Happy Memorial Day. I know for many of you, Memorial Day has become an extra day off, or the start of the summer. But it's a day on which we should spend a few moments remembering the million men and women who have died fighting for our country.
A bit of history: Memorial Day began as "Decoration Day'' in the 1860s, to honor the 625,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War. Think of that amazing number: The number of Civil War dead is more than the population of Wyoming today. The number of Civil War dead is 11 times the number of American troops who died in Vietnam. According to Yale historian David Blight, the first Decoration Day event was organized by freed African-American slaves in 1865 in Charleston, S.C., where a parade of 10,000, led by 3,000 black schoolchildren, took place to honor the dead around a racetrack that had been used as a burial ground. In 2010, some leading Charleston residents dedicated a memorial for the first Memorial Day -- so re-named in 1882 -- at a reflecting pool in the city.
There's been a Memorial Day parade in Ironton, Ohio, every year since 1868. In many towns, local veterans groups place a small American flag on the graves of everyone from town who died in any of the wars we've fought. If you've got a flag around your home, and can fly it at half-staff, the custom is to fly it that way until noon today, to commemorate the dead. For the rest of the day, fly it at regular height, noting that the fight for liberty continues.
There's your history lesson for today. Have a good day with your families, or wherever you are, and think of those who've sacrificed so we can lead the lives we do.
Before we get to football, I have one modern, tragic Memorial Day story for you.
A young woman named Marina Keegan died Saturday in a single-car accident in Dennis, Mass., on Cape Cod, five days after graduating from Yale. She was 22. She wrote for the
You go to college for many reasons, the biggest of which is probably (but not definitely) to get trained for what you'll do for the rest of your life. But along the way you experience a collegial feeling that's hard to describe until you've been through it. And Marina Keegan writes about it as eloquently as I've read.
"More than finding the right job or city or spouse -- I'm scared of losing this web we're in,'' Keegan writes. "This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.''
"The first time I read the piece, I cried,'' the editor-in-chief of the
It's beautiful. Read it. It'll make you sad, but sadness is part of life too.
Stories like these got Marina Keegan an editorial assistant job at the
On the picnic table for your reading pleasure today (and just think -- you can read this while you're off, instead of stealing company time on a Monday morning to read):
• The trade deadline was moved from Week 6 to Week 8 the other day. Had that been done in 2011, the course of current football history likely would have changed radically. And I mean "radically."
• One hundred nights from tonight, football's back. Cowboys-Giants in New Jersey. Will Hakeem Nicks, the Eli Manning security blanket who has averaged 1,011 receiving yards per season in his career, be there? We shall see, but I am stunned how the event was covered in New York.
• Meet Phil Emery, the Bears general manager. I'll try to educate you on an unknown but very significant football executive.
• It shows my age, I suppose, but there was a shift in the media world order on Thursday, and no one paid it much mind. A major American city won't have a daily newspaper starting this fall.
• Mike Tomlin won't be paying any bounties.
• I'm no lawyer, though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But two thoughts on the union's collusion case against the NFL, claiming that the league's 32 teams conspired to artificially keep spending down in the uncapped year of 2010. One: I hope it gets an airing, because if a year was supposed to be uncapped, why were teams warned to stay within some fuzzy financial lines -- any financial lines -- and not dump salaries? An uncapped year should have been an uncapped year, with no restrictions. Two: Seems to me the union signed away all rights on claims of collusion last August, so I don't see this case having legs, even in the friendlier confines of the Minnesota court where it was filed.
We'll start with the rules change from last Tuesday that I assumed was meaningless. But you know what happens when you assume things.
Owners agreed the other day to move the trading deadline from the day after the end of Week 6 to the day after the end of Week 8. Two weeks. I feel strongly the deadline should be around Dec. 1, to stimulate real action to help teams trying to win a division and to buttress with draft choices those teams out of the pennant race with four or five weeks to go.
