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Grim news about his quarterback mentor hits Patriots' Brady hard

I'm taking my talents to ... no. Too easy this morning. Congrats to the Mavs and the great Nowitzki. But that's a story for my buddy Ian Thomsen to dissect. Let's get on to the important stuff.

End-Of-Lockout Fever! Catch it!

Well, sort of. There's some real optimism that there will be a labor deal within a month. Two weeks? Too soon is my guess, and it's no lock the two sides will reach a deal at all, but I'm hearing too many formerly negative people infer too many positive things. More about that in a few paragraphs.

But first one of the sad stories of the weekend. Tom Martinez, the coach and mentor for hundreds of young athletes near San Jose, Calif., and the mechanical muse to three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, is in grave condition after battling a kidney condition for years. His daughter, Linda Martinez Haley, quoted her father Sunday in a Facebook posting that said he had "a week to a month to live,'' and wished those he has coached and taught "a very successful and fulfilled life.'' It was a chilling nine-sentence good-bye note to everyone Martinez knows.

Martinez has coached football, basketball and softball, and he first got close to the Brady family by teaching Tom's sisters softball pitching. He has been Brady's most trusted passing mechanic -- so much so, and with such positive effects, that other quarterbacks have flocked to him for help.

Last winter, before the draft, Iowa prospect Ricky Stanzi spent two long weekends at the Martinez house in San Jose. "The first night I flew out, I got to their home late, but Tom started showing me DVDs right away, showing me the proper mechanics and telling me what we were going to do,'' Stanzi told me Sunday night. "It was amazing. We stayed up 'til 3 in the morning. What passion he has.''

That's what Brady's been seeing for two decades. And as he spoke over the phone Sunday, there was melancholy in his voice that never changed in 15 minutes, even when he said: "There is no one who knows more about throwing the football than Tom. And no one has meant more to me when it comes to throwing the football than Tom.

"We've been trying to get together this offseason for a session, and finally we met last Sunday at an indoor facility in San Carlos. We spent two hours there. He analyzed what I was doing, just like always. And when I got in the car with my dad afterward, I said to him, 'It's unbelievable how much he knows -- how much he helps me.' ''

That help will go on forever, from the sound of it. Brady told me in his Blackberry he has a folder with a list of football mechanics fine points from Martinez. And those won't go away. (Brady, by the way, still holds out hope of a miracle, and said he was hoping for a transplant candidate to surface in the next few days. But it sounds like Martinez is resigned to his fate, from his daughter's Facebook post.)

"That,'' Brady said of his Blackberry tool, "is a collection of 16 years of what I've learned from Tom. It's my guide to stay right with my mechanics.''

Said Brady: "Every time you step on the field, whether there's weather, whether you're on the road, where you've got a big pass-rush coming, it always comes down to mechanics. He instilled in me the importance of doing things the right way, every time.''

For instance, Martinez wanted Brady's stride with his left foot to never exceed six inches. The longer you stride, Martinez believed, the more time it took, and the more mistakes you could make; you didn't need to take a long stride to throw a deep ball. Being compact led to being efficient, and led to accuracy.

I asked Brady how important a factor Martinez had been in his career. "There's so many people I owe so much to -- high school, college and the NFL,'' he said. "But he is right at the top of the list. Second to none. He never held back with me. Even when I was going good, he'd watch me and call me and say something like, 'Your feet are way too slow in the shotgun. Speed it up!' or 'When you throw to your right, close your right shoulder.'

"I just can't say enough about him, and what he's meant to me. When I heard how serious it was the other night, I was there in bed with my wife, and it was just a sad moment. Very tough on his family, and on ours.''

Stanzi's agent, Jack Bechta, connected him with Martinez because of how highly Brady had spoken of the coach. For two weekends after the college season, Stanzi lived with Tom Martinez and his wife, ate meals in their home, and studied DVDs of Brady's mechanical drills. He heard all his strident sayings about the position. "The longer the stride, the more time you waste,'' Martinez said.

At one point, Martinez told Stanzi: "I'm not always going to be with you. You've got to remember this so you can correct yourself when things go wrong. You've got to be able to coach yourself.''

Part of Martinez's message, relayed through his daughter Sunday, was this: "I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to teach and coach you all and I ask that you take one or two of my life lessons and pass them on to your family and friends and that will keep me alive forever.'' I said to Stanzi it's almost like Martinez was telling him what he'd have to do when he wouldn't be able to pick up the phone and talk to him anymore.

