Tales from the lockout: Thoughts on Lewis, Ebersol, Newton and more
Why the NFLPA is completely accurate in calling the NFL a 'cartel'
One must-read story this week, and unveiling players 61-70 in my top 100
Quotes of the Week, Stat of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The last time I swung a golf club was a year ago, at the 2010 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic, in which, I'm sure, I was the worst golfer on the famed Stadium Course at Sawgrass. That is trouble for the foursome that gets me as a golfer this morning at the 2011 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic. Let's just say Sterling Sharpe, one of the real golfers today, won't be looking for me on the leaderboard.
"I want to thank you for all being here tonight,'' Coughlin told the crowd at the banquet and silent auction Sunday night, "and for allowing me to see my players.''
Pleasantries were exchanged, not playbooks. For one night, normalcy reigned. Coughlin and current players (Chris Snee, Mathias Kiwanuka, Brandon Jacobs and others) and former players (Mark Bavaro, Mark Brunell) said hello and little more, so as not to put the Giants in fraternization jail with the league.
But it looks like it's going to be a while before Coughlin can say to his men any more than, "That's a bad slice you got there, Sage Rosenfels.'' We're headed for a period of nuclear winter for the next four or five weeks. There's no pressure on either side to move. There hasn't been any pressure since the March 11 deadline, which, not so coincidentally, is the last time either side made any sort of tangible move in the talks. That's 73 days without any real progress.
I don't expect Judge David Doty's ruling on the network-TV damages to sway the case enough to force the two sides to negotiate. I don't expect anything to happen until the three-judge appeals panel rules whether the NFL can continue to lock out the players, and by all accounts, that decision won't come until late June, at the earliest.
Two points before we begin our spin around whatever this game is right now:
I don't understand Ray Lewis' logic. I respect Ray Lewis, and I also do not travel in his circles. I don't know who has told Lewis the crime rate by the general populace in America is going to go up if there's no pro football this fall, but someone has, and he's buying it. Lewis told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN: "If we don't have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up,'' he said. When SalPal asked why, Lewis said: "There's nothing else to do.''
It's a nice headline, but I'm not buying it. I suppose it could happen, but unless we get burglars and thieves saying they did it because the NFL wasn't on TV on fall Sundays this year, I'm not buying what Lewis is selling.
Yes, the NFL is a cartel. According to the Free Online Dictionary, "cartel'' means "a combination of independent business organizations formed to regulate production, pricing, and marketing of goods by the members.'' The NFL is a cartel, the NHL is a cartel, the NBA is a cartel, and Major League Baseball's a cartel. Sports leagues are comprised of teams that collectively set a lot of parameters that wholly independent businesses do not. I don't think it's wrong for the players union to attack the NFL as a cartel in a filing to the appeals court designed to help their case, because that's what happens in such filings. But I do think those in the media who make a headline out of it aren't serving their readers well. It's just more noise.
On with the column.
The end of an era.
I'm prejudiced, obviously, because I had a good working relationship with Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports Group, who parted company with his new bosses at Comcast, stunningly, last Thursday. He was a very good boss. A unique boss. Not long after my wife and I moved to Boston, Ebersol called, said he'd be in Boston in a couple of days with his wife, and would we have breakfast? Sure. The breakfast turned into a breakfast marathon of conversation, and then a walk to a video store not far from Boston Common; Ebersol had to find a Western he'd been raving about, The Sons of Katie Elder, so he could give it to us. That's probably the most interesting day I've ever spent with a boss. But that was him. I bet we talked about 10 percent football that day; 10 percent might be a stretch.
You'd think the most powerful man in sports television would flex his muscles around the employees sometimes, and I'm sure he did. But Heavy-Handed Ebersol's not the one I ever saw. He was more like a peer than the average boss. I bet I've gotten 20 texts or calls over the past three or four years, commenting on something in this column -- usually one of the pithy things, which he loved.
