When the calendar turns to December, we should know the lay of the land in the NFL, right? Of course.
Take last year. After 12 weeks, the Steelers were 11-0, the clear number one team in the league. Tampa Bay, on a two-game losing streak with some internal grousing about the dysfunctional offense making the rumor rounds, was 7-5, not a top 10 team as the calendar flipped to December.
This year, well, I’m going to give you the top 10 in the league heading into snow-squall season, and I’m going to give you the five teams who could be this year’s Bucs.
The best team in football heading into December: Green Bay, by an immunized pinky toe (thanks, Joe Buck) over Arizona.
The team that could be the ultimate spoiler: San Francisco. (You thought I’d say Cincinnati, and I almost did.)
Three points to consider:
• Look at the schedule. Who loves psycho 5-6 Minnesota? Not me, particularly with Dalvin Cook headed for the MRI tube this morning to check his troubled shoulder. But the Vikings play Chicago twice and Detroit once in the final six weeks. So abandon faith in the Vikings at your own risk.
• Envy teams with the late bye. In 2018, New England had a Week 11 bye and won the Super Bowl. In 2019, Kansas City had a Week 12 bye and won the Super Bowl. In 2020, Tampa Bay had a Week 13 bye and won the Super Bowl. I sense a trend. So many of my top teams have byes in Weeks 12, 13, 14 this year—KC, Arizona, Tennessee, Green Bay and New England. Kyler Murray, Julio Jones, the pinky toe of Aaron Rodgers, and maybe Derrick Henry will all benefit by the December break. Remember last year, when the Bucs used the first week of December to modify their offense so it wasn’t a bunch of guys just running around? Worked. They were 8-0 the rest of the way, fresh as daisies.
• Beware of teams peaking too soon. The Steelers went 1-5 after Week 12 last year, getting embarrassed in the wild-card game by Cleveland. New England, 10-1 after 12 weeks in 2019, went 2-4 after that, including the ugly Tom Brady swansong wild-card loss to Tennessee. So should you really love New England on a six-game winning streak? Should you really give up on the Rams, on a three-game losing streak? November football matters. December and January football really matters.
I won’t give the normal attention to the boldface names of Thanksgiving weekend—Elijah Mitchell, Pat Surtain II, Baker Mayfield of the crashing-to-earth 6-6 Browns, Cordarrelle Patterson, St. Louis being $790 million richer but being light years from another NFL team, Tua Tagovailoa-to-Jaylen Waddle, Big Ben in twilight, Leonard Fournette the inspirer, Jaelen Reagor the goat (and I mean that in a negative sense), Cam Newton the mess, Scotty Miller the example, Saquon Barkley, Hall of Fame maven Bill Belichick, weirdo Ravens, shaky Lamar Jackson.
One last point before the NFL top 10: Mental illness needs sunlight. You’ll learn that from an admirable man named Ivan Maisel.
The best teams in the NFL with six weeks left in the season, the teams I think have the best chance to get to SoFi Stadium for Super Bowl 56 on Feb. 13:
1. Green Bay Packers (9-3)
The Packers do the most the best. Aaron Rodgers is the bright, shiny object, but the defense is what’s different in Green Bay, and I say that after two distinctly different two-week stretches. Green Bay gave up 13 points, total, to Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, then 62 points, total, to Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford. Odd, of course, but this defense is giving up 20.2 points per game over the first 12 games, and that’s a winning formula when you’ve got Rodgers, Davante Adams and two good running backs.
Three very notable things to me about this team. One: The Packers are winning without their two best defenders, edge player Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who are injured. Two: they’re winning, in part, because of the depth built by embattled GM Brian Gutekunst and rookie defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Three: linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, a free-agent who generated zero buzz in the off-season, has become the nerve center of the league’s seventh-ranked D.
“Talk about an off-season pickup that was absolutely critical,” LaFleur told me Sunday night. “That might be the biggest one. He’s an eraser. He never misses tackles. We made him like the centerpiece of our defense, calling the defense. He’s Batman for us, and he really embraces that role.”
The Packers have the bye this week to heal up, and to consider options on Rodgers’ broken pinky toe. After the 36-28 win Sunday, Rodgers said he would consider options that included surgery and decide today what to do. (Amazing that he ran in the first touchdown of the day Sunday against the Rams, deking Jalen Ramsey in the process. “On a play that was a designed handoff,” LaFleur said. “He just saw everyone go in the direction of the run, so he decided to keep it. I was like, Uh oh. But he gave Jalen a dead leg or something and was able to get in.”)
The slate: After this week’s bye, Green Bay has Chicago at home, at Baltimore, Cleveland and Minnesota at home, then at Detroit. Good race with Arizona for the number one seed.
2. Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
The Cards were 7-0, lost to Green Bay at home, then, without Kyler Murray, went 2-1 pre-bye with the great play of Colt McCoy outclassing the Niners and Seahawks on the road. Crucial play by the Cards without their two best offensive players—Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Still, they’re 10th offensively and fifth defensively, bolstered by a pass-rush. They’ve outscored foes by 108 points, but their Achilles has been run defense.
The slate: at Chicago, Rams at home, at Detroit, Indianapolis at home, at Dallas, Seattle at home. That’s a tougher road than Green Bay, and because of the Packers’ 24-21 Week-8 win in Glendale, Arizona will have to beat Green Bay outright in overall record to win a head-to-head homefield race.
3. New England Patriots (8-4)
The Pats are one of four teams with the last bye weekend, Dec. 12. It’s shaping up to be great for them. They get an extra day this week prior to next Monday’s game at Buffalo, then the bye, then a Saturday night game with Indy, then another extra day to prep for the Buffalo rematch. There are four AFC teams that could be here—Pats, Bills, KC, Ravens—and I picked New England because of the last six weeks. Not just six wins, but six wins by an average of 25.3 points per game. It’s almost Patriots 2007 version, a rout a week.
I put the Patriots here because Mac Jones shows no sign of the games being too good for him. And because the defensive depth is better than any AFC peer. That depth was helped significantly by the addition of Matthew Judon in free agency. He has 11.5 of the team’s 30 sacks, and has been the perfect puzzle piece for Bill Belichick.
“What was your meeting with Bill Belichick like in free agency?” I asked Judon on Sunday, after New England routed the Titans 36-13.
“I didn’t have one,” he said. “I just signed.”
“No meeting with Bill, at all?” I said.
“Naw,” he said. “I thought free agency would be like ‘Let’s Make a Deal,” but we went through that legal tampering period, I had a couple ideas where I might go, and then I was working out on the day the deals could get done, and I heard nothing. Then we had the offer and I had to decide and boom, it was done.”
Judon’s rush ability has been helped by the depth along the line, plus a secondary that doesn’t miss 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. When I mentioned the Patriots now have the Bills twice in 21 days and was he thinking about that, Judon said, “Hell naw. We got a one-game mentality around here. All we care about’s this week.”
The slate: at Buffalo (Monday), bye, at Indianapolis (Saturday), Buffalo and Jacksonville at home, at Miami.
