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FMIA Week 13: The walk-on danger of the 49ers, and Dak Prescott’s chances at MVP

Week 13 recap: 49ers dominate Eagles, Colts rally
Mike Florio, Devin McCourty, Jason Garrett and Matthew Berry dive into Week 13, where the 49ers made a statement against the Eagles, the Lions bounced back, the Colts won in OT and more.

You know what football needed? A new great rivalry. A bitter rivalry. Steelers-Ravens was terrific for a while, but Ray Lewis and James Harrison are long gone. Eagles-Cowboys is good, but not particularly angry. Niners-Seahawks has calmed down since Richard Sherman went volcanic. Kansas City doesn’t have one great rival. Jets-Pats, Falcons-Saints, Bears-Packers meh. Both sides need to be good for the rivalry to draw an audience.

Now, Niners-Eagles. That could be a great one for years to come. Seeds are planted. Young coaches who won’t back down (Nick Sirianni 42, Kyle Shanahan 43), young quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy launching promising careers, angry defenses that play chippy, an ejection of the leading tackler in the game

for what looked like Dre Greenlaw trying to rub shaving cream on Dom DiSandro’s face.

Dom DiSandro. Eagles director of security. The security guy, who is supposed to do the ejecting, got ejected too! Nice trade. The 49ers lose the leading tackler in the game. The Eagles lose the escort for Nick Sirianni.

“I tried my hardest not to lose my mind,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said.

“Pretty ridiculous,” said Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers, “that somebody without pads or a helmet on, let alone not even a coach, put hands on another player. I mean, if you know Dre, you’re flirting with danger there. I don’t know, man. I’ve never seen that before. We were pretty bummed that he got kicked out.”

But see, that’s the kind of thing that contributes to a bitter rivalry.

Great players are good for such a rivalry too. The 49ers had more of them Sunday in the 42-19 rout of the formerly 10-1 Eagles. Brock Purdy continued his magic carpet ride as the league’s most unlikely burgeoning franchise quarterback. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk comprise the most physically gifted/imposing receiving duo in the game. George Kittle’s a blocking/catching metronome. And though this wasn’t McCaffrey’s noisiest of 25 games as a Niner, I thought the best thing he did all night was a bit of dirty work that closed out the game in the fourth quarter.

The best thing McCaffrey did is something that makes Kyle Shanahan call him a walk-on player in an all-pro body. It says much about him, and much about why the 49ers, today, are the most dangerous team in football.

Boldface Names

Boldface names/items for week 13:

Eighty games left. With a month of football remaining, things got a lot tighter Sunday because the Eagles got slobberknocked by the 49ers.

Bill Belichick just fielded his worst offensive team since Todd Philcox quarterbacked for him. Lord, the ugliness in New England has no bottom.

Steelers-Pats Thursday night. Football fever! Get fired up, Al Michaels!

But of course Jordan Love outplayed Patrick Mahomes Sunday night in the first trip to Lambeau for both Mahomes and Taylor Swift.

Did KC get robbed? Only the ghost of Bart Starr thought that wasn’t interference on the Pack Sunday night at Lambeau.

Niners vs. NFC’s best D’s: 42 points versus Dallas, 42 points versus Philadelphia.

Deebo Samuel is peerless combining power, quickness and raw speed when healthy. (Well, D.K. Metcalf is damn close.)

The Christian McCaffrey trade. Sunday was his 25th Niner game since the trade from Carolina last fall. He’s given San Francisco 2,920 rushing/receiving yards and 30 touchdowns, in exchange for the 61st, 93rd, 132nd picks in 2023 and approximately the 165th in 2024. Some trade, John Lynch.

A year ago today, Brock Purdy replaced an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in the first quarter against Miami. His passer rating in 21 games (including playoffs) since that day: 114.1, the best in football.

The Mayflower Moving Van Bowl is on tap if the playoff seedings hold. Colts at Ravens in a 7-versus-2-seed game.

In the AFC, the 8-9-10 seeds (Houston-Denver-Buffalo) are more interesting now than 5-6-7 (Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Indy). If the seeds hold, of course.

These playoff standings will not hold. Make you a bet.

Craziest playoff scenario: As of today, Vikings (6 seed) would play at Lions (3 seed). Vikes and Lions meet in weeks 16 and 18. Which means Minnesota and Detroit could meet three times in 21 days if they’re matched on Wild Card weekend.

Kudos, Mike Evans. Ten seasons, all 10 exceeding 1,000 receiving yards.

Lions, 9-3. Best start for the Leos since John Fitzgerald Kennedy was in the White House, 1962.

Great stat, NBC. The Packers are 16-0 in December in Matt LaFleur’s five seasons as coach.

Greg Olsen: Thanks for tying the tie.

Nathaniel Hackett is a swell guy, well-liked by his players and all. But how is a man designing and calling plays with four offensive touchdowns in the last 88 drives still designing and calling the plays for the New York Jets?

David Tepper: Steinbrenner without the winning.

Tyreek Hill could get to 2,000 receiving yards in 16 games, which would have two points of significance: He’d break Calvin Johnson’s record for yardage in a season in the same number of games as Johnson played, and he’d have to be considered, at least, for the MVP.

Ron Rivera has to get the message by now. Right?

Indianapolis has won four straight against teams with a combined 12-36 record. The Burrowless Bengals and toothless Steelers are next. The Colts play one of the easiest schedules I’ve ever seen. Jacksonville-Baltimore-Jacksonville. That’s it for relatively top teams.

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Dak’s MVP case. Cloudy, with a chance of sunny skies in two weeks.

Army-Navy. You’ll want to read about the 60th anniversary of the most compelling game in this rivalry, which dates back to 1890.

Navy prof, 60 years ago: “Gentlemen, the president has been assassinated. Class dismissed.”

“Free Pops.” C.J.’s cause, his cleats.

The Longest Yard remake, one of the greatest movies of all time, starred Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and a football columnist who writes way too long.

Dr. Z appears in the column, chiding someone of course. Henry Kissinger.

SI and AI. Loony combination.

Let It Be, Dolly Parton.

On with the story of what makes the Niners so dangerous as the NFL heads into the home stretch.

Pride Without the Ball

Christian McCaffrey had some fine plays, as he always does, in the surprising rout of the Eagles, a game that stamped the 49ers—at least this week—as the best all-around team in the game. Emphasis on all-around. Twenty touches, 133 yards, a TD. Pretty normal day at the office for the man who leads the league in rushing by 191 yards.

You had to look closely to see the real value of McCaffrey. It came on the insurance touchdown for the Niners, up 28-13 early in the fourth quarter, ball on the Philadelphia 18-yard line.

“We kind of expected blitz right there,” McCaffrey said. He was on the Niners’ plane at Philadelphia International Airport, just before takeoff back to California, almost two hours after the game.

