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Get to Know Your NFL Coaches! (While You Still Can)

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Not football. But still totally binge-worthy.

Do you ever get completely obsessed with something that’s a major timesuck but it’s so fascinating you can’t help yourself? Like bingewatching Netflix. Or working out. (Not.)

This is what happened when I started to do a quick update on the latest NFL coaching hirings/firings. Because a head coach’s demeanor and philosophy are critical components of an entire team’s success, and they often have some or all power over policies and decision-making, it’s helpful to know who leads and where.

But as I researched, I realized these guys are really fascinating. For example, one grew up in a rival team’s city. Some played pro in Canada but most didn’t play pro at all. One preferred lacrosse, and another was drafted for pro baseball. One sold roofing supplies. Another was an Eagle Scout. Two have suffered the loss of a child.

Soooo, here is the latest list of head coaches, along with some interesting factoids. Read on to learn a little more about these (usually) heroes at the helm…

(* indicates new for 2015 season, # indicates still vying for this year’s title).

Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians. Named 2012 AP Coach of the Year as an interim coach for Indianapolis when he took over for head coach Chuck Pagano, who had been diagnosed with leukemia. Arians himself is a prostate cancer survivor.

Atlanta Falcons: Vacant

Baltimore Ravens: John Harbaugh. Brother of Jim Harbaugh, who was just released from the San Francisco 49ers and hired by his alma mater, the University of Michigan as the highest-paid college coach ever. John and Jim played one another in Super Bowl XLVII (the one where Beyonce allegedly caused a power outage).

*Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan. Fired by the New York Jets, Ryan merely moved upstate one week later. Known for being gregarious and having teams with defensive prowess. Son of former Philadelphia and Arizona head coach Buddy Ryan, and fraternal twin of New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Uses color-coded playbooks to help with his dyslexia and underwent lap-band surgery in 2010 to combat obesity.

Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera. Of Puerto Rican/Mexican heritage, he is the fourth Latino to be an NFL head coach (following New Orleans’ Tom Fears, Oakland/Seattle’s Tom Flores and New Orleans/Indianapolis’ Jim E. Mora).

Chicago Bears: Vacant, possibly former Denver coach John Fox

Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis. He is the second-longest tenured coach (2003) behind New England’s Bill Belichick. Holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in athletic administration from Idaho State. Member of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XXX team that lost to Dallas.

Cleveland Browns: Mike Pettine. Finished his first season as the Browns’ coach 7-9 despite (or because of?) having Heisman winner “Johnny Football” Manziel for his rookie season. Brian Hoyer, however, was named the starting quarterback.

Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett. Despite losing on a controversial call in the playoffs to Green Bay, Garrett was just signed to a five-year contract extension for $30 million. Attended Princeton and Columbia for undergrad.

Denver Broncos: Vacant

Detroit Lions: Jim Caldwell. Hired in 2014, he is the first African-American coach for Detroit, finishing 11-5 regular season. In 2009, became head coach of Indianapolis and led team to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl appearance (loss to New Orleans). His 14 wins are a NFL record for the best start by a rookie head coach.

#Green Bay Packers: Mike McCarthy. Began his career in hometown of Pittsburgh at University of Pittsburgh, working part-time on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Father was a Pittsburgh policeman, firefighter and bar owner. One of five children. Has led Packers to top-10 finishes in scoring for seven straight seasons (2007-13), joining New England as the only other team to do so. Became the first Packers coach since Vince Lombardi to lead the team to a championship game in his second season (2007).

Houston Texans: Bill O’Brien. A risk-taker, took reins in 2014 of the NFL’s worst team, finishing with winning 9-7 record after coaching two winning seasons at Penn State, on NCAA probation after the Sandusky/Paterno child sexual assault scandal. Named 2013 college coach of the year.

