… and football in a new way—starting in the inner sanctum of the Dallas Cowboys
OXNARD, Calif. — “Life,’’ Jason Garrett told his team Saturday afternoon, pacing in front of his 90 players, “is about opportunities. The NFL! The Dallas Cowboys! Are you kidding me? Since we were this high we wanted to be here.”
I find myself this morning feeling the same as Garrett. Only I’ve got a different team. It’s called The MMQB, a site under the Sports Illustrated umbrella devoted to all things football, using all the means of modern media to disseminate that football prose and information. Unlike Garrett, I haven’t made a speech to fire up the troops. I don’t have much Lombardi in me anyway, and we’ve been too busy working to bring you a new era of football coverage beginning today. I’ll get back to what you can expect from our newfangled website in a bit.
First things first: I’m excited about our first post. I’ve always been intrigued with the speeches coaches make to teams at the start of training camp, in part because I once heard a 1973 tape of Paul Brown’s to his Cincinnati Bengals. I wrote about that speech a year ago. The rules, the expectations, the mundane, the inspirational. In the spring, I knew we’d be kicking off this new site around the start of NFL camps, and I went in search of a team that might let us not only write about a coach’s first speech of the season to his team, but show video of it. In our business today, we’ve all got to get wise to video. So after some convincing, Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave his blessing, along with coach Jason Garrett. And so, on Saturday, in his team meeting room a few long spirals from the Pacific Ocean, Garrett stepped to the front and laid out his hopes, plans, expectations and rules for the new season. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe a head coach’s full training-camp speech, the words and video, has ever seen the light of day ... until today, in the first post in The MMQB history. We’re proud to bring it to you.
The full 35-minute video can be found here. If you want the short-attention-span four-minute version with some highlights, it's right here.
Three things I found compelling about Garrett’s presentation:
• Notice how silent it is in the room? Never a peep in 36 minutes, and there was a sensitive microphone at work in the room. You notice it especially when the vague topic of leadership surfaces, and Garrett gets animated. “We want guys who are leaders. Leaders!’’ Garrett said, eyes wide. “Step up and be a leader. Lead this football team. LEAD IT! It’s time! It’s time to lead this football team! It’s your time!’’ When he’d pause, you’d hear nothing—not even a cough. It’s hard to read the mood and feelings of 90 men, of course. But the players’ focus is a sign, to me, that Garrett’s still got the attention of his team, after back-to-back disappointing 8-8 years.
• The son of a coach talks like a coach, paces like a coach and warns that players had better be able to take coaching. “The coaches I hate—that I had a visceral reaction to—were the guys who told me, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ ... And allowing me to be as mediocre as mediocre could be,” Garrett said. “None of us need help being mediocre—especially me. Coach my ass! ... You been to the Pro Bowl eight times? You’re getting your ass coached. You just got here 15 minutes ago? You’re getting your ass coached. First-round picks, free agents who signed for nothing—everybody’s getting coached.” I should hope so.
• Ever notice the NFL’s getting more and more careful with every utterance? Garrett wants to keep it that way. With the media, Garrett said, players should be “respectful, brief, boring and humble ... Distinguish yourself with your play, not what you say.” My favorite thing of everything Garrett said is about tuning out the distractions that flood every NFL locker room. “Don’t listen to the noise,” he said. “Think Einstein listened to the noise? Think Martin Luther King listened to the noise? Be strong enough mentally, be strong enough physically” to tune the distractions out.
“We’re gonna establish an identity that lasts forever,” Garrett told his players. “That starts today.”
My aim is the same at The MMQB.
Our site, and football America, owe Jones and Garrett (and Cowboys PR VP Rich Dalrymple) a debt of thanks for educating fans on the hidden ritual that, this morning, is no longer hidden. Let me know what you thought of it.
Today’s a new day for all of us at The MMQB.
So ... where to begin. Let’s start with what The MMQB won’t be. We’re not going to cover contracts very much, or day-to-day beat coverage of teams, or things you should continue to read and watch in your local papers and websites. We’ll break some but not a lot of news; too many people do too good a job of that right now, and with a staff of three new full-time writers, I thought we could spend our time to better interpret and enlighten you about the news. We’ll do fantasy football, but not in the kind of exhaustive way that you’d say, “Hey, let’s read King so we can set our lineups this week.”
We’ll be the thinking person’s site for pro football. If you follow us this season, visit TheMMQB.com three or four times a day between now and the Super Bowl, read our stories, watch our videos and listen to our podcasts ... and if after doing that you don’t think you’ve been enlightened about the sport America loves, well, then I should be fired.
The NFL is a hard league to cover, if you’re in the enlightenment business. Just listen to Jason Garrett: The less you say the better. The media explosion (the league credentialed 841 media people to cover the Scouting Combine—the Scouting Combine!—this year) has cut down and homogenized the information that does get out. Good for the league, bad for us. So when SI bosses Paul Fichtenbaum and Chris Stone gave me the go-ahead to start site-planning last winter, with the ability to hire three writers, I looked for youth, aggressiveness, diversity, the ability to tell stories insightfully, and a love of football.
