CINCINNATI — I hear this a lot, or something like it, from family and from friends in the business:
Why do you still go on that training-camp trip? Killing yourself, zipping from camp to camp. You’re 65 now. Cut it back.
This story is why.
What separates the great players from the very good players? I saw it the other day on a lonely field in the Midwest under a summer afternoon broiler, 92 degrees with 85 percent humidity, when the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was the only football player at work.
Ja’Marr Chase was the last of 90 players on the field for the AFC champion Bengals on this dog-day Cincinnati afternoon, prepping to catch footballs shot out of a Jugs machine at short range at 40 mph. Chase started catching them with running back Chris Evans providing some distracting defense to make the catches tougher, but then Evans had to hustle inside for a meeting. So now, other than one other Bengal signing autographs 100 yards away for a few fans, and two equipment guys, the place was Bengal-free. Players and coaches were inside the air-conditioned locker room and offices.
Chase now had one problem: He needed a DB to play defense. He saw the stoop-shouldered boss of Bengals.com, Geoff Hobson, waiting for him to finish the drill so he could ask him a few questions. Hobson asked if Chase needed him to play defense.
“If you want to,” Chase said.
In his last football game, the Super Bowl, Chase was guarded by all-world corner Jalen Ramsey.
Now he’d be guarded by a gray-haired 63-year-old scribe who last played football in the Carter administration.
The object of this drill was not only for Chase to work on catching line-drive throws, but to have someone distract him with a tug on the jersey or wave a white Gatorade towel in his face. Hobson grabbed a towel and prepared to distract Chase from catching fastballs from the machine, just eight yards away.
“Wave it in front of my eyes,” Chase told Hobson.
“THWAP!” came the footballs, one after another, shot out of the machine, a Bengals aide handing them to equipment manager Adam Knollman, who fed them into the machine, each ball speeding 24 feet to the orange-gloved Chase. With Hobson fluttering the towel as each line drive zipped toward them, Chase softly hand-caught them, no body involved. Try that sometime.
The oversized rolling garbage can was empty. I called from the sideline: “How many in there?”
Equipment guy: “Well, about 40 in each.”
“I do three of ‘em,” Chase said. Most of the receivers and backs do one of these huge cans.
One hundred twenty balls. Twenty minutes of footballs shot out of a cannon. Hobson fluttering the towel in his face, no words spoken. Once, Hobson succeeded, distracting Chase so the ball clanged off his hands. (“I can tell my grandchildren I broke up a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase,” Hobson said later.) Chase stopped the drill, ambled 25 yards downfield, picked it up and tossed it back to the assistant helping Knollman feed the machine with ball after ball.
Seemed an odd thing, Chase chasing the errant ball. Let that one go, I thought. Someone will pick it up later.
“Ja’Marr’s different,” Knollman, the equipment guy, said. “If he misses one, he’ll go get it, and the ball gets thrown back to us. He’ll have to do it again. He has to be perfect. He has to catch every one.”
When it was over, Chase took his helmet off. The sweat flowed in rivulets off his head. “Thank you,” he said to the equipment guys. A walk-through hour to get today’s script of plays down, two hours of practice, a five-minute “Get Better” period of catching tennis balls thrown fast, then 20 minutes of this.
We’d talked before practice. I asked him what he’d say to a kid watching this interview.
“Focus on you,” Chase said. “There’s so much you can control. If you want to be great, you’ve got to work at it constantly, every day, even when you’re tired. Gotta know when to push yourself, gotta know when to over-push yourself.”
This was over-pushing himself. It’s his world.
I said to him pre-practice: “You want to be the best, don’t you?”
“That’s my goal,” Chase said.
“What about you against [former LSU mate] Justin Jefferson?”
“I’m better than Justin.”
“I don’t know if I’m better … but I watch his film all the time. He told me he watches my film. That’s definitely something to keep me working.”
One day last week, Chase’s receivers coach, Troy Walters, used Powerpoint before practice to put up a quote from Bo Schembechler in the wide receivers meeting room.
EVERY DAY YOU’RE EITHER GETTING BETTER OR YOU’RE GETTING WORSE. YOU NEVER STAY THE SAME.
The same day, at practice, Walters, who has been significant in Chase’s growth and ethos, told him: “If you want to be really great, you need to be fundamentally sound every day, even in our walk-through.” Walters noticed on one route that Chase was supposed to take four steps off the line, but instead he took five. He admonished Chase. For the rest of the walk-through, Chase would look back at Walters after practicing a route, to see if he’d done it perfectly.
Chase credits Walters with pushing him and polishing him. After Chase had one of the best rookie seasons by a player in recent history—81 catches, 1,455 yards, 18.0 yards per catch, 13 TDs, then a rookie-record 368 postseason receiving yards—what happened a year ago in his rookie training camp seems so incongruous. Remember when he was dropping everything in sight last summer? Walters sat Chase down, showed him tape of how great he was at LSU and said, essentially, this too shall pass, and hard work will fix everything.
“We had a heart to heart,” Walters said. “He’s a great player. The word that comes to mind is freakish. But he understands the value of work, and how important it is in his success. I think what happened is he hadn’t played in the  Covid season, and he just had some rust.”
There’s a drill Walters does with Chase that makes a lot of sense. Chase faces a wall. Walters stands behind him. With Chase focused on the wall, Walters throws a tennis ball hard. It bounces off the wall to a different place in Chase’s catch radius each time, and Chase tries to react instantaneously and grab it.
“Hand-eye coordination,” Chase told me. “Reaction in a split-second is crucial to being great.”
I didn’t sense a lot of the-missed-Super Bowl-chance haunts us out of the Bengals. My theory: This team won fortunate dogfights at Tennessee and Kansas City when Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes threw late picks, and Evan McPherson kicked 95-yard field goals in both games to get Cincinnati to the big game. I didn’t sense that losing to that great defensive front and Matthew Stafford/Cooper Kupp is a nightmare for Cincinnati going forward. For the Bengals to get to a second straight Super Bowl, the retooled offensive line needs to build a better shield around Joe Burrow (72 sacks in 21 games, by far the most in football). Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd combined for 222 catches, 3,374 yards and 24 TDs last year. It’s absurd to just say, Duplicate that, or do better, but the Bengals need a healthy, full dose of their trio to be great again. Because now the rest of the league looks at the Bengals on the schedule as a challenge, not a bye week.
There’s another reason the uber-popular Chase is particularly valuable to the franchise in a time when the Bengals have taken over the local sports scene: perspective beyond his 22 years. The other day, Knollman said to Chase he appreciated him signing autographs for so many kids after practice.
“These people wait a long time for this,” Chase said. “And it doesn’t last forever.”
Many topics after a full week on the road. I was joined by my NBC producer/videographer team of Kelsey Bartels and Morgan Miller and — surprise! — by new NBC teammate Jason Garrett for weekend stops. Started in Cincinnati Monday. Ended with a Sunday drive to St. Joseph, Mo., for Kansas City camp today. In this week’s column:
- Aaron Rodgers, in a don’t-worry-be-happy state these days, tells me about his mind-bending trip to Peru experiencing psychedelic substances…and that’s not even the most significant story in Green Bay, IMO.