#Indianapolis Colts: Chuck Pagano. Known for ability in the secondary and to stop opposing pass attack. Named Colts head coach in January 2012, then was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia in September. Relinquished coaching duties to Bruce Arians but is now in remission. Players and even two cheerleaders shaved their heads as part of the CHUCKSTRONG campaign. Brother of San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley. Real name is Paul. Youngest of six kids. Played college ball at North Dakota State and was member of 1988 Division II Football Championship team. Earned his bachelor’s and master’s there. Spokesperson for the Ashley Furniture HomeStores Hope to Dream program which provides beds to underprivileged children.

Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid. Attended BYU and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Coached Philadelphia for 14 years and was fired at end of 2012 season. Next hired by the Chiefs, received a standing ovation when Kansas City played at Philadelphia the following season. (Chiefs won 26-16). Like Bill O’Brien, Reid inherited a godawful team and led it to a 9-0 start, a tie for best start in franchise history. Lost his oldest son Garrett to a heroin overdose in 2012.

Miami Dolphins: Joe Philbin. Only played one year of college football (Washington & Jefferson College). Previously spent nine years on Green Bay staff. During his four years as offensive coordinator, Packers offense ranked in NFL top 10 for points scored and total yards. Father of six children, lost son Michael, 21, to drowning in 2012.

Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer. In high school in Peoria, Illinois, earned all-conference honors in football, baseball, and wrestling. Ended 2014, his first season with the Vikings, 7-9, the best record for a first year head coach in the franchise since 1992. Son Adam is the current Vikings linebackers coach.

#New England Patriots: Bill Belichick. Longest-tenured active NFL coach. His three Super Bowls are more than any other active coach. Father Steve was an assistant football coach at the Naval Academy. Lacrosse was his favorite sport as a teen athlete. Fined $500,000 for his alleged role in filming an opposing team’s defensive signals (“Spygate”), the largest ever levied on a coach in NFL history.

New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton. Suspended entire 2012 season for alleged knowledge of “bounty” scandal in which players were paid by coaching staff to injure opponents. Played semi-pro football for the Chicago Bruisers and Pittsburgh Gladiators arena teams and the Leicester Panthers of the UK Budweiser National League. As member of New York Giants staff, landed on September 11, 2001 at the gate next to United Airlines Flight 93, which was later hijacked and crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

New York Giants: Tom Coughlin. Set Waterloo, NY High School’s single season touchdown record at 19, which still stands. Inaugural head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Led team to two AFC championship games. Known as a stern disciplinarian and for meticulous attention to detail.

*New York Jets: Todd Bowles. Former player for eight seasons, primarily the Washington Redskins, and started in Super Bowl XXII. In his most recent job as Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, he led the top-ranked run defense in the league in his first year. Played college ball at Temple under head coach Bruce Arians, also the Cardinals head coach.

*Oakland Raiders: Jack Del Rio. Hired January 14 to replace the fired Dennis Allen and interim coach Tony Sparano. Coached Jacksonville from 2003-11 without winning a division championship, the longest tenure of any coach. Standout in football and baseball for University of Southern California. Voted MVP of 1985 Rose Bowl. Batted .340 as college catcher with future MLB stars Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire. Drafted by Toronto Blue Jays but did not sign.

Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly. Known for uptempo spread offense. Rumored to stay on top of his players’ nutrition, even changing menus for meals to healthy options. Previously led University of Oregon into becoming perennial powerhouse. One of only three current NFL coaches who hold either the title or powers of a general manager, along with New England’s Bill Belichick and Seattle’s Pete Carroll.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin. First African-American coach in Steelers history. At age 42, he is the second-youngest head coach in the NFL (San Diego’s Mike McCoy is the youngest). In 2009 he became the youngest NFL coach ever to win a Super Bowl. Specializes in defense. Majored in biology at William & Mary, where he was a standout wide receiver/tight end.

