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Vicodin case could have dire consequences for Saints

We begin this morning with a headache of headaches for the New Orleans Saints, a story the team has fervently denied, but one that isn't going away unless the Drug Enforcement Administration makes it go away.

The story involves the dispensation and alleged theft of 130 Vicodin tablets from the Saints' drug locker at the team's offices and training facility in New Orleans over a four-month period early in 2009. A lawsuit filed by discharged former Saints' security director Geoffrey Santini, a former FBI agent, describes the recipients of the Vicodin as "Senior Staff Member A'' and "Senior Staff Member B.'' On Saturday, profootballtalk.com reported that coach Sean Payton is Senior Staff Member A, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt is Senior Staff Member B.

I've read the 13-page lawsuit, filed Friday in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com reported that Santini sought a $2 million settlement to not file the suit last week and the Saints didn't respond. I'm told the Saints turned over all evidence in the case to the DEA in June and have been waiting for a decision in the case ever since. On Friday, the Saints said the lawsuit had no merit, and that Santini, in effect, had shopped the lawsuit to them before filing it. On Saturday, after the profootballtalk.com report, Payton said, "I have never abused or stolen Vicodin or any other medication.''

The allegations in Santini's suit, in essence, include these: Vitt had a medical problem that required the use of pain-killers and he was being prescribed Vicodin to help him deal with the condition; Payton didn't have a medical condition that required pain-killers but was using them. Additionally, Santini said Saints general manager Mickey Loomis covered up Payton's use of Vicodin while trying to protect Vitt from being prosecuted for stealing additional Vicodin.

Every NFL team has to account for the prescription drugs it dispenses. The training staff keeps medication under lock and key and distributes it only after a team doctor prescribes it. Apparently, Vitt was being prescribed Vicodin -- it's possible that Payton, at some point, may have been taking it as prescribed, too. The lawsuit makes it clear that from January to April 2009, a theft of approximately 110 Vicodin tablets occurred from the drug locker. Santini's suit says Loomis directed a hidden camera to be installed in the trainer's room, so any further theft of Vicodin could be captured on video.

On the morning of April 30, 2009, according to the suit, Santini was informed that eight pills were missing from a Vicodin bottle of 100 pills. The videotape showed Senior Staff Member B -- Vitt -- using the keys from trainer Scottie Patton's office to open the drug locker and take eight pills from a bottle of Vicodin.

When Santini told Loomis about the theft, the suit alleges, Loomis told Santini and the trainers "to keep all of this confidential ... Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the video needed to be copied for use during the NFL audit. GM Loomis stated, 'No, this is not a criminal investigation.' Plaintiff told Loomis the event should be reported and without copying the video it would eventually be overwritten by the recording equipment and erased. Loomis told the Plaintiff to 'let it go,' in effect instructing the Plaintiff to allow the destruction of evidence of a felony. Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the crime should be reported, and he [Loomis] stated 'this is not a criminal investigation.'' GM Loomis left plaintiff's office and plaintiff made a copy of the video onto a video cassette.''

After "SSMB'' was caught taking 12 pills the next day, the bottle was moved to a more secure location. The following day SSMB was taped unsuccessfully trying to gain access to the pills. Santini alleges that Patton, in a meeting two weeks later, was going to adjust the dispensing logs "to reflect that SSMB had received all of the missing Vicodin, such that the totals on the monthly recap sheets would match the total dispensed.'' The suit says that in a meeting the next day, assistant trainer Kevin Mangum told Santini of the directive to adjust the logs, adding, "I think, I think it came from Mickey.''

Payton's involvement in the case seems almost tangential. Most of the accusations concern Vitt allegedly stealing the Vicodin and Santini describing Loomis trying to cover it up. On page six of the suit, Santini asks Mangum, referring to Payton, "How are they going to explain [SSMA]?''

"He's stopped,'' Mangum said, according to the suit. "Somebody has talked to him.''

