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FMIA: How KC landed Patrick Mahomes in 2017, mastermind Steve Spagnuolo & re-watching Super Bowl LVIII

Reid takes King inside Super Bowl game-winner
Andy Reid sits down with Peter King to recite the game-winning ‘Tom & Jerry' play from the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl LVIII victory against the San Francisco 49ers.

April 27, 2017. A day that will live in glorious history for one franchise, and in what-might-have-been glumness for others.

Around dinnertime in Louisiana, pro golfer Ryan Palmer—good friend of Saints coach Sean Payton—and pal Jordan Spieth drove over to the Saints’ facility for a treat: In town for the Zurich Classic, Spieth and Palmer were invited to sit in the Saints’ draft room for the first round. Spieth’s a huge football fan. “I’d never been in a war room before, and I was excited,” Spieth, three-time major winner, recalled last week.

Payton took the golfers on a tour of the facility. “We really like this Patrick Mahomes kid,” Payton told them. “He’s the steal of the draft. I’m not sure everyone knows that.”

But the Saints liked Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore a lot, too—he was rated in their top three players overall—and if Lattimore got to the Saints’ pick at 11 in round one, Payton and GM Mickey Loomis would be thrilled. No way Mahomes and Lattimore would both be there, right? One other wrinkle: At one point, Drew Brees and a couple of Purdue friends walked in—they were going to watch the round, too. That created a bit of an awkward situation.

Spieth said: “Sean came up to us and said, ‘First time Drew’s ever shown up for the draft. He doesn’t know [about the interest in Mahomes]. So if it comes to it, I’m gonna have to tell him.’ “

Payton did tell Brees of the possibility long before the Saints’ pick; Brees, 38, was a pro about it. Still weird in there, though. The first round kicked off. One quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, in the top eight. No corners. The draft was setting up perfectly for the Saints. Now Cincinnati was up at nine. Middling quarterback need with Andy Dalton in-house, coming off a 6-9-1 season. Big cornerback need. Bengals weren’t trading the pick.

The Saints waited. Nervously.

Some 850 miles to the north, another team waited. The front office, collectively, was more nervous. This team’s co-director of player personnel, who’d spent the 2016 college season chasing/monitoring/scouting a player still on the board, sat in the draft room at his computer. This computer had access to the league’s internal wire, which sent out the first notice of all picks that night. The personnel man pressed the “return” button over and over, refreshing the feed every few seconds.

“Time was standing still,” the personnel man said. “Seemed like the Bengals were on the clock for an hour.”

Return returnreturn. Refresh refresh refresh.

Finally, a name for Cincinnati.

Boldface Names

Boldface names/things as deep breaths are taken around the football world between the Super Bowl and the Scouting Combine:

Jordan Spieth, Masters and U.S. Open and The Open champ, saw Mahomes to Kansas City before the rest of us did. “I love telling this story,” he told me Friday.

Steve Spagnuolo, take a bow. Take several.

New-found appreciation for Nick Bolton. The story Spagnuolo told me about the biggest play of the fourth quarter says everything about Spagnuolo’s respect for his players, particularly his defensive signal-caller—and the trust Bolton has in Spagnuolo.

NFL: SEP 15 Chargers at Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 15: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (32) talks with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in the fourth quarter of an NFL game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs on September 15, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Supe 42. Patriots, after starting 18-0, lost to the Giants and rookie coordinator Spagnuolo. That Super Bowl and this one were fairly similar in the way of the winning defensive gameplan. I reminded Spagnuolo, who said: “You are bringing chills to me right now.”

Words USA Today would like to have back, re Mahomes post-round one in 2017: “Calling Mahomes a project is a major understatement. He’s nowhere near ready to play in the NFL. And, honestly, he may never be.”

Oooof. But, you know, we’ve all been there. I certainly have.

“The only thing I don’t like about the player is his voice.”

Spencer Burford, you’re probably not going to want to read this column.

Jauan Jennings might have come within a missed block of being Super Bowl LVIII MVP. Might have.

Victory parade, marred. “From total joy to primal fear.”

Only in America. Yeah, but thoughts and prayers.

Guess what happened 108 quarters ago? For Kansas City, that very, very much might have mattered in overtime Sunday.

Trent McDuffie, Nick Bosa, Christian McCaffrey. What gallant games you played.

Not so fast on the crucifixion of Kyle Shanahan for taking the ball to start OT. I’d rather analyze it than hot-take it.

I owe you one, Bill Vinovich. The best-officiated games are the ones with the officials you don’t notice. I do not remember a big game with so little commentary on the zebras as Super Bowl LVIII. Congrats to Vinovich and the crew: umpire Terry Killens Jr., down judge Patrick Holt, line judge Mark Perlman, field judge Tom Hill, side judge Allen Baynes, back judge Brad Freeman and replay official Mike Chase.

Negotiating strategy is not Chris Jones’ strong suit. “I ain’t going nowhere, baby!” said the free-agent-to-be Wednesday, and 800,000 KC fans heard it.

Ann McKee, hero.

Caitlin Clark, there is no one like you. A jillion props to you.

Clark breaks NCAA women’s career scoring record
Watch Iowa star Caitlin Clark pass Kelsey Plum for No. 1 on the NCAA’s all-time women’s Division I scoring list!

RIP, Lefty Driesell. Now there was a real one.

RIP, Bill Post. And thanks for one of the fun foods you helped create, the unfrosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts. Once a month, they’re my cheat-lunch.

RIP, Bob (Bob’s Red Mill) Moore. I eat his organic steel-cut oatmeal at home every morning. My doctor told me to do it maybe five years ago, and now I crave it, with walnuts and fruit, every morning. Bob Moore ran a great whole-grain company in Oregon.

Feeling good about Cleveland-Philadelphia in Brazil on the evening of Friday, Sept. 6.

I’ve got pneumonia. Both lungs. That made Super Bowl night a barrel of fun. Luckily, I feel loads better than I did a week ago at this moment.

Why Mahomes went 10

Entering draft season in 2017, the quarterback class was weird. The two most accomplished and experienced players, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, somehow got overtaken by a fairly meek one-year starter at North Carolina, Mitchell Trubisky. One of the problems with looking back seven years and seeing a player nine teams passed on, a player who might become the best quarterback ever to play, is that revisionist history dots the landscape.

So let’s go back to that off-season. Teams questioned Mahomes because he had malleable mechanics, because at Texas Tech there wasn’t much discipline to his wild-horse game, because Texas Tech had a lousy history of producing pro quarterbacks in the wide-open offense, and because Mahomes took lots of chances playing with a bad team. Basically, he was a formative Brett Favre. But there’d been a lot of those, and very few had had great pro careers—maybe only Favre.

Mahomes heard it all. As he wrote in the Players’ Tribune before the draft: “I am not a project quarterback. People who say that aren’t really watching my tape. I know that I can make any throw, especially when my team needs a big play.”

2017 NFL draft: Mahomes says he can fit any system
Patrick Mahomes discusses his expectations for the 2017 NFL draft and explains why he is not a one-system quarterback.

2017 was about the time teams were changing rock-solid opinions about quarterbacks. Being mobile, throwing on the run, using your legs—those were becoming pluses. Peyton Manning was one year retired and Tom Brady nearing the end, and no longer did all teams think they were must-acquire prototypes. Starting with this draft, look at how many mobile players got handed teams over the next six years: Mahomes, Watson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, Anthony Richardson, Kyler Murray.

