On Camps, Preseason Games and a Linebacker by the Pool
“‘Lion order! Lion order!’ In those last 50 meters, that was all that was going through my mind.”
—Michael Phelps, to friend and mentor Ray Lewis on Saturday night, describing what he was thinking down the stretch of (likely) the last race of his life at the Rio Olympics. “Lion order” is a culture of intense competition and family passed on to Phelps by Lewis.
* * *
RENTON, Wash. — Ray Lewis watched the men’s 4x100 medley relay from Alabama, where he was dropping daughter Diaymon off at college. He watched Phelps enter the water six-tenths of a second out of the lead and exit the water with the U.S. team holding the lead by four-tenths of a second lead on the way to the 23rd gold-medal-winning race of Phelps’ life.
They had already spoken during the afternoon, about four hours before the race, on FaceTime—Phelps in Rio, Lewis and daughter at a barbecue joint in Alabama.
“I miss you Michael!” Diaymon told him. “I am so proud of you! We all are!”
Then Ray got on the screen. “Keep going!” Lewis told Phelps in his own evangelical way, invoking this Lion Order deal he talks about to Phelps. “Finish it!!”
* * *
Strange to lead a football column in the middle of training camps with an Olympic story. But this isn’t any Olympic story. It’s the endgame story of the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Games, and his relationship with the most famous player on the team Maryland resident Phelps loves the most, the Baltimore Ravens. They got close because as Phelps began to garner gold in 2004, there weren’t many peers playing on the same level in sports who could relate to his battles with fame and staying on top. Lewis, one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history, was one of those people. Over the years, you’d see Phelps at Ravens’ games, or at practices, most often around Lewis.
If you saw Phelps after the race Saturday night talking to Michele Tafoya on NBC, you saw him say he was ready to move on with his life after his fifth Olympiad. “I have the future ahead of me to kind of turn the page and do whatever I want,” Phelps told Tafoya. “I was talking to Ray Lewis earlier today. I know he’s watching. We just had a great talk. It’s not the end of a career. It’s the beginning of a new journey.”
On Facebook Live on Saturday, before the race, Phelps spoke about his relationship with Lewis. “Ray is a brother to me,” Phelps said. “Ray has become a brother from another mother for me … He had some very inspirational messages for me this week that have helped me.” Phelps said he’s read two books this year—“The Purpose-Driven Life,” and “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind”—while preparing for the Olympics. He said: “One person gave me both those books: Ray Lewis. He … told me to read those books, and they have changed my life, that's for sure.”
One of Lewis’ last thoughts to Phelps before his final race was in the Lion Order vein. In the Lion Order—a culture Lewis said he established with former University of Miami teammate Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley—close friends share everything meaningful while pushing each other to the limit personally and professionally. Their inspiration is how a pride of lions lives and works together. Lewis preached that to Phelps over the past few years. So when Phelps told Lewis, “Lion order,” he was telling him, I feel you with me trying to win my last race, and it’s important, and you’re meaningful to me.
That’s why Phelps made Lewis a co-star Saturday on Facebook Live, and again on NBC.
When I reached Lewis on Sunday, he was shopping in an Alabama store, getting stuff for his daughter’s dorm room. Ironic, really. He said what he’s been doing with Phelps recently is preparing him for the rest of his life—his post-swimming life—and in the past three weeks, he’s dropped off one son at college in Utah, and here he was, dropping off his daughter in Alabama.
Lewis has emphasized to Phelps how life moves on. He’s told Phelps every chapter is good. Want to know why Phelps hasn’t been outwardly overly emotional as he ends the most successful career in the history of the Olympic games?
“When you get ready to retire,” Lewis said, “everybody says, ‘Are you gonna miss it?’ So I’ve talked to Michael about that a lot. Told him, ‘Enjoy this frickin’ ride! IT’S NOT SAD! IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL THING EVER!’”
As Lewis yelled this, someone in Alabama must have heard his passion, and recognized Lewis. I heard him tell someone he was sorry, he was doing an interview now, and please excuse him. Then he continued.
“I’ve told Michael, ‘This is the beginning of a great life. You’ve got a BABY BOY! Watch him walk. Take him to first grade. You know how great first grade is going to be? And you’ll be there for him, with him!’ You got a son, YOU BRAND HIM!’”
Lewis is preaching.
A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on
“I think I can give him the words he’ll appreciate, from someone who has been in his shoes. I’ve been through the ups and downs with him. Always tried to tell him there will be a great life for him after this. But it’s life too. It’s not easy all the time.”
