OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When you report at NFL training camps, interviewing people is often a balancing act, with 80 or so players and all the coaches coming off the field at nearly the same time. Last Monday morning around 11:15, the Ravens’ PR staff and I had a four-man weave going as the team finished practice. I needed coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Lamar Jackson, tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the man the offense hoped to get 300 touches this year, running back J.K. Dobbins. None of the interviews can be very long, lest you lose one or two you really need.
Jackson would be sometime later. Villanueva came first, as he walked off the field. Then I got shuttled to Harbaugh, and had a three-way chat with him and owner Steve Bisciotti. That left Dobbins. While with Harbaugh, I noticed Dobbins out of the corner of my eye, waiting for me to finish, and the problem was, I’d barely started with Harbaugh. Dobbins just waited. Three, four, five, six minutes. I’ve had a lot of experience doing these things, and I can tell you that the player often doesn’t wait. Maybe I’d get him later in the day, maybe it’s a washout.
Dobbins, in shorts, white socks and no shoes, waited.
“Pleasure to meet you!” Dobbins said.
We’d never spoken before, and I remembered reading something about his disappointment at sliding down to the 55th pick of the 2020 draft coming out of Ohio State, despite having a comparable college career to Ezekiel Elliott. I wanted to make the point to him that after covering the league for a long time, one of the verities I’d learned was it doesn’t matter how high you are picked; it matters who picks you. I never got to the statistical point I was ready to make, that Baltimore has rushed for 1,400 more yards than anyone in football the past two years, and nobody in this day and age runs it 56 percent of the offensive snaps . . . except the team he’s on, the team that saw him average 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie, the team that’s nirvana for a running back. That team had a blueprint to use J.K. Dobbins a ton in 2021.
“How much do you want that?” I asked.
Dobbins made a “phew!” sound. He paused a second, then said:
“How much do I want it? Man, let me think,” he said. “Let me think of some analogy here. I want that more than a person wants to breathe. I want to be that guy because that’s just who I am. I wanna be the best. Why not me? I train with one of the best—Dalvin Cook. We’re best buddies. He was second in scrimmage yards in the league last year.
“I’m just thinking, every day I lay my head down, my mind is racing about how to be the best. I went to the same college as Ezekiel Elliott. I had more yards than him. Why not me in the NFL? I want that. I wanna be the bell cow. I wanna be the guy that my teammates look to like, We wanna be on your shoulders. My offensive line is looking at me like, We want this guy to run behind us. I can feel it from them. I’ve been working hard for it. I think I’m ready for it if that opportunity comes.”
Saturday. Five days later. Preseason finale at Washington. Ninth offensive snap of the game for Baltimore, with the first unit getting a final cameo before the opener 16 days away in Las Vegas. Dobbins caught a short pass out of the backfield from Lamar Jackson, and got sandwiched, WFT corner Jimmy Moreland hitting him from the front at the left knee and linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk dragging him down from the back.
Immediately, WFT linebacker Khaleke Hudson began waving to the Baltimore sidelines for a trainer. As the play unpiled, Dobbins didn’t get up. He grabbed his left knee.
“Look out,” said Ravens TV voice Gerry Sandusky on the telecast. “J.K. Dobbins, injured on the play and clutching his leg. And this . . .”
“. . . is a potential worst-case scenario.”
With the Dallas-Tampa Bay season-opener 10 days away, there’s much still to be decided all over the league. Among the issues: 864 players getting released or IR’d on 32 teams before 4 p.m. ET Tuesday . . . 512 players to be re-signed to practice squads . . . a flurry of trades that’s already started (Sony Michel, Shaun Wade, Gardner Minshew and Lawson replacing Lawson with the Jets), with teams looking to move players they’d likely cut . . . the fate of Deshaun Watson possibly in the balance (but I’m dubious) before cutdown . . . Covid still likely to play havoc with some team before Week 1, despite 93 percent of NFL players being vaccinated . . . a slew of players trying to make it back for opening weekend (including almost every significant Giants skill player) . . . Hurricane Ida leaving some uncertainty in New Orleans and the NFL TV schedule in Week 1 . . . and a man who wears a sweatshirt reading “ANALYZE MORE NEVER GUESS” being thrown a rotten curveball just before roster cutdown, wondering if he should sit still with the roster he’s built or go chase a running back to replace his bell cow.
The worst case was realized after an MRI on Sunday. J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL on Saturday night when his left knee hyperextended inward; per Mike Garofolo of NFL Network, the damage might be more than just the ACL. Dobbins is gone for the year. It’s likely no contending team suffered a bigger injury in August than the Ravens did in losing Dobbins for the year, and it left GM Eric DeCosta perusing the running-back market (Houston’s Phillip Lindsay? Indy’s Nyheim Hines?) or thinking the Ravens can survive with roster-depth powerback Gus Edwards and youngsters Ty’Son Williams and Justice Hill. The Ravens were deep in personnel meetings Sunday trying to figure it all out. And DeCosta, the wearer of ANALYZE MORE NEVER GUESS, was likely leaning in part on his burgeoning analytics team to help him decide. My guess: Baltimore will stand pat, because of its faith in Edwards, and because Williams has opened eyes throughout camp.
Crucial players disappear. That’s life in the NFL. My story out of Baltimore was going to be how the Ravens always seem to figure it out. They’re never bad. They went 5-11 in 2015; that’s John Harbaugh’s only losing season out of 13. They have to be good every year to compete with the Steelers, who are just as impressive. (Regular-season and playoff wins from 2011-20: Baltimore 104, Pittsburgh 104.)
Now it’s up to DeCosta (the Ravens are 26-9 since he took the GM reins from Ozzie Newsome two years ago) and Harbaugh to be sure the Dobbins injury doesn’t derail their hopes for the season.
Every year I’ve been at Ravens’ camp, the drill is similar. I look out on the field and see two or three vet free-agents, or vets acquired in trade, dropped out of the sky onto a contending team. This year, there are four newbies: right tackle Alejandro Villanueva, right guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and pass-rusher Justin Houston. As a class, that’s a pretty impressive foursome. Near the end of my time with Harbaugh, he nodded to a trio of players walking off the field behind me: Houston and two young front-seven players.
“Justin’s teaching ‘em,” Harbaugh said. “How great is that?”
Houston’s agent, Joel Segal, called DeCosta a couple of times after Houston’s time in Indianapolis ended last winter. DeCosta told Segal the Ravens just didn’t have the cap money to go after Houston. Make an offer, Segal said. I don’t want to insult a guy who will be a Hall of Fame candidate one day, DeCosta said. Meanwhile, cornerback Marcus Peters, one of Houston’s good friends, texted DeCosta in all-caps one day: JUSTIN HOUSTON. Finally, DeCosta told Segal he’d make an offer. One year, $2 million. DeCosta felt almost embarrassed, and for a player coming off a two-year, $18-million deal in Indy, the offer was a major comedown. Houston settled for a year and $2.075 million. He just wanted to play for the Ravens.
