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No lack of drama as season nears

Don't get spoiled by the last two Mondays. I can't keep up the pace of 7,200- and 9,000-word columns in the preseason. But there's enough -- from Dallas, Denver and Minnesota, and a stunningly bad list of prospective free agents when teams will have real money to spend in 2010 -- to keep us all thinking this morning.

Then there's the game news of the weekend: The left-handed interception by Kyle Orton (who told me last Monday, falsely as it turns out, that he'd learned his lesson from his three-pick Denver opener); Detroit giving up 17 points in the first 16 plays against the struggling Browns; Jason Campbell justifying everyone's doubts' Brett Favre looking shaky; and DeAngelo Williams looking like Gale Sayers.

With 17 days until the opener, the headlines of the week in the NFL:

Jerry's World Needs a Few Repairs

All weekend, league and team people I spoke with asked versions of the same question: How do you open a $1.2-billion stadium and not figure how low to hang the video board so kicks or punts won't hit it? I can't figure out whether it's more mind-boggling that the Titans punters were hitting the 60-yard-wide structure in pre-game warmups, or their just-out-of-college, free-agent punter would hit it in the fourth quarter. Or whether it wasn't hung 20 feet higher in the first place.

"It's just an honest mistake that needs to be corrected,'' a member of the league's rules-making Competition Committee, Indy's Bill Polian, said Sunday.

No doubt about it. Several league officials, including vice president of football operations Ray Anderson and VP of officiating Mike Pereira, spoke by phone Saturday and began to fact-find about the issue. The Competition Committee could convene by conference call today or tomorrow to begin to consider options.

The only possible option, to me, is raising the video board 15 or 20 feet, which stadium officials say can be done; the $40-million board is connected to the roof by monstrous cables. Whatever happens, I can't help but thinking someone's going to take a pretty big fall for this. I was told Sunday night the Cowboys definitely got the green light from the NFL for all football and competitive aspects of the stadium, including the positioning of the board 90 feet above the field.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones said he was comfortable with the height of the board after Friday's game. He was unavailable for comment over the weekend as this storm brewed, but you have to know Jones to understand what his reaction will be to this: Whatever consternation he feels about the board needing to be moved is overridden by his love of the attention for the stadium and the controversy. Vastly.

The league could do a number of things: Order the video board raised, have commissioner Roger Goodell unilaterally impose a rules change of some sort to account for punts hitting the board, or leave the rule the same. If a ball hits the board now, it's essentially a do-over; the play is played over as if it never happened.

But as a league source told me Sunday night, there are two worrisome things about doing nothing. The NFL would never want to create different ground rules for one stadium, as there is, say, in baseball, with the ivy at Wrigley Field or the different rules for fly balls hitting different beams above the field at Tropicana Field. And doing nothing could mean multiple do-overs in one game, particularly if the team has a boomer punter trying to kick the ball high to let his coverage team run under it downfield. With two of the best legs in punting history -- San Diego's Mike Scifres and Shane Lechler of Oakland -- due in Dallas this year, the potential for an embarrassing day for the league is high.

Think of this possibility: The Raiders and Cowboys meet on national TV on Thanksgiving. Oakland stalls in the first quarter at midfield, at the left hashmark, and Lechler is told to try to place the ball across the field, inside the 10-yard line. He could hit the video board once, twice, three times in a row. It's not probable, of course. But it's certainly something the league has to think could happen, especially with the best punters in the game.

"Plus,'' Polian said, "one of the things you don't want to do is add kicking plays to a game, because of the risk of injury. And you don't want to wear your gunners [coverage players on punt-cover teams] out. You can't undermine the punter'' by making the play a do-over.

Agreed.

"The irony is that our stadium architect [at new Lucas Oil Stadium] wanted to hang the video boards the same way in our stadium,'' Polian said. "So we put a metal beam about 90 feet above the ground and had our punter at the time, Hunter Smith, punt the ball up there trying to hit it. He hit it the majority of the time. That's why we put our replay boards on the wall.''

