Let’s Go Camping
Before training camps begin, we take a spin around the league and identify the person under the most pressure for every team and pick the 10 best storylines. Plus, a complete look at The MMQB camp tour, a HOF conversation and more
Time for the 2015 Training Camp Primer. Everything you need to know about the NFL’s 32 training camps, with some fun on the side. Clip and save.
First things first, though. It was a notable Saturday evening for the Favre family. Not only did the famous Favre, Brett, have his number retired and get enshrined in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in an emotional ceremony witnessed by most of Wisconsin. But a few hours to the southeast, in Canton, Ohio, quarterbacking nephew Dylan Favre had a perfect night in the International Federation of American Football championship game—12 of 12 for 124 yards and a touchdown—in the United States’ 59-12 rout of Japan. Congratulations to Brett Favre on an emotional night and his honors, and congrats to Dylan Favre for his play, and to coach Dan Hawkins’ team for bringing home the gold in the IFAF championship game.
Now for your 2015 camp preview.
Ten best camp stories
1. The fate of Tom Brady. Will he get his four-game suspension reduced? Even if he does, he’ll probably still go to court to overturn what his side believes is a patently unfair ban. Then it’s let the best lawyers win. It’s Jeff Pash (NFL) versus the man the NFL office loves to hate, Jeffrey Kessler (Brady). Either way, second-year man Jimmy Garoppolo is probably going to have to play some for the Patriots (Week 1: versus Big Ben; Week 2: at Rex Ryan), and this camp, for Bill Belichick, will be about getting Garoppolo ready. Hey, here’s a sports quiz for you: Garoppolo is the sixth former Eastern Illinois Panther quarterback to either coach or play in the NFL. Can you name the other five? (Answer at the bottom of page 2.)
[infobox id="46948-4" float="right"]2. The reincarnation of Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly better know what he’s doing. (Somehow, I don’t think that’s the first time that’s been said this off-season.) In the 31 months since New Year’s Day 2013, Bradford, the first pick in the 2010 draft, has played seven football games. He’s lost four. His 2013 and 2014 seasons were both ended by a torn ACL. Kelly acquired Bradford from the Rams in March, then tried like crazy to trade for Marcus Mariota six weeks later. And so this is a mildly important training camp for Bradford. And for Kelly.
3. The Tomsula Era begins. A skeptical Bay Area preps for LAH—Life After Harbaugh—and waits to see how neophyte head coach Jim Tomsula handles the crafting of a struggling quarterback; how to invent a pass-rusher and new linebackers corps; and, in general, how to lead an NFL team with great expectations.
4. Winston and Mariota careen toward a Week 1 showdown. Unless one or both stinks in training camp, Jameis Winston of the Bucs and Marcus Mariota of the Titans will make their professional debuts against each other at the Pirate Ship on Sept. 13. All we’ve heard from off-season work so far is how marvelous each has played, and without question how both are headed for Hall of Fame careers. We shall see. Biggest dates for them this summer: Aug. 28 for Mariota (Week 3 preseason game at Kansas City), Aug. 29 for Winston (Week 3 preseason game versus Cleveland). Logic says each should play into the third quarter of those games, and we’ll get an indication how ready they are for prime time in Week 1.
5. The broken record that is Andy Dalton. Regular-season record in 64 NFL starts: 40-23-1 (four straight winning seasons). Post-season record in four starts: 0-4 (average margin of defeat: 15.0 points). Booed at a celebrity softball game during baseball All-Star Game festivities last week, Dalton begins again, in year five, to try to show Cincinnati, and the football world, that he’s made for prime time. Haven’t seen it yet. This is an important summer for him, but the more important time will be the cold winter that’s coming if he fails again.
6. The Saints, changing on the fly.With ungodly talent on offense, New Orleans has gone 26-24 in the past three seasons. So the Saints jettisoned soft tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle, rebuilt their linebacking corps, re-hired Dennis Allen to help an ailing secondary (and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan) and added C.J. Spiller in hopes of giving Drew Brees a Sproles-type weapon. Brees is 36. This is his 10th year in New Orleans. The Saints drafted a potential heir in the round last spring (Garrett Grayson). Brees’ cap hit is $27.4 million in 2016. In other words, this is sort of a big year for Brees, and he’s got this summer at camp in West Virginia to bond very tightly with some new faces.
7. Mystery Theater in Seattle. Will there be a Super Bowl hangover? Will Russell Wilson sign a new deal this summer? Will Jimmy Graham block? Who from among the vast pool of unknown receivers (Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett, Chris Matthews, Kevin Norwood, David Gilreath) will make the team, and will any contribute like Matthews did in the Super Bowl? Will Darrell Bevell overcome the last offensive call of the Super Bowl? Will ace pass-rusher Michael Bennett stage a wildcat strike if he doesn’t get paid? Will Cary Williams be good enough to replace Byron Maxwell opposite Richard Sherman? Will Frank Clark, the team’s top pick, be able to overcome the stigma of being kicked off Michigan’s team last year after a domestic-violence incident? It’s going to be an interesting summer for the back-to-back NFC champions.
8. The adaptation of a Dolphin named Suh. Ndamukong Suh will impact two franchises this summer. The Lions, who now have a huge hole with the losses of Suh and Nick Fairley in the interior of the defense, had better hope Haloti Ngata can be his classic run-stuffing and penetrating self. And the Dolphins, of course, need to see production and leadership befitting the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
9. How teams use the new PAT rule. I doubt it’s going to be a big change, moving the line of scrimmage for the point after touchdown from the two-yard line to the 15, which the NFL voted to do in May in hopes of making the PAT a slightly more competitive play—and to encourage teams to go for two more often than the 59 times they did in 2014.
