Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Hoping the best for Maty Mauk, predicting the Big 12, Chiefs improvements, and Royals pitching

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk

You probably saw where Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk was suspended, again, this time after a short video was posted on Twitter. The caption on the video mentions Mauk’s name, and the video shows a man who very much looks like Mauk snorting a white powder off a table.

There are indications that the video is old, and that Mauk has taken steps to address his issues, but this is also the third time he’s been suspended in four months — the last after a confrontation at a Columbia bar. If he had a problem with drugs and/or addiction and is on a good path, then awesome, great for him. But there is also enough smoke around this that Mauk and Mizzou need to make sure. If nothing else, it’s an unfortunate and bad look for both player and program.

The important thing is for Mauk to be healthy, and that if he has a problem, to address that with his entire focus and the help of those who love him.

We need to be careful here, because nothing has been officially said, but whenever a public figure is involved in something like this, there will always be some who take the opportunity to make jokes, or belittle, or otherwise miss the important point. These should be opportunities to recognize that a person may need help, and that if there is an addiction involved, it is a serious thing that can control and ruin lives.

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No matter what Mauk’s future is at Mizzou, or with the football program, or anywhere else, here’s hoping he gets whatever help is needed. If the video is old and he’s already addressed the issues, then that can be a powerful message, too.

I know this is a place for stupidity and irreverence, but addiction is a very serious and very misunderstood thing. Ask anyone who’s fought it, or anyone who knows someone who has. There are many more stories out there than you might think.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Slap Yo Mama wings at Wings Cafe (now with a store in Westport!), and the reading recommendation is Joel Achenbach on the A.I. Anxiety.

An impossible question to answer, both because it depends on individual perspective, and because the response is by definition given with varying degrees of perspective. For instance, Brady-Wilson last year was presented in these same Old Guard vs. New Guard terms. Brady going for a fourth Super Bowl win — tying Bradshaw and Montana — against the earnest Wilson going for his second in a row was a terrific storyline.

The Super Bowl is America’s greatest collective experience, and football is such a quarterback-centric sport, and nothing sells like celebrity, so the list of Super Bowls essentially reads like a list of intriguing quarterback matchups.

Two years ago, it was Wilson-Manning. Wilson doesn’t and never will have Newton’s raw talent, but Manning was better back then, and was coming off a historic season.

Three years ago, it was Flacco-Kaepernick, and, well, let’s move on.

Four years ago, Eli Manning against Brady, and people ran with the story about Eli somehow protecting his brother’s stadium against Brady.

And so on.

I guess I’m landing on a bit of a weird spot here. Because I do agree with the premise of your question, and my initial lean is that it’s the most intriguing quarterback matchup in a very, very long time. But that’s not a hill I’ll die on, because these things are so fluid, and so affected by the mood of the day. I’m sure I was stoked by Rodgers-Roethlisberger after the 2010 season, too.

So, the real answer is I don’t know. And you don’t know. And nobody knows. Which is a lot of the fun. At the moment, six teams are within a game of the lead — Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor tied at 5-2, Iowa State and Kansas tied at 5-3, and Texas at 4-3.

I do not believe Texas has enough.

Of the other five, head-to-head:

▪ Oklahoma has beaten Iowa State and West Virginia at home, beaten Baylor on the road, and lost at Kansas and Iowa State.

▪ West Virginia has beaten Kansas at home, and lost at Oklahoma.

▪ Baylor has won at Iowa State, and lost at Kansas and to Oklahoma at home.

▪ Iowa State has beaten Oklahoma and Kansas at home, and lost at Oklahoma and to Baylor at home.

▪ Kansas has beaten Baylor and Oklahoma at home, and lost at West Virginia and Iowa State.

In other words, who the hell knows.

Oklahoma has the best player, Iowa State has the best players, and Kansas has the best coach and homecourt advantage.

The margin is so thin, I’m not sure when the league has ever been this good. With so many good teams, that means a lot of quickturnarounds and back-to-back games against top contenders. Wins on the road will continue to be difficult. If there was a year to pick against Kansas, this would be it — their lack of composure and toughness in adversity is very surprising for an experienced team with good guards — but I feel like that’s been said before.

So I hope it’s not a copout to say that OU, ISU and KU will all share the regular-season league title with a 13-5 record, and that Oklahoma will win the conference tournament.

