So we're off with the 16th season of Monday morning quarterback. Pro football is the sport that never sleeps, and I was fortunate on my vacation to have union czar DeMaurice Smith, Colts rookie tight end Coby Fleener, Washington GM Bruce Allen and inspirational Tampa Bay defensive tackle Eric LeGrand writing, allowing me to sleep peacefully every Sunday night -- boy, I already miss that -- knowing the column was in good hands.
Before I get to the highlight of this column, I'll touch on the news of the week. The highlight, at least for me, is a 39-year-old pre-training-camp speech by one of the greatest coaches of all time: Paul Brown, speaking to his 1973 Cincinnati Bengals. This is sort of a risky thing here, running much of a coach's pre-camp talk to his team. I don't know if you'll like it or not, but it's something that as a fan of football history I just love. See what you think.
I'll be leaving on my training camp tour Tuesday for Flagstaff, Ariz., and it's going to be an exciting month. The weirdness of the Saints, Peyton Manning with the Rockies as a backdrop, the new Raiders, an entire state (Florida) of new coaches, Tebowmania and lots, lots more. Like the rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden, to name a few. The NFL needs a summer of fun to deodorize a lousy offseason. Let's start there, with what's on my radar entering the start of NFL camp season:
1. I don't expect much out of a settlement conference in the Saints' case today. Attorneys for the league and the players association meet today with Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles of U.S. District Court in Louisiana. They'll see if there's any grounds to settle the combined cases of the four suspended players in the Saints' bounty scandal. One attorney with knowledge of today's proceedings say the talks could last 15 minutes or three days, depending on the willingness of the parties to compromise.
I don't think it's likely anything substantive will happen. The suspended players, particularly Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, are so convinced they did nothing wrong that it's highly unlikely they'd accept a suspension of any length, even if the league cut back on the eight games given Hargrove and the three to Fujita. Similarly, why would the league be motivated to cut way back on the suspensions when it has heard nothing on appeal from the players, who essentially boycotted the proceedings because they felt it'd be a kangaroo court in front of Commissioner Roger Goodell?
2. The dawn of coaches tape in fans' hands. I was in the NFL offices Friday, watching a demonstration of the new coaches' tape being made available to fans this fall. (The package of NFL Game Rewind plus coaches' tape will cost $69.99 this year for regular season and playoff games combined, the same price the setup cost last year without the coaches' tape. You can get it here.) And this thought occurred to me: Suppose you're a coach at Moeller High in Cincinnati, and you have a good quarterback and two or three good receivers, and you love the Saints' offense. You know what you can do with this system? You can take individual Saints plays on the All-22 wide-angle view, freeze them, telestrate lines on them, and e-mail them to your quarterback and receivers and say, "Fellas, this is the play we'll be installing in practice tomorrow. Study it.''
For $70, coaches nationwide can get the tape they're used to watching of every NFL play. There might be a little cottage industry the league never thought of, selling tape to coaches from Pop Warner to the Big Ten. "If you wanted to,'' said NFL vice president for digital media Greg Isaacs, "you could create a private network for the coaches on your staff.'' Not to mention attracting the hardcore fan dying to see who blew the coverage on the 3rd-and-long touchdown his defense gave up.
The only problem I see with the availability of the coaches' tape is that many fans now are going to be adamant they can pin blame on players for bad plays or credit players for good plays. As one GM told me, "The problem with that is often I don't even know when I watch tape of our own team who blew the coverage, because you don't always know what the assignment was on a specific play. I have to go down the hall and ask my coaches who was responsible. So I don't expect fans at home to be able to have the answers even after they watched a play three or four times.''
3. Mike Lynn, a hard-liner who engineered the biggest trade in NFL history with the Cowboys, died Saturday. Lynn will always be known for trading seven players and five draft choices (three first-rounders) to Dallas for Herschel Walker in 1989. But did you know he was the first influential front office man in the league in 1989 to throw his support behind Paul Tagliabue against the favored Jim Finks in the race for commissioner? Lynn felt the league needed a tough lawyer and negotiator, not a well-liked football man like Finks, in the biggest office in the league. And that's the way it turned out.
Back to the trade. I was in Minnesota the weekend Walker arrived, and this thing was big. Capital B big. The favorite thing I recall unearthing was a final, almost fatal snag in the trade discussions hours before the deadline Dallas owner Jerry Jones had imposed to make the trade. Jones had negotiated an agreement with one of Walker's agents, Peter Johnson, under which Walker would receive $1.25 million from the Cowboys to accept the trade. Walker didn't have a no-trade clause in his contract, yet Dallas had to pay to get him to report to the Vikings.
After finishing negotiations on the $1.25 million payoff with Johnson, Jones got Lynn on the telephone at 8 a.m. and asked him to help cover the $1.25 million. Lynn was stunned. Then, said Lynn, Jones wanted to talk about the terms again. Lynn feared Jones might start calling other teams, so he told Jones he wouldn't let him off the phone until they had made a firm agreement. Walker had already come to clean out his locker at 6:15 that morning.
Jones agreed to pay the entire $1.25 million. He wired the money to Walker's agents in Cleveland the next day. Turned out to be a great trade for the Cowboys, obviously. It gave them a farm system of talent with all those picks that Jimmy Johnson used to build a deep roster.
Lynn was 76, and died from multiple infirmities.
4. Hines Ward is "devastated." He should be, and of course we all are, after the horrific shootings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises movie Friday in suburban Denver, where 70 people were shot by a gunman dressed as the Joker. In Ward's first movie role, he returns a kickoff in the movie at an incendiary Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
"I'm devastated,'' Ward told me. "It's a sad weekend for everyone. It took me from an all-time high to an all-time low. I'm so sad for everyone in Colorado. And it's pretty scary. You shouldn't have to live your life being afraid to go to the movies.'' Ward said he has friends who don't want to go to the movie now. "Fear of a copycatter,'' he said.
5. Remembering Jessica Ghawi. Her name in the press box at Colorado Avalanche games was Jessica Redfield -- her beloved grandmother's maiden name -- and she burned to write and talk about hockey for a living. So much so that five hours before she was shot fatally in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater, she sent Denver Post hockey writer and mentor Adrian Dater a direct message on Twitter, asking if there were a fall internship at the paper she could apply for. There wasn't.
