One of the many things you learn when you cover professional athletes for a living is this: they are typically really, really good at deception and hiding the truth.

Take former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer, for example.

In July of 1999, I wrote that the San Diego Chargers signed Kramer to join Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Leaf in the battle for the starting quarterback gig. That same day, a woman identifying herself as Kramer’s grandmother called the newspaper.

She was so excited that her grandson had signed with the Chargers and was looking forward to reading many stories about him.

About four months later, I really would have liked to call up the grandmother with this message: Your grandson, Erik, is a major jerk.

And using the work jerk would’ve been a nicer term than the one that truly fit.

Kramer is on my mind this Sunday night because he spoke publicly about his failed suicide attempt of last August in a well-done story by the Detroit Free Press. If you have 30 minutes of free time, it is a terrific read — Ex-Lions QB Kramer gets help after suicide attempt

If you just have time for a quick read, here is a superb summary put together by someone you know — Former NFL QB Kramer talks about suicide attempt

Basically, Kramer has been dealing with depression for about 25 years, beginning early in his NFL career. Things reached a crisis level last summer after family deaths in 2011 (a son), 2012 (his mom) and 2015 (dad was ill at time of Kramer’s suicide attempt and later died) amid a divorce and other personal problems.

Kramer decided to take his life but the gunshot didn’t kill him. The bullet went through his chin and tongue, up his sinus cavities and out the top of his head. He was in a medically induced coma for six weeks but survived and finally returned home last month.

Now 51, Kramer joked to the Free Press that he’s only alive because he’s “a bad shot.”

What the Free Press story also does is make me think about the Kramer of 17 years ago.

Seriously, only Leaf was a bigger jerk than Kramer on the 1999 Chargers, but Kramer somehow threw interceptions at a even greater pace than Leaf.

He played in six games (four starts) with the Chargers and threw 10 interceptions against two touchdowns. He was trying to play through significant neck pain but the injury forced him to retire during the season.

When you factor in what Kramer revealed in his detail of the suicide attempt, you have to wonder if his depression issues were a major factor in 1999. He said he had major depression troubles in the offseason following his career-best season of 1995 when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns for the Chicago Bears.

If depression was flaring up at a high point of his career, it surely sounds plausible that Kramer was dealing with the illness when he was on the downside of his career and seeing the end was near.

Heavy depression certainly would affect his demeanor and the way he treated people.

Heck, most NFL players dislike reporters to begin with so imagine feeling lousy every single day and then having some pesky reporter — hey, that’s me — grilling you about the three interceptions you threw in a 31-3 home loss to the Green Bay Packers one week after throwing four second-half interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks.

Kramer lost his job the following week and the media seldom saw him again. Nobody that I know of shed any tears.

But remember what I said about how athletes are really, really good at hiding the truth?

I’m willing to bet Kramer was dealing with heavy depression at the time.

He probably wasn’t nearly as bad a guy as he seemed. Just a troubled individual dealing with something none of us knew.

We all know now after the events of last summer and Kramer’s decision to discuss the situation with the Free Press.

And now he’s trying to make the best of things after dealing with a bunch of darkness and setbacks in his life.

This qualifies as a real-life audible — and that rates as a bit more important than the on-field ones.

Things change fast around the NFL and the release of longtime San Diego Chargers punter Mike Scifres once again reminded me of that fact.

There are now only two players left in the organization that I covered: Quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.

Repeat, two.

Just a few months ago, there were still five players remaining who had received the thrill of getting interviewed by me. (Hope you recognize sarcasm when you see it).

But receiver Malcom Floyd retired, safety Eric Weddle was allowed to depart as a free agent and now this weekend’s release of the 35-year-old Scifres, who averaged 45 or more yards per punt in eight different seasons.

Hey, I still have Rivers’ number in my cell phone. Bet it has been changed four or five times since I last called him.

NFL careers don’t last long — the average tenure is a little more than three years — so turnover isn’t surprising. It just jumps out at you when you have a succinct measuring point like I do.

In fact, I covered the Chargers for five years in the late 1990s too before I moved over to run the San Diego State beat. When I returned to cover the Chargers in early 2007, I scanned the roster closely.

