Author Archives: Kent Sterling

Colts RB Marlon Mack’s torn Achilles reminds us why NFL players have worries way beyond Covid-19

In a moment, Marlon Mack went from Pro Bowl candidate on a potential division champion to just another guy with an uncertain future.

When Covid-19 rolled into our lives early this year, I tweeted that the NFL would play because players had more serious worries than a virus.

People were outraged, called me an idiot, and said I had no understanding of the virus.  I’m not an epidemiologist – that’s true – but I understand people and their hierarchy of worries.  A virus – even one that is as virulent as Covid-19 – pales in comparison to what can befall a football player on any given Sunday.

Yesterday, we saw something far worse than a positive Covid test happen to Colts running back Marlon Mack, who tore his Achilles tendon.  His ability to play football at a high level again is in doubt, as is his chance to become a very wealthy man because of his unique physical gifts and work ethic.

Click here for your copy of “Oops – the Art of Learning from Mistakes and Adventures” by Kent Sterling

That is how tenuous NFL careers are.  One play, a 24-year-old like Mack is as good as anyone in the game.  He looks explosive, like a back ready to prove his 1,091 yards in 2019 was no fluke.  The next, his season is over.  An Achilles tear doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for Mack to choose an alternative line of work, but one third of those who suffer a tear are finished.  Most of those who do play again see a stark decline in power rating, productivity, and earnings.

Worse for Mack, he is a free agent at the end of the season, so he was in line for a lucrative deal if he put up similar numbers to the last two years when he ran for a combined 1,999 yards in 26 games.

The Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor in the second round last April because general manager Chris Ballard knows that running backs have a limited lifespan in the NFL, especially when they have a history of missing games, like Mack has.  Injuries beget injuries in football, and so stacking talented backs four deep is the right call.

For Mack, he has surgery in his immediate future and then he will begin the tedious desolation of endless rehab.  At the end of that tough road, even if everything goes as well as possible, the reward will be wary looks from skeptical GMs.  Maybe Mack gets a deal for the minimum from the Colts, who know what a good guy he is.  Maybe someone gives him a little more.

Whatever happens, Mack’s mobility and marketability will never be the same.  That’s life in the NFL.  In the spotlight cashing massive checks one day – home watching sci-fi movies the next.  A source of potential wealth for family and friends on Sunday morning, and that night – just another guy.

What it means for the Colts is not nearly as worrisome to me as what lies ahead for Mack, a hard-working young man who deserved better.  But like Clint Eastwood says in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

As teammates pass Mack’s locker for the rest of the season, they will be thinking about their teammate, hopeful one day he will return, but also thankful their career continues.  As they line up in the tunnel next Sunday, they will say a prayer they find a way to leave the field as healthy as they are in that moment.

Players concern themselves first with health, wealth, family, and winning.  Yesterday’s injury to Mack serves as a reminder to us what professional football is all about, and how tenuous careers are.

Inside Indiana Sports NOW! Top 10 adjustments Colts must make to beat the Vikings

Breakfast with Kent – Colts fail again in opener; Cubs Mills no-hits Brewers; Big 10 likely to play Oct. 17

Colts lose 27-20 – is it time yet to question why we keep expecting them to win?

Happy times for the Jags defense, who couldn’t stop the Colts, but still found a way to win.

Uh-oh.

We know all the banal little sayings about the NFL.  “Any given Sunday,” “It’s only one game,” and “It’s not how you start but how you finish that counts,” are repeated over and over throughout the season.  Of course, they are as accurate as they are trite, especially after a game like the Colts 27-20 loss to they woefully bad Jacksonville Jaguars.

They also say, “There is no such thing as a good loss.”  That is certainly the case today.  This was NOT a good loss.  The swagger the Colts exuded in training camp did not convert to on field excellence – at least not after the first touchdown drive that gave Colts fans an inkling this might be a laugher.

Click here for your copy of “Oops – the Art of Learning from Mistakes and Adventures” by Kent Sterling

A second drive that should have ended in a field goal to give the Colts a 10-0 lead was instead extinguished by the offense’s inability on fourth down to pick up a yard at the Jags three.

