SALISBURY, N.C. — Notes from the last pre-vacation MMQB—including Marc Trestman the people person, Jay Cutler the leader, and the first annual “Paul ‘Dr. Z’ Awards” by the Pro Football Writers of America—on the eve of tonight’s 55th annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Awards ceremony in this real-life Mayberry.
Good news, Bears
Lots of talk about locker-room culture these days, and lots of energy spent by teams trying to ensure there’s never another Dolphins/Incognito affair. But I give special points to Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler for their efforts. And I’m learning more and more about how wrong we were that Trestman was some X’s-and-O’s monk who couldn’t deal with players on a human scale. That’s one of the most misleading assumptions in recent NFL years.
Another example: Trestman and Cutler recently flew to New York to meet with the league’s new values-meister, Dov Seidman, to exchange ideas about fostering a more ethical culture in the locker room. I’ve heard of players and coaches working on football in the off-season, and maybe even on better forms of leadership. But for a coach and his top lieutenant in the locker room—who has never been considered a classic locker-room leader—to get on a plane and spend a day working on new techniques and dialog … that goes beyond the call of duty. Trestman and Cutler should be congratulated for it.
“I got a tremendous start in the way a locker room was run when I coached for five years in Canada,” said Trestman, whose first head-coaching job was with Montreal of the CFL. “In our locker room, everyone should feel safe. For some of the guys in Chicago, it was kind of new to them. There’d be no hazing. Lovie Smith had a great group of players—a great group—and he did a great job with them. There were some subtle things I wanted to add. I wanted to keep growing.”
Trestman didn’t want to be specific about what he, Cutler and Seidman discussed, other than to say he “wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing.” Seidman wouldn’t confirm the meeting, but it’s clear from a pro football source that they bonded and had a discussion Trestman and Cutler will use as a building block in their locker room.
Seidman, CEO of the LRN Company, which works with businesses to stress principled performance, addressed club and league officials at the annual meeting in March, and has remained an adviser to the league. He’s bullish on the impact of the one-hour meetings for all 32 full squads this month (I wrote about this last Monday), to kick off discussion of culture change. “You don’t just flip a switch on something like this,” Seidman said. “It’s about a journey. It’s about progress. I think teams are figuring out there’s a new way to win, and that includes caring for the player as a person, a father and a husband. Creating a locker room full of people who can be themselves can help you win.”
* * *
One of the best gestures I’ve seen in a long time.
A couple of times a year, a few us get together for lunch in New Jersey with Paul Zimmerman and his wife, Linda. Paul, as most of you know, was felled by a series of strokes in November 2008, and he remains unable to speak substantively or write. Last Wednesday we invited Ken Rodgers, who wrote and produced the tremendous Dr. Z tribute piece for NFL Films last fall, “Yours truly, Dr. Z,” to the meal. The piece won a Sports Emmy for “The Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award.”
Rodgers came to lunch and brought with him an Emmy—for Paul. The gold statuette sat on the table in front of Paul throughout the meal. He beamed. Rodgers choked up a couple of times talking about Zim and the experience of doing this wonderful story. “My favorite moment,” said Rodgers at one point, “was listening to an old interview of Paul with him in the room, and thinking how emotional it would probably make him, and I look at him, and he’s rolling his eyes as if to say, ‘Blah, blah, blah. Just shut up, will you?’ ”
A very good lunch, with good company, including Matt Millen and wife Pat—who are regulars at these affairs, with my wife Ann and me, and Linda’s friend Barbara. And the Flaming Redhead, of course. “Geez,’’ said Linda. “What to say about Ken … He certainly is carrying on the Steve Sabol tradition. We were heartbroken by the passing of Steve, but Ken certainly channels his spirit and intelligence. We’ve made a lifetime friend.”
Now, speaking of Dr. Z …
The inaugural Dr. Z Awards are announced.
The Pro Football Writers of America gives out awards annually to deserving players and executives in the NFL, and this year our group is adding an award to recognize assistant coaches. It’s long past time that career assistants, who don’t make the Hall of Fame and most often work deep in the shadows of their head coaches, are memorialized for what they do. PFWA leaders Ira Miller and Dan Pompei pushed to honor Paul Zimmerman in conjunction with the award, seeing that Zim for so long chronicled these men in the shadows and was constantly drawing attention to the previously invisible work of so many of them. So the PFWA decided to christen the award “The Paul ‘Dr. Z’ Zimmerman Award” for lifetime achievement for NFL assistant coaches.
