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Stafford might be starting sooner than expected; Brees' amazing run

Top of the morning to you, and here are the topics of the morning as we flip the calendar to June:

1. Austin Wood is my hero.

2. Matt Millen may be on the verge of getting another job. Aren't you Lions fans shaking your heads in amazement?

3. Drew Brees is on an incredible run that you have no idea about.

4. I have nothing new to report on those column favorites, Brett Favre and Mike Vick.

5. Matthew Stafford is on his way to winning the starting quarterback job in Detroit by Halloween, not by Thanksgiving.

6. Randall McDaniel was really good.

7. I have an anniversary this morning. It crept up on all of us.

The Austin Wood story's a good one. I'll save it for Stat of the Week/Hero of the Week, an invented column department for this one day only. Ever hear of Austin Wood? He's a college pitcher from Texas with a very sore arm this morning. Let's begin with the other nuggets of the day, opening with ...

The Matt Millen job fair. Remember I told you a couple of weeks ago how NFL Network was furious with Jon Gruden for agreeing to a deal to do color on the Thursday night games in a two-man booth, then reneging to sign with ESPN? NFL Network wasn't exactly thrilled with the worldwide leader for ripping off Gruden. Well, ESPN and NFL Network may just have to play nice now to get another deal done -- if league TV decides to make Millen the color man to replace Gruden for its eight-game slate of late-season games.

In the wake of NFL Network losing Gruden, the channel has considered a few options of analysts to pair with Bob Papa. One is Brian Billick, the quick-on-his-feet former Ravens coach who had a successful debut on Fox last season. Another would be a three-man booth, with Papa, Marshall Faulk and Joe Theismann, who, presumably, would walk to each game if the network would give him the gig. But I hear Millen is the leader in the NFL Network clubhouse.

Why no Deion Sanders? It's not out of the question, but I hear it's unlikely he'll win one of the Thursday seats. He's too much a lightning rod for the NFL suits, and though he has four or five good nuggets in most of his appearances, too many fans just totally tune him out because they think he's a clown.

Millen has already signed with ESPN to do college football games and analysis in the Monday night road studio. If he adds the Thursday duty, he'll be busier than Cris Collinsworth was in the second half of the season. Imagine doing the Monday night gig, then leaving Tuesday morning for the site of the Thursday-nighter, doing the Thursday game, and then going directly to the college game Friday morning. Good thing there won't be many December college games. That is, of course, if the ESPN job would remain the same for Millen with the NFL Network gig.

***

Give Drew Brees his props. In the 89-year history of the National Football League, only one player has thrown for more yards in a three-year period than Brees has thrown for in his last three years. This is Drew Brees we're talking about, not any of the very famous quarterbacks I'm going to show you in this chart. Here are the best three-year runs for QBs after 1980, ranked by passing yards:

(Worth noting: Dan Fouts threw for 4,715 in 1980 and 4,802 in 1981 and was on pace for a 5,000-yard season in 1982 before the strike.)

"It's just numbers,'' Brees said when I told him about this gaudy list Friday. "It's not a very big deal. To be mentioned in the same breath with Marino, Elway and all those guys is a great honor. Wow. But in the grand scheme of things, we don't have the ring. One of the reasons nobody would know about those numbers is, look at our record. [The Saints are 25-23 in that period.] Marino won more; I bet he was in the playoffs every year of those three years. We've made 'em once. Peyton's been in the playoffs a lot. Favre has. So winning's a big part of it. If you have numbers without the winning, it doesn't matter.''

He's right, but there's something about Brees over the last three years that I find amazing. Remember when he messed up his shoulder late in his last game at San Diego in 2005? Miami shied away from giving him the big money because Nick Saban was worried about the shoulder being whole in training camp. The Saints had faith and gave him six years for $60 million, and Brees has done everything he can to pay back Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis for believing in him when other teams wouldn't. He and Payton are a great match, and Brees knows it. "I've been given one of the best opportunities of anyone in football, and I'm loving every minute of it,'' he said.

