This is what I really love about the NFL: West Virginia Big 20, 85 Delta Go.
I love it because it’s absolutely preposterous. Trevor Siemian, who hasn’t been an NFL starter for four years, throwing to Kevin White, who hasn’t caught an NFL pass in three years. Siemian, who is rarely asked to throw deep, throwing deep. On a larger scale: Siemian, New Orleans’ third-string quarterback, dueling with Tom Brady.
“Think about this,” Sean Payton said from New Orleans late Sunday night. “You’re Trevor Siemian. You gotta prepare to play Tampa Bay. You really have to get your mind ready to go in the meetings, go to practices, and then you gotta do it the next week and you might have to go two or three years, and maybe you never play. You gotta prepare like you’re gonna play, but tell me—what if you were a firefighter, prepared all the time to go fight fires, and there never was a fire for two, three years. You never get to fight a fire. Then one day, there’s a fire, and if you’re not really ready, that house is gone. Burned down. So here, Trevor Siemian’s gotta prepare like he’s playing, because he’s gonna regret it, really regret it, if he’s not ready. Unique job. Know what I mean?”
Siemian was in the game because the starter, Jameis Winston, got corkscrewed into the turf by Tampa linebacker Devin White 17 minutes into the game; it’s likely Winston will be lost for the season with the resulting torn knee ligaments. (Further exams today.) Backup Taysom Hill missed the game with a concussion. (He should be back at practice Wednesday.) That left third-stringer Siemian to enter a 7-7 game against the Super Bowl champions with 43 minutes left.
All Siemian had to do—and keep in mind the Saints weren’t going to run much against the best rushing defense in football—was to summit Mount Brady . . . and also, don’t dare get hurt. “When he went in,” Payton said, “I told him, ‘I don’t want you getting hit, at all.’ I mean, he goes out, and we’re using Alvin Kamara back there at quarterback, taking shotgun snaps. Alvin’s our emergency guy. So we had a lot riding on Trevor.”
So the Saints were relying on Siemian, who’d completed three passes in the last four years, to stay upright, to move the team with not much of a chance to run the ball, and to somehow score more points in the last three quarters than Tom Brady, who is only on pace to throw for 5,631 yards with 53 touchdown passes this year.
Piece of cake.
“What I was thinking,” Siemian said, post-game, “was just don’t mess it up. Keep it running smooth. Have fun. I had so much frickin’ fun out there.”
Wait a minute. I have to be fair to Siemian here. Before we started he said he wanted to say something first.
“I am gutted, absolutely gutted, for Jameis,” Siemian said. “This win was truly for him. I know how much it meant for him, to play his old team and to win. I love the guy. Just love him. And I just hope . . .”
Pause. A bit of an ominous pause.
“I just hope he’s back sooner than later,” Siemian said.
Week 8: the week of the backup QBs. In New Jersey, Mike White, making his first career start for the Jets, beat Joe Burrow. In Minnesota, Cooper Rush, making his first career start for the Cowboys, beat Kirk Cousins. P.J. Walker got the save for Carolina in relief of the concussed Sam Darnold to beat Atlanta. Geno Smith got his first post-Russell Wilson win in Seattle against the Triple-A Jaguars.
In Louisiana, Siemian had the toughest task of them all.
But it wasn’t impossible. On Saturday night, Siemian sat in on the weekly Dot Meeting that Payton has with his quarterbacks. That’s the meeting Payton and his coaches discuss with Winston what he likes and what he wants called in every section of the play sheet. Payton takes Winston’s input and, with a black sharpie, puts a bold dot next to the plays Winston wants to run. Usually Payton dots about 40 to 50 plays on the big laminated piece of oak tag and calls most the next day. But there’s also info about the foe that’s valuable. On this day, for instance, when singled against a Saints receiver, well-traveled Tampa Bay corner Pierre Desir would be a New Orleans target.
One other thing when the third-stringer’s in the game: Some of the guys on the scout team might suddenly be in favor. Why? Because those are the guys a Siemian is used to throwing to. White, for instance. And tight end Garrett Griffin. “I guarantee you, early in the week, there was no play in our gameplan that tried to get the ball to Griff. But weird things happened in this game.” On his first full possession, spawned by a Cam Jordan strip-sack of Brady, Siemian found Griffin (one career reception) for 12 and then for 14 over the middle; those helped get in position for a field goal and a 10-7 Saints lead.
Again Brady helped the Saints’ cause two minutes before halftime, throwing an interception that gave Siemian a 35-yard field to lengthen the lead. Siemian hit the speedy Tre’Quan Smith—singled by Desir—for 15 on the right sideline. With 30 seconds left, the Saints had a third-and-goal at the Tampa four-foot line. “Big third down here,” Troy Aikman said on TV. “Big.”
“We’re in goal-line offense,” Payton said, “but Tampa doesn’t get subs in for the base defense.” The interesting thing is, not subbing was good for Tampa, because the Saints had no plans to run it; the more cover guys the better. Lavonte David, Devin White, Antoine Winfield Jr., all were ready if Payton called a pass. The logical receiver was tight end Adam Trautman, tight left. What was interesting here: Payton called for Mark Ingram (he’s back) deep in the backfield and little-used fullback Alex Armah in front of him. Siemian under center. The Bucs loaded the middle of the defense, respecting Ingram. At the snap, Armah didn’t block and didn’t pretend to. Instead, the pride of the University of West Georgia sprinted left, toward the pylon, while Ingram got a play-action fake. It was like the defense said, Alex Armah? Who? He hasn’t been targeted once all season.
I don’t want to overrate Payton, or overstate his importance. But look at this play. Siemian, the third quarterback. Ingram, acquired in trade for a pittance from Houston last Wednesday. Armah, a September practice-squad player with zero targets all season. This is the weaponry Sean Payton threw at the mighty Bucs, the Super Bowl champs, on a vital play in a 10-7 game just before halftime.
“Bill Parcells used to say, ‘Know who you’re throwing to,’ “ Payton said. “Trevor’s throwing to a classic fullback. Any inaccuracy with the throw, and it’s not a touchdown. Cool and calm. Right in stride.” With David and White in pursuit, the only throw to Armah this season was a classic strike. At the half, New Orleans led 16-7.
If you had Trevor Siemian throwing a TD Pass to Alex Armah on your bingo card, check it off now
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) October 31, 2021
Now, time for West Virginia Big 20, 85 Delta Go. That’s Kevin White’s play. “West Virginia” is for White’s college, where he played for two years before being Chicago’s first-round pick in 2015. Yes, Kevin White, with all of 25 catches in his NFL career entering Sunday, has a play. Payton likes players on their last NFL legs. They’re desperate, and they aim to please. “Kevin knows this is probably it, and I kinda like him,” Payton said. The Saints were getting the second-half kickoff, and if Payton got the look he hoped for on first down, he wanted Siemian to pick on Desir.
So here it was, first play of the second half, Tampa Bay never expecting Siemian to air it out. But White split out right. Desir was on him one-on-one. No safety help.
This was gold.
“Kevin’s one of the guys I get some reps with on the scout team,” Siemian said. “If there’s a receiver on the team I’d have some chemistry with, Kevin would be one. I love throwing him the ball.”
White got by Desir maybe 15 yards into his route down the right sideline. By that time, Siemian had already let it go, 39 yards in the air from quarterback to receiver, the ball perfectly nestling into White’s arms. Gain of 38, Siemian’s longest of the day. On FOX, play-by-play man Joe Davis was stunned: “KEVIN WHITE! KEVIN WHITE, OF ALL PEOPLE, WITH HIS FIRST RECEPTION IN THREE YEARS! WHO ARE THESE GUYS!”