San Diego Chargers: Mike McCoy. Born just two weeks after the Steelers’ Tomlin, McCoy (April 1, 1972) is the youngest NFL head coach and second-youngest head coach in all major American pro sports. Played QB at Long Beach State until school discontinued its program. He transferred to Utah as a backup, but threw a game-winning pass in the final minute of the 1994 Freedom Bowl for a win over Arizona. Played two years in the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders.

*San Francisco 49ers: Jim Tomsula. Promoted from defensive line coach after Jim Harbaugh’s departure. Previously coached NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire to a 6-4 record in 2006. Was named 49ers’ interim head coach in 2010 after Mike Singletary was fired. Won first and only game 38-7 over Arizona. Began his career as a strength and conditioning coach at Catawba College (NC) in 1989.

#Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll. Current Super Bowl title holder. Of Irish and Croatian descent. When he couldn’t play pro level, he sold roofing materials in the Bay Area. Holds a master’s in physical education. Successful coach at University of Southern California (USC) until Heisman winner Reggie Bush and others were found to have accepted gifts from agents and the school was sanctioned heavily by the NCAA. Carroll then departed for Seattle under suspicion. Known for being positive “players’ coach.”

St. Louis Rams: Jeff Fisher. The longtime Tennessee Titans coach was famous for his “mullet.” Played for the USC Trojans 1978 national championship team. Son Brandon is assistant for the Detroit Lions. With Titans, reached Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 but with no time left fell one yard short of at least tying in a 23-16 loss to the Rams, where he would next coach. In 2014 earned acclaim, and some criticism, for drafting Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player. Sam was eventually cut.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith. Highly respected African-American coach spent most of his career as head coach at Chicago, but began at Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy. Eventually in Super Bowl XLI, Smith became the first African-American head coach in the event followed just hours later by…Tony Dungy, now with Indianapolis. It was also the first Super Bowl with two black head coaches. Smith is named for his great aunt, Lavana.

Tennessee Titans: Ken Whisenhunt. Former Arizona head coach from 2077-12. An offensive specialist. Earned degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech. Eagle Scout. So good at golf (65) contemplated playing professionally. In 2012 guided Cardinals to the first 4-0 start since 1974; then endured a nine-game losing streak. Titans finished 2-14 this year.

Washington Redskins: Jay Gruden. Younger brother of former Tampa Bay coach and Super Bowl winner Jon Gruden. Other brother James is a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic. First stint as a head coach. Known as a quarterbacks expert, though this was the position where the Redskins struggled most in 2014, Gruden’s first season. Four-year starter at QB for Louisville. Played in European and Arena Leagues, named MVP as QB for AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm in 1992.

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Mullets Grow. Can Character?

Sadly the drugs aren't why I wear my hair this way.

Sadly the drugs aren’t why I wear my hair this way.

It may be true that “cheaters never prosper,” but in sports this week, they did gain a little ground.

Now, to no surprise, none of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa even came close to being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. All have confirmed or alleged use of steroids to thank. (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Jon Smoltz and Craig Biggio did get the nods.)

And in the world of mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, crowned just last Saturday with a unanimous win over nemesis Daniel Cormier (even their press conferences become octagons), tested positive for cocaine metabolites and entered rehab.

On the other hand, a baseball signed by six of the eight players involved in the 1919 Black Sox cheating scandal, most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, will go on the auction block beginning Monday for a $100,000 starting price, along with two other items from what may be the most famous gambling gambits of all time: during the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, eight White Sox players were accused of losing games intentionally for money from gamblers. Although they were acquitted in court, all eight were banned from baseball for life. Their story was the inspiration for a number of books and movies, particularly Field of Dreams.

And finally, the brash-talking, muscle-flexing, mullet-wearing 80s football sensation Brian “The Boz” Bosworth was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame, despite admitted performance-enhancing drug use and an NFL career that was at best injury-riddled and at worst, one of the sport’s biggest flops. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, currently serving a five-year NCAA penalty for failing to report players’ impermissible benefits, was also allowed in. (Ohio State seems to have recovered, too; they play Oregon for the national title Monday night.)