But I remember the skepticism about Mahomes that spring, researching my mock draft. Not everywhere, but enough so that most people in the league thought there was no way he’d go in the top 10. Maybe 11, to New Orleans, or 13, to Arizona. But not top 10.

In the days before the draft, here’s where he landed in some mocks:

Don Banks: Mahomes, 13 to Arizona.

Mel Kiper: Mahomes, 25 to Houston.

Peter Schrager: Mahomes, 25 to Houston.

Peter King: Mahomes, 27 to Kansas City.

Todd McShay: Mahomes, 32 to New Orleans.

Mike Mayock: Mahomes, 32 to Arizona.

Why’d I have him going to Kansas City? I’d heard they loved his on-campus workout in Lubbock, Tex., heard they loved his visit to the KC facility, and heard he was making it known privately that Kansas City, with Reid and incumbent Alex Smith, was the place he really wanted to go. But did I know anything real? Absolutely not. Just took a shot, as happens with most mock picks.

What I did not know at the time: Kansas City’s director of football operations in 2016, Chris Ballard, wrote a pre-season scouting report raving about Mahomes as he entered his last year at Texas Tech. That got GM John Dorsey’s attention, and the attention of other football people in the building. Kansas City did a great job of keeping their interest in Mahomes quiet for the next eight months.

Back to round one Lots of rumors as the first round went on. Biggest one: Cleveland might move up from 12 to 5—Tennessee’s pick—to pick Mahomes. Coach Hue Jackson told friends he loved Mahomes and Watson, but Mahomes a bit more. This rumor turned out to be more smoke than fire. Some Browns’ officials reportedly were turned off by his mechanics, and I don’t think they were ever close to pulling the trigger to move up for him. Ironically, they’d picked a quarterback 93rd overall the previous year, Cody Kessler, and chose DeShone Kizer 52nd overall in 2017. Then they probably over-drafted Baker Mayfield first overall in 2018. Cleveland was all over the map at quarterback.

But with Cincinnati on the clock, here’s how the next few picks looked:

10. Buffalo. New coach Sean McDermott wanted to rebuild the 7-9 team with picks, so this choice was for sale. A week before the draft, GM Doug Whaley had discussions with Dorsey, and they’d discussed the Bills moving down to KC’s pick at 27 and getting Kansas City’s third-round pick in 2017 and first-rounder in 2018. They agreed the day before the draft that if Kansas City’s player was there at 10, Buffalo would move down to 27, then get those third- and first-round picks. That’s the best offer Buffalo had on the table.

11. New Orleans. Needed a corner in Lattimore, if he was there. But both Payton and GM Mickey Loomis were smitten with Mahomes. Last week, Payton was chuckling as he said, “I remember thinking, ‘The only thing I don’t like about the player is his voice.’ That’s how great an impression he left on us.” Payton remembered something else about the visit to Lubbock when their time with Mahomes was up. “We were going straight to the airport. No stops,” he said. “I didn’t want a soul to know we were there. Sometimes you stop at Starbucks and the barista takes a picture and posts it, and it’s like, ‘Oh the Saints were in town—must have worked out Mahomes.’”

Saints might get serious with QB prospect Mahomes
After the Saints organized a workout with Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Mike Florio discusses the potential future of Drew Brees.

12. Cleveland. Looking to dump out of the pick instead of picking Mahomes or Watson if either was there. Not a smart move, as it turned out.

13. Arizona. Frothing for Mahomes. “Worked him out in Lubbock, wind blowing probably 35 miles an hour,” Bruce Arians, then the Cards’ coach, remembered last week. “He whistled that ball through the wind like it was the calmest day in the world. One of the best quarterback workouts I’ve seen in my life. Maybe only Andrew Luck’s was better.”

Mahomes was not getting past Arizona. Hats off to my late friend Don Banks—he had it all the way. Almost.


The guy who kept refreshing the page was Brett Veach, at the time an underling to Dorsey. (But not for long; in June, the team dismissed Dorsey and promoted Veach to GM.) Finally, a name popped up on the encrypted NFL site, onto Veach’s screen:

Cincinnati: John Ross, WR, Washington

In Kansas City, Dorsey, who hadn’t told the Bills who they wanted, only that they’d call once Cincinnati picked if their guy was still available, got Whaley on the phone. “We still on?” Dorsey said. Yes, Whaley replied. They made the trade official. Both teams called the NFL trade hotline to independently confirm the terms. The draft was in Philadelphia that year, and Dorsey told the team rep there to write Mahomes’ name on a card and turn the card over on his table, then wait for further instructions.

In Metairie, La., home of the Saints, high-fives all around. Now the Saints knew they’d either be left with Mahomes or Lattimore, which led to euphoria in the room. They’d love either guy. Last week, in separate phone calls, Payton said he thinks they’d have taken Mahomes if both were there; Loomis said the same. Of course, that’s easy to say now, with Mahomes winning three Lombardis in his first six years playing. But I buy it.

In Arizona, the Cardinals had hope. They were three picks away from Mahomes.

Then, over the tinny speaker in every team’s draft room, there was an announcement from draft HQ in New York: There’s been a trade. Kansas City is trading with Buffalo. The Chiefs have the 10th pick. The Chiefs are on the clock.

Spieth told me: “Right away, Sean said, ‘Watch. Andy Reid knows. He’s gonna take Mahomes.’”

Andy Reid: Alex Smith knew we wanted QB
Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid explains the thought process behind drafting quarterback Patrick Mahomes and how Alex Smith's mindset hasn't changed.

“Which,” Payton told me, “was really not bad for us, because we had a need for Marshon Lattimore, and he turned out to be a very good player for us.”

Veach had thought what he was going to say or text to Mahomes, who he’d gotten close to, and agent Chris Cabott, if the Kansas City was able to draft him. Veach and Cabott had talked for 94 straight days, and Veach knew Mahomes wanted to come to the team. Four reasons: stable offensive-minded coach, stable ownership, the chance to work with a mentor-type QB in Smith and the prospect of coming to a good (24-11 the previous two years) team with a strong base of talent.

So Veach, as Kansas City prepared to announce the drafting of Mahomes with the 10th pick, group-texted Mahomes and his agent the Texas Tech logo.

Then the announcement: Kansas City chose Mahomes 10th overall, with the pick just acquired from Buffalo.

Payton texted Dorsey a one-word expletive.

That’s the draft. Regret in New Orleans. Shock in Arizona. “I was stunned,” Arians said. “I figured they were a playoff team with a good quarterback in Alex Smith. I thought Pat was gonna fall to us.”

“Obviously, it worked out for us,” Veach said Friday night from Kansas City after leaving draft meetings at the team’s facility. No rest for the champions.

Chiefs GM defends drafting Patrick Mahomes
Chiefs GM Brett Veach talks about his new role and defends selecting Patrick Mahomes despite having a veteran quarterback in Alex Smith.

All along, Kansas City figured it’d be smart to move ahead of New Orleans at 11. Trading to seven was out of the question (Chargers wouldn’t trade within the division); trading to eight with Carolina was impossible, because the Panthers were stuck on picking Christian McCaffrey if he was there. At nine, well, the Bengals had a history of keeping their high picks, and Cincinnati sent word it was staying put. That left number 10. Buffalo.

