Peter King is on vacation until July 18, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today’s guest is Paul Burmeister, a play-by-play voice and studio host for NBC Sports.
By Paul Burmeister
The United States Football League just became the first alternative spring football league in 20 years to make it through a season. I was in Birmingham for all 10 weeks of the USFL regular season to call games for NBC. I had insight into every part of the league and got to know many of the players, coaches and administrators.
Peter King told me: “You’re just the guy to put a wrap on the USFL regular season.”
I am? I’m used to football. I’m used to communicating. But capturing the three-month experience in long-form writing? This is a new challenge.
Remember that feeling from college: long paper due, lots of agonizing about how to do it. Is this excitement or angst? Will I ever get it done? But hey, when you’re 51, anything that can make you feel like you’re 21 again is a good thing.
NBC SPORTS: USFL Video Highlights & Archive
I needed a plan, a way to make sense of my experience. In the column, I’ll answer the questions, “What is the USFL?” and “What will the USFL become?” Along the way, I’ll share insights on the rules, broadcasts and players who you may see this fall in the NFL.
The Lead: The USFL
I was in Birmingham in early April, a couple weeks before the season started, to gather info and develop relationships. When asking about schemes and calls and plans with quarterbacks and coordinators and administrators, I would also ask, “What is the USFL?”
I liked best the answer from Daryl Johnston, the USFL’s Executive VP of Football Operations, former Dallas Cowboys fullback and current FOX NFL Analyst:
“It’s a fork in the road.”
Most of the USFL players had some type of experience in the NFL. They crave that elusive “one more chance.”
Some are former NFL draft picks who played in games, but most were undrafted free agents who spent time with a handful of teams during training camps and offseason workouts. Maybe two months on the practice squad here, two days there, two months out of work, waiting for a call to return or start somewhere else anew.
And there’s the key phrase: waiting for the call. Without that hope that lives within hundreds of NFL hopefuls, there would be no USFL. It’s the call that says, “We’d like to work you out.” Or, better yet, “We’d like to sign you.”
The USFL provided an alternative to these players. Instead of waiting around for a phone to buzz, and players spending their time lifting and running and hoping, the USFL offered a chance to actually play football. And the USFL paid players to do it. Who says no? Players are so committed to making it back that they’re willing to put on the pads, play football each week, put 10 games on film and, as Johnston told me, “Demand a re-evaluation.”
I revisited the topic with Johnston this week, with the regular season behind him and the two-week postseason ahead. His initial assessment of What is the USFL evolved over the season, and he now views the league as a way for players to face why they didn’t stick in the NFL. The USFL gave players a chance to resolve those issues.
“That was the big epiphany for me during the season: How can they stay in the NFL?” Johnston said. “What was the disconnect between their talent, and their ability to stay in the NFL? Note taking? Punctuality? And how can you fix it?”
This is in sync with the one mantra I heard over and over from players and coaches of all teams: “We’re all here for a reason.”
Here are a few of those players and their reasons:
Frank Ginda, LB, Michigan Panthers: Tackling machine who once led the nation in tackles at San Jose State and finished second in the USFL in tackles. NFL experience with Arizona, Miami and New Orleans says Ginda needed the USFL not to pile up tackles, but to show he could be an asset in pass coverage.
Chris Orr, LB, New Jersey Generals: Excelling as a physical, old school, Big 10 linebacker earned him a season with the Carolina Panthers in 2020. But what he told me was a “lack of hip-flippin’ and running” experience got him sent home. Orr said yes to the USFL to show he’s an athletic, sideline-to-sideline linebacker, not just an inside-the-box thumper.
Sal Canella, TE, New Orleans Breakers: At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, has the perfect build to detach from the line of scrimmage to play a hybrid WR role, which he did primarily in his career at Auburn. But does he have what it takes to line up next to the tackle and hold his own in the run game? A brief six-day stint with the Dolphins made it clear Canella needed to look for chances to “display toughness, and prove I’m willing to block.” Notably, Canella shined in the USFL playoff semifinals over the weekend, with 12 catches for 154 yards in a tough loss for the Breakers.
