FMIA Week 15: Chiefs Use Ancient “Heisman” to Jumpstart Offense; Ohio’s Bigtime Backup QBs

1. I think a few points should be made about the NFL’s decision to play a 2024 regular-season game in Sao Paolo, Brazil:

  • The NFL is considering playing the Sao Paolo game in week one. Kickoff weekend is early this year—Sept. 5-9—because Labor Day is Sept. 2. Because the restrictions on interfering with Friday-night high-school games and Saturday college-football games don’t take effect until the second full weekend of September, the NFL could schedule a game on Friday night, Sept. 6, or Saturday the 7th. So it won’t be a surprise if the Sao Paolo game becomes part of a Thursday doubleheader, or a Thursday, Friday or Saturday standalone game—with the Super Bowl champ opening the season at home on Sunday night. It’s happened before.
  • It’s a hike to get to Sao Paolo. The game is likely to feature an NFC home team, because NFC teams have nine home games in 2024. Say the home team is Dallas. It’s a 10-hour, 10-minute flight from Dallas to Sao Paolo, which means a team likely would want to spend either a week there or most of a week before playing a game.
  • Miami is the only team that currently has made Brazil an international home marketing area, part of the NFL programs to increase individual teams’ profiles in foreign countries. So it would be logical to think the Dolphins would be one of the teams in Sao Paolo—except that the team flew nine hours to Frankfurt to play Kansas City this year. The league may want to showcase other teams in Brazil, and it’s likely that Miami would have to volunteer to go given it just went to Germany. If Miami is one of the teams, the Dolphins have three road games against NFC teams in 2024: Rams, Seahawks, and the parallel finisher in the NFC North. So maybe that team is Detroit.
  • Why Sao Paolo instead of other places? It’s the biggest city in South America (not just Brazil), with a metro-area population of 21.7 million. (New York City has 18.8 million people.) The stadium, Arena Corinthians, hosted the opener of 2014 World Cup and is nine years old. It has 89 suites and natural ryegrass. The city’s not a natural beauty, but NFL metrics pointed to a huge Brazilian fan base as a big reason why it was chosen for a 2024 game over Spain. That plus there was more enthusiasm inside the league to go somewhere new and intensely interested rather than choosing another site in western Europe. This broadens the league’s international footprint.
  • One last point about logistics: Say the game is played on Thursday of week one. The two teams would likely land back in their home cities sometime around mid-day on Friday. Players theoretically would have Friday night, Saturday, Sunday (and maybe Monday) to fix body clocks before beginning prep work for week two. It’s not too onerous.

2. I think my gut feeling is the NFL would be happy with Dolphins-Lions sometime on kickoff weekend in Brazil.

3. I think the funniest thing I read last week was from Entertainment Tonight, which reported: “Travis Kelce was noticeably absent during Taylor Swift’s 34th birthday celebration in New York City, but for a good reason. A source tells ET that he ‘remains committed to playing his best and doing his best on and off the field. The team practices are critical, mandatory to attend, and something he takes very seriously.’” Breaking news! A football player worked and practiced half-a-country away on a day when his girlfriend had a birthday party!

4. I think it’s so cool that Teddy Bridgewater wants to be a high-school football coach. He said the other day he’ll begin his post-playing life next year. From my conversations with the thoughtful Bridgewater over the years, he’ll not only be a good coach, but he’ll be an excellent influence on young people.

5. I think Kadarius Toney making excuses four days after his offensive-offside call, and blaming the officials, qualifies as the Dumb Alibi of the Year. Take the L and move on. And don’t turn a reception right in your hands with the game still in the balance into an interception, as Toney did in Foxboro Sunday. Amazing how much patience Kansas City has with Toney.

6. I think the more I see George Pickens loaf, the more I think I wouldn’t want the man on my team.

7. I think Nick Sirianni’s got some trust to rebuild with the Eagles’ press corps—not that this is front-of-mind for a coach whose team has allowed 34, 42 and 33 points in the last three games entering tonight’s important game in Seattle. He was asked at his press conference last Monday if he was considering any coaching changes in the wake of the recent defensive lapses. He said no. “I feel good with the people that we have in this building,” Sirianni said. “We’re 10-3. We’re in control of our own destiny, and we’re going to keep rolling and finding answers with the people that we have.” As Jay Glazer reported Sunday, defensive coordinator Sean Desai is the DC in name only now; Matt Patricia has begun running the defense and will be in charge tonight in Seattle. Maybe Sirianni, on his own, had a total 180 after he met the press Monday. Maybe, but it seems dubious that Sirianni wasn’t at least thinking about making a change seeing that this was a huge change. There’s also the chance he was forced into it by someone or some people above him. Whatever it was, this is a bad look for Sirianni.

8. I think I wonder: Is it just me, or does it seem every couple of months Zach Wilson does something to make people say, “Well, maybe he actually can play quarterback in this league,” and then he goes out and shows pretty definitively he can’t?

9. I think, re: the MVP, I am clueless. Truly. Glad I’ve got three weeks to shake out the vote. Lamar is involved now, in a big way.

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

a. Holiday Story of the Week: Inspired by CBS’ Steve Hartman, the king of good news, a teacher at a school in Phoenix got his kids to raise thousands so they, too, could be Secret Santas in this season of need—and giving.

b. If there’s a Kindness Hall of Fame, Derek Brown and his students should be in it. “I want this memory to be so strong that it now drives them, every day, in everything they do,” Brown said. These kids. So beautiful. So good.

c. “This was really a life-changer for me.”

d. Story of the Week: Tom Hallman Jr., of The Oregonian on two crucial meetings on two continents, six decades apart, that shaped a very important life.

e. This is the kind of story, with the kind of lede, that makes journalism important and rewarding. (H/T to reader Chris Lunt for bringing it to my attention.) Wrote Hallman to begin this great tale:

During their long lives, George Ting and Joe DeMarsh spoke to each other only twice.

The first time was more than 60 years ago in a Tokyo high school where Ting was a 16-year-old student and DeMarsh the principal.
It lasted less than a minute.

The two never saw each other again – until this past February, when Ting, now 76, solved a mystery of sorts and traveled from his home in San Francisco to DeMarsh’s home in Pendleton.

The former principal, 94, was on his death bed. Once again, their interaction lasted less than a minute. Ting held the man’s hand in his and said two simple words.

Thank you.

f. I don’t care what walk of life you’re in. There’s a lesson in this for all of us, and thanks to Tom Hallman Jr., for telling it.

g. I was not looking forward to season six of “The Crown” on Netflix, because I have little interest in the Diana-Charles drama, and the Diana stuff dominated this season. The best parts of “The Crown” are the educational ones about parts of history I never knew—the coal-smoke-prompted fog that enveloped and sickened London in 1952, for instance—and not the soap opera surrounding Chuck and Di. But I’ve seen the first six episodes of this last season of the show, and I liked them. Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki is really good as Diana, particularly in the way she cares for her sons, and Ed McVey is good too as William.

h. I see the reviewers panned it. Of course none of us know exactly how the end of life all went down, and I’m sure they know much more than I about what makes good TV. But the relationship drama and the Diana as mom seemed plausible and compelling to me.

i. TV Story of the Week: Meg Oliver of CBS Evening News, in part three of a series about education of America’s youth since the pandemic, on the impact of cell phones on young people in this country.

j. At a high school in Newburgh, N.Y., reports Oliver: “Cell phones are locked away for the entire day, including lunch.” Oliver finds students who are really glad about it. This strikes me as a valuable reminder that adolescents need time to explore and learn and read and discuss and be bored without a screen to distract them from real life. Valuable story.

k. Football Story of the Week: Katie Strang and Kalyn Kahler of The Athletic on the incredible story of how no safeguards were in place to stop a Jaguars employee from stealing $22 million from the team.

l. I’d never heard of virtual credit cards until I read this story. But allegedly the employee in an understaffed finance department, Amit Patel, became an expert at fleecing the company through them.

m. Wrote Strang and Kahler:

He allegedly created fraudulent charges on the club’s virtual credit card and then covered his tracks by sending falsified files to the team’s accounting department.

According to a charging document, he used that money to buy vehicles, a condominium and a designer watch worth over $95,000. He also purchased cryptocurrency, splurged on luxury travel for himself and others and used the funds to keep a criminal defense lawyer on retainer. Patel’s attorney said that the vast majority of the $22 million he stole were gambling losses; Patel allegedly placed bets on football and daily fantasy sports with online gambling sites.

How was Patel, working alone, able to steal more than twice the amount quarterback Trevor Lawrence counts against the Jaguars’ salary cap?

According to interviews with officials from other NFL teams as well as individuals working in finance at other professional sports franchises, the Jaguars may be an outlier in how little they were doing to monitor an employee with so much control over spending. Most of those interviewed were gobsmacked that one person would have unchecked oversight of the VCC setup. “Talk about having egg on your face. That’s a whole f—-ing omelet,” said a former finance specialist for an NHL team.

n. The “vast majority” of the money stolen went to “gambling losses,” his attorney said. This will not be the last time you hear of a life ruined by sports gambling. It might not be the last time this month you hear of it. The NFL’s in lockstep with spreading the gospel of gambling on its game, and thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of fans will suffer for it.

o. Lede of the Week: Chavie Lieber of The Wall Street Journal on this year’s big holiday ask for 11-year-old girls:

Last Christmas, 11-year-old Charlotte asked for art supplies. This Christmas, she wants face cream.

A wish list Charlotte made for her family includes a lactic-acid peeling solution, a beta-hydroxy acid exfoliant, an antioxidant cleanser, and a vitamin B5 serum.

“I just really love skin care,” said Charlotte, a fifth-grader who lives in the Central Valley of California. “Serums are my favorite because some cool down your face and others give you glowy skin.”

Tween girls, as defined between the ages of nine to about 14, have long experimented with mascara, lipstick, or whatever else they can get from moms and older sisters. But more recently, preteen girls have become enamored with skin care, from devising elaborate routines of layering on creams to researching which acids do what.

Tweens who haven’t even had their first pimple yet are asking parents to buy them presents from buzzy beauty brands, and are calling out complex ingredients.

“She is pronouncing words that I don’t even know,” said Abbie Geisel, Charlotte’s mom.

p. Another 11-year-old in this story said she was hoping someone in her orbit would get her a skin-care advent calendar. I really don’t know what to say about that.

q. Radio Story of the Week: Judith Kogan of National Public Radio on a smart way for middle schools—where grudges usually have long lives—to find peace among Brown Middle School students in Newton, Massachusetts.

r. Kogan reports that “Let Go and Move On” is a slogan every student in the school sees and hears every day, and principal Kim Lysaght explains why:

LYSAGHT: We talk about how tomorrow’s a new day. We learn from it, and then we let go and we move on. Nobody is defined by one action that they did.

REPORTER JUDITH KOGAN: Where there’s friction between students, they’re often brought together to hear each other out. Sometimes that involves an apology or at least ownership of their role in the situation. It helps them to pass each other in the hall later and not have that visceral reaction. Brown Middle School students like Ryana Nair have found the advice helpful in settling differences.

RYANA NAIR: Holding a grudge is like holding hot coals and expecting the other person to be burned. It’s pretty useless unless you just resolve the conflict.

s. Sounds pretty smart, particularly working on conflict resolution before high school.

t. Godspeed, Doug Farrar. The veteran football writer and editor needs help for his stepdaughter’s bone-marrow transplant.

u. For God’s sake, leave Kate Cox alone.

v. Retiree of the Week: Mike Fernandez, radio producer for the award-winning morning show “The Musers” on The Ticket in Dallas-Fort Worth for one month shy of 30 years, walked into the rest of his life on Dec. 1. For my money, I think Fernando (what everyone calls him) is the best sports radio producer I’ve ever dealt with. A breadth of topics—from digging deep into the Cowboys to the new J. Edgar Hoover book—found homes all over the morning show for hosts Craig Miller, George Dunham and Gordon Keith. That comes with arriving at work at midnight every weekday for 30 years (no wonder he wanted to retire) and poring over stories for the hidden gems way beneath the headlines. I was on the show for the past 12 autumns (Troy Aikman’s got me beat—he’s at 22 years), and I was always shocked to hear him reference some arcane note 8,400 words deep in one of my columns. But he knew. He read everything. He had the curious gene you have to have to be great in this business, and he was great.

w. Producers are the backbone of so many radio and TV shows in America. Good producers make good hosts great.

x. “Fernando’s a breed apart,” Aikman told me. “He was the standard. He engages. He’d text me a lot, and we’d have conversations about everything. You could tell why he was so valuable to the show. When I signed with ESPN, he sent me the big book about Monday Night Football, ‘Monday Night Mayhem.’ He just said, ‘I thought you’d enjoy reading it.’ He’ll definitely be missed. I talked to him on his last day, and I think he was most excited about getting on a regular sleep schedule.”

y. We should all appreciate people like Mike Fernandez. They make our sports experience so much better.

z. A note to readers of this column: Next week’s FMIA will be a different column. It will be much shorter, and it won’t focus on the games of the weekend. Last spring, when I signed a contract with NBC for this season, I was offered a rare opportunity. My big boss, Sam Flood, said I could take the weekend off on my choice of Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ve never done that in-season before; if a work day fell on a big holiday, I worked. But this time, I thought about it. Thanksgiving’s not a holiday that cries out to be off; I mostly am anyway. But Christmas, especially when it falls on a Monday—that’s a different story. I figured that if I worked on Saturday the 23rd and Sunday the 24th, with the column going live in the wee hours of Christmas Day, I’d be absent for all but Christmas Eve dinner with the family, then a wreck when the grandkids got up on Christmas morning. So I got selfish. I said yes. On Thursday night I’ll file a totally different kind of column to Team FMIA, Sarah Hughes and Amelia Acosta. It will be edited Friday and posted on schedule in the wee hours of Monday morning. I’m planning to tell the story of a player who should be a beacon for others, with no news of the important games of the weekend. My thanks to Sam Flood for allowing me a quiet Christmas with family (knowing my grandkids, it will not be altogether quiet) in Berkeley, Calif. And thanks to Sarah and Amelia for doing the work that never gets recognized enough. The normal column will resume Jan. 1. Thanks for your understanding.

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