In 25 hours on the greatest playoff weekend in the 102-year history of professional football, the headlines, one by one, kept overtaking the last one:
BENGALS KNOCK OFF 1 SEED TO REACH FIRST AFC TITLE GAME SINCE 1988
NINERS KNOCK OFF 1 SEED ON 45-YARD FIELD GOAL AT :00
RODGERS’ FUTURE UNCERTAIN; WON’T SAY IF HE’LL STAY A PACKER
BRADY, IN A STUNNER, MIGHT WALK AWAY TOO
RAMS AVOID MEGA-COLLAPSE, WIN ON FIELD GOAL AT :00
HAS BRADY PLAYED HIS LAST GAME?
MAHOMES, ALLEN IN A DUEL FOR THE AGES
KC WINS ON GREATEST COMEBACK OF REID’S LIFE
OVERTIME RULES STINK
ALL FOUR DIVISIONAL GAMES DECIDED ON FINAL PLAY
I’m sitting here, just after 11 Sunday night, trying to process the last day-plus. Or, as Jack Buck once said: “I don’t believe WHAT I JUST SAW!!!” We came within 13 shocking seconds of the road team winning all four divisional games for the first time in history. The heroes/newsmakers: Evan McPherson (who’s he?), Joe Burrow, Jeffery Simmons, 39-year-old Robbie Gould, Deebo Samuel, the conflicted brain of Kyle Shanahan, Jordan Willis (former Jet, of all things), Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford, the unblockable Aaron Donald, Josh Allen, Josh Allen, Josh Allen, Gabriel Davis the touchdown machine, the tough-as-nails Patrick Mahomes, the incomparable Tyreek Hill. And Josh Allen.
After the first three games of the weekend, drama-laden all, ended on last-play field goals, no way the fourth game could match them. Then KC 42, Buffalo 36 was better, and by a lot. “I’ve been watching football for 75 years,” said 84-year-old Upton Bell, the son of Bert Bell, the NFL commissioner who preceded Pete Rozelle, “and nothing compares to this Buffalo-Kansas City game. I have never seen two quarterbacks in a playoff game play at a higher level than Allen and Mahomes. I was at the 1958 Colts-Giants championship, and that doesn’t compare to this game.”
How amazing is it that we might be on the cusp of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady walking away from football, and the talk on all your Zoom meetings this morning is: “Holy bejeezus! That game last night!”
Thirty-one points scored after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter.
One thing I loved most about the last game, and that’s the indomitable spirit of the Buffalo and Kansas City players. That a cliché, I know. What is indomitable spirit? It’s what Tyreek Hill told me after the game. He talked to his parents a lot during the week, and they told him this was going to one of those who-wants-it-more games. Again, another cliché.
“I told the guys in the receiver room that,” Hill said from the KC locker room. “Buffalo’s great. You saw that. To win, we had to have guys who wanted it more. That’s the truth. Thirteen seconds left, fourth quarter, Buffalo scores and now we’re down, and [offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy comes up to me and says, ‘We’re coming to you, T.’ Patrick says, ‘Coming to you, T.’ And that’s the way I want it. I love it. I love to feel like it’s on me.”
That’s the kind of competitor you want in a game for the ages. Maybe The game for the ages.
There’s no good, logical way to write about this weekend. But it’s my keyboard, so we’ll start at the game I covered Saturday night up in northern Saskatchewan, Niners at Packers.
San Francisco 13, Green Bay 10
GREEN BAY, Wis. — A football game is a series of hundreds of decisions, many of them made by coaches in split-seconds in high pressure. Rarely does one of those decisions impact so many lives and teams as monumentally as something Kyle Shanahan decided while Brandon Aiyuk was in motion from left to right across the Niners’ offensive formation with 1:03 left in the San Francisco-Green Bay divisional playoff game Saturday night.
“What was the time left?” Shanahan asked me, 70 minutes after the game ended. He was finally settling down just before boarding the team bus for the airport.
“A minute and three seconds,” I said.
“The 38,” I said.
Now Shanahan was back in the moment, the moment of the call that would significantly impact:
• The future of Aaron Rodgers’ life in football.
• The legacy of the two-time top-seeded Packers, now on the edge of a cliff.
• Perhaps the last chance for the Pack to prove they hadn’t underachieved with just two Super Bowl titles in 30 years with Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Rodgers.
• The coaching chops of Shanahan, trying to eke out an unlikely win with a wounded quarterback.
• The surprising run of the Niners, trying to make their second NFC title game in three years.
One decision. Shanahan had called a pass play, a deep throw to George Kittle if he was open; the 49er coach thought Kittle would be behind the coverage because the Packers would be sucked up into the box thinking run here. But as Jimmy Garoppolo got his team to the line, three receivers including Kittle in a bunch to the left and Deebo Samuel alone to the right, Shanahan’s second thoughts bubbled to the surface.
The play clock leaked down … :06 … :05 … and Shanahan found the nearest ref. “Time out! TIME OUT!”
:04. That was close.
“In those conditions,” began Shanahan, beat, like he’d just run a half-marathon, “the gotta-have-it yard line was the 35. That was where we had to get to for the longest possible field goal. So I was thinking, man, to have a good chance at this we gotta get a four- or five-yard gain. I was worried we couldn’t do that with the run so I went to a pass.
“But I also knew they had no timeouts. If we did a pass and it didn’t work, Aaron was gonna get it back with 40 or 45 seconds, which …”
I interrupted, “You’ve seen that movie before.”
“Yeah, we’ve seen that before.” In Week 3, at Santa Clara, Rodgers drove the Packers to the winning field goal in the last 37 seconds.
“So we called the pass, the pass I liked. I let them go to the line and then I just thought, It’s not worth it. I’ve seen it with Aaron. We had a motion on, but once we got to the line, I thought I was gonna call a timeout. So I let us start the motion and then I called time. Then I was like, ‘Guys, we gotta run it. At least if we don’t get five yards, at least I know we’re going to overtime. We’ll let it run down to 15 seconds or whatever and punt.”
— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2022
You saw the rest—probably 10 or 15 times by now. Deebo Samuel, the rusher/receiver, lined up to Garoppolo’s left, took the handoff, sprinted right into a hole over right tackle, sloughed off a shoulder-tackle by Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander at about the 37, then sprinted down to the 29. Field-goal range. Robbie Gould (20 of 20 on postseason field goals) was perfect from 45 yards as the clock hit :00. Niners 13, Packers 10. Final.
One heck of a timeout. One heck of a change-of-mind on the fly. One heck of a run. One heck of a game.
“I guess it ended up being a great decision,” Shanahan said, and he finally allowed himself to smile before heading out into the Wisconsin night.
