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Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox set to return vs. New York Jets after missing two games due to injury



ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox is set to make his return to the field Sunday against the New York Jets after missing two games because of a fracture in his right hand that required surgery.

Knox has no injury designation and was a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday. The tight end recovered in three weeks from an injury that he suffered during a loss to the Tennessee Titans, but missed only two games because of the Bills’ bye week.

Rookie starting right tackle Spencer Brown also is set to play Sunday. He missed the past two games with a back injury. Buffalo will be without starting linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (hamstring), while running back Zack Moss (concussion) is questionable to play.

A.J. Klein is expected to start in Edmunds’ place.

The Bills’ offense has struggled in the past two games, averaging 16 points per game compared to 32.7 over the first six games. Knox has become one of quarterback Josh Allen‘s go-to targets, catching five touchdowns over a four-game stretch. The Bills’ needed Knox to step up at tight end this year, and so far he has.

“[Knox is] a guy that’s big, powerful, strong, fast. and obviously he’s made some plays for us this year,” Allen said. “We’re going to need him to continue to make plays for us if we want to be successful.”

Knox has 21 receptions for 286 yards in six games this season. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns [five] and is still on pace to set career-highs in other receiving categories.

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The day John Madden met the turducken



GLENN MISTICH TOOK slow, tiny steps toward the entrance to the Superdome. His hands shook inside the gloves he wore to carry a monstrous 17-pound dish covered in foil. His wife, Leah, and three young kids bounced alongside him.

A friend, New Orleans radio personality Bob DelGiorno, was also walking with him to the Rams-Saints game on Dec. 1, 1996. DelGiorno had been doing on-air Saints game days for long enough to have become friendly with John Madden, and he had told the former coach-turned-broadcasting legend about a delicious vegetarian’s nightmare for which Mistich had become well-known in the New Orleans area. It was a deboned duck stuffed inside a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned turkey, with a generous mix of cornbread and sausage dressings slathered throughout.

The dish’s name? The turducken.

Madden’s friends call him a “fork man,” which is a kind way of saying the guy can crush some food. Once DelGiorno assured him the turducken was real, Madden was all-in. So that’s how Mistich and his family found themselves walking into the Superdome that day.

Mistich wasn’t a sports fan, but he knew Madden, who was then at the peak of his powers. He had become the voice of football, earning more per year than any NFL player, and he had emerged as a video game visionary and an A-list product endorser. If Jake from State Farm had been around in 1996, chances are he’d have been talking insurance rates with Madden instead of Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes.

It’s impossible to overestimate the impact that food had on Madden’s rise. He and Pat Summerall did 22 straight Thanksgiving broadcasts starting in 1981, and Madden’s everyman appeal came through via food more than anywhere else. In 1989, Madden presented his first Turkey Leg Award to the best player from that year’s game, Reggie White. The next year, he handed one to Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and made an offhand comment that he wished he had a six-legged turkey so the Cowboys linemen could get in on the action.

Enter Joe Pat Fieseler, a barbecue owner in Texas. He invented a six-legged turkey soon after, and Madden started handing them out the next year. When he announced his All-Madden team at the end of every season, Madden also made sure food was a theme of the show — his favorite players were often big, forgotten linemen with big appetites, so he thought the perfect all-star awards should be meat and gravy, not trophies and plaques. He had become America’s fork man.

In the days before the 1996 game, Mistich went through the complicated turducken process with his own hands. This one had to be perfect.

On the day of the game, Mistich cooked the turducken — having spent the previous few days deboning all three birds, cooking the dressings and then intricately sewing the birds together. He packed up the family and met DelGiorno outside the stadium. As Mistich shuffled to the gate with the steaming dish, his stomach felt like a turducken that had been sewn too tight.

Mistich’s meat place, The Gourmet Butcher Block, was doing quite well — he sold around 200 turduckens per year off a menu of about 25 items. He couldn’t help but smile as he looked at how giddy his kids were to get to go into the Superdome and meet John Madden. Seeing them like that gave him a brief feeling of calm, that everything would be fine even if Madden didn’t like the turducken.

But the group hit a snag: The Mistich crew didn’t have credentials, and even when DelGiorno showed his placard and vouched for them, a security guard shook his head and pointed at Mistich’s hands.

“Is that food?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mistich said.

“Sorry, no outside food whatsoever,” the guard said.

DelGiorno tried to jump in. “I’ve been broadcasting these games for years, and this is for John Madden.”

The guard was insistent. “No exceptions.”

Mistich exchanged a resigned look with his wife, and they began to think maybe they’d be eating this turducken themselves.

“Hold on,” DelGiorno said, and he pestered the security guard to call his boss. DelGiorno was persuasive and persistent, and eventually the guard relented. A minute later, the security guard came over and apologized as he waved them through.

The turducken had entered the building.

THE ORIGIN STORY of the turducken is a lot like the turducken itself: a little bit of information, packed inside some controversy, bundled up in folklore.