Yep, there were only two players remaining from my first term of covering the team: Defensive tackle Jamal Williams and long snapper David Binn.

Even good-guy general manager Bobby Beathard was gone and the general manager was A.J. Smith, who had a reputation of being hard to deal with. Smith wouldn’t talk to two different beat writers — it was easy to tell why he wouldn’t talk to the one guy; but the other guy he wouldn’t speak with was the nicest and most easy-going sports writer in San Diego history.

If you’re wondering, I never had any issues getting along with Smith. I think it was because he respects sports writers who are direct and honest with him — guys who just flat-out ask the tough questions as opposed to writers who are chronically petty or excel at being a wise guy.

Basically, the type of people who last for long stretches in an NFL organization are guys who don’t put on the uniforms. They are the kind of people fans and the public at large don’t care about it.

But the players? They come and go fast.

Really fast.

The release of the best punter in Chargers’ history attests to that fact.

 

Joey Bosa you ask?

I have an open mind about the Chargers selection of Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa with the third overall pick in the draft.

He was one of the best college players in the country in 2014 when he had 13.5 sacks among 21.5 tackles for losses. But he didn’t come close to following up that campaign last season when he began the season with a mysterious suspension and ended up with just five sacks.

But his stock didn’t drop at all and he was the first defensive player off the board. The Chargers badly needed to upgrade at the position and only time will tell if Bosa develops into a double-digit sack artist in the NFL.

Even if the Chargers were tempted to take an offensive lineman with their pick, the shenanigans involving Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil should have scared them off. The tweet of Tunsil smoking dope while wearing a gas mask is just the latest of many character flaws in his background.

I think the Chargers did right by going with Bosa.

Remember a few short months ago when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he expected the Chargers to move to Los Angeles?

Things surely have changed over the past few months. Goodell was live in San Diego for last Saturday’s downtown stadium rally, also known as the kickoff effort to gather signatures for a ballot initiative.

The commish has reversed field in impressive O.J. Simpson-like fashion – that’s the football player version, not the double murderer – since the Rams relocated to Los Angeles in mid-January.

When it became clear Chargers president Dean Spanos and Rams owner Stan Kroenke weren’t going to get along in terms of sharing a Los Angeles stadium, Goodell was suddenly all-in when it came to keeping the Chargers in San Diego.

His comments have repeatedly been pro-San Diego and there are three huge reasons for that: Money, lots of money and huge amounts of money.

The NFL will profit much more if the effort to build the Chargers a stadium passes. (Hey, I had to write a quick hitter on the rally on Saturday — Roger Goodell speaks in favor of downtown San Diego stadium).

Goodell will now continue to have his San Diego cheerleading uniform on during the rest of the process and is even talking about the Super Bowl returning to town if a new football stadium is approved.

Just know it’s never a bad thing when the guy who runs the NFL is in your corner.

“I think the Chargers belong in San Diego,” Goodell said. “I think this is a great community, a great fan base. Everyone has acknowledged that we need a new stadium.”

At least Goodell has acknowledged the Chargers belong in San Diego.

Better late than never.

Kobe Bryant sure knows how to put a punctuation mark on a career.

His final game was so amazing and so dramatic that nobody was talking about the Golden State Warriors setting the NBA single-season record of 73 victories.

The Warriors were relegated to secondary status as Bryant put on one of the best farewell performances you will ever see as he closed out his 20-year NBA career by dropping 60 points against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

He was vintage Bryant in the final quarter as he scored 23 points and knocked in the go-ahead jumper with 31.6 seconds remaining as Los Angeles registered a 101-96 victory. It was easy the highlight of the season for the Lakers, who endured a franchise-worst 17-65 record.

The performance was so superb that you had to wonder if Bryant might unretire before he even begins his retirement.

“I’m sure, I’m sure, I’m absolutely sure,” Bryant said of his career being over during the on-court postgame festivities.

Regardless, it was one of those rare sporting events in which you will always remember where you were or what you were doing as it unfolded.

Bryant ended his night with a baseball-pass assist and couldn’t resist discussing the irony of what unfolded in his last game. You know, the fact that he hoisted a career-most 50 shots.