I’m happy to say our three staff writers—Greg Bedard from the Boston Globe, Jenny Vrentas from the Newark Star-Ledger, Robert Klemko from USA Today—have brought the imagination and insight I’d hoped. Bedard this week will take you inside the coaching offices at Stanford, where NFL teams—surprise—have spent time this offseason studying how to stop the read-option offense. Vrentas reports from Michigan, beginning a season-long series on The Undrafted Free-Agent. Eight hundred of them go to training camps in the NFL every year, and most disappear forever on Labor Day weekend. We’ll chronicle what happens to running back Zach Line, who will fight for a special-teams and running-back job on the Vikings, all season. Vrentas, too, will be a valuable player for us because of her science background—she majored in biochemistry at Penn State, which could be the strangest career path of any football writer around. She'll write on health and player welfare, topics key today because of the long-term health effects so many retired players have experienced. Klemko has a bold look at one of the hot offseason topics—when will a gay active player come out?—by telling the painful and unvarnished stories of two former NFL players who came out after retiring. All three writers will have lots more in the coming days and weeks—and those who got to know Bedard from his video dissection in New England will be pleased to know he’ll be doing the same kind of video work with us weekly.
I’m pleased with our correspondents. You’ll read either weekly, regularly or occasionally a wide swath of smart NFL followers, players and authorities. Andrew Brandt, the best football business columnist there is, debuts with insights on what the Patriots are going through inside the front office post-Hernandez. Andy Benoit’s our analytics guy, and check back often to see his series of 2,500-word scouting reports on all 32 teams; his Washington report is out today. Richard Deitsch, SI’s prescient media columnist, checks in with Ray Lewis’ first extended interview about his ESPN analyst gig today. How, Deitsch wonders, will Lewis react if asked to comment on TV about Aaron Hernandez’s arrest, seeing as how Lewis got arrested for a similarly serious crime in 2000? Said Lewis: “Through the things I have been through, what I learned from that is everybody has something they want to say, and 80 percent of them are illiterate.” SI’s Jim Trotter will have an oft-West Coast-focused column, and his first contains a strong warning for those who want to put Manti Te’o in Junior Seau’s league before Te’o ever plays an NFL snap. My good friend Don Banks will spice up the scene; he’ll check in with a column we’ll call “The Conscience,” in which everyone in the game (Week 1: Roger Goodell) will be subject to Judge Banks’ rulings. College football guru Andy Staples of SI will file, starting next week, a week-by-week NFL Draft Top 50 (I think we can come up with a kitschier name than that), which will run through next May’s draft.
We’ll write some long pieces, three of them this week. One of the smartest people I know, SI senior writer David Epstein, dissects the complicated and maddening debate over HGH testing in the NFL on Friday. I’ll take you on a trip back to Colin Kaepernick’s hometown on Tuesday (you’ll get a kick out of him ducking into Little Caesar’s for a large pepperoni pie) but it’s during the trip back to the Bay Area when the sudden star really opens up.
You’ll read real stuff from players here. Rising-star cornerback Richard Sherman, who will be more thoughtful than loud for us, relates the story of who made him a tough football player. Ever wonder what it’s like—I mean, really like—to be cut from an NFL team? We’ve got the best piece I’ve ever read on it coming Thursday, from ex-Jag and current Chief Austen Lane. Last month, outside the last Jacksonville defensive meeting before summer vacation, Lane heard a strange voice call his name. He writes:
It’s an unrecognizable voice. I can’t explain exactly why, but I feel a moment of panic rush over me. I turn around to see one of our scouts. I start to slowly walk as he waves me over. Before I get the chance to say hi, the scout quietly says, ‘Dave needs to see you.’
Dave. David Caldwell, the general manager. Oh my God.
That’s at the heart of what we’ll do—take you places you can’t go, but wished you could.
And did I mention Rex Ryan is doing “Ten Things I Think I Think” on Wednesday?
We’ll have regular “Ten Things” from players and NFL folk, as well as a quick three-question interview with people who have something to say (Joe Namath today, Tom Brady tomorrow). We’ll cover camps, players and teams with SI quality.
We’ll have the kind of modern touches NFL mavens demand today. Watch staff videographer John DePetro’s video looks inside the worlds of Zach Line and Austen Lane accompanying their stories this week; DePetro knows good stories. Veteran SI photographer and videographer extraordinaire Bill Frakes and aide Laura Heald was with me in Oxnard, and his work from there is beautiful. Podcasts will follow in August. We’ll blast you with regular stuff on social-media platforms, including tweets of short “Ten Things’’ entries, with links back to the full column. Hey, just trying to stave off old age.
Inside our shop are three invaluable editors: my right-hand man, Mark Mravic, who has edited my copy at the magazine for the past decade; associate editor Matt Gagne, who will edit, produce and brainstorm ideas; and the versatile techno-editor, senior web producer and staff conscience Tom Mantzouranis. Mravic does a good job telling me when I’m an idiot and keeping the place on track. Gagne and Mantzouranis are the ace utility players who have gotten this train rolling. I’m indebted also to the bright minds of SI art director Chris Hercik and SI.com managing editor Matt Bean, who helped get this project rolling. On the technical side, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jim DeLorenzo and Chris Gibbons, as well as Jason Purdy and his development and production team. They never said how tough the job was going to be. They just got it done.
In the preseason, we’ll have a few new posts a day, including weekends. During the season, it’ll be mostly the same—except we’re still thinking about how to handle weekend coverage. More on that as we know it, including a plan for fantasy football. We’re still deciding how to cover games, which seems odd. But we’re questioning everything. Most weeks, I’ll be in the NBC Studios on Sundays for Football Night in America duties (and I am indebted to my NBC bosses Mark Lazarus and Sam Flood for many things, including their kindness in allowing me to take a couple of Sunday road trips this year), while the rest of the staff will be ... well, we’ll see.
