The Super Bowl week FMIA kicks off in predawn Cincinnati, however. It’s dead silent in Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor’s neighborhood. Bengals-Rams, the Super Bowl LVI match no one on earth saw coming on Labor Day, is the next game, but glitzy L.A. and the game seem very far away.
CINCINNATI — Dark. Nearly pitch black. At 5:20 a.m., last Tuesday, I inched my rental car onto Bengals coach Zac Taylor’s street on the east side of town, and a deer stood in the middle of his street. The deer wouldn’t move. Must be a city deer. I drove maybe 3 mph around it, till I was clear. It still hadn’t moved as I parked, then walked the last 40 yards to Taylor’s driveway. Two rabbits sprinted out of the last yard next to his house as I walked by.
Not the normal feel of a place 13 minutes from an NFL stadium.
“This used to be a forest,” the Cincinnati coach said as he pulled his White Tahoe out of the silent development, “so we get our share of wildlife here.”
Now the wildlife is the shocked Cincinnati populace. Wouldn’t you be shocked if your team, 4-11-1 last year, was headed for the Super Bowl for the first time since Zac Taylor was 5? Wouldn’t you be shocked if phenom QB and Bengals historian Joe Burrow (more about that soon), in the span of eight days, sent home top-seeded Tennessee and heavy favorite two-seed Kansas City, less than four years after Burrow was sent into out-of-state exile by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer?
It’s all crazy. When I asked Burrow’s dad Jimmy, by text, if this season ever feels like a dream, he texted back, “Every day.”
Taylor understands why the world is shocked. He’s not. He seems … grateful. The first thing we talked about: the game balls he and some players were spreading on surprise visits throughout the region—five per playoff victory, over the Ohio River at Walt’s Hitching Post in Fort Wright, Ky., up north in Mason at 16 Lots Brewing, on the west side at Maloney’s Pub West in Delhi, in a city neighborhood at Gametime, downtown on the river at the Holy Grail, and, closer to Taylor’s hood in Mount Lookout, at Zip’s Café, Delwood and Mount Lookout Tavern.
Where’d that game-ball idea originate?
“You’ll drive through, late on a Thursday night, Friday night, or coming home on a Sunday night from a road game or home game,” Taylor said, motioning to Delwood as he drove past. “Just packed. That’s not something we really get to experience during the season, people celebrating games. I always kind of dreamed of big moments and being able to go in there and share that with the people. They’ve been through a lot here. Some really fun moments that I got to enjoy with a lot of really cool people.”
A lot of people who, judging by the weepy videos of Bengaldom all over YouTube, are a lot more shocked than the flat-line Taylor. At 38, Taylor got his first NFL job coaching quarterbacks at Miami 10 years ago, then got here by being a branch on the red-hot Sean McVay coaching tree in 2019. Taylor didn’t know, obviously, after starting 6-25-1 in his first two years, that he’d be in the Super Bowl in year three. But year three brought beautiful play from Burrow, who has ascended to the lofty peak of Mahomesville in a flash, and better defense than anyone thought was possible, and a rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, who’s been hotter than any rookie kicker in the 102-year history of the NFL.
“I think it was impossible to know in training camp,” Taylor said. “We knew we had the right character and we had enough talent. But how was it gonna jell together? As you get really to the midway point in the season, you know what this league is about. It’s about getting hot in December. We started playing really good football after the [Nov. 14] bye. We felt like if we could just learn from some of these mistakes we made early in the season, anything is possible. That’s really how it’s played out for us. We’re winning these playoff games because we’re winning these close games. Our players have been situational masters.”
Four or five times in our 35 minutes together, Taylor talked about how smart his team is. Lots of coaches say that. But what does it mean?
Taylor thought of Burrow, and the play that put the Bengals into field-goal position to win in overtime. That’s how far ahead Burrow thinks. Early in the fourth quarter, against a certain KC coverage, Burrow told Taylor he wanted to run a 2-by-2 formation similar to a play they ran earlier when Ja’Marr Chase drew a pass-interference flag. Burrow wanted Higgins wide left, Chase wide right, and two receivers inside them, and he wanted Chase to run a shallow flat route to draw coverage, and Higgins ran a slant from left to right, about eight yards downfield.
Taylor said: “Joe said, this is how I want it called, this is where I want everyone at. I think Tee’s gonna get the ball.”
Taylor called it eight pass plays later, a full quarter later.
Higgins did get the ball. Gain of eight. Ball at the KC 32, and in field-goal range for McPherson.
“Joe is so prepared,” Taylor said. “That’s where the confidence comes from. I don’t see one ounce of false confidence with him. Everybody in our building sees how prepared he is on a Wednesday. We see it in the Saturday meetings when we’re doing our final quarterback meetings, and we’re playing Jeopardy.”
Jeopardy? Do tell.
“Pretty sure [former Bengals assistant] Alex Van Pelt started it with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay,” said assistant receivers coach Brad Kragthorpe, who’s the host of “Quarterback Jeopardy” the night before every game. “Alex was here a couple years. He’s in Cleveland now, but we’re still doing it.”
Who wins most often?
“I think it’s fair to say Joe wins more than his share,” Kragthorpe said.
The rules to Quarterback Jeopardy:
Six contestants, with turns taken in order by age, youngest to oldest. Burrow (25), number three QB Jake Browning (25), backup QB Brandon Allen (29), QB coach Dan Pitcher (34), offensive coordinator Brian Callahan (37), Taylor (38). This is not your father’s NFL: Oldest man in the room is 38.
Five categories, five questions in each. Twenty-five questions total, ranging from 100 to 500 points (just like the real game). If someone gets a question wrong, the next player can answer, then double-dip by answering his regularly scheduled question next.
Each player gets four questions. Kragthorpe keeps score, and he’s the arbiter in case of disputes.
There is a Final Jeopardy. At the end of the regular round, each player can wager any amount of his total for Final Jeopardy. Kragthorpe invents a Bengals history question, or some other wild card question. Each player writes the answer down, then Kragthorpe goes player-by-player to determine who gets the question correct.
Before the AFC Championship Game, the host and six players gathered before the evening team meeting in a meeting room at the Loews Kansas City to play. Game on.
Burrow went first.
“Chiefs Defense for 300,” Burrow said.
List all of the starters in the Chiefs’ sub package at linebacker and defensive back, the position they play, the key backups, and a strength and a weakness for each one.
