SAN FRANCISCO — Four stories, four takes ... on the trouble in Philly, on the fiasco that is instant replay, on the sleepiest Week 17 in memory, and on an MVP race that really isn’t hard to divine despite the recent greatness of Todd Gurley …
On the Eagles
Philadelphia clinched home-field advantage in the NFC last night with some sort of Christmas miracle, the 19-10 high-wire win over Oakland. But it’s hard to think of a win that felt more like a loss for Philadelphia than this game. I haven’t seen the kind of inept offensive play I saw in this game since, well, since the Texans earlier on Monday. Or since the Giants on Sunday. Suffice to say, the Eagles are in big trouble. This is relatively impossible to fathom, but Philadelphia gained 37 yards in the second half and outscored the Raiders by nine points. This is because Oakland, in eight possessions in the last 20 minutes of the game, went interception-fumble-punt-missed field goal-fumble-punt-interception-fumble. I didn’t think it was likely for Jack Del Rio to get fired this winter … until about 11 p.m. Eastern Monday.
I can imagine all the Eagles in the locker room post-game. A win’s a win. And We clinched home-field in the NFC—there’s 15 other teams that wish they could say that. And We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Nick Foles. They’re deluding themselves. Even with home-field advantage through the playoffs, the Eagles are going to have to make some plays on offense against three very good teams. Can they make enough positive plays on offense to win even one of those games against a team with the defensive talent of New Orleans or Carolina, one of which is the likely divisional-round foe on Jan. 13 or 14; or then in a possible championship match against the Rams or Vikings; or then in the Super Bowl? Hard to imagine.
You don’t want to overstate the importance of one game. But Foles threw far better sideways than any other way Monday, and he piloted one drive of more than 14 yards in his last nine possessions against a team with a porous secondary in a major swoon entering the game. He was inaccurate, continued to have trouble finding top receiver Alshon Jeffery (two targets, zero catches) and inspired zero hope that when the games matter he’ll be able to flip some switch and respond like a playoff quarterback should. Foles now has a five-point win over the moribund Giants and an all-time lucky win over the disorganized (that’s putting it nicely) Raiders. The next game he has that means something is nearly three weeks away. The Eagles’ staff has a lot of work to do to find some way that Foles can perform competently to win a playoff game.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
On instant replay
Roger Goodell needs to summon NFL officiating czar Al Riveron into his office this week and tell him to stop playing God. That’s all I can think to rationally say in the wake of the incongruous replay reversal in Foxboro on Sunday, and the micromanaging tenor of the officiating department as a whole.
This is a fact: There wasn’t enough incontrovertible video evidence to overturn the Kelvin Benjamin touchdown reception just before halftime in the Bills-Patriots game. Not even close. Is it possible that Benjamin’s left foot left the ground and wasn’t touching anything but air by the time he secured the ball in the end zone? Yes. Possible. Maybe even probable. But not certain. Definitely not certain. I watched that play 10 times via CBS replay while waiting three minutes and 17 seconds for ref Craig Wrolstad to announce the call after consultation with the New York officiating command center. Then, on Monday, I watched twice all the way through on the game telecast—20 more replays, in all—and there is no way you could see whether Benjamin’s foot lost contact with the ground before he gained possession of the ball.
You could say you thought he did, and you could say you’re pretty sure he did. But you can’t say with certainty, because it was not certain. And the league’s hallmark for overturning a call is that there has to be definitive evidence, 100 percent evidence, to prove that the call on the field was wrong.
What’s happening is that the officiating command center, it seems to me, is re-officiating calls on the field. This was a perfect example. On the field, two officials called it a touchdown. It was a close call. If they’d called it incomplete because Benjamin was out of bounds, there wouldn’t have been enough evidence to overturn it. Similarly, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn what the officials did call on the field. But Riveron has tried in one season to make officiating perfect. Officiating cannot be perfect. There are some times you simply have to say, Correcting a 50-50 call is not what replay was intended for. That’s why Goodell has to step in, and right now. For the good of the game, he’s got to tell Riveron to correct the obviously wrong calls, not the ones half the fans in a bar in Topeka would call one way and half the other way.
“It is more and more obvious that there isn’t a standard for staying with the call on the field,” tweeted one previous VP for officiating, Mike Pereira.
“We’re being overly technical. The call on the field should have stood,” said another previous VP for officiating, Dean Blandino.
