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Thursday, August 4, 2022

FMIA: NFL Training Camp Tour Hits Steelers, Patriots, Giants

LATROBE, Pa. — Mike Tomlin was back with the punters Saturday afternoon. When you ask those who’ve been around him for years, you always hear, Tomlin coaches the whole team. In the middle of Saturday’s training-camp practice, his focus was incumbent punter Pressley Harvin III and Cameron Nizialek.

“Let’s go!” Tomlin yelled with Harvin poised to boot. “For us, 5.0’s the standard!”

He meant a 5.0-second hang time, which would be exemplary; the average hang time for the league’s top 10 punters in 2021, per Pro Football Focus, was 4.27 seconds. Maybe the standard is 5.0, or maybe that’s the dream. Whatever, Tomlin boomed it out, and Harvin responded with a Ray Guy-like rainmaker down the right side. Great punt.

“The standard!” Tomlin said. “Five point oh!”

Nizialek’s turn. He’s not likely to beat out the vaunted Harvin, the 2021 seventh-round draft pick, but he’s competing. Nizialek took the snap and duck-hooked the punt low down the left sideline, out of bounds. “Ooooooooh,” the crowd responded. Yikes. Not going to make this team, or any one, punting like that.

Tomlin didn’t say anything (at least that I heard). The drill went on. Why is it important? Maybe it isn’t. I think it is. Harvin and Nizialek know it’s a big deal when the head coach takes 12 to 15 minutes to focus entirely on the punters among the 90 players in camp. This isn’t just a July drill to Tomlin. He wants to know what happens when the pressure is on. If you shank one in Latrobe with all the fans loving on you in July, how will you perform with the bright lights on you in Baltimore in a very big game? In this one moment, Harvin passed the test and Nizialek didn’t. So Tomlin could chalk up some mental evidence in one small roster battle.

Tomlin’s usually good theater at this time of year, but I was especially focused on him Saturday because of what’s at stake. With two of the organization’s most important people, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and GM Kevin Colbert, retired since the Steelers last suited up, this is a year of change, a year of what’s-next for one of the league’s top franchises with only one immovable force remaining—Tomlin, entering his 16th year as coach.

In his first 15 years as head man, Tomlin’s never had a losing season, a remarkable run of competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog NFL. (For comparison, Bill Belichick had five losing years in his first 15 as a coach.)

Tomlin didn’t like my post-practice line of questioning about what has been lost here, at one point asking, “You’re hoping that we’re mediocre?” I said no—but this is a year that people look at the Steelers and have no idea what to expect.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. (Getty Images)

I could feel the heat from behind his sunglasses.

“Bring it on,” Tomlin said. “Bring it on.”

“You like that?” I said.

“Bring it on. Quote me.”

I think Mike Tomlin loves this setup. Just loves it.


As the calendar turns to August, the pads will go on in camps this week and real football gets closer. With a decision on Deshaun Watson looming—Josina Anderson reported arbitrator Sue L. Robinson could rule on the Watson discipline today—the news will be Cleveland-heavy this week. It’s also the week of the first game of the preseason, Las Vegas versus Jacksonville on Thursday in Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame game.

A few thoughts about Watson, and then I’ll take the temperature of the Patriots, Giants and Steelers as I head west and south on my training camp trip.

The NFL Players Association issued a statement Sunday night saying it would abide by the ruling of arbitrator Sue L. Robinson—appointed jointly by the league and the union—and calling on the NFL to do the same. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, after the arbitrator rules in discipline cases either the league or the union can appeal. But that appeal would be heard by commissioner Roger Goodell or his appointee, and clearly the union doesn’t want that. 

I don’t think the union knows what Robinson’s decision will be, but I think the NFLPA wants the ruling to be in the hands of an impartial former judge and not in the hands of Roger Goodell or his designee. In calling on the league to abide by whatever Robinson rules, the union looks magnanimous in the court of public opinion. But I can’t see the NFL agreeing to give up its collectively bargained right to appeal her decision if it chooses.

I’ve speculated the arbitrator may not do what the league wants—suspend Watson for a year, or indefinitely, because this is her first case, and it is the most vexing NFL player discipline case since the Ray Rice affair eight years ago. But regardless, the union clearly doesn’t want the appeal in Goodell’s hands. Tulane sports law professor Gabe Feldman tweeted Sunday night that the union clearly wants a decision of this magnitude decided by an “independent third party—and not Roger Goodell.”

Whatever the decision, the Browns should be able to move forward by midweek. A win for the franchise, I believe, would be a suspension of 10 games or less. I’d be surprised if the league would accept without appeal a suspension of six games or less. So we’ll see. But Jacoby Brissett, in any case, is about to be a big key to Cleveland’s playoff hopes in a fortified AFC.

My story in Latrobe begins with a Benedictine monk.

Father Paul Taylor, the president of St. Vincent College, watched practice from the sidelines Saturday in his flowing brown robe. Father Paul is also the Steelers’ team chaplain and priest, and says mass for any players, coaches or staff who wish to attend every Sunday morning. He knows Tomlin well.

“What makes him a great leader is he rises above the fray,” Father Paul told me at practice. “He knows what’s important in his job. And he’s such a good communicator. I think he can see inside the players’ heads.”

Two players told me Tomlin has a good rapport with the players because he’s blunt with them and never hides the truth. That’s important this year, because obviously the major story in camp is life without Roethlisberger, and choosing a successor. A former quarterback here, Charlie Batch, told me as we watched the QB battle play out in front of us: “I think Mike will be totally honest in the team meetings. He’ll tell the team: We have a quarterback battle here. Everyone will get a chance, and the film will speak for itself. Three dogs, one bone. Let’s see what these guys can do. Let’s see who wins the job.”

So the monk and the former quarterback point to communication and honesty about the process of retooling the team. When I relayed the Batch theory about how he’d handle the quarterback battle with the team, Tomlin said it was spot on.

Peter King and St. Vincent College president Father Paul Taylor. (NBC Sports)

“That’s very accurate,” Tomlin said. “I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. Our ability to put together a winning formula that allows us to go into stadiums and step out with victory is what it’s about. We’re going through a transition at that position so our formula is going to change to a degree. Our strengths may change, what we lean on, what we work to minimize. That’s just team building. It requires discussion and direction. And [Batch] is right.

“I don’t run from that. I run to that.”

“What’s the newness like? When you’re dealing with some new and important people?”

