First up this morning: A history lesson. We'll never see two months like we've just seen in any offseason. Ever. To recap:
March 2 -- The NFL says the Saints ran a sophisticated bounty program with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams the ringleader and between 22 and 27 defensive players willing participants.
March 7 -- Colts release Peyton Manning.
March 9 -- Within eight hours, the following three stories break: Manning, a free agent, covertly flies to Denver, where Tim Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs two months earlier ... The Redskins trade three first-round picks and a second-rounder to St. Louis to acquire the second pick in the April draft, so as to take Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III ... The Jets sign quarterback Mark Sanchez to a stunning contract extension, with $40.5 million in new money. (Much of it, we find out within days, is not guaranteed.)
March 11 -- Brandon Marshall is accused of punching a woman during a skirmish at a New York nightclub.
March 12 -- The NFL announces salary-cap sanctions against Washington ($36 million) and Dallas ($10 million), for what the league says was dumping salary into the league's 2011 uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage. The Redskins and Cowboys say they'll appeal the ruling. Randy Moss comes out of retirement to sign with San Francisco.
March 13 -- Miami trades Brandon Marshall to Chicago, where, apparently, there are no nightclubs, for two third-round draft picks ... Secretly, at night, Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman work out Manning at Duke University.
March 14 -- Detroit signs wide receiver Calvin Johnson to a $132 million contract, the largest deal in league history. That's $12 million more than the entire team's salary cap for the 2012 season.
March 15 -- Mario Williams, the most attractive defensive free agent on the market, stuns the league by taking only one trip and signing with Buffalo.
March 17 -- Free agent quarterback Alex Smith, upset the 49ers haven't stepped up to the plate in negotiations, flies to Miami on a red-eye to investigate jumping to the Dolphins. A Seahawks blogger on the flight breaks the story on Twitter.
March 18 -- Free agent quarterback Matt Flynn signs with Seattle, ostensibly to start at quarterback.
March 19 -- Peyton Manning agrees to terms with Denver.
March 20 -- Newsy day in the Keystone State: Hines Ward retires ... Houston defensive captain DeMeco Ryans is traded to Philadelphia.
March 21 -- Roger Goodell suspends Saints coach Sean Payton for the season, departed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, GM Mickey Loomis for eight games and defensive assistant Joe Vitt for six games, all for their roles in the bounty scandal.
March 22 -- Tim Tebow, three months removed from being the most famous player in the league, is traded from Denver to the Jets.
March 27 -- Bill Parcells, seriously considering taking the one-year Saints head-coaching job for his friend Sean Payton, plays golf with Payton and Loomis to see if they'd be able to work together.
April 5 -- Videographer Sean Pamphilon releases a tape of a Saints team meeting the night before a January playoff game in San Francisco, with some graphic detail of Gregg Williams seemingly urging his players to injure 49er players. "We've got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore's head,'' Williams says.
April 9 -- Goodell denies appeals by Saints coaches and Loomis.
April 12 -- The Saints announce Joe Vitt will be the 2012 interim coach, with Payton returning to coach the team in 2013. One problem: They don't announce who will coach the team for the six games Vitt is banned.
April 17 -- In yet another example of the league making news out of thin air, the NFL spends three televised hours releasing the 2012 schedule. Foes were already known for each team. Dates were released here. Denver has five prime-time games. Someone in the league office must be a medic, with Manning coming off four neck procedures in the previous two years.
April 20 -- Goodell visits Minnesota to tell legislators, in essence, that if they don't approve funding for a Vikings stadium, the team could go to the highest-bidding city (read: Los Angeles). Very soon.
April 24 --Colts announce they'll pick Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft.
April 26-- There are 19 trades in the first round of an NFL draft that is as speedy (three hours) as Usain Bolt.
April 29-- The NFL announces that 39 million people in the United States have watched at least one minute of the three-day draft.
May 2-- Within two and a half hours, the NFL planet shakes. One: Goodell suspends four players for their roles in the bounty scandal, including a one-year ban for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma ... Two: Junior Seau is pronounced dead in his San Diego home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Two months. A never-ending, rarely pausing news cycle.
