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FMIA Pre-Super Bowl: Kyle Shanahan on Pick 262 and Peter King’s 40-Year Roster

Show Me Something: Super Bowl LVIII
From Isiah Pacheco to Nick Bosa, Mike Florio and Peter King name which players need to rise to the occasion in Super Bowl LVIII.

LOS ALTOS, Calif.—The 262nd and final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft is the kind of story, in all ways, that Steven Spielberg will want to make into a film one day. Maybe soon, actually.

I had no idea about the tentacles of it all until I took a ride to work one morning last week with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

April 30, 2022. Day three of the draft. Rounds four through seven. Now it got to be the last dozen or so picks, late in round seven. The San Francisco 49ers had the last pick overall, number 262. “That day in the draft room,” Shanahan told me as he drove through Mountain View, slowing to account for the school dropoffs, “it got a little intense.”

There were nine Compensatory Picks awarded in the seventh round in 2022, the final one to the 49ers. Comp Picks, as they’re called, are rewards to teams that lose veteran players in free-agency, based on the contracts departing players earn on the free market, plus the free agents they sign. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, drafted by the Niners in 2017 (he eventually backstopped Jimmy Garoppolo), signed a cheap free-agent deal with Jacksonville the previous year, and per the NFL Comp Pick system, the Niners were awarded the 32nd and final Comp Pick of the draft for losing Beathard.

So now, with the Dollar Store Comp Pick of 2022—the lowest-value Compensatory Pick awarded by the NFL—the 49ers had a bonus choice. Because they’d traded up the previous year to get quarterback Trey Lance, there was no way Shanahan and GM John Lynch, with prospects at several positions with make-it grades still on the board, could sacrifice one of those for another quarterback. Could they?

As Shanahan, soon after dawn last Tuesday, piloted his Tesla through the southern edge of Silicon Valley on the way to work to prepare for Super Bowl LVIII, he described the scene that April 2022 Saturday afternoon, sitting with Lynch and his staff in the 49ers’ draft room.

“I was sure Brock was worthy of the fourth round, and we put a fourth-round grade on him,” Shanahan said. “There was no way we could take him for our team. But we’re sitting there in the seventh, and all these picks go by, he’s still there. That’s when I get to hear our linebacker coaches, all the scouts, other coaches, everybody who’s talking, saying things like: I can’t believe my guy is still there in the seventh! I love this guy. Or, We got all these needs! You traded those ones last year! We don’t need a quarterback to be our third guy. Or, Kyle! We can still get him as a free agent. He’s not gonna get drafted. I mean, it’s all coming down on me.

“You hear all this stuff and the last thing you wanna be is the offensive head coach who’s like, ‘Nope, we’re taking my favorite quarterback.’ I get it—this linebacker, this running back might start for us This linebacker might be the next dude. I remember saying before the draft I wouldn’t be surprised if Brock was there in the seventh, or didn’t get drafted. Just how the NFL works.

“I’m always trying to check myself on this stuff. The pick’s coming up and I remember [club co-chair Dr. John York] asking, ‘Who’s the best player out there?’ I go, ‘Well, there’s no doubt Purdy’s the best player.’ He goes, ‘Then what are we talking about?’ I was like, ‘Well, there’s other spots. Also, we might be able to get him as a free agent for $10,000 after the draft.’ Dr. York can’t believe it. He’s looking at me like, I don’t get why there’s discussion if you guys think he’s the best player.

“Then it gets closer. I’m also getting the feeling we’re not getting Purdy as a free agent because there are so many other teams who are going to try to sign him. He wasn’t coming to us. He’s told me since then he was signing somewhere else. I said in the room, ‘Let’s not risk it. This guy’s too good.’

“John and I, we took Purdy. And thank God we did.”

Imagine: An Iowa quarterback (Beathard) departing, an Iowa State quarterback (Purdy) arriving, with the 32nd and final Comp Pick in this NFL system of bonuses. But the pick tells me something else: Shanahan had to be wondering deep down if the two incumbents, Garoppolo and Lance, had the stuff to win a Super Bowl.

Boldface Names

Boldface names/things of the Super Bowl off-week:

Kyle Shanahan is more spooked about his second Super Bowl loss than his first. And we always thought the first—Atlanta blowing the 28-3 lead—must haunt him.

“I’m glad you asked me that question.” Who said it? Why?

The Super Bowl coach ridealong. This is the sixth time I’ve ridden with a coach to work the week before the craziness begins, and it’s become one of my favorite columns of the year. You’ll enjoy the gallery of the six coaches.

Joe vs. Steve vs. Brock. You might be surprised.

My 40-year NFL roster gets picked. A fun exercise, surely one you’ll all agree with.

I picked 53 men. I don’t want to be the one to tell Michael Irvin and James Harrison they made it as players coming off the bench.

Hines Ward makes the squad. And I love it.


Brian Mitchell, I see you. And you deserve it.

Jerry Rice’s son laid down the gauntlet for the NFL teams that may pass on Caleb Williams. Brenden Rice was a USC receiver for Williams.

Super Bowl camera factoid. It’s crazy, and I’m not sure why we need 20 cameras embedded in end zone pylons, but hey, maybe that’s me.

One of the Super Bowl participants has a 4-year-old chocolate lab named George. I met George. He is friendly and eager. Now there’s some great insight about a 4-year-old choclab.

40-for-40. I loaned my rental car in the first game I covered after 9/11 so that Michael Strahan could have a patriotic tie for the day of the game.

Leave the hard-working flight attendants alone. That’s my Plea of the Week, travelers.

Eighty-one readers. That’s how many of you gave me tips to get rid of my 10-week cough, and I’m grateful.

Story of the Week comes from Will Hobson of The Washington Post, about (surprise!) the NFL stonewalling sick former players trying to get money from the huge concussion settlement.

Idea of the Week comes from Jason Gay, re: Bill Belichick’s occupation for 2024. Perfect.

Liam Coen has moved 11 times in 15 years. So you want to be a football coach.

Why have the commish’s press conference at 3 p.m. today? Gee, I’ll give you three guesses.

RIP, Champ. The death of a former Raider; you may have known him as Apollo Creed.

RIP, Mrs. Springsteen.

And now the rest of my ride with Shanahan, and what matters in Super Bowl LVIII.

All Aboard the Hype Train

The two teams, 14-6 Kansas City and 14-5 San Francisco, arrived in Las Vegas Sunday. They’ll have their first full-team media stuff tonight at Allegiant Stadium, and begin the practice week Wednesday afternoon—KC at the Raiders’ practice facility in nearby Henderson, the Niners at UNLV’s football facility.

The game’s a rematch of the 31-20 Kansas City win in the Super Bowl four years ago—something, as you’ll read, that still stings for Shanahan and the Niners.

Now for one of the topics of the week. “Did you tell Brock Purdy you were trying to sign Tom Brady to start for the Niners last offseason?” I asked the coach.

“I’m glad you asked me that question,” Shanahan said.

“Yes, I was serious about it,” Shanahan said. He said he and the young quarterback spoke about Purdy’s status as starter early last offseason. “As we talked, I’m looking at Brock, and he’s got his arm in a sling, and I really am not sure I’ve got a quarterback who’s going to be ready for the start of the 2023 season. That started all of this.”

As the Niners prepared for the 2023 season, Shanahan understood the problems with Jimmy Garoppolo headed for the free market and his two QBs coming off big surgeries. Trey Lance underwent a second ankle surgery in late December 2022 after breaking it three months earlier. Purdy underwent major elbow surgery on March 10, 2023. Shanahan and Lynch were optimistic but not sure if either would be ready to start the 2023 season.

The coach and GM had discussed but not acted on trying to sign Tom Brady post-Patriots in 2020; the gamble to go with a 43-year-old Brady versus a 29-year-old Garoppolo seemed too risky. So Brady went to Tampa and won a Super Bowl, which left many in the Niners’ hierarchy with major regrets. Now, Shanahan wanted to pursue Brady.