Sometimes, you just have to look up in the sky at the midwinter flurries enveloping the football game you’re playing in, and you just have to feel the zero-degree wind chill, like you’re playing in the Arctic Circle.
Sometimes, you have to consider what you’ve just done. Rodgers had home-snow-globe advantage Saturday night, and he owns Lambeau Field in weather like this. But on a night most Niners will never forget as long as they breathe, this is what the California underdogs did in perhaps the 38-year-old Rodgers’ last game at Lambeau Field, or his last game period: The 49ers held one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, in the last 54 minutes of this NFC divisional playoff game, to three points in nine possessions in a shocking 13-10 victory.
“Yes,” said linebacker Fred Warner, the leader of this great defense, “I made sure throughout the game to look up at the sky and take it all in, because you don’t get to play in games like this very often. It’s one of those games I’ll remember forever. And how we played against Aaron, who is such a great player … it’s legendary. Truly.”
I could see Warner, outside the Niners’ locker room, giddy equipment guys packing up gear for the 1,850-mile trip home, smiling broadly beneath his black KN95 mask.
“It’s hard to wrap my brain around what we just did.”
I could write 10,000 words about this game. I just might. The game wasn’t pristine. The drama was.
Rodgers defers decision on future. He could request a trade in the coming weeks and the Packers would have to oblige, or he could play one more year and be an unrestricted free-agent in 2023 at 39, or he could quit now. “I’ll have conversations [with Packer management] in the next week or so and start to contemplate after that,” he said after the game. No sign of which way he’s leaning, but he did say he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild.
Mr. Clutch won it. “Our kicker’s perfect!” screamed one Niners exec as a group of them exploded in joy seconds after Gould’s dead-perfect 45-yard kick as time expired won it. And wait till you hear the story of Gould’s new cleats, and the role a small soccer shop in Lancaster, Pa., played in Gould’s golden moment.
Shanahan’s Deebo decision: likely the biggest in his five-year head-coaching career. Changing from pass to run, and Samuel responding with the biggest play of his NFL life, shows Shanahan will live or die with his calls, and he’s comfortable with that.
Packers lousy in crunch time for second straight year. Last year, in the NFC title game, it was Rodgers going incomplete, incomplete, incomplete in the game-deciding series against Tampa Bay. This year, it was the worst offensive performance by the Pack in Rodgers’ 22 playoff starts. You can look it up: They’d never scored less than 20 points in any of Rodgers’ playoff games till this one. Ten. Jordan Love-like. Two top seeds, two crushing disappointments.
Is this it for Rodgers? The weird, painful symmetry of Rodgers and predecessor Brett Favre cries out. Fourteen years and two days previous to Saturday night’s game, Favre’s 14-3 Packers lost to the Giants on a Lawrence Tynes 47-yard field goal as time expired in a minus-23 wind chill game. Here, Rodgers’ 13-4 Packers lost to the Niners on a 45-yard field goal as time expired in a zero wind-chill game. If this was Rodgers’ last game as a Packer, it will be hauntingly familiar to Favre’s.
This was not quite a Vinatieri game at the end, but Gould would have to kick through some snow to win it from 45 yards. Early in the week, he’d called a kickers fraternity brother, Lawrence Tynes, whose 47-yarder 14 years ago lifted the Giants to a Super Bowl berth. Shorten your warmup, stay as warm as possible and slow your stride into the ball because of the soft ground. In other words, don’t use the usual speed to get to the ball. The rushers won’t be able to be quick either, so they’re not going to have an edge coming around the corner.
It worked. Gould slowed his approach to the ball and kicked it perfectly off the soft, heated Lambeau field.
Gould buys his cleats from the store of a guy who used to play soccer with his dad, Angelo Zalalas, who runs Angelo’s Soccer Corner in Lancaster, Pa. “My cleats didn’t fit anymore, and I don’t have. Nike deal,” Gould told me. “So I ordered some from Angelo—shout out to Angelo!—because it was just time for a new pair. He overnighted them to me. The first ones didn’t fit right. So he sent another pair, and those were good. I used those tonight. They felt great.”
After the game, Tynes texted Gould congrats, and Gould thought how cool it was that a guy who won a huge January game in this place helped him win a huge January game in this place. “Dude,” Gould texted Tynes, “you’re my good luck charm.”
Kansas City 42, Buffalo 36
After soaking in one of the greatest games ever (by any metric), and exhaling, I have a few points to make here:
Kansas City has drafted so many players with the Mahomes mindset (talent, plus drive, plus intense competitiveness) who showed up in this ultimate test to their greatness. I thought coming back in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl two years ago, using signature-play 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp to come back on the Niners, was the best illustration of Kansas City’s determination. Maybe not. Mahomes is amazing, obviously. Nothing bugs him. He’s got a chance, long-term, to be one of the all-time great with his magical style and accompanying grit. “But what people don’t see,” Tyreek Hill told me post-game, “is the way he makes us all better.” With 73 seconds left and the Bills up 29-26, Mahomes pierced a look into Hill and said, “Ten! I’m coming to you, no matter what.” Of course, “10” is Hill’s number. Hill got a step on his defender, and Mahomes hit him, and Hill sprinted through the crowd of Bills for a 64-yard score. “So well do that, we all lean on each other,” Hill said. “Like, in this game, I told our receiver group, ‘If it’s not coming to you, block! Block for one another.’ “
CHIEFS RETAKE THE LEAD. #NFLPlayoffs
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2022
Josh Allen. That is all. A conversation I won’t forget from last August: Allen’s off-season workout guru, former quarterback Jordan Palmer, told me the season would come down to the last four minutes against Kansas City. So I went back and looked at those four minutes: Allen led two touchdown drives, throwing for 107 yards and two touchdowns. He rose to the moment. And here’s something no one’s thinking about in the wake of the game. Allen, as brilliant as he was throwing the ball, was superb and forceful running it. Michael Vick’s career rushing average was 7.0 yards per rush. Steve Young’s 5.9 yards. In his two playoff games this year, Allen is bulling/deking/sprinting for 7.9 yards per carry. When you don’t throw picks, and when you’re putting up 83 points in two playoff games, you’re a great quarterback. That’s Allen.
What depth the Bills have. In the regular season, Gabriel Davis was Buffalo’s sixth-leading receiver, with 35 catches. How does a team’s sixth-leading receiver set an NFL playoff record with four touchdowns in one postseason game? Davis (eight catches, 201 yards) shows how well the Bills have done building this roster under GM Brandon Beane.
