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Optimism is everywhere in the NFL with training camps cranking up

It is great to be back. The World Cup was terrific, my brother's death a punch in the jaw that still hurts, my vacation was needed but a little ... empty. Today is the start of football season for me, and it's a great feeling because this is as wide-open a season entering training camp as I can remember.

I expect a job action down the road, but it's not time for that today. (And I don't plan to be a negotiation-monger every Monday for the next 31 columns, because I don't believe much of great substance is going to happen before February.) Today is time for hope. I tweeted the other day the reason this is such a fun time is because 32 teams think they have a chance to make the playoffs right now, and I think about 28 actually do. (Scratch St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and probably Cleveland, though I guess it's possible Jake Delhomme can be reborn and the Browns could eke out nine wins.) Detroit? Kansas City? Seattle? Not dead at all. They can all throw the ball, and all have made some defensive progress.

So here goes, my 27th season covering the greatest show on turf, real and artificial.

***

Optimism everywhere. Rightfully so. The last three Super Bowl winners, in the year prior to winning it all, won 8, 10 and 8 games. (The Giants, Steelers and Saints managed that trifecta.) That means one of the following teams -- winners of between 8 and 10 games last year -- should feel very, very good entering training camp this week:

1. New England (10 wins).2. New York Jets (9).3. Cincinnati (10).4. Baltimore (9).5. Pittsburgh (9).6. Houston (9).7. Tennessee (8).8. Denver (8).9. New York Giants (8).10. Atlanta (9).11. Carolina (8).12. Arizona (10).13. San Francisco (8).

That's 41 percent of the league with the same shot the past three Super Bowl winners had entering the year they won it. Take that to Vegas, put $20 on each team and, hey, you should make more than $260.

Unless what I think is going to happen happens. It's early, very early, but I haven't backed off a San Diego-Green Bay Super Bowl. Two teams knocking on the door pretty consistently (Packers averaging 10 wins a year over the past three years, Chargers 11 a year over the past six season), both with terrific young quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers 27, Philip Rivers 28), both with suspect defenses.

Kind of sounds like the Saints last year.

"You know I picked you guys to make it to the Super Bowl,'' I said to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers the other day. "But I'm a little worried about the guys you might not have.''

"You know me,'' Rivers said. "I'm the ultimate optimist. I know what everybody thinks about the guys we might be missing. Of course we want Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill and Shawne Merriman [unhappy with their contract offers] with us for the whole season, but I've been thrilled with what I've seen in the offseason program. We've had great work with our receivers -- Antonio [Gates], Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Buster Davis, they all look great. They're ready. And this is the best offseason we've ever had.

"We've never had 50 guys showing up with the 7:30 group [in strength and conditioning workouts] on a random Tuesday in April. It was almost like a full team workout at 7:30 in the morning, which we've never had. They just kept coming, day after day. Not that we haven't been hungry. But we've gained the knowledge of what it takes to win by coming so close so often.''

We'll see. But how Green Bay and San Diego come through training camp will be interesting, particularly in the cases of the stars with contract issues.

The stories I'll be watching the closest in the next six weeks:

1. Ben Roethlisberger's re-acclimation to the Steelers. I think everyone -- not just Steeler Nation -- is anxious to see if Roethlisberger is genuinely chagrined and humbled by his BMOC stupidity of the last couple of years. I hear mixed reports on this, but not a lot of people who have spoken to Roethlisberger are leaking the contents of those discussions. The best thing Big Ben can do is come to training camp, say all the right things (whether he believes them or not), sign every autograph (while smiling), and become the leader and good citizen a franchise quarterback for such a great franchise should be.

2. Sexy Rexy and the Jets. Can Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards -- both in contract years -- co-exist? Is Jason Taylor washed up? Will the best non-quarterback player in football, Darrelle Revis, be happy with his contract? Can Rex Ryan keep a lid on all these high-strung personalities? Can Mark Sanchez keep peace in the huddle? Will the unceremonious dumping of Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca impact the best line in football? Can anyone here rush the passer? Can Antonio Cromartie have some discipline on Friday nights, if you know what I mean?

