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NEW YORK -- I remember the first time Brett Favre mentioned the V word in the summer of 2008. Favre was officially retired but making noise about playing again. The Packers were on record as moving on with Aaron Rodgers, and now Favre wanted to play for the Vikings or Bears, with Minnesota his first choice because he knew their coaches and the offense well.
"You realize that half the kids in Wisconsin will rip the Favre posters off their walls and burn 'em in their fireplaces if you play for the Vikings,'' I said.
"I don't think it'll be that bad,'' he said.
Sixteen months later, it was. And Favre shrugged, basically.
I don't think there's been a game with a dramatic tinge to it in recent history like Favre's return to Lambeau on Sunday. Think of, say, the top 50 players ever -- Favre fits in there somewhere -- and think of how many of them played against their longtime team as an in-the-twilight player for another team. Jerry Rice played at San Francisco as a 42-year-old marginal Seahawk; that doesn't count. Joe Montana, dealt to Kansas City, played the Niners, but the game was in Kansas City. Green Bay's Reggie White played at Philadelphia, but the fans blamed Eagles management for losing White as much as anything and so White wasn't abused overwhelmingly on his trip back. Emmitt Smith got booed in Dallas on his return as a Cardinal in 2003, but the Cowboys were happy to let him go anywhere when he was in full decline.
Favre got the full-throated version from the time he walked out of the tunnel. "I had it at 80 percent boos,'' said Ross Tucker, your faithful SI.com correspondent who was in Lambeau doing color for the game on SportsUSA Radio. At least. Then Favre went out and basically duplicated what he'd done four weeks ago at the Metrodome -- which is to say he played near-flawless football (17 of 28, 244 yards, four touchdowns, no picks) in a pivotal Minnesota win. And I asked him if it was worth it.
"Yeah, it's worth it,'' he said over the phone late Sunday night, back in Minnesota, driving home from the airport. "Now people can see why I came back, and why I came back to this team. But I will say I'm relieved it's over.''
He's relieved in many ways, as it turns out. Favre told me he pulled or strained his groin in practice on Wednesday and took it easy in practice for the rest of the week. There was never any question he'd play, he said. But about an hour before the game, during pregame warmups at Lambeau with the groin wrapped tightly, he aggravated the muscle on the field. "I told T-Jack [backup Tarvaris Jackson] and [offensive coordinator] Darrell Bevell I may not be able to do it,'' he said. "I didn't know if I'd be able to drop back very well. After I aggravated it, there was no way I was going to be able to move around in the pocket very much. We never called one bootleg the whole game. But we made it through OK.''
And now, I wondered, how was the groin four hours and a lot of lost adrenalin later?
"It's throbbing right now,'' he said.
Now hold on here. A pulled groin? Is this the magic bullet, the injury that starts the 40-year-old Favre's decline? Is this the injury that, with Favre on the doorstep of his historic 300th consecutive start, finally rips him out of a starting lineup for the first time since Percy Harvin was 4?
"I think I'll be fine,'' he said.
With the Vikes on the bye this week, and 13 days 'til Favre starts number 300 in a row (including playoffs), he's sure he'll make the call to the post when the Vikings host Detroit Nov. 15.
So now we go back to the Favre Bowl. A few observations:
1. The pressure seems to agree with Favre. I'd argue that there have been three times in Favre's professional life that he's felt more than game pressure -- that he's felt an anxiety based on more than the X-and-O stuff each big game brings. Those games would be the two this year against the Packers, his team for 16 years, and the 2003 game he played in Oakland just 27 hours after his father died. "I'd agree,'' he said. "Those three games had as much pressure, or more, than the Super Bowls and the championship games.'' Here are his aggregate stats from the three games: 3-0 record, 61-of-91 passing, 67.0 completion percentage, 914 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 139.4 passer rating.
Favre's laid a couple of pretty big eggs in recent years, both when playing hurt and feeling fine. He gift-wrapped the NFC title game to the Giants two years ago. But there's something about the games that have personal stuff on the line. Maybe it's a coincidence; maybe the three-game sample size is just too small. But three decisive wins, 11 touchdowns, no picks -- I sense a trend.
He can compartmentalize the things that matter and those that don't. It's simple. Or at least it sounds simple. He'd make millions traveling the country, maybe as Tony Robbins' warmup act. Topic of his talk: Don't sweat the small stuff -- or the big stuff, for that matter.
2. He got emotional after the game. I was surprised to see him choke up a couple of times to Pam Oliver on the field, but that happened in part because he'd just left an embrace with longtime Packer director of security Jerry Parins, one of his favorite people. "I knew it'd probably be the last time I'd ever step foot on Lambeau Field, and it got a little emotional,'' he said.
OK, now: the last time? You sure?
