HADDONFIELD, N.J.—The appointment was for 6 a.m. Saturday, and at 5:57, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni rolled his vehicle out of the driveway here in suburban Eagleville. I got in.
It’s Super Bowl week, and I feel like the biggest story America doesn’t know is, Who is Nick Sirianni? I don’t know him well either. In my 23 minutes with him Saturday on the way to work, and then in his parking space at the Eagles’ NovaCare training complex, I tried to find out.
You probably know him now as the hyper guy on the sidelines who looks like he’s had 5 o’clock shadow since age 9. It’s interesting that 10 years ago this winter he had his career derailed by Andy Reid bypassing him for a job on Reid’s first Kansas City staff. Interesting, too, that he’s pugnacious and private and would be fine if he never was in a headline the rest of his life—very smart in this voracious market.
In brief: Sirianni’s the son of a coach, was most influenced by his small-college coach, Larry Kehres, sounds like he majored in Coachspeak at Mount Union (Ohio), and is the perfect front man for grassroots American football. If a kid from the western New York town of Jamestown (pop: 28,712) who played Division III football and coached for five growth seasons at Mount Union and Indiana University of Pennsylvania can coach a team to the Super Bowl at age 41, you should be able to make it from anywhere.
“Are you a little surprised this has happened so fast?” I asked as Sirianni pulled onto I-295 in south Jersey, headed for the office.
“I don’t think of it that way,” he said. “I just think about one day at a time. Get a little bit better each day. I’ve been obsessed with that, even going back to when I was a high school basketball player. I’ve been obsessed with just how do I get better every day? How do I out-work guys? You never know how hard anybody else is working. That was as a player, whether it was football or basketball. That’s been as a coach. I don’t think of how fast it happened.”
Smart. How can amazement at his lot in life help Sirianni beat Andy Reid in Super Bowl LVII?
“Just try to be in the moment with everything we do,” he said.
“What’s Jalen Hurts been like this week?” I asked.
“Same. Same,” he said. “Steady. Unfazed.”
Sirianni caught himself. “And I know that’s … I know that doesn’t make for great news. Even somebody asked me last night—my wife and kids were at one of our friend’s houses in town. Friends are like, ‘You’re playing in the Super Bowl! How’s it feel?’ Same. My wife’s like, ‘You can say that to the media people and the cameras in front of you. But here?’ Well, to me, hey, it’s just another opportunity for us to play for each other, just another opportunity for us to win and get better. I know that’s Jalen’s mindset and that’s how I’ve seen him all week.”
Sirianni is fine with the fact that Andy Reid lords over this Super Bowl. Reid coached the Eagles to one 18 years ago, got fired here 10 years ago, and now has his new team in its third Super Bowl in a decade, against a coach on the 2012 KC staff who Reid decided not to keep. Sirianni, receivers coach on Romeo Crennel’s staff in 2012, was bypassed for a longtime Reid aide, David Culley.
“Ton of respect for coach Reid,” said Sirianni, meaning it. “What a great coach he is. What a great person he is.”
“Even though he didn’t hire you,” I said.
“Even though he didn’t hire me. Hey, it worked out pretty well. God always has plans. As mad as you might be—mad or upset or as crushed as you might be—I mean, think about the path it really led me on. No hard feelings there. I appreciated him taking the time to spend time with me … I can’t tell you how many times [GM] Howie Roseman talks about ‘Coach Reid would’ve done this.’ Or when I ask, sometimes, Hey what do you think coach Reid would do in this scenario? It tells you a lot about coach Reid.
“But like you said, he didn’t hire me,” said Sirianni, now on the Walt Whitman Bridge into the city. He laughed. Hey, it worked out pretty well.
Let Super Bowl week begin. A few nuggets to start your football week:
Quote that says it all about the life and times of Tom Brady: “Other than playing football, the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football.”
Tom Brady threw more touchdown passes after turning 33 than Dan Marino threw in his 17-year NFL career.
You’ll never guess which former football teammate was drafted 11 spots after Brady in the 1995 MLB draft.
The officials in the AFC title game were worse than you thought. They made five mistakes in one ridiculous fourth-quarter sequence. Look away from this column, Ron Torbert.
Sky judge? Meh. I have stolen three words from Bill Belichick meant for the six other officials on NFL crews, and the replay official, and the NFL’s New York-based officiating command center: “Do your job.”
Sean Payton’s now a very rich man. Five years, in the neighborhood of $18 million per. But can money buy the resuscitation of Russell Wilson?
I once told the late Bobby Beathard I thought he overpaid in a 1998 trade. “You’ll be wrong,” he said, good-naturedly. I wasn’t, but the jousting was fun.
Senior Bowl boss Jim Nagy loves the MVP QB from Fresno State in Saturday’s game.
Jared Allen, curler. Seriously.
I rank the best and worst airports in America. Spokane, good. LAX, bad.
Aaron Rodgers, 2008, 24 years old. Jordan Love, 2023, 24 years old. The Jets can dream, can’t they?
It’s not easy being green, unless you’re the Empire State Building, and you want to royally tick off New York City.
Dan Pompei rules. What a story he wrote on Ryan Jensen. It involves 150 million stem cells.
Now back to the car ride into Philadelphia.
The Sirianni Commute10
Look at how many coaches with strong roots were schooled and/or played way below the Power Fives: Bill Belichick (Wesleyan), Kevin Stefanski (Penn), Josh McDaniels (John Carroll), Brandon Staley (Dayton), Mike McCarthy (Baker, Kansas), Matt LaFleur (Saginaw Valley), Brian Daboll (Rochester), John Harbaugh and Sean McVay (Miami of Ohio), Mike Tomlin and Sean McDermott (William & Mary), Mike McDaniel (Yale), Sean Payton (Eastern Illinois), Matt Eberflus (Toledo), Robert Saleh (Northern Michigan), Doug Pederson (Northeast Louisiana, now Louisiana-Monroe), Pete Carroll (Pacific) and Sirianni, who played wide receiver on three NCAA Division III national championship teams at Mount Union.
Amazing: Eighteen of 30 current NFL head coaches got their starts between the Mid-American Conference, lower NCAA levels and the NAIA. (And it could increase depending on the Arizona and Indianapolis decisions.) There are many lessons in this, but my take, particularly re Sirianni, is that excellent coaches on any level are excellent coaches. Sirianni found a lot of them, and soaked in a lot.
He played for his dad, the coach at Southwestern Central High in western New York, graduating in 1999. “A lot of the things I say to our guys are similar messages I heard when I was growing up,” Sirianni said. “The players that played for my dad always came back and visited him. I’d be working out in the driveway, and people would just stop by who used to play for my dad just to say hi to my dad. Guys with kids and grown men with jobs would come back just to see their high school coach. That made an impression on me.”
Sirianni said he went to Mount Union to get a degree in education. But along the way, he played for one of the most successful coaches in college history. Larry Kehres won 11 Division III national titles in 27 years—he lost eight games in his last 17 years as coach. “I ended up getting a master’s degree in coaching, a doctorate in coaching,” Sirianni said. “Coach Kehres was really good, obviously, coaching the team. But he was really good at coaching the coaches. I find myself saying things to our coaches that coach Kehres would say to us.”
“Give me an example,” I said.
