Keenan Allen called his mom during training camp and told her he wanted to come home.
“Coming out of college, I wanted to play right away,” Allen said. “I wanted to be a starter. And I wasn’t getting that feel from coaches, that I was going to be playing.”
He told his mom he wanted out of the league.
“Patience,” she said. “Patience.”
And so Allen worked and waited. He prayed. He worked and waited and prayed.
And early in the season, his patience paid off. He got the opportunity in Week Two and never looked back. Now, Allen leads all rookies in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and is on his way to 1,000 yards on the season. He’s been voted Rookie of the Week three times.
Allen said it was the biggest lesson he learned in his first year in the NFL, and it’s a lesson he is entirely grateful for as the honor of Rookie of the YEAR looks more and more like a reality for the Cal product with each passing week.
It’s been fun getting to know Keenan, who is multifaceted and full of raw talent. I had a chance to sit down with him to see (and hear) his musical side. Impressive! We chatted about his love for playing the piano, his run for Rookie of the Year and his early struggles during training camp (including the timely conversation with his mom).
Here’s some extra footage. Allen actually taught himself how to play, for the most part. He bought an extra keyboard as soon as he moved to San Diego and he has a pretty sweet instrument waiting for him at his mom’s house:
And here is more of Allen playing and fooling around with the piano while we got our cameras set up. As you can see, Allen has talent not only on the football field, but also behind a keyboard.
One of the things I really appreciate about Chargers center Nick Hardwick is that he keeps it real.
If he’s not up for an interview, or he doesn’t have time, he politely declines and then does what he can to make it up to you the next time. This is not the case with all athletes. Some play games with the media, some hide, some pull attitude or a sense of entitlement.
Nick, he just keeps it real.
He plays football the way it’s supposed to be played — old school, and with intensity, heart and toughness. He takes all praise and deflects it off himself, instead turning it to the other players or coaches. He shows up, every day, like he has for the last ten years, ready to give everything he can to his teammates and to himself. He’s calm in chaos. He’s passionate in adversity. In a locker room that has lost many veterans, it’s players like Nick, Jeromey Clary, Eric Weddle, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers who are the foundation, who have been together through rough times and good times, who know just what it means to play your ass off for the guy working next to you.
And, as Chargers offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris says, Nick is having “one heck of a year.”
He is. He’s having a Pro-Bowl year.
Nick takes pride in the bolt on the front of his jersey, and pride in the name of the back … because it represents family.
I had the chance to follow Nick’s wife, Jayme, and their two sons, Hudson and Theodore — two years old and three weeks old, respectively — into a game at Qualcomm recently for an NBC feature. It was a hot, sweaty day, and Jayme was a trooper, especially since her hands were full with the kids and I kept having to mic her up and ask Hudson to walk up and down stairs and put a GoPro on his head and such.
Here’s the feature. It’s a glimpse into what it’s like to be an NFL family, and a look behind the curtain at a couple who provide constant strength for one another. Plus, it features super adorable cute kids … and who doesn’t like that?!
I remember when Donald Butler tore his Achilles tendon his rookie year and was given one of those scooters, the kind where one leg stays elevated and he uses the other to roll himself around:
He took his job just as seriously then as he does now. I remember he would scoot around to meetings and to therapy. He did everything possible to immerse himself into the team and into a defense that John Pagano told him would ultimately become HIS defense in the near future.
The near future is rapidly upon us, folks.
Donald keeps to himself mostly, but was kind enough to let me crash his pedicure and learn more about how he takes care of his body and what he does to give his team his best on the field. We also talked about his upcoming contract (he’s a free agent after this season) and also, the way he’s grown through this game.
Donald is crucial to this defense, especially on a team that is somewhat starved for veteran players. He’s the epitome of what Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy should want — a player who has grown through the system, who has learned from Pro Bowlers in front of him, and who has applied his knowledge on the field in a successful way.
For two seasons, Donald’s locker was right next to Takeo Spikes’ locker, and now, Spikes is gone, but a new face has emerged next to Donald: Manti Te’o. And he is learning from Donald just as Donald learned from Takeo.
Manti told me yesterday:
“I have two big brothers on this team. Two guys that I look up to. Guys that I know will do everything for me and I’ll do the same for them. That’s Eric Weddle and Donald Butler.