Interesting that I've asked 64 important questions and haven't mentioned LaDainian Tomlinson, but remember this: I think Shonn Greene's the genuine item and will exceed 1,400 rushing yards if healthy. That leaves scraps for Tomlinson. He's not going to like scraps. Stay tuned. Stay tuned to a lot with this team, actually.

3. Gregg Williams needs to keep the Saints' D feisty. I like something I heard from Drew Brees recently. We all think the same thing about the Saints -- namely, that it's hard enough to repeat (in the past 12 seasons, only one team, New England, has won back-to-back titles) without the never-ending celebrations the Saints have gone through over the last six months. We'll be looking for signs that the Saints aren't complacent when we take their temperature in training camp.

"I wanted to see how our attitude was in mini-camps and OTAs too,'' Brees told me. "And this was interesting -- there were more fights, more jawing at guys on the other side of the ball, than I've ever seen in an offseason. There were times we had to cut back on offense-defense work, like, you know, guys were going to get hurt. I got the impression the mindset was on track, and I saw guys with their heads in the right place.''

I credit Williams, the pedal-to-the-metal defensive coordinator who challenged Brees and the offense every day in practice last year. You can be sure Sean Payton will keep the heat on the offense to produce. Williams needs to keep the intensity coming on defense for the Saints to have a chance to win again.

4. My surprise teams, and people. I like Carolina and Seattle to surprise. I think Matt Moore (last three starts last year: 3-0, 69.7 percent passing, 7-0 TD-to-interception ratio) will hold off Jimmy Clausen and be a good NFL starter. In Seattle, I think Pete Carroll's hope will sell early, when they have three winnable games in the first four. Who knows? The Seahawks have talent, and there's not a great team in their division.

The five rookies I expect to shine early: Miami pass-rusher Koa Misi (a grinder Tony Sparano will figure a prime role for), San Diego running back Ryan Mathews (should get 275 carries inside and outside), Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (will be helped by Corey Williams taking heat off him at the nose), Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham (great athlete Carson Palmer needs desperately) and Kansas City multi-purpose back Dexter McCluster (Chiefs wanted Darren Sproles in free-agency, missed, and will give Sproles' role to this guy). I love Dez Bryant too, but I'm not sure how immediate his impact's going to be. Darkhorse rookie: Houston running back Ben Tate. Gary Kubiak's going to play the best guy back there, and Tate might be that.

5. The rest: ... Kevin Kolb's going to be a compelling story. I like his moxie, and I like the moxie of Andy Reid trading Donovan McNabb with three or four relatively prime years left to give Kolb his long-term shot. Why not? With McNabb, it was been there, done that. With Kolb, there's a freshness to training camp, an excitement that hadn't been there. Unless Kolb chokes and fails miserably, I won't rip the Eagles for making the move because they'd already seen everything they need to see from McNabb

... The F word. I have no information for you, other than I, like all of you, think Brett Favre's going to show up in time to play the third preseason game (Aug. 28, Metrodome, Seattle in town). Too many clues, like Favre saying how much more can he hurt his wounded ankle, and like the clear affection he has for his teammates in Minnesota

... Contract crappola. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees all enter the last year of their contracts, singing for their respective supper. They are the three best players in football, in my opinion. And we're going to get beat over the head with this story over the next six months, but the reality is -- even though one or more of these players will get his nose bent out of joint over how much he's making -- none of these guys will let the money have any impact on how he plays

... Tebowmania. In case you missed my story on Tim Tebow and the Broncos quarterbacks in SI six weeks ago, you might want to take it for a spin here. I expect Josh McDaniels to find a role for Tebow in something resembling a Wildcat (the Wild Horse, perhaps?), taking a few snaps a game as a changeup to the defense. Every practice in Bronco camp will be important to challengers Tebow and Brady Quinn

... The Odd Couple. Jay Cutler and Mike Martz are united in the city of United (Airlines), and there are many jobs at stake. Coaching jobs. Front-office jobs. Cutler will have to play differently than he ever has; he now has to trust his receivers to be open before he actually sees them open. That's a big part of the Martz scheme. It'll be fun to watch in Bourbonnais, Ill., site of Chicago camp, to see how quickly Cutler catches on.

***

My training camp trip. This is tentative, because things happen, but as of this morning, here's where I plan to be over the next month:

July 27 San Antonio Dallas CowboysWhat I'll be looking for: The shade. It'll be 96 in Spurville.

