per game allowed, including a 52-burger on Christmas Day in New Orleans—more about that later). Peterson weighed in this summer at 195, down 10 from his Cardinal days, and the difference in his frame, and face, was noticeable. It’s an effort to stave off a decline in his play over the past two seasons.
“I feel lighter, faster,” Peterson told me after practice. You could not wipe the huge grin off his face. “You always hear that notion in this game that the older you get, the lighter you want to get. These brake pads [legs] have been taking a beating over the last 160-something games. I wanted to make the body as light as possible so I can get a little more agile, and come a little bit faster out of my breaks.”
Entering the offseason, the Vikes knew they were getting key vets back who went missing last year—nose tackle Michael Pierce (Covid opt-out), pass-rusher Danielle Hunter (neck), linebackers Anthony Barr (torn pectoral) and Eric Kendricks (calf). Combined, those four foundational defensive starters missed 57 of 64 Vikings games last year. But the defense needed more than the return of four important players. GM Rick Spielman got the best defensive player in free agency, three-technique defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, late of the Giants, then addressed the secondary. Spielman didn’t have much money under the declining cap, and he never even called agent Joel Segal about Peterson, coming off a poor age-30 season in Arizona. The GM thought the price would be too high.
Spielman was changing planes in the Atlanta airport on his way to scout a Pro Day in March when his phone buzzed. It was Segal. “He said Patrick wanted to play for us, and it wouldn’t cost as much as we thought,” Spielman told me. “I put Joel in touch with [Vikes cap man] Rob Brzezinski, and we had a deal done in an hour, maybe hour-and-a-half. It’s one of the fastest free-agent deals we’ve ever done. Joel just told us, ‘Zim, Zim, Zim. Pat wants to play for Mike Zimmer.’ “
“That’s right,” said Peterson, who signed a prove-it, one-year, $8-million deal. “It’s the pedigree he has, the guys he’s coached, Deion Sanders, Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, what’s he’s gotten out of them. I like the aggressive style. There’s a lot put on the corner.”
Peterson has been durable in his 10 NFL seasons, playing the full 16 games nine times. But he comes with a warning label—his play declined late in his Card career. Formerly a Pro Football Focus darling, Peterson slipped to the 91st-best PFF coverage grade among 127 NFL corners over the past two seasons combined. Spielman bought three other DBs looking for new starts too—corners Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander, and safety Xavier Woods; the Vikings are rolling the dice with them in the back end. “I just want to go out there and just show that I still can compete with the best,” Peterson said. “We got a top-five toughest schedule this year. Got an opportunity to see [Green Bay’s] Davante Adams twice this year. We got Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in Tennessee. We got Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf [Seattle]. The schedule is definitely set up for me.”
Corners play on islands sometimes. Zimmer’s clearly not afraid of that with the front he’ll have. The Tomlinson-Pierce combination is one of the best three or four defensive-tackle duos in football. Before his injury, Hunter was a top-10 NFL edge player. The vastly improved front seven could help—could being the operative word—Breeland and Peterson form a solid corner tandem against a prime-quarterback schedule. “Patrick’s had a great veteran’s impact on our guys,” Zimmer said, “and he’s got a little chip on his shoulder too.”
As he probably should. He looked like shutdown Pat the day I saw him, with the veteran wiles of riding wideouts toward the boundary with light physicality, not enough to get a flag, but enough to throw receivers off their routes. Camp’s not a game, of course. For the Vikings to seriously challenge Green Bay, the lighter Peterson must be the former Peterson. It doesn’t happen often that a cornerback plays better at 31 than he did at 29, but Peterson’s hoping that a more agile self will make that possible.
“I want to prove not only to the naysayers but to myself that I can still do it at a very high level,” Peterson said. “I’m very motivated to do that.”
Four other notes from my visit:
• Zimmer’s still wounded about his 2020 defense, and the game at New Orleans. He told me he thought the Saints ran up the score last year on Christmas Day in a 52-33 rout of the Vikings’ and their depleted defense. (The apparent flashpoint: Drew Brees throwing the ball with 2:10 left with a 12-point lead, and Alvin Kamara scoring his sixth TD of the day inside the two-minute warning. Now, that’s bit of a gray area, particularly with Payton wanting to get Kamara an NFL record-tying sixth TD on the day.) Zimmer and Payton are friends, but Zimmer will carry that game with him and look forward to the next time his team plays Payton. Revenge, however, will have to be a dish best served cold. The Saints and Vikes don’t play this year, barring a playoff meeting, and they’ll meet in 2022 only if the teams finish in like positions in the standings in 2021.
