Now It Gets Real
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Well now, a Jersey City dateline, six days before the Super Bowl. There’s something I never thought I’d see. Or type. A Super Bowl in New Jersey. But the hype machine for Super Bowl XLVIII alighted in the Garden State Sunday night, so let’s go there, to the tamest interview station of them all.
Richard Sherman’s. Of course.
To all in the media hoping Richard Sherman does their job this week by spouting even a Triple-A version of the Erin Andrews diatribe, and to any of you hoping for another round of fun social debate on thuggery and race and sportsmanship, I bring you these gems from Sherman's riser Sunday night at the Jersey City Westin, a week before Seattle-Denver just up the street in East Rutherford:
"We have a team full of competitors who want to go against the best team, the best offense. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them."
"It’s all going to come down to who plays the best football."
"It really comes down to the execution."
"It’s going to be a battle of wills."
All right! Who went and stole Richard Sherman?!
"Oh man, three hundred ? For 45 minutes? Okay. I’ve got something. Looking forward to it." —Richard Sherman, anticipating Media Day
What we heard Sunday night is probably what we’ll hear Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when Sherman meets more of the press. Lots more. Last night, I’d estimate about 75 reporters and camera people were around him, as you can see above. He was in a good mood, happy to be there and happy to be the Stanford Richard Sherman, not the Fifteen-Seconds-After-The-Game Richard Sherman. The one thing I can tell you about Sherman, from having gotten to know him a little bit in our conversations—me as editor in chief of The MMQB, he as a regular columnist—is he’s an optimistic person. A realist, but an optimist too. Someone asked him about being referred to as a thug last night, and instead of rolling his eyes and flashing anger, he said: "I think it did have some effect on opening up the channels of communication and conversation and dialogue. I think I had some impact on it, and I want to have a positive impact. I want people to understand that everybody should be judged by their character and who they are as a person and not by the color of their skin. That’s something we’ve worked to get past as a nation, as a country and we’re continuing to work on it. It’s healthy. Everything that happened, all the people who sent the messages, who tweeted what they tweeted, it ends up turning around to be a positive because it opens back up the discussion and people begin to get more educated. Anytime you get more knowledge, you’re more powerful as a person." I’ve heard him talk like that several times, when the cameras aren’t around. I think as a person, that’s who he is.
But this week, I expect him to be the filtered Richard Sherman. Maybe with a message Tuesday, Media Day, in Newark, for the national TV audience, but nothing too incendiary.
"What’d you think?" I asked him after he finished his 20-minute session Sunday night.
"That was fun," he said. "Enjoyed it."
"That’s going to be the lightest one," I said. "Wait 'til you see Tuesday. Three hundred people, maybe. Bigger setting. For a lot longer."
"Oh man,’’ he said. "Three hundred? For 45 minutes? Okay. I’ve got something. Looking forward to it."
* * *
* * *
Some logistics …
The Broncos and Seahawks are staying 1.3 miles apart, just up from the Hudson River. Outside the Denver hotel is the better view: the icy Hudson, with the new World Trade Center glistening to the east. A beautiful sight.
But Denver has the more arduous practice road. They’ll have a 31-mile escorted trek to the Jets’ practice facility in the rolling hills of Florham Park, and will make the trip for the first time today for a light 2:55 p.m. practice. The Seahawks will practice for 75 minutes in the shadow of MetLife Stadium, at the Giants’ Quest Diagnostics Training Center across the parking lot from the site of the Super Bowl. Seattle is about eight miles away from the Meadowlands. Both teams will likely be practicing at the two teams’ indoor facilities for much of the week, seeing as the highs for the three big practice days—Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—are forecast to be 24, 29 and 38 degrees, respectively.
Denver coach John Fox did the smart thing, figuring he’ll have his team on buses for 70 to 90 minutes a day today, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: He’s going to encourage his players to do homework on the trips. All players have team-issued tablets with scouting tape, and he’ll tell them that because so many of them haven’t played the Seahawks in a game that counts (Denver and Seattle have met once in the regular season in the last seven years, and not since 1983 in a playoff game; more on that below), they should use the time on the commutes to and from Florham Park wisely. In addition, Fox and FOX will get together Wednesday afternoon on the bus. He’ll do his weekly TV production meeting with the TV team of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and the network’s production staff while driving back from the Jets’ facility after practice. Smart and efficient.