“I don’t really seek the comfort of a veteran group,” Tomlin said. “I approach building a team the same every year. That’s how I’m wired. I understand the question, but it’s just not my style.”

That’s what I’d want out of my head coach. Roethlisberger’s gone. Okay. Who’s up? And will we throw it 60 percent or run it to hide whatever zits we have in the passing game? Can Najee Harris handle a 300-carry load if need be? Those are the things Tomlin tries to figure out this year—but they’re the things, at different positions, he’s tried to figure out every year. 

It’s too early to draw any conclusions on the quarterbacks six weeks from opening day. But there was one major clue about how it’s trending on Saturday: In an early passing period of practice, in the tight red zone, the reps were split 4-2-1, Trubisky-Rudolph-Pickett. From what I gleaned, the opening-day assignment, Steelers at the Super Bowl Bengals, is Trubisky’s to lose.

Of course, things like this period factor into the ultimate decision. Trubisky was one of four, and Pickett nailed his one chance with a perfect touch throw for a touchdown to free-agent wideout Tyler Vaughns. “We’re at the very early stages of this. Everyone’s gonna get an opportunity to show their capabilities, for sure,” Tomlin said. As it should be.

“Coach Tomlin is very transparent about the situation,” Trubisky said. “Ever since I got here, it’s been really impressive to me how he leads the team as a football coach. He’ll even tell you. It’s not an accident that he gets the results he does because he’s such a great leader. I’m just trying to soak in all that knowledge so I can be the best player I can be and we can continue to go out and win games for the Steelers.”

The quarterback position will get the attention. The run defense might be more important. Last year, the Steelers had the worst run defense in the league, and there’s no way they’ll contend this year without fixing that. The retirement of a good two-way lineman, Stephon Tuitt, hurts. And surrendering 5.0 yards per rush is so incredibly un-Steelers-like. Both T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward said that was job one in camp this year—be sure that gets fixed. This is the highest-paid defense in the league, collectively, and they’re relying on a couple of rugged by mid-level free-agents, defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi and linebacker Myles Jack, to defend the run significantly better this year.

I think a huge part of this team’s fate relies on something boring: field-position football and clock management. Harvin, the booming punter, has to be better than his 42.6-yard average last year (26th in the league). Pin teams back, play clockball, defend the run lots better, run it for 4.4 yards a clip and keep Najee Harris upright. Those things are vital to making it 16 straight non-losing seasons for Tomlin.

Friday: History repeats with the Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On Feb. 14, 1979, the Giants named Dolphins director of pro scouting George Young the team’s general manager. Young picked another outsider, San Diego offensive coordinator Ray Perkins as head coach. The two imports were hired to revive a moribund franchise.

“It’s a sign the Giants are conforming with the rest of the league,” president and co-owner Wellington Mara said upon hiring Young.

History is repeating itself, almost eerily, for the Giants. For the first time since that February day 43 years ago, the Giants have gone outside the organization for both GM and coach. GM Joe Schoen came from Buffalo and he hired Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as coach.

“We need to make some changes in how we do things around here. That was one of the big reasons why we wanted to bring somebody in from the outside,” president and co-owner John Mara said when he hired Schoen.

Like father, like son. Schoen’s mom was fourth months pregnant with him the last time the Giants went outside the organization for the twin hires. Daboll was 3.

“Wow,” Schoen said when I gave him the history lesson. “That’s crazy. The way this league is today, I don’t think you see that happen again.”

Since the Giants won the Super Bowl 10 years ago, they have won neither the division nor a playoff game, and they’ve averaged six wins a season with five head coaches. Hiring Young spurred the Giants to a long era of success, including two Super Bowls in the next 12 seasons. Wellington’s son would take that, particularly with the long slog the Giants have been through since stunning the Patriots in Super Bowl 46 a decade ago.

Viewing camp practice Friday—John Mara watched alone on the sideline, the way his father did religiously for years—I thought a couple of things: All 90 of these players, from quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley on down, are on trial with two new bosses. Of course there are a few, like franchise safety Xavier McKinney and twin tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, who border on cornerstones, but this might be the most fungible roster of any in the league—and it could be the one that changes the most in the next two years.

Secondly, this offense looks way behind the D early. As the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” aptly boomed through speakers in mid-practice, there were two botched shotgun snaps to the quarterback, a dropped swing pass by Barkley, and Jones throwing a pick-six to cornerback Darnay Holmes. Man, was that ugly. And it didn’t get better before the end of practice. The offense truly painted it black Friday.

One practice in July is one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle for Schoen and Daboll. One of the reasons Mara picked Schoen is that he’s been part of three teams—Miami, Carolina and Buffalo—that went from moribund to the playoffs in short order. “I have faith we’ll get this turned around, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” said Schoen, 43, who looks like a slimmer version of Steve Garvey, well-coiffed and well-dressed, sitting in the Giants’ cafeteria Friday morning before practice. ”I’ve seen how to build teams the right way three or four times, and we’re going to build depth and talent with a steady plan in place.”

Already around the building you hear of Daboll reaching out like none of his predecessors did. In early June, he phoned all 21 members of the media who cover the Giants every day in early July. “Looking forward to working with you,” was his message in 10- to 15-minute conversations with each one. He walks around the business side of the building, introducing himself to strangers, telling each how important everyone in the building is to winning. As one of the veterans in the building told me, “I don’t remember a coach ever telling someone selling suites how valuable he was.” That’s not going to win one play this fall, but it does make people happier in the workplace, particularly when losing has been so prevalent.

Everyone wants to know about Jones’ future, but that’s impossible to know till the games begin. If anything, the schedule gives Jones a fighting chance. Six of the first 10 games are against teams (Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, Seattle, Houston, Detroit) that, like the Giants, could struggle to reach .500.

Jones showed his star traits Friday at times—sprinting through the defense for one long run, combining with talented second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson several times—but he had more bad plays than good ones. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s got good mobile skills,” Daboll said, evenly, about Jones. “There’s a lot of different things you could do with a quarterback like that. We’re still tinkering with things to make sure that what I want him to do is be vocal back to me on things that he doesn’t feel comfortable with.”

Robinson, the 5-8, 185-pound rookie receiver from Kentucky, stood out to me with his versatility and confidence; he could earn the starting slot job. “He’s a problem,“ safety McKinney told me. “Very tough to cover.” The Giants are waiting to see more from their $18-million-a-year 2021 free agent, Kenny Golladay, who’s not separating from DBs well early in camp. That signing looks like a disaster. The receiver group’s a work in progress, but Robinson is real shot in the arm for it.