“What’s funny, the thing that had me cracking up all night long is the fact that I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball and then the last night, they’re like ‘don’t pass it,’ ” Bryant said.

Bryant won five championships with the Lakers and finishes his career with 33,643 points, which ranks third in NBA history.

He will always be remembered as one of the top players ever – and that would have been true even if he had scored 5 points on 2-of-13 shooting against the Jazz.

But instead he went out the way most athletes don’t get to do. That was by putting on a memorable show.

And it certainly was a performance that will be remembered forever.

Sacramento might be the capital city of California but I’ve never spent any real time there.

I hung out in the airport between flights one time, which certainly doesn’t count as a visit. On another occasion, I flew in and out of Sacramento to cover something in Stockton of all places.

But I do have one visual of what was then called Arco Arena – now Sleep Train Arena – as I spotted it off to the right on the way to the airport.

It didn’t seem like much of a building that day but those Sacramento fans sure loved the barn-like place. And the facility hosts a basketball game for the last time on Saturday night when the Sacramento Kings play the Oklahoma City Thunder.

One of my Friday work assignments included writing about this arena that opened in 1988 — read it here: Kings bid farewell to Sleep Train Arena

The franchise will move into a new downtown arena next season and new memories will emerge. But one thing sports’ fans do well is hold on to those old memories.

So to most NBA fans, probably not that big a deal that Sleep Train Arena has just 48 minutes (barring overtime) of basketball remaining. But it is a major deal to the people of Sacramento.

That’s because it is the end of an era.

 

 

We’ve all run into the guy who brags that only a high school injury prevented him from playing in the NFL.

(Substitute sport here) Or the NBA. Or the major leagues.

Heck, we see guys and gals drive past us on the freeway who think they are part of the NASCAR circuit.

But yeah, haven’t we also heard some Weekend Warrior golfer boast about being good enough to play professional golf?

There is always some irritating hacker bemoaning that having a wife and two kids – oh yeah, and a job – are the only things preventing him from playing at Augusta National.

Wait, did I say Augusta National? As in the Masters? As in this week’s big tournament?

Guess what — the common person is part of the big event this week.

Meet Sammy Schmitz, a person who I wrote about during Tuesday’s workday (GoFundMe amateur golfer crashes the Masters)

The 35-year-old crashed the Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title and people were so excited that a GoFundMe page for his expenses raised $25,000 in two-plus days before he and his wife called off the cash avalanche.

And get this, the crucial shot in his decisive round was when he made a hole-in-one … on a par-4 course.

Repeat: A hole-in-one on a par-4 course.

What amateur does that?

Even those annoying nobodies who brag about their golf game know better than to try and pull that one.

So it will be interesting to see how Schmitz fares when they tee it up on Thursday and Jordan Speith is a competitor and not a face he’s watching on television.

Schmitz is facing long odds to make the cut. But check out his odds to win the coveted green jacket:

He’s listed at 2,500-to-1 by one Vegas oddsmaker.

Yep, the same odds listed for 1998 Masters champ Mark O’Meara.

Hmmm, let the bragging begin.

Final Four Saturday is typically one of the best basketball viewing days of the entire year.

It wasn’t good for anybody this year unless you were a Villanova fan as nobody wants to see two blowout games on that fantastic day.

But it was all made up for on Monday with a solid basketball game that included one of the all-time great endings.

You see, it’s kind of hard to top winning the national championship with a buzzer-beating shot.

Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins etched his name into sports history by nailing the winning 3-pointer as time expired to give the Wildcats a spectacular 77-74 victory over North Carolina.

It is Villanova’s first national title since 1985 when the most famous team in school history – led by Ed Pinckney – upset a powerhouse Georgetown squad led by Patrick Ewing in the title game.

This Villanova squad went 35-5 and won its first five NCAA tournament games by an average of 24.2 points. It let a late 10-point lead slip away before Jenkins’ hoop allowed the Wildcats to hold off a strong North Carolina squad.

In fact, the Tar Heels (33-7) tied the game with 4.7 seconds left when senior point guard Marcus Paige made a miraculous off-balance double-pump 3-point shot. That dramatic basket only turned out to a warm-up act.

