Apr 27, 2020

Axios Sports

๐Ÿ‘‹ Good morning! Great news for all your early risers: We're moving up our send time to 7am ET.

  • ๐ŸŽฌ Tonight, 11pm ET/PT: "Axios on HBO" returns featuring New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reflecting on the early days of the coronavirus (clip), an interview with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon (clip) and much more.

Today's word count: 1,939 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐Ÿˆ The NFL's remote work awakening

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Remote work is not a new concept, and neither is having a home office. But the abrupt switch to telecommuting en masse due to COVID-19 has accelerated shifts in how work is conducted โ€” and fundamentally changed how we view our jobs.

Driving the news: The NFL had its awakening this weekend during its virtual draft, where coaches and general managers were shown working from home, oftentimes with their children in the background.

  • Many of them have said how much they enjoyed the experience, and commissioner Roger Goodell โ€” thrilled with the record viewership (55 million) and generally positive reviews โ€” already said he wants to keep some of the elements used this year for future drafts.

What they're saying: In addition to revealing how much can be accomplished from the comfort of one's home, the virtual NFL draft โ€” and the limited offseason โ€” has also inspired coaches and GMs to think about making permanent improvements to their work/life balance and working smarter rather than longer.

  • "[It] was unanimous. So many coaches wondered, do we really need to work the sheer hours we do when their work was really done? Literally every person mentioned the extra time with his family. A legit eye-opening experience," tweeted NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
  • "It's been a lot of fun actually," said Dolphins coach Brian Flores. "I haven't spent this much time with my family โ€” my kids, my wife โ€” in a long time."
  • "If we can find a better work-life balance in the months of February, March and April, I'm all for it," said Lions GM Brian Quinn.

The big picture: The NFL is a cutthroat business full of Type-A personalities who spend every waking hour seeking out an edge over their opponents. But the coronavirus disrupted that and "left everyone questioning the wisdom of spinning their wheels nonstop," writes Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel.

  • "Can't we just video chat with that prospect, not host them on an all-day visit to our facility? Isn't watching college game tape at home more insightful than flying to some far-off campus to witness a scripted pro day? Does a mid-morning playdate with my daughter actually sharpen my focus?"

The bottom line: Remote work is still uncommon in the U.S. (3% of Americans primarily worked from home in 2017) and there's ongoing debate about its effectiveness. But it has given millions a glimpse of a different way of life amid this pandemic, even the buttoned-up NFL.

2. ๐Ÿˆ SEC dominates draft, FCS hurt by pandemic
Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

For the 14th straight year, the SEC led all conferences with 63 NFL draft picks, tied for the second-most ever in the modern draft era behind last year's 64.

  • LSU had 14 players selected, matching Ohio State's mark from 2004. Trailing them were Ohio State (10), Michigan (10) and Alabama (9).
  • 86 of the 130 FBS teams had at least one player drafted, and just nine Power 5 teams did not produce a draft pick.

The other side: Entering Thursday, FCS schools had produced an average of 18 picks per draft since the NFL shifted from 12 to seven rounds in 1993, with a high of 29 (1996) and a low of 12 (2003). This year, they produced just six.

The six FCS draftees:

  • S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (64th pick)
  • TE Adam Trautman, Dayton (105th)
  • WR Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island (171st)
  • OL Lachavious Simmons, Tennessee State (227th)
  • QB Ben DiNucci, James Madison (231st)
  • DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State (254th)

The state of play: The cancellation of pro days and general chaos created by COVID-19 appears to have hurt FCS prospects, with teams favoring the "less risky" FBS prospects who they likely had much more information about.

The bottom line: Some FCS players will sign as undrafted free agents or join practice squads, but plenty of talented players who may have realized their dreams this weekend if not for the pandemic are left with no clear next step.

  • Unlike basketball, there are no opportunities to play overseas. And unlike baseball and hockey, there is no robust minor league system. Simply put, they're on the outside looking in โ€” and there's only one company hiring.


  • D-II: The Patriots used the 37th pick on Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) safety Kyle Dugger, making him the highest D-II draft pick since 1999 (Saginaw Valley State's Lamar King). With the third-t0-last pick, the Vikings took Washburn (Kan.) OG Kyle Hinton.
  • D-III: St. John's (Minn.) OT Ben Bartch was taken in the fourth round (116th overall) by the Jaguars, becoming the first MIAC draftee since 2003.
3. ๐Ÿ€ "The Last Dance": Episodes 3 and 4


"The Last Dance" continued last night with Episodes 3 and 4, which focused on Phil Jackson's ascent to head coach, the Bulls' rivalry with the "Bad Boy" Pistons and Dennis Rodman's transformation into Chicago's X-factor.