Replay’s a great part of the game when used correctly. It absolutely should not be scrapped. But if the league continues to allow Riveron to make calls like the Benjamin reversal, replay should die. It’ll be doing more harm than good.
On the MVP
I appreciate the greatness of Todd Gurley and the value of Todd Gurley. But he’s not the Most Valuable of the NFL in 2017. This is a 17-week, 16-game award. Games in October and November mean almost the same as games in December—unless a candidate carries his team to a division title or a playoff berth on his shoulders and is the overarching dominant factor in his team’s rise to power. Gurley, in the past two weeks, has been beyond superb, with 456 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in huge wins at Seattle and Tennessee.
Gurley leads the NFL in scrimmage yards and has a lead of 13 yards over Le’Veon Bell and 14 over Kareem Hunt in the NFL rushing race with a game to play. On his team: the NFL’s fifth-rated quarterback, Jared Goff, and a strong candidate for defensive player of the year, tackle Aaron Donald. So Gurley has had significant help.
In the season’s middle eight games, in the two months beginning Oct. 8, Gurley totaled 906 rushing/receiving yards and four touchdowns, and the Rams went 6-2. Very nice numbers. Not stunning numbers.
The MVP would most often be a quarterback anyway, because he touches the ball on every offensive snap and theoretically is every team’s most significant player, for better or worse. I believe other players can and should win it; I voted for Adrian Peterson in 2012.
But this year, with a week to play, the MVP on my ballot is Tom Brady. Playing without his top target (Julian Edelman), playing while his team’s defense was being fixed on the fly, playing while taking a consistent beating, and playing at age 40 (that doesn’t matter, but it’s a part of his story), Brady has struggled some in December (four TDs, five interceptions). But he’s still 3-1 this month. And in the Patriots’ 9-2 start, his TD-to-pick ratio was 26-to-3. I think Gurley has been an eye-opening phenom on the Rams’ recent run to a surprising division title. He’s a great player. Brady’s a more valuable player to his team, and in the league.
The AP asks for 50 voters in the media to vote for one candidate. But if we voted 1-2-3, here’s the way I’d have the field with one week to play:
Agree? Disagree? Send me a 75-word argument, pro or con, and I’ll use the best ones in my column Wednesday.
On week 17
I hate boring Week 17s. We haven’t had a truly lousy one in years, since I don’t know when. But this is how uneventful Week 17 is shaping up to be:
• The NFL thought so little of the drama in Week 17 that it canceled the Sunday night football game on NBC. Wise move. A relatively meaningless game on New Year’s Eve, with the chance it could be truly meaningless by the time it kicked off depending on the outcome of the earlier games? No thanks.
• Seven of the eight divisions in the NFL have a champion this morning. The only one that doesn’t, the NFC South, will be won by either New Orleans or Carolina … with the second-place team in the division the fifth seed in the NFC.
• The AFC has the fifth and sixth seeds open. If Baltimore wins over Cincinnati, or the Bills or Titans lose, the Ravens cop the fifth seed. That’s likely. Amazingly, as bad as the Titans have played, they’re the sixth seed with a win over Jacksonville or losses by the Bills and Chargers. The Chargers and Bills are long shots for that sixth seed.
• The most interest development, to me, is the battle for the third and fourth seeds in the NFC. The Rams have a tough game against the surging Niners on Sunday; Jimmy Garoppolo has won four in a row since taking the starting quarterback job. If I were Sean McVay, I wouldn’t play that game like the seventh game of the World Series. I’d rather be the fourth seed in the NFC than third. A divisional weekend game at likely second seed Minnesota shapes up to be a tougher game than at top seed Philadelphia, based on what we’ve seen in two weeks of Nick Foles in relief of the injured Carson Wentz. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rams play that game.
The Ice Bowl Cometh (Again)
As we approach the 50-year anniversary of the Ice Bowl, NFL Network runs one of the most interesting shows in its history Friday at 9 p.m. ET: “The Timeline: The Ice Bowl.”
I can say that because I’ve seen the one-hour doc, which is narrated and co-produced by Michael Meredith, a New York-based filmmaker and son of the Cowboys’ quarterback that day, Don Meredith. The family connection is used to perfection, and Michael Meredith, who did this over a four-year period, strikes just the right tone of personal angst over his father’s lifelong regret about losing that game and reporting some of the most interesting things I’ve heard about the game.
