Here’s (The Real) Johnny

February 24, 2014 by Peter King

INDIANAPOLIS — The offseason. That’s a good one.

Browns chase Jim Harbaugh. Lose.

Michael Sam meets the press. Wins. Then he lifts weights. Loses.

Johnny Manziel undergoes radical image-ectomy. Early returns: good.

Ray Rice undergoes radical image destruction. Early returns: awful.

Players might get flagged in games for using the n-word. Tremendous.

The NFL scouting combine’s halfway over. Overrated (as always).

One point before we get to my Johnny Manziel Experience and everything else: Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported Friday that the Browns “nearly pulled off a trade” for boffo 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. That put the combine on its ear, and set off a flurry of denials and non-denial denials. Cleveland officials wouldn’t deny the story, lending it added credence, and then, on Sunday, owner Jimmy Haslam told USA Today, “There was an opportunity there, and it didn’t materialize.” Harbaugh denied the story, and the Niners organization mostly kept quiet except for a tweet from CEO Jed York Friday night denying the story.

That was until Sunday night, when York told me he would not rehash the entire story but did say: “The Browns reached out to me, and we had no interest in pursuing it.”

That confirms this story was more than the Browns spitballing an impossible dream, as the Harbaugh quotes and early Niners denial would make it seem. But as I first heard Friday night, I don’t believe terms were discussed back and forth between the Browns and Niners. I believe that, as York said, the 49ers decided not to engage the Browns on any substantive negotiations for Harbaugh.

So many tentacles to this story, and we’ll pursue them later in this column. But first, my encounter at the combine with Jonathan Paul Manziel.

* * *

Manziel (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)
Manziel has made a concerted effort to rehab his image as he prepares to enter the NFL. (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)

Manziel, the polished version.

On Friday night at the combine, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a 15-minute session with Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback. Manziel hadn’t met anyone in the room. When he walked in, all the Jaguars coaches and officials stood.

Manziel went to owner Shahid Khan and shook his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Khan. I’m Johnny Manziel.”

Then to his son Tony Khan, a team senior VP. “Hi Mr. Khan, Johnny Manziel.”

Then to coach Gus Bradley. “Hi Coach Bradley, pleasure to meet you. Johnny Manziel.”

Then to GM David Caldwell, and then to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. All the same: handshake, look ’em in the eye, refer to them by name. He knew them all. Now, he didn’t know the scouts in the room, but he knew five men by sight that he’d never met. “That was impressive,” Caldwell said. “He did a really nice job in there. He was prepared for the interview, very prepared.”

That was the goal for Manziel in the six-and-a-half weeks he’s spent in Carlsbad, Calif., north of San Diego, working with quarterback coach George Whitfield, quarterback consultant Kevin O’Connell and a training staff. Get better at being a pocket quarterback and not just the human highlight tape he was at Texas A&M. Work in the classroom with former Patriots and Jets backup O’Connell, studying the offense of every team that might pick him. O’Connell and Manziel even studied Washington’s offense from last year, not because they think there’s any chance the team will draft him, but because Kyle Shanahan, last year’s Washington offensive coordinator, now works in Cleveland, and they wanted to get a feel of what he likes to call and how he likes to use protections. Hammer home schemes, specific plays and formations each team is partial to using.

Then, Manziel wanted to address all the Johnny Nightlife questions—the ejection from the Manning Passing Academy last summer for turning up late for his job as a camp quarterback counselor, the tweeted photos at all hours at all sorts of bars. Some teams won’t like that; Houston’s buttoned-up owner, Bob McNair, certainly will frown at the prospect of having a playboy quarterback, if that’s what the owners of the top pick judge Manziel to be. An executive of one team who met with Manziel over the weekend said, “Has there been one killer incident for him? If there is, we haven’t found it.” [Manziel and his agent, Erik Burkhardt, declined to discuss how many teams he met with this weekend or which they were, and the executive of the team I just referred to didn’t want to identify his team because it has an established quarterback and didn’t want to drum up controversy in that market. But it’s known from reports in various places that Manziel met with Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia coaches and team officials, and very likely Oakland, this weekend before flying back to Texas late Sunday afternoon.]