Regarding Saquon Barkley, who’s missed 18 games to injury in the last two seasons, I keep thinking his future’s elsewhere. The Giants are just getting their cap right—they should be in the top seven in cap space next offseason—and I doubt they want to spend more than $12-million on a running back, even if Barkley plays very well this year. Like so many players on the roster, my guess is he’s auditioning for 31 other teams as much as the Giants this fall.

New York Giants Training Camp
Giants safety Xavier McKinney. (Getty Images)

One player who’s quickly become a Daboll/Schoen favorite is McKinney, a Nick Saban favorite while at Alabama. McKinney enters his third year feeling free under new coordinator Wink Martindale. The new DC loves turning his safeties loose. Good for McKinney, who didn’t blitz on a single snap with the former staff last season. That will change, as will his workload. Martindale, in a rarity, gave the green dot to a safety instead of the customary linebacker. The green dot is worn on the back of one defender’s helmet, and Martindale calls the defense into that player’s helmet before each snap. “An honor,” McKinney told me. “That shows the coaches trust me.”

I asked McKinney about the new regime. “We faced so much adversity the past two years. For us, it’s like can’t get any worse,” McKinney said. “We’ve touched the bottom. We’ve seen the bottom. We can only go up. The energy is a lot different in the building. You really feel that team bonding as far as from player to coach, coach to player, staff to coach. We finally feel that family atmosphere we’ve been wanting for a long time.”

Sounds great at the dawn of training camp. But the job this summer and fall is for Schoen and Daboll to begin building a solid base—with the tackles, with Kayvon Thibodeaux and McKinney keying a young defense. With or without Jones. The pain’s not over year, but no one expected it to be in year one. Patience, Giants fans. 

Thursday: As Mac goes

FOXBORO, Mass.—Ten thoughts on the Patriots, three years Post-Tom:

1. It’s now clear that when the Patriots drafted Michael McCorkle Jones in the first round last year, they drafted a player with the ethos of Tom Brady, in all ways. (Well, maybe except for the food.) I met with Mac Jones for 10 minutes after practice, and he was respectful and congenial, but my thought as he answered my questions was, He really wants to get this done so he can go back to football. It’s no coincidence Jones, 22 years younger than his predecessor, studied Brady’s mechanics as a young quarterback, and imitated his tireless work ways. “I always watch people that are good at what they do, whatever it is. If you’re a really good, whatever, pilot, let’s find out what the really good pilots do. That’s my thing. I always try to be a sponge and learn from whoever I can.”

In the practice I watched, with Jones, there was no wasted movements. His mechanics were precise, his confidence obvious. No kidding around. He said in a radio interview last year as a 22-year-old rookie that he went to bed every night at 8:30, which some took as nerdy or a humble-brag. It was neither. He just wanted to be at his best when it was time to do the job the next day. Even in a day when the hung-over quarterback is passe, his dedication seemed—and seems—so Brady-like, so made for a Bill Belichick quarterback.

On this day, he made a perfect throw to DeVante Parker through a tiny window in the end zone but didn’t preen. His practice was businesslike. The player who once was a distant third to Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa on the Alabama depth chart walked off the field with a better grip on his team’s long-term starting job than either of the guys who once lorded over him. But he doesn’t get too hung up on the improbability of his story, or anything but today.

“I’ll reference coach [Nick] Saban here,” he told me. “But if I ever listened to the internet, I would’ve stopped playing a long time ago. You’re always gonna get people who say that you’re not good enough to do something. I still have so much to prove. I’m always trying to be better than I was yesterday and be better than myself, really. I just try to compete against myself. I know when it’s a good day. I know when it’s a bad day. It’s more about the routine. What did I do before practice to put myself in position? Can I keep it consistent? Can I do it every day? [I] persevere and work each day. That’s all you can do.”

It’s interesting to see a young player take over as unquestioned leader of the team. The ageless vets, Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty, see it happening and like it. Said McCoutry: “He has all of those things we want our quarterback to have. With a year under his belt, he’s a little bit more confident. He has a little bit more command. I told him: ‘Whoever you were in high school, in college, that guy, bring that guy here. You don’t have to be this guy or have to be that guy. We just need you to be Mac Jones. That’s what we’re seeing.”

2. The 70-year-old Bill Belichick looks and coaches a lot like the early-New England Bill Belichick. A couple of months ago, I saw a photo of George Halas coaching in his seventies (he was 21-18-3 in three seasons after turning 70) and he looked 80. Belichick looks 55. Belichick was hands-on coaching the quarterbacks, from what I saw. He spent play after play working with and drilling backup QB Bailey Zappe, who sure is getting a lot of snaps for a fourth-round maybe guy.

3. Big crowd here. Worshipful crowd.

4. DeVante Parker needs to be what he was in Thursday’s practice—a red-zone threat who competes physically for 50-50 balls. Parker won an end-zone duel with starting corner Jalen Mills, which fired up the fans. Parker, 6-3 and 220, needs to play that big in an offense with meh wideouts.

5. Regarding coaching the quarterbacks and calling the offense, it looks like play-calling could land in the headset of senior football adviser/offensive line coach Matt Patricia. We’ll see how that goes. In 26 years as a football coach, Patricia has never had the title of quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, running backs coach, wide receivers coach or tight ends coach. Not to say it’s disqualifying, but it’ll be interesting to watch. I won’t be surprised if Belichick eventually has a significant hand in play-calling. 

6. Every team should have a leader and conscience like Devin McCourty, who turns 35 in two weeks. “The game’s a grind, and for us, it has to be,” he said. “We’re a team that really has to work at it. Early in camp you see it. You see the last period of practice, we’re yelling and screaming at the offense. I think that’s what it’s about. We have to continuously go after each other. We can’t have it easy. We can’t kinda be cool in a sense and have one of those cool practices. I’m sure you’ll see when you go to other teams, like they’re just getting some work in today. We’re not that. We have a lot of guys that have made plays in this league but are now trying to become consistent players. That’s the hardest thing. We have to take on that challenge and attack it.”

7. No idea who wins one of the most open position battles in football this summer, the corner spot opposite Jalen Mills. The corners all play with black mitts on each hand, to thwart them from grabbing receivers, trying to drill away holding penalties in the secondary. One contender is Malcolm Butler, wearing the oddest number for a corner I’ve seen: 4. He’ll try to make it back into Belichick’s good graces and lineup at age 32.5 after missing last year with an injury. That won’t be easy.

