INGLEWOOD, Calif. — A few minutes after the confetti flurried around Matthew Stafford at his new home Sunday night, and it began to sink in that he was going to the Super Bowl, he started thinking of how ridiculous and incredible this situation with the Rams has been. And how lucky he is that he went on vacation in Mexico a year ago.
A year ago, at this very moment.
True story: The trade between the Lions and Rams, spawned when Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay met (by chance, they both insist) at a resort while vacationing, happened quite literally a year ago this night—the same night Stafford was digesting that he was finally going to play in the game he’d always dreamed of playing.
Agreement to send Stafford from Detroit to the Rams for Jared Goff and picks and money: Jan. 30, 2021, 6:45 p.m. Pacific Time.
Confetti landing on Stafford at Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” blared at SoFi Stadium: Jan. 30, 2022, 6:45 p.m. Pacific Time.
“It’s crazy,” Stafford told me in between hugs with euphoric teammates in a hallway outside the Rams’ locker room. “I mean, crazy. It’s a story that, to this day, I feel like a lot of people still can’t believe.
“Sometimes, still, I can’t believe it. And now this.”
Pause. Stafford is a practiced interviewee, but the weird irony of this moment might make the most programmed person pause.
“I never thought that was ever gonna happen, not in a hundred years.”
That’s the kind of Championship Sunday it was. Not in a hundred years. How about 100 days? Who could have envisioned a Bengals-Rams Super Bowl as the season neared the halfway point in late October? One hundred days ago, who would have predicted:
• Cincinnati, losers to the Jets in Week 8, would be AFC champions?
• Von Miller, languishing in Denver, would be dealt to L.A. at the trade deadline, and end up in the Super Bowl?
• Odell Beckham Jr., scorned in Cleveland, would be dumped by the Browns in November and turn out to be a key piece to the McVay offense, and end up in his first Super Bowl?
• A rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, who missed two field goals in an overtime loss to Green Bay, just a guy in midseason, would go 4-for-4 in all three playoff games and kick Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl in 34 years?
• Football’s current jewel franchise, Kansas City, would flop around at home and lose the AFC title game to a team that hadn’t played in one in three decades, to a team KC’s Frank Clark called “the best team and smartest team” in Arrowhead? The Cincinnati Bengals.
— Super Bowl LVI on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 31, 2022
It might take a few days for Midwesterners to digest this one: Matthew Stafford is going to the Super Bowl. His quarterbacking foe will be Cincinnati savior Joe Burrow, the quarterback who lost the Ohio State starting quarterback job to Dwayne Haskins less than four years ago.
Yes, this is a weird one. Weird, but quite compelling.
The NFL never had a home Super Bowl team for 54 Super Bowls. Now we’ve seen two in a row: Tampa Bay last year, the Rams this year.
Never has a Super Bowl featured such low seeds. Cincinnati (13-7) and L.A. (15-5) are both four seeds, and this is the first Super Bowl since the NFL went to 12 playoffs teams in 1990 that two teams below the third seed have met. It’s a sign of what this season was like, really. Just as we couldn’t see the Bengals in this game in midseason, we also couldn’t see the Ravens losing their last six, Miami finishing 8-1 and firing its coach, Sean Payton walking away from the creation he built in New Orleans, and Tom Brady verging on retirement. Just an odd year.
Another oddity: Matthew Stafford never won a playoff game in 12 seasons in Detroit. Now he’s won three in 20 days. I am not prescient on reading looks on people’s faces, but when I looked in Stafford’s eyes last night, I am sure I saw relief.
There was so much on the line for the Rams here, and it started one year ago last night, when a Rams delegation (GM Les Snead, COO Kevin Demoff and VP/Football Administration Tony Pastoors) got on a Zoom call with a Lions delegation to work out details of a Goff-for-Stafford trade. Stafford quietly had gone to the Lions begging for his freedom after 12 years of bad teams there, and the Lions quietly acceded to his request, and now it was matter of finding a deal that worked for both teams. McVay and Stafford and partners saw each other at a Mexican resort, and the men started talking football, and the next thing they knew, they wanted to be football-wed.
Was it the truth that it was a coincidental meeting in Mexico? Totally unplanned?
“One hundred percent,” Stafford reiterated Sunday night. All innocent, he meant.
New Lions GM Brad Holmes had other suitors for Stafford—Carolina, Washington, Chicago, New England (sort of), so the offer would have to be good. The Rams made it very good, and the deal got done, and there was a weird feeling of satisfaction and grim relief, because it was clear McVay had lost confidence in Goff.
“I mean, it’s two weeks after the season, and it’s totally unexpected,” Demoff said Sunday night. “We’re trading the quarterback who led us to the Super Bowl, the face of our franchise, the first big decision we made after our move to L.A. That night, it started the all-in narrative for us.”
The Rams won a playoff game last year with Goff. Trading him meant they thought they could win more than just a playoff game. They thought they could win it all.
This is a different franchise than the other 31. But it is not a senseless franchise, just because it trades first-round picks the way the rest of us change socks. The outside world sees trading second- and third-round picks for a declining Von Miller, and trading two ones and a three plus Goff, plus money thrown in, for Stafford, who’d never won a playoff game or a division title in 12 Detroit years, and thinks it’s the most live-for-today team in recent football history. It might be, but hear them out.
“We’ve had the second-most draft choices in the league since Sean took over as coach,” Demoff said. “We just haven’t had them in the first round. We draft [Penn State safety] Nick Scott in the seventh round in 2019 as mostly a special teams player. When we draft guys in lower rounds, the goal is not to have them come in right away and play; it’s to train them so at some point they’re more than special-teams guys—they’ve got a chance to be key players.”
Scott’s a perfect example. With Covid and injuries battering the Rams in December, he started to see more playing time at safety, not just in the kicking game. He’s started all three playoff games, and last week in Tampa, he made one of the big plays of the season for the Rams, intercepting Tom Brady on the way to L.A.’s 30-27 win. Another six-tackle day Sunday helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl.
This game was loud, throughout. It looked to be about 55-45 San Francisco fans, but the odd thing was that it seemed the crowds were in competition with each other. Rams fans wanted to out-decibel Niners fans, and vice versa. “We’re going to kick their ass,” one 49ers fans in a BOSA 97 jersey said to me in my hotel lobby Sunday. “I mean, we’re gonna show them what team is taking over this stadium.” Neither team did—it was deafening throughout, by both sides. Such is what happens when fans of a team with Super Bowl tradition, the 49ers, can travel to see a big game at a beautiful new stadium.
