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Let the hype begin as Patriots, Giants prepare for Rematch Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS -- Lots going on as we draw nearer to The Rematch Bowl of Super Bowl 46. (That's right, I'm not a big Roman numeral guy.)

• We need to get one thing straight about Peyton Manning.

• The most compelling player in the 2012 draft hits our consciousness.

• The greatest player we never got to see develop is dead.

• Greg Schiano. Greg Schiano? And he may have a very familiar assistant coach in Tampa.

• I explore the life of Saints hero and ALS patient Steve Gleason.

But we should start with hype week, since that's why I have been dispatched to central Indiana. But I'll be brief since we'll have plenty of other opportunities throughout the week to dissect the game, including my late week prediction.

First, a word about how both teams are going to spin this as a totally different game than the one four years ago, with each team having so many new players and each team in a totally different place. Yes, one word: bunk.

Players on the two teams back for The Rematch Bowl: 23.

Owners back for the The Rematch Bowl: All (Kraft, Mara/Tisch).

Head coaches back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Belichick, Coughlin).

Starting quarterbacks back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Brady, Manning).

Left tackles back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Light, Diehl).

Key defensive linemen back for The Rematch Bowl: All (Wilfork, Tuck, Umenyiora).

Draft final-say men back for The Rematch Bowl: Both (Belichick, Reese).

Ventrone brothers on the New England roster for the first game and the sequel: Two (Ray for the first, Ross for this one).

Ventrone Note of the Week: In 2005, the Patriots signed safety Ray from Villanova as an undrafted free agent. He was released at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad, got hurt in the now defunct NFL Europa, was subsequently released in February 2007, re-signed to the practice squad that September, released later in the season, signed to the active roster in December, played in Super Bowl XLII, played 15 games for New England in 2008, and was released on the final cut of 2009. (He now plays for Cleveland.)

The following year, the Patriots signed safety Ross, Ray's brother, from Villanova, as an undrafted free agent. He was released at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad, then signed for the 2011 season, and, in between playing eight games, has been signed to the practice squad or active roster or released 21 times in the last six months. He's on the practice squad now. Who knows whether he'll be brought up to wreak havoc on special teams in the Super Bowl.

Ray Ventrone actually had a valuable cameo role in the Super Bowl game against the Giants. After the Patriots went up 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter, he destroyed New York return man Dominik Hixon at the Giants' 17 on the ensuing kickoff. It was Ventrone's first career tackle in the NFL, and it left Eli Manning 83 yards away from a touchdown the Giants had to have. And you know the rest, Tyree Velcro catch and all.

Anyway, the Ventrone thing just caps it off. This is the same game!

"Do you realize how weird this is?'' defensive end Osi Umenyiora said to Tom Coughlin in the mayhem of the Giants' locker room in San Francisco, after the Giants beat the Niners to get to this game. "Have you stopped to think about it? We win the NFC Championship in overtime with a field goal on the road four years ago and go on to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots. We win the NFC Championship in overtime tonight with a field goal on the road and go on to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots!''

It's going to be a fun week, particularly in eight states in the upper right-hand corner of your United States map.

***

Now, since we'll get hyped to death all week with the Super Bowl, let's cover other stuff ... like the other story we'll get clubbed over the head with this week.

What this column won't be about: where Peyton Manning will play in 2012. There's a simple reason. No one knows yet if he'll play at all. In the last few days, as I said on NBC last night, I've heard mixed reports about his physical condition. There is no guarantee he'll be healthy enough for any team to build its offense around.

Manning turns 36 in two months. He's had three neck surgeries in the past two years. People in Miami, Washington, Arizona and New York dreaming of Manning playing for their team and leading them to the promised land have to get their heads around the reality of this situation. Manning might be fine and ready to play football in 2012, and maybe even a year or two beyond that. Or he might wake up on March 1 and not feel fit enough, and get his release from the Colts, and then spend more time rehabbing, trying to get fit enough and strong enough in the neck and arm to play this year. Or he might say, with new twins in the house, it's all not worth the risk.