- Deshaun Watson got off easy, but probably not for long.
- The NFL had to hammer Stephen Ross, who I think was fortunate too. But the reverberations, involving Tom Brady and Bryce Young and how the NFL sausage is made, are many.
- Tend to your mental health, says Ryan Tannehill. He should know. Mike Vrabel: “We spend a lot of time in this game on our bodies. We need to spend as much time on our minds.”
- Matt Eberflus has such a good approach to a historic job in Chicago (and you’ll see it). Now we’ll see if Justin Fields can get the Bears back to goodness.
- RIP Vin Scully, the greatest to ever grace a baseball booth. Thankful he had a dalliance with football.
- Hall of Fame thoughts, and a good reminder from a voter about what’s important.
- Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White on this vital societal topic: why horses are better than dogs.
- And Friday was one of Jason Garrett’s “all-time great days.” It came on I-94 in Wisconsin.
GREEN BAY—In 11 minutes at his locker inside Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers used the word “love” 20 times in a 1,597-word conversation. He relayed a recent exchange with veteran teammate Randall Cobb. “He was saying I was such a more gentle person,” Rodgers said with a slight grin that didn’t go away while we spoke. “I said yeah, I love myself a lot better so it’s easier to love other people and give them forgiveness and not jump on somebody’s ass if they make a mistake.”
Of all the things I never thought I’d be writing about covering the NFL, the reigning MVP having a three-day experience with the Quechuan natives in South America ingesting psychedelics would be high on the list. Now that I’ve got your attention, can I interrupt that for a second with a prediction about the 2022 Packers?
I think the addition of new special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia will be more significant to this Green Bay season than the subtraction of a great wide receiver, Davante Adams.
(Maybe it’s me on those psychedelics.)
I think that because history shows Rodgers figures out his targets every year, even when things look dire, and early camp star Romeo Doubs looks like a major early contributor at receiver. In the practice I saw, Doubs physically bested corner Eric Stokes on a long gain over the middle, made a diving catch in a two-minute period and made two other impressive contested catches. The 132nd pick in the draft from Nevada is long and appears unafraid, and the respect he’s getting from defenders was impressive to see. Twice after Doubs torched a DB, others DBs came and tapped him on the helmet, like, We see you, Rook.
Re Bisaccia: The Packers have had lethally bad special teams in recent years—they lost the divisional playoff game to San Francisco last year because of them—and now they have one of the best kicking-team coaches in the game with the addition of the interim Raiders coach last year. Bisaccia’s impact will be huge.
Now…let’s discuss ayahuasca. That was the talk of camp. First I had to learn what ayahuasca is. Per Wikipedia, it is consumed mostly as a tea to promote a placid state of being, and can be done over days: “People who have consumed ayahuasca report having mystical experiences and spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, and deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can…Westerners typically describe experiences with psychological terms like ‘ego death.’”
I thought of different ways to present this, but then I re-read Rodgers’ words to me, and it’s such an unusual story that I decided to let him tell it. Slightly condensed, here it is, from Rodgers:
“I have a dear friend that I’ve known for 25 years that went on an ayahuasca journey in 2019. He came back, and we played golf one day and he told me all about it. I said, okay, I think it’s time that I do it. So we put together a trip to Peru [in 2020] and had a great experience. Then I went again this offseason and had another beautiful experience. Different, very different. Different size group, different amount of days.
“We sat three different nights with the medicine. I came in with an intention of doing a lot of healing of other relationships and bringing in certain people to have conversations with. Most of the work was around myself and figuring out what unconditional love of myself looks like of myself. In doing that, allowing me to understand how to unconditionally love other people but first realizing it’s gotta start with myself. I’ve got to be a little more gentle with myself and compassionate and forgiving because I’ve had some negative voices, negative self-talk, for a long time. A lot of healing went on. There’s things—images from the nights, the journeys—that will come up in dreams or during the day I’ll think about something that happened or something that I thought about. It’s constantly trying to integrate those lessons into everyday life.”
How’d it change your life?
“Man, it’s hard to answer that question with a short answer. But a lot of different ways. The most important way was really that self-love part. I think it’s unlocked a lot of my heart. Being able to fully give my heart to my teammates, my loved ones, relationships because I can fully embrace unconditionally myself. Just didn’t do that for a long time. I was very self-critical. When you have so much judgment on yourself it’s easy to transfer that judgment to other people. When you figure out a better way to love yourself, I think you can love people better because you’re not casting the same judgment you cast on yourself on other people. I’m really thankful for that.”
I asked about his fraught and estranged relationship with his family in California, and whether that might now get fixed.
“Honestly, that was a big intention I brought into the second journey this offseason,” he said. “I really felt like I wanted to surrender and open up to the medicine for some healing to come through and some direction on how to kind of go about that. And it didn’t. It didn’t necessarily. The big message was unconditionally loving myself is the key to being able to heal all relationships—with them, past relationships with lovers, whatever it might be…So that gives me a lot of hope in healing at some point. There was nothing specific that came through in my three nights of journey, per se, but it was everything to learn how to love myself better because every relationship is changed from that standpoint. Including the way I look at them [family members] and the hope I have for reconciliation at some point.”
I told him what I’d observed in my one-practice snapshot and here in the locker room. (Which I admit is a shallow way to draw any conclusion about a person. I don’t really know Rodgers. This is my Polaroid view of the ’20 and ’21 MVP—that’s it.) He looked happy on the field, thrilled to see practice visitor Jordy Nelson, hugging Nelson’s wife, laughing with Cobb, talking and smiling in an interaction with Doubs. Placid man.
He brought up all the coaches and players who he says make the game fun for him when I asked if there was a time when he was been down on football and now he loved it more.
“I don’t think it’s that,” he said. “I think [love of the game] has just deepened. My love for football has been there since I was 5 or 6 years old. But there’s a difference between loving something and being in love with something. Right? I think we can all relate to that. Loving people or being in love with people, loving things or being in love with things. I think I just fell back in love with football the last few years. It’s due to a mindset but also the people. I really do. I give credit to the Nathaniel Hacketts of the world and Luke Getsy, Justin Outten, Matt LaFleur—and Tom Clements coming back. Randall Cobb coming back and Marcedes Lewis. Robert Tonyan and Allen Lazard and Mason Crosby, and of course David Bakhtiari. All the people who make this thing so fun. I love people. I love my teammates so much. I love the opportunity to do this.
“But I think I just fell in love with it a little bit deeper. Again, I think a lot of that is due to the work that I’ve done on myself. It hasn’t all been just the ayahuasca journey. It’s been therapy. It’s been meditation. It’s been changing habits that weren’t giving me any type of joy. Eating better. Taking care of myself a little bit better. Being more gentle with myself. All those things have allowed me to look at each day with a little more joy.”
So, the obvious question is: does this violate the NFL’s substance-abuse policy? I don’t know. Checked with the league late Friday, and got a no-comment. But it’s likely the league never thought of South American psychedelics when creating the substance abuse policy. I was told over the weekend that the league will very likely not do anything to Rodgers retroactively because he’s not tested positive for a banned substance, and as for the future, who knows?