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 31, 2021
Trevor Siemian, Alex Armah, Kevin White. Those are the guys who slayed the dragon Sunday in the Superdome. They had help in Saints 36, Bucs 27. Where does this leave the Saints? They’re 5-2, a half-game behind Tampa Bay. The Bucs have a bye this week and New Orleans hosts Atlanta, which means the Saints could be tied for the NFC South lead at 6-2 with Tampa Bay a week from today. Payton wasn’t discussing his quarterback situation going forward Sunday night. But he could have a decision to make if Winston, as expected, will be gone for the season. Siemian or Taysom Hill, the annual Saints’ bridesmaid, coming off his concussion? Could be a tough call for Payton.
That wasn’t a worry for Payton, or Siemian, Sunday night. All in all, it’s hard to imagine a bigger regular-season victory for the Saints since Payton took over in 2006. Not the most significant, maybe. I’m talking against all odds, with the third quarterback matching up against the great Brady, the third quarterback against the Super Bowl champs.
“I don’t know,” Payton said, asked if this was his biggest regular-season victory of the 148 he’s won. “I don’t really focus on things like that. I’ve got a closet with game balls and old stuff. I’ve got the Super Bowl pictures. None of it’s displayed. It’s just in bags. Someday, when I’m done . . .”
Payton’s voice trailed off. One last thing.
“Got a text from Mike Krzyzewski tonight,” Payton said. “All about adversity, and winning the games you’re not supposed to win, and when coaching really matters.
“I’ll save it forever.”
Trade Deadline Pablum
Four points to make in advance of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline:
• On the phone with one high-level team decision-maker Sunday morning. “The trade deadline came after eight weeks last year in a 16-game season. It comes after eight weeks of a 17-game season this year,” he said. “At the end of the day today—suppose Chicago loses—do you actually think the Bears, with the jobs of the coach and the GM on the line, will be selling with nine games left?” And that’s the problem. The Patriots started 1-3, and they’re 3-1 since. Things can change in the NFL markedly in eight days. There can be a sea-change in 15.
• So I did the math. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, 25 this morning have at least three wins. Only four of them are 3-5 (Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle). That means at the trading deadline, two-thirds of the teams in the league, 21 of 32, will be one game under .500 or better. How, if you’re a GM or coach, can you walk into your locker room when your team’s 3-4 and wave the white flag and say, “We got a fifth-round pick for John Doe. I just couldn’t turn it down.” You can’t.
• I will be shocked if Deshaun Watson is traded. As I’ve said all along, trading for a star with as many question marks surrounding him is, to put it charitably, irresponsible and desperate and stupid. Normally I’m not prone to conspiracy theories, but the conspiracy theorist in me says all the reports of the chances he could be traded are music to the ears of Houston owner Cal McNair and GM Nick Caserio. To McNair, Watson is a headache he prays will go away, soon. To Caserio, Watson is an opportunity to get a better return next March than he could get now.
One last note about Watson: I’ll always think the dumbest thing about this whole situation is pride and hubris. Watson seems convinced either that he did nothing wrong or that he would never be found to have done something wrong, so why not fight it? But a smart person, or a smart lawyer, would have said last May: Let’s cut our losses. Let’s make a global settlement of say, $3 million, to the aggrieved women, let’s issue a heartfelt apology, let’s take a six-week NFL suspension. Do you know what would have happened if Watson had done that? He’d be tarnished—not as much as he could be by mid-2022—but he’d also be on a team preparing to play in Week 9. Ironically, if the Texans had dealt Watson to Miami last summer, there’s a very good chance the QB matchup at Hard Rock Stadium next Sunday would be Houston’s Tua Tagovailoa versus Miami’s Deshaun Watson in his Dolphins debut.
• There will be trades. I would expect Miami to get calls on Xavien Howard and Denver to get calls on Kyle Fuller or Kareem Jackson . . . Kansas City should deal for one of Patrick Mahomes’ original weapons, wideout Chris Conley . . . If you trust the player to be better than the tape, go get Giants tight end Evan Engram . . . You could pry DeVante Parker or Mack Hollins, useable wideouts, from Miami, or Jamison Crowder from the Jets.
Watch Out For The Patriots
A half-game out of a wild-card berth this morning, a half-game ahead of mighty Kansas City. The Pats are in it after 27-24 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles. They’ve outscored the last two foes 81-37. Just think what’ll happen when Mac Jones and the offense are really in sync.
Crucial point of this game: Ten minutes to play, Pats down 17-16, Chargers ball, third-and-10 at their 22-yard line. Justin Herbert needed to make a conversion throw. Tight end Jared Cook ran an incut from the right and was either slow in turning for the throw or made the wrong cut. Behind Cook in coverage was the former Chargers safety Adrian Phillips, who signed with the Patriots in free agency last year. Phillips dove for the errant Herbert pass, and if you stopped the tape at precisely the right moment, Phillips would look parallel to the ground about four feet high. He caught it, got up, and sprinted 26 yards down the left sideline. That was his second pick of the day. Not bad for a guy who earned everything he ever got with the Chargers, who cut him seven times after signing him as an undrafted college free agent out of Texas in 2014.
I asked Phillips about playing for Bill Belichick, and if anything he’d learned under Belichick showed up Sunday. “Coach Belichick has a canvas,” said Phillips, “and you can do whatever you want on this canvas, play however you want, if it makes sense.” How about on the winning pick-six? “I don’t want to tell you exactly what happened there,” he said, “but I can tell you I had some options there, and I’m fortunate that I picked the right one, and it worked.” Not often that you hear players talk about their freedom under Belichick, but Phillips—maybe it was just the euphoria of the evening—sounded liberated Sunday night.
Team Of The Week
That wasn’t a fluky win for the Jets, the 34-31 stunner over Cincinnati. For a team that lost by 41 in New England last week, these Jets showed a spark and got some huge plays from a first-time starter, Mike White. “There are going to be days where we look like we should be a playoff team contending for a Super Bowl championship,” coach Robert Saleh said. (Well, I doubt that.) “There are going to be days where we don’t look like we belong on a football field. That’s youth. This is going to be a group that can do something.”
Saleh said White, who threw for 406 yards against a top-10 defense, would start Thursday night in Indianapolis. And after that? Saleh wasn’t saying, in part because how can he know? On the surface, one game should not make a quarterback controversy between White and Zach Wilson, but if White plays well at Lucas Oil in three days, how can Saleh sit an effective player and play a struggling one, even if Wilson is the face of the franchise?
In his first start, the undrafted White looked poised and totally unafraid. He even caught a two-point conversion pass on a “Philly Special” call. In the fourth quarter, in the midst of rallying the Jets back with two TD throws in the last five minutes, the crowd started chanting “Mike White! Mike White!” And White said: “At first, I had to kind of listen. I said, ‘Are they chanting my name?’“ They were. Another game or two like that, and the MetLIfe crowd will be chanting longer, and louder.
I Don’t Want To Diss Denver, But Woof
I was in Atlanta the other day, and I saw veteran Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees on fire about how much he despised the phrase “winning ugly.” His point: So many wins in the NFL happen because of either something ugly/freaky that happens at a big moment, or because of some negative the defense does. I get it. I really do. A win’s a win, and yippee when you do it. But Denver’s 17-10 win over Washington is what I’d call a discouraging win. In front of a highly surprising crowd that was minus 11,755 no-shows (the Halloween effect, maybe, or the lack of faith in the Broncos actually playing for something), Denver had a 17-10 lead and the ball with a half-minute to go in the game, and Teddy Bridgewater threw one incompletion instead of running it, then Melvin Gordon fumbled at his 21 with 21 seconds left. Inexcusable.
Denver did hang on, but man, that offense is grim, and Vic Fangio, coaching for his job, didn’t try to hide his disdain for that last drive. “Whatever worst word you can use to describe it, you can use it to describe it,” Fangio said. “It was awful. It was a terrible, terrible series of downs for us.” Denver’s 4-4, with a nice, easy trip to Dallas next week.
Dumb Penalty Of The Week
It’s customary in the NFL to bitch about officials’ calls. I don’t write about them much because who cares? Every team gets crappy calls. But there was one penalty Sunday that truly bothered me, and it should bother the NFL. Using the helmet to initiate contact, quite simply, is unfairly meted out by officials. The defensive player is the one called for the penalty far more often, even if both players lower heads to initiate contact.