“We talked a little bit before that, and we said Jauan [Jennings] was the hot receiver if they did end up bringing a zero blitz [seven rushers, no defenders deep].” McCaffrey’s job: picking up an unblocked blitzer somewhere near the middle of the line, if one came. “It’s part of playing the running-back position. The most important thing is protection and being able to sink your hips and block a linebacker up the middle.”

Here came linebacker Christian Elliss through the A gap, the unblocked man coming through a gaping hole where the center once was. McCaffrey, squat and set, met Ellis head-on around the 20-yard line and didn’t give an inch. In fact, the blitz pickup, per Next Gen Stats, was absolutely perfect. Seven rushers, zero pressure on Brock Purdy. He had time to spot Jennings out to the left, short, and dumped a strike to him. Jennings did the rest, scoring from 18 yards out. Ballgame.

What’s good to watch on the Niners is the attention to details small and big, famous and invisible.

“If you don’t pride in playing without the ball,” McCaffrey said, “whether it’s fakes or blitz pickups or blocking in space, you’re not going to play here. George Kittle’s the best [tight end] in the league because of what he does in the run game. Then you look on tape—you’ll see Jauan, Deebo and BA [Aiyuk] blocking 35 yards downfield. We keep a pretty high standard for it.”

The ball gets spread around pretty equitably. But even if McCaffrey goes a couple of games without starring or scoring, and it’s happened, you’re not going to hear anything out of him. Or out of Kittle, Aiyuk or Samuel either.

“I think we have a really unselfish team,” he said. “We just know that we have a lot of talented guys when they have the ball in their hands. It’s so important that we play to the whistle because you never know who’s gonna make the big play. It’s coached. It’s really coached. It’s coached every single day: Playing without the ball is something that all of us take a lot of pride in. That’s a massive standard for Kyle.”

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The Niners had their three-game hiccup when left tackle Trent Williams and Samuel were hurt. That leaves them not much margin for error if they want to win home-field. Entering the last five weeks in the NFC, four teams are in play for it: Philadelphia 10-2, San Francisco 9-3, Detroit 9-3, Dallas 9-3. The 49ers have the tiebreaker over Dallas and Philadelphia because of head-to-head wins. They have the Seahawks, Ravens and Rams coming to Levi’s Stadium in weeks 14, 16 and 18, so the home stretch won’t be simple. But how they’ve played when healthy leaves me thinking San Francisco is likely a win over Baltimore at home on Christmas night away from winning the NFC’s lone bye. If healthy. Big if with this team.

McCaffrey missed 22 games due to injury his last two years in Carolina, but his health’s been pristine in San Francisco. He’s missed zero of 25 so far. He thinks he’s in football nirvana, with an imaginative offense, playing alongside guys who keep the main thing the main thing. “Pretty fun going to work every day when you’ve got unselfish guys who put the work in, do it the right way, and have fun doing it. I’m extremely fortunate to be here, man,” he said.

Dak 4 MVP?

Dak Prescott is in the MVP conversation because of his strong play since Dallas’ 42-10 loss at San Francisco in week five. The next three weeks will tell whether he has an excellent chance or just a puncher’s chance at his first MVP. Five points to consider in MVPology:

Dallas has to win against big competition for Prescott to have a chance. Next four games: Philadelphia, at Buffalo, at Miami, Detroit. The Cowboys’ nine wins have come against teams with records of .500 or worse. Prescott’s got to slay a couple of dragons in December. Stats are important, of course. But recent MVP voting tells us that team records are of equal or more importance.

Each of the last 10 MVPs has come from a 1 or 2 playoff seed. Dallas, as of today, is the NFC’s 5 seed. Charting where the last 10 MVPs came from: 1 seeds—Peyton Manning, 2013; Cam Newton, 2015; Tom Brady, 2017; Patrick Mahomes, 2018; Lamar Jackson, 2019; Aaron Rodgers, 2020; Rodgers, 2021; Mahomes, 2022 2 seeds—Rodgers, 2014; Matt Ryan, 2016. Ten years, every year, with the best four teams producing the MVP. That’s a trend.

Looking for an exception to the recent rule? Try 2012. Adrian Peterson was coming off January 2012 knee reconstruction and had one of best years ever by a running back, with 2,097 yards. Peyton Manning’s first season in Denver was one of his best seasons ever. Denver was the AFC’s top seed. Minnesota was 6 in the NFC. The MVP vote was split: 30.5 votes for Peterson, 19.5 for Manning. Voters that year seemed smitten with Peterson’s comeback, even for a so-so team. Maybe Prescott could be so good individually that he overcomes Dallas being, say, the 5 seed. Problem there, as it stands now: Brock Purdy could have similarly great numbers and play for a higher seed. What would differentiate Prescott? Maybe

The Empathy Factor. Prescott is well-liked, and deservedly so. He has a tougher job by at least some small measure because of the star on his helmet; he has to be great as a quarterback and be great as a Dallas Cowboys quarterback. It’s all speculation now, and the next four games will tell. But I could see Prescott garnering votes if Dallas wins two or three of these big games coming up and he continues to play great, even if Dallas is the 5 seed.

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There’s not anyone running away with the MVP with five weeks to play. I could see Mahomes, Purdy, Jalen Hurts, Prescott, Jackson, Tua Tagovailoa and maybe Tyreek Hill (if he chases the all-time receiving records) in the race this month, with C.J. Stroud still high on my list too. If you want to see more non-quarterbacks in contention, I get it. But it’s called the Most Valuable Player, not Most Outstanding Player. On the best teams, most often, the most valuable player is the quarterback.

There are 50 voters. Votes are cast the week after the regular season ends on Jan. 7. I have one of the 50 votes. Entering the last five weeks of the regular season, here’s my MVP ballot, in order: Purdy, Prescott, Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Hurts/Stroud (tie). Subject to change.

Army-Navy, 1963

In the middle of a class at the U.S. Naval Academy on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, the professor got some news and addressed his students, including the captain of the Navy football team, Tom Lynch. “Gentlemen,” the professor said gravely, “the president has been assassinated. Class dismissed.”

Around that same time, 255 miles to the north, on the campus at West Point, cadet and football quarterback Rollie Stichweh was walking to class when another cadet, in a nearby dorm, flung open his window and yelled, “President Kennedy has been shot!”

What do men soon to be in service to the country do at a time like this, when their Commander-in-Chief, a Navy man, has been killed? At Navy, the football players straggled over to their locker room, figuring they wouldn’t be practicing that afternoon. They didn’t. The game of their lives—Army-Navy, in Philadelphia, with the winner advancing to the Cotton Bowl to play Texas for the national title—was supposed to be eight days away. “We didn’t know what to do,” Lynch, 81, said in November, 60 years later. “So we went to chapel and prayed.”

With the nation mourning, the game was cancelled the next day. No one complained. “Are you kidding?” Lynch said. “The president was assassinated. Camelot was down the drain. We weren’t upset about the game—we were concerned for our country.” But on Saturday, President Kennedy’s widow and the family sent word the game should be played (he loved football, loved the Naval Academy, and loved the Army-Navy game) and so it was rescheduled a week later—Dec. 7, 1963, in Philadelphia. Preparation for the game went on, in between some players going to Washington to march in the funeral procession and the mourning.

