Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
NEW YORK — Once upon a time, way back in 2000, New England owner Bob Kraft swam against the tide and hired a 47-year-old coach, Bill Belichick, who brought along a trusted friend with a knack for picking players, Scott Pioli, 34, to run the personnel side of the team.
Pioli would scout and prepare the free-agent and draft lists with his staff, and do contracts, while Belichick would coach and pick the players … with the financial and moral support of Kraft.
The Patriots were $10 million over the cap then, and their top-rated free agent at an important position was a terrific young tackle, Jon Runyan. Nope, Belichick said; we’re not going to further screw up our bloated cap by signing the richest tackle in football. So the Patriots bit the bullet in 2000 and 2001, trying to get better through the draft ( Tom Brady came in 2000, Richard Seymour and Matt Light in ’01).
I always get flack from people for pointing out how Brady was an example of a great pick the Patriots made. They say, “He was a sixth-rouder. It’s a crap shoot!” That’s pure ignorance. Every single pick in the every single-Pioli/Belichick draft is pre-planned (if not pre-ordained). If they got word that the Rams were going to take Brady with the 198th pick, they would have traded up for him. I have that on high authority.
Then they took a very interesting gamble in 2001. One of their best young defensive players, tackle Chad Eaton, was a free agent, and the Pats let him go seek his fortune. Eaton signed with Seattle for a bonus of $3.5 million. The Patriots signed 20 mid- to low-roster veteran free agents for of $2.57 million in signing bonuses that spring.
Oops! Just caught a copy error in that paragraph. If anyone else notices, you can send it along firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, the Patriots won the Super Bowl that season, with 16 of those free agents playing in an upset win over St. Louis. Mike Vrabel, Antowain Smith , Roman Phifer and Larry Izzo were among them. In the spring of 2002, New England was the only defending Super Bowl champion in the first nine years of free agency to enter the next season under the salary cap.
Should I have noted that their highest paid player, Drew Bledsoe, was cut before the season? Should I have mentioned that had Bledsoe not been injured, not only would the Patriots probably have been closer to the previous year’s 5-11 than 2001’s 11-5, but they would have been significantly over the cap going into 2002? Should I have noted that the Drew Bledsoe injury is the main reason they had the flexibility to sign so many mid-level free agents, only a few of whom worked out? I thought it sorta takes away from the point of the story, right, so why include it?
After that 2002 Super Bowl game, I told Belichick at the Patriots’ team party, “You’ve just given a blueprint to every team in the NFL — draft well, find a quarterback and fill in all the cracks through middle- and lower-class free-agency.”
“I know,” he said.
Six years later, teams still don’t follow the blueprint. I don’t get it.
Especially the part about finding a quarterback. What don’t teams understand about finding diamonds in the rough at the QB position? It’s the single easiest thing to do in football. Look at Derek Anderson. Look at Tony Romo. I don’t get it!
Football’s the ultimate team sport. Isn’t that what we always hear owners, GMs and coaches say? The Browns are contending today because they rebuilt their offensive line ( Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach) and handed a former sixth-round pick (Derek Anderson) the reins at quarterback.
You don’t think Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel knew when he drafted Anderson that he had a future franchise QB?
The Packers are contending today because a soft-spoken general manager (Ted Thompson) hired the offensive coordinator of the worst offense in football (Mike McCarthy, San Francisco) and let him coach his way.
I lost my train of thought here, I think.
The Steelers are contending today, at least in part, because progressive owners (the Rooneys) hired a precocious, Noll-like 34-year-old coach (Mike Tomlin) with a big upside.
I guess I’m using the term contending pretty loosely here.
Dallas has a third-time-is-the-charm rookie head coach (Wade Phillips) and a quarterback (Tony Romo) whose rights cost them $10,000 four years ago.
I might be making the case that it’s easier to find a franchise coach than a QB, now?
Jacksonville is contending today because of a strong defense, a two-headed running game ( Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew) and a longtime backup quarterback (David Garrard) playing better than the high-first-round star quarterback (Byron Leftwich) ever did.
With guys like Garrard, Anderson and Romo, you just knew that they were being groomed from the time they made the practice squad as a tight end.
Why is Tampa Bay running away with the NFC South? Key guys: undrafted quarterback (Jeff Garcia), undrafted running back (Earnest Graham), ancient receiver on his third team (Joey Galloway).
Defense made up of perennial Pro Bowlers, too. A young, fiery coach with a Super Bowl ring, too. Easiest schedule and division in football, as well.
That’s not every team, obviously. But if Dallas and New England meet in the Super Bowl, it will be a battle of coaches who are on their third and second jobs, respectively, starring a free-agent bumpkin from Eastern Illinois at quarterback for one team and a quarterback for the other picked after Spergon Wynn in sixth round of the 2000 draft. The personnel czars would be Pioli and 38-year-old Dallas vice president of college and pro scouting Jeff Ireland. Those guys are barely household names in their own households.