***

It's beginning to look a lot like Stafford. "The last mini-camp in June, we're going to have an arms race,'' said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. Between Daunte Culpepper and No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford. From the sounds of Schwartz, Culpepper needs to be really, really good to hold off the hard-charging kid.

Is it the right decision? We'll see. I've thought all along the Lions should let Culpepper take the body blows of the early season schedule (at blitzing New Orleans, followed by Minnesota and Washington at home, Chicago on the road, then Pittsburgh at home). Those are some aggressive defensive coordinators licking their chops waiting to play the rookie. I've thought for that reason plus the hazards of playing a kid, let Stafford sit, well-padded and protected, while learning. Doesn't sound like the way the Lions are thinking. If Stafford's clearly the best man, he'll play the opener.

"We've got two criteria for when Matthew will play,'' said Schwartz. "One is he'll play when he's ready. The second is when he's the best quarterback for us. But so far, whatever the opposite of buyers' remorse is, that's what we have. We knew he had the terrific NFL arm. But we've found out his release is just textbook classic.''

***

Apropos of nothing, here's some praise for an invisible Hall of Famer. Had Gary Zimmerman (Hall of Fame class of 2008) on our Sirius NFL Radio Opening Drive show the other day, and Randy Cross and I asked him a few Canton questions. One was about a 2009 inductee, Randall McDaniel, a former teammate of Zimmerman's. And I relay his words only because Zimmerman's hallmark is his word, according to the coaches and teammates who knew him best in Denver and Minnesota. He has not an ounce of pomposity or fakery to him. We just never knew him much because he was a sphinx to the press.

As many former teammates say when asked a question about the Hall-worthiness of a player, they lapse into things like, "He should have been a first-ballot guy." Which Zimmerman, who played with McDaniel in Minnesota, did. And then he said: "He's not only the strongest man I've ever seen. But he used to challenge defensive backs to races for $100, and they wouldn't take him up on it. If they did, he would have smoked them all. He was a phenomenal football player.''

Players and team officials question me each year about the Hall's picks. Always. But McDaniel is one guy no one panned.

***

Happy Anniversary to me. Finally, a personal note. (As if I haven't thrown enough "personal notes'' and full-fledged "personal columns'' at you in this space over the last 12 years.)

I don't keep a lot of what I write, or the covers I've had at the magazine over the years. I've just never been that kind of "file it away you'll be glad you did someday" guy. But the current cover, the June 1, 2009, edition of the mag with Tom Brady on the front and my story inside, is one I'll keep. Because that date --today -- is my 20th anniversary at the magazine.

Mark Mulvoy, the longtime managing editor at Sports Illustrated, hired me 20 years ago today, and it got me to thinking how much the game has changed, and how much the media has changed. I can't imagine a more revolutionary 20-year period in either the game or the media, ever.

Think back to 1989. The architects of the two Super Bowl teams who had just played were Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. Walsh's 49ers were a few months removed from winning their third Super Bowl, after which Walsh resigned. Tom Landry had just been ousted by a new, maverick Dallas owner.

A few weeks before I got hired at SI, Pete Rozelle resigned as commissioner. When Rozelle quit, Giants president Wellington Mara and Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt were named chairmen of the search committee charged with replacing him. I was at the meeting where Rozelle resigned in Palm Desert, Calif., and I remember four names surfacing immediately as candidates to replace him: GM and respected NFL voice Jim Finks, Cowboys president Tex Schramm, former management council boss Jack Donlan and politician and former quarterback Jack Kemp, whose dream job was to replace Rozelle. On the players' side, Gene Upshaw was in his third year as executive director of the players association.

