My last column before three Mondays off—you will love the substitutes, so come back on June 26, July 3 and July 10 for great prose and information. Today is a surprising hodgepodge, followed by my annual section of commencement speeches from campuses around the country. (Theo Epstein had a gem at Yale.) Enjoy the column.
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Look at this photo. Tom West, the longtime Vikings PR man, took it the other day in fellow PR man Bob Hagan’s office at the Vikings’ headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn.
It’s beautiful. Hartman, 97, the longtime Minnesota columnist and radio host who is still working every week, is on the left, interviewing Moss, 40, who was in town to be told his number was being retired, and he would be enshrined in the team’s Ring of Honor. The two have had an interesting relationship. When Moss was under fire as a Viking for playing hard when he felt like it, Hartman interviewed him, and Moss famously said, “I play when I want to play.” They clashed over that, though all Hartman was doing was quoting (and in effect excoriating) the best receiver in the game.
I talked to Moss about the photo, and asked him about the meaning of his meeting and his interview with the raspy, indefatigable Hartman.
“Respect your elders,” Moss said. “I love Sid.”
It was interesting to hear Moss talk about Hartman the day after he met him, and the day he was honored by the Vikings. If you recall, Moss was pretty ticked off when the Vikings dispatched him to Oakland after seven starry seasons in 2005. Moss had the best debut of any receiver in NFL history—he had 53 touchdown catches in his first four years. When people thought he was a loafer in the twilight, at 30, he had the greatest season a wideout ever had, catching 23 touchdown passes at age 30 for New England in 2007. An amazing career, yet the petulance dogs him. He knows. And he’s matured about it all.
“All the flak I took, everything I dealt with coming from high school and college, and then for them to give this award, the Ring of Honor, I am speechless. I really am,” Moss told me. “It was such a great day. I am so honored. What it makes me realize is: I did something right.”
“When we talked, the conversation was so genuine,” Moss said. “I loved it, really. Good or bad, our relationship developed. Through everything, Sid showed me respect. To sum it up, I am speaking for a lot of the guys I played with here in Minnesota: He earned his stripes. He earned our respect, by working, by being there. He’s done it, for so long, for so much of history. He’s seen so much. He’s old enough to be our great-grandfather.”
On Sunday morning from 9 to noon, Hartman hosted his weekly radio show on WCCO in Minneapolis. It’s been a community staple for more than 20 years. “People get out of church and turn on the radio to see what Sid’s saying,” Hagan said. “It’s been that way for years.” Nice guest list this week: Moss, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau … and little old me. Hartman doesn’t hear as well as he used to, and sometimes the questions have to be re-asked to him. But he answers them. “Why,” I asked Hartman, “does someone your age who grew up in a different world than guys like Moss get along with them so well?”
“I can’t explain it,” Hartman said over the airwaves. “It’s just worked out from day one. The biggest mistake the Vikings ever made was trading Randy Moss.” Now Moss is back in the fold, sort of. Bygones have faded. And Hartman and Moss, 57 years apart, are left standing.
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John Wooten is 80 now. The 10-year NFL guard blocked for Jim Brown in Cleveland and, as the chair of the quality-advocacy Fritz Pollard Alliance for the past 14 years, fought for equal rights for minority coaches, scouts and front-office officials. He is the quintessential NFL lifetimer, a classic devotee of the game who, at the same time, who would consider his life diminished if he didn’t leave the game more egalitarian than he found it.
So after Washington president Bruce Allen named Doug Williams the team’s senior vice president of player personnel—the first African-American head of player acquisition in franchise history—Wooten had to be feeling some sense of pride. Not only had this franchise been the last team in pro football to integrate its roster (amazingly late, in 1962), but no minority had ever run the personnel side of the building in its 85-year history … until last week.
This is a historic day for the league, really. It’s a bit of an invented stat, but it’s true: The 32 NFL franchises now have a total of 15 minorities either coaching the team or running the personnel side of the team. Never in league annals have at least seven head coaches and general manager/personnel czars run teams. But this year there will be a total of 15 minorities coaching or running the personnel side. (It was 10 as recently as 2013.)
“It’s so gratifying,” Wooten said from his home in Texas over the weekend. “It tells me how far we’ve come as a league. I will never forget, years ago, when [Dallas president] Tex Schramm said to me, ’You’re trying to tell us who to hire!’ I said, ’No, Tex. We simply want a chance to interview for these jobs.’ And now, everyone is just trying to do what they can to make equal opportunity in coaching and the front office a reality.”
