Published On: Mon, May 30th, 2022

FMIA: Deadly Reality For America On Memorial Day; NFL News On Colin Kaepernick, Deshaun Watson, More


Today is Memorial Day. We mourn those lost in service to our country. However you remember those who have been lost—placing flowers at graves, silent observances at home, parades, a toast to honor a deceased love one—it is a day to be grateful for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

I will also remember the 32 people murdered over the last 16 days in our country, in Buffalo at a supermarket, in a church in Laguna Woods, Calif., and in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

I’ll remember Miranda Mathis, Layla Salazar, Uziyah Garcia, Tess Mata, Makenna Elrod, Eliana Garcia, Xavier Lopez, Jayce Luevanos, Jackie Cazaras, Amerie Jo Garza, Alexandria Rubio, Eliahana Torres, Jailah Silguero, Nevaeh Bravo, Maite Rodriguez, Jose Flores Jr., Rojelio Torres, Annabelle Rodriguez, Alithia Ramirez, Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, 19 students and two teachers, slain at a school in Texas.

I’ll remember security guard Aaron Salter and shoppers Ruth Whitfield, Katherine Massey, Roberta Drury, Margus Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Pearl Young and Heyward Patterson, senselessly dead in a grocery store in Buffalo.

I’ll remember John Cheng, who died rushing to stop a gunman at a church in southern California, preventing the deaths of more parishioners.

I wonder why the people who make and enforce laws in this country cannot be open-minded about a solution to this cancerous problem. Why is it such a non-starter for a powerful person like Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to say, “We have had too many events like this one in Uvalde, too many events when 19 children and two teachers were murdered in what’s supposed to be a safe space. The Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to bear arms, but we have to ask whether teenagers, like the one in Uvalde who bought a semi-automatic assault-style rifle days after turning 18, should be able to buy deadly weapons. We have to ask whether the right to buy assault-style rifles for 18-year-olds supersedes the rights of 10-year-old boys and girls to be educated in peace. Everything needs to be on the table now.”

Why can’t the governor of Texas govern all of his citizens? Why is it more important to protect gun-buyers than to protect Xavier Lopez and Tess Mata?

Our country is sick. We have lawmakers in Washington who won’t consider changing a law with tentacles that our forefathers could never, ever have imagined. James Madison, our fourth president, was the driving force behind the Second Amendment, and don’t you dare tell me he’d have been okay with unstable—stable, even—18-year-olds being able to buy killing machines that have no valid use for civilians other than fast and mass murder. And if you’re in the camp of guns don’t kill people, mental illness does, please stop. An 18-year-old with undiagnosed anger issues, as Salvador Ramos apparently had, experienced no trouble buying the killing machines as soon as he turned 18. The system is made for the Salvador Ramoses to fall through the cracks.

I’m glad, at least, that coaches and players and teams are responding with the gravity this situation demands. “When are we going to do something!!” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr yelled. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler said he would stop standing for the Anthem before games, writing in an angry blog post: “Every time I place my hand over my heart and remove my hat, I’m participating in a self-congratulatory glorification of the ONLY country where these mass shootings take place I am not OK with the state of this country.”

Good for Kerr and Kapler, good for the Yankees and Rays. On the first day of a big series, they tweeted nothing about baseball and only about the sickness of gun violence in the country. “When will we care about the protection of our children above everything else?” pitcher Zack Britton of the Yankees said.

That’s the crux of the issue right there. We are the United States of Guns. We care more about protecting the rights of 18-year-olds to buy semi-automatic weapons than we do about 10-year-old children being safe in school. It’s time to strengthen and mandate tougher universal background checks before people can purchase firearms, to stop selling AR 15-type weapons to civilians, and to raise the age to 21 for a person to buy guns. Those should not be controversial decisions based on the recent history in our country. We have to demand our elected officials do the right thing and enact better laws.

Many of you think a football column is not the place for diatribes about American life. But the more I watched and read and heard in the last few days, the more I think it’s time we all stand up and be counted. What kind of country do we want to live in? One with schoolteachers wearing holsters teaching our children? One with one mass slaughter per fortnight? Where do we stand on the corrosive issue of endless gun violence in society?

I have three grandchildren who will be attending public schools in the coming years. I don’t want to have to think about their safety virtually every weekday for the rest of my life, but I will—because that’s the way of life we’ve created in the United States.

We’ve got too many people in despair in America right now to ignore our deadly reality. Steve Kerr is right: When are we going to do something?