Sean McDermott showed he has a smart, disciplined team that will be in games of this magnitude for years. One play illustrated to me what McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have drilled into this team. With Kansas City up 23-21 with nine minutes to play, KC had a third-and-one from the Buffalo 7-yard line. No idea (other than the element of surprise) why the home team would take Mahomes out from under center and position tight end Blake Bell at quarterback, but that’s what happened. Bell took the snap and veered right and pitched to running back Jerick McKinnon. And in a brilliant bit of defensive strategy, defensive back Dane Jackson leveled McKinnon for a loss of three. I would have had the ball in Mahomes’ hands there, but the fact that Reid didn’t, and the fact the Bills sniffed it out is a great credit to their coaches.
McDermott will regret one coaching decision from this game. Buffalo just had the greatest drive of the day to go up 36-33 with 14 seconds left, and it looked like the Bills would have their great victory of the century. But Buffalo then kicked the ball into the end zone, allowing no time to run off the clock and allowing Kansas City to take over at its 25. They were 40 yards away from trying a field goal to tie it. Moments after it happened, one NFL coach texted me and said, “No! The Bills should have made the Chiefs return the ball and start the drive with only eight or nine seconds left. That way, they’d have had one play, not two, to get into field-goal position.” Correct. Absolutely correct.
L.A. Rams 30, Tampa Bay 27
I don’t know if Tom Brady will retire. I do know that there are some close to Brady who wonder if he will, including one person Sunday night who told me when I asked about Brady walking away at 44, “Friday I would have said no. Today, I don’t know.”
Don’t take that to mean Brady had some epiphany over the weekend that told him he should retire. I’ve always felt—as someone who knows Brady in passing; I am not close to him—that when he retired, it would not be because he felt he was incapable of playing at a high level. God knows anyone who leads the NFL in passing yards at 44 can and is still playing at a high level. But I’ve thought there’s something else that’s important for Brady, who knows he has focused so much energy for exactly half of his life on being a great professional football player. At some point he’s going to want a different focus in his life. And at a time when the Bucs were all-in on 2021 and it didn’t result in a second Tampa Super Bowl, Brady knows 2022 is going to be worse because of the cap and because some of the vets are not going to be able to be the impact players they were in the Super Bowl season. So maybe this is time to go. But I stress: I don’t know if he will. Brady might come back and throw for 5K again next fall. We’ll see. He does deserve to take his time and make the choice he wants to make.
As for the Rams, this was a franchise-impacting victory. It means they’ll play the NFC title game in owner Stan Kroenke’s jillion-dollar palace, SoFi Stadium, and if they win that game, they’ll play the Super Bowl in their home yard too.
On Sunday, they went on the road, beat the defending Super Bowl champions, knocked the greatest quarterback ever from the tournament, and proved that their way of building a team can work. The Rams are the only one of 32 franchises in the league choosing through trades and free agency to build with proven veterans and lesser, lower-cost mid-round young players. Watching Von Miller wreak havoc next to Aaron Donald on Sunday, and seeing Odell Beckham Jr. make the Final Four as a real contributor and seeing vet Matthew Stafford win the first and second playoff games—in the span of seven days—were measuring-stick accomplishments for the team.
Watching Stafford lead the team to the winning field goal after nearly blowing a 24-point lead says more to me about his poise and leadership than about how he and that offense almost blew the game. When McVay went out on a limb to deal for Stafford, he denuded future drafts in making the deal with Detroit. This was the day it was all about, Stafford going into Tampa Bay and dethroning Tom Brady and the champs.
Cincinnati 19, Tennessee 16
So it has become urban legend in the last 36 hours that Evan McPherson is the Joe Burrow of kickers—a young player (22) with an insane amount of confidence for his age, a guy who told holder Brandon Allen before banging his fourth field goal of the game, a 52-yard game-winner, “Looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship.” And of course McPherson drilled it right down the middle. In his first two NFL playoff games, McPherson is perfect, four-for-four in field goals in both.
Where’d this big-time player come from?
Well, the Bengals have the New England Patriots, and Christian Barmore, to thank for McPherson.
Go back to draft weekend. The Bengals did like McPherson, who came out a year early from Florida and the team scouted heavily. Special team coordinator Darren Simmons gave his seal of approval, which was big in the eyes of draft czar and director of player personnel Duke Tobin. They liked McPherson’s physical gifts and his moxie. But the team wanted to draft at least two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen (and maybe a third) in the draft, and they knew they were going to pick Ja’Marr Chase. To get Chase, the kicker (no sure thing if they didn’t deal for extra picks) and the linemen, they needed extra picks. “We definitely needed to fill in on both lines of scrimmage,” Tobin recalled from Cincinnati on Sunday. “But we also liked the kicker, because taking him would hopefully take us out of the grind cycle of manufacturing a kicker.”
The Bengals had the 38th overall pick in the second round. Tobin wanted to move down. He engaged with New England, picking 46th. The Patriots agreed to send pick 46, plus two fourth-round picks (122 and 139) to Cincinnati for the 38th pick. That’s a hefty sum, but only a slight overpayment per the note draft-trade value chart. But the trade allowed the Bengals to pick two offensive tackles and three defensive linemen by the time the fifth round began.
“I can’t say I’m Carnac in that way,” said Tobin, referring to the mind-reader Johnny Carson used to play on late-night TV. “You have guys on your board that you’re saying, okay, if we make this deal we could get three guys we liked instead of picking only one. It felt good to get three swings at picks in the fourth round.”
That freed Cincinnati to pick McPherson early in the fifth round. It also came with seal of approval of his father Bill Tobin, a long-time scout and draft chief.
“My dad told me in 1985, when he was with the Bears, they took a kicker in the fourth round who made a huge difference in their Super Bowl team that year. That kicker was Kevin Butler. So it’s not without precedent, taking a kicker and having him make a real difference in your team. We felt good about Evan being there in the fifth round for us, and the difference he could make for us.”
Some difference. McPherson scored 14 points in a seven-point wild-card win last week, and 13 points in sending home the AFC’s top seed this weekend. That’s pretty good value, making all 11 kicks in clutch playoff situations, for the 154th pick in the draft.
AFC Championship Game, 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Cincinnati (4 seed, 12-7) at Kansas City (2 seed, 14-5), Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City. Opening line: K.C. by 7. Patrick Mahomes started this playoff run by ushering a classic vet, Ben Roethlisberger, into retirement in the AFC wild-card round. He continued the playoffs with a duel to the death with current star, Josh Allen, in the divisional round. And now Mahomes, in what will feel like an odd role as the veteran star, will be opposite young gun Joe Burrow and the surprising Bengals. It’s easy to think Kansas City, in its fourth straight AFC title game, will dispatch the spunky Bengals easily. That would be easy to think, and wrong. Joe Burrow doesn’t care about football royalty. He threw for 446 yards and four TDs when he met Mahomes for the first time three weeks ago in a 34-31 Cincinnati win.