Ghawi was looking for a job, having lost one as a waitress recently. "It didn't knock her down,'' said Dater. "I think the reason I was drawn to her was she was in the same position I was in life at her age. I just kept knocking on doors when I moved to Denver from New Hampshire, determined to get a break. That's how Jessica was.''
As an intern at a Denver sports station, she got sound for sportscasts in the Avalanche locker room. "Are they going to take me seriously?' she said to Dater early on. "I don't want people thinking I'm looking for a date. I'm serious about this job.'' And as she struggled with her doubts, wondering if she'd ever get a full-time job in the hockey media, Dater reassured her thusly: "I was living in my parents' basement when I was 25. You're doing fine. Don't worry. Just keep working.'' ...
And she would have, of course. She had a lifetime of interviews to do and dreams to chase. "It makes you ache so much,'' said Dater, "because when you see someone so driven to succeed and she never got the chance to do it, it's such a terrible feeling. I don't know what else to say.''
That's because there is nothing else to say.
6. Thanks, Broncos. A cadre of Broncos players -- tight end Jacob Tamme, tackle Ryan Clady, defensive end Ben Garland, wideout Eric Decker, linebacker Joe Mays, guard Chris Kuper and former Bronco Brian Dawkins -- visited the Medical Center of Aurora on Sunday to comfort the victims. Peyton Manning phoned several more of the 58 wounded in the attack. If you ever wonder about the meaning of a very popular team to a city, the emotion some victims felt to be remembered by the Broncos illustrates how important a franchise can be on days other than fall Sundays.
7. A note about the power of Roger Goodell. It's fashionable now for some players, and some in the media, to say Goodell shouldn't be judge, jury and executioner in the wake of the power he's wielded in the Saints' case. But it's revisionist history, really, to suggest the players could have won the power last summer during negotiations for a new labor agreement to send appeals to Goodell's decisions to an independent arbitrator.
One of the league's negotiators for the CBA, Giants president John Mara, told me last week: "We felt strongly this was something we weren't going to be flexible about. We weren't going to entertain discussions about putting those big decisions in the hands of an arbitrator. We weren't going to put the future of the game, potentially, in the hands of someone who wasn't the commissioner.''
On Saturday, I asked De Smith if, in retrospect, he'd have pushed harder to win neutral appeal power. "Commissioner discipline was a major issue during negotiations,'' Smith said. "But it wasn't going to change. Their side said several times it was a non-starter. They were firm. I don't believe in hindsight -- there was anything more we could have done.''
Let's say the NFL at some point said to the players, You want to change the appeals process so much, fine. But we want two percent more of the shared gross revenue. Midway through the labor deal, one percent will probably be about $150 million. Do players want neutral appeals so much that they'd have authorized surrendering something like $300 million? And there's no guarantee the league would have ever proposed that anyway; it's just a hypothetical advanced by me. My point is, I don't think players would have pushed for a neutral appeals process if it would have cost them a lot of money.
8.Be worried about seeing replacement officials in August, and quite possibly September. I'm hearing the talks are not going well. Tension between locked-out officials and the league is high, especially after Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times reported Friday that a cadre of veteran officials who now train young officials for the league, led by former Super Bowl ref Jerry Markbreit, refused to train the replacements and had their assignments and computers taken back by the league.
In a story for Sports Illustrated that I filed Sunday concerning the league's offseason of headaches, I address the officiating problems. What worries me most is that the 120 replacements aren't going to be major-college officials, but rather taken from a pool that will include some small-college and even high school officials. I don't like the tenor of what I'm hearing from the two sides, but they have 44 days to get something done before the opener.
And so you want to know what a coach says to his team before training camp ...
My first job covering pro football was in 1984 in Cincinnati, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. I reported to Wilmington, Ohio, an hour northeast of Cincinnati, to cover training camp on the hot, dusty fields at Wilmington College. Many days, I'd spend an hour or so standing with owner Paul Brown watching practice. By this time, he was in the process of handing the team over to son Mike, who now runs the show 28 years later. Paul Brown is one of the great coaches who ever lived, and one of the most organized, detail-oriented people I've ever met in the game. Once, I recall dragging myself onto the field for the second two-hour practice of a 90-something-degree day, and after 90 minutes making some crack to the wide-brim-hatted Paul Brown about how, day after day, he could be so attentive and so eager to see every play of four hours of football practice. "Young man,'' he said with an urgent reverence (I can still hear him), "this is our lifeblood.''
I'm not sure how I got to be in possession of it, but when I moved from Cincinnati to New York, I had a cassette tape of the 1973 speech Brown made to his team at the start of training camp. I listened to it once, then misplaced it during one of our moves since. I've always thought of it as a treasure I'd share one day with readers, but when I searched for it this summer, I just couldn't find it. So I called Bengals PR czar Jack Brennan, who was on the beat with me back in 1984, and asked if he could scare up a copy of it -- which someone in the Bengal offices had. So I had it transcribed and present it to you -- in edited form, because it was about 14,000 words long -- so you'll be able to hear something classic, some good example of how a smart coach goes over everything with his team at the start of training camp.
I'd love to get your feedback on it. Boring? Compelling? Let me know.
So let's go back to July 1973, to Year Six of the newest team in pro football, the Cincinnati Bengals, to the team meeting room at Wilmington College, as Paul Brown steps to the podium to address the team he owns, general-manages, and, most importantly, coaches.
"This lecture, or whatever you want to call it, that I do yearly is always our first point of business and to me, it's a very serious session. I consider it the most important meeting we have all year, so just settle yourself down here and listen carefully to what I say. I want you to know that I don't mean to be eloquent. It's just how I feel and how we operate.
"At the beginning, I want you to know that we're more than competitive. When we started out, I made the statement publicly that I wanted to be competitive in five years and I think we proved that last year. Nobody takes us lightly. We're considered a factor in this race. The next objective in our development has to be ... I want to win something. I'd like to win something big. I'm not just talking about getting there to have a shot at it. We can play anybody. We've had our giveaways and our fumbles, our mental lapses and the crucial last-minute failures. We've been through it. I no longer accept it. We can play and win from any team in this game. We're shooting for the big prize.
