An NFL Memorial Day Medley
Sending my best on this Memorial Day to those who have sacrificed so much for our country. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
In particular: Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Navy vet John F. Kennedy. The former president didn’t mind throwing around the pigskin a bit either, and I’m guessing he wouldn’t mind if we talked a little football today either.
It’s a Shirt-Pocket Notes column today, borrowed from the late and inimitable Myron Cope. The Pittsburgh sportscaster/writer often used to begin his sports talk show in Pittsburgh with his shirt-pocket notes from the day. He’d write items on pieces of paper with observations from games and conversations with sources, then store them in his pocket till the show. Hmm-hah.
Anyway, five notes from the week to digest between grilling or beaching or choring on this holiday Monday...
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• David Quessenberry’s comeback from a harrowing fight with cancer begins.Quick back story: Quessenberry was drafted by the Texans in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and missed his rookie season after he went on injured reserve with a foot injury. The next summer in June 2014, Quessenberry was diagnosed with lymphoma. For three years, he battled the cancer. When the chemotherapy and radiation caused him to lose 50 pounds in 2015, Quessenberry barely recognized the man in the mirror. “I felt like the furthest thing from my mind was being a football player,” he said the other day, his fourth day of practice after cancer robbed him of three seasons.
“Describe what getting back on the field was like,” I asked him.
Pause. Five, seven seconds. “It’s hard to put into words,” he said, finally, quietly and with emotion. “If I could describe it, I’d say first, my prayers were answered. It was so spiritual the first day back. Getting taped up, my helmet hanging in my locker, the jersey there, trainers hollering at me, riding me, teammates hollering at me, they wanted to see my back, putting my cleats on … all of it just special, just very very special. Because I could just feel how much everybody else on this journey with me wanted me to get back out there. My teammates never forgot me, never let me just drift away. That made this week even better.
“I woke up every day this week, and my neck was sore, fingers banged up, legs are tired and achy, I was having to drink so much water and Gatorade, sweating in the Texas sun … loving every minute of it. Really, I almost forgot how much I love this feeling, the bruises on arms, the sore shins, that sting you feel when you make a block. I missed it so much.”
Then … football. There’s no full-on contact this time of year, but when a coach told Quessenberry during one practice: “Go get some reps at right tackle,” in he went. Across from him, on either side, were two of the best defensive players in football—J.J. Watt at tackle, Jadeveon Clowney at end.
“There’s 99 [Watt] and 90 [Clowney],” Quessenberry said, reliving it. “We’re just in a jog through. But I’m thinking: I got butterflies right now! I haven’t felt this excited about a play in years. But then: ‘Okay man, this is where you’re at, you’re back. You’re not trying to maintenance chemo, you’re not just working out. You are staring across at a couple of the best players in the league. Time to play football.’”
• The Seth Wickersham/Seahawks story. The respected Wickersham reported from a slew of sources, basically, that Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman cannot get over the game-losing interception from the Super Bowl 27 months ago, and his frustration continues to point mostly at coach Pete Carroll for enabling the play-call at the New England one-yard line, and at quarterback Russell Wilson for throwing the interception.
I’m going to re-live the key play in a moment, but I’ll just say this: Those who live in the past are condemned to repeat it. I have not spoken to Wickersham’s sources, but I do not doubt the veracity of his story. And if Sherman continues—as he did last year, when he verbally harangued offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sidelines of a game—to bring up that losing play, Seattle should trade him after the season. (I’d say now, but without significant reinforcements at the position on a contending team, losing Sherman would be a major blow to going far in the playoffs this year.)
One other point: This is, in part, Carroll’s doing. He has created a don’t-worry-be-happy atmosphere in which it’s almost okay to be insolent because it’s part of his freedom environment. It’s fine when you’re winning, not so fine when you’re not dominating. Now, I don’t think the Seahawks will trade Sherman or let him go this year, because they’re a cornerback-needy team, and premier cornerbacks like Sherman are rare. My guess: Sherman will be on his best behavior this season (at least as it relates to this incident, and further disruptive sideline incidents) because he knows all media and team eyes will be on him because of this story. But 2018? Nothing is guaranteed.