• The minority coaches (eight): Ron Rivera (Carolina), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Hue Jackson (Cleveland), Vance Joseph (Denver), Jim Caldwell (Detroit), Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh).
• The personnel czars (seven): Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore), Sashi Brown (Cleveland), Rick Smith (Houston), Reggie McKenzie (Oakland), Chris Grier (Miami), Jerry Reese (New York Giants), Doug Williams (Washington).
Williams never thought he’d get the shot. But he grew up being told opportunities would come because of merit, not color, and that was reinforced by his coach at historically black Grambling, where Williams played quarterback. “Eddie Robinson never said, ’You can do this because you’re black,’” said Williams. “He said, ’If you’re ever going to get a chance, you’re going to get a chance in America.’ And here it is.”
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Every year, I give you what I consider the best of the commencement speeches of the spring. I certainly do not comb through them all … but I did read or view a few dozen this year, and found these lessons/valuable tales from some excellent campus addresses to those going off to live their lives.
(Editor’s note: Click speaker name for full speech video/transcript, where applicable.)
“Always remember that you follow in the wake of heroes … When I think of those who have gone before, I think of just a half-century ago, a young man from Trussville, Alabama, did just what you all did. He’d answered the call to put on the uniform and he was sitting right where you’re sitting. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967. Not too long after that, he sailed across the Pacific to join the fight for freedom in the jungles of Vietnam. One day, assigned to a small boat unit, he was working with his team to extract a group of Navy SEALs from behind enemy lines, when his boat was ambushed. He was thrown overboard, wounded by shrapnel. But he still found within himself the strength and courage to swim back to his nearly empty boat and provide cover fire for his brothers. Despite his own injuries, he personally tended to the wounded. He refused medical assistance until all his brothers-in-arms had been treated. He was awarded the Silver Star for his peerless bravery and leadership under fire. Fifty years ago, he was sitting right where you’re sitting today. He went on from that moment to serve with distinction—7th Fleet Commander, Fleet Forces Commander, and when he retired in 2003, he had risen to the rank of a four-star admiral. And that young man from that small town is with us today. Would you join me in welcoming Admiral Robert Natter, of the Class of 1967, who joins us here today?
“But to the members of the Naval Academy Class of 2017, I say to all of you: What do you want to be thinking when you’re sitting here 50 years from now? Because we’ll tell you it will come a lot quicker than you think. I know in my heart you want to be every bit as heroic and defined as leaders as those who have gone before, any one of the members of the Class of 1967 who are here. So my challenge to all of you today is: Write your own story—right now, in your mind. See it and go live it. Write a historic and heroic story of service and selflessness and leadership, and then make it happen.”
(Abridged) “Class of 2017, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to tell you just one baseball story. The story is about a very important game—Game 7 of last year’s World Series—but has little to do with the actual outcome of the game. I watched Game 7 from the stands with my colleagues, my wife Marie, and my oldest son Jack, who was then eight years old. Jack, a big baseball fan and the math whiz of the family, kept me updated on the Cubs’ win probability throughout the game. As we enjoyed a two-run lead after five innings, he tapped me on the leg: ’Dad, we have a 67 percent chance of winning the World Series.’ ’I know, buddy. It’s going well. But, remember, it’s baseball. Lots of things can happen.’
“… Then, out of nowhere, as storm clouds suddenly moved into the area: an infield single, a double, an errant fastball, a fateful swing, an impossible home run, and a tie game. Minutes later, the skies opened up and rain halted the action. It was just enough of a pause to ponder the magnitude of the situation. Extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. An entire season, down to this one moment, a five-year plan, down to this moment, 108 years of patience and unrequited love from our fans, down to this moment.
“Still in a bit of a daze, I cut through our clubhouse toward a meeting about the weather. Turning a corner, I saw, through the window of the weight room door, the backs of our players’ blue jerseys, shoulder to shoulder and packed tightly, all 25 guys squeezed into a space designed for half that many. I inched closer to the door and saw Aroldis Chapman, the pitcher who had surrendered the tying home run, in tears. I lingered just long enough to hear a few sentences.
“’We would not even be here without you,’ catcher David Ross said as he embraced Chapman. ’We are going to win this for you. We are going to win this for each other.’
