Jerry Smith: High praise for NFL Network documentary on life of gay Washington great

The NFL Network didn’t have to go here with its acclaimed A Football Life series. Examining the life of a gay football player isn’t what you would necessarily expect from a generally conservative league.

Yet few NFL players had a more interesting and complicated life than Jerry Smith. This series would have been incomplete without him.

The latest installment (tonight, 9 p.m. ET) is on the star Washington tight end, who kept his homosexuality a secret until he was diagnosed with AIDs in the early 80s.

It is well-told story, shining a light on what it was like to be a gay athlete in the 60s and 70s. Highly recommended.

Here is the link to the preview. And more from NFL Network.

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From 1965-77, Jerry Smith was a two-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Washington Redskins. At the time he retired, Smith held the record for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history. Yet off the field, Smith lived with a personal secret he did not publicly share with his teammates.

NFL Network’s two-time Emmy-nominated series A Football Life continues Tuesday, January 21 at 9:00 PM ET with Jerry Smith: A Football Life. The one-hour documentary chronicles the life of Smith, detailing his career with the Redskins, his life as a gay athlete and his death from AIDS.

The following topics are discussed in Jerry Smith: A Football Life:

  • Smith’s successful playing career with the Washington Redskins, in which he retired with the record for the most career touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history
  • His relationship with teammate Dave Kopay during their time with the Redskins and how it later became strained
  • Comments from Redskins teammates on if they were aware of Smith’s sexual preference
  • Journalist Lynn Rosellini’s series in the Washington Star in which Smith anonymously detailed the life of a gay professional athlete
  • His death from AIDS

Emmy-nominated actor from CBS’ The Good Wife, Josh Charles, narrates.

Jerry Smith: A Football Life includes interviews with the following people:

Bonnie Smith-Gilchrist – Jerry’s sister

Ed Smith – Jerry’s brother

Sonny Jurgensen – Hall of Fame Redskins quarterback

Bobby Mitchell – Hall of Fame Redskins wide receiver/running back

Charley Taylor – Hall of Fame Redskins wide receiver; Jerry’s teammate at Arizona State

Chris Hanburger – Hall of Fame Redskins linebacker

Brig Owens – Redskins cornerback; Jerry’s roommate

Dave Kopay – Redskins running back

Larry Brown – Redskins running back

Billy Kilmer – Redskins quarterback

Calvin Hill – Redskins running back

Jean Fugett – Redskins tight end

Bruce Allen – George Allen’s son; current Redskins general manager

Mark Murphy – Redskins safety; current Packers President and CEO

George Solomon Washington Post

Leonard Shapiro Washington Post

Lynn Rosellini Washington Star

David Mixner – Author; friend of Jerry’s; Gay Rights activist

David Maraniss – Vince Lombardi biographer

Provided below are some select quotes from Jerry Smith: A Football Life:

“When you needed a play to be made, you knew you could throw the ball to him and you knew some way, somehow he was going to catch the thing.” – Sonny Jurgensen

“This guy was a tremendous football player. Tough as nails, great hands – just so dependable.” – Bobby Mitchell

“This was really good. At least I was sharing something of myself with someone who is close and understood all that I had been through.” – Dave Kopay on his relationship with teammate Jerry Smith

“He was living in real fear and real scared; really alone and terrified that he was going to lose everything.” – David Mixner

“There was that fear because you don’t want somebody to take away something that you love doing and you love it so much.” – Brig Owens

“I think there was a suspicion but it was not like we were trying to ‘out’ him. It was a different era [in regards to the media].” – Leonard Shapiro

“One of the things I learned is that a person’s sexual preference has nothing to do with their heart.” – Calvin Hill

Following the episode, Jenn Brown hosts A Football Life: Backstory at 10:00 PM ET, a 30-minute show that provides a deeper look into the lives and story of each subject, features interviews with relevant individuals, and includes material that did not make the final edition of the episode. This week, Redskins teammates Brig Owens and Calvin Hill, and Smith’s friend David Mixner join the show.