“We’ve found nothing that’s come across as a fatal flaw to us,” Caldwell said.

“One of our goals,” Whitfield said, “has been to show that a player who’s been driving an automatic can now drive a stick-shift.”

Finally, Manziel and Burkhardt wanted to limit his time being famous—he can go unnoticed in Southern California but is treated like a rock star throughout Texas after winning the 2012 Heisman as a college freshman—and maximize his time with the teams. So except for a dress rehearsal for his Pro Day and then the Pro Day workout March 27 in Texas, you’ll find Manziel mostly in two places—Carlsbad or on the road meeting with teams. “Our goal is to give every team that’s interested the maximum amount of time with Johnny they want,” Burkhardt said. “The more time, the merrier. Because when they spend time with him, they’ll get to know the real Johnny.”

It all seems like a smart approach. Manziel is a unique prospect who will require significant research. Even though the 5-10½ Russell Wilson just won the Super Bowl, below-average size at the position—Manziel  measured 5-11¾ at the combine—is a detriment to greatness in the NFL. Small quarterbacks often have to be out-of-the-pocket improvisers; last year Manziel had poor games in losses against LSU and Missouri when hemmed in the pocket, frustrated he couldn’t get out on the edge and make something happen. “One of our goals,” Whitfield said at the combine, “has been to show that a player who’s been driving an automatic can now drive a stick-shift, and he can make the kind of plays from the pocket you’re going to need to make in the NFL.”

But he’s also unique in this regard: How many prospects get less famous going from college to the NFL? Manziel might be the one. Johnny Manziel anywhere in the NFL will be nutty, but he’s already had the kind of training he’ll need to deal with being the billboard for a franchise.

In Indianapolis, Manziel told Peter King, “There’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time to have fun, there’s a time to work.” (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)

I met Manziel in the back of the restaurant at the Holiday Inn where the players are housed at the combine. He didn’t want to come to his agent’s place, the Omni, because he’d have been hounded by autograph seekers. It’s late at night, but he’s still on. As with what he says to the teams, he knows the words he says will be parsed and read by those who might pick him …  and he’ll be damned if he’s going to have a repeat of last week, when he told the Houston Chronicle that if the Texans passed on him with the No. 1 pick, “It would be the worst decision they’ve ever made.” (Even though—funny—it’s become part of Peyton Manning folklore that Manning did precisely the same thing with the Colts in 1998 when they were choosing between him and Ryan Leaf to be the top pick in the draft. Manning said to GM Bill Polian’s face, “If you pass on me, I will come back and kick your a– for years.” So let’s go easy with the idea of Manziel’s brashness ruining his chances in Houston.)

“I’m starved,” he says. He orders dinner, alternately drinks water and Gatorade, and sits upright, his back to all the curious eyes that he’s gotten used to.

Now, about the Manning Passing Academy incident last summer, when he was sent home for not showing up on time one morning …

“I got back from the function that we had the prior night, went to my room, and plugged my phone in to wake up at 8 o’clock the next day,” Manziel says. “When I woke up the next day I realized it was a little lighter outside than it had been the morning before. I shuffled around and looked for my phone in the bed and pressed the top button, pressed the home button. No juice. And I really woke up freaking out. I got to camp about 30 minutes late. I met with the head people, met with the counselors, and they asked me to go home. I poured my heart out to them and told them I was having a great time getting to know these kids, getting to know the people in my group. I didn’t want to go. I tried to talk to them to let them know the situation. For some reason, there was kind of a rift in communication with people saying I wasn’t in my room. And I absolutely was. I woke up in my bed in my dorm room like I had the two mornings previous.”

“And the rumors that you’d been in New Orleans that night?” I ask.

“I feel like with the media attention I had, the scrutiny, and everything that I went through last year,” Manziel says, “it directly prepares me for this.” 