The Vilma ban and Seau suicide weren't the end of it. On Thursday, word leaked that 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs would miss some or all of the 2012 season with a torn Achilles. On Friday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith came out passionately against the suspension of the four players. The union charged the league had not proven its case, and filed two grievances in an attempt to overturn the sanctions.
I don't know what it all means. Maybe this is a freaky year. Surely there won't be a player the status of Peyton Manning getting whacked and then wooed in free agency. Surely there won't be another story with the legs of the bounty scandal. With the NFL becoming so gargantuan, there will be more stories where these came from. I just don't believe we'll ever see two months in an offseason when, day after day, week after week, the NFL obliterates the NBA, the NHL and major league baseball.
Now for the news items of the week:
Junior Seau, gone at 43.
I have a few memories of Seau, including one from Buffalo that I write about in this week's Sports Illustrated, but the most intense occurred in a tunnel, two-plus hours before Super Bowl 29, some 17 years ago. I was a pregame sideline reporter for ABC's Super Bowl coverage that year, and my assignment was to get a couple of questions in to Seau when he got off the Chargers bus. It had been previously arranged that I would do so. When I saw him approach, striding quickly, he had this look in his eye of supreme intensity. He never saw me as I took my place alongside him and said something like: "Hey, Junior, anyone say anything memorable in the team meeting last night?'' He never broke stride, never acknowledged me. "Junior?'' I said. "Junior?'' And he was gone, into the locker room.
I never forgot that intensity. I honestly think he was so zoned in that he never paid attention to anything in his path. But that's the way he played, and his burning focus is one reason he's such a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
As for why he killed himself with a gunshot to the chest Wednesday, we don't know why. We can theorize, and we will, but until (and if) medical authorities have the chance to analyze Seau's brain to see if it was damaged by years of brute-force football contact, it's going to be just educated guessing and anecdotal evidence.
I believe Seau played his entire career never wanting to give into pain and playing with far more than his share of it -- he missed only nine games due to injury in his first 14 pro seasons. If you asked me which defensive player in the last 20 years inflicted the most punishment on offensive players in the NFL, I'd say it'd be a tie between Junior Seau and Ray Lewis. Former Oakland fullback Jon Ritchie once told me about getting Seau's helmet driven "full force under my jaw, and he hit my like I've never been hit. I couldn't hear anything out of my left ear for a week. I was deaf. And my jaw was so sore, I couldn't eat right.''
That's one unforgettable hit in two decades of them, in college and pro football.
In the last year and a half, the league has been trying to eliminate some of the violent helmet-to-helmet hits in the game. That's a good thing. But those efforts have earned mostly scorn from fans and defensive players. After Seau's death, the tide is turning. Fans (scores of them on Twitter at least) have bleated, "The league's got to do something to improve players' lives after football,'' and said the league has to make sure players can walk away from the game as close to normal human beings mentally as possible.
You can't have it both ways, folks. If you want the explosive, brain-rattling hits to continue unabated, there's a good chance we'll see more players wrecked as they leave football, and years after that. Not saying that's what killed Seau. But I am saying it's a logical avenue to explore, and the league can't wait five or eight or 10 years to have a conclusive study of enough deceased players' brains in order to say it's time to get serious about player safety.
The best thing the NFL can do to honor Seau is to continue to hammer home the protective point that while it may not seem fair in all cases to fine defensive players huge money for hits on defenseless players, it has to be done if the league is going to prove it's serious about making the game safer.
And no more discussion of an 18-game schedule. Please. Simple logic says that's the dumbest idea of the Goodell Era. Unless the league pushes the novel but probably idiotic concept of every player playing a maximum of 16 games in a given season, it's an idea that must go away.
London Fletcher is a poor man's Seau, and he's had an anxious week.
This will be Washington linebacker Fletcher's 15th year in the NFL. By unofficial count, he has more tackles than any player in this century. He plays the game with abandon, the way Seau played it, and has been remarkably durable. Since 1998, he's never missed a game due to injury.
Last night I asked him about what Seau's suicide has meant to him.
"I'm still in disbelief,'' he said. "Still having a hard time with it. I've thought about him every day. And I think about what I'm going to be like at his age, 43, and how I'll be coping with life after football. I keep going over and over it. What am I going to be like several years down the road? I'm definitely concerned with quality of life after football. This makes me a little more scared about it.''