That’s one benefit for Harbaugh and this team: Even when the money’s relatively low, vets with something left still want to come. “I always try to make sure guys understand, Hey, this is what you’re getting into. These are our standards. This is what we believe in. This is our world view,” Harbaugh said. “These guys tell us they know, they’ve talked to our guys and they know. That makes me feel good, that our guys are saying good things about our program.”
Harbaugh credits Bisciotti for setting the stage; Bisciotti watches tape of draft prospects so when he sits in on draft discussions he can understand why DeCosta is high and low on various players. It’s hard to give a Cliff’s Notes explanation of the Ravens’ pursuit of excellence, but Harbaugh tried:
“I think it’s just a relentless persistence in everything you do, all the time, to be as good as you can be. Whether it’s scheme—we’re never satisfied with our scheme—or how we teach our scheme to make sure our players understand what we’re trying to get accomplished.
“We try not to live in a world of gray. We live in a world of black and white when we teach. We tell players, This is what we want you to do. This is what we want it to look like. Crystal clear. Every play we run, every defense we call, every special-teams rep we take. What stems from that is a real clear vision in terms of what type of players you have, what the roles are. And you try to get the type of players that fit those roles. Then the other piece is the type of personality, character, work ethic that fits what’s gonna be expected. It’s gonna be a lot of work. You come here, you know you’re gonna work. It’s gonna be football-based. We get guys who embrace that.”
The other part of the Ravens I’ve always thought was important is this: Most teams get apoplectic when big-money players reach free agency and it looks like they might leave. The Ravens almost welcome it. Huge contracts elsewhere for players like C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue mean savings for the Ravens cap, plus Compensatory Draft Picks. The Ravens lead the league in those extra draft choices over the past 20 years. Harbaugh, Newsome and DeCosta have thick skin, and they can take the sky-is-falling fan sentiment when big vets leave; they know it’s part of a smart circle of life in the NFL.
That doesn’t make days like Sunday any better for earnest people like Dobbins, who provided a huge boost for the offense last year as his workload increased. The Ravens have been worn down this summer by soft-tissue injuries to key offensive weapons Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Miles Boykin and Rashod Bateman. Now the biggest injury of them all. Days before his season ended at FedEx Field, Dobbins was smiling about his professional fate. “Coming here was God’s way of calming me down and letting me know I’m in the right place,” Dobbins said.
There will be time to consider everything else with this story, particularly what erasing a potential hugely productive season will do for a back scheduled to earn $870,000 in the second year of a four-year second-round deal. But a bright prospect with a starry season ahead of him on a likely playoff team is done in August, and it stinks. Just another reminder how unforgiving the NFL can be.
As Hurricane Ida thrashed New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, Saints players had the day off and got used to their temp surroundings in downtown Dallas. The sudden relocation of about 160 football employees (players, coaches and staff) and more than 100 family members happened virtually overnight on Friday, once the severity of the hurricane became apparent. Owner Gayle Benson authorized the mobilization of two charter planes to fly the team people and families to Dallas an hour apart late Saturday afternoon. Some families with pets chose to make the drive to Dallas and meet the team there.
• The Saints will practice in the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington today, Tuesday and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. CT.
• Tuesday is cut day around the NFL, with teams required to pare rosters from 80 to 53 by 3 p.m. CT. That will make it tough for GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton, who will likely have to make their cuts before practice at the hotel in Dallas.
• This weekend is a mini-bye weekend for all NFL teams. No preseason games. And most coaches will give their players a long weekend off. The Saints are likely to give their players Thursday through Sunday off, but where will the players go? Some will certainly go to New Orleans to check on their homes; some may want to leave from Dallas for a four-day break before the start of the season. Details TBD on that.
• When Katrina hit 16 years ago, the Superdome was damaged and the Saints had to spend the season on the road, playing in Baton Rouge and San Antonio. New Orleans has but two home games before Halloween this year—Sept. 12 against Green Bay, Oct. 3 against the Giants. If the team has to play away from home because of the effects of Ida, the league makes sure there are alternate sites for every game in case of emergency. A couple of points to make on this: The NFL wouldn’t move the Sept. 12 game to Lambeau Field for competitive reasons, giving the Pack home-field advantage in such a significant game. And with prospective sites like Indianapolis, Detroit, Houston and Atlanta all unavailable because those teams are home on the 12th, the vacancy at AT&T Stadium in Texas that day might make it the best alternative sight. It’s too early to seriously consider Packers-Saints at Jerryworld in Week 1, but it’s certainly in the back of minds at the NFL this morning.
• You might also wonder whether the league might try to reschedule the game to later in the season through the juggling of bye weeks. That’s highly unlikely. The NFL worked hard to make the Week 1 schedule very strong, to kick off the season with strong ratings. On Sept. 9, Dallas-Tampa leads the season and should do huge numbers. On Sept. 12, Pittsburgh-Buffalo is the marquee 1 p.m. game, Green Bay-New Orleans (FOX) and Cleveland-Kansas City (CBS) strong late-window games, with the Bears-Rams Sunday night and Ravens-Raiders Monday night good draws. The last thing the NFL would do is take Packers-Saints off FOX, barring unforeseen events.
Snapshots from nearly a month on the road. I saw 20 teams in 27 days in 18 camps/stadia.
Favorite Story From A Player
You could probably think of 10 topics for a discussion with Chargers wunderkind quarterback Justin Herbert, but most of my time with him after one training-camp practice in Costa Mesa, Calif., was spent on one: Herbert’s shocking debut against Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Week 2 last year, in the Chargers’ first game ever at SoFi Stadium. That’s the day Tyrod Taylor suffered a punctured lung when a pregame pain-killing injection went awry. The Chargers had won the toss, with the full expectation that Taylor, the starting quarterback, would be playing with the first unit on a resplendent L.A. day. Then coach Anthony Lynn, with the kick-return team jogging onto the field, approached Herbert and told him, “You’re in.”
There’d been no preseason games because of Covid, meaning Herbert hadn’t taken a snap in a football game since the Rose Bowl nine months and 19 days earlier. Now he was playing, with no warning, Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champs.
“It was maybe 15 to 20 seconds before kickoff,” Herbert told me. “I said, ‘All right.’ I didn’t have to worry about anything. You just go out there. We were about to receive the kickoff. I needed to get the plan [for the first series]. I needed to get my helmet. There were things that needed to happen really quickly. It kind of started spreading throughout the sideline. I remember Joey came up to me—Joey Bosa—slapping me on the shoulder. He said, ‘All right, it’s time to go. It’s up to you now.’ I remember thinking like, ‘Oh, it’s my turn. I get to go out there and play football now.’
