Jeff Pearlman

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The Redskins sign Mark Sanchez

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Place: Washington Redskins team headquarters.

Time: Sunday evening.

Setting: Bruce Allen, team president, sits behind a desk. Eric Schaffer, senior VP of football operations, stands to the side. As does Doug Williams, the acting senior VP of player personnel. Jay Gruden, the head coach, enters with a distressed look on his face. They have just learned that Alex Smith, starting quarterback, has broken his leg and is gone for the year. They need a replacement. Quickly.

Allen: “Well, we’ve gotta get a quarterback in here ASAP.”

Gruden: “Colt can start next week. He’s fine. But we’re thin behind him. Who’s available?”

Schaffer pulls out a list and begins to read off names. “Well … Nathan Peterman is a free agent.”

The room erupts in laughter.

Williams: “How about Kaepernick?”

Schaffer: “E.J. Manuel is home doing nothing. T.J. Yates—also out there.”

Williams: “How about Kaepernick?”

Allen: “I think we should sign Brandon Weeden.”

Schaffer: “He’s with the Texans.”

Allen: “What?”

Schaffer: “Yeah—he’s their backup.”

The room erupts in laughter.

Williams: “How about Kaepernick?”

Daniel Snyder, the team owner, walks in.

Snyder: “What’s Testaverde up to?”

Allen: “He’s 55 years old, Dan.”

Snyder: “But that arm!”

Williams: “How about Kaepernick?”

Schaffer: “I know Sam Bradford is waiting by the phone.”

Allen: “That’s not a terrible idea.”

Snyder: “Paxton Lynch?” Matt Moore? Josh Johnson”

Williams: “How about Kaepernick?”

Williams: “Seriously, how about Kaepernick?”

Williams: “Seriously, how about Kaepernick?”

Awkward silence.

Snyder: “Doug, can you do me a favor? I think I left that thing on your desk. Can you grab it for me real quick?”

Williams: “What thing?”

Snyder: “You know … the bur,dhsjalslsls … thing.”

Williams: Um … sure.”

Williams leaves the room.

Snyder: “There’s no fucking way we’re signing Colin Kaepernick.”

Allen: “Of course not.”

Schaffer: “Of course not.”

Snyder: “Silly negro.”

Williams returns, holding a pencil.

Williams: “Is this what you wanted?”

Snyder: “Oh, um, eh, yeah. Thanks Doug.”

Snyder stares at a list of names.

Snyder: “Soooo … Mark Sanchez it is!”

This is just wrong

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I don’t think Donald Trump should be president.

I don’t think the Mets should have fired Willie Randolph.

I don’t think Billy Joel needs to be performing every month at Madison Square Garden.

These are debatable positions. But here’s one that is not: Pickles do not belong in vending machines. They just don’t. And when I walked through Atlanta’s airport this morning, and stumbled upon the above scene, well … no. No, no, no, no, no. Just wrong.

Now that the elections are over; now that the Mueller Investigation seems to be nearing a close; now that Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young Award—I have a new cause. And I’d like you to join me. We must cross the United States and, one machine at a time, replace bagged pickles with cookies or crackers or even used shards of hardened gum.

Anything.

But no pickles.

McDonald’s, some hamburger buns, a man with a broom

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I’m sitting inside a McDonald’s in Atlanta. A few moments ago a bunch of high school-aged kids were in a nearby booth. They were joking, laughing, playing music.

They left some buns on the floor.

A man walked by with a broom. He’s wearing all black, with his hood up. I’m sure, once upon a time, he too was a kid in a booth at a McDonald’s. We’ve all been there. Young and innocent and self-absorbed, goofing with friends as fries soar through the air. We never think we’ll be pushing the broom. We never even think about pushing a broom.

Then, one day, we look back. Lines crease our foreheads. Our backs ache. We have bills to pay and burdens to carry.

We regret the hamburger bun under the table.

So the Red Roof was a mistake

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Flew to Atlanta last night for book research. Paying for the trip myself. Went cheap and got a room via Travelocity at the (egad) Red Roof Inn Plus in Buckhead. It was $68 a night. Seemed fair. I mean, it’s a Plus.

There was one catch—I flew the red eye, so my flight landed at 6 am. That’s why I reached out to the hotel and told them I’d be getting in early in the morning; that’s why I booked it for the previous night. So they’d have a bed where I could crash.