The inaugural class of four winners:
- Howard Mudd, who worked for 39 years as an NFL offensive line coach with eight teams.
- The late Fritz Shurmur, a veteran of 24 years as an NFL coach, 20 of them as a defensive coordinator.
- Ernie Zampese, a 24-year NFL assistant and one of the architects of the modern passing game.
- The late Jim Johnson, a master of the disguised blitz, a 23-year assistant and defensive coordinator.
“For gosh sakes, this is unbelievable,” said Zampese, now living in retirement in San Diego. “It’s flabbergasting. To be included with those other three men who were such great coaches, I am incredibly stunned. Thank you.”
“I’m very flattered,” Mudd said. “I also really appreciate the award being named after Paul. When he interviewed me, he was fixated on my troops. I appreciate how he saw the game. I’m quite taken aback. This is such an elite group.”
Mudd was a three-time Pro Bowl guard for the Niners in a seven-year NFL career in the ’60s. In 1974, he started coaching the offensive line in San Diego, and he went to coach lines in San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle again (developing Hall of Famer Walter Jones in the process), Indianapolis (for the first 12 years of Peyton Manning’s career) and Philadelphia before retiring after the 2012 season. Well, not exactly retiring. He volunteer-coached the Mount Si High School offensive line in North Bend, Wash., last fall. “I was as proud of those as any guys I coached in the NFL,’’ Mudd said. He’s best known for his 12 years with the Colts—particularly for his patch job in 2008, when Indy had Manning coming back from tricky summer knee surgery and a dangerous infection, and center Jeff Saturday was hurt, and Mudd had to get rookie Jamey Richard ready to play one of the most complicated center positions in football, with all the changes Manning makes at the line. The Colts won 12 games. “My mantra—and I hope they put this on my gravestone—was, ‘Do a few things, and do them extraordinarily well.’ ”
Shurmur, a college center at Albion (Mich.) College, broke into the NFL in 1975 with Detroit as defensive line coach, after four seasons as Wyoming’s head coach. He was defensive coordinator for Detroit, New England (breaking in Bill Parcells to the NFL in 1980), the Rams, the Cardinals and Packers before dying in 1999 at 67 of liver cancer. In 1996 his Green Bay defense stifled San Francisco, Carolina and New England—holding them to an average of 16 points—in the Packers’ Super Bowl run. He was best known for his defensive adjustments. In 1989 he invented a 2-5 defensive front with the Rams when injuries ravaged the front, using different combinations of safeties and linebackers in the middle. He often used a “big nickel” package, with safeties playing a more prominent role in coverage and nickel rushes instead of corners. “Fritz was one of the first to employ a nickel on a full-time basis,” Parcells said Saturday. “He was creative in many ways, one of the coaches who really knew how to fit the talent he had to the best scheme for them. And he was a tremendous defensive line coach. Tremendous. Very demanding. Those defensive linemen, he was on their ass. When I got to New England in 1980, Fritz taught me to two-gap. I just think he’s one of the best I’ve seen in the business, and he was very important to my career.” Ask Barry Sanders about Fritz Shurmur: In a 1994 playoff game against Shurmur’s Packers, Sanders was held to -1 yard on 13 carries.
Zampese has the distinction of running for the winning touchdown as a USC tailback against Notre Dame in 1956 (bet you didn’t know that) and being hired for two of his early coaching jobs by John Madden and Don Coryell. “A lot of times in my career,” he said, “I was in the perfect spot. You go to work for Don Coryell, and he just lets you do what you do; he lets you coach.” Coryell put him in charge of the Charger receivers from 1979 to 1983, and San Diego was the most explosive offense in football, with Dan Fouts throwing to a bevy of great wideouts and to tight end Kellen Winslow. Zampese brought lots of motion and shifting to the offense. Each of those five seasons, San Diego had the number one passing offense in the NFL. “He’s the best offensive coach I know,” Coryell once said. His quarterbacks—Fouts, Jim Everett, Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe (in New England in his stop as coordinator, in 1998 and ’99)—were always among the league’s most prolific. Aikman swore by him. “I had some great quarterbacks who ran the offense great,” Zampese said. “It comes back to being in the perfect spot so many times. In Dallas, what a great position that was to be in, with such great offensive talent.”
