The Pride of the Panthers
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Here’s how football locker rooms have changed before our eyes, per Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who was a rookie in 2008:
“When I came into the league, guys would be playing cards in the locker room, and dominoes,” Ryan said on Sunday. “Now, they’re still playing cards … but it’s like, one guy’s sitting at his locker with his phone, and another guy’s at his locker with his phone, and they’re playing poker against each other. That’s the way they’re used to playing cards now.”
NFL camaraderie, 2015.
* * *
The story of the week, from the first week on the road in the 2015 preseason.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — One of the best special-teams coaches in NFL history, Bruce DeHaven, had to ponder this spring one of the toughest choices a man could ever have.
A doctor told him in May: It’s likely you have three to five years to live. And then he didn’t hear anything else. He didn’t hear the doc say there’s a slight chance you will live for decades, or a slight chance you will live for a few months. He just heard, at 66 and healthy as a mule (or so he thought), that the finish line of life might well be coming about 25 years sooner than he thought it would. In the next 10 days, DeHaven lost 11 pounds. From the shock of it. He didn’t have 11 to lose, but he lost them anyway.
It’s May. Mini-camps are approaching. The owner of the team, the venerable Jerry Richardson, tells DeHaven the team will support him in any way possible. If the prostate cancer spreads into your bones and makes it too tough to work, Richardson says we’ll get you the best care on the planet, wherever that is; if you want to work, we’ll get you the best care on the planet, wherever that is. Your call.
At home, DeHaven has a son about to go off to college, for his freshman year at Canisius, and a daughter still in high school. He thought about it. He thought about it for a long time. He did nothing but think about it.
Should I coach this team with a bunch of guys I love? Or should I go home and just be with the ones I love more, just in case the end is near?
How do you make that call?
* * *
Lots going on in the first week of NFL training camps, and lots off the field. We’ll get to the Tom Brady appeal ruling, and the justifiably bitter Patriots continuing to feed the Story That Won’t Go Away, and the Seahawks wrapping up the last two contracts with their future cornerstones, and my takeaways from camp stops with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, Carolina and Atlanta (Ben Roethlisberger speaks … RG3’s last stand? … and more).
But the story that made me stop in my tracks in the past few days happened on the bucolic campus of Wofford College, where the Panthers have trained for the past 20 summers, since entering the league in 1995. It’s the kind of place—small college, fans sitting on a hill watching practice, fans paying nothing for it, all 90 players signing for beseeching fans (“CAMMMMMM!!!!!!”) after practice—that’s perfect for training camp, and the kind of treatment by a team that’s a model for every camp in the league. That’s the environment Bruce DeHaven works in every day. Only the fans don’t know the man with the wide-brimmed white sun hat, which keeps the worst of the rays from damaging his fair skin on this typically oppressive 92-degree first day of August, hang-timing his punters while the rest of the team worked out on the adjacent field. No one’s really watching the punters. Hardly anyone ever does, except for the special-teams coach.
“Whoa!” DeHaven said on Saturday afternoon, watching incumbent Brad Nortman skyrocket a booming punt off the sweet spot of his right foot. Then he waits, and Nortman watches, until the ball falls to earth.
“Five-point-oh!” DeHaven called out with a wide grin. “A five-second hang time! On the first day we’re kicking, no less! Wow!”
So now you know: DeHaven chose to coach this season. He also chose, with Richardson’s approval and that of head coach Ron Rivera, to import one of his best friends in the coaching fraternity, retired NFL special-teams coach Russ Purnell, to help him during the season if his health takes a sudden turn.
“I just figured that I am determined to beat this,” said DeHaven. “And I hope I can beat it. I hope I can outlast it. I’m so busy that I don’t even think of it unless someone brings it up. But I think I figured that, if I quit, 20 years from now I’d ask myself, ‘Why’d you walk away from a job you love doing so much?’”
Before the afternoon practice, when DeHaven talked about his big decision, he tried to explain why he so desperately wanted to keep doing what he did for a 29th season in the NFL. He had coached under Hall of Fame coaches Marv Levy in Buffalo and Bill Parcells in Dallas, and under Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Holmgren in Seattle. But the bigness wasn’t the be-all of it. You could see that on a scorching day in training camp, as he kept the log of his punters.
