As the completions and the victories pile up, low-key star Teddy Bridgewater brings Louisville closer to New Year’s Day and himself closer to New York City, writes Pete Thamel in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Playing in the pros will allow Bridgewater to fulfill a promise he made to his mom, Rose Murphy, when he was in the third grade. “When I make it to the pros,” Teddy Bridgewater said, “I’m going to buy you a pink Escalade with pink rims.” (PAGE 39)
From the age of eight, Bridgewater was tabbed as a can’t-miss quarterback. He excelled in the vaunted Optimist youth leagues in Miami and later at Northwestern High. It was there that he became a top college prospect and did so while his mother was battling breast cancer. Now a junior at Louisville, he’s the nation’s third-most efficient passer on the No. 8 team, a Heisman Trophy candidate and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. “His mother’s situation made him a grown man,” says Northwestern coach Billy Rolle, “and I think that helped him out more than any coach could.” (PAGE 40)
Bridgewater worked hard to avoid the stigma that South Florida produces any athlete but quarterback. He wound up a Cardinal after committing to and decommitting from Miami. “He wanted to be a quarterback,” says Louisville coach Charlie Strong, “not an athlete who’s a quarterback.” (PAGE 40)
After working extremely hard with Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Bridgewater led the Cardinals to an 11-2 season and was named Big East Player of the Year last season. He earned a reputation for not only being very accurate but also tough. He played through injuries, and shook off a nasty hit early in Louisville’s Sugar Bowl win over Florida last year. He has become a more willing leader. “This is his football team,” Strong says. “He knows this, his team will only go as far as he takes them.” (PAGE 42)
While Bridgewater has a season of eligibility remaining, he’ll graduate this year. His descision to enter the draft seems like a foregone conclusion. “The reality is that we’re hoping and believing that he has a great season,” says Rose, “and after that he’ll do what he needs to do to prepare to go to the draft.” (PAGE 42)
Thamel finds that Bridgewater is very humble on and off the field. For instance, he asked Louisville not to run a Heisman campaign for him because he doesn’t want special treatment and he still dates his high school sweetheart. “He’s one of those players who wants no credit,” says Strong. “He’d rather sit back and let his work speak for him.” (PAGE 43)
Bridgewater may not get as many Heisman and Twitter mentions as Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, the two are “not in the same universe” as NFL prospects, says former Eagles scout John Middlekauff, who adds, “You build a franchise around high-level people as much as high-level players.” (PAGE 50)
For this week’s SI, senior writer Pete Thamel had the rare chance to sit in the Ohio State coaches’ box and put on a headset for the Buckeyes’ 40-20 season-opening victory over Buffalo on Aug. 31. “Listening in is like eavesdropping on a program’s family dinner—spoken in mostly undecipherable jargon—complete with cursing, elation and the relentless tension of coach Urban Meyer asking for more,” writes Thamel. “It’s not a fun three hours,” says director of football operations Brian Voltolini, who shadows Meyer on the field. “You can’t take anything personal that happens on game day. If you do, you’re done.” (PAGE 40)
With Buffalo facing a third-and-eight on its second drive, Meyer flips over from the defensive headset channel to the offensive one and says to offensive coordinator Tom Herman, “Tom, I want to be real aggressive on this drive.” (PAGE 40) Herman plans to “jet to inferno,” meaning they will run the no-huddle (jet). After four hurry-up passes in five plays, Ohio State scores on a wheel route from Braxton Miller to Chris Fields. “Hey 5,” Herman says to Miller when he returns to the sideline and puts on a headset. “Good drive, bud. Great job being patient.” (PAGE 40)
After a Miller interception leads to a pick-six for Buffalo (and a third straight unsuccessful drive), Meyer shouts in the headset, “That’s three in a row boys. Let’s go. We need to start blocking these guys.” (PAGE 41) As the quarter progresses and Ohio State continues to struggle, Meyer comes on the headset: “I’ve never got my face kicked in by drop eight like this.” (PAGE 42)
Thamel discovers that there are two types of conversations on the offensive headsets. When Ohio State has the ball only Herman and Meyer can speak. When they don’t have the ball, all of the coaches can chime in. That’s why Thamel hears Herman say, “Can everyone shut up?!” (PAGE 42) The coach was trying to speak with his quarterback but couldn’t hear through all the coaches on the headset.