Today’s a different day; most of the stories that will hit our front page are already in our “river of copy,” below the main story. We’ll alternate them atop the site. Most days, we’ll post new stories in the main new spot on the front page of the site at 8 am Eastern, 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.—along with fresh video and the “Ten Things’’ and “3Q” three-question interviews. The site’s quite user-friendly. Play with it for a few minutes, and you’ll see how easy it is to find recent and old posts, both by topic and by writer’s name.
One last point: This venture never would have happened without the faith and vision of my editorial bosses at the mag, Fichtenbaum and Stone; or without SI publisher Frank Wall and his dedicated sales team. I went on sales trips to 19 companies or agencies with Wall and his ace sales people to see Ad America. A great education, to say the least, and I mean that. The three flagship sponsors who have signed on—Bose, Gillette Deodorant and Microsoft—have been fabulous to work with. It’s a reality of today’s media that when you start a new venture, you need financial help. Those three companies are going to let me be me, with full editorial freedom (obviously) for my team. I’m grateful to have Bose, Gillette Deodorant and Microsoft along for the ride on the first leg of this mysterious adventure.
I say mysterious because I don’t know where it’ll lead. You—the readers, viewers and listeners—will decide that. All I know is we’re going to give it our best shot. Get back to me, okay?
Hall of Fame Week is near, and there are big plans afoot.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton has just finished a 32,000-square-foot expansion project, and there could be more big plans as the Hall celebrates its 50-year anniversary next week with a record number of returning enshrinees to celebrate this year’s class of seven. Induction comes August 3 in Canton.
I’m hearing the league is looking into having a second Hall of Fame game—a game that would be played during the regular season to great fanfare, in a move designed to increase interest in the Hall of Fame. There’s no question Hall fathers are trying to boost attendance at times of the year other than Hall of Fame week, when the place is bursting with fans. And calling a big regular-season game “The Hall of Fame Game’’ could focus attention on the Hall, particularly if there are programs in the home city of the game designed to spur interest and tourism there. As for the game, maybe it’s a Thursday, Sunday or Monday night primetime game. Maybe the Hall sends a traveling collection of busts and memorabilia to the game site, or to a museum in that city.
My idea? Get a traveling collection of leather helmets and the like, and find a good museum in New York to house the display during Super Bowl week this year. Maybe you’d get people to say, “I’ve never been to the Hall. I’ve got to go.” I have a vested interest; I’m a Hall voter, and I’ve been there more than a few times, and I know how fun it is to get lost in the place for a few hours and experience the roots of the game. If the regular-season game works as a concept, along with the attendant network and media promotion of the game, I say why not?
Getting to know you.
Sports Illustrated managing editor Chris Stone, I am happy to report, allowed me to sign my top three draft choices earlier this year as the writers for The MMQB. Why’d I pick Bedard, Vrentas and Klemko out of such a crowded field of good journalists? They’re young (average age: 30.7), which I liked; I wanted new ideas. They’re eager. I’ve watched them all in action and have been impressed with how hard they work and how much they want to be good. And I think they’re versatile. But I kept coming back to the second point. I wanted smart people who love this job. So off we go.
I wanted to let you see a glimpse into each of the three correspondents for The MMQB. So I asked them: How’d you figure out you wanted to be a writer?
KLEMKO: “I grew up in a family that put a high priority on the historical record. My father, an office mover who doesn’t care about sports, keeps a library of more than 100 Civil War history books. He dragged the family to places like Antietam and Gettysburg during our childhood summers, asking my two brothers and I to imagine the sacrifices men on both sides made for what they believed America ought to be. My mother, a veterinarian, kept a catalog of Sports Illustrated magazines in a bedroom in our home in Silver Spring, Md. I was around 10 years old when I asked the question every warm-blooded Maryland boy eventually asks: ‘Who’s Len Bias?’ She unearthed a dust-covered, decade-old magazine from a pile: June 30, 1986, ‘Death of a Dream.’ I read every word, and I remember feeling as though I was holding something tremendously important. Years later, I imagined the great sense of responsibility the writer must have felt, asked to sum up a man’s legacy with words. I wanted to feel that.”
VRENTAS: “I always get the same questions. ‘What was your major again?” Biochemistry and molecular biology. ‘And WHY did you become a journalist?” I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense. My older sister, Cathy, was actually the first person to suggest I try out for the student paper, The Daily Collegian, when I was a freshman at Penn State and she was a senior. I found out I loved it: meeting interesting people, telling their stories, sharing with readers things they wouldn’t have known otherwise. Choosing journalism as a career was a bit of a leap of faith, but it was one I couldn't imagine not taking—and that's how I feel about joining The MMQB.”
BEDARD: “I knew that I wanted to be a sports writer when I was given my first beat, the women’s softball team, at the Rutgers student daily newspaper, the Daily Targum. I loved everything about it. I covered that team like it was the Red Sox. I would skip classes to cover a doubleheader at Princeton. The ability to immerse yourself in everything that comes with being on a beat—the day-to-day ups and downs, developing relationships, covering exciting games, analyzing why things went bad or well, and translating that for the reader—was intoxicating. Almost immediately, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Me? Well, I got incredibly lucky. We lived in northern Connecticut, halfway between New York and Boston, and my father was a big newspaper reader. He’d buy four or five newspapers on both Saturday and Sunday, and I’d devour the sports sections. If I couldn’t grow up and play left field for the Red Sox, well, maybe I could write about them. When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a one-sheet neighborhood newsletter in the summer every couple weeks. My mom would put carbon paper between sheets in the typewriter and type up the thing for me, and I’d distribute it to a few neighbors. Can you imagine what a nightmare nerd I was for those neighbors? Don’t answer the doorbell Mabel! It's that King weirdo again with the stories about his wiffleball games! Anyway, I got lucky. I found out what I wanted to do early in my life. And 46 years later, I still really want to do it.