“Look,” he said, “I love coaching. I just do. I love teaching football. There’s a story I need to tell you. I grew up in Kansas, a farm kid. And I got to be a high school coach, and in 1976, the team I coached in Wichita went to Kansas City and won the state championship. So we’re headed home to Wichita after the game on a yellow school bus, and everyone’s so happy, and I’m happy we won, of course. But part of me was so sad. The season’s over. I don’t get to coach these kids I love to coach on Monday. It’s over. So it’s the coaching, the teaching, the process. That’s what I love.
“From life on the farm to the NFL … I mean, are you kidding me? Coaching in the Super Bowl? With Hall of Fame coaches? Marv Levy, Bill Parcells. My gosh, I understand what Lou Gehrig said. I honestly feel it. I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
So as to whether DeHaven coaches or goes home … of course there is no right answer, because life gives you no guarantees. For now, DeHaven has his son, Toby, with him at camp. The two are spending time together before the young and exceedingly polite man leaves for college later this month, and his father is introducing him to everyone they meet during, before and after practice and meetings. On Saturday, most everywhere DeHaven went, he went with a smile.
“From life on the farm to the NFL … I mean, are you kidding me? My gosh, I understand what Lou Gehrig said. I honestly feel it. I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
After practice, Carolina safety Colin Jones, one of DeHaven’s core special-teamers, considered his coach’s decision this spring. He got very serious. Solemn. “We didn’t have a very good year on special teams last year,” Jones said, “and Bruce knew that. He absolutely would not accept it. He was positive with us, and he had passion every day. But he is not afraid to tell us the truth. I made a mistake in a game last year, and I knew it, and the team knew it. He called me out in front of the team—and that was good, because we all have to be accountable.
“Then, when we heard about what his situation was this spring, to hear he wanted to be with us, to hear he wanted to be our coach at this point in his life. I don’t know what to say, really. But it is the best. Just the best.”
“When I first was getting to know Bruce,” Cam Newton said, “I said to him, ‘Hey coach, you want to get a big raise?’ He said, ‘Sure, we all like money.’ I said, ‘Put me at punt return!’ We both laughed. He says to me I should be ready; you never know what might happen some day.”
Newton considered DeHaven’s decision to coach one more season, at least, and was asked whether it said anything about what he felt about the players on this team.
“It’s not saying he loves coaching us,” Newton said. “It’s screaming it. That’s the kind of passion coach has for this team.”
* * *
DeHaven got his NFL start with the great Levy Bills teams, helping develop gunner/punt-blocker/kick-blocker Steve Tasker into the man who is often considered the best special-teams player in NFL history. “A fine man, a terrific coach, and a fabulous tactician,” former Bills GM Bill Polian said. “He comes into the league under the best special-teams mind in the game, Marv Levy, and puts his own stamp on special-teams coaching, and he helps Steve become the best special-teamer ever.”
“I gave him a game ball in the locker room once,” said Tasker. “I have to think that’s pretty rare. I forget the exact game, but we made so many plays on special teams. It was almost like it was unfair, we were so much better and so much better-prepared than the opponent that day. But that’s what Bruce did, every week. And for me, he was steadfast he wanted me to be the point of his spear. He saw something in my psyche that maybe other coaches hadn’t seen. Without him, there is no way we’d have had the success we had.”
Through the years, others felt the way Tasker felt, and the way Colin Jones felt. In 2001, DeHaven was coaching the San Francisco special teams when a young coach from Hofstra came in the office one day to interview for an entry-level job on the defensive staff. The kid was sweating profusely, nervous. Good résumé, but you never know how these things go. But the head coach, Steve Mariucci, liked the kid’s enthusiasm.
Dan Quinn was hired.
On Sunday, Quinn, the rookie head coach in Atlanta, recalled the moment. “So I get the job,” he said, “and the next day, Bruce, who doesn’t even really know me, comes up to me with the USA Today sports section. He shows me the ‘Transactions’ column. He says to me, ‘You better save this. This is a big deal for a kid from Hofstra, being in transactions, getting a job in the NFL.’ That’s the kind of guy Bruce is.”
“How about that?” DeHaven said. “What a great guy Dan is. I’m still doing this, and guys who just started in the middle of my career are getting head-coaching jobs. Isn’t that something?”
