Minnesota coach Brad Childress knew there would be coaches, players and media wasting him for fawning after Brett Favre the way he has the past couple of weeks. "If you have to beg Brett Favre to be a part of this team, then I've lost respect for this team,'' former Patriot Tedy Bruschi said on ESPN after the Vikings sent Childress (twice) and three players (once) on trips to Favre's living room to drag him back to football. I'd predict half the coaches in this league feel the same way as Bruschi -- and I talked with three of them myself -- but they just won't speak up to criticize one of their peers.
Childress is fine with being the punching bag for going waaaaaay over the top to get Favre back. Because, as he said last night from the Vikings' locker room in San Francisco: "There are no sacrosanct rules in this business. You do what you have to do to win, and I've got no problem with that. You can't get a hit if you don't swing the bat.''
There's one problem with the prevailing theory that Favre was coming back. No matter what, and the Vikings knew it. If that were true, why did Childress have to send the quarterback's three best friends on the team on a secret mission to deliver him back to Minnesota if he was so sure Favre would be there for opening day?
That tells me Childress, and the Vikings, had some doubt. For whatever reason -- the bad ankle, leverage for more money, classic Favre wishy-washiness -- Childress felt he had to send Steve Hutchinson (Favre's airplane seatmate on road trips), Jared Allen and golf partner Ryan Longwell to convince him last Monday. They stayed overnight at the 465-acre Favre compound in Sumrall, Miss., and when they returned on Tuesday, they had the quarterback with them.
Con job. Phony. A ploy. Say what you want. Favre was probably coming back anyway -- we all know that. But that those three players spent 18 hours at the Favre house tells you Childress and owner Zygi Wilf had to have some question about Favre's return.
I'm not sure who really knows Favre in our business. I think I do, but I've been wrong about his fate so often in the past three years I've surrendered my title as a Favrologist. But I have been on his property and in his kitchen and seen the world he inhabits down there. It's comfortable. It's country. It's richy-rich. But it's his own fiefdom, it's private as hell, and if he wants to shoot an offending varmint, he can, and no one's the wiser.
"The hardest thing we had to do, the hardest thing by far, was getting him down that long driveway in Hattiesburg,'' Childress said. "Once we got him to go down that long driveway, we had him. He was in.''
That's perfect -- and absolutely true. Was he coming down the long driveway without those guys coming to put a lasso on him? Probably. But there was that shred of doubt in Childress' mind. One of those it's-never-over-until-it's-over thoughts. Now it's over, and Childress doesn't have an ounce of regret over doing it this way.
One last point: I asked Childress if he'd alter his playcalls or game plans because of Favre's bum ankle. Favre said the other day his May 22 ankle surgery hadn't solved all his problems there; in fact, a new spur had grown on the ankle bone since the surgery. "Not from what I've see in practice so far,'' Childress said. "Brett was never Michael Vick, obviously, but he doesn't look a lick different to me.''
There you go. Now onto a few events of interest from the week:
The End Of Training Camp As We Know It?
Question: Will the 18-game schedule ruin the great tradition of NFL training camps as we know them? Do the math here. If the NFL goes to 18 games and two preseason games, my information is that the league is likely to push the season back two weeks and not start the games on Labor Day weekend or earlier.
If that's the case -- using this year's calendar as an example -- the preseason weekends would be Aug. 28 and Sept. 3. Team usually report to camp two weeks before the first preseason game, so let's say teams start on Aug. 14 or 15. The 13 teams that go to college campuses -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Minnesota and others -- may not have the run of campus anymore. Not only is school at many of the 13 campuses close to beginning then, but also are teams going to want to go to the trouble of packing up and going to camp for 10 or 12 days? "It'll be hard,'' Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome told me the other day. "At a lot of camps, you'll lose your facilities [because of schools starting up].''
Don't tell John Alvey, who was at Ravens camp the other day with his two nieces. He's been coming to training camp once or twice a summer since the Ravens relocated to Baltimore in 1996. "It would really hurt the future,'' Alvey said. "My daughter took a football card to camp once and got Ray Lewis to sign it and he talked to her for a couple of minutes. I came up once and retrieved balls Matt Stover was kicking. It's a great personal touch that would be terrible to lose.''
My guess is some teams with a long tradition of going away to a specific campus -- the Ravens in Westminster, Md., the Steelers in Latrobe, Pa., and Minnesota in Mankato, Minn. -- would keep that going, even if it's just for a few days. Some others would just let it die. A shame.
