You've heard the story tons of times by now, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular. Twenty-two months ago, Peyton Manning came to Denver, not knowing how, or if, his tale would continue. Now he prepares to take over the Big Apple, one win away from winning that elusive second Lombardi. He'll stare down the loquacious Richard Sherman, who made headlines of his own Sunday, and the Seahawks
"A lot of that was adrenaline."
That’s going to be part of Super Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman’s newest column in The MMQB, which you can read (or shred) this afternoon. Sherman batted the potential game-winning touchdown away from Michael Crabtree with 22 seconds left, and was still in full-on woofing mode when FOX’s Erin Andrews corralled him moments after Seattle’s 23-17 win over San Francisco. "I’m the best cornerback in the game!" he yelled. "When you try me with some sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get!!!" Sherman spent the evening getting raked over the social (and news) media coals, as if he were some black-hatted pro wrestler. "I don't want to be a villain, because I'm not a villainous person," he writes, and … well, you’ll see it later today. I’ll have more on Sherman, the player and the columnist, a little further down in the column.
So it’s a Seattle-Denver Super Bowl, one full of intrigue and new story lines, seeing that almost every player in the game will be new to the Super Bowl stage. Every player but one. Peyton Manning is back for his third Big One, and Sherman will have to work hard to get in Manning’s head. "You can’t get in Peyton’s head. If you get in his head, you’ll get lost," Sherman said.
One more note from the NFC: Second straight season San Francisco lost driving for a touchdown on its final offensive play of the season, with Colin Kaepernick lofting one high into the right corner of the end zone for Michael Crabtree, who, both times, strained for the ball about six yards deep in the end zone near the sideline stripe. Incomplete, intercepted. Last year Baltimore in the Super Bowl, this year Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. What a cruel bummer of a coincidence.
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DENVER — "Proud of you, bro," Cooper Manning called out to Peyton Manning in the Broncos’ locker room Sunday, and a minute or so later, the family gathered around a showered Peyton at his locker. Club employees kept the media from hearing family business. Peyton’s back was to the room, his upper torso bare; Cooper, the older brother, to his right, and Eli, the younger, to his left. My eyes found the scar on the back of Peyton’s neck, the remnant of one of his four surgeries to repair a neck problem that threatened to force him into retirement a couple of years ago.
Four neck surgeries. And he just threw for 400 yards, his third-best playoff total in 22 postseason games.
At age 37, in a conference championship game, against Bill Belichick’s team.
"Kinda makes this special," said dad Archie, standing off to the side.
Twenty-two months ago today, Peyton Manning was signed by the Broncos. Amazing what can happen in that time. Two teams that pursued Manning and lost, Arizona and Tennessee, have whacked their head coaches since. Two other teams that pursued Manning and lost, Seattle and San Francisco, met for the NFC title Sunday with kid quarterbacks playing. And Manning has lifted a team, and a region, to the Super Bowl, long past his expiration date. I saw a family walking in Denver Saturday with the dad and two girls all in orange MANNING 18 jerseys. The guy in front of me at Starbucks Sunday morning had an "OMAHA! OMAHA!" Manning T-shirt on, and I guess you know what that’s about.
"Are you a football fan? You like the Broncos?" I asked my thickly accented cabdriver Saturday morning.
"I like Manning," he said.
The economic impact of the man alone seems amazing. I’ve been in town four times since Labor Day—for the season opener, this game, and twice for SI Sportsman of the Year stuff—and don’t kid yourselves: If Manning had signed with Arizona, I’d probably have been in the Valley of the Sun four times since Labor Day. A lot of people would have. And now the Super Bowl will get the added boost of Manning trying to win his second Lombardi Trophy, as if a New York/New Jersey Super Bowl needed extra luster. Just as Eli won a title in his brother’s stadium in Indianapolis two years ago, now Peyton will try to win a title in Eli’s stadium in New Jersey.
"It was a test of faith and trust in the process and I knew I was going to put all the hard work I had into it and try to improve. But I couldn’t predict that we would be at this point. And I had no idea how I was going to be physically, no idea how the team is going to come together."
So, about that beatdown of the dreaded Patriots ... Before he rejoined his family to celebrate the win, Manning stopped in a hallway outside his locker room to relive some of what made this game go so well.
Manning knew this was going to be a good day. He knew most of the week it would be. One thing that’s happened here is the trust he’s built with rookie offensive coordinator Adam Gase this year. "I really like Gase," Manning said. "It’s a compliment to him. I like playing for guys that are smarter than me and work as hard as me. Gase is there before I get there in the morning."
This week, Gase decided to put a play in the game plan that raised eyebrows in the offensive meeting room. The fourth tight end on the team, Virgil Green, had played in 47 games for the Broncos over his three Denver seasons. He’d never run the ball once. In his 48th game, Sunday, Green had a running play in the plan. "Pretty different," Manning said. "You know, Belichick prepares them for everything. But a run by Virgil Green was not on their hit chart anywhere. We have some formations with three receivers and two tight ends where you had an empty set and throw and Gase said We’re just going to put Virgil back there and run it. And he really made a heck of a run." Gain of six, midway through a 93-yard touchdown drive.
"That’s what I like about Adam," Manning said. "He’s always working, always thinking. We email each other at night ideas, and bounce ideas off—‘"
"Anything like that this week?" I asked.
He thought a minute, then brought up the run by Knowshon Moreno six plays after the Green run. Third-and-10 from the New England 39, midway through the second quarter, Patriots playing two safeties deep with four other defensive backs on the field. As Manning got the call in his helmet from Gase, the offensive coordinator reminded him: "We need about five yards for a field goal here." Manning went to the line, saw the big gap over right guard, saw the two safeties deep, and paused his cadence. He went to the line and changed the call.
"All week," Manning said, "[Gase] said, ‘Don’t be afraid to check to the run if you get that look.’ And when he told me we needed five yards to get in field-goal range, he was saying, ‘If you like the look for the run, check to it, and don’t think twice about it.’ Sure enough, the seas kind of parted there." Gain of 28.
But the play Manning loved involved a little game he and Gase play.
"He and I have a rule," Manning said. "We can’t talk after practice on Friday. We say, ‘We’re not talking Friday once we leave, we’re going to our families.’ And so he said on Friday, ‘Call me if you get a chance. I have a good thought for a play around the 5[-yard line]. But I said, ‘I’m not calling you. You email me your idea, and I’ll voice-memo you whether I like it or not."
"Voice memo?" I said. "Like recording on the phone, then emailing it?"
"Right," he said. "I record it and email it."