Burrow started the answer, naming two linebackers (Willie Gay, Anthony Hitchens), and saying Nick Bolton comes in at times. He named five DBs: left corner Charvarius Ward, right corner L’Jarius Sneed, nickel Mike Hughes—“Rashad Fenton subs in,” Burrow said—with Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill starting at safety “and Daniel Sorensen plays” in various packages, he said. [I could not learn the strengths/weaknesses.]
Nine players. Burrow went nine for nine.
Final Jeopardy: In the two previous times the Bengals won the AFC Championship, who did the Bengals play, and who was our starting quarterback?
Burrow: Cincinnati over San Diego, 1981, with Ken Anderson at QB. Cincinnati over Buffalo, 1988, with Boomer Esiason at QB.
Bright guy. Studies defenses and the media guide.
The night before Burrow led the Bengals back from a 21-3 deficit to win the franchise’s first AFC title in 33 years, he won Quarterback Jeopardy. Was there ever a doubt?
Taylor was pulling into his parking space underneath Paul Brown Stadium now. The subject turned to the Super Bowl.
“Joe’s built for these stages,” Taylor said. “I think he’s played in state championship games in high school. He’s played in national championship games in college. He always knew he was gonna be on this stage in the NFL. It’s something he’s envisioned and worked towards and expected it to happen. I’m very confident that he’ll walk onto that field a very confident quarterback.”
Who knows what the big day brings for the emotions of Taylor? For now, he’s not gee-whiz about it. He grew up in football-mad Norman, Okla., son of a coach and eventually became the son-in-law of one. His wife Sarah is the daughter of former Packers coach Mike Sherman. Taylor is one of the Sean McVay tree branches. He was on McVay’s first Rams staff in 2017 as a receivers coach, and graduated to QB coach in 2018, the year the Rams got to the Super Bowl against New England. That catapulted Taylor onto the Bengals’ radar after they fired Marvin Lewis. So, yes, Taylor will coach against one of his former bosses, McVay. He’s grateful for what he learned from McVay—“Everybody feels like they’re a part of what we were doing”—and he said he loved walking into work every morning because it was imagination overload.
“Sean’s so outgoing, obviously,” Taylor said. “So positive, so inclusive. And this is a good story for everyone. But we have no focus on that. Every week, you’re close to somebody on the other sideline. It’s just part of being in the NFL.”
Pupil doesn’t sound like he’ll be overwhelmed by teacher on the other sideline Sunday. Doesn’t seem like his quarterback will be either.
THE PLAINS, Ohio — I met Jimmy Burrow in the back booth at Gigi’s Country Kitchen, the In spot in the hometown of Joe Burrow, actually one of the only spots in this town of 2,946. Jimmy, the retired Ohio University defensive coordinator, waved to me when I walked in, then took the seat with his back to the door, so folks here for lunch wouldn’t know JOE BURROW’S FATHER was in the house. “Otherwise we’d get interrupted a lot,” he said.
Joe Burrow has had an omelet named after him here: The Burrow. It’s a Western omelet, the quarterback’s favorite order growing up. (With double fries.) So they named the thing after him. I had The Burrow, minus the peppers, with the bottomless cup of coffee. Delicious.
Jimmy Burrow is uniquely qualified to analyze his son. On fall Sundays during Joe’s formative years, when Jimmy was grading the tape from his Saturday game, his OU office overlooked the field at the university’s football stadium, Peden Stadium. That’s where the youth football leagues in the area played their weekly games. That’s where Joe Burrow got his start, and Jimmy has watched regularly ever since—at Athens High School, at LSU after retiring before Joe’s 2019 college season so he could watch all of his son’s games, and now with the Bengals.
As a defensive coach, I wondered, what impresses you about Joe Burrow the quarterback?
“Probably the main thing is how he can process coverages, blitzes and movement on defense,” Jimmy said. “When a quarterback can look at a defense after the snap of the ball and understand so quickly what they’re doing and how to attack it, that’s a skill that simply can’t be quantified. As a defensive coordinator up in the press box, I always thought about what was happening next. Now, when I watch Joe, I see how defenses play him. The other day in Kansas City, they said, ‘Let’s double Ja’Marr [Chase].’ You could see Joe—he was fine with that. He had Tee Higgins, and he went to him in those big spots.”
Dad wasn’t as forthcoming when I asked how he’d gameplan against his son.
“Well,” Jimmy Burrow said, “I think you see blitzes aren’t really a good thing against him.”
The numbers bear it out. In 20 regular-season and postseason games this year, here’s Burrow against the blitz, and against regular pressure:
Vs. blitz: 101 completions, 140 attempts (.721), 11.20 yards per attempt, 120.2 rating.
Vs. regular rush: 340 completions, 489 attempts (.695), 7.98 YPA, 102.2 rating.
That yards-per-attempt number is startling. Think of it: On average, Burrow is good for 3.2 yards more per pass play when blitzed. The Rams defense blitzed on 29.7 percent of the snaps this year, per Pro Football Focus. I would think that scouting Burrow, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has to be thinking: We’ve got Aaron Donald to occupy attention, we’ve got Von Miller from the edge on 70 percent of the snaps, so let’s not rush more than four too much.
Growing up, Joe Burrow wasn’t a film nerd, and didn’t sit in to watch his dad break down film much. He was busy playing three sports, something his father is bullish on for young athletes. “I never wanted him to dread practice, in any sport,” Jimmy said. “He loved football, basketball and baseball. Turned out he played all of them through the eighth grade, and then there was just so much of a commitment going into high school in football and basketball—traveling all over the place for basketball. I do think if you asked him, he’d say his biggest regret growing up was not playing high school baseball. He was a pitcher and played shortstop, and all his friends played. But in all those sports, the competition is so good for a young kid. We loved that he loved them all.”
I wondered what sport Joe Burrow would have picked if he had to choose just one entering Athens High. Jimmy thought for a minute. He said basketball.
“He was a great 3-point shooter,” Jimmy said. “It wouldn’t be a shock to me today if he picked basketball that he’d be an off-guard in the NBA shooting threes. You saw at LSU that after he hadn’t picked up a basketball for two years how well he can shoot.” Prior to the LSU-Oklahoma national semifinal in 2019, players from each team shot threes against each other, and Burrow hit six straight.
