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Notes from combine: New rivalry, OT changes and how to help troops

INDIANAPOLIS -- Headlines of the Weekend:

• The Saints had some fun with Jerry Jones' favorite wine Friday night.

• Overtime reform lives. I am pleased.

• The Rams, NFL Network and ESPN will be the big winners on NFL Draft weekend. Tim Tebow's privacy will lose -- as will, I'm afraid, employed Pacific Time Zone people.

• Running backs made a lot of NFL people happy here at the combine.

• I have details, finally, on how you can help Mike McGuire's men -- and many more on the front lines.

• Oh Canada, we stand on our feet for thee.

A busy week, so here we go.

***

I smell a nice rivalry cooking.

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 Jerry Jones would have his Dallas group in this exact room Saturday night for a team dinner. Jones had even phoned ahead, according to a waiter, to make sure a magnum of a wine he loved, Caymus Special Selection cabernet sauvignon, was ready to be served at dinner.

Sean Payton told the waiter he'd like to have that wine, too. The waiter told him: Sorry, sir. We have only one bottle left, and it's reserved for Mr. Jones.

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:

WHO DAT!World Champions XLIVSean Payton

That's the kind of thing Jones will get a big laugh out of. And remember.

***

Have an open mind about overtime. That's all I ask.

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, Rich McKay and Jeff Fisher, will have a couple of weeks at the Competition Committee's annual meeting in Naples, Fla., before the league meetings to refine their case. I believe these will be the major selling points of the new rule:

1. The coin flip is playing too big a part in who wins and loses. Of the 445 overtime regular-season games played in the 36-year history of the system, only seven times has the team that won the flip chosen to kick off instead of receive. And over the past 16 seasons, the number of games won by the coin-flip winner has risen sharply. Between 1974 and 1993, 46.8 percent of overtime games were won by the coin-flip winner. Since 1994, it's 59.8 percent. It used to be that less than half the OT games were won by the lucky team to start the fifth quarter; now it's three out of five.

2. Overtime has become over-reliant on playing for field goals. In the first five years of overtime, NFL kickers were accurate on 61 percent of their attempts. In the last five years, the number is 82 percent. Except for the lousy performances of kickers in the playoffs this year, you can see why teams play for the field goal in overtime. Teams surely do: Since 1994, 73 percent of overtime games have been won by a field goal.

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 Garrett Hartley field goal.

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.

3. The game has changed since the kickoff point was moved from the 35- to the 30-yard line in 1994. More balls returned instead of touchbacks, essentially. In overtime, teams are tired, mistakes are made. Instead of the offense taking over at the 20, now there's more of a chance to get a big edge on the opening kick and make a short drive for a field goal. One of the nearly two dozen players who sat in on the Competition Committee's meeting in Indianapolis to give input, Houston tackle Eric Winston told me over the weekend, "They're trying to prevent the 45-yard kick return, then a pass-interference call, then kneeling on the ball on third down, then kicking an easy field goal.''

4. The more-exposure-to-injury argument, really, is bogus. On average, the NFL plays 12 overtime games a year. That means a team has a 75 percent chance of playing an overtime game in an average year. And with more games now being won on the first possession of overtime (34 percent of games since 1994 have been won by the coin-flip winner on the first possession, compared to 25 percent in the earlier era), half of your team isn't going to take the field for a third of the OT games anyway.

Do you realize that Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday and Reggie Wayne, the vets the Colts want to uber-protect from injury, have not played an overtime snap in the past 88 Indianapolis games? The Colt D had to play a series in the overtime playoff loss at San Diego in the 2008 season, but the offense hasn't played a fifth quarter since Dec. 26, 2004.

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 Donald Brown was in high school.

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 Brian Burke wrote in an email this weekend: "The second team with possession will have 33 percent more downs available to them on every series, without being concerned about the clock, and scoring becomes much more likely.'' (You can read his full explanation, with a few mathematical formulas that fly right over my Ohio University head, at advancednflstats.com.)

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.

***

The Rams, TV, Tim Tebow, and the West Coast: A different draft season.

All credit to Don "Donnie Brasco'' Banks of this site for tipping us all on this: The first pick of the second round this year will be the most valuable first pick of a second round in NFL history. The NFL will begin the draft with round one on Thursday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m. ET, with rounds two and three set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday , and the final four rounds kicking off Saturday at 10 a.m.

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 Jimmy Clausen. Cal running back Jahvid Best. Texas pass-rusher Sergio Kindle. Idaho guard Mike Iupati. One of the leftover good tackles -- maybe Anthony Davis of Rutgers.

