FMIA Week 12: Jason Kelce’s ‘Any Given Sunday’ and Philly’s Rocky Balboa Season

1. I think Lloyd Howell’s biggest job as the new executive director of the NFL Players Association is to ensure the NFL doesn’t force through an 18-game season at some point in his tenure. When the league went to 17 games in 2021, it was clear Howell’s predecessor, De Smith, very much didn’t want 17 games but he let the players vote their consciences, and the new CBA narrowly passed, with a 17th game on every schedule. The 18th game cannot happen—unless the owners agree to three provisos:

  • Every non-kicker will play a maximum of 17 regular-season games per year.
  • Every outdoor stadium, and each indoor stadium that can be retrofitted, will have grass fields. (There will be exceptions for hybrid fields, such as in Green Bay, when keeping natural grass into January may not be realistic. The hybrid surface is mostly grass, with some artificial substance in it to promote longer life and better footing.)
  • A joint NFL-NFLPA committee must approve all exceptions to fully natural-grass fields.

2. I think it’s easy to think if players voted for 17 games including more money per player, they’ll vote for 18, with more money per player. That’s where the NFLPA has to come in. In visits to teams—the executive director visits all 32 at least once a year—Howell has to convey to them that this is about their short- and long-term health. Smith didn’t want 17 games. But the middle-class and lower-paid players viewed it as a chance for another game check, and when you’re worried about how long an NFL life you’ll have, that’s an important consideration. That’s why Howell and the union have to get in front of this now, not in the heat of negotiations in six years or so.

3. I think seeing cornerstone players like Joe Burrow, Mark Andrews and Jaelan Phillips—not just good players, but top, top leaders on their teams—go down in an eight-day period puts an exclamation point on the fact that every player is playing Russian Roulette with his health in every game. An 18th game for a regular starter provides 65 more chances (the number of plays for each unit, on average, in a game) to get hurt. Easy for me to say, but if the players vote for an 18th game sometime down the road, they’ve lost the empathy factor from me when it comes to injuries.

Highlights: Ravens fight off late Chargers’ push

The Ravens posted one TD and one FG in each half en route to a 20-10 victory over the Chargers in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football.

4. I think I’ve got an NFL quiz for you: and no cheating! Which future Pro Football Hall of Famers were drafted 88th, 89th and 129th in the 1964 NFL Draft? (Answer in 10v of Ten Things I Think.)

5. I think if Brock Purdy can make a few more throws like this—36 yards in the air, layered over one DB, threaded between two others, perhaps the most beautifully placed and timed throw of this football weekend, maybe he can dream of being a top-15 quarterback one day. He might be able to be rated higher than Derek Carr even, or Geno Smith.

6. I think at some point soon—if it isn’t happening right now—the Steelers are going to have to ask themselves: Are the dogging-it and drops by Diontae Johnson really worth the trouble?

7. I think the most fascinating, interesting, mysterious and dangerous team down the stretch of this season will be Denver. I could see the Broncos finishing 8-9. I could see them going on the road and winning a Wild Card game. Or more.

8. I think the Lions are regressing, which is an odd thing to say about an 8-3 team. But they can’t get defensive stops the way they did early in the year. I thought after last week, with the three picks thrown by Jared Goff, that it was a fluke event. But it’s worrisome that the Lions have turned it over 11 times in the last five games after turning it over six times in the first six. They’ve given up 29.0 points per games over the last five games. The massive comeback against Chicago may have been a mirage.

9. I think when you give up 38, 14, 38, 26 and 29 points over five games, that’s not going to put you in league with Philadelphia and San Francisco. I found myself wondering on Thanksgiving whether GM Brad Holmes will regret not going hard after a pass-rusher to bookend with Aidan Hutchinson down the stretch, or maybe corner depth; it’s one thing to get strafed by Justin Herbert, but another to get torched by Jordan Love.

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

a. Story of the Week: Eli Saslow of The New York Times with a tremendous piece headlined by words that say it all: “A Jan. 6 defendant pleads his case to the son who turned him in.” It is most definitely worth your time.

b. Quite simply, Eli Saslow is the best storyteller of very serious things in America today.

c. Saslow wrote about father and son sitting at the kitchen table, going over the evidence of father’s actions at the Capitol on Jan. 6, father trying to justify actions to son, and son not buying it at all. Amazing that Saslow was there to witness it.

d. Saslow wrote:

They’d spent almost three years relitigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, trying to make sense of what that day meant for their relationship, for the country and for the future of American democracy. Now another divisive presidential election involving Donald Trump was less than a year away, and they were still staring at the same screen and interpreting different realities, each of them coming away with more questions than answers. A.J. searched the video for clues as to how the single father who’d been an advocate for the homeless and supported A.J. when he came out as gay had become the man pressed against police barricades alongside Proud Boys and neo-Nazis. Brian studied his son’s reactions and tried to understand how the one person he trusted most — who he had put in charge of his home and his finances when he left that day for Washington — was also the person who’d turned him in to the F.B.I.

In July, a federal judge found Brian guilty of 11 charges related to the riot, including four counts of assault against law enforcement officers, stealing riot shields and obstructing an official government proceeding. Lawyers told him to prepare for the possibility of several years in prison, but first he’d been sent home to await a sentencing hearing in January. He had at least a few more months to try to put his life in order and make amends with the people he loved.

He took out a blank piece of paper and drew a diagram of the National Mall, the Peace Circle, the Capitol building and the food truck where he stopped that day for lunch.