Or Manning might waffle, which would be the greatest thing ever to happen to Brett Favre. Instead of Mike Florio speculating monthly if some team might take leave of its senses and try to lure Favre out of retirement, ProFootballTalk.com could make a cottage industry of The Race for Manning. Jets? Dolphins? Cards? 'Skins? The golf course in Chattanooga? Who knows? And if you thought ESPN and NFL Network over-covered Tim Tebow, wait 'til you see this. I can just see Scott Hanson and Ed Werder (or Chris Mortensen, who is tight with Manning) out in lawn chairs, camped out for the white smoke signals from the Manning chimney.

I know it's too much to ask, waiting for the story to actually develop. But near the end of the football season, Manning made a plea to let the process play out. Let the neck heal. Let the arm strength come back, if it will. Give it time. I don't think we can know anything definitive until Manning gives the process that time, and he sits down with owner Jim Irsay in late February or early March and tells him exactly where he is physically.

What'll happen then? I don't know. The other day, Manning family friend Gil Brandt, the longtime NFL personnel guru, was dubious about Manning's future when he appeared on my podcast. "My gut feeling,'' said Brandt, "is that we've probably seen the last of Peyton.''

Strong statement, and he wouldn't have said it unless he felt pretty good about it. Now, he did follow that by saying he doesn't think anyone knows the answer to the question for sure ... yet. We've all got to wait.

One more point: I talked to Colts owner Irsay over the weekend, and he insisted, contrary to an NFL.com report that he decided "weeks ago'' to part ways with Manning, that he hasn't done any such thing. "There has been no decision,'' Irsay told me. "This thing is still up in the air. I guarantee you I have not made the decision."

My gut is Manning's probably done here. And only time will tell if he'll play anywhere. It's just not anything we can know now.

Knotty scouting problem of the year.

Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who just finished playing in his last college football game, the Senior Bowl, is 48 days older than Aaron Rodgers -- both 28.

I watched Weeden play for the South team in the Senior Bowl Saturday. Impressive kid, particularly in the move from the Cowboys' spread offense to the more traditional pro-style look, mostly under center. His delivery was long, and he doesn't have the tightest spiral. But his accuracy was good, his confidence better, and he stepped into throws with good mechanics and a strong arm.

I'd heard he was the most impressive passer in the week of practice before the game. "He is absolutely lighting it up,'' one AFC scout, whose team is not in need of a quarterback, said after watching two days of practice. "I bet he's raised his stock significantly here. I wouldn't be surprised, even with the age question, if he's made himself into a second-rounder.''

Weeden, a 6-foot-4 pitcher, chose to play baseball out of high school. The Yankees paid him a $565,000 signing bonus as the 71st overall pick in the 2002 draft. (Number 44: Joey Votto. Number 64: Brian McCann. Number 80: Curtis Granderson.) He gave it five years, with the Yankees, Dodgers (New York sent him to L.A. as one of three players surrendered in the Kevin Brown trade) and Royals, and his 19-26 record with a 5.02 ERA just didn't cut it.

He had a partially torn labrum that didn't require surgery if he wanted to play football, so he enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007. After a rehabbing redshirt year and two more on the bench, he took over as the quarterback in 2010, and in two starting seasons completed 69.7 percent of his throws with a +45 touchdown-to-interception differential.

And last week in Mobile, every team that talked to him was fixated -- rightfully -- on his age. "I'd say it's in the upper 20s, the teams that have talked to me,'' he said when we spoke on Friday. "And I'll tell you pretty much word for word what I told them about the age thing. There are pros and cons to being 28 and being an NFL prospect. The only con is I can't have a 20-year career, or as long a career as some of the younger guys at my position. The pros are maturity and experience ... I've already been a professional in one sport, and I grew tremendously from that. Nothing really fazes me. What you see is what you get.

"This week, I've transitioned to more of a West Coast system with [Washington] coach [Mike] Shanahan, and I think I've handled it well and proven I can do the things you need to do in the NFL to play the position. And then, I think my biggest plus is being even keeled, which all comes back to baseball.''

Failing in baseball being a big part of that. "Right out of high school,'' he said, "I was under a microscope, and I had adversity for the first time in my life. Throwing an interception is like giving up a home run. I've done it. It doesn't kill me. It bothers me, and I want to figure out why, but it's part of the game, and you'd better be able to overcome it.

"I remember once pitching against Ian Stewart [infielder with the Cubs now] in Asheville, N.C., and he hit a ball out over the trees, way over the fence. I think it's still going. I mean, a monster shot. I thought I threw a pretty good pitch, curveball low and in. And he just crushed it. It's a blow to your ego when you fail, obviously. But as I look back on it now, I see a period of my life that really helped me get where I want to be.''