More in Ten Things below about Rodgers’ football regrets, but I wanted to get to the big thing around the Packers this summer: Wefense.
That’s what Bisaccia calls his special teams. Not offense, not defense, but a patchwork of the entire team in the kicking game. Last year, it was more like awfulfense. Flashback to the divisional game in frigid Lambeau in January. Pack up 10-3. Six minutes left. Niners ball at the Green Bay 19, fourth and one. The defense stones a Niner rush, loss of two, and now the Packers have to run out the clock on a zero-degree wind-chill night. But they do nothing on the fortuitous possession, and they have to punt, and punt front breaks down, and the Corey Bojorquez punt is blocked and recovered for a touchdown. Niners won on a field goal at :00.
Lots of things went wrong, but special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton got fired after a year on the job, a year continuing the tradition of disastrous play on kicking teams. After some aggressive recruiting by coach LaFleur, and a reported $2-million-a-year contract, Bisaccia was a Packer.
Bisaccia’s “wefense” ethos, as he explained Sunday, is that a special teams unit takes players from everywhere on the roster, and all must play unselfishly.
“On a punt team,” he said, “your wing might be a safety, one flyer might be a wide receiver, one might be a cornerback, the personal protector might be a fullback. It takes the whole team. I tell the players, ‘The only ‘I’ I want to hear is what can I do to help us win.’”
Bisaccia has brought a sense of vigor and importance to early practices. When he thought the 11 punt-team players were lethargic coming out of the huddle on one play, he ran 60 yards to get to them and yell: “Get back in the huddle! Come outta the huddle like you mean it!”
LaFleur said Bisaccia “can love players tough better than any coach I’ve ever met. He’s ultra-demanding but earns their respect by really caring about them. It’s an art, what he’s able to do.”
Bisaccia told me this job reminds him of the first NFL job he took—in Tampa Bay in 2002 on Jon Gruden’s staff.
“That was a team, with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and John Lynch and Simeon Rice, that was built to win now,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the same position here with Aaron Rodgers and this team. I feel that same sense of urgency. It fuels me.”
The special teams need a jolt. I say Rodgers solves the receiver jigsaw the way he always does. He might struggle a bit replacing the best third- down and red-zone receiver in football, Adams, but give him time. If Green Bay can finally overcome its recent history of blown January chances, Rodgers will be the most vital element. But Bisaccia’s impact must be felt too.
In the wake of the news that independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson ruled Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson should be suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season, six points:
1. The length of the ban is six games too short. Robinson spends a chunk of the report criticizing the NFL for suggesting a full-season ban with no precedent, or as she says: “The NFL is attempting to impose a more dramatic shift in its culture without the benefit of fair notice to—and consistency of consequence for—those in the NFL subject to the policy.” Come on. Should the NFL have a discipline handbook that says, 10-15 civil lawsuits alleging lewd conduct against—8 games; more than 15—a full season?
2. Robinson’s characterization of the offenses as “non-violent sexual assault” really feels wrong. Technically, I suppose you could say that the acts Watson was accused of were “non-violent,” but the accuser described a perverse act, a crime. Reading Robinson’s ruling, I felt she minimized the acts she finds Watson to have committed. That’s certainly how the most public of Watson’s accusers, Ashley Solis, saw it. “What do the actions of the NFL say to little girls who have suffered at the hands of someone perceived to have power?” she said in a statement after the ruling. “That it is not a big deal. That they don’t care. Tough s—. That’s what I’ve taken from their actions.” Except it’s not over. The system set up to rule on such discipline is obviously league-slanted, because the commissioner or his designee hears the appeal. And it would be surprising if designee Peter Harvey doesn’t add some teeth to the sanction on Watson.
3. I hear there’s not much of a chance for the two sides to settle this case before Harvey rules. But a settlement is the best idea. Increase the sanction to 10 games, let Watson back for the post-Thanksgiving stretch of seven games that includes a game against each division foe. Ten games feels light to me, but in the words of noted middle-ground-seeker Paul Tagliabue, “All’s well that ends.” Period.
4. One influential NFL person told me on this trip that it doesn’t sit well with the league or 31 other owners that the Browns rigged the Watson contract so that his suspension would cause him to lose only a fraction of his 2022 compensation. A suspension of six games, for instance, means Watson would be docked six-eighteenths (there are 18 game weeks, including the bye) of his $1.035-million salary, or $344,655. So if Robinson’s suspension with no additional fine other than six game checks stands, it means Watson would lose 0.7 percent of his $46-million total compensation this year. That’s almost absurd beyond words. I expect Harvey to be under some pressure to levy a multi-million-dollar fine of Watson in whatever he rules.
5. Let’s say Watson misses the first 10 games and comes back to play. That would mean he’d have gone 99 weeks without playing a football game, and he’d be coming back to play with a new team with receivers he’d never played a game with. At one of my camp stops, I asked an offensive coach how he thought Watson would play after such a long layoff. “Everybody’s assuming he’ll come back and be Deshaun Watson. I wonder. He’ll be working out, and he’ll probably find some receivers to throw to while he’s out, but being out that long and coming back with a new team—there’s no guarantee he’ll be that good this year.”
6. Blows my mind Watson has shown no public remorse in this case.
In the wake of the news that the Dolphins were docked first- and third-round picks, and owner Stephen Ross was suspended till mid-October and fined $1.5-miilion for tampering with Tom Brady while the quarterback was under contract to both New England and Tampa Bay, six points:
1. Ross denied virtually everything and seemed outraged at his organization being found guilty of tampering. But he’s lucky the league’s investigation gave him a pass on what could have made the NFL force him to sell the team—charges by Brian Flores that the owner offered him $100,000 per game to lose in order to better their draft position. The league couldn’t conclusively corroborate Flores’ tanking story, which saved Ross.
2. The league has a “legal tampering” period prior to the start of free-agency each year, during which time teams and agents can come to agreements on new contract. But enforcement of regular tampering has been lax, to say the least. There’s a no-harm-no-foul ethos—at least that’s my sense—when it comes to pre-free-agency contact with player agents and players, and I think that’s part of this case. This is Roger Goodell drawing a line and saying, Tampering stops now. You’re all warned.
3. This makes Tom Brady look bad, obviously, like it’s okay for him to play by a different set of rules because he’s Tom Brady. Maybe he knew this was coming, and that’s why he’s had one press availability in training camp, and none since this news came down Tuesday. Whenever he does speak, this is going to be very hard to justify in any way.
4. Great point by a good source: “Usually when you’re investigated for tampering, you’ve succeeded at getting something valuable. Miami got nothing, and it cost them a one and a three. I can’t imagine a worse outcome.”
5. This is the upshot that really hurts Miami: Before this happened, they had their own 2023 first-round pick and also San Francisco’s. Let’s just say Tua Tagovailoa is mediocre this year and Miami decides it wants to try to get in position to move up to get a quarterback in the ’23 draft. Theoretically, if their two picks were in the 15 to 22 range (just spitballing), maybe they could package those two plus their one in 2024 to move up to three or four to get a quarterback. That’s out the window now.