 

 

Break from secrecy? Pro Football Hall of Fame to allow cameras at selection meeting; voters not pleased

The selection meeting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame always has been shrouded in secrecy. The voters (here are the 46 this year) are told, “What is said in this room, stays in this room.”

It is much like the cardinals’ selection of a Pope, although without the plume of smoke. Rest assured, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is working on that.

So it came as a huge surprise to the voters that cameras will be in the room for next week’s HOF meeting in New York. Footage then will be used by the NFL Network during its Hall of Fame announcement show that evening.

I managed to get hold of a confidential memo sent out by the Hall’s Joe Horrigan to the group, many of whom are upset about the new development.

It reads in part:

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In an effort to keep you updated and informed, I am providing the following important information and clarifications relative to our upcoming selection meeting.

Regarding a camera in the meeting room, the PFHOF will limit taping of presenters speeches to the first 90-seconds of 4-6 presentations.

The camera and camera operator will leave the meeting room after each segment.

The PFHOF will have total editorial control over all content before any footage is released.

Selectors will be notified of the election results as soon as the PFHOF segment of the NFL Honors Show begins taping projected to be between 6:30-6:55 p.m.

The selectors are free to release the names of the Class of 2014 immediately upon receipt, even though the PFHOF segment of the NFL Honors Show will not air until approximately two hours later.

A brief press conference with the Class of 2014 will be conducted at Radio City Music Hall’s press room immediately after the PFHOF segment of the Honors Show is taped. Selectors will be given first opportunities for the Q&A session. Again, this will occur approximately two hours before the NFL Honors Show airs nationally.

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The voters were caught off-guard by this development. They didn’t hear about it until it was mentioned in passing on NFL Network last week.

Exactly how the footage will be used remains to be seen. Working on getting an official response.

The Hall process works this way: A representative from the player’s city makes a presentation to the committee. There are discussions about the candidates and then eventually a secret vote.

It is such a closed process that the selectors don’t know the final breakdown of the votes. Transparency is an issue here, but that’s a subject for another day.

Confidentiality is the dominant buzzword in this meetings. The voters are strongly urged not to discuss their selections–or else.

So imagine their surprise upon hearing that there will be cameras in the room. It represents a major breach from tradition.

Several voters are concerned the presence of cameras might impact the tenor of the meeting. It is akin to letting outsiders in the room.

While it appears as if the footage will be limited this year, there also is a concern that this is just the beginning. As one voter said, “Once you’ve opened the door, you’ve opened the door.”

Many of the voters appear to be upset because they weren’t consulted about letting cameras in the room. There’s always going to be a strong reaction when a group is caught off-guard.

Reportedly, the presenters will have to agree to have their presentations filmed. That shouldn’t be a problem since there are several radio and TV reporters on the committee.

However, the larger issue is about the seeming contradiction between cameras and confidentiality: The 3 Cs, if you will. It is either a secret meeting or it isn’t.

More to come, I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NFL players really don’t like playing on Thursday nights; Nobody will like tonight’s game

Perhaps never before in NFL history will a game featuring teams like 2-10 Houston at 3-9 Jacksonville get more coverage by a network.

NFL Network will bring its entire vast traveling show to Jacksonville, blanketing the game with pregame and postgame analysis. Count on several moments of humor from Rich Eisen, who will undoubtedly poke fun at the match-up.

The rules mandate that every team plays on a Thursday. Hence, tonight’s game. Yet even with the horrible match-up, viewers still will tune in. Hey, it’s the NFL.

The prospect of even more Thursday night games in the future won’t go down well with the players who have to play in them. Robert Klemko at MMQB talked to several players who voiced their complaints about these mid-week games.

Klemko writes:

Duane Brown is not one of these players.

“It’s dangerous,” says the Texans Pro Bowl tackle. “It feels horrible.”

Brown, whose Texans visit Jacksonville on Thursday, played two overtime games back to back, on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 and Thursday, Nov. 22. Brown played 172 combined snaps that week, and describes a subsequent degree of pain and fatigue that he had not yet felt in four previous NFL seasons.