I don't know enough about Weeden to hazard a guess, yet, where he'll go in the draft. But let's say you're a team with a quarterback need in the second round. Washington, Miami and Seattle all pick between 39 and 45, and all could be sniffing for a passer. Let's say you do all your physical and mental work on the quarterbacks in the draft, and you're convinced that, mentally and physically, Weeden is healthy and bright and as ready to play in the NFL as Mark Sanchez, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have been in recent years, or nearly as ready. Will you take a shot at a guy who might be able to give you eight starting seasons? Or will you say you can't take that risk for a player who's older than Aaron Rodgers right now? That'll be the dilemma of this draft for teams that don't get a quarterback in free agency or at the top of the first round.

***

The best player you never knew: Greg Cook.

In 1969, the Bengals had the fifth pick in the common draft between the NFL and American Football League -- the final season before the 1970 merger of the two leagues. Defensive tackle Joe Greene of North Texas went No. 4 to Pittsburgh and became the cornerstone defensive player for the four-time Super Bowl champion Steelers of the '70s. Quarterback Greg Cook of the University of Cincinnati went No. 5 to the Bengals and became the symbol of why the Bengals could never dethrone the Steelers for the next 10 years.

Cook, possibly the single biggest lost talent in NFL history, died Friday of pneumonia. Cincinnati assistant Bill Walsh said in 1997 that Cook was the best quarterback he ever saw. And Bengals owner Mike Brown said Friday: "Greg was the single most talented player we've ever had with the Bengals. Had he been able to stay healthy, I believe he would have been the player of his era in the NFL."

My first sportswriting job out of college was at the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1980, and when I got there, the name "Greg Cook'' was like "Sidd Finch." Cook had been out of football for seven years (really, for a decade by then; he had only a cameo in 1973 after his 1969 injury disaster), and he was a shadowy, almost mythic figure around the Bengals by the time I covered them in 1984. I'd heard of Cook, of course, and when I once mentioned him to Brown, who'd coached him and watched his horrible disappearance, he shook his head and said something like, "A shame.''

Here's what happened, as told by his rookie-year roommate Sam Wyche, to me on Saturday:

"Greg came in as a rookie and you could see he was a marketer's dream. Tall, handsome, confident, great-looking. First guy I ever saw who used a hairdryer. All the rest of us were slicking our hair back with Brylcreem, and Greg's in there using a hairdryer. All the guys made fun of him, but he took it fine. He could have been from Manhattan Beach, Calif., instead of Chillicothe, Ohio, and no one would have been surprised.

"As soon as you saw him on the practice field, we were all like, 'This guy's going to take us a long way.' Six-four, 220, the quickness of a smaller guy, with a Terry Bradshaw arm and such great touch. With Joe Montana, the ball arrived. But Bill Walsh used to say, 'Don't throw it to him. Throw it through him.' And when Greg threw it, the ball was still carrying.

"The thing about football in those days, it wasn't as complex as it is now, obviously. No fire zones, no complicated blitz packages. And Greg came in, and he was so obviously the best quarterback that he started right way for us. Here's how good Greg Cook was: We were an expansion team the year before [the Bengals went 3-11] and when he came in the next year, he turned us around.''

In the first two games of the season, Cook beat the Dolphins and Chargers by a combined 20 points, throwing five touchdown passes and setting the Reds-crazy town on fire. In the second quarter of Week 3, the Kansas City Chiefs came to Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus, the same stadium where Cook set school records in college. The Chiefs were really good, the team that would go on to win Super Bowl IV four months later. Cook threw a 17-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to give the Bengals a 7-6 lead.

Soon after that, Cook dropped back to pass, set up, and as he threw, got blasted -- cleanly -- by linebacker Bobby Bell. Cook was driven into the ground, and his right arm got wedged awkwardly against the ground. Immediately Cook began writhing in pain. When he came to the sideline, he walked with his right arm hanging low, in intense pain. Wyche relieved him and, incredibly, led the Bengals to a stunning upset over the future Super Bowl champs, throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass to Bob Trumpy for the win.

