Learning to Fly Again
I step inside Falcons headquarters as GM Thomas Dimitroff scrambles to get Atlanta back on top. Plus, Michael Sam and Oprah get it right, Robert Mathis gets it wrong and where (I think) the 2015 NFL draft and Super Bowl 52 are going
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.— Many things to do today, the pivotal offseason of the Atlanta Falcons, the state of the 2015 NFL draft, why Michael Sam and new BFF Oprah did the right thing, Gregg Williams being in the perfect place at the right time, a former NFL general manager driving a basketball legend nuts, a tricentennial ruling the next Super Bowl bidding, a great documentary about a Lions quarterback/Kennedy pal/John Wayne co-star … but first, a story I want you to see, and the coolest photo we at The MMQB have ever run.
So we’ve started this 10-week series at The MMQB. It’s about the history of pro football, with an eye on the future in every story we do. We dispatched young Emily Kaplan down to NFL Films in south Jersey to see a living, breathing NFL museum, the office of the late NFL Films impresario Steve Sabol, whose workplace was left precisely how he last worked in it, right down to his last lunch order. Emily Kaplan wrote vividly of the place, and photographer Jeff Zelevansky took a breathtaking GigaPan photo of the office—you can put your cursor on anything in the office, focus on it and POOF! There it is, full and vivid, on your screen.
Look at the notes Sabol took after a long session watching Bill Parcells coach. Focus on it. Put your cursor on the binder with the Parcells notes, and you’ll see, down near the bottom of the page, what Sabol found after his Parcells experience.
“He’s more than old school. He’s a one-room schoolhouse with no lunch and no recess.”
And that, dear readers, is what our goal is at this site: We want you to walk into Steve Sabol’s office with Emily Kaplan and Jeff Zelevansky, seeing what they see, experiencing what they experience. That’s our goal with the series, and with this site. Hope you enjoy it. Next: On Wednesday, Tim Layden’s vivid story on the history of artificial turf, and how it’s affected the game. There’s a lot in there you would never think of.
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Good life lesson for the Falcons.
When coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff looked at their team in the last couple of years, there were things they didn’t like much. But when you coach and manage a team for five years, and you win 56 games and lose just 24, and you make the playoffs four out of five years, you tend to say, “We’re okay.”
Said Smith: “Human nature, when you’re getting positive results, is not to stress the negative. But when you get humbled, which happened last year, you’ve got to be realistic about your team.”
As the house-collapsing 4–12 season of 2013 proved, the Falcons were most definitely not okay. The pass-rush stunk. The offensive line stunk. The secondary leaked. And every time they got into the playoffs—Smith’s playoff record: 1–4—a team with a strong pass-rush and good secondary frustrated Matt Ryan and sent the Falcons home early.
And so, the night before the first round of this year’s draft, Dimitroff sat in his Buckhead home, watching NFL Network with his son Mason (Mason: “DAD!!! They’re saying your name wrong!”) and pondered the mess his team was in.
“We have gotten to the realization we were able to win a lot of games, but not the Super Bowl,” Dimitroff said. “And we realize how quickly a 4–12 season can change the perspective of a team-builder like me and a coach like Mike. For us, 4–12 has been productive vulnerability. We’re very confident in our ability to bring our team back, but this draft is crucial to getting us there.”
Atlanta had a boring draft, but a lucky one. The night before the draft, Dimitroff thought he had a deal with old friend Dave Caldwell, the GM of the Jaguars, to move from six to three … but it would have been a stupid deal in retrospect. Dimitroff had his heart set on Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, and he was fortunate Caldwell called him on draft morning and said, “We’re out. We’re staying put and picking our guy.” Blake Bortles. Forget the speculation. Dimitroff wasn’t going to pick Kahlil Mack. He was going Matthews all the way.
