Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Super Bowl dumbness, Travis Kelce, Royals business and writer’s block

The dumbest moment of the dumbest sort-of-related-to-sports event of every year was definitely the inflatable football walking around giving what appeared to be serious interviews to working journalists.

Well, maybe that’s not true. A puppet asked Peyton Manning a question.

A porn star, working for a radio station, helped the guy from Nickelodeon by getting in a question to Ted Ginn Jr., because, you know, the porn star will always get her question in. A man walked around with a wig and hairy legs popping out the bottom of a night gown. A camera woman dressed, literally, like a clown.

This is the sixth Super Bowl week I’ve covered, which means the sixth media day. They call it Opening Night now, because it’s television programming and apparently a profit center, not just for the people paying $27.50 to watch interviews but the companies that pay money to advertise because we are Americans and this is what we do.

This is how it’s been for years and years now, long before I started coming, long enough ago that it is just part of the culture and part of the deal. A reliable celebration of silliness, where men who play football for a living wear $80,000 Rolexes to interviews so they can be asked about their favorite flavor of yogurt.

There are some genuine moments, if you look hard enough.

One player talks of needing three ACL surgeries on the same knee. Another about the learning disabilities he made it through as a kid.

But, mostly, this is always about dumb moments, which is entirely appropriate, because when you think about it, the whole idea of a 10-figure industry built on grown men tackling and running away from each other is one of those things you just could not explain to aliens.

So, we celebrate the dumb moments, like J.B. Smoove asking Cam Newton whether he or his girlfriend Dab first after having sex. Newton did not answer, but did it in a way that makes you think there really is an answer.

And, actually. That wasn’t dumb. That was just funny.

This week’s reading recommendation is Bill Barnwell on how Peyton Manning changed the NFL, and the eating recommendation is the rainbow roll at Bob’s Wasabi Kitchen.

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

Best: Rotel dip at my friend Derek’s house in 2008.

Worst: too much Rotel dip at my friend Derek’s house in 2008.

But you are probably asking about actual football, in which case it’s probably David Tyree’s helmet catch, which, well, now that I think about it was the same year as the Rotel dip. What an eventful Super Bowl for the 2008 me.

That catch combined everything: ridiculous play even in a vacuum — Eli should’ve been sacked! — and the context of being so important in stopping 19-0, in that moment, that’s hard to top.

But there are so many. Antonio Holmes’ catch against the Cardinals, Scott Norwood of course, John Elway helicoptering, Thurman Thomas losing his helmet, Don Beebe catching Leon Lett, James Harrison’s interception return, Mike Jones at the goal line, the Saints’ onsides kick, Montana to Taylor, and I know I’m forgetting some.

Actually, you know what? Those are all great, and I will remember most of them forever, but in terms of personal memory, the blackout in New Orleans during the Harbaugh Bowl is something I will never forget as long as I live.

Not sure if I should say this out loud, but for the first minute or two, I was fairly convinced that it was some sort of terrorism, and that that may be a wrap for me. When the news started spreading that it was, basically, just a crappy old dome overwhelmed by all the spectacle, well, that made sense, too.

Is it OK if I poke a hole or two here? Is that allowed?

All of this comes with the disclaimer that Kelce is a wealthy, young, (presumably) good-looking professional athlete, so, if we can eliminate the genuine but also sort of incongruous joy most of us get from our families, his worst day is very likely better than anything any of us might experience in 2016.

We are talking, I assume, about Kelce signing a contract extension worth $20 million in the same week his own dating show — Catching Kelce! — is announced.

The contract is awesome, and I do not claim to know Kelce at all, but my interactions with him have always been good, and he seems like the kind of person who you want to be happy for getting paid like this.

But if we’re talking about this in business terms, I’m not sure it’s a great contract for him. He signed it a few days after Zach Ertz’s deal with the Eagles, getting a (slightly) lower guarantee under (slightly) less favorable terms (like workout bonuses).

It’s not my money, and of course I’d be thrilled with a small fraction of what Kelce is guaranteed, but he’s young and talented enough that it’s hard not to think he left some money out there. Ertz is a very good player, and reasonable people can disagree here, but I think Kelce is better.

Also, the dating show ... I do not want to make assumptions here, but I’m not sure that 50 women cat-fighting over his attention will be all that different from his normal Tuesday afternoon. Except cameras will be around, I guess, and that may or may not be a great thing when his teammates screen grab his most embarrassing moment and plaster the pictures all over St. Joseph.

