They had two different styles carrying the ball. Barry Sanders ran around people; Earl Campbell ran through them.
They also had two different lives after football. Sanders retired early long before his body burned out; Campbell wasn’t as fortunate. It is stunning to see the one-time beast in a football uniform struggle to walk.
The careers and lives of both legends are examined in two new documentaries. Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, produced by Ross Greenburg, airs tonight at 11 p.m. (ET) on NBC Network. Wednesday, Sanders is the latest subject of A Football Life on NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET.
Here’s the rundown on both films. Highly recommended.
NBC Sports Network presents Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, a riveting documentary about one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, and the touching life story that followed his retirement. Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story, debuts Tuesday, December 4 at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT/9 p.m. MT/8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Network.
Born in Tyler, Texas, to a family with 12 children, Earl Campbell began his life working the rose fields and living in a shack, where his brothers joked, ‘you could see the big dipper from your bed at night.’ His father, B.C. Campbell, died of a heart attack at the age of 50, when Earl was 11, leaving his mother, Ann, to raise all 12 Campbell kids.
After winning the Texas State Football Championship in his senior year at John Tyler High School, Campbell went on to the University of Texas, where in his senior year he won the coveted Heisman Trophy (1977). He became the No. 1 pick in the 1978 NFL Draft when the Houston Oilers traded with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the top pick in the draft, and the Oilers immediately chose Campbell.
Campbell’s Hall-of-Fame career was a highlight reel of running over those who would attempt to tackle him. Campbell’s 199-yard, four touchdown performance in a 35-30 win over the Miami Dolphins before a national audience on Monday Night Football in Week 12 of his rookie season is the signature individual performance of his career.
Halfway through the 1984 season, Campbell was traded by the Oilers to the Saints where he rejoined his mentor and coach Bum Phillips. He finished his career in New Orleans, retiring during the 1986 preseason, but he will always be remembered as the best of Bum’s Bunch in Houston.
After his retirement, Campbell battled five spinal surgeries, two knee replacements and an addiction to pain pills and alcohol. He was confined to a wheelchair for six years, but due to a successful spinal surgery performed by Dr. Stan Jones in Houston, and his sons Christian and Tyler convincing him to check into a rehabilitation center for his addictions, Campbell is still standing today. He is walking again, and tossed the coin at a University of Texas game in Austin earlier this season.
For 10 seasons, Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders electrified the NFL with unbelievable runs while putting up prolific rushing numbers. Yet just before the start of the 1999 NFL season, as one of the league’s biggest stars, he quietly walked away from the game.
NFL Network’s Emmy-nominated series A Football Life continues Wednesday, December 5 at 8:00 PM ET with a profile of one of the NFL’s greatest players who retired during the prime of his career. Barry Sanders: A Football Life examines Sanders’ incredible Hall of Fame career, his unexpected retirement and the reaction it garnered throughout both the NFL and the city of Detroit, and his relationship with his late father, William.
The one-hour documentary features a sitdown interview with Sanders in which he discusses his fascinating football life. The NFL’s third all-time leading rusher talks about how he was overlooked in high school, his decision to attend Oklahoma State, the unwanted media attention that came as a result of winning the Heisman Trophy award in 1988 and being an NFL superstar, and the lessons he imparts to his children, including his son BJ Sanders,a redshirt freshman running back at Stanford University.
Additional interviews include fellow Hall of Fame running backs Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin, former teammates Thurman Thomas, Herman Moore, Kevin Glover and Lomas Brown, former Lions head coaches Wayne Fontes and Bobby Ross, and Hall of Fame guard for the Detroit Pistons, Joe Dumars, among others.
Barry Sanders: A Football Life also includes past interviews with his father and Barry reading the statement he released to the Wichita Eagle announcing his retirement for the first time publically.
However, in some markets, they are bigger than others. The ratings, specifically “share,” provide a good barometer to gauge the fan intensity for the home team.
And the verdict from last week’s games?
No. 1: Saints and Steelers tied.
Bottom of the list: Giants in New York.
