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Making sense of the McCoy signing; pondering what Brees is worth

LONDON -- I walked the crosswalk of Abbey Road Saturday evening (the ZEB-ra, short "e" crossing), the one made famous by the Beatles album cover of my youth. I saw test-match cricket, which I presumed would be deadly dull but wasn't. I spent a day at the Fenway of world cricket. All in all, a very nice weekend with my brother Ken (who has lived in England since 1983) and his family, and some cricket fun with Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus too.

Before I get on the plane home, a few football notes, a lesson from Rod Smith, some commencement fragments and what the NFL can learn from sports over here. Such as this scene from Lord's cricket ground, when a batsman for underdog West Indies hit the ball and scored four runs for his team. (No, I'm definitely not going to bore you with the details and rules of cricket, except to say I've seen the Ichiro of world cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a left-handed batter for the West Indies team who's impossible to get out.) So the English crowd of 30,000 or so, many of the men in suits and the women in fine dresses and heels, politely clapped when the West Indies batsman, Adrian Barath, scored four runs. Sitting halfway up in the stands, I asked my brother why they were cheering.

"Because it was a good play,'' Ken, eight years my senior, said. "It's about sportsmanship. Barath's a good player. He might be from another country, but you appreciate good play.''

What a concept ... appreciating good play from the opposition. I'll get back to that in this unorthodox column (Monday Morning Wicket Keeper, a few of the Twitter Worldlies suggested I call it today), but let's go football first.

***

What the LeSean McCoy signing came down to for the Eagles.

The most amazing thing about McCoy is not how precocious he's been in his first three seasons, averaging 1,414 yards from scrimmage a season. It's that he's 23. The Eagles signed him to a five-year deal Thursday, and five-year deals for running backs are always dangerous. But Steven Jackson will take his first carry of this season for St. Louis at age 29, and Michael Turner is 30, and both could easily finish in the top five in the league in rushing this year. McCoy will take the last carry of this contract at age 28.

"There was a moment in time when we were able to find the right balance in these negotiations,'' Eagles GM Howie Roseman told me over the weekend. "To do a deal like this one, you've got to have the right player, the right person, the right talent, in the right offense, and you've got to be comfortable knowing the risks in signing a running back long-term.''

That risk, obviously, is McCoy's age. A year from now, the Eagles wouldn't have valued McCoy as highly because a five-year contract for a back at age 25 (which is how old he'd be on opening day 2013) is riskier than a five-year contract for a back at age 24. It's mincing words, yes. But with backs, the longer you wait to pay them, the worse you sleep three and four years down the road.

"Obviously there's an inherent risk in paying any player,'' Roseman said. "But if you're worried, and you're constantly conservative, you won't be able to build the kind of team that you hope can win a championship.''

This contract continues the Eagles' run of multiyear deals for valuable players still young enough to give the team multiple seasons. The McCoy deal doesn't strike me as dangerous, particularly considering how dangerous it would have been if McCoy amassed, say, 2,200 combined yards and 17 touchdowns in the 2012 season. If the Eagles had waited a year and he had that kind of season, there's no way he'd be a $9-million-a-year player, which this contract defines him as. He'd be more costly. And with other backs (Ray Rice, Matt Forte) out there battling for new deals, there's no telling where the market would be then.

I don't know how good McCoy is going to be, but I don't see how, unless there's a disastrous injury, this deal isn't a good one for the Eagles.

***

So what's fair for Drew Brees?

First, other than rookie receiver Nick Toon, no one should really care if Drew Brees is quarterbacking the Saints during Organized Team Activities, or during full-squad minicamps with the Saints. (If they were really important, there wouldn't be a "mini" prefixing "camps.") So with opening day 16 weeks from yesterday, I'm not going to be too concerned about Brees missing time until, say, about Aug. 20. Reason being: He's such a pro, and he's commanding a veteran offense, and the only new piece likely to play any role with 30 or more touches (and that could be a stretch) is Toon, the fourth-rounder from Wisconsin. So let's keep in perspective the fact that Brees and the team are conflicted over the lack of a new contract.

But I'm going to show you some numbers, and then I'm going to make a point about why I think Brees is more in the right in this case of Saints vs. Brees in the big-money department.

These are the numbers of three top quarterbacks in football over the past six years. (I exclude Aaron Rodgers because he's played only since 2008, and Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger because they haven't been great for as long as these three.) It's hard to look at this list and divine that Peyton Manning, over the past six years, has been $25.7 million better than Drew Brees, and Tom Brady $14.3 million better.

Stats of Brees, Brady and Peyton Manning since 2006, football and monetary, follow. The "NFL earnings'' category includes money earned since March 2006 through the end of the 2011 season. Brady's yards per season number includes the one quarter he played in 2008 before being lost for the season with a torn knee ligament; but his total yards was divided by five seasons, not six.

One other point: On Opening Day, Brees will be 33, Brady 35 and Manning 36. That matters too.

The Saints feel they should be credited for taking a medical risk with Brees in 2006. He was coming off serious shoulder reconstruction, and no team was willing to offer him $10 million a year. True. But by almost any measure Brees outplayed his contract. He's been the most statistically productive quarterback, and he didn't miss any significant time; Brady and Manning each missed a season due to injury.

