The Daily Briefing Wednesday, May 23, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
The NFL with approval of the new safety initiatives:
NFL owners voted Tuesday to adopt a revamped kickoff play for the 2018 season.
The changes will make kickoffs more like punts and limit full-speed collisions. The adjustments were made in conjunction with special teams coaches and members of the league’s Competition Committee during a player safety summit at the league’s headquarters in New York earlier this month.
On Tuesday, owners also approved the ejection standards to go along with the “use of the helmet” rule. Per the new rule: it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
Some key takeaways for the new kickoff guidelines:
1. Players on the kicking team cannot line up more than one yard from the point of the kickoff. The previous rule allowed players to line up five yards from the restraining line (typically 35-yard line), allowing them to have more of a running start before the kick.
2. The wedge block has been eliminated. Only players who line up in the setup zone (between their own 40 and opponents’ 45-yard line) can put together double-team blocks.
3. Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross the restraining line (typically its 45) or initiate a block. This forces blockers on the receiving team to run back and block, which greatly decreases the chance of an “attack” block that can result in a high-speed collision.
4. When the ball hits the end zone, it’s immediately ruled a touchback. There is no need for a player to down the ball in the end zone to initiate a touchback.
All disqualification of players are also now reviewable.
Mike Florio sees a consequence, intended or unintended, from the helmet rule:
At a time when football fans finally are waking up to the demise of the kickoff, another football staple is about the go the way of the Stegosaurus. And a game that many regard as a dinosaur could soon be extinct, at least as we know it.
With the NFL finally admitting what some suspected for the past two months — the new helmet rule does apply to offensive and defensive linemen — the three-point stance inevitably will be gone. And the NFL will have gotten rid of it without actually getting rid of it.
That may be news to some of the people on the inside. Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the Competition Committee, said recently on PFT Live that the three-point stance won’t be going away “in our lifetime.” But as coaches like Payton adjust to the interpretation that finally was unveiled on Tuesday, they’ll realize that the three-point stance has become an invitation to violate the new helmet rule.
“He’s got to get his head up,” NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron said Tuesday regarding offensive linemen.
The only way to keep his head up is to never put it down. The three-point stance comes from the ability to fire out and slam into the opponent. With linemen in such close quarters, it will be impossible for an offensive lineman to blast forward into a defensive lineman without potentially hitting the opponent with a helmet that necessarily is low.
Again, this likely surprised people like Payton. When I asked him earlier this month whether the new helmer rule will alter the between-the-tackles running game, Payton said, “I don’t think a lot. I think you know working a coach up, guys that are pulling. But I don’t think it’s going to change much at all.”
With offensive linemen now obligated to get their heads up when blasting forward at the same, it’s going to change a lot. It’s going to change to the point where it’s not recognizable.
And it’s going to open the door for someone to start a football league that will play games not in the spring but during football season — and that will play football not like the NFL is hell bent on playing it but like football used to be played.
The Eagles turned down the 35th overall pick to keep NICK FOLES around. See CLEVELAND.
– – –
The Eagles will not turn down the invitation to meet Donald Trump as a team, so prepared for the media to use the next two weeks to try to coax individual Eagles not to go. Charlotte Carroll of SI.com:
On Tuesday, Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson confirmed the World Champion Eagles will meet President Trump at the White House on June 5 in Washington D.C.
However, Pederson could not confirm which of his players would be making the trip and said that traveling to the Capitol would be optional and no one would be required to attend.
“It’s an individual basis,” Pederson said. “It’s one of those things that, again, we’re working through a ton of things, but at the same time we understand that it’s an individual decision.”
Before the visit was offered and accepted, some members of last year’s team including Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Torrey Smith said they would not be visiting the White House as long as President Trump was residing in it.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, who is expected to be available for the start of the season, said that if his teammates decide they want to go, he will be heading to Washington as well.
“I know for me, personally, if the team decides as a whole, most guys want to go or be a part of it, I’ll be attending with them,” Wentz said. “I think it’s just a cool way to receive the honor nationally and be recognized. I don’t personally view it – I know some people do and everyone has their opinion on it – but I don’t view it as a political thing whatsoever. I don’t mess with politics very often. But I will be involved in going. The rest of the details will be coming soon.”
QB ALEX SMITH was recently the commencement speaker at the University of Utah. Peter King:
“It’s been almost 10 years to the day that I graduated from the U and I’ve had many ups and downs over the course of that time, and there are really three concepts that I’ve learned and relied on over those years. One: Identify my weaknesses. Two: Embrace the new. Three: Let go of what I cannot control.
“When I graduated from Utah, I was headed into the biggest job interview of my life, the NFL draft. As you can imagine, I wanted so badly to impress; I wanted to be perfect. I tried to be the perfect draft prospect. In my meetings with the coaches and the executives, I tried to be the perfect interview. At the combine and at my workouts, I tried to be the perfect player. I tried to promote my strengths and conceal my weaknesses and on paper, I kind of succeeded; I was the first pick in the draft. And with that, I inherited this big shiny trophy that I carried around and it had one word engraved on it: anxiety. You see, the problem was, and this is the point, I felt like I had to be perfect to justify my draft status. I became my own worst enemy. I constantly stressed for others’ approval and worried about what they were thinking. I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes and then, when I did make a mistake, I agonized over it; this became a paralyzing cycle. I became cautious. I was tentative. My entire mindset became, ‘Don’t screw up.’ Literally, I would tell myself, ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t throw an incompletion. Don’t throw an interception. Don’t fumble. Don’t drop the snap.’
