He already has won, of course, having conquered a daffy compulsion to play football at 43 when he should be booking his first prostate exam. Tom Brady has beaten conventional life wisdom, the unforgiving laws of health and age. He has one-upped Bill Belichick, who is absorbing his new fate as an also-ran and losing the argument that he was most responsible for the vanishing Patriot Way. He has hushed those of us who urged him to retire two years ago.
“It’s amazing,” said his coach, Bruce Arians, “because when you’re out there watching him, you’re like, this guy looks like he’s 30, maybe 33 at most.”
So in a biblical context, it isn’t imperative that Brady wins a Super Bowl next month. What overwhelms our senses is this: Never has an athlete of his acclaim and achievements, anywhere on this planet, performed at a higher level at a more advanced age in a team sport. I wouldn’t have acknowledged that as recently as mid-season, when he was throwing fits during defeats as Arians criticized him publicly. But we should have recognized those moments as Brady at work in his new laboratory, rehabbing the culture of a languishing franchise, demanding correction and perfection with an ultimate goal in mind.
It remains preposterous to think he’d move to Florida, as old people do, and lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That he’s positioned to do so, in a second act that once appeared ill-advised, only bolsters his stature as the greatest of all quarterbacks. Perhaps he ends up with nothing but a tan after the Saints are through with him this weekend in New Orleans, in an NFC divisional-round challenge against a defense that has whipped him twice and another senior quarterback, Drew Brees, who is writing his own final chapter. Yet have we allowed ourselves to ponder what it would mean to sportingkind if Thomas Edward Patrick Frigging Brady, on a February evening during a pandemic, won his seventh NFL championship?
Jesus, he might play until he’s 50.
“Come on, it’s Tom Brady,” Bucs running back Leonard Fournette said. “I ain’t gotta think too much about that. That’s the boy. We’ve got faith in him.”
Said Brees, pondering what will be his final game against Brady: “I guess it was inevitable.”
Contrary to reports, the game will be on Fox, not the History Channel.
If Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth was a Florida myth, the rejuvenation of Brady is legitimate. Reduced to dinks and dunks by Belichick in his final New England season, he has reclaimed his passing velocity and deep-ball arsenal in Arians’ risk-taking attack. With weapons everywhere, from Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to old friend Rob Gronkowski, Brady has bombed away for 42 touchdown passes — 12 in his last 12 quarters, when he has amassed 1,448 yards. His average pass is traveling 9.2 yards past the line of scrimmage, compared to 7.1 in 2019. He is playing more dynamically than the 41-year-old Brees, who suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung this season and wisely is headed to an NBC studio. Every time Brady breathes or burps, he is establishing some sort of new postseason record, to the point the networks are redundant when showing another graphic.
Naturally, he isn’t close to being happy. After the Bucs eased off the gas against Washington, allowing emergency quarterback Taylor Heinicke to stay close and win a Twitter following, Brady was mopey after a 31-23 victory. Not until he reaches a mass Zoom interview at Raymond James Stadium, first Tuesday of next month, would he talk openly about his latest life and career triumphs — about finding new success beyond Belichick with a team known mostly for its end-zone pirate ship. It’s possible he won’t talk about it then.
After all, what is left to say? The man who has accomplished everything is accomplishing more. You’re almost afraid to stare at him too long, thinking he’ll reveal himself as an android. Vegas has established the over-under for projected Brady smiles this postseason at two. We’ve yet to see the first one.
“You’d love to play great every game. I think it’s good to win and advance,” Brady said. “But if we don’t play well next week, we’re not going to be happy. We’re going to have to go play great football.
“We hit some big plays, made some chunks. I think just not scoring enough in the red (zone) was the thing that bothers us, missed a two-point play, had other opportunities to score but just didn’t quite take advantage. We moved the ball OK. I think we had decent yardage. But at the end of the day, it comes down to points, and we’ve gotta do a better job scoring more points — and we’ll work on that next week.”
This is a sports story worth following because it transcends sports. It’s a tale as old as life itself, about a man defying time and nature. As Tony Romo, who retired from NFL quarterbacking at 36, said on the CBS broadcast Sunday: “I’m 40, but my body’s like 117.” Any basic playoff game shouldn’t interest us much with America in a deep existential crisis, other than how the Cleveland Browns — amid a COVID-19 heap that left them without coach Kevin Stefanski and several players — somehow stampeded the Steelers in Pittsburgh and made a desperate wreck of 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger. Notice how I’m not writing about the Bills Mafia, the Rams’ defense, Lamar Jackson’s first playoff win or the Ravens’ stomping of the Titans’ logo. Nor am I writing in depth today about the NBA’s inevitable COVID crisis, the solution for which is self-evident: The league should be shut down until teams follow protocols and field complete rosters for legitimate games and credible competition. The NBA announced it is staying the course, reflecting the bogus logic of Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose approach is why the coronavirus might never go away.
