The NFL’s Final Game Tankapalooza Edition

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S1: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.

S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. This is Hang Up and listen for the week of January 4th, 2000 and twenty one on this week’s show, we’re going to talk about the hilarious terribleness, terrible hilarity of the Washington football team’s triumph over Philadelphia in the final game of the NFL. Regular season will also discuss Alabama and Ohio State’s victories in the college football playoff semis and their matchup in next week’s final. And ESPN’s Michelle Vogel will join us to assess the Duke women’s basketball team decision to opt out of the season.

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S3: I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen and the host of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis, author of the books Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan. Hey, Josh. Neither hilariously terrible nor terribly hilarious. Put that on your CV. With us from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer, host of Slow Burns, Season three and six. Joel Anderson, what would you not put on your CV, Joe?

S4: Well, I haven’t even put a slate on my latest CV, so I got a long way to go.

S3: Well, while you work on that, maybe I will I will read the introduction for our first segment. How that sound.

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S5: That works. Let’s get started. Yeah, lots to do today.

S1: At ten forty six PM Eastern on Sunday night, New York Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton tweeted the word Brahe, followed by an ellipsis. It was around that time that the Philadelphia Eagles third string quarterback Nate Sudfeld through an interception. And and, you know, it was just like a punt. I love when interceptions are just like punts. But then just a few seconds later, the Philadelphia Eagles Nate Sudfeld fumbled the snap, which was actually not just like a punt. Maybe that’s what Sladen was anticipating happening with his ellipses. If so, good call, Derrius. Leading the Eagles and Nate Sudfeld eventually lost to the Washington football team at twenty to fourteen, giving seven and nine WASHINGTON the NFC East title in a spot in the playoffs and knocking Darius Laden and a six and ten Giants out of the postseason.

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S3: Brown Joel. The league and NBC actually chose to flex this game into Sunday Night Football the whole regular season all and fifty six games of it. It was all building up to this. The Eagles benched. Jalen hurts. They brought in Sudfeld when they were down by just three in the fourth quarter. Eagles coach Doug Peterson said he was, quote, coaching to win. Hertz would have actually given the Eagles a chance to win, but if Philly lost, they’d get a better draft pick. And so it seems, despite what Doug Peterson said, like they did what they could to lose on purpose, which mission accomplished, I guess. After the game, sports law guy Michael McCann suggested that the Eagles behavior was fraud. Former Packers VP Andrew Brandt wondered if Commissioner Roger Goodell would consider disciplining Billy. I also saw a whole bunch of people on Twitter saying that all of this was just extremely funny. So should we be saying this morning with a disappointed shake of our heads or an amused smirk or maybe both, you can smirk and shake at the same time?

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S4: I think Dariusz Slaten has the right idea, but it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling sorry for six and 10 football team that fell short of a playoff berth. We spent so much of the final weeks of the NFL season using the phrase control your own destiny like that’s only hear it in relation to NFL playoffs, right? You control your own destiny. If you went out, you win this game, you control your own destiny. Well, as it turned out, that actually means something. So once you no longer control your own destiny, you leave yourself at the mercy of a team that has absolutely no incentive to compete anymore. And I mean, the Eagles were looking out for their own interests, which is to say that’s their prerogative. The league hasn’t done anything to incentivize this sort of thing. And until it does, this sort of thing will happen all the time. And to be honest, you know, it’s funny because you said the league flicks this game into Sunday Night Football. I think it was a great choice. What else would have been more interesting than that game? Actually, I mean, you know, it was two of the league’s marquee franchises playing with actual stakes on the line. And the way it ended was at least as entertaining as it would have been if the game was actually competitive. Like if we can acknowledge that there’s a lot of ways to be entertained by football, whether by how good it is or how bad it is by the stakes involved, whatever, I thought that this was a bad football game that happened to be entertaining, but because of all of the various scenarios going on around it. And so, Frode, I mean, just look around the rest of the league, man. I mean, a whole bunch of teams took the week off, didn’t play their best players playing quarterbacks. They hadn’t thrown passes in years. People are playing for a contract incentives all over the league in week seventeen. There’s all sorts of ways in which these results are manipulated in the final week of the regular season. So just because this game happened to have everybody’s attention, it didn’t mean that it was such a departure from everything else that was going on in the league that week, I think that’s all reasonable.

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S6: Joel and I saw a lot on Twitter about how, you know, the Giants will remember this someday. The Eagles were tanking for draft position, and that’s fine, except that they would have started Nate Sudfeld if they really wanted to tank that this ultimately helped the Giants because they were not a playoff team and it got them into a better draft position. And, yeah, like you said, the Giants should have won more games. But I think that the Giants were undeserving is not the point here. The Washington football team was undeserving. These teams suck. They were all tire fires. And the fact that it was flexed into Sunday night was absolutely the right decision because we love watching car crashes. And that’s what this game was on. I mean, that figuratively, not in the literal sense that every player in a football game is a car crash. So, you know, we all watch that shit instead of watching Steph Curry score.

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S7: Sixty two points, maybe not all of us, but I watch that shit instead of watching Steph Curry score score sixty two points because my prehensile fantail is with the Giants and I wanted to see what happened. And I was kind of angry about the fourth quarter unfolded because, you know, Peterson didn’t kick a field goal to tie the game when the Philadelphia offense couldn’t do shit and. And he brought in a guy, 27 year old journeyman backup quarterback, who hadn’t played at all. If I were the Giants this morning, yeah, that is not fair, and it really was kind of a fraud on the game those players were trying. I mean, there were guys on the Eagles who were were trying to play. You don’t think Nate Sudfeld was trying to play? And I don’t blame Nate Sudfeld at all. Josh, Nate Sudfeld was the one that was put in a terrible position. The guy hasn’t played at all. He’s thrown into national television and a game of significance. And you knew he was going to just be embarrassed? There was no I didn’t I didn’t actually know that.

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S8: Like he had played in games. I think he played during the Eagles Super Bowl season and seemed fine, like he wasn’t great. I mean, I think the issue with Sudfeld is something that you just mentioned there, that he hadn’t played in the game and like multiple years. But I don’t think it’s like totally they wouldn’t have been the craziest thing in the world in a week in which, like people that I had never heard of named John Wolford and Chris Reveller played in a game that had, you know, quarterback in a in a game with playoff implications for both teams, the Rams and the Cardinals. Like, I don’t think it would have been the craziest thing to happen in the NFL last week if Nate Sudfeld came off the bench and beat the terrible Washington football team. Like, I think that would have been that was the ending that this game deserved and it would have been similar to that. You know, the Jets Browns game a couple of weeks ago, which is the rare game in sports where the incentives were lined up for both teams or the Jets wanted to lose and the Browns wanted to win. And yet the Jets won and the Browns lost like it would have been. And and like Nate Sudfeld wasn’t trying to lose the players that the Eagles put out on the field weren’t trying to lose. And so would have been the truly hilarious way for this to play out was for the players to, like, screw up what the organizations seem to want to do here and have the Eagles win in Washington lose and have Darrius Slaten and the Giants be happy. So and back to clichs here for a second. The reason that this was Fleck’s to say no football is I believe that it was the only game on the schedule where the results from other games didn’t have an effect on whether it would be important. Like you couldn’t put the Browns Steelers game in because it’s possible that, like based on earlier results, it wouldn’t matter. And so controlling of destiny, Jamal, that was the reason that NBC put this game on TV. The other thing that I thought was funny in your answer was referring to the Giants as the six and 10 football team, which made me think of the cliche, you are what your record says you are. And so maybe instead of just being Washington football team, maybe next year, the entire NFC should be six and 10 football team, seven and nine football team and one football team. I think that works.