“I recently had the opportunity to hang out with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. One thing really stuck with me. It was how much time Georges and his team spent evaluating his own weaknesses. I’d always imagined that they spent all their time and energy focusing on their next opponent, a lot like we do in football; instead, Georges spends his time targeting his own weaknesses. He isn’t insecure about his abilities or who he is, instead, he’s honest with himself and he embraces the challenge of his own shortcomings.
“We can never fully plan our future. How many of you graduates know what you want to do today for the rest of your lives? I know I didn’t when I got my diploma and that’s really okay. I encourage you all to embrace what life throws at you, no matter how uncomfortable or daunting it might seem. Let’s all have the courage to walk across the room and make a connection. Coach [Urban] Meyer used to always tell us this, ‘If what you want is different than what you have, then you need to change what you are doing.’ It’s actually something I tell myself, every time that little voice in my head tries to get me to take the easy way out.”
Approved as the owner of the Panthers, David Tepper pledges his all to the Carolinas, but perhaps not Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. Rock Hill anyone? Raleigh are you listening? The AP:
The new owner of the Carolina Panthers is committed to keeping the team in the Carolinas.
And Charlotte is clearly his preferred choice.
But David Tepper left a bit of wiggle room on his first day as owner of the team.
The NFL unanimously approved Tepper’s $2.2 billion purchase of the team from Jerry Richardson on Tuesday, leading to immediate questions about the new owner’s thoughts on replacing 22-year-old Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“What’s the name of the team? Carolina Panthers. It’s going to be the Carolina Panthers,” Tepper said. “And that means this team has to have some kind of presence in the Carolinas and last time I saw, how many are there? That’s right, there’s two of them.”
Tepper seemed to be implying that he might consider other cities in North and South Carolina if efforts to build a new stadium in Charlotte fall through. The lease with Bank of America Stadium runs for only one more season.
But Tepper reiterated several times that the largest city in the Carolinas is the best place for the team.
“There is a logical place for this team, and it’s Charlotte,” he said. “And far as a new stadium, again, you’re asking me too much and the only thing I have a market on now is lack of knowledge. I’ll call it stupidity, so I’ve got that down. I’ll learn a lot more in the future.”
Tepper’s purchase was the first order of business at the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta. He was quickly approved after passing muster with the owners’ finance committee during a morning session.
“We congratulate David and welcome him to the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Tepper is paying an NFL-record price to buy the team from Jerry Richardson, the team’s founder and only owner since the Panthers entered the league in 1995.
Richardson abruptly announced he was selling the team last December after coming under investigation from the league for sexual and racial misconduct in the workplace. The probe is ongoing.
Tepper is the founder and president of global hedge fund Appaloosa Management, with a reported net worth of $11 billion. Already familiar to the league as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, his purchase was quickly approved.
Darin Gantt on the Panthers as founding owner Jerry Richardson moves into the sunset:
The Panthers players and coaches were having an OTA in Charlotte Tuesday, while just down the road in Atlanta, they were being sold to David Tepper.
And while many of the longer-serving players and coaches had close relationships with previous owner Jerry Richardson, the sense of being ready to move on was clear, after months of investigation into Richardson’s workplace misconduct (which triggered the sale).
Via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers seemed ready to move on.
“He’s got a sense and feel for football,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Tepper. “He’s been around it. He owned a small percentage of the Steelers. So he’s got a feel. It was good, and I know eventually we’ll sit down and talk football and talk about this team. . . .
“We really haven’t been able to get down to the details yet, but all in due time. I think it’ll be really good, he really seemed like a football guy.”
Rivera met Tepper and made a presentation about the team’s football side during his site visit earlier this spring.
But Rivera was also a Richardson supporter, and even broke down the team in the name of the disgraced owner, after the Sports Illustrated bombshell which detailed his sexual and racial harassment of employees.
Tight end Greg Olsen was also close with the previous owner, who helped the Olsen family through their son’s heart condition. But even he saw the value of clear air in front of them.
“I’m sure a lot of people are just ready for some closure, just ready for that transition to start, and I guess today is the start of that,” Olsen. said “This transition has been inevitable for a little while, since it was announced that the team would be sold.
“I just think for a lot of people in the building, players, (can) just put all of this to rest. Move forward in the new direction that the team is going with.”
The league’s investigation continues since they want to make sure the issues didn’t extend beyond the owner, but for the most part, the Panthers were able to turn a page yesterday.
Some in the media are nonplussed that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and others had some nice things to say about Richardson.
I’m told Jerry Jones stood before fellow owners today at NFL meeting and spoke glowingly of disgraced Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, thanking him for all he’s done for the league despite severity of claims against him
The DB thinks Bill Clinton has had more severe claims credibly laid against his personal life than Richardson. But in summing up any life, the totality of it should be considered and when one passes from the stage you don’t have to dwell on the negative. Richardson had many positive accomplishments as owner of the Panthers.
A going-away note from Peter King:
Larry Fitzgerald, who has played 14 NFL seasons, has had his best regular seasons in years 12, 13 and 14, with 109, 107 and 109 catches. He’ll play a 15th year in 2018.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Dan Hellie tweeted this out last night:
The @Chargers might be the most talented team in AFC.