Anyhow, landed after 15 minutes of sleep. Taxi ride sucked. Dropped off at the Red Roof lobby.

“Your room won’t be ready until 3,” the guy said.

“No,” I said, “I booked for two nights so that …”

“You’re late,” he said. “We gave your room away.”

I’m standing in a lobby.

No car.

Bags.

I plead with the guy. “I e-mailed you!” I say.

He looks at the computer before him. “I don’t have you,” he says.

“Do you have ANY rooms?” I say.

“No,” he said. “We’re sold out.”

“Are there any other hotels nearby?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “But they’re all sold out.”

He is cold and oozing 0% empathy. Which is fine. He’s probably tired and worn down, too.

I grunt. Open the door to leave. Scream, “Fuck!” Seemed appropriate. It’s drizzling, and I’m walking somewhere. Down a drive. Somewhere. I see a Hampton Inn across the street. Surely there are no rooms. Or I couldn’t check in until 3. But I approach. I am greeted at the front desk by Nerie. She is a young woman with a warm tea smile and long, precisely manicured nails. She sees my pained expression.

“I’ve had a rough morning,” I say.

She has one room. It’s a double, but she can get it to me for $150. I can check in immediately. She shows me where the coffee is, where the breakfast is. She is the face I need to see at this moment.

The end.

With Lionel Simmons, La Salle legend.

David Grzybowski

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Even though this site draws a large number of sports enthusiasts, there’s a solid 79.3 percent chance you’ve never heard of Tom Gola.

That’s OK. The former La Salle men’s basketball star was drafted into the NBA 63 years ago. And while he was a three-time All-American and five-time All-Star, the black-and-white footage and oft-grainy video clips hardly lend themselves to OOH! and AAH! and WHERE CAN I BUY MY GOLA JERSEY? Plus, Tom Gola died four years ago in relative silence. He was a star whose star had faded. Or, put differently, he was a product of a bygone era of basketball, and oftentimes bygone errors are (sadly) forgotten.

That said, Gola’s life story is riveting and unique, and the subject of Mr. All Around: The Life of Tom Gola, a new book from today’s Quaz, David Grzybowski. And what fascinates me—truly fascinates me—is the idea of undertaking a project of this magnitude, when it’s not an obvious seller. What I mean is, the vast majority of my books have been about large topics with immediate PR energy. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Brett Favre. They’re names, and even if they’re not 2018 names, well, they’re close enough.

And that’s why I love having David here. Because he did this purely out of love and respect for a man whose legacy deserves to be passed forward and kept alive.

So if you’re a fan of strong writing powered by high integrity, today’s Quaz is all you. One can follow David on Twitter here, and visit his website here.

David Grzybowski, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dave, I’m gonna start with a blunt one. You devoted much of your recent life to writing the biography of a man most people have never heard of. I mean, I’m a sports writer and I had to Google “Tom Gola.” So—I ask with respect and admiration—why?

DAVID GRZYBOWSKI: I am a proud La Salle University alum. I covered the La Salle men’s basketball religiously (No pun intended) during my four years in Philadelphia. Before La Salle had their Sweet 16 run in 2013, I interviewed Gola for our student newspaper, The Collegian. I kept in contact with the Gola and his family when I graduated and someone told me “someone should write a book about Tom Gola”. I thought about it and here were are.

I think Gola’s story is so fascinating from multiple angles. He succeed in everything he did in the same city he was born and raised in: Philadelphia. He won the 1952 NIT championship, the 1954 NCAA championship, lost to Bill Russell and the San Francisco Dons in 1955 in the NCAA championship game, won the NBA championship in 1956 with the Philadelphia Warriors, became La Salle men’s basketball head coach in the late 60’s and had a brief stint in Philadelphia politics.  He is the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history and will forever hold that record. His story needed to be told and I’m ecstatic to be the person to do so.

J.P.: I feel like every book project comes with a money reporting story—about finding someone, about tracking someone, about a gem. What’s yours?

D.G.: When I was researching this book I never heard of the “1964 Behind The Iron Curtain tour” before. It was kind of the dream team before the dream team if that makes sense. The tour consisted of NBA players from the United States playing against other countries’ top basketball players in Poland, Romania, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. The team was coached by Red Auerbach and had players such as Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit and Tom Gola.  (Each of these players would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.)