But Cook was seriously injured. Doctors examined the shoulder and didn't know exactly what was wrong. Wyche thinks they shot dye in there to study the structure of the shoulder, and the study was inconclusive. As a friend of Cook's, he remembers how frustrated Cook was, especially to hear the football bromide over and over: "You've just got to fight through the pain.'' The best guess is Cook had a torn rotator cuff, but that's still a matter of debate in Cincinnati. Whatever it was, it never healed properly.

He started eight games the rest of the year and won AFL Rookie of the Year, but he was never right. His personal life went to hell; he separated from his wife, got hurt and had his dad died -- all within a month. Wyche remembers him having surgery and aggravating the shoulder in an offseason charity basketball game, but he never was right again.

Wyche's crystal-clear memory, an agonizing one to hear 42 years later, came from early in training camp in the 1970 season, at dry and dusty Wilmington College, an hour northeast of Cincinnati.

"Greg was warming up, trying to throw, and he just couldn't,'' Wyche said. "He unsnapped his chin strap, yanked off his helmet, threw it to the ground and yelled: 'I can't do it! I can't throw anymore!''

He threw three passes the rest of his life -- in a 1973 game against Denver. He was finished.

"His life just fell apart,'' said Wyche. "He tried to find something to do. He was a chef. He was a really good artist. In fact, I've got one of his oil paintings, of a landscape. I think it's in Ohio. But it's hanging in my house. The other night, Bob Trumpy was on a talk show and they asked him what was [Greg's] life like after football. He said, 'Greg was like a stray cat.'

"A shame. Just a shame. We knew he was the golden goose, and we just imagined all the golden eggs he would have laid if he'd had a normal career. And he still was really popular in Cincinnati. I remember a few years ago, maybe around 2000, going to a banquet in Western Hills [a Cincinnati neighborhood; Pete Rose grew up there]. He was the most popular guy in the room. People loved him. They remembered him from his great college career too.''

And that's the story of Greg Cook. Had he been born 30 years later, when someone like James Andrews could have fixed his shoulder, we'd have seen the greatness. In 2005, Drew Brees had his shoulder ruined in the final game of the season. It was reconstructed by Andrews. Ten months later, he was playing like a Pro Bowler and led the Saints to the NFC Championship Game. Cook was just born too soon.

***

Greg Schiano wants Butch Davis on his staff.

Not sure whether Davis would be defensive coordinator or an assistant head coach, but Schiano's interested in adding him to the staff at Tampa Bay. Schiano was Davis' defensive coordinator at the University of Miami in 1999 and 2000, and they have remained close. Davis hasn't coached in the NFL since he was dismissed by the Browns after the 2004 season. He'd be a good sounding board for Schiano.

I like the Schiano hire. Not to ignore the others, but having lived in New Jersey when Schiano took over one of the worst teams in any sport in the country (that's no exaggeration), I witnessed the job he did making Rutgers competitive nationally. In the last few days, I've heard people say, "Well, he never won the Big East at Rutgers. Dumb hire.'' Time will tell.

Only two of the eight coaches hired in 2009 are still with their teams. You know there are no such things as long-term locks in the NFL, but I like this hire because the Bucs needed a coach to instill discipline. This is a team, and a defense in particular, that didn't respond to Raheem Morris anymore. It's shocking how quickly they tuned him out -- as if they lost interest in everything that came out of his mouth. They won't miss what Schiano says. He'll bench or cut guys if they're lazy or poor workers or unproductive.

"Whatever you decide to do, on any level of football, you have to have rules, and we'll have them,'' Schiano said over the phone from Tampa. "I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel. I'm just looking to coach the players we have the right way.''

He's not sure how he got so close to Bill Belichick, but Belichick helped him get this job. He called Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, who led the Bucs' long search, and told Dominik how NFL-ready he thought Schiano was. "We trust one another,'' said Schiano. "I think we see things the same way -- not schematically, necessarily, but principally.''

Two other notes from Schiano: Getting hired by the Bucs made him miss the memorial service for his mentor, Joe Paterno. Schiano and his wife, though, went to State College Tuesday to pay their respects to the Paterno family.

"Thursday was one of the most exciting days of my life, getting this job, and also one of the saddest, because I missed Joe's service,'' he said. "I learned so much from Joe. Like, 'The only bad decision is indecision.' I can't tell you how significant a statement that is.''