McVay did a good job figuring out how to win this game. He knew he’d have to put it in Stafford’s hands, and he was comfortable doing that. It was fitting that the man McVay was dying to get on his team was the guy the coach used to the max in the biggest game of the year. Stafford threw 24 passes in the first half and 21 in the second, and he was more efficient as the game went on.
Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr., played great games, and the Rams’ decision to go get Beckham in November paid off beautifully here. Kupp has been the dominant receiver in the NFL this year; no player in history, in fact, has had the combined regular- and post-season run that Kupp has had, with 170 catches for 2,333 yards in 20 games. But Beckham (nine catches, 113 yards) was every bit as important as Kupp. Once and for all, Beckham has proven at 29 that he’s not washed up. Whatever happened in Cleveland has stayed in Cleveland, and Beckham is happier than he’s ever been as a pro. “Everything here is done right,” Beckham said after this game.
The Niners looked to be on the way to their seventh straight win over the Rams when they took a 17-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. But then Stafford and his receivers made the plays that ended up winning the game. Finishing up a 75-yard drive with a classic McVay call got the game close. With 13:35 left, McVay called for a formation that lined up three receivers in a triangle-bunch to the left. Kupp, in the lower right, did a classic Kupp thing. He shaked-and-baked against a veteran corner, K’Waun Williams, used the fog of the three-receiver set to create confusion for the secondary, and …
“To be honest with you,” Stafford said, “San Francisco did a great job of masking some coverage there. We got a coverage that we probably didn’t think we were gonna get. But we got it. Cooper and I both recognized the coverage as the ball was snapped. He ran an unbelievable route, getting off his guy right after coming off the line. And when I saw him, that’s just … that’s chemistry. That’s us spending time together. We spend so much time together talking about football, talking about opportunities that might come up in a game. That’s how that play worked.”
Kupp got a step-and-a-half on Williams, and Stafford’s throw to the left side of the end zone was perfect. That made it 17-14. Stafford got saved a few minutes later, when Niners safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped the easiest chance for an interception he’ll ever have. “That’s a play I should make in my sleep,” Tartt said. The crucial drop allowed Stafford to continue that drive, which resulted in the tying field goal.
Stafford alternated between Kupp and Beckham on the tying and winning field-goal drives. McVay praised Beckham for his smarts after the game, and his work with Stafford to become a co-favorite receiver alongside the brilliant Kupp for Stafford. But what impressed me in this game was Beckham’s toughness. He took a brutal helmet-to-helmet shot from Niners safety Jimmie Ward while making a great catch along the left sideline with 9:47 left, and he just shook it off and looked unaffected by it. Those things don’t go unnoticed by teammates … or coaches.
So now the Rams stay home for the Super Bowl, and their quarterback gets one more shot to prove this was the smartest trade of the McVay/Snead Era. Of all the storylines entering the season, one huge one was this: Is Stafford as good as the quarterback gurus all say he is, and will he finally prove it with a strong cast around him?
Stafford, after a 3-0 playoff run with one turnover in 12 quarters, is trending in the right direction. And you could tell in the mayhem of the Rams’ postgame thrillride he was loving it.
“Sure, I’ve dreamed about this,” Stafford told me. “I’ve loved football for a long time. Now it’s coming true—and now we’ve got a chance to go out there and win the Super Bowl. It’s a pretty unebelievable thing.”
The Bengals last January finished a 4-11-1 season. Joe Burrow, the promising rookie quarterback, got hurt in late November, and the knee injury was so significant that it seemed unlikely he’d be ready to play by the 2021 season-opener. Zac Taylor, the head coach, was 6-25-1 in two seasons, depths not reached by a Bengal coach since David Shula. The defense stunk to high heaven. Sixteen games, 17 sacks. Seventeen sacks! All season!
Two days after the season ended, a young man from Florida, 21-year-old kicker Evan McPherson, declared he would skip his final year of eligibility with the Gators to enter the NFL draft.
No one except a couple of Cincinnati scouts and de facto GM Duke Tobin found anything encouraging in that. They’d scouted McPherson, liked him, and would scout him a lot more in the 16 weeks before the draft. On draft day, Cincinnati made McPherson the fifth pick of the fifth round. No other kicker was drafted last April.
Now, fast-forward to Sunday, in overtime, at Arrowhead Stadium. McPherson was 4-for-4 in field goals in the wild-card win over Las Vegas, 4-for-4 in the upset of top-seeded Tennessee in the divisional round, and 3-for-3 so far today, including a 52-yard bullet down the middle to give the Bengals their first lead of the day in the fourth quarter. Now it was 24-all in OT. All McPherson had to do was boot a 31-yarder in the sixth minute of overtime and the Bengals would be going to the Super Bowl.
When McPherson lined up for the kick, he got a shot of adrenaline from his holder, punter Kevin Huber. Huber looked back at one of the hottest kickers in playoff history and said, “We’re going to the Super Bowl.”
The 31-yard perfecto with 9:22 left in overtime lifted Cincinnati to the win. It also did not surprise McPherson in the least. The Bengals might have drafted Max Scherzer with the first pick of the 2020 draft in Burrow, but they also might have picked Mariano Rivera with the 149th pick in 2021 in McPherson. For the second straight weekend, he kicked the game-winner on the last play of the game. He also now has made 12 field goals of 50 yards or longer in his rookie year, more 50-yard-plus field goals in one season (including postseason play) than any kicker ever. Hall of Fame lock Adam Vinatieri’s high of 50-yard field goals for a season: seven.
“Being a kicker is like being a sniper,” McPherson said from Kansas City after the Cincinnati win. “You got one shot.”
There were lots of heroes in this game for Cincinnati. What had to be fun for Tobin and the scouts and coaches who put this group together is that so many of the players not named Burrow were critical in sending Cincinnati to the Super Bowl.
The receiver overshadowed by Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, had the biggest receiving day of the game—six catches for 103 yards. The Bengals drafted defensive end Sam Hubbard, traded for defensive tackle B.J. Hill, and signed edge-rusher Trey Hendrickson in free agency. Together, they combined for four sacks, six pressures and an interception against Patrick Mahomes.
I asked Hill on Sunday night what made the difference for Cincinnati’s D early and late. On his first three drives, Patrick Mahomes led three touchdown drives. On his next eight drives, he manufactured three measly points. One of his drives ended when Hill made an athletic batted-pass-turned-interception, and the turnover led to a vital Cincinnati touchdown.
The Bengals acquired Hill for a player they were done with, center Billy Price. Hill’s production all year has been stunning under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, and it was again Sunday. “When we got into the locker room at halftime,” Hill told me, “Lou told us, ‘Calm down. We’re fine.’ We just stayed with our assignments and starting playing better.”