6. This ratchets up the pressure on Tagovailoa. Now there’s really no Plan B for 2023, unless the Miami braintrust falls in love next spring with a Kenny Pickett type talent and he falls in round one. Maybe you’d say it’s great for Tagovailoa—he can play free and easy knowing it’s going to be his job going forward. And maybe that’s the case. But I say there’s just as good a chance he feels the heat of, Dude, you simply cannot fail. He’s certainly set up to win with Tyreek Hill and Mike McDaniel on board now, and he needs to win now.
NASHVILLE—In GM Jon Robinson’s office the other day, we were talking about how the Titans are regularly disregarded when discussing Super Bowl contenders…yet the team is on a three-year playoff streak and was the AFC’s one seed last year. Robinson smiled and said, “I’m gonna play you a song real quick,” he said, and started fiddling with his iPhone.
“Eric Church. ‘The Outsiders.’ That’s who we are,” Robinson said. Now came Church, the country star.
They’re the in crowd, we’re the other ones
It’s a different kind of cloth that we’re cut from
And so on. This is an interesting team with a braintrust that can patch holes as well as any team in football. Robinson and Mike Vrabel built a rock-ribbed defense and strong run game, with a pretty good pass game too (until divisional weekend), and they survived a ridiculous spate of injuries to lock in the AFC’s top seed. Tennessee used a league-record 91 players last year, won 12 games, and became the first team in NFL history to have eight wins over teams with winning records…despite missing Derrick Henry for half the year with a foot injury.
Vrabel gave a Belichickian response when I asked him about the Titans’ image. “I try not to focus on things that don’t matter,” he said. “We just try to build a foundation to help us withstand the ups and downs of an NFL season.”
The last time we saw the Titans was a down of epic proportions—the 19-16 home loss to Cincinnati to end the season. Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, one on the Titans’ first offensive play and another, the dagger, on the Titans’ final offensive play of the game. That pick, with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 16-all game, led to the winning 52-yard Cincinnati field goal at :00. And it led to huge questions about the future of Tannehill in Tennessee. His resume is overall good, but he’s lost three straight playoff games, averaging 17.3 points in the three. It would have cost the Titans a $57.4-million dead-cap charge in 2022 to move on from him, and so that was never an option.
But there’s another part of this story, a mental-health part.
“The game was heartbreaking,” Tannehill told me. “Put me in a dark spot.”
A really dark spot. He’s out of it now, mostly, but for the first time in all his years playing football, the game knocked him for such a mental loop he had to seek professional help.
“I hadn’t really been in that spot before,” he said after a broiler of a practice. “It was weeks and weeks of not really sleeping, and then kind of slowly got better from there, working my way through it. It wasn’t something that I just passively got through. I was intentionally seeking out help, talking to somebody and trying to work through the mental side of it.
“The mental side is such a big thing for everybody in life, but especially in sports. We talk about it as an organization. We have guys that help us with our bodies, help us train. We also have people that help with our minds. Being able to take advantage of that and kind of destigmatize the mental side of things. We’re all gonna go through something at different points in our life. It’s okay, right? Now you have the opportunity to work through it and be intentional about growing through the process and moving forward.
“You’re not pushing away the feelings. You’re acknowledging the feelings. You’re really feeling them and digging through why you’re feeling them, and then moving past it at that point. You’re not stuffing it away and hoping just to never feel it again. You’re acknowledging it, knowing it’s there, and then moving through it.
“Now, it’s a scar. That’s kind of how I’ve described it is that it’s a scar. It’s always there. You remember it. But it’s not a wound anymore. It doesn’t hurt the same. You acknowledge like yeah that sucked. But this is a new year. We have everything out in front of us. What happened last year, whether it was good or bad, it doesn’t matter at this point. You have to take each day as its own and take advantage of it.”
Teammates, staffers, coaches all talk of Tannehill being the same positive guy he’s always been. Now they’ve got to hope he truly is past it and can be the guy who’s gone 30-13 in three Titans seasons. His future in Tennessee probably depends on it.
As for the team, and the mental side of the game, the most important guy in Tannehill’s football life is squarely behind him—and his openness about the mental side of the game.
“We spend a lot of time in this game on our bodies,” Mike Vrabel said. “We need to spend as much time on our minds.”
I want you to look at this photo of me and Bears wideout Darnell Mooney Friday after practice. I was explaining something about the importance of a quarterback and receiver being in perfect alignment. I said to him: “In that incredible New England comeback from 28-3 in the Super Bowl against Atlanta, guess which wide receiver had the most targets in the fourth quarter and overtime for the Patriots. Malcolm Mitchell.” That’s when his face got that way. Like, who is Malcolm Mitchell? Rookie. Played only one year in the NFL. Bad knee forced him to quit. I said, “When I asked Tom Brady about it, he said there was a reason for it: 112 practices.” All those comeback routes Mitchell ran late in the game and Brady targeted him on were because they’d run them a couple of hundred times in practice, and Brady trusted him implicitly.
My point: I’d just watched Justin Fields practice in the new Luke Getsy offense imported from Green Bay, and I felt very much that it’s a work in progress. Fields rolled right several times, a la Aaron Rodgers, and looked for a receiver, and he ended up tucking it and running. It’s only with time that someone—Mooney, rookie Velus Jones, Dante Pettis, tight end Cole Kmet — or maybe more than one will get in tune with Fields, and the young QB will be able to find a receiver instead of running. Nothing wrong with running, of course — Fields is fleet and quick. But it’s good to know if he rolls right six times a game, he has a legit run or pass option five or six times.
“I’m happy you shared that story with me,” Mooney said. “I’m not sure how long it will take. But that makes perfect sense.”
This is what a new offense is like, and this is what a new regime is like. Rookie GM Ryan Poles says he doesn’t like calling this a teardown, but what do you call a camp roster with 54 of 91 players brand new…and the personnel staff new, and the coaching staff new, and the franchise quarterback in his 16th month on campus?
This is going to take a while, but Poles isn’t taking shortcuts, and that’s good. When Poles traded 31-year-old Khalil Mack to the Chargers for second- and sixth-round picks, it was a signal that Poles and coach Matt Eberflus want to build for the long haul. That’s why I don’t think this is a make-or-break year for Fields. He’ll have every chance to win the job long term, and patience will be a virtue with this staff. Getsy is a teacher of the first order. “Probably the best quarterback coach I’ve had in my life,” said Fields.
When I watched Fields Friday, what I thought needed the most work was his anticipation throws, his rhythm throws. Not to harp on Brady, but what became rote with him was knowing precisely where each receiver would be on each route, so he could throw when the receiver wasn’t looking, certain of the spot he’d be when the ball was released. Fields isn’t there yet.
“We’re working on the rhythm throws,” Eberflus said.
Fields gets it. He knows mastering an offense means being able to throw ball after ball to a spot, not waiting to see him be open. The key will be for Fields and for the fans to understand this will take time, and lots of the final pieces aren’t on this roster yet.
“Each day I feel we take a step forward,” said Fields. That’s important.