Ten Things I've Heard on the Training-Camp Trail, and on the Phone
1. Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith are getting along markedly better -- they had a mostly friendly meeting Aug. 13 -- which is a good sign. But no one on either side expects much business to be transacted this fall. Except, possibly, for modifying some penalties for discipline -- such as uniform violations.
2. I'd put the odds at the owners locking players out of team facilities on March 1, 2011, or thereabouts, at 80 percent.
3. Got a strong sense that some owners with huge money invested in stadiums and practice facilities will push for a radical new way of revenue-distribution in the CBA talks. Instead of players getting a percentage of the gross, some owners want them to accept a lump sum of, say, $3.5 billion in 2011, and figure a way to divvy it up. These aren't speculating rubes who told me this, but a source close to two powerful owners who both want to take the percentage-of-total-football-revenue away from players to better control their own costs.
4. I don't see Seattle trading for Vincent Jackson this week. It might get done, but talks have chilled.
5. I don't see Darrelle Revis signing with the Jets this week either, despite reports to the contrary by Dallas columnist Tim Cowlishaw Sunday. But Cowlishaw's good. That's why I mention it at all -- despite a source telling me there's nothing to it.
6. Re the Ben Roethlisberger suspension: Goodell has a decision with enormous competitive ramifications for the AFC North. The Steelers have their bye in Week 5. If Roethlisberger's suspension stays at six weeks, he'd be out of camp for 49 days (from Sept. 6 to Oct. 25). If the suspension is cut to four weeks, he'd be banned for 28 days. Huge difference.
7. The Ravens want to see Byron Leftwich in Week 4, not Dennis Dixon. They think Leftwich is a stationary target they could nail with that pass-rush.
8. The Redskins players really like their coordinators, Jim Haslett and Kyle Shanahan. Defensive players like go-for-broke blitzers, which Haslett does at times. Offensive players like Shanahan because he's a football nerd who figures things out pretty fast for a 30-year-old who looks 19. "Kyle Shanahan is a brilliant football coach,'' Houston coach Gary Kubiak said.
9. There will be a longer line chasing John Fox than Bill Cowher after the season.
10. Dexter McCluster could have the kind of impact on the Chiefs that Devin Hester had on the Bears four years ago. Not necessarily in the return game, but in pure explosive play-making ability.
Twenty Camps, Twenty Fantasy Thoughts
So I know most of you are prepping for your fantasy drafts -- I just read that 23 million Americans play fantasy football -- and the most common questions I get out on the road are about fantasy. So here's at least one piece of advice from every camp I visited, keeping in mind I stink at the fantasy game.
Arizona: I'd steer clear of Matt Leinart (don't sense a very long leash there) but be bullish on Beanie Wells -- as long as his bruised ribs don't hamper him in the next week. I think Wells takes the starting job from Tim Hightower by mid-October.
Atlanta: With Michael Jenkins an injury question as camp winds down, slot receiver Harry Douglas should be the Falcons' second-most-productive receiver.
Baltimore:Ed Dickson's the number two tight end, ahead of Dennis Pitta, and with Todd Heap's recent injury history and the Ravens' love of throwing to the tight end, Dickson's a good late-round gamble.
Carolina: Been saying it all offseason: Matt Moore's no fluke. I think he'll be an efficient 16-game player who won't throw a lot of interceptions and who will be 64-, 65-percent accurate. This is a running, eat-the-clock team, so I don't see Moore throwing for 4,000 yards, but he'll be a very good backup guy in the 12th round ... And if wideout Brandon LaFell's there in the last round, he'll be a good risk. Coaches love him.
Chicago: I'd steer clear of Matt Forte. Nothing against new OL coach Mike Tice, but I don't trust that line to pave the way for a great running game.
Cincinnati: Judging by last Friday night's game, where the first offensive unit played a half, Terrell Owens will certainly get good looks from Carson Palmer. If healthy, T.O. could be a 70-catch, 10-touchdown guy.
Dallas: I like Dez Bryant, and so do the Cowboys. But remember that Jason Garrett, the playcaller, is going to make him earn his stripes, and remember he enters the season probably feeling the effects of his training-camp ankle injury. I'm a Bryant buyer, but in the right round.
Houston: You probably can't pick Arian Foster too high, though he did burn an owner or two in Week 15 last season when his early fumble resulted in a two-carry, seven-yard benching. The Houston coaches still are skeptical of Steve Slaton's ability to hold onto the ball, and Ben Tate's gone for the year, so Foster could be a top-20 running back. Now, Foster fumbled Saturday night, but from the replay it looked like he did so switching the ball from one hand to the other. That's different from getting it stripped, a problem he hasn't had.