“Ten minutes later, the rain cleared. In the bottom of the 10th, with the tying run on base and the winning run at the plate, at 12:47 a.m., Kris Bryant fielded a slow roller with a gigantic smile on his face and threw to Rizzo for the final out. We had won the World Series.
“After all the champagne had dried and we finally got a good night’s sleep, I found myself returning to a simple question: What should I tell Jack and his younger brother, Drew, about this historic achievement? I thought immediately of the players’ meeting during the rain delay, and how connected they were with each other, how invested they were in each other’s fates, how they turned each other’s tears into determination … One day I will tell Jack and Drew that some players—and some of us—go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players—and others amongst us—go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. There will be times when everything you have been wanting, everything you have worked for, everything you have earned, everything you feel you deserve is snatched away in what seems like a personal and unfair blow. This, I will tell them, is called life. But when these moments happen, and they will, will you be alone at your locker with your head down, lamenting, divvying up blame; or will you be shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, connected, with your heads up, giving and receiving support?
“Early in my career, I used to think of players as assets, statistics on a spreadsheet I could use to project future performance and measure precisely how much they would impact our team on the field. I used to think of teams as portfolios, diversified collections of player assets paid to produce up to their projections to ensure the organization’s success. I grew and my team- building philosophy grew as well. The truth—as our team proved in Cleveland—is that a player’s character matters. The heartbeat matters.”
“Here at Wellesley you learned the power of service. The Wellesley motto [’Not to be ministered unto, but to minister’] is kind of an old-fashioned rendering of President Kennedy’s great statement: ’Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ Not long ago I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out, and like a lot of people they’re wondering, ’What do we do now?’ Well, I think there’s only one answer. Keep going.
“Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger. Those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private, in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods, and do it in public. In media posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day.
“Get involved in a cause that matters to you. Pick one. Start somewhere. You don’t have to do everything. But don’t sit on the sidelines. And you know what? Get to know your elected officials. If you disagree with them, ask questions. Challenge them. Better yet, run for office yourself someday. Now, that’s not for everybody. I know. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. As they say in one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own, ’It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.’”
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Michele Norris, former NPR host
Quinnipiac University School of Communications
“How much candy did you get on Halloween? How many soccer games did your team win? How many badges are on your Girl Scout uniform? How many friends, or followers, or likes have you amassed on Facebook? It continues into college with grades and internships and measures of popularity—and continues into adulthood with salaries and promotions and the cost of one’s home or car or vacation. My great hope for the Class of 2017 is that you think long and hard about how you measure success and you understand the satisfaction, the self-confidence and the self-worth that comes from the pursuit of excellence on one’s own terms.
“If you want to conquer the world, you have to understand it. The concern is that we are losing the ability to actively listen and therefore to engage in deep and meaningful conversation, that as we pull deeper inside ourselves with our headphones and personal devices and timelines full of people we choose to ’like’ or to ’follow,’ we put less of a premium on engagement with people we might not like or don’t want to follow.”
“In your careers, you’re going to take on tasks that you think are beneath you. But that is no excuse to do a crummy job. You said you’re going to do it. Do it, and do it on time. Be the best damn food-getter, coffee-maker, note-taker you possibly can because that is integrity. It is also, by the way, how you earn your next job. I found out early on as a young banker my hidden talent as the most talented dinner reservationist in the greater New York City area circa 1997 to 2000. And getting the most impossible tables at the hottest places resulted in me spending hours with some of the most impressive investors in all of finance. How? By making all those dinner reservations, I made sure I had a seat at those tables.
“Just try to be good, which won’t always happen. So say you’re sorry. You’re going to screw up. It’s inevitable. No one has a perfect record. Last winter, I accidentally spread fake news. Especially right now, it is the worst thing a journalist could do. Someone tweets at me that Fox News is having their Christmas party at the Trump DC Hotel. I didn’t plan to do anything with it. I didn’t even know it registered in my mind. But the next day, while covering potential conflicts of interest, I blurted it out — seven words that I found out quickly are not true. I spend hours and hours on TV dealing in facts. But for those four seconds, I was fake news. So I go back on air, and I say I was wrong. I apologize. Now not nearly as many people wrote about my apology as they did about me spreading the fake news. But the people who matter, they cared because good people forgive you when you admit mistakes and apologize. So clean your house. A good apology is like a gallon of ammonia on the floor of Theta Xi after a Beirut tournament. We are all human, and we do bad things sometimes. Just admit it and try to move on. The truth is, nobody is going to save you—not your parents, your friends, your spouses, your kids. Only you can.”