"I'll talk about the coaches, the men you work for. I have selected them myself. They're my friends, partners. They represent different backgrounds of football. I think they're relatively young and knowledgeable. They demand things, are enthusiastic and you work for them, just as you work for me.
"Day to day in our staff meetings, we're going to be talking about you. That's our total topic of conversation when we're in session. Talking about you. Your strengths or your weaknesses, your effort. We spend hours in that office adjoining my bedroom and you are the total topic of conversation. I want you to know that I respect their judgment and they're the same to you as I am. Everything they know, I'll know. You're welcome to see the statistical study we have on you. It will be pointed out to you. Their criticisms will be constructive. When we happen to single you out, once in a while when I say something to you in an open meeting like this, it isn't done to hurt your feelings. I don't want you to start feeling sorry for yourself. Be a man about your errors. Do something about it. If you make a boo-boo, you're sorry about it, we all are. It hurts us all. Coaches won't be swearing at you. We're not this shouting, haranguing type. They'll treat you high class, but they aren't really working for a popularity contest either. Your respect we want. Other than that, we want to make sense to you. Don't misconstrue this kind of relationship as weakness. There has got to be mutual respect.
"When the game plan is finalized, everybody goes all out with it. Coaches, players, everybody. I make a point of trying to keep abreast of the offensive and defensive game plans. Don't be saying after the game, 'I personally would've had them do this but they preferred to do that.' That doesn't do anybody any good. The plan, once it's crystallized, we go with it all the way and we act like men about it. Besides, being disloyal with this kind of an approach, I also know you can't win with that kind of an approach. That's the thing that really bothers me most.
"I want to emphasize, particularly to our new men, that this is not college football. You're trying to make a pro team and the responsibility for doing so rests squarely with you. It's honest, but I'm going to say this to you, it takes a lot of man, really. Rookies are treated just like veterans here. There's no hazing. No differentiation whatsoever. A lot of our rookies are married men trying to make a living, same as the veterans. In a nutshell, it's just all-out open competition to be one of the 40 to make it. Man to man. There's no sugar-coating or pampering. Whenever you have a spoiled problem player, my experience has been almost without exception he's not very bright. That's where the trouble comes, from that type of person. But whether you're a veteran or a man fresh out of college, how big a name you might think you have, it just doesn't mean much when you get into football and pro football. You aren't going to impress anybody by how big you talk or how flashy you dress or how big a car you drive or what kind of a contract you think you have. The only thing that's going to count here is the dedication and performance on the field. No one will be exerting or pushing you; it comes from within you. Run on your own gas.
"The starting principle I want to be sure that you understand thoroughly is that there is no room here for anything that smacks of the social or political struggles that are a part of our world today. We're not a springboard for anything of this type. A football team is people. It's a delicate mechanism. Feelings, respect for your teammates, respect for the organization are vital. I really don't care what your political beliefs might be. Fortunately, this is not a year of politics; at least it probably won't be much of an issue. Even if it were, I don't want you bringing it into our football, our locker room and our sessions. When you're socializing, no political or social arguments are going to be tolerated. Frankly, I don't care whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist. You can be a Communist, white or black or yellow or Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Irish, Italian or German, whatever else. Don't bring this into our football. I'm telling you. Don't let people or groups use you.
"There are no quotas here. I couldn't tell you how much of this or that we've got on this football team. I've never really bothered to think about it, so help me God, I never really checked, so I don't really know and couldn't care less. We're going to find the best 40 football players we've got. You've got to be in the spirit of our football. We certainly don't want anybody getting to think as a group or a block. You've got a grievance, come to see me. Just rap on the door or when you walk off the field in the morning just say, 'Can I see you for a few minutes?' Some of you have done this. You're welcome to do this. I will see you at any time. It's very easy to find a grievance or be sour or no fun to be around, but I can tell you this: When you're like this, people dislike being around you. You're painful to be around. They won't like you. You won't be successful in life if you're this way. You earn your respect by the way you conduct yourself. Words won't do it.
"The money each of you makes here in this less than five months puts you all in what is known as affluent status. You're wealthy by national standards. You're successful people and I say to you don't make any apologies for being successful. It's commendable. Handle your affluence, however, with some good sense. I really think that how you handle your money as a player reflects and is indicative of the kind of person you are. Invariably the guy that can't handle his money is of low intelligence. It's the same old story. A show of quick wealth doesn't say much for you mentally. The smart ones just don't blow it that way. Don't go around expecting something for nothing just because you're a football player. I'm talking about that guy that expects a special deal or a discount on everything he buys just because he's a pro player. People size you up. If they do nice things for you, that's beside the point. I'm talking about that guy who's really a pathetic person that always wants something for nothing because he's an athlete.
"Well, so much for that. At this point, I think I'll talk to you a little bit about how I feel about football. I came back into it five years ago because I really liked the life and the game fascinated me. It wasn't for financial reasons. I had to invest a chunk of money, along with the other investors, to get a franchise. It was a gamble. As I said to you, each year nobody is going to louse it up. I like the life. It's going to be pleasant for you and it's going to be pleasant for me. We're going to reflect this by the way we perform. To me, we're more than a business organization, we're a family. We operate that way and if there's anybody that wants to know for sure, I'm the father, the dad.
"I sure want you to understand this. I'm not saying these things to you to brainwash you or psych you or all that kind of stuff they talk about today. It's really how I feel about the game and how we're going to operate. You can call it my philosophy or approach to football or whatever you blooming well want to call it ... I came back into it under these conditions because I must control the factors that make or break me. I don't say this in the spirit of overpowering somebody or make a big man deal out of it. I really don't like to sound like a hard man, but you've got to know from the beginning that there's just no way to circumvent these principles we're standing on and the things I'm talking about. They've put us in that final championship game at the end of the year, 11 times in our lives.
