It figures Andy Reid didn’t have the barber tested in time. This is a coach who thinks a fourth-and-one conversion is as easy and breezy as his Tommy Bahama garb, a man who’s riding a wave of fearlessness and the sum of his quarterbacking creation to a unique place in NFL history. COVID-19? Isn’t that the name of a Tampa Bay defensive package?
But even Patrick Mahomes can’t escape the rush if coronavirus is blitzing. So why in the name of Anthony Fauci would Reid and Chiefs management allow 20 players and staffers, including Mahomes, to wait in line for haircuts Sunday in Kansas City — as the barber awaited results from his virus test? Rather than delay the trims, center Daniel Kilgore took a seat in the chair. Next thing he knew, the barber was being yanked out of the room after his test turned up positive. Hours later, Kilgore and receiver Demarcus Robinson were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as close contacts, able to play in the game only if they test negative each day through Saturday.
We’ve seen crazy happenings at Super Bowls — Barret Robbins skipping off to Mexico, Eugene Robinson soliciting a prostitute after receiving an award for “outstanding character,” Stanley Wilson’s drug relapse on the eve of a game, Hollywood Henderson high on cocaine during a game, Max McGee catching passes while hungover, Thurman Thomas losing his helmet, a blackout in the Superdome. So why would we be surprised by a COVID-19 violation during a pandemic, even if the parties are shut down, celebrities are staying home and Tampa’s notorious strip clubs are quiet despite mask-wearing lap dancers?
Should we be alarmed about an impending, team-wide outbreak? Is it not suspicious that only two players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list — one a backup center, another a secondary pass-catcher — when several others were in line? I am not an epidemiologist, but it’s pretty damned stupid to take such a risk — particularly with Mahomes — when you’re trying to become the first NFL champion to repeat in 16 years. Couldn’t Reid have sent Mahomes to the barber in the State Farm ads, in isolation, at the Patrick Price?
Aiming to calm any mass alarm, the league insisted the Chiefs cleaned up their mess. “The club took very prompt and direct action,” said Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “Our contact-tracing team was on site and able to get a very clear understanding of the exposures. And so, at this point, we feel like we’re in a good position with that and we’ll just continue to monitor.”
As America eyes the 55th title game as an escape, now we have yet another COVID Watch. Not that the Chiefs seem too concerned, with Kilgore posting a new social-media profile photo with a half-shaved head. This after NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told ESPN that he sees “no scenario where we would agree with the league to move the Super Bowl,” even if Mahomes or Tom Brady tested positive in coming days. All of which will be forgotten, especially by the ill-informed millions who still think the virus is a hoax, if the Chiefs go on to win Sunday night with no infections. After all, this is Reid’s time. Would he really allow haircuts to screw this up?
The NFL must love the coaching optics here. This Super Bowl is enriched by two lifers, cartoonish characters in their ‘60s, one who devours cheeseburgers and the other known for whiskey shots and a protective shield too large for his ruddy face. After two decades of tolerating Bill Belichick as a grumpy genius, America now chooses between two likable OGs who could double as goofy granddads. Reid has graduated from his previous narrative — the innovator who won every game but the big ones, the tragic figure who lost a son to an accidental heroin overdose — to become the father-figure mastermind of the Chiefs, who will hear dynasty talk if they win. And Bruce Arians is the survivor whose career seemed dead a decade ago, only to rebound with two NFL Coach of the Year awards — the first when he replaced cancer-plagued Chuck Pagano as an Indianapolis interim — and his now-historic role as the quirky sage who rescued Brady from The Grump and helped him to a championship game in their own stadium.
In a pandemic Super Bowl defined by Brady’s freaky reverse-aging miracle,
the rival coaches also are ignoring their birth certificates. Reid is 62 going on 32, on a belated revolutionary run as Mahomes’ muse and the brains behind possibly the most unstoppable and entertaining offense the sport has seen. He’s fearless, as if not giving a damn if he wins or loses as long as he’s daring fate. Fourth-and-one at midfield, 1:17 left? Of course, Big Red went for it, even with 35-year-old backup quarterback Chad Henne, even if Cleveland probably would have won if it didn’t work. Point is, it always works these days, which is why Reid is the reigning face of coaching.
“If the coaches are flinching, if the players — your leaders — are flinching, it’s not going to happen. And our locker room is not going to flinch,” he said.
Which is one reason his players love him, yet another marked difference between the Reid Way and the Belichick Way. Not only does he turn loose his weapons, the Chiefs culture is fun and loose, right down to the names he has for plays: Ferrari Right, Smoked Sausage and Black Pearl among them. He actually has a Ferrari package, aptly named with Mahomes in the driver’s seat and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill riding shotgun. “In this league, you’ve got to stay aggressive all the time. I mean, teams are just too good,” Reid said. “There’s so much parity in this league and such a small margin between winning and losing, that you’re not going to be using too many four-corner stalls. That’s just not how you’re going to roll.”
All week, we’ve heard his players speak fondly of him. This isn’t common in a league where players are lauded one minute and unloaded the next — hello, Jared Goff. The Reid Way is built on trust, which might explain why he let them get haircuts together, misguided as it was. “He’s got almost like a father figure kind of role in the building, and it’s because everyone loves him so much,” said Kelce, whose all-time production as a tight end is a spinoff of Reid’s strategic artistry. “He’s got an unbelievable way of getting the best out of everybody that is relating to all different aspects and all different forms of life. … This game is not won with one guy. That’s the beauty about the game is that that it takes everyone. Coach Reid does an unbelievable job of relating to everybody and getting the best out of everybody. And he’s the ultimate leader.”