“Because of course you needed tacos to storm the Capitol,” A.J. said.

“What, you expect me to overthrow the government on an empty stomach?” Brian joked.

e. The stuff about how the son came to decide he needed to turn the dad in riveting. That’s putting it mildly.

f. We’re in a pretty serious time in this country, and it doesn’t go away by putting your hands over your ears and pretending things either didn’t happen or ignoring that we’re facing a monumental next year in the history of the country.

g. There’s not really much of a segue from that.

h. Beer Can of the Week: Stealing Signs Hazy Pale Ale, Saucy Brew Works (Cleveland). You can always count on brewers in football hotbeds like Ohio to come up with clever digs.

i. Beernerdness: Went out for a post-Thanksgiving beer Friday and had the Chuckanut Kolsch German Ale (Chuckanut Brewing, Burlington, Wash.). I can see why it’s won a bunch of awards. Tasty, light and incredibly easy to drink. I had a couple of Kolsches on my trip to Germany this month, and this topped both.

j. The site of said beer, Third Place Books in the Seward Park neighborhood south of Seattle, is one of the best bookstore/cafes I’ve seen. Warm and welcoming. Beer and bar food (tater tots recommended). A jillion beers on draft, books on two levels, excellent kids section for books and learning toys. I’ll be back.

k. Coffeenerdness: Olympia Coffee in Columbia City, south of Seattle.

Mahomes finds new target in Chiefs win vs. Raiders

The Football Night in America crew discuss Patrick Mahomes’ connection with rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice in the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 12.

l. Congrats, Steve Johnson, on a rich, winning and important 34-year head-coaching career at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn. Johnson took a perennial loser and won 251 games in 34 years, and molded players into good people. “I can’t put into words the impact that he’s had on me,” offensive line coach Chad Richards said. “It’s a transformational experience—just the way that he runs his program, the way that he treats his players, the way that he treats his staff. He loves us.” Isn’t that how any coach would want to be remembered?

m. I see Maurice Clarett wants to fire the Ohio State coach, Ryan Day, who is 56-7 during his Columbus tenure, including 1-3 against Michigan. Here’s an idea: Instead of firing a coach who’s won 89 percent of his games, can we have maybe a 10-day cooling-off period instead of 10 minutes?

n. And then can we please not fire a coach who is 56-7?

o. I saw only the final five minutes of the game, but man was that a bad decision by Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, under heavy pressure, to throw a pick into triple coverage with less than a minute to play.

p. Did Auburn actually have a, you know, defensive plan on fourth down and forever, single-covering the leading receiver on Alabama with only three rushers rushing, and giving Jalen Milroe seven seconds to wait-wait-wait and find Isaiah Bond for the game-winning 31-yard TD?

q. Crime Story of the Week: Eren Orbey of The New Yorker, with a headline and tag line that describes the story so well: “Piecing Together My Father’s Murder: I was too young to remember what happened to my dad, and no one explained it to me. So I tried to assemble the story myself.”

r. Wrote Orbey of his dad, a Turk who settled his family in the United States and was killed on a trip back to Turkey:

Much of what I knew about my dad I learned on the Internet. When I typed his name into Google, the first suggested search term was “cinayet,” which an online dictionary informed me was the Turkish word for “murder.” A short obituary in the Boston Globe noted only that he’d died, on vacation in Ankara, “at the hands of an intruder.” The phrasing seemed to me strangely intimate, as though someone had suffocated him in a tender embrace. Like my mom, he’d been a professor of chemical engineering. He was eulogized in one scientific journal as “warm and decent,” with an “easygoing, modest, and upbeat personality.” He sounded nothing like me, an odd, caustic child who preferred horror movies to Saturday-morning cartoons. When my mom drove us around, I made a point of leaving my seat belt unbuckled; in the event of a deadly crash, I didn’t want to be left behind.

s. Must be darned frustrating when no one in your family wants to know the truth except you.

t. Answer to the quiz in number 4 of Ten Things: Three Pro Football Hall of Famers. The 88th pick was Florida A&M wide receiver Bob Hayes, who went to Dallas and sped his way to Canton. Number 89: Wichita State tackle Duane Charles “Bill” Parcells, who didn’t have an NFL playing career, but he won two Super Bowls and took four teams to the playoffs as a head coach. Number 129: Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, who, because of his military commitment in the Navy, entered the NFL as a 27-year-old rookie in 1969.

u. Staubach will be in the column next week when I tell the story of one of the most interesting football games ever played.

v. I really need to find out an answer to this question. Someone out there in college athletic administration must know the answer: How can some of these college basketball holiday tournaments be even remotely profitable—and how can they continue?

w. Some posted attendances at college tournaments over the Thanksgiving weekend, with the attendance listed first (and keep in mind, if some figure like “100” is listed, you should be dubious that 100 people were really there to watch):

  • 100 Appalachian State women 68, Binghamton 57, Puerto Rico Thanksgiving Basketball Classico, in San Juan on Friday.
  • 100 Mercer men 60, Tennessee State 59, Emerald Coast Classic, Destin, Fla., on Friday.
  • 200 Radford men 79, Northern Colorado 68, Cancun Challenge in Mexico, on Wednesday.
  • 213 Delaware men 67, Brown 59, Baha Mar Hoops Nassau Championship, Bahamas, on Friday.
  • 213 Iona men 89, Buffalo 65, Gulf Coast Showcase, Estero, Fla., on Wednesday.

x. Happy 50th, Jon Runyan. And happy 73rd, Don Strock.

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