“Absolutely not,” Manziel says. “We were in Thibodaux, [La.], whatever the name of the place was, until 12 or 1, got a shuttle back to the dorm, got to sleep and really just accidentally the phone died. And then I remember really being upset when my mom came and got me. And Peyton and Eli both gave me a call and said they wished things would’ve went differently, wished they had a chance to talk to me before things went the way they did. And what I wanted to let them know was I was extremely sorry. Those are guys that I’ve looked up to, guys that I want to be like one day.

“I told him if I come back next year, the first thing I’m going to set on my schedule is to come back to this camp and be the first one up every morning and really make up for what happened this year. And both him and Eli have all said they wish things had gone differently, and so do I. At the same time, I do realize I have the responsibility to be up, regardless of the situation but just really wish things would’ve gone differently.”

This is what Manziel was asked, to be sure, in his meetings here. Some of them, at least. And he was prepared to answer the questions about his partying. “I’ve tried to be completely honest with the teams,” he said. “I was in college. I did some college things with my friends. I had fun, and the thing that I told some team tonight is, my Mom always told me, ‘There’s a time and a place for everything.’ There were points throughout the last year maybe I was a little bit out of that saying. I did things too much and maybe overly aggressive. At the same time, things progressed fast for me. A lot of things were thrown on my plate and pushed into my life, and I really ran with those. To get back to that saying, there’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time to have fun, there’s a time to work.

“As rapidly as everything came along, having to learn from my mistakes, through all the trials and errors, learning from that, and at the same time, I had different obligations than really most anybody has had. I am the only person I know of that had a schedule directly tied with our director of football operations to do whatever it was the school was asking of me. And really I’m incredibly loyal to Texas A&M. It was the school that gave me an opportunity when not a lot of other places did. But I feel like with the media attention I had, the scrutiny, and everything that I went through last year, it directly prepares me for this.”

He says he doesn’t feel he’s in direct competition with Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater, though certainly he is. “I’m going to go be extremely honest with these teams, let them see a side of me that some people don’t get to see,” Manziel says. “Talk football, which is something we all love to do. And from there, it’s their decision. I’m going to put myself in the best situation possible, but at the end of the day, I can only control what I can control.”

Then he begins talking about Russell Wilson. Though they’re different as people, their size and competitiveness are very close. “Just watching him in the Super Bowl,” Manziel says “they really got their momentum with him, extending drives. That’s what you have to do. Convert on third down, and not turn the ball over. That’s something that Russell is incredibly good at. And he’s extremely accurate. Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. I’m not going to sit myself in this seat today and compare me to him. I have a lot to do to earn my stripes and earn my position in this league. I realize nothing is going to be handed to me. I have to go work for it. That’s good. That’s right. Some people said he couldn’t do a lot of things, but he found his way.

“That’s how I am. You can tell me ‘no’ all you want, but at the end of the day I’m going to win. I’m going to be successful.”

Manziel is not the warmest guy, nor the fuzziest. Nor, obviously, the tallest. But he is the guy Nick Saban cannot solve. Manziel’s numbers in two games against Alabama: 71 points, 717 passing yards, one gigantic upset. If there’s no incident under a rock that will doom Manziel, this is all going to come down to football, and playmaking, and determination. Manziel will take his chances against anyone in those categories.

* * *

Jim Harbaugh has taken the 49ers to the playoffs every season he's been the coach, but he's still working under the original contract he accepted when he left Stanford in 2011. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Jim Harbaugh has taken the 49ers deep into the postseason in each of his three years as coach, but he’s still working under the original contract he accepted when he left Stanford in 2011. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

And now the rest of the NFL story this week.