Fletcher didn't know Seau well, but he knows the type of person he was -- driven, brave, not one to ask for help. He's like the rest of us: He doesn't know why Seau killed himself. But he fears it has something to do with the football player's way of minimizing injuries, mentally and physically, and seeking his own way out of problems instead of asking for help. That's why he hopes the league and the players association will mandate counseling sessions for players as they transition out of football. "
You take the decision out of guys' hands,'' Fletcher said, "and that way, maybe some of them will be helped. If players have to go seek counseling on their own, lots of guys won't do that. Men in general, we're wired to hold things inside. It's not manly to be vulnerable and ask for help. For me, now, I can tell you I'm going to seek help if I feel I need it. That's what Junior's death has taught me.''
As of now, Fletcher doesn't notice signs of depression, or memory loss. But he said the Seau death "spooked'' his wife and family. "I had a cousin call me right away and say, 'I'm here if you ever want to talk.' The good thing about this, I think, is that many players around the league are having family members reach out to them, asking how they're doing.'' Now, Fletcher wants help to be mandatory when players walk away. I hope the league and the union consider his idea.
The league must be more transparent on the bounty penalties.
I think it's likely the league has damning evidence on the Saints players. But I also think if the league's going to destroy the character of a heretofore well-respected player, Jonathan Vilma, by putting a scarlet letter on his chest for the rest of his life ("B'' for bounty leader), it needs to come clean with more evidence on Vilma than it's provided thus far.
I don't believe the league has shared nothing, which the union would have us believe, but I also don't believe the league has shared nearly enough evidence to convince anyone that Vilma deserves to be banned for a year. If it's true Vilma offered his teammates $10,000 to knock Kurt Warner and Brett Favre out of a playoff game three seasons ago, let's see the proof. I understand that the league must protect certain whistleblowers in this case, but there has to be some evidence the NFL can share to assuage the doubters that the league really has the goods on the players.
It's good that Mary Jo White, a well-known and highly respected set of legal eyes, combed through the league's evidence in the case and pronounced it conviction worthy. But White was also retained by the league. What do you think she would have concluded had she been retained by the players association?
One other point: I ran into De Smith at the draft, and we talked for a couple of minutes about how the league and the players are fated to always be at odds, at least to some degree. He said ruefully that some players had said to him they thought now that the 10-year labor deal signed last summer meant the two sides would finally be at peace. That's not going to happen. Smith knows it, and now the league knows it.
It's D-Day in Minnesota.
Actually, it's the first of two D-Days. Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives will debate and then vote on the proposal for a $975 million, fixed-roof stadium next to where the Metrodome stands in downtown Minneapolis. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate will vote. The vote must pass in both bodies for the stadium to be built. If it passes -- and the smart political money says it will pass, barely -- the new stadium will be ready for football in 2016. If it doesn't pass, well, no one is saying what will happen. But I can tell you what is likely:
The Vikings will be the prime candidates to move to Los Angeles, following the Lakers and North Stars out of town. When commissioner Roger Goodell went to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago to sound the alarm about football's future in Minnesota, he told legislators and civic leaders that now they controlled the fate of the Vikings. But if a stadium bill wasn't passed, and soon, the control of the team would be out of their hands. And he's right. The wheels will be in motion for Los Angeles quickly if, by Tuesday night, the stadium deal hasn't passed.
The owners of the team, the Wilfs, have offered $427 million in stadium construction costs plus $13.5 million per year in operating fees (65 percent of the cost of operating the stadium annually). The rest of the cost would be borne by the city ($150 million toward the stadium) and state ($398 million toward the stadium). Because the Vikings were third in line in local stadia -- the Twins and University of Minnesota's football team were in line first -- this will be the final stadium project the city and state will have to support for a while. Even though the Wilfs are offering the third-most money any NFL ownership group has ever offered in stadium construction, it's still a difficult time for politicians to spend public money to support millionaire owners. If the project fails, that will be the reason.
But one other point is clear: If this stadium initiative does not pass, the end of the Vikings in Minnesota will be in sight. And the politicians are in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position. Some fear voting for the bill and getting voted out by the Tea Party types. Some fear voting against it and getting voted out by the Vikings fanatics. Watch for a very interesting week in Minnesota.
