News of a great night with Paul Zimmerman and his friends five paragraphs south of here, but first, an interesting twist (a bitter one, it sounds like) about the Jon Gruden move to ESPN's Monday Night Football booth.
Do not invite Gruden and NFL Network czar Steve Bornstein to the same event anytime soon, or ever. Bornstein wants to wring Gruden's neck. The NFL Network is furious with Gruden for jilting the network after he'd verbally agreed to a deal to work there. The former Bucs coach had been very good on the NFL Network, colorful and opinionated, at the NFL scouting combine and the NFL draft, and the network had finalized everything but the signature on the paper for Gruden to begin working there immediately. In fact, he was slated to be at NFL Films this week to begin his job full time. But ESPN swooped in, offered Gruden the Monday night seat vacated by Tony Kornheiser (how convenient), and Gruden took it.
The NFL Network planned to put Gruden on the air all season, then move him to the Thursday night football booth alongside Bob Papa, replacing Cris Collinsworth. Now it's back to ground zero in its search for a voice to pair with Papa.
One of the reasons the NFL Network is so steamed, I'm told, is that no one from the Gruden camp called Bornstein to tell him. In many cases like this, the league might work with its TV partners to tell them, "Hey, hands off,'' or "Play fair here,'' but that didn't happen here. ESPN got to Gruden too fast.
Now there are two people who should have been NFL Network stars this fall -- Gruden and ace reporter Adam Schefter -- who will instead work for ESPN. And the NFL Network is not pleased about the defection of either one.
Wonderful event Monday night at Mayfair Farms here in North Jersey. And it wasn't just because more than $150,000 was raised for aggressive rehab that we hope will get SI pro football maven Paul Zimmerman back in his curmudgeonly writer's chair soon after three strokes in November. It was just the feeling in the room -- 250 coaches, friends, family, fans, media, students, TV execs, oenophiles and auction bidders from around the world (believe me, your presence was felt in the room) that combined to make it one of the nicest nights I've seen in the football business in my 25 years of covering the NFL.
There's an old saying about great things getting done when no one cares who gets the credit. That's what happened here Monday night, when Tom Coughlin and Rex Ryan gave up nights in the middle of their rookie practice weeks, bidders flocked to CMarket.com to push bids for auction items for more than $120,000, a total stranger named Stu Kirsch ran the online auction FOR FREE just because he saw a good cause, the New York wine community came out in force to share stories of Zim and their fabulous wine (Tom Coughlin sampled an '85 Bordeaux and was over the moon about it), and a woman named BarbaraNeibart, the true hero of the night, pieced it all together flawlessly without any prior event planning experience.
Where to begin?
How about when Coughlin approached Paul Zimmerman -- who looked fantastic, resplendent in a dark suit, goateed, trimmer than I'd seen him in years -- at the start of the night and said, "Missed you at the league meetings this year. You didn't chew me out about anything.''
Yogi Berra and Dick Ebersol sat next to each other at the NBC table. When I introduced Yogi as the greatest living baseball player in the United States, everyone began clapping, and Ebersol stood, and then everyone stood. Standing O for Yogi at the Zim function. Only in America.
Rex Ryan, who is going to be good at the story-telling part of the job, believe me, spun a good yarn about Zim -- the New York Jets' beat man for the Post when Rex was a kid and his dad, Buddy, an assistant to Weeb Ewbank -- telling the ball boys in camp how to cheat on the pinball machine without making it tilt. "Now those are the important things!'' Ryan said.
SI group editor Terry McDonell and SI.com senior producer Dom Bonvissuto eloquently feted Zim, Terry intro-ing a Brooklyn Decker welcome from afar on DVD (Brooklyn and Dr. Z had that Z Said, She Said online game-picking thing going a couple of years ago) and Dom reading some get-well-soon-you-old-curmudgeon e-mails from all of you out there.
Coughlin: "Oh, I've had my ass ripped by Dr. Z, and I'm in good company.''
Vikings coach Brad Childress did a campy six-minute DVD, opening by ripping me for my horse crap mock-drafting ability and begging Zim to come back so SI will finally get the mock-drafting right. Cute. Actually a little bit funny.
Linda, the Flaming Redhead, was emotionally eloquent talking to the crowd. Her love for her husband drips through everything she does. "Honey," she said, looking out at her disabled husband, "I love you just the way you are.''
