On Holidays, Heroes and a Patriot Named Brady
On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember the 1.3 million American soldiers who have died in war since our founding, and the 1.5 million who have been wounded. Thank you. Thank you again, to all who have served and sacrificed, and to those who now serve and sacrifice.
And to those who will serve, thank you in advance. I want to tell the story of one man in particular this morning: Joe Grimaldi of Hawthorne, N.J., a senior relief pitcher for the St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) college baseball team, which opened NCAA Division II College World Series play last night in North Carolina … without Grimaldi. He has always had twin passions—baseball and military service. He pursued baseball hard, getting cut from two college teams before making the roster at a community college and enrolling at St. Thomas Aquinas for his last two years, and making the back end of the bullpen there. Knowing he was never going to be Mariano Rivera, Grimaldi decided to enlist in the Marines, with his reporting date coinciding with the end of his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas. Grimaldi threw 7.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the team this year, and St. Thomas Aquinas earned a spot in the World Series. But Grimaldi’s report date is May 27—Tuesday—and his enlistment officer said it could not be delayed.
Grimaldi has been playing baseball since he was 6. Local teams, travel teams, high school teams, college teams. He loved being on a team, banding together every spring and summer and being part of a team, trying to beat whoever his team was playing. Now, before the biggest week of his baseball life, it was over. He didn’t seem to be mourning about it. With the Marines, he said, he would get to be a part of a similar brotherhood, at a higher level.
“Being at the College World Series is the thing I wanted to do second-most in the world,” Grimaldi told WINS radio in New York. “And the thing I wanted to do first-most is to be a Marine. So … I’m okay with it. What they’re doing is so much more important than baseball.”
Good luck, Private Grimaldi.
* * *
Tom Brady, not in the twilight.
Sometimes, Tom Brady gets slapped in the face that he’s still a pretty big deal, even with no Super Bowl titles for going on a decade now. His charity of choice, Best Buddies, which fosters relationships and employment training for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, asked him to make a trip to Houston for a private Best Buddies dinner and auction. “I sat next to this man’s wife at dinner, and it was a really good night,” Brady said. “He’s been very supportive of Best Buddies, and he was that night.” I should say: The man bid $100,000 for a spot to play in Brady’s touch football game this Friday as part of the 15th annual Best Buddies Challenge, part of a fund-raiser that brought in $850,000 in one night for the organization. Not bad: Half a day in Houston, almost a million bucks for the charity he’s passionate about. Which left him grateful, and a little dazed about raising that much in Texans country, half a country away from his team.
“I shake my head about a lot of things these days,” Brady said.
Not much changes for Brady, except the calendar. He goes to some horse races in the offseason, squires his famous wife to A-list events, throws the football with his receivers, is very serious about this charity venture, works on his throwing motion with mechanics doctor Tom House and tries to beat his fellow Patriots to offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium. Time marches on, and he’ll be 37 in August. The other day he used his 6:20 a.m. drive from Boston to Foxboro to talk about his present and future, but not to dish very specifically about anything.
My favorite Brady line from our 40-minute chat, talking about longevity: “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”
Said Brady: “It’s hard to explain this to people, but the commitment I make, in terms of keeping my body in shape and my nutrition right, should make me healthy. I feel better today than when I was 25, and I know that’s hard for people to believe, but I do. I work at it. Basically, I work all off-season to prepare my body to not get hurt. I can’t help the team if I’m on the sidelines. I’ve got to be durable."
I’m not here to be king of the weight room. I do things to make me a better quarterback, whatever they are," Brady says. "Does it work? You be the one to judge. Watch me play. Then draw your own conclusions.
So he works with House, the former baseball pitcher and maestro to many pro quarterbacks and major-league pitchers, and he is diligent about his eating and fitness. But beyond that, he’s not going to help you with specifics.
“It’s all very well-researched," Brady said. “But that’s for the other guys to figure out. I’m not going to give away any state secrets. I’m not here to be king of the weight room. I do things to make me a better quarterback, whatever they are. Does it work? You be the one to judge. Watch me play. Then draw your own conclusions."
