Tales from the lockout: Thoughts on Lewis, Ebersol, Newton and more
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The last time I swung a golf club was a year ago, at the 2010 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic, in which, I'm sure, I was the worst golfer on the famed Stadium Course at Sawgrass. That is trouble for the foursome that gets me as a golfer this morning at the 2011 Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Celebrity Golf Classic. Let's just say Sterling Sharpe, one of the real golfers today, won't be looking for me on the leaderboard.
"I want to thank you for all being here tonight,'' Coughlin told the crowd at the banquet and silent auction Sunday night, "and for allowing me to see my players.''
Pleasantries were exchanged, not playbooks. For one night, normalcy reigned. Coughlin and current players (Chris Snee, Mathias Kiwanuka, Brandon Jacobs and others) and former players (Mark Bavaro, Mark Brunell) said hello and little more, so as not to put the Giants in fraternization jail with the league.
But it looks like it's going to be a while before Coughlin can say to his men any more than, "That's a bad slice you got there, Sage Rosenfels.'' We're headed for a period of nuclear winter for the next four or five weeks. There's no pressure on either side to move. There hasn't been any pressure since the March 11 deadline, which, not so coincidentally, is the last time either side made any sort of tangible move in the talks. That's 73 days without any real progress.
I don't expect Judge David Doty's ruling on the network-TV damages to sway the case enough to force the two sides to negotiate. I don't expect anything to happen until the three-judge appeals panel rules whether the NFL can continue to lock out the players, and by all accounts, that decision won't come until late June, at the earliest.
Two points before we begin our spin around whatever this game is right now:
It's a nice headline, but I'm not buying it. I suppose it could happen, but unless we get burglars and thieves saying they did it because the NFL wasn't on TV on fall Sundays this year, I'm not buying what Lewis is selling.
On with the column.
I'm prejudiced, obviously, because I had a good working relationship with Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports Group, who parted company with his new bosses at Comcast, stunningly, last Thursday. He was a very good boss. A unique boss. Not long after my wife and I moved to Boston, Ebersol called, said he'd be in Boston in a couple of days with his wife, and would we have breakfast? Sure. The breakfast turned into a breakfast marathon of conversation, and then a walk to a video store not far from Boston Common; Ebersol had to find a Western he'd been raving about,
You'd think the most powerful man in sports television would flex his muscles around the employees sometimes, and I'm sure he did. But Heavy-Handed Ebersol's not the one I ever saw. He was more like a peer than the average boss. I bet I've gotten 20 texts or calls over the past three or four years, commenting on something in this column -- usually one of the pithy things, which he loved.
Now, not everyone is going to have the same memories as I have, because bosses in billion-dollar businesses have to be, well, bosses sometimes. I think what made him good -- and what will make him good again -- is his curiosity. Everything interested him. So I thought I'd ask a few people who knew him well in the business in the past few years for an observation or two about what made Ebersol good.
"The other thing about those production meetings: He'd have great gadgets for us every time. You know, flip video cameras, iPods, whatever. It got to the point where we [players] wondered,' What's Dick going to have for us this week?' I remember a few times around those meetings we'd have conversations about philanthropy. He was very interested in the charities I was involved with, in my Peyback Foundation -- I think for a lot of reasons, but one was obviously to honor the loss of his son. You could just tell he and his wife had a lot of other interests in the world other than sports on TV, and they wanted to leave their mark in a positive way.''
"I remember on one of our road trips, we're staying in the same hotel as the Boston Celtics. You look at the marquee at the hotel and it says, 'NBC, film session, 9 a.m.,' and 'Boston Celtics, film session, 10 a.m.' Doc Rivers is such a good friend of everyone. He told us, 'If you guys want to come over and watch with us, come on in.' So I'm all excited about that -- breaking down film with the Boston Celtics! Dick goes over a little bit early, and I go over there around 10, and there's one player in there -- that Big Baby guy. They got all this food, and there's only one player, and I'm expecting to hear Doc talk about doubling this guy, trapping that guy, you know, watch one of the great basketball coaches teach his players something important. And I look over, and there's all the Celtic coaches at a table, and Dick's there, telling them all stories about the Olympics. That was a big deal for them.''