I’m not bullish on the Bears to contend this year. On the total rebuilds — Bears, Giants, Texans, Jags — that’s really okay. In fact, it’s preferable. I am bullish on the groundwork being laid by Poles and Eberflus. The respect they have for Bears history, and the desire to get the Bears back to contention, was evident Friday. Eberflus, when setting up his office, wanted to honor the history of the franchise and make every player aware that their jobs are to return the franchise to prominence. In the space behind his desk that most coaches reserve for family photos or mementos, the new coach asked for pictures of the nine Bears with retired numbers. When players sit in his office, he asks them to name at least three of them. Some get Walter Payton. Some get Dick Butkus. But it’s ancient history to most. But they matter, and Eberflus wants to keep them alive for this generation.
Also behind his desk, in the middle of display of the great Bears, are two empty plexiglass shelves, small ones, and two empty spots at the base of the display. Eberflus wanted the two shelves for George Halas Trophies, emblematic of the NFC champions. And he wanted the spaces below to be there for two Super Bowl trophies.
That’s right: Super Bowl trophies. They don’t call them Lombardi Trophies around here, by the way.
The greatest baseball announcer in history (there, I said it) was pretty good at football too. At the time of his death at 94, it’s fitting to recall his greatest moment in a football booth. He called The Catch, the winning TD grab by Dwight Clark in the 1981 San Francisco-Dallas NFC Championship Game and left football broadcasting immediately thereafter. It was his call to make that his last football call.
Six years ago, Scully was asked if he regretted not grabbing onto the NFL and becoming a huge name announcing football.
I loved his answer. He stayed with his passion.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Scully said. “The reason I did the NFL was, first of all, I was offered the opportunity and I gave it a thought. And I kept thinking, you know, I’ve been doing baseball so long that I could fall into a trap of just doing it by rote and I thought I could use a challenge. So I was offered the opportunity to do football and golf. And I thought, I need to work harder in another sport.
“So I used the NFL as much as I possibly could just trying to wake me up. And I was privileged to work with some wonderful experts. Then I wound up with Hank Stram doing a game that will be memorable, I guess, the one called ‘The Catch,’ with Joe Montana and Dwight Clark. When that game ended, I got on the airplane and I was emotionally worn out from doing it and making sure I didn’t make some horrific mistake. But when I got on the airplane I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve done it. I’ve gotten the boost that I needed for my energy.’ That was it. When the plane landed and I got home, I told my family, ‘That’s a great game on which to call it a football career.’ That was it. It served a marvelous purpose to just to reawaken me, I guess.”
Scully, I always thought, did four things perfectly: He relaxed listeners with a lovely lilting voice, never feeling forced or awkward—just neighborly. He was perfectly informed about everything he discussed. He told incredible stories, and told them like he was sitting next to you, talking to you and only you. He could put a gigantic baseball game or part of it into historical context immediately, such as the historical and social implications of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record playing in the city of Atlanta.
Listen. You can hear him say it. Unrushed. Measured. Important.
“What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
Worker bee too. Elliott Kalb, his statistician, tells a story about Scully doing an NBC Game of the Week game at Wrigley Field on a Saturday afternoon. He was due back in LA for a Sunday afternoon game and so had a flight Saturday evening to Los Angeles. On the way to the airport, the car broke down. Scully got out. He hitch-hiked to the airport. He wasn’t going to miss the Sunday game.
Bob Costas offered this:
“The combination of his unique talent, his command of the craft, his pleasing and distinctive voice, his lyrical style, his command of language, his enormous frame of reference. Combine all of that, and then spread it over his 67-year career. A huge amount of baseball history. His first year, 1950, was Connie Mack’s last year managing the Philadelphia A’s. Mack was born in 1862, during the Civil War.
“And…when you take that part into account and the fact that he starts with the Brooklyn Dodgers, not just any team, but Jackie Robinson’s Boys of Summer Dodgers. If he was the voice of any other team, relatively nondescript team, he’d still be a Hall of Fame broadcaster. But he was the voice of the Dodgers. Think of all that history. All those compelling characters. The circumstances of his career elevate his talent, which was already top-of-the-mountain talent.”
These people had absolutely no idea who I was. They have no TVs. They deal in the Shamanic realm, not the NFL realm.
— Aaron Rodgers, on his experiences in 2020 and again this year with the mind-altering ayahuasca and the natives who are experts in it in remote parts of South America. Read my Green Bay section for more.
This is the greatest thing, I think, for an official. Do your job. Hopefully nobody’s even going to know you’re around. Make the calls the proper way with a heavy dose of common sense.
— Art McNally, the first on-field official ever enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in his videotaped acceptance speech Saturday. He is 97.
Perfect words for an official.
When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up. You win a Super Bowl, all doors open up. When you make the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up.
— LeRoy Butler, the Hall of Fame safety, in his induction speech Saturday.
I think the team’s all-in with me.
— Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa.
You’re only as good as this season, Tua.
It just comes down to limiting what voices I really need to hear and, right now, it’s here, hearing what my coaches have to say, what the other quarterbacks have to say, and what my teammates are thinking on every single play. Even parents sometimes can be a distraction.
— Jets QB Zach Wilson on erasing his social media apps from his phone at the start of training camp.
Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White, entering his fourth season, on his love of horses. He owns 30 of them.
“As a kid, being from Cotton Valley, La., that’s all we did. Horse country. I always rather have a horse than a dog because you gotta feed the dog, walk the dog. The horse does all the work for you. You just sit on his back. So that made life easy, you know?
“I got a dog now, a Blue Heeler. Look it up. Cattle dog. One of the best dogs I ever had in my life. She follows my horse. I don’t gotta walk her. She follows us when we go on rides.”
Why a horse over a dog?
“The horse does the work. When I go out to enjoy my horse, I’m on his back. Or her back. She’s doing all the moving. I’m just sitting up there. If you’re on a dog walk, you gotta work and the dog’s gotta work. It just makes more sense. I can go hunt on my horse. I can go through trails on my horse. I can do whatever. I can ride my horse to the store. I can’t ride a dog to the store.
“Yup, I ride my horse to the store [in Louisiana]. Tie it up outside, like the old days. Walk in the store, get whatever I need, come out. You stop at the store, tie him up and go in there. I would say a lot of people do that.”
Road-related snippets from the past eight days:
CINCINNATI—Orioles-Reds, Great American Ballpark, Sunday afternoon, lovely day, bottom of the first. Joey Votto coming to the dish. His walkup music: “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton. Just to be sure I wasn’t hearing things, I made sure to listen before his second at-bat—there cannot be a major-league player with Dolly Parton as the walkup singer. Sure enough, this wafted over the speakers when Votto came up a second time:
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging you please don’t take my man…
NASHVILLE—The Last Supper with Dom Bonvissuto and fam came at Lockeland Table in East Nashville, a day after he edited Football Morning in America for the last time. Lockeland Table’s one of my favorite spots on the tour. So Dom has left the nest. He edited this column for almost 13 years and is moving to a new gig at Outkick. I have only one negative to report about the meal: Dom had the Southern Hawaiian pizza, with peaches on it. Dom! Come on! Peaches on pizza! So good to see my little buddy, Jude, going into sixth grade this week, and Dom’s wife, Danny, just a terrific person. Goodbye’s not forever, Dom.