The crap call happened at the Meadowlands, with two minutes left in Bengals-Jets. New York led 34-31, with a third-and-11 at the Jet 20-yard line. Mike White threw a short pass out wide to Ty Johnson, and Cincinnati corner Mike Hilton moved in for the tackle. Defenders are taught to not use their helmets to initiate contact with another player’s helmet, and Hilton, as he was supposed to do, moved in very low on Johnson, his head nowhere near Johnson’s head. At the last moment, Johnson ducked his head, and the two helmets made contact. A flag was thrown—15 yards for illegal use of the helmet on Hilton.
Mike Hilton goes low to stop Ty Johnson on 3rd and long. Johnson ducks into the hit, draws the helmet-to-helmet contact, and the Jets get the first down on the ensuing penalty
— Christian D'Andrea probably does not own a brewery (@TrainIsland) October 31, 2021
If the call was either not made or called on the Jets, it would have been fourth down for the Jets deep in their own territory. And assuming Cincinnati would have taken its first timeout there, it’s likely Joe Burrow would have gotten the ball back, with two timeouts, at around his own 30-yard line with 1:40 to play, needing a field goal to tie. Who knows if he gets the 40 yards to do that, but the flag on Hilton meant the Bengals never saw the ball again. Even if the officials called offsetting fouls, the Jets would have had to convert a third-and-11 to keep the ball away from Cincinnati.
“When are the officials going to start calling helmet-to-helmet on the ballcarrier?” asked former New England and Kansas City personnel czar Scott Pioli.
That’s a question the officiating department should answer this week. The vagaries of the call might have decided a game Sunday.
Cool idea on the Jim Gray/Tom Brady/Larry Fitzgerald “Let’s Go” podcast, executed by Gray—a Town Hall type of media panel firing questions at Brady for 90 minutes. The most interesting answer, I thought, was a response to Colin Cowherd when he asked what Brady would change about football if he could change one thing. Notable, I thought, that one of the things that’s helped Brady be so great at 44 is something he doesn’t like: the move away from excessive physicality in the game. Brady’s answer, lightly condensed:
“The game that I played 20 years ago is very different than the game now in the sense that now it’s more skills competition than it is physical football. In some ways, they’re taking away a physical element of the game.
“The only way at one point to beat skill was to be tough. When we played the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were tough. When we played the teams that were just skillful, we won. The way the rules are being set, I don’t think that it’s always in the best interest of the game that I once played.
“This is an example. The onus of protecting another player is now on the opponent as opposed to on yourself. So, for example, the 600th touchdown pass I ever threw in my career was to Mike Evans. Ten years ago, I never would’ve thrown that football because . . . the safety is standing right there and the safety essentially can’t hit him the way that he used to be able to hit him. All the safeties now are 200 pounds and they all cover. There’s no Rodney Harrison. There’s no Ronnie Lott. I can go on, Brian Dawkins. There’s a lot of players like Ray Lewis that I didn’t throw the ball against between the hashes because Ray Lewis was gonna knock [the receiver] out of the game. Not because he was just gonna make a tackle.
“I think the onus of protecting receivers should be on the quarterback. Not on the defensive backs. The onus of protecting a running back should be on the offensive linemen, not on the tacklers who are trying to tackle the running back. I don’t believe in cheap shots. And I don’t think cheap shots should ever be allowed. But if you are a professional athlete, it’d be like being in a boxing ring and saying, ‘Don’t hit your opponent too hard because you might hurt him.’ If I said, ‘Look, we’re both able to protect ourselves, we can protect ourselves. I’m looking at you. You’re looking at me. Let’s go.’ That’s the element of the physical sport that I really appreciate that allows you to develop and grow.
I think we need to bring @SteveYoungQB back this year to commemorate his Tampa Bay legacy again 😂. Amazing episode of “Let’s Go!” with @JimGrayOfficial and ALL of his friends and colleagues is out now: https://t.co/jm7hOtyEwA pic.twitter.com/CzsRDTgu3D
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) October 26, 2021
“I think so many quarterbacks I know, they run through the middle of the defense and they just probably know that in that sense, they’re not gonna get hurt. I see Carson Wentz do it all the time. I see Daniel Jones do it all the time. I’m in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘It’s crazy. The defensive players are running, they all jump out of the way of the quarterback.’ That’s not how I learned. I slid in Buffalo late. [Cornerback] Nate Clements knocked my helmet off—literally knocked my helmet off. It incited their entire sideline. You know what I learned after that play? Man, you better slide a lot faster than that.
“The reality is, you develop a lot of bad habits because we’re not being taught the game that you’re out there to protect your teammates . . . That physical aspect of the game—there’s so many players in the NFL Hall of Fame because they were physical players. I’m not saying they played cheap, they played physical. That’s a big difference. And I think now, we’re taking physical players out of the game and now it’s a skills competition. We [quarterbacks] still get beat up. We still get hit. It’s very different, though, in the fact that a lot of quarterbacks are throwing the ball into areas we shouldn’t throw it. They penalize defensive players for it. You can’t penalize a defensive player for doing his job. I think an aspect they should think about is how that impacts things going forward. It turns into seven-on-seven football.”
That’s a notable admission from Brady on the state of football today: It’s more skills competition than it is physical football. The way the rules are being made and enforced now is one element of what’s allowed Brady to play so skillfully still at 44. And it will allow other great players to play longer than their predecessors did.
You may have read about the death of a replay official, Carl Madsen, 71, after he worked the Kansas City-Tennessee game in Nashville eight days ago. Madsen worked as an NFL umpire for 12 years, then as a replay official for 13 seasons—a quarter-century spent adjudicating pro football games.
The story of his death is part noble, part crushing. One of his best friends in officiating told me Madsen decided this was going to be his last year in the replay booth; he would retire, play golf almost every day, and tend to his wife, a cancer survivor, and Kenzie, the 6-year-old granddaughter he doted over. Just 12 weeks or so from retirement, Madsen worked the Titans’ 27-3 win, presided over two replay reversals with the league office, then walked down to the officials dressing room in Nissan Stadium to meet with Brad Allen’s officiating crew, as was the weekly custom, to discuss the 15 penalties and two reversals in the game. Madsen grabbed two slices of pepperoni pizza and a bottle of water in the dressing room. All was normal. A security officer agreed to drop Carl Madsen at his SUV, which he’d parked that morning a couple of miles from the stadium to avoid the post-game crush.
The game ended at exactly 3 p.m. Central Time. If traffic on the 4-hour, 40-minute ride home to Weldon Springs, Mo., just went of St. Louis, was okay, Madsen would be home by a little after 9. But at 4:46 p.m., police found his SUV in a northbound lane of I-65 just 10 minutes north of the stadium. The vehicle was on, in park, the rear brake lights on, doors locked. His right foot was pressed on the brake when officers, seeing he was unconscious, broke a window, removed him from the car and began doing chest compressions. He was pronounced dead a short time later at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital.
“One thing we’re thankful for,” his son Kevin said Saturday night, “is we figure he was able to save other lives. He had to know the situation. He put the car in park, foot on the brake, and didn’t endanger anyone. That’s Dad, always thinking about others.”
Kevin was at the game with a friend—he knew it was his father’s last year as an official, and wanted to see him work as much as possible—and spoke with his dad at 11:48 a.m., 14 minutes before kickoff. “Where are the seats?” Carl said. Kevin told him and wanted to be sure he knew the booth his father was working in, so he could watch him during the game. They said they’d talk after the game. They drove separately, so Kevin would get a head start on the drive home to Missouri.
“This will tell you about my father,” Kevin Madsen said. “I was driving to Nashville Saturday and checked for hotels downtown, and they were all really expensive. So I called my dad. I asked if he could help us. He said, ‘Gimme five minutes.’ When he called back, he told us he got us a room at the Marriott Opryland. All taken care of.”