But last year, there's a real chance that moving the deadline by two weeks -- from Oct. 18, the deadline, to Nov. 1, the day after the end of Week 8 -- would have netted the Indianapolis Colts Kyle Orton.
And if that had happened, and the Colts had won just one or two more games than they did, it would have resulted in Peyton Manning staying a Colt ... and Andrew Luck being drafted by somebody else.
The situation: Indianapolis coaxed Kerry Collins out of retirement in August, when Peyton Manning was having neck problems. Collins was the Colts' starter until he got a concussion in Week 3 against Pittsburgh, with Curtis Painter the backup. When Collins got concussed, the Colts signed Dan Orlovsky off the street. Painter started and the Colts hoped Collins would recover to take the starting job back. But after Week 7, with Collins' concussion symptoms lingering, the Colts cut him. By that time, with no trades possible, the Colts had to go with what they had, or pick up another body off the street.
"I think the deadline being moved last year would have made a difference for us,'' said Bill Polian, the Colts president until owner Jim Irsay fired him in January. "We would have rekindled our interest in Orton. In Week 6, we knew our quarterback situation wasn't great, but after a couple more weeks, we realized the situation was bad. We probably would have called Denver, who'd gone to [Tim] Tebow by then, and said, 'Hey, we'll give you a three [a third-round draft choice] for Orton.' ''
If that had happened, a source in the Broncos organization told me, Denver would have agreed to deal Orton. Denver had been in talks with Miami before the season for Orton, and would have dealt him to Miami for a fourth-round pick, but there were complications with that deal -- both because the Dolphins questioned whether Orton was a long-term answer, and in contract compensation. So if the Broncos would have taken a fourth-round pick for Orton before the season, they certainly would have taken a three for Orton after he'd been benched for Tebow.
Now, how much difference would Orton have made in the last eight games of the season, had he been dealt? Indianapolis went 2-6 with Painter and Orlovsky. In four of those eight games, the Colts threw for fewer than 130 net passing yards.
Polian is convinced Orton would have been responsible for at least another win or two ... perhaps in an offensively hapless 17-3 home loss to Jacksonville, or a 19-13 loss at Jacksonville, or an eight-point home loss to Carolina. Remember, the Colts played better on defense after firing coordinator Larry Coyer with five games left, and allowed fewer than 20 points in four of their last eight games. Orton's a very quick study. In his first start for Kansas City after being released by Denver, he completed 74.2 percent of his throws and beat the 13-0 Packers.
I agree with Polian: With Orton, the Colts would have been better than 2-6 in their last eight games. Two wins better, and they'd have held OTA practices for the last two weeks with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. That's because they'd have been 4-12, and tied, with a .531 opponents winning percentage, with Cleveland for the third overall draft pick. In that case, the first two picks in the draft would have gone to St. Louis (2-14) and Minnesota (3-13). Who would have traded up for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in that case, Washington and which other team? Or would Minnesota have fallen head over heels for Luck or Griffin and picked one of the QBs, even though the Vikes drafted Christian Ponder a year earlier?
It's all silly offseason speculation, but my point is this: It's still not ideal, making the deadline in midseason instead of later in the year, when teams on both sides of contention would be more motivated to make moves. But this one situation -- and maybe it's only one -- shows moving the deadline has the potential to have a profound impact on the future of the game.
One significant point on this deal. It's not set in stone yet. The management council and the Players Association have to agree on this before the season. It's expected they will, but with the relationship they've had of late, you never know.
It's crazy to think that the Bears, one of the flagship franchises in NFL history, have had five general managers. Just five. Consider that the first two were George Halas and Jim Finks, and you've got an idea of the pressure that Phil Emery, 53, has felt in the four months since he replaced the fired Jerry Angelo as GM of the Bears.
Talk about unlikely career ascensions. Fifteen years ago, Emery was strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he also taught physical education. In that job at Navy and other college jobs before, he'd see the scouts pass through, some with the metal bar stretching from back passenger window to back passenger window, and two weeks' worth of clothes hung up. "I just always wanted to be a scout,'' he said. "It always fascinated me how they had their own little culture, and I thought it would be a great way to make a living, to identify and analyze the best players, and figure out who would fit with your team.''
At Navy, Emery spent time with Steve Belichick, the academy's original strength and conditioning coach, and learned much about scouting -- because at the time Steve was doing some of it for son Bill, then the coach of the Browns. "Just sitting and talking football with Steve was invaluable,'' Emery said.
Ironically, Emery never had much of a relationship with Bill Belichick, but he learned a lot of football from three of those closest to Bill: his father, obviously, and former New England underlings Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff. After breaking into the business as an area scout with the Bears in 1998, he became the Falcons' director of college scouting in Atlanta in 2004. But when Dimitroff took over as GM of the Falcons in 2008, he demoted Emery to regional scout, something that Emery -- if you believe his strident words -- never took offense to. "I never thought of quitting,'' he said. "I've always thought, whatever my task is, just do it.'' A year later, Pioli hired Emery as director of college scouting in Kansas City, and that's how he springboarded to the Bears in January.
Emery's philosophy, he said, is to find players with growth potential, who make plays, who play like they love football. "I want the players with the high ceilings, with the largest capacity for growth,'' he said. "And I believe every aspect of that player is on tape. You can see him, you can read him.''
Emery's feelings on the tape will be tested with two new receivers: veteran Brandon Marshall and rookie second-rounder Alshon Jeffery. He traded two third-round picks for the troubled Marshall, and he traded up in the second round to get Jeffery, who had a poor 2011 season at South Carolina, with only 49 catches.
But Emery believed in Jeffery, in part because of his 23 career touchdowns, in part because of his hungry play around the goal line, and in part because of the consistent effort he showed. With Marshall, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Emery ignored much of the disruptive behavior that was on Marshall's resume from Denver and Miami (former Dolphin Joe Rose, now a talk show host in Miami, said last week Marshall was "the most selfish Dolphin I've ever seen") to reunite him with quarterback Jay Cutler.
"People have the capacity to change,'' Emery said. "He's an intelligent guy, and he's accepted his faults, and he's working toward improving them. I thought about it a lot. Isn't that what we'd want out of our children? They might stumble, but when they do, they seriously try to improve their lives. We felt if there was a place Brandon would fit, it was here.''
Emery will have a difficult road getting running back Matt Forte signed, to be sure; the talented running back and the Bears have been sparring over a contract for nearly a year. But just as important, I believe (and maybe more) is the state of the offensive line. Emery, when he took the job, did a needs analysis of the team. He felt he needed to get weapons for Cutler. He felt he needed a pass-rusher opposite Julius Peppers. He felt he needed offensive line help. "We just didn't feel, at the time we picked, that the list of players on the offensive line was as good as the players elsewhere,'' he said.
You can't solve every problem in the same offseason, and Emery has certainly addressed two need areas with good prospects and one good (if his head stays on right) veteran wideout. But the success or failure of the Bears could come down to how well they run -- assuming Forte is that runner -- and how well Cutler is protected, so he can be the premier quarterback he's shown signs of in Chicago. Emery has done well so far, but a lot of teams look good in May. His report card will come when we see how the offense produces.
The tale of two New York football teams took an interesting turn on Thursday. The Giants and Jets held Organized Team Activity practices that day.
The Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, were beginning to adjust to life without their third receiver, Mario Manningham, who left for San Francisco in free agency. In the morning workout, top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks went down with a broken bone in his foot. The Giants announced he would be out for as long as 12 weeks, which is dangerously close to the Sept. 5 season opener. Nicks is one of the Giants' eight or 10 most important players. A broken foot for a man who cuts and torques as much as an NFL wide receiver does ... dangerous.
The Jets, coming off a season in which they didn't make the playoffs, had Tim Tebow in practice for the first time he could be viewed in action by the media. Tebow is the backup quarterback to Mark Sanchez, but with the charisma Tebow has and the way Sanchez struggled last year, it could be a matter of time before Tebow challenges the incumbent. But no one in Jetland was giving any final quarterback grades eight weeks before training camp began. Tebow threw two interceptions early in the workout, and observers thought Sanchez was clearly the better quarterback on Thursday.
I charted the coverage given the two events in the five major local papers Friday -- the
Words devoted by the five major dailies to the Super Bowl champions losing their number one receiver, possibly for all of the offseason training and training camp, and perhaps threatening the start of his season: 2,104.
Words devoted by the five major dailies to Tebow's first practice visible to the media: 6,971.
So 23 percent of the football writing in Friday's papers in greater New York was devoted to a serious injury to a top player on the defending Super Bowl champions.
It's Tebowland, baby.
So many of us in the journalism business have had to get used to new things. New age of versatility that has us do print, Internet, radio and TV. Twitter. The 24-hour news cycle. The whole business has changed, and we all probably knew this day was coming. But it'll be an eerie day this fall: The storied
The Saints are the biggest story in the city, all fall. But you won't read about them away from a computer until Wednesday every week in New Orleans. There'll be a Super Bowl in New Orleans in February. Will those folks not inclined to read online have to wait 'til Wednesday to read about the biggest game in America?
The paper will cut about 50 jobs from the 150-member staff and begin devoting most of its energy to the online product. This cannot be good for journalism, no matter which way the parent company, Advance Publications, spins it.
On Friday, one of the best NFL reporters in our business, the
He was reminiscing about covering the city in the days after Katrina, when he saw a dead body wrapped on a porch, interviewed petrified zookeepers at the New Orleans Zoo who were afraid of looters invading their place, bathed in a neighborhood swimming pool because there was no running water for days, reported on gang members taking care of an older woman who didn't have access to her medicine (they broke into a pharmacy to steal it for her) ... and felt more alive than he ever had as a reporter -- even though he'd never been a news reporter before.
"I'll never forget going down to the Convention Center with our old sports editor, David Meeks, bringing the papers to a group of people at the Convention Center,'' Duncan said. "They were overjoyed. They were crying. It was a connection to their old lives, because they didn't know what their lives held, with all the doomsday reports they were hearing. It was like we were giving out money.''
I'll never forget after the Saints lost to the Bears in the 2006 NFC title game, and the team returned home to find this blaring headline in the paper the next day: "BLESS YOU BOYS.'' There's a great connection between paper and city and paper and team. And it'll never be the same, sadly.
When the Steelers coach was inducted earlier this month to the Hall of Fame at his alma mater -- Tomlin was a three-year starter at wide receiver at William & Mary in the early '90s -- he gave a rousing speech thanking his family and coaches and teammates for helping him as a player, person and coach. And he said something about why he's coaching in the NFL, and not college football.
"One of the reasons I work in the National Football League -- I'm tired of the NCAA rules,'' he told a crowd in Williamsburg, Va. "I am a win-at-all-costs kind of guy. The NFL is just right for me, although I am not a bounty guy in any form or fashion. Any form or fashion.'' Much applause. "What you've got to understand about the Pittsburgh Steelers is .. I ain't got to offer them anything. Guys like James Harrison -- they'll do it for nothing. The men I work with, I'm a blessed person."
Last August, when the players and owners reached agreement on a new 10-year labor deal, lawyers for each side signed a side deal that said, in effect, neither side could sue the other regarding the new agreement for "all claims, known and unknown, whether pending or not,'' including TV contracts and specifically "collusion with respect to the 2010 league year ...''
So on Thursday the NFLPA sued the NFL, claiming collusion with respect to the 2010 league year.
The union filed the claim in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, with NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler (his nickname should be The Groundhog; seeing it always makes me think we're about to see six more weeks of legal wrangling) claiming Minnesota judge David Doty's order dismissing the Brady v NFL case was the more important legal ruling here and holds sway over the so-called "Stipulation of Dismissal."
