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FMIA Week 5: Brock Purdy is your new MVP frontrunner, and remembering Dick Butkus

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—In this football fairy-tale life of Brock Purdy, you might be surprised to learn that, in the midst of a 42-10 beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, he made a mistake. He threw an incomplete pass slightly behind Brandon Aiyuk in the second quarter.

An hour after the game, you could tell: It ticked him off. Not in the helmet-throwing way, because that’s not Brock Purdy. But in the professional, I-let-my-team-down kind of way. With 6:22 left in the first half and the Niners up 14-7, he had Aiyuk in the middle of bracketed coverage—linebacker in front, DB in back—and he just missed it. “I had a great look at it,” Purdy told me calmly (everything he says is in a calm tenor) an hour after the game, in a room outside the Niners’ locker room. “The ’backer was dropping a little bit deeper than I expected and I was trying to fit it in there, and I just threw it behind him.

“I was like, man, you know, if we ran it again, I could just put it on a line over the ’backer for Brandon and just lead him before the safety comes. I just wanted another chance at it.”

Brilliant minds …

“That,” Kyle Shanahan told me, “was like the only play all night I can remember that Brock was off on the whole day. So I went up to him and BA [Aiyuk] at halftime. We had such a good look—it was set up so well for it to work. I said to him: ‘We’re gonna come back to that. BA, you run the same route. Hopefully we’ll get that look again. Brock’ll get you this time.’“

When Kyle Shanahan wants to run a play, he really wants to run a play. On the second snap of the second half, it was first-and-15 from the Niners’ 20-yard line, Purdy saw an in-cutting Aiyuk. But uh-oh. This time the linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, played it even better—he was close to Aiyuk in the middle of the field, maybe 27 yards downfield from where Purdy was set up in the pocket.

“The linebacker was so deep,” Shanahan said. “I didn’t know if Brock could get it over him.”

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Purdy threw the ball 26 yards in the air, sort of a soft line drive, and it looked like Vander Esch was going to have a shot at batting it away. The linebacker leapt. The ball was maybe 10 inches over his outstretched hand, and it settled into Aiyuk’s grasp at the 39-yard line. An absolutely perfect strike of a throw. The trailing corner, Stephon Gilmore, dove and shoe-tackled Aiyuk at the 43, or he’d have been gone. “Such a beautiful touch pass,” Shanahan said. “Turned out to be a huge play in the game.”

In a 42-10 game, how could that have been such a big play? Shanahan’s point: The Niners were up on a dangerous team 21-10, and this was the first series of the half, and the coach really wanted to come out and keep the avalanche coming. Seven plays later, Purdy to George Kittle for the third Kittle TD of the night, and it was 28-10, and the San Francisco sideline could breathe.

“That first one,” Purdy said, “was on me. I wish I had that one back. But I got another shot at it. We were able to adjust, throw it right over the ’backer and trust that Brandon was going to be there. I just had to do my job.”

So much of the Brock Purdy story is amazing, but this might be the most amazing thing: In 17 months, he’s gone from being the last pick in the NFL draft to a frontrunner for MVP. You may think that’s a stretch, because it’s just impossible that a player bypassed for seven rounds by 31 NFL teams could have a passer rating 27 points higher than Patrick Mahomes, and you doubt he could have led his team to 5-0 by an average margin of 20 points a game. But it is not a stretch. Five weeks into the season, Brock Purdy is playing MVP football.

Boldface Names

Burrow’s back. Sure looked that way in Arizona Sunday.

Ja’Marr Chase/George Kittle. Three-TD day in Glendale, three-TD night in Santa Clara. “I’ll have what he’s having.” (Bad “When Harry Met Sally” line.)

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Brock Purdy, the 25th-best quarterback in the National Football League. Riiiiiiiiight.

Trey Lance. Admit it: You’re dying to know (I am) what number 15 with the white baseball cap on the Dallas sideline was thinking watching the last pick in the 2022 draft, the man who stole his job outright, put up 42 on his new team Sunday night.

De’Von Achane, you’re fairly amazing. No one heard of Achane three weeks ago, and not only does he lead the AFC with 460 rushing yards—but he’s also averaging 12.1 yards per rush.

Mike McDaniel, you’re fairly fun. Informed post-rout of the Giants that the Dolphins have set an NFL record for most yards in a season’s first five games, the Miami coach said: “Mission accomplished. Our whole goal this entire off-season was statistical output through five games.”

The New York Football Giants: From road playoff winners to sellers at the trade deadline (or at least they should be), all in 38 weeks.

Daniel Jones must wonder: “I’m making $40 million a year, which is very cool. But is any amount of money worth getting beaten like a piñata every week?” Five games, 82 pressures, 28 sacks.

The Ravens must have vomited throughout the 50-minute flight back to Baltimore Sunday evening after handing a 17-10 win to Pittsburgh. They’ve lost six of the last seven in this friendly series—by 4, 5, 1, 3, 2 and 7 points.

Bill Belichick. There. That’s the note. That, plus the “Numbers Game” stat down in the column. Of all the adjectives I thought I’d ever use about a Belichick team, “hapless” is not one I thought I’d be typing.

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The Lions have lost three games in the last 11 months. This is 2023, not 1955.

Taylor Swift is barely in this column. Jim Nantz put her in it.

Sean Payton and his team lost to Nathaniel Hackett and his, and the coaching fraternity couldn’t be happier.

The Brotherly Shove explained, perfectly and rationally, by Nick Sirianni. I still don’t like it, but I love how the Eagles have perfected the play. If it’s a rule, use it to your advantage.

Roger Goodell, bullish on expanding the NFL overseas.

Matt Milano, lost perhaps for the year? That’s just awful, especially coming on the heels of the Tre’Davious White loss last week. Imagine how bummed Sean McDermott was flying six hours, London to Buffalo, last night.

Good news, coach: Giants coming to Orchard Park Sunday.

Andy Reid, Congratulations. I know you aren’t much for celebrating your own accomplishments, but you have to admit one thing: It’s pretty cool to have more regular season wins than the man in the fedora, Tom Landry.

The Lead

In the concourse outside the Niners’ locker room Sunday night 70 minutes since securing the win, George Kittle was greeting his family after the game. Cool night for the extended football family: George Kittle was a couple of hours from turning 30 (today’s the day), and when he emerged from his post-game media talk, the family sang him “Happy Birthday.” Twice.

“Three touchdowns!” Kittle said. “And I’m 30!”

A cool moment. Kittle realized he owed a bit of it to his fairly anonymous QB.

“Brock’s so consistent every day,” Kittle said. “He’s a robot.”

The 49ers dismantled the Cowboys, a team that had won by 30, 20 and 35 so far this year. “This might be the most humbling game I’ve ever been a part of,” Dak Prescott said. “I didn’t see it coming.” Maybe he should have. San Francisco owns the Cowboys. The Niners are their daddies. Prescott’s Cowboys have 39 points in three humbling losses (2021 playoffs, ’22 playoffs and this ’23 “Sunday Night Football” biggie) to San Francisco. Now the successor to Staubach, Aikman and Romo is confronted with this humbling factoid: Purdy is 2-0 versus Dak by a score of 61-22, and his four-TD night here could have been five- or six- had Shanahan needlessly kept his foot on the gas.