4. Buffalo Bills (7-4)
Truly a mystifying team. It nags at me that the Bills get shredded by 26 at home to a 6-6 team and four days later beat a team playing for its playoff life by 25. It nags at me that Josh Allen has forced more throws in 11 games this year than he did in 16 games last year. It nags at me that in nut-cutting time, Buffalo is 3-3 in the last six games, including a three-point loss at Jacksonville. But Buffalo’s an explosive team with an 18-point win at Kansas City, and with two wins over Miami by a combined 50 points. The Bills also have perhaps the most impressive single defensive stat in football right now. They’re holding opposing quarterbacks to a composite passer rating of 62.8, with eight TDs surrendered and 16 interceptions. That is one pesky pass defense.
The slate: New England (Monday), at Tampa Bay, Carolina, at New England, Atlanta and the Jets at home.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
KC’s 4-0 since Halloween, giving up just 12 points a game (two games were against Daniel Jones and Jordan Love) while defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo got some of his key pieces healthy and playing at their traditional levels (Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark). Because this isn’t the steamrolling Kansas City offense anymore—the team is lacking one explosive threat, and it’s showing up in Patrick Mahomes’ play. Mahomes in 2019 and 2020 combined: 11 interceptions. Mahomes in 11 games this year: 11 interceptions. But when I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he ever thought to himself, Man, what’s wrong?, he said no, he hasn’t. That’s the benefit of having a confident playmaker and leader. I just think Mahomes will figure a way to win even if he doesn’t have the same tools.
The slate: Coming off a bye … Denver and Vegas at home, at the Chargers, Pittsburgh at home, at Cincinnati, at Denver. Sneaky tough schedule.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3)
Bad loss to the Saints, bad loss to WFT, easy win over the Giants, impressive win at Indy after trailing by 10 at halftime. I like the veterans on the Bucs, and not just Tom Brady.
“At halftime,” running back Leonard Fournette told me after Bucs 38, Colts 31, “I told Tom, ‘This game will end with either me or you winning it. This sh–‘s gonna end with one of us doing it.’ ”
Let’s see: 31-31, 2:41 left. Bucs ball, first-and-15 at their 31-yard line. The 6-0, 228-pound Fournette, physical, off left tackle for 11. Brady to Cameron Brate for six, then Brady to Fournette, a swing pass out of the backfield to the right for 13. Fournette busting behind the right side for eight. Chris Godwin on an end run for three. Then, from the Colts’ 28, Fournette over left tackle, with Chris Godwin his personal protector downfield knocking away a DB, for a 28-yard touchdown.
HAVE YOURSELF A DAY LEONARD FOURNETTE 😳
4 TDs for the Bucs RB
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 28, 2021
This was the fourth pick in the 2017 draft. Fournette had two 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville, and had a 222-yard rushing day in Denver in 2019, then was a surprising cut by Doug Marrone at the end of camp in 2020. With three rushing TDs and a fourth in the air, Sunday was Fournette’s shining moment in the NFL. He carried the Bucs to a win over a good team on the road after trailing by 10, and he pep-talked the team at halftime. Fournette won a Super Bowl ring in Tampa last year, but he became a championship running back with that four-TD performance Sunday in Indiana.
“A year ago, I was cut from the Jaguars,” he said from Indianapolis. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I reported at 6:30 in the morning, was told the coach wanted to see me, and he cut me. I was in shock. Never saw it coming. Teammates crying. Coaches shocked. But adversity hits you, and how are you gonna respond. What are you gonna do? I was still upset about it when Tampa picked me up. But I thank the Bucs for giving me a chance. On a day like today, I thank the coaches for believing in me and giving me all these chances.”
Fournette’s going to get more of those chances. A power-back with that offense could make it lethal, and it might be needed with a defense that’s been more attackable this year than last.
The slate: at Atlanta, Buffalo and New Orleans at home, at Carolina and the Jets, Carolina at home.
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-3)
Something about the Ravens doesn’t feel right. The defense felt right Sunday night, even though the Browns looked incredibly flawed, in a 16-10 Ravens win. But the carelessness of Lamar Jackson, who had his first four-interception game as an NFL player Sunday night, is going to end up putting so much pressure on the defense if it keeps up. They could really use the spare parts in the running game to pick up the quarterback. One of the more surprising things about the Ravens being five games over .500 entering December: Opposing quarterbacks have a 17-to-5 TD-to-pick ratio; Jackson’s is 15-to-13. Eventually, on a throwing team, that’s going to catch up with you.
But the Ravens have to hope it’s a blip for Jackson. They’ve shown the ability to coach and manage around some difficult circumstances, and they may have to again this year.
The slate: at Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Green Bay at home, at Cincinnati, Rams and Pittsburgh at home.
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-4)
Lost three of four, and there are things to worry about, such as an overmatched and grabby secondary. I put my faith here in Dak Prescott, a reliable run game, and the most impressive rookie in football. When I see 6-3, 246-pound Micah Parsons chase down a quarterback from behind, visions of Lawrence Taylor dance in my head. Parsons has miles to go before he’s in the same league with Taylor, of course, but Parsons with Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence—they could all be on the field together soon if Lawrence and Gregory heal on schedule from injuries—would be a brutal trio to stop for any offensive front, particularly a battered one as the regular season winds down.
The slate: at New Orleans (Thursday), at WFT, at the Giants, Washington and Arizona at home, at Philadelphia.
9. Los Angeles Rams (7-4)
Can the Rams survive the worst special-teams in football (muffing punts, slumping Johnny Hekker) and a suddenly careless Matthew Stafford and a defense that’s gone from first in the league last year to mid-pack and allowed 32 points a game the last three weeks? Stay tuned. This is too good a team to be scoring 16, 10 and 28 in the biggest games of the year. There’s no shame in losing to the best team in the league on the road, with Aaron Rodgers pulling the trigger. But the last great team they beat this year is the only great team they beat this year: 34-24 over Tampa Bay two months ago.
The slate: Jacksonville at home, at Arizona, Seattle at home, at Minnesota and Baltimore, San Francisco at home. The Rams are looking very much like the fifth or sixth seed, barring an Arizona collapse.
10. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
No team needs its bye more than the Titans this week. Their top three weapons (Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones) missed the 36-13 loss at New England on Sunday, and it’s unsure when the receivers will be back—and if Derrick Henry will be back at all this year after foot surgery. Without weapons, Ryan Tannehill has been pretty mortal, putting up 26 points in the past two weeks combined against Houston and the Pats. Still a tough team, but if A.J. Brown isn’t back by mid-December, the Titans are in trouble.
The slate: After the bye, Jacksonville at home, at Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Miami at home, at Houston. Titans should be able to hang onto the AFC South crown, because they’ve swept second-place Indy and have a two-game lead with the tiebreaker edge.
