Two weeks ago this morning, I was effectively lying to some high school kids while they ate cinnamon roll pancakes topped with chocolate chips and a side of bacon.
It was part of a column in which I posed as an old friend of Park Hill High football coach Josh Hood, so I could watch the annual gag in which a kid is fooled before finding out he won the Simone Award.
The column was, truly, a blast to do, in no small part because Ronnie Bell — the winner — seemed like such a genuine and good kid.
But two moments stick out above the others. The first was just after breakfast, when Bell still thought I was an old coaching buddy of Hood’s, I asked him why he was signed to play basketball and not football.
He sort of looked down at the floor, then off into the distance.
“I just,” he began, before a pause. “I just looked at it and wanted to do what was best for my future.”
Not very convincing.
Then, maybe a half hour later, in the minutes after Bell found out he’d won, it was just him and me in a windowless coaches’ room as he processed what he’d just found out.
“I just can’t believe it,” he said. “For me, this being my last year playing football, we all wanted to win a state championship. That was our goal. We didn’t do that, but we did a lot, and for this to be the way my last year ends I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s perfect.”
Well, that sounded a little more convincing.
Ronnie’s father, Aaron, said he did everything possible to make sure this was the right choice. He asked him after a breakout game early in the year if he was sure he didn’t want to play football. Asked again halfway through the season. Asked one more time before they faxed the letter of intent to Missouri State.
Ronnie’s answers: yes, yes, and yes.
That was two weeks ago that Ronnie carried that enormous trophy around the Park Hill gym, and now he’s not only the Simone winner, but a future college football player headed to Michigan on a scholarship.
Big congratulations to Ronnie. Life comes at you fast. Looking forward to following his football career going forward.
This week’s eating recommendation is the cheese curds at Blvd Tavern, and the reading recommendation is my friend Kent Babb on former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who is convinced he’s living with CTE.
You guys know the fact about the AFC being represented in the Super Bowl by a total of four quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco (once) — since the 2003 season.
Flacco had a lot going for him that year, including Broncos defensive back Rahim Moore badly misplaying a crucial deep ball in the division round and Baltimore’s defense holding the Patriots to just 13 points in the AFC Championship, but either way, Alex Smith joining that list would be a departure.
Football and even the AFC are more unpredictable than that fact would suggest. Those Super Bowl runs include terrific defenses, lucky breaks, games won with fewer than 20 points, with last second kicks and all kinds of other factors that have nothing to do with the quarterback.
This specific Chiefs team is good enough to make the Super Bowl. I don’t say that as much because of what we’ve seen the last two weeks (or the first five weeks) as I do the unpredictability of sports.
Smith is having a better statistical season than many quarterbacks who’ve played in the Super Bowl. I want to say very clearly that I do not believe Smith is as good as Brady, Roethlisberger or Manning, and I want to acknowledge the limits of passer rating, but the following is a fact:
Smith’s current passer rating is higher than Tom Brady’s was in five of his seven Super Bowl seasons (and 0.2 points below a sixth), three of Manning’s four and all three of Roethlisberger’s.
Again, I want to be very clear: I do not believe Smith is better than those quarterbacks.
Even in the best season of his life, Smith was atrocious two weeks in a row, and has had the ball with a chance to close out at the end in five of the Chiefs’ six losses.
So, I get it.
I’m just saying it’s more complicated, and unpredictable, than a lot of people probably want to admit.
Now, all that said, I think this team’s ceiling is another loss in the division round.
I don’t trust a team that lost six of seven.
For me, it’s the offensive line.
I know we just talked about this, but it’s worth repeating: Smith was atrocious in the losses to the Giants and Bills. Just terrible.
But he had enough of a track record to believe he wasn’t that bad. Those were the anomalies, and I think that’s how it’s played out.
The offensive line didn’t have that same track record.
This is a point I first heard from Terez, and have parroted a lot, but they really did need to get away from the complicated blocking schemes and let those guys get downhill and aggressive.
For too long, the linemen — particularly Zach Fulton, but others, too — were being asked to make unnecessarily complicated blocks that required balletic footwork and a magician’s timing.