“That Friday, everything was hurting; knees, hands, shoulders,” he remembers. “I didn’t get out of bed until that night. I didn’t leave the house at all. You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games? It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

And:

“It’s a problem,” said Broncos guard Louis Vasquez.

“I don’t like them,” says Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. “I guess because they don’t play in the league office, they don’t understand how your body feels.”

No, the NFL only knows how it feels to touch all that money the Thursday night games produce.

 

 

Rich Eisen podcast with Twitter CEO: Huge possibilities for sports

If you have a few minutes during the holiday week, check out Rich Eisen’s podcast with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.

Among other things, you learn that if Costolo had been a better stand-up comic, the world may never get Twitter. After graduating Michigan, he joined a Second City training program in Chicago that included a young fellow named Steve Carell. Wonder what ever happened to him?

Thankfully for Tweeters everywhere, Costolo’s life took another course. Now your life isn’t the same.

The rundown from Eisen’s site:

It’s a special late-week edition of The Rich Eisen Podcast featuring the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo. Eisen and his fellow University of Michigan alumnus discuss all things Twitter and the incredible impact that it has had not only in sports, but in our daily lives over the past few years. The hour long conversation hits on a myriad of topics, but none more important than Eisen’s request for Twitter to implement a sarcastic font, a.k.a. the “Eisen Font,” and for producers Chris Law and Chris Brockman to get blue check marks.  Costolo’s responses to both are priceless and spawned this week’s #REP Poll Question, so be sure to vote.

Flex to rescue again: NBC wins with Carolina-New Orleans moved to Sunday night on Dec. 8

Ah yes, it is good to be NBC.

On Dec. 8, the schedule called for the network to air Atlanta at Green Bay. What looked to be an attractive game before the season now is largely forgettable thanks to the Falcons’ disaster at 2-9.

However, don’t despair NBC, it’s flex scheduling to the rescue. Last night while NBC was pulling in what is sure to be a huge rating for Denver-New England, the NFL announced it will move Carolina-New Orleans to Sunday night on Dec. 8. Atlanta-Green Bay gets thrown back to Fox.

How great is this for NBC? The game in the Superdome should be a battle for first place in the NFC South with Drew Brees facing Cam Newton and the upstart Panthers.

Fox and CBS are allowed to protect a certain number of games, but Carolina-New Orleans wasn’t on the list. Instead, Fox sealed up Seattle at San Francisco for the doubleheader slot on that Sunday.

It’s hard to argue with that decision given that Seattle might be the best team in the NFL. However, it would help the marquee value of the match-up if the 6-4 49ers win tonight against Washington and then next Sunday at home against St. Louis.

NBC, meanwhile, will give thanks to the God of Flex again for Carolina-New Orleans on Dec. 8. So will fans, who will get to see a much better game.

 

 

Long on watching his sons Sunday in Bears-Rams game; ‘It’s exciting. It’s scary’

Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports how Sunday will be a vastly different day for Howie Long:

Howie Long spends his fall Sundays in the Fox Sports compound in Los Angeles, working as an analyst on the network’s NFL studio show.

But this Sunday, he plans to be about 1,800 miles to the east, in St. Louis for an interesting football family reunion. Long, who had a Hall of Fame career as a defensive end with the Raiders, will be in town to watch the first matchup in the pros between sons Chris and Kyle. Chris is in his sixth year as a defensive end for the Rams. Kyle is a rookie offensive guard for the Chicago Bears, who face the Rams at noon.

Dad sees his sons play in person when they have a weeknight game, and there is no mistake as to the team he is rooting for then. But this situation is much different, as they not only will be on the field at the same time but figure to be going against each other at times.

“I’m sure there will be some range of emotions,’’ dad said this week. “I’m not sure what that will be, we’ll have to see when we cross that bridge. … It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s a lot of different emotions.’’

