Published On: Mon, Dec 11th, 2023

FMIA Week 14: Dak Prescott, Confidence Man; The Flag Heard ‘Round Kansas City

FMIA Week 14: Dak Prescott, Confidence Man; The Flag Heard ‘Round Kansas City
FMIA Week 14: Dak Prescott, Confidence Man; The Flag Heard ‘Round Kansas City

1. I think so many things overshadowed Jake Browning over the past seven days—but that shouldn’t diminish the performance of a backup quarterback who beat two playoff contenders Monday (Jacksonville) and Sunday (Indy)—and put up a 119.2 passer rating and 68 points in the process. It’s crazy. It speaks to the confidence Browning has in himself and that the coaches have in him. Now Browning’s got playoff-type games, potentially, four weeks in a row: Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, at Kansas City, Cleveland.

2. I think the Saints being in a three-way tie atop the NFC South is only one of the headlines in New Orleans today. The victory over Carolina was Mickey Loomis’ 200th victory as an NFL general manager, and he’s the ninth GM to reach that plateau. Loomis tied Ozzie Newsome with his 200th win Sunday; others on the list, which includes all who are GMs or have total control over football operations: Al Davis, Bill Belichick, Curly Lambeau, Bill Polian. Loomis has done it mostly with Sean Payton and Drew Brees, but for six years on either side of Payton/Brees he fielded competitive teams as well. “Having 200 wins speaks to his discipline, strategy and consistency,” said Saints linebacker Demario Davis. “I have been part of one of the most talented locker rooms in the NFL year in and year out, and that’s a testimony to Mickey’s understanding of the game, players and our team needs.”

3. I think there was this interesting tidbit from the Travis Kelce profile in the WSJ magazine of The Wall Street Journal. In a story by J.R. Moehringer, the writer points out that Kelce’s $14-million-a-year salary is about half of what the top wide receivers make, and since Kelce functions as a hybrid WR/TE, he’s underpaid. Moehringer writes of Kelce: “Nothing to be done, he says flatly. The Chiefs know, he says, that he would play for free. They know he loves his city, his quarterback. ‘Unfortunately, in this business, things gotta get ugly, they gotta be unpleasant [if you want more money], and I’m a pleasant son of a buck.’ Thank goodness for endorsements. At this point, says his co-manager Aaron Eanes, ‘the NFL is just his side hustle.’”

4. I think I want a $14-million-a-year side hustle. Know of any?

5. I think I love this little note from the week in Miami: The turf was replaced Tuesday night at Hard Rock Stadium, and the Tennessee-Miami game tonight will be the first NFL game played on the new grass. The turf comes from an 80-acre sod farm in Loxahatchee Groves, Fla., 61 miles north of the stadium. The Dolphins own the sod farm; the team bought the acreage and established the place in 2019 in a quality-control effort ensuring the best field they can have through the year. They can replace the turf, easily, on short notice, with trucks hauling it from an hour away. They change out the grass eight to 10 times a year. This farm can grow about 15 fields at once, and it takes about a year to grow one of the fields to full maturity before it is transplanted.

6. I think I’m assuming Joseph Person and Dianna Russini, reliable reporters, have the story nailed about there being a “Hunger Games” culture inside the Panthers, with various coaches/employees texting and taking to the owner, David Tepper, with scuttlebutt that was negative about Frank Reich. Two thoughts.

  • One: An owner who actively engages with multiple employees in opposition to what the head coach is doing is a big part of the problem. It’s not the owner’s job to encourage employees to undercut the coach. It’s reprehensible that the owner would engage in or encourage that.
  • Two: That franchise is a mess.

7. I think there should be blinking lights to warn every coach who interviews for this Carolina head-coaching job: Beware. If you trust yourself, and if you trust that some other trustworthy, smart owner—unlike what there is in Charlotte—will want you one of these days, just walk on by. Wait.

8. I think that was one heck of a strained hamstring for Justin Jefferson. It took 63 days to come back from it.

9. I think the retirement of Robbie Gould last week got me thinking about the very odd end to his career. Why didn’t anyone sign one of the most efficient kickers in the NFL? Why did the 49ers feel a need to spend a third-round pick on a kicker who’s had, at best, an inauspicious rookie year when Gould was there? This says it all about Gould not being in football this year: In regular- and post-season games in 2020, ’21 and ’22, Justin Tucker missed 14 field-goal tries; Gould missed 12.

