As the quiet before the Super Bowl Sunday storm sets in, a look at some of the stories happening around the NFL. Plus, reader mail on Cam Newton, Raiders’ next move and Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame chances
SAN FRANCISCO—Rarely is there any real news at the Super Bowl, and this quiet week is no exception. But here are four things that caught my eye on a sedate Tuesday, five days before Carolina and Denver play the 50th Super Bowl:
Cam Newton is handling himself well here. Most of the assembled media was waiting to see if Newton would use this week as a platform for something, perhaps about the state of race relations or black quarterbacks in football, on the heels of his remarks on the topic last week. And I don’t say this because he basically has buried the topic. I say it because he has been engaging and forthright in his two long appearances with the media here, and because he refuses to be drawn into a discussion about race—at least right now. I think most people think whatever the Cam controversy is, it’s not about the state of black quarterbacks. It’s more about the state of his on-field exuberance. “I don’t even want to touch on the topic of black quarterback,” Newton said in San Jose on Tuesday. “I don’t think I should be labeled just a black quarterback, because it’s bigger things in this sport that need to be accomplished. I think we shattered that a long time ago.” He’s right. When Doug Williams, 28 years ago, became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, that was a historic occasion. This year, not so much. This is the fourth straight year with a black quarterback (Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Wilson again, and Newton) starting in the game. And as Newton said when pressed on the topic of stereotypes for black quarterbacks—man, who on earth is still stereotyping black quarterbacks three decades after Williams?—“It’s not an issue. It’s an issue for you.” I’m all for making issues of things that deserve to be issues, but the issue of whether black men can play quarterback jumped the shark years ago.
Johnny Manziel is history in Cleveland. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the Browns will waive Manziel when the league year begins in March, quoting Browns EVP Sashi Brown as saying Manziel’s “continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization.” I said in Week 17, when Manziel skipped treatment on the last game of the year to go to Vegas (such a Manziel thing to do), that the Browns were done with him. And another issue when the cops were called on him and a girlfriend in Texas was beyond the last straw. I say beyond because they already were going to be rid of him; this just made the process easier and cleaner. Manziel certainly wants to be signed by Dallas, and maybe Jerry Jones will accommodate him. But unless Manziel gets some professional help for his demons/problems, it won’t matter who signs him. His talent will never surface in the NFL.
Goodell says there was no funny business with the air pressure in footballs this season. “There were no violations this year,” commissioner Roger Goodell told Rich Eisen Tuesday. Well, no duh. Who would think, with the league laser-focused on the air pressure in footballs, that some team would actually take a pin and release air from one of them? That’s not what the checks on footballs should have been about—at all. The checks on the footballs should have been done to determine what happens to the air pressure in a football after it has been used for a half, in all kinds of weather. If that’s not what the NFL did this season, then the league either doesn’t want to know the truth about what weather, and general use, does to the air pressure in a football (which is my belief). Or the league made a mistake in what it went after in the spot checks at halftime of selected games this year. The NFL owes the public an accounting of what exactly was found when the measurements were taken throughout the year.
Denver sends a practice squad safety home after he’s implicated in a prostitution sting—just days after Eugene Robinson told the Panthers to watch their late-night pursuits. Robinson was nabbed for soliciting a prostitute the night before Super Bowl 33, and told the Panthers, essentially, don’t do what I did. Denver’s Ryan Murphy, who wasn’t going to play in the game barring an injury during practice this week, wasn’t cited by police in San Jose after the incident, but coach Gary Kubiak wasn’t going to have a practice-squad distraction this week. “We decided it was best for the team if we continued our preparations for Super Bowl 50 without him,” Kubiak said in a team statement. Now, because we’re not exactly sure what Murphy did, it’s hard to sit here and chastise him. But the Broncos are not a kneejerk organization. Why, why, why would you pick Super Bowl week to do something that’s not very smart at all? That’s what this story left me wondering.