8. Excellent running back depth. Second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson should get the most touches, but it’s still going to be a job-share, mostly with Damien Harris. Stevenson’s a confident runner and, at 230 pounds, will need to be impactful in short-yardage.

9. Does anyone realize how great Nick Folk is? My 2021 all-pro kicker is 55-of-56 inside the 50 in the last two seasons. What an underappreciated player.

10. Josh Uche, drafted to be an impact edge player in the second round in 2020, has had such an invisible first two years (four sacks, only 414 snaps). He’ll have his chance this year, and I sense optimism that he can break out. But there’s pressure on Uche (and Belichick, who has had some poor drafts recently) to finally be a factor.

Over the years—almost 13 of them—many of you might be aware that a man named Dom Bonvissuto has been the editor of my Monday column. I refer to Dom as a conscience as much as an editor, because many late Sunday nights/Monday mornings I’ve needed both.

I’m writing about Dom today because this is the last FMIA column he’ll edit. He’s taken a job with the site Outkick as a senior editor, and it’s good for him. Dom, wife Danny and son Jude live in Nashville, and Outkick is based there, and in many ways it’s a great fit for Dom—an expanded job role, more responsibility at a growing site, close to home, in his beloved Nashville.

Life is change. People better themselves all the time. We’ll continue to get the column out, on time, at Team NBC, and we’ll be good, and very good people will step in for Dom. But it’s hard when the best Monday morning editor I’ve ever had moves on.

I’ve worked with Dom for two stints since 2008, sandwiching a two-year leave to edit at NFL.com. He’s edited about 425 of these Monday pieces, first at Sports Illustrated and later at The MMQB and then NBC. By my count, figuring an average of 9,000 words a week, his bloodshot eyes have read/grammatically fixed/spellchecked approximately 3,816,000 of my words. Many of those edits happened at 3:08 a.m., when I’m not thinking too straight so he has to.

Dom Bonvissuto, Peter king
Football Morning In America editor Dom Bonvissuto and Peter King at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. (NBC Sports)

Editing a behemoth like this column isn’t often about saying, Don’t do this. It’s dumb. It’s being fast and clever and knowing what picture fits and what headline is smart. It’s really teamwork. I trusted Dom’s advice on what was the best news of the week, what belonged on top of the column. And other things. Don’t go napping on me now—almost finished, for instance. Now that’s important.

Editors are vital to the process of columns like this. I remember seeing Tom Brady in Montana, on deadline, one week after the 28-3 Super Bowl comeback, and racing through my writing that night/early morning, Brady dissecting every big play in the game. I was just trying to be cogent, trying to be understood, so we could have the column posted by the time people in all time zones woke up. At 3:37 a.m., with the last of 10,943 words filed, Dom sent this email: “We are good. Good night and damn proud to have worked on this.” That was cool to get just before conking out.

Once I closed a column on what I felt was Philadelphia’s precipitous firing of Chip Kelly. I filed this last graf: “Sad. Just very sad.” He changed it to: “Sad.” Period. He wrote me, “It’s better as Sad. Not a big fan of the repeat.” Dom was correct. Make words count.

I looked back over some threads of communication between us on Sunday nights. I found one that’s typical, from August 2015, in a week I was traveling to training camps. We communicated 89 times between 10:24 p.m. ET Sunday and 4:26 a.m. ET Monday, many of which happened while I was on a late-Sunday flight into Seattle, making little fixes and adds via wifi, till it was finished.

The 88th communication, from me: “Thanks for your diligence.”

The 89th, from Dom: “No prob. That’s the job.”

The perfect response.

“When we talked,” Dom reflected the other day, “I always said ‘we.’ We’re a team. When the column goes out, it’s our work. Sometimes I think editors and writers can work against each other, maybe take sides and not be flexible. I thought the best way to work was to be collaborative, not combative.”

Words to live by in the business of words. Miss you already, Dom.

This LIV golf story fascinates me, and so I asked the golf/football writer I know best, Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post, to interpret what it all means. Our quick Q&A:

FMIA: I’m not against a sort of free agency in golf, but something rubs me the wrong way about these players taking sick money from the Saudis.

Cannizzaro: “I see it the way you see it except for one thing. The PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour are all in bed with China. Each has had tournament in China, and the human rights record in China is not better than in Saudi Arabia. So where do you draw the line? Everyone talks about Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who the Saudi government had killed, which is fair. But there are countless stories of injustice in China. That young Chinese women’s tennis star is missing, the last I knew.”

FMIA: What’s the impact of LIV, really? Is there anything really wrong with a second tour?

Cannizzaro: “The worst thing in golf now is some of the greatest players in the game are playing on the PGA Tour, and some on the LIV. The game is being divided. It’s bad for golf. The way I see it, the PGA Tour doesn’t have a leg to stand on in banning the golfers who play in LIV events. There should be no reason why they should be suspended if they play their mandated 15 PGA events a year. It’s clear the Saudi money is pretty bottomless. They’ve gained more momentum than they thought they would. They’ve been empowered. Somehow there has to be a coexistence between the two. The PGA Tour is going to have to soften their stance.”

FMIA: Has this whole thing ruined Phil Mickelson?

Cannizzaro: “Phil is 52. He’s a year and three months removed from his remarkable win in May 2021 at the PGA Championship. His results since then, even prior to the LIV controversary, are not good. But it’s pretty clear to me that he’s been affected by it. He is the face of it, the one who taken the biggest beating. Golf is such a mental game. You have to have a peaceful mind, and it doesn’t look like he has that.”

FMIA: Tiger Woods hasn’t seemed tempted at all by the big money of the Saudis. Why?

Cannizzaro: “Well, he certainly doesn’t need the money. Legacy is a big deal to Tiger. Tiger is a big golf nerd. He is heavily aligned with the PGA Tour. He’s not going to cross the PGA.”

FMIA: Off topic a bit, but how about Tiger’s future? Post-car-accident, is it over for him?