Since returning at age 32 in 2009 from his one major NFL injury—the knee reconstruction after the injury suffered on opening day 2008—Brady has started all 89 Patriots game. So the durability is spotless, obviously. And the results? It’s pretty amazing to consider that, even with the 16-0, 50-touchdown-pass season of 2007 included in the pre-knee-surgery category, he’s been better in his 30s, and after the knee surgery, than he was in his 20s. Look:
|Brady, 2001-2007 (before the surgery)||12.3||2,293-3,639||.630||197-86||92.98|
|Brady, 2009-2013 (after the surgery)||12.2||1,877-2,933||.640||162-48||99.26|
Now, Brady and his cadre of mostly inexperienced receivers suffered last year, and he had his lowest completion mark (.605) since 2003; his touchdown total (25) was his lowest since 2006. So there’s been that to focus on this offseason. As well as the draft: Bill Belichick waded into the second round to take Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, his highest pick of a quarterback in the time that Brady has been his starter. It’s the second time Belichick has spent a fairly high pick on a passer in recent years. In 2011 he used the 74th overall selection on Ryan Mallett. This year Garoppolo was the 62nd overall choice.
Mallett’s been in the witness protection program since draft day 2011; he’s thrown four passes in his three NFL seasons. Even when the Patriots are routing foes, which is often, Mallett hasn’t played. Though Brady is entering his 13th starting season, he hopes Belichick’s just wasted another pick on Garoppolo.
Don’t expect Brady to ever say that. But there’s no question that’s how he feels.
“I had a pretty good idea we’d take a quarterback," Brady said. “Coach Belichick doesn’t care who the quarterback is here. He’s always going to play the guy who he thinks gives him the best chance to win. It’s not my role to choose players here, thankfully. And this is not the first time they’ve taken another quarterback either. There’s no entitlement in the NFL. I don’t expect to be given anything. I just hope I’m the one most entitled to play that position for a long time here."
Three other Brady quickies:
On wanting to play for multiple years: “There’s nothing that can wake me up at 5 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday in May like getting ready for a day of football. I want to play a long time. There's nothing I like doing that's close to football. What’ll I do when I’m done playing? I don’t know, but I know it won’t be nearly as fun. I can tell you neither me nor Peyton will probably be very far from the game of football when we’re done."
On the nine-year Super Bowl-win drought: “It’s hard to win. Thirty-two teams are working hard to try to win it every year, and we’ve been close … 14-2, the Super Bowl in 2011, the AFC Championship Game in 2012 and 2013. You get to those games, and you have to play your best to win, and we haven’t. I haven’t. We had too many opportunities we missed last year in Denver. And then what it comes down to is only one team really had a great season at the end."
On self-scouting: “Sometimes we’ll be watching tape and Josh McDaniels will say to me, ‘What happened on that play?’ And I’ll say, ‘I missed it. I just missed it.’ Throwing a football is a very, very tough to thing to do consistently well. Other sports too. You think when LeBron tries a three-pointer he’s aiming for the back of the rim, hopes he hits the back of the rim? Of course not. On an approach shot in golf, are you trying to miss by four feet? No—you want to get it in, or within two inches. That’s why, to me, it’s so important to work in the off-season perfecting mechanics. Say you’re off 1 percent on your mechanics of throwing in one week, and you don’t fix it. Over four weeks, if you keep going, that’s 4 percent that you’re off. And you say, ‘Why am I not throwing the ball as crisply as I need to? I was the 199th pick in the draft for a reason. I need to maximize my efficiency, my mechanics and my reps to be sure I stay on top of my game."
Now he was in Foxboro. The clock struck 7. Last question: “How’s it been to work and throw against Darrelle Revis so far?"
“I’m tired of throwing against him, that’s for sure,’’ Brady said. “I did tell him, ‘Hey, we plan on building a couple of hotels on your island over there, so don’t be offended.' "
The 15th annual Best Buddies Challenge takes place this weekend, beginning Friday night in Boston and culminating on Cape Cod on Saturday. There’s a touch football game, with Brady quarterbacking and mates Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and others playing, Friday night in Boston, followed by a Guy Fieri-led cookout; a 20-, 50- or 100-mile bike event from Boston to Cape Cod Saturday with Tour de France veteran George Hincapie (Bill Belichick has ridden the past couple of years); and a five-mile run/walk with Olympian Carl Lewis on Saturday. Best Buddies is aiming to set a fundraising record for the Massachusetts event this year—$4 million.
Most prevalent question from the NFL public over the past four months: What’s taking Roger Goodell so long to bring the hammer down on Jimmy Irsay and Ray Rice? Actually, the question is usually phrased something like this: What the #%^*+ is Goodell doing, punishing guys for marijuana and letting that $%#@ Irsay skate free?
I believe sooner, rather than later, Irsay will be suspended and heavily fined by Goodell for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. Under Goodell, the NFL has almost always waited until the legal process played out on a first-offense with a player or other league or team employee. This is Irsay’s first legal offense. But I don’t think Goodell is going to wait much longer, and I don’t believe Goodell will let Irsay have his day in court before he sanctions the Colts owner.
The reason is that there’s a lot we know already, including:
- Irsay was arrested for driving erratically on March 16.