Manning liked Gase’s idea. Inside the 5, on an early down, the Patriots were inclined to bring one or more safeties down close to the line. "Not a good look to run the ball," said Manning. On 1st-and-goal from the 3 midway through the third quarter, Gase called the play—for a run, not a pass. And when Manning got to the line, he saw the safety cheating down, and so Manning changed the play to a pass. "We got the perfect look," Manning said. Demaryius Thomas pressed cornerback Alfonzo Dennard toward the corner of the end zone, then broke quickly to the post.
Wide open. Touchdown.
So Manning was planning to take at least a few minutes Sunday night to reflect on where he was 22 months ago, and where he is.
"I think it certainly is important to take a moment to reflect and to savor the moment and the win," he said. "I can remember that time well two years ago. I asked every question of every doctor to give me some kind of timetable. Can you give me some kind of definite answer about how I’m going to feel? And none of them could. It was a test of faith and trust in the process and I knew I was going to put all the hard work I had into it and try to improve. But I couldn’t predict that we would be at this point. And I had no idea how I was going to be physically, no idea how the team is going to come together. And choosing the Broncos, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were significant in that process. From what I’d studied of those two receivers, I thought that if we got in there and really worked at it, and I did make some strides and improvements like I hoped I would, that we could form a good passing game. And add Wes Welker this year, and Gase has been the perfect guy … "
It’s been a better marriage than Manning could have hoped for. Denver is 28-7 (an .800 winning percentage) since he walked in the door. But it’s that 29th win that Manning’s been seeking for a long, long time, and he’ll go off Broadway to get it. You want drama with your Super Bowl? I’ll give you drama: Peyton Manning trying to win his second world title and change the debate about his legacy in the first, and probably only, Super Bowl ever to be played in the biggest market in America.
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The NFC game, and the aftermath, was wacky.
Four key characters in the NFC Championship Game:
Richard Sherman. To sum up: Sherman made the clinching play in the Seahawks’ 23-17 win over the Niners. Sherman writes for The MMQB. I am the editor-in-chief of the site. I am 56. I did not like what he did seconds after the game, screaming answers angrily to questions by FOX’s Erin Andrews. I’m not a big fan of belittling opponents, and neither, apparently, are you, because many of you on Twitter wanted Sherman drawn and quartered. However, I’m not firing Richard Sherman. I’m not muzzling Richard Sherman. I asked him to write for us for the season, and write he shall do. I don’t have to like what a man says to the cameras to give him a forum to discuss intelligent football topics, which is what Sherman has done for the last six months for The MMQB. Now, when I saw what he said, my first reaction was: That’s why the NFL has a cooling-off period before allowing writers into locker rooms after games. In the five minutes before Sherman’s outburst to Andrews about how great he was and how worthless Michael Crabtree was, Sherman batted the potential game-winning pass into the arms of a teammate, winning the game for Seattle. He ran after Crabtree, said something, got flagged for taunting him. Then Crabtree pushed Sherman away by the facemask, and the Seahawks ran out the final 22 seconds of the game. Emotions were still high, and Andrews got Sherman to talk. He woofed to America the way he woofs on the field. As I said, it’s not how I would react. But he didn’t sugarcoat his opinions. We ask players for the truth all the time, and they so rarely give it to us that we’re shocked when they do. NFL Films did a good story on Sherman that you might want to watch to understand him.
NaVorro Bowman. What a tough game this is. Bowman was the best defender for the 49ers Sunday, with 14 tackles, and that is not rare. He suffered a likely torn ACL, while offensive guard Mike Iupati broke an ankle. The ACL injury came in a pile near the goal line, with the Seahawks threatening to score—and the embarrassing thing for Gene Steratore’s officiating crew was that replays showed the fumble on the play was clearly recovered by Bowman and he was down, in screaming pain, and still holding on to the ball. Then, when players started diving in for the fumble, the ball got stolen from Bowman. But now Bowman has a race on his hands. Opening day is seven and a half months away; he’s become as valuable as any single 49ers defensive player. We don’t even know the extent of his injury yet, but whatever it is, it’s certainly no lock he’ll be ready to start the 2014 season on time.
Colin Kaepernick. I know about the three turnovers in the last 11 minutes. That cannot happen, and it did, and it cost San Francisco the game. But the touchdown pass he threw is one of the most amazing throws I’ve seen covering football. Running to his right, Kaepernick elevated and, with both feet off the ground, snapped off a perfect spiral, which went 26 yards in the air and landed perfectly in Anquan Boldin’s hands. An amazing throw. A rope. It would have been great if he was standing flat-footed. He’ll get better and learn when to take chances and when not to. But there are so few guys who come into the NFL with the ability to do what Kaepernick did on that throw.
Kam Chancellor. Player of the game. The advantage Chancellor brings into a game is his size (6-3, 232 pounds, large for a safety) and his aggression. He separated Vernon Davis from the ball in the second half on a bang-bang play that Davis got the worst of, and he made Michael Crabtree short-arm a pass later, with the ball falling incomplete. "Alligator arms," fellow safety Earl Thomas said from Seattle. "Receivers always know where Kam is. He’s our enforcer." And he picked off Kaepernick when he was late to a spot in front of the receiver—purposefully. Chancellor made an acrobatic fingertip pick on the ball. "You have to know your job in this defense on every play," said Thomas. "He’s a great student." But he’d be nothing without the big stick he carries. In the Super Bowl, the collisions between him and Julius Thomas could be legendary.
The new coaches’ biggest jobs.
Spoke to the four head coaches named in the past week and explored with each what I consider their biggest tasks, at least immediately.
Jim Caldwell, Detroit: Fixing Matthew Stafford.
Stafford got sloppy at the end of the season, throwing 11 interceptions in his last six games and presiding over an offense that slumped badly; the Lions lost six of their last seven, and a team that once seemed like a lock to win the winnable NFC North dissolved, their season ending with another coach firing. Out with Jim Schwartz, in with Caldwell, who gets his second chance (Indianapolis, 2009-11) with a team that, of all the openings, has the most talent.
Stafford reached his zenith in 2011, with a 41-touchdown, 5,038-yard season, but he’s been only a 59-percent passer in the two seasons since—with some great days, but also some inconsistent ones.
Said Caldwell: "I’ve watched every throw Matthew made last season, because when I came here and met with him, I wanted to have some familiarity with him. We didn’t go through film together, but we talked about what I saw, and I listened to him, and it was very beneficial. We have used a set of drills in coaching over the years that I think has added some consistency to all the quarterbacks we’ve coached. The great majority of poor throws—people look at the arm, and that's important obviously, but I think footwork is the key. I can pull up any game film and show you how our footwork drills help you. In a nutshell, the feet and eyes work together. If I'm throwing in a particular direction, my footwork is pointing in the same direction—directly at the target. We'll work on it with Matthew, and he will do them flawlessly."