“As you find your ways to serve humanity, it gives me great comfort knowing this generation is the first that understands that we need to lift up our women. Imagine the possibilities when we remove imbalance from the ether. Imagine the possibilities when women are not held back. Your generation is unraveling deeply entrenched laws, principles and misguided values that have held women back for far too long and therefore, have held us back. The world you will live in will be better for it. This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. It makes some people uncomfortable. But just imagine the possibilities.”
“Our generation will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks. But we have the potential to do so much more together.
“Every generation has its defining works. More than 300,000 people worked to put a man on the moon. Millions of volunteers immunized children around the world against polio. Millions of more people built the Hoover dam and other great projects. These projects didn’t just provide purpose for the people doing those jobs, they gave our whole country a sense of pride that we could do great things. Now it’s our turn to do great things.
“I know. You’re probably thinking: I don’t know how to build a dam, or get a million people involved in anything. But let me tell you a secret: no one does when they begin. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook. Movies and pop culture get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. … In our society, we often don’t do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.
“So what are we waiting for? It’s time for our generation-defining public works. How about stopping climate change before we destroy the planet and getting millions of people involved in manufacturing and installing solar panels? How about curing all diseases and asking volunteers to track their health data and share their genomes? Today we spend 50 times more treating people who are sick than we spend finding cures so people don’t get sick in the first place. That makes no sense. We can fix this. How about modernizing democracy so everyone can vote online, and personalizing education so everyone can learn? These achievements are within our reach. Let’s do them all in a way that gives everyone in our society a role. Let’s do big things, not only to create progress, but to create purpose.”
Note: Part of Spencer’s address was about succeeding later in life.
“If I had to read ’25 Actresses Who Broke Through Before 25′ when I was first starting out, I tell you guys, I would have stayed in bed. Because I guarantee you that none of them looked like me. None of them. So know this: As much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming. You’re going to continue to evolve in unforeseen ways. You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will. It’s sure different for me. You see, my 21-year-old self thought that 45 was old. Oh yeah, she’s nodding on the front row, you think it’s old, too. But trust me, you will get here one day. And 45 will feel as good as 30. Anyway, I thought that by this age, I’d be done with my semi-successful acting career, but married and raising a family. Well, I wasn’t semi-successful as an actress, I’m hugely successful—but unmarried and no family. Life is unpredictable. But I’m still extremely happy. Very, very, very, very happy.”
“The defining moments in our lives often don’t come with advance warning. I had such an experience recently with the travel ban. It is a tradition for the Deputy Attorney General to stay on as the acting Attorney General during a change in administration. It’s important for continuity, so I agreed to stay on as Acting Attorney General during the few weeks that we anticipated it would take for President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to be confirmed. I was in the car on my way to the airport to go home to Atlanta for the weekend late in the afternoon of Friday, January 27 when I learned, from media reports, that the President had signed an executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim majority countries. This was the first we had even heard of it, but within a matter of hours, we were going to have to send Department of Justice lawyers into courts across the country to defend the executive order, and on Monday, I learned that we had to take a position on the constitutionality of the order.
“This was not what I was expecting. Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into an exhausting discussion of immigration or constitutional law. And I appreciate that people of good will have different views on the legality of the order as well as what I should have done in this scenario. But I do think it’s illustrative of an unexpected moment where the law and conscience intersected, and a decision had to be made in a very short period of time.
“I came to the conclusion that defending the constitutionality of the travel ban would require the Department of Justice to argue that the executive order had nothing to do with religion—that it was not intended to disfavor Muslims, despite numerous prior statements by the President and his surrogates regarding his intent to effectuate a Muslim ban. I believed that this would require us to advance a pretext—a defense not grounded in truth, so I directed the DOJ not to defend the executive order. There wasn’t much time to examine the weighty constitutional law concepts at issue here or to craft the directive to the department. But I didn’t make the decision just within the 72 hours from the time I learned of the ban until the time I issued the directive. That decision was the result of what others had taught me over my entire 27 years with the Justice Department.