Schiano has four children. He told them about the new job Thursday evening, and one of the kids said, "What about Eric?'' Eric LeGrand, the paralyzed Rutgers player. The Schiano family has become like a second family to LeGrand. "I told the kid we'd bring Eric down to Tampa, he'll stay at the house and we'll turn him into a Bucs fan.''

Telling the Steve Gleason story.

I've been tracking Gleason, the former Saints special-teams ace, diagnosed with ALS last January, for a story that will run on NBC's Super Bowl pregame show Sunday. My last trip to New Orleans was Wednesday. It's been a memorable few visits with Gleason and his wife, Michel, and their son, Rivers, particularly seeing how noble and human Gleason is handling the ultimate punch in the gut: how every muscle in his body is slowly but surely breaking down and failing him.

I won't tell the story here; it'll run later in the pregame show. But when I started reporting it in the fall, Gleason, 34, was insistent that it not be a sob story about an athlete whose athleticism is being robbed. "I don't feel sorry for myself, and I don't want anyone else to,'' he told me in November. "All I want is to be able to help some ALS patients, show them they don't have to give up when they're diagnosed.''

I agreed. I said we at NBC would tell his complete story, with an eye on what he hopes to accomplish for ALS patients. Which I think we've done. You can judge when you see the story Sunday.

But something happened on the way to doing the story. Michel, his wife, is tremendously real and emotional. Steve is valiant and well-spoken. ALS is eating away at Gleason's legs and torso; he is now using a walker. It's impossible to experience the Gleason story and not be touched, and not get choked up. Impossible, unless you're a totally unfeeling person. And so last week, when I was in New Orleans, I spoke with Steve and Michel about the story. I didn't want to blindside them, because there is some sadness and some inspiration and a few tears in the piece. "It has to be this way,'' I told them. "You can't tell this story antiseptically, or any ALS patient and family members who watch it will say, 'That's not real. That's a bunch of BS. That's not my life.' '' They agreed. I didn't tell them that to seek their approval. I told them because this is the way it had to be to be real.

I am a TV story neophyte. The heavy lifting here was done by producer Phil Parrish and his dogged production assistant, Paige Westin. I think we've all gained respect for what ALS patients go through every day to live lives something close to normal and dignified. The thing I have appreciated most is seeing the feeling and the love Michel's family, the Variscos, have for Steve, this newest member of the family from the Pacific Northwest. The other day, Michel drove me to the vacant lot catty-corner from the Varisco home, where Michel's grandfather lived until flooding from Hurricane Katrina ruined his home. Now Michel and Steve have the blueprints for a home there, and they hope to build it and be in it by late this year.

"It's cool,'' Michel said. "It's like recycling. It's going to be great to have my family so close by, because let's face it, I'll need them.''

With a baby, and with a husband who needs more care as each day passes, she'll need the help.

"This family is my support system,'' said Gleason. "The support system is my force shield. It's harder for the desperation, the anxiety, the depression, to creep in.''

Hope you enjoy the story. I'll tweet a little more about it as we get closer to Sunday.

"I got more.''

-- Giants coach Tom Coughlin, asked if he has the same energy he had 17 years ago, when he took over the coaching of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I never had too much hospitality here, until I went for it on 4th-and-2. Since then, I've been greeted in a lot more friendly manner than I ever was in the past."

-- Patriots coach Bill Belichick, upon arrival in Indianapolis Sunday evening. The Leno line comes from his view that the natives must love him since the Patriots went for it, and failed, on 4th-and-2 in their own territory with a late lead against the Colts in 2009.

"When you are younger, you think there's a wise man behind that door with a white beard, and you can go see him and he'll tell you the answers. But that man is not there.''

-- Indianapolis owner Jimmy Irsay, to Judy Battista of the New York Times in an excellent piece Sunday about the major franchise decision he faces with Peyton Manning.

"Our team will be built around a humble unselfish attitude of sacrifice. It's hard to find in today's world. But that's who we'll be.''

-- New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

"I can't even put into words what he's meant to the franchise and to the family. My mother still refers to him as her 12th child. He has taken very good care of our players and our family, including my father for many, many years. I would venture to say he's the most valuable player in this franchise. He was at my father's bedside for most of the final six weeks or so that he was in the hospital [in 2005]. He took such care of him. They had a special bond. I get emotional even thinking about it, how he cared for him during that final period."