• The Seahawks play in question. So I went back over the weekend and watched the play in question a few times on NFL Game Rewind. Actually I watched four plays from New England’s Super Bowl win over Seattle. Seattle ran four snaps on third-and-one or third-and-two in that Super Bowl. On three of those, Marshawn Lynch ran the ball—for zero, three and zero yards. (Wilson threw an incompletion on the fourth third-and-short play.) On those three Lynch runs, New England didn’t have its full package of run-stoppers in the game. On each, 335-pound Vince Wilfork and 325-pound Sealver Siliga were on the defensive front with lighter defensive linemen—and, in fact, Lynch was stopped for no gain on the first of those plays, when New England had only two down linemen (Wilfork and Siliga) on the field.
Now to the ultimate play. Second and goal from the New England four-foot line, with 26 seconds to play and Seattle with one timeout left. When Wilson came to the line, he saw this across from him, from his left to right: Wilfork, 335, on the left tackle … Siliga, 325, on the left guard … Alan Branch, 324, on the right guard … Chris Jones, 309, on the right tackle. On the three previous short-yardage runs in the game, Seattle faced New England alignments with two defensive tackles in the game; now there were four. If Bevell wanted to call Lynch’s number here, once, no one would have faulted him. That’s his money back, on the money play of the season. But would he have gotten in? We’ll never know, but based on the mediocrity of the offensive line and New England’s approach, I’d say it’s highly unlikely Lynch would have scored.
So let’s say he doesn’t score. Now it’s third-and-goal, with either one or two plays left. (Seattle would likely have called time after the second-down failure, and thrown on third down. An incompletion would have given Wilson a fourth-down try.) In the end, Seattle chose the element of surprise, throwing on second down, and Wilson’s throw for Ricardo Lockette was a millisecond late and Malcolm Butler made the play of his life to collide with Lockette at the same time he picked off the ball at the goal line.
The conclusion: No one can bitch if Bevell calls the running play on second down. But I feel strongly that Seattle would have had to throw it or get a fluky Wilson scramble to get the ball in the end zone to win—regardless of down.
• Mike Zimmer’s eye problems continue. The Vikings coach, after his eighth eye surgery in the wake of suffering a detached retina in his right eye, is off work for a few days, resting at his farm in Kentucky so this nagging ailment can die down—he hopes. Zimmer, 60, made it clear he’s not going to stop coaching, regardless the fate of his eye. “One eye or two, it really doesn’t matter,” Zimmer told the media Friday. “I’m going to be back. So we can put the retiring thing or whatever to bed quickly.” Laudable, to be sure. But this is the time of year a coach can take some rest time—lots of it. For Zimmer right now, the more of it the better.
• There might be a national touch football league coming. If a 7-on-7 touch football game featuring some big names like Mike Vick on June 27 in San Jose shows well, a New York financier named Jeff Lewis intends to start a national touch football league in 2018. Big if, obviously. But with the fear of continued head trauma in the tackle game, and the enthusiasm about touch football from NFL stars like Drew Brees, Lewis thinks it's time to try taking the game national.
“The analogy is this is a pilot for a TV show,” he said last week of the touch football trial in San Jose, which will feature some fast and quick players and magnetic flags on the hips. (When the flag gets pulled, a sensor will pinpoint the exact point forward progress stopped.) “Because this game has never been played by athletes like this, we don't know what we’re going to see. We’re all gonna see it together for the first time June 27. If I find it’s not compelling, I won't bang my head against the wall. But I think it's got a chance to be a fast, great, beautiful game.”
Vick will play in this game, but not necessarily in 2018 if the league does fly. He’s serving as an adviser to Lewis now. For the future, Lewis would love to say half the league comprised of prospects from football and other quick-twitch sports, and half from a national tournament that would winnow teams from around the country down in tournaments. “Wouldn't it be fun to have a massive kind of U.S. Open style, with teams that rise up out of a giant scrum of a tournament?” Lewis said.