The highlight: At one point, Rodman talks about his eerily perfect sense of where the ball was going after it bounced off the rim โ€” a talent that made him one of the best rebounders in NBA history. It reminded me of this wonderful passage from The Ringer's Brian Phillips:

"It's probably an understatement to say that no one has ever played basketball the way [Rodman] did. He didn't so much reinvent the game, or the power forward position, as find an entirely different sport in its margins. It was as if he were a writer who'd discovered a legible, but hitherto unnoticed, language in the white space at the end of every line."
"To me, a missed basketball shot looks like 'haha, whoops, boing.' To Rodman, a missed shot presented itself as a comprehensible set of information: the speed, angle, and spin of the ball, the point of contact on the rim or the backboard, the tendencies of the shooter.
"He had an elite baseball pitcher's understanding of the aerodynamics of a ball in flight, only instead of throwing the pitch, his job was to materialize at the end of it. ... What he was doing made no sense, but everyone who watched him immediately understood what he was doing. In sports, that's a kind of greatness."
4. ๐Ÿ“ธ Photos 'round the world
Photo: Inti Ocon/Getty Images

MANAGUA, Nicaragua โ€” Boxing resumed in Nicaragua on Saturday night with a televised eight-fight card in front of a live, though sparse audience.

  • What they're saying: "Here we don't fear the coronavirus, and there is no quarantine," promoter Rosendo รlvarez told AP, citing the country's extremely low number of confirmed cases (11) and deaths (3). "Nicaragua is a poor country and the boxers have to eat."
Photo: Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany โ€” Borussia Moenchengladbach supporters are sustaining their club by buying cardboard characters that will be displayed at the stadium should the Bundesliga continue with closed-door matches.

  • What to watch: The Bundesliga hopes to restart games as early as May 9, with all matches played behind closed doors, pending government approval.
Photo: Gene Wang/Getty Images

NEW TAIPEI CITY, Taiwan โ€” The Fubon Guardians โ€” aided by a mascot and cheerleading section in an otherwise empty ballpark โ€” smashed three dingers to beat the CTBC Brothers, 5-4, in CPBL action.

  • Fun fact: In 2013, 41-year-old Manny Ramirez played 49 games for the Guardians (then called the EDA Rhinos), batting .352 with 8 HR and 43 RBI.
5. โšก๏ธ Catch up quick
Courtesy: City of Inglewood
  • ๐Ÿš  $328 million: Inglewood, California, has now raised $328 million toward the $1 billion cost of an "automated people mover" (i.e. elevated trolley) to carry fans the 1.8 miles from the Inglewood subway station to SoFi Stadium (future home of the Rams and Chargers) and the proposed Clippers arena.
  • ๐Ÿ€ Hoops star charged with murder: Tulane guard Teshaun Hightower has been charged with murder in connection to a homicide in Stockbridge, Georgia. He was the team's leading scorer last season and had recently declared for the 2020 NBA draft.
  • โšพ๏ธ RIP, Steve: Former Orioles minor-leaguer Steve Dalkowski, whose blazing fastball and incurable wildness inspired the Nuke LaLoosh character in "Bull Durham," has died at age 80. He had 1,324 strikeouts and 1,236 walks in 956 career innings, and once struck out 24 batters โ€” and walked 18 โ€” in a single game. Ted Williams called him "the fastest pitcher in baseball history."
6. April 27, 1983: โšพ๏ธ Nolan Ryan, strikeout king

Nolan Ryan in 1983. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

37 years ago today, Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan notched his 3,509th career strikeout, passing Hall of Famer Walter Johnson to become baseball's new strikeout king.

  • Why it matters: Though seven other people have since passed Johnson's mark of 3,508 strikeouts, no one has passed Ryan's 5,714 โ€” and it's a near certainty that no one ever will.

By the numbers: Ryan's career was a baffling case study in success and longevity.

  • He played from 1966 to 1993, a 27-year career matched only by Cubs 1B Cap Anson, whose last season came in 1897.
  • His 5,714 career strikeouts are 839 more than second-place Randy Johnson, and his 2,795 walks also place him first all-time (by a staggering 962).
  • 35 different pitchers have thrown multiple no-hitters, with Sandy Koufax alone in second place with four. Nolan Ryan threw seven.

But the most ridiculous stat of all? Despite all of those aforementioned accomplishments, Ryan never won a single Cy Young award.