In the last few weeks, that’s been simplified. I also trust Geoff Schwartz on all O-line matters, particularly with the Chiefs, and he’s repeated a point that I believe is at least tangentially related to Terez’s: The Chiefs have dropped a lot of what they weren’t doing well, and focused on what they do well, especially outside-zone runs.
I know we’re getting into the weeds a little bit, so maybe it’s better to think about it like this: A lot of us spent a lot of time last week talking about Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and the Chargers’ strong front seven, but the Chiefs allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits.
Think about how differently that game goes if Smith is being constantly pressured, and sacked.
Combination of the line and him getting his own juice back.
We talked enough about the line in the answer above to let that ride here, but Hunt has done a lot of this on his own, too. The last two weeks have been a lot like the first five, in that the first guy is hardly ever getting him.
My suspicion was always that he’d hit a rookie wall at some point, and that’s what I thought was happening for chunks of November.
Even on some positive plays, it seemed like he lacked that extra burst, that explosive cut, to turn a five or seven yard gain into something much longer.
Sure seems like he’s had that back, especially the last two weeks. He’s making guys miss, and making others drag upfield a few yards before going down.
Stamina has always been a concern with me. He’s not a real big guy, and he took a lot of hits in college. I’ve been saying all year that I’d rather they rest him during the regular season if it meant he was fresher in January.
I don’t know if that’s exactly how it happened. My read on it is that the coaches could see the blocking wasn’t there in games like the Steelers, Cowboys, Bills and Jets, and so they didn’t want to waste those bullets.
But either way, if they have September Kareem back, it changes a lot about the Chiefs going forward.
The possibility of the Chiefs clinching the division this weekend, and then resting a lot of starters at Denver in the season finale is often talked about in terms of seeing Patrick Mahomes play, and there’s no question that’s the most exciting result.
But more important could be the ability to rest some starters like Hunt, Justin Houston, Chris Jones and others.
The most likely outcome is the Chiefs have the No. 4 seed and host the Titans, Bills or Ravens in the wild card round.
And, well, at the moment, it seems like anyone matches up well with the Titans. I’ve been stunned at how bad Marcus Mariota has been. I still think he has a chance to be a star, but he’s at 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions at the moment, with losses to the Cardinals and 49ers the last two weeks.
Tennessee’s defense is tough up front, and if they were able to stop the Chiefs’ run game maybe they could make things interesting, but they just don’t do a whole lot else well.
The Bills are decent, particularly up front, and particularly when they’re not starting Nate Peterman at quarterback. They won in Arrowhead already, so there’s that, but if the Chiefs actually have some of their fundamental flaws fixed then I’d like them in the rematch.
The Ravens could be a problem. Their only loss in the last five games was by a point in Pittsburgh. Their defense is strong, especially against the pass, and they lead the league in turnover margin at plus-17. Terrell Suggs is 35 years old but still playing like a boss. I’m guessing Jeremy Maclin would be interested in playing well.
You can go glass half-full, because the Chiefs are third at plus-12, and particularly strong at avoiding turnovers. But if we’re talking about the worst matchup, the Ravens are probably going to win out (home games against the Colts and Bengals) so would have a lot of confidence.
So, in order of preference for the Chiefs: Titans, Bills, then Ravens.
You probably know the Ravens are the likeliest opponent.
So, first let me disagree with “finally showed up.” Peters has been the Chiefs’ best cornerback all season. I don’t believe he’s been as effective as his previous two seasons, but the difference is more “All-Pro to Pro Bowl*” than “All-Pro to Not Showing Up.”
* That was Nate’s wording when we talked about this on the Border Patrol.
But we agree that this was, by far, Peters’ best game of the season. Might be the best game of his career.
I fully believe what I wrote in the game column: he was essentially perfect.
It wasn’t just the interceptions, or the forced fumble — which could’ve just as easily been given to Reggie Ragland — or the open field, one-on-one tackle short of the sticks on third down.
He did not allow a single reception, against a team that had been rolling folks for a month.
My theory — again, this is in the game column — is that Peters’ slippage was at least tangentially related to Eric Berry’s injury. Everyone in the locker room respects Berry, but Peters reveres the man. Berry’s voice reaches Peters in a different way, and it’s easy to imagine that void allowing Peters’ focus to drift.