Two big points in the last eight KC series. With nine seconds left in the first half, KC had the ball at the Cincinnati 1-yard line. Mahomes threw incomplete, and coach Andy Reid eschewed the chippy field goal and a 24-10 halftime lead to try another pass—this one out in the left flat to Tyreek Hill. It was one of those make-a-play-Tyreek calls by Reid. Except this time, Hill didn’t make a play. He got hogtied to the ground by Cincinnati corner Eli Apple. End of half.
The play reminded me of Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel passing on the certain one point PAT when Cincinnati was penalized on a conversion two weeks ago. Vrabel chose to go for two from the Cincinnati 1-yard line, and Derrick Henry got stuffed, so Tennessee got zero points. This time, Reid could have kicked the field goal and gotten three points. But if you’re Reid, and you know the chances are better than 50-50 that Mahomes can get a yard at the Bengals’ 1-yard line, it’s totally understandable he went for it. Failure makes it seem obvious the coach should have made the other call. That’s not the way football works. Sometimes you make the right call and it fails. That’s coaching.
Rock the Baby, @BJHill5
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 30, 2022
Hill made the defensive play of the second half, batting a Mahomes pass in the air with 17 minutes left and then picking it off. The Bengals got seven points off the turnover, so Hill’s play was gigantic. It allowed the Bengals to tie the game. “We’re taught to put our hands up on a play like that,” said Hill. “I wasn’t shocked I came down with it.”
So the Bengals have clawed out wins by seven, three and three points, and they’re in the Super Bowl earlier than the nuttiest Bengals fan would have dreamed. “Nobody gave us a chance,” Hill said. “When we win, there’s always some reason why. We’re a good team, that’s why. And we’re going to the Super Bowl.”
Brady, Brady, Brady. The denials Saturday were too soft, too tentative, too non-denial. If Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter were over-reaching with their report Saturday that Tom Brady was retiring after 22 years atop the football mountain, we’d have heard more insistent pushback. It’s very likely a matter of time before Brady officially retires.
So why now? I believe it’s about a few things. At 44, Brady has already accomplished more than any player in the 102-year history of the NFL, and with cap and roster issues going forward, and with the Tampa futures of Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski both in doubt, 2022 could be a frustrating year for a Tampa Bay quarterback. I also think as much as Brady didn’t love Bill Belichick at the end, he respected that he’d always have a coaching/personnel plan to keep the team in Super Bowl contention. I don’t know that he feels that way about the Bucs’ ability to stay dominant. And his family. Listen to Brady on his podcast this week with Jim Gray: “It’s not always what I want. It’s what we want as a family.”
One person who spoke to Brady after the playoff loss to the Rams last week said over the weekend: “He’s done.” Seems so. Now it will be on his terms to make it official.
The Raiders choose Josh McDaniels. Some would say, The Raiders? Why go to that team of dysfunction in this division of death? I would say: I doubt there’d ever be a better job for McDaniels. He has his own hand-picked personnel guy, Dave Ziegler. He has a quarterback who can win in the NFL, Derek Carr. So he’s got a flighty owner. The one thing you don’t hear about Mark Davis is he’s a meddler. So think of those three qualities in a coaching job. It’s not the best job in the NFL, and the roster definitely has holes. But for McDaniels, I think it’s a great chance, and probably the best he’d ever have outside the New England cocoon.
As far as the Patriots go, I don’t think they’ll lose valued defensive assistant Jerod Mayo to a head-coaching job. But for Bill Belichick to lose his Mac Jones tutor and his top personnel man to the Raiders in one weekend—that’s a twin blow that will hurt.
Black coaches. Four coaches hired this month, all caucasian. Five jobs left. There is one Black coach in the league, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, and three of color, total. The league, and its owners, will deserve a mountain of criticism if the trend continues in the final five jobs.
Overtime. We all think it’s a no-brainer the NFL will do something at the late-March meetings in Palm Beach to tweak overtime. But in surveying the landscape after the Buffalo-Kansas City OT game late in the week, I’m skeptical anything will change this year. (Sunday’s equitable overtime result in Bengals-Chiefs certainly will be a factor too.) It’s not impossible, but owners move glacially on rules changes, and those inside the league didn’t hear the vitriol they’d expected to hear from high-ranking club officials and owners this week about changing overtime to ensure each team would get a possession in the extra period. Remember: It took five years of drip-drip-drip momentum to change the PAT from an automatic kick to moving it back 13 yards to make it a more competitive play. It’s going to take some arm-twisting—and, as always, I think it’ll take Roger Goodell putting his thumb on the scale of the issue for dual-possessions to get the requisite 24 teams to vote for a change.
Finally, new braintrust for the Giants. This week (Saturday) is the 10-year anniversary of New York’s last playoff victory—the 21-17 Super Bowl win over New England. That is one long dry spell. New GM Joe Schoen won’t have an easy path with his buddy and new coach Brian Daboll. The Giants have to either fix Daniel Jones or replace him in 2023, and Schoen told me Saturday he’ll have to clear out $40 million from a bloated and mismanaged salary cap this spring.
“When we first got to Buffalo,” said Schoen, who worked for the Bills from 2017-’21, “we had $55 million in dead cap money we had to manage. We had a plan there, and we’ll have one here. We may have to make some decisions that hurt, but I do not want to kick the can down the road with the cap. I want to get it fixed.”
Schoen is smart—a bad team like the Giants needs to rip the cap band-aid off quickly so 2023 can be bright. (More about Jones in 10 Things, below.) I also think Schoen would be smart to look to deal one of their two high first-round picks (fifth or seventh overall) for future draft capital, so they could be in a pick-rich position to pick a quarterback if they’d be in the market for one in 2023.
Ben Roethlisberger retires. I look at the class of 2004—Eli Manning drafted one, Philip Rivers four, Roethlisberger 11—in a couple of ways. One: Big Ben goes down in history as the best of the trio, which is saying something considering Manning won two Super Bowls and Rivers kept a franchise afloat for most of 13 years. Roethlisberger retires fifth in yards (64,088) all-time and eighth in touchdown passes (418). But the numbers that mean more to me have to do with winning. Roethlisberger quarterbacked Pittsburgh to 13 playoff wins; that’s how many Rivers and Manning combined to win. Roethlisberger won 31 more regular-season games than Rivers and 48 more than Manning. His worst record in 18 seasons: 7-8.
I believe Steelers fans, even those who could never warm up to him after the sexual assault allegations against him in the first decade of his career, will miss Roethlisberger a lot as the franchise sets about trying to replace him.