Now onto your email:
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GENERATIONAL ISSUE WITH CAM
I am so tired if the media (not you or anyone at The MMQB) saying this is a race issue. It is not. The divide here is generational. Cam Newton is the perfect QB for millennials. He does what he does, and is not worried about others.
—Carmen, New Jersey
I agree with you. I believe that Newton’s problems are more about what many people consider is over-exuberance, and not race. In the last three years, the Super Bowl has had a black quarterback in it. Twenty-eight years ago, Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be discussions about race and the NFL. But I think it’s silly to say that, with Russell Wilson being in the Super Bowl the last two years, all of the sudden we have a race issue because one of the starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl is black. I think there are certainly issues to be raised in this game about the treatment of players and the perception of players, but I simply don’t buy that the controversy surrounding Cam Newton is about the color of his skin.
ON CALVIN JOHNSON’S LEGACY
Peter, simple question: If Calvin Johnson does, in fact, retire this offseason, would he ever get your vote for the Hall of Fame? His numbers (43rd in receptions, 27th in receiving yards, 22nd in receiving TDs) suggest that he is not HOF-bound, but anyone who has watched him knows he has been a once-in-a-generation talent. Just curious how you would vote and how you think your peers would vote in Megatron's case.
I would dispute that he is a once in a generation talent. We tend to make these statements about players changing the game or being such incredibly rare talents that no one has seen the likes of that player before. In my opinion, Calvin Johnson for about five years was a Gronkowski-type of presence at wide receiver, physically and tremendously game-influencing wide receiver that is rare. I believe that those kinds of players should get strong consideration for the Pro football Hall of Fame even if their careers are shortened because of injury or personal choice. It isn’t like Johnson was great for three years or four. He was great for longer than that and I think he will have a very good case for Canton.
Peter, I believe you missed one in this line: “I do believe that is my first reference to birds in 19 seasons writing this column. Other than Ravens and Eagles and Seahawks.” Have you ever heard of a Cardinal?
How about a Falcon?
FITTING MATCHUP FOR 50
Without the initial closing of the door on Lamar Hunt by the NFL, followed by Hunt's even more determined pursuit of owning a professional football team, we wouldn't have the game that we celebrate this coming Sunday. That being said, is it a somewhat fitting side note to the story of Super Bowl 50 that the Denver Broncos, a charter member of the American Football League, represent the AFC against the Carolina Panthers, a modern day expansion team (lest we forget that the AFL was born of the NFL’s refusal to expand at the time) representing the NFC?
Any time Lamar Hunt can have his name brought up in Super Bowl history, I am very much in favor of it. He was such an influential owner and such a selfless person and someone who only cared about the good of the game. I’m happy that you find a reason to remember Lamar Hunt and I hope everyone does for at least a little while this Sunday.
COULD RAIDERS LOOK TO ST. LOUIS?
The Chargers, as you said, have the best of both worlds. They are, at least temporarily, staying in San Diego with more leverage in stadium negotiations, and have seemingly shut the Raiders out in Inglewood by holding the option to move into that stadium if things don’t work out in San Diego. It seems to me that the Raiders are left holding the bag. O.co Coliseum is, by all accounts, a dump, but the mayor of Oakland wants a lease renewal before negotiating a new stadium. The San Antonio flirtation went nowhere and Las Vegas seems to be a long shot. The Edward Jones Dome has got to be a better stadium than the O.co. Is there any chance that the Raiders could move to St. Louis?
Mark Davis has said over and over that they have no interest in St. Louis. I doubt that is going to change. When I was reporting my behind-the-scenes look at negotiations on Los Angeles, I heard from several very prominent league people that they have no Earthly clue what the Raiders or Mark Davis is going to do. It is an overwhelming belief that he should take on a partner with significant money, but he doesn’t want to do that. I get it. But I doubt that the Mara family in New York wanted to take in a partnership with the Tisch family. It was financially important to do so. I think Davis should realize the same thing, bite the bullet and take on a deep-pocketed partner.
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