"I want you to know that we're not interested in people that just want a job and our money, just want to make the final cut and then sit down on us. When you play here, we expect you to be all out and be in the spirit of it, be a high-class person, play with a full heart and have a fun time doing it. This leads to winning. I can tell you that we will be successful in proportion to the caliber of people you are. Invariably, if you looked back at great teams, I won't use our own, I could use the old Cleveland Browns, but in the same way I run into so many of the New York Giants when they were a great team. The Giffords and the guys of this nature that I see as life goes on. They become successful people. They're sound winners and competitors are a special breed.
"I've learned over the years for every bar fly and every chaser and every trouble maker, for every self-centered player, a man who has a wife not in the spirit of the team, for every one of this type and people unwilling to pay the price, our whole organization will suffer in its efforts to be a winner. It will reduce the number of games we'll win. Don't ask me why, but that's the way it turns out year after year. I suppose I should explain to you what paying the price means to me. This is not a physical thing. I don't refer to you going out and getting a beating when I talk about you paying the price. I'm talking about the mental aspects. I think it means getting yourself ready to play week after week. Getting yourself prepared mentally is a mark of a real professional.
"We're not interested in developing radio or TV commentators or automobile insurance salesman while the season's in progress. In the offseason, we'll help you. It's a pleasure to see you get a job and see you make good. While football is in session, we're paying for you full time. We're paying you to practice, to know our plans, to pay strict attention in all meetings. Football careers are ended mentally, not physically. Most of the good ones I've known, they can't stay up to it mentally. You've got to enjoy the life that is pro football. You just don't fool anybody if you don't. If you aren't this style and if it doesn't mean this much to you, we'll just have to get rid of you and it'll probably shock you how well the sport will go on without you. As far as I'm concerned, the selfish fellow is the worst person of them all.
"If you hurt the image of the team, we'll have to deal with it. We're a young team. The newest one in football, but we're not an expansion team. As for smoking, I ask you not to do it for your own good. I know it's a difficult thing to stop. I've never smoked and I don't know like probably some of you know it, but I'd suggest you give it a try. People are dying of this thing. All of a sudden when you've got to have part of your lung removed or something of that sort, you'll give yourself a little talk. I'd like to see athletes, not guys who run out of gas after they run a little bit. I don't think anybody would deny it here that it's stupid to smoke. If you ask to do it, I ask not to do it where it will hurt your image with young boys or kids when you're walking out of dressing rooms and they're waiting to see what you look like. You're a big deal to these little fellows. There's no smoking in our dressing rooms, our meeting rooms, our locker rooms, or our dining room. You'll just get fined if it comes to my attention.
"You'll be all getting into homes or apartments to rent. Live with some class, especially if you're a single guy. If you're one of these love-nest people, it eventually comes back to me too. Live with some class. When we leave here and go back to Cincinnati and you may have made the team, get your wife and children there. Probably the worst kind are the kind that give speeches about their wife and their family and how wonderful they are. When you find out they've really got a girlfriend on the side, what a letdown. What really it comes to is this hurts a guy's performance because he's not right from within.
"You're going to be going along here dealing with the press. Our writer for the Enquirer came in late here. This is Dick Forbes. Stand up, Dick, so they all know who you are. Dick has written our football from the beginning for the morning paper. In dealing with these people, I want you to be friendly and cooperate with them. Use judgment. You know better than anybody when you're popping off or saying something that will estrange your teammate or your coach or yours truly. Consider the morale of your team when you talk. It's so vital because it helps us to become a winner if you talk in the spirit of things. I would warn you especially in your postgame comments. We have to play these guys again. Maybe not this year, but the next year. Some of them never get over it. Don't give them a chance to work you over. Use your head. You might even be trying to make that coach's team someday that you blasted. You might have to come back. It's just one of these things. Just use your head.
"Your contracts are all different. Once they're signed, chop it off. It's forgotten, fulfill it. As an organization, we hold nothing against you that took place during negotiations. I emphasize that you're paid to practice, to be on our special teams, to help us in any way you can. When you give up or sort of quit because you aren't starting, when you feel we have to cut or trade you because of this, you're just revealing the kind of person that you are. It's a character defect to give up.
"I want to emphasize this again. I'm not trying to con you. I'm at a stage of life where I have no reason to be doing that kind of thing. I mean what I'm saying to you sincerely.
"Now I want to talk to you about the rules, regulations and the general practices that we follow and the way we work. The rules, obviously, are made for everybody. There is no so-called star treatment here. You're to be dressed and in your seat in this room, the conference room, at 9:30 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon. In the evenings after dinner, there will always be a meeting right here at 7:30. Your own particular group will then go from here to an individual meeting place. You'll know where it is. Always be in the general vicinity of the place in case we have to call a meeting in a hurry. Rookies can just follow along with the veterans. You'll fall into the routine very quickly. If you're late for practice or a conference session or a team meeting of any sort without arrangements with me, you are subject to fine and disciplinary action. Just as I said to you yesterday, the fines start at $50 for the first 15 minutes, $200 per hour there after. This is done so you can't just say, 'I've lost a $50, I might as well just shoot the works for the whole day.' The plans and things that we do here are scheduled for the benefit of everybody. We can't afford to be hampered by somebody's carelessness. We'll practice twice a day until we feel we need less. Of course, this is a race against time. We play Miami down there in the third week. You dress in your full practice suit.
"All the players must be in the dorm and go to your room at 10:30. Same thing on the road. The lights are out. We go to bed at 11 o'clock -- $50 fine for not being in your room as indicated. In the past, not last year, but prior to that, occasionally we'd have a group of guys get in somebody's room after lights and talk and I don't know what. For that, if you aren't in your own room, the fine is $100. Coaches will make nightly bed check, sometimes more than one. If you sneak out after the bed check, it's $500. Don't try getting social around this little town. Occasionally, we get a married guy that wants to be a social lion and starts prowling around. It's out. We're here for football. It's our livelihood and our profession. On the road, we always get a master key to check your room, so leave it, don't chain it or whatnot. Allow our master key to work, so we don't have to wake you up.