So, I don’t know. It was certainly a great week for him. But I also imagine every week is pretty great for him.

If this is a thing people are complaining about, I would advise them to stop. I have some hesitation here, because who am I, and we’re all free to feel and say whatever we want, particularly when it comes to rooting for our teams, but this is a little much.

Teams are businesses, and fans are customers, and when a team stinks it has to put its best promotions on the weekends to attract fans. But when a team wins, supply-and-demand shift, and this is what happens. It’s a bit like the outrage from some that their 20-game season ticket package wouldn’t guarantee them the same seat for playoff games. In many places, you aren’t guaranteed any playoff games with a 20-game package.

Similarly, in many places, the idea of a Buck Night on any night would be like a unicorn who poops rainbows.

When you root for a crap team, the good part is you probably get convenience and low prices. When your team wins the World Series, the bad part is the ticket prices go up a little and your favorite promotion might move to a different night.

Seems like a small sacrifice, and now seems like a good moment to bring in this question...

Again, nobody can or should tell you how to be a fan. Winning the World Series doesn’t mean you won’t be frustrated if Yordano Ventura picks another fight, or Mike Moustakas pops up, or Omar Infante grounds out.

But what changes is how the complaints sound. What changes is how seriously others will take you. What changes is that you now have the Boston path in front of you — that slow, steady, obnoxious and seemingly oblivious walk from empathetic and passionate to entitled and suffocating.

It’s a strange thing, of course. Because if the 2016 World Series ends like the 2014 World Series, that’s still going to hurt for the Royals and their fans. The clubhouse afterward will be just as dejected. The bars around town will be just as disappointed. But the context in which all of it happens will be so drastically different. Nobody feels sorry for the champs, and the Royals are now the champs.

So, I don’t know, you can complain. You can complain about anything. If the Royals miss the postseason in 2016, that will be a significant disappointment, and the following truth is self-evident: the Royals stunk bad enough for long enough that two pennants and a world championship are only the beginning of things evening out.

But I’m telling you this right now — nobody is feeling sorry for a complaining Royals fan for quite some time.


I do think he’ll be better for the Royals in 2016 than he was for the Padres is 2015, mostly because of the defense behind him, but also because he had some injuries and is a better fit for Kauffman Stadium than Petco Park*.

* They moved the stadiums in a few years ago, so it’s no longer the size of a national park.

But he is more the kind of pitcher whose value comes largely in dependable goodness than perceived greatness, and for a team with uncertain starters and an overworked bullpen, that’s no small thing.

We’ll do another Royals Over-Under Challenge this spring*, and if that’s a category, my guess is the number would be closer to 3.80 or 3.90.

* Congrats to Chander Frigon, winner of the Chiefs’ challenge, and a big thanks to Ryan Hinderliter, the patient winner of last year’s Royals challenge, who for some reason isn’t wearing me out about the delay in getting his prize.

Depends. Getting away from it is often affective. If my son is around, maybe I’ll play trucks with him. Go talk to the wife. Read something for pleasure. Go get a water. Or a sandwich. Get your mind away from that blank screen and feeling of inadequacy. This is, essentially, the equivalent of the tech fix we all do — unplug it, then plug it back in.

Usually works, right?

But if it’s something else, like you’re at a game, or otherwise on a tight deadline, you don’t have time to lollygag like that. In that situation, I try to remind myself of a few things:

▪ Start simple. What happened? Write that.

▪ What’s something people watching on TV might’ve missed? Who did you talk to, or what experience do you have, or insight can you find, to provide a little extra? Write that.

▪ What are people going to be talking about with this? Write that.

▪ Your wife is probably going to ask you about the game. What’s the first thing you’d tell her? Write that.

▪ Tomorrow morning, people who have real jobs, like construction or teaching or otherwise providing a good or service that people actually need, are not going to want to work. They’re going to feel unmotivated, or distracted, or not up to the job, and you know what? They’re going to do their job, because they’re adults, and they’re professionals, so you can probably find it within yourself to type your words about this sports thing.

▪ Also, look, dummy. You’re a sports writer, not Hemingway. Get over yourself.