As I said earlier in the column, I'd love to see the NFL have to defend what it did in the stupidly named "uncapped year,'' which actually was nothing of the sort. But how can the union win a legal challenge after it signed a document saying it wouldn't make a legal challenge for any claim known or unknown when it signed it? Makes no sense to me. As ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio wrote the other day: "It's hard to envision any judge agreeing with the argument that the NFLPA isn't bound by the plain language of the Stipulation of Dismissal ... It appears that the collusion claim was one of the things that the NFLPA sacrificed in order to strike the current labor deal.''
"I think the kid is a good working back, and if you've got everything else around him he can play his role. But when it comes to outstanding, I don't see anything outstanding about him. It's not said in a cruel manner ... But here's the deal: He can change everything I've said.''
Grossi: "Browns fans believe you're a bitter man and that's why you're saying these things about [first-round draft pick Trent] Richardson."
Brown: "That's so petty and so ridiculous. Anyone that thinks that I'm a guy that goes around bashing anybody ... I [criticized] a lot of people in my career ... I talked about Tiger Woods [before his scandal] and challenged him, and O.J. [Simpson], because of certain hypocrisy. But the Browns speak for themselves. What have I said about the Browns other than the fact that Richardson is an ordinary back? There's so much I could say. So you tell all those people that want to look at me, look at what you've got. You're sitting on a mess. You've got a guy that doesn't give interviews except in other cities. I ask all the people in Cleveland, do you get the impression that Mr. [Mike] Holmgren wants to be there? If you do, then tell me."
Doesn't sound like Holmgren -- who chose to end the team's formal, compensated relationship with Brown two years ago -- and the legendary running back will be smoking the peace pipe anytime soon.
I've written about Peyton Manning's foundation before, but I think this is worth repeating: Manning's PeyBack Foundation gives out about $500,000 per year, in scores of chunks (88 recipients this year) to agencies in Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana. Five of the foundation's beneficiaries this year:
Come to find out now that once, at a Scarlet Knights team dinner, the food service people got upbraided by a Rutgers staffer because the pasta being served was the wrong noodle.
Wished I had Aladdin's Lamp on my return flight from London last Monday, so I could have wished that the fellow sitting across the aisle who took his shoes and socks off before we took off had actually washed his feet some time in the previous three days. Nothing like the look of dark-gray crossed feet every few minutes for seven hours.
Three other England thoughts:
1. It's entirely possible that I slept so well at my brother's home for a variety of reasons, but I think it has a lot to do with noise. I live in Manhattan, on the 16th floor of a high-rise. You can turn the noise down, but you can never shut it off. My brother Ken lives in a village in Northamptonshire, 80 minutes north of London. At night -- or, really, after the school next door lets out for the day -- there is ... nothing. No noise. The birds in the morning sound like a rooster, relatively speaking. And one night there, I slept nine hours. Don't remember a thing. That never happens to me. Maybe silence is more important in our lives than we think -- or than I've thought.
2. In the last couple of years, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has been pushing a project of his, FanVision, a handheld TV/video device fans at live games could get in the stadium to watch replays of the game they were watching, as well as live games around the league. FanVision might make millions. It might be the next Xbox for all I know. But to me it's a truly dumb idea.
We're already hit over the head in NFL stadiums with deafening music and replays after nearly every play on the big scoreboards -- and the boards now give more and more fantasy football info, so you can follow your fake team while rooting for your real one. (Most people have their iPhones or Blackberries to follow their teams, if they wish, at games.) Do we need to be so bombarded with more media? Do we want to shut off all human communication at the expense of more distractions inside the stadium?
The NFL (and other American pro sports) could learn something from a game like cricket. No music. No exploding scoreboards. There's the game, and discussion in the stands. I realize we're beyond that. And I may not be in the majority here, and I may be Clint Eastwood in
3. I do not envy you, NBC peers, on your Olympic travels to London. It's a great, great city, but the traffic is insane. Take the Tube a bunch. Clean, fast, well-marked, everywhere.