Cannizzaro: “I believe that it’s over for Tiger to win a golf tournament again. I don’t know physically how much better he’s going get. It was remarkable that he came back to play the Masters, and it was a great accomplishment that he made the cut. The biggest indicator about his future was as soon as he figured he was able to compete, he targeted the British Open at St. Andrews. It’s his favorite course. Flat walk, won there twice, loves it. I was shocked he didn’t make the cut. A course like that is often won by golfers who know the nuances of it, and the fact he shot two bloated scores was eye-opening. At 46, he’ll get incrementally stronger. I don’t think ceremonial golf is imminent. But he might be at the stage where it’s more realistic to expect him to play all four majors, and his annual events in the Bahamas and maybe Genesis, his tournament in L.A.”

I

“It’s always tough going from Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer.”

—Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, poking fun at Davante Adams for saying going from Rodgers to Derek Carr was like going from one Hall of Famer to another. Rodgers will be attempting to make Allen Lazard a Hall of Famer over the next year or two or three.

II

“This is Trey’s team and that’s nothing against Jimmy. We made that decision a year ago and we’re going with that and we’re not going to mess around with that anymore.”

—49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, closing the door on Jimmy Garoppolo starting for the team this year.

III

“Part of the problem in Arizona is the lack of preparation, and it all starts with the quarterback.”

—Former NFL QB Rich Gannon, the 2002 league MVP, writing for The 33rd Team, Mike Tannenbaum’s think-tank pro football site, on the Kyler Murray contract clause that calls for him to spend at least four hours a week away from the facility studying the that week’s game. The Cards announced Friday they were removing the clause from the contract because of the uproar over it.

IV

“I can’t afford to take any shortcuts—no pun intended.”

—Kyler Murray, the 5-foot-10 Arizona quarterback, saying it’s disrespectful to think he doesn’t work on the game plan away from the team facility.

V

“I’m gonna try to compete and get the starting job by any means necessary. Whatever that takes, I’m gonna do.”

—Matt Corral, the third-string Carolina rookie quarterback, who will have to, by any means necessary, beat out Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield.

Seems unlikely.

VI

“To me there’s common sense and we lack it now in this country. Highland Park, Uvalde, Greenwood, Buffalo. When does it end? When do our elected officials actually do something instead of [playing] their own political game? I’m not anti-gun. But I’m anti-military-style weapons. It blows my mind that an 18-year-old kid can walk in and buy an [AR] 15.”

—Colts GM Chris Ballard.

This will be a regular part of the column during this year. Each week, I’ll take a part of my conversation with a player or person in the league about some non-X-and-O topic.

Quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo

On his community’s recovery from the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store 

Coach [Sean] McDermott said to us, ‘Raise a hand if anybody wants to go out there and show support.’ There was not a single hand down. Everybody on our team that was at OTAs you saw there. Stefon Diggs flew in that day just to be there, to show his support for the community.

“It’s something that still just feels very, very wrong. Feels very weird. But, to have and share that experience, show our support for the community, we’ve got to continue to find ways to not let it just be like a one-off thing. We want to continue to show that we support this community from all of Western New York. I think what brought the community closer together, we had Micah Hyde’s charity softball game the next day to help. Again, it’s still within the locker room, it’s still tough. I know in the community it’s still tough. We’re still talking about ways we can help.” 

Sobering numbers on the Julio Jones signing in Tampa Bay:

• In his six prime seasons, 2014 to 2019, Jones missed four of 96 regular-season games. He averaged 104 catches and 1,565 yards per season.

• In his last two seasons, 2020 and 2021, Jones missed 14 of 33 regular-season games. He averaged 41 catches and 431 yards per season.

One more sobering metric:

• In those six prime seasons, Jones played at least 75 percent of the Falcons’ snaps each year.

• In the last two seasons, Jones played 38.9 percent of his teams’ offensive snaps.

In other words, manage your expectations, Bucs fans.

I

The Patriots’ fourth-round quarterback, Bailey Zappe, is number 55 in camp. The second-round wideout, Tyquan Thornton, is 51. What gives with the numbers? And how weird was it to see Zappe take most of the second-team snaps the other day while wearing a linebacker number?

NFL: JUN 08 New England Patriots Minicamp
Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe. (Getty Images)

It’s a Belichickism. In 2018, he started giving draft picks numbers in the fifties. A few years before that, he took numbers off all draft picks in the spring, and the league forced the Patriots by 2016 to put numbers on them in at least the third phase of off-season practices. I presumed the number thing was to promote the anonymity of the you-ain’t-done-nothing-yet rookie crop, but ESPN’s Mike Reiss promoted another theory: that it forced players to communicate more on the field without the benefit of numbers. Maybe it was that. Or maybe having a quarterback wear 55 was Belichick nose-thumbing at the league.

This year, the top eight Pats’ picks (the last two, center Chasen Hines and tackle Andrew Stueber are 63 and 69, which I’ll explain), got these numbers:

50: First-round G Cole Strange
51: Thornton
52: Third-round DB marcus jones
53: Fourth-round DB Jack Jones
54: Fourth-round RB Pierre Strong
55: Zappe
56: Not issued. Belonged to Hall of Fame LB Andre Tippett
57: Not issued. Belonged to Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson.
58: Sixth-round RB Kevin Harris
59: Sixth-round DT Sam Roberts

With no fifty-something numbers left, the last two picks, Hines and Stueber, got customary numbers in the sixties. Just because.

II

Thursday will mark 22 months since the last touchdown scored by Kenny Golladay, who is paid an average of $1,058,823 per game to score them for the Giants.

Since Oct. 5, 2020, here are the touchdown totals for two former NFC North neighbors: Davante Adams 27, Kenny Golladay 0.

Three highlights from life on the road with NBC Sports producers/videographers Kelsey Bartels and Morgan Miller in the past few days:

FOXBORO, Mass. — Robert Kraft give Elton John a game ball on the occasion of his final Massachusetts concert ever Thursday night in Gillette Stadium. The bottom of the ball has “7-4-76 to 7-28-22,” which amazingly means 46 years between Sir Elton’s first and last concerts in Foxboro.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft and singer Elton John. (For NBC Sports)

One of the 90,000 in attendance at the July 4, 1976 (our Bicentennial) show at old Foxboro Stadium: Peter King, 19, of Enfield, Conn. I camped out with buddies the night before to get the best seats at the concert, which had festival seating. Highlight of the show: Elton, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, brought Billie Jean King on stage to sing “Philadelphia Freedom.” I told Kraft on Thursday afternoon, and he said, “You should come tonight!” You know, I probably should have. But duty called. At the Yard Goats.