S4: Right, right. Yeah. I mean, doesn’t it just say all that we need to know about the NFC East, that the team that won was the Washington football team? You know, like the team that had a whole scale change in the front office leadership, a team that is currently embroiled in several sexual harassment scandals. It seemed that just last week released its former franchise quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, the team that’s probably least well positioned to succeed going forward. Right. In terms of oddsmakers, they had the fourth best odds in the division, which means they had the worst odds in the division of winning it this year. And they wanted. So, yeah, I mean, to me, it just speaks poorly about everybody else. I don’t think the Giants have a right to complain. They played terrible all year and they didn’t. They came up short at the end.

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S8: And I mean, shouldn’t we separate out? Like, I don’t think the Giants have a right to complain either. But I do feel like the the thing that was so weird about this was like, why not start Nate Sudfeld from the beginning? Like, Peterson’s actions were just kind of incoherent during the game, like they planned it like like late in the game. They punted from inside the the Washington forty yard line and then they went for a touchdown on the first and goal like it just didn’t make sense.

S9: Oh, well, you know, see, I think that. So that was Jalen hurts his fourth start. So you wanted to at least get him some experience seeing how he’s going to perform, I guess, a credible NFL defense. I mean, whatever you want to say about the Washington football team, they do have a very good defense. So you wanted to see how you perform in that game with so stakes. How did he perform? Not well. Like, that’s actually the kind of thing that makes me sort of like, well, what do you what is everybody complaining about? Because it’s not like Jalen Hurts was setting the world on fire, you know what I mean? Like, he was struggling to put up points. He went seven of twenty four seventy two yards against that defense. So I don’t I kind of don’t understand why everybody’s so. Oh, it was totally inconceivable. Like maybe like maybe if if maybe they could have put Carson Wentz in. Right. Like maybe that’s the thing that everybody would have preferred to have seen rather than Nate Sudfeld. But he’s a I mean, we didn’t even dress right.

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S6: So he was a healthy scratch, along with several other players.

S8: Yeah. Alshon Jeffery and some of the players. I mean, Stefan. I guess I guess the reason why some people are saying fraud is like, OK, the Chiefs start Chad Chatigny like, you know, they’re not trying to win. But it is unusual in the NFL to pursue a strategy like this of, OK, you’re sitting out a bunch of starters, but a bunch of guys are playing and then you play the quarterback that gives you the better chance to win and then you, like, take him out in the fourth quarter in a close game. It was like preseason behavior, right.

S6: Not feeling bad. Hey, you know, Nate Sudfeld needs some he needs some snaps to get some film so that when we cut him, someone else can pick him up as a backup quarterback. And, you know, fraud is a strong word. Ethics are strong. I sort of you know, I blanch when people get on their high horse and talk about integrity and ethics and in an enterprise like the NFL. But the reality here is that, yeah, but the other team had something to play for. And the players on the Eagles, I am sure, did not want to go out there with a bunch of backups and not put out a credible effort. And this was not a credible effort by this team. I mean, there are guys on my team, you know, Jason Kelsi, the offensive lineman, was starting his one hundred and fifth straight games, 33 years old. He was injured most of the season with an elbow injury. And he was out there playing. And I’m guessing he was not thrilled. Maybe he loves Nate Sudfeld as a dude, but I’m guessing he was not thrilled that they wave the white flag. And with both putting the the third string quarterback that hadn’t played at all in and with this ridiculous, inexplicable play calling by the coach, I guess my thing is, is that they’re in the fourth quarter.

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S4: They were already losing. You know what I mean? It’s not like we can’t we can point to the they’re losing by three.

S10: We’re in a tie game because any normal coach would have kicked a field goal.

S1: So that that part is that it was fine for them to go for the touchdown.

S4: But see, this is what I’m saying. I just like all of this, like nit picking these all small individual decisions and I like the whole of it, is that the Eagles still had a chance to win late in the game. You know, they had a possession that maybe they you can argue that. Yes, maybe Nate Sudfeld is an indication that they were not taking the results of the game as seriously as they could, but they were still in the game, you know what I mean? So it’s not I mean, it’s an outright job like like everybody has said would have been Nate Sudfeld starting from the very start. They didn’t do that.

S6: And they were just like, well, it’s not like Jalen Hurts was said in the World plays and allowed Nate Sudfeld to throw the ball more than twelve yards down the field.

S1: And by the way, he threw that I think he threw that long pass for an interception.

S6: I think after after that, like near the end when they needed to gain lots of yards in order to try to tie or win the game. But I think ultimately we just like saying Nate Sudfeld, it does have a little Blake Bortles to it doesn’t.

S4: It sounds like a guy who played at Pitt for some reason.

S8: That’s the name of a quarterback that used to play Indiana, which is the pit of the Big Ten, I guess. So the thing that I feel like the smirking crowd is missing here is again the obvious, most hilarious outcome is for the Eagles to win. And also it’s the outcome that rewards fans, because by about a bazillion miles Giants hosting Tom Brady and the Bucks is the better playoff matchup. The Giants actually would have had a chance to beat the bucks, which I think Washington does not like. They only lost them by two earlier in the year. And we get to it’s the ultimate test of the is Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, or does he just make faces like him? Like if the Giants could have been Tom Brady like that? Is that is the game, I guess, other than the Saints game that I would have been looking forward to the most. Yeah. And I just feel like Washington is going to get destroyed by Tom Brady in the box, and it won’t be any fun for me.

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S6: And I want kind of Washington to get destroyed by Tom Brady in the box, because this is that this is a game of of you, Brady and Dan Snyder. And, you know, they should both disappear into the New Jersey swamp.

S1: Wow. Stefan, that got dark.

S4: Very, very harsh. Yeah. I mean, don’t you guys I mean, we talked about fraud and ethics in the game and let’s just. Is it all possible and has anybody entertained the possibility that the Eagles, with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter or in the fourth quarter, that Doug Peterson gets a call or somebody nudges him for the front office and says, hey, you understand that if you win this game, that’s the difference between picking at number six and picking at number nine in the draft. I mean, is that is that so far field? And he’s just like, you know what, you’re right. Let’s call off the dogs because Doug Doug, I only 11000 votes, man. Come on. You can find them. Yeah, I know this sounds like very Dominion’s voting machine. Fantasy world, but don’t you I mean, isn’t that at all possible because I mean, again, the responsible thing is for them to have lost.

S1: Well, they had they had prepped us for this because he was talking about giving Sudfeld snaps before the game. So so we were primed for this to happen.

S10: So it wasn’t so damn sure. I understand that, because the difference is that you play the game, you play to win the game. You get what you get in week 17 of the NFL.

S4: Like I mean, there’s none of it has to make any sense. And that’s the way it’s gone my entire life. There are all sorts of incomprehensible things that are happening within the course of the game.

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S6: The Giants don’t ask what the Eagles twice next year. There’s no good.

S1: Can I just run through some things that need to be said? No. One, Buffalo is looking unbeatable. No to the Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. No. Three Jarell shame on you for not getting the Derrick Henry ran oh thousand yards.

S10: I have it here in my notes. Let’s talk about Well you have it if you have it in your notes and don’t say what good people go with the flow of the conversation from eighth eighth player ever to do so.

S8: And then Jarell again the Saints played without any running backs which I refer to as a reverse Bronco. They still, they still ran for one hundred fifty six yards with mostly wide receiver Ty Montgomery going for over one hundred. And so we have these two kind of contradictory things here. Derrick Henry bringing glory to the running back position in the NFL and the Saints, proving that not only do you not need a star running back, you don’t need a running back at all.

S4: Yeah, yeah. Me all the time. I like stuff. It’s gotten some snaps at the running back position. I mean, did your boy, you know, Jim Tebow, whatever his name that he did, he get some snow? He ran for a touchdown, so I got to run him back back there.