You have not included the Chiefs winning 31 games in three years, which also would’ve been a major surprise, even to a guy who was regularly laughed at for saying a 2-14 civic embarrassment was actually not that far off from being good.

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Anyway, to answer your question, I would rank them in the order you have listed them, actually. I’ve said and written this a few times, but there is no real precedent for what the Royals have accomplished. None. Small-money teams have been successful, but not like this. The Twins made some postseasons, but never did anything with it. The A’s inspired a movie, which I guess is cool, but also their mastermind to say, “My (stuff) doesn’t work in the playoffs,” which is actually really cool, but not in the way he’d like. The Rays lost their only World Series in five games.

The Marlins might be the closest thing to what the Royals have done, but even that example comes with some important differences. The Marlins sort of bought their first championship team, and then had to dismantle the second one so quickly that even talking about it feels a little weird.

The Royals, in stark contrast, have made consecutive World Series. Here is a complete list of teams that have won consecutive pennants and at least one championship since 1980: the 2008-09 Phillies, 1998-2001 Yankees, 1995-96 Braves, 1992-93 Blue Jays, and the 1989-90 A’s.

That’s a pretty badass list.

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The Royals have done this with the possibility of more, too, which is fairly amazing. A lot of things had to come together for this, including some good luck, but it is not an exaggeration to say we are watching something that is without precedent in modern baseball.

I’ve started to follow politics more in the last few years, but more as a sport or a soap opera than with an invested viewpoint, or a feeling that what I think matters at all. That said, Trump, no matter what you think of his politics, is a genius in the way he’s dropped conventional campaigning and been able to present himself. This analogy is a little clumsy, and the point will almost certainly be lost, but whatever: the way Trump has made himself able to say nearly anything without feeling the hit in the polls that traditional politicians would is a little like the way Charles Barkley has made a place for himself where he can say just about anything and the reaction is mostly laughter and support.

The collapse of Mizzou basketball was always a possibility. I’m with Vahe in that Kim Anderson should be given more time before the final judgment is made, and the sanctions stemming from the debris of the Frank Haith disaster could actually be good for Anderson, but he is still operating in a big business where results are demanded sooner than later.

One of the problems for Anderson is that even for those who understand and are sympathetic about the sorry state of the program he took over, it’s hard to see progress and the signs of what Mizzou fans thought was coming. It’s OK to lose games with inferior talent, but it’s not OK to play without effort, or without a discernible plan.

I root for Kim Anderson, for a lot of reasons, and believe he should be given a real chance to succeed. I also think they should be further along by this point.

Eh, maybe. There are a lot of things that have probably been overlooked about how the Chiefs lost that game, including the fact that Sutton’s defense would’ve looked a lot better if Sean Smith and Marcus Peters had converted the kinds of chances for turnovers that they’d converted all season.

Justin Houston is one of the best defensive players in football, and anyone who says his absence made no difference is a crazy person who should not be listened to. But football players get hurt. That’s what happens. And the next-man-up thing is more than catchphrase. It’s how games are won, and championship seasons are made.

This is a specific moment, but the Chiefs missed a big opportunity in that Patriots game when Dee Ford came in at Tom Brady unblocked on the opening drive. Brady saw Ford coming, and made him miss with a simple step up into the pocket. The play should’ve been a sack, and forced the Patriots to punt. Instead, it was a first down and the Patriots ended up with a touchdown.

Now, we can choose any number of things to blame on that: Houston’s injury, Ford’s inability to catch a 38-year-old heavy-footed quarterback, the interior line’s inability to turn the disruption into a sack*, or even the defensive backs’ general inability to create more opportunities for the front seven by delaying Brady’s releases.

*One of the things I’ve always liked about Houston is his consistent acknowledgment that rushing the passer is done by a group, not a man.

Generally, I think that blaming the playoff loss on injuries is a cop out, and I thought it was an encouraging sign that John Dorsey said the Chiefs need to get better, not just healthier, last week.

I would take that bet.

The Broncos may have the best defense in the league, and if they had nothing else, that’s worth at least eight wins. Whatever you think of Sean Smith and Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are better. Whatever you think of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, as a pair, Demarcus Ware and Von Miller are better. But they also have a decent ground game, and one of the best pairs of receivers in the league. If this is Manning’s last season — and, this is just complete and unfounded speculation, but I sort of think it is — then Brock Osweiler should be good enough to at least keep it from falling off.