"Here ... I'd suggest you keep your room cleaned up. Hang up your towels. Have a little discipline in the way you live. It will help you all your life. Now the house rules are made for everyone. It's like a war this game we're in. There must be discipline. Funny thing about it, you hear all these days about modern youth and all that kind of stuff, and this rebellion against discipline. Discipline, if it's got some sense to it and is a square deal for everybody, is good.
"Everybody's time and everybody's feelings are all equal. We go to breakfast between 7 and 8. If you can't eat breakfast or it bothers you, tell me. Lunch is 12 to 12:30. Dinner is 6 to 6:30. We have a contract with these food-service people. You might notice those little old gals over there, the same ones have been here every year we've been here. They're sweet, nice people, really. They grow to like you and I want you to keep on that kind of relationship. They really look forward to us being here. Eat the meals unless you're excused. Nobody is too big time to eat with the rest of us. The fine is $50 if you're not here. I'd suggest at noon you eat lightly. Most of the guys eat at noon and take a rest before they go out in the afternoon. Just don't overeat at noon.
"We're class people. Keep the meals pleasant. One thing I'm going to suggest to you. Don't try to see how quickly you can eat and run. Learn to enjoy eating with your teammates. Sit down at different places. Get to know all your guys. You know the tendency is to just get to know certain people. It isn't that you mean anything. My suggestion is to get to move around and know your guys. It's a fun thing to do. Take your time and be what we call, pleasant diners. Every once in a while, I'll walk through there. I can remember going through there last year, when we had one guy that would take three or four steaks and eat a nibble off of each one and they'd be stacked up there. That's ridiculous. Eat what you take. It's gross not to be able to eat the food you take.
"As for the Players Association, I want to keep it above table with us at all times. The only thing I insist upon is something of this nature does not ever drive a wedge between us. Between you and me. Between you and our coaches and hurt our team. Pat [Matson] is the player representative. Pat's free to talk to me at any time about anything because I said to him a year ago, if he wants a union meeting, he's welcome to do it. Just go hire yourself a hall and have it. It's not our responsibility here, but don't let it interfere with our football.
"May I suggest you protect that pension system you've got? It's the best that I know of. Protect it. It's nothing if the structure begins to fail and isn't sound. If the football doesn't make money for the investors, if it is not successful, it hurts the structure of it. Believe me, these people are not going to be like some of the people are in some sports today who just lose their shirt. I mean, I read about some of these other sports teams that are starting out new leagues that sounded like they were bragging about who lost the most. These kind of people are not in the football world because they don't have to be. It's been a sound thing. We're not about to go that route.
"There's a league rule about fraternizing on the field, before or after the game. When we go to a place to have a game with somebody, I don't want to see a whole bunch of guys meeting you there from the other team. I say this because so many times in my life, we go out the next day and try to knock your can off and kill you but the day before, they're buddy-buddy. You just tell them that I don't like it and you can see them after the game is over. When you get dressed, you'll meet them and talk with them then. The league frowns on it.
"There will be a representative from the league office come here on the problem of the gambling things you must guard against. See, we're just trying to guard our sport to keep it sound. Anything that could be misconstrued and link you up with a possible gambling interest, a scandal, could wreck your life and your family. As long as I live, and again this is not for the newspaper, I will never forget Lou Groza when his brother got involved down at the University of Kentucky. Just broke right down and cried. It's a shame and these are mistakes that people can get involved in. It would hurt the franchise to boot. Be careful of people who try to do nice things for you and you can't understand why. Be wary of these strangers that want to give you something for nothing. All these so-called people want to do is be seen with you. Really the next step then is when the point spreads begin to fluctuate. If you are suspicious of somebody and you don't like somebody you see the way things are brought up to you, tell me and I'll call Pete Rozelle just like that and you will be in the clear because you have reported it. Protect yourself, your wife and your children because you might just be suckered and not know it was going on. It would be a disaster to you and your family.
"All right, now I am directed by the commissioner of football to talk to you about this drug thing that you've all been reading about. Dr. [George] Ballou will lecture to you later about the technical and medical side of it. I'm simply telling you how the National Football League is entering the picture and how we are cooperating. As an organization from this point onward, we must submit a duplicate of every invoice we have of anything we buy to the league office to a man hired as an arm of the league who studies what we buy as an organization. This doesn't bother us one iota because we've never dispensed illegal things to our football players. The league suggested that we as people involved here in protection of our own franchise have the police department come over to our office and demonstrate the smell of marijuana and show us what uppers and downers, the greens and blues and explain the problems that go with them, so we're going to recognize this kind of thing in so far as our players are concerned if we see it.
"I am not to go into the moral aspect of marijuana because I don't know anything about it. I really don't know. I'm talking about it in terms of our football. I do know this. The police showed us it is a felony in the state of Ohio. One year in prison and a $1,000 fine. This is then on your permanent record for the rest of your life. To the average American person, you are known as a drug user. It takes away any chance you might have of becoming a lawyer or a doctor if you're on the docket in this way. If you're guilty of selling marijuana, it's 20 to 40 years in prison in the state of Ohio. These are just simple facts that the police department brought out to us and I want you to know that it's a felony. Now as to our procedure with the league, if we have any suspicions, suppose we receive a letter about some guys that are having a pot party, it's our automatic duty, just like you have to report gambling possibilities to me, I have to report to the commissioner. You then are under surveillance as a suspect.
"On the night before games, be particularly careful that no visitors get into your hotel rooms. Gladhanders, relatives, gamblers, prostitutes, fairies, these people are predators. We go to a place to play football and it's the serious proposition. You'd be shocked if you were on the coaching staff and knew how we study you. It's easy to detect a hustler. I said to you before this isn't strictly a moral thing with us. Really it isn't a moral thing. We want our money's worth of your effort and we've got the right to it. Your dedication the night before a football game shows us a great deal about your sincerity.
"All right, now we're on the practice field. Nobody ever plays catch or talks to people along the sidelines, be it newspaper guys or anybody, you give strict attention to your coach and the group he's working with. Your group. You're never excused from learning. If you're injured, stay with that group. Mentally observe everything you can. The spirit of our game is to get back into shape as soon as you can. If you get the idea that you're taking the extra time because you might say to yourself, 'Well, here's another guy getting paid to do the same job I'm doing.' This guy, to the administrators of football, is what we call a dog. We don't have them. I don't think we've got any. I can guarantee we're not going to keep them. In the final analysis, by league rule, our team physician decides whether or not a player can play. I do not do this, as a coach, in the final analysis. It's a rule of our league.