To be clear, airtime is 8 p.m. Central in the most passionate areas, Wisconsin and Texas.
The Ice Bowl, played on Dec. 31, 1967, is one of the most memorable games ever, because it was played in minus-15 weather in Green Bay, and because it came down to a legendary play in the final minute. A play I never knew was made up in the huddle, but now I guess we do.
“The winning play in the Ice Bowl was not even in the playbook,” said Packers running back Chuck Mercein. “We didn’t have a quarterback sneak. That was an improvisation.”
So many other cool football points too. Because of the extreme cold, “that game should have been postponed,” Green Bay linebacker Dave Robinson said.
But I found the most interesting parts those concerning the humanity of Michael Meredith talking about his father. “He died of a broken heart,” Michael Meredith said in an interview, “because he never took his team the whole way. You have to understand. My father is a Texan. He went to high school in Texas, he went to college in Texas, and he played in the NFL in Texas. As a kid, I remember we had an armed guard at our house. If my dad lost a game, people would beat on our door. If we won, it’d be like, Meredith for Governor!
“The people who remember my dad on ‘Monday Night Football’ remember a guy who was celebrated for his TV work. They don’t realize how much he felt he let down his city and his team. That team was desperate to give the city a positive identity after the JFK assassination [in 1963]. But the one thing I feel good about is the Ice Bowl was so close and so hard-fought and such a game of millimeters that the city was proud of the Cowboys, and it was close to being the seed of the birth of Cowboys Nation.”
I highly recommend you watch this documentary if you love a good history story, or if you love football—or, of course, if love either team.
Quotes of the Week
“If y’all got the chance to come get me, come get me!”
—Seattle safety Earl Thomas, after the Seahawks’ 21-12 victory over Dallas on Sunday, to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
I don’t want to make too much of this, but it was hugely odd. Thomas, a Texas native who played at the University of Texas, ran after Garrett postgame and made sure he got the message that, at 29 next year or soon thereafter, he’d like to play a twilight season or two for Dallas.
How will that go over in the front office of the Seahawks, to have one of the leaders of a proud team chasing after the coach of a non-playoff team telling him to chase him?
“Officials up here, they always find a way to get it right for the Patriots. That's not the reason why we lost, but it sure would have helped out in the game.”
—Bills running back LeSean McCoy, after the controversial (to put it mildly) overturned Kelvin Benjamin touchdown marred Buffalo’s loss to New England.
“All I can say right now is, I am at a loss for how a play like that can get overturned.”
—Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, on the Benjamin play.
“We haven’t asked why. Bad things happen to good people.”
—Vernon Shazier, father of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is hospitalized with a spinal injury in Pittsburgh, to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
“WHAT A NIGHT TO BE A TERRIER!”
—Wofford College basketball play-by-play voice Mark Hauser, after the Terriers went to Chapel Hill and upset the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels 79-75 on Wednesday.
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver, Houston. I know. Two catches, 41 yards in a dispiriting 34-6 loss to Pittsburgh. But there has not been a more difficult catch in the NFL this season than the 3-yard touchdown catch Hopkins made in the lost cause of a game Monday evening in Houston. It’s hard to describe it, except to say he reached around with one arm and batted the ball so he could catch it one-handedwith the other, all the while fighting off a Steelers defender. Hopkins had just started making beautiful music with Deshaun Watson when Watson went down with a torn ACL in late October. (In their last game together, at Seattle, Hopkins had eight catches for 224 yards.) The reason I’m likely to make Hopkins one of my two All-Pro wide receivers when I submit my Associated PressAll-Pro and season awards ballot six days from now is that, even without Watson, Hopkins has had 748 receiving yards and six touchdowns in eight games, with Tom Savage and T.J. Yates at quarterback. Imagine being on pace for a 1,496-yard season with Savage and Yates as your quarterbacks.
Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco. The 49ers have been seeking a franchise quarterback since concussions forced Steve Young to retire in 2000. For the bargain-basement price of a second-round draft choice (which gets later in the round every week), they’ve almost certainly found him. In a month, Garoppolo—unless he’s a Hollywood matinee idol mirage—has become the long-lost solution. Signs were everywhere in the 44-33 stunner over Jacksonville’s strong defense, led by the 10-play, 79-yard, easy-as-pie drive to open the game. Garoppolo’s six scoring drives out of 10 possessions (not counting the halftime kneeldown), including three late ones when the Jags made it a game, showed his command of an offense that’s still new to him. Think of it: Garoppolo was traded eight weeks ago today, and if you watched on Sunday, you’d have thought he’d been in the Kyle Shanahan offense for four years. It wasn’t the 21-of-30, 242-yard, two-touchdown, one-pick, 102.4-rating performance that was eye-opening, or the 44 points on a top-five defense. It was the command, the grasp of the offense, the confidence.