I didn’t hear him say that, so I can’t speak to the context he may have been using, but over the last two years the Royals have played 31 extra games. Those are the highest-leverage games in the sport, particularly taxing on pitchers, and it’s unrealistic to expect that kind of extra work not to eventually take a toll, like eight rounds of body blows, without some preventative maintenance.

Alex Gordon is into his 30s, and plays with the kind of abandon that even without injury, you’d like him to be closer to 130 games or so than 155. Alcides Escobar has basically gone five years without taking a game off except for injury. Lorenzo Cain is a gift, and has worked very hard to get his body to the point where it stands up to the grind of a big league baseball season, but he’s a candidate for some rest. We’ve talked enough about Sal Perez, and the bullpen always takes the brunt of playoff work loads, and the Royals have leaned on their relievers more than most.

What I’m saying here is that I don’t think he’s necessarily talking about spring training. That can be part of the equation, for sure, but for the Royals to be their best in the postseason — I guess we’re at the point where we assume they’ll be in the postseason? — it would be nice if the most important guys were at or near full strength.

That is going to require depth, and diligence.

I sort of wish I did not feel this way, because it makes me feel like a homer, but I actually think the Chiefs will win the AFC West next season. That’s a ridiculous thing to say, partly because the Broncos are in the Super Bowl, and partly because it’s February, but the Chiefs were close enough this year that I think they can close the gap with some smart offseason moves and either the continued decline or replacement of Peyton Manning.

There is so much that can happen, obviously, that this is more like a verbal commitment in college football than anything that should be taken seriously. What if Von Miller tears his ACL in the Super Bowl? What if the Chiefs are unable or unwilling to find another playmaker on offense, or help along the line? What if Sean Smith signs with the Raiders, and Tamba Hali retires? What if the Chiefs have a massive chicken pox outbreak?

It’s just that the Chiefs were so close this year. If they don’t blow either the Bears game or the Broncos game at Arrowhead, and nothing else about the regular season changes, they are the No. 1 seed with a fully healthy Jeremy Maclin and better rested Justin Houston and Hali for the playoffs.

All of that is as irrelevant as what I had for lunch today — a terrible sandwich at the airport, by the way — but it is something on which to project the future.

I don’t know. So much can change, and the biggest mistake we all make in predictions — particularly, I would argue, long-term predictions in the NFL — is giving what happened the year before too much value.

Until teams open the books, sure, absolutely, be skeptical. The line from the column the other day that I think you’re referring to — that they’ll make money with a deep playoff run, lose money without an appearance, and break even with something in between — is an indication of the Royals’ own projections.

Maybe they’re being intentionally conservative. Maybe they’re lying. Who knows. There are any number of accounting tricks available to show a profit or a loss.

But I don’t think what they’re saying is unrealistic. There is a talking point often pushed by some that baseball teams make so much money their owners sometimes burn bricks of hundred dollar bills just because they’re bored, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

The overwhelming majority of armchair arithmetic I’ve seen some attempt leaves out a lot of hidden costs of running a business as large as a major-league baseball team, and the smartest people I know who study these things usually say teams make money but not loads and loads every year. Two years ago, when I wrote the Royals hoped to break even, many fans wrote in calling me stupid but I talked to enough people who know the business and the numbers to think it was fair and if anything perhaps conservative.

Look, the Royals have one of the worst local TV deals in professional sports, and local TV deals are the most important revenue source for teams. We can talk about their record attendance, but what is usually unsaid is even that record number ranked 10th in baseball, with ticket prices close to the league average.

I am not advocating empathy for David Glass, or saying the Royals are exposing themselves to some enormous financial loss this year. Even if you believe they might lose money this season, you have to admit that Glass stands to make a fortune if he ever sold the team — he bought for $96 million in 2000, and the club is worth (ahem) $700 million now.

If you want to make a case that Glass, or any team owner, should be willing to operate at a yearly loss then that’s a different conversation.

But here, in this very specific instance, yes, I think it’s entirely possible that a club toward the bottom of league revenues and in the top of league payrolls playing in the league’s third-smallest market on a joke of a local TV contract could lose money without a postseason appearance.

Impossible to say, in no small part because we don’t know what the needs will be, or what will be available. But I do want to point you to this column I wrote last week about Ian Kennedy, and the Royals’ motivation for spending so much on him. Part of it is they don’t think there will be a lot of pitching available at the deadline, and after last year’s trades, they’d rather spend money than prospects to acquire big league talent.

