On March 31, two days after returning from a historic NFL owners meeting in Arizona (for several reasons), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Pittsburgh to see the ailing Steelers owner, Dan Rooney. Goodell feared what he might see. Rooney, 84 and seriously ill, was now in a rehabilitation facility with major back problems and an undisclosed ailment. Goodell hadn’t seen him since Super Bowl Sunday in Houston.
When Goodell opened the door to Rooney’s room, Rooney was in bed, too weak to get up and greet him. A slim man already, Rooney had lost weight. But when he saw Goodell, Rooney smiled broadly.
“Commissioner,” Rooney said.
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Goodell didn’t want to get emotional just then. It was difficult. “I flashed back,” Goodell said Sunday afternoon. “It was exactly the same thing he’d said to me once before.”
Eerily, it was. Same word, same smile too, as on a hot day in August 2006, in a hotel in Northbrook, Ill. In a ballroom of the hotel, the 32 NFL owners ended a lengthy debate about the man they’d elect to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, choosing Goodell over league lawyer Gregg Levy. One of the league’s biggest power players for four decades, Dan Rooney, was dispatched to give the winner the news. Rooney went to room 755 and knocked on the door.
When Goodell opened the door, Rooney smiled broadly.
“Commissioner,” Rooney said.
* * *
The NFL is buzzing, with the first round of a mysterious draft 10 days away, with no quarterback emerging as the favorite for at least five QB-desperate teams, with Marshawn Lynch in Raider limbo, and with vice president of officiating Dean Blandino quitting at a terrible time as the NFL gets ready to run replay out of New York this year. Dan Rooney died Thursday, and it took the media world a half day to move on to the next story. I know how it works. But this week, I’m not moving on. When a Mount Rushmore figure in NFL history dies, he’s going to get his due in this column. I hope you read about Rooney, but if not, there’s 6,000 more words here about the rest of the football world. Before that, I’m going to try to explain why Dan Rooney matters, and why he’ll be missed for years to come.
* * *
Thirteen days after Goodell’s hospital visit, Rooney died, and so much of the history of the league (and the all-for-one, one-for-all nature of the old NFL) died with him. Rooney had a key role in four labor negotiations; I believe he’s the most significant diplomat between players and owners in NFL history, and that had much to do with him skating into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Rooney stuck his neck out to hire the unknown Chuck Noll, 37, in 1969 (and to keep him when the Steelers went 12-30 in his first three years) and the unknown Mike Tomlin, 34, in 2007; in this era of instant gratification, Rooney knew something so many other owners didn’t. The Steelers have had three coaches in the 48 seasons since 1969, and won six Super Bowls, more than any NFL team.
And so unique. In a league filled with Republican owners, he campaigned hard in Pennsylvania for Barack Obama in 2008 — then took the ambassador appointment to Ireland by President Obama in 2009. He worked for years on the peace process between Ireland and Northern Ireland. For the past 41 years, he awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature to a young Irish writer. The annual prize money (now 10,000 euros) wasn’t as significant to most of the writers as the career push. Rooney didn’t forget his first sporting love while ambassador: On each of the Fourth of July holidays he served in Ireland, an American football game was played on the front lawn of his ambassador’s residence in Dublin.
“The NFL was the least of his accomplishments,” Tagliabue told me. “He truly cared about an extraordinary array of world affairs.”
Rooney longed for the Steeler life while in Dublin, and when he returned four years ago, he was back running the team with son Art Rooney II. Intensely loyal to his team, he was as loyal to his league. Rooney was in Pete Rozelle’s kitchen cabinet throughout his tenure, then in Paul Tagliabue’s, then in Goodell’s, almost until the end. When I mentioned to Goodell on Sunday that he must have learned a lot in his weekly talks with Rooney, he said, “It was more than weekly. Really, it was daily. I talked to him almost daily. It goes back, I’d say, 30 years.
“So many of the conversations I had with him, I came to realize, were to prepare me to become commissioner. He has such a strong sense of history. He has a perspective that is unmatched by anybody in the league. Often we’d talk about his historical perspective, and things that were important to focus on for the future, and the importance of the game itself, which he was intensely focused on. The players, the officiating, the game … the game. He had a focus that a lot of other owners didn’t have.
“Pete would always say, ‘Dan is one of the most valuable owners in the league.’ And Paul would say that. And of course, now, I would say that. He was a treasure.”
Goodell got quieter for a moment. Over the phone, he sounded emotional.
“I never met a better man in my life. He had the highest integrity. There was a genuine goodness about him. He was the most devoted man I ever met … devoted to his wife — he met his wife in 1936! Devoted to his family. Devoted to his city, Pittsburgh. Devoted to his Steelers. His father, The Chief [Hall of Fame owner Art Rooney] was a legend, and Dan came in and created his own legend. It was always about the game, his team, and his league.”