The kingmaker in my business was Will McDonough. In fact, before Rozelle announced his resignation, an APB went out for McDonough, who was a few miles away at a California Angels exhibition game with some NFL people. But those were pre-cell-phone days, and McDonough could not be found, and so the press conference had to go on. But when McDonough came back to the hotel, he still ended up with a better story than anyone else because Rozelle gave him an hour in his hotel suite. (It would be in a McDonough story that week, of course, that the name of league attorney Paul Tagliabue would surface as a possible successor to Rozelle. Five months later, of course, Tagliabue, behind the support of the new, younger owners in the league, got the job over Finks.)

Think of those names that were the heaviest of hitters 20 years ago: Rozelle, Walsh, Brown, Landry, Hunt, Mara, Schramm, Finks, Donlan, Kemp, Upshaw, McDonough. All 12, dead. Takes my breath away to think about it, to think how much the stewards of this game have changed.

What I distinctly remember at that meeting, and in the weeks that followed, was unrest by the young owners in the league, unrest that played a big part in the events of the last 20 years. When the committee was formed to search for Rozelle's replacement, four old-line owners -- Dan Rooney (Steelers), Art Modell (Browns), Judge Robert Parins (Packers) and Ralph Wilson (Buffalo) -- joined Hunt and Mara on the committee. Stupid, old-guardish, decision.

Recently minted owners in the league, such as Jerry Jones,Pat Bowlen and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., had paid gazillions for their franchises compared to the thousands paid by the old-timers, and they felt ignored, as though the elders were saying to them, "Go over and sit in the corner while the adults make this really important decision." It set the stage for a fight for this commissionership. Whoever the old line wanted -- and it wouldn't have mattered if he were the reincarnation of John F. Kennedy -- the new owners were going to block it. Ergo, Finks, the chosen one of the old line, got trumped by Tagliabue, and Finks' last years in the game were bitter ones.

But I think that selection was important in gaining 20 years of labor peace for the game. In Rozelle's last seven years, the league was a litigious war zone. There were two strikes, and no one was happy. I think the selection of Tagliabue made the younger owners feel more empowered, and Tagliabue built a strong relationship with Upshaw. Who knows where the labor deal goes now, but I've felt strongly over the years that the move toward a brainier, legally savvy league office was the right move at the time.

I think back to when I was hired, and I remember thinking what a plum job this was. Mulvoy told me I'd be responsible for some NFL stories in the offseason, and maybe a story or two in other sports, but I'd be able to enjoy the offseason. In the first couple of years, I bet I had 10 weeks in the offseason when I didn't have an assignment, including vacation. What a life! No TV, a little radio, no Internet, no cell phones. I wrote my Inside the NFL column for the magazine each week during the season, and maybe six or eight times each offseason.

That started changing with McDonough's success on TV. I had a two-year gig at ABC for the Monday night games, and then on CNN for six years for the Sunday morning show that six janitors in Wichita watched. In 1997, this column started. My former pro football editor, Steve Robinson, went to run the new CNNSI sports channel, and the CNNSI.com Web site, and he needed content. "Just use anything you don't use for the magazine, and we'll put it on the site on Mondays,'' he said, or words to that effect.

That's how this mayhem began. I started out as a sportswriter. Now I'm a sportswriter who does the NBC Football Night in America show, a radio gig (Sirius NFL Radio) one or two mornings a week, a few other talk shows around the country, and multiple columns for SI.com. And I Tweet. It's amazing how the media world has grown.

When I took this job, there was no free-agency, no year-round draft-related coverage, no coverage of the scouting combine (in fact, 17 media people covered the 2000 combine, and about 400 covered it this year), no organized access to teams in the offseason, no daily coverage of mini-camps and Offseason Training Activities. I didn't write this column year-round until 2003. I think it's right about that time that Web sites started covering the NFL like it was the White House. It's only gotten more serious.