Said Veach: “I think a combination of a couple things worked in our favor. It’s not easy to move from 27 to 10. But Buffalo, at 10, just had a coaching change, and there’s a good chance they wanted picks to put some pieces together. Plus, what helped us is the teams that might have taken Pat were at 11, 12, 13, and so if we could get to 10, that seemed like a good spot to pick Patrick.

“Also, I think the element of surprise was working in our favor. I don’t think many people were expecting us to pick him.”

No one knew what Kansas City had, and the reviews on the pick were mixed. “Calling Mahomes a project is a major understatement,” USA Today wrote in its first-round draft grade. “He’s nowhere near ready to play in the NFL. And, honestly, he may never be.” The paper wasn’t alone. Anyone who says now that it was clear from the beginning Kansas City made a great pick is lying.

But there are three points I think are important to realize on the Mahomes story. One: Teams should listen to their scouts in the run-up to the draft. But if your coach has a quarterback pedigree, that coach has to be the dominant voice in the room. Why is he there if he’s not? Two: We all know now that what makes Mahomes Mahomes is his ethos. He’d cut off his left pinky to win. He’s the latter-day Brady in that way. And that is so, so important. Three: Kansas City drafted Mahomes with a rock-solid plan—sit behind Alex Smith in year one, soak in everything from a great tutor and good player, work on mechanics, learn the NFL. Mahomes would not play the first year—in fact, he started one late-season game, and that was it—and he was fine with that.

I’ve relayed this story a couple of time this fall, but it bears repeating, because this is what you want in your quarterback, in the leader of your team. I was in Frankfurt for NBC to see Kansas City struggle to a 21-14 win over Miami, with one of the TDs a defensive score. I spoke to Mahomes on camera on the field post-game for “Football Night in America,” and he told me: “We’re gonna get this offense figured out, I promise you, and we’ll be a hard team to beat.” Fine. In the locker room, I found Mahomes and fist-bumped him to say thanks for his time out on the field. Unprompted, he said: “Believe me—we will figure out this offense. No doubt in my mind.”

Mahomes: Chiefs 'will find a way' on offense
Patrick Mahomes speaks to Peter King after Kansas City's win against the Miami Dolphins, crediting the defense for their effort and discussing what is ailing the offense.

Did they? Somewhat. This season was Kansas City’s worst offensive output in the Mahomes era. The team’s 21.8 points per game was 15th in the league. That rose to 23.8 in the playoffs, but still—this was an offense that needed every last bit of greatness from Mahomes to win a third Super Bowl in the last five seasons. They got it.


Almost seven years later, what happened to each team that played a large or small part in the Mahomes draft-night story:

Buffalo retains one piece of the trade, cornerback Tre’Davious White. The Bills packaged extra picks to move up to choose wideout Zay Jones in 2017, then linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Jones caught just 90 balls in three Buffalo seasons, while Edmunds played five effective seasons for the Bills before moving to Chicago in free-agency last year. The team got its franchise quarterback, Josh Allen, in the 2018 draft.

New Orleans got four more high quality seasons out of Brees before he retired after the 2020 season. If Mahomes got drafted here, would Brees’ Saints’ career have been cut short? We’ll never know. Lattimore, a four-time Pro Bowler, has given the Saints 90 quality games at corner, though he’s missed 17 games the last two years with injuries.

Cleveland could have had Watson 12th overall in 2017, but traded the pick to Houston and then had to pay a ransom in picks and guaranteed money to get Watson via trade in 2022; jury’s out on whether Watson will be the player the Browns paid for. The quarterback Cleveland picked instead, Baker Mayfield (first overall pick, 2018), had one very good year (and one huge playoff win at Pittsburgh), but his tenure fizzled after four seasons.

Arizona lost out on the quarterbacks in 2017 and picked a pass-rusher, Haason Reddick, who had one good year out of four with the Cards before leaving in free agency for Carolina. The Cards used the top pick in 2019 on quarterback Kyler Murray.

The teams at 7, 8 and 9—the L.A. Chargers, Carolina, Cincinnati—got their quarterbacks in the coming seasons, at or near the top of the draft: Justin Herbert (2020), Bryce Young (2023) and Joe Burrow (2020), respectively. Burrow’s been the best, clearly, but he’s also missed 13 games with injuries in his four years.

And the others that passed on Mahomes—Chicago, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Tennessee and the Jets—have had their share of quarterback misadventures over the past seven years. Drafting quarterbacks might be the most inexact science in all of sports. But the nine teams that passed on Mahomes on April 27, 2017, will remember the night for a long, long time.

Chiefs' Mahomes subtly trolls Bears in win
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes still hasn't forgotten that he went 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, behind Mitchell Trubisky, who he beat on Sunday Night Football.

Spagnuolo, mastermind

I hate overrating and overstating coaching jobs by individuals, because players have to carry out the plans, and good players can make coaches look great. But watching this game, you see, at crucial times, KC rushers in on Brock Purdy in a split-second, and you know that’s the imprint of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He and his staff read offensive lines and protection schemes by endless study, and they figure what these lines will do if confronted with different scenarios, and they figure ways to capitalize on those movements. Think of this: Kansas City defenders recorded more unblocked pressures this year than any team in football. And, per Next Gen Stats, KC had a season-high nine of them in the Super Bowl. Imagine that: The Niners had two weeks to plot and scheme to be sure they could block up Spagnuolo’s many different rushes—and still we saw Chris Jones and Trent McDuffie, at crucial times, come free and erase what could have been huge, game-changing plays.

The game reminded me in many ways of the Giants’ 17-14 win over previously 18-0 New England in Super Bowl 42. Think of the Giants, famous and unfamous, coming free to harass Tom Brady in that game. Kawika Mitchell, Barry Cofield, Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Jay Alford. In the KC Super Bowl, it was not just Chris Jones and George Karlaftis, it was Leo Chenal and Mike Danna and Mike Pennel and Nick Bolton and Trent McDuffie. The Giants’ D in that 2007 Super Bowl held New England 23 points below its season-average in points. The Kansas City D this season held the Niners to seven points below average—10, if you count four quarters and not OT. I have no idea what the franchise paid Spagnuolo when he re-signed with the team last week, but he is exceedingly worth whatever it is.

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Pro Football Talk reacts to the Chiefs signing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to a contract extension after becoming the first coordinator to win four Super Bowls.

Over the phone Saturday, Spagnuolo relived and compared and got a little emotional about the game, and about his first Super Bowl 16 years ago.

“You are bringing chills to me right now,” Spagnuolo told me, as he got away to Florida for a few days off. “The hair on my neck’s standing up. Danna, Chenal, [Justin] Reid, we don’t talk about them as much as we should, and they are so worthy. When you bring up multiple names like that, it tells me these guys played very unselfishly, as a unit.

“And wow, that Giants team. You’re right. Same thing. Kavika Mitchell, Jay Alford, Sam Madison, everybody playing a role along with the big names. I hadn’t thought about that ’07 win over the Patriots, but it was the same thing. The number one glue guy on that defense was Antonio Pierce, the middle of the defense. Look where he is now—coach of the Raiders. That’s so great for him. And the glue guy for us is our guy in the middle of the defense, Nick Bolton.