Jim Harbaugh might still be in play. Heard some cryptic things about the Michigan coach over the weekend, including that he’s not likely to get the Vikings job and yet one other job is in play. Not sure which that would be. Would Shad Khan take another shot at a famous college coach? Can’t imagine. Houston? Miami? Steven Ross? No! Who knows. I hear a lot of weird things this time of year.
Sean Payton, 58, left the Saints last week after being their coach and north star since 2006. Remember early 2006? That’s when the Saints were endangered species in New Orleans. Paul Tagliabue, in one of his last acts as commissioner, drew a line in the sand and prevented any possibility of the franchise moving to San Antonio, as was feared under owner Tom Benson. Payton, who finished second to Mike McCarthy in the job he really wanted—coaching the Green Bay Packers—took the Saints’ job when it was offered. Similar, really, to Miami rejecting Drew Brees as quarterback that year because of his bum shoulder. The second-choice coach, who saw things other coaches couldn’t see in attacking defenses, and second-choice QB united in New Orleans. They became one of the best coach-quarterback tandems in NFL history.
Now it’s over. Payton wants to test the television waters—I think FOX and Amazon (new exclusive home to Thursday Night Football) will be interested. Payton wants to take one more shot at an NFL coaching job, but before he does, the networks will take his temperature about working a year or two on TV.
It’s normal when a coach or player leaves the field for TV that we wonder how frank he’ll be on TV. So I asked Payton on Saturday if he’d address some of the hot-button issues of the day in the NFL, to see how he’d address topics of the day on TV.
Changing overtime rules
Payton: “We’ve hit the threshold. There has to be some change. At least for the postseason, each team should get a possession, and if it’s tied after those two possessions, the game continues, and it’s sudden death starting with the third possession.”
Situational football: Buffalo up three on Kansas City with 13 seconds left and kicking off
“A lot of it depends on my kicker. If I’ve got a young kicker I’m not sure I can trust, I will not squib kick. You can’t risk the kick going out of bounds, or being recovered at the 40. I also don’t like trying a pop-up kick to land at the eight- or 10-yard line. I’m not asking a kicker to use a technique, seldom-used, to place a kick somewhere that might determine whether you go to the championship game. I’m probably just kicking the ball deep into the end zone and giving them the ball at the 25, like Buffalo did.
“The crime that is committed comes after that. We are playing football still—you can’t be defending the sidelines at all costs, like Buffalo was. You see when Travis Kelce catches that long pass to put them in field-goal range, a cornerback is defending an area of the field near the sidelines he doesn’t need to defend. Kansas City’s got two timeouts left—they don’t need to get out of bounds. Everything about what Buffalo did defensively is flawed. We would play outside man technique with a three-man rush, funneling balls to the middle of the field and contesting outside technique.”
Situational football: Dallas down six, 14 seconds left, with no timeouts, Cowboys ball at the 49ers’ 41-yard line
“You can get 10 yards in that situation, pretty easily. I’d elect to do it with a pass, not a run. But if you run, you’ve got to be conscious to not run too far. Dak Prescott went two steps too far. And you can’t hand it to your center; you’ve got to find the umpire and hand it to him. Everybody knows you’ve got to give the umpire space to get in there and spot the ball. Mechanically, they didn’t quite handle it well. Remember the Operation game you played as a kid? The buzzer goes off and bang, the game’s over.
“But the drive had some really good play calls—those shouldn’t be forgotten. The hook-and-lateral play with CeeDee Lamb was brilliant. That got them 20 yards in eight seconds, and even the 49er DB defending the sidelines took the bait.”
The young quarterback he’d pick to build a franchise around today
“We just saw them duel. Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. A tie. When everything isn’t perfect, and there are many times in a game when things aren’t perfect, they’re the best two in the game at the off-schedule throws.
“I like Joe Burrow. I love Joe Burrow. I just trust the other guys to run it better. But that’s like, I like vanilla and pistachio, you like butter pecan. All good choices.”
“Let’s remodel the house right now while we’re building a new house for next season. The new house is full-time officials, regionally situated one group in Orlando and the other group in Phoenix, training and working together all year. But that takes a lot of planning, and it might be a house we can’t quite afford right now. Maybe it’s a year or two away. While we do that, we remodel by reducing the variables officials have to deal with. We ask the officials to do too much. Some of the rules we ask officials to enforce are very well-intended but almost impossible to officiate. Helmet-to-helmet, and lowering the helmet to initiate contact … The game’s too fast to see those clearly. We’re not even batting .500 on those. Those are Tuesday officiating decisions—things the league should handle after seeing the tape.”
Keep the best refs reffing
“Why are we losing the top 4-5 referees to big money at the network? Can you imagine if we lost Drew Brees, in his prime, to NBC because NBC paid him more money and we wouldn’t match? It’d never happen! Shouldn’t happen in football either. We’ve got to pay what the market requires.
“Don’t get me started on Dean Blandino. He set up the modern replay process back in 2017, then leaves for TV a month later and leaves us without someone to run it. That job is absolutely vital, and we wouldn’t pay for it. It’d be like Neil Armstrong doing most of the legwork to get Apollo 13 to the moon, and there’s a contract squabble, and the rocket goes up without him, and they get to the moon and Buzz Aldrin doesn’t know how to open the hatch door. Replay was Dean’s baby, and we lost him, and it just didn’t work as well.”
Offensive Players of the Week
Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Cincinnati. All season, the Cincinnati passing game has revolved around rookie deep threat Ja’Marr Chase, and who could blame the Bengals? Chase is a phenom. But on a day when Kansas City physically handled Chase, it was Higgins who showed up in some of the biggest moments. His six-catch, 103-yard day, leading all receivers in the game, included 42 yards after the catch and two tough catches in traffic. And on the game-winning drive in overtime, Joe Burrow threw two passes. Both were complete. Both were to Higgins, for nine and eight yards, on a 42-yard drive. Higgins’ most important day of the season came at the biggest time.
Cooper Kupp, wide receiver, Los Angeles. Eleven catches, 142 yards, two touchdowns and Kupp was simply the best player on the field at SoFi Stadium. (San Francisco’s wonder wideout Deebo Samuel certainly had a case too.) Kupp is not a burner, but he is the NFL’s top route runner, and he showed it throughout the Rams’ win over the 49ers. Kupp’s performance was his 13th of 100-plus receiving yards on the season (including playoffs), which set an NFL record. And Kupp now will get his first experience playing on the Super Bowl stage; he was injured (torn ACL) for LA’s last trip to the game in 2018.