Now for the teams that could get hot—could, I say—and make trouble in the next six weeks:
San Francisco 49ers (6-5)
Strong run game with the Niners’ last pick in the 2021 draft, Elijah Mitchell, forced into action and playing great (693 yards, 4.8 per rush), under the tutelage of 72-year-old running backs coach Bobby Turner. And Jimmy Garoppolo, the undisputed starter, has turned it over once in the last three games—not coincidentally, all wins. The Niners cannot afford Deebo Samuel’s groin injury to be serious. He’s turned into a first-class phenom, averaging 18.0 yards per catch and 8.1 yards per rush. Road games at the Bengals, Titans and Rams will test them, but I see the Niners as a threatening sixth seed in a weakened NFC.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
We knew Joe Burrow would be a threat, and he’s made beautiful music with a quartet of strong young pass-catchers. But the defense is what’s going to determine this team’s fate. In seven of 11 games, the D has allowed 21 points or less. Tough schedule to finish, with the Chargers, Niners, Ravens and KC at home. I thought Burrow would be this generation’s Dan Fouts, and the Bengals have the kind of bombs-away attack that could beat anyone, home or away. You better have a healthy secondary if you want to compete with this offense in January.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Dangerous as heck, but they’ve got to make it first. After Houston this week and the bye, the Colts are home with New England and at Arizona. Miami is hot, and six other non-division-leaders have six or seven wins in the AFC. So the Colts will likely need to win one of those toughies—Pats or Cards—to be a factor in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
Young quarterbacks are up and down, and I’d have told you before Sunday in East Rutherford that Jalen Hurts has a chance to stave off the front office from going quarterback-shopping in the offseason. Now, who knows. But Hurts leads an offense that averaged 34.5 points a game in the previous four. His run ability helps. This also helps: Four of the last five games for the Eagles are against teams under .500. Imagine a win-and-in home game to close the season against the Cowboys, with Hurts’ future on the line. Must-see TV.
Minnesota Vikings (5-6)
Too many missed chances, too much of a chance that Dalvin Cook (shoulder) could be broken down once his test results come back today. But they beat the Packers 34-31 eight days ago and looked great doing it. The Vikings could rally to make it as the seventh seed—they have two games with Chicago, one with Detroit, one with slumping Pittsburgh—and the Vikes won’t be a team the Packers would want to see on wild-card weekend, even at Lambeau.
Each year I do a Father’s Day book section, so you’ll have a few reasonably priced alternatives for the guys in your life. (Plus, reading is good.) I thought, “Why not a Holiday book section this year?” So here we are, with a few books I’d recommend for all those who are hard and easy to buy for.
I’m including the links from Bookshop for each title. I like to support the country’s independent bookshops, but please buy them from wherever is convenient for you.
My first selection is a book that you may have heard about. The author, Ivan Maisel, is a pre-eminent college football writer. His son, Max, a junior at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2015, died of an apparent suicide in February 2015—authorities theorized it was an intentional drowning in the icy waters of Lake Ontario—and his father, mother and two sisters were left to live without Max. Ivan Maisel is a guest on The Peter King Podcast episode that drops Wednesday. His story is so important. I hope you listen to him, and read the book.
I Keep Trying to Catch His Eye: A Memoir of Loss, Grief and Love
By Ivan Maisel (Hatchette Books)
The cover of the book is a grainy photo of Max Maisel for a school project, a self-portrait of Max from the back looking out onto Lake Ontario. It’s haunting, Max looking out onto the water that would later take his life. The 6-5, 135-pound Max Maisel hated having his photo taken.
“We didn’t discover that photo till after he died,” Ivan Maisel told me. “He had photographic paper boxes in his room on campus. He showed us very little of his work so we just were looking through it, fascinated. We came across this photo. This is what he turned in, which is telling in any number of ways. That he had so little self-, I don’t know, regard? So little self-confidence that that was the photo he wanted to represent himself. It’s kind of too bad, really. But I love the fact that we put it on the cover of the book and now he’s a published photographer. Maybe we completed the assignment, you know?
“It’s a shame. I wish he had felt better about himself.”
The book is a play-by-play of a son disappearing, not knowing his whereabouts but fearing the worst for eight weeks, authorities finding the body, family dealing with the loss, keeping a family together, and being unselfish in sharing precisely what is going in a mind when something so life-changing happens. My favorite short passage of the book is about how Ivan, wife Meg Murray and two daughters are not ashamed of Max, and they want his death to mean something for so many.
“Max remains one of my children,” Ivan Maisel writes. “Not only for my own peace of mind, but for the greater good. The fact is, mental illness needs sunlight. Suicide makes people uncomfortable. Only recently has it begun to emerge as a topic spoken only after pulling someone aside, and then in a whisper. But I will talk about it. I am not ashamed of it. We as a family need to talk about it for reasons of catharsis. We as a society need to talk about it, very simply, to save lives.”
Beautiful. Mental illness needs sunlight.
I asked Ivan on the podcast what Max was like. “Max,” Ivan Maisel said, “was proof that God had a sense of humor because he had no interest in sports … He was shy, and almost withdrawn. He had trouble. He was somewhere on the spectrum. We never got a clear diagnosis of exactly what it was. But he had trouble reading social cues, as so many of those children do. As a consequence, he put up a wall, sort of a self-protective wall from people. Behind that wall, he was just a sweet kid. Really cared deeply about people. Loved pets. It was easy for him to communicate with them. Found his passion, found his method of communication through photography as a teenager and grew to become really good at it. He was majoring in it at RIT.
“He was a rule-follower. He always did what he was told to do. He was dependable in that regard in terms of doing stuff around the house—walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher. He didn’t give you five reasons why he couldn’t do it. He just would do it. Sometimes you wish he would’ve rebelled a little bit more. Oddly enough, the last winter break he was home, his junior year in college, he was a little more independent from us. He was a little more reluctant to engage. We read that as, okay, finally we’re seeing a little independence here. In retrospect, it’s a lot easier to read it as he was beginning to spiral away from us and away from … into mental illness.”
A big test was not letting Max’s death tear the family apart. “Our oldest [Sarah Maisel] lived in San Francisco when Max disappeared and she flew to Rochester a couple of days after he disappeared. We got about 10 feet into the Rochester airport—Sarah’s very astute emotionally—and she said, ‘I’ve been reading about families and couples who lose a child. Half of them get a divorce. Are you guys gonna get a divorce?’ I was like, whoa! Let’s do one disaster at a time, shall we? I said, ‘No sweetie, we’re not.’ ”
Ivan and Meg relied on understanding each other’s grief to get through it. Don’t judge how everyone in the family is dealing with Max’s death. A grief specialist, David Kessler, was significant in his ethos that all people grieve differently.
“It’s not the loss of the child that forces couples apart,” Ivan said. “It’s that they judge one another’s grief. ‘Why are you crying?’ ‘Why aren’t you crying?’ ‘How come you never go to the cemetery?’ ‘You go to the cemetery all the time.’ That’s just not who Meg and I are. We did it very differently and I have to emphasize this book is my story. It’s not her story or the girls’ story. There was never any judgment there. We both knew we were trying the best we could to deal with it as best we could. Meg wanted a road map of how Max got to that point. She asked a lot of questions, turned over a lot of rocks. I just didn’t need to do that. To me, that was just too much pain. We let each other do what we needed to do.
“What you learn with time is that the pain recedes. It comes back. But when it comes back, it’s going to recede again. A neighbor who lost a husband said to me, and she may have gotten it off a greeting card, I don’t know but it really resonated with me. ‘Sometimes grief washes over your ankles and sometimes it washes over your head. But in both cases, it goes back out.’ You learn that when you’re having a really bad moment or a really bad day that just don’t fight it. Just sort of lean into it and it will recede.”
Max did not leave a note. Ivan is glad he didn’t. He’s glad that not long before his death, he told his mother he was glad his parents accepted him for who he was.
“The more time that passes,” Ivan said, “the more I understand just how hard he worked and fought to live as long as he did.”