So what is Brees worth? He doesn't have the medical red flag of Manning. It's easy to argue he'll be healthier longer than either other player, obviously because he's younger, but also because he hasn't had anything notably wrong with him since the end of the 2005 season.

One more thing: When you look at the earnings of the three men, remember that Brady's bottom line in some ways has been depressed slightly because of his unwillingness to be a pig in negotiations. He hasn't gotten jobbed, but he's never been a bandit either.

Manning, coming off a dangerous neck injury and surgery, is making $18 million this year. Brady, who signed his deal 20 months ago, is entering the third year of a contract paying an average of $18 million a year.

Brees is younger, has been more durable, has been more productive ... and the Saints are entering a season unlike any a quarterback has ever had to pilot through, considering the suspensions and unrest in New Orleans. I think the Saints will pay him before the middle of August, and it'll be somewhere around $21 million a year. Looking at the precedents, that's only fair.

***

Bridge to somewhere.

I knew Jim Miller when he worked for three teams in the NFL -- including the Saints as contract negotiator and vice president of administration -- before he changed paths and took the athletic director's job at the University of New Orleans in 2003. I'd lost track of him since, until I saw that he'd written a book, Where the Water Kept Rising: A College Athletic Director's Fight to Save a New Orleans Sports Institution. It's an emotional account of bringing the university's athletic program, and his own family, through the trials of Hurricane Katrina.

I always respected Miller as a negotiator, so I asked him for his thoughts on the stalemate between Drew Brees and the Saints. His thoughts:

Hall of Fame general manager Jim Finks, who pulled the New Orleans Saints from the bayou muck of 19 straight winless seasons, had more expressions than beads at Mardi Gras. One of his favorites was, "I don't understand all I know about this thing" which comes as close as any to describing the inability of Drew Brees and the Saints to reach agreement on a new contract.

"It's been extremely frustrating," Brees told WWL radio on Wednesday. "I know we've reached out on quite a few occasions, and, at times, I know I've been frustrated with the lack of response."

"He wants to be here right now; I want him to be here right now," Saints GM Mickey Loomis said Friday in response to Brees' comments. "Drew loves the Saints and we love Drew."

So we know Brees is frustrated but loves the Saints, and we know the Saints love Brees and want him signed. Meanwhile, standing innocently outside like the children of a messy marriage are the faithful Who Dats, hearing both sides but knowing only they don't have a deal. Why haven't the Saints and Brees' agent, Tom Condon, reached an agreement? The reason is because no template exists on how to conduct contract negotiations for high-priced athletes. They all exist in their own vacuum.

Even Finks failed in his last negotiation with a starting quarterback when turbulent talks resulted in Bobby Hebert sitting out the 1990 season. I assisted Finks in negotiations with the Saints between 1986 and his death in 1994, and I recall a major snag was Finks' characterization of Hebert's then-wife as "a little redneck who should stay out of it."

Sometimes contracts are delivered on a velvet pillow. After I left the Saints, I was chief negotiator for the Chicago Bears, during which time we drafted linebacker Brian Urlacher. When I met Urlacher's agent for the first time, he shocked me by saying the contract must be signed before July 1, a full three weeks before camp opened. His reason? Urlacher was betrothed to a woman the agent did not trust. Under applicable law, any property brought into the marriage by either party before July 1 was not subject to community property laws which were triggered by the matrimonial vows. The agent wanted to protect the signing bonus in the event the marriage failed. Urlacher became the first player in the 2000 NFL draft to sign a contract, and he did eventually divorce his wife.

The only positive news about the Brees negotiation is that money appears to be the major issue. Jack Donlan, the NFL's lead labor negotiator in the 1980s, believed any negotiation where money is the issue should never result in a prolonged stalemate. One side starts high, the other starts lower and the two sides eventually settle in the middle. Agent Condon is insisting the Saints make Brees the league's highest-paid quarterback, which is justifiable. The sticking point is probably over how much of the total contract is guaranteed or earned in the first three years.

Six years ago, the Saints took a chance on an injured quarterback and became the beneficiary of what turned out to be a major bargain. Now it's time to consider back pay, rolled into a long-term contract that would give Brees the highest all-time average per year while Condon gives the Saints some relief on when it is earned.

Until a resolution appears, members of Who Dat Nation wait anxiously, confused by what they know. They know the numbers being discussed are astronomical, and they also know that backup Chase Daniel likely will be taking snaps with the first team when on-field workouts begin this week. Most importantly, they know the clouds of Bountygate will hover until their hero Brees signs.

But, as Jim Finks said years before, they just don't understand all they know about this thing.

Now this is a good idea.

The idea first surfaced when Michael Irvin wondered why the players entering the NFL knew next to nothing about the history of the game that was about to enrich them. "Why don't you have the rookie symposium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame?'' Irvin asked league people, and no one had a good answer for him.

This year, the league has moved the annual symposium to northeast Ohio, to take advantage of what it feels the Hall of Fame can teach rookies. "History, history and more history,'' the NFL's vice president of player engagement, Troy Vincent, texted me Sunday.

