HENDERSON, Nev.—In the conference room adjacent to Raiders coach Josh McDaniels’ office, just after noon on Saturday, class was in session. The pupil in this 17-minute tutorial: quarterback Derek Carr. Every day—on the practice field, or in the hallways of the Raiders’ gleaming practice facility in suburban Las Vegas, anywhere they see each other—McDaniels finds a few minutes to continue the download of his offense, the Super Bowl-winning New England offense, into Carr’s head.
On this day, McDaniels is drawing up protection schemes on a white grease board, and Carr sits taking notes on his tablet. McDaniels is teaching his QB to call and maneuver all of the protections at the line of scrimmage, the way Tom Brady did. That’s part of the lesson. Discipline on double-move pass-routes is the other part. McDaniels tells Carr he doesn’t like the lax technique he saw on one of the routes at practice, so he’s decided to enlist a new coach (sort of) to help get the technique across.
“We’ve just gotta be patient on the double-move,” McDaniels said. “If we’re not patient with the first part of the route, how can we expect the second part of the route to work? So we’re gonna show that film today. The Steph Curry film.
“Perfect,” Carr said.
“The way Curry has the patience and the discipline on his pump-fakes before taking those threes … that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about,” McDaniels said. “In a double-move, if you don’t run the first route well first, the defender never jumps the play, right? Today we didn’t even run the first route, so the defender never budged—he knew the [receiver] was going up the field. Curry’s pump-fakes are real. They make the defenders go zooming by.”
“Flying out of bounds,” said Carr, who’d seen the tape of Curry pump-faking, waiting, then burying threes. “It’s hilarious.”
This whole session feels more like two peers talking than coach dictating to player. This is not what I recall from McDaniels’ Denver days in his first head-coaching go-round. Players found him too much of a bossman when challenged, and in today’s football, when relationships are being formed, that’s not going to work.
“Oh, I’ve learned a lot,” McDaniels said around 6:45 that evening in his office.
“Give me an example,” I said.
“I’m not Bill [Belichick], and there’s no shame in saying that. Bill’s the greatest football coach of all time, and he’s got his own distinctive way of doing things. So now, my thought process is less, ‘What would we have done in New England?’ It’s more, ‘What would I do?’ I have faith in myself as a coach. The vibe around here is one I should create. It’s not one I should mimic.”
Two diverse datelines as camps open around the league: HENDERSON, Nev., and PITTSFORD, N.Y. By the way, one day, try to report in the early evening in Vegas, then get to a little upstate New York hamlet for a 10 o’clock football practice the next morning. That was … interesting.
I’m going to bop back and forth between the two here, giving you my take on the Bills and their Most Important Newcomer, pass-rusher Von Miller, and then on the weight of expectations. (Is there anyone not picking the Bills to win their first Lombardi this year?) You’re going to love the raw honesty of Miller discussing the happiness of being a Bill while having a hole in his heart for leaving the Rams.
Then it’s back to Nevada, where a diving catch by Hunter Renfrow caught the admiring eye of Davante Adams and said something about the Raiders and their beaming coach. Of course, most football teams are wildly optimistic on July 25. I saw two of them up-close over the weekend.
And I’ll give you the biggest issues for all 32 teams entering training camp. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
PITTSFORD, N.Y.—The last nine months of Von Miller’s life:
Oct. 21: In his last game as a Denver Bronco, Miller played 33 snaps in a 17-14 loss to Cleveland.
Nov. 1: Denver traded Miller, who was stunned by it, to the Rams for second- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft. “You wanna make God laugh, make plans,” a subdued Miller said.
Jan. 2: In his seventh game for the Rams, Miller was the biggest player on the field, recording two big sacks of Tyler Huntley at Baltimore in a 20-19 win. “This is what you play the game for,” Miller said post-game, and I remember (I was there) hearing how exultant Miller and his mates were through the locker-room door. Miller loved the Rams.
Feb. 13: Six years after his Super Bowl MVP performance for Denver, Miller sacked Joe Burrow twice in the Rams’ 23-20 Super Bowl victory.
Early March: Miller, a free-agent, reportedly told friends he’d re-sign with the Rams because it’s where he wanted to finish his career.
March 16: Miller, torn between the Rams and the significantly bigger money offered by the Bills, chooses Buffalo’s six-year deal with $51-million guaranteed and worth up to $120-million. Buffalo GM Brandon Beane was both happy and surprised by the decision, because the Bills kept hearing his heart was in L.A.
July 7: In Dan Pompei’s profile of him for The Athletic, Miller says the day after he agreed with the Bills, he was having so many second thoughts on the flight to Buffalo to sign that he planned to tell them he’d changed his mind. But the Bills had such a good plan for him that, per Pompei, Miller prayed on the Bills’ home field and decided to sign with Buffalo after all.
July 24: Wearing a blue number 40 jersey, Miller jogged out to his first practice with the Bills on the St. John Fisher campus in a leafy Rochester suburb. He signed autographs for 20 minutes afterward for some of the 5,500 fans who crammed camp.
“Free-agency is crazy,” Miller told me after practice. “You gotta make life-changing decisions, career-changing decisions, in two hours.”
We live in a transactional sporting world, with players famous and unfamous changing teams day after day. When something like Miller happens, and he’s emotional about it, the reaction by some is Man up, millionaire. I’ll change cities for $100 million any day. Well, of course. But think of what Miller went through. He loved L.A., he loved his Super Bowl mates (especially Aaron Donald, as a player and person), he loved playing for Sean McVay. The Rams wanted him back, and he was happy with his moderately reduced workload (he played about 75 percent of the snaps in his 12 Rams games). But then the Bills threw the money and the love at him, and here we are.
Miller went to the Rams’ Super Bowl ring ceremony last week in California. “So hard to let go of L.A.,” he said. “So hard to let go of Coach McVay, [GM] Les Snead and especially Aaron Donald, man. Every time I think about it, man, I get sad thinking about not playing with them anymore.”
I say: Good for him for admitting it. Who can blame Miller for being human, for having a few ounces of regret for leaving a team he’d grown to love. He’s not betraying the Bills; he’s simply getting over a heartbreak. In due time, he’ll be fine, and he’ll be a Bills Mafia favorite. Emotions now, pragmatism later. But let’s be real about the opener, Bills at Rams, Sept. 8, with America watching. That’ll be a tough night for Miller.
Speaking of pragmatism, how will the Bills keep the 33-and-a-half Miller healthy and contributing for 17 weeks of the season and maybe four more in the playoffs? He can’t be an every-down player, and probably shouldn’t play even 75 percent of the snaps.