On June 22, the suit alleges, Patton told Santini he would not change the logs, and a day later, Loomis told Santini the logs would not be changed before being turned in to the NFL for an annual audit. "Later in the conversation, GM Loomis stated that [SSMB] admitted to him that [SSMB] had stolen all of the pills,'' the suit says.

Later, the suit says, "Subsequent conversations ensued between plaintiff and GM Loomis concerning upcoming discussions with the DEA about the situation and the need to keep [SSMA]'s name out of the conversation.''

There you have it. The consequences could be dire for several people -- Loomis, if he's found to have covered up a felony theft of prescription medication; Vitt, if he's found guilty of stealing Vicodin; the trainers, if they're found culpable; and Payton, if he's found to have taken Vicodin without a prescription. Of course, the consequences could be just as dire for Santini if counter-claims by the Saints reveal the story he has told is exaggerated or invented.

"Mickey is adamant he did nothing wrong,'' said a source close to the Saints. "Sean is beside himself -- he swears this is a trumped-up charge.''

Every New Orleans fan this morning -- as well as a nation charmed by the improbable story of the Super Bowl Saints -- has to hope that's true.

***

Walter Jones walks away.

With Walter Jones retiring last week, the book has closed on the top tackles whose careers began and ended in the last 20 years. I'd put Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and Jones atop that list. Ogden, at 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, was the first great basketball player of a left tackle, with the reach to keep the best pass rushers from the quarterback. Jones, 6-5 and 325, was a powerful athlete, rarely beaten to the outside and strong enough to power-run with the best tackles in recent history. A score of top offensive minds, most notably Mike Holmgren and Howard Mudd, thought Jones was the best tackle they'd ever seen.

It'll be interesting when Jones and Ogden get discussed for Canton in the next few years. When it comes to ranking the best over the past 20 years, I'd put those two in a close race ahead of Orlando Pace and Willie Roaf, with Tony Boselli fifth because of his shortened but meteoric career. Measuring the five against each other is difficult, but here's how they compare in terms of seasons played, durability (games missed due to injury), Pro Bowl appearances and first-team Associated Press all-pro awards.

As a point of comparison: The last offensive tackle to make the Hall of Fame, Gary Zimmerman, missed 12 games in a 12-year NFL career, playing 184 games, with seven Pro Bowls and three AP all-pro nods.

Now the Seahawks hand the left-tackle job to Russell Okung, who has the temperament, skills and strength to be a great one. He'll always be compared to Jones, which will be both unfair and good for the kid.

***

We shouldn't forget about Jeff Feagles retiring, either.

Look up the retiring punter's bio and the thing that jumps out is this: the number 22. From 1988, when he entered the league as a free-agent punter making $52,000 with Raymond Berry's Patriots (Steve Grogan and Russ Francis were teammates), Feagles played every game for 22 consecutive seasons. That's 352 straight games played, an NFL record. I don't care if you're a snapper or a ballboy; to never have a tweaked hamstring or suffered a bum back in 22 years and to play every game is amazing.

"The Favre streak is insane,'' Feagles said last night, referring to Favre's NFL record 285 consecutive starts. "He's the iron man of football. I'm just the lonely kicker. But I'm proud I was able to go to work for my team every Sunday.'' Late in his 20s, Feagles began a regimen of stretching (professionals stretched him three days a week for an hour; he eschewed yoga) and used chiropractors to stay in shape -- and he never got too far out of shape during the offseason.

Feagles won't go down as the longest punter ever (his 41.6-yard average is 110th all-time), but he should go down as the best directional punter of all time. His hang times are famous -- he once had a documented 5.83 hang time on a practice punt, the highest I've ever heard of -- and he practiced by putting a garbage can downfield and trying to land the ball in it.

"I'm not the strongest,'' Feagles said. "But I can put it where I want it.''

Shouldn't that be the mantra for young punters today? This is a field-position game, and Feagles so often controlled it by kicking it away from foes and pinning teams back. His 554 punts inside the 20 are 173 more than any other punter since the stat has been kept.