* healthy Mike Williams (7th pk in ’17)
* Jason Verrett (pro bowl cb back from torn acl)
*Forest Lamp (starting RG, back from ACL)
* signed 3x pro bowl C M. Pouncey
* drafted Derwin James & LB Uchenna Nwusu
Then, about five minutes later Adam Schefter broke the news that TE HUNTER HENRY was done for 2018.
Stunner from LA: Chargers’ TE Hunter Henry suffered a season-ending torn ACL today, per league source. Did it during a drill, running downfield, untouched. Second opinion coming Wednesday.
Mike Silver of NFL.com, a known associate of Browns coach Hue Jackson, reveals that the team sought to pry QB NICK FOLES away from the Eagles.
Shortly before the start of the league year, the Philadelphia Eagles turned down a potential trade that would have sent Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles to the Cleveland Browns for the 35th overall pick in the 2018 draft, according to three sources familiar with the talks.
Before rejecting the deal, two sources said, the Eagles ran the scenario by Foles, who said he preferred to remain in Philadelphia. In April, the Eagles and Foles agreed to a re-worked contract that gave him a $2 million bonus for 2018 and allowed him to earn up to $14 million in incentives, while creating a “mutual option” for him to remain with the team in 2019. (Basically, Foles is free to leave if he pays back the $2 million.)
The Browns, meanwhile, turned their attention to former Buffalo Bills starter Tyrod Taylor, who they acquired for a third-round pick on March 10. Cleveland later selected former Oklahoma star Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick of the draft, though coach Hue Jackson has declared that Taylor will be his unequivocal starter for 2018. With the 35th pick — the second of their two second-rounders — the Browns selected Georgia running back Nick Chubb.
The decision not to trade Foles reflected the Eagles’ immense regard for his abilities, which were showcased during the team’s NFC championship game blowout of the Minnesota Vikings and again in the epic Super Bowl triumph over the Patriots. It was also based on the uncertainty regarding the status of third-year franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL in a December victory over the Los Angeles Rams and theoretically might not be ready for the team’s Sept. 6 regular season opener against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field — though the team is optimistic that Wentz will be able to meet that timeline.
It’s also possible that Foles could still be sent elsewhere before the start of the 2018 season, or at any point up to the Tuesday, Oct. 30 trade deadline.
Two Septembers ago, five days after Vikings starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a severe knee injury in practice, the Eagles dealt starter Sam Bradford to Minnesota for first- and fourth-round picks — a move that allowed Wentz, then a rookie, to ascend to the top of the depth chart just before the start of the regular season. If a similar scenario were to present itself this summer, the Eagles could possibly be open to parting with Foles, especially if they were offered a first-round pick in return.
It’s also possible that Foles could be dealt shortly before the trade deadline, especially if Wentz has established that he is fully healthy. Last Oct. 30, the Patriots sent promising backup Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round pick.
In the meantime, Foles remains the NFL’s highest-profile backup quarterback — a role with which he is clearly comfortable, given his preference that the Eagles reject the Browns’ overtures.
The story led to an interesting squabble on Twitter featuring Silver and another Mike, Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
I’m sure that Hue Jackson leaking that the Browns tried to trade for Nick Foles will go over well with his boss.
Hey Mike: 1) Don’t be a dick; 2) I had three sources, as cited in the story. Hue was not one of them. 3) Attempted source-outing is stupid. 4) If you have something to say to me, text me. Wow.
Hey Mike: 1) You’re basically Hue’s agent; 2) Everyone knows it.
Things are edgy in New England with QB TOM BRADY absent. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked today to talk about Tom Brady, but he wouldn’t.
Brady is absent from the Patriots’ Organized Team Activities, and when Belichick was asked about that, he quickly shut it down.
“I’m not going to talk about the people who aren’t here. The guys who are here are improving, working hard. That’s who we’re going to focus on,” Belichick said.
Belichick was also asked about Rob Gronkowski, who is also absent but is expected to make it to OTAs at some point. Again, Belichick declined to talk.
“I’m focused on the guys that are here and those are the guys we’re working with in the OTA process Phase 3,” Belichick said.
In fact, Belichick didn’t talk much about the players who were there, either. When asked about some of the Patriots’ rookie draft picks, Belichick said it had already been covered in the team’s post-draft press conference.
Belichick did say that OTAs are valuable.
“It’s always good to get back on the field and be working with everybody in Phase 3,” Belichick said. “We were able to do a little bit in Phase 2 against air, get some teaching and instruction, but this is much better. It’ll progress faster and just do more with our team, starting yesterday and for the next couple weeks. It’s always good to get to that point. We have a lot of new players on our team.”
So OTAs are important, and Brady isn’t there, but what Belichick draws from that we’ll have to figure out for ourselves, because Belichick isn’t talking about Brady.
NEW YORK JETS
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com on the trade of QB CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG:
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who never entered a game in two seasons with the New York Jets, was traded Tuesday to the Oakland Raiders, ending an odd and disappointing tenure that leaves a wake of questions.
The Jets will receive a 2019 conditional seventh-round pick for Hackenberg, who will be remembered as one of the biggest second-round disappointments in recent NFL history.
The trade came hours after Hackenberg made critical comments about the coaching staff to reporters. He said the past two seasons were “frustrating” because he didn’t “get any information from anybody on how to fix” mechanical flaws in his throwing motion.
Coach Todd Bowles said Hackenberg’s remarks had no bearing on the trade decision.
“We had one too many (quarterbacks) to get all of them reps,” Bowles said. “We just want to go with the three quarterbacks we have and let these guys battle it out.”