The title of the book, by the way, stems from the picture (above) that is the wallpaper on Ivan Maisel’s phone. The three Maisel children—Max on the left, Sarah in a cap and gown at her 2014 Stanford graduation in the middle, and Elizabeth on the right—show Max looking off to the side pensively and the two sisters beaming in a great life moment. Proud dad said he felt like, C’mon, Max, look at me. But Max couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and Ivan kept trying to catch Max’s eye.
The book is not a road map for dealing with a loved one who takes his/her life. There is no road map for it. But there is a humanity in dealing with suicide. Ivan Maisel walks you through it, and when you learn his story, what you want to say is, “I’m so sorry. And thank you.” Mental illness needs sunlight.
It’s Better to be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness
By Seth Wickersham (Liveright Publishing)
This is on my Mount Rushmore of sports books. The writing is fantastic, the reporting better. I say that because the biggest story in the NFL in this century is the rise of the Patriots, and it happened as NFL media hit a sweet (and oversaturated) spot. You know how hard it is to uncover things no one knew about the Patriots, with the voracious Boston media and hungry national reporters nipping at the team’s heels for years? Let me tell you. It’s hard. But as I read this book, I bet I said to myself 100 times: I didn’t know that. I have a lot of admiration for Wickersham the writer. I have more respect for Wickersham the reporter.
In the 2000 draft, San Diego coach Mike Riley wanted Tom Brady of Michigan. Riley recruited Brady as a college coach and lost him. Riley was determined not to lose him again. The Chargers weren’t going to pick a quarterback high in 2000, and Riley scouted the lower-tier passers, and told GM Bobby Beathard that he wanted Brady.
As the sixth round progressed, Wickersham reported Beathard watched more tape of the QBs still on the board. He decided he wanted to pick a Virginia linebacker, Shannon Taylor, in the sixth. “We made a different decision,” Beathard told Riley. San Diego picked Taylor 194th overall; he started one game for them, lasting one season in San Diego. The Patriots picked Brady 199th. The Chargers picked Florida A&M’s Ja’Juan Seider, who never played a game in the NFL, 205th overall.
More where that came from, lots more, in this book.
The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family
By Ron Howard and Clint Howard (William Morrow and Company)
Ron was a star on “Happy Days” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” Clint featured on “Star Trek,” and this book is a chronicle of what it was like to be child actors in Hollywood—with the perspective of time to make sense of it all. There’s a moral-compass aspect to it, from the Midwestern parents of the boys. Imagine being that famous that soon and coming out of it okay.
Young Ron loved the Dodgers, and his crazy life of being a child star hit him when he was 12. One morning in the Los Angeles Times, he read about Sandy Koufax being in a contract dispute with the Dodgers the year after he won the Cy Young and MVP awards—and earning $85,000. Ron wondered how much money he made in a year. He added up all his sources of income from Andy Griffith plus reruns and lo and behold, he was making more than the great Koufax!
“My first rection was mortification,” Ron Howard wrote. “I cycled through emotions of embarrassment, confusion and anger. But what I finally landed on was gratitude … I had been blessed with good fortune and a wealth of advantages. How do I live up to this good fortune and not squander it? I looked to my parents. I saw how they chose to live, and how happy they were. I redoubled my efforts to keep working, to stay in show business beyond my boyhood.”
Wish it Lasted Forever: Life with the Larry Bird Celtics
By Dan Shaughnessy (Simon and Schuster)
So much to like about this book, and I’m a most casual NBA observer. Yes, it’s about the glory years of the last great Celtics team, but it is also about the mechanics of how Shaughnessy, covering the Celtics for the Boston Globe from 1982 to 1986, got inside the team in the days when the media and NBA teams traveled together, ate together, drank together. Read this, from early in the 1983-84 season, when Shaughnessy and Larry Bird got a bite in Indianapolis, where native son Bird was beloved:
“On game day, I strolled into McDonalds with Bird before the short ride to the gym … Hoosier teens working the counter at the McDonalds were gobsmacked. Bird signed autographs for kids, none for adults. He knew what it was like to be a kid awestruck by pro ballplayers. He’d once been rebuffed when he asked for Dan Issel’s autograph at a Kentucky Colonels game. Bird had no use for autograph-seeking adults, and if a desperate gentleman tried the time-tested ‘My wife will kill [me] if I don’t get your autograph,’ Bird would send him away with, ‘Well, I guess she’s married to a dead man.’ “
Walking into a McDonalds in Indiana with Bird, 1984. Walking into a pub in Liverpool with John Lennon, 1964. Same thing.
Across the River: Life, Death and Football in an American City
By Kent Babb (Harper Collins)
Babb followed the Edna Karr High School football team, a short drive from the French Quarter in New Orleans, for the 2019 season. He soon discovers the earnest coach of the team, Brice Brown, has a job bigger than football. The explosion of gun violence makes Brown’s first priority with many players simply to keep them alive; Babb discovered that when he showed up to write about the coach and team for the Washington Post in 2018.
“Within minutes of my arrival in August 2018,” Babb wrote, “a senior running back was telling me about the first time he broke into a house. A top assistant coach was sharing an anecdote about how he’d sold marijuana and pills before taking a coaching job at Karr … I want to show you this world, and I want you to see it as I did: unfiltered and unpolished. Brown and others insisted that I change nothing. They asked that I show their realities, obstacles and methods precisely as they are.”
Which Babb does. You don’t see many unflinching portraits as real and sordid as this one, in or out of sports.
You Are Looking Live: How the NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting
By Rich Podolsky (Lyons Press)
Talk about a show being ahead of its time. In 1975, the first famous NFL pregame show happened on CBS, led by Brent Musburger, with former player Irv Cross as analyst and Phyllis George, an ex-Miss America, as reporter. The next year, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, a bookie, joined the show to pick games. Without the spreads, of course.
If you’re of a certain age, you remember the original “The NFL Today,” because it began to treat the NFL as the big game it was to become. Musburger began the show with a live view of the stadium at one of the big games of the day and saying, “You are looking live!” Musburger invented the genre of great pregame show host. Smooth and quippy and very knowledgeable, he paved the way for the Chris Bermans of the next generation.
The Greek was the unique character of them all, and Podolsky has good stuff about his impact. A political cartoonist in the early seventies, Jim Berry, had a cartoon with president Richard Nixon saying to attorney general John Mitchell: “I don’t care about the Gallup Poll or the Harris Poll—what does Jimmy The Greek say?” The Greek would sometimes slip in some political references on the show, and Podolsky said that when she was thinking of running for Congress in 1985, upstart Californian Nancy Pelosi sought a meeting with The Greek to discuss politics.
Offensive Players of the Week
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami. He will have starrier games in the NFL, but what made Tagovailoa’s performance in the 33-10 rout of the Panthers so good was the complete control he had over the Miami offense. He threw four incompletions all day (27 of 31, 230 yards, one TD, zero picks) and continued to build the type of chemistry with Jaylen Waddle that GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores envisioned when they made him the sixth pick in the draft last April.
Leonard Fournette, running back, Tampa Bay. He’s had more yards in a game as a Jaguar, but never has Fournette made the impact on an important game than he did Sunday in Indianapolis. His four-touchdown day—three rushing and one receiving—was capped by his 28-yard power-rush TD that won the game and pushed the Bucs to 8-3 and a three-game lead in the NFC South.