“We got Von to close games for us,” GM Brandon Beane told me.
So this seems logical to me: The Bills are so good that in games they’re leading big at the start of the fourth quarter, coach Sean McDermott should say to Miller: Take a shower. You’re done. That could save 100, 150 snaps. And for the big ones (at Baltimore, at Kansas City, Green Bay, at Cincinnati, maybe a New England or Miami game), he could give Buffalo 65 snaps. The rest of the time, let a strong rotation of youngsters get time to get better.
McDermott told me: “If I said that we don’t have to rely on him to play full games, and he reads that, he’s gonna be like, ‘Oh no. No way.’ Because that’s how competitors are. Right? I fully expect him to be able to do it if we need it.”
“Peter, it’s the first day of training camp!” Miller said when I asked him about not overdoing it this year. “I don’t want to miss that game-changing play being on the sidelines. Of course I’m gonna listen to the coaches and the GM and everyone I trust here. But I wanna play as much as possible.”
Of course. But McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will need to be conservationists, and adults on the sidelines. The Super Bowl favorite doesn’t need the former Super Bowl MVP to be watching in a parka in a big January playoff games.
Three Bills things:
1. Josh Allen’s a rock star, and more. The crowd was batcrap for him for two hours of practice and then a few signing binges post-practice. I got coffee in Pittsford later and I came upon this devotional candle in his image in the coffeeshop.
At practice Sunday, Bills EVP Ron Raccuia told me he was in the Bills group that went to the site of the mass grocery store shooting in Buffalo in May. He saw Allen approach city and county leaders to offer condolences. “He shook hands with the three politicians, including the mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown,” said Raccuia. “He spent time talking and listening to each one. And he leans into [Erie County legislator] April Baskin, and I heard him say, ‘April, have you been okay through all of this?’ He meant it. He is one of the most authentic guys I’ve been around.” Athletes are important to communities. Sean McDermott brought up David Ortiz taking the mic after the Boston Marathon terrorism and saying, “This is our f—ing city!” Allen is not Ortiz—yet—but he’s becoming a very big part of the fabric of western New York.
2. Tre’Davious White (torn ACL eight months ago today) is valuable, and is also on the Physically Unable to Perform List. No one’s predicting if he’ll be ready to face the Rams in 45 days, but the Bills will spend lots of manhours getting first-round pick Kaiir Elam ready just in case.
3. Spent some time watching wideout Gabriel Davis, who scored four touchdowns in the playoff loss to Kansas City, catch balls off the JUGS machine. He’s cut, he’s got soft hands, he’s very ready to be a 1b to 1a Stefon Diggs in this offense. He’s a worker bee too. All you fantasy players: Don’t let Davis slip too far down your receiver rankings. He’ll get his targets. Allen throws to the open guy, and Davis is good at getting open.
The pressing issue in 32 training camps over the six weeks:
Buffalo: Can Von Miller solve Buffalo’s only big issue?
GM Brandon Beane addressed pass-rush in the ’20 and ’21 draft with A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, but the three combined for only eight sacks last year. Now Miller comes in to turbocharge the rush from the right side. You can read more higher in the column.
Miami: Will Mike McDaniel be able to unlock Tua’s potential?
Not many teams can match the three-man firepower of Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki, and not many teams have a better left tackle than Terron Armstead. It’s clear this is a make-or-break season for Tua Tagovailoa, and a prime reason why offensive wunderkind McDaniel was imported from the Kyle Shanahan tree. Miami’s got to be significantly better than 25th in total offense, which the ’21 Fins were.
New England: Can Bill Belichick make an iffy roster competitive?
The Patriots have made chicken salad out of chicken feathers most often in Belichick’s tenure, but this summer will really be a test of that practice. Some very iffy drafts and refusing to pay market prices for young stars like J.C. Jackson have made players like 32-year-old Malcolm Butler important rather than marginal. The Patriots need strong camps from lots of questionable players, and not just Mac Jones.
N.Y. Jets: Can the Jets get the max out of Mekhi Becton?
Interesting point made to me by estimable beat man Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post: Coach Robert Saleh has an interesting thought on young players like supposed franchise tackle Becton, the 11th pick in ’20 draft. “He never make a determination on a player till after the third year,” Cannizzaro said. “And this is the third year for Becton.” This year’s rookie crop is strong, led by corner Sauce Gardner, but this camp is more important for Becton.
Baltimore: Can the Ravens get back to normal after a weird year?
Few playoff contenders have more questions entering camp. Reliable receiver Marquise Brown was dealt to Arizona (in effect for rookie center Tyler Linderbaum), so replacing his 91 catches is an issue. Lamar Jackson’s contract thing hovers over the team. A jillion players returning from injury—most importantly Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and J.K. Dobbins—cloud the forecast. Very big summer in Owings Mills.
Cincinnati: Will a bridge get built with Jessie Bates?
When the Bengals drafted safety Daxton Hill in the first round last April, it added more uncertainty to Bates’ situation. Hill’s four-year contract is worth $1 million less than Bates’ franchise number for this year—and Bates refuses to sign that. Bates likely will stay away from camp. Because the Bengals are likely looking to bankroll enough money to sign Joe Burrow long-term, Bates may have to choose between $12.9 million for one year or sitting out the season.
Cleveland: Do you even need to ask?
One story and one story only in Cleveland camp: Counting down the days (hours?) till arbitrator Sue L. Robinson rules on whether Deshaun Watson will be suspended (highly likely) and if so for how long. If it’s a long ban, 10 games or more, the Browns could choose to chase Jimmy Garoppolo for a one-year bridge—though their next two drafts were denuded by the trade for Watson. Or they could play Jacoby Brissett. Neither option is very good.
Pittsburgh: Who wins the Trubisky-Pickett competition?
In his 16th season as Steeler coach, Mike Tomlin will have a QB competition for the first time. Free-agent Mitchell Trubisky probably enters camp in Latrobe as a slight favorite over first-round pick Kenny Pickett from Pitt. There’s no insight to be had on this, yet. Tomlin will let the next five weeks make his decision.
Houston: Is Davis Mills “The (Long-Term) Man?”
Before you say, “Oh, stop,” consider that Mills, in his last five games last year, had a passer rating over 100, completed 68.4 percent, and had a 9-to-2 TD-to-pick ratio. The schedule (Colts, Bears, Jags in the first five weeks) gives Mills a chance to build some momentum early.
Indianapolis: Can the defense get stingier?