Returning to the scene of the not-so-prime.
Pete Carroll will coach the Super Bowl in a stadium in the same Jersey parking lot as the one where he got his first head-coaching shot. In fact, this month is the 20-year anniversary of Pete Carroll getting his first NFL head-coaching job.
This month is also the 19-year anniversary of Carroll getting fired from his first NFL head-coaching job.
That’s right. Carroll Chudzinskied the Jets’ job.
Carroll succeeded Bruce Coslet as Jets coach on Jan. 7, 1994, and had the team at 6-5 in November, with the 7-4 and slumping Dolphins coming to town for a late-November game. A win, and New York would tie Miami for the lead of the AFC East. And the Jets were up 24-6 late in the third quarter of the game. That was a strange mix of a Jets team. (That is not the first time, nor the last, for that.) Boomer Esiason and Art Monk teamed that day for five aerial connections for 108 yards. Esiason to Monk! Bet you didn’t know they ever played on the same team.
But this is the game that will hurt even the thickest-skinned of Jets followers until the day they die. Marino threw a couple of touchdown passes to Mark Ingram (the dad) to get Miami close, and, in the final two minutes, Marino drove Miami 84 yards to the winning touchdown. But not just any winning touchdown. With the clock running and the ball at the Jets' 8 with 32 seconds left, Marino hustled to the line. The man who called the plays into Marino’s helmet that season was backup Bernie Kosar, and he immediately got the idea to use something Miami had practiced but not used in a game: the fake spike play. So Kosar suggested it, and Marino loved it.
"Clock! Clock!" Marino yelled at the line, and he gave Ingram a stare, the kind of stare Ingram recognized as, Be ready, because I’m coming to you, and sure enough, the Jets relaxed, and Marino threw a line drive to Ingram for the game-winning eight-yard touchdown.
“He was brilliant. He was the Chip Kelly of his time.” —Boomer Esiason on Pete Carroll’s tenure as Jets coach
Sunday night, Carroll recognized the importance of that moment. "It could have been entirely different had we just hung on and won that game," Carroll said. "When you look back on it, that’s what you would point to, because we lost four games after that as well." That’s right: The Jets finished on a five-game losing streak. In the last week of the season, Carroll called Esiason into his office and told him, "Boomer, we’re gonna make some major changes around here, and you’re gonna love them."
But after the last loss, owner Leon Hess, sure his 6-10 team had more talent, fired Carroll and hired Rich Kotite, who'd just been fired as Eagles head coach. That really worked out. The Jets went 4-28 under Kotite.
"To this day I have no idea why Mr. Hess fired Pete after one season," Esiason said. "He was brilliant. He was the Chip Kelly of his time. I wish he’d have stayed our coach."
Two things about that Miami game. Ingram caught four touchdown passes from Marino in the second half. Ingram’s now in jail until 2019 on money-laundering and fraud charges. And there was the matter of Esiason’s trip home to Long Island after the game.
"I’m in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel and next to me there was an accident, and I’m thinking, Should I get out of the car and help? So I do, and the woman in this car is slumped over the wheel, with a cigarette in her hand. I rap on the window. ‘Lady! You okay!’ She opens her eyes. She says, ‘Boomer? BOOMER? Man, you guys suck! How’d you lose that game!’ ”
* * *
This is a very significant storyline this week.
I just don’t know exactly how to quantify it.
Peyton Manning has never faced any of the eight Seattle defensive backs in the regular season or playoffs. He has faced the Seahawks twice in the preseason, but not when it’s counted since Oct. 4, 2009, a span of 68 games, including postseason. And, obviously, they have never faced him in a real game either.