With the game too close for comfort, Meyer turns away from the high-tempo attack. “Where’s your best back?” Meyer asks Herman. “Let’s pound ’em. It’s Buffalo.” (PAGE 43)
With the play slowing down, Thamel notices the hardest working part of the play-calling operation—the signalers, who stand on the sideline in purple, orange and green shirts. When Herman calls a play into the headset, it doesn’t go directly to the quarterback’s helmet. Rather, the three signalers relay signs to the huddle, with only one of them being the live signaler.
As OSU winds down the clock of a 40-20 win, Meyer adds one final piece of commentary into the headset. “Well, we got outcoached today.” (PAGE 43)
The cerebral revolution is on in college football, and Stanford senior linebacker Shayne Skov—who has emerged as the face of a program that enters this season as one of the favorites for the national title—is happy to lead it. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Pete Thamel tells the story of the nation’s best play-making nerd and the difficult journey he has traveled. Skov also appears on one of six regional SI covers this week.
His face may well be adorned on game days with KISS-style eye black and topped by a Mohawk, but Skov’s younger brother, Patrick, a Cardinal fullback, describes Shayne as “a nerd-meathead combo.” (PAGE 48) Shayne, a management science and engineering major, is the first to admit that he devours the works of George R.R. Martin and enjoys role-playing games such as Skyrim. Yet the game he is best at is football. “He’s got the ability to play at the highest level,” says Stanford coach David Shaw, “and be one of those special players.” (PAGE 48)
But there’s a deeper story here, too, about a boy whose path to big man on campus at Stanford has been as difficult as they come. Thamel writes, “His saga spans two countries, two coasts and two languages. He’s been thrown off the football team at one school, voted head prefect at another and suspended for an academic quarter for a DUI at a third. There have been three knee surgeries, a two-year delay in entering the NFL draft and, now, one final season to prove he’s healthy.” (PAGE 48)
All of this unfolded as Skov watched the health of his mother, Terri, decline for more than a decade as she suffered from multiple sclerosis. Shayne and his family aren’t looking for sympathy, and he doesn’t want his mother’s health to become a story line during Stanford’s season. “My mom’s sick, and that unfortunately is what it is,” he says. “Everybody has their own issues.” (PAGE 49) Terri is now in hospice care, and doctors expect her to live only three or four more months.
Shayne and his family spent three years in Mexico before high school so his mother could be more comfortable and receive cheaper treatment. He moved to the Oakland suburb of Piedmont with his father, brother and two sisters after his parents divorced in 2003, but he eventually landed at Trinity-Pawling, a prep school in upstate New York after being kicked off the Piedmont High team for missing the team bus to a big game. Shayne thrived in the structure and stability of the prep school where he loaded up on AP courses, scored a 1,300 on the SAT and excelled on the football team. “That school was nothing short of a miracle,” his father Peter Skov says. “I sent my kid there as an act of desperation. He was on his way to a construction job, and they turned him into a Stanford student. Are you kidding me?” Says Shayne, “I can’t say enough about how much patience they had with me and steered me in the right direction.” (PAGE 50)
Shayne seemed destined for a three-and-done career at Stanford, as he became a starter seven games into his freshman year and led the team in tackles his sophomore year. However, three games into his junior year he suffered a gruesome knee injury. He tore his ACL and MCL and fractured his tibia, which wound up requiring three surgeries. “It was hard to believe I was going to get back,” says Shayne. (PAGE 53)
He bottomed out in January 2012 when he was arrested for DUI after driving home from teammate Ryan Hewitt’s 21st birthday party. He was fined, ordered to attend alcohol-diversion classes and suspended by Shaw for the 2012 opener. “I made a mistake,” says Skov. “Certainly I wasn’t like, smashed drunk speeding down the freeway. I broke the law, though, and I suffered the consequences from it. . . . It probably was my darkest hour.” (PAGE 53)
His return to the field in 2012 saw him once again lead the team in tackles, and Stanford won its first Rose Bowl since 1972. But he didn’t feel he had his burst back yet. After the season, the school’s judicial affairs board suspended him for the winter 2013 quarter for the DUI offense. While away from school, he was able to rest his knee and cut down his body fat. He feels he’s back to his old self now. “We won’t know until I’m on the field for football-specific movement,” says Shayne, “but right now I’m ready to perform at as high of a level as I ever have in my career.” (PAGE 54)
***Also in “Revenge of the Nerd,” SI writers reflect on the rise of their alma maters—and the smart guys who play there: Kelli Anderson on Stanford; Lee Jenkins on Vanderbilt and senior fullback Fitz Lassing, Sarah Kwak on Duke and senior defensive end Kenny Anunike and Ben Glicksman on Northwestern and junior center Brandon Vitabile.