Of course, the biggest acquisition in the offseason was Matt Ryan, who will be a better leader and should be a better clutch player than Carson Wentz was. But my sneaky-huge pickup for Indy was cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year (and soon to be 32). The Indy D gave up 32 touchdown passes and 4,203 passing yards last year.
Jacksonville: How quick can Travon Walker get up to speed?
The first pick in the draft didn’t have a first-pick-in-the-draft resume at Georgia (9.5 sacks in three seasons, zero times first- or second-team all-SEC). But GM Trent Baalke saw the freakish athleticism of Walker, and now, in camp, the world will be watching to see what Baalke saw.
Tennessee: Can Ryan Tannehill regain his mojo?
Tannehill turns 34 Wednesday, which is primetime for quarterbacks these days. But he’s on a streak of one 300-yard game in his last 16 starts, and we all saw him cough up the top-seed Titans’ first playoff game to Cincinnati in a three-pick nightmare last January. Now he’s got to be great without A.J. Brown, and with potential heir Malik Willis pressing him. Camp is very big for Tannehill and this offense.
Of course this is the Summer of Russell (Wilson) in Colorado. But we all know he’ll be fine and productive. I say the bigger question mark in camp is honing a pass rush to threaten Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert in a QB-heavy division. Gregory is coming off rotator cuff surgery in March, and Chubb, the fifth overall pick in 2018, hasn’t justified his draft stock after missing 24 games in four seasons. Big summer for them.
Kansas City: Can Mahomes make up for some holes?
Andy Reid’s not used to patching so many things in camp—though he did have to reinvent his offensive line last year. After the trade of ultimate weapon Tyreek Hill to Miami, it’ll be up to Mahomes to make the Mecole Hardman/JuJu Smith-Schuster/Marquez Valdes-Scantling/Skyy Moore combo platter work. Then there’s the burgeoning contract issue with left tackle Orlando Brown, who may not be in camp. And there’s the leadership gulf left by the departure of Tyrann Mathieu on defense. It’s rare this franchise has this many issues in camp.
Las Vegas: Can a shaky offensive line give Carr time to thrive?
Alex Leatherwood was a risky pick by ex-GM Mike Mayock, who was confident he’d develop into a standout right tackle. It didn’t work. Leatherwood led all NFL lineman last year with 65 QB pressures allowed and was moved to right guard early in the season because of it. Leatherwood’s getting another chance this summer at tackle. But in camp, Brandon Parker is getting more snaps at right tackle than Leatherwood. Will Carr have enough time to find Davante Adams downfield?
L.A. Chargers: Can a redesigned D mesh in six weeks?
The Chargers may have five new starters out of 12 on defense (counting the nickel corner): tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, edge-rusher Khalil Mack, corner J.C. Jackson and nickel Bryce Callahan. Brandon Staley will have to see how many snaps the 31-year-old Mack can play, because, like Miller in Buffalo, Mack’s biggest value will come as a closer in big games.
Dallas: Can Micah Parsons be cloned?
When your offenses averages four touchdowns a game over two years (Dallas is scoring at a 28-points-per-game clip since opening day 2020), and the record is only 18-16, there’s a major issue to be solved. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s got to solve it. Will he use Parsons, reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year after a 13-sack season, as a puzzle piece all over the front? Can he get one more strong season out of DeMarcus Lawrence (only 14.5 sacks in his last 39 games). It’s clear Dallas needs another impact player, or three, on defense.
N.Y. Giants: Can Brian Daboll turn Daniel Jones’ career around?
John Mara, like it or not, still believes Jones can be a good starting NFL quarterback. Mara thinks the revolving coaching door and weaponry that’s always hurt has doomed Jones. This summer, Daboll, imported after tutoring Josh Allen in Buffalo, will try to put a stamp of competency on Jones—but two disappointing receivers last year, Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, will be closely watched too.
Philadelphia: Will Howie Roseman’s architecture show up this summer?
All eyes will be on quarterback Jalen Hurts, and rightfully so; this is his year to prove he should be the long-term QB. But so many new additions must find niches by the end of August. Start with A.J. Brown, the new star receiver acquired on draft night, who should make beautiful music with DeVonta Smith. But look for college stars Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean to push for snaps. Hidden gem James Bradberry could be a steal at corner. Lots of summer new from Philly ahead.
Washington: Will Carson Wentz finally find a long-term home?
Mike Florio said it right when Indy dumped Wentz after a terrible finish but a season with 27 TDs and just seven picks: Wentz needs to go to a place to prove himself from scratch. After having the easygoing Doug Pederson and father figure Frank Reich as coaches in his first six pro seasons, Wentz has to prove himself all over again in Washington, and that starts in earnest this summer.
Chicago: Ready for massive reconstruction?
It’s good to have the quarterback of the future in-house (presumably). But major change rules the franchise, led by coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s a major factor in his first year as an OC, maybe the most important of the newbies, because he’ll be charged with growing the game of the vital Fields. A good sign will be quicker decision-making by Fields, sacked on a league-high 11.7 percent of his drops last year.
Detroit: Can Aidan Hutchinson transform a listless D?
The Lions, after finishing 30th in the league in sacks last year, need to work in camp on making sure Hutchinson hits the ground running in September. There are no good alternatives for coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense, so grooming Hutchinson is job one on a team that can’t rely on the offense to put up 25 points a game.
Green Bay: Can Rich Bisaccia awaken the sleepy special teams?
You’re surprised I didn’t have the big question being: Can Christian Watson be a serviceable replacement for Davante Adams? I just figure Aaron Rodgers will figure it out, because he usually does. The horrendous kicking game, well, that’s another matter. In the last five minutes of the divisional game against the Niners, the Packers turned a 10-3 lead into a 13-10 loss by having a punt blocked for a TD and surrendering a game-winning field goal. Bisaccia, one of the best kicking game coaches in football, is being paid (reportedly) around $2 million, a league high for special-teams coaches, to rebuild the unit.
Minnesota: Is the Kevin O’Connell/Kwesi Adofo-Mensah team what the Vikings need?
Players tired of Mike Zimmer’s negativity and the fact he couldn’t fix the defense last year. Kevin O’Connell brings more of an analytical bent to his coaching and planning, and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah breaks rules like in-division trading because he doesn’t think there should be rules. I look for QB Kirk Cousins to be a big beneficiary this summer after feeling beaten down a bit in recent seasons.
Atlanta: Can the Falcons not be downtrodden?