Joe Mixon, running back, Cincinnati. Remember when the Steelers could stop the run? No more. Mixon trampled all over the Steelers in the 41-10 rout Sunday, rushing 28 times for 165 yards for two touchdowns. Mixon has the ability, like Fournette, to be a steamroller and to make people miss.
Defensive Players of the Week
Pat Surtain II, cornerback, Denver. His two interceptions of phenom Justin Herbert led Denver to a 28-13 win over the Chargers in Colorado. The second one, midway through the fourth quarter, was returned for a 70-yard touchdown and stretched the Broncos lead to 28-7. In training camp, I remember how everyone around the Broncos described the rookie Surtain as a guy who walked in with the experience of a three-year NFL corner. He sure looks like it now.
Derwin James, safety, L.A. Chargers. I mean, just look at this interception of Drew Lock, leading to the only points of the Chargers in the first half. I understand the Chargers struggled in Denver, but for a DB to make such an improbable pick, and to turn a 14-point game that was getting away into a seven-point game at the half … That’s worth noting.
— FanSided (@FanSided) November 28, 2021
John Franklin-Myers, defensive lineman, N.Y. Jets. From goat last week (for a terrible roughing-the-passer penalty late in the loss to Miami) to hero this week. His beautiful interception—he deflected a Texans pass into the air, corralled it and returned it 32 yards to set up the opening field goal of the game—was supplemented by two sacks of Tyrod Taylor as part of a five-sack performance that suffocated Houston.
Jaelan Phillips, linebacker, Miami. The first great NFL game (of many, Miami hopes) for the 2021 first-round rusher came in a dominating defensive performance for the Dolphins. Three sacks, one pass-defensed, four tackles. More of that, please, say fans who’ve been waiting for the next Jason Taylor or at least Cam Wake.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Kene Nwangwu, kick-returner, Minnesota. With the Vikes down 11 with 20 minutes left in the game, Nwangwu took a kickoff at his 1-yard line, weaved toward the right, cut through two Niners at his 30, and was off to the races. He made his second TD return on a kickoff look easy. What a threat this rookie from Iowa State has become for Minnesota.
Daniel Carlson, kicker, Las Vegas. Scored the last 13 points of Las Vegas’ desperately needed 36-33 overtime win in Dallas on Thanksgiving. His 56-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter gave the Raiders a 33-30 lead. In overtime, his 29-yarder won it. In all, he had field goals from 22, 46, 30, 56 and 29 yards.
Scotty Miller, wide receiver, Tampa Bay. Some players, particularly ones who have experienced glory on offense or defense, wouldn’t give the effort that a player like Miller gives on special teams. With the Bucs leading 28-24 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs punted to the Colts, and Nyheim Hines muffed it at his 17-yard line. Miller sprinted downfield so fast that Hines could have felt his breath, and Miller pounced on the punt at the Colts’ 19-yard line. Five plays later, a chippy field goal gave the Bucs a seven-point lead. That was their final margin of victory.
Duke Riley, linebacker, Miami. Craziness in Miami, when Riley ran onto the field late as the 11th Dolphin on the punt-rush team with Carolina lined up for the punt deep in its own territory. Riley approached the punt from the defensive right side and smothered it, the ball bouncing to Justin Coleman and Miami opening the scoring in a 33-10 rout of Carolina.
Coach of the Week
Kyle Shanahan, coach, San Francisco. The season was on the brink three weeks ago this morning. The Niners had just lost to Arizona to fall to 0-4 at home and 3-5 overall, and the big, bad Rams were due in Santa Clara the following Monday. Shanahan was 34-41 as a head coach, and he seemed headed to his fourth losing season out of five. In the three games since, the Niners have been one of football’s most efficient teams, turning it over once, scoring 31, 31, and 34 points, and running for 536 yards in those three wins. Shanahan has managed Jimmy Garoppolo superbly, and the embattled quarterback is playing his best since midway through 2019.
Goats of the Week
Jalen Reagor, wide receiver, Philadelphia. Reagor will forever be known (by me at least) as the receiver the Eagles boneheadedly picked one spot ahead of Justin Jefferson. He put an exclamation on that bad pick Sunday. On the final desperation drive by Philadelphia, with the Giants up 13-6, Jalen Hurts twice put passes in Reagor’s hands, both times in scoring position—and Reagor couldn’t catch either one. The first was two yards deep in the end zone, the second right at the goal line. “Two drops that I would say are uncharacteristic,” he said later. Whatever, they cost the Eagles a game in New Jersey. A good receiver has to catch one. A great receiver would catch both. Reagor caught neither. This one will sting for a while.
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. Completed 5 of 21 throws (23.8 percent) with two interceptions in a three-minute span of the second quarter in a disastrous performance at Miami that has to have the Panthers thinking: We guaranteed $6 million for a half-season of THIS? Miami 33, Carolina 10 wasn’t that close, and it was because of the most inaccurate day by a quarterback in the NFL since 2004. Joey Harrington was that guy, and you never want to be in an NFL statistical comparison with Joey Harrington.
Anthony Brown, cornerback, Dallas. I’ll be the first to say the Shawn Hochuli crew (with back judge Rich Martinez) were very loose with the flags, throwing 33 of them (28 accepted) in Raiders 36, Dallas 33. But it was a 33-yard pass interference flag against Brown, his fourth of the day, in overtime that saved the Raiders and put them in position for the game-winning field goal.
“So Aaron is telling us he’s had that toe immunized against the pain.”
—FOX’s Joe Buck, after hearing Erin Andrews report on the broken little toe that Aaron Rodgers is playing with.
“Four interceptions in one game. That’s ridiculous.”
—Lamar Jackson to Kathryn Tappen of NBC Sports on the field after Baltimore’s 16-10 win over Cleveland.
That was some ugly football. That was some truth-telling quarterback.
“You have to have a will and a want. You have to be willing to risk everything.”
—Tampa Bay running Leonard Fournette, describing his message to his team at halftime Sunday in Indianapolis, when they trailed 24-14.
“It’s a big changing of the guard, in our opinion. It’s giving us a lot of confidence.”
—Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt, on the 41-10 loss to Cincinnati.
“We look like the team that we wanted to be at the beginning of the season.”
—Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, after the Dolphins’ fourth straight win raised their record to 5-7.
“Coach, what is the problem?”
—CBS field reporter Jamie Erdahl, to Alabama coach Nick Saban at halftime of the Alabama-Auburn game.
Simple is best, very often. When the second-ranked team in the country has the ball seven times and doesn’t score in the first half of a rivalry games, and the drives net 0, 34, 9, 7, 0, minus-14, and 12 yards, Erdahl’s question when she only has seconds anyway was perfect.
Sunday marked the end of the 52nd season of the Steelers-Bengals rivalry. Thing is, for much of the time it hasn’t been much of a rivalry. In the 30 seasons from 1991 to 2020, Pittsburgh won 47 of the 62 games played against Cincinnati.
Maybe it’s Joe Burrow’s time, and the end of Ben Roethlisberger’s.
The Bengals swept Pittsburgh for only the ninth time, and accomplished something else of significance. The Bengals outscored Pittsburgh by 45 points in their two meetings this year, their biggest margin in any season in the series.
Since opening day 2020, Saquon Barkley has played nine games, averaging 32.4 rushing yards per game.