Said Tagliabue: “His values were so traditional, but he was one of the first people to support major change and innovation. Stadium financing, the salary cap. He was for free agency, and for fundamental changes in how players were treated. The Rooney Rule, so characteristic of him, seeing a wrong and trying to right it. I don’t think enough attention has been paid to a man who was such a traditionalist and was truly so innovative.”
I found it compelling that as much as Rooney was egalitarian about every team in the league being able to compete fairly, he never minded sticking a needle into Goodell (or the commissioners before him) when he felt his team had been wronged. I witnessed it at a dinner in 2009, when Rooney bitterly complained to Goodell (with wives present) that the NFL was unfairly trashing the reputation of Hines Ward. I reminded Goodell of that Sunday.
“I used to tease him,” Goodell said. “He would call up on a Monday, and if he was mad about the officiating, he’d say it was ‘your officials.’ After a good game, he’d said, ‘The officials did a pretty good job.’ With Dan, his guys never committed a foul. He was all Steeler, through and through.
“I remember he was the first person I fined as commissioner. Remember that?”
October 2006, seven weeks into Goodell’s reign: After a 41-38 Atlanta win over the Steelers, Rooney, mad at several calls from ref Ron Winter’s crew, said, among other things: “Those officials should be ashamed of themselves.”
“So,” Goodell said, “I got Dan on the phone. I read him his quotes. I said, ‘Dan, is this what you said?’ He said, ‘That sounds about right.’ I said, ‘That’s a violation, Dan. I’ve got to fine you.’ He told me, ‘That’s OK. I deserve it.’ He knew.”
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Rooney was at the fore for a lot of famous things — CBA talks, the Rooney Rule, commissioner elections. But where Goodell valued him was as a conscience, and a sounding board. Before he became commissioner, the NFL was about to expand to 32 teams, and realign from six divisions to eight. It was a clunky time, back in 1999. Few teams want major changes. And so Tagliabue and top lieutenant Goodell and Rooney (among others) began months of talks to figure out how to take a 31-team league with six divisions, add Houston in 2002, and become a 32-team league with four divisions.
At the time, all visiting teams would get a financial share of the eight games they played on the road from the home teams. And the teams playing at Dallas or the Giants, for instance, lucrative dates, didn’t want to give those up. So it wasn’t going to be easy to form an AFC South with smaller markets (Nashville, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, for example) making less than the teams with foes from bigger markets. So it was proposed that instead of each game being an individual visitors’ share, all 256 regular-season games be pooled and all 32 teams get the same collective visitors’ share each year.
Rooney loved that. “Both to maintain the proper rivalries and to get the schedule perfect, and to get the regional divisions right, it made sense,” said Goodell. “Through the process, Dan would scratch out his ideas for the right divisions, and he’d send them all to me. With the financial incentive taken away, it leveled the playing field. It was crucial for revenue sharing. It got us to a place where we could now talk football. Dan would talk to owners, I would talk to owners, Paul would talk to owners. Dan did a lot for that process and that solution, but he didn’t want any credit. He operated with total humility. He just wanted what was best for the health of the game, the future of the game, the future of the league. He just always put the game first. I start almost every league meeting with that point.
“In fact, I talked about that in Arizona. History is so important to our league. When we started the meeting this year, I said, “Except for a year or two when he was in Ireland serving as our ambassador there, this is the first league meeting since 1961 that Ambassador and Mrs. Rooney have not been to a league meeting.”
I wrote this the other day, but it is Rooney to the core. One year, the Steelers announced they were holding the line on ticket prices, which means that the percentage the Steelers would be contributing to the visitors’ share of the pie would stay flat. He heard some grousing at a league meeting about it. He got up and said: “I’m not concerned about your share. You’ve got enough money — we’ve all got enough money. I’m concerned about our fans and their ability to afford the tickets.”
Are there enough Dan Rooneys out there to keep this game great, and to be fan advocates? After a four-month period during which rabid fans in San Diego watched the Chargers leave because a new stadium wasn’t forthcoming, and rabid fans in Oakland watched the Raiders leave because a new stadium wasn’t forthcoming there either, are there enough men and women of conscience in the league to watch out for the fans and the football? If Dan Rooney could have left one message to his peers — the 32 stewards of the game, and Roger Goodell — I can pretty safely predict what it would have been:
We’ve all got enough money. It’s got to be about the game. The game. The game.
* * *
It’s true: If the NFL knew vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was going to leave for a TV job — which Ian Rapoport and Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Friday — there’s a strong chance owners would not have voted for centralized replay last month, with Blandino making the calls from the league’s New York officiating command post. Clearly, a big part of voting for centralized replay was because of the strength of Blandino, and how good a media face he was for officiating.