S8: So Alvin Kamara tested positive for covid and all the other running backs were out as contacts. And the Saints are playing on Sunday. If if Roger Goodell had wanted to screw them, they could have you could have put the game on Saturday. But since that Sunday, that’ll be ten days since Kamara tested positive. And if he continually test negative, he’ll be able to play without practicing or being with the team at all. Stephon, are you excited to see Alvin Kamara back on the field without practicing at all? That’s going to be great. It’s going to be the greatest moment in the NFL. What a triumph.

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S6: Josh, it’s a January. These guys do not need to practice anymore. Practice is something for August. They are well versed in the playbook and their bodies. He will be better for not having run around for a week.

S4: Getting a week and a half off is great for him right now.

S1: I thought you were going to go with it’s wrong for them to play him because he tested positive for covid. But instead you’re going with it’s right for them to play him because they’ll be well rested at this point.

S5: How many players do you think actually have tested positive and played? It’s more than zero.

S9: In November, after Maryland was forced to cancel a game against Ohio State because of a covert outbreak, Rob Olla of the Columbus Dispatch fretted that the Buckeyes wouldn’t play enough games to qualify for the college football playoff at the time. Ohio State was only three. You know, it needed at least three more games to qualify for the Big Ten championship game on the road. We’ve known all along the virus is going to be OSU toughest regular season opponent. The column was headlined Enjoy Ohio State Football While It Last. Fast forward almost two months and Ohio State is one of the final two college football programs. With the game left to play Saturday, the Buckeyes push their record to seven in Ohio after beating Clemson forty nine to twenty eight in a college football playoff semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome. That victory set up Ohio State for a championship game match up against Alabama next Monday. The Crimson Tide improved to 12 in Ohio after a rout of overmatched Notre Dame in the other semifinal, a Rose Bowl that was played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In case you missed that, that’s a Rose Bowl in Texas, which really accentuates the absurdity of this whole enterprise. So there’s a lot to cover. About the previous weekend of games, Ohio State’s Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes for them following an injury that he didn’t get a diagnosis on until after the game. Alabama’s DeVonté Smith seems poised to become the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in almost 30 years. My boy, my someday godson, I hope I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen. But Alabama running back Najee Harris completely hurdled the guy and kept going. Ohio State running back. Trey sermon broke the fourth wall. Alabama’s offensive coordinator is now going to be the new head coach of Texas and so on and so forth. But given how weird and unprecedented this college football season was, Stephon, doesn’t it almost seem poetic that Ohio State made it to the very end?

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S6: Yeah, poetic is one word, Joel. In the future, when you look up the meaning of the phrase, the ends justify the means. There’s going to be a picture of Ryan Day holding whatever trophy they gave him after Ohio State beat Clemson. This is the perfect zemi ending. As Bruce Schoenfeld detailed in a New York Times magazine cover story on Sunday, Ohio State strong arm the rest of the Big Ten into playing the season because, as their athletic director told his colleagues on a conference call in the summer, it’s so hard to put this type of team together. And we have a unique opportunity pandemic. Man Dharmic, we’ve got a football team that can go all the way, fellas. But back to Ohio State’s schedule, it wound up playing just five conference games, one short of the minimum of six that the Big Ten had set to play in the title game. Ohio State again got the rest of the Big Ten to change plans, which at that point made sense because Indiana or Northwestern sure as hell weren’t getting into the playoff and there was a pot of gold waiting for everybody in the conference, the Buckeyes beat Northwestern made the final four. That meant six million dollars for the conference to share. Great day. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren texted Schonfeld after Ohio State made it love it when officials text reporters by that metric, and it’s really the only metric, it was in fact a great day. Everyone should get a helmet sticker with the actual coronavirus on it at Ohio State.

S1: I think I like that idea. There’s been a lot of talk about the college football playoff, quote unquote, devaluing the bowls since the advent of the CFP. But this was the first year, I think, really where was CFP or nothing for the entire sport? When you look at these other games, it was, you know, and we’re just we’re just coming off talking about the Nate Sudfeld Sudfeld ization of the week. Seventeen of the NFL, like it was more surprising when a notable college football player was playing in a ball game, a non CFP game, than when they were, you know, opting out and good for them like they shouldn’t have been playing in these games, you know, maybe shouldn’t have been playing during the entire season. But then you have this alternative universe of the CFP where it’s like not only are we going to play, we’re going to move the game, the Rose Bowl to another state to allow us to play. And not only we’re going to play when our quarterback gets injured, we’re not even going to, like, give him a full medical diagnosis. You know, Justin Field said after the game, they didn’t really tell me anything. I took a shot or two and just ran back out there. And the thing that I found most telling about that is that the halftime interview, Ryan Day, the Ohio State coach, after seeing his quarterback had speared on it, hit that led the Clemson player to get ejected. He said he just needs to play thirty more minutes. There wasn’t any question of he needs to play thirty four minutes. If he’s healthy, he needs to you know, we need to see what’s best for him and like, diagnose him at halftime, like they hadn’t gone in at halftime and looked at him or talked to him. It was just he just needs to play thirty more minutes and then after the game, Joel and. Rightly so, there’s this conversation both on the field and in the broadcast booth about how tough Justin Fields was and what an amazing performance I was, and it was all of those things. But, you know, even as we’ve gotten more kind of smart and sensitive about the trauma of the game, there is still this tendency to celebrate guys getting hurt and still playing potentially to their detriment, and especially when it’s a college player and especially when I college player is going to be one of the first players taken in the draft.

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S4: Yeah, right. And, you know, I called it poetic in the intro, but I’m I guess maybe the better word is grotesque. You know, what happened there can be great. Yeah, that’s true. They can be very gruesome. That’s true. That’s true. But referring back to that New York Times story, and it really sort of laid out the way in which the players health and their concerns really take a backseat to everything else. And in that way, it makes sense that the star of the game was a guy who, you know, when everything is on the line, they don’t need to know what happened to him. They don’t care what happened to him. Can he play? And that’s essentially the way the Big Ten, Ohio State and all these other schools basically approach the pandemic they like. How can we play at the end of the day, the players health concerns and all that other stuff? Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Can we get them out there on the field? Right.

S6: And, you know, it really to me, it was you know, we knew a lot of this. Right. But it was still impressive to see the cynicism and opportunism on such open display in that New York Times story. And for me, the most summing up anecdote was after Ohio State had played four games and had just three left on its schedule. Ryan Day and some of the players tested positive for the coronavirus. It was not enough positives to trigger an automatic cancellation of their next game. But Schoenfeld wrote the athletic director, Gene Smith, quote, knew that a weekend of airports and locker rooms was likely to spread the virus among players and staff members and quote, So he made a tactical decision not to risk losing more than one game and then likely missing out on the Big Ten title game and the possibility of making it to the playoffs, which OK, but a weekend of locker rooms in airports was every weekend.

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S4: Right. Right. Well, you know what’s interesting about that story and not not not to detract too much from talking about the CFP, but I mean, they basically connected the dots and figured out and I mean, we’ve talked about this already that holding those games may have indirectly driven the spread throughout the upper Midwest that like it gave people a reason to congregate, have people over to their homes, watch games, watch it at bars, tailgate, you know, illegal tailgates and everything else. Like it was irresponsible not only to the players that were involved in the enterprise here, but also to the surrounding communities. And they just pushed for it.

S6: He interviewed the health commissioner for the city of Columbus, and she was as as open as you could be. We’re trying to change the behavior of all these people. What’s their motivation? Meaning fans. You know, the players were protected. Nobody else was.