“Let me tell you a story about the game, and about Nick. Remember the third-and-[five] play for San Francisco with about 2:20 to play in the fourth quarter? They got the ball [at the KC 35-yard line], and I make a call that’s basically the same call that Chris Jones got the third-down pressure on Purdy in overtime—a pressure with four linemen. But now San Francisco lets the clock run down to the two-minute warning. I’m thinking, this is a fourth-down play. I look down at the fourth-down call sheet, and I see a play I like.

“We got some time. I get on the headset, and I ask Nick, ‘What do you think about this play?’ I tell him—it’s a play with max DBs and only two defensive linemen, with Trent McDuffie blitzing. I see Nick nodding his head. He likes the play. So I change it. We change personnel. But that’s the thing about Nick—we’ve built up this trust. I trust him, he trusts me. When he nodded, I knew it was the right call.”

This resulted.

McDuffie came through unblocked, arms up, and deflected a hurried pass from Purdy. Incomplete. Niners settled for a field goal. Mahomes had 1:53 to drive for a tying field goal. Then, of course, overtime.

Isn’t it interesting that Spagnuolo wants input from his defensive play-caller on what was, to that point, the biggest play of the season? Same thing with Andy Reid, who invites ideas. This franchise is not a democracy, but in terms of play-calling, it’s a meritocracy. All ideas welcome, and the best ones get used.

SB 58, re-watched

Notable notes after watching Super Bowl LVIII twice over the past few days:

Man, what a close game. In my notebook in the press box, I noted from the live stats, with 8:00 left in overtime:

Score: Niners 19, KC 19.

Total yards: Niners 382, KC 380.

Turnovers: Niners 2, KC 2.

Watching the tape, it reminded me of what Andy Reid told me post-game: “It’s about as close a game as I’ve been in.” The two teams ping-ponged their mistakes. Christian McCaffrey fumbled it away at the KC 27—on the first series of the first quarter; Isiah Pacheco fumbled it away at the Niners’ eight—on the first series of the second quarter. Patrick Mahomes threw a pick on the first series of the third quarter. Jake Moody had a PAT blocked on the first series of the fourth quarter. You might think: sloppy game. It really wasn’t. What it was, was great theater.

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Peter King reacts to Super Bowl LVIII, where the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers thrilling fashion to win their third championship in five seasons.

Mahomes, slithery. I must’ve said five times as the rush closed in on Mahomes: They got him here. Nope. With how many times he got legit pressured, it’s amazing he got sacked only three times. It’s telling that Nick Bosa had zero sacks but 10 pressures and was ohsoclose three or four times. I find this amazing, too, about Mahomes: For the playoffs, he was sacked only five times in 154 pass drops (and probably 15 more when he scrambled to evade pressure). If you’re going down only five times in the playoffs in maybe 170 drops against four playoff foes—sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th in the league in 2023 regular-season team defense—that’s one heck of an escape act. There are so many things that make Mahomes the greatest in the league right now, but certainly a big one is his elusiveness—and not just being able to get away, but being able to make a play once he does.

Fatal 49er error. After watching the Niners’ third-and-four snap from the Kansas City nine- midway through overtime maybe 20 times, I still can’t believe what I saw. The offensive line, specifically right guard Spencer Burford and perhaps right tackle Colton McKivitz, allowed KC tackle Chris Jones to walk through the guard/tackle gap and make quarterback Brock Purdy throw the ball away on the most important play of the game for the Niners’ offense. A colossal mistake. A play that will live in San Francisco infamy. Here’s why: Clearly this was a passing down, and Jones had to be accounted for, perhaps with two blockers. No one blocked him. At the snap of the ball, McKivitz put a passive left arm on Jones, seemingly passing him off to Burford. But Burford inexplicably turned to his left to team with the center and left guard to block linebacker Nick Bolton and tackle Tershawn Wharton. Such a fateful decision, three interior lineman on a tackle and linebacker while the best player on the KC front was unblocked.

“I should have just played within the scheme,” Burford told Bay Area reporters. “I played on instinct. It was my fault.” Played on instinct. What possible instinct would have told Burford to not block one of the top three defensive tackles in football? It’s baffling. No play should dog the Niners as much this off-season as this one, because

Fatal error II. While Jones took a free run at Purdy, at the right of the formation, Niners wideout Jauan Jennings was jousting with Kansas City cornerback Jaylen Watson. Jennings got free of Watson and had two steps on him, turning to wheel into the end zone—but a millisecond after he broke free, Purdy, about to be smothered by Jones, had to throw it beyond Jennings into the end zone. Just no time. There is no question if Jones had been blocked, Purdy would have had a shot at his second TD pass of the game to the former seventh-round pick from Tennessee. Assuming Moody would have made the PAT (no lock), Kansas City would have gotten the ball at its 25-yard line knowing it needed a touchdown.

Weird kicking history. Jake Moody, in the game’s 16th minute, kicked the longest field goal in the 58-game history of the Super Bowl, from 55 yards. Harrison Butker, in the game’s 40th minute, kicked the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, from 57 yards. So Moody’s record lasted about 100 minutes, in real time.

About Shanahan’s decision to take the ball in OT. I understand one part of the criticism leveled at Shanahan about taking the ball to start overtime. Many of his players say they didn’t know the new overtime rules, and so if they’d scored a TD on the first possession, they could have gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty that would have shortened the field for Mahomes. That’s bad. But last week, I talked to one team analytics guy on background and to Keegan Abdoo of Next Gen Stats. Neither had a problem with Shanahan’s decision—they both felt it was nearly a tossup whether to take the ball or kick.

“We went through the analytics,” Shanahan said post-game, “and we just decided we wanted the ball third.” So if the teams were scoreless on the first two drives of OT, or if they matched field goals, or if they matched TDs and PATs, San Francisco would get the ball third, and a field goal would win the Super Bowl.

Shanahan's OT coin flip decision was 'complicated'
Mike Florio and Chris Simms highlight the pros and cons of Kyle Shanahan's 'complicated decision' to start Super Bowl LVIII's overtime with the ball.

There are two things people have ignored in lighting up Shanahan: One, his defense played 39 snaps in the second half and had recently left the field after an 11-play KC drive to tie the game with three seconds left in regulation. The defense was gassed. Two, interesting note from Lindsay Jones of The Ringer. She quoted Chris Jones as saying they’d have gone for two if a TD on the second possession left them trailing by one. And of course you like Mahomes’ chances to convert, right? However, did you know Mahomes hadn’t tried a two-point conversion in KC’s last 108 quarters of football? [More about this in Factoidness, below.] That should be factored in.

I asked an independent analyst who consults with five NFL teams, Mike McRoberts of Championship Analytics, his opinion about the decision. “I thought it was almost a tossup,” McRoberts said. “Gun to my head, I would have done what Kyle did. Whoever designed this rule did a good job, because the outcome should not be determined by the coin flip, and each team gets at least one full possession. It’s not gimmicky at all.”

Re: Jauan Jennings’ passback TD to Christian McCaffrey. I lit up Spencer Burford for his missed block on Chris Jones in OT, but give him credit for erasing Nick Bolton, and credit to Colton McKivitz for diverting defensive end George Karlaftis as Christian McCaffrey ran to the end zone.