Comparing the Seattle secondary in that 2009 game—when Manning riddled the Seahawks for 353 yards in a 34-17 Indy win—and now:
|Seattle, Oct. 4, 2009||Seattle, this week|
|Kelly Jennings, Ken Lucas||Starting corners||Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell|
|Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux||Starting safeties||Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor|
|Travis Fisher, Josh Wilson||Backup corners||Jeremy Lane, Walter Thurmond, DeShawn Shead|
|Lawyer Milloy, C.J. Wallace||Backup safeties||Chris Maragos|
Now the question: Who gets the edge—Manning or the Seattle secondary—because of the lack of exposure these two sides have had to each other?
At first blush I’d say Manning, because, well, as Richard Sherman said a few days ago, "You can’t get in Peyton Manning’s head. If you get in his head, you’ll get lost." Manning, and his new coordinator-in-crime, Adam Gase, are very good are figuring out things to show a defense that they’ve never seen before. Last week against New England, Virgil Green, a tight end who’d never carried the ball in 47 previous NFL games, lined up as a lone back in the backfield in a three-wide, two-tight-end set—and Manning handed it to him. Gain of six. The second touchdown pass of the game, a three-yard flip to Demaryius Thomas, was invented Friday night during a post-practice flurry of emails and voice memos (I wrote about it last Monday). The point about these plays: New England coach Bill Belichick has faced Manning 15 times since 2001, and he’d never seen either of those two plays before. Imagine if you’re Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his secondary. You can study every snap Manning has taken this season. You can look at Denver’s 1,297 plays in 18 games, and you can analyze Manning’s 738 pass attempts. But do you know you'll be seeing what you’ve seen regularly this year? Andre Caldwell was thrown 19 balls in a late-season three-game stretch; Jacob Tamme got 13 Manning targets in an earlier three-game run. Manning, when he needs to, involves the rest of the roster, not just his big four.
But Seattle has an edge here in that Manning hasn’t been able to replicate the Seahawks’ talent, size and physicality in practice. Other than Sherman staying at left corner—that’s an absolute given—we won’t know for sure until the game starts how Seattle plans to defend the wideouts. You can be sure tight end Julius Thomas will get the intimidating brunt of 6-3, 232-pound strong safety Kam Chancellor’s attention. The closing speed of free safety Earl Thomas is misleading.
We’ve seen Manning use different players at different times, and without regard to making sure everyone in the offense is treated fairly. That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me to see a guy like Caldwell, Tamme or Montee Ball take a prime role in the Super Bowl. Manning is not going to force the ball to Demaryius Thomas if he’s blanketed by Sherman up the right side.
For once, the beaten-up story angle of the week (just watch)—Peyton Manning against the best secondary in football—could turn out to be the overwhelming story of the Super Bowl.
And now, from Clevelandia ...
The Browns coaching hire. It’s a tangled web in Cleveland—and I say that with much respect for Mike Pettine, hired as the eighth head coach in the reconstituted Browns’ 15-year history. Pettine did a fabulous job with the Bills in his one year as coordinator (Buffalo sacks in 2012: 36; in 2013: 57) and should breathe life into a team that underperformed on defense this season. But you get the feeling at the end of the coaching search that Pettine was the ultimate compromise candidate. In the final days before the hire, Cleveland rekindled its pursuit of Josh McDaniels, and went after him hard. I have heard McDaniels was the apple of owner Jimmy Haslam’s eye from the time a four-man team of Browns officials met with McDaniels in New England for seven-and-a-half hours on Wild Card Saturday, and that GM Mike Lombardi had at least two conversations with McDaniels about re-entering the coaching derby in the days after New England’s loss to Denver in the AFC title game.
I have also heard, after Bill Belichick pushed hard for his friend Greg Schiano to get in the Cleveland race, that some in the Browns’ hierarchy were revved up by Schiano’s interview with the club early last week. But the Browns have the same old problem they’ve had since the weekend that the late owner of the team, Al Lerner, put his stamp of approval on Tim Couch as the first pick of the expansion Browns in 1999: They don’t have a long-term quarterback of the future (unless Brian Hoyer, 28, is far better than he’s shown in his four-team, four-start NFL career), and they don’t have anyone to coach one. That’s the biggest problem with the Browns now. There’s no consensus as to who will be the offensive coordinator, and certainly no consensus as to whom the team will draft in May for the new coordinator to coach. And what if the Browns, who love Johnny Manziel, are trumped in their effort to draft Manziel by another team—assuming Johnny Football is the top quarterback on the board, which is too early to say now. The Browns have gone six straight seasons with at least 11 losses, and they are far from out of the woods.