"I can't watch the #NFLTop100 list anymore... These cats ain't better than me! #realtalk can't wait until this upcoming season"
"Take my word for it Pete Carroll isn't playing mind games talkin about how well rookies looked.. he could start 3 rookies.. loves competition"
"Enduring theme from NFLPA/NFL continued discord: billable hours."
"You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish."
Well, here are two stats that refute what Smith said. One: Newton threw for more yards in the first half of games last year (2,071) than he did in the second half of games (1,980). And, though this might be a misleading and/or selective stat, Newton passed for only 523 yards when the Panthers were getting waxed last year -- when they trailed by between nine and 16 points. In theory, what Smith said sounds correct. But in practice, with Newton last year, I just don't think it was true.
He was right. Miami won six of its last nine, after starting the season 0-7. "I wasn't thinking about playing for the future at 0-7,'' he said. "I was thinking about what could we do to win now.''
That's why, despite the Kyle Orton story I told earlier in the column, I don't think a two-week extension to the deadline will be earth-shaking.
a. Rondo rocks. What a ballplayer.
b. I had the good fortune of being in the stands in Newark Friday night to see the Devils beat the Rangers in overtime and go on to the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings. Thought the most poignant moment of the night was seeing the Rangers fall to the ice when Adam Henrique scored the game-winner in overtime. So crushed. That's one of the things I love about hockey -- it's more than a game and more than a paycheck to so many of the men in it.
c. Congrats to the Devils. I've rooted for them since soon after moving to New Jersey in 1985 -- in part because so few staffers wanted to use
d. Perfect team-building example by Lou Lamoriello on the Devils' winning goal: Modest trade acquisition this year (Alexei Ponikarovsky, for a fourth-round pick and a minor-league player) and rich free agent (Ilya Kovalchuk) set up a former third-round pick (Adam Henrique) who was drafted by Lamoriello and seasoned in the New Jersey system. Lamoriello gets players in all ways -- and very few, I might add, for the big money that he spent to get Kovalchuk.
e. It's a sixth-seed, New Jersey, and an eighth-seed, Los Angeles, for the Cup. What's happening to the top seeds in pro sports these days. Check out this
f. Josh Reddick has 13 home runs. Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Jayson Werth have 14 home runs, combined.
g. Whining Red Sox Stat of the Week: The season is seven weeks old, and Boston has had seven outfielders on the disabled list.
h. And no, to all of you on Twitter who gave me your advice on my proposed rotisserie league trade -- an offer to deal Buster Posey and Matt Garza for Alex Avila and Steven Strasburg -- I didn't do it. Just like Posey too much. Strasburg, with the innings limit ... a little risky. Even though Garza's been an arsonist.
i. Hey, Kaitlyn Sweeney: Congrats on the wedding! Good luck in your new life. You all might remember Kaitlyn, Mary Beth King's softball buddy from the neighboring town of Cedar Grove. At the risk of boring you silly,
j. Darn you, Bob Papa, for putting that
k. In the Meaningless Factoids of My Life Dept: My other two songs of the week can stay in my head forever as far as I'm concerned:
l. Banging through books for the Father's Day book review column in two weeks. Enjoying
m. On that theme, just watched
n. And congrats to the Northwestern women's lacrosse team for continuing a great dynasty in sports: seven NCAA lacrosse titles in eight seasons. A great achievement in any sport at any time.
o. Happy 58th birthday, Jackie Slater.
p. Coffeenerdness: If I could just listen to the
q. Beernerdness: Great place atop Eataly, Mario Batali's Italian supermarket/restaurant complex in the Flatiron District in Manhattan called La Birreria, a beer garden with a nice view of the Empire State Building. Tried Ommegang Rare Vos amber ale on tap. Nice taste, with a hint of nutmeg and fruits, and a delicious head. Liked it. Great concept up there on the roof, too. Strongly recommended.