He ran the beehive of an officiating command center, the size of a large Manhattan studio apartment, with 82 TV monitors and 21 employees following the games, calmly and authoritatively. He earned the trust of the league, and the officials. Blandino rose from never being on the field as an official to lording over the best football officials in the world. “You ask the officials … and they trust Dean,” Rich McKay, the chair of the rules-making NFL Competition Committee, told me last month. “He’s very detailed. We’re fortunate to have Dean Blandino as our head of officials.”
So why didn’t the NFL make sure to have him under contract so he couldn’t walk away to do TV? That’s the question many around the league were asking after this bolt out of the blue happened Friday. It was such a surprise that three prominent club officials over the weekend said they hadn’t heard about Blandino and TV until they heard the news Friday. And though it wasn’t a shock to some of his friends, and some in the league office knew Blandino would want to do TV one day, they didn’t think one day was now. This was not an active rumor, at all, at the league meetings, when the centralized replay vote passed in a landslide, moving the final calls on reviewed plays from the referees on the field to the Blandino team in New York. I can tell you with certainty that the Competition Committee was blindsided by the news Friday.
No one can blame Blandino. If, as Mike Florio reported, Blandino leaves for FOX to supplement his smooth predecessor, Mike Pereira, as a second voice interpreting calls, he’ll be doing a job with far less pressure for significantly more money. As one of Blandino’s friends told me Saturday: “Dean’s 45, married, and has two children under 5. He’s probably working 80 hours a week in-season at the NFL. That’s not really good for a father of two young kids.” Another friend said Blandino has long fancied himself a future TV guy. Being home for dinner five nights a week, and working 50 hours a week in the fall instead of far more, and having much of the off-season off — and making more money? A logical decision.
Still, there’s no logical person to take his place. NFL execs have a big problem on their hands. I’m assuming they tried to negotiate a deal with Blandino and failed. They should have tried harder. So what does the league do now?
This job requires a public figure comfortable in front of the camera and on social media. Blandino was just that. Al Riveron, Blandino’s lieutenant and a former referee himself, is not regarded as comfortable with that part of the job. He could still be considered for it, but after Carl Johnson never could get comfortable on TV and video as Pereira’s first heir, I would expect the league to cast a wider net. The three most prominent candidates — my guess — among current officials are three referees: Gene Steratore, calm and comfortable with a mike on; Clete Blakeman, a Nebraskan with a good presence and very well-liked by the league; and Bill Vinovich, who, while on health leave from on-field duties, worked in the New York command center for almost two years. The NFL could also consider Mike Carey, who had a shaky TV tenure as CBS’ rules analyst, or Terry McAulay, whose side job is as supervisor of officials for the American Athletic Conference.
Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the TV-comfy officials emerged as media voice for, say, ESPN soon either. ESPN has to look at FOX and say, “We’ve got high-profile college and NFL games, as FOX does. They’ve got two officiating experts now?” ESPN doesn’t have an in-studio rules expert either Saturday or Sunday, and the absence seems notable now. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if they added a smart and cool voice to the studio shows, at least.
But this is a fire the NFL’s going to have put out, and soon. It’s a bad look after a bold March step to centralize replay.
1. Rampant belief: Myles Garrett number one — to some team. One executive told me Saturday it’s “100 percent … no, 99, because you can’t predict Cleveland.” Another veteran scout called him a “once in 10 years player.”
2. Adrian Peterson might wait (or have to wait) till after the draft to sign. But the good sign, I hear, is that he’s willing to play for a reasonable sum for a 32-year-old back with two washout seasons in the past three years. I hear in the right situation he would be willing to play for $5 million or less. He’s had a few visits, the most recent of which was New Orleans, which could hold some fascination because of the proximity to Peterson’s Houston home, and because Sean Payton would know well how to use him. But right now, I’m told there’s no leader in the clubhouse. After the draft is smarter for him and for teams, because that’s when teams can see most clearly their needs.
3. Marshon Lattimore the second Ohio State cornerback taken? Strange as it may seem to draftboard nerds, some in the NFL think Lattimore is too much an injury risk to take him very high. “I’d take [Gareon] Conley,” the other OSU corner slated to go fairly high, one club official said. “More reliable.”
4. I think Cleveland wants Mitchell Trubisky or Pat Mahomes. Big arms. Love football. My gut: If it’s Mahomes the Browns covet, they can stay at 12 and pick him. But one bit of warning …
5. The Cardinals like Mahomes. They pick 13th. They might love him. Beware, Cleveland. GM Steve Keim’s a bold guy. Emily Kaplan’s “24 Hours” piece with Mahomes illustrates why he’s so well-liked in the NFL community.