Nope. "I'm reluctant to say that,'' Favre said. "You know me. At this stage, I'm game to game. That's it.''
3. He hopes, someday, he'll be able to go back to Green Bay and get a better reception. One of the things Favre doesn't often show is how much he wants to be liked in Green Bay. But he does. "I hope the people who booed at least watched the way I played today -- with passion, like I always do -- and say, 'That's why we loved him. He lays it out there on every play.' ''
4. He's pretty comfortable in his purple skin. On the charter home to Minnesota Sunday night, Favre said to seat neighbor Steve Hutchinson, "By the way, Percy Harvin's pretty good.'' Hutchinson said, "No [bleep].'' Favre feels at home in the locker room, is comfortable with the plays that are called in an offense he knows well, and feels he doesn't have to play to prove anything.
And so he moves on, relieved these games are over. I got no sense he took any great joy in beating Green Bay for vengeful reasons, but he wouldn't be human if he didn't feel some great joy for beating the team that said it wanted to move on without him. Who wouldn't feel good about that?
"Green Bay made a good decision,'' he said. "I know what I was a part of in Green Bay, and it was good. Now they've moved on. I've moved on. Am I a good fit for these guys [the Vikings]? I hope so. One thing I do know -- I felt the respect from those guys out there. And that felt good.''
In the end, Green Bay seems too nice a place to hold a grudge forever. Ten years from now, when his number's retired, Favre will step foot on Lambeau again. I doubt it'll be 80 percent boos then.
Four other tidbits from Sunday's games:
1. How can a player have a more redemptive day than Ted Ginn Jr.? Demoted from the starting lineup and ripped by old-time Dolphins after dropping two easy passes in Week 7, Ginn came back and won a game Miami had to have. Only once in history had a player returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a quarter; Ginn did it in seven minutes against the Jets.
"I never had such a terrible game in my life,'' Ginn told me afterward, alluding to his dropped passes in Miami's 46-34 loss to New Orleans in Week 7. "I fought through it all -- the naysayers, the media, the critics. Today was the kind of day you dream about growing up.''
What I liked about Ginn was how he didn't try to shift the blame for what were his mistakes and his alone. "We're in a high-performance league, and if you don't perform, things happen.'' Like benchings. But not for long. Not if you return kicks 100 and 101 yards for scores.
2. Troy Aikman did the game for FOX Sunday, and he thinks Favre won't need much else to leave football a happy man. "No matter what happens from here on out,'' he said last night, back home in Texas, "I think with these two wins over the Packers, Brett could walk away from football pretty satisfied at the end of the year. Now, he won't admit that. But I think for him, to win these games was huge.'' And Aikman has the same question I do about a 40-year-old man trying to play at the highest level of his career: "How's he gonna feel in Week 12?''
3. Baltimore sent blitzing 'backers more often Sunday in the the win over Denver, and it worked. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knew the front wasn't getting the pressure it needed, and from the start, particularly on early downs, extra defenders like Jarrett Johnson surprised Kyle Orton around the edge. Good idea. They'll need to keep that up, for a couple of reasons. Deion Sanders isn't walking through the locker room door to save the beleaguered secondary. And the schedule continues to be a bear. The Ravens are in the midst of an eight-game stretch in which they play seven teams either alone in first or tied for first in their division.
4. Joseph Addai finally completes his option pass ... and it wins a game for the Colts. Soon after drafting Addai in 2006, the Colts put in a play designed to send the southpaw around left end and to throw a pass if the intended receiver is open. It had been called but once, in his rookie year, and Reggie Wayne was called for offensive pass interference on the play. Addai said the coaches put it back in the game plan this week (he completed five-of-five attempts in practice.)
When they ran it Thursday, Peyton Manning reminded Addai to "sell'' the run better, so the defenders would get sucked in to play like it was a running play. "He told me to sell it so they'd bite on the run,'' said Addai. "So today, I did that, and I think I brought [49er defenders] close to the line.'' Manning's reaction at the touchdown pass to Wayne? "I think he was proud of me,'' Addai said.
Two very good tackles -- Chris Samuels and Walter Jones -- are nearing the end, and that shouldn't be something just in small type this weekend.
Jones has been a better player, Samuels a better leader. I'm writing about them because I think we -- fans, media, people in the game -- are so inured to players near or at the end of their careers that we turn the page with no regard to the person who has to walk away. That's life. But each has been such an honorable player and person in the game that I think a few paragraphs need to be written about them.
Jones, who turns 36 in January, couldn't come back from microfracture surgery on his knee. He's going to try again in 2010, but the history of microfracture is such that anyone with that much wear on his tires, and at that age, is doubtful to return. "It's too early for a career eulogy,'' said Seattle coach Jim Mora, "but Walter's level of consistency, his level of excellence, is unmatched. In a world in which there's so much boastfulness now, and self-promotion, Walter's gone about his business in a very respectful and dignified way.''