Jay Gruden, Washington: Getting the most out of Robert Griffin III.
For the St. Louis Rams, the 2012 trade of the second pick in the draft—which Washington used to select Griffin—is the gift that keeps on giving. Four starting Rams have come from the deal, and there’s still the second pick in the draft this year remaining. For Griffin, who never formed the bond there should have been with coaches Mike and Kyle Shanahan, the Gruden addition is vital. Gruden will be judged by wins and losses, to be sure, but also by whether he can coach and teach Griffin into becoming the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be.
"I worked with Andy Dalton for three years in Cincinnati, and built a foundation of concepts and protections that I think worked well with him," Gruden said. "With Robert, we’ll obviously use his skill set differently. When it comes to the quarterback position, my job is to make him comfortable and productive. I’m not going to try to turn RG3 into Andy Dalton or Drew Brees. He isn’t them. They’re not him. I would be foolish to try to turn RG3 into a pocket passer. It would be foolish. The way he is as a runner, we have to take advantage of that. He strikes fear into defensive coordinators when he runs outside. I’m going to let him be himself."
It sounds good. But Griffin, as himself, averaged 132 rushes per year in his four Baylor seasons. He ran it 120 times as an NFL rookie in 2012, when he was the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’ll be 24 when next season starts, and has already had two ACL surgeries. Do you really want Griffin to "be himself" if that self wants to get out of the pocket and run so much? I understand Gruden, but I also would want to limit my young franchise quarterback’s exposure to danger in the open field—unless he was committed to sliding at the first sign of trouble, which Griffin hasn’t shown a willingness to do consistently.
Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee: Developing some quarterback, who may not be on the team yet.
After the Cards narrowly lost the Super Bowl five years ago and Kurt Warner retired after the following season, Whisenhunt spent the next three years mining for a quarterback. He went through Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Max Hall in 2010, Kevin Kolb and Skelton again in 2011, then Kolb, Skelton and Ryan Lindley in 2012. The result: an 18-30 record, and a horrible composite passer rating of 65.8.
"It's easy to look at that and say we didn't develop a quarterback," Whisenhunt said. "When Kevin got hurt [both in 2011 and ’12] is when we struggled. And after the Super Bowl, we lost Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Calvin Pace, Antonio Smith and some linemen, and that hurt. But the one thing I can't argue with is we didn't have consistent play at quarterback. The mistake I made when I look back now was changing guys out—we went through too many—and what results from switching them out a lot is you see things that are open, and the new guy misses the read or makes the wrong check. One of the things I've learned is the approach of the quarterback has to be almost the gym-rat kind of approach. I had that with Philip Rivers [as San Diego's offensive coordinator] this year, through the roof. He can't get enough of it. Push me, push me, coach me. That’s him. That’s exactly what Russell Wilson is. So passionate. You are not gonna keep him from being successful."
Too early to tell if Jake Locker is Whisenhunt’s guy. He’s been battling for the starting job and/or hurt and/or inaccurate (57.2 completion rate) in his three seasons. Whisenhunt is right to withhold his seal of approval from Locker.
"I haven't studied him as much as I need to," Whisenhunt said. "I have seen good, and I have seen bad. No question he has ability, and I have heard good things about him. The question is, can he harness the ability, and can he be consistent?" That’s been the question about Locker since he was a phenom at the University of Washington.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota: Building a program.
The Vikings want a tougher team. They want a more physical team and one with a hard-hitting defense. And in hiring Zimmer, they got a man who led the Cincinnati defense for six years, each year finishing in the top half of the league in team defense: 12th, fourth, 15th, seventh, sixth and third. He learned under Bill Parcells while a defensive assistant in Dallas in Parcells’ last head-coaching stop, and he thinks he can learn today from Bill Belichick.
"I’ve got so much respect for Belichick and the Patriots," he said. "They’ve taken so many guys either people don’t know or who were on the street, and blended into one cohesive unit fighting for each other. I realize that’s a cliché, but it’s what I believe. Bill Parcells used to call players independent contractors, and so the first thing you’ve got to do—the first thing we’ll do here—is make sure everyone’s on the same page. I want the wide receivers and offensive linemen to know they’re not just operating alone; they have to rely on each other to succeed. And we’ll demand they do all the fundamental things the right way. That’s how you get your program started right."
A quarterback would help. Expect the new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, to mold a high draft choice into the quarterback of the future, with a veteran like Matt Cassel to back up and start if need be.
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The excommunication of a Pope.
We see the news about head coaches being hired every day, and we wonder what schemes they’ll install, what impact they’ll make and what coaches they’ll import. But what about the exported coaches? What do they do? Where do they go?
The Giants parted ways with tight ends coach Mike Pope Thursday. Pope loved the Giants. He worked for them for 23 years as a tight ends coach, first under Bill Parcells, last under Tom Coughlin. He is the only coach with his name on all four Giants Super Bowl trophies (from the 1986, 1990, 2007 and 2011 seasons). The divorce has to hurt. He loves the Giants so much that one of his four grandchildren is named "Wellington," after late Giants owner Wellington Mara. He did not want to leave, and does not intend to retire, at 71. "I had the option to retire as a New York Giant," Pope said over the weekend, "and I chose not to. I still want to coach. But this is a big-boy business. I understand. There’s going to be a new coordinator, Ben McAdoo, and I’m not going to be here for the next 10 years of something new." Pope said he hopes to be in a new spot this week.
"This is my drug," Pope said. "Trying to make players better every day is what inspires me. Everyone’s got their own way to live on this planet and their own jobs to figure out, and mine is to coach football players. I have listened to people in this business say, ‘Ten years to retirement,’ or however many years, and I think, "That’s not me. That will never be me.’ ”
Every summer when I went to Giants camp, I liked to watch Pope coach. In 2000, when I stopped by, I watched Pope for an entire practice. I thought he had such good ideas and coaching techniques. On this day, he was working with his four tight ends—Howard Cross, Adam Young, Mark Thomas and Dan Campbell. Pope gave Campbell and Cross footballs, each with five feet of rope attached. He handed the end of Cross' rope to Young, and the end of Campbell's rope to Thomas. He had Cross cradle the football and begin running, and he said: "Adam, you start tugging on the rope. Get the ball away from him! Pull hard!" They did it again. Young yanked. Cross lost it. "I'm not sure I like this drill," Cross said. Pope then made his point to his charges: "Hey, this is what defenses get paid to do. We cannot fumble." Thomas and Campbell did it a few times. They followed with 10 minutes more of quick ball reaction drills. Pope would yell: "Down!" and the player would fall to the ground, and just as he'd be coming up, Pope would fire a pass from 10 yards away over the guy's head. To get it, the player would have to be very quick, with very good hands.