"I'd like to suggest that you not get suckered into signing a contract with anybody to make speeches. There's no good reason for you to pay anybody a percentage of what you get just because they supposedly get you speeches. Tough part of that is that one guy always gets them all and the rest of you don't. It's harmful to our club. I told you this a year ago. We had a guy who was asking more money for a guy as a speaker than they were getting for Neil Armstrong or the governor. This is ridiculous. I don't respect the predators or the parasites who try to live off of somebody else's efforts.
"The thing I want you to see from each of your individual coaches is the way we grade you out and your performance of last year. We will be grading you during the preseason, as well as the regular season. It's easy to think that somebody's doing a heck of a job and then you get the pictures and you find some guy who you hadn't thought that much about is doing better than the guy you thought is doing a heck of a job. This is important to us. It's detailed, scientific, study the pictures, never lie.
"Really we base a lot of our contract thinking on not only how well the team does, but how you look in the statistical study. If you're a veteran, and you show up with some agent, some two-bit hustler who thinks he's going to make words to us about what we're going to pay, some of these guys don't know whether the ball is blown up or stuffed. We can take out the statistics, we can show you what you did and we can give you the reasons. We have to have you think we're a reasonable square deal. I go back to when I had a defensive end come in. He didn't do any talking. This guy [his agent] did all the talking, telling us what we're going to pay him and all this kind of stuff. Traded him. He didn't make it where he went. Barely eating today.
"Your work on special teams is very important to us. There are people in here that I wouldn't give up, just because of that very thing. It's vital to us. That brings me to the plan of the squad. The league limit is 40 men for any given game. However, there are some changes now. We're again allowed to have seven men on the so-called cab contract or under cab contract or control. Here's the difference: We are now allowed, prior to the final cutdowns, to put three of you on what we can construe as injured. It comes down to one thing. We can keep three extra men to justify or make any written report or anything of the sort to the league office. Anybody that's got a sore toenail, I guess qualifies as one of the three. That's what it comes to.
"Don't look down your nose if you're on the so-called cab squad. I think the word there should be 'developmental.' If you're on this thing, it's because we think you have future potential. There's a lot of guys playing here right now who started out that way with us. We respect them.
"After you get cut, get packed and prepare to leave camp immediately. We'll have your transportation check. We'll try to help you to the airport. Before leaving, you have to go through a checklist with our camp manager or one of the coaches before you can get your transportation check. These are not only our rules, they come from the league. Waivers will be asked immediately on you and teams claiming you will be advised to contact you at your home address and the telephone number you leave with us as you go.
"Now let me tell you something, of all the things that are in football, the lousiest thing that any of us coaches have to do is tell you that we don't think you can make it. Could be that you can't make it here, but you can make it somewhere else. If we think your best interest would be served by somebody saying, 'We think you ought to go to work,' believe me, there's nothing wrong about that. That's just about what it comes to. That will probably just shock some people to death to think about going to work, but there's nothing wrong with it. We're not mad at you.
"Now, be sure you don't, as you get started here, get blisters or if you have a pulled muscle, I don't want you to run sprints this afternoon. I'm sure we get a guy or two that's halfway afraid to run that 40 for fear he won't look good enough to stay from a speed standpoint. This isn't everything. I've had great running backs that might even be 4.8 in the 40. I've had a lot of great lineman that could go maybe 10 yards or 15 for the part that really counts. They weren't distance runners. These are things that are all relative and we know this. Keep using your salt, pills and drinks. We don't want anyone having heat problems out there. If there are any medical problems unrelated to our football, you're on your own. When you come over here, do not wear your football shoes. There's a lady that keeps this area sparkling clean and we want to cooperate with her.
"As you can see, in conclusion, I've thought about everything I've said. A lot of these things I've talked over with the coaches, so I can back them up with you. I believe in everything I've said. I've learned that rules and regulations over a span of time help us win. As I said originally, I want to enjoy being with you. I can guarantee you this: I'm secure enough in my work. I'm not about to run myself off. I can demand the things I'm asking of you. But by the same token, I want you to enjoy being with us. I'd sort of like to have you be able to say if you're here in years to come, it was a pleasurable experience.
"Everything you do from now on will have a bearing on making it. It helps us make up our minds. Your general person, your conduct, your previous record, your attitude, how you take your warm-up routine, your calisthenics, how you take coaching, and above all, how you block and tackle. Enter into the tryout spirit. It will be tough, but be friends with the guys you're competing with. One kind of guy, we always get a certain number of, is the fellow who figures out, 'Oh boy, there's three people at this position, three people too many at this position, they can only keep this, I'm in this kind of a predicament.' Divorce this kind of thing from your mind. Just say to yourself, 'I'm going to do the best I can do,' and it will handle itself. If you're good enough, there will be a place found for you somewhere. Don't do our thinking for us. Just concentrate on the job and you'll never have any regrets. I wish us all well. Our next meeting will be here at 1:30, at which time you'll be in your football suits and we'll go on the field.
1. Interesting how ahead of his time Brown was on hydration, cooperating with the media, smoking and statistical ranking of players. Can't you tell how much this man loved football, and how much he thought about it?
2. He apparently hated wasting food.
3. Great line about what it takes to make a Paul Brown team: "A lot of man.''
Joe, and his statue, had to go.
Last fall, I was critical of the Penn State administration for firing Joe Paterno over the phone, during the crazy week when the board of trustees decided to dump the coach. I thought it was classless, given what Paterno had meant to the university and the football program.
Now, obviously, things have changed. I've thought for years that the Penn State football program, to Joe Paterno, had gotten to be more about Joe than it was about the players. There's no way Paterno was energetic and vital enough in his 80s to coach a Big Ten football team as well as a younger man, yet for years no one could oust him from the job. It was Paterno running the school, doing what he wanted, staying as long as he wanted, and it set the stage for other bad things to happen. Other very bad things.