The other day, Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com made a great point about the difference between Mike Vick coverage during his possible return to football in 2009 and the coverage of Leonard Little's return to football in 1999. Little got 90 days in jail for vehicular manslaughter while being more than two times over the legal limit for alcohol, and he was suspended by the NFL for eight games. Florio's point was that if that happened today, the court in Missouri would have gotten ripped to shreds for a relatively light sentence (it also included 1,000 hours of community service and four years' probation), and the scrutiny on the NFL's punishment of Little would have been huge, instead of the basic afterthought that it was. He thinks, and I agree, that Little would have likely been treated more harshly today than he was a decade ago, and one of the reasons is because of the hot spotlight the media would have focused on the league and the authorities in Missouri.

I think in some ways we beat horses until they're long past dead today. In some cases, the pressure to be first causes those of us in the news business to react too quickly. The Boston Herald's false Spygate report comes to mind. That concerns me. But I also think the instant-ness of the news today helps people know things sooner instead of waiting hours or days to discover truths.

A few days ago, it was reported that J.J. Arrington, the running back of the Broncos, was cut. Immediately on Twitter, cries of "stupid Broncos'' went out, seeing that the team had signed him to a reported four-year, $10-million deal with a hefty signing bonus just a couple of months ago in free-agency. Well, originally it sounded like Denver cut him because of an overcrowded backfield, and I thought he'd get his knee healthy and play somewhere else this year. But then it became apparent his knee likely would prevent him from playing this year.

I made a call to find out exactly what his contract was. Turns out Denver paid him only $100,000 to sign, with the first portion of a hefty $300,000 roster bonus due in June. So if Arrington wasn't going to play this year, Denver was smart to dump him when it did. I tweeted Thursday morning: "When you look at the Arrington deal, Denver rented him for 3 months for 100k to see if he could come back. No harm, no foul.'' I don't know if it put the fire out right away, but it should have. I can't answer questions that quickly all the time, obviously, but when I can, and it's about something of a minor nature like the Arrington deal, why not Tweet the answer a bunch of fans want to know?

So we're in a new world of football, and a new media world. Where's it going in the next 20 years? No idea. But it's pretty exciting to be starting another decade.

"They just want me to learn multiple positions. We don't know quite where I'm going to play right now. I'm just learning a little bit of everything. Whatever they need me to play, I'll play.''

-- Minnesota rookie running back/returner/receiver Percy Harvin, after playing everything but trainer in recent Viking practices.

"I think it's despicable. What he put the Packers through last year was not good. Here's an organization that was loyal to him for 17, 18 years, provided stability of organization, provided players. It just wasn't about Brett Favre. In this day and time, we have glorified the Brett Favres of the world so much, they think it's about them. He goes to New York and bombs. He's 39 years old. How would you like Ray Nitschke in his last year [playing for] the Vikings, or I retire, and go play for the Packers. I kind of hope it happens, so he can fail.''

-- Fran Tarkenton, the former Viking and Giants quarterback, on Brett Favre's waffling about retirement, and possible return to Packer-rival Minnesota, on 790 The Zone in Atlanta, via sportsradiointerviews.com.

"I think he has been a great flamboyant quarterback, but he has made more stupid plays than any great quarterback I have ever seen.''

--Tarkenton, lobbing another bomb toward southern Mississippi.

NCAA baseball tournament, Austin Regional, University of Texas, Sunday morning, 1:05 a.m. Central time.

The final: Texas 3, Boston College 2, in 25 innings.

Texas went 22 consecutive innings without scoring, and won.

The most valuable player in the game was the senior closer for Texas, Austin Wood. He entered the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with one out and a runner on second base ... and threw no-hit baseball for the next 12 1/3 innings. Wood had 15 saves this year. His longest outing before Saturday night was 4 1/3 innings. In this game, he closed for 13 innings. Austin Wood's pitching line from one of the greatest games in any sport in NCAA history:

IP H R ER W SO Faced Pitches13.0 2 0 0 4 14 46 169

"In my 41 years of coaching,'' said Texas coach Augie Garrido, "the effort by Austin Wood was the best pitching performance I have ever seen.''

