Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 14:
a. Mike Tomlin coming relatively clean.
b. LeSean McCoy. What a talent. Electric in the open field even with eight inches of snow on the ground.
c. Another 397 yards and four touchdowns for Peyton at home on Sunday. Temperature at kickoff: 14°
d. Vintage Troy Polamalu with the over-the top pick-6.
e. Exciting day in the third part of football: special teams. Multiple kick returns for touchdowns. Patriots recover an onside kick to pull off the comeback. Blocked punt spurs the Jets. Prater breaks the FG record.
f. Josh Gordon’s catch-and-run TD. Turning into an absolute star right before our eyes.
g. Frank Gore’s 51-yard run to set up the Niners’ winning field goal. Big-time play in a big-time football game.
h. Great to see Dennis Pitta back in action for the Ravens. Joe Flacco celebrated by throwing him a fourth-quarter TD.
i. Big day for the Bengals’ offense. Three TDs for Andy Dalton. Good sign for the playoffs.
j. Keenan Allen’s full extension, diving touchdown. Heck of a rookie year thus far.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 14:
a. Come on, Washington special teams. Look at the extra point after the late-second-quarter Kansas City touchdown. Three Washington players, as Ryan Succop kicked, stood and made no attempt to rush the kick, or do anything. Nice effort.
b. The Cincy defenders’ tackling attempts on LaVon Brazill’s 19-yard touchdown. Just ugly.
c. The knee injuries. Rob Gronkowski and Tyrann Mathieu both went down with apparent ACL tears. Hate to see that happen to anyone, let alone two of the league’s brightest young stars.
d. Vikings’ pass defense at the end of their wild game in Baltimore. There were 45 seconds left, and they let Flacco march the Ravens right down the field for a touchdown.
e. Chris Johnson’s fourth-quarter fumble in Denver. Just a bad, bad football play.
f. What a mess in Washington. Just an embarrassing loss to the Chiefs at home.
g. RGIII’s interception to Derrick Johnson. Telegraphed all the way.
h. Blair Walsh has to at least get Jacoby Jones out of bounds on his kickoff return TD. Pitiful effort.
i. E.J. Manuel tossing four interceptions in the Bills’ loss at Tampa Bay.
3. I think of all the media-relations professionals I’ve worked with in 30 seasons covering the NFL, none has been more professional than Jim Saccamano, who had the press box in the Denver stadium named after him Sunday. Saccamano is retiring at the end of the year after 36 seasons working for the team. You always knew who Saccamano worked for, but the mark of a good PR guy—I’ve always thought—is he understands those sent to cover the games have pressures on them, too, to come back with unique takes and insight, and he was always prepared to go as close to the line as he could without going over it to help us do our jobs. I’m grateful for the help he’s been to me, and SI, over the years.
4. I think when I heard the Chicago Bears were retiring Mike Ditka’s jersey tonight, I thought, “You mean it wasn’t retired already?” So glad the Bears are honoring an icon when he can still appreciate it and feel the adoration from a city he’s so much like.
5. I think I can’t add much to the incredible tributes we’ve seen around the world for Nelson Mandela after his death Thursday at 95. I hope his powers of forgiveness, tolerance and peaceful activism live on. You can tell the impact Mandela had on people around the world by the candlelight vigils by schoolchildren in Indonesia, by the immediate changing of school names in his honor, and in my little world, by the scores of NFL players who chimed in emotionally on the meaning of his life. I’ll never forget covering the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and meeting his grandson, Mandla Mandela, who was trying to raise money to build a new school in the tribal area where Nelson Mandela was born. (Mandla Mandela has since been enmeshed in several controversies, and been accused of pulling a gun on another man, and so images may well be deceiving. But on the day I met him, he had his grandfather’s earnest calm.)
We talked about how important it was to his grandfather that the World Cup was in South Africa—and make no mistake, it never would have been awarded to South Africa without the icon’s influence. I asked him if his grandfather was watching the games, and pageantry, on TV. “Oh, yes,” Mandla Mandela said. “But he is old now, and he needs his rest. He might watch the first few minutes of a game, and he gets a little bit excited, then he goes for a rest, and later, he will say to us, ‘Who won the game? What happened?’ He can’t afford to get too excited these days, but he loves this World Cup. It was his dream for South Africa, and for Africa. It has been on my grandfather’s agenda to use sport for nation-building, and I think he feels strongly that this is happening here right now.’ “
6. I think, whatever you think of the job Gary Kubiak did, you cannot deny his class.
7. I think there’s more to come on the Mike Tomlin sanction, which means I erred when I reported Friday on NBC Sports Network’s Pro Football Talk that the penalty for the Steelers will likely end with the $100,000 fine from the league. It won’t, and I apologize for the mistake. The league will either take a late-round pick from the Steelers (which, if the team gets a sixth- or seventh-round compensatory pick, would mean in essence that the team won’t get compensated for losing a mid-range free agent next spring) or diminish the value of a pick or picks by lowering one or more of them.