Indianapolis: Based on history, Anthony Gonzalez won't stay healthy. But let's say he and Austin Collie both play 16 games. Gonzalez would have better numbers across the board. I just think Peyton Manning trusts him a little more right now.
Kansas City: Dexter McCluster will be the most dangerous offensive rookie in the league. I see him as a 1,500-yards-from-scrimmage guy, with a bunch of touchdowns. I'm no fantasy student, but don't pass on him.
Miami:Chad Henne threw for 2,878 yards in 14 games without Brandon Marshall last year. I think he could throw for 3,800, easy, with Marshall this year. The question is, if he struggles, will the Dolphins let him play his way out of the slump, or will they yank him for the reliable Chad Pennington? I like Henne a lot, but Miami, in this division, can't afford a long bad spell from him.
N.Y. Giants: Only two teams -- St. Louis and Detroit -- allowed more points than the Giants last year. That'll turn around this year, in a big way. The Giants will be a top-10 defense, and maybe top-five. Once defenses start going off the board, I'd take the Giants.
N.Y. Jets: In camp, Santonio Holmes looked like a million bucks to me. You can steal him late because of his four-game suspension. He'll give you some great weeks, I think. Motivated to be great for many reasons, including this being a contract year.
Philadelphia: With a potentially shaky Eagles offensive line, I see Brent Celek catching 85 balls and taking some downfield opportunities away from the good receiver group.
Pittsburgh: Mike Wallace had 39 catches and six touchdowns last year. Double both. He'll finish the year a top-20 fantasy wideout.
St. Louis: I'd steer clear of this team. I don't trust the quarterback to stay upright, and I don't trust Steven Jackson to have many holes, or to stay healthy. Jackson's a first-round fantasy talent, but I don't see him having first-round numbers this year.
San Diego: Pick Ryan Mathews in the first round, anytime after number seven, and laugh all the way to the playoffs.
San Francisco: Don't let sixth-round running back Anthony Dixon get past you. Frank Gore has had four significant surgeries in his football life, and Brian Westbrook is on his last legs ... For the Niners to have a chance, Michael Crabtree has to be a force of nature. Talking to him and Niner people, even with the questionable Alex Smith at quarterback, I don't think Crabtree will disappoint.
Tampa Bay: See St. Louis ... with one exception. The staff loves Mike Williams. The quarterback loves Mike Williams. Mike Williams loves Mike Williams. He's going to have a chance to be the biggest offensive force on this team. I'd be tempted to make him a late-rounder.
Washington:Mike Shanahan and offensive architect and son Kyle like Chris Cooley, and Donovan McNabb has always liked throwing to the tight end. You can get Cooley late. You won't be disappointed.
Also, I think you'll be pleased to know that Maurice Jones-Drew will be writing a late-week fantasy piece for SI.com this season.
I Hear Dan Snyder Gives One Heck of a Severance Package
With the news that one of the best p.r. men in the NFL, Zack Bolno, was fired Sunday, three weeks before opening night, by the Redskins, I started to tally up all the media relations people Dan Snyder's gone through. Comparing the Redskins PR people to the rest of the NFC East -- and, as a probably totally unfair aside, a measure of how the team fared on the field the past decade:
P.R. guys don't win games. But PR guys in the NFL cannot and never have been able to put lipstick on pigs. Bolno cannot make TheWashington Post and LaVar Arrington write and say nice things about a team that's gone 70-90 in the past 10 years and spent money on a multitude of the wrong players.
The Kenyans Need Not Be Worried
Want the good news or the bad news about the Great Race, the half-marathon I'm going to do in New Hampshire in October for two charities? Start with the good news. Next week in this column, I'll have a web page set up so you can contribute to either the Wounded Warrior Project or Feed the Children and we can get this whole thing started. I'll also have news of a few motivational prizes so you'll rush to your computers to throw a few bucks to two deserving causes.
Now for the bad news: You'll have to clock me with a sundial for this race. I've never run a half-marathon (actually, I've never run half of a half), but in trying to ratchet up my training, I did run 10.2 miles on Friday in Boston and Cambridge ... in exactly two hours. I feel the same as I've felt since I launched this harebrained scheme -- it'll be a failure if I don't run the full 13.1 miles.
I looked at a topographical map of the course in Bristol, N.H., and let's just say it's not so flat. And thanks to the Massachusetts state trooper, catching cars in a speedtrap, for providing a break around mile eight the other day. "Peter!'' he said. "Brady gonna be OK?'' I said something like, "Better than that,'' but it's hard to remember anything other than putting one foot in front of the other at that point.