He was referring to Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Sam Darnold. The Jets shopped Hackenberg during the draft after selecting Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick, a source said.
See OAKLAND for more.
You took a second round pick and turned it into a seventh rounder without said second round pick playing a single play – and you have “no” regrets? Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Jets traded quarterback Christian Hackenberg to the Raiders on Tuesday a short time after the 2016 second-round pick said that he felt frustrated by “not really getting any information from anybody on how to fix” the problems with his game that led him to be anchored to the bench the last two seasons.
Jets coach Todd Bowles said later that those comments didn’t contribute to the decision to make the trade because players are allowed to be critical and because he feels they did work to correct flaws in Hackenberg’s game. Bowles said he can’t answer fully why things never worked out, but that he doesn’t feel regret about the decision to draft Hackenberg.
“Anytime a pick doesn’t work out I guess you can look at it as a waste,” Bowles said in comments distributed by the team. “When a pick does work out, it is not a waste. You learn lessons from everything you do in life. It isn’t just football and draft picks. If anyone has a four-leaf clover up their butt and it is going to work out every time please let me know that person because hey, it didn’t work out here.”
With Sam Darnold joining the team as a first-round pick this year, there will be further scrutiny of the Jets’ ability to develop a quarterback. Bowles said he doesn’t think the Hackenberg experience will play into what happens with Darnold because the two players “are completely different.”
The coach was also asked if Teddy Bridgewater‘s work influenced the decision to make a trade. Bowles said he liked what he saw during Tuesday’s OTA, although he cautioned it was just one practice for a player who will have to show his knee can hold up over the long term.
THIS AND THAT
Peter King pens his final Monday Morning Quarterback column for SI. We count 50 “thank yous” which we have edited down for space. You can read the whole thing here:
This is my last Monday Morning Quarterback column for the Sports Illustrated franchise, and for the site I founded in 2013, The MMQB. I’ve been thinking about what to write and how to do it for the last couple of weeks. I just kept thinking, What I really want to do is thank people.
• Thank you, readers. The way I figure it: I’ve produced about 5.5 million words since 1989—my rough guess is about 4 million words in 21 years of MMQB columns, and about 1.5 million words in the magazine and for The MMQB. In the last couple of weeks, since I announced I’d be leaving this place on June 1, so many of you have reached out to say thanks. I’m humbled. I’m appreciative. There would be no me without you. Last week, a 30-ish guy on the 3 train on the west side of Manhattan said to me, “I’ve read you since I knew what football was. Thanks for everything.” SI’s reach and influence made that possible. We were good for each other.
• Thank you, Mark Mulvoy. In 1989, as managing editor of SI, Mulvoy put his trust in a 31-year-old guy who’d covered the NFL for just five years to write the Inside the NFL column for the magazine…
• Thank you, Eddie DeBartolo, for doing what I never knew owners did—in this case, leaping into Ronnie Lott’s arms as the clock ran out that afternoon at the Vet and yelling, “I LOVE YOU RONNIE!” DeBartolo wiped away tears as he told me how he loved this team. I’d see a lot more of that in the coming years.
• Thank you to Mulvoy and successors John Papanek, Bill Colson, Terry McDonell, Paul Fichtenbaum and Chris Stone, for giving me nothing but chances for 29 years…
• Thank you, Michael Irvin. “We’re playing in a Sports Illustrated game!” he shouted when I showed up in Texas during the week of a big game in 1991, when the Cowboys started to get good. That Friday afternoon, Irvin said he’d sit for an interview with me, but not at Valley Ranch. We got in his car, and he took me to a strip club, where we talked for an hour. Great interview. Interesting scenery.
• Thank you, Jimmy Johnson. For a lot of things. He’s as transparent a coach as I’ve covered in my 29 SI years. The first time we talked extensively, at a seafood place in San Diego in training camp in 1990, Johnson spoke about the pain of his 1-15 rookie season, and he was so candid about how much it sucked that at the end of the evening, perhaps emboldened by four or six Heinekens, he looked me square in the eye and said, “Peter, if you f— me with this story, I’ll squash you like a squirrel in the road.” …
• Thank you, Steve Tasker, the most decent great player I have covered.
• Thank you, Frank Reich, for the 41-38 comeback to beat Houston in the wild-card playoff game in 1992. Talk about memorable—a backup quarterback erasing a 35-3 lead and winning a playoff game. I recently told Reich the story about the Houston TV guy—when it was 28-3, Oilers, at halftime—who made the nonrefundable airplane reservation for the next week, the next game, at Pittsburgh. It got to be 35-3 on a bad Reich pick-six in the third quarter, but all he kept thinking about was, “Just one play.” The Bills won in overtime. I waited for everyone to leave the locker room until it was just me and Reich left, talking about the greatest game of a backup quarterback’s life. He called over an equipment man, wanting to see his wife, and said, “Could you bring Linda in?” And when the door to the locker room opened, they hustled to embrace like they hadn’t seen each other in five years. “I love you,” Linda said, and I bet 15 seconds passed before he said anything. “Praise the Lord,” were Frank Reich’s words. That was a moment.
• Thank you, Paul Zimmerman, a friend and a mentor and someone wholly opposite of me. You’re a brawler, a prove-it guy; I’m a peacenik, and my instinct is to trust. He was a crank, oftentimes a total crank. He’s not for everybody. But he was great for me.
• Thank you, Linda Zimmerman, for showing me—and so many others—what a loving and loyal and trusted-till-death spouse and partner is.