Stark headline on the Atlanta Journal Constitution website: “There’s no bright side on eve of training camp.” Well, yikes. This is a year to get the cap right, adjust to post-Matt Ryan life, and see if Marcus Mariota is worth keeping around, or if Desmond Ridder has real promise. A good goal for camp would be to see how quickly Ridder can be ready to take an early screen test.
Carolina: Who wins the QB battle?
Should be a good competition between incumbent Sam Darnold and newcomer Baker Mayfield…and I like Baker to win if he can digest the playbook in the next five weeks. Of course, the future of the head coach and his staff ride on the outcome of how the QBs play. One good facet of the competition: Rookie third-rounder Matt Corral, the Chris Simms darling, should get a needed redshirt year.
New Orleans: Will weapons out the wazoo pay off?
The last time Sean Payton wasn’t the coach of this team was 17 years ago, in 2005. Dennis Allen is the beneficiary of a good team built by GM Mickey Loomis and personnel czar Jeff Ireland, and if Jameis Winston can return strong from his ACL/MCL surgeries with a healed Michael Thomas, his receiver group is better than Drew Brees had in his latter years: Thomas, rookie Chris Olave (with star potential) and vets Jarvis Landry and Tre’Quan Smith. I believe camp will prove one thing: Do not hand the division title to the Bucs so fast.
Tampa Bay: Will the patchwork offense be good enough early?
Easy to say Tom Brady—who turns 45 Aug. 3—is the sports world’s biggest metronome, and he’ll never not be good. But let’s see how the Bucs fare after losing two of their top three tight ends (Gronk, O.J. Howard) and both starting guards (Alex Cappa, Ali Marpet)…and with the uncertainty of when favorite receiver Chris Godwin returns from his Jan. 3 ACL surgery. That’s a lot of ifs for a team with a killer first four weeks: at Dallas, at New Orleans (4-0 versus the Brady-quarterbacked Bucs in the regular season), Green Bay, Kansas City.
Arizona: Can the energy of Kyler cure all ills?
With significant contributors Chase Edmunds, Chandler Jones and Christian Kirk all allowed to walk in free-agency, two things are obvious entering camp: Arizona needed money to afford the Murray megadeal, and the Cards might need to score 28 a game to have a playoff shot. Oh, and if James Conner stays healthy, he’s got an outside shot to win the rushing title. Finding a defensive playmaker or two will be a big priority this summer.
L.A. Rams: How big a deal is the Bobby Wagner get?
I’m very bullish on Wagner, still. He’s been PFF’s second- and 11th-rated linebacker in the last two seasons, and he comes home to southern California for the first time in 15 years, since he was a high school star in Ontario, so he’ll be motivated in a big way. With the force of Aaron Donald in front of him, and the Rams unlikely to have him play much more than maybe 60 percent of the snaps, Wagner could be the new juice the world champs need.
San Francisco: Is Trey Lance a player?
He’s an excellent prospect, for sure. And he has the faith of coach Kyle Shanahan, for sure. But this summer will be about whether Lance—who has thrown exactly 389 passes since high school—can return the Niners to the NFL’s Final Four, or perhaps go farther, and with a depleted offensive line. Every practice will be micro-analyzed, as things are with quarterbacks in the NFL. I just wish the football public would give a 22-year-old quarterback who has thrown 101 passes total in his age-20 and -21 years combined a little breathing room.
Seattle: Can a rugged defense win some games like the old days?
Whoever wins the QB job—Geno Smith, Drew Lock, maybe Jimmy Garoppolo, and my bet’s on Smith—will be commanding an okay offense at best. The keys to Seattle being competitive, I think, are Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, who, when healthy, make up the most formidable safety tandem in football. This summer they should take charge on a rebuilding D.
Back to the 17-minute meeting, with Carr watching McDaniels draw up protections, and talking about better double-moves.
“This is really my favorite part of the game,” Carr volunteers in the middle of the session. “This is so much fun for me.”
I’m here as an observer, but during one pause, I had to ask Carr: “Were you a guy who watched the Patriots over the years and wonder how they did it?”
Said Carr: “I was always very intrigued with Josh and with coach Belichick. You know, obviously I’m a Raider but I really loved them. I like to watch Tom. I saw completions everywhere. And then you don’t know how they teach it. You don’t know schematically. I don’t know the words of it, but I would watch. Just watch Tom’s eyes and he’d take you to the reads.
“We’re definitely not there yet. But I think we’re playing with smart football players. It’s easier for me to go to Hunter and be like, Hey, versus coverage now, do it like this. I was always enamored with the New England system. Now I’m learning the details of it and I love it even more.”
The meeting encapsulated exactly what is so fascinating about the guts of this sport. Yeah, the Steph Curry thing was cool, but there was one specific coaching point that I can describe only so far that’s cooler. You’ll understand the importance of it as I explain it.
One of the coaching points McDaniels needed to go over with Carr was what he wanted the right tackle to do on a pass route the Raiders will use this year. McDaniels let Carr name the wrinkle on the specific block, the word he’d use in the huddle meaning what one of the 11 people in the huddle should do on the snap of the ball.
The whole thing took two minutes and 11 seconds for McDaniels and Carr to iron out. But think of it: If the tackle performs his block correctly, it could mean a 30-yard gain. Maybe a touchdown. If the tackle fails to execute the block correctly, it could be a gain of one.
Think of the minute coaching points that add up to a complete offense. Think of McDaniels spending two minutes on July 23 instructing Carr on one point for one player on a play that might be called eight times all season.
This is not entertaining, this is not compelling, it won’t be a headline in the press or a highlight on SportsCenter.
“But,” McDaniels said when I asked about it, “it is real. It is football. It is important.”
In all, these 17 minutes total one piece of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Without the meeting, you don’t solve the puzzle.
“With Derek, this meeting will go to the field tomorrow,” McDaniels said. “You’re not wondering if it comes up in the second quarter, ‘Are we gonna do it? Should I close my eyes or not?’ Because you trust that he’s gonna be able to get it right.”
Now for the end game, for the fun. For coach Steph Curry.
In the Saturday afternoon post-practice tape breakdown, McDaniels showed the offending lax double-move route. He didn’t slap down the offender, just asked the offense to watch the play, and then to watch this. About 20 of the Steph Curry pump-fake/pause/defender-flies-by/calmly-hits-the-three played. Shot after shot. “Ooooooh,” echoed in the room a few times on nice Curry threes. When it was over, one player said, “Can we watch a few more?”
Leaving Las Vegas (no pun intended, Sheryl Crow), I thought how much work the Raiders have to do to be ready for the season. I thought how cool it would be if they got it right. What an interesting team.