“The compass that is inside all of us, that compass that guides us in times of challenge, is being built every day with every experience. I was fortunate to have learned from some inspiring people in my life who not only served as role models, but who challenged my thinking on issues and molded my core. Over the course of your life and career, you, too, will face weighty decisions where law and conscience intertwine. And while it may not play out in such a public way, the conflict you will feel will be no less real, and the consequences of your decisions also significant. The time for introspection is all along the way, to develop a sense of who you are and what you stand for. Because you never know when you will be called upon to answer that question.”
“Your generation can bring people together like no other. You can innovate, create, and lead. Your generation will transform our economy and create millions of new jobs. You will develop cleaner energy. You will make it so racism only exists in history books. Yes, you will. You will be the generation that teaches the world that we are at our best when we recognize, respect, and celebrate our diversity. You can and you will make your mark on our country and our shared humanity.”
Robert Klemko of The MMQB polled 51 players in the Denver Broncos locker room toward the end of the 2016 season for a team census. “What, exactly, are you trying to prove?” then-Bronco Russell Okung asked Klemko.
Nothing, and everything. We were trying to find out the demographic of one NFL team Nothing more, nothing less. Whatever the results were, they were. A few responses were eye-opening, like the voting pattern of the locker room in an election that had much at stake for the country. Thirty-four players, a full 66.7 percent, told Klemko they had not voted in the 2016 election. That’s disturbing to me. But other points, about life and background and beliefs, made this a very interesting read. (Thanks to The MMQB’s graphics team, and to editor Gary Gramling, for their work on it.)
This also was curious: Of the 24 players on the team who received 10 or more college scholarship offers, 13 received college degrees. Of the 19 players who got five offers or fewer, 17 got their degrees. Not sure what that means … it could be coincidental—or it could be that the less privileged among the players worked harder on academics in college.
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“Sometimes you’ve got to get J.J. Watt out of practice just so you can complete a pass.”
—Houston coach Bill O’Brien, after practice the other day.
Sounds like Watt’s getting back to full health.
“I’ve lost nothing.”
—32-year-old Adrian Peterson, to Albert Breer of The MMQB, at Saints practice last week, on how much he’s got left in the tank with his new team.
“Even when you go to kindergarten, somebody has to be the teacher.”
—Jets coach Todd Bowles, on the influence of quarterback Josh McCown, 38 on the Fourth of July, on the Jets’ young roster.
“I’ll tell you the guy that’s really stood out—Andre Holmes. He’s done a phenomenal job, not only on offense, but on special teams. And I really appreciate his leadership.”
—Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, on former Raiders wideout Holmes, a five-year-veteran, after a full-squad practice last week.
“Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes has left tonight’s game due to the game situation.”
—Press box announcement at Citi Field in New York in the fifth inning of the Cubs-Mets game Tuesday night. Chicago led 9-1 at the time.
Funny announcement. I wonder what the alternative announcement would have been? Maybe: “Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes has left tonight’s game due to the utter hopelessness of the evening.” The final: Cubs 14, Mets 3.
Fahey watches every snap of every NFL game, to study quarterbacks. It’s really quite intense, and quite informative. The part of his book I found more interesting is the section on interceptable passes. Those numbers are exactly what they sound like: a ball thrown poorly enough that it should have been intercepted, whether it was or not.
The 2016 list (minimum 300 attempts) of interception-prone throwers will interest you … and that’s because, in terms of the quarterback who was most careful with the ball in 2016, a currently unemployed quarterback topped the list.
Quarterbacks who threw the least-interceptable balls, by percentage, 2016:
1. Colin Kaepernick, SF
2. Tyrod Taylor, BUF
3. Sam Bradford, MIN
4. Aaron Rodgers, GB
5. Dak Prescott, DAL
Quarterbacks who threw the most-interceptable balls, by percentage, 2016:
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ
2. Brock Osweiler, HOU
3. Jameis Winston, TB
4. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
5. Cam Newton, CAR
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Teammates on the South squad in the 1978 Senior Bowl: Grambling quarterback Doug Williams and Alabama tight end Ozzie Newsome.
Personnel czars 39 years later in the corridor surrounding the nation’s capitol: Washington senior VP Doug Williams and Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome.
April 17, 2004: Diana Taurasi selected first by Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA draft.
April 24, 2004: Larry Fitzgerald selected third by Arizona Cardinals in the NFL draft.