Let’s start with the basics everybody can agree on. Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme patented the word and recipe in 1986, although Louisiana brothers Junior and Sammy Hebert dispute Prudhomme’s claim. They say they invented the meat product when a customer came in and asked whether they could put together a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey. All three probably deserve a heaping helping of credit for the turducken.

By the time Mistich got a job at one of the Hebert meat shops in the early 1990s — he was dating Sammy’s sister Leah at the time — lots of places were making turduckens. The dish had a nice cult following in Louisiana but wasn’t well-known outside the state. Mistich might not have invented the dish, but on that day in 1996, he played an indisputable role in launching the turducken into the national consciousness.

His big plan back then had been to build up a nice business and hand it off to his kids someday. Mistich says his own father was in and out of his life as a child, frequently berating him when he was around. Mistich dropped out of high school and bought a commercial fishing boat, hoping to catch his father’s eye by pursuing the same profession. But the relationship kept deteriorating, and Mistich eventually quit fishing and went to work with Leah and her brother at his shop.

Mistich’s grandfather, who went by Nean, had been a meat man, traveling up and down the Mississippi River 100 years earlier in a wooden carriage with no refrigeration. Nean, a first-generation Croatian immigrant, would sell as much as he could for a few hours, then hand out the rest for free on his way home for the night. Mistich thought about that when he fell in love with working at the butcher shop — maybe there wasn’t much of a connection between him and his dad, but he felt it with his grandfather every day.

From his first day at the butcher shop until now, Mistich has always had a special knack for the careful process of making a turducken. He is a complex contradiction when it comes to the birds. He is, on one hand, an avid meat eater who owns a butcher shop. And, on the other, he’s a churchgoing avid hunter who believes in conservation and killing only what you plan to eat. He often says a thankful prayer to the chicken, duck and turkey before he gets to work on a turducken.

And it’s hard work. Mistich is tough on his turducken crew, demanding a library-like backroom where the turduckens are assembled. He wants no bird to go to waste. “When we’re training people, I encourage them to not talk, to concentrate 100% on the birds,” he says.

These days, Mistich doesn’t do turduckens one at a time. He has a two-day process for making them in large lots of up to 150. First, he and his crew debone the birds. They’ll meticulously debone 150 chickens, put them in giant buckets that go in the industrial-sized fridges. Then 150 ducks, then 150 turkeys. The Usain Bolts of his butcher shop can do three birds in a little under five minutes — a chicken in 45 seconds, then two minutes each for the duck and turkey.

At the same time, another crew is mixing and cooking the two different dressings. One is sausage-based, and the other has a cornbread base. For 150 turduckens, they’ll brew massive tubs of dressing (337 pounds of sausage, 150 pounds of cornbread), then cook everything on the stove for about 10 hours. At the end of the day, they take the pots off the stove and move them to the refrigerator to cool overnight.

Day 2 is assembly time. Mistich usually chips in himself to put the dishes together. Very few things in life bother him like a badly put together turducken, or a bird falling on the floor or going missing. It’s a regular occurrence for the whole gang to walk around at the end of the day perplexed at how they’re missing a duck or seem to have an extra chicken. “Once in a while, somebody — including me — will mess up the count,” Mistich says. “But you’re talking about 450 birds, so that’s bound to happen.”

Mistich starts with a turkey, flattened out on the table. Then he plops down a glob of sausage dressing, which is smoothed out into a thin layer. Next, he lays out the duck, followed by another layer of sausage dressing, then the chicken and a glob of cornbread dressing.

Now comes the hardest part, bundling it all up. Before the final step, the turducken looks like a layered cake of meat and dressing. But in one sudden motion, Mistich powers up both sides of the turkey to swallow everything inside. The turkey has to be stretched just right, not too tight and not too loose, and then Mistich zips thread through it like he’s lacing up sneakers. He makes 5-10 incisions across the top of the turkey, using about 3 feet of thread per turducken, then ties it together at the end.

He sells about 5,000 turduckens per year, half in the shop and half through shipping. The mail-order birds go in the freezer, and you can get one within a week or so for $200. Every turducken weighs about 17 pounds and feeds 30 or so people.

Before cooking, each one has to thaw in the fridge for 4-5 days, then roast for four hours at 350 degrees. The aroma from the oven spreads out like a warm meat blanket across the house, the potent smell of Thanksgiving turkey times three. The dressing and meat juices crackle like the three birds are in the oven fighting each other. Once the thread is removed after they come out of the oven, the birds hold together quite well, even after slicing.

At first glance, a cooked turducken looks like too much. Layer after layer of seasoned meat, rolled up like a ring cake, with dressing oozing out everywhere. The tasting experience isn’t as heavy as you might think. If you love meat, the turducken is a carnivorous gift. If you’re the kind of person who eats burgers but a double cheeseburger is a little too much, the turducken ain’t for you.