NASHVILLE TO TAMPA—Evening flight, Southwest. I have had very good post-Covid fortune about all things air travel, but that ended here. When I boarded, I grabbed the bulkhead window, with the aisle seat occupied and the middle seat empty. A few minutes later, a large man, tall and quite wide, sat in the middle. Unfortunately, I was pressed to my left pretty far. There was no room to move. Two hours of this. Hmmm. I excused myself and moved down to 26B. Center seat, a bit of room. In a past life, I’d be fuming. After 42 years of marriage, I think Ann King’s approach to life—why get bothered by things you can’t control?—is rubbing off. In a year of travel nightmares, I haven’t had a single one. So two hours of an inconvenience…that’s the travel life sometimes.
TAMPA—I want to tell you about rain. End-of-the-earth rain, buckets and buckets of it, .95 inches in an hour, as we left the Bucs training facility a bit after 1 p.m. A bolt of lightning, from sky to earth, with crackling thunder, preceded the incredible storm. The Bucs handed me an umbrella to walk the eight steps to the car my crew pulled up to the front door of the place, and even with umbrella, when I get into the car, I was as wet as if I’d just walked out of the swimming pool. Writing this on a plane to Minneapolis, a few hours later. My socks are soaked through. My sneakers, same. Man, the rain on the gulf coast of Florida is serious.
GREEN BAY—Have I sung the praises of Lodge Kohler enough? It’s my favorite hotel on the circuit by far, with location (across the street from Lambeau Field, in the cool Titletown District), old Packers photos in every room, modern rooms with crazy-good Kohler showers, bottle of Charles Woodson’s “Intercept” pinot noir in the room as a welcome gift. Midwest-friendly. The best. One quibble, and this is Everywhere USA in airports and restaurants and public spaces and it’s really quite mad: Lobby/restaurant music stuck in the eighties. (Seventies, maybe.) Sereneded at breakfast Thursday with Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, Hot Legs by Rod Stewart, Burnin’ for You by Blue Oyster Cult, Long Train Running by the Doobie Brothers, The Joker by the Steve Miller Band. Can’t we progress in music a bit, people?
I owe a bit of an assist on the Green Bay trip to the Packers’ media-relations czar, Jason Wahlers. Ten minutes after leaving my confab with Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Thursday afternoon, my lower left crown on a molar popped out chewing a protein bar. I asked Wahlers if he knew a dentist who might be able to see me. He found one. His dentist, Matthew Nelson of Parc Village Dental, could see me, and it took him 25 minutes from start of procedure to end to adhesive that baby back in. He was curious about whether I’d talked to Rodgers about the psychedelic mushrooms. I said yes, and he said he’d have to read the column Monday. Thanks for the save, Dr. Nelson.
ON I-94 WEST TO MINNEAPOLIS—Jason Garrett, the new NBC Football Night in America analyst, joined us at Bears camp, fresh off his first NFL show Thursday night in Canton. Two hours sleep. But he was going to see the Bears, Vikings and Packers in three days as part of his homework for the new gig, and he was all smiles when we met him in Lake Forest, home of the Bears. First thing first. The drive. Four hundred miles. “Six hours!” he said. I explained that three decades of training-camp travel in the summer, with storms and flight delays and airport crowds, had sent me to cars almost exclusively. Seven hours or less, with my NBC-appointed helpers doing 70 percent of the driving (I do some; I love driving), and we always drove. In this big Ford Explorer, I could nap or type in the back, fairly efficiently. So Jason was in. We got lunch at Culver’s in Wisconsin—he’d never had the custardy Wisco delight—and he napped for maybe 90 minutes around Wisconsin Dells. Then he woke up. “Want to play a game?” he said. “Twenty questions?” We had three rounds of the people-places-things car-ride time-killer. He went first. On the 16th question, I asked, “Is it George Halas?” Yes. My turn. I picked a Kit Kat Bar. On the 20th question—clutch play here—Kelsey Bartels said, “Is it a Kit Kat Bar?” So it was done, and we were at a late dinner at my favorite Twin Cities spot, Pizzeria Lola, and Garrett was into his pizza, telling stories, totally content. “One of the all-time great days,” Garrett said. Another camp convert!
Mac Jones had some moments of uncertainty a yr ago in training camp but not nearly as many as you would expect for a rook. This summer? Far more. Yes, it is early August. There's time. However, the install started back in the spring & you'd like more comfort & success. #Patriots
— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) August 6, 2022
Giardi covers the league NFL Network.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) August 7, 2022
Too soon pic.twitter.com/Ucp406g4cv
— Everything Buffalo (@EverythingBuf) August 6, 2022
Remember those 13 nightmarish seconds that decided the Bills’ loss in Kansas City last January.
— Tony Boselli (@TonyBoselli) August 6, 2022
The idea that the employees of Stephen Ross didn't take seriously his repeated comments about 2020 draft position being more important than 2019 win-loss record is laughable. One of the benefits of being a multi-billionaire is not having to expressly order a code red.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 2, 2022
Mike Florio’s site has been all over the Ross story.
Six games is an outrage. From Chris, of Cleveland: “Most of my friends agree with me—six games for [Deshaun] Watson is terrible. Way too light. You won’t believe how many people who love the Browns are pissed at this so-called penalty.”
I don’t think it’ll stay at six games, Chris. But as I wrote higher in this column, I think most of the women who were involved in the Watson accusations would strongly disagree with the arbitrator, Sue L. Robinson, minimizing the seriousness of the offenses by calling it “nonviolent sexual conduct.” I would agree with you and those who criticize Robinson’s ruling.
Don’t slight Tomlin’s intelligence. From Chris Wilkinson of McGeheysville, Va.: “I’m a faithful reader of the column. One thing I notice is that you frequently refer to white coaches as brilliant and intelligent. With that in mind, I was disappointed that your profile of Mike Tomlin focused on his leadership and communication. These are important. However, you mentioned little to nothing about his play-calling, schemes, or other qualities establishing his clear intelligence and smarts. It’s important to recognize that these omissions signal implicit bias and feed into racial norms Black people face every day.”
That’s a good point, Chris. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. But I was not writing a profile of Mike Tomlin. I was not writing much about the architecture of the offense or defense, or really anything other than what a good job he does as a leader of men in a time of major transition. I agree that a longer profile of him would call for some of what you say, examination and praise of what he’s done in X’s and O’s and motivation. Your larger point, though, is fair.
Why not Miami? From Tony Reed: I would like to ask why you aren’t going to the Dolphins training camp (it’s my team). It just seems like lots of good storylines this year and as an avid reader I would like to hear your thoughts on what you see in person.”
Hi, Tony. Originally the Dolphins were on my itinerary, but the only day I could fit them into my rubric the way it turned out was a day the players were off. Certainly would have been a good spot to visit with the news of this week.
Why not the Jets? From Jeff Brosnan (on Twitter): “Don’t understand your reasoning for going to Giants training camp and ignoring the Jets who have a better team and far more potential. You’ll mea culpa this down the road.”
Can’t hit ‘em all, Jeff. Picked the Giants because I hadn’t been to their camp in a few years (seven or eight, I think) and because of the fact that they’d done something they hadn’t done since 1979—hire a GM and coach both from outside the organization. I always try to hit teams with good stories and teams that might go far.