Cooper Kupp AGAIN! #RamsHouse
— Super Bowl LVI on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 31, 2022
Defensive Player of the Week
B.J. Hill, defensive tackle, Cincinnati. This could have been decisive interceptor Vonn Bell or linemen Sam Hubbard or Trey Hendrickson. All were impact players in the huge upset of Kansas City. But Hill has caught my eye on this defense all season, and his athletic interception of Patrick Mahomes with 17 minutes left in the game and the Bengals trailing 21-13 was the biggest tide-turner all afternoon. Hill added one pressure, three blocks beaten (a PFF special stat) and one sack, as well as five tackles.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Evan McPherson, kicker, Cincinnati. Three weeks, three playoff games, three games of four field goals in each … with zero misses. McPherson won his second straight game with a field goal on the last play, a 31-yarder in Kansas City, as the Bengals earned their first trip to the Super Bowl in 33 years, 27-24, at Arrowhead Stadium. Amazing performance by a rookie. He hit field goals of 32, 31, 52 (to give Cincinnati a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter) and 31 yards to send the Bengals into delirium.
Coach of the Week
Lou Anarumo, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati. On Saturday, Giants GM Joe Schoen told me how impressed he was with Anarumo when the Giants interviewed him for their head-coaching job. I bet Andy Reid was impressed with Anarumo on Sunday. After Patrick Mahomes drove KC to touchdowns on the first three series of the game, Cincinnati held Mahomes and his offense to three points on their last eight series. KC went end of half (on the Eli Apple throwdown of Tyreek Hill near the goal line), punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, field goal, interception. Heck of a game against a team that had scored 42 in each of its first two playoff games this month.
Goat of the Week
Jaquiski Tartt, safety, San Francisco. It was the easiest interception Tartt ever had the opportunity to make. And he dropped it. With the Rams trailing 17-14 and driving in the fourth quarter, Matthew Stafford threw a long pass downfield and the intended target appeared to be Tartt. The ball caromed off Tartt’s hands, and the Rams went on to drive for a game-tying field goal. Kudos to Tartt for owning it after the game in this tweet, and I also liked the way Packers safety Adrian Amos put it:
Sometimes the hardest catches to make are those easy deep throws with nobody around .. feels like the football be up there forever .. too much time to think
— Adrian Amos (@_SmashAmos31) January 31, 2022
“When you’re up 21-3 in a game, you can’t lose it, and I put that on myself.”
—Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes.
He’s absolutely correct.
“I think the TV audience would have loved to see Josh [Allen] and our offense get it back … I think there’s some ways to do it. Let’s do something in the postseason when it’s all on the line. Let’s make sure we give both offenses a chance when the season’s on the line.”
—Buffalo GM Brandon Beane, on overtime.
“I’m not gonna sit here and make a farewell statement. I love coaching Jimmy.”
—49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, asked after Sunday’s loss about the future of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“This is gonna be like Disney World when we get there, the happiest place on earth.”
—Nathaniel Hackett, on Denver, talking to his family on the drive from his Green Bay home to the airport for the flight to Colorado, where he would be introduced as the new Denver head coach.
“Retirement, I don’t think, is the right word today.”
—Sean Payton, at his temporarily-walking-away-from-coaching press conference announcing he won’t coach the Saints anymore.
“Here are six words no one ever wants to hear: ‘Will you be on my podcast?’“
—FOX’s Joe Buck, ironically while appearing on a podcast (Jimmy Traina’s SI Media Podcast).
I listened to this song writing this item. Suggestion: Listen while you read it.
With the news that Tom Brady is on the verge of retirement, it feels like the changing of the guard is nearly complete at quarterback in the NFL. Of all the quarterbacks who entered the league between 2000 and 2005, 38-year-old Aaron Rodgers (first-round pick of the Packers in ’05) will be the last man standing if, as expected, Brady retires soon.
The QB replenishment seems to be going well.
NFL people should listen to this song pondering the future of the game, with the young quarterback population.
The Denver Broncos celebrated the hiring of head coach Nathaniel Hackett with a dinner at Shanahan’s Steakhouse in Denver Tech Center not far from the Broncos’ facility Friday night.
In a back room having dinner with friends was the man himself, former Denver coach Mike Shanahan. Hackett was invited back to meet Shanahan. “This feels like it’s out of the Godfather,” Hackett said. Shanahan welcomed Hackett to Denver in a warm, cordial 10-minute chat.
Shanahan’s age at time of Denver hire in 1995: 42.
Hackett’s age at time of Denver hire in 2022: 42.
Great factoid from the “Terry Bradshaw: Going Deep” documentary from NFL Films on HBO this week: He was tackled for a safety in his first career game against Houston, in his second career game against Denver, and in his third career game against Cleveland.
Safeties taken by Terry Bradshaw in his first three regular-season games: 3.
Safeties taken by Drew Brees in 287 regular-season games: 2.
— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) January 30, 2022
Allen, presumably watching on TV when the overtime coin toss went Kansas City’s way Sunday. Allen’s Bills lost the toss to start overtime eight days ago against Kansas City, and KC scored a TD on the first series, ending the game. The outcome was a little different this time.
Oh. My. God. The Bengals are in the Super Bowl!!!!!!
— John Legend (@johnlegend) January 30, 2022
Legend, born 80 miles north of Cincinnati, was a sick Bengals fan before he was one of the best singers in the world.
This is the most Boston interview to ever appear on local TV pic.twitter.com/xgBCPL7t2d
— Katie McInerney (@k8tmac) January 29, 2022
Katie McInerney is the Boston Globe’s assistant sports editor.
— Drew Leo (@DrewBleez) January 28, 2022
Drew Leo is a Saints fan.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 28, 2022
Listening in as the Broncos make the hire of Nathaniel Hackett.
On Brady and the Hall of Fame. From Sandra, of Toronto: “If Tom Brady does in fact retire, what are the chances that the Hall of Fame inducts him this year rather than make him wait the five years?”
I hope the chances are not good. There’s no reason for Brady to jump the line, as great as his career has been.
The Hall of Fame announcement delay. From Jonas Feit: “Something is either wrong with your timeline, or you left something out. Perhaps the day of the vote changed? Or the day of the HOF announcement? Too often, media people (and I mean nothing pejorative by that, just descriptive) assume a level or depth of knowledge of these minutiae not shared by even serious fans such as myself. What you wrote was very confusing.”
Sorry, Jonas. I should have been clearer. Traditionally, the Hall of Fame voters have met on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, and the vote is announced that evening. This year, the voters had the selection meeting on Jan. 18, with the announcement scheduled for the NFL Honors show on Thursday, Feb. 10, a 23-day gap.
Too much Brady. From Jim Kemp, of San Diego: “I enjoy your column, but one issue that has annoyed me on occasion is excessive coverage of and praise for the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, regardless of his team. This last weekend, full of amazing games, was a perfect example. In your column, when you got to the Rams-Buccaneers, most of the writeup was about Tom Brady, who played a mediocre game and lost. Who cares if he retires? The real story here is Matt Stafford.”