I got Austin Wood on the phone around noon Sunday. He's a lefty, more breaking stuff than fastball, with a fastball topping out at about 91. He's done everything at Texas in four seasons, closed, pitched middle relief and, for two years, started. He was named closer by Garrido this year.

And so he was out in the bullpen on a 95-degree Austin evening at the Longhorns' home field when starter Chance Ruffin got into trouble. In a 2-2 game against Boston College, Ruffin put a runner at second and Garrido went out to make a pitching change. Wood jogged in on the steamy night, hoping to save the day.

"Pick me up,'' said Ruffin, handing him the ball on the mound.

"Make pitches,'' said Garrido. "Get us out of the inning.''

The first batter Wood faced, Andrew Lawrence, fouled off seven pitches before striking out swinging. Not going to be a very long outing if every batter has an 11-pitch at-bat. The next Eagle grounded out. In the eighth, Wood walked an Eagle, but nothing came of it.

BC went 1-2-3 in the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th. No-hit ball for 6.2 innings.

"All I kept thinking was what I've been taught over and over: 'One pitch at a time, one pitch at a time,' '' Wood said.

What was odd, Wood thought, was Boston College being the home team. Just because a team hosts the regional doesn't mean it's the home team; the NCAA has a formula that tries to equalize the home-road factor, and in this game, Texas was the visitor. So every time Wood went to the mound, it was sudden death. In a broiler.

It was still in the mid-80s by the time it got to the 12th. In between innings, Wood drank until he couldn't stand to drink anymore. Over the course of the night, he's sure he drank 30 cups of Gatorade, Pedialyte (the electrolyte-laced fluid given to dehydrated infants) and water -- more than 200 ounces of liquid in all. That would become a, well, a bit of a problem later. But for now, there was another problem Wood had to solve.

"After four or five innings, I came to the bench and I heard coach Garrido and Skip [pitching coach Skip Johnson] talking about how they had to get me out of there, that I'd thrown enough,'' he said. "So I walked over to where they were in the dugout and I said, 'I'm not coming out of this game. This is my game. We need it.' And they said, basically, 'OK.'''

A two-out walk in the 14th resulted in nothing. Then seven more Eagles were retired in a row.

It was becoming a running joke on the bench, the marathon. "I'd come into the bench, and all I could do was laugh,'' he said. "What an incredible ball game! I was so involved in the moment, but I knew what a great game it was, what a fun game it was -- the funnest, easily, that I've ever been involved in. And if I'm never involved in a more fun game than that, fine; I mean, who ever could be in a game this enjoyable? And every time I'd come in, the guys would say, 'Hey, don't worry, we'll pick you up. We'll score this inning.' ''

Wood started cramping severely around the 15th. The trainer, between innings, would stretch him out, and he'd drink more and more. Before he went out for the 17th, Wood adjourned to the locker room and threw up violently because he'd been drinking too much too fast.

"Did you think you'd be too sick to go back out?'' I asked.

"Oh, I wasn't coming out of that game,'' he said.

He walked the leadoff hitter in the 17th, and the next batter reached on a sacrifice that Texas couldn't get the out on. But Wood got the next three batters groundout-strikeout-flyout, and it was on to the 18th. Each side went 1-2-3.

Wood now had thrown 11 2/3 no-hit innings.

"I didn't know,'' he said. "I had no idea until later.''

In the 19th, Texas opened with back-to-back singles, and eventually had the bases loaded with two out. But a flyout to left ended the threat. The grandstand groaned. There were 7,000 at the game at the 6 p.m. start. Now it was approaching midnight, and about 4,500 remained, on the edge of their seats.

Bottom 19: BC opened with two quick groundouts. But Wood walked the next hitter. And on an 0-1 fastball, BC's Tony Sanchez grounded a single through the left side. Wood had no idea that was the first hit he'd allowed, and paid no mind to the big hand the crowd rained down on him for pitching 12.1 no-hit innings.