The symposium will be held at a hotel in Aurora, Ohio, with the NFC rookies meeting from June 24-27, and the AFC rookies gathering from June 27-30. On the last day of each session, rookies will spend a half-day at the Hall of Fame, 45 minutes away, taking a two-hour tour, watching a 20-minute football history film, and listening to a Hall of Famer speak about the lessons of the past.

It's not earthshaking, and it's not something that will be as valuable to the players as, say, the post-career transition training they'll begin receiving when they report to training camps this summer. But it's something I've long felt was missing from the modern player's football syllabus. I've found it amazing when players give you a blank stare when you ask the kind of question about a famous player from the '50s or '60s who any good fan in the street would know -- and the current player doesn't.

Vincent told me he made the decision to cut the symposium in half because it's tough to connect one-on-one with players with up to 300 players in the room.

***

Hey Rookies: Read This.

Rod Smith has been announced as the latest Denver Bronco to have his name memorialized in the team's Ring of Fame. Smith retired in 2008 after a 14-year career that saw him catch more passes (849) for more yards (11,389) and with more touchdowns (68) than any undrafted free agent receiver in NFL history. I'll always remember Smith as a player who practiced like it was a game, and played every game like it was his last. What Chris Spielman was to defensive football, Rod Smith was to the offense.

I was impressed with what Smith said the other day when the Broncos named him to the Ring of Fame. And if I were a coach with a slew of rookies about to embark on the dream of making an NFL roster, I'd slip these words into their lockers sometime before the first day of training camp.

Smith went undrafted out of Missouri Southern State in 1994, and the Patriots brought him to camp. He got cut. Then Denver gave him a shot, and he made the roster in 1994, largely on special teams play and desire. He stayed until two hip injuries drove him from the game.

Said Smith: "I was hungry. I stayed hungry -- I'm still hungry now. There is something about the human spirit; you just have to be hungry 24/7. A lot of guys now, and I'm a little bit on the outside, not too far removed, but a lot of those guys figure they have it made because they got to the NFL. The hardest thing is staying in the NFL, especially staying in as long as I did with the path that I had to take. I embraced the path and I didn't worry about the path. I knew where I wanted to go and I knew I was going to outwork everyone else. When they were gone, I was still working. When they were asleep, I was still working.

"That right there -- work works. I tell people that all the time, work works.

"I wanted to be the best teammate I could be. I knew if I was better, it made our team better. And thanks to [coaches] Mike Shanahan, Mike Heimerdinger, Gary Kubiak, Brian Pariani, Bobby Turner, 'Rico' [Rick Dennison] and all the offensive coaches and the defensive coaches. Coach [Bob] Slowik and a lot of the coaches, Ed Donatell, just all the coaches I ever played with -- they all had a hand in me being a better person and made me a better athlete on the field for the Denver Broncos.

"I watch a lot of young guys and they get all this money and they feel like they've arrived. Three years later you're looking for them. You have a flashlight in the daytime trying to find them because they think they've arrived. The work starts once you get there. My path to get there was hard and I sneaked up on my locker to make sure that my name was there for one more day. I don't see that with a lot of guys right now.

"But honestly, their careers are going to be short. Not that they don't have talent. Talent is what you're born with, skills are what you earn. You go out and develop that and I don't see a lot of guys working on their craft and developing skills. It's just hard to watch, but at the same time, I'm not in there. I'm not in that arena, so I just sit back and I'm like, 'Man, that guy has all that talent, and it's going to waste.'

"I just pray they all get it as far as figuring it out that this is a business and you have to treat it like a business and go in there, go to work. You have to clock in and sometimes you don't clock out. In the NFL, I never clocked out. The day I clocked out was the day I retired. Hopefully that'll help somebody understand that it's a dream business and you want to wake up when you want to wake up. Don't let them wake you up. That was just kind of my approach."

How many coaches read that and say, "Why didn't WE sign Rod Smith out of Missouri Southern in 1994?"

***

Monday Morning Wicket Keeper.

I have seen one long day of test-match cricket, and I can draw one major conclusion: It's incredibly civil.

My brother lives about an hour north of London in the countryside, and he's forever wanted me to come over to see cricket. No time like this quiet NFL offseason to break away. So we set off on the train Saturday morning for Day 3 of the five-day test match between England and the West Indies. Ten countries around the world play test-match cricket. We connected with Neil and got on the train in his town, Luton, around 8:30. At the same station, fans of the soccer team West Ham got on chugging Foster's, headed to their own game in London. Foster's. At 8:30. Then we connected with the Tube on the outskirts of London and got to Lord's, in a nice London Neighborhood, about 10.

We watched the teams warm up adjacent to the gigantic field (about 150 yards in diameter) where the match would be played. In warmups, players use baseball mitts to catch balls, though players catch bare-handed during the game ... Forget the rules. It'd take all day. Suffice it to say, though, I had no clue walking into the place what I'd be seeing, and halfway through the day, with the help of Ken and Neil, I understood about half of what I was seeing. It's like learning a language by speaking it with natives. If you watch a game with people who love it and are good at explaining it, you get it in a couple of hours.