Jones was dominant at the point of attack in the run game, and he had the feet to swing outside and latch onto the top pass-rushers. From this era, he and Jonathan Ogden will go down as top-10 tackles of all-time.
Samuels was drafted by the Redskins third overall in 2000 to be their left tackle for a decade. He almost made it. He's started 141 of 150 games, playing through painful shoulder, knee, ankle, back and neck injuries. But now, having been advised he risks his long-term health if he continues to play with a neck injury, he'll sit the rest of the season. Many of his teammates think he's played his last game.
I followed Samuels in 2000 during the run-up to the draft and through training camp -- in part because SI wanted to do a you-are-there story on a top prospect as he prepared to leave the cocoon of college and enter the pressure of playing right away in the NFL, and in part because of the rise in importance of left tackles. Michael Lewis tells the tale of the value of a left tackle superbly in The Blind Side, and I credit him for seeing what the game has become. Tackle has joined quarterback and pass-rusher as the three most important cornerstone positions for NFL teams.
But as I followed Samuels, I saw not only a good player but also a compelling and conscientious person. The day before the draft, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Broadway, he twice turned away the housekeeper who wanted to make up the room. "It's OK,'' he said. "I got it.'' He'd already made his bed, tidied the room and straightened up the bathroom, hanging the towels neatly on the rack.
In training camp, Bruce Smith and Dana Stubblefield took it upon themselves to school the rook and make his life miserable on and off the field. He took the taunts and the hazing through mini-camps, but determined he wouldn't take it once the real practices started. It took just one practice for Samuels to fight back, taking Stubblefield on a wide rush and, when Stubblefield popped him in the forehead, Samuels cold-cocked him with a roundhouse right to the neck, just below the helmet. He knew as the cornerstone of the offensive line, he had to be a fighter and defend not only his turf but his peers'. He became one of the go-to guys on the team.
When Sean Taylor died senselessly, Samuels vacillated between outrage, fury and leadership -- knowing he had to be there for the grieving, mostly younger guys in his locker room, which he was.
"I've been here six seasons,'' Chris Cooley told me, "and three of those six seasons we've had some significant turmoil. But I never saw guys quit or try less, and part of that is because of Chris. He set such a great example with his work and his play. Part of being a leader is just showing up every day and working hard, and that's all he's ever done.
"It's just so unfortunate that we lose him. He's been the solid rock of the Redskins for 10 years. Cherished by the community. So respected by everyone in the locker room. He's the kind of guy who would have made a great Hog. That's about the greatest thing I could say about him -- he would have fit in with those great Redskins of the past.''
If Samuels and Jones are forced to retire, the league will be diminished without them, and without players like them.
1. New Orleans (6-0). My friend from Montclair, Mike Norman, and his two boys, Ben and Josh, can't get over how well they were treated as Giants fans in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.
They were dressed in their Giants' gear. Big game. Lots at stake. And they're not shy -- they cheered openly for their team (though there wasn't much to cheer about in the Saints' rout of the G-men). And over and over again, fans in the stands and on the street were beyond charitable to them. "They all kept saying, 'Thanks for coming to New Orleans,' '' Mike said.
2. Indianapolis (7-0). I wouldn't be too alarmed about the so-called struggling Colts on the heels of their narrow win over San Francisco. Thirty other teams in the league wish they were struggling like this. Lots of teams are going to be up and down against the San Francisco defense. One other little clue about Indy's four three-and-outs against the Niners -- NBC compatriot Tony Dungy said he was fairly sure the 49ers offensive line coach, Chris Foerster, a Colts assistant in 2002 and 2003, shared a few clues about Peyton Manning's play-calls and fake-play-calls at the line during the San Fran practice week leading up to the game.
3. Minnesota (7-1). Make no mistake about the impact of Offensive Rookie of the Half Percy Harvin. He's had 46 passes thrown to him so far, compared to 47 to number one wideout Bernard Berrian. Harvin has 28 catches, Berrian 27.
4. Denver (6-1). One loss does not a season ranking make. If you're going to stress 30-7, OK, but factor in the wins over three playoff contenders (Dallas, New England, San Diego) in the weeks that preceded it.
5. Pittsburgh (5-2). Key factor in Steelers-Broncos Monday-nighter next week: the status of Pittsburgh's defensive ends. With Aaron Smith (rotator cuff) out for the year and the fate of his backup, Travis Kirschke (calf), unknown 'til late in the week, the job of the spot opposite Brett Keisel in the Steelers' 3-4 could fall to Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood. Eason wasn't even active for the first five games this year.