The Roethlisberger Case: A postscript.

I've come into possession of the letter sent by David Cornwell, the attorney for Ben Roethlisberger, to the commissioner after Roger Goodell met with Roethlisberger in April and before Goodell issued his sanction against the Steelers quarterback for his loutish behavior. It's interesting to me for a couple of reasons. Goodell and Cornwell used to work together in the NFL office and are friendly; the letter has a familiar but legal tone to it befitting a lawyer comfortable giving frank advice and opinion to his former league peer.

Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum has a Roethlisberger story in the magazine coming out this week, with the help of some fine SI reporting. When you read the piece, you'll understand, I think, why both Cornwell and Goodell thought this shouldn't be your garden-variety suspension, but rather a suspension paired with counseling.

The letter, dated April 15, reads in part:

Dear Commissioner Goodell:

I am confident that we share the same view of the men who play professional football. While the public sees men of extraordinary athletic prowess, rarely is there any acknowledgement of the years of physical and mental preparation or the commitment that is made merely to be in the position to compete on Sundays. This pervasive blind spot tends to cause the public and the media to focus primarily on the football player and not the man who plays football. But, we know better.

My view is that too often there is an inverse relationship between the player's talent and the man's ability to confront and overcome challenges of life away from the game. I have gotten to know Ben extremely well over the past year. Watching Ben off the field has given me great insight into why he has been so successful on it. Ben's rectilinear approach and his method of analysis -- processing things as a quarterback so that he is in control -- have served him well as a football player, but this singular focus is the primary reason that he is facing the challenges that he currently confronts. Life cedes control to no man.

Though I could not have predicted these specifics, I am not surprised that Ben is dealing with a challenge of personal development. His passion for football and the remarkable success resulting from his commitment to the game necessarily means that he has compromised his development in other areas. No person has unlimited capacity. I believe that Ben's challenge is to channel some of the energy he has committed to becoming an extraordinary player into becoming an equally extraordinary person.

While Ben's sexual activities may offend some, anyone would have been hard pressed to predict that Ben's actions would have resulted in such vicious and false allegations. Ben bears exclusive responsibility for the consequences of his choices, but that does not mean that these particular consequences were foreseeable. Whether it is in the privacy of a hotel room or in the more risky environment of a semi-public restroom, a false allegation of rape simply is not within the zone of the foreseeable consequences of consensual sex.

There are two prongs to the intended effect of discipline. One is to discourage repetition of the offending behavior. The other is to encourage behavior that is more consistent with accepted principles and/or established procedures. What Ben should not have done is abundantly clear. What he should have done differently remains elusive. None of the numerous people with whom I have discussed this matter has offered a tangible alternative to the choices that Ben made other than to suggest that Ben "make better choices" in the future.

I cannot fathom how a suspension or any other form of traditional discipline will help Ben make a better choice the next time he decides to have consensual sex. The difficulty that Ben had in articulating a distinction between the risks associated with private and semi-public sex is the product of the undeniable similarity between the Reno and Georgia accusations, even though one event occurred in the privacy of Ben's hotel room and the other in a semi-public bathroom.

As you consider your options, I hope you will focus on an approach that establishes a direct nexus between your response and the issue to which it responds. Whether I am considering these options as Ben's advocate or as the person who has had the privilege of engaging in frank discussions with you unburdened by our professional affiliations, I am unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson or message that would tend to alter Ben's conduct in the future.

This is one of the more challenging conduct issues that you have confronted because the fundamental issue does not involve an arrest or criminal charges. This is an issue of lifestyle and the need to develop the tools and a method for addressing the unique challenges and opportunities that flow from the stature and celebrity enjoyed by the men who play football. I trust Ben's private conversation with you gave you a glimpse into the difficulty he had in distinguishing who he is from what he does. The public and media have yet to master this distinction. In considering where all of this will lead us, I take comfort in knowing that Ben is not the first 28 year old man to confront the reality of his actions being inconsistent with his values. Luckily, most of us have the benefit of navigating the treacherous waters of maturation outside of the glare of the media and the public.