"It's sad,'' Stanzi said, "but what he would want is for me to not only learn from him myself but pass it on to others. I will. This is a man who didn't even know me, and he took me in like a son and taught me everything he knew for a short time -- and had a big impact on me. I am so grateful just to have had the chance to be with him. I won't forget it.''

***

Now for some labor action.

I've learned three interesting things from sources close to the labor talks:

• One impediment to a deal dating back to the owners' March 11 offer to the players was the fact that ownership didn't offer players any "backside'' to the salary-capped years of 2011 through 2014. Players wouldn't have been able to benefit from any major influx in income by owners, and that wasn't good enough for the rank-and-file, rightfully so.

I'm now told owners likely will be willing to give players a percentage of the profits beyond what the owners project for those four seasons. This would become significant in 2014, when the league will reach new network TV deals with its partners, and the rights fees could go up monstrously. This is important. Not unexpected, because owners knew they'd have to do it, but important.

Here's the biggest reason: If the players got no piece of the new TV hike, how do you think they'd feel if headlines in the future trumpeted a $2-billion increase in the rights fees beginning in 2014 (that's a guess on my part, but it might not be far off if the ratings continue to soar) and the owners could pocket the increase beyond the scheduled bump in the cap and expenses? Not good, which is why the owners have to put in a backside to the deal. And now, apparently, will do so.

• The dinner Roger Goodell and De Smith had Wednesday night, alone? "Don't underestimate it,'' I'm told. "A very good sign.'' The two men hadn't gotten much done between them in recent months, and it's been obvious to see that both have had problems with how the other has led his team. Gene Upshaw was always able to call Paul Tagliabue and later Goodell, even in anger, and that's something Goodell and Smith must be able to do too.

• The two sides, when they meet, are working in some smaller groups on individual issues. The length of the offseason program, for instance; health and safety of players too. In the owners' last proposal to the players, on March 11, the one that was summarily rejected, there was a basis for progress on things like a five-week reduction in the offseason programs and fewer offseason training activity days, and on a form of lifetime health insurance for current players upon retirement. Now the devil is in the details on these things, and owners and players are working to get closer on them.

Look for the talks to continue this week, somewhere. But don't expect a resolution imminently. The CBA is long and tedious, and each side is going over every sentence, even without the lawyers in-house. "It'd be a mistake to think it's certainly going to happen,'' said one source. "There's a long way to go. But instead of people yelling at each other, trying to score debating points, now people are sitting down and talking to each other, trying to solve a very involved case. That's progress.''

One other point I find interesting. Fans may not like preseason games, and ticket buyers may not like paying for them, but I've heard from a TV source that the first real loss of money may come if any preseason games are called off. "That,'' the source said, "would send a sign to the advertising community that the talks are not going well, and some advertisers might say, 'I'm not waiting until the last minute for my September buys. I'm going to buy more college football.' ''

There are 11 nationally televised preseason games, beginning with the St. Louis-Chicago Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 on NBC. Each game has 60 ad buys, 30 seconds apiece. That's 660 spots. Altogether, the preseason generates around $700 million in TV, gate and ancillary revenue. The reason this matters is if preseason games are gone, there's going to be less 2011 money to share with players. The owners won't like that, and the players won't like it when the owners cut their offer once that money's out the window.

Therefore, each side knows it's to their advantage -- both for getting players in shape as well as keeping the finances from plummeting -- to make sure the preseason goes on as scheduled.

I said in SI the other day my over-under for a deal is July 4. I might say July 10 now, but I still think chances are better there will be a deal than there won't -- and that deal will come within a month.

***

Top 100 Section

Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty. The NFL Network, with 415 players voting, unveiled numbers 31 through 40 last night, as I do here. (And if you need a refresher on both our lists, go here.) A few notes:

• The offense-defense balance is where we part ways, comparing the lists. My top 50 is 25 offense, 25 defense; the players' list is 31-19 offense-defense. I'm 20-20 in my top 40, while NFLNet's is 24-16 offense

• Good debate last week on Troy Polamalu at 50. For those who missed my Tuesday column, I acknowledged Polamalu's greatness, but said players have to play, and with Polamalu missing 13 games in the past two seasons and being a non-factor in the playoffs, I'm not sure he's going to hold up for a full season anymore

• I chuckled at a few of you saying because I had Polamalu 50th I must have something against the Steelers. No team has as many players in my top 50 as Pittsburgh (6); Green Bay is next with four.

• Future hint: I have eight quarterbacks in my top 30. And based on my criticism of the players' placement of Ben Roethlisberger at 41, you might guess he'll be in my top 30. Or 20. Or 10

• And I know Vincent Jackson has had a star-crossed recent history, but he's still my sixth-rated wideout. (Obviously, Greg Jennings and DeSean Jackson are 4-5.)