Now Wood had to bear down. First and second, two out. Here came cleanup hitter Mickey Wiswall. Wood painted the black on the outside corner for two quick strikes. Then catcher Cameron Rupp called for a slow curve, and Wood bounced it in the dirt.

Wild pitch. Runners moved up, and now it was second and third, two out. The biggest win in BC baseball history was 90 feet away.

Rupp called for another curve. "You gotta be kidding me,'' thought Wood, who shook him off. Rupp called for the fastball and set up outside.

Strike three. Swinging.

That was Wood's 163rd pitch. Usually he'd throw between 10 and 30 in an outing. Never, ever in his high school or college career had he gone this far in a game, thrown this many pitches.

"Maybe it was adrenaline,'' Wood said, "but I couldn't believe how good I felt. My arm felt great. I wasn't sick, even though I threw up. But my body felt great, my arm felt great.''

Texas got a two-out double and a walk in the top of the 20th. But a strikeout ended the threat.

With one out in the bottom of the 20th, Barry Butera singled up the middle for BC. "He hit a great pitch,'' said Wood. "Good for him.'' Then Wood hit Lawrence, the next batter. First and second, one out. Here came the coach. There wouldn't be a discussion. "He was coming to get me,'' Wood said. "That was it.''

When he walked off the field, just after midnight, everyone in the stadium rose and cheered. The Longhorn bench emptied and met him with cheers and high-fives and hugs in front of the dugout. The BC dugout cheered.

"The coolest feeling I ever had on a baseball field,'' Wood said. "I can't lie. I wanted to soak in every second of it. The BC kids, what class. That was incredible. I just wanted to make sure I enjoyed the best moment I've ever had in baseball. But I wasn't satisfied. Not at all. We had to win this game.''

Austin Dicharry, the reliever, got two quick outs to send the game to the 21st. and Texas won it in the 25th, finally, on a Travis Tucker RBI single to right -- after Tucker had gone one-for-11 up to that point.

Wood heard what Garrido said about him, about how it was the greatest pitching performance he'd seen in 41 years. "Now that is pretty cool,'' Wood said. "I can't lie -- that's some unbelievable praise.''

There may have been higher praise. "But I have to tell you what was the most incredible thing after the game. The president of the university came to me after the game, and this is a direct quote. He told me, 'That's probably the best athletic performance ever at the University of Texas.' I mean, wow. Earl Campbell, Vince Young.''

Now there came the physical toll. "As soon as I started icing it,'' he said, "I knew it was going to hurt. And it did. It does. But boy, is it worth it. I was on Cloud 9 all night. I couldn't fall asleep. I got to bed around 4:30, I guess.''

"Did you sleep OK?'' I asked.

"About four hours,'' Wood said. "But I'll tell you this: Fell asleep smiling, woke up smiling.''

And that is why we love sports.

When Brett Favre has thrown this spring to high school receivers near his Sumrall, Miss., home, one of the wideouts has been a 6-foot-1, 195-pound Division-I prospect with Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisville chasing him. Pretty good pedigree, too. The wide receiver in question: Steve McNair Jr., the son the former MVP quarterback.

From lfitzgerald11, better known to you as Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, tweeting to Oprah Winfrey over the weekend:

"Just wanted to let you know I would love to come on your show & talk about my moms fight w/ breast cancer. If ur intersted let me know''

Fitzgerald's mother, Carol, died of a brain hemorrhage in 2003 while being treated for breast cancer. Larry, obviously, wants on the show in the worst way.

