The dual nature of Twitter is that most of our 140-character posts seem instantly disposable, yet they are entered into our permanent record.
Sports pundits, journalists and broadcasters become acutely aware of this because of the social pressure that is on them to weigh in instantly on anything or everything that happens in the sports world – producing what we call the hot take.
With the advantage of hindsight, some of those takes can look pretty silly, of course. That intersection between hindsight and foolishness is where Fred Segal casts his net for material for his popular Twitter feed, named Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed).
Segal is a lawyer in Coral Springs, Fla., who runs his Twitter feed as a hobby. He says the seed for Freezing Cold Takes was planted when, as a Dolphins fan, he read a column by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald stating that the Dolphins should trade Dan Marino and put their offense in the hands of Scott Mitchell. The column ran on Nov. 4, 1993. Marino, then 32, had torn an Achilles tendon in a game against Cleveland in October and was done for the season. He would play six more years for the Dolphins. In 1994, the year after Cote’s column, Marino threw for 4,453 yards and 30 touchdowns for Miami and was voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
“That’s my favorite because I grew up in Miami and remember it vividly,” Segal told The Buffalo News via email.
Assessing injuries, rating football talent and judging a player’s future impact in the NFL are obviously risky undertakings − just ask any NFL general manager. Another take that has gone stone cold is from ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who in August 2013 said on the air, “I believe Colin Kaepernick can be the best QB in the history of the NFL.” The quote was tweeted by ESPN’s NFL account and preserved by Freezing Cold Takes.
Old print columns also are fair game for Segal, including an Ian O’Connor column from January 2000 in the New York Daily News. The headline reads: “Patriots will regret hiring Belichick.” That’s probably one that O’Connor would like to have back.
My Buffalo News colleague Vic Carucci was flagged by Segal’s gotcha gang. Carucci wrote in a column in April 1998 that if the No. 1 overall draft pick that year was going to be a quarterback, “He has to have a great arm. He has to have one of the best arms anyone has seen in some time. ... We’re talking about a guy who will lead the team that selects him for many years to come while racking up all sorts of impressive statistics and playing in several Pro Bowls and maybe a Super Bowl or two along the way. That describes (Ryan) Leaf far better than it describes (Peyton) Manning.”
Reached by The News (I walked over to his desk), Vic gave me the following response:
“I wrote it, I own it. It’s one of the hazards of spending many years in a business where you routinely share your opinions very publicly and very permanently − yellowing newsprint notwithstanding.
“My take reflected that I was clearly taken by Leaf’s powerful arm. Little did I know that he would prove to be such a train wreck above the shoulder pads and I obviously didn’t foresee Manning’s legendary career. Of course, I think it’s fair to say history will remember the Chargers’ whiff on Leaf as being just a tad worse than mine.”
“And while we’re on the subject of fairness, I’m wondering where I can find the Twitter feed that posts takes I’ve had that fall into the ‘hot’ category. For instance, there was a column I wrote for The News in August 1985 about a rookie wide receiver who was looking particularly impressive during the Bills’ training camp at SUNY Fredonia. It appeared under the headline: ‘Andre Reed Could Be a Great One.’”
Touche, as they say.
When the Bills released Karlos Williams on Aug. 20, Freezing Cold Takes retweeted a post from the team’s official Twitter account. On May 4 this year, the Bills tweeted: “Happy birthday to our record-setting RB, Karlos Williams! Big things coming in 2016, 29. #BillsRunDeep.”
FCT also found a tweet from Williams himself, who cryptically wrote on Aug. 12: “Not gonna go well.” Segal added: “You called it, @Karlos_29_SR”
Most of Segal’s targets are big boys and girls who can take it. He doesn’t often retweet the misguided predictions of ordinary citizens. That would be more than a full-time job.
“I rarely post cold takes from random accounts,” Segal said. “I used to do it a lot more when I first started the feed, but I stopped pretty quickly − followers have made it clear they don’t find it entertaining.”