HARTFORD, Conn. — Stayed three innings at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in downtown Hartford to see the local Yard Goats (Double-A team of the Rockies) play the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs. Man, 6,467 people in this former ghost of a downtown was so great to see. Love to see the vitality in the area, as well as the cool things in the stadium. Three goats in a center-field pen (I got to meet the big black one, “Fancy Pants”). The Yard Goats honored a disabled American veteran between innings; he got a big hand from the crowd, and I’m sure a big part of his evening was having his photo taken with the Dunkin’ Mango Cold Brew Cup mascot. Rich Hill pitched for the Sea Dogs on Red Sox rehab. The ushers wore shirts with GOAT HERDER on the back. Two guys from Enfield sat next to me. Quite a night.

An usher at the Hartford Yard Goats game. (NBC Sports)

LATROBE, Pa. — Watch this video to the end. It says quite a bit about the fervor of Steeler fans on the first Saturday morning of training camp at St. Vincent College, an hour east of Pittsburgh.

I

Some thoughts about the death Sunday of the great Celtic Bill Russell lower in the column.

II

ESPN’s soccer handle with the coolest Tweet of the week. 

III

Matt Barrows, reporting from San Francisco training camp Friday, covers the Niners for The Athletic. This is what great beat writers do—show you what they’re seeing, show you what the coaches and players are experiencing.

IV

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, pointing out a remarkable story in his paper.

V

Person covers the Panthers, and Woods, for The Athletic.

VI

Holder covers the Colts for ESPN.

You can reach me @peter_king on Twitter, or at peterkingfmia@gmail.com.

Good advice. From Jeff Haraldson: “Don’t leave Josh Allen hanging with the handshake! Shake his hand!”

Well, Jeff, you’ve got company. As of 6 p.m. Friday, 1 million people had seen me stiff Josh Allen eight days ago at Bills’ camp.

Rich Eisen had some fun with me on his show, and, at Giants camp, Daniel Jones said: “Saw your shake with Josh Allen.” So at the end of each one of these camp interviews, I face the camera and say something like, “At Bills camp with Josh Allen, this is Peter King.” Which is what I did in that case, and never saw Allen’s outstretched hand. So when I did, I felt like an idiot, and good for me, Allen chortled about it and asked my camera person, Kelsey Bartels, “Did you get that?” Glad he was a good sport. And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.   

Susan’s got a point. From Susan Rowell: “So you said this last week about Lamar Jackson: ‘After Jackson’s injury-plagued 2021 season, I remain bugged by his postseason play. He’s 1-3 in four playoff games, with toothless losses to the Chargers (2018 season) and Titans (2019) at home. Do you want to lock in Jackson at $46 million a year, or whatever? I don’t.’ But you said this week about Kyler Murray, who in one playoff appearance has a 40.9 rating: ‘In Murray’s first three seasons, the Cardinals have gone 24-24-1 in the regular season, and 0-1 in the playoffs. In the NFL, you’ve got no chance without a quarterback. Murray’s not a top-five quarterback, but he does give the Cardinals a good chance to win every game he starts. That makes him worth stratospheric money.’ So Lamar, who was 39-12 in the same period, has to have his worth judged, but Murray is worth the money? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Very good point, Susan. I could counter by saying that Murray was drafted by a 3-13 team and led it to the playoffs in his third season, that he was going to be a major holdout threat (and into the season, I’d guess) without a new contract because he wasn’t going to play this year for $5.8 million. Jackson has made no such threats, and it doesn’t seem like he has to have a new contract or won’t play the year. Regarding the playoff thing, if Jackson only had the bad playoff game against the Chargers—Baltimore was down 23-3 after 51 minutes and lost 23-17 in 2018—I’d dismiss it. But he’s had four. It does bug me. My gut feeling is he’ll be a good playoff QB in his career, but I would like to see him be like Mahomes in January, even once, before paying him more than Mahomes.

I shouldn’t have dissed Orlando Brown. From Logan Ulrich: “I was disappointed how you characterized Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown. You know as well as anyone that [contracts] are rarely what they seem to be on the surface $44 million of the $139 million [deal he turned down] was in the final year of the deal. Odds are that’s money he’ll never see. What’s left is five years and $95 million, $19 million a year which is right in line with the top of the right tackle market and inside the top five at left tackle. I think it’s fair to discuss whether Brown’s gamble on himself is wise and the risk-reward proposition of turning down that offer from the Chiefs, but lumping that situation even remotely near the radioactivity of the Deshaun Watson contract just doesn’t sit well with me.”

That’s fair, Logan. Thanks for pointing it out. But I would add this: The highest paid tackles in football right now are Trent Williams and David Bakhtiari. If you take the last year of Williams’ contract off his six-year deal, it would average $21 million a year. If you take the last year of Bakhtiari’s off the deal, his would average $17.7 million. Paying Brown $19 million a year (knocking off the last year of the contract, as you justifiably say) after he was the league’s 19th-rated tackle among starting tackles last year is beyond fair, in my opinion.

The Gammons paragraph. From Michael Guncheon: “What you pick and choose to include in your column is impressive to me. I don’t get emotional that often, but I would say that your column often brings my emotion to the front. And it isn’t necessarily the obvious. Your paragraph on Peter Gammons, for whatever reason, brought tears to my eyes. It’s not saving the world, but it is keeping my hope for humanity going.”

Thanks a lot, Michael. I think I’m not the only person in the business whose career has been influenced by Gammons. I owe him a lot.

1. I think it won’t be a national holiday (not yet, anyway), but you may hear a thing or two about Tom Brady turning 45 on Wednesday. A few notable things to me about the birthday and its significance in NFL history, even though I sincerely doubt Brady, who will be trying to break in a new center after the camp injury to Ryan Jensen last week, will be interested:

a. Brady, per Alex Stern of the Elias Sports Bureau, would be the ninth player to play an NFL game after his 45th birthday. Five are exclusively kickers (Ben Agajanian, Adam Vinatieri, Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson and John Carney). A lineman named John Nesser played two games for the Columbus Panhandles in 1921, while end Bobby Marshall played three games for the Duluth Kelleys in 1925.

b. You read that right: Brady, assuming he lines up to play Dallas in Week 1, would be the first non-kicker at 45 or older to play an NFL game in 97 years. 

c. Blanda is the only quarterback to throw a pass after age 45. He completed 7 of 22 after turning 45, though those were mostly mop-up throws, with no quarterback starts, as he wound up his career mostly as a kicker for the Raiders. 

d. I doubt Brady’s going to break this mark, but you never know: The oldest player to ever throw an NFL pass was Blanda, on Dec. 21, 1975, at 48 years and 95 days old, per Pro Football Reference. John Madden got Blanda some snaps in the last game of the regular season—Oakland 28, KC 20—at the Oakland Coliseum. Blanda threw a pick to Willie Lanier and completed one of three passes.

e. In other words, a starting quarterback for a Super Bowl contender playing at 45 is without precedent.