Carl’s widow, Bev, was on the phone too, and she chimed in: “That’s Carl. He was the glue that held the family together. He was just an everyday person. A good person.”
Shortly after Bev and Carl married in 1974, she asked him, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I’m going to make it to the NFL,” he said. “I’m going to officiate in the NFL.”
He began doing high school freshman and JV games in the St. Louis area in 1979, and became friends with another official, Joe Larrew, who had the same drive. In 1985, they finally both made the local big time: college football. Washington University in St. Louis hired them to do two games. “We threw some flags on the home team,” Larrew recalled. “I think we called back three touchdowns. We had no doubts about our calls. Then we get a letter from the head coach. He said they didn’t hire us to make calls like that, and we would not be needed for our next game. We got fired. It was a gut check.”
Bev said, “He thought his ambitions for the NFL might have ended right there.” But Larrew and Madsen stuck with it. They worked NAIA games for $50 every Saturday, getting up at 4 a.m. to drive five or six hours to do the game, then five or six hours home. No expense money was provided. Along the way, Larrew and Madsen founded the Midwest Collegiate Football Officials Association, to help young officials get started. They ran clinics. The association still exists today, with 95 members. They climbed the ladder to the NCAA Division I-AA title game in 1995, Larrew the side judge, Madsen the umpire, as always.
The NFL noticed. In 1997, the league hired Madsen as an umpire, putting him on fellow St. Louisan Dick Hantak’s crew. In those days—and until 2010, when umpires were moved into the offensive backfield for safety sake—umpires worked alongside linebackers, monitoring the line of scrimmage and line play. It was a job for a physical man, which Madsen, at 6-3 and 260 pounds, was. His peers called him Big Country.
“An absolutely outstanding official,” Hantak told me. “The umpire was in the middle of everything, so they had to have a physical presence. The umpires of that time really controlled the game, talking to players and commanding the line. I think the league saw that. Every year, we had a Kansas City-Oakland game. Those were always knock-down drag-out games, and the league knew we could handle them.”
In 2004, Madsen was on referee Terry McAulay’s crew. “He was the blue-collar guy,” McAulay said, “and what I would call quietly commanding. No ego, no fear. You could just see he commanded the respect of those interior people. Nothing in our games ever escalated to something memorable, which was in and of itself notable—it says something about how he managed the game in there.”
In 2006, that physical presence got tested. Late in a game at Jacksonville, running back Alvin Pearman trucked Madsen near the goal line, putting a gash in his chin and knocking him over a bit violently, sandwiching him between two Colts defenders as well. Madsen finished the game, but Larrew said he had to help Madsen board the plane home that night in Jacksonville. The crew had a Saturday game the next week in Atlanta. With a bandaged chin, Madsen worked it.
“It would have surprised me if he didn’t work the next game,” Kevin Madsen said.
“There were nights he’d come home, and he’d be all black-and-blue,” Bev Madsen said. “I’d be worried, and he’d say, ‘Well, that’s the job.’ “
— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs (@footballzebras) October 25, 2021
In 2009, he moved to the replay booth, with rules and cameras and video tools that changed almost every year. “To last till 71 doing replay, and do it 13 years, is amazing to me,” said McAulay. “The average fan has no idea about the complexity of the replay job, and how mentally taxing it is, how fast it has to be executed.”
Madsen worked the AFC Championship Games in 2017 and 2018, the Patriot wins over Jacksonville and Kansas City. One disappointment for Madsen: He never got to work a Super Bowl. That sticks with Hantak, who thought the league underrated Madsen. “As a replay official, he was pretty much always with the rookie referees,” Hantak said. “The league would say, ‘Carl, we’re putting you with the rookie ref. You mind? You’re our best instant replay man.’ I said to him, ‘Did you ask, if I’m your best instant replay official, why haven’t I gotten a Super Bowl?’ He said, ‘Ooh, I wish I would have thought of that.’ “
His final call: With eight minutes left in Nashville a week ago, Patrick Mahomes was sacked and the ball fluttered out of his grasp. Tennessee recovered. On all turnovers, the replay official and the New York command center review the play. I was not allowed to speak with anyone from the league about the play, but in all likelihood, Madsen, after three or four replays in quick succession, saw Mahomes’ knee hit the ground an instant before the ball was knocked out. The play got reversed.
“The game was kind of a blowout midway through the fourth quarter, and we were going to leave to get a head-start on the drive home,” Kevin Madsen said. “I’m glad we stayed to see that. We stayed long enough to see Dad’s last call.”
Bev and Kevin Madsen were surprised to not hear from Carl when he left Nashville. That wasn’t like him. Their calls to his cell phone Sunday evening went unreturned, and they knew nothing was amiss till the Nashville hospital called and starting asking questions about Carl. His birthdate, his full name. Bev wondered why all the questions, and what happened to her husband. Then she heard the words “dead on arrival.” Authorities say it will be about eight weeks before they are sure about the cause of death.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Kevin Madsen said. “For me, when I think of it, I think that he went out doing what he loved.”
The family was touched by the NFL’s attention to detail in the past week. Two league security officials escorted his body to the plane for the flight home to Nashville on Wednesday, and the league arranged for his vehicle to be transported home. Keith wanted to be sure that got mentioned. And golf. Carl Madsen was a 5 or 6 handicap, played often, and took lessons from his son, a local golf pro. The Friday before he died, Carl and Kevin Madsen got together, and granddaughter Kenzie said, “Papa! It’s golf lesson time.” The clubs were in the back of his SUV when the vehicle was transported back to Weldon Springs.
Bev Madsen wanted people to know about her husband’s determination to get to the highest level of his craft. “He worked so hard to get to the NFL, and I’m so proud of everything he did to get there,” she said. “He always told me, ‘I’m good at it. I’m very good at it.’ ”
Offensive Players of the Week
Mike White, quarterback, N.Y. Jets. “In my mind, I knew I was capable of running this offense,” White said after an incredible first start of his NFL career. White, from the football factory of Western Kentucky, threw two touchdown passes in the last five minutes to stun the Bengals 34-31. For the day, White had the kind of starting debut young kids dream of: 37 of 45, 405 yards, three TDs, two early picks. Suddenly, is there a quarterback controversy in New Jersey?
Pat Freiermuth, tight end, Pittsburgh. The book on Freiermuth out of Penn State was good hands, good blocker, good all-around tight end. It was good enough for the Steelers to pick him in the second round last April. Make that great hands. The Steelers trailed 10-9 in an old-style Browns-Steelers brawl with 11 minutes left. Ben Roethlisberger threw to the blanketed Freiermuth deep in the end zone. With Browns safety Ronnie Harrison all over him, Freiermuth batted the ball up and while falling close to the white end line, secured the ball and got both feet in for the touchdown. Pittsburgh 15, Cleveland 10, and that’s how it ended.
A.J. Dillon, running back, Green Bay. I thought Aaron Rodgers was masterful in the 24-21 survival-test win at Arizona. But I’m recognizing Dillon because of his physical and crucial presence in a knock-down, unlikely victory. Dillon had 124 rushing yards last year in a 40-14 blowout of Tennessee, but 73 yards came in the second half. This game in Arizona was his NFL coming-out party—even though he had just 78 yards on 16 carries. The Packers needed a bullish presence, and they needed to play keepaway from the red-hot Kyler Murray. Dillon’s runs helped Green Bay to a 37:35 time of possession and limited Arizona to only eight possessions. His fourth-down-conversion run in the second quarter led to the first Green Bay TD, and his four-yard bulling midway through the third quarter led to the last TD.