I’m not convinced Cleveland got very far down the road. Did Jed York get an offer of a draft pick or picks from Cleveland for coach Jim Harbaugh, mull it over, talk to his inner circle and decide not to accept it? Did he ask Harbaugh if this was something he really wanted? Or did York simply decide, “We’re not trading our coach?” We might never know, though my guess is the only way York would have agreed to consider a deal is if Harbaugh told him flatly he wanted to take the Cleveland job. But what would trouble me about the story is how far down the road it got. Harbaugh clearly hasn’t gotten the money he thinks he deserves for leading the Niners to three straight playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl—for making the Niners a star franchise again. He’s entering year four of a five-year deal, which pays him $5 million a year. The Niners and Harbaugh have tried to do an extension but failed. And now you have to think his future beyond this year is murky at best. The Niners are unlikely to break the bank for a coach who hasn’t won a Super Bowl, and even if they win the Super Bowl next season and make Harbaugh an $8-million-a-year coach, is there any guarantee he’ll be happy with that contract for an extended period? The one thing the Pro Football Talk report leaves in its wake is the impression this story, and Harbaugh’s wanderlust, is not over.

The Ray Rice story will reverberate for a while. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said something telling about the alleged altercation between running back Ray Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer, at an Atlantic City casino last weekend. “Right now, I feel very good about his side of the story.” If so, then Rice must have given team officials a version that involves either self-defense or overt provocation by Palmer. Not that either one of those explanations would justify domestic abuse, if there was abuse. And regardless of the circumstances, if Rice did lay a hand on Palmer, he’ll be branded an abuser and likely face league or team discipline because of it. And rightfully so. What’s disappointing for the Ravens, and for Rice, is that he’d become to some the face of the franchise, a leading spokesman in the fight against bullying and an unselfish person in the community. Rice and Palmer were both charged with simple assault-domestic violence after the incident, and a court date has not been set. Rice already had one 2014 challenge on his hands—making sure his 660-yard season was a fluke. This problem will dwarf that one.

And the rest … The league’s Competition Committee meets in Florida beginning Friday, and one of the items on the agenda will be discussion on a rule to flag players for using the n-word on the field during games. I’m unequivocally in favor of it, and can see no reason why it wouldn’t be enacted … Lots of diverging views from coaches and GMs on whether the league should put in a behavior code to snuff out further Richie Incognito-type incidents. The prevailing question here: “How would it be enforced?” … Interesting to hear Mike Mayock lobby—correctly, by the way—for the Bengals to draft a quarterback in the later rounds to give Andy Dalton some competition. “If your quarterback can’t play at a certain level,” Mayock said on Sunday’s NFL Network telecast, “you can’t win a Super Bowl.” The Bengals need to run it more. That’ll help Dalton as much as a fourth-round passer … One of the coolest new additions to the media landscape: Pro Football Focus is doing team-by-team depth charts with color-coded rankings of players. Check out this Seattle one.  I’d disagree with the rating of only one player here—Kam Chancellor, who should be labeled a blue, or elite, starter after having one of the best postseasons a safety has had in years … Greg Schiano is here, meeting with some of his friends in the coaching business, trying to figure out his next move … New Atlanta assistant GM Scott Pioli will have a special concentration on dissecting the offensive and defensive linemen in the draft for Thomas Dimitroff … Three players I found universal love for at the combine: Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Watching Watkins run and catch, I’ll be surprised if he’s not a 1,000-yard player as a rookie, even if he goes to a team with an iffy quarterback situation. So fluid, so fast, so broad-shouldered.

Quotes of the Week

I
“I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”

—Michael Sam, to an overflow crowd of about 350 media people at the combine Saturday

II
“I think it’s widely known that every locker room has a number of gay individuals. Quite honestly, it speaks to the evolution of acceptance in our society. I really believe the NFL is quite evolved. It continues to be very progressive and out on the front end of the curve in many ways.”

—Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff

I did not know that.

III
“The report? Reeee-diculous! Ridiculous. No. Ridiculous.”

—San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area at the combine. Harbaugh was denying a Pro Football Talk report that the Browns and 49ers discussed a trade for Harbaugh last month before Cleveland hired Mike Pettine as coach.