On Adam Gase. The Denver offensive coordinator did the smart thing, as did his former boss in Denver, McDaniels. The coaches of Peyton Manning (Gase) and Tom Brady (McDaniels) both withdrew from the search in Cleveland and will be back piloting their explosive offenses with legendary quarterbacks in 2014 rather than coaching the Browns. Gase is 35 and has a bright future. "I really like Gase," Manning told me last week. "I like playing for guys that are smarter than me and work as hard as me." The Browns never got a great handle on Gase, and he certainly wouldn’t have heard good things about the organization from his father-in-law, Joe Vitt, an NFL lifer on the New Orleans staff, or from Denver director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, the former Browns GM who left the team last year with bitter feelings. Gase is better riding out Manning’s last two years (my guess) with him and then seeing if a team with a brighter future wants him.
Speaking of McDaniels … Which no one in Denver likes to do. People in Denver figure McDaniels "ran off" Jay Cutler, which he didn’t do, and then drafted Tim Tebow and got fired in the midst of a crash-and-burn 4-12 season. So the venom spews. But let’s be fair here. Look around the Broncos roster, which McDaniels had control of in 2009 and 2010. From the 2009 draft: Knowshon Moreno (1,586 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns this year), defensive end Robert Ayers (sack of Tom Brady in the AFC title game) and special-teams captain David Bruton are here. From the 2010 draft: the two leading receivers—Demaryius Thomas (92 catches, 14 touchdowns) and Eric Decker (87 catches, 11 TDs)—are here, plus starting guard Zane Beadles. Tim Tebow’s not here, of course. And the Tebow thing colors everything about McDaniels’ legacy. It should be considered, to be sure. But let me ask you this question: If Thomas and Decker hadn’t been on the roster when Peyton Manning was considering what team to choose 22 months ago, are you really that sure Manning would have signed with the Broncos? He has said time and again that when he compared teams, he liked the young receivers that Denver had. Who would have been in their place, and would they have passed Manning’s muster? Or would be have looked at Larry Fitzgerald and the Manning-friendly offense of Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona a little more fondly? Point is, McDaniels shouldn’t be a Denver pariah in this Super Bowl week. He should be thanked.
Gil Brandt on Manziel. A few league people raised their eyebrows when the godfather of the draft, Gil Brandt, put 6-0 Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel No. 1 on his first draft board. I asked Brandt why he did it. "I do have a tremendous belief in him," Brandt said. "You are going to get 110% out of this guy every day of his life, every play of his life. If you don't have a quarterback, and you want one, I believe this guy has a great chance to be good for a long time. This guy had an inferior team. And he beat Alabama, he beat Oklahoma. He’s down 29 to Duke in the last game of his college career, and he’s on the sidelines saying, ‘There is no way we are going to lose.’ This guy’s a better version of Fran Tarkenton." About Manziel’s love of the parties, Brandt said, "He’s had a chance to do some things, at age 18, 19, 20 and 21, because of the financial backing of his grandfather, but the more I’ve looked into him, I just don’t believe it’s going to hold him back from being really good. The one thing coach Landry told me a long time ago is you look for the good, not for the bad."
* * *
A Lil Q&A with Lil Wayne, of all things.