“When I got to the huddle, I don’t think any of [the offensive players] knew what was going on. [Tight end] Hunter Henry, when he saw me out there, he gave me a look and almost said, ‘What are you doing out here?’ I just called the play and I said, ‘We’re gonna run the play. I’m gonna hand it off and we’re gonna get five yards.’ That’s kind of how it went down.”
“I remember my first pass was to Keenen and I sailed it over his head. I was so excited I threw it probably 10 feet above his head. He came back to the huddle and he said, ‘Okay, calm down now. You got it out of your system.’ We come back and ended up completing a protection little check release to Josh Kelley for about 40 or 50 yards. I flipped the protection [to the left] and that’s kind of when I was like, Calm down, figure it out. It’s football. Maybe we can do this thing.
The swing pass to Kelley, also playing his first NFL game, gained 35. Man, nothing to this game. Easy stuff.
“No one on the Chiefs said anything,” Herbert said. “It was really quiet, especially with no fans out there, either.”
Under pressure, Herbert made a precocious back-shoulder throw to Ekeler, getting the Chargers inside the 5-yard line. Then, from the KC 4 on third-and-goal, the call from offensive coordinator Shane Steichen came into his helmet. First option, a pass to Kelley in the right flat. Second option, a pass to tight end Anderson in the back of the end zone. Both covered. With KC defensive end Mike Danna in traffic with Kelley to the right and no other defender in sight, Herbert took off. “It wasn’t supposed to be scripted up like that,” Herbert said. “[Danna] sunk, so I just took it in.”
Herbert’s a modest kid. He mostly stays off social media, figuring it can’t help him in any way. When he thinks back to that September day in the SoFi echo chamber, the memories are good, despite the overtime loss. Herbert: 311 passing yards, 94.4 rating. Patrick Mahomes: 302 yards, 90.9 rating. He understands pretty well that he’ll have a good story to tell his kids one day.
“It was a pretty weird introduction to the NFL,” Herbert said.
Weirdest Covid Storyline
This seems incongruous, but what if there’s a player people think is unvaccinated but who is actually vaccinated—and the player has no interest in correcting the public perception? Why would this be? As one vaccinated player told me: The player may feel he doesn’t want to alienate some in his locker room by coming out and saying he’s vaccinated. The player may have family and friends demanding he doesn’t give in to the NFL pressure to get vaccinated. A player with unvaccinated close friends on the team would not want to add pressure on the unvaccinated by saying, I’m vaccinated, and everyone should be. This player told me family and friends are hugely influential, more influential than the team, in whether a player takes the shot. I’ve said this a hundred times in the past year, but what a complex, weird and socially difficult topic this is.
Best Value (Rookie): Trey Smith, Guard, Kansas City
While at the University of Tennessee, Smith missed some time due to blood clots in his lung. That cratered his draft stock, and KC GM Brett Veach got him with the team’s final draft pick—sixth round, 226th overall. He’ll make, in total compensation this year, $790,000, and is projected to start at right guard in two weeks when Kansas City opens against Cleveland; the left guard, Joe Thuney, the prize guard in free agency this year, will make $18 million in 2021. The two practices I saw, Smith was first-team right guard and mostly stoned the tackles and linebackers trying to penetrate his gap. “There were times when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play football again,” Smith told me, “so blocking for Patrick [Mahomes] now is pretty humbling. This is a big task and responsibility I have.”
Best Value (Veteran): Joseph Charlton, Punter, Carolina
He’ll make $780,000, less than one-half of 1 percent of the cap. Last season, as a rookie, Charlton had a better gross average, net average and fewer punts returned than the great Johnnie Hekker. I saw Charlton punt during Colts-Panthers practices, and his hang time was insane. When I asked coach Matt Rhule about a big player for his team that no one’s thinking about, he said: “How about our punter? He’s really valuable in how he can reverse the field.” Rhule’s a big special-teams guy, like his idol Bill Parcells, and the placement and height of Charlton’s punts are a boon to Carolina field position.
Ten Most Impressive People I Saw
1. L.A. Rams QB Matthew Stafford. One week into camp, when I saw him, it was clear by how confident he was and how comfortable his mates already were with him that Stafford’s got a grip on this team.
2. Dallas LB Micah Parsons. Mike McCarthy’s not one to gush about rookies, but he gushed about Parsons to me, saying he’d made at least one impact play in every practice so far and would have a significant role in the D early.
4. New Orleans QB Jameis Winston. As I always say about visiting camps, it’s ridiculous to draw a conclusion based on one practice, but the one I saw in the Superdome, capped by a Winston-to-Chris Hogan TD bomb in the two-minute drill, was an A for Winston.
6. The KC offensive line. (LT Orlando Brown, LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Lucas Niang.) None were on Kansas City’s 53-man roster last year and now Patrick Mahomes says, “The biggest surprise—I don’t want to say surprise—is the chemistry they’ve built quickly.”
7. Indianapolis QB Sam Ehlinger. Might have a significant knee injury now, but when I saw the sixth-round rookie from Texas, the game was absolutely not too big for him.
8. Neighboring customer at Friday’s in Terminal T, Atlanta airport. Overwhelmed wait staff, long wait for service and for food because Covid has left so many places struggling for employees . . . and this guy, totally unbothered, left a $10 tip for his $19 bill and when I remarked on his patience said, “We’re all in this together.”
9. Chicago coach Matt Nagy. He intends to play in-demand rookie quarterback Justin Fields when he’s ready and not soon, and told me, “We want this to be something that lasts 15 years, not two years.”
10. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. He looks 15 pounds lighter and, playing behind a brand-new offensive line, was nimble and strong-armed in the three series I saw against Detroit.
Bonus. Minnesota CB Patrick Peterson. In his first year out of the desert, he looks fluid, fast and much different after losing 10 pounds.
Three questions with Mike Tomlin
FMIA: How’s your new offensive line playing?
Tomlin: ”There have been two things that I’ve been really impressed with: First, their level of conditioning individually and collectively; the group’s in great shape and that’s a catalyst for everything. Lastly, their finish. I like the direction that the pile is falling, I like the effort that the guys are finishing plays with, and if we continue to build off of that foundation, I’m confident that we’re going to have the type of cohesion and have the type of line that we need.”
FMIA: Tough to make all those major changes in the offseason?
Tomlin: ”It’s just part of it. We were last in the league last year in running the football, so there’s not a lot of room or places to fall. We don’t live in our fear; we live in our hopes and dreams and we’re excited about this group that we’re putting together and the way they’re working and the way that they’re coming together.
FMIA: What have you seen in Najee Harris that gives you hope he can be an impact player?
Tomlin: “He’s just a tremendous competitor in just about every circumstance we put him in, not only the things you see in the stadium but, probably more importantly, day-to-day at practice and competition periods and drill work. He’s got a thirst for the competition and that’s exciting.”
Best Restaurant: Taqueria Mexicana, Westfield, Ind.
Honorable mention to Mozza (Newport Beach, Calif.) for my favorite pizza and Chianti on the trip.