IV
“And this, children, is why one should never count one’s dynasties before they have actually been crowned. People have a tendency to turn into people, and more often than not, people end up being the biggest impediment to the greater achievements of other people.”

—Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area, in a profoundly true statement from his column on the Harbaugh/Browns story

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I am on record as being opposed to the absurdity of having the NFL draft in May. Teams do not need 95 days after the Super Bowl to scout the players they’ve already been scouting through an entire college football season. But you can’t fight city hall. The NFL buys two more weeks of free hype by pushing back the combine, and the draft now fills some of the spring dead time that the NFL wants to control on the sporting calendar. As it is now, there’s the Super Bowl … and the combine three weeks later … and the start of free agency two weeks after that … and then three weeks of heavy free agency coverage at the same time as pro days at colleges coast to coast … and then six weeks of draft hype … and then the draft … and then offseason workout camps for much of May and early June. Good deal for the NFL. There’s only a month of down time on the calendar—approximately June 20 to July 20.

But I digress. Here’s the Factoid:

The Buffalo Bills are doing something very nice, and smart, for their scouts and officials who work the draft: They’re giving them Easter week (the week before April 20) off. “We want our guys to be fresh,” GM Doug Whaley told me. “There’s only so long you can study guys.”

Stats of the Week

I
Everywhere you turned in Indianapolis, you saw front-office men chatting with agents. Drew Rosenhaus tweeted he met with all 32 teams here. That’s because the start of free agency is 15 days away, and the crop could be very good … and the average NFL team is about $17.8 million under the projected $130 million cap number. That should mean that after three years of an essentially flatlined NFL salary cap (2011: $120.4 million; 2012: $120.6 million; 2013: $123 million), teams will be tempted to spend like they haven’t in the past couple springs.

It’s basically a time of implicit tampering, when agents are taking the temperature on their potential free-market players. No deals are supposed to be made before the March 11 opening of the market, but it’s naïve to think deals aren’t discussed. Not by every team, but certainly some.

The heightened activity this year is also because the meter is running on the salary cap in every NFL front office. There was a provision in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that most in the public have forgotten but that’s soon going to come into significant play. In the four cap years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, each NFL team must spend a minimum of 89 percent of its cap money. And the league must spend a collective minimum of 95 percent of its cap money. That was put in to stop teams from hoarding money and not spending it. Oakland, for instance, has a substantial amount of cap money available—about $70 million—and the Raiders will be almost forced to spend a large amount of it or deal with onerous league sanctions at the end of the four-year period, in 2017.

There’s an estimated $470 million in cap money available to teams to spend this contract season, and GMs know they can’t hoard that money for long. 

II
In 2013, 62 percent of the collective money in all NFL player contracts was guaranteed.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

Checking in at the downtown Marriott the other day for the combine, and a woman next to me was doing the same with another front-desk person. She asked the woman checking her in: “What is the scouting combine?” The Marriott attendant said it was the NFL bringing college players in for workouts and interviews with teams, and it comes to Indianapolis every February.

“I don’t get the name,” the Marriott guest said. “The combine … it’s a combination of something?”

Tweets of the Week

I
“Carlos Hype.”

@TonyGrossi of ESPNCleveland, after vaunted Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash and limped off Sunday, saying he strained a hamstring.

II
“Ha Ha Clinton Dix just said the worst thing about his nickname is ‘the whole Clinton/Lewinsky’ thing.’

@NFLCharean, Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, reporting from the combine about the Alabama safety prospect.

III
“Michael Sam benched 225 pounds 17 times, second-worst among defensive lineman. Seven WRs did more.”

@MichaelDavSmith, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, after Sam lifted at the combine on Sunday.

IV
“Hey Marvin Lewis, don’t try turning in a St. Elmo’s receipt this week. Because Mike Brown is standing in line @SteaknShake”

@daringantt, reporting from the Steak n Shake in downtown Indianapolis Saturday afternoon.

Who wouldn’t like the vanilla shakes there?