Only five million of India’s 1.2 billion people play basketball, making it the largest untapped hoops market in the world. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Pete Thamel takes an inside look at basketball in India and how the NBA’s plan to penetrate this potentially lucrative market centers on the success of a 7-foot teenager from the Punjab named Satnam Singh Bhamara.
Satnam didn’t play basketball until age nine, when he was already 5’ 9” and was simply told to try the game due to his height. He picked up the game quickly and earned a scholarship at India’s premier basketball academy. He is now playing and going to school on scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. At age 17, he is a 7’1 ½”, 300-pound basketball prodigy with size 20 sneakers. Thamel writes:
“He can shoot with both hands, he never brings the ball below his waist after a rebound, and he can reliably hit free throws.” (PAGE 68)
Satnam’s father Balbir, also more than seven feet tall, never played basketball since he had to work on the family farm. He tells Thamel: “The things I couldn’t do in my life, I want Satnam to do.” (PAGE 68)
Thamel finds that the NBA shares the lofty ambitions for Satnam that his father has, as league executives envision Satnam becoming an Indian icon and international basketball ambassador, much like Yao Ming did in China a decade ago. Both the NBA and IMG understand the potential of India’s large young population. “It’s the largest untapped basketball market in the world,” says Bobby Sharma, IMG’s senior vice president for global basketball. “If Satnam’s potential gets him to the NBA, that’ll be good for a lot of people—especially Satnam.” (PAGE 69)
Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 24, so marketers and the NBA think now is the time to tap into basketball in India. “I just see it as unlimited in terms of its potential,” says NBA commissioner David Stern. NBA league marketing partners, such as Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola, have signed up to help grow the game in India. India is “a top priority,” says NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth.
Thamel notes the many challenges to growing basketball in India, from not having adequate facilities to competing against more popular Indian sports like cricket, soccer and field hockey to the lack of a professional league that encourages kids to play and eventually earn some money playing the sport. Officials must also close the talent gap and find players like Satnam in remote areas outside of the cities. As it stands now, Thamel writes that “the Indian National team would struggle in the middling America East Conference.” (PAGE 72)
While he currently projects to be no more than an end-of-rotation NBA banger, his upside in India is enormous and he understands his potential influence. Satnam says: “Even after I retire, I want to make sure there’s a young generation that continues the popularity of basketball in India.” (PAGE 69)
Says Stern: “It doesn’t depend ultimately on whether Satnam Singh is the next Yao Ming…although that would be nice.” (PAGE 70)
Click here to listen to Pete Thamel discuss whether India can develop as a basketball power on the Inside SI Podcast with Richard Deitsch.
Three days before Notre Dame played Michigan State, star Irish linebacker Manti Te’o’s grandmother and his girlfriend died in one six-hour period. While their deaths took an obvious emotional toll, Te’o found refuge in practicing and playing, and helped Notre Dame defeat the Spartans with 12 tackles. Yet Te’o’s influence extends off the field, where he’s helped create a brotherhood among teammates and links the Irish’s glorious past and promising future, especially after spurning the NFL for the chance to complete his senior season (page 42). Subscribers in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Eastern Missouri and almost all of Ohio, as well as parts of Canada, will see Te’o on their cover this week.
Says Father Paul Doyle, the rector in Te’o’s former college dorm: “There’s a lot of emphasis on greatness at this level, but Manti is also focused on goodness.”