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With Lionel Simmons, La Salle legend

J.P.: I also feel like every book project comes with severe letdown and disappointment. A moment of rejection, of doubt, of despair. What’s yours?

D.G.: I really wanted to interview Bill Russell for this book. He was such a big part of the 1955 season when La Salle faced the San Francisco Don in the NCAA championship game. I tried multiple times to find a way to snag an interview from him, but failed. I also tried to interview K.C. Jones, but had no success as well. One of my favorite interviews was with Bob Knight. He left me a voicemail and I was so nervous to call him back. Nonetheless, it was a great interview and Gola was one of Knight’s heroes growing up. I interviewed close to 125 people for this book.

J.P.: So your background is TV—you worked for WPHL in Philly, WNCN in Raleigh. And there’s a lot about television news I hate. The mad dash for bloody stories, the “We only have a minute left, so tell us …” lead-in to questions, the fake nods, the push for clicks. Tell me why I’m wrong, or right, about the medium.

D.G.: I worked in the TV business for almost five years and I am not the biggest fan of “hard news”. I was always the reporter to pitch feature, exciting and happy stories rather than death/destruction type of stories. The fake nods crack me up, but its so common that you actually do it by accident. I still think TV stations need to invest more into digital rather than worrying about who is watching TV at 5pm or 11pm. I believe stations need digital/social media reporters where they are consistently pushing out content nonstop throughout the day from a news desk on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Not just clicks for the website, but actual studio social media production content.

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Tom Gola

J.P.: You covered Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to America. What did that entail? What was it like? Are you hoping for something you can’t get? Is there a goal with that sort of coverage?

D.G.: Covering the Papal visit in September of 2015 was the highlight of my television career. I think I did close to 25 news stories prior to the arrival of Pope Francis. My goal was to tell unique stories surrounding his arrival to the city. I did a neat story on a company called Bleacher Creatures, a plush doll company in Plymouth Meeting, PA where they sold over 1 million units of their “Pope Francis plush doll”. When he came to Philly my assignment was to cover his arrival at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City Philadelphia and a last minute visit to Saint Joseph’s University. I was literally 20 yards from Pope Francis as he was talking to students and blessing a statue. It was a great moment!

J.P.: You interviewed Tom Gola in 2013, a year before he died. What were the circumstances? How was that arranged? And what was the experience like?

D.G.: I found out that the schools University archivist, Brother Joseph Grabenstein, had a relationship with Tom Gola and I asked to met him. Gola was not in the best state of health at the time, but I managed to get a lot of great quotes out of him that day. It was a great experience meeting Gola that day. Crazy how that meeting eventually turned into a book.

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J.P.: Your book is being released by Temple University Press. How did that happen? What I mean is, how did you land the deal? What was the process? And why them?

D.G.: Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer, Mike Sielski suggested me reaching out to Temple University Press for this book. It was a perfect match. A Philadelphia basketball book teaming up with a Philadelphia based publishing company. I actually wrote the book first and then presented the book to Temple Press. It was a great relationship working on the book with them. They were so accommodating working with a first time author.

J.P.: You say you’ve been working on this for five years. That makes my head explode. Like, what does that mean? Five years feels like forever in research world. Five years?

D.G.: If you breakdown the book process it really took about three years or so to finish Mr. All-Around: the Life of Tom Gola. This book was kind of my side hustle for such a long time. I am not a full-time writer, so I didn’t focus on it every day. Writing the book and working in the TV industry was a hard combination, but I got it done. I always admired guys like Seth Davis and Ernie Johnson, who had job 1A and also came out with books on the side. I say five years, because I did start it in November of 2013.

J.P.: So Tom Gola is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He played at La Salle from 1952-55, then had a terrific NBA career. And I ask this is the very literal sense: If we take Tom Gola from 1955, literally transport him to 2018, is he an NBA player? Is he a Division I college player? Who is he?