• Thank you, Deion Sanders. You know what I feel bad about? Not that he and I were once close and I wrote some stuff that royally pissed him off and we didn’t speak for, oh, maybe 10 years. (When times were good, I had his get-through-the-switchboard-at-road-hotels name, which was a tremendous gateway pseudonym to have in those days.) …
We met at the Super Bowl this past February, and he told me: “Football was my heart. I adored it. Baseball was my challenge. I don’t know if I loved it. I liked it. I wasn’t married to it. Football was my wife. Baseball was my girlfriend. I wish it would have been the opposite. There are chapters in our lives we feel are incomplete. You know, coulda, woulda, shoulda. I still have baseball dreams.”
• Thank you, Steve Young, for being the all-time mensch. He walked into an impossible situation—the Man Who Would Succeed Montana—and walked on eggshells for a time as he had to and handled it perfectly. Then he threw six touchdown passes, post-Montana and post-Bill Walsh, to win a world title in Miami in 1995. I covered Young postgame, and he was so dehydrated that he had to lie down in Miami hotel room and get two IVs from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue unit while family partied in his room. “Joe Who?!” someone in the crowd yelled. Young had the decency to call out, feebly, from the bed: “No, don’t do that. Don’t worry about that. That’s the past.” That’s class.
• Thank you, Brent Musburger, for saying this to me on my first night on TV, before the ABC Monday Night Football halftime show in a New York studio in September 1994 (I did a couple of minutes at halftime in the ’94 and ’95 seasons): “Don’t worry kid. I’ll take care of you.” He did. Every show.
• Thank you, Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, for letting me invade your space in Green Bay in 1995 for a week in the life of the Packers.
• Thank you, Steve Robinson, for urging me to start Monday Morning Quarterback at the new website CNNSI.com in 1997. That’s the year I got an email address. That’s how first-generation the internet was then. As my pro football editor for a couple of years before that, and then kicked upstairs to run this newfangled web thingie, Robinson needed copy to populate the site. Personalize it, he said. So I did.
• Thank you, Brett Favre, for being the most compelling person I’ve covered in my 29 years here. This could take a while. In that ’95 week in Green Bay, when I met Favre, he said, “What? Nothing to write about [Drew] Bledsoe this week?” A jab on the media’s love of the New England quarterback. That week, Holmgren told the Packers that I’d be hanging around, and to give me time if I asked. When I asked Favre if I could come to his house one evening, it became three nights in one week.
So … what I found interesting was his tirelessness. I’d be there at 10, 10:30 at night, and I’d be nodding off after a long day, and he was buzzing. Turns out a few months later we knew the reason for the buzzing. He spent 72 days in a drug clinic in Kansas City to get off Vicodin. This weekend, we talked about that, and about the end in Green Bay, and I found out something I never knew: I thought he went to rehab to kick his addictions once. Triple that.
“Oh, I remember that week,” Favre said over the phone. “You thought, ‘Man, this guy’s high on life.’ You didn’t know there was a reason for it. It is really amazing, as I think back, how well I played that year. That was an MVP year for me. But that year, when I woke up in the morning, my first thought was, ‘I gotta get more pills.’ I took 14 Vicodin, yes, one time. I was getting an hour or two of sleep many nights. Maybe 30 minutes of quality sleep. I was the MVP on a pain-pill buzz. The crazy thing was, I’m not a night owl. Without pills I’d fall asleep at 9:30. But with pills, I could get so much done, I just figured, ‘This is awesome.’ Little did I know [fiancée and now wife] Deanna would be finding some of my pills and when she did, she’d flush them down the toilet.
“I actually went to rehab three times. I saw the most successful, smart people—doctors, professional people—lose it all, ruin their lives. A year or two before you saw me, I went to a place in Rayville, La., just outside Monroe. It was pills then too. Deanna and [agent] Bus [Cook] talked me into it. I didn’t think I had a problem, but they talked me into it. I went for 28 days. When I got out, I was able to control myself for a while. I wouldn’t take anything for a day or two, and I wouldn’t drink. But I was a binge drinker. When I drank, I drank to excess. So when I went in the second time, to the place in Kansas, I remember vividly fighting them in there. They said drinking was the gateway drug for me, and they were right, absolutely right, but I wouldn’t admit it. I will never forget one of the nurses. I had it all figured out. I fought with this nurse all the time. I would not admit the drinking problem. At the end she said to me, ‘You’ll be back.’
“I was back. 1998. Guess who was waiting there when I walked in—that same nurse. This time it was strictly for drinking. I didn’t go back to the pills. I admitted my problem, I was in there 28 days, and it worked. When I got out, the toughest thing was the first three months, because I had to change my thought process. When I played golf before, I realized the only reason I wanted to play was to drink. After a while, instead of thinking, ‘How many beers can we drink in 18 holes?’ I fell into a pattern of what could I do to get good at golf. I realized with each passing day I really didn’t like drinking.”
Never thought the conversation would go this way. But that’s Favre. One time, for 90 minutes, we talked Slingblade.” He’d seen the movie once. He knew complete paragraphs of dialog, in that Billy Bob Thornton voice. No wonder Holmgren never worried about Favre learning plays. He had a ridiculous memory.
One more story. Favre did a charity bike ride for Bo Jackson at Auburn, and retired Auburn football coach Pat Dye insisted Favre stay at Dye’s house. Dye took Favre for a house tour. He saw all the trophies and framed pictures, and listened to Dye tell his stories. When the 78-year-old Dye showed him the memorabilia, he said, “Here’s the stuff that really doesn’t matter.”