In fairness to myself, you’d really have to have been to Jeff Ireland’s house to understand that joke. It’s killer.
(To be fair, Dallas owner Jerry Jones has the final say on the draft and in free agency and has had a smart season. Jones deserves a couple of pats on the back for ignoring geniuses like me who told him paying underachieving ex-Cardinal tackle Leonard Davis big dough to play guard was stupid. Now Davis, deservedly, is going to the Pro Bowl.)
And I don’t use the term “genius” loosely.
Atlanta was stunned by the Bobby Petrino fiasco, and the team’s first reaction was to go after Bill Cowher. Didn’t work. Second reaction: Go get Bill Parcells. No go. Third reaction: Pursue Marty Schottenheimer , from all indications. That may happen.
Another copy editor mishap! Stu, it was “ Third reaction: Pursue Marty Schottenheimer. F rom all indications, that may happen.” Dolt.
Miami was stunned by the Nick Saban fiasco 11 months ago, and owner Wayne Huizenga — after going from Jimmy Johnson and his heirs to Dan Marino to Saban and not winning a Super Bowl — went the lesser-light route. Coach Cam Cameron and GM Randy Mueller were going to embark on a long-term plan to rebuild the team. Huizenga gave the new plan 13 games before jetting to upstate New York for another big fish. Or Big Tuna. Parcells.
You won’t find me criticizing Huizenga for hiring Parcells, who has improved every team he’s inherited. Once he finds the right quarterback, Parcells will improve this team, too.
He’d be doing himself a favor by sticking with Cleo Lemon or John Beck – they fit the profile for success.
But I will criticize the NFL ethos of always looking for the star. The other day, someone said to me, “Well, the Ravens’ lousy year is really going to screw Rex Ryan‘s chance for a job.” My reaction: For God’s sakes, why? Why should one of the two or three best defensive coordinators in the NFL, and a forceful personality too, be eliminated from consideration for a head-coaching job because his team got destroyed by injuries and a lousy offense?
My reaction was logical and logic doesn’t play in the League. But, I also invoked God’s name, which plays quite well.
A prominent GM told me the other day that college athletic directors are often concerned when they hire a new coach about “winning the press conference.” Sometimes, he said, friends in college administration make hires they know will be popular with alums and fans rather than hiring the best men for the job. He says the same thing happens in pro football.
You should have seen Mark Duper’s reaction to the Cameron hire. Not good.
“People in dire straits do what is expedient to get themselves out of dire straits as quickly as possible,” the GM said. “Hiring a name gives them hope because it gives the fans and the organization hope.”
Obviously, I had thought the same thing. I’m sure you and all of your frat brothers thought the same thing, too. It’s pretty obvious, right? But I really felt this point needed the force of a quote from an unnamed GM to drive it home.
In baseball, youth has been served in front offices since the turn of the century. Wisely in the cases of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, Indians GM Mark Shapiro and the Diamondbacks’ Josh Byrnes. There’s no reason why youth shouldn’t have the same chance in football. The names of the young turks who should be at the top of the list for rebuilding franchises:
1. Scott Pioli, 42, New England. Smart. Ready, if he ever chooses to leave his good friend Belichick’s side, which he’ll likely have to do if he ever wants to have his football acumen recognized.
He’ll never get the credit he deserves in New England. I mean, seriously, has anyone outside to the cadre of football writers every heard of this guy? Ann Killion, who covers the 49ers for the San Jose Mercury News, looked at me like I had three eyes when I brought up Pioli’s name in conversation. And they say there’s an East Coast Bias.
2. Chris Polian, 35, Indianapolis. Working under his prominent dad, Bill, Polian has risen to vice president of football operations and tried to learn lessons from top baseball execs. Tough and precocious.
He’s also adorable.
3. Jeff Ireland, 38, Dallas. Thorough and ultra-prepared, with a reasoned opinion about every player he scouts. Unemotional and methodical.
A little more insight to why Mr. Ireland might not be a household name in his own house.
The next question is who Parcells will go after to build his new organization. That decision might lead to some trouble. When Huizenga hired Parcells, the owner said, “Anything that has anything to do with football, directly or indirectly, reports to Bill. That includes doctors and trainers and everything. Everybody is going to report to him.”
Look. I know that I spent the first 2 pages of this web column campaigning for no-names at the QB, Coach and GM positions. But, hey, I’m as much of a starf*cker as the next guy (really, that’s the only word).
Well, unless a front-office executive Parcells might consider hiring has his contract expire with his current team at the end of this year, or the guy is currently working without a contract (not altogether uncommon in the personnel business), Parcells might have a fight on his hands to woo a top personnel executive.
