Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Super Bowl, Cam’s fumble, Chiefs defense, Royals gear and more

Broncos fans Ted Cadigan Sandy LaBelle and Daniel Oppenheim pose for a selfie at Super Bowl City last week in San Francisco.
Broncos fans Ted Cadigan Sandy LaBelle and Daniel Oppenheim pose for a selfie at Super Bowl City last week in San Francisco. AP

Fully enjoying a week at the Super Bowl requires a certain detachment from reality, or at least the willingness to ignore a lot of the ugliness that makes the party possible.

It requires immersing yourself in the unapologetic gluttony of sports, and forgetting that the party is almost always a reward for teams getting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to build what is effectively a nicer store for their private business. It requires not thinking too much about concussions, or that many of the people who fill the parties spend more during this week than many people make in a year.

That probably all sounds more negative than I mean it. The Super Bowl is fun. There is a hard-to-explain vibe where everyone is in on the joke, that, yes, the excess is ridiculous but also sort of the point.

I always tell people that if your team is in the Super Bowl, and you can make the trip work, you will have a blast. If your team is not playing, and you just want to experience it, you can do that too but will probably only want to do it once. I mentioned this in a column the other day, but the Super Bowl is the original game better experienced on TV than in person.

One of the best parts about the Super Bowl is the common experience. This is true at Final Fours, and Olympics, and other major events like that, but the platform lends itself to open and somewhat substantive conversations among complete strangers. I’ve been surprised at this, and maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’ve never seen much conflict between fans of the two teams. There seems to be a mutual respect, like, you’re here and I’m here so at least for now let’s just both have fun and enjoy football.

The gluttony is everywhere, and there is an uncomfortable side to some of it if you think about it too long. But that’s also the ante for America’s biggest party.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Asian pig wings at Gram & Dun, and the reading recommendation is Eli Saslow on Demaryius Thomas and his mother. Fun fact about Eli: he once won a freaking Pulitzer Prize for a story that wasn’t even the best thing he wrote that year.

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

Man, that’s really well done. Take a bow, Paul.

People have opinions about Cam Newton, and my opinion is that most of them are fueled by the wrong things. Newton should have given a better effort there, that was weak, although I’m not sure it would’ve made any difference. And his postgame press conference was a bad look, though I appreciated the honest moment in a football world that is so often manufactured.

It sure seems like folks are using preconceived notions about Newton to slam him for the fumble effort, or especially the press conference, and of course that’s anyone’s right. This is America, and sports, so whatever.

One thing I don’t understand is the feeling that Newton owed anyone more with the postgame presser. I mean, I get it if you think he should be bigger than that. There is no doubt that he came off as petulant, and that the moment was beneath his talent. But there is a tinge of entitlement from the criticism, too, as if Newton owes it us to open his soul. I believe he’ll come to regret the way that all went down, if he hasn’t already, and I think he’ll come back from this stronger.

I hope this is allowed, an opinion that’s not on either extreme of hating Newton or automatically assuming any criticism of him is petty or worse. He played terribly, and he has to own that, even as the offense and special teams around him were every bit as bad. And it would’ve been better if he took his postgame press conference more like an adult.

But none of this means he’s a bad guy, or an unreliable teammate. It just means he had a crap day.

Again with the nuance, but I never said Newton does not have his critics. Of course he does. My point is that he is one of the most popular players in the NFL, one of the most popular athletes in America, and we’re free to focus on the haters, remember the people who love him, or consider that all sides exist.

For instance, you mention Peyton Manning, and he’s undoubtedly one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but if he were so inclined he could focus on the people who consistently talk about his (previous) playoff failures. Tom Brady is the only man whose jersey is a bigger seller than Newton’s, and he has a much longer list of things he gets criticized for than Newton. He could talk about Deflategate, or the NFL having it out for him, or people who think he’s too smug, or Spygate, or whatever.

I understand that the whole prove-the-haters-wrong thing is a little like water and oxygen for athletes, but Newton’s presentation of himself as the most hated athlete in the country is borderline delusional. For all the criticism of his weak effort on the fumble, there are also a lot of people defending him. I suppose in some ways I’m one of them.

The world is a big place, in other words, and we’re all free to focus on whatever we want. In my teeny-tiny-microscopic part of this world, I get emails and voicemails and tweets every day from people saying nice things and people saying other things. I could listen to one side and think I’m the man, or listen to the other side and think I’d do us all a favor if I destroyed my computer with a sledgehammer and never talked to anyone again.