The Brandon Marshall Story Will Not Be a Jay Cutler Rerun

In the category of "Strange Training Camp Interviews,'' I bring you mine with Brandon Marshall in Denver the other day.

Me: "Can you be happy here long-term?''

Marshall: "I can be happy playing football.''

Me: "Here?''

Marshall: "I can be happy playing football.'' (Wide smile.)

Me: "How do you like Josh McDaniels and his offense?''

Marshall: "I don't know too much about either.''

Me: "Can you be productive even if you're not happy?''

Marshall: "I'm going to be productive wherever I am. Somewhere.''

Me: "You're never like this. Come on. Tell me something.''

Marshall: (Wide smile. No comment.)

Marshall wants out of Denver, and he wants out even more now that he's been told he won't get either a trade or a new contract with the team. I told him he had to know there's no way the Broncos will deal him after the Jay Cutler debacle, when Cutler shot himself out of town. "Really?'' he said, smiling. Yes. Really. Unless the people I trust in the building are lying or don't have the juice I think they have, Marshall, productive or unproductive, will stay in Denver all season.

I say the same thing about Marshall that I said about Cutler back in March: The match with McDaniels would be good for his career. Malingering for a year will not be good for his career. It'd reinforce what many teams in the league now think of Marshall -- that he's selfish with a troubled résumé off the field. But despite his pasted-on smile, Marshall didn't seem at all happy, or very willing to play ball with McDaniels.

Marshall did say one revealing thing, when I asked him about whether he thought the team could win with the current coaches and players, and without Mike Shanahan and Cutler. "Did we win with them?'' he said. "We didn't win, at least win a playoff game, since I've been here.''

He's right. Denver was 24-24 with Marshall, Cutler and Shanahan keying the offense. Maybe Marshall thinks he's got no chance to win with the Broncos, or no chance to get paid. But he ought to be smart enough to realize the majority of these stories have bad endings, and just because Cutler got what he wanted doesn't mean he'll get what he wants. The fact that Cutler did get what he wanted, in fact, is the exact reason why Marshall won't get his way.

Whatever, there was a weird pall hanging over the Denver camp when I was there a week ago. A smaller-than-usual Monday crowd at camp was so subdued I thought I was in church. McDaniels needs something good to happen to him, and soon.

Childress Blows on Dice and Hopes He Rolls 7

"So you don't like the move,'' Childress said to me Wednesday.

It's not that I don't like the move to get Favre, I said; I just don't like it now. I told Childress that Favre's the one who said he felt 40 while working out in Mississippi in July, and just didn't think he could make it through a full season. Given that Minnesota's favorable early schedule (at Cleveland, at Detroit, San Francisco) could be a cushion for a pretty tough 15-day stretch in October (Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, at Green Bay). Favre, if needed, could have joined the Vikings near the Week 9 bye, and been fresh for the final eight games, five of which are in the friendly confines of the Metrodome.

"I don't have any reason to believe he won't stay healthy, barring a car accident or some catastrophe,'' said Childress. Other than the fact that Favre wore down last year in New York and said he was feeling 40 now.

I repeat: I'd have liked this move if Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson struggled, and Mariano Rivera had to come in for the season save. But I'm just going by Favre's words, and those words three weeks earlier were downcast and stark.

I don't care that Favre struggled Friday night, and I don't care that he started after being in camp for 15 minutes; all pretense of having to earn anything with the Vikings has been thrown out the window after Childress bent every rule on the team to get Favre in-house. On one of his three incompletions Friday night against Kansas City, Favre threw the wrong way when Percy Harvin, half his age, ran the right way. In time, he'll learn his receivers, and he'll make some beautiful music with them. This one tempts fate -- and the longest starting streak a quarterback has ever had.

"The key to me,'' said Childress, "is managing the guy. We'll get him ramped up, we'll get him to be the leader he is, and that doesn't mean he'll be Patton and come in and throw his weight around. But I think it's good to get him in now to learn his teammates and get to know his receivers. That takes some time.''