Jim, but I do empathize with your point about the Rams. That was the team that got the short end of my stick in the column. There are 35 hours between the opening kick of four games and the posting of my column. I reported from Green Bay, with some inside details of how the 49ers won late. I wrote some in the Lambeau press box, slept three hours, drove to Milwaukee to catch a flight home to see the Sunday games, talked to the man who scouted/drafted the hero of the first game (Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson), wrote on the plane, took a brief nap when I got home to Brooklyn, watched the last two games and wrote as much as I could.
I fully intended to write more about the Rams, but with the sheer drama of Bills-Chiefs, I was unable to do any writing while that game went on, and I chose to emphasize that game in the column as the secondary story to the game I covered. Then it was a sprint to the finish to get everything to the editor for a 3:30 a.m. posting. It’s just not possible to do justice to every game and event that happens in a four-game weekend.
As for the Brady aspect of your question, I wrote 270 words about the reports that he may retire, and that might have been his last game. I don’t consider that excessive in a 10,708-word column.
My readers had a lot to say about overtime and how it should be changed. What was interesting about the approximately 90 or so suggestions I got is how many thoughtful ones came from outside the United States. Thanks for all the ideas.
India checks in. From Saurabh Kulkarni of Pune, India: “It’s only fair that both teams get one chance. However, if that isn’t possible, then why not give the first opportunity to the team with lesser penalties accrued? Instead of a random coin toss, wouldn’t penalties be a fairer decision point?”
This from Wales. From Luke Scanlan of Cardiff, Wales: “Is it time for the NFL to adopt a points system in the standings? If a win in regulation is worth five points, you could then have a win in overtime worth three points, and one point each for a tie. It may encourage teams to take bigger shots at the end of regulation instead of playing for OT or to be less conservative in OT with extra points on the line.”
And from Canada. From Anthony Abrahams, of Vancouver: “Overtime in the NFL playoffs should be structured to add excitement to the game. The NFL has already modified playoff overtime by increasing the period from 10 to 15 minutes, so for another five minutes here is a format that could deliver a more exciting and equitable result: Play two 10-minute periods. The first is by regular rules, and whoever is leading at the end of 10 minutes wins the game. If at the end of 10 minutes the game is tied, begin a sudden-death period.”
Finally, from Chile. From Mark Helmantoler, of Santiago, Chile: “I would leave the regular season OT format unchanged. The season is already long and it behooves the NFL for games to end quicker to avoid injuries, fatigue, etc. My suggestion is this: If Team A wins the coin toss, goes down and scores a TD, Team B has one possession to try to match. But if Team A scores a touchdown and PAT, Team B has to attempt a two-point conversion. Team B can’t kick a PAT (unless Team A missed their PAT, in which case Team B could kick the extra point to win). That way it would ensure the game ends after that second possession.”
If I had to pick one, I’d pick the idea from Chile. It would add some strategy, too, for the team that wins the kickoff. Smarter to kick off or to receive, knowing exactly how many points you’d need if you got the ball second.
1. I think I liked the Terry Bradshaw doc, “Terry Bradshaw: Going Deep,” so much I screened it twice. Bradshaw’s open about so much—his depression, his three failed marriages, his near-disdain over being the first pick in the 1970 Draft out of Louisiana Tech (“Why would anyone pick me in the first round?”), Chuck Noll, waiting too long to retire. At one point in the 74-minute NFL Films-produced show (Tuesday night, HBO, 9 p.m.), Bradshaw talks so much about his failings in Pittsburgh and in marriage that you can see he’s almost disgusted with himself. It’s an honest show about what made him tick then and now, centered around one of the touring variety shows Bradshaw did recently in Branson, Mo. Three highlights for me:
• He sang “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and it reached 9 on the Billboard chart when Bradshaw was 27, mid-career in Pittsburgh. Almost half a century later, he sings it in his show.
• On doing the variety show: “I didn’t want to go through life without doing something—without accomplishing something. You want to separate yourself from everybody. Have I done it? I think when I won four Super Bowls I’d done it. But Joe Montana tied it, and Brady blew it away and got seven. He lost three too. So that’s not it. I loved entertaining. I did movies. I choose things that are extremely challenging. You think going out there on that stage is easy? I do it because it separates me. It puts me on a different path. Not everyone can do this.”
• He wanted to retire after the Steelers’ fourth Super Bowl, and he said his dad talked him out of it because the Rooney family had been so good to him. He said: “Winning didn’t satisfy you, because you had to do it again. As much as we accomplished, it was hard to enjoy. After Super Bowl 14, I told my dad, I need to retire. I’ve had enough of this. ‘Dad, four Super Bowls in nine years! Four Super Bowls in nine years. I like the sound of that.’ I didn’t have the balls to NOT come back … God I wish I’d have retired. That’d have been so cool.”
2. I think from the opening press conference and the early reviews, new Giants GM Joe Schoen looks the part of a modern GM who has paid his dues, learned the scouting game under excellent people, and knows the formidable task in front of him. The best thing Schoen said in his first couple of days on the job: He’s going to give Daniel Jones every chance to be the Giants’ long-term quarterback. When the Giants interviewed nine GM candidates for the job left vacant after the damaging reign of Dave Gettleman, eight said they were in Jones’ corner, including Schoen, the former Bills assistant GM. The Giants are convinced Jones has a chance to be the long-term guy. I’m dubious, but I do feel strongly that a player who was picked sixth in the draft and who has had some good moments in his first 38 games—throwing for 402 yards to best the Saints this year, going 4-2 in the division last year, showing the athleticism a modern QB needs—should not be jettisoned yet. As owner/president John Mara said the other day: “We’ve done every possible thing to screw this guy up.”
No Giants fan wants to hear a fervent defense of Jones, who has been hurt too much, been too careless with the ball and exited 2021 with what might be a serious neck injury. Jones will enter his fourth season in 2022 on his third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator. Jones has also had two different regular left tackles, two left guards, two centers and two right guards; and three different right tackles. The Giants haven’t had a 70-catch receiver in Jones’ three seasons.
Terry Bradshaw said something hauntingly familiar in his HBO documentary: In today’s football, he thinks the Steelers would have given up on him after three seasons. He was a 48-percent passer in his first three years, with 31 TDs and 58 interceptions. He’d lost his confidence. We get into this off-with-his-head mentality when evaluating young quarterbacks. How are you going to find out if the guy is the real solution if you give him three years, with the third year a mess because of massive receiver injuries and mayhem on the coaching staff?
