If Tom Brady wants to fight COVID-19 with whatever is in his TB12 medicine bag, as he has hinted, then we might as well let him try. Because any man who can make a country temporarily forget a raging pandemic could be capable of ending it, too. As we witness the unprecedented in sports and life — the sight of a 43-year-old legend cold-cocking Father Time and reaching yet another Super Bowl — it’s safe to draw some historic conclusions.
He was not the product of Bill Belichick’s system in New England. He did not need deflated footballs to throw 47 touchdown passes in a season. And if his so-called principles for sustained peak performance remain oddballish, from the goji berries to the electrolyte-infused water to the Himalayan pink salt, count me among legions of Americans heading to his website to load up.
To call him the greatest quarterback of all time seems hollow now. The new distinction: Brady is the first human being who might be correct in thinking he won’t die until he’s 130, if ever. Stretching the boundaries of age, health and sensibility in preposterous ways, he is mastering the art of leadership and winning in 2021 just as he did 10 and 20 seasons ago, when he launched the longest enduring championship run in American sports. We winced when he left the Patriots and the oppressive Belichick regime to join the often-mocked Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team with the pirate ship in the end zone. But at a stage in life when he should be making appointments to check his colon and prostate, Brady instead has a date with his 10th Super Bowl Sunday — with the first team ever to play for an NFL championship in its home stadium.
Is this happening? It is.
And even more absurd: He will duel Patrick Mahomes, his antithesis in every way — age, playing style, diet, hair, commercials — in a time warp described aptly by Tony Romo in the CBS broadcast booth. “It’s like LeBron and Jordan, playing in the Finals,” he said.
Except we expected Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to be here. Brady? The Buccaneers? By the pirate ship in a pandemic? With the Bucs practicing at home all week while the Chiefs fly in the day before kickoff? Somehow, it’s true, as 68-year-old coaching lifer Bruce Arians verified when asked what Brady has meant to what officially is known as Tompa Bay.
“This trophy! This trophy! The belief he gave everyone in this organization, that this could be done,” Arians said. “It only took one man. We’re coming home. And we’re coming home to win.”
As further confirmation this wasn’t a dream, there was Brady, pointing at the stands and grinning after the 31-26 victory over the Packers, asking a question of an usher at cold, barren Lambeau Field. “Can I say hi to my son?” he said. And coming down the stairs, with a hug, was his oldest son, 15-year-old Jack, who still was years from birth when Brady’s relationship with immortality began. When he said a few years ago that he wanted to play until age 45, it seemed ludicrous. Turned out we were the fools, not realizing how Belichick’s system had suppressed him and that he only needed weapons and a spirited defense to resume his own dynasty … while the one he left behind immediately slipped into non-playoff irrelevance.
The critics, the haters, Belichick — Brady has vanquished all of them, as usual, with three consecutive postseason road victories. This is a middle-aged man who could have been buried by the pandemic, by the hurried transition, by the uncertainty of it all. Instead, unlike other greats who switch uniforms in their twilight, he flourished under new circumstances.
“Well, this is the ultimate team sport,” Brady said of a decision that only burnishes his legacy. “I made a decision, and I love coming to work every day with this group of guys. We’ve had a lot of people work really hard over a long period of time to get to this point. To go on the road and win another road playoff game is just a great achievement.
“And now a home Super Bowl for the first time in NFL history, I think, puts a lot of cool things in perspective. Anytime you’re the first one doing something, that’s usually a pretty good thing. Now we’ve got to go have a great two weeks and be ready to go.”
He is not an old man. Rather, he is a vintage bottle of red who refuses to let go of the old school, a pocket passer continuing to prosper with savvy, brains, gumption and sweet deep throws when necessary. In that context, Super Bowl LV becomes an epic showdown of clashing styles — Brady the statue, clinging to his traditional paradigm, against Mahomes, the Next Gen magician with the $500 million contract. The new era of mobile playmakers already is in place, led by Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. And so much of the league’s quarterbacking landscape is disoriented — Watson and Matthew Stafford wanting to be traded, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers retiring, Carson Wentz in limbo, Ben Roethlisberger looking old, Trevor Lawrence and others arriving in the upcoming draft. How stirring to see Brady, in his 21st season, as the Jurassic World constant.
“I’m definitely older,” he said. “But I’m hanging in there.”
And now he has a chance to be the king of all kings, sealing his second act with a seventh championship. Does he have even one gray hair? All you need to know is that Brady vanquished the other quarterback who has defined the sport in recent times, Aaron Rodgers, who was done in Sunday by a coach who didn’t believe in him. Remember when the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round last spring? Remember when Rodgers used the snub as motivation for a sensational season and presumptive third league MVP award? That was forgotten when Matt LaFleur — facing 4th-and goal at the Tampa Bay 8, trailing 31-23 with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter — decided Rodgers wasn’t his best play. Meaning, LaFleur became Matt LeBlanc, as in shooting a blank. Armed with three timeouts, he chose to kick a field goal and rely on a defense that had made mistakes all afternoon, many by cornerback Kevin King, who wound up yanking the jersey of Bucs receiver Tyler Johnson for a pass-interference penalty that ended any chance of winning.
“Anytime it doesn’t work out, you always regret it, right?” LaFleur said. “It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the 2-point (conversion). The way I was looking at it was, we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning. … We’re always going to be process-driven here, and the way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do. It just didn’t work out.”
Said Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett: “If he could take it back, I’m sure he wouldn’t do it the next time. But I appreciate it.”