8. I think the story of the weekend belongs to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. He alleges Mike Shanahan almost left Washington at the end of last season because he didn’t like the favoritism owner Dan Snyder was showing Robert Griffin III. Graziano’s good at his job, and it bears watching very closely whether Shanahan would even entertain a contract extension, or whether Snyder would even entertain offering him one at the end of the season.
9. I think my favorite stat to steal from Sunday comes from Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post: In John Elway’s 233 regular-season games as a Bronco, he never put up 50 points in a game. In 13 games this year, including on an 18-degree afternoon in Denver Sunday, Peyton Manning has done it three times.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I’m a hockey fan, but I don’t know the game that well. I do know that, watching highlights of the first period of Pittsburgh-Boston Saturday night, I was sickened by the grotesque violence. A purposeful knee in the head—or, at least what sure looked to be a knee in the head on purpose. Then, as mentioned above, Boston’s Thornton chasing down Pittsburgh’s Orpik, a noted instigator who wouldn’t fight this time, and after Orpik had fallen to the ice, pummeling him with two solid punches. Just revolting. Orpik was immobilized and taken off the ice on a stretcher.
b. No idea why fighting is legal in hockey. It’s so ’80s.
c. Get ’em, Brendan Shanahan. Dish out some discipline that matters. Five games, 10 games … pshaw. Make it hurt.
d. Re Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signing with the Marlins: Two hard-working, tremendous guys to root for over the years, professional to the core. They’ll be missed, at least by me.
e. Now, if you ask me about the Yankees paying $21.9 million a year for Ellsbury, who missed 41 percent of Boston’s games over the last four seasons, it sure seems dumb. Maybe he’ll suddenly turn durable, but to pay him that money you trust him to be in the lineup every day. I don’t see how you can. He’s played nearly every day in just one year of the last four.
f. Robinson Cano’s going to regret that deal. He’s just not a face-of-the-franchise type, and now the Mariners are going to demand it.
h. Took a few minutes to be a real person over the weekend and saw Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest movie by the Coen brothers. All I can say is I would pay Ethan and Joel Coen to make movies 24/7, because every time I walk out of the theater after seeing one, I cannot wait for the next one. This is a story of a week in the life of a pretty good folk singer in 1961, trying to make it in New York (with a detour to Chicago). Llewyn Davis, actually actor Oscar Isaac, sings beautifully, I think, so beautifully that I’ll be buying the soundtrack. But he’s sort of a wayward bum, irresponsible to put it nicely, and the Coen brothers chart his vagabond existence the way they did car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in Fargo or Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) hiding the big money in No Country for Old Men. The end is so … cool. Listen to the voice at the end. Remember it’s 1961. I loved this movie.
i. Coffeenerdness: It really shouldn’t happen, Starbucks, that I have to nerdily tell a new barista that the shots in a macchiato get put in at the end of the drink, on top of the foam. But that happened this week, at a midtown shop. The barista looked at me and said, “Really?”
j. Beernerdness: Well, that was a mistake. Maybe because I’m not a big bourbon guy. But when the server at the Brown Hotel bar in Louisville asked what I wanted the other night, and I asked what the local beers were, one she named was Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. “It’s actually stored in bourbon barrels,” she said. I had to try that. Yikes! Tasted like a shot of carbonated bourbon. I’m sure for you mint julep aficionados, that would be a nice beer. But I had to switch over to the regular Kentucky Ale. Not bad. Kind of a dark pale ale.
k. How old did it make me feel when I saw my old hometown newspaper, the Montclair Times, in its “Ten Years Ago This Week” section, report that Mary Beth King was named first-team all-conference in field hockey this week in 2003 after the MHS team swept through the league at 15-0? Pretty darn old.
l. The more I look at Pope Francis, the more he looks like Chance the gardener.
m. I’m a few days late on that drones-delivering-packages story, which truly is amazing. Except if some skeet shooters are out for a tidy package of Clark’s loafers that go flying by.
Who I Like Tonight
Dallas 30, Chicago 27. Each team could tie its division’s leader with a win (the Cowboys are a half-game back of the Eagles, the Bears a half-game behind the Lions), but they’re headed in different directions, with Dallas winning two in a row and the Bears losing consecutive games to the bottom-feeding Rams and Vikings. Even on the frigid Soldier Field grass (it’ll be in the teens but dry at kickoff), the combination of the league’s 29th (Chicago) and 32nd (Dallas) defenses should mean plenty of points, and I like Tony Romo more than I like Josh McCown.
The Adieu Haiku
Frank Gore. What a back.
Appreciate him now, please.
Soon, he’ll have to go.