“Always the details of everything, the fundamentals, playing smart football,” Sirianni said. “He’d say, ‘Don’t over-coach. Make sure there’s a coaching point, good or bad, after every play.’ He’d say, ‘It’s all about the players, putting them in positions to make plays. It doesn’t matter if you like a play or the other coaches like the play. Can the player do it?’”
After three seasons as the receivers coach at Indiana of Pennsylvania, Sirianni came back to Mount Union to interview for the offensive coordinator job. Kehres asked Sirianni what offense he’d run if he got the job. Sirianni mentioned a couple of things he learned about offense at IUP, and he clearly wasn’t saying what Kehres wanted to hear. “You don’t even know the players that are here anymore! It’s players, formations, then plays!” Kehres said.
That’s the year Sirianni got a quality-control job on Todd Haley’s staff in Kansas City, so he didn’t end up back at Mount Union. Ten years later, Sirianni was Frank Reich’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis when Kehres came in as Sirianni’s guest for a game.
“Lemme see that call sheet,” Kehres said, looking for the play-sheet Sirianni would use for that day’s game. “Where are the plays for number 13?”
T.Y. Hilton. Sirianni pointed out a slew of plays designed for the best receiver the Colts had. And he remembered how Kehres used to show him the play sheet before games, showing the plays he had highlighted for Sirianni. Sirianni loved it, because it gave him a mental picture of what the offense would try to do to get the ball to him. When Kehres saw the plays for Hilton, he said something like: Good. Players, players, players. Remember that.
Now we were in the city, heading to the complex in south Philly. Still dark. Lots of green lights.
“Pretty cool view of the city coming in with all the green lit up,” he said.
“You hear about the Empire State Building controversy in New York?” I asked. “You guys won, and they lit it up in bright green, and Giants fans in the city went batcrap.”
“That,” he said, “would not happen in Philadelphia. It just wouldn’t.” He smiled. “But Eagles fans are everywhere.”
When we discussed the game, he emphasized playing smart, football IQ, no turnovers—because Kansas City’s a veteran team that’s played a lot of big games and understands what it takes to win them. “And staying in the moment,” he said, because of the long delays, the long halftime, the hype, all about it that isn’t a regular game.
Then he said: “I’ve never been to this game. I said I would never go till I was in it. You get opportunities to get tickets when you’re in the NFL. My brothers might say, Hey, you wanna bring Dad to the Super Bowl this year? Nope. I’m not going till I’m a part of it.”
We were backed into his parking space now, 4 degrees wind-chill outside. Dark.
“How’s Jalen Hurts handled all this so well?” I asked.
“He has a relentless work ethic,” Sirianni said. “He’s gonna outwork everybody to make sure he doesn’t leave any stone unturned. That’s evident not only by the way he studies film, but by the way he lives, by the way he leads. I think he’s just a very steady person, which is an unbelievable trait to have as a quarterback when there’s ups and downs in the season, when there’s ups and downs in the game.
“I remember last year against Washington. I’m screaming at him, yelling at him. He’s like, ‘I gotcha.’ Same look on his face as if he scored a touchdown in the game. Just so unfazed by things. As a player, he’s relentless to how he’s gonna grow every day. He deserves this moment because he just thinks about how he can get better each day.
“I think this whole team has this chip on their shoulder when they get doubted. I know, 15-3 or whatever we are right now (16-3 actually), you don’t get doubted quite as much. But there’s always somebody that’s doubting you, right? Jalen for sure I know has that. But that’s a good thing, because he uses it to drive him. He’s gonna keep growing. God willing, he’s gonna reach his ceiling because of all the intangibles that he has.”
Almost time to go. A woman appeared at his window and made a trimming motion on her head.
“You trimming me up?” he said through the window, and she nodded.
“Barber,” he said to me. “I didn’t ever know I was scheduled for a haircut. She probably wants to trim my beard.”
In the parking space in front of him, offensive line guru Jeff Stoutland parked and walked past Sirianni. They exchanged waves.
“Did you know,” I said, “that exactly five years ago, I did this with Doug Pederson, and we sat in his car, right here in this parking space, and finished talking, and Jeff Stoutland walked by?”
“Is that right?” Sirianni said. He hoped he knew what that meant: Eagles 41, Patriots 33. “Hopefully that’s good karma, a good omen, or whatever they say.”
This was my fifth ride-along with a coach the week before the Super Bowl. Check out the gallery below: Doug Pederson before Super Bowl LII (win); Sean McVay before Super Bowl LIII (loss); Andy Reid before Super Bowl LIV (win); Zac Taylor before Super Bowl LVI (loss).
Covid prevented me from doing this in person prior to Super Bowl LV two years ago. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles agreed to do it by phone while he drove to work. Let’s count that. Win.
Three wins for coaches, two losses. And my thanks to the nifty photo-capabilities of the new iPhone 14. The Sirianni photo is the best of the bunch, and even my poor photography couldn’t mess this one up.
Hello, Next Gen!
The three things you need to know about Super Bowl LVII, per Next Gen Stats, that I think could play big parts in who wins:
The Eagles do not need to blitz to affect Patrick Mahomes. This is the craziest thing about a formidable Philadelphia front: Of their league-best 77 sacks in 19 games, including playoffs, 57 came when the Eagles rushed four players. That means 74 percent of their sacks have come on non-blitzes. Which, of course, means that Mahomes will likely most often be trying to complete his passes with a battered receiving corps against seven men in coverage. Tough duty for even a great one like Mahomes. No team in the seven-year history of Next Gen Stats has had such success rushing the quarterback without blitzing as the ‘22 Eagles.
Kansas City must be considering offensive alternatives with its beat-up receiver corps. Much has been said about the lack of Tyreek Hill in this offense, and it’s remarkable that the team has been so explosive—and Mahomes so productive—with all the new receivers in his arsenal. New, and not as fast. In 2018 through ’21, with Hill onboard, Mahomes threw 47 “deep TD passes,” defined as passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. In 2022, minus Hill, Mahomes threw one. We’ve seen all year that Mahomes is far more of an intermediate thrower this year, and he’s been great at it. One more NGS nugget that could come into play: Kansas City has scored 35 touchdowns this year—most in the NFL—with two tight ends on the field. If Travis Kelce isn’t a 100-yard factor in this game, I’ll be surprised.
Steve Spagnuolo beat the 18-0 Patriots with an unpredictable pass-rush in the 2007 season. Will he blitz Jalen Hurts in the same way? Hurts, per Next Gen, had the sixth-worst success rate against the blitz this season. His success rate is 47.7 percent against non-blitzes. One thing Hurts has going for him is the best offensive line in football, a line well-suited to defend against great rushers. He’ll need it against Chris Jones and Frank Clark.
Lots of great angles in this tight, competitive matchup. Those are just three.
The Meaning of Brady20
Beyond the obvious essentials of accuracy and smarts and competitiveness and quick decision-making, what makes a great quarterback in the modern game? Five things, I think:
- Mastery of the thousand little things the position demands, and actual enjoyment on the road to that mastery.
- Unselfishness. As Bo Schembechler once said, “The team, the team, the team.”
- Treating your body and your brain like a temple. Those Ken Stabler drink-all-night-and-play days are dead forever.
- Embracing continuing education about the position and the game.
- Being a beacon for the position and the game, and wanting to leave the position a better place than you found it.