So what’s the moral? Cheaters have a chance? Football is more forgiving? I don’t know. Mullets eventually grow. Maybe character can too.

Sports Numbers You Need to Know

Simply the best.

Simply the best.

So in honor of Derek Jeter’s historic sendoff last night, I thought I would compile a quick list of these sports stats and numbers you often hear in bar conversations, on Sports Center, and even in rap songs (scroll to :46 for a Jay-Z reference to #5).

So here is a baker’s dozen (and just a FEW–bear with me, I’m writing this on a coaster), so please feel free to comment with other biggies.

I’m listing the numbers first for a little quiz fun, then scroll down for the answers.

Let’s go!

1 — 2

2 — 12th Man

3 — 60 feet, 6 inches

4 — 23

5 — Game 6

6 — 42

7 — 17-0

8 — 158.3

9 — 100

10 — 99

11 — 2,131

12 — 18

13 — Oh let’s go for the baker’s dozen: 1,098. Now you may scroll….

**********************************************************************

1 — Derek “Captain” Jeter, Yankees shortstop for 20 years, retiring after 2014.

2 — Slogan (with a super cool history) of Texas A&M and Seattle football (and a host of others), meaning the crowd’s noise and support as the additional team member to the 11 on the field.

3 — Distance from professional pitcher mound to home plate.

4 — Michael Jordan’s jersey number.

5 — Famous 1998 NBA Finals game between the Bulls and the Jazz; Bulls won 87–86, their sixth NBA Championship in eight years. It was also the final game with the Bulls for Jordan and coach Phil Jackson. It earned the highest TV ratings of an NBA game of all time. Jordan hit a jump shot with 5.6 seconds left to put the Bulls on top for good 87–86.

6 — Jackie Robinson’s jersey number – first African-American to play in Major League baseball.

7 — Final 1972 record of the Miami Dolphins, still the only fully undefeated NFL season.

8 — A “perfect” passer rating for a quarterback’s game. Stat is calculated using a player’s passing attempts, completions, yards, TDs and interceptions. NFL rates QBs from 0 to 158.3. College football uses a different formula and ranks from -731.6 to 1261.6. (Shrug.)

9 — Number of points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single game in an NBA win over the Philadelphia Warriors, 169-147, on March 2, 1962. (Another key number: 20,000, the number of women he claims to have bedded.)

10 — Wayne Gretzky’s jersey number, the first ever to be retired league-wide by the NHL.

11 — Number of consecutive games played by the Oriole’s Cal Ripken to surpass Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record (2,130).

12 — Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major championships.

13 — Number of all-time wins by Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, before retiring in 2012 due to dementia. She is the only coach in NCAA history, and one of three college coaches overall, with at least 1,000 victories.

Good Guys Do Finish First. Even if Overshadowed by the Worst.

Beamer, Benz or Bentley? Mazda.

Beamer, Benz or Bentley? Mazda.

So this week the Baltimore Ravens finally released Ray Rice for literally knocking the flipflops off his fiancée in a casino elevator (and TMZ became a reputable news outlet).

This after months of other NFL suspensions for pot, PED’s, and a little Percocet promenade by a team owner. NOT to mention Roger Goodell et. al. imposing sentences for these infractions that would give you whiplash (2 games-4 games-6 games-8, what don’t fans appreciate? Arbitrary penalties, that’s what.)

So for some relief, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me their favorite football players—no, any athletes—who demonstrate the good, honest, charitable side of sports–and just human nature. And they delivered (pro wrestlers! Woot!).

By the way, I’m focusing only on the fellas here, not because women athletes don’t have legal issues (Hope Solo, come on, honey), but it’s the gentlemen who have dominated the police blotters of late.