“I actually thought it was giving Brock the biggest compliment,” Shanahan said. “I let him know he’s our guy long-term. No question. And if Tom Brady wanted to come here and start for one year, that’s the only way you’re not starting when you’re healthy this year. That’s pretty cool. I wanted to assure him, ‘Don’t worry. You’re our guy. But how cool would it be if Tom Brady would be the quarterback here for one season? How cool would it be for you to learn from him?’

“I mean, if Brock never got hurt, this wouldn’t have been a consideration at all. I’d never have brought it up. But I’ve got to think about the team. What if he’s not ready in September?”

Moot point, as it turned out. Brady said no. The Niners signed Sam Darnold instead. Fortunately for the Niners, though Purdy wasn’t quite 100 percent by the start of the season, he was healthy enough to start, and to win.

I understand Shanahan’s thought process here. No question Purdy earned the right to start in 2023 by his play in eight starts the previous year, but to be ready to play an NFL game exactly six months after major elbow surgery was no sure thing. If Purdy has some hard feelings about it—and he may—those are understandable, but this is a tough business. Final point about this: If Brady did come, he’d be 46 years, 6 months old today. Do you think he’d still play like the GOAT? No one knows.

When you listen to Shanahan, and you go over his life in football for a few minutes, it’s hard to believe he’s just 44. He’s a generation younger than Andy Reid (65), but has packed an inordinate amount of football into those 44 years, in part from being the son of two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan. He became the youngest position coach in the league in 2006 at 26 (wide receivers, Houston) and the youngest coordinator in the league in 2008 at 28 (offense, Houston). He was an offensive coordinator for nine years before, at 37, getting the Niners’ job in 2017. Crazy thing is, only three coaches today have longer tenures with their teams than Shanahan’s seven seasons in San Francisco. It’s become a young man’s game, and an impatient game.

In his high school years, Kyle Shanahan was a constant in and around the Broncos facility. When the Broncos played Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego, Kyle, a high school senior, held the headset cord behind his father on the Denver sideline.

“The neatest thing about going to that Denver Super Bowl is that, basically my whole life I didn’t think it was possible for the AFC to win the game,” Kyle said. “The NFC had won 13 in a row going into that game. I remember the morning of the game, I was sitting in my dad’s hotel room with my buddy. We’re watching ‘White Man Can’t Jump.’ My dad’s in the living room working on the game plan and I’m like, ‘Dad, do you guys think you have a chance?’ He looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world. He’s like, ‘Are you serious? I guarantee you we’re gonna win this game.’”

Denver 31, Green Bay 24. The old man knew.

“Trivia for you,” Shanahan said to me. “I was technically the last guy ever to hold cords for a head coach in the Super Bowl. They went wireless the next year. But you watch the highlights of that game and you see me behind my dad, the kid with pimples.”

Part of this week’s storyline, Shanahan knows, will be his prior trips to the Super Bowl. He was the coordinator in Atlanta seven years ago today when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots with 20 minutes to play and lost 34-28 in overtime. He was the head coach as the Niners blew a 20-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter and lost to Kansas City.

Pretty rough, getting shut out 31-0 to end the loss to New England (with two first downs in the last 27 minutes) and getting blanked 21-0 in the last eight minutes of the other.

“Haunted by the Atlanta game to this day?” I wondered.

“No,” he said. “It hurts. It doesn’t kill you. You understand what happened. You understand you can handle it. You can take it. ‘Haunted’ is just such the wrong word. It makes you stronger, really. But, you know, if you told me before that game you’re going to blow a 28-3 lead and lose, I’d be like, ‘Do I ever come out of my room again?’ You realize, this is sports. Any one of 20 different plays would’ve changed that game. But I also understand that the quarterback on the other side [Tom Brady] did the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. He performed surgery for an entire second half. The harder one was the Kansas City game, personally.

“As you get older and you go through the experience, you just you try to control everything. You realize you can’t. You also realize you can handle it. And you realize how much you love it.”

We’re in Santa Clara now, close to Shanahan’s office. I said: “It’s like when Jim Kelly lost his fourth Super Bowl. I went to Bills camp the next year. I said, ‘The despair you must feel—do you ever think, maybe I’ll go paint houses or something?’ He says, ‘Are you kidding me? This is the greatest job in the world!’”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Shanahan said. “What does get you choked up is how close you get with people when you go on a playoff run, a Super Bowl run. You’ll remember it forever—all the shared sacrifice. When you lose, and you feel the heartbreak, you get to see how you handle it, how you react, how you handle the pressure the next time. And, oh my gosh, you realize, ‘I am this. I can do this.’ You get to go through something you love, something that’s more important in life than almost anything. That’s what I learned about football growing up, but it only gets stronger as I get older.”

Now we’re turning into the parking lot.

“Football,” Shanahan said, “teaches you who you are.”

The game. Matching wits with KC coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, trying to find something, anything to stymie Patrick Mahomes. Shanahan made an interesting point: It’s not just figuring a way to block Spagnuolo’s multiple blitz looks when you play Kansas City. It’s making sure you capitalize on however many chances you get offensively, because you know Reid and Mahomes are so good at capitalizing on theirs.

“With Patrick,” Shanahan said, “it’s about the way he creates, the time he buys, the way he throws so fluidly, so confidently, from all platforms. Every game he’s like a Barry Sanders highlight reel. And [Travis] Kelce, I know he’s had a couple of drops, but to me he’s got the best hands in football. Their chemistry is so great.”

But you can hear it in Shanahan’s voice. He’s happy to go into this game with the last pick in the ’22 draft on his side.

The interesting thing about Purdy is how unaffected he is by all of this. He’s that way in front of the media and the world. And Shanahan said he’s precisely the same way in front of his team.

“It comes from somewhere, I’m sure his parents,” Shanahan said. “I think it has a lot to do with his faith. He has a foundation in him of who he is as a human being. He is so confident in who he is as a person. He’s one of the most confident, humble people I’ve ever been around. Borderline cocky, which is such the wrong word because he’s so humble and such a good dude. He 1,000 percent believes in himself. This doesn’t surprise him at all.

“I remember the Saturday walk-through before his first start last year. He made all these mistakes. Missed a few audibles; ‘cans,’ we call them. Not a good day. He comes up to me right after and he’s like, ‘I hope that didn’t stress you out, Kyle. That’ll happen to me sometimes. Trust me. I won’t mess those up in the game. Don’t be scared.’ And of course he goes out and plays great.”

The other thing you notice about Purdy, something that could be vital next Sunday, is his ability to stay with a play till the last split-second, even with heat in his face. Against Detroit in the NFC title game, two plays stick out. Three minutes into the game, he held-held-held the ball waiting for Deebo Samuel to cross from right to left, 15 yards downfield, with 325-pound tackle Alim McNeill bearing down on him, clean. Just as he released the ball—a 15-yard completion to Samuel—Purdy got blasted by McNeill.

The other throw was Mahomesian. In a 24-all game with 18 minutes left, Purdy should have been sacked for a loss of nine by Detroit safety Ifeatu Melifonwu but slipped out of it; rolling left under heavy pressure, he threw a three-quarters dime to fullback Kyle Juszczyk 18 yards away

“I mean, I’m getting my call ready for like second-and-20 because there’s no play there,” Shanahan said. “Guy just makes plays when they’re not there. He does it more than any quarterback I’ve had. And he also is an assassin when it comes to what we’re trying to do.

“Then I hear what people say. People down on him. It is comical. Playing quarterback is how you play quarterback. What if Joe Montana was in there? Joe’s not gonna run around like Lamar and Patrick. But he’s Joe Montana! I’m not trying to compare him and Brock. But you know, this is a big sport, with huge media. People have to realize in our profession about how the world works, too. Guys have to talk. We only play once a week, and the rest of the week, everybody talks.