S1: Speaking of motivation, Dave Sweeney ranked Ohio State number 11, saying he made the right number one twice. That’s good. Saying that. Oh, wasn’t I wasn’t saying anything about, you know, how good they are, but it’s just that they didn’t play enough games to be ranked in the top 10. And in my, you know, moral universe, you can’t be in the top ten if you haven’t played enough enough games. I feel like even for the kind of low opinion that I had of Dabo coming into the air and maybe it’s not even fair to single him out. I mean, he’s a college football coach. I have a low opinion of all college football coaches, but he performed the worst of anyone in terms of rhetoric around the pandemic, in terms of just sticking to the like, normal attitude of all I care about is winning. He I mean, I guess credit to him for for consistency, but like accusing Florida State of of ducking them because they didn’t want to play a Clemson team with a player that had tested positive. And we know I think based on the story that you guys have been talking about and every other thing, that it’s not like Ohio State was not playing games because they were like taking players like health and safety seriously, but like even bracketing that for him to say that the teams that don’t play enough games are like behaving poorly or or deserve to be punished for that is just like execrable.

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S8: It’s like you can’t I don’t want to risk, like going over the top, but like the rhetoric that he used and the way that he talked about the season was like dangerous and stupid. And, you know, Chuck Colpeper wrote a piece for The Washington Post about Nick Saban, which I think went too far in trying to portray Nick Saban is like a good person or like, you know. But but Saban compared to Davis when he was acting like, you know, I mean, in. Fairness, like Alabama was never in a position like one of these other schools where, like they were never at risk of losing a game, never a risk of missing the playoff, and so Saban could act like magnanimous and say like, oh, like I’ve learned important lessons.

S4: And that’s funny to say that because the stories at the SEC so tough every fucking week that the game is up for grabs. But OK, now, now, by the way, Alabama wasn’t at risk.

S1: It’s a testament to how dominant a team, a dominant team had and how like they run a very tight ship over there. And so, you know, I guess it helps when you have all those five stars. But like Alabama was dominant, Saban could kind of step back and say the right things and do the right things. And his team was going to end up in that the final of the college football playoff.

S6: The same thing about Clemson and Dabo Sweeney. They’ve been dominant, their former national champion. They’ve got five star recruits. But behavior reveals who a man is. And what you’re saying, Josh, though, is that you would rank Dabo Sweeney number one.

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S7: I don’t exactly follow, but like I’m as asshole coach of the year and. Oh, yes, Dan Mullen, probably thank you for clarifying.

S4: It was like between him and Mike Leach, basically basically him and Mike Leach, you know, scrapping it out for the top responsible up there.

S8: You know, like Brian Kelly, Brian Kelly saying that, oh, Notre Dame, we’re not going to play if you don’t allow fans into the Rose Bowl. But oh, it’s because, you know, the players families deserve to see them. I mean, that guy is that guy stinks, too. I mean, Saban did stand out among these coaches in the playoff for, like acting the most normal, which I think is more of a commentary on the other coaches and Saban. But like, can we just talk for a second about Notre Dame? And the thing that stood out to me in that game was that Alabama was just doing the most simple stuff. They were like, OK, let’s throw a screen to Devante Smith. He will run for a touchdown. Let’s hand off to Najee Harris. He will hurdle this guy. And it’s hard to buy into narratives that go over like multiple decades. But like Notre Dame just does not look competitive ever in these games when they make it into these big bowl games or the playoff. And then Brian Kelly was getting really mad at everyone at the press conference after when they when they were like pointing out that Notre Dame never does well in these games. Like Joel, is it fair to question whether Notre Dame belongs here or is it just like a bunch of results that aren’t connected to each other?

S4: I mean, it’s it’s fair and that, you know, Notre Dame now has a fairly long record of not being competitive in these games over the court. So, like, whenever you’re trying to figure out who should fill in that final spot of a playoff of a playoff bracket that like, there’s a lot more skepticism and deservedly so, about whether or not Notre Dame can put up a credible challenge against a number one seed type team. But I mean, they did enough to win. They want you know, they played in the ACC championship game. They had undefeated season. So, I mean, they they have to be there. I mean, the thing is, though, is that and maybe it’s because the season has been so weird and we haven’t really had a chance to have a lot of perspective on it. But like, is it possible that this is one of the best college football teams we’ve ever seen in terms of Alabama? And we just don’t know it because the season has been so weird. I mean, one thing that I saw that just sort of blew my mind that Alabama’s twenty seventeen recruiting class included four first round NFL picks. That includes tours into in twenty twenty. And that recruiting class includes Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, Matt Jones, Alex Leatherwood and Dylan Moses. Those are that’s a collection of dudes are probably another three first round picks within that group. So it’s as much as like you want to like say, well yeah and Notre Dame doesn’t match up. None of those other teams that were in the running for the Forese would have done much better. They got stomped out. And I mean, it presumably, you know, it probably would have happened to Cincinnati, too.

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S1: Unfortunately, I think Cincinnati would have been more interesting because they have a good defense and it would have been nice to see Alabama’s offense go against a defense that’s, you know, one of the best in the country. But like, yeah, Alabama is really good. I think their offense might be one of the best ever. I mean, at least they’re not clearly better than she was last year, but they’re like one of the best ever. But they’re defense, I think is not if you’re talking about all time greatest teams, you have to have an all time great defense. And they gave up a lot of points, Thomas. They gave up a lot of points to Florida. And that’s kind of game a Florida team. That’s not very good.

S4: But Florida has one of the best offenses in the history of the game, too, though. I mean, you know, I mean, like it’s not like I mean, at least production wise, it’s understandable that they would be slugging it out with the offense.

S8: Sure. But like, Alabama’s great. They’re not one of the greatest teams ever.

S4: That’s you just you just don’t want anybody to challenge your dear.

S8: I’m not I don’t think I like the LSU defense wasn’t that great either in terms of like all time historical levels. But I think that it’s I think that it is possible that Alabama loses to Ohio State in a shootout like that. They have not shown, like are we certain sitting here today that Ohio State’s not going to put up a. Massive amount of points and require the Alabama offense to not make mistakes, like I’m not certain about that. I’ll be watching the game with that kickoff and not know who’s going to win. I feel like yeah.

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S4: I mean, it’s obviously possible that Ohio State could give Alabama some trouble. But like, it’s that is not typically been the standard by which we’ve judged the greatest teams in history. Like when you in two thousand three was considered one of those teams, they played a bad game and gave up some points when USC was a great team in twenty four, 2003, when they lost to LSU. Yeah. I mean, look, everybody up until that year, up until the end of the season, people thought that was one of the best things I ever saw. The next year, two years later, when USC was undefeated in 2005, they didn’t have a great defense. But everybody understood this is something special that not a lot of teams like this.

S10: Well, we won’t we will have another data point at this point because you just want to give it Bama their props. And I understand, you know, there’s a lot of I don’t want to give them their props until the season is over. I mean, you can’t be the greatest team ever losing the championship fair to say they look like one of the best teams in college football history.

S4: And they might they may not they might not complete that. They may lose. But I just wondering if we’re underselling them because of how weird this season is in that in that way, unfairly maligning Notre Dame for not being able to be competitive when it’s just like you. Najee Harris, all time career leading rusher, Alabama. Mack Jones, one of the best seasons you’ve ever seen. Devonta Smith, probably one of the best college wide receivers we’ve ever seen. It’s just something to think about. That’s all I’m saying.

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S1: I’m thinking I’m thinking about it. Can I ask you a quick running back question? Yeah, of course. Before before we go, I can’t remember which game it was. I might have even been an NFL game, but what I was thinking was unlike a third down, how do you know where the sticks are as a running back? Like it seems like when you’re like on the field with all those dudes around you and trying to tackle you, I’m like I think maybe one of the most underrated, impressive things is like knowing where the the line is and like being able to stretch the ball out for it. I would have no idea where that first down marker is.

S4: Yeah, I mean, I think you kind of you spot it out when you’re in your stance behind the quarterback. You’re like, OK, that’s the yard line I need to get to. And you try to keep you know, you just have a sense for I mean, the thing is, so much of being a running back is instinctual anyway, right? Like knowing which hole is going to open up, when to cut it up, cut it outside, all that sort of stuff.