If it were a seven-game series, yeah, best team wins. That’s ultimately why, when you’re team-building, you never want to go full Rams. Because you need to give yourself three chances at it, four years at it. I know that’s hard for fans to hear.
The next guy is the top-paid guy.
— Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes, whose $45-million-a-year deal was surpassed by a third quarterback, Kyler Murray, on Thursday.
Mahomes gets it. He’s not one to start grumbling that he’d better get his contract adjusted after two years of a 10-year deal. Now, after seven years…
I might be standing on a soapbox a little bit, but … my biggest takeaway from when I started to the end [is] football turned from a team-first to a me-type attitude … Maybe it’s because I got spoiled when I came in. The team was so important. It was all about the team. Now it’s about me and this-that-and-the-other.
— Recently retired Ben Roethlisberger to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He’s got a leg.
— Kansas City coach Andy Reid, asked Saturday to specify the early-camp injury to offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho.
Two of them, I hear.
I don’t feel like this one is the forever one. I think maybe he’ll come back again. I feel like him and Tom [Brady] are just having fun, like retired, not retired, retired, not retired.
— Camille Kostek, Rob Gronkowski’s girlfriend, on the prospects of Gronk coming out of retirement for a second time at some point in 2022.
Kansas City’s six-year streak of AFC West titles is endangered. To discern the reasons, start by looking at the 2022 AFC West, compared to the division of the past few seasons.
Record of Kansas City versus AFC West since 2016: 31-5.
Year-by-year record of KC versus AFC West since 2016: 6-0, 5-1, 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, 5-1.
KC versus AFC West teams since 2016: 12-0 v Denver, 10-2 v Raiders, 9-3 v Chargers.
Kansas City has won the West by 5, 6, and 3 games in the last three seasons. We’re in for a tighter race this year, with the exportation of Tyreek Hill from Kansas City, and the importation of Chandler Jones and Davante Adams in Las Vegas, Russell Wilson in Denver, and Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day with the Chargers.
NFL Scheduling Formula Note of the Week: The NFL’s 2023 schedule ensures that Buffalo will play in Kansas City at least four times in 36 months.
January 2021, at Arrowhead: KC 38, Buffalo 24, AFC Championship Game.
January 2022, at Arrowhead: KC 42, Buffalo 36, AFC Divisional Game.
October 2022, at Arrowhead, Buffalo at KC, regular season.
TBD, 2023, at Arrowhead, Buffalo at KC, regular season.
I use the words “at least four times in 36 months” because the Bills could play in the postseason in Kansas City in either or both of the next two seasons.
Nolan Ryan has more strikeouts than any pitcher in baseball history and has thrown more no-hitters (Ryan has seven, Sandy Koufax is second with four) than any pitcher. He had seasons of 383, 367, 341, 329 and 327 strikeouts. He had nine complete-game shutouts in 1972, and two seasons of 26 complete games.
Ryan never won the Cy Young Award.
Five vacation highlights, from three trips (Italy, Chicago, Oregon) we put off during COVID:
1. Family time in Oregon. When my wife and I get together with daughters Laura and Mary Beth, and spouses Kim and Nick, and grandkids Freddy, Hazel and newcomer Peter, fun ensues. Freddy is 5-plus, Hazel almost 4, Peter seven months. The tough part with Freddy and Hazel is a long wait at dinner or out for a drink. So at a Willamette wine tasting, I borrowed a Burt’s Bees tube of lip balm and said to Freddy and Hazel, “Who wants to play Magic ChapStick?!!!!” Well, Freddy and Hazel did, that’s for sure. So we were over to the side of the property. I put the tube on a bench and said, “Hey, look at the owl up there!” I hid the Burt’s under my leg, and they looked. No owl. I said we’d have to think of some magic to do to make the ChapStick reappear. They thought and thought and crucial minutes flew by. Finally I said, “Let’s try this: Go touch Kim’s ankles three times. Both ankles.” They ran over, touched their Mom’s left ankle three times, then right ankle three times and ran back. There was the Burt’s Bees, standing on the bench. “THE CHAPSTICK’S BACK!!!” Freddy yelled. Three more of those episodes, and 12 to 15 minutes killed, and most of the adults could have a few sips. Good times.
2. Tuscany. My wife and I could sit and look over the vineyards all day. A couple of days, that’s what we did in the little towns of Lamole and Greve-in-Chianti.
3. Running into Peter Gammons in Chicago. I saw him July 1 at a shop just outside Wrigley Field, just before Red Sox-Cubs. I’d met Peter a few times but had never told what I’d hoped to be able to tell him. “You should know what a big influence in my life that you’ve been,” I told him. “When I was in high school in Connecticut, my father used to get the papers on the weekend, and one was the Boston Globe, and I got addicted to your Sunday baseball notes column. I always thought, ‘That’s what I want to do someday.’ And so, whatever I’ve become, I owe a lot of it you. Thank you.” It was a nice moment. Being in Wrigley is always fantastic, too.
4. Wolves and People Farmhouse Brewery, Newberg, Ore. It’s an outdoor brewpub on a farm. A hazelnut farm. Named after a game the farm owner played as a kid. What great beers. My favorite: Parrett Mountain Pils, a dry, crisp Italian pilsner with a faint lemon vibe in there. The scene was just charming—families, outdoor games, warm and sunny. A great afternoon.
5. The Oregon coast. We drove 102 miles of it. I thought, “This must be the Pacific Coast that Lewis and Clark saw 200-some years ago.” Beautiful and unspoiled in long stretches. Just lovely.
How lucky we are, to be able to take these trips and see the world. I mean, really. We’re so fortunate as a family.
Descending into Las Vegas Friday around 1 p.m. PT, our Delta pilot informed us, “Current temperature in Las Vegas is right around 112 degrees.”
I wondered if 110 or 115 really matters very much in the “right around” department.
I was told he sucked? 🤷🏼♂️😬 pic.twitter.com/WW2Eqyxbvk
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) July 22, 2022
The ESPN analyst and former QB on his friend, Matthew Stafford.
Nearly six months after the allegation of cash-for-clunking was made, the NFL investigation of Stephen Ross continues. What’s taking so long? https://t.co/7GNuxZtAc3
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 23, 2022
Good question, Mike Florio.
Can this become a trend? More dogs at press conferences. https://t.co/RG6tmKSUAK
— Judy Battista (@judybattista) July 22, 2022
Battista, who reports for NFL Network, is 100 percent on point here. Dogs are good.