Now came the next piece of drama in the Atlanta draft room. New assistant GM Scott Pioli was a voice of calm in the room; he’d been urging Dimitroff to not be too eager to move back into the first round. Atlanta sat at 37, and wanted a pass-rusher—either a defensive end or an outside linebacker. The Falcons really wanted Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, who went to Pittsburgh at number 15. That was too high for Atlanta. Then the object of their affection was defensive end Dee Ford, and he would have cost a third-round pick for Atlanta to move into the mid-20s. But Kansas City grabbed Ford at 23, and there went the two rushers Dimitroff liked. Instead of overpaying for a player he didn’t love, Dimitroff sat and took high-risk/big-reward defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota. He didn’t get a pass-rusher until pick 139, in the fourth round: Notre Dame outside linebacker Prince Shembo, whose career was clouded by an encounter with a girl he met at Notre Dame who later killed herself. The circumstance around her death—Shembo was never charged with a crime—caused many teams to steer clear of him, and he’s a risk for the Falcons. But they were confident in the vetting of Shembo, and in his potential. So he’s the man Atlanta hopes can be the edge-rush help for the aging Osi Umenyiora that the quarterbacks of the NFC South will grow to fear. But the 139th pick is not exactly Jadeveon Clowney territory.
The night before the draft, it was clear Dimitroff wanted one more impact guy out of this draft that he just wasn’t able to get. “This league is about now, and it’s about impact players,” he said. “What did Marv Levy say? ‘Depth is great until you’ve got to use it?’ ”
Soon after the season, Dimitroff and Smith had a summit meeting with owner Arthur Blank. “We have been the hardest on ourselves, and Mr. Blank was hard on us too,” said Dimitroff. “But I welcome that. We deserved it. I’ll be damned if I ever say adequate is okay.”
Blank, who co-founded The Home Depot, told me: “In the NFL, what we’ve learned is a pat hand doesn’t work. From my days at Home Depot, I learned good is the enemy of great. I told Thomas and Mike I was going to have faith in them, because they deserved it after five good years. But they worked at it. They had my plane for 322 passenger hours, not including the combine, going all over the country to find players we need. They’ve been very analytical.”
Dimitroff added several analytics tools to the Falcons’ offseason. The force plate, which measures athleticism and lower-body muscle usage, was important in an effort to gauge the strength of draftees … and to help the team teach offensive linemen to fire off the line in a slightly different way than they had been doing, to help reduce Lisfranc and calf injuries. Instead of firing out on the balls of the feet, linemen are firing out with the lower part of their feet, to even out the pressure on the foot and whole leg. Dimitroff has also used Fusionetics, which educates players about which of their movements increase the chance of injury.
“This is not in any way a quest to find excuses for why we went 4–12,” Dimitroff said. “It is just us being mindful to try to do everything we can to keep our players healthy and at a top performance level. And give credit to Smitty—he’s been on board with everything to try to be sure our players are playing at their peak.”
Mike Tice and Bryan Cox have been imported as assistants on the offense and defense, respectively, in part to instill a toughness that has been missing. “We’ve got to get back to winning the line of scrimmage,” said Smith. Matthews at right tackle, Hageman in the interior of the defensive line, and Shembo as an outside rusher … if those all work, the Falcons will be back strong in 2014. But if Matt Ryan gets whacked around like last year, and if Smith’s defense can’t pressure the quarterback, it’ll be a battle again to stay out of the NFC South basement. And Blank won’t be so patient then.
Draft weekend 2015
Gut feeling about the 2015 NFL draft: It will be in a city other than New York, and it will be a week earlier, starting on April 30 and running until May 2. Why? It’s complicated.
The NFL has outgrown Radio City Music Hall, and the NFL is ticked off at Radio City Music Hall. Last year, Radio City delayed its decision about what dates were available in the spring of 2014, causing the NFL to put off planning for the 2014 draft. Then Radio City told the league the venue was going to be occupied in mid to late April by an Easter Spectacular show, something akin to the Radio City holiday show with the Rockettes. Okay, NFL officials said, we’ll push the draft back to the second weekend of May. Mother’s Day weekend wasn’t ideal, but what choice did the NFL have? Then, earlier this year, Radio City canceled the Easter show. The NFL seethed. The league had moved the draft back and ignored other venues (Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn) to stay at Radio City, and now Radio City was going to be dark on the normal draft weekend. But the NFL couldn’t move the draft at that point, so the May 8-10 weekend went on as planned.
At the same time, cities were angling for the 2015 draft, as my partner Don Banks reported on SI.com last week. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke to Roger Goodell twice about having the draft somewhere there—gigantic McCormick Place near Soldier Field, for instance—and other cities loomed. Jerry Jones pines to have the draft at Jerry World in Arlington. Los Angeles wants it. Bob Kraft wants it in Boston.