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Quotes of the Week
“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue. ‘If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.’ It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue.”
—Giants co-owner John Mara, to Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, in her story about how the Colin Kaepernick story lives on.
“He stood up for our community. He took these issues to a national platform. I feel that it’s only right that we stand up for him. We want to let the NFL know we are not sitting silently.”
—Kevin Livingston of a New York-based organization providing suits to men recently released from prison, in the same Vrentas story, at a protest outside the NFL offices over Kaepernick’s continued unemployment. Kaepernick recently donated two boxes of men’s suits to men outside a New York parole office.
“That was totally unprofessional and not smart on our part, whoever’s responsible for that. Heck, we want to be playing in the Super Bowl and we were home sitting on our butt while they were playing. We’ve got no room to be making fun of anybody that was in the Super Bowl, whether they won or not.”
—Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, in a terrific response to open his Thursday press conference, after a Tweet from the Bucs’ account trolled the Falcons, making fun of Atlanta blowing a 28-3 lead and losing the Super Bowl in February.
“There were so many times we were in disbelief at what was going on. For a long time, we wondered how far we could go without breaking.”
—Former Seattle running back Curt Warner, from the excellent Dave Bolling story in the Tacoma News Tribune about Warner and his wife raising twins with autism.
“How about a best of nine?”
—NBC hockey analyst Ed Olczyk, in overtime of game seven in the classic Pittsburgh-Ottawa series.
I vote yes.
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Stat of the Week
Brock Osweiler defended his play in 2015 and 2016 to reporters in Cleveland the other day. “I think the proof is in the film the last two years,” he said.
I don’t have the wherewithal to show you Osweiler’s 785 pass attempts in the past two years here, but suffice to say if he was holding up those two seasons as proof he should be an NFL starter, he’d be wrong. What I can do is compare Osweiler to another low-level part-time starter in 2015 and 2016, Case Keenum.
You can make stats say a lot of different things, but when you have not played better than Case Keenum (and I think Keenum is a fine backup who can play for a while but isn’t anyone’s long-term starter), it’s mindful of the old Parcellsism: You are what your record says you are.
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Factoid That May Interest Only Me
If you know me, you’ll know why I love this factoid, courtesy of the Falcons:
In the Georgia Dome, former home of the Atlanta Falcons, there were 30 beer taps.
In Mercedes Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, there will be 1,264 beer taps.
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Tweets of the Week
Did Spike Lee just reveal that Colin Kaepernick has signed with the Seahawks? pic.twitter.com/IgFpiRD16D— 120 Sports (@120Sports) May 27, 2017
Spoiler alert: Spike Schefter has since deleted his social media “scoops.”
Fenway Park grounds crew used approximately 4 tons of drying agent on the field Thur and Friday. With all the rain, only one 28-min delay.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) May 27, 2017
I have a lot of admiration for NBC’s White House coverage.
Something you don't hear every day: Guy standing in @Starbucks, shouting into his cell phone: "Where you at? I just got out of jail!"— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 25, 2017
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Scenes from a Friday evening at Dodger Stadium:
• Lots of teams and leagues talk about wanting to make their fan bases more of a melting pot. Go to Dodger Stadium. Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Caucasian. Still mostly white. But it’s the most mixed crowd at a baseball or football game that I see. It’s great.
• What a meandering parking lot the Dodgers have. Been there 20 times or so over the years and the expanse of parking always amazes me.
• One of the coolest scenes at a ballgame I’ve ever witnessed: For the post-game Friday Night Fireworks show, the Dodgers open the gates in the lower bowl and allow fans to put blankets down in the outfield and watch the fireworks like it’s a family picnic. Fifteen minutes of fireworks, in sync to the soundtrack of songs from “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the 50th anniversary of that album. Two older women next to us singing “Penny Lane.” But really: This is something more teams should do. I was with Dom Bonvissuto, who edits my Monday Morning Quarterback column each week from his home in Long Beach, and his wife Danny and 6.5-year-old son, Jude, a Dodger freak. To see Jude cavorting on the field with such joy before the fireworks began was a thing of beauty. So happy to be on the field of his heroes.
