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What If Tom Brady Wins The Super Bowl?

It’s the one story that transcends sports in a chaotic America: Brady defying time and health, one-upping Bill Belichick and entrenching himself as the G.O.A.T. as Drew Brees awaits Sunday in a collision of legends.

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Tom Brady

He already has won, of course, having conquered a daffy compulsion to play football at 43 when he should be booking his first prostate exam. Tom Brady has beaten conventional life wisdom, the unforgiving laws of health and age. He has one-upped Bill Belichick, who is absorbing his new fate as an also-ran and losing the argument that he was most responsible for the vanishing Patriot Way. He has hushed those of us who urged him to retire two years ago.

“It’s amazing,” said his coach, Bruce Arians, “because when you’re out there watching him, you’re like, this guy looks like he’s 30, maybe 33 at most.”

So in a biblical context, it isn’t imperative that Brady wins a Super Bowl next month. What overwhelms our senses is this: Never has an athlete of his acclaim and achievements, anywhere on this planet, performed at a higher level at a more advanced age in a team sport. I wouldn’t have acknowledged that as recently as mid-season, when he was throwing fits during defeats as Arians criticized him publicly. But we should have recognized those moments as Brady at work in his new laboratory, rehabbing the culture of a languishing franchise, demanding correction and perfection with an ultimate goal in mind.

It remains preposterous to think he’d move to Florida, as old people do, and lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That he’s positioned to do so, in a second act that once appeared ill-advised, only bolsters his stature as the greatest of all quarterbacks. Perhaps he ends up with nothing but a tan after the Saints are through with him this weekend in New Orleans, in an NFC divisional-round challenge against a defense that has whipped him twice and another senior quarterback, Drew Brees, who is writing his own final chapter. Yet have we allowed ourselves to ponder what it would mean to sportingkind if Thomas Edward Patrick Frigging Brady, on a February evening during a pandemic, won his seventh NFL championship?

Jesus, he might play until he’s 50.

“Come on, it’s Tom Brady,” Bucs running back Leonard Fournette said. “I ain’t gotta think too much about that. That’s the boy. We’ve got faith in him.”

Said Brees, pondering what will be his final game against Brady: “I guess it was inevitable.”

Contrary to reports, the game will be on Fox, not the History Channel.

If Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth was a Florida myth, the rejuvenation of Brady is legitimate. Reduced to dinks and dunks by Belichick in his final New England season, he has reclaimed his passing velocity and deep-ball arsenal in Arians’ risk-taking attack. With weapons everywhere, from Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to old friend Rob Gronkowski, Brady has bombed away for 42 touchdown passes — 12 in his last 12 quarters, when he has amassed 1,448 yards. His average pass is traveling 9.2 yards past the line of scrimmage, compared to 7.1 in 2019. He is playing more dynamically than the 41-year-old Brees, who suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung this season and wisely is headed to an NBC studio. Every time Brady breathes or burps, he is establishing some sort of new postseason record, to the point the networks are redundant when showing another graphic.

Naturally, he isn’t close to being happy. After the Bucs eased off the gas against Washington, allowing emergency quarterback Taylor Heinicke to stay close and win a Twitter following, Brady was mopey after a 31-23 victory. Not until he reaches a mass Zoom interview at Raymond James Stadium, first Tuesday of next month, would he talk openly about his latest life and career triumphs — about finding new success beyond Belichick with a team known mostly for its end-zone pirate ship. It’s possible he won’t talk about it then.

After all, what is left to say? The man who has accomplished everything is accomplishing more. You’re almost afraid to stare at him too long, thinking he’ll reveal himself as an android. Vegas has established the over-under for projected Brady smiles this postseason at two. We’ve yet to see the first one.

“You’d love to play great every game. I think it’s good to win and advance,” Brady said. “But if we don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy. We’re going to have to go play great football.

“We hit some big plays, made some chunks. I think just not scoring enough in the red (zone) was the thing that bothers us, missed a two-point play, had other opportunities to score but just didn’t quite take advantage. We moved the ball OK. I think we had decent yardage. But at the end of the day, it comes down to points, and we’ve gotta do a better job scoring more points — and we’ll work on that next week.”