Below is a chart sent out by Dan Masonson of the NFL for week 12; it doesn’t include the Philadelphia-Carolina game on Monday. Also, there were blackouts in San Diego and Tampa Bay.
First some Ratings 101 on the terminology from Masonson:
Rating is % of TV homes in that market tuned into the game.
Share is % of TV homes in that market with TV “physically tuned” into the game.
Market size comes into play when determining total viewers for the home team. Again from Masonson:
Giants average 17.7 local rating this season translating to 1.3 million TV homes tuned in per game.
Saints average a league high 47.4 local rating translating to 304,000 TV homes tuned in per game.
New York is the largest market in the U.S.; New Orleans is No. 52. That accounts for the difference in the total number of viewers. Thanks to market size, Masonson says the Giants, Jets and Bears have the highest viewership each week.
For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to use “share” as the barometer for gauging passion for the home team. It tells me if the home team is playing, what percentage of TVs that are physically turned on are tuned to the game?
In New Orleans and Pittsburgh, each town had an astounding 69 share. That means 7 of 10 TVs in use in those towns watched the Saints and Steelers last Sunday. What were those three other TVs watching?
Denver was right behind with a 68 share.
All told, there were nine markets with a 60 share or above, and that includes Kansas City. Despite a horrid season, the Chiefs still pulled a 60 share. Now that means their fans are either incredibly loyal or gluttons for punishment.
Again, those numbers attest to the amazing popularity of the NFL.
On the low end, the list shows New York did a 28 share for the Giants-Packers game on Sunday night. That means only 3 out of 10 TVs in use in New York saw the Giants chase around Aaron Rodgers.
To me, that number seems low since this was a must game against Green Bay However, New York isn’t a typical market. For starters, loyalties are split between the Giants and Jets, even if Jets fans aren’t showing their allegiances these days. The city doesn’t rally around one team.
Also, New York is so big and diverse, and there are so many things to do. Watching a football game often isn’t high on the priority list.
By contrast, smaller markets tend to identify more with their teams. In Pittsburgh, it’s all about the Steelers, and in New Orleans, life resolves around the Saints.
Anyway, it’s just a one-week snapshot. There’s common denominator: A NFL game ranked first for the most watched program of any kind in each market in week 12.
I took the family to a Bears game a few weeks ago. I froze despite wearing long underwear; I had limited perspective with seats in the endzone; and somebody forgot to put the chocolate in the hot chocolate I ordered at the concession stand.
And I loved being there.
There has been some concern of late that the TV production quality for NFL games is so superior that people will choose the comforts of their couch over popping for those high-priced tickets. None other than commish Roger Goodell said: “One of our biggest challenges is the fan experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”
ESPN’s Outside the Lines dedicated Sunday’s show to the issue with a report from Darren Rovell. ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly gave more reasons to skip the drive to the stadium. He writes:
7) The yellow first down line.
8) Your comfy couch. Have you sat in an NFL seat for three-and-a-half hours lately? They’re approximately the size of American Girl Doll tea chairs. This makes no sense. American seats are getting wider while American stadium seats are getting narrower?
I’ve heard all the arguments, and I saw the fans in Rovell’s report who gave up their tickets to watch the games at home.
And I’m here to say that it is not the same.
Watching the game at home still is a mostly passive experience compared to being in the stands. I could doze off or watch 20 minutes of Rudy while channel surfing.
If I really care about the game, I’m definitely focused in. But I’m not nearly as engaged as being there.
I’m not standing up with 60,000 of my new friends on third and 1. I don’t feel the emotional swings of the game as intensely.
I’m not taking in all the colors on the field and in the stands, a scene that can’t be replicated on television. There’s still something unique about walking up the ramp and seeing everything for the first time on that particular day. Watching Chris Berman during the pregame definitely doesn’t compare.
In my mind, TV has been good for a really long, long time. Probably since the NBC peacock announced the upcoming game would be shown in “living color.” The fact that it has improved dramatically only makes it that much better.
I bow to the alter of Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone, the best creation since….beer?
But it isn’t the same as being at a game.