Lewis told a story about the last series of his NFL career, in the Super Bowl against the Niners three-and-a-half years ago. He said he preached to the huddle on each down the same thing: One play. Give me one play. He said before fourth down, he closed his eyes and thought of every moment that had brought him to this point, because he knew it was probably the last play of his life.
Colin Kaepernick threw incomplete for San Francisco. The Ravens won 34-31.
And Lewis, recalling the moment Sunday, said: “It was over. And it was perfect. So now, people ask me, ‘Do you miss it?’ I say, ‘Heck no!’ I lived it! I loved it! I had my time. It was great. Now it’s time for other things.”
Hours after the race, Phelps texted Lewis that people were bugging him to not retire—they needed him in the sport, for another Olympics. Lewis and Phelps knew better. Who knows what the future holds? I don’t know Phelps. I don’t know if he’ll ever get in a pool bigger than a kiddie pool the rest of his life.
Lewis thinks it’s over. And he’s happy for his friend.
“He’s ready for life,” Lewis said. “Michael is a simple guy with crazy drive. And as a man, now he wants to be free.”
Headlines from games
• Best rookie of the weekend: Dak Prescott. The quarterback chosen 84 picks after Christian Hackenberg in the draft, starting for Dallas against the Rams, took the air out of the L.A. Coliseum. He piloted the Cowboys to 80- and 75-yard touchdown drives on his first two series as a pro, completed 10 of 12 passes playing the entire first half (the two incompletions were catchable misses by Geoff Swaim) for 139 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. “He was extremely calm,” said Dez Bryant of Prescott. “He’s not playing like a rookie. He’s very good.” Expect the Cowboys to troll the waiver wire for a veteran backup for Romo late this month, but Prescott’s play in camp and in this game takes some of the urgency away for having to overpay for one.
• Dirk Koetter’s not going to stand for the same old Bucs. Tampa Bay was lousy in a loss to Philadelphia, and Koetter made it clear the Bucs don’t have the luxury to say, “It’s only a preseason game.” Smart by him; he can’t afford to let bad habits fester. “Horrendous start. Fumble the opening kickoff, missed extra point, you just can't do it. Not what I had in mind for the start,” he said.
• The Titans aren’t hiding anything. Tennessee on Saturday night showed precisely what GM Jon Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey built this team to be. DeMarco Murray and Heisman winner Derrick Henry rushed 16 times for 167 yards—by halftime—in a win over San Diego. There may be 31 other teams that will throw more than run this year, and Tennessee actually might make it 32. But that will only happen if the Titans are behind consistently in the second half. This is a stop-us-if-you-can run team.
• Speaking of running games … Eddie Lacy carried the ball on the first four snaps of the Green Bay preseason. No accident. As Mike McCarthy told me early in camp: “We have to get back to who we are. I know Aaron [Rodgers] is a great player. But all along, we’ve made sure, year after year, that we can run. And we will run.”
• I wouldn’t overreact to the Carson Wentz injury. The second pick in the draft suffered a cracked rib on a hard hit against Tampa Bay, which will set back his progress. I watched every throw he made, plus the hit that hurt him, and it was encouraging to see his adjustment from FBS to the NFL. There’s no way I’d tell him to change how he plays because it’s a preseason game. What got him drafted is his mobility, his smarts out of the pocket, his decision-making on the run. He’s got to play like that to be who he is.
• RG3: meh. Terrelle Pryor: good. Look who’s the number one receiver on the Browns (for now). It’s former Ohio State and Raiders quarterback Pryor, who, you may recall, was drafted by the Raiders when Hue Jackson was the coach. Now Jackson’s got him again, and is lining him up with the ones. Pryor could start opposite rookie Corey Coleman in a roster full of young wideouts in Week 1. As for Robert Griffin III, he threw an end-zone interception in his first game as a Brown. We’ll give him time, of course, but Griffin cannot afford to be mediocre this summer. Jackson will not stand for mediocrity long.
• It’s only Aug. 15, and already the Bills are a M*A*S*H unit. News came Sunday that pugnacious linebacker I.K. Enemkpali has been lost for the year with a torn ACL, joining projected starting linebacker Reggie Ragland (ACL) as out for the season. First-round pick Shaq Lawson is out for at least another month after offseason shoulder surgery. Enemkpali was going to start outside while Lawson rehabbed, and now the Bills have to go to Plan C. A bad omen for a team that might have to make the playoffs to give Rex Ryan a third season in 2017.
