A Freezing Cold Takes NFL graphic.

As a sports fan, there’s really nothing quite like the schadenfreude that comes with seeing a hot take by a loudmouthed media critic suddenly turn into a freezing cold take. And given the state of the sports media industry, the ground is salted with bad and incorrect takes, from “sure-thing offensive lineman Tony Mandarich” to “boneheaded hire Bill Belichick” to “can’t-miss NFL prospect Lawrence Phillips.”

The genuine appreciation that sports fans have for watching cold takes take shape is what made Freezing Cold Takes such a hit on social media. Now, Fred Segal, the man behind the Twitter account, has compiled some of the very best (worst?) freezing cold takes from the NFL in a new book, Freezing Cold Takes: NFL: Football Media’s Most Inaccurate Predictions—and the Fascinating Stories Behind Them.

Awful Announcing spoke with Segal about the history of NFL hot (and cold) takes, how looking at the way the media reported a story contextualizes how we view it, how much we “miss” Joe Theismann, and what the modern state of hot takery looks like.

(Note: Freezing Cold Takes was briefly associated with Awful Announcing’s parent company, Comeback Media)

Awful Announcing: The cool thing about the book is the angle it takes, fronting all the hot takes and the cold takes. It gives each story a different point of view and tells a different side of the story than I think we’ve heard.

Fred Segal: I had a hard time thinking about how I was going to do that at first. And then I kind of just started writing and figured out a way to just kind of blend it in and be able to tell the story at the same time. I did not want to make it an extension of my feed.

I think that when people first heard about the book, many thought that it would just be a book full of quotes and tweets. I don’t do that, except for one chapter. I did that with the NFL Draft. I made that decision because I wanted to find a way to put all these draft takes in there and I didn’t have enough room to write about each one. So, I just decided, hey, I’m just going to throw these all in one chapter because people wanted to see that too. And I wanted to share some of the funny ones from the past that people may not have heard of.

AA: Speaking of, I know the one that I loved the most was seeing a quote from Joe Theismann where he was saying, “The New England Patriots should draft Rick Mirer because he’ll help them sell tickets to Notre Dame fans in the area.” And I was just– It made me kind of like miss this bygone era of cold takes. I don’t know if we have people like Joe Theismann anymore.

FS: Joe Theismann would have been a great guy to have now. Theismann had some great doozies.

Mel Kiper gets a lot of crap. And he does a lot of bold things that go wrong. But he’s very well prepared. And he knows all his stuff about every player, and he knows why people draft different players. And he is always trying to think of the logical reason behind it.

When guys like Joe Theismann say stuff like that at the draft, it’s funny to watch Mel try to talk to him out of it without going off on him. 

AA: Do you have any “cold take people” that aren’t around anymore where you’re like, I wish that person was still out there?

FS: Well, he is certainly one, Theismann. I mean. I don’t know how he was thought of back then. There wasn’t much commentary about the commentator.

Like, when Booger [McFarland] and [Jason] Witten were on the Monday Night Football broadcast, I think it was well-known based on social media, generally, you just knew what everyone thought of them on the broadcast

We didn’t have that with Theismann. I mean, he was on a lot. And I guess, as a kid, I thought he knew what he was talking about. And I always thought that they were more well prepared than they are. I mean, only the draft guys are really all that prepared. The rest of the guys are just saying the most basic things about the player. I guess now there are so many draft guys. But back then, there weren’t very many. 

AA: What was it that made you want to focus on the NFL for this book? 

FS: Well, I was going to write a book about all sports. And what happened was, that it’s a max-word requirement. I knew it was going to be that. And I just figured, if I could write about one sport, then I could do another one. And I just picked the NFL because it’s the most popular sport. There are the best cold takes in the NFL. And it’s the one that I think people will know most of the history of it. Even the younger fans who weren’t really around for that type of stuff or were too young to remember it.

AA: Reading the book, I feel like I noticed some themes that would come up over and over in the cold takes. One of them was realizing the difference between when somebody was making a hot take that we look back on and say, “Well, that was stupid.” Compared to when someone was making a flat-out incorrect take, which we look back on and can say, “well, you did your best with the information you had at the time. But wow, you were so wrong.” 

FS: Right, right. And I think that’s part of the reason why it was fun for me to write the book. I think it was one of the reasons why I want to do something different than just post on social media, where there’s only room for a quote or tweet. You can tell the stories and provide context.

I mean, the first chapter is on Bill Belichick. “The Patriots will regret hiring Bill Belichick,” is the main quote. And there is a guy by the name of Ian O’Connor who wrote that article, who is really the fall guy for that take. It’s the perfect embodiment of the newspaper-age cold take. “The Patriots will regret hiring Bill Belichick.” It has his picture there.

But everyone had that take back then. Not everybody, but there were so many people who did. So, O’Connor takes the fall for it. But there were so many people that had it. 

If you look at the story I wrote in the book, it’s understood why from a surface level. Because Bill Belichick left the Jets after one day as their head coach. He was installed as the head coach via contract because [Bill] Parcells stepped down. Belichick was appointed in his contract. But he wanted to go to the Patriots and he quit after one day of the Jets. It took him three weeks to get there. And during those three weeks, he was trying to extricate himself from the Jets contract. And he unsuccessfully did that. And the Patriots had to give up the draft pick to get him. 

It’s one of those things where, the longer things go one, especially back then, when the news was by the day and not by the hour, you would talk about it so much. There was so much time to just completely trash on Belichick. After each hearing or arbitration came out about the issue, we’d just revisit it. And there would be more about Belichick about how he was an asshole for leaving New York. And that no one should ever try to hire him. Then when the Patriots gave up a draft pick to get him, there was more. Why would they hire him?

And he also had a losing record with Cleveland. So, that’s why people were willing to say, “Why are people wanting to hire him?” I mean, why would they think he was going to win the Super Bowl? What logic would that follow?

AA: The other thing that comes up a lot is people using one game or one performance to justify their grand theory. “All right, we’ve got to trade Dan Marino tomorrow. Scott Mitchell has played one good game. That’s it, we’re good.”

FS: You see that more on the internet because it’s during the game. If something happens today, it’s even more prevalent, but it’s never stopped. It’s always been the way it’s been. Preseason, especially.

I have a whole chapter on preseason when people do that. And you see it now more than ever. I mean, I just saw it with Kenny Pickett the other day. And I’m not saying that Kenny Pickett is not going to be great. But using that one preseason game to validate his greatness…it’s just like, that’s what people do. 

AA: Another thing that I thought was really fascinating was how these takes can act as historical documents. The Lawrence Phillips chapter, especially with what’s going on right now with Deshaun Watson…Some of those quotes, you’re like, ‘That must have come from the 1960s.’ No, these are things that people said out loud on television in front of a microphone in 1997.

FS: Yeah. Art Modell, he had some real– Art Modell loved Lawrence Phillips. He loved him. He wanted to draft him. And thank God for Ozzie Newsome overruling him. And thank God for the Cardinals for picking Simeon Rice instead of Jonathan Ogden. Because they probably would have drafted him. But Modell still liked the kid. I mean, he went out to dinner with him for a long, long time. And really just took a liking to that kid. And just, he said that because the girlfriend was–I guess the girlfriend broke up with him and wasn’t nice to him, she deserved to be dragged down the stairs by her hair. And it was just like…

And there were a lot of people who wrote about it the next day, who said that was terrible to say. But it was forgotten about pretty quickly. That would not happen now.

But a guy like Lawrence Phillips getting picked Top 10 would not happen now based on all the precedent we see. I think he probably would have been picked. I mean, we saw Tyreek Hill get picked. We saw Joe Mixon get picked. They get picked, but they get picked a lot later. 

AA: It was just fascinating reading that because the quotes tell their own story of what the mood was and what the NFL was willing to overlook for who they thought was a talented guy. 

FS: Yeah. And Joe Theismann was big on it too. He said, “It’s not a league of angels.” 

AA: I fully expected at some point in the book I was going to run into Skip Bayless because it just feels inevitable. And I like how in the Troy Aikman and Cowboys chapter, it kind of feels like a Skip Bayless origin story. You lay out that here’s this guy we all know from ESPN and Fox. We know him as this national figure. But for people who don’t know, you get to see how he grew into this role when he was still in Dallas.

FS: The Skip Bayless that we see today is… He has this thing, he picks a player, and he decides, ‘Hey, I’m going to just criticize this player forever, no matter what he does. I don’t care what happens. If he does something good, then I will spin it into a criticism. Or I’ll give him a backhanded compliment.’ And I think what I was trying to show in the book is that he’s been doing that for a long, long time. Even before he was on TV all the time. 

Obviously, the prime example of the guy he does that with is LeBron James. But he does it with Aaron Rodgers too. And he also has guys that he will be a fanboy of and say whatever they do is right, constantly. He does that with Tom Brady. He did it with Manny Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather. He just picks guys.

He did that with Troy Aikman. And this is before the big story everyone knows about Troy Aikman, that Skip Bayless wrote in his book that the coaching staff said they heard a rumor that he could be gay. Which journalistically speaking, is really ridiculous. And Aikman hates him forever for that

But before that, when Aikman was installed as the quarterback in ’89, until like ’92, when that Cowboys team won the Super Bowl for the first time, he wrote articles constantly berating Aikman, no matter what he did, and pushing for Steve Walsh to be the quarterback. 

AA: When you started Freezing Cold Takes, when did you know, “Okay, I’m on to something here.” That this is going to be a thing?

FS: I think pretty quickly. Local radio started talking about it. So, a radio station from Sacramento or Buffalo or something like that. I noticed that my follower count would go up. I didn’t know why. But they were talking about it. 

I would have like a thousand followers after a month. And then, when Sports Illustrated wrote an article on it, that burst it from like 2,500 to 25,000 [followers] over two days when that came out. At that point, it was big when I was making radio stations. I was doing weeklies on radio stations, things like that.

AA: Have you ever gotten chewed out by anyone who is mad that you’re resurfacing their hot take? 

FSNothing privately. Definitely publicly. A lot of blue checks have done that. I don’t remember a lot of their names anymore. But they do that. They like to talk about how I’m not interesting. It’s just “useless,” stuff like that. “Loser.”

Twitter is a great platform for people to generally characterize your life based on what you do and what you tweet.

AA: Obviously, there are people like Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd, whose takes come up a lot. Is there anybody who you see coming up that would be their cold-take heir apparent?

FS: Nick Wright.

But you know, Skip is a different animal. I think that there are a lot of people that don’t mind being the cold-take person. But Skip, the way that Skip presents himself, he’s always going to be that guy. I think that he’s still the only one who’s embraced it completely and fully to the highest extent and doesn’t have any shame for it. With him, it’s all about what’s going to draw the most attention. That’s what he’s doing. He hasn’t changed very much. So…if it’s working, it’s working. 

AA: I thought you’d be an interesting person to ask about this. Are you familiar with this whole “new media” thing that a lot of basketball players have been pushing? 

FS: Somewhat familiar. I know the thing that Draymond Green is doing.

AAYeah, it’s this movement amongst basketball players to say, we’re pushing back against the hot-take culture of Stephen A. Smith and pundits who didn’t play basketball or play sports. You have these guys like Draymond Green, Patrick Beverley, Richard Jefferson, and JJ Reddick, who say we’re coming to “take back” media in that sense because we know what we are talking about. I’m just kind of curious if you have any thoughts about that.

FS: I think guys like Skip…or Stephen A. Smith, you probably want them to be doing what they’re doing. I think it’s helpful for the game. They are getting attention for it. Because if Stephen A. Smith stopped talking about basketball and started talking about football, [basketball] would be even less relevant, right?

I think they are starting to realize that talking on the radio, or talking on TV, you have to be interesting, somehow. Being diplomatic isn’t really all that interesting.

Most of those guys aren’t quick to be completely insulting to other players. Or criticize other players. So, that’s kind of a negative they would have. Like, Draymond and Patrick Beverley will definitely throw some flames about other players. But I don’t think it’s going to be for all players. Or else he wouldn’t have the huge guest list at his wedding he just had.

I think they are starting to realize that, when it all comes down to it, guys like Stephen A. Smith are probably helping the NBA more than they are hurting them. Because you want on the biggest station, no matter what people think the biggest station is, you want them talking about the NBA.

If they really wanted to stir the pot, do what they are doing in terms of arguing in a way that the drama will be watched and liked. Keep the drama going. That would probably be their best bet. I mean, Kevin Durant tries to do that. Keep the drama going. 

Drama could be annoying. But that’s what people see and people like to talk about, especially nowadays.

Freezing Cold Takes: NFL is available now. 

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.