But the winner is the place Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard directed me to near the Colts camp in Westfield, Ind., about 25 miles north of downtown Indy. A little storefront restaurant in a strip mall two miles from camp. I went in and not a soul was speaking English; the clientele seemed to be heavy on landscapers, painters and blue-collar guys in for a filling and authentic lunch. I got three soft-shelled steak tacos and water (total: $7.47), and the “medium” hot sauce burned my mouth for two days. I won’t need to think hard about a lunch spot next year if I visit the Colts again.
The All-Weird-Number Team
So odd, when I went to Vikings camp, to see two defensive starters with single-digit numbers. So I compiled a list of the ones that stand out to me.
No. 1: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Bills
No. 2: Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Seahawks
No. 3: Budda Baker, S, Cardinals
No. 4: Eddie Jackson, S, Bears
No. 5: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Rams
No. 6: Patrick Queen, LB, Ravens
No. 7: Patrick Peterson, CB, Vikings
No. 8: Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
No. 9: Sheldon Richardson, DL, Vikings
No. 14: Sony Michel, RB, Rams
“These winds are hellacious. The rain is like real-life acupuncture to the face.”
—Meteorologist Derek Van Dam, on CNN, late Sunday afternoon, as Hurricane Ida hit Houma, La.
“We don’t have it figured out. We don’t have it under control. And we just have to deal with the cards that are dealt.”
—Buffalo GM Brandon Beane, on the NFL’s Covid issues. The Bills lost five players for five days when they were close contacts with a trainer who tested positive for the virus.
“In my opinion, unvaccinated players are being unreasonable and selfish. This is a game that requires everyone to be on board. I wouldn’t get in a huddle with [Vikings quarterback Kirk] Cousins. The guy’s not vaccinated. I can remember getting tackles and guys are on top of me. When they would breathe, I could tell who had what type of alcohol. You could smell it. This was how hard they were breathing … This is going to be Mike Zimmer’s toughest coaching job.”
—Former Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He also said that, referring to unvaccinated players, “in this type of game, it can’t work.”
“The offensive line has been mismanaged in epic proportions. They had their pick of every single offensive lineman in the draft last year, and they picked Andrew Thomas, who was by far the worst one.”
—Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, on ESPN. Riddick was interviewed for the job Dave Gettleman got as Giants’ GM, and Gettleman’s the man who picked Thomas.
“[Mac] Jones is going to be the starter at some point, whether it’s Week 1, later in the season or by 2022. As [Bill] Belichick sorts through the decision, he shouldn’t weigh the concern of the rookie factor and the unknown that comes with it. Jones has consistently shown that doesn’t exist.”
—Jeff Howe, writing presciently in The Athletic about the Jones-Cam Newton competition in Patriots camp.
Next time you roll your eyes over a coach preaching how important turnovers are in the NFL, consider this: In 2020, 11 of the leading 12 teams in turnover differential made the playoffs . . . and the 12th, Miami, won 10 games.
Seven division winners and four wild-card teams were among the top 12 in turnover margin. The teams that led the NFL in takeaways versus giveaways last year:
By the way, the bottom eight in turnover margin: Denver (-16), Las Vegas (-11), San Francisco (-11), Philadelphia (-10), Detroit (-9), Houston (-9), Jacksonville (-8), Cincinnati (-7).
None of the bottom eight had a winning record.
Average regular-season wins per team in the bottom eight of turnover differential: 4.6.
Average regular-season wins per team in the top eight of turnover differential: 11.6.
“They got me! @NFL you win!” That was the Tweet from Buffalo receiver Isaiah McKenzie, posting the letter he received from the NFL, informing him he would be fined for not wearing a mask at the Buffalo training facility. As an unvaccinated player (according to the NFL’s letter), McKenzie must wear a mask at all times while in the facility. The fine schedule, per league Covid rules, means McKenzie will be out $14,650.
McKenzie’s 2021 compensation: $990,000.
Interesting how (apparently) cavalier a person can be for losing 1.5 percent of his total compensation for the season, just for not wearing a mask. If you knew you’d be getting fined $14K for not wearing one, and you weren’t raking in $15 million a year, wouldn’t you just wear the mask?
Aaron Rodgers calls Rob Demovsky of ESPN “Bob.” Rodgers knows Demovsky doesn’t go by “Bob,” but he’s been doing it, just for fun, for a couple of years.
Recently, Demovsky read FMIA, with Rodgers telling me how much he likes tight end Bronson Kaufusi, “one of the happiest guys ever,” Rodgers said. In Rodgers’ first press conference after the column ran, Demovsky said, “I can’t wait to see what Kaufusi does in Buffalo this year,” a wise-guy crack referencing Rodgers saying how much he liked Jake Kumerow last year, and then Kumerow got cut by the Packers and picked up by the Bills on waivers. Now that Rodgers gushed over Kaufusi, Demovsky had a little fun with the sensitive topic around the Packers that is Kumerow. And you probably know that Rodgers got a wide smile at the Kaufusi crack from Demovsky and said, “Jesus, Bob.”
But here is the factoid:
Last Monday, Demovsky went to his dentist for a teeth-cleaning. The dentist’s first words when he saw him: “Jesus, Bob.”
When Sean Payton married Skylene Montgomery in Mexico in June, the officiant was former NBA guard and coach and friend-of-the-groom Avery Johnson.
Anatomy of a cancelled road trip, Arizona Cardinals edition:
Thursday, 1 p.m. PT. Cards get word from the league and the Saints that Hurricane Ida may cause the time of Saturday’s preseason game at New Orleans to be moved to earlier in the day from the scheduled 7 p.m. CT start.
Friday, 6:30 a.m. PT. Cards told the game will be moved to noon CT. The team keeps its travel plans intact, with charter to New Orleans scheduled to depart hours later, at 1:30 p.m. PT.
Friday, 1:22 p.m. PT. Team charter takes off from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport a few minutes early for the 2-hour, 36-minute flight to New Orleans. Coach Kliff Kingsbury convenes a production meeting with Cardinals TV crew on board—including announcer Dave Pasch and analyst Ron Wolfley—at 1:50 p.m. Instead of taking time once on the ground and at the hotel, Kingsbury gets the meeting done in-flight. One less thing to do on the ground.
Friday, approximately 2:50 p.m. PT. “Are we turning around?” says veteran punter and seasoned traveler Andy Lee. The plane is over Temple, Texas (165 miles north of Houston, 135 miles south of Dallas), and passengers have those screens on board with the technology to follow the flight. On the flight map, the nose of the plane has made an oval around the Texas towns of Temple and Killeen, and now the plane’s nose is headed west, back to Phoenix. Around that time, the pilot announces, “The game is cancelled.” The Saints’ advance man in New Orleans, Andrew Steele, called the charter company when the game was cancelled, and the charter company informed the pilot, and the pilot informed the team. (There was no WiFi or texting capability on the charter.)
Back on the ground in AZ after a rare Phoenix-to-Phoenix flight with U-turn over Texas.