Tom Brady, five for five.
There will be those who won’t want another hagiography on Brady in the wake of his retirement, maybe because they’re just sick of him, maybe because they’ll always view him with suspicion after he was suspended for four games for his alleged role in deflating footballs in 2015. Deflategate’s a part of Brady’s legacy. Everything counts. But there is so much unproven in that investigation, and I’ve never felt that a series of “more probable than not” findings should put a scarlet letter “D” on Brady’s legacy.
The Brady ethos surfaced just weeks after he was drafted 199th overall in 2000. Then-Patriots personnel czar Scott Pioli saw the lights on in the team’s indoor workout facility around 9 one spring night. In the place was Brady, then totally unknown, throwing footballs into target-nets. Pioli said hi. Brady said, “Don’t tell anyone you saw me.”
The ethos never stopped. Through big losses (Giants, Giants), through personal strife (his mother’s cancer battle), through marital strife (the Gisele divorce) perhaps brought on by his insatiable desire to play football, Brady kept up the precedent-setting unique care and feeding of the best quarterback in the world. When I met him for an interview in 2017, twice he emptied TB12 electrolyte packets into his bottles of Vitamin Water Zero—he did it almost without noticing. I asked him if he missed going out with his buddies and having nine beers one night in the off-season. “I’ve done that before,” he said, “and this [winning Super Bowls] is a lot more fun.”
The work showed up in games, and in playing till 45: In his last 14 seasons as a football player, from age 32 to age 45, he played 258 football games and missed none due to injury. John Elway played 256—in his NFL career.
As for my list of five things, let’s look at number one. I’m going to tell you a story I’ve told before, but it’s the perfect explanation for why Brady became the best to ever do it.
Brady doesn’t think this, but I’ll always think his greatest game was the comeback from 28-3 against Atlanta in the Super Bowl. “I don’t really consider playing a good quarter-and-a-half plus overtime as one of the ‘best games ever,’” he said.
Putting up 31 points in 28 minutes, playing the most snaps in a game (99) in his career, getting tattooed all game by Grady Jarrett and the Falcons’ front, and using Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell as his most trusted wide receivers late in the game, coming back from a crap start in the biggest game of the year. That’s what the greats do, in the biggest games they play. so I consider it his greatest day as a quarterback.
The thing about that game that’s never gotten the attention it deserved was Brady iso-ing two bottom-of-the-roster guys to win a Super Bowl. On the third play of overtime, Hogan, a spare piece in bits of 10 NFL seasons, was singled left on a second-round corner, Jalen Collins. Brady, standing at his 37-yard line, saw Hogan and Collins running together at the Atlanta 45. Brady threw to a spot about 23 yards downfield, to the left, with Hogan not looking. Hogan dug his foot into the ground at the Atlanta 37- and boomeranged back, not seeing the ball till it was two-thirds of the way to him, Collins a step behind him. The ball hit Hogan in the hands at the 40-, and he efforted ahead to the Atlanta 37-.
No one remembers those plays. No one remember Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But there’s no more perfect way to remember Brady’s career than late comeback-route completions of 12, 16, 11 and 18 yards to players who aren’t household names in their own households.
I wondered about those anticipation throws. I said if you throw it 20 or 25 yards and your guy doesn’t get the perfect break, that easily could be an interception.
“That’s a lot of throws,’’ Brady said. “That’s 111 practices that we had. That’s however many games. Films, meetings. It’s got to be like clockwork. The trust has to be built over a long time.”
That’s the essence of Brady. Give him trustworthy workers, protect him okay, and you’ll win.
The little things. “Other than playing football, the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football,” he told me in 2017. “It doesn’t ever feel like a sacrifice to me. Football’s a job, but it’s never felt like a job to me.”
Unselfishness. Brady was never a pig at the salary-cap trough. Coming off that Atlanta Super Bowl win, in 2017, Brady’s salary was 8.3 percent of the team’s cap. The year New England went 16-0 in the regular season, Brady was 6.7 percent of the cap. Just spend to the cap every year, and I’ll be reasonable, he’d tell Pioli and his successors with the keys to the Patriots’ vault. When Brady won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2005, magazine editor Terry McDonell referenced Brady’s contractual unselfishness as part of the reason for the award.
Fitness. Brady on football fitness, and thinking for yourself, and not just buying into the you-gotta-lift-more-weights drill that lords over football training: “Strength is very important to your job. But how much strength do you need? You only need the strength to withstand the hits and throw the ball and make your movements of being a quarterback. You need conditioning because you need to be able to do that over a period of time, certainly a season. You need muscle pliability—long, soft, muscles in order to be durable. How do you work on durability? That’s what I’ve figured out. It’s hard for me to get hurt, knock on wood. Anything can happen in football. But I want to put myself in a position to be able to withstand the car crash before I get the car crash. It’s going to be really hard for me to have a muscle injury, based off the health of my muscle tissue and the way that I try to take care of it. Your muscle and your body allow you to play this great sport.’’
Continuing education. How possibly could Brady have thrown 150,000 passes in his professional life—that’s being conservative; he threw 13,971 in games, and at bare minimum, 10 times that in practices—and never suffer a significant arm injury? Pliability, for one thing, and the tutelage of throwing mentors Tom House and Adam Dedeaux, who he worked with every off-season in California, and the body work of longtime trainer Alex Guerrero. As someone close to Brady told me the other day, “He’s not retiring because he can’t throw anymore. His arm doesn’t hurt.” As Brady said to me a few years ago, “I’ve got the answers to the test now.” That’s not just the mental parts of the test. It’s everything.
Lastly, leaving the game better than he found it. After one of the most exhilarating wins of his life—New England 37, Kansas City 31, a whoever-has-the-ball-last-wins duel with Patrick Mahomes in the 2018 AFC title game—Brady left the celebration in the cramped visitors’ locker room at Arrowhead Stadium and said, “I want to see Patrick” to a team official. By my watch, he was gone for 12 minutes. I would know. I was working the locker room, but waiting for Brady, all the while with one eye on his wooden stool stamped with the Chiefs’ logo. Empty.
When Brady came back, he spent the first of our seven minutes together raving about Mahomes. The leadership, the poise, the will. At the time, Brady was 41 and Mahomes 23. “He didn’t have to do that,” Andy Reid said. “There was nobody there to see it. It was one veteran competitor lifting up one young competitor.” The message had a big impact on Mahomes. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep putting in the work, you’ll have a lot more of these chances. Brady reached out again after Mahomes sprained his ankle and hobbled through the playoff win over Jacksonville last month. Brady’s message: That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what champions do!
Mahomes, 27, enters his third Super Bowl this week against Philadelphia, buoyed by one of the great coaches in the game, Reid, who’s not going anywhere. Brady was 27 when he played in his third, with one of the best coaches ever, Bill Belichick, ensuring they’d stay near the top. I’m not saying Mahomes will do what Brady did and play in 10 of them and win seven. I sincerely doubt he will; Brady had only Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger among premier AFC passers to beat every year, while Mahomes has Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson if he stays in Baltimore, and whoever else come up in the AFC. But of all the quarterbacks playing today, which one has the ethos closest to Brady? Burrow is close, but it’s Mahomes—with a mental assist from Brady.