Well, I never thought I’d be interviewing a rapper for The MMQB. But one of our writers, Robert Klemko, knew how passionate a football fan Lil Wayne is, and Klemko met his publicist, and one thing led to another, and Tuesday night the publicist said to me: "I’m patching you through to Wayne." The mega-Packers fan is opinionated about a lot of things in football—his Pack, Richard Sherman, Peyton Manning, why he loves football above all other games, and his own football history: "I was a fullback when I played. I tell people that, and they don’t believe me. I loved to be like Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare." The greatest hits from a chat with 31-year-old New Orleans native Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.:
How he became a Packers fan
"They won the Super Bowl in my hometown, and I was hooked. I am not missing a Packers game. Never. I don’t care what kind of world I am in, where I am. When the Packers are playing, I’m watching. This year was tough. When A-Rod went down, I was in a lot of pain."
Why he loves football
"It’s such a natural thing … I don’t know, really. I love it more than anything. The physicality of it, I think. On Sundays, I just sit there, and everybody knows—no phone calls. It’s understood by the people around me—when the games are on, no calls for him."
"To me, the Richard Sherman thing ... I think he does it, I don't want to say for attention, I don't believe it’s for attention, but I believe there is a technique to what he is doing. It all of a sudden doesn't seem so natural. It seems like it used to be Richard Sherman loves to trash talk, but now, it's kind of a technique. Not natural. I've seen people go back at him, and when they tell him something back or he gets his face busted, there's no more barking. That tells me, I'm really not like this, I'm really not aggressive. I think it's Richard Sherman mouthing off ... I know the media likes to say he’s backing it up with his play. Well, Richard Sherman comes from the same place I come from, the street, and he's doing a lot of talking where he really can't back it up. I think he's a shutdown player. But a great player? No. Great? I don't think he's a great player. Now if he plays great against Peyton, that will be huge. If he performs tremendously, that will ."
“He is special. He is one of a kind. I am glad I am able to live to see him, to see the kind of things he is doing."
The Manning men: Father Archie and sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli
"I have a story about Peyton. A guy who has been on the road with us, he was like an uncle to us, he told us this story. When he was in jail, about to come home, he was put on one of those work-release things in New Orleans. Every morning, real early, he would clean the schoolyard of the Newman School . Because he was a prisoner, he would have to clean the schoolyard at 4 or 5 in the morning. There was not one morning, 4:30, 5 in the morning, he wouldn’t see Archie, Peyton, Cooper, or Eli out on the field. He’d see Archie throwing passes to Cooper, or Peyton throwing routes to Cooper. I don’t know if people know this, but it was Cooper who was the prodigy. He would tell us the story, you know, like it was destined."
Super Bowl XLVIII
"Honestly, I don’t want to use the word ‘surprised,’ but it is unexpected to see Seattle in the Super Bowl. I expected Peyton. He’s been there before. And I love Russell Wilson. But they are not playing in Seattle. I just can’t see Peyton losing."
* * *
Well, this isn’t so much of a shock, but it is stark.
Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, now doing some coach-representation and TV/radio work, figured this out this week:
Of the 11 coaches hired in 2009, one remains in his job. That’s Rex Ryan of the Jets, and that was no slam dunk as December wore on.
Of the 11 general managers/personnel czars in place on the teams with new coaches in 2009, one remains in his job. That’s Detroit GM Martin Mayhew, and that was no slam dunk as December wore on.
The moral of the story? "It’s a really, really hard job," Tannenbaum said. "The sad thing is, those numbers are probably not out of whack with other periods of time either."
The teams that named permanent coaches in 2009, and the personnel men with them:
|Cleveland||Eric Mangini||George Kokinis|
|Denver||Josh McDaniels||Brian Xanders|
|Detroit||Jim Schwartz||Martin Mayhew|
|Indianapolis||Jim Caldwell||Bill Polian|
|Kansas City||Todd Haley||Scott Pioli|
|New York Jets||Rex Ryan||Mike Tannenbaum|
|Oakland||Tom Cable||Al Davis|
|St. Louis||Steve Spagnuolo||Billy Devaney|
|San Francisco||Mike Singletary||Scot McCloughan|
|Seattle||Jim Mora||Tim Ruskell|
|Tampa Bay||Raheem Morris||Mark Dominik|
Including playoffs, Mayhew’s Lions are 29-52 in the five seasons since 2009.
Ryan’s Jets are 46-40 since 2009.