Defensive Players of the Week
Joe Schobert, linebacker, Pittsburgh. With the Browns on a five-minute drive in the fourth quarter, down five, aiming to take the lead over the arch-rival Steelers, the fourth-round pick of the Browns in 2016 foiled his former club. Schobert began his career in Cleveland with the 1-31 Browns of 2016 and 2017, and stayed through 2019, leaving for Jacksonville in free agency. The Jags dealt him to Pittsburgh this summer, and that brings us to Sunday, at Cleveland Browns Stadium, to this rekindled rivalry. With Cleveland trailing 15-10 with six minutes left, Baker Mayfield threw to Jarvis Landry—both former mates of Schobert—and Schobert knocked the ball free. The Steelers recovered, and no points were scored thereafter. Good day for Schobert, who led the Steelers with nine tackles.
Micah Parsons, linebacker, Dallas. With Dak Prescott sitting Sunday night in Minnesota, this was going to have to be a day for the defense if the Cowboys were going to have a chance. Parsons, the neophyte who’s got to be favored to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, understood. He told himself, “You’ve got to be the it factor.” And he was. In Dallas’ 20-16 Cooper Rush-led victory, Parsons had a team-high 11 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack.
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) November 1, 2021
P.J. Williams, cornerback, New Orleans. Williams, a seventh-year corner from Florida State, had the biggest play of his career with 1:24 left in a two-point game against Tom Brady. With the Saints up 29-27, the Bucs had 96 seconds with one timeout to get into field-goal range. Seemed pretty logical to think Brady could do it, right? Then Williams undercut Chris Godwin on a crossing route, picked off Brady, and steamed 40 yards for the clinching touchdown. Saints 36, Bucs 27, in a revenge game from the 2020 playoffs at the Superdome.
Rasul Douglas, cornerback, Green Bay. Just 22 days after being plucked off the Arizona practice squad, Douglas made the play of the night in the 24-21 win at Arizona. With 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals were at the Green Bay 5-yard line, trailing by three. Douglas was one-on-one on A.J. Green to the right of the formation, and Green ran into the end zone on the snap of the ball, blocking Douglas. Then Kyler Murray threw to the outside, Green never turning around for the ball, and Douglas made a superb one-handed interception five yards deep in the end zone. Ballgame. That’s the first game-saving interception in 63 NFL games for Douglas. The Packers wouldn’t have needed Douglas were it not for a rash of secondary injuries, and he wins this battle of NFC titans with an acrobatic pick. “What a story,” Aaron Rodgers said.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Coach of the Week
Goats of the Week
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Indianapolis. Two interceptions in the last eight minutes against Tennessee—one of them inconceivable—were crucial in the 34-31 OT win for the Titans. With 1:33 left and the score tied, Wentz made one of the biggest errors of his NFL career. It looked like he panicked. Though coach Frank Reich took the blame post-game for calling a screen so close to the goal line, it may be that he deserves a bit of the blame–but quarterbacks have to execute all play calls, not just the ones that might be perfect calls. With the ball at the Indy 8-yard line, pressure converged on Wentz, who was trying to throw a screen pass. As three Titans neared Wentz, instead of having the presence of mind to throw it at a receiver’s feet, he transferred the ball to his left hand and threw the ball left-handed. Rookie cornerback Elijah Molden grabbed the gift interception and returned it two yards for a go-ahead touchdown. After rallying to tie the game in regulation, the Colts had the ball at their 27 with six minutes left, and Wentz threw another pick, to safety Kevin Byard. A game-winning field goal followed for Tennessee. The Colts fell three games behind the Titans with the stunning loss.
Carson Wentz, oh no. pic.twitter.com/oZIEmtyzKN
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 31, 2021
A.J. Green, wide receiver, Arizona. “What possibly could be going through A.J. Green’s mind?” said Troy Aikman on FOX, after Green never turned around for the quick pass from Kyler Murray in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter Thursday night. Rasul Douglas, alert, picked it off to end a game the Cardinals could easily have won if Green had turned around. My theory: Murray, pre-snap, either had two calls in the huddle and would signal which play he was going to run depending on what he saw from the defense; or Murray barked out an audible at the line that Green, wide to the right, didn’t hear. Whatever, Green NOT making the play or at least knocking the ball away from Douglas was huge in the Cards’ first loss of the season.
Rondale Moore, punt-returner/wide receiver, Arizona. The 49th pick in this year’s draft had been a big factor for the Cardinals in the first seven weeks. Week 8, not so much. His muffed punt near the end of the first half led to a Green Bay recovery at the Cardinals’ 3-yard line, and a late field goal gave Green Bay a 10-7 halftime lead. On the first drive of the second half, Kyler Murray threw a high but catchable ball for Moore, and it bounced off his hands for a Packer interception by undrafted free agent safety Henry Black. Another short field, and this time a Green Bay touchdown, giving the Pack a 17-7 lead.
“We want Blough! We want Blough! We want Blough! We want Blough!”
“Anything is possible.”
—Jets coach Robert Saleh, on whether Zach Wilson or Mike White will start at quarterback when Wilson returns from a knee injury.
“I was ashamed, to be honest … I was living in hell for a long time.”
—Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, in an emotional and meaningful discussion with Jay Glazer on the FOX pregame show. Johnson missed time earlier this season because of depression.
Good byplay with Glazer and Johnson.
.@JayGlazer and @Eagles OT @LaneJohnson65 sat down to have an open conversation about mental health and the every day struggles that impact people that suffer from anxiety and depression. pic.twitter.com/CeKGYVCfGW
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 31, 2021
“I’m a picky eater, so I do not have a favorite meal.”
—Giants safety Xavier McKinney, to Steve Serby of the New York Post. Serby does Q&As with New York athletes regularly, and asks, “Favorite meal?” I cannot recall a person who didn’t have one.
“You should start calling me One-Sixth.”
—Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski, to Tom Brady, after Brady threw his 600th TD pass last week. Gronkowski, including playoff games, has caught more than 100 of them, leading to his plea for a new nickname.
When Ken Belson of the New York Times reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation over the past two fiscal years totaled $127.8 million, my first thought was: Gee, do you mean that when it was revealed in April 2020 Goodell stopped taking his salary because the pandemic was wreaking havoc on NFL finances that he’d get it back through the back door? I’m shocked. Absolutely shocked.
Then I thought that Goodell’s annual compensation package of $63.9-million for the past two fiscal years would probably pay for a lot of really good NFL players. With the help of Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, I got out the calculator and found:
Compensation for Roger Goodell, 2020 fiscal year: $63,900,050.
Compensation for Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Donald, 2020 season: $62,990,000.
The upshot: Goodell made $910,050 more than four of the best players in football (if not THE four best players in football) in 2020.
There is an asterisk to my 2020 compensation numbers for Brady ($27.875 million), Donald ($17 million), Mahomes ($10.825 million) and Rodgers ($7.29 million). The Mahomes number is low because that’s the first year of his new mega-contract, which would be rising by the year. Rodgers’ number is low because in the last week of 2019, for cap purposes, Green Bay paid Rodgers $14.26 million of his scheduled 2020 compensation; otherwise, his cash number would have been $21.55 million in 2020. But the total of $62.99 million in compensation for four of the league’s greats in 2020 is correct, and stark compared to Goodell’s number.
Interesting anniversary to note: The last autumn Sunday night the NFL did not schedule a prime-time game was 12 years ago today. The league chose to let the fifth game of the World Series stand alone in network sports, figuring it was respectful to baseball and made sense to not have big competition from another sport splinter the audience for a prime-time game. But starting in 2010, the NFL did put a Sunday night game on NBC each week. How has it worked? Pretty well for football, not so well for baseball. In 2009, Game 5 of the Yankees-Phillies World Series, with no football competition, drew a TV audience of 22.76 million views. In 2020, 16.93 million watched Dallas-Philadelphia on NBC on Sunday night Nov. 1, while the Rays-Dodgers game drew 10.06 million.
So the NFL understands there will be some viewership lost to the World Series, but the relative loss is a small price to pay for another major ratings game for the league.
Speaking of TV, it’s odd that the 7-1 Cards are so light on the national radar. The two major spots for an NFC team, the Sunday night package on NBC and the FOX Sunday afternoon doubleheader game, do not have a single Arizona game this season—unless a late-season Sunday game is flexed to NBC, or unless FOX moves a Cardinals game to the national doubleheader window. The Cards do have a Monday nighter against the Rams in Week 14, and host the Colts on Christmas night. So they’re not totally barren on the national stage.
