Jeff Saturday reflects on turbulent week, debut as NFL head coach – NBC Sports – Misc.
The week started with the Saturday family at church and relaxing in Georgia. The week ended with Saturday winning his first game as an NFL head coach. We spoke as the Colts’ bus was on the way to the airport in Las Vegas after the 25-20 victory over the Raiders.
A week ago tonight, what were you doing?
Saturday: “I was leaving Monday morning for ESPN, and so I was actually at home … Jim [Irsay] called me and just said, ‘Hey, will you talk to Karen about this? See if you’d be willing to do it?’ He was gonna talk to [GM] Chris Ballard and have the conversation with him. Anyway, I talked to my wife that night.”
What did she think? That it was insane?
Saturday: “She did. Our family motto is, ‘If life isn’t an adventure, it’s not worth living.’ We want an adventure in our life. We teach our kids that. I told her, listen, I’ve been around this game for 25 years, playing, coaching and even more from the media. I’ve never heard of a player having the opportunity to go be a head coach. First of all, I would want it because I love this organization. I care about not only the players and coaches but the organization, right? My adulthood was forged here. It is my home. Indianapolis totally changed the direction of our lives. So how do you say no to this? So I said I’m gonna do it.”
Bill Cowher said this is a disgrace to the coaching profession. When you hear things like that, what do you think?
Saturday: “I respect his opinion, you know? Here’s the thing. God is my defender, man. I don’t have to defend myself. I am absolutely comfortable in who I am. I respect all those guys. Whoever has whatever negative opinion, I can assure you, it’s not gonna change who I am or what I believe I’m called to do. I have no idea, and I still don’t, how successful I’ll be, but we’re gonna work hard at it and I believe I can lead men and lead the staff. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Joe Thomas said of the hire: ‘When you hire your drinking buddy to be the head coach of an NFL team, it’s disrespectful.’ Thoughts?
Saturday: “I had no idea that he said that. I can assure you, I have never gone drinking with Jim. I don’t even know that Jim drinks. I don’t drink very much either. I don’t know Joe. I’m not worried about what Joe thinks about me or anybody else. Like I told you, the Lord will defend. I feel like I’ve been called to do it, so I made the decision to do it. Again, no disrespect to either of those men. They are who they are and said what they said. It will not sway me.”
Do you think we should think of the coaching profession differently?
Saturday: “Yes. Part of the reason why I did accept the job is for that exact reason. I hope that many other former players will get opportunities like I’m getting. I was at ESPN when Aaron Boone was there and then two days later he’s the manager of the Yankees. And basketball right? I’ve watched all these guys get these opportunities. Like I told the team, my leadership is the number one quality. I’ve talked to Tony Dungy, I’ve talked to Jim Caldwell. Those were the two men who led me the most. Both told me to drive into who I was as a player, as a leader of men during those times. Lean on those things that you’re extremely good at. And that’s uniting people. I told the staff and I told the players, my job is to empower them to be the best they can be.
I don’t pretend to be the smartest coach on the staff. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I know football. I’m passionate about football. I study the game. But I will trust the men and empower those men to do the things that they know that they’re called to do. And that’s the job man. That’s the job in my opinion. To this point, that’s been what I have been. I would never minimize how important all of the coaches on the staff are. How hard these guys work, man. The hours they put in and the ideas that they bring.”
Any given Saturday. pic.twitter.com/W9Y3uhXWSW
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 14, 2022
What was it like, going from sitting at home in Georgia one Sunday to coaching on the sidelines the next Sunday in the NFL?
Saturday: “Oh, it was awesome. I enjoyed it. I looked up and laughed a lot. Talked to coaches during breaks. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the moment. But you know what’s crazy? From a player perspective, games don’t feel nearly that fast. Like I literally remember looking up, going, oh my, the game’s already halfway over. Then I blink and the third quarter’s over. I’m like, I think it was two drives. Wow! From a player’s perspective when you’re in it physically, the time of it feels so different. Coaching, I blinked and it was like, we’re in the fourth quarter and it’s time to go. It was awesome man.”
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column
MUNICH—Tom Brady, for at least once this autumn, could smile and mean it.
“That was spectacular,” he told me of the NFL’s first regular-season game on German soil. “I mean, that stadium was rocking. The crowd singing ‘Country Roads’ and ‘Sweet Caroline,’ it felt like it was a Red Sox game out there. It was amazing, the whole experience.”