"This is my drug. Trying to make players better every day is what inspires me. Everyone's got their own way to live on this planet and their own jobs to figure out, and mine is to coach football players."
Turns out Pope is like so many personal trainers. Workouts are boring, so the smart trainers make every workout different. Football practices are boring to many players. So variety was his spice of life. Once, when he knew the Giants were going to play in a stadium that had portions of the field in shade and some in bright sunlight, he put his tight ends, one by one, in a shed near the Giants’ practice field and had them, one by one, come out from the dark into the sun with a ball immediately being fired at them.
"I had 368 of those drills at one time," he said. "Players learn in different ways, with different drills, and there’s more than one way to accomplish what you want. Drills should match what players are going to experience in games. There has to be a reason for everything you do. If Tiger Woods is going to spend one hour practicing three-foot putts, he is trying to refine and perfect some technique, and you have to respect that."
The Giants were famous for taking late-round and undrafted tight ends (Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard) and handing them to Pope expecting NFL contributors to surface. Now that job will fall to someone new. Pope gets it. I get it. But the Giants will miss those 368 drills.
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Speaking of coaches …
Norv Turner joined his ninth NFL team Friday, agreeing to become Mike Zimmer’s offensive coordinator in Minnesota. He’s had quite a geographical tour of America in his 30 seasons in the NFL, since taking the receivers coach job with John Robinson’s Rams in 1985:
|West||L.A. Rams, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland||16|
The state of the head-trauma case.
When U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody last week rejected the proposed $765 million settlement between about 4,500 former NFL players (or their estates), she said she had "concerns about the fairness, reasonableness and adequacy of the settlement." Basically, Brody was seriously questioning whether the money set aside for the aggrieved players would be enough to care for all the plaintiffs—and future ones.
On Saturday, I spoke with plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Seeger about his reaction to the ruling, and what lies ahead, from his perspective. I was surprised how confident he sounded that the ruling, once the judge examines some of the actuarial data the players’ side commissioned for the case, will stand. A portion of my interview follows, and I will have a second part on Tuesday, in my On Further Review column.
What was your reaction to the judge’s ruling?
“It was totally expected ... The court is the fiduciary of the players and the class, so the court’s doing its job. It’s not unusual for lawyers to have discussions like this with judges in chambers. But this judge is doing everything open and totally transparent, and right in front of the public. So asking for more information so she could determine whether it’s reasonable and adequate is absolutely what we expected. It’s a complicated settlement. Probably the most complicated part is the payouts—the monetary award fund. And I don’t think that anybody would expect the judge to just say, ‘Okay, I see your grid, I trust the fact that you can pay that over 65 years. Go ahead, I’m going to preliminarily approve that.’ ”
"What we’re going to do is follow her order, which was to meet with her special master—she’s appointed Perry Golkin, who is a extremely experienced person in this kind of financial matter. We’re going to provide him with whatever information he wants, and probably a lot of information he might not want. We’re going to basically give him everything and allow him to assess all of the work that was done by the economists and the actuaries, as well as the medical professionals. So it will be his job now to look at that and advise the court."
Do you believe that the settlement is in danger?
"Oh no. No, no, no. Not at all. To put this in some context, what this judge did makes the settlement healthier. It’s a level of analysis that we totally expected on the plaintiff’s side. And I have to imagine—I can’t speak for the NFL—I have to imagine they did as well. So you know, when we hired the best actuaries, when we crossed every ‘T’ and dotted every ‘I,’ it was in complete anticipation of questions like this, because the deal is so complicated. And more importantly because it needs to last over 60 years, or until the very last retired player dies ... What I’m hoping will happen is that players who have had all kinds of information fed to them will finally be able to say, ‘Okay, whether I like it or not, I at least know I can rely on this.’ And that will be a good thing."
Can you explain how you came to determine that there is enough money in the settlement?
"If you take the payout schedule that we created—it’s attached to our documents and now available to everybody—there is, for lack of a better word, a matrix or a grid that compensates extremely highly for players under 45 who get any of these serious injuries. But there’s a whole spectrum here. There are guys who are going to apply to this fund that are 50 years old. There are guys that are going to apply who are 60 years old. And 70 years old. At the age of 70, a guy would be first diagnosed at 70 with dementia, would still be entitled to compensation here, despite the fact that many medical professionals may say, ‘If you didn’t develop dementia until you’re 70, you have a greater chance of developing that as a result of old age than you do anything that happened to you in the NFL.’ Where this works is that the payouts obviously get reduced. So if you take the dementia bucket—level 2 in the settlement—you’re under 45 and you’ve developed dementia, you get $3 million. You develop dementia at age 65—you get $380,000. What does that reflect? If you’re 45 and under, those concussions probably led to your problem. Very highly likely. Now if you develop this at 65, you shouldn’t get the same as someone under 45. Because you’re more likely to have it as a result of the fact that you’re 65. Maybe the concussions played a role, but it’s such a small role ...
“So you can start to see why the values drop down as the players get older, and that is exactly the kind of thing that protects this fund ... What we did on the actuarial side is we examined everything there is to know about NFL players and concussions, and the results ... We were able to extrapolate and come up with rates we believed will be repeated in the settlement based on what’s going to happen to these NFL players. How many of them from age 25 to 80 will [suffer from] dementia at some point in their life? How many will get ALS? We’re very conservative in doing that and we modeled it in many different ways."
Can you be more specific on the dementia example, at different stages of a retired player’s life?
"So let me remind you of one other thing that’s critical here. You’re 65 and you played in the NFL, and you’re entitled to a base reward of $380,000. But if you only played two [NFL] seasons, there’s a further 60 percent reduction. If you played four seasons, you will get a 20 percent reduction. If you played five seasons, you get the whole amount. And just a reminder to you, that was our proxy for causation—in order to convince the NFL to not force players to prove concussions and the scientific link. Let’s go to age 75. The payout then is $80,000. If you go to age 80, the payout then is $50,000. We projected across all age groups.”
If this case ever went to trial, do you think the NFL would try to discredit the cases of your biggest named plaintiffs? [I believe the NFL has video evidence of some of the plaintiffs suffering concussions or taking big hits in college games, and it’s natural the league, in trial, would say, "Prove that your client suffered his injury because of NFL injuries, and not injuries in high school or college football."]