As I said to Childress, I don't agree with the timing, but I understand why he did it. The team is a quarterback away from serious Super Bowl contention, and he didn't trust Rosenfels or Jackson to be that quarterback. He knew how painful it was for Favre to say no to returning three weeks ago, and he knew if he asked him one more time, and attached a now-or-never string to it, he'd probably get Favre to come in. I just think it shouldn't have been now or never. If Childress wanted Favre today, he'd want him next week. Or the week after.

But it's done, and the Twin Cities are in a bigger tizzy than if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau signed lifetime contracts with the Twins. FOX is delirious to have the first three Favre Retirement Tour games, ESPN is frothing at the prospect of the Packer-Viking Monday-nighter Oct. 5 and Ice Bowl possibility at Chicago Dec. 28, and Dick Ebersol and NBC are laying in the weeds for a couple of Sunday-nighters in Weeks 11 through 17. Everyone's happy. Now the star of the musical just can't get laryngitis.

Quite Honestly, Why Should Anyone Care if There's a Cap in 2010?

I keep hearing all these stories about how the rich will get richer and the cheap teams will use an uncapped year in 2010 to get financially well. I've seen a list of looming free agents for next spring, and I know the rules of free agency for the year, and I can tell you this: It's a bunch of bunk.

Now I don't know if, say, the Bengals or Rams or Jags will spend to some noncompetitive floor, though any team that spends $70 million on players will get so much public scorn for it that it'd surprise me if even the hard-bitten owners like Mike Brown would slash payroll by 35 or 40 percent. But understand the minimum-service time for unrestricted free agents rises from four to six years in 2010, and understand that each team can use a franchise tag AND transition tag to lock up two potential free agents next year, and understand the top eight teams in the league can't sign a free agent until they lose one of similar value. Now you understand why the prospect of an uncapped year doesn't make general managers league-wide lose much sleep. Or any.

The Steelers could be hurt the most in free agency next year, with defensive end Brett Keisel, underrated free safety Ryan Clark, nose tackle Casey Hampton and running back Willie Parker slated to be free. But suppose Rashard Mendenhall's progress this year makes Parker a luxury, and suppose the team decides that Hampton, at 32 and with a history of weight problems, isn't worth the risk of another contract, particularly with defensive-tackle heir Ziggy Hood already on the team. If they chose, they could put tags on Clark and Keisel, ensuring they wouldn't lose either of their two need players.

Here's a list of the top 20 players I project for free agency next spring. Keep in mind that many of these players will be tagged and never see the free market. (I have kept free-agent-to-be Philip Rivers off the list, because it's next to impossible the Chargers would allow him to leave.)

1. Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh2. Vince Wilfork, NT, New England3. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina4. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona5. Richard Seymour, DL, New England6. Brett Keisel, DE, Pittsburgh7. Aaron Kampman, DE/OLB, Green Bay8. Casey Hampton, DT, Pittsburgh9. Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh10. Dunta Robinson, CB, Houston11. Kevin Walter, WR, Houston12. Antonio Bryant, WR, Tampa Bay13. Ryan Pickett, DL, Green Bay14. Justin Bannan, DL, Baltimore15. Chad Pennington, QB, Miami16. Chester Pitts, G, Houston17. Kassim Osgood, WR/Sp. Teams, San Diego18. Nate Burleson, WR, Seattle19. Casey Rabach, C, Washington20. Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland

A couple of notes: Keisel, at 285 pounds an excellent run-playing defensive end, will be highly regarded as a 3-4 end because more teams are playing the scheme. Bryant is low because of his checkered past, but a solid year in Tampa Bay this season could make him fly up the list.

"Michael, you can't do that.''-- Mentor Tony Dungy to Michael Vick, after Vick was spotted by the New York Post drinking a Grey Goose and pineapple juice at a Philadelphia hotel bar.

Vick can have a drink; that does not violate any terms of his return to the NFL. But Dungy's point was that Vick needs to be a saint as he gets back on the road to a life in football. He can't give the media or the public any ammunition to suggest he isn't doing everything he can to live a clean life and devote himself totally to football. Unfair? Yes. But until Roger Goodell green-lights Vick back into football, Vick has to be sure he doesn't give anyone reason to doubt him.