Kyle Sloter, QB, New Orleans Breakers: The most wide-ranging, winding, diverse road to the USFL of all started when Sloter was an undrafted free agent in Denver in 2017. By 2021, he had been on the active roster or practice squad of six different teams. Sloter also spent a chunk of time as a “street free agent,” meaning he was at home, in between opportunities, waiting for the coveted call. Teams are allowed to bring in such players to their own buildings and put them through a specified workout to see if they want to sign them. Including those tryouts and the six teams he was actually with, Kyle has been inside the building of 26 of the 32 NFL teams.
When I sat with Sloter to talk about this story, he said his motivation to play in the USFL was simple, but lofty: to prove he could be PLAY in the NFL.
Excel in the preseason? Done that.
Get signed to the practice squad? Many times.
Earn a season on the active roster? Box checked.
Starting games is all Sloter wants. I applaud his confidence and willingness to talk about his aspirations so openly.
The USFL provided the 10 regular season games to show it, and the Breakers led the league in passing offense.
USFL Players To NFL10
So with acknowledgement that I may have buried the lead, let’s get right to it: Which USFL players will we see in the NFL this fall?
I went right to the source: Jim Popp, USFL Director of Player Personnel. Playing defensive back at Michigan State for Nick Saban in the mid-80s set up Popp for more than three decades in professional football personnel, primarily in the Canadian Football League, where he was a part of 11 Grey Cups, winning five of them.
“The NFL isn’t coming [to the USFL] looking for a starters,” Popp told me. “The potential for these players lies in the back end of an NFL roster, which is constantly being overturned.”
Popp followed up with two points to keep in mind when considering which USFL players might be in the NFL this fall:
• Because of Covid and the extra season of eligibility granted to college players, the pool of undrafted free agent rookies was larger than ever.
• The abundance of young, available and willing players would cost the teams less money than signing USFL players. According to Spotrac, the minimum salary for rookies this season is $705,000; second-year players $870,000; third-year players $940,000.
Since most of the players in the USFL have had an NFL cup of coffee, or two or three, they’re more expensive. They potentially fill the same roster spot and play the same role for more money.
Those hurdles are reality this summer. But they’re not barriers. They won’t prevent the USFL’s best from getting a shot.
So, who will get the chance to beat the odds?
Michigan Panthers RB Reggie Corbin
Corbin was the first name out of Popp’s mouth. The Panthers running back led the USFL in rushing yards per game.
I called his final regular season game last week against the Pittsburgh Maulers. The Pittsburgh head coach is Kirby Wilson, who spent 23 seasons as an NFL running backs coach. With his RB expertise, I asked, “Which running back impressed you the most this season?” He answered quickly: Reggie Corbin.
I also asked Corbin’s own coach, Jeff Fisher, an NFL head coach of 20 seasons, which of his Panthers players belonged in the NFL. He started with Corbin.
Corbin, 26, is still waiting for his first shot in the NFL. He averaged 6 yards per carry in rushing for over 2,000 yards at Illinois from 2016-19. But Corbin didn’t play in a game of any kind from 2020 until the USFL this spring.
His one and only NFL chance became a Covid casualty. The Seahawks flew in Corbin for a workout late in 2021, but when he tested positive for Covid upon arrival in Seattle. Instead of going to the facility to try out, he went to a hotel. For a week and half, he waited for the green light. The Covid cases were so high in the NFL at that point of the season, he was sent home, before he could even work out.
“Heartbreaking” was the last word he said to me about that experience.
So now he awaits a call, confident it will come. “I’m grateful for the USFL,” Corbin told me.
Houston Gamblers LB Donald Payne
Donald Payne came in with an NFL résumé that got my attention before the season started.
- Four seasons in the NFL
- 30 games played
In 2017 for the Jaguars, Payne was in the top three for special teams tackles in the NFL. He stuck with Jacksonville in 2018, and in 2019, he started the last five games of the season. Payne produced at an eye-opening level, recording at least 12 tackles in all five games.
But Payne needed surgery on both feet after the season, and the Jaguars released him prior to the 2020 season. He spent some time on the Washington practice squad that year and went to training camp with San Francisco in 2021 but didn’t make the team.