It’s a game with a shocking outcome that I’d always heard about, played at a time of enormous emotion in the country. As we approach the 60th anniversary of this extraordinary event (Thursday), I thought I’d tell the story of that day through the lenses of two vital players in the game: Stichweh, the junior quarterback of Army who went on to twice be decorated for valor in the Vietnam War, and Lynch, the captain of the team who played both ways—linebacker and center. He later commanded USS Truett at sea for three years, rose to the rank of admiral and served as the superintendent of the Naval Academy in the nineties. Stichweh and Lynch remain close to Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy four days after the assassination, to this day.

Roger Staubach Beside "Beat Army" Sign

Roger Staubach with a “Beat Army” sign ahead of the game in 1963.

Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

“College football was huge in those days,” Lynch said. “No Super Bowl. The NFL was not that big yet. In college football, you played for your school, you played for the alums. And at Navy and Army, the games were not just important for national recognition. They were huge for everyone in the Army and the Navy. I remembered we’d get telegrams from submarines like, We’re going down for 60 days, and when we come back up, we expect to hear about a Navy win. Beat Army!” Lynch said preparing for the game was fairly normal. He thinks because service members are taught to compartmentalize, they could prepare for the game normally.

Game day. “Biggest game of our lives, no question, with all of America watching,” Lynch said. Before the game, Navy coach Wayne Hardin told his team, “Let’s play a game worthy of a president.” Army coach Paul Dietzel told his team: “This game in not just important to Army and Navy. It’s important to our nation.” Some among the 102,000 who attended said being at the game was an eerie experience. The presidential box in the stadium, where John Kennedy would have watched the game, was adorned all in black. “Very somber at first, almost quiet,” Lynch said. “Like the crowd didn’t know how to act.” Texas coach Darrell Royal sat in the press box, scouting his next foe.

Navy built a 21-7 lead on three touchdown runs from fullback Pat Donnelly. Stichweh drove Army for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and got the two-point conversion. Stichweh even recovered the onside kick that followed. The crowd, now into the game at full throat, watched what seemed to be the inevitability of Army, with all the momentum now, driving to win the game and knock Staubach’s Navy team out of a shot for the national title.

“Near the end of the game,” Stichweh told me, “something I’d never seen before happened. The crowd started spilling out of the stands to get to the sidelines and the edge of the end zone. The noise was like nothing we’d ever heard. It was a crazy, out-of-control situation. I’ve got 10 teammates to take care of. They’re saying things like, ‘This is crazy! What if we have to throw to the corner of the end zone? How can we do that?’”

Army at the Navy four-yard line. Third and goal. Final minute ticking down under a pitch-black sky. No timeouts left for Army. Deafening crowd. In 1963, no one ever heard of a thing called a silent snap count. Stichweh, under center, knew he couldn’t be heard. Gesturing to referee Barney Finn, Stichweh wanted the ref to stop the clock, hopefully to quiet the crowd. Finn waved his arms to stop play once. But Army huddled again, unaware that Finn had circled his arm, signaling for the clock to start again. In the huddle, as valuable seconds ticked away, it was so loud that Stichweh couldn’t hear those on the Army sidelines screaming the clock was running.

“When they got back to the line, you still couldn’t hear a thing,” Lynch said. “He [Stichweh] turned to the ref again, looking for another [stoppage]. The official just stared at him. No timeout.” Army ran a running play off-tackle and gained two yards. Big pileup near the goal line, Navy players in no rush to get up as Army frantically tried to get fourth down off. “I’m in the end zone,” Lynch said. “I’m looking at the white numbers on the big clock in the stadium ticking down. They never got the snap off, and I just said, ‘That’s it boys, game over.’”

“We didn’t get set in time, and if we snap, we’re going to be offside,” Stichweh said over the weekend.

But here’s the great lesson of the day from Rollie Stichweh:

“I take responsibility for what happened. I’m the quarterback, and I’m in charge of what goes on on the field. We should not have gone back in the huddle, as it turns out. Early in our time at West Point, we’re taught there are three answers as young cadets: Yes sir, no sir, and no excuse, sir.

“You can imagine the devastation,” Stichweh said, the emotion in his voice still evident 60 years later. “The game ends, and we look around. Shock. Confusion. What just happened? Game’s over?!

“Ever get sick to your stomach? Multiply that times 100 for our guys.”

Lynch said, “Army guys will go to their graves thinking, If we just got that one play off, we’d have won the game. We’ll go to our graves thinking, They wouldn’t have scored if they got three more plays off. Other than my marriage and the birth of my children and my command at sea, that’s the greatest moment of my life.”

Carl Stichweh Scoring a Touchdown

Army quarterback Carl Stichweh (16) tumbles into the end zone for a touchdown during the 1963 Army-Navy game, eventually won by Navy.

Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

I asked Lynch if he thought the game was a healing moment for the country, a way to get back to some sort of normal that might never feel normal again.

“I didn’t at the time,” he said. “But I do now. It was a hell of a game, and then we got on with life.”


I: Stichweh and Staubach were both juniors that day. Each came back for the 1964 game. Stichweh is hugely proud that Army won in ’64, 11-8. “We had a chance to come back from a devastating loss, and we did, which I think said a lot about our team,” he said.

II: After the ’63 game, in second semester, the arch-rivals on the field had friendly moments academically. Each year, cadets visit midshipmen for a three-day weekend, and midshipmen do the same with cadets. Staubach spent three days at West Point as Stichweh’s roommate. “He went to class with me,” Stichweh said. “I went to Catholic church with him one morning at 5:30—he was a devout Catholic boy. I really liked him. Just a nice guy. You know, things like that you might remember as just a nice experience, but nothing that big. But with Roger, something clicked. I returned the visit [to Annapolis]. We became good friends. It turned into a lifelong friendship. We just talked this week about our families.”

III: This year’s game is Saturday, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The Patriots play Thursday night at Pittsburgh, so Bill Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis and whose dad coached at the Naval Academy, will be able to attend the game. Belichick is a disciple of Navy football, and Belichick, in fact, will host Stichweh and Lynch as his guests, among others, in a box at Saturday’s game.

Tepper Troubles

It wasn’t particularly surprising that Carolina owner David Tepper fired coach Frank Reich last Monday. It’s Tepper’s M.O. In the last 48 months, Tepper has fired three full-time head coaches in mid-season. After 28 games of ownership, he dismissed Ron Rivera. He fired Matt Rhule 38 games into his seven-year contract. Now he fired Reich after just 11 games. Tepper also owns the MLS franchise Charlotte FC, and in its two years of existence, he has fired both head coaches. This means:

  • None of Tepper’s five head coaches has lasted as long as 2.5 seasons.
  • His five head coaches in two sports have lasted an average of 29 games under his ownership, which began in 2018.
  • Tepper willingly sold the farm to draft quarterback Bryce Young in April, then fired the two coaches in place to nurture and develop him, Reich and QB coach Josh McCown, after 10 months on the job—even though Young liked and trusted both coaches in the midst of a disastrous season marked by one of the leakiest offensive lines in football.
  • An owner whose tutelage in the game involved nine years as a minority owner of the Steelers has now forgotten everything he saw in Pittsburgh. Tepper has employed three head coaches and three interim coaches in the past four calendar years. The Steelers have employed three head coaches in the last 54 years.

Tepper is Carolina’s biggest impediment to success.

It’s easy, and justifiable, for an owner to be impatient and angry at being 1-10 after trading up to pick a quarterback with the top pick in the draft. But intelligent people who understand the market and world they’re living in should understand what it takes to succeed in it. Tepper doesn’t. His kneejerk reaction is: We stink, and the quarterback we passed on is setting the league on fire, and our quarterback looks like he’s a JV player. Heads must roll. The specter of C.J. Stroud’s overwhelming success in turning around Houston overnight after Young went one and Stroud two in the draft should have zero to do with Carolina’s decision-making. But let’s be real. An emotional owner like Tepper has to find the juxtaposition between his QB and Houston’s unacceptable. So Reich walks the plank.

The Panthers won five of their last eight games last year, which led some in Carolina to think the franchise, with some good defensive pieces, was just a quarterback away from contention. Let’s look how they won those five games. Carolina rushed for an average of 226 yards per game in those five wins, an astounding 5.1 yards per rush—after trading Christian McCaffrey. More astounding: Carolina had a fifties-era run-pass ratio of 69-31, crazy at a time when the average rushing rate is about 41 percent per game. The Panthers didn’t trade a huge ransom to be a counter-culture running team. Changing to a passing team, particularly after trading the number one receiver as part of the package to draft Young, wasn’t going to happen overnight.

Changing a football philosophy takes time. Chuck Noll was 1-13 his first year in Pittsburgh, Bill Walsh 2-14 in his first year in San Francisco, Jimmy Johnson 1-15 in his first year in Dallas. They went on to win 10 Super Bowls, total, with those teams. Not saying Reich would have won anything, but how can you know, 10 months into his tenure? (In Detroit, Dan Campbell in his first 11 games was 0-10-1; he’s 20-14 since.)

Young hasn’t played well overall. But he’s also been under significant pressure consistently. Over his first 11 games, he’s the only regular starter this year to have faced pressure on at least a third of his pass-drops each game, per Next Gen Stats. Not healthy for a good passing game, particularly after trading your best receiver. One more Next Gen negative: Carolina left tackle Ikem Ekwonu has allowed the fourth-most pressures (62) among all offensive linemen—and center Bradley Bozeman is worst in the league at his position in sacks (eight) and pressures (40) allowed.

There’s one other thing, as told to me by one NFL offensive coach with a long history in the league: “One thing these owners who fire people quickly don’t understand is what it takes to build a team, particularly a team with a rookie quarterback. The quarterback comes in his first year after the draft, and it’s a short offseason, and if he’s going to start right away, it’s an accelerated process. So you go through that first year, and you’re looking forward to correcting all his mistakes and continuing to build him up in a full off-season in year two. So you fire his head coach who I’m sure was pretty hands-on and his quarterback coach in the middle of his first year, and he works with other people for the rest of that year, and then everybody gets fired, and then there’s a third group that comes in to coach the young quarterback. I mean, maybe they’ll keep the coaches who stayed after Reich, but I doubt it. So the young quarterback getting coached by three different sets of people in his first 12 months as your franchise quarterback. How is that healthy?”

It isn’t. It’s lunacy.

What is bothersome about Tepper is he camped out in Matt Rhule’s driveway in Waco, Texas, waiting for him to come back from vacation with his family in January 2020, just so he could get the first shot at hiring him. He gave Rhule a rich seven-year contract, and fired him a month into the third season. He hired Reich, who taught Carson Wentz in his best year in Philly, who was hands-on with Nick Foles in the Super Bowl year, who had playoff years with Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers in Indy, and then he got dumb in his first 10 months in Carolina. How does Tepper entrust him on a clear rebuild with a patchwork offensive line and after trading the number one receiver—and then fire him when the team is awful three months in?

I feel for the fans in Carolina. The Panthers will have to either franchise or overpay their best player, edge rusher Brian Burns, a free agent in March, to stay on this sinking ship. After dealing McCaffrey and D.J. Moore in the last 14 months, they’ve got massive offensive holes and their only proven, reliable receiver, Adam Thielen, will be 34 next opening day. The way to not fix things is with impatience, which is Tepper’s best trait.

The Panthers are miles from hopelessness, and the captain of the ship leads the league in panic. He’s Steinbrenner without the winning. Now the question is: Is there anyone in his life, or in the Panthers’ organization, who can keep David Tepper from driving this franchise off a cliff?


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

An email showed up in my box in the summer of 2005. Adam Sandler was going to re-make “The Longest Yard,” and he was looking to book some real sportswriters to be in a few quick scenes, and would I be interested in being one of the writers? Well, you don’t have to ask twice; I’m a pretty big hambone. And so seven of us showed up at the Sony lot in Hollywood one Monday during the football season and we did some scenes. Amazing: We were in and out in 45 minutes, despite filming seven scenes. The one we didn’t film is the story I remember from that day.

And by the way, a residual check for $7.34 showed up in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago. I did what I’ve done with all of those checks for the last 15 years or so. I shredded it. I learned the hard way, paying my accountant something like $140 to file a California state tax return back in 2008 or ’09 when I used to cash those checks.

40-For-40: Appearing in The Longest Yard
As Peter King commemorates covering his 40th NFL season, he looks back on a memory from 2005 where he plays a small acting role in the remake of the movie, The Longest Yard.

The Award Section

Offensive players of the week

Jordan Love, quarterback, Green Bay. Outdueled Patrick Mahomes in the latter’s first game ever at Lambeau, even though he took a bad, bad sack on the last offensive play from scrimmage for Green Bay. Love completed 25 of 36 for 267 yards, with three touchdowns and no picks.

Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, Miami. The unstoppable one buttressed his MVP case in Washington with 78- and 60-yard touchdown catches from Tua Tagovailoa, his biggest grabs in a five-reception, 157-yard day at the moribund Commanders. When Calvin Johnson set the single-season receiving yardage record with 1,964 in 2012, he averaged 122.8 yards a game. Hill, with 1,481 yards and five games left, is averaging 123.4.

Nico Collins, wide receiver, Houston. The Texans needed the game of Collins’ pro career—nine catches, 191 yards, 1 TD—and they’ll need Collins to come up consistently big the rest of the season, now that rookie sensation Tank Dell’s been lost for the year with a fractured fibula.

Sam LaPorta, tight end, Detroit. The Lions picked LaPorta 34th overall last April out of Tight End U (Iowa), and he had his best day of a starry rookie year in the 33-28 win at New Orleans. Nine catches, 140 yards and a touchdown. A biggie was his 48-yard catch leading to an important second-half field goal when the Saints were gaining on the Lions.

Defensive players of the week

Derek Stingley Jr., cornerback, Houston. Two second-half interceptions of Russell Wilson, seven minutes apart, helped the Texans’ tight win over Denver and propelled the Texans to 7-5. The second, six minutes into the fourth quarter, was a graceful pick, with Stingley floating through the air and appearing suddenly in the ball’s path to Courtland Sutton. Stingley has four picks in his last three games.

Keisean Nixon, cornerback, Green Bay. Pack up five, 5:20 to play Sunday night at Lambeau. Patrick Mahomes lofted a sideline fade to Skyy Moore, and Nixon, the coverman, made a fingertip grab over Moore. A huge play, ensuring a Packer upset of the defending Super Bowl champs.

Highlights: Love leads Packers over Chiefs
Relive all the action as the Packers defeated the Chiefs 27-19 at Lambeau Field in Week 13.

Andrew Van Ginkel, linebacker, Miami. Van Ginkel makes two or three plays every game that make you say, Why isn’t he more respected? He leaped and smother-intercepted a pass from Sam Howell in the first quarter, returning it 33 yards for a touchdown. He had two quarterback hits and another pass defended in the Dolphins’ rout.

Special teams players of the week

Nick Cross and Tony Brown, defensive backs, Indianapolis. Cross and Brown didn’t block consecutive Ryan Stonehouse punts in the second half at Tennessee Sunday, as much as they smothered them. Brown actually was credited with a forced fumble on Stonehouse because he got in so fast that Stonehouse didn’t have a chance to actually punt the ball; Brown jarred it free and the Colts recovered. The first was recovered for a touchdown by the Colts; the second set up a field goal. Those nine points produced on the two blocked punts were crucial in the Colts’ 31-28 overtime win.

Coach of the Week

Unconventional. Very, very deserved.

Nick Saban, coach, Alabama. Seven games into this season, this looked like a bridge year, not a College Playoff year. Alabama lost to Texas by 10, then beat South Florida by just 14 and Texas A&M by six and Arkansas by three. It looked like they were a very shaky 6-1. Amazing to see Alabama come back all the way to beat Georgia 27-24 in the SEC title game, busting Georgia’s 29-game winning streak. Saban’s had a lot of great coaching seasons in his epic 17-year career at Alabama, but this has to be one of the great coaching seasons he’s had in his 72 years on the planet. He told ESPN this about this version of the Tide: “The one thing about our team that I absolutely love is that they’re a team. They respect and love each other. When you truly have a team, every individual on the team makes the next individual better.”

Goat of the Week

Russell Wilson, quarterback, Denver. Three interceptions in the last 16 minutes (after throwing zero in his previous five-and-a-half games) doomed the Broncos in their 22-17 loss at Houston. The last one, with the receivers looking confused, came to Jimmie Ward of the Texans in end zone with nine seconds left. Wilson made some good plays that kept the Broncos in the game, and he very nearly led his fifth fourth-quarter comeback of the year. But three picks in the last four possessions in a close game? Deadly.

Quotes of the Week


That was a horrible day at the office. Just JV football in a lot of ways.

--Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, after a 14-point home loss to the previously 2-10 Cardinals.


Free Pops.

--In the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” weekend, these words were on Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud’s cleats Sunday for the Texans’ win. His father, Coleridge Stroud III, is serving a 38-year sentence for multiple crimes and won’t be eligible for parole until 2040.


The ticket demand for this game is greater than any AFC Championship games that we’ve hosted here, greater than Taylor Swift, greater than anything else we’ve ever seen.

--Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, on Saturday’s Army-Navy game, which will be played at Gillette Stadium. It’s the first time since the two service academies began their football series in 1890—encompassing 123 games—that the game will be played in New England.


We’re going to take the rest of the night off and let Clete Blakeman call the game.

--Al Michaels on Amazon Prime, with five minutes left in the third quarter on Thursday.

At that point, the Blakeman crew had stepped off 17 penalties for 217 yards. Quite a bit, considering that was for two-thirds of a game, and the high penalty-yardage total for a game for this season was 224.

That’s not all.

  • The two teams had six penalties declined in the first 40 minutes.
  • The two teams had two flags picked up after crew discussions in the first 40 minutes.
  • That’s 25 flags thrown in the first 40 minutes of the game.
  • For the game, the final flag totals: 19 accepted penalties, 257 yards.


What have I learned about myself? You’ve got to have a good poker face, because as bad as it eats you up inside when things aren’t going well, people are looking to you for confidence and hope that things are going to get better. You’re always looking to the leaders. Whether it’s my scouts, the coaches, the assistant coaches—things are going to get better and they’re going to be okay. You’ve got to go through the building on a weekly basis and [say], ‘Listen, trust the process, trust the plan, we’re going to get this thing going.’

--Giants GM Joe Schoen, in a mid-season news conference with local media, about how his job is more important as well as more difficult when a team is losing.

The Giants have a real one in Schoen.


Disgusted Infuriated.

--Florida State coach Mike Norvell, after his team went 13-0, survived two quarterback injuries and was left out of the College Football Playoff announced Sunday.

Numbers Game

Four quarterbacks, born within seven months of each other, will enter the 2024 NFL season at age 24 with wildly varying levels of experience.

numbers game.PNG

It’s a great example of how college football eligibility rules have changed the college and pro games massively. In five seasons of eligibility, Nix played 10 or more games each year at Auburn and then Oregon. In parts of six years at Indiana and Washington, Penix threw 1,596 passes. Now we’ll see if their experience in college football makes a big difference when they start their NFL careers.


Everything you need to know about the imbalance of the AFC East this year:

The Patriots have scored 47 points in their five-game losing streak. Miami scored 45 Sunday in Washington.

The Jets, over their last seven games and one quarter, have scored four offensive touchdowns in their last 88 offensive drives. Miami scored five touchdowns in its nine drives at Washington.

King of the Road

Flying (very fortunately) first-class to San Francisco midday Thursday. About halfway through the flight, they came around with the drink cart, and I asked for a glass of red wine. Two choices. One French, one cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.

The cab: “Intercept,” by Charles Woodson’s vineyard.

I’ve had it before, full-bodied and nice, and I had it again. I texted Woodson to tell him I was drinking his wine high above Iowa. “Nothing like good wine on a long flight,” he texted back. Turns out “Intercept” has a broker who seeks out spots for the wine, and Delta liked it, and so here it was.


Reach me at

On Sports Illustrated and AI. From Nick Colletti, of Grapevine, Texas: “Given your expressed disgust with the recent Charissa Thompson episode, I’d like to get your thoughts on your former employer, Sports Illustrated, being accused of publishing AI-generated stories by non-existent writers. If true, this confirms the death spiral of journalism.”

It’s a sham. It’s a shame. It’s also not surprising that a company that bought a grand brand in the sports media space (but heading downhill fast) would do what so many companies that are money-first, -second and -third would do—try to make money off the great name of Sports Illustrated instead of trying to revive it and make it great again. In the business of journalism, we face a major challenge from companies that cut costs further than down to the bone—but actually into the bone marrow. That resulted in a story by the site Futurism that reported that posted stories or reviews that were generated by Artificial Intelligence writers, with bylines of invented writers. When Futurism contacted the company for comment on using fake people to write fake stories passed off as content from venerable Sports Illustrated, the stories and the bios of the “writers” disappeared from the site. What the owners of the company are doing now is using the Sports Illustrated name to make money on other things that have nothing to do with journalism. This PBS story sums it up.

I spent 29 years at the company. I remember Sunday nights at 4 a.m. being on the phone with fact-checkers making sure every word was gospel. I remember one night the checker saying to me at some very late hour, “You say Brett Favre is a Southern Miss alum. Are you sure he graduated?” I was not sure. So “alum” was changed to “product.” And I’m glad it was. It might seem pedantic to you, but the truth is the truth—if you can’t vouch for it, don’t print it. That’s how current SI staffers Tom Verducci, Stephanie Apstein, Greg Bishop, Conor Orr and Albert Breer and many others work. Their work is their word. So much of the brand is this heinous hellscape right now. It makes me sad and angry.

Interesting point from a Packer fan. From Eric Bengeman, of New York: “You praised Green Bay for its QB development chops: ‘The more I watched Love the other day, the more I thought how smart the Packer way of developing quarterbacks is. [Jordan] Love sat the same three years [as Aaron Rodgers did] and watching him beat the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving and make some of the downfield throws he made, it’s clear his apprenticeship under Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers was a big help.’ I think your analysis is off the mark. Having a QB on a rookie contract gives teams so much flexibility in terms of the salary cap, and the Packers squandered that by sitting Love for three years. Yes, it gave him three years to learn from one of the best to ever play the position, but Green Bay lost out on three years of having a “cut rate” starting QB and the ability to distribute those salary savings to improve the team elsewhere.”

All true, Eric. You may be right. Your argument assumes Love would have been a very good player in year one and two. That’s an assumption I feel is a big leap to make. I remember Bob McGinn back in 2006 or ’07 writing regularly about how Rodgers was struggling a lot in training camp, and questioning his readiness to play. Now, maybe he would have been great as a rookie replacing Brett Favre, but we’ll never know, and I doubt he would have been. We’ve gotten used to thinking if a quarterback is drafted in the first round, he ought to be able to play right away. I’ve always thought quarterback is the one position that needs patience among the high draft choices.

Great email here: Two sides to every story. From Brian Rzepka, of Columbus, Ohio: “We know full well the negative impact alcohol has on our bodies and our society: over 140,000 deaths a year, increased likelihood of violence. Yet you yourself highlight your own alcohol consumption in your articles on a weekly basis, and I don’t have an issue with this and generally enjoy it, because I too have the capacity to responsibly enjoy alcohol. Why can’t the same be true for sports gambling, despite the inherent risk it brings to some people who may overdo it, much like alcohol? Personally, I enjoy the statistical aspect of gambling, crunching the numbers and trying to predict who will play well and the little competition it drives in me to ‘beat the casino/online gambling app’, and I place small wagers to make the games more enjoyable. Some weeks I do well for myself and some weeks I don’t and I then might take a little time off from it.”

Brian, thank you. My first reaction when I read your email was to think no, alcohol and gambling are so different. But I do think you make an excellent point—lots of people can gamble responsibly. My fear is a simple one. When I was a kid in the sixties, I remember being bombarded with ads for cigarettes. I mean, bombarded.

Why’d you diss Purdy? From L. Silver, of Clearwater, Fla.: “You said that ‘if Brock Purdy can make a few more throws like this (in reference to the unbelievable throw he made to Brandon Aiyuk in the Seattle game), he might be able to be rated higher than Derek Carr even or Geno Smith.’ You’ve got to be kidding. You’d take Carr or Geno over Purdy?! Am I missing something?”

No, it is I who is missing a good sense of sarcasm. I wrote what I wrote about Purdy in total sarcasm, but because you wrote, it’s obvious I didn’t do a good job. So, bad job by me. This was referencing The Ringer’s quarterback rankings, which last week had Purdy rated number 20. When he strafed Dallas for four TD throws and 71-percent accuracy in week five, I pointed out how illogical it was that he was The Ringer’s 25th-rated quarterback. He still quizzically trails Smith and Jones, and two college quarterbacks, and 15 others, despite showing time and again he can make downfield and in-traffic throws with the best in football; his yards-per-attempt average this year, 9.4, was a yard better than anyone in football entering the weekend, and his 70.2-percent accuracy also the best in the NFL. But hey, to each his own.

Fresher 49ers dominate Eagles on the ground
Chris Simms and Ahmed Fareed react to the 49ers running over the Eagles in NFL Week 13 and dive into the numbers on how a more rested San Francisco took over the game on the ground.

Another step in the NFL dominating the world. From Joshua Casey: “Since Thanksgiving is such an American Football cultural event and we now have a Friday game, why doesn’t the NFL take the next step with a Wednesday night game? They could promote early Black Friday deals. It would further make the NFL King of the Fall.”
I think it already is, Joshua, and thanks for the idea. I actually think it’s a good one. I will tell you one thing that players won’t like. Most players get five or six days off on their bye weeks. If a team plays Sunday, then plays 10 days later on a Wednesday, the bye week gets ruined. So I would expect players to fight that one.

My Wyoming sweatshirt. From Scott Madsen, of Nebraska: “I met a great friend, Matt, at the University of Wyoming about 20 years ago. We graduated and went our separate ways with him ending up in Colorado and me in Nebraska. One thing that helped us keep in touch was your weekly column. I looked forward to every Monday when we’d instant message back and forth about what you’d written. My buddy passed away unexpectedly over the summer and I’ve found myself feeling sad reading FMIA thinking about all the things I wish I could discuss with him. For some reason seeing that picture of you wearing a Wyoming shirt with your daughter and your grandson at the Kraken game really struck me like my friend was saying ‘Hey, we loved Peter’s column! Don’t feel sad.’ (Not many people wear Wyoming shirts). I know that probably sounds kind of corny but I just wanted to say thanks for helping two friends keep in touch.”

I’m getting misty, Scott. Wow. Thank you. Wyoming’s such a beautiful place—been three times, once to the university. So I got 10 to 12 emails from people who love Wyoming after that photo in the column last week, asking me what my connection was. I have none. I think the logo and the colors are fantastic, and last year I asked my daughter Mary Beth for a Wyoming hoodie for Christmas. That’s the story. This year, I asked for a Maine Black Bears hoodie. Will I be as lucky this year?