• Dalvin Cook could be a monster this year. Cook was terrific last year (1,918 scrimmage yards, 17 touchdowns) but might do more this season. With new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak a fan of the back being a receiving weapon, Cook’s 44 catches could increase markedly. “I’ll be ready,” Cook said. Good health and a 17-game season could push Cook, if he stays healthy, far past 2,000 rushing-receiving yards this year.
• For now, anyway, Covid’s a comatose issue here. “I’ve said what I’m going to say,” Kirk Cousins, famously unvaccinated, told me in one of four cordial but terse sentences on his vax status. You get the feeling he’s not really happy with being one of the poster children for the unvaccinated NFL player. He said he had a good talk with Zimmer, and they’ll just move on. But everyone understands if Cousins tests positive and is symptomatic during the season, he could miss multiple games and cost the franchise big-time. The Vikings did have a camp scare when rookie quarterback Kellen Mond tested positive for Covid, Cousins was a close contact, both missed time and the team had to bring in two quarterbacks simply to get through practices. So regardless of the team moving on, there is still a Covid cloud, knowing that one positive test could derail their chances.
Interesting as I go from camp to camp and talk to coaches about how they’re handling Covid. Many have waved the white flag and feel like, We’ve done what we can do, and if they get the disease, it’s on them. Time to coach football. Zimmer’s in that school. “I went pretty hard there for a while with our quarterback, and a bunch of other guys, good players, who are not vaccinated,” Zimmer said. “I’ve said my piece. They’re got their heels dug in. I think it would’ve showed them what could happen when we had one quarterback for practice and we had to bring in two guys off the street. But they’re not gonna change. I just said the heck with it. I’m done talking about it.”
• Cousins deflects on the drafting of Kellen Mond. Cousins turned 33 Thursday, has started 98 of his teams’ last 99 games, and wants to play a long time. After the Vikings picked the Texas A&M QB (who some had as a first-round talent) early in the third round, it seems Cousins’ future might be elsewhere. In the last year of his current contract, 2022, he’ll make $35 million, and the Vikings might choose to throw off that salary-cap anchor and devote money to other roster spots. That, of course, will be influenced by Mond’s progress this year and next. I asked Cousins what he thought about the Vikings picking a quarterback so high, and he was diplomatic. “Not a lot,” Cousins said. “I think it’s just about going out and doing your job, whether they bring in a first-round pick, third-round pick, sixth-round pick, or they bring back the exact same room as the year before. You just go to work. You know that you’re always being evaluated. You’re never feeling like you’ve arrived as a player, so you’re always trying to prove it.”
One other point about the Mond pick, as counterbalance: The Vikings had a terrible QB situation behind Cousins, and they had four picks between 66 and 90 overall, and picking a quarterback in there was not just logical but you might argue essential. So maybe Mond isn’t the quasi-lock opening day 2023 starter.
Cousins, by the way, was reflective about being Washington’s fourth-round pick in 2012, drafted 80 slots after Brandon Weeden, 100 slots after Washington picked Robert Griffin III. I liked his message. “Extremely grateful for being drafted to Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay. [All were on Mike Shanahan’s staff.] Grateful to be coached by them as a young player. Whether I had been picked first, 101st, or 201st, or not picked at all, to go where I went and have the coaches I had, and be in the system I was in was a difference-maker for me. My dad would always tell me going back to when I was a high school third baseman as a sophomore trying to make the varsity, ‘The cream always rises to the top.’ They’re looking for someone to do the job well at any job. Your profession, my profession. He said, ‘Just worry about being good enough.’ That’s always been my focus.”
Quotes of the Week
“He threw with authority and accuracy before the game. If we were lining up against Tampa tonight, he’d be starting and we’d feel great about it.”
—Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Saturday, regarding the tweaked shoulder that has plagued Dak Prescott in training camp this summer.
“Of course the fans are awesome. They also have to realize Andy’s a human being too. I really think it’s kind of disrespectful to Andy, them cheering my name out like that. They have to trust in coach to make sure he’s making the right decisions. Just cheer him on, you know?”