Jimmy Burrow had one more story about his son. Much of our time wasn’t on football analysis. He said he and his wife Robin were proudest of their son for things like sharing the credit after wins, and for living his life with good core values. “We tried to raise him with respect, discipline and caring about others,” Jimmy Burrow said. “Respect your teammate, respect your opponents. After the national championship game at LSU, I saw him walk off the field with the ball. I figured it’d be great for him to have it, either to keep it or maybe someday sell it. So I asked him about the ball. He said, ‘I gave it to Ja’Marr. Dad, he had like 200 yards receiving. He deserved it.’ “
Musings on the hot topics from another wild week in the NFL
Two Coach Vacancies Left
With Miami’s appointment of San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as head coach Sunday night, only New Orleans and Houston have vacancies remaining. So far, six of the seven head-coach hires have come from the offensive side of the ball. McDaniel, 38, is multiracial, so he becomes the first minority coach hired in this cycle, and the fourth minority coach in the NFL. (The others: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, the Jets’ Robert Saleh and the Commanders’ Ron Rivera.)
The McDaniel path started when he was a 5-9, 146-pound backup wide receiver at Yale two decades ago. In the span of a few months, he went from the Yale campus to an intern under the gruff and demanding offensive line coach Alex Gibbs in Denver. Six teams later, in 2021, Kyle Shanahan promoted him to offensive coordinator with the Niners. McDaniel prides himself on communication, which may have been big with Miami; owner Stephen Ross identified a lack of communication as one reason why he fired Brian Flores. I hear one positive point for McDaniel was Miami learning Deebo Samuel spent a half-hour in his offensive coordinator’s office every Tuesday as that week’s game plan was being finalized. Samuel, in a recommendation to Miami, also credited McDaniel with teaching him how to be a better pro.
For Miami, McDaniel means a new tutor for Tua Tagovailoa. McDaniel prides himself being a one-to-one teacher, and his job will be to try to improve Tagovailoa’s 6.6 yards-per-attempt and 88.8 passer rating in his first two seasons.
One last point: the Mike Shanahan coaching tree has been incredibly fruitful. On his Washington staff a decade ago: Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and McDaniel. Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett coached under LaFleur, while Zac Taylor (Bengals) and Kevin O’Connell (Vikings) coached under McVay. So in the last five years, seven coaches who worked under Mike Shanahan or his disciples have gotten head-coaching jobs. That’s a significant plus for Mike Shanahan’s Hall of Fame coaching candidacy.
My Idea On Black Coaches
There are four minority head coaches in the NFL, in addition to four Black offensive coordinators and four Black QB coaches, with two head-coach jobs and several staff positions still filling out. With owners looking toward offensive staffers to fill the majority of the head-coaching gigs, it’s clear the NFL and its owners are in a grim race backward. (Worth noting: ESPN reported Sunday night that the Texans were in talks to make defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, who is Black, the next head coach. Smith, of course, formerly was head coach with the Bears and Bucs, and at Illinois.) We can probably all agree with Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who is Black and the head of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches, who told me Saturday, before the McDaniel hire: “No disrespect to the Rooneys, but the Rooney Rule is really the Rooney Suggestion. It’s not working.” So now what?
Originally I thought the NFL should address this by incentivizing the hiring of minority coaches, GMs and coordinators by increasing the salary cap for teams that make those hires, or by handing high draft choices to teams that do. But many minority candidates would see that as an insult. Plus it’s a Band-Aid, not a solution.
Instead, I’d recommend this rule: Every team would be required, starting with the 2022 regular season, to have a full-time minority coach who would touch the quarterback and passing game every day. Not a quality-control coach, but rather an assistant quarterbacks coach, or some such title. This coach would work alongside the coordinator, quarterback coach and quarterbacks in the granular world of teaching/coaching the most important position on the field—and increase the pool owners are so desperate to choose from right now.
Teams that already have a front-facing Black or minority coach in place (Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Saints QB coach Ronald Curry, for instance) would not be required to make such a hire. Locksley told me there are probably 25 Black coordinators/quarterback coaches in the 10 major college conferences, and many more in the HBCU ranks who could be NFL hiring targets. At, say, an investment of $200,000 per team, it’s the best way I can think of to increase the pipeline that has run so dry.
“You’re on the right track,” Locksley told me. “You’ve got to be able to touch the quarterback to get in that pool to rise in the NFL. But I’m not sure of even that. Lately, the goalposts keep moving. But I can tell you: The [Black] coaches are out there.”
My idea would not solve the problem today of owners hiring a vast majority of whites at the feeder coaching positions. It would take three to five years, I’d guess, for the new arrangement of minority offensive candidates to bear fruit. I’m sure there are other ideas out there. But Goodell could use the power of his office to forcefully suggest minority hiring, immediately, to get a more productive pipeline flowing.
The Brian Flores Case
I’ve been covering the NFL for 38 years, and the biggest legal thorn in the NFL’s side since 1984 was Al Davis’ consistent war with the league over where the Raiders would play. Jerry Jones challenging how teams could use their marks and team sponsorships was more of an inside-baseball thing. The case of ex-Miami coach Brian Flores is far different, and more threatening to the powerful and influential in the league. If what Flores claims is true—that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him money to tank to get a better 2020 draft choice, and that the Giants conducted a sham interview with him after already deciding to hire Brian Daboll as coach—then Ross will certainly be forced to sell his team, and the flagship Giants franchise will be badly tarnished. Ross denies he did it, and the Giants deny they had a prior deal with Daboll before the Flores interview. So here we are.
There’s the threat of collateral damage along the way, particularly to Bill Belichick and the often-shadowy way teams pick coaches. Flores detailed his suspicions—that people like Belichick are kingmakers who have too much power over coach-hiring. Now, if true, proving that will be highly difficult. But Flores told Jay Williams on his NPR podcast: “I do think that there are back-channel conversations and back-channel meetings that are had that often times influence decisions. I think [the Giants hiring process] is a clear example of that. Here’s Bill Belichick, his résumé speaks for itself. He has influence. It was clear that that decision was made with his influence. That’s part of the problem. That needs to change.”
Two legal experts went through the case point-by-point with me. One, University of New Hampshire law director Michael McCann, told me the NFL will begin the fight with Flores by trying to have the case tossed; if it isn’t, then probably moving the case to confidential arbitration. (See: St. Louis versus the NFL, where the NFL settled by paying the city $790 million to avoid having top execs and owners deposed and risking a court case.) “The NFL will try to settle long before a trial ever happens,” said McCann, also a legal expert for Sportico. “To get to a trial would take a lot of things to happen. But in the case of his charge against the Giants, the Giants can say Daboll hadn’t been hired yet, and if he hadn’t signed an employment contract with the team before Flores was interviewed, then the facts would be really muddled. That’s problematic for him.”