As Rovell pointed out in his report, the NFL needs to enhance the fan experience to keep up with the times. At the game I attended at Soldier Field, I required better Internet access to follow my terrible fantasy team. During breaks, I wanted to see more RedZone-like highlights on the video board. There were too few of them.
And I wouldn’t have minded some chocolate in my hot chocolate.
I’m not saying I want to go to every game. I’m fine with one or two a year and definitely not in late November or December.
I know it can be a hassle with traffic and parking. And sometimes you might sit next to an idiot.
Some things in life, though, are worth making an effort. I think plenty of people agree. Despite the Bears’ horrid effort last night, the cheapest tickets for the Chicago-Minnesota game at Soldier Field Sunday are listed at $120 for high endzone on Stubhub. There’s still something special about being there.
I will be watching from the comforts of my couch Sunday. And I know it won’t be the same.
It was my turn on the teleconference, and I asked Marv Albert how he felt about passing the big 7-0-mark in age in 2011 and whether he had any intention to slow down.
Albert, now 71, answered the question, and I didn’t think much about it.
However, the following day, I received word that Albert wanted to talk to me. A few minutes later, he was on the line.
“I didn’t feel like I gave you a very good answer to your question,” Albert said. “Your question caught off guard. I really haven’t been asked about it.”
Indeed, turning 70 isn’t news in this business anymore. It is just a speed bump for broadcasters and analysts these days. The landscape is jammed with guys who have blitzed past the notion of retirement age. Brent Musburger is 73; Verne Lundquist is 72. And heck, they’re just kids compared to Vin Scully, who turns 85 this month.
“The most important thing is that 70 is the new 68,” Albert joked.
Last week, he kicked off another NBA season on TNT, continuing a run that began in 1967 when at age 26 he became the voice of the Knicks.
With a bit more time to think about my question, here’s what Albert had to say:
“I feel I’m better now than I ever have been. You learn so much as you’re doing it. I’m watching tapes and I’ll see things that get me annoyed and where I know I can improve. I understand better letting the crowd play more. I’ve always said it was important for me who I was working with, because I like to kid around a lot. But I’ve also learned to use my partner better.
“I love what I’m doing. As long as I can stay at the same standard, there’s no reason to stop. It feels pretty good.”
Albert says he has cut back a bit in recent years, but it’s still a busy schedule. He calls an NFL game for CBS on Sundays; he was at Baltimore-Cincinnati Sunday. He has his basketball duties for TNT, and he picks up the NCAA basketball tournament for CBS and TNT in March, which has emerged as a favorite assignment.
The key for Albert?
“I still enjoy the preparation,” Albert said. “I look forward to getting ready to call a game.”
The real workhorse in the Albert family now is his son, Kenny. He does baseball and the NFL for Fox Sports; the Rangers games for MSG, along with other assignments.
“I ask my son, Kenny, ‘Why are you doing all this?'” Albert said. “And then I say, I did the same thing. You want to do everything.”
The new NBA season brings Albert back to his roots with the Nets moving to Brooklyn. He grew up in Brooklyn watching the Dodgers. He wrote a first-person piece in the New York Times last week.
In our interview, he talked about Brooklyn, the Nets and the impact on basketball in New York.
“It goes back to the Dodgers. It’s a very unique place. It’s very New York. I remember playing stick ball. The neighborhoods are unique. Coney Island. Brighton Beach, where I come from, playing roller hockey in the streets, taking the subway to go to Ebbetts Field.
“I don’t know if a large number of Knick fans will change to Net fans. I think the Nets will be a smash hit with the new arena. But you have to win. If they aren’t a winning team right away, that’ll be tough. They know that, which is the reason why they made the moves they did.”
Coming Friday: Albert in the latest edition of My First Job. Recreating minor league baseball games and sharing stage with Chubby Checker.
Update: OK, the Republicans have to feel good about Romney’s chances based on Carolina’s victory over Washington. Here’s my updated post from Friday.
Forget about all the analysis and polls and polls about polls.
The outcome of next Tuesday’s Obama-Romney rumble was decided at the Carolina-Washington game in D.C. Sunday.
So says Steve Hirdt, inventor of the “Redskins Rule.”