I try to focus instead on things that matter, like attempting good work, and being a husband and father. It’s more fun that way.

Mostly, I’d suggest people get over themselves, stop taking everything so seriously. Cam Newton is fun. Or, at least, that’s how I see him. He is him, and he is unapologetic about this, he’s not going to play the role people expect from an NFL quarterback, and it strikes me that you probably can’t have the fun parts of that without the other side.

I fully understand and appreciate the right of people to disagree, to criticize, to whatever, but I like that there’s someone like Cam, an enormously famous athlete willing to reveal himself — good and bad — in public.

He should’ve handled himself better in the postgame, and to answer your question, my suggestion to him would be to own his performance and promise to work hard and improve. But I also don’t have enough outrage in me to waste it on something as silly as a 26-year-old guy not giving thoughtful answers to stupid and redundant questions in the wake of his greatest professional disappointment.

See this? Cam Newton isn’t the only quarterback with drama.

I want to preface this with a disclaimer that this is all speculation, and that Al-Jazeera is a reputable news organization but that its report on Manning and others using HGH was sloppily sourced and up for criticism.

But, well, yeah. I would be less than shocked if an aging and hyper-competitive athlete who was attempting an unprecedented comeback from major neck surgeries, in an attempt for one last run in the sport that’s defined his entire life and family for generations, in addition to a thousand other high-level methods for recovery from hyperbaric chambers to the most advanced therapies available, took a substance for which his league did not test because he thought it might help.

Yes. That story makes sense to me.

And here’s another thing: I would not be outraged, or even think less of Manning or differently of him. Actually, I know I started this off by saying I’d be less than shocked if the report had some truth to it, but honestly, knowing what we know about Manning, after years and years of being told how competitive he is and how he exhausts every outlet for an advantage or to improve, wouldn’t it be entirely within his makeup to do this?

Look, he says it’s not true, and until or unless there’s more proof than what we have, I think it’s unfair to make any judgments. But if that proof ever comes, I just don’t understand the people who would be surprised by it, and I have fundamental differences than the people who will be angry or feel letdown or think Manning has done anything that many, many many athletes have done, continue to do, and above all else are heavily incentivized to do.

He did. Manning had no interest.

I’m including this question here because isn’t it a little wild to think about how things would be different if Manning had been interested in the Chiefs? What if he signed with them? The power in the AFC West the last few years would almost certainly be reversed, and what’s more, I’m guessing Pioli would still be in charge.

His fundamental failures would still exist, of course, and in some ways might be exaggerated if he felt emboldened by the winning. And maybe the way he torched the Chiefs’ culture, treated people who worked for him terribly, treated anyone who didn’t (from former players to media) with distrust and sometimes disdain, and generally acted as if he were unfamiliar how to be a human being ... maybe all of that would’ve torpedoed any advantage Manning would’ve provided.

We can only guess at that. But the problems were much easier to see, and much easier for people to talk about, when the team was losing.

So, the real answer, the thoughtful answer, the responsible answer, is that nobody knows because we’re only a few weeks into an offseason in which so many of the Chiefs’ best players are free agents, but that’s no fun, and we’re all just killing time here and avoiding more important things to do, so let’s go!

I actually think the Chiefs defense has a chance to be even better. This depends on a lot of things, including health and the assumption that we’re talking about an overall season perspective, but it makes sense:

The early season schedule was brutal, and that shouldn’t be overlooked, but the Chiefs’ defense was also slowed early by the suspension of Sean Smith (which effectively elevated Marcus Peters to the team’s No. 1 cornerback in what could’ve been his senior year in college) as well as Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito and Dontari Poe all working their way back to strength.

That’s six key players either unavailable or otherwise altered. Also, at the end of the season, Justin Houston (and Husain Abdullah) was out, and Tamba Hali was slowed. Could the Chiefs have beaten the Patriots at full strength? I doubt it, if the game was still in New England with two weeks for Bill Belichick to prepare, but it’s certainly possible.

All teams have injuries, and this is now two out of three seasons in which Houston has missed a significant chunk, but if we can assume normal or relatively good health there’s no reason to think the Chiefs can’t be better. If nothing else, they would presumably be better at the beginning and the end of the season.

Now, obviously, this could all be blown to bits if Sean Smith signs with the Raiders, Poe’s back gives out, Jaye Howard leaves for big money, Hali retires and Houston has another knee injury.

But something tells me we’ll be talking about this more as the offseason goes along, too.