Both still playing. (H/T to Mark Dalton, Cards PR man.)
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Knowledge gleaned from a visit to get a chock-full sandwich Saturday afternoon at Primanti Bros., in downtown Pittsburgh: The ring around the neck of the 12-ounce Iron City Beer bottle has a drawing of Bill Mazeroski romping triumphantly around the bases, with MAZEROSKI in red. Man, they love their history in Pittsburgh. Mazeroski’s World Series-winning home run, causing him to cavort like that, happened 57 years ago.
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On June 11, Michael Floyd had completed 91 of 96 days of home arrest. He is forbidden from alcohol. All tests were under the .08 legal limit— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 16, 2017
Floyd is due in court on June 26 after violating the terms of his house arrest, testing positive for alcohol on June 11. Floyd says his positive alcohol test was due to drinking Kombucha tea.
I like the @Redskins promoting Doug Williams to Sr. VP of Personnel. He has great instincts in evaluating people and talent @nflnetwork— Charley Casserly (@CharleyCasserly) June 13, 2017
Over the loudspeaker on my flight: “As a reminder federal law prohibits customers from drinking their own alcohol while aboard the aircraft”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 13, 2017
White Sox to retire Mark Buehrle’s jersey on June 24. Ceremony expected to last less than ten seconds. . ..— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) June 15, 2017
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1. I think as teams dispersed from practices and camps this summer, and prepare to take four or five weeks off from this demanding life, I urge all of them to take it. The game has become waaaaay too life-dominating. You need time off, folks.
2. I think these are a few quick thoughts I want to get on the record:
a. This website is losing one of our stalwart reporters, Emily Kaplan, to a new job. (She would prefer to make the announcement about her destination, and I am going to let her, at the time of her choosing.) We are sad about that, of course, because Emily is one of the best young journalists covering pro football. She’s helped us raise our game with her doggedness and her tireless reporting, and I know she’s going to have a great career. More about Emily to come in the near future. But I’m glad to have had the chance to work with her as her career takes off. Emily’s a great example of a young person in a changing business who tried everything—video, podcasts, audio reporting, columns—and wasn’t content to simply be a classic sportswriter. She’ll be missed.
b. Congrats to both the PR staffs of the Texans and Ravens for the victories in the annual Pro Football Writers of America awards in helping football media do our jobs. Both groups are terrific. I want to point out the first female PR czar to ever win this award, senior director of communications Amy Palcic of the Texans, has come a long way by the sweat of her brow to be one of the best in the business. Eight years ago, she was in essence demoted in Cleveland over an incident with tight end Kellen Winslow, and she wouldn’t stand for it. She left the Browns, ended up landing in Houston, and was promoted to this job two years ago. Good things come to those who work—and who prepare.
c. In 2015, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) helped sponsor the Steve Gleason Act, a bill fashioned to help former Saint Steve Gleason making speech-generating devices easier to get and use for patients suffering from crushing disorders like ALS. Scalise, from Metairie, site of the Saints’ training facility, is a huge Saints fan, often appearing at practices just to watch … he was there, in fact, in May to watch the team. That’s why the shooting of Scalise at a baseball practice last week hit the Saints’ franchise so hard, and why they sent—and continued to send—wishes, prayers and offers of owner Tom Benson’s plane to the family.
d. Kudos to the Dolphins, starting with owner Stephen Ross, in emphasizing voter registration with their players. A team spokesman said Friday that 90 percent of the players on the roster, helped by a team voter registration drive, are now registered to vote in general elections.
3. I think there’s a great lesson in Zach Strief, the Saints’ tackle, right now. Forward-thinking guy. I heard him on Albert Breer’s podcast this week. Strief on finding a post-career passion: “It’s been a series of guys, players who’ve been here who I respect highly, guys that I think the world of that are good guys—smart, intelligent, sharp—that have struggled with that transition. It’s no different than if I came to you tomorrow and said, ’Hey, Albert, sorry, it’s not your decision, but you can never be a reporter ever again, so figure something out.’ That’s a really tough reality for someone who has spent a long time doing one thing. It’s very difficult for guys mentally to deal with that, and I got to see that. I got to see some older players come back and say, ’Hey, I’m struggling a little bit figuring out what I’m going to do.’ Or, ’Hey, I’ve got some opportunities but I’m the intern, so I went from being a pro athlete to having a job that a 22-year-old with no work experience has.’ That’s tough for a 33-year-old man who’s grown accustomed to living his life a certain way. And so those realities hit home and I realized, hey, you need to be on the lookout for something.” Strief, his father-in-law and three other partners founded Port Orleans Brewing. (And no, I did not write about this just because it’s beer.)