The NFL rule is that if a front-office man does not have control over the draft and free agency, and he is being offered a job with that final football authority, then his team would be obligated to allow him to interview if permission were requested.
Will that apply in Miami? Maybe.
Teams are notoriously stingy when it comes to their executives’ right to further their career. Wikipedia it.
There’s a good chance that if Dallas’ Jones were asked by Miami for permission to speak with Ireland, he might say (as might any smart-thinking NFL executive), “Hold on here. Why should I allow my top personnel man to go somewhere where he might have the title of GM, but we all know he wouldn’t be free to make the final football decisions?” In other words, Parcells might say his GM is free to make those kinds of decisions, but it would be up to the league to determine whether a new hire would really have that kind of authority.
I know, it’s just the kind of soap opera we need in the time of Michael Vick and Pacman Jones, but get ready, people.
I spoke with Parcells twice about this on Sunday. The first time, I told him what I thought — that a team with a good personnel guy might challenge the Dolphins’ ability to hire that personnel guy with the promise of giving him final football authority, because they would say Parcells is the real final football voice.
“That’s not the way it is,” he said from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “We set it up so the general manager I hire will have that authority. I want to make it clear: I don’t want to be the general manager. I don’t want to be the head coach. I told Wayne that very clearly. I don’t think it will be an issue.”
A few minutes later, Parcells called back. “You got me thinking,” he said, “so I got my contract out. I wanted to be sure about the wording.”
*I* got Parcells thinking. For all my detractors, I really am a genius. Ask Parcells, a certified genius, who I got thinking.
Then he read me the wording of what he said were the applicable clauses in the contract. “‘As Executive Vice President of Football Operations,'” Parcells read, “’employee shall be responsible for overseeing the club’s football operations. Employee shall act as club designee for purpose of [executing] contracts with head coach and general manager.'”
Said Parcells: “So what I am is the owner’s designee. My job is to hire a coach, hire a GM and put a structure in place for them to operate.”
Will the league buy that? As I said on NBC last night, I believe there’s a good chance some team might bring a grievance against the Dolphins over this.
Olbermann told me later that night that he thinks this is a story that has no legs, and is completely media-driven, or, more specifically, me-driven. I told him he shoulda stuck with the mustache.
“I’m not worried about it,” Parcells said.
We’ll see who’s worried when you try to steal Jeff Ireland from the ‘Boys. That was a double-entendre that no one outside of Ireland’s wife, dog and myself will get.
Clearly, the league could be skeptical about allowing any front-office man currently under contract to leave for a GM job in Miami the way it’s structured right now. I could see NFL executive VP and legal counsel Jeff Pash asking Huizenga, with a jaundiced eye: “You’re paying Bill Parcells $3 million a year or so, and you’re telling me you want to hire someone to have final football authority in the organization over him? That’s not going to fly.”
Reason #3902 I love writing this column: I can reveal little tidbits like Jeff Pash’s jaundice that we all suspect is due to years of alcoholism.
Remember, though, that if a personnel man is working without a contract, or if his team allows him permission to leave (which I could see happen with the gentlemanly Packers and good-soldier Schneider, if Miami were interested), the Dolphins would be allowed to interview that candidate.
It’s way too early to predict what will happen in Miami. An educated guess would be that Parcells aims for a strong personnel man, then interviews a slew of NFL assistants — and not just those he knows — to be the new head coach. It wouldn’t surprise me if he went for a smart, malleable, egoless, unknown type — like Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano— as his new coach.
A patsy. I should have just said it. He’s looking for a patsy.
Those aren’t the only ones, but they’re a start, and they’re not the usual suspects.
The Fine Fifteen
1. New England (15-0). Classic ho-hum job over Miami. The most fired-up the crowd got might have been when Youkilis, Schilling and Ortiz brought the Word Series trophy onto the field before the game.
Don’t want to say typical New England, but…
2. Indianapolis (13-2). It’s scary how good the Colts are right now. They’ve won six straight by an average of 13.3 points per game.
Not saying they really turn it on when they have nothing to play for, but…
3. Dallas (13-2). “God is good. It could have been worse,” said Terrell Owens, just before walking out of the Cowboys’ locker room Saturday night in Charlotte with his sprained ankle. Actually, he didn’t walk out of the locker room the way his teammates did. He walked out on crutches. In a walking boot. The guess here is we won’t see T.O. until the divisional playoff game in 19 or 20 days.
I can’t tell you how close T.O. and I have gotten. We talk on the phone for hours. About life. If I were to have another child, and you never know, I’d name it Terrell or Terrelle.
4. Green Bay (12-3). Somebody needs to do a psyche transplant on that punter, Jon Ryan. Talk about a bad day. That’s one of the all-time awful days for a punter.
I could think of a few million Packers fans willing to have their psyches transplanted in Ryan’s head.