“At this point,” a solid source told me Saturday, “I think it’s likely the draft is elsewhere in 2015.”
When? NFL officials hear the beefs of teams that want the draft in April. NFL officials also see the 30-percent-plus increase in TV ratings with the draft moved two weeks later. I maintain it wouldn’t matter—with the Manziel mystery, the where-will-Michael-Sam go, the fact that four of the top five picks in the draft were totally unknown as the first round approached. But the NFL does not ignore the ratings. It never has, never will, no matter what any football person or media person thinks. That’s why I think the league splits the baby and puts the draft a week after the normal April 23-area and before the May 8/Mother’s Day weekend. “We do not want the draft on Mother’s Day weekend,” that source said.
My guess: Chicago, with the first round April 30, 2015.
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The Sam Chronicles, Chapter II
In the end, Michael Sam did the right thing. He told coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead that he was going to make his situation right, after the Rams were blindsided by the news of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) planning a “docuseries” on his rookie year as the first openly gay NFL player. And OWN did the right thing too, in sitting down with the Rams Friday and not trying to convince club officials what a great show this was going to be. OWN, I’m told, told the Rams they would happily postpone the series—or perhaps never do it—if that was the best thing for Sam’s attempt to make the team as a seventh-round defensive end this summer. The meeting Friday was only positive, I’m told, because OWN was clear that the only way it would do the series is if Sam wanted it and the Rams wanted it. And it’s just as clear that, for both sides, the series would be best done beginning next off-season, assuming Sam makes the team and plays some this year.
In some ways, it’s a shame we won’t see (at least now) the trials of Sam in this rookie year, the personal side of trying to be the first openly gay player fighting for a spot on the team. It would be compelling to see Sam at home with his boyfriend, and certainly a help to the LGBT community, dealing with what surely will be a stressful time in his life. But for Sam, it’s just better that it be postponed.
Why? Because Sam is a football player, a rookie trying to find his way onto a football team as an underdog low-round draft pick. Could it help him make the team, or help him make his mark? I don’t see how. But I do see how teammates could either resent him or be angry with him as a low man on the team totem pole. And Sam doesn’t need that. He needs to find his spot and be solely focused on making the team. There is going to be enough of a sideshow—big media names and TMZ showing up at Rams Park, clamoring to get a Sam story or interview—without Sam voluntarily adding to it. At the scouting combine, Sam semi-pleaded with the media to see him as a football player and not as a gay football player. It would have been hypocritical for him, then, to seek that attention by having OWN cameras in his face off the field as he battled to succeed in his first year.
I’ve thought a lot about this story in the past week, as I’m sure everyone who follows football has. And the more I think about it, the more I think Sam landed in a perfect spot. Absolutely perfect. Three reasons:
- The Rams embrace the history of it. I can tell you with certainty that there was some regret in the Rams hierarchy that Sam’s rookie story won’t be told by OWN. Not enough to override the fact that the team really didn’t want it to be done. But the Rams are sure they’ll be a welcoming team and St. Louis a welcoming community for Sam. They’re fired up about the historical significance and the chance to show that a football team can be a change agent.
- There are not two better coaches in the league, in tandem, for this task than Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams. Williams especially. He is The Name That Shall Not Be Mentioned In New Orleans and will be until he day he dies, because the Saints and their fans view him as a rat for spilling his guts about Bountygate. But Williams wants badly to resurrect his career and make his mark with a strong defense featuring a Williams persona. What better way than having a nickel pass-rusher playing 18 snaps a game in schemes isolating him to make plays, the kind of schemes Williams has been inventing for players throughout his career? Call it what you want. I will choose the word “ego.” Gregg Williams has the kind of ego to believe he can take a player with limited athleticism but good college production at a high level and put him in position to make NFL plays. I can’t wait to see what he has planned, frankly. As for Fisher, he’s a staunch league guy. He knows this is good for football and great for the NFL. He will do everything to give Sam the best chance to make it.