The charges against Ross are more explosive. Flores alleged that in 2019, his first year as Dolphins head coach, Ross offered him bonuses of $100,000 per game if the team lost—to get a higher first-round draft pick in 2020, when Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa would be available. If true, Ross could not have known what record Miami would have needed to cop the top overall pick, but he did know—again, if true—that losing was Miami’s best option. As it turns out, because Cincinnati finished 2-14 and earned the top pick with a .545 strength of schedule, Miami would have had to be 1-15 that year because of its far weaker strength of schedule (.481). It’s hard to go 1-15. And Ross certainly should have known that Flores, who associates say is a principled person, would never have agreed to lose games on purpose. Miami finished 5-11 and picked fifth. As it was, the Dolphins could still have picked Herbert, who clearly has been a better player than the QB Miami chose, Tagovailoa.
So Miami actually failed twice. They failed to lose spectacularly enough to earn the Burrow pick. They failed when picking Tagovailoa over Herbert.
If Flores can prove the case—and he’d better have at least one rock-solid witness—the implications would be massive. It could force the NFL to confront tanking and change the draft to a lottery, as the NBA does. It would force Ross to sell the franchise and perhaps to be charged with a crime. And with the NFL being in bed with gambling companies all of a sudden, the league would have to put more guardrails in place to assure there’s no funny business with the outcome of games. There’s a lot at stake.
The NFL’s Job Now
Frankness would help. Two hours after the Flores news exploded, the league issued a statement that said his claims “are without merit.” A day later, Chris Mortensen reported the NFL would investigate Flores’ allegations about Ross and tanking. And Saturday, Goodell sent an email to all top club personnel acknowledging the efforts to improve diversity in coach hiring “have been unacceptable,” and “outside experts” would be brought in to review what’s wrong.
Which is it? “Without merit?” Or we’re serious about getting to the bottom of tanking a day later? Or it’s so bad we’ll engage outside experts to help us out of this quality quicksand? All those reactions, in the grand total of a four-day time span.
Goodell wields significant power among owners here. As much as the public thinks he’s a human shield to block damage to the 32 owners—and he is—Goodell also has shown he has the power and the conscience to push things that are good for the game. When there’s a rules proposal that he and the Competition Committee believe is best for the league (i.e., moving the PAT line back 13 yards in 2015 to make it a competitive play), Goodell can arm-twist with the best of commissioners. He needs to do that with the 32 owners. Now.
Whatever the progress point, and it must be more than cosmetic, Goodell needs to take some of the decision-making out of the owners’ hands. They’ve proven time and again that they talk a good game and say they’re all-in on making coaching ranks more diverse. Then, nothing. That’s why the next move should be a mandatory move by the league—as in my idea about the mandatory hiring of a minority coach who would touch the quarterback and the passing game daily—or the idea of implementing a system to reach a minimum number of minority coaches at the top positions around the league.
The Daniel Snyder Debacle
Last week was not a good one for the Washington NFL franchise, despite the pomp surrounding the rebranding of the “Washington Commanders.”
Dan Snyder – “Welcome to not the best kept secret in Washington…We are the Washington Commanders” pic.twitter.com/nhcBX2gpQc
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) February 2, 2022
The bad news:
• A Congressional committee investigating the NFL’s handling of the Washington franchise’s sexual-harassment case disclosed that either the league or the team could block results of the league’s investigation into behavior by team officials. The Washington Post reported that two top Democrats wrote to Goodell that the meaning of the agreement was that “either the WFT or the NFL could try to bury the finding of the investigation.” The Post also reported the Congressional committee discovered a letter claiming the lead of the WFT investigation, Beth Wilkinson, would complete a written report after her probe. Such a written report was never issued, and the Congressional investigators claim Goodell instructed Wilkinson to provide an oral report only. Odd, considering the investigations into Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case (96 pages) and Tom Brady/Deflategate (243 pages) were voluminous.
Number of public words in the accusation that some footballs were partially deflated in New England: 82,000.
Number of public words in the probe of more than 40 women claiming they were harassed and abused by members of the Washington staff: zero.
• Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing employee of the Washington franchise, made new claims against Snyder. She said he put his hand on her thigh during a business dinner and broke free of his attempt to get her to ride in his limousine after the dinner. Snyder called the claims “outright lies.” The league said it would investigate.
Thoroughly and with a written report, I’m sure.
Tom Brady Rides Into The Sunset
At the age of 44, Tom Brady threw for 312.7 yards per game, second-best in his 22-year career. His 43 TD passes were second only to the 50 he threw in New England’s 16-0 season (with Randy Moss) in 2007. So he walked away totally healthy, knowing he could still play two, three more years, and he walked away six months before he reached his stated goal (a decade ago) of playing till he was 45. Why? Times change. Emotions change. Families change. I haven’t spoken to Brady, but I assume it’s a fairly innocent retirement. He’s had enough football, wants to do other things, and wants to be there more for his family.
I think his legacy should be significantly fuller than just being perhaps the greatest football player of all time (isn’t that enough?), with his seven Super Bowl wins. His legacy should be that he showed future generations of athletes in all sports that, if you take care of yourself religiously and intelligently, you can play years longer than people in your position group have played in prior generations. It helps that the NFL has put quarterback in veritable bubble wrap now, but the QB has to do his part for 365 days a year. Brady did.
I remember being with Brady five years ago this week, after he engineered the Patriots’ comeback from 28-3 down against Atlanta to win that Super Bowl in overtime. I met him for an extended conversation in Montana a week after the game, and he spent maybe 10 minutes talking about how his alternative training methods helped him play 99 plays—the most in any game of his career—in the last game of a long season.
“Feel my arm,” Brady said, when we walked outside of his vacation cabin.
I felt the forearm and the biceps, and neither were rock solid. They were pliable, one of Brady’s favorite words. He didn’t train to look like The Rock. He trained to do what a quarterback has to do—be flexible and strong.
“Strength is very important to [my] job,” Brady said to me. “But how much strength do you need? You only need the strength to withstand the hits and throw the ball and make your movements of being a quarterback. You need conditioning because you need to be able to do that over a period of time, certainly a season. You need muscle pliability—long, soft muscles—in order to be durable.
“I’ve worked hard to get a system in place that really works for me and I know could work for everybody else if they just did it … It has become my life. Every choice that I make … what I have for breakfast, how I work out, all of those things.”
I wonder how many quarterbacks in the next 30, 40 years will play till 43, 45, maybe 47, and when they retire, credit Brady and his methods for the longevity. I never asked Brady, but I bet that would mean more to him than quarterbacks telling him what a great player he was.
My wife and I are Winter Olympic nerds. We watched curling for an hour the other night. Italy 11, Norway 8. Barnburner. It’s just fun to watch new things, with athletes performing the sports they’ve trained for years, athletes from all over the country and all over the world. In pauses during Super Bowl week, and in the days after the Super Bowl, I’ll be watching the Games. I wanted to highlight one person on Team USA to follow, someone with a good story, someone we all can really root for.