"Next year, I'm not coming either.''-- Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, after what he deemed was an insulting move by coach Mike Shanahan -- making him play in the third quarter of the second preseason game, when the field is full of backups. He referred to his plans for next offseason, when he said he will duplicate what he did this offseason, which is to not show up for the offseason program. This infuriated Shanahan.
Who ever said there will be a next year?
Hard to imagine how this one's going to get resolved peacefully.
On Sunday, Jason LaCanfora of NFL Network reported Haynesworth may be suffering from rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle fibers, which causes overall weakness in the body. Shanahan clearly has been miffed that Haynesworth has been missing practices through camp, and Haynesworth was also miffed that the club was describing his malady as headaches.
The Redskins won't be releasing Haynesworth, not after paying him $35 million over the past 18 months. But I can't see him being with the team beyond this year. But that wasn't the only quotable excitement about the Redskins over the weekend. Then it was the coach's turn ...
"One thing for sure that is clear to me is that Albert has gotten away in the past with playing without practicing. That will not happen under this regime. If he's going to play, he's going to practice, and that is the same with every player here. The days of him playing without practicing are over. And that, to me, says it all.''-- Shanahan, to AOL FanHouse's Thomas George on Sunday.
"I ain't never said it, but Belichick, I felt like he had a thing for me. He had something against me. I have no idea why ... I know in my heart ain't nobody out there doing what I'm doing.''-- Philadelphia cornerback Asante Samuel to Geoff Mosher of the Wilmington News Journal, referring to a lack of respect he felt came from Bill Belichick when he played for the Patriots.
That's absurd. Belichick simply didn't value a corner who didn't tackle well as being a $9-million-a-year player. Smart move on his part.
Samuel's a very good player, but he isn't near what all-around corner Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha are, and his awful fourth quarter against the Giants helped cost the Patriots what would have been a Super Bowl title. Teams throw at Samuel far more than they throw at Revis or Asomugha.
"We had no hair spray, had no combs, didn't have a mirror, so I have no idea what it's going to look like. We didn't even have a toothbrush. I cut off a little piece of palm frond to scrape the tartar off my teeth. We had nothing. I had the shirt on my back, a pair of shorts, a pair of shoes and that was it.''-- Jimmy Johnson, the former Cowboys and Dolphins coach and current Fox-TV analyst, on his hardship in doing the CBS show "Survivor: Nicaragua,'' via Sportsradiointerviews.com, in an interview on ESPN 1080 in Orlando.
In the interview, Johnson also said this about the Vikings' desperate pursuit of Brett Favre: "You sacrifice so much of the team concept when you make so many concessions for one player. It's almost like he's the savior and if he doesn't carry us to the promise land, then the rest of them aren't going to be able to do it. Some of the other players have to be saying, 'What about me?'''
"I gave a lot of people reasons to throw daggers, I understand that, which makes the pressure even greater." -- Brett Favre to Al Michaels on NBC Sunday night, on how he managed to enrage so many fans and the media by his three-years-running summer act about playing or quitting.
The 44 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame are going to have a very interesting decision on our hands in seven or eight years. That's the case of Hines Ward, 34, who appears set to open the season as the Steelers' number one receiver again, with second-year man Mike Wallace on the other side to replace Santonio Holmes.
Both receivers who started for the Steelers glory teams, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, are in the Hall. Swann and Stallworth played on four Super Bowl winners. Ward has played on two. The most interesting stat comparing Swann, Stallworth and the charismatic Ward: In 12 seasons, Ward has caught more balls than Swann and Stallworth caught in a combined 23 seasons.
To be sure, the game's changed in the generation since Swann and Stallworth gained fame. In 1978, the Steelers passed on 39 percent of their offensive plays. In 2009, they passed on 58 percent. That's why judging players for the Hall of Fame has become such a divisive, difficult process. By the numbers and the championships, comparing Ward to past Steeler wideouts who made the Hall, he's deserving. But numbers haven't made the difference for Cris Carter and Tim Brown.
The comparison between Ward and his predecessors:
Ward told me the other day his "ultimate goal'' is to get to 1,000 career receptions. And if he had three times the catches of Swann, with the same number of Super Bowl MVPs (one) ... well, that's a pretty good case to make for Canton.
"Not bad,'' Ward said, "for a guy picked in the third round, with no ACL in one knee, picked as pretty much a special-teams player by a team that really didn't throw that much. I'm pretty amazed by it.''