Coolest inside football sight I’ve seen on this trip
LATROBE, Pa. — “You two play nice, now.”
These were not the words from a dad to his two petulant children. This was said by NFL head linesman Derick Bowers, standing 15 feet from a looming duel between all-world receiver Antonio Brown and Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, directed at the two opponents. Bowers was working the joint practice between the teams last Tuesday, and whoever came to his side of the field, if Bowers had something to say in terms of advice or caution, he was free with it.
The two men left the line, jousted for the first five or seven yards, and Slay quick-grabbed Brown’s jersey deep down the left side. No flag, but Bowers did talk to both on their way back to the line.
“It helps to have officials in a practice-like setting, because you get a feel for the game with how those guys are looking at it, how those guys are officiating,” Brown said after practice. “I don’t talk much with them but it’s always good to hear their opinions on some of the techniques I’m trying to use and some of the things they think are good or bad. We want to know what they’ll call.”
On the sideline next to Bowers was NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, on site to talk with Walt Coleman’s crew and to monitor the 2016 points of emphasis. “Anytime we can prevent fouls, we want to encourage it,” Blandino said. “I like that [‘play nice’] positive messaging. But that doesn’t take the place of throwing flags if there’s a foul to be called.”
I first noticed how much officials talk to players in my 2013 Week in the Life of an Officiating Crew series, particularly with head linesman Wayne Mackie’s open dialogue with the linemen on his side. What’s interesting about this, I believe, is that sometimes officials will warn players about fouls, maybe even give them a second warning, and then flag it. In one case I heard a head linesman tell a team’s left tackle twice he was fanning off the line too much (sometimes tackles cheat back a half or full step), and finally the head linesman told the coach the tackle had been warned twice, and this was the final warning. “Then flag him,” the coach said. And on the next snap, the tackle got flagged, and the offense was set back five yards for an illegal formation.
One other interesting ref item from Steelers camp: One of the points of emphasis this year involves the center and the football. Often, defenders have jumped offside when they see the center move the ball suddenly without snapping it, or they see the center high-pointing the football as though he’s preparing the snap it. So now, this year, centers have to keep the ball still before the snap. Not necessarily stock-still. But still. On this day, Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey was warned by one of Walt Coleman’s officials in camp: “Be careful—that might have been a call.”
Said Pouncey: “It’s something we’ve got to get used to as centers. You’re out there trying to communicate a lot and moving around maybe signaling and maybe the play gets changed and you’re trying to communicate with your guys, and as soon as the ball’s set the refs don’t want it to move. So, we’ve got to practice throughout camp, stay tough on it and just make sure we’re not drawing the defense offside.”
Five more NFL items of interest
1. Whoa: One owner compares emotion of Gleason to Schindler’s List. Atlanta owner Arthur Blank rented out a theater and invited staff and partners to see the documentary about former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason’s painful/inspirational tale of living with ALS. “The only movie I remember the same reaction at the end from the audience was Schindler’s List,” Blank said Saturday, still sounding moved by what he’d seen. “The movie ended, and everyone just sat there. You could hear a pin drop. Then someone clapped, and the whole theater was clapping.” Kudos to Blank, who donated $100,000 to the Gleason Initiative Foundation to fight ALS. And kudos to the many other NFL teams that had screenings in their home markets and encouraged people to see the documentary. It’s a speck on life’s spectrum, but it’s notable that Gleason was made famous as a football player for blocking a punt against Atlanta in the first game post-Katrina in the Superdome, and the owner of the Falcons is out front with support for the cause. “We all love this incredible game,” Blank said. “But it is a game. It is not life. I support Steve and this film because of the powerful message it sends: Don’t give up. Persevere. Be resilient. Make a difference. This film touches every human emotion—humor, sadness, tragedy, inspiration. It will affect the lives of thousands. That’s why we all need to get behind it.”
2. This is why I like Mike Tomlin. It’s insane to question the qualifications and résumé of Tomlin, who owns a better career winning percentage than Chuck Noll or Bill Cowher. But some fans in Pittsburgh do. Go to Pittsburgh after a tough late loss, and you’ll hear more than just grumbling. You’ll hear how many people want Coach X to run this team instead of Tomlin. The other day in Latrobe, I wondered if it was just the coarseness of sports fans, and whether it ever got to Tomlin. “We’re in a time of sports as entertainment,” Tomlin said, “and certain things come with that. I don’t coach with that entertainment mentality, but I understand that there are certain elements of this game that are entertainment, and there are entertainment-like things that come with it. Like, at times, lack of human decency. I don’t take it personal, and I encourage our guys not to take it personal. You live somewhat public lives when you participate in football at this level and there are things that come with it. These people [fans] don’t know you. There’s a certain callous approach that comes with that. If you’re taking it personal, all you’re doing is limiting the amount of fun you’re having.” But, I said, do you ever hear it? And does it bug you? Said Tomlin: “It’s elevator music to me. I hear it and I don’t. Those people aren’t decision-makers, so why should I worry about their opinions? I mean, I appreciate that they’re passionate; their level of passion is one of the things that makes this game what it is.”