2. I think the Deebo Samuel extension (three years, $71.6 million, announced Sunday night) is a nice compromise and rids the Niners of a headache that would have plagued them in September. I like how it was handled. GM John Lynch refused to make any grandiose statements about Samuel when he said he wanted to be traded, and he never got emotional about it. Lynch didn’t know at the time whether Samuel would drive an impossible bargain, or come back to the table to try to get something done. When Lynch made it clear he wouldn’t trade Samuel and then just put the story on simmer for two months, that gave all parties time to reset and cool off. Nice job getting Samuel back, and good for Samuel to cash in after one great season.

3. I think you’re probably seeing some pictures out of training camps with players (linemen, tight ends and linebackers mostly) wearing Guardian Caps, the foam helmet supplement that sits on top of helmets. The idea is to give the head an extra shock absorber when helmet-to-helmet contact occurs, or when the helmet strikes any solid surface. Several coaches, including Mike Tomlin, have been outspoken advocates of the Guardian Caps, mandated at the positions I mentioned through the week of the second preseason game in mid-August. Said Tomlin: “What convinced me is that data that said when one player wears it and hits a player who doesn’t, the impact on the head is 10 percent less. And if both players are wearing them, the impact is reduced by 20 percent.”

NFL: JUL 30 Atlanta Falcons Training Camp
Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, wearing a Guardian Cap. (Getty Images)

No one knows what the data will say after a summer of increased usage of the caps, but the NFL is hoping wearing the device will markedly decrease the number of concussions and sub-concussive hits in the summer. The league has seen an uptick in recent years of concussions in the preseason. “The brain does not acclimate to head impact,” NFL medical director Dr. Allen Sills said. “The Guardian Cap helps mitigate those forces at a time of the season when we see the greatest concentration of them.” It’s a good step. I’d like to see players wear them for every practice, in-season and out.

4. I think the life and times of Bill Russell should be celebrated not just for basketball, but for his contributions to society. As longtime basketball writer Bob Ryan pointed out after Russell’s death Sunday, Russell’s teams played in 21 winner-take-all games (in the NCAA tournament or Olympics, or the final game of an NBA playoff series) and his team was 21-0 in those games. He never averaged more than 19 points a game in his NBA career, but his Celtics teams won 11 titles in his 13 NBA seasons. That stuff won’t be repeated. His social activism is what helped him win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. He fought hotel boycotts as an NBA player, boycotting a preseason game in Lexington, Ky., once when he and Black teammates were denied hotel rooms. He joined with Muhammad Ali and other athletes in backing Ali’s refusal to be drafted. Russell simply wouldn’t back down in the face of perceived injustice. His final public act in that arena: In 2017, at age 83, he posted a photo of himself kneeling in solidarity with NFL players. He was a model to all citizens to stand for something, and the modern athlete respected the heck out of him for it. “Rest up Bill Russell,” Saints wideout Jarvis Landry tweeted Sunday night.

5. I think, in case you’re scoring at home, my 39th training-camp trip is five sites old, with six more slated this week:

• Seen: Las Vegas, Buffalo, New England, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh.

• Scheduled (important word, because life is fungible) this week: Cincinnati, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota.

• Little things I noticed so far: Derek Carr’s mastery of a new offense with the Raiders, and his love of learning and commanding his team Bills WR Gabriel Davis’ attention to his craft. His work and soft hands on the Juggs machine post-practice was noticeable Devin McCourty’s love of football, and after the retirement of his brother, his inability to let it go in New England The respect the Giants have for safety Xavier McKinney, and the great expectations they have for him, and how he embraces both The juice rookie Kenny Pickett brought to the Pittsburgh crowd (huge, just huge) with an early-practice touchdown tucked into the left corner of the end zone. Mark my words: Assuming Pickett doesn’t start, the locals will beat the drum for him very early if the starter struggles.

6. I think I noticed this from the dispatch of Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the Browns’ first practice of camp open to the public Saturday, on the reception given to Deshaun Watson: “Not only did no one protest, Watson was cheered as he ran out onto the practice field, and again when he left after spending about a half-hour interacting with fans.” Interesting. Not altogether surprising.

7. I think we’re waiting, Sue L. Robinson. It’s Aug. 1. You’ve got the relevant information on the Watson case. Make a call.

8. I think I do not like what this says: There was more written and discussed on NFL teams’ alternate helmets in the second half of July than there was on Daniel Snyder and Congress, Deshaun Watson, and any other news that actually means something. (And now, I’ll ask you politely to get off my lawn.)

9. I think this story has had about 16 lives in the past six days, but here’s my take on the Kyler Murray contract clause that became not a contract clause: It’s the dumbest clause I’ve ever seen in an NFL contract. Intentionally or not intentionally (and did someone inside the team actually want to embarrass Murray?), that clause calling for Murray to spend at least four hours studying the game plan in each game week was going to get out. It was too sensational to not get out. And so the result of that would be embarrassing for Murray and point out that the team was worried about whether the young quarterback was devoting enough time to his job. Imagine a clause like that for Patrick Mahomes, or Tom Brady, or Russell Wilson, or Josh Allen, all noted worker bees. They’d laugh. Because of all the darts thrown at Murray (and a few at the team), the Cardinals cut out the clause. But the damage was done to Murray’s reputation. And I can’t help wondering how long it will take to repair the relationship between him and the team.  