So there we are. We look forward to telling you some good stories.
Following me and The MMQB around this great land this summer.
It's that time of year—time for my annual training-camp trip. Snapshots of my journey over the next five weeks, first by air and then by the Go RVing-sponsored recreational vehicle that will ferry Team MMQB to camps east of the Mississippi well into August (and this is a tentative list, because news events could make me change the itinerary):
Cowboys (July 20-21, Oxnard, Calif.) Until Saturday evening, when I watched the video of Garrett’s meeting with his players, I’d never seen a coach’s speech to his team before training camp. It’s the speech I consider the most important a coach makes to his team all season, the tone-setter, the scene-setter, for all that’s expected. I remember the positive feedback last year when I unearthed Brown’s training-camp speech to his Bengals team in 1973. Part lecture, part football instruction, part dad talking to his son. Said Brown 40 years ago this month to his players: “When we happen to single you out, once in a while when I say something to you in an open meeting like this, it isn’t done to hurt your feelings. I don’t want you to start feeling sorry for yourself. Be a man about your errors. Do something about it.” I hope what you see from Garrett helps you understand the game better.
Broncos (July 25, Denver) The simplistic angle is the best angle: Manning to Welker. Over the past six years, no player in football has more receptions than Welker’s 672 . What player in his right mind would leave Tom Brady? Welker, to play with Peyton Manning. Should be fun to see.
Seahawks (July 26, Renton, Wash.) Always one of the best camp sites, sitting on Lake Washington with the occasional sailboat or other watercraft stopping near a dock just off one of the fields to watch. This year, they'll be watching a legitimate Super Bowl contender. I'll be watching to see who might take up the pass-rush slack for Bruce Irvin, who will start the season suspended for the first four games.
Raiders (July 27, Napa, Calif.) Happy to see Matt Flynn get a real chance to start for a team. Doubt we’ll be seeing a contender in wine country. This year’s about seeing if Flynn is the Raiders’ quarterback of the future, and if Dennis Allen can get a stalled team moving in the right direction.
49ers (July 28, Santa Clara, Calif.) When I spent half a day with Colin Kaepernick seven weeks ago, it was clear he wasn't over the Super Bowl loss, and the failed drive at the end of the game. We'll see if his mates feel the same. And we'll see if A.J. Jenkins and Anquan Boldin can take up the slack left by the injury to Michael Crabtree.
Patriots (night stadium practice, July 29, Foxboro, Mass.) As crazy as it sounds, by the time I roll into Foxboro, the Aaron Hernandez story will be talked out. What won't be is who Tom Brady uses instead. A lesser tight end, maybe Daniel Fells or UFA Zach Sudfeld? A drafted wideout, maybe Aaron Dobson (Marshall, round two) or Josh Boyce (TCU, round four)? A running back with versatility like Shane Vereen? We shall see.
Bills (July 30, Pittsford, N.Y.) I think I'm the only scribe who thinks Doug Marrone could change the Bills as much as Chip Kelly changes the Eagles. Looking forward to seeing his offense, and his approach.
Jets (July 31, Cortland, N.Y.) All QBs, all the time. I hope I see four or five series of Geno Smith against new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and Rex Ryan throwing the kitchen sink at him. That's going to be the big test for Smith this summer—handling everything Ryan can throw at him.
Browns (Aug. 1, Berea, Ohio) So much to see. But I'll spend most of my time, I hope, watching what is suddenly becoming a well-respected defensive front. Where does Barkevious Mingo fit in? Mingo, Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant ... the Browns have gotten a lot tougher to steamroll.
Steelers (Aug. 2, Latrobe, Pa.) For years, I've wanted to experience the tradition of the Steelers rolling up to Latrobe High, fully dressed in football togs, in yellow school buses. Friday night lights, one of the players' favorite days of the summer. This year, I'll see it.
Wild-card day (Aug. 3) Either at Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement or a vegging/writing day at home in Manhattan.
Eagles (Aug. 4, Philadelphia) I get to do what Tony Dungy has done a few times over the last couple of years, with his son Eric a receiver at Oregon: watch Chip Kelly coach a practice. Looking forward to that, plus whatever we can divine from his offense and his quarterback competition. Vick-Foles should be raging by the first week of August.
Ravens (Aug. 5, Owings Mills, Md.) No Ray, no Reed, no Birk, no Boldin. The Ravens move forward, and I don't expect much of a dropoff. But what a big change for the D. I'll be watching Chris Canty trying to win a starting job, and he won't be the only new face trying to get in the starting lineup opening night in Denver. Arthur Brown (round two, inside ’backer), Elvis Dumervil (free agent, Denver), Lardarius Webb (a huge returning vet at corner) and new safeties Matt Elam (first-round rookie) and Michael Huff (free-agent, Oakland). You won't be able to tell the players without a scorecard this summer in Baltimore.
Redskins (Aug. 6, Richmond) Around this time, Robert Griffin III ought to be either practicing or very close to practicing. That's going to be a matter of some attention.
Falcons (Aug. 7, Flowery Branch, Ga.) Lots to see, but I'll spend a chunk of practice lasered on undrafted free-agent Brian Banks, the unjustly accused linebacker whose inspirational story could land him in contention for a practice squad job ... if his insane workout regimen (thank you, Jay Glazer) pays off.
Redskins at Titans, preseason game, Aug. 8. In an ideal world, I'd want to see Jake Locker more than two series. But you take what you can get in the preseason.