I actually think that with the right offseason the Chiefs are in position to win the AFC West next season. But the Broncos are a very good team, and will give the Chiefs all they can handle, no matter who is quarterbacking.

Because it’s fun? I don’t know. Sports is such an emotional thing, and I’m sure I’ve done this more than I’d like to admit, but the right moment or the right game or the right athlete can give you this blinding view in which you forget everything that came before. Historical perspective is always impossible in the moment, no matter the field, but I’d argue it’s a hopeless exercise in sports, because it all depends on perspective and priorities and feelings.

We all have different views, of course, but the more I watch sports the more I think we all think these things are far more absolute than they really are. Each play is dictated by a series of outcomes that are based in probability, not certainty, and each game is decided by a long series of plays, and each season by a long series of games.

How different might the AFC Championship game have been if Stephen Gostkowski hadn’t missed his first extra point in nine years? How different might it have been if the Patriots tried to beat the Dolphins in the season finale, and had the game in Foxborough? How different would the whole structure have looked if the Chiefs hadn’t blown a 14-point lead at home in the fourth quarter against Denver, perhaps making them the No. 1 seed?

Or, if you want to go very big picture, how different would Brady’s career be if he hadn’t been drafted by a brilliant head coach?

I think by now we all understand that the GOAT discussions are mostly for fun, or for escape, and that if I think John Elway is the best quarterback of all-time and you think it’s Brady and your sister thinks it’s Joe Montana and your dad thinks its Roger Staubach that we can all have an argument in which we all make good points and none of us change our minds and we kill a few hours and a few beers in the process. And that’s part of the fun, right?

This is a great question. Nobody knows the answer. Not me, not you, not Duffy, not Ned Yost, not Dave Eiland, and not Dayton Moore. The Royals’ baseball operations department is split on where Duffy is best used, and that uncertainty fed into the team’s strong desire to sign an innings eating starting pitcher.

My guess is his use is split enough that he is used as a reliever more often than a starter, but pitches more innings as a starter than a reliever.

If the Royals were not a great team in the middle of a championship window, Duffy would almost certainly be given a spot in the rotation in hopes the rough edges would be smoothed. He is such an easy guy to root for, and to believe in, because he is talented and cares and is fully dedicated to being as good as he can be. People like that deserve the benefit of the doubt, in sports and in life.

But the Royals are in a place where they need everyone in their most effective spots, and there is every possibility that Duffy could be a monster of a relief pitcher.

Even if we assume full health — which never happens — the rotation will be an evolving thing this season. After Ventura, Volquez and Kennedy (each of whom come with specific questions of their own) you have Chris Young, Kris Medlen, and Duffy, each of whom come with their own durability questions. Jason Vargas is due back from elbow surgery at some point this summer, but you’d rather not rely on that.

The April schedule is pretty interesting, actually. They open with the Mets, but then go to Houston for the Astros’ home opener, then play some of their friends in Oakland, then it’s the Tigers at home and the Orioles and Angels. Five of their first seven 2016 opponents have been opponents in the last two postseasons.

The exceptions are the Twins, who finished second in the division last year, and the Tigers, who had owned the division for years and spent big this past offseason.

One cool thing about baseball is that you just don’t know when the moment will come. Gordon can hit a walk-off homer against the sorry Twins that is one of the biggest moments of the 2014 season.

Bryce Harper will play in Kansas City in May, they have a stretch of 13 games in June against the Tigers, Mets, Astros and Cardinals, I assume they’ll have a bunch more All-Stars in July, and so on.

Golf was never going to die, not unless people were going to stop aging into their 40s and 50s and 60s with disposable income and country club memberships. And the sport was never going to avoid a drop-off after Tiger Woods stopped being Tiger F. Woods.

I’m not a diehard golf guy. There are more years where I don’t play any golf than do — too expensive, too much time — and it’s hard to sit in front of a TV for hours to watch a tournament when it’s nice outside. But I do enjoy the sport, and think it requires a fascinating and probably under appreciated (by many, anyway) combination of mental and physical condition.