Hirdt, the executive vice-president for the Elias Sports Bureau, has determined that the outcome of the Redskins final home game prior to the election has predicted the winner of 17 of the last 18 elections; or 18 for 18 according to a Hirdt “revision” in 2004. If the Redskins win, the incumbent party remains in office. And if they lose, the other guys take control.
So Carolina’s victory bodes well for Romney, who will take everything he can get going into Tuesday.
I talked to Hirdt when he was in Chicago for the Bears-Detroit game. He has been crunching the numbers on Monday Night Football for 31 years, dating back to Howard Cosell and “Dandy Don” Meredith. He has terrific stories, and I’ll have more from my interview at a later date.
With the election coming up, we had to talk about the “Redskins Rule.” In 2000, while preparing for the Redskins-Tennessee game in D.C., Hirdt thought he should do something to link football to the upcoming George Bush-Al Gore election.
“I started to go through the Redskins press guides and look at the scores of the games,” Hirdt said. “And then I tried to figure out each year what happened off their last home game before the election. I went Democrats and Republicans, but it didn’t match up.
““Then I went with incumbents. I was shocked to see it lined up exactly right, that whenever the Redskins won their last home game prior to the presidential election, the incumbent party retained the White House, and whenever the Redskins lost their last home game prior to the election, the out-of-power party won the White House.”
Hirdt noted that Tennessee native Gore shouldn’t have been happy that the Titans won that night in D.C. “He should have been rooting for Tennessee to lose,” he said.
Tennessee’s victory foreshadowed a change in party in the White House, even if it took the Supreme Court to make it official.
“For the next 37 days of indecision, I said, ‘This has been settled already. The Redskins lost,'” he said.
The ‘Redskins Rule’ held true in 2008. Washington lost to Pittsburgh in its final home game before the election. And presto, Obama got the keys.
The only wrinkle was in 2004. The Redskins lost to the Packers in their last home game prior to the election, but Bush, the incumbent, remained in office.
Hirdt then did some playing with the numbers. He prefaced his remarks by saying, “With tongue firmly in cheek…”
“I went back and studied the ‘Redskins Rule’ data and what happened in 2004 was explained in 2000,” Hirdt said. “Because Al Gore actually won the popular vote in 2000 — but lost in the Electoral College – it reversed the polarity of the subsequent election. The opposite of the usual ‘Redskins Rule’ was true.
“Redskins Rule 2.0 established that when the popular vote winner does not win the election, the impact of the Redskins game on the subsequent presidential election gets flipped. So, with that, the Redskins’ loss in 2004 signaled that the incumbent would remain in the White House.”
OK, that may be a stretch. Besides, even 17 for 18 is fairly telling.
Hirdt talked about recently receiving a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter who was plugging NFL numbers into the computer in an attempt to find new election trends.
“I said do any of yours deal with the Washington and with the final score of the game,” Hirdt said. “‘No, he said. OK, the ‘Redskin Rule’ reigns supreme.'”
Here’s the breakdown compiled by ESPN. Keep in mind Hirdt’s “revision” in 2004:
Alex Flanagan has been NBC’s sideline reporter for Notre Dame games since 2007. It hasn’t exactly been a joy ride. The Irish went 3-9 during her first year, and the following seasons, which saw Charlie Weis lose his job in 2009, haven’t come close to meeting the absurdly high expectations in South Bend.
So with Notre Dame 8-0 going into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, Flanagan is experiencing her first real dose of Irish fever.
“It’s great,” Flanagan said. “In other years, it could be tough doing that seventh or eighth home game in November. There’s a whole new feel and energy now. There’s definitely a different vibe in the building.”
I had a chance to talk with Flanagan about Notre Dame and Brian Kelly; her duties as a sideline reporter for NBC and NFL Network; her crazy schedule; and the most challenging coaches for a halftime interview.
What has been your experience dealing with Brian Kelly?
He’s been consistent. He’s been the same person from Day 1. He understands the job of being a head coach at Notre Dame, and the politics that come with it. I wonder if (his staff) is surprised in their third year that they are having the kind of success they’re having.