***The end for Patriots left tackle Matt Light comes this morning in Foxboro.
After the death of Seau, I wanted to find a story this morning of a man leaving the game who -- at least in my opinion -- could be a good model for the NFL for players' lives after football. Light, drafted in the second round by the Patriots in 2001, had a very good 11-year NFL career and played in five Super Bowls. I've gotten to know him pretty well as a player and as a person off the field, because of his extensive charity work, both with his foundation and other pet projects, including the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Light will retire at a ceremony in Foxboro at 10:30 a.m. today. He may do some TV work, but I know he's going to work extensively with his Matt Light Foundation, which is devoted to helping troubled teenagers around the country by putting them in a rural setting in Ohio for part of every summer. The foundation gets them to work together and do charitable community ventures in an effort to help them turn their lives around. I asked Light to write a piece of the column this morning about retiring and about life after football. Here's his take:
The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are long. Not only are you trying to get ready for a game while working out travel plans and tickets, but also everyone wants in on the action. Having been through this process a few times, I made sure to think of all the little things that become big problems the closer you get to game time. In the past I'd always start with my immediate family and work my way through the family tree and close friends. This one was special because it would be my last. I hadn't told that to anyone but it was something that I'd known for most the season. Kind of nice that the Super Bowl would be my last stop. For those of you who know the outcome of the game you are perhaps laughing or feeling sorry for me. All that hard work and effort for nothing ... The last memory in pads forever ruined by the Giant hands of defeat ... So close to a world championship. But those were never my thoughts.
Sure, I was upset about the outcome. I've never gone into any game thinking we would lose. It seemed like déjà vu. Same team, same stakes, same outcome. But there was a big difference this time. Instead of hanging my head, I actually felt blessed. As my teammates struggled to find the words to express their disappointment, I was reminded how fortunate I'd been during my entire career -- and now, in the last game, I was reminded with an exclamation point in the week leading up to the game.
See, I decided to raffle off two tickets to the game. Throughout the week we used the media hype to bring awareness to our foundation, The Light Foundation. We had been working on plans for a new turf field, timber frame pavilion and restroom facility, and through the raffle, we raised $272,000, enough to make these significant improvements on our 400 acres we've developed as a camp to work with at-risk teenage boys near my hometown of Greenville, Ohio. I'm sharing this story with you because I think it helps illustrate the best of the NFL.
The day after the Super Bowl, I headed back to my home in Ohio to begin clearing the land for the turf field. In the last three months we have completed the turf field, finished all the construction on the timber frame, and now we are near completion on the restroom facility. We held our fourth-annual youth turkey hunt at Chenoweth Trails, our outdoor camp, one of the events we run through the year for kids from around the country. It's truly incredible to watch a team of people, all donating their time, work together to create opportunities for kids. The work we've done will certainly outlast anything I could ever accomplish on the field.
I didn't grow up wanting to play football. Never thought a college would pay for me to join their team. The draft was just a reason to throw a party and I'd never seen a pro football game in person until I played in one. Yet, this unbelievable journey has provided my family and I with more than we could ever ask for and the ability to help those around us. That is the biggest victory of my career and why I will forever be grateful to the Patriots organization and the NFL.
I don't remember plays from games or any other details that involve what most fans watch. I've never gone back and watched a tape from one of our games on TV. So while I'm sure I will miss a lot of what's been my life as a lineman, the things that have always been the most important to me will still be. I love a good challenge and the art of negotiation. Problem-solving and hard work are actually fun. Being a dad is still the greatest part of my day and the friendships that were created over the past 11 seasons will forever be cherished. The game of football has taught me more about life than X's and O's. It's about patience, humility, honor, perseverance, and the Belichick way-at least to me, that's what's important to have the best chance to win, and to build a long career.
Today, on the day I retire, I'd be remiss if I didn't pay tribute to my former teammate, Junior Seau, who we lost last Wednesday. His death is a sad reminder of how much we ALL struggle with life. And finally, to all my fans, friends, teammates and family: Thank you. I'm so grateful for all your support and guidance throughout my career. I look forward to civilian life.
The Suggs Factor
The first reaction to Terrell Suggs being out for most, if not all, of the 2012 season with a torn Achilles suffered 10 days ago -- the Ravens' All-Pro pass-rusher is due for surgery Tuesday -- is Baltimore's defense will take a nosedive. And it's quite possible the Ravens won't be able to recover, and they'll fall back in the AFC North.