"We'll probably have to go at it again one more time when we're not playing a game. There's going to be bad blood between us.''-- Detroit defensive end Dewayne White, after an only-in-Detroit moment happened in pregame warmups in Cleveland Saturday night -- a fight with a teammate.White and tight end Carson Butler brawled on the field.

I imagine when head coach Jim Schwartz reads this quote (he's probably already seen it), he might have something to say to White -- something like, "If you fight Carson Butler in practice this week, I'll make sure you never fight anybody in anybody's camp again for the rest of your life.''

"I wish he stayed retired. I really do. You know, I love the guy to death but enough is enough. I would love to be in that locker room when he first arrives because there's clearly going to be players in there that aren't happy, and it's not just going to be the two quarterbacks.''-- Former Green Bay tight end and Brett Favre buddy Mark Chmura, on ESPN Radio in Milwaukee, via sportsradiointerviews.com.

Of the 98 players who either played or were named to the Pro Bowl last year, three are scheduled to be free agents in a potential capless year, 2010. As I wrote earlier, it points out how ridiculously slim the free-agent crop will be next spring when the three alluded to Pro Bowl players are:

I am still shaking my head at the Chad Ochocinco display Thursday night. OK, lots of NFL players can walk off the street and kick an extra point. Big deal. But Ocho's kickoff to start the second half? Pretty impressive. A little background.

Near the end of the second quarter, the man judged the best kicker in the NFL last year, Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots All-Pro kicker, kicked the ball off from the Patriots' 30 to the Cincinnati 9, a 61-yard boot. To start the third quarter, Ochocinco, a right-footed, soccer-style kicker, rainbowed one 61 yards to the Pats' nine. Same kick. Same weather conditions. Same result. "He's a terrific player,'' Bill Belichick said a day later. "I love his competitiveness. I love his enthusiasm for the game.''

Talked to Ochocinco on Sunday night (how weird it is to write "talked to Ochocinco"?), and he said he played soccer from 4 to 14 growing up in Miami. "Soccer's my first love,'' he said. "I only gave it up my freshman year in high school because it was time to get serious about football as a career.''

"I'm having a lot of trouble calling you, 'Chad Ochocinco,''' I said.

"Just call me 'Ocho,' '' he said. "That's not hard.''

Anyway, regarding his 61-yard kickoff, he said he wasn't surprised. "I've kicked field goals at [Paul Brown Stadium], just fooling around, from 53 yards. Imagine if I devoted practice time to it. There is no doubt in my mind I could kick in this league. Really, I want to kick so bad.''

The dream ended Sunday -- not because the Bengals don't think Johnson could be an adequate emergency kicker, but because they don't want him to risk getting hurt kicking. With incumbent Shayne Graham out for the rest of the preseason, Cincinnati signed free agent Sam Swank from Wake Forest on Sunday.

"Totally unnecessary,'' Ocho said.

Regarding the non-guaranteed, guaranteed reservation that got me booted from the Westin Hotel in San Diego nine days ago: I am not boycotting Westin Hotels. I probably should, but I realize the ultimate futility of it all, because Westin (and the hotel industry) is not going to change its policy of overbooking hotels in hopes of selling out every night. I got a genuflecting letter from the president of the Starwood Hotel Group (parent of Westin), Matt Avril, and we agree to disagree on the ridiculous unfairness of someone paying for a room and there still being a slight chance of it not being available at check-in.

Should I bore you with the details? Avril's point, in brief, is that hotels allow guests to reserve rooms weeks in advance and then cancel hours before the day of arrival -- 24 hours at Westin's -- without incurring a charge. But in the case of the Westin San Diego, the 436-room hotel might have 20 people cancel their reservations, and then the hotel, which held the rooms for them only to have them cancel a day or two before arrival, would be stuck with unsold rooms if the hotel couldn't fill them with walk-ins or late reservations. So this Westin sells about 20 more rooms than it has inventory on the busy nights when it can, and hopes it guesses right.