S8: So you just have a feel for when you’re getting tackled, are you able to, like, kind of look to the side and be like, I need to stretch the ball out a little bit?

S4: Well, you just know what yard line you need to get to, you know, and you might you might have a pretty good sense that it’s all moving very fast. I mean, just running backs where special athletes. So you’ve got to just keep that in mind that it’s really hard to explain to mere mortals.

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S1: And I feel like I don’t understand it still.

S4: So so you’ve validated that maybe we need to invite Naji Harrison so you can me and him can talk about, you know, what it’s like to be a special running back, you know, with the sticks, put myself on mute and just just going to class.

S11: On this week’s bonus segment for Slate plus members, we’re going to talk about Becky Hammon getting a chance to coach a regular season game for the San Antonio Spurs and what that means in the grand scheme of things for women and for women coaches more broadly.

S6: I tried to count up how many college basketball games have been postponed or cancelled because of the coronavirus so far this season, but I gave up its dozens scores over one hundred. And that’s not counting all of the games that were to be played by the men and women at the eight schools in the Ivy League, by the Bethune Cookman men and women by the Maryland Eastern Shore. Men and women by the SMU. Women by the Chicago State. Men by the Florida A&M. Women, all of whom either didn’t start or decided to end their seasons or by the Duke women who won three of their first four games before announcing last week that they would not play the remaining 20 games on the team’s regular season schedule. Michelle Votel covers women’s college basketball for ESPN. She is with us now. Thanks for coming on the show, Michel. Thank you for having me. This feels like it should be a bigger story to me, and not just because one of the top programs in the sport with a big name, first year head coach Carol Lawson, is refusing to play while the rest of its power conference is playing. But because the decision appears to have been made exclusively by the players because they weren’t satisfied with the safety precautions implemented by the Atlantic Coast Conference in which Duke plays. Does that sound right to you?

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S12: Yeah, I think that’s why a lot of people are still lingering on this story, if you will. Why hasn’t anybody with the Duke Athletic Department spoken out about this, not Coach Karolos and not the athletic director? It’s been a very strange situation, I think, because I think it’s fine if the players made this decision. You know, that’s I understand that they didn’t feel like this was safe, but why were they not made available to the media to talk about it? And why hasn’t Duke talked about it? That part to me doesn’t make a lot of sense.

S1: Carol Lawson said earlier in the year that she didn’t believe they should be playing right. And Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke men’s coach, said that he wasn’t sure why that men were playing. So it’s not like the leading figures in this athletic department have said anything that would necessarily contradict this decision. And the thing that seems so interesting to me is that the Duke women’s team is one of the only entities in the sport where the actions have matched the rhetoric. And what an enormous statement it would be if the Duke men decided not to play, whether it was Coach K’s decision or the players decision. Right. I mean, the Duke women, it’s a huge thing. But, you know, Duke men’s basketball is the biggest brand name in the entire sport. And so that distinction there and again, like you said, Michel, with nobody commenting on this, it’s kind of unclear why one decision was made and the other hasn’t been.

S12: Yeah, and I think that comes down to money. I mean, let’s be realistic. I think there’s probably let’s go back to what Coach Suzuki said. Right. He said, I think we should be looking into this. Are we doing the right thing? And this did come after a loss to Illinois. And and some people pointed that out and then they immediately apologized like, oh, we shouldn’t bring that up. Well, Carol Lawson’s remark came right after they had gotten thumped by Louisville. It’s natural to sort of wonder if with both these coaches, if the fact that their teams are struggling in any way, you know, affected what they said. Now, maybe, maybe didn’t. Maybe it didn’t at all. But again, where’s the follow up from, Kyra? Her team has decided to not play. So you would think she would be out there saying, OK, hey, this is why we came to this decision. We don’t think it’s safe. If you don’t think it’s safe, then maybe that’s what you should be talking about. And and then you go to again with the athletic department. If it’s not safe for Duke’s women, why is it safe for Duke’s men? I mean, that is a contradiction there. So, again, I think we keep coming back to this is like you said, it’s a major brand name in in global sports, not just American sports. And the Duke women are an outlier. So why are they an outlier?

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S4: You know, so what’s really interesting is that it sounds like from your story, Michelle, you mentioned that it seemed like the inflection point was after that Louisville loss. Right. And Louisville’s coach said that the program had stringently followed all ACC protocols and, quote, Not one single player of ours would have even been on that trip to Duke, let alone the floor if they had any symptoms. And that actually tripped something off in my head is that do we know for sure that these college programs know what they’re doing at all? Because, like, symptomatic transmission is not the only kind of transmission there is. So that actually made me wonder, you know, do they actually know what they’re doing in terms of implementing these protocols? Has there been any conversation about the lack of standards among these programs?

S12: Well, they say they have followed exactly what the CDC protocol is, and the state has that protocol for all of its sports. So that goes just what you’re saying then goes back to if if the Duke women are saying that’s not. Safe, they don’t believe that being tested three times a week is enough and they want everyday testing and they said we’re not going to do that, then that probably needs to be something the school either really supports them on by speaking out about it or they’re doing what they’re doing, which is saying, oh, yes, we support them and then we’re going silent. We’re not explaining what the players ask for, which, by the way, the only reason we know that is because one of the players, Jada Williams, talked about it on Twitter and her mom has talked about it on Twitter. Her mom also has a son, Trey Williams, who plays from Minnesota. So she has two children playing in Division one sports. So do they know what they’re doing? Well, if we question if Louisville knows what they’re doing, then I think we have to question of the ICC knows what they’re doing. Right. And that may be part of the issue is does Duke want to get into a I don’t know if you’d say a battle, but a skirmish with the ACCC when they really don’t want to shut their men’s program down? I’m sure the school doesn’t want to do that.

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S6: Well, clearly, the Louisville game raised red flags. I mean, this game was played on December 9th. And on December 11th, Louisville went on a pause as the NCAA, the new NCAA parlance for for suspending practice and meetings on December 11th. So two days later because of positive tests on December 11th. So I think the Duke women players were rightfully dubious about whether they were exposed potentially to some health risk by playing that game. And I think you’re exactly right, Michel. It’s like Duke has put in a very difficult position. Now, the athletic department, they can either fight the ICC and point out the flaws and contradictions in the program or just let those float in the ether and have the season go on until something happens.

S12: Yeah. And I think then you look at a situation like Carol Lawson’s alma mater, Tennessee. They played Lipscomb the next day. They shut down their program because they had a positive test. So to Tennessee, know what they’re doing. You know, we can start doing this on so many different programs. It’s certainly not just Louisville’s women who’ve had played games and then shut down the program a day or two later, which goes back to exactly what Joel was saying. Like, do we know for sure that everyone knows what they’re doing? But but you can almost to the that’s the biggest question we’ve had, not just in sports, but in society in general. So at some point you have to count on the people you pay to make the decisions. Right? I think that’s what it comes down to. If the FCC says, hey, this is the protocol we’ve come up with, we’re using these gold, quote unquote, gold standard tests that the CDC says are the best tests we’re doing three times a week. And these programs say they’re following it. Either you sort of accept that and know that there’s going to be some glitches and some things are going to happen that you don’t expect to happen or you shut the whole thing down. And I think that’s what we’ve been that’s been the biggest umbrella debate of of collegiate sports. Do you accept the glitches? Do you accept that there’s going to be programs that have to shut down and people get exposed to this virus? Or do you shut down college sports? And we’ve seen what the answer is. And I do want to point out another thing, which you guys, I’m sure, have talked about a lot. When they tried to shut down college football in the PAC 12 in the Big Ten, it was the parents and the players who protested against that. So the people you would think would be the most concerned about that this virus would impact players were the ones that were fighting to have the sport play.

