The view from the other side is always worth keeping in mind, so I’m glad I went to the Broncos locker room on Monday night, and mostly I’ll remember three things.
First, the disbelief. They had this game. Should’ve won. Then Mahomes happened.
Second, the respect, perhaps best illustrated by Shane Ray’s line: “Everybody should get used to seeing him make plays like that.”
Third, Chris Harris, a passionate and terrific player, asked about the second-and-30 play late in the fourth quarter.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Harris is what some of us in the business call “a good quote.” He’s confident, colorful, descriptive. Even after losses. He gave full and descriptive answers to every question he was asked, except about that second-and-30 play. Later, while answering a different question, he went back to it.
“We let them off the hook on a second-and-30, which was crazy,” Harris said. “I can’t talk about it. You guys go back and watch the film and see what we did.”
So, that’s interesting. It’s the one topic he wouldn’t discuss, even as his mind was clearly on it. Let’s take Harris’ suggestion.
The broadcast provided two angles. First, the traditional:
Nothing obvious here. The Broncos rush four, and are still able to create pressure. Unfortunately for them, the pressure puts Mahomes straight into his wheelhouse — scrambling right, plenty of time and room, eyes downfield. This is remarkably similar to the third-down conversion in LA. Defensive coordinators will start to scheme against this, at some point, but even so this is a play we’ll see Mahomes make a lot over the years.
OK, that’s the traditional view. Here’s what it looked like from behind Mahomes, with a bonus slow mo look at the end:
Here’s where I think we can see Harris’ frustration. The Broncos are rushing four, with man defense in the back. Their success against Mahomes in the first half came largely by confusing him at the line of scrimmage, and muddying his protection calls. This one is plainly easy to diagnose.
There’s a safety high to take away the middle of the field, and to be fair that eliminates Travis Kelce as an option. But this is just a bad call, to force the defensive backs to cover this long man-to-man, particularly without a mechanism to keep Mahomes in the pocket.
ESPN Stats & Info has this great number: Mahomes threw for 192 yards outside the pocket, the most of any quarterback in 10 years. That’s how he was beating them all night long, and this call encouraged him to do it once more.
Or, at least, that’s my best guess of why Harris reacted like that. There was plenty to be frustrated about, for the Broncos, particularly on defense. They deserved better. They should’ve won.
Finally, after decades, the Chiefs have the guy who can break a game.
This continues to blow my mind. Patrick Mahomes just played his worst statistical game of the season, which is true even though he went over 300 yards, did not throw an interception, and completed a crucial pass with his left hand while being dragged down by Von Miller.
The people who’ve known Mahomes for a long time sometimes act like they expected this. They’ll talk about how the highlights we see now are the same ones they saw at Texas Tech, and at Whitehouse High, and that’s all true but of course it ignores a crucial fact:
YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THE SAME STUFF AGAINST NFL DEFENSES THAT YOU DID AGAINST KANSAS AND LINDALE HIGH.
This was the primary point of the Insta-reaction, but in a lot of ways that’s the most impressive moment of Mahomes’ career so far.
Because, for a half, he stunk. He wasn’t good. The Broncos had him shook. He appeared confused at the line of scrimmage, confused pre-snap, rushed post-snap, and far too often was either throwing inaccurately or miscommunicating with receivers.
Context matters here, too. Monday Night Football. Mile High. The biggest audience he’s every played in front of, against the best defense he’s ever seen.
If Mahomes ended with three interceptions and a string of bad reads, it would have been entirely understandable, and an opportunity for him to grow from the inevitable failure of competing against the best in the world.
Instead, with it not working for him in the pocket and with his primary reads, he took it outside, went abstract, played jazz, and there was nothing the Broncos could do. It’s a remarkable thing to watch, a 23-year-old in his first season as an NFL starting quarterback overmatched for the first time with traditional football stuff, then going to his instincts and unpredictability to beat one of the best defenses in the league.
I don’t know if this is the most impressive thing about Mahomes, because there are so many, but it’s a place my mind keeps going:
All of these backyard plays, these remarkable highlights, and he’s a quarter of the way through a season without an interception or even a pass that should’ve been intercepted.