- Irsay refused to undergo a field sobriety test. He refused to have his blood drawn to check his blood-alcohol content. Indiana authorities had to obtain a search warrant and forcibly draw blood from him on the night of his arrest.
- Irsay entered a substance-abuse rehab program immediately after the incident.
- Irsay was found with numerous bottles of prescription drugs in his car, and the drugs were not prescribed to him.
- Irsay was found with $29,000 in cash when arrested.
- Goodell has said club officials and owners “must be held to a higher standard” of behavior than players.
Irsay now has been formally charged by the Hamilton County (Ind.) prosecutor’s office with two misdemeanors: operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in the body. The substance, prosecutors allege, was "oxycodone and/or hydrocodone”—both strong and addictive painkillers.
Goodell could choose to wait until the case is adjudicated; that has been his M.O. But there’s enough that’s solid now for him to make his call, and there’s the specter of letting an owner own while a damning case drags through the legal system, if it does drag.
And there’s one thing the commissioner must do whenever he does come down on Irsay: He has to include random testing, the same way the league random-tests players who run afoul of the drug program. Early this month, when I was in Atlanta covering the Falcons’ draft, I ran into a retired player who launched into a screed on Irsay and how the NFL hadn’t disciplined him yet. “When that discipline comes, he ought to be tested daily,’’ the player railed. “If they can test a player 10 times a month, an owner should be tested more.”
On Sunday, I called the new president of the NFL Players Association, Eric Winston, and asked him about the Irsay case—and about random testing being a part of whatever sanction Goodell hands down.
“Owners own for decades,” Winston said. “Players, if we’re lucky, might play for a decade. If protecting the shield is the most important thing, and owners are the ones most responsible for the league’s future, the owners have to be held to a higher standard. So I don’t understand how we can be talking about comparing the punishment of a player to what the league might do to an owner. Owners should be held to the highest of standards. And I can tell you, players are watching. A lot of players are watching. This has been on players’ minds for quite a while.”
Goodell has to be considering a large fine and removing Irsay from any involvement with the Colts for months. But any penalty that doesn’t included future random testing will be dangerous and wrong-headed. Does Goodell really want to risk the specter of an impaired Irsay staggering in after a three-game losing streak and firing his coach and general manager?
* * *
Now for Rice.
So now Ravens running back Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Palmer, have appeared in front of the media and stated their cases about the February incident in which Palmer, at the time Rice’s fiancée, was dragged unconscious out of an Atlantic City elevator. Other than Rice’s appearing repentant about the incident—and what else would he be?—I thought the press conference (with no questions) was bad for both of them, and for the Ravens.
There is a growing picture emerging of what happened that night. As Chris Mortensen has reported, sources say Rice and Palmer both were physically aggressive in the elevator. Who hit whom first? What does it matter? Palmer was the one who was knocked out and had to be dragged into a hallway. And there is no excuse for hitting a woman. None. Never. If she hit Rice 10 times, he has to hit her zero times. I don’t want to hear, “She hit him first.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Ten wrongs don’t make a right, especially when it comes to physical abuse on a woman … especially physical abuse on a woman.
Rice apologized to his owners, his coach, his teammates, his sponsors (his sponsors!), his fans … and not to his wife, sitting next to him at the press conference.
How can that be?
Things got worse. His wife then said: “I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.”
I’m sure she does, and I’m sure both of them wish they could replay that evening. But for Rice not to apologize publicly to his wife, and for his wife to emotionally apologize for the incident … It left as bad a taste as possible after what should have been a cleansing event. This was a dumb event, not a cleansing one.
What should have happened is, Rice should have said, regardless of who hit whom first, and who was responsible for tempers escalating: “I apologize to my wife for hurting her physically and emotionally that night, and I apologize to my team and those who have supported me so fervently since I’ve been in Baltimore. There is no one in this incident to blame but me. No man should ever raise a hand to a woman, regardless of the circumstances or what might have led to that moment. I am a better man than that, and I will work hard from this moment forward to try to earn back the trust that I have lost from everyone I know, and from every follower of the Baltimore Ravens. I am deeply sorry. Now I’ll answer any questions you might have.”
Opportunity wasted. Rice likely faces a short (maybe two-game) suspension from the commissioner for being a first-time offender under the personal-conduct policy. He’s got a strong résumé and is greatly admired for his work in the community. He shouldn’t be thrown out with the trash. But he’s got to realize that the performance the other day was tone-deaf.
* * *
Now we see the future of Super Bowls. Unemotionally.