Bill Belichick's presence was felt, as was Eddie DeBartolo's and former SI managing editor Mark Mulvoy, for notes and donations to a man they've done battle with often over the years ... and the Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings and Broncos for game-weekend trips that are going to be incredible experiences for eight real fans. And an anonymous person with a heart of gold -- you know who you are, because I know you're reading this right now -- making a Super Bowl trip for two possible.
And Dick Vermeil. The donation of his wines netted more than $13,000, with glee, because the wines were such a hit and so many people so enthused about taking a bottle of autographed Vermeil wine away. And WFAN's MikeFrancesa's donation of Mets and Yanks tickets, and a trip to his show in Queens, raked in a total of $6,900.
Sal Paolantonio coming from south Jersey, and Adam Schefter from Long Island, and the New York Times' brainy football blogger, K.C. Joyner, who flew here from Florida to attend, and Football Outsiders guru Aaron Schatz, who drove from Massachusetts -- all to be on a panel to educate the crowd about all things football. (Spoiler alert for all you Charger fans: Joyner and Schatz study this game 26 hours a day, and they like your Super Bowl chances.)
Just a few things about the bids on this auction. Amazing. Lunch for two with Bill Polian at the Colts' training camp cafeteria in August: $6,460. (What, you think there's lobster in Terre Haute?) Lunch for two with Tedy Bruschi and me: $5,150. Lunch with me and Boston Globe writer Mike Reiss: $2,950. (Wear a very nice suit, Mike.) And my personal favorite: someone gets to buy me beer at a Red Sox game this summer ... and paid $3,300 for the privilege of watching it with me. Mike Pereira's Tomlin/Rooney-signed Super Bowl football: $2,600. And $2,655 for the Oakland training camp package donated by Amy Trask of the Raiders. And they loved your boxing gloves, Ron Borges --more than a grand for the Manny Pacquiao-signed gloves. Thanks, thanks, thanks to all.
I'm in disbelief writing a lot of that. It's so far beyond what we thought when we started this circus a few weeks ago. So much of it is due to you, the readers who made this night compelling. I mean it. It wouldn't have happened without you, because you propelled the auction. Your desire to help a man you've been reading for decades made it happen. Thank you.
And Zim. Great night for him. It's been almost six months since he's spoken, and he can't write, and he can't read, though he's trying daily to do all three. This therapy, starting with aggressive speech work in New Jersey and then six weeks at an immersion program in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the only way he's going to have a chance to be an important voice again. Will it work? I don't know. Linda doesn't know. The doctors don't know. But I'll tell you this: The old man will die trying. He's already walking 700 feet at Kessler Rehab in New Jersey. He felt the love Monday night. How could he not? I just shook my head about it all when we were together during the evening. "Man, imagine if people actually liked you.'' He liked that.
Steve Sabol, whose magnificent donated artwork was one of the auction hits, came up to me after it was over. He's an emotional sort anyway. But this wasn't going to be one of those hey-fun-night handshakes. His eyes said more.
"It's nights like this that make me proud to have anything to do with the National Football League,'' Sabol said, gripping my hand tight and not letting go for three, four, five seconds.
Now for your e-mail. It's all Vick, all the time. I think the best way for me to handle these are, for the most part, to let your voices be heard. You know my feeling: Once a man has paid for his crime and done his time, and served whatever suspension the NFL hands down, he ought to be able to be eligible to resume playing football. Men who have been steroid cheats are back in the game. A man who drove drunk and killed a woman is back in the game. Men who have multiple DUIs are back in the game. Men who have been wife- and girlfriend-beaters are back in the game. Men who have used their football bulk to bully and beat the crap out of other men are back in the game. Have I heard one talk-show host or columnist scream that if Donte Stallworth is found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, and found to have been driving over the legal limit, he should never be allowed to play football again? No.
Michael Vick staged an elaborate scheme to set up dog fights, shield them from public view and gamble on them. When his two-month home confinement is over, he will have served 20 months for the crime. The justice system will set him free. That's a longer period of confinement than any NFL player since RaeCarruth will have experienced. Then, I believe Roger Goodell should suspend him a minimum of four weeks for his serial lying -- to Goodell, to Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, to former Atlanta coach Jim Mora, to Atlanta p.r. man ReggieRoberts, who continually staked his good word on Vick's denials -- about involvement in dog-fighting. If Goodell wants to make it eight, fine with me. But then I think he should be able to ply his trade. Who would sign him? Maybe no one. But he should be able to apply for work.
