NEW YORK — On a high floor of Lenox Hill Hospital on Saturday afternoon, Jim Kelly, 54, lay propped up in a hospital bed, his head back, hair matted and tousled, a round of pain meds and antibiotics coursing through his veins. He looked tired. His daughter Erin, a freshman at Liberty University, held his hand as he ticked off what life has been like for him lately. Four Kelly brothers and father Joe ringed the room, along with younger daughter Camryn (pictured atop this story), and his wife, Jill, followed his every word from the foot of the bed.
“There is no way I’d be here without my faith,” Jim Kelly said. “It’s been such a roller coaster. So many things. The Super Bowl losses, the fabulous career, my son born sick, making the Hall of Fame, my son dying, two plates and 10 screws in my back after major surgery, one plate and six screws in my neck after another surgery, a double hernia, the cancer, surgery on my jaw, the cancer coming back, now what I’m facing. But …”
He looked at Erin.
“When you’re going through pain, you’re what?” he said.
Not even a millisecond elapsed.
“Kelly tough,” said the eldest daughter of Jim Kelly.
* * *
The story of Jim Kelly’s second, and more serious, fight against cancer is a complicated one. But toughness is a part of it, for better and worse. As is humor. Last June, doctors removed part of his cancerous upper jaw, made a prosthesis of six fake teeth and bone, and fastened it into the hole left by the surgery. They grafted a rectangle of skin from his upper left leg to replace the skin that was lost on the roof of his mouth. The prosthesis works like a giant retainer; Kelly can remove it, and he looks like an old man without his front teeth when it’s out.
“Have you met JK Swag?” Jill said Saturday afternoon. “After surgery, Jim said, ‘I will never pull this out.’ He didn’t want us to see him like that. Jim, introduce JK Swag.”
With that, Jim took the device out of his mouth and began talking like an unintelligible old geezer and scowling, and the room roared. Then he put his teeth back in.
“Sometimes,” Erin said, “we understand JK Swag better than JK.”
“The normal person wouldn’t have been able to take it,” Jim Kelly says. “Some days, I don’t know how I did. I’d look up to the Lord and say, ‘I give. Uncle. You got me.’ ”
The family will need those moments in the coming weeks. Today, provided a slight fever is under control by this morning, Kelly begins a regimen of treatment—chemotherapy Monday and Tuesday, radiation Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—designed to stop the cancer that is dangerously close to the carotid artery in his head. It’s too perilous to operate now, even if the cancer that has spread up his infraorbital nerve can be neutralized, because there’s no guarantee all of it can be found and removed. If doctors operated and all the cancer wasn’t eradicated, weeks could go by before chemo or radiation could begin while he recovers from surgery, and that crucial time could allow the cancer to spread into his brain unabated. So for now, it’s several weeks of aggressive chemo and radiation. Kelly’s New York oncologist, Dr. Peter Costantino, called Kelly’s condition “very treatable and potentially curable” last week.
“If he’s saying it,” Kelly said, “I hope so. I just know there’s a lot of work to do, to shrink the cancer. I just pray it works. If you hear I’m about to have surgery, then you know it’s working. That’s the goal. But it won’t be an easy operation.”
It’s a complex cancer. There’s not a big tumor in his head, but rather countless microscopic ones. That’s probably a major reason why the cancer was tough to diagnose when it returned. Kelly was having headaches—“massive headaches and migraines”—and doctors thought it might stem from problems with the teeth that remained after the jaw surgery last June. He had six root canals on the left side of his mouth in the months after the surgery. But still the pain, the headaches, remained. “The pain became a blessing,” said Jill Kelly. Without the pain, doctors might not have been as aggressive in searching for the pain’s root cause. And because Kelly has a long history of clamming up about his pain, doctors took notice when he said his head was really hurting him.
After a while this winter, Jim Kelly knew there was something amiss. And further scans this month showed the little spots of cancer, many of them riding up the nerve leading to his brain.
“I guarantee the normal person wouldn’t have been able to take it,” he said. “Some days, I don’t know how I did. I complained about my headaches for months, and for a while I thought it was just part of the healing process from such a serious surgery. But obviously it was more than that. I’d look up to the Lord and say, ‘I give. Uncle. You got me.
“But now, this is just another river to cross. Now we know what it is, and we’ll keep fighting. Whatever I did in life”—now he motioned to the crowded room of family—“I never did alone. So we’ll fight. It’s in the Lord’s hands now.”
At times, the support system has him feeling a little guilty. He walks the halls here and sees patients, some very seriously ill, alone. “There’s a lady down the hall,” he said to his brothers the other day. “Anybody visit her? I never see anyone. We should bring her some of my flowers.”
Jim Kelly was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. (David Maxwell/Getty Images)
“Part of that,” piped up Dan Kelly, “is the influence my mom had on us all. Mom would give away our winter coats. She’d say, ‘That kid needed it more. You boys will be fine.’”
The Kelly family follows that Christian message now. Sometimes, their message and belief is so strong it sounds like a gospel tent in the room.
“All the fame Jim had in football,” said Dan. “I honestly believe that is just an instrument for God to use his notoriety for a greater purpose. What was his plan? Not many people can endure the kind of pain Jim is enduring, and the pain—we despise it. But we know the purpose.”
“He can be a messenger of hope,” Jill said.
“You know it,” said Jim.
“It’s such a great opportunity for Jim to be on the same level as everyone else, for people to see him struggle and to identify with him. It gives everyone strength,’’ said Jill.
“You got that right,” said Jim.
* * *
On Friday night, I put out a message on Twitter to my followers. I asked if any of them had a message to send to Kelly, whose illness has been reported far and wide. I wanted to see what the level of compassion and concern was.
Here how the response started, from Samuel Nielsen of Wisconsin: “1,573 people live in North Prairie, WI and every one of them is praying for you, Jim.”
Then words came from Rochester, N.Y., Dallas; Princeton, N.J.; Peru, Ill.; the nation of Peru; Bullhead City, Ariz.; Boston; Windsor, Ontario; Lexington; Huntsville, Ala.; Bolivia; Edmonton; Delta Junction, Alaska; Brazil; Perth, Australia; Sweden; Red Deer, Alberta; Put-in-Bay, Ohio; Dublin, Ireland; Cork, Ireland; Sioux Falls, S.D. (“No one circles the wagons like Jim Kelly,” wrote Clay Beeker); Kuwait, the Philippines and Hyderabad, India. “Met him once at a Bills tailgate. Made me feel like I’ve known him for 15 years,” wrote Adam from Toronto. And: Qatar; Altoona, Pa.; The Woodlands, Texas; Newcastle, Wash.; Iceland; Zephyr, Ontario; Mumbai, India; Lone Tree, Colo.; Panama City, Fla.; the nation of Panama; Guadalajara, Mexico; Onaka, S.D.; American Samoa; Sydney, Australia; Tacoma; Hong Kong; Pakistan (Pakistan!); Donnybrook, Western Australia; and scores from Buffalo and Hamburg and the environs in western New York. Scores.
Jim Kelly is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to the Super Bowl in four straight seasons. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Why? Why the overwhelming love for Kelly? My theory: People love the fighter he was as a player. People loved much else about him as a player (called his own plays, never whined about losing the Super Bowl four straight years). People felt for him after his son died. People in Buffalo never had a bad thing to say about him. He never left Buffalo after his career for greener—or warmer—pastures. Blue-collar guy in an increasingly white-collar game.
And the overwhelming sadness of a good man’s life being threatened too soon.
Wrote Rich Gannon (yes, that Rich Gannon): “Please know brother that you remain in our thoughts and prayers. No hill is too tough for a climber like you.”
Wrote Allan Ruigu of Nairobi, Kenya: “Saw Kelly’s daughter’s pic with him in a hospital bed, heart wrenching. Get well soon & be strong.”
Wrote Julien Urgenti: “I started watching football in the early 90s in Lyon, France. My love with football began with Kelly’s Bills. Go Jim!”
Wrote Asif Malik: “Get well soon, Jim Kelly. A great player on the field and I’ve heard, an even better person off it. (from Istanbul) #beatcancer”
I read 15 or 20 of them to Kelly and to the room of Kellys. He took a moment to compose himself.
Jim Kelly’s daughter Erin posted this picture on Instagram with the caption: "Watching the Syracuse game with daddy. he’s my buddy! Love him so much!! #daddysgirl #prayersforjk #KellytoughFollow"
“Humbling,” he said. “Humbling. I had no idea. I mean, I don’t do Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, whatever. But they tell me about it. There’s a lot of ‘Get well, Jim Kelly,’ out there, and I am so appreciative of that. I really don’t know what to say.”
After a while, a doctor came in and said she had to clear the room to examine Jim. Camryn and Jill’s mom went to get a bite to eat. The brothers went to relax downstairs in a waiting room. Jill and Erin adjourned to a waiting room down the hall that they’ve filled with inspirational Bible verses (“The Lord is my helper … I will not be afraid”). It’s the Kelly women who have raised awareness of his disease and made it an international thing.
They’ve done it through social media. Particularly noticeable was an Instagram photo Erin posted last week of her and her father laying in his hospital bed watch the Syracuse NCAA game on TV. Jim looked as weak as a pup. Erin looked devoted, hanging onto his arm. It went viral, quickly. Erin was stunned at the reaction, but it’s a social-media world, and emotional pictures of struggling heroes and their clinging daughters … well, that’s going to be a home run. And it was.
“We’re a sports family,” Erin said. “I just wanted to hang out with him. I never thought it would [go global] the way it did, but I like it because it shows the realness of our family. And that’s the raw truth of what he’s going through.”
She puts out pictures for the world to see, she said, “so people will pray. We believe in the power of prayer.”
The college freshman is a mature kid. She is not a hunter, but her father is, and so, for a Christmas present, she told her dad she was getting her hunting license, and the two of them would go on a hunting trip. “He’s my buddy,” she said. “I want to.”
* * *
Jim Kelly retired from the NFL in January 1997 with his wife, Jill, by his side. (Wayne Scarberry/Getty Images)
Earlier this month, when Jim and Jill Kelly had a moment alone, and they were digesting the news that the insidious cancer inside Jim’s face and head had returned with a vengeance, they began reflecting. When they reflect, the subject is often their late son Hunter, who died at 8 of a rare nervous system disease in 2005.
“Well,” Jim said, “I know where my son is, in heaven. And I’ll probably see him before you.”
“No!’’ Jill said. “NO! Do NOT say that again!”
Jill Kelly recalled the story down the hall from her husband on this rainy Manhattan afternoon. “That,” she said, “cut to my heart. I lost it.”
But the thought is unavoidable. The reality of their lives, all of their lives, is that Jim Kelly is fighting for his. He’s in the best hands he can be, and all they all can do is hope, and pray, that modern science works, and these microscopic cancer cells don’t continue the march to Jim Kelly’s brain.
“He’s never been through anything like this, obviously,” Erin Kelly said. “But I know the way he raised us. And I know who he is. He will fight this till his last breath. He’s a Kelly.”
DeSean Jackson had 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns for the Eagles in 2013. (Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
A very busy week, and weekend, in the life of the NFL, and a sad Sunday for me. My brother Ken died suddenly of a heart attack in a small village in England, and I’ll tell you a bit about him in a few paragraphs. Most of the following was written before I got the phone call, so here it is.
DeSean Jackson starts his meetings in Washington tonight. If history is a judge, I would expect owner Dan Snyder and GM Bruce Allen to put on the hard sell to sign Jackson when he arrives in Virginia late today—or at least sometime before he leaves for his second meeting somewhere in the NFL. Snyder is a gambler. He does not like to lose players he wants, and why would he not be aggressive in pursuing Jackson? Washington is $7 million under the cap—not a lot of dough, but consider that its three best offensive weapons now (Pierre Garçon, Alfred Morris and newly signed wideout Andre Roberts) count for a reasonable $12.55 million on the cap this year.
This is contingent, of course, on Allen and coach Jay Gruden and Washington assistants asking around about Jackson’s attitude, work ethic and off-field stuff. The most logical conclusion, after the NJ.com report on Jackson’s off-field associations followed by the Eagles’ release of him, is that Jackson has some friends who are gang members but is not a gang member himself and hasn’t been detained by the police in any sort of gang-related activities. I can see Allen, as good a contract-writer as there is in the business, putting in enough insurance to protect Washington—and I also think Allen will be the calming influence on Snyder so the owner doesn’t throw so much money at Jackson to prevent him from seeking other options. And there will be more suitors.
So what happened in Philadelphia? I don’t think there was one specific event. I think there was a feeling internally in Philadelphia that Jackson should have been one of the team leaders, and an argument on the sideline would crop up, and he wasn’t the best work ethic guy, and I always got the feeling that old and new administrations weren’t crazy about Jackson being in position to influence some of the younger players on the team. Yes, Chip Kelly wants everything done his way; maybe Jackson chafed at that. Whatever, it’s clear that if you’re not a good fit in the Kelly puzzle you’re not going to last in Philadelphia. But I want to stress that I don’t think this was a Kelly decision alone. I think this was organizational, brought on some by the negative publicity that came with the damaging NJ.com article released Friday.
One more thing: Many of you asked Friday why the Eagles didn’t just try to get something, anything for Jackson. Just my feeling, because neither Kelly nor GM Howie Roseman were talking over the weekend, but I’d bet a lot that the Eagles, once the NJ.com story got out, didn’t know if there was going to be more bad stuff coming out on Jackson, and didn’t want any team coming back to them saying, “What were you hiding?” Plus, no team would have given anything for Jackson after that story hit the internet Friday—even though there was nothing damning in it, just a lot of smoke.
Replacing Jackson. The loss of Jackson will be softened by two players Chip Kelly has never had a chance to coach in the regular season: Jeremy Maclin and Darren Sproles. Maclin tore his right ACL in the first week of Eagles camp last summer and was lost for the season; he has rehabbed well and should be ready to play by the summer at full speed. Sproles, of course, was acquired in a trade earlier this month from New Orleans. I’d be excited about the prospect of those two players joining Riley Cooper to form a strong receiver/slot combo platter, with LeSean McCoy wheel-routing as a good option out of the backfield. But the difference between Jackson and the Maclin/Sproles combination is easy: Jackson’s a legitimate top-five-in-the-league deep threat. Maclin’s not. In their last two healthy seasons, Maclin (2012) and Sproles (2013) averaged a combined 10.4 yards per catch. Jackson averaged 16.2, and caught five passes a game. That’s a big hole to fill. I don’t doubt Kelly can accommodate Jackson’s absence, but it’s not going to be easy.
New England’s Bill Belichick is in favor of coaches being allowed to challenge all calls. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Belichick leads on instant replay. More than a few people at the NFL meetings in Orlando took note of how engaged New England coach Bill Belichick—not normally a big speaker at league meetings—acted in the discussion on instant replay. Belichick believes every call should be replay review-able, and I’m told he gave a reasoned, cogent explanation of his position to the league when the matter was discussed last week. “Let’s open it up,” he said—meaning let’s allow any call to be reviewed. Instead of the focus being on controversial calls that were wrong and by rule reviewable, he advocated for any call (with still a max of two per team) to be subject to a challenge. There’s growing sentiment for that position, and Belichick is obviously a respected voice in the room, but there’s certainly not the necessary 24 votes right now for what would be a major change to replay. I’m in favor of that, by the way. There were 1.65 replay reviews per game last season. Even if that were to go up to, say, 2.65 per game with the Belichick initiative, I don’t see much time being added to the average length of games, because most of the reviews (65 percent last year, officiating czar Dean Blandino said) can be done in conjunction with TV timeouts.
And some movement on the PAT too. Good idea by Competition Committee member and noted conservative-football guy Mike Brown of the Bengals: Put all conversion tries at the one-yard line. The kick would be a piece of cake, of course, but the shorter distance would motivate more teams to go for a two-point conversion. A team with a power running attack or a great spread scheme might be emboldened to go for two consistently. (For that I pray. How fun would it be?)
Other takeaways from the meetings...
- One of the stars of the show in Orlando was Wade Davis, the former NFL player who came out as gay after he retired. He’s consulting with the league on gay issues. Davis left several coaches and GMs a bit open-mouthed when he told them: “Every one of you guys has two or three gay guys on your team. I know. I talk to them.”
- Denver coach John Fox said “high on his list,” when his team gets back together in April, will be talking to the group about locker-room inclusiveness. “I thought [Davis’ talk] was the most incredible thing I’ve seen here [at a league meeting], and I’ve been coming to these a long time.”
- I asked Pete Carroll abut the continued development of Russell Wilson, and he told me two interesting things: He thinks Wilson can be a 70-percent passer, and Wilson and Percy Harvin are already throwing together this offseason. And also this: Carroll will not be going light on Wilson now that he’s won a Super Bowl. “He needs all the attention that everyone else needs, and he’s gonna get it,” Carroll said. “Russell’s just a young guy figuring it out. Of course, he applies himself so well that you think that he’s okay. I think that would be a tragic mistake. He’s just developing. He’s just coming on. He needs work fundamentally. He needs work on the principles of what we’re doing. He needs repetitions with the guys he plays with. All of that will just continue to add to his play. So we’re not going to treat him any differently than anybody else. We’re gonna battle like crazy to make him push his game as far as he can take it. So that’s what this offseason is about. He’ll be available as much as a guy can be available. He’s already traveling with our guys. Throwing with our guys. Working out with guys all over the country. He’s ringing the bell now. Wherever he goes, they know he’s coming. He’s gonna get them out and get them on a field somewhere, and throw the ball around, and do something with the fellas.’’
Divining the Draft. The five teams that intrigue me—for movement possibilities and volume—in the wake of the release of the official draft order the other day:
- Cleveland. With eight picks in the top 150 (4, 26, 35, 71, 83, 106, 127 and 145), Browns GM Ray Farmer can surely move around with that fourth overall pick if there’s one player he can’t do without. If Farmer wants Sammy Watkins or Jadeveon Clowney or one of the two great tackles, no question he has the draft-pick currency to do it.
- Detroit. Now the free-agent losses of Cliff Avril and Gosder Cherilus last year pay off, with two fourth-round compensatory picks. The Lions have six picks in the first four rounds (10, 45, 76, 111, 133, 136). GM Martin Mayhew can get the corner of his dreams in the first round and still get a good receiver in round two, or by moving higher with his trove of picks.
- St.Louis. The Rams are open for business, with an extra first-round pick again (they pick at 2, 13, 44 and 75 on the first two days), but this might be the year they sit and take one of the two top tackles and be thankful that Washington (from whom they got the No. 2 pick) was so bad last fall.
- Baltimore. The Ravens, with six picks in the top four rounds (17, 48, 79, 99, 134, 138), might be lucky enough that a great player at a position of not-so-great need (wideout Mike Evans?) falls into their laps early. But Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome always has the trade market pegged well, and he could move up if there’s a player of his dreams (Anthony Barr? Khalil Mack?) hanging around low in the top 10.
- New York Jets. Your move, John Idzik. The Jets GM has been conservative in free agency, not wanting to pay big at a need position like corner, and with six picks in the top four rounds (18, 49, 80, 104, 115, 137) he can finally put more of his stamp on the team. Expect a corner in the first two rounds.
He was the most important person in the history of sports in Buffalo and a leader in the NFL becoming what it is today. But more than that, Bills owner Ralph Wilson was a world-class human being. FULL STORY
One last note about Ralph Wilson.
how you always got the unvarnished version of events when you talked to Ralph Wilson. “ ‘Unvarnished’ would be quite an understatement,’ ’’ said his long-time PR man, Scott Berchtold, who still manages media affairs for the Bills. “He didn’t listen to me often, and I have to say 99 percent of the time he was right. I mean, this is a man who served our country in the Pacific theater in World War II as a mine-sweeper. And I’m going to tell him, ‘Watch what you say?’”
Want an example?
Late in the 1998 season, two controversial officials’ calls went against Buffalo, and the Bills lost a 25-21 game to New England. Wilson criticized the officials afterward. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined him $50,000, saying his comments about the officials were “corrosive.” Wilson issued this statement:
“The commissioner lecturing to me as if I were a novice, instead of one who has been involved in football infinitely longer than he has, contends that criticizing a call has ‘destructive and corrosive effects on the game.’ What is more destructive and corrosive—errant calls in front of millions of viewers or my statements of opinion? People all over the country registered shock at the way the officials, however honorable their purpose, took the game away from us. Even the league has admitted to us that the calls near the conclusion of the game were incorrect. On Monday morning, the commissioner can sermonize on destruction and corrosion, but he has never experienced the pain of blowing a crucial game due to officiating. I have yet to decide whether I will pay or challenge the fine. But, at 80, I know I don’t need pompous lectures from the commissioner and I feel that the $50,000 is not only unwarranted, but punitive in nature. The next time he may ask me to sit in the corner.”
That is what I call a statement from the heart—something we never, ever see anymore in the NFL.
Kenny King, 1949-2014.
My brother died Sunday, doing what he absolutely loved to do. He was 64, recently retired, a walkaholic, and he and his wife, Jane, were walking in a small village in England—where they lived—and he stumbled and fell. He said he didn’t feel well. An ambulance was called. On the way to the hospital his heart stopped, and the medics in the ambulance couldn’t make it start again.
Two King brothers gone, one left. That’s me, the baby of the family. Two King siblings left: Pam, my sister, and me.
It hurts in such a different way from the pain of my brother Bob’s death in 2010, also from a heart attack. Bob was just three years older than I was, and we spent a lot of time together playing sports and sharing a room and, well, beating each other up. (He got the better of those, but it didn’t stop me.) Ken was eight years older, and I didn’t interact with him very much as a kid. That’s a big age gap. But after I got out of college, we started talking more, and visiting more, and even when he and Jane moved to England in 1983, we kept in touch consistently. And what was a distant relationship became in past years a much closer one. He was my buddy. My wife and I visited Ken and Jane three weeks ago, to see them and their new grandson, Thomas. We walked. We watched sports. We went to pubs. One night, we stopped in one of his favorites, The Lamplighter in Northampton, 90 minutes north of London. We talked about retirement; this was his first full year of it. I wondered what he wanted to do with himself now. “Nothing,’’ he said. “There will come a time when I’ll want to do something, but I love just getting up and having nothing to do right now.”
Brothers Peter and Kenny King (Courtesy of the King family)
Except watching and monitoring sports. From his little village of Denton in the middle of sheep pastures, he’d listen to Yankee games on the internet (however did we coexist?) and tell me the most arcane things. “Chamberlain can never get the first batter out,” he’d say, “Why does Girardi keep using him?” A string of those things, almost daily. We planned a baseball trip this summer, and last Thursday we confirmed all the details by phone. He and Jane would fly into Boston in June, and we’d see games in Boston and New York and Washington. Baseball trips were his favorites. We went to Game One of the 2012 World Series in San Francisco; there’s a photo of us together before that game, right in his kitchen. We went on three spring training trips too. He just loved baseball, but he also loved cricket and rugby and his fantasy soccer team. And Liverpool. We were going to Anfield when I visited three weeks ago, but Liverpool had to move the game to a later date, so we missed out. No matter. “We’ll go next season,” I said. Instead, we got to sit in his living room and watch Six Nations Rugby. Ken was a pal of Neil Hornsby, the Pro Football Focus guru, and when I called Neil to tell him the news, he said, “We were going to a cricket match soon.”
Ken was the smart guy in the family. He went to William & Mary, the first college grad in the King family, and earned a scholarship to Cambridge University for a year. Everything he encountered he wanted to know more about. I always saw him reading—at a young age, middle age, now. He was a relentless learner. And such a good person. All three mornings in England, he said, “Ready to go for coffee?” He didn’t drink it, but he took me to the Costa Coffee shop in the next town, knowing I wanted a latte in the morning. That was Ken and Jane—always concerned first, second and third with others.
Anyway … I don’t know what else to say about my big brother. Except I love the fact we got closer later in life, and I couldn’t wait to see him when he came over, or when I went over there. He was a very good man, and I’m lucky he was my brother.
Quotes of the Week
“I like tradition. But the extra point is so boring.”
—The late Bills owner Ralph Wilson, to club CEO Russ Brandon not long before he died.
“I know the grass is going to be great. It’ll be like a pool table, a billiards table. This will be like Augusta fairways.”
—San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, on the quality of the grass in the new stadium the 49ers will open this fall in Santa Clara, 45 minutes south of San Francisco.
“We’re very comfortable with where we are in being one of the six teams that don’t have cheerleaders. And the other five that share that same policy are ones that are traditional franchises, and it’s the same group that’s been in place for the last several years. We’re comfortable being a part of that group.”
—Lions president Tom Lewand, who said the team will play the 2014 season (and apparently many seasons into the future) without cheerleaders.
The other five teams without cheerleaders: The Steelers, Browns, Bears, Giants and Packers.
“I love where I work, and more importantly I love what I do. I feel like I’m at halftime.”
—Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, who has coached the Packers for eight years. Eight more, anyone?
“You know what your role is? When your phone rings and your name’s called, go get people out. That’s your role.”
—Houston manager Bo Porter, to the Houston Chronicle, asked about the problem of his team having a closer by committee entering the baseball season, with the Astros’ relief pitchers not having defined roles.
I really like that answer.
Stat of the Week
One of the reasons the NFL knows it has to do something about the ease of kicking is the man Pittsburgh has kicking: Shaun Suisham. Take a look:
- Suisham made 96.3 percent of all kicks (131-136) over the past two years. The breakdown: 73 of 73 extra points and 58 of 63 field goals.
- He is perfect in 29 of his last 32 games.
- Suisham is no one’s choice as the best kicker in football.
That’s not a knock on Suisham. The point is, if Shaun Suisham is a 92-percent field-goal kicker over two seasons, and has to boot his home kicks in an unfriendly stadium for kickers (Heinz Field, Pittsburgh), you know kickers are getting so good the league has to do something to try to make it tougher for them, either on extra points or field goals or both.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
From the Football Guy Till The End Dept.:
Five days before he died, Ralph Wilson called club CEO Russ Brandon to be briefed on the bylaws and rules proposals due to be discussed at the NFL meetings in Florida.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
So I’m driving along State Route 192 in Osceola County, Fla., returning from a visit with Doug Flutie (who now lives in Melbourne Beach, Fla.) last Wednesday, and this is what I see:
Tweets of the Week
“@DeseanJackson10 and me have been boys since we were kids…No one should be judged by the actions of others! #fam”
—@RSherman_25, the Seattle cornerback and boyhood friend of Jackson in Los Angeles, after Jackson was cut by the Eagles Friday and linked to gangs.
“Chris Culliver, brassed knucklehead. #49ers”
—@CassiusMK, a producer and video journalist at CNN, after the Niners cornerback was arrested for threatening a motorist with brass knuckles in San Jose Friday.
That has to be the first brass-knuckle arrest in recent NFL history, no?
“Surprised that NFL tabled proposal by Cincinnati to not pay players. Thought it had wide support.”
—@RattoCSN, columnist Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area, during the NFL meetings last week.
“What Boston firefighters did today, including two sacrificing their lives, is why I refuse to refer to any athlete/entertainer as a hero.”
—@trenni, CSN New England reporter Trenni Kusnierek, after two firefighters lost their lives battle a nine-alarm Back Bay blaze Wednesday.
“Miguel Cabrera will earn $49,423 PER AT BAT over the next decade. Median annual income of a household in Michigan: $48,471.”
—@darrenrovell, the ESPN sports business reporter, after Cabrera signed a new deal with the Tigers last week.
Julius Peppers and Jared Allen each signed with new NFC North teams this offseason: Peppers is now a Packer, and Allen is now a Bear. (Hannah Folsein/Getty Images)
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think much has been made of the decline of Jared Allen as a pass-rusher, but the three factors that mean the most to me are these: 1) He led all Vikings defensive linemen in snaps played for all six seasons he played in Minnesota; 2) he had double-digit sacks all six years; 3) in his best season rushing the quarterback, 2011, he had 66 pressures/sacks/hits of the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus; last year he had 65. Maybe the Bears can spot him a little better and get him to take a few plays off this year, but I’ll take Jared Allen on my team anytime.
2. I think the more I think about Devin Hester on the carpet of Atlanta for eight games (with a ninth at arch-rival New Orleans) the more I think the Falcons made a good signing. His 14.2-yards per punt return last year, when he turned 31, was fourth-best in his career, and only once has he had a better kick-return mark than his 27.6-yards per runback in 2013. If the Falcons limit his touches, he should be a big factor in 2014.
3. I think the most interesting thing about the Bills’ future in western New York is that if they move before the current lease expires in seven years, the new owner would have to pay the state of New York $400 million. That gives a new owner a good chance to put a group together to either buy and keep the team in Buffalo (probably a long shot as the 51st-largest market in the country) or move it.
4. I think I would not be shopping All-Pro guard Evan Mathis if I were Eagles GM Howie Roseman. I’d be shopping for his groceries to convince him to stay for the rest of his career.
5. I think Tom Coughlin might be 68, but he talks like a man who wants to coach multiple seasons. “There is no number,” he said when asked how much longer he wants to coach. “I don’t have a number.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coughlin, if he wins, coach five more years. He’s amazingly young for a man in such a stressful job.
6. I think if the NFL had to delay even one game because of a goal-post dunk (and it did Saints-Falcons when Jimmy Graham did it last year and it took 15 minutes or so to get the crossbar straight), that’s one game too many. Good idea to ban a silly practice.
7. I think the oddest thing that came out of the month of March was news that the Saints will spend the first three weeks of training camp this year (except for travel to the first two games) at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The place will install two natural grass fields and one artificial-turf field for the Saints, along with a 55,000-square-foot building for offices, weight room, meetings and locker room. That’s an amazing investment to make, one the Greenbrier probably doesn’t make if it’s only for one season. We’ll see. The Greenbrier is one beautiful spot.
8. I think, and this is an emotional thought from a 56-year-old man, that I hope the Bills stay in Buffalo. That city needs the Bills.
9. I think John Schneider, the real GM, and Kevin Costner, who plays one in a movie coming out April 11, are close to the same guy from what I've heard about Draft Day. Costner doesn't care if he is liked. Sounds familiar.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Hooray! Baseball starts in full today!
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b. What other player could have made $144 million by age 29 and then hit free agency in his prime? Mike Trout’s going to do that, if his health cooperates.
c. My picks: American League division winners: Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland. Wild Cards: Boston, Cleveland. AL champ: Oakland … National League division winners: Atlanta, St. Louis, Arizona. Wild Cards: Los Angeles, Cincinnati. NL champs: St. Louis. World Series champ: Oakland.
d. MVPs: Dustin Pedroia, Boston; Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona … Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka, New York; Alex Wood, Atlanta … Rookie: Xander Bogaerts, Boston; Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati.
e. Grady Sizemore starts in center field today for Boston in the opener at Camden Yards. Amazing story. Sizemore’s last baseball game: Sept. 22, 2011. That’s 30 months ago. Sizemore’s injuries since 2009:
• Left knee microfracture surgery.
• Elbow surgery.
• Hernia surgery.
• Right knee surgery.
• A second hernia surgery.
• Back surgery.
• Right knee microfracture surgery.
f. While we’re at it, let’s compare a season in Sizemore’s prime to the same season by the then-unconscious Albert Pujols:
Player, Team, Year
Sizemore, Cleve., 2006
Pujols, St. Louis, 2006
g. Just wanted you to recall how great Sizemore once was. Not Pujols great, of course, but pretty good. He’s still just 31.
h. Houston manager Bo Porter is an interesting story. He played cornerback at Iowa under Hayden Fry. He once got a hit off Dwight Gooden. He’s a Newark guy who loves Bill Parcells.
i. The Dodgers will begin their fourth game of the season Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. in San Diego. At that time, the Yankees and Astros will not have played a regular-season game.
j. Mike Trout deserves $24 million a year. It’s always strange to think of a player making more in millions than he is in age. Trout is 22.
k. The times are changing in baseball. They’ve already changed, actually. The Houston Astros have a “director of decision sciences,” Sig Mejdal. He formerly worked for NASA, Lockheed Martin and the St. Louis Cardinals. He has two degrees in Engineering from Cal-Davis, and two master’s degrees from San Jose State in operations research and cognitive psychology/human factors.
l. Allie LaForce is good and fast and asks the right questions as a sideline reporter. And she’s got a heck of an alma mater.
m. The 5.5-minute delay at the end of Arizona-Wisconsin? Intolerable. You don’t delay a game for that length of time to look at replays. You just don’t.
n. Coffeenerdness: Gotta do better on the coffee, McDonald’s. Tried you two times in Florida last week. Way, way too weak.
o. Beernerdness: Thrilled that Whole Foods in New York is selling Bell’s Oberon Ale, its summer ale. A great, great beer.
p. RIP to the two Boston firefighters, Michael Kennedy and Edward Walsh, who were killed when a raging fire trapped them in the basement of a Back Bay building. They had the hearts of lions, as do so many firefighters across the country.
q. With regard to Jerry Remy’s job status as the color man in the TV booth for the Red Sox, he should not lose his job because his son is a psychopath who is charged with murdering the mother of their child. Even if Jerry Remy is somehow at fault for his son’s wayward life, you don’t fire an announcer because his son’s an idiot, even a murderous idiot.
The Adieu Haiku
Who wants ex-Eagle?
DeSean, Decker and the Jets: