I’ve always mocked the concept of an apocalypse, figuring it was cinematic and never real, not realizing a catastrophe was plotting an attack. Naturally, it converges in 2021 at a Super Bowl, in the freaky-deaky state of Florida, where no killer alligators are involved, just an infectious disease not taken seriously by the governor. A long-ago movie, “Black Sunday,” depicted a terrorist group trying to blow up a Goodyear blimp during the NFL’s championship game.
This won’t be that, I don’t think. But it might be the most bizarre thing we’ve experienced in our lives.
“I don’t know when normal will occur again or if normal will occur again,” said the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, who somehow maneuvered the coronavirus landmines to reach this new and grotesque normal amid — how many now? — 450,000 U.S. deaths.
While a rock-star epidemiologist in his 80s urges people to watch on TV in home isolation, only 25,000 fans will sit distanced in a largely barren stadium with a pirate ship as a 43-year-old quarterbacking mutant, unsatisfied with six title rings, tries to win a seventh. Tom Brady will do so in his adopted home of Tampa, with the long-sketchy Buccaneers, against a generational force young enough to be his son, Patrick Mahomes. All while the weary national media, masked and Zoom-tethered, ask if Brady is replacing Michael Jordan as the G.O.A.T. of all sporting G.O.A.T.s by performing at a higher level at a more advanced age than any athlete ever — when, in truth, Mahomes ultimately might claim the distinction someday, assuming Planet Earth still exists.
“The goal is to win as many Super Bowls as possible and to be playing in this game every single year,” said Mahomes, already perched alongside Brady and LeBron James as The Faces of American Sports. “If you look at guys like Tom, Michael, Kobe, LeBron … all these special guys, I think at the end of the day you see that their work ethic and drive to win is just different than everybody else’s. That’s what makes them special, and hopefully I can try to do whatever I can to have that same work ethic and drive in my career.”
Oh, he has it. And he’ll need it without both of his starting tackles, against Shaq Barrett and a swarm of hungry pass rushers, raising the possibility that Brady actually might pull off the most preposterous football story ever. Yes, bigger than Joe Namath successfully guaranteeing a victory, bigger than Nick Foles and the Philly Special, bigger than David Tyree’s helmet catch — bigger, really, than just about anything in sports because, again, Brady is pushing 44 and looking younger by the hour, a more curious case than Benjamin Button. By now, even suspicions that he’s swallowing age-defying cocktails from his mysterious personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, are softened by the shock and awe of it all: that Brady still is able to look good in a uniform and have the best-functioning brain cells on the field, despite 20-plus years of punishment at the most vulnerable position in team sports.
How is this happening? The answer might be simpler than psychoanalysts and biologists make it out to be. If you haven’t noticed, the athletes thriving amid a pandemic are the greatest in their craft — Brady, Mahomes, James, a redemptive Clayton Kershaw, a spiritual Naomi Osaka, a transcendent Bryson DeChambeau. Already obsessive about winning, they’ve used a global crisis to ratchet up their focus from lasered to maniacal. There is no messing around anymore, even in the slightest, which is why the Lakers won while the Clippers were losing their minds in the NBA Bubble and why I wonder if the presence of a COVID-19-infected barber — while Mahomes and numerous teammates and staffers were there for a cut — might prove regrettable for the Chiefs.
“It’ll all work out when it’s all said and done,” said coach Andy Reid, he of the floral shirts and cheeseburgers.
Brady, known to cut his own hair, never would put himself in such danger so close to another holy grail. Having divorced Bill Belichick, ventured from New England to the Gulf Coast and put away Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, he is poised to finalize what we’ve never seen before. You think he’s taking no for an answer, as 100 million watch him step effortlessly from one generation to the next, while his merchandise sales break records nationwide — including in his discarded New England? After the Bucs beat the Packers for the NFC title, Brady noticed a teammate crying in the locker room.
“What the f— you crying for? We’re not done yet,” he said, as told on a podcast this week by linebacker Lavonte David.
Blessed with uncommon equilibrium, Brady is forever the 199th pick in the draft and the flabby kid in the combine photo, the collegian who cleaned toilets during a summer construction job, the competition freak who still loses sleep after every loss while still trying to quiet the few critics who remain. He has taken charge of the age-old sports argument: Was Brady or Belichick more responsible for the Patriots dynasty? He has quieted loudmouths like me who said he should have retired on top after winning two years ago. He has turned haters into worshippers, such as his favorite receiver, Mike Evans, who said, “You know, when I was a kid, I grew up not liking Tom Brady because I was a Peyton Manning fan. Now, I’m the biggest Tom Brady fan.” Even Goodell, who hammered Brady with a four-game Deflategate suspension, has nothing but glowing praise more than five years after prosecuting him for doctoring balls.
“Tom Brady has shown that he’s probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said Thursday. “His leadership, his ability to rise to the big occasion and make everybody rise around him. That’s what’s absolutely incredible to me, everyone just plays better when they’re with him. I’ve known him for probably 15 years and he’s an extraordinary guy. He’s real, he cares about this game deeply, he cares about people involved with the game. So, for me I wish him well. I think he’s gonna continue to be a great performer. I’m glad to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”
So, what’s left for Brady to conquer?
At some point, Brady will have to pack away his boundless ambitions and realize that his wife, the supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and their children would like him to stop playing football. Maybe he wins Sunday night and finally gets it — the perfect ending, the glorious act of retiring on top, something Jordan didn’t do and an ailing Tiger Woods cannot do. Was Brady hinting at that as a possibility in an expansive answer this week?
“I could never have imagined it would be like this. I don’t think anybody could have,” Brady said. “(I’ve) tried to go play my ass off every week. I’m still trying to do it. This work for me has never been about — I would have thought that success is passing yards or touchdowns or Super Bowls — it was always maximizing my potential, being the best I could be.
“When I showed up as a freshman in high school, I didn’t know how to put pads in my pants. I was just hoping to play high school football because I wanted to be like Joe Montana and Steve Young. And then when I got a chance in college, I just wanted to play at Michigan. When I got drafted by the Patriots, I just wanted to play, I just wanted to start. It’s just been a series of steps like that of trying to be a little better every year, trying to learn a little more every year, trying to grow and evolve in different areas.
“My life has taken certainly a lot of different directions. I’m obviously older now. I’ve got a family. A lot of incredible blessings in my life. Fast-forward 21 years, sitting in Tampa and trying to win a Super Bowl in our own home stadium would be pretty sweet.”
So sweet, in fact, that he should follow the Florida sun into his professional dusk if he wins. Even then, it wouldn’t be an easy decision for Brady, not when he uses persistent noise as motivation. Abandoning journalism for what seems strained activism, USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour asserted that “white privilege” has given Brady an “undeserved pass” for keeping a MAGA cap in his locker years ago. I can’t remember the last time Brady spoke about Donald Trump, with whom he once was friendly. That didn’t stop Armour from ripping Brady for “moral cowardice.” Also weighing in against Brady was FS1 host Shannon Sharpe, who said a Black athlete never would have evaded criticism in such a political circumstance.
Asked about Sharpe’s remarks, Brady said, “I’m not sure how to respond to hypothetical questions. I hope everyone can — we’re in this position, like I am, to try to be the best I can be everyday as an athlete, as a player, as a person in my community for my team and so forth. So … yeah. Not sure what else.”
His reflex, of course, is to not let anyone tell him what to do or how to live his life. So he keeps playing. That’s his revenge.
And I’m sure, the nanosecond the game finishes, there will be betting lines on whether Brady returns or retires, even though he says he’ll consider playing beyond age 45. With the shells removed from the gambling bombs and legal betting now the national rage, this will be the most insane and gross day of wagering in our country’s history. The absence of spectators in stadiums and arenas has been replaced by the grimy thrill of money action, with states realizing they can reap staggering revenues even during a pandemic. If — when — all 50 states allow sports gambling, collective annual revenues exceeding $19 billion will be commonplace, reports the New York Times. So consider Super Bowl LV to be the inaugural showcase for the new explosion.
Which makes it easy for tens of millions at home to pick up a phone and bet. That is much safer than jamming into casinos and sports bars, which many COVID-iots will do anyway. “You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” urges Dr. Anthony Fauci, still alive and quite visible as Trump fades away. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”
With America ready to burst from pandemic anxiety and vaccine lagging, I can’t say what’s going to happen Sunday or next week or the rest of our time on Earth. “I think America needs this Super Bowl,” said CBS Sports boss Sean McManus, who is required to say such things when his network is carrying the game. “I think it’s an opportunity for the country to come together. I think it’s going to be uplifting. I think it’s going to be unifying. And I think it’s coming at the right time.”
There never can be a right time for any of this. But I do know that the roman numerals are teasing us with symbolism.
LV — as in LIVE, while you still can.
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.