- Sam knows Missouri. Missouri knows Sam. Sam took a teammate to an LGBT parade in Missouri while at the university. He likes St. Louis. And St. Louis likes him back. Even those not empathetic to Sam the gay man from Missouri will want a positive light to shine on their state.
Not to mention, the Rams kept nine defensive linemen last year and they have only three must-keeps (Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes) at defensive end. Yes, Sam is in the right place, and he and his team made the right decision to put off the reality show.
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Role reversal for a man not done with his former life.
Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager of the Jets for seven years before getting fired by owner Woody Johnson 16 months ago. In his former life, he traded for Brett Favre, hired Rex Ryan, drafted Darrelle Revis, starred in Hard Knocks, traded for Tim Tebow, was part of a team that won four road playoff games, watched in horror at The Buttfumble … in other words, did quite a few things to keep the Jets relevant, mostly successful and back-page-worthy.
He just did something else: As a rising star in the agent business, he represented Steve Kerr in negotiations to make him the new Golden State Warriors coach. More importantly to many, Tannenbaum was the agent of record in Kerr not taking the Knicks’ head coaching job—when he clearly was the number one choice of Phil Jackson. For years, first as the Jets’ cap guy and then as the GM, Tannenbaum sat in the team’s chair. This time, in his first mega-negotiation on the other side of the table, working as the head of Priority Sports’ coaching division repping Kerr, Tannenbaum felt a bit of culture shock bypassing the New York Knicks and doing the deal with Golden State.
“It was interesting doing a big negotiation and not hearing [NFL Management Council exec] Peter Ruocco’s voice in my ear telling me to remember the salary cap,” Tannenbaum said over the weekend. “It was different. In a non-cap situation, you can be so creative. Whereas in football with the Jets, if I paid Nick Mangold one more dollar in a future year, I knew it would cost me trying to sign a free agent that year.”
I asked Tannenbaum what was rewarding about this negotiation versus the football deals he did.
“When I took this new job,” he said, “I met Steve Kerr and he said to me, ‘I’m going to coach one day, and it’s your job to help me get ready.’ That was a great challenge. He already had a very detailed plan, about things like leadership and coaching style and the staff and the balance between talent and character, and I helped him fine-tune his plan. We worked for a year to get it right. And last week, when he came out of his meeting with the Warriors, it was so rewarding to get a text from Steve. He said, ‘They loved the plan.’ That was a sense of great fulfillment. I was a part of the Steve Kerr team, and Steve Kerr had a very good day, so I had a very good day. I liked that.”
Clearly, Tannenbaum would like another shot at being an NFL GM, but he understands that despite his team’s 61 wins and three playoff appearances in seven years, often a general manager in the NFL gets only one shot. Look at the league now. Bruce Allen (Tampa Bay, Washington) is the only current general manager in his second life as a GM. What I like about Tannenbaum’s path is that he didn’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring. He reinvented himself. He got on planes in the past year and beat the bushes for coaches of the future—coaches like Division II West Georgia’s Will Hall, who may or may not be a coaching prodigy. “I want to represent the next Nick Saban you don’t know right now,” Tannenbaum said. For how long? Who knows? But his post-Jets chapter has been pretty interesting so far.
One other non-football note. Wondering why Kerr chose Golden State? Tannenbaum said that as much as Kerr wanted to work with Jackson and learn the game from him, Kerr couldn’t find a single negative about the Warriors. Kerr would be closer to his family—completely Californian—and the roster was so good and so young. Clearly the Knicks don’t have the roster or the geography the Warriors did. Think of it: Kerr can drive a half hour to watch daughter Maddy, a rising sophomore at Cal, play volleyball. That’s an experience he can’t get back.
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And the site of Super Bowl 52 is …
NFL owners gather in Atlanta Tuesday for the annual one-day spring meeting, and they’re slated to pick a host city for Super Bowl 52 (I hate Roman numerals, but for you Augustans, it’s Super Bowl LII) on Feb. 4, 2018. The candidate cities are Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans. Here’s my tote board of favorites:
|New Orleans||2-1||2018 is the tricentennial for the city, and no one hates a New Orleans game.|
The city was founded as La Nouvelle-Orleans in May 1718, and New Orleans officials and owner Tom Benson will focus on the historic aspects of the bid, and the fixing of the problems that led to the blackout in the Ravens-49ers Super Bowl. New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl 10 times. Benson, who turns 87 in July, might be making his final appeal for a Super Bowl, and ownership is inclined to favor a long-time owner appealing for a favor.