Assuming Adrian Peterson is retired, that means that Mark Ingram is the active career leader in rushing yards.
Ezekiel Elliott is about 500 yards behind him.
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) July 10, 2022
Chase Stuart, of footballperspective.com
This guy saved this eagle from drowning and hugged her until she could fly again ❤️
— The Dodo (@dodo) July 9, 2022
The Dodo covers all things animals.
“The most beautiful eyes you’ve ever seen. A once-in-a-lifetime Eagle rescue. One of the best hours of my life.”
Re: the first overall draft choice. From Stuart Davenport, of Las Cruces, N.M.:
“My idea: Have the two teams with the worst records play for the number one draft pick. This game could be played instead of the Pro Bowl which no one cares about. Also, having announcers, analysts and the guys in the studio pick apart why these teams are so bad on TV for 3 hours and 10 minutes might give incentive for improvements. The winner would get the first overall pick.”
I actually love this idea, Stuart. It’s a gem. Imagine a year with a Trevor Lawrence or Andrew Luck available, and imagine the competitiveness of a game like that—a playoff, essentially, for a franchise quarterback.
Re: spotting the ball better. From Jordan Gehrke:
“I’m a Chiefs season ticket holder and I ran into commissioner Goodell at the AFC Championship Game. I eventually got to ask, ‘Why can’t you guys do something about the spot? Why do we have to wait for the chain gang to come out? Can’t we just put a sensor in the ball, and across the field the way they do in tennis and then know instantly?’ He gave me two answers:
- Something about how even then you would still have to decide which part of the football to put the sensor in and how would you ever really know? (I didn’t really buy this.)
- He said, ‘And I’ll be honest, you gotta remember, at the end of the day, it’s still a TV show, and…we do like the drama.’
“He gave me a wink and a big smile and kept moving on to other fans. I appreciated the honesty though!”
I’ve heard that a lot, Jordan. The league likes the old-fashioned spotting and the fans having to wait 10, 12, 15 seconds to find out if the first down got made.
Re: fixing the Pro Bowl. From Steve Leppard:
FIX the Pro Bowl. Please. Does the NFL care that the Pro Bowl and skills competitions are terrible? The NBA has the dunk contest and three-point contest and MLB has the home run derby. The NFL has dodgeball. You only need one skills NFL competition at the Pro Bowl: NFL’s Fastest Man. Do a 40-yard dash and the winner gets title and $100,000 cash. Laser-time it and save records like at the combine so you can compare fastest of all time.”
The best idea of all would be to simply eliminate the Pro Bowl. You want the NFL’s fastest man? Fine. Just have that. Allow each team to enter one player. Have four heats with eight players per heat; two from each heat make the finals. Have an eight-player final. Five races in all. Make it a two-hour TV show. Nice idea, Steve.
Re: playing a Super Bowl at Lambeau. From Todd Bushmaker, of Green Bay:
“Regarding playing the Super Bowl at Lambeau, as a Packers fan and resident of the Green Bay area, I have to say this has been hashed through a million times. It would be an awesome spectacle but the fact is Green Bay cannot accommodate all the support requirements, traffic, media circus, and side events. Even counting hotels, restaurants, convention halls and other facilities within a 100-mile radius, the NFL machine just uses up too much infrastructure to make it practical up here, and we’ve come to terms with that. However, the NFL really needs to award something else to Green Bay. Most obviously we’ve applied to host the draft and are doing so again; the Packers and the Visitor and Convention Bureau have figured out that at least is possible. Let’s get ‘er done!”
Todd, technically you’re right. But this would have to be a Milwaukee/Madison/Appleton/Green Bay effort. Logistically it would be hard, but it would also be a one-time thing. The NFL could have events in all four of those cities (or at least Green Bay and Milwaukee, with overflow fans lodging in the other two cities. And yes, the inconvenience of busing 130 miles from Madison or 105 from Milwaukee in the winter wouldn’t be fun. But I love the idea of the big game at Lambeau, logistics be darned.
Re: ending games at a decent East Coast hour. From John Kirkpatrick, of Escalon, Calif.:
“One part of the column really got under my skin … the Eastern Time Zone people saying how many more people in Eastern time zone there are than the Pacific. Like we don’t matter. Starting a weekday game at 4 p.m. PT is really hard for all us Pacific time people who work for a living too. My money is just as important as yours!
Thanks, Peter, for letting me vent!”
Point made, and rather well. Thanks John.
1. I think five things interest me about the Kyler Murray signing in Arizona:
- The deal is either $46.1-million a year for five years in new money, or $38-million a year for seven years—folding in the last two years of his original contract. The new money is more than most people in the league thought Murray would get after the Cardinals started 10-2 last year then fizzled badly down the stretch. As one executive said in the wake of the deal: “$46.1 million is some crazy s— for Kyler Murray.”
- Here’s why I get it: The Cardinals were an irrelevant team when Murray got drafted with the first pick in 2019, coming off a 3-13 season. Murray was drafted to lift a franchise. In Murray’s first three seasons, the Cardinals have gone 24-24-1 in the regular season, and 0-1 in the playoffs. In the NFL, you’ve got no chance without a quarterback. Murray’s not a top-five quarterback, but he does give the Cardinals a good chance to win every game he starts. That makes him worth stratospheric money.
- Agent Erik Burkhardt will have some great stories to tell about an offseason in which he negotiated a new deal for client and Cards coach Kliff Kingsbury, advised on a new deal for Cards GM Steve Keim (Burkhardt is not his agent, but they are friends), heavily criticized the franchise right after those two deals got done for dragging feet on the Murray contract, and then negotiated a new deal for the QB. I would bet a lot of money if Burkhardt hadn’t stomped his feet last February about Murray’s deal that it wouldn’t have gotten done before training camp.
- The full guarantee of about $103 million is good news for the next two teams with quarterback megadeals to sign—the Chargers and Justin Herbert, and the Bengals and Joe Burrow. (I’m not a fan of making a big deal about guarantees in contracts for starting quarterbacks, because, in this case for example, the chances of Arizona cutting Kyler Murray sometime in the next five years are tiny.) Guarantees are more important because owners have to escrow 75 percent of guaranteed money in contracts. An owner like Jimmy Haslam, who has an empire of truck stops, can find $175 million to put in escrow for a Deshaun Watson contract. But because the Bengals and Chargers are mainly family-owned—as is Arizona—the funding rules hurt their ability to have huge guarantees in contracts. The funding rules, by the way, should be done away with. Teams have so much guaranteed media money coming in every year that they’re not in danger of defaulting on contracts.