The closest he’s come was probably the deflected pass to Sammy Watkins in the first half on Monday, but that wasn’t a bad decision or throw. That’s just football chaos.
The comparisons to Brett Favre are hard not to make, and the highlights and spectacular moments put him in the Hall of Fame, but Favre also made a lot of awful throws. Made rotten decisions. Threw too many 50-50 passes, or worse. He played in a different time, but three times he led the league in interceptions. Six times he threw more than 20, and not just as a young quarterback — he did it at age 24, 29, 30, 34, 36 and 39.
That’s part of who he was.
That’s not part of who Mahomes is, or at least it’s not part of what he’s shown himself to be so far. Again, he’s playing in a different time, but it’s like he’s hoarded all of his spectacular without giving an inch on the risk.
It’s not supposed to be like this.
Compare and contrast what Montana did in 1994 to what we witnessed last night please— Tyler Watterson (@thebiggszone) October 2, 2018
It’s the modern version. I was in high school when Montana hit Willie Davis at the end of that Monday night game, and the Chiefs were always a big deal locally, but that moment absolutely took it to another level.
They weren’t just good, they were fun. Montana gave them a certain confidence, a swagger, a belief that the score didn’t matter as much as the existence of two things:
- their quarterback.
This is the moment I’d been waiting for. Hoping for, even. We’ve seen Mahomes do so much already, but we hadn’t seen him truly challenged. Hadn’t seen him play from behind, on the road, against a really tough defense. Hadn’t seen him deal with any real failure.
That all changed on Monday, and there is quite literally no way Mahomes could’ve more conclusively risen to the challenge.
This can be easy to forget, but Joe Montana was not an amazing statistical quarterback. Never led the league in yards. Led in passer rating twice. But he was one of the best in history when it mattered most, and that’s why he has an argument as the best quarterback ever*.
* You don’t care, but I have him behind Elway, Rodgers, and Brady, but also know he was in his 30s by the time I was really watching the NFL.
There was a knock from some that Mahomes would be a paper tiger. A fantasy football monster, in the tradition of Jeff George, but not a guy an actual football team could win with. But he might just be the best of both.
He will post numbers that look fake, but Monday was our first glimpse of him in any real trouble, and he provided one of the great comebacks in franchise history.
Since no one will ask about Mahomes, I’ll bite. I missed the game traveling for work. What was it like seeing it unfold live?— pesamenteiro (@imatthegym) October 2, 2018
We’ve talked about this before, but watching games as a writer is so much different than watching games as a fan. Not better, not worse. Just a lot different.
We live in a post-deadline world, for the most part, but I still want to get the Insta-reaction ready by the final gun, which means writing ahead and relying on a feel for what might happen and how it might be remembered, and in that way here is the thing I might remember most:
When he threw the pass left-handed, I did not jump from my seat and look for someone to hug, the way I did in that same press box last year after the throw to Demarcus Robinson. I just shook my head, laughed, watched the replay, and started typing.
When the Chiefs went to second-and-30, not only did I not pre-write about a loss, I felt a bizarre certainty that the Chiefs would somehow convert because, well, because Mahomes. Third-and-30 I might’ve had doubts. But second down? Come on. They’ve got plays for that.
I don’t know if the experience is relatable for fans. Maybe the scar tissue is still there from past failures, and I’m sure the feelings for all of us will be different in the postseason.
But to me, that’s what I’m starting to feel more and more. I wrote this three weeks ago, but it’s even truer now — the fluke isn’t the highlight, the fluke will come when he struggles.
Sam, what are the top 5 Mahomes “Showtime” plays of the year?— jacob larsen (@jacoblarsen29) October 2, 2018
A list? A list!
5. The scramble for a touchdown. It’s an excellent play, the kind for which there is no good way to defend. The Chiefs send three receivers, a tight end, and a running back on routes, forcing seven Broncos to cover. Nobody’s open, and the pressure comes, but that’s no biggie because Mahomes steps through a hole and outruns Darian Stewart to the pylon.
