Notes from combine: New rivalry, OT changes and how to help troops
INDIANAPOLIS -- Headlines of the Weekend:
• The Saints had some fun with
• Overtime reform lives. I am pleased.
• The Rams, NFL Network and ESPN will be the big winners on NFL Draft weekend.
• Running backs made a lot of NFL people happy here at the combine.
• I have details, finally, on how you can help
• Oh Canada, we stand on our feet for thee.
A busy week, so here we go.
On Friday night, the Saints' staff at the combine gathered in a private room at St. Elmo Steakhouse, an 108-year-old Indy landmark, for a final celebratory nod to the Super Bowl win over the Colts. This is a group that likes its wine, and likes to have fun.
At the restaurant, word passed that Dallas owner
Payton said he'd like to have the bottle nonetheless. I assume there was much angst on the part of the wait staff at that point. My God! Who do we piss off? One of the most powerful owners in the NFL, or the coach who's the toast of the NFL, the coach who just won the Super Bowl?
Here came the bottle of Caymus Special Selection, and the Saints' party drained it.
But drinking Jones' wine wasn't enough. Payton gave the waiter some instructions, took out his pen ... and, well, the Cowboys party found at the middle of their table the next evening an empty magnum of Caymus Special Selection cabernet sauvignon, with these words hand-written on the fancy label:
That's the kind of thing Jones will get a big laugh out of. And remember.
I know I've gotten this reputation as a fan (maybe haranguer is a better word) of overtime reform, but I just know that so much has changed since the NFL adopted a sudden-death system in 1974 that it deserves a second look. Ask yourself this question: If you could invent an overtime system for NFL games, what would you invent? Maybe you'd invent the exact same system that's on the books now -- with a coin flip deciding who gets the ball at the start of the extra period, and the first team to score wins. If you would vote for that system after considering what's happened to the game in the past 36 years, that's OK. But I'd be surprised if the keepers of the flame in NFL front offices would.
On Saturday, I reported that the NFL's rulemeisters, the seven-member Competition Committee, were close to bringing overtime reform to the floor for a vote at the NFL Meetings in Orlando in March. The committee will likely unanimously endorse a plan to be introduced for the 2010 playoffs, one that will ensure both teams will get at least one possession in overtime, unless one team scores a touchdown on the first possession of overtime. A touchdown (either on special teams, offense or defense) on the first possession ends the game. No touchdown means the game goes to sudden death on the second possession. There would still be a coin flip to start overtime, and the winner would still choose whether to take the ball or play defense on the first possession of the extra period.
The new overtime rule would have to be approved by 24 of the 32 NFL teams to pass. I still think it's very iffy, and if I had to guess today, I'd say it'd fail. But the leaders of the committee,
In the Saints' one-possession overtime victory over Minnesota this season, New Orleans won the toss, returned the ball to its 39, got two drive-enhancing penalties totaling 17 yards, struggled for 22 more yards, and won on a 40-yard
Think of it this way: When overtime was invented in the days of the Nixon Administration, the kickoff point was five yards to the kicking team's advantage, and a 40-yard field goal was a real challenge. Now the receiving team rarely starts at the 20, and a 40-yard field goal is probably an 85-percent guarantee.
Do you realize that
I'm not saying injuries don't happen in overtime; of course they do. But we're not talking about players playing three or four extra quarters a year; we're talking, on average a couple of extra series -- and in some cases, like the Colts', no offensive overtime snaps since
I always hear players don't want to change the rule. I talked with three who attended the meeting in Indianapolis, and none seemed bothered by the change that could extend overtime a few plays. "I'm super in favor of it,'' Winston said. "I'd like to see the game not be so dependent on the coin flip.''
I've thought about this proposal a lot over the weekend. For a long time, I've wanted a strict two-possession system -- or at least one, as in the January Green Bay-Arizona playoff game, with the defense touching the ball and winning the game on the first possession. I still think it would be better to guarantee each side a shot at the ball, but I can live with this. It's a nod to the teams worried about exposure to injury; now a team can win on the first possession by playing aggressively for the touchdown. It minimizes the reliance on field goals.
But there's one unintended consequence that could complicate approval. (Then again, who knows? Maybe the intrigue, and the desperation, will help sell the system.) If Team A scores a field goal on the first possession, Team B would never punt, thus increasing its chance to score and extend the game. As the football analyst
More intrigue, more desperate fourth-down conversion attempts. Good! Sounds like an added plus to me.
Could the game still be a field-goal derby? Sure. But this proposal would motivate teams to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. There'd be some drama now, too, with the coin flip, and some teams I'm sure would choose to defer so they'd know how many points they have to score to either win or extend the game.
All credit to
Think about being the Rams: In a very good year for draft prospects, teams will reset their draft boards after the first round, look up and see that one of their top 12 or 14 players is still on the board. Notre Dame quarterback
The desperado Rams will need the pick, obviously, because they need players. But some teams will want that pick badly; I'm sure of it. And some team just might pay through the nose to get it. You only have to look at last year to see how this could develop.