Like an athletic director who allowed, according to the Louis Freeh report, the investigation into a sex act between Jerry Sandusky and a child to be buried. There can be no arguing how disgusting and disheartening that is. For those reasons, particularly now that the second one is out in the open, it's clear to me the university didn't owe Paterno anything at the end -- other than to take down the statue that would have been a constant reminder of the stain caused by looking the other way while young boys were sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky.
Last year, I asked Penn State student journalist Emily Kaplan to weigh in on her feelings about the case when it was at its peak. I do the same thing this morning, as the university braces for today's reported NCAA sanctions:
For as long as I can remember, my neighboring town has been known for a terrible scandal. It had to do with the football culture. Glen Ridge, N.J., is a well-manicured suburb of New York City, where the streets are lined with majestic shade trees and quaint gaslight lamps. But in 1989, three members of the high school football team sexually assaulted a developmentally disabled young woman. An idyllic community was ripped apart and lives changed forever. Twenty-three years later, Glen Ridge is still, to some, stigmatized by "Our Guys," which became the title of the New York Times best-selling book about the incident and its fallout.
As I prepare for my senior year at Penn State, I can't help but wonder if my school will forever be known for its terrible scandal.
Of course, it had to do with the football culture. Our guys failed, enabling a serial child molester to reign. Penn State's so-called leaders made a mockery of our school's motto, "Success With Honor." Innocent children suffered, and now, as men, they must still cope with the ramifications.
As we move forward, it doesn't matter what statues we take down, or what football games we don't play. Nothing can undo what has been done. So where do we go from here? Our school's in a crisis, but it's not an identity crisis. I think we can identify what allowed this to happen. Mostly, our football culture became, in essence, our university culture. We deified a flawed man and gave him too much power.
It's easy to say this in hindsight. We all fell into the trap, enamored by the brand and the promises. I owned a Joe Paterno bobblehead doll and had a poster of him in my dorm room. We can disassociate from Paterno all we want -- throw out the knick-knacks and take down his statue, which happened Sunday morning -- but what's more important is to disassociate from the culture of secrecy and prioritizing football in unhealthy doses.
We, the 500,000 living alumni and 40,000 students, need to find a way to ensure that money and football and public perception will never again take precedence over doing the right thing. Which will be a challenge. When I heard that some of my peers camped out in tents outside Paterno's statue, "protecting it from vandalism," I wish they had looked at the bigger picture. Who was protecting those children?
For years Penn State built a powerful brand, and did everything to protect it. Now our university, like the town of Glen Ridge, will be long branded by its scandal. But moving ahead, Penn State has a unique opportunity to be known for something more: as leaders in child-abuse education.
I look at a grassroots network of Penn State alumni who founded the ProudPSUforRAINN campaign, urging Penn Staters to donate money to prevent and treat victims of sexual abuse. They reached their goal of raising $500,000 in less than one month. That's a great start. What can we do in six months? One year? Ten years?
These are the people who are Penn State. We, not the football guys, have the opportunity to define our own legacy now.
"We tell the rookies, 'No two-a-days. You're welcome.' ''
-- NFL Players Association executive board member Benjamin Watson to me, concerning the fact that the one-year-old CBA prohibits two-a-day padded practices. The second practice of the day has to be a walkthrough.
"First of all, the money was too good. The money was too good, and I hate to say it's about money. But, you know, I felt the money was a lot."
-- Brett Favre, in an interview with Deion Sanders of NFL Network, on coming out of retirement to play in 2010 for Minnesota.
"We have a lot of confidence in the way we run our program, and we're always trying to make it better. And I think skeet-shooting is going to be the difference in us getting back to the Super Bowl. So there.''
-- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy to ESPN radio in Wisconsin, defending taking his players out to skeet-shoot on what was to be a regular practice day in June. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz had zinged McCarthy for it.
Sometimes we take far too long to appreciate good football players, and we don't do it until long after they've retired. Take Gino Cappelletti, who retired last week after 32 years doing color on the Patriots radio network.
Cappelletti is one of three players to have played every week in the American Football League's 10-year history. As a sure-footed kicker and slippery and durable receiver, he scored more points than any other player in AFC history, 1,100. He kicked more field goals, 170, than any other player in AFC history.
He led the AFL in scoring five times. He was voted AFL MVP in 1964.
Lots of kickers through history did something else on the field, and many were bigger men. Lou Groza, for instance, was a standout tackle. But Cappelletti was a 6-foot, 200-pound receiving threat too. In his MVP season and 1965 season combined, he averaged 18.0 yards per catch with 16 receiving touchdowns -- more yards per catch than two of the premier wideouts in the league at the time, Charlie Hennigan and Art Powell.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft credited Cappelletti "for creating the foundation on which our franchise was built.'' Pretty good player too.
My tentative (and I stress that, because my schedule can change depending on news events) training camp schedule:
Mostly Flying Portion of Trip
July 25: Cardinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.)July 26: Chargers (San Diego)July 27: Saints (Metairie, La.)July 28: Broncos (Englewood, Colo.) ... on what I think is Peyton Manning's first Denver day in pads.July 29: Seahawks (Renton, Wash.)July 30: 49ers (Santa Clara, Cal.)July 31: Raiders (Napa, Cal.)
Mostly Driving Portion of Trip, I'm hoping with a van I'll discuss next Monday
Aug. 1: Dolphins (Davie, Fla.)Aug. 2: Bucs (Tampa, Fla.)Aug. 3: Jaguars (Jacksonville)Aug. 4: Falcons (Flowery Branch, Ga.)Aug. 5: TBDAug. 6: Redskins (Ashburn, Va.)Aug. 7: Giants (Albany, N.Y.)Aug. 8: Jets (Cortland, N.Y.)Aug. 9: Redskins-Bills preseason game (Orchard Park, N.Y.)Aug. 10: Browns-Lions preseason game (Detroit)Aug. 11: Bears (Bourbonnais, Ill.)Aug. 12-14: Home for three days. Writing, mostly. Vegging out, some.Aug. 15: Chiefs (St. Joseph, Mo.)Aug. 16: Rams (Earth City, Mo.)Aug. 17: Colts (Anderson, Ind.)Aug. 18: Bengals (Cincinnati)Aug. 19: Packers (Green Bay)
Final chunk, flying mostly
Aug. 20: Texans (Houston)Aug. 21: TBAAug. 22: TBAAug. 23: TBA, then home.