Trent McDuffie and Nick Bosa were huge in this game. They shared my Defensive Player of the Week award last week, and watching the tape put two exclamation points on that call. The 10-pressure game had to be the best of Bosa’s post-season career, if not his entire career, and he made other plays, too—smothering Clyde Edwards-Helaire in a brutal takedown for no gain at the two-minute warning of the first half. McDuffie had two unblocked pressures of Brock Purdy, which says something about the genius of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but also something about the instincts of McDuffie. Per Next Gen Stats, for the year, including playoffs, McDuffie had 16 unblocked quarterback pressures—five more than any DB in football.

Too many low snaps by KC center Creed Humphrey. He’s lucky Mahomes is nimble and none of the snaps came back to haunt the winners.

The energy of Christian McCaffrey. Whew. In overtime, on his 27th touch of the game, McCaffrey took a swing pass to the left from a heavily pressured Purdy and looked to run upfield, with safety Mike Edwards waiting to shove him out of bounds. This probably should have been a three- or four-yard gain. Instead, McCaffery, on his 68th snap of the biggest game of his career, high-stepped/juked Edwards, leaving him in the dust as he sprinted up the left sideline. Gain of 24. McCaffery (30 touches, 80 yards rushing, 80 yards receiving) played his absolute best when his best was required.

Terrific stereo punting. KC’s Tommy Townsend and San Francisco’s Mitch Wishnowsky with the same stat line: five punts, 254 yards, 50.8 yards per boot. Townsend with zero yards in returns and the fateful punt off the leg of Niner special-teamer Darrell Luter Jr. that turned into seven points for the winners.


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

This week, I go back to 2010, to my visit to the Bedford, Mass., lab of Dr. Ann McKee, an associate professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University and the foremost authority of the effect of chronic traumatic encephalopathy on deceased football players. She showed me slides of two dead ex-players whose brains had been donated for study. I looked a cross-section of the brain of Lou Creekmur, who played 10 years in the NFL in the fifties and was a first-team all-pro lineman six times, then the brain of Wally Hilgenberg, a 15-year NFL vet, a key cog in the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters defense. I wrote in Sports Illustrated for our cover the next week:

This slide of a cross-section of a human male brain, magnified 100 times, showed scores, maybe hundreds, of tiny brownish triangular bits of a toxic protein called tau, choking off cellular life in the brain.

“This is Louis Creekmur,” said McKee. “You can see there are hardly any areas untouched by the damage. Like with Wally Hilgenberg, it is widespread in Louis Creekmur. I would call it incredible chaos in the brain. Louis was demented when he died.”

This was October 2010, when Rutgers player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from a hit in a game in New Jersey, when the NFL had just issued new, strict prohibitions on helmet-to-helmet hits and issued huge fines to James Harrison of the Steelers and Brandon Meriweather of the Patriots for flagrant hits on ballcarriers. The players were ticked off at the league, big-time. Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark called it “a sad day for the sport” that the league was turning Harrison into “a villain.” Those comments have not aged well. In 2011, ex-Chicago safety Dave Duerson killed himself with a shot to the chest so his brain could be studied; CTE was found. In 2013, Junior Seau also died by self-inflicted shot to the chest; CTE was found in his brain, too.

I believe the NFL’s stonewalling in making payouts to clearly afflicted former players for brain trauma is shameful, and have written as much. But the attempts to take helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game are good for the sport’s future. Good, too, are the efforts of Dr. Ann McKee’s research and with former Harvard player Chris Nowinski’s excellent work with the Concussion Legacy Foundation. It’s important that the league have watchdogs.

40-For-40: Inside the NFL's turning point on CTE
As Peter King commemorates covering his 40th NFL season, he reflects on 2010, which he believes is when the league got serious on the issue of head trauma in games.

Quotes of the Week


From total joy to primal fear, in just a few seconds. That’s what it was like.
Kansas City GM Brett Veach, on the horror when the Super Bowl victory celebration turned tragic with a mass shooting Wednesday.


He looks like a kid playing at recess. All the different throwing motions, just having so much fun. The coolest thing for me is he’s such a different style of quarterback from Tom Brady, who is so methodical. Mahomes and Josh Allen, they’re like kids playing ball on the playground. It’s great to watch.
Jordan Spieth, famous golfer, on Patrick Mahomes, famous quarterback.


We’ve never seen a match point overcome in the Super Bowl. That’s the first match point in the history of the Super Bowl.
Sean Payton, referring to Kansas City’s fourth-and-one play in overtime, with the Niners leading 22-19. If Mahomes got stopped, San Francisco would have won. Mahomes ran for eight yards.


It just ended up not being the right fit. It hurt for me to do this, but that’s exactly why I had to.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, on firing defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. Instead of installing his own defense last offseason in San Francisco, Wilks attempted to coach the Niners’ incumbent scheme, though he’d never coached a defense like it before.


I always dreamed about being the head coach at Boston College. My career has taken some twists and turns, and taken me down roads I never could have imagined, but as I stand here today, I couldn’t be more grateful that the road has finally taken me to Boston College.
Bill O’Brien, former head coach of the Texans and assistant with New England and at Alabama, on taking the coaching job in his home state.


The way that we live is not for everybody. We’re gonna run and put our bodies on people in a violent manner.
New Washington defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr.

Numbers Game

NFL: Super Bowl LVIII-San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs

Feb 11, 2024; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) is pressured by Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) in the second half in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In these playoffs, Super Bowl champion Kansas City faced the league’s second, third, fourth and sixth teams in regular-season points scored this season. Miami, San Francisco, Baltimore and Buffalo, collectively, averaged 28.3 points a game this season. Miami, Buffalo, Baltimore and San Francisco averaged 16.5 points a game against Kansas City in the playoffs.



It’s likely if San Francisco scored a touchdown to start overtime and Kansas City scored a touchdown on its possession, KC would have gone for two to try to win the game right there.

Sudden death in Super Bowl LVIII. One play for the Lombardi.

You’ve got to think you’d like Patrick Mahomes’ chances to get two yards there, right? Of course. Except Kansas City had gone the previous 26 games without converting a two-point play after touchdown. (They were 0 for 1 on two-point tries on those 26 games, the only attempt coming on Jan. 1, 2023, when holder Tommy Townsend fumbled a snap on a PAT and failed to run it in.) You’ve got to go back 27 games, to week 15, 2022, to the last called and successful two-point play for Kansas City—a pass from Mahomes to Jerick McKinnon at Houston.

So I understand the smart money would have been on Mahomes to covert the two-pointer with the Super Bowl on the line. But are you sure? It’d mean Mahomes would be doing something he hadn’t done in Kansas City’s previous 108 quarters: convert a two-point play.