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams. Catapulting into the MVP discussion in the past two weeks with six touchdowns in two dominant performances, Gurley again led the Rams to an impressive victory—this time to help the team win its first division title since 2003. In the 27-23 win over the Titans in Nashville, Gurley had 35 touches for 276 yards and two touchdowns—118 rushing yards and 158 in the air—and leaped tall defenders in a single bound. Twice. Gurley combines the power that Jeff Fisher cultivated with the athleticism and make-’em-miss ability that Sean McVay has wisely used. I didn’t think any 2017 player could be a better all-around back than Le’Veon Bell, but Gurley has certainly looked like it in this commanding run of greatness.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Cam Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans. Dominant player in the NFC South’s biggest game of the year. In putting the Falcons behind a major 8-ball to make playoffs, Jordan had two sacks of Matt Ryan and two additional knockdowns, and helped on a huge second-half goal-line stand that was the trademark of the Saints’ defensive day.
Marquis Flowers, linebacker, New England. Acquired in what was a fairly invisible trade with the Bengals for a seventh-round pick in late August for linebacker depth, Flowers came up huge in a game against Buffalo that was closer than the score (37-16) indicated. He had a team-high 10 tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks to help the Patriots expose the weaknesses of Tyrod Taylor’s protection and ability.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Byron Jones, defensive back/gunner, Dallas. There has been no better downed punt in the NFL this year than the one by Jones to kill a Cowboy punt at the Seattle 1-yard line. Jones dove, his body parallel to the ground, and with the ball near the goal line flipped it back onto the field of play, where it was downed. Meanwhile, as if he’d been practicing this move since he was 3, Jones somersaulted in the end zone and popped up, barely celebrating The Punt-Downing of the Year in the NFL. Well, I’m celebrating it.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Los Angeles Rams. The amazing run of an amazing 70-year-old coach continues. With the Rams on the way to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Phillips now has compiled a ridiculous streak of success. No one hits the ground running like Phillips. In his first season on the staffs of the 1989 Broncos, the 1995 Bills, the 2002 Falcons, the 2004 Chargers, the 2007 Cowboys, the 2011 Texans, the 2015 Broncos and the 2017 Rams, those teams made the playoffs. Even though this Rams defense has bent, it hasn't broken, and the fact that they’re 11-4 and have clinched the division with a week to play … well, Phillips has turned out to be a smart hire (a fairly obvious one, but smart nonetheless) by egoless Rams coach Sean McVay.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Al Riveron, executive vice president of officiating, NFL. Riveron has a very tough job. He has to be fair to 32 teams, and he has to call ’em the way he sees ’em, now that the NFL has chosen to make replay a centralized process, looping in Riveron and the officiating command center to examine replays with the referee on the field. The Kelvin Benjamin reversal, as I detail above, shows that the process has gone way too far. The NFL first instituted replay use in 1986—there have been several iterations since—to correct obviously wrong calls. The call on the field should be reversed by Riveron and the on-field official only when the evidence to do so is incontrovertible—and there is no way to tell with certainty on the Benjamin reversal that the call is obviously wrong.
Stat of the Week
With one game remaining in 2017, Larry Fitzgerald’s past three seasons:
With one game remaining in 2017, Julio Jones’ past three seasons:
So … Fitzgerald, supposedly in his twilight, has 15 more catches (for far less yardage, of course) and four more touchdowns in his past three seasons than the great Julio Jones, in his prime.
Fitzgerald hasn’t committed to playing in 2018, though contractually he is signed for 2018. My question: Why would this man retire, unless it’s a life choice?
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
The Pro Bowl continues to plumb embarrassing depths each year. My favorite example of that this year: the selection of New England’s Matthew Slater as the lone special-teamer for the AFC.
The Pro Bowl nods were announced after the league’s 15th week. Slater had played seven games in the first 15 weeks.