5. San Diego (9-5). These are your father’s Chargers … last four games: 130 points.
Remember when I called them frauds in the SI.com article. Then I said, here on coffeenerdness, don’t hold me too it when they go 6-0 to end the season and I’m calling them the third best team in football? This is your chance to show your restraint.
6. Jacksonville (11-4). My first question to Fred Taylor postgame: Did you go out today with vengeance against the Pro Bowl voters? “No,” he said. “I wasn’t going to use that as motivation. If you use that as motivation, and you lose or play bad, what good does that do? I do wish we’d get to vote after 16 games, not 13. I always finish with a strong November-December.”
Then I said, “Except when you’re hurt.” And he said, “Man, I ain’t been hurt in 6 years. You and that Talented Mr. Roto are killing me!” And you know what? He’s right about Berry.
Couldn’t have said it better, Fred! In fact, down in Ten Things, you’ll get a much longer take on how fans, players and coaches should vote for the Pro Bowl. Taylor had his fifth straight 100-yard game, this time seven carries for an eye-popping 111 yards.
I clearly love you. I called your 111 yard performance EYE-POPPING! If Willis McGahee had 111 yards, I’d call it pedestrian or run-of-the-mill. I don’t want to hear it anymore, Fred.
7. Pittsburgh (10-5). Of all the stupid opinions I had in my King 500 (the top 500 players in football, which I authored for the SI NFL preview), perhaps the biggest was not having Ben Roethlisberger in my top 20 players.
I promise, I’ll run down all the stupid opinions in the King 500 at a later date here on Coffeenerdness.
8. Tampa Bay (9-6). Interesting comment from a prominent league official last Friday. “The Bucs are amazing,” said the official. “They’re running away with their division, they’ve got a quarterback who’s played great in the playoffs, they’ve got a Super Bowl coach, and it’s like they don’t exist. You never hear a word about them when people talk about Super Bowl contenders.”
Well, there’s your word, prominent league official.
9. Tennessee (9-6). Big game Sunday night at Indy. The Titans win and they’re in the playoffs. So here’s the last eight meetings between Tennessee and Indy, from oldest to most recent: Colts by 26, Colts by 2, Colts by 14, Colts by 27, Colts by 21, Colts by 32, Colts by 1, Titans (on the Rob Bironas 60-yarder to win) by 3. In other words, Tennessee’s got its proverbial work cut out Sunday at the RCA Dome.
I know, I know, “…has its work cut out” is not a proverb. But what is in a post-9/11 world, really?
10. Washington (8-7). We’ve gone in the span of a month from preparing to award Joe Gibbs his gold watch to preparing to give him a two-year contract extension. What a performance by the Redskins. If you’d have told me a team would go 80 yards in 10 plays on the Vikings to make the score 23-zip in the first half … I’d have said something like, “Who’s that? The Patriots?”
Just saying, this Todd Collins kid is pretty good. Just another example of how easy it is to find a QB.
11. Cleveland (9-6). Scary game by Derek Anderson, who looked nothing like the top-10 quarterback he’s played like for 80 percent of this season. Not a good time for him to be forcing, aiming and underthrowing receivers.
But, in his defense, he only has a first-round future-bust behind him on the depth chart. I’d be interested to see Cleveland bring in a few Arena League QBs to compete with Anderson next year. Prediction: An Arena League QB will one day win a Super Bowl. It’s the logical progression. The way we’re going, I’m not sure that you even need to have played QB in college to win it all.
12. Seattle (10-5). A bit of a surging ground game against the Ravens: 34 carries, 148 yards.
I hate Seattle’s uniforms.
13. New York Giants (10-5). In the history of this proud franchise, never, ever have the Giants had two 100-yard rushers in a game. At Buffalo, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs both went over 140. Roll that around in your brain for a while. It’s amazing enough that the ground-hugging Giants had never had two guys surpass 100 in a game.
Not saying it happens every week, but it happens once every other year.
14. Minnesota (8-7). So much for the Vikes’ automatic bid into the NFL Tournament. Now Washington must lose to Dallas and Minnesota must win at Denver. This is great for interest in Week 17, which was nearly nil 24 hours ago, but it could be bad for the men in purple.
And to think, geniuses like me were calling them the most dangerous team in the NFC a mere week ago. I don’t think I was wrong, though, I think the Vikings were.
15. Philadelphia (7-8). Brian Westbrook went over 2,000 combined yards at New Orleans in another powerful performance. He’s on his way to earning my All-Pro vote. He’s at 2,005. By the way, Philly’s last four road games have been against teams in the playoffs or who entered Week 16 with playoff chances. Philly won at Washington, lost at New England, won at Dallas, won at New Orleans. This is the best team that won’t make the playoffs.
I know that statement’s a little incongruous with the fact I put two teams that won’t make the playoffs above them, but I assume you don’t know what incongruous means.
15. Buffalo (7-8). You think the Bills might have gotten a tad inspired from the appearance of Kevin Everett in their locker room before the game? By 1:22 p.m. ET, it was 14-0, and Trent Edwards had two perfectly thrown touchdown passes — one to the man signed as a replacement for Everett, tight end Michael Gaines.
It would be hard to point to anyone Kevin Everett’s injury has affected more than Michael Gaines.
The Awards Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Pittsburgh RB Najeh Davenport , who just might be Bettis Jr.
Don’t tell the Bus I said that though! When Collinsworth said it to him last night, Bettis actually walked out of the 12-flat-screen room.
Willie Parker goes down on the second play last Thursday night’s game against the Rams with a broken leg, leaving the Steelers without the leading rusher in the league (at that moment). Disaster.
But there’s a reason personnel czar Kevin Colbert wanted Davenport so much before the 2006 season. It’s because he’s capable of having nights like he had at the Edward Jones Dome in the Steelers’ 41-24 win, rushing 24 times for 123 yards, a 5.1-yard average, with two touchdowns.
“We didn’t change anything when Willie went down,” said Roethlisberger.
For his six-year career, Davenport has the equivalent of one long season: 372 carries, 1,761 yards, 4.7-yard average. A very good season. Brett Favre went a little too far, perhaps, when he said about Davenport during his Packer days, “The only thing standing between Najeh Davenport and a rushing title is Ahman Green.” That’s how good Davenport could be. The Steelers will need every bit of Davenport’s potential to win in the playoffs.
It’ll be interesting to see what he does against a team like Tennessee or Jacksonville in the playoffs, teams with good defensive lineman and whatnot.
Defensive Players of the Week
Tennessee DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, for his inspired play (I think we could say that about him every week) in a 10-6, playoff-chances-saving win. Three sacks, 11 tackles, a forced fumble. Someday we’ll give Vanden Bosch the credit he deserves for being one of the top five defensive ends in football.
Along with Jared Allen, Aaron Kampman, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Taylor, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams and Patrick Kearney.
Goat of the Week
Green Bay P Jon Ryan. I know the wind was awful in the Windy City, but come on. Two punts blocked, in part because of his glacially slow mechanics, and one fumbled snap from center. That’s intolerable on a team that needed this game to stay in the home-field race with Dallas.
I sometimes feel bad picking on punters because I played punter in high school and I would have been a pretty good NFL punter if the breaks went my way. But one thing that I know for sure is that lightning quick mechanics, like mine, are superior to glacially slow mechanics.
Quote of the Week I
“Peyton won’t play the whole game. [Backup quarterback Jim] Sorgi will get at least a half. It’s unfortunate the way the schedule falls. We have to look at what is best for us, and that’s how we’re going to approach the final game.”
— Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who says he will do what’s best for his team, and not what other coaches, fans and players might want him to do, in the final game of the season. Dungy will likely rest some starters for most, if not all of the game. Tennessee, the Colts’ foe on Sunday, will make the playoffs with a win. Which brings us to …
Quote of the Week II
“It’s not up to the Indianapolis Colts to do us any favors. They’ve played well enough to deserve the right to play who they want this week. Kudos to them. We’d like Peyton to play four quarters, obviously, but we understand what they’re doing.”
— Cleveland linebacker Willie McGinest, who told me Sunday night he didn’t hold it against the Colts for easing up on the gas in their final (and meaningless) regular-season game, and he didn’t think his teammates would either.
Well, I disagree. When you sign on to be a member of the NFL, you sign on to try to win every game. This is horse apples if you ask me.
Quote of the Week III
“Obviously, Bill didn’t come cheap. That doesn’t matter to us. We’re not afraid to spend the money to win.”
— Miami owner Wayne Huizenga, announcing the hiring of vice president of football operations Bill Parcells to a four-year contract that is estimated to be worth at least $14 million.
Think Parcells isn’t making the personnel decisions at $14 million over 4 years? Fat chance (no pun intended).
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. I noticed Brett Favre conceded the race to Brady the other day. Rightfully so. Brady (48 touchdowns, eight interceptions) should win it in a walk.
After I read that Favre said that, I considered making my MVP watch just one guy. I’m not sure why I didn’t – this list is all bells and whistles.
2. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas. “Adrenalin’s a great equalizer,” Romo said after the Cowboys’ 13th win on Saturday night. That masked the pain in his badly bruised throwing thumb, and he needed it.
Other great equalizers: snow, sleet, performance enhancing drugs, mud-slinging PR campaigns, blindness.
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. He rises above Favre because of the way they’ve both played the last month.
And they say I’m not impartial.
4. Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay. Not helping his cause with nine picks in his last four games.
And they say I’m not impartial.