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 Shonn Greene. New York could sit at number 76 and hope Greene was there, or it could overpay to take the pick from Detroit. The Lions wanted a three, four and seven for the Jets to move up 11 spots. Tannenbaum hated to do it because it was a ransom, but you can see how valuable a player Greene turned out to be; he'll likely open 2010 as the Jets' starting 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 Tim Tebow is not chosen in the first round. I'd say it looks unlikely he goes in round one, but you never know how his stock will rise and fall in the next seven weeks. You think you're sick of Tim Tebow now? Wait 'til the late SportsCenter on that Thursday night, then all day Friday in advance of the second and third rounds. Where's Tim Tebow going? The suspense builds! Tune in tonight for day two of the NFL draft!

Tebow's going to be in a tough position -- as will his agent, Jimmy Sexton. How much access does he give the networks to the vulnerable Tebow at that point? They'll be frothing over Tebow. Not that this is going to help Tebow in the eyes of the public. My e-mail and Twitter followers seems to feel about Tebow the same way they feel about Brett Favre: They're sick of him. Tough balancing act there.

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.

***

I'm not a big combine guy, as you may know, but I do know NFL teams are pretty happy with what they saw of the running backs here.

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 C.J. Spiller (4.33 seconds in the 40-) and Cal's Jahvid Best (4.35) both ran a little better than expected.

I was encouraged to see a guy I like a lot, Stanford's big back, Toby Gerhart, run a 4.53, a little better than people thought he would. Anyone who watched Gerhart play last season and who would think he can't play in this league and play at a high level just doesn't know football.

Disappointing runner: all-purpose back Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss. He ran in the 4.5s. Not good for a guy who weighs 171. He sure plays better (and looks faster) than that.

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 Bruce Campbell was the best physical specimen he'd ever seen. And when he ran a 4.78 40, one of the fastest by a lineman ever, Campbell's stock shot up all over town.

But the most sobering note about Campbell came from Gil Brandt, who helped invent the event years ago and works it every year for the NFL. Brandt said Campbell hadn't received a single all-conference-team vote last year. If a guy's a first-round prospect, would he unanimously NOT be all-conference? I'm not saying the sculpted 6-foot-6, 314-pound Campbell won't be a good player, but he's sounding like a Raider pick to me. Great athlete, questionable production -- like last year's Terp picked first by Oakland, wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey.

"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?

***

The Mike McGuire Cause: Five For Fighting.

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 John Ondrasik (who graciously loaned me the name).

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.

Here is the link.

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 Cpl. Connelly, in his care. "In the last week I've been sleeping horribly,'' he said. "Subliminally, maybe I knew this day was coming. But you just have to keep going. The rush of finding something in the road and knowing you've saved lives is a great feeling.''

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.

***

Whoa, Canada.

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 Chris Pronger.

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 Sidney Crosby could skate, he longed to win the gold medal in the Olympics and the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League. Now, at 22, he's done both.

One funny thing happened late in the game. I'm a Zach Parise follower, and the way he was skating with such determination and moves I thought he'd do something great at some point. So with about seven minutes left, I Tweeted: "Anyone else have a feeling Zach Parise's going to make a big play in the last seven minutes?'' And, of course, he scored the tying goal with 24 seconds left.

"Nostradamus!'' Rich Eisen Tweeted in response.

Not really. Remember: I picked a Chicago-New England Super Bowl.

In honor of the big game, I bring you ...

Offensive Player of the GameSidney Crosby, center, Canada.

"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 Jarome Iginla seven minutes into overtime. He never had a chance to take aim, except to throw it at U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, and it went low, through his legs, for the best goal of his life. Crosby could play hockey as long as Gordie Howe -- heck, for as long as all Howes played it combined -- and never score another goal nearly as big.

Defensive Player of the GameRyan Miller, goalie, United States.

Miller had the best tournament an American goalie has had since Jim Craig -- and it'd take a Doc Emrickian hockey mind to tell you if Craig was better than Miller, who was spectacular over two weeks -- in nearly beating the mighty Canadians for the second time in a week. It wasn't only the saves. It was the standup way Miller addressed his fate after the game, both on NBC and the media throng. How did he feel after giving up the goal? "Like s---,'' he said. Like any man who'd just given every drop to try to win a tournament would feel when he failed.

"Sidney Crosby will never have to pay for another Labatt's for as long as he lives.''-- Brian Hyland, former producer of NFL shows at HBO and NFL Network, two minutes after Crosby went five-hole on Ryan Miller to give Canada a 3-2 overtime victory over the United States for the Olympic gold.

The same way Adam Vinatieri will never have to pay for a Dunkin' Donut, Aaron Boone will never have to pay for a Brooklyn Lager, and, I assume, Santonio Holmes will never have to pay for another Iron City.