10. Jay Cutler trying to prove to yet another regime he’s worth the trouble. Now coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace climb aboard the Cutler roller coaster. The fifth coach and fifth GM to lord over Cutler in this, his 10th year in the NFL. The roster of overlording sadness:
|Seasons||Coach/GM Combination||Cutler W-L|
|2006-08||Coach Mike Shanahan/GM Ted Sundquist||17-20|
|2009||Coach Josh McDaniels/GM Brian Xanders||0-0 (Traded after preseason dispute with McDaniels.)|
|2009-11||Coach Lovie Smith/GM Jerry Angelo||25-18|
|2012||Coach Lovie Smith/GM Phil Emery||10-5|
|2013-14||Coach Marc Trestman/GM Phil Emery||10-16|
|2015||Coach John Fox/GM Ryan Pace||--|
Nine seasons, one playoff win.
I was going to have a segment about franchise relocation. But it’s not a training camp story. Plus, we’re all bored by franchise relocation now. One or two among the Rams, Raiders and Chargers will move to Los Angeles in 2016. We don’t know how many. We don’t know who’s going where. We’ll let you know when it happens. Play-by-play of franchise shifts: necessary (I suppose), but really boring.[pagebreak]
Feeling the heat
Thirty-two teams, 32 folks in the spotlight during training camp and beyond:
New England: Logan Ryan, cornerback. All the third-year man from Rutgers has to do is replace Darrelle Revis. He’s not alone in corners under pressure in New England. Brandon Browner’s gone too, and a cast of thousands has lined up (Malcolm Butler, perhaps?) to take his job.
Seattle: Tyler Lockett, wide receiver. GM John Schneider traded four picks between 95 and 181 to deal for Lockett at number 69. With how good the Seahawks have been making late picks, that’s a lot of draft capital. Lockett’s Kansas State numbers (last two years: 187 catches, 22 TDs, 14.9-yard average per catch) have Seattle conjuring thoughts of the next Golden Tate.
Green Bay: Damarious Randall, defensive back. Don’t know if he’ll play cornerback (where he’ll start camp) or safety, but I’m betting corner, after the losses of Davin House and Tramon Williams in free agency. Green Bay needs a playmaker in the secondary. That’s what Randall was drafted to be.
Indianapolis: Phillip Dorsett, wide receiver. With the Colts allowing 4.5 yards per rush in 2013, and 4.3 yards per rush last year, and with the Patriots rolling over the Colts for 177 rushing yards in the AFC title game, you’d have thought they’d have gone defensive tackle early in the draft. But no. The speedy Dorsett, who has Mike Mayock in his corner, will have to show, particularly after the departure of Reggie Wayne, that he can step in and be a factor early.
[infobox id="46948-3" float="right"]Denver: Ty Sambrailo, left tackle. The rookie second-rounder will compete with Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield, but John Elway didn’t use a second-round pick on a tackle to see a street free-agent come in to beat him out now that Ryan Clady’s out for the year and cannot protect Peyton Manning’s blind side.
Baltimore: Maxx Williams, tight end. Joe Flacco desperately needs a tight end. The Ravens popped champagne when he was available to them in the second round, and they’re trying to hide their enthusiasm for him. August is a huge month for him, what with Baltimore opening with three of four on the road—at Denver, at Oakland, Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh. Tough sledding. Flacco needs weaponry.
Dallas: Greg Hardy, defensive end. This summer, he needs to show the kind of pass-rush force he’s going to be, whether he plays 75 percent of the game for Dallas or some higher number. Dallas doesn’t have another rusher in his league.
Carolina: Devin Funchess, wide receiver. Up to him to show in Spartanburg this summer that GM Dave Gettlemen didn’t draft him a round early. Oh, and Cam Newton needs him desperately.
Cincinnati: Geno Atkins, defensive tackle. He wasn’t pure Atkins last year, and the Cincinnati defense needs to see that penetrating force back to pre-ACL surgery form this summer.
Pittsburgh: Senquez Golson, cornerback. The Steelers, with nominal starters William Gay and Cortez Allen, need at the very least nickel help, and soon. Golson, the SEC interceptions leader with 10 last year, is going to see action early and often.
Detroit: Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle. No Suh. No Fairley. It’s Ngata, and a cast of several. I hope Haloti knows what’s he’s gotten himself into.
Arizona: James Bettcher, defensive coordinator. He might be the least-known coordinator in recent NFL history. Bettcher, 36, coached the outside linebackers last year, and coach Bruce Arians, in naming Bettcher, made it clear he didn’t want a big adjustment period post-Todd Bowles. “No new language,” said Arians. “Same defense, same philosophy.” Sean Weatherspoon and LaMarr Woodley will play big roles in determining whether Bettcher succeeds.
Atlanta: Brooks Reed, outside linebacker. The new head coach, Dan Quinn, comes from Seattle with the rep of getting a pass-rush from a variety of people. Reed had a great start and middling finish to his career in Houston, and he’s an essential piece to what Quinn needs for his defense.
Buffalo: Tyrod Taylor, quarterback. I don’t know. You don’t know. It could be Matt Cassel. It probably won’t be E.J. Manuel. But I know Rex Ryan. He’s going to play the best guy, and I do think he’s going to be tempted by the run/pass combo platter of the former Ravens’ backup.