Media types, who looked at the schedule and felt it was a given the Colts would start 6-1, are scrambling to adjust their sites south.  They anointed quarterback Philip Rivers the comeback player of the year before throw a pass.  What I told you throughout camp was that 95% of the time Rivers was on time and on target.  The other 5% of his throws result in picks.  After the Colts signed Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal, a lot was made of the Chargers terrible offensive line and how different he would be behind one of the best.  Upon further review, the reasons for the Chargers not going to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons evidently include their quarterback.

We saw it again and again in training camp.  Rivers would be accurate in the extreme for throw after throw until he threw it to the defense.  Sadly, the lack of velocity that keeps drops by receivers to a minimum also make him very catchable for the defense.  Rivers threw 46 passes this afternoon and 38 of them were caught.  Two of them were intercepted and led directly to 10 Jaguars points.

How weird was this game?  The Colts lost a game in which they never punted.  Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew threw one lone incompletion in 20 attempts, and could have easily lost.  The normally sure-handed T.Y. Hilton dropped a fourth down pass late in the game that ended all hope.  Like I said – weird game.

Colts running back Marlon Mack left the game with an injury, and the Colts running game left with him.  Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor gained 32 yards on 14 attempts after Mack was carted off with what has been described as an achilles injury.  Coach Frank Reich said after the game, “I am not concerned about the run game at all.”

I love a coach who says publicly he is not worried, but if Reich is not concerned about every aspect of his team after the multiple breakdowns on both sides of the bar that led to a difficult to fathom and impossible to excuse loss to a bad football team, the problems are unlikely to be corrected.

A few random but prescient questions remain –

  • Why insert a plodding Jacoby Brissett for an RPO play on second and goal from the two.
  • Why would Rivers ever try to throw off his back foot when his lack of velocity turns the pass into a game of “500?”
  • Why allow the Jags to dink and dunk when that is exactly the way they want to move the ball?
  • If the Colts lose to a bad team while not allowing a sack or punting, who are they going to beat?
  • If GM Chris Ballard has done nothing but execute great drafts, and Frank Reich is a great coach, why do the Colts continue to lose?
  • After only one game, is it way too early to ask all these questions?

Here are a few good things to leave you with –

  • Parris Campbell, despite his idiotic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, looked good while catching six passes for 71 yards.
  • Jonathan Taylor looked explosive out of the backfield with six catches and 67 yards.
  • Rivers appeared as comfortable as you would expect leading the offense.
  • The Colts defense got to Minshew four times.

A lot of questions.  A lot of issues.  Only one thing matters – Colts are 0-1.

Here are the seven keys for a Colts victory and cover this afternoon

El Lego needs to make kicks today. As bad as the Jags are, all scoring opportunities must be capitalized upon. That means “El Lego” needs to start his career strong.

For the Colts (-8) to win their first season opener since 2013, they need only to play better football than the team believed to be one of the worst two units in the NFL.  Like a man running from a bear who only needs to outrun the slowest guy, the Colts don’t need to be the best team in the league, just better than the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The primary unknown for the Colts is Philip Rivers, their new old quarterback.  Rivers is 38, coming off a 5-11 season that saw him throw 20 interceptions, and the absolute key to success of the team.  That’s true, even on a day when the Colts are playing a legitimately bad division opponent seemingly determined to liquidate productive assets in order to improve its draft position.

Click here for your copy of “Oops – the Art of Learning from Mistakes and Adventures” by Kent Sterling

Here are seven keys to winning getting the Colts getting the season off to a rare winning start:

  1. Rivers needs to throw it only to teammates.  Last season with the Chargers, when Rivers threw one pick or none his team was 5-5.  When he threw two or more picks, they were 0-6.  Whether those picks were caused by being behind in the first place or whether he put them in a bind with bad reads or throws is unimportant.  What matters is that they happened, and losses ensued.
  2. Make the Jags miss defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue.  Colts fans have heard a lot about how the acquisition of three-technique tackle DeForest Buckner will enhance all aspects of the Colts pass rush and overall defense.  The Colts need to hope that the opposite is true for the Jags.  Ngokoue sacked opposing quarterbacks 38.5 times over his four-year career, and his absence, along with Calais Campell’s, may cause issues for the rest of the defensive front.
  3. Speaking of that, keep second year game-wrecker Josh Allen from getting to Rivers.  Coming off a 10.5 sack rookie campaign, Allen appears to be validating the seventh overall pick the Jags used to select him.  if the Colts offensive line is the best in the NFL, as they believe they are, they should be able to keep Allen off Rivers.
  4. Rodrigo Blankenship – “El Lego” – needs to validate the confidence the Colts have invested in him.  Adam Vinatieri was not good last year with his 68% success rate on field goals and 78.6% makes on extra point attempts.  El Lego must be much better than that.  The 30 points lost from Vinatieri misses cost the Colts wins, and they are not good enough yet to overcome nearly two points squandered per game.
  5. Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor need to gash the Jags.  The inability to finish strong in the 2019 season finale in Jacksonville killed the Colts, and that means the running game was unable to close the deal.  The Colts enjoyed a 20-16 halftime lead before being dominated 22-0 in the second half.  That cannot happen today.  If the Colts get the lead, being able to move the sticks and control the clock is critical to winning.  Rivers may still be good enough to get the Colts a lead, but the running game needs to finish the deal today.
  6. Make Jags QB Gardner Minshew try to beat you.  Take away the run, and Gardner Minshew is a reasonable facsimile of Jacoby Brissett.  Look at the similarity in stats between the two.  In 2019, Minshew was 285-470, 3,271 yards, 21 TDs and six picks.  Brissett was 272-447, 3,314 yards, 18 TDs, and six picks.  Leonard Fournette is gone, so running the football is going to be tough for the Jags.  Minshew is not good enough to lead a one-dimensional offensive attack.
  7. Rivers thrashes the Jags as he did last year.  Without question, Rivers played at his highest level last year in a 45-10 Chargers blowout win at Jacksonville.  Completing 16-22 passes for 314 yards, three TDs, and a near perfect passer rating of 154.4, Rivers was stellar.  If Rivers puts up those numbers, the Colts win today by a similar score.

If the Colts check four of more of those seven boxes, they will cover the eight.  I believe they will.

Inside Indiana Sports NOW! Remember 9/11 and America’s unified response; Nelson will play, and Colts will cover

Noise addict Skip Bayless deserves utter silence for his legacy of bankrupt insight

You deserve better than Skip Bayless, so demand it by not watching or reading him. The loudness of the quiet will silence his empty noise.

Like a fifth grader who puts thumbtacks on his teacher’s chair, Skip Bayless is an attention hog without the decency or moral compass to do it right.

Yesterday, on the show he co-hosts with Shannon Sharpe, Bayless claimed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dan Prescott is incapable of leading the team because he went public with his battle against depression.  Ignorant doesn’t begin to describe his take on mental illness.

That’s par for the course with Bayless.  He is a professional noisemaker whose only meaningful metrics for success are retweets, clicks, and zeroes at the end of his paycheck.  Trying to find the truth and then artfully telling it is not a part of his equation.  There is no there there with his takes.  He’s a feckless sparring partner for those who love to yell at their TVs.

Click here for your copy of “Oops – the Art of Learning from Mistakes and Adventures” by Kent Sterling

There is an oft told story about Bayless writing for the Dallas Times Herald.  The paper asked readers who they wanted as the Cowboys quarterback – Danny White, Gary Hogeboom, or Steve Pelluer.  Bayless asked who came in last, and then wrote a column about why Pelluer should be the starter.  He didn’t believe it, but he wrote it.  Multiply that by the number of columns he has written and segments he has hosted, and Bayless’s episodes of disingenuity must number in the low tens of thousands.

That’s Bayless’s game.  Grab the raw nerve and yank on it for awhile.  Manipulating his audience has made Bayless a very wealthy man.  Fox pays him over $6-million each year to sell his vapid counterpoints for two hours every weekday.

Under normal conditions, Bayless is a harmless irritant purposely humming an out of tune melody just to frustrate viewers dopey enough to fall for his act.  His attack on Prescott was more than off key – it was an irresponsible misrepresentation of mental illness and those with the courage to talk openly about it.

And if you ask Bayless this morning about it, he will grin and claim victory because people are talking about him again.  His thumbtack ruse worked, so his Twitter profile visits jumped and his Q rating grew 2%.  It was a good day for Bayless because all noise feeds him – and his bank account.

But don’t you deserve better?  Don’t you deserve pundits who can – at the minimum – seek out recognize their version of the truth and tell it.  Do you need to be angered by a soulless wretch whose only goal is to keep you coming back for more?  We earn the media we consume.  Skip Bayless being paid millions to feed us his intellectual empty calories is our own damned fault.