The USFL gave Payne a chance to prove he was healthy, and to remind NFL scouts that even as an undersized middle linebacker (6-0, 225), he wouldn’t get swallowed up inside, could fend off 330-pound linemen and run down backs.
The final regular-season Defensive Player of the Week award belongs to @USFLGamblers LB @7PayneTrain 🎲🔒 pic.twitter.com/nAozNx01xG
— USFL (@USFL) June 21, 2022
“We all came to the USFL with different whys,” Payne told me. “Mine wasn’t to get back to an NFL camp. I’m on a mission to get back to an NFL 53.”
Two games into the USFL season, Payne served notice, racking up 34 tackles. By the end of the season, he was the only USFL player with over 100. “I needed the USFL to portray I’m still the same Donald I was in 2019,” he said. “I did what I had to do.”
The odds are against Payne and his USFL comrades as they eye roster spots in the NFL. But Johnston brought up a point to consider.
“Our guys are in football shape,” Johnston said. “That’s an advantage versus players who have been in shorts and have only done minicamps and OTAs. I’m excited to see what happens when the pads come on because they’re already used to it.”
New Jersey Generals WR/PR KaVontae Turpin
Turpin, the USFL MVP, led the league in receiving yards on a team that ran the ball more than any other in the league. And he showed his game-breaking abilities over the weekend with a punt return touchdown against Philadelphia in the semifinals.
THE MVP WITH THE GO-AHEAD TOUCHDOWN ‼️🏆
What a run by @KaVontaeTurpin
📺: @FOXSports pic.twitter.com/LNUy5c5iit
— New Jersey Generals (@USFLGenerals) June 25, 2022
In production meetings, New Jersey coach Mike Reilly spoke of how much fun he was having devising different ways to get Turpin the ball.
Popp almost ran out of ways to describe him: “Electric. Fast. Quick. Makes you miss. Can take a hit.”
I think Turpin is an excellent candidate to make a team as a fourth or fifth wide receiver, and primary punt returner.
Houston Gamblers DE Chris Odom
Odom led the league in sacks and forced fumbles. Not bad for a player whose calling card was stopping the run before getting to the USFL.
Odom is 27 and has NFL experience with Atlanta, Washington and Green Bay. When I asked him which of those stops made the biggest impression on him, he didn’t hesitate: Green Bay.
Odom was with the Packers for the 2017 season. He had always been a “hand on the ground” defensive end, but in Green Bay’s scheme, defensive ends Clay Matthews and Nick Perry stood up, often looking like outside linebackers. This gave Odom a whole new view of the offense and a compete skill set as a defensive end. He displayed that in dominating the USFL this spring.
Mike Pereira created a buzz for the USFL before the games even started. The USFL head of officiating rolled out the league’s own brand of rules that didn’t re-invent the wheel, but unapologetically put its own spin on things.
“We wanted our own tweaks to make it feel a little different,” said Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and current FOX rules analyst.
“We wanted kickoff returns back in the game,” Pereira said. “But how could we do it, AND make sure it’s safe?”
Pereira and his team took three measures to thread that needle.
• First, the USFL moved the kickoff back to the 25-yard line, quite a difference from the NFL’s 35, where 60 percent of the kickoffs end in touchbacks.
Mission accomplished, as 80 percent of kickoffs were returned during the USFL regular season.
• Second, regarding the “how to make it safe” issue, the technical definition reads like this in the USFL officiating manual:
III Rule 6b
“Kicking team players must have one foot within five yards of the kickers restraining line.”
111 Rule 6d
“Receiving team must align with a minimum of 8, and a maximum of 9 players, within 10 yards beyond the restraining line.”
Bottom line: The players on the kicking team and receiving team are closer together, similar to a punt. You don’t have the receiving team getting way downfield, gaining separation, with the time to set up and take on the kicking team charging at full speed.
The result: fewer, less severe collisions, and more potential for big plays.
• The third tweak was the most subtle, but also served its intended purpose. Once a kick went past 20 yards, it wasn’t a live ball. Basically, it became a punt: Only the receiving team could advance it. So the incentive to pooch or bloop kick with the hope of recovering the ball was removed.
Pereira was pleased see to see more kick returns, with safety in mind. “We loved having kickoff returns back in the game,” he said.