5. (tie) Randy Moss, WR, New England; Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger’s playing heroically under intense pass-rush pressure, and he’s playing hurt. Moss became the second receiver in the 88-year history of the NFL to have 20 or more touchdown catches in a season on Sunday. He’ll need two to pass Jerry Rice for the all-time record Saturday at the Meadowlands.
Devil his due. Devil his due.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Tracy Phillips, the daughter of Dallas coach Wade Phillips, plays a belly dancer in a critical scene of Charlie Wilson’s War , the film starring Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts. Phillips does a seductive dance in front of the Egyptian defense minister. It’s a long story. We’ll all have to see it to understand it. Daughter joined Dad in Charlotte for the Cowboys-Panthers on Saturday night, by the way.
This is a factoid I think might not only interest me, if you catch my drift. If you’re interested, and I know you are, this is Tracy Phillips: http://s179.photobucket.com/albums/w296/traspberry/videos/fd/?action=view¤t=fo21.jpg
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
The blessing of all blessings: My biggest road trip in the last seven days was a 40-minute train trip, which was on time in both directions, to HBO last Wednesday. Every air traveler I’ve encountered in the past few days has some tale of holiday woe to tell. That’s one great thing about being off the road most weekends this season.
For the record, the fact that I post enjoyable/aggravating travel notes does not mean that I want to hear about YOUR enjoyable/aggravating travel note. Also for the record, they’re ALL aggravating. Doesn’t anyone have enjoyable travel notes, like I do? Are the people are Amtrak, American Airlines and Carnival Cruise Lines so bad, people?
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 16:
c. My guess is it’s probably not the happiest of holiday seasons in the Rich McKay household.
And to think, a year ago, I called for him to be the next commissioner of the NFL. Them Falcons are cursed.
d. Nor Cam Cameron’s.
But this loser deserves it. Ted Ginn? I’m sorry, he does.
e. But if I know Cameron, he’ll make lemonade out of the lemons he’s been handed. Talk about a power-of-positive-thinking guy.
He’ll have to! Maybe get Ted Ginn to take him to nice dinners or mow his lawn or something.
f. Although I would say this about Cameron: Be surprised, but not shocked, if Parcells keeps him. He’s definitely going to be in play there.
This is what we, in the media, call covering our asses (pardon my French). I have just predicted that Cameron will be fired and not fired at the same time. I’ve given you no new information or insight, nor have I put myself on the line with any definitive prediction. Thirty years in the biz, people, you get pretty good at covering your backside.
g. Parcells’ first day at work, by the way, is Thursday. He’ll watch practice for two days, meet with Mueller and Cameron, then watch the final Miami game of the year against Cincinnati on Sunday at Dolphins Stadium.
Which I predict the Dolphins will win-lose.
h. When we talk about great tights ends, why don’t we ever talk about the Redskins’ Chris Cooley? Did you see how open he got last night on that first-quarter touchdown pass from Todd Collins?
By “we,” I mean “me” and its because I don’t like Cooley’s hippie hair. Sometimes, even a Timothy Leary-disciple like Cooley makes you stand and recognize.
i. “Todd Collins Leads Redskins To Brink of Playoffs.” Can’t think of a more unlikely newspaper headline in 2007.
I’ve thought of one since last night:
“Former First Lady, a woman, frontrunner for White House; Black Guy, Mormon and Guy Who Once Married his Cousin also in mix.”
l. Graphic of the Day, on CBS: All 22 Indianapolis starters have played their entire careers with the Colts.
This is actually the graphic of my lifetime.
m. Haven’t seen Tony Dungy as angry on the sidelines as he was protesting a horse-collar tackle call on Marlin Jackson. Looked like a real horse-collar to me.
n. Stole this from Collinsworth on Sunday afternoon: It’s unfair to compare the stats of Peyton Manning in his comfy dome to the stats of Brett Favre in a frigid tornado in Chicago or brother Eli in a 40-mph gale in Buffalo.
But we, in the media, do it anyway. No one said we get paid to be fair, guys.
p. Why is Brett Favre in a 35-7 game in the fourth quarter in Arctic Circle conditions?
I called Mike McCarthy after the game, not to get his reaction to the loss, but to scold him. He could have gotten hurt. Seriously.
q. I cannot believe 59 points were scored in that weather in Buffalo.
Then again, I found the plot of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which made over $50 million this weekend, to be unbelievable. What do I know.
r. Don’t look now, but Shaun Hill‘s 2-0 as an NFL starter … with, as you know, not a very good team around him.
And don’t forget that I told you not to look way be when, when he’s hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy next year.
2. I think this is my pet peeve about the Pro Bowl, the most meaningless game on the planet, other than the Major League Lacrosse all-star game. (So, you ask, if it’s so meaningless, why is this the number two topic in the Ten Things? Good question. But it’ll be my last mention of it all winter, believe me.) The game is played Feb. 9. Why is fan voting closed 60 days before the game (Dec. 11), with three games left in the season, and why is player and coach voting done the same week?