6. New England (5-2).Tom Brady's yards-per-attempt in the past two games: 10.42. Not bad, considering that intergalactic is anything above 9.0, even though Tennessee and Tampa Bay are, well, Tennessee and Tampa Bay.
7. Baltimore (4-3). A lot to like about the Ravens Sunday, on the heels of a three-game skid. I don't care what Joe Flacco's numbers were. I just know I feel like any time he's under pressure, he's going to make the right decision. Virtually every time. "I know,'' John Harbaugh said postgame via cellular. "It looks like the world is collapsing, and something good usually happens. He's amazing.''
8. Cincinnati (5-2). If you believe Twitter, Chad Ochocinco woke up Sunday morning and was seriously investigating flying to Green Bay just to watch The Favre Bowl ... and couldn't find a plane ticket anywhere.
9. Philadelphia (5-2). The Eagles' weaponry is so diverse. Think back to the preseason, when all wondered how long it would take Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy -- all third-year players or younger, all 24 or younger -- to contribute as a group. Well, in putting up 40 on the Giants, those four touched the ball 24 times for 278 yards and four touchdowns. I guess chemistry class is going well, Professor McNabb.
10. Dallas (5-2). In the past three games, the Cowboys have scored 101 points. The Giants have allowed 112. That's why there's been such a big role reversal in the NFC East -- the Giants can't stop anybody and the Cowboys can't be stopped.
11. Atlanta (4-2). Seems odd that it's Nov. 2, and the Falcons have played only six games.
12. Houston (5-3). Esoteric But Meaningful Stat of the Week: Texans lead the league on defense with 36 three-and-outs.
13. San Diego (4-3). Chargers are 4-0 against teams with losing records, 0-3 against winners.
14. Miami (3-4). Dolphins play the Pats twice in 29 days starting Sunday in Foxboro.
15. San Francisco (3-4). A really impressive loss at Indy. When you lead for 41 minutes against the Colts, and hold Peyton Manning touchdown-less, you've done something. Not enough, but something.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. The MVP is his to lose -- even if he has a couple more zero-touchdown games like Sunday.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Brees has certainly had lots of help in the run game compared to Manning (Indy had the league's 27th-best running game through seven weeks). "But the command [Brees] takes of the game is so important to the running game,'' New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said. That's partly why I'm still big on Brees.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. In the Steelers' four-game win streak, Roethlisberger has an 8-to-2 TD-to-pick ratio, with a 69-percent completion average.
4. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. The man is 40 ... and he's 7-1, with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. I've had Adrian Peterson in this MVP lineup every week this season, but let's face it -- Favre's edging him in pure value.
5. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota. Allen: 7.5 sacks against the Pack this year. Favre: 7.0 touchdown passes. Allen's value in pressuring Aaron Rodgers in those eight quarters has been huge.
"We're 3-0 in the division ... and it still goes through us!!!''-- Miami coach Tony Sparano, in the victorious Miami locker room after the 30-25 win over the Jets.
He's right: Miami's an AFC East-best 3-0 in the division ... and 0-4 in other games.
"I've got a lot of footballs. This one will mean the most.''--St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo, presented the game ball by St. Louis veteran defensive end Leonard Little after the Rams broke a 17-game losing streak by winning in Detroit. It was the first NFL victory as a head coach for Spagnuolo after a long career as an assistant and coordinator.
"No, Brett Favre did not lay down to give me a sack. Doesn't happen in the NFL, man.''-- Michael Strahan, on KHTK radio in Sacramento, via sportsradiointerviews.com. He referred to the 2001 play in the Packers-Giants game on which Favre slid toward him just shy of the line of scrimmage and Strahan touched him down and enveloped him with Favre already on the ground, unleashing a torrent of criticism to Favre, accusing him of taking a dive and manipulating the all-time sack record. Strahan still holds the single-season record with 22.5 sacks, set on that play.
"The NFL sort of has this blanket denial or minimizing of the fact that there may be this link [between playing football and brain injuries later in life]. And it sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-nineties when they kept saying, 'Oh, there's no link between smoking and damage to your health.' "-- Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), to commissioner Roger Goodell Wednesday during his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington.
Goat of the Week
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants.
For the first five weeks of the year, Eli looked like Peyton. For the past three weeks, he's looked like Danny Kanell -- inaccurate, unnecessarily risky and unsure of himself. Totally bizarre. Like the throw he made to Asante Samuel on the Giants' first series; at least it appeared to be intended for Samuel, who stepped in front of tight end Travis Beckum and picked it off, leading to the second touchdown for Philly. Manning threw another one just before the half, setting up another touchdown, and by then it was over. The Giants have to hope it's just a minor slump, because if Manning keeps throwing to the other team like this, and completing balls at a rate lower than 50-percent (which he's doing the past three weeks), New York's going to be out of the pennant race by Thanksgiving weekend.