Following a recent disciplinary hearing, you and I discussed privately your commitment to address each case based on its unique set of facts, without regard for the rancor of the public and the press. I know your commitment remains unchanged. We have also discussed my view that under certain circumstances imposing traditional discipline following a meeting between you and a player tends to devalue the impact of your unique qualities as Commissioner. While your authority emanates from the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, your effectiveness is the product of your ability to connect with the men who play the game in a manner that neither of your predecessors enjoyed.

The nuanced and dynamic nature of the issues that got us here requires an equally nuanced and dynamic response. I look forward to continuing our discussions so that we can structure such an appropriate response.

Very truly yours,

DC

Postscript: Six days later, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for a minimum of four and a maximum of six games, and ordered him to undergo counseling after a comprehensive behavioral evaluation, banning him from team activities until counselors allow him to rejoin the team. The evaluation is likely to be completed soon, but there's no telling when he'll be able to return to work with his teammates.

Once Goodell issued his sanction, Cornwell wrote the commissioner and thanked him and league attorneys Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch for their "genuine concern for the well-being of the man in discharging your official functions. I appreciate your candor and accessibility throughout the process with Ben. In the end, we will be measured by whether we made a difference. You did your part and I am grateful.''

At a time when there's such animus between the league and those who contest cases with it, that's a refreshing conclusion to a contentious case.

***

Waxman could render future Starcaps cases moot very soon.

I'm hearing California Democratic congressman Henry Waxman is close to introducing legislation in the U.S. House that would make drug policies negotiated as part of a national collective bargaining agreement -- such as the one the NFL negotiates with players -- override state drug-testing laws. You'll recall that Viking defensive linemen Kevin and Pat Williams tested positive for a banned NFL substance contained in weight-loss supplement Starcaps, but a four-week suspension was thrown out, in part, because the players argued successfully that Minnesota labor law superseded the NFL's drug policy, and Minnesota law was more lenient than the league's. If Waxman's legislation -- which will cover all sports, not just the NFL -- is successful, it won't be retroactive. But it would prevent every player in a major sport from appealing to the laws of the state the team plays in if the player tests positive for a banned substance in his league.

***

And now for some real football news.

Notes on five notables from weekend camps:

Armanti Edwards, second-round Carolina wideout. After a tough first day of NFL receiver work Friday, the converted Appalachian State quarterback (you'll recall he beat fifth-ranked Michigan at the Big House with three touchdown passes and one rushing in 2007) starred Saturday, making a couple of one-handed catches, one from fellow rookie Tony Pike. There's going to be pressure on Edwards to play a big role, and to play it early, after the Panthers dealt a 2011 second-round pick for the third-rounder they used to select him.

Sean McDermott, Philadelphia defensive coordinator. Last year, the baby-faced McDermott scotch-taped things together pretty well after succeeding the late Jim Johnson -- until the final two games of the season. Dallas exposed the Philly D for 58 points. Now McDermott will have a costly new pass-rusher, top pick Brandon Graham, plus a new linebacking corps (as well as holdover Stewart Bradley, who missed the season with knee reconstruction). McDermott likes what he's seen in outside linebacker Ernie Sims, acquired from Detroit via trade. "There's a shark in the water, and his name's Ernie Sims,'' he said.

Koa Misi, second-round Miami outside linebacker. The Dolphins dealt the 12th pick in the draft to San Diego for the 28th (defensive end Jared Odrick) and 40th (Misi) picks, and after one minicamp, it looks like both will be starting. The Dolphins allowed their two aging sackers, Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, to walk this offseason. They researched the heck out of the college football pass-rush lineup. Though they liked Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, there wasn't unanimous support for him among the scouts and front office, so Miami traded down, recouped the second-round pick lost in the Brandon Marshall trade with Denver, and took Misi with that pick. He's vital to what Miami will do on defense.