So he must have been a superman in those seven games. Hmmm. Pro Football Focus, which charts every players’ performance on every play of every game, has Slater as the league’s 279th-rated special-teams player, and the Patriots’ 12th-rated special-teamer.
This is not to pick on Slater, who traditionally has been a very good special-teamer. It’s about why, when the teams are announced every year, it’s a futile exercise to start talking about the snubs and who got jobbed. It’s the most imperfect thing the NFL does.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
So it was a holly, jolly Christmas in San Francisco for my wife and me with daughter Laura, wife Kim, their son Freddy; daughter Mary Beth came down from Seattle for the festivities with her boyfriend, Nick. It’s very cool, and quite exhausting, to chase our sweetheart of a first grandson for part of four days in a row.
On Christmas afternoon, the ladies of the family, including Kim’s mom and sister, went to see Lady Bird, the movie about the rocky relationship between a mom and her daughter. So for two-and-a-half hours, Freddy and his cousin, Maisie, were the responsibility of me, Nick and Maisie’s dad, Paul. I am proud to report that we went two-for-two in child care. Both children were alive when the women returned home.
Freddy, who turns 1 in two weeks, is crawling up a storm, and he can walk if helped with one hand or holding onto his giraffe scooter. He also can be obsessive, as kids that age are wont to be. For about 35 minutes on a pleasant San Francisco afternoon, he and I were in the small backyard (with stairs) that Laura and Kim share with the family upstairs. Freddy wanted to crawl up the collection of stairs (seven stone stairs, then one, then two, then three) to the top of the yard. Then he wanted to do it again, so I carried him to the bottom of the stairs. By my count, we did that 11 times. Slowly, with me bent over, making sure no accidents happened.
When we came inside to watch a few minutes of Steelers-Texans, this is what resulted:
Tweets of the Week
New section of the column this fall, as part of The MMQB’s partnership with State Farm. Each week, I’ll bring you the most valuable possession of some person associated with pro football. This week: me. I’m feeling particularly family-oriented this week, visiting my daughter Laura, her wife and my grandson.
I can’t narrow it down to one, so I’ll give you two of my most valuable possessions. When my father died in February 1986, his four kids each took a few of his things that we admired. I took two: his gold watch commemorating 25 years as a Connecticut ironworker; he was proud of that. And then his dog tags from military service late in World War II. Dad was a Seabee (a member of the Navy’s Construction Battalions), and he told us a few stories about playing baseball—he was a left-handed pitcher, nicknamed Lefty King, who pitched for his base team—against pro players in their down time. The watch and the dog tags are things that make me feel his sacrifice, both for his family and for his country. That’s who he was.
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
Coming Wednesday: a conversation with Ryan Leaf, who 20 years ago this month was neck-and-neck with Peyton Manning for the top pick of the 1998 NFL Draft … and whose life has take some hairpin turns since. This is one of my favorite conversations in the two years that I’ve done this podcast.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 16:
a. I urge you this week to watch for my MMQB story with Frank Gore, who enters the last game of his 13th NFL season Sunday against Houston 139 yards shy of his 10th season of 1,000 or more rushing yards. This is not just about the football life of Gore. It’s about the work ethic and the lessons he’s learned along the way, such as this advice to future football players who will run in NFL backfields: “Love the game. Love the game. Perfect your craft, every day. Look at all the guys who everyone says, ‘He’s the best one.’ And be better than they are.”
b. Truly, Gore is one of the players I’ve covered who I admire the most. Read what he’s learned this week at The MMQB.
c. Frank Gore: fifth on the all-time rushing list, 74 yards from 14,000. Of the 11 top rushers of all time, he’s the only one not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame … and the only one not eligible for the Hall yet.
d. I suppose as the curtain draws on Dez Bryant’s eighth NFL season, it’s too late to say, Grow up, Dez. He’s 29 years old. Against Seattle, he was pouty about not getting the ball, and when he finally caught a Dak Prescott pass, he fumbled it away to the Seahawks. If Dallas is going to retool after this season, I’d seriously consider starting with this head case.
e. Cam Newton is one mysterious football player. I look up in the fourth quarter of a game the Panthers needed, Sunday against the 4-10 Bucs, and 57 minutes into it, Jameis Winston is out-passing Newton 367 yards to 108.
f. And then Newton plays Superman on the last drive and wins the game, after fumbling the snap, bulling into the end zone for the decisive score. He pulled that rabbit out of his hat.