“This is what I love about Brock. Last pick in the draft. Takes us to the conference championship game twice and this Super Bowl in two years. Getting talked about for MVP. And the dude, he doesn’t have to work at not listening to it or trying to stay humble or trying to not get caught up in how life is changing. You know why? He doesn’t care. He really has a true foundation and knows who he is and who he wants to be. That is rare for any human. He’s a special player. But this stuff he’s a special guy.”

We know Mahomes can handle this spotlight. We think Purdy can too—but until he does it, we can’t know for sure. No shortage of storylines for Super Bowl LVIII. How Shanahan orchestrates the gameplan for the last pick in the 2022 draft, and how Purdy performs, well, those are my favorites.

Gallery of the Week

For six of the last seven years (I couldn’t do it in the Covid year because of social-distancing edicts), I’ve ridden to work with a coach the week before Super Bowl week. My gallery is below.

Either I’m getting better at the photo process, or my iPhone is better. Because those last two years with Nick Sirianni and Kyle Shanahan, are the best shots I’ve taken. Daylight does help.

“You’ve heard of ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,’” my friend Todd Rosenberg, a photographer, said when I sent him a panel of my coach photos over the years. “This is Peter in cars photographing coaches.”

One other note: Four years ago, Andy Reid told me he’d pick me up at my hotel, just a couple of blocks from his home, Tuesday at 3:15 a.m. I got down to the lobby at 3:07. Reid was in the driveway, waiting. Thankfully, this year, the meeting time with Shanahan was 7 a.m.


Doug Pederson
Moorestown, N.J.
Jan. 26, 2018
SB LII: Phil 41, NE 33


Sean McVay
Encino, Calif.
Jan 26, 2019
SB LIII: NE 13, Rams 3


Andy Reid
Kansas City, Missouri
Jan 21, 2020
SB LIV: KC 31, SF 20


Zac Taylor
Mount Lookout, Ohio
Feb 2, 2022
SB LVI: Rams 23, Cin 20


Nick Sirianni
Haddonfield, N.J.
Feb 4, 2023
SB LVII: KC 38, Phil 35


Kyle Shanahan
Los Altos, Calif.
Jan 30, 2024

My All-Time 53

Early this season, a reader asked if I would name my all-time team, seeing as I was in my 40th season covering the NFL. No time like the off-week before the Super Bowl.

Instead of a first and second team, I’ll name a full team of 53 players from the era that I’ve covered: 1984 to today. The last few will not be the best players. But one of the things I’ve grown to like about the sport is how much of a team game it is. So on my team, I’m not going to have all the locks, all the obvious guys. One note to remember: I don’t include players (like Walter Payton) who I covered sparingly, or whose careers were at least half over by the time I started in the business in 1984. To be clear, this is not my all-time team. It’s a team of greats since I’ve covered the NFL beginning 40 years ago.

It’s a fun exercise. I took two full days on it. When you see an odd pick here or wonder why Emmitt Smith and Drew Brees and Tony Gonzalez and Rod Woodson aren’t included, there’s no good reason, other than the players I picked are the ones I liked the most over the last four decades to impact games, to be winning players, to be the kind of players who don’t rest till they succeed.

Roster: 21.

Quarterback (4). Tom Brady, New England/Tampa Bay, 2000-’23; Joe Montana, San Francisco/Kansas City, 1979-‘94; Peyton Manning, Indianapolis/Denver, 1998-2015; Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City, 2017-present. Had to go chalk here. For those of you angry at those I left off—Brees, Favre, Rodgers, Elway—I understand. I guess I’d ask, Who’d you remove to put your guy on? I struggled to put four on the list, because no team has four QBs on a 53-man roster, but these are the four best I’ve ever seen. And putting Mahomes on after six starting seasons is easy. There are few quarterbacks, ever, except maybe Otto Graham, Brady and Montana, who’d be strong candidates for the Hall of Fame after their first six professional years starting.

Running back (3). Barry Sanders, Detroit, 1989-’98; LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego/Jets, 2001-’11; Derrick Henry, Tennessee, 2016-present. Numbers four and five: Terrell Davis, Adrian Peterson. What’s there to say about Sanders, the most beautiful runner in NFL history? Early in my SI days, he was the most genial and elusive interview subject; he never wanted to do them, but once cornered, Sanders was all class. And how did the man never suffer a major injury in 10 years making those cuts, playing 159 of 166 games? Tomlinson scored 33 touchdowns in one season, 2006. I covered him twice that year and wondered, Everyone knows he’s getting the ball near the goal line. Why can’t they stop him? Re: Henry: In my 40 seasons, I’ve never seen a back do what Henry did in 2019. Rushed for 211 yards in the final week of the season to clinch a playoff spot. Rushed for 182 yards in Foxboro to knock the Pats from the playoffs in Tom Brady’s last game there. Rushed for 195 yards to beat the top-seeded Ravens in Baltimore. The most physically dominating back in the game in the last half-century.

Fullback (1). Maurice Carthon, Giants/Indianapolis, 1985-’92. Came to the Giants the first year I covered them, 1985, from the USFL’s Trump-owned New Jersey Generals. What an amazing year. He started 19 games for the Generals, including a playoff game, then 18, including two playoff games, for the Giants, in a 10-month span. Three weeks off between seasons. A rock-solid blocker and totally unselfish, two crucial traits for a fullback.

Tackle (3). Anthony Munoz, Cincinnati, 1980-‘92; Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore, 1996-2007; Joe Thomas, Cleveland, 2007-’17. The year I covered Munoz, 1984, offensive line coach Jim McNally called me into his office one Monday afternoon and told me Munoz had played a perfect game the previous day. McNally had never graded a perfect game. Munoz married brute strength and technical perfection. Ogden, the first Ravens’ draft pick ever, was the first (and best) power forward playing tackle, 6-9 and athletic. You couldn’t get around him. Thomas went fishing instead of to Radio City on draft day, which portended his life in football. Just went to work every day for one of the worst teams in football and never complained, with that amazing streak of 10,363 straight plays. Imagine playing every snap for 10.5 years, in front of 20 different quarterbacks, for a team that lost all the time.

Guard (3). Russ Grimm, Washington, 1981-’91; Larry Allen, Dallas/San Francisco, 2004-’17; Jahri Evans, New Orleans/Green Bay, 2006-’17. I have these memories of the Gibbs-Parcells Era games in the NFC East, and I so admired the grit of that Washington team, personified by Grimm and that great line. Allen’s the strongest interior lineman I ever saw. Mr. Pancake. Re: Evans, I don’t think people understand his impact, and the fullness of his story. I thought he was the most important offensive teammate Drew Brees had, keeping Brees clean for a decade. Drafted out of tiny Division II Bloomsburg (Pa.), Evans won the starting right guard job 10 days into camp, started all 122 Saints games his first seven years and made four first-team all-pros. Crucial part of the best enduring offense of this century.

Center (1). Jason Kelce, Philadelphia, 2011-present. Apologies, Tom Nalen. Kelce was the most versatile center I’ve seen. He could mash and he could get out on the sweep and he could corkscrew the Tush Push. If there was an all-interview team for my 40 years, he’d make that too.

Tight end (2): Rob Gronkowski, New England/Tampa Bay, 2010-’21; Travis Kelce, Kansas City, 2013-present. Number three: Mark Bavaro. I went present-day over the Sharpe/Gonzalez crew, and ahead of Jason Witten. All worthy, but the post-season greatness swayed me. Gronk: four Super Bowls, five TDs. Kelce: In 21 playoff games, he averaged seven catches, 86 yards—when the D knows the ball’s coming to him early and often.