On this particular night, there were 16 no-shows, not 20 or more. And so four of us got whacked. "There's not a great solution,'' Avril told me Saturday, "when you try to provide maximum consumer flexibility.''

I suppose not. But I can't get by this: If my credit card is being charged for a room, and I don't show up (or I don't show up 'til 4 a.m.), then the hotel has sold the room.

I decided not to boycott because Westin gave me a free room 10 blocks away in a similar-style hotel, and because I don't think they're any different from the other big chains, and because they have been responsive while not groveling about the issues I've raised.

The biggest thing I told Avril: When you reach the point of saturation at the hotel, it's idiotic to wait for those with guaranteed reservations to come in and be furious and then get sent somewhere. When the hotel is full, if there are four people still expected, call or text or e-mail them immediately -- or call the travel agent who booked the reservation, who theoretically can contact the traveler and tell him where he now is staying. He promised they'd do better in "improving our communication dynamics'' when a customer is jobbed.

Let's speak English here: Just call or text or e-mail the loser who's on the street, or his travel agent, and give a free room somewhere else in town. That's the solution.

"Unforgettable images: Arthur Blank pushing Vick's wheelchair; Brad Childress as chauffeur to Favre.''-- latimesfarmer, Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, after the Vikings coach picked up Favre and wife Deanna at the St. Paul Airport for the 30-minute ride to the Minnesota training facility.

1. I think these are my preseason Week 2 observations:

a. Tom Brady got hit too much, and he got hit too much by the Bengals.

When I talked to Brady in the spring, he remembered --a bit ruefully -- what the Giants' rush had done to him in the Super Bowl, the last complete game he played. Watching a chunk of Thursday night's game against the Bengals on tape the other night, when Brady got hit hard twice, I was reminded of the hits and torment he took against the Giants.

"That four-man rush will get to you, and if those guys up front are good, which the Giants were, they can still keep the integrity of the secondary intact,'' he said. "It's hard to do. Normally, if you got a blitz, then you're going to have to throw the ball quick. But if you rush with four and can get to the passer, I mean, that's the best defense in the world. So few guys can do that, there are so few pass rushers, or a group of pass rushers that can attack the quarterback like the Giants or that great defensive teams do, when you sit back there quarterbacking you see like a two-high defense, and you see Michael Strahan and Osi [Umenyiora] and [Justin] Tuck and [Barry] Cofield, you're like, 'Man I better just catch it and try to find someone as fast as I can.' ''

The Patriots have to keep Brady cleaner.

b. I like those Bengal corners too. Physical guys, especially Johnathan Joseph.

c. No player in the NFL has a bigger week ahead than Jason Campbell, who looked shaky, inaccurate and as if he had a 20-pound bar on his shoulders Saturday night in the rain at FedEx. The Patriots come calling Friday night. Not an easy team to get well against.

d. Two return men might have made teams Saturday night -- Stefan Logan with the Steelers and LaRod Stephens-Howling, the Cards' seventh-round pick from Pitt, who had 89- and 63-yard kick returns against San Diego. Logan, a waterbug type of elusive returner, from, of all places, South Dakota, shredded the Redskins special teams with about 75 yards after contact. If I'm Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert, I'm figuring a way to keep Logan.

e. Matt Forte is underrated as a cutback runner.

f. What command Jay Cutler showed against the Giants.

g. David Garrard throws a beautiful deep ball, and he threw a gorgeous 74-yard touchdown strike, in stride, to Troy Williamson Saturday night.

h. Raved last week about the 49er pick who has chosen to be in camp, Glen Coffee, and there's more to be excited about: 16 carries, 129 first-half yards against the Raiders.

i. I couldn't be much higher on Brian Urlacher this year, but did you see him get jacked up twice by Brandon Jacobs?

j. Best team in the first two weeks, to me, looks like Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is playing as if these games actually matter. The defensive line keeps shutting good players; unsung players, like Johnny Jolly in and out, and they keep making plays.