D.G.: I think Tom Gola would fit into the 2018 NBA game. He was averaging nearly triple doubles every night while playing in the NCAA from 1952 to 1955 and he absolutely is a Division I college player too. I think Gola’s game is similar to a Draymond Green or Ben Simmons type of player. A triple double waiting to happen who can do anything on the court. Bring the ball up, rebound, defense and a decent shooter.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DAVID GRZYBOWSKI:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Speedy Morris, Cardi B, William & Mary, Whole Foods, gratuitous cursing, name tags at work, World B. Free, Lindsey Graham, bacon, French accents, William Hurt: Speedy Morris, Whole Foods (highly recommend their tacos!), bacon, Cardi B, name tags at work, World B. Free, French accents, William & Mary, William Hurt, Lindsey Graham.

• Five greatest women’s basketball players in La Salle history: Cheryl Reeve ( Current WNBA Minnesota Lynx head coach), Jennifer Cole, Chrissie Donahue, Amy Griffin, Crista Ricketts.

• Three greatest moments of your life: In no order: Meeting/marrying my wife, Jodi. (Met at La Salle University) traveling with the 2013 La Salle Explorers on their Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament and writing/finishing this book.

• Four memories from your senior prom: I had a very boring senior prom to be honest. I remember having a last minute date a week before senior prom. I’m confident my dancing skills are top notch though.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Bobby Cox? What’s the result?: HAHA! Bobby Cox is a legend.

• The Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2020 is …: Corey Booker?

• How do you snap out of writer’s block?: Literally don’t write. It’s that simple. I think I went two or three months at one point without writing or researching for the book. Sometimes you have to just put the project on hold for a second to collect your thoughts and regroup.

• Why doesn’t humanity do everything it can to mitigate the impact of climate change?: Climate change is a real problem. I think people will continue to ignore it, until climate change smacks us all in the face one day.

• Best advice you ever received: Put blinders on! Worry about what you can control and out work everything one else. My mentor Steve Highsmith (longtime Philadelphia broadcaster and voice of annual Philadelphia Mummers Parade told me that) Things start to click in your life/career when you focus on what is in front of you.

• This is my all-time favorite song. Thoughts?: HAHA! Nice! Everyone has a different taste, right? My jam right now is anything Lauren Daigle! I came across her when I was living in Raleigh, NC. Check it out.

The weirdest gaggle of people

I am coward. Hear me (not) roar.

I am coward. Hear me (not) roar.

So in case you missed this, my guest on the latest episode of the Two Writers Slinging Yang podcast was Melissa Schuman, the former Dream singer who has accused a member of the Backstreet Boys of sexual assault. You can listen here.

It’s been a fascinating follow-up, in that there’s this legion of largely anonymous women who are A. Convinced Melissa is lying; B. Determined to make it clear—via anonymous social media posts and the #HiSSideToo hashtag—that Melissa is lying; and C. Love the Backstreet Boys.

And while A and B are, eh, confounding pursuits, C strikes me as the weirdest of all. I mean, I get one having once been 12 and falling in love crush with a Backstreet Boy or two. Right? Good-looking fellas. Famous. Excellent haircuts, fashion-forward wardrobes, spanning the world. Again, as a kid who once worshiped at the shrine of Whitney Houston, I understand.

But then … you grow up. You mature. You attend middle school, followed by high school and (quite often) college. You look back and think, “Hmm, that was quaint.” The Backstreet Boys didn’t write their own lyrics or music. They played nary an instrument (Enter Backstreet Diehard: “I’ll have you know, Kevin played guitar on Track No. 6 of …”). Their vocals were dubbed, then dubbed again and again. When singing live, they depended on piped-in music and pre-recorded sounds. The sentiments expressed via pained and heartbroken and amorous glances were manufactured. None of it was real. Which is fine. That’s the very nature of pop music, and why it appeals primarily to those yet to fully develop their emotions.

At some point, you move on. You discover the Rolling Stones, or Vic Mensa, or even Beethoven. Your loyalties fade. It was a thing. A fun thing. But just a thing.

Or not.

•••

People are allowed to not believe someone.

What I’ll never understand, though, is the need to prove someone is lying about being raped (when you weren’t there, and have no idea) … all because you love the Backstreet Boys. It’s warped, but warped on crack and tequila.

Among the points made about Melissa are:

• She’s in it for fame.

• She’s changed her story myriad times.

• She followed Nick Carter on social media—and why would you do that if he raped you?

• She’s said nice things about him.