So it’s not like Mayhew has the job security of Ron Wolf and Ryan the security of Vince Lombardi.
I’m not that surprised, I guess, that 20 of the 22 lead football men on those 11 teams are gone. I guess I’m surprised that not a single one of the 22 men holding those jobs, after five seasons, has a rock-solid grip on it.
Quotes of the Week
"It's historically as hard as it gets. They've broken every major record. Peyton's been extraordinary. We're up against it. It's an extraordinary challenge. But they have to play us too."
—Seattle coach Pete Carroll Sunday night, on how tough a task the Seahawks face in the Super Bowl, playing the highest-scoring team in NFL history.
"In talking to Ray Lewis and in talking to John Elway, they couldn’t play anymore. That was all they had to give. They truly left it all out there. I truly have been kind of a one-year-at-a-time basis. So I really have no plans beyond this game, had no plans coming into this season beyond this year. I think that’s the healthy way to approach kind of your career at this stage. I still enjoy playing football. I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point coming off that surgery. I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the work part of it. Everybody enjoys the games, everybody’s going to be excited to play in a Super Bowl, but I think when you still enjoy the preparation and the work part of it, I think you probably still ought to be doing that. I think as soon as I stop enjoying it, if I can’t produce, if I can’t help the team, that’s when I’ll stop playing. If that’s next year, maybe it is. But I certainly want to continue to keep playing."
—Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, upon arrival in New Jersey Sunday evening.
For a few minutes, that should put to rest the Peyton-might-retire-after-this-game stuff.
"I’m just glad I ordered the pot roast, not the shrimp alfredo."
—Denver defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, who told me on The MMQB Podcast With Peter King this week that his nickname came from former Jacksonville teammate Clint Ingram's deriding him for his meal selection on a plane trip his rookie year—Knighton chose the pot roast over the shrimp alfredo—and, as Knighton said, "It just stuck. There was a time there I met a lady and she didn’t even know my name. She just knew ‘Pot Roast.’ But that’s cool."
"A lot of the writers think I’m boring. So I’m going to go all Richard Sherman on you."
—Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, to Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe.
Stat of the Week
AFC North Coach Stability Update:
The Browns named the eighth coach in the 15 years since they were reborn on Thursday. And good luck to Mike Pettine. He’s a very good defensive coach who cut his teeth professionally under Rex Ryan, and he’ll be the kind of leader the Browns wanted in a head coach. But there’s been great hope before in Cleveland. Seven times.
Here’s how, since 1999, the AFC North teams have fared with coaches, and winning:
|Coaches since ’99||Wins since ’99||Avg. games per coach||Playoff appearances|
* Mike Pettine is the eighth coach of the Browns.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Last 10 meetings between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning:
|Wins||Points scored by team|
Senior Bowl South quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is from Eastern Illinois, 1,191 miles north of Miami, where North quarterback Stephen Morris played, and 572 miles north of Clemson, S.C., where North quarterback Tajh Boyd played.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I have never covered a Super Bowl in the town where I lived, so even though I think it’s a bad idea to have the Super Bowl in an outdoor freezer, I am pleased to be home this week. To get my credential for the week’s media responsibilities, I left my apartment on the east side of Manhattan Sunday about 2:30 p.m., and walked nine blocks to the Sheraton Times Square, which is the media hotel for the Super Bowl. I picked up my press credential, then boarded a bus at 3:30 for the Broncos’ team hotel in Jersey City, across the Hudson River. After those interviews, we got back on the bus and rode five minutes to the Seahawks’ hotel, also in Jersey City.
What will be odd about this Super Bowl: The media events with the teams, and the team hotels, and the practice sites, and the Super Bowl, will be in New Jersey. Everything else—the parties, the major-domo press conferences, the media center—will be in Manhattan. Ever travel through the Jersey state capital, Trenton? There’s a big bridge there, with the words TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES. It's a jab, I've always thought, at the big wide world that looks at New Jersey as a flyover state, or a drive-by state. I lived in New Jersey with my family for 24 years. I love the state. Not every inch of it, but I loved living there, and I’m grateful to have had wonderful homes and neighbors and lives in Montclair (mostly) and Bloomfield. So I’m a little sensitive about the New York-ification of everything major league that goes on in New Jersey. Like this Super Bowl. The teams are in Jersey. The practices are in Jersey. The players and coaches meet the press in Jersey. The game’s in Jersey.
