If the off-season is anything to go by, we're in for a crazy 2015-16.
Roger Goodell is not God. But he’s close. And just as you don’t mess with God, you don’t mess with Goodell – even if you are The Golden Boy, The Chosen One, The Face Of The NFL and the famous husband of supermodel Gisele.
The NFL commissioner – brought to his knees from the outrage created by his soft stance on Ray Rice’s elevator violence against his fiancee-turned-wife – came down hard on Tom Brady, suspending the New England Patriots' quarterback in May for four games after the Wells Report implicated him in a scheme to illegally deflate footballs in the AFC Championship Game. The severity of the suspension was due in part to Brady’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation by giving the league access to his mobile phone records.
Brady’s appeal fell on deaf ears in late July when Goodell found out Brady had instructed his assistant to destroy his phone fewer than 24 hours before Brady’s March 6 meeting with independent investigator Ted Wells. Goodell offered to cut the suspension in half if Brady would: a) admit to having knowledge of the football-doctoring efforts of Patriots equipment lackies John Jastremski and Jim McNally, b) admit to failing to cooperate with the Wells investigation and, c) apologise.
Brady baulked at the mere thought of sullying his reputation in such a humiliating fashion, perhaps not realising it was far too late for that in the aftermath of a cover-up that was worse than the crime itself. As we were going to press, he was taking his chances with the NFL Players Association’s appeal in the federal court. It is possible that Brady’s suspension is delayed by a judge until a court resolves the issue. Of course, that could backfire on The Golden Boy and the Pats if this extends into the late portion of the season – when the team is making its annual push for the playoffs – and the suspension is ultimately upheld.
The strange “Deflategate” debacle inspired Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to proclaim: “I don’t think that they should be the Super Bowl champion ... You aren’t supposed to cheat. Cheating is not good, especially when you’ve got guys who are working their butts off for 365 days out of the year and one person cheats. Whether it helps them win the Super Bowl or not, they still cheated and shouldn’t be a champion.”
The Pats are responding in typical circle-the-wagons, us-against-the-world fashion, led by bellicose, hoodie-wearing coach Bill Belichick. Says wide receiver Julian Edelman, “You don’t want a mad Tom Brady, and he’s a little ticked off.”
How will the Patriots respond to the churning, festering Brady saga? That’s just one of the many compelling storylines for the 2015-16 season. Read on to find out how the rest of the circus will play out ...
Tha Monstar just can’t catch a break. Yes, he is the only Aussie ever to earn a Super Bowl ring, but he still hasn’t played a regular-season down in the NFL. He has spent each of his two seasons on the injured-reserve list with knee injuries after being selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
And now? The former Queensland Under-19 rugby star has to utter the dreaded C-word – cancer – when talking about his NFL career. Jesse Williams had surgery on May 28 to remove one of his kidneys after tests detected papillary type 2 cancer –an aggressive disease that can follow an unpredictable growth pattern. It occurs in just ten to 15 percent of all cases of kidney cancer, and most commonly in men 50 to 70 years old.
Tha Monstar is 24. And staring down mortality.
He checked out of hospital two days after surgery, and two weeks later was cleared for light workouts – mild cardio and lifting weights under nine kilograms. For a 148kg defensive tackle, that’s like hoisting a T-shirt. “It’s pretty crappy at the moment,” he says. “It’s a lot of bad luck. I asked how you get stuff like this, and they said it’s just purely bad luck. So hopefully they removed all that and I’m on the come-up for the rest of my career. I’m a pretty tough guy, so I can handle the cards I’m dealt and the situations I’m put in. I’m trying to make the most of the opportunities I have. I’m still around, nothing’s too drastic or life-threatening right now, so I’m just taking it day by day and keeping myself positive, staying positive for my family and for myself. But, yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to getting all cleared and getting back out there.”
Williams went to Instagram with this message: “Not an Easy Journey So Far but I Don’t think it would mean as much or be worth it if I didn’t have to Fight for What I Wanted! And I Want This!! #MonstarStrong #WarReady”
49 REASONS …
Jarryd Hayne wasn’t given any guarantees he’d complete the transition from NRL superstar to NFL player by making the San Francisco 49ers’ 53-man roster, but he still received a $100,000 guarantee as part of a three-year contract.
But players and coaches were gushing about him even before he signed with the team back in March as an undrafted free agent. A year ago, former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush viewed Hayne’s NRL highlights on YouTube and said, “He actually looks like an NFL running back. Looks like he could come play with us tomorrow.” After he signed, quarterback Colin Kaepernick called him “a phenomenal athlete” and observed that “it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a learning curve for him”. Bush said Hayne was “a lock” to make the roster as a running back/kick returner/special teams player. And head coach Jim Tomsula said Hayne is “a world-class athlete”.
Hayne, who won the Dally M three times and the Rugby League International Federation’s International Player of the Year once, drew rave reviews during the team’s organised team activities (OTAs) in April and May. “That’s going to be a work in progress,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke says. “But as an athlete, very talented. All you have to do is pull up the YouTube video to watch some of the stuff he does athletically. Now, can he go out on an NFL field and learn the pass protections? He can catch a football as well as most people you’ve seen doing it their whole lives, because that’s the game over there.”
Hayne became a breakout storyline during the 49ers preseason games, as his highlight-reel punt returns and runs from scrimmage made the best possible case for him. He proved one thing for sure – he did look every inch an NFL player, and made this quixotic experiment into a tangible possibility. The gap between America's and Australia's football had shrunk, more than a little.
It was a whirlwind, but exactly what Hayne had wanted since 2011, when he announced his intention to quit rugby league to pursue the NFL – a dream that got delayed because he was ineligible to play in the American collegiate system. “It’s all coming to the front now with reps and understanding,” Hayne says. “It’s just with time. Time is the biggest key.”
BEAST MODE: BUSY
Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch has had a fascinating ascent into the pantheon of pop culture idolatry since the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLIX train derailed and crashed in the fading moments of the game when they ignominiously ignored their iconoclastic superstar running back and put the ball in the air – to the wrong guy, Patriots’ defensive back Malcolm Butler.
First stop: Turkey. Yes, Turkey, where he represented American Football Without Barriers – a non-profit organisation that supports the growth of American football in countries such as China, Brazil and Turkey – and spoke in detail for the first time about The Play. Talking to Ismail Senol of NTV Spor, Lynch said, “To be honest with you, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was expecting the ball. Yes, I was expecting the ball. But in life, these things happen.”
They sure do – especially to Beast Mode.
In an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show in June, Lynch said he planned on retiring before the Seahawks offered him a new two-year contract extension that guarantees him
$12 million this year (“You start to think, maybe I could do this again”). He joked about his crotch-grabbing exploits that have led to NFL fines (“I done got in a lot of trouble for grabbing my ding-ding”) and finished the night by doing his trademark TD-celebrating backward jump into a pool of Skittles.
Then it was on to Activision Capture’s studio in Los Angeles, where he became the first athlete to appear as a character in a Call Of Duty game – Call Of Duty: Black Ops III. After the experience he concluded: “I’ve been in the Super Bowl, movies, music videos, Madden ... But to have your own character in Duty is, I mean, it’s almost like you arrived.”
No, he truly arrived later in July at his Fam 1st Family Foundation community barbecue in Oakland, where he twice sent a ball into orbit during a kickball match, resulting in a YouTube video that went viral in, oh, about the time it took the ball to come back to Earth.
And finally, he shelved his highly anticipated biopic, Family First: The Marshawn Lynch Story, and stopped speaking with Mario Bobino, the film’s director and a long-time friend, who released a sloppy-looking trailer without Lynch’s consent.
It’s enough to make your head spin, but we know Beast Mode will bring it when it’s time to do what the Seahawks actually pay him to do.
It’s one of the tantalising stories in NFL lore: 49ers Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott chose to have his left pinky finger amputated because bone-graft surgery wouldn’t allow him to be ready in time for the start of the 1986 season. Ultimately, Lott lost the finger because of the competitiveness that refused to allow him to let his team down after his finger was mangled while tackling running back Timmy Newsome in 1985.
Why exactly did New York Giants' defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive back C.J. Wilson lose their fingers? Because they were playing with fireworks on the Fourth of July weekend. Was it stupidity? Many fireworks' containers feature words to the effect of CAUTION: Explosive. Do not hold in hand or throw firecrackers. Place pack on ground. Light fuse and get away. Never attempt to relight a fuse.
Pierre-Paul, one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, lost his right index finger and broke his thumb. He reportedly chose to amputate the finger in order to expedite the recovery process, but that’s the only similarity with Lott.
The Giants immediately pulled their $60 million contract offer, leaving him with the $14.8 million franchise tag they had placed on him earlier in the year. They also weren’t very pleased when they sent trainer Ronnie Barnes all the way to a Florida hospital to visit Pierre-Paul, who declined to see him.
That drew a pointed barb from Fox analyst and former Giants' star lineman David Diehl: “Denying the New York Giants access because technically you’re not under contract, it’s almost a slap in the face to the New York Giants, because of everything they’ve done for you up until this point.” Oh, and this, too: “If you need someone to watch you going into your sixth year because of immaturity, yeah, that’s throwing up red flags for everybody. Why would you invest in a long-term deal into someone you’re not 100-percent confident in day in and day out?”
Pierre-Paul is expected to return to action early in the season, but Wilson’s career appears to be over after losing the index and middle fingers on one hand when a canister that contained fireworks exploded while he was holding it.
In the immediate aftermath, another sporting C.J. Wilson – the baseball one who pitches for the LA Angels – was confused with the one who lost his fingers. He tweeted his take on the situation: “Advice to all pro athletes: instead of going out and possibly getting injured/in trouble – just throw a pool party. Spring for DJ/churros.”
DELUSIONAL IN DALLAS
The Dallas Cowboys made a low-ball contract offer to running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher last season ... and then watched as he sauntered off to division rivals Philadelphia Eagles. That was a head-scratcher, but the NFL draft turned a puzzling episode into just plain ... weird. It was presumed the Cowboys would select a running back early in the draft, but they didn’t take one at all. Why? Well, owner Jerry Jones apparently believes that an anaesthetised Asian elephant could run effectively behind the team’s offensive line, largely regarded as the best in the NFL.
“We’re better,” Jones says.
Better? With Joseph Randle, who has started a grand total of two games in the NFL and whose claim to fame – or infamy, more accurately – is that he was arrested twice in the span of three months, once for stealing underwear and cologne? A guy who made a million bucks in his first two seasons is stealing Jockey shorts?
Maybe Jones means the Cowboys are better because they signed Darren McFadden, who has missed 29 games in the past six years due to injuries and seems to have a perpetual hamstring strain.
Who knows? But brilliant minds think alike, which is why it probably isn’t surprising that avid Cowboys fan, soft-drink junkie and occasional golfer John Daly – decked out in Cowboys pajamas – told the British Open media, “Darren McFadden is going to roll. He’s going to have over 2000 yards.” We hope Daly hasn’t put any money on his prediction; a guy who estimates he has gambled away $55 million should stick to something safe. Like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow ...
AN UNLIKELY REUNION
On July 15, Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas signed a five-year, $70 million contract. That’s an insane amount of money for a Georgia country boy who used to wake up at 6am every Saturday to pick peas and pull corn for four hours with his aunt and uncle.
But two days earlier, he received something much better; something that money can’t buy. He got his family back.
His mother, Katina Stuckey Smith, was one of 46 federal prisoners whose sentences were commuted by President Obama because their punishments didn’t fit the crime of non-violent drug charges.
Smith was a 42-year-old mother of three when she was sentenced in 2000 to 292 months of prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. Thomas was in sixth grade, and he was shuffled from the houses of extended family members until year ten, when he went to live with his father’s oldest sister and her husband. He stayed clean – no drugs, no arrests, while serving as an usher in church and attending Bible study every Wednesday. After he reached the NFL, he wrote Katina’s name on his wrist and promised himself that he would never quit on his dream, even though he wanted to.
Katina has never seen him play football in person – only on a grainy TV screen at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida, as Inmate No. 89426-020.
But all of that will change on November 15, when the Broncos host the Kansas Chiefs in Denver.
“God is good,” Thomas says.
GRONK DRAWS A BLANK
Picture in your mind some of the greatest moments in literature – maybe something from To Kill A Mockingbird or The Old Man And The Sea. Now forget about all of that nonsense, because we want you to consider the percolating prose in Rob Gronkowski’s It’s Good To Be Gronk, released shortly before training camp started.
To set the scene, the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end is at a party with Mojo Rawley, a WWE wrestler. Gronk loses his footing, slips off a platform, lands near Mojo and two women and knocks one of the women through a glass table. We’ll let Gronk take it from there ...
“The glass shattered and exploded. The whole place went silent ... I was scared she was dead ... Thank God she started moving ... Everyone was still silent and in shock. Then she threw her hair back and yelled, ‘Give me another shot!’”
The book, co-authored with his agent, Jason Rosenhaus, offers some insight into the Patriots’ successful organisation and what makes Belichick and Brady tick. But mostly, it offers some insight into high-level partying. But what would you expect from a guy who bought a bus from a Long Island church, renamed it the “Sinners Bus”, and outfitted it with eight seats, a hardwood floor, blinking lights and a nightclub-quality sound system?
His book isn’t a classic. In fact, he’s not even sure what’s in it. “I only read like 80 percent of it,” he says.
Spoken like Hemingway himself ...
SWITCHED AT BIRTH?
The Buffalo News published a heartwarming Father’s Day story in which new Bills head coach Rex Ryan talked about twin brother Rob, the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator, and the upbringing that helped them become the men they are today. But it took a bizarre turn when Rex admitted he might actually be Rob.
Yeah, that’s right. Rex was born five minutes ahead of Rob, and they were identified as Baby A and Baby B for a while. Rex says that they might have been mixed up in the hospital shortly after they were born, and that their parents, Buddy and Doris, even mixed them up on multiple occasions.
“The nurse would take one away when I was done feeding and bring me the other one,” Doris says, “and I’d swear, ‘I think I just fed this baby.’ ”
Rex is probably disappointed because if he’s Rob, then he never held an NFL head coaching job, has the hair of a Grateful Dead groupie and a belly that looks like it’s storing a keg of beer. Rob is probably disappointed because if he’s Rex, he has a tattoo on his biceps of Rex’s wife wearing the jersey of journeyman quarterback Mark Sanchez. Either way, they’re the wacko sons of a wacko former NFL head coach who, as a defensive coordinator for the Oilers, punched the offensive coordinator during a TV game.