NFC Championship Game, 6:40 p.m. ET, FOX
San Francisco (6 seed, 12-7) at Los Angeles Rams (4 seed, 14-5), SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles. Opening line: L.A. by 3.5 points.
On the surface, it seems like a great match for the Rams, with a healthy and hot Matthew Stafford playing at home in his redemption story against a wounded survivor, Jimmy Garoppolo and the upstart Niners. In the last 15 days, the Niners trailed the Rams 17-0 and came back to win at SoFi, found a way to win at Dallas, then used the entire roster to win at Green Bay. Plus, since New Year’s Day 2019, the Niners are 6-0 against the Rams—by an average of 8.5 points per game. So the Rams might feel good about this matchup, but the Niners have history on their side.
You think the head-coaching hires have proceeded glacially this year? Well, good. It’s always mystified me how teams sprint to hire the most important person (non-quarterback) in the organization. It’s frustrating the candidates, the agents, and even some teams. “I’ve never seen a year with such uncertainty,” one veteran agent who represents some coaches said Saturday afternoon. “Especially this deep into the process.”
It’s Jan. 24, and NFL teams have filled none of their eight head-coaching openings. Certainly what I’m about to say has something to do with the fact that the NFL season stretched this year to Jan. 9, a week later than normal with the advent of the 18-week, 17-game regular season. But look at these NFL coaching factoids:
• Since 2013, not including in-season interim hires, NFL teams have made 63 head-coaching hires or commitments. Only two occurred after Jan. 24: David Culley in Houston last year (Jan. 27) and Frank Reich in Indianapolis in 2018 (Feb. 11, after Josh McDaniels dropped out). Some hires were made official after the Super Bowl, with contracts agreed to before Jan. 24 in that season. I call those commitments.
• Let’s account for the extra week, and let’s figure out how many commitments to new coaches were made as of Jan. 17 in each hiring season. Of the 63 coaches hired, 53 had been hired/committed to by Jan. 17.
• In four of the last nine hiring seasons, every team had hired its coach by Jan. 17.
There are reasons for this, and for the slow pace of GM-hiring. Giants president/co-owner John Mara elucidated one when he said after his coach and GM both were gone after this season: “I don’t want to rush into anything. We made that mistake in the past.” Dave Gettleman, hired as Giants GM on Dec. 28, 2017 is the perfect example. What was the rush? No one was hiring Gettleman. But Mara felt safe with him because Gettleman was a longtime Ernie Accorsi lieutenant. This time, it’s different. The Giants vetted nine GM candidates with interviews, and brought three back for more interviews, before hiring Buffalo assistant GM Joe Schoene on Friday.
Another reason: There’s no superstar coaching candidate out there. Even the coveted ones, former coaches Dan Quinn and Brian Flores, have zits. Quinn was 7-9, 7-9 and 0-5 in his last three Falcons seasons, not able to capitalize on the team’s Super Bowl appearance, before getting fired; Flores coached three straight non-playoff seasons in Miami, though to his credit Miami was getting good in 2021—he had a seven-game winning streak for the Dolphins. But there’s this: In three seasons, Flores had an alarming revolving door on the offensive coaching staff, with four offensive line coaches, four offensive coordinators (including the George Godsey/Eric Studesville job-share in 2021) and four QB coaches. You shuffle coaches that often, particularly with a young quarterback, and there’s going to be some mayhem.
We’ll see how it shakes out, but the fact that teams are slow-playing the coaching carousel, I think, is a very good thing. For a moment, consider the two coaches in the opening game of the divisional weekend. Mike Vrabel was hired 20 days after the end of the regular season in 2018. Zac Taylor reached a commitment with the Bengals 21 days after the end of the regular season in 2019. (He couldn’t sign till after his 2018 team, the Rams, played in the Super Bowl.) Patience paid, for Tennessee and Cincinnati.
Offensive Players of the Week
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo. No idea how Allen would be feeling this morning, but I bet he wakes up feeling like crap. He shouldn’t. His team was valiant, and he has been incredible in the 2021 postseason. Consider that, in a win over New England and a loss to Kansas City, Allen was on the field for 16 possessions in the past nine days—and produced 12 touchdowns. His nine-TD, zero-pick performance in the playoffs led to a 149.0 rating, and he was a commanding presence in running for 134 yards. More of this, please, in future playoff seasons.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. Mahomes threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. That is all. No … one more thing. He completed the great Kent Teckulve-submarine style pass, under the outstretched arm of Bills edge rusher Gregory Rousseau, that was the craziest completion of a crazy weekend.
Cooper Kupp, wide receiver, L.A. Rams. Not just for the nine catches and 183 yards and one touchdown, and not just for how he came back from a big fumble in the 30-27 win over the Bucs, knocking the Super Bowl champs from the playoffs. Kupp caught two straight passes in the final minute of the game, for 20 and 44 yards, that led to the game-winning field goal. Amazing that even when the Bucs knew the ball was coming to Kupp, he shined.
Defensive Players of the Week
Jeffery Simmons, defensive tackle, Tennessee. The loss to Cincinnati was not Simmons’ fault, I’ll tell you that. “Unreal bro,” Joe Burrow told Simmons, with massive respect, when the Titan interrupted his CBS post-game interview. Saturday evening was the coming-out party for the Titans’ first-round pick in 2019. In the Titans’ loss to Cincinnati, Simmons couldn’t have inflicted much more damage on Bengals QB Joe Burrow. He had three of Tennessee’s playoff-record nine sacks, for a combined loss of 27 yards, plus four pressures of Burrow, plus eight tackles. Not bad for a guy who had 13.5 sacks in 45 career regular-season and postseason games. One other sack note for the Titans: Nine is the most sacks in a playoff game in the last 28 years.
The #Titans defense had FIVE sacks in the first half.
— Super Bowl LVI on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 22, 2022
D.J. Reader, defensive tackle, Cincinnati. At 6-3 and 347 pounds, Reader was going to be huge—no pun intended—in the Bengals’ attempt to stunt the impact of Derrick Henry. Second carry by Henry: Reader stopped Henry for a loss of one. Fifth carry: Reader stopped Henry for a loss of one. Fourth quarter, last Tennessee drive of the day: Reader stoned Henry for no gain. Henry being made mortal was job one for Cincinnati, and that’s what he was in both halves: 10 carries for 30 yards in the first, 10 carries for 32 in the second. Reader led the way for a Cincinnati defensive front that handled Henry.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Evan McPherson, kicker, Cincinnati. With the fifth pick of the fifth round last April, the Bengals chose the one and only kicker picked in the 2021 draft, Florida’s Evan McPherson. They chose wisely. McPherson scored all of Cincinnati’s points in the first half of the divisional playoffs at Tennessee, with field goals of 38, 45, and 54 yards. Then, of course, he kicked the game-winner from 52 yard at the final gun. What a wow moment, for the franchise and for the rookie kicker. Of all NFL kickers, McPherson now has the most field goals from 50 yards or longer this season, 11, folding in regular-season and postseason kicks, in 13 attempts. Something else good: In two narrow playoff wins over Las Vegas and Tennessee, McPherson has made all eight field-goal tries.