To our friends in NOLA & elsewhere dealing with Hurricane Ida, stay safe ! pic.twitter.com/EU52ZaHwp1
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) August 27, 2021
Friday, 4:58 p.m. PT. The Cardinals’ 3-hour, 36-minute Phoenix-to-Phoenix nonstop lands at Sky Harbor. Team disperses in personal cars. Kingsbury gives the players Saturday off.
Always thought there was a chance a 2021 game (or more than one) would get called off. I just didn’t think the specter of a hurricane would be the cause.
Postscript: Saturday was a warm and lovely day in New Orleans. By late afternoon, when the Cardinals’ charter would have taken off for the flight home, it was mostly cloudy with 8-mph winds, and landfall of Ida was at least 20 hours away. The game was cancelled because the Louisiana governor was calling for mass evacuations of the coast—that’s where New Orleans is—through the day Saturday. A football game played anytime Saturday would have taken resources away from hurricane preparedness.
Plenty of the people who are complaining about the reporting and discussion on unvaccinated players will be singing a very different tune when they lose a bet or a fantasy game because an unvaccinated player tested positive the morning of a game and couldn’t play.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 27, 2021
Mike Florio of PFT with something that’s sure to happen.
Longtime NFL QB Philip Rivers talks about the pure joy of high school football following his first win as a head coach at St. Michael. pic.twitter.com/uFKolVujrV
— Ben Thomas (@BenThomasPreps) August 27, 2021
Thomas covers high school sports for the Alabama Media Group.
Not a great time to be unavailable to practice if your backup's doing this with the 1s. https://t.co/oFWjmqksYr
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 25, 2021
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, on the great day for Mac Jones in practice Wednesday, while Covid rules kept Cam Newton sidelined.
— NFL (@NFL) August 25, 2021
NFL Films is always the king, as this video from this year’s Hard Knocks show illustrates.
I have an announcement to make : pic.twitter.com/0ZHD3Kvp9b
— Stefen Wisniewski (@stefenwiz61) August 26, 2021
Wisniewski, a 10-year NFL vet, picked an excellent and picturesque way to retire.
In the past 15 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog competitions, Joey Chestnut has eaten 1,005 hot dogs.
That means, from contest days alone, he has cost himself 24 1/2 days of his life. https://t.co/I3CrwQmvKR
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 23, 2021
Rovell covers sports business and gambling for The Action Network.
Sick of all things Brady. From Billy Conway, of Eastchester, N.Y.: “I love your columns and have been a loyal reader for close to 20 years, but I’ve reached the point where I skip over any of your stories about Tom Brady, which feel so redundant and well-worn. Why do national sports journalists like yourself continue to think he’s such an interesting topic given all the coverage he’s gotten over the last two decades?”
Thanks for your note, Billy. You’re not alone. Lots of people have Brady fatigue. In my job, I try to cover everything of interest about the NFL, and a guy who is 1,593 days older than the second-oldest NFL player and who played at the same level of the greatest quarterbacks in the game last year and who won the Super Bowl by 22 points in his first year with his new team . . . that person is very interesting to me. I realize he has been written about a lot over the years, often by me, but he doesn’t become less interesting (in my opinion) because he’s been relentlessly covered. I hope the 8,500-some-odd words that followed were of some interest. But your protest is duly noted.
Good question, Mike. From Mike Berson, via Twitter: “If Mo Lewis of the @nyjets doesn’t put his helmet into Drew Bledsoe’s chest, do you think we would have ever heard of Tom Brady?”
I think so. If you go back to 2001, in training camp, you got the sense that, despite Bledsoe’s huge contract, the coaching staff was falling in like with Brady because they thought he could execute the offense to a T, and there’s some evidence the staff didn’t like some of the maverick tendencies of Bledsoe. But I can’t say for sure, because if Bledsoe played well and led he team to the playoffs, maybe Brady has to go somewhere else eventually to get a shot. I do remember Brady telling me early on, maybe 2003 or ’04, how fortunate he was that he didn’t have to play right away, because he didn’t think he’d have had the grasp of the offense. By the time he actually had to play, Brady had been immersed in the offense for 17 months.
He thinks the Hall of Fame is lowering its standards. From Brian Sambirsky: “Does Dick Vermeil’s .524 winning percentage merit Hall of Fame consideration? Cliff Branch would be the 10th Raiders player from the 1970s to enter the Hall. How did the Raiders ever lose a game with this team? The Centennial Class seems to have lowered the bar for HOF entry. Is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in jeopardy of a name change to the Hall of Very Good?”
You’re not the only one to ask that, Brian. If Vermeil gets in, that means the last four coaches to be enshrined would be 20th (Bill Cowher), 35th (Vermeil), 44th (Tom Flores) and 63rd (Jimmy Johnson) on the all-time regular-season wins list for coaches. And though there are other aspects to their cases—Johnson as a trailblazing personnel analyst and drafter, which makes his case legitimate—there’s no question those four will make others who haven’t gotten in look more appealing by comparison. Marty Schottenheimer won 80 more games and Dan Reeves 70 more than Vermeil. Schottenheimer was 74 games above .500, Vermeil 11. Should winning one Super Bowl really put Vermeil over both of those coaches? Not to mention the fact that so many more coaches, if we are asked to select one per year, will go in just because the quota has to be filled.
Regarding Branch, I have favored his candidacy. He was so similar to Lynn Swann as a premier deep threat, caught 165 more passes (though virtually the same per game) and earned one fewer Super Bowl ring (Swann four, Branch three). I am sensitive to all the Raiders in the Hall, but I think Branch passes the sniff test to me. What a weapon he was.
But your overall point is correct: Those who have gotten in recently make it far easier for a slew of candidates who were on the border to say they now deserve it.
This wasn’t really the point of the note. From Colin Zick, of Boston: “Now maybe it’s because I’m a Michigan Man, but isn’t a bit upsetting to you (and a sign of a pretty big ego) that Urban Meyer thinks he knows better than a pediatric nurse about what nutrition a newborn needs?”
Colin refers to a note last week about Jacksonville’s Josh Allen calling the Jags coach when he and his wife were upset that a nurse advised them to supplement breast milk (the wife’s preference) with some formula for their baby, who evidently had some jaundice when born. Urban Meyer knows nothing about the nutrition a baby needs, so I can see why a handful of you wrote emails to me to say Meyer shouldn’t be pulling strings like this, asking the CEO of a hospital to fix the matter. That’s fair. But Meyer thinking he knows more than a nurse? What I wrote was not about that.