Again, it’s an excellent play, but I’m probably pushing it to this list because of the three-step celebration: wipe the jersey clean like Jamaal Charles, then flex to the stands like he did so many times at Tech, then finish it off with a crossover-into-a-jumper. A+ execution.
4. They say Mahomes does stuff you can’t teach, and that’s true, but he also does stuff you’d NEVER teach. Stuff you’d teach AGAINST. Stuff that would be a terrible, awful, no-good idea except it works. For instance, scramble left, throw back to your right, away from your body, to the middle of the field, over the head of a linebacker and between two defensive backs.
The play is so physically bonkers that Mahomes has to sort of pirouette afterward to get the strength. He really shouldn’t do stuff like this. There are kids watching. They’ll get the wrong idea.
3. The Sherm Throw. Anytime you have your fullback, playing tight end, running what is essentially a wheel route with a window over the linebacker but away from the defensive back and still inbounds against the sideline, well, you just have to let it fly.
2. Nine seconds of chaos. I’m not married to the name, you guys, but the play is just silly. Scrambles left into a dead end, circles back, nearly falls down, then throws a sidearm missile between three defenders into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
1. Left-handed. Reasonable minds can differ, but I would posit that the throw above was more objectively impressive. It took longer, required more steps and a wider range of skills. But this one is in the top spot because of when it happened, and where it happened, and that Von Miller was wrapped around his legs while it happened.
Come on, man. This is just silly.
For real though.....with Reid on the bench quarterback whispering, does he just leave everything defense related in the hands of Sutton?— Mike Frevert (@MikeFrevert) October 2, 2018
Look, you guys. I am not the one to defend Bob Sutton. I believe the Chiefs should have a new defensive coordinator.
But the problems aren’t all his fault. The players aren’t good enough, especially when tackling. You guys all see that. Six different Chiefs had a shot at Royce Freeman on that touchdown run, but the best they could do was break his fall into the end zone. That’s not scheme. That’s execution, or ability.
Also, if we’re going to point out the shortcomings, it’s only fair to point out the successes, and that blitz call on the Broncos’ first play of their last drive was terrific:
Now, again, this is not to say Sutton is doing a good job. I believe he is not. I believe he needs to be more aggressive with blitzes, and he has to find a way to compensate for his linebackers’ struggles in coverage.
But I also think the Chiefs defense played its best game of the season on Monday. That’s a low bar, sure, and the conversation would be much different if Case Keenum hit that pass to Demaryius Thomas late, but still.
This was always going to be a team that needed to win some shootouts, so when we’re judging and critiquing the defense it’s worth keeping in mind.
But, yes. The answer to your question is that Reid leaves the defense up to Sutton, for the most part. I do believe the staff is collaborative, and Reid might see something that he points out, but that’s mostly Sutton’s show.
If the #Chiefs are serious about trading to improve the defense, should they focus on a defensive back or add a pass rusher? If Dee Ford's injury lingers and limits him all season, might be a good idea to add some pressure-makers...— Sam Creagar (@screagar) October 2, 2018
For me, it’s a defensive back.
That could change if they expect Ford’s injury to stick, but even then, they’ve devoted so many resources to the pass rush. It’s time for Tanoh Kpassagnon to both get more snaps, and do more with them. Chris Jones needs to play like a star. Justin Houston has been strong the last two weeks, even if he’s not quite the down-to-down force of nature.
The Chiefs were trying hard on Earl Thomas. There are a lot of reports out there, but my understanding is they were hoping to do it for a third-round pick and a player. Who knows, when the deal inched closer, maybe the Chiefs would’ve been convinced they needed to upgrade to a second-round pick. But, either way, they were moving aggressively to get a deal done.
That search does not end with Thomas’ broken leg. I know some of you are asking about Patrick Peterson, but in general the Chiefs would prefer a safety over a corner, and Peterson is making about $3 million more than Thomas.
Acquiring Thomas was going to be hard enough. It would’ve required not just trading a player, but perhaps redoing an existing contract to free up cap space. Peterson is likely out of their price range.