V
“Things 16 year old me never thought I’d say: ‘Excuse me, could you turn on the NBA? My gay friend is playing tonight.’ ”

@BurkieYCP, Patrick Burke, NHL Player Safety Director and president of You Can Play Team, the organization that aims to end homophobia in sports, shortly before Jason Collins—the first openly gay player in the four major American pro team sports—took the court as a member of the Brooklyn Nets for a game against the Lakers.

Blake Bortles of Central Florida participated in the passing drills at the combine Sunday, something past first-round quarterback prospects often choose not to do. (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)
Blake Bortles of Central Florida participated in the passing drills at the combine Sunday, something past first-round quarterback prospects often chose not to do. (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think the difference between this year and many recent ones is that we know which players to place at the top of the draft, but we have no idea whom to match where. I’ll take this shot at the top 10, though the Rams certainly will have a chance to trade the second pick, and will be very interested in doing so:

  1. Houston: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida.
  2. St. Louis: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn.
  3. Jacksonville: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.
  4. Cleveland: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
  5. Oakland: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M.
  6. Atlanta: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M.
  7. Tampa Bay: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo.
  8. Minnesota: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.
  9. Buffalo: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.
  10. Detroit: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan.

2. I think if you add these six players—cornerback Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, tight end Eric Ebron of North Carolina, linebacker C.J. Mosley of Alabama, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, and wideouts Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Marqise Lee of USC—you’d have something very close to the first half of the first round May 8.

3. I think this was the line of the weekend, from one GM to me when I asked about the value he got from his six days in Indianapolis: “I look at it as the combine and the ‘con-bine.’ So many agents are telling you what your players are worth, and what their players are worth.”

4. I think this is not the way to get drafted by your dream team, the Seattle Seahawks: U-T San Diego reported Sunday that San Diego State running back Adam Muema bailed from the combine without working out, telling the website that if he didn’t work out, he would get his wish and play for the Seahawks. Muema had been projected as a late-round pick in May. He said God told him to “sit down, be quiet, and enjoy the peace.” I’m sure combine officials and the NFL are pleased to have had Muema take a running back slot at the prestigious tryout camp and to have paid his way from San Diego to Indianapolis for the combine, and then have Muema inform them God didn’t want him to work out. Just a hunch: This won’t raise his grade on the Seattle draft board. Or anyone’s. If he’ll be on one at all.

Teddy Bridgewater (left) and Johnny Manziel sat out the passing drills at the combine. (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)
Teddy Bridgewater (left) and Johnny Manziel sat out the passing drills at the combine. (Todd Rosenberg/SI/The MMQB)

5. I think, regarding Manziel and Bridgewater not throwing at the combine, I can’t buy the mantra: If they were competitors, they’d be out there competing. Silly. First: If I were Manziel, and I had a huge amount riding on my offseason workout for NFL teams, I’d want to throw in my absolute comfort zone—with receivers I trust and know well. He’ll do that March 27. Second: Never after a draft have I heard a coach or GM or personnel man say anything like this: You know, we liked Bridgewater, but when he didn’t throw at the combine, we lost interest in him. That was a decisive black mark. Just never happens like that.

6. I think the strangest thing I heard on the NFL Network’s combine telecast over the weekend came from Mike Mayock, who, on the one hand, called Blake Bortles a certain franchise quarterback, then said he under-threw some deep throws horribly. Not sure how you can be one with the other.

7. I think, though, it’s educational to listen to Mayock riff on almost everything, and to have him and Rich Eisen play off each other. Mayock doesn’t buy the common wisdom, and wasn’t in the mood to rip LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry after he struggled in a 4.65-second 40. “Just because he ran slow, I’m not getting off that kid. I like him,” Mayock said.

8. I think this is all I could think to say when I ran into Rob Chudzinski quite late Saturday night here at the combine: “Whoa! Rob! How the heck are you doing?” Or words close to that. Chudzinski, now a Colts offensive assistant, has been invisible to the public since suffering the most ignominious job fate in recent NFL history—he learned he likely was getting whacked after 50 weeks as Browns head coach (his dream job) while on a bus ride back from Pittsburgh after the final game of his rookie season. It was just a sight I didn’t expect to see, sitting there having a drink with good friend Terry Robiskie at the JW Marriott. We spoke for a few minutes, and all I can say is this: In words and facial expression, he is not over the Cleveland nightmare.