I also believe that Peters’ personality makes him a bad guy for a bad team, and for much longer than it should’ve been, the Chiefs were a bad team. Even before Peters threw the flag and walked off the field, his body language in the Jets game was abysmal.
So, I believe the suspension shook Peters. I believe it helped him recalibrate. He is immensely prideful, with relationships he values in the locker room, and I believe he was embarrassed. He apologized to his teammates. Allen Bailey and Ron Parker were among those who said they thought Peters was a little different last week, that he looked at the game as a chance to prove something — to himself, to others, to teammates, to whoever.
We’re all playing armchair psychologist here, and most of you know I love Peters’ talent, so it probably doesn’t surprise you that I believe we’re going to see his best going forward.
Even with a drifting focus, he was a good player.
But what he did against the Chargers is a reminder of what he’s capable of when tuned the right ways.
Well Poopfoot, it’s a good question, and I’m sorry about what happened at lunch. Hope you found a palatable solution.
I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the end for Reid.
I understand the temptation to compare him with Marvin Lewis. But Lewis has coached the Bengals for 15 years. This is Reid’s fifth season with the Chiefs.
He dug them from an almost unfathomably dark place, which deserves more than a wave of the hand, but I’m not sure it’s fair to say they’ve plateaued. They won nine games in 2014, 11 the next year, and 12 the year after that. They won a playoff game for the first time in decades after the 2015 season, and had a first-round bye the next year.
The Chiefs will win fewer games than last year. I do not expect them to reach the fair standard for this season, which was always at least the AFC Championship game.
But I also think it’s pretty silly to talk about firing the guy.
They’ll win a second consecutive division title, he has the respect of his players, and just drafted the future quarterback. There are no boats without holes, and he’s not Bill Belichick, but I’m not sure how the Chiefs get better by getting rid of Reid.
I believe hard questions should be asked of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and offensive line coach Andy Heck. I believe the defense needs to be remade in places. I believe Reid has been good in Kansas City.
Certainly not good enough yet, but c’mon. He’s not Marvin Lewis.
I will forever remain convinced that Yordano Ventura was going to have the best season of his career in 2017. He was 25 years old and by every account I’ve heard working harder than ever, with better focus.
He had failed in the big leagues, in some key ways for the first time, and I believe he was a little embarrassed by that and motivated more than ever to be his best.
We will never know if that’s true, obviously. Maybe he was going to continue to slip, maybe his arm was going to blow out, maybe he was going to remain a middle- or back-of-the-rotation guy.
I haven’t thought much about how his presence would change the Royals’ present outlook, but I’m not sure it would be significant enough to demand a different plan.
The Royals went 80-82 last year, with their major free agents all having terrific seasons. Let’s be generous and say the Royals would’ve been five games better with Ventura. That’s still 85-77, tied with the younger Twins in the division and 17 games behind the Indians.
You’d still have Alex Gordon’s contract. You’d still have Joakim Soria’s contract. You’d still have a farm system with few answers. And just to maintain the core of a team that won 85 games, you’d be looking at something like $300 million in total contracts and more than $50 million in 2018 salary.
This feels a little weird to talk about, a tragedy distilled into cold baseball terms, but it’s certainly part of the story. If the Royals still had Ventura, the biggest difference might be that he’d be a trade candidate, or make it easier to trade some of the other valuable pieces.
You guys, if you haven’t seen this, it’s insane. Even if you’ve seen the video, that link has the jumper’s thoughts, written in an email to the Star*.
I would be a better man if I was able to tell you I’ve never, um, lost my faculties enough to do something positively insane but, alas, I went to college.
As any of us who’ve ever done or witnessed something like that knows, the key here are the friends. At a certain point, after beer six or so depending on weight and tolerance and other factors, 20-something males become receptacles for peer pressure.
Casey Lewis’ friends lit a table on fire and dared him to jump. I have no doubt that if they had instead chanted “SHAKE- SPEARE! SHAKE-SPEARE!” he’d have stood in the back of that truck and screamed for all to hear:
NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, MOFOS!
I can say this, too, because Lewis suffered no injuries and I’m going to CYA here and say that in no way does The Star condone jumping into fire of any kind: I’m kind of glad Lewis has the friends he has.
This team and this season are hard to figure, especially at the moment.