The Raiders study Colin Kaepernick. It’s been five years and five months since Kaepernick played a football game—and that long since he’s even been in regular practice sessions. So the Raiders working him out shouldn’t be a sign that they plan to sign him and have him compete with current Raiders backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and Jarrett Stidham to backstop Derek Carr. ESPN reported a signing wasn’t imminent.

Did you hear what Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said Thursday when asked about the Kaepernick workout? He said GM Dave Ziegler and his staff “have worked out tons of guys this spring.”

Let me tell you a story from my years covering the Giants in the eighties. Coach Bill Parcells, at games, used to carry in his back pocket what he called his “Ready List,” a list with two or three prime unsigned players at each position. That way, if the Giants had an injury during a game, Parcells could check the Ready List and direct pro scout Tim Rooney to get Player X to the Giants’ facility so he could be signed by the next day. Parcells was famous for working out players to see if they’d be a fit in a time of need, and continually update the list as the year went on.

When I heard McDaniels say the Raiders had worked out a ton of guys, I thought of the Ready List, and thought of the ton of guys McDaniels and Ziegler saw Bill Belichick direct the Patriots to work out when they worked under Belichick. That’s the way smart NFL people do business. In fact, I heard last week the Raiders have worked out two kickers this month, even though Las Vegas employs one of the best kickers in football, Daniel Carlson. Be ready for emergencies, always.

Michigan Spring Game
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Getty Images)

My guess is McDaniels and Ziegler have that Ready List, for sure, and the workout of Kaepernick was to see where he might fall on that list in case the Raiders get an injury at quarterback. Or in case another team gets a quarterback hurt and trades for Mullens, leaving the Raiders with a roster spot to be filled by a quarterback.

Regarding Kaepernick, it’s encouraging that he’s in great shape and still can throw bullets, per several reports from the workout. At the time of his end in football, he was a 59-percent passer over his last two seasons, so accuracy is likely still an issue—that plus the fact that he hasn’t played in five-and-a-half years. But I’d hope the fact that this once-electric player had a tryout in Las Vegas and the world did not melt in response to it might mean other teams would be willing to bring him in for a look.

As Kaepernick said this spring on the “I Am Athlete” podcast, much of his message that was so controversial six years ago is now written in end zones and on uniforms in the NFL: End Racism, among other slogans. The Black national anthem is played before some games. As for the kneeling during the anthem, some teams would likely take issue with that. But it’s interesting that there were no protests about in Las Vegas, no angry letters to the editor (as of Sunday, at least) of the Las Vegas Review Journal. Perhaps that will make teams more willing to bring in Kaepernick for workouts this season.

His age? Well, he’s 13 months older than Russell Wilson, who has said he plans/hopes to play at least 10 more years. The age, in this day, should not be much of a factor, especially when the average age of the last two Super Bowl-winning QBs and the last two MVP winners is 38.

Kaepernick has to be looking at the sands of hourglass on his career and thinking, If not now, when? This is an important year for his football future, if he is to have one. I have doubts his landing spot will be Vegas, but time will tell.

The weirdest football story of the year that’s mostly a baseball story. You probably saw that Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham slapped San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson before Friday night’s game in a dispute that stemmed from a fantasy-football argument in the 2020 season.

I’ve heard that revenge is best served cold, but Pham striking Pederson a year and a half after the alleged dispute? That’s some grudge right there.

“We had too much money on the line,” Pham said Saturday, per The Athletic. “I look at it like there’s a code. You’re f—ing with my money.”

Interesting. Pham was suspended for three games without pay for striking Pederson out of the blue. The fine will cost him $138,888. I hope it was a really lucrative fantasy league.

Pederson’s version is that in one week of the ’20 season, he had a player listed as out in an ESPN league, and then put the player on injured-reserve, which he said was allowed per league rules.

I called the fantasy football guru of gurus, ESPN’s Matthew Berry, to get a ruling on this.

“I’m going by what I heard Joc Pederson say,” Berry said Saturday. “When a player is ‘out,’ he is allowed to go on an IR spot. That is a default setting in the ESPN leagues. What Joc did was good roster management.”

Pederson told writers who cover the Giants that a text message circulated in the fantasy league that accused Pederson of cheating by stashing players on IR who shouldn’t be there. But if the ESPN league settings allowed Pederson to put him on the injured list, why should Pederson be blamed for that? He said he screen-shotted the rules interpretation about “out” players being eligible for IR, but that apparently didn’t assuage Pham. Pederson also told Pham he saw that Pham had done the same thing with an injured player in another league. Pham accused Pederson of saying some other derogatory things in a text message.