RIP Vin. From Charles Freeman of Los Angeles: “Many years and several careers ago, I was a meter reader here in Los Angeles. One of the houses I read in Pacific Palisades was that of Mr. Scully and his family. I‘d sometimes see him at the house and running errands in the Palisades Village. Then, in the early 1980s, I became friendly with Dodgers player Derrell Thomas and got to meet Mr. Scully at the stadium. He was gracious and kind every time I encountered him. We all know his voice and the greatness of his long and legendary career. He’s probably one of the last to ever see both Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron play. He was close to Jackie Robinson and called Fernando Valenzuela’s games decades later. He told us about Koufax’s 4 no-hitters, called Dodgers World Series triumphs and one sad Sunday afternoon in July 1993, he gave us the sad news that Don Drysdale had passed in his Montreal hotel room. Heaven’s radio station has a new announcer tonight.”
Wonderfully put, Charles. Thank you.
1. I think when owners meet in Minneapolis Tuesday to approve the $4.65-billion bid to buy the Broncos by Rob Walton, it’ll be the formality of formalities. “This meeting could be a five-minute Zoom,” one club exec told me over the weekend. You don’t say no to pockets that deep.
2. I think, with opening night a month from today, the scariest injury news for any team in the league is the elbow soreness that Matthew Stafford has. The Rams have downplayed it. Stafford, after throwing on Saturday, downplayed it. But the Super Bowl champs won’t have a chance to repeat if Stafford misses serious time with an injury. “I felt like I could make any throw I wanted to, but I’m just trying to be smart,” Stafford said Saturday. We don’t know and Stafford probably doesn’t know for sure if it’s going to be an issue, but it bears watching. Closely.
3. I think this is in the category of “contract squabbles I do not understand.” Kareem Hunt, Cleveland running back, is partially holding-in—the new term for being in camp but not practicing because he wants a new contract. Hunt was practicing in some drills and not others during the week, and he was reportedly back in all drills Sunday. He is in the last year of his contract. Due to make $6.25-million this year if he’s active all season (the deal includes per-game roster bonuses). Hunt has been a Brown for three years. He’s averaged 469 rushing yards per season as the team 1b to 1a Nick Chubb. I understand his point; he thinks he should be paid like a starting running back because he is as good as one. Hunt won a rushing title while in Kansas City. But football doesn’t work that way, particularly at running back. Backups, even excellent ones, don’t get paid like starters particularly in an era of declining running-back value.
4. I think I like the fact that some teams—the Vikings and USFL in the spring, Seattle upcoming—are bringing in Jay Glazer to talk to players about mental health. Glazer wrote a book (“Unbreakable: How I turned my depression and anxiety into motivation and you can too”) on his struggles, and teams noticed. It’s so good to see him use his platform and his struggles growing up to reach others who might be feeling the same pain and feel they can’t talk about it. Ran into him Saturday at the Vikings. Glazer’s message to players, in part: “You guys don’t just do tackling drills when you miss tackles. You always practice that. That’s proactive. Mental health is too reactive—you usually address it when the sky is falling. That’s got to change. Be proactive. You have an amazing support system sitting to your right and left. Teammates. Having a team can get us through the gray of depression and anxiety. Lean on each other. Talk to each other. Everyone I’ve opened up to about my mental health struggles, it’s only made us closer. Be there for each other. Vulnerability is true strength.”
5. I think there’s really only one thing that pockmarks Aaron Rodgers’ football legacy: the fact that he’s 7-9, with zero Super Bowl wins and zero NFC titles, in the last 11 postseasons, since quarterbacking the Packers to the Lombardi Trophy in the 2010 season. He bared his soul a bit when I asked him if it hurts to look back on how the last two seasons ended—home playoff losses to Tampa and San Francisco when the Packers had NFC home-field. “I’m hurt by all the playoff losses,” he said, then he reeled them off: “2009, [51-45 to Arizona] the way I started and finished that game. The 49er game in ’13 hurts [23-20 loss]. The loss to the Giants in ’11, we had a chance. We were so good that season. 2014 is the one that always sticks with you [28-22 overtime loss to Seattle]. When you think about the worst losses in your career, I mean both of them were in Seattle—the Fail Mary game in 2012, NFC Championship in the ’14 season. But they all stick with you, because you think about what you could’ve done better. Plays you should’ve made.”
Specifically, I asked about the third-and-11 throw with three minutes left in a 10-10 game against the Niners last January, when, from his own 28, he chose to target Adams in tight double coverage deep downfield instead of Lazard running free for the easiest throw of the night. Lazard was free at the Green Bay 46-yard line, and could have made another 10 or 15 yards, easy, after the catch.
“Of course,” Rodgers said. “You think about all those plays from all the years. Never goes away. Doesn’t mean that you dwell on them or you can’t get past them. You’re a competitor, you remember maybe the failures more than the successes. I think that’s just a part of loving to compete and hating to lose maybe more than you love to win. Doesn’t mean we’re gonna get stuck on it. The finality of this league is so difficult because of how fast it comes on. You lose a game, the next day’s a meeting and that’s the last time that group will ever be together. People are always like, ‘Super Bowl hangover’ or ‘playoff loss hangover,’ but I’ve never believed that because it’s a different team every single year. We have so many different guys now. Guys that we brought in from other teams. We drafted a bunch of guys. A bunch of guys are gone. It’s a new team. We gotta figure out how to win with this team and hopefully get over the hump this year.
6. I think I loved what Dick Vermeil said in his Hall of Fame speech Saturday. “If Mike Jones doesn’t make that tackle at the end of Super Bowl 34, I’m not standing here. I will forever be indebted to all of you people,” Vermeil said. That is so true. Players making plays lead to coaches being in the Hall, and Vermeil recognized it on the biggest day of his career.
7. I think Rick Gosselin is one of the people I admire most in my business—honest to a fault, full of love for football history, so authoritative on all things football. He and the late Paul Zimmerman are the two Hall of Fame voters I respect the most over my 30 years on the selection committee. He has launched rickgosselin.com, and I’ll be bookmarking it. His all-time annual special-teams rankings are one staple of the site, along with think pieces we’re better for having read. Such this one on the rush to enshrine quantity of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
8. I think I often call Gosselin the conscience of the Hall voting panel, and this story encapsulates why. He wonders about numbers playing an outsized role in Hall enshrinement. Five receivers with at least 1,000 catches—Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Hines Ward, “seemingly waiting their turn for gold jackets.” Gosselin raises the cases of three all-decade receivers from the sixties: Gary Collins, Boyd Dowler, Del Shofner. He makes a point I hope I live by on the committee: Judge players in large part against those in the era in which they played. Writes Gosselin:
“Quantity” of catch is king for receivers now. But “quality” of catch was king for receivers in the 1960s — what did you do with the football after you caught it?
Dowler caught 474 career passes, Shofner 349, Collins 330 and none amassed more than 7,300 career yards with those receptions. So there is no comparison quantity-wise with Boldin, Johnson, Smith, Ward and Wayne. But there also is no comparison in the quality of catch — and those numbers all slant in favor of the pass catchers from the 1960s.