๐ŸŽฅ Go deeper: Career highlights (YouTube)

7. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads


๐Ÿƒโ€โ™‚๏ธ To run my best marathon at age 44, I had to outrun my past (Nicholas Thompson, Wired)

"Running is the simplest of sports: right foot, left foot, right foot. But the simplicity opens up complexity. There's no ball to focus on, no mat to land on, no one charging toward you with their shoulder down. And so your attention shifts inward."

๐ŸŽพ How I found common ground with my immigrant dad on a clay court (Sopan Deb, NYT)

"Most of my childhood friends from our predominantly white New Jersey suburb have a story about how their love of sports began โ€” usually involving their fathers. Shaun's played catch with him for hours in the backyard ... Matt's brought him up watching Knicks games in the basement ... Not me, though. I had to find another way in."

๐ŸŽฎ Esports and the dangers of serving at the pleasure of a king (Matthew Ball)

"[I]t's important to temper expectations around COVID-related lift to esports, especially whether the rising tide will be evenly distributed. NASCAR iRacing, for example, is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, [while major esports] still require education and are clearly synthetic. League of Legends is enormously difficult to follow, fantastical, and obviously not real."
8. The Ocho: ๐Ÿƒโ€โ™‚๏ธ The Penn Relays go digital
Runners at the 1950 Penn Relays. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

For the first time in its 125 years history, the Penn Relays โ€” the most popular track meet in America, and among the biggest in the world โ€” was canceled, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

The backstory: The University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field was opened specifically for the first Penn Relays on April 21, 1895, and became the site of the nation's first scoreboard.

  • The first Penn Relays featured athletes from eight high schools and 10 colleges (Penn, Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, Lafayette, Lehigh, Rutgers, Swarthmore, City College of New York, NYU) and drew roughly 5,000 fans.
  • The 2019 Penn Relays, by comparison, comprised more than 14,000 athletes from three dozen countries between the ages of eight and 100, competing in front of 100,000 fans across three days of competition.
Usain Bolt competing in 2010. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

What they're saying: If you've never been, you can't quite imagine the spectacle and impact of this event that I was lucky enough to compete in as a high school senior back in 2006.

  • "Races start every five minutes, but if we need to we can do it in four," Penn Relays director Dave Johnson told SI. "From the time the last runner finishes until the next gun goes off, we average between 10 to 15 seconds."
  • "It's like Mardi Gras for Philadelphia," said Olympic legend Carl Lewis. "And I think that's a really important thing because it creates a sense of pride for the city. It's the most special event for track and field in the United States."

This yearโ€™s event: In place of the historic track meet, the UPenn and esports company Gen.G hosted the Digital Penn Relays over the weekend, with virtual events held inside a digital Franklin Field built within the popular video game, Minecraft.

A digital Franklin Field, built within Minecraft. Courtesy: University of Pennsylvania
9. ๐Ÿˆ NFL draft trivia

Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Jets draftee James Morgan is the second Florida International QB drafted in the past three years (Alex McGough), making FIU one of four schools with multiple QBs drafted since 2018.

  • Question: Can you name the other three schools?
  • Hint: SEC, Big 12, Pac-12.

Answer at the bottom.

10. โค๏ธ Why we love sports
That's me on the right. Courtesy: Lucas H.

Lucas H. (Kingston, N.Y.) writes:

"I've been a fan of the Green Bay Packers for nearly a decade. In 2013, I portrayed Paul Hornung in a community theatre production of 'Lombardi,' a play by Eric Simonson based on the book ''When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi' by David Maraniss.
"Fast forward three years. A few of my friends and I went to our first game at Lambeau Field on a snowy day in December and I bought a Hornung jersey to honor the occasion.
"My friends and I went inside a bar down the street from the stadium to warm up before the game. After unzipping my coat, a fellow fan noticed my Hornung jersey and told me he was in the next room signing autographs.
"I walked to the next room and, sure enough, there was Paul. I told him that I portrayed him in the play, had him sign my jersey and we took a photo.
"It was such a surreal experience to meet a legend that I had tried to embody on stage. To make it even more special, the Packers played one of their best games of the season, beating the Seahawks 38-10. It's a day that I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Me and Paul Hornung. Courtesy: Lucas H.

โœ๏ธย Submit your story:ย Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories all month.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "This league!" Baker

Trivia answer: Oklahoma (Mayfield, Murray and Hurts); LSU (Etling and Burrow); Washington State (Falk and Minshew)