"This isn't the last you'll hear of Dick Ebersol,'' Madden said.
I should hope not.
Remember Ken Dorsey? Big career at Miami (Fla.) a decade ago, with some limited success as a (mostly) NFL backup quarterback. Interesting that he just finished eight days working with the first pick in the draft, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, and they'll be back at it again today in Bradenton, Fla.
There's a good reason Dorsey and Newton have become workout and classroom partners. In 2001 and 2002, Dorsey, at Miami, was coached by Hurricane offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. In 2007 and 2008, Dorsey, with the Cleveland Browns, was coached by Browns offensive coordinator Chudzinski.
Newton was able to get a Carolina playbook, with Panthers offensive coordinator Chudzinski's encyclopedic offense, to take with him during the lockout. Dorsey spent last week instructing Newton in the finer points of the offense, in addition to telling him the expectations and coaching methods of Chudzinski.
"The best way to describe it,'' said the quarterback coach who readied Newton for his pre-draft workouts, George Whitfield, "is it's like an old pilot grooming a new pilot to take over his plane. The old pilot's teaching him about every one of the controls in the cockpit.''
It sounds smart and valuable. Compared to the other highly drafted quarterbacks, Newton ought to be as advanced as he can be when the lockout ends. How important will that be? We'll see, because there's going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on the Panthers to play Newton early.
If you read nothing else today -- even if it means stopping right here and not finishing this column -- you need to read
It's written by
I'm not the only one who was moved by it. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive left Anderson a long voice mail Saturday, thanking him for "one of the most powerful things I've ever read.''
I'm writing about this today because it seems like we've too quickly moved on from this incredible disaster. Two days after the tornado, the Royal Wedding happened. Two days after that, bin Laden was captured and killed. And we just seemed to move to the next story without the full understanding of how horrendous the storms were that hit the deep south. So please read it.
Anderson and Angle got the minute-by-minute account of one of the most tragic parts of the story -- about a long-snapper from the Crimson Tide football team and his honor-student girlfriend --and told it well. So well that when the snapper, Carson Tinker, read the story, he texted Anderson and said: "I wouldn't change a single word.'' Anderson told me Saturday it's the best text he's ever received.
"I lived in New York City during 9/11, and this event brought up a lot of the same feelings,'' Anderson said. "There was so much emotional trauma with it. I felt so strongly about wanting to get the story absolutely right.''
One fact Anderson couldn't fit in the story, from Tinker: When he was born, in Decatur, Ala., the hospital had to be evacuated and he and his mother moved because of a severe tornado threat in the area.
And one NFL-related thing: Anderson had nothing but praise for
Saw longtime and well-respected football writer Vito Stellino's Twitter take on the curbing of offseason programs due to the lockout this spring. I liked it well enough that I asked the former Steeler glory-days beat man, now with the
This will certainly be a good year to check out Stellino's theory.
I went to Fenway Park Wednesday night and sat through a highly entertaining game of fogball. Red Sox 1, Tigers 0, with the fog and mist rolling in from right field making it seem like March in Scotland. Unfortunately for ESPN football analyst and three-time Super Bowl champion Mark Schlereth, sitting in the stands behind home plate, his son, Daniel, gave up a walk and double in the bottom of the eighth, handing the Red Sox the only run of the game.
"Somewhat bittersweet,'' Schlereth said. "But Wednesday night was one of the great sports moments of my life.''
"That night completed a great trifecta in our lives,'' Mark Schlereth said. "Daniel was a very good ballplayer from a young age, an excellent pitcher. I wasn't a big baseball fan growing up, but I got to be a big fan as Daniel grew up. And when he was 12 years old, I told him, 'I will never step foot in Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park until you play in them.' ''
One: As an Arizona Diamondback, Schlereth, a lefty reliever, suited up for a season-ending series at Wrigley in 2009, though he did not pitch. Two: Traded to the Tigers that offseason, he was up-and-down in the minors and majors in 2010, and got into a game at Yankee Stadium Aug. 17. Three: Fenway, last week. "He actually put this picture together for me with us on the field at Wrigley,'' Mark Schlereth said, "and he wrote how much he appreciated me pushing him over the years. That was really nice.