1. I think these are my three opinions about Anquan Boldin likely changing his agent from firebrand Drew Rosenhaus to the less-confrontational Creative Artists Agency, with Tom Condon and Ben Dogra:

a. It matters only slightly. Rosenhaus is not responsible for teams not wanting to pay the freight -- a top 35 draft pick, plus an annual salary of $9 million a year -- for the best physical receiver in football, but a receiver who can't beat corners deep with consistency. That's not a criticism of Boldin. I love him as a player, and he'll be a great asset to whoever employs him. But I'm just telling you why he hasn't moved yet -- the asking price is big enough, and what Boldin will ask for in salary makes it a double hit. The change will basically mean Condon and Dogra will work quietly, without a Tweet every 10 minutes or so about what they're demanding.

b. I don't care. There's way, way too much time and energy in our business devoted to the agent a player has. At the end of the day, it rarely matters, and I don't think readers, viewers and listeners care at all who represents a player. I've never heard a fan call a radio show and say, "Hey, first-time caller. I've got a question about Drew Rosenhaus.''

c. Absolute gut feeling: Boldin stays in Arizona and gets a new deal done, quietly, around Halloween. Kurt Warner rejoices.

2. I think Gary Myers came up with a heck of a stat in a Sunday New York Daily News story: The Giants have gone through their entire 140,000-person waiting list and still haven't sold about 4,000 of the premium seats in their new stadium. There's time, obviously, with 15 months before opening day at the new Giants Stadium. But it's worrisome that the team with an eternally tough ticket has almost 4,000 of its choicest seats available. Puts quite some pressure on the 2009 Giants to be contenders, to build up the demand for the new stadium.

3. I think the Santa Clara deal makes so much sense for the 49ers, rather than waiting for the city of San Francisco to build a stadium. Just do it.

4. I think we've known all along the Rams are for sale; I've been saying it since last November. What Bernie Miklasz disclosed Sunday in his St. Louis Post-Dispatch column that was of interest to me was the the desire to sell is so strong now that the current owners won't force the new owner to keep the team in St. Louis. So it's open season on the Rams, and a billionaire could probably bring them to Los Angeles now.

Although I'm told the league really wants the Rams to stay in the Midwest, it wouldn't be a disaster if they moved back home to Los Angeles. This is one franchise that can be moved without upsetting any competitive applecart. The Rams in the NFC West always were a bit of a stretch. But a Seattle-San Francisco-L.A.-Arizona division makes much more sense than leaving the Rams in St. Louis.

5. I think I wouldn't be bothered so much by the news of Eric Mangini sending his rookie class on a 10-hour bus ride to Hartford to work at his weekend football camp for underprivileged kids -- if he and his coaches hadn't flown there. There's something about that that's just wrong. And though I hear he did take the bus back with the players late Saturday, it's clear that the rookies felt they had to do this. The bottom line, though, is a coach shouldn't enlist people who he barely knows to go work a camp for him, even if the camp is a tremendous idea, which it is.

6. I think I cannot believe -- and will refuse to believe until I see him stink it up in training camp, which won't happen -- that Byron Leftwich will not beat out Luke McCown for the Tampa Bay quarterback job. Leftwich is just better.

7. I think I have nothing new to report on your favorite newsmakers, Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Favre is flying very far under the radar and hasn't been heard from all week, and I hear the Vikings don't even know his plans, though they're anxious to find them out. And Vick ... well, all I know is don't believe that the Rams are interested. And I don't think the Saints are interested either. So if you've got "no one will sign him in 2009'' in the Vick pool, you might be in luck.

8. I think someone has to tell Reggie Bush that this thing with Kim Kardashian just might not be forever. Google the story about her engagement ring.

9. I think you'll all appreciate a long-overdue update about your favorite soldier. Army First Sgt. Mike McGuire says via e-mail: "We're back in Germany preparing for a 32-day leave/break, 32 days of leave, I cant imagine it. We are going to stay in Germany and travel to Italy and Denmark. At least that is the plan. Pretty excited. I just bought a 2009 white Mustang. It is sweet, sort of my welcome-home present. My son deploys in a couple months, so I'm gonna spend some time with him and my grandson. Yes, I am a grandpa.