Jordan Willis, defensive end, San Francisco. With the Niners’ offense sputtering in the snow globe of Lambeau and 4:50 left in the game and the Packer hanging on to a 10-3 lead, Willis, playing with a bum ankle, powered through the middle of the Green Bay line and got one massive arm on a punt. The block was picked up by safety Talanoa Hufanga and returned six yards for the tying TD. That’s not all Willis did. Earlier, it was Willis fighting off a block on a 39-yard field-goal try by Mason Crosby, allowing Jimmie Ward to bust through and block the chippy field goal. “I cannot say enough about [Willis’] determination to get ready to play in a game when we really needed him,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Coach of the Week
DeMeco Ryans, defensive coordinator, San Francisco. “Come on,” linebacker Fred Warner told me afterward. “How much more do you have to see to figure out what a great coach DeMeco is? He had an answer for everything tonight.” Ryans, based on this pressure-packed defensive game plan, should have earned multiple additional looks from teams with head-coaching openings. (Listening, Houston?) Ryan’s D held the Packers to 193 total yards and zero touchdowns in the game’s final 54 minutes while tormenting Aaron Rodgers all the while. Ryans took advantage of the unexpected absence of all-pro David Bakhtiari—inactive; his surgically repaired ACL didn’t respond well enough to play—to work on both tackles, Billy Turner and Dennis Kelly.
Goats of the Week
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee. Threw an interception on the first Titans play of the game that led to the first points of the game, a Cincinnati field goal. Threw an interception (albeit tipped) on the last Titans play of the game that led to the last points of the game, a winning Cincinnati field goal. And threw another pick from the Bengals’ 9-yard line to ruin the Titans’ chances for a TD in the third quarter. Almost forgot this gem: Tannehill converted one third down all game. In short, this was the easiest Goat of the Week on a playoff weekend in a long time … at least until the Saturday night game kicked off in Green Bay.
Maurice Drayton, special teams coordinator, Green Bay. The Packer special teams had one of the biggest meltdowns of any position group in years. The Packers had a field-goal attempt blocked in the first half; if converted, the kick would have given Green Bay a 10-0 lead. A 49ers field goal in the third quarter was set up by a 45-yard kick return by Deebo Samuel. The Niners’ lone TD came on a blocked punt scooped and returned for a touchdown. And then, on the winning Robbie Gould field goal, Green Bay had 10 men on the field and got zero pressure on the kick in the biggest moment of the 2021 season. “Abject disaster” would be an apt description for Drayton’s unit.
“I didn’t have a great night tonight … I’m still super competitive, still know I can play at a high level, so it’s going to be a tough decision. I have a lot of things to weigh in the coming weeks.”
—Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who may retire, ask for a trade, or return to the Packers to play in 2022.
“That’s totally up to Tom.”
—Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, on whether Tom Brady will return to play for the Bucs in 2022.
“I’m tired of the underdog narrative. We’re a really good team. We’re here to make noise.”
—Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who will play in the AFC Championship Game.
“I support him 100 percent. I’m a big believer in using data to make decisions, as is he. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t context involved in that—I mean, we’re not robots—but we’re trying to put our players in a position of strength, in a position of advantage, as much as we can. I love the identity that we play with. I know on the outside that not everyone may agree with how we play, but it’s who we are and I love it.”
—Chargers GM Tom Telesco, on coach Brandon Staley’s unorthodox play-calling, particularly on fourth down, in his first season as a head coach.
“All options are on the table, but those decisions are interrelated based on our global needs.”
—Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, always one of the most interesting quotes in the league, on the post-Roethlisberger Steelers QB situation. I’m surprised he didn’t add, “Of course, there’s got to be a quarterback somewhere in the supply chain we all like.”
Black head coaches, NFL, Jan. 24, 2018: 7.
Black head coaches, NFL, Jan. 24, 2022: 1.
Game that all networks will brawl over before the schedule is announced in early May: Buffalo at Kansas City.
This will be episode five in the Allen-Mahomes series, four at Arrowhead Stadium. Patrick Mahomes is 3-1 versus Josh Allen. Mahomes has won by 9, 16 and 6, Allen by 18.
RIP, Meat Loaf.
Meat Loaf was the softball coach at Joel Barlow (Conn.) High School in Redding, Conn., in the nineties. One of his players, Jen Carlson, wrote a story for Deadspin a few years ago with a tremendous headline: “Meat Loaf Was My Softball Coach.” She said the players called him Coach Meat.
He was not fond of being Meat Loaf when he was coaching—he just wanted to be a good coach. Carlson did say, though, that after the team won its first game one year, he sang in celebration, “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).”
That must have been fun.
On Friday night in Green Bay, I joined Rob Demovsky, the ESPN reporter (and Ohio Bobcat) I’ve gotten to know a bit, and another ESPN reporter, Nick Wagoner, who covers the Niners, at the DePere High-Sheboygan North High boys basketball game. Big reason: Young Hogan Demovsky is a backup guard on state power DePere. I hadn’t been to a high school basketball game in … I have no idea how long. Thirty years? Forty?
I walked into the gym early in the first half, and what’s the first thing I see? Hogan Demovsky driving through the Sheboygan North D for a pretty layup.
The Redbirds run a high-powered operation. A roster sheet for frosh, JV and varsity teams for both schools comes with the $4 admission. Fifty-one players in the DePere program, eight coaches, two “speed and strength” coaches. Spirited PA announcer. Games are streamed on YouTube; Hogan’s grandparents watch from their retirement home in Florida. Music during timeouts. At one point in the second half, I looked up on the scoreboard to see the scoring and rebounding leaders in the Fox River Classic Conference listed. Students in the Redbird student section stand for games.
Two 18-minute halves. No shot clock. Intense defense. The Redbirds, 11-1, came in ranked second in the state in the big-school division, but the Golden Raiders, 7-4 and feisty, cut the lead to 56-53 midway through the second half. Then DePere’s John Stockton-esque guard, John Kinziger, dribble-drove the length of the floor, like he was saying, Enough of this, and laid it in and the Redbirds took control. DePere, 81-66.