Tomlin, smiling: “But on a personal level, I lose a lot of sleep because of what individuals say about me.”
Me: “You’re a big liar.”
Tomlin: “I don’t give a crap!”
3. “Maybe I should call you Gunslinger.” That’s what Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said to Teddy Bridgewater, his third-year quarterback, one day at practice this summer. I saw it the other day in Cincinnati, when the Vikings were practicing against the Bengals. Bridgewater threw three straight perfect balls downfield, one a 32-yard fade down the left sideline, perfectly nestled into the arms of Stefon Diggs, just over the hands of Adam Jones. Visiting camps, I’m a prisoner of the moment; for all I know, Bridgewater threw three incompletions downfield of the same length the previous day. But what I saw was very strong, and the Vikings, rightly or wrongly, believe they’ll be able to take advantage this year against teams that load the box to stop Adrian Peterson on early downs. Guard Alex Boone, who ran afoul of authority in San Francisco for his blunt speaking, told me about Bridgewater: “Never sad. Never pissed. His attitude’s always, ‘If something’s wrong, I’ll fix it. I’ll make it right.’ Very humble. At first I thought it was fake. But I’ve been around long enough now to know it isn’t.”
4. It’s a big week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On Monday in Canton, the Seniors Committee—a sub-group of the 46-person Hall of Fame selection team—meets to pick one nominee to be voted on the day before Super Bowl 51. The field is wide open, from what I’ve heard—as it should be. And on Tuesday the Contributors Committee meets in Canton to pick two nominees for the class of 2017. These three people will have their cases heard before the committee of 46, and each needs at least 80 percent of the vote to be enshrined. (This is different from the 15 modern-era finalists, who compete against each other to be cut down to five, and then are voted yay or nay, with 80 percent needed for enshrinement.) Regarding the Contributors: Some strong candidates this year, including Bobby Beathard, a great scout and later the architect for Washington’s great teams and the Chargers’ Super Bowl team; owner Pat Bowlen, who oversaw the franchise with the best winning percentage of the last 32 years in Denver, and was crucial in TV advancements in the league; Gil Brandt, Mr. Football, a vital cog to the NFL machine for 55 years, still doing it today at 83; Dallas owner Jerry Jones, the most influential owner on league and business matters in the last 25 years, and three times a Super Bowl winner; Bucko Kilroy, one of the greatest scouts ever; Art McNally, the father of modern officiating; Steve Sabol, who made NFL Films such a powerful media entity and sold the gospel of the NFL; Paul Tagliabue, the 17-year commissioner, who grew the league and never had a work stoppage under his watch; John Wooten, a player, scout and leader in the movement to advance the cause of African-American coaches and general managers; and George Young, who sternly but diplomatically turned around the fortunes of the woebegone Giants 37 years ago. The two meetings will be interesting. I’ll be in the second one, Tuesday, as one of the voters whittling the Contributors list from 10 to two.
5. Bruce DeHaven, one of the best special-teams coaches ever, takes a leave to deal with cancer. You may remember my column a year ago on DeHaven, told he had three to five years to live and choosing to spend at least one of them coaching Carolina’s special teams … and, by the way, helping the Panthers get to the Super Bowl. I got so much reaction from that column, particularly this quote from DeHaven, about why he’d spend one of his waning years doing a job rather staying at home. “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.” And so DeHaven left the Panthers earlier this month. He’ll have another scan of his prostate Thursday to see about the progress or lack thereof of his disease. “Bruce felt now was the opportunity for us to transition,” said coach Ron Rivera. Special-teams assistant Thomas McGaughey takes the job. I only hope one day DeHaven is well enough to take it back. Godspeed to him.
* * *
Final camp week, and it’s way out west
The van is put away...
A photo posted by The MMQB (@themmqb) on
...and now we’re on to the airplane portion of the training camp trip. The week ahead:
• Today: Seahawks practice, Renton, Wash.