I never judge a player with finality until his career is over. It bugs me when I read a guy in mid-career is a "future Hall of Famer.'' But Ward, to me, is one of the best total football players at any position I've ever covered. He has three edges over some of the big-number guys. Two championships. One of the best blocking wide receivers ever, though some will hold it against him that he's had a few dirty hits on defensive players in his career. And a leader of the highest degree, the way Michael Irvin was in Dallas. I think leadership helped Irvin. Irvin leads Ward in Super Bowl wins, 3-2. Ward leads in receptions, 895-750, and could make the edge daunting in the next couple of years.
I got an up-close glimpse of the leadership thing again last week in Latrobe, Pa., the longtime summer home of the Steelers. Craig Wolfley, one of the radio voices of the Steelers, saw it too, at practice one afternoon, watching Ward with the young receivers. "Hines runs the show here,'' Wolfley said. "They follow him like little ducklings.''
Interesting postscript from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Ward played in his 40th stadium in his career Saturday night when he stepped onto the field at the new Meadowlands Stadium. That includes Morgantown, W. Va. (for a preseason game his rookie year), Mexico City and Toronto. His 41st, said Bouchette, would be the Cowboys new stadium -- if the Steelers reach the Super Bowl.
Baltimore tackle Michael Oher has been invited to appear on Oprah twice. He's been invited to the Academy Awards. He's been asked to be in the audience at the ESPYs.
No, no, no and no.
Seems Oher is not very happy with how he was portrayed in The Blind Side movie. He thinks he was made to look like a simpleton who knew nothing about football before he was picked up off the Memphis streets and taken to live with a wealthy family. Seems he has no interest in furthering that public image, so he's concentrating on one thing: being a football player.
Earlier this year, Roger Goodell asked Oher to come to New York one day to speak to a Boys and Girls Club gathering. Oher said he'd do it only if he could get his workout in that same day. Oher will be the Ravens' starting left tackle this season, and he wanted to be sure he didn't miss any workouts for things that had nothing to do with his on-field performance. Once he learned he'd be able to work out and do the speech in Manhattan, he agreed.
That leads me to wonder one thing about the 2009 NFL draft: How do the Bengals, in need of a tackle and picking sixth overall, take the jiggly and unmotivated Andre Smith, and the Ravens, in need of a tackle and trading up to 23rd overall, take the supremely motivated Oher?
The Colts treat the preseason the way Brett Favre treats retirement announcements: not very seriously.
Since 2005, the Colts are 4-17 in exhibition games, 65-15 in the regular season.
Rooney Mara's life is about to change. Chris Mara's life might too. Chris Mara is the Giants' longtime vice president of player evaluation, and Patricia Rooney Mara, one of four children in one of football's most prestigious families, was born a year before the Giants won their first Super Bowl in 1986. Chris is married to the former Kathleen Rooney, one of Dan Rooney's nieces. That makes Rooney the granddaughter of the late Giants' owner, Wellington Mara, the niece of current Giants co-owner John Mara, and the grandniece of Dan Rooney ... and the sister of Kate Mara, who is a star in her own right, having been featured in several films, including the football cult hit We Are Marshall.
Last week, Rooney Mara won the lead role in what could be a very big movie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on the first of a trilogy of red-hot crime mysteries by Swedish reporter Stieg Larsson, who tragically died just as he finished the third book. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is popular all over the world, but especially in Sweden, where, amazingly, one third of the population has bought a copy.
I've read all three books. They're terrific, taut thrillers, starring a brilliant, odd and anti-social private investigator and computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. There are several graphic and sexually disturbing scenes in the book (who knows how they'll look in the movie), and I warned Chris Mara the other day he might want to prepare himself for a few stunners with his little girl. I told him this isn't We Are Marshall.
He sad he knew, and he said his kids have reminded him about the difference between movies and real life.
"I can't tell you how many times I have heard, 'It's only acting, Dad,''' Mara told me the other day.
Downtown Baltimore, Wednesday, 3:40 p.m.
I was rolling my L.L. Bean suitcase to the front door of the downtown Residence Inn when a disheveled man -- maybe 40, salt-and-pepper beard, filthy jeans, T-shirt -- approached.
"Sir, I'm sorry,'' he said. "Looking for some money to help me get into the shelter tonight. It's three bucks. Can you help me at all? Can you give me a dollar? Anything?''
I took money out of my pocket. I gave him $5. He looked incredulous.