Brady will always be there for Mahomes—that’s how much he respects him. He’ll be there for others too, now that he’s done. Brady will find something else to do now, but he’ll always have a line out to the players he respects. He’s done, but he’s not done contributing to football.
Over the years, I’ve heard NFL game officials, from referees to back judges, say, “Officiating is about doing the little things right.” Ref Ron Torbert’s crew lost track of that in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game. There were things to be concerned about with mistakes made by the officiating crew, I believe—and the mistakes say something significant about the state of officiating.
We can debate if full-time officials or employing sky judges or eliminating all-star officiating crews will help improve the game. But I’m not sure what can be done, other than paying attention to the game more closely, that would have eliminated the debacle that happened with 10 minutes left in the Cincinnati-Kansas City game. The fiasco forced the Bengals’ defense to be on the field for four plays it never should have had to play, and forced Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor to waste (and I mean waste) a timeout he might have needed in the final two minutes of the game.
What’s amazing about the mistakes is how one seemingly minor error built on another, and then another, and then two more.
I understand the game is eight days old, and you’ve probably moved on to the Super Bowl by now, but in a jam-packed news week like this, you should make time for this if you care about football, and if you were screaming about the officiating last week.
How it began
After a Kansas City incomplete pass, stopping the clock with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter, it was third-and-nine at the KC 34-yard line.
Mistake 1: The ref, Torbert, spotted the ball a half-yard shy of the previous spot. The play clock ticked down. Keep in mind that the New York officiating command center should have been watching this and ensuring the spot of the ball was correct, and the replay official upstairs should have been monitoring this too. In addition, there were alternate officials at the game site who, theoretically, were watching for errors.
With nine seconds left on the play clock, Patrick Mahomes was at the line starting to call signals. From the left of the formation, down judge Kent Payne, with no urgency, began to wave his arms and jogged into the middle of the formation. He moved the ball up half-a-yard.
How it got worse
Mistake 2: Torbert turned on his mic and said, “Reset the play clock to 10 seconds, please. Play clock and game clock will start on my signal.”
Incorrect ruling by Torbert. The play clock should have started on his signal here, but not the game clock, because this play followed an incomplete pass.
Mistake 3: No one, in the next 12 seconds of real time, corrected the mistake; if anyone did, it was not communicated into Torbert’s ear.
Mahomes snapped the ball and completed a four-yard pass to Travis Kelce. Now it was fourth-and-five, and Kansas City sent its punt team onto the field. But hold on. Field judge Tom Hill, from the defensive backfield, had run in as the play was ongoing, waving his arms. No one saw it till the play was over. There was a crew conference. With the KC and Cincinnati punt teams in formation, Torbert got on his mic and ruled the play was “shut down” and the snap should not have counted. “The game clock should not have started,” Torbert said. Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor flew into orbit. No one heard a whistle, no one saw the play stopped. How was the play shut down?
Mistake 4: This is arguable, and it’s a technicality. But former NFL officiating czar Dean Blandino, now a FOX rules analyst, said on my podcast this week that the play should not have been stopped so late in the process. “Five or six seconds is important,” Blandino said. “When a team is up on the ball and ready to snap it, is that five or six seconds that we just lost with still a good chunk of time left in the fourth quarter, is that more impactful than coming in late in the process, trying to shut down the play? That’s a loud stadium. To me, that five or six seconds is not as critical as ultimately what happened. Tom Hill is an excellent official. I think if you asked him again, he’d probably say, ‘I should have just let it go.’”
Mistake 5: Torbert said on his mic, “Please reset the game clock to 10 minutes 24 seconds.” Nope. He should have said “10:29.” By now he’s so discombobulated by the play that he didn’t get the time right on the first try.
A few seconds later, Torbert corrected it to 10:29.
On CBS, Gene Steratore said, “We’re basically gonna have a do-over here.” And Tony Romo said, “How did no [official] come flying in? This is huge!”
The Kelce play should have counted as the third-down snap, and Kansas City should have punted on the next snap.
First wasted snap: On third-and-nine from the KC 34-, Mahomes got snowed under and sacked. Flag. Cornerback Eli Apple was called for holding. Automatic first down.
Three more snaps, and one charged Cincinnati timeout that shouldn’t have happened, result in a net gain of one yard. Kansas City punts to the Cincinnati 18-yard line.
The NFL, and Torbert, got lucky. Mahomes didn’t make a big play on any of the four extraneous snaps. The Bengals got the ball back with 9:18 left instead of, say, 10:15 left if the four snaps hadn’t been run. The loss of time mattered, and no one knows how the loss of a minute in clock time might have affected the outcome.
The whole thing is incredibly sloppy. It would have helped to see Payne and Hill sprinting into the play, and coming in earlier than they did. But as it happened, it was a terrible look. It would have been lousy for a Texans-Jets game at 1 p.m. in week four, but in one of the three biggest games of the year? A minimum of three mistakes and max of five mistakes, depending how you judge each one, on the same series, is inexcusable.
The last thing the NFL needs coming out of championship weekend is for a cadre of fans to think things like, The fix is in, or The league wanted Mahomes to win. Look at social media a week ago. That’s precisely what fans all over the country were saying.
Now for the officiating issues raised by the Cincinnati-KC game.
All-star crews: I get the argument both ways. It’d be great to have the second- and third-highest-rated crews from the regular season in the two title games, but suppose the back judge and down judge on one crew have had poor years, and two officials on another crew have graded poorly. If you can plug in the best at those positions, why not do it? Said Blandino: “I like crew continuity throughout the season. I like that communication … But I also understand not wanting your best officials sitting at home in your biggest games, just because their crew didn’t grade out as well through no fault of their own. I think the league is in a good place.” I’d probably agree with Blandino.
Sky judge: This would be the ninth official on a crew (seven on the field, replay official upstairs, sky judge upstairs), with the ability to throw a flag if he/she sees a penalty on the field, and also the ability to communicate with the ref in real time. I don’t see the need for it. “We have a version of the sky judge right now,” Blandino said. The replay-assist program, in its seventh year, allows the officiating command center in New York, plus the replay official, to communicate into the on-field referee’s ear. Now the league would add a third voice in the ear of the ref? It’s duplication of duties.
Full-time officials. It could improve officiating. It’s probably worth a try. With one proviso: It’s not going to make the game perfect, and it’s not likely to get it close to perfect. “Anytime you can spend more time looking at video and honing your craft, I think that’s a positive,” Blandino said. “I just don’t know how much full-time officials are gonna move the needle.”
I wonder, deep down, if Torbert isn’t concentrating as much as he should on ball-spotting—or a myriad of other little officiating issues during a game—because he knows he’s got so many insurance policies in place to correct him if he’s wrong. Whatever, when the officiating department gets officials in place for seminars this off-season, the fourth-quarter Nightmare at Arrowhead should be a two-hour class. Officiating is about the little things, and in this case, the little things turned into a big mess.
The Payton Hire30
The late Giants’ GM, George Young, once had a great truism about coaching searches: “They’re never done till they’re done.” Reporters in this time of intense media would be wise to keep that in mind.
Reading about the Denver job in the two weeks before the hire of Sean Payton last week left these impressions: He wouldn’t want the job because of a conflict with an owner. Or he had a bad interview, didn’t have a second interview as others did, and was out of the running. Or Broncos owners never wanted Payton as their coach. Or the Broncos wanted DeMeco Ryans and got jilted, and so went to Payton as a fallback.