The amazing part of NFL schedule construction is how the Howard Katz team that does it cannot account for everything—but hit on so many other games so far in a year when ratings are up 11 percent, on average. After seven weeks, the top seeds in AFC (Cincinnati) and NFC (Arizona) do not have a Sunday night game and do not have a Sunday late-window doubleheader game. Those are the two big pieces of TV real estate.
Organist selections at Truist Park, Atlanta, in Game 4 of the World Series.
Jose Altuve batting, top of the fourth: “It’s a Small World,” the Disney song.
Altuve homered on the second pitch of the at-bat.
Jose Altuve batting, top of the sixth: “I’m Sorry,” by Brenda Lee.
A few thoughts on my little in-season holiday, going to Game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta, with absolutely no rooting interest:
The rental car counter. The pleasant guy at the Thrifty car rental counter said, “What brings you to town?” I said I was going to Game 3 of the World Series. “Who’s playing?” he said. That was a bit of a wow. I told him Atlanta was playing Houston, and he said, “I didn’t know that!” The real surprise came when he gave me the cost for two days of a midsize Nissan.
“Your estimated cost is $452.74,” he said. “Remember to return the car with the tank full.”
Two days. Four hundred and fifty bucks for a little Nissan.
Pregaming. My buddy Jack Bowers and I arrived at Truist Park early to amble around The Battery, the development of restaurants and bars around the ballpark. We pulled into a parking lot near the park. Sign said $150. “Wow,” I told the attendant. “Pretty steep.” He took our money and said, “It’ll be $200 tomorrow.” Such a deal!
Off-and-on light sleety rain that would last through the game. The Battery’s great, a wonderful environment to bring people together and get them a few beers before the game. Terrapin Brewing has a pub there, with everything in the world on tap, so that was convenient and fun. We got a fantastic Italian salad and small pizza to share at Eataliano.
Most hilarious Atlanta jersey I saw. College-aged kid with a 44 jersey, paying homage to Hank Aaron, which was great. But the name across the shoulders—yikes: H. AARON. Hmmm. Haven’t seen many Bulls 23 jerseys with M. JORDAN on the back.
Atlanta 2, Houston 0. Sat under the right-field foul pole; cool view for a game. Few thoughts:
• Real-feel temp of 47 and a pretty consistent sleet made for a difficult scorekeeping experience, so I kept the book inside my rain slicker and took it out to fill in the squares after each half-inning
• Amazing how often the Tomahawk Chop (not a fan) gets started, and how universal—well, mostly universal—it is throughout the park. Something so many around the country view as insensitive is such a part of the culture here
• Could someone please explain to me how, this season, Atlanta was 44-44 with one of the game’s best players, Ronald Acuna Jr., in the lineup, and since he tore his ACL and was lost for the year, the ballclub is 54-34 (through Sunday night)?
• Loved seeing the dad and maybe 13-year-old son with the FREEMAN jersey in front of us bonding and enthusing and being so hugely into the game
• Took a lap of the stadium during the game, just to get the blood flowing a bit, pausing to watch a few big at-bats. What was amazing to me was how long the lines were for the souvenir shops—truly, maybe 200 people deep, and the traffic was slooooow
• The following comment has something to do with not being young, and it is absolutely not limited to Truist, because it happens at every sports venue these days. But anyone else bothered by how loud modern stadia are?
• Craziest stat of the day: Jose Altuve has 22 home runs in 76 postseason games. That basically would translate to 44 home runs in a full season. Which is pretty great.
The rental car dropoff. Final bill: $477.63. My favorite add-ons:
• “Concession fee recovery,” $42.06
• “Premium Emergency Roadside Service fee” (which I neither requested nor wanted), $17.98
• “Vehicle license fee,” $2.34
• “Customer facility charge,” $10
• “FF Surcharge,” 64 cents
I prefer to look on the bright side of getting robbed blind by a rental car company, and that’s what I shall do here. I did get a great deal on the FF Surcharge.
This always happens. Misty, crummy morning in Atlanta, very chilly. Landed at Laguardia and stepped outside around 11 a.m. Saturday. Sun peeking through the clouds, 63 degrees. At this time of year, isn’t it supposed to be the opposite in the city 822 miles to the northeast?
Teammates literally pat each other on the helmet harder than some of these roughing calls
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) October 31, 2021
Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus.
Boy, is he right.
The bye week opens as a 13.5-point favorite over the Lions.
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) October 31, 2021
Burke, tweeting when Detroit was down 38 at home in the third quarter Sunday, covers the woebegone Leos for The Athletic.
This is another example of what’s lost when media can’t go in the locker rooms. Normal times, AJ Green be asked what happened. And I’m guessing he’d give honest answer.
— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) October 29, 2021
Somers, the Arizona Republic sports columnist, on A.J. Green ignoring what could have been the game-winning TD pass from Kyler Murray on Thursday night.
BREAKING: Cardinals WR A.J. Green announces retirement in the middle of his route during 4th quarter vs. Packers.
— Fake SportsCenter (@FakeSportsCentr) October 29, 2021
An acerbic Twitter account.
Very gracious of Davis to take questions while waiting for the school bus https://t.co/Q4zqwCEsaQ
— Jason Schwartz (@JasonSchwartz) October 27, 2021
Schwartz works for Sports Illustrated.
— Drew Goretzka (@DrewGoretzka) October 30, 2021
Goretzka is an investigative reporter for The State News, the independent student-run media voice at Michigan State. This was part of the “celebration” after MSU beat Michigan on Saturday.
Curious: What is wrong with people?
Nice story on Mark Davis. From Peter Nagy, of Miami: “I’m a chauffeur in Miami and drove Mark Davis for a night game against the Dolphins a few years ago. I picked him up from the Raider jet on the tarmac in Miami. He, his bodyguard and Willie Brown got in the Escalade, he handed me a Raiders cap and said I was a member of the Raider family for the evening. He also gave me an all-access neck badge. At the end of the night, I brought them back to the jet. He handed out $100 bills to everyone on the ground crew and all of the chauffeurs. I’ve been in the business for 25 years and driven everyone. He and Vince McMahon are the two nicest sports figures I’ve met. He also asked Willie Brown a great trivia question: What four Bay Area pro athletes are in their Halls of Fame and share a jersey number?”
Peter, great story. Thanks for telling it. And I do know the answer to the trivia question. I’ll let the readers ruminate, and the answer will come in 10u. of 10 Things I Think I Think.
He loves the college overtime rule. From Kris Rudin: “You decried the college overtime rules as ‘gimmicky.’ I couldn’t disagree more. I love the fact that each team is given EQUAL opportunity to win, unlike the NFL with its totally luck-based format, with the coin toss almost always determining the winner.”
I do agree that it’s better to have some sort of play rather than the coin flip determine who wins an overtime game. I guess I’d like to see OT decided by something other than a two-point conversion.
Point taken, and lesson learned. From Aizaz Ali: “I’m a huge fan and have been reading your columns for as long as I can remember. I finally decided to write to you. Wish it was something positive, but something you wrote in your column really irked me, and I felt compelled to say something about it. In the middle of the ‘Disgusting Mess in D.C.’ section, you wrote of Daniel Snyder: ‘Maybe (probably) he’s so anti-Allen that he’d have a jihad out for him and anyone close to him, which Gruden is.’ I’m sure it seemed pretty innocuous when you wrote it, but I did take offense to your use of the word ‘jihad.’ As a Muslim who has lived most of his life in the U.S. (and spent a lot of time dealing with anti-Muslim sentiment post-9/11), using the word jihad was careless and reinforces negative stereotypes about Muslims being terrorists. As any peace-loving Muslim will tell you, the word has been so grotesquely misused and misconstrued by the media, by Hollywood, and unfortunately by so-called Muslims who commit terrorist acts. Within Islam, jihad is really more of a concept and represents the fight within ourselves to overcome our spiritual struggles in all facets of life. In any case, this isn’t meant to be a lesson on religion. I just wanted to say that please be careful with the words you use.”