|Minnesota||7-2||Northern dome teams always get at least one Super Bowl per new stadium.|
The Wilfs went to hell and back to get a stadium built in the Twin Cities, and they’re going to get a game. The question is when. Plans for the stadium look gorgeous.
|Indianapolis||7-2||Indy did a superb job on the 2012 game. The city is so easy to negotiate.|
I can’t remember an easier or more pleasant Super Bowl experience than the game and event Indianapolis put on two and a half years ago. No question the league is inclined to return to central Indiana at some point in the future, but my guess is the owners will figure there’s not the urgency that New Orleans has in 2018. Wild card here will be the presence of owner Jim Irsay, who has been off battling his addiction issues and plans to speak as part of the Indianapolis bid. Will that help, hurt or be no factor?
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Let the sun shine in on the revamped NFL drug policy.
The league and the players association—per ESPN’s Dan Graziano—are negotiating some changes to the substance-abuse policy, and we saw the evidence of that Friday night. On Friday Indianapolis pass rusher Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with a career-best 19.5 sacks last season at age 32, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Mathis admitted he didn’t consult either team trainers or league doctors before taking the drug Clomid, which he said he believed would help him and his wife conceive. His wife is now pregnant, and Mathis and agent Hadley Engelhardt said they believe Mathis shouldn’t be suspended for taking a fertility drug. Usually in events like this, the league shuts up and allows the player and agent to say whatever they want. Not Friday.
The league’s statement said, in part: “As Mr. Mathis’s agent acknowledged today, his client failed to follow the protocols in the policy that the NFL and NFLPA agreed upon to address precisely these kinds of claims. That policy also prescribes the disciplinary consequences of a positive test. The policy does not provide—nor should it provide—for the commissioner to override the policy’s procedures and assess discipline on an after-the-fact, ad hoc basis. Here Mr. Mathis actually withdrew his appeal and accepted discipline at the union’s suggestion. His hearing took place only after the Players Association requested that the appeal be reinstated … A cornerstone of the program is that a player is responsible for what is in his body. Consistent application of the policy’s procedures is critical to the integrity of the program.”
It’s got to be tough for the Colts (who backed Mathis) to take, particularly when they open the season against the most explosive offense in football (Denver, at Denver) and a rising offensive team, Philadelphia, at home. But once a player takes something without checking whether it’s kosher with the drug program, I have no sympathy if he tests positive and appeals on humanitarian or other grounds. The policy Mathis’ own union signed off on couldn’t be more crystal clear.
Quotes of the Week
“When you’re chided for your naiveté, and you will be, remind your critics that an amateur built the ark. Experts built the Titanic.”
—Peyton Manning, in his commencement speech to the University of Virginia class of 2014 Sunday in Charlottesville, Va.
“This offseason has been very frustrating for me … [I wonder] Is this still the place for me?”
—Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, who obviously thought the Texans would go get a quarterback in free agency or the draft (one better than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage).
Houston coach Bill O’Brien is in a tough spot. He’s got a wideout who’s going to be 33 this season, who, despite the inconsistency at quarterback for the team, has caught 221 passes over the last two years and missed zero games due to injury. If Johnson’s not going to be with the program, is it worth trying to get a 2015 or 2016 first-round pick for him—which some contender (New England? San Francisco?) might be willing to do?
“George Plimpton? Paper Tiger?”
—John Wayne to George Plimpton, on the set of the 1970 Western Rio Lobo, included in the superb documentary Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, which debuted on PBS Friday night.
Plimpton, who wrote the book Paper Lion based on his experiences trying to play quarterback for the Detroit Lions in the preseason in 1963, encountered Wayne on the set of Rio Lobo and responded after the “Paper Tiger” remark with this: “No. Paper Lion.”
Wayne said, “Ohhhhh.”
Just as Plimpton took participatory journalism to its greatest heights, this documentary takes you with him, and does it superbly. I loved it. In his life, Plimpton:
- Sailed with the Kennedys off Hyannis.
- Pitched to Willie Mays.
- Quarterbacked the Lions.