Media, whether in news or sports, should strive for honesty and attempt to advance the discourse.  Noise may keep the lights on and pay for fancy cars, but truth fuels our society.  We must demand better from media or we will never get truthful media.

If you are looking for columnists and media types who consistently provide their best version of their truth, I recommend The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz, 107.5 the Fan’s (Indianapolis) Dan Dakich, The Score’s (Chicago) David Haugh, Chicago Sun-Times Rick Telander, St. Louis’s Bernie Miklasz, and WDRB’s (Louisville) Rick Bozich.  There are many more, but I have either worked with or consumed for many years these sages of sports.  I have never known any of them to subvert their truth to boost clicks or audience.  And to prove it, none makes $6-mil – or close to it.

There is enough truth in sports media to feed our need for insight without listening to click sluts like Bayless, who deserves the darkness of our utter silence.

Turn him off so Fox turns him out.

Breakfast with Kent – Orb HOT! Colts to win 11? You should skip Bayless; HS Football tonight – ND tomorrow!

Inside Indiana Sports NOW! Darius Leonard promises more juice than Philip Rivers; Bob Knight firing 20 years after; Billups to Pacers?

It was 20 years ago today – Vince Welch broke the story of IU’s firing of Bob Knight

It’s been 20 years to the minute that Vince Welch broke the story that Bob Knight was out as Indiana’s basketball coach.

My phone rang on a Sunday morning exactly 20 years ago today.  It was WIBC sports director Vince Welch.  “Bob Knight is being fired this morning,” he told me.

This was when I was the assistant program director of the radio station, and Knight had endured a tough year.  The story of his choking Neil Reed led to a zero tolerance edict from Indiana University president Myles Brand, and days prior to that Sunday, a student named Kent Harvey angered Knight by referring to him by his last name only.  Reports he grabbed Harvey by the arm as he chastised the freshman called into question – again – Knight’s ability to control his temper and may have violated his zero tolerance agreement.

Click here for your copy of “Oops – the Art of Learning from Mistakes and Adventures” by Kent Sterling

I knew not to ask Vince for his source, but wanted to know how certain he was.  Vince said he had the story cold, so he called into WIBC’s First Day program to report Knight’s termination.

These were the days before Twitter and other social media, so huge stories still broke via traditional media.  Trusted sources were necessary, and being right was the most important thing a journalist could be.  There were no Woj Bombs in 2000.  This was a Vince Bomb, and it needed to be right more than first, but first was still a good thing for WIBC.  When he reported the story all I was certain of was that Vince was first.

Even when a manager absolutely trusts a reporter – as I did (and do) with Vince – there is a loneliness while others avoid the story.  My unease became full blown nausea shortly after a respected media voice disputed the veracity of Vince’s report that the most famous, loved, and hated person in Indiana had been dismissed.

WTHR-13’s Don Hein told viewers emphatically that the reports was false.  He said he had spoken to his sources at IU who said Knight was NOT being fired.  My heart sank.  If we had screwed this up, the stink would last for a long time, so I called Vince to tell him what Hein had said.

Vince again, with a hint of frustration this time, reiterated his firm belief that he had the story right.

Roughly an hour later, without crediting Vince’s excellent work, ESPN claimed to be first to report that Knight was being fired.  I was both relieved and pissed off – relieved that Vince was as accurate as he had insisted and pissed that ESPN used that work without crediting Vince or WIBC.

Later, Indiana University confirmed what we already knew, that Knight was out.  Over the next few hours and days, Bloomington erupted.  Players threatened to walk out en masse.  Thousands of students protested outside Assembly Hall.  Knight gave a tearful farewell address at Dunn Meadow.  And to quell concerns of the players, Mike Davis was hired as the interim head coach.

Journalism, coaching, and IU Basketball have all evolved over these past 20 years.  Breaking news on the radio is unheard of because of the ease and speed of posting on social media.  Coaches like Knight are no longer tolerated because it’s better to lose while behaving than win while embarrassing a university.  And Indiana Basketball has meandered through a lot of mediocrity interrupted by three outstanding seasons as it continues to search for the identity it willfully torched when Brand punted Knight.