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

a. Traveling the country, I continue to be amazed at the sheer number of beers. How do all the breweries survive?

b. Waze is incredible. How is it free? “Police in 0.1 mile,” it warned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Friday evening, our little crew on the way to Latrobe and the Steelers. Sure enough, there was a Pennsylvania state trooper on the side of the road 10 seconds ahead.

c. Beernerdness: Reader Bjorn Anderson asked for more Beernerdness and Coffeenerdness, so I’ll keep that in mind in the coming weeks. Today’s edition: Castle Island White Ale (Castle Island Brewing, Norwood, Mass.) I’m a fan of the wheat beers/white ales, and this one was a little hoppier than most. Had a big smell and taste of coriander with a good head, though not the same smoothness of an Allagash White. New England’s become a great place for beers of all kinds, and this one, if you like the style, is a good one to sample.

d. Congrats on the weight loss, Greg Bedard. Just awesome. So happy for you.

e. Story of the Week: Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times, with one of the coolest they-almost-got-away-with-it stories of the year.

f. Great dateline, and love the way Finnegan set up his tale:

TIVAT, Montenegro — The private jet banked eastward as it ascended out of Lisbon. After passing Madrid and Barcelona, it flew over the Mediterranean and the Italian peninsula — Rome on the left, Naples on the right.

The husband and wife enjoying the plush cabin with their black dog were convicted swindlers from Los Angeles on the sixth day of a daring getaway. With police worldwide on alert to arrest them, they had slipped off to Portugal and hoped to vanish in the Balkans by nightfall.

Their destination was Montenegro, a mountainous nation a few hundred miles up the Adriatic coast from Greece — an appealing alternative to prison in the United States. At sunset, the splendor of the rugged shoreline came into view as the chartered Cessna Citation VI descended into Tivat, a posh town on the stunning Bay of Kotor, framed by the steep slopes of the Dinaric Alps.

There, the couple would shed their identities as Richard Ayvazyan and Marietta Terabelian, leaders of a family fraud ring that collected $18 million in pandemic relief for sham businesses in the San Fernando Valley. It was one of the many lurid scams by grifters who lied to get rescue loans during the 2020 lockdowns.

Forged Mexican passports with photos expertly embedded would clear the couple’s way into Montenegro. Rich and Mary were adopting new names worthy of a 19th century novel: Roberto Niko De Leon and Nataly Rose Perez Garcia.

g. Is that real life, or the best beach read of the summer?

h. Such a smart way of making sure the reader gets swallowed up into the story. I found my outrage bubbling up when I realized these people had stolen $18 million from you and me, basically, to bankroll a wonderful and undeserved life not to mention abandoning their three children as they made a getaway. Who does that?

i. Crime Story of the Week: Michael Hall of Texas Monthly with “Murders on the Lake,” about an unsolved triple-murder in Waco in 1982. (H/T from reader Conrad Roblejo.)

j. You’ll need some time to plow through it, but the investigations are compelling.

k. I disagree, “Jeopardy!” Mayim Bialik should be full-time, not in a job-share with Ken Jennings. Ken’s a nice guy, Mayim’s a natural at the gig.

l. As a Red Sox follower, I’d understand trading Xander Bogaerts at the deadline for a top prospect. But not re-signing Rafael Devers long-term? That would be unacceptable.

m. Man, the Reds got a ransom for a pretty inconsistent pitcher, Luis Castillo. They parlayed a very good year for Castillo so far (2.87 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) into a great prospect return from Seattle.

n. Would you pay a gigantic price in players and prospects for Juan Soto, plus a $38-million-a-year deal? That’s a sticker-shock sign and trade.

o. Song of the Week: The Covid/isolation video version of “Something So Strong,” by Crowded House.

p. That song’s a hidden fave of mine, and how great is the technology that allows five people in different locales to play their parts of a great song, and then look how great it sounds when it’s knitted together?

q. Radio Story of the Week: Carrie Feibel of National Public Radio, on the incredible dilemma of ill mothers and reticent doctors as the new abortion laws take effect.

r. This is an apolitical inclusion in the column, included simply for the quality of the story and the quandary we’re in as a society if we don’t figure out what to do with women whose lives are endangered carrying babies they long to bring to term but can’t. From the story:

In the medical profession, doctors will continue to grapple with the new legal restrictions, and the resultant dilemmas in obstetrical care, says Dr. Alan Peaceman. A professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern. “It’s going to take a while before … the medical community comes to some kind of consensus on where you draw this line, and where you say enough is enough. Because that doesn’t really exist right now. And if you leave it up to individuals, you’re going to get uncertainty and people unwilling to make decisions.”

s. This is not something I have to worry about, but I found it interesting: a segment on Alison Stewart’s WNYC radio show “All of It” about when kids should have smartphones. Stewart interviewed author Catherine Pearlman, who wrote “First Phone: A child’s guide to digital responsibility, safety and etiquette.” (Scroll down to the 22-minute interview late in the show.)

t. Pearlman says there’s no right age to get kids these phones. “The first thing is, ‘What’s the need?’ “ Common sense. Most kids are getting these phones between 8 and 11 now, which surprises me—seems early. But Pearlman has some good guildelines to follow, and good ideas about rules for phone use at a young age.

u. Strong third and fourth episodes of “Wesley,” the Lyman Bostock pod by Tom Rinaldi. What a life (and death) story. I’m bummed out anticipating the tragedy in Episode 5, when, presumably, the story of Bostock, one of the best players in baseball, being murdered on a 1978 road trip, is revealed.

v. Ahhhh, to be Colts owner Jim Irsay and to love and collect artifacts both famous and arcane. On Tuesday night at the AON Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier in Chicago, Irsay will debut his latest prized possession: the “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing title belt won by Muhammed Ali in his fight with George Foreman in Africa in 1974. Jim Brown, a friend of both fighters, will be Irsay’s guest at the event. And it’s free, from 7-10 p.m. All of Irsay’s collection, political and historical and sporting, will be on display. 

w. This is apropos of nothing, totally. But I’ve had four people on the trail so far talk to me about the books I reviewed in early June in the Fathers Day book section. At the Giants the other day, John Mara said he read “City on Fire,” by Don Winslow, and was looking forward to Kostya Kennedy’s Jackie Robinson book. I love that. Not that people are reading the books I recommend, necessarily, but that people are reading.

x. Thanks for having me as a guest on your pod, Cam Heyward. Not sure when my episode of “Not Just Football With Cam Heyward” will be live, but he came off the practice field Saturday and sat there by the side of the field and recorded it. Good host. Curious guy. And prepared.

y. When you get to be 65, as happened with me in June, and you look at the training camp schedule, and you see: “Sunday, July 31: Writing Day,” man, it’s nice to be able to sit in a hotel in Cincinnati, navel-gaze a bit, and figure out exactly what you want to write. Squeezing in four innings of Orioles-Reds doesn’t hurt either. Great to be back in my old town.

Good gift for Brady?
I can think of just one thing:
Eighth championship.

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