By Mike Shalin
HAPPY Super Bowl Sunday, everyone!
As you dig in to your chicken wings and nachos, consider this: Jimmy Garoppolo is the starting quarterback in the Super Bowl. OK, he’s the other starting quarterback in the Super Bowl, but he’s there — and he brings a record as an NFL starter of 23-5 into the game.
Tom Brady, once Jimmy G’s mentor, is not in the Super Bowl. Instead, he’s in limbo, doing things like posting strange pictures of himself in a tunnel as if to say he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going.
Basically, that’s the case. And the longer this thing drags on — OK, it just started — the more you start thinking of TB12 as a Tennessee Titan. Or a Las Vegas Raider (yes, that’s a thing now).
Where Brady works in 2020 is far important to the average New Englander than what happens on the field Sunday night. Sure, it’s the Super Bowl. Sure, it matters who raises the flag on the 2019 season. But the combination of the Patriots not being in the BIG GAME, plus the Red Sox not having a manager and perhaps trading their best player, plus Kobe Bryant‘s death, plus … etc., has lowered the interest rate around here to one of the all-time lows, right?
Face it, if there was a Patriots or Red Sox press conference at 6:45 Sunday night, most of you would gladly change the channel.
Where will TB12 wind up?
“I truly believe that he deserves the opportunity to go explore, to see what’s out there,” Rob Gronkowski, who knows a thing or two about leaving the Patriots, said this week. “I mean, he’s been playing for so long, and just the way that he’s been playing, just the level he’s been playing at, he definitely deserves an opportunity to go out there and test the market. I mean, why wouldn’t you?”
The big fella is right. Thing is, though, we still don’t know if testing the market will truly be Brady’s choice. Does he want to be a 42-year-old quarterback (43 by next season) looking for work?
As far as Brady wearing another uniform, Gronk said, “If you see a player play on a team for 10 years and go to another team, it’s always strange at first. But everyone gets used to it after a little bit. But it would definitely be strange if that happens — for a couple weeks, it may be strange. But everyone adapts, like any other time it happens.”
We covered some Wil Myers stuff here the other day as Myers may or may not be coming to Boston in a Betts deal. Now, on to Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers prospect in the middle of all this torture for Red Sox Nation.
Last year, in a season cut short by an oblique injury that may threaten him being ready for Opening Day, Verdugo, who will be 24 in May, played 106 games with the Dodgers, batting .294 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs.
The kid is not a slugger but is a prospect.
Last year’s Baseball American Prospect Handbook called Verdugo, “the purest hitter in the Dodger system with a simple, balanced swing.” They also questioned his “slow motor” and in conclusion said, “Verdugo has the potential to be a high-average, moderate power outfielder like Nick Markakis, but only if he improves his effort.”
David Ortiz, speaking to NBCSports Boston, chimed in. “Here’s the thing. My boy Mookie is at the stage of his career where he has to get what he deserves. The Red Sox, we have a very high payroll and I don’t think our owner wants to go past that. I trade him. I will get young talent (and) you will get whatever you want with Mookie. Unfortunately, that’s the baseball business.”
Rafael Devers has settled the whole Red Sox 2018 cheating thing, telling the Boston Globe, “We didn’t cheat. We have a lot of talent. We don’t need to cheat, and we became champs without cheating. They can continue investigating, but that’s why they haven’t found anything, because we didn’t cheat.”
The tributes continue to pour in, and the words of Jerry West “I don’t know if I can get over this, I really don’t,” still resonate.
Friday night, the Lakers finally played a game at Staples Center and emotional doesn’t even begin to cover the atmosphere.
The crowd, given Bryant shirts left on their seats (Kobe and Gigi’s courtside seats were left open and honored with jerseys and flowers) was also treated to watching some of the stars carrying on Bryant’s legacy.
The Trail Blazers won the game, with Damian Lillard, the superstar folks never talk about, continuing an incredible run by scoring 48 points to go with 10 assists and nine rebounds. Anthony Davis had 37 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in the loss. LeBron James, after delivering an emotional pregame speech, had 22 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, but shot just 9-for-22.
While a distraught Carmelo Anthony didn’t make the trip because he wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional event, Hassan Whiteside, one of the truly neat stories in the league this year for Portland, scored 30 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots as his career reclamation continued.
While all this was going on, down the road in Anaheim, Ducks goalie John Gibson debuted his new mask, a tribute to the Bryants and all the victims of last Sunday’s crash.
Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett, known as the “Maple Mamba” because of his Canadian roots, says, “I don’t want to get called that anymore. Somebody great like that, to lose him in that way is really sad. Even to this day you just think about it and it keeps replaying in my mind. It’s tough.”
• Bob Costas, asked if the Astros’ 2017 title was tainted, said, “Absolutely. It’s seriously tarnished.” He compared it to the Patriots gone too far. …
• Joel Embiid wore No. 24 to honor Bryant and scored 24 points, naturally. …
• The Bruins should do whatever they have to do to pry Chris Kreider from the Rangers – if, of course, the Rangers are trading him. …
• Hall of Famer Jayson Stark‘s in-depth Athletic piece tells us the Astros reduced their strikeouts by a record 365 from 2016 to ’17. And the drop percentage was much higher at home. But the ’Stros won 53 road games that season, so there’s that. …
• Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Kyrie Irving after Bryant’s death: “I think it tremendously affected. I don’t want to speak for him, I think he was closer to Kobe than people realize.” …
• The Red Sox equipment truck leaves for Florida on Monday — always an event but this year shrouded in uncertainty. …
• Column pal Gethin Coolbaugh is in Florida for his first Super Bowl, working for AP Radio. The fact he loves him some Niners makes it more special. …
• Justin Verlander didn’t do himself or his teammates any favors last weekend when, speaking at the New York Baseball Writers’ Dinner, he said, “As everybody knows, (the Astros are) very technologically and analytically advanced.” Not sure what he meant, but retiring Yankee CC Sabathia, whose team lost to Houston in ’17 and ’19, also on the dais, was ticked. On a podcast, Sabathia said, “(bleeping) ’17, we should have won the World Series. I don’t care what nobody says. And now that this happened, nobody can ever (bleeping) tell me that we wasn’t gonna win it. We should have won! There’s no way you can tell me we weren’t better than them. I don’t give a (bleep) what nobody says.”…
• Meanwhile, great hire by the Astros, bringing in Dusty Baker to calm what figures to be choppy waters around that team this (and in the future) season. …
• Jaylen Brown on his All-Star snub: “I try to use anything and everything as motivation. But it’s OK. Keep working, get ready for the playoffs — that’s a stage that you want to be on.”
• Not sure how it’s going to work out, but you have to love what the Reds, White Sox, Blue Jays and Angels have done this offseason. …
• Former NESN voice Gary Striewski, now with ESPN, on Twitter: “I have an official statement to make: If Mookie gets traded and Tom doesn’t come back to the Patriots, I will officially enter the transfer portal. I will test fandom free agency and do what’s best for me and my family. Thank you.” …
• The new 26-man rosters in effect this season can include a maximum of 13 pitchers. …
• Way back in 1988, when players were freed because of MLB collusion, Kirk Gibson jumped to the Dodgers — three years at a whopping $4.5 million. …
• The legendary Beanpot, which starts Monday night, will be televised by NESN, NHL Network and TSN2.
• Finally, don’t know about you, but THIS guy is thrilled to hear Emilio Estevez is reprising his Gordon Bombay role for a new Disney TV series on the Mighty Ducks.