The next morning at 5:45, the same man, apparently a tireless yet forgetful panhandler, approached me and said he needed a dollar to take the light rail somewhere. It took me a second to realize it was the same guy, and I said, "Oh, come on.'' He scurried away.
While we're on the subject of travel, how about these two notes:
1. Cards beat man Kent Somers of TheArizona Republic is a pretty dedicated reporter and dad. After the Cardinals practiced Thursday, Somers wrote his regular stuff for the paper, got in his car and drove 150 miles back to his home in Phoenix. The next day, he and son Logan drove 655 miles to Salt Lake City, to enroll the boy at Westminster College for his freshman year. They slept. On Saturday morning, he and Logan went through orientation, which lasted into Sunday morning, and Logan moved into his dorm. Kent Somers then flew from Salt Lake City to Denver, and then on to Nashville, where he arrived just before midnight. This morning he's in Tennessee to cover the Cards-Titans game, and he'll stay in the area to cover the Cardinals as they practice before playing at Chicago later in the week.
2. Martell Mallett is a free-agent running back for the Eagles from Arkansas-Pine Bluff by way of Vancouver of the Canadian Football League. When the Eagles signed him, they said they couldn't wait to see how his speed translated to the NFL in a preseason game. Then they traded with Denver for running back J.J. Arrington, signed free-agent wideout Kelley Washington, and needed a roster spot, so they waived Mallett.
He got on a Delta flight the next morning in Allentown, headed for home in Pine Bluff after a plane-change in Atlanta. That morning, GM Howie Roseman woke up and remembered what he thought when the team signed Mallett. "We never saw him in a game, which we said we were going to do,'' Roseman said. So he called Mallett's phone, and texted the phone, knowing Mallett was en route home.
When Mallett landed in Little Rock, he picked up his luggage and, while waiting for his ride to Pine Bluff, turned on his phone and saw he had a message. "Pretty unbelievable,'' said Mallett. "I just took my bags from the luggage area and brought them back to the Delta counter and checked in for the flight back here.'' He was back in his dorm by midnight, and he practiced the next day. Moral of the story? "I'm still here,'' Mallett said. He's still a roster long shot, but he does have 20 carries for 78 yards in two games.
"Want to say thank you to Tim Layden from SI. A great privilege for me to be in the magazine.''--@Kansas_Comet, Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, on being featured in Sports Illustrated this week in a Layden story about the short shelf life of running backs. How about Gale Sayers on Twitter?
Which led to this Tweet ...
"Greater privilege to write it.''--@SITimLayden.
Layden really did a good job writing about Sayers' ruined left knee, and what orthopedic surgeon Mark Klaassen found when he opened up the knee to replace it in 2009. Wrote Layden about what Klaassen saw:
"Three long scars, one running down the front of the knee, another on the inside and a third on the outside, curling around to the back. These were from decades-old open surgeries ... Inside the knee Klaassen found carnage. Sayers's anterior cruciate ligament was gone; the posterior cruciate ligament was stretched and frayed. There was evidence that the medial collateral ligament had been sewn or stapled at some point in an effort to create stability (a practice common at one time but later found to be ineffective).
"A half-inch wedge of his tibia had been sawed off in an osteotomy, a surgical procedure designed to redistribute weight away from an arthritic surface. Almost no cartilage remained, and as a result, the joint was filled with dust and fragments from bones rubbing together for many years. It was not the worst knee Klaassen had ever seen. But it was by far the worst on which the owner had been actively exercising. 'This thing was utterly shot,' says Klaassen. 'And Gale had been jogging on this knee. All I could think was, Wow, that's a lot of pain tolerance. This is a unique individual here. Very determined.' ''
As Layden wrote, how amazing is it that it was Sayers' right knee that he hurt first and most severely in his career.
I strongly recommend you read the Sayers story if you're young, and you've wondered, as many readers of this column have wondered: How could Gale Sayers be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He played only 68 games?! This guy was a meteor across the football sky, one of the 10 great talents ever to walk onto an NFL field. He passes the eye test as one of the most electrifying players, at any position, ever to play. Not only was he the most dangerous running back of his day -- Jim Brown was more powerful, and better all-around, but certainly not more elusive -- but also Sayers was the best kick-returner of all time. You can look it up: No modern football player has come within two yards of his 30.6-yard career average.
By the way, this is a great package about the short life span of running backs. Joe Posnanski's story on Tony Richardson of the Jets is stirring, and Layden's piece on Chris Johnson is very good too.