As it turns out, on Saturday evening, there was more to the story, and it was very much a 2022 “more to the story.” Pederson said he sent a GIF to the fantasy league members—including several Padres—making fun of the Pads’ performance, apparently in the playoffs, when they lost a series to the Dodgers (then Pederson’s team), 3 games to none. He apologized if he offended anyone, but said he thought it was fair game since there were other Padres who took it okay in the group.

Moral of the story: Tommy Pham’s got a very short fuse, and Tommy Pham apparently is not very good at taking a joke.

Said Berry: “In fantasy football, there’s no question passions run deep. But the idea that two major-league baseball players would have a physical altercation so long after something like this happened, well, that’s really bizarre to me.”

Well, what did you expect? “HBO Real Sports” aired interviews with two of the 22 women who have filed civil suits in Texas, accusing Watson of sexual impropriety. Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes detailed what they say Watson did as well as their feelings on the Grand Jury’s decision not to charge Watson with a crime. They both ripped the Browns’ signing of Watson for huge money with all the civil suits hanging over his head.

There weren’t big headlines from the interviews, but several points advanced the story. As I’ve written, the drip-drip-drip of reporters covering this story and learning more from the accusers isn’t going to stop, the tarnishing of Watson isn’t going away, and the Browns’ decision to give Watson a fully guaranteed five-year, $230-million contract is the biggest contractual level-jump an NFL team made this year.

• Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, admitted in a separate statement that Watson had sexual contact with three of his accusers, but, he said, “each of those occasions were consensual and initiated by the women.”

• Judging by the stories of massage therapists Solis and Hayes, Hardin’s version will be challenged severely if the cases are heard in court. Solis told HBO’s Soledad O’Brien during the massage, “He [Watson] deliberately grabs himself and puts his penis in my hand. And I pulled my hand away instantly, and I started crying. And I told him that I was done.” Hayes said Watson’s penis touched her repeatedly during one session. “At some point, he did ejaculate. That was mortifying and embarrassing and disgusting,” Hayes said.

• Solis said, “I’m not a sex worker. I am a massage therapist. For them to say that anything was consensual, either they don’t realize or they don’t care about the danger that puts me in.”

• Solis called the Browns rewarding Watson with the biggest guaranteed contract in NFL history “a big screw you” to the accusers.

• As for the Texas grand juries failing to indict Watson on any charges, Solis said, “I have absolutely no idea. I don’t see how any of those human beings could have sat there in front of me and think what he did was okay.”

As for what’s next: This is the 15th month of the league’s investigation into the Watson story. Roger Goodell said last week the investigation is “nearing the end,” and it’s hard to imagine what else that’s possible to uncover is still out there to be uncovered. When the investigation is complete, the NFL will hand the findings and possibly a suggested sanction to a former U.S. District Court judge, Sue Robinson. The ex-judge will rule if Watson should face discipline and what the punishment should be for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Robinson is one of the impartial referees the league and union agreed would impose discipline in cases of possible suspensions.

If there is discipline imposed, Watson would have the right to appeal. That’s when Goodell would come in—he has the final call on whether to reduce whatever sanction Robinson imposed.

As Mike Florio has postulated, it will be interesting to see if the two-year ban MLB imposed on Trevor Bauer for violating the league’s domestic-violence and sexual-assault policy comes into play with Watson. And it will be interesting to see if the league allows Watson to play until the results of the civil cases are final. That seems more and more unlikely, but the league holds a lot of power in determining when or if Watson would be banned, and if so, for how long.

In a football sense, the timing of the suspension is important, unless it’s for most or all of the season. If it’s for, say, six games, the Browns would probably want to get it served early. The Browns’ early schedule is hugely soft for the first month (at Carolina, Jets and Steelers at home, at Atlanta followed by Chargers and Patriots at home). Beginning with game seven, Cleveland has Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Buffalo and Tampa Bay.

If I’m the Browns, I’d breathe a big sigh of relief if the suspension is six weeks. We’ll see.

The Steelers have a new GM. I like when teams reward talented people for dedicated, selfless, tireless work. That’s what the Steelers did in naming Omar Khan, 45, to the job of general manager.

Khan grew up a big Saints fan in Louisiana, the son of an Indian father who learned to love football while a college student at the University of Oklahoma. Father and son watched college football together on Saturdays and the Saints on Sundays, and young Omar, starting at about age 8, knew what he wanted to do: He wanted to run an NFL franchise. He joked the other day that he didn’t want to be a quarterback like Archie Manning; he wanted to be a GM like the Saints’ Jim Finks.

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers general manager Omar Khan. (Getty Images)

And so when Steelers president Art Rooney II called him into his office to tell him he was getting the GM job, it was an emotional experience for a kid who’s known he’s wanted to be a GM for three-and-a-half decades. “I tried very hard to control myself,” Khan said Saturday. “It was such an amazing feeling. It was so emotional for me that I gave Mr. Rooney a big hug.”

