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Monday, February 26, 2024

FMIA Super Bowl: “And we actually get used to this?” Mahomes, Kelce, Reid Lead KC to Repeat

1. I think it was interesting to hear Andy Reid say he asked Mahomes, Kelce and Chris Jones, his three most notable play-leaders, to give the night-before-the-game speeches Saturday. The one that seemed to resonate most: Kelce’s “We have the formula and they don’t.”

2. I think it was good to hear absolutely nothing about the grass surface at Allegiant Stadium after the debacle of last year.

3. I think I struggled with my MVP vote through the second half, going from Nick Bosa if the Niners won, to maybe Jauan Jennings with his receiving and passing TDs, to the redeemed Christian McCaffrey or the steady Purdy and as for Kansas City, I was totally up in the air until the final drive of the game. As the confetti started falling, I texted “Mahomes” to the keeper of the ballots.

4. I think Philadelphia giving up a home game and playing in Brazil on the opening Friday of week one, Sept. 6, is smart for the Eagles. You might say, “Smart? To fly nine hours for a football game?” Yes, smart. Think of it: Teams don’t play the last weekend of August. So the two teams going to Brazil will be able, if they choose, to fly to Brazil a week early—or four or five days early, and they’ll have plenty of time to get acclimated. Also, assuming they play Friday night, they’ll be able to fly home Saturday, take Sunday, Monday and possibly Tuesday off to get ready for the week two games. I think playing on Friday of week one, even nine hours away, isn’t onerous.

5. I think now, as for the opponent, I’m guessing Cleveland. Philly has nine home games next year. The NFL has leaned away from scheduling one of the three divisional home games as an international game. So let’s assume the NFL keeps that up when the slate is released in May. That leaves Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Green Bay. Let’s eliminate a few:

Carolina has a game in Germany this fall. Highly unlikely the Panthers would be asked to play a second international game.

Pittsburgh, cross-state rival, plays in Philadelphia once every eight years. Sincerely doubt the league would steal the Steeler game from Lincoln Financial Field.

Jacksonville in England every season. Don’t see a South American trip in the Jags’ future.

Three left: Cleveland, Atlanta, Green Bay.

Green Bay. Not that this makes the determination, but Philadelphia would hate to lose a date in Philadelphia versus the Packers.

Now Atlanta and Cleveland. Hmm. Who knows if Atlanta can have a ready-made team, and/or a competent quarterback to compete in week one under new coach Raheem Morris? The NFL doesn’t want a mystery team in a big marquee game in week one. That leaves

Cleveland. Won 11 games with five different quarterbacks. Have a scarred but likely good quarterback back healthy, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. I’m sure the NFL hasn’t made the call, but the Browns make the most sense to me.

6. I think I have a few thoughts on the NFL awards announced at the Super Bowl:

  • It’s ridiculous that Joe Flacco, who came back from sitting on his couch for two-and-a-half months, won Comeback Player over Damar Hamlin, who came back from having to be resuscitated back to life on a football field last January. What’s stronger than ridiculous? Absurd? Okay. It was absurd.
  • Eight voters did not have Hamlin in their top three Comeback candidates. I simply do not understand.
  • I do think Houston defensive end Will Anderson is a fine pick for Defensive Rookie (I voted for Rams interior lineman Kobie Turner). What I don’t understand is 23 of the 50 voters leaving Turner out of their top three. Anderson plays a position more inclined to get sacks, and Turner beat him there, 9-7. Turner had more tackles. In fact Turner had more sacks and tackles than Aaron Donald. Seriously: 23 voters didn’t have Turner in the top three.
  • The top three candidates, and their seasons, per Next Gen Stats:

Anderson, Texans: 695 plays, 7 sacks, 64 pressures, 36 defensive stops*
Carter, Eagles: 599 plays, 6 sacks, 47 pressures, 27 defensive stops*
Turner, Rams: 729 plays, 9 sacks, 47 pressures, 45 defensive stops*
(A defensive stop is graded as a successful play made by a defender that stopped the offense.)