Forget the Tampa 21, Seattle 16 aspect of the day, and even the season-altering 88-, 86- and 87-yard drives by Brady and the formerly offensively somnambulant Bucs. Think of the day this way: This was a good game—not an all-timer. If it’d been played in Tampa as a Bucs’ home game, people would have left the stadium happy that the Bucs were 5-5, but the fans and the quarterback wouldn’t have had a special feeling about the day, and there wouldn’t have been thousands celebrating a regular-season game for five days here—and I mean celebrating.
Instead, after this city and the NFL put on one of the great shows for a regular-season game ever, Brady walked to the postgame podium and said, “This was one of the great football experiences I’ve ever had.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said: “The fans were extraordinary. Everything about this whole trip has been great. What a spectacle. This has been an unforgettable occurrence.”
And Carroll lost!
The thing is, the 69,811 at Allianz Arena didn’t leave the stadium. They stayed, singing and cheering the players as they left the field, then just hanging out watching RedZone on the big screens and watching a live postgame show on the field. It’s like the fans were really unhappy the game was played in a tidy 2 hours, 48 minutes. “I stayed for an hour after the game,” said Max Lange, the founder of the German Seahawkers fan club. “No one wanted to leave. No matter who won today, it was such a celebration of football. We lost, but I’m so happy. We showed today we can support the NFL at a very high level.”
What a day. This city, and this country, deserve many more.
Now for the story of football, Munich, history and why so many people got emotional about this game.
I took a Munich City Walk Tour Friday morning, listening to a podcast directing me where to walk, when I got to Odeonsplatz, one of the historic squares in the city. This is where Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement had one of its first seminal moments 99 years ago this week, when 2,000 followers marched to the square hoping to overthrow the government; 20 died in a gun battle with government police who held off Hitler from taking power. By 1933, Hitler had that power, and that year he spoke from the steps of Feldherrnhalle, at the far end of Odeonsplatz, to thousands of enthusiastic Germans.
Now, I heard chanting from those Feldherrnhalle steps, with fans wearing D.K. Metcalf and Geno Smith jerseys.
Football fans flooded this area all week, because Odeonsplatz was the site of a big NFL Shop, and on the square, 32 oversized NFL helmets dotted the cobblestones. Kids and families took photos and communed with new friends wearing jerseys of every team in the NFL.
Talk about a juxtaposition. What a difference 89 years makes.
American football, regular-season football, took its latest step in trying to own the world Sunday. The NFL debuted in Germany with Tampa Bay’s win on a pristine, 51-degree afternoon, the first non-soccer event staged in Allianz Arena in the venue’s 17-year history. It took Roger Goodell and Tom Brady to make the Munich city government waive its soccer-only dictum for the famous stadium of FC Bayern Munich, the biggest soccer team in Germany. The city leaders, and the seven FC Bayern players who waited for 40 minutes after the game to meet Brady, are damn glad Brady and the Bucs took their turf for one day.
A few days before the game, Jim Tomsula was educating me on the importance of football in the country. You remember Tomsula. He coached the Niners in 2015, between Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly. Before that, he coached in the old NFL Europe league. Now he’s back coaching the Rhein Fire in Dusseldorf, a northern German city, in the 18-team European League of Football. It’s the Patriot League to the NFL.
“It is pure, and it is awesome,” Tomsula said. “It’s a part of America that people here just love. To people in Germany, football represents the dream of America, and America is still the sparkling star that intrigues the hell out of everybody. With our team, the pageantry just grabs fans. They drink, they dress up, they sing, they chant. It’s a rockin’-ass party for three hours.”
He said people in Germany were blown away that the NFL would send Tom Brady to play a real game over here. I told him that Chicago-based sports consultant Marc Ganis said Brady playing in Germany would be like the Beatles playing in New York in the sixties.
“The comparison to the Beatles is spot on,” Tomsula said. “Sunday will be unbelievable. I’m telling you, people in Germany will cry, they’ll be so happy.”
It was nutty in Munich all week. On Thursday night, ex-Niners and -Lions coach Steve Mariucci, in town with NFL Network, dressed in lederhosen just for fun and drank at the renowned Hofbrau Haus. “I wanna be a part of it!” he said, trying to be heard over the German oom-pah band. The Seahawks bar was overrun with Seattle fans from across the globe, as far away as Australia; many came 5,500 miles from western Washington.
But mostly, this was a national holiday for the fans here, like 38-year-old journalist and Ravens fan Tobias Zervos of Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt. “I like soccer too,” Zervos said. “But in football, the salary cap makes the game more fair. In our Bundesliga, the difference between the top-spending teams and the teams on the bottom is about 250 million euros. I like the fact that in football, more teams have a chance to win the championship.”