When a fragile and unhealthy 87-year-old Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints, appealed for New Orleans’ 11th Super Bowl last week in Atlanta, he used the city’s 300th birthday in 2018—the year of the Super Bowl three cities were bidding for—as a big selling point. That, plus a gorgeous, new four-football-field facility where proper coaching and training techniques would be taught to youth coaches, and where down-on-their-luck retirees could go for career and life help.
All owners get five minutes to cap their cities’ presentations. Benson capped New Orleans’ bid. Jimmy Irsay capped Indianapolis’. And Mark Wilf, owner/president of the Vikings and brother of principal owner Zygi Wilf, put a bow on the Minneapolis bid by saying, simply: “We need this now. The Super Bowl in 2018 will help us sell our stadium to our community far more than if we got the game two or three years later.”
On the fourth ballot, requiring a simple majority, Minnesota won. The Saints thought they had 15 votes, so theoretically the vote could have been 17-15, Minnesota; the owners aren’t told what the vote was. But whatever it was, the upshot was easy. Sentimentality was out. Benson likely was giving his last Super Bowl hard-sell, and it’s not every year your city has its 300th birthday. The stadium was in. Minnesota’s public-private partnership, and the arduous road the Wilfs and state legislature traveled to do the $1 billion stadium deal, carried the day.
“From talking to the owners,” Roger Goodell said at the Atlanta meeting, “the determining factor was the stadium in Minneapolis, and the effort they made in bringing that stadium to completion.”
Or, as one source in the room told me: “The tricentennial was huge for New Orleans, obviously. But it didn’t do anything for the rest of the owners, honestly.”
“It was so important,” Mark Wilf said Saturday, “because the competition for Super Bowls is not going to get less intense. New stadiums are getting built all the time. You never know after 2018 when our chance would come.”
It certainly would have come soon, because stadiums with domes in northern cities always get one game. But with the smooth and influential Arthur Blank getting spades in the ground in Atlanta last week for his new stadium—set to open in 2017—and Atlanta not having a Super Bowl since 2000, and with southern venues like Tampa Bay (last Super Bowl: 2009) and South Florida (2010) trying to break droughts that will be a decade long by the time the game comes around, it was no lock Minnesota would have gotten the 2019 Super Bowl.
What I find interesting in studying Super Bowl sites this century is that no stadium has been dominant. Five sites have gotten two games (Tampa, New Orleans, Miami, Arizona and Houston) of the 19 games that have been played or awarded since 2000. Look at the five games beginning with New Jersey in 2014, and you see the stadium commonality:
2014—MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Opened in 2010.
2015—University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. Opened in 2006.
2016—Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. Scheduled to open in 2014.
2017—NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant), Houston. Opened in 2002.
2018—Vikings Stadium, Minneapolis. Scheduled to open in 2016.
Average stadium opening date for those five venues: 2009. Thus, the smart money would be on Atlanta in 2019.
* * *
A classy $100k.
There are two ways to look at what the Seattle Seahawks did when they waived their sixth-round pick, Marshall tackle Garrett Scott, on Friday. You can say they blew it with their pre-draft investigative work on him. Or you can say it correctly—no one knew about the rare heart defect Scott had, and it never affected him in his college career, and, once the team found out, the Seahawks did a noble thing.
Seattle doctors found the heretofore undiscovered heart defect in Scott—one that hadn’t shown up at Marshall or in the NFL’s pre-draft screenings—once he came to Seattle last week. Instead of releasing Scott because he’s not going to be able to perform this season, and maybe ever again, Seattle GM John Schneider first signed Scott to a four-year contract, with a $100,000 signing bonus.
“This enables him to go and see different experts,” Schneider said Saturday, “and allows us to either assist in getting him back on the playing field in 2015, or helping him transition to his post-football career. We’re just blessed that our docs dug further into the player and hopefully helped save a life.”
Fact-checking yet another Washington team-name debate.
I asked The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas to weigh in on the latest back-and-forth over the controversy of dueling letters late in the week (50 U.S. senators asking for “Redskins” to be banned, club president Bruce Allen saying it’s a prideful moniker), particularly in the areas of their letters where facts are used. Her report:
In the debate about the name of Washington’s NFL team, there isn’t much common ground between the pro- and anti-Redskin side, but here’s one thing they can agree on: The conversation on the subject has never been louder. The two sides paint polar opposite pictures of the support for and appropriateness of the team name. What’s true, and what’s spin? Our take:
1. Team says: An overwhelming majority of Native Americans do not find the name offensive.
The team and the NFL use as proof a 2004 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy center, in which 768 self-identifying Native Americans were asked this question: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?” Ninety percent of those polled said the name did not bother them. It’s a leap, though, to say the results of that poll mean an overwhelming majority do not find the name offensive 10 years later, particularly when there is significant evidence to the contrary: Opposition from dozens of tribes or inter-tribal councils, including the country’s largest tribe, Navajo Nation, whose Council voted in April, and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which represents more than 250 tribal governments. Allen did not write in his letter when the survey was taken or the sample size.