When the emotion is over, Khan, a veteran of 22 years in the Steelers’ front office, knows what’s expected. “I understand the expectations of Steelers Nation,” he said. “I’ll be working with a coach in coach [Mike] Tomlin whose passion resonates with everyone in the building, and it will drive me every day. We’ve worked together for 16 years, confided in each other on many things. I’ve never met anyone who has the passion for his work that he does.”

Khan’s a big believer in building through the draft, with a coaching staff that’s a teaching staff. After learning under a traditional GM, Kevin Colbert, for so long, the Steelers are likely to be the same kind of team they were under Colbert’s stewardship: Draft-based, with the occasional trade (Minkah Fitzpatrick) and long-term building process at important positions (Kenny Pickett). Don’t look for much change in Pittsburgh, and that’s a good thing.

The Pro Bowl. When I started to hear out of the league meetings last week vague threats that the Pro Bowl could be an endangered species, my first thought (after “GREAT!”) was this: Roger Goodell has had it with the game. Things like this don’t leak out of the league meetings without pushback if the commissioner is on the other end of the spectrum. And from what I hear, he’s not. One person who knows Goodell’s thought process told me: “My bet is Roger is going to kill the game sometime soon. The stars don’t want to play, no one plays hard, and he sees that it isn’t real football—no tackling, half-effort.”

It would be one of the best decisions Goodell could make.

That time of year. In two weeks, I’m going to have a big chunk of graduation speeches in the column. I love them—the stories, the life lessons.

One story before the June 13 column: Tomorrow in Fairfax, Va., the Fairfax High Class of 2022 will hear a commencement address from a member of the Fairfax Class of 2014: Rams safety Nick Scott, who started in the Super Bowl and who is a great story of perseverance in his own right.

The title of his speech: “Embrace your role, but never settle for it.”

Scott told me Friday: “It’s surreal. It’s crazy. How I went from Fairfax High to Super Bowl champ in eight years, to think eight years ago I sat where they’ll be sitting and I’ll be trying to give them some hope and some knowledge, it’s just wild.”

NFL, Rams, 49ers, NFC Championship
Rams safety Nick Scott. (Getty Images)

Here’s why Scott’s story is so good for impressionable kids to hear: He went from Fairfax to Penn State and played special teams almost exclusively till his last year, 2018, when he played safety as well. The Rams drafted him deep in the seventh round as a special-teamer, and for two years he rarely played on defense.

But then, due to late-season illness and then injury to starting safety Jordan Fuller, Scott started all four games in the playoffs for the Rams. He made two memorable plays in the playoffs. In the divisional game at Tampa Bay, just before halftime, Scott intercepted Tom Brady—which would have been the last pick of Brady’s career had he not come out of retirement. In the NFC title game, he laid out Deebo Samuel across the middle on a clean hit just before halftime. That was probably the biggest hit by a Rams’ defender in their four-game Super Bowl run, and it came against the key player for the Niners in the Rams’ conference title game.

Embrace your role, but never settle for it. Meaning?

Scott: “When you go out into the world, you’re going to be part of a team. Teams are great, teamwork is great. You embrace your role on that team, but never settle for the role you have. When I got to the Rams, I know they were thinking of me as a special-teams player, but I was thinking of myself as more than that. No one saw the work I was putting in during the offseason when no one was looking. So when I finally got called on to start, I was ready. I knew I could do it.”

Good message. Fairfax High’s finest will hear it tomorrow.

The Accelerator Program is the NFL’s latest attempt to increase diversity in coaching and front-office ranks after a two-day meeting last week where club owners and operators met with 62 minority assistant coaches and front-office football execs. One of the leading Black coaches in the league, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, said it was a great experience, drilling down on how to prepare for a head-coaching interview and meeting and interacting with multiple owners he’d never met. He praised the NFL for doing it. But the key question is, does he think it got him closer to his dream of one of 32 head-coach jobs in the NFL?

“Me coming to the meeting didn’t change anything about me,” Glenn told me Thursday. “I feel like I am an NFL head coach. How the owners feel, I can’t answer that. The change now has to be: Do they feel I’m worthy?”

Perfectly said. Three questions for Glenn: 

FMIA: Your overall reaction to the program?

Glenn: “A really good experience. Most of these owners grinded to get where they’re at, just like we did as players. There were some very good speakers. I thought [Colts coach] Frank Reich really excited the participants. He was passionate, powerful. The best thing he said was, ‘I don’t have all the answers, but I am going to hire strong people where I am weak. I know my strong points, know my weak points.’ You don’t see many men who admit that. That was good to hear personally.”