Wide receiver (4). Jerry Rice, San Francisco/Oakland/Seattle, 1985-2004; Randy Moss, Minnesota/Oakland/New England/Tennessee/San Francisco, 1998-2012; Hines Ward, Pittsburgh, 1998-2011; Tyreek Hill, Kansas City/Miami, 2016-present. Rice, Moss, no-brainers. Ward’s here because he’s the best blocking wide receiver I’ve seen, and he caught 1,000 passes. Loved his unselfishness. Teams with diva wide receivers who don’t block might have hated Ward (I can tell you—they did), but he knew his job, and his job was to be the most physical blocking receiver on the team, and to catch passes. In that order. Re: Hill: He’s so gifted, so fast, so instinctive, so explosive. In a time when the wide receiver is more important than at any time in pro football history, I view Hill as a singular downfield threat.

Roster: 19.

End (3): Bruce Smith, Buffalo/Washington, 1985-2003; Reggie White, Philadelphia/Green Bay/Carolina, 1985-2000; Michael Strahan, Giants, 1993-2007. Smith and White made their defenses superior for a long time, because almost every game they occupied two blockers. I always thought Smith played football ignoring his expiration date; he once told me a football game for him was like being in 60 car crashes every Sunday. He just attacked offensive tackles. White, to me, was the greatest physical specimen I ever saw play. At 291 pounds, he played run and pass superbly and ran faster than almost all of his peers. Brett Favre made the great Packers team of the nineties go on offense, but White was equally as significant on defense. As for Strahan, he’s one of the few great players in my years who was better in his thirties than twenties. He had 67.5 sacks in his first five years of his thirties and led the league three times in tackles for loss as a thirty-something. Took pride in run defense too.

Tackle (3). John Randle, Minnesota/Seattle, 1990-2003; Aaron Donald, Rams, 2014-present; Cortez Kennedy, Seattle, 1990-2000. Randle was a riot. Back in the day, there were things called “media guides,” with printed bios on every coach and player. (Those were the days.) Each week, Randle would study the men who’d be blocking him. Then he’d unleash an 80-miles-an-hour torrent of stuff at his foes. Like this once, on Packer guard Adam Timmerman, a Midwesterner: “HEY FARM BOY! WHO GOES TO COLLEGE IN SOUTH DAKOTA! AND YOU MAJORED IN AGRIBUSINESS! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!” His playing motor was just as fast, and impactful. Donald’s a no-doubter; 13 teams still curse the day they passed on him in the 2014 draft. Kennedy accomplished an incredible feat in 1992, winning Defensive Player of the Year on a 2-14 team. You realize how dominant you have to be to make that happen?

Hybrid (1): J.J. Watt, Houston/Arizona, 2011-’22. “Hybrid” because he played every position on the line, depending on matchup and defensive plan. Best defensive players I’ve covered, in order: 1, Lawrence Taylor, 2 (tie), J.J. Watt, Reggie White. I put Watt in White’s league for many reasons, but there’s this: In 2014, I think Watt had the best season by a defender in my 40 seasons: 20.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, three receiving touchdowns, as a short-yardage tight end (kudos, Bill O’Brien), a fumble returned for touchdown, an interception returned for touchdown (80 yards), and a safety in 1,132 snaps played. Talk about no time off. Watt scored 32 points in 2014. DeAndre Hopkins scored 36.

Edge-rusher (1): Von Miller, Denver/Rams/Buffalo, 2011-present. I’m going to find a place on my team for anyone who wrecks two Super Bowls. In Super Bowl 50, he stripped Cam Newton twice deep in Carolina turf, and both resulted in Denver TDs. “A strip-sack’s like a touchdown for a defensive player, and he did it twice!” his pass-rush-mate DeMarcus Ware told me post-game. Playing for the Rams in Super Bowl 56, Miller sacked Joe Burrow twice in the last 18 minutes, finishing two Cincinnati drives.

Outside linebacker (2): Lawrence Taylor, Giants, 1981-‘93; Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay, 1995-2008. Covered LT for four years. Crazy man. In 1988, two months after a four-game drug suspension, Taylor put on a one-man defensive show with a torn deltoid muscle and one arm harnessed to the side. He sacked Bobby Hebert three times, hit him four more times, and led a 13-12 Giants win. We surrounded the wincing Taylor at his locker post-game. He was asked how much the harness and torn muscle affected him. “Well,” he said, “it slows down my backswing.” The way he lived his life, I’m slightly surprised Taylor’s still with us at age 65—the age he achieved Sunday. Amazing. LT, senior citizen. Brooks defined preparation turning into performance. In his last year, 2008, I sat with him watching tape before he played the Vikings and second-year back Adrian Peterson. I wondered: When did he first watch Peterson on tape? “Freshman year at Oklahoma,” he said. “I knew I’d be playing him in the league. The one thing I feel no one will ever have over me is the mental edge of knowing players.” Check.

Inside/middle linebacker (3): Junior Seau, San Diego/Miami/New England, 1990-2009; Ray Lewis, Baltimore, 1996-2012; Tedy Bruschi, New England, 1995-2008. Who plays 20 years in fast motion at such a physically demanding position? Seau did. One enduring memory. Seau was 26, the best player on the Chargers, when they met the Niners in the Super Bowl early in 1995. I was working for ABC as a pre-game reporter, assigned to get tidbits from players as they walked into the stadium and warmed up on the field. I had arranged with a few of them, Seau included, to speak to them for no more than 30 seconds when they got to the stadium. “All good,” said Seau. Chargers came off the bus, and here came Seau, as intense as anyone you’ve ever seen—and this was at least two hours before the game. “Two quick things,” I said, and I asked something, walking with Seau, and he looked right past me, daggers in his eyes. “Junior?” I said. “Junior?” Nothing. But that was him. Two years after retiring, Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, and was later found to have significant evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), found in people who have suffered repeated head trauma. Lewis is the best sideline-to-sideline playmaker I’ve covered. Re: Bruschi, who played inside and outside as a Patriot, you might be surprised, but I loved him as a heart-and-soul, totally unselfish player for the greatest team of the last 40 years. He ran down on special teams late into his career, five times exceeded 100 tackles, had a stroke in early 2005 and missed only four games due to injury after the near-miracle of his return. “A perfect player,” Bill Belichick said when he retired. Belichick, it should be noted, spoke for eight-and-a-half minutes nonstop on Bruschi’s retirement day. Pretty sure that’s a record tribute for Belichick.

Cornerback (3): Deion Sanders, Atlanta/San Francisco/Dallas/Washington/Baltimore, 1986-2005; Richard Sherman, Seattle/San Francisco; Darrell Green, Washington, 1983-2002. Sanders was the best cover corner of his era, and probably any era. I could have picked Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor from this great Seattle secondary, but Sherman was the feisty, angry, highly competitive leader of a great unit. When the Seahawks rose to prominence in 2012, his third year, he led the league in picks with eight, and created a firestorm afterward by deflecting the Niners’ last best chance in the NFC title game and then going off on Erin Andrews on the field. Hard, sometimes, for great players to turn off the competitive faucet 70 seconds after the game. I saw a lot of Green—I’d estimate covering 20 of his games over time, and it always amazed me that a 5-9, 182-pound corner could be as physical as he was. The man played 313 games, and his last one came at 42 years, 317 days old.

Safety (3). Ed Reed, Baltimore/Houston, Jets, 2002-‘13; Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh, 2003-’14; Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona/Houston/Kansas City/New Orleans, 2013-present. Reed and Polamalu are the most instinctive safeties I’ve ever seen. Polamalu, obviously, is the more physical one; he lived to jump over the center at the precise right moment to ruin the play for the offense, and his timing was impeccable. There is one player in the top 30 all-time in interceptions who played exclusively in this century: Reed. Amazing enough in the time of declining picks and rising offensive efficiency that Reed has 64 picks, seventh all-time. More amazing, I think, is how Reed turned into an offensive player at the time of his picks. He’s first all-time in interception-return yards, with 24.3 per return. Yikes. I once went to Arizona to do a story on all the positions Mathieu needed to know during a game week. He was a safety, a corner, a box linebacker, a return man. I love how he turned his life around from a kid who got into trouble at LSU to being one of the best players and leaders during his prime.