"You couldn’t be more right. These players should not delude themselves here. The NFL had a lot of information about a lot of players. I don’t know exactly what they had, but I can tell you that my suspicion is that they knew every concussion that many NFL players suffered, whether it was high school or college ... Take a suicide case, randomly. Was there suicide in that player’s family? Some scientists believe there’s a genetic link involving depression, and depression leads to suicide. So you find that Joe Blow’s mom suffered from depression—that’s an issue at a trial ... I’ve already settled cases, much bigger than this one. I’ve had a good career. My legacy case wasn’t going to be a case that didn’t work. It wasn’t going to be a case that I wasn’t totally proud of. Because I know that most of the people involved in this, including the judge, are going to be thought of more for the NFL case than anything else that they will do in their career. That’s silly if you ask me, but it’s reality."
You are confident. But what happens if the settlement doesn't get approved?
"I am highly confident it will. If it doesn’t, I guess everyone is back to where they were. We’re back to litigating. The players are back to court. Judge Brody will then rule on the motions before her and these cases will proceed through the system, and you know, we’ll see what happens—if they get sliced and diced by the attorneys at the NFL on legal issues where they think the can win ... I’m not sure which aspect of the settlement would not be approvable. I’m highly confident it’s not the financial."
Maybe the idea is to try to force the NFL to come up with more money.
"I don’t think that is a given. People have to also remember that the judge has a lot of power, but ultimately the judge’s power is to approve or not approve the settlement. So, she can’t really force a party to do anything. This is a piece I’ve been trying to explain to players or laypeople who have said to me that she might force the NFL to put another billion dollars in the deal. There’s only one way to do that. That’s after a trial and you’ve got to get a verdict and a judgment. There’s no process by which any party in a settlement gets forced to do something they don’t want to do. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some other kind of tweak. The judge mentioned a couple of other things that were non-financial that troubled her. So we take a look at them. Everybody in good faith will work toward trying to make everyone comfortable. I don’t have an expectation that the result of this is a lot more money gets injected into the deal. That’s not what I anticipate happening."
* * *
Greg Bishop, a well-respected New York Times scribe soon to join Sports Illustrated, is covering the Australian Open for the Times and watched the NFL games Monday morning in Australia. I was curious about how the game is viewed there, and asked Greg to file something about it. Here’s his report from Melbourne:
Monday morning here in Melbourne, joggers plodded along the Yarra River. Businessmen rode bicycles toward offices, clad in suits. It was 7 a.m. This is what all that activity suggested: What NFL playoffs?
Then there was the Crown Casino, where inside a sports bar, a floor above the morning gamblers who wiped sleep from their eyes and ordered the day’s first pint, a crowd had already gathered. One patron wore a Tom Brady jersey; another a Russell Wilson T-shirt.
I asked two gentlemen who shared a table why they were there. Work, naturally. One was Scott Filion, a New England Patriots fan from New Hampshire. The other was Esan Frederick, from Bermuda. Both left their wives upstairs. They would have watched the games regardless.
"It’s early," Frederick said.
"Too early to drink," Filion added.
There were several minor differences: commercials about soccer, coffees on every other table, references to "American football." But it was mostly typical, proof of the NFL’s great reach, albeit with a few "good run, mate" references thrown in. Andrew Poy, a teacher who moved here recently, sat at my table for the second-half of Broncos-Patriots. He loves the San Francisco 49ers, a team he pledged his loyalty to based on Coach Jim Harbaugh and a steely defense. He said the game was growing in popularity here, but hurdles remained, mostly related to the time difference. It is difficult to convince friends to watch football at 5 a.m. on Monday mornings.
"I’ll tell you," he said, "that Anquan Boldin is the toughest bloke in American football."
1. Seattle (15-3). The Seahawks were built in the images of Pete Carroll and John Schneider: Play very fast, recklessly and calculating on defense, and physically and with the ability to strike deep when needed on offense. That’s what they’ve done in their eight playoff quarters, and I’m sure nothing will change in Super Bowl 48.
2. Denver (15-3). The single-best performance of Championship Sunday ... but after watching the Seattle defensive front swarm and the Seattle secondary break up so many important passes, I say Seattle’s a tick better. If Peyton Manning gets the kind of protection in New Jersey Feb. 2 that he got Sunday, though, this is going to be one of the great Super Bowls.
3. San Francisco (14-5). Kaepernick giveth. Kaepernick taketh away.
4. New England (13-5). It’s obvious: The Pats were outplayed in all ways Sunday. But to take the knocks this team has taken all season, it’s a great accomplishment to have gotten to the Final Four.
5-9. Carolina (12-5), San Diego (10-8), New Orleans (12-6), Green Bay (8-8-1), Philadelphia (10-7).
10-15. Indianapolis (12-6), Kansas City (11-6), Arizona (10-6), Cincinnati (11-6), Pittsburgh (8-8), Chicago (8-8).
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver. In control for 60 minutes, Manning outplayed his nemesis Tom Brady (he would have outplayed anyone on this day) with a 32-of-43, 400-yard, two-touchdown, no-pick, 118.4-rating game in the 26-16 AFC title victory over the Patriots. He evened his record in the postseason at 11-11, and it’s hard to think of a playoff game (maybe early in his career, in 2003, in the playoff game against defenseless Kansas City) he ever played better.
Defensive Players of the Week
Kam Chancellor, strong safety, Seattle. In the last 20 minutes of Seattle’s NFC’s win, Chancellor made three huge plays: the intimidating crush pass-broken-up on Vernon Davis, the interception of Colin Kaepernick, and then forcing a footstep-hearing Michael Crabtree to short-arm an incompletion with two minutes left in the game. For the game, Chancellor was everywhere, making 11 tackles.
Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle, Denver. Biggest single defensive play of the game for Denver: Pot Roast’s 10-yard sack of Tom Brady on 4th-and-2 late in the third quarter from the Denver 29. But Knighton was impactful in other ways too, including being the backbone on his run-stuffing denial of the New England two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. The man’s going to be a force for Marshawn Lynch to deal with in 13 days.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Ryan Allen, punter, New England. Don’t blame Allen. His three first-half punts (60 yards to the Denver 15-yard line, 55 yards to the Denver 18, 32 yards to the Denver 7) pinned Peyton Manning way back, but the Patriots’ defense couldn’t hold up. Denver drove 73 yards and 93 yards to 10 points off two of those punts. His three punts for a 49.0-yard average were a collective playoff rarity: every one inside the 20.
Doug Baldwin, wide receiver/returner, Seattle. His 51-yard reception in the first half was impactful, because it set up the field goal for Seattle—the lone points for the home team in the first half. But his 69-yard kick-return came at a vital time in the game. Midway through the third quarter, the Niners had just gotten the stunning jump-pass touchdown from Colin Kaepernick, and Baldwin took the ensuing kickoff up the right side for 69 yards. That set up another Seattle field goal and neutered the Niners' momentum.