g. Regarding Adam Schefter’s report that UCLA’s Josh Rosen would prefer to go to the Giants instead of the Browns: Uh, is there a quarterback with options who wants to play for the Browns?
h. Regarding Adam Schefter’s report that there are teams that believe Aaron Rodgers should be declared a free agent by the league because the Packers abused injured-reserve rules: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
i. It’s maddening to watch Matthew Stafford play quarterback.
j. I saw some people question the future of Dak Prescott after the loss to Seattle. Man, I know about five teams who wish that somehow, some way, the Cowboys would go in a different direction at quarterback. Prescott would have a ton of suitors.
k. Every time I watch the Bills, I’m more impressed with middle linebacker Preston Brown. He is a great sideline-to-sideline player.
l. This is how a losing team plays: Tampa kicker Patrick Murray, four-for-four in field goals, pushes wide a 51-yard field goal with three minutes left. Bucs 19, Panthers 15.
m. This is how a losing team plays: Panthers still down four to the Bucs, 45 seconds left, fourth-and-three, Panthers’ ball on the Tampa 5, no timeouts left for Carolina … and Tampa Bay’s Chris Baker jumps offside. The 2.5-yard penalty gave the Panthers a half-yard to make to extend the drive, instead of three yards, and Carolina converted.
n. This is how a losing team plays: Bucs held Panthers below 260 total yards in both meetings this year. Lost both.
o. Larry Fitzgerald’s Christmas Day column for The MMQBis the kind of gem that will likely make the John McCain family cry.
p. Don’t want to make too much of that egg-laying by the Jags, but giving up 44 to the Niners two weeks before a playoff game was worrisome enough. The near-brawl between teammates Malik Jackson and Aaron Colvin was just as worrisome.
q. Hmmmm. Jerry Jones called the Dallas loss “an extreme, extreme disappointment.” Beware the ides of January when Jones is disappointed.
2. I think I agree with Mike Florio on this one: The NFL needs to launch an independent investigation into the misdeeds at NFL Network, as detailed by a lawsuit by a former network wardrobe stylist, and by the story from a former makeup artist there, as told to The MMQB’s Tim Rohan. As makeup artist Erin McParland wrote, wardrobe chief Jami Cantor told her to be careful around some of the cretins at the network, saying: “You’re new. You’re pretty. You’ll be targeted.” What a horrible way to live life, to be afraid some idiots will hit on you at work every day.
3. I think I am so pleased that Lisa Olson of The Athleticwrote about the #MeToo experiences of some female sports journalists in an excellent column. I am also pleased Olson is still writing about sports, and bringing up the seamy side as well as the sunny. I covered the incident 27 years ago when Olson was harassed in the Patriots’ locker room by three players. It is branded on my brain how the owner of the team at the time, Victor Kiam, said the Boston Herald, which assigned Olson to cover the Patriots at the time, was “asking for trouble” by assigning a woman to cover the team—and Kiam said he didn’t disagree with the abuse the players heaped on Olson. Lord, what a horrible environment the Patriots were then.
4. I think sports, and the sports media, have made progress in the treatment of women who cover and are a part of the games. Just not enough.
5. I think I can’t imagine a better part-owner of the Carolina Panthers than Steph Curry. He loves the Panthers, he loves the Carolinas, he loves football. When Jerry Richardson sells the team (I am assuming Bank of America is going to have a key role in putting a collection of wealthy and super-wealthy owner candidates together), I hope Curry is involved. Here’s what he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN about it: “I’m serious. I’m really serious about it. I think it’s such a such a unique opportunity to impact my hometown.”
6. I think this is totally crazy to say, but the Browns could go 1-31 over Hue Jackson’s first two seasons, and I would stand staunchly behind the decision to bring him back for year three.
7. I think there will be time to fete James Harrison, one of the best and certainly one of the most interesting players of this era, released by the Steelers the other day at 39. I am not convinced he’s played his last snap. But Harrison must not be forgotten, and if he doesn’t play again, we need to celebrate one of the iconoclasts of the past 20 years.
8. I think if I were John Mara and Steve Tisch, I’d ask my coaching staff why Davis Webb cannot get on the field in the height of meaningless games when:
• The Giants are 0-11 in NFC games this year, the worst mark in team history, and have been out of contention since pre-Halloween.