Mistich now offers close to 100 items on his menu, but none means more to him than a turducken. That’s why he is tough on trainees. He requires new turducken makers to watch about 100 assemblies before they’re allowed to make one themselves. If he hears too much chitchat, he morphs into a shushing librarian. He has seen many workers tap out on turduckens, including one legendary guy years ago who worked at the shop for a week then disappeared. “We found his apron out in the field behind the shop,” he says. “Making turduckens isn’t for everybody.”

AS MISTICH LUGGED the turducken into an elevator and upstairs toward Madden’s booth, he felt brutal butterflies start to fire up in his stomach. He couldn’t believe this was really happening. DelGiorno assured him that Madden would love it, but he made no promises, and Mistich tried not to set any expectations. He kept looking at the kids and trying to remember they’d all be fine no matter what Madden thought of his cooking.

For the Madden meeting, Mistich assembled the dish the night before, then got up early to cook it. It took about an hour to get the turducken over to the stadium, past the hesitant security crew and into the waiting area outside Madden’s booth.

DelGiorno went in to grab Madden, and Mistich and his family nervously waited. When he sensed they were coming out, Mistich peeled off the foil and stood with his dish unveiled, like a “Price Is Right” model showing off an expensive wristwatch.

DelGiorno emerged first, with the Hall of Fame coach trailing behind. DelGiorno peeled off to the side, and Madden stepped forward. “You should have seen John’s face,” DelGiorno says with a laugh. “He was in love.”

It was as if Madden had just met a long-lost sibling. DelGiorno had warned Mistich beforehand that it would be a very brief visit, that he’d have to say hello and scoot so that Madden could continue prepping for the broadcast. But Madden was gleaming, peppering Mistich with questions about the turducken and commenting repeatedly about the smell. “It’s delicious,” he kept saying. Finally, somebody from Madden’s team reminded him they had a game to broadcast.

Mistich asked Madden whether Leah could take a quick photo of them with the turducken, and two of his kids jumped in beside their dad. Then he shook hands with Madden, and the Mistich gang headed for the exits before Madden actually took a bite of the turducken.

DelGiorno walked the Mistich family to the elevator and promised to get up with Glenn later to let him know what Madden thought. They both were whispering about how excited Madden had seemed. DelGiorno said goodbye and went back in to find Madden and the whole Fox crew gathered around the turducken. It was an unwritten rule that Madden got to eat first, but the realization had hit that there were no utensils or napkins.

After a good 30 seconds of people scouring the booth and coming up empty, Madden couldn’t take it anymore. He dug his hands into the turducken, ripping chunks off and eating them as the bemused crew laughed and asked him how it was. “I love it,” Madden said between mouthfuls. “I absolutely love it.”

Madden was dripping dressing and chunks of meat everywhere when Saints owner Tom Benson unexpectedly stuck his head into the booth. Madden knew Benson, but the two weren’t close. Benson strode over to Madden and extended his hand, clearly unaware of the fork-manning that had been happening before he walked in.

Crew members’ eyes bulged out of their heads as they saw Madden make the split-second decision whether to decline the handshake or go for it. Madden licked his three middle fingers, 1-2-3, and shook Benson’s hand before Benson could pull it back. “That’s the last time Tom Benson ever spoke to me,” Madden said later.

Toward the end of the first half, Madden mentioned that he was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers but that he had been introduced a new dish. Now he wanted to announce it to about 10 million viewers. “The triducken!” he said.

As the broadcast headed toward a break for the two-minute warning, Madden was swooning so much over the entrée that Summerall jumped in and said, “Are you OK, John?”

When the camera returned, a producer was holding a turducken that looked like a pack of utensil-less wolves had worked it over for a couple of days. Madden towered above the pan, waving his enormous hands above, as he launched into the kind of breakdown he usually reserved for trap plays and fire zone blitzes. Madden’s charm was always that the actual transcript of his analysis often read like a kindergarten teacher explaining how to spell cat to a class of 6-year-olds, but his exuberance and passion came through in his voice so that it never felt as if he was talking down to his audience. When something was important for John Madden to say, it felt important for you to hear.

“Here’s my turducken,” he said, correcting himself from earlier. “It’s turkey — you got the turkey on the outside. Then you stuff the turkey with the duck, then you stuff the duck with the chicken. ‘Tur’ for turkey. ‘Duck’ for duck. And ‘-en’ for chicken. Then you just mix it all up. I’ve been eating it all day.”

Madden turned around then to return to the game, and Summerall laughed because Madden wasn’t done. “You can’t beat that,” he said. “That’s good eating. That’s a turducken. It’s turkey, it’s duck and it’s chicken. All boneless. All stuffed into each other.”

“It just sounds cruel to me,” Summerall said with a laugh.

Right before the camera turned back to the game itself, a total clunker between the 2-10 Saints and 3-9 Rams, the camera caught Madden as he fired another chunk of turducken into his mouth.