Chicago: Jay Cutler, quarterback. Sorry. With Chicago, I could throw in some fancy analysis and talk about rookie wideout Kevin White or the impact of John Fox or precocious pass-rusher Pernell McPhee. But this team, this summer, needs to feel Cutler’s on his game and is the long-term guy.
Cleveland: Danny Shelton, nose tackle. Amazing, considering the strong defensive pedigree of head coach Mike Pettine: Cleveland had the worst run defense in the league (141.6 rush yards per game surrendered) last year, and Shelton is going to have to show from the first practice that the porousness stops now.
[infobox id="46948-6" float="right"]Houston: Ryan Mallett, quarterback. The Texans will give Brian Hoyer and Mallett good chances to win the starting job. But Mallett has the higher upside, and I expect coach Bill O’Brien to give Mallett a very long look over the next six weeks.
Jacksonville: Blake Bortles, quarterback. Trying not to be cliché here. But the Jags’ defense is going to be good enough to be competitive. The only way this will be a .500 or better team is if Bortles and an all-green wide-receiver group make huge progress in training camp.
Kansas City: Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver. Not just because the Chiefs paid him an incredible sum ($11 million a year), but because Alex Smith simply has to throw the ball more, and more efficiently, downfield for the Chiefs to seriously challenge Denver for AFC West supremacy.
Miami: Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle. Miami’s paying $2.3 million a year more than J.J. Watt. Not much to live up to there.
Minnesota: Eric Kendricks, middle linebacker. Amazing to think a second-round pick could be the most important element of Mike Zimmer’s defense. But everything around the middle seems bolstered (cornerback is a strength, and there will be enough pass-rush), and the instinctive Kendricks needs to show in training camp that he can be trusted to be at least a two-down player in the Minnesota defense.
New Orleans: Anthony Spencer, outside linebacker. He showed flashes of greatness in Dallas. Rob Ryan needs a rusher other than Cam Jordan to scare offensive coordinators. Your move, Mr. Spencer.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham, wide receiver. He missed much of the offseason last year plus four games in the season to a hamstring injury. Then he ripped the league apart for three months. More hammy issues this offseason. Beckham will be all-world—but only if he can stay on the field. Can he this summer?
New York Jets: Todd Bowles, head coach. The circus has left town. The boring Bowles is here. The Jets are ready to dial down the attention on the head coach—and to see what different ways Bowles can get to the quarterback. He made do with much less in Arizona last year, and that’s a big reason why he got the Jet job. Look for more secondary pass-rush than the Jets had under Ryan, for better or for worse.
Oakland: Amari Cooper, wide receiver. He’s gotten rave reviews in May and June. Now he’ll be tested under the challenging August practices of a coach who treats training camp very seriously, Jack Del Rio. Look for the smooth Cooper to be the weapon outside that Derek Carr has desperately needed.
Philadelphia: Sam Bradford, quarterback. Next!
St. Louis: Todd Gurley, running back. I know, I know. He’s not ready. He’s not going to be the factor in 2015 that he will eventually be in 2016, when he’s totally healed from his November 2015 ACL surgery. But here’s the thing: Jeff fisher is determined to be a running team to supplement new quarterback Nick Foles. I know Tre Mason had a nice 2014, but the only way this team wins double digits is if Gurley, the number one player on the Rams’ draft board, shows flashes in training camp that he will be a major factor for much of this year.
[infobox id="46948-2" float="right"]San Diego: Melvin Gordon, running back. The Chargers were disappointed in Ryan Mathews never being able to be a workhorse back. Now comes Gordon. “He looks like a bigger Jamaal Charles,” said the prescient Ourlads Guide after the Chargers’ offseason work. He’ll need to continue that this summer, so coach Mike McCoy doesn’t think he has to lean too much on Philip Rivers this year.
And now, for the last four teams, I hate going all cliché, but let’s be honest …
San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick, quarterback. Could have said Jim Tomsula, obviously, but that’s a bit of a cliché. The Niners aren’t positive they’ve got their quarterback of 2018 on the roster right now, and the time for Kaepernick to prove to a new coaching staff is this summer.
Tampa Bay: Jameis Winston, quarterback. I like the fact that Dirk Koetter, Winston's offensive coordinator and quarterback-whisperer, is apparently going to be tough on his little mistakes. Winston can’t be as careless with the picks as he was last year at Florida State.
Tennessee: Marcus Mariota, quarterback. He’ll be adapting to the stylings of head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has never been a mobile-quarterback guy. Now he is. I look for Whisenhunt to be significantly flexible with Mariota. Their jobs depend on each other.
Washington: Robert Griffin III, quarterback. Can RGIII have a second gangbusters act in DC? That’s what this summer will begin to prove. I like the idea of Sean McVay, the aggressive and thoughtful and young offensive coordinator, being a second voice besides Jay Gruden’s to help Griffin try to prove wrong his many doubters, inside and outside the Beltway.
* * *
First men up: How fitting
The Steelers and Vikings play the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 9, and because of league rules that say teams can’t practice until two weeks before their first preseason game, they’re the two teams holding the first practices this weekend.
I say fitting because of this coincidence: These are the teams that have been at their current camp sites the longest. It’s the Golden Year for both. The Vikings moved to summer camp in Mankato, 81 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, in 1966. The Steelers moved to summer camp in Latrobe, 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, in 1966. So this is the 50th year for both teams in their summer homes.