Well, this is very nice of you, Angel. From Angel Lopez Hoher, of Mexico: “I found three broad hints in your column today of you toying with the idea of Tom Brady playing longer than you write football. I had the great privilege, 20 years back, of taking an Economics class from Nobel prize-winner Gary Becker in the later part of his career, and I will never forget how he took basic Microeconomics to profound philosophical heights. What you do with football is like that: deep insight bred of decades of living the game, coupled with the wisdom of a life well lived (or so it looks like from where I stand) and tempered by great decency, intellectual humility and enviable curiosity and adaptability. And remarkably (or maybe that’s the secret) you take all that, and your readers with you, beyond football, to broader life. You are, and I’m sorry to slip into hyperbole, a wonderful specimen of the U.S. at its best (serious, focused, joyful, expert, individualistic yet community-oriented), of what many people around the world love about it and strive to emulate. There is no way a younger man could do quite what you do . . . You are at no risk of overstaying your welcome. Quite the opposite: You are getting better every year, like one of those Japanese artisans, the shokunin.”
Wow. I’m humbled by your words, Angel. Blown away, in fact. Thank you very much. A thought or two: I love my job, I’m not tired of it, and I’m glad it shows to you. I am really not sure when I will walk away, but I do have more than the occasional thought of “Is that all there is?” I am 64. All three of the most important male figures in my life, my father and two brothers, were dead before turning 65. So we’ll see what the near future brings.
Your words about the column and enjoying it more now resonate with me. I think that might be because I can spend time thinking and planning my column more now. It’s the only thing I do each week. So, 11,000 words is a lot, obviously. It’s one-eighth of a novel. Late in my time at The MMQB and Sports Illustrated, I sprinted through a lot of what I wrote, because we had to produce so much content. Last week, for instance, I talked to Brady on Wednesday and on two drives over the next two days, 11 hours total, to Jacksonville and to New Orleans, I could digest a lot of his words and what I wanted to say about him. I really think it helps to be able to think about what you want to write. For instance, I thought of this around midnight, somewhere in southern Mississippi on the way to New Orleans, and when I got to the hotel an hour or so later, I wrote about the teacher-pupil relationship with Brady and rookie Jaelon Darden while it was still top of mind:
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, 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. He threw to Johnson, who got grabbed by a cornerback for pass interference. First down. Two weeks later, the Bucs lifted the Lombardi.
Anyway, your note was very nice. Thanks, Angel.
1. I think the only thing about the Deshaun Watson-might-get-traded story that makes even a little bit of sense (but not much) is that this could be the time to do it—now, as teams trims their rosters to 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the Texans really want to clear Watson off their decks to rid themselves of a headache and a player they’re sure won’t be their long-term quarterback. (Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported the Dolphins are front-runners for Watson.) But trading Watson, and trading for Watson, is not smart now, at all, unless the Texans accept a conditional trade based on the legal case Watson is going through. I doubt they would. That would be a clear sign of desperation, and they’d never get max value for Watson by putting a deadline of, say, Tuesday on it. The problems:
• For Miami, imagine dealing for Watson now and coach Brian Flores facing Tua Tagovailoa for the first time after the trade—if he faced him at all; I’m assuming Tagovailoa would be part of any trade for a quarterback. After months of the team saying “Tua’s our guy,” they’d play Week 1 of his first full season knowing Tua’s not their guy, and with whoever (Jacoby Brissett, I assume) taking the first snap while, presumably, Watson waits out his legal case. Again, a guess. It’s a total unknown what the league would do with Watson before his 22 sex-assault cases are adjudicated.
• It would be the ultimate in franchise impatience, giving up on a quarterback the team anxiously picked fifth overall just 16 months ago. The Dolphins would be held up as the example of how NOT to draft and train and play a young quarterback. Plus, assuming the pricetag would be at least three first-round picks, that would mean the Dolphins would have invested four first-round picks and probably something else for a quarterback with police investigations hanging over his head.
• I will give Flores and GM Chris Grier this little wiggle room. Say they’ve watched Tagovailoa throughout the offseason and aren’t 100-percent sold, and they know if they can withstand the storm of an ugly 2021 with a totally pissed-off quarterback and a locker room looking at them crosseyed, the pain of today (and perhaps some significant demonstrations locally) will eventually dissipate. And they’ll have a top quarterback, whenever he’s able to play. Assuming Watson continues to be a great player, the Dolphins will have paid a total ransom but finally have fixed the position that has haunted them since the retirement of Dan Marino. I don’t agree with this, but as I say, I’m not inside their offices either.
• I have no idea what the outcome of Watson’s legal morass is going to be. But the interested teams can’t know either. Can any team that would trade for Watson be absolutely sure he’s not going to prison? How? Can any team be sure they know what the possible league sanction of Watson will be? And would you trade three ones for a player if you were fairly sure he wouldn’t play for your team till 2023—and that he might be tarnished significantly whenever he puts on the uniform?
• I would far, far, far rather risk losing out on Watson than trade for him now, with so much unknown, and with the future being dangerously murky. With all that being said, desperate teams do desperate things. I doubt anything happens with Watson, but then again I’m not inside the walls of the Dolphins, Eagles, Panthers or Broncos either.
2. I think I never want to make too much of a preseason game, but the Giants and Patriots had first units on the field for the first quarter Sunday night. And I do not know how New York quarterback Daniel Jones is going to stay upright behind that line. Left tackle Andrew Thomas, who could go down as the pick most responsible for getting Dave Gettleman fired, allowed a turnstile sack to Josh Uche of the Patriots. A few snaps later, Thomas was part of the sieve that let Jones get enveloped again—though, as Carl Banks rightly pointed on the game telecast, Jones made a bad decision in passing up an easy completion over the middle trying to get greedy. Jones also had a disastrous interception in the end zone, throwing across his body right to a Patriot for an interception, not even close to one of his receivers.
The Giants have key first-year pass-catchers Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay hurt, and no one knows if Saquon Barkley will be rehabbed enough to start the season. In a make-or-break season for the GM and QB, it has been a disastrous summer. Other than that, Mr. Mara, how did you like training camp?
3. I think I just saw the highlights of Trevor Lawrence playing with backups against Cowboy backups Sunday. But he looked so smooth, so sure of himself, passing fast and avoiding big hits. I always wonder if it’s worth it, playing a franchise player without enough good players around him in the preseason. Urban Meyer gambled and won with this move. Lawrence needed the reps. I like Jacksonville’s chances to come out of the first quarter of the season (at Houston, Denver, Arizona, at Cincinnati) 2-2.
4. I think now we can see Kyle Shanahan’s plan for the 49er quarterback brigade early. Looks like he’s going to do something everyone in the NFL says can’t work—regularly shuffle quarterbacks in and out of the game. The only coach who’s done it recently is Sean Payton, and the use of Taysom Hill as a change-of-pace QB in New Orleans was largely successful. The Saints will continue to go with that—I think—with Jameis Winston the starter and Hill making cameos to play with the defense. Jimmy Garoppolo looks like he’ll start, with Trey Lance coming in and not just to do the kind of athletic things you’d expect of a different style quarterback. Shanahan has to think that a defense will have some issues preparing for two quarterbacks. “You could tell it’s tough on them,” Garoppolo said after the Niners beat the Raiders using both quarterbacks Sunday. “That’s what we were trying to do.” It’ll be fun watching that in real time at Detroit in the 49ers’ season opener.
