Sporting events might just be the only authentic reality television. The personalties, athletic ability, competition, story lines and lack of a predetermined outcome captivate fans and audiences worldwide.
Historic rivalries provide some of the best drama sports has to offer. At a certain point, attempting to find new ways to spin old stories can become a bit tedious for writers, reporters and producers of sports content.
NFL Network recently found a brand new way of examining one of the NFL’s most popular modern rivalries, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.
One could easily argue that this isn’t quite a rivalry at all considering opposing quarterbacks never set foot on the field at the same time, but the games between Brady’s New England Patriots and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts (and now Denver Broncos) have given us suspenseful pleasures for more than a decade.
Before proceeding, you should know that I worked for NFL Network as a production assistant for nearly two years, and Anthony Smith, an NFL Network features producer who created the network’s latest series about Brady v. Manning, is a good friend of mine. That said, it never hurts to give credit when and where it’s due.
"The Rivals" is a multi-part video series that chronicles not only the history of Brady v. Manning, but also, examines the heart and soul of great rivalries, as told by several of the modern era’s biggest sports rivals.
"The concept came about this summer during a brainstorm for the current season," Smith, in his eighth year at the network, tells PepperOnSports.com.
"I was looking at a way of telling the Brady-Manning story in a way that I hadn’t seen yet."
"The Rivals" roster is long and accomplished as the following athletes participated in the series:
Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer
Bill Walton & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Goose Gossage & Carlton Fisk
Jimmie Johnson & Jeff Gordon
Martina Navratilova & Chris Evert
Pete Sampras & Andre Agassi.
"Pitching the project to the rivals was pretty easy. All of them immediately understood what the project was looking to accomplish," says Smith.
"All of these athletes are sports fans. And all of them followed the NFL, with the exception of Andre Agassi who was up front and honest about that."
Watching and listening to sports titans talk about their career rivals within the context of Brady and Manning is a treat for any sports fan, regardless of one’s familiarity of the historic rivals. “If you don’t know, now you know.”
One of my favorite lines in the series comes in the Bill Walton vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar episode when Walton says of Abdul-Jabbar, “that guy’s left leg belongs in the Smithsonian.”
It is rare that athletes are given the opportunity to discuss peers in other sports. The group chosen to participate in “The Rivals” legitimately loves the sport of football, and Brady v. Manning.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the vast football knowledge of all of them," says Smith.
The episodes debuted on the web and were shown during various televised programming on NFL Network in the week leading up to Broncos v. Patriots in week 12 of the NFL season.
I’d bet most of the “The Rivals” participants watched Sunday night’s instant classic that will undoubtedly find a place in rivals lore and further the legend that is Brady v. Manning.
I think it’s safe to say that Tucson will be one wild town tonight. Congrats Cats! Arizona 42 Oregon 16.
If you are receiving this email, that probably means we are pretty good friends. Since we are pretty good friends, you probably know that I grew up going to a sleep-away camp because I talk about it all the time.
"This one time, at camp…"
Here goes my attempt at somehow expressing the importance and impact of Camp JCA Shalom in my life while keeping this email from becoming a novel. Wish us both luck.
I attended my first session of sleep-away camp as a 7-year-old in the summer of 1991. I guess that one week was fairly awesome since I never looked back, and have kept camp in my life ever since.
As an only child at home, my counselors (teenagers whom at the time, I thought were for sure, super old…like, 25) took on the role of older sisters and living in a cabin with 15 other girls taught me about sharing and the dynamics of living with people other than my parents.
While I always had a lot of friends in school and daycare, I was constantly teased about my height (lack thereof) and weight (too much of). For reasons I still can’t quite understand, this was never an issue at camp. Not only was I accepted for who I was and what I looked like, but I was celebrated for it. Aside from relationship building, camp challenges kids and teens to step outside their comfort zones and try new things and activities. After camp, I took the confidence I gained back to school with me, along with new friends which grew my social group every year.