—Rookie quarterback Justin Fields of the Bears, on the fans’ treatment of starter Andy Dalton at Saturday’s rough preseason game for Chicago.
“I grew up in California and then I left there to go to Michigan. It was freezing. But I had a lot of fun in college. Drafted by Boston, the Patriots, so that was 25 years of cold weather. I kinda forgot that man, it’s nice in December, January to be 70 degrees. I loved my town in New England. It was just cold. I don’t know what I did with all my winter coats. I had 20 years of winter coats. My wife’s like, ‘What are you doing with these?’ Keep ‘em, just in case. Just in case. I have an apartment in New York that’s like stuffed to the gills with all my winter stuff.”
—Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, to me, on being a snow bird these days.
“There was always a safety net with Drew, and now it’s not there. But we’ve got a good team, and we’ve got a great coach. We’re not throwing up our hands in despair.”
—Saints GM Mickey Loomis, to me, about the post-Drew Brees Saints on Friday.
“Sickening, really. It’s just stupidity. That’s enough of that crap.”
—Raiders coach Jon Gruden, after a brawl in the joint Raiders-Rams practice at Rams camp caused the practice to be called off and Gruden to send his players to the buses.
“There’s a reason a lot of fights came on special teams. They’re fighting for a job—literally.”
—Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, regarding the aforementioned brawl. He’s right.
Tom Brady—at 44 years, 21 days old—is the only player in his forties on an NFL roster today.
Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, who turns 40 in December, is the next-oldest. Brady is 1,593 days older than Whitworth.
Think you could drink 370 ounces—of anything—in one day? How about every day?
Jacksonville center Brandon Linder is from south Florida. He played high school football in Fort Lauderdale, college football at Miami and is in his eighth training camp in Jacksonville after being a third-round pick of the Jags in 2014. He knows hydration. He has to.
On Thursday, to say the weather at Jags practice was stifling wouldn’t be quite accurate. It was pulverizing. By 2 p.m., the heat index was 109, with thick flies flying through the intense humidity (maybe they were swimming) on the practice field. Somehow, no one collapsed. I asked Linder if he cramped up very much.
“Not really,” he said. “All day, I’m just drinking.”
I asked him his hydration regimen. He held up a 16.9-ounce bottle, a half-liter of water. Each day during training camp, he said, he drinks about 20 bottles of this water. In addition, he drinks a liter (34 ounces) of grape Pedialyte and two different eight-ounce cups of performance drink (from beets, carrots, oranges, turmeric) and recovery drink (pineapple, green apple, cucumber, spinach, celery).
That’s about 370 ounces of liquid in one day. Sounds crazy until you realize that a football player, in conditions like that, could lose 80 to 90 ounces of fluid in extreme heat like the Jaguars experience in training camp.
Mike Ryan, NBC’s sports medicine analyst and former head athletic trainer for the Jaguars, worked in the Jacksonville heat for two decades, and now he lives in the area. Ryan thought it was a good idea for an offensive lineman to drink that much fluid on a Florida summer camp day. “It’s really smart,” he said. “What people don’t realize about hydration is how it can affect the brain too. An overly heated and dehydrated brain is an impaired brain. The result is an athlete with slower reaction speed, more mental errors and a weakened ability to recognize the warning signs of heat illness.”
King of the Road40
I landed at the airport in Nashville on Tuesday morning, on my way to attend the funeral of my editor Dom Bonvissuto’s mom. Wearing a coat and tie, I got into the cab line and a Yellow Cab guy opened the trunk. I dropped in my luggage. The cabbie said, “You’re all dressed up.”
“Going to a funeral,” I said.
“Did someone die?” he said.
Strange time factoid, realized on the 547-mile drive from Jacksonville to New Orleans on Thursday evening:
If you start from a point in northeast Florida on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and drive 235 miles west on Interstate 10, you’ll enter the Central Time Zone. The next 185 miles in the state of Florida, all in the Florida Panhandle on I-10, all the way to the Alabama border, are in Central Time.
Florida has nine big counties in the panhandle, all on Central Time.
Niceville, Fla.: Central Time. Indianapolis, Ind.: Eastern Time. Seems weird.
Ahhhh, walking to find coffee in the post-dawn humidity of New Orleans near the French Quarter, and the smell of urine-soaked sidestreets. Nothing like it.