Donald, he’s a tremendous leader. A good leader is one that will put the team before himself. That’s exactly what Donald is. He’ll put the team before himself. Anything it takes to win. That’s what you need. For me to be in there with him is definitely the best thing. A lot of rookie linebackers don’t get that chance, don’t get that opportunity to learn from a guy like that.
He makes things fun. He makes light of issues to make sure you’re okay. He understands how a player feels, he understands how linebackers feel. He knows what will help his defense, and especially his young linebackers, to function at their best.”
Manti was thoughtful and fierce with his words. Pretty strong stuff. Keep an eye on how this defense grows over the next few years, because Donald Butler will be a huge part of that development.
I had the absolute pleasure of visiting NFL Hall of Famer Lance Alworth and his wife, Laura, at their Del Mar home for a story on life after football.
By the end of the visit, I wanted them to adopt me.
They are two of the kindest, funniest, coolest people I’ve met. Generous, sincere and full of life. And after 17 years of marriage, they are still madly, sweetly, amazingly in love with one another. (<— Look at all the adjectives I just used! It's because I can't truly explain how awesome they are. Dammit, there's another one.)
As Lance says about Laura: “She’s my best friend.”
Here’s the story I did for NBC. Lance gets emotional at the end … You can tell how much everything really means to him — football, the struggles, financial trouble, all of it. I love what he said about how he lives his life. Always catching the ball, even if it means getting hit. It’s such a great analogy.
And here’s some behind-the-scenes footage. This is Lance talking about how he got his nickname, Bambi:
And here he is talking about how he doesn’t even play catch with his grandkids. He doesn’t want to pressure them. He was so honest about it:
Hope you guys enjoy these as I much as I enjoyed my visit with the Alworth’s.
And if you’re reading this, Lance and Laura … there’s still time to adopt me.
I did a little twitter rant yesterday.
Take it from someone who is learning this the hard way — extreme results require extreme actions. You can’t change “a little” and think that’s enough for a completely different outcome. Sure, it might affect the outcome by 10-percent. Maybe 20. But the rest? That 80 or 90-percent?
You’re wasting time. Spinning wheels.
I have never played football (except that one time, at band camp) … I’m smart enough to know what I DON’T KNOW. I’m not in the trenches on Sundays and I can’t speak to what guys go through internally. I’m not allowed in meetings or closed-door discussions. I simply talk to a lot of players, and former players, on a daily basis, and that was the genesis for my rant. Allow me to explain:
***** The word “leader” gets thrown around a lot. Leadership cannot happen off the field if it doesn’t happen on it. You can have a player who is so wise, who really works hard to get other players up to speed and tries to look out for the good of the team … but guess what? If he’s not KILLING IT on the field, then do you know what he is?
He’s a hard worker. He sure works hard.
And that’s it.
If a player is going to “talk” and try to motivate, he’s going to have a heck of an easier time getting guys to listen if he’s playing like a beast.
Playing like a beast accomplishes two things: One, it ups the level of excellence and expectation (duh, Annie) … Two, it leads through action OFF the field. If a guy is playing like a beast — (and that might be reflected in hustle and urgency, not necessarily in stats) — the guys learning from him absorb his work ethic, how he takes care of his body, what he does to stay mentally and physically ready. And that breeds FUTURE GENERATIONS of beasts. A guy is much less likely to slack off if the player he respects at the locker next to him is the model of how an athlete should prepare and conduct oneself — that goes for how he acts in front of the media, in front of fans, how he plays through injury, how he takes coaching and critiques … all of it.
If there are a bunch of players who are all striving for that … it’s an inner competition, always. No one wants to be the weakest link.
A team that does not have enough of these kinds of players lacks motivation and leadership. Motivation comes from a lot of places, but that’s one. On top of that, a locker room that is veteran deficient makes all of that much tougher.
Who you surround yourself with becomes what you know.
***** Motivation is a slippery slope. It’s also a word that’s thrown around a lot. Even if it’s subconscious, guys need motivation. Most people do in some shape or form. So, as a coach, if you’re not an effective motivator, that will eventually reflect itself on the field.
What’s worse than not being an effective motivator? Thinking you are when you’re not.
The best external motivation comes from great play (see above) … If you don’t have that, you better surround yourself with the right pieces and personnel to get a team to perform at an above-average level.
***** Culture. Listen … People are afraid of change. It’s inherent. It’s a fact. So while someone may say, “Hey, look at me! I changed!” … In reality, they put on a blue shirt instead of a pink one. YES, it’s change. It’s an action. I applaud any personal change because it’s tough. But in a business … In a business, for change to happen, it usually has to happen at the CORE. If you tiptoe around it, you just — again — waste time. For big and bold change to happen, it usually requires a CULTURE change. It requires the entire organization, top to bottom, to have a shift in thinking. A new normal. Not just SAYING it, but really feeling it and doing it. That is TOUGH. That can hurt. That can require a lot of uncomfortableness from people who like being comfortable.
It can also take time. It might inch forward, sputter backward and then leap forward again.
But what’s worse? A year or two of that versus decades of doing the same thing and expecting a different result?
I’m not saying you have to clean house or fire people or go all crazy. It can be more subtle than that. Sometimes, it’s just admitting what you’re NOT, admitting what’s MISSING, learning from mistakes and from competitors who are succeeding where you’re not, taking a deep breath and going from there. But the first step is to honestly see what’s not working. If you can’t see that … hire someone who can. Not someone you’re comfortable with, or this pattern will repeat.
Not sure if this post is about football or life anymore … but the two sure can parallel one another, huh?
Until next time, peeps.
This isn’t a sports post. It’s not about the Chargers or Padres or football or baseball or anything like that. So, if you’re here for that … I’m not offended if you hit that tempting “x” in the upper right corner of your page.
You’re still here? Cool. I don’t feel quite so rejected.
This is a post about creating.
Since I’ve had some, ahem … free time, let’s call it … I’ve been feeling this urge to write. To write about all kinds of things … random, mostly. But I haven’t been up to actually doing it. Tonight, though, I was feeling it (the three-month bout of insomnia that I’m currently experiencing helps, too). So tonight, I want to talk about creating. I’m warning you, this post is kinda “woo woo,” but like I said, I have the urge to write, and we all know what comes of suppressing urges ….
Why are we here if not to create?
Let’s examine this.
I don’t mean, necessarily, to be professional creators (although that’s nice) … I mean, simply, to create in some form. To put a little something back into the world, something that evokes a feeling.
We all suppress so much feeling, you know? We numb it and suppress it and distract ourselves from it. We’re scared of it.
But you know what’s sexy? Vulnerability.
So here’s an easy way to get sexy with yourself. Make something. Make something you absolutely, ridiculously love. It could be with finger paints. It could be a silly song. It could be a moment with your kid, where you invite something new into your life and really explore it.
Then put it out there. And squirm.
I love that feeling.
When you go through a … life transition, let’s call it … “the experts” tell you to go back to what you love. Me, I love dancing and creating choreography. I love writing stories and putting words together to form some kind of hopefully coherent thought. I love meeting people and hearing their stories and creating some kind of bond. I love executing ideas for videos and segments and taking big, bold bad-ass risks during the process. I don’t always do that … but my videos are better when I do.
Creation is sweet because it connects. It stirs a feeling. It stirs an emotion. You know … When you listen to a song that makes you feel something inside of you, something dangerous. But cool. Maybe that doesn’t happen to you. Maybe a certain song makes you feel like you want to cry, or hug your mom, or put on 80s clothes and dance around your living room. Whatever. Just something to FEEL.
Inside that feeling is where the magic is. Inside the vulnerability of PUTTING IT OUT THERE is where the magic is.
Got a girlfriend? A boyfriend? Both? Draw something. Make some art. Do it naked if you want. Do it wearing costumes. Whatever. Use colored pencils. Use paint. Whatever. Just do it. Squirm. Feel it. Get on the other side of it.
That’s where the magic is.
And for all you creative types … Watch this. And then watch it again, and again, and again … especially if you feel like you’ve lost your mojo:
It’s just no way to start the season.
The Chargers lost to the Texans in their season opener, which I wrote about in detail here. The issue isn’t that they lost (really, it isn’t) … It’s HOW they lost. They were up by three touchdowns (THREE!) before Houston closed the gap in the third quarter, tied it in the fourth, and won it in the end.
Most Chargers fans remember the legendary Monday Night Football game against the Denver Broncos in 2012 … You know, the one where the Chargers were up 24-0 going into halftime and there was NO WAY THEY WERE GOING TO LOSE!!! Remember?! And then, Peyton Manning and Co. went to work in the second half, the Chargers went from attack-mode to react-mode, and suddenly, all the world watched while San Diego gave one away.