I hope you read my column from last week. Every year, this seems to happen. The standards at KU are such that any loss causes worry, and any two losses bunched together causes panic.
That’s always been nonsense. One year, I wrote a gimmick column in December with the point of view from the following March, essentially making fun of all the worry.
But I do think this year could be different. There are real flaws with this team, particularly inside, with depth, and getting to the free throw line.
But all of those problems can be fixed with two solutions that may happen very soon: five-star power forward Billy Preston becoming eligible, and five-star power forward recruit Silvio De Sousa being able to reclassify.
If those two things happen, then we should, at the very least, watch what would in many ways be a new team for a few weeks before committing to any real worry.
But if they don’t, and this is the team Self will take into conference play and the NCAA Tournament, then absolutely without any doubt there is reason to be worried.
Devonte Graham is playing an unsustainably high number of minutes. He’s sat for three minutes total in the last four games. Udoka Azubuike is the team’s only real inside threat. Depth issues mean everyone has to constantly consider foul trouble, and conserving energy, which shows up all over the court.
They have real strengths, too, of course. Devonte Graham is one of the best players in the country, and Lagerald Vick is a dangerous talent. They are efficient offensively, and the Washington game aside, typically very strong with execution.
That’s a dangerous team, and perhaps one others don’t want to play.
But for so long, the Jayhawks have been the alpha, with the kind of record and depth and talent that means they’re the favorite.
I’m hijacking your question to say I haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since I was a kid.
I accept your scorn.
I have no idea who Kylo Ren is, but from the context, I’m guessing he’s ... bad?
This is not me making fun of your Star Wars obsession, if you have one. I waste far too much money on bourbon and beer, and far too much time with nonsense on the Internet, to judge how anyone spends their time. The other night, I met Colby and Megan Garrelts, and Jeff Stehney, and tried my best to not go all fanboy and corner them for five hours with questions.
I know some people couldn’t care less, and are perfectly happy eating microwave pizza, and I hope they don’t judge my food obsession.
I mean, I’m a sportswriter. What am I going to say?
So, no, I’m saying this because every once in a while a cultural phenomenon comes around that is so far outside my scope of interest and understanding that it makes me feel the way people who hate or could not care less about sports must feel the week of the Super Bowl.
Trust me, my wife is an interior designer. I am comfortable and accustomed to dealing with different points of interest.
So, as long as I’m here hijacking questions, I’m going to get back on my campaign for the Peanut to offer a combo platter:
BLT and three wings for $10. Add a Tank 7 for $4 more.
I’m guessing on the prices a little bit. Six wings are $11.25, and the BLT (with chips and a pickle) is $7*. So drop the chips, add three wings and that should be about $12 in street value. Give the people a price break, and you have the best food combination available anywhere.
* THAT IS GOOD VALUE.
They already offer three wings with fries (cheese and/or chili options available). Why not pair the best two things on the menu?
I really want this to happen, you guys. I’ve made my case in person, at both the Plaza and Downtown locations. If you share my vision of a Peanut Power Combo* then maybe mention it next time you’re enjoying food, drink and fellowship at Kansas City’s oldest bar and grill.
* Working title. We can come up with something better.
Well, lots been going on, Brandon. Did you know the Royals got good, then awesome, then mediocre? You might not notice, because they’ll probably be bad again next year, with people talking about the future and prospects so maybe it’ll feel like you never left.
The Chiefs won a playoff game, and actually have some speed now, though you should be able to get right back into the angst and fatalism without breaking stride. Mizzou basketball is good. That’s new. KU football stinks. You probably assumed that anyway. Bill Snyder will never retire. We’ve all assumed that anyway.
The city is different, too. Lot of good restaurants. Blvd Tavern, Char Bar, Jarocho, Brown and Loe, the Antler Room, West Bottoms Kitchen, Parkway Social Kitchen, and others. JJ’s is open again. The Crossroads are much different, in a good way.
I know I’m forgetting about some stuff, and unaware of much more, but you’ll have to forgive me because depending on when you left three years ago I may have been a fatherless man with time to kill.
Now, I can tell you my favorite episodes of Blaze, and cite chunks of the Cars movies, and tell you I am legitimately excited that Wonderscope is going to open a new location in south KC in a year or so.