Tweets of the Week
Jack Brady talking with his favorite former Patriot. Also pictured, Tom Brady pic.twitter.com/ndJSht1xE0
— Mike Vrabel (@CoachVrabel50) August 18, 2021
Mike Vrabel is the head coach of the Titans. This is a post-practice picture from Wednesday, after a Bucs-Titans practice.
Sounds like Jordan Love is close to being cleared. Matt LaFleur said as long as Love feels OK tomorrow, he will do individual drills in Monday’s practice and possibly progress to team (11-on-11 periods) after that.
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) August 22, 2021
Bob Demovsky, tweeting Sunday, covers the Packers for ESPN.
Mitch Trubisky and the Bears may have needed a clean break, but Trubisky is better than Andy Dalton at this point in their careers and the Bears are paying Dalton $10 million while the Bills pay Trubisky $2.5 million.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) August 21, 2021
Michael David Smith is Pro Football Talk’s managing editor. Trubisky was impressive starting for Buffalo at Chicago on Saturday.
The Patriots team plane takes off on another humanitarian mission, delivering lifesaving aid to Haiti, with @PIH & @BuildHealthIntl. pic.twitter.com/uy65vKaTxM
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 21, 2021
Shohei Ohtani became the first MLB player to hit 40 home runs this season AND lowered his ERA to 2.79. That’s a mind-boggling combination. One of the game’s most dominant pitchers has almost half as many homers as the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team (92) this year.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) August 19, 2021
Feldman covers college football for The Athletic.
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Leave the game alone, NFL. From Jared: “I have been reading your column since my Marine Corps days back at the dawn of the century. I can’t stop thinking about that taunting penalty after the beast-like run from the Colts RB in preseason week one. I see it as a grim omen, an omen of a looong year of great football and great story lines drowned in a sea of NO FUN LEAGUE tweets. We simply cannot as fans and supporters just allow the league to take away the emotion and passion out of sports. Because the worst kind of changes happen little by little over time, their subtlety does not decrease their long-term impact.”
Agreed. You can have players play with class and players play with some cockiness at the same time. I want to see players have fun in the way they want to have fun. It’s a young person’s game. That doesn’t mean true taunting or demeaning your opponents. But some jawing back and forth, and some team celebrations, are fine. And when a guy scores and wants to preen, I say he should be able to do so.
Hmmm. Never thought of that. From Todd Smith: “Loved FMIA especially the timeline from Indy to Minnesota. I’ve done that trip a few times and never mind the joy that roadside America offers. Is there any chance you’d write a book about the road? We are living in an era when few will remember John Madden crossing this country in his RV and even fewer the romanticism of moments that happen between hotels. Personally I enjoy this part of the column every week (along with many others). After a lifetime of travel I’d love to hear the perspective in long-form.”
Thanks a lot, Todd. Interesting thought. Not sure about the market for such things. But it’s interesting. One of the reason I chose this journalism life is because I wanted to travel. When I was a kid growing up in Enfield, Conn., we didn’t go many places or on any extravagant vacations. When I drove to college at Ohio University for my freshman year, I’d never been west of Pennsylvania and I remember how cool it was to see an interstate sign for OHIO. Then I rode cross-country on Madden’s bus for Sports Illustrated, and that was so enlightening. Anyway, I will think about it, Todd. Thanks.
Race and FMIA. From Peter Varhol: “Just read the email in ‘Newman!’ [Aug. 16] suggesting that you are harder on one race of player than another. I have not always agreed with you, but I can’t believe that after 41 years of close contact with players of many races that you notice [color]. You really have an ideal job to become open-minded; you get to know players not as black, white, or brown, but as individual human beings. America needs more of the interactions like you have between people of different races. Once we do so, we don’t think of them as a member of a race, but as a person. And I’m guessing that’s how you approach your interaction with any football player.”
I certainly try. We are all products of our environments, and I grew up in a mostly white town and attended a university with mostly white people. So I entered the business far from enlightened, and in 41 years I’ve just tried to understand everyone’s points of view and treat everyone fairly. I’m a work in progress. My point to that letter-writer was that it would be hard to stay in any sort of communication business for 41 years with a trait of treating one race different than another.
Yes I was. Want to see the scorebook? From @journalisticrob on Twitter: “Excuse me, @peter_king … Were you charting a baseball game? If so, that is awesome.”