But a closer look will show the Ravens have three things going for them in Suggs' absence: Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw. And as much as the Ravens were gnashing their teeth during Round 1 of the draft 11 days ago, when they failed to hit on any of the players they really wanted and had to dump out of the first round, how fortuitous does it now look that they traded down to the 35th overall pick ... and Upshaw, stunningly, was still there?
It's likely that Upshaw, one inch shorter and 10 pounds heavier than Suggs, will take his right-side (End? Linebacker? Suggs plays a hybrid spot on the right side) rush spot from opening day. That would leave McPhee and Kruger on the left side to rush, and that's not such a bad thing. They combined for 11.5 sacks in just 762 defensive snaps last year (the snap count per ProFootballFocus.com), and the Ravens were already thinking about giving the precocious McPhee more playing time this year anyway. Surely Upshaw as a rookie won't be able to be as productive as Suggs as a vet, but he did have 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles behind the line for Alabama last year, and he'll have the benefit of a stout defense around him.
One other point from Pro Football Focus to consider. Last season, in 375 fewer combined snaps than Suggs, McPhee and Kruger, according to the football website that charts every individual play in the game, had 49 quarterbacks hits and pressures -- the exact same number as Suggs. Maybe if they play more they won't be able to mathematically increase the production, particularly without Suggs on the other side for offenses to worry about. That's why Upshaw should be one of the most significant rookies in the league this year. Instead of the Ravens being able to take their time with Upshaw this year and patiently teach him the defense and his role in it, now they'll have to do the teaching more rapidly, and the pressure will be on him to produce early.
There is one compelling free agent available who some observers might think would interest the Ravens: Andre Carter, who had a 10-sack season in a reborn years for the Patriots last fall. He turns 33 Saturday. The Patriots could have interest in him again, but would the Ravens kick his tires too? From what I hear, it's unlikely, even though he'll be ready to practice full-speed in training camp after a late-season quad injury landed him on injured reserve in New England.
If you're a Ravens fan, and you want to look on the bright side with the Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs, it's this: Only one time in Suggs' nine previous seasons with the team has Baltimore played its first game against Pittsburgh later in the season than the team will this year. In 2006, the first Baltimore-Pittsburgh game was Nov. 26; this year, it's Nov. 18. Suggs thinks he'll be playing football in November, though no one will know that until he has the Achilles surgically repaired Tuesday.
But with the first game between AFC North behemoths 28 weeks away (six-and-a-half months from yesterday), the Ravens can hang on to at least faint hope that Suggs will have a chance to mend for it. Baltimore plays the Steelers twice in a weird late-season-too-close-for-comfort 15 days (Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh, Dec. 2 in Baltimore).
Breaking down how Suggs has fared in his nine seasons as a Raven against his division rivals, including playoff games:
Breaking down how Suggs has fared against Pittsburgh, and against all other NFL teams:
So you'll see a pretty big leveling of the field if Suggs isn't dressed Nov. 18 or Dec. 2 for the Ravens-Steelers games.
"Junior obviously had been facing demons for at least 18 months. That's no longer speculation. People can take pills, run their car off the road and that's a cry for help. He was crying out for help. Yet he was too proud to ask for it. What I'd like to see done ... There is no exit strategy from the NFL. It's 'You're done.' You don't even get an apple and a road map. What needs to happen is mandatory counseling. In 15 years as a middle linebacker, I never would have thought of seeing a counselor. I saw one in my divorce, and I just called my counselor today. It can't be optional, because macho players are taught to be invincible and they're not going to do it. Make it mandatory.''
-- Former Junior Seau teammate and veteran middle linebacker Gary Plummer, to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, with one of the best ideas I've heard to come out of this tragedy.
"I have never been around a man with more love and passion for the game of football than Junior Seau, and he lived life the same way. Junior was always fun to be around, always positive and made every person who knew him feel like he was their best friend. You never heard one negative word come out of his mouth. Junior just had this energy that followed him around wherever he went, almost like theme music. It was like he never had a bad day. As a young linebacker, Junior was my hero growing up and once I had the opportunity to meet him I saw that he was everything I hoped he would be and more. Getting the chance to play alongside of Junior Seau, the greatest linebacker to ever play the game, made my dreams come true. I am absolutely devastated to hear this news. Today I lost my hero, my friend, my buddy."