Hours. Lots of those in a test match. It starts at 11 in the morning and runs until 1. Players and fans stop for lunch for 40 minutes. The second session is from 1:40 to 3:40. Then they stop for tea. (Or, in my case, beer.) The third session is from 4 to 6. Strange atmosphere in the stadium. At precisely 11, with no warning from the PA announcer or the scoreboard, play began. Just started. Through the day, I kept waiting for music, or loud videos, or something on the scoreboard. Nothing. The occasional replay, and that was it, other than the numbing numbers on the board.

I spent the first couple of hours getting the hang of the rules and hieroglyphics on the scoreboard, and soaking in the whole deal. An hour in, I went to the men's room and saw three kids, maybe 12, playing cricket in the concourse. One hit the ball toward me. I picked it up and tossed it back to them. "Cheers!'' one kid said with a smile.

Neil bought us tickets to the hospitality tent, where lunch was served. Cerviche of halibut, it was called (cold fish), with seared chicken breast and French wine. Would Jerry Jones serve Cerviche of halibut at Jerryworld?

We settled in for the afternoon session. There was an instant replay review of a close play, and Neil extolled the virtues of this replay system versus the NFL's. "Here, if you call for a review, and you're right, you don't get penalized -- you can keep reviewing calls if you're right,'' he said. "In the NFL, if you've exhausted your replay reviews, and you see an obviously wrong call, you can't challenge. That's bollocks.''

Bad, he meant.

Neil, as you may recall (I've written about him before) lives here but worships our football, and he's created this football-nerd site with all sorts of playing-time stats that he and his PFF crew get by dissecting TV tapes of games. But he's passionate about cricket too. "You come to a test match,'' he said, "and it's not always exciting. So you turn to the guy you've come with, or the people around you, and you talk. The conversation takes over. It's great. You relax, you have a beer, you talk, and then something exciting happens and it's back to cricket. It's a great dynamic.''

In the third session, one of the English fielders stepped outside the boundary to sign an autograph for a young boy in the first row of the stands ... while play was going on. It was Jonathan Trott, a big 49ers fan, I'm told. On the next play, the ball was bowled (pitched), and "CRAAAACK'' ... the ball rolled out to Trott, who'd just stepped back onto the pitch. He ran for it, caught it, and threw it in.

A few minutes later, a guy a few rows ahead of us announced, "It's my birthday!'' He passed a happy-birthday plate of Victoria Sandwich -- an English sponge cake -- around. I got the little piece with the "H'' on it, and passed it to the stranger next to me.

Another men's room trip. Outside, in the concourse, a boy about 8, his father, and (I presume) his grandfather played cricket, the little boy bowling to the old man, the father catching the batted balls. If you want to know how sport gets passed from generation to generation, even sport that seems mind-numbingly difficult to understand and endless like cricket, this was the snapshot to tell you why.

Now Shivnarine Chanderpaul was at bat for the Westies. Strange-looking guy. Short, with an odd stance toward the bowler. Most batsmen face the bowler (the pitcher) the way batters do in baseball. But Chanderpaul had an open stance, mindful of the old Tiger, Dick MacAuliffe. He's famous for being impossible to retire. In fact, on this weekend, he'd face 425 balls before being retired (not until Sunday afternoon). He was nearly retired on the funniest rule of the game: LBW. Leg Before Wicket. If you're batting, and you allow the bowled ball to hit your leg before it can hit the wicket behind you, and the umpire rules the ball would have hit the wicket, you are called out for an LBW. So Chanderpaul nearly was called out Saturday afternoon for an LBW, but upon review, the official ruled it would not have hit the wicket. Play on, then. On the next two balls, Chanderpaul hit them for four runs apiece. "Brilliant!'' Neil called out.

Chanderpaul reminded me of Ichiro, a smaller guy who plays with such precision (though Ichiro seems in decline now). Steady Eddie, not a big slugger, concentrating on surviving and nipping away at the English lead. I liked watching him a lot.

Then it was over. No big announcement. We got up, walked out, and I suggested that since Abbey Road was so close, we should find it and walk the most famous crosswalk in the world. Funny thing is, about 40 or 50 people had the same idea at 7:15 on a Saturday evening. So we waited as Beatles nerd after Beatles nerd did their best John-Ringo-Paul-George imitation. Too young to know what I'm talking about? Google "Abbey Road album cover.'' You'll see why 54-year-old men get really excited to see a silly crosswalk.

On Sunday evening, Ken asked me what I wanted to do Monday before he dropped me off at Heathrow around 3. "Let's go to the match,'' I said. Why not? Ten pounds apiece. So we'll go until lunch. I wouldn't say he's got a convert, but I'm interested. Fun sport, fun atmosphere, fun company.

***

It's that time of year for speeches I really enjoy.

Highlights from some of the college commencement speeches around the country this month:

Dom Capers, Green Bay defensive coordinator, University of Mount Union (Ohio)

It's been 40 years since I was sitting out there, like you, wondering what was next in my life. ... Last weekend, we held the NFL Draft. Next weekend, we'll bring in our new draftees for orientation. Every year, countless hours and millions of dollars are spent on the process. With the technology we have today, there's a vast amount of information on every prospect. Yet, every year, 50 percent of the prospects in the first round of the draft fail. So, every year, as you go through this and observe this, you realize the biggest and strongest and fastest players are not always the most productive players in the NFL. You begin to realize the intangibles of the player are just as important as the talent.