Minnesota has the first public workout Sunday, with a 10:30 a.m. Central Time walk-through practice at Minnesota State University-Mankato, followed by a regular 2:45 p.m. CT practice. It’s the first chance the world will have a chance to see Adrian Peterson practicing with the Vikings since last summer, after his exile while his child-abuse trial was heard and while he was placed on a form of paid leave by the league.
Pittsburgh practices Sunday afternoon at 2:55 p.m. Eastern Time on Chuck Noll Field, the 1,050-seat stadium that is the home field for the St. Vincent College Bearcats of the Division III Presidents Athletic Conference. The field sits in a bowl beneath a high hill, and if you’re lucky, one day after practice you might see Mean Joe Greene smoking a stogie on a bench overlooking the field.
The other 30 teams begin practicing July 29 through Aug. 1. Check local listings, as they say.
* * *
Eastern Illinois quiz answer
One’s a surprise: Cincinnati’s fifth-round pick in 1983, Jeff Christensen, who had one victory in his NFL career, as a strike-team quarterback for the Browns in 1987. The other four you may well know: coaches Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton and Brad Childress, and, of course, quarterback Tony Romo of the Cowboys.[pagebreak]
All Aboard the Training Camp Trip!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
I think back to 1984, when I took two days away from the Bengals beat for the Cincinnati Enquirer to go the camp of the archrival Steelers a six-hour drive away in Latrobe, Pa. In those days, a visiting writer from the division got 20 minutes with Chuck Noll and 20 minutes in Mike Webster’s room and time after practice with John Stallworth, all one-on-one. And then a toddy with Myron Cope after practice, in the media room, as I wrote and he told stories. My toddy was a Rolling Rock, his something slightly stronger. Those were the days.
But these still are the days. I love my trips around the league to as many camps as I can reach each year. This year, weather and The MMQB van permitting, I’ll visit 20 training camps and touch between 21 and 26 teams. Times have changed, but this is still the time when I can get Ben Roethlisberger for a few minutes under a shade tree in Latrobe, Arthur Blank over a mesclun salad in the Falcons cafeteria, Blake Bortles in the Jags’ luxurious digs (seriously) in the bowels of their stadium, Marcus Mariota on a steaming day in Nashville, Mike McCarthy on a bench next to the Don Hutson Center practice field, Doug Whaley for coffee at the Starbucks in Pittsford, Chip Kelly somewhere in Eagledom, Russell Wilson for a few pensive minutes coming off the practice field in Renton, Tony Romo at the Cowboys’ hotel in temperate Oxnard, Peyton Manning and a succession of Broncos (I somehow manage to get eight or 10 of them on a profitable day in Denver).
And there’s the great barbeque in Richmond, the blackberry milkshake at the Pittsford (N.Y.) Dairy Barn, the four-way at Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, the pepperoni pie at Jake’s Stadium Pizza in Mankato, the Greenville Drive game in South Carolina (with the faux Green Monster in left field for the Red Sox minor-league team), the craft beer bar outside Milwaukee … I mean, I love Americana stuff, and there’s nothing like NFL training-camp Americana.
So here’s where I’ll be going, including the 15-day, Baltimore-to-Philadelphia chunk aboard The MMQB van with some of our team. If you see us on our East Coast-to deep South-to-Midwest-to-East trek, please honk and say hi; we’ll be in a black van with our logo on the side.
|July 26||Minnesota||Mankato, Minn.|
|July 27||Pittsburgh||Latrobe, Pa.|
|July 30||Baltimore||Owings Mills, Md.|
|July 31||Washington||Richmond, Va.|
|Aug. 1||Carolina||Spartanburg, S.C.|
|Aug. 2||Atlanta||Flowery Branch, Ga.|
|Aug. 3||Jacksonville||Jacksonville, Fla.|
|Aug. 4||Tampa Bay||Tampa, Fla.|
|Aug. 6||Chicago||Bourbonnais, Ill.|
|Aug. 7||Green Bay||Green Bay, Wis.|
|Aug. 8||LAUNDRY DAY||Wrigley Field, if we’re lucky|
|Aug. 9||Indianapolis||Anderson, Ind.|
|Aug. 10||Detroit||Allen Park, Mich.|
|Aug. 11||*||Cincinnati or Berea, Ohio|
|Aug. 12||Buffalo||Pittsford, N.Y.|
|Aug. 17||Seattle||Renton, Wash.|
|Aug. 18||#St. Louis||Oxnard, Cal.|
|Aug. 19||Dallas||Oxnard, Cal.|
|Aug. 20||Denver||Englewood, Colo.|
|Aug. 21||San Francisco||Santa Clara, Cal.|
|Aug. 22||San Diego vs. Arizona||Glendale, Ariz.|
|Aug. 28||New England vs. Carolina||Charlotte (probable)|
|Aug. 29||Cleveland vs. Tampa Bay||Tampa (probable)|
* On Aug. 11, The MMQB van will go to either Cincinnati (for Giants-Bengals combined practices) or to Berea (for a Browns’ morning practice). To be determined closer to the date.
# On Aug. 18, the Rams and Cowboys will be conducting a joint practice at the Dallas training camp in Oxnard. I’ll concentrate on the Rams on the 18th, Dallas on the 19th.
As for the places I will not touch … you’ll read dispatches by the rest of our staff. In brief:
• Jenny Vrentas will be at Patriots camp for several days, and at Miami, Buffalo, and the New York Jets and New York Giants. She’ll also be working on a couple of special projects for us this summer.
• Robert Klemko will be on the van with me for part of the trip, and he will break off to cover New Orleans, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
• Andy Benoit, who is in the midst of doing 32 team previews at his home base in Boise, will break away to do a short West Coast swing at San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego.