6. Teams that want to trade down. San Francisco (two), Chicago (three) and the Jets (six) are the ones I hear are most antsy to move back in a market with few teams wanting to move up.
7. Teams that want to trade back up. Cleveland at 12, if the Browns take Garrett number one (most likely scenario) and want to use their treasure trove of picks (12, 33, 52, 65, 108 this year, with a first- and three second-round picks next year) to move up from 12 to, say, 2, to ensure getting the quarterback they want. Spitballing only: But Cleveland from 12 to two makes a lot of sense. This would allow the Niners to still get a good player at 12 (Solomon Thomas? Christian McCaffrey? Mike Williams?), as well as Cleveland’s one next year and at least one other prominent pick.
8. Leonard Fournette is not Ezekiel Elliott. Some durability concerns with Fournette, and there’s lots of different opinions about which back goes first, and which sinks like a stone.
9. The second pick is a fascinating, and a bit unfortunate, spot. So the book out there is that there’s Garrett, and then there’s about 15 other players who could be number two on 32 draft boards. But that doesn’t necessarily mean new San Francisco GM John Lynch won’t have a strong market for the pick, because if a team loves, say, Trubisky and feels it must get him, the Niners will be able to move down even if the return isn’t as lucrative as a traditional trade-down from that slot.
10. Someone’s going to get a hungry player in Haason Redick. Really interesting story, this defensive end/WILL linebacker from Temple. He walked on and paid his own way to play at Temple before his strong play led to him getting a scholarship. He thought of quitting several times at Temple because he was becoming a burden on his family. And now he’ll be a first-round pick.
This photo was taken last Thursday evening in Scotland, at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, when NFL UK, the league’s overseas organizational arm based in London, put on the last of four programs (or programmes, if you may) to bring the game to fan bases in London, Liverpool, Nottingham in England and, finally, Edinburgh in Scotland. I was there to document the trip, and the curiously strong knowledge of these fans, for a future story. On the way, I told a few yarns as part of the panels, hosted by Neil Reynolds of Sky Sports, along with Miami receiver Jarvis Landry, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, Hall-of-Famer-to-be Kurt Warner, retired receiver Steve Smith Sr., and Cleveland defensive tackle Danny Shelton. (Reynolds hosted all four evening events at various downtown theaters/venues; the players cycled through, appearing at two or three of them.)
• These fans are a bit intense. When I said in Edinburgh that I thought the Titans had a chance to be good for a long time, a fan in a Tennessee jersey in the second row of the auditorium started pumping his fist and yelling, “YEAH! YEAH!”
• These fans are smart. One Ravens fan walking out of one of the events asked me, “Would Derek Barnett be a good pick for the Ravens in the first round?” (Yes, sir. But Haason Redick might be better.)
• I am a big fan of The Beatles, and we (Warner, Cousins, Landry, me) toured a museum in their honor in their hometown of Liverpool. Very cool. I dawdled at one point at one of the exhibits, and was late to put on one of the four weird/colorful Sgt. Peppers smocks from the cover of the album, for a photo. Cousins yelled back to me: “Hey Ringo! Let’s go! It’s people like you that cause bands to break up!” I hustled up. Wish I’d said, “Nice zinger. YOU LIKE THAT!”
• One of the great stories from the Beatles museum: There’s a photo, taken not long before John Lennon was assassinated in New York City, of Lennon and Yoko Ono walking down Central Park West in Manhattan with this caption: “John was once in Central Park when someone yelled, ‘Hey John Lennon! When are you getting The Beatles back together?” John yelled back: ‘When are you going back to high school?’”
• Rode the train from London to Liverpool with Cousins and wife Julie. He’s one of the smartest, most inquisitive, most interesting players I’ve been around in recent years. We spent 20 or 30 minutes talking about the books he’s read and learned from — biographies mostly. He loves the Jack Welch book, “Winning,” so much so that he gave copies of it one year to his coaches with a personal note to all. Good, too, to have conversations with a couple of other guys I didn’t know — the driven Jarvis Landry and honored-to-be-there Danny Shelton — plus two I do: the ever-accommodating Warner (we had a good taping for a future podcast, and I got him to sip a Scottish beer) and the ever-frank Steve Smith.
• My thanks to the NFL UK office, led by Ellen Padwick, for four days of smooth journeys and perfect connections. Talk about efficient. Four days of clockwork with an extremely friendly staff.
I asked The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas to catch us up on the Eli Manning memorabilia story. Here’s her report.
Until last week, you may have forgotten about the fake memorabilia lawsuit against the Giants and Eli Manning. The civil suit was originally filed in January 2014, alleging, among other claims, that the team and its star quarterback have been falsifying game-worn memorabilia that was then sold to unsuspecting collectors. It was a big headline three years ago, as the suit was filed the same week Manning’s older brother, Peyton, was preparing for Super Bowl XLVIII at the Giants’ home stadium.