- Point on QB contracts is this: It’s arguable now, and the Bengals and Chargers will surely make the case after Murray and Derek Carr signed deals that were not fully guaranteed, that the Watson deal is an outlier.
2. I think the weird story of the week is the impasse in negotiations between Kansas City and left tackle Orlando Brown, acquired from the Ravens in a trade last year. Here’s why it’s so weird: Adam Schefter reported that Kansas City offered to make Brown the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history: five years, $139 million, an average of $27.8 million per year. In terms of the most insane contract-related decisions of 2022, this is in the top two. For the record: One, the Browns paying a man with 24 sexual civil cases pending against him a fully guaranteed $45 million a year for five years … Two: A pretty good but not great left tackle turning down a deal that would make him the richest player in the trenches in the 103-year history of the league.
3. I think there are three factors to consider here:
1. Brown, per Schefter, nixed a deal worth $1.64 million per game. Travis Kelce’s contract pays him $621,287 per game.
2. In PFF rankings of offensive tackles who played a minimum of 800 snaps last year, Brown was the 19th-rated tackle in football.
3. Well, there’s not really a third. I’m just totally befuddled why a smart person like Brown, with one of the best jobs a tackle could ever have (blocking for Patrick Mahomes, playing in a Nirvana place like Kansas City, making more money than any lineman ever), would turn down that offer.
4. I think I had an interesting conversation with a sports attorney Saturday, an opinionated sports attorney. I asked this smart person: “What’s your gut feeling on the sanction for Deshaun Watson?” The attorney said an interesting thing: The arbitrator, Sue L. Robinson, will be making her first decision as a referee straddling the line between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, and she’ll want to be seen as very fair; so it will be tough for her to accede to what the NFL reportedly wants—a minimum of a full year’s suspension.
5. I think that Man City-Bayern Munich friendly at Lambeau Field Saturday night could be a sign of things to come. “We’d love to do it again,” Packers president Mark Murphy told me Sunday night. “Everyone in our organization loved it, and the teams seemed thrilled about it. Their people said, ‘We have never played in a stadium like this one.’ They loved the history of it. They loved our surface [an artificial base with natural grass].” Murphy said tickets were sold to people from all 50 states and to fans from 19 countries (“It’s the most diverse crowd we’ve ever had at the stadium”), and the only damper was a pair of weather delays that shortened the game from 90 to 80 minutes. Murphy said a normal Packer home game brings about $15 million in local economic impact, and he estimated this game brought in at least $10 million. One interesting point: “Some of our players came in a couple days early for camp, because they wanted to see the game. I saw Aaron Rodgers in the Man City locker room talking to one of their legends.” So many of the major European teams like to broaden their brands in the offseason, so I’d expect the Packers to work to make another game happen in 2023 or ’24.
6. I think (and this is a weird meteorological note here) that one amazing thing about covering a Raiders practice in the middle of the summer, during the day, is how different the experience is when clouds are present. On Saturday, practice started at 8:30 a.m. Accuweather said 99 degrees in Henderson, Nev. We saw only slivers of the sun for the next two hours, and the temperature was 100 at 9 a.m., 99 at 10 a.m., and 104 at 11 a.m., as the last players left the field. There was a breeze throughout. It wasn’t awful. After practice, coach Josh McDaniels said, “What a day! Wasn’t this nice? It was 111 yesterday.” Crazy, but 100 with cloud cover is not as big a deal as 86 with blazing sun.
HENDERSON, Nev.-The camp tour begins at the Raiders.
8:54 am PT: 100 degrees. pic.twitter.com/LtELHg7oUQ
— Peter King (@peter_king) July 23, 2022
7. I think I don’t care about the Patriots not naming offensive or defensive coordinators. I just don’t. It’s a Belichick thing. He’s mysterious. Part of him, I’m sure, isn’t sure who should call the offensive plays, and as such it’s hard to name a coordinator if that man isn’t going to call the plays.
8. I think my favorite passage of the week was Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk on the third David Tepper/Carolina Panthers executive this year leaving the organization. The mayhem around the Panthers extends to the failed practice facility and office complex the team stopped in mid-construction after a dispute over it with officials in Rock Hill, S.C. The organization looks like a mess. Writes Florio:
The off-field turmoil in the organization meshes with the team’s on-field struggles. Tepper has tried to spend his way into contention, spending big on head coach Matt Rhule, who enters 2022 on the hot seat (even if Tepper won’t admit it). Tepper also has pinballed his way through a variety of quarterbacks in search of a franchise player who will elevate the team to perennial playoff qualifier. Since 2020, the team has tried (and failed) to make it work with Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Cam Newton. Recently, the Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield, a buy-low proposition that Tepper hopes will cause the team to soar into one of the seven postseason berths in the NFC.
His experience through nearly five years as an NFL owner underscores the reality that no amount of success in the line of work that positions someone to buy an NFL team guarantees success. Financially, the Panthers will print as much cash as every other franchise. Competitively, Tepper’s team continues to be an also-ran. The natural frustration for a multi-billionaire who has previously seen everything he touch turn to gold but who now can’t buy his way to the top of the standings may be the common denominator in so many employees being run off.
9. I think Tepper is learning—as jillionaires Stephen Ross in Miami, Jimmy Haslam in Cleveland and Woody Johnson in New York have learned before him—that no matter how much money you walk in the door with, your team will never be good without a consistent quarterback.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Podcast of the Week: Tom Rinaldi of FOX Sports with “Wesley,” the incredibly dramatic and incredibly under-told story of the life and times and murder of Lyman Bostock. “Wesley” was Bostock’s middle name.
b. I grew up a huge baseball fan. One fall Sunday afternoon in my senior year at Ohio University, I heard the news that the previous night, in Gary, Ind., Lyman Bostock was gunned down after having dinner with his uncle there. Murdered. WHATTTTT!!!!!!!! Bostock was fourth in the American League in batting average (.323) in 1976, and second (.336) in 1977, and in 1978, the Yankees and Angels had a free-agent bidding war for his services. He chose the Angels. On the last day of his life, a Saturday afternoon in September 1978 he went two-for-four in the middle of a packed Angels lineup (Grich, Lanford, Bostock, Baylor, Rudi), then drove to Gary for dinner. He was murdered at 10:20 that night by a man who thought his wife was having an affair with Bostock. (They were not.) Amazingly, the Angels played their game 15 hours later at Comiskey Park. I still shake my head about that.