• Emily Kaplan will be on the road part-time and running our camp blog full-time.
• John DePetro, our videographer, will be on hand in many of our stops to bring you a close look at everything.
It’s impossible for me to hit every camp, of course, and to see every team live. There’s a lot to write, and a lot of ground to cover. Plus, I want our staff to be able to get to know as many people on as many teams as possible. So for the teams I do not see now, I hope to see them at some point during the season. I will do the best I can to get to as many of the 32 as I can.
The drivers of The MMQB van, staff writer Kaplan and our new hire, administrative assistant/writer Kalyn Kahler, will chip in with reports from the camps we visit. Kaplan and Kahler will make it all go.
In six days it begins. We at The MMQB look forward to a great third season covering the game.
* * *
The MMQB Fan Blog: We Need Your Help.
So, we’re going to try a little experiment this year. We’re going to run a fan blog intermittently during the season, and we’re looking for some fans to help us run it. The idea is to have a fan of all 32 teams writing occasionally during the season—maybe when your team is playing a rival, or when your team has just won or lost a huge game, or when there’s something big affecting your team. We’re not sure now how much we’re going to use it, or when exactly we will use it. We look at it as something that can supplement the reader experience. When the Ravens play the Steelers, for instance, we may ask our Pittsburgh and Baltimore bloggers to write short pieces on what it means to hate the opposing team—and why the feelings are so strident.
If you’re interested in helping us out—for a small fee—please send us a 200-word essay on the reason why you love the team you love. Send it to email@example.com, and we’ll pore over them and contact you if we’re interested in your help.
Send those pieces to us by Thursday, and we’ll let you know in the next couple of weeks what our plans are. Thanks for your help. I think the fan blog is going to help make our third year the best year we’ve had.[pagebreak]
Quotes of the Week
“You have to know my daughter, Breleigh. She just turned 16. She’s timid. But she comes home from school one day, and uncharacteristically, she says, ‘Did you hear they sold 67,000 tickets to your ceremony in an hour and a half?’ I said yeah. She said, ‘They must really like you.’ That says a lot about the situation. What a way to show you they welcome you back in the family. What an honor. That’s why Green Bay is Green Bay.”
—Brett Favre, on Saturday in Green Bay, as he returned for the Packers to honor him by placing him in the Packers Hall of Fame and also by retiring his number.
It was like a game day in Green Bay. Full parking lots, grilling out, drinking, throwing the football around, guys in Favre jerseys, some even in Vikings Favre jerseys, 67,000 people filling Lambeau Field to watch the ceremony—happening inside—on the big screen. Quite a night in Green Bay.
“Van's historic radio calls of Bills games over the years will forever resonate with our fans. His Hall of Fame and Wall of Fame talent was overshadowed only by his engaging personality, his witty sense of humor and his love for the Bills. We will all dearly miss Uncle Van, but his legacy will remain deeply embedded in our franchise's history.”
—Buffalo president Russ Brandon, on Van Miller, the team’s longtime play-by-play man, who died Saturday at 87.
Miller called the first game in Bills’ history, in 1960, at the Polo Grounds. (New York Titans 27, Bills 3.) He called his last one in 2003. He ranged from Elbert Dubenion to Drew Bledsoe. His familiar voice was so distinctive, not quite in the way that Myron Cope’s was distinctive in Pittsburgh, but close. Ask the last three generations of Bills fans about their memories of the team, and Van Miller will be a part. Fans still talk about the opening game in his last season, the stunning 31-0 shellacking of the New England Patriots. Near the end, Miller exclaimed, “AM I DREAMING?!”
More importantly, he was such a good man in the community and to everyone he met. I always felt coming into Buffalo that Miller was the most Chamber of Commerce radio guy in the league. What do you need … How’s the family … What do you think of our team … Just a gem of a guy. He’ll be missed.
Oh. And Miller did the Buffalo Braves on radio too. And Niagara basketball—with the great Calvin Murphy. And he was sports director of a TV station—and a weatherman too. And a game show host. They don’t make ‘em like Van Miller anymore.
“The All-Star Game was just the other night. When you think of Hall of Fame, you think of Mickey Mantle and Frank Gifford and Chuck Bednarik and people like that, not people like me. So it’s almost difficult to get your head around it.”
—Former Bills, Panthers and Colts GM Bill Polian, on his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Polian will be enshrined Aug. 8 with seven others.
“You’ve got way over $100 million in the bank. You’ve got a beautiful wife. You’ve got a beautiful family. The natural tendency would be to say, ‘I can lie in my silk sheets and just enjoy life now. I don’t need football.’ But I’m telling you: This is the best thing that could have happened to Tom Brady. This will rejuvenate him.”
—Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, on ex-teammate Tom Brady, in Jenny Vrentas’ story Friday on Brady being the most influential person in the 2015 NFL season.
Our summer series, The MMQB 100, included the offbeat (Roger Goodell-questioner Rachel Nichols at 99, Fan Duel CEO and founder Nigel Eccles at 86 for the influence of fantasy football, Russell Wilson agent Mark Rodgers at 48, Green Bay wideout Jared Abbrederis at 24, repping the no-names of the league, one of whom will have a Malcolm Butler-like effect on the 2015 season) to the obvious (Roger Goodell at 2, Niners coach Jim Tomsula at 17, NFL line judge Sarah Thomas at 19, Jameis Winston-tutor Dirk Koetter at 73).