• Tuesday: Pro Football Hall of Fame Contributors Committee voting, Canton, Ohio.
• Wednesday: Cowboys practice, Oxnard, Calif.
• Thursday: 49ers-Broncos joint practice, Denver
• Friday: Cardinals-Chargers preseason game, San Diego.
• Saturday morning: Raiders practice, Alameda, Calif.
• Saturday night: Chiefs-Rams preseason game, Los Angeles. (As you can see, I mostly overlooked the Rams' return to Los Angeles in this column, because I planned to be in L.A. the following week. So I'll write about the return next week.)
• Sunday, Monday: Cardinals practice, Glendale, Ariz.
You might ask: How are you going to get from the West Coast to Canton, and back to the West Coast, and miss only one day of practice? Are you insane? I don’t know. And yes.
* * *
Quotes of the Week
“He could pull off .220 in the big leagues right now, without doing anything else, simply because his swing’s really, really good and his mental toughness is flat-out off the charts.”
—Baseball instructor and former big-leaguer Chad Moeller, who has been tutoring Tim Tebow as Tebow attempts to switch careers to baseball and play in the major leagues one day, to Tyler Kepner of The New York Times.
First: Good for Tebow. Love people who follow their dreams, against the odds.
Second: Tebow’s 29th birthday was Sunday. The last time he played baseball on a team was 11 years ago, as a junior in high school. Chad Moeller’s telling me right now that Tim Tebow, training at baseball for parts of the past two-and-a-half months, can regularly go one-for-five against Felix Hernandez, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, someone’s fifth starter, whoever … right now?
Entering Sunday, the following successful major-league players were within 10 points of a .220 batting average: Todd Frazier, Chris Davis, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Colby Rasmus.
I’m all in favor of Tim Tebow following his dreams, for a long time. And compared to Chad Moeller, my baseball knowledge would fit in a thimble. But “he could pull off .220 in the big leagues right now” seems a fairly ridiculous statement.
“He is someone that our city should celebrate and cherish his legacy. He has had a major impact on sports in our city. He told the story of the Saints to generations of readers, and he helped grow not only fan interest in the Saints but in our great city covering Super Bowls for years.”
—Saints owner Tom Benson, on the passing Saturday of revered longtime New Orleans Times-Picayune sports columnist Peter Finney.
Finney, 88, was a wordsmith, great on deadline, felt the soul of his city … I don’t know what more you’d want a sports columnist to have than those traits. And as a fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, I can tell you how well Finney did advancing the causes of the men he knew well who deserved to have their cases heard before the committee.
“When I became a columnist at The Times-Picayune, I asked Pete for advice on how to do the job. His instructions were simple: ‘Be fair. Be true to yourself. Write from the heart. And when in doubt, write about stars. People love stars.’”
—The current Times-Picayune sports columnist, Jeff Duncan, writing about Finney.
“If you’re lying, I’ll kill you.”
—One of the captors of Jacksonville safety Earl Wolff, who was kidnapped for an evening near his offseason home in North Carolina and feared for his life.
“I put a premium on recovery, more so than I did before. When you’re in your twenties, you can just roll out of bed, you’re like a cheetah. I’ve got to stretch out, warm the body up now before I do anything crazy.”
—Drew Brees to Albert Breer, in his NFL notes column.
* * *
Stat of the Week
Think how little time one-third of a second is. Then think what a gigantic gulf of time one-third of a second is.
In 2010, the Detroit Lions had two first-round picks. They chose defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and running back Jahvid Best of Cal. Suh has gone on to do very good things and make huge money in the NFL, with Detroit and now Miami. Best is out of football, in large part due to concussions, having never fulfilled the promise of the all-around back Detroit thought it had drafted. (Best had a 154-yard receiving game his rookie season and a 163-yard rushing game in year two.)
Best was out of our consciousness until midday Saturday, when there he was, getting down in the blocks in the seventh heat of the Olympic 100-meter qualifying in Rio de Janeiro.
Best in lane eight. Usain Bolt in lane six.
Bolt won the heat, of course, in a time of 10.07 seconds. Best finished seventh, in a time of 10.39 seconds.
Finishing seventh of nine runners sounds like Best was roundly defeated. And in sprinting parlance, I suppose he was. But I went on NBCOlympics.com to catch a replay of the heat. (Full disclosure: I also work for NBC). I found myself watching the end of it six or eight times, just to see what .32 seconds means in sprinting.
Two strides. Best crossed the finish line two blurry strides after Usain Bolt, two strides behind the fastest man on earth.