Over the years, I have watched countless kids who were outcasts at school transform into superstars at camp, carrying that fortitude and spirit out of Malibu and right back into daily life at home and school. On a personal level, the encouragement and confidence instilled by my camp experience has undoubtedly helped me not only to succeed in my career as a television sports reporter, but more importantly, to refuse to give up despite several failures and the constant rejection that comes along with the entertainment business.
After seven years as a camper, I wanted to give back to camp by becoming a counselor, and eventually, the teen program coordinator (TASC unit head). In my six summers as a staff member at camp, I “cured” homesickness, wiped away tears, removed splinters and bee stingers, helped kids navigate through divorce, depression, health problems, body issues, death and abuse at home, worked with special needs campers, provided unconditional love and support for kids who “came out of the closet” to me, and created programs about racism, social justice, tolerance and genocide in various parts of the world.
Also during that time, I wore a chicken suit while serving as the camp mascot, led 5-mile hikes from the mountains to the beach, donned a Sumo suit and wrestled other counselors, wrote songs and skits, made countless friendship bracelets, swapped outfits with my teen campers (girls and boys!) for camp dances, repelled down a cliff and through a waterfall, surprised my deserving staff with food and other treats from “the outside world,” and created programs about friendship, peace, love, and of course, the Beastie Boys.
At age 30, the majority of my closest friends are people I met at camp. More than 40% of campers currently attending Camp JCA Shalom are doing so on scholarship. Without the generosity of camp alumni and donors, those kids and teens could not afford to have what could be the best experiences of their lives. When I watch stories on the news about mass shootings, or young people who commit suicide, it pains me to think of how things might have turned out differently if they would have had the type of support and community provided by the sleep-away camp movement.
This is the time of year when Camp JCA Shalom holds it’s annual Gala fundraiser. If you feel compelled to do so, I kindly ask that you contribute to Camp JCA Shalom in one of three ways, all of which, are tax deductible.
1) “Straight cash, homie!” A standard donation of any amount is welcome. Yes, even $5 would be greatly appreciated.
2) Purchase a raffle ticket with a grand prize 7-night luxury vacation (need not be present to win). Click this link or email me for more info
3) Come hang out with all us camp folk at the Shalom Institute Gala on Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. Click the link or email me for more info.
If you choose to support camp in any of the ways listed above, I ask that you please do so “in honor of” of Barri Worth, who is one of my closest friends and one of three Gala honorees. Barri and I met as bunkmates in cabin G-3 in 1992 and remained co-campers for years before going through the CIT (counselor in training) program together, and eventually becoming co-counselors.
Barri is an incredible woman and generous member of society who in her spare time supports many causes, charities and various communities. Barri has also chosen a career public service in which she served for several years in the Los Angeles Mayors’ office, and now, works for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. If you could name drop her upon donating, I would greatly appreciate it.
I can’t put into words what Camp JCA Shalom has meant to me and how fondly I remember hundreds of the counselors, campers and experiences I’ve had there over the years.
Thanks again for reading my schpiel!
'91-'99 camper, CIT 2000, staff '01-'05 and again in 2011.
The NFL hasn’t exactly provided a wealth of positive stories over the past several days. From the alleged bullying saga in Miami, to health scares for both the Broncos and Dolphins head coaches, professional football has left us little to smile about as of late.
Leave it to original Houston Texans offensive lineman Chester Pitts to neutralize some of the negativity, as he and other current and former Texans players will drive senior citizens to the voting booth on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Literally.
Pitts, who retired from the NFL in 2011 and now works for local television station KPRC in Houston, is joining forces with the Harvest Community Center for the second consecutive year in helping the elderly members of his community to vote.
Last year’s event went so well that Pitts decided to do it again, and not just in light of the Houston mayoral race, the fact that the elderly are often an infringed voting group, or because it’s a mitzvah. But also, because old people are awesome.
"Seniors, you can learn so much from them and just being around them for the length of time we were, was an amazing experience," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com.