July 28 San Antonio Dallas CowboysWhat I'll be looking for: How Dallas deals with being The Hot Team.

July 29 Georgetown, Ky.Cincinnati BengalsWhat I'll be looking for: Carson Palmer's arm -- and his targets.

July 30 Spartanburg, S.C. Carolina PanthersWhat I'll be looking for: Curious about Matt Moore's staying power.

July 31 Flowery Branch, Ga. Atlanta FalconsWhat I'll be looking for: Need to know this interesting defense.

Aug. 1 Davie, Fla. Miami DolphinsWhat I'll be looking for: Koa Misi ... I think he might be the real deal.

Aug. 2 Tampa Tampa Bay Buccaneers What I'll be looking for: A half-day here. I spend the evening at NBC.

Aug. 3 San Diego San Diego ChargersWhat I'll be looking for: Meeting Ryan Mathews, the rookie running back out of Fresno State.

Aug. 4 Santa Clara, Calif. San Francisco 49ers What I'll be looking for:Alex Smith taking the reins.

Aug. 5 Flagstaff, Ariz. Arizona CardinalsWhat I'll be looking for: Not Emmitt Smith. Last time in Flag, he hated me.

Aug. 6 Houston Houston TexansWhat I'll be looking for: Offense. Texans just might outscore Indy.

Aug. 7 Earth City, Mo. St. Louis RamsWhat I'll be looking for: Sign fast, Sam Bradford. There's a scrimmage tonight.

Aug. 8 Bourbonnais, Ill. Chicago BearsWhat I'll be looking for: Mike Martz-Jay Cutler marriage. Intriguing.

Aug. 9 Anderson, Ind. Indianapolis ColtsWhat I'll be looking for: New digs. I'll really miss Rose-Hulman.

Aug. 10-12Home in Boston for a three-day lull, but with a visit to see the Saints in Providence prior to their game at New England

Aug. 13 Cortland, N.Y. N.Y. Jets What I'll be looking for: Can Dad Rex Ryan lord over a functional family?

Aug. 14 Albany, N.Y. N.Y. Giants What I'll be looking for: Better get the pass-rush healthy.

Aug. 15 Bethlehem, Pa. Philadelphia EaglesWhat I'll be looking for: Those shoulder pads feel heavy, Kevin Kolb?

Aug. 16 Latrobe, Pa. Pittsburgh SteelersWhat I'll be looking for: Ben Roethlisberger, chastened.

Aug. 17 Ashburn, Va. Washington RedskinsWhat I'll be looking for: Donovan McNabb, reborn.

Aug. 18 Westminster, Md. Baltimore RavensWhat I'll be looking for: Great family camp site. Pretty good team too.

Aug. 19-25Home again, with lots of writing for SI and SI.com.

Aug. 26 Foxboro, Mass. New England PatriotsWhat I'll be looking for: Rams-Pats game ... the state of Wes Welker.

Aug. 27 New Orleans New Orleans SaintsWhat I'll be looking for: Chargers-Saints game ... hunger of the Saints.

Aug. 28 Minneapolis Minnesota VikingsWhat I'll be looking for: Seahawks-Vikings game ... Who's Vikes QB?

I should be seeing 23 teams in person -- at least. Looking for a way to get to Green Bay at some point as well. I plan to file postcards for SI.com from most of the camps and include other nuggets in MMQBs.

**

Training camp Tweetups. Here are a few possibilities:

• Tuesday night, San Antonio.

• Aug. 6, night, Houston.

• Aug. 17, night, suburban Virginia.

• Aug. 18, night, Baltimore.

Will let you all know when I might be able to do one -- if time permits. Follow me at @si_peterking and we'll try to get one going sometime in the next month.

"I'm very disappointed in Lane Kiffin's approach to this. Typically speaking, when coaches are interested in hiring or discussing potential employment from coaches on respective staffs there is a courtesy call made from the head coach or athletic director indicating there is an interest in talking to the assistant. So I am very disappointed in the lack of professionalism on behalf of Lane.''--Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt. Fisher's running backs coach, Kennedy Pola, was heisted Saturday by USC coach Kiffin (to be the Trojans' offensive coordinator) less than a week before Titans training camp convenes.

Kiffin responded by saying he reached out to Pola on Friday to see if he had any interest in the job. If you believe the first contact between Kiffin and Pola was Friday, well, you're not really in touch with anything on this planet.

What exacerbates the problem of ripping off a coach under contract six days before training camp is that USC product Fisher is a Trojan through and through. Fisher has friends throughout pro and college football and now he's going to be in the position of telling them all: Be leery of Lane Kiffin.

I mean, how many more stupid things does Lane Kiffin have to do before he realizes you don't win by knifing good people in the back?

Pretty soon Kiffin's going to be so unpopular in the NFL that, should he burn his college bridges completely, only Al Davis will hire him in the pros.

Just a guess. But he may have already burned that bridge.

"It's time we all rise up. We've been knocking on the door. Now it's time to blow it up.''-- Atlanta Falcons fan Samuel L. Jackson, in a video released by the team on Friday.

Cute. Not sure that helps sell a ticket or win a game. But cute.

"The first step on that is to see how the cold-weather Super Bowl goes in an outdoor stadium. If the league has a good experience in New York, then there will undoubtedly be many communities to come back and ask for a cold-weather Super Bowl, and we would certainly be on that list.''-- Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, to the Kansas City Star, on his desire to get a Super Bowl in Kansas City.

Hunt won't be alone. If it's anything other than a raging blizzard on Super Sunday 2014 -- when the game is played in northern New Jersey -- you'll have five owners knocking on Roger Goodell's luxury box, saying, "We're next!'': Pat Bowlen (Denver), Dan Snyder (Washington), Hunt, Jeff Lurie (Philadelphia), and hmmm, let me think -- well, Paul Allen (Seattle) won't knock on the door, but he will e-mail Goodell.

"Definitely my pillow. I'm funny about that. If I don't have the right kind of pillow, I have a hard time sleeping.''-- Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, asked by Arizona Republic ace beat man Kent Somers for the personal item he can't do without at training camp. "Maybe,'' Whisenhunt told Somers, "it's from being neurotic.''

One of the most difficult tasks I had in revising my list of the top 100 players in football in the spring (for the paperback version of the MMQB book, out this fall) was figuring where to rank the top quarterbacks in football. A year ago, before the Saints won the Super Bowl, I had five quarterbacks in the top 12:

1. Peyton Manning2. Tom Brady3. Ben Roethlisberger8. Drew Brees12. Philip Rivers

This year, I had a few dilemmas. How far to drop Roethlisberger because of his off-field problems and what that might portend for his short- and long-term future? How high to rank Brees after his amazing 2009 season? And this: Should I keep the royalty of the last decade -- Manning and Brady at the top, in some order -- intact?

I have to say I thought very long and hard about ranking Brees number one. At 31 years, seven months, he's younger than Manning (34 years, four months) and Brady (32 years, 11 months), and his shoulder problems of 2006 are very far in the rear-view mirror. Brees followed the most accurate regular-season a quarterback ever had with an incredibly accurate postseason (72-, 55- and 82-percent games), with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. At the same time, Brady (disastrous playoff loss to Baltimore) and Manning (outplayed head-to-head by Brees in the Super Bowl) took steps back at the end of 2009.

One of the things I considered was the recent playoff records of Brady and Manning. While Brees is 4-1 in his last five playoff games, the two kings are struggling. Look at the last five playoff outings of Manning and Brady:

Relate those numbers to the career marks of each man:

• Manning is 131-61 in wins and losses, Brady 97-30.

• Brady's a 63 percent passer, Manning 65.

• Brady's TDs and interceptions: 225-99, Manning's 366-181.

• Brady's yard per attempt in the regular season, 7.32, is much better than his recent playoff mark. Manning's (7.55) is about the same.

Though the numbers aren't all great, they're not disastrous either. At the end of my deliberation, I put Brees three, behind Manning and Brady, in that order. It has to do some with current production (each could throw for 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this year), some with résumé. I decided if I am eventually going to put Brees over the two kings of the position, I need to see one more year where he is clearly better in the regular season and postseason. But if you'd rank Brees over either or both, I'd respect the argument. Put it this way. If you asked me to pick one of the three for the next five years, it'd be a tough choice.