There was a handshake line, and parents clapping backs, and the friendly PA guy directing his final words to the visitors from 58 miles south: “We wish you a safe drive back to Sheboygan!”
At a nearby pub, Graystone, the players and a few girlfriends gathered at a long corner table for pizzas and cokes. Parents sat elsewhere, not daring to intrude. I stopped Kinziger to ask him about his play when it was a tight game, 56-53, and what was in his mind right then. He said somebody had to make a play—we had to stop their rally right there.
The universal-ness of sports.
Thanks for the invite, Rob. A great evening.
Instead of playing for the tie… @Buccaneers decide to go with the ALL-OUT BLITZ 0 call at most critical moment… and Stafford did what you are taught, attack the middle of the field and lay it up!!!
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) January 23, 2022
From the Hall of Fame QB, on Matthew Stafford’s 44-yard bomb to Cooper Kupp to set up the game-winning field goal.
the two winning teams today combined for 1 offensive TD and gave up 13 combined sacks.
— Mike Golic Jr (@mikegolicjr) January 23, 2022
Golic works for ESPN and ESPN Radio.
— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) January 23, 2022
Julian Edelman, the former Patriot, is a clever guy.
Wink was a Real one Respect Big Dawg #TownBiz
— Marcus Peters (@marcuspeters) January 22, 2022
The Baltimore cornerback with praise for departed defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
The I’m-never-watching-the-NFL-again-and-they’ve-lost-me-forever train seems to be going as well as Bill De Blasio’s Presidential aspirations. https://t.co/mPNhY4v0oX
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 19, 2022
Deitsch covers sports media for The Athletic.
Conflicted thoughts of lifelong Packers fan. Deserved to lose. Special teams embarrassing. Defense excellent. Offense lame. Rodgers had dazed look not seen since last playoffs. It’s tiresome rooting for team whose talented qb is a monomaniacal dangerous know-it-all fool. Enuf.
— david maraniss (@davidmaraniss) January 23, 2022
Noted author Maraniss wrote the acclaimed Vince Lombardi biography.
Jimmy cannot bleeping throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) January 23, 2022
Touche, Mr. Siciliano. Touche.
I blew this one. From Marc Ryan: “No mention of Don Maynard? Gee whiz! [Maynard died Jan. 10 at 86.] Not long ago, I watched some games from the 70s on YouTube. Running pass routes was to endure legalized mugging. And, 19 yards per catch for a career!”
You’re right, Marc. Don Maynard was one of the game’s best receivers in the first 50 years of pro football. I should have recognized his passing. He was the most dangerous receiver in football in 1967 and ’68 as the Jets rose to greatness. Joe Namath loved him. No one intimidated the soft-spoken Texan. In the last five games in 1968 leading up to the Super Bowl III upset of the Colts, Maynard caught 34 passes from Namath for 775 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught the AFL Championship Game-winner in the fourth quarter at Shea Stadium against the Raiders (their final game before John Madden took over as coach in 1969), but Maynard pulled a hamstring on the catch and was used as a decoy in the Super Bowl. Maynard, as much as any Jet but Namath, was responsible for getting the franchise to its only Super Bowl ever. RIP, sir.
Not a fan of my MVP vote. From Jim Shaffar: “You’re a bum! There is no way that lying SOB Aaron Rodgers should be the NFL MVP. If he wins the MVP that will show the system is totally compromised and corrupted. Rogers put his teammates and others in mortal danger by disregarding official NFL protocols regarding the coronavirus, lied to the public, and set a terrible example of how a role model should conduct himself. If Tom Brady doesn’t win the MVP it will be a travesty. I don’t know how you can sleep at night defending Rodgers the way you do.”
Do you often start letters or emails to total strangers with “You’re a bum?” Catchy. I got scores of emails/tweets castigating me for my Rodgers-as-MVP vote, which I explained at length in my column last Monday. A lot of thought went into my decision. Many disagree. That’s America.
Some good points here. From Carl Lasker, of Arlington, Va.: “You are my favorite sports writer, and I welcome your transparency. Thanks for all you do. I feel weird writing you for the first time with a critique. However, I feel you shortchanged your readers when you described your thought process behind choosing Nick Folk as your first team All-Pro kicker. You wrote: ‘Justin Tucker and Daniel Carlson are both deserving at kicker, to be sure. But Folk was 29 of 29 on kicks inside 50 yards—Tucker was 29 of 31, Carlson 34 of 36 on such kicks—and I can’t forget the 34- and 41-yarders he made with the wind gusting up to 40 mph in Buffalo last month.’ You neglected to mention Tucker was six of six on kicks outside of 50 yards, and Carlson was six of seven. Meanwhile Folk was five of eight. Tucker was also perfect on extra points, while Carlson missed three and Folk missed five.”
Thanks for the kind words, Carl. All good points. Tucker has the best argument versus Folk, and—as you also pointed out—his 66-yard game-winning field goal in a dome in Detroit was huge. I just couldn’t get past Folk’s incredible December night in Buffalo when, in warmups, field-goal tries were Tim Wakefield knuckleballs in a galestorm, and his 41- and 34-yard kicks were the difference in a 14-10 win. But Tucker or Carlson would be good choices too.
On Hub Arkush. From Jerry Kohn, of Skokie, Ill.: “You’ve mentioned how Hub Arkush, one of the 50 voters for the NFL’s MVP award, stated that he would not vote for Aaron Rodgers because ‘he’s a bad guy.’ You were absolutely right to call Arkush out on this. You know who would agree with you? Hub Arkush. I’m a life-long Chicagoan and Bears fan and have listened, watched, and read Hub Arkush for decades. He is an absolute class act. The next day after he made that comment he apologized profusely. He acknowledged that it was wrong. My point is that, if you are going to write about Arkush’s misstep, you should also write that he acknowledged that his comments were wrong and apologized.”
Thanks, Jerry. For those who want to read Arkush’s walk-back of his comments, for which he should be commended, here they are. But there still is an issue relating to whether Arkush should be a voter for the AP awards and all-pro team. If his opinion that a player is a jerk or a bad guy factors into his vote for the NFL awards, he shouldn’t be a voter.
1. I think I’ll update you on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 here. A few things are different now. Because the Hall of Fame class will be announced on the NFL Honors show, and the show has been moved from Saturday night before the Super Bowl to the previous Thursday night, we won’t know the final results till that Thursday, Feb. 10. That’s 23 days between the vote and publicizing it. Normally it’s a few hours. The 49 voters met on Zoom, with new Hall president Jim Porter presiding. Porter took over for David Baker, who retired. The meeting, my 30th as a Hall voter, lasted 7 hours, 26 minutes. A few points:
• The meeting started with presentations on the candidates for contributor (Art McNally), senior (Cliff Branch) and coach (Dick Vermeil). All were selected as candidates before the meeting by HoF subcommittees. The presentations in each case consisted of a five-minute statement by a voter close to each candidate, then discussions; voters hit the “raise hand” function on Zoom and in turn would make a point or give an opinion. After those three candidates had their cases heard, the voters voted yes or no on each candidacy in secret; each candidate needs 80 percent of the vote, or at least 40 of the 49 voters to vote yes, for enshrinement.