2. Senators say: This is a matter of tribal sovereignty—and Indian Country has spoken clearly on this issue.
Native Americans maintain sovereign tribal governments that hold a government-to-government relationship with the United States. That’s a lot of political speak, but what it means is that an entity like the NCAI, which operates out of the Embassy of Tribal Nations in Washington, D.C., represents the interests and critical issues of its more than 250 member tribes to the federal government. Their opposition to name represents the stance of their people, though when the senators write that Indian Country has spoken clearly on the issue, it’s not altogether true. Formal opposition from tribal organizations like the NCAI speak clearly, but the rank-and-file native citizens are mixed on the issue, something we at The MMQB found while reporting the issue this spring. We visited 18 Native American tribes in 10 states, speaking to ranking tribe officials and average native Americans. However, it’s clearly not the case, from our research, that 90 percent of native Americans either support the name or don’t find it offensive.
3. Team says: The term “Redskins” originated as a Native American expression of solidarity.
Allen’s letter correctly cites the research of Smithsonian senior linguist Ives Goddard, who traced the word “redskin” as a self-identifier among Piankashaw tribesmen in the mid-1700s. But he leaves out the negative connotations the word picked up over the next few centuries—its use in conjunction with the scalping practices of settlers, or the fact that even today, members of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana say being referred to as “redskins” and being denied service in a border town to their reservation go hand in hand. The word has benign origins, and can be an expression of kinship, and has taken on the usage of a slur against a group of people based on the color of their skin. All are true of the n-word, too, and we’ve learned to respect that word’s potency.
4. Team says: The vast majority of Americans are in favor of keeping the team name.
The Associated Press conducted a survey in January 2014 asking a variety of questions via online interviews with 1,060 adults. And the AP reported that 83 percent responded that the Washington NFL team should not change its nickname. That, obviously, is a clear majority.
5. Team says: Our logo was designed by Native Americans.
The team’s name goes along with a logo of the profile of a Native American man. Allen writes that the current logo was designed by Walter Wetzel, member of the Blackfeet Nation and former NCAI president, and approved by Native American leaders in 1971, when Allen’s father was head coach. Wetzel’s term as NCAI president ended in 1964, and the NCAI says the logo was not created on its behalf. We couldn’t confirm or deny Wetzel’s involvement—the Blackfeet tribal council had no memory either way—but the team first used the profile of a Native American man in its logo from 1937 to 1964, and then a modified version from 1972 to the present.
Of the 49 Senators who signed the letter, 47 are democrats and two are independents. Both senators from Maryland, where Washington’s FedEx Field is located, signed in support of a name change; neither senator from Virginia, where the team has its headquarters, signed. On Thursday, Washington senator Maria Cantwell gave a speech on the Senate floor calling for bipartisan support of a name change. “I’m convinced that if each member of this body speaks on this issue and is forceful in their resolve that we can help initiate change,” she said.
Many have asked why government officials have gotten involved with this issue. Cantwell, former chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, explained her position to The MMQB earlier this spring. Her constituency in Washington includes members of 29 tribes; in Nevada, Senate majority leader Harry Reid represents members of 22 tribes.
“While might not be front and center in mid-Atlantic states, I guarantee they are a very integrated part of our economy in the Pacific Northwest and in other parts of the U.S.,” Cantwell said. “I just think that the NFL is out of touch with that and is just parroting the line the team has, which is definitely a very out-of-touch perspective.”
But not a perspective the team is bending on—at all. Wrote Allen in his letter to Reid: “Our use of ‘Redskins’ as the name of our football team for more than 81 years has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and tradition of native Americans.”
In other words, we’re not near the end of this story. —J.V.
* * *
My take, as one who no longer uses the team name when I write about the Washington franchise: This is not going away. In fact, it’s intensifying. Bruce Allen writes a smart, cogent, mostly accurate letter, with the point the team has been making for months now—that they view the name as a noble tribute to native Americans everywhere. The fact is, there’s a burgeoning group of native Americans, which seems to grow larger by the month, that is offended by the name. Thousands, and I can’t tell you how many thousands, view the name as a slur. That number will increase as the story gains traction, which it’s doing now. Simply put, there are pockets of native Americans across the country, and an increasing cadre of politicians, that are not going to drop this. Does owner Daniel Snyder want this to be a continuing story for years? Does the team want to keep expending energy to fight this fight, and to risk turning off the other 31 owners and the league office with a black eye that is likely to come from a protracted fight over something that has nothing to do with making the league, and the team, better?