They gave four more away in 2012, blowing five halftime leads.
But, that was the Norv Turner era … right? At least that’s what people barked at me when I tweeted they shouldn’t get too comfortable with the lead.
The Chargers went into halftime last night up 21-7 over the Texans. They scored on their first possession after halftime to bring the score to 28-7.
And then, the wheels just came off. The confident, fun team in the first half gave way to mistakes, fatigue and decline.
Here’s the thing: In life, in anything … You have to be able to seal the deal. You have to be able to close the game. Life doesn’t stop after two quarters and neither does football. There was good in the Chargers game last night — Ryan Mathews scored a touchdown on his first play of the game, the defense looked dominant and made big stops in the first half, Philip Rivers looked comfortable and heck, even looked like he was having fun — and although the team can build on the good, elite teams are able to clinch the victory when it counts.
The Chargers may have a new head coach, new uniforms and new sayings on their t-shirts … but the loss is reminiscent of everything old.
As safety Eric Weddle told me last night:
“It’s a new year. We’re still learning. It’s a lot of different pieces in this team. We started fast and shoot, we had a chance. I gotta get better and we all gotta get better.”
Fifteen to go, folks. Still time to turn it around.
Last week, I went OFF the field with Chargers running back Fozzy Whittaker to meet his alter ego, Captain America.
Yessir! Captain America. Fozzy has felt a connection to Captain America since his college days in Texas, going as far as to say he actually considers his identity to be Captain America and his alter ego, Fozzy. 🙂 The story behind it is great — Before Captain America was Captain America, the comic book hero was a scrawny dude who was dismissed time and again because of his small stature. But he had HEART. Fozzy likens himself to Cap, saying he may not be the biggest or strongest, but his heart will win out every time.
Come on. How can you not love that?
Teammates Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were quick to compliment Fozzy, saying he has a great attitude and fierce work ethic. He’s acclimated to the running backs room nicely, they told me. Mathews added that in the offseason, as soon as Fozzy was signed, he was by Mathews’ side working out with him.
One more Fozzy fact? The guy has a master’s degree in kinesiology. A master’s degree! Two snaps, Fozzy.
At last, Mike McCoy found his best 53 players.
At least for now.
Here’s the vloggy vlog on the roster cuts made today.
I’m a sucker for the enshrinement speeches during the NFL Hall of Fame ceremony. Usually they are full of wisdom, humility, humor and GREAT football anecdotes. I could listen for days about the adversity and the triumph and the “old times” when “Coach Lombardi told us to …” (I mean, Dave Robinson can say that phrase! Come on, that’s awesome) … It’s just a great glimpse into the roots of the game and how some things are SO different today and yet, of course, so eerily similar.
Head coach Bill Parcells entered the Hall of Fame last Saturday, and in his speech, he talked about the locker room. Since many of you will never actually enter an NFL locker room, I thought I’d use some parts of his speech to give you a peek inside, based off my experience with the Chargers.
“[Steve Young] said that the locker room is a great laboratory for human behavior. When he said that, it just kind of hit me. I said, you know what? This guy’s right. This guy is absolutely right.”
Amen, Bill. It is. It’s as if a scientist took a swab of the general male population and then put it under a petri dish for study. Some players are gregarious, while some are quiet and stay turned to their locker most of the time, on their cell phone; some players keep very neat and organized lockers while others have lockers that would make their mothers weep; some guys throw stuff on the floor and let other people clean it up, some find the trash can. That sort of thing. It’s a place of contrasts. You have all kinds of ethnicity, upbringings, weights, sizes, intelligence levels, etc., and somehow they all mesh into one brotherhood because …
“The only prerequisite for acceptance into that locker room is you’ve got to be willing to contribute to the greater good, and if you are willing to do that, you are readily accepted. If you’re not, you’re pretty much quickly rejected.”
Two case studies for this: Manti Te’o (accepted) and Jared Gaither (rejected). ‘Nuff said.
Now we’ve got some rules and regulations in the locker room. But they’re not written down. But after you’ve been there just a couple of days, you know what they are. If someone should deviate and violate those rules, you find out that there is a judge and jury in that room and they act decisively. Their decisions are final, because we don’t have any appellate courts in there. Okay.