No doubt. There were many subtle elements at play here with Greene’s dunk, and Self’s reaction. Many of them deal with this truth: Self does not like Greene all that much.

It is entirely possible I’m forgetting someone, but I don’t know that Self has had a player at KU who has frustrated him more than Greene. I actually thought Greene was going to transfer after last season, and if he did, I do not believe Self would’ve been disappointed. Greene has pushed that line as much as virtually any player who’s stuck at KU under Self, mostly because of his gorgeous jump shot and ability, but at times also because of his peacemaking father.

Also, KU played terribly in that game, at least for the first 30 minutes or so. They were out rebounded, lethargic, and soft, and there is nothing that drives Self to anger like his team playing soft.

What Greene did was a violation of the unwritten but understood code of how these things go, but it was also harmless. He did not windmill the dunk, he did not grab himself after, he did not point or laugh at the other team.

Elijah Johnson finished a game at Iowa State with an unnecessary and uncontested dunk a few years ago, and Self mostly defended it. KU had played terrifically that night, and Johnson especially so, and that sort of context is absolutely part of the discussion. But it also speaks to the first point, because Johnson had built up enough capital with Self to not be put on blast. Greene hasn’t, and in fact, has done the opposite.

I don’t mean any of this as a blanket defense of Self, and I don’t think it’s coming off that way. I thought he was over the top with the criticism, even as I agree it was worth mentioning. Greene has also done enough that he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt from his coach.

I have no idea if statistics would back me up here, but I have this theory that “official” merchandise is facing a real threat by a conspiracy of independent retailers’ creativity and the 2016 desire a lot of us have to find our own way.

What I mean by that is that official merchandise is often clunky, and either gaudy or boring, and particularly with younger fans, always comes with this fundamental problem of being mass produced. It’s a bit like the popularity of personalized jerseys. People want to show their support for their team, but they also want to maintain some individualism.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, I hope it does. This may or may not be a problem in other markets, I don’t know, but Royals gear faces a significant competition from independent and local shops. I mean, it’s everywhere, and these things are by definition objective, but most of the non-official stuff is just cooler than the official stuff.

A hundred, and it’s not close. If and when the Warriors get to 73, it’ll be a cool moment, but also a bit produced and incomplete, because there will be nothing obviously different about that win than any of the ones that came before, and there will also remain a truth that 73 will take on a very different meaning without a championship.

But a player popping off for 100 points would be one of the most amazing things I can imagine, the differences in the sports making it (to me, anyway) cooler than a player going all Bob Horner with four homers in a game or Warren Moon with 527 passing yards*.

* Too soon?

That would be a collective experience, the buildup coming organically and catching on throughout the arena, even if it was a road game. And especially because of the way Curry plays, and scores, the arc of those three-pointers would carry this inherent drama and the drives to the rack a particular joy.

If you happened to be at that game on the night that happened, you could live a long and healthy life and never have a sports experience even close.

He could do it, too. And by “could” I mean it’s still amazingly unlikely, a bit like a lottery ticket, but other than Kobe or Shaq or Jordan in their primes, I’m not sure I can remember a guy more capable.

The top 10, in order:

10. Taco salad. One of the most overrated food options in America. The DirecTV of Mexican food options.

9. Quesadilla. Boring. The Big Ten basketball of Mexican food options.

8. Breakfast burrito. The egg is selfish, taking over and burying the other delicious flavors included in burritos. Never as good as it should be. The Dallas Cowboys of Mexican food options.

7. Chimichanga. I am probably underrating the chimichanga here, but there’s just such a difference between good and bad. Port Fonda has one of the best chimichangas you will ever chew. But too often they’re empty, fried shells with only rumors of ingredients inside. Just too unpredictable. The Royals’ Johnny Cueto of Mexican food options.

6. Chips and guac. The fact that chips and guac are only sixth on this list is a testament to the deliciousness of Mexican cuisine. Your boy makes an amazing guac, too. The key is good avocados, but also lots of stuff — cilantro, onions, tomatoes, salt, jalapeños, lots of all of it.

5. Chips and queso. The right type of queso can leave you with that wonderful and simultaneous feeling of satisfaction tinged with a little bit of embarrassment over your gluttony.

4. Chips and salsa. If you have a salsa bar at your restaurant, you have my vote.

3. Nachos. A full plate of nachos is one of the great eating experiences you can have. It’s social, because you can share. It allows you to get exactly the right chip with exactly what you want on it, and as a bonus, provides the unspoken drama about who’s going to give into temptation and grab the one chip that is always so obviously the star of the show, the one with the right amount of melted cheese, meat, and at least a touch of salsa.