Now 1-4 in NFC championship games, Rodgers looked ashen. The other day, he referred to his latest adventure, at 37, as “a beautiful mystery.” Did his best chance to win his second Super Bowl just vanish in the Wisconsin chill?
“Just pretty gutted,” he said, devastated beneath his beanie.
And LaFleur’s call? “It wasn’t my decision,” said Rodgers, straining for diplomacy. “I understand the thinking with the two minutes and all of our timeouts. But it wasn’t my decision.”
To hear Rodgers, the “beautiful mystery” might even take an ugly turn out of Green Bay. He is signed through 2023, but he wonders if the Packers will add him to the growing list of quarterbacks on the trading block. If it seems unthinkable, maybe that’s what he wants. Imagine him with … the 49ers, in his native northern California? “(The Packers have) a lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain — myself included,” said Rodgers, who threw 48 scoring passes and only five interceptions in the regular season. “That’s what’s sad about it most — getting this far. Obviously, it’s going to be an end at some point, whether we make it past this one or not, but just the uncertainty is tough and the finality of it all.” Now hear this: Allowing Rodgers to leave, while still in his career prime, would be dumber than kicking the field goal.
With his regrettable call, LaFleur also was betting against Brady. While he and his receivers lost their touch in the second half, with three interceptions on successive plays, you never send Rodgers to the bench and put Brady back on the field. Belichick probably enjoyed it as he watched on TV, thinking Brady might fail yet. If you don’t think there’s a grudge here, consider last week’s tweets by Belichick’s girlfriend, Linda Holliday, who shouldn’t have responded to a troll — “Too bad Bill let Tom go” — but did anyway after the Bucs’ tense divisional-round victory over New Orleans.
“And you have all the answers evidently? Holliday replied. “Tom didn’t score last night … not once! Defense won that game. Were you even watching? OTOH (on the other hand) — I’m happy for Tom’s career! Why can’t you be?”
If she was so happy for him, why did she credit defense for the victory? Brady did the same Sunday, knowing Barrett and the pass-rushers pressured Rodgers into five sacks. And no doubt the Bucs will need another supreme defensive performance against Mahomes and the Chiefs, who were allowed to rest during a bye week while the Bucs have played seven straight weekends. They’ll have a smattering of local fans — including 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers — among the 22,000 allowed in their 70,000-seat home. But Brady will be the underdog as the Chiefs try to become the first NFL team to repeat as champions since, well, Brady and the Patriots in 2004 and 2005 … when Jack Brady was born.
If the birth certificate says August 1977, the gut quotient suggests he’s 25. Witness the final eight seconds of the the first half, when Arians was going to punt from the Green Bay 39 until he realized who was huddling with him a few feet away. Brady found Scotty Miller, who had beaten King, for a touchdown dagger and a 21-10 lead. “We didn’t come here not to take chances to win the game,” Arians said. “Love the play we had. Got a great matchup and a TD. That was huge.”
“Tom’s the G.O.A.T.,” Miller said. “Last year, we ended 7-9 and now we’re headed to the Super Bowl. … Just his composure — he’s been here before, he’s been in these big moments, and we know he’s going to get it done. When it’s all on the line, he’s going to make the play.”
It also spoke volumes about the Brady-Arians relationship. If the grizzled, ruddy-faced character was critical of Brady’s deep-ball failures earlier this season, he now sees all-time greatness through his forehead-to-chin virus shield. “New England didn’t allow him to coach,” said Arians, taking a dig at Belichick. “I allow him to coach. I sit back and watch.”
We’re all watching. Just as we’re watching Mahomes, who played in the AFC championship game and beat the Buffalo Bills, 38-24, when any credible doctor would have urged him to stay home. He was concussed only a week earlier, knocked silly and sent stumbling toward the turf after taking a hard shot to the neck area. Not until Wednesday did the team acknowledge a concussion, with coach Andy Reid insisting irresponsibly that Mahomes was doing just fine. And the league wasn’t about to order its meal ticket and reigning marketing face to the sideline, not with television ratings and the Super Bowl at stake. It was NFL hypocrisy at its worst, enabled by a planted report that Mahomes had merely “choked out,” whatever that meant.
Like Brady, Mahomes survived and did more than enough to win, dazzling again with an underhanded touchdown pitch to Travis Kelce. And he will have two weeks to rest his weary head and the nagging turf toe on his left foot. The Tampa Bay defense will give him more problems than the Bills, especially with his offensive line weakened by injuries. But if the Bucs have a chance, Brady will have to be in shootout mode against an arsenal featuring unstoppable playmakers in Kelce and Tyreek Hill. That seems improbable when, in the scope of life, Brady is only seven years younger than Mahomes’ father, Pat, the former major-league pitcher.
“The job’s not finished. We’re going to Tampa and trying to run it back,” said Mahomes, who lost to Brady in the 2019 AFC title game. “We’ve just got to be ourselves. I trust my guys over anybody. Our goal coming into the season was to win the Super Bowl, not to get to it.”
And the Brady-Mahomes time warp? “Going up against one of the greatest, if not the greatest quarterback, in his 150th Super Bowl, is going to be a great experience for me,” he said. Seems like 150 Super Bowls, doesn’t it?
Nothing much is certain in America these days, except Tom Brady in winter. We’re starting to say the same about Patrick Mahomes. He was six years old when Brady, cap flipped backward, held his first Lombardi Trophy. Now it’s Mahomes who wears the defiant cap, speaking respectfully about the matchup but knowing, deep in his 25-year-old soul, that he can’t let this fossil beat him.
“It’s been a great journey thus far,” Brady said.
Imagine if he wins again. On a nearby bay, he can go walk on water.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.