I’ve worked with him long enough where we have a joking relationship. Over the past few weeks, with the quarterback changes, I’m interested to know who’s starting. I was hanging around him before a game, and he looked over at me. I said, ‘I’m waiting to talk to you.’ He said, ‘I know you are.’
How different is it doing the games for one school such as Notre Dame compared to doing a different game each week for NFL Network?
You get to know everybody at Notre Dame. I’m old enough to where I get to know the parents (of the Notre Dame players). I feel like a mother to the kids on the team. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with (Jimmy Clausen’s mother) in North Carolina. I remember her as a mother sitting up in the stands when Jimmy was a freshman, worrying every time he got sacked.
It’s a different experience. Having said that, there are a lot of players in the NFL I knew from when they played in college. You end up pulling for them because you know their stories and background.
You know what the critics say about the value of sideline reporters. CBS doesn’t even use them. What’s your response?
I’m often asked to defend the job of the sideline reporter. I think of myself as an accessory. I don’t know if you can appreciate this, but I tell my female friends, ‘When you get dressed up in that great outfit, the one thing that can top it off is a great accessory. Like a necklace or ear rings.’
Are we a necessity for a telecast? No. But I can see a lot of things that happen on the field that (the announcers) can’t see from up high.
The injury stuff is the big thing. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger looked like he broke an ankle in one of our games. I was able to talk to Mike Tomlin at halftime, and he said it wasn’t as severe as it looked. He wound up playing in the second half.
If a coach is mad, I can hear what he’s mad about. I can say he said this or that. A sideline reporter can help avoid a lot of the speculation.
What about the value of halftime interview with the coach?
It provides a view of what the tone and mood is of the coach. It doesn’t matter what he says as much as you can see how he reacts to a question. You can see his demeanor. I try to provide an insight and view for the person watching at home.
In the NFL, who are the toughest coaches for the halftime interview? The best?
You probably could guess the toughest. The coaches who run a tight ship. Jim Harbaugh can be intimidating. His brother, John, gets intense too. Bill Belichick.
You have to be in the moment with the coaches. At the top of their list at halftime isn’t talking to me about what went wrong in the first half.
With a certain coach, you have to carefully construct what you’re going to ask. Somebody like Jim Harbaugh listens to every word you say. You have to be specific.
Coaches like Jeff Fisher, Norv Turner are great to deal with. Mike Tomlin and Mike Smith. To be honest, every coach in the NFL understands it is part of the job and they are very professional about it.
You have a crazy schedule. You work the Thursday night game for NFL Network; Saturday for Notre Dame home games; and Sunday you cover an NFL game for NBC’s Football Night in America. You live in San Diego and have three kids under the age of 10. How do you manage it?
Yes, it is a challenge. Usually, I leave on Tuesday for the NFL Network game on Thursday. Then we get to South Bend on Friday. On Sunday, I usually fly out of Chicago in the morning to get to my NFL game.
But there are working women who work year around who leave the house every day at 7 and don’t get home until 6-7. I work every day for four months, starting in September. The rest of the year, I try to stay at home.
I like to say that I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a stay-at-home Mom for part of the year and a working Mom for other parts of the year.
NFL Films senior producer Peter Frank talked about the documentary in an interview with Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily:
Q: Was DeBartolo receptive to the idea of profiling him, or was he hesitant? Frank: It was hard at first. He and his people were reluctant. I just gather that they’ve been approached by other people about doing his story, too. I think they knew us from his time as an owner and that certainly helped that there are actually people in this building here who know him and who know some of the other 49ers front office folks. We did tell them, “Listen, this is not a whitewash. We have to ask you about all aspects of your life, one of which is why you are no longer the owner of the 49ers.” They said that they were fine with that. There were no stipulations as to what we could or couldn’t ask and Mr. DeBartolo answered every question that we asked to him. He didn’t decline to answer anything.
Q: Was there any pushback from the NFL about profiling DeBartolo, who left as 49ers owner after a highly publicized corruption case involving former L.A. Gov. Edwin Edwards? Frank: No. All the ideas that get submitted, somebody sees them somewhere and there was actually (no pushback). I did wonder about that at first too, given the way that Eddie D left the league. I didn’t know if there was any problem and apparently it turned out that there’s not. We haven’t had a single problem. [Frank said the league had no editorial input and did not require final approval before the broadcast aired].