Offensive Player of the Week
Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota.
Really, could the day have been any more perfect? Four touchdown passes, tying him with Dan Marino for most four-TD games in an NFL career. Watching the man the Packers kept instead of him, Aaron Rodgers, come up short in the fourth quarter when Favre himself came up big. "This one will hurt for a couple of days, physically and mentally,'' said Rodgers. Not for Favre. For the second straight game against his former mates, he didn't try to do too much. Just win. And that was enough. Other players in Week 8 had better statistical days, but no one played as well with the heat turned up as high as did Favre.
Defensive Player of the Week
Aubrayo Franklin, NT, San Francisco.
Now, you look at Franklin's stat line -- three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss -- and you say, "Come now. There had to be 75 guys in the league with better defensive days.'' Franklin's game is classic proof that stats for defensive linemen are 90-percent meaningless. Franklin was a regular in the Colts' backfield, leading San Francisco's stout front that held Indy to 61 rushing yards on 21 carries, a 2.9-yard average. "That's a great defense,'' said Joseph Addai afterward. It was led by a no-name noseman in his seventh year from Tennessee, with a surprisingly swift move, at 317 pounds.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Ted Ginn Jr., WR/KR, Miami.
No player in this season -- perhaps in many a season -- has had seven minutes like Ginn had Sunday in the Meadowlands. With 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Ginn took a Jay Feely kickoff at the goal line, made a couple of easy cuts, and sped up the right sideline for a 100-yard touchdown. With three minutes left in the quarter, Ginn took a Feely kickoff a yard deep in the end zone, motored into some traffic, made a sick cut right, made another sharp cut, and sprinted up the right sideline again, this one for a 101-yard touchdown. (See video of Ginn's returns here.) Second time in history a man returned two kicks for touchdown in the same quarter. Fairly amazing to see a player race out of the doghouse so explosively.
Coach of the Week
Frank Bush, defensive coordinator, Houston.
The Texans, two weeks ago, held the Bengals to 46 second-half yards in Cincinnati; they gave the Bills just 83 yesterday in Buffalo. Bush has added speed and aggression to a defense that too long had been Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans and nine average Joes. There's a personality to this defense now, a swarming aspect that wasn't there in the past, and the Texans are a wild card threat because of the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude Bush has instilled.
At the Favre Bowl, a Packer fan with a green number 4 Packer jersey had "BENEDICT ARNOLD'' where the "FAVRE" nameplate is supposed to be.
I've made this point in the last couple of weeks, and it's more true now than it has been all season: The Cleveland Browns are no better off today than they were 10 years ago, when they were an expansion team, in the middle of their first season back after a four-year absence from the league.
Just look at the quarterback play. In 1999, the season's midpoint came on Oct. 31. This year, it came on Nov. 1. Comparing the numbers of Tim Couch, who started Games 2 through 8 in 1999, and Derek Anderson, who has played all but the first 10 quarters this year:
This is not a travel note per se, but more of an event note in a place I traveled to. Does that count? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held two concerts at Madison Square Garden Thursday and Friday, and I was lucky enough to be in the crowd on the second night, the most interesting night of music I've ever seen in person.
These concerts get big acts to do a few songs -- on Friday, it was Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck, Metallica and U2 -- then bring out guest stars to accompany them on songs. What a parade: Lenny Kravitz and Annie Lennox with Aretha, Sting and the ZZ Top guy, Bill Gibbons, with Beck, Lou Reed and Ray Davies of the Kinks and Ozzy Osbourne with Metallica (my first exposure to Metallica, and when I woke up Sunday, 32 hours after the show, my ears still had some weird hummmmmm going on in there) ... and then the incredible U2 guests. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, then the Black Eyed Peas (now there's some energy) and then, drumroll please, Mick Jagger. Each artist was onstage for seven to 11 songs, with a short intermission between each mini-show, making for a ridiculously memorable four-hour night. The five best songs:
1. "Gimme Shelter,'' by U2, Mick Jagger and Fergie, of the Peas. When Jagger came onstage and the familiar chord began, the Garden went as crazy as I've ever seen a crowd go for a song. I thought Fergie was going to lose her mind gyrating and screaming the lyrics alternately with Mick.
2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,'' by U2 and Bruce Springsteen. A King dream: the two giants of my music life crooning together into the same mike.
3. "Sweet Jane,'' by Lou Reed and Metallica. Metallica's good. Good and loud. Reed was perfect with them.
4. "You Really Got Me,'' by Ray Davies and Metallica. My God. We've forgotten how great the Kinks were.