“I knew that time would be a determining factor in how all this would play out. I wasn’t waiting by the phone. In the back of my mind, I knew this was going to happen. Whether it was 30 years or five years, I knew it was going to happen. Even if I didn’t want it to. And I just remember thinking, ‘Boy, things have to get better in a hurry.’ Well, it was amazing how quickly things went back to normal.”
—Brett Favre, to Greg Bishop in a story for The MMQB, on the speed in which Favre and the Packers kissed and made up after their ugly 2008 divorce. Favre was enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame and had his number retired Saturday night in Green Bay.
“I wonder how Floyd feels about being beat by a woman for once.”
—UFC champion Ronda Rousey, on the red carpet at the ESPYs Wednesday, on how champion Floyd Mayweather, who has served two months in jail for domestic violence, would think of Rousey winning the network’s award for “Best Fighter.”
“He molded two championship units, the No-Names and the Killer B’s, and was innovative in the way he used personnel. He pioneered situational substitutions with the ‘53’ defense that changed the way the game was played on that side of the ball. If there was a Hall of Fame for assistant coaches, he would be one of the very first inductees.”
—Former Dolphins coach Don Shula, on the death of his longtime defensive coach Bill Arnsparger on Friday.
“Let me tell you something about Las Vegas. A million and a half people live in Las Vegas, and Las Vegas is the only town in the world where my gig works … Every three or four days half a million people leave, and half a million people come in. Last year 40 million people visitded Las Vegas. And what do most of them have in common? They have money to spend—and they want to see a celebrity.”
—Pete Rose in Tom Verducci’s excellent profile of the 74-year-old Rose in this week’s Sports Illustrated.
Pete Rose Stat of the Week, via Verducci: Rose signed autographs for money on 113 of the first 181 days of 2015. What a country.
Stat of the Week
One of the difficult tasks for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection sub-committee for contributors is to figure out how much each contributor meant to the game in his time in it.
(A brief explanation to the Hall process: There are 46 voting members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. The committee has two voting sub-committees, each with nine members: the veterans sub-committee and the contributors sub-committee. This year, five members of each committee will meet to choose the nominees to have their cases heard by the 46 members for the Class of 2016 the day before the Super Bowl. The Hall last year had two contributors, Ron Wolf and Bill Polian, nominated, and both got the requisite number of votes to make it. The seniors nominated Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff as its lone nominee in 2015; he also was voted in. This year, as will happen for five years, the process will be flipped: two senior nominees and one contributor. The Hall wanted to work on the backlog of contributors—owners, scouts, commissioners, GMs, and other off-field personnel—because so few had been elected over the years.)
Two of the most interesting cases up for consideration when the contributors sub-committee meets later this summer are two former owners, Denver’s Pat Bowlen and San Francisco’s Eddie DeBartolo Jr. The big question for both is: How much credit should owners get for their teams’ success. It’s always a struggle in the minds of the voters. Both owners clearly created a culture of winning that lasted almost through every year of their reigns. But how much of the 49ers’ or Broncos' greatness was the quarterbacking and coaching? That’s the tough call.
A few numbers that could tilt the ledger for one of the men in the coming years, as the committee considers the contributor class:
He actively owned the team from 1984 to 2014, before stepping away due to Alzheimer’s Disease. The winningest regular-season teams from 1984 to 2013:
- San Francisco: 295-182-2 (.618)
- Denver: 289-189-1 (.604)
- New England: 284-195-0 (.593)
- Pittsburgh: 280-198-1 (.586)
- Green Bay: 271-206-2 (.568)
Fewest losing seasons, 1984-2013: Denver, 5.
Three stats from the DeBartolo Era—he owned the Niners from 1977 to 2000—that wow me:
- San Francisco had a league-record streak of 16 seasons in which the team won 10 or more regular-season games, from 1983 to 1998.
- The Niners won five Super Bowls in a 14-year span, with two head coaches, two quarterbacks, four defensive coordinators and three general managers/directors of football operations.
- The Niners won 10 or more regular-season games in 17 of DeBartolo’s final 19 seasons as owner. Post-DeBartolo, the Niners won 10 or more regular season games in two of the first 11 years.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
A kicker's deal got lost in the wake of the Justin Houston/Dez Bryant/Demaryius Thomas contracts totaling $241 million. It has to be a sign of great progress for special-teams respect in the NFL that Gostkowski, 31, is going to make $10.3 million in the next year and a half. Kickers' lives might be getting more lucrative.
If Gostkowski plays out his new contract with New England, that would mean the Patriots would have started 23 consecutive seasons with two kickers—Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski—from 1996 to 2018.
There’s only one asterisk on the stat. Shayne Graham kicked in eight regular-season games and one playoff game when Gostkowski was hurt in 2010.
This should interest everyone, not just Broncos fans: When President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders, one of those who got the good news was Katina Smith, the mother of Demaryius Thomas. She was imprisoned in 2000, when Thomas was 12, for drug trafficking in Georgia. Smith has never seen Thomas play football, through his college career at Georgia Tech or in his five seasons as a Bronco.
Smith will get out of prison sometime in November.
“I look forward to her coming to a game,” Thomas said. “She’ll probably be nervous. She’s never flown.”