5. I think I have a few comments about the two nominees, one by the Senior Committee, and one by the Coaches’ Committee, that resulted in Cliff Branch and Dick Vermeil being nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. They will have their cases heard by the body of 48 selectors next February, and if they get 80 percent yes votes after the airing of their cases, they’re in. I am one of the 48 voters for the Hall, but I was not a part of either committee. I respect the work they put in. Some thoughts:
a. No problem whatever with Branch. I have always supported his case—though I am troubled that so many players from one franchise in one generation would make the Hall while other franchises are relatively barren in bronze busts. The Raiders won three world titles in between 1967 and 1990. Three titles in a quarter-century is good, but should that equate to 12 Hall of Famers, including two coaches? Branch was a premier deep threat in his 205 games and 14 seasons, and averaged a full yard more per catch than Lynn Swann. He deserves entry, in my opinion.
b. The Hall is skewing too far toward players and coaches on championship teams. Tommy Nobis and Ken Riley weren’t on winners, but they’re Hall of Fame-caliber players. It’s time to address the players who were great but were not postseason factors.
c. My problem with Vermeil’s nomination is the coach who was left out: Buddy Parker. Parker’s continued omission is a black eye for the Hall. Problem is, you don’t know who Buddy Parker is. But you know who Dick Vermeil is. Vermeil had scores of people supporting his case, and many lobbied the five-person coaches committee with entreaties and arguments in favor of his case. I asked one member of the committee how many people lobbied him about Parker. “None,” he said.
d. This is not a screed against Vermeil, who turned around two flagging franchises and led both to Super Bowls.
e. Parker turned around two flagging franchises in the fifties and early sixties, Detroit and Pittsburgh, and won two world championships, both against one of the great franchises, Cleveland, and great coaches, Paul Brown, of all time. The Centennial Committee, which was supposed to correct some of the historical injustices of the Hall in the 100th season of professional football, chose to elect two coaches from the last 30 years, which was not the founding idea of the Centennial Committee. Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson were that committee’s picks, with candidates from the first 70 years of NFL history left out.
f. Let’s have a look at Parker’s credentials. In 15 years coaching the Chicago Cardinals (one year), Detroit Lions (six years) and Pittsburgh Steelers (eight years), he was 104-75-9, and 3-1 in playoff games. Fairly modest compared to modern records.
g. My pick for the greatest coach of all time is Paul Brown. In the fifties, Brown of Cleveland and Parker of Detroit met five times. Parker was 4-1 in those meetings. Detroit beat the mighty Browns twice in NFL Championship Games. Cleveland beat Detroit once in a title game. Parker’s 4-1 record versus Brown contains one additional positive asterisk for Parker. He quit the Lions a couple of weeks before the 1957 season began, claiming the front office was meddling in his job. George Wilson took over and the Lions beat the Browns in the regular season and routed them in the title game. Like the Dallas team Barry Switzer inherited from Johnson, many in that bygone era thought Parker deserved much of the credit for the ’57 team that beat the Browns twice. Whatever, in the six seasons from 1952 to 1957, the Lions obliterated the best team in football. Detroit was 6-1 against Cleveland in those six years, including 3-1 in championship games.
h. Then Parker went to Pittsburgh, for the 1957 season and seven more. In the seven seasons prior to Parker’s arrival, the Steelers hadn’t had a winning year. Parker had five winning years in his eight seasons in Pittsburgh. Five years post-Parker in Pittsburgh: 14-53-3.
i. The Lions have won four titles in their history. Parker coached two, and set up a third in 1957, as coach. To complete the circle, Parker was the most valuable Lion the year they won the 1935 championship over the Giants, rushing for a touchdown and as a two-way player intercepting a pass as a defensive back. So Parker’s fingerprints are all over every one of the four championships the Detroit Lions have ever won.
j. Many things about football back in the day simply don’t match up with modern-day football. It’s impossible to think of a coach of a championship team quitting that team days before the following season began. And you wouldn’t think that Bill Belichick would be the best player on a championship team years before he became a coach. That’s why, when considering candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you compare candidates with players and coaches from their era. It’s just sad that a man like Buddy Parker, certainly not a slam dunk for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but obviously an excellent candidate, will be on the outside, with no one knocking on the door for him, in 2022.
k. Dick Vermeil did a tremendous job. He turned around the moribund Eagles and the lousy Rams with the power of positive thinking, a master’s motivation, and an early bend toward analytics. He brought the Eagles to one Super Bowl and then won one in St. Louis. So, even though he had seven losing seasons in 15 years as a head coach, his career is worth debate in the Hall of Fame room.
l. I want to emphasize one last thing. I am one of 48 voters for the Hall. I am not more qualified than any of the other 47. I feel strongly about my opinion, just as the other voters feel about theirs. So if others feel differently, that’s fine; I respect them. I just want to state on the record how I feel.
6. I think I’d like to see the Hall recognize the best candidates in the 102-year history of professional football, not the best candidate of our lifetimes.
• Smart for New England. With Damien Harris and James White the two most important backs on the roster, and with a corner need that might become major if Stephon Gilmore’s contract stays problematic, the Patriots get a promising 6-foot-1 fifth-round corner in Wade. Look at it this way: The Patriots probably would have made the Michel-for-Wade trade straight up, and now, in trading a fifth and a seventh to Baltimore for Wade, and acquiring a fourth and a sixth from the Rams for Michel, New England moves up maybe 30 slots with two future picks.
• Smart for Baltimore. Deep at corner (not many teams are), there’s no way the Ravens would have been able to sneak Wade through waivers at the final cutdown and place him on the practice squad. He’d have been claimed by multiple teams—my guess is Jacksonville would have got him. Baltimore used the 160th pick overall to pick Wade; they got, based on the 2021 draft, future picks of approximately the 158th and 242nd overall selections.
• Understandable for the Rams. Not a fan of dealing a low fourth-round pick for a marginal back, but the Rams don’t treat draft choices the way the other 31 teams do. They figure if Michel carries it 250 times this year, and it’s his only year as a Ram, that’s worth, say, the 130th and 209th picks in future drafts. If Michel is productive, it’s a good call. I just don’t know if he’ll be the 4.2-yards-per-carry guy the Rams want him to be.
8. I think in the end, Taysom Hill’s versatility and ability to give the Saints 15 snaps a game in the regular offense and a few more on special teams per game hurt him in his battle with Jameis Winston at quarterback. Winston, as I surmised last week, was named the starter for Sean Payton after an impressive preseason showing against the Jags last Monday. But Winston was better than Hill this summer, overall. That was clear. If Hill had been clearly better, he’d have won the job. Now Winston just has to keep it. If he’s a turnover machine, he won’t. Great game in Week 1: Aaron Rodgers at Jameis Winston. Can’t wait for it.