5. "Because the Night,'' by U2, Springsteen and Patti Smith. They messed up the lyrics and the beat the first time through, and, exasperated, Smith almost left the stage. But they did it again, and she was outstanding, and the crowd loved her because she was a good sport.
In Monday Morning Quarterback: A fully caffeinated guide to everything you need to know about the NFL, you'll find these two Factoids That May Interest Only Me, circa 2002:
From a holiday-season MMQB column: Dan Marino dressed up as Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler on Halloween.
And from a pre-draft MMQB column: Among the questions on the 480-question personality test given to all draft prospects: Do you enjoy beating animals? "And I wondered,'' said Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, who took the test, "if you're a linebacker, should you say yes?''
You'll get dozens more Factoids, plus some actual football knowledge, by buying my book on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com or at your local bookstore.
I'll be having a signing in my old hometown, Montclair, N.J., at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on Nov. 21, a Saturday, late in the afternoon. Good friend Dave Kaplan is organizing. Details to come. Other signings? I wanted to do one in Denver tonight, but it couldn't be organized on short notice. I may do another signing or two in the coming weeks, one of them in Manhattan.
What we've decided to do, additionally, about signings is this: You can mail the book to SI, and as long as I receive it by Dec. 4, I'll sign it (with however you want it personalized) and send it back to you so you'll have it in-hand by Dec. 12. No return postage necessary; we'll handle that. Send your book (or books) to:
Chris MahrSports Illustrated1271 Ave. of the AmericasRoom 33-120BNew York, NY 10020
It's an awkward arrangement, I realize, but I've had 75 or so requests for signings, so this is the compromise we've figured out. Buy a book, mail it to me, and I'll sign and return it.
"Just noticed this on my Packers credential: It's Green Bay home game No. 4. Of course it is.''-- @LATimesfarmer, Sam Farmer, NFL beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, Tweeting from the press box at Lambeau Field Sunday.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 8:
a. Ugliest jerseys in the NFL: Jets' throwbacks.
b. Can't decide what's worse -- Jets' throwbacks or AFL refs' throwbacks. You know, the creamsicle shirts.
c. Any team more confusing than the Cardinals? Rout the Giants on the road, routed by the Panthers at home.
d. And in the category of Best Performance By a Running Back in a Game No One Saw, the nominees are: Chris Johnson, Tennessee, for his 24-carry, 228-yard game against Jacksonville; Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville, for his 177-yard performance with a sick 22.1-yard average carry; DeAngelo Williams, Carolina, for his 158 yards in an upset of the Cardinals; and Steven Jackson, for his 149-yard day against Detroit in the Rams' first win in a year. The envelope, please ... And the winner -- Chris Johnson.
e. Good start, Vince Young. Very good: 15 of 18, and looking quite sure of yourself. And a good bit of play-calling by offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who made the game plan eminently manageable for Young.
f. Quietly -- and, as my buddy DonBankspointed out, how can the Cowboys do anything quietly -- Dallas has crept back into the NFC pennant race. And Tony Romo is on a three-game interceptionless streak.
g. There is no better defensive player in football than Jared Allen.
h. I don't know what Randy Lerner will accomplish in Cleveland by adding another layer to his front office and coaching staff, unless it's to take the authority away from Eric Mangini.
i. I imagine Lerner must really retch when thinking about adding more people, more payroll, to his swollen front office. Are you aware he's paying former GM Phil Savage for four more years in the wake of his firing late last season?
j. By the way, I never noted this last week, and since I wrote about it when it happened, I need to conclude it in the same space: The league says it found no wrongdoing in the case of rookie Cleveland running back James Davis practicing unpadded and being hurt when going against a padded linebacker in an extra practice drill with the Browns earlier this season.
k. Tampa Bay, 0-7, is the only winless team left. And 0-11 looks mighty probable, with Green Bay, Miami, New Orleans and Atlanta in the next month.
2. I think, as I said on NBC Sunday night (and I'm sure you all clicked off the Favre passion play to listen to my words of wisdom), the most logical endgame in the Tom Cable story may be for him to submit to evaluation, which could lead to counseling, as part of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
The league hasn't finished its investigation into the charge by Raider assistant Randy Hanson that Cable struck him and broke his jaw in August, and on Sunday, ESPN's "Outside the Lines'' show had a compelling report by Colleen Domínguez of a history of abuse against women by Cable. The coach admitted he struck his first wife years ago, but denied he was a serial abuser and said he never struck a girlfriend in recent years, as she alleged in the report.
Though Cable has never been indicted on any of these charges, the league could use its power under the conduct policy to advise Cable that he'll have to be evaluated professionally. At the very least, without concluding anything about Cable, what seems to make sense is to evaluate whether he has anger-management issues.