1. I think Seattle has to be nervous, or worse, about losing left tackle Russell Okung to an ankle sprain Saturday night. Not only was left tackle the Seahawks' position of biggest need entering this season, but also Seattle is frightfully thin there --the immortal Mansfield Wrotto took Okung's spot when he went down against Green Bay. Seattle now may face the prospect of moving Sean Locklear back to the left side.
The Seahawks said it was a two-to-four-week injury on Sunday, which means there's a good chance he'll be ready for the opener. Not to overplay a first game of a season, but Seahawks host San Francisco in Week 1. To have much of a chance to win your division, that's the kind of game you have to win, which makes the recovery of the centerpiece of your rebuilding efforts to protect Matt Hasselbeck pretty important.
2. I think I've got a few preseason Week 2 thoughts:
a. Fred Taylor has exceedingly fresh legs for a 34-year-old.
b. More and more, Kroy Biermann, who beat the left side of the New England line for a sack Thursday, looks like the bookend pass-rusher to John Abraham the Falcons have needed.
c. Wes Welker's amazing. I could write that every week.
d. Chad Hall. Reno Mahe.
e. Dimitri Patterson, the free-agent corner from Tuskegee, and Brandon Graham, the first-round pick from Michigan, impressed Friday for Philadelphia in Cincinnati. How about Graham busting through the middle for a tackle-for-loss from a tackle slot in the Eagle nickel?
f. Except when he ran, Mike Vick looked very rusty against the Bengal backups? I know he got pressure, but a couple of his throws were floated, and poor decisions.
g. Look at the Bengals' fourth-rounder this year, defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He's a load, and he's fortifying an already potent position.
h. Bad night for Giants rookie defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Poor job shedding blocks against the Steelers.
i. Great throw by Byron Leftwich for a 65-yard score to Mike Wallace, who I don't believe you can overthrow. I can't see Dennis Dixon, who also played well at the Meadowlands, beating out Leftwich for the Sept. 12 opener against Atlanta ... but that doesn't mean Leftwich will play all four or six games Ben Roethlisberger misses.
j. Saw Donovan McNabb's first three drives against the Ravens. Inaccurate. Finished 11 of 26.
k. Jake Delhomme in two games: 18 of 23, 193 yards, one touchdown, no picks, 116.1 rating.
l. Kept hearing on my trip to Miami that the Dolphins were pretty happy with the Jason Ferguson (retired)-for-Randy Starks swap at nose tackle. Starks' sack in Jacksonville showed what a powerful athlete he is.
m. Dallas got its first touchdown with the first offensive unit in seven preseason possessions Saturday, but let's not get too excited. Came on an eight-yard drive after a Chargers' turnover.
n. Nine straight preseason wins for Miami under Tony Sparano. I don't know what that means.
o. Sometimes, with his little flips out of the backfield, Aaron Rodgers reminds me -- in anticipation and confidence -- of Brett Favre.
p. Rodgers: 20 of 24 in basically a half of preseason football this month.
q. Kamerion Wimbley's four sacks in the first half at Chicago on Saturday night mean one of two things: The Bears are in huge trouble on the offensive line, or the Raiders got a steal when they dealt a third-round pick to Cleveland for Wimbley. Or maybe both.
3. I think the Giants' addition of guard Shawn Andrews is smart, and a good investment. As Mike Garafolo of the Newark Star-Ledger reported, Andrews will make $650,000 if he spends the 2010 season on injured-reserve, and $1.5 million if he's on the Giants' active roster. The real money comes in if Andrews become the kind of mainstay on the line the Giants hope. He will make $7 million in 2011 if the Giants hang onto him, and zip if they choose to release him after this season. The reason I like it: I recall Andy Reid once telling me Andrews could be the best guard in the league, and one of the best tackles, depending where the Eagles chose to play him. A back injury, and subsequent depression, ruined his Philly career
4. I think there's a good chance it will be one of the most disturbing things any of us has seen in a long time, but the documentary about the death of Pat Tillman should be a must-see movie. The Tillman Story, by Amir Bar-Lev, uncovers more of the government cover-up surrounding Tillman's death, including the fact that the military burned Tillman's uniform, body armor and diary after he died. You know what we would have learned in the diary, in Tillman's own words? That he hated the war, he had soured on the military, and, according to the documentary, had turned down the chance to get the final years of hitch washed away so he could return to the NFL.