Johnson was still in full bloom at 68 when cancer of the spine killed him five years ago. He brought pressure with the best defensive coaches in recent history. Over his last nine years as Philadelphia defensive coordinator, his Eagles were second in the league with 390 sacks—yet only two of his pass-rushers (Hugh Douglas and Trent Cole) went to a Pro Bowl. Said one of his protégés, former Eagles assistant John Harbaugh, when Johnson died: “He saw potential and developed it. He made me believe I could coach at this level. In football, he was a pioneering and brilliant strategist, changing the way defense is played in the NFL.” Johnson figured out ways of disguising pressure and bringing it against different teams with different players—and none of the 11 men on defense was out of the pressure mix. His Eagles once sacked Ben Roethlisberger nine times in a game; his last Eagle defense held the Giants and Vikings to 25 points in eight quarters in two road playoff wins in the 2008 season. He did his best work with the Eagles, but he also coached Arizona, Indianapolis and Seattle in an NFL tenure that dated to 1986.
That’s a first-class first class of Dr. Z award winners.
The Fathers Day Book Section
My annual look at books I’d recommend for dad/brother/uncle/grandfather/male friend/male whoever, with Fathers Day just six days away, is a bit abbreviated this year. It should include one I never got to but had recommended very highly to me: “Redeployment,” by Phil Klay, a series of stories about our troops trying to figure out their meaning and roles in chaotic Iraqi and Afghan theaters, which I’ll be reading on my vacation this summer. That does you no good now, but maybe you could get it for dad as a Labor Day gift once I report back. A few I’d recommend:
A Good Walkthrough Spoiled: The Best of Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders, edited by Aaron Schatz (Football Outsiders). Non-fiction.
So Mike Tanier, who works for Sports On Earth now, is one of the best football writers alive. Some of you might not know him. I urge you to change that. Read Mike, and you’ll learn a lot about football, and a lot about irreverence, and a lot about things you never thought of when you watch football. “Football Outsiders” is the longtime passion of Aaron Schatz, a football geek with a smart streak in him, and he saw some brilliance in Tanier, then a high school teacher (who once taught a high-level math course to Joe Flacco in New Jersey), and the marriage was a good one for the eight years they worked together. This volume is Tanier’s greatest hits. I picked out one chunk from a prescient story by Tanier about Jerry Rice’s rookie season, written in 2006, but with an eye on 1985, when the Niners started 6-5, and Rice had 10 drops in 11 games, and there was pressure on Bill Walsh to take some of the kid’s reps away and give them to vets Freddie Solomon and Dwight Clark.
Rice spent so many years as the league’s distinguished veteran that it’s shocking to imagine him as a jittery rookie, one false move from the bench. It seems unfathomable that he was once Santonio Holmes or Chad Jackson … Walsh saw the future; its name was Jerry Rice. But he also had the present to worry about, and his team was struggling to stay in playoff contention. “Walsh has made a lot of critical decisions in his seven years as coach of the 49ers—some brilliant, some not so brilliant,” [beat man Charles] Bricker wrote. “If the 49ers fail to make the playoffs this season after winning the Super Bowl, he might be severely judged by sports historians for his use of Solomon and Rice.” … Just days after his head coach defended him, Rice had his worst game as a pro. In front of 57,000 fans in a Monday night game at Candlestick, Rice dropped three more passes. The Niners won, 19-6, thanks in part to a 27-yard touchdown catch by Solomon … [But the next week against the Rams] by the end of the game, Rice had 10 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown. The 241 yards broke a team record. Ironically, the Niners lost the game, but Rams defenders knew what Walsh knew: Rice was special. “I think the nickname that man’s got, ‘All-World’ or whatever, is deserved,” said Rams free safety Johnny Johnson after the game. “The man’s got unbelievable speed and a great burst.” Local writers who advocated for Rice’s benching suddenly changed their attitudes. “Somebody say ‘I told you so,’ and get it over with,” Kristin Huckshorn wrote in the Mercury News.