After the season, assuming Cable is still employed as the Raider head coach, the league could use this portion of the policy to have Cable evaluated: "Persons ... appearing to have engaged in conduct prohibited under this policy will be required to undergo a formal clinical evaluation,'' the policy says. "Based on the results of that evaluation, the person may be encouraged or required to participate in an education program, counseling or other treatment deemed appropriate by health professionals.''
3. I think the drumbeat grows louder, with Congress rattling sabers last week on the increasing evidence of brain injuries to football players and an excellent series of stories by the New York Times on the subject, for the league and the Players Association to have independent evaluators study football's impact on the brain.
4. I think a lot of Eagles deserve praise in the 40-17 rout of the Giants. Donovan McNabb was magnificent in the Eagles' 30-point first half, and Leonard Weaver was the poor man's Jerome Bettis in a lumbering TD run. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson showed how tough these Eagles are going to be to stop because of the sudden deep speed they've acquired in the last two drafts. But I'm giving biggest props to the tight end because of his all-around game. On Weaver's TD run up the gut, Celek sprung him by blocking Justin Tuck and preventing him from wrapping up Weaver at the last second. On the next TD, Celek ran a simple post and held onto the ball while getting hit in the end zone. The Eagles were on the way to a rout then.
5. I think I'd bet a Jim Sorgi autographed football that the retractable roof will be closed for early games in Indianapolis from here on out, after what we saw in the first half of the 49ers-Colts game. With the sun shining brightly on the end zone and the Colts driving for a touchdown, Peyton Manning threw a catchable ball to Dallas Clark -- only he never saw it. Sun got in his eyes.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 8:
a. Kudos to Shawntae Spencer, too, for timing the Manning to Clark ball perfectly on the TD-pass-bat-away
b. Whoa -- what a shoe-top tackle of Ted Ginn Jr., on a first-half kickoff by Jay Feely.
c. Vincent Jackson is one of the top-five big receivers in football. Another 100-yard day against the Raiders.
d. The Panthers obviously had the game in Arizona circled on the calendar for months, because they came out and played like it was a playoff game.
e. No one knows Buffalo's Jairus Byrd (pronounced Jair-iss), but when you intercept footballs in four straight games, people start learning.
f. I actually think I like this: Rex Ryan is giving his struggling team six days off after players leave the facility later today. Sometimes it's best just to get away, rather than pound into players that the season is rapidly going down the toilet.
g. Signs of life (26 carries, 90 yards) from Matt Forte.
h. I really like FOX's pregame show going to Afghanistan next week. I don't care what the reason is -- anything to show those overseas we're thinking of them and supporting them, regardless of our political beliefs, I'm behind.
i. Now that's the way to make big plays, Julius Peppers.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 8:
a. For a veteran who's surely been mugged on more than a few pass routes, Derrick Mason of the Ravens went way over the top on a jersey grab by Denver cornerback Alphonso Smith. Hedeserved the 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct after throwing his helmet. Calls get missed, Derrick. Relax a bit.
b. Are you kidding, FOX? The moment the game of the year ends and Brett Favre is hugging his way across the field, we hear Thom Brennaman say: "We send you to bonus coverage.''
You do what? You send us to Carolina 34, Arizona 21? For God's sake -- FOR WHAT?!!!!!! What you should be sending us to is Pam Oliver for a live interview with Favre instead of making people wait.
c. So Larry Johnson will be docked $330,000 for his sins in Kansas City, on his third suspension in three years. Amazing thing is, I'm sure those close to him are filling his ears with, "You've done nothing wrong. Everyone's out to get you.'' That's the sad part here.
d. Aaron Rodgers takes too many sacks.
e. Throw it downfield, Matthew Stafford. Bombs away, Calvin Johnson or not.
f. Owen Daniels tearing his ACL is such a shame. He was battling Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates for top tight end in the AFC. Houston will miss him. Matt Schaub trusted him to run perfect routes.
g. The Giants are sinking as fast as any good team has sunk in years. Tom Coughlin hasn't had a bigger challenge than turning around this mess.
8. I think this is my one leftover note on football in Europe, which I think is going to happen in our lifetime; I mean, I think there will be an NFL franchise there.
Flynn Hagerty, a San Francisco native now living in London, wrote to add to the debate of whether the NFL should put an NFL franchise in England. He thinks not, as do many Brits. "There are many loyal and devoted NFL fans in Britain, some who have been fans for over a quarter-century,'' he wrote. "While ticket sales have been excellent for the International Series, many fans are traveling a considerable distance to London, and these people cannot be expected to take a Monday off work an extra seven times a year. Every game will have to be a night game for the U.S. TV market, and there will be no chance of a Sunday or Monday Night Football home game for London. There will be no local favorites, as to my knowledge no British player has ever played in the NFL aside from kickers ...