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. (Getty Images)

FMIA: How much time did you have with owners, the real decision-makers?

Glenn: “First night, we had a cocktail hour, which was unbelievable. [Atlanta owner] Arthur Blank, [Cleveland’s] Jimmy Haslam, [the Jets’] Woody Johnson, Steven Jones [of the Cowboys], [Buffalo’s Terry] Mr. Pegula. I not only talked to them, but exchanged personal phone numbers. I told my wife, ‘My phone is worth a trillion dollars now.’ Those conversations didn’t have a lot to do with football. Who am I as a person. Who are they as people. I had maybe 40 minutes with Steven Jones, and a lot of what we talked about was who was the best NBA player of all time—LeBron, Kobe or Michael Jordan. I found it amazing, the commonality between me and the majority of these owners on so many things. The only difference is their bank accounts are bigger than mine.”

FMIA: What do they know about you now that they didn’t before the meeting?

Glenn: “I made a point to myself, I’m just going to be myself. If who I am is good enough, fine. I have a great job. I want to be a HC. I feel I deserve to be a HC. If I don’t, then I will have a damn good job with a team and players I love coaching. But now, after this, the question is with the owners.”

The theory behind this effort is strong: Most NFL franchises are owned by white men and run by white men, and coached by staffs of mostly white head coaches and assistant coaches. How do minority coaches and minority GM candidates get noticed more than they have been? (Though, to be fair, Black GMs have been hired in Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit and Atlanta in the last two-and-a-half years; the Steelers just hired a minority GM. Omar Khan is of Indian/Honduran descent. Seven minority GMs is progress.) It’s an issue now mostly in the coaching ranks. This program can’t bear fruit today, but we’ll see if the owners who got out of comfort zones to interact with minority candidates like Glenn last week in Atlanta will be more open-minded in the next couple of hiring cycles. That’s the goal.   

I

“We will only talk about the people on our team.”

—Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, refusing to discuss the status of quarterback Colin Kaepernick after his Wednesday workout with the team.

II

“Honestly, it makes me fearful to have children, and that’s not right.”

—Dallas QB Dak Prescott, after 19 elementary-school students and two teachers were murdered in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas last Tuesday.

III

“I expect him, at some time, most likely, to be traded. But who knows? That’s not a guarantee. It’s been exactly on hold when that [surgery] happened and when he’s healthy we’ll see what happens.”

—Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, on the status of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo following his post-season shoulder surgery. Looks like the team is headed toward starting Trey Lance to open the season.

IV

“I take my kids to school every day that I can. And I expect to see them every day when the bell rings and I pick them up to come home. How in the hell has it become a situation where I’m not guaranteed that that will be the scenario every day, and not this tragedy today?”

—ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, after the horrific school shooting in Texas last Tuesday.

V

“Oh, I’m going to go crazy. I’m going to go crazy.”

—Broncos defensive tackle D.J. Jones, who formerly played with the Niners, on how he’ll react before the Denver-San Francisco game this year.

The one thing that would alarm me a bit about San Francisco handing the starting quarterback job to Trey Lance is his lack of experience. It also would keep me from making any grandiose judgments about Lance 13 months after he was drafted by the 49ers.

In the four football seasons since enrolling at North Dakota State in 2018—three in college, one in San Francisco—Lance has thrown 389 passes in games. That’s an average of 97 passes a year.

You can look it up: 1, 287 and 30 attempts in his three college seasons, 71 in his his rookie NFL season.

Lance is 22 years old. Not to get all philosophical here, but sometimes, covering football, we cannibalize young players. We want quarterbacks drafted high to morph into Justin Herbert by mid-year-one. Well, Herbert threw 1,273 passes at the highest level of college football. Lance threw 318 in FBS competition, a step down from Herbert’s level. Lance has thrown 101 passes, total, in his age 20 and 21 years as a quarterback. And now a team that was in the NFL Final Four last year is likely to hand him the ball to start opening day. Likely, but not certain. A little perspective would be nice over the next three months, as Lance is put under the OTA/training-camp microscope. 

I would be a little more patient with Lance than the din I hear and read out there.

Colin Kaepernick’s last game was on New Year’s Day 2017. That’s five years and five months ago, or 1,974 days ago, or 282 weeks ago.

Chip Kelly was Kaepernick’s coach that day—it was Kelly’s last game as an NFL coach. And no wonder the Niners lost that day to finish 2-14: Kaepernick’s skill players, the starters, were running back Shaun Draughn, wideouts Chris Harper and Rod Streater, and tight ends Jim Dray and Garrett Celek.