I wrote about this earlier this year. The former GM of the Seahawks, Bob Ferguson, told me Tillman was doing football drills and was interested in returning to the league, and Ferguson thought surely that after his second tour of duty, he'd return to play special-teams -- at least -- for Seattle, in all likelihood. But soon after he deployed to Afghanistan, he was killed by friendly fire in April 2004. Can't wait to see this. It opened in New York and L.A. over the weekend.
5. I think the Redskins' band, which plays the team fight song after every Washington score, is not in midseason form. It struck up "Hail to the Redskins'' after the Ravens scored a touchdown Saturday night.
6. I think anyone who laughs at Antonio Cromartie struggling to remember the names and ages of his eight children (by six women, allegedly) on Hard Knocks on HBO the other night ought to be ashamed. There's a crisis in this country of men who don't take care of their kids. And the flippant way Cromartie appeared to forget a child or two is tremendously sad, not a comedic moment.
7. I think as discouraging as the Haynesworth story is for the Redskins, they have to be encouraged by the progress of tackle Jammal Brown. Brown had two surgeries last year in the preseason -- for a hernia and for a torn hip muscle.
Interesting story: last year, after his surgeries, he did his rehab at a facility in New York City where his doctor was headquartered, and so while the Saints galloped toward the Super Bowl, Brown -- who was born in Texas, went to college in Oklahoma, was drafted by the Saints and lived in New Orleans -- lived most weeks in the Marriott Marquis in New York and concentrated on his rehab. Now he thinks he'll be healthy enough to play opening day. "I felt the best today I've felt since I got the hip operated on,'' he told me Tuesday. "I'm confident I'll be ready.''
Think of the Redskins' desperation at tackle entering the offseason, with a hole from Chris Samuels' retirement at left tackle and the leaky Stephon Heyer at right tackle, and here's what they've added: first-round pick Trent Williams, former Saints Pro Bowler Brown and an adequate guard-tackle in Artis Hicks. That's an upgrade, and it had better be, because McNabb will get clobbered if they don't work out.
8. I think if Alex Smith plays 16 games the way he played two quarters last night (looking smart and confident without Frank Gore,Brian Westbrook and Vernon Davis), the 49ers are going to win the NFC West. Lock.
9. I think the one thing the change of the umpire from behind the defensive line to 14 yards (14 yards!) behind the line of scrimmage will do that's getting lost in the shuffle is this: If an offense goes to the no-huddle, the umpire is going to be a major impediment to the hurry-up offense. It hasn't been a problem in the preseason because most teams aren't going to show many offensive wrinkles in August. But when the season starts, one member of the Competition Committee tells me he's worried the ump won't be able to place the ball down, spot it, and then run back to his spot without delaying the game. Watch for that in Week 1 or 2.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Now that my intern/driver Willie Cornblatt is back at Indiana after helping me on the last week of my camp tour, I do believe I may have led him slightly astray. The poor kid wants to be me. "In one week, I learned more from you than I learned in 19 years from my father,'' he said. Of course you did, kid.
b. Memo to Bruce Cornblatt: You've got a good boy. And don't worry -- my influence will wear off in, say, 16 or 18 years.
c. Read much about the bedbug problem in New York City? Yikes. Hotels, condos, apartments ... they're dealing with the microscopic, fiendish things. The New York Times called the bedbug "a reviled pest in a city where rats are no big deal.''
d. The 1-2-4 batters in the Red Sox order -- Ellsbury, Pedroia, Youkilis -- will end up missing 291 of 486 games, collectively, unless Pedroia comes back for the last couple of weeks of what has become a lost season. Six DL stints among the three. Just not their year. Not saying it would have been anyway; with Josh Beckett and John Lackey both pitching like Mud Hens, the Sox aren't good enough to beat the Yanks or Rays.
e. Did you notice Armando Galarraga's start against the Indians the other night? Retired the first 14 Tribesmen. If Jim Joyce hadn't blown the call in that "perfect'' game June 2, that would have been 41 straight Indians retired by Galarraga. Has any pitcher ever been perfect for 13 and two-thirds straight innings?
f. Coffeenerdness: After 22 days on the road, I can say this about the Starbucksization of America: I applaud the increase of Starbucks drive-thrus, particularly in city areas where it's hard to park the car. Thank you, thank you, Seattle.
g. Had a classic Tweetup the other night at Amicci's, in Baltimore's Little Italy section. Had a great group of 30 or 40 pepper me with smart questions for two and a half hours. Terrific Ravens fans, and smart about the NFL. Thanks to NestorAparicio for setting the whole thing up, and to Roland, Scott, Penny and the Peroni-providing staff at an excellent restaurant for allowing us to pull it off.