"NFL fans in the UK are savvy. Many of them may not stop supporting their original team, which might mean the difference between one or two games and season tickets. In my opinion, if the NFL put a franchise in London, it would average between 40,000-50,000 per game. That's really an astonishing number, as only eight soccer teams in the English league average more fans per game. But that will obviously not cut it in the NFL. It's a niche sport here, in many ways very similar to how the English Premier League is a niche sport in America.''
One difference: Kids here know and emulate David Beckham, and you see how tough a road pro soccer has had in this country. I would think an NBA team would have an easier time working in London than an NFL team.
9. I think the funniest thing -- the saddest thing, really -- about the NCAA banning Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant for the rest of the season is how the NCAA announced the move. This was the first sentence of The NCAA News on the Bryant story: "The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff has reinstated the eligibility of Oklahoma State University football student-athlete Desmond Bryant.''
What brainiac in Indianapolis said it'd be smart to issue a release announcing Bryant would be reinstated -- for 2010? All anyone wanted to know was when in 2009 he'd be reinstated, and, of course, he should have been. Imagine getting suspended for 75 percent of a season for fibbing about having dinner at Deion Sanders' house? To the best of anyone's knowledge, there's nothing sinister involved -- not under-the-table payments, no illegal contact with agents. The NCAA is uncontrollably drunk with power, and just as out of touch with reality and the public. Talk about a punishment that didn't fit the crime. Bryant got robbed.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I get the sense no one really believes in Iowa.
b. I get the sense no one knows what Oregon's colors are.
c. I get the sense Al Groh can't be long for the world in Charlottesville. Virginia has lost by double digits -- at home -- to William & Mary and Duke.
d. Seems to me the toughest thing to figure in the college top 10 is where to rank Boise State, Iowa, TCU and Cincinnati. Iowa has the great win at Penn State, and I suppose all that matters is the W. Cincinnati has blown out a bunch of teams outside the top 20. TCU has won on the road at Clemson and BYU. Boise's got one quality win, but that win looked a lot better Saturday.
Boise beat Oregon by 11 -- smothered the Ducks; one of the few college games I've seen much of this year -- and Oregon beat a top-five team, USC, by 27. You can't go crazy on comparative scores, but that one has some meaning. Amazing that Boise, of the four, might be the toughest game for one of the big boys right now.
e. Coffeenerdness: Funny thing happened walking to get the papers and coffee Saturday morning in Manhattan. Guy walks up to me at a newsstand on 7th and 53rd and says, "Peter King!'' I turn and shake his hand, and he said, "Jeff Catlett. I'm the one who won the Joe Namath jersey at the Dr. Z auction last spring.'' Wow, I say, and ask what's he doing here in the city, out so early. Seems he lives in Kuwait, works in the oil business, and his wife gave him a trip to World Series Game 2 to see his beloved Yanks, and he was out for a stroll before he had to get to the airport and go back home.
We went to Starbucks and got coffee, and I asked him about Starbucks over there. Turns out he's quite the Starbucks aficionado. "We have 76 Starbucks in Kuwait,'' he said proudly. "Seven in one mall!'' So Howard Schulz is taking over the world after all.
f. New York Post A-Rod passage of the week: The paper on Saturday wrote that US Weekly found an ex-flame who said Rodriguez had two paintings of himself as a centaur -- man from the waist up, horse from the waist down -- in his bedroom at home. This from the Post on the man who, at the time, was hitless in the World Series: "Rodriguez -- who has been hitting more like My Little Pony than a mighty centaur so far in the World Series -- has had a penchant for public displays of narcissism, such as when he was spotted sunning himself topless in Central Park in 2006.''
He promptly went out Saturday and jacked one into the FOX right-field camera position for a home run. Some pony.
g. I really like FOX's sideline guy, Ken Rosenthal, on TV. He's smart and cool.
h. "The Cleveland Show,'' as spinoffs go, should last as long as "Saved By The Bell: The New Class.'' Now, if there was a Brian spinoff ...
New Orleans 23, Atlanta 20.
There's something about the Falcons that's a little disconcerting, something that will confirm their road wild card status unless it gets fixed very, very soon ... like tonight, around 7:30 Central Time in New Orleans. Last year, the offense was a two-headed monster, with the maturing-before-our-very-eyes Matt Ryan and inside force Michael Turner. But compare Turner's 2008 season to his first six games in 2009:
For the Falcons to seriously challenge the Saints, there's no question that the Turner of 2008 has to re-emerge.
Order a copy of Peter King's new book, "Monday Morning Quarterback: A fully caffeinated guide to everything you need to know about the NFL"