• The Giants have lost 13 games for the first time in the storied history of the franchise, with one meaningless game left.
• The Giants were shut out at Arizona and were pulse-less on offense.
I have stressed this over and over when discussing the Giants in recent weeks. Ben McAdoo was absolutely right in saying he wanted to play different quarterbacks for the last five games, because there was nothing to be gained for the future of the franchise by continuing to run out Eli Manning for the final five meaningless games. McAdoo, in fact, was the adult in the room in aiming to get Davis Webb two or three late-season starts. But the public and media outcry was so shrill that the franchise wilted under the public pressure, and now the organization will enter the offseason having no idea if Webb, the third-round rookie, can walk and chew gum at the same time. A pathetic display by the Giants. You know what they say about coaches and GMs and people in football who listen to the fans too much? If you listen to the fans too much, soon you’ll be sitting with them.
9. I think one of the things I like about my life now is I’m able to work with great people to bring you stories like these, about Deshaun Watson and his commitment to live his life, in part, for things other than football. My thanks to a superb support system at NBC Sports, in particular producer David Picker, that makes stories like this possible. And also, I should say thanks to the Watson family, for agreeing to tell a story that is often uncomfortable for them because of the personal nature of it. When my children were young, they were sports fans, and I wanted to be sure that if they rooted for specific players, these players were good people as well, because I didn’t want them to be disappointed one day if their heroes did something crummy. After working with Watson and his family, I feel good about saying: Parents, you can buy your kids Deshaun Watson jerseys.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of this holiday week:
a. Obituary of the Week: by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, on the great Dick Enberg. What I loved about Enberg—I did not know him except in passing—were his versatility and his optimism, and how comfortable he sounded with everything about every game he ever did. Truly, Enberg is one of the best all-around announcers ever to grace our sporting landscape.
b. Great line from Enberg: “I love the double play.”
c. I have a Christmas and Hannukah gift to you. It is a newspaper column.
d. The No-Doubt, Important Story of the Week: from Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on the star high school running back, Jake Bain, who made the biggest call of his life—to admit he’s gay, knowing the abuse would come.
e. Brave kid, great column.
f. And how about this coach at John Burroughs High in St. Louis, John Merritt. Per Hochman, Merritt said: “Listen, we want to win football games, we want to be tough and strong. But also, I look at our roster. I have Asian players, I have Muslim players, I have gay players, I have straight players, I have black players, I have white players — we have tremendous diversity. And the way that works is by being inclusive. One of the things we talk about in our football program all the time is our biggest charge is to love one another. It's our human cause, it's our human condition, and we try to build our football team around that. The wins are great. The life lessons are better for me. If we go 0-36 in the next four years, and I have 10 more Jake Bains who become men and are true to themselves? Then those are great seasons.”
g. It would be hard to have more respect for a person than I have for Jake Bain.
h. Investigative Story of the Week: by Michael E. Miller and Dan Morse of the Washington Post, the story of the menace of East Coast gang MS-13, with a brave mother coming forward, on the record, to try to blow up this evil organization.
i. All the people, including one in the White House, decrying “fake news” … Tell me one thing. Do you want the media to exist on your press releases about how wonderful everything is in this country? Or do you want the real news? This kind of journalism is so vitally important, and as a citizen of this country, I applaud Miller and Morse and those at the Postdevoting resources to stories like this.
j. Coffeenerdness: When I come out west, I think how much I wish Peet’s would become a force in East Coast coffee. Nothing against Starbucks, but the perfect latte, and I mean perfect, is the four-shot medium Peet’s latte.
k. Beernerdness: When I talk about great local breweries, and how I see them all over the United States, and it’s so good to see them and to experience their products … well, I found one of the perfect ones, at the corner of Mission and 14th in San Francisco on our holiday trip west. Standard Deviant Brewing is the kind of informal and fun beer garden atmosphere with great local brews, like a Hefeweizen that is not overly sweet as many of them are. This 1.5-year-old brewery and brew pub is dog-friendly and people-friendly too. Highly recommended.
l. Speaking of Christmas carols, more “All I Want for Christmas is You,” by Mariah Carey. But can stores stop playing “Feliz Navidad” on some painful loop?
m. California is so wonderful. Hate having my kids on the West Coast. Love all the excuses to visit them.
The Adieu Haiku
I love to watch Todd
Gurley play this game. So fun.
Hurdling meets football.
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