This is a sports story worth following because it transcends sports. It’s a tale as old as life itself, about a man defying time and nature. As Tony Romo, who retired from NFL quarterbacking at 36, said on the CBS broadcast Sunday: “I’m 40, but my body’s like 117.” Any basic playoff game shouldn’t interest us much with America in a deep existential crisis, other than how the Cleveland Browns — amid a COVID-19 heap that left them without coach Kevin Stefanski and several players — somehow stampeded the Steelers in Pittsburgh and made a desperate wreck of 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger. Notice how I’m not writing about the Bills Mafia, the Rams’ defense, Lamar Jackson’s first playoff win or the Ravens’ stomping of the Titans’ logo. Nor am I writing in depth today about the NBA’s inevitable COVID crisis, the solution for which is self-evident: The league should be shut down until teams follow protocols and field complete rosters for legitimate games and credible competition. The NBA announced it is staying the course, reflecting the bogus logic of Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose approach is why the coronavirus might never go away.

“I still say that until somebody’s going to the hospital, getting really, really sick … I think we’re still so unclear about what having the virus even means, other than you don’t want to spread it so we’ve got to pull you out of whatever you’re doing and isolate you and make sure you’re not spreading it around to anyone else,” Nurse said. “So I think that there’s still some part of that, even college football, or baseball, or NFL. I don’t recall hearing anyone being taken to the hospital, being gravely ill. So I still kind of stand on my same — I’m OK playing.” Thank goodness Nurse isn’t a real nurse.

The NFL continues to dodge a COVID nightmare, for now. After a so-called “Super Wild Card Weekend” — the league’s way of soft-marketing the somber necessity of a scattered season — Brady and Brees join the presumptive MVP, 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers, as stubborn old souls trying to fend off next-gen quarterbacks. We’re anticipating Patrick Mahomes surviving Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen the next two AFC weekends and facing Rodgers in the Super Bowl, yet Brady is the biggest angle of all until he loses. He likely won’t be lifting a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but none of the others have executed a one-season quick fix like him. Which means his story — and more importantly, his physical being — still would have legs heading into his age 44 season. It’s utter lunacy to speak of any athlete within this framework of longevity, much less a targeted man in a barbaric sport. But we just heard Washington’s Chase Young, who will terrorize quarterbacks into the 2030s, demand Brady’s hide, shouting last week, “Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom!”

Tom is still waiting. The mystique refuses to wane.

“His leadership is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Peyton Manning is the only thing close,” Arians said. “It’s a never-ending thing with him — the perfectionist, to get everything right in practice. Also, his calmness on the sideline in games when we’re not winning, saying ‘We’re going to win.’ Those type of things. You put those in a bottle and you make a bunch of money.”

And those constructive critiques that had us wondering if Brady would strangle him? “Any time you transition, a lot of things are different,” Brady said. “You get used to one way, one routine, and then everything is different. I feel like we have a great relationship. From the moment I got here, we’ve just had great dialogue and I certainly appreciate all the insight he gives me and the way he coaches and leads. It’s very open, honest dialogue about how we think, certainly how I can be most effective.”

Until he throws an interception. Certainly, the Bucs are far from the steely, methodical Patriots machine that Brady directed to the playoffs 17 times, with nine resulting in Super Bowl appearances. Arians always been a free-wheeling character, but he’s never played for a championship as a head coach. Brady’s offensive line has protected him well, but now he won’t have right guard Alex Coppa, who fractured an ankle. Evans is dealing with knee discomfort. And to rely on Antonio Brown in any substantial way is dangerous, given his penchant for trouble. The defense might break, too, having to deal with the razz-ma-tazz of Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Taysom Hill in the Superdome.

“I think we know what type of game that’s going to be,” said Brees, suggesting a Sunday night shootout for the ages — and the ageless. He added, “I don’t take it for granted. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity.”

The Brady uprising could crash, sure. And certain precincts would be glad because he isn’t viewed as an American treasure as much as a freak of nature. Some never will forgive him for his role in Deflategate, nor should they. While he’s a political agnostic these days, at least publicly, it wasn’t long ago when he was a Donald Trump friend wearing a MAGA hat. If LeBron James is the contemporary who has melded athletic greatness with historic activism, Brady is the TB12 cultist who thinks he can cure COVID-19 via holistic wellness. I can buy a jar of plant-based protein right now — “a digestible plant protein made from sustainable yellow field peas” — for $52 online.

Just asking: Does the NFL still test randomly for PEDs?

Even if he benefits from funny business involving his mysterious personal trainer, Alex Guerrero — and there is no evidence so far — Brady still is FORTY-THREE YEARS AND FIVE MONTHS OLD. And as he once commented on a social media post when it was suggested his retirement was imminent: “Cuarenta y cinco.” That would be 45, and if we chuckled at the idea then, it’s time to realize it’s happening.

A sports nation is fixated on a man who apparently wants to live forever.

Who are we to tell him otherwise?

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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