"Their gracious attitude told me this was something I had to keep doing."
Joining Pitts behind the wheel of several large passenger vans that will shuttle seniors from various community centers to the polls will be current Texans offensive linemen Duane Brown and Brandon Brooks, as well as former Texans defensive lineman Travis Johnson and former Houston Oilers receiver, Haywood Jeffries. Johnson also participated on election day last year.
Tuesday will be the Texans first day off since a demoralizing Sunday Night Football performance in which the team gave up a 21-3 first half lead over the Indianapolis Colts, ultimately losing at home, 27-24 and dropping their season record to 2-6. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field during halftime with a still unknown medical condition. It’s pretty cool that despite a trying season thus far, some of the Texans are willing to give up what little free time they have to help out strangers within the community.
"There is no responsibility for professional athletes to do this," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com.
"But as a professional athlete you are a role model and I believe you should always do what is right. Helping others, especially our seniors is always important and as long as I am able, I want to do just that."
Pitts says that as a media member, he has approached different players about helping out with the event in the locker room following Texans games. He hopes player involvement will increase each year.
(photos courtesy of Chester Pitts)
(Top photo, Pitts and Brown. Bottom photo, Brooks and Pitts)
Goodbye, St. Paul. It was fun talking Olympic hockey with the crew, Zach Parise & Gary Smith.
Attended the premiere of fellow sports reporter Angela Sun’s outstanding new documentary “Plastic Paradise.” It was eye-opening and will change the way you use plastic. It’s a Must-see film and I couldn’t be more proud of Angela. What an inspiration!
Scott Niedermayer interview. Captain of gold medal-winning Team Canada 2010, Ducks coach and Champion of all things hockey
Mike Eruzione, nearly 34 years after scoring the game-winning goal vs the USSR… Miracle On Ice.
Dodger stadium got loud when the @dodgers scored. Too loud, according to Scott Van Slyke.
Set your DVR - Showbiz Tonight, on HLN at 8pm PST / 11pm EST. We’re talking serious sports issues…Bob Costas v. Redskins and Adrian Peterson playing after the death of his young son. We even had a little fun talking our casting choices for the 50 Shades of Grey movie (hence the smiles). Should you miss the first run, the show re-airs multiple times tonight.
Dodgers Are Heading To The NLCS…But Did You See Puig Dance?
The Dodgers are heading to the NLCS for the first time since 2009, and the city of Los Angeles is going berserk. Perhaps the craziest, most enthusiastic of us all is Yasiel Puig.
Before calling up the young phenom to the majors in June (BP), the Dodgers were 23-32 and on the brink of collapse. After the 22-year-old Cuban arrived at Chavez Ravine (AP), the Dodgers went 69-38, finishing the season with a 92-70 record.
That’s right folks…
Not too shabby. But the Wild Horse -a nickname bestowed upon Puig by legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully- is good for so much more than just baseball.
Not only is Puig stellar at spraying celebratory Champaign, but my gosh, does he have some incredible dance moves. And by incredible, I mean, well…see for yourself.
This isn’t Puig’s first time out on the dance floor. If you recall, Puig busted out "The Worm" and channeled his inner Soviet solider after the Dodgers clinched a playoff berth at Chase Field (resulting in pool-gate).
Even if you aren’t a fan of the Dodgers, how can you not root for more of this?
Another episode of “Going Roggin” on NBC is in the books! Tune in at midnight on Sun/Mon as Fred, Jeff (Power 106) and I talk paying college players, Lakers v. Clippers, who is to blame for the debacle that is the Anaheim Angels, sports agent Jay-Z’s drug dealing past, WNBA v. Disney on Ice and more!
Legendary Dodgers Broadcaster Vin Scully Pays Tribute To Todd Helton
What a season it has been for Major League Baseball. An antiques roadshow of sorts, featuring some of the game’s most-respected veterans, has served as a reminder of just how great these men were for the game, before they ride off into the retirement sunset.
Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte. Todd Helton.
Like Rivera, Helton managed to play for just one team over the duration of his big league career, which in this day and age, is a nearly impossible feat. In 17 seasons playing first base with the Colorado Rockies, Helton won the NL batting title once, earned five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger awards and three Golden Glove awards. Not too shabby.
The accolades are not lost on Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who, having worked in the Dodgers booth since 1950, has seen his fair share of baseball. Yep, that’s 63 years. Point being, when Scully takes the time to create a video tribute such as the one which aired during Saturday’s game between the Rockies and Dodgers (the final game of Helton’s career), that should tell you something about Helton’s place in baseball history.
Making the gesture even sweeter? The fact that nobody can tell a story like Vin Scully. In his tribute to Helton, Scully reminisces about Helton’s short-lived college football career, playing backup quarterback at the University of Tennessee. In Helton’s junior year, the Vols starting QB went down, thus Helton’s name was called. Helton only lasted three weeks before injuring his knee and being replaced by a then-true freshman named Peyton Manning.
Yes, by way of injury, Todd Helton gave us Peyton Manning. Thanks Todd! And perhaps had it not been for that knee injury and Manning’s dominance, professional baseball would never have known Helton. Thanks Peyton!
Anecdotes aside, Scully appeared truly touched and emotional in his tribute video to Helton, saving perhaps his best compliment for last, weaving words in only the way only Scully can.
"On behalf of all those Dodgers pitchers you mistreated for so many years, have a wonderful life after baseball."
NFL Concussion Diary: Jermichael Finley
Scary. Great Idea. Important.
Scary: The helmet-to-helmet hit that left Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with a concussion, and symptoms for everyone in the stadium and watching on TV, to see for themselves. After receiving the blow to his head (delivered by Bengals safety George Iloka in the Week 3 match-up in Cincinnati), Finley unsuccessfully attempted to jog to the sideline, only to hobble and wobble around the field before eventually falling back to the ground. Finley’s inability to maintain his balance after the hit was reminiscent of the career-ending concussion suffered by former San Diego Chargers offensive lineman Kris Dielman in the 2011 NFL season. The difference then was that despite Dielman’s obvious concussion symptoms, he continued to play the rest of the game against the New York Jets, before having a seizure on the team flight back to San Diego.
Luckily for Finley, the league’s stance on head injuries has changed in the last two seasons, thus he was pulled from the game immediately following the play in which he was injured.
Great Idea: Finley posted a video on his personal website detailing not only the play in which he suffered the concussion, but also how he felt at that moment physically and emotionally. Seemingly with great honesty, Finley takes us through his concussion journey from before it even began, to present day. Most professional sports teams are so “hush-hush” when it comes to injuries that solely naming body parts have come to pass as actual information. Left arm, right leg, abdomen, etc. Finley gives us the play-by-play, straight from the horse’s mouth, which is brilliant.
The video not only gives fans an up-close look at what a player experiences when the brain is injured, but Finley’s account of the team trainer’s immediate insistence that he be pulled from the game tows the company line, proving the NFL’s dedication to the players’ best interests.
Important: Concussions and brain injuries have come to the forefront of NFL media coverage in the past year, specifically due to the recently-settled lawsuit brought by former players suffering brain injuries against the NFL, and the many stories emerging of former players with clinical depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, and those who have taken their own lives.
That said, many current athletes in contact sports at best, admit to pushing such concerns to the back of their minds, and at worst, wear the delusional cloak of invincibility, believing that the worst occupational hazards only happen to other people.
In Finley’s case, he tells his concussion story so matter-of-factly, almost as though it was indeed something that happened to someone else, until he recalls one anecdote in particular. It was when Finley’s 5-year-old son told him, “Daddy, I don’t want you to play football anymore,” that the blur of just another workplace injury focused into a sharp reality.
Ugly conditions in Washington, but the helmets sure look neat, reflecting the field and stadium lights during the Huskies game versus the Arizona Wildcats.