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

a. First thing I thought about the Shohei Ohtani deal: The biggest contract in Dodger history had been the one Mookie Betts signed three years ago, averaging $30.4 million a year. Ohtani’s averages $70 million. Imagine a team paying a free agent – albeit one of the great free agents in any sport, ever – $40 million more per year than your highest-paid player ever, and $27 million more per year than any player in history. This is the kind of deal I’ve never seen in any sport.

b. Ohtani’s probably worth it too.

c. Hmmm. I thought Jon Rahm hated LIV golf. Guess he did have his price after all. What’s happening in golf and college football is hard to comprehend.

d. Man, the Yankees traded an awful lot of pitching for Juan Soto. But unless it turns out to be a one-year rental (Soto’s a looming free agent in 2025), that’s a tremendous acquisition for the Yankees. Scariest thing about the Soto trade for the foes of the Yanks: His career on-base percentage is .421. Aaron Judge’s over the past two years: .416. Assuming they bat 2-3 or 3-4, or anywhere in the lineup for that matter, they should lead the American League in runs. They’d better find some pitching before opening day.

e. Story of the Week: John Branch of The New York Times, on the inspirational story of the most challenging climb by rock climbers ever. I care very little about ventures like rock-climbing and mountain-climbing, but John Branch, who is always enlightening and terrific, makes this a story for everyone. It’s about the human drama of taking on the seemingly impossible, like climbing the sheer north face of Mount Jannu in the Himalayas.

f. Have a great challenge in your life? Regardless what it is, you’ll be inspired by this tale of Alan Rousseau, 37, Matt Cornell, 29, and Jackson Marvell, 27, who used no aides, no oxygen, no super equipment in making the climb. Wrote Branch: “They used only what they could carry on their backs.”

g. Wrote Branch of the 25,295-foot climb:

“We did something we didn’t think was possible,” Rousseau said. “It gave us the realization that we can climb in one of the biggest arenas out there.”

They called their expedition “Round-trip Ticket,” in a nod to Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov, who completed an Alpine ascent of Jannu’s west pillar in 2007.

“Perhaps some day, a pair will climb a direct route on the north face in Alpine style,” Kofanov wrote in 2017, “but they’ll need to accept the likelihood that they’re buying themselves a one-way ticket.”

They carried dehydrated food. They had one stove, one pot and one two-pound sleeping bag, wide enough to fit three men, the better for body warmth.

h. That’s correct. For six nights, three men slept in one sleeping bag, the better for body warmth and lightness. Just imagine the trust and friendship you’ve got to have in your partners in the venture, sleeping night after night using body warmth from fellow climbers to survive.

i. The climb happened in October. Now they’re home in Salt Lake City. “Healing continues,” Branch reported, “and the men are hoping not to lose any fingertips.”

j. Incredible Napping Story of the Week: Carl Zimmer of The New York Times, with a gem: “Penguins take thousands of naps every day.” In 2019, researchers traveled to an island north of Antarctica and studied chinstrap penguins for 11 days after outfitting them with electrodes and tracking devices.

k. Scientists are amazing.

l. Wrote Zimmer:

Although animals have a wide range of sleeping styles, penguins easily take the record for fragmented sleeping.

“It’s really unusual,” said Paul-Antoine Libourel, a neuroscientist at the Neuroscience Research Center of Lyon in France who helped make the discovery. “This just highlights the fact that we don’t know much about sleep, and all animals are not sleeping like the way we read in textbooks.”

… For chinstrap penguins, microsleep is the norm.

m. Kudos, Time Magazine, for making the obvious choice for Person of the Year. It’s Taylor Swift, in a landslide.

n. She’s too famous, she’s too hung up on her old boyfriends, she’s too materialistic, she’s too mainstream. Go ahead. Hate her. My feelings: My daughter Mary Beth plays her music all day, every day up in Seattle. It’s too much for me. Any music all the time is too much for me.

o. But I admire the woman. She worked and worked and worked and took control of her music and her life and made something of herself. A great something, a worldwide something.

p. Cool essay about the impact of Swift.

q. Wrote Peggy Noonan:

Taylor Swift is the Person of the Year. She is the best thing that has happened in America in all of 2023.

Ms. Swift brings joy. Over the summer I was fascinated by what became familiar, people posting on social media what was going on in the backs of the stadium as Ms. Swift sang. It was thousands of fathers and daughters dancing. When she played in downtown Seattle in July, the stomping was so heavy and the stadium shook so hard it registered on a seismometer as equal to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake.

People meaning to compliment her ask if she’s Elvis or the Beatles, but it is the wrong question. Taylor Swift is her own category.

Friends, this is some kind of epic American thing that is happening, something on the order of great tales and myths. Over the past few months as I’ve thought about and read of Ms. Swift my mind kept going back to phrases that are . . . absurd as comparisons. And yet. “When John Henry was a little baby . . . ” And a beautiful lyric I saw years ago that stayed with me. “Black-eyed peas asks cornbread/ ‘What makes you so strong?’/ Cornbread says, ‘I come from/ Where Joe Louis was born.’ ”

There is just something so mightily American in Taylor Swift’s great year.

r. Then there’s this story about someone, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never heard of. Virginia Kraft was the first star female writer at Sports Illustrated, and yet she has nothing near the rep of the Tex Maules, Dan Jenkinses and Frank Defords.

s. Gee, I wonder why.