For someone so unwanted as Payton, it seems funny Denver traded first- and second-round draft choices (getting a third- in return) to New Orleans for Payton, then made him one of the highest-paid coaches in NFL history, with a five-year deal worth at least $18 million a year. The Broncos once were interested in Jim Harbaugh and then Ryans—neither of whom would require draft-choice compensation, and neither of whom would cost upwards of $18 millon a year. But things change during the process of looking for a coach, so it’s wise to not speak in absolutes till it’s over.
A few things we do know about the Payton deal with Denver:
- Denver talked with Saints GM Mickey Loomis about two deals for Payton, who required compensation because he was still under contract to New Orleans: a first-round pick and a third-round pick, or a first-rounder and second-rounder, with the Broncos getting a third-rounder in return. Denver wanted the second option, because it would leave them with an equal number of day-two picks instead of being down one. Officially, Denver trades the 30th pick this year and a second-round pick in 2024 and gets a third-round pick in 2024 in return.
- Payton had the best chance of turning Russell Wilson around. The first time I ever met Wilson, at Seahawks training camp, he said to me: “Who’s taller—me or Drew [Brees]?” I think he was genuinely curious about it. (I’d guess Wilson, by a fraction.) But Wilson and Brees have gotten to be friends, and Wilson has great admiration for him. So, Wilson’s at a low point after his disastrous first year in Denver. He wanted Payton to get the job, and he’s willing to be coached hard by him. Wilson has been reaching out to Brees to get a preview of coming attractions. History lesson: Brees was a free agent coming off shoulder surgery in 2006, and Miami was iffy on signing him because of his shoulder, and the Saints went after him hard. Brees came under Payton’s wing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Sound familiar?
- The presence in the interview process of minority Broncos owner Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, was a plus. Payton was impressed by her, and one of the majority owners, Greg Penner. He thinks he’ll be able to form the kind of close relationship with GM George Paton that he had with Loomis, who remains one of his best friends, in New Orleans.
- Payton is wide open about his defensive staff, and won’t be in a hurry to fill it out. He’ll take his time to find a coordinator he thinks he’ll mesh with. He won’t be afraid to pick a strong-minded tough guy like Brian Flores, who he’s scheduled to interview. The defensive coordinator of the Broncos, as Dennis Allen was under Payton in New Orleans, is going to be the head coach of the defense.
I had great admiration for the architect of the three-time Super Bowl champs in Washington, and the architect of the Junior Seau Chargers who made one Super Bowl in the nineties in San Diego. Bobby Beathard—who died last Monday of Alzheimer’s Disease at 86—did it by going counter to the wisdom of treating first-round picks like gold bullion. Thirteen times in 21 drafts, Beathard traded the first-round pick, often hitting on the remainders and never being scared off by the specter of failure.
My favorite story about that:
In 1998, there were two big quarterbacks in the draft, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The Colts picked first and were going to take one. The Cardinals picked second and were shopping the pick. The Chargers picked third and knew they had to get up to second or else Arizona would deal the pick to a team that would pick the QB Indianapolis didn’t.
Beathard was about to start a short family vacation five weeks before the draft in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He was on a pay phone in the Steamboat Springs airport with Cards exec Bob Ferguson and owner Bill Bidwill. They’d been working on the deal for a month, and Beathard stretched as far as he’d stretch for what he thought would be a franchise quarterback: He’d trade San Diego’s first-round picks in 1998 and ’99, a second-rounder in ’98, kick-returner Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp to move up one spot in this draft.
It was 1:50 p.m. Beathard had a deadline of 2 p.m. with the Jets to make a deal for pass-rusher Hugh Douglas; that deal included the second-round pick he had on the table for the Cardinals. Beathard pushed for a decision. Arizona pushed for more time. “I can’t,” Beathard said. “I have a deadline with another team on another deal.”
Ferguson asked: What’s the deadline?
“Three minutes,” Beathard said.
The Cards put him on hold for a minute and came back and said you’ve got yourself a deal.
The next day, he told me, “Did we overpay? Shoot, we all overpay in the game now.”
I told him I thought he gave up too much to move one spot.
“You’ll be wrong,” Beathard said.
I would have been, if the Colts had picked Leaf. But Indy chose Manning, and the rest is draft-bust history. But that was Beathard. He knew he had to have a quarterback, badly, and he knew every drafted quarterback is some sort of a risk. If you judge Beathard on the drafting of Ryan Leaf, just understand—and I lived it that spring—that every other team in the league needing a quarterback would have done the exact same thing he did: swing for the fences.
My everlasting memory of Beathard: He took the year off between Washington and San Diego jobs in 1989, working in the NBC NFL studio. But mostly he surfed and ran in his beloved Pacific beach community of Leucadia, Calif., a half-hour north of Charger offices. I visited him in my first year at Sports Illustrated, and he wasn’t home when I arrived. His wife Christine pointed to the ocean. Beathard was surfing. He was pretty sure he was coming back to football the next season. He never advertised this, but he loved surfing as much as scouting. And he loved running. Once, as Washington’s GM, before a Sunday afternoon game at the Giants, he ran the New York City marathon.
RIP Bobby Beathard. Football genius. pic.twitter.com/9PNfaKAKiS
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) February 1, 2023
I think it’s significant to note that Beathard and Joe Gibbs used the back end of the draft better than any teams since I’ve followed football. Look at the mid- and late-round picks who became Super Bowl factors for Washington, all picked between the fifth and 12th rounds: tight end Clint Didier (12th), linebacker Monte Coleman and guard Raleigh McKenzie (11th), cornerback Barry Wilburn, linebacker Kurt Gouveia and wideout Charlie Brown (eighth), quarterback Mark Rypien (sixth), pass-rusher Dexter Manley (fifth). His parting gifts in his last two drafts for Washington: Texas Tech running back Timmy Smith (fifth round, 1987), who set the Super Bowl rushing record with 204 yards in his first career start; and quarterback Stan Humphries (sixth round, 1988), who occupies a unique spot in Beathard history. Beathard drafted Humphries, and then, when Beathard became the Chargers’ GM, traded for Humphries—who led the team to the Super Bowl in 1995.
Washington used street free-agency better than any team. The franchise won its first Super Bowl in the 1982 season, on the backs of some of the 27 rostered free agents Beathard signed early in his tenure who made the team.
He certainly made three of his first-rounders count: Darrell Green and Art Monk, in Washington, and Junior Seau, in San Diego, ended up in the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t that he was bad at picking great players; he just liked his chances making more picks than other GMs, regardless of round.
“A lot of people thought I was nuts,” Beathard said late in his career. “But we always thought we scouted deep into the draft well, and we loved those late picks.”
What an original.
Quotes of the Week40
Some Heisman hopefuls are like 21 going on 25. Hurts was 21 going-on-Saban.
–Veteran college football reporter Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, on the Jalen Hurts he recalls from Hurts’ time as a college player.
Now that is a perfect statement right there.
It’s tough when you’re down your main guys, but I feel like we’ve got one of the deepest receiving rooms in the league. I feel like that showed.
–Kansas City rookie wideout Skyy Moore, who played a season-high 39 snaps in the AFC title game because of rampant injuries to prominent receivers. He may have to do the same in the Super Bowl.