Zervos and the German Seahawker fan I referenced earlier, Max Lange, also said putting two games per Sunday on free TV was important; that started in 2015. But the Germans are still struggling to produce a consistent pool of talent. “We need to find our Dirk Nowitski,” Tomsula said.
Germany has produced some big linemen, including former Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer and ex-Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn. Both work as ambassadors for the league here, and as TV commentators on the game. Their origin stories are long shots, which is why the NFL wants to see more club football and flag football programs—both of which are growing here.
Kuhn, by age 14, hadn’t found a sport to his liking until he was prompted to try out for a club football team near his home in Weinheim. As a linebacker and defensive tackle on his club team, he was an all-league player. But then what?
“I wanted to try to play college football,” Kuhn said Saturday. “I thought I might be good enough, but I didn’t know. So my dad and I flew to Washington D.C., rented a car. We didn’t know how the recruiting process worked. I had a recruiting tape, and for two months we just drove down the coast—Liberty, Richmond, William & Mary, North Carolina State. Just showed up at the front door of the schools and said, ‘I’m Markus, I’m from Germany, I play football.’ They looked at me like I was crazy. But I got offered some scholarships. (He took one from N.C. State and played there.)
“Four-and-a-half years later, I’m the first German ever invited to the Scouting Combine. I got drafted by the Giants and played in the league for four years. I accomplished way more in football than I ever thought I would. Now, seeing the growth of the game back home, so many kids playing flag football and loving the game, seeing the growth of the game on TV … Now the NFL sending its biggest star to play a game here.
“Goosebumps,” Kuhn said. “I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it.”
It used to be, until recently, when teams began making marketing agreements with countries around the world, that it was hard to convince teams to play in Europe. No more. After Sunday’s game, Pete Carroll said he hoped the Seahawks got invited back to Germany soon. Carroll is bullish on making football a world game. He told me Thursday he’d love to see each country have a national team, with world tournaments pitting country teams against each other the way soccer and basketball do.
“The world is watching,” Carroll said. “They’ve known about our sport for such a long time. I’ve always imagined someday that American football would be everywhere and there would be people coaching their football team for their country. It’s always been a great spectacle and I love that we’re sharing it with the world now—the stories, the color, the music, the speed, the ferocity. It captures people.”
By noon Sunday, one estimate had 40,000 people tailgating—another thing that isn’t done as enthusiastically in soccer—in the parking lots around Allianz. A Jacksonville-Houston game would have packed in a crowd here, but it was huge that Seattle, appealing because the Legion of Boom at the height of its popularity got lots of these fans to love the game, and Tampa Bay, with the great Brady, were the competitors.
It seemed about a 55-45 Seattle crowd. With a revived Tampa offense giving Brady time to throw—the Bucs finally got Brady some help with a run game that managed a season-high 161 yards on the ground, led by rookie back Rachaad White’s 105—the Bucs broke to a 14-0 halftime lead and held on.
In the fourth quarter, during a break, from out of nowhere, the stadium was filled with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Many of the Americans in the stadium looked around like, John Denver in Germany? Why? Incredibly, as the song reverberated through the place, the fans started singing it. “WEST VIRGINIA, MOUNTAIN MAMA!” Loudly. In tune. The fans knew every word. Down on the field, Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin—a West Virginia Mountaineer himself—began bouncing and dancing to the song, even though the Bucs were in the process of sending Irvin home with a loss.
Cue Country Roads: @NFL in Munich edition 🗣 pic.twitter.com/bGPz9g2KH2
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) November 13, 2022
“Why ‘Country Roads?’” I asked Max Lange afterward.
“We play it at parties all the time,” he said. “We love it. All those songs they played—‘Sweet Caroline,’ ‘Hey Baby.’ Those are party classics in Germany.”
A stadium in Munich, reverberating with 69,000 singing a song extolling the virtues of West Virginia. You learn a lot at the first NFL game in Germany.
The NFL agreed last spring to stage four games between 2022 and ’25 in Germany—two in Munich, two in Frankfurt. “I wouldn’t be surprised to expand beyond that,” Roger Goodell said Saturday at a fan event. There are growing indications that two prime fan favorites in Germany—Kansas City and New England—both could serve as home teams for games in 2023. The league is working with the Bundesliga, the German soccer league, on dates because the games come in the middle of the Bundesliga season. But I heard at least one of the games and perhaps both would be held in Frankfurt.