4. I think I’m excited that we introduced a new feature at The MMQB last week. “The Exit Interview,” which will feature things learned and lessons passed on by prominent football players/coaches/front office people/media when they retire or lose their jobs. Our first episode: Bob McGinn, who, after 38 years covering the Packers, voluntarily left the beat for a new life in Michigan. I always admired McGinn because of his work ethic, his brains, his fierce independence. He made me a better follower of football. Listen to his warning about the in-house nature of so much football writing and coverage these days: “Teams want to play the games and cover the games; they want to do both. All these team websites are just a pox on our business. All the coverage is slanted. It’s all pro-team and the people who cover, who work for a network one way or another that is paying the league billions of dollars to broadcast games and be partners, everything they say I take with a grain of salt. It’s left all to beat writers and magazine guys apart from these teams and networks who have independence to dissect the game and look at things with an unbiased eye.” Strong words, and apt ones.
5. I think, however, there are some very good team-website features I’ve found. One is the inside-football reporting from former scout Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys site. Check out his Wednesday practice report from minicamp. Two very interesting things: First-round washout Jonathan Cooper spent the day on perhaps the best offensive line in football starting at left guard; that’s a eye-popper in itself. But also this from Broaddus’ practice report: “The one guy that is able to give Zack Martin trouble is Maliek Collins. It’s rare that you see Martin get knocked off balance against power, but that’s what Collins was able to do during the Team Period.” That’s good reporting.
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
6. I think, as an aside, this is what I think when I see that Maliek Collins is creating some havoc in drills at a Cowboys practice: I covered the Cowboys’ draft last year, and the team’s number one target as the first round went on (after the drafting of Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick) was Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. Dallas was offering the 34th and 101st overall picks for a low-first-round pick. Seattle wanted Dallas’ 34th and 67th picks. Dallas balked. Seattle traded with Denver, and it’s Denver who got Lynch with the 26th pick in the first round. So if Dallas had traded 34 and 67, three things would have happened:
• The Cowboys would have picked Lynch and not Dak Prescott. Judging by Lynch’s uneven first camp and season, and the fact that he’s a slight underdog to beat out Trevor Siemian this year, it’s almost inarguable that Prescott with the 135th overall pick was a better choice than Lynch at 26.
• The Cowboys would not have picked Collins to fortify the then-weakest position group on the team—defensive line.
• The Cowboys would not have picked Jaylon Smith at 34. He’s the Notre Dame linebacker who would have been a top-five pick in the draft had he not suffered a bad knee injury in his final college game. There’s still no guarantee he’ll be a good NFL player, but he’s an intriguing prospect who, if he makes it, could be the Cowboys’ post-Sean Lee defensive team leader. So … overall, sometimes the best decisions are the ones you don’t make.
7. I think there are two long-gone players, above all those who have been on the ballot for years, who I would like to see elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: wide receiver Cliff Branch of the Raiders and defensive lineman Joe Klecko of the Jets.
8. I think it was interesting to see that Pete Prisco of CBS Sports asked some Falcons the other day how they felt about the Patriots having 283 tiny diamonds on their Super Bowl rings this year. The meaning: 283, as in coming back from a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl 51. Prisco said he could tell the Falcons players didn’t like it. I say so what. If I’m the Patriots, 283 is a tremendous point of pride, noting the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. When I heard the Patriots had 283 diamonds on each ring, I didn’t take it in any way as a slap in the face to the Falcons. I took it only as a “look what we did” memento. If the Falcons are upset about it, maybe they should be. Maybe they should be reminded that blowing a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of a Super Bowl just doesn’t get swept under the rug. It’s real.