I’ve thought this for some time. At some point, at some league function or some private moment, but probably not for some time because it’s not a tidal wave of native sentiment yet, Roger Goodell and perhaps another owner Snyder trusts will go to Snyder and ask him, “Why are you doing this? Is this worth it? If you’re offending even 15 percent of native Americans in this country—and that’s probably a low number—is it worth it?”
To me, it just doesn’t make much sense for Snyder to keep fighting a fight that’s on the wrong side of history.
Quotes of the Week
“Russell has won more games through his first two seasons than any quarterback in history. He also became only the second African American quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. And the best part about it is nobody commented on it, which tells you the progress that we’ve made."
—President Obama, on quarterback Russell Wilson, during the White House ceremony celebrating the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory on Wednesday.
“I am sorry that Marshawn is not here, because I just wanted to say how much I admire his approach to the press. (Laughter.) I wanted to get some tips from him."
—Obama, joking (we think), about the reclusive and absent Marshawn Lynch.
“I’m not going to get into speculating on what’s going to happen, what could happen, what will happen. There’s nothing really I could further add to this line of questioning. You can take bamboo shoots and stick them under my fingernails, and there still wouldn’t be any more I could add further to this discussion.”
—San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, in a testy exchange with San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami concerning the organization’s stance on oft-accused linebacker Aldon Smith.
“I haven’t played football in a long time. We’ve been practicing to be track stars through this whole draft process, so it’s good going out there and competing.”
—Dolphins first-round tackle Ju’Wuan James, as he prepared to take the field to practice actual football at a Miami minicamp this weekend. Out of the mouths of first-round picks … He is speaking, of course, about how football players practice combine and Pro Day drills throughout the winter and spring—not football activities exclusively.
"He's a man's man. He knows how to lead alpha males. The culture that he's forming here with the help of Phil Emery and the McCaskeys and everyone upstairs, I've never been around it. He puts us in position every single day to grow as men."
—Brandon Marshall, expressing his appreciation to Bears coach Marc Trestman at a press conference announcing the wide receiver's three-year contract extension.
The press conference, from a distance, seemed extraordinary for how many people Marshall included in his gratitude. Marshall, according to Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, thanked 56 different people for the contract—including Bears media czar Jim Christman, for his counsel, for fixing his tie, for the post-game gum, and for the Chapstick. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a football player thank that many people for making his life so good.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
You have gotten to know Andy Benoit, I am sure, from his exhaustive work at The MMQB over the past year. He’s insightful and football-insatiable, and a delightful guy to be around. The other day, Andy, who was on the East Coast to do some homework at NFL Films, stopped by and a few of us at The MMQB met him for lunch downstairs from our midtown Manhattan offices.
Andy is a bachelor. He lives in Boise. He told us he has two cats: the quite unathletic Mister Fizzles, whom he inherited from his sister a couple of years ago (“Mister Fizzles might have been raised by potheads; that is just not an agile cat," Andy said), and the athlete in the feline family, Othercat.
“I didn’t know what to call him,"Andy reported. “He just came into my place one day. He came right into my living room, like he’d been there for years. I was caught off-guard by his bravado, and whenever I spoke to Mr. Fizzles I felt obligated to speak to the other cat in the room too. So I just started calling him ‘Othercat.’ Not ‘Other Cat.’ One word: Othercat. It just stuck. One day my parents were over for dinner and they were aghast at the name, implored me to change it and that’s when I dug in my heels.”
“I did genuinely believe—and still believe—that it is a great name.”
Othercat evidently likes the name, according to Benoit. “I call out the door, ‘Othercat!’ And he appears!”
Andy Benoit likes two drinks and two drinks only: water and skim milk. He recently had ginger ale for the first time.
“It’s like Sprite,” he reported. “Only more sophisticated.”
Mr. Starwood Preferred Travel Note of the Week
Because I have not been to Portland, Ore., much in my life, I didn’t know the city had a thriving community of food trucks and carts. Last Tuesday, on a walk through downtown Portland, I was amazed to see an incredible variety of food available in small trailers, all set up in an open-air parking lot in the center of the city, facing out on a square of sidewalks surrounding the parking lot. Transylvania food. Iraqi food. Georgian food. (Not Georgia the southern state; Georgia the country, halfway around the world.)