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“I am so glad America got to see this,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “Glad Brock got to have a four-touchdown performance on national TV. He deserves more respect than he’s gotten.”

The 49ers built this team methodically. Great pass-rush, punishing and athletic linebackers, great skill players … but the quarterback. It was supposed to be Jimmy Garoppolo, but he got hurt too much. Then Trey Lance, but he got hurt too much, and was just too green. The Niners stumbled into the next “then.” Brock Purdy. He was by far the highest-rated player on their board when the draft ended in 2022, and so they picked him; 47 college starts in a Power Five (Big 12) conference, on a little-engine-that-could team at Iowa State. So impressive at Iowa State that his coach, Matt Campbell, recited a poem of emotional praise to Purdy before his final college home start.

But it’s still a stunner to many that he’s here, doing such great things. You’re still doing a double-take (or triple-) over my assertion that Brock Purdy is playing MVP football. I’d go further. Through the first month of the season, Purdy’s the leader in the MVP clubhouse. Consider five points:

1. The MVP most often comes from one of the two top seeds in each conference, and it’s become a quarterback award. For the last 10 years, and 15 of the last 16 years, a quarterback’s won it. And for the last 10 years, a quarterback from one of the top two seeds in a conference has won it.

2. This morning, the top four seeds would be San Francisco and Philadelphia in the NFC, Kansas City and Miami in the AFC. Purdy, Jalen Hurts, Mahomes and Tua Tagovailoa would be the four quarterbacks. Among the four, Purdy is first in accuracy (72.1 percent), first in passer rating (123.1), first in TD-to-interception ratio (plus-9), second in yards per pass attempt to Tagovailoa (9.3 yards), third in passing yards (1,271) and first in team margin of victory (19.8 points per game).

3. This stretches to last year, and thus wouldn’t count in a 2023 MVP case. But I include it because, well, because it’s ridiculous. Purdy has played three quarters or more in 13 NFL games. In those 13 games, San Francisco is 13-0.

4. The most dominant team, which matters in MVP voting, has been the 49ers. Easily. Purdy’s not thrown an interception and has led his team to 30 or more points in every game.

5. No one thinks Purdy’s got a great arm. Consider MVPs with big arms. Brett Favre won three straight MVPs in the nineties, with average yards per attempt of 7.7, 7.2 and 7.5 yards. Purdy’s YPA, 9.3, and his accuracy of 72 percent mean two things: He’s got two great receivers in YAC (yards after the catch), but as one retired quarterback told me last week, “Part of a high yards per attempt, yes, is having great receivers who run after the catch. It’s also putting receivers in position to run after the catch by putting the ball exactly where the guy can catch it in stride and run after the catch.”

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And there’s one other thing about the beatdown of the Cowboys. Shanahan and Purdy told me this wasn’t by design, but NextGen Stats late Sunday night reported that Purdy became the first quarterback in the eight-year history of NextGen to have thrown four touchdown passes outside the pocket in one game. The inference is interesting. Purdy’s not Mr. Mobile. But he had the football sense to move when he had to, and to make plays while moving. Two of his TD throws were made on the move. “They were definitely not by design. But you’re just playing football, and you feel the push, and you go, and you just make the play,” Purdy said.

This is not the opening salvo in a campaign for Purdy-for-MVP. It’s a simple acknowledgement that he’s playing great at the most important position in the sport, and maybe in all of sports.

I want to tread lightly here. I am not comparing Purdy to anyone … yet. Joe Montana was drafted 82nd overall in 1979 and won four Super Bowls. Tom Brady was drafted 199th in 2000 and won seven. Purdy’s played 11 months. So please, or as Jimmy Johnson would say, Puh-leeze.


But … what I am saying is this kid has some traits of the good and great ones. He’s humble, he’s a worker bee, he’s not angry when people diss him, which is rare in the Deionish times. For instance:

Last week, The Ringer ranked the NFL quarterbacks, three days after Purdy went 20-for-21 in beating Arizona, and Purdy was 25th—below Mac Jones, Daniel Jones and Derek Carr. Have you watched the sport of football in 2023? Could you in any circumstance say Mac Jones or Derek Carr is playing better than Brock Purdy? I can think of a lot of words to describe ranking Brock Purdy the 25th-best quarterback in the NFL, but “logical” is not one of them.

Here’s a riff by Purdy to me late Sunday night, when I told him the Niners were 13-0 in games when he’s played at least three quarters:

“Every level that I’ve played at growing up it’s like you get to that level and at first you may think it’s a big deal, but then once I start playing it’s like, ‘Man this is just football.’ Youth to high school, high school to college, and college to NFL. Just football. Yes, everyone’s better at every level, but at the end of the day, man, you’re throwing a football to some guys trying to get open and catch it. And that’s really how I look at it. Try to keep it simple. This is a simple game.

“Then obviously my faith. I don’t try to get rattled and caught up in trying to have all this status and fame and all that stuff. I’m just a normal guy who’s trying to live out a life for God. That’s how I stay steady and level and even-keeled. If you were to tell me these stats last year, I maybe would’ve been like, ‘Man, that’s crazy.’ I came in as a rookie, and I was sort of in awe of everybody. But then once I got acclimated to the culture and the organization, I’m like, ‘Man, this is the standard, and this is what we’re trying to do.’ That’s where I’m at with my mindset. I don’t try to get caught up in what’s going on, what everyone else says outside.”

Isn’t that what you want your quarterback to do, instead of getting caught up in the maelstrom of the modern NFL world? When I told him lots of people still were skeptical of him, Purdy smiled and said, “It’s all good.” That’s a good thing: He realizes no one in his building cares that The Ringer thinks he’s a below-mediocre quarterback. And that’s all that matters to him. A football player who doesn’t listen to the outside noise. How refreshing.

1 to 32

The 2023 season is 28 percent complete (77 games played out of 272), and the oddity, to me, is that the NFL has only three teams at the extremes. Niners and Eagles, unbeaten. Panthers, winless. The 29 other teams have zero zeroes next to their names.

Ranking teams always has a bit of silliness attached. This week, for instance, you might ask: The Bills just beat Miami by 28 eight days ago, so how can you have the Bills behind the Dolphins? I would answer this way: Eight days ago, at the start of Miami-Buffalo, the two most important players on their defense were healthy—Tre’Davious White for three quarters, Matt Milano for the entire game. Now they’re both gone, likely for the season. So the Bills are a different team this morning, and not in a good way.

(And some people want an 18-game regular season.)

As we’ve finished the first quartile of the season, here’s my ranking of the teams:

1 San Francisco (5-0). Not much doubt they deserve this spot after Sunday night. We knew the defense would be premier, to be sure. But who knew Brock Purdy would be this good?

2 Philadelphia (5-0). We should start appreciating this team—19-3 in the regular season since the start of last year—instead of saying, “Imagine what happens when they really start clicking on all cylinders.” Um, averaging 28.2 points, rushing for 4.6 a pop and holding foes to 309 yards a game is sort of okay.