I was. While in Minneapolis, I snuck away to Target Field—such a beautiful stadium—and saw Twins 5, Rays 4, won in undramatic fashion on a Jorge Polanco sac-fly walkoff in the bottom of the ninth. My dad taught me to keep score of ballgames in the sixties, and it’s just stuck with me over the years. Attending a game’s not the same without keeping score. Here’s the evidence, from my scorebook (not much for penmanship, unfortunately):
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think everyone who loves football in Tennessee should be thankful to Floyd Reese, the 19-year Houston/Tennessee executive and GM who built a team that advanced to two AFC title games and one Super Bowl. Reese died of cancer Saturday at 73. Reese oversaw the drafting of Steve McNair, Eddie George, Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth, and signed Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae in free-agency This illustrates what the league thought about his personnel acumen: Reese’s last job in football was as Bill Belichick’s senior football adviser for three seasons a decade ago. “He loved his family, he loved football, and he loved the Titans,” said current Titans GM Jon Robinson. “I learned a lot from him, he was always willing to listen, and he wanted to pass on his knowledge of the game to me and so many others.”
2. I think I had a few observations about preseason week two and the past few days in the NFL:
a. Mike Vrabel tested positive for Covid on Sunday. He’ll be re-tested Monday and must have two negative tests before he’s allowed back inside the team. Another positive test would mean 10 days away from the team. Better now than in September, I guess, but this is just a sign of what’s dangerous this year for NFL—particularly those in high Covid-positive areas like the south.
b. The Bucs now have to be concerned because of close contacts with Vrabel during the week—you see the Tweet above with Vrabel around Tom Brady and his son. Tampa Bay has had multiple people in the organization test positive, as Bruce Arians told me: “We’ve had fully vaccinated people get sick, test positive, but they don’t get sick. They have symptoms, very mild, but again, you miss ten days of work. If it’s our players, they’re gonna miss a game or maybe two.”
c. This Ja'Marr Chase story bears watching, with all his early drops in camps and games. Per Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Chase dropped two more Sunday in practice, one a TD drop in the end zone from Joe Burrow. Too early to panic, not too early to be concerned.
d. The Ravens have won every preseason game for six years. That’s amazing. Doubt it means much, but it is amazing, to be 19-0 in exhibition games since 2016.
e. Man, Jeff Okudah. After the shakiest of rookie years, the third pick in the 2020 draft can’t be letting Diontae Johnson, or any fleet wideout for that matter, get three steps behind him. Easy 43-yard completion for Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday night at Heinz Field.
f. Man, Pat Freiermuth. (In a good way.) The 55th pick in the 2020 draft caught two Roethlisberger bullets for TDs. The first was way high, and Freiermuth had to contort his body like an owl contorts its head to reach around to make the catch. Really impressive plays. Wondering if Freiermuth can be the rookie impact player of 2021 that Chase Claypool was for the Steelers in ’20.
Pat Freiermuth so far:
New TE1 in Pittsburgh is making PLAYS 🔥pic.twitter.com/c0LvmsIR5t
— PFF (@PFF) August 22, 2021
g. Lions Gonna Lion Dept.: After the Steelers went up 17-0 early in the second quarter, here were the next three plays:
• Kick returner Javon Leake stoned by Pittsburgh at the Detroit 14. Holding on Detroit. Drive starts at the Lions’ 6.
• Running back Dedrick Mills popped hard by linebacker Melvin Ingram (remember him?) for a loss of three.
• Mills for three. Another hold on the Lions. Declined.
Attaway to answer the opening Pittsburgh explosion.
h. The Jags, both on and off the record, have clearly not given up on the ninth pick in the draft last year. Urban Meyer told me he thinks cornerback C.J. Henderson, who has been in and out of the team’s facility and practices this offseason tending to a personal matter, will still be “a great player” in the NFL. Meyer and assistant coach Charlie Strong took the unusual step of meeting with Henderson at his home in the offseason. “He’s as talented a corner as you’ll see. He went through the Covid year, which was tough on everybody. Went through some injuries. At all costs, whatever the player needs, we’re gonna maximize who he is.”
i. Another very nice preseason effort from Zach Wilson (9 of 11, two TDs) in Green Bay, and coach Robert Saleh said he’s “light years” ahead of a normal rookie. I’m not there, so I don’t know all that’s going on, but the Jets are sure building up Wilson.
j. Training-camp Teddy Bridgewater: 16 of 19, one drop, two TDs, no picks.
k. No one’s going to believe Saturday’s start at Chicago wasn’t huge for Mitchell Trubisky. It was. And the fact that he built a 34-6 lead in his seven first-half series (TD, TD, TD, TD, punt, field goal, field goal) says one thing and one thing only: The Bills have a good backup to Josh Allen in case Allen has to miss time. This season has to be a mental rehab season for Trubisky after the battering he took for much of four seasons after being the second pick in the 2017 draft for Chicago. This does not mean the Bears made a mistake in letting Trubisky go. He was not salvageable in Chicago. Good for Trubisky in having a redemptive game, but let’s not make too much of anything that happens in a football game on Aug. 21.