Two perfect examples of how voting early screws the teams that are selected. One — Fred Taylor and Jamal Lewis both deserve to be on the AFC team ahead of Joseph Addai. Taylor, the 18th-leading rusher of alltime, has never made a Pro Bowl and was a sentimental choice this year — and a deserving pick. Taylor has had five straight 100-yard games, and his 147-yard mashing of the Steelers in Pittsburgh, after the voting closed, was one of the most impressive performances of the year. But that game doesn’t count in the Pro Bowl voting, nor will either of his last two.
Lewis’ 33-carry, 163-yard dominating of the Bills in the snow last Sunday was just as good as Taylor’s. Look at the AFC rushing standings right now: Taylor 1,202 yards, Lewis 1,176 and Addai 1,045. Why is Addai in? Because the vote was taken with three weeks to go in the season.
I know, I picked two guys to make the team and only left one guy off. You guessed it, another old journalin’ trick. Who was I going to knock off for Jamal Lewis? LaDainian Tomlinson? Willie Parker? So what, I want four RBs on the team even though its impossible. But you probably didn’t even realize that.
And two: Jonathan Ogden at left tackle is about as smart as picking Steve McNair at quarterback. As of the time of the vote, Ogden had started seven of 13 games for Baltimore. Why doesn’t the league just pencil in Ogden at left tackle the year after he retires? Not only has Ogden been a shell of himself this year, as a player, he also hasn’t shown up for half the games! Joe Thomas of Cleveland has played every snap this year and led a resurgent Cleveland offensive line to prominence. He’s also been responsible for allowing just one sack in 15 games.
Can’t disagree with myself here. This was a very good point I made.
3. I think the more football I watch, the more I think I was too hasty last summer when I said the NFL should go to a 17-game schedule. This year hasn’t been any more injury-plagued than any other; but late in the season, when fatigued players continue to drop (three Dallas starters went out in the first half alone Saturday night), you get a different view of injuries and how they affect teams than you do in July.
I was just thinking about money when I said this and now, in the wake of Kevin Everett’s injury, it’s all about players’ safety.
Maybe Terrell Owens will be fine, his high ankle sprain won’t be very serious and he’ll be ready to go next week in Washington, or in three weeks in the divisional playoff game. But if he isn’t, the Cowboys have lost Tony Romo’s favorite weapon. In the 25 regular-season games started by Romo, he’s hit Owens 5.5 times a game for 86 yards (a 15.7-yard average), with 23 touchdowns in the 25 games. To add a 17th game and think more significant players wouldn’t get hurt doesn’t make sense.
So what if it doesn’t make sense. At the time, knowing what we knew, it was genius.
5. I think Laurence Maroney, the leading ground-gainer in Week 16 (14 carries, 156 yards), is doing a great job proving he’s both tougher than we thought and more productive. Last eight quarters: 260 rushing yards. The Patriots don’t have to worry about running the ball in January.
They didn’t really have to worry about it in 2001, 2003 or 2004 either, though.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 16:
a. Seattle and Denver are pretty good offensive teams, right? Better than pretty good, really, and they’ve kept their quarterbacks healthy, too. They’ve combined for 71 touchdowns this season. That’s the same number as the Patriots alone have scored. New England set the NFL record on Sunday with its 71st. In the numbers blizzard that is the NFL these days, let’s not let that one go idly by.
I won’t be letting them go idly by. I plan on writing a book on all the obscure facts about this season: “New England’s Dynasty: Factoids That Will Interest You, Too.”
d. If Marion Barber‘s not one of the five best running backs in football, then my name’s Grantland Rice.
Oh, you don’t know who Grantland Rice is and why that’s such a poignant reference, especially around the holidays? More and more I realize why we’re losing ground to the Russians and Japanese in math and English.
e. Seattle locked the third seed with the most versatile offensive game the ‘Hawks have played in a month.
I thought about using a pronoun there (…offensive game they played in a month.), but I’m writing this for an American audience, who’s lagging behind Eastern Europe and parts of Sub-Saharan Asia in linguistics.
f. Do not give up on a rested Chad Pennington when the Jets (in all likelihood) put him out to pasture this offseason. Nice TD toss on the run in the first half at Tennessee on Sunday. Are you listening, Ozzie Newsome, Arthur Blank, Bill Parcells? Pennington might be the perfect bridge to your next long-term quarterbacks — he might even be better than that.
As a former first-rounder, a bridge to your QB of the future – be it a late-round pick, an undrafted free agent or a CFL refugee – is pretty good value.
g. Donovan McNabb, take a bow. Great game, and not just because of the numbers (24-of-35, 283 yards, three TDs, no picks, plus a 40-yard scramble). It was his presence. He looked like the McNabb of old.