Special teams
Roster: 8.

Kicker (1). Adam Vinatieri, New England/Indianapolis, 1996-2019. I doubt anyone, ever, will have the number of clutch kicks he had. There’s the snow-globe 45-yarder that enabled the Patriots to beat the Raiders in the first Super Bowl year, and winning field goals at :00 and :04 of the fourth quarter to win the first two Super Bowls.

Punter (1). Shane Lechler, Oakland/Houston, 2000-’17. He was the best, for the longest time, of any punter I ever saw; five-time punting champ, with eight seasons of 40-yards-plus net punting. For my money, Lechler’s the best punter in Raiders history, and Ray Guy’s in the Hall of Fame.

Players (5). Steve Tasker, Houston/Buffalo, 1985-’97; Matthew Slater, New England, 2008-’23; Reyna Thompson, Miami/Giants/New England, 1986-’93; Brian Mitchell, 1990-2003, Washington/Philadelphia/Giants; David Tyree, 2003-’09, Giants/Baltimore. Tasker and Thompson are the best gunners I ever saw. I remember the late Bills special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven giving me an old VHS tape with 10 plays on it. “In 10 of our biggest wins over the years,” DeHaven said, “Steve made what me and Marv [Levy] thought were the biggest single plays of the games. Here are those plays.” Slater was so good, and such a wonderful team guy, for so long. Mitchell had 1,070 returns in the career I thought was the most versatile I’ve witnessed. Best play: a 2002 fake punt coached by Eagles special-teams coordinator John Harbaugh Mitchell threw a 57-yard TD pass to Brian Dawkins. Finally, Tyree was great as a special-teamer and heroic in the game that chopped down the 18-0 Patriots. Did you know the last ball he ever caught in the NFL was the Velcro Helmet Catch?

Returner (1). Devin Hester, Chicago/Atlanta/Baltimore, 2006-‘16. I was going to pick two, but Hester’s the best ever, and he did both so well. One of the best measures of Hester’s greatness: In the first two years of his career, he returned 11 kicks/punts for touchdowns. Eleven! Desmond Howard played 11 years and was one of the best of his day. He had eight touchdowns in 603 returns—in his career.

The bench
Roster: 5.

James Harrison, linebacker. The Jack Lambert of the modern Steelers, with the glare and the anger and the hammer-hitting. Cut four times in his early career, Harrison ran 100 yards with a Super Bowl XXXI pick-six off Kurt Warner for the play of the game.

Chris Hogan, wide receiver. One story that will stick with me forever is asking Tom Brady after the Atlanta Super Bowl comeback why, over and over with the Super Bowl on the line, he threw comebacks and out-routes to two bottom-of-the-roster guys, Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. “It’s 110 practices,” Brady said, and he talked about how much he trusted Hogan and Mitchell to be in precisely the perfect spot, so he’d throw to a spot and be sure they’d be there. That’s football. Great football, anyway.

Mark Bavaro, tight end, Giants/Cleveland/Philadelphia. Watch this from Dec. 1, 1986, Monday night, Giants-Niners at Candlestick, Al Michaels and Frank Gifford in the booth.

Christian McCaffrey, running back. No offensive player today combines speed, toughness, instincts and elusiveness the way McCaffrey does. Could have played in any era.

Michael Irvin, wide receiver. First, he’ll be ticked off he’s not one of the top four receivers on the squad. I mean, ticked off. But I want someone who will despise losing, who will lead in the locker room and on the field, and who will play great when it matters. Irvin on offense, Seau and Sherman on D. Those are the dudes.

I assume you’ll have some comments. I’ll run a section of them in the column next week. Reach me at Thanks.


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

I lived a half-hour drive, or longer with traffic, from Ground Zero when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. I was on the phone with the Colts when the first tower was hit, making arrangement to cover the Indy game that weekend; an hour later, I was on my way to give blood at a blood center in New Jersey—blood that was donated and never needed, unfortunately, for the cause I came for because there weren’t many injuries at Ground Zero. There was death. I have such vivid memories from that time. One was taking my daughter Mary Beth, then a high school sophomore, into Chinatown a week after the attacks, to find American flag patches. We bought 100 of them, to affix to the front of all varsity, JV and frosh jerseys in time for the first post-9/11 game. As we drove home, Mary Beth, out of nowhere, said, “I love America.”

40-For-40: Emotions of covering the NFL after 9/11
Peter King reflects on the tragedy of 9/11, namely the efforts of first responders and how he saw the NFL unite as one during the difficult time.

Quotes of the Week


Kyle called it. Defensive-line stamina is key to the game.

--Niners defensive end Nick Bosa on playing Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.


I’ve had two really strong feelings in my career. Leaving Pittsburgh [after a 24-0 loss in 2011] I was like, ‘We will never, ever look like that again.’ It was not cool. And leaving Baltimore this year. That was not cool.

--Seattle GM John Schneider, recounting how he felt after the 37-3 loss to Baltimore and being outgained 515 yards to 151, and how that was the start of what led him to hire Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to succeed Pete Carroll.


It would take a special type of football parent to complain to Belichick about a child’s playing time.

--Jason Gay, sports columnist for The Wall Street Journal, in a column Friday encouraging Bill Belichick to take the open football-coaching job of the Nantucket (Mass.) High School Whalers, on the island where Belichick owns a home and uses as an off-season refuge.

Not only a great idea for a column, but a great idea period.


Did you think you’d be this good? How much confidence did you have? Because I was the second pick in the draft, and I lacked confidence at times.

--Niners defensive end Nick Bosa, in wonderment, to Brock Purdy after the NFC title game, captured by NFL Films, in the best quote I’ve heard from one player to another in, maybe, forever.


If you can go ahead and risk [not picking Caleb Williams], and picking apart his game and letting him fall, have fun losing your job, man.

--USC receiver Brenden Rice, on his quarterback, and on the Chicago Bears possibly passing on picking him with the first overall choice in the draft, to Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Numbers Game

Comparing Brock Purdy to his Hall of Fame predecessors with the 49ers is a slippery slope, of course. It sounds sacrilegious, but I’m going to do it anyway, with some perspective.

Purdy has started 26 regular-season and post-season games, so I wanted to compare his first 26 versus the first 26 for Joe Montana and for Steve Young with San Francisco. But it’s not that neat and tidy. Montana started one game his rookie year in 1979, but his 26-game period, I think, should start when he won the QB job under Bill Walsh midway through the 1980 season. For Young, his clock starts much later, because he began his career in Tampa, then, after being traded to San Francisco, got 10 starts intermittently in his first four Niners seasons. I’ll run his 26-game clock in the 1991 and ’92 seasons, the first period that he started regularly for the Niners.

It’s also fair to consider the talent around each player in his 26-start period, so I’ll include that for your consideration.

Here are the 26-start mileposts for Montana, Young and Purdy:

numbers game.PNG

Pretty heady: more wins, more accurate, more yards, better yards-per-attempt, better TD-and-pick margin, higher passer rating.

But let’s also consider the era, and the supporting casts. Passing games weren’t as efficient then. The league-wide regular-season completion percentage in 1981 was 54.6 percent, and 57.5 percent in 1991; this season, it was 64.5 percent. In 1980, Brian Sipe led the NFL with a passer rating of 91.4. That would have been 18th in the league this season. Plus, quarterbacks didn’t have the protective cloaks by rule around them the way they do now.

Re: the talent around them, Purdy has the best. Montana’s cast: Earl Cooper/Ricky Patton (RB); Dwight Clark, Freddie Solomon (WR); Charle Young (TE) … Young’s cast: Dexter Carter/Ricky Watters (RB), Jerry Rice, John Taylor (WR), Brent Jones (TE) … Purdy’s cast: Christian McCaffrey (RB), Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk (WR), George Kittle (TE).