3 Miami (4-1). Allow this to sink in: The Dolphins are averaging 111 yards per game more than any team in the league.

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4 Kansas City (4-1). See team 2, Philadelphia. We got spoiled by the Kansas City steamroller, and assumed that even by losing Tyreek Hill, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman over two off-seasons that Patrick Mahomes would just get the Valdez-Scantlings and Toneys up and running at classic levels in no time. Trust the process. In the last 13 months, including playoffs, KC’s 21-4.

5 Detroit (4-1). Nothing fluky about the Lions, who’ve won by 14, 14 and 18 the last three weeks. What I like a lot about Detroit is the defense (293 yards allowed, 3.3 yards per rush allowed), which will keep the Lions in every game.

6 Dallas (3-2). Jekyll and Hyde.

7 Buffalo (3-2). Losing to the Jags was bad enough. Losing nerve-center-of-the-defense Milano—likely for the year—with a fractured leg was worse. Five games into the season, the Bills’ best cover guy, White, and best defensive player, Milano, are lost for the year. That goes into my decision to drop the Bills lower than I’d like to.

8 Baltimore (3-2). Blew a chance to complete a huge trifecta—beating all three division foes on the road in the first five weeks—with a big egg-laying in Pittsburgh. Maybe I’m giving the Ravens too much of the benefit of the doubt, but I doubt their receivers will drop 37 passes in a game again this year.

9 Seattle (3-1, on the bye). Two important points: Geno Smith has proven the efficient 2022 season wasn’t an outlier; Seattle’s averaging 28 points per game. And the run defense, abominable last year at 4.9 yards per carry allowed, has been shaved to 3.2.

10 Tampa Bay (3-1, on the bye). Really got the Bucs wrong before the season. Big bad by me. They’ve built an outstanding offensive line—Tristan Wirfs and Luke Goedeke have played superbly as the bookend tackles—and Baker Mayfield has been strikingly efficient. The Bucs are clearly in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s fourth seed.

11 Jacksonville (3-2). Not as impressive as I thought the Jags would be. Their offensive output in the last four games: 9, 17, 23 and 25 points. But maybe there was a big over-reliance on Trevor Lawrence entering the season, and the explosion of Travis Etienne in London Sunday (30 touches, 184 yards, two TDs) should tell Doug Pederson something.

12 New Orleans (3-2). No idea what obliterating the Patriots means, because this looks like the worst New England team since the 5-11 edition of 2000. Pre-Pats, this team was scoring 15 points a game, and that’s not a playoff offense.

13 L.A. Rams (2-3). Sometimes you watch a team and just think it’s better than the record. That’s what I think about the Rams. Feisty and physical, reinvented on the fly.

14 Indianapolis (3-2). Such a strange first quarter of the season. Road wins against Houston and Baltimore in the middle of a QB job-share, while managing a beat-up savior quarterback. With Jonathan Taylor in-house and signed (such a surprise), the Colts should be in play for the AFC South. Don’t we say that every year, though?

15 Houston (2-3). DeMeco Ryans turned a bad team into an immediately competitive one. What I love is the fight in his team. As C.J. Stroud told me after the Texans routed Jacksonville: “We’re grown men. We’re NFL players. Why can’t we win any game we show up to play? That Jacksonville team’s a top 10 team in the NFL, but we knew we could play with them. I’m nobody’s fish.” Wish I knew what that meant, but it sure sounds good.

16 Pittsburgh (3-2). Big mystery team. Rose up to survive the Ravens after losing to the Texans by 24. Need to run it better. Need Kenny Pickett to be more efficient. Need to not rely on the defense to play perfect games. But it’s all about the wins, and you know what they say about Mike Tomlin and losing seasons: oxymoron.

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17 Tennessee (2-3). As I’m writing this, I think, Too high. Not enough to like about the Titans. Well, there’s the 24-point rout of the Bengals, and there’s Mike Vrabel, and there’s Derrick Henry, and, well, I’m still dubious about their playoff chances because I don’t trust the passing game.

18 Cincinnati (2-3.) Breath of life in Arizona Sunday, with Burrow looking like Burrow for the first time in 10 months. Next five: Seahawks, Niners, Bills, Texans and Ravens.

19 Atlanta (3-2). I’d feel a lot better about the Falcons if I felt even a smidge of confidence in Desmond Ridder.

20 Los Angeles Chargers (2-2, on the bye). I have no idea about the fate of this team as the Chargers took the early bye. Every game’s been a one-score outcome, and Dallas, KC, Detroit and Baltimore are on the slate between now and Thanksgiving weekend. All is possible, as long as Justin Herbert can keep winning scoring contests.

21 Cleveland (2-2, on the bye). The defense was premier till being strafed by Lamar Jackson last week. Now a bum shoulder adds to the uncertainty of Deshaun Watson, and no Nick Chubb is a major downer. Most right-on stat for the Browns might be their average points per game: 19.0.

22 Minnesota (1-4). Three of their next four are on the road, and the only home game is with the Niners. Yikes. Why are the Vikings here, in the equatorial zone of quarter-pole rankings? Mainly because I don’t love the teams below them.

23 Green Bay (2-2). As Jordan Love goes, so go the Packers. He needs to be more efficient, with better accuracy, starting tonight in Vegas. The run game’s not doing him any favors.

24 Washington (2-3). All the feels from the great day in Philadelphia last week got wiped out by getting dominated by the Bears. I like Sam Howell. I just hope he’s in one piece by January.

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25 Arizona (1-4). Feel-good story. More competitive than we thought. But this league is about winning, and I don’t see the Cards doing much of it. Next three: Rams, Seahawks, Ravens. Three of last four: Niners, Eagles, Seahawks.

26 New York Jets (2-3). The Jets will stay in it if they can consistently hold teams under 20. Problem is, they’ve done it in two of five games. The margin for error just seems too tiny for this team.

27 New England (1-4). Belichick weeps. Kraft gnashes teeth. Mac forces throws. Season in the toilet.

28 Las Vegas (1-3). Drive-thru guy at In-N-Out Burger on Willie Stargell Avenue in Oakland recognized me Friday: “Mr. King, can I ask you a question? Why won’t Mark Davis fire McDaniels?” I said, “You want Josh McDaniels fired four games into year two? You guys get in trouble all the time because you fire coaches all the time.” Guy still said yes. Tonight’s a big game for the team—and particularly for the coach.

29 Denver (1-4). Pretty big rebuild here, particularly on defense. Broncos have no one on the front seven who’s a consistent playmaker. And Sean Payton sure seemed unhappy with Russell Wilson Sunday in that dispiriting loss to the Jets.

30 Chicago (1-4). Weeks 4 and 5 showed the Bears are not hapless—granted, they played the two worst scoring defenses in football—but there are signs of life when we were sure there’d be none. Coincidence that Justin Fields has led the Bears to 12 scoring drives (including eight TD throws) since Chase Claypool was banished? I think not.