ROUGHING THE PASSER
I always see the game through the lens of an ex-quarterback—I played QB at Iowa in 1989-93—and I’m mostly in favor of the passing-friendly rules that are abundant in the NFL. But even I shake my head multiple times each Sunday at the flags thrown for breathing on the quarterback.
It’s okay for quarterbacks to get hit the moment after they throw the ball. That contact—if in the spirit of football, not in the spirit of injuring the quarterback—shouldn’t cost the defense 15 yards. And Pereira agrees.
“It sometimes doesn’t look like a foul, it doesn’t feel like a foul, but it’s still costs the defense a huge chunk of yardage,” he said.
So, the USFL installed a rule that all Roughing the Passer penalties could be reviewed. And if deemed non-vicious and didn’t involve a blow to the head, the flag was picked up.
It’s a delicate situation; no one wants the quarterback put in danger. He’s vulnerable in that moment right after release. But as Pereira put it to me, “If everyone in the world knows it’s an act that didn’t put the quarterback in danger” that flag should be picked up.
It happened numerous times throughout the USFL season, including on broadcasts I was calling. I enjoyed listening to Mike think out loud as he watched the plays in slow motion, explaining why the flag should or shouldn’t be picked up.
All 15-yard fouls in the @USFL are subject to an automatic review by Mike Pereira in Los Angeleshttps://t.co/EJnK3PpKSR pic.twitter.com/wYJVVSQIhL
— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs🇺🇦 (@footballzebras) April 17, 2022
I thought this rule made the game better; a little more fair to the defense, while still reserving the right to protect the QB when needed.
And it wasn’t just Roughing the Passer; all Unsportsmanlike penalties were subject to review. If the call on the field didn’t hold up during a slo-mo review, the call didn’t survive. I think it worked.
POSSESSION SCRIMMAGE PLAY
This was known as the “4th and 12 Rule” or the “Make It/Take It.” Pereira and his team came to determine that converting 4th and 12 in the USFL was just as likely as recovering an onside kick.
The idea is that after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, the offense can opt for the “Possession Scrimmage Play.” That play is a 4th and 12 from their own 33-yard line.
If you convert, you keep the ball. If you don’t convert, whether the result was an 11-yard gain or an 11-yard loss, the opposing team takes over from where the play ended.
“We took a look at the normal success rate of an onside kick before the NFL implemented the restrictions in 2018,” Pereira said. “It was 10-12 percent.”
In the NFL, the average success of a 4th and 15 play is 11 percent. Factoring in the skill rate of USFL players is a little lower, the USFL decided to set the Possession Scrimmage Play at 4th and 12.
I called a few games where the Possession Scrimmage Play was called. I loved the excitement and energy it brought.
So, what rule adjustment would Pereira like to see find a home in the NFL?
“I’d like to see the NFL adopt some form of our kickoff rule to get more returns,” he said. “I think fans miss them, and there are ways to make it safer without being too gimmicky.”
Pereira notes that any NFL rules changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2023 season. Standby.
The USFL: What's Next?20
After what we’ve seen with alternative spring leagues in the recent past, making it to this point is no small task. Job well done.
But making it to season two in a better place will require development. Being a better league for the players and coaches, as well as having a better product on television, will require strategic fixes and enhancements.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: The XFL will debut next winter. Who knows what kind of quality it will have out of the gates. But in the abstract, it’s hard to imagine two spring leagues thriving, let alone surviving.
So I reflected on year one with Johnston, with the goal of learning where growth is most needed for year two. Four topics emerged:
Longer Training Camp
Training camp was incredibly brief by preseason football standards. It lasted only two weeks, and wasn’t preceded by any form of OTAs or minicamps. That’s not nearly enough time for any facet of the game to develop, especially the one that most everyone wants to see the most: the passing game. And because of that, the offensive execution for the first part of the season suffered.
Johnston shared his hope for next season is a training camp “of at least three weeks.” Early season efficiency in the passing game will benefit most. When passes are completed and first downs are made and points are scored, the league wins.
More Players On Rosters
The initial roster concept during the season looked this way: 38 players active on game day, 45 total on the roster.