t. Read this story from Emily Sohn of Long Lead about Virginia Kraft. From a Kraft story in Sports Illustrated in 1962 headlined: “A lady hunts with the Shah:”

For the first time since I had stepped from the cab at the palace gates, the guards, soldiers and servants mysteriously vanished, and I found myself entering the imperial reception room alone. Before I realized what had happened, a gray haired man in a double-breasted suit was striding toward me with the long, smooth steps of an athlete, his hand outstretched and a broad smile on his surprisingly young face, fixing his warm brown eyes directly on mine, the Shah of Iran said in a soft, low voice, “I have been waiting a long time for your visit.”

u. Pretty, pretty good. Thanks, Emily Sohn.

v. RIP Norman Lear, who died last week at 101. Lear created one of the most important TV shows (and one of the funniest) of my life, “All in the Family.” And he made a bigot, Archie Bunker, a tremendous teaching tool for society. Lear took a lot of chances, and we’re lucky he did.

w. I have extolled the work of a great American journalist, Eli Saslow, for a couple of years now. Saslow is the best journalist at reporting deep and important topics in our society. You may remember his 2022 story when he worked for The Washington Post on the grind of the Denver bus driver. More recently I wrote about Saslow’s story in The New York Times about the son who turned in his father for the elder’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The depth and detail and human feeling of his stories is impressive. No matter what walk of life you’re in, we can all learn from his process.

x. Saslow on ideas:

“I’m trying to think about the big pressure points in America. For instance, the story of the bus driver in Denver … In the last couple years, I’d say post-pandemic, a lot of American cities have changed in major ways and not necessarily for the better. We’ve had downtowns empty out increasingly because of remote work. A historic fentanyl epidemic has arrived into a lot of these cities. We have a lot of people in mental-health crises in ways the country hasn’t figured out how to solve. And particularly, on the West Coast, a really rapidly rising unsheltered homeless population. Cities have become kind of a tinderbox. All the data shows it. Instead of writing about the data, or the trend in a way that might feel important but a little bit dry, how can I write about that story in a way that feels intimate and human and really personal? And so for me that’ll start with a day or two where I’m looking at the data saying things in cities have really changed in Denver, in Seattle, in Portland, in Austin. And then I’ll think, who is somebody who’s in proximity with these problems all the time? People who drive buses. That’s where a lot of these sort of incidents are escalating. Then I’ll – you know – I’ll research the bus lines in places … I figured out the Denver buses is the place where I want to do this story.

“The Denver buses had gone from being a very safe and very popular mode of transportation to being considered a city-wide embarrassment and a trainwreck. The main bus station in Denver—the city had spent a ton of money creating this beautiful downtown bus station—there was no longer public use of the bathrooms because they’d been taken over by fentanyl. Rising crime rates in that area had become basically the mayor’s number-one issue. And then I look at the different bus lines. After researching crime on the different bus lines, I realized the number 15 line that goes up and down Colfax Avenue right past Mile High Stadium or Empower Field, whatever it’s called now, that line is where things have really ratcheted up and where drivers are experiencing more assaults. Then I figure out who are the 15 people who drive the number 15 bus? I have conversations with six, seven, eight of them. One of those conversations in that case ended up being with Suna, who was an immigrant to the United States who loved Denver. For a long time, who had been such an ambassador to the city that her face was on the side of some of the number 15 buses that she drove, sort of welcoming people into Denver. Now, what she felt every day when she went to drive the bus was a rising sense of despondency and fear. She’d been assaulted eight times in the previous year. Increasingly, she was driving people who had no place to go. And although she felt a huge amount of empathy for the people on her bus, she also was starting to feel afraid of them.

“Then I ride the number 15 for six, seven days and I’m talking to Suna of course but I’m also talking to all the people on the bus. I’m watching. I’m observing. I’m videoing. I’m capturing what the day-to-day is like and then writing a story about that—a story that hopefully feels personal, where you really get to know Suna and you really get to understand her experiences, but also by understanding Suna and what she’s dealing with, you understand something bigger about what’s happening in the country at that moment.

“Journalism is often really misunderstood. I’m asking for a huge amount of trust from the people that I’m writing about. What I’m asking them is, ‘Is it OK if a stranger comes in and essentially lives inside your life for a while? And then tells everybody about it?’ … I’m asking them for their text messages. For all of these things that allow a story to feel intimate and lived in, because that’s what makes stories powerful. But that is so much to ask of people. As a journalist, ethically, I can’t give them anything in return. Nobody that I write about is ever paid for me to be writing about them. They can’t see the story that I’ve written until it’s published. If I was to write a story about somebody and hand it to them to edit, I would be empowering them to be the editor of their own story and those are never the most fair or honest stories. Instead, all I’m saying to people every time is like, ‘I think this really matters. I think you’re living out a version of a life in this country that more people should know about and more people should understand.’ It’s a huge act of trust and faith every time for people to invite me in.”

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