Over the weekend, Misi, mostly a defensive lineman in the 4-3 at Utah, was put permanently at outside 'backer. "It was something different than in college and I am ready to play this position,'' he said. "I am open for new things, and playing linebacker is something that I always wanted to play in college, so being able to play it out here is something that is good for me.''

LenDale White, Seattle running back. He weighed 218 over the weekend, down from the high 230s, and coach Pete Carroll, who had him at USC, said, "I don't think he was that light when we recruited him.''

Funny what happens to a guy when he looks in the mirror and sees the end of a promising career. White said Saturday he's determined to win the starting job, which I'm sure is the same thing Julius Jones and Leon Washington are saying. Washington, returning from a mangled leg, will likely compete for playing time with sparkplug Justin Forsett. White will have the chance to supplant Jones. Should be an interesting camp if White can stay hungry and light, at the same time.

Trent Williams, first-round Washington tackle. There's a scarlet "W'' (for "work ethic'') on Williams' chest after Oklahoma's strength coach told the Washington Post that Williams was "definitely not a gym rat ... There's a lot of talent there he just hasn't tapped.'' The Redskins surely plan to start Williams, likely at left tackle, and he'll make his debut in camp this weekend. With what follows him from Oklahoma, he'll have to work harder than he did there. That brings us back to the issue Ross Tucker, the former Redskins guard, raised with me on Sirius NFL Radio the other day: "If you're lazy when you're poor and trying to be rich, what are you going to be when you're rich?''

***

Last chance to get your seats to a great event. Step right up!

We've added a couple of perks to the football event of the spring in New England: the New England Locker Room Luncheon, benefiting the Matt Light Foundation and the Greater Boston Food Bank. The luncheon (Tuesday May 11, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) will be in a small room at the outstanding Foxboro restaurant, Davio's, a few long spirals from Gillette Stadium, and we've got some tickets remaining. You'll hear Light, the Patriots' left tackle, and Patriots wideout Julian Edelman talking about their lives and their team, and you'll hear me and Patriots beat man Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com grill them. Autographs, photos, baby-kissing -- the $1,000 donation will buy you anything your heart desires.

We're also throwing in three perks (well, the first two are perks, and the third -- well, you decide).

1. One lunch guest will receive two prime tickets to the game of the season, November's New England-Indianapolis showdown.

2. One lunch guest will have Light record a voice-mail greeting on both home and cell phones.

3. One lunch guest will get me, after visiting 21 training camps this summer, as his or her personal fantasy-football consultant. I'll either go with you to your draft, or I'll talk you through your draft before you go in.

Last thing: I'm involved with the Food Bank, and I know the incredible work it does (one in every 13 eastern Massachusetts residents gets food annually from the agency, totaling 31 million pounds of food), and I know the hands-on work Light's foundation does with at-risk teens across the country. Both are very much in need of your assistance. If you can help, I'll be forever grateful. I realize how many needy causes there are in the country, and I thank you for the generosity you've shown the causes (Five for Fighting, Dr. Z) I've championed in this column. I could use about 10 of you to step up if you're at all able. Thanks.

For ticket information, please e-mail Margrette Mondillo at margrette@goodwinpr.com or call 781-784-5381.

Sneak Preview of the Must-Have Book Dept.: I always love Football Outsiders Almanac, in which Aaron Schatz and his footballoutsiders.com brethren attack stats and delve into gametape like few others can. (Football Outsiders Almanac2010 is due in stores in July, by the way.) But the FO crew has just finished its annual breakdown of tackles broken and tackles missed, and two of the numbers that jumped out at me belonged to young turks Percy Harvin and Ray Rice. Harvin led all receivers in 2009 by a wide margin with 25 tackles broken (Wes Welker was next with 16). Here's the top 10 running backs in tackles broken in 2009:

1. Chris Johnson, Tennessee, 612. Ray Rice, Baltimore, 573. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 56.4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville, 525. Steven Jackson, St. Louis, 506. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina, 467. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina, 407. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh, 409. Fred Jackson, Buffalo, 3510. Knowshon Moreno, Denver, 33

A broken tackle, as defined by Football Outsiders, is either a play in which the defender has the ballcarrier wrapped up -- or a play in which the ballcarrier fakes a defender out of his jock. Subjective, but you get the point. It's a good measure of hard runners and elusive runners, at the same time.