Thirty-eight is minuscule for a game day roster. Consider the NFL has 53, and many coaches will tell you how difficult the game day math can be for certain positions, especially offensive line.
Twenty-eight percent fewer players to play a four-quarter football game was aspirational, to say the least. I recall calling one game when two offensive lineman went out with injuries on the same drive, and all I could think was “38?”
The coaches voiced this concern from day one; to the credit of the league, an adjustment was made. The game day roster increased to 40, with the roster total moving to 50.
Discussing it all with Johnston, it sounds like the jump from 38 to 40 was just a start. No specific number was given as a target, but it was clear that moving beyond 40 is a high priority.
More players also will allow for more efficient and better practices. Coaches and players spoke during the season about their reluctance to have contact in practice due to small numbers and the risk of injury. What a well organized coaching staff can accomplish, through volume, difficulty and efficiency of work, increases exponentially with more players.
Opportunities For Undrafted Players
There’s also a plan for how to inject youth and talent into each roster next spring, and it relates to the NFL draft.
Each spring there are hundreds of quality players who believe they will be drafted, only to have draft weekend come and go with no call.
The best of that group will become high priority free agents, with a decent chance to make a roster, and a better chance to land on a practice squad. But most who sign with a team as an undrafted free agent face long odds to stick.
Johnston sees an opportunity with this group, one he describes as “a non-traditional route to get where you want to go.”
He remembers fondly his own pre-draft process as a fullback coming out of Syracuse in 1989, and doesn’t want to interfere with or interrupt that time. Johnston wants all the players to commit to that process and enjoy it. But if the time comes and goes without a good opportunity to be on an NFL roster, he wants those players to sign with the USFL.
“Understand how many undrafted free agents make it and how many don’t,” Johnston said. “It’s a tough hill to climb. Get to us as soon as you can, play 6 or 8 games, and force the NFL to change their opinion of you.”
The USFL dabbled in this area a little bit this season, and quarterback Eric Barriere is a prime example.
At Eastern Washington as a freshman in 2017, Barriere told me he would walk by the trophy case each day and see the Walter Payton Award that Cooper Kupp won as the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS, and think how cool it would be to win that award himself one day.
As a senior in 2021, Barriere did win it by throwing for over 5,000 yards and 46 touchdowns.
But he didn’t hear his name called in the NFL draft. And no team offered him a contract to be an undrafted free agent. The Denver Broncos did fly him in for a rookie minicamp tryout, but it didn’t end with an offer to come to camp.
Rookie QB Eric Barriere on audition. #9sports pic.twitter.com/IAqevleBkp
— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) May 13, 2022
So Barrier came to the USFL late in the season, signed with the Michigan Panthers, and earned some playing time in the final two games of the regular season. Had he come earlier, he potentially could have started a handful of games, and “demanded a reevaluation,” as Johnston explains.
Barriere’s example is one Johnston hopes many more will follow in 2023.
More Fans, One More Stadium
If you tuned into any of the USFL games this season, you noticed the fans. Or lack thereof.
For most games, all of which were played in Birmingham, the attendance was minimal. It was impossible not to notice.
This is unless the Birmingham Stallions were playing. Thousands of people attended Stallions games, and the energy difference was night and day. The broadcasts for Stallions games were automatically, distinctly better. It’s affected planning for 2023.
“We should afford a team in the North Division the same luxury that Birmingham had,” Johnston said.
Would that be Michigan, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or New Jersey? No word on a front runner. But Johnston and the league are motivated to give one of those teams the opportunity Birmingham had this season. The USFL and its broadcasts would be better for it if they can make it happen.
As for keeping at least half the games in Birmingham? Johnston said: “I hope so. It sure would be a waste to go somewhere else (in the south) and start again.”
One of the parts that won’t change is the schedule. The games started in mid-April and the championship is next weekend. Johnston likes the USFL’s home on the sports calendar. “We don’t compete with March Madness, we’re not immediately after the Super Bowl,” he said. “We’ll target the weekend after the Masters.”
The separation from the NFL season, with game one targeted approximately two months after the Super Bowl, is key.
“I want our fans to get to the point of the off season where they say ‘I miss football,’” Johnston said.
King Of The Road
I made a new coffee shop friend this week: One World Cafe across from Homewood Field on the campus of Johns Hopkins University.