By Christmas, Rice the disappointment had become Rice the viable Rookie of the Year candidate. Fellow receiver Eddie Brown took the AP honors, but Rice was named the NFC Rookie of the Year by UPI.
The struggles of 1985 aren’t even a distant memory. They are a forgotten footnote for most fans. Only diehard fans, and perhaps Rice himself, truly remember that for a few months, his name was synonymous with dropped passes. We can’t judge Rice’s critics too harshly. Most of the things that were said about Rice at the time were true. There were times when he hurt the team. The 49ers might even have won one or two more midseason games if Solomon had a larger role in the offense. Now, Rice is retired, Walsh is battling leukemia, and the Niners are preparing to move to the suburbs. It’s a fitting time to remember the glory days. But we must always remember them as they really were. Rice didn’t start his career with one foot in Canton. He really had one foot on a banana peel for most of his rookie season. The next immortal, the player we’ll be writing about in 20 years, is probably battling for his job right now, dropping passes or fumbling and having personal crises on the bench. Jerry Rice remembers. And we remember.
Perspective, thy name is Tanier.
Sycamore Row, by John Grisham (Doubleday). Fiction.
I never get tired of John Grisham. I believe this is the 28th Grisham book I have read, because it is the 28th book he has published (not including his teen-book series). And I do believe my least-favorite of them all was the one about the football player who went to play in Italy, “Playing for Pizza.” The rest of them, mostly taut courtroom thrillers, have this kind of hold on me: I start it one night, reading in bed, and then try as I might, one of the next three or four nights I read until 3 or 4 in the morning, ruining my night’s sleep. It’s always worth it.
This book I flew through—a four-nighter. It piggybacks Grisham’s first book, “A Time to Kill,” the book I’ve always thought was Grisham’s paean to Harper Lee, about a small-town southern lawyer defending a seemingly guilty black man and getting ostracized by the community for doing so. In “Sycamore Row,’’ the richest man in his Mississippi county, the same setting for Grisham’s first book, hangs himself because he doesn’t want to suffer through terminal cancer. He leaves a will that shocks his family and the entire county, and dredges up one of the worst hanging stories there ever was, and leads to a harrowing cleansing, and if I tell you much more, I’ll be spoiling a typically spellbinding Grisham tale.
Missing You, by Harlan Coben (Dutton). Fiction.
Coben is just as riveting a writer as Grisham. Unlike Grisham, he varies his tales, and often they’re more modern, dealing with 2014 stuff. This is a very good story with lots of tributaries, but the central one is about a third-generation New York City cop, a woman named Kat Donovan with lots of tragedy in the family. Her grandfather the cop committed suicide, and her father the cop was murdered, and that is part of the story. But the main part is finding her ex-fiance on a dating site she’s signed up for, and finding out he’s part of the disappearance of a women in a case she’s investigating, and then finding out it may all be a catfishing scheme. Sounds crazy and far too nutty to be coincidental. But as usual with a Coben book, he fits things together seamlessly.
By my count, there are eight separate stories happening in “Missing You.” Good writers tie them together so you look forward to the tying-up of loose ends on one story as you’re getting pulled into the second and the third and the fourth. I’m not a daily reader or what anyone would call an avid reader. But of the authors I read, Coben is the best at making six or eight tributaries flow into one body of water sensibly. And with a racing pulse at the same time.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (Little Brown). Fiction.
If you have a voracious reader on your list this Fathers Day, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel clocking in at 771 pages is sure to satisfy the appetite. Tartt tells the story of Theo Decker, who, at 13, is taking refuge from a rainstorm in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art when a terrorist bombing takes place. Theo’s adored mother is killed and he is instructed by a dying man to save The Goldfinch, a small painting on display there by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. For the next decade or more Theo is both thief and caretaker of the painting that his mother loved.
As many reviewers have pointed out, the book reads like a 21st Century Dickens novel with its collection of memorable characters, class struggles and winding plot. There is the kindly Hobie, a furniture restorer who takes Theo in and teaches him the business; the wealthy, eccentric Park Avenue family of a friend who also gave him a home for a time; and Theo’s gambling, alcoholic father and his drug-using girlfriend who take him to Las Vegas, where Theo and his new friend Boris spend their adolescent hours smoking pot, eating pizza and committing petty crimes. All this before Theo grows up a drug-addicted, swindling antique dealer who eventually finds himself entangled with Russian mobsters and international art thieves before finding redemption. It’s a compelling and beautifully written novel that covers tremendous ground while examining the complex inner life of an adolescent boy and the meaning of art and its ability to shelter us from loneliness and even grief.
There’s only one Pulitzer winner on this list. And it can’t be recommended more highly.
Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1, by Mark Godich (Ascend). Non-fiction.
Godich, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated and a friend of mine, is a Mizzou alum, and I never understood his nutty affection for Tiger football ’til I read his excerpt from this book in our magazine last fall. Particularly the 2007 game between the teams, which has to be one of the craziest stories in recent college football history. Two teams that weren’t in the preseason Top 25 (47 teams got at least one vote in the poll; Kansas wasn’t one of them) were playing to be the number one team in the country in a late-November game, and playing to be one step closer to being in the race for the national championship. Also, this was the first time in 60 years that Kansas City had hosted the game; a longtime dream of the late Lamar Hunt was to play the game at Arrowhead Stadium every year.
The scenes from the day of the game are cool. Like this one, at the Missouri hotel: “At the Marriott, the Mizzou players were soaking in ESPN GameDay. For the first time, the magnitude of the game truly hit them. Defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams walked into safety William Moore’s room. The defensive players always played spades on game day, but there they all were, staring in disbelief at the TV set. The comment on ESPN that the winner at Arrowhead would ascend to No. 1 in the BCS was lost on exactly no one. “Dog, we’re not playing spades today,” Williams recalls one teammate saying. “I said, ‘No, we need to play spades. If we keep looking at this, we’re going to drive ourselves crazy. Let’s do our normal thing. Get the spades game going. Let’s not talk about it. Shut it up and move on.’ ”
It’s a good and quick read, particularly if you, like me, have zero education on one of the underrated rivalries in sports.
* * *
A few words about my schedule for the next month or so.
I’ll be taking two weeks vacation starting tomorrow, then returning to work for one week, for some unique coverage of Canadian football during the week of June 24. We’re going to cover the opening week of the Canadian Football League season, assuming the players and owners have their labor (or should I say, “labour”) situation straightened out, and they seemed close to a resolution on Sunday. Assuming the league is playing in week one, we’ll be covering it at The MMQB. When that coverage ends on July 1, I’ll be away until July 17.
I will be writing Monday Morning Quarterback, live from Regina, Saskatchewan, on Monday, June 30. The Saskatchewan Roughriders, defending Grey Cup champions, open their season on Sunday, June 29 (assuming they’re not on strike), and I’ll be there. Unless I screw it up, my MMQB on Monday the 30 ought to be a CFL spectacular. I’m looking forward to my time in Canada. And for you Winnipeg fans, you’ll have Jenny Vrentas at your opener on Thursday, so treat her well.
As is our usual custom, we’ll have replacement “Monday Morning Quarterback” columnists for four of the next five weeks. San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis will write one, and Chicago coach Marc Trestman will write another to kick off our Canada Week festivities; Trestman, as noted above, coached the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes for five years before taking over the Bears last year. Oakland first-round pick, Khalil Mack, is slated to write another one of the MMQBs, with Rich Eisen of NFL Network rounding out the fearsome foursome. Looking forward to reading what they’ve got to say.
* * *
And a few words of thanks.
I am privileged, and humbled, to accept the National Sportswriter of the Year award tonight here in Salisbury, home of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. I’ll be here with fellow honorees from all 50 states—friends like Mike Klis from Denver, Bob Kravitz from Indianapolis, Mike Vaccaro from New York (if he’s not at game three of Kings-Rangers), Hal McCoy from Dayton, and Jim Wyatt from Nashville will be honored as state winners. Rick Reilly and Marv Albert will be inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight, while Doc Emrick is recognized as 2013 Sportscaster of the Year. (He’ll definitely be in New York for the hockey and be honored in absentia.) I’m grateful to so many people and institutions for the honor, to Sports Illustrated for giving me the platform I have, and for allowing The MMQB to take shape in the last year; to those in the NSSA membership who voted for me when so many great writers were nominated; and to you, the readers who make it possible for me to do this job. Thank you all.