But there are others. As the trade deadline approaches, maybe a GM can be convinced to unload. The Cardinals are 0-4 with a pair of veteran safeties — Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston — who could help the Chiefs. Tyvon Branch was pretty decent for the Chiefs three seasons ago, and is currently unemployed.
There are always deals that can be done, is the point.
Eric Berry is part of this. Obviously. We are deep enough into the season now. There was a report from NFL Network that he has a Haglund’s deformity on his heel, which essentially means this is a pain management issue.
Nobody would question Berry’s toughness. His reputation was beyond reproach even before recovery from an ACL tear, even before recovery from an Achilles tear, even before he was diagnosed with cancer and continued working out through chemo treatments.
This is just connecting the dots, but I believe there’s something to it. Berry is from Atlanta, and like a lot of us, immensely proud of his hometown. The Super Bowl is in Atlanta this season, and if the Chiefs were able to make it that far, it would require either 18 or 19 games.
It would make sense to me that Berry wants to be patient, knowing what he’s been through in the past, and perhaps needing to get past a feeling that he’s rushed himself before. We can look at it like he’s already missed four games, but Berry might see that there are 14 or 15 left before the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are 4-0 without him, so there is no external pressure to get back and save the season.
This is all just educated guessing, based on history and reading between the lines and a few conversations with people inside the building. But I think there’s something to it, and as long as the Chiefs are confident that Berry will play — every indication I have is that they remain confident — then that’s part of the calculus here, too.
It’s entirely possible that in a month the Chiefs will have three new members of the secondary — Berry, Daniel Sorensen, and someone coming over in a trade or street signing.
The defense is bad right now. But it could be significantly different relatively soon.
Best 104 loss team ever? 2019 may not be so bad.— Jeff Russell (@rock_hawk) October 1, 2018
Heck of a slogan! But it might be true?
You’ll excuse me for not going through the history of 104 loss teams ... and, dangit, I need some help because now I just looked up the other 104-loss teams. Here they are, in order:
2004 Royals. Mike Sweeney led this team with 79 RBIs. Darrell May started opening day, and finished with a 5.61 ERA. You might remember it would be nine years before this franchise had a winning record.
1985 Pirates. Tony Peña was the catcher! Jose DeLeon went 2-19, which just seems hard to pull off. Three years later, with Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla, the Pirates won 85 games.
1978 Mariners. The second team in franchise history, with just two regulars older than 27. They did not have a winning record until 1991.
1953 Pirates. Frank Thomas (not that one) drove in 102 runs, which amounted to 18 percent of this team’s RBIs. Carlos Bernier stole 15 bases and was caught 14 times, which makes me giggle. They lost 101 more the next year, and managed a winning record in 1958.
1952 Tigers. As a team, they were thrown out on 38 of 65 stolen-base attempts, which again, just seems hard to pull off. They had a winning record four years later, but didn’t make the playoffs until 1968.
1949 Senators. They had a fella named Yost who played third base, which, well, now I’m giggling again. They had a winning record three years later, but no playoffs until 1965, when they were the Minnesota Twins.
1923 Phillies. Cy Williams had a monster year — 41 homers, 114 RBIs, more walks than strikeouts. Jimmy Ring threw 304 innings, and went 18-16. Pretty much everyone else stunk. They had one winning record over the next 25 years. My goodness.
1919 A’s. I find nothing about them interesting. Six years before a winning record.
1905 Superbas. What a great name. Why did they change it to the Dodgers. No winning records until 1915.
So, based on this exhaustive research, the hope is to be like the ‘85 Pirates — rotten, but with help on the way.
This team is a little different because it was sort of two different teams. The first half was old, hopeless, and going nowhere. The second half was young, hopeful, and playing for its future.
This may be irrelevant, but it’s also true: Adalberto Mondesi played his last game at second base on Aug. 6. He was, after that, essentially the everyday shortstop. The Royals went 24-26 over that span, basically a third of the season.
That’s a small sample size. The Royals have a lot of holes to fill, and a lot of development to happen before they’re a championship club.
