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  • As the NFL looks to make one of football’s most dangerous plays safer, the result could be more wide-open runbacks and more long returns—a potential win-win. Plus, readers tell us what Peter King’s three decades and Sports Illustrated, SI.com and The MMQB have meant to them
By Peter King
May 23, 2018

There’s so much going on at the league meetings in Atlanta, as much as in any spring meeting that I can recall. The headlines will be about the new Panthers owner (and the end of Jerry Richardson era), what in the world the NFL will do about players who do not stand for the national anthem, and what in the world the NFL will do about sports gambling now being legalized in 50 states, not just one.

As for the actual sport of professional football, think of this: On Tuesday in Atlanta, owners approved a revolution that you will notice on the first play of the 2018 season. When the Eagles host the Falcons on the evening of Sept. 6, it’s likely you’ll look up when the two teams jog out for the start of the game and ask:

Hey, what the heck have they done with the kickoff?

You’ll see eight of the 11 men on the kick-return team lined up close to the ball, instead of being strategically interspersed across 60 yards of the field. You won’t see the kickoff team get a running start when the ball is kicked. You will see many fewer linemen and big linebackers on the two special teams, because the premium will be on quickness and speed, and not on collisions. You won’t see any combo blocks, or wedge blocks. You’ll see something that looks more like a punt play, with players on the receiving team trying to run with kick-chasers to move them away from the returner.

I think, maybe not on the first night but early on, you’ll see some huge returns. That’s because the returner usually will catch the ball without a lot of immediate traffic in front of him. He’ll have a two-person escort (they won’t be able to wedge block, as I said, but they will be able to push and clear a path for the returner) and should be able to find more space, particularly because the kicking team won’t be permitted to overload either side of 11-man kickoff line.

This is another attempt by the NFL—designed through the input of nine of the league’s special teams coaches this offseason—to cut down on the number of concussions suffered on kickoff returns. Last year there were 291 documented concussions in the NFL, the highest number in the years the league has been officially keeping track. From 2015 through 2017, 71 concussions came on kickoff plays—amounting to about five times the frequency as on regular plays from scrimmage. So the league went to these veteran special teams coaches and said: If you love the kickoff, you’d better find a way to overhaul it with safety in mind, or we’re going to eliminate it entirely.

The coaches and some longtime experts, such as former Bills Pro Bowler Steve Tasker—one of the best special-teamers of all time—met in New York this spring. They entertained a number of ideas that hadn’t been seriously been considered before, with the threat of kickoff extinction hanging over their heads.

Tasker told me the large number of concussions on kickoffs over the past three years was serious enough for major changes to make sense. Worse, he said, 11 concussions over the past three years came on touchbacks. Think of that: On plays that weren’t even contested—as the ball was dying in the far end zone—the collisions were so violent that 11 men suffered brain injuries.

“The league was appalled by that, and I have to say it affected me, too,” Tasker told me on Tuesday. “There is no question that this [change] is going to result in a safer game. They’re going to put in some wrinkles that will make it more obvious when the play’s a touchback, so players won’t continue to run into each other. That will help.

“Overall I think the league wants to keep the kickoff. They’ll evolve the kickoff, hope this works to cut down the concussions, and then see how it goes this year. It’s a good example of the NFL evolving, I think. The rules—at least the rules that can get guys hurt—are not sacred.”

Interesting times. The smart special-teams coaches will be working on the re-jiggered rules to be sure they get an edge come September.

Now for your email.


NOTE FROM MARK MRAVIC, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE MMQB: The following emails represent just a small sampling of the feedback we’ve received over the past few weeks from readers thanking Peter and wishing him well as he moves on from SI. They express the sentiments of The MMQB staff and of Peter’s colleagues at Sports Illustrated as well.

NOTE FROM PETER KING: It’s difficult to find the words to address all of the lovely notes, texts, tweets and emails sent my way this month, and particularly this week in the wake of my final “Monday Morning Quarterback” column. As I said on Monday, thank you. I have felt your interest and appreciation—and disdain quite often too, which is good—for my work over the years, and I feel bonded to so many of you who have read for so long. Know that, though I may not answer you, I have read everything you’ve sent this month, and I’ll treasure the notes forever.

I know one thing about the internet: It allows us to communicate better than at any time in the history of journalism. Sometimes I long for the days when I couldn’t be reached except by U.S. mail. But then I realize this is a great thing for you and for me. I can get instant feedback and an idea of exactly how my work is being received. You can feel we’re more responsive to our readers/viewers/listeners in all aspects of media. It’s a good thing.

I remember the first time I was on Twitter, before the 2009 draft. I sat in a park in Kansas City (it actually had WiFi) on draft day and answered questions from maybe 40 or 50 people. I like it. I like the input too, and knowing what it is that you want to read about and what you want to respond to. Anyway, I ramble. I’ve included quite a few of your sentiments, edited for space, below.

Can I start with a Tweet from Dick Vitale?