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Since I didn't go anywhere this week, I thought I’d give you a taste of a cool event in New York: Boomer Esiason’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe, a four-mile run through Central Park on Saturday morning to raise money for Esiason’s lifelong passion—eradicating cystic fibrosis, which son Gunnar is battling. I ran it along with about 5,000 others at 8 a.m., trying to beat the rain and a potentially violent storm coming in as we ran through the park. These races are so well-run by the New York Road Runners (and Esiason’s foundation), with water stations every mile and even one misting station, even though it wasn’t an oppressive morning. The main thing is benefiting Esiason’s search for a cure for CF, of course. But for so many who don’t get to run through the park, running through this peerless city oasis is such a great treat, and one I would recommend for anyone who ever visits New York. The internal road winding its way from midtown to the top of the park around 110th Street, along the East Side, and back down the West Side, is exactly 6.2 miles, a perfect 10k for those who want a good test. And it’s not flat, which you would think a New York Park would be. There’s a .45-mile hill at the top of the park that will really test a good runner. You get such motivation to run, even a rank amateur like me, because there are so many people on a weekend morning running too. On Saturday, the rain hit (for me) at the 2.8-mile mark, and it actually was welcome, even when it became a downpour half a mile from the finish.
My time: 36 minutes, 38 seconds, which put me in the meaty part of the curve, as they say, good for 2,475th place. I guess I should look on the bright side: 2,474 runners beat me, and I beat 2,367. Oh, and I was unhurt.
Tweets of the Week
Am I really this small? Favre and Coach Holgrem pic.twitter.com/3CbMEBhMpB— Greta Van Susteren (@greta) July 18, 2015
The FOX News Channel host, at the Brett Favre festivities over the weekend in Green Bay. It’s “Holmgren,” Greta, but we get the point. (She corrected the misspelling in a follow-up tweet.)
Cake maker, You Had One Job! pic.twitter.com/MhxOawQB3r— You had one job (@_youhadonejob) July 17, 2015
In light of yesterday's events, I have a suggestion for ESPN officials regarding the 2016 Arthur Ashe Courage Award: Steve Gleason. #DoIt— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) July 16, 2015
Congress last week passed a law (President Obama must sign it into law, which he is expected to do) to enable patients with ALS and other debilitating disorders to have the right to modern technology such as the communications device used by Gleason, who has ALS, to type with his eyes. Gleason was crucial in getting the legislation passed.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the football world lost a valuable person Friday with the death of Bill Arnsparger at 88. Arnsparger was the defensive mastermind of the unbeaten Dolphins team in 1972, and the father of the Zone Blitz. (Heck of a résumé, even if those are the only two things he ever did. And they’re not.) But I’ve always been fascinated by Arnsparger’s role with the Zone Blitz. In 1984, the Bengals had an imaginative rookie head coach, Sam Wyche, and an imaginative first-year defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau. In those days—and still today, for the most part—the Bengals used their coaches as scouts for the draft. In 1984, the Bengals had three first-round draft picks, and the assistants were beating the bushes to see every prime prospect in America. So LeBeau journeyed to LSU to scout a meager crop of Tigers that spring, and spent an afternoon with LSU defensive boss Arnsparger. At the time, who could blame LeBeau for simply inheriting a good defense—the ’83 Bengals allowed a league-beat 270.4 yards a game, 23 yards fewer than the number two Saints—and being a caretaker. But he didn’t. That day in Baton Rouge, LeBeau looked at lots of things LSU was doing that the NFL wasn’t. Namely, dropping defensive linemen and linebackers into shallow zones, covering mostly backs and tight ends on wheel routes and shallow crosses, while unexpectedly blitzing corners or safeties off the edges. When LeBeau left campus and flew on to his next stop, he took a napkin on his Delta flight and began doodling X’s and O’s, imagining dropping traditional but athletic defensive ends Eddie Edwards and Ross Browner into coverage, while letting his defensive backs apply pressure. A few years ago, talking to LeBeau about it, I recall him telling me, “I owe a lot of credit to Bill Arnsparger. He really taught me a lot about the scheme.” Think of the Zone Blitz’s effect on football, and you’ve got to think of Arnsparger’s last effect too. He’ll be missed.
[infobox id="46948-4" float="right"]2. I think this is what I’d do on the Tom Brady sanction if I were Roger Goodell: I’d announce I’m deferring all punishment until the end of the 2015 season while the air pressure in footballs pre-game, at halftime and post-game is studied in 267 regular- and post-season games. It is a fact that air pressure in footballs has never been measured at halftime and post-game, and has never been recorded before, during and after games. So, to see if the variance in pressure in the Patriots footballs from the AFC Championship Game was indeed unusual, let’s have a body of work to compare them to—footballs in the heat of September and the cold of December and January. Basically, despending on which physics expert you believe, it’s either a stretch to think the Patriots’ footballs deflated as much as they did by halftime of the game against Indy Jan. 18, or a perfectly normal occurrence. This is too important, the legacy of one of the game’s all-time greats, to hand down discipline without being more sure than anyone could be now about Brady’s guilt.
3. I think that has as much chance of happening as me beating out Peyton Manning for the Denver quarterback job this year. Or any year. Till he’s 94.
4. I think, though, the only downside on that for Goodell is to be ripped for ruling precipitously on Brady in the first place, after Ted Wells’ report had much circumstantial but no damning provable evidence. But I think it takes a leader to stand up and say, “We’re going to be measuring the air pressure in football for the first time ever this season, before and during and after games. And this is too important an issue to not have all the evidence in-house before we make a ruling.”
5. I think I really had Ace Sanders pegged wrong. I was sure after a trip to Jaguars camp in 2013 that he’d be the poor man’s Tavon Austin. Similar size, similar quickness … just not the same college production and versatility. But Sanders got the four-game substance suspension, and he couldn’t break out of the Jags’ crowded young-receiver pack. I still might make a waiver claim on him for receiver depth if I churned the roster in Washington, Tampa Bay, San Francisco or Kansas City.