Similar praise is directed toward Arians, who had a more difficult chore leading the Buccaneers to the first home-team Super Bowl. Unlike the Chiefs, the Bucs have struggled for relevance since their only championship in 2003. The first gamble was hiring Arians, who had overcome his sudden dismissal by the Steelers — the front office somehow was threatened by his relationship with superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — by winning under difficult circumstances with the Colts, then enjoying head-coaching success in Arizona. When he left the Cardinals, his career appeared over. Instead, he stumbled into the greatest jackpot imaginable when Brady, tired of Belichick, liked what he saw in Tampa, including the free-wheeling Arians.
They had their tense moments this season, such as when Arians called him out for mistakes in defeats. But after a late November setback to the Chiefs, when Mahomes and Hill went haywire in the first half, the Bucs haven’t lost since. Sixty-eight going on 40, Arians refuses to acknowledge this as the oldest matchup of head coaches — combined age: 131 years and 86 days — in Super Bowl history. Whereas Reid says he’s “still part of the Geritol crew,” Arians continues to style in his Kangol newsboy caps and speak a youthful language. Sometimes, the words come with a harder edge.
“He’s going to coach you hard, but he’s also going to love you hard,” Bucs center Ryan Jensen said. “The good butt-rip is sometimes needed, but he’s going to love you up and make sure you go into the game confident.”
Given the potential for high drama — can you believe Brady, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh and Leonard Fournette have shared the same locker room? — Arians was wise enough to use Brady to help guide the pirate ship. At one point, Arians took a jab at Belichick, saying he was letting Brady “coach” when New England did not. He was spot-on in his self-credit.
Who of right mind resists Brady’s gift for changing a culture?
“He’s a great man. He’s a great leader. He’s a great person. He’s a great friend,” said Brady, stringing together praise rarely directed toward Belichick. “He’s very loyal. He’s just got a great way of communicating effectively with everybody around here. Everybody has a great affection for him for the person that he is. There’s nobody that would ever say a bad thing about B.A. He’s just so endearing to everybody and I think everyone wants to win for him.”
Maybe it’s coincidence that Kansas City is the team hit by COVID. Maybe it isn’t coincidence. Maybe it’s a sign Tampa Bay is more focused, riding the savvy of Brady’s 10th Super Bowl appearance and the focus of the head coach. “I don’t think anything ever prepared us for the pandemic. This whole season has been different,” Arians said. “The team-building things that you do in the offseason didn’t happen. I have to give all the credit in the world to our players for their commitment to each other, the accountability they’ve shown to each other in staying healthy and beating the virus before we could beat any other team. And then the closeness they’ve got and the accountability to make all their decisions to affect the cause.
“And the cause is to put rings on our fingers.”
Another reason the NFL embraces Reid and Arians is that it temporarily deflects attention from a continuing coaching crisis. The Rooney Rule is a sham, as seen again last month, when only two of seven head-coaching openings were filled with minority hires. Months after commissioner Roger Goodell finally broke down amid pressure from Mahomes and other stars and said, “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People,” and “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter,” the optics aren’t good when only one Black coach was hired. And that didn’t happen until six jobs were filled and Houston, in what seemed a league mandate, hired 65-year-old career assistant David Culley.
The Rooney Rule, as envisioned by the late Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, requires each NFL team to interview minority candidates and expand their chances of landing head positions. But when you see the Eagles hire neophyte Nick Sirianni, who stumbled through his introductory Zoom conference like a kid interviewing for an internship, it’s painful knowing that Black candidates who’ve been head coaches in the league — Marvin Lewis, Jim Caldwell, Todd Bowles among them — weren’t seriously considered. Nor was Duce Staley, Philadelphia’s assistant head coach, who promptly split for a similar role in Detroit after Sirianni’s hiring. Don’t tell me Sirianni was hired solely as a QB whisperer for struggling Carson Wentz. There’s more to it. Couldn’t the Eagles have hired Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who merely has helped Reid develop Mahomes into a transcendent machine?
“There’s still work to be done in this area, no question about it,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II, son of Dan Rooney. “There are a lot of pieces to it that we’re going to have to sit down when it’s all said and done and really analyze what happened — and are there things we can do to strengthen the opportunities for minority coaches? I think last year we did take a number of steps that I think over time are going to pay dividends, but that’s not to say we can’t do more, and we’ll take another strong look at it this offseason.”
At least the league added two minorities in the general manager ranks: Brad Holmes in Detroit and Terry Fontenot in Atlanta, raising the number of black GMs to four. But racial progress is stalled throughout a hypocritical sports world. None of college football’s seven Power Five programs with vacancies hired a Black head coach, opting for a White sweep. And for all the celebration over Kim Ng’s hiring in Miami as Major League’s Baseball’s first female general manager, guess who filled the other seven openings atop baseball operations within franchises? White males.
So, for now, we revel in the late-career success of the Super Bowl OGs. At least Andy Reid and Bruce Arians aren’t questioned about their competence, though, until the ball is kicked off, Reid’s common sense is facing a fourth-and-one situation deep in COVID territory.
Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.
Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans
Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.
It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.
I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.
One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.
Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.
I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.
For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.
That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.
So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.
This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.
I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?
That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.
Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?
Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.
As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday.
Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.