I was walking at about 7:30 in the morning, and so most of the carts weren’t open yet. But if you came back at lunchtime, here’s a sample in one square block what you could have had for your midday meal:
Basil pesto penne ... Chocolate crepes ... Tofu burrito ... Chicken paprikash ... A sausage cooked in a cheesy pretzel dough ... A German bratwurst ... Fresh lamb Green salad ... Lemongrass noodle salad, with tofu ... Fried mahi-mahi, with mac and cheese ... Fresh Peruvian bean bowl ... Yakitori (salted and peppered Japanese chicken thighs) ... Scottish fish and chips ... Gluten-free meat loaf platter ... A “Spicy Goat” waffle, with peppered salami, arugula and pistachios ... A Cajun shrimp hoagie ... A Philly cheesesteak ... Stuffed Georgian dumplings ... Fresh Brazilian roast coffee, the aroma of which filled the air as Portlandians walked to work.
That’s all in one square block.
Ole Latte, where the Brazilian roast was brewing, was thriving among the morning commuters going to work downtown. The 27-year-old barista, Rachael Metzger (“Barista is another word for daytime bartender,” she said), filled me in on the culture. “Obviously the overhead’s not as much as the brick-and-mortar stores,” she said. “And it gives such a variety to the food scene in Portland. People just love coming to the food trucks and food carts.”
No time to chat. Customers.
“Hey David! Costa Rica today?” Rachael said.
David: “Nooooo. Brazil. My favorite. How was your weekend, Rachael?”
Stat of the Week
With the Packers’ plans to use Julius Peppers as a hybrid defensive weapon—part rush outside linebacker, part two-way defensive end, part three-technique tackle—I think the 34-year-old free-agent will turn out to be a good investment for Green Bay. But defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to be imaginative to reverse the recent decline in Peppers’ game. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy is obviously hoping the combination of being rejuvenated (the Packers were Peppers’ first choice in free agency), being able to hide in Green Bay (he’s a reserved guy), having another good pass-rush threat in Clay Matthews opposite him (if Matthews can stay healthy), and having a defensive coordinator (Capers) who will know how to free him up bodes well for Peppers in 2014. As these Pro Football Focus numbers show from his four seasons in Chicago, Capers and Peppers will have to be on their game to make the Pack’s three-year investment worth it:
|Year||Plays||Sacks||QB hits||Pressures||Total QB sacks/pressures/hits|
Tweets of the Week
Always announce ticket price increases the friday of a holiday weekend, make sure ownership is not quoted
— Jim Steeg (@jimsteeg) May 24, 2014
Steeg is the former NFL director of special events, and current NFL sage-in-retirement.
Almost every franchise has been in the gutter before. Win at all costs defines NFL just like it defined #Packers Mon. So risky. Just say no.
— Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn) May 20, 2014
The veteran scribe for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was referring to the Packers’ signing of troubled Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla as an undrafted free agent.
For once, I’d disagree with McGinn—but only if Packers GM Ted Thompson has a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy with Lyerla. If so, I have no problem with giving a potential bad seed one redemptive chance.
I know you can't suppress news. But how long before another rampage from someone who wants to be famous like Elliot Rodger?
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) May 25, 2014
The NPR host posed this question on Saturday night in the wake of another slaughter, this one killing seven and wounding six near a college campus in California, by another demented kid with a grudge against people and access to guns.
@RealPeterson21 wideouts regularly have career days on u. They ask u to stop them. Not let them score at will.
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) May 23, 2014
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think that was a great job by Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, going to Los Angeles and coming up with a depressing picture of the future of the NFL in L.A. two decades after the Rams and Raiders last played there. The money quote from Graham’s story, from long-time Los Angeles city councilman Bernard Parks: “I’ve finally, personally come to a conclusion. I have to resign myself to the fact the NFL is not coming.” Strong words from one of the biggest NFL flag-wavers in town.
2. I think, Sam Farmer, I will wait for your retort. Or your forecast.
3. I think I hope Bill Belichick—as he did last week on SiriusXM NFL Radio—continues to press for replay on any call made in any game. For those who say it will lead to five-hour games, come on. It won’t increase the number of challenges each coach has per game; it will simply provide another bit of insurance against a blown call changing the outcome of a game.
4. I think, regarding Jerry Rice Jr. declining to wear number 80 during a San Francisco tryout the other day, I say: Why would he? Nice to follow in your dad’s footsteps and all, but why let people look at you on the field and say, “Well, he’s no Jerry Rice?”
5. I think I like what I saw on Pro Football Talk Sunday: the probability of a redesigned substance-abuse policy in the NFL that calls for a one-game suspension for a first-time DUI conviction.