"He's 25 now, and so it took 13 years for the trifecta to be completed. But it's incredibly rewarding. After the game the other night, he was kind of pissed off about it, but we came back to the hotel, got some room service and just talked. What a neat moment. He's really done a great job.''
I made the point to Schlereth that I watched his son walk off the field after giving up the run, and wanted to see his reaction in the dugout. None. No glove-throwing. Totally professional. Reminded me of a good cornerback who gets beat for a touchdown in man coverage -- and has to forget it and come back and play the next snap.
"I could not do what he does,'' dad said of son. "The amount of failure you have to stomach in baseball ... it's just so hard. I couldn't have been a cornerback or quarterback, where you have to shrug off mistakes. They used to just eat me up.''
Just thought that was a good story about a father who played one sport at the highest level agonizing (but with pride) over a son competing at the highest level of another.
Last week, I began to compare
I rank players based on status today, current impact and future impact. I find it hard to believe the players' list does not include one of the best punters of all-time, Shane Lechler, who I've included here and who does not show up on the NFL list at all. But we came pretty close on Atlanta pass-rusher John Abraham -- 69th on the player list, 72nd on mine. And, by the way: Do not make a list of the top 100 players in football without having pile-pushing, game-changing defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin of the 49ers on it. It won't be valid.
"It would have forever severed the players of the NFL from a fair share of the revenue.''
Well, I guess. But it's hard to imagine the NFL offer -- $161 million per year per team in salary and benefits in year four of the proposal with no backside if the NFL's revenue estimates were higher than projected (when the players wanted $161 million per year per team PLUS backside revenue) -- was so monumentally, impossibly difficult to bridge. It's why I maintain that the difference between the two sides is not so great that some real negotiations couldn't bridge the gap.
"As far as returning to the NFL ... How do I put this? I'm not what you call an entertainer, man. I don't want to sound mean or attack the NFL, but I'm not an entertainer. I see football as being the same as being a singer, being a dancer or something along those lines. When we fill out our W2s, we're in that category of entertainers, man. That's not me. I want to be doing something to better myself, to better someone else. Glen Coffee's not an entertainer ... I want to love what I do. I don't just want to get paid.''
"It felt like a normal game. Is that bad? It felt like a normal game.''
That is certainly not bad, Mister Rodgers. That's when you know you've got this game licked, when playing in the biggest game of your life feels totally normal. And then going out and playing like it.
"Yes. Fluidly bad.''
Well, I'm a fairly big baseball fan, and even I would say that ship sailed ... about 25 years ago. Take back September? You must be kidding. Much to my chagrin, baseball on TV has been dying for years, except in some very strong local pockets. Let's look at September 2010, to the two national windows for baseball (FOX on Saturday afternoon, ESPN on Sunday night) for proof. The rating I give you here is the overall rating (percentage of U.S. households watching the event) and share (percentage of households with TVs on watching the event).
On average for the NFL games, pro football got 22.3 percent of the TVs in America that were in use to watch the NFL on Sunday nights last September. Baseball got 2 percent. Baseball might move the needle by adding another wild-card team to the mix and keeping more teams interested late in the year. And football might idiotically shoot itself in the foot if it continues lockoutball, but this is no gap to be made up by changing scheduling or playoff format. It's a chasm.
The fine folks of Salisbury, N.C., acquitted themselves like champions in their annual hosting of sportswriters and sportscasters from around the country. As new Hall of Fame inductee Bob Ryan said when a peer asked him if he should attend the three-day gala during which kids ask for autographs from radio play-by-play men from the Dakotas: "Only if you want to be treated like a king for three days.''
One of the charming features of the stay was a trolley tour of Salisbury, a small city about an hour north of Charlotte. On the tour, we passed a cemetery and were informed of this oddity: Many years ago, a religious man in Salisbury suffered a horrible accident and lost his foot in a train accident. He survived, but the foot could not be reattached. Being a Christian man, he wanted to have it buried, and it was, with a tombstone on the plot, in the southeast corner of the cemetery. When the man died, he too was buried in the same cemetery ... but not in the same plot. He was buried north of the foot, with another tombstone commemorating a good man gone. So this man was buried twice, in the same cemetery, in different plots. Now that's something you don't see every day.