• On the way to the car after the fireworks, I asked Jude if he’d ever heard of the old TV show, “Mr. Ed.” He had not. I told him it was about a talking horse who lived in Los Angeles, and my favorite episode ever was when Mr. Ed tried out for the Dodgers and slid into home plate. “The ASPCA today would never have allowed that slide to happen,” I told Jude and family. So, of course, on Saturday morning, Jude woke up and asked to see the Mr. Ed slide on YouTube. What a country. There it was. All in all, a very fun evening with the Bonvissutos.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the amazing news of Sunday was this, from Pro Football Talk, via the San Francisco Chronicle: The Oakland Raiders, the football definition of a lame-duck franchise, have sold out season tickets for the 2017 season. The combo platter of excitement over a long-lousy team and the acquisition of local legend Marshawn Lynch melted a lot of anger in folks ticked off at the Raiders for signing an agreement to leave the city for Las Vegas in 2020.
2. I think the NFL’s decision to cut overtime from 15 to 10 minutes probably won’t result in more ties, because coaches will play more aggressively in overtime. I’m not crazy about the change, but I understand it. Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio and the Sporting News had a great stat that plays a part too: In the past five years, 10 teams have followed a Sunday overtime game by playing on Thursday night. Those 10 teams are 2-8 in those games. Not enough to get a rock-solid sample, of course, but an indicator that fatigue could be a factor four days after a long game.
3. I think I’ve got to give you one more story about the kind of person Cortez Kennedy was, in addition to being a Hall of Fame player. (I wrote about Saints GM Mickey Loomis’ anguish over his good friend’s death the other day.) The media relations czar of the Saints, Greg Bensel, told me one more story about the late Cortez Kennedy—who died in Florida the other day, cause unknown—that I simply have to pass on. Said Bensel: “Tez was the greatest human. I once rolled over in my bed at a road hotel ... to the sound of a large black man snoring in my bed. It was Tez. He had a key to my room and wanted to come watch a movie. I told him, ‘You have 10 minutes and the TV goes off and you MUST leave my room; and do not have any part of your body touch mine.’ He laughed and sipped his Courvoisier and said, ‘Why the hate, Bensel?’”
4. I think Aaron Donald will have a new contract with the Rams by opening day. They’re going to pay their best player.
5. I think players should attend off-season organized team workouts, but when they don’t, I’d remind people that they’re voluntary. And yes, they’re good for chemistry and for things like getting quarterbacks and wideouts on the same page. But I’ve never heard one losing coach in December or January stand in front of the press and say: “If we only had John Doe at those workouts in shorts in May, we’d have made more plays today.” Odell Beckham is a different guy, and there’s probably a story there. But if/when he catches six for 126 in the opener at Dallas, not a soul will care about the May weirdness.
6. I think Victor Cruz has always been a class guy, grateful for his life in football and a very good teammate. I was stunned to hear the ridiculousness of him implying last week that Eli Manning purposely passed up throwing to Cruz when he was open because the Giants didn’t want him on the team anymore. There are absurd things to think about, and then there is the thought that coach Ben McAdoo put Cruz out on the field and instructed Manning to not throw him the ball. Ten versus 11. Yeah, that’s the way to win football games.
7. I think I love the fact that Ty Montgomery, atop the Packers’ depth chart at running back, will keep the number 88. I’m a cool-numbers guy: Jim Otto 00, Devin Gardner (at Michigan) 98. I’d love to see the NFL mix it up.
8. I think I have had enough conversations with Chip Kelly to have a good feeling about him being a TV guy. He signed Friday with ESPN to be a college football analyst. The thing I always appreciated about Kelly, when you actually had long conversations in which he could go deep on a bunch of subjects, was how imaginative he was about football, and how excited he’d get talking about getting receivers open, or inventing new ways for quarterbacks to make plays. I hope that’s the guy we see on TV.
9. I think it’s amazing how fast Darrelle Revis fell off the face of the earth.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I am on a streak of outstanding flight attendants. One of the Delta flight attendants said to me as we dipped into Atlanta to make a connecting flight Friday: “Sir, I have your connecting flight information.” These folks have been under attack in some corners, and I want to stick up for them. The vast majority of them (I fly Delta, mostly) are outstanding—competent and friendly and responsive. As someone who travels a lot, I will defend this segment of the travel industry bullishly.
b. Penguins in seven.
c. Warriors in seven.
d. Story of the Week: Bill Pennington of the New York Times, with a very well-told story of a college coach who died at 58, and CTE being a fundamental cause.
e. Column of the Week: Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post, writing about a couple from poor backgrounds in Washington, living life the right way till the unthinkable happened. Terrific storytelling.
f. American Geographical Story of the Week, by Thomas Curwen of the Los Angeles Times. If you haven’t taken that romantic drive up the California coast on glorious Route 1, it might be too late to do from start to finish, because of a landslide in north central coastal California that Curwen says has added 15 acres to the coastline because of all the mud and rock and trees that slid down the hill.
g. There is some really great writing and reporting going on out there in American journalism right now. Really great.
h. Shame on you, Greg Gianforte. I hope the wheels of justice do the right thing when you go to court in Montana June 7 over body-slamming a reporter while campaigning for the lone Montana congressional seat. The FOX report makes you wonder how on earth he got elected to office AFTER the attack took place. Almost as shameful was the fact that the first statement by Gianforte came through his campaign, blaming the reporter’s aggressiveness for the attack.
i. Just what we need in Washington: more demonization of the press.
j. We’re not the enemy.
k. Coffeenerdness: There is no question that, on this earth, the best flavored coffee drink is the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s vanilla latte (with two extra shots).
l. Beernerdness: The Bonvissuto family and I pre-gamed at Mohawk Bend, a craft beer pub (72 taps) in the Echo Park neighborhood of L.A., in the shadow of Dodger Stadium. You know me and the white ales. I had a glass of the St. Archer White Ale (St. Archer Brewing, San Diego) and was quite pleased with its light and flavorful taste. I kept thinking I’ve had it before … and may have, and may have even extolled its virtues in this space. Pardon me if I have. It’s worth a glass this summer if you run into it.
m. Rest in peace, Seth Rich.
n. Rest in peace, Jim Bunning. What a rich life. Not only a Hall of Fame pitcher, but a Kentucky senator as well. Notes about the life and times of Bunning, who died Saturday at 85:
o. Just as I was getting into baseball in a big way in the mid-sixties, Bunning was one of the real ironmen of the game … and as an older player too. In 1966, for the Phillies, at age 34, he pitched 314 innings, started 41 games, threw 16 completes games. And (per baseball-reference.com, in a 17-day span of May and June, had five consecutive starts of 9, 10, 9, 9 and 9 innings. He allowed four earned runs in those 46 innings.
p. How about this great game from July 27, 1966: Bunning (with Bob Uecker catching him) versus Sandy Koufax, Phils at Dodgers. Bunning throws 11 innings of one-run ball, striking out 12. Koufax goes 11 innings of one-run ball, striking out 16. Wow. Dodgers won 2-1 in 12.
q. And one aside: In the last game Koufax ever won, later in 1966, L.A. won in Philadelphia, and Koufax (winning his 27th game of the year) outdueled Bunning.
r. Bunning served 12 years in the U.S. Senate. He was succeeded by Rand Paul in 2011.
s. He had 35 grandchildren, including 2016 Boston College starting quarterback Patrick Towles.
t. I’ll be on family vacation this week—The Kings, including Freddy, invade Oregon!—and so there will be no mailbag on Wednesday. Also, Jenny Vrentas will sub for me in this space next Monday. I expect you to give her your undivided attention.
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The Adieu Haiku
OTAs. Just meh.
We didn't used to care so.
Too much coverage.
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