- As a goaltender for the Bruins, stopped a penalty shot from Reggie Leach of the Flyers in a preseason game at the Spectrum—when he was 50 years old.
- Practiced as a trapeze artist for Clyde Beatty–Cole Bros. Circus.
- Photographed wildlife in Africa and Playboy models in America for different magazines.
- Boxed Archie Moore.
- Played a two-bit gunman in Rio Lobo who is shot just before he is about to take dead aim at John Wayne in a saloon. (Plimpton had one line: When a crooked sheriff is trying to take an innocent prisoner out of Rio Lobo, and an honest sheriff, in league with Wayne, asks him for a warrant, Plimpton appears out of nowhere brandishing a rifle and sneers, “I got a warrant right here.”)
If you like real yarns about real people, watching this will be the best 90 minutes you spend this week. PBS allows you to watch the film online:
“The drug for which Mr. Mathis tested positive is not approved by the FDA for fertility in males and is a performance-enhancing drug that has been prohibited for years. Importantly, Mr. Mathis did not consult with the policy’s Independent Administrator, a physician jointly approved by the NFL and NFL Players Association. Nor did he consult with his team doctor, the team’s training staff, the NFLPA, the league office or the hotline established under the policy to give confidential information to players. Each of these sources would have warned against using this substance.”
—Part of a statement from the NFL after the agent for Robert Mathis claimed he used an infertility drug to assist in the efforts of him and his wife to conceive a child. The FDA’s position on the drug, Clomid, isn’t crystal clear, but reads: “There are no adequate or well-controlled studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of Clomid in the treatment of male infertility.”
“I think I’m a lot more ready than people think. I think people label me as a project simply off of stats. I can understand what they see, what they think … but when you think of a project you think of building something from the ground up. I feel like I have a basis. It’s just a few things I’ve got to get down. Everybody has things to work on. I don’t think mine are as crazy as people want to make them out to be.”
—Arizona quarterback Logan Thomas, a fourth-round pick in the draft. Well, a career 55.6 percent accuracy rate, and only a plus-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio in four seasons at Virginia Tech, make the road bumpier than Thomas makes it sound.
Stats of the Week
This month is the 20th anniversary of Jeffrey Lurie buying the Eagles from Norman Braman. So let’s take stock of what Lurie’s done. He’s put his franchise in position to be a 12-time playoff team. While two teams in the NFC East, the Giants and Cowboys, have won a total of three Super Bowls in those two decades, the Eagles have won none. Lurie has hired one very good coach, Andy Reid, and positioned the franchise well by hiring a second coach, Chip Kelly, who looks like he’ll adjust to the NFL and have a good career. Let’s do a 20-year study of the NFC East during the 20 seasons since Lurie bought the team (1994-2013):
A frustrated Eagles fan said to me at training camp a couple of years ago he was exasperated with the Andy Reid regime and the team’s inability to ever win the big one. I said to him that almost every July, you look at the Eagles and feel they can contend to play football in January, and there aren’t many franchises you can say that about. I understand that franchises, and ownerships, are ultimately measured by the number of titles they win. So the Eagles, obviously, need to win one to show that Lurie is making all the right calls and putting the right people in position with his franchise. But I like the consistency of the ship he runs.
Three times as many TV households (671,000 to 225,000) watched the first round of the NFL draft on May 8 as watched the opening game of the Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees May 12.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
One of the reasons so many people around the league were happy to see Mike Kensil, NFL director of game operations, step to the podium and announce the historic Michael Sam draft pick nine days ago is because he’s been a loyal soldier to the league for years. And before this bit of recognition, he’d had only one moment of national TV face time in his life—when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh dressed him down during the infamous Super Bowl blackout 15 months ago.
Kensil attends games from August to February, sometimes more than one per week. One of those games, or several, will include the St. Louis Rams. When he does that first Rams game, he’s going to bring the Michael Sam draft card—the league uses a separate card for each pick in the draft, read by the commissioner or league staffer or designated drafter—with him to hand to Sam.
“It will mean more to Michael than anyone else,” said Kensil. “It doesn’t belong to me.”