Bears at Panthers, preseason game, Aug. 9. I wouldn't exactly call it Marc Trestman's welcome-to-the-NFL moment, but lots of good angles on both sides. Again, I'd love to see more of Cam Newton than six or 10 plays, because he was playing great at the end of last season (final six games: 10 touchdowns, two picks, four games with a rating above 99).
Rams (Aug. 10, Earth City, Mo.) Of all the practices I see, this could be the best one—if Tavon Austin cuts it loose in this afternoon workout. I want to see how Austin, the highest-taken skill-position player in this year's draft, is bonding with Sam Bradford. The Rams' playoff chances depend on it.
Chiefs (Aug. 11, St. Joseph, Mo.) Andy Reid, redux. I like the Reid-Alex Smith combination. And let's see how Eric Fisher is stacking up against a defense that is better than it played last year.
Vikings (Aug. 12, Mankato, Minn.) Mostly I'm looking forward to Adrian Peterson's annual handshake. It hurts. But this year, I've got a secret plan for him. (Don't tell him.)
Packers (Aug. 13, Green Bay) I have no fear about Aaron Rodgers being great without Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Now, about that defense ...
Colts (Aug. 14, Anderson, Ind.) The emotion of the Chuck Pagano story won't be there this year to propel the Colts. It'll be interesting to see who's going to rush the passer. I'll watch Bjoern Werner, the first-round pick, to look for signs that he’s the first legit pass rusher the Colts have drafted in a decade.
Bengals (Aug. 15, Cincinnati) James Harrison. Hard Knocks. Andy Dalton, improved enough? The Bengals have enough good angles this year to merit a stop on the tour. Well, I can always order the 4-Way at Skyline Chili if they get boring over the next three weeks.
Third preseason weekend, Aug. 22-25. I'll attend two games. As of now, I'm expecting to do Philadelphia at Jacksonville Aug. 24 and New Orleans-Houston Aug. 25. Pending developments, of course.
So I'll miss a few teams—Arizona (saw the Cards in April and June), San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay, Detroit and the Giants. Hope I can see them all before the season gets too far along.
An insightful view of RG3.
So I'm standing on the Redskins' practice field during a June practice, next to Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin. I knew he'd written a book on Robert Griffin III, and so I asked him what he learned about Griffin in his reporting that will be interesting and new.
"Well, he sorts of reminds me of a modern Bill Bradley," Sheinin said. Now that's new, and a different take on the young quarterback. So I called Sheinin and asked if he'd tell me why he matched Griffin and Bradley. He sent me back an email explaining.
"As best I could tell," Sheinin wrote, "there didn't seem to be a good historical precedent for the Griffin we came to know in 2012—this combination of on-field brilliance, camera-ready magnetism, law-school smarts, off-the-cuff eloquence and impossibly wholesome image—until a random conversation with my Washington Post colleague, the esteemed columnist Thomas Boswell, produced a name that nearly knocked me out of my chair: Bill Bradley. After going back and reading author John McPhee’s famous works on Bradley—a 1965 New Yorker profile and the book, A Sense of Where You Are—I was convinced. This former Princeton star, NBA Hall-of-Famer, Rhodes scholar and U.S. Senator was the model for what Griffin, at least in a best-case scenario, could become.
"The comparison wasn't perfect, of course. For one thing, the ubiquity of the media, social and otherwise, in the Internet age makes superstardom far more complicated now. I also didn't want to oversell Griffin's smarts. He did finish his degree at Baylor in three years and, after being talked out of law school, wound up a thesis shy of a Master's degree by the time he left for the NFL, but that's not the same as earning a Rhodes scholarship. But what Griffin seemed to share with Bradley, beyond the interest in law and politics, was the sense that their chosen sport was not their destination, but rather was the vehicle to something bigger. McPhee described Bradley as always needing 'eight ways to jump ... The very word 'alternatives' bobs in and out of his speech with noticeable frequency,’ he wrote of Bradley. That meshes with Griffin’s varied interests and aversion to closed doors. This is a guy who still hasn’t ruled out playing professional basketball or running the hurdles in the Olympics, who has mused publicly about trying his hand at acting, who vows to attain his lifelong goal of getting a law degree, and who, many people close to him believe, will eventually get into politics.
"Senator Robert Griffin III of Texas, a first-term lawmaker in 2028? Yeah, that sounds about right."
Sheinin's RG3 biography, RG3: The Promise, comes out Aug. 6 from Penguin/Blue Rider Press. In a jam-packed landscape of football coverage, observations like the one Sheinin just wrote make this a compelling book.
One other note about our site ...
See the photo on the front of The MMQB this morning? Lovely, isn't it? SI’s Todd Rosenberg took it Saturday morning just after dawn, as the dew covered the field at Lomira (Wisc.) High School. I've worked with Rosenberg, who lives in Chicago, at the Scouting Combine for several years—the guy's really good—and I called him last week, asking if he could find a good photo of the sun rising over a midwestern football field ... preferably through a pair of goalposts.
Gee, that's not too much to ask.
Rosenberg went to Lake Forest (Ill.) College one pre-dawn morning last week. Locked. He went to Lake Forest Academy. That didn't work. Wrong angle. "I’m going up to Wisconsin over the weekend," he told me. "Let me try to get something there."