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S1: So Kurt Streeter did a column for The New York Times where he talked to Randy Adso, the UConn football coach, and UConn was one of the three Division one programs that didn’t play college football this fall. And Edsel said, you know, I talked to two dozen leaders on our team and they decided they didn’t they didn’t want to play. And so, you know, there’s differences across programs, differences across conferences. The one thing that’s been consistent is that the teams that have before the Duke women thing, the thing that seemed consistent to me is that the programs that decided they didn’t want to play actually had a financial incentive not to play or are they they had reason to believe that they weren’t going to be successful. So like SMU women, they haven’t won a game. Chicago state men, they haven’t won a game. Like the athletic director of Bethune, Cookman talks about how they would have lost a huge amount of money if they played this year UConn football. They would have lost the amount of money and they wouldn’t have been good. And the thing that’s so interesting about the Duke women, they don’t you know, they’re not the massive revenue generator that the men do. But it seems like an outlier, Michelle, and that it’s a successful program. It’s a program. They’re like getting recruiting wins. Carol Lawson is like the most exciting young coach in the sport. And it seems like the only case where it doesn’t seem like it would have been in their financial interest to stop playing. It was that same for.

S13: Yeah, and a lot of ways I think it does seem fair, and I think that’s what surprised people.

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S14: I don’t think a lot was expected of Duke women this season for people who follow the sport closely because they lost their best two players from last year. It’s Kerry’s first year. The program hadn’t recruited as well as it usually does the last few years. And kind of the way I feel like it had gone into a little bit of a just a malaise. And Kara, coming in was this huge, exciting thing, like you said. I mean, she’s a big personality in the sport, but she’s never been a head coach before. In fact, she’s coached very little know she’d spent a year with the Boston Celtics as an assistant coach to three on three in the Olympics. So she’s never run a program before. And that’s a lot to take on. No matter how good you are, no matter smart you are, no matter how much experience you have in the sport of basketball.

S12: So she really got thrown a lot to deal with in her first head coaching job. I mean, easily more than anybody has ever had in their first head coaching job. Right.

S14: I mean, dealing with a pandemic and her team deciding that it didn’t want to play. That’s why I think people want to hear from her here, how she’s feeling about this, what the conversation she had with her team were like. And then it leads to that other question of will this be a way that teams just stop having seasons if they’re not playing well? And I don’t want that sound cynical. But when you looked at what SMU said, they said, you know, we felt like this entire experience, their own six, they’re still taking tests that probably kept away from their friends and family. Was a whole experience worth it when you’re not winning basketball games? I think that’s where we may see more of this as this season goes on with programs that say it’s not worth it to us. And we may see that more in women’s on the women’s side than the men’s side because of money.

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S6: Should we discount some of the cynicism, Michel, and just say that this is an incredibly important moment where college athletes who have no power in a practical way are exerting their the one power that they do have, which is to say we won’t play.

S14: But I think this isn’t the start of that. Obviously, this has been going on. And you guys know this this has been almost like a drumbeat we’ve seen for several years now. And, you know, I support the athletes in what they’re doing. It’s their bodies that are on the line. It’s their futures. We saw a lot of that this year with the Black Lives Matter movement. Look at a situation like Oklahoma State football where Mike Gundy wears a t shirt that’s offensive to a lot of people. And his players are like, hey, wait a minute, we don’t like this.

S13: We want there to be dialogue about this. We want you to explain where you’re coming from when you’re doing this. That couldn’t have happened. Obviously, pre Internet couldn’t possibly have happened because nobody would have been calling him out. But the players now have the power to do that. And just like you said, they have the power to say, hold on, we’re not going to play. We saw that with Missouri football, remember, a few years ago with the situation with Missouri football team saying, hey, we want some changes at this university and if they don’t happen, we’re not going to play. We’re going to see more and more of that. And I think it’s. It’s a long time coming, is what I would say, and I think the athletes should be listened to and supported doesn’t mean they’re always right. Sometimes they’re young and they may make decisions that are rash, just like young people make decisions that are rash. But they’re also they should be listened to. Right.

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S4: I mean, because the people, other people are making decisions or sometimes making decisions that are for the best of themselves and the university and money rather than the actual young people thinking a little bit about the calamitous consequences of playing in this time, a name that that sort of came to mind that we haven’t even talked about on the show is County Johnson. And for those who are unfamiliar with that, University of Florida men’s basketball player who collapsed December 12th during a game at Florida State, he was briefly placed in a medically induced coma and then was diagnosed with an acute case of myocarditis, which is a lot of people know been linked with some cases of coronavirus. But like Chantay, Johnson’s not just a dude. He was the X preseason player of the year. And I’m just wondering if it that disaster seen the way that that happened, has it all influenced what’s happened since he collapsed on December 12th? Like in your reporting, Michele, has that name come up at all in terms of, you know, this is potentially really dangerous?

S13: Probably not as much as you might expect for how dramatic that situation was. And maybe part of that is that young people to some extent still feel bulletproof, a little bit like, OK, this could happen to just like when you see somebody get a spinal cord injury in football, that could happen on every play. But people see it happen and they go right back to playing. They see the guy taking off part of sports. And part of the reason we love athletes is their fearlessness and they’re there. The fact that they are willing to put their bodies on the line. This is another way. And in some ways you could say they’re putting their bodies on the line. They’re they’re rolling the dice a little bit with this. And I think that’s why you’re seeing, obviously with Duke, those players, we assume because again, we haven’t been able to hear the whole story from them. They got together and said, hey, we feel like we were exposed. We feel like there’s not enough testing. We don’t trust the system and we’re not going to play. They talk that out amongst themselves. But you hear from a lot of other coaches and players, at least in basketball and men’s and women’s basketball, who say we we really want to play. You know, this is this is what we do. We’re willing to take the risk. We we have faith in the system. And also you’ll hear people say, I I feel like I’m safer in this system than I would be outside of it.

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S4: It’s really crazy just also, too, because, like, you think that the coaches would have some sense of self-preservation in this because like Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, we’re talking about people that are squarely within the category of people who, if they contract the virus, that it could go really poorly for them. There’s no way of predicting like but we know that like that older people tend to not fare quite as well. So I’m just surprised that the coaches themselves don’t have the concerns that the players seem to have.

S6: Well, those guys all tested positive already. I mean, Roy Williams is seventy two. Seventy three. Rick Pitino suggested moving the tournament back to May to build a little more time in. He’s not young either. So, yeah, there is some self-interest here. And maybe there is a behind the scenes tug of war with the athletic departments on the conferences about about what to do. Basketball is different from football. There is way more travel, way more close contact. It’s indoors. These are obvious things. But they need to be said.

S13: Yeah, I think those are all great points. We’ve had Tony Borislow on the women’s side for Seton Hall had the experience cohabitant. It was very sick with it. He recovered, but he talks about how serious this is. We’ve had other coaches who’ve either tested positive or had because of contact tracing, couldn’t coach in their games. We had to coaches out with the TCU and Baylor women. Both of them were out because of contact tracing. So if you talk to coaches behind the scenes, a lot of them will say, are we one hundred percent sure we’re doing the right thing? No, we’re not. One hundred percent sure. But this is what we’re doing. And this is what the people, again, who are paid to make the decisions, who have the medical expertise are telling us is the safest way to do it. And so that’s what we’re going to do. Most of them, I think, deep down want to say this is what they’ve been doing all their lives. Right. So they want to keep doing it. It would be hard for them to take a whole season off of of some playing from from doing what they do. But I know one coach told me, she just said to me, sometimes I wonder what we’re doing. I really do like it. It occurs to me when we’re all getting tested and we we have one game that we’re supposed to play and then the next day it’s a different game because this team tested positive. I wonder about it. But she’s still playing and so is her team.