31 New York Giants (1-4). Making the playoffs wasn’t a fluke last year, but they still had huge holes entering this season—the biggest being on the offensive line, which is a sieve. Evan Neal, the seventh overall pick in ’22, has been a disaster at right tackle. A team in the playoffs one year. The same team has trailed by 40, 20, 18, 21 and 18 in their first five games the next year. Now that’s hard to do.

32 Carolina (0-5). Way, way too early to say they made the wrong call at quarterback. Forgot how well C.J. Stroud has played in Houston through five weeks—I can’t shake the feeling of how small Bryce Young looks. He can make that go away with a couple of big games, but he hasn’t had one yet.

Dick Butkus, 1942-2023

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“How could he die!” Fran Tarkenton said on the day Dick Butkus did, indeed, die. “He was indestructible! Bigger than life, tougher than nails!”

When I asked around after the death of the greatest middle linebacker of all time last week, the stories flowed. It’s funny, almost, to listen to the stories of Butkus, when the rules allowed defensive players to clothesline-tackle, when there was no prohibition on helmet-to-helmet contact, when receivers could be mugged coming off the line till the pass was in the air, and to laugh. Because they sound so funny. Butkus may have been great three generations later because he could hit like he had anvils in his shoulder pads, and because he was surprisingly agile. But he wouldn’t have been as destructive, because the rules are so different today.

Now is now. Then was then. And Butkus was such a beloved figure for his effort in his 119-game career from 1965 to 1971 and, quite frankly, for his sheer brutality, even in practice. Let’s start there.

Butkus the intimidator. Dan Dierdorf’s rookie year as a St. Louis Cardinal was Butkus’ seventh, in 1971. On Dierdorf’s first day in training camp that summer, he got the day off because he’d just played in the old College All-Star Game. The Cardinals scrimmaged the Bears that day in Rensselaer, Ind.

“On the first play of the scrimmage,” Dierdorf told me, “we had a young running back who took a handoff, and Butkus nearly decapitated him. And he just yells at the kid, ‘Don’t you ever come in here again!’ But the kid was out. I mean, out. Unconscious. It was like, Dick, why are you yelling at this kid? He can’t hear you.

“Anyway, I’m thinking after that day: Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad to be a high school gym teacher out of college after all. I don’t know if I’m cut out for the NFL if there’s a lot of guys like Dick Butkus.”

US PRESSWIRE Sports Archive

Sep 12, 1971; Chicago, IL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus (51) in action against the Denver Broncos at Solider Field. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports/US PRESSWIRE

Butkus, showing it always mattered. Sept. 26, 1971, Metropolitan Stadium, Minneapolis. Bears-Vikings. In his fifth NFL game, Vikes tight end Stu Voigt lined up tight right on an extra-point attempt. Butkus, at 250, and 255 brawler Ed O’Bradovich, both of whom could have been bouncers on the wrong side of town in another life, lined up on either side of the 223-pound Voigt, across from him.

“Here are these two legends across from me,” Voigt, now 75, said Saturday night from Minnesota. “In college, I dreamed of the chance to go up against the greats like Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. And now it’s happening. So I look at O’Bradovich, and he’s got most of his upper plate missing. And there’s Butkus, looking like Butkus. And right before the snap, Butkus says to O’Bradovich, ‘Let’s take this guy for a ride.’ The ball’s snapped, and they didn’t care about blocking the kick—they just wanted to put a whipping on me.

“And they did.”

The Bears-Vikings rivalry was good, and full of Butkus: “One time our center, Mick Tingelhoff, comes back to the huddle and says, ‘Man, that’s ball’s slippery out there.’ Turns out it was from Butkus spitting on the ball.”

Voigt played against Butkus’ Bears four times from 1971 till Butkus’ last year in 1973. “He was not a dirty player, but he was verbally abusive. The veterans on our offense told me, ‘Forget the talk. The bark’s not going to hurt you—but the bite will.’ The unwritten rule playing the Bears was, Do not cut Dick Butkus. He was really careful with his knees, because he’d been hurt there. We had some good battles, and yes, he did hit harder than other guys. You felt it every game. He’d hit me so hard, blocking and tackling, that at the end of the games I played him, I’d think, ‘Moral victory. I survived Dick Butkus today.’”


Butkus, everlasting. On the day of the Giants-Broncos Super Bowl in 1987 comes this story from Mike Cooney of the YES Network. His brother’s best friend in Los Angeles was one of Butkus’ sons. So Rick Butkus had a keg at his house to watch the game with friends, but no tap. He called his father, asking him to bring over a tap. Dick Butkus obliged, driving the tap over from his home in Malibu, north of Los Angeles.

Dick Butkus drove up in his Rolls Royce. He got out of the car, wearing a BUTKUS 51 Bears jersey, and handed the tap to Cooney’s brother.

“Good luck,” said Dick Butkus, an NFL/NFC man to the end. “Keep it in the NFC.”


Butkus the legacy. Former NFL GM Scott Pioli: “I wore number 51 in Pop Warner, in junior high school, in high school and in college for one reason. Dick Butkus.”


Butkus the name. “What a great football name,” Dierdorf said. “Dick Butkus, Bronko Nagurski. They’d have to duke it out for best football name of all time.”


Butkus the dog. The companion of Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” movies was named Butkus. He was Stallone’s dog, in real life. Stallone once said when he got the dog as a pup, “He was a ferocious-looking little devil.” He decided to name him after Dick Butkus, who, Stallone believed, was “possibly the fiercest football player in history.”



“I don’t know why,” Tarkenton said. “Mick Tingelhoff died recently, and he was my center, and we were close. Bud Grant died recently, and he was my coach. Great man. And today Dick goes, and I’ve been crying ever since I heard. Dick Butkus was football!”


What I’ve Learned

Last week, ESPN college and NFL analyst Louis Riddick was feted by the New Jersey-based youth literacy organization Write on Sports as one of its Literacy Champions for 2023. Write on Sports is a charity I’m affiliated with, and I was there last Tuesday to hear Riddick tell students (and their parents) some important words about what he’s learned on his run through the NFL as a player, a front-office exec and now a high-profile member of the media.

Louis Riddick

Louis Riddick with the Oakland Raiders in 1998.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Riddick gave some compelling advice, as well as talking about what he’s learned along the way:

“Dream big.

“Continue to be curious. Continue to ask questions and improve daily, even when you don’t know when the payoff is going to come. That is a skill that all of us need to develop and very few of us have. Most people can work when they know when the finish line is, when we can see out there in the distance what the payoff is going to be. Many people lose hope when they don’t know when the payoff will come.

“Let me tell you a cool story about how my career in media even started. Before I was hired at ESPN, I remember [the NFL] had this media training program. They called it the Broadcast Bootcamp. I believe they still have it at NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J. When I was transitioning from the front office and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the second half of my career, I petitioned them. I wrote a letter to them to ask if I could be a part of that program, because I felt I had the skills to communicate football through the various media that existed. I got a letter back. I’ll never forget it. It said basically this: You’re not a big enough name. You didn’t have a big-enough career …

“Quite honestly, I was put flat on my back by that letter. Fast forward now, I’ve done the biggest events that media has to offer. I’ve done “Monday Night Football.” I’m a mainstay on the draft. I’m doing big-time college football. My point is this: Even when we don’t know when the payoff is going to come, continue to perfect your craft. Continue to dream. Continue to tap into the people who want to invest in you. Keep the people away from you who don’t want to invest in you, who don’t want to see you succeed. Find those people who believe in you. Seek them out. Keep them close. Keep your circle tight. Continue to gain knowledge and continue to progress.

“With your time and with your commitment and with the right people around you, you can become whatever you want to be. That’s just not hyperbole coming from someone like me, who grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, in a trailer park with parents who barely combined to make $25,000 a year. I’m living proof of it.

“I wasn’t a Hall of Famer. I wasn’t a starting quarterback. When I first started at ESPN, I was getting $800 a show with no guarantee of shows. I used to have to use my paychecks [to pay expenses]. Now, we don’t have to expense anything.”


USA Today


A recurring element in the column this year: a video memory of one of my favorite memories of 40 years covering pro football.

One of the all-time cool stories for me was shadowing Jerome Bettis on his playoff run that ended in a Super Bowl win over Seattle in 2006—in his native Detroit. The characters along for the ride and the sentimentality of a beloved player winning his last game, a championship game, a few miles from the house where he was raised lorded over the sports landscape for weeks. My memory of that Super Bowl, and Bettis:

40-For-40: King remembers Bettis' final NFL game
As Peter King commemorates covering his 40th NFL season, he reflects back on Jerome Bettis' last game vs. the Detroit Lions in 2006 at Ford Field where Bettis likened his career to a Hollywood film.

The Award Section

Offensive players of the week

Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. He’d led three TD drives all season, and Sunday, in a must-win in the desert, Burrow led four. Going 36 of 46 for 317 yards and three TDs with one pick, Burrow looked like pre-calf-strain Joe—and he made some beautiful music with Ja’Marr Chase (15 catches, 192 yards, three TDs) for the first time since last season.

Zack Moss, running back, Indianapolis. So which is the $42-million back—Moss, who rushed for 165 yards Sunday, or Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 18? Moss, on display for 31 teams outside of Indianapolis in the 23-16 win over Tennessee, rushed 23 times and averaged 7.2 yards per carry. His 56-yard TD run in the first quarter gave the Colts an early lead; his three-yard TD run in the third provided the clinching points.

D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Chicago. In his previous 84 NFL games, Moore had never had more than 160 yards or two touchdowns in a game. Playing 12 miles from his college campus at Maryland, Moore had 230 yards and three touchdowns to help his new team, Chicago, throttle the suddenly defenseless Commanders 40-20. This is the true number one receiver GM Ryan Poles thought he had when he dealt the top pick to Carolina for a package that included Moore.

Fields, Moore end Bears 14-game losing streak
Mike Florio and Peter King analyze the Bears’ big win over the Commanders, discussing the Justin Fields-D.J. Moore connection and underwhelming results from Ron Rivera’s defense.

Defensive players of the week

Quincy Williams, linebacker, N.Y. Jets. His strip-sack of Russell Wilson, coming as the Broncos were driving to tie or win it late, saved the Jets; corner Bryce Hall recovered the fumble and ran it in for the insurance TD in a 31-21 New York victory. Nine tackles, two sacks on the day for the less-famous Williams brother.

Tyrann Mathieu, safety, New Orleans. The Saints were going to win this game without Mathieu’s 27-yard pick-six off Mac Jones to open the scoring in a 34-0 rout at Foxboro. Mathieu had pick-sixes in back-to-back years for Kansas City (2020, 2021) but none since.


Special teams player of the week

Miles Killebrew, safety, Pittsburgh. With the Steelers trailing Baltimore 10-3 with 11 minutes left in Pittsburgh, Killebrew barged through the middle of the Baltimore punt team, powering bast safety Geno Stone to one-hand-block a Jordan Stout punt out of the end zone. The safety made it 10-5. Next three Steelers possessions: field goal, touchdown, field goal, and the Steelers won it.


Coach of the Week

Dan Campbell, head coach, Detroit. This is more a coach of the first month of the season than a coach of the week. By beating Carolina 42-24 Sunday at home (no surprise, obviously) the Lions are 12-3 in the last 11 months, much of it because of the groundwork Campbell and GM Brad Holmes have laid with this team. “When you smell competition, you show up. And you guys proved it again today,” Campbell told his team post-game.

Campbell: Players can 'smell the wins'
Dan Campbell shines a light on the Lions' mindset, explains how players are focused on what they need to do in order to win and details why he's proud of how they showed up against the Panthers.

Goats of the Week

Baltimore receivers. They were “credited” with six drops at Pittsburgh. That doesn’t include the bomb to wide-open Zay Flowers, who fell as the ball was falling right to him. Rashod Bateman dropped an elementary TD catch in the end zone; Nelson Agholor dropped an easier one at the Steeler 15 and would have waltzed in for a touchdown had he caught a ball he’d have caught with his eyes closed in high school.

Quotes of the Week


She was questionable all week, but it looks like she’s officially inactive.

Jim Nantz of CBS, on Taylor Swift breaking her streak of two straight Kansas City games attended.


It’s the same old story every time. I’m pretty sick of it.

—Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen, after the Ravens lost narrowly to Pittsburgh for the sixth time in their last seven meetings.


I do see us playing in more markets very soon, as early as next year. We will not stop playing games in the [United Kingdom], but we will play more games in others markets because we want to be a global sport. We intend to be a global sport.

—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in London Saturday, talking up the future of international football.


Dear Patriots fans under 35: Welcome to what it used to be like.

John Tomase of NBC Sports Boston, after New England’s desultory 34-0 loss to New Orleans Sunday. At home.


Go be a family man!

—Pittsburgh cornerback Joey Porter Jr., a chip off the old block, to Odell Beckham Jr., after intercepting a pass intended for Beckham in the end zone Sunday.

Numbers Game

Bill Belichick has coached 499 NFL games. In the 498th, he absorbed his worst loss ever, by 35 points, to Dallas. In his 499th, he absorbed his second-worst, by 34 points, to New Orleans.

Harrison: Belichick hasn't forgotten how to coach
Kathryn Tappen, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison weigh in on the root of the Patriots' issue, outline where Bill Belichick needs to start as the head coach, why true leaders must hold the team accountable and more.



In the first month of the season, Sam Howell of Washington has been sacked 29 times and Daniel Jones of the Giants 28.

Last year, four quarterbacks—Tom Brady, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and Trevor Lawrence—played the full 17-game regular season over four months and were sacked fewer times than Howell and Jones have been through four games in 2023.


On Nov. 1, 2022, the Bears traded what turned out to be the 32nd pick in the 2023 draft for Chase Claypool. With that 32nd pick, the Bears could have addressed major needs. They could have picked the top center on their board, the top guard on their board, the top remaining receiver with only four of them gone, or the top remaining corner on their board with only four of them gone, or the top defensive tackle on their board with only four of them gone.

The Bears are 1-13 since trading for Claypool. The “1” came Thursday night, with a benched Claypool back in Chicago while the Bears won without him.

On Friday, GM Ryan Poles traded him to Miami for the equivalent of a bag of footballs—a swap of his seventh-round pick in 2025 for Miami’s sixth-rounder.

King of the Road

If the Associated Press were on the scene this weekend at a youth soccer game in California, this is how the dispatch might have read:

OAKLAND—Six members of the Wolves, led by Freddy King’s two goals, scored as the Wolves topped the Electric Potatoes 7-3 in East Bay United soccer action on a broiling Saturday morning at Bushrod Park.

That’s right. “Electric Potatoes.” The kids pick the team names.


Reach me at

Is the NFL 'embracing' Kelce-Swift too strongly?
Mike Florio and Chris Simms discuss updates with the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift rumors, how the NFL is handling it and more.

On T-Swift. From Madison Belfour: “I have been a Jets fan since I was a little girl. Last Monday, when I went into my office, I had a call with a male colleague, and I mentioned that I was tired from watching the [Chiefs-Jets] game the night before. His immediate response: “Admit it, you only watched the game for Taylor Swift.” My reaction was one of laughter, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. To me, he was suggesting that I, as a female, couldn’t possibly be interested in anything NFL-related unless it had something to do with her cult of personality. The truth here is that the byproduct of the media craze surrounding this Swift-Kelce relationship is that certain women’s fandom will be made light of and/or disregarded entirely.”

Good email, Madison. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens, who hired the first full-time female assistant coach in college football in 2018. When he did, he told someone words to this effect: Women are half the population, and many of them love football as much as men do. Why ignore a potential huge base of talent that could make our team better? Seems to me the NFL and entities like Dartmouth are smart to try to find coaches and staffers—not just fans—who are women. There very well could be some who are as good at this business as men, or better than men. That goes for fans, too, certainly.

No Deion, please. From Jack: “I have enjoyed reading FMIA and MMQB for decades, including your non-football observation. But leading week four with yet another story on Deion? No thanks.” Free country. Lots of people don’t like Deion Sanders, or don’t like the non-traditional stuff going on at Colorado. That’s fair. But it’s also the reality of what’s going on in college football. I find it interesting.

Thinks I was unfair to Caleb Williams. From Jean Hermelin: “I strongly believe that one of the (many) reasons that draw me to your column on a weekly basis is that you are fair. Which makes all the more puzzling the way you uncharacteristically knocked Caleb Williams down in order to praise Shedeur Sanders. You basically criticized Williams for his supporting cast, which is pretty much in line with what every Alabama or Ohio State QB drafted in recent years has had. Your question is a valid one—how much does the supporting cast impact one’s draft standing? Why did you not bring it up as loudly with these other draft prospects?” Good question, Jean. Valid question. I got a few similar notes this week. I was commenting, particularly, about one pass Caleb Williams threw that made the internet go gaga—and that I don’t think would happen in the NFL:

Williams hits Washington for 71-yard touchdown
Caleb Williams rolls to his left to buy time before hitting Tahj Washington for a 71-yard score that extends USC's lead over Colorado to 14-0.

You don’t get 7.42 seconds to throw very often in the NFL, as Williams had on that long TD thrown across his body to Tahj Washington, and on the same play, you don’t have a receiver with no one closer than eight yards to him. So I don’t go gaga over plays like that. We’re seeing how much highly drafted quarterbacks struggle behind suspect offensive lines with Daniel Jones, Bryce Young and Justin Fields. Williams would likely go to a team with some weak position groups, possibly on the line, so I’m just pointing out he won’t always have the benefits he has now. Seeing a future reality without cheerleading—in my view—is not criticizing a player. It’s saying, Keep this in mind when judging a great college player.

King: Sanders will be better than Williams in NFL
Peter King's gut feeling is that Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders is going to be a better NFL player than USC signal caller Caleb Williams, but explains why fans should take his opinion with a grain of salt.

Book Corner

Periodically this fall I’ll write about new books with interesting football content.

This week: The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America, by Michael MacCambridge (Grand Central Publishing). Publishing date: Tuesday.

Fascinating topic explored by a master of long-form sports non-fiction. What I love about MacCambridge’s books is his attention to detail. He shows us things before our very eyes that we don’t quite realize the significance of. This era was an incredible decade in sports, spanning the old (an all-white team won the college football mythical national championship on Jan. 1, 1970) to the new (ESPN was founded in September, 1979). In between: the increased power of the player—the start of free agency in baseball, the rise of the NFL players union—and the start of “Monday Night Football” and prime-time games in all sports.

MacCambridge writes well about the sea change in football in the first 11 days of the seventies. On New Year’s Day, the all-white Texas Longhorns beat Notre Dame to win the college football crown. The president called the Texas coach, Darrell Royal, in the locker room post-game. On Jan. 11, Kansas City beat Minnesota in the Super Bowl—and the president called KC quarterback Len Dawson in the locker room post-game.


Len Dawson and the Kansas City Chiefs huddle during Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 11, 1970.

Getty Images

But there was more than that, as MacCambridge wrote:


“If the all-white composition of Texas’ national champions harkened to sports’ segregated past, then the game played ten days later—Super Bowl IV, the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans—provided a glimpse of the future.

“It would be the last game before the National Football League and the American Football League fully merged. Neither team had existed ten years earlier; the Vikings didn’t debut in the NFL until 1961, after reneging on a commitment to play in the start-up American Football League; the Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans, and moved to Kansas City in 1963 only after owner Lamar Hunt realized—after three years of war with the NFL’s Cowboys—that Dallas would never be big enough for both teams.

“… The Vikings had Black players on both sides of the ball; many of them were trained in the Big Ten, and all came from major colleges. The Chiefs were far more deeply integrated—the first team in pro football history in which a majority of the twenty-two starters were Black—but it went beyond that. Minnesota had zero players from historically Black colleges and universities. The Chiefs, over the course of the 1969 season, had fourteen different players from HBCUs, largely a product of the efforts of Lloyd Wells, the boisterous, blasphemous raconteur who was pro football’s first Black scout.”


MacCambridge has excellent institutional knowledge of the Chiefs. He quoted linebacker Willie Lanier as saying, “I can’t really remember any racial strife at all.” That’s another interesting part of this decade. The outside world wondered after the assassinations of the sixties, Why can’t we all just get along? In sports, so many players on so many teams did. This book’s a great look at a phenomenally interesting era.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think, if you have read this column, you know that I am not a big fan of ball carriers getting pushed from behind to advance the ball downfield. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think the Eagles, or any team, should run a quarterback sneak this way, because, obviously, it is within the rules to do so, and why not take advantage of a play that is in the rules? But I thought Eagles coach Nick Sirianni summed up his team’s use of the play superbly Sunday after Philadelphia beat the Rams in Los Angeles. Hard to argue with Sirianni when he says:

So we watched our evolution of the play and the growth of that play; it’s just a great example of what we want to be as a team. If we stayed the same in our quarterback sneaks from 2021 until now, defenses would have caught up to it. But we’ve grown in the areas, and we’ve grown in our fundamentals. Jalen, I don’t know if he squats any more than 600 now, but he’s grown in the weight room. Then we watch the rest of the league, and quite frankly, they can’t do it like we can. We’ll play by the rules of what they say to do. It’s a good play for us. The [NFL] Competition Committee can look at it, but until then, people have to stop it.