Since then, it fell out of the public eye as it has been caught up in the court system. The Giants’ lawyers sought dismissal of some of the claims facing their team employees and attempted to move the case to federal court. But, the fraud claims survived the motion to dismiss, and are now moving forward in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County. A trial has been set for Sept. 25, and the discovery period in the case is open until June 30 — and as part of that process, a potentially damning email from Manning was filed in the public record last week.
As first reported by the New York Post, Brian Brook, the lawyer for the three memorabilia collectors who are bringing suit against the Giants, submitted in a court filing an email said to be provided in discovery by Manning and his attorneys. In that email, sent from Manning’s personal account in April 2010, the quarterback is asking team equipment director Joe Skiba for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.” The ask came in response to a request from Manning’s marketing director for two game-used helmets and jerseys to fulfill his contract with Steiner Sports Memorabilia.
The Giants responded with a statement from a spokesperson for the team’s counsel, saying the email was “taken out of context” and referring to the lead plaintiff, Eric Inselberg, as an “unscrupulous memorabilia dealer” seeking a big payday.
The court filing also includes a previously disclosed email exchange between Skiba and Inselberg, provided by Inselberg, in which Skiba appears to acknowledge the existence of “BS ones,” i.e. made-up Manning game-used helmets and jerseys so that No. 10 didn’t have to give up the real ones.
This case casts a wide shadow. The origin dates back to 2011, when Inselberg, a New Jersey-based memorabilia dealer, was one of six men charged with sports memorabilia fraud as part of an FBI probe. Those charges were dropped, however, after defense attorneys argued that members of the Giants equipment staff lied to federal agents and the grand jury about selling Inselberg game-used items from their locker room. In response, Inselberg filed this suit; the other co-plaintiffs are two collectors, Michael Jakab and Sean Godown, who unknowingly bought and sold what they claim is a fake Manning game-worn helmet.
In reporting our True Crime story on the Tom Brady jersey caper last week, we stumbled upon another offshoot of the web: Brandon Jacobs, running back on the Giants’ Super Bowl 42 and 46 teams, believed he had his game-worn jersey from each of those two games hanging on his wall at home. But, two years ago, Jakab contacted Jacobs with pictures of what looks to be Jacobs’ entire game-worn Super Bowl XLII uniform, including the jersey. Bewildered, Jacobs asked Jakab where he had gotten it from, and Jakab told Jacobs that Inselberg, his collector buddy, had purchased the uniform from Joe and Ed Skiba.
So, what’s next? As the civil case moves forward, things could get even more interesting. Brook said his understanding from Manning’s lawyers was that their discovery was “substantially complete” at this time, which means don’t expect any other e-mails to be filed. But all of the depositions have yet to be completed before the end of June, including Manning’s. And, if this case indeed goes to trial this fall, on some or all of the claims, Manning would be called to testify. You’d think the Giants would be motivated to settle, if only to avoid the distraction and PR hit around their star quarterback — one that he is already taking, and which may potentially only get worse. But all indications so far are that they will fight this case, so perhaps they have another strategy that is yet to be revealed.
“I could say the same thing about the league as I could say for society, and that is: Don’t let money and individual fame get in the way. The thing the NFL has, the thing that makes us good — and this is what motivated me — is the game. I realized the game is it. I think it’s the best game in the world.”
—Dan Rooney, in a 2009 Steelers.com interview, as recalled by longtime Steeler-watcher Bob Labriola after Rooney died on Thursday.
There is no better clarion call for the stewards of the game than that, in the wake of two franchises (Chargers, Raiders) leaving their markets in the past four months because they couldn’t get stadium deals done in San Diego and Oakland. The league is choosing stadiums over fans, and I wish Rooney could have been healthy enough to attend the meetings in Arizona last month when the Raiders moved, so he could have spoken his mind. Not that it would have changed the minds of the owners, but that it would have left this message: Taking teams out of cities with passionate fans bases is never a good idea. At all.
“You motivated me not only to excel on the field but also in life. This season, the number 84 on my uniform will represent the 84 years you spent on this earth making an impact on the lives of others. I will miss you, my friend.”
—Wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Steelers, as if speaking to the late Dan Rooney.
“Hey guys, be good to us on the relo fee. We want to be good partners. I want to do things differently than my father did.”
—Raiders owner Mark Davis, in the excellent piece by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta on how the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas happened. The “relo fee” means the relocation fee, which the NFL reportedly set in the $350 million range.
Three thoughts from the story that confirmed things rolling around in my head in the wake of the Raiders’ move three weeks ago:
• Mark Davis is smarter than we all thought.