Rosenberg looked online at fields near Fond du Lac, where he'd be with his family. A few of them looked pristine and cool, but were more north-south-positioned. But he found one that looked good, in the farming town of Lomira, and drove by there Friday afternoon. The field looked good, but it was locked. He asked a couple kids nearby if they played football. No, they said, but they know someone who did. Texts were exchanged, and the head coach of the team was found, and the coach said he'd open the field for Rosenberg on Saturday. "But it’s at dawn," Rosenberg told him, and so the coach said he'd give Rosenberg a key to the field and retrieve it later Saturday.
"I got to the field around 5:20," Rosenberg said, "and the heat had lifted. So it was a cool morning, and it was silent. You smelled the fresh grass, the fertilizer. The field was unpainted, but you felt football. I was just waiting to hear the cleats walking onto the field. It felt like football. A perfect morning." And then the sun came floating slowly over the goalpost, and the morning was complete.
Quotes of the Week
"We've had our chances. Twice. More than twice, actually. I still have plenty of chances to do it. What I’ve learned is it's really, really hard to win the Super Bowl. I didn't get that perspective early, winning three out of the first four years I played. What I like about this franchise is we’ve got a shot every year. I love the fact we were in the AFC title game last year, the Super Bowl the year before that, and 14-2 the year before that. Can we win this year? It’ll be determined by our level of commitment, the mental toughness. We’ll find it out before the season. How committed are we?"
—New England quarterback Tom Brady, to me, on the Patriots’ eight-season Super Bowl drought, after winning three in four years.
Read more from Brady, including his first public comments on Aaron Hernandez, Tuesday in our recurring 3Q series, featuring a three-question interview with an NFL person of interest scheduled to post each weekday at 3 p.m. ET.
"I never asked. This is my personal life, and if I want to do something with my family, I'm going to do it."
—Jets coach Rex Ryan, to Steve Serby of the New York Post, on not informing the team that he was going to be running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Ryan ran with the bulls two straight days earlier this month, the first with his son Payton and second with his wife, Michelle. He said he'd rather make good family memories than think about the dangers of doing it.
"Amber hosted a full hour of 'NFL Total Access' in full-on labor. And she was very focused doing it."
—Ronit Larone, senior coordinating producer of studio production for NFL Network, on Amber Theoharis working the full hour of the NFL Total Access show Wednesday with co-host Paul Burmeister and guests Willie McGinest and Warren Sapp. Less than five hours after signing off, with her show makeup still on, the 34-year-old Theoharis delivered a healthy girl by Caesarian section.
In No. 2 of this week's Ten Things, I've got more on a fairly wild and wooly story for you.
"I hope they do well. They better not win a championship without me because I'll be really pissed."
—Recently retired Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, to Dave Dameshek of NFL.com, about his hopes for the 2013 Bears.
Well, at least the man's honest.
"The American League is not the Taliban!"
—Jerry Seinfeld, to Steve Somers of WFAN in New York. Seinfeld, a big Mets fan, went to the All-Star Game and got ticked off that the crowd booed the introduction of the American League team.
Stat of the Week
Promissory note about the first seven days of The MMQB: We'll write something—a story, some column notes, an interview, video, or something else—on every one of the 32 teams. And I'll be more egalitarian about coverage than I normally am with the regular Monday Morning Quarterback column. Andy DeGory of The MMQB tallied up how many words I wrote in the news sections of my first 23 Monday columns (not including things like Quotes and Tweets of the Week) of this year, and it brought home how I've got to do a better job covering all the teams.
I've written approximately 91,220 football words in my dispatches—only 129 about Miami, 192 about Dallas, 370 about Houston, 501 about Tennessee, 553 about the Giants, 622 about Carolina, 628 about Cincinnati, 738 about Kansas City, 948 about Pittsburgh and 952 about New Orleans. Those are the teams I’ve short-shrifted.
Conversely, there have been 13,740 words on the Ravens, 7,346 on the Niners (figures; they were in the Super Bowl), 5,044 on New England, 4,545 on the Jets, 4,444 on Oakland and 4,163 on St. Louis.
Watch our site, and call me on it if your team isn’t being covered. I’ll listen.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
I think it interests Bill Parcells too.
In April, Parcells had his left shoulder replaced. (The damage in the shoulder dated back to an old football injury.) At the time of the surgery, good friend Sean Payton called him.
"I'm sending you something," Payton said.
"No! Don't send me anything," Parcells said.
"No, I'm sending you something. Don't worry about it," said Payton.
Via overnight delivery, a large box arrived for Parcells. Inside was the Game Ready Injury Treatment System, a gizmo that combines intermittent compression and cold therapy in the same durable sleeve, attached to a portable generator. Players in all sports use Game Ready to hasten recovery time—and it’s even used on horses. Parcells learned the mechanics of the device and began using it on his shoulder. Approximate cost of Game Ready: $4,700.
"That thing is good," said Parcells, who is still a month or so away from getting back on the golf course in Saratoga with his friend Dan Henning, a fellow summer Saratogan."It's really helped my rehab."
Sean Payton: pretty good friend right there.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
This Week's Sign We Have Officially Gone Off Our Rocker As a Society I:
A 20-ounce bottle of smartwater at JFK International Airport costs $3.99. Smartwater, according to the ingredients, is "vapor-distilled water." In other words, water.
This Week's Sign We Have Officially Gone Off Our Rocker As a Society II:
I bought the water.
That was, of course, before the 30ish woman in the center seat next to me on the 5-hour, 10-minute flight to Los Angeles Friday sat down, said hello, took out a case of about 30 foam curlers, and began brushing her shoulder-blade-length hair and rolling it up with the curlers. The whole process took about 30 minutes.
Really: Who does that?
I got brushed by flying hair only twice during the entire process, so I guess it wasn't that bad.