“People give up on quarterbacks too soon,” Schoen told me Saturday. “Think about the five quarterbacks drafted in 2018. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have been in the same system, and look at their success. The other three quarterbacks—Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold. What do they have in common? Different head coaches, different systems.” Mayfield four head coaches, Darnold three and Rosen, I’ve lost count on coaches and teams. Now, the fire drill is on for Jones. He’s got a year to show Daboll and Schoen he’s the guy. But he does deserve a fourth year.
Quarterbacks mature in different ways. Look at the first three seasons of John Elway, Eli Manning and Daniel Jones:
Elway: 42 games, .534 accuracy, 47 TDs, 52 interceptions, 6.55 yards per attempt.
E. Manning: 41 games, .541 accuracy, 54 TDs, 44 interceptions, 6.31 yards per attempt.
Jones: 38 games, .628 accuracy, 45 TDs, 29 interceptions, 6.62 yards per attempt.
Oh—and in his first three years, Elway ran for 636 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average. Jones: 1,000 yards, 5.8 per rush.
Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, Manning a two-time Super Bowl winner with a good chance to make the Hall of Fame. Jones, with the best completion rate and TD/INT ratio, is a guy many Giants fans and New York talk show hosts want gone yesterday.
Now you certainly don’t guarantee Jones’ fifth-year option this offseason. If it costs you more to sign him later, so be it. This should be a prove-it year for Jones with a new staff. But let’s give the sixth pick in the 2019 draft a legit chance to play like one.
3. I think now you know my pet peeve about young quarterbacks: Teams, often at the behest of flighty, ticked-off fans, give up on high-drafted quarterbacks too soon. Big mistake.
4. I think there’s one other pet peeve of mine. First-ballot Hall of Famer. I got a bunch of questions after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger: Is he a first-ballot guy? Well, he’s certainly a Hall of Famer, in my book. But I always want to know who else will be eligible in a player’s first year. That will have something to do with who gets in, and when. Let’s just say, for instance, that the following players will be eligible for the first time in the Class of 2027:
It’s certainly not probable that all of those players will retire this offseason. I have no idea how much longer any of those players except the retiring Roethlisberger will play. The point is, five modern-era candidates can go in each year, max. And in 2027, do we know that there won’t be a leftover, a Philip Rivers or Eli Manning, who will get significant voter attention, to join what could be a formidable group of eligible players? I remember Cris Carter throwing a fit at not being elected in his first year, and maybe he had a point. But I wonder when Cris Carter is introduced at banquets or as a TV guest if the announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the sixth-ballot Hall of Famer, Cris Carter!” Of course not. No one knows. No one cares.
I have sat in the voting room for 30 years. And the emphasis on the first-ballot thing I just do not get. Is Richard Dent less of a Hall of Famer because he entered the Hall in his ninth year of eligibility? Is the bronze bust of Mike Ditka tarnished because he got in on his 11th try? When Fran Tarkenton retired in 1978, the NFL was 59 seasons old, and Tarkenton had more passing yards and touchdowns than any quarterback in history. He entered the Hall on the third ballot. So that’s what I think of all the chatter about first-ballot Hall of Famers.
5. I think I would also ask you very kindly, please, to get off my lawn.
6. I think I’m intrigued to see where Sean Payton lands as he becomes a TV/coaching free agent. My gut says Payton does TV for a couple of years (FOX booth? Amazon Thursday night studio?), then hits the market to coach again in 2024. And let’s not forget how Payton started his last gig. Two days before his first draft with the Saints in 2006, rookie coach Payton stopped by a Habitat for Humanity build, post-Katrina, in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. “If we win, I know we can help the community heal. It’s part of our duty,” Payton said that day. That same day, the mayor of New Orleans told me he hoped that, if the Saints did ever move, they’d give the city a year or two of joy to help them over the Katrina rebound. Payton did his part. In averaging 10.7 wins a year, with nine playoff appearances and one Super Bowl win in 16 years, he and Drew Brees and GM Mickey Loomis spearheaded the revival of football in a city that lives for this team—surviving the bounty blemish that scarred the team in 2012.
7. I think I’ll always wonder how much passing on Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft haunted Raiders owner Al Davis before he died. The Raiders drafted Robert Gallery, a tackle from Iowa, number two overall, and he never justified the hype in eight NFL seasons. Roethlisberger went 11th to Pittsburgh. He was the perfect big-armed quarterback Al Davis always pined. The Raiders needed a quarterback and passed on a prototypical one for the franchise. That had to have stayed with Al. Three years later he drafted a quarterback he fervently hoped would be Roethlisberger, and JaMarcus Russell never came close.
8. I think for those of you who remember the origin days of The MMQB, you probably know that Andy Benoit, one of our original staffers in 2013, went on to bigger and much better things as an aide to Rams coach Sean McVay. And this morning, Andy Benoit is 60 minutes from winning a Super Bowl ring. Kind of cool.
9. I think the NFL, and some of its smartest football scouts, deserve kudos for putting on the HBCU Combine over the weekend. The event, held in Mobile, Ala., is designed to be sure that some prospects who might be overlooked at the historically black colleges get their dues in front of NFL scouts. It’s not just workouts and measurements; each of the 39 prospects got to meet NFL scouts, GMs and influencers, including former Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, who helped run the event. Virginia State cornerback/safety Will Adams is a perfect example of a player who wasn’t invited to the Indianapolis combine and wasn’t prominent on any teams’ boards entering the weekend. “He’s long, explosive and athletic,” Pioli said. “He’s the kind of player teams left here saying, ‘We’ve got to find out more about this guy.’ That’s the purpose of this—to give legitimate prospects the exposure they deserve.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Kudos Rafael Nadal. Five hours and 24 minutes of incredible exertion. Forget the incredible tennis. How many people in the world are that fit, to be able to play at a championship level for five-and-a-half hours? Wow.
b. Why would the USA and Canada play a World Cup qualifier at the same start time as the AFC Championship Game? What sense does that make?
c. Late-Night Appearance of the Week: Peyton Manning with Colin Jost on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. My favorite Manning line? “The French have a saying: Parlez-vous Francais? Which means, You do you, girl.”