Interesting to see the cooperation between the NFL and the Bundesliga. What’s in it for the German league? A couple of things—help for some German teams’ American “friendlies” in the off-season (such as Bayern Munich’s August game in Green Bay) and technical support in advanced analytics. The NFL has shared Next Gen Stats technical support and player-tracking data with the Bundesliga.
Next year is the AFC’s turn for teams to have nine home games, so the NFL will use AFC teams to be home teams for international games. The NFL has raised the prospect of a team or teams in Europe permanently—Goodell said a four-team division one day is possible—but that’s very unlikely in the near term. The NFL doesn’t want to expand from 32 teams, and there’s not a single team that appears close to wanting to move. “The more likely outcome is having more games over here,” said Vollmer, who lives in Florida but commutes here for football.
Sunday’s game, Vollmer said during the week, “is the next big step. It won’t be the last.”
The NFL will play games outside of England and Germany at some point; Miami could play a game in Brazil or Spain in the next three or four years. The Rams are bullish about playing in Australia one day. But clearly the horizon with the biggest upside is Europe. There were journalists from 22 countries credentialed for Sunday’s game, including 18 in Europe (Croatia, Serbia, Portugal), with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Denmark was here. Danish reporter Kasper Skipper from TV2, the NFL rights-holder there, covered the game. I asked him about football in his country.
“It has a following in Denmark,” Skipper said, “but it’s not quite [team] handball or badminton.”
Well then. The NFL has some work to do in Scandinavia. But they’re in pretty good shape in Germany.
“Thank you for hosting us,” Brady told the German media after the game. “Everybody who was a part of that experience has a pretty amazing memory for their life.”
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column
FMIA has partnered with NFL Next Gen Stats for a deeper look into one story each week, using motion and speed trackers on players all over each NFL field — including Justin Jefferson’s remarkable catch.
This note is why you should value the contribution of NFL Next Gen Stats to the discussion of the intricacies and appreciation of how difficult football really is. (Hat tip here to Conor McQuiston of Next Gen for his work on the numbers in this section.)
The catch Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson made at the two-minute warning in Buffalo Sunday—Bills up 27-23, fourth-and-18, game on the line on this single play—is one of the best catches in NFL history. Impossible to downplay. The Bills, trying to keep hold of a narrow lead in a suddenly hard division. The Vikings, trying to show they can beat a power team on the road, with a quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who hadn’t inspired confidence in monumental spots like this one.
“Before we left the huddle,” Jefferson told me from the locker room in Buffalo, “Kirk said to me, ‘Hey, I might just throw this up to you.’ Kirk knew. We just needed to make something happen.”
He’s right. The old cliche among quarterbacks and coaches is, “Hey, what play you got in the gameplan to convert a fourth-and-18?”
None. Of course. So Cousins, and good for him, just figured he was out on the playground and looked at the best player on the field and said, You and I are going to make something happen.
The crazy thing is, this could have—should have, probably—been an interception. Bills safety Cam Lewis was breathing down Jefferson’s neck, behind him around the Buffalo 40-yard line. When the ball was in the air, Next Gen calculated the probability of Jefferson making the catch at 28.8 percent. Honestly, watch the play as Lewis and Jefferson each go up for it. Lewis has two hands on and appears to be coming down with the interception, ending the game. Then, as the two men come to earth, Jefferson’s brute strength takes the ball one-handed out of the grasp of Lewis, and as Jefferson falls, he cradles the ball and completes the catch.
Joe Davis, on Fox: “OH MY GOODNESS! JUSTIN JEFFERSON PULLED IT IN! THE CATCH OF HIS LIFE!”
JUSTIN JEFFERSON WITH ONE-HAND 🤯 pic.twitter.com/3wLjjXYcWH
— PFF (@PFF) November 13, 2022
“I felt how close [Lewis] was,” Jefferson said. “I knew it was going to be a battle for the ball. On plays like that, I don’t remember exactly what happened. But I’m going up, I’m going to fight for the ball. That’s my ball. Since ninth grade, those are the balls I think I should catch. I’m just happy Kirk trusted me and put the ball up for me to catch.”
It wasn’t just that catch that Next Gen found unlikely. Nine of Jefferson’s 10 receptions had less than a 50 percent chance of being caught by him. No player in the seven-year history of Next Gen analyzing every catch in the NFL has made nine catches in one game with less than a 50-50 chance of being caught.
Two other things: Jefferson said “probably” that was the best catch of his life—and he’s been a high school, college and pro wide receiver for 10 years. (I should hope so.) And the NGS data on Jefferson’s day is worth noting. He had 106 receiving yards over expected yardage on the day.
Jefferson is such an impressive receiver. Historically impressive too.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column