Favre said to me on Saturday night: “And it hit me. Someday, if I’m lucky, I’m gonna be 78 years old, and the crowd’s not going to be cheering anymore. The roar of the stadium will be long gone. Hopefully, like Pat, I’ll go out and plant a Japanese maple on my property and just live life. Talk to my family, my friends. That was a moment, with Pat, where I thought, ‘So that’s what it’s going to be like.’ And it’s good.”
• Thank you, critics. If we can’t take the heat in this modern-media business, and if we can’t admit our mistakes, we should get out.
• Thank you, all who did not want me to write about my personal life in my column. Your voices were heard. Ultimately, I did what I thought was best for the column and wrote about Montclair (N.J.) field hockey and softball, about my daughters in those games for five years, about coffee and beer, about the lives and deaths of my brothers Bob and Ken, about the lives and deaths of Woody and Bailey the Goldens, about politics, about the Red Sox, about my daughter Laura’s wedding to wife Kim, about our grandson Freddy. This is how I figured it over the years: Probably 5 to 10 percent of each column, at most, is the non-football stuff. The column is the longest pro football column on the internet, by far. If you skip over the non-football stuff, it’s still the longest football column on the internet, by far. So just skip what you don’t like.
• Thank you, Woody and Bailey. Writing about you, and about your deaths, was hugely therapeutic for me, and I think for some of the readers. The Bailey obit from 2013 is contained in this column.
• Thank you to the loud guy at Eagles camp in 2008. After the Favre retirement/comeback/Packers divorce/Jets comeback, I’d been writing a lot about Favre for weeks, and some guy in Bethlehem, Pa., yelled: “Hey Peter! There’s other guys than Favre in the league!” Good to hear what fans think, and not just the good things.
• Thank you, everyone else in the media and on talk radio and in social media who called me on my reporting mistakes on Deflategate and on the Ray Rice story. When we err in the media, we should be called on it, and we should admit our mistakes. When I talk to students, I often bring those up. I broke a trust you have in me. To this day, I’m chagrined over it.
• Thank you, Mike Silver and Tim Layden and Greg Bishop, for your trustworthy ears; and John Czarnecki, for your advice and counsel and friendship over 35 years.
• Thank you, Don Banks, for being my adviser-in-chief, and for talking me down from some bad ideas, and for telling me there’s another life out there, which I needed to hear. And for the 1957 Ted Williams baseball card.
• Thank you, Michael Strahan. We were town-mates for a few years in Montclair, N.J., and Strahan’s door was always open. I had no idea what he’d become, of course, but he, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Johnny Holland and Richard Sherman were the best I’ve met at explaining the complexities of defensive football. And Strahan told great football stories on top of that.
• Thank you, Paul Tagliabue, for emoting (I did see a few tears) the way all of America emoted after 9/11. Sitting in his office at the NFL four days after the towers fell, I’ll never forget Tagliabue sharing his vivid memory of walking down the streets in midtown Manhattan in the days after the event that changed us all, and smelling the acrid burning smell that wouldn’t go away in New York for days.
• Thank you, John Walsh. In the fall of 2012, I met for lunch with Walsh, one of the cornerstone editorial giants in ESPN history. He asked me if I’d ever thought of running a football website on my own, with the budgetary support of a behemoth like ESPN. No, frankly, I hadn’t, though I’d been discussing some attractive and different editorial concepts at NBC, NFL Network, and SI. I thought about the Walsh idea a lot, and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. In different ways, ideas like that one and other altogether different ones were possible at ESPN, SI and NBC. The more I talked to Paul Fichtenbaum at SI, the better such a site sounded. SI needed a jolt and a new project, and this fit well. Credit and thanks to Walsh—not just for that, but for his encouragement for years.
• Thank you, Bill Parcells. He taught me a lot about how football really works. I saw how some of his players didn’t like him treating 53 players all a little bit different. He didn’t care. He just tried to figure a way to get all 53 to play at their peak. I learned this from him: It’s not a one-size-fits-all league.
• Thank you, Mike Shanahan and Mike Martz and Matt Millen and Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff and Al Davis (yes, Al Davis), for giving me the peeks behind the curtains of the real game during my mid-career at SI.
• Thank you, Mike McGuire. I met this active-duty Army sergeant at a St. Louis Cardinals game—he had a PUJOLS jersey on—in 2005 on my training camp tour. He was here to learn some leadership skills at a nearby base before leaving for Iraq, commanding a platoon of 30 men, mostly between 18 and 21. “IED-hunting,” he told me. “Improvised Explosive Devices. Our job is to find them and neutralize them so they don’t kill people.”
Rube that I am, I asked: “I read about people dying every day because of these devices. Aren’t you scared?”
“Well,” he said, “you try not to think of that. I have 30 kids in my platoon to worry about. I’m not scared for me, really. I’m scared for those kids.” All I could think was: I’m going to watch a football practice tomorrow. This guy’s going to learn leadership skills so he can command 30 kids in the most dangerous job on earth.