Dick! Thanks for writing. You’ll still be able to read my column every Monday starting July 16, over at NBC. Give me a bit of time to recharge between now and then, and I hope be to writing the Monday column for years.

Next Monday, in this space, by the way, you can find my favorite stories in 29 years at SI and The MMQB. I’m just putting that together this week.


THANKS, PETER …

Thank you is not enough for the words you have written over the years. Your humility and grace are completely appreciated.

—Joe Jackson, Indiana


Final sign-off your best work of art yet. It was the cherry on top!

—Richard (Rick) M. Lewis


Most importantly, thanks for being REAL. I don’t know if it is just your style or whether it is something intentional you set out to do for one of any number of reasons, but the thing that kept me coming back more than anything else is the inside look at the game and how hard you worked to get and tell the story you envisioned. The notes about the time of day, the setting, the off-the-record agreements and handshakes it took to get the pertinent details and quotes is the gripping part of your articles. Your vision and your compassion is what set you apart.

—Brad Wealand


Epic finale for a wonderful SI career. Proud to have looked up to you at OU. Be well at NBC, and don’t shorten the column.

—Jay Mariotti


I’ve probably read most of those five million words over the years. I truly enjoyed field hockey, beer, coffee, travel and the incredible word of football. You’ve shown your readers so many facets of the game. I always felt smarter after reading your column. When I was deployed to Iraq, one of my guilty pleasures was always reading the Monday Morning Quarterback article. The most generous thing you’ve done for your fans is to coach and mentor another generation of great sportswriters. We will still log on every Monday to hear what these talented young writers have to say about the game we love.

—Ben Webb, Flemington, N.J.


It’s buried in your great text, but referring to the folks who were your staff as “peers” may be the most powerful thing you said. I hope people catch it. It’s great to see you setting such a great model for professionals in every profession and age.

—Scott Nadler, Santa Fe, N.M.


I’ve enjoyed your work at SI and the MMQB, and I admire that you’re starting this new adventure when some folks might be looking for the pasture. As for how fans are reacting, always remember that it’s better to leave as they ask “Why is Peter leaving?” versus “WHEN is Peter leaving?”

—Bob


Your column is the only good thing I could ever associate with Monday morning.

—Nicholas B.


… AND THANKS FOR MORE THAN FOOTBALL

The two most important lessons I’ve taken from you may surprise you. I admire you building a team to succeed you, and stepping away when it’s time—too many people are afraid to prepare their successors (Big Ben?), or to plunge into the somewhat unknown. I also appreciate that once you had a platform, you weren’t afraid to say what you think, realizing you would (inevitably) alienate some of your readers. I hope you stay on that horse as we move into the 2020 presidential election, and in the time between now and then.

—Tim Greten, Reston, Va.


I was one of the readers who appreciated the non-football items and updates as much as (and often more than) the football insights. If I take away one thing, it’s your thoughts from when your daughter got married: “With all the discord in this world, all the hate, why should any of us care who anyone loves, just as long as they have someone to love? ... Ann and I see the girl we brought into the world very happy now.” I remember thinking at the time, as the father of two young girls, “As a parent, that’s all I really want.”

—Gary Selinger


To Peter King,

Thank you for everything. Especially for the unpopular, to some, political views. It takes courage to write that stuff.

—Bill Chamberlin


I despise your political views and have written several letters to talkback stating that, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Your final column was fantastic. Good luck in your future endeavors.

—Brian Sullivan


Peter,

I know that you leaving SI isn’t the end of your story, actually can’t wait to see you on NBC and your segment on Pro Football Talk. But with that said, I’ve always thought highly of you for what you’ve done for my community, NOLA. After Katrina hit, you were undoubtedly in our corner from a sports perspective. Not many people know, but you bought season tickets for the Saints in ’06. You would also do a lot of pieces from here in the years, and every time you did I felt a little better about where we were at as a community. Thanks.

—Ben Johnson


The late and great Jimmy Valvano said “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day.” There were times I did all three and it was only 7 a.m. on a Monday reading your column!

—Chris Muchow, Wantagh, N.Y.


I’m a golden retriever owner since 2000. Both have become hospital therapy dogs but I still think they have given more to me than others. Your column after putting Woody down is something I’ve held onto for years, have shared parts of when we put our first golden down, have forwarded to countless friends when they lost a dog, and will be revisiting in coming years when my current golden passes. Thanks for such a simple but powerful message that rings so true:

“The powerful sadness will only go away with time. It’s hard to believe how powerful it is, in fact. The death of a dog cannot equate to the death of a loved human being, can it? It shouldn’t. But it does. With Woody, it does. Because Woody, those who knew him would tell you, was the best dog in the world.

“There is one thing I do know. The only way not to feel such intense sadness is to never feel intense love. And that is certainly no way to live.”

—Dan Darmstadter, Sun Prairie, Wisc.