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Plumb forgot this one last week: So on a quick trip to Nashville a couple of days before the draft, I found myself having a beer and a bowl of turkey chili in a sports bar downtown. Ten minutes into my beer, I noticed it. Smoke. The guy and gal at the next table were both drinking and smoking—and they did neither casually.
Now, where I live, New York, smoking has been banned in public bars and buildings for 11 years. Smoking has been banned in city parks for the past three years.
“Surprising to see people smoking in the bar,” I said to my server. “Anybody ever complain?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” the fellow said. “We’re pretty much still a smoking society down here.”
Tweets of the Week
The day is finally here
— Eric LeGrand (@EricLeGrand52) May 18, 2014
The football player from Rutgers suffered a spinal injury during a game in 2010, and graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in labor relations on Sunday in New Brunswick, N.J. He has been working on this degree for the last three-and-a-half years, while rehabbing from the injury that put him in a wheelchair. As a bonus Sunday, he also spoke to the Rutgers class of 2014 at the commencement.
Well there goes a perfectly good Saturday in June I mean hooray for another Triple Crown try!
— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) May 17, 2014
Sports columnist for the Newark Star Ledger, who presumably will be one of the (apparently reluctant) watchers of the Belmont Stakes in New York in 19 days, when California Chrome tries to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) May 17, 2014
Veteran Browns beat man, now working for ESPN Cleveland, after reporting to work Saturday at the Browns’ training complex in suburban Berea. The Browns limited some access to the team to try to prevent distractions in the wake of drafting Johnny Manziel.
One of Oprah’s producers had me sign a waiver after Tuesday’s Michael Sam press conference. Does that mean I’m a distraction?
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 15, 2014
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I would be surprised if we didn’t read the following headline on the web sometime late Tuesday afternoon: “NFL owners make progress on expanded playoffs.” My guess is a vote is unlikely but possible, and commissioner Roger Goodell wants to be sure he hears every ownership voice that wants to be heard before calling a vote on it. There’s no hurry, really, because the playoffs are almost assuredly not expanding until the 2015 season at the earliest. As league officials canvassed owners and club officials throughout the NFL over the past few months, they found very few negative voices about increasing the number of wild card teams per conference from two to three. One of the reasons is the increased TV exposure and ratings and ad revenue associated with two more playoff games. I expect the new format to include two valuable entities the league now does not have: Sunday night and Monday night games on wild card weekend, with six wild card games filling the weekend instead of the current four.
2. I think no one asked me (who ever does?), but I think 12 playoff teams is plenty, and 14 waters down the significance of making the postseason. And what’s to stop the league five years from now saying, “The ratings for wild card weekend are so boffo that we should go to 16.”
3. I think one of the players I’m anxious to follow in training camp this summer is undrafted free-agent defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat of the Seahawks. Surprisingly undrafted after a 33-start career at defensive end for Texas, Jim Jeffcoat’s son caught the eye of Pete Carroll at a weekend minicamp. He’ll have to be special to dent a very good defensive line, but anyone who accounts for 32 tackles for loss (19 non-sack tackles behind the line, 13 sacks) in that program could open eyes when the real practices start in July. “In the workouts he’s looked really good,” Carroll said Saturday. “He’s a really good athlete, he fits in athletically with the guys that play for us, same size and speed and all of that. He was very productive in college in a big program. So we’re anxious to see if he can push and fight for a spot here.”
4. I think this is why they paid you the big money, Dave Gettleman. The Panthers general manager has to decide what to do, if anything, about a long contract extension for star defensive end Greg Hardy, just 25 years old and in his prime, after Hardy’s run-in with a girlfriend and his temporary jailing … and being ordered to turn in 10 guns to authorities. That includes six semi-automatic weapons and three 12-gauge shotguns. Hardy’s girlfriend said he owns 25 to 30 weapons. I’m sure the Panthers are going to do their due diligence about Hardy’s cache of weapons, and investigate whether they want to go year-by-year with Hardy (franchising him) instead of showing the faith of a long-term contract and much guaranteed money. In addition, the judge in the case ordered Hardy to attend three Alcoholics Anonymous classes. This could be a very tough call for Gettleman, particularly if Hardy is cleared to play at the start of the season and tears up the NFC South as he did last year.