We kept in touch. A year later he sent this email, from the front, with the subject line “Pray for my men, Peter—Mike McGuire:”
– – –
• Thank you, changing business. (I think.) The morphing of the business into a 24/7 operation makes us better, even though it’s a total pain in the rear-end in the offseason. This is how much the business has changed: In 1996, on a Wednesday night, Brett Favre told me, and only me, the story of why he was headed into rehab the next day in Kansas. It was ugly and involved a seizure on an operating table and scarfing down more than a dozen pills at the ESPYs, and so much regret and sadness. Problem was, I had no outlet for the story of the year. No website. No TV. No radio show. So I had to wait. My story would not be out for seven full days, until the next issue of the magazine hit the stands the following Wednesday, and then in mailboxes Thursday and Friday. Amazing thing is, it held. The story hit like a firecracker, particularly in Wisconsin, with the ugly details of Favre’s addiction.
Think what would have happened 20 years later. I’d have written the story live for The MMQB, then taken another angle and written for SI, and been on 10 or 15 talk shows, and maybe the TV highlight shows and news shows … all in the first 12 to 24 hours of the story. In 1996 it held for seven days. I often complain about what’s happened in our business, because we have too much news hole to fill constantly, even in 11 weeks of dead time from the draft to the opening of camps. But we’ve gone from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age in less than 20 years. He/she who adapts wins.
• Thank you, HBO family, for six years of big-league TV experience.
• Thank you, Dick Ebersol, for believing I could add something to your prime-time jewel, NBC Sunday Night Football, and for being a smart mentor. And thanks, Sam Flood and Rick Cordella, for keeping the door open for me lo these many years. Not sure exactly what the future holds, but I am excited about it.
• Thank you, Peyton Manning. More than any other player in my time covering the league, Manning understood the back-and-forth nature of our jobs. In training camp every year he’d grill me about where I’d been and who was saying what—any morsel of information that could help him even a little bit. Plus, he loved the gossip. In exchange, he knew what we wanted: colorful stories from the huddle and the field and sanitized ones from the locker room and the airplanes. He gave.
• Thank you, to so many, for the life of The MMQB. In particular, thanks to so many who helped us peel back the curtain and see what football really is.
• Thank you, Austen Lane. The ex-Jaguars defensive end agreed to open a vein and bleed for one of our first stories ever, about getting cut. We titled it: “What It’s Like to Get Whacked.” Really proud of that one, because Lane was so perfect, and described in such vivid detail the moment GM David Caldwell gave him the news.
“Austen,” the general manager says, looking me in the eyes. “We are releasing you.”
Cue numbness. A verbal lobotomy. That’s what the words “We are releasing you” feel like. I just sit, nodding my head like a human vegetable, saying nothing. Some sentences seep into my consciousness.
“You’re a great player.”
“We just can’t see you fitting the system.”
“You’ll get a shot on another team.”
The rest … gibberish.
• Thank you, Richard Sherman. I flew to Seattle after getting the OK to found the site, and appealed to him to be the only active NFL player to write a regular column during the season. We met at a Macklemore concert, of all places. It took me 10 minutes to convince him. Sherman was exceedingly confident, and he knew this would paint him in the exact light he wanted to be seen: smart, uber-competitive football player with big hopes and dreams outside of football. He was perfect for it. In his first column he said: “I know there are people out there—fans and other players—who say, ‘Just shut up and play.’ But that’s not me. Never has been, never will be. I can’t make everyone out there happy.” His columns were so him, like him or not. And he worked. The night of his Erin Andrews explosion, he wrote for us, explaining his fury.
• Thank you, Jerry Jones. More than any owner in my 34 years around pro football, Jones figured it out. He knew the game would not collapse if you open the world to see his product. In fact, it only makes the product more compelling. That’s why we wanted the first thing out of the box to be something people had never seen: a coach addressing his team at the start of training camp.
• Thank you, Gene Steratore and (then VP of Officiating) Dean Blandino, for opening the window into what the life of an officiating crew is really like. In my 38 years as a sportswriter, I never learned so much in one week as I did trailing Steratore and his crew all over the country as they did their civilian jobs during the week and prepped for Game 150 (the name of our series), Baltimore at Chicago.
• Thank you, Stevie Brown. The Giants’ safety tore his ACL early in 2013, and he and renowned surgeon James Andrews let Jenny Vrentas of our staff inside the operating theater to see the repair.
• Thank you, Carson Palmer, for illuminating a quarterback’s game week to me, starting when the game plan landed in Palmer’s email box Tuesday around dinnertime. If the ref week was one, this 2015 quarterback week before Arizona played Cleveland was two.
After an hour or so buried in the game plan diagrams, Palmer matter-of-factly said something that does not sound matter-of-fact when the words are spoken.
“I’m freaking out right now,” Palmer said, eyes buried in his notepad. “I have so much to do. But I’m weird. I’ll get it done, I always do. And I’ll get it done with plenty of time and I will feel fantastic on Friday. I’ll know what I am doing versus every possible Cleveland pressure. If we get that pressure we will gash that.
• Thank you to those in and around the league whose foresight and trust allowed us to do special reporting and projects: owner Robert Kraft of the Patriots, DeMaurice Smith and George Atallah of the NFL Players Association, commissioner Roger Goodell and schedulemeister Howard Katz of the NFL, Mike Tannenbaum of the Dolphins, John Mara of the Giants, president Rich McKay of the Falcons, Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, Saints coach Sean Payton, Hall of Fame VP Joe Horrigan, GMs John Schneider, Howie Roseman, Rick Spielman, Chris Ballard, John Dorsey, Mickey Loomis, Jason Light, Les Snead, Steve Keim and John Lynch, coaches Andy Reid, Dan Quinn, Sean McVay, Anthony Lynn, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin (excellent with our young staffers), Ron Rivera, Kyle Shanahan, Mike McCarthy and Todd Bowles.