What I'd like to share with you today is ... what I think are critical to success in any profession. Number one, and maybe the most important: Find something you love. Passion creates fuel. It creates the burning desire to do what we love 'til we go to bed at night. A passionate person with a little bit of talent will almost always outperform a passive person with great talent. The second thing is the law of compensation. The more you give, the more you get in return. It's a simple principle, but it's amazing how many people never figure it out ...

The next thing is what influences success more than anything else. The biggest difference between those who succeed and those who fail lies in the difference of their habits. In the NFL, adversity is as common as the air you breathe. Have the courage when things get tough to stick with your plan.

I'd like to discuss surviving success. In my mind, this is the toughest thing anyone has to deal with. We all know we have to pay a high price, no matter what the process is, to be successful. One of my favorite quotes is this: 'For every 10 people who can handle adversity, there is only one who can handle success.' The downside of success is like a virus. It is insidious. It's the master of the sneak attack. No matter where you are in your career, the worst thing is to feel like you have arrived. There's someone out there willing to do the little things, ready to take your job.

In a few moments, you will officially become the University of Mount Union graduating class of 2012. You certainly have the smarts. You certainly have the heart. Now, it's up to you to decide how you want to use your talent. You're the captain of your own ship.

***

Martin Sheen, actor, New England Institute of Technology

While acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive. I came through the sixties clinging to the absolute certainty that lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for, and that nonviolence is the only weapon to fight with ... No one has ever made a contribution of any real worth without self-sacrifice, personal suffering and sometimes even death.

***

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post writer, Allegheny College

The great generations harness the good work done one-on-one, in local communities, to larger movements for change in our nation and in our world. They remember what the philosopher Michael Sandel has taught us, that, "When politics goes well, we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone." Your generation has a chance to get us beyond the wreckage of the old culture wars and to sweep aside the debris of prejudice on the grounds of race, gender and sexual preference. Your generation has the opportunity to restore faith in public life and in public action.

Never lose your desire to transform charity into justice, division into civility, selfishness into generosity, cynicism into hope.

***

Savannah Guthrie, "Today" show co-host and legal analyst, Hobart and William Smith College

The best advice I got was from one of my old professors at the University of Arizona. After I hemmed and hawed in his office for a while, he looked at me and said, "Savannah, think big."

Deep, right?

Actually, it was. The problem with all of us sometimes is we convince ourselves of all the reasons we can't do something before we even try. We think small, so that we might succeed at that small dream we set out for ourselves in order to avoid failure. Think of what you might accomplish if you directed all that compelling, forceful energy toward convincing yourself why you can do it. In a nutshell, thinking big means conjuring up a vision for yourself. It means taking time, being reflective, and daring to visualize what it would look like if you could wave a magic wand and be exactly where you wanted to be in five years, even if it seems a little unrealistic at the moment. Look, we live in the real world. I'm not suggesting you ... dream big dreams and refuse any situation or opportunity in the meantime that doesn't live up to that perfect ideal. What I am saying is: Think big for yourself. Dream big. But then, be ready to start small.

In fact, that is exactly how it works. You start small, and you work at the small thing like it is the big thing. That's how you get the big thing.

***

Stuart Krieger, Hollywood screenwriter, State University of New York-Brockport

Learn to recognize opportunities when they come at you. In 2001, I was offered the chance to teach a class at the Peter Stark MFA Producing Program at USC. I loved working with the students, got a lot of positive feedback and found incredible joy in the experience at a time when my writing career was slowing down. Jobs were getting harder to come by. I was no longer the new kid in town. I wasn't the "flavor of the month." By 2005, I was exhausted. Show business was an endless grind. The thought of battling for jobs for another decade was really depressing.

Something had to change. So it did. One night, after my USC class, my wife said to me "You know, you're really happy when you're teaching. Maybe you should be doing more of that."

I took her words to heart, met with a friend who had turned from producing to teaching and got directed to a job site for aspiring professors. There I found a posting for a tenure-track position in Writing for the Creative Arts at the University of California, Riverside. I decided that was going to be my next job. After an excruciating five-month process, I was hired in May of 2006. I'm now a full tenured professor and, as of April 1, I'm the chairman of the Department of Theatre, Film & Television. And I'm the happiest I think I've ever been.

Why? Because I wasn't afraid to make a change when it was clearly time to shake things up.

Is this the path I ever thought I'd end up on? Nope. Was it part of my original plan? Not even a little bit. But that train went moving by me and I decided to hop on.

***

Ted Koppel, newsman, University of Massachusetts

More than ever before, we live today in a world of instant reaction, constant judgment and corrosive partisanship. Political debate is a wonderful thing; but partisan shrieking is corrosive and destructive. If we are to find solutions to the challenges we face, we have to relearn the virtues of compromise. If we are going to deal intelligently with the problems we confront, we need time to pause, to consider and reflect. But our media, news and social, are intolerant of anything but an instant response ... Rather than using information to illuminate the world, though, we consume it like fuel. The more we burn, the faster we go. The faster we go, the less we see and understand. We slow down only for the accidents along the side of the road; and the biggest accident still lies ahead.