NBC friends led me to Elana Meyers Taylor, a 37-year-old bobsled athlete from Douglasville, Ga., near Atlanta. Lots to know about Meyers Taylor. This is her fourth Olympic Games. She has won two silver medals and one bronze in the two-woman bobsled. In these Olympics, the “Monobob” has been added, and Meyers Taylor will be a favorite in the one-woman sled, and also a contender in the two-woman competition. She is the daughter of a former Navy running back, Eddie Meyers, and the wife of men’s bobsledder Nic Taylor. She has overcome four concussions while in the sled, and also a torn Achilles. In February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, she and Nic had a son, Nico, who was born with Down syndrome.
Then, a week ago, Meyers Taylor tested positive for Covid, despite being in an isolated area near the bobsled course so she could breastfeed Nico and care for him. On Saturday, she finally had two consecutive negative tests, so she was able to again train outside her quarantined room.
What a story. Trying to stay great while balancing motherhood and training in the midst of a pandemic, feeling the effects of the Achilles, needing more treatment and recovery time than her young peers, with the challenges (and joys) of a Down syndrome son, being a leading advocate for Down syndrome children, trying to beat back athletes nearly half her age in her fourth Olympic Games.
“Sometimes I feel like Tom Brady,” Meyers Taylor said. “Tom of course made it popular to be an older athlete in sports and has been able to compete at a very high level. I never thought I’d be a competitive athlete at 37. It’s pretty surreal. I’m blessed to be here, and thankful.”
I spoke to her 10 days ago, before her positive test for Covid, about her path and her hopes and dreams for this fourth Olympic experiences. It turns out she was inspired to be an Olympian by the 1996 Games in Atlanta. She was 12 then, and loved softball. That became her sport, and she played shortstop at George Washington, but she flamed out in a tryout for the national team. Still smitten by the Olympics, her parents pushed her to the bobsled, pointing to bobsledder Vonetta Flowers, the first Black woman to win a gold at the Winter Games (in 2002). Meyers Taylor is Black, and strong, and bobsledders need strength to handle their 375-pound sleds.
What struck me is her devotion to her son, in the midst of how concerned she is about this golden opportunity in China. At times as we spoke, he was cooing in the background, half a world away.
“He’s a really special kid,” Meyers Taylor said. “One of the reasons I really wanted to advocate for the Down syndrome community is there’s people in the world who are gonna tell him he can’t do stuff. We were told he wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. Well, now look at us. Those kinds of stigmas where people were telling us at the very beginning what kind of life he would lead were never acceptable to me. Especially being an Olympic athlete. You’re used to people telling you that you can’t do something. You’re also used to defying the odds. That’s what I want him to be able to do. He’s gonna live the best life possible. That’s why I just wanna advocate for him, and for parents out there who are struggling with a diagnosis. My life is so much better because of our son.”
Her failed softball trial for the national team was actually the springboard to being good at the bobsled. “I think I struck out every at bat,” she said. “I threw a ball over the backstop. Simply, I just choked. I thought it would be my only shot at the Games. When you fail at that level, what’s the worst that could happen if I can go out there and try at bobsled? I won’t make it? Well, I’ve already not made one Olympic team.”
She’s ranked first in the world in the Monobob, which was announced as an Olympic sport in 2020. Men have the two- and four-man competitions. Women wanted those two disciplines too. But the international board for bobsled ruled that women would have the two-woman and the single sled.
Alone in the lighter sled, traveling at 78 to 80 mph. On ice.
“It’s pretty crazy in the Monobob,” she said. “It slides all over the place. It’s literally like driving on ice.”
With a gold medal as a dream, there’s something Meyers Taylor feels is driving her just as hard.
“Part of my motivation,” she said, “is to show Nico you can do anything in the world. I want that for him.”
Meyers Taylor’s competition schedule:
Saturday, Feb. 12. Monobob first and second runs, live on NBC at 8:30 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m. ET.
Sunday, Feb. 13. Monobob final, live on NBC at 10:45 p.m., after the Super Bowl.
Friday, Feb. 18. Two-woman first and second runs, 8 p.m. on NBC.
Saturday, Feb. 19. Two-woman third and final runs, 8 p.m. on NBC.
“I go back to my old life after the Super Bowl, right? There is no tomorrow. There is no next season. This is everything. I’m getting ready to play my very best game in the last game of my career.”
—Safety Eric Weddle, who came out of retirement to play the postseason for the safety-starved Rams. He’s likely to be in the starting lineup Sunday against the Bengals.
“We stand on the precipice of having more African Americans on the United States Supreme Court than as head coaches in the NFL. That is outrageous.”
—Dr. Harry Edwards, civil rights activist, to the New York Times.
“From here on out, I’m working at the pleasure of the University of Michigan, because that’s, in my heart, where I want to be.”
—Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, after he was not offered the Vikings coaching job and returned to Ann Arbor, to Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press.
“A key factor will be whether Aaron Rodgers comes back for the 2022 season. Matt, Brian, executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball and I are all in agreement that we want Aaron to come back.”
—Packers president Mark Murphy, in his “Murphy Takes 5” column for the Packers website. He refers to coach Matt LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst.
“I know you’ve been through a lot, but that’s about to change. This is not an overnight fix.”
—Doug Pederson, upon being named the new coach of the Jaguars on Saturday night.
The Jaguars are 6-35 since Halloween 2019.
More about Eric Weddle:
• Days he was retired after the 2019 season with the Rams: 748.
• Age on Super Bowl Sunday: 37 years, 40 days.
• Snaps played this postseason: 19 of 56 against Arizona, 61 of 72 at Tampa, 51 of 51 against San Francisco. Total: 131 of 179 snaps (73.2 percent).
Andrew Whitworth left Cincinnati in 2017 to play left tackle for the Rams. Joe Burrow arrived in Cincinnati in 2020. They got to know each other well while rehabbing knee injuries under the direction of Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. (ElAttrache did Burrow’s major knee surgery in December 2020, while Whitworth was rehabbing knee damage suffered in November 2020 for the Rams.) When Burrow was in the area for an exam on the surgically repaired knee last April, four months after surgery, he called Whitworth to see what he was doing. This was the week of the draft, in late April. Whitworth asked Burrow to come over to his house. And so there were the once and current Bengals—future Super Bowl combatants too—watching the 2021 NFL Draft at Chez Whitworth.
That’s where, and when, Burrow saw the Bengals were picking Ja’Marr Chase. It seemed like Burrow had an idea about it, but now he got to see it for certain.