Then the fork man’s eating hand drifted toward his lips and … boom, he licked his three middle fingers, 1-2-3.

DelGiorno would call Mistich the next day to tell him how much Madden loved the turducken, but by then the whole world knew.

“We weren’t expecting what happened next,” DelGiorno says. “Glenn’s business — his whole life, really — would never be the same.”

BY THE END of the game, a crew member or two had tried a bite of the turducken, to positive reviews. But most members of Team Madden had figured out right away to steer clear of the big man’s new favorite meal. When the game was over, Madden took what was left back to his hotel with him and ate it the next day. He had found a food soulmate.

Mistich had watched the game in disbelief. He’d just heard his pride and joy dish on the air, from America’s most prominent sports personality.

Mistich started to daydream about a huge influx of orders, but even so he underestimated the surge that actually came. That holiday season, Mistich went from 200 per year to 2,500 turduckens in a few weeks, and he and his small staff had to work around the clock to make those. When Madden named the turducken as the official food of the All-Madden team, and mentioned it on Fox’s Super Bowl broadcast that year, Mistich had incredible momentum.

Requests continued to flood in through the beginning of 1998, so Mistich eventually had to hire full-time, year-round turducken makers as orders increased to 6,000 the next year. He mastered a freezing and mailing process to fill the hundreds of turducken orders to ship all over the United States — including a few to Madden’s California home.

Madden is 85 and doesn’t do many interviews anymore. He loves the turducken to this day, his friends say, and the turducken loves him back. He included the turducken in every Thanksgiving game until his retirement in 2009. He often mentioned Mistich specifically, constantly juicing Mistich’s business and local legend status. Eventually Merriam-Webster had no choice but to officially add the word to the dictionary.

Mistich gets wistful thinking about what Madden has meant to his business and his life. Since 1996, about 40% of all of Mistich’s sales have been turduckens, most directly attributable to the glowing remarks of John Madden. Mistich recently sat for interviews for the upcoming Fox documentary on the coach, “All Madden,” and can’t wait to watch it when it debuts on Christmas Day.

Mistich tried a few times to tell Madden how thankful he was, and the Hall of Famer always waved him off. “You make an unbelievable product,” Madden would tell him.

Sales were strong enough over the next decade that Mistich regularly thought about expanding. He wondered whether he could spread The Gourmet Butcher Block all over Louisiana, and then the South, and then maybe the whole country.

But every time his brain got grandiose, Mistich would look on the wall of his store, at the photo Leah took of him with his two kids flanked by DelGiorno and Madden. He’d gone to the Superdome that day as a struggling young business owner, trying to figure out how to be married with three kids while carrying the baggage of his own father’s failings. “I try to be happy for what I have right in front of me, right now — not what I could have,” he says.

Mistich had made something amazing out of his life, eventually making peace with his dying father a few years ago. “My dad wasn’t the reflective type,” Mistich says. “So we had to just kind of leave it at, ‘It is what it is.’ But that helped me move on with my life. I didn’t need him to tell me he was proud of me. I was proud of myself, and that was enough.”

These days, Mistich, 59, is working his butt off with a more modest goal: He wants to retire someday soon and hand the keys to his son, Chazz, the little boy in the photo who came to Glenn after high school and said he wanted to learn everything he could about the meat business. Chazz is a 28-year-old dad now and works as the day-to-day manager at The Gourmet Butcher Block.

But even when Chazz takes over, there’s one task Mistich thinks he might do from now until the end of time. He has mailed Madden a turducken every year since 1996. It’s always special to box it up, put it in the freezer and send it to California.

Last Christmas, a package arrived at the Mistich house. It was a thank-you note from Madden and his wife, Virginia. Mistich couldn’t believe it — Madden was thanking him? “I think about John a lot, and I always get emotional,” Mistich says. “I quit school in the 10th grade, and here I am today.”

Mistich pauses for a second, then he laughs. He has never actually seen Madden eat a turducken, so he has to use his imagination of the legend devouring his dish on Thanksgiving. “John changed my life,” Mistich says. “The least I can do is send him a turducken every year.”

And just to be on the safe side, Mistich always includes a fork and some napkins.

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Football lifer Rich Bisaccia tasked with leading Las Vegas Raiders through choppy waters



LAS VEGAS — The stark darkness gave way to a bright Bronx winter as 9-year-old Rich Bisaccia emerged from the stadium tunnel in search of his seat. In front of him, what he had only seen on TV, or heard about on the radio or through second-hand conversations, that famed Yankee Stadium frieze and surrounding buildings. Below, more than 100 yards of a brownish green expanse lined as a football field.

Bisaccia was attending his first NFL game with his favorite team, the New York Giants, playing host to the St. Louis Cardinals on Dec. 7, 1969, and the future football lifer was excited to get a real-life glimpse of his hero, Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

“I swore I was Fran Tarkenton growing up,” Bisaccia said.