Also, thanks to Time Inc. for recognizing the work we’re doing at The MMQB. We were honored at the annual company awards ceremony Thursday with The Henry Luce Award for best work by a blog in the Time Inc. empire—specifically for the 14,000-word series and video we ran last December on a week embedded with an NFL officiating crew. It’s one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever worked on, and it proved to me that you can still, in this age of overwhelming NFL coverage, find original projects to educate and entertain people about pro football. Thanks to John DePetro for traipsing around the country with me and producing such strong video work—to ref Gene Steratore’s home in southwestern Pennsylvania while he agonized over grades from a previous game, to back judge Dino Paganelli’s AP history classroom near Grand Rapids to show the real lives of the crew, to umpire Wayne Mackie’s housing job in New York City, to the day-before-the-game meeting at a Chicago airport hotel, and to crazy game 150, the storm-interrupted Ravens-Bears game at Soldier Field. Thanks to the editor, Mark Mravic, who worked long hours to put the piece together and made it look so good and read so well. And thanks to the staff at The MMQB for creating the kind of place that emphasizes new thoughts and new ideas in a business in which originality has become so challenging.
Quotes of the Week
“They respect me as a human being, and as a football player. All the older guys, all the older vets, are showing me the ropes so I can see how the program is run. Chris [Long] is a great mentor. So is Robert Quinn. I’m telling you, they get after it. I’ve got to compete. I’ve got to step my game up to compete with this defensive line. I thought our defensive line at Mizzou was pretty tough. This is a whole new level—the speed, the strength, the everything.”
—St. Louis seventh-round defensive end Michael Sam, on his fellow defensive linemen, after one of his first on-field practices Friday with the Rams, to a group of about a dozen media people in St. Louis.
“They know if you’re going to be tested and when you’re going to be tested. It’s too easy to do right to keep doing wrong. We don’t need that pub.”
—Giants safety Antrel Rolle, after safety Will Hill was suspended for the third straight season because of a positive substance test and then waived by the team, and after cornerback Jayron Hosley was suspended for the first four games of 2014 because of a positive test. Said Rolle: “You can’t really count on Will being able to help us out if he’s being suspended repeatedly, season after season.”
“I talk to those two guys all the time. Every time I hear something that drives me crazy, I say, ‘Sorry George. Sorry Vince.’ I say that probably 20 times a day. There’s s— going on now that those two would roll over in their graves about.”
—John Madden, nodding at a photo of Vince Lombardi and George Halas behind the desk in his office in Pleasanton, Calif., in an interview with Dan Pompei of Sports on Earth.
Pompei wrote a really interesting story about a man in the twilight who seems as vital as ever.
“The time I spent with him, I don’t think I would have been able to be at this point so quickly, if he hadn’t been such a great mentor with me and help me along.’’
—San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who signed a six-year contract worth up to $126 million last week, crediting former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith with a good mentoring job in Kaepernick’s first two years with the team.
Stat of the Week
“We are going to be running back by committee,’’ Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell declared the other day, praising the backup to Marshawn Lynch, second-year back Christine Michael thusly: “He has breakaway speed and power behind his pads.”
Perhaps. But Michael’s record is, at best, spotty. His 2011 season at Texas A&M ended with a torn ACL, his 2012 season was truncated because he had trouble in the A&M spread offense, and his rookie year in Seattle was plagued by poor blocking; he carried only 18 times as a rookie.
The stat: In his past three seasons, two in college and one in the NFL, Michael has a total of 255 carries.
In his past three seasons, Marshawn Lynch has 285, 315 and 301 carries, respectively—more each season than Michael had in his past three combined.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
At the Philadelphia Eagles’ rookie dinner Friday night at Del Frisco’s in Philadelphia—as Tweeted by second-year guard Lane Johnson—the rookies footed the bill for a $17,747.86 dinner. Among the purchases:
A $3,495 bottle of wine, Screaming Eagle 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
$20 for five ginger ales.
$187 for 27 bottles of water.
Hope those signing-bonus checks for the rooks cleared.