9. I think the league’s a more fun place with Mike Tice in it. Hired recently as the Falcons offensive line coach, Tice is a big man with a bigger personality. Great to see him back—in this case, entertaining a crowd Saturday night at the JW Marriott, talking horses and Long Island and Boomer Esiason and his new coaching life—after being fired by the Bears when Lovie Smith’s staff was cleared out following the 2012 season.

Talk Back

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday’s mailbag.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. This, according to the Wall Street Journal, was the delicious (pun intended) exchange between some Russian reporters and the head coach of the Russian hockey team, Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, after the team was eliminated from medal contention with a 3-1 loss to Finland last week:

Question: “What future, if any, do you see for your own work and for your coaching staff? Because, you know, your predecessor was eaten alive after the Olympics.”

Coach: “Well then, eat me alive right now.”

Question: “No, I mean—“

Coach: “Eat me, and I won’t be here anymore.”

Question: “But we have the world championship coming up!”

Coach: “Well then, there will be a different coach because I won’t exist any more, since you will have eaten me.”

Question: “But you’re staying, aren’t you?”

Coach: “Yes, I will remain living.”

b. That has to be the quote of the decade: “Well then, there will be a different coach because I won’t exist anymore, since you will have eaten me.”

c. Saw 12 Years a Slave. Then I cried for 12 years.

d. Tremendous movie. Riveting, painful, memorable. I haven’t seen all the Best Picture nominees, but it will take an epic film to beat that one in the Oscars for me.

e. Really liked the Kerrigan/Harding show Sunday night on NBC. I’d forgotten how nutty the whole thing was. Nancy Kerrigan came off classy and human, I thought, and Tonya Harding a train wreck.

f. Coffeenerdness: Patachou, the great breakfast spot and NFL personnel hangout in downtown Indy, could use one darker roast coffee, but the Simon Blend, with a medium bite, is so much better than coffee you get in restaurants almost anywhere.

g. Beernerdness: Two selections from a weekend of fine beer-drinking in the fine city of Indianapolis. One: Osiris Pale Ale, by Sun King Brewing of Indianapolis. A delicious and perfectly hoppy pale ale served in a tall can. That beer needs to get to New York, and fast. Two: Rail Splitter IPA, of Triton Brewing, also of Indy. (Great craft beer town by the way. I’d be hospitalized if I tried them all.) Not many IPAs give off a citrus scent, but this one does. I really liked it.

h. One last Indy reference: I strongly recommend a pizza shop there, Napolese Pizzeria, downtown. The crust is a bit thicker than my wafer-thin crust preference, but the taste of the crust, and the fresh ingredients, make it a great meal. Looking forward to going there in the summer, because locally grown stuff will make up all the salads and pizza ingredients then. Very good wine list too.

i. You tell ’em, Bob Costas. Of the home country’s government as the Sochi Olympics wound down, Costas said: “This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria—and that’s just a partial list.”

j. Pleasure to see you and spend time with you at the combine, Matthew Berry.

k. Speaking of Mr. Berry, I am 15 days out from my Rotisserie League draft, and I am totally clueless, and I wonder if my BFF knows he’s about to get hammered with such vital questions as: “Kyle Seager or Pedro Alvarez in the 11th round, Matthew? Or wait two or three more rounds and take the Xander Bogaerts flyer and hope he gets 550 at-bats?”

l. We keep three players in our league. Mine: Dustin Pedroia, Jay Bruce, Ian Desmond. Had Ellsbury, but didn’t protect him as one of my three keepers. Because, well, you know.

The Adieu Haiku

Indy in winter.
Autograph guys chase Manziel.
But they don’t catch him.

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