I remember last season, when a rookie divulged to the media that coaches told him he would be starting Sunday after an injury occurred to a veteran at his position. He was just being honest. He didn’t technically do anything outside of the rules. Within minutes, another veteran pulled him aside and quickly schooled him on what to say (or not say) to the media before the coaches had officially made their decision. That’s just a small example of how, like Parcells says, there are unwritten rules. Guys are protective of each other and protective of their space, as they should be. It is THEIR SPACE. Us media are just visitors, like guests in a house where we never feel totally comfortable. Because it’s not. your. house. It’s home to the players. It’s business to the media. It’s not a place to “hang out” or plop on a couch (especially females … well, the ones who are professional. That’s another post for another time).
Now we’ve got a wide range of emotions in this place, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve got happiness, we’ve got humor, practical jokes, hilarity, success, achievement.
Ohhh, yes. Especially in football, where losses ache for a week, and players live in a glass house of emotion. A bad practice, a bad play, a fumble, a missed tackle, a mental mistake — All of those contribute to very testy players. Not always, but usually. And you can’t blame them for that, really …I mean, this is their job. Some are more sensitive than others. As a reporter, you have to have tough skin. You can’t take things personally.
There are hilarious moments too … There were a lot of those when Jacques Cesaire and Antonio Garay were in that locker room. Chairs were always being flipped, things were shot across the room and practical jokes were popular. It’s a place where Philip Rivers will blast his iPod and you’ll hear mostly country (including some Taylor Swift … He says his daughter likes it, but you’d be surprised how many guys in that locker room know all the words to Miss Swift’s music) … and then the next day, some hard core rap will be playing and five players will be dancing in the middle of the room.
Then we’ve got that momentary time of exhilaration where you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and I don’t know what happens, but some mystical blood kinship is formed, and although it’s a fleeting moment, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life.
No, Bill. The Chargers don’t know about this magical moment. Trophy? Blood kinship? What?
Now, on the other side of that locker room there’s darkness. There’s defeat. There’s despondency, there’s pain. You see those players carrying those IVs on to the aircraft after a mid-summer or early season game in a hot weather city, and they’re carrying their own IVs on to the plane and the trainers are rushing to pack them in ice, and they can’t sit in their seats because they’ll cramp up, so they’ve got to lay in the aisle. Ladies and gentlemen, they don’t put that on television, but I was there to see it. There is pain. There is injury. There is tragedy, and even death.
Geez, one just has to think about Kris Dielman. Suffered a concussion, kept playing, got on a flight, suffered a seizure. It’s a warrior sport. It’s for warriors. Every time I enter that locker room, guys are bruised and banged up and wrapped with ice packs. I respect their hard work and I feel lucky to have the privilege to watch these players prepare and practice and put it all on the line. Day in and day out, to get a glimpse into their extreme focus, discipline and mental strength, as well as their utter disappointment or exuberant elation … Well, it’s almost like being let in on a secret.
After watching Saturday’s ceremony, I went back and watched Michael Irvin’s speech. Man, I love that speech.
In light of recent news events, I thought what Irvin said here is extremely telling:
We had the best, and I’m telling you the very best, and I’m willing to take an argument with anybody on this, strength and conditioning coach in the world. His name is Mike Warsick. He has six Super Bowl rings. Six, people. Twice he has won three Super Bowls in four years, once with us and now with the New England Patriots. So if anybody wants to take an argument, I am a debater. I am here and ready.
Mike Warsick, you are, man, the very best. You put me back together from that knee injury. As we always tell each other when we say good bye, MissPaw (phonetic), which means may God hold you till we see each other again.
Who thanks their strength and conditioning coach anymore?? I mean, to put him in your enshrinement speech and gush like that?
There have been at least a dozen season-ending ACL injuries in the NFL since the start of this year. Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander is the latest victim. The Chargers alone have had three ACL injuries since May. The season hasn’t even started yet. NOW … These have to be coincidental. There’s no rhyme or reason to the rash of league injuries … Different teams, different coaches, different practice styles, some are veterans, some are rookies, etc. But I will say that, in talking to players throughout the years, there is a limited knowledge of how to take care of their bodies. Some guys know how. Others don’t. Some get complacent over the years. It seems so simple, right? These are professional athletes! But it’s not that simple. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
I leave you with Mr. Michael Irvin, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a few years back. He made quite an impression on me.
Look up, get up, and never give up.