So it’s certainly an apples/oranges comparison. What I draw from the comparison: Purdy’s number should be considerably better in this era, better even than all-timers like Montana and Young. And they are better, markedly. Enough to have his team in two conference title games and one Super Bowl in his first two years. But the numbers don’t mean you should intentionally deflate Purdy because you think there’s no way he belongs in the same league with Montana and Young. Purdy is existing in his era, in his time, with a coach who produces terrific plans, with an excellent supporting cast, and he’s doing what’s asked of him, and doing it superbly. In the end, that’s what counts, in any era.


Super Bowl I, Jan. 15, 1967: CBS telecasted the game nationally using 11 cameras.

Super Bowl LVIII, Feb. 11, 2024: CBS will telecast the game with 20 cameras embedded in end-zone pylons, among its 165 cameras on-site.

On May 31 at Citi Field in New York, the Mets will give fans Hello Kitty Light-Up dolls, dressed in the Mets home uniform.

On July 11 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Phillies will give away replicas of the old Phillies Bullpen Cart.

On Sept. 28 at Oracle Park in San Francisco, the Giants will service local canines with Dog Leash Day.

Speaking of dog leashes, and speaking of news you absolutely will find nowhere else, Kyle Shanahan has a 4-year-old chocolate lab named George.

King of the Road

Flew home from San Francisco the other day after interviewing Kyle Shanahan. WiFi on the Delta flight was down. That happens a lot. Anyway, a smartly dressed 40ish woman a row ahead of me across the aisle rang the flight-attendant call button. Here came the flight attendant.

“Yes, ma’am?” she said.

“Can you try something to fix the WiFi?” the passenger said.

Flight attendant: “Ma’am, I am so sorry. We rebooted it twice, and nothing seems to work. We could try it again

Passenger, quietly, angrily in a voice that’s almost hissing: “That’s not good enough! I have work to do—an office to communicate with! You promise WiFi on a flight, there needs to be WiFi! What are you gonna do about it!”

(I wish the flight attendant said, “Let me climb out on the wing and see if I can do something to get the signal back!”)

Flight attendant, calmly: “We’ll try again ma’am, but this happens on some flights. I’m sorry.”

The passenger harumphed loudly, then shut up. I get the anger over problems like this. It’s frustrating. But this—What are you gonna do about it! It’s befuddling. Bleep happens. And this isn’t even serious bleep! There should be accommodations made, and refunds for down WiFi. Beyond that, hey, it’s life. One of the reasons I have huge respect for flight attendants is that almost every time there’s a moment like this that I’ve witnessed, they handle it. I’ve never seen one fly off the handle. They’re not all great and attentive, but the vast majority of attendants, regardless of the provocation, are terrific. Kudos to them.


Reach me at

Do you know why I love writing this column? Lots of reasons. But one surfaced in the past seven days. Last Monday, I wrote 2.6 percent of FMIA (301 words of 11,748 on championship weekend) on the fact that I have had a cough for two months. Between the time the column was posted, before 5 a.m. ET Monday, to Saturday midday, I had 81 emails with cures/suggestions/advice on what to do with the cough. Sixteen were doctors/medical professionals.

One reader told me to smoke a cigar. One told me to suck Ricola cough drops. (I do.) Eleven said it could be complications of acid reflux. Sixteen medical professionals responded, the majority of whom said their bet was reflux. I take lisinopril for high blood pressure, and four medical people told me I might be smart to change my BP meds. Three said I should get more imaging done; X-rays don’t show enough. Two said: Wean yourself off the coffee, and all that caffeine.

I saw a pulmonologist Wednesday. No fever, nothing contagious, airways fine. Crazy—I feel fine, just coughing a lot. She prescribed a strong acid-reflux med. Started it Wednesday, and as I write Sunday afternoon, I’m better. I’m not having the 30-second coughing jags anymore, so I do believe I’m on the mend. Still having a devil of a time sleeping more than four, maybe five hours a night because the cough wakes me up. But I’ll take the last two days over the previous 30, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, thanks to one and all for your concern. Now for your emails.

Very good question from a coach. From Russell Jones, of Albuquerque, N.M.: “I don’t claim to know more than NFL coaches because I just coach high school and youth football but there’s something I consistently see happen at the collegiate and pro level that baffles me. A team is down 10 points with under 5 minutes to go and they ALWAYS seem to go for the touchdown first, wasting valuable time. Why don’t they kick the field goal the moment they are in range instead of continuing to run the clock, wasting valuable time and then forcing an onside kick? It happened again in the NFC Championship Game and it’s never made sense to me. What am I missing?”
Not much, Russell. And thanks for coaching, by the way. The way I viewed what the Lions did last week: Down 34-24, they drove to the Niner 16-yard-line with 1:37 and three timeouts left and the clock stopped. This is when they should have run the field-team on and attempted a 34-yard field goal. Then, no onside kick. Use all three timeouts if necessary, and work to get a defensive stop. Assuming the Niners don’t get the first down, the Lions would get the ball back around their 20- with maybe 1:20 to go and either one or no timeouts. As you say, trying so desperately to score a TD there left the Lions with no option but the very poor chance of recovering an onside kick. Good email.

The landscape’s a lot different. From Amaey J. Mundkur: “I wanted your thoughts on the current state of sports TV. I’m curious as to what you think about the cottage industry of moving hot air for hours—i.e., the talking heads who debate what color underwear a quarterback should wear. I’m likely in the minority of folks that miss the news being the news and not the new ‘cult of personality’ content. How do you think it has changed the sports media landscape? Also, why do they all yell?”

I separate the yellers into categories. I love Chris Russo, who yells a lot, often out of love for sports. He means it when he yells; he’s sincerely upset or enthusiastic or whatever. Many of the other yellers, I just don’t understand. The point’s not better at 90 decibels rather than 40. Re: the general media craziness, I think Kyle Shanahan said it best higher in this column. In football, there’s one game a week, and media people on a jillion platforms need content for the other six days—and not the same content. Everyone’s trying to be different. Different’s not better, necessarily.

Thanks, Ireland. From Catherine Gunning: “I’m from Ireland and a huge fan of the NFL. There is so much media and other content out there, overloaded with a lot of which is not appealing to people like myself and my family and friends who are trying to learn about the NFL and its workings, history and rules also along the way. So on that note, thank you. You are awesome with what you do. Especially love your FMIA column every week. Also love how you champion us ladies in all fields in your column also where it is deserved. I know this won’t mean anything for some random person in Ireland but wanted to send it to you anyway. Mind yourself.”

Now that is so nice, Catherine. On the contrary, it means everything to me that “some random person” would take the time to write. You’re exactly who I work for! “Mind yourself.” How lovely. Have a great week. You’ve lifted me tremendously.

Agreed, Frank. From Frank Hugelman: “In last week’s column you stated about Myles Garrett for Defensive Player of the Year: ‘One question to the 10 or so of maybe 50 commenters who didn’t like my choice of Garrett: Is there a good reason to curse at me, name-call and wish very bad things to happen to me because I chose a candidate you didn’t agree with? Curious.’ It’s not curious, just regrettable. Unfortunately, we have become a nation where civility towards each other is no longer a way of life. Don’t let the idiots get you down. There are LOTS of us who enjoy your column and respect your opinions whether we agree with them or not.”

Thanks a lot, Frank. Good of you to write. Emailers have gotten angrier and far less respectful in my last few years doing the column.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think the feel-good story of the week is Teddy Bridgewater retiring to take over the coaching job at his alma matter, Northwestern High School in Miami. Bridgewater is 32. He could have four or five more seasons, easy, as a backup and young-QB tutor in the league. Could have made $12 million more, easily, in his NFL life. But he chose family and his life’s work instead. “Those kids have no idea how lucky they are,” said one of Bridgewater’s former NFL coaches, Sean Payton. “One of my favorite players ever. And one of the best leaders I’ve been around. He’s like Ferris Bueller—everyone just followed him. He’ll do a phenomenal job.”