I thought curling was going to be a lot easier than it is. Like the short game in golf, it’s a game of finesse. You have to think two shots ahead. And you have to learn how to control your body, your emotions, your heart rate.
–Retired NFL star Jared Allen, now 40, who competed at the U.S. Curling Championships over the weekend and wants to make the Olympics. He spoke to Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
I feel like I’ve won. Just to see two Black quarterbacks playing this game is enough for me.
—Doug Williams, the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl 35 years ago, on the prospect of two Black quarterbacks playing in Super Bowl LVII.
I think we are getting very close now to a quarterback-specific helmet.
–NFL executive VP Jeff Miller, on the NFL’s effort to make position-specific helmets, which is long overdue. The special one for quarterbacks, reportedly, would have extra protection on the back of the helmet, so on a hit when the quarterback gets driven into the ground and the back of their head bounces onto the turf, he’d be at least slightly less likely to suffer a concussion, or a to suffer a less severe one.
Tom Brady last missed a game due to injury on Dec . 28, 2008, when he was 31 years old. He was rehabbing from knee surgery after being hurt in the 2008 season-opener.
Since that day:
- Brady started all 253 regular- and post-season games in which he was eligible to play. (He missed four games due to the 2015 Deflategate suspension.)
- From age 32 to age 45, he never missed a game due to injury.
- He was 185-68, averaging 13.2 wins per season.
My favorite Brady stat, though, concerns Dan Marino, who was 22 in his rookie season, 1984, and went on to set the NFL record for touchdowns passes in all games (including the post-season) in his 17-year NFL career.
Brady threw more touchdowns in the regular and post-season, 484, after his 33rd birthday than Marino threw (452) in his NFL life.
Football players drafted in the 1995 Major League Baseball draft:
Round 8, pick 213: Ricky Williams, OF/3B, Philadelphia Phillies.
Round 18, pick 507: Tom Brady, C, Montreal Expos.
Round 19, pick 518: Lawyer Milloy, OF, Detroit Tigers.
Round 25, pick 702: Danny Kanell, P/1B/3B, N.Y. Yankees.
Round 28, pick 782: Daunte Culpepper, OF, N.Y. Yankees.
The last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were high-school catchers: Tom Brady for the Serra High School Padres in San Mateo, Calif., and Matthew Stafford, who was Clayton Kershaw’s catcher with the Highland Park (Texas) Flying Scots baseball team.
Now that Peyton Manning lives in Denver and is at the Broncos’ facility occasionally, it’ll be interesting the first time Sean Payton, George Paton and Peyton Manning are in the same room. Imagine former Denver running back Peyton Hillis stopping by one day, and all four of them get together.
I’ve gotten some mileage out of this name salad, but here goes again. The Peyton/Paton/Payton thing is reminiscent of the time attorney Larry Derryberry, who represented the owner, coach and player-personnel director of the Cowboys in the nineties, had a meeting at the Cowboys offices and saw Jerry Jones, Barry Switzer and Larry Lacewell. Jerry, Barry, Larry and Larry Derryberry, all together.
Tweets of the Week
If there were betting odds going into game for @seniorbowl MVP, one of favorites would’ve been Fresno State QB Jake Haener. Dude figures out ways to move his team. NFL scouts love his guts. Stood in & took huge hit on his 44-yard TD in 4Q. 🏆📈#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/aaPnU7rzol
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 5, 2023
Nagy, the executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, on the breakout star of this week’s important element of the scouting season, the practices and game of the Senior Bowl in Mobile.
Josh Jacobs on the new Pro Bowl format: "This shit is stupid."
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) February 4, 2023
Tashan Reed covers the Raiders for The Athletic.
Man send us on vacation and call it a day
— Josh Jacobs (@iAM_JoshJacobs) February 5, 2023
I think we get how the Raiders running back feels about the rejiggered Pro Bowl.
What year is this from? https://t.co/nXNAkvdKlZ
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) February 1, 2023
Sam Monson, of Pro Football Focus, asking the question a few Niners’ fans have been asking in recent years.
The last active draft pick in Montreal Expos history has retired.
Congrats on a Hall of Fame career, @TomBrady! pic.twitter.com/GehcaXi4bB
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 1, 2023
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Will hated the late-hit call in the AFC title game. From Will Tennant: “I disagree with the roughing penalty call that decided the game in KC’s favor. Unlike pass interference, or a holding penalty that affects play. The conduct here did not. It’s a no-call, fine the player after the fact. Discretion.”
So you’re saying you would never make the call of a late-hit out of bounds, when a player has both feet on the white stripe and is clearly out of bounds, then gets forearmed in the back and is pushed to the ground? Or would you make the call early in the game but not late? If so, tell me the time of game you’d stop calling fouls like that. With five minutes left? Two? One? I’m not in favor of calling penalties different at different times of the game at all.
On Brady and the HoF waiting period. From Russ Jones of Albuquerque: “In regards to the five-year waiting period for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is there any player you’d say warrants waiving that window for? Would you consider Tom Brady?”
No. And no. There’s no need. I don’t want to get into any sort of contest of “how great does a player have to be to walk into the Hall of Fame immediately after retirement?” Brady can wait, as everyone else does. And I will guarantee if you asked him, he wouldn’t want to be treated as some special case.
Didn’t like Bengals’ play-calling. From Gabe Cicale: “When the Bengals got the ball in the fourth quarter with about [nine] minutes left, my only thought was that they had to accomplish two things: maintain possession for as long as possible so that whenever the Chiefs get the ball they wouldn’t have enough time to move downfield and score; and get points to take the lead. They seemed prepared to do that until they had a third-and-three. Burrow heaved a long pass to Ja’Marr Chase, who was double-covered and KC intercepted the ball. This is what separates the average coaches from the ones who really understand the flow of the game. As a lifetime Giants fan I could see Bill Parcells kicking the TV at that moment.”
I think you make a good point, Gabe, but I would give you two asterisks. Earlier in the second half, Cincinnati had a third-and-six at the KC 27- and Burrow threw a bomb down the right side; touchdown, Tee Higgins. And on the series just before the one you write about, Cincinnati had a fourth-and-six at the KC 41-. Burrow threw a bomb to Chase. Gain of 35. Two plays later, touchdown. So yes, I understand the thought to just get the first down. But in the second half, there were two examples of Burrow going for broke and it worked each time.
Brian wants full-time officials. From Brian Kirk, of Dayton, Ohio: “In what profession does the part-time less highly trained employee do better than the most highly trained most prepared employee? The Navy Seals have the most grueling selection process of any organization in the world. I think you would agree that they are significantly better at their job than say a reserve unit who has a job outside of the military. Peyton Manning didn’t stop watching film after the season was over. NFL players in the late seventies and early eighties still had jobs in the offseason. Now players are paid to where they can train year-round. The NFL official needs to evolve in the same way. Make it a highly paid year-round competitive job with a game day roster and a reserve roster full of guys trying to take their job- just like another NFL team.”
Excellent points, Brian. Lots of people agree with you. I am fine with making it full-time, but I doubt that will fix all or even most of the problems with officiating. Certainly it will help officials to watch more video and get in better shape. But no matter how much work they do before Sunday, there’s still the matter of getting split-second bang-bang calls right. As I say, full-time officials might be better, but it’s surely no lock.