Bud Grant coached in six Grey Cups, the championship game of Canadian football. All six Grey Cups pitted his Winnipeg Blue Bombers against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Tweets of the Week
I had a 31st-round grade on Johnny Manziel, think the Padres reached
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) June 7, 2014
In his last season playing baseball, as a Kerrville (Texas) High School junior five springs ago, Manziel batted .416 with seven homers and 35 RBI. The Padres took him in the 28th round of the MLB draft on Saturday.
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.
— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
I like it when New York plays Los Angeles in sporting events because it’s guaranteed that one of them will lose.
— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) June 5, 2014
Tremendous is from Kansas.
I haven’t heard a discussion of cramps this intense since 8th grade health class.
— Jane McManus (@janesports) June 6, 2014
The ESPNNewYork.com writer after the LeBron James/cramps controversy in game one of the NBA championship series.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I’d love to hear what an NFL locker room, or a big-league locker room in baseball or basketball or hockey, would say to a coach who said this publicly: “We cannot win our league this year, because we are not at that level yet.” U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann said to Sam Borden of the New York Times: “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet.” In the last few days, since I derided Klinsmann for saying we cannot win an athletic competition that we, as one of 32 World Cup teams, begin to compete for starting next Monday, I’ve heard all of the theories about why he said it. They are, in no particular order:
• It’s reverse psychology, done to make his players mad at him for giving up, thus creating an us-against-the-world-including-our-coach ethos on the team.
• It adds to the Impossible Dream nature of what the U.S. team is facing.
• It’s a common European way of motivating players. By saying it’s impossible to win, the players will somehow feel they have nothing to lose and be able to play with relaxed minds.
• It takes the pressure off the players by having all the focus and criticism on the coach who says the team has no chance before the biggest soccer tournament in the world.
My point is simple: It’s absurd for a group of players, who have been practicing and drilling and (I’m sure) watching all kinds of video on first-round foes Ghana, Portugal and Germany, to hear from the man leading them into the World Cup that they have no chance to win. I’d love to hear what Herb Brooks would have thought of that form of “motivation.” The U.S. opens World Cup play a week from today against Ghana. I’ll be watching, even though we don’t have a chance.
2. I think Bruce Arians has no prejudice against playing rookies, and he certainly wants to improve his deep receiver speed from 2013, and he has been more impressed with third-round wideout John Brown of Pittsburg (Kans.) State with his 4.34-in-the-40 speed and his quick pickup of the Arizona offense … all of which leads me to believe if you’re drafting your fantasy football team in June, taking a late-round risk on Brown would be a smart idea on a deep roster. The Cardinals, so far, love him.
3. I think Dan Marino, embarrassing non-lawsuit and all, still likely will be hired by the Dolphins for what will begin at least as some sort of ceremonial/advisory role in the front office. Look for Marino to write a letter to commissioner Roger Goodell, and to the Dolphins, explaining his side of how he never intended to sue the league over the head-trauma issue. With all the goodwill Marino has built up over the years with the NFL office and the Dolphins, I’d be surprised if his misstep of last week will cost him a job.
4. I think one of the things that would discourage the NFL from putting the 2015 draft in Arlington, Texas—at the Cowboys’ stadium—is how empty the place would seem for the rounds after the first. I believe the Cowboys could put on a great show for round one. Maybe 50,000 fans, and some good electricity. But the problem with any venue is what happens when the picks are guys the fans have never heard of. Whoever holds the draft next year will have to be sure it can account for the significantly smaller crowds on days two and three (and day four if there is one) by sectioning off the draft room with curtains or whatever. That’s why, as one league operative told me recently, a venue like McCormick Place south of Soldier Field is so attractive. It’s the kind of convention center location that can contract and expand depending on the number of people on hand. Even if Jerryworld puts up barriers, it’s likely still going to look cavernous.
5. I think the biggest reason to like Colin Kaepernick’s contract—if you’re a fan, if you’re the team, and if you’re a competitive player who thinks nothing should be handed to him—is that he’ll get very rich if he’s a good-to-great NFL quarterback over the next six years. If he’s just okay, or he slumps over the next two or three years, the Niners can get out from under an onerous deal and start over at the position without being weighed down by Kaepernick guarantees.