Coach of the Week
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Seattle. All season, Quinn has rotated his defensive front intelligently and gotten players like Michael Bennett to accept different roles than they traditionally played. It paid off with a brutish tour-de-force second half against the Niners. The Seahawks forced three turnovers in the final 11 minutes and swarmed around Colin Kaepernick so much that, watching at home, Peyton Manning had to be thinking, "Can we play six offensive linemen against them in the Super Bowl?"
Goat of the Week
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback, San Francisco. Perfect description by Jimmy Johnson on FOX after the Niners lost the heartbreaker in the NFC Championship Game: "He kept them in the game with his legs, but he hurt them with his arm." Hurt them, as Johnson said, by turning it over three times in the fourth quarter: two interceptions and a strip-sack by Cliff Avril. Kaepernick is a scintillating player who will have many great days in the league. But the fourth quarter he played against a very good defense was the biggest factor in the loss. "I cost us this game," he said afterward.
Quotes of the Week
"I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with some sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re gonna get!!!"
—Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, to FOX’s Erin Andrews, moments after the Seahawks finished off San Francisco on Sherman’s pass deflection.
"Tom Brady owes me his house. I’m the reason why he’s married to who he’s married to. I’m the reasons for a lot of that, because they overturned that call."
—Oakland safety Charles Woodson, on NFL Network’s GameDay First pregame show Sunday, harkening back fondly to the day 12 years ago when the Tuck Rule helped start the New England run of three Super Bowl wins in four years.
"I was destined to do this."
—New Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, in his introductory press conference Friday.
"It will haunt me for the rest of my career, a breakdown in the most critical time. That’s going to haunt you forever."
—Chargers safety Eric Weddle, on the coverage breakdown that contributed to Peyton Manning converting a game-turning 3rd-and-17 pass to wide-open tight end Julius Thomas in the AFC divisional playoff game eight days ago, to San Diego radio station The Mighty 1090.
"That's my dog. Cash that check, baby!"
—New England cornerback Aqib Talib, on cornerback Marquice Cole, who went back and forth between the Patriots roster and unemployment this season, before the Broncos signed him Monday to fill the hole left by the injury to Chris Harris. Cole was ripped by Patriots fans on social media for being a turncoat, which is so logical, seeing as how they thought he should stay unemployed rather than make $42,000 for being on the Broncos for the championship game and then, if Denver advanced, either the $46,000 losers’ share or $92,000 winners’ share for being on a Super Bowl team.
"Perhaps some of you might ask the question, ‘Who is Jim Caldwell?’ I’m from the Midwest, from the heartland, a small town in southern Wisconsin, Beloit, and it’s right on the state line. I know one time my dad referred to Beloit as a poke-and-plumb town. He said, ‘If you’re driving in your car, by the time you poke your head out the window to see where you are, you’re plumb out of town.’ So, it’s a very small, little town. But I am also a husband. My wife, Cheryl, of 37 years has certainly been with me for quite some time. We grew up together in Beloit, so we’ve actually dated since we were 15 years of age. You can do the math on that one. We are the products of a very tough and gritty, hard-nosed, blue-collar community. That’s who we are. My father worked in the automotive industry for 35 years. The UAW took care of my family. My mother was a nurse’s aide and climbed her way up to an RN and then she had an opportunity to work in an area that she loved in geriatric care. She was a supervisor of a nursing home toward the end of her career. I am also a brother. I have an older sister and I have a younger brother. My younger brother is in his 34th year in the automotive industry and they both live right down the road in Fort Wayne, Ind. I am a father. Cheryl and I have four children—Jimmy, Jermaine, Jared and Natalie. They are 32, 34, 30 and 28, so we’re at the other end of the spectrum of a lot of families. But nevertheless, they’re fine people and we’re certainly proud of them. We also have a daughter-in-law and in the spice of life, we have two grandchildren.
"... [Regarding players] we have to make certain that we have a service and a commitment to service to our community and to our fan base. I think that’s a huge part of it. One of the great descriptions I’ve ever heard about a person is velvet and steel, that an individual should be, particularly guys that play this game, like a piece of steel wrapped in velvet. So, on the field you’ll find a hard-nosed, tough, fast, physical individual. But then out in our community, you’ll see them as caring, as kind, as cordial as you’ll ever see a human being. That’s the combination we’re looking for, civility and toughness."
—New Detroit coach Jim Caldwell, introducing himself at his first press conference with the Lions.
That, folks, is how you tell people who you are, and the kind of people you want on your team.
"Why do they call it Happy Hour when what it is, is people drinking and bitching about their jobs? I never got that."
—Tight ends coach Mike Pope, formerly of the Giants. He was released from his job last week, as you read in my tribute to him above.
I just liked the quote, and I couldn’t find any other place for it, so here it is.
Stats of the Week
In Peyton Manning’s last 10 quarters played, Denver punter Britton Colquitt has had a pretty easy job. Manning, in the last game of the regular season against the Raiders, left at halftime with a 31-0 lead. And in his two playoff games, Colquitt has watched the Broncos win twice with some long drives. But he hasn’t gotten on the field much. Once, to be exact. The tale of his tape in the last three Denver games, with Manning at the controls of the offense:
|At Oakland, Dec. 29||5||0||4||1|
|San Diego, Jan. 12||8||0||3||1|
|New England, Jan. 19||8||1||2||4|
Thus, in Manning’s 21 possessions over the past three games, Denver has scored 15 times and punted once.
Let the record show that, for the $11 million he earned this season from the Seahawks, and for the first-, third- and seventh-round picks the trade cost Seattle, this was Percy Harvin’s 2013 output:
Seattle games: 18.
Harvin games: 2.
Number of Seattle offensive plays: 1,087.
Number of offensive plays for Harvin: 38.
Number of Harvin offensive touches: 5.
Offensive yards by Harvin: 47.
Harvin touchdowns: 0.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
This is "Golden" Tate, of Kirkland, Wash., and he is responsible for his owner, 20-year-old Chris Foss of Kirkland, winning two tickets to the NFC Championship Game Sunday.
Tate is a 3-month-old golden retriever, named after Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate. When Foss and his girlfriend got the dog recently, they debated three names: Earl (Thomas), Russ (Wilson) and (Golden) Tate. "We both love the Seahawks, and we both love golden retrievers," Foss said Saturday. "Earl and Russ were good names, but he is a golden retriever, and they catch so well … it seemed pretty natural. Golden Tate."
Foss has a No. 51 Bruce Irvin jersey, and he draped it on Tate, who stayed still long enough for the picture. "It was kind of cute," Foss said.