• Devin Hester at 32 on the players' list? Way too high for me. Outstanding punt returner, but I can't put a guy in my top 100 who, in two seasons as a full-time starter for the Bears, has 97 catches for a pedestrian 12.7-yard average. Antonio Gates is my 32nd-ranked player. He's a tight end. Average per catch in the last two years: 15.0.

Comparing our ranking of 31-40:

***

Commencement Speaker of the Season

Novelist Toni Morrison wins for what she said to the 2011 graduating class at the State university of New Jersey, Rutgers (as reported by the New York Times):

"I have often wished that Jefferson had not used that phrase 'the pursuit of happiness' as the third right ... I would rather he had written, 'life, liberty and the pursuit of meaningfulness' or 'integrity' or 'truth.' I know that happiness has been the real, if covert, goal of your labors here. I know that it informs your choice of companions, the profession you will enter. But I urge you, please do not settle for happiness. It's not good enough. Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice -- that's more than a barren life; it's a trivial one. It's looking good instead of doing good.''

I love reading those commencement speeches. One of the proudest moments I've had in recent years was being my alma mater's graduation speaker in 2008, at Ohio University.

"There's no question when we selected Andy Dalton we selected him with that in mind -- that he'd possibly be our opening-day starting quarterback.''-- Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, to ESPN 101 in St. Louis via sportsradiointerviews.com, on the second-round pick from TCU who's looking more and more like the Bengals' quarterback of the future.

"I know what I'm capable of. All I need to say to teams is, 'Don't judge my future by my past.' Just let me come out and play football.''-- Plaxico Burress, the former NFL wide receiver, in his first extended interview after his 20-month jail sentence on gun charges, speaking to Aditi Kinkhabwala of the Wall Street Journal.

"I'm still pissed off at Ed Koch that we didn't have a parade.''-- Former Giants wide receiver and return man Phil McConkey, to the New York Post's Steve Serby at Sunday's 25th anniversary reunion for the team's Super Bowl XXI championship, remembering that New York mayor Ed Koch spurned them after the championship victory over Denver.

"I weep for the future.''-- The maitre d' at the fine Chicago restaurant in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off,'' the movie that had its 25th anniversary Saturday, when Ferris, claiming to be Abe Froman the Sausage King, snuck into the restaurant under false pretenses. I was going to use, "Bueller ... Bueller ... Bueller,'' but the snooty maitre d' was a little better, I thought.

Hey, when one of the great movies of our lifetime turns 25, it's going to get 91 words in MMQB.

As I put together my list of the top 100 players in the NFL, I struggled a bit when deciding where to put Philip Rivers, who, unlike many of the premier quarterbacks in football, has not only not won a Super Bowl but also hasn't played in one. Super Bowl appearances by active quarterbacks: Tom Brady four, Ben Roethlisberger three, Peyton Manning two, Drew Brees one, Aaron Rodgers one, Eli Manning one, Donovan McNabb one, Rex Grossman one, Matt Hasselbeck one, Kerry Collins one, Jake Delhomme one. Rivers zero.

But I looked at the greatest Chargers quarterback of them all, Dan Fouts, and his zero Super Bowl appearances. And I thought I'd compare his three best seasons in a row to Rivers' past three seasons. I was surprised in many ways how Rivers' period exceeds Fouts' period.

By the way, the '79, '80 and '81 seasons were the only years Fouts threw for 4,000 yards among the nine seasons he played with a 16-game NFL schedule, which was adopted in 1978. Rivers has thrown for 4,000 yards in three of his five starting seasons.

Comparing the best three years for both quarterbacks:

Tebowmania in action:

The first person to line up for a Tim Tebow-autographed copy of his autobiography Through My Eyes at the Walmart in Gainesville arrived 31-and-a-half hours before the scheduled 6 p.m. signing. The store sold 1,000 copies of the book in the first day it was on the shelves. Or, I should say, flying off them.

Had the good fortune of sitting in the field seats at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night/Friday morning, an early celebration of my 54th birthday, with friends from New Jersey, including Bob Papa, the Giants' radio voice and an NFL Network voice. Papa, by the way, is one of the talented few on this planet who can imitate both John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman so that you think you're listening to the Yankees on WCBS radio, not to Papa in the third-base stands at the Stadium.