He will make exceptions when something newsworthy (or comment worthy) happens in sports that inspires a surge of takes. Such was the case when Cardale Jones was playing quarterback for Ohio State against Virginia Tech in September 2015, leading the Buckeyes to victory. Segal wrote that “some fans got a wee bit carried away during the first half” of that game.
Segal put together a cluster of fan tweets, including: “Cardale is going first overall in the draft. #stud ... Browns should just tank the season and take Cardale 1st overall.”
Some apparently cooler heads prevailed. Jones was drafted in April with the last pick of the fourth round − by the Bills.
There are some media pundits whose predictions lend themselves to historical second-guessing more than others.
“There are certain personalities that I try not to use because it’s too easy,” Segal said. “Skip Bayless is a prime example of this. I could use his tweets all day long but I feel like it’s lazy.”
The Jaworski comment on Kaepernick rates as one of Segal’s favorites, as does the Miami Herald column on trading Marino.
Pronouncements about players during and after the NFL Draft have a way of turning stone cold.
“Draft takes are a gold mine,” Segal said. “Especially the ones about players that were universally touted and turn out to be big busts. Trent Richardson is a great example.”
In 2012 the Cleveland Browns traded up to draft the Alabama running back Richardson at No. 3 overall, then used the 22nd pick on Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. Richardson played one season for the Browns, one for the Colts, and then faded into obscurity, making him one of the all-time draft busts. Weeden has started games for the Browns, Cowboys and Texans. He is now a backup in Houston.
After the Browns made their selections, Michael Fabiano of NFL.com gushed: “Richardson could be the best Browns RB since Jim Brown. No, really.”
Stewart Mandel, then with Sports Illustrated, was also impressed: “Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in the same backfield next year? That’s pretty freaking cool.”
The reality of the draft, of course, is that there are some epic misses by NFL teams, as well as some hidden gems or other late bloomers. Russell Wilson was the No. 75 overall pick in 2012. Cornerback Josh Norman went No. 143 that year
That doesn’t mean that some good-natured fun can’t be poked at NFL pundits. Tom Brady was one of the all-time sleepers, going to New England in the sixth round in 2000. Shortly after the draft, Kevin Mannix in the Boston Herald questioned the wisdom of drafting the young signal-caller from Michigan.
“People recognized his name because of his role on a big-time program and because of the position he played,” Mannix wrote. “So what’s with that? Why another quarterback? The Patriots already have their franchise starter in Drew Bledsoe, a proven veteran backup in John Friesz, and a young developmental player in Michael Bishop.”
Mannix’s words are cryogenically preserved as a Frozen Cold Take.
A colleague of mine recently pointed out that making predictions is expected of sportswriters more than of any other journalists. The beat writers covering the race for the White House are not expected to publish their prediction for how many states or electoral votes each candidate will win on Nov. 8. Does that put an unfair burden on sportswriters?
“It all comes with the territory,” in Segal’s view. “Also, I’d like to think that even though we make fun of journalists for inaccuracy, most of us understand that it’s impossible to get everything right and (we) don’t hold it against them.”
A lot of the journalists or other sports pundits who are cited on Freezing Cold Takes are good sports about it. Others, not so much.
“I have been blocked by at least 20 media folks,” Segal said. “I usually call them out for doing it. Many of them make fun of me in some way, inferring that I am a wannabe and have too much time on my hands. Also, many of the media personalities have deleted tweets after I repost them. I usually screenshot the tweet before posting and call them out for deletion.”
Other media people get the joke, Segal said. “There are more who love it than hate it. Adam Schein from CBS Sports is a prime example of someone who enjoys laughing at himself when I post his old terrible takes. Danny Kanell is another one. I do a 10-minute radio segment on 790 The Ticket’s morning show (in South Florida) every Friday and I am encouraged to read at least one cold take from someone associated with the show each segment. The hosts enjoy laughing at each other about it.”