Hertz Should Be Ashamed of Itself Dept.:
I rented a full-sized Hertz vehicle for my two-day trip to North Carolina and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Awards. Two days, $44 a day. Drove the car 169 miles. The tank read 5/8ths when I pulled into the Charlotte Douglas International Airport's Hertz lot at 5:35 a.m. Tuesday.
"Did you fill the tank with gas?'' the courteous check-in gal asked.
"No, sorry,'' I said.
She noted the mileage and handed me the receipt.
The receipt for charges of $249.31.
The gas for driving less than a half-tank cost more ($89.40) than renting the car for two days, minus taxes ($88). Hertz charged $8.99 per gallon for refueling. That seems fair (he said sarcastically).
Then there was the $17.98 for NeverLost GPS (which did its job; I was never lost on the trip) and the usual collection of cloudy charges -- "concession fee recovery,'' $11.92 ... "customer facility charge,'' $7 ... "vehicle licensing cost recovery,'' 62 cents -- that makes the renting of cars in America so joyous.
Three-eighths of a tank of gas for $89.40? If that's not price-gouging, I don't know what is.
Hip To Be Square Dept.:
I will never get used to a person at 9:58 a.m. -- as happened Sunday in the row in front of me on a Boston-to-Washington United flight -- saying to the flight attendant with the beverage cart coming down the aisle: "Two Stolis on the rocks. No water.'' And then, by 10:13, both of the little vodka bottles, and the plastic cup, empty but for the ice. Vodka shots are something I can't do at 11 at night, never mind when Cheerios should be on the tray table.
"Remember: if you're walking around disoriented, half-naked bodies, screaming about the End of Days, it's just The Preakness.''
"Carson Palmer intriguing. 2005-2007 3rd best QB in NFL behind ManningBrady. Arm strength, pocket roughness, accuracy for a power thrower ...
"RIP, Jim Corbett Sr., best dad, my best friend and reason I love and write sports for a living -- a 1947 Yonkers (N.Y.) boys club founder and coach.''
1. I think if you want to play football with Tom Brady, this your chance. As part of his annual weekend helping
Last year, Bill Belichick rode; this year, some of his Patriot mates will come along, as will Andrea Kremer, who has made this an annual fundraising cause. And a good cause it is, founded to encourage friendship and create employment opportunities for mentally handicapped people. The group helps to mainstream those with intellectual and developmental disabilities while helping them develop friendships that are often rare in their lives. Brady got involved from friendships with agent Brad Blank, who lived in his Boston neighborhood, and the group's founder, Anthony Shriver.
2. I think I saw two things I really liked this week:
a. I love the Raiders asking their employees (including coaches) to sell tickets in an attempt to make sure their salaries aren't cut. Jarrett Bell wrote about this in
b. I like the Giants' contest (at giants.com) to determine their 10 best fan stories, with the 10 winning fans getting their pictures on game tickets this year. If I were a fan, I'd love to win a December game. I'd be afraid the others might be endangered.
3. I think it was good to spend 45 minutes in a car from the Jacksonville airport to the Ponte Vedra Beach with the Taucher family (Green Bay tackle Mark, wife Sarah, baby son Max) Sunday. Tauscher's recovering from rotator cuff surgery and feels good enough to swing a club now. Good also to spend some time with Pack defensive coordinator Dom Capers at the event Sunday night. Coaching Factoid of the Week: Capers owns two homes in Florida (where he doesn't live) while working and living in Green Bay (where he does live).
4. I think this is This Week's Sign The Lockout's Gone On Too Long: The
5. I think some clarity is in order for Hall of Fame Weekend in August. It's happening. Regardless of the state of the labor situation, the 2011 class will be inducted on Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. in Canton. Can't wait to see Ed and Steve Sabol and their extended family and friends that weekend. Promises to be an emotional and memorable weekend.
6. I think it's looking more and more like Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals whenever football returns, as
7. I think it's still a mistake, especially if no No. 1 pick comes in return for Kolb. The Eagles may well get a Matt Schaub-like pair of second-round picks for Kolb, if Andy Reid chooses to pull the trigger.
