So here we go. The 28-week marathon to the Super Bowl is on. I leave for 21 days of camps tomorrow morning, and I'll try to set the table here with a few appetizers to get you ready for the 2009 season. Love this time of year.
Since 1984, I've been covering training camps, and I was just telling someone Sunday how vividly I remember my first camp season. Wilmington, Ohio, July, 1984, living down the dorm hall from
Now I'll be out there with a new generation. It seems a more transient lot these days, and that point was driven home Sunday night. I was speaking with
He said that eight players from the '06 camp roster were left as of this offseason. That's eight of about 100 he ran across in camp or in workouts. "Every player who walks into one of these training camps this summer should know they're competing for one of the most impermanent jobs in our society,'' Fatsis said.
That's part of the fun. On some field this summer, a new
So much to be invented and decided. So little set in stone. That's why it's such a fun time of year. Over the next six weeks, starting with a Tuesday night Bills' practice in Pittsford, N.Y., I'll be on the road seeing about 23 teams either in practices or games. And I'll do the best I can on SI.com, in
Keep your e-mails and tweets coming, and I'll try to respond when I can. My Tuesday mailbag begins again tomorrow, so stuff it today. For all you Texans fans who sometimes feel left out on the national stage, I'll have some interesting thoughts from
Before I begin, thanks to my sub columnists --
A few pre-camp snippets in a newsy time for football:
I'm told Vick is a changed man. Obviously, it's easy to be changed when you've lost $100 million and just spent two years in jail. I also believe Vick simply wants to be back on an NFL team (he views the United Football League as a last resort only) and will be fine for at least a year or maybe two with whatever role a coach wants to give him. Wildcat backup for New England? Or Oakland? We'll see.
We'll also see what Goodell thinks. I feel strongly that Vick should be given a suspension of at least four weeks because of his serial lying -- to Goodell, to Falcons owner
Goodell always looks to give bad-boy players a path back into the game if they avoid their former pitfalls, and those close to Vick think that's what he tried to impress on Goodell. We'll see. I expect a ruling this week.
Then what? I don't know a team that wants Vick, but that doesn't mean a team won't sign him. No team is going to leak it likes Vick because of the PR-related headaches. I still expect a team to sign him if Goodell green-lights him. For Vick, a blessing would be going to New England, where
But the Dolphins picked
He's the 35-year-old replacement for Johnson, who is seriously ill with re-occurring melanoma. And I mean seriously ill. Johnson, one of the great defensive coaches in recent history, needs all of our prayers, and he needs them now. "You always look for a great opportunity like this,'' a solemn McDermott said when we spoke Saturday, "but to have it under these circumstances is very tough. Jim has meant everything to me. For the last 10 years in this organization, I've had a front-row seat with a Hall of Fame-caliber coach, and he's helped me develop a core set of values.''
The reason McDermott's job is so tough is that Johnson set such a high standard. He was the defensive sheriff in town, and he made the defensive game plans and the defensive playcalls. The Eagles, in the nine seasons from 2000 to 2008, are in the top five in the NFL in points allowed, total defense, third-down defense and sacks. And now they're without Johnson as well as the biggest leader the defense has had since
"There's no doubt there's a leadership void,'' McDermott said. "But that's what training camp is all about. Leaders will emerge.''
The biggest leader needs to be the new defensive boss.
This is the fourth year Croner has worked with Hasselbeck, who turns 34 in September, and the trainer said Friday, "He looks by far the best he's ever looked since I've been with him.''
Hasselbeck's eight pounds lighter now (at 234) than he was a year ago, and he said one of the things that has helped him this offseason is the simple length of it. Because he didn't play much last year, and because Seattle didn't make the playoffs, and because he had his back well-diagnosed by January, he's been in the weight room more, and longer, than in the past. "I'm not worried about my back at all,'' Hasselbeck said. "The only thing my back cannot do is sit in a three-hour run-game-install meeting without getting up and moving around. Of the things I'm worried about -- new coach, new offense, some new teammates -- I can promise you that health is not one of them.''
Grunge music to Seattle's ears.
Seriously: I'd sign Toomer, who's almost at the end but could be a good veteran port-in-the-storm for
And that's the way it is. Monday, July 27, 2009.
(I owe you a few, Walter. We all do.)
"It's the toughest thing to do,'' said Bruschi, who is doing what he can to help. He has auctioned himself off, along with me, to have a lunch to benefit Zim's long-term medical care, and we're at Davio's at Patriot Place, the
They'd gathered at Chris and
They're tight with Cubs GM
The previous night, we'd been to see the Mariners in a fairly big game against the Rangers, and the crowd was supportive, to be sure. But it was nothing like the electricity we felt before and during this soccer game at Qwest Field with 32,404 people waving team flags and holding up team scarves. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe soccer can work here. I know it sure can work in Seattle.
The setup: Fans mingle with players and club brass on the floor of the Coliseum, and there's a panel with NFL people moderated by Kremer -- under the stars, where the '32 Olympics happened. My two favorite nuggets from this year's panel:
And now, just after 1 in the afternoon, I'm sitting on the edge of a hospital bed in Massachusetts General Hospital-West when my surgeon approaches. It's
Gill's had much bigger fish to fry than this little meniscus tear, and he's so confident that it doesn't occur to me to be nervous. An hour later, I'm awake, and warned about the pain, and told I'd have crutches and Vicodin, and I shouldn't be afraid to use either. Happy to say I've not touched the crutches, have had to take but one Vicodin tablet and have aced the stairs all week. Don't tell Dr. Gill, but I also walked two miles home from Fenway on Saturday night.