“He was pumped, really pumped,” Whitworth said. “He knew him so well, and he knew what it was going to mean for their offense.”
2022 Schedule Notes of the Week:
• Doug Pederson (and his Jacksonville Jaguars) at Philadelphia. That’s what I call a Philly Special.
• Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes (and their teams) will play at Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
Regarding coaching trees, here is something interesting about the number of playoff victories by the disciples of two current coaches:
• Wins by coaches who have coached under 69-year-old Bill Belichick: 2.
• Wins by coaches who have coached under 36-year-old Sean McVay: 5.
Bill O’Brien, with two, is the Belichick acolyte to win a playoff game. Matt LaFleur (two) and Zac Taylor (three) have left McVay employ and won postseason games.
I went to school at Ohio University, loved my time in southeast Ohio, and always enjoy going back. So it was a treat to find myself there on Tuesday for five hours, visiting with dad-of-Joe Jimmy Burrow, seeing the Ohio football offices, meeting Bobcat football coach Tim Albin, and walking the campus for a bit. What also interested me was, even though he didn’t go to college locally, Joe Burrow has become inextricably tied to the region through his work helping the hungry. You remember his Heisman speech 26 months ago, when Joe Burrow talked about the importance of feeding the hungry in his community with significant rural huger issues and poverty—and it exploded into donations on the Facebook page of local resident advocate for the hungry Will Drabold that totalled $510,000.
Since then, the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund has been established, and more than $1.5 million has been donated to the fund, which serves the Athens County Food Pantry and other Appalachian Ohio food pantries, by more than 17,000 donors.
It’s really quite amazing, given that the southeast corner of the state, with its rural and less-populated pockets are often forgotten in the central (Columbus), southwest (Cincinnati), northeast (Cleveland) and northwest (Toledo) areas of Ohio.
“He’s only in his second year in the NFL,” said Drabold, a local resident and VP/Development of a local consulting firm. “But the impact he could have on southeast Ohio could be profound.”
‘We’re going to the Super Bowl!’: Relive the moment the Cincinnati Bengals made history pic.twitter.com/ghw5UO03hC
— Enquirer (@Enquirer) February 3, 2022
The nuns. The nuns. The nuns.
Anyone ever asks why you love sports, show them this video.
Tale of the tape:@DanielFaalele_ 6’8” 387
Andrew Siciliano 5’7” 142 pic.twitter.com/ewBocGMBQX
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) February 5, 2022
The NFL Network host with a tall fellow at the Senior Bowl.
Stop making fun of Bill Belichick's texting he is doing his very best pic.twitter.com/HYO6wFSARZ
— Jason Kirk (@thejasonkirk) February 1, 2022
Kirk is a college football podcaster.
shout out to my nephew luke the new o line coach for the packers
so great to see you moving up with an expansion team
— Dick Butkus (@thedickbutkus) January 31, 2022
The former Bears linebacker of some renown has a sense of humor.
Hmmm. A live auction. From David Courtney, of Ilkley, England: “My proposal would be to replace the NFL draft with a live auction. I’ve not thought this through, but they do something similar in Cricket with the Indian Premier League. All teams are given the same starting amount of money to spend on rookies. They would then bid for each rookie. So if one team wanted to go all in on a quarterback, it could in essence blow the whole amount on one player but would not be able to bid for any other player. It’s a bit like free agency but a televised version for those coming out of college.”
Interesting. I wonder how you’d break a tie the year, for instance, that Trevor Lawrence came out of college and eight or 10 teams would go all-in on him. In your illustration, David, maybe it would make the most sense every year that a team doesn’t blow all its money in one year and thus can carry over funds to the next year for the one must-have player. I assume when you have no money left, you’d have to wait till the draft is over, and then just sign the undrafted players to fill out the roster? It’s a fun idea, fantasy football into reality.
Didn’t like my OBJ toughness comment. From Carolyn Trench: “I really appreciate that you don’t buy into the worst of the tough guy culture of sports reporting. That’s why I was really disappointed by this passage:
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.
“If we really mean it when we say that head injuries are serious and the NFL is trying to prevent them, then we can’t praise a guy for not getting injured in a helmet-to-helmet shot.”
True, Carolyn. I should have been more clear. My point was not to say what a great guy Beckham is for shaking off a mega-hit to the head. My point was to say that in the heat of competition, teammates are going to get fired up in a good way when they see one of their guys get hit very hard and bounce up. That’s the way football is. It’s a tough sport with huge hits, and, though the league and the public are trying to make it less violent, there are going to be times when it is. By popping up from a huge hit like that, Beckham is going to score points with his teammates.
One of many who cringed at me being a bit of an Ugly American. From Marc Sheckter, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: “You wrote, ‘Why would the USA and Canada play a World Cup qualifier at the same start time as the AFC Championship Game?’ Your question reveals a very American-centric view of the sporting world. There are eight national men’s soccer teams in CONCACAF vying for three berths in the World Cup. All eight teams, only one of which is American, play their qualifying matches on the same dates. The USA-Canada match was played in an outdoor stadium in late January. I suspect that the start time was selected so the game would take place during the warmest part of the day. When one is an American journalist who covers the NFL, I imagine it can be easy to forget that there are considerations besides the convenience of the American football viewing public.”
All fair, Marc. A few things: The AFC title game kicked off at 3:05 p.m. ET. The soccer game kicked off at 3:05 p.m. ET. A soccer game lasts about one hour 50 minutes, I believe. If the soccer game started at 1:05 ET, the difference in temperature would likely have been negligible. My point was about the TV audience. Wouldn’t the soccer governing bodies want the highest TV ratings possible? And wouldn’t scheduling the game opposite one of the biggest football games of the year reduce the rating in the U.S. and at least slightly affect it in Canada? It could be that the organizers don’t care about anything except the purity of the competition and what time is best for the game. If that’s the case, good for them.
Some clarity here. From Richard O’Hagan, of Penn, United Kingdom: “In your column you quite often mention your early morning deadline for the column, but I wonder why it is still at that time? You said that it meant that you couldn’t write as much as you would’ve liked about the Rams’ win, and you included comments from readers outside the US on the subject of overtime. I for one would rather that you could be more relaxed about that deadline and then bring your inimitable style to the big events than to rush it and not do a job that you are entirely satisfied with. In short, you’re worth waiting for.”