3. I think I’ve asked a few friends of Larry Fitzgerald—who turns 38 next week, isn’t on a team but has not announced his future plans—if they think he is finished as a player. One told me he thinks Fitzgerald might stay in shape, then wait till late this season to see if a team wants him for the stretch run. He’s going to do some radio now, and he told Jim Gray that “for now,” he’ll be a broadcaster. “I just don’t have the urge to play right now,” said Fitzgerald. “I don’t know how I’ll feel in September, October, November moving forward.” Sounds like a man who will keep in football shape, just in case.
4. I think this was the most insightful thing I heard in the last week, from a smart football person about those players not vaccinated: “We’re not educating all the people we need to be educating. You cannot believe the influence the wives have over these players, in so many cases. They might leave the facility thinking they’re gonna get vaccinated, but they go home, and their wives are adamantly against it. The NFL hasn’t done a good job overall in educating the families—the wives especially, but also the dads in some cases are really influential. So the players hear one thing in the facility and another thing at home, and so often when they choose not to get it, it’s like they’re being publicly shamed over it. Just not a good situation.” One other thing: Everyone can find an expert to reinforce whatever decision they make, to take the shot or not to take it. Or five experts. If I’m a coach or GM, I wave the white flag and say, Okay, time to coach football. We’ll move on and take the consequences, whatever they may be.
5. I think there was at least one team skeptical of trading for and/or signing 32-year-old Julio Jones because he doesn’t practice much anymore. To some teams, that’s important. To others, not so much. But we’ve reached the three-week mark since Jones landed awkwardly at Titans’ training camp and left practice, and he hasn’t returned. It doesn’t sound like a serious injury. Still, it’s another sign that the seven games Jones missed last year might not be a fluke at this point of his career.
6. I think I liked this list by Lindsay Jones of The Athletic, a look at the NFL’s most influential people under 40 years old. The list is interesting because Jones didn’t round up the usual suspects—she rounded up generation next in the NFL, and reported about people you need to know but who are strangers now: future GMs like Tony Pastoors (Rams’ strategist), Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Browns VP), head-coach candidates like Sean Desai (Bears defensive coordinator), Thomas Brown (Browns running backs coach) and Michael Clay (Eagles special-teams coordinator), and others. Like this review of 35-year-old KC executive VP Ryan Poles:
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach is stockpiling young talent in his personnel department, with Poles and vice president of football operations Brandt Tilis (age 36). Poles, who played on Boston College’s offensive line, has been steadily climbing the Chiefs’ scouting ladder since he joined the organization in an entry-level job in 2009. Now he’s one of the hottest names in player evaluation, and he interviewed multiple times for the Panthers’ general manager job last spring. “In our line of work, it’s really important that we turn over every stone, and Ryan is outstanding when it comes to research and details,” Veach said.
7. I think, after reading Ron Rivera’s strong comments to Albert Breer deriding the disinformation campaign against Covid vaccines I say: Keep speaking your truth, Ron Rivera. It’s the truth for so many of us.
8. I think as my camp trip ends today with the Ravens, I’d like to thank my two drivers/videographers/tour managers, Matt Buckman (first 10 days) and Nicole Barros (last 14 days) for doing so much work that goes unrecognized. They do all the logistical work that makes it possible for me to bring you the stories you’ve seen on video and read in this space since the trip began July 28. It takes special people to deal with me and the 598 miles in a day that sometimes just happen on the road. Matt works for NBC Sports Chicago and joined me in Vegas at the start; Nicole is based with NBC Sports in Connecticut and was with me across the north, midwest and south. We’re due to finish tonight when she disengorges me and my stuff in Brooklyn.