But this is a start, at least, with presumably help coming through the system.
Well, here’s mine:
Whit Merrifield, 2B
Adalberto Mondesi, SS
Jorge Soler, DH
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B
Sal Perez, C
Alex Gordon, LF
Jorge Bonifacio, RF
Hunter Dozier, 3B
Brett Phillips or Brian Goodwin, CF
That’s ... not bad?
The Royals talk a lot about Dozier improving defensively, and he has, but he’s 27 years old and slashed .229/.278/.395 in his only full season. Center field remains a question, Bonifacio was unproductive after the suspension, Gordon will be gone after next season, O’Hearn may be a pumpkin and needs to improve defensively, and for all his talent Soler will be 27 by spring training and has never hit more than 12 home runs in a season.
There are no boats without holes, but just saying. For all the talk about hope — and that’s real — the Royals also have a lot of remaining questions.
Beyond Mondesi, this team "seems" to be just as bad, if not worse than any 06-08 Royals team. We saw Kyle Davies have 1 great Sept only to blow up, so it's hard to buy any of the strong finishes by current players. Is Mondesi the only piece who will be here for the next run?— Marshall Miller (@iammarshall913) October 1, 2018
Well, those teams didn’t have a position player as good as Whit Merrifield. Not particularly close, actually. Gordon and Billy Butler debuted in 2007, Mark Grudzielanek won a Gold Glove, and there was that adorable stretch where the organization promoted David DeJesus for one but nobody was slashing .304/.367/.438 with 43 doubles and leading the league in hits and stolen bases.
So there’s that.
But your more general point is a good one. Mondesi is hard not to dream on, but he played less than half a season. O’Hearn wasn’t much of a prospect 12 home runs ago, and wouldn’t be the first to drift off. The rotation is full of candidates, but devoid of sure things, and that includes Duffy.
You’re absolutely right to be skeptical of September performances on teams going nowhere. Davies is the most memorable example in Kansas City, but hardly the only one.
You asked a question, though, and the answer is why this hope feels real. If the next two to three years go according to plan* then Mondesi, Merrifield, Perez, Duffy, Keller and Junis will be there for the first champagne party.
* Spoiler alert: two or three years in baseball never go according to plan.
Then there’s a sort of secondary tier — Bonifacio, Dozier, O’Hearn, Phillips, Fillmyer, Skoglund, Kevin McCarthy, and Jorge Lopez.
Then there are the minor-leaguers — Khalil Lee, MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, Josh Staumont, Richard Lovelady and a draft class headed by Brady Singer.
The Royals are a long way from where they need to be. They’re inconsistent, they strike out too much, they don’t walk enough, and there are potential holes in the defense, particularly in right field and at first base.
The last championship run was built on incredible defense and relief pitching — this core lacks both.
But sure things don’t exist in life or sports and they especially don’t exist in baseball. There’s a core here. It may turn out to be nothing, but it may turn out to be the beginning of the next party.
That’s more than it looked like a few months ago.
Maybe. But probably not.
He’s the most valuable trade asset they have, both in terms of Ready Now and financial certainty — he’s under club control four more years.
But he’s also valuable to the Royals, and for the same reasons. Merrifield will turn 30 in January, so there is an argument to trade him now while his value is highest, but if the Royals believe they can win inside two or three years he’s a good fit here, too.
One of the benefits is versatility. That will play anywhere, but it’s nice for the Royals as they await their prospects. If Nicky Lopez becomes a good player, Merrifield can move off second base. If Dozier or O’Hearn fall, he can play either corner. The Royals figure to have enough outfield options to cover it, but Merrifield can play there, too.
The way ballplayers age is fairly easy to predict in broad terms, but impossible for specific cases. Merrifield profiles well — he’s athletic, takes great care of his body, and has the sort of versatile skill set that tends to age well.
It’s an interesting decision. Much of the Royals’ recent success was built on signing their homegrown players to contract extensions. Merrifield has been open about his desire to do that, but at least for now, the Royals are content to go year by year.