With 5:42 left in the game, Kaepernick threw his last of 72 career touchdown passes, a 9-yard score to Celek.

At 34 years, 6 months, Kaepernick awaits a second NFL life.

I

The former network news anchor, on the local and federal inaction (at least so far) in the wake of the Texas school shooting.

II

Gay, the Wall Street Journal sports columnist, with an interesting thread (read all four entries) on the decline of for-free youth sports in America. He is absolutely right.

III

The CBS/NFL Network NFL analyst, celebrating “Good Morning Football” winning the Sports Emmy for outstanding studio show.

Kudos to Burleson, Peter Schrager, Kyle Brandt and Kay Adams for creating a fun and rollicking and informative morning show.

IV

Mike Greenberg is an ESPN host.

V

Front Office Sports covers the business of sports and, presumably, the installation of a sensory-deprivation tank for the University of Georgia’s football team.

Your mail was dominated by reaction to my power rankings. As always, send notes to me at peterkingfmia@gmail.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.

Cowboys too low. From Mike Carrol, of Wake Forest, N.C.: “I‘m a homer, I’ll admit it. But a realistic one too. The Cowboys will likely not win the Super Bowl, not for talent but rather some cultural or coaching deficiency as we always have every fall. Your rankings—the Eagles 9 and Cowboys 14. Everyone has opinions, but my questions are how, what, when, who went down in the offseason to leapfrog a bad team like the Eagles over the Cowboys? We still have Dak, a good defense and a good offense.”

The bad Eagles won six of their last eight to make the playoffs and improved more than NFC team in the offseason. The easy thing when making rankings in 2022 is to regurgitate the standings of 2021. It never works that way.

Jinxing the Bills. From Jeff Pritchard: “Get off the Bill’s bandwagon. I’m a 64-year-old retired Naval Officer, whose earliest memories are my Dad and his friends yelling at the  black and white TV to get Jack Kemp out of the game and put Lamonica in. Obviously, it’s been challenging to be a Bills fan for 55-plus years. Maybe it’s the Bills year but too much hype might get in the way.”

Not much you can do about that, Jeff. They’re the best team in the league as we speak today.

Browns too high at 18. From Rick Gagliardo, of Pinehurst, N.C.: “You’ve disappointed me. You’ve drunk from the annual Cleveland off-season Kool-aid, again. EVERY YEAR we hear this. Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster had it right: ‘The Browns is the Browns.’ “

I ranked Cleveland 18. That means they’d finish around 8-9, maybe 7-10. You make a strange point, but maybe I’m just not getting it.

In general, your rankings stink, and I bet you won’t acknowledge that. From Clayton Short: “How accurate were you in 2021? Your 2022 rankings seem a stretch at best. Eagles and Chargers in top 10 for instancc. Curious if you guys ever recap your projections and go, ‘Yeah I nailed it,’ or ‘I was completely delusional in my projections.’ You’ll be the latter without a doubt. Curious to see if you actually acknowledge this email.”

The third paragraph of my column last week was about how I stunk last year. Clayton, I wonder if in your line of work, do your colleagues say, “Did you actually read my email before responding to it?”

Colts at 21? From Chad, of Orlando:Come on, man. Colts at 21? With eight Pro Bowlers and all those new acquisitions on D? And Matt Ryan? I gotta go lay down. DO BETTER OLD MAN.”

You may be right. The Colts are better than 21. They may prove that. I have a weird taste in my mouth from last year, and I’m not sure the swap of Carson Wentz for Ryan is enough to wash it away. We’ll see.

Seattle (25) too low. From Dan, in Seattle:I’ll take the Seahawks to win more than expected. This year’s day one roster will roll out 12 new starters over last year’s day 1. And, except for QB (yes, a rather important position) the other 11 new starters will all be an improvement over last year.”

Sorry Dan. You lost me saying Cody Barton will be better than Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker. Disqualifying.

1. I think, legally, the most interesting thing to happen in the NFL in the past week is a Las Vegas judge ruling that discovery can begin in the Jon Gruden suit against the NFL over his termination. Gruden thinks the NFL leaked his ruinous emails. The NFL obviously would have wanted the case to play out in arbitration, a closed process with no one hearing the ugly charges and discovery in a potentially explosive case. But Gruden must figure now that even if he loses, he’s going to make it ugly on the NFL.

2. I think my gut feeling is I’d be a lot more worried about the source of the emails that appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal if I were connected with the Washington franchise than if I worked in the league office.