c. Eight-part pod. I’ve heard the first two episodes. Two more out today, with two more each of the next two Mondays. Anyway, you all know Rinaldi as a great storyteller, which is what he is here. I never knew so many things, and I’ve always thought the only in-season murder of a major-league player in the history of baseball was one of those stories that needed to be told in long form. Who better than Rinaldi?
d. What overwhelms me with sadness after listening to the first two episodes is not that we didn’t get to see a possible Hall of Fame career play out. (He hit .311 in four seasons, and died at 28.) What hurts is not getting to see what Bostock would have accomplished off the field. He was heavily involved in civil-rights causes in college (at what is now Cal State-Northridge), and had to serve three weeks in an L.A. jail for his part in leading the takeover of a campus building when Blacks thought they were being repressed on campus. Rinaldi does a good job of illuminating the person Bostock was. I highly recommend the pod.
e. And yes, in a future column, I will discuss the Andrew Luck podcast by Zak Keefer of The Athletic. Need to listen to it in full. But I hear good things.
f. Story of the Week: Campbell Robertson of the New York Times, on the story of a wealthy Kentucky man who constructed what he thought was an impenetrable home with a luxury bunker made to survive a nuclear or civil war.
g. The headline: “He built a home to survive a Civil War. Tragedy found him anyway.” That’ll get you to read the story, or at least it should. And the words that follow are just as riveting. Tragedy befell the C. Wesley Morgan family with the murder of daughter Jordan, and now they’re trying to find some new normal.
h. Wrote Campbell:
On a warm evening at a public campground in central Kentucky, Mr. Morgan, 71, sat in a folding chair, watching his wife, Lindsey, and 14-year-old daughter, Sydney, take a walk among the campers and R.V.s. He was spending his nights in agony over Jordan’s death, he said. She had been shot at least 11 times in her bed. Just thinking about it, he said, was like being strangled.
His days were spent overseeing repairs to his bullet-riddled house and talking to potential buyers.
He had built the house in the Obama years, when he was convinced society was on the verge of collapse. Here his family could live in secluded comfort, and if the social fabric truly tore apart, as he expected it would, they could wait out the chaos in an abundantly stocked underground bunker. Now he couldn’t wait to be rid of it.
“Our life hasn’t been right since I started construction on that son of a bitch.”
i. What a story.
k. Why did I pick this story to highlight? Because of this, per Seo:
Taking in liquids is crucial, but hydration can go beyond simply drinking water. The popular belief that we all need to be drinking eight cups a day to be truly hydrated persists, though it has been debunked again and again.
“There’s really no data behind the eight glasses of water a day thing,” said Dr. Dan Negoianu, a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania. For example, “just because your urine is dark, that doesn’t prove that you’re dehydrated.”
l. I had no idea the eight-glasses-of-water-a-day think had been debunked. I thought I should be doing that. Anyway, it’s informative and good to know that vegetables and fruits can hydrate us very nicely, and almost exclusively if we choose.
m. You know who’s got a really interesting Substack? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Very good writer. Pulls zero punches.
n. Kareem on the Elvis movie is biting and insightful. So cool to see him flex his writing muscles here, and elsewhere.
o. Wrote Abdul-Jabbar:
I feel about Elvis the way I feel about most biopics of musicians: it will do until a good one comes along. That’s because these movies often are so rigidly formulaic that it’s like going on a blind date that turns out to be someone you dated once in high school 20 years ago—and they haven’t changed a bit. You already know everything they’re going to say—every joke, every anecdote, every everything.
…That’s the movie Elvis. The only reason to stay is the vibrant and energetic music. When Elvis sings, the movie bursts into glorious technicolor. The rest of the time: black-and-white meh. Basically, the movie is nothing more than a bland delivery system for the tasty soundtrack, like a gallon of white rice with only a couple tablespoons of delicious curry tikka floating on top.
p. Kareem from the top rope!
q. Happy 76th anniversary, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Wow. Just wow.
r. Happy 60th, Dean Biasucci. Man, that makes us old guys feel older.
s. I found it sad last week—maybe it’s a big reason why I’m languishing in sixth place in my rotisserie baseball league—that for the first time ever the baseball All-Star Game featured a player I’d never heard of. Joe Mantiply. When I looked over the rosters last Monday, I said, “Who is Joe Mantiply?” Arizona relief pitcher. Two saves, nice ERA, gotta pick one player from each team, D-Backs are lousy. So of course Mantiply pitched one easy 1-2-3 inning, fanning Xader Bogaerts in the process, and good for him. But a sign of the times in baseball, I guess…a sign that I’m not paying the attention to the game I once did.
t. Profile of the Week: Joseph Bien-Smith, writing in Sports Illustrated’s Where Are They Now issue about the great sportswriter Gary Smith. The story first appeared in Victory Journal.
u. Gary Smith is peerless in our industry. But he’s been out of circulation for a few years, and out of the pages of SI, so many of us have lost track of him. Bien-Smith does a good job, not just of finding him in South Carolina, but of explaining why he was so great at his long profiles—four a year.
v. Bien-Smith relayed a story about Smith from the eighties that is so Smith.
Gary Smith boarded the first train out of Rome and took it to the end of the line. He crossed the street right as a bus pulled up and rode it to the end of the line too. Now, a little red car slid to a stop beside his outstretched thumb and a man with wild black hair and wild black eyes beckoned him to get in.
It was a linguistic scramble as the man attempted to engage Smith. Italian, then English, and finally a slapdash mess of Spanish and French to get to the most pressing matter: “Where to?”
“Wherever you’re going,” Smith responded. And so, the man turned the key and they set off, the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” playing on repeat. Eventually, they pulled into a tiny village, Castel Viscardo, on the calf of Italy’s boot, 4,200 miles and a universe from the Midtown Manhattan Sports Illustrated office. It was late summer, 1983.
Gary Smith stayed in town that night, and then for months thereafter, working at the brickyard and picking the region’s famous grapes.
w. Years later, Bien-Smith got one more detail from Smith:
“When I got to the end of the line, I got off and put my thumb out,” he says. “Whoever picked me up, wherever they were going, that was where I was gonna land. And, you know, just see what happened.”
x. That’s just living life. That’s what Smith did, and still does. The other good thing about this piece is list links of some of his best stories. I think particularly you’ll enjoy the prescient Tiger Woods tale.
z. Excited that the NFL on NBC YouTube channel launched today, which will be a hub of all fantasy football, betting, and NFL content from NBC. Subscribe for the latest this season.
Just a hunch. That’s all.
My guess is Sue Robinson
gives Watson eight games.