Hey, that’s very cool of you to say, and I hardly ever retweet or use compliments here because I think that’s obnoxious, but I’m making an exception for this because I read this as mostly a compliment about Terez.
There are five of us doing those podcasts/Facebook live chats, but I think four of us would agree that Terez is the one who makes it work. It’s not just that he knows more about the Chiefs and football than the rest of us, but simply as a “host,” he makes everything so easy. He’s funny, knowledgeable, generous, unselfish, always helps us with our energy and has a feel for the moment.
He’ll make fun of me for saying all of this, but it’s absolutely true.
We — those of us who work at the Star, and anyone interested in the Chiefs — are lucky to have him.
All that said: do NOT expect a postgame chat after the game on Christmas Eve. We have our limits.
We will absolutely do some offseason shows. We haven’t talked about a specific schedule, but yeah, I’d expect a postgame wrap, some pre- and post-draft stuff, and others.
The best thing about The Great Christmas Party Snub Of 2017 is that, FINALLY, people are starting to see that rascal Vahe’s true colors.
I bet that beard isn’t even real.
First of all, take you and your October Christmas shopping self right on out of here.
A friend — I don’t know if he’d want me to out him here — told me about a pretty brilliant move. Take a couple of your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other/boo’s favorite pieces of clothing to his/her favorite store.
Find someone who works there who is about the same size, and ask them to pick something out. It’s sort of like an old-school Pandora for clothes, if you think about it, but if it works out you get to keep all the credit for picking out something nice.
I’m realizing now you said “outside the box,” and I’m not really sure “clothes” qualify, but if you’re anything like me picking out clothes without any pushing from my wife would be incredibly outside the box.
So, this is also a nice gift idea. For years, my dad’s Christmas ask has been a donation to Operation Breakthrough, which literally does the work of saints. It’s a terrific idea.
Anyway, I feel strange singling these out, because there are so many great places doing life-changing work around town, but here are the first that come to mind. I know I’m forgetting some, and don’t even know about others.
Big Brothers Big Sisters. I can’t imagine a more worthy cause than helping disadvantaged kids by providing interested mentors and role models.
Operation Breakthrough. Same mission as BBBS, just a different approach. An invaluable help for many families, particularly single parents.
Harvesters. When I wrote this column calling for KU-Mizzou to play an annual charity game, I called around town to see how far the money could go. The woman I talked to at Harvesters was nice enough to explain to me three times that, yes, they could serve three million meals with $1 million.
Safe home. One of several terrific agencies providing protection and support for victims of domestic abuse.
Kauffman Scholars. Helps low-income high school students access college with mentoring, tutoring and scholarships.
Safe Harbor Prison Dogs. There are lots of places that help dogs. Safe Harbor is my favorite because it’s where I found the pointer/lab mix who is sleeping on my feet as I type these words.
The Children’s Place KC. Helps support and nurture young kids who’ve been victims of abuse, neglect and trauma.
Bishop Sullivan Center. Provides food and other assistance to the poor, including relationships and understanding for others.
United Way. One of the biggest and farthest reaching charities in America.
This week, I’m particularly grateful for Rockhurst football coach Tony Severino. Weren’t expecting that one, huh? He was always one of my favorite coaches when I covered high schools, and one I’ve kept in contact with in the years since.
I thought about him yesterday, when our 3-year-old was acting like, well, a 3-year-old. The brattiness was just out of control, so I took our son up to his room, told him why, and kept him in there until he calmed down. He screamed, he kicked, he hit. I waited a few minutes. Went back in, asked if he knew why he was in there. He said he didn’t.
I went back out, listened to more screaming, waited for it to calm down and went back in. Asked if he knew why he was in there. He said because he was screaming and hitting. I told him I loved him. He told me he was sorry. And for the rest of the day, he was perfect.
Really, it was like he just got off the tracks a bit and needed to be put back on. Before I fell asleep, I thought about Severino. I’ve heard him say some version of the following a hundred times:
“Kids need discipline. They want discipline. Coaches and parents don’t always understand that, but it’s true.”
He’s absolutely right. Weird that he was giving me parenting advice when I was 24, my first kid more than 10 years in the future.