Then I looked up the overall results for the eight heats of the 100-meter field. A total of 69 runners ran in the eight heats. Best was tied with two other runners for 54th at 10.39 seconds. The fastest man in the eight heats, America’s Justin Gatlin, ran a 10.01. So think of this: The top 56 men, including Best, finished within .38 seconds of each other, and only the fastest nine of the 56 got to run in the final against Bolt and Gatlin.
Sprinting short distances is a tough business—maybe tougher than succeeding as an NFL running back. Jahvid Best knows that now.
* * *
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
In his past 11 coaching seasons, Los Angeles coach Jeff Fisher has had two winning seasons and no playoff wins. Adam Schefter reported that Fisher is on the verge of signing a new contract with the Rams.
Tracy Porter clinched the Saints’ only Super Bowl victory, in February 2010, by intercepting Peyton Manning and sprinting the length of the field for a touchdown. Saints, 31-17.
Porter and Manning later were united in Denver, playing together for the 2012 season. In that year, the subject of the interception—the greatest play of Porter’s life, the worst play of Manning’s life—never came up once.
“It was just sort of swept under the rug between us,” Porter told me Thursday night—on his 30th birthday, by the way. “I understand. We’re competitors.”
Roberto Aguayo made all 198 extra-point attempts at Florida State.
The Bucs traded third-round and fourth-round picks for a low second-round pick this year, and chose Aguayo.
Aguayo missed the first extra-point attempt of his pro career Thursday night.
He said he had a few butterflies before the kick, 13 yards farther than PATs in college.
I mean, yikes. If the guy you drafted in the second round to be your kicker for the next 12 years has butterflies on Aug. 11, what will he be like on Dec. 11, when the game matters?
* * *
Book of the Week
The Ten Commandments for Business Failure, by Donald R. Keough.
Nominated by Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman.
“I love Robert Ludlum,” Gettleman said, “but for my job, I love leadership books, advice books. I get so much out of them. In this book, you get confirmation of what you’re not supposed to do—and sometimes that’s as important as knowing what to do.”
Keough is a former Coca-Cola executive. He writes about surefire ways to run your business into the ground, such as, “Be afraid of the future.” And “Be inflexible.” Gettleman, like so many NFL executives, understands the importance of looking forward and being open.
By the way, I asked for suggestions for new departments in this column, and Book of the Week is one of the new sections of Monday Morning Quarterback this season. Have other idea for me to implement? I’m pondering a few you’ve already sent my way. But please continue giving me new ideas for Year 20 of MMQB. (Yes, this thing began in the fall of 1997, when the internet was a pup.) The best ones will get adopted. Thanks.
* * *
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
• Bravo, Cincinnati. I worked in Cincinnati from 1980 to 1985, and the area down by Riverfront Stadium and the Ohio River largely was one to avoid outside of game days and nights. Now, wow. The MMQB Team walked a meandering path from Paul Brown Stadium to the Moerlein Lager House a few long spirals toward Great American Ballpark, home of the Reds. The walk went through a park, with joggers and dog-walkers and parents pushing strollers, all with a great view of the lovely bridges over the Ohio River, connecting Cincinnati with northern Kentucky. More of that, please, in American cities.
• You’re killing us with the air-conditioning. It’s freezing everywhere inside in this country. Aside from the fact that having the temperature at 64 in this weather in a Starbucks or a press box or an unoccupied room at a SpringHill Suites Hotel is horrible for the environment, it’s as uncomfortable after a few minutes as it would be having the thermostat at 85. In a Chicago Starbucks on Thursday morning, writing a few things, I had to step outside several times for two or three minutes while talking on the phone, just to stave off frostbite. Anyone else notice this? Or I am I the only weirdo who doesn’t want to live in a freezer in August?
• Latrobe, you’re growing up. For years I’ve stayed in Pittsburgh (45 minutes west) or seven miles away in Greensburg while in the area for Steelers camp. No more. There’s a SpringHill Suites (saw ref Walt Coleman’s crew there Tuesday morning, along with NFL officiating VP Dean Blandino) and a Starbucks across the road and just down the street from the practice fields at St. Vincent College. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
* * *
Tweets of the Week
#Browns RG3 throws one away over 16 foot fence into yard again. Heads up kiddos.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 14, 2016
I'm sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 12, 2016
“Finally, he is going to do it! Ryan Lochte is going to beat Michael Phelps in this event!”
“I apologize. I got the lanes mixed up.”