"I agree.''-- Jacksonville rookie defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, after being told at Jaguars rookie mini-camp that the perception in the football world is that he was one of the biggest reaches in the draft (from a story by AOL Fanhouse's Chris Harry).

"I think the individual who asked that question, somebody ought to whack him in the head.''-- Mike Ditka to host Dan LeBatard on 790 The Ticket in Miami, referring to Miami GM Jeff Ireland asking Des Bryant in a pre-draft interview if his mother was a prostitute (viasportsradiointerviews.com).

"Jeff Ireland is a man of great capability and integrity and he is well deserving of my continued confidence. We are going to take a hard look at our interview practices and we will make improvements that will allow us to get the important information we need about players in whom we are making a major investment, but without being insensitive.''-- Miami owner Stephen Ross, announcing he will not discipline Ireland for asking Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.

"I'd rather turn this club into a bar room brawl. Get as rowdy as Roethlisberger in a bathroom stall."-- Eminem, the rapper, in his new song "Despicable,'' referring to the infamous incident with the Pittsburgh quarterback.

In his 22-year career, Jeff Feagles punted footballs for 40.46 miles.

In their combined 36 seasons, all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and all-time receiving-yardage leader Jerry Rice combined to gain 23.44 miles rushing and receiving, respectively.

Now this is good hotel care: Last Tuesday night, I checked into the Renaissance New York Hotel 57 in midtown Manhattan for one night. (Had some meetings in the city on Wednesday.) I got the key card at the front desk and elevatored up to the room. The bed in the room was made, but the rest of the room was dirty. So I called the front desk and asked if they could either clean the room or move me to another room.

"Mr. King, we're terribly sorry,'' the front-desk person said. "We'll send someone up with a key for another room in a moment.''

Two minutes later, a bellman came up and handed me a key to room 500. Meant nothing to me. "I'm sure you'll like this room,'' the bellman said with a smile. So I went to room 500, a corner suite overlooking Lexington Avenue and East 57th Street, at least 2.5 times the size of the other room, with a nice desk and sitting room. Whoa! The other room wasn't that messy. You've got my business for a long time now, Mr. Marriott.

"Need you to take Olympic drug testing, still don't understand how you stop me 2 weeks straight #seeyouThanksgiving''-- OGOchoCinco, Bengals wideout Chad OchoCinco, in a Tweet sent to Jets corner Darrelle Revis' Twitter account over the weekend.

The Ocho was held to two catches for 28 yards in eight quarters against Revis. The Bengals and Jets play on Thanksgiving night this fall.

1. I think the Bears have a underrated group of receivers, with Devin Aromashodu in particular on the verge of hitting it big. The group doesn't worry me the way it worries some Chicagoans. But Mike Martz sounds a little like Sparky Anderson saying Chris Pittaro is the next Pete Rose (remember?) when he says the receivers will be the strength of the Bears this year, and "you can put that in granite.'' Yikes.

2. I think the one rumor that should be universally debunked is the prospective trade of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to the Ravens. It is absolutely not happening. Baltimore is not looking to add another mega-salaried player to its stable of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed (and soon, Haloti Ngata, and in the next couple of years, Joe Flacco and likely Michael Oher), particularly with Asomugha making so much more than any cornerback in football. He's entering the second year of a three-year, $45.4 million deal, and the Raiders have the right to erase the third year at $16.8-million -- but if they do that, he'd become a free-agent. Makes lots of sense for the Ravens to want him. Makes no sense for them to actually add him, and they won't.