Over the past few weeks, scores of men in the coaching fraternity have reached out to DeHaven. Bill Belichick called. Sean Payton sent a picture of the Saints’ staff, with well-wishes from all. “Heartwarming,” DeHaven said, shaking his head. “Sean Payton, with a division rival, reaching out. Just shows you what the fraternity of coaches is like. We compete, but we’re together.”
DeHaven is undergoing hormone treatments now, hoping to stop the spread of the disease and treat it as well. He feels good. He uses the elliptical machine every morning. He looks very good. He gets around the practice field as good as any 66-year-old man has a right to.
“My problems are down the road, not right now,” he said. “There’s no telling how cancer progresses, and everyone’s immune system handles it differently. I plan on being here for a long time. I plan on something else killing me, way down the road. But whatever happens, I have had a great life.”
• Question or comment for Peter King? Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
The Training Camp Road, Week One.
Six camps down, quite a few to go. Snippets from the road:
Atlanta: Flowery Branch, Ga.
News item: A new coach uses an athletic phenom to get his team’s attention.
Spend a day around the Falcons, as The MMQB did on Sunday, and you realize the tremendous early impact rookie coach Dan Quinn has had in his first six months on the job. Case in point: Setting the team’s mindset, daily.
Take Sunday morning. Quinn, as all coaches do, has a team meeting to start the day. Ever since he took the job, current events (many of them in sports) open Quinn’s meeting with the entire team. It was no different early Sunday, when Quinn put up on the big screen in the meeting room a video of UFC Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey’s beatdown of Bethe Correia. It took all of 34 seconds. Now, Quinn has put up lots of sports highlights in front of the team. Boxing, and lots of basketball, and some baseball. But this one got his team’s attention.
The tenor of the meeting room changed from the time the players first saw Rousey to the time they first saw her beat up her foe. “She is fine,” was one of the first reactions when Rousey showed up on the screen.
But the players weren’t talking about her looks when Rousey finished off another overmatched opponent. They were talking about a peer.
“Man, is she tough,” one player called out.
“There was a genuine respect for her in the room,” Quinn said a few hours later. “I wanted to show them this fight because she is a great example of the fact that there is another level of competitor out there. We’re trying to find that extra level in all of our players. Athletes like her we hope will leave an impression.”
It left an impression all right. “That,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, “was a unique way to start a meeting. Holy crap. She kicked her ass! Rousey’s so dominant. Such an intimidating factor. You can see when you watch her; she wins before she enters the ring. I really like things like this. I think it’s a great way to tap into a diverse locker room. Guys love it.”
* * *
Washington: Richmond, Va.
News item: Robert Griffin III is at the edge of a cliff. He knows it.
So it’s year four for Robert Griffin III, and not much has changed since last August. Except the desperation, of course. This is it for the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year. After an ignominious 2014 season—seven starts, two wins, four touchdowns, six interceptions, one 300-yard passing game—Griffin has to show that he can play more from the pocket than he has ever been asked to do in his life. Coach Jay Gruden’s intention is to have Griffin rely far more on his arm and his reads of the defense than he's ever had to do as a pro. It’s something that Griffin will have to adjust to as the summer and fall go on, because Gruden is not turning back. Gruden’s not stapling RGIII to the pocket, mind you. But he’s not designing the option-read for him either, as Griffin was allowed to run as a free-wheeling rookie.
“It would be difficult for anyone to change the way they play at this level,” said linebacker Keenan Robinson, who came to Washington with Griffin in the 2012 draft. “He has had to change the game he played for 14 years. But I like what I see right now. He was a one-look guy who would take off and run pretty fast. Now he scans the field and stays in the pocket and makes big throws.”
That, of course will be vital for Griffin. He knows it. “They are not asking me to be Superman,” a placid and seemingly content Griffin said an hour after Friday’s practice. But when hasn’t he seemed placid and content?
“They are asking me to be basic and take the plays that are there. If that’s what Jay wants me to do, that’s what I am going to do. It doesn’t mean you take everything out of your game. When those opportunities come up to make plays out of the pocket I will do it and not think twice about it. But if they are asking me to do the ordinary, that’s what I am going to have to do.”