-- Zach Thomas, the former Dolphins linebacker and teammate of Seau.
"I pray to God please, 'Take me! Take me! Leave my son!' But it's too late, too late."
-- Junior Seau's mother, Luisa, shortly after her son's suicide Wednesday. Her highly emotional reaction, played for hours Wednesday, was extraordinarily painful to watch.
"I won't give you the vision on what I think his role will be in the offense. But I would just say that to the best of my knowledge, I believe that what Coach (Ryan) said is he can play anywhere from one to 20 snaps, somewhere like that. And I would say what coach said is 100 percent correct. As far as how we'll use Tim or what we'll do with Tim that way, we're going to keep that to us right now.''
-- New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, mum about plans for Tim Tebow in the team's offense this fall. It won't be much of a secret. He's going to play Wildcat quarterback, some running back and some personal protector on the punt team -- the spot between the center and the punter -- at the very least.
Someone has to tell me this: Why is the train station in downtown New York called Pennsylvania Station and the train station in downtown Newark called Pennsylvania Station and the train station in downtown Baltimore called Pennsylvania Station ... while the train station in downtown Philadelphia is called 30th Street Station, and the train station in Pittsburgh is called Union Station?
Scurrying to Wikipedia already this morning, are you?
Three other Acela comments this morning, after a round-trip to Washington Friday and Saturday:
1. The coffee is still pathetic.
2. The Wi-Fi stinks. If you're going to install Wi-Fi covering six train cars, it ought to cover six train cars of people using laptops and tablets. Amtrak's is so glacially slow that you give up on the Wi-Fi and wait to get to your destination.
3. It's the only way to go up and down the East Coast.
Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, the 34th pick in the draft, wrote a story about me for a class at Stanford ... and he got it published in the Peninsula Press in the Bay Area.
Story behind the story, if you care: Fleener, in his fifth year at Stanford, is a master's student in communication. His professor for a class called Specialized Reporting and Writing, the one who assigned Fleener to interview and write about a member of the news media, is Gary Pomerantz, who covered the Redskins for TheWashington Post when I covered the Giants for Newsday.
Fleener has already accomplished one very big thing with the publication of this story that's essential to journalism: He's made an uninteresting person sound interesting. You've got a future, kid, if this football thing doesn't work out.
"I feel like Sonny Corleone at the toll booth.''
-- @untouchablejay4, Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs at 1:36 a.m. ET Saturday.
For one of three reasons:
1. He suffered an Achilles tendon injury last week that will require surgery this week.
2. He had a rough Friday night.
3. He feels bad about leaving his Super Bowl-contending team in the lurch.
"Really proud of the way Eli handled the big stage. Think I'll get him a present to celebrate. Maybe a banana lol"
-- @JustinTuckNYG91, Eli Manning's teammate and Giants defensive end, after watching Manning in a rather blue skit poke fun at his manhood.
"Albert Pujols is not even taking batting practice. He was essentially told by #Angels MGR Mike Scioscia to not even pick up a bat today."
-- @MikeDiGiovanna, Angels beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, at 4 Anaheim time Saturday afternoon.
You can't tell me the Angels aren't sweating over Pujols a little. Not that he's finished; but, "My God! We have 9.8 years of this guy's contract left!"
One-hundred-eighteen plate appearances. One home run. When Scioscia benched him Saturday, he was five for his last 47 (.106 BA, .128 slugging percentage, .253 OPS), with one RBI, over a two-week period. Fans booed him at the Big A Friday night. Not overwhelmingly, but there was more than a smattering. What an amazing story.
1. I think the first weekend of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis went about as expected: superbly. "He is unflappable,'' said coach Chuck Pagano. "Mature beyond his years. If you listen to some of those play calls that Bruce (Arians) gave him, then I know why he is an architectural engineer. He is going to do great once he is done with this in about 15 years ... We saw the same thing happen 14 years ago.'' With the Colts franchise, he meant -- and Peyton Manning.
2. I think these are two Seau-related newspaper stories I'd strongly advise you read. One is about living with depression, and almost dying from it, from Detroit News columnist Chris McCosky... The second is a terrific read from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune, about the challenges players face when they walk off the playing field for the last time.