5. I think I loved this note from the Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin: One former Arizona State quarterback, Brock Osweiler, interned this off-season for another former Arizona State quarterback, Andrew Walter, who is a candidate for U.S. Congress in Arizona. Walter played in the NFL. Osweiler backs up Peyton Manning now.
6. I think it must be nice to have Patrick Peterson for a friend. Peterson, the friend and mentor of fellow Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, bought Mathieu a Rolex Presidential watch for his 22nd birthday the other day. List prices of said timepieces: One goes for $14,995; the bigger one, $26,995.
7. I think I love the fact that the Minnesota Park Board recognized the longtime impact of Minneapolis columnist Sid Hartman by naming a baseball field in north Minneapolis “Sid Hartman Field.” Hartman, who has been a sportswriter in the Twin Cities for 70 years, is still an impact player up there—and everywhere. “I didn’t see anyone in the mock drafts that had us taking Anthony Barr—except Sid,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told Minneapolis columnist Patrick Reusse the other day. Major League Baseball is refurbishing four baseball fields into fields of dreams in conjunction with the 2014 All-Star Game at Target Field in July, and it’s a wonderful thing that Hartman will live on for generations at the field that will bear his name.
8. I think this analysis from Pro Football Focus sheds tremendous light on the best-cornerback-in-football debate.
9. I think it probably isn’t going to be a huge factor in winning and losing this year, but I like the fact that Chicago GM Phil Emery got all eight of his draft picks signed in less than 100 hours after the final pick of round seven. Now that the picks are slotted so exactly since the advent of the new CBA in 2011, it’s counterproductive to waste any time haggling over this clause or that. Emery gave coach Marc Trestman his full complement of players, ready to go to work by last Wednesday. More GMs should follow that path. There’s simply no reason not to.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. After the bitter Montreal-Boston series, TSN’s Aaron Ward reported that Boston’s Milan Lucic said to two Canadiens, “I’m going to —-ing kill you next year.” That’s nice.
b. Two days later, in front of the press, Lucic said, “I’m not apologizing for what was said in the handshake line.” That’s nicer.
c. I want to hear what Lucic thinks on July 19. Not May 19. If it’s the same, that’s not a guy I’d want on my team. Ridiculous Irony of the Week: Lucic recently released a book entitled, Not Cool to Bully in School.
d. Still think the NHL’s handshake line is the best post-game tradition in sports.
e. Greatest thing in a newspaper I saw this week: the New York Post doing a story on New York lottery winner Cameron Finney, who won a lump sum payment of $7.4 million on a $20 million payout. According to the Post, Finney said, “I’m not going to change. I’ve seen many lottery shows and how people wasted their money. That’s not me. I won’t waste it. It will be here until I’m gone.” The story noted Finney plans to retire next week, will buy himself a Dodge Ram, then a house for his wife, then a Bentley. That’s what I call not changing when you win the lottery.
f. So long, Barbara Walters. For so long, her interviews were national events.
g. Somehow, in all the tributes she gets in the wake of her retirement at 84, I believe she might miss mine.
h. Coffeenerdness: So I’ve been working a bit with a nutritionist, and after studying my diet (or lack thereof), she said, “No more lattes.” The horror! We reached a bit of a truce there. I shan’t give up my favorite warm beverage, but I think I can handle three a week, with brewed Italian roast the rest of the time. We’ll see.
i. Beernerdness: Harpoon IPA, you’ve still got it. Had one the other day on an unseasonably warm evening in New York, and it’s as good as I remember.
j. Donald Sterling stories: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
k. My thanks to the Live Sun Smart Foundation for the all-too-kind award at its annual gala the other night in Jersey City. Teri Festa, who lost her father to melanoma 22 years ago, has been at the forefront of an effort to educate the public about the dangers of the sun. As a two-time melanoma victim, I was honored to be a part of this year’s event. It’s truly important work, particularly to young people who too often don’t see the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun.
l. And my gratitude to a good and loyal friend, Adam Schefter, for introducing me at the benefit. Humbling words on a humbling evening.
m. Victor Cruz > Kid Cruz. The horse named after the Giants wide receiver finished 15 ¾ lengths back of California Chrome in the Preakness on Saturday.
The Adieu Haiku
Draft withdrawal sets in.
One hope I have this morning:
Mayock. Beach. St. Kitts.