But it’s the New York Super Bowl.
I’ll be drinking in Hoboken Tuesday night, thank you.
Tweets of the Week
"Richard Sherman seems to be on his best behavior during his first Super Bowl media exposure. Unfortunately."
—@MichaelJLev, of the Orange County Register, tweeting from the Richard Sherman news conference Sunday night.
"FYI: Three alums of the 0-16 Lions will play in the Super Bowl 5 years later -- DEN G Manny Ramirez, LB Paris Lenon and SEA DE Cliff Avril."
—@RobertKlemko, of The MMQB.
"Mount Washington State Forest, Massachusetts."
—@Earth_Pictures, on Friday.
Click on that. Wow.
"Reminder to new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey: 'unknown' Pete Rozelle was named Commish on 23rd ballot in 1960...that worked out pretty well."
—@NFLonTheHill, longtime NFL PR man and senior advisor to the commissioner Joe Browne, after two (at least) executives turned down the Dolphins’ GM job, which went to Bucs director of player personnel Dennis Hickey.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the best thing I read all weekend about the Super Bowl in New York was a history lesson of Vince Lombardi’s New York roots, by Tom Rock of Newsday. Three tidbits: 1. Lombardi’s high school, St. Francis Prep of Brooklyn, is the only one in America to have a Super Bowl-winning coach and World Series-winning manager (Joe Torre) as alums. 2. Lombardi’s last game before he took the Packers’ head-coaching job in 1959 was as a Giants’ offensive assistant in the famous Baltimore win over the Giants in the ’58 overtime championship game. 3. This from Rock: "Lombardi accepted a head coaching job with the Packers, but with the understanding that if Giants coach Jim Lee Howell were to leave, he would be able to return. When Howell left after the 1960 season, Lombardi was prepared to take over the Giants. Wellington Mara called the Packers to set it up. But the Packers reneged on the deal. During the 1961 season, the Giants visited Green Bay and Lombardi ran into Frank Gifford and other Giants players in town the night before the game. ‘He started crying,’ said Ernie Palladino, author of the book Lombardi and Landry. ‘Dammit,’ Lombardi said through his tears, ‘I should be the one coaching you guys.' ” Great stuff from Rock, and from Palladino. Great idea for a story in this week, when the trophy bearing his name will be on display in his hometown.
2. I think the oddest thing I’ve sensed about this Super Bowl from the public and some in the media is that Russell Wilson, in the eyes of many, is overrated. I think that’s absurd, and not just because he’s got a 3-1 postseason record and will be playing in the Super Bowl in his second season. It's because of his presence, his ability to make those around him better, his drive to be great. Because his weapons compared to many contending teams (including the one he’ll play Sunday) are not nearly as good. For all those who say he’s just along for the ride, consider these two stat lines from his first two NFL seasons:
2012: 64.1% accuracy, 26 TDs, 10 interceptions, 100.0 rating, 12-6 record.
2013: 63.1% accuracy, 26 TDs, 9 interceptions, 101.2 rating, 15-3 record.
And, he’s totaled 1,028 yards rushing, and five rushing touchdowns, in two years. If that’s overrated, give me 52 other overrated guys on my roster. Every day.
3. I think new Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht (pronounced "Light") had an interesting take the other day when asked who would have the final say on the draft—him or coach Lovie Smith. (It’s widely thought around the league that the buck will stop with Smith on all football decisions.) Said Licht: "There will be no arguments on draft day. Going in to the draft—arguments are healthy. I’ve had arguments with every coach that I’ve worked for, and every GM. Some of them would be happy to tell you about them, I’m sure. We’ll have arguments on players. I’m going to plead my case. I told Lovie, during the interview process, that if he doesn’t like a player, I’m going to be in his office 20 times trying to prove why my player, that I like, is the guy that we need, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing. If we don’t come to an agreement, the answer is easy, it lies in itself—we won’t take that player." I’ll be interested to follow that down the line.