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S6: Michelle Vocal covers women’s college. Basketball and college sports for ESPN, Michelle, thanks a lot for joining us. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

S15: Now it is time for after balls and over the weekend is doing a little reading on Bethune Cookman because it’s one of the schools that canceled its spring sports. And I just happened across some obituaries for a man named Jack Cy McLaren, in particular, an obit in the Orlando Lindis, a novel by Mike BIanche that referred to McLaren as the father, the Son and the Galloping Ghost of Bethune Cookman Athletics. And McLaren died at the age of 89. And this is a life story and a list of accomplishments that is truly remarkable. And I’m just going to run through some of the stuff that BIanche highlighted in his obituary. Three sport athlete at Bethune Cookman Football, Basketball and Track was the head football coach twice was also the head basketball coach in the ad when he went to Bethune Cookman historically black college in Florida. He was the chauffeur for Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the School Drover and people, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He played on the Bethune Cookman basketball team with John Chaney, who would go on to become the coach at a temple, led his team to the night the postseason tournament. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, went into the military for a couple of years before he played for the Steelers. The Steelers kept McLaren and cut Johnny Unitas the first year that he was in training camp. He went on to make the all pro team in the NFL finished third in the league in receptions, went to the Pro Bowl where he roomed with Jim Brown. This guy did a lot is beloved it and rightly so. But then Cookman. And so let us honor and remember Jack saying McLaren and all that stuff I read again was from the obit by Mike Beancurd, which we’ll link to on our show page. Stefen, what is your sign, McLarin?

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S6: Our friend David Roth of Defector pioneered the practice of remembering some guys, recognizing that we have stored inside of us the names of athletes who are unremarkable by any historical standard Tom PUREX, Spider Lockhardt, Dean Meminger, Jim Mason, but whose memory, whose name triggers a spasm of recognition and even joy. This is qualitatively different from remembering Zelma Abati. That’s meant to correct an oversight because nobody was important in his sport. To remember a guy is to remember him not for his achievements, but for his existence to be remembered in this way as an honor. It marks that you were good enough to be remembered at all, someone who doesn’t listen to this podcast, for instance, and doesn’t know you from your work. Joel has remembered you, the guy that was a running back on TCU for a second in the nineties when Lety showed up, Anderson, I remember him. I bring this up because of the main character in the New York Times magazine story about college football is Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren. Before taking that job in twenty nineteen, Warren worked for more than twenty years as a lawyer and business executive in the NFL, most recently as the CEO of the Minnesota Vikings. He is an extremely accomplished man and will be remembered for those achievements. But about three quarters of the way into the Times story, there’s an anecdote about how when Warren was ten in 1974, he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Doctors told him he probably wouldn’t play sports again. Warren persuaded his parents to use some of the settlement money from the accident to build a backyard pool, devised his own water therapy program and quote, At seventeen, he was playing basketball at the University of Pennsylvania. And quote, As Bruce Schoenfeld wrote in the piece, the accident taught Warren that with perseverance, almost anything was possible and it imbued him with an almost preternatural calm. But by that point, I had stopped reading because, wait, Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, was on the Quakers when I was there, like David Roth opening a pack of nineteen ninety four tops and finding Dan Slott or Gary Retests. I now remembered the Kevin Warren as he relates to me.

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S7: He was a freshman when I was a freshman. Crazy season. Penn won its first three loss, the next nine won the next fourteen and then lost a winnable game. In the first round of the NCAA was sixty six to fifty six to St. John’s at the Nassau Coliseum. I remembered all of that. I was at the NCAA game, but I had to look him up to remember Warren as an end of the bench guy to be remembered. Twenty two games, four minutes and one point two points per game. It was Warren’s only full season at ten after it ended, the Quakers coach Bob Win, our who had taken the team to the Final Four just three years earlier, left Philly for Arizona State. Warren told the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper it’s something he had to do, he had to take the opportunity to move up in the ranks. Spoken like a true future. College sports administrator two games into his sophomore year at Penn when he was still riding the bench. Warren followed one hour to Tempe, his hometown, where his father was a professor. He made the Sun Devils as a non scholarship player. The next season, scored five points in 12 minutes in three games and transferred again to an NCAA school, Grand Canyon College, where his brother in law, the former Notre Dame star and NBA player John Shumate, was the head coach. Warren wanted to play basketball. He lit it up for two years, twenty points a game, and then got on with his life. Warren would get an MBA from Arizona State and a law degree from Notre Dame. In addition to the Vikings, he worked for the Rams and the Lions. He’s now the first African-American commissioner of a power five conference. But of course, that’s not how or why I remember or care about Kevin Warren. Same with Fran McCaffrey, who’s the head basketball coach in Iowa. But more important was a senior on those three shot clock Quakers who beat Princeton. Forty three to forty and forty six to forty three that season. And Carr and we’re seeing he’s the attorney general of the District of Columbia now, but he ran some point as a freshman in 81, 82 and was a starter for the next three years. I also remember Paul Little, who’d be drafted by the Blazers and David Lardner and Avery Rawlings and George Noone and Willie Oliphant and George May and Anthony are noley, and also Michael Brown, who just last month died of complications from covid so many guys to remember. Here’s to the 1981 82 Penn Quakers.

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S4: It’s fair to say then to Kevin Warren probably laid the foundation for the Grand Canyon University basketball program that we know today. Right. I mean, he was one of those guys, another achievement for him than merely coaches their damali. He’s the coach there. That’s right. That’s right. I got Myron Metcalf, who was on with us a couple months ago. Maybe at this point he wrote a long profile about the Grand Canyon University program. Maybe we should throw that up on the on the show page as well. Sure.

S6: I don’t want to end here without noting that my reference to Joel here, because I did a little Googling just to make sure Joel LTA the years are going to just asked you, but I wanted to spring it on you. And I did stumble across a piece you wrote for the student newspaper. Joel, you profiled L.G.. That’s right. From his back up to his chronicler.

S4: I got a lot of good information as a result of knowing him. That’s right. Talk to his mom. Talk to his brother. I wrote, I don’t know the Danny and Tomlinson. This is the Danny Tomlinson. Yes. What’s interesting is that people don’t know what column inches are anymore in writing. That’s not even a useful point. But it was about 80 column inches that I wrote this profile. It was voluminous.

S6: I actually copy and paste that. Joel, it was three thousand words. Three thousand percent for for an undergraduate. Yeah, that’s not just let me just read the lead. Oh, God. It is a late summer afternoon and so forth. And the Dannion Tomlinson is alone. He has a solitary figure on a hill several blocks away from Turkus practice. Field practice ends, but Tomlinson decides to battle fatigue, the heat and the uphill climb just a little longer. Being the best has its price.

S4: And Tomlinson is anteing up just bad college writing all the way around at his awesome college writing. No, no. But yeah, no. I mean, I spent down Eltis mom, and this was after the summer when the really the big stories that he’d gotten arrested with TC’s best NBA player, best NBA prospect, Lee Neylon and an off campus off campus motel where they were smoking weed, which seems so much scandalous in nineteen ninety nine than it would today. So, yeah, this was I really helped play a role in the redemption of the Damien Thomas.

S2: Believe it or not, that is our show for today. On that note, our producer is Melissa Kaplan. Posner Passions and subscribe or just reach out to Slate dotcom slash hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate Dotcom and please subscribe to the show and rate and reviews on Apple podcast. It’ll help us out for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levine, remembers MBT and thanks for listening.

S1: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members and Michelle. ESPN is back with us. Hey, Michelle. Hi. How are you doing? Doing well. And we want to talk about Becky Hammon, who last week for the San Antonio Spurs was the head coach, an NBA game after Gregg Popovich was ejected, the Spurs coach against the Lakers. And in a kind of classically Popovich move when he got tossed out, just pointed to Becky. Hammon is like, you’re the coach now. And that’s how I describe it. He officially pointed at me. That was it said you’ve got them. And then having went on to say, obviously, it’s a big deal, it’s a substantial moment. Michelle, you’ve covered Becky Hammon for a very long time. Did you see this for her when you were covering her as a WNBA player?