His age is everything here. Contract extensions are typically done with a player wanting financial stability and a team buying a few years of free agency and his prime. That works when a player is due to hit free agency at 27, but Merrifield will be 34 in his first season of scheduled free agency.
As a point of reference, Alex Gordon — athletic, takes great care of his body, versatile skill set — is now 34 years old.
These are business decisions, and it probably doesn’t make business sense to sign Merrifield long-term.
If the Royals aren’t blown away by a trade offer, it won’t make sense to deal him, either.
Was the second half against Texas a reason to hope, or was it all a mirage and the bowl streak is toast?— John Bostwick (@JohnB_911) October 1, 2018
Saturday’s game at Baylor is the most important of the season, and that might be true when the season is done, too.
K-State was better than Texas in the second half. That was most obvious at quarterback, but it was apparent elsewhere, too — the line was better, the defense was more disruptive.
This is a good team, still. Or, at least, it should be. It’s a bowl team, but at the moment it has scored 20 points in two league games and over the horizon is a three-game stretch of Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma, and at TCU.
That’s what makes Saturday so important. Really, about as important as a game in early October could be for K-State.
Win, and you have a conference road win, three wins overall, and games against Kansas, Texas Tech, and Iowa State remaining.
Lose, and the momentum continues to snowball against you, with the very real possibility of a six-game losing streak and the simmering frustration from fans boiling over into something that could get ugly.
Baylor is a 4 1/2 point favorite at the moment, but this feels much more like a coin flip. The game is in Waco, and that matters, but Baylor hasn’t done anything impressive — lost to Duke, blown out by OU, and beat UTSA the same way K-State did*.
* Though Baylor won on the road; K-State had UTSA at home.
But even if the coaching advantage has slipped, this is still a program that knows its way around midseason improvements. They’ve been blown out twice, but seemed to grab some mojo after halftime against Texas. Feels like a moment for K-State.
If it’s not, the rest of this season could go bad in a hurry.
Is college football dying in the KC market? Elimination of Big 12 North will likely make the KS schools long term non-bowl teams. Mizzou has a local kid that is a sure fire 1st round pick at QB and it is a blip on the radar. Realignment seems to be the root cause.— Brian Harrison (@Brianharrisonkc) October 1, 2018
One of the greatest things about being a sports fan in 2018 is you can immerse yourself in anything you love and completely miss anything you don’t. It’s great! You can spend the next hour watching nothing but Patrick Mahomes throws or Laurent Duvernay-Tardif blocks, or you can study field-goal percentage and efficiency of the Lehigh basketball team around the rim or midrange.
You can do one, and be blissfully unaware of the other.
Kansas drew 18,364 fans for its homecoming game against Oklahoma State this year, and jokes aside about that being 2,064 more fans than any home basketball game, that’s a pretty good indication that KU fans do not care much about college football.
You knew that already.
I was in Manhattan on Saturday, and I saw a lot of things — penalties, anger, lots of runs by Alex Delton and a few really nice throws by Skylar Thompson — but I didn’t see apathy.
The stadium was mostly full, and even after halftime, when K-State trailed 19-0, most of them came back and filled the place with noise. In the days after, fans have been engaged and passionate, one way or the other — demanding change, or defending the program’s patriarch.
I’ll be in the other Columbia on Saturday for Mizzou’s game at South Carolina, and I expect to see a lot of things — Drew Lock, mostly — but I don’t expect to see apathy. That’s not what happened after Mizzou’s last game, a loss to Georgia marked by sloppiness and a couple questionable calls.
You bring up realignment, and of course that’s changed things. In Kansas City, the programs are less connected than ever — Mizzou in a different conference, KU uncompetitive, and K-State sort of stuck between the past and the future.
But that doesn’t mean people don’t care.
Just means they’re following what they’re interested in, and not much else.
What’s the longest you’d sit in a restaurant without being acknowledged before leaving?— lane baysden (@lanebaysden) October 1, 2018
Context matters here. Chris Rock had an old line about men being only as faithful as their options, and it’s probably accurate to say in these situations I’m going to be only as patient as my options.