As I've said, we don't know why Seau did what he did, but mental illness, depression and trying to find meaning in life after the cheering stops are all issues former players struggle with. In Acee's story, former safety John Lynch, a friend of Seau's, says it's vital post-career mental-health care and finding meaningful lives after football be priorities for the league and the retiring players. "The automatic response right now is it's got to be concussion-related. I wouldn't discount the concussion [aspect]. If we did, we'd feel terrible ... But, and I don't say this in a negative conversation, it's an out for people that are lost and searching. It's a huge issue. It's one the league better pay attention to."
3. I think everyone needs to read what Seau said to SI's Jim Trotter two months ago, when Trotter asked him about some of the new Goodellian rules aimed at taking some of the vicious hitting out of pro football. "It has to happen," Seau said. "Those who are saying the game is changing for the worse, well, they don't have a father who can't remember his name because of the game. I'm pretty sure if everybody had to wake with their dad not knowing his name, not knowing his kids' name, not being able to function at a normal rate after football, they would understand that the game needs to change. If it doesn't there are going to be more players, more great players, being affected by the things that we know of and aren't changing. That's not right."
4. I think it was good to see Ben Roethlisberger walking with the grads at Miami (Ohio) University Sunday. Roethlisberger got his Bachelor of Science in Education eight years after leaving campus for the NFL. What's not good is the petty attacks Roethlisberger took when I threw out kudos Saturday on Twitter. Those are the people who refuse to believe a person can change and grow, and who revel in keeping their opinions static. Roethlisberger, these people are certain, has abused women and thus will always be an abuser, and he can never move forward in his life.
I'm not sure who Ben Roethlisberger is right now, and I'm not sure if he'll ever be the kind of person you'd want your kids to emulate. But what I am sure of is this: People are capable of changing, and very often do change when tumultuous events rake their lives. That, however, is something none of you Twitter abusers believe can happen.
5. I think I like several of new Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie's signings of free agent marginalia. Ron Bartell may resuscitate a flagging career and could still be an effective cornerback, for instance. But the signing that may pay off most handsomely is bringing in Matt Leinart. Ask the Texans: He was just getting it, just turning around his disappointing career, when he got hurt in midseason last fall. I can tell you coach Gary Kubiak thought the Texans would be able to be offensively explosive after losing Matt Schaub, because he knew what he had in Leinart. Now Leinart will back up Carson Palmer, and though Leinart shouldn't count on playing unless Palmer gets hurt, I count Leinart as one of the best insurance policies in the NFL. Some day he'll get another chance, and I think he'll be ready.
6. I think if you want to know why the Bills whacked credible veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, look no further than the 103.3 passer rating he allowed foes last year in coverage (per ProFootballFocus.com). GM Buddy Nix is too smart to give away cornerbacks who can still cover, and with 2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams and this year's first-rounder, Stephon Gilmore, in house, Nix can afford to jettison an aging, slumping player.
7. I think you should pay attention to one undrafted player if you play fantasy football: Jeff Fuller. I'm not saying you should put him atop your late-round-flyer draft list; I'm just saying you should watch Dolphins training camp and see if he can win a job in an offense that will be struggling to find downfield weapons after the trade of Brandon Marshall.
In October, Fuller, of Texas A&M, was a legitimate first-round prospect. Then, as the 2011 season progressed, he seemed to drop more balls than he caught, he lost confidence, and bombed at the Senior Bowl. When I was in Miami last weekend, I could tell coach Joe Philbin had a blank-slate philosophy with everyone on the roster, which will hold Fuller in good stead. That plus he'll be catching the ball from his college quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and having the plays called by his college coach, Mike Sherman. Maybe the dropsies will be terminal for Fuller. But if he catches the ball well in training camp, he's absolutely an NFL-caliber receiver.
8. I think Amani Toomer's a bright guy, and a good person, but he was way out of bounds for ripping Kurt Warner after the Seau death. When Warner told Dan Patrick he'd prefer his sons not play football, Toomer told NBC Sports Network, "I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football.''