So Oxnard is about an hour north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast, and if you look really hard, you can find one of the best little beach bars—incredibly reasonably priced, cash only, no food, chock-full of locals—I've been to. If you put $10 down at The Rudder Room for a Miller Lite and a Heineken, you get enough change back to leave a good tip and have a little left over. At which California bar with a view of the sunset can you say that?
Tweets of the Week
"We are who we are. Sports don’t make us smarter."
—Nate Newton, a veteran of both the Dallas Cowboys and prison, to @AlbertBreer of NFL Network, on the lessons from the Aaron Hernandez story.
"Peter King just uttered the phrase, ‘I'm in this’ while explaining why he thinks he can be the foreign policy Republican candidate."
—@chucktodd, the White House correspondent for NBC and MSNBC political show host.
I flatly deny that, Chuck.
Oh. You mean the other Peter King. Got it.
"No sports tonight is extremely disturbing. I don’t know what to do."
—@geoffschwartz, the Kansas City offensive lineman, tweeting at 11:19 p.m. ET Thursday, the last day of the All-Star Break for the 30 major-league teams, on what was quite possibly the slowest day of the year on the American sports calendar.
A suggestion, Geoff: pick up Whitey Bulger, the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction life story of the gangster on trial for his life in Boston these days, by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy of the Boston Globe. I know I pumped the book last week, but it's so vivid and, at times, disturbing that you'll want to sleep with the lights on if you read before bed.
"So the rumors are true. I'm going back to STL!! Is anyone as excited as I am? NOPE!"
—@willwitherspoon, the former and current Rams linebacker, breaking the news on Twitter that he signed with the Rams as a free agent.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think there are more than four active players who have at one time this offseason considered coming out of the closet. I'd still predict that none will come out this year, but it’s only a matter of time before the NFL has its own Jason Collins.
2. I think the birth of the week in the NFL (you mean someone actually keeps track of such things?) is Kamryn Olivia Buchler, six pounds, two ounces, born Wednesday at 9:58 p.m. PT in Los Angeles to parents Amber Theoharis and Todd Buchler. And here’s the rest of the story: Theoharis was due to have her second child by C-section Aug. 12, and so she arranged with her NFL Network bosses that this past Friday, July 19, would be her last day at work. Theoharis is an NFL Total Access host (that’s NFLNet’s nightly news wrapup show, airing from 7-8 ET, 4-5 PT). Wednesday was a normal day. Theoharis wrote her script for the show, had her makeup put on, and walked out to the set at about 3:55 p.m. That's when she began feeling queasy.
"I'm not feeling great," she told set partners Willie McGinest and Warren Sapp. During the first long break in the show, around 4:15 PT, she texted her friend, senior coordinating producer Ronit Larone, and said she was having the same feeling she had when she gave birth to her first child, Dylan, two and a half years ago. "I jumped out of my chair," said Larone, "and got over to the set. Amber was chill. As calm as can be. I said, 'Come on. Let’s go. And she said, 'What are you talking about? I'm staying. Todd's on his way.' Larone pressed the issue, but Theoharis insisted she could make it through the show—and since her husband wasn't there yet, and he was the driver, and Theoharis seemed certain—she stayed on the air. Whisked by her husband to the hospital (and still in full makeup), Theoharis found time to text Larone during the drive, "I might not be coming in tomorrow." That's because you are going to have a baby tonight, girl. The doctor told her upon arrival: "You’re in labor." Less than four hours later, here came the family's second child. I'm just wondering if Theoharis can teach a Concentration 101 class.
3. I think Chip Kelly-to-Philadelphia is the most compelling migration from college to the NFL since Jimmy Johnson-to-Dallas in 1989.
4. I think I know what you're thinking: Wait a minute. What about Spurrier-to-Washington in 2002? Saban-to-Miami in 2005? Good ones, and much-anticipated. But there's so much mystery around Kelly, from what his crazy-quilt offense might look like to importing a Navy SEAL trainer (Shaun Huls) to whip the players into shape, using everything but drones in the process. Johnson, remember, came to the NFL not only as the very hot college coach, but he had two other things going for him. He was going to play a different defense than any coach ran in the league—emphasis on small and cat-quick. And he was succeeding one of the legendary coaches of all time, Tom Landry, who'd been pushed out. Spurrier's heart was never in it. Saban? I didn't have the same feeling as I do about Kelly, maybe because Kelly seemed so more of an innovator than Saban was in college.
5. I think Johnny Manziel can have all the smart, well-spoken and well-handled press conferences he wants. But it's not the media he has to convince that he's a hard-working guy who isn't over-sowing his wild oats. There's a short list of people he must convince: Cleveland president Joe Banner, GM Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski, Jacksonville GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie, and, well, you get the picture. Manziel's job now will be to not let any more 2:03 a.m. bar photos get on Twitter, and his job next spring will be to convince teams he's more quarterback than party boy.
6. I think the unimportant part of the Robert Griffin III/readiness story is whether he will be cleared to practice on the first day of camp. There's really no need for him to be taking every snap, or really any snaps, the first couple of weeks of practice. The important part is that he'd be able to go by about Aug. 15, which I hear he will. I have very little doubt—barring an additional injury at training camp or in a preseason game—that Griffin will be the Washington quarterback 49 nights from now, when Philadelphia comes to D.C. for the Monday-night opener.