And, indeed, perhaps she’s lying. Perhaps there’s big incentive for gaining fame as a rape victim, because what better line to top a resume? But here’s my biggest issue with these (largely anonymous) dolts: The exact same points they make here have been made against victims of rape and sexual assault for years. Over and over and over and over again. The story has changed. There’s financial incentive. She wants to be known. Seriously—Google this shit. The playbook is worn and tired. And it’s maddening, because everything they say has been explained repeatedly by actual experts who understand rape and the aftermath.

But that’s not good enough. It’s never good enough. Because Nick Carter couldn’t possibly rape someone. Look, he’s sensitive. And funny. And, oh, so cute. And so what if he’s been accused of sexual assault once before? So what? She was lying, too. Because Nick … well, have you heard Nick sing on “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely”? God, he’s so perfect.

Final thought: Perhaps Nick Carter is (in his mind, at least) innocent. Perhaps what she now deems rape he read as consensual sex. Perhaps this is all bullshit and nonsense. Being serious—maybe that’s the case.

But who are you (and who would I be?) to say someone is lying about being raped? Again, it doesn’t mean you have to believe a person. But to say Melissa Schuman is, factually, creating a fake sexual assault is … well, an impossible argument. We weren’t there. You weren’t there. It’s no different than the defenders of Jerry Sandusky or Brett Kavanaugh, certain in knowledge that they can’t be certain of.

So love the Backstreet Boys.

Love Nick Carter.

But don’t act like you know the truth—when you can’t possibly know the truth.

PS: And for Christ’s sake, if you’re gonna OPENLY ACCUSE SOMEONE OF LYING, AT LEAST HAVE THE FUCKING DECENCY AND COURAGE TO PUT YOUR REAL NAME BEHIND IT. FUCKING A.

“If you buy a box of cereal — you have a voter ID.”

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In an interview with the Daily Caller from earlier today, Donald Trump said one needs to have a voter ID to buy a box of cereal.

Which is true, if you’re buying a box of cereal while also buying a gun in the state of California while carrying several bags of weed.

Otherwise, you’re good.

Seriously, I keep waiting for the conman president’s followers to wake up and see “He’s one of us” means “He’s a fucking buffoon who doesn’t know shit.” Or, “Jesus Christ, you mean when you’re raised with a silver spoon in your mouth you never actually go to the grocery store.”

That said, I love Honey Nut Cheerios.

And if I need a government-issued ID to buy a box, well, sign me up.

The ungifted

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I took the above image last night. The kid on the right is a ninth grader. The kid on the left is my son Emmett.

He’s a seventh grader. He’s wearing a Doug Williams Oklahoma Outlaws jersey. He’s of average height for his age, but the rec league he plays in runs from grades six through nine.

I digress.

Emmett is an average athlete. Like, textbook average. He’s a slightly above-average distance runner, a slightly below-average baseball player. He’s of moderate speed and strength. He digs sports, but isn’t passionate about sports. He’ll never be a jock, but—I hope—he’ll be the guy who can comfortably jump into a game of pickup, and go out for a four-mile jog and not feel particularly winded.

I sat and watched his practice yesterday evening, and it was as expected. Dribbled into corners. Missed open cutters.

But there was this one thing.

This one brilliant thing.

When shots went up, he immediately found the big kid and boxed him out. He planted his feet, firmed his knees, leaned his torso into the giants. This happened again and again and again, and afterward my kid—red-faced from exhaustion—raved of the experience. “I like that challenge,” he said. “Me against the giant.”

What more could I ask for?

Brian Hughes deserves your respect

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Because we’re so busy talking about orange presidents and angry first ladies and congressional races and Vince Carter’s survival and Eli Manning’ decline and the 15th anniversary of Jay-Z’s “The Black Album,” we tend to overlook things.

Like the death of Brian Hughes.

I wouldn’t have known of this had it not crossed my Twitter feed two minutes ago.

Hughes, 33, died earlier this year fighting the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite. He was struck by a tree and killed on impact. The captain of an elite team of experienced firefighters called the Arrowhead Hotshots (those are the men and women who head straight into the heart of the blaze), Hughes left behind a three-month pregnant wife who should be delivering in the coming weeks.

There’s a GoFundMe Page.

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Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life