2. I think we're on the way to a desperately needed streamlining of the Hall of Fame ceremony, and hopefully reducing it from the three-hour range to maybe two hours and 15 minutes.

I'm told the league, and the Hall, have decided to eliminate the speeches of the presenters, and have the presenters simply be there to help unveil busts and be a major part of the four-minute video presentation leading to the speeches of the enshrinees. I'm also told there will be more of a strongarm on those enshrined to limit speeches to 10 to 12 minutes (they'd gladly settle for 15) instead of 25 to 30. Eyes rolled particularly on Carl Peterson's 26-minute miniseries as the speech-maker for the late Derrick Thomas. I received lots of critical e-mail for saying the event needed to be streamlined, but anyone in attendance -- except for the new Hall of Famers and their families -- understands nothing will be lost if the speeches are kept to 15 minutes.

3. I think I have one job I wish I didn't have -- picking the order of finish in the NFL this year, and crystal-balling the playoffs, for SI's pro football preview issue. The reason I wish I didn't have it, of course, is that this is Paul Zimmerman's thankless job, and I want Zim to do it. And I'm hoping against hope he's back in 2010 to take it back from me. But after spending a few hours this week finalizing my picks, I realized a couple of things:

a. The easiest thing to do when making these picks is to duplicate the previous year. It's also the easiest way to get it wrong. In 2007, the NFC division winners were Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Seattle. Last year, they were New York, Minnesota, Carolina and Arizona. That's not irregular, either. At least five new playoff teams have made the postseason for 12 years in a row. Last year the number was seven -- seven teams made the playoffs in 2008 that didn't make the postseason in 2007. I ended up picking five new division winners in the eight divisions. No spoilers. Wait for the mag.

b. Recent history says a Super Bowl team will come, relatively speaking, out of nowhere. Arizona last year, the Giants the year before, sixth-seed Pittsburgh in '05, Carolina in '03, the Ravens in 2000. So I picked one logical team in the magazine and one illogical team.

4. I think the Eagles are likely to use Michael Vick as a third quarterback this year in most games -- but not as the 46th, emergency-only backup. If they do the latter, they'd be creating a major personnel problem. Here's why.

The NFL allows teams to dress a 46th player, but only if that 46th player is the third quarterback dressing that day. Philly has a decision to make about Vick and how he will be accounted for on the roster. It wouldn't be smart to use a situational quarterback as the emergency quarterback because if the player is used in the first three quarters, then the first and second quarterbacks are ineligible to play from that point on. So when the Eagles play Vick, it's likely they'll do so as a legitimate third quarterback -- and thus will likely take one special-teams-type player out of the lineup on that particular day. It's risky, and it'll make the job of special-teams coordinator Ted Daisher a vital one as the Eagles go forward.

Having Vick run around and make magic is all well and good, but if Andy Reid picks Vick to dress over, say, a defensive back who is an excellent gunner on the punt team, that decision could result in a long punt return. Interestingly, we'd probably never know it because Reid would never say, "We had Michael active today at the expense of Player X.'' But internally, it could be a hot potato on the coaching staff, with some assistants feeling that Vick is preventing a good kick-team player from performing.

5. I think I have zero inside information on the Tom Cable boxing match in Oakland, but all I can relay is this, from one of the most trusted and smartest football people I talk to most weeks: "Why does this nonsense always happen with the Raiders? Do you ever see the coach punching a coach with the Giants? The Patriots? The Colts?''

6. I think the preseason is tough to judge anyway, but the Panthers left me guessing after watching three quarters of their game against Miami.

• Good: DeAngelo Williams had the best run of any NFL back in the preseason (that and $4.14 will buy you a grande hazelnut latte) with his electrifying, 25-yarder in the first quarter.

• Bad: Julius Peppers didn't get a sniff all night, and though much of that came against a terrific young tackle, Jake Long, it's the classic example of why no one beat the door down to get Peppers when he was on the market in the offseason. To pay a first-round pick and $16 million a year for a guy who's going to get you 10 sacks a year ... let's just say there are better ways to spend your salary cap money and draft choices.