3. I think the Pro Football Hall of Fame got it right by naming the “Forgotten Four” co-winners of the Hall’s 2022 Ralph Hay Pioneer Award. The year before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier, four players broke the color barrier in pro football. Kenny Washington and Woody Strode (who signed with the NFL Rams) and Marion Motley and Bill Willis (who signed with the Browns, then of the All-America Football Conference) will be honored with the award named for Hay, the man who hosted the meeting in 1920 that led to the formation of the current National Football League. Speaking of Washington, Strode, Motley and Willis, Hall president Jim Porter said, “They made one of the most profound cultural shifts in pro football history when they broke pro football’s color barrier.”

4. I think kudos are also in order for Bob Glauber and Keyshawn Johnson, who collaborated on a book called “The Forgotten First” last year, detailing the impact of the four men on pro football history—and American history. Glauber and Johnson bringing this story to light had something to do with this award, and they should be proud of the impact they made.

5. I think Bills quarterback Josh Allen said something interesting the other day about leadership and about how he’s been prepping to be on the stage he’s on for a long time. “Don’t laugh when I say this,” Allen told reporters after a Bills’ offseason practice, “but my dad used to interview me on the way to preschool, kindergarten, first grade every day, he would drive us to school. He would sit there and he’d ask questions like he was interviewing us on the side of a field, postgame interviews and stuff like that. So I had a lot of practice of that growing up and just had a lot of good people in my life that have kind of showed me the ropes and on how to be yourself and be true to you.” Assist to Joel Allen right there.

6. I think it was odd to hear Saints coach Dennis Allen say of wide receiver Michael Thomas late in the week: “I think he’s doing well in his rehab. He’s not ready yet.” It has been 21 months since Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in the 2020 season-opener against Tampa Bay. Remember that Thomas set the record for receptions in a season with 149 in 2019. That ankle injury in September 2020 wrecked the last two seasons for Thomas. He started five regular-season games in ’20, then none in 2021 after undergoing ankle surgery prior to training camp last year. How concerned would I be, some 11 months after surgery, if the head coach said the injury that ruined two straight seasons has not dissipated to the point that he’s ready to play football two months prior to camp? Quite.

7. I think I have an opinion for the NFL regarding the Pro Bowl, which the league is talking about modifying: Put it out of its misery. End it. The 52-percent effort by players makes a mockery of the game and has for years.

8. I think I’ve met a lot of players who want to make the Pro Bowl. I haven’t met many who want to play in the Pro Bowl.

9. I think I’ll be concerned about Lamar Jackson not being at practice with his mates—he has not been practicing at Ravens’ OTAs—when the calendar says August, not May. The thing about offseason practices is that they do not matter for veterans, except when they’re either learning a brand-new offense or getting used to a new coaching staff. Otherwise, I’ll see you in training camp.

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

a. For the record, I will not vote for any political candidate who takes a dime from the National Rifle Association. And I will be checking. If they all do, I will leave my ballot blank.

b. And no, I will not stick to sports, but thanks for asking.

c. Radio Story of the Week: Rachel Martin of NPR with, “How does a Texas teacher continue working on the day after a school shooting?” So well done, with Carla Perez, a teacher from Kyle, Texas, emotionally finishing out the school year, and another teacher from near Uvalde, Erin Sutton, doing the same. 

d. Martin talked to Sutton when she on the bus on the way from the Senior Class Trip to Six Flags amusement park. The students deserved it, she said, but of course it was hard to know what to do.

SUTTON: Yeah. It’s hard. When I picked my [4-year-old] daughter up, she was at daycare. And she was very scared. And she said that, you know, that there was a bad guy with a gun, and she had to lay on her belly at school. And my husband is in law enforcement. So she was really scared, wondering where Daddy was because she knows Daddy handles bad guys. It was a hard day. And then, she didn’t sleep very well last night.

MARTIN: How did you sleep?

SUTTON: Probably about the same as her. You keep hearing … there was more and more numbers throughout the night. And you can’t imagine. You know, I was lucky I got to hold my daughter. A lot of people didn’t have that.

MARTIN: Is there anything else you want us to know about this moment in your community?

SUTTON: Just that life is never going to be the same. This community is forever going to be touched. I mean, it used to be known as the honey capital of the world. You know, we had a honey bee festival, celebrated honey. And now this is what we’re going to be known for. And it shouldn’t be that way.

e. Great last question. Give the person you’re interviewing a chance to say whatever is on his/her mind.

f. Column of the Week: Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, on the winless Marshall High School softball team in Pasadena. Wrote Plaschke after their final game, a 20-3 road loss:

They finished with a record of 0-18. They had been outscored 294-32. The Marshall girls glumly gathered their equipment and prepared to walk to the bus.