6. I think the Dolphins have a pretty big upgrade at tackle—from the aged Bryant McKinnie (left) and Tyson Clabo (right) at the end of last season to Branden Albert and Ju’Wuan James—to start this year. The first act of new GM Dennis Hickey will look very smart if Albert and James can be the long-term protectors of Ryan Tannehill that they were imported to be.
7. I think the best sign for any team over the weekend was Chiefs rookie quarterback Aaron Murray evading the rush well at Kansas City minicamp, just six months removed from ACL surgery. Though it was a non-contact practice in helmets and shorts, Murray looked comfortable pivoting and wheeling around on the rehabbed leg. Doubt he’ll beat out Chase Daniel this year as Alex Smith’s backup, but great progress nonetheless.
8. I think one of the position competitions I’m really looking forward to this summer is cornerback in New Orleans. Specifically: Imagine if, on opening day against Atlanta, the Saints line up Champ Bailey across from Roddy White and—on some plays at least—the 6-4 Stanley Jean-Baptiste across from Julio Jones? Jean-Baptiste will likely open the season behind the established Keenan Lewis, trying to earn time in the nickel or dime packages. Talk about remaking your corner group in one off-season. If this happens, it would take a leap of faith for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to pull it off—not with Bailey, of course, because he should start if healthy. But Ryan will work hard to get Jean-Baptiste ready to face the tall wideouts in the division, and there are many in the NFC South.
9. I think—and this is not a football note, but a societal one—following the Mark Cuban controversy of the past few days, what he said at worst was borderline racist. Borderline. I wouldn’t have said it, but I also wouldn’t have attacked him for it. Pretty soon, no public figure will say anything, ever, at all, that is borderline controversial. We’re forcing all free-thinkers and speakers to measure everything they say and then come out with pablum, or else risk facing some hurricane of anger in some social segment of this world—on Twitter, or some other forum—whether it’s truly deserved or not.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Happy 73rd, Bob Dylan. (It was Saturday.)
b. Happy 74th, Brent Musberger (today).
c. Waking up Sunday morning, which of the following would you have believed more likely: Manny Ramirez named player-coach of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, or Kim Kardashian selling everything to follow the Dalai Lama?
d. Call me crazy (many do), but I think Manny actually might be good at it. He was a nutjob, but he worked pretty hard to be a good hitter. And Theo Epstein wouldn’t have done this if he thought Manny would infect his prospects with nonsense.
e. You mean there’s a race-car driver named Will Power and I’d never heard of him until the Indy 500 Sunday?
f. Runs scored by Red Sox in first inning Saturday at Tampa Bay: 5. Runs scored in previous 16 innings, and next 14 innings: 0.
g. I do not approve of the Stephen Drew signing. I approve of growing pains with a future star shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, instead of slapping him in the face after six weeks of mediocre play in the field at a time when his peers are juniors in college.
h. Fantastic job by ESPN’s Liz Merrill on the son of the late (and wild) boxer Tommy Morrison taking up boxing. Now that’s how to tell a story.
i. Also, do not miss Lee Jenkins’ cover story in SI this week on NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Talk about getting inside a newsmaker of the day. A superb job.
j. Did you know Adam Silver used to help babysit SI managing editor Mark Mulvoy’s kids in Westchester County, N.Y.?
k. One more story from the week that I absolutely loved: Joe Rhodes of the New York Times journeying to Vancouver to tell the tale of soccermania in nutty MLS markets Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. Always thought—and I told MLS commish Don Garber this—he should put the league office in Seattle, so it would be in the middle of three markets that treat the league closest to the way the English treat their major league.
l. Soccer is coming. And those who says it’ll always be a minor sport here, read that story about the impact of the game on the Pacific Northwest, and then be with me in my New York City apartment Saturday afternoon, with the windows open. At one point, I heard a sustained roar. I looked out to see folks overflowing out of a jam-packed bar. Someone must have scored in the Champions League final, I thought. That’s right. Twitter exploded with the news about five seconds later.
m. Speaking of memorable stories, here’s one to look out for this week on our site: Greg Bedard on Bill Walsh. Imagine being taught the West Coast Offense and how to go on road trips and everything you need to know about being a great football player. Bedard saw and heard it all—and you will too, on Wednesday at The MMQB.
n. Coffeenerdness: See my take on Portland coffee trucks on Page 4.
o. Beernerdness: My beer of pleasure on the trip to the Pacific Northwest last week: Breakside IPA (Breakside Brewing, Portland, Ore.), which has a clean and smooth taste—and the slightest aftertaste of a pine cone. That should be gross. But it was tremendous. Love that beer.
p. Johnny Manziel. Champagne rainstorm. TMZ. Las Vegas. Manziels will be Manziels.
You can’t tell the story of
Pat Tillman enough.