2. I think I collected a bit of a greatest hits package of quotes from Jim Harbaugh’s introductory press conference in Los Angeles, and they’re fabulous:

  • “I would not be here without my parents, Jack Harbaugh and Jackie Harbaugh, my mom. Talking about moms, who was just the best. I did nothing to be born into that family. Just luck. My name should be Lucky. How’d you get so lucky? Lucky. That’s how I feel.”
  • “Each day, just waking up and seeing how productive we can be, how much we can dominate the day. Talking about expectations, what are those expectations? Expectations are to have a great day today. To make it a great day. Some people say, ‘Have a nice day.’ That doesn’t quite resonate with me. That leaves something to chance. Let’s make it a great day.”
  • “When players come in here, then everything is organized and they’re going to see that things are changing, things are different. We want to get to that center of player development, that weight room, and let’s have at it. You hungry? You want to eat? This is an all-you-can-eat buffet right here. Let’s get that work in. That’s what the players have been saying back to me, ‘Let’s get it Coach.’ Yeah, let’s go.”
  • “Monsignor Dillabough, Dan Dillabough, who was the Catholic priest [during Harbaugh’s San Diego seasons as a player], took me over to the University of San Diego and said, ‘Want to go over and check out a USD basketball game?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go. Great.’ We were walking over to the Jenny Craig Pavilion there and looked over and said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘Well, that’s our football stadium.’ I was like, ‘Let’s go take a look at that.’ Just looking in and being there, I said, ‘Monsignor, some day I’m going to coach. I’m going to play as long as I can, then coach, then die. If you ever need a head football coach at USD, please, please call me.’ I was coaching at the Raiders in my second season there as a quality control coach and got that call. Then, went and coached at USD.”
  • “I have a love of Michigan, but love the NFL. It was time. I only have so many sands left in the hourglass and I want another shot. I want another shot to be simply known as World Champions. The Lombardi Trophy, that’s my mission.”
  • “When I was six, my brother was maybe eight, we were living in Iowa City and my Dad came into the room to get us to quit talking so loud. He said, ‘You two brothers, who could possibly have it better than you two? To be able to share your hopes, your dreams, you can talk sports, talk your goals — who could have it better than you two?’ Nobody, Dad. That’s right. And he was right. We had that best friend relationship. Talking football, there’s just nobody better, nobody like John Harbaugh. The way that he coaches, the proof is in the pudding. The way that he builds teams, the way that he treats people with a class and a grace. Much gratitude for his example that he set.”
  • “There are some things that I’ve copied from Ted Lasso. I try to emulate Ted Lasso in a lot of ways. That TV show, that is one of the best. I think that there’s a life lesson in every one of those episodes. If you haven’t seen that show — a piece of advice, if I may — watch the Ted Lasso show.”

3. I think there’s a good reason why the NFL, which used to have the commissioner’s press conference at midday Friday, when it would be the event of the day and very widely covered, will now have it on Monday afternoon. (The league made it a Wednesday event from 2017 to 2023.) It’s by invitation now, which is very bad form, because it allows the league to keep out muckrakers like Mike Florio, who was not invited. Having it Monday afternoon does these things: Many reporters covering the Super Bowl arrive on Monday (I’m one) and thus won’t be in position to cover it, minimizing the amount of attention it gets. Further minimizing it is the fact that at 5 p.m. local time, Kansas City players and coaches will be available, followed by San Francisco players and coaches at 7. By dusk, Goodell’s words, barring a headline-producing answer, will be secondary or tertiary as news of the day shifts to Travis Kelce getting lobbed his first Taylor Swift question, and Kyle Shanahan defending his QB from the he’s-just-a-game-manager crowd.

4. I think the whole thing is a bad look for Goodell. Very bad. Either he’s got thinner skin than he likes people to think he has, or he’s afraid of answering tough questions about how far the league’s gotten into bed with sports betting interest after saying for years legalized sports gambling would be a pox on the NFL. It’s a pox, until you can make billions on it.

5. I think, finally, the league had it right in the old days of the commissioner’s press conference. Way back in the day, Pete Rozelle would come off the podium and spend 20 minutes doing sidebar stuff with the people who covered the league. If you cover the league, it’s great to be able to have the occasional back-and-forth with the commissioner. What’s the worst thing that can happen in a one-hour, all-comers press conference? Some media person goes on a harangue about some issue that’s not very important? So what? Give the people who spend their professional lives writing and reporting and commenting on the biggest sport in America an hour, once a year, to ask anything and everything. Tell me: What’s so dangerous about that?

6. I think I have a few thoughts about the most recent coaching vacancies filled:

Carolina. Gutsy move by the Panthers, hiring a one-year coordinator with a checkered personal track record in Dave Canales. But everyone I know who knows Canales is high on the guy. Players in Seattle and Tampa had respect for him. He’d better be a breath of fresh air for Bryce Young. If Young fails—along with all the talent Carolina won’t have because of the massive trade to move up to get him last year—this franchise will be in the dumps for years. It’s a measure of the undesirable tenuousness of this Panthers’ coaching job that Canales, who wasn’t a top candidate for most other jobs this cycle after one year as a coordinator, got a six-year contract.

Seattle. John Schneider, hired as Seattle GM in 2010, had gone 14 seasons without running a head-coach search. Choosing Mike Macdonald, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, seemed a purposeful pick. Schneider veered from the sunny-day optimism of Pete Carroll to the malleable and thoughtful approach of Macdonald, whose ability to make every gameplan a snowflake (looking different every week) is appealing in an era when injuries and defections change lineups week to week. In going from the league’s oldest coach to the youngest, there might be growing pains in handling the front-facing parts of the job with the omnipresent media, but none of that will matter if Schneider can get a long-term quarterback and Macdonald builds the kind of versatile defense he had in Baltimore.

Washington. If I were Dan Quinn, I’d be keeping receipts and using the nobody-wanted-me thing as motivation. No one loves this hire, because Quinn has been one of the most passed-over coaches in recent years, and most people in the game think he was the consolation prize after Ben Johnson either bombed out or overplayed his monetary hand in his contacts with the Commanders. Quinn’s the ultimate positive thinker, which should help his team through lean early times. But the biggest hire here might be offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. Too early to tell how much Kingsbury, a USC senior offensive analyst for the 2023 season after getting whacked by the Cardinals a year ago, will influence the pick at quarterback for Washington in the 2024 draft. But whether it’s D.C. guy Caleb Williams or someone else, Kingsbury could turn out to be a more influential hire than Quinn for this franchise. Because the quarterback investment this year will be a bigger decision than the call on a head coach.

7. I think, of course, it’s possible that games could someday be fixed. Highly unlikely, but possible. Which is why the league has to be vigilant about it. But until there’s some real evidence some player’s taking a dive for the money, or some official is on the take, play ball.

8. I think the last 15 years in the life of new Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Liam Coen have been interesting. Let’s hopscotch America with Mr. Coen:

  • 2009, Huntsville, Ala.: Coen’s a member of the Alabama Vipers Arena League team.
  • 2010, Providence, R.I.: Coen starts coaching at Brown, as QB coach.
  • 2011, Kingston, R.I.: Coen moves 23 miles south to be the pass-game coordinator and QB coach at Rhode Island.
  • 2012-’13, Providence, R.I.: Coen moves back to Brown as QB coach.
  • 2014-’15: Amherst, Mass.: Coen heads 80 minutes west to be UMass’ pass-game coordinator and QB coach.
  • 2016-’17, Orono, Maine: Coen just loves New England. He moves to the University of Maine to be offensive coordinator.
  • 2018-’19, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Coen’s big break. He’s hired as the assistant WR coach under Sean McVay with the Rams.
  • 2020, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: McVay moves Coen to Rams’ assistant QB coach.
  • 2021, Lexington, Ky.: Coen is appointed Kentucky’s offensive coordinator and QB coach.
  • 2022, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: McVay names Coen the Rams’ offensive coordinator.
  • 2023, Lexington, Ky.: In one of the oddest coaching moves ever, Coen moves back to be Kentucky’s offensive coordinator and QB coach, completing the Thousand Oaks-to-Lexington-to-Thousand Oaks-to-Lexington move in the span of 36 months.
  • 2024, Tampa, Fla.: The Bucs name Coen offensive coordinator.