But first, there was something they had to do. Since they had not lost everything. They had not lost their pride. They had not lost their honor. Somehow, some way, they had still not lost their belief in the healing powers of sportsmanship.

So, even after a game that had been cut short, even after a season that had dragged forever, with … their winless record cemented, the Marshall Eagles made the decision to line up single file at home plate.

They would not go home until they shook hands with the girls from Mountain View.

… “Sports is all about winning? That’s as far from the truth as I can imagine,” catcher Maddie Stukel said. “Sports is about having pride in your team, never giving up on your team, never quitting, no matter how hard you want to quit.”

[Coach Mike] Lundy has already polled his winless, weary players who haven’t graduated about their interest in playing next season. You’ll never guess who’s coming back. Or maybe you will.

Everybody.

g. Thanks for writing that, Bill Plaschke. Great lesson there.

h. Obit of the Week: Richard Sandomir in the New York Times on baseball lifer and bullpen gardener Joe Pignatano, who died at 92.

i. The colorful Brooklyn-born Pignatano had a classic baseball life, but as Sandomir writes, he is remembered for the quirky garden in the Mets bullpen that used to grow so big in late summer that it can be seen in old highlights and make people wonder, “What are those huge tomato plants and stakes doing next to the warmup pitchers out there?” Wrote Sandomir:

In 1969, the year the Mets unexpectedly won the World Series after seven seasons as a losing team, Pignatano started planting tomatoes in the bullpen beyond right field. Up came cherry tomatoes, then beefsteak tomatoes. Eventually he grew pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, radishes and lettuce in a 30-foot long plot, with help from the pitchers who watered the plants.

“I transplant the crops in the spring and we have it every year,” he told The Associated Press in 1977.

But few if any of the vegetables found their way to the Pignatano home, where he also had a garden. Most of them, [his brother] Frank Pignatano said, were filched by visiting players and umpires.

In 1974, during a two-year period when the Yankees played at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being renovated, Pignatano noticed empty patches in the garden when the Mets returned from road trips.

“Bobby Murcer would pick all the ripe vegetables,” he told The Associated Press, referring to the Yankee outfielder. “In fact, the whole Yankee team had a feast. When Murcer was traded to the Giants, he left me a note warning that he would be back.”

j. Also In Joe Pignatano’s last at-bat in the major leagues, with the Mets on the final day of the 1962 season, it was a duel between the 119-loss Mets and 103-loss Cubs before a crowd of 3,960 at Wrigley Field. He came up in the top of the eighth, no outs, runners on first and second and hit into a triple play.

k. The triple play was started with a line drive to the Cubs’ brilliant 20-year-old second baseman, Ken Hubbs, who won Rookie of the Year and the Gold Glove that season. Just a kid. Hubbs died piloting his own plane in a Utah snowstorm 16 months later.

l. Pignatano’s first year as a backup catcher in the bigs came in in his native Brooklyn. He caught the last inning of the last Brooklyn Dodgers game ever played at Ebbetts Field. His is one heck of a 28-year baseball life.

m. Podcast of the Week: “Father Wants Us Dead,” NJ.com’s look at a 51-year-old macabre crime in Westfield, N.J. Rebecca Everett and Jessica Remo investigate the well-plotted murder of five family members—mother, wife, daughter and two sons—by creepy accountant John List, and how List got away with it for 18 years before being caught.

n. It’s an eight-part series—the first five are out now.

o. The story is so perfectly Jersey at a time, 1971, that America is changing: Religious Dad, unemployed, in major financial trouble with a 19-room house to pay for. Sickly Mom an alcoholic. Rebellious daughter into witchcraft. Not to play spoiler here, but there is a mass murder in a mansion that takes four weeks to be discovered, and a very smart, calculating murderer understands how to get lost in plain sight.   

p. Highly recommended. The reporting is quite good. There’s a little too much teasing the next good part of the story—endless teases. But if you can cope with that (and you’ll be able to) this is a heck of a listen.

q. So long, Ellen DeGeneres, with some appropriate last words: “I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself—your true authentic self.”

r. RIP Ray Liotta. What an actor.

s. I am in the minority, but what really sticks out to me about his roles is Shoeless Joe Jackson. Remember what he told Kevin Costner about Ty Cobb, when he was in the field (of dreams) and talking about all the old guys who wanted to come back for one last game?

t. Liotta as Shoeless Joe: “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!”

Not optimistic
Raiders will sign Kaepernick.
Hope he gets more tries.





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