During this “alleged” lull before the offseason goes into full swing, three stories caught my attention.
Philip Rivers’s quiet ending in L.A.
One of my adages about the business of sports is this: Even for the best of the best, it rarely, if ever, ends well. This week’s illustration of that adage is embodied in the unusually quiet exit of Philip Rivers from the team he guided for a decade and a half.
Rivers has been the signature player for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers since the mid-2000s. And now, two years after the team’s clumsy relocation to a soccer stadium and months before it starts playing in a sparkling new venue in Los Angeles, Rivers and the Chargers have “mutually agreed” to separate, which translates to: “The Chargers are moving on.” And the national reaction has been a shrug of the shoulders.
Eli Manning, who retired last month after entering the NFL at the same time as Rivers (they were traded for each other on draft day in 2004), was feted by the Giants, former players and media at a press conference full of sobriquets. In stark contrast, the Chargers sent out a tweet about their mutual parting. And unlike the Giants, the Chargers do not have a replacement on the roster (don’t tell me about Tyrod Taylor).
The truth is, though, the way Rivers exited the Chargers is more the norm than the exception.
Elite quarterbacks who have been the faces of their franchise for more than a decade are “retired” more often than they actually “retire” from that team. The list is long, including Joe Montana, Peyton Manning (in Indy), Brett Favre (as I know so well from my time working in Green Bay), Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and many others. The team simply holds it press conference or, as in the case of the Chargers, tweets goodbye, and they are on to the next one. That one-time superstar quarterback is merely another one of hundreds of former players passing through the facility. And yes, even for the best of the best.
The business of football always wins.
London calling; Jacksonville answering
Here is my response to the Jacksonville Jaguars doubling the number of games they will play next season in London from one to two: Of course they are.
After various fits and starts with a European league (I was involved in the first in 1991, the World League of American Football) that included two iterations of NFL Europe, the league’s international efforts in recent years streamlined to playing games primarily in London. And the number of London venues for NFL games has increased from one (Wembley) to two (Twickenham) to three (Tottenham). And, regarding London and NFL teams, there has been one constant: the presence of the Jaguars, who pounced—no pun intended—on the opportunity to play in London from the moment games were staged there.
Most NFL teams find ways to avoid going to London to avoid 1) upsetting the routine of football coaches and players; and/or 2) affronting the fans by removing a home game they can attend more easily. In stark contrast, the Jaguars keep finding ways to go not only go back, but now increase their presence. Not only are they willing to tolerate the disruption to their football operations and to remove the home game inventory from their fan base, but they seem to relish the opportunity to associate their brand with London.
When the team was asked inevitable questions about their partial abandonment of their home base, the spin was that it will actually enhance the future Jacksonville fan experience, that the increased revenues from London games will be allocated toward the building of an entertainment complex around the current stadium. Good luck with that pitch. After the Jaguars doubled down on London, does anyone really think they will now go backward and play more games in Jacksonville? Please. If the NFL gave the Jaguars a chance to “host” all four NFL games there each year, they would immediately ask where to sign.
Of course this begs the question: are the London Jaguars a real possibility? Probably not anytime soon, due less to logistics and more to collective bargaining issues. But the reality is this: if and when the NFL expands to London, we know the first team in line to be awarded the rights to that market.
“Conduct Commissioner” vs. Baseball Commissioner
I continue to scratch my head about the Astros cheating scandal in Major League Baseball. And what is confounding to me is neither 1) the breadth and depth of the cheating scheme; nor 2) the bungling public relations and apologies from the Astros. Those developments were, to some extent, expected. Rather, what continues to perplex me about this episode is this: the lack of discipline to any of the perpetrators of the crime, the players.
There seems no doubt that Astros players were not only aware of the cheating mechanisms used in 2017, but active participants in it. Players no longer with the team have matter-of-factly stated that it went on, and even current players such as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are apologizing for “something.” So, um, they did it. Yet Commissioner Rob Manfred has punished only the organization, the general manager and the coach. As to the players? They have skated.
The contrast to NFL discipline is stark. I have constantly referred to Commissioner Goodell as the “Conduct Commissioner,” as player conduct has been a defining feature of his tenure. Can you imagine if there were a wide-ranging cheating scandal with an NFL team, with players knowing and active participants, and Goodell only disciplining the owner, general manager and coach? Of course you can’t; it would never happen.
The Saints’ Bountygate scandal obviously included player suspensions. The Patriots’ Deflategate scandal featured a four-game suspension of the game’s most notable player, Tom Brady. And these scandals pale—in terms of the depth of deception involved—to what went on with the Astros. Yet Commissioner Manfred has chosen to pass on any player discipline.
Why? Perhaps he is afraid of the union and having this hang over the season with player appeals. Perhaps, as he suggested, he needed to grant immunity to get them to talk. (I don’t buy this, as plenty of players are talking to the media about this; they certainly would have told Manfred if he asked.) Perhaps Manfred truly believes the players were lemmings that had to obey their coach and general manager in this scheme. Perhaps he wants to differentiate himself from Goodell. Only Commissioner Manfred knows. But we do know this: NFL players would never avoid discipline with something like this. Not from the Conduct Commissioner.
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