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think fans always complain about Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes getting all the calls—I hear it every week. Well, he got a bad call in his favor Sunday night, and a terrible non-call went against him. Either way, two terrible officiating decisions marred the end of the game. With 57 seconds left, down eight, Mahomes scrambled toward the right boundary and got drilled by safety Jonathan Owens. The replay showed both of Mahomes’ feet were still inbounds as Owens hit him after a gain of 10, but the flag came out and added 15 yards to the end of the play. Now KC had first down at the Green Bay 45-yard line. Absolutely not unnecessary roughness on Owens. Then Mahomes threw deep down the middle for Marquez Valdes-Scantling in his return to Green Bay. Valdes-Scantling reached for the ball and got mugged by rookie corner Carrington Valentine. Both Cris Collinsworth and Terry McAulay said no question it was interference. Would have given Kansas City a first down at the five-yard line. Should have given Kansas City a first down at the five-yard line. Back judge Greg Yette simply can’t swallow the whistle on a potential game-changing play like that.

2. I think there are nits to pick with Jordan Love’s game Sunday night, but he’s shown in the second half of the season he deserves the benefit of every doubt as Green Bay’s long-term quarterback. A 69-percent passer with eight TDs and no picks and a rating over 115 in Green Bay’s three-game winning streak reflects well on Green Bay for drafting him and patiently developing him.

3. I think I don’t write about officiating much, because it always seems like a fruitless venture to me. But the end of that Sunday night game could not have been more affected by huge calls. Disgraceful.

4. I think it’s safe to say Nick Sirianni doesn’t like the San Francisco 49ers.

5. I think I don’t remember the last time a schedule flex said as much as the one announced the other day for week 15 (Dec. 14-18). The details:

  • The first Monday night flex ever moved Kansas City-New England from Monday night to the early Sunday window at 1 p.m. How the mighty have fallen. The NFL moving Patrick Mahomes out of prime time is revolutionary—and then moving him to a regional Sunday game is almost as startling. That’s how bad the Patriots are now. I’m sure Andy Reid loves the sanity of a Sunday early window game; KC now gets back home Sunday night around 9 p.m. CT, instead of 3 a.m. Tuesday.
  • Too strong a game in the late Sunday window Dec. 17 (Dallas at Buffalo) to shoehorn Mahomes into the doubleheader game.
  • Philadelphia at Seattle was a logical move to Monday night, but the logistical implications are major. For Seattle, it’s probably a good thing to bolster the home-field edge for a must-win with a Monday night game. Philadelphia, though, certainly didn’t count on getting home at 6:30 a.m. ET Tuesday for a normal game-prep week. Good thing for the Eagles is they finish with a pretty easy home stretch: Giants, Cardinals, at Giants.
  • This is the weekend the NFL picks three Saturday games from five designated games to move when the schedule was announced in May. Vikings-Bengals at 1 (slight surprise to me over Bears-Browns), Steelers-Colts at 4:30 (good choice), Broncos-Lions at 8:15 (the only choice). Not a bad day of games, but I would have preferred Chicago-Cleveland to lead the day. It seems better, Justin Fields trying to win the Bears’ QB job for 2024 against a team playing for the playoffs while scotch-taping the quarterback situation.

6. I think I don’t understand why the Patriots, obviously going nowhere with two shaky quarterbacks (that’s being kind) don’t start the versatile Malik Cunningham at least a couple of times before the end of the season. What’s there to lose?

7. I think Tommy DeVito has turned into a good story and perhaps even a prospect to keep on the Giants’ roster for 2024. I like his presence and confidence. But the hype around him is a bit much for me. He’s put up 19 points a game in his three starts, one against a good team (Dallas) and two against Washington and New England (combined record: 6-19)

8. I think Ron Rivera has to know it’s over.

9. I think of all the injuries suffered in week 13, Houston rookie receiver Tank Dell being lost with a fractured fibula has to be the most damaging to a contender. Seven touchdowns, a 15.1-yard average, a true deep threat (not bad 12-game production for the 69th pick in the ’23 draft), lost. “I’m hurt,” said C.J. Stroud. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” That ratchets up the pressure on Nico Collins, having a superior year, to be a true number one in the last five weeks.

Texans' youth movement powers Houston to win
The FNIA crew discusses the Texans defeating the Broncos, and how Houston's talented young players are leading the team to playoff contention.

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

a. Michigan, Washington, Texas, Alabama. Understandable. But Georgia wins 29 in a row, including two championship games (by a combined 73 points), then loses the SEC title game to the great Saban by three points and is left out. Seems wrong. But I get it—how can Alabama not be in after winning the SEC title, and how can Texas not be in after winning the Big 12 and winning by 10 at Alabama and going 13-1?

b. Pretty amazing, KISS playing its last show after 50 years Saturday night. It came 51 years after key guy Paul Stanley brought friends to see Elvis Presley at MSG and said, basically, one day I’ll be playing on that stage.

c. Even more amazing, Dolly Parton, at 77, selling more albums than ever out of the chute with her 49th, “Rockstar.”

d. How about Dolly Parton getting Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to sing “Let It Be” with her? Who could manage that? She’s fantastic. What a good person.

e. Baseball Story of the Week: Tyler Kepner of The Athletic on Joe West, the controversial umpire who is a contender for Cooperstown.

f. Kepner is so good. Thoughtful, an excellent reporter, with good nuggets, like this one: West ejected 196 people in his umpiring career. Everything Kepner writes I read. Writes Kepner:

West, whose career began in 1976, could be outspoken and sarcastic, confrontational and aggressive. He did not embody the adage that the best umpires are the ones you never hear about.

In the 2004 American League Championship Series, West called interference on Alex Rodriguez for slapping the ball from Bronson Arroyo’s glove in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. In the 2016 World Series, West halted Game 7 in Cleveland for a brief rain delay after nine innings; the dazed Cubs, who had lost the lead in the eighth, regrouped during the break and won.

And, yes, that was West trying to reason with Leslie Nielsen in “The Naked Gun” in 1988. “You can’t throw an umpire out of the game!” West cried — but Nielsen (or was it Enrico Pallazzo?) did just that.

Umpiring has changed significantly since West’s debut, an Astros-Braves doubleheader on Sept. 14, 1976, before just 970 fans in Atlanta. For years, Barrett said, umpires essentially designed their personal strike zone, and the goal was to keep it consistent. Now they strive to match the computerized zone that grades performance.

g. Football Story of the Week: Jody Rosen of The New York Times on what goes into putting on the highest-rated TV show for the last 12 seasons, NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

h. Incredibly detailed story by Rosen. Best thing I can say about it is I bet everyone who works in the industry will learn multiple things about how to put a big game on TV. NBC had 10 trucks with a crew of 200 at the season-opener, which Rosen writes about.

i. Writes Rosen:

Then there were the microphones. There were mics mounted on many of the cameras. There were six parabolic mics, contraptions resembling satellite dishes that operators strap on like sandwich boards and schlep around the sidelines to soak up sounds. The N.F.L. is particular about what audio can air — no conversations on the bench allowed — but for each game, the league mics up several offensive linemen, allowing broadcasters to catch the quarterback grunting his cadence and the crunch of pads colliding after the snap.

The person responsible for the sonic personality of “Sunday Night Football” is Wendel Stevens, the lead audio engineer. That morning, Stevens was getting ready at his station, a 144-channel mixing console in the show’s main production truck. What viewers might assume to be an unmediated flow of in-game audio is more like a live D.J. mix, sculpted spontaneously by Stevens, who blends sounds from dozens of sources. “You don’t want this constant roar and thunder,” he said. “Football is a dynamic game in terms of sound.” He has other rules. One is: You mustn’t miss “the doink,” the percussive thump when an errant kick strikes the goal posts, which resonate like a giant tuning fork. Stevens was in the chair for NBC’s 2019 broadcast of the Bears-Eagles wild-card playoff game, which ended with a Bears field-goal attempt that rebounded from the left upright to the crossbar — an event that entered N.F.L. lore as the Double Doink.

j. TV Story of the Week: Anne Thompson of NBC News, reporting from Churchill, Manitoba, on the Polar Bear Capital of the World.

k. Twice as many Bears have come into the northern Manitoba town, looking for food, because the ice sheets that should be formed in the waters around the area haven’t formed yet due to climate change.

l. One more thought about the detritus of the college football weekend.

m. My feeling after watching the highlights of the great Pac-12 championship game between Washington and Oregon: disgust.

n. This is very old, I know. But the anger came bubbling up watching two great regional rivals play for the regional conference championship. For the sake of money, one of the great regional conferences in American sports gets thrown down the toilet, and schools like Oregon State and Washington State are left in the cold. The stupid, absolutely stupid rejiggered 2024 Big Ten football schedule will have UCLA traveling to State College, Pa., on Oct. 5, to Piscataway, N.J., on Oct. 19, and to Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 2. And how about that Central Florida-Utah rivalry in the Big 12? What a great regional hookup Stanford-Boston College is for the ACC. They’re separated by only 3,132 miles.

o. Palo Alto to Boston is 160 miles farther than Boston to Dublin.

p. I hope disenfranchised alums continue to tell Big Ten-bound USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington, “What you’re doing is categorically insane.” We haven’t even talked about the idiotic logistics of forcing kids in sports who are supposed to be students to be traveling 10- and 12-hour round trips on planes to play games. How, logistically, is it remotely responsible for Cal to play a midweek softball game at Clemson? It’s all a great example of adults making dumb decisions for money alone, and forcing 20-year-old kids to pay for those decisions.

q. Imagine you’re the parent of a bench player on the USC soccer team, and your kid tells you he’s missing 2.5 days of school to go to Rutgers for a game.

r. RIP Henry Kissinger. I am reminded of this story Linda Zimmerman passed along about her husband, the late Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman, and Henry Kissinger, who was a Jets fan. Dr. Z and Kissinger, at different times, lived in the same Manhattan neighborhood, Washington Heights. Kissinger went on to positions of political power. Zim went on to cover the Jets and later the NFL. Zim, as it turns out, didn’t much like Kissinger. One day in the Jets Super Bowl era 50 or so years ago, Kissinger went to a Jets’ game and some reporters were asking him about pro football. One asked if soccer was Kissinger’s favorite sport. Kissinger said “the honest truth” was that American football was his favorite sport. Zim asked him: “Can you define truths that aren’t honest?”

s. Has there ever been an occasion for which Dr. Z didn’t have a great rejoinder?

t. Now seriously Obit of the Week: Tom Gjelten of NPR on Henry Kissinger, who died last week at 100.

u. RIP Sandra Day O’Connor, the country’s first female Supreme Court justice. Her connection to football came in 1985, when, at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, she was seated at a table with John Riggins, who followed pre-dinner beers with two double Scotches, then a full bottle of red wine, at the gala. And Riggins thought she was being a bit too straight-laced. “Loosen up, Sandy Baby!” he said. “You’re too tight.”

v. And as told by Riggins after the death of O’Connor, they were together at an event in Washington a decade or so ago, and O’Connor was the speaker that night, and at one point she said: “There’s one thing I’ve wanted to say for years: Loosen up Johnny Baby!” Riggins loved it.

w. Coincidence of the week: Between 2000 and 2012, the College of William & Mary in Virginia had two chancellors: first Henry Kissinger, then Sandra Day O’Connor. They died two days apart.

x. Thanks to the Houston Texans and communications czar Omar Majzoub for donating sneakers emblazoned with the cause I’m passionate about, New Jersey-based youth literacy charity Write On Sports, just in time for our holiday auction, our final fundraiser for the year.


y. Key item: four lower-bowl tickets to the Cardinals-Eagles New Year’s Eve game at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Our sincere thanks to the anonymous donor who gave these great seats as the Eagles strive for home-field in the NFC playoffs. Every dime from the winning bids will go to reading and writing programs and summer camps for adolescent students, mostly in middle school.

Games of Week 14

Arizona and Washington with the last two byes of the season. That just ruins everything, having the Cardmanders home for the weekend.

Seattle at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox. Seems odd, this important game being a regional game accessible to 18 percent of the country. This is the third of four games in a potential Seahawk death spiral (loss to Niners, loss at Cowboys, at Niners, Eagles) that will write their post-season story. The other big question for Seattle is a long-term one: Can Geno Smith steal a couple of arduous games down the stretch to ensure his job as opening-day starter in 2024? I have my doubts. The Carroll/Schneider team, which has a first-round pick and two third-rounders in 2024, won’t be shy about chasing a QB in the Nix/Penix area of the first round.

Buffalo at Kansas City, 4:25 p.m., CBS. The late-window doubleheader games have been on fire this season. Dallas-Philly, Buffalo-Philly, Niners-Philly, Dallas-Buffalo, Dallas-Miami in the second half of the season alone. Judging by the Bills’ performance at Philly before the bye, and judging by the closeness of this rivalry—KC 3 wins, Buffalo 2 since 2020; KC 146, Buffalo 139 in points in those five games—this should be a doozy.

Philadelphia at Dallas, 8:20 p.m., NBC. I’m sure there’s probably been one, but I don’t recall a string of games for one contender as arduous at the current Philadelphia stretch: Dallas, at Kansas City, Buffalo, San Francisco, at Dallas. I’m impressed the Eagles are 3-1 in that five-game run so far—but it also puts major heat on Philly going into Dallas. A Dallas win would leave both teams 10-3 with 3-1 division marks and 1-1 head-to-head this year, but the Eagles would have a paper-thin edge because of a 6-2 conference record; Dallas would be 7-3 in-conference.

The Adieu Haiku

Was Eagles-Niners
a football contest, or was
it Ali-Frazier?

Peter King’s Lineup