So glad you wrote and pointed that out, Aizaz. Thanks. At the very least, I should have considered the real meaning of the word. Thanks for reading.
The job of learning is never over. From Kelley Kohout: “I just wanted to take a moment and express my appreciation for your writings over the years. In my mid 40’s, three young kids, underway on a home renovation and a demanding job. In this polarized era, I love that you acknowledge the grey, that you don’t profess to have all the answers or claim to be an expert on every cultural flashpoint. Your ability to express an opinion, with moral conviction but nuance, while recognizing there may be other perspectives, ideas or facts that you may not possess, should serve as an example to us all.”
Kelley, thank you so much. As you can see, I used your note after the email from Aizaz about being inconsiderate in using an offensive word. The reason is because even though I try all the time to be considerate and think of all sides to a story, I do fail at times. The job of learning is never over. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy world to be in touch.
Jon Gruden truth. From John Dragoo: “Are you through throwing Jon Gruden under the bus now?”
You mean in pointing out some uncomfortable facts about his coaching tenure, such as not winning a playoff game in the last 10 seasons he coached, and such as being six games over .500 as an NFL head coach in 15 years? I think he’s been a good coach in the league. To be great, you’ve got to win more than he has, and more consistently.
Keep fighting. From Joel Kessler: “As a young boy and into my teen years in the 80’s, I didn’t like to read. At Christmas one year, my gift from my dad was a subscription to Sports Illustrated. He said, ‘As long as you read it and not browse through it, I will renew it each year because at least you’re reading something.’ I kept that subscription through the nineties and have followed you throughout your entire career. Now as a 51-year-old man fighting Lymphoma cancer, your column is a must every Monday. I wake up, take my first pill to help control internal bleeding from the tumor, wait 30 minutes, then have my breakfast in the den while I eat, take more pills and read your column. I love your football insight but I love your insight into life issues just as much. Please do not ever stop writing about both. I don’t always agree with your angle BUT who cares. Life isn’t about agreeing, it’s about living it together with respect, grace and a love for humanity. God bless.”
Wow, Joel. Sending my best to you, and I’m humbled that you’d take time in the middle of your battle to reach out. I’ll be thinking of you, and being motivated by you being there and opening the column to read while you fight. Sending my very best to you. Good luck.
1. I think my one takeaway from the league meetings is how tone-deaf Roger Goodell sounded, standing in front of the press on Tuesday and saying the sanction on the Washington football team and owner Daniel Snyder was just. The tone-deaf part, mostly, is insisting the league is protecting the aggrieved women’s collective privacy, when several of the women are begging for the investigation’s finding to be released. I kept thinking about how the NFL is aggressively moving to appeal to women fans, to increase the number of women who watch and follow the game. Those are the women who have to be thinking how crazy it is that the league is protecting Daniel Snyder over the women who worked for him and were wronged.
2. I think Washington used to be a flagship franchise of the NFL. Consider this now: Only one team in the NFL through seven weeks was averaging less than 80-percent capacity at its home games. That’s WFT—averaging 62.3 percent at FedEx Field. I am amazed the league is bending over backward to support a miscreant owner who’s run one of the best franchises in the game into the ground.
3. I think congrats are in order for Mike Tomlin, who tied Bill Cowher in regular-season victories on Sunday with the 15-10 victory over Cleveland. Comparing Tomlin to Cowher, the Hall of Fame coach, in regular-season play:
Tomlin, 15 years: 149-81-1
Cowher, 15 years: 149-90-1
4. I think I am going to put away the anointing oils for the Bengals right now. I glorified them a bit too early last Monday.
5. I think the Sublime Quote of the Week belongs to Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore, asked after Carolina’s win in Atlanta if next week’s game against New England would have a little extra meaning for him. Said Gilmore: “A lot extra.”
6. I think it’s going to be pretty hard to keep a kicking job in the NFL when you miss your 10th in 82 career tries, as Joey Slye did for the Niners in Chicago on Sunday. Look at it this way: Justin Tucker is more accurate on career field goals (90.8 percent) than Slye is on PATs (87.8 percent).
7. I think Troy Aikman had excellent analysis on the TD throw from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter Thursday night. Aikman saw that cornerback Byron Murphy, pre-snap in the defensive left slot opposite Cobb, was motioning to safety Budda Baker, Cover me. Make sure you’ve got me if Cobb cuts to the inside. Baker ignored it. As he stood doing nothing in the defensive backfield, Baker watched Cobb do the incut and get the perfect throw from Rodgers. And immediately on replay you saw Murphy motioning to Baker as if to say, You should have been there. A few seconds later, Aikman said: “After the play he [Murphy] is looking at Budda Baker, like, where were you?” Really good at showing the inner game.
8. I think I don’t know where to start, on the Jets’ Monday acquisition of Joe Flacco. Four points:
a. As I’ve harped on for weeks, it’s absurd that a rookie quarterback like Zach Wilson had no respected veteran backup all season, both for help during games and so he’d be able to sit down late in debacle games. The Jets knew Mike White, the only backup, had never played a snap and so never put him in games until they had to last week. White was terrific, absolutely terrific, on Sunday against the Bengals … but that doesn’t make up for not finding a vet in the off-season,
b. So they trade for Joe Flacco. It costs a youth-needy team either a fifth/sixth-round pick, depending on Flacco’s playing time. That’s a draft choice the Jets very much need—for a position (vet QB mentor/insurance policy) that should have been filled last spring.
c. Flacco lives 95 miles from the Jets’ complex in Florham Park, N.J. But for personal reasons, he said he could not report to the Jets until Friday. Without being able to practice all week, Flacco was inactive Sunday, and White started.
d. Jets owner Woody Johnson gave an early vote of confidence (seven weeks in) to coach Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas last week. Blah blah blah. Performance matters, not words. Beating the Bengals matters.
9. I think, for those who asked, this is the regimen of Joe Buck to save his voice through World Series games in Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday, Packers-Cards in Arizona on Thursday, and World Series games in Atlanta on Friday, Saturday and Sunday: No alcohol (better sleep that way), lots of coffee (though it’s not great for the voice) and then, just before the game, this concoction in a thermal cup: Throat Coat tea, with a couple of Hall’s blue menthol cough drops tossed in. The cough drops melt, and the throat-coating is supreme. “I have a FOX audio guy in the booth, Mike Rew, who used to be on the road with Bon Jovi. He used to do that for his voice,” Buck said from his Atlanta hotel Sunday, the voice sounding excellent. “I feel great. Rested. My voice is a 10.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. My gosh, this story.
b. TV Story of the Week: Boyd Huppert of KARE-TV in Minneapolis with a beautiful story on a 14-year-old cross country runner in Chippewa Falls, Wis., Susan Bergeman. This is not just Huppert’s story. Photojournalist Devin Krinke truly made this story come to life. It’s one of the best and most inspiring stories I’ve seen on local TV in a long time. Krinke’s videography is superb.
c. Susan Bergeman pushes her brother Jeffrey, who is non-verbal and has cerebral palsy—for the length of cross country races at Chippewa Falls High School. Krinke put a Go Pro camera on the back of Jeffrey Bergeman’s wheelchair to capture the effort and grace and athleticism of Susan pushing Jeffrey for three miles.
d. It’s clear this is a labor of love for a sister who wants to make sure her brother doesn’t live his life on the sidelines. “We tried to figure out a sport, an after-school activity, he could participate with me,” said Susan.
e. All I can think of after watching—and wiping tears from my eyes—is, “Susan and Jeffrey Bergeman must have some incredible parents.” They do—mom Jess and dad Jordan. The family includes a third sibling, Sam, 9, a boy adopted from Ethiopia at 1 year old. Boyd Huppert: My wish this morning is that everyone in this country watches your story and learns something from it.