2. Burritos. Now we’re with the big boys. We just went from talking about Drake or Kanye to Biggie and 2Pac. If you don’t like burritos, I am skeptical of your character.

1. Tacos. Edges burritos by the slightest of margins, in part because of the existence of hard-shell and street options. If you eat a taco, you’ve had a good day.

Yeah, Harvey is the best bet for the Mets’ guy. The Royals, I’m guessing, are either going to start Yordano Ventura or Edinson Volquez. You would figure Volquez would be the guy, in part because Ventura handled last year’s No. 1 role about as terribly as was possible, and Volquez had the best 2015 of any starter on the roster.

Syndergaard should be the No. 2 or more likely No. 3 starter, though, so you’ll get the chance to boo.

Also, it is my contention that you asked this question mostly to mention you have sweet seats.

Please respond honestly.

North Carolina is the best team. They have the best collection of talent, and Marcus Paige is a top-shelf player, and it’s a group that seems to fit together and be enhanced by the system.

But this is a weird year, even weirder than most, and whenever the brackets come out there is not a team that will be seeded fourth or higher that any of us should be surprised at making the Final Four.

So, I’ve actually thought about this before, but in the context of what I’ll tell my own kids. I don’t have a great answer, or one answer.

But I’d tell him, above all else, this is supposed to be fun. This does not matter, not in any material way, so whenever possible do not let being a sports fan ruin your day. Admire the athleticism, enjoy the show, remember the moments, and give in to the drama because it’s all great, but if you’re punching walls or fighting strangers or cursing loudly from the stands with small children around you, you might want to take inventory.

You will have your heart broken more often than you will be rewarded with the ultimate joy, which is fine, because that’s a little how life is, too. The key is enjoying the journey, and remembering priorities. You will identify favorite players, and favorite teams, and favorite styles, but you are also rooting for a business. At some point, that’s going to slap you across the face. Be ready for that, and, again, remember your priorities.

Character is often revealed through sports, and that’s true of the people who play, the people who coach, and the people who cheer. It is a terrific way to self-evaluate, and to learn about others, and if you drop the opportunity to do both you’re missing some of the good stuff.

But also, and this is the most important part, the best thing about being a sports fan is the fun. It’s social. You will have friendships begin and strengthen through sports. You will have moments you will never forget because of sports. You can plan annual trips with friends around sports, keep in touch with friends and family in part through sports, see parts of the country and world you never otherwise would through sports. If you don’t do any of that, you’re missing the best stuff.

You can do all these things without sports, of course. You can do all of these things through performing arts, or an interest in paintings, or history, or any number of other passions. But I don’t think any of it is as accessible, and fun, as sports. Keep all of that in mind, and also, it’s OK when your team loses. Your friends and family still love you.

Well, yeah, this feels a little like cheating but the highlight of my year and in many ways the rest of my life is going to be seeing how my two sons grow together. I always wanted a brother, if I’m being honest, and the fact that they will have each other gives me a joy that I don’t think will ever go away, except during the moments where they are punching each other, which I assume will be quite often.

But with sports? I’m looking forward to seeing if K-State can make the tournament and continue to progress in a critical season for Bruce Weber, if Kim Anderson can get to a point where he enjoys his job again, if KU can regain that loose and easy vibe they used to have and make a run in the tournament.

I’m looking forward to Dom Dwyer continuing to establish himself as a star in MLS, and Matt Besler (hopefully) continuing to play for the USMNT. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Royals react as kings, and the Chiefs as contenders.

I’m looking forward to Bill Snyder finding one more push, and seeing how Barry Odom makes the program he played for his own. It is far too early for anyone to say anything with any confidence, but I think Odom has a chance to be great. I am not looking forward to anything about KU football, and neither are you.

I’m looking forward to seeing golf’s post-Tiger generation grab hold, Steph Curry lead the funnest team I can remember, Cam Newton’s reaction to a terrible day, many things about the Olympics (I know I’m a weirdo but USA Basketball is my favorite sports team), Bryce Harper’s brilliance, and the Cubs’ attempt at history. I’m also looking forward to Arsenal pushing for the Premier League championship, but must admit I’d think it was pretty amazing if Leicester City ends up winning.

But, yeah. Mostly, I’m looking forward to watching these two little boys grow up together. Thanks for asking, and thanks for indulging me that.