Only, I fear, when that occurs -- only when the combined impact of too many unemployed, too many foreclosures, too much debt, exacerbated by two undeclared and unfunded wars; only when the human and social costs of a crumbling education system and a flawed health care system, leave us wondering where and why we lost our footing as a nation, will we come to realize that WHAT is communicated to us is vastly more important than the medium by which it is conveyed.

... One day, most Americans will point at us in the news media and say: "Why didn't you tell us? Why did you encourage all that bile and venom? Why did you feed us all that trivial crap, when so many terrible things were converging? And no one will be happy with the answer. Least of all, those of us who offer it. "What we gave you," we will say, "is what you wanted."

At this critical juncture in your lives, then, let me urge you -- no, let me implore you to want more. More substance, more real information about important issues, more fairness, more objectivity, more tolerance for views that differ from your own. You have a truly magical array of media at your disposal. Use them well.

***

Hank Aaron, Hall of Fame baseball player, Marquette University

I passed by your campus many times, walking to County Stadium in 1954, my rookie year with the Milwaukee Braves. I had no car.

Overcoming struggles is a part of life. You have to grow up, and to have a little adversity never hurt anybody. In good times and bad times, you will be expected to make the most of the educational opportunity you have been given. I challenge you to hold fast to your dreams.

The spring season of the year is the perfect time for the rebirth of dreams. Like nature itself, spring gives us new hope and a new beginning. In baseball, spring training represents a new season of hope and anticipation of a new opportunity to win a championship. Likewise, spring commencements provide new opportunities for you to continue to climb the ladder of success. Your years of hard work and study here at Marquette are cause for celebration.

The ultimate goal of our lives is to develop our full potential and realize our dreams. For most of us the realization of our dream requires a strong unyielding commitment, hard work and determination. The 1921 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Anatole France, put it this way: "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe."

***

And finally, I got a student's graduation speech from Boston University. I really liked part of it, the part this student, who is going to be a teacher, addressed to those who taught him (well, I might add) that there will be more to his life than grading papers.

Christopher "Douglas'' Bruno, School of Education, Boston University

A few months ago, I had an interview with a consulting firm for international education, an institute that places international students, mostly from China and India, in American high schools. I knew the company was looking for more of a businessman than an educator, so in preparing for the interview, I figured that I would focus on my expertise of the American education system and knowledge of unique types of schools -- charter, pilot, magnet, etc. -- in order to show how I could be of service to the company.

The first question of the interview was just what I planned for: How could you help the company despite no business background? I discussed my experience tutoring at Boston Arts Academy, a pilot school focused both on rigorous academics as well as different art forms such as acting, dancing, singing and theater. As an employee of the firm, I argued, I wouldn't just be placing these students aimlessly; I could, instead, work with the students' interests and better find a charter, pilot, or independent school whose mission connected with the student, giving them a wonderful opportunity to showcase their individual strengths. So many students at Boston Arts Academy loved going to school because it didn't just focus on academics; it allowed them to pursue their artistic ambitions for half of the day as well. My knowledge of these different types of schools could provide that same individualized, positive connection for dozens of international students, right?

I thought I nailed the answer. The interviewer? Not so much.

"This is a business," he said. "This is a for-profit organization. There is a bottom line. To be frank, we're here to make money. We are businessmen, not counselors.''

Awesome.

Needless to say, I didn't get the job. Reflection led me to recall a quote from the late professor Dan Davis. In our last Social Studies Methods class our junior year, his parting words were: "I know you will all do great in this profession because you all have soul. If you didn't have soul, you'd be accountants."

The faculty has a collective understanding that educators need to have this "soul" to foster a productive classroom environment. Teaching, as we have been taught, is much more about relationships with your students and passionately developing them into active citizens than memorization, equations, names, dates, and most of all making money and "the bottom line." I will leave you in the words of my supervisor for my practicum, faculty member Gerry Murphy: "Some days it will feel like the best profession in the world. Some days you would rather be selling lampshades, but think about it. It's the only profession in the world that influences every single other profession."

***

Why did I want to share these? I'm not sure. I just think college graduation is a special time, with smart words spoken by precocious people that, every year, I cannot wait to read. One of the biggest thrills of my life was being asked to give the 2008 Ohio University commencement address (that's my alma mater).

Three side notes: How great is Koppel? ... I have no idea who that Hollywood screenwriter is, but what a good message about being able to adjust in midstream ... And how great would you feel if, on the first day of school next year, your child came home and said, "I've got a good teacher, Mr. Bruno. He's new. I know it's the first day, but I really liked the guy."

If you liked the passages, great. If not, I understand; this is a football column, not The Chronicle of Higher Education. But this is who I am, which I guess, if you've been reading this column for a while, you understand. Thanks for indulging me.

"I will say this about a sophomore slump -- if there's anybody that's going to work through it, he's going to work through it. When the season was over, one of the things he said was he wanted to find a way to make sure he didn't have one. I think the less we talk about it, the less we get caught up in it, the better. It's like the 'Madden curse.' He really wanted to be the cover. I think that's the thing. Instead of running from it, saying, 'Oh, I hope it doesn't happen -- it's not going to happen. I'm not going to let it happen.' I think that's his approach to the sophomore slump.''