At the end of the first day of the draft, a couple of Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum's closest aides starting hounding him to go get the first pick in the third round from Detroit. There on the draft board was the 19th-rated player by the Jets, Iowa running back
That was a third-round pick, number 65. The Rams' pick is 33 overall, in a much better overall draft. Imagine if they have three or four players they like there and would risk moving down eight or 10 spots -- but the asking price to do that is a 2011 first-round pick. Stranger things have happened when a team gets desperate. St. Louis will also have the edge Saturday morning, with the first pick of a new day, but the ransom won't be nearly as high for that pick, obviously.
Now for the network story. NFL Network and ESPN will have the built-in tease of all time for day two of the draft -- provided, of course, that
Tebow's going to be in a tough position -- as will his agent,
I imagine what's been a trickle by fans to this point will be an open faucet as draft weekend gets closer. West Coast fans are ticked off that draft weekend has been ruined for them -- at least ruined if they want to have normal workdays. With the draft beginning at 4:30 p.m. West Coast time Thursday and continuing Friday at 3:30 PST, I understand the anger of left-coasters at the NFL. But if the ratings sing -- as is the case with so much in the NFL -- this format will become permanent.
When players started boycotting combine workouts 15 or so years ago, there was one year when the top seven backs did nothing at the combine, on the advice of their injury-fearing agents. The tide's turned. This year, 27 of the 29 backs ran the 40-yard dash and did the physical tests all players do at the combine. The two best backs by acclamation also were two or the fastest: Clemson's
I was encouraged to see a guy I like a lot, Stanford's big back,
Disappointing runner: all-purpose back
Let me take you into one interesting thing I saw at the combine. Walking through one of the downtown hotels Friday, I ran into a team doctor I know. He told me he'd examined lots of offensive linemen in his years coming to the combine, but Maryland tackle
But the most sobering note about Campbell came from
"I know I didn't get any honors,'' Campbell said, "but I feel my self-accomplishments were better than winning a medal or anything else.''
What, exactly, is a self-accomplishment?
That's what I'm calling my fundraising effort for McGuire and his 135 fighting troops in his Havoc Company, 40th Engineers, which will be deployed to Afghanistan later this year. Mike and his men are preparing in Germany for their deployment, and I asked Mike just before the holidays if there was anything I could do for him and his troops. At first he said, "We're fine.'' Then he said it would nice if the base that will likely be invented for his company -- as are many in remote areas of Afghanistan -- could have some or the comforts that the big bases have: a TV with video games, and weight equipment for the soldiers in the company to use in their downtime.
So I have partnered with the USO, with an assist from "Five For Fighting,'' the band of American singer-songwriter
It's Five For Fighting, because I'm asking for $5 for this project. A manageable $5 -- or whatever you'd like to give.
I am asking you, if you are able, and if you have followed the courageous McGuire over the past five years in this column, and enjoyed getting to know him, to link to the USO's page for the benefit and consider helping McGuire's soldiers, who go to war later this year. It'll be McGuire's third deployment in the area.
Just follow it to the USO page designed to make it easy for you to give $5, or send $5 by mail, for a mini-recreation center with video games and weight equipment for the men fighting for our liberty.
I met Mike five years ago at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game while on my training-camp tour of NFL teams. I was at the game alone, struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, also at the game alone, and by the fifth inning I wasn't watching the game anymore. I was listening to the riveting military story of McGuire, then 34, now 39.
His company specializes in ridding the landscape of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan, so others in the military can do their job safely. If you're seen "The Hurt Locker,'' you know what Mike and his men do. They put their lives on the line for 12-hour shifts every day. "We're trained to do a job and to do it well,'' McGuire says. "We just focus on the job, not on the danger -- though we're not kidding ourselves. We know how dangerous it is.''
I talked to McGuire on Friday, the one-year anniversary of the death of a New Jersey soldier, a
He's grateful to have heard from many of you over the years. "We've got a lot of pressure on us every day we're deployed,'' McGuire said. "To have the people back home think enough of us to help with some equipment to enjoy our down time is absolutely awesome.''
And thanks to "Five for Fighting,'' starting a tour tonight in Burlington, Vt. "Anything for the soldiers overseas,'' Ondrasik said. Anything -- starting with your $5 donation today. And if we get more than the money needed to help McGuire's platoon, we'll help others, hopefully scores of platoons and companies.
The game had it all, with one thing no other game of this magnitude in another sport has: The Americans and Canadians were playing for free, essentially, in the Olympic gold medal game. And except when the Canadians stopped forechecking aggressively, inexplicably, in the third period, this was the kind of competition that dripped with seventh-game-of-the-Stanley Cup, Super Bowl-type desperation. It was the kind of effort that makes you think that whoever wins the game, the biggest congratulations goes equally to every player who suited up. It's not about the money. It's about the honor.