6. I think those teams, plus New England, would be the best candidates to try to get one more year out of 36-year-old Reggie Wayne, who is only 2.5 years removed from a 106-catch season. He seems determined to play one more year. If you’re Bill Belichick, aren’t you wondering if Wayne can have a good enough camp to beat out Brian Tyms or Josh Boyce or Brandon Gibson? One of those receivers, at least, is likely to make the 53-man roster. My curiosity would be piqued if I were Belichick. I’d want to see Wayne for five weeks, if for no other reasons than his professionalism would rub off on the nine or 10 other receivers in camp.
7. I think I’ve always wondered—and my wonderment didn’t ebb last week, seeing Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas sign five-year, $70-million contracts on the same day, after much saber-rattling by agents and players, and charges of collusion against the Cowboys and Broncos—this about the NFL negotiating process: Why can’t owners collude but agents can? I get it, sort of. Owners colluding is price-fixing, and that’s certainly wrong. Now, I have no idea what the representatives for Thomas and Bryant said to each other during the process. But what if—if—an agent for one said to an agent for the other, Our floor is five years and $70 million, We’re not signing for a dime less. So stick to your guns. If we stick to that number, you’ll end up getting that too.
[infobox id="46948-1" float="right"]8. I think you’ve got to love Rex Ryan. After he went up and sky-dove with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team Friday, his first words on the ground were: “That was awesome. Ready to go again.”
9. I think if major league baseball was major league football, baseball fathers would schedule one national TV game—a big one, with the defending World Series champ hosting—every Thursday following the major-league All Star Game. As someone who sat home Thursday night and pondered what to do without baseball on, I can tell you I’d have taken ChiSox-Phils. Imagine if baseball put Cardinals-Giants on at 8 p.m., and celebrated the return to baseball? It used to be that most, if not all, teams played the Thursday after the All-Star Game. Four days without most baseball is a long time. A marquee game on the fourth night would be terrific.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I just don’t think I could jump out of a plane.
b. I was troubled at first with Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ashe award at the ESPYs—I recognized the huge leap for Jenner, to be sure, but there were others during the year with tremendously courageous stories—but not anymore. Jenner did something to help so many transgender people, and to show those who would bully them that they’re going to stand up for themselves and not be ashamed. It was a great moment, I thought.
c. Memo to NASA: Thanks for finding Pluto, and showing it to us. That is a great example of human ingenuity.
d. Imagine the world being this old, and seeing one of the planets for the first time, and being able to make out what appear to be mountain ranges and icy plains from the incredible photos sent back to earth. “I may be a little biased, but I think the solar system saved the best for last,” said NASA’s Alan Stern.
e. I went to a reading of “Go Set a Watchman,” the new Harper Lee book, in Manhattan the other night. Mary Badham, who played Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,’’ read, then answered some questions for the crowd at the 92nd Street Y. Disappointed in a few things. One: I don’t know if Lee really wanted this book published; all her life, she said, essentially, she had one book, and now, as she sits in an Alabama nursing home, infirm, a book just appears. How do we know she wanted this out? We don’t. After reading several reports in the New York Times about differing explanations about how the manuscript surfaced, I don’t feel good about supporting the book, and I won’t be buying it or reading it. Two: I’d have liked to have heard something from Badham, who is in touch with Lee, about whether she thought Lee wanted the book published. But she wasn’t asked. Rather, she may have been asked, but the host of the program didn’t ask her the question. Always a danger when the form of audience Q&A is the written question on note card. That way, of course, all the questions can be filtered, and only the harmless ones get asked.
f. Re the British Open: Dustin Johnson is a beautiful chipper of the ball.
g. For the first time ever, I enjoyed the Home Run Derby last week. The drama of Todd Frazier at home, winning at the buzzer a couple of times, was the key. But the change in format was good. Still too much dead time, though. That should be a 90-minutes exercise, not one stretching two-and-half hours.
h. Happy 75th birthday, Joe Torre.
[infobox id="46948-5" float="right"]i. Zack Greinke hasn't allowed a non-All-Star Game earned run in 37 days. His ERA is 1.30. He outdueled Scherzer on the road Sunday. What a year.
j. Jacob deGrom isn’t quite ’99 Pedro, but that was a ridiculous 10-pitch, strikeout-the-side display in the All-Star Game.
k. The most valuable trade chip down the stretch in baseball, it seems to me, is Aroldis Chapman. He’s got to have one of the scariest fastballs of all time.
l. Coffeenerdness: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf cannot be overlooked. That’s one fine vanilla latte they make.
m. Beernerdness: Sitting outside, drinking Peroni, really cold, on an 87-degree, humid day. That’s a heck of a summer pastime.
n. Really enjoyed this piece on Russell Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, by Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Enlightening, and a good example of what I’ve thought all along: Rodgers’ experience doing hardball baseball negotiations is not going to make him afraid to take the heat on Wilson and could—could, not will—drive him to either free agency or a record contract in Seattle.
o. “The Art of Smart Football,” by Chris B. Brown came in the mail Friday, and I plan to have some thoughts on it in next Monday’s column. Looking forward to plowing into it this week.
p. My gosh. How tragic, those five service members murdered in Chattanooga—and the wounded Chattanooga police officer. Terror on our soil. The world is changing before our eyes.
The Adieu Haiku
Bryant, Thomas pacts.
Five years, seventy million.
Same day too. How odd!