Now, not everyone is going to have the same memories as I have, because bosses in billion-dollar businesses have to be, well, bosses sometimes. I think what made him good -- and what will make him good again -- is his curiosity. Everything interested him. So I thought I'd ask a few people who knew him well in the business in the past few years for an observation or two about what made Ebersol good.
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner: "Dick had this attitude that not a lot of people in the TV business have. It was, 'If we float all boats, it's good for everyone.' That's why you would see on the Thursday night kickoff game to start the season NBC plugging the FOX and CBS games the following Sunday. A lot of people would say, 'I'm not helping the competition.' Dick thought, 'I can help make kickoff weekend bigger for everyone.' And not many people have the creative ability and business sense to do what Dick could do. I remember meeting with Dick over dinner at the Isle of Capri [a Manhattan restaurant Ebersol loves], back when we were hatching the idea for a Sunday night network game, with the possibility of flex scheduling late in the year. It didn't take him long to grasp the concept, and then he kept adding to it and making it better.''
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis quarterback: "The thing I always felt about Dick was he was all in. We'd have the Sunday night game, and Friday at our facility, there'd not only be Al Michaels and John Madden -- or Cris Collinsworth now -- and the crew, but Dick would be there. Every single production meeting. He never missed, and that never happens in TV from what I've seen. It's always just the announcers and the crew. And Dick being there, you could tell how important it was. It was like a playoff-game feel. It's like, My name's on this show, and it's going to be the best show it can be, every week. And he'd have questions, just like John and Al would have questions.
"The other thing about those production meetings: He'd have great gadgets for us every time. You know, flip video cameras, iPods, whatever. It got to the point where we [players] wondered,' What's Dick going to have for us this week?' I remember a few times around those meetings we'd have conversations about philanthropy. He was very interested in the charities I was involved with, in my Peyback Foundation -- I think for a lot of reasons, but one was obviously to honor the loss of his son. You could just tell he and his wife had a lot of other interests in the world other than sports on TV, and they wanted to leave their mark in a positive way.''
Fred Gaudelli, Sunday night game producer: "Think what Dick did to the viewing habits of America. For 30 years, the prime time night for the NFL was Monday night. I didn't think it would ever change. Lo and behold, in five years, it's flipped to Sunday night on NBC. We're the number one show on TV. Not just the number one sports show -- the number one show overall. I don't know which one is which, but I would say Roone Arledge, Don Ohlmeyer and Dick will go down in history as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost of sports TV.''
John Madden, former Sunday night game analyst: "The years with NBC were the best years I ever worked in the business. Dick made it that way. We'd be together from Thursday night at dinner, to Friday at production meetings and practice, to Saturday watching film and doing more meetings with the visiting team, to the game. We spent so much time together, all of us, that we got pretty doggone close. In all the years I did the NFL, we had more owners come to practice on Friday in whatever city we were doing the game at NBC than all the others combined -- because Dick was there. He really understood partners. He'd get a lot of business done with those owners on the field and in their offices. To see the chairman out at practice every week ... it was a great thing.
"I remember on one of our road trips, we're staying in the same hotel as the Boston Celtics. You look at the marquee at the hotel and it says, 'NBC, film session, 9 a.m.,' and 'Boston Celtics, film session, 10 a.m.' Doc Rivers is such a good friend of everyone. He told us, 'If you guys want to come over and watch with us, come on in.' So I'm all excited about that -- breaking down film with the Boston Celtics! Dick goes over a little bit early, and I go over there around 10, and there's one player in there -- that Big Baby guy. They got all this food, and there's only one player, and I'm expecting to hear Doc talk about doubling this guy, trapping that guy, you know, watch one of the great basketball coaches teach his players something important. And I look over, and there's all the Celtic coaches at a table, and Dick's there, telling them all stories about the Olympics. That was a big deal for them.''
"This isn't the last you'll hear of Dick Ebersol,'' Madden said.
I should hope not.
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