Fabulous Thanksgiving trip to Seattle, even though the weather was Seattle-in-November weather. A great meal (son-in-law Nick smoked a fantastic turkey in his smoker) put on by daughter Mary Beth and Nick for a party of eight, with Kim and Laura and the kids coming up from the Bay Area, and my wife and I coming West. Good time was had by all, and a Friday trip to the Seattle Aquarium was the perfect kid-educator and -occupier. Loved it.
I’d been curious about the light rail that ran from close to their home south of the city to SeaTac Airport. So, with a 1:43 p.m. Delta flight home on Saturday (Ann was staying an extra day), I decided to try the Sound Transit train instead of an Uber to the airport, which is about 25 minutes from my daughter’s home in moderate traffic. The play-by-play:
11:11 a.m.: Leave house to walk, with two roller bags, to light rail station in Columbia City.
11:25 a.m.: Arrive at station.
11:27 a.m.: Board the light-rail train headed south.
11:47 a.m.: Arrive at airport station after smooth, comfortable trip. Walk into airport that wasn’t as crowded as I’d feared.
11:55 a.m.: Check two bags for Delta flight to LaGuardia, connecting in Minneapolis.
12:03 p.m.: Go through short line at TSA Precheck to gate.
12:07 p.m.: Arrive at Gate A4 for flight to Minneapolis.
Fifty-six minutes from Mary Beth’s home to my gate, and I got in a nice 15-minute walk on the way. That won’t be my last trip on Sound Transit. All in all, a great weekend. Back home for the football Sunday in good shape.
This is some real BS that I'm not on this list. 😡🤬 https://t.co/Y5Zovr5lgD
— TheIronman (@LFletcher59) November 24, 2021
Former ironman linebacker London Fletcher was angry that he did not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame 25-man semifinalist list.
Christmas is cancelled pic.twitter.com/rIFp4zfZ6I
— Colleen Wolfe (@ColleenWolfe) November 28, 2021
Wolfe, native Philadelphian and NFL Network host, after the Eagles’ 13-7 loss to the Giants.
Oklahoma has targeted Cardinals’ HC Kliff Kingsbury as one of the potential replacements for Lincoln Riley, league sources tell ESPN.
Kingsbury has one year remaining on his contract after this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 28, 2021
Schefter breaks NFL news for ESPN.
RIP Curley Culp. Few NFL nose tackles were better. None, in fact.
— Rick Gosselin (@RickGosselin9) November 27, 2021
High praise from the high priest of NFL history, veteran football scribe and Hall of Fame voter Gosselin.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 27, 2021
You’ll be pleased (perhaps) to know that I was wrong about Rep. Paul Gosar. I thought I would get much more email condemning my attack on Gosar for his anime attack on a fellow member of Congress. Actually, this was the scorecard:
Supportive of me for condemning Gosar: 41 emails.
Supportive of Gosar/condemning me: 4 emails.
Telling me to stick to football: 2 emails.
Both sides are to blame equally: 1 email.
Thanks so much for proving me wrong, everyone. Now onto your email from the week.
My point about the senselessness of players celebrating by cracking their helmets together. From Thom Mayer, medical director, NFL Players Association: “It is an issue we have had our biomechanical engineers assess. By way of brief background, the core issue in measuring the forces at play in creating concussions in the NFL. The key issue is clearly rotational or angular acceleration, which is the twisting force we see in almost all NFL concussions, whether head to head, head to shoulder, head to knee, etc. We’ve analyzed hundreds of NFL collisions using slow-motion video to calculate the forces as work. That method is currently the most accurate way to estimate the forces at work, since the use of in-helmet accelerometers has proven futile-although we are exploring mouthpiece accelerometers in a study now. When we looked at the typical head butts on similar videos, they didn’t remotely approach those which cause concussions. So there’s no scientific reason to think they would cause a concussion in our players.”
Tremendous respect for your work, Dr. Mayer. Truly. I never thought any of those hits would cause concussions. They fall under the category of sub-concussive hits, those that cumulatively can cause the kind of worrisome head trauma that the union and the league have worked to minimize. This is one of the reasons why VICIS has engineered the first position-specific helmet for offensive and defensive linemen—extra padding is now featured on those helmets, along the forehead, to lessen the effects of the helmet-to-helmet contact in short areas by the linemen. I have not spent time studying this, and you have spent lots of time studying it. But it makes no sense to me that players are harangued about the dangers of helmet-to-helmet contact, and rightfully so, and then celebrate big plays using their helmets to crack other players in the helmet.
My point about getting stumped on a crossword puzzle, walking away, and coming back hours later and solving it. From Jon Cummings: “Your crossword puzzle observation extends beyond crosswords. I’ve had the same experience with software engineering problems. I believe that even when you step back from a problem, your subconscious mind does not. It continues to churn on the problem and sometimes gets you to a solution.”
From Adrian Wright, of Ganges, Salt Spring Island in British Columbia: “I suggest you look at Bertrand Russell’s book ‘The Conquest of Happiness.’ Russell discusses the unconscious mind. He says one can resolve problems by thinking about them intensely and then leaving them. The unconscious works while the conscious devotes itself to other issues. The unconscious is perhaps more effective than the conscious at resolving difficult problems.”
Thanks, Joe and Adrian. I got about 15 responses to this, including one scientific treatise from a university in Canada. I chose these two because they were the dominant sentiment of the emails, and because it seems to make a lot of sense.
We’re fixing that. From Tom O’Hara: “I’ve been reading your column longer than I can remember. This isn’t a criticism of you or your work, but I can’t read your column anymore when I keep seeing it promoting content from Barstool. I don’t think it’s worth elaborating on, but hopefully something you’ll think about/look in to.”
You’re referring to the practice of embedding tweets that show highlights of plays that I write about. We’ve taken down the one from last week’s column showing a Jonathan Taylor touchdown, and I can tell you I won’t be using any more of the Barstool tweets. (For those who don’t know, I’ve made it a policy not to do any Barstool podcasts because of the site’s galling treatment of women on occasion.) Thanks a lot for pointing it out, and I hope you consider coming back to read the column.
On Aaron Rodgers versus Antonio Brown. From Polo Aristoy, of Austin, Texas: “Antonio Brown should be suspended, you wrote. I believe you don’t like him. The disparity of your tone versus what you have said about Aaron Rodgers is evident. Rodgers lied … Not doubting your integrity Peter, but why such a different stance?”
Because the offenses are different. The two offenses, if indeed Brown used a fake vaccinating card, are very different. In that case, while going unmasked around his teammates, Brown could have infected people who thought he’d been vaccinated. In Rodgers’ case, his team knew he was not vaccinated, and he apparently walked around meeting rooms inside the Packers facility with a mask on. I did point out that taking advice from Joe Rogan on Covid was like walking into the stands at Lambeau Field and asking a season-ticket-holder what play to call on a big third down. If the allegations about the fake vax card are true, Brown’s offense is worse.
1. I think I don’t want to get too hyped over one game, or a recent run of play, but I don’t know how anyone watches the Cleveland Browns last night or for the last month and says, “It’d be a swell idea to pay Baker Mayfield franchise-quarterback money.”
2. I think Matthew Stafford is morphing into bad Stafford at just the wrong time. Three games in a row with a pick-six (even through the one against the Niners was gift-wrapped by Tyler Higbee) is not the way Sean McVay wants to head into the Rams’ stretch run.