Foss posted the photo on Instagram on Friday, also known in Seattle on game weekends as "Blue Friday" with a TGIBF (Thank God It’s Blue Friday) hashtag. Smitten with the cute-as-a-button photo and the dog name, the Seahawks found Foss and gave him two tickets to the game. He took his dad.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
I have three:
1. The Minneapolis airport hit a symphonic home run Thursday afternoon. As I was passing through connecting for a flight to Denver, a woman played a harp. Beautifully, I might add. "Ode to Joy," I think.
2. The AFC media hotel over the weekend was the classic 122-year-old Brown Palace Hotel. Six presidents have stayed here. And The Beatles. And I thought: I have been here before. I was ... 32 years ago, when the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News brought me in for a job interview when I worked in Cincinnati. Very cool place, with a big atrium lobby and a grand staircase up from the lobby to all floors. Thirty-two years. That’s the record between stays at a hotel for me.
3. Traffic in Denver is insane. It’s underrated nationally. It took me 90 minutes at rush hour Friday afternoon to drive 14 miles from the southern ‘burbs of Denver to downtown. Crawled along as though I was on the Garden State Parkway, headed south for the shore, on a July Friday afternoon at 5.
Tweets of the Week
"It's sad that one player can make me dislike a whole team... #richardsherman"
—@KevinBossman, former NFL tight end Kevin Boss.
Judging by my Twitter mentions, Kevin, you’re not alone.
"Will never forget loud curse by John Schneider in GB Draft room when Buffalo took Marshawn Lynch ahead of us in '07. Now he's got him."
—@adbrandt, The MMQB's Andrew Brandt, after Lynch ran for a pinballing touchdown in the NFC title game. Brandt was a Green Bay executive at the time, and Schneider a club scout.
"Geno Smith intercepted at the airlines. Damn."
—@MartysaurusRex, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, after Jets quarterback Geno Smith was removed from a Los Angeles-to-Fort Lauderdale flight, either for not turning off his headphones before takeoff or continuing to speak on his phone and delaying the flight—the matter is in dispute.
"My eating habits are horrible. Favorite restaurant is Waffle House. How sad is that?"
—@StephenKing, the writer.
Get the scrambled eggs with cheese, and the raisin toast. I beg you. Might be the best breakfast of all time.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about championship weekend:
a. For Atlanta and Jacksonville, the chance for their coaching staffs to coach in the Senior Bowl this week. That always is a huge edge come draft time.
b. Pittsburgh interviewing Mike Munchak for its offensive-line coaching job. How perfect: Munchak’s physicality and the Steelers.
c. Heard a lot of really good things about Ben McAdoo. Imaginative, tireless and a quarterback’s best resource. The Giants needed a fresh start.
d. Dont’a Hightower, blowing up a Knowshon Moreno run for a loss of five.
e. Two great plays on the first two New England third downs, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Tony Carter breaking up potential conversion passes for Austin Collie and Matthew Slater.
f. The power of Manning to make the stadium church-like quiet just before any Denver snap. Almost disquieting. If there’s an audible peep, he’ll raise his hands and simmer the loudmouth down.
g. Pats defensive end Chandler Jones—I believe—saved four points on the first scoring drive of the day, grabbing the upper arm of Manning as he threw and forcing the ball to go high to Eric Decker in the end zone.
h. Manning’s audible to a Moreno run on the first touchdown drive. Perfect read of the Pats’ D. Gain of 28.
i. Robert Ayers, the second draft choice of Josh McDaniels, with a sack of Josh McDaniels’ quarterback.
j. Pat Bowlen, who has been ailing, looking good on the podium accepting the AFC title trophy.
k. Colin Kaepernick’s legs. His 58-yard run—effortless.
l. Russell Wilson’s perfect throw into Jermaine Kearse for the winning touchdown.
m. Michael Bennett, who reminds me of George Martin, the old Giant. The ball just found him. In other words, he has an instinct for finding the ball, and did it again on the Kaepernick strip-sack by Cliff Avril.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about championship weekend:
a. Life of a Coach Dept.: Three years ago today, Ray Horton was the secondary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then he was hired as defensive coordinator of Arizona (2011-12), and then defensive coordinator of Cleveland (2013), and now defensive coordinator of Tennessee. Four jobs in 36 months.
b. Tom Brady overthrowing Julian Edelman on what could have been a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Good play design, good route by Edelman. Just overthrown.
c. Tom Brady, missing too many deep throws.
d. Hated the 3rd-and-20, slip screen to Edelman on the last play of the first quarter—with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out briefly.
e. Wes Welker’s pick on Aqib Talib, early second quarter. Officials missed it. Talib got knocked silly, had to leave the game. Big play.
f. Not sure which official in San Francisco-Seattle missed the ball right in NaVorro Bowman’s hands as he shouted in pain from his serious knee injury in the second half … but miss the call they did. You cannot miss a clear fumble recovery at the goal line; way too much at stake. But the play couldn’t be reviewed. Lucky for the Niners they got the ball back a minute later after a Marshawn Lynch fumble.
g. The archaic policy in the NFL that has only certain plays reviewed. Every play should be reviewable. Too much at stake to see a clear error on the JumboTron and, because some plays cannot be reviewed, you can’t fix it. And don’t say it’ll make the games interminably long. Each team gets two challenges per game, and a third if they win both of the first two. That’s not excessive. It should happen.
h. Russell Wilson usually takes care of the ball. That first-quarter fumble could have been very costly.
3. I think, barring a successful appeal of his $21,000 fine for unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head and neck of a defenseless receiver (Percy Harvin), Saints safety Rafael Bush played the NFC playoff game against Seattle for, well, let’s figure it out. (The NFL shouldn’t rescind or lower the fine, in my opinion; it’s the classic definition of a high hit to a defenseless receiver.) But here’s the balance sheet:
Payment for divisional game: $23,000.
—NFL fine: $21,000.
—Federal tax on $2,000 remaining: $792 (at 39.6 percent of Bush’s salary).
—FICA on $2,000: $153.
—Louisiana state tax on $2,000: $120 (at 6 percent of Bush’s salary).
Total fine, taxes: $22,065
Bush’s take-home pay for the game: $935.
Thus: Bush took home 4 percent of his paycheck for the game.
4. I think I’d love to know who trained Jim Harbaugh for his standup act last week. Twice!
5. I think if you wondered why Ken Whisenhunt took the Tennessee job instead of Detroit, remember two things: He might not have gotten the Detroit job, and Tennessee was willing to pay him a premium to accept its job Monday instead of waiting for whatever happened in Detroit. "The Lions were still involved in their process," Whisenhunt told me, "and they felt strongly about coach [Jim] Caldwell, and Tennessee moved quickly." That’s code for, "I had better take the job with the offer on the table." Secondly: I’m not convinced Detroit—with a better overall team than Tennessee, and certainly a better quarterback—is a better job. With Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having five more prime seasons (if injury free) apiece, that’s four games every year against a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. In the AFC South, there’s Andrew Luck, and then only question marks.