… AND FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Thank you from France. Fifteen years ago YOU became my guide into American football (and much more ) via the MMQB column.

—Benoit Henry, Aubevoye, France


Namaste! A warm hello from an avid reader from India! I have been wanting to write to you since a long time, but never really came around to it. I first picked up on your column in Fall of 2001, when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl and won it all, quarterbacked by Michigan alum Tom Brady. Football is a complex sport with all its nuances, and I have enjoyed reading about the stories about the NFL. I haven’t missed a column since then—I guess it’s been nearly 17 years! I just wanted to thank you for all the wonderful stories about the NFL, the players and teams, and of course about coffee and beer.

—Kartikeya Shah, Ahmedabad, India


I first read your column as a 15-year-old boy who’d just watched his new ‘American football’ team lose the Super Bowl to the Patriots. (Which I assumed must happen every year for the Eagles, who I started rooting for because of Madden). I wanted to learn more about the game, and stumbled across MMQB. I’m now 28. Can’t thank you enough for the last 13 years of reading. Here’s to the next 13.

—David, Glasgow, Scotland


For the first couple years of MMQB, I would watch my games on Sundays, and my Monday morning routine was to get in the office and shut my door and read your column to start my working week. That routine has changed slightly in the past two years, as I found myself watching less and less real games on Sundays. Instead I would get my football fix on Monday mornings by reading the column and would go back to YouTube looking for highlights that were mentioned in your column—you have completely changed the way I watch football games!

—Donald Xu, Shanghai


You’ve made me a better football fan, football-stuff reader, football-stuff writer. I owned a football-related blog for a couple of years. It was the most exciting experience of my life. Who knows: Maybe one day I’ll go back writing and telling about football to Italians ... and in Italian. Would love it.

—Andrea, Parma, Italy


Thank you for being my football go-to from overseas since … since forever. I’m a die-hard Patriots fan who has been living, studying and working in Europe for the past decade, and my work as a physician has often meant that I would miss watching football games. Your columns always (almost) made up for that.

—Dr. Curtis Nordstrom, Basel, Switzerland


ONE MORE STORY, PLEASE!

You have to tell the story of prepping for your first colonoscopy by drinking the “Kool-Aid” on a flight into Newark that then got put into a holding pattern. It might not be football related but it’s a great story that so many of a certain age can appreciate.

—John

Well, John, that was a travel note that will live in infamy. Boy, did I get grief from that. Here it is, from a Monday column in March 2006:

I was scheduled for a colonoscopy on Thursday at 1 p.m. in West Paterson, N.J. If you've had one, or if you’ve had any intestinal procedure, you know that the day before such an internal snaking you’ve got to be, well, cleaned out. One problem for me: On Wednesday, I was covering the Vince Young pro day workout at the University of Texas in Austin. I was supposed to begin colonoscopy prep at 1 p.m. Wednesday—when the pro day was in progress. My flight was due to leave Austin three hours later, and I was scheduled to get home by 8. In other words, I was not going to have the home-bathroom advantage for a good portion of the internal preparation.

Pretty tricky. I’ve had two prior colonoscopies (you should have these things fairly regularly after turning 40, and I’m 48) and know that once you begin your prep work, it's about a six-hour process. So I figure, OK, I'll start on the plane, then finish at home.

I took the first of the preparatory medication (and believe me, that's putting it very nicely) just before the three-plus-hour flight took off from Austin. I was in fine shape until maybe 40 minutes from landing in Newark, when the captain came over the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been told by the tower in Newark that we’re going to have to slow things up a bit because of traffic into the New York area. They’re putting us into a holding pattern, and we’re going to head over to Pennsylvania to circle …”

My worst nightmare, coming true. It would get worse 10 minutes later, as we were banking bumpily somewhere over southeastern Pennsylvania. The flight attendant came on and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, because of the bumpy ride, we’re going to be turning on the fasten seat belt sign for the remainder of the flight ...”

AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!

Deep breaths. Long, deep breaths. Bumping around for 45 minutes. An eternity. Hold on. Just hold on. You raised two kids not to be ax murderers, you can survive this. I may have to get up and brawl with this flight attendant in a minute because of the seat belt sign.

Out of the holding pattern. Seven or eight minutes later, like the God of Aviation knew what was happening inside me at that moment, the captain came on and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re on our final approach into the Newark area.

Day of my wedding. Births of my children. Red Sox win the World Series. Landing in Newark.

Once off the plane, I was as dignified as was humanly possible. I brisk-walked to the men’s room, found a stall, and … well, the rest is colonoscopy history.

After I wrote this, my friend Gary Myers called me. He told me his doctor called him and commented on the crazy sportswriter who wrote about doing colonoscopy prep while on an airplane.


LAST WORD

Thank you for your hard work, and for sharing your knowledge and insight with us over all of these years. Thanks again buddy!! I feel like I can call you that after all the time we have spent together!

—Todd E. Robison, Newport Beach, Calif.

As always, you can email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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