Born in nearby Yonkers, New York, Bisaccia had recently moved with his family to New Fairfield, Connecticut, after the passing of a grandmother and family matriarch. But his Giants fandom, passed down by his father, Nick, had only grown.

“My dad was the head football coach of the New York Giants,” Bisaccia said at his initial news conference on Oct. 13 as the Las Vegas Raiders‘ interim coach. “He just never told anybody.”

Reporters and fans alike scurried to Google, Wikipedia, anything to confirm Bisaccia’s Giants bloodline. It was a joke. Nick was such a fan, the younger Bisaccia said, he thought he knew more than the likes of Allie Sherman, Alex Webster or Bill Arnsparger.

Thing was, upon Bisaccia’s elevation with the Raiders in the wake of Jon Gruden’s resignation amid his email scandal on Oct. 11, the hunt was also on to find out more about Bisaccia himself.

So, yeah, there was intrigue, especially after the Raiders won a pair of blowout games against the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles in his first two contests running the Raiders to make the team 5-2 going into their bye. Then receiver Henry Ruggs III was involved in a fiery car crash early in the morning on Nov. 3 that killed a woman and her dog and fellow first-rounder Damon Arnette, an oft-injured cornerback, was released Nov. 8 after a video of him brandishing guns and making death threats surfaced online.

Las Vegas has not won a game since and the whispers are now not only about the future of Bisaccia with the Raiders, but also those of general manager Mike Mayock and quarterback Derek Carr.

Three consecutive losses — to those Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals to drop Las Vegas’ record to 5-5 — have added difficulty to Bisaccia’s task, one that’s already unprecedented due to Gruden’s abrupt midseason resignation and the releases of Ruggs and Arnette since taking the job. But as the Raiders get set to play at the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS), Bisaccia remains perhaps the organization’s most interesting man … especially since so little is known about him.

“I’ve got five sisters,” he allowed. “I’ve got four kids. Five grandkids.

“I owe my life to football.”

Dedicated to the craft

At 61 years old, Bisaccia is a head coach for the first time at any level in a career that began in 1983.

Not a particularly good student — by his own admission — he earned a scholarship to tiny Yankton College (yes, former Raider Lyle Alzado’s school) in South Dakota and played well enough for his coach there, Pete Chapman, to earn a tryout with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars as a defensive back. He did not make the team. But Chapman, who was moving from Yankton — now a minimum-security federal prison — to Wayne State College in Nebraska, brought Bisaccia with him to join his staff.

And he was off.

Bisaccia finished his Bachelor of Arts degree while coaching for Chapman and at Joe Namath’s summer camps and, after four years at Wayne State, a friend he had made coaching at different camps came calling.

Charlie Weis, the former Notre Dame head coach who won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, was at South Carolina and in charge of hiring graduate assistants and Bisaccia was at the top of his list in 1988.

“He was newly married, had his first kid but coach [Joe] Morrison didn’t want his [graduate assistants] to be married or have kids,” Weis said. “He wanted his G.A.s to be grunts. So, as a couple of Northeast kids, we got it done.”

Bisaccia had to act like he was separated from his wife, Jeanne, and live in the dorms to get and keep the gig.

“For him to go to that length, that showed his dedication,” Weis said.

Eventually, Morrison caught wind of their plan.

“Coach Morrison got a kick out of it,” Weis said.

Morrison died of a heart attack on Feb. 5, 1989, and Sparky Woods was hired as Gamecocks coach. Woods retained Bisaccia as a volunteer assistant who coached defensive ends, tight ends, running backs and special teams through 1993.

“A warm personality,” Woods, who is now a senior advisor at North Carolina, said of Bisaccia. “It didn’t take long to realize he had a passion for the players. Neat family. His wife is awesome. It didn’t take long to hire him.

“He was an excellent recruiter. A good listener. No problem being accountable. He never tried to bring attention to himself. He had a family and he needed a job but he never complained. He needed to make a living and I didn’t want to lose him.”

But he did.

A former fellow staffer at South Carolina, Tommy West, was named the head coach at Clemson in 1994. Guess who was at the top of his list?

“Rich is driven, self-motivated,” said West, now the defensive line coach at Middle Tennessee State. “He can go as high as he wants to go. In coach-speak, Rich is brutally honest. He was the guy you were going to run something by. Just don’t ask him if you don’t want to know.”

West recalled running a play by Bisaccia.

“Coach, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Bisaccia told him.

“I didn’t think it was that crazy,” West replied.

“That’s terrible,” was Bisaccia’s response.

“He’d say he couldn’t wait to see me play, that everybody in the stadium was there to see me. Even though everybody is not there to see me play, it made me feel that they were all coming to watch me.”

Former NFL running back Deuce McAllister, on Rich Bisaccia’s motivational techniques

Bisaccia’s journey through the Deep South then took him to Ole Miss in 1999, when David Cutcliffe saw what he called a “rare passion for coaching” and developing relationships with players.