What I wonder about Griffin is this: He has to know that if he doesn’t produce in year four, there is a good chance he’ll be gone. That, plus the fact that the pressure on any quarterback drafted second overall would be stifling. But add to that all of the controversial stuff—the conflicts with former coach Mike Shanahan and the zingers from Gruden last year, and the awkward leadership profile he has shown. Although Griffin has had a good offseason with his team and a couple of sharp early practices in camp, it’s still no better than 50-50 that he’ll be the Washington quarterback a year from today.
“If I take all that baggage with me out there on the field, I am not going to be the best player I can be,” Griffin said. “I think Peyton Manning said pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you are doing. But I know what I am doing. Being in this offense for the second year is really going to help. I know how to get us into the best position possible. I can’t worry about where I am going to be next year or where I am going to be 15 years from now. I just have to play.”
But you wonder: Will Griffin feel shackled sticking closer to the pocket than ever? Or free from shackles because his job is better defined now? That’s going to tell a big part of his 2015 story.
* * *
Pittsburgh: Latrobe, Pa.
Roethlisberger has started 37 games in a row.
Remember when Big Ben was Oft-Broken Ben? No more. Roethlisberger, who started 16 games once during the first nine seasons of his career, has started every regular season game the past two years, at ages 31 and 32. I maintain that it’s easy to forget about Roethlisberger—and many in our business and the fan business do just that—when the roll is called of great passers. Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Manning … it’s almost a cliché to not include Roethlisberger. You just can’t do that anymore. Here’s how well he’s been playing:
• In his streak of 37 straight games played, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is plus-41 (70 TDs, 29 picks). Tom Brady’s over the past 37 starts: 69-24.
• His completion percentage of 67.1 percent last year was the best of his career.
• His 4,952 passing yards last year were the most of his career, and led the NFL.
• And the key, he thinks: His sack rate—2.1 per game last year—was the lowest rate of his career, and that means something important.
“It’s the guys up front,” he said. “Nothing against the guys in the past, but my protection has been phenomenal. I’d rather give them the credit than say it’s anything I’ve done, because they deserve it.”
Credit the line. Credit offensive coordinator Todd Haley for implementing a scheme that has Roethlisberger throwing earlier, and throwing to more high-percentage routes. And credit the most dangerous group of young receivers in the game—a group that, in a rich-get-richer way, adds the speed of Sammie Coates from Auburn in this year’s rookie class.
But do not credit a newfangled lifestyle. Roethlisberger’s no born-again eater or sleeper or wheat-grass eater or yoga-practicer.
“I don’t really train in the offseason to the extent a lot of guys do,” Roethlisberger said after practice at St. Vincent College. “The best thing for me to do is let my body rest in the offseason. I need that at the end of a long season. Then, when I get here, to camp, is when I really kick it in gear. At a younger age, I busted my butt to be in great shape when I got here. But let’s be real about it—we’ve got a long camp this year (with the Hall of Fame game). I can spend this month of camp getting into great shape. Rather than bust on my knees and ankles in the off-season, I spend the time I need here, and I’m going to be good once the season starts.”
I said: “Mark Teixeira of the Yankees said he’s gone to a gluten-free diet and feels better than he ever has, and he’s hitting really well. You eating any differently at all?”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Roethlisberger said. “My wife cooks, we have a chef that cooks, and I’ve had a blood test telling me which foods I digest well and don’t digest well. So I’ve paid attention to that. I’m in bed before 10 o’clock most nights anyway. But the lifestyle isn’t brand new to me the last couple of years.”
Whatever it is—luck, Haley’s play-calling, the line, knowing when to get rid of the ball—Roethlisberger’s on the kind of steady run he’s never been on before. He’s not the kind of guy who over-thinks the game. He just plays. Whatever works.
* * *
Brady vs. Goodell, still.
The affirmation of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension by the NFL leaves these issues in the wake:
1. Both sides want a resolution by opening day. With the presiding judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, ordering that Brady and commissioner Roger Goodell be available to appear at pre-trial conferences in New York on Aug. 12 and 19, it’s clear that he, and both sides, will push to resolve this by the Sept. 10 league opener. Berman asked the attorneys to push for a resolution before Aug. 12, but both Goodell and attorneys for Brady feel their cases are solid, so don’t look for any concessions in the next nine days.