But, yeah, it sure seems like the future of golf is bright. That’s a lot of young talent, even if there’s nobody with the magnetism of Tiger when he was TIGER. But I hope we don’t get into a thing where we’re constantly complaining that it’s no longer the good ol’ days. That hurt the NBA for a long time after Jordan.

Funny you mention the Masters. I’d love to go. It’s a bucket list thing for me, and this year is likely to be the last for Tom Watson. But I also have a pregnant wife (!), due right during that time, and feel like I should probably skip the golf tournament.

So, first, let’s not continue the myth that it was just one play, unless you’re saying that instead of a fumble-six, that Jamaal Charles run would’ve broken 80 yards for a touchdown, which is one hell of a hypothetical, even by the nonsensical standards of this weekly exercise.

The more likely scenario, if Charles did not fumble, was overtime, which is essentially a 50-50 proposition. But, sorry, I know I tend to take these questions too literally.

If the Chiefs won that game, and if we can assume the rest of the season would’ve been unaffected, they would have been the No. 1 seed based on conference record*.

* They would’ve tied the Patriots and Bengals at 12-4. Since they did not play New England in the regular season, the head-to-head tiebreaker would not be used, and the Chiefs’ 11-1 conference record would’ve taken the day.

The Patriots would’ve been the No. 2 seed, the Bengals third, Texans fourth, Broncos fifth, and Steelers sixth.

Now, in this scenario, obviously the Chiefs do not play a Wild Card game against the Texans. That means Jeremy Maclin does not get hurt against the Texans. It also means Justin Houston has a full week to rest, same with Tamba Hali, and Spencer Ware is likely healthy. That is no small thing.

So, I believe the AFC playoffs would’ve happened like this:

Broncos beat the Texans, and the Bengals still lose their brains against the Steelers in the Wild Card round.

In the Divisional round, the Chiefs beat the Steelers (I am 68 percent sure of this) and the Patriots beat the Broncos*.

*Did you know Tom Brady is 15-3 in playoff games at home, and 3-4 on the road? And that his most recent road playoff win was nine years ago?

That means the Chiefs and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and, well, yeah. If the Chiefs are at full strength, at home, with Brady on the road, I think they could’ve won that game, too (I am 59 percent sure of this).

And then lost to the Panthers in the Super Bowl (I am 70 percent sure of this) by 24 points (61 percent).

You guys are probably sick of me saying stuff like this, but we all have a tendency to treat sports in absolute terms, but the margins between being fired and having a statue made are sometimes agonizingly small.

I fully acknowledge that I may not be listening or rating in the right places, but I don’t think I’ve seen this comparison. It’s not bad, actually, with a few caveats:

▪ Reid’s clock management, I think, is generally viewed as the weakness in an otherwise solid game. Yost, until he opened up and gave his coaches more say, was generally viewed as very weak with strategy.

▪ Reid had a proven record of success in Philadelphia. He never won a Super Bowl, obviously, but he won a lot of games and made four straight NFC finals. That ain’t nothing. Yost had helped the Brewers improve, and it was a reactionary mistake from an overzealous owner, but still, he was fired before making the postseason.

The biggest and most important commonality is what you’ve identified, that both men are terrific with their players. They value players’ feelings, encourage them to be themselves, and believe that players play better when they are happy and feel free.

They have found a way to cross a significant generational divide and prove that they are there to help the players improve, have fun, and win. In turn, they have received love and respect and hard work.

I do think you’re onto something, but I also think these aren’t rare traits for any successful coach. Pete Carroll is probably the most famous current example, though the next few weeks will present case after case of Ron Rivera out-Carrolling Carroll.

Because it’s not that easy, because if it was that easy, everybody would beat the Patriots, and because we all have a tendency to oversimplify things when we talk about strategy?

I happen to think Bob Sutton is a good defensive coordinator. I think he has strong buy-in from his players — though Tamba Hali’s repeated-if-subtle mentions of the lack of jamming New England’s receivers after that loss were noted — and a strategy that fits both today’s NFL and the talents of his players.

The inability of the Chiefs’ defense to protect a 38-10 lead in Indianapolis is inexcusable, and the inability or unwillingness to even try to jam New England’s receivers is baffling. But I also think there are some strengths, and that it’s not quite as simple as “Sutton sucks fire him.”

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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