Anyway, part of the deal is a ridiculously fine meal before the game, which is part of the ticket package. When we walked into the place and looked over the carving stations and sushi bars and cooked-to-order pasta stations, the first question was: What don't we want? I settled for the braised cauliflower and monster carrots, the ziti and salmon in a light lemon cream sauce, two California rolls and four raviolis with the short-rib filling. With a glass of Argentinian Malbec. Sumptuous.

While I grazed the food stations, I looked over and noticed a man in black, his back to the corner (and, of course, why wouldn't he have his back to the corner?): Steve Schirippa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on The Sopranos. New York, New York, baby.

So Papa comes back to our table with his plate of food.

"Just saw the ultimate in New York snobbery,'' he said. "Woman in front of me getting her food. Highlighted blonde hair. Mid- to late-40s. Clad in black. Hamptons tan. Waiting. She says, 'Totally different vibe in here tonight from Sunday. I was here Sunday, and the food was totally unedible.' ''

Unedible. Not inedible.

Then Ms. Hamptons Tan asked for filet, done medium well, and asked for it to be cut open so she could check whether it was cooked enough. The gal at the filet station cut it. Had some red inside.

"That needs to be cooked,'' Ms. Hamptons Tan sniffed.

As for Papa, he said he drew the line at sushi in a baseball park, would eat everything on his plate, then get a hot dog (or two) as the game went on.

Somehow I'm guessing the Tampa Bay Rays don't have braised cauliflower and short-rib-filled ravioli and ziti and salmon in a light lemon cream sauce at their pregame spread.

"I watched 2 games of Pryor, 7-8 of the other QB in draft. Based on those 2 games, Pryor a late round pick at best. Want to see more.''-- @gregcosell, the NFL Films gametape analyst and executive producer of the NFL Matchup show, on Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who intends to enter the NFL's Supplemental Draft this summer.

"I bet heaven has wifi.''-- @arianfoster, the 2010 NFL rushing champion, apropos of nothing, Sunday morning.

"LeBron now takes his talents to the coughseason.''-- @SteveSerby, the New York Post columnist, after the Miami Heat and LeBron James lost the NBA Championship Series to Dallas Sunday night.

1. I think you'll notice a single line in your papers or a small note on sports Web sites this morning about the death of former Dallas linebacker Godfrey Myles, who suffered a massive stroke. Allow me a few words about the hard-working system player Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones drafted in the third round of the draft. A guy who solidified the Super Bowl championship run in 1991.

Myles was a special-teamer and backup outside 'backer for four seasons until ascending to the starting job under Barry Switzer in 1995. He started 11 games, finished third on the team with 55 solo tackles, and helped them get to, and win, the third Super Bowl of the era. I remember covering the 1991 Dallas draft, and Johnson being excited by the pick of role players (picked high) Russell Maryland, Dixon Edwards and Godfrey Myles. "My kind of players,'' he said that day. "They fit exactly what we'll do on defense.'' Myles wasn't Aikman or Emmitt. But he was the kind of player Johnson needed to win. So many winning teams have those kinds of players, and we don't pay enough attention to them. Cowboys fans, think good thoughts of Godfrey Myles today.

2. I think that was very bad form, Lawrence Taylor, committing to attend both days of the Giants' 25th-year anniversary gathering of their first Super Bowl win, and then being a no-show on Sunday.

3. I think if I were Mike Shanahan, I'd put in a sixth-round bid on Terrelle Pryor in this summer's (potential) supplemental draft, keep him on the Redskins practice squad for at least the 2011 season, and hope you make something out of him in a good offensive system by 2012 or '13. At the very least, the sixth-round investment might become a decent draft choice if Pryor develops; at worst, he's a waste. And in the middle, maybe he makes eight or 10 Kordell Stewart-type plays for you in 2012.

4. I think the Rams should sign Plaxico Burress. No doubt in my mind.

5. I think I will -- as will my peers -- give the Ken Anderson candidacy for the Hall of Fame our serious consideration if it comes up out of the Seniors Committee. And I believe he deserves a hard look. But let's not talk about Anderson like he's a slam-dunk and its been a ridiculous oversight over the years, please.

What I don't like about advocates for anything -- the Hall of Fame, MVP, who's better at some position or other -- is ignoring some factors at the expense of others. And though I have great regard for Anderson's career and understand how difficult it was to climb Mount Pittsburgh every season in the same division as the Steelers, you can't ignore the fact that he won no Super Bowls and two playoff games in 16 seasons -- 13 of which he was the Cincinnati starter. That shouldn't determine whether he gets in or not, but it certainly needs to be a factor in whether he does.

6. I think I'm glad Alex Smith "absolutely expects'' to be the 49ers' starting quarterback, because the coach of the 49ers is planning on it. In fact, he doesn't have many alternatives. Or any.