I had six quarterbacks in the top 12 this year:

1. Manning2. Brady3. Brees5. Roethlisberger 11. Rivers12. Aaron Rodgers

The Westin Hotel/Michigan Avenue in Chicago has long been a hotel of choice for me, because of its proximity to everything in such a great city. Last week, on my last travel leg of vacation, it was also the scene of something I never could have expected: an argument that, in 10 seconds, almost escalated into a hotel-lobby brawl.

There are three elevators in the lobby of the Westin, and at rush-hour check-in last Tuesday, two were out of service. So when my wife and I got to the bank of elevators around 6 p.m., there were 15 or so people waiting for the one working lift. We waited two, three, four minutes. Now there were 25 or 30 people waiting. And then a 35ish man wedged in to the left of the crowd waiting for the elevator. He looked at the line of people and looked peeved. We all were, of course. Then the door opened and 10 or 12 people came off. And the 35ish man took three quick steps to the elevator.

"Hey, hey, hey,'' I said. "Come on, buddy. That's not right.''

The guy stopped, looked at me angrily and snarled, "Don't tell me what to do. I wasn't going on.''

"Yes you were,'' I said. "I saw what you were doing. That's not right.''

He took a couple of steps toward me and said angrily, "I'm a Starwood Preferred member.''

Like that made cutting the line OK.

"You're also an a------,'' I said.

I obviously shouldn't have said that, but he deserved it. Now Mr. Starwood Preferred walked the final three steps toward me and said. "You wanna step outside?'' He bumped my chest hard. "People who use that word are looking for a fight,'' he said. "People who use that word to me, I go outside with. You wanna go outside?''

Now the elevator was full, and the door closed.

"No, I don't,'' I said.

He was breathing hard on me. "You're a big talker,'' he said, stepping back a step or two.

"And you're still an a------,'' I said. Oh, so clever.

He stepped toward me again. Almost simultaneously, a front-desk gal near the bank of elevators chirped, "I can take a few people up the service elevator!'' So my wife sidestepped the guy. I walked toward the door, me staring at Mr. Starwood Preferred the whole way. "---- you, ------------,'' Mr. Starwood Preferred hissed at me.

"Have a nice day,'' I said, and boarded the service elevator.

I don't know exactly why -- it's not testosterone, I don't think -- but I almost wish Mr. Starwood Preferred had taken a swing at me. Even if he'd pummeled me (and he may well have), he'd have known that at least one person out of 30 sniffed out the real idiot in the crowd. Then again, I like my nose unbroken.

There are three engraved slogans on the inside of the Saints' Super Bowl rings, all significant things the Saints used last year on their championship run:

Smell greatness.-- Ronnie Lott, from his preseason appearance in front of the team. During the chat, he said, "I smell greatness in this room!''

Finish.-- Jon Gruden, from another team chat, telling them to finish what they start.

Be special.-- NBA coach Avery Johnson, telling the players, I guess, to be special.

"We had to bail, pigeons s----ing in jareds mouth. Too unsanitary to continue.''--@doctorfollowill, Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill, announcing Friday night that the band had indeed cancelled its St. Louis show after three songs because a pigeon in the rafters of the Verizon Amphitheater dumped on his brother, bassist Jared Followill.

1. I think this is what I'll always remember about Kaye Cowher (wife of Bill), who died of skin cancer at 54 Friday: In the mayhem outside the Steelers locker room after their Super Bowl loss to Dallas in early 1996 in Arizona, one of the Cowher daughters was crying. Bill hugged her and said it was OK, and then he had to go, and the girl was still so sad. And Kaye told her her dad would be fine, and games all had winners and losers, and it would be OK because the Steelers played so hard. Just good lessons from a mom to a daughter who needed good lessons just then. The way Kaye was with the girl -- kind, gentle, smiling, letting her know the world wasn't over because one football game was lost -- showed the kind of perspective that helps kids grow up the right way.

The other point I'd make about Kaye Cowher has to do with skin cancer. I'm a melanoma survivor. I've still got what looks like a shark bite in my right forearm from having cancer cut out of there two years ago. I can't say it loudly enough, and I'm sure Kaye Cowher would want the same thing said if she could say it right now: Go get screened. I just had another mole cut off my back two weeks ago. Every four months I go to the dermatologist, and if you're fair-skinned like me, and you're pushing 45, I'd go get checked immediately. Kaye Cowher was a healthy, vital, tremendously fit person, but you can't beat skin cancer if you don't catch it in time.