Meanwhile, back in LA, Randy Moss will sit in for Long on Fox NFL Sunday. It could be an audition of sorts for Moss, who has been outspoken in his new studio role for Fox Sports 1.

NFL Network documentary: Tracing forward pass from Rockne to Marcia Brady

The latest A Football Life on NFL Network examines the history of the forward pass (Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, NFL Network). Here’s a link to the preview.

Since the NFL Network won’t allow embeds of it previews (Why, I don’t know), here’s the famous clip of Marcia Brady’s contribution to the forward pass.

The rundown from NFL Network:

What do Teddy Roosevelt, Knute Rockne, George Carlin, the Atomic Bomb, the Hail Mary Prayer, Marcia Brady’s broken nose and “American Pie” all have in common? The Forward Pass.

As ubiquitous as it is now, throwing the football was once unimaginable. For the first four decades of football’s existence, the Forward Pass was illegal. However, with rising safety concerns surrounding the game of football, President Roosevelt intervened. It was his demand that rules makers open up the game by legalizing the Forward Pass that saved football from abolition and created the sport we love.

NFL Network’s two-time Emmy-nominated series continues Tuesday, November 19 at 9:00 PM ET with The Forward Pass: A Football Life. The one-hour documentary examines the implementation of the Forward Pass into the game of football and the profound affect it has had on the game and its players, as well as on how football is viewed in society. The Forward Pass: A Football Life tells the story of one of America’s greatest inventions and how it transformed football from a lackluster rugby-style game of running and kicking into the uniquely American spectacle it has become.

Among the topics discussed in the documentary are:

The role President Theodore Roosevelt played in legalizing the Forward Pass and how it ultimately saved football

Knute Rockne’s “invention” of the Forward Pass in a 1913 game between Notre Dame and Army, and Hollywood’s role in mythologizing that event

How football coach and innovator Clark Shaughnessy’s T-formation transformed the quarterback from a blocking back into the hero of every football game

Former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason demonstrates how the evolving shape of the football made it easier to throw the Forward Pass by throwing footballs from throughout history

Former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie demonstrates how the Forward Pass eliminated the Drop Kick

How Don Coryell and Bill Walsh utilized and revived the Forward Pass

What is the meaning of Don McLean’s use of “The Forward Pass” in the lyrics of “American Pie”?

Emmy-nominated actor from CBS’ The Good Wife, Josh Charles, narrates.

The Forward Pass: A Football Life includes interviews with the following people and more:

Bill Belichick – New England Patriots head coach

Dan Fouts – Hall of Fame quarterback

Joe Namath – Hall of Fame quarterback

Roger Staubach – Hall of Fame quarterback

Steve Young – Hall of Fame quarterback

Mike Martz – Former NFL head coach

Boomer Esiason – Former NFL quarterback

Doug Flutie – Former NFL quarterback

Brian Billick – Former NFL head coach

Joe Gibbs – Former NFL head coach

George Seifert – Former NFL head coach

Michael Oriard – Author, Reading Football

Chuck Klosterman – Author, Eating the Dinosaur

John J. Miller – Author, The Big Scrum

Provided below are some select quotes from The Forward Pass: A Football Life:

– “Americans are great innovators; we have a great history of invention…The Forward Pass when you think about it fits nicely into that tradition. It’s a great innovation that turns a sport like rugby into American football.” – John J. Miller

– “There weren’t many options for how to move the ball. Every play kind of looks like what you would expect from a goaline surge during a blizzard. People are just sort of hammering into each other trying to incrementally move the ball…Punting seemed like half of the game.” – Chuck Klosterman on the game of football before the introduction of the Forward Pass

– “It’s like throwing a weighted basketball with laces.” – Boomer Esiason on the rugby football used before the introduction of the Forward Pass

– “In 1913, we had Columbus coming to America in terms of football and that’s when Notre Dame showed up to play Army on the East Coast.” – John J. Miller