THIS STARTS THE FESTIVITIES OFF RIGHT. From Peter Jackson, of Atlanta: "No good reason why Vick shouldn't be reinstated? God, you're a fat [expletive deleted] idiot.''
DO NOT LET MICHAEL VICK BACK IN FOOTBALL.From Anthony Bagnette, of Sydney, Australia: "I am a huge NFL fan, have been for over 30 years, and have Twittered you enthusiastically (@DownUnda2008) in the past regarding the NFL. However, one point I will NOT falter on is that Michael Vick should not be permitted back into the NFL. He embodies everything that is disgusting about the NFL insta-millionaires. Regardless of what you think about animals, it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that he has taken lives. Granted, they were animals. However, if you love life and animals as I do, that is utterly inexcusable. I am an attorney, and yes I recognize that he has in fact served his time for those offenses.
"However, in my opinion he should not be afforded status in the NFL. Much like the privilege of voting, some privileges should not be reinstated after incarceration. I truly hope Roger Goodell does not afford Vick the privilege of representing the NFL ever again. If Vick is reinstated, I am done with the NFL -- absolutely done and will not watch another game again. I know many [including you] people disagree with me and that is certainly their [your] prerogative. But I stand firm with my convictions. I trust that I am not the only person. I love life and dogs more then the NFL. Please don't reinstate him Commissioner Goodell.''
A TWITTER FAN FROM KUWAIT CHECKS IN.From Bader, of Mishref, Kuwait: "Vick deserves a chance and that four-game suspension you said is practical. He needs a coach and owner who are tough.''
NEVER LET HIM PLAY AGAIN. From Paul Hemenway, of Olathe, Kan.: "I have to disagree with your assessment on how Vick should be allowed back in the NFL. What Vick did was a disgusting, horrible and despicable thing. A thing that cannot be forgiven. If the NFL lets Vick back in to play, then the NFL is not sending the right message to the players and fans. It's not just us adults who watch this game. Children of all ages watch and dream of playing in this game. When they see Vick back on the field after killing dogs for fun in the manner in which he did, then they'll think its OK to do so as long as you do a SMALL amount of jail time to pay that price. The message this sends to players is equally horrible. Adam "Pacman" Jones did things not nearly as bad as what Vick did, and yet nobody is talking about letting him back in to play. There are numerous ex-players who played the game who won't be allowed back in for far less than what Vick did. Mr. Goodell is trying to show the world that the NFL will not tolerate men of dishonest, and bad moral character and judgment in the league. He would be making a huge mistake letting Vick back in, and would completely undermine everything he's trying to accomplish in the NFL. God I hope nobody lets Vick play a game in the NFL again.''
JASON IS ADAMANT TOO. From Jason, of Scarborough, Maine: "You don't think there is any good reason for Mike Vick not to be reinstated to play in the NFL this fall? I challenge, hell, I dare you to use your online column space to go head-to-head with someone with the opposite viewpoint. My guess? You pick anyone with five working neurons and a pulse, and they will make you look like a buffoon.''
BRETT FAVRE ENTERS THE FRAY. From Mateo Pearson, of Austin, Texas: "If Michael Vick 'served his time' in a federal penitentiary why would the NFL not reinstate him? Your hypocrisy continues to shine every week. We are still waiting on your comments on what an egotistical maniac Favre is. But we all know that is not going to happen. You would never speak the truth about your good ol' boys in the NFL.''
TONY DUNGY DID A GOOD DEED.From Tim Nichols, of Goodlettsville, Tenn.: "I don't like what Vick did. But Tony Dungy reaching out to him by visiting him in jail is priceless and reminds me that part of my faith is forgiving the truly repentant. Tony Dungy should be hired as the NFL's Goodwill Ambassador.''
DON'T CRUCIFY THE MAN.From Wes Bruns, of Kansas City: "I don't think I will ever understand why Michael Vick is being crucified for dog-fighting. NFL players that are in the league now and playing have done much worse and to human beings. No excuse for the cruelty brought upon those dogs. But explain to me why Vick is being treated like he murdered 50 people.''
GIVE US BARRABAS. From Chris, of Erie, Colo.: "He's a dog torturer. He has no room in our society let alone our favorite sport. He should be banned for life.''