Birds of a feather
Martz and Spurrier have much in commonPosted: Wednesday January 30, 2002 3:32 PM
Sports Illustrated's Peter King will file daily reports from Super Bowl XXXVI. Check back tomorrow through Sunday afternoon to, as King himself once said, "Find out about the good, the bad, the ugly and the latte during Super Bowl week."
NEW ORLEANS -- A couple of years ago, after the Rams won the Super Bowl against Tennessee, then-Florida head coach Steve Spurrier was on a recruiting trip to Missouri when he stopped in to see the next head coach of the Rams, Mike Martz. They didn't know each other. They'd never previously met. This was Spurrier's way of saying: I like what you do, and I just wanted to meet you.
"I didn't know him at all," said Martz. "He was the nicest guy. Sat in my office for half an hour and we just talked. So humble. Really, I thought he was a great guy. I thought, 'What a misunderstood guy he is,' after we'd talked."
Martz could be talking about himself. I've gotten to know him pretty well, going back to 1997, when Washington head coach Norv Turner let me sit it on a preseason meeting with Martz, then a quarterback coach, four quarterbacks and Turner, who ran the show entirely. Martz didn't say much. In a one-hour meeting, Turner did all the teaching. Martz was a nice guy, I thought, but pretty wallflowerish. "You have to know your place when you're an assistant," Martz told me about his days in Washington under Turner. "And I've always known my place." I had dinner with Martz and his wife, Julie, before the conference title game against Tampa Bay two years ago, and every time I've gone into St. Louis the past couple of years, Martz sets aside some time to talk with me about what's really going on with his team.
One of my most interesting conversations with him came 15 months ago, in the middle of season doomed to failure because of a horrible defense. I met him in his hotel room at Newark Airport the night before the Rams beat the Giants, and he was so down about the divisions between offense and defense, both among coaches and players. "But after you win a Super Bowl," he told me, "how can you make major changes? How can you fire coaches and overhaul the defense?" I was sure he'd sack the defensive staff after the 2000 season, regardless of the outcome, and that's what he did.
He has been accused of running up the score, of onside-kicking when a game was in garbage time, of bizarrely leaving stars in games to get hurt in similar garbage time. Guilty as charged on many of those counts. I honestly think some of it is that he's still learning the job. You know what he has told me when I've questioned him on some of these things? "Ah, you know how I get" or "Sometimes I can't help myself." Martz doesn't have, but needs, somebody in the press box or on the sidelines with enough guts to tell him: "Dumb idea, coach. Get Warner out of there right now."
Part of the reason he doesn't have that man on his staff, I believe, is that he's both an autocrat and a democrat. At the same time he believes he has to be in absolute authority over his team, he also believes he has to be one with his players. I'll give you an example of how this has manifested itself. When Martz was hired to be the offensive coordinator of the Rams in 1999, Dick Vermeil gave him full authority over offensive schemes and play-calling. Martz felt second-guessed, during games and while game-planning, by veteran Vermeil assistant Mike White. After White openly derided a Martz play-call during a game at Tennessee that fall, Martz made it clear to Vermeil and White he didn't want White around his offensive players or their meetings for the rest of the year. And when White entered an offensive team meeting and sat down in the back of the room late in the season, Martz said to him: "Get the f--- out of here, Mike." The players loved it because they knew Martz was progress and White was the bad old days. And Martz loved it because he was exercising the power he'd rightly earned.
It's interesting that Martz and Bill Belichick, two guys who have never been media darlings, have struck up a sincere friendship and admiration for each other. Kind of like how Martz and Spurrier are sure to be pals in the coming years.
Media Note of the Day
In a front-page story about the excesses of media day at the Superdome, the New Orleans Times-Picayune referred to "famed sportscaster Chris Behrman."
Meal of the Day
Sometimes you just need a bowl of chicken soup and some Wheat Thins. I imported the Wheat Thins from the Walgreen's down the street, when I got my Augmentin prescription filled, and the soup -- filled with chunks of real barbecued chicken breast, not-overcooked carrots and celery and spaghettini -- was the best bowl of chicken soup this side of Ann King.
Five Things I Think I Think
1. I think it sounds like the Patriots will watch Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe at practice this afternoon, then go back to the hotel and watch film of how each came through practice, and then call each one of them in to tell them who's starting Sunday. If he's relatively fit, I think Brady will be the man.
2. I think I've learned something pretty valuable while in bed for much of the last 24 hours with some bug that seems to have exited -- accent on seems -- me: The cruelest form of torture I can imagine is to watch the same Super Bowl interviews over and over again on national and local TV highlight shows. Finally, I found the Seinfeld "Man Hands" episode -- not a very good one, but blessed relief nonetheless -- and got my sanity back.
3. I think the real treat of being flat on my back through late Tuesday afternoon and night, other than the five-hour midday nap, was watching To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart. What treasures those old Bogie films are.
4. I think the worst part of being a pool reporter, as I will be this afternoon, while watching the Patriots practice and writing a short summation of it for the amassed press, will be missing the U2 halftime news conference at the media center.
5. I think, other than Brady-Bledsoe, the news at this Super Bowl could fit on the head of a pin. Surprise!
If you missed it, check out Tuesday's Super Bowl edition of Inside the NFL.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL and appears regularly on CNN/Sports Illustrated and CNN's NFL Preview.