Injuries could change everything, obviously. But you could imagine them needing (even still) another starting pitcher, or, just like last year, help at second base and right field if Plan A doesn’t work.

I think I would rather watch Catching Kelce than the Pro Bowl.

I think I would rather eat two of those disgusting sandwiches I just had at the airport than watch the Pro Bowl.

Guys. The Pro Bowl did a 5.0 rating, which is down, and possibly the lowest rating ever for the game. But that still means millions of people watched. Millions.

The NFL will kill the game when it no longer makes money, or at which point they figure out a way to make more money with a replacement, but until then, millions and millions of people are keeping it alive.

And, to be honest, good for them. Nobody’s forced to watch. I watched old Super Bowl highlights online for much of last night. I have no room to throw stones here.

Soccer Twitter can be, if we’re all being honest, the worst, so it is with a sigh and a vision of angry emails and tweets that I write this but the people freaking out over Nemeth’s transfer might considering calming the heck down.

Sporting does the business side of personnel moves as well as anyone in MLS. This is what they do, and this is how games are won and winning seasons are strung together. You buy low (Sporting actually acquired Nemeth for zero dollars and zero cents), benefit from the smart scouting and player development, and then benefit again when a team in, say, Qatar offers you $3 million.

This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Nemeth is a success story, someone Sporting can promote as an example of why others should want to play in Kansas City.

I’m not naive. It always sucks as a fan when the business of sports makes itself a nuisance. At times, MLS is a temporary home base for players who want to improve and market themselves for leagues overseas.

But your question is about Sporting in 2016. Obviously, this makes them a lesser team, and if winning in 2016 was the only priority this would’ve happened differently. But this is all part of a bigger mechanism.

I’m not saying this is a great move, or even that Sporting won’t be significantly diminished and regret how this played out.

What I am saying is that moves like this are part of the business — the life Sporting and MLS have chosen, if you will. If we’re making judgments and predictions based on a team’s track record, well, Sporting has earned some credibility here.

The Royals will look into creating their own network, like they used to have, but they’re also hoping Comcast and even Google are interested. There are a lot of different ways this could go, and even now, maybe two years from the start of the next round of negotiations, it’s too early to know what direction it will go.

But my sense is that exploring their own network can give the Royals an idea for the base level they should sign for, and after that, just like when a player becomes a free agent, it’s a matter of which and how many outlets want to bid.

True story: I have a friend who is a functioning adult and thinks the Warriors are the worst NBA champion of the last 20 years, or something like that.

It’s hard to tell if you’re talking about the best NBA teams of the last 25 years, or the most enjoyable to watch. I always try to be aware of recency bias, but honestly, I’m not sure there is a team in the last 25 years that’s been more fun to watch. They play such a gorgeous, joyful, ruthlessly efficient and relentlessly energetic style, it’s what every basketball team should strive to be.

This is a personal thing, and it’s silly, but I was actually a big Warriors fan growing up, because of the Run TMC teams. That’s my brand of ball. I loved Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin, and all those crazy 140-136 games that Don Nelson would coach. This Warriors team is like high-definition TV compared to those teams of the 1990s — you could not have realistically imagined something like this back then.

As far as the best? I don’t know. These things are endlessly tricky if you try to really think them through. The Warriors of today are a perfect fit for how the game is officiated. If you put them in the early 2000s, when the Knicks and Heat were trying to destroy the sport, they would not be great. But that’s a little like saying your mother is a nice person but not a time machine. It’s entirely irrelevant.

It’s hard for me to believe this team could beat Jordan’s best Bulls teams, partly because of how well they defended, partly because Jordan, and partly because I’m among the millions who’ve put those teams on a theoretical pedestal too high for any mortal.

There aren’t too many times you know — just absolutely know — that you will remember a team or athlete you’re watching today for the rest of your life. As an adult, I’ve felt that way about young Tiger Woods, young Lebron James, the great Michael Johnson, the 2007 Patriots, Lionel Messi, and some of the USA Basketball teams. If I knew to think like this, I would’ve felt the same about the 1985 Bears and the first few years of Mike Tyson.

I feel that way about this Warriors team, is what I’m saying. More because of how much fun they are than anything else, but still, they have a chance to be all-time great.

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