“Joe Buck is working two games in one day,” I said. “What’s wrong with you? You’re slacking off.”
Tirico laughed. “I sent Joe a text. I told him it must have been awesome to have been a part of that,” Tirico said.
Seriously, Tirico doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone with his schedule. Actually, October is a slow month for him. He only has Monday Night Football as far as play-by-play is concerned.
Starting in November, he will pick up weekly NBA games. His calendar includes Big Ten college basketball games in the winter and three of the four golf majors in the spring and summer. He also does weekly radio shows and podcasts for ESPN.
For all I know, Tirico calls sandlot games in his spare time.
Tirico and Jon Gruden are in Chicago tonight for the Bears-Detroit Lions game. Here’s my Q/A.
You don’t have one month during the year when you’re not working a significant event for ESPN. Why do you take on such a busy schedule?
My schedule can be a challenge. I have an extremely understanding family and wonderful people who facilitate things for me.
I grew up in New York when Marv Albert was doing Rangers and Knicks game, doing sports on Ch. 4 at 6 and 11, and he was NBC’s guy for boxing on the weekends. I went to Syracuse because of Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Dick Stockton. I wanted to be like those guys, and that meant you just couldn’t say, ‘Oh, this is too much.’
Listen, we’re not digging ditches. We’re talking about sports. Even though you’re drained at the end of the day, it’s not that hard. It’s a pretty good job.
This is the first time you’re working with a two-man booth for Monday Night Football. What has that been like for you?
The most significant part of my job is to get the most out of an analyst–make them relevant. It’s much easier to do it with one person compared to two. I love Jaws (Ron Jaworski). We text all the time.
But the difference with two people is that it is more of a conversation. I can carry on a dialogue easier than trying to deal with a third person. I can ask a second or third question.
What is it like to work with Jon Gruden?Jon is the best prepared of any analyst I’ve ever worked with. I truly understand why he’s been so successful. When we meet with coaches (prior to a telecast), they have so much respect for his knowledge and ability. He’s on the cutting edge of what’s going on.
When you see his preparation, it helps you to understand why good coaches and bad coaches make such a difference in the NFL. When you watch our games and listen to the things Jon says before they happen, it’s incredible.
I bristle at all the people who say Jon is too positive and never gets negative. If they don’t think Jon doesn’t point out mistakes, then they aren’t listening to the game.
Does Jon go to a different level of appreciation about the ability of guys? Absolutely, because he’s coached players. He knows what it takes to be Peyton Manning and what he does out there. Not to get on my soap box, but we’ve turned into a miserable society if we can’t enjoy being around the best in the world.
If you watch a game, Jon will say why a guy is doing that and why a guy is not doing that. When people say Jon’s not critical, I call those people lazy. They need to listen closely to the game.
I’ll get ripped for saying that, but that’s good.
You’re in your seventh year calling Monday Night Football. How have you evolved as an announcer?
I’m sure your 100th column was better than your first. I go back and watch every game. I’m always looking to get better.
However, I always say nobody watches for the announcers. They watch for a good game. If they really watch for the announcers, then on Sunday, the networks should put their best announcers on their worst game.
If Fox put their No. 7 crew on the Giants-49ers game, it wouldn’t change the rating for that game. All we can do is hopefully enhance the experience.
Let’s go back to the end of the Seattle-Green Bay game. How did that play unfold for you?
You start with the fact Seattle had a chance to beat Green Bay. Then the play happened. First, you’re amazed that the ball didn’t hit the ground. Now all my attention goes to the officials and I see nothing.
Then they make two different calls. Wait, what you got here?
Looking back, I’m glad about two things. When I made the call, I used the word ‘simaltaneous.’ Ultimately, that’s the rule they were looking at. I’m glad I used the correct word.
Second, I’m glad after the fire bomb hit, there was the reality that this was the most significant faux pas of the replacement officials. We said it was going to put pressure on the league to make a change. And it did.