Peyton Manning stopped by Update to talk…Emily in Paris? pic.twitter.com/mjq9s09MaD
— Saturday Night Live – SNL (@nbcsnl) January 30, 2022
d. Manning’s already in the SNL Guest Host Hall of Fame for being the mean coach who beans little kids on the football field. And this one’s right up there too.
e. Best TV show I watched last week: “Roberto Clemente,” the American Experience documentary on PBS.
f. What a hero. There is no other word for him. A great ballplayer who gave his life on a mission of mercy on a rickety plane to help victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve 1972. The plane crashed in the Caribbean, and Clemente, 38, was never found.
g. So many touching moments of the doc, which chronicled Clemente dealing with racial animus in spring training in Florida, and in dealing with the local media in Pittsburgh. What hit me most was when the Pirates were flying home from winning the World Series in Baltimore in 1971 in seven games, and Clemente got out of his seat and approached pitcher Steve Blass, who threw a four-hitter to beat the Orioles 2-1 in Game 7 a couple of hours earlier. Blass said in the show that Clemente said, “C’mer Blass. Let me embrace you.” Blass said the thought of it gives him goosebumps today: one of the all-time greats going out of his way to seek out a good pitcher, but not Marichal or Gibson or Drysdale, and asking him for a hug. “It validated everything I ever thought could happen to me in the game of baseball,” Blass said. So many cool scenes like that one.
h. Count me among the dinosaurs. I could not have voted for serial cheaters Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
i. John Feinstein wrote a good column in the Washington Post that I mostly agree with about Bonds and Clemens. There is more than enough evidence to convince me that Bonds and Clemens used PEDs, and it affected their career achievements.
j. Regarding David Ortiz: That would have been a decision for me, but based on what I have read, I probably would have voted for him. Ortiz was alleged to have tested positive one time, in 2003, in a confidential testing program run by MLB that some drug experts later cast aspersions on. I read Game of Shadows, and there’s a lot more than one possible brush with PEDs there with Bonds. Ortiz never tested positive in his final 13 years in the bigs, and he hit 452 homers over that time. Again: I do not cover baseball, and if I did, I may know more about all three players that would cause me to feel differently. But that’s how I see it from the bleachers.
k. Baseball has a character clause for the Hall of Fame. That would include, for my vote, cheating. Football does not have a character clause for its Hall of Fame. So drug users or cheaters in any way are to be judged on what they did on the field. It’s a fine line, to be sure. But just as I was adamant that Lawrence Taylor’s four-game drug suspension couldn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame, I was also adamant that you could hold it against him that he left his team high and dry for the four games he missed. At the same time, you couldn’t eliminate him from consideration because of it.
l. Column of the Week: John Canzano of the Oregonian on a Montana play-by-play person, Mark Martello, who made some cracks about a teenage Portland State women’s college basketball player from Chicago and the city of Portland that got him fired.
m. Martello wasn’t sorry and didn’t apologize. He was fired, and he said the truth hurts.
n. A teenager goes from Chicago to Portland for college and to play basketball, and some ignoramus says stuff like that. As Canzano wrote of the players at Portland State, who are going through a miserable year of postponements and makeup games:
They’re just college kids doing their best while traveling more than 3,000 miles to play four games in a two-week period. I suspect Martello was fired more for his failure to apologize than his initial comments and in that he got what he deserved.
Portland—the city—has work to do. The brand is broken. The homelessness problem is heart wrenching and needs attention. A downtown clean-up is needed and the images broadcast nationally over the last couple of years aren’t flattering. But none of that is on the women who suit up and play basketball at Portland State. They’re sweating and sacrificing and doing their best.
o. Good work, John Canzano.
p. Journalism Story of the Week: Tim Layden of NBC Sports, on the reverberations of a story he did 24 years ago, still felt years later.
q. What really struck me in this story was a passage about how this business works. You try to get to the bottom of stories, of course, and you succeed sometimes, but many times there are things hidden that the subject doesn’t want aired and won’t talk about, and you do your best, and then you move on to the next story. Layden hit a home run here, in recounting his story about skier Picabo Street at the 1998 Olympics. Wrote Layden:
Herein lies a hard reality about the relationship between writers and those whom they—we—write about, notably in the world of sports feature-writing and featurized event reporting, where we strive to capture the essence of a subject, constrained by time, circumstance and most of all, truths that a subject withholds, or that we fail to find. As journalists, even at our best and most earnest, we access only a slice of a subject’s life, captured at a singular moment, framed by the emotions of that moment—victory or defeat, celebration or despair; medal or no medal; self-assurance or fear. We take a snapshot and hope it holds.
And our work almost always requires some cleanup, occasionally because we got something wrong, or much more often because we got it right, and opened a wound. But we move quickly on to the next story, because moving on to the next story is the literal job description. The subject is left behind, either elevated by our praise, stung by our criticism or revealed, and seen, in ways that can be painful.
r. Hey Jeff Garcia: Here’s how the football business works. Players play, analysts say what they think, and we all go on our way. You certainly have a right to express your opinion about what ESPN analyst Mina Kimes says about Jimmy Garoppolo, as sexist and demeaning as your words were. But it’s not worth losing your mind.
s. Hey Kim Jones: You’re a pro, you’re great on TV, you report and we decide, and I wish you the best in your next gig after NFL Network.
t. Now a nod to my friend John Czarnecki, retiring at 73 after being one of the originals at FOX Sports covering the NFL beginning in 1993. FOX brought him over from CBS as it did with so many others, Czar a mostly behind-the-scenes editorial consultant. He’s been an info-nugget guy for FOX NFL Sunday since the jump, giving Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long et al some of the tidbits they’ve used on the air for years.
u. Czar, who has covered the NFL for 43 years, is one of the first people who taught me how to cover the NFL as a league. When I was a Giants’ beat reporter in the eighties, I remember seeing him sidle up to Bill Parcells and they were friendly, and I thought: How can a guy from the West—Czar covered the Rams and the league for California papers in the eighties—know the coach of the team I cover? Turns out it was just hard work, covering the Giants as a Pro Football Writers pool reporter in Super Bowl week (I learned from him to always raise my hand for that duty), and having more phone numbers than the rest of us. Notable thing: I have lived my entire professional life in the Eastern Time Zone. Czar, Pacific Time. And I could never call or text him too early. Last Sunday, I wanted to ask him something. I was in Wisconsin. It was 7:19 a.m. “Are you still asleep?” I texted. (WELL NOT NOW YOU IDIOT!) “Just got up,” he texted back at 5:19 a.m. his time, and it did not surprise me he was awake. I am, however, a cruel friend.
v. Czar is a very good friend to Terry Bradshaw. “We have become best buddies,” Bradshaw said Saturday. “We’ve worked together for 32 years, going back to CBS. I couldn’t trust anyone any more than I trust Czar. He is as connected as any reporter in the business. He’s my total confidante when it comes to anything in the NFL.”
w. Czar has been a model of work and excellent reporting. More than that, he’s been a conscience to me. So many times I’d run a story past him and asked him what he thought. Use it? Is it any good? Do I need more? We all need those people in our lives, and I’m lucky I had Czar for lo these many years. I tip my cap to him this morning.