-- Carolina coach Ron Rivera, to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, on the second season of 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton, the Panthers' quarterback.

"We don't believe we've been given all we've been given to just enjoy a comfortable life.''

-- Jon Kitna, the longtime NFL quarterback, to Danny O'Neill of the Seattle Times, in a very good Sunday story about how Kitna, who retired at the end of last season, is now teaching math and coaching football at his high school alma mater, Abraham Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash.

I always knew Kitna as a terrific person and overachieving player. But how terrific is it that he's returned to his high school -- an "impoverished'' one, according to O'Neill -- on a volunteer basis to teach and coach? On the day O'Neill visited the school, he found Kitna having bought a bagful of McDonald's breakfast sandwiches for students coming in for extra help in math.

"Goodell's statements forever falsely taint and permanently damage Vilma, in the eyes of NFL clubs, media, fans and sponsors, as a player who brazenly disregards NFL rules and intentionally attempts to injure his opponents. Vilma has devoted four years of his personal and professional life to the city and community of New Orleans. Goodell's statements permanently damage Vilma's personal reputation in Louisiana and around the world. Vilma will soon have to leave behind the world of professional football and will likely face difficulties in obtaining other employment and entering into new ventures as a result of Goodell's false and defamatory statements.''

-- From the lawsuit filed by Jonathan Vilma, through his attorney, Peter R. Ginsberg, against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in U.S. District Court in Louisiana. Vilma is asking for damages, claiming Goodell ruined his reputation by, in effect, singling him out in the bounty scandal.

Biggest reason why the Arizona Cardinals picked wide receiver Michael Floyd in the first round last month? The numbers say it all. If you're going to employ Larry Fitzgerald, and you're going to pay him ($16 million per year) like he's the best receiver in football, you had best not put him out on an island with inaccurate passers.

Not that Floyd is going to fix the accuracy issues. But he should deflect some of the attention from Fitzgerald so the quarterback -- whoever it is -- can have a better chance to play well.

In 2009, Kurt Warner's last season in the league, he completed 66 percent of his throws. And Fitzgerald caught 97 of the 153 balls thrown his way -- 63.4 percent of the balls thrown his way.

In 2010 and 2011, Arizona quarterbacks have been last, collectively, in football, completing 53.3 percent of their throws. Over those two years, Fitzgerald has caught 52.0 percent of the passes thrown his way. If you don't think there's a direct correlation between Fitzgerald's receiving percentage plummeting since Warner left, you haven't been watching the Cardinals play.

Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel and his wife have an apartment in Manhattan.

Nothing earth-shattering about it. I just never figured Crennel as the Manhattan-during-his-downtime type. But good for him. It's a great place.

No matter what happens with the appeals and the New Orleans Saints season, this is going to be one weird Super Bowl week when New Orleans hosts the world -- and Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Trey Wingo echoes me below.)

It's rebel time in New Orleans. Former Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie has designed a T-shirt that throws a roundhouse against the league office. The shirt says:

We Are OneUs Against Them

The word "WAR'' is highlighted in the "We Are One'' part of the shirt.

One other odd note: Had the privilege on the way over to England of using the Delta club before the flight. I don't get these clubs. The Delta club at JFK makes you pay for some drinks and not for others. One man in front of me got a glass of red wine. "Ten fifty,'' the hostess said. The guy paid. Next guy ordered a vodka and tonic, and a double scotch on the rocks. Free. The big spender left a dollar for the gal.

Explain?

"Love the families that hoot and holler at graduations like somebody just got asked to "Come on down" on The Price Is Right. #UVA''

-- @dandalyonsports, Washington Times columnist and proud University of Virginia grad dad, Sunday, tweeting from Charlottesville.

Agreed. Always thought the hooting and hollering was a bit overdone -- if not gauche.

"Brees should send the Saints gametape of what that team looked like before he showed up."

-- @MovetheSticks, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, now working for NFL.com, on the Saints' Brees dilemma.

"Said it before and I'll say it again: The Super Bowl in New Orleans this year will be the most awkward SB week in the history of the league''

-- @wingoz, ESPN host Trey Wingo.

Agreed, Trey. Roger Goodell should bring his earplugs.

1. I think there's one thing I don't get about Jonathan Vilma: how he has as his Twitter avatar the Sports Illustrated cover, screaming "Bounty Culture'' with Vilma front and center, very big, jumping out on the cover. If being degraded by being identified with the bounty story is a sue-able offense for Vilma, and if he accuses Roger Goodell of disparaging his character to the point where it's going to be difficult for him to ever find work in or out of the NFL, why does he identify himself with something so reprehensible? How on the one hand can you want something like the SI cover representing you to the Internet world, and on the other hand you sue the man responsible for allegedly making you so infamous?

2. I think this is one of the best things I've read about a player coping with retirement: It's written by former linebacker George Koonce, with an assist from ESPN's Mike Sando, and it's one of those things that should be required reading for all players trying to find their way after play football.