Just look at the 43-season resume of Steve Spagnuolo. It’s dizzying. It starts in 1981 in Amherst, Mass.:

UMass (2 seasons, grad assistant) Washington NFL team (1 season, personnel intern) Lafayette College (3 seasons, DL coach, special-teams coach) UConn (5 seasons, DB coach, then defensive coordinator) Barcelona, World League (1 season, DL coach, special-teams coach) Maine (2 seasons, DB coach, then defensive coordinator/LB coach) Rutgers (2 seasons, DB coach) Bowling Green (2 seasons, DB coach) Frankfurt Galaxy, World League (1 season, defensive coordinator/LB coach) Philadelphia Eagles (8 seasons, defensive assistant, then DB coach, then LB coach)

Pause for a moment. It’s the end of the 2006 season now. Spagnuolo is 47. He’s been an assistant coach for 26 years. Three countries, eight states. And he’s never been an NFL coordinator or head coach. I just wonder: What must he be thinking? I did my time in Easton, Pa.; Storrs, Conn.; Bowling Green, Ohio; Orono, Maine; Piscataway, N.J.; when I am going to finally climb the ladder? Tom Coughlin, Giants’ coach, to the rescue. Coughlin hired him to be his coordinator with the Giants in 2007, and that’s the year they shocked the world by dethroning the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl, in large part due to Spagnuolo’s defense. Continuing:

New York Giants (2 seasons, defensive coordinator) St. Louis Rams (3 seasons, head coach) New Orleans Saints (1 season, defensive coordinator) Baltimore Ravens (2 seasons, senior defensive assistant, then DB coach) New York Giants (3 seasons, defensive coordinator, then interim head coach) Kansas City (5 seasons, defensive coordinator).

That, folks, is a football life right there.

“Until I hear you rattle it off,” Spagnuolo said, “I forget all the stops. We’re all a product of all of our experiences. Thank God for me I was able to get to all of those places. We can’t all be Geno Auriemma, one place forever. I think there’s great value in moving around when you’re a young coach. In fact, I just told some of our young defensive coaches early in their career that it’s really important to move around. Let as many people as possible see what you’re about. As time goes on, people will remember you’re a good coach. John Harbaugh, Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid—I had guys who knew me in my coaching life who were confident in me and gave me a chance.”

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills

Jan 21, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Kansas City head coach Andy Reid (left) with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo against the Buffalo Bills for the 2024 AFC divisional round game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

King of the Road

I have pneumonia. Many of you have sent along thoughts/remedies about my incessant cough over the past two months. As it turns out, it was about at its peak the weekend of the game. And when I had to climb four or five steep flights to the press box at Allegiant Stadium around noon Sunday, that basically cooked me. A couple of writer friends, Sam Farmer and Nicki Jhabvala, saw me and had the presence of mind to tell the NFL’s VP of communications, Brian McCarthy, I was having trouble breathing. He sent two physicians for Medical Sports Group, a team of medics the league uses at the Super Bowl, Dr. Eric Ossman and Dr. Ricardo Martinez, to look at me. Good men. Calm and smart. They suggested we go into a nearby stairwell so I could be examined. Along came an EMT, Michael Campos from the Las Vegas Fire Department. Amazing what you can accomplish in a stairwell. They took my vitals, and then I unbuttoned my shirt and Campos and an aide did an EKG. All were good, but they didn’t like the sound of my cough and said I should go to a hospital. I said I would—after I finished writing at 2:30 or so in the morning. So they gave me a breathing treatment (albuterol) to open my airways a bit, and they did it again at halftime. That’s how I experienced a muffled Usher—with a plastic breathing tube in my mouth.

Writing post-game was arduous. Capital A. I left a lot in the notebook, but that’s how life goes sometimes.

Then, at about 3:15 a.m, Vegas time, videographer Annie Koeblitz, editor Sarah Hughes and I got in the car at the media center and picked up my wife Ann at our hotel. We drove to Elite Medical Center’s emergency room nearby. The chest X-ray didn’t show pneumonia. But the emergency-room doc, Dr. Courtney Downes, didn’t like how I sounded. She ordered a CT scan. An hour later, she told me, “You’ve got pneumonia in both lungs.” I had the strangest reaction: I was happy. Ridiculously fatigued, but happy. After not knowing for weeks what this demon was, now I had a diagnosis.

So that’s why I was invisible last week—no podcast, no PFT appearance on Friday. Other than writing this column, I’ve been drowning myself in tea with honey, taking short walks with the dog, and just being. I’m probably 50 percent better already. My thanks to everyone for their concern, to McCarthy for dispatching medical help, and to the medical professionals for being proactive and thoughtful. I’m grateful to all.


Reach me at

Please don’t let the coaches read this. From Peter McCarthy of Ireland: “Only two coaches out of six have won a Super Bowl after driving to work with Peter King (Doug Pederson, Andy Reid). Last three have lost. Next year, take the bus.


Adam’s right, and I’ve got to take the heat for this. From Adam Kaelin: “I don’t deny Mahomes or Reid’s greatness, but I have a hard time believing that you would completely ignore KC’s defense like this. They played a great game and kept the Chiefs in it in the first half while the offense did nothing and then held San Francisco to a field goal in OT.”

Guilty as charged, Adam. I’m going to tell you how Sunday went. Some of it will sound like excuse-making, but this is what happened. Before the game, I had secured agreements with the two head coaches to spend a few minutes with them in their offices post-game with my videographer, Annie Koeblitz, to talk about how the game was won or perhaps about one game-winning play. Obviously, I could have adjusted. In a normal feeling-good state of health, I might have. But when Mahomes drove his team the length of the field in OT and won the Super Bowl and the MVP, after the most uneven season by the KC offense by far in his pro career, I thought the offense was a good story—particularly when I saw the final play of the game, the play that reprised my “Corn Dog” story from last year. So I stuck with Mahomes and Reid on their post-game interviews, knowing that I’d be with Reid. During the game, I’d felt weak as a kitten, and now, late at night, to think of doing more than I had scheduled was daunting. Could I have written some about the defense? Yes, and I should have. That’s my fault. However, as the night went on, all I could think of was not “cover more worthy topics.” It was, “Man, just get this done.” And three hours after the column was posted, I was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs. That’s the whole story.

Disagrees with Hamlin as CPOY. From Dylan Harper: “To suggest a guy that did NOTHING on the football field should get Comeback Player of the Year is absurd. It does not matter what his health was to overcome. What matters is what you do on the field. Do better. You used to be such a good NFL reporter, but you really are becoming such a disappointment with your opinions. It makes me very sad.”

“It does not matter what his health was to overcome.” Well, wow is all I can say to that. Dylan, “Comeback Player” is not defined by the Associated Press; voters can pick any player coming back from anything. I think coming back from a near-death experience, even by playing just 111 plays this season, beats any comeback. You disagree. Life goes on.

Hamlin has emotional postgame moment in Cincinnati
As the Sunday Night Football Final crew wrap up the show, they notice Damar Hamlin taking a moment by himself on the field at Paycor Stadium.

Doesn’t think Devin Hester should be in the Hall. From Paul, of Victoria, British Columbia: “I doubt any kicker, punter or special-teamer would even be worth one first-round pick. What would Hester be worth on the trade market at his zenith in 2007? Maybe a second- or third-round choice. Nobody enters the baseball Hall of Fame because he was the best base stealer, pinch hitter, etc. (Hester’s) eleven return touchdowns in two years, to me, isn’t enough to displace players who made much more impact on the game playing far more plays every game for many more years.”