3. I think the Brett Favre ankle-surgery story from the other day will have little to do with whether he plays this season, the same way something I heard the other day will have little to do with whether he plays. An NFL player who knows the quarterback well told me Favre said to him after the season, "I'm 100 percent positive I'll never put on pads again in my life.''

The reason I don't make that a headline is simple: Favre changes his mind as often as I drink a latte. Which is to say, a lot. We've seen it often in the last 26 months. Let's just wait and see what the summer brings. And the fall.

I've said a couple of things as a Favre-watcher this offseason: I'm finished predicting what he'll do, because I've been wrong every time I've predicted recently. And if I had to go to Vegas, based on the long emotional scene with several teammates and coaches in the locker room after the NFC Championship Game loss to the Saints, I'd bet he plays this fall. He loves that team. But please, keep your money in your pocket. That's where mine is staying.

4. I think the most mature thing I've heard Michael Vick say in a long, long time is something he said Saturday at Eagles minicamp: "I'm blessed to have a job in the NFL.'' I hope he believes that. Not that he ought to be kissing anyone's feet to be in the league, but he should be pretty happy he's making $5 million while working his way back into what he hopes will be a starting role. Somewhere.

5. I think I might not want to be Jeff Fisher come late August when (if) he has to call in the son of Oilers/Titans all-timer Bruce Matthews and say to the former Texas A&M offensive lineman, "Kevin, I don't have a spot for you.'' A little awkward.

6. I think, after what appeared to be a serious Achilles injury suffered by 2008 second-round receiver Limas Sweed Sunday, I'd bet Sweed's Pittsburgh career will never take off. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't make it out of camp with the team in 2011 (assuming there is a 2011), and he may not even make it to camp.

7. I think my money's on Bud Adams in the Chris Johnson/Titans contract stalemate. Bud hates big-money contracts. Hates 'em. He particularly hates big-money contracts paid to young players after two years.

8. I think one of the league's really good, and really unknown, assistant coaches was lost over the weekend after leaving an indelible mark on the game. Defensive line coach Bob Karmelowicz, who died too early Saturday of cancer of the nasal passages, worked for Washington, Cincinnati, Houston, Detroit and Kansas City, as well as several college stops.

"We lost one of the great pass-rush-technique coaches,'' said Warren Sapp, who morphed from a tight end to defensive tackle under Karmelowicz at the University of Miami. With the Chiefs, he helped turn Jared Allen from a raw fourth-rounder into a premier pass-rusher. Tough day for all the defensive linemen in the league who were helped by him, and for all the men who coached with him.

I texted Allen Sunday night, asking him for his thoughts on Karmelowicz, and in three minutes this came back: "I just want people to know he was way more than a football coach. His life was more than the game. To be honest, what I will miss the most about Karm is his friendship. He was a great coach and is one of the major reasons for my success today. But above all else, he was a great friend, husband, father and grandfather. I will miss the man way more than the coach. I will always love him.''

Isn't that what you'd want your underlings, or your students, or your peers, to say about you when you're gone? Great tribute by Allen.

9. I think I have one question for Patriots fans: Do you think Laurence Maroney has incriminating photos of someone? Kidding, but really, they've got 12 draft picks and can't get someone to threaten the job of the terminally disappointing Maroney?

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

a. Our prayers, thoughts, karma are with you, Gulf Coast people dealing with the oil spill. What an unending nightmare it is for all of you, careening from one disaster to the next.

b. I liked the rabbit, Conveyance, in the Derby, and I would have been a rich man if the race had been .85 miles long, not 1¼.

c. Got a great tip from a friend of a shoeshine guy on Conveyance. Seriously. The shoeshine guy had picked four straight winners, legend has it, including Mine That Bird. But, hey, when I get involved, all luck and good fortune goes flying out the window.

d. Still can't get over more men 18-to-49 watching the first round of the draft on cable than The Office and 30 Rock on NBC 11 days ago. Amazing.

e. Coffeenerdness: Tough Sunday night. Tired from a Derby party and assorted other short nights of sleep. Without Starbucks Italian roast at 5 a.m. this morning, this would have been published at noon, not 9ish.

f. As a Red Sox follower, it's been interesting to watch a bad team (so far) struggle to overcome nearly everything. With two outfielders down, they reached to Triple-A to recall 31-year-old minor-league lifer Darnell McDonald, who I couldn't recall the night he got called up, April 20, when the Sox DL-ed Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron.