You’ve got to like the coolness of senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono as he came up court. He didn’t panic and had the court awareness to underhand the ball to the trailing Jenkins.

“Arch made the perfect pass and Kris Jenkins lives for that moment,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said during the postgame interview on TBS.

Kind of fitting that Arcidiacono landed the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award after that display of teamwork.

“I wanted that shot,” Arcidiacono admitted, “but I have the confidence in my teammates.”

Jenkins, who admits he’s never one to pass up a shot, was making sure Arcidiacono knew he was in close proximity.

“I was like ‘Ryan, Ryan,'” Jenkins said. “Like coach said, he made the perfect pass.”

The flip side was the pain the Tar Heels felt after putting up a strong effort.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was among the people struggling with his emotions afterward.

“I’ve been a head coach for 28 years,” Williams said in his interview with TBS, “and the worst thing is on a loss like this I feel so inadequate because I don’t know how to make it better.”

The contest was the first NCAA title game decided as time expired since the famous Jim Valvano-coached North Carolina State team won the 1983 title. On that occasion, Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenberg’s desperation heave to lay in the winning points for a 54-52 victory over a Houston squad featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

That terrific ending now has company and Whittenburg was one of the millions of people tweeting about the Villanova ending.

“That was a pretty amazing pass by Arch. Reminds me of a pass I made once,” Whittenburg wrote.

Of course, nobody but Whittenburg thinks his play was a pass but that’s OK. The ball got to the right guy at the right time.

Just as it did on Monday.

 

It was kind of fun to post the Matt Bush story on my website the other day so how about we do this again with a subject you won’t see me tackle very often:

Women’s basketball.

Yep, it’s true, I wrote a women’s basketball story during Sunday’s workday. And I can’t deny it because they put my name on top of the article.

So there you go, full-on proof that I don’t ignore women’s basketball.

The topic was Is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball? and that is actually a decent thing to debate.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma isn’t so thrilled to have to defend his team’s success. But wow, his team won its first three NCAA tournament games by margins of 52, 46 and 60 points.

The 60-point shellacking of Mississippi State came in the Sweet 16. That is astounding.

The Huskies have won 72 consecutive games and they should advance to another Final Four when they meet Texas on Monday. I suppose I can take out the word “should” since they lambasted the Longhorns by 51 points in last year’s Sweet 16 en route to winning their third consecutive national title.

That was a record margin of victory for the Sweet 16 — and was broken with the 60-point win over Mississippi State.

Anyway, people are now wondering whether UConn’s dominance is a bad thing for women’s basketball. And guess what? Auriemma doesn’t care what you, your doctor, a welder or anybody else thinks.

Here’s his advice:

“Don’t watch. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch,” Auriemma said. “So don’t watch, and don’t write about it. Spend your time on things that you think are important. If you don’t think this is important, don’t pay any attention to it.”

I will have to think about this — should I turn on a UConn game once the Final Four arrives? Is it worth watching if the Huskies rout another Final Four team by 40 or 50 points? Will anyone even remotely give them a game?

Huskies star Breanna Stewart isn’t sure how the players are supposed to respond to this outcry.

And you know what, I don’t blame her. Players play the game and the ones who play for the Huskies just happen to be really, really good.

OK, now don’t get used to me writing about women’s basketball.

I often write between 20 to 25 sports stories a day and I never know what subject may arise.

It is an awesome deal when you think about it as my two favorite things in the world are sports and writing.

Oh, I forgot pizza.

Dang, you’d think I would get a pizza delivered while I’m writing about sports.

Anyway, I got asked to write about Matt Bush on Thursday and wasn’t that quite the unforeseen circumstance.

Bush was long ago designated the biggest draft bust in the history of the San Diego Padres and he took his buffoonery to an even higher level in 2012 when he went on a drinking binge in Florida and nearly killed a motorcyclist.

He went to jail for 3 1/2 years and we figured his whole sorry waste-of-talent chapter was over.

But here he is in the spring of 2016 attempting to make the Texas Rangers as a relief pitcher.

He got out of jail last October and could still fire a baseball 97 miles per hour so he received another “second chance.”