"Watching in airport bar. Even Charlie Weis, seated across from me, was screaming like he was named newly crowed prom queen.''--@RickMaese, Washington Post football writer Rick Maese, tweeting from the Indianapolis International Airport at the moment when Zach Parise's goal in the final minute of the third period tied the USA-Canada game at 2 and forced overtime.

"This is the best first round going into the draft that I've seen since 1983.''-- NFL Network and CBS analyst Charley Casserly, the former Redskins and Texans GM, live from the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, on the quality of the top of this draft.

"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.''-- Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who drew the inevitable comparisons to another 6-foot (maybe) quarterback, Drew Brees, at the Scouting Combine.

"I DID NOT ASK TIM TEBOW FOR HIS AUTOGRAPH! STOP THAT STORY!''-- Tulsa World reporter John Hoover, to the assembled media at the Scouting Combine on Saturday, a day after a phony rumor surfaced that Hoover, making a joke with Tebow, actually asked the Florida quarterback for an autograph in his reporter's notebook on Friday.

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.''-- Minnesota coach Brad Childress, on the will-he-or-won't-he drama of 40-year-old quarterback Brett Favre. The team awaits Favre's decision on whether he'll play or retire.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a candidate to be the first pick in the April draft, has a daughter named Nevaeh.

"Heaven'' spelled backward.

South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell's mother, Angela, is the cut woman for light heavyweight boxer Antonio Tarver.

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 Will Carroll, Howard Balzer, John Niyo and Sean Jensen, and George Atallah of the NFL Players Association. Thanks to Carroll for setting up our second Indy tweetup. Aside from the fun crowd (knowledgeable, into it), I had the pleasure of trying a couple of the local beers -- and loved a pale ale from Munster, Ind., called Three Floyds Alpha Kings Pale Ale. Coppery color, slightly citrusy, slightly mindful of Shock Top, only with more bitterness. Good discovery, and Scotty's is a great find too.

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:

a. Interviewed Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy away from the masses and came away impressed with both. Suh seemed more polished, practiced; McCoy almost innocent about the whole process and the spotlight he's about to be thrust in. Talked to several teams about both, and as one GM said: "The one thing we know pretty much is there's no skeletons on either guy.''

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 Ross Tucker said on Twitter about Tebow after his terrific workout at nearly tight-end size. Tucker thinks teams will look harder at him now at a tight end or H-back type.

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 Chris Samuels, with neck and back issues, will return to play for the Redskins. He'll retire, confirming what the Redskins pretty much already knew -- they have to find a new left tackle, and fast, so Mike Shanahan's offense has a chance of working.

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 Kevin Mawae, who, despite being 39, had an above-average year for a center in Tennessee

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 Jahri Evans, which would be a coup. They don't want to keep having to tag him and paying him a high guaranteed salary; they'd like to finalize a long-term deal with the most valuable player on their line.

7. I think I loved how Kent State, of the Mid-American Conference, just coincidentally inducted NFL Pro Bowlers Antonio Gates and James Harrison -- undrafted former Golden Flash players -- into the school's Hall of Fame Saturday. Gates and Harrison didn't attend the combine, yet went on to be two of the best players in the NFL, and I asked both about the burgeoning importance of the combine in the eyes of so many around the NFL. "I feel like you can get a dog and a cat to run and jump,'' said Gates. "It can be overrated. So many other attributes determine whether you can play. You can't judge desire to win at the combine. You can't judge playing through pain.'' Said Harrison: "Does the combine judge whether you have a little dog in you? You might run 4.3, but if you can't tackle a standing dummy, you can't play football.''

8. I think it wouldn't be the scouting combine without Gil Brandt. I learn something every time I talk to the man.

9. I think Mike Holmgren looked and sounded like a man with a sense of urgency to pick a quarterback, put him under center, and let him play 16 games -- without the pressure of looking over his shoulder at the backup. "A quarterback needs two full seasons before you can judge him. What's Brady Quinn started? Twelve games? How can we know if he's the guy?'' Just from listening to him, it sounds like the Browns will give the job to Quinn, draft a passer sometime after the first round, and groom him in case Quinn's not The Man.

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

a. Google "Amy Bishop, Huntsville.'' If you haven't followed this story, you'll think Stephen King wrote it.

b. Loved what Conan O'Brien Tweeted, about interviewing a squirrel in the backyard the other day and threw to a commercial. "Somebody help me,'' he pleaded.

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, Bob Costas. All of it. Impressive how he can shift from Peyton Manning to Shaun White and look comfortable doing it. The great thing about Costas is how he can juggle all those sports, look interested, and talk competently. Assists to Bruce Cornblatt, Aaron Cohen and Joe Gesue too

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.

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