• Good: The offensive line looked good, and the first unit kept Jake Delhomme fairly clean against a good rush.

• Good: I like the way Everette Brown rushes the passer. Quick, and stronger than you'd expect from a guy his size.

• Bad: The Panthers fumble too much.

It's hard to tell what to think of this team, but they're not alone in that respect in the NFC South. It's also hard to tell much from preseason games, particularly ones when Delhomme's two most reliable targets, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, are on the sidelines in street clothes. It's going to be tough to get a real handle on the Panthers this summer. Delhomme coming back worries me, as does the run defense.

7. I think I'd like to rip Kyle Orton for the silly left-handed interception, but when you're going for it on fourth down, and it's a do-or-die play, and it doesn't matter if the throw is into the third row of the bleachers or into a defender's hands, I can't fault him much for making a throw like that. Orton (18 of 26, 182 yards) needed to play as much as he did. He made a nice fade throw to Brandon Stokley for a touchdown, didn't take a sack, and looked in control.

8. I think, from watching the first half of Denver-Seattle, Matt Hasselbeck was even better. I also liked how he stepped up strong in the pocket and took three sacks without flinching.

9. I think if you're a high school athlete, or a parent, there's a two-hour movie event tomorrow in theaters across the country that you should investigate. Tony Dungy's Red Zone 09 (www.redzonelive.com) will be shown in more than 400 major theaters and features interviews with famous and not-so-famous players and coaches and trainers.

It's about overcoming odds (2007 defensive player of the year Bob Sanders tells the story of getting only one Division I scholarship offer because of his size) and about the role of teamwork, and about steroids and nutrition and what college coaches want in an athlete. "We're trying to educate the total person,'' Dungy said last night. "This is what I'd tell my son about all aspects of being an athlete.''

It's designed to kick off the 2009 high school football season (and other sports), and Dungy has heard reports of entire football teams going to the theater Tuesday for team-bonding.

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

a. Progress for Paul Zimmerman! Linda, his saint of a bride, reports that the two of them played the card game War Saturday. "He was just as fast as I was,'' Linda reports. "Not that that is any great feat, but it is NORMAL ... I was thrilled.'' We are so pleased.

b. Speaking of Zim, I met a great contributor to the Zim recovery fund in Denver Monday. David Roitman made a phenomenal contribution to the Dr. Z/Nothing Is Impossible Foundation, and the Broncos graciously hosted him at training camp. Roitman read about Zim's troubles, saw some of the auction items were moving slowly, and so he bid the minimum on five items -- and then paid for the items and turned them back in so the second-place bidder could win, and pay a second time.

Roitman wanted nothing for his efforts. His message: pay it forward. People have helped him in his life, he wants to help people, and he hopes someone will read his tale and maybe help someone else in need. I'm telling you -- the stories of generosity from that event will live with me for a long time.

c. Said it before and I'll say it again: Derek Jeter's the best baseball player of my lifetime.

d. An unassisted triple play to end a game? Incredible. Funny thing was, it was a pretty normal play, not difficult at all. Eric Bruntlett of the Phils just grabbed it three steps from second base, tagged it, then tagged the incoming runner. Happened in about a second and a half.

e. Brad Penny makes me long for the days of John Smoltz.

f. And for those who look at Smoltz's terrific outing for the Cards Sunday and say the Red Sox were idiots for dumping him, here's the stat you need to know: In his last 31 Red Sox innings, he gave up 31 earned runs.

g. Coffeenerdness: What does a coffee nerd do on midday Sunday when his four-year-old Krups is hissing and making funny noises instead of great coffee? He goes and buys another Krups. And I must say that first pot of dark roast was splendid.

h. Great Sears commercial about Favre being unable to make up his mind about a big electronics buy. The kid waiting on him tells him about the wafflers who come and can't decide whether to buy what they really want. "Those guys drive me crazy,'' he says. Art, or something, imitating reality.

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