I also want to commend him for having the presence of mind to take that touchdown-scoring, 20-yard fumble at the tail end of the 40-yard scramble.
h. McNabb looks like McNabb Classic. With the playoffs not an issue anymore, he might be auditioning for Baltimore or Chicago or Atlanta.
When the playoffs are an issue, as you might remember, he vomits.
k. Heck of a takedown of Packers linebacker Nick Barnett by umpire Jim Quirk, breaking up a scrum late in Packers-Bears.
I’m not saying Jim Quirk could strap on some pads and go out there and play. I’m not saying he couldn’t.
7. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 16:
a. Did I miss what I really think I missed Saturday night? Was NFL Network actually isolating on Patrick Crayton on the first snap of the Dallas-Carolina game for some asinine reason? Are you kidding me? All any of us want to see is the snap from center from a first-time starter, Cory Procter, to Tony Romo, playing with a bruised thumb, and instead we see Crayton sprinting off the line and Romo diving on the fumbled snap a split-second later. We didn’t see the snap until the instant replay. Now that’s a good start to a telecast right there.
Oh man, you should have heard Collinsworth. NFL Network is a bunch of amateurs, this. Bryant Gumbel is a smarmy, sonofasoandso that. He was no pleased.
c. Steve Smith (Giants), you’ve got to make that long catch, perfectly thrown by Eli Manning. Is there any receiving corps — backs included — with worse hands than the Giants’?
As my Uncle Morris, an old vaudevillian, would have said: “I haven’t seen hands that bad since Harold Russell in “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Unce Morris was inappropriate, but funny.
e. Tennessee’s in trouble with Albert Haynesworth. He can’t finish a game, and so much of what they do on defense depends on his inner forcefulness.
He’s really been my bete noire this year, huh, readers?
g. I don’t want to kill Derek Anderson, because the Browns would never be in position to make a Week 17 playoff run without him. But it’s sad that when the Browns look back on this season, if they don’t make the playoffs, a big reason will be his four interceptions Sunday.
As you see, I didn’t want to kill him, so I didn’t. I just maimed him. He might die from his injuries, but that’s because he didn’t have the will to survive, like Sunday against the Bengals.
8. I think I have to hand it to the San Francisco 49ers for the classy, tear-jerking way defensive end Bryant Young left the field — on his teammates’ shoulders — after his last home game. Beautiful. And so right for such a solid player. Young had two tackles, two quarterback hits and a pass deflected in the 21-19 upset, and, in a ritual usually reserved for the winning Super Bowl coach, Young’s teammates hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him off the field. Great job, Niners.
Tear-jerking? Beautiful? You’da think I was reviewing “Atonement,” here. I wasn’t. Here’s my review of Antonement: Atonement is a taut, beautifully-drawn action-romance with stellar performances from James McAvoy, Keira Knightly and Vanessa Redgrave. On the whole, however, I found the ending to be unbelievable and the middle third dragged on like a Falcons-49ers game on the NFL Network.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
b. The fact that, in the NHL, New Jersey played in Edmonton last Friday for the first time in six years — a stupid, maddening, fan-hating practice — is one more reason to laud the league, barely, for fixing its schedule.
The fixed version is better than nothing, but still not good enough. I am so sick of Devils-Islanders and the Regional Hockey League, which has each team in one conference playing teams in the opposite conference once every three years. Now teams will play six games against division foes, 40 against other conference teams and 18 against the 15 teams in the opposite conference.
That’s still not enough, as far as I’m concerned. If I’m in Edmonton, why should seeing Sidney Crosby and Martin Brodeur every other year be good enough? Every team should play every other team home and away, minimum, every season.
I figured I could get this in at the end of the column without losing too many readers.
c. I don’t know Stuart Scott, but I am pulling for him in his fight against cancer. Get well, Stu.
How, you ask, is it possible that I don’t know Stu after years of being at the same events (note I didn’t say ‘covering’). That’s a Stu question, I think.
f. By the by, you can now purchase some of the best dark coffee out there, Colgate Blend, online through the Colgate bookstore. I recommend it very highly. It’s Italian roast in its intensity. If you care: http://colgatebookstore.com/gifts/2007/12/bcoffee.html
I dare say, this one was All-King.
g. The merriest of Christmases to you who celebrate tomorrow, and the happiest of holiday seasons to all. In honor of the day, I hope you don’t mind me skipping my Tuesday column this week. I’ll be back with 6,000 fresh words next Monday, including these topics: figuring out the coach of the year, telling you my choice for Enlightened and Unselfish Football Player of the Year, and an all-pro choice or two.
And here, on Coffeenerdness, I’m going to rip myself a new one for my awful preseason selections!