6. I think Wade Phillips raised an interesting point the other day, on being disappointed he didn’t get one interview for a defensive coordinator job. The last five times he’d been appointed defensive coordinator of a team, that team made the playoffs in year one of his tenure. He’s right: Houston 2011, San Diego 2007, Atlanta 2002, Buffalo 1995, Denver 1989. The stench of this Houston season and the fact that Phillips isn’t close to any of the six head coaches hired so far have the most to do with the unemployment.
7. I think, re "Omaha" and the craze it caused thanks to Peyton Manning's use of it against the Chargers, this is a word designed in most cases to alert the offense to snap and start the play on the next sound from the quarterback. Unless, as in the case of the neutral-zone infractions (San Diego had four of them eight days ago), it’s a quarterback telling the offense in the huddle or on the sidelines to go on the second or third sound after "Omaha," to confuse the defense. I remember watching Tim Tebow practice during his rookie year, and every snap was after "Omaha ... GO!!" Because Peyton Manning knows his sounds are being recorded and parsed by teams trying to pair words with on-field actions and plays, he knows that if he uses one word over and over, he can’t have the kind of pattern to it that will make it easy to follow.
8. I think Scott Fujita wrote the enlightening story of the week around the NFL, about new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Fujita’s point was that his former defensive coordinator in Dallas was so smart and so well-respected by his players that his appointment as head coach was long overdue. Fujita wrote: "When he was my defensive coordinator and position coach with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, I remember watching game film with him one afternoon in his office. I can’t remember who the upcoming opponent was, but I remember sitting there quietly listening to him talk through calls as each play ran on the projector screen. I felt like I had a front-row seat to his game-day thought process, as he was essentially thinking out loud. And it wasn’t the defensive calls he was making that I found overly impressive. Anyone who ‘knows’ football can run through a call sheet and match it up with the corresponding game situation.
"But what I found uncanny was his ability to correctly and specifically predict what each offensive play would be, one after another. After about 25-30 plays of him making offensive predictions with roughly 90 percent accuracy, I called ‘bull----‘ and told him he had either watched this tape a dozen times already or that he was simply reading the offensive plays from his monitor. So he offered to switch seats with me. I sat in his chair in front of the monitor and pulled up the archives to search for a film of that week’s opponent that wasn’t part of the regular six-to-eight-game breakdown that most teams evaluate each week during the season. I randomly selected a game from early the previous season, hit play, and watched him work his magic. After watching a series or two to get a feel for the game, he started reciting the ensuing offensive plays again, one after another. Finally, I told him he was showing off. His response: ‘Nope. I’ve just got these (bleep)ers down.’ And that he did. I began to think of Zim as a defensive coordinator with an offensive coordinator’s mind."
Now that’s great stuff, the exact insight former players who do the job right can bring to NFL reporting.
9. I think the greatest statement in Inappropriate Parking Lot Behavior History was issued Friday, on the heels of news that Jets tight end Kellen Winslow was cited for public lewdness and possession of synthetic marijuana in New Jersey after a woman in a Target parking lot alleged to police that she saw Winslow with his penis out in the car. His publicist, Denise White, said: "Kellen pulled over to a parking lot to smoke what he thought at the time was a legal substance. He changed his clothes in his vehicle as not to smell like smoke when he returned home. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate that took place, and if there was police would have investigated further and charged Kellen, which they did not." Riiiight. Synthetic marijuana is available at all the gas stations where I fill up. And it’s quite legal. And I change my clothes in Target parking lots all the time! Winslow pleaded not guilty to the pot charge, and police didn’t charge him with lewdness because the woman did not choose to file charges or come forward to testify against him. Dom Cosentino of NJ.com reported that two open jars of vaseline were found on the console of his vehicle by police, and when an investigating officer approached the car, "Winslow sprang to an upright position."
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Saw one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in a while Thursday night in Denver. Avs 2, Devils 1 in a shootout, with incredible goaltending (Semyon Varlamov, Cory Schneider) and the continued inability of New Jersey to score in the shootout. That Varlamov is fantastic; he’s on a 17-game streak of not losing in regulation. Also: Great video board at the Pepsi Center.
b. Of course, one of the highlights during the game was noticing the back of No. 24 for the Avalanche: CLICHE. A forward. Marc-Andre Cliche, from Quebec. So, brilliant me, I’m at the game with our Robert Klemko, and Cliche goes into the penalty box, and I say, "Cliché in the sin bin! How perfect is that?!"
c. But the dream soon died. The PA announcer, calling out the penalty, pronounced the last name "Cleesh." Bummer.
d. Just saw the highlights, but if you were in Oklahoma City Friday night, looks like you saw the shooting night of the year between Steph Curry (37) and Kevin Durant (54). The ease of Curry’s three-point shots, and the way Durant hits nothing but net from turnaround bombs ... pretty great.
e. Great work by my former colleague, Jeffri Chadiha, now with ESPN, on his E:60 story on Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman searching for the father he vaguely knew, and the family he never knew existed. Really good story-telling.
f. John Henry must be loosening the budget of the Boston Globe. The paper had 18 staffers in Denver for the Broncos-Patriots game. For newspapers in this day and age, that’s amazing.
g. Saw a terrific film the other day about hunger in America, A Place at the Table, and realized it was one of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s projects. He is one of the executive producers on the documentary, which shows how insidious both urban and rural poverty is, and how the numbers of the hungry (50 million Americans experience some form of hunger problems every day) keep rising. A smart, hard-working single mom in inner-city Philadelphia finally gets a job after being unemployed, and finds she has less money to spend on food than when she was on public assistance. It’s one of many heartbreaking things in the movie.
h. Darren Sharper’s in trouble. The former safety was suspended by NFL Network without pay after being charged with suspicion of rape in California. And Saturday, the New Orleans police said he’s suspected in a sexual assault there. From my experience with Sharper—all good—that’s something I never saw coming.
i. Coffeenerdness: My compliments on the rich espresso in your coffee bar, Brown Palace.
j. Beernerdness: A Denver pizza place, Lucky Pie Pizza and Tavern, had Pliny the Elder double-IPA on tap, and that was a treat, to see the famous and delicious beer from Santa Rosa (as smooth and hoppy as any IPA I’ve had) in the house. Very good Sangiovese there too, if you’re into a good wine with your pizza ... One other beer shoutout from my three-night Denver experience: Laughing Dog IPA, from Ponderay, Idaho, on tap. A darker IPA, strong, with a smooth taste. Liked it.
The Adieu Haiku
Big contrast: Erin Andrewsdoesn’t fear Manning.