Mike McDaniel was the greatest thing since sliced bread if you’d let the commentators on what’s become an infamous Thursday night game between the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals tell it.
They piqued my curiosity about Miami’s rookie head coach, who was born in Aurora, grew up in Greeley, and graduated from Aurora’s Smoky Hill High School in 2001. McDaniel began his NFL career as an intern with the Denver Broncos in 2005 and subsequently held assistant coaching jobs with a half-dozen teams.
Announcer Al Michaels and color man Kirk Herbstreit went on and on about the 39-year-old bespectacled coach as being different from the current crop of sideline generals.
They delighted in thinking that his quirky personality and dope style of communicating might become a thing in the league. They showed McDaniel meeting quarterback Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa, aka Tua, for the first time via video chat while flying on a private jet.
Al and Kirk lauded McDaniel as inspiring the third-year quarterback to lead the Dolphins to a surprising 3-0 record to start the season. McDaniel had become a Tua whisperer.
But then came the second quarter in Cincinnati when Tua got slammed into the ground. He was left motionless on his back, fingers frozen in a grotesque manner that will remain etched in many minds as the scariest thing ever seen on the gridiron.
Tua’s saga began five days earlier against Buffalo when he was tackled, fell backward, and hit his head hard.
He got up and tried to run but promptly fell forward onto his hands and knees. Tua got up again and wobbled, which prompted two teammates to help him off the field.
Clearly, he got his bell rung.
At first, Miami admitted that their captain had sustained a head injury. Later, The Dolphins and Tua insisted that his extreme unsteadiness was caused by a back injury, and thus McDaniel was justified in allowing him to return for the second half.
That’s when common sense went out the window.
McDaniel said, “I have absolutely zero patience for or ever would put a player in harm’s way. That’s not what I’m about at all, and no outcome of a game would influence me to be irresponsible with a player’s health.”
In other words, people, you did not see what you clearly saw: A player in serious trouble regardless of what body part was injured.
I have a hard time watching football now after realizing that some players and coaches are addicted to the game and must get their fix.
Am I right, Teddy Bridgewater? He’s a former Bronco who replaced Tua after watching him carted off the field on a stretcher.
Bridgewater sustained a season-ending concussion last year at Empire Field. He told The Associated Press, “It comes with the game. Every time I hit the ground, I ask God, ‘Why am I doing this?’”
NFL players gladly take a licking and keep on ticking in order to get that almighty high that non-players will never know.
Scientists continue to study the long-term effects of getting hit often and sustaining concussions. I’m guessing that few of us would knowingly risk developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a neurodegenerative condition associated with repeated blows to the head.
Former Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas was just 33 when he died last December of what was thought to be a seizure unrelated to football. It may have resulted from a 2019 car crash in downtown Denver in which he was driving more than twice the speed limit.
Thomas’ brain tested positive for CTE, which can foster aggression, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, depression, memory loss, confusion, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.
Players are well aware that they could end up like Thomas and others who crave that adrenaline rush, like a junkie on drugs.
Unfair comparison? Possibly…but not too far off the mark.
Some coaches are equally addicted to a kind of in-game high that comes with commanding a winning team.
If commentators laud McDaniel in the future, I hope it’s because he took on the medical staff, the front office, and stubborn players like Bridgewater and Tua, to ensure player safety.
The Colorado native gets an F in his first real test of having a player’s back when it’s of the utmost importance.
So yes, I blame McDaniel for Tua’s predicament. He’s the friggin’ head coach.
Go back to being an assistant if you can’t handle your business!
Jo Ann Allen is the creator and host of the podcast Been There Done That. She started her journalism career in 1975 at The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, WI. She spent 18 years as a news anchor at WNYC/New York Public Radio, and also worked as an anchor at KPBS Radio in San Diego, WHYY Radio in Philadelphia and Colorado Public Radio in Denver.
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