Do you really call sandlot games in your spare time?
No, c’mon. Going to the Tigers game tonight (Tirico, who lives in the Detroit area, was going to game 4 of the ALCS). I’m glad it’s one of the one sports I don’t cover. I’ve never taken a credential to a baseball game. I have a partial season ticket, and it’s the one sport where I can truly be a fan. It’s so much fun to be there with the family.
I love waiting in line for the concessions, sitting in the stands. It makes you appreciate the people who fill the stadiums. It helps you be connected to the consumer.
Skip Bayless has a tremendous story about Joe Namath’s retirement. When we worked at the Chicago Tribune, I was like a kid, asking him to retell it like some favorite old tale.
Well, it just so happens that Namath played his last game 35 years ago this week. As this classic Monday Night Football video below shows, he was dreadful, throwing four interceptions in the Rams’ loss to the Bears.
To mark the occasion, I thought it was a good time to share Bayless’ story. Here’s Skip:
I did sidebars (for the Los Angeles Times) on their game-days. We had a mutual friend. He put in a good word for me with Namath.
Namath hated the media. He was at war with the New York media and soon was at war with the LA media. He wouldn’t talk with anybody. He’d do a brief post-game. He’d hang his head, barely speak.
After the first exhibition game, I went to him. I said, “Joe, Skip Bayless.” He immediately lit up. “Joel told me,” he said.
So I hit it off with him. During the year, I’d get little scoops nobody else could get.
It ended very badly for him. Both of his knees were shot. He played only four games and lost his job to Pat Haden and Ron Jaworski. Their season ended very badly with a home playoff loss in the rain to Minnesota.
On Monday, I was sent to the Rams facility just to do a wrap-up. I walked in the lockerroom and it was mostly empty except for Namath. He was cleaning out his locker. I walked over, and I said, “You look like you’re leaving.”
He said, “I’m retiring. I’m done, man.”
I said, “Can I write it?”
He said, “Sure. You can have it.”
I said, “Can you talk about it now?”
He said, “I’m busy. Let’s meet in a couple hours. We’re having a little party (at some bar).” It was a California fern bar.
I run to the phone. I called my boss. I was like a son to him. He said, “This is huge. They are holding Page 1 for you.”
I show up and they’re already rolling. He’s got a bunch of friends I’ve never seen before. They were really close. They weren’t football people. They were already into their cups.
He had saved me a seat right next to him. He said, “What are you drinking?”
Quick back story: I came from a double alcoholic background. Both of my parents were wrecks. My grandparents were wrecks. My mother’s brother died of cirrhosis of the liver. My whole family was riddled with alcohol.
I had been told I had a genetic predisposition to alcohol. I’m obsessive compulsive. So I always avoid alcohol.
I just got married to my high school sweetheart. I was in a business fueled by alcohol. She always said, “If you have to, just order a red wine. Take a couple of sips and you’ll be OK.”
I start to nervously sip the red wine and try to take notes. I sipped through a whole glass of wine. The waitress immediately put down a second glass. I had no conscious thought of any danger.
Finally, I said, ‘Joe, I’ve got to run.’ As we stood up to shake hands–and I am not exaggerating one bit–I fell backwards into a man seated next to me. And then I fell on the floor.
Joe Namath stood over me and looked me right in the eye, and said, “Son, you’re drunk.”
I said, “No, I’m not.”
He said, “What do you plan to do?
I said, “I plan to go write my story.”
He said, “Are you going to drive?”
I said, ‘Yes.”
He said, “No, you can’t drive.”
He helped me to my feet. I felt my way out of the bar and called my boss. He knew I had issues with alcohol. I said, “Bill, you won’t believe this, but I’m drunk.”
I quickly told him the story. He did not chuckle.
OK, what are we going to do? I was in no condition to write anything. He asked, “What are the odds the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner has this story?”
I said, “I had no hint at all, but Joe despises everyone but me.”
“What if we hold the story?” he said.
I said, “I’ll give you 99.9 percent chance it’ll survive.”
He said, “OK, let’s hold it for a day.”
Sure enough, Joe didn’t say anything. And the next day, we had our story.