4. I think, even though we at The MMQB contributed to, as the New York Daily News blared across its back page Tuesday, "SHERMANIA," neither Richard Sherman nor anyone should be surprised at the outcry over his post-game explosion last week. It’s America. It’s the sports media. It’s 56 million people watching something they’ve never seen before (at least in my memory): a star athlete raging at the camera in response to a couple of simple questions, with sportsmanship and race and the two-week Super Bowl media explosion involved. A recipe for a media firestorm, as we’ve seen.
5. I think if the Senior Bowl unearthed one gem this week, it’s Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who prompted comparisons to Geno Atkins. In 2013, he had 11 sacks and 28 tackles for loss in Pitt’s first ACC season, and he was the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year.
6. I think I loved this story from Len Pasquarelli of National Football Post on the rise of the tall cornerback. You see the trend in Seattle: Richard Sherman (6-3) and Byron Maxwell (6-1) make plays with their reach as much as with their legs.
7. I think San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, unfortunately, may turn out to be the offensive version of Mike Zimmer, who had to wait far too long for his chance to be a head coach. Cleveland not interviewing Roman ... absolutely amazing.
8. I think I am shocked to say this, and I only saw the fourth quarter ... but from the time I turned on the Pro Bowl till the end of the game, I saw players trying. Novel concept. The defensive lines were possessed, at least for the last quarter.
9. I think I will make this promise to you, as Super Bowl Week dawns: I promise I will not hit you over the head with weather reporting/complaining. It’ll get a mention now and again, but not a daily pounding.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Spend some more, Yankees. Pay Stephen Drew $14 million a year. Come to think of it, pay J.D. Drew $17 million.
b. Just adds to the fun. And all of America saying, "This is why we love football. Football’s fair."
c. I don’t blame the Yankees one bit, by the way. All they’re doing is playing by the rules.
d. Bieber. Lohan. How do you tell them apart?
e. Great job by the NHL on the Stadium Series. The L.A. game Saturday night had some great pageantry (Vin Scully, the USC band, beach volleyball)
f. All who attended Kings-Ducks: You lucky dogs.
g. Same to you at Yankee Stadium. What a visual on TV.
h. If there’s ever a category for best old player in sports history, 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr—who had one of the prettiest assists you’ll ever seen Sunday against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium—will be in the finals. He leads an NHL playoff contender in scoring more than halfway through the season. A treat to watch.
i. How do the Asbury Jukes wear all Rangers stuff?
j. Coffeenerdness: Super Bowl Week Visitors Coffee Guide Dept.: I have found the most consistent drink-making Starbucks in Manhattan, and believe me, I have tried all 9,000 of them. It's the one on East 51st, between Park and Madison. Bunch of kids in there. They care.
k. Beernerdness: Had the good fortune to meet Jim Koch, the Sam Adams brewer, on the SI Now show the other day in New York. We talked craft beer, and he handed me one of his new ones. "Cold Snap." A wheat beer, he said, with spices like coriander and orange peel. And I’m thinking, "Hmmm. Allagash White." So I popped it open Friday night. A tad darker than Allagash, but the same nose and similar taste. Loved it. Coriander rocks, and I don’t even know what it is.
l. Matt Garza to the Brew Crew. I like it. Good signing. If healthy, he should win 15.
m. Good luck to Dan Marino and Brian Hyland, former partners at HBO's Inside the NFL, as they team up with moviemakers to produce a motion picture about the life and times of Marine war hero and Purple Heart recipient Brian Stokes. After serving overseas, Stokes returned to play the game he loved—college football—at Division I-AA national champion Appalachian State. I've met Stokes, and I know Marino and Hyland, and I think this can be a heck of a movie. Really looking forward to it.
The Adieu Haiku
Sad thing re Pro Bowl:
End of Tony Gonzalez.
At least in football.