S13: Yeah, I thought she was going to be a big time coach when she was WNBA player. I didn’t know it would be on the NBA side, but I. I felt sure she would be a coach. She’s incredibly smart, incredibly determined and a real natural leader. And for people who didn’t get a chance to watch her as a WNBA player, you know, she was somebody who didn’t get rafted. And part of that was the ABL players that the short lived women’s other women’s pro league had folded. So there were a lot of pros in line ahead of her to get drafted. So that’s part of the reason. In ninety nine, she didn’t get drafted, but nonetheless she didn’t get drafted. And so she had that, that she was always proving herself. She does things differently. I mean she’s the player who went and played for Russia, you know, in the Olympics because she didn’t think she was going to get a fair shot to play for the US national team. And she was right. I don’t think she would have gotten a shot to play and she wanted to play in the Olympics. So, Becky, somebody who’s always been a go getter has always been willing to do something a little different and always has this idea of I’m going to prove myself. So that’s why I think all those things have come together in her ability to to coach in the NBA.

S4: One thing that happened after the game is that so many people said, oh, I can’t wait for this doesn’t matter. It doesn’t this is not a big deal. And I just I don’t know, like maybe I’m old fashioned in that way or something. It just seemed really dismissive. And what do you think about sort of that sort of response to her getting a chance to coach in an NBA game? Because, I mean, I do think it’s meaningful. I mean, even symbols can be meaningful, right? Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m just sort of like, what do you think about sort of this? I think Rudy Gay say something like, I can’t wait to this doesn’t matter. But like I mean, I think that’s easy to say. Is a man right?

S13: Well, for some men, I think a lot of men get it. I really do. And I think it’s it’s similar to when we have the first year. I think it was. And forgive me if I’m getting this wrong, but the first black woman to run the press conference wasn’t the other day to run Joe Biden’s press conference like. And people say, oh, why is that a big deal? What’s a big deal? Because the country’s been around for how long and and a portion of our population hasn’t been represented in this way. So that’s why it’s a big deal. I always think when these situations happen, the person who’s in it there, I always feel for them because you have some people who want to celebrate it and other people who want to put it down. What are they supposed to do? Like are they supposed to downplay their own accomplishment? Because it makes some people I don’t know if it’s uncomfortable. Is that it, Joe? It’s more like just makes them irritated because they don’t want to. Yeah, they don’t. And I think a lot of that is not understanding that symbols matter. And just because a symbol doesn’t matter to you, let’s say to you, what does what difference does that make? It makes a big difference to fifty percent of the population of the earth. You know, who who is looking to this person, as obviously that’s the case with with somebody like a woman being a maybe getting a chance to be an NBA head coach. We saw that with Sarah Fuller, the kicker. Right. You know, like for Vanderbilt, you had some people are like, oh, this is just a stunt. This is just publicity doesn’t mean anything. But it meant a lot to a lot of people who look to her as a symbol of accomplishing something that they never thought that they could do. So that’s why when I look at what Becky’s doing, I guarantee you Becky’s not thinking about, oh, I want to be I want all this attention for doing this. She just wants to coach. But I think she also understands her place in history. And she’s been through, like all WNBA players, you have to get to market athletes. You know what it’s like to get everything they do constantly questioned and belittled. You’re not going to bother Becky. She’s heard it and she’s going to be able to deal with it all. And ultimately, I think this is what I want to believe. Top level athletes, which the NBA, I think the greatest athletes on the planet, what they respect is can you do your job? And ultimately, if they see she can do her job, they’re going to accept her. And I think the ones who are the Spurs have accepted that because they’ve seen it every day in practice.

S6: And that’s that’s the tact that. Popovich, the head coach of the Spurs, took after the game when he was asked about it, he didn’t say it wasn’t a big deal. He said it wasn’t a big surprise because she was qualified and she’s been here and she’s ready for this. And this is what I’ve been preparing her for for several years now. You know, he said we didn’t hire Becky to make history. She earned it. She’s qualified. She’s wonderful at what she does. I wanted her on my staff because of the work that she does. And she happens to be a woman, which basically should be irrelevant. But it’s not in our world. I mean, can you think of I mean, does this feel like it is always felt like, well, this is the obviously the right place. Popovich is a coach that is willing to be different, willing to speak his mind, willing to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, irrespective of what other people might think. And this feels like an example of that.

S13: I think it is. You know, I’m reminded of a story I did many years ago on at that point. It was the thirty year anniversary of the battle of the sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. And I was going through I was working in Kansas City. I was going through the newspapers the day after to see what the headlines were like in Kansas City when she won. And and as I was going through the microfilm, I came across a news story just randomly. It wasn’t related to this, but it was a study that said that the basically said what is the greatest misuse of brain power in our country that we’re not tapping into? And I bet you guys can guess that it was it women. We weren’t tapping into what women could do. And this was nineteen seventy three. There’s a part of me that thinks we’re still fighting that battle, especially in sports. If you’re at the highest level of sport, which the NBA is, you want the best possible brain power, the best leadership, the best tacticians, people who are able to get people to follow them, if you’re shutting out half the population, you’re missing something. And I think that’s one reason why people sometimes say, oh, should we have men coach of women? It’s like, of course we should you should have the people who are best at their job. And some people, I think, prefer coaching women. You should have the best of their job doing it. So what we’re seeing, I think, from the Gregg Popovich gets this is he’s not just sort of breaking a barrier. He’s also telling everybody else, don’t be stupid, you know, like look around you and see who’s good and don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. See who’s good and who you can groom because there’s going to be more other than Becky. Obviously, we’ve already seen that there’s women in the in the NBA coaching and there’s going to be more. You look at somebody like a Sue bird, you talk about a great leader and a great basketball mind. As smart as any basketball player I’ve ever talked to my life, she’s worked with the Nuggets. Might she someday follow that path? Might a lot of other players? And if they do, why are they going to do it? I think they’re going to do it because some NBA people say we don’t want to shut out potential greatness from from our coaching ranks. We want to embrace it.

S1: Maybe we can end here with this question, which is you mentioned Karolos in coaching with the Celtics. That could have been a path that she continued on. She instead went to Duke and is coaching the women as we as we discussed. But based on your kind of reporting interviews, talking to folks, what goes into the decision of someone like Becky Hammon or Karolos and about whether they’re going to really go for coaching men versus coaching women?

S13: I think a lot of it is opportunity. And this is where the WNBA opened those bridges. Obviously, the WNBA started in nineteen ninety seven and initially all those franchises were affiliated with NBA franchises. And even in those cases where perhaps there wasn’t a lot of dialogue between the two franchises, there was a little there was a sharing of facilities. There was the conversations that gets started. And that’s what I think definitely happened with Becky and the Spurs. She was in San Antonio. She was around the facility. She’s a really engaging, smart person. She started talking to the people on the men’s side. And that’s what I think. That’s the first barrier, right? It’s the getting your foot in the door where people are going to talk to you and and sort of see you as a person instead of just, you know, there’s somebody from the women’s team. It’s, oh, here’s another basketball mind to talk to. And then after that, I think it’s probably a matter of what do you enjoy? Do you enjoy coaching at the pro level or the college level? Because those are very different on both the men’s and women’s side. And then can you get into a situation where you feel like you can have advancement? We’re starting to see that now. And once you have a few people open that door, then it makes it easier for other people to come into it. And obviously that’s the case for everything, not just women coaching men’s sports, which are verbal.

S1: Thanks again for coming on. We really appreciate it. Thank you. And sleepless members, thank you for your support and membership. And we’ll be back next week.