I’d never met Matt before we shook hands in a Nevada hotel lobby the day the western jaunt started, and I’d never met Nicole before she picked up me and my roller bag at 168th and Broadway at the 1 subway stop. Both were absolute delights, diligent and hustling all the time, and introducing me to music I wasn’t too familiar with. Kygo, for instance. And, in Nicole’s case, the Cardi B songbook. Nicole, who is 26, asked me on the drive from Tampa to Jacksonville: “What would be your walk-up song if you were a baseball player?” I couldn’t think of a singular anthem for me, but I said, “Maybe One Tree Hill by U2.” I played a bit of it for her (bad idea for a walkup song, by the way) and she said, “Is this Bon Jovi?” I said no, it was Bono. She said: “Well, they’re both Bon-guys.”
9. I think I am old.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Retirement Story of the Week: Chad Finn of the Boston Globe on Jackie MacMullan leaving ESPN at 60.
b. MacMullan was great being a crossover star—first and always a writer who got the best out of generational basketball players like Larry Bird, then later as a rational and smart voice on the NBA for ESPN. Students in journalism schools should study her path. Follow the stories. Tell the stories. MacMullan got to know the greats and told their stories. There will always be a place in the world for good journalistic story-telling. MacMullan rose to the top of three businesses—print media, TV, digital media—doing exactly that. (She’ll still do some work for The Ringer.) Wrote Chad Finn about her retirement:
The decision, which was entirely hers — she signed a three-year extension with the network last fall — is something she has been thinking about for a while.
“Quite honestly, even when I signed the extension, I was a little ambivalent about it,” she said.
That list of reasons to step away from ESPN, and the time commitment the job required, has only grown since, she said.
“I moved my elderly parents up [to the Boston area] with my sister to an assisted-living place and I never have time to see them, and that doesn’t feel right to me,” she said. “And I just think our business is a young person’s business. The last thing I ever wanted to do was overstay my welcome. I kind of liked the idea of leaving on my terms. So that’s what I’m doing.”
c. The last thing I ever wanted to do was overstay my welcome. May we all act with that humble ethos when the twilight of the career comes.
d. Football Story of the Week: Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated on the anguish and recovery of Dak Prescott, after his brother Jace’s shocking suicide and his own career-detouring injury.
e. Bishop’s detail is always marvelous. He describes a crisis of confidence for Prescott in 2018 and beyond, centered around the bizarre over-coverage of his long contract negotiations with the Cowboys:
Despite a playoff and Pro Bowl season, Prescott spent too much time in the worst place on earth for anyone who wants to feel decent about themselves: Twitter. Outside perceptions began to bother him, and football—really, everything around it—“started getting a little hard.”
He deleted the app from his phone, allowing others to run it for him. But it wasn’t just Twitter; it was everything around football, from celebrity to fame to expectations to outside noise. Prescott had already met twice with a therapist, who taught him to vent about what bothered him. He needed to in ‘18, and often would to Jace, especially as it related to the noise/perception of the contract. To be clear: It wasn’t an issue in the locker room. The base salary—the one he earned in the final season of a four-year, $2.7-million deal—didn’t offend him, either, not the kid from the single-wide. His annoyance instead centered on how the endless conversation around it affected his off-field focus; he wanted to tunnel into football and let his representatives handle negotiations. But everywhere he went, every news conference he attended, every round of golf he played, every stranger he bumped into—everyone wondered the same thing, for the better part of three years.
“Do y’all want me to go crazy?” he sometimes thought, as pundits and strangers, outsiders all, “created a lot of false narratives for who I am and how I think.”
f. Physical Fitness Story of the Week: From Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times, a workout we can all get behind. It relies on four-second bursts. Writes Reynolds:
A mere four seconds of all-out exercise, repeated two or three dozen times, could be all many of us need to build and maintain our fitness, strength and physical power, according to an inspiring new study of the potency of super-quick workouts. The findings expand on other, recent studies showing that four-second interval workouts beneficially affect metabolism and muscles in adults of various ages.
g. Great job by ESPN’s Liz Merrill and Paula Lavigne in pushing and pressing and reporting about the cold-case murder of University of Miami football player Bryan Pata. On Thursday, authorities in south Florida arrested former teammate Rashaun Jones in Pata’s 2006 murder. The resuscitation of the case by the ESPN team last year got the case the attention it needed to be revived by local police. There was friction between Jones and Pata, in part, because Pata was dating Jones’ former girlfriend.
h. You Are There Reporting Job of the Week: Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and photographer Marcus Yam on what it’s like to be a journalist in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan now.
i. Two journalists, beaten while documenting a demonstration in Kabul, then befriended. Just a weird, weird scene there. Yam wrote about a man who punched him three times, then was nice, and about another man with a walkie-talkie who he called Radio Taliban:
He apologized profusely for our troubles, but not for beating us. They became solicitous: We were each brought a bottle of cold water and a can of Monster Energy drink, a favorite of the U.S. soldiers who controlled the city until a few days ago.