2. Good for the Patriots, publishing some emails to the league last winter, asking the league to clamp down on the leaks to ESPN (at least one patently false) and getting nothing in return. I find it alarming that the league has never acknowledged that the letter informing the Patriots of the official investigation the day after the AFC title game had a major fact error that was never corrected. The letter from NFL vice president David Gardi said that one of the Patriots’ footballs examined by the league at halftime of the game “was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12-1/2 to 13-1⁄2 psi. In contrast, each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.” Huge errors. The Ted Wells Report confirmed that no football measured as low as 10.1 of the Patriots’ balls. Gardi said the Colts’ balls measured within the range required. The Wells Reports said three of them were under the minimum of 12.5 psi. Never corrected. Why? Similarly, when ESPN reported that 10 New England balls were at least two pounds under the limit measured at halftime, the league never corrected that error. What is most damaging about this is that these impressions were left as facts, particularly the ESPN claim, for a long period, allowing the public to be convinced the Patriots were guilty. Maybe that will turn out to be true, but this evidence wasn’t factual.
3. I can tell you that smart and influential executives are fed up with this story—fed up that it has bled into the 2015 season, and fed up that the league bungled some of the very basic elements, such as the Gardi letter. I’ve asked a few high-ranking team people in the past few days an open-ended question, with the proviso I wouldn’t use names. The clear sentiment: Teams think league officials are running scared after the Ray Rice verdict backfired on the NFL. Two thought it was ridiculous how long the Wells report took to finish, one saying if the league is going to hire an outside firm to investigate a case, there has to be a deadline. “Why are we fighting this fight now?” one top team executive said. “We should be getting ready for a new season, but we’ve got our biggest star firing bombs at the league and the league firing back, a month before the season starts. It’s ridiculous. The headlines aren’t football. They’re about a scandal that’s eight months old.” (Not quite eight, but you get the picture.)
4. It would behoove the NFL, as much as Brady, to get this matter over now. There is a nuclear-winter scenario. I’ve mentioned it before. But follow me here. The NFL has laid out a plan to spot-check footballs during the course of the season. What happens if, say, the footballs in a northern city on a day when it’s 40 degrees outside lose 1.0 to 1.5 psi between the pre-game measurement and the halftime measurement? (Which, apparently, science would support.) That’s nearly what happened to the Patriots’ football that January day in Foxboro. If the NFL’s examination of footballs in 2015 shows that kind of deflation, naturally, the whole case should be thrown out. But by then, Brady might have already served his four games. This would be the ultimate nightmare for the league, and for Goodell. Of course, if the balls don’t deflate much at all, the league will be able to say it had it right.
5. I don’t know who will prevail in this case, but the NFL has some major, major holes here. Any judge looking at the evidence is going to be suspicious of the circumstantial evidence around Brady. But there’s a good chance he’d be as suspicious of the things the NFL took as fact here. This is important: Officials used two gauges at halftime of the AFC Championship Game to measure air pressure in 11 New England footballs and four Indianapolis footballs. On page 113 of the Wells report, Wells says that the Patriots footballs would have been justified to have measured between 11.32 psi and 11.52 psi at halftime. The average of one gauge for the 11 balls was 11.49 psi, on the upper range of what the balls should have measured. The average of the other gauge was 11.11 psi, clearly lower than what the balls should have measured. Average all 22 readings, and you get 11.30 … two-one-hundredths lower than what the Ideal Gas Law would have allowed for balls that started the day at 12.5 psi. It is crazy to me, and just wrong, that the NFL issued a historic sanction when the inflation level of the football is so close to what science says it should be.
I know you’re sick of reading about this. I’m sick of writing about it. But this case has important learning signposts for future discipline cases, and the NFL cannot be blind to them. Time limits, precision and being convinced of guilt. Those would be three pretty good signposts to live by going forward.
Quotes of the Week
“Despite what everybody reads and says, we’ve not at all given up on Johnny. We think he has the potential to be a good football player. Everyone forgets, he’s barely 22 years old.”
—Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam
“I don’t think you get better in shorts. It’s like playing soccer. It’s really hard to get your young offensive and defensive linemen prepared each week when you can’t wear pads.”