• Thank you, Doug Pederson. By sharing so much interesting X’s-and-O’s stuff from the playoffs last year, and doing it humbly, Pederson taught so many football nerds and casual football fans that, with hard work and imagination, all things are possible … even beating the great Belichick in the Super Bowl.
• Thank you, Dan Rooney. The late Steelers owner always was the conscience of the league. On so many matters, Rooney was my first call to figure out what just happened.
• Thank you to those who have made The MMQB work: Greg Bedard, Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko and Andy Benoit (average age: 28) in year one, with Andrew Brandt writing a weekly business of football column … with Mark Mravic, Matt Gagne, Tom Mantzouranis and Dom Bonvissuto editing, John DePetro shooting and editing video, and Andy DeGory as staff assistant. Richard Deitsch, Andy Staples, Don Banks and Jim Trotter chipped in with smart regular columns too. The hunger, the aggressiveness, the want-to of the writers, the ideas. I will never be able to properly thank them for birthing this thing. Adding Albert Breer, Tim Rohan, Emily Kaplan, Jonathan Jones, Conor Orr and Jacob Feldman to write, and Gary Gramling to write and edit, and Bette Marston to plan and edit, and Kalyn Kahler to write and organize our lives, have been vital to our mission. Mravic has been crucial in the last couple of years, taking on more of the lead editor role—mainly because he’s better at it than I was.
That is giving all of those people too little credit for what we have become, and what we will be going forward. I am supremely confident that those left to carry on the mission of distinctive and thoughtful football reporting will do so exceedingly well. I know a few of the projects they’re working on right now, and you’re going to be thrilled to experience them in the coming months. You know what else I’m proud of? A diverse staff that I would not trade for any staff in sports media.
One of the things that fills me with pride is the way our writers and editors work. They care so much about doing the job right. I don’t think Jenny Vrentas owns a clock. How often we’ve talked at odd hours, and how often I’ve talked to Klemko and Benoit and Breer and Rohan and now Conor Orr—unless it’s 6 in the morning or 11 at night, I never think I’m bothering them. They want it so bad. It’s emotional just to think about their drive, their desire to be great.
• Thank you, Tom Brady. But this is a story about The MMQB as much as it’s a nod to Brady for giving up an afternoon of his vacation after the Super Bowl comeback from 25 points down to beat Atlanta in February 2017.
I asked Brady if he could spare one hour the week after the game, while his memory was fresh, to tell the story of the comeback of comebacks. He said okay, and we agreed to meet early Sunday afternoon, seven days after the game, at Brady’s hideaway in Montana. After I landed in Montana, on the one-hour drive to see Brady, Mravic and I talked, and he thought I should break this into two parts. Just too much stuff there. He said Chris Stone, the big boss, feels that way too. It didn’t feel right to me, but one thing I’ve learned in five years on this team is this: Listening is something I was bad at when I started the site in 2013. I think I’ve gotten better. This time I heard Mravic and Stone, and they were right—it would be a mistake to lead my Monday column with a 9,000-word Brady opus. Better to break it into two pieces, which would allow me to not just mash out an important story in a few hours. I would do a two-part series and if I was lucky enough, a long podcast with Brady as well.
So I got Brady, and recorded him for 86 minutes, a piece that will always seem to me as the first time I heard Brady not be press-conference Tom. And I’ll always be appreciative of Brady giving up his time and being so frank on so many subjects that day. He was great.
I was driving away … and thought, I’ve got all this tape of an interview to get transcribed. How would I do that? I called two of my backbones, Kalyn Kahler and Emily Kaplan, and asked for their help. I hardly had to ask. Down the mountain from Brady, I stopped in some little town and got WiFi, and sent the entire 86 minutes, at 5:15 p.m. Eastern. Emily and Kalyn divvied it up. By 10 ET that night, in time for me to write for Monday, Kalyn and Emily, who had dropped everything, had the transcriptions to me—18,000 words’ worth. No money. No overtime. They just cared enough about a story to give up their Sundays to work for the team. I’ll remember that experience with Brady on a mountain in Montana for a long time. I’ll remember the selflessness of the team longer. All of us who have been sportswriters understand the business: We’re essentially independent contractors. It’s almost always up to us and us alone—which makes the times we’ve teamed together so rewarding to me. Kahler, Kaplan, Mravic, Stone … all played a big part in that day.
And so a great core will live on, and will bring you the smartest and most distinctive pro football coverage in the world. I’m so proud I got a chance to work with such a great group.
• Thank you, fact-checkers and writers and editors at SI, and the business team led by Danny Lee, and the web team led by Mark McClusky and Ryan Hunt and Ben Eagle, and so many others at the magazine and SI.com and the web world to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. You worked as hard as I did to make this idea work. I so admire your dedication.
• Thank you, The MMQB.
And this self-deprecating note:
I was actually hired to go to a fantasy football convention in Red Wing, Minn., to dispense advice in August. I told the fans that if they couldn’t get one of the stud quarterbacks, solve your running back and receiver needs first, then wait and get Washington’s Danny Wuerffel, who would have a good year playing in Steve Spurrier’s offense.
“You’re smoking crack!” a guy yelled.
Whatever one thinks of King, and we 90% like him, you have to admire the process he took/takes week after week to produce his Monday opus while doing other things during the week.