-- Giants president, CEO and co-owner John Mara, on longtime athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes' care of the Giants players and late owner Wellington Mara, to Tara Sullivan of The (Bergen) Record. Barnes told Sullivan: "Every day of my life I think about Mr. Mara. We are really stewards of his company.''

I know the Maras, and I know Barnes. The affection and regard on both sides is 100 percent real.

The Strange Case of Tom Coughlin vs. Marv Levy:

I'm one of the 44 Hall of Fame voters, and it's hard not to see how eerie the numbers are when you compare Levy (Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2001) to Coughlin .... making it hard to see how Coughlin is not going to have a pretty fair argument to be bronzed one day -- particularly if he coaches at a high level for another two or three years.

Great note purloined from John Altavilla of the Hartford Courant:

Two days after the UConn women won the national championship in 2004, coach Geno Auriemma began coaching his 15-year-old son Michael's AAU team, Connecticut Nike Elite. On the team with Michael was a 15-year-old athletic forward from Bristol, Aaron Hernandez. Do the timeline on this: Auriemma began coaching the team in 2004, two months after Tom Brady led the Patriots to their second Super Bowl, and here was Hernandez, a freshman in high school, trying to make his way as a basketball player. "Aaron could have been a Division I basketball player,'' Auriemma told Altavilla. Brady, two-time Super Bowl quarterback. Hernandez, pimply high school frosh.

Hernandez, of course, went on to play football at Florida as Tebow's tight end. And he was the Patriots' fourth-round pick in 2010, and he's caught 124 passes from Brady in two years with the Patriots. Auriemma said his son will sometimes call and say things like, "Dad, Aaron and Tom Brady are butting heads after a touchdown pass. It's the most incredible thing you can imagine.''

Mike Mayock will find a beer and a beach today in Hawaii. And he'll try to think about something other than football for a few minutes.

He spent a week in Tampa, beginning two weeks ago, for the East-West college all-star game, doing the game telecast for NFL Network. Last week, he was in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, on NFL Network Saturday afternoon. Right after the game Saturday, he buzzed to the Mobile airport and flew to Los Angeles, getting in before midnight and checking into an airport hotel. He had a 5 a.m. wakeup call and 7:30 a.m. flight to Honolulu. By 12:30 Honolulu time, Mayock was on the field for warmups prior to the Pro Bowl. "Didn't we just see you on TV in Mobile?'' one of the Houston assistants (Texans coaches were the AFC coaching staff for the Pro Bowl) said to Mayock.

He did the Pro Bowl game on NBC, then went back to his hotel. He said he was tired, but happy.

"I'm like Ernie Banks,'' he said. " 'Let's play two.' ''

The old Cub used to say he loved doubleheaders. More of a good thing was his theory. Same with Mayock. He'll get a couple of days off, then fly to Indianapolis for a Thursday night NFL Network show.

"what if we judged nothing?''

--@RickyWilliams, the Baltimore running back, at 2:08 a.m. ET Saturday.

"what if we didn't pretend to be less than we are in order to not rock the boat? what would your life look like?''

--@RickyWilliams, at 2:10 a.m.

"I've notice that just by asking these questions, I feel lighter. Also I notice things popping in my mind which impose on the lightness.''

--@RickyWilliams, at 2:15 a.m.

Two observations:

1. Like, wow, man.

2. I would pay to see a Ricky Williams-Jim Irsay tweet-off.

1. I think the NFL should put San Diego in the Super Bowl rotation. Best Super Bowl city in the world. I don't care how mediocre Qualcomm is. I've never heard a soul -- fan, visitor, media type -- complain about the site. But I have heard scores of people ask, "When's the Super Bowl going back to San Diego?''

2. I think scouts love the hiring of Phil Emery as Chicago GM. Emery is one of them -- a worker bee who rose through the ranks and now gets his shot with a flagship NFL franchise.

3. I think the former Bear GM, Jerry Angelo, still can't help but feel blindsided by his firing, and it's been almost a month since it happened.

4. I think I'll start here with full disclosure: Tony Grossi and I went to Ohio University together and worked at the school paper, The Post, side by side for three years. We have mostly lost touch over the years, but I still consider him a good friend. So if you want to dismiss my opinion on this, that's fair.