—Arizona coach Bruce Arians, on the restrictions placed on teams in training camp since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibited two-a-days and much of the contact at camp.
Arians would get 31 coaches to agree, and 2,000 players to disagree.
“We are going to open Pandora’s box. Last year, we just tickled it.”
—Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr.
I guess that means Andy Dalton’s going to be wildly imaginative this year. Or something.
“I’m hearing that Tom Brady actually destroyed his cell phone.”
—Stephen A. Smith on ESPN, four hours before the NFL announced that Tom Brady’s four-game suspension had been upheld, in part because Roger Goodell said that Brady destroyed his cell phone from the time period in question around the AFC Championship Game.
Give Smith his due. If you’re going to rip a guy for his opinions, credit him when he has a huge piece of information.
“I don’t know how many fingers he has.”
—Giants president John Mara on absent free-agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost an index finger in a fireworks accident in early July.
Mara’s not trying to be a wise guy. He’s trying to say because Pierre-Paul hasn’t made himself available to be examined by team medics, the team doesn’t know a thing about his physical condition … and clearly is getting more frustrated by the day over it.
“I lied on the application when I said that I had a place to live. I was planning on living out of my van.”
—Jackson Gaskins, a Washington team media relations intern this summer at training camp in Richmond, to Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB, on The MMQB’s Training Camp Blog. He said he drove 3,313 miles from West Coast to East to intern with the team in training camp, one of 13 interns working for free (or for school credit) this summer at camp. The team received more than 500 applications for students who wanted to work the camp for nothing.
Stat of the Week
The Seattle Seahawks will soon find out if it’s possible to stay great with the game’s ultimate salary star system. They now have 10 cornerstone players signed at least through the end of the 2017 season.
|Player||Position||Avg. salary/year||Contract end|
Per year, Seattle’s outlay for the 10 players: $97.38 million.
Ronda Rousey Stat of the Week
In the last 19 months, undefeated UFC champion Ronda Rousey has fought four times.
Combined time of the fights: 2 minutes, 12 seconds.
Fight times: 66, 16, 14 and, on Saturday night, 34 seconds.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Carolina Panthers edition: Sometimes the harsh reality of football slaps you in the face. Midway through Panthers’ practice on Saturday afternoon, wide receiver Stephen Hill reached back for a pass and landed awkwardly on his right leg. Immediately he yelled in agony, and writhed in loud pain in the middle of the field as the players turned silent. Clearly, this was not a tweaked ankle. It looked, and sounded, severe. For nearly a minute, all eyes were on Hill and the medics trying to comfort him. After about 100 seconds, with Hill still in immense and vocal discomfort, coaches signaled for practice to continue, and it did. Five minutes later, Hill, a towel covering his entire head, was carted off the field. Four family members somberly walked off the field, trailing the cart. Football: If you love the pomp, you have to accept the reality.
You Can’t Take It With You Dept.: Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a Wofford College grad and its biggest benefactor, is spending $70 million to build a new basketball facility on the Spartanburg, S.C., campus, right next to the football stadium, and a fine arts center. The architect of the 3,200-seat basketball facility is determined to build one that will take its place among the classic basketball buildings in America, studying some of the cathedrals of hoopdom—the Palestra in Philadelphia, Payne Whitney Gym (Yale) in New Haven, and others.
The daughter of former Carolina wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad will complete a Panthers-training-camp-circle-of-life by enrolling at Wofford and playing basketball for the Terriers.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Three of them:
ALTOONA, Pa. — First-week tally from the road: Six camps, four baseball games. Now, most were drive-by, 50-minute visits … like our two-inning stay at Camden Yards on Thursday night, or the three-inning stint on the drive from Latrobe to New York on Monday night to see the Eastern League Altoona Curve host the Richmond Flying Squirrels (other than the Hartford Yard Goats, is there a finer minor-league franchise name?). I do recommend the roominess of the stadium and quirkiness of the roller-coaster in right field, and the ticket price: $1, for general admission. I do not recommend the hot dog.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — We found a swell vehicle for the trip, the Mercedes four-cylinder Sprinter diesel, with three comfy rows behind two captain’s chairs up front. Power outlets everywhere, and places to plug in phones, complete with a flat-screen TV and an Xbox. Klemko likes that. On Tuesday, I might be in trouble. Klemko is threatening to have me “play” one of the Buccaneer players in Madden 2016. I am not a Madden player. Question: Would the Buc give me 75 points? And I am allowed to throw something through the screen?