You are nice to say that, Richard. Thanks. The issue is a personal and professional one. I spend most of Friday and Saturday researching and writing the column, and I write some more on Sunday morning, then watch/write from 1 p.m. ET Sunday till about 3 a.m. Monday. The column averages 11,000 words during the season. That’s an eighth of a Grisham novel, weekly. Would the product be better if I went to bed at midnight, then got up Monday at 8 a.m. and wrote for the balance of the day and finished at 6 p.m., and then posted the column? I think so; I’d be fresher, obviously.
Two things about that. I believe people in the U.S. wake up Monday morning wanting to know as much as they can about Sunday’s games. Would they be as interested if they had to wait till Monday evening for the column? I doubt it. They’re moving on to other things by then. Also, I have no interest in stretching work for the column to a fourth day. I am physically and mentally spent after three days living with it. I finish around 3 a.m. most weeks because I’m basically toast at that point. Hope that helps.
1. I think this is the football story of the week, the interesting football story of the week, that will get lost in the Flores/Brady/Super Bowl/Olympics hype machine. It’s not the story of the year, but simply a story that is imaginative and I find compelling in this just-find-an-edge day in the NFL. Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett is hiring a coach for his coaches, a teacher for his teachers on the Broncos coaching staff. Hackett is eying an expert in education and technology who will work with each coach to improve engagement with players by learning different and more technologically advanced teaching methods. “I think he can open up a new world of technology and teaching for our players,” Hackett told me. More from Hackett about it:
FMIA: How did you get the idea to coach and teach players differently?
Hackett: “I am a little bit of an outlier in this profession. I love being different. I majored in neurobiology in college, and there was a chance I was going into the medical field. But what the different paths taught me is there’s not just one way to do anything. I decided I loved coaching football. It’s so dynamic, so diverse, so ever-changing. You’d better be able to engage this generation of players. This is the YouTube generation.”
FMIA: So no big, thick playbooks, like the old days.
Hackett: “I am paperless. When I left Green Bay to come here, I had two or three boxes, and no heavy-ass boxes.”
FMIA: Describe how you will teach players, and how you want your coaches to teach them.
Hackett: “In football, when you’re putting in the playbook, it’s called ‘install.’ You really should call it ‘teach.’ Sometimes, when you see coaches coach, players are sleeping in meetings. That can’t happen. I want them to walk into the classroom excited to learn. It won’t be me, or our coaches, just talking. It will always be us interacting. In Green Bay, when we were coaching the quarterbacks, I always found if I could get Aaron [Rodgers] to laugh, I accomplished something. But I’ve been with a lot of different quarterbacks, and they always know I’ll put them in position to excel, and I’ll always have their backs.”
FMIA: Aaron Rodgers—lots of people are connecting the dots—you were the offensive coordinator at Green Bay, had a great relationship with Aaron, and maybe he’ll be traded this off-season …
Hackett: “I’m the coach of the Denver Broncos. He plays for Green Bay.”
Now there’s a man who’s been well media-trained.
2. I think it’s not good for the Giants to lose defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to the Raiders. But for the 42-year-old Graham, I can see exactly why he’d make the move. He had an impressive nine-hour interview with the Vikings last Tuesday for the head-coaching job, and his stock has been steadily rising around the league after his work with the Giants in the past two years. But because he’s good friends with Brian Flores (they worked together on Bill Belichick’s staff with the Patriots, and then together in 2019 in Miami), and because he admires Josh McDaniels, the move to Las Vegas makes sense.
Two other things: Nevada is a very advantageous tax state (New Jersey state income tax: 8.97 percent; Nevada: zero), so Graham gets to keep more of his money. And Graham will boost his own profile in a clearly tougher division for offenses and quarterbacks. With four games against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert per year, great play by the Raiders defense will keep Graham in contention to be a head coach.
3. I think if you tune into the NBC pregame show, you’ll see a cool series of four short vignettes I did on Super Bowl stories you might not know. They’ll popup throughout the show Sunday. The stories are with Steve Young, Terry Bradshaw, Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs, with some cool animation for each.
4. I think I can’t think of a better assistant hire for any team than Rich Bisaccia taking over the special teams coordinator job with the Packers. The kicking teams have ruined the Packers on many occasions over the past two years, and clearly cost them the chance to host the Rams in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field eight days ago. The two sides are talking. This is a layup.
5. I think I’m not in the daily TV grind, or in the daily anything grind anymore. But man, I applaud the work of the “Good Morning Football” crew on NFL Network (Kay Adams, Peter Schrager, Kyle Brandt, and, this week, DeAngelo Hall). They—and their crew—will do a four-hour show every day this week in L.A., starting at 4 a.m. PT. They’ll do four-hour shows every day the following week, starting at the same time, including live from L.A. at 4 a.m. PT the day after the Super Bowl. Imagine after a long week, covering the Super Bowl, trying to find out stuff after the game from people in the game … then getting three to four hours of sleep and you’re back at it the next morning, and every day that week. Adams, Schrager, Brandt and Hall (a part of a rotation of replacements for Nate Burleson when he went to the CBS morning show) have been banging it all season on less than optimal sleep, and it’ll be worse in these next two weeks. My hat’s off to them, and to that crew, for producing a fun and informative show when it’s such a grind.
6. I think I might be in the minority, but I actually liked “Washington Football Team.” Quirky, cool, original in a ridiculously obvious way. At least, WFT would have prevented newspapers and snarky websites from pulling stuff like this headline from the New York Post the day after the Washington Commanders were christened:
7. I think this is a Jim Harbaugh note to clip and save: Per Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, when Harbaugh told the Michigan AD, Warde Manuel, that he was coming back to coach the team, Harbaugh said, “This will not be a recurring theme ever year. This was a one-time thing.” I’ve got no problem with a man investigating a job—at all. And Harbaugh was up-front about this. But Harbaugh has put himself on record now as saying he won’t be looking for an NFL job again. If he does, he deserves to have his words thrown in his face.
8. I think this falls under the I’m Just Saying banner … Patrick Mahomes is still only 26, with plenty of career left. But when he started this four AFC-title-games-in-four-years run, Tom Brady beat him, and Brady was 41, and Mahomes was soon to be king of the mountain, mostly alone. But here came Josh Allen as a major threat in Buffalo. And in ’20, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert popped up in the same conference, not to mention the 2019 MVP, Lamar Jackson, and the badly tarnished Deshaun Watson. Imagine if Aaron Rodgers gets dealt to the AFC in March or April. Mahomes’ conference next year could be the top-heaviest for quarterbacks since the NFL split into conferences in 1970. It’s a long way of saying that Mahomes played four straight AFC Championship Games at home and got just one Super Bowl ring out of the four. Not optimal, if you want to chase all-time greatness in the quarterback pantheon.