Ranking the airports. From Jason Patty, of Ogden, Utah: “Love the column. I’ve long argued that accessibility to the rental car location was a key metric for a good airport experience. Smaller airports often win in this regard. Curious to hear your top and bottom rankings for best airports in America.”
Well, Jason, I get to a lot of airports, but not many are the smaller ones. And you are right: Distant rental cars make my grades go way down. I’ll give you five I like a lot and five I don’t. Because I don’t rent cars at the three metro-New York airports, I didn’t include them.
- Spokane, Wash. Have been at the eastern Washington airport four or five times (it used to be near Seahawks’ camp) and what I love is the space, the quick in-and-out ability, and the hominess of it—spouses/partners in the waiting area reading books in rocking chairs.
- Minneapolis. Eating and drinking places galore in a huge airport but a short train to rental cars. And a great soundproof hotel onsite, the Intercontinental.
- Green Bay. Convenience can’t be beat. Last year, I left my hotel near Lambeau 65 minutes before departure, drove 10 minutes, parked the rental car, walked three minutes into the terminal, had no bag to check, was third in line at security, and got to the gate 40 minutes before departure.
- Denver. Not a fan of the seven- to 10-minute shuttle ride to the cars, but food and drink choices are very good. Elway’s is my favorite airport restaurant in the country. Truly good food and good wine choices.
- Indianapolis. New, roomy, convenient and a roster of good eating places.
- Dallas/Fort Worth. Long walks to connections, long shuttle van to rental cars.
- Los Angeles. Traffic getting in and out is a nightmare at almost all hours, and it’s not uncommon to wait 10 minutes for a rental car shuttle.
- Miami. Inconvenient, some of the longest walks of any American airport and I always feel like there’s some sort of mayhem happening there.
- Houston. Hobby, the smaller airport near the city, houses Southwest and is easy to navigate. The big airport is altogether unwieldy and makes JFK seem convenient. They put the rental cars somewhere near Louisiana.
- San Francisco. Rental cars, depending on your arrival terminal, can be seven stops and 15 minutes away from baggage claim. Terminal itself is nice, but renting there is a nightmare.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think we might be watching the best offensive line of this century on Sunday. The Eagles are that good right now. Just realize this: In the last five weeks, Philadelphia has played three great defensive fronts in the Cowboys, Giants, and 49ers. In those three games, the best pass-rushers—Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Nick Bosa—totaled zero sacks, and in those 12 quarters, the combined front sevens of those three teams have one sack for zero yards. We do not appreciate how great Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson are, collectively, and how great a team line coach Jeff Stoutland is.
2. I think the key to Super Bowl LVII is whether Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones can wreck it, or at least create two or three game-changing plays against the best line he’ll face all year, and perhaps the best he’s faced in his career.
3. I think I don’t quite recall a story similar, in terms of significant football history possibly repeating itself, than the one about Aaron Rodgers, particularly if Rodgers somehow ends up with the Jets this summer. Follow this:
- In February 2008, Rodgers was 24 years old. In spot duty over his first three seasons as backup, Rodgers completed 59 percent of his throws and the Packers weren’t sure what they had in him. The Packers told Brett Favre—entering his age-39 season—they wanted a decision from him early in the off-season about whether he wanted to return and be more a part of the Packers’ off-season program than he normally had been. Favre chose to retire, then changed his mind and returned to football. The Packers traded him to the offensively needy Jets, the 26th-rated team in total offense in 2007, that summer.
- In February 2023, Jordan Love is 24 years old. In spot duty over his first three seasons as backup, Love completed 60 percent of his throws and the Packers weren’t sure what they had in him. The Packers apparently are considering their future at quarterback and Rodgers—who is 39—is deciding whether he wants to continue playing. It’s likely the Packers would want Rodgers to be more a part of the off-season program with a new receiver group than he has been. If Rodgers is traded to the Jets, the 25th-rated team in total offense in 2022, it likely wouldn’t be till the summer.
4. I think, normally, I don’t care about stories like the Empire State Building in New York lighting up in Eagles green after Philadelphia won the NFC title. And it really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But it’s just weird. That’s an iconic New York landmark. It’s not the Statue of Liberty, welcoming the huddled masses to America. It’s the most notable landmark in New York City. And now the management people for the Empire State Building say they’ll light up the building in green again, if the Eagles win the Super Bowl. (In red if KC wins it.) The New York Post said it best: “Empire State Building to New York: Drop dead.”
5. I think Derek Carr’s case is a difficult one to figure. I wouldn’t trade for a guy and write him a check for $40.4 million the day the deal gets done, which is the guarantee on his existing contract with the Raiders if the trade gets done by mid-February. Why do that? He should force the Raiders to release him, then make a deal with a QB-needy team like the Saints or Commanders. But if I’m signing Carr, I don’t assume his failure in 2022 is all Josh McDaniels’ fault. That’s an easy, and lazy, way to look at it. In the four years prior to McDaniels, a QB’s QB coach, taking over, Carr completed 68.7 percent of his throws. Last year it sunk eight points, to 60.8, and in one of the weird and unexplained things about the Raiders’ season, it apparently was okay for both sides to say the Raiders’ starting quarterback for nine years could just walk away and miss the last two games of the season.
6. I think if that’s not weird enough, consider this: In 15 games playing for McDaniels, Carr never threw for 310 yards in a game. In the first game post-Carr, Jarrett Stidham, starting the first game of his NFL career against the best defense in football, threw for more yards (365) than Carr put up all season, and scored 34 points on the mighty Niners. It’s all pretty weird, and a good reason why I don’t absolve Carr on what happened with the Raiders in 2022.
7. I think The Athletic’s Dan Pompei always excels, and his story on the comeback of Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen from a serious knee injury in training camp was the best thing I read about football last week.
8. I think Pompei’s insights are so good. He realizes what really makes a story different. Such as this tidbit about communication from Tom Brady to Jensen shortly after he signed with the Bucs in 2020: “Brady … always had high standards for his center. Fifteen minutes after Brady became a Buccaneer in 2020, he FaceTimed Jensen. After some small talk, Brady got to the point. He wanted the football snapped to him without sweat on it and explained how to avoid ‘swamp butt’ by heaping baby powder on a hand towel, folding it twice and stuffing it between the cheeks.” Now that’s what I call inside football. I have never read about a rehab like this one. It was incredible. Wrote Pompei:
The first week of November, Jensen flew to the Caribbean island of Antigua to be injected with 150 million stem cells taken from umbilical cords donated from term Cesarean section births. Jensen was warned he might feel cold because the stem cells were frozen in liquid nitrogen. After the third and final IV bag was emptied, he started shivering uncontrollably. Fifteen minutes wrapped in a heated blanket made everything right.
There is no circumstance, his doctors kept saying, in which Jensen should consider playing in the 2022 season.
But Jensen thought about proving people wrong, about how he might be able to help a struggling team that still had postseason dreams, and about Brady.
Being classified as designated to return would preclude Jensen from collecting the $5 million insurance policy, but by then he had ruled out walking away.
“To quit would be disrespectful to that kid from 10 years ago who was so excited to be drafted,” he says. “It would be disrespectful to everything my parents sacrificed to get me to that point. It would be disrespectful to my kids, who I tell to finish everything they start. It is the easy way out, but it would be disrespectful to everything I stand for.”