“There’s no bigger fool in coaching than one who thinks they can fool a player,” said Cutcliffe, who is now the coach at Duke. “He’s going to light it up every now and then but not without them knowing that he respects them and the work they’ve put in.”

Case in point: It was Ole Miss’ homecoming game in 2000 against UNLV, which had forced overtime on the final play of regulation. Running back Deuce McAllister sat out regulation with a left high ankle sprain but when OT began, he told Bisaccia, his position coach as well as special teams coordinator, he would play. Bisaccia recognized the moment and trusted his player.

“I pulled rank,” McAllister, now a radio analyst for the Saints, laughed as he recalled converting a pair of third downs in OT before going over the top of the pile for the game-winning 1-yard touchdown.

McAllister said Bisaccia used to leave motivational notes in his locker before games.

“He’d say he couldn’t wait to see me play, that everybody in the stadium was there to see me,” McAllister said. “Even though everybody is not there to see me play, it made me feel that they were all coming to watch me.”

Said Cutcliffe: “That story speaks volumes for who Rich is. It’s time to think about players, not plays, and Rich was great for Deuce McAllister. I find myself saying it all the time — you get on a grease board, or a chalkboard before, and you want to draw up a winner. But you don’t just draw up a punt-block scheme; you have to have a punt blocker. You have to find him.”

‘Is he a great coach? Hell yeah’

With former NFL head coaches on the Raiders staff in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, offensive line coach Tom Cable and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, Bisaccia seemed a quizzical pick to replace Gruden.

Until you looked at the résumé.

Bisaccia, who carried the title of associate head coach and as the special teams coordinator, is well known by players on both sides of the ball.

“The irony is, I’ve endorsed him for a lot of head coaching jobs over the years, both in college and the NFL, back when I had a different job,” Mayock said. “He’s got as much respect in the locker room, in our locker room, as any coach I’ve ever seen in my life and the reason he does — is he a great coach? Hell yeah. But he’s an even better man and what I’ve always told people when I endorse him is that he’s the most natural leader of men that I have ever been around.

“Rich Bisaccia is the best leader I have ever been around. … I’m going to back this son of a gun unequivocally.”

Bradley remains in control of the defense while offensive coordinator Greg Olson took over playcalling duties from Gruden. Bisaccia? He’s still running special teams but he also refers to himself as an “in-game manager” inspired by John Robinson, the former Los Angeles Rams, USC and UNLV coach.

“I’m a Raider, too, just like him,” Robinson, who was on John Madden’s staff in 1975 as an offensive backfield coach, said of Bisaccia.

“As an in-game manager, I did not call plays. I advised and yelled at the coordinators when things didn’t go right; I tried to stay involved in the game. So, I was the manager of the game, how many timeouts we had. The playcaller can’t do that — maybe some guys can do everything — the playcaller has to have somebody else remind them, ‘Hey, there’s 12 seconds on the clock.’ Whatever that process is. I always tried to focus on that and look at our teams in terms of who’s tired. The intangibles that go into a game. That’s an important part of the game.”

Robinson said Bisaccia’s history as a special teams coach should help in his current role.

“They are prepared for the total game probably more than any other coach because they see the game more in that regard,” said Robinson, now an offensive consultant at LSU. “I’ve always believed the special teams coach has got a sense of what the total game is.”

And during that initial two-game winning streak, it was palpable in the Raiders locker room.

“Oh, yeah, we love him,” Carr said. “If you find someone that doesn’t like him, they probably didn’t do right. They probably didn’t work hard. They probably weren’t a good teammate, and things like that. If you just do right, you’ll love that man. And I think a lot of it has to do with just who he is as a person, how he believes. He’s the same every day so you know exactly what you are going to get. As a player that’s all you can ask for, especially in this league.”

Running back Josh Jacobs laughed when recalling how different things were in Denver with Bisaccia at the helm when compared to Gruden.

“Man, the sideline was just so, it was like, it wasn’t no anxiety,” Jacobs said. “It was weird. It was like everybody was calm, you didn’t have somebody cussing at you, or going crazy at the refs, you know what I’m saying? None of that. It was just like, ‘OK, something bad happened?’ [Bisaccia] was like, ‘OK, I’m not harping on you. All right, next play. Next play.’

“I was like, ‘That’s the right type of energy we needed.’ I love it.”

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue overlapped the pointer and middle fingers on his right hand.

“Me and coach are like this,” Ngakoue said. “We have similar views on a lot of things, about how we go about our work. It starts in practice. The way he has practice set up and structured, I just feel like it’s super effective in getting guys ready for Sundays.

“Do your job, be on time and you’ll be on his good side. I love coach, man.”

‘He deserves this opportunity’

Bisaccia was beckoned by the NFL in 2002.

Or, more specifically, by Gruden, who had been traded from the Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and needed a special teams coordinator.

Gruden’s first coaching job was as a G.A. at Tennessee in 1986. Cutcliffe coached the Volunteers’ tight ends at the time, so Gruden had an in.