I think I'm ready for the camp trail. And if you see me limping slightly, it's not because
"Since I've been working in the league, I don't think the best team has won the Super Bowl any year. You get a ball bouncing the wrong way, a bad call from a ref, a windy day when you plan to throw a lot ... There are just too many things out of your control.''
That is an incredible statement. The '96 Packers tie for the best record in football, win their playoff games by 21, 17 and 14 points and aren't the best team in football? The Ravens have one of the best defenses of all time and win 12 games in 2000, win the Super Bowl by 27 and aren't the best team in football? The Bucs of 2002 win three playoff games by 69 and aren't the best team in football? None of the three Patriot Super Bowl winners is the best team in football that season? This has to be one Joe Banner would love to have back.
"I think the way the commissioner has handled it, I think it's unfair to Michael Vick. I think he's done the time for what he's done. I don't think it's really fair for him to be suspended four more games. That's almost like kicking a dead horse in the ground. I think a lot of guys around the league need to speak up. I think the players union needs to step in because the guy's already suffered so much. To add a four-game suspension on a two-year prison sentence, that's ridiculous.''
"I want to play quarterback ... and do I believe that I can do that? Absolutely. When I'm on a team I'm going to do whatever that coach asks me to do, which I think you see by watching me play at Florida. I'll be the biggest team player there because I just want the team to succeed and the team to win.''
"How can I help?''
What a selfless thing to say. By the way, kudos to Major League Baseball for a terrific show before the All-Star Game, not only recognizing 30 volunteers from around the country for their unselfishness, but also for having the players from each side mingle with the 30 people honored before the game. If it inspired one person to help one other person, the display did its job.
Let's start this exercise by saying the only teams that can logically compete for Team of the Decade in this decade are New England and Pittsburgh. Indianapolis (regular-season record: 101-43, 7-7 in the playoffs) does have seven more regular-season wins than Pittsburgh, but the Colts can finish this decade with two Super Bowl titles, and a two-time Super Bowl winner can't lay claim to Team of the Decade over a team with three. So it's either the Patriots (three titles as we speak) or Pittsburgh (two) who can wear history's crown.
You be the judge what history will say if the Steelers win a third after seeing the Patriots' and Steelers' records since 2000:
In other words, something really strange would have to happen for the Steelers to pass the Pats as Team of the Decade.
"My seventh continent,'' Menefee said when I ran into him earlier this month at LAX. "Now I've seen them all.''
Aside from getting
I hurt my knee during vacation and had to muddle through three weeks with it, and I found myself on a plane to Seattle, changing in Chicago, to visit our daughter
He never said a word. No "sorry,'' or "ooooops.''
"At least 5 teams made playoffs after missing year before for 13 yrs in row. NFL=you never know.''
Go to the Ravens' camp in Westminster, Md., or the Steelers' camp in Latrobe, Pa., and you'll see what I mean about access at camps on the road. Last year, I watched
This year, 36.7 million people watched at least part of ESPN's draft coverage -- according to ESPN -- and if those numbers are accurate, how much of a boost can the draft possibly get by moving? Will some of the draft buzz be neutered by moving from a time when the only competition is April baseball to a time when the competition is
"Young men of African-American descent, hear me now. It breaks my heart, and it breaks all of our hearts. This is not the future your forefathers have built for you. This is not the future that we fought for in the '50s and '60s and '70s. What breaks our heart is to see you involved in gangs and selling drugs and killing each other. That breaks our hearts. We put our lives on the line so that you could enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today. We put our lives on the line yesterday so that ... there could be a
How about that? Eller referring to Obama three or four years before America really knew him. A very good read.
I've always found the five-year waiting period for players a valuable one, because it eliminates all the emotion from the equation. When
My feeling is that except for the true gimmes over the years --
At first blush, the road for McNair will be hard. He played five 16-game seasons in his career. Some of that was bad luck; injuries happen. Some was a result of his aggressive style. Some also was because he was never a fitness nut, was often not in peak condition, was prone to be a few pounds overweight, and his career ended earlier than most good quarterbacks' careers, at 34.
He was broken-down when
In his favor is the fact that he won an MVP and appeared in a Super Bowl. But here is a list of other quarterbacks who won MVPs and are not in the Hall (quarterbacks who won after 1998 are not included because most are still playing):
Theismann won one Super Bowl, lost another and won the MVP outright in 1983. Stabler won one, while Esiason and Anderson lost their Super Bowls, as McNair did. He's 28th on the all-time passing yards list, and 46th all-time in touchdown passes. By the time he's up for the Hall, he'll likely be 35th or so in yards and not in the top 50 in touchdowns. I liked McNair as a player and competitor and won't make final judgment on his Hall candidacy until he comes up that year, but as I said, it's going to be tough.
I was a kid when
Why, when a famous person dies, do we feel the need to vastly overstate this person's importance to the planet? Jackson may have been -- probably was -- the greatest singer, performer and dancer of this era. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives,
On the day when Astana teammate
Why couldn't Armstrong wait a few days? This day was a day to congratulate Contador and give the champ his due; instead, the
I hate to fast-forward to reality in a serious case, but two other observations: It's ridiculous for ESPN to not cover this story for two days because of the apparent flimsiness of it, seeing that it's a civil suit and not a criminal one. When a lawsuit is filed in a courtroom somewhere in the United States of America involving the Super Bowl champion quarterback, it's absolutely, positively news and must be reported.
Two: I don't buy that this will be much of a distraction to Roethlisberger this summer, or to his team. The preponderance of evidence just isn't there to make anyone think this is a serious issue for him.
That number from scrimmage has to get to 200, whatever the Jets choose to do in the return game; Washington is simply too explosive to let him touch the ball 7.7 times per game from scrimmage. "I hate defending against players like that,'' Ryan said last week. "He had six touchdowns on 73 carries last year. That number has to go up -- drastically. And it will.''