3. I think the end of the line of Junior Seau's popular restaurant in San Diego -- and the downfall of his other restaurant interests in southern California recently -- leads me to ask this question: How much of a factor was financial trouble or financial pressure in Seau's suicide? Not that I know anything, but I now think the question has to be asked.

4. I think I have only one piece of advice for the Wilfs, in the wake of the news about the new Vikings stadium being approved and on schedule to open in 2016, and as it concerns whether to fork out the extra dough to cap the place with a retractable roof rather than a permanent one: Do it. Bite the bullet. You'll never regret it, especially on beautiful autumn October Sundays when it's cloudless and 48 degrees outside. And one other piece of advice: Make sure Christian Ponder, or whoever the quarterback in 2016 is, isn't one of those indoor-loving guys who will want the roof closed all the time. No reason for it on nice days.

5. I think if I'm a Saints fan, I'm not really pleased with the prospect of GM Mickey Loomis becoming either the official or de facto director of basketball operations with the NBA Hornets in New Orleans under the new ownership of Tom Benson. That's what the New Orleans Times Picayune reported Sunday was a likely outcome when Benson's Hornets ownership becomes official. Last time I checked, being the general manager of an NFL team was a full-time job.

6. I think the person who has any association with the NFL today who I feel most sorry for is Brian Price, the promising young Tampa Bay defensive lineman. After losing two brothers to gang violence in Los Angeles while growing up, Price saw the car driven by his sister Bridget (a mentor to him) get smashed by a hit-and-run driver, then hit by two more cars, killing her and leaving his two nephews without a parent. What a tragedy. Good luck to Price picking up the pieces.

7. I think the Baltimore Ravens must get driven absolutely nuts by Ed Reed between February and July.

8. I think, not to be negative about reporting on the perimeter of offseason practices 197 days from the start of the NFL season, I wouldn't get too caught-up from breathless pronouncements from Organized Team Activities around the NFL beginning today.

9. I think I forgot to mention this last week, with Jason La Canfora taking Charlie Casserly's job at CBS. But Casserly's smart, and pretty good at TV. He deserves a good role somewhere, and if it's only at NFL Network, his job needs to be bigger.

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

a. Most depressing in-flight movie in the history of in-flight movies: Young Adult, with Charlize Theron. You're too good to play cheesy and creepy, Charlize -- especially when the script drags and the story's lousy. Sheesh.

b. Love the British papers. Saturday's edition of The Times featured a long dispatch from Australia focusing on the Southern hairy-nosed wombat being endangered because of the potato weed, a noxious plant that damages the wombats' livers. Not many other papers covering the decline of the Southern hairy-nosed wombat.

c. Really miss being at Tom Coughlin's Jay Fund golf tournament today. Always a great time with a tremendous cause -- helping families whose budgets have been laid waste by an unexpected battle with cancer. They're really going to miss all the money I contribute by plunking so many shots in the water at 17 at TPC Sawgrass.

d. There can't be an athlete under more pressure today than LeBron James.

e. Rachel Nichols is really good at her job.

f. Best documentary program I've seen on TV in a while: Weight of a Nation, on HBO. Tremendous job of telling us about the obesity epidemic we're facing. Stark stuff from Bogalusa, La., regarding long-term effects of weight gain on the population -- and how history is repeating itself on a new generation of kids there.

g. Give you a lot of credit, Rangers, for shutting out the Devils in the biggest game this year at the Prudential Center in Newark. Never mind the yammering of the fans and the coaches and whoever -- that's a heck of a win under some pressure-packed circumstances.

h. Al Michaels, for all the L.A. Kings pain he's endured over the years, must be happy to be watching the best team in hockey. You didn't know Al was a two-decade Kings' season-ticket holder?

i. Hard to imagine anyone beating the West's eighth seed for the Stanley Cup.

j. Hard to imagine anyone beating whoever the West's NBA championship series rep is.

k. Imagine the Thunder and the Kings winning the NBA and the NHL, respectively. What odds would you have gotten for that daily winter-pro-sports double last September?

l. Mike Aviles, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Keepers of the Sox flame.

m. At some point, we're going to have to take the Orioles seriously.

n. It's May 21, David Wright. You're not supposed to be hitting over .410 seven weeks into the season.

o. I was never much of a fan of the Bee Gees or of Donna Summer. But I do recognize the talents of the group and the lady, and both Robin Gibb and Donna Summer deserve our respects. Rest in peace.

p. Coffeenerdness: Had more than my share of Costa Coffee, England's Starbucks (and there is Starbucks over here as well) in the last three days. The espresso's a little milder than I'd like it, but the milk in the latte is superb.

q. Beernerdness: Had the good fortune of drinking Marston's Pedrigree bitter at the cricket match Saturday. Funny the way they serve it if you're getting multiple beers at the concession stand -- you put the beers in a light cardboard holder with a grip on the top of it, and you carry the three or four pints like a beer suitcase. Re the beer itself, it's a copper-red-brown and it had a thin head, but a head that stayed heady for the life of the beer. Like many beers here, the carbonation was less than American beers, and it's served not as cold. The taste was a little bland, but easy to drink, and the kind of beer that you can have three or four over the course of the afternoon and not be affected.

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