"You win for your country,'' said Canadian
Both sides were playing for country, for themselves. How impressive the U.S. boys were, playing on Canadian ice in a game that was so much more important to Canada as a nation. We care. We don't CARE. The Devils have won the Stanley Cup three times, but 85 percent of the people in the state couldn't spell "Brodeur.'' From the time
One funny thing happened late in the game. I'm a
Not really. Remember: I picked a Chicago-New England Super Bowl.
In honor of the big game, I bring you ...
"You don't want to say we sat back,'' Crosby said in the interview room afterward, "but in the third period our guys were just trying to hang on.'' Bad move. The lack of forechecking gave the Americans some chances they hadn't had in the first two periods and led to the tying goal by Parise.
But Crosby, who'd been quiet much of the tournament, shot on a pass from
Miller had the best tournament an American goalie has had since
The same way
"Watching in airport bar. Even
"This is the best first round going into the draft that I've seen since 1983.''
"I'm 6-1 and a quarter, 217 [pounds]. I'd like to say I'm 6-4, but this is what God gave me. I did my absolute best in college. I played for four years. I started 53 games in a row ... We won more games in college than anyone else. So I don't know what more anybody can ask of me.''
"I DID NOT ASK TIM TEBOW FOR HIS AUTOGRAPH! STOP THAT STORY!''
The story became an internet sensation for 24 hours after Tebow reached for Hoover's notebook and signed it for him. Consider yourself cleared, John. And the next time you try to make a joke at such a deadly serious and incredibly important event, well, shame on you.
"I am not going to put him in a box ... Would it be nice to know sooner than later? Yeah, but you have to be able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in this business, whether you're a player, whether you're a coach, and you have to deal with it.''
Oklahoma defensive tackle
"Heaven'' spelled backward.
South Florida wide receiver
Three of them from an interesting weekend on the road:
1. Had a very nice Tweetup (meeting with Twitter followers and football fans) Friday night at Scotty's Brewhouse downtown, with fellow scribes
2. The Indianapolis airport, the only major American airport opened since 9/11, is terrific. It's like a mini-Pittsburgh when the Pittsburgh airport/mall opened. If you can connect through Indy someday (have no idea who does that), I'd advise it. Nice-looking wine bar in the atrium outside security.
3. Had my head buried in my MacBook Air on an AirTran flight home to Boston for 15 or 20 minutes Sunday, and I paid no attention to the woman and baby across the aisle until I heard the sound of a baby struggling a bit. I turned to see the woman positioning the tot for some breast-feeding. No blanket, no clothing covering anything. Just a breast. You don't want to jerk your head away or you're a prude. You don't want to focus on it too long or you're a perv. So I, uh, moved my head deliberately back to the computer and MADE ABSOLUTELY SURE I DIDN'T LOOK THAT WAY FOR THE REST OF THE FLIGHT. See how open-minded I am?
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Combine Weekend:
b. In one decade, the number of media covering this event has increased 25-fold. Seriously. That's an accurate number.
c. Tim Tebow didn't do himself any favors by not throwing, choosing to wait 'til his Pro Day March 17 so he could perfect his new throwing motion. He said in Mobile that he had nothing to hide, and some NFL people I spoke with noted how he'd changed between then and now.
d. Like what
e. Really impressed with Colt McCoy. He's confident in himself, and I don't see why not. He talks and carries himself like a starting NFL quarterback.
f. There's a dispute whether Idaho guard Mike Iupati can play tackle in the NFL, but there's no dispute about his effort, strength and mean streak. He leaves Indy a solid low-first-round prospect.
g. Scouts think Jimmy Clausen's too cocky.
2. I think there is virtually no chance left tackle
3. I think, too, there is virtually no chance the players help the owners in the stadium-building and stadium-debt business. I sense solidarity among the union officials that the owners asking for $1 billion to be exempted from the revenue pool they divide will be a non-starter for a long time.
4. I think I'll be very interested to see if any team goes after union president
5. I think I wouldn't be surprised if the union got some help from Capitol Hill in forcing the owners to open their books, so players could get a full accounting of exactly how much they're making.
6. I think the Saints are close to a long-term deal with guard
7. I think I loved how Kent State, of the Mid-American Conference, just coincidentally inducted NFL Pro Bowlers
8. I think it wouldn't be the scouting combine without
9. I think
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Google "
b. Loved what
c. If NHL players are involved, I'm going to be tempted to go to Sochi in 2014.
d. Bring on baseball. Lots of it. I've got to get ready for my Rotisserie Draft, and I have no idea who's closing for Tampa Bay.
e. Of course, by the looks of things in Boston, we'll need an ark by April, not Fenway.
f. Great job,
g. How great was that women's skating final? How rare to see none of those women choking. Beautiful performances.
h. Coffeenerdness: You know you've got a serious espresso problem when you walk four blocks out of your way on a windy 14-degree morning with no head covering so you can get a Starbucks latte. That happened three times at the Combine. Look on the bright side: It's coffee, not whisky.
i. Conrad Hotel, you can't be beat.
j. I just don't think the Super Bowl should be scheduled to be played outdoors in February in New Jersey. So shoot me.