  • I am empathetic to those who think DeMeco Ryans should have won Coach of the Year. The Texans won 10 games and the AFC South after winning three games last year. But Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski is not a bad pick. The Browns started five quarterbacks, Stefanski got Joe Flacco up to speed to play big down the stretch and the team won 11 games. The 165-165 vote total between them is probably exactly fair.
  • I’ve heard some people are surprised that Patrick Mahomes finished seventh in MVP voting. This is a regular-season award. Mahomes certainly lifted his team this season, as he always does. But Mahomes was 12th in passer rating, sixth in passing yards, 17th in yards per attempt, eighth in touchdowns. His team finished with the same number of wins as Cleveland.
  • I published my MVP ballot Jan. 22. Here it is again, in order: Lamar Jackson, Brock Purdy, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Tyreek Hill.
  • Happy for Cam Heyward winning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. I can say with confidence that I don’t think any of the previous winners ever has been more hands-on with meaningful community work than Heyward, as I wrote about in December. Here is the TV piece I did for NBC Sports on him:
  • Heyward to the other 31 team nominees for the Payton award Thursday night: “This award is great and I appreciate it, but I understand I got more work to do … So I ask you guys, my brothers, keep doing the work. You guys are the change, you guys are making the difference.”

7. I think everyone who bets on pro football should listen to what Kyle Shanahan told me before Super Bowl LVIII, on the vagaries of this sport:

“It always comes down to one game. Three hours. Who the hell knows what happens in those three hours? I’ve seen games I thought would be low-scoring turn into a shootout, a throwing-fest. I’ve seen games I thought would be in the thirties turn into 13-10 at the end. It really could be anything, no matter what type of offense or defense you have. That’s what you realize as you go through all of this, all the scouting, all the preparation. It’s how do you win the game? These two teams have two weeks to think of every possible way to be prepared. Kansas City does it, we do it. Then once the kickoff goes, that’s when you find out how it’s going. It changes as you go through the game. That’s why you never stop thinking. You never stop preparing, adjusting. It’s fun—a constant challenge.

“That’s why I can’t believe people gamble on this stuff. I do this for a living and I have no clue. No clue. I’m not just saying that. What’s so cool about football is it can go any way. But to gamble on it? Crazy.”

8. I think I have one word in response to Shanahan on football gambling: preach.

9. I think I loved this from Patrick Mahomes on Caitlin Clark: “Hopefully I never have to play her one-on-one because she’ll be for sure getting buckets on me.”

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. The ceremony for Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to recognize his 1,000th NHL game, then the game against the team he won three Stanley Cups with, then the 3-2 win, and the moments with his family and the fans and Sidney Crosby … all I can say is, hockey really knows how to honor its own.

b. Fleury: “Got goosebumps a little bit.” I did too.

c. And his three beautiful kids “Je t’aime, Papa.” Wow. Just wow. How does a dad keep it together after hearing that. Then Sidney Crosby giving him a painting of all the moments of his hockey life is so, so hockey.

d. There’s not a lot funnier than Jon Stewart on deep-dish pizza.

e. “Lemme tell you something: This is not pizza! This is tomato soup in a bread bowl! I wanna know, when I get drunk and pass out on my pizza that I’m not gonna drown!”

f. Journalism Story of the Week: Keith O’Brien of The Atlantic with a near-and-dear statement and story: You’ll Miss Sports Journalism When It’s Gone.

g. There’s a great story in here about how Sports Illustrated broke the Pete Rose gambling story—and how those resources have disappeared with the decline of that magazine. And with the erasure of the watchdog New York Times sports departments, and with deep cutbacks of other journalism entities. Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent told O’Brien he thinks there’s a “very high probability” of more cases like the Rose affair, but, as O’Brien writes: “He’s just not sure who’s going to be around to cover it.”

h. Writes O’Brien:

“The new sports-media reality is troubling—and paradoxical. Sports fans are awash in more ‘content’ than ever before. The sports-talk-podcast industry is booming; many professional athletes host their own shows. Netflix cranks out one gauzy, player-approved documentary series after another, and every armchair quarterback or would-be pundit has an opinion to share on social media. Yet despite all of this entertainment, all of these shows, and all of these hot takes, true sports-accountability journalism is disappearing.

“… Professional sports reporters are already missing stories. Last summer, student journalists at The Daily Northwestern—not sports writers at the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times—exposed a hazing scandal within the Northwestern football program. The grown-up journalists missed the story because they weren’t looking. They weren’t there, and they probably won’t be there next time, either.”

i. The way I see it: The vast majority of content on the pro football scene is people reacting to the news, not pursuing the news. It’s people with opinions, takes—hundreds of analysts. It used to be reporters outnumbered analysts 10 to 1. Now analysts outnumber reporters 10 to 1.

j. Cool New York Story of the Week: Flaco the owl escaped from the zoo, and he’s a great New York success story, per Gothamist and WNYC radio.

k. Flaco’s one of the fun things about living in New York. He’s shown up on a pitcher’s mound at Central Park (and played with the rosin bag), and on window sills of tall apartment buildings, peering in. And this wildlife photographer, David Lei, has followed him and documented his travels.

l. According to Lei, Flaco had to learn how to fly again after being in captivity.