Grossi, a longtime Browns beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sent out a tweet he meant to keep private for one friend, except that it went to all of his followers last week, and the tweet called Browns owner Randy Lerner a "pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world.'' Once Grossi saw the damage, he called his editor to inform him, then called Lerner and club president Mike Holmgren, ostensibly to apologize. They wouldn't take Grossi's calls. The paper took him off the Browns beat.

The paper's reader representative, Ted Diadiun, wrote a column explaining why Grossi got yanked. "[Managing editor Thom] Fladung was still left with a problem: His Browns reporter had revealed to the world his utter disdain for the owner of the team he was covering. How would the paper's readers be able to have faith in the objectivity in his reports following that? 'In another area, it would be an obvious call,' said Fladung. 'What if the reporter covering City Hall called the mayor pathetic and irrelevant? What if a reporter in the Columbus bureau said that about the governor? They would be removed from the beat immediately. It's the same with this situation.' ''

I disagree vehemently. Sports reporters on beats have become different than just-the-facts-ma'am statehouse reporters. For years, the role of a beat reporter in sports has been changing. Papers hand beat people a Sunday column and say, "Don't be afraid to be opinionated.'' Papers tell beat people to go on talk shows and be smart, authoritative and opinionated. And Twitter ... If you don't tell the fans what you really think and give them some knowledge they can't get anywhere else, good luck with attracting many followers. Grossi was opinionated and acerbic on Twitter anyway.

I am not bothered by Grossi thinking and expressing that Lerner is irrelevant. If Grossi showed in his copy some bias against the Browns, he should be moved off the beat. If Grossi said on some webchat that Colt McCoy is a lousy quarterback and the Browns should replace him, I'd laud him for his decisiveness and expert opinion. I don't like the move by the paper.

5. I think the Rams will get to play their game in London next year as planned and not be held to the Jones Dome for all eight regular-season home games.

6. I think I'd love to know what the Eagles are doing.

7. I think Andrew Luck will look great with a horseshoe on his helmet.

8. I think anyone who walks as well as Rob Gronkowski did getting off the Patriots charter Sunday afternoon will play seven days later.

9. I think that was a great job on the Irsay story, Judy Battista.

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

a. I see George Steinbrenner's been reincarnated in Detroit.

b. Opening Day, Thursday, April 5, Sox at Tigers: Beckett against Cabrera and Fielder with Verlander going for Detroit. Yikes.

c. Not proud to say I caught a half-hour of the Kardashian show Sunday. Kris Humphries is either a very good actor or 10 times more pathetic than the Kardashian sisters for putting all their petty crap out there for the world -- and apparently me -- to see.

d. Early reviews on Indianapolis are very good. Nice touch by having Indiana schoolchildren put little drawings in everyone's hotel room downtown. Reminds me of what Olympic host cities do.

e. Yes, I plan to hit St. Elmo's.

f. Great job on the Namath documentary, Joe Lavine of HBO and Keith Cossrow of NFL Films. A thoroughly enjoyable trip down football memory lane, with some of the best vintage football footage there is.

g. Matt Light's at it again, raising dough for his highly worthwhile youth charity by auctioning off two tickets to the Super Bowl, plus lodging and expenses and all sort of football paraphernalia. I've seen how valuable Light's work is, and the Patriots left tackle is giving you a chance to win this package through an online raffle site, at just $2 per shot (five tickets minimum). Check it out. His goal is to raise $250,000. Help him. As of Saturday, he was over $100,000, and the raffle ends Thursday.

h. Incredible how bad the Knicks are.

i. Coffeenerdness: "Hey, hope I make 'Coffeenerdness!' '' Marc, my barista at the Starbucks Canal Place in New Orleans, said to me the other morning. Well, let's just see how you made my latte first ... Hmmmm. Yes. Very good. Marc, you are quite worthy of Coffeenerdness. Seattle, give this man a raise!

j. Beernerdness: My airport restaurant of the season is Crust, in the Delta terminal at LaGuardia. In part because of real pizza in a real pizza oven with real quality thin crust. In part because of the beer menu. Ommegang Witte in an airport bar? Extraordinary. A real Belgian white beer brewed in upstate Cooperstown. That's a keeper.

k. Have a fun week. And don't let the hype get you down.

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