• Now it’s clear why Davis thanked Adelson when the move was announced — because he knows Adelson helped paved the way for the move even though they had a falling-out.
• Davis is his father’s son in many ways (mostly, because he doesn’t want to cede control of the franchise his father built), but as Wickersham and Van Natta reported, his reaction of not going ballistic after the Rams won the L.A. vote in January 2016 actually turned out good for him. Instead of being one of two teams in a meh stadium in Carson, south of Los Angeles, he got a jewel of a stadium in an intriguing market, and he got it to himself. As Van Natta and Wickersham reported, Mark Davis wanted Vegas all along.
“Aaron is a beautiful young man, a happy-go-lucky young man.”
—Ronald Sullivan, one of Aaron Hernandez’s team of attorneys, after the former Patriots tight end was acquitted of double-murder in the deaths of two men in Boston’s South End in a 2012 drive-by shooting, from a vivid story about the trial and verdict by MassLive’s Kevin Duffy, who covers the Patriots.
That truly is an outrageous quote by Ronald Sullivan.
In 2013, Hernandez and two men picked up Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old man dating his girlfriend’s sister, in a car, and drove to a remote industrial park in the wee hours of the morning in Massachusetts. Lloyd’s murdered body, with 10 bullets pumped into it, was found in the industrial park, and the three men were arrested. In 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without the opportunity for parole.
Ask Odin Lloyd’s family how beautiful this young man is, Mr. Sullivan.
“There was a little bit of Brett Favre in him, I think, just making plays out of nothing when the play breaks down. That’s what I remember him the most for.”
—Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, on Tony Romo.
“It beats working.”
—Bill Belichick, who turned 65 Sunday, to Suzy Welch of CNBC, on coaching.
* * *
I’m not sure you should be surprised by this, but I think it’s worth noting as we approach the time of year when fans gets as excited about their team’s first-round pick as they would if Ed Sheeran or Kendrick Lamar played their birthday party.
The first-round draft choice should be a cornerstone player for years, obviously. But if you look back at the first round of the draft 10 years ago, you will find this many players out of 32 teams still starting for the team that drafted them:
Joe Thomas went third overall to Cleveland. Joe Staley went 28th to San Francisco.
The only two teams, then, that picked wisely long-term to lead the 2007 NFL Draft are the same teams picking 1-2 on April 27: Cleveland and San Francisco.
Maybe you don’t think it’s a surprise that a player would still be starting for his original team 10 years after he was picked. Football’s a rough game. But two of 32, lasting 10 years with their team — and, adding to that, Thomas and Staley were the only ones at the start of the 2016 season too — seems like a pretty short shelf life.
Was 2007 a fluke year? Not at all. Among the top 25 picks in 2009, here’s how many are starting for the team that picked them:
Matthew Stafford (one, by Detroit) and Brian Cushing (15, by Houston).
Moral of the story: It’s fine to get excited about the draft, but rarely do the top prospects change franchises the way fans would hope they would.
* * *
The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. Five days later, 105 years ago this Thursday, Fenway Park opened.
Forward Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is a big star. He’s one of the four players ever to score 20 goals or more in the Premier League in three straight seasons.
Kane has two dogs. They’re named Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.
Andrew McCutchen career home runs for the Pirates: 176.
Barry Bonds career home runs for the Pirates: 176.
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The trains in England are amazing. They leave me envious, and wishing the United States was as progressive and smart about train travel as Europe.
It’s not just the frequency and availability of trains, which criss-cross the United Kingdom, day and night. It’s the timeliness.
The traveling party on the UK tour took the train from London to Liverpool on Tuesday morning, a bus from Liverpool to Nottingham on Wednesday and a plane from East Midlands (near Nottingham) to Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday. I asked if I could take a train on Thursday instead, and that was fine. The train was scheduled to leave Nottingham at 8:47, with a stop and change in Chesterfield, then a direct train to Scotland departing Chesterfield at 10:03 a.m., due into Edinburgh at 2:10 p.m.
I boarded the train at Nottingham at about 8:43. Outside my window was a digital clock, with minutes and seconds. At 8:46, a man with a round paddle in a blue suit stood by the side of the train.
8:46.50: Man in blue suit holds paddle in air, begins waving it up and down.
8:46.57: Train moves. Scheduled in Chesterfield at 9:20.
9:19approximately (no digital clock on platform in Chesterfield): Train arrives in Chesterfield.
In Chesterfield, eight minutes before the 9:52 train to Norwich, this announcement over the PA: “We are so sorry. The oh-nine-52 train service to Norwich is delayed by approximately four minutes.” It was repeated at 9:48. It was repeated at 9:52. The train arrived in the station at 9:54.