I'll try to see several other teams in the TBA categories. What I tried to do this year is make sure I hit all the teams I hadn't seen in the last year or two, which left me without trips to familiar places like the Eagles and Steelers. I hope to get to both teams, and to others, but we'll have to see how the month goes. I wish I could see all 32, but it's not very realistic.
Fun vacation. Strange coincidence.
My wife and I went to Dachau, the concentration camp outside Munich, and then moved on to Venice. We took the train over and through the Alps, a lovely ride, and switched trains in Verona for the final hour to Venice. Once in Venice, we lined up to take a water taxi to our hotel. That's right; there are no cars allowed in the busiest part of Venice. You either walk or take a boat.
In line, a man approached me and said he liked my work and was glad to meet me. We small-talked about his Ravens for a minute until a taxi-boat driver approached. "Want a ride to your hotel? Where are you staying?'' he asked.
"The Westin,'' my new acquaintance said.
"So are we,'' I said. "Want to share it?''
So we did, Randy Amon and his wife, Marlene, me and my wife. In the boat, Randy asked me where we were going from here.
"New Hampshire,'' I said. "We're going to a place called Mount Washington for a few days.''
Randy looked stunned. His wife looked stunned.
"We're going to Mount Washington too,'' he said.
We got to the hotel. Checked in side by side. "Mr. Amon, we have your reservation,'' the clerk said. "You'll be with us for three nights.''
We were staying for three nights.
On the third night, the last night, we ran into Randy and Marlene in the outdoor bar and had a drink. They were flying in the morning. Leaving at 6:15, he said.
We were flying in the morning. Planning to leave at 6:30.
"Want to share a taxi?'' he said.
So we did. Turns out they were headed home to Baltimore for a few days before going to Mount Washington. The day we left Mount Washington, they arrived.
Same hotel in Bretton Woods, N.H.
Now that's weird. Same train. Same hotel, for the same number of nights. Same end site for vacation halfway across the world in a place that I'm certain only two parties in Venice would be going to as the end of their vacations.
Five memorable vacation points:
1.Standing in the "shower room,'' which was the gas chamber, at Dachau. Much of the camp -- the barracks, in particular -- had been razed by the '60s. Though this wasn't one of the main killing camps, Dachau had plenty of the ugly history from the war. And the rock-solid building that prepped prisoners for death, gassed them, and then cremated them in ovens was still standing. And it's as chilling a spot as I've ever visited.
The grounds were full of teens the day we visited, and we asked our guide about it. "Every child in Germany must visit a concentration camp during their schooling,'' the guide said. "It is part of our history, and we must not hide from it.''
We really felt for our guide, who was from Bavaria, and whose dad died with a guilty conscience because he was a soldier for the Third Reich during World War II and thought he was doing the right and patriotic thing. The guide and his dad, who died a few years ago, were never able to have a discussion about the war and its outcome because it was just too painful for the father. When I got back to our hotel that evening, I noticed I had four pieces of the pea gravel from the Dachau grounds stuck in the treads of my sneakers. You can bet those will be kept as reminders of a day I won't forget.
2.Going to a real, honest-to-goodness beer garden in Munich. The Augustiner-Keller Biergarten is the way a beer garden should be: a couple of acres of tables -- some smaller ones, some long ones where you sit with total strangers -- with three-pound steins, filled with 36 ounces of the local lager. Dogs, kids, bikers, elderly, yuppies. Everything. Including the husky waitress who could carry six of the steins at once.
3.Being the PA announcer at Fenway Park for a game. A month ago, my buddy with the Red Sox, Corey Bowdre, texted out of the blue, "Would you be interested in doing the PA at one of our games in July?'' Come on, now. Seriously? I believe I set the American record for quickest response to a text. "I'm in."
I did it last Tuesday, and now I just have to explain to my family why I'm going to be writing Corey into my will. So the game was against the White Sox. My lifeline, sitting next to me all game high above the field, was a cool cucumber named Jack Lanzilloti, who directed my every word.
I did only one affectation. Introducing the White Sox lineup before the game, I came to the second batter and said, "Batting second, the third baseman, number 20, Kevin YOOOOOOO-kilis.'' Just had to.
The White Sox presented some interesting challenges. Ala-handro DEE-Aza batted first. Die-ann VEE-cee-aydo batted seventh. Brian O-ma-grasso pitched in relief. Luckily, I missed out on Yahn Marine-yez out of the bullpen. I did manage to get the Red Sox senior manager Rico Mocha-zooki correct as well.
All in all, a fun night -- especially with the extended family in the house, waiting to see how many different ways I could mess up VEE-cee-aydo. Luckily for me, the answer was zero.
4.Visited the Allagash Brewery in Portland, Maine. Very pleased to have spent a couple of hours touring and chatting with the folks who make my favorite beer, Allagash White. I even got to see how the brew is spiced with Curacao orange peel, coriander and a secret spice: with the spices wrapped in what looked like a white women's stocking and stuck in the huge barrel during the brewing process. I recommend the tour (it's free, as are the tastings) for the beer education and incredibly good smell.
5.Read a lot. Started with Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor-League Rock and Roll, by Joe Oestreich. A perfect title. Imagine driving three hours to play a gig in front of five people at a dive bar in Detroit. Oestreich's band, Watershed, did it all the time. It's a very good look at a strange life I'd never want to live, but if you're passionate about music, I can see how you would.
Went straight into Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, easily one of the best biographies I've ever read. Ended up hating Jobs. Ended up admiring Jobs. Ended up wanting to model parts of my professional life after Jobs. Ended up wanting to punch Jobs in the face. In other words, Isaacson captured Jobs perfectly.
Now I'm 200 pages into The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, by Robert Caro. Never have I read a book as well-researched as this one, a fact I know won't change even though I'm only a third of the way through it. The enmity between the Kennedys and Johnson was stