Before I get to one of the most amazing subjects of any Monday Morning Quarterback column in the 18 years I’ve been writing it—so please do not stray—a paean to baseball’s Opening Day, sort of, from one of its brightest stars.
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TEMPE, Ariz. — Late in spring training, on the Angels’ practice field, Mike Trout, American League MVP and Philadelphia Eagles season-ticket-holder, is telling this wacky story from last September. I’d seen video of a game on the Angels’ TV network from last fall. On the replay, the screen is split. On one side, Trout, in center field for the Angels on a Sunday afternoon, is peering into the Angels’ broadcast booth, 300 feet away. On the other half of the screen, where Trout is looking, is Angels color man Mark Gubicza. They both love the Eagles. Gubicza starts to flap his arms, in the “Fly Eagles Fly” gesture the Philly fans use. Excited, Trout starts to flap his wings too. (See the video here.)
Turns out it was the top of the second inning in Anaheim, and the Eagles were rallying late to beat Washington last Sept. 21. Trout tells me, “I was fired up about the game, and I told Guby during batting practice, ‘Hey, I’m gonna look up every inning. Let me know—if we’re doing good, give me the ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ signal. If we’re not, give me this.'" Trout made the throat-slash gesture.
“He’s, like, 300 feet away," I say. “How can you see him? What’s your eyesight?"
Best Guess Mock Draft
Forget the mock. Four weeks before the NFL draft commences in Chicago, no one can predict anything with certainty. But here’s Peter King’s—ahem—informed look at how the first 32 selections could go down. FULL STORY
“Oh, it’s pretty good," Trout says. "Anyway, I saw Guby, and it pumped me up … I miss the games in the summer and September, but now, knowing I can go to every game when our season ends, I mean, it’s the coolest thing, having season tickets. You’re a part of the fans. You’re one of them. I love it."
Trout is from Millville, N.J., 40 miles from Lincoln Financial Field. Thus his Eagle love. His seats are in the second level, “somewhere around the 50," but he doesn’t want to say more. He likes the anonymity of it. “It’s usually pretty cold, so I’ve got a hoodie or a beanie or a hat on. People don’t bother me at all."
Now for the big question: What about all these offseason moves by madman Chip Kelly?
“I’ve been shocked, for sure," Trout says. “But, you know, Chip Kelly’s got something up his sleeve. If he thinks Sam Bradford’s the guy, you know, you gotta trust it. He has one thing in mind, and that’s winning a Super Bowl. Whatever it takes. Whatever he thinks is right, that’s what he’s gonna do.
"As a fan, all these moves you hear in the offseason, it gets you excited for the season, for sure."
Pretty cool: The American League MVP, dying to know Chip Kelly’s next move.
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The NFL needs this 34-year-old long snapper.
Nate Boyer (Michael Thomas/AP)
The phone rang in Nate Boyer’s shoebox of a studio apartment in L.A. on Sept. 11, 2001, waking up the 20-year-old man without a life compass. Boyer looked at his clock … 6 a.m.
"Nate," his mother said, “turn on the TV."
"What channel?" Boyer said.
"Doesn’t matter," his mother said.
Boyer had a 19-inch TV with a rabbit-ears antenna, and he turned it on. The World Trade Center was on fire. In an hour, one of the twin towers collapsed; a half-hour after that, the second one fell.
This is the day Boyer’s life changed—as so many lives did in so many different ways. It’s crazy to say that it’s the seminal event in a life that led Boyer to a refugee camp in Darfur three years later, then to enlist in the Army, then to multiple tours of duty as a Green Beret, then to enroll as a 29-year-old freshman at the University of Texas, then to a walk-on tryout for the Longhorns football team, then—on his last tour in Afghanistan, after his sophomore year—having a bullet miss his face by three inches in a firefight, then to playing in 38 straight games as the Texas long-snapper, then to have the wild idea that he’d like to play in the National Football League, and then to train with NFL players Kyle Long, Lane Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Dashon Goldson, Calais Campbell and others in a gym in Los Angeles, on the odd chance that some team might invite him to training camp.
As a 34-year-old long-snapper.
That isn’t even the craziest thing about the Nate Boyer story. This is: When he walked on at Texas, he had never played a snap of football in the first 29 years of his life. Mack Brown, the coach at the time, didn’t know until the end of Boyer’s second year at Texas that he’d never played football. Boyer’s story was so good—from Army special forces to number 37 for the Longhorns, sprinting onto the field before every home game carrying the American flag—that Brown and Texas found a spot for him. And when the two incumbent long-snappers left after that second year, Boyer figured, I’m going to learn to snap. And this job will be mine.
Boyer made it happen. The man who never played the game mostly taught himself how to long-snap on his final special-forces tour, coming back to fall practice at Texas determined to win the job. He practiced and drilled himself into playing 38 Big 12 Conference games, which is why there's a glimmer of hope that this incredible football life has a chance to continue this summer at an NFL training camp near you.
"There is no question in my mind he can do it. None," Indy's Matt Overton says of Boyer. "He can legit long-snap at the NFL level.”
"I need teams to look past the fact I’m 34 years old, obviously," Boyer said from Los Angeles on Friday. “I’m not your average 34-year-old."
This is what Boyer is up against, as he attempts to become one of 1,696 active players in the most popular sports league in America:
• There’s not much turnover. Of the 32 long-snappers in the NFL in 2014, five were in their first year with their teams. (A sixth, Baltimore’s, turned over because of injury during the season.) Once a team finds a reliable snapper—they’re not highly paid—the guy can stay for a decade or longer.
• His age. Ever hear of a 34-year-old NFL rookie? NFL teams frown on 25-year-old rookies. Add nine years, and most are going to say, “Incredible story. Good luck, Nate."
• His size. Boyer is 5-11 and 220 pounds. The average size of the current 32 long-snappers: 6-2 ½, 246. One snapper is shorter than 6-0 (Houston’s Jonathan Weeks, at 5-10). Two snappers are lighter than 230 (Falcon Josh Harris, at 224; Denver’s Aaron Brewer, at 225).
This is what Boyer has going for him:
• Accuracy. Of more than 500 long-snaps at Texas, he had zero inaccurate ones.
• Speed. NFL punt snaps are supposed to take from .7 to .75 seconds to get from the snapper to the punter. PAT or field-goal snaps should take approximately three-tenths of a second. Boyer’s been timed in range on both.
• An endorsement. Indianapolis long-snapper Matt Overton, impressed by Boyer’s story, reached out to him last fall, offered to help in any way he could, and Boyer took him up on the offer. Overton found a training facility for him—FOX Sports analyst Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable Performance Center in Los Angeles, where many NFL players and MMA fighters go to train—and last week joined him for some concentrated long-snapping coaching. “His velocity is definitely there, and his accuracy is definitely there," Overton said over the weekend. “This was my chance to see if this was just a good story or if he has a legitimate shot to make it. And there is no question in my mind he can do it. None. He can legit long-snap at the NFL level.”
Boyer only needs one team to say yes. No team will use a pick on the now draft-eligible Boyer, but NFL teams will bring 90 players to camp in late July. Every team signs 20 to 25 undrafted college free agents for training camp. Theoretically, then, Boyer is competing to be one of 650 or so undrafted players invited to one of the 32 NFL camps.
Based on where he’s been in the past 14 years, and what he’s done, I wouldn’t count him out. In fact, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get a chance. Signing as a free agent with an NFL team is an uphill task, but Boyer’s had a few of those.
Boyer participated in the Medal of Honor Bowl in January, a college football all-star game in Charleston, S.C., where prospects can raise their profile. (Stephen B. Morton/Getty Images)
“You may not look at me and think, ‘This guy is capable of anything,’ but nothing is going to stop me," Boyer said. “I might die trying, but I will work till the last beat of my heart to accomplish the mission—and to keep the guy next to me alive and fighting. Coaches understand the parallels. The way you prepare, the mindset that you have, football and the military have so much in common. The stakes are not the same, of course. But you have to have the mindset that you will not be broken. No one will take the will away from you. That is the way I live."
Start on that day in 2001, when Boyer, struggling to find some purpose in life, saw the towers fall. “I didn’t grow up a huge patriotic person," he said. He graduated from high school in Dublin, Calif., in 1999, with no plan. “Things were always so easy for me. I didn’t have adversity as a child. But that happened, and I started reading the news, following the world. A couple years later, I saw a Time magazine article and photos by James Nachtwey. The images blew me away. I couldn’t believe what was happening in that part of the world. I was drawn to it. I had to go. That really was sort of my first Special Forces mission."
Boyer had no college degree, no discernible skill, and so no relief or medical agency would retain him to work in the relief camps for Darfur refugees. So he flew to Chad. When he landed, he lied about being an American doctor and about being robbed in Paris on his way to the refugee camp, and he talked himself onto a United Nations plane heading to Abéché, home to the largest refugee camp. When he got there, a Doctors Without Borders officials raged at him for the lie, thinking he was a spy or a journalist. Boyer showed him his worldly possessions—a change of underwear, a toothbrush, malaria pills. “I just want to be helpful," he said. For two months he volunteered, doing anything in the camp that needed to be done. “That," Boyer said, “is where I gained my patriotism. All these people from our country, there just to help. I gained so much pride for my country. Despite mistakes we’ve made as a country, we stand for equality and the opposite of oppression. We are trying to fix things. And the people there loved what we stand for."
"Isn’t every coach in the NFL trying to produce warriors?" Boyer's trainer says. "What better way to produce warriors than to bring an actual warrior onto your team?"
When he came back from Chad (his 60-day visa could not be extended), he decided to try to earn a spot in the U.S. Army Special Forces. At Fort Benning, Ga., 145 candidates started Special Forces training. Eleven, including Boyer, made it through. “I was all in," he said. “In my free time, I did a mile of lunges without stopping."
“Yeah, I know. That’s how I was. I would train till I was peeing blood. At my best, I could run two miles in less than 11 minutes. I could do 145 pushups in two minutes."
In the Special Forces, Boyer was dispatched all over the world on missions he can talk very little about—to Okinawa, Korea, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Germany, Spain and others. Dispatched to Iraq in 2008, he helped train Iraqi SWAT and Special Forces troops. Stationed in the Iraqi city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, the U.S. and Iraqi Special Forces were given a list of high-level enemy leaders to capture, and they captured the second and third targets in the first week. In Iraq, he also saw many friends and acquaintances wounded or killed. On a mission one day, the Humvee in front of Boyer’s struck an IED, and three of the men inside the vehicle were badly burned, one to death. “The smell was like you’re at a barbeque, but I realized, ‘Wow, that’s the burning torso of the guy in the Humvee.’ ”
Twice in Afghanistan, Boyer felt he came close to death—including just before he returned from his last deployment in 2014. Understand that this final tour was the Special Forces’ version of a summer job. Before his last season at Texas, he deployed to Tajab, near the Afghan-Pakistan border, searching for Taliban. One day, in a firefight with some Taliban forces, the captain of the Afghan forces, fighting next to Boyer, was shot in the throat and died. That battle is when the bullet came three inches from Boyer’s face. He actually had the presence of mind to tell me it was better him in such danger than a peer with a family. “I’m not married, and I don’t have any children," he said. “Better to have me there."
“How many people did you kill?" I asked.
“I am not going to answer that," Boyer said, after a pause. “I honestly don’t know. I can tell you I am no Chris Kyle. But you don’t really know because—well, you are in these battles, and you come back, and, last year, we had one firefight with 30 enemy KIA [killed in action], and you never know for sure who got who.”
Now onto the football. At the end of his Iraq deployment in 2009, at 28, Boyer thought he wanted to go to college. The GI Bill would pay for much of it. But he also thought the fact that he’d never played football was a regret too, as was not going to college. “I didn’t want to regret anything about my life," he said. So he applied at Texas, was admitted, looked up football workouts on the internet, and started doing them before he left Iraq. He enrolled at Texas for the fall term of 2010. To try out during walk-on practice, students are supposed to have a coach referral and some tape of their play. Boyer had neither. He broke the news to strength coach Jeff Madden, running the tryout, telling him what he’d been doing. He aced the physical and running portions of the tryout, and word got to Mack Brown: We got a Green Beret trying out. Brown loved the military. He’d been on a USO trip to see the troops in the Middle East. So he took a liking to Boyer, and Boyer got a uniform and the flag to lead the team out of the tunnel.
That would have been a fine way to be on the team. But Boyer, who’d never played, actually wanted to. He had to. After his second year he told Brown he intended to come back for fall practice to compete for the long-snapping job. “Well," said Brown, “you got this far. You can try out for it. But try to put a little weight on.” The rest is Texas history. In the second game of his redshirt sophomore season, Boyer got the job and kept it for three seasons. “Never had a bad snap," Brown said.
Matt Overton, left, and Boyer at Unbreakable Performance in L.A. (@MattOverton_LS/Twitter)
After three months training with Glazer and his crew of NFL players and MMA fighters, Boyer added 25 pounds (to 220) and now can bench 225 pounds 19 times—a very good number for a snapper.
Recently, Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his sports science coordinator—former U.S. Naval Special Warfare personal coach Shaun Huls—visited Glazer’s gym. Boyer met Kelly. “How much do you weigh?” Kelly asked. That’s what every coach will want to know, at least those who are thinking of giving the longest of shots a chance.
"Two-twenty," Boyer told him.
Will it be enough? Or will his story, and his determination, be enough to get him the one shot he's itching to get?
“Nothing is too extreme for Nate," said Glazer. “It doesn’t matter how exhausted he is—he will not stop. What he’s pushed himself through in the military is probably more than anyone who’s played in the NFL. You watch him and listen to him, and you realize his value is so much more than just as a long-snapper. The NFL’s a game of discipline. If you’re not disciplined, you can’t make it. And isn’t every coach in the NFL trying to produce warriors? What better way to produce warriors than to bring an actual warrior onto your team?"
Said Boyer: “Give me an opportunity. Let me show you. Don’t be afraid of me because I’m atypical. I’m going to to bring something important to the team. I’m not a typical player, and I believe that’s a good thing.”
One more thing: Boyer has another mission.
“The veteran suicide rate is 22 a day," he said. “Twenty-two a day! Unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. People out there are trying to fix that, and I am one of those people. I want to prove to those leaving the military that if you believe in yourself and work and sacrifice, the same way you did in the military, you can achieve what you want in society. I want to make a difference for veterans, and what they can do in the world.”
That starts with a job offer in May, after the NFL draft.
"I’ve heard ‘no’ a lot in my life," Boyer said. “So I’ll take a whole lot of no’s. All I need is one yes."
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Sarah Thomas officiated college football for seven years and worked NFL preseason games last season. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Sarah Thomas’ time has arrived
The NFL’s first full-time female official will arrive in the 96th season of the league, now that Sarah Thomas has been hired. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Thomas’ hire Friday, and though the league wouldn’t confirm it, the story’s a lock. Thomas will be a full-time line judge starting this summer.
This isn’t happening now because the NFL has its antennae up about hiring as many women as it can in the wake of the bungled domestic abuse cases that plagued the league (and continue to do) in 2014. As Mike Pereira told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, he was surprised this didn’t happen a year ago. Thomas, married with three children, became a finalist for an NFL job in 2013, was a finalist again last year, and this year, with eight new officials being hired, was finally one of the new officials elevated.
All seven on-field officials have multiple tasks per play, and the line judge is no different. The line judge is on the line of scrimmage near the sideline, opposite the head linesman. The line judge is the backup timekeeper, works with the linesman on offside and encroachment calls, and, once the ball is snapped, follows the closest slot back or flanker to that side downfield seven yards. After the receiver goes farther downfield, the line judge turns back to the backfield and has primary ruling on whether a pass is forward or a lateral, and whether the quarterback is behind the line or past it when he releases the ball. The line judge also must be an extra set of eyes for infractions by blockers and defenders on that side of the field, and must assist the referee on intentional-grounding calls.
Thomas is a pharmaceutical sales representative from Mississippi who first worked a college game in 2007. She has worked Indianapolis and New Orleans training-camp practices, and some other NFL teams’ offseason practices. When she has worked, she stuffs her blonde ponytail under her hat and looks like any other official. She’ll be closely watched, to be sure. But those who have watched her say one of the reasons she’s making this jump is because she doesn’t get flustered on the field and is extremely good with the rules. When she worked a Cleveland Browns practice in 2012, several players said they didn’t notice anything different about the line judge until it was pointed out that the line judge was a woman. If that happens on the field this year, Thomas—and the NFL—will be very happy.
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Some interesting draft nuggets from Pro Football Focus.
Beginning in 2007, Pro Football Focus graded every NFL player on every play and produced reports and statistics on player performance for its own website as well as about half the teams in the NFL. Last season PFF added college football. The tape junkies analyzed 870 major-college games from every major conference, producing data similar to the NFL analysis.
2015 Draft Projections
NFL film breakdown maven Andy Benoit and college football expert Andy Staples combine their knowledge to peg which prospects fit best with which teams. AFC East | NFC EastAFC North | NFC NorthAFC South | NFC SouthAFC West | NFC West (4.21)
PFF has some good information on the draftable players. Such as:
Overrated? A sure-fire top-five pick, USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, was underproductive in obvious passing situations. On third-and-long he produced only eight pressures (two hits, six hurries) on 94 pass rushes. That earned a Pass-Rush Productivity number of 6.4, well below the class average for interior defensive linemen of 7.6.
Mariota loves play-action. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota led the nation using play-action, going with it on 53.8 percent of his dropbacks. Alex Smith led the NFL last season with 31 percent play-action.
Mariota took more sacks than he should. Mariota was sacked 23 percent of the time he was pressured, the sixth-highest rate among quarterbacks in the draft class. Florida State’s Jameis Winston was sacked only 11.5 percent of his pressured dropbacks, second-best in the class.
Rising star of the week. Because NFL teams are more interested than ever in safeties who can play down in the box and can cover slot receivers and occasionally tight ends, versatile Penn State product Adrian Amos is generating buzz lately. At 6-1 and 214, his work as a slot corner resulted in opposing quarterbacks having a 3.4 NFL passer rating when throwing at him in those situations, lowest of any coverage player on slot receivers in 2014.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has a good deep arm. Petty completed 34 of 95 passes on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield. They went for 1,472 yards, 20 touchdowns and one interception. The 20 touchdowns led all FBS quarterbacks on such deep throws, while the yardage total was second-highest.
A surprising three-technique prospect. In the PFF pass-rushing system that takes into account where the player rushes from and the game situation, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray was the most productive player. Interestingly, the second-ranked player was Louisiana-Lafayette defensive tackle Christian Ringo.
There’s another cornerback in Oregon. Ducks corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has received plenty of attention from the draft community, but he wasn't the most impressive draft-eligible corner on the team according to PFF. That was Troy Hill. Ekrpe-Olomu allowed a 58.7 percent completion rate and a passer rating of 82.2 on throws into his coverage, while Hill held opponents to a 45.3 percent completion rate and opposing quarterbacks to a 63.9 rating. Hill did that while being targeted more often.
Quotes of the Week
“We found out there was a bar called the Cricket Inn, or the Cricket, which was a popular bar there at Oklahoma State. Our [scout] would sit there for a week. He sat there for one week, went in every day at 3 o’clock and stayed till 11 o’clock at night. That was his job. And we checked: How many times did Justin Blackmon come in? And he came in too many times. And we took him off our board.”
—Former Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, on why the Bucs took Justin Blackmon off their draft board in 2012.
Too bad the Jaguars didn’t have a spy in the Cricket in 2012.
“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation. If he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world. The same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity."
—Jacksonville defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, to TMZ, about the NFL’s hiring of Sarah Thomas as the first full-time female game official.
"I don’t think social media is beneficial to any human being on the planet.”
—Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo.
Tell us how you really feel.
Stat of the Week
Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt finished the 2014 season at the top of their respective games, Brady leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to win the Super Bowl over Seattle and Watt compiling one of the best defensive seasons a player has ever had.
Combined, their 2015 salary-cap number is $27.97 million. Brady’s is $14 million, Watt’s $13.97 million.
How the two NFL stars’ 2015 compensation compares to some dynamic baseball duos:
Combined 2015 Salary (baseball)/Cap Number (football)
Matt Harrison/Jhonny Peralta
Miguel Montero/Curtis Granderson
Tom Brady/J.J. Watt
Trevor Cahill/John Danks
Jayson Werth/Eric O’Flaherty
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
One more MLB salary factoid:
Team salary of the Los Angeles Dodgers: $272,789,040
Combined salaries of NL West rivals Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks:$288,700,859
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Readers of this column know how much I love Amtrak and train travel in general. But there are some times, way too often, that stupid little things go bad on a trip, and for those who don't love train travel the way I do, I wonder if little events like this make people say, “I’m better off driving.” Thursday evening, Amtrak regional train heading north to Penn Station in New York … Train pulls out of Newark for the nine-minute ride to New York City. It took 47 minutes. It inched, stopped, inched, rode for a minute, inched, stopped, stayed stopped, inched, etc. No explanation. I’ll get on the train again, many times. A bunch of the grumblers, well, I’m not sure. Things like that happen far too often on those regional trains.
Tweets of the Week
This tweet landed after Dallas re-worked Tony Romo’s contract to clear cap room.
The Green Bay QB's adopted Badgers stunned Kentucky in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Johnny Bench? Manziel reportedly is not a major factor in the Browns' plans at QB for 2015. (Tony Dejak/AP)
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think the most stunning piece of news from the last few days, other than Sarah Thomas's hiring, was Chris Mortensen's report that the Browns had basically moved on from Johnny Manziel. The way he described it on ESPN was that, when the offensive staff was putting together the offseason program, “Manziel’s name barely even came up in conversation.” I can tell you this: Mortensen is 100 percent accurate here. In fact, when the quarterbacks have been discussed this offseason in-house, Josh McCown is the dominant talking point, and then Thad Lewis, signed last month as a free agent. Then comes Manziel and Connor Shaw. The point is that Manziel has given the Browns no reason to think he’s the long-term answer at quarterback.
Jean Sifrin: The UMass tight end’s 10-year journey to the 2015 draft.Leonard Williams: Our Andy Benoit sat down for a film session with the draft’s best defensive player.Brandon Scherff: The draft’s best—and nastiest—blocker is a modern-day Paul Bunyan.T.J. Clemmings: A switch from defense to offensive tackle awakened a monster.Shaq Thompson: Before he was an NFL prospect, he was baseball's worst player.
2. I think the moral of this story is this: Manziel has done too much damage to his reputation with owner Jimmy Haslam, GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine to be taken seriously in Cleveland when he returns to the team, which is likely to be in the next week or so. He’ll have to be a combo platter of an Eagle Scout and a worker bee to have a chance to get the trust of the coaches back.
3. I think I am dubious that Manziel going to rehab was his idea.
4. I think, lest we forget the contributions of Eddie LeBaron as a quarterback and a patriot, let me list them, in the wake of his death at 85 last week:
a. Started his college football career at age 16 at College of the Pacific as a quarterback/safety/punter.
b. Led the nation in total offense as a senior.
c. Was wounded twice in the Korean War as a Marine and earned a Bronze Star.
d. Was rookie of the year in the NFL with Washington in 1952.
e. Went to law school in the offseasons in Washington and got his law degree in 1959 from George Washington University.
f. Stood 5-foot-7.
g. Retired after the 1959 season to work as a lawyer and be with his family more. But the expansion Dallas Cowboys talked him out of it and traded for him. He lasted four seasons in Dallas.
h. Worked as a lawyer, TV analyst and Atlanta Falcons GM.
5. I think Saints fans should give thanks for a 42-year employee, equipment manager Dan "Chief" Simmons, who retired last week. He was a classic equipment man. He never wanted any attention, never wanted anyone to know he was there, but always wanted the job done peerlessly, so that no equipment issue was ever a problem. Imagine working for 12 head coaches (plus Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer in the lost season of 2012), and surviving for 42 years. Simmons did it through loyalty. The thing he did that everyone in the building will remember: Simmons never gave out Archie Manning’s number eight once Manning was traded to Houston in 1982. The number was never formally retired, but Simmons took it upon himself to make sure it never got issued. “I loved him," said Manning on Friday. “Players can be unappreciative sometimes, but never with Chief. They always knew everything he did for them. I remember a couple times we’d play a cold-weather game and Dan would have the bouillon ready, in thermoses, for us. Nobody asked him to do it; he just did it. That’s the kind of guy he was."
6. I think the guy I’m starting to hear more and more about from personnel people is USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. He caught 160 passes the last two seasons; he had a 16-catch game against Cal last year and a 220-yard game against Washington. I know a few teams praying he makes it well into the second round, or even to the top of the third. With the ardor for him in recent weeks, I doubt he makes it out of the second.
7. I think I’ll believe the new and improved Josh Freeman—who signed with the Dolphins after being out of football last year—when I see it.
8. I think I love the Philip Rivers-to-Tennessee rumor, which The Tennesseean's David Climer has advanced at some length. Rivers won't sign an extension (at least now) with San Diego, and the Chargers do like Marcus Mariota. The only problem with the theory: Chargers coach Mike McCoy loves Rivers unconditionally; GM Tom Telesco is in the same league as McCoy. Could Rivers be telling the Chargers they'd better make some plans beyond 2015 because he doesn't want to return? I doubt it, but I suppose it's possible. In any case, the Chargers moving up for Mariota is going to be a sexy rumor in the three weeks leading up to the draft. Round one, by the way, is 24 nights from tonight.
Q&A with Dante Fowler Jr.
9. I think this Chicago headline means absolutely nothing to me: “Football autographed by Cutler gets no bids at charity event.” I just don’t care that a reviled player tries to do something nice for someone, or for some charity, and doesn’t get the football bought by anyone. I understand it suggests the community doesn’t like him, but we needed fans to pass on a signed football in a charity auction to know that? I don’t think so.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Lon Simmons. The legendary radio voice of the Niners died Sunday at 91. His call helped make legendary the incredible long, lunging Steve Young touchdown run, and he was a great baseball play-by-play guy too. The voice of so many Bay Area summer evenings and fall afternoons, gone. He'll be missed.
b. Fantastic sports event, the 71-64 Wisconsin win over Kentucky.
c. Loved this story from Brendan Prunty in The New York Times about how the University of Kentucky refuels in basketball.
d. And this, from The Wall Street Journal, about the pope making over his religion. Really enlightening.
e. Mike Krzyzewski was hired to coach Duke on March 18, 1980—six days after I was hired to cover Xavier basketball and the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer. What a long strange trip it’s been.
f. I want to like Duke tonight. But I say Wisconsin on a Frank the Tank putback in the closing seconds.
g. I really like the way Allie LaForce keeps her cool when nutjobs propose to her on national TV.
h. Did you notice that every team in the Final Four, men’s and women’s, hails from east of the Mississippi?
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i. Cool stuff, seeing our Robert Klemko named as a rising star in journalism at the University of Maryland on Thursday. Klemko was honored by one of the great men in journalism I have known, former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon, now the director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the university.
j. Barry Zito outrighted to Triple-A by the A’s. I am officially not just old, but ancient.
k. My baseball picks: American League division winners—Baltimore, Chicago, Seattle. Wild Cards—Oakland, New York. National League division winners—Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles. Wild Cards—St. Louis, Cincinnati. World Series: Mariners over Cubs.
l. Coffeenerdness: Memo to Starbucks: If you want to see an assembly line of efficiency at an incredibly busy store, go to your place at Penn Station in Manhattan during morning rush hour. I did a quick count when I walked at about 7:45 Thursday morning. Forty-eight people, either in line or waiting for their drink. I was out with my coffee at 7:53. Three great baristas, working cheerfully, efficiently. My flat white was perfect. Not sure what the moral of the story is, other than you’ve got some really good people at that store.
m. Six days and counting till the first episode of “Veep."
The Adieu Haiku
Ted Wells still studying Pats.
I mean, come on now.
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