Dizzy yet?

9. I think one of the nuttiest things of the last month is Cowboys players’ kin dogging Dak Prescott. One of the things that stinks about social media—and there are many—is that it gives oxygen to anyone, at any time. Which allows relatives of football players to go on various platforms and tell us why Player X has ruined the team. It’s chum in the water for the media (and I do not blame the media), and before you know it we’ve got a brushfire, or bigger. It’s awful.

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

a. Not a big modern-music guy, but some Grammys thoughts:

Joni Mitchell, 80, singing “Both Sides Now,” her 54-year-old genius tune I’m not crying, you’re crying. After suffering a brain aneurysm in 2014, Mitchell hadn’t been in public much, and she held her cane in her right hand in this appearance. Lovely. Just lovely.

Robert Kraft in the house. Man, he likes to be where the action is.

Tracy Chapman/Luke Combs with a fantastic duet on “Fast Car.” That song’s 36 years old, and I think it entranced Combs the same way it did our kids in New Jersey.

Miley Cyrus is one bundle of energy. That’s a catchy tune, “Flowers.”

Trevor Noah, nice job. Adjusting on the fly takes talent, and you’ve got it.

b. RIP Carl Weathers. What a man. What an actor. What a former Raider. We all have enduring memories of Apollo Creed. I saw it in the Varsity Theater, Athens, Ohio, in my sophomore year in college. Wow. Loved Stallone. Loved Talia Shire. Loved Burgess Meredith. Remember thinking: Holy cow. That Apollo Creed—who’s that actor? Tremendous! And he was. It’s a challenge to play that role and to fake-fight to make it look remotely real and to really play a smart-mouth Ali type well. And Carl Weathers pulled it off.

c. So many good tributes. I found David Aldridge in The Athletic particularly touching.

d. Wrote Aldridge:

You’re supposed to root for Rocky.

Unless you’re an 11-year-old Black kid sitting in the theater.

That kid was conflicted.

Of course I liked Rocky. He was eminently likable. And almost everyone in the theater was pulling for him. But Apollo was the guy who looked like me. For whom was I supposed to root? Or, to cry for if he lost? So, as the last round began, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I just watched.

In the end, of course, Rocky wins by simply surviving. He becomes the best version of himself, to be celebrated, because he did what no one else had done with Creed — go the distance. He yells at a reporter afterward, “There ain’t gonna be no rematch!” as he searches for Adrian. He has won the love of a good woman, and that is all he needs.

Apollo Creed, at least that night, left with the belt. And that made me happy.

But it made me have to choose. And, as I knew I had to choose, that made me sad.

e. Football Story of the Week: Will Hobson of The Washington Post, with a terrific job on the NFL using obstructionist tactics to delay or deny retired players from receiving money as part of the league’s landmark concussion settlement with players.

f. The most bothersome thing in this exhaustive and crucial report is this point made by Hobson about the concussion settlement: “The settlement’s definition for dementia requires more impairment than the standard definition used in the United States. Several doctors who have evaluated players told The Post that if they used the settlement’s definition in regular care, they would routinely fail to diagnose dementia in ailing patients. ‘I assumed this was written this way, on purpose, just to save the NFL money,’ said Carmela Tartaglia, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Toronto. At least 14 players, including [former Eagle and CBS broadcaster Irv] Cross, have failed to qualify for settlement money or medical care and then died, only to have CTE confirmed via autopsy. Eight of these players were diagnosed in life with dementia or a related memory disorder but still failed to qualify for settlement benefits.”

g. Player after player got stonewalled. It’s a terrible look for the NFL.

h. If you’re going to negotiate a settlement that helps players who clearly suffered ill effects from playing football, the least the league can do is have a conscience about paying the victims and their families, not looking for red-tape reasons to deny the claims.

i. Of course you’re going to have some who try to take advantage of any class-action settlement. But denying former players with brain disease is cruel and unusual.

j. Happy Super Bowl Week, everyone.

k. You’ve done it again, Steve Hartman. The CBS Evening News storyteller found a gem in Waveland, Miss., a widower who discovered a new life by working for nothing.

l. The great thing about Hartman is he convinces you that you need a conscience, and goodness is the best residue of yourself you can leave on this planet.

m. Beat reporting of the Week: Zack Rosenblatt and Dianna Russini of The Athletic on the dysfunction of the 2023 New York Jets. Excellent job by Rosenblatt and Russini. Three takeaways:

n. One: Really good point from an AFC GM in here about the influence of Aaron Rodgers. “Rodgers isn’t the assistant GM. Joe Douglas is the assistant GM.” When you put so much on the new quarterback, and he’s influencing free-agent signings and roster decisions, hard to argue with that.

o. Two: I might be wrong, but the Rosenblatt/Russini reporting lends strong credence to the doubt in offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett that I think has to be there. Hackett’s inability to do something/anything with the quarterback position post-Rodgers injury, and the inability to craft even a D-plus offense without Rodgers, scars Hackett badly. If the quarterback of this team wasn’t Rodgers, who loves Hackett, the Jets would have been looking for a new man to run the offense in January.

p. Three: I thought the most enlightening reporting was about how Zach Wilson soured on Rodgers as the year went on. Reported Rosenblatt/Russini: “Wilson, along with some Jets teammates and coaches, grew tired of the way Saleh fawned over Rodgers, according to team sources Wilson told coaches and teammates he was under the impression he’d have a direct line to Rodgers, even after Rodgers tore his Achilles and flew home to California for surgery in the early stages of his rehab. Instead, Wilson barely heard from him.” Yikes.

q. Imagine Aaron Rodgers, leak-decrier, reading this story. He had to spinning off into orbit.

r. Truly: Rodgers has to wonder what he got himself into here.

s. RIP, Adele Springsteen. The mom of Bruce Springsteen died of Alzheimer’s Disease at 98 Wednesday. The deep affection he showed for her was always touching, and real.

t. Happy 82nd, Roger Staubach. I remember researching a Bill Belichick profile years ago for SI, and learning Belichick, son of Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick, would occasionally go to Navy practices in 1963 and 1964 and be one of the warmup receivers for Staubach. How cool.

u. Speaking of Belichick, a classy gesture on page A-3 of Sunday’s Boston Globe:

boston globe.jpg

v. The Baltimore Orioles are who the Red Sox used to be.

w. Part of me says good, because Baltimore’s a great baseball city and deserves an era of great baseball. But the Sox partisan in me, reading that Justin Turner wanted to return to Boston but never got an offer from the team, says they’ll be lucky to win 65 games.

x. Health Story of the Week: “The Hottest New Bedtime for 20-Somethings Is 9 p.m.,” by Rachel Wolfe of The Wall Street Journal.

y. I never thought I’d be reading this about college kids. Wrote Wolfe:

Emma Kraft, a 19-year-old junior at the University of California, Berkeley, spent her sophomore year living in a sorority house with 65 other women and still managed to clock her nine-hour minimum of shut-eye.

“For me, nothing good happens after 9 p.m.,” says Kraft, who tries to be asleep by around 9:30 every night. Far from feeling like an outsider, Kraft says she has been bombarded with requests from friends for help shifting their own bedtimes earlier.

“All of a sudden, it’s so much cooler and way more accepted to sleep early, and everyone has just adapted,” Kraft says.

z. You go, Caitlin Clark. The Iowa phenom is 66 points from breaking the all-time women’s college scoring record (held by Kelsey Plum), and 206 points from breaking Pete Maravich’s all-time college basketball record.

The Adieu Haiku

No games this weekend.
I still wrote 12,000 words.
What is wrong with me?

Peter King’s Lineup