So here, in no order, are just a FEW gallant guys who are using their athletics platform (or just plain old good hearts) to make the world a place of shiny, happy people holding hands, not punching women with them:

Grapplers Giving Back
The longtime WWE favorite “Mankind,” Mick Foley, now donates hours lobbying against sexual assault with the group RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). John Cena has granted more than 400 “wishes” for the Arizona Make-A-Wish Foundation, making him the current record holder.

Stop or I’ll Shaq!
Countless NBA players have or support charities—James, Jordan, Battier… But as the kid of a homicide detective, I find it quite touching that Shaquille O’Neal has applied to become a reserve police officer in Doral, Florida—a job he did once before in Miami 2005. That’s 7-1, 325 pounds of serving and protecting.

Feel-Good Football Players
I’ve written before about St. Louis’ Scott Wells and his three adopted Ugandan children. Now I have to give a nod to my Redskins, particularly Darrell Green, whose name was mentioned a LOT today. Not only an amazing athlete and Hall of Famer—maybe the best the nation’s capital has ever seen—but a true philanthropist, founding or supporting children’s charitable organizations, September 11 relief, education efforts and numerous boards and councils.

That said, I find running back Alfred Morris pretty awesome just for driving, still, his 1991 Mazda 626 that he bought for $2 from his pastor. OK it’s been fully restored, but it’s nice to see a player keepin’ it real.

Many friends like Holly Peterson Linder and Michelle Burstion Young pointed out not just one player but the entire Bengals organization not only for keeping defensive lineman Devon Still on the practice squad after being cut, but donating all proceeds from the sales of his jersey to pediatric cancer research. His daughter Leah is in Stage 4 with a 50-50 chance of survival. The good news is at this time his jersey is the highest selling Bengals jersey ever.

Don’t Mess With Widows
As for hockey, a classic name came up today. Mark Messier has served on a number of boards, including the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, and the Tomorrow’s Children Fund, as well as helped bring more ice rinks to the city. The NHL created the Mark Messier Leadership Award in his honor.

But most important, says my friend H. Paul Brandes, “Leading the Rangers to their only Stanley Cup in my lifetime should be considered a charitable act in and of itself.”

Children’s Home…Runs
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw received rousing votes today from Vin Scully cousin Patti Shea and others, and it’s easy to see why. He and wife Ellen raised money to build an orphanage in Zambia and he recently hosted a massive ping pong tournament on the field of Dodger stadium as an ongoing part of “Kershaw’s Challenge.” He has already received the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award for his humanitarian work – Cy Young is probably next, for, you know, like garden variety pitching and stuff.

The Phillies’ Chase Utley and wife Jennifer work closely with animal causes like the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and encourage people to adopt pets, not buy.

The Rays’ Evan Longoria is a downright superhero here when he saves a reporter from a stray ball.

I also still love how the Mets’ Daniel Murphy missed opening day this year for the birth of his son, despite some announcers’….different (dumbass) views of paternity leave and C-sections.

And finally, my friend Jeff Jackson sums it up: “Real athletes don’t tell everyone the good things they do, they just do it! Derek Jeter!”

Yes indeed, Shortstop, Number 2, Derek Jeter. Number 2.

PS – some of the honorable mentions today: Tiger Woods; Ole Miss’ Deterrian Shackelford; Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf; Brandon Marshall; Russell Wilson; Warrick Dunn; Caron Butler; Andrew Luck; Mary Lou Retton; Joe Torre; Albert Pujols; Serena Williams; Ryan Zimmermann; Ted Williams; Stan Musial; Mario Lemieux; Jacob Tamme; Brett Keisel; Kenny Perry; Vincent Lacavalier; Brooks Laich; Nicklas Backstrom; and duh…OVIE!

What Manziel and Morris Day Have in Common

It was amazingly easy to find a volunteer for this photo. Thanks?

It was amazingly easy to find a volunteer for this photo. Thanks?