I was looking for a place to post up and spread out, go to work on this article for a few hours on a Thursday afternoon, and they said come on in and make yourself at home. Poured a very good cup of coffee, too, and served a solid vegan chili. Respect.
10 Things I Think I Think30
1. I think there is one more USFL name you need to know: Case Cookus. He began the season as a backup quarterback, became the starter and led the Philadelphia Stars to an upset win over New Jersey in the semifinals Saturday. Cookus has an NFL résumé that’s brief and random, yet somewhat typical of many of the USFL’s players. Keep this in mind as you watch him lead Philadelphia against Birmingham in the championship game next weekend.
• He signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2020. That was the Covid offseason, so for his first three months, all meetings and practices were done via Zoom, and there were no preseason games. Cookus was released in August.
• In 2021, Cookus had a trio of NFL stints, beginning with the Vikings in May 2021. He told me he tried out for the team at 11 a.m., and was running the huddle and operating the offense at 2. He said it was the most lost he’s ever been on a football field, and was a harsh lesson in how quickly you need to learn an offense. He lasted three days.
• In August 20221, Cookus signed with the Broncos in early August, and smiled when he explained how he felt a connection right away to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and QB coach Mike Shula. They ran a similar offense with verbiage similar to what Cookus ran in college at Northern Arizona. But the Broncos needed to sign a young linebacker for injury reasons and needed to free up a roster spot. Cookus was out the door.
• The Raiders came calling a few days later, signing Cookus for a very specific, brief reason. They weren’t going to play Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota for their preseason game with Seattle, so Cookus practiced with the team during the week, furiously trying to learn the offense. The day before the game, the coaches gave Cookus a long play sheet and made an unusual request: Instead of highlighting the plays he liked best, Cookus was asked to “highlight the plays you actually know.” Nathan Peterman played all but one play of the game; Cookus took the final snap of the game as a reward for his week of work. He was released two days later.
Maybe if Cookus leads Philadelphia to a USFL title next weekend, he’ll earn an NFL stay of longer than a week. I’m pulling for him.
2. I think I’ve been fortunate enough to call every Notre Dame football game on the radio since 2018. Being the radio voice of Notre Dame football is even more special than I envisioned. It’s a combination of fun, meaningful and exhilarating each Saturday.
I’ve been spoiled. Notre Dame is 44-7 the last 4 years. Usually there’s a top 10 team on one side of the field, a team on the other side that would LOVE to beat Notre Dame, and a stadium full of people excited to see it. The energy and sound that creates is radio gold.
This kind of job offers something you don’t always have in the booth: a connection to a team. The familiarity you develop with players and coaches and their stories lets you go places you wouldn’t ordinarily get to go. You stack knowledge, interactions and observations and can draw upon them throughout each game and season.
I always find it interesting when I’m accused of having too much energy for the “other” team. My response? I’m not cheering for the other team, I just love college football and the emotion and feeling that comes with it. A big play is a big play, and I think my voice just reflects the feeling in the stadium in that moment.
Notre Dame at Ohio State. Sept. 4. Fighting Irish. Buckeyes. The Shoe. Prime time. Can’t wait to get there.
3. I think I’m forever grateful to Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan and Kenny Albert for the gracious radio assists they each kindly dished my way. When I got the Notre Dame job in 2018, I had never called a game on the radio. I had a good amount of experience calling events on television, football in particular, and a real desire to get the job. But no experience. The amount of wisdom and tips Mike, Ian, Kevin and Kenny gave me was phenomenal. A PHD class in what to keep in mind when going from TV to radio and back. A few examples:
• If your words keep up with the laces, you’re ok.
• Description words are your best friend.
• Your energy, focus and anticipation have to be greater than TV.
• Is your call in sync with the crowd; does your tone match the game?
• The QB is always the central character. What is he doing?
• Don’t forget to be a reporter.
If you’re lucky, you have moments in your professional life where people who know more than you do help you more than they have to. Those four, with their respect for the craft and willingness to help, made a big impression.