Damned if that Chesterfield-to-Edinburgh train didn’t slip into the station at about 10:02. And we left pretty close to 10:03, if not exactly, according to my watch with the sweephand that keeps good time. Somewhere along the way, we had a delay on the track for four minutes, and the conductor announced he’d try to make it up as we trained north to Scotland. And we did. The last half-hour or so, we had a lovely view of the North Sea out the right-side windows, and we aimed to keep the 2:10 p.m. arrival time. We pulled into the station in Edinburgh, teeming with pre-Easter travelers it seemed, and as I got off, I looked at the digital clock on the platform.
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Writing up the Browns’ current QB situation this afternoon. Is there a specific kind of alcohol that goes well with that?— Doug Farrar (@BR_DougFarrar) April 15, 2017
Emma Morano was the last living person on earth verified to have been born in the 1800s. With her death, there are no more. RIP. https://t.co/vdo6E8i2OO— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 15, 2017
If you listen to Nick Saban, it’s easy to understand why he didn’t stay in the NFL. Didn’t like league’s egalitarian, restrictive framework.— Rainer Sabin (@RainerSabin) April 15, 2017
I’m sure he didn’t. But if his Miami Dolphins signed Drew Brees instead of Daunte Culpepper in 2006, he’d have won a lot, and I’m guessing he would have been just fine with egalitarianism.
Bartolo Colon made his MLB debut the day Turner Field opened. He’ll now pitch at the new Braves park. The dude outlasted a stadium.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 11, 2016
This week’s guests: Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, talking about their story on the Tom Brady jersey caper; and chess-playing, math-studying Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel, a student in the Ph.D program at MIT.
• Urschel on what he likes more, football or math: “I feel that they are different, in that the football is very much a team thing, and I think there is a certain type of feeling where you have accomplished something with a group of people and it’s not just yourself. But if we compare apples to apples, individual achievement, I am very happy with football achievement, but I think I would have to say math achievement trumps, all things considered equal, because of the greater impact it has on others.”
• Urschel on the importance of mathematics in an average person’s life: “Because mathematics is so fundamental, it is very hard to see the application when you are deep in it. And it’s also very hard to see the uses of things a priority, whereas when you are working in a field like biology, chemistry or physics, if you make a great breakthrough, it becomes immediately obvious what this does. In mathematics, you make a great breakthrough and you say okay, I’ve pushed our fundamental base knowledge this much further and this allows greater possibilities in physics, in chemistry, in all these field simultaneously. Which sometimes can be tough to see in everyday life, especially because some of the great mathematical discoveries that had their hands in some of the things we enjoy today were not immediately apparent when they were discovered. I’m loving it. I’ve never been happier in my entire life than when I’ve been at MIT … I’m around all of these people who are so passionate about mathematics and so interested in what they are doing and all of these people, all they want to do is mathematics all day.”
Coming Wednesday: A wide-ranging 32-minute conversation with Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins on his life, his love of books, his contract, his team, his former general manager, and what he’ll miss from the new coach of the Los Angeles Rams … plus another guest I guarantee you’ll want to hear.
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1. I think I don’t know how you can’t have a broken heart hearing about the horrible accident that took the life of Todd Heap’s young daughter. I know Heap some, and he was not only an excellent tight end—he was, and is, a generous, thoughtful family man whose wife and kids are the center of his universe. So many hearts all over the country go out to the Heap family.
2. I think there’s no way to follow the horribly accidental death of a 3-year-old girl with anything about football. Or anything about anything. But go on we must.
3. I think, still, that Marshawn Lynch ends up with the Raiders. It makes too much sense for the Raiders and for him for it not to happen.
4. I think it would be amazing if the Bills—who traded a quarterback-like haul (first-round and fourth-round picks in 2015 to move up five spots in the 2014 draft) to get him—did not pick up the fifth-year option on wideout Sammy Watkins … and it would be a strong indication that the franchise is worried that his lingering foot injury in 2016 is a continuing factor. Watkins has averaged an unimpressive 51 catches a year in his three NFL seasons, missing 11 games due to injury in the process. He never was right all of 2016. But if this is his last year in Buffalo, it could be a harbinger of doom for GM Doug Whaley.
5. I think the situation doesn’t look good for Eli Manning, based on the email he allegedly sent to a Giants’ equipment manager asking for two jerseys that could pass as game-used in 2010. There’s still much to be discovered here. But the advice I’d give to anyone about to buy stuff they think is game-worn or authentic is this: Don’t. I once saw a quarterback sign a jersey for a teammate, then sign a form (feeling awful about it) saying it was game-used. He did it because he didn’t want to be known as a guy who wouldn’t help out teammates when they had fund-raisers, and the teammate in this case cajoled him strongly to do it because “game-used” would fetch more money. I once suspected that an administrative assistant in a football coaches’ office was being paid to sign different players’ autographs on cards and photos for people who mailed in requests. In other words, I wouldn’t trust the authenticity of an autograph unless I witnessed it being signed.