Players from both teams watching on the big board as the Phelps race is shown. Phelps is a Baltimore guy. pic.twitter.com/fMP4aDsnfV— Joe Person (@josephperson) August 12, 2016
* * *
Front Page of the Week
Here is Saturday’s New York Post, after the Yankees’ pre-game ceremony honoring the fired Alex Rodriguez (well, he certainly didn’t go willingly, did he?) was interrupted by a sudden and violent thunderstorm.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this Joey Bosa holdout—now in day 17, the longest holdout in the NFL since the new CBA was signed in 2011—is not worth the impact it’s having and the message it’s sending to Chargers fans. How can you hope to get the local fan base enthused enough to vote overwhelmingly for a new stadium when the player you drafted to invigorate your pass-rush is sitting at home? Bad look, not to mention a bad idea for the football team.
2. I think three things about the Denver quarterback situation:
a. My money’s on Trevor Siemian to start the second preseason game for Denver. Gary Kubiak would be wise to do that, in my opinion. When you’re pretty sure Mark Sanchez is a stopgap guy at best, why not give a kid you’re fascinated with three series with the first-unit offense? I watched Siemian the other night play the second quarter in Chicago, and his first four throws, one downfield, were right on target. He deserves three or four series with the first team, with the job on the line.
b. Paxton Lynch will be the starter at some point this year unless Siemian or Sanchez plays lights out.
c. Still think John Elway would prefer this quarterback situation rather than Brock Osweiler at $18-million-per-year after seven NFL starts.
3. I think I said I would answer a question about why Tony Dungy is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from a Twitter follower. Why would a coach with the 22nd-most wins, and a 9-10 playoff record, be in the Hall? A few thoughts. His 10.7 wins per season is best in NFL history. His teams made the playoffs a record 10 straight years. He’s the first African-American to coach a Super Bowl winner. He was the force behind the change of the Cover 2 defense to the Tampa- 2 (which some teams adopted), which put athletic linebackers in coverage deeper downfield as passing games loosened up against safeties playing deep. Then there’s the final part of it. Some would say this shouldn’t matter, because we’re asked to consider by the Hall only what happens between the white lines. When Dungy first came up for election, I asked Hall rules maestro Joe Horrigan about whether we should consider the African-American aspect of his candidacy. Not because Dungy is black, but because of all the coaches he has influenced, and the coaches he has led into the profession. In the years I’ve worked alongside Dungy at NBC, I have heard the phone conversations between him and coaches at all levels. He has been a beacon for black coaches, and in my opinion that should count for the Hall. Now, one other point: Many of you wonder about Tom Flores and his two Super Bowl titles. I have answered this quite a few times, but my point on Flores is this: 12 years coached, six winning seasons, 39th all time with 95 regular-season wins, and 14-34 as a coach away from Oakland. The two Super Bowls are meaningful. But to me, the body of work isn’t there.
4. I think of all the good deeds that happened in the NFL in the past week, none was better than what the Cardinals, led by president Michael Bidwill, did for the University of Arizona football team. After U of A offensive lineman Zach Hemmila was found dead Monday morning, and after the team’s practice field was partially washed away by a flash flood in Tucson, the Cardinals offered the use of their facilities 115 miles north, in Tempe. Not only did the Cardinals open their doors, but they also stenciled the end zone with the university’s ARIZONA logo, erected “Bear Down” signs (the Wildcats’ slogan), took all the stuff out of their players’ lockers so the Arizona players could have places to dress for two days and, well, I’ll let Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez tell the story. “They lined the field with our hashmarks, the college hashmarks!” Rodriguez said, incredulously, from Tempe after one of their practices the other day. “Everything they did for us was done to make us feel at home in a pretty tough time for our players. They did this while they were in training camp—it’s not like it was the off-season for them. To me, this is how a professional sports organization should aspire to be.” It is not just helping a state neighbor in need. It is kindness, human kindness. Bidwill and the Cardinals deserve credit for all of it.
5. I think the Lions caught a very big break with Eric Ebron not tearing his Achilles. He’s likely to be healthy enough to start the season, I’m told. Boy, does Matthew Stafford need him.
6. I think you can like Jim Caldwell if you’re a Lions’ fan or not like him, but it’s a very good sign that the rookie GM of the Lions isn’t putting any ultimatums out right now for Caldwell. It’s always a mistake to say a coach has to win X games, or to make the playoffs, to keep his job, because you simply can’t tell what tornados hit your team once the season starts. “There no mandate on the number of wins,” GM Bob Quinn told me in Latrobe the other day. “There’s no mandate on making the playoffs. What we’re looking for is improvement, from the first week of camp to the end of the season.” One other thing: The less you say in August, the less you have to take back in January.