McDonald pinch-hit a homer in the eighth inning to tie the game, then hit a wall-ball single to win it in the 10th. Then, former Broncos PR man Paul Kirk e-mailed and told me that was the same Darnell McDonald who was Kyle Shanahan's high school football teammate in Denver. That's when I remembered the kid, who was also the centerpiece of an SI story in February 1997.

After an incredible high-school career as a running back, he signed with Texas, ostensibly to replace Ricky Williams. But he was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in baseball, and he signed with the O's for a $1.9 million bonus. It turns out the next Texas rushing hero was Cedric Benson, not Darnell McDonald. And McDonald's been beating the bushes -- mostly -- ever since. So I called to ask about his life, and whether he thought he did the right thing way back when, and about his high school buddy being an NFL offensive coordinator at such a young age.

I was glad to hear he was a good man from Sox beat people Pete Abraham and Amalie Benjamin, and he sure sounded like one on the phone. Actually, he sounded like Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams when we spoke Saturday.

"All those years riding the buses,'' he said. "I was just hoping I'd have at least one moment, just one, like I had that night in Fenway. In that uniform, for that team, with all the great players on the team, in that historic ballpark, down by two, and you hit a home run to tie it and send it to extras, and then to win it in the 10th ... it's just something I'll never, ever forget.''

He said he doesn't regret taking the baseball road, though he says he'd advise players in a similar circumstance now to go to college and get the experience that only college life, and college athletic life, can provide.

"I was 18, and the money was good for my family,'' he said. "But with all that money comes pressure, and it was tough. I'd tell kids to go to college, mature a little bit, have fun. You'll be a part of that college forever. I mean, when I went on my recruiting visit to Texas, Ricky Williams hosted me. What a great guy. What a great environment. It's natural to look back and wonder what might have happened, but when I signed [with Baltimore], there was no turning back. I didn't look back. That's why this experience is so rewarding for me, playing with the Red Sox. Every day I come to the ballpark thankful for what I have and where I am. I didn't use to have that perspective when I was 20, 21, 22 years old, riding the buses.''

He and Kyle Shanahan and other teammates used to go to the Broncos practice facility back in the John Elway days, and he saw how dedicated Kyle was to his dad's team, and to the sport. He's sure that hasn't changed much, with Shanahan now the offensive coordinator under his dad with Washington. "What Kyle's done isn't a surprise to me,'' he said. "He grew up around football, and he loved it so much. I saw what a great job he did in Houston [as offensive coordinator]. Now I'm going to switch teams. I've always loved the Broncos, but now I'm going to have to root for the Redskins.''

g. Great Tom Verducci Q&A with the four old Yankees in last week's SI.

h. While my rotisserie team languishes in 13th place in a 12-team league (that's what it feels like, anyway), I'd like to thank the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jonathan Broxton in particular. I broke the dam in my league and picked the first reliever in the draft. Broxton. He was the guy all the RotoWorlds of the internet told me to pick first, and so I did. After a month, he has one save. Matt Capps, who might have been the 76th reliever taken in our draft, has 10. Yup. That's another game I know so well.

i. Re Philip Rivers: Mea culpa time in one parting football thought. Last week, I said Rivers was "full of himself'' when discussing a quarterback who has been accused of the same hubris, Jimmy Clausen. I got called on it, rightfully.

Rivers is a confident guy who sometimes lets his emotions run away on the field, but it's not fair to call a good leader, one who's admired in his locker room and with a good human base, "full of himself.'' I like Rivers and get along well with him, and consider him a good man. It's not the worst thing I've ever been wrong about, but I felt I should make it right.

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