“I had to tell [Gruden] the truth,” Cutcliffe said. “It was very difficult for me because part of the things people don’t understand about the industry is how hard it is to trade even or trade up with coaches. I knew we couldn’t trade even with Rich Bisaccia. Our relationship went beyond just the coaching. I was close to his family, the father. There’s more to this than X’s and O’s. Nobody was more aligned with what we were trying to do at Ole Miss than Rich.

“I knew I’d lose him to professional football. He deserves this opportunity. He’s ready. And he has been. It’s been far too long that he hasn’t been given a chance at a Power 5 school or in the National Football League.”

Bisaccia was a part of the Buccaneers staff that took apart the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII and Bisaccia takes a special pride in his father being in San Diego that day to “watch his son win a Super Bowl.”

He remained in Tampa Bay with Gruden and his successor, Raheem Morris, through 2010. Even as an old friend called.

“When I got the job at Notre Dame [in 2005], I tried to get him to be the associate head coach and special teams,” said Weis, now a SiriusXM NFL radio analyst. “I got close, but at the time he was in pretty good shape. And college doesn’t pay as well as the NFL.”

Bisaccia later joined Norv Turner with the Chargers in 2011 and 2012 and Jason Garrett with the Cowboys from 2013 to 2017 before reuniting with Gruden in 2018, all the while burnishing a reputation as one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL.

‘I just think we are all trying to learn’

Both of Bisaccia’s parents are gone now, as are the first two coaches for whom he worked in Morrison and Chapman, who died of cancer in 2003.

“I’m 61 years old and so I’d like to think along the lines you gain some wisdom, and you gain some experience,” Bisaccia said. “You go through things, whether it’s with family that I grew up with or I have my own [family] now, and then being around a lot of players.

“It’s a combination of maybe all those things — age, wisdom and with age comes experience that’s both positive and negative and you’d like to think you learn from them. And you’d like to think you can improve and keep moving forward, and I think that’s probably the message we try to give our players.

“I try to do it with my own kids. I got a kid that is one of those wildland firefighters and so he goes through a bunch of different experiences than I do and so I learn from him and the things he’s had to go through and some of that. So, I just think we are all trying to learn.”

Kind of like stepping out of the darkness and into the light like that winter day in the Bronx back in 1969.

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter Mike Triplett contributed to this report.

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NFL Thanksgiving Day games – Schedule guide, picks, fantasy football tips, odds, injuries and more



The Week 12 NFL schedule for the 2021 season begins with three Thanksgiving Day matchups, and we’ve got you covered with what you need to know. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and, of course, final score picks.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN researcher Kyle Soppe hands out helpful fantasy football insight as well. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded afternoon of NFL football.

Let’s get into the full Thanksgiving Day slate, including an NFC North matchup between the Bears and Lions and an offensive duel between the Raiders and Cowboys. The football-packed holiday culminates with a battle between two teams currently on the playoff fringe, the Bills and Saints. Who will take another step closer to the postseason with a win on Thursday?

Jump to a matchup:

See more:
History of Thanksgiving in the NFL
John Madden’s first turducken
Every team’s most memorable Thanksgiving

12:30 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
6.8 | Spread: CHI -3.5 (41.5)

What to watch for: The Lions are still in search of their first victory of the season under first-year coach Dan Campbell, and they’ll be the 13th team in NFL history to enter a Thanksgiving game with a winless record. Detroit will look to feed the hot hand, with running back D’Andre Swift leading all running backs in receptions (53) and sitting second in receiving yards (420). Swift also ranks fifth among all running backs with 975 scrimmage yards. Can the Bears slow him down and find their own offense with quarterback Andy Dalton? — Eric Woodyard

Bold prediction: Dalton will pass for three touchdowns as the Bears snap their five-game losing streak. Justin Fields is dealing with a rib injury, but Dalton has the experience to handle the quick turnaround, and he’s still good enough — Dalton threw for two touchdowns against the Ravens — to get the job done against inferior teams. Fields (when healthy) is still Chicago’s starting quarterback, but look for Dalton to light it up on Thursday. — Jeff Dickerson

Stat to know: The Bears blitzed the Ravens on 28 of 44 dropbacks last week (64%), the highest blitz rate by a team in a game this season and the highest blitz rate by the Bears in any game since ESPN began tracking it in 2006.

Injuries: Bears | Lions

What to know for fantasy: Chicago receiver Darnell Mooney saw 16 targets last week with Allen Robinson II sidelined and now ranks in the top 20 in air yards this season, ahead of elite deep-ball options such as Mike Williams and DK Metcalf. See Week 12 rankings.

Betting nugget: Seven of the past eight Detroit games have gone under the total. Read more.

Dickerson’s pick: Bears 24, Lions 17
Woodyard’s pick: Lions 21, Bears 20
FPI prediction: CHI, 64.0% (by an average of 4.8 points)

Thanksgiving Day throwback: On Thanksgiving in 1997, Detroit running back Barry Sanders rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears in a 55-20 win for the Lions. Read more.

Matchup must-reads: Nagy says he’s focused on Lions, not job status after report

4:30 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
54.7 | Spread: DAL -7.5 (51)

What to watch for: Can the Cowboys finally handle an AFC West defense? They scored 20 points against the Chargers, 16 against the Broncos and nine against the Chiefs. Denver and Kansas City were physical with the Cowboys on the perimeter, which helped them generate pressure against an offensive line that did not have left tackle Tyron Smith. But Smith is expected to play against the Raiders, and the Las Vegas defense is tied for 26th in points allowed (26.2). The Cowboys’ offense must answer the call, despite not having WR Amari Cooper and possibly CeeDee Lamb. — Todd Archer

Bold prediction: Dallas pass-rushing terror Micah Parsons — along with the Raiders’ red zone issues — will force Las Vegas to use backup quarterback Marcus Mariota on more than the occasional third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations. Mariota is much more mobile than Derek Carr. Parsons has 5.5 of his eight sacks in the Cowboys’ past three games, and Carr has been in a three-game, post-bye funk. The Raiders need a spark. — Paul Gutierrez

Stat to know: Raiders tight end Darren Waller now has 12 career 100-yard games, the third most by any tight end since he made his debut in 2015 (Travis Kelce has 27, and Rob Gronkowski has 14).

Injuries: Raiders | Cowboys

What to know for fantasy: Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been held out of the end zone in four of his past five games and doesn’t have a carry gaining more than 11 yards in four straight. See Week 12 rankings.



Stephania Bell and Matthew Berry examine the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation if CeeDee Lamb isn’t cleared for Thursday.

Betting nugget: Dallas is 1-9 against the spread (ATS) in its past 10 Thanksgiving games. Read more.

Gutierrez’s pick: Cowboys 27, Raiders 16
Archer’s pick: Cowboys 26, Raiders 19
FPI prediction: DAL, 75.0% (by an average of 9.1 points)

Thanksgiving Day throwback: In 1993, Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett inexplicably tried to recover a blocked game-winning field goal attempt from the Dolphins. The ball was booted forward by Lett and recovered by Miami at the 2-yard line. Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich connected on the following field goal to win the game 16-14 for Miami. Read more.

Matchup must-reads: Football lifer Bisaccia’s journey to becoming the Raiders’ interim coachNo longer playing Xbox, Cowboys’ Parsons a nightmare for quarterbacks

8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
82.1 | Spread: BUF -5.5 (46)

What to watch for: There might not be any NFL playoff contenders in more desperate need of bounce-back performances than these two teams. The Saints have lost three straight for the first time since 2016 and need to get running back Alvin Kamara and their offensive tackles back from injury as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Bills MVP candidate QB Josh Allen has battled turnovers while Buffalo has lost two of its past three and fell out of first place in the AFC East. — Mike Triplett

Bold prediction: Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian will throw at least two interceptions and complete less than 60% of his passes. He threw two interceptions in the loss to the Eagles last week and is averaging a 56.9% completion percentage on the season. The Bills’ defense is ripe for a comeback game and has 15 interceptions on the season, tied for the second most in the NFL. Buffalo has also allowed opposing passers to complete just 57.7% of passes (lowest in the league). The Saints might be without Kamara and multiple other offensive players due to injuries, including tight end Adam Trautman, setting up the Bills’ No. 1 pass defense for success. — Alaina Getzenberg

Stat to know: The Bills entered Week 11 allowing the fewest points per game (15.0) and gave up 41 to the Colts. The Saints, meanwhile, entered last week ranked No. 1 in run defense (72.9 rushing yards allowed per game) before giving up 242 to the Eagles. Which defense will bounce back in Week 12?

Injuries: Bills | Saints

What to know for fantasy: Bills receiver Stefon Diggs has scored five times in his past five games after scoring just once in his first five this season. He was WR2 over the final eight weeks of last season and appears to be rounding into form at the right time. See Week 12 rankings.

Betting nugget: New Orleans is 3-0 outright and 2-1 ATS in Thanksgiving games under coach Sean Payton with covers in its past two appearances (2018 and 2019). Read more.

Getzenberg’s pick: Bills 27, Saints 20
Triplett’s pick: Bills 23, Saints 22
FPI prediction: BUF, 61.7% (by an average of 4.0 points)

Thanksgiving Day throwback: In 2019, the Saints clinched the NFC South title on Thanksgiving with a win against the Falcons. Backup quarterback Taysom Hill blocked a punt and scored two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing) in New Orleans’ 26-18 victory. Read more.

Matchup must-reads: Bills have little room left for error after disappointing loss to ColtsSaints’ playoff hopes on the ropes heading into Thanksgiving matchup with BillsSources: Saints TE Trautman to miss 4-6 weeks with MCL sprain

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