It’s a good argument, Paul. The way I feel is that the best returner ever—which I think Hester is—deserves a bust in Canton. I also feel a great special-teamer like Steve Tasker belongs. Value is a funny thing. You’re probably right. Would Hester have been worth a first-rounder to any team back in 2008? Would Adam Vinatieri have been worth a first-rounder to anyone after he won the snow-globe playoff game in Foxboro against the Raiders, or after he won the first two New England Super Bowls with field goals? Maybe not. But their value to their teams? Look at it this way: The Bears’ first-round pick in 2008 was tackle Chris Williams, who started 38 games with them over three seasons. The Patriots’ first-rounder after Vinatieri’s heroics in their first Super Bowl season was tight end Dan Graham, who caught 120 passes in five Patriot seasons. Hester clearly had more value to the Bears than Chris Williams. Vinatieri clearly had more value to the Patriots than Dan Graham. So it’s not an easy thing to measure exact value of specialists or part-time players.

On the overtime rules. From Bill Theede of Plano, Ill.: “NOBODY, including you, has questioned the clock running out in overtime and neither team, with multiple time outs left, calling one.”

Lots of people wrote, puzzled about Kansas City’s handling of the clock at the end of overtime. Think of the end of the first quarter, not the end of the only overtime period. The end of the first overtime was not necessarily the end of the game. If Kansas City had stalled on the three-yard line of San Francisco and time expired to end the quarter, the teams would have gone to the other end of the field and continued play to start the second period of overtime. So there was no need to use a timeout there.

John’s right. From John Fredrickson: “I subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, The Athletic and the San Jose Mercury News. Being a Niner fan, I’ve consumed most everything that’s been said about Super Bowl LVIII, and one thing that stands out about the reporting on this game is that very little, if anything, has been said about the officiating. Congratulations to Bill Vinovich and his crew for a job well done.”

So glad you made the point, John. It’s spot on. You know a game has been officiated well when no one’s talking about the men in stripes, and after this game, no one was.

Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 11: Referee Bill Vinovich #52 looks on prior to Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images)

Getty Images

On my no vote for Art Powell for the Hall of Fame. From Jack M. Silverstein: “Why did you vote against Art Powell?”

Good question. I should have explained. I think a receiver from the early AFL days, with some significant questions about the level of talent on teams throughout the league, needs to have a longer career than eight years (as a receiver). His stats were impressive in those eight seasons (478 catches, 8,015 yards, 81 TDs). Twice an AFL first-team all-pro in eight seasons His case didn’t scream Hall of Fame to me.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think there’s only one thing to say in the wake of the mass shooting at the Kansas City victory celebration Wednesday: Do something. Local and national leaders have to stop throwing their hands in the air—and have to stop taking campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association—and they must stop saying, There’s nothing we can do about gun violence. I don’t believe it. No sane person believes it. If we had the national will to do something about the gun issue in America, something would be done. But as children continue to get mowed down in schools across the country, it’s clear that, to millions, possessing powerful weapons is more important than children’s lives. If it comes out that the two juveniles detained so far had access to these killing machines, how possibly can we continue to justify their existence in the hands of Americans? Man, do something.

2. I think for anyone who still thinks Kansas City must have regrets for trading Tyreek Hill 22 months ago, I bring this stark reminder of how, when you have a great quarterback, it’s nice but not essential to have a franchise receiver: Kansas City, since trading Hill, has won the AFC West twice, won the AFC Championship twice, won the Super Bowl twice, is 7-0 in the playoffs, has averaged 25.6 points a game and has not had a 1,000-yard wide receiver.

3. I think this is what you need to know about the prospect of a Kansas City threepeat:

· Eight teams in the 58-year Super Bowl era have won back-to-back championships. None of the eight made the Super Bowl the following season.

· The NFL actually has had a team win three titles in a row. Green Bay won the NFL Championship Game in 1965 over Cleveland, the last year before Super Bowls began, and then won the first two Super Bowls. And before there was postseason football, Green Bay won the NFL by virtue of having the best regular-season record in 1929, 1930 and 1931.

· The last teams to win at least three straight titles in other major sports: NHL—Islanders (four), 1980-1983 NBA—Lakers (three), 2000-2002 MLB—Yankees (three), 1998-2000.

· So if Kansas City wins again in the 2024 season, it would be not only the first team to do it in the Super Bowl era, but also the first team in any major American sport to do it since 2002.

Chiefs begin quest for historic three-peat
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have a chance to separate themselves in the history books as they begin their quest for three straight Super Bowl titles.

4. I think Jimmy Garoppolo’s two-game PED suspension throws a wrench into his quarterbacking future, obviously. And while no one’s going to feel sorry for a guy who, per, has made $148.8 million in a nice but over-valued career, what team will take a shot on him as a starter when he’s on the street this off-season—knowing he’s out for the first two games? Pittsburgh, maybe?

5. I think, speaking of the Steelers, longtime beat man on the team Gerry Dulac reported the other day that the Steelers “are not interested in bringing in a quarterback who wants to be a starter.” Come again? In a division with Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson, the Steelers would actually choose to enter camp with Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph (should he sign in free agency with Pittsburgh)? That sounds like a colossal misjudgment of your quarterback position.

6. I think I was interested to read Kalyn Kahler’s story in The Athletic with the news that one of the biggest player agencies in the country, Athletes First, has advised its draft prospects this spring “to respectfully pass on participating in cognitive of psychological testing.” This follows the leaking of C.J. Stroud’s poor S2 score last year. (The S2 test measures an athlete’s ability to make fast decisions at game speed, and when Stroud’s score of 18 on a scale of 100 was reported by longtime football writer Bob McGinn in violation of the confidentiality of the test, many in the league were angered.) Good for Athletes First. I wouldn’t trust teams anymore, either.

7. I think this might be me with rabbit ears, because I think Brock Purdy’s a very good NFL quarterback, but stop with the piddly criticism of Purdy. Just stop. The Niners line let NINE pass-rushers in on him unblocked, including on two of the biggest plays of the game, and he finished 23 of 38 with no turnovers. Of course there are five or six throws he wishes he could have back, but for a guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders entering this game, and then to start 8-of-9, looking like he was playing in a May 7-on-7 drill, well, I found his poise to be pretty impressive on the big stage.

8. I think the new Patriots’ doc on Apple TV+, “The Dynasty,” reveals a lot about the frayed feelings between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but—and I have not seen it—apparently a lot about some of the hard feelings Robert and Jonathan Kraft had for Belichick, as well. Good example: Robert Kraft launched a $25-million fund to combat antisemitism in 2023. Belichick appeared at the league meetings with a blue-square pin denoting the Kraft cause—but instead of wearing the pin high on his shirt as most people would, he wore it down around his stomach. Maybe it was unintentional, but I doubt it. That’s the kind of thing that I’m sure ticked off the Krafts.

NFL: New England Patriots Press Conference

Jan 11, 2024; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (left) and Patriots former head coach Bill Belichick (right) and hold a press conference at Gillette Stadium to announce Belichick’s exit from the team. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

9. I think you might say, “Why wouldn’t the Krafts just let bygones be bygones and let old anger go away? Belichick made the franchise huge money and was a huge reason for the six Lombardis.” Well, that’s probably how I’d handle it. But I’d caution you to remember something. Belichick, in January 2000, did not want the job that he been bequeathed, the Jets’ head-coaching gig, because he had no respect for president Steve Gutman. Kraft wanted him—despite the fact that several people in the league office and with teams told him to stay a hundred miles away from Belichick. Kraft didn’t care. He ignored their advice and listened to himself, and he was right. But his decision was not without risk. Kraft knows Belichick’s never going to be warm and fuzzy, but a decent bit of gratitude and partnership would have been nice.