“He really just needed to embrace that instinct and rediscover his wild nature. He initially wasn’t very good at flying. He’d get exhausted quite quickly, flying a short distance from one tree to the next, crashing into branches when he went to land, but he kept at it. And over time, he got better. He got better very quickly, actually. And before long, he was quite graceful in flight.

“We were also quite fortunate to watch him learn how to hunt. One other way that I could see Flaco’s confidence increasing was in his hooting.

“Flaco is now going on 14. He is well into adulthood for the lifespan of an owl. He had lived in captivity his whole life: born to captive owls, didn’t know how to fly, didn’t know how to hunt, didn’t know how to survive in the wild when he was first released.

And yet he was able to figure all that out and create a totally new life for himself in New York City.”

m. Wow. Long live Flaco!

n. I had never heard of Nebraska football guard Ethan Piper before reading this interview with Piper by Evan Bland of the Omaha World-Herald. But this football retiree is a person well worth knowing.

o. Piper told Bland:

“When I was hurt and had lots of free time my favorite thing to do — and I still do it and will continue to do it — is talk with Nebraska fans who are homeless. Anytime I felt bad about my situation I would walk downtown and talk to them. When you tell them you’re a Nebraska football player, they’ll talk to you for 45 minutes. Those genuine interactions have helped me a lot in the last three months. It’s my favorite thing to do, not because it’s an ego boost but because it’s a chance to relate.

“Most of those guys end up there because of injuries or circumstances. My injury could have been like that if I wasn’t with Nebraska football. Those are the interactions I love the most. It’s the bread and butter of life. I’d just ask them, ‘Can I talk with you for a little bit?’ Most people are pretty open, I’ve come to find out.”

p. What a kid. Ethan Piper is awesome. The Midwest is awesome.

q. Happy trails, Linda Wertheimer. Retiring after 53 years at NPR, Wertheimer has been doing the news I consume daily ever since I started listening to the news. Good luck to her.

r. Hall of Fame Story of the Week: Sam Borden of ESPN on Steve McMichael’s long road to Canton. It’s an emotional piece by Borden, as it should be for a man counting his days battling ALS.

s. Such a sad but somehow uplifting tale about McMichael’s attitude, and that of his wife Misty.

t. Wrote Borden:

“One day last summer, Misty could tell something wasn’t right. It happened so fast. Steve was feverish. The mucus in his breathing tube was a swirl of colors and darker than usual. He was having trouble staying awake. A doctor came to the house. It was pneumonia, the doctor said.

Misty knew what that meant. And she knew that the DNR, the “do not resuscitate” form she and Steve had signed months earlier, meant she wasn’t supposed to call an ambulance. Because Steve absolutely, positively wasn’t going to a hospital.

Except …

Except they’d gotten a telephone call a few days earlier.

Misty went to Steve. She held his hand. She looked at him and said, “Honey, the Hall of Fame called, do you remember?”

… She said, “You’ve been waiting so long … And if you get in, I want you to be here. I want you to see it.”

She also didn’t know if Steve even had the strength to make it a few more days, let alone months. But in that moment, the only thing Misty did know for sure was that the man she loves was closer than he had ever been to this thing he wanted so much. And so she thought that he might want to try.

“Do you want to see it happen, honey?” she asked, and Steve’s head shifted. His eyelids had been fluttering, but suddenly they steadied. He was staring at her. Misty locked her gaze on Steve’s face.

“Do you want me to rip up the DNR?” she asked. “Blink once for yes, twice for no.”

Misty held her breath as Steve looked up at her. He blinked once.

u. Great story. Great storytelling by Sam Borden.

v. Here’s Borden’s tremendous piece, produced by Josh Vorensky, that aired Sunday on ESPN. You’ll cry.

w. “Mongo only pawn in game of life.” One of the great lines in Peter King movie history, and Alex Karras, playing the part of Mongo, uttered it in “Blazing Saddles.” The Bears loved the movie, and nicknamed McMichael Mongo. And that’s what he’s been called, mostly, for most of the last 35 years.

x. Cool Super Bowl Story of the Week: Katie Deighton of The Wall Street Journal, on the history of the Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl commercials.

y. The Clydesdales! Hay-List celebrities, per the paper!

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