9. I think this is one of my pet peeves about the media and playoff football. It comes from a USA Today tweet about the Super Bowl officiating crew. “Get ready for a whole lot of flags on Super Bowl Sunday,” it read. “Carl Cheffers crew leads the NFL with an average of 12.6 flags thrown per game.” Except the Carl Cheffers “crew” is not the crew he worked with during the regular season. Of the seven men on the crew, only side judge Eugene Hall was on the Cheffers crew during the season. It would be wiser, and true, to say one of these two things:
- Referee Carl Cheffers’ crew marked off the most penalties in the NFL this season, but six of the seven officials on the crew are different for the Super Bowl. So it’s probably not a good indicator of how many flags will be thrown in the Super Bowl.
- Referee Carl Cheffers’ crew marked off the most penalties in the NFL this season, but because all-star crews are used in the post-season, it might be a better indication of their flag frequency to look at what the Cheffers divisional round crew did in January. When Cheffers (with a different crew than he had in the regular-season, and some different officials than he will have in the Super Bowl) worked the Cincinnati-Buffalo game two weeks ago, there were 10 penalties for 69 yards. Pretty light.
What will happen Sunday? Who knows? But it’s certainly no lock that the crew, 75-percent different than the regular-season Cheffers crew, will be flag-happy.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. So you say it was cold in your town Friday and Saturday? Imagine living near Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Friday, at mid-afternoon, it was minus-95 wind-chill, with winds of 120 mph.
b. Eight weeks before opening day at Fenway, 162 miles south of Mount Washington. Play ball!
c. Humanity Story of the Week: Jesse Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer, with a terrific tale, “This Eagles fan needed a kidney. A Chiefs fan volunteered.”
d. This story is just lovely. Kudos, Jesse Bunch. Billy Welsh, of Cherry Hill, N.J. (Eagles guy) needed a kidney and John Gladwell of Kansas City (Chiefs guy) had one to give. And two Marines who hadn’t spoken in 20 years made it happen, when Welsh needed one urgently in 2019.
e. Wrote Bunch:
Welsh announced on Facebook that he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that often requires a transplant to prevent eventual kidney failure. Welsh needed a kidney fast, and Gladwell came across the post.
“I’m like, ‘What’s your blood type, I’ll check and verify mine,’” Gladwell said. “Two hours of looking through medical records, I finally found it. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m a match … let’s do what we have to do to get this started.’”
Gladwell was amazed to find he was indeed a 99 percent match … In October 2020, Gladwell and Welsh both successfully went under the knife. When Gladwell woke up, he remembers asking doctors, “Where’s Billy?”
“I refused to go to sleep until I saw them wheel him by,” Gladwell said, mentioning the unwavering brotherhood he felt with his fellow Marine Corps veteran.
“He’s definitely my brother from another mother,” Welsh said of Gladwell. “All Marines are like that. If any of my other brothers came through and needed one of my organs, I would.”
f. I’m emotional just reading that. Per Bunch, Welsh calls this Super Bowl, “The Battle of the Kidneys.”
g. Heartbreaking Post of the Week: Kelsie Snow, wife of Calgary Flames assistant GM Chris Snow, on his slow but steady decline after being diagnosed with ALS in 2019.
h. There is nothing pretty, but everything noble, about what ALS does to a human being. It’s important that we realize the reality of the disease. I saw it in Steve Gleason over a course of years. His openness about ALS was important in illuminating the nightmare that the disease is. Now Kelsie Snow blogs about ALS, and it’s hard, and it’s valuable.
i. Writes Kelsie Snow about the state of her husband:
People keep wondering if you are “better.” We don’t know how to answer. Sure? Maybe? Not really? With this disease, there are, hopefully, degrees of recovery from a crisis. In other ways, there is no coming back.
When you came home from the hospital you needed my help with everything. In a miraculous turn, your lungs healed quickly. The healing stopped there. ALS decimated your already-ailing left shoulder and took out your left bicep and tricep as well. With this disease, those losses are permanent.
“How is Chris?” people want to know.
I stumble over the same question I ask myself a thousand times a day. What they want to hear and what they don’t understand about this disease hang in the space between their words and my response.
“That’s complicated,” I want to say. “That’s a loaded question. How much time do you have? Do you really want to know?”
Here is the truth: you’re sad. We’re scared. This is lonely. Many days it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no winning against this disease. There is only learning how to live with all the loss. You are facing a lifetime — however much longer that lifetime is — of getting worse, of being able to lift a glass to your lips one day and not the next, of taking sips of water one day and not swallowing anything again forever the next, of adjusting your pajamas in bed one night and asking me to do it for you the next.
j. The photos alone are haunting.
k. Escanaba, Mich., is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a reader, Scott Lavigne, shared the tragic news of a mom and dad driving to their son’s high school basketball game and being killed instantly by an out-of-control semitruck. “It’s a small-town story of ‘gotcherbackness,’” Lavigne wrote. And he’s right.
l. Man, is this sad. Here’s how you can help.
m. Sports Business Story of the Week: Evan Drellich of The Athletic, on how baseball teams are trying to entice young ticket-buyers with a unique plan to just get them in the ballpark.
n. I realize I’m in the modern minority, a guy who really likes baseball. But I’m 65. Baseball needs to build up the young fan base. Cool idea by Drellich to look into how the game is doing it.
o. Wrote Drellich:
In the age of StubHub and SeatGeek, where you can decide to go to pretty much any event at the last minute, people have less incentive to buy season tickets than they once did. That’s a problem for teams. As MLB commissioner Rob Manfred put it a few years ago: “When you have 2,430 [games] that you’re going to sell, we can’t be a one-ticket-at-a-time business.”
“Consumer habits are obviously changing, and teams are changing their offerings to adapt to that,” said Oliver Marvin, director of revenue strategy at SeatGeek. “You’re starting to see teams lean more into not just thinking about it as a season ticket, but like a season membership, where there’s more perks that go above and beyond the ticket and the in-venue experience, and make it a bit more personalized and bespoke.
Last year,  teams offered a pass entailing a monthly fee ranging from $24.99 to $75, depending on the team, and providing access to the stadium in either a regular seat or standing room. (The Yankees changed their pricing depending on the month, while the Nationals offered only a full-season option at $405.)
p. So teams charge a fraction of the cost for a good seat to essentially get more bodies in the ballpark, and then, on days when plenty of seats are available, give those buying the ability to get in the ballpark a seat. Somewhere. It’s ingenious.
q. News item: Kyrie Irving requests trade from Nets, who deal him to Dallas.
r. News reaction: Poor Mavs. Poor, poor, poor Mavs.
s. Movie of the Week: Rear Window by Hitchcock. My wife and I watched for the third or fourth time the other night. Holy cow, it still is great. It’s 69 years old, and I hope I see it 10 more times in my life. The simplicity of an entire film being shot from one apartment, mostly with shots into one common courtyard and into the apartments overlooking the courtyard – just stupendous. Jimmy Stewart, the best. Grace Kelly—has there ever been a more beautiful woman in American film? Just a gem of a movie.
t. Babe Ruth was born 128 years ago today. Thought that was worth a note.
The Adieu Haiku30
Pizza guy bets. Says:
“I like Philly. You?” I said:
“Don’t bet on football.”