Good luck to the Cowher family, Bill and the three girls, recovering from what will be a terrible blow. The family has asked that, if you wish, you may make donations to the Cowhers' favorite charity: Family Resources of Pennsylvania at www.familyresourcesofpa.org.

2. I think Johnny Jolly would have been one of the 10 most important players on the Packers this year and going into the future, but his yearlong suspension following his arrest in Houston makes it likely he'll never play for Green Bay again or for any other team in football.

3. I think I expect Wes Welker to be ready to play opening day for the Patriots.

4. I think there won't be a team in the NFC with more pressure every day this season than the Cowboys. You saw on their first practice day in San Antonio -- 19,237 fans in the house. I go to camps all over the country, and even the rabid fan bases don't get a third of that most days.

5. I think you might be wondering why I said "NFC'' in the previous item. Easy. There's going to be no team with more pressure, and it won't even be close, than the 2010 New York Jets. I hope Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum knew what they were doing when they said yes to HBO for the Hard Knocks show because it sure seems more attention is just what they won't need in August.

6. I think the Redskins have to sign Donovan McNabb long-term. The question is, at what price? I could see McNabb playing like the seventh-best quarterback in football in Mike Shanahan's offense; I could see him playing like the 20th-, too. I don't envy Bruce Allen here. If I were Allen, I'd string this thing along until November.

7. I think Terrell Owens would be a good addition to any team -- if he's willing to be a third receiver, which, in some cases, he'd need to be. In St. Louis, he'd start alongside Donnie Avery for a bridge year. In Cincinnati, he'd have to be a three or four, and if he's a three, he'll stunt the growth of three receivers picked in the top three rounds of the last three drafts (Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Jerome Simpson) -- and he'd be one of three wides who wouldn't play significant roles on special teams, along with Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant. I'd take him if I were the Rams, even if it's only for one year with a lot of money tied to incentives.

8. I think I love the fact that Dez Bryant, star rookie receiver for the Cowboys, wouldn't carry the pads of Roy Williams, fading veteran receiver for the Cowboys. Not that I defend a rookie showing up a vet in a harmless bit of rookie hazing. But it's just that I want a guy I think will be a big-time player to have some attitude to him -- so long as he shows up and practices hard every day. He's there to play football, not carry someone's pads. I love that. Now, he'll pay for it somehow, but he's drawing his own line there. Good for him.

9. I think these were the highlights of my vacation:

a. Read a couple of really good books. Hellhound on His Trail, a living, breathing history book recounting how the paths of Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray crossed. Riveting. And Murder in the High Himalayas, about the murder of a Tibetan nun by Chinese troops as she tried to escape her homeland for the religious freedom of India. Great thing about that book is I knew nothing about Tibetan culture and the Dalai Lama and the vital significance to every citizen there, in defiance of Chinese law. Fascinating.

b. Saw a game in the Wrigley Field bleachers. The last fun thing I did on my vacation was sit in the bleachers last Wednesday to see the Cubs and Astros play. I got to the game just as the park opened, to make sure I got a good seat; the bleachers are general admission. Turns out I didn't need to do that, because there were empty seats out there all game.

Went to the men's room in center field about 75 minutes before the game. In the middle of the empty place: a naked man washing himself, his pile of clothes off to the side. I did a double-take, and he was quickly soaping up his armpits with the hand soap out of the dispenser, then using a cup to rinse off. On a weirdness scale of 1-10, this was a 46. I said nothing. I looked the other way. For all I know, not another soul this far before the game entered the bathroom by the time this model citizen was washed up and dressed. I hope not. Good game, too, in the Midwestern broiler. Has Carlos Lee always been that girthy?

c. Saw Sox games with both daughters, along with a few home-brewed Watermelon beers at the Boston Beer Works across the street from Fenway. Wouldn't be summer without Laura and Mary Beth at Fenway.