• Then the 15 modern-era finalists had their cases heard in the same way. But this round of voting is different. After hearing all 15 candidates discussed, we voted in secret for our top 10. The votes were tabulated, and then we were told the 10 men who were the top vote-getters. A few more points were made by voters who wanted to say something. Then we voted in secret for our top five. Then the top five got announced to the group. Then we voted yes or no on each of the five, with each candidate needing at least 40 of 49 yes votes to get in.
• Although the voters know the top 10, and then the top five, we were asked not to disclose them in advance of the show on Feb. 10. We do not know the outcome of any of the final yes-or-no votes.
• What I really liked about this year’s session: There were no slam dunks, and so we could enter the meeting knowing it was a free-for-all. Fifteen spots, five true openings. And with five first-time finalists (Willie Anderson, Devin Hester, Andre Johnson, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis) and three second-years (Jared Allen, Ronde Barber, Bryant Young), there were lots of fresh faces and new cases to consider. That made the discussions new and interesting. Again, I can’t be specific because we aren’t allowed to spill on the discussions, but it’s compelling to me, for instance, to hear and debate the merits of a truly great return man, Hester, and consider him versus guys who played 1,100 snaps a year at a high level. (I am bullish on Hester’s case, by the way.) I am similarly bullish on Bryant Young, the 49ers’ rock at defensive tackle; his case is relatively unknown because he’s one of the most unassuming big stars in the years I’ve covered the game.
• The big questions: Would this finally be the year Tony Boselli overcame the short-career knock and got in? Would there be enough of a difference to break a logjam between three excellent receiver candidates, Johnson and Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne—or could two or three make it to the doorstep? What of the inside ‘backer competition between Sam Mills and Zach Thomas, both terrific overachievers who started their careers as longshots and became tackling machines? Did Ronde Barber do enough as a corner and physical nickel to be the fourth Tampa defender to earn a bust in Canton? Would Richard Seymour, the versatile total team guy, finally earn his bust in his fourth year of eligibility?
• It is fantastic to have Joe Horrigan, the smartest man about pro football history in the United States, back in the room after a 2.5-year retirement. Porter got him to come back. Great move. No one can replace Horrigan’s institutional knowledge.
2. I think one of my long-term questions is what the committee is going to do about all the productive wide receivers and quarterbacks who will be in the queue in the next, say, five to eight years. Receivers, particularly. Right now, 14 receivers have 1,000 or more catches, and only seven are in the Hall. Stefon Diggs (595), Davante Adams (669), Jarvis Landry (688), Keenan Allen (730), DeAndre Hopkins (789), Julio Jones (879) and Antonio Brown (928) certainly have a chance to push their numbers up around 1,000, and among all the young and talented ones (Justin Jefferson, 196 catches by age 22), who knows how high they’ll climb? I don’t think we should have a magic number—say, if a receiver catches 1,000 balls, he’s in. I think a lot of it should be what voters saw with their own eyes. For instance, to me, I look at what I’d call the physical grace of the 6-3, 228-pound Johnson, along with his production, along with the fact that he didn’t have Peyton Manning throwing to him, or he wasn’t in the Greatest Show on Turf offense, and that means something to me. Johnson just looks like a Hall of Fame receiver to me. And he produced like one as well. But that’s a big question for Hall voters to contemplate in the future.
3. I think we need to stop this Deebo Samuel-as-Shohei Ohtani thing that’s getting legs. Ohtani has done something that no player since Babe Ruth has done—pitch and bat at a high level. They are separated by a century. If Samuel was similar in football, he’d be doing what Sammy Baugh did in the forties or others like Chuck Bednarik did in the fifties and early sixties—playing offense and defense. (Baugh, in 1943, did more. He led the NFL in passing accuracy, in punting average, and with 11 interceptions as a safety. That is a versatile player.) Catching it and being a running back in the same game is valuable, to be sure, but not revolutionary. Cordarrelle Patterson does it too—and he also has been a returner.
4. I think the combo platter of two Patriots—offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and director of player personnel Dave Ziegler—is in contention to be the next coach/GM team running the Las Vegas Raiders. I didn’t say “will be” the next coach and GM, but it’s in play.
5. I think I would just say this to anyone who is fine with the NFL overtime rule: No matter how good your defense is, if you win the toss at the start of overtime, are you going to choose to kick off? No. Only in exceedingly rare cases—like, if your quarterback is Spergon Wynn and your defense is the ’85 Bears—would you ever choose to kick off to start OT. That is the definition of the coin flip having too much bearing on the outcome of games.
6. I think the best player of the playoff weekend, and this is no slight to Patrick Mahomes, was Josh Allen. Amazing football player. Tremendous thrower, obviously, and a runner who chooses when to be physical and when to run out of bounds.
7. I think this is the football story of the week: the well-respected Keith Van Valkenburg of ESPN on the Year of Aaron Rodgers. Interesting piece. I enjoyed this Rodgers line about why we should read and think more: “I can read something and not immediately have it overtake my personal ideologies. And that’s the problem with society, is everything is triggering and offensive. It’s wild.”
8. I think this is an excellent column, by Kurt Streeter of the New York Times, about the conflict between loving football and not loving so many aspects of league business.
9. I think Streeter hits it just right. The drama sucks us all in. And it makes it very easy to say, “Hey, remember the WFT scandal? The one with all the women who were sexually harassed and the culture not stopped by owner Daniel Snyder until it was way too late? Later with that stuff. The game’s on.” As I wrote recently, the NFL counts on the white noise of the great games to paper over the moral and ethical stuff that really stinks. Writes Streeter:
The N.F.L. doesn’t give a rip about diversifying its ranks. And it doesn’t give a rip what any of us think about its pathetic hiring practices.
And yet even when not reporting, I watch the games, grappling with internal conflict all along. I’m hardly a rabid fan, but the game that helped me bond with my father as we watched the 1980s and 1990s Seattle Seahawks now helps connect me with my 11-year-old son.