Shofner averaged 18.5 yards per catch, Collins 16.0 yards and Dowler 15.3. Smith averaged 14.3 yards per catch, Johnson and Wayne 13.4, Boldin 12.8 and Ward 12.1. Collins caught 70 career touchdown passes. So did Johnson. But it took Collins 66 fewer games for his 70 than it took Johnson. Collins scored a touchdown every 4.7 catches, Johnson every 15.1 catches. Shofner scored a TD every 6.8 catches, Boldin every 13.1 catches.
Do Boldin, Johnson, Smith, Ward and Wayne deserve discussion for the Hall of Fame? Without question, yes. But so did Collins, Dowler and Shofner…and they never got it. Players should neither be rewarded nor punished for playing in the eras that they did.
9. I think I feel pretty confident about this preseason opinion: Kyle Trask will play the most snaps of any quarterback on the Bucs. Tampa wants to see what it has in the second-year second-rounder, and there’s no time like meaningless August games to do so.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Column of the Week: Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times with an emotional beauty on his relationship with Vin Scully. This brought tears to my eyes.
b. Wrote Hernandez, who covered the Dodgers in the late stages of Scully’s play-by-play career:
The first time I spoke to him was in 2007 shortly after The Times hired me to cover the Dodgers. I ran into him in the bathroom of the press box bearing his name. While I thought it would be weird to introduce myself to him there, it occurred to me that it might be weirder to not.
When I told him who I was, he said he had heard of me and started doing that Vin Scully thing where he narrated the details of a person’s life.
“You were born in Los Angeles,” he said. “Your father is from El Salvador; your mother is from Japan. I speak a few words of Japanese myself: Konnichiwa. …”
He went on and on like this. The voice I used to hear on my transistor radio was talking to me, about me. I would have been intimidated if not for his warmth. He insisted that I called him “Vin” instead of “Mr. Scully.”
c. You need to read the Vin/Mr. Scully duel between the kid and the legend. I shan’t spoil it here. It’s beautiful.
d. How great is it to understand that a person at the absolute top of his profession is also a very, very good person? Rest in peace, Vin Scully.
e. I find it wholly sad and really amazing that the Royals dumped former favorite son and friend-of-Mahomes Whit Merrifield to Toronto at the trading deadline. (Great trade, Toronto.) Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star encapsulated it well.
f. First, the irony of going to Toronto. Merrifield was one of 10 Royals who had to skip a road series at Toronto in July because they were unvaccinated, and he said of getting the vax, “That might change down the road” if he got traded to a team in Canada or a team that could play in Toronto in the postseason. In other words: The games I play for the Royals in Canada aren’t important enough because our team is a loser. It did not go over well. The fans’ favorite player got booed in his next game in KC. Not to over-baseball you, but that was a stunner to me.
g. The trading deadline was fun…except for the part of Christian Vazquez, longest-tenured Sox guy, going to the ‘Stros. I’ll miss the dedication and effort and overall ethos of Vazquez.
h. Beer Can of the Week: Thunder Ann American Pale Ale, from Jackalope Brewing Company, Nashville, Tenn. Look at this crazy can, with a woman in a forest with serpents (trust me).
i. Beernerdness: Doom Pedal White Ale (Fifty West Brewing, Cincinnati) was the best beer on the trip so far. The Cincinnati beer scene is outrageous, with choices out the wazoo. Drank it out of the can. The faint taste of coriander, a staple of these ales, was there, with a smooth finish and bolder than customary (for a Witbier) hoppiness. Loved it.
j. Of course, it wasn’t a trip to Green Bay without the Spotted Cow.
k. Coffeenerdness: Coffee shops are king in Minneapolis. So many good ones. Thanks to FRGMNT (not a big believer in vowels or lower-case, I guess) for being a tremendous work space Saturday and Sunday mornings…and for the terrific lattes.
l. Football Feature Story of the Week: Tyler R. Tynes of GQ (Way to go, Tyler!) with a gem on Ja’Marr Chase.
m. Chase controls what he can control. As Tynes writes, he’s big on perspective and has stressed it with his excitable Dad. Wrote Tynes:
That perspective was always there, even as a kid. Whenever Ja’Marr’s high school, Archbishop Rummel, would drop a game, his father would be “bent out of shape.” But as a teenager, Ja’Marr was a source of calm. He’d tell Jimmy, “It’s just a game, Dad.”
So, even though the Super Bowl represented the first time he’d ever lost a championship game, Ja’Marr processed the defeat quickly. He says he was over it in a few hours. “I was pissed that we lost,” Ja’Marr says. “But man, I gotta be happy I made it this far. I just made it to the Super Bowl. What can I complain about?”
n. So the interesting thing that I found in Cincinnati, by the way, is the non-devastated feeling of the team after the bummer of a Super Bowl loss. Chase illustrated why. Holy crap! We made the Super Bowl! I understand it’s not cool to just get there, but be real. Either team could have won the divisional game at Tennessee, and either team could have won the title game in Kansas City. So another one of those games in the Super Bowl and the Bengals lost? Meh.
o. I just realized I had a football thought in my non-football thoughts. Is that acceptable?
p. Happy 97th(last Wednesday), Marv Levy.
q. Now, get ready for this stunner of a birthday. I had to look at his birth year a few times and say, “Really?”
r. Happy 73rd, Brian Sipe.
s. Seventy-three!!! Did you know…In 1980, only one player (Dan Fouts) threw for more yards than Sipe’s 4,132, and only one player (Steve Bartkowski) threw for more touchdowns than Sipe’s 30.
t. I could not be happier for a verdict than for the $4.1-million Alex Jones has to pay for lying, lying, lying, lying about what happened in Sandy Hook, causing the parents of the dead to undergo even more mental torture because of the threats from sheeple following Jones.
u. Radio Story of the Week: Terry Gross, of NPR’s Fresh Air, on the documentary “Afghanistan Undercover,” secretly filed by filmmaker Ramita Navai on the perils for women in Afghanistan.
v. Per Terry Gross:
The documentary was filmed outside the capital Kabul, in Afghanistan’s provinces, where the crackdown on women’s rights has been particularly harsh. Since coming into power, the Taliban have broken their promise to allow girls to continue their schooling beyond sixth grade. With a few exceptions, women are no longer allowed to work. When out in the street, they are expected to be covered from head to toe with only an opening for their eyes. Many girls and women are disappearing — arrested for violating the morality code or abducted and forced to marry one of the Taliban.”
[Said Navai:] “What’s happening is that the Taliban are abducting women and girls and taking them without the family’s consent, without a bride price. And what usually happens, the pattern that usually follows, is that a Taliban fighter or even a Taliban commander — because we uncovered evidence that this was happening at high levels within the Taliban — will see or hear of a woman they want to marry. A lot of times it’s because there’s a really pretty, attractive young woman or girl that they’ve heard about or they’ve seen at the market, and they approach the family and they try the official route first — ask for a hand in marriage. When the family says no, that’s when they abduct the girl … Every single case that I came across, family members were beaten when the girls were taken.”
w. We’ve got a stake, justifiably, in helping Ukraine defend itself. But I wish we’d pay more attention to Afghanistan.
x. Welcome to Team NBC, Matthew Berry. Nice to have the greatest fantasy football authority ever onboard.
Memo to coaches:
Tell your players what Ja’Marr
does after practice.