ANDERSON, S.C. — Team MMQB got into a Fairfield Inn here, 45 minutes south of Panther camp and 75 minutes north of Falcons camp, just in time for UFC 190, because Robert Klemko and Emily Kaplan are mesmerized by Ronda Rousey. They researched, and found that the Hooters across from the Fairfield Inn would be showing the MMA event, with Rousey fighting in Brazil. “We walked over,” said Klemko, “and Hooters had a capacity of 150 people, and there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere, and there were a dozen people waiting to be seated. We asked for a table, and they said it would be a two-hour wait. So, we came back to the hotel and found a pirated version online, realized the championship fight wouldn’t come on till at least midnight … and we realized it would probably be a 30-second fight anyway, and figured we would just watch it in the morning.” Prescient, that Klemko. Fight lasted 34 seconds.
Tweets of the Week
Can't keep everyone— Bobby Wagner (@Bwagz54) July 31, 2015
Wagner tweeted this after Seattle extended Russell Wilson's contract on Friday. Russell Okung and Brandon Mebane … maybe Seattle can’t keep them. But the team did keep Wagner, signing him late Saturday.
"Coach Belichick, are you sending your mother a card for her birthday?" "It's already been addressed."— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) July 29, 2015
Breaking barriers and reaching new heights. Congratulations to Jen Welter. This is what progress looks like. https://t.co/A6pT0RFXFL— Vice President Biden (@VP) July 28, 2015
The Cardinals made Welter a training camp coaching intern at inside linebacker. She’s the first woman ever to be named an NFL assistant coach, either full time or as an intern.
Johnny Cueto will face Troy Tulowitzki on Friday when the Royals visit the Blue Jays. What a weird sentence to write.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) July 28, 2015
All across the country (and world, I imagine), households were paying $59.99 to see Rousey, in a woman’s Ultimate Fighting bout. Times sure have changed when a woman is coaching a pro football team (even as an intern), and the best quarterback in football is staying up late at training camp to watch women joust. Wow.
This was 60 minutes after I Tweeted: “Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have agreed to a 4-year, $87.6-million extension, per source,” and 50 minutes after Wilson himself Tweeted he was “blessed” to be a Seahawk four more years.
I didn’t realize the time involved until Awful Announcing reported ESPN’s bizarre attribution and reporting practices Friday morning. But there’s no excuse for it.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the smartest thing the Broncos can do—and, apparently, are doing—would be to take some of the offensive pressure off quarterback Peyton Manning, and shorten the game by playing more clockball on offense. They should be running more. And Manning, who has averaged 61.3 passes a season in his three Denver seasons, wore down late last year. “The running game will be Peyton’s best friend,” Denver GM John Elway said the other day. In addition, coach Gary Kubiak will mandate that Manning not throw as much in training camp and not take as many of the first-team reps, ceding some to the most invisible backup in football, Brock Osweiler. I’m hearing Elway is still very bullish on Osweiler, and it makes no sense to not see what they have in him, especially with Manning eight months shy of his 40th birthday and a veteran of four neck procedures. Smart move by the Broncos.
2. I think Marvin Lewis sure is bold these days. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I want to hand (club owner Mike Brown) the Lombardi Trophy, then walk away.” Lewis’ career playoff record: 0-6. That’s a man with some confidence in himself.
3. I think in a league of silly sanctions, I’d be most furious about this one if I were a player: If you toss a football in the stands to a fan, or toss it into the stands out of celebration, you get fined $5,787.
4. I think if Michael Gehlken’s report in U-T San Diego is correct—that the Chargers have 10 days to reach agreement with Philip Rivers on a new contract or they’ll put it off till after the season—it is an important one. Remember that Rivers doesn’t want to tie himself to a team when he doesn’t know where the team will be playing one to three years down the road. So if the Chargers can get a deal done now, it would eliminate the distraction of the contract through an important period for the Bolts.