My boy will never play football because his parents know the risks of brain damage, and he does too. But the N.F.L. is sucking him in. He loves Patrick Mahomes, partly because they share a mixed-race heritage. He hangs on Pete Carroll’s every move. To him, Russell Wilson is always “Danger Russ!” and Aaron Rodgers is always “Rodgers Rate!”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I am not a participation-trophy person. But I like the Naomi Osaka I see in this snippet from her post-loss press availability at the Australian Open. Look at her face, the tone of her voice—Osaka looks and sounds like a person a lot more content with her life than the last few times we saw her. And good for her.
b. “I fought for every point. I can’t be sad about it … I feel I grew a lot in this match … Of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went.”
c. The Rick Gosselin special-teams rankings are always significant. What I found interesting: Baltimore, always good in the kicking game, is number one … Interesting that the Packers can overcome the worst special teams in the league to be the NFC’s top seed … Daniel Carlson’s great year was huge in lifting the Raiders to number 11 … The game is fortunate that Gosselin continues to measure one of the hard-to-measure areas of the game. Much respect to him for diving deep into so many important areas of the game that get overlooked.
d. Podcast of the Week: “Torched: Three Seconds on the Clock,” by Molly Bloom, written by Albert Chen, about the Olympic Gold Medal basketball game at the 1972 Games in Munich.
e. This is one of those forever stories, now approaching the 50th anniversary. Soviet Union 51, United States 50. But it’s much more than that. I guarantee whether you know the story or not, you’ll be captive to this pod. Well written, well told.
f. I was 15 when we got robbed in this game by the officials and by the international basketball hierarchy. I am 64 and the feelings came back listening to this.
g. I did enjoy the perspective of players, who recognize the murders of the Israeli athletes in a terrorist attack earlier in the games make the theft of a basketball medal seem pretty small. It’s worth 37 minutes of your time.
h. The joy of living in New York is often dampened by the shock of living in New York. I still like it, to be sure. But the happiness of living in the city comes with warning labels. Now there’s another one: When you’re waiting for a subway train, always stand either facing the crowd or with your back close to a wall.
i. Earlier this month, a mentally ill man pushed a 40-year-old woman onto the subway tracks at the Times Square Station. Tracey Tully and Ashley Southall of the New York Times wrote about the woman who died, and the man who pushed her. Wrote Tully and Southall of the victim, Michelle Go:
While working in finance, she had also volunteered for 10 years for the New York Junior League, coaching women and children on nutrition with a goal of stabilizing at-risk and homeless families, the league’s president, Dayna Barlow Cassidy, said in a statement. While on a committee that focused on empowering young adults and teenagers, Ms. Go prepared job candidates for interviews, helped fine-tune résumés and offered tips on personal finance.
Ms. Go was standing near a group of women, preparing to board the train as it pulled into the station.
“She had her back to this crazy person,” [a witness] said. “She never saw anything.”
She became known in her apartment building for her wide, open smile and her generosity. At Christmastime, she left a neighbor a large box of chocolates with a thoughtful note. When she was on Long Island for work, she volunteered to stop at a nearby Ikea to pick up items for Ms. Henderson.
j. The 61-year-old man who was arrested for the crime served two terms in prison for robbing taxi drivers. He proclaimed after the incident that he was God.
k. The whole thing is so disturbing, so sad. It’s been hard to get out of my mind.
l. Cool Inside Reporting of the Week: Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, on the inner strife at the Supreme Court.
m. Totenberg, 78, has covered the Supreme Court for NPR for 51 years. A half century of legal reporting at the highest level. So when she reports on the Supreme Court, I listen, and read. Reported Totenberg:
It was pretty jarring earlier this month when the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court took the bench for the first time since the omicron surge over the holidays. All were now wearing masks. All, that is, except Justice Neil Gorsuch. What’s more, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not there at all, choosing instead to participate through a microphone setup in her chambers.
Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19. She has been the only justice to wear a mask on the bench since last fall when, amid a marked decline in COVID-19 cases, the justices resumed in-person arguments for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up.
They all did. Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.
n. So I donate blood quite often. I mention that now to tell a story at a vitally important time for the cause of blood donation. The other day, I went to my blood-donation site near Grand Central Station in Manhattan. I had set up an appointment for 8:50 a.m., to give what they call a double-red donation, a concentrated dose of red blood cells. It takes maybe 75 minutes. Anyway, when I got to the blood center, I was surprised to see … no one. There are 16 or so donation beds there (I should have counted), and when I sat down to get my left arm jabbed, I looked around and I was the only one there. Four phlebotomists, one customer—me. A few of the beds filled as my appointment wore on, but this is a pretty bad time for the New York Blood Center and for all blood donation sites because people don’t want to be close to others any more than they have to with the Omicron surge. I understand, and I empathize. But the lack of donors is exactly the reason we all should think very seriously about donating. It’s easy, you’re masked, they’re masked, and the monumental good that you’re doing will make your day. Promise. Please consider doing it. Thanks.
p. Good luck in retirement, Tom Haudricourt. Congrats on a great career writing baseball in Milwaukee.
q. And congratulations, Jeff Passan of ESPN, on being named the National Sports Media Association’s sportswriter of the year. Richly deserved. Soak it in. That’s a heck of an honor.
r. NSMA Awards Winner Story of the Week: Dom Amore, who was voted the Connecticut sportswriter of the year, wrote about the UConn player who is ever mindful of the legendary Pistol Pete Maravich, right down to the number.
s. What a cool story, particularly if, like many of us of certain ages, Maravich will always be the basketball phenom of phenoms. Who averages 44.2 points a game in the SEC, as he did at LSU? Wrote Amore:
Before he started playing for Albany Academy, Jackson sat down with [basketball trainer] Clymer and watched “The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend,” a 1991 biographical film focusing on Maravich’s eighth-grade season in 1959. Jackson says it changed his life.
Soon Jackson was watching and reading anything he could find on Maravich, who died in 1988. There’s plenty out there — films, books, documentaries, even a song, “Pistol Pete” released by The Ziggens in 2002.
Jackson, now a sophomore, is just beginning to come into his own at UConn, hitting three 3-pointers and getting his first double-double in the Huskies’ 76-59 win over Butler on Tuesday night. Before a game, you might see Jackson, averaging 7.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists, doing a ball-handling trick from Maravich’s 1987 instructional series, “Homework Basketball.”
“Clyde showed me the video where Pistol Pete does all the dribbling drills,” Jackson said. “The one where he throws the ball between his legs, all the different drills, and we began to work on those drills. The more I did, I got better at handling the ball, and I became a big fan of Pistol Pete because of the flair that he had in his game.”
t. Now this coach, USC women’s soccer coach Jane Alukonis, is one I would have loved to have mentored my daughters at some point of their youth sports lives. Watch Alukonis explain her Why.
u. Great to see you in Green Bay, Mike Jones.
Yo! Bills Mafia!
Very bright days lie ahead.
Josh Allen’s the man.