Warner left the game, in part, because of a fear of further concussions after a slight concussion left him woozy for days. And he has every right to say he wouldn't want his kids to play the sport that made him fabulously rich but also left him wondering if head trauma would impact him later in life. We grow, we think, we learn, Amani. As parents, we have the right to point our children in certain directions. To blindly point them down a road you think is wrong ... well, that's just wrong.
9. I think the four-year deal Cameron Wake signed over the weekend is the best news the Dolphins have had since ... well, since having a good draft the previous week. Teams have to pay their stars, and Wake's proven himself a star after coming to the NFL from the Canadian Football League.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Now you know why the New Jersey Devils feel like stepchildren: After the scintillating overtime win over Philadelphia Thursday in Newark, the Devils, who play eight miles from Manhattan, got half a page out of 33 sports pages in the New York Post's sports section and half a page out of 35 in the sports section of the New York Daily News.
b. Tremendous experience Friday with the USO at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Had the chance to get a tour with USO heavy Phil Parisi and two Nats, Adam LaRoche and Sean Burnett, and then to visit with some of the wounded troops adjusting to life with prosthetics. Inspirational is a word that comes to mind, particularly regarding the one Green Beret medic who lost his right leg, much of his left leg and half his left arm in an IED blast, and calmly had the presence of mind to tie tourniquets on all three wounds, and told us how lucky he was to have made it out alive.
c. Good work by the Nats, by the way, in offering great seats to the military for so many home games, and for opening their stadium and training facilities to rehabbing vets. That's an organization that gets it.
d. Very good to see the Nationals and the Orioles relevant.
e. My favorite quote from Saturday morning walking around the monuments in Washington comes from the Jefferson Memorial:
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.''
In other words, don't tell me we cannot amend laws that don't apply, or laws that must be fitted to our society today.
f. Love Mariano Rivera saying, "I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters.'' You might have gathered I'm no Yankee lover, but I do admire many of their players -- none more than the classy Rivera.
g. Weirdest, most shaken-up month for closers I've ever seen. Wreaking havoc on my Rotisserie team.
h. Funniest thing I've seen on "Saturday Night Live'' in memory was Peyton Manning coaching football to young kids on a field in Manhattan in a United Way ad spoof, and abusing them ruthlessly, to the point of punishing one by stashing him in a portable toilet. On Saturday night, Eli Manning wasn't as funny, but I don't recall a guest host playing more roles than Eli played the other night.
He was a Swedish football player (with the accent), a cross-dressing beauty contestant, a defendant who texted a photo of himself holding a banana in his groin and making light of his manhood, a lame game-show guest, an Occupy Wall Street protester, a New Yorker giving advice to tourists (a little lame), and, in his shining moment, a Big Brother-type to a kid getting abused by his older brother -- and helping the little brother get revenge. Eli held the older bro upside down over a toilet, threatening him with -- I think this is what it's called -- a swirly. That was a great sketch. Eli says gruffly to one kid who he locks in a trunk: "Maybe you'll treat your little brother with some respect now, Peyton!''
It wasn't a better performance than Peyton's six years ago, but it's got to go down in SNL history as a candidate in the category of Most Roles Played By a Host in 90 Minutes.
i. I was impressed that Eli would play as many uncomfortable roles as he did.
j. Had the pleasure the other night of being with former Sox pitcher Bill Lee at a Red Sox game for a few innings. He's started making wine now, "Spaceman Red,'' in Napa Valley, which is fitting for a man of his varied tastes. Still a big baseball fan, with a twist. When he saw Cody Ross of the Red Sox wearing a think hood under his cap, Lee said, "What's he doing wearing a burqa?'' When the A's took out very effective starter Jarrod Parker in the seventh, Lee sneered, "Quality start,'' with disdain. And so on. Entertaining night at the park.
k. Happy 81st birthday (Sunday), Willie Mays.
l. Coffeenerdness: Can you vary the baked goods, Starbucks? Are we fated to looking at the same doughy, tasteless scones for the rest of our lives?
m. Beernerdness: Lucky enough to find Starr Hill Amber Ale ("The Gift of Great Beer'' is on the label, and I don't doubt it) from Crozet, Va., in D.C. over the weekend. Bold and full of flavor, like a strong Cabernet, and eminently drinkable.
n. Beernerdness II: Congrats to Allagash White, which beat out 49 competitors to win the best Belgian Witbier at the World Beer Cup. See? I must be drinking something right.