Five minutes. Maybe six. If it’s a pace I’ve been really looking forward to, maybe seven. But that’s about it.
I’m not patient with this kind of thing. It’s rude, insulting, and the worst way in the world to treat someone who’s choosing to spend their evening to give you money and become a de facto advertisement for you when they leave your store.
Restaurants are hectic places. They can be understaffed, overworked, and sometimes people don’t show up for work. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, instantly, and screw up a place’s entire evening.
I get all of that, and I’ll wait longer if a server merely says, “Hey, sorry, we’re slammed right now I’ll be by as soon as I can.” Just an acknowledgment is fine.
But if I’m there five minutes and nobody has even noticed I’m there?
The chances of that being a good meal and experience are pretty small.
Hi, me again - As someone who made it all of 3 months in journalism school, I’m curious what the process is like for a sports columnist story to story - do you go to games with a specific story/player in mind or do you watch the game then come up with a column from there?— Lauren Lanter (@lauren_lanter) October 1, 2018
There is no such thing as One Way To Do It, which might be my favorite part of the job. I’ll answer as best I can.
The best approach is to have an idea, but be open to having your mind changed. That’s especially important with baseball, because 162 games are too many, and if you go to the ballpark without an idea you risk writing a gawd awful column. Sometimes, you’ll end up overstating one particular outcome simply because you were there and had a deadline.
But you have to be flexible, too. A few years back, Kelvin Herrera and Miguel Cabrera had an incredible showdown. Without looking it up, the at-bat was something like 10 pitches, most of them hard fastballs, and ended with Cabrera striking out and smiling at the challenge.
I was there, but had some other idea that I’d already started in on. I can’t even remember what it was, which is part of the point, but I was either too focused on writing early or not confident enough to rip it all up. On the drive home, my stomach was turning. I knew I screwed up, and what’s worse, I knew that was the kind of opportunity that’s precious and shouldn’t be missed. That was at least three years ago, maybe more, and it still bugs me.
If you’re writing off a game, generally, you want to write whatever it is people will be talking about tomorrow. There are exceptions. Sometimes you have a story or angle or news that you think people should see, and it’s worth skipping the quarterback who threw three touchdowns or the linebacker who had three sacks.
There are other considerations, too. You want to think of your work as representative, and you want to be able to throw different pitches. In 2012, for instance, ripping Scott Pioli was always an option but once in a while it’s good to point out Jamaal Charles’ brilliance.
But those are just games and, honestly, games are often the easiest part of the job. You show up, you watch, you focus on one thing, you talk to people, you write*.
* Then you do Facebook Live and hope you’re not so late getting out that the stadium is locked and Uber won’t come. If you’re lucky, you get to the hotel in time for a beer to take up to your room. If you’re REALLY lucky, and it’s an early kick, you get to have dinner! Food is the best.
Games are great, too. They’re fun, they’re exciting, they’re memorable. That people read your perspective — to challenge their own, to challenge yours, to see if they missed something or to see if you missed what they saw — is a privilege.
But it’s not my favorite part of the job.
The best part of the job is finding something nobody else knows about, or finding an angle or fact or explanation for something they haven’t considered. There’s a high school kid with a story so incredible I can’t wait to help tell it. There’s a high school anniversary that will make for a great story if I can find the time and the right people.
There are things about the Chiefs defense I think are being missed, and stories both inside and outside the locker room I have in mind. I’m always — ALWAYS — trying to find more. Believe it or not, I have a couple Patrick Mahomes angles still in the holster.
I don’t know if I’m answering your question, and if nothing else I want you to know I don’t have it figured out. I’m just guessing, as best I can. The only way I know is to continue to search for a balance between listening, watching, working, and searching.
This week, I’m particularly grateful for the timer on our coffee maker. We had this thing for years before I used it, either forgetting or figuring it wasn’t worth the hassle. But I set it up when I’m waiting for the dog to come back inside before bed, and I have to say, having that 40 Sardines ready when I walk downstairs makes me believe I can relate to kings.