9. I think I’m hoping fervently that the Pro Football Hall of Fame retains the mystery of the Class of 2022 till Thursday evening, when NFL Honors is due to reveal the class. There are five modern-era finalists, and also candidates in the senior (Cliff Branch), contributor (Art McNally) and coach (Dick Vermeil) categories. No leaks in the 20 days since the 49-member board of selection met.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Important TV Story of the Week: Jacob Soboroff of NBC Nightly News on the dangerous blood shortage faced by Red Cross blood banks.
b. Drastically reduced college blood drives; students are often among the most generous donors. Donors scared with the Omicron variant of being in public places with close contacts. People scared of being out in public more than they have to be. All understandable reasons. But the images of those blood banks with so little supply. Heartbreaking.
c. Soboroff’s startling stat: Of all those eligible to give blood, only 3 percent of Americans do.
d. I have an idea. A contest. (Not sure if this will actually get people to donate, or make them run from it.)
e. Peter King Blood Donation Contest: Donate blood, win lunch with me. If you donate a pint of blood sometime between today and March 1, take a photo of the record of your donation and email the photo, plus where and when it happened, to me at email@example.com. Put “Blood Donation Contest” in the subject line, and include your name, phone number and where you live in the email. In the spring, I’ll put all the names (hope there’s more than one) on folded pieces of paper in a hat and pick one out. If you’re the winner, I’ll come to your town and buy you and a guest lunch at the place of your choice.
f. I realize it’s not the most lucrative contest prize in history. Sorry I don’t have two tickets to The Big Game to offer. But I hope this will spur a few people to go give the gift of life. It’s vital right now.
g. Tom Brady Column of the Week: Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post captured his career and his ethos really well, I thought.
h. The bottom line with Brady, regardless what you think of him, is that he got the most out of his ability than any player in NFL history. Period. Wrote Jenkins:
Over time, the trophy-shine around Tom Brady began to get in the eyes and obscure the most essential fact about his NFL career: It was entirely self-made, manufactured. “Poor build. … Gets knocked down easily,” a draft scout wrote about him so infamously all those years ago. What if Brady had accepted it as the final judgment, surrendered to the opinion? Don’t ever let the seven Super Bowls and all the records gloss over that most vital lesson: What people say about you is always wrong, if you make it so.
Brady proved that any kid with perfectly ordinary athletic prospects, the middle-of-the-packer who doesn’t come with some preloaded or far-fetched anatomical gift, can construct greatness. What made him great was an inner curiosity, an urge to fill in his blanks and see what might happen with enough study and sweat.
Brady’s 2000 NFL draft evaluation will go down in history as one of those infamous misjudgments on par with a talent scout’s assessment of Fred Astaire’s screen test: “Can’t act; slightly bald; can dance a little.”
i. Kudos on an excellent officiating career, Tony Corrente. I’ll always remember Corrente as a survivor of a serious cancerous mass at the base of his tongue … and it was discovered after he tried to break up a Steelers-Ravens brawl in opening week 2011. “Getting knocked down and hurt in that Baltimore game might have saved my life,” Corrente told me that season. Soon he started coughing up blood, and the mass was discovered. By the time he was finished with treatment, he resumed his regular career in the 2012 season and worked 10 more. Good for him.
j. Happy trails, Joe West.
k. The all-time leader in big-league games umpired retires with lots of opinions about him, and lots of good lines. Liked this one from Fergie Jenkins: “Whenever he called games I pitched, I used to call him Ray Charles.”
l. Heartwarming Story of the Week: FOX News with the tale of Eagles safety Anthony Harris taking an 11-year-old girl—who’d lost her father and grandfather in the previous year—to a Daddy/Daughter Dance at her Texas school.
m. “She felt like a princess all night.”
n. You’re a good person, Anthony Harris.
o. So surprising the Nets are in the tank.
p. How do you expect to build a great team with a vital player playing only part-time? It’s the Kyrie Curse.
q. Beernerdness: Cincinnati has become a bastion of beer nerds. One of the big breweries is Rhinegeist. I’ve had a few of their beers, but never the lager. So I tried the Cheetah Lager, and I liked it. Very light, like a summer beer. But it’s hoppy for a lager, and has a little lemon zest to it. I had it in a can, from the little mart inside the Cincinnati Hyatt. But I bet it’s a good draft beer.
r. Nathan Chen is inspiring.
s. You know how most skaters take off on a quad or a triple toe-loop or whatever, and you hold your breath because you think he/she might fall? I never think that with Chen.
t. Podcast of the Week. For Olympics nerds, this is NBC’s version of The Daily. The pod looks at some unknown stories—the guy who designed the slopestyle course in Beijing and used the Great Wall as inspiration, for instance; there’s an investigation into curling’s broom scandal (creatively called) Broomgate; how NASCAR drivers and speed skaters have parallel experiences. It’s a cool way to familiarize yourself with good Olympics stories.
u. Good luck in retirement, Rich Dalrymple. His 32-year run as senior VP of PR and communications for the Cowboys just about coincided with my beginnings at Sports Illustrated, and I bet I covered the Cowboys more than any one team in those three decades. Three things stick out:
v. On one of my first times around the team when Dallas started getting competitive in 1990, Michael Irvin saw me in the locker room, met me and yelled, “WE’RE IN A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED GAME!” Those were the days … a round of interviews with the big players on the Cowboys before the big game.
w. After a game once, early on, Rich set me up to talk to Jimmy Johnson, and he was off the record with me on some sensitive things. I think Rich was sweating a bit when Johnson realized how much he’d told me. “Hey Peter,” Johnson said, staring a hole through me, “if you f— me on this story, I’ll squash you like a squirrel in the road!” I think I’ve reminded Johnson of that story 15 times, and he howls every time.
x. October 1997. Assigned to write “What’s wrong with Emmitt?” Emmitt Smith was in decline, and I called Dalrymple to see if I could get some time with Smith. Emmitt said no. Dalrymple told him he was going to do it. “SI’s been great to you for all the years you’ve been great,” Dalrymple told him. “You’ve got to talk to them when things aren’t so great.” Smith talked. RUNNING ON EMPTY, with Smith on the cover, landed in 3.2 million mailboxes around the country the following week.
y. That’s a guy who knows how to do his job. Now he can breathe a bit. Imagine being the PR guy for Jerry Jones AND the Dallas Cowboys. That’s some commitment right there.
z. RIP Billy Reed, one of the best sports columnists in America in my lifetime. Also, one of the great Kentuckians. Reed died Saturday at 78.
Story of the Week:
The Bengals D. If it’s good,
I like the Striped Team.