2. I think what’s so interesting, and so refreshing, in this time when everyone has to know everything about everything RIGHT NOW, is that no one knows if the Bill Belichick reign will end this year or in 2027 or 2031 or 2036. I kind of like that. Mystique. How rare.

3. I think, Andy Reid will make very little of passing Tom Landry with his 251st regular season win Sunday, putting him fourth on the all-time list. I remember talking to Reid after he passed Chuck Noll a few years ago, and he immediately said, “That is absolutely not what today is about.” But regardless of him downplaying what this means, make no mistake that it signifies a coach who has done it the right way for a long, long time being rewarded.

4. I think I always get a kick out of these player trades that include late-round draft picks. The latest: Chase Claypool plus a 2025 seventh-round pick from Chicago to Miami for a 2025 sixth-round pick. Chicago picked 218th in the seventh round last year; Miami picked 197th in the sixth. It’s a borderline absolutely insignificant trade.

5. I think there are many good signs about Sam Howell as a long-term Washington quarterback, but this is certainly not one of them: Howell is on pace to take 99 sacks this year. Lord, the Commanders had better fix that, and Howell had better learn to fight another play.

Commanders' blowout loss to Bears raises questions
Mike Florio and Peter King weigh in on the Commanders blowout loss to the Bears on Thursday night, breaking down where things went wrong for the offense, Ron Rivera's defense and more.

6. I think I cannot remember a quicker devaluation of a football player than J.C. Jackson in 18 months.

March 16, 2022: Jackson, after four years with the Patriots, signs the richest cornerback contract in the free-agent market—five years, $82.5 million—with the Chargers.

Oct. 4, 2023: Jackson, after playing seven games and earning $38.5 million with the Chargers, is traded back to the Patriots along with a 2025 seventh-round pick for a sixth-round pick. Hard to project the difference in draft positions two years down the road, but in terms of draft value, it’s likely to approximate the difference between the 40th and 41st pick in the draft. Not sure I’d have wanted to be Chargers coach Brandon Staley or GM Tom Telesco and have to explain to owner Dean Spanos how a $38.5 million mistake like that was made.

7. I think the easy thing to say there is, “Patriots win again,” but Jackson is due $12 million (non-guaranteed, granted) over each of the next three seasons after this one. I wonder how long he’ll last with a premier price tag. My guess is that number has to get slashed.

8. I think I always enjoy the list of projected future head coach that Sports Illustrated NFL writer Conor Orr puts together every fall. Here is this season’s edition. His two locks for jobs in this coaching cycle: Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Carolina defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Logical call on Johnson, gutsy call on Evero. Owners don’t usually like to hire coaches off the staff of 3-14 teams, and Carolina just might be that. I like the inclusion of Aaron Glenn (defensive coordinator, Detroit), Lou Anarumo (defensive coordinator, Cincinnati) and Brian Johnson (offensive coordinator, Philadelphia). Good job, Conor.

9. I think it’s notable that three of the coaches I mention there—Evero, Glenn, Brian Johnson—are Black, and several other minority candidates are in there, including Eric Bieniemy of the Commanders. I was reminded of that when I noted Deion Sanders, in Time magazine’s upcoming cover piece on him, saying this to writer Sean Gregory: “We can play, but we can’t coach? Seventy percent of us can be in the locker room, but we can’t lead ourselves? It don’t add up The Bible says, in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time and a season for every activity under the sun. I believe it’s time that we make those strides.”

King 'had to see' Sanders in action at Colorado
Peter King joins Dan Patrick to share his experience watching Deion Sanders' magic in person, discussing the appeal to stay at the college level, as well as unpack the NFL Week 4 slate.

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

a. Keep At It Story of the Week: Dominique Mosbergen, Peter Loftus and Gregory Zuckerman of the Wall Street Journal on University of Pennsylvania immunologist Drew Weissman and molecular biologist Katalin Kariko ignoring the many doubters on their campus and in the medical community and inventing mRNA technology that contributed to development of the Covid-19 vaccine.

b. Weissman and Kariko won the 2023 Nobel Prize for medicine last week. From the Journal story:

As drugmakers raced to develop vaccines against Covid-19, it was mRNA technology that powered widely used shots from Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna. The Nobel committee credited Karikó’s and Weissman’s work with saving millions of lives.

“The laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the committee said in awarding Karikó, 68, and Weissman, 64, the annual prize in physiology or medicine. Karikó is the 13th woman among 227 people to win the prize.

“We focused on doing the science,” Karikó said Monday. “That’s why we persevere, we are resilient.”

c. I’ve read two more stories in the ensuing days about the skepticism of fellow researchers, doctors and scientists about the work of Kariko and Weissman. What if they got discouraged? Quit? Would the vaccines have been as powerful? Would there have even been an effective vaccine for Covid? How lucky are we that they stuck to it?

d. “That’s why we persevere; we are resilient.”

e. TV Story of the Week: Michelle Beisner-Buck of ESPN on Seattle linebacker Boye Mafe. The story’s about Mafe soldiering on after the death of his mom to pancreatic cancer, and how he uses sign language in part to pay tribute to her before every game. And it’s got an emotional twist at the end from Beisner-Buck.

f. Mafe on sign language: “To me, it’s a beautiful language. My sister did it; my brother did it. I thought it was the cool kids’ club.”

g. Stay till the end, for Beisner-Buck’s message to her mom.

“Mom, I know you’re at home, and you’re watching this, and I know that you are battling. I want you to keep fighting and don’t give up. And always remember [she signals I love you in sign language] that I love you.”

h. It is weird, bizarre, odd, strange, whatever word you want to use, to see George Costanza (Jason Alexander) doing discount wireless commercials in a blue T-shirt. In anything, really.

i. “Was that wrong?”

j. “Should I not have done that? If anyone had said anything to me that that sort of thing was frowned upon

k. Football Story of the Week: The venerable Frank Cooney, of The Sports Xchange, on the death of Hall of Fame tight end Russ Francis in a small plane crash last week.

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 15: Tight end Russ Francis #89 of the San Francisco 49ers warms-up on the sideline during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on November 15, 1987 in San Francisco, California. The Saints won 26-24. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

George Rose/Getty Images

l. What a character. And what a story by Cooney, who used to cover him in the Bay Area.

m. Cooney writes so well of the way Francis lived, and the way he played football. Two points in the story stood out—one about being a daredevil, one about a game against the Raiders in which he was sure he’d been wronged:

On off days he would go skydiving. One offseason a few of us raced old motorcycles upwards of 110 miles per hour on a deserted, bumpy airstrip on the windward side of Kailua, Oahu, in his beloved Hawaii.

“Russ, aren’t you afraid of dying, of killing yourself?” one person in our group asked that day.

“Not at all,” Francis responded. “I’m afraid of not living the fullest while I can.”


The game: Francis’ Patriots at Raiders, playoffs, 1976, late fourth quarter, Pats up 21-17, third-and-six. Raider tough guy Phil Villapiano grabbed Francis’ arms as a pass comes his way. Incomplete. No flag. Francisco screamed that he was held. No flag. Pats missed a field goal, and the Raiders took over and drove for the winning TD. Sometime after that, Francis and Villapiano met at an NFL-sanctioned event in Hawaii, where Francis lived much of his life.


Francis, who had an airline sightseeing gig on the island, took Villapiano and his wife, Patsy, for a free tour.

Okay, there was a price to pay.

“We are up there looking down at the whales,” said Villapiano. “Russ tilts the plane hard to the right and we are looking out an open door at the whales. We were strapped in, but it was hairy. Russ says, ‘So, was it holding?’ I look down at the whales and say, ‘Hell yes it was holding.’ Russ straightened up the plane.”

n. They don’t make ’em like Russ Francis anymore.

o. Journalism Passage of the Week: Marcus Thompson of The Athletic with a wish-I’d-written-that section from his story watching Shedeur Sanders, son of Deion, on the field before the game against USC nine days ago.

Colorado’s star quarterback stood on the sidelines, close enough to the field so the whole section could see him. His head nodded slightly to whatever beat he was hearing. He stared into the sea of white shirts and soaked in the cheers of the Buffaloes faithful. Then, matter of factly, he raised his left fist to flaunt … his Audemars Piquet Royal Oak 15500 watch with 30 carats of VVS diamonds. The roar of the fans escalated.

Sanders then calmly stepped down and jogged off. The “2” medallion dangling from his diamond-encrusted Cuban link necklace bounced off his chest as he ran. He didn’t say a word. His expression didn’t change. Because for Shedeur, to borrow from rapper David Banner, stuntin’ is a habit. Put it in the air.

But the thing about Sanders the quarterback is he’s proving to have substance to pair with his flamboyance. His talent, his toughness, his intelligence are making his flair feel more and more appropriate.

Every Sanders pass and run from Week 5 loss to USC
Look back on every pass and run from Shedeur Sanders in Colorado's Week 5 loss to USC, where the QB finished 30 of 45 for 371 yards and four touchdowns and 14 carries for 50 rushing yards and one TD score.

p. Thompson’s story is well worth your time. We covered the same thing last week. His story was better than mine. I tip my cap to you, sir.

q. Dog Passage of the Year, from Alina Dizik of the Wall Street Journal:

Joy Claire admits it—her dog’s grooming takes precedence over her own.

Each month, she takes her 60-pound goldendoodle for a five-hour salon makeover that includes a wash, blow dry, nail trim and blueberry facial to get rid of tear stains. Penelope Poodlepanths gets the teddy-bear cut, a teased-out coif accessorized with a bow. Ms. Claire pays $250, including tax and tip.

“She’s my best friend, so it’s always in the budget for her,” says Ms. Claire.

r. So many questions. Biggest one: a blueberry facial to get rid of tear stains?

s. I loved reading this from Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, after Minnesota snapped an 18-game playoff losing streak Tuesday by beating Toronto in front of a roaring home crowd:

“The ballpark today, I think, was a great representation today of how the community feels about us and what we do. I thought the place was going to split open and melt. Honestly. It was out of this universe out there on the field. The fans took over the game. They helped us win today.”

t. On the first day of the baseball playoffs last Tuesday, the Disney family (ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC) aired 11 hours and 43 minutes of playoff baseball. Per a report from Awful Announcing, the six hours of morning/early afternoon programming on ESPN featured three short promos for the quadruple-header of postseason baseball, and nothing else about the games. “According to a closed captioning search, they were the only mentions of the MLB Playoffs from 8-2 on ESPN,” Awful Announcing said.

u. I’m sure we’ll see a hundred reasons why the baseball ratings on ESPN stink. And none will mention that no one on those ESPN shows ever talks about baseball. Must be a rule of some kind.

v. Man, those baseball playoff games in Philadelphia are events. What a great atmosphere.

w. Man, that baseball attendance in St. Petersburg for the Rays is awful. Two of them, both with crowds below 21,000. First: The Rays should be playing in Tampa, but that’s no excuse. Second: Stop with the “weekend afternoon” excuse for bad attendance. Third: Think of all the markets dying for a big-league baseball team: Portland, Nashville, Montreal, so many others. Think of fans there watching the Rays’ games in that mausoleum, retching, wondering why there’s a team in that market.


x. How about the path of the Texas Rangers in the past two weeks: three road games in Anaheim, four road games in Seattle … end of regular season, stay on road … two road games in Tampa, two road games in Baltimore. Think of the flight pattern: Dallas due west to Anaheim (3 hours, 15 minutes), Anaheim due north to Seattle (2 hours, 45 minutes), Seattle due southeast to Tampa (5 hours, 25 minutes), Tampa due northeast to Baltimore (2 hours, 15 minutes). That is Americana, south to west to northwest to southeast to east, all in two weeks.

y. The 2023 World Gymnastics Championships concluded Sunday with Simone Biles winning two more world titles, on balance beam and floor. That brings her already-record total world medals to 30, with 23 of them gold. The 26-year-old finishes these world championships with five medals: four gold in team, all-around, beam and floor, plus silver on vault. Her new combined world and Olympic medal count is 37, the most of all time. Yikes. That is greatness personified.

Biles wins floor exercise gold medal at Worlds
Simone Biles' high-flying floor routine earns her the gold medal in the floor exercise at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, giving her four golds at this year's competition.

z. Speaking of Hall of Fame Chicago middle linebackers: Happy 65th, Mike Singletary.

Games of Week 6

New England at Las Vegas, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS. Bill Belichick meets Josh McDaniels on the Allegiant Stadium turf pre-game. Belichick says to his old friend: “You look like you could use a hug.” McDaniels says to his old boss: “So do you.”

Detroit at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox. Something very strange is going on in the sport of football. The NFL could have used Jalen Hurts and the Eagles (at the Jets) as the late-window doubleheader game in week six. But the Lions spurred the league to make this change, moving them from 1 p.m. to 4:25 (at the Creamsicle-wearing Bucs) in a matchup Chris Berman might have once described as an NFC Norris clash at the old Sombrero.

New York Giants at Buffalo, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. This is the end of a four-week run that, next Sunday shortly before midnight, should complete the Giants’ crash out of 2023 playoff contention; a loss would leave the G-men 1-5. Too early to throw in the towel on the season? That’s what Brian Daboll will tell his team. The factor he will not disclose: Giants have five division games left, and they’re 2-11-1 in NFC East games since 2021. The four games that sealed their fate in the past month:

Week 3: Lost to the Niners in Thursday prime-time by 18.

Week 4: Lost to the Seahawks in Monday prime-time by 21.

Week 5: Lost to the Dolphins in brilliant Sunday sunshine by 15.

Week 6: Road underdogs by 14.5 to the Bills in Sunday prime-time.

NYG flaws have been exposed after 2022 playoff run
Peter King and Myles Simmons react to the woefully disappointing start to the season for the New York Giants, who are 1-3 with the schedule only getting tougher in October.

The Adieu Haiku

Amazing, really,
that the Jets are still alive.
Here come the Eagles.

Peter King’s Lineup