7. I think similar questions are being asked in New England about Rob Gronkowski's readiness in New England; the Patriots have their first practice Friday at 9 a.m. Gronkowski has had five surgeries in the last nine months, and the Patriots will need to see how his back has responded to treatment this week before they can start to predict if he'll play at the start of the season. The Patriots could choose to place him the Physically Unable to Perform List, and keep him out for the first six weeks of the regular season. They could make him one of the 53 active players entering the season, and simply de-activate him for two, three or four weeks, say, until they feel he's in satisfactory football shape. Or he could play at the start of the season. I think it'll be PUP or deactivation for two or three weeks, but no one can know until the teams sees how he feels and responds to physical activity.
8. I think, sometimes, especially in the summer, good football stories can get lost, because, well, a bunch of us who cover the game get lost in the summer before camps open. But this story by Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com is a great example of having a good idea and developing it into a great piece of explanatory journalism. Prisco asked Adrian Peterson to break down his recovery from the ACL injury, and asked him to dissect three running plays. Peterson is very good at opening up about his running style, and he remembers specific pieces of plays the way golfers remember what club they used on the third shot of a par-5 hole three months after it happens. I highly recommend the story. Good job, Pete.
9. I think you wouldn't think of the Cowboys as a team that's been totally made over. But from the day Jason Garrett took over as head coach 40 games ago, there's been a pretty good makeover: Only 17 of the 90 players who began practicing for the new season Sunday were Cowboys when Garrett coached his first game in mid-2010.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I have found the greatest crime story this side of Whitey Bulger, from the San Francisco Chronicle.
b. I mean, if you're looking for the easiest story to find in any search engine, use any of the following and you'd find the very, very strange story of a man from San Francisco, Christopher Hall: "Deputy public defender Phoenix Streets," "bear mace," "hacky-sack circle," "extensive combat training," "aerosol can of bear repellant" and "shirtless neighbor."
c. My cool, memorable, only-in-New York highlight of the week: We are huge Curb Your Enthusiasm fans, and my wife got us tickets to see the new improv-type movie starring and directed by Jeff Garlin, the agent-to-Larry in Curb. So we went to the movie, Dealin’ With Idiots, about a crazy group of youth baseball parents and crazier coaches. Afterward, we learned when we arrived at the theater, Garlin would be taking questions from the audience about the movie. Fun! The movie is fun, and for those who like unscripted comedy riffing, a la Curb, you should find this one. The ending was a hilarious outtake of a field caretaker trying to measure the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate using an uncooperative tape measure. I have a kind of howling laughter with humor like that. So when Garlin took the stage to talk, the first thing he said was, "Who's the guy with the tremendous laugh?" I raised my hand. Guilty as charged. Good thing Garlin loved it and didn't have me thrown out. Someone asked Garlin about a comparison to Bad News Bears, and Garlin pooh-poohed that. Said the movie took 12 days to film, he never looked at dailies or re-shot anything, and had a total budget of $750,000. "I'm no Walter Matthau," he said of the Bad News Bears star, "but I'm good."
d. Bonus: I got to meet Garlin and his co-star in the movie, J.B. Smoove, who was on hand. And if you remember the greatest love-advice scene in the history of Curb, you’ll know J.B. Smoove very, very well.
e. Welcome to the Sports Illustrated family, Doug Farrar. We are happy to have you writing football for us. You're working with a good one in Chris Burke.
f. I give you permission to sign Dustin Pedroia for a ridiculous sum of money, Red Sox.
g. How great was that Mariano Rivera moment in the All-Star Game? Nobody doesn't like Mariano Rivera.
h. This will be the first time in column history I've been nice to the Yankees in two consecutive notes, but it's damn sad watching Derek Jeter unable to get and stay healthy.
i. I like how aggressive Bud Selig and Michael Weiner are being—at least from a distance—on PEDs in baseball.
j. Yasiel Puig is to outfield debuts what Fernando Valenzuela was to pitching ones.
k. Why Buster Olney rules: He had a stat the other night that David Ortiz, with his 506th career double against the Yankees, tied Babe Ruth on the all-time doubles list.
l. In the TV world I follow, this would qualify as a "Wow": Keith Olbermann and Nate Silver together on Olbermann's new ESPN2 show, as the New York Times reports is likely. I'll be watching that. Silver leaving the New York Times ... bummer.
m. Coffeenerdness: Belated thanks to Continental Coffee, the family coffee shop on Commercial Street in Vancouver. The place not only makes a tremendous latte with very strong espresso; the signature atop the foam is a picture of a leaf. So nice you don't even want to drink it. Next time you're way out west in Canada, head over to Commercial Drive and give it a spin.
n. Beernerdness: So my favorite white beer, Allagash, of Maine, has had an expansion project up at the brewery in Portland, which is good to hear. The business is growing by about 40% a year. Found it amazing on my Pacific Northwest vacation to have seen it on tap in two different Seattle places. Can't keep a great beer down.
o. I'm not down on The Newsroom. I want to be clear about that. But I think I've figured out why I like Aaron Sorkin's shows but don't love them. The dialogue's too perfect. Ever notice in The Newsroom that one perfect line flows after another, like one character isn't listening to what the other is saying and is just intent on getting out his/her line, usually in a hurry? But the story's good, and I'm watching.
p. Speaking of Olivia Munn, she'll be in The MMQB on Wednesday. No spoilers, though.
q. I could read about the Bulger trial all day. The Boston Globe is doing a fabulous job covering it.
r. RIP, Helen Thomas, an inspiration to anyone who ever wanted to write politics.
s. Golf is foreign to me, but great sporting accomplishments are not. Congrats, Phil Mickelson. A 66 in the clutch at Muirfield? Tremendous.
The Adieu Haiku
Thanks, all, for reading.
You're the reason this site lives.