“I still say that until somebody’s going to the hospital, getting really, really sick … I think we’re still so unclear about what having the virus even means, other than you don’t want to spread it so we’ve got to pull you out of whatever you’re doing and isolate you and make sure you’re not spreading it around to anyone else,” Nurse said. “So I think that there’s still some part of that, even college football, or baseball, or NFL. I don’t recall hearing anyone being taken to the hospital, being gravely ill. So I still kind of stand on my same — I’m OK playing.” Thank goodness Nurse isn’t a real nurse.
The NFL continues to dodge a COVID nightmare, for now. After a so-called “Super Wild Card Weekend” — the league’s way of soft-marketing the somber necessity of a scattered season — Brady and Brees join the presumptive MVP, 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers, as stubborn old souls trying to fend off next-gen quarterbacks. We’re anticipating Patrick Mahomes surviving Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen the next two AFC weekends and facing Rodgers in the Super Bowl, yet Brady is the biggest angle of all until he loses. He likely won’t be lifting a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but none of the others have executed a one-season quick fix like him. Which means his story — and more importantly, his physical being — still would have legs heading into his age 44 season. It’s utter lunacy to speak of any athlete within this framework of longevity, much less a targeted man in a barbaric sport. But we just heard Washington’s Chase Young, who will terrorize quarterbacks into the 2030s, demand Brady’s hide, shouting last week, “Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom!”
Tom is still waiting. The mystique refuses to wane.
“His leadership is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Peyton Manning is the only thing close,” Arians said. “It’s a never-ending thing with him — the perfectionist, to get everything right in practice. Also, his calmness on the sideline in games when we’re not winning, saying ‘We’re going to win.’ Those type of things. You put those in a bottle and you make a bunch of money.”
And those constructive critiques that had us wondering if Brady would strangle him? “Any time you transition, a lot of things are different,” Brady said. “You get used to one way, one routine, and then everything is different. I feel like we have a great relationship. From the moment I got here, we’ve just had great dialogue and I certainly appreciate all the insight he gives me and the way he coaches and leads. It’s very open, honest dialogue about how we think, certainly how I can be most effective.”
Until he throws an interception. Certainly, the Bucs are far from the steely, methodical Patriots machine that Brady directed to the playoffs 17 times, with nine resulting in Super Bowl appearances. Arians always been a free-wheeling character, but he’s never played for a championship as a head coach. Brady’s offensive line has protected him well, but now he won’t have right guard Alex Coppa, who fractured an ankle. Evans is dealing with knee discomfort. And to rely on Antonio Brown in any substantial way is dangerous, given his penchant for trouble. The defense might break, too, having to deal with the razz-ma-tazz of Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Taysom Hill in the Superdome.
“I think we know what type of game that’s going to be,” said Brees, suggesting a Sunday night shootout for the ages — and the ageless. He added, “I don’t take it for granted. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity.”
The Brady uprising could crash, sure. And certain precincts would be glad because he isn’t viewed as an American treasure as much as a freak of nature. Some never will forgive him for his role in Deflategate, nor should they. While he’s a political agnostic these days, at least publicly, it wasn’t long ago when he was a Donald Trump friend wearing a MAGA hat. If LeBron James is the contemporary who has melded athletic greatness with historic activism, Brady is the TB12 cultist who thinks he can cure COVID-19 via holistic wellness. I can buy a jar of plant-based protein right now — “a digestible plant protein made from sustainable yellow field peas” — for $52 online.
Just asking: Does the NFL still test randomly for PEDs?
Even if he benefits from funny business involving his mysterious personal trainer, Alex Guerrero — and there is no evidence so far — Brady still is FORTY-THREE YEARS AND FIVE MONTHS OLD. And as he once commented on a social media post when it was suggested his retirement was imminent: “Cuarenta y cinco.” That would be 45, and if we chuckled at the idea then, it’s time to realize it’s happening.
A sports nation is fixated on a man who apparently wants to live forever.
Who are we to tell him otherwise?
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.