3. I think the Bengals aren’t a Super Bowl team this year, and they may not be anytime soon. But down the stretch, no team will want to play Cincy with Joe Burrow throwing the way he is and Joe Mixon running the way he is and Trey Hendrickson dominating the defensive front the way he is. Baltimore and Kansas City come to Cincinnati in Weeks 16 and 17. Look out.
4. I think I’m getting fed up with pass-interference calls. There was an epidemic of them Thursday, particularly in Vegas-Dallas, and more Sunday. The one that frosted me—and from the sound of it, FOX analyst Greg Olsen—was Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz under-throwing wideout Zach Pascal by three or four yards, Pascal slowing up to try to come back to the ball, and Tampa cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting colliding with Pascal because the Colt was coming back for the ball. Flag, and a 24-yard DPI call. Ridiculous. It’s physically impossible for Murphy-Bunting to not hit Pascal. You can’t penalize a defender when a receiver is coming back to the ball and has to run through the defender. “I don’t love bailing out the offense here,” Olsen said. Of course he’s right.
5. I think regarding Bill Belichick’s comments about there being “no criteria for the Hall of Fame,” well, of course there is no criteria for the Hall of Fame. To my knowledge, that is the case with most if not all Halls of Fame. Used to be that 500 home runs or 3,000 hits made baseball players semi-locks for Cooperstown, but it’s not written as any part of the rules for election. What would be criteria for the Hall, in football? You can’t say a quarterback who passes for 40,000 yards, for example, would be automatically in the Hall; I use that line of demarcation because Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana barely passed it, and they are certainly all-time greats. It’s likely 12 to 15 quarterbacks playing today, minimum, will pass 40,000, including Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins (and maybe even Andy Dalton), and I doubt it makes sense to enshrine half of the quarterbacks from one era in the Hall. Plus, with all the positions, how would you make minimum criteria for every one? You can’t.
6. I think Belichick’s point was about believing that Rodney Harrison deserves to be in the Hall. Harrison is certainly a good candidate. But the sum total of two first-team all-pros and two Pro Bowl berths in a 15-year career doesn’t help Harrison’s cause. His two Super Bowl rings help, and his excellent play in big games (particularly against the Colts) in his six New England years helps. Every defensive back who’s a contender can point to numbers in his favor—safety LeRoy Butler’s five first-team all pros, for instance, or versatile corner Ronde Barber’s 47 interceptions and 28 sacks—just as Belichick can point to Harrison having more than 30 sacks and picks in his career, and being a great contributor on a championship team. It’s possible that his low award count is because among many of his peers, Harrison was an unpopular player; he was a brutally effective safety, and some foes thought he was a cheap-shot guy. Could they have withheld Pro Bowl votes, and could the media have withheld all-pro votes, because they objected to his style of play? Possible. To me, Hall of Fame candidacy at most positions should be influenced by numbers and awards, but as the late Paul Zimmerman used to preach, “You watched this guy play. Is he a Hall of Famer? Was he truly one of the greats of his day?” I realize that leads to great subjectivity, but I see no way around it. And I believe Harrison is definitely in league with, say, Butler and Darren Woodson, two other prime candidates, even with the poor award numbers. In games I watched, Harrison tilted the field at safety. (Editor’s note: Harrison is an analyst on NBC’s Football Night In America.)
The bottom line is every coach, every fan base, can point to two or so players who aren’t in the Hall and pound fists on the table over them. If Belichick never coached Rodney Harrison, would he be advancing his cause? I doubt it.
7. I think term limits for the 49 voters is something I would not oppose. But the problem with them is that, say, a voter like Rick Gosselin, long-time football writer in Kansas City and Dallas, is the best I’ve ever seen in my time on the committee in terms of analysis, open-mindedness and respect for the process, and it serves the Hall well to have him sit in judgment and lead so many of the discussions. I hope Gosselin serves till he’s 90.
8. I think the Joe Flacco acquisition is really paying off for the Jets. He took four days to report to the Jets after being traded, knocking him out of the first game he was a member of the team. He was inactive again for his second. He mopped up against the Bills, then lost to the Dolphins, then, as an unvaccinated player, was sidelined for at least five days after being a close contact. The Jets had to re-sign James Morgan to buttress the position the other day, not knowing when Flacco or Mike White would be able to return. Question for GM Joe Douglas: Why trade for an emergency quarterback who is not vaccinated? Isn’t the point of having an emergency quarterback being able to count on him in the case of an emergency? How can the Jets count on Flacco? Flacco’s a great guy and in the right circumstances, good to have on a roster. But I’d never trade for a player in a great position of need who was unvaccinated. It’s not smart business.
9. I think this NFC East travel factoid interests me: The Eagles won’t get on an airplane for the last eight weeks of the NFL regular season. The Philadelphia slate starting in Week 11: New Orleans, at Giants, at Jets, bye, Washington, Giants, at Washington, Dallas. The Cowboys get on five planes in the last eight weeks of the season. The Dallas slate: at Kansas City, Las Vegas, at New Orleans, at Washington, at Giants, Washington, Arizona, at Philadelphia. No real moral of the story there, and I doubt it matters much if at all, but it is quirky that the Eagles flew six times in the first 10 weeks and zero times in the last eight.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Laura Krantz and Julia Carlin of the Boston Globe on the sordid ethos of fraternities at the University of Massachusetts. “It’s baffling that they exist.” Wrote Krantz and Carlin:
“You think we live in a culture that’s becoming more aware of consent, and starting to change to be more equitable, and then you go to frats and it literally all disappears,” said Jessica Gordon, a UMass senior.
At UMass, an anonymous accusation on social media of a sexual assault at Theta Chi this fall ignited large protests outside the fraternity and demands from students that the administration take action against the organization and Greek life more broadly, and take steps to discipline perpetrators of sexual assault.
Besides public statements condemning sexual assault, the fraternities at UMass have been largely silent in the recent debate about their culture. In interviews, a dozen UMass students described jarring experiences and troubling behavior, including verbal sexual harassment and sexual assault. One woman said she was told she couldn’t enter a frat party unless she had sex with one of the pledges. She and other women said fraternities often enforce “ratios” on party nights, limiting the number of men who can enter a party so that there are many more women.
They said first-years who often don’t yet have a strong friend group and yearn to experience the infamous ZooMass culture are especially vulnerable. The method some brothers use to lure first-years into sexual encounters is known as “farming.” At a forum this fall, sophomore Zoe Lee-Davis described how, earlier this year, a Theta Chi member guarding the door to a party asked to feel between her legs before he let her in, to make sure she did not have male genitalia.
b. Lord. Come on. How offensive.
c. Love of Sports Story of the Week: Caroline Hawley and Samatha Everett of the BBC World Service, going inside the efforts of the Afghan women’s soccer team to survive.
d. Ice Cream of the Week: From Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Ore., comes my new favorite ice cream. Oregon Dark Cherry Ice Cream has big cherry chunks in ultra-creamy ice cream, with a pinkish hue. Almost worth going to the outskirts of Portland just to tour the place.
e. Beernerdness: Alaskan Amber (Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska), a dark ale based on a recipe born in Alaska using water from the Juneau Ice Field (don’t know what it is, but it sounds like it would be a great base liquid for beer), was the Thanksgiving beer of choice. I could only drink two, because it’s a tad heavy. But well worth it. Very malty.