Bush, now 30, tossed two hitless innings in his first spring-training outing on Wednesday. Who knows whether he has forever overcome his demons or if another drinking binge lurks.

Regardless, selecting Bush No. 1 overall in 2004 will always rank as one of the dumbest decisions in Padres’ history. Taking the local boy over Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander and Stephen Drew seemed ridiculous then and still feels just as ridiculous now.

So if you’ve forgotten about Matt Bush and his struggles, here you go: A fresh off-the-presses account that took all of 30 minutes to write. Draft bust Matt Bush making a comeback

You know, because the next assignment was waiting.

I warned San Diego State on these pages back on Feb. 28 that it wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament if it didn’t claim the Mountain West’s automatic bid.

Apparently, the Aztecs didn’t get the message.

San Diego State lost to Fresno State in the conference tournament on Saturday and you can guess what happened on Selection Sunday.

Yep, that solid streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances reached an end.

So the Aztecs will be playing in the NIT — stands for the Not Interesting Tournament — on Tuesday night against IPFW instead of being in Dayton for the First Four.

I really can’t find any fault with the selection committee for not choosing San Diego State. I’m stunned that some other teams got into the field – looking at you Syracuse, Michigan, Tulsa and especially you Vanderbilt – but not surprised that the Aztecs were passed over.

We all know the problems with the resume – start with only one Top 50 win and that oh-so-dreadful loss to San Diego – but the severe drop-off of the Mountain West finally caught up with the league. This is the first time since the conference’s inception that an outright winner of the regular-season crown didn’t make the NCAA field.

Those powerhouse days where Utah, New Mexico, BYU, UNLV assured the league was a Top 6 conference are long gone. San Diego State’s rise and those short stints of Wyoming and Air Force competing for the league crown only enhanced the Mountain West’s strength.

With so few of those 18 wins over Mountain West competition this season carrying any weight, there was no way to counter the sluggish early season issues San Diego State experienced.

And when the Aztecs blew that nine-point lead with 1:04 to play against Boise State two weeks ago, there was only one conclusion: The conference tournament was now must-win for San Diego State.

But they didn’t win it and so the reality is the Aztecs get included on the list of snubs.

South Carolina … Monmouth … St. Bonaventure … Saint Mary’s … Valparaiso … San Diego State.

I analyze those snubs and I don’t get how Vanderbilt (19-13) is part of the field. A win over Kentucky never did so much for a school.

Or Michigan with its 4-11 record against Top 50 teams. If you really get to play 15 teams of that caliber, you should be able to win more than 26.7 percent of those games if you are truly an NCAA tournament team. I would expect Utah State to go 4-11 – or maybe 5-10 – if it were presented with that many of those games.

All the pumping-up chatter heaped upon Syracuse was sickening last week. The argument was that the Orange shouldn’t be penalized for not having coach Jim Boeheim – suspended for cheating, by the way – at the beginning of the season. Well, Boeheim was there on the sidelines for each of Syracuse’s final six games and the squad went 1-5. Repeat: 1-5. And into the field they go.

And Tulsa. Probably shouldn’t pick on Tulsa because it is exactly the type of school that would normally be on the side of the shaft. Fans of the Golden Hurricane themselves were probably surprised they weren’t passed over. But sorry, never expected Tulsa to make it into the field.

Give me Monmouth over any of those four schools. Then we can debate and argue and pick hairs about the rest of the snubs.

Something tells me always-angry South Carolina coach Frank Martin must have gone ballistic to see Vanderbilt in the field and not his team. The Gamecocks beat the Commodores in their lone meeting.

Wait, lots of team beat the Commodores – 13 losses and somehow Vanderbilt goes dancin’.

I just don’t get it.

Anyway, San Diego State is a 2 seed in the NIT so that lets everyone know they weren’t close to making the field. The NIT traditionally takes the NCAA committee’s First Four Out and makes them the No. 1 seeds.

So that would make the Aztecs team No. 73 or 74 when it came to deciding on the 68-team field.

All San Diego State can do now is show up and play in the NIT. The last time the Aztecs failed to reach the NCAA tournament – in 2009 – they advanced to the NIT Final Four.

And getting to New York is the only way the Not Interesting Tournament becomes interesting.