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

a. RIP, Alexei Navalny, dead at 47 in a frigid Russian prison above the Arctic Circle.

b. If you remember one thing about this hero, remember his quote why he went back to Russia in 2021 as the country’s foremost opponent of Vladimir Putin, knowing he would be arrested and perhaps killed: “I don’t want to give up either my country or my beliefs. I cannot betray either the first or the second. If your beliefs are worth something, you must be willing to stand up for them. And if necessary, make some sacrifices.” Navalny made the ultimate one.

c. No good segue from that.

d. Caitlin Clark Story of the Week: Matt McGowan, a student journalist for the Daily Iowan writing for, on the impact of Clark’s record.

e. Wrote McGowan of the atmosphere in the arena as Clark broke the NCAA scoring record:

In those few seconds between her ear-splitting shot and Michigan’s inbounds pass, Clark couldn’t help but embrace the atmosphere she created, flexing her once-self-described “scrawny” arms and letting out a roar. Whether it was one of joy, relief, or both, is up to interpretation.

But for Alaina Holmes, a middle-schooler and basketball player in attendance Thursday, its impact was undeniable. Clark would close out the contest with a career-best 49 points to go along with 13 assists and five rebounds. But for Holmes and many others, that 2:12 of play and this season in the spotlight extend Clark’s influence far beyond numbers in a box score.

“Just her confidence, how she can go out there and play in front of all those people and be fine with all the crowd, I think it really encourages her,” Holmes said. “I think that’s motivated me to be a lot more confident in the sport I play.”

Clark: 'We've got a lot more winning to do'
As Caitlin Clark celebrates her NCAA DI women's basketball scoring record with her teammates, head coach Lisa Bluder thanks Iowa's and Clark's fans -- before Clark says the team isn't nearly done yet.

f. I see Jay Williams of ESPN won’t call Caitlin Clark great until she wins a team championship. That means Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter in the history of baseball, was not great. And that Dan Marino, who retired with the most passing yards in the first 80 years of the National Football League, was not great. And that Dick Butkus, the most feared middle linebacker in NFL history, was not great. And that Ty Cobb, who won 12 batting titles and has the highest batting average in baseball history, was not great. And that Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Anthony Munoz, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone and Reggie Miller were not great.

g. Dude.

h. Quite an opinion. I don’t understand how anyone who watches sports can watch Caitlin Clark and think she’s not great.

i. Know who Andrew Beaton is? He covers the NFL for the Wall Street Journal, and he’s one of the most imaginative writers in America today. Please read him. I understand he’s behind a paywall, but if you see a Journal in your library or laying around some coffee shop, pick it up and look for Beaton stories.

j. Two examples: Beaton wrote about how Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy used baseball as a key piece of their football maturation. And he used Next Gen Stats to learn how, while the rest of the league was spreading formations wider and wider, the Niners were condensing theirs—the better to use unoccupied space outside the numbers. So interesting. I learn a. lot when I read Beaton’s stuff.

k. Good news: “Abbott Elementary” is back. I don’t watch a lot of TV shows others than news, “Jeopardy!”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” “Abbott” is fantastic. Watched the first two episodes the other night, and Quinta Brunson’s on her game again.

l. Jake (nephew of Clarence) Clemons saxing the National Anthem before the NHL Stadium Series game in New Jersey, at the Meadowlands, Saturday night? Just perfect.

m. Very cool: The Flyers arrived at the game wearing Rocky Balboa outfits from “Rocky”—the gray sweatshirts and towels around the neck, gray sweatpants and clack Converse high-tops. Perfect also.

n. And the Devils walked into the Meadowlands Saturday before the game wearing “Sopranos” sweatsuits. Someone at the NHL should get props for that.

o. Bada bing!

p. RIP, Lefty Driesell, 92, one of the most colorful basketball coaches in recent history. He coached Maryland’s men to prominence in the eighties at a time when the ACC was the hottest conference in the land. He started Midnight Madness on the first day of fall practice. Kelyn Soong of the Washington Post on the smart and hot-tempered Driesell.

q. Wrote Soong:

When a Sports Illustrated article described Maryland’s “helter-skelter offense,” Driesell sent a letter to the magazine with statistics to prove that his team ran an unselfish, disciplined offense.

“Once, after a particularly critical column,” Post sports columnist Ken Denlinger wrote in 1983, “Driesell charged me in the Terrapin dressing room, poked a finger in my chest and challenged me to a fight outside Cole Field House. It never came off.”

Mr. Driesell’s personality, for better and worse, was forged as a young man. While coaching high school basketball in his native Virginia, the affable and persuasive Mr. Driesell worked part time selling World Book encyclopedias door to door. He seldom took “no” for an answer — and was credited one year with selling more sets of encyclopedias than anyone else in the state.

r. Happy 71st birthday, June Jones.

s. Obit of the Week: Alex Williams of the New York Times, on the death of the founder of Bob’s Red Mill artisanal grain company, Bob Moore.

t. What made Moore’s food good—at least to me—is you knew you were eating good food that was also very good for you. The oatmeal takes maybe 15 minutes to make on the stove. Add half a teaspoon of honey, whatever fruit you’ve got on hand and a dash of almond milk (or whatever milk you’ve got), and that is a great, great breakfast.

u. Wrote Williams:

Founded in Milwaukie, Ore., in 1978, Bob’s Red Mill grew from serving the Portland area to become a global natural-foods behemoth, marketing more than 200 products in more than 70 countries. The company’s product line runs a whole-grain gamut, including stone-ground sorghum flour, paleo-style muesli and whole wheat-pearl couscous, along with energy bars and cake and soup mixes.

Over the years, the company profited handsomely from the nutrition-minded shift away from processed foods and grains.

“I think that people who eat white flour, white rice, de-germinated corn — in other words, grains that have had part of their nutrients taken away — are coming up short,” Mr. Moore said in 2017 in an interview for an Oregon State University oral history. “I think our diets, nationally, and international probably, show the fact that we just have allowed ourselves to be sold a bill of goods.”

Despite the company’s explosive growth, Mr. Moore fended off numerous offers by food giants to buy Bob’s Red Mill. He opted instead for an employee stock ownership plan, instituted in 2010, on his 81st birthday; by April 2020, the plan had put 100 percent of the company in the hands of its more than 700 employees.

“The Bible says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Mr. Moore, an observant Christian, said in discussing the plan in a recent interview with Portland Monthly magazine.

v. We’ll keep buying—at least I will.

w. I’d love to meet Dave Grohl, Foo Fighter, one day. Did you see what he did last week? Cooked for the homeless for 24 hours.

x. Story of the Week: ABC “World News Tonight” on the East Carolina baseball player, Parker Byrd, becoming the first player to play in a Division I game with a prosthetic leg.

y. All I can say is wow. And I’ll be checking the ECU box scores.

The Adieu Haiku

Repeat? Tough enough.
Threepeat? The Beatles were hot
last time that happened.

Peter King’s Lineup