6. I think I’m proud of our team on the Tom Brady jersey-caper story. Not just because Jenny Vrentas and Robert Klemko and editor Gary Gramling put together a compelling account of one of the strangest stories around the NFL in years—how a member of the media from Mexico, who, we’ve come to find out, is a sports-memorabilia burglar, got away with pilfering the jersey in a locker room packed with players and interlopers and Patriots employees. But how they were able to find out things in the course of their reporting that confirmed what a cool and brazen character Martin Mauricio Ortega was. A Patriots’ camera in the locker room captured for a moment Ortega standing next to Brady’s locker before the theft, looking like he fit in the space perfectly. He belonged. “He looks very relaxed,” one investigator told our team. “He’s honed his sills over the years.” Imagine how you’d feel if you were Ortega. I’m about to steal the jersey of this great quarterback who just completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history—with any of 100 people who could spot me doing it! It is just stunning, even now that we’ve known the outcome for a month. Our team also got one of the coolest images from this investigation: a photo from a collector, a Patriots fan living in Seattle, that he sent to an investigator. It’s a cell photo he got from Ortega of the Brady jersey from the Seattle Super Bowl two years ago. Amazing discovery. You’ll like the digging, and the story.
7. I think this is exhibit one in why so many people think America’s gone way too far with football, and not just in the NFL: Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports reports that each locker of University of Texas football players is equipped with a 43-inch flat-screen TV and has a cost per locker of $10,500. We officially have gone off the deep end with this game, if you didn’t know that already.
8. I think I think this is the Oral History of the Week: Don Banks is so good at these, and he’s authored a memorable one for Patriots.com on the 1967 draft. Imagine no one calling you to say you’d been the fourth pick in the draft. That’s what happened on draft day 1967 to Miami pick Bob Griese, who told Banks: “I think I had a job interview scheduled with some company that had come to campus. I majored in industrial management, so I’m thinking I’ll go to work for Johnson & Johnson or Procter & Gamble, some company like that. The way I found out I was drafted was my offensive [coordinator]/quarterback coach, Bob DeMoss, saw me in the hallway as we were passing, like we had done a million times, and he kind of looked down at me and said, ‘Hey, congratulations. I hear you’re going to Miami.’ Just like that. I mean, nobody called me. The Dolphins didn’t call me. The NFL didn’t call. The writers, the media, nobody called me.” Some great stuff in here too about Steve Spurrier and playing among the seagulls and worms at Kezar Stadium.
9. I think I challenge you to read this, by Garrett Downing of the Ravens team site, and not get misty. Konrad Reuland, and his family, should be in all of our thoughts today. The story was also done well, the same day, by Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News.
10. I think these are my non-football notes of the week:
a. Steve Buckley, you wrote a real gem. Column of the Week, on the day 50 years ago that everything changed for the Boston Red Sox, and it was someone no one knew who did it.
b. “But then came 1967, and the sun came out.” Great line, Steve.
c. Amazing: In a game of such historic import, in the home opener for the New York Yankees, Boston’s pitcher and catcher were making their major-league debuts.
d. Facing Whitey Ford. With Jackie Kennedy and 6-year-old son John in the crowd. That is some great history work by Buckley.
e. Time of game: 2 hours, 11 minutes. Attendance to a Yankees home opener: 14,375. Man, a lot about baseball has changed.
f. Best example of meaninglessness of spring training: Greg Bird. He’s batting .038. He’s one for 26. But he does have 13 strikeouts.
g. Baseball Oddity of the Week: Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez didn’t allow a fair ball to be hit in the first two innings Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He struck out six. He walked six.
h. Could be a long year for the Cards. You can’t touch C.C. Sabathia? Yikes.
i. The one word on the front of Mookie Betts’ T-shirt in batting practice Saturday, Jackie Robinson Day: EQUALITY.
j. I wish I could watch every pitch Chris Sale throws this season. What a competitor. Smart pitcher, too, knowing when the off-speed stuff will buckle knees.
k. Happy 70th birthday (last Friday), Joe Lahoud.
l. Happy 13th birthday (last Friday), Kate “Nocturnal” Bensel.
m. Coffeenerdness: One great coffee thing about England is the multiple choices of good chain coffee houses. Caffe Nero’s good. Costa is everywhere. Good espresso at both.
n. Beernerdness: Pilot Blonde Ale (Pilot Brewery, Edinburgh, Scotland). Had this in the Red Squirrel, a pub in the heart of Edinburgh, and really enjoyed it. A very hoppy ale, it’s a darker blonde with a strong bite, and would do smashingly well on tap in a craft-crazy city like Denver or Seattle.