5. I think the NFL cannot be happy about the turf condition at the site of Super Bowl 50. The grass at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara has been a constant worry since they started playing there 12 months ago. After a high school all-star game there on Saturday, it was a mess. “Looked like American Pharoah and company raced there this afternoon,” said Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. With the Niners slated to have eight straight practices in the stadium, it’ll be a good test to see if the field can stand up to consistent punishment, but it sounds like the sod is flunking the test already.
6. I think Sydney Seau was going to be interviewed after Junior Seau’s bust was unveiled at the Hall of Fame next week anyway. Not sure any major adjustments have been made in the program to accommodate the hue and cry that she be allowed to make a speech.
7. I think it strikes me that six games is a fortunate break for Aaron Kromer. In other words, the Buffalo offensive line coach is lucky to have gotten a six-game unpaid ban by the Bills as a punishment for an altercation with three boys over beach chairs in Florida last month.
8. I think I love the fact that DallasCowboys.com posted the video and comments from both players, wideout Dez Bryant and cornerback Tyler Patmon, on the website Sunday evening, after a pretty good camp fight at Cowboys camp in California. Two thoughts: Why stick your head in the sand, as a team website, if every other site with a reporter and/or camera on-site is going to report fully about it? And the Cowboys are competing with those sites. Why should the other sites get the traffic and the Cowboys not? For team websites to succeed, consumers have to know the teams are not going to censor anything that isn’t puffy or positive news.
9. I think it was a fun exercise to imagine what would be different about the NFL if the 2012 draft's top two picks were flipped: Robert Griffin III to the Colts, and Andrew Luck to Washington. Klemko and I discussed that while on the bus, and you can listen here:
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. We have a 2015 The MMQB NFL Training Camp Tour anthem: “Shut Up and Dance With Me,” by Walk The Moon.
c. Re: the baseball trading deadline: Toronto gets Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Amazing how major a makeover a team can make in such a short time.
d. I so often wish the NFL would have a trading deadline like baseball’s, so if, say, the Chargers were out of it by Nov. 20, they’d at least have the opportunity to consider trading an aging Philip Rivers for two great pieces to, say, the Jets. Not that they’d have to, just that they’d have the chance.
e. First baseman Lucas Duda’s last nine hits have been home runs for the Mets, the strangest baseball team we have seen in a while.
f. Midway through last week, the Mets stunk. Infielder Wilmer Flores on Wednesday believed he had been traded, having been told as much by a fan while he waited in the on-deck circle to bat. Two days later, the Mets traded for needed power hitter Yoenis Cespedis. Flores, slumping much of the year, hit a walkoff homer that night. And the Mets swept the Nationals at home to tie Washington for first place in the National League East. What a long strange trip this year has been for the Mets.
g. Our video man, John DePetro, was talking about his girlfriend’s dog the other day. Our conversation:
Me: “What’s his name?”
Me: “What do you call him for short?”
Me: “Got any funny names for him?”
h. Coffeenerdness: DePetro is keeping a log of times stopped at Starbucks on this trip. This will not end well for me.
i. Beernerdness: The gem of the first week of the camp tour, from a Saturday night trip to Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C., home of the Single-A Greenville Drive: Son of a Peach (R.J. Rockers Brewing Company, Spartanburg, S.C.), a wheat ale lightly tinged with peach, is one of the easiest-drinking, flavorful and pleasant beers I’ve had in a while. I’m not a fan of overwhelming fruit beers, but I like ones that you can discern the taste of the fruit while still knowing you’re drinking a beer. Excellent balance here.
j. Shane Victorino, you’re everything that’s good about sports. Good luck in Anaheim. Thanks for lots of things, especially the Game 6 grand slam against Detroit that got the Red Sox into the 2013 World Series. (Boston traded him to the Angels last week.)
k. A cool shot of Victorino's blast.
l. This Week’s Sign of the Dumb-ification of America, courtesy of Mark Cuban, on Donald Trump: “I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than any candidate has done in years.”
m. That is Hall of Fame dumb. Let’s elect President Knee-Jerk!
n. I am still ticked off at that Minnesota dentist, days later.
The Adieu Haiku
Klemko’s got a crush on her.
As does the U.S.
• Question or comment? Email use to email@example.com.