Radio Taliban asked us: “Please, could you tell me who hit you? We will capture him, and punish him.” I looked at my colleague in disbelief.
It was a surreal scene. The day before I’d been at a news conference in which the Taliban made promises about a brighter future, a free press. We kept repeating that we needed to return to the safety of our offices.
. . . We jumped in the car and raced away.
j. We need those journalists.
k. The Los Angeles Times wondered the other day if Shohei Ohtani could win the MVP and Cy Young this season. He probably won’t pitch enough innings to beat out, say, a Lance Lynn, but the quality of the innings he has pitched makes him a contender.
l. It’s impossible to think any other player could win the MVP.
m. Beernerdness: Tried Florida Special Lager (Coppertail Brewing Company, Tampa) last week, and I found it a perfect summer lager. It’s light, and light on the alcohol too (3.8 percent). But the taste is a distinctive malty one, with an easy finish. I like beers that don’t try to do too much—and many IPAs, these days, really try to do too much with the flavor and the finish. Sometimes you want a simple beer with a burger. You’ll like this one, Floridians.
n. Coffeenerdness: Now this, from FRGMNT (I mean, who picks these names) on the northern edge of downtown Minneapolis, is one heck of a cortado:
Just a really good espesso feel with zero bitterness. The espresso’s from Guatemala, and looks lighter when grinded than any espresso I’ve seen. Delicious. Espresso makes up two-thirds of a cortado, with a foam cap of milk (from a Minnesota dairy, in this case) on top.
o. Beat Writer Story of the Week: Brian Costello of the New York Post, with an interpretive story, and a smart story, on how the new Jets coach, Robert Saleh, is the man to handle the team’s first crisis of 2021, the loss of big-money free-agent pass-rusher Carl Lawson to a torn Achilles.
p. A good beat person needs to see beyond the press conferences and the surface things at practice. He or she must see the mental side of it, and be around to see the impact of a leader. Costello does a good job here of both:
The injury hit the Jets like a sledgehammer. The team was confident that Lawson was going to be the answer at pass rusher it has been lacking for the past 15 years. In the early days of training camp, Lawson made the three-year, $45 million contract the Jets gave him look like a wise investment. He dominated every day and had the Jets dreaming of what he could do in games.
They woke up from those dreams on Thursday.
“Next man up” is a cliché that gets thrown around every time a team has injuries. But Saleh seems to genuinely believe in coaching players 1 through 85 on the roster. “The difference between player A and player Z is minimal,” Saleh said this spring, “and the only thing that keeps player Z from becoming player A is an opportunity and reps. Let’s see what happens.
“Does it always happen? It doesn’t, but unless you’re willing to be bold enough to coach your tail off and to invest as much as you can into these young men and give them the opportunity to be seen, give them the opportunity to get reps, and give them the opportunity to get better, you’ll never know what you might find.”
q. If Saleh is right, isn’t that what you want in your coach? And good for Costello in recognizing it.
r. I love Target Field. If you haven’t been, stay in downtown Minneapolis and walk over. Some great neighborhoods right near the ballpark.
s. Never thought a Tweet praising an American city would generate such craziness, but I loved what I saw in Minneapolis last weekend and said so on Twitter, and evidently a city can’t grow and change and improve, and will forever be a stark moonscape, as it seemed last year after the murder of George Floyd. I simply said Minneapolis looked great to me. My words:
MINNEAPOLIS-This city is so underrated. It's an American gem. So many new coffee shops, brewpubs, restaurants. So lively downtown, esp near Target Field.
That is all.
FMIA in progress.
— Peter King (@peter_king) August 15, 2021
Last I saw, 250 or so responses, quite a few vitriolic. Sigh.
The Adieu Haiku40
Tom Brady might play
Longer than I write football.
That’s a wow to me.