4. I think unveiling Chris Simms’ annual top 40 QB list makes for a really fun final month of the Unbuttoned Podcast. Give it a listen. Three QBs elicited the biggest responses:
29. Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
25. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
8. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
• Chris has Tagovailoa and Hurts in the right neighborhood. The teens would be a stretch. The 30s would be a slight. There’s reason to believe both are moving in the right direction, but there’s also reason to wonder. The Dolphins and Eagles have plausibly improved the team around each quarterback, with offensive linemen and playmakers. Both quarterbacks have enough experience now to enter the season with the confidence of a veteran than the wonder of a youngster. They either play at a level that makes it obvious they should be ranked higher next year, or the teams will likely move on.
• Tom Brady at 8? I’d have him higher. His combination of conviction and talent still wins the play most times. Chris sees a deficiency when the pocket starts to collapse around Brady, and Chris feels Brady’s reaction in that moment is not as good as those ranked ahead of him. That’s a valid point. But I think Brady’s decision making and fastball are still elite, and to me he’s a top 5 QB.
I love Chris the dude for his friendship and sense of humor and his kindness. And I admire Chris the analyst for his informed opinions, and how much he cares about football. He watches all of it, thinks about it, develops strong feelings about it. Agonizes over his lists, fills notebooks with his thoughts. (In cursive, no less.) You don’t have to agree with his takes, but know that they come from a lifetime of being incredibly near football at its highest levels. Watching it, learning it, playing it, studying it, discussing it. And usually smiling about it.
5. I think after teeing up Chris Simms, Mike Mayock, Charles Davis, and Daniel Jeremiah on top 10 lists of all kinds the last 15 years, I finally need one of my own.
Top 10 80s Hip Hop songs
10 Special Ed, I Got It Made
9 Beastie Boys, Hey Ladies
8 EPMD, Strictly Business
7 Neneh Cherry, Buffalo Stance
6 Dana Dane, Cinderfella Dana Dame
5 LL Cool J, I Can’t Live Without My Radio
4 Whodini, One Love
3 Grandmaster Flash, The Message
2 Run DMC, Rock Box
1 Erik B and Rakim, Paid In Full
What’d I miss? Where did I hit? Any and all feedback – @paulwburmeister
6. I think if you don’t like Super 70s Sports on Twitter, I’m pretty sure we can’t be friends. This account never misses! 70’s and 80’s nostalgia, humor, movies, baseball cards, random kitchen appliances, car decor. It’s random and perfection. Every day.
7. I think I like Instagram because it’s in general a pretty positive place. Here are a couple of my favorite follows:
@AdamGrant: A psychologist and author who rolls out a couple thought-provoking posts a day. A thoughtful approach to wisdom, without being too preachy.
@Upworthy: I do two things pretty easily: laugh and cry. This account makes me do both. It’s mostly just good at giving you things to think about and feel good about. Who doesn’t need a daily dose of that?
8. I think I heard something super cool at my son’s end-of-season high school sports banquet the other night. The team won a state championship the night before. The young head coach, from an extremely successful high school and college program, is confident. Hard nosed. Organized. Driven. Doesn’t show much vulnerability from the outside, isn’t compelled to share a lot.
But he stood in front of the team and parents and spoke from the heart about what this group did for him, what it gave him, without even knowing.
Like most seasons, this one had times when things didn’t go well; and like most people, he had a couple moments of self doubt. The team rallied and played its best in the season’s biggest moments, giving the school its first state title in this sport, and giving the coach back the rock solid belief he most often had. He thanked them in a very sincere and real way.
People appreciate vulnerability, honesty, and hearing about those moments where we wonder: Am I as good at this as I thought I was? Am I doing this right?
Sometimes we need others to help us out of that temporary spot, without being asked. To pull us back into our own belief so we can get back to that space where we know we’re good, and feel our confidence more than our doubts. I stood in the back and held back tears, and thought: There’s nothing like sports, nothing like a team.
9. I think if you have only 15 minutes and a tiny sliver of open space, try this down-and-up ladder workout:
:30 second rest
:30 second rest
:30 second rest
:30 second rest
:30 second rest
:10 second rest
:10 second rest
Then work your way back up to 10, following the same amount of rest between sets. It works every time.
10. I think I’ve written every word of this article in the notes app on my iPhone. Do you respect me more or less?