9. I think whoever wins the Patriots QB job, Mac Jones has proven that New England picking him 15th last April was brilliant. Predictable, but brilliant.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Someone explain to me why we can build a 2,151-mile pipeline carrying crude oil from Canada to the central and southern U.S., and no one’s thought to build a couple of those pipelines to transport water from the Eastern third of the country to the parched West? Is that nonsensical? If so, why? Can’t we figure a way to collect the water from modern monsoons like the one that just tragically pelted Tennessee and later the entire Northeast and ship it westward?
b. Maybe that’s folly; I don’t know. I imagine that collecting the rainwater would be the toughest thing. If there’s anyone out there with expertise, I’d love to hear it.
c. Heartbreaking Column of the Week: Tom Coughlin, the Super Bowl coach, on becoming a full-time caregiver for his ailing wife, Judy, who has a brain disease that takes her voice, movements and memory away. Writes Coughlin:
Transitioning from being with an N.F.L. franchise to full-time caregiver wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy. The playbook is either changing by the minute or so numbingly repetitious, you lose track of time and self.
The first year I was home was frustrating. Judy had always taken care of everything at the house, and I had always thrived on the structure of football. That was gone, and I was lousy at my new job. I would constantly tell myself, “I shouldn’t be here.” But now, even though I am still lousy at being at home, I know there is no other place I could ever be.
I’ve learned firsthand caregiving is all-consuming. It is mentally and physically exhausting. Sometimes you just need a break. When Judy is having a good day, then my day is good. But then there are dark days — those days that are so full of frustration and anger, they have me feeling like a failure and pondering the unfairness of the disease. I’ve spent my entire life preparing for some of the biggest games a person could play, but nothing can prepare you to be a caregiver who has to watch a loved one slip away.
d. That is heavy. It’s a reality so many people have to face, and face in totally anonymity, and make “in sickness and in health” the most meaningful five words in a married life.
e. Story of the Week: Molly Ball, writing in Time magazine, with a story on a cop who won’t let the events of Jan. 6 be forgotten: “The Aftermath: What Mike Fanone can’t forget.”
f. It is a story that will rile you up and make you wonder who we are as a people. Writes Ball:
This is the story of what happened after Jan. 6. This is Mike Fanone’s story, recounted over weeks of searching conversations and corroborated by witnesses, public records and videotape. It is a story about what we agree to remember and what we choose to forget, about how history is not lived but manufactured after the fact. In the aftermath of a national tragedy, we are supposed to come together and say “never forget,” to agree on the heroes and the villains, on who was at fault and how their culpability must be avenged. But what happens if we can’t agree? What if we’re too busy arguing to face what really happened?
“There’s people on both sides of the political aisle that are like, ‘Listen, Jan. 6 happened, it was bad, we need to move on as a country,’” Fanone tells me one recent afternoon on the well-kept back patio of his mother’s house, between long swigs from a beer can. It’s in a quiet exurban Virginia neighborhood, ranch houses alternating with McMansions, American flags flying over big green yards. “What an arrogant f-cking thing for someone to say that wasn’t there that day,” he says. “What needs to happen is there needs to be a reckoning.”
What makes a hero? Is it bravery, charging into danger to protect others? Is it sacrifice, the damage sustained in the process? Or is it the man who refuses to let us forget?
g. Football Story of the Week: Darryl Slater of NJ.com, on post-NFL Christian Hackenberg.
h. So impressed with the perspective of a guy who bombed out under intense pressure with the Jets. Hackenberg to Slater: “You got one shot at life. Live it and enjoy it.”
i. Real Life Story of the Week: Farnaz Fassihi of the New York Times, with an emotional story about one of the Afghans who was loyal and a huge help to American Special Forces, and how the soldiers he aided came to his defense at the most important time of his life.
j. Great headline: “A Stranded Interpreter, and the Soldiers Who Would Not Let Go.”
k. Wrote Fassihi of the interpreter his Special Forces friends called “Mikey:”
The day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, the 34-year-old Afghan was on his own. Determined to get out of Afghanistan, he was making a desperate run to the airport with his wife and two young sons when they were caught in gunfire amid the crush of people who had gathered there to escape. His wife and one son, 6, were both shot in the foot.
As he carried the bloodied and screaming child in search of a hospital, Mikey says, he flashed back to his time on the battlefield with American forces.
“I kept thinking, after everything I did for the Americans,” he said. “After all my hard work and risking my life, now this is what happens to my family? They are leaving us to die here.”
l. The story takes a turn for the good. I got emotional reading it.
m. Shouldn’t it be absolutely automatic that every one of those interpreters and crucial aides to our efforts in Afghanistan be admitted to the United States?
n. Shouldn’t we have had better intel about the Taliban’s ability to run roughshod over the Afghan forces before we pulled out? Or shouldn’t we have had mass evacuation efforts before pulling out? The country was going to fall—that’s for sure, and President Joe Biden was going to take massive heat for something that surely had plenty of blame to pass around—but the way we handled it was shoddy. We should have known better.
o. Seems sadly inevitable that time marches on; the U.S. Open will be played without Serena, Federer and Nadal. I sure hope they all get final acts worth of their greatness. Crazy that the last U.S. Open win for Serena Williams was seven years ago.
p. I’m sure MLB is rooting very quietly for a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, and how splendid it would be for fan bases in Brooklyn and all areas of New York, and of course in southern California. But these Giants are amazing. Just amazing. When they beat the Mets to sweep a three-game series to go 39 games over .500 the other night, Giants starters included Lamonte Wade Jr., Tommy LaStella, Wilmer Flores (batting 1, 2, 5 in the order, by the way), Alex Dickerson and Curt Casali. Talk about the little engine that could. What a great example of the fact that you can win without spending in the Dodgers/Yankees league.
q. Welcome back Chris (3-0) Sale, though I fear you’re late to the party.
r. Stay safe, Louisiana.
s. RIP, Ed Asner, an underrated actor and terrific human being, generous and idealistic—which you might not think after seeing the gruff characters he played. Greatest scene in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” history: The acerbic Lou Grant (Asner) tells Mary, applying for a job in her sunshiney way, “You’ve got spunk.” Mary is all happy and blushing. Lou says, “I hate spunk!” What an actor.
t. Somehow, I get the impression Javier Baez will not be a Met next April. You?
u. And cool stuff for the legacy of Terez Paylor, the sportswriter who died last February and left a gaping hole in our business. Owner Clark Hunt and the Kansas City franchise honored Paylor’s memory Friday night in the preseason game with Minnesota, contributing $10,000 to the scholarship fund that bears his name at alma mater Howard University. The team produced a video with players and coaches and execs praising Paylor. I loved this part from Alex Smith, the quarterback of the team when Paylor covered KC for the Kansas City Star:
Happy for Jameis.
The job’s not forever, though.
Protect the ball, man.