Rob Foldy/Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
9. I think this is what’s it’s come to for Josh Freeman, the former first-round pick of the Bucs who blew out his career by being a laissez-faire practice player and poor off-season preparer: He had a tryout for Montreal of the Canadian Football League the other day. He’s not good enough to be in camp with a CFL team—he’s got to try out for a spot in training camp. I’m not trying to jump on Freeman, but he knows now he blew his best chance to be a starting NFL quarterback by not working hard enough when he had the chance.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Column of the Week: From Tara Sullivan of the North Jersey Record, on the longtime defensive coach Denny Marcin fighting for a new lung, and for his life.
b. Horrible Column of the Week: From Philadelphia columnist Christine Flowers, when the Bill Cosby deliberations were happening, on the wronging of Bill Cosby.
c. Flowers on Cosby: “If I had my way, we’d never come to verdict on this case. The greatest damage has already been done, and that is the shattering of beloved myths and comforting relationships by the proxy of television and nostalgia. Bill Cosby is Cliff Huxtable, regardless of what the critics say.”
d. My lord. How can a responsible person write that?
e. Skip Bayless, you’ve got to drop this LeBron-is-just-okay crap. He’s an all-time-great player who loses games. You look silly making him into some latter-day Shawn Kemp.
f. The Twins’ ninth-place hitter, Eddie Rosario, hit three homers in a game Tuesday night, seven days after a 5-10, 185-pound utility player for the Reds, Scooter Gennett, hit four in a game. Weird.
g. Congrats to Ed Werder, a deserving recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Dick McCann Award, given annually to a member of the Pro Football Writers of America who has given the nation long and meritorious service covering the game. Werder’s a great example of a modern media utility player—he was excellent as a newspaper beat man, excellent as a TV correspondent covering the league, and now is transitioning to being excellent at podcasting. Who knows what’s next? Werder was one of the many who got caught up in the ESPN whackings earlier this year. Whatever it is, he’ll do it well.
h. Coffeenerdness: The Starbucks in Manhattan on Broadway, between 95th and 96th, is a delightful place. It’s like the United Nations in there, with baristas of at least four nationalities and a clientiele ranging from soccer mom to Orthodox Jew to eighty-something New York Times crossword-practitioners. Cool spot.
i. Beernerdness: It’s good what’s happening in the New York craft beer scene. Most of these bars used to have two or three craft taps. The other day, at Rye House on West 17th Street, I found 12 New York State craft beers. It’s cool to see so many local establishments being supported by people who like beer.
j. Player of the Week: Colton Ryan, understudy, “Dear Evan Hansen.” There’s a play on Broadway called “Dear Evan Hansen” that just won the Tony for best musical of the year. My wife and I went to see it last week—and were chagrined to find a little piece of paper inserted into our Playbill program. The actor named this year’s best actor in a musical, Ben Platt (playing Evan Hansen) would be replaced by his understudy, Colton Ryan. In fact, I notice one playgoer, a high-school or college-aged boy, get visibly upset across the aisle when he discovered Platt was sitting out the evening’s performance. I looked up Colton Ryan in the little bios in the Playbill. The only one listed was The Idaho Shakespeare Festival. He was a 2017 graduate of Baldwin Wallace University. This is the guy, with the only experience on his resume in Idaho (outside of a small college in Ohio) playing the lead in the hottest play on Broadway? It’s like the Yankees calling up a shortstop from the Rookie League to play when Jeter needs a night off. How wrong I was. Colton Ryan made us laugh (a little), cry (a little more) and emote (a lot) for almost three hours. Great play—one of the best I’ve seen. Ryan’s voice, gold. Now I’m glad I got to see this play with a guy whose dreams, I’m sure, are being made every night he takes the stage in a Tony-winning musical.
k. Hey Scott Pelley: Thanks for the great newscasts over the past six years. You’ve got an admirer here. Good luck doing great stories for “60 Minutes.”
l. I was lucky to marry into my wife Ann’s family, an Italian family from Pittsburgh. And the last one of Ann’s aunts died Friday, a wonderful and giving and selfless lady named Mary Gianfrancesco. I’m such a better person for having known her.
m. I will be away the next three Mondays. Actually, the next two weeks I’ll be working on the future of this website, meeting with advertisers in different parts of the country, trying to ensure our long-term future. And then I’ll be off for a spell. You’ll love our next three guest columnists for Monday Morning Quarterback. I’ll return July 17 to kick off one of the coolest things we’ve done here at this site: The MMQB’s All-Time NFL Draft, with some of the greats who have ever drafted football players. Can’t wait to pull back the curtain. See you July 17.
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Vaca time for teams.
Go away. Go far away.
Save your sanity.