– “Everyone knows that [the quarterback is] the center of the game. If Tom Brady was a slot receiver, would he date Gisele [Bundchen]? It’s possible he might – it’s very possible Wes Welker could have ended up dating Gisele, but it doesn’t seem like it. Joe Flacco has a better chance to date someone like Gisele than Wes Welker.” – Chuck Klosterman

– “Throwing the bomb and hitting that long pass is just electrifying. It still is just thinking about it. You get goose bumps.” – Joe Namath

– “It was very prevalent that passing was too risky, and it was the way that they were thinking about it. But the way Bill [Walsh] talked about it – the short passing game – it was the extension of your running game.” – Steve Young

– “You take a look at the greatest plays of the last 50 years, it’s hard to come up with anything like a comprehensive list without going back time and again to the Forward Pass.” – Michael MacCambridge

Following the episode, Jenn Brown hosts A Football Life: Backstory at 10:00 PM ET, a 30-minute show that provides a deeper look into the lives and story of each subject, features interviews with relevant individuals, and includes material that did not make the final edition of the episode.

 

 

10 years later: Home of growing NFL Network, but still no team for Los Angeles

Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News notes the irony of the NFL Network originating out of Los Angeles, which remarkably still doesn’t have a home team.

Hoffarth writes:

It’s 10 years after the fact, and the NFL Network’s now-sprawling Culver City compound continues to remain the only tangible evidence the league has any sort of interest in being part of Los Angeles.

As an entertainment platform, for sure.

As a franchise homestead? From one righteously profitable move does not another logically follow.

Months before the NFL Network officially launched Nov. 4, 2003, league officials scouted locations in Burbank, Hollywood and Manhattan Beach before deciding to plop down on a commercial lot and use about 28,000 square feet of combined space for Studio A and Suite 100 on an eclectic stretch of Washington Boulevard, next to an Islamic mosque, across the street from an elementary school and just a few blocks from the famed Sony Pictures lot where decades earlier “The Wizard of Oz” was made.

Sure, if the NFL only had a heart, a brain and the nerve a franchise would be back here by now. But what’s to say the NFL Network’s presence isn’t the gift that just keeps on regifting for this region of interest?

“Did I think we’d have a team here by now?” said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger, one of a handful of employees part with this operation from the start. “Sure, but that was never part of the idea of having the network here.

“At the time, the plan was to have the signature show here — ‘NFL Total Access’ — and get celebrities to come in. This was an entertainment-meets-football kind of shop. We fell in love with the sound stages and also with the fact that we were very close to the (LAX) airport so it was very efficient for everyone. It’s just kept growing and we haven’t looked back.”

Later in the story, Hoffarth writes:

So how and where will this network stretch further into the next decade?

During a network 10th anniversary special Wednesday, Eisen put that question to a panel of Willie McGinest, Michael Irvin and Steve Mariucci.

“We work here in L.A. — Culver City — I want to see a team here,” Mariucci said. “I used to coach for the Rams down when we were in Anaheim. Rich, we gotta have a team here. That’s gotta happen here soon.”

Save that piece of video for the network’s 20th anniversary special. It could be a collector’s item.

Yes, by 2023, the NFL probably will have two teams in London, but no teams in the nation’s second largest market.

Coming Sunday: Andrea Kremer’s exclusive interview with Johnny Jolly; ‘I could’ve been dead’

Andrea Kremer has a terrific piece on the fall and comeback of the Packers’ Johnny Jolly. It will air during NFL Gameday Morning Sunday on NFL Network.

Here is the link to video of Kremer discussing the interview and an excerpt from Jolly. And the rundown from NFL Network:

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Andrea Kremer with an exclusive feature on Jonny Jolly who is back with the Packers after fighting an addiction to codeine which resulted in jail time and a ban from the NFL.

Jolly explains to Kremer how his addiction to codeine almost cost him his career and, even worse, his life.

Kremer first interviewed Jolly in 2012 when he was in prison – the only interview he conducted while incarcerated – and then a few weeks into the 2013 season after Jolly made the Packers’ 53-man roster. The achievement was the climax of Jolly’s rejuvenation.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are interviewed.