"All my soldiers are back now, I extended in Germany for another three years so I could stay the First Sergeant for a long time. My heart is with every one of these soldiers. We are already scheduled to be in Afghanistan sometime in 2010. This is a heck of a deployment ride we are on right now, back to back to back. I could have left but it's hard to walk away and leave behind something as great as I have here. My company really is young and tough and now experienced. Most extended in Germany to make the rotation next year with me. So we begin to train up again later this year.

"I love the Army but will be glad when I retire in four years. I need the break. We have a memorial service and dedication later this week, this deployment we lost Sgt. McHale, SPC Bryant, Cpl. Alfoso, and Cpl. Connelly. Wounded severely were SPC Koulchar [lost both legs] SPC Chang [damage to legs] and SPC Lataham [hand]. It was a rough rotation. Take care. We'll be in touch, Mike.''

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I think we probably shouldn't send LeBron James to the electric chair for walking off the court in anger and without class at the end of his season. It's not like he's a turd. Slap him around a bit, fine. But let's not make him a poster child for bush-league athletes.

b. You tell me the World Baseball Classic isn't kryptonite for Daisuke Matsuzaka. Since winning the WBC MVP, Matsuzaka has started four games for the Red Sox. Innings: 16.1. Hits: 29. Walks: 10. That's 2.4 baserunners per inning.

c. Mariano Rivera is not only the greatest relief pitcher of all time, but also one of the 10 best pitchers of all time. What an amazing specimen and competitor.

d. So Jason Varitek hit a ball into the right center-field upper deck, about six rows from the top of the Metrodome on Thursday. One of the longest balls I've ever seen hit. And the Twins came out and said it was a 427-foot homer. I said on Twitter, if it is, then I'm Bud Selig. So I get this link back from a home-run measuring site, Hit Tracker (yes, there is really a home-run measuring site, from the looks of it), with the real-deal measurement of 452 feet. I trust the math in here far more than I trust the Metrodome's measurers. Check it out.

e. Saturday was the third time in two weeks that a shaky play or error by the shortstop played a huge role in a Red Sox loss. Either Jed Lowrie is going to be ready in about 10 minutes, or they'd better trade a real prospect for Omar Vizquel.

f. Nothing personal, Rance. But Rance Mulliniks' middle name should be "Statingtheobvious.'' Mulliniks also informed the New England audience Sunday that Nick Green, one of the offending shortstops, was a "young rookie.'' This is Green's fifth year getting big-league at-bats, with his fifth team. NESN might want to make it mandatory that analysts it has subbing for the ailing Jerry Remy actually have heard of the players in the starting lineup.

g Coffeenerdness: Not to get all touchy-feely on you, but there is something about walking into a Peet's and just breathing the air. That's what espresso smells like in Italy.

h. Remember the neat Raffle idea former Patriot Je'Rod Cherry had last year, when he raffled a Patriots Super Bowl ring to raise money for an overseas children's charity? Now Vince Wilfork is doing the same thing to fight diabetes, raffling a pair of Patriots 2009 season tickets, a five-person barbeque with Wilfork and a Weber gas grill ($10 for five chances) at this online site: Wilfork's dad died of diabetes just before he entered the NFL, and as he wrote in an e-mail Sunday: "My mom died of a broken heart six months later.'' So he's trying to do what he can to eradicate diabetes. Give him a hand if you can.

i. You go, Daniel Schlereth. The son of ESPN's Mark Schlereth, the former Bronco and 'Skin guard, made his major-league debut as a lefty reliever for Arizona on Friday night in Phoenix, getting the Braves out 1-2-3 (Brian McCann, Garret Anderson, Casey Kotchman) Friday night with a very nervous dad in attendance, then followed it up with a second shutout inning Sunday. Careful, kid. You're going to give your father a heart attack.

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