7. I think every GM and front-office operative is hoping for a resumption of the football league year, oh, around July 10. Why then and not now? Because families look forward to some real time off with the league's coaches, scouts, GMs, and team personnel starting around this time of year. If free agency begins June 22, and general managers and coaches have to rush back to work, there will be more than a few cold shoulders given by wives and kids to the men of the house.

8. I think I wonder this about Cleveland: Will the city's sports fans be happier if Colt McCoy wins a playoff game this year than it was when LeBron James lost a championship series last night?

9. I think these are my quick-hit NBA thoughts (shocking! King on the NBA!):

a. A sign of a great player is one who wants the ball and takes charge of the game when it's on the line and the throat's getting tight. Dirk Nowitzki is a great player. LeBron James, in this series, was not.

b. LeBron didn't murder someone, by the way. He just went somewhere with extreme hubris in free agency. Can we cool the character assassination please?

c. LeBron just wasn't aggressive enough taking charge and jonesing for the ball. Why? It's going to haunt him. He's got time to write his NBA story, but this will be a very ugly chapter.

d. Fantastic move by Mark Cuban, shutting up and letting his players have the attention in this series, and then allowing David Stern to present the championship trophy to Mavs founder Donald Carter.

e. Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry ... even a basketball neophyte like me can see how good, and how valuable, they are.

f. Dwyane Wade's the best player on Miami.

g. Are you telling me all those Heat fans allowed their seats to be sold to Mavs fans? What were there, 4,000 Dallas fans in the house? Seemed like it.

h. Love what Dirk said postgame: "This is a win for team basketball.''

i. Re Dirk-Bird comparisons: Larry stands alone, but the reasons they remind me of each other were evident Sunday night. They don't care if they're 3-for-22 in the first 40 minutes; they want the ball in the final eight. They can handle the ball and the pressure. And they make their teammates better.

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

a. Thanks, Mike Wilbon, for my 54th birthday shoutout on PTI. You know you've got a big show when a friend in Taiwan emails to say, "Hey, just heard on Pardonthe Interruption that it's your birthday!''

b. More sad news of the weekend.

c. Proud of you for overcoming so much in the past year, Evan King, and being a stellar grad of the South Windsor (Conn.) High class of 2011. We'll be there to cheer you on tomorrow night.

d. Saw a black mutt last week. Asked the owner his name. "Wharf,'' he said. I wondered why, and the guy said, "Because he's black -- like a wharf.''

e. I promise I am not making that up.

f. Surprise: I thought ESPN or FOX would outbid NBC for the Olympics.

g. This hockey series is fantastic. Game 6 is tonight, on the edge of a cliff in Boston, and if the Bruins win, they'll take their fifth 2,600-mile flight to Vancouver for Game 7 Wednesday night. I like the travel part of it from this standpoint: In most cases historically in sports, teams fly right after the game to the next city, the next game. The Bruins, even with only one day between games, have slept in Vancouver, woke up the next morning, eaten breakfast, and flown east. Seems smart to me. Rather than ruin a team for the entire next day, the players fly rested, concentrate on hydration, land, and have an evening at home. The team hopes they get to bed early. Seems a better idea than landing exhausted at 7 a.m., trying and failing to sleep, and then sleepwalking through the day.

h. Coffeenerdness: Leftover from last weekend's jaunt to the Pacific Northwest -- a top-notch espresso called Poverty Bay from Auburn, Wash. Poverty Bay is a micro-roaster, and I had the best triple latte I've had in some time at the Church Hill Coffee House in Friday Harbor, not far from the home of the late Don Coryell. Outstanding place. One of John Clayton's favorites.

i. Beernerdness: You people in the Pacific Northwest are pretty lucky to have all those summer beers to choose from. Just before leaving Seattle early last week, on a row of taps at the bar in a Capitol Hill restaurant, I saw a 10-inch-high white polar bear as the tap for a beer. "What's that one?'' I asked. The bartender said, "Alaskan White. Good summer beer. A hefeweizen.'' He was right. Light, tons of flavor. Loved it. Good marketing too. We all want to drink what polar bears drink.

j. Just to refresh your Father's Day memories: Get the man who has everything End Game, about the reclusive chessmaster Bobby Fischer; or In the Long Run, about a CBS newsman's realization that his career was killing his family (good for this time of so many of our lives) ... and, in case you didn't take my advice a few months ago, you must read Unbroken, the heroic story of survival in World War II by Laura Hillenbrand. This is saying something, but this was better than Seabiscuit. Happy reading.

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