8. I think I've been late in recognizing Bob McGinn of the
Lauding McGinn is long overdue. He's one of the first beat writers to analyze game tape to give readers a deeper understanding of what they just saw. He has contacts throughout the league, on virtually every coaching and scouting staff, which is rare for a local beat guy. But McGinn does it to give his readers an unvarnished look at how the Packers are playing.
He also has as good a crystal ball as any football writer I know. The morning of the draft, in his Packer draft-preview, he wrote of Green Bay GM Ted Thompson's leanings, "Thompson has high regard for Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod.'' Sherrod was the first player he listed in his story. Of course, Sherrod went to Green Bay with the 32nd overall pick. It's the type of smart reporting Packer fans have gotten used to over the last quarter-century with McGinn.
9. I think I teased you with the best Q&A of the week with one of the Quotes of the Week, above, but here's
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. To those who hate interleague play in baseball: I respectfully disagree. The biggest complaint is from those who have no desire to see Houston-Toronto, Detroit-Pittsburgh, etc. Fine. You're in Toronto. Instead of getting three with the Astros, you'd get -- let's say -- three more with Kansas City, Oakland or Seattle. Whoopee! There are some ho-hum matchups, but there's also the Cubs at Fenway for the first time in 93 years, the Yanks at Wrigley Field, the good fans of Cincinnati getting a chance to see Jose Bautista in their little bandbox, Albert Pujols taking his shot at an equally homer-friendly Camden Yards, Roy Halladay's return to Toronto, the Red Sox throwing the fans of the woebegone Pirates a three-game weekend series. Interleague play's a no-brainer. It's different. It's fun.
b. In my other life, I'm a ninth-place rotisserie baseball owner. (The Montclair Pedroias lineup: Berkman, Pedroia, E. Aybar, McGehee, Avila, Quentin, Ellsbury, Zobrist, Smoak (DH); Lester, Cahill, Kuroda, Hellickson, Marmol, Madson, League. You see my problem.)
Anyway, if I can't win, at least I can chuckle a bit. I've gotten to enjoy the daily musings of the terminally clever Grey Albright on razzball.com. Such as this comment on Rockies leadoff man Dexter Fowler: "Caught stealing twice. Now has 5 caught stealings in 7 attempts. Good thing he didn't choose a life of crime.'' And on the brittle Grady Sizemore: "To the DL. I wonder if he has one of those punch cards so he gets a free sandwich with this DL trip.''
c. Really fun to be in Fenway Park Friday night for the Cubs' first trip to the park since the 1918 World Series, when Babe Ruth roamed the land for the BoSox. Sat behind four Cub fans out in right field, and in front of two others who'd never been to Fenway and were Cub season-ticket holders. All very interested in Fenway, all seeming down-in-the-mouth about their Cubbies ... and all quite polite. Pleasure to have you in the house, Chicago.
e. I'm an innocent bystander in the competition between the
f. Am I the only person in the United States who never watched
g. You can add
h. How much longer for
i. And come on. That Tysonesque tattoo can't be copyrighted.
j. The South Windsor (Conn.) High spring concert the other night, with the lovely Laila King playing violin, was one of the social highlights of my spring. I can't believe how many kids are so good on so many string instruments. Joyous music.
k. Coffeenerdness: What a tremendously pleasant airport you have, Jacksonville. Two Starbucks about 10 gates apart too. Nice job.
l. Beernerdness: I've got a good bar for the craft-beer-nerd crowd. (And don't you dare call Blue Moon a craft beer on Twitter, which I made the unforgivable mistake of doing the other day. The craft-beer-nerd crowd jumped through the Twitterverse, into my laptop and right down my throat, indignant that Blue Moon's no craft beer; it's brewed by that evil empire out at Coors. Sheesh.) The bar is called Bukowski's, on a little sidestreet off Dalton Street, wedged into a corner of Back Bay in Boston, about an eight-minute walk from Fenway Park. Homey, a grade above Hole-in-the-Wall, and one of the best selections of beer on tap in Boston.
m. Dave Goren, thanks for making so many people feel so at home in North Carolina last week at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association event. Great time was had by all, particularly by the beaming extended family of Mike Tirico. Nice to see.
n. Thoughts, prayers to the good people of Joplin, Mo., as they cope with the tornado damage. Donations, too, if you've got it in you.