Well Johnny Manziel, after being fined $12K for flipping the bird to MY Washington Redskins during Monday Night Football this week, you can take heart that you are in some pretty historic company making that gesture.

And I must admit, having tossed up a few “salutes” myself over 20 years of Washington DC traffic, I got to thinking “What does the bird mean anyway?” (Besides a really awesome Morris Day and the Time song.)

Dating back to ancient Greek and Roman cultures, not surprisingly, “the finger” means a phallus, and the two fingers on either side, the testicles. In fact, whether Latin, Greek or otherwise, the etymology almost always means sexual affectations.

In other words, with the exception of those who showed the sign as a way to thwart evil, you silly boys haven’t changed one bit in 3,000 years. Classical scholars such as Aristophanes, Erasmus, and Diogenes Laertius referred to it; today, Madonna, Ronald Reagan, Johnny Cash, Ron Artest and Justin Bieber have publicly let their finger flag fly.

The gesture is reputed to have arrived in America after the Civil War, likely through Italian immigrants. It wasn’t long, however Johnny, before athletes found it useful. The first documented use of “read between the lines” appeared around 1886 by baseball player Old Hoss Radbourn, a pitcher with the Boston Beaneaters—he definitely did it in a photograph (top row, far left); allegedly it was to send a message to their rivals, the New York Giants.

So that’s something you can think about, Johnny Football, as you’re sitting the bench in the #2 spot for Cleveland. You are in good company, sure, but next time, when you have yet to take a single snap in a real NFL game as a starting quarterback, put your money where your finger is.

Oh wait, you just did.

Why Nothing Good Happens to Black Women in Elevators

Come on, everyon knows this is how girls fight!

I didn’t mean it–everyone knows this is how girls fight, anyway!

So after a rambling on-air deconstruction of the woman’s role in the Ray Rice domestic violence case and suspension, ESPN “First Take” commentator Stephen A. Smith has been suspended himself.

While the majority of the public, including his ESPN colleagues, loudly condemned the NFL’s pitiful punishment of benching Rice (who knocked his fiancee unconscious in a casino elevator then dragged her by her hair) for only two games (guys who smoke marijuana get more), Smith used his platform to dance around then eventually land on his point: that women should avoid provoking men to attack them.

A week after he made his points, and, to be fair, several apologies, the network suspended him for a week. Whether that includes pay is unknown.

Naturally the social media universe lit up over Smith who, unlike the more jovial natures of other ESPN anchors, tends to play the “angry black man” shtick, and much to his favor–he has 2 million Twitter followers.

Meanwhile, tart-tongued badass Michelle Beadle, host of ESPN’s “SportsNation”—herself a victim of an abusive relationship—had a few things to say to her colleague via Twitter:

Twitter_MichelleDBeadle_So_I_was_just_forced_to_watch_..._-_2014-07-30_11.24.20She also tweeted that she does agree men and women can be the attackers. For example, Beyonce’s sister Solange Knowles made international news three months ago when elevator footage turned up of her attacking brother-in-law Jay-Z. It’s still unclear what the fight was about, but if that was “provocation,” Jay-Z handled it correctly by walking away.

(I’ve never been sure exactly what Solange does, but I don’t think she got suspended from it.)

So here’s the thing. I don’t think Smith meant that women are at fault for being attacked; I do think, however, his comments blabbed out from a longtime unconscious belief in men, and some women too, that women play an equal role in an abuse situation by what they wear, what they say, what they drink, or yes, even their physical actions. That by being female, we must be aware at all times of our power to seduce–sex or trouble–a belief expressed more outwardly in many other cultures in which women are closeted, under clothes or literally, at best, and persecuted or killed at worst.

In other words, sometimes our unconscious beliefs can manifest themselves into dangerous realities for those perceived physically (or mentally) smaller and weaker.

Or darker. A recent study shows that people, including medical personnel, assume black people feel less pain than white people. Why? Because they have been through more hardship.