f. Coffeenerdness: Great environment and a comfy store at Olympia Coffee in Columbia City, a homey ‘burb south of Seattle. I strongly recommend the latte with an extra shot.
g. Beatles Story of the Week: Ben Sisario of the New York Times on the new three-part documentary, using film and recordings never before seen and heard, on the life and times and dissolution of the Beatles.
h. Peter Jackson directed it. He spent parts of four years sitting in an editing suite in New Zealand slicing, dicing and editing 60 hours of Beatles film down into three episodes totalling seven hours, airing on Disney+ now. Jackson told Sisario it is a “very unflinching look” at the real life of one of the greatest bands of all time (I think the greatest), with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr the stars of the show. Wrote Sisario:
If there is a true culprit in the breakup, it was the business conflicts that ensued during 1969, when the group tussled over its management, and Lennon and McCartney tried but failed to take control of the company that held their songwriting rights. Those problems are foreshadowed in “Get Back” with the utterance of a single name: Allen Klein, the American business manager who arrives a few days before the rooftop show to pitch his services for the band. Shortly after the events shown in “Get Back,” Lennon, Harrison and Starr all signed on with Klein; McCartney declined, and the schism was never repaired.
“Our movie doesn’t show the breaking up of the Beatles,” Jackson said, “but it shows the one singular moment in history that you could possibly say was the beginning of the end.”
If Beatles scholarship and fandom has proved anything, it is that even a contradictory summation of the band and its influence can still hold true. The Beatles were a pop boy band that ended up pushing the creative boundaries of rock music further than anyone else; nearly every day of their existence together has been documented exhaustively, though a full accounting of their motivations is impossible.
“Get Back” seems to contain all those multitudes — the delight, the tension, the fighting and the wonder of the Beatles simply playing music on the roof.
“There’s no goodies in it, there’s no baddies,” Jackson said. “There’s no villains, there’s no heroes. It’s just a human story.”
i. Good Idea of the Week: Kurt Anderson, writing for Medium, with a story about leaving his New York City bubble to see and feel a part of the country he never does, “Doing Our Bit to Avoid a Civil War.”
j. Anderson writes of driving in his black Audi with New York plates to see a historic hotel in West Virginia, and getting out and encountering a local man in a LAND OF THE FREE T-shirt.
“Y’all,” he said in a classic Appalachian drawl with an inscrutable little smile, “sure are a long way from home.”
One could imagine that as sinister. One could hear, in the mind’s ear, the opening bars of “Dueling Banjos.”
Instead, after we explained we were interested in the history and architecture of the palatial joint, he explained he lived “right there up the holler,” and we proceeded to spend a wonderful half hour together, chatting about the old hotel and the environs. His historical knowledge was deep and detailed and enthusiastically offered. I believe he was pleased and maybe relieved by the encounter. I know we were. Sweet Springs indeed.
And in fact, for the whole two weeks of the trip, we saw and sensed not one of the unwelcome reactions we’d wondered about. Nothing but friendliness or run-of-the-mill indifference.
k. Great idea by Anderson. I wish the post was three times as long as it was.
l. A few college football thoughts:
m. So if Alabama beats Georgia on Saturday, I guess Alabama’s in to the college football playoff, but going touchdown-less for 59 minutes against a 6-5 team didn’t exactly boost ‘Bama’s case.
n. I guess Georgia is in, regardless of the result versus Alabama. Then Cincinnati and Michigan are in with wins in their conference title games. Four? Notre Dame, with the 11-1 record and the 34.5-point average margin in their last four games, I suppose.
o. The Oregon-Oregon State game was superb if for only one reason: It’s the best uniform-contrast game I’ve ever seen—Oregon with its shocking-bright electric green helmets, jerseys, pants and socks, and the Beavers with the black helmets with orange beavers, orange-red jerseys, orange-red pants and orange-red socks. Beautiful.
p. It’s just right, Michigan getting off a 10-year schneid and beating Ohio State. Series had become too one-way.
q. Jim Harbaugh: “Sometimes people that are standing on third base and think they hit a triple, but they didn’t.”
r. He didn’t say who he meant, but everyone knows it’s on now between him and Ryan Day, Buckeye coach.
s. And Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic, this is perfect. The point is about Michigan, after a decade of failure against Ohio State, was putting Harbaugh’s professional life on the line this season, in what he told a member of the Michigan administration last summer: “We’re going to do it, or die trying.” Wrote Baumgardner:
The buzz around Ohio State’s program last winter was that Day had been telling anyone willing to listen of his plans to “hang 100” on Michigan the next time he saw the Wolverines. On Saturday, he wound up 73 short.
t. Good to see regional rivalries hold the day Saturday. UMass at New Mexico State, for instance. Amherst to Las Cruces, a tidy 33-hour drive covering 2,297 miles. At least the fans went wild—6,632 of them jammed into 29,000-seat Aggie Memorial Stadium.
u. UMass, 1-11. UConn, 1-11. Man, good luck, Don Brown and Jim Mora.
v. I must be really crazy. If Francisco Lindor is a $34.1-million-a-year player, how is Marcus Semien a $25-million-a-year player? Semien’s last two full seasons: 78 homers, 194 RBI. He’s 31 years old. Don’t get that one.
Washington 24, Seattle 16. Somebody pinch Taylor Heinicke. In the last two weeks, he’s bested Tom Brady and Cam Newton, and now he gets another chance at beating a big star—though he’s not playing like one at the moment—in Russell Wilson. (Derek Carr and Dak Prescott, you’re on deck for Heinicke the Dragon Slayer.) Heinicke now has a chance at a 2022 starting quarterback job, though I’m not saying it’s likely.
On the other side: Hard to trust Russell Wilson right now, after watching his last eight quarters.
Well, well. December football already.
New England at Buffalo, Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. With a half-game separating the top two teams in the AFC East, two Pats-Bills games in 21 days (Dec. 6 in Orchard Park, Dec. 26 in Foxboro) should decide the division.
L.A. Chargers at Cincinnati, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX. First Justin Herbert vs. Joe Burrow meeting. Two franchises sorely in need of long-term passers are fortunate the 2020 draft fell the way it did, when Burrow went first overall and Herbert sixth. Herbert, 23, and Burrow, 24, have combined to throw 90 touchdown passes in 1.5 years. Man, those franchises are lucky.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers in 2007, John Harbaugh the Ravens in 2008. In the Tomlin-Harbaugh head-to-headers, Pittsburgh leads the series 15-14. This is their 30th skirmish.
Arizona at Chicago, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX. Why would any game involving the Bears be on games-of-the-week list? Because I’m sentimental, and because I want to teach you something about pro football history. The Cardinals were born the Chicago Cardinals, and won NFL titles in 1925 and 1947 (the Cards haven’t won a title in 73 seasons). Their last season in Chicago was 1959, when, in an odd stadium twist, the Bears played at Wrigley Field and the Cardinals at Soldier Field. They’ve been the St. Louis, Phoenix and Arizona Cardinals since 1960.
San Francisco at Seattle, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. Two years ago, this would have been the week’s top game. Now it suffers the ignominy of being the first game of the season to be yanked off Sunday night. It’s only on this list because this is a lousy week for games.
Byes: Cleveland, Green Bay, Tennessee, Carolina. Just one more week after this one with byes.
Steelers always had
their orange-striped punching bag.
Those days are over.