f. Line of the Week: Jeff Passan of ESPN on the Tomahawk Chop ritual at the baseball games in Atlanta: “That noise you hear this week emanating from Truist Park will sound like the tomahawk chop, but in reality it will mark the beginning of its death rattle. The chop is not long for Atlanta, and, with any luck, not long for the sporting world.”
g. Reporting of the Week: Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com on Rams owner Stan Kroenke possibly trying to renege on his promise to cover the NFL’s legal expense on the Rams’ move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
h. Such excellent detail from the NFL’s meeting last Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. Wickersham reported that Kroenke might be trying to get out of paying “tens of millions of dollars in legal expenses related to his team’s 2016 departure from St. Louis, a revelation that angered many NFL owners when they learned of it Tuesday, sources told ESPN. The legal update from NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, during the owners’ first in-person meeting since December 2019, stunned many in the room, according to accounts from people who were there and others briefed on the proceedings.”
i. Golf Story of the Week: Helen Ross of PGA Tour on 53-year-old local club pro Brian Morris, who made his PGA debut this weekend at the Butterfield Bermuda Championships—despite having Stage IV cancer. Wrote Ross:
Morris only gets truly nervous when he goes to see his doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston every three months. Almost two years ago, those physicians cut into the back of his skull and removed a malignant tumor from his brain. They later discovered stage IV cancer in his stomach and esophagus, too, and, at his most recent check-up, inoperable tumors in his neck.
By all rights, this inspirational and indomitable man probably shouldn’t be living out a dream this week at Port Royal Golf Course. But he is, and Morris’ very presence in the field should teach the rest of us about not taking our own lives for granted.
“I used to be terrible with nerves,” Morris says. “But since I got diagnosed with cancer, it’s like hitting a tee shot don’t really – like I embrace it now because I’m able to do it and I probably shouldn’t be because according to the doctors and how my cancer was growing and stuff.
“I’ve been past my expiration date, you know?”
j. Luckiest Surgeon in the World Award goes to Dr. Tony Tannoury of the Boston Medical Center. See if you agree.
k. Lucky, you say? Lucky? The Boston Globe headline to the story read: Boston Medical Center surgeon fined for leaving operating room to eat in his car, then falling asleep and missing the procedure. State regulators, the paper reported, “fined” Tannoury. Not “fired.”
l. Emergency surgery. Guy prepped for surgery. Surgeon leaves to get food, takes food to his car for whatever reason, eats food, falls asleep. (At least that’s what this report claims, although it’s beyond weird that you eat dinner, fall asleep very soon after the mastication ends, knowing you have to do emergency surgery on a needy patient, and then you almost certainly either ignore or somehow miss phone calls or texts I’m assuming must have flooded your cell phone trying to get your attention. As Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe reported:
The incident that got him into trouble occurred on Nov. 22, 2016, according to the consent order, after a patient came to the hospital needing emergency ankle surgery. Tannoury and the chief resident, who was not identified, took the patient to the operating room at about 9:30 p.m.
Tannoury “left the OR when the patient was being prepped for surgery and before the surgery began, intending to get something to eat prior to performing the surgery,” the consent order said. He left the hospital, “bought something to eat in his parked car, and fell asleep in the vehicle.”
m. This doctor either has the greatest record of surgical excellence or the state regulators in Massachusetts are softer on heinous offenses than Roger Goodell is on owners. I’m not sure. But whatever, how you avoid getting fired for what that surgeon did is beyond me.
n. Crossword Clue of the Week: From the New York Times Monday puzzle last week comes one of my favorite clues in a while—“Spice whose name consists of two consecutive pronouns.”
p. I admire crossword constructors. Imagine the word “thyme” fitting nicely in a five-letter spot and you have to come up with a clue for it. You could say, “Aromatic green herb.” Or you could have some fun. Cool.
q. (I’m not sure the correct wording is “Spice whose,” by the way. Still a great clue.)
r. Beernerdness: Hard to avoid Terrapin Beer Company (Athens, Ga.) when you’re in Atlanta, and I most certainly did not. If you know my beer tastes, they don’t often fall on the uber-hoppy side, but I did find Hopsecutioner IPA by Terrapin to be a joy. Six varieties of hops in this beer, and I have no idea if that is some sort of record, but I do know this is an easy-drinking, delicious beer. Perfect head too. I like my beer ice cold, and the first sip of the auburn brew through the white head is just superb. Highly recommended.
s. Coffeenerdness: You realize how much you miss Starbucks Italian Roast when you’re flying and eating breakfast in hotel coffee shops. You get home, have the great Italian elixir and say, Now that is perfect drip coffee.
t. Very cool to note this: Mike Tomlin spent part of his bye weekend watching his son Mason, a cornerback at Columbia, play a Friday night game at Dartmouth. Imagine how much a football coach misses of his kids’ weekend lives in the fall, and then consider that the weekend off can be spent in such a bucolic place as Hanover, N.H., watching an Ivy League football game. Columbia 19, Dartmouth 0, by the way.
u. Answer to the Mark Davis trivia question: Willie Brown wore number 24 for the Raiders and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rick Barry wore number 24 for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA and the San Francisco Warriors and Golden State Warriors of the NBA. Rickey Henderson wore number 24 for several MLB teams including the Oakland A’s—though the first six years of his pro career, he wore number 35 for the A’s. And Willie Mays, perhaps the most famous 24 of them all, wore 24 for the New York Giants, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.
v. Great question, Mark Davis.
w. I really like the MLB “Stand Up To Cancer” display in the playoffs. It’s so human.
x. RIP, Rem Dog. Jerry Remy, the former second baseman for the Red Sox and Angels but more famous as the irreverent colorman on Red Sox TV games, died of lung cancer Saturday. You can figure how much he was loved by the decibel level of the ovation in his last Fenway appearance—throwing out the first ball before the Oct. 6 wild-card game against the Yankees.
Kansas City 23, N.Y. Giants 12. I keep trusting Reid and Mahomes and Mathieu. One of these weeks I’ll stop, but I just can’t believe the Giants will go into Arrowhead and win. Patrick Mahomes will figure a way to R-E-L-A-X, stop trying to do too much, and beat a 2-5 team that has significant injury issues.
Green Bay at Kansas City, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. When the NFL added the 17th game, this matchup was the crown jewel. And after the NFL gave Tampa Bay-New England to NBC, FOX was the deserved recipient of what appeared to be the second-best game on the NFL slate this year. Not sure it will be that because KC has been disappointing, but I do know this: I will watch every snap of Rodgers-Mahomes. You?
Tennessee at L.A. Rams, Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC. I don’t want to be too dramatic. But when we look back on this era of football, we might (might) think that the two best non-quarterback football players in this age were Aaron Donald and Derrick Henry. The next time the Titans and Rams meet, in 2025, Donald will be 34 and Henry 31. In other words, this could be the last time you ever see Henry trying to evade the best defensive player in football. It’ll be worth the watch for that reason alone.
Arizona at San Francisco, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. FOX. Arizona is 5-1 at San Francisco over the past six seasons. That probably doesn’t mean a lot, except that Kyler Murray won in Santa Clara last year, and the Niners with a loss here would be four games back in the NFC West loss column midway through the season with two games left against the foreboding Rams.
Houston at Miami, Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX. This is either the worst game of the week or, in the unlikely event of the mega-trade before Tuesday’s deadline, the most compelling. I am betting the former.
Las Vegas at N.Y. Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Rich Bisaccia, the Raiders’ interim coach, grew up a yuuuuge Giants fan on Staten Island. One of the feel-good stories of this mid-season, Bisaccia is gunning to go 3-0 as Raiders coach, which would give him something in common with predecessor Jon Gruden. Gruden was three games over .500 (62-59) in his Raider coaching career, and a win would make Bisaccia three games over .500 in his Raider career as well.
Well now, Jimmy G.
For one week at least, you’ve kept
wolves from your front door.