So similarly, while on some level crediting blacks for their suffering, we use it against them in a “well they knew better” manner.

The good news, I think, is just what a ruckus this has all raised. I’m actually pleased at the comments I’ve heard from local and national commentators who came down on Roger Goodell and the NFL and didn’t take the sensationalized way out Smith did, perhaps thinking it would get him more attention.

Congrats, Stephen A. It did.

He’s Here. He’s Queer. Rams Show No Fear.

Even the truest fans will admit the NFL Draft can be a drawn-out dog and pony show (just where the dogs and ponies are the size of T-Rexes). People will watch maybe the first round to see where the best-known college players wind up, but tune out once the marquee names are called.

Sam. I. Am.

Sam. I. Am. Who are you?

This was not the case in 2014, when the “most-watched draft ever,” according to ESPN, had more drama than a “Real Housewives” catfight.

First, there was the suspense over who would be the very first picks—specifically Texas A&M quarterback and 2012-13 Heisman winner Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel.

But a defensive player got the nod from Houston as first pick overall: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, best known for one of the most exciting hits ever made in college football.

And Johnny Football? He waited. And waited. And waited. Even the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was rumored a lock, passed. Manziel finally found his new home with Cleveland in the 22nd Round.

The story took another interesting turn the following day, when it was announced the Browns’ top receiver Josh Gordon faced a season-long suspension for marijuana use. The other Browns receiver, Nate Burleson, currently has a fractured arm. So the beleaguered Browns fans, who have had only two winning seasons since 1999, will have to wait and see.

But like any good reality show, the biggest story of all came at the very end. Missouri’s Michael Sam, Defensive Player of the Year for the Southeastern Conference (SEC, considered the most competitive college league) would seem a sensible early-round pick.

But Sam is also openly gay. And his February NFL Combine performance—where potential rookies demonstrate their speed and strength in really tight underwear—was also lacking. Sam became the first SEC defensive player of the year since 2006 not to be taken in the first round. His Missouri teammate Kony Ealy was chosen in the second round by the Carolina Panthers.

Was it his performance? Was it his sexual orientation? No one knew for sure as round after round went by, and Sam waited by the phone.

In the seventh and final round, finally the call came. Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th pick overall—and the first ever openly gay professional football player. He nearly collapsed with emotion as he cried and kissed his boyfriend on national television. Other ESPN cameras showed fans at gay bars celebrating. (I sense a Saturday Night Live skit coming on this one.) Only seven more players were chosen, then the draft was over.

Coincidentally that night, the Brooklyn Nets’ Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, shared his support of Sam, then helped the Nets defeat the Miami Heat in a playoff game. Social media also went bonkers for Sam with celebrities, new teammates and respected athletes showing their support, including Deion Sanders, hall of fame Rams running back Erick Dickerson, and President Obama.

“I’m using every ounce of this to achieve greatness!!” tweeted Sam.

But he wasn’t completely nice.

“I knew I was going to get picked somewhere,” he said. “Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback.”

Will he make it? Who knows. Just being drafted does not guarantee you a spot on the 53-man roster. And last season’s Miami Dolphins bullying scandal shed light on what might really go on behind locker room doors, even among straight players.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher fully supports Sam, noting that the Rams actually signed an African-American football player a year before Jackie Robinson entered major league baseball. Fisher believes the Rams, near Columbia, Mo. where Sam went to college, are the perfect fit and does not expect tension.

“We’re in an age of diversity,” he said. “Players understand that. They know that.”

Had Sam not been drafted, he could have signed as a free agent and attended a team’s training camp (roughly a third of NFL players last year were undrafted).

But the fact that he was drafted—even though so late in the draft I expected Jeff Probst to pop out and issue Sam some “Survivor” challenge—it’s a good sign the NFL can overlook the possible distraction his sexual orientation may cause and focus on the skills Sam, and eventually others like him, bring to the rainbow-colored table.