6. I think Rahim Moore of the Denver Broncos deserves some praise this morning. Moore suffered from a potentially catastrophic incidence of compartment syndrome, which Joan Niesen wrote so eloquently about for The MMQB. Then Moore talked about it to the Denver press, and a local runner in Denver was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with compartment syndrome last week. The runner is remaining anonymous for now, but a relative, who also wished to remain anonymous, reached out to me to explain how Moore, once he found out about the patient, wanted to visit him immediately in the hospital. Moore did, last Thursday night. “Rahim prayed with him and inspired him,’’ the relative said. “He dropped what he was doing at 10 o’clock at night and came to the hospital and delivered a message of hope. We are just normal people. We had no expectations that he would come when we notified the Broncos about the situation. But he did. We are overwhelmed. People should know this—they should know what a good person Rahim Moore is.” And so now you hear the testimony about Moore.
7. I think the funniest headline of last week was one about Andrew Luck not being concerned about Colin Kaepernick’s new contract. People: Andrew Luck is not concerned about much of anything that is outside his Colts universe, and he certainly isn’t concerned with what anyone else’s contract is. He knows when it’s time to sign a contract, he’ll get what the market rate is for a player playing his position at whatever level he’s playing at the time. For him to worry about something like that would be incredibly anti-Luck.
8. I think Monica Seles would be one heck of a first lady of Buffalo football.
9. I think when word leaks out of spring practices that a player is not in top shape, the translation is: The guy’s been dogging it this off-season, and this is his warning. That’s what I thought when the Bucs sent word that Da’Quan Bowers, a second-round pick three years ago, wasn’t in good shape at team activities last week. Bowers has played just 1,009 snaps in a disappointing three-year career so far. This has to be his do-or-die season in Tampa.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. That Belmont was really, really fun to watch.
b. I understand the owner of California Chrome being upset that a fresh horse running his first Triple Crown race beat his horse, running for the third time in a little over a month. But saying it’s a “coward’s way out’’ is beyond bush league. Playing by the rules is cowardly? As SI.com’s Tim Layden reported, Belmont winner Tonalist was sick and didn’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby, so obviously he didn’t sit out to conserve energy for the long Belmont.
c. That Maria Sharapova win over Simona Halep at the French Open was a great sports event. I was sure Halep was too powerful for Sharapova early in the third set, but Sharapova proved to be a great champion.
d. The A’s are really fun to watch.
e. Great job, John Romano, on your Don Zimmer column in Tampa Bay. You’ve got to read the ending, folks. You’ll say, “How do you not love Don Zimmer?”
f. Of course, I’m the same guy who watched Zim’s most ignominious moment (not including the 1978 playoff game at Fenway) with Don Banks at a bar in Indianapolis and howled with stunned laughter when Pedro Martinez threw him to the ground by his head—one of the craziest sights I’ve ever seen in sports.
g. Bet you didn’t know (unless you read my Tweet the other day) that Zim homered off Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts (four times) in his major-league career.
h. Coffeenerdness: I give up. I can’t drink any drip coffee but Italian Roast. I am officially the snobbiest coffee snob of all time.
i. Beernerdness: Always happens this way—it’s hot out, it’s near summertime, and I move from heavier to lighter in beer selection.
j. Great opening—would you expect anything less?—from Doc Emrick at the start of Stanley Cup game two Saturday, with a shot of downtown L.A. and Staples Center: “THIS is the city … Los Angeles, California.” If you’re a viewer of a certain age, that was Emrick channeling his inner Jack Webb, and “Dragnet.”
k. Two comments on “All The Way,” the Broadway play that’s heavy on the history of Lyndon Johnson’s early presidency and the election of 1964: Though there were tedious parts and a three-hour play could have easily been two hours and 15 minutes, there were spellbinding segments that made the play enjoyable and worthwhile. And Bryan Cranston, the “Breaking Bad” guy, is so good as LBJ. What an exhausting role. How does he play that role twice in one day when there are matinees? I can’t imagine the yelling and screaming and energy a man expends playing that part for six hours in one day. No wonder he won the Tony Award on Sunday night for best actor. (“All the Way” won for best play.)
l. Think of this: Cranston plays LBJ at 8 p.m. Friday, at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. That’s four times in the span of 45 hours. Just watch Cranston’s exertion level and tell me that’s not an incredible task—particularly for his vocal cords.
The Adieu Haiku
Kaepernick got paid.
Sort of—but it’s a good pact.
Play well, get rich. Good.