d. Saw a couple of good movies. Loved Despicable Me, and yes, I'm an old softie. Even better: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work You've got to see that. It's a documentary about how desperate the 75-year-old Rivers is to stay relevant. Painful at times, but a documentary that tells the real story of something interesting -- and Rivers is one interesting person -- is always worth two hours of your time.

e. Ran into Larry King at Nate and Al's deli in Beverly Hills. That's his breakfast haunt. "Who's your surprise team of the season?'' he asked me. I said, "Carolina.'' Expected him to say: "Charlotte, North Carolina ... Hello!''

f. Took a boat from Boston to Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, with my wife on a beautiful summer day, on calm waters. Haven't been there in 30 years. Cool place.

g. Spent a few days in LA, culminating with the always fun "NFL 101'' deal at the L.A. Coliseum. Great to catch up with new civilian Mike Pereira, who joined me on the Andrea Kremer-led panel on the floor of the L.A. Coliseum. The former NFL officiating czar is relocating to Sacramento, will work for Fox Sports as a rules interpreter and dot.com columnist, and will also officiate some high school football games in the Sacramento area. I wondered why.

"I miss it,'' Pereira said. "I figured this would be a good way to get back into it.''

How intimidated would you be to be reffing with Pereira, having him look over your shoulder on a close call? I'll tell you this, though -- he'd put you at ease from the first whistle. That's the kind of team player he is. The NFL will really miss him.

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

a. Thanks, Anne Hamilton of the Hartford Courant, for this tribute to my late brother Bob in Sunday's paper. .

b. I've got a sinking feeling that by the time Martinez, Pedroia and Ellsbury return to the Red Sox lineup, they'll be swimming with the fishes.

c. Amazing how many chances Manny Delcarmen gets, for a guy with a 29.46 ERA in his last seven outings. And Sunday's 4-2 loss in Seattle was an awful one for the manager. Daniel Bard hadn't given up a run since June 10. He rarely works a second inning of relief, but here he was, in his second inning in Seattle, with a 2-1 lead, having thrown 18 pitches, the 18th being a single to lead off this second inning.

Terry Francona has the slowest hook in baseball, but here he came to get Bard and insert Hideki Okajima, who has been a lost sheep for the past year or so. Single to left. Bunt single to the pitcher. Single to right. Bunt single to the pitcher. Single to right. And Okajima is still in the game. Double play, and then, finally, he got yanked.

Eight games out. There are only so many times you can play for tomorrow. Francona does it too often. Having said that, the hitting on this team is god-awful, and managing better is not going to vault them into the playoffs.

d. It's been a busy time for death. I really liked and admired Vic Ziegel, the New York sports editor and columnist, who died over the weekend, as much for his acerbic wit in the press box as for his irreverent writing.

e. Daniel Schorr, who died Friday, is a guy we studied at Ohio University in the seventies as a powerhouse in the Washington reporting business -- and he was still relevant until the last few weeks. Heard him two weeks ago in his regular spot on NPR talking about the Russian spies. This is a guy you had to listen to in the sixties -- and still 50 years later. How admirable.

f. In Lakewood, a neighborhood in Dallas, the neighbors are doing one terrific job for the Siegel family. Leah Siegel is the ace ESPN producer who is very ill with breast cancer, and if you drive down her street, you see every tree festooned with pink ribbons as a show of support by a neighborhood of people who care. Hoping the best for Leah and her family this morning.

g. Coffeenerdness: What is it about me needing hot coffee when it's 96 degrees and dripping humidity outside? I don't know, but I can count on one finger the number of iced coffees I've had this summer.

h. Caught a couple of episodes of The Bachelorette, unfortunately. And I can only say this: How can a girl profess undying love for four guys, one day loving one and the next flying somewhere else and loving another? And who thinks this is a natural, or admirable? What a dumb TV show.

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Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 4 easy steps:

  1. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Bookmarks.
  3. Select Bookmark manager.
  4. Locate your current Sports Illustrated bookmark, click the Organize menu, then select Edit. You can now easily update the web address of your Sports Illustrated bookmark.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 2 easy steps:

  1. Click the Safari bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. This will open the Bookmarks Bar. In the Bookmarks Bar, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Address field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 3 easy steps:

  1. Click the Firefox bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Show All Bookmarks.
  3. This will open the library window. In the Library window, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Location field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.
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