7. I think this might be why Antonio Brown is good (or, at least a contributing factor): Look at this photo I took of Brown at Steelers camp last week. It’s a shot of him catching balls from the JUGS machine after practice. Nothing surprising there; players do it all the time at camp after practice. But in two-plus weeks of camp tours, I must say I didn’t see anyone do it for 20 or 25 minutes, as Brown did, and then follow it up with a personal assistant shadowing him downfield and yanking his jersey as the ball came. “The point of the routine is to catch a lot of balls,” Brown said. “I catch about 130 balls from all angles, all directions, one hand or two. I catch all these balls because maybe I didn’t catch a lot in practice, and it’s about developing good catching habits. I try to catch a lot of balls on throws I didn’t get today.”
8. I think my one other JUGS story from my travels is sort of a NSFW story. In Green Bay, Randall Cobb mishandled one of the fastballs from the machine, and it went through his hands and hit him in the groin. I mean, smack dab in the groin. As Cobb rolled around on the ground, a voice (either player or coach or equipment guy, I couldn’t say) yelled: “Hope you’ve already had your kids.”
9. I think there’s only one word to describe Lane Johnson—if, as expected, he is suspended for the first 10 games of 2016 for PED use: unreliable. That’s what you call a player who missed one quarter of the first 58 games of his career, which Johnson will do if this suspension happens. Four games in 2014, 10 this year, 14 in all.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Michael Phelps won the 200 IM at four straight Olympic Games. That is positively one of the great accomplishments of this year, or any year, in sports.
b. Twenty-three golds. We were all alive to see it.
c. You’re a hero, Simone Manuel.
d. Loved this column by veteran baseball scribed Bob Klapisch about what it’s like to cover Alex Rodriguez.
e. Great point by Klapisch on Rodriguez, after his last game: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s playing again in 2017, just to prove the Yankees wrong. His first-inning RBI double off Chris Archer was like oxygen to him. Rodriguez’s reaction at second base—arms outstretched, fists pumped, primal scream—told you everything about his warrior ethos. The reservoir is not empty, not yet.”
f. Ichiro Suzuki, with a triple for his 3,000th hit. Fantastic. This is the part of the story I love: Ichiro, who has visited Cooperstown six times, reveres baseball history and gave the Hall every piece of pertinent equipment from his big hit eight days ago.
g. Wonder if anyone picks up Jonathan Papelbon (last 3.1 innings: 14 baserunners).
h. Anyone seen Bryce Harper? Man, he’s fallen off a cliff. One home run since July 8. He’s been hurt some, but if it’s that bad, he should be resting, not playing.
i. Hey, Justin Verlander’s back.
j. Max Scherzer never left.
k. I repeat: Rougned Odor is a treat to watch, daily. He plays the game with a Pedroia-like verve.
l. Coffeenerdness: Love your convenience and your cleanliness and your consistency, SpringHill Suites and Towne Place Suites. But Lord, can’t you work on your coffee? Pretty weak stuff.
m. Beernerdness: Driving from Latrobe, Pa., to Cincinnati after Tuesday’s Steelers joint practices, I thought going halfway would be about right, with the last 2.5 hours of the journey set for Wednesday morning. Halfway was Zanesville, Ohio, on I-70, east of Columbus and maybe 150 miles northeast of Cincinnati. My videographer, John DePetro, and I made it known on Twitter that we were stopping in Zanesville for the evening, and two folks tweeted back that we should stop at Weasel Boy Brewing, a brewpub in an out-of-the-way old brick building in the city. Of course, we did; who can turn down the chance to try a good Mango Wheat at such a distinctive-sounding place? A charming, homey place, where the locals have their own ceramic beer mugs, made in Zanesville, and the bartender, Andie, washes them out between each serving. Just a cool place, and John and I took a photo with Andie to commemorate our half-hour at Weasel Boy.
n. Thanks to Moerlein Lager House in Cincinnati for hosting our team for a Tweetup on Wednesday evening. Great to see fans of The MMQB come out to talk football with us. Good beer too. (You know there’s an ulterior motive for me when we schedule a Tweetup; it’s to try beers like the Christian Moerlein Seven Hefeweizen. Delightful and light for this time of year.) The hospitality and scene were tremendous. Thanks to all.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
All’s right with the world.
Sam Farmer has a home team.
Still, St. Louis seethes.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.