Michael Silver knows Super Bowls. When the San Francisco Chronicle columnist travels to Las Vegas to see the San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs, this will be the 30th title game he has covered.
The longtime sportswriter has worked for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports, and the NFL Network. He has authored books on Dennis Rodman, Jerry Rice, Kurt Warner, and Natalie Coughlin and is a partner at Backstage Media, a content and media development company.
Awful Announcing recently caught up with Silver to discuss the Niners, Aaron Rodgers, his new book, and his upcoming basketball documentary.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Awful Announcing: What would the narrative have been if San Francisco had lost the NFC Championship?
Michael Silver: “The way they lost would have factored in, right? They were being pummeled. That would have led to a lot of questions. It would have been a very hard sell for Kyle Shanahan and for John Lynch to say, ‘Hey, we’re close. We just got to take another swing.’ They have one more year of Brock Purdy on the rookie contract. So, in theory, you could keep the band together. They are going to face cap challenges next year, but with a quarterback on a rookie deal, a lot is doable. So it wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, the window’s closed.’ But I think it’s a tougher sell with three NFC Championship game defeats in a row. There would have been a narrative about Purdy. I think internally they’re sold that he is an elite player they want to build around. But with a bad loss to the Detroit Lions, you would have at least tons of noise (regarding getting) Kirk Cousins who’s a free agent.”
What’s fair and unfair when it comes to assessing Purdy?
“He can get the ball out accurately in the tight spots quickly. That is a superpower in the NFL. He has displayed some mobility that helps him extend plays. But if that isn’t there, which it didn’t appear to be for much of the Packers game, it’s tough to tell me what plan B is. The absolute greatest—Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen— all have a plan B. That’s a that’s an insanely high standard. They have obvious athletic traits.
“What’s unfair is to say that he’s just distributing the ball and he’s a product of his environment. Yes, Kyle Shanahan is a brilliant schemer and playcaller. And certainly, they have exceptional skill players, and a Hall of Fame left tackle. But Purdy has been much better than that depiction that he’s just an accidental tourist.”
Managed the heck out of that game!— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 30, 2024
Next up, the Super Bowl on CBS. pic.twitter.com/Wu5cJcxGG8
How close did Tom Brady come to joining the Niners?
“I thought it was realistic. They played the Bucs in Purdy’s first start in December 2022. I’ve known Brady for a long, long time. I wrote a column about him being pissed that they lost and leaving the stadium without showering to fly home. In that column, I talked about the possibility that he could come to the 49ers. And again, this was Purdy’s first start. They later concluded that Purdy’s the guy no matter what. The only thing that could have possibly changed that was what happened. He suffered a potentially ruinous arm injury in the NFC Championship game. Because of that, all bets were off. And If Purdy can’t play, they cannot have Trey Lance as their only option. I felt confident in my reporting on that. They’ve got to do something. So, there was Aaron Rogers. There was Brady, and then you had your Matt Ryans of the world. Brady made so much sense. It’s only for a year, and then Purdy could be your guy next year. I always believed that was the most likely play for them. I didn’t have a lot of confidence that Tom still wanted to play. But of course, only Tom could answer that ultimately.
“At the combine, I got Lynch alone and broached all of it. When it got to Brady, he said, ‘Yeah, I reached out, and I got to try again for sure.’ I get that people are flipping out about it now, but I stand by all of it.”
What storylines fascinate you the most about this Super Bowl?
“There’s so much on the line for the 49ers in terms of legacy. They’ve had this seven-year run with Shanahan and Lynch where they’ve gotten so close. They’ve been so close for four of the last five years. There’s such a huge difference in terms of legacy and perception between ‘Kyle Shanahan finally got one,’ and ‘He fell short again.’
“Conversely, we’re somehow under-appreciating Mahomes, which is hard to imagine in this era with all the hype. He’s now been in four Super Bowls. I think we’re seeing something just staggeringly good.”
What was your experience like working at NFL Network? Did they ever tell you not to report a story such as Jim Trotter has alleged?
“Jim’s a friend. I have a ton of respect for him. Like Jim, I’ve always spoken my mind and have pissed off owners long before I worked there. It was a little weird to people that I went to work there because I had literally done owner rankings, at Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! I brutalized owners for years in a pretty caustic way sometimes.
“I just approached it like I’m going to do journalism. It might have changed the stories I pursued. For example, if there was a big head trauma expose, I was now at NFL Media. So it didn’t feel like something that if I went gung ho on it, it was going to be something they would champion, right? But I never held back on doing journalism and calling it like I saw it. I said some pretty strong things after the Ray Rice situation about the league. If they asked me about Redskins on live TV, I would say I think it’s a racist nickname. I went after owners for being bad at managing their teams. I felt free to criticize.”
What are your thoughts on what has happened to Aaron Rodgers in recent years?
“It’s been interesting. Aaron and I’ve had a good relationship for a long time. All of us compartmentalize in this world. There are people I deal with very closely that if we got into a discussion about certain political things, we might wildly disagree. One owner and I have gone back and forth. We sound like a cliché, a right-wing, left-wing political debate when we get together over drinks. We still have a good relationship and disagree on virtually everything.
“With Aaron, I can understand why people have gotten frustrated by some of the things he has brought up outside of football. I just try to deal with him as an all-time great football player. It works better for me. I’m vaccinated and happily beholden to the scientists who give us great advice about pandemics and other things.”
What’s your next book about?
“I’m doing a book on the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay coaching crew and how they’ve revolutionized the game. It’s Shanahan, McVay, Matt LaFleur, Raheem Morris, and Mike McDaniel as the main characters, starting with Mike Shanahan and all those guys being on that (2011-2013) Washington staff. They’ve revolutionized the sport with their approach—the outside-the-box thinking, questioning football’s hollowed tenets, and the quest for evolution. So, it’s got kind of a Moneyball vibe that way. It’s this crew of innovators that have changed the game.”
Can you give me an example of how they changed the game?
“If you look at the Robert Griffin III year in 2012, they ran the entire Shanahan system, which includes outside zone and all that stuff, but they adapted it to run it out of the pistol. They were wildly successful and caught the league off guard that year. So that would be an example of, instead of being so intent on finding players to fit your system, you adapted in a pretty radical way to match the (players’) limitations and talents. Robert had never run anything resembling a pro-style offense in college. But he was a good fit out of the pistol. So, they adapted everything they believed on the fly to match their personnel. That’s an example of the way they think.”
What led you to be involved in a basketball documentary on David Thompson?
I'd day we are walking on air but the great David Thompson actually did that… We are, in fact, exceptionally excited ?? https://t.co/vHPnu6Tqfv— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) June 15, 2023
“I grew up in L.A., after being born in San Francisco, and Bill Walton was this legendary figure at UCLA. When Walton finally got toppled, it was in the 1974 national semifinals. David Thompson had this incredible game and led North Carolina State to the NCAA championship. He was Michael Jordan before Jordan. He was this incredibly athletic dude and a winner. Because of where Jordan grew up, he was kind of Jordan’s idol. The guy has an incredible story. He had a Hall of Fame NBA career, including this famous 73-point explosion in the last game of the regular season when a scoring title was at stake. But then fell prey to a lot of the perils of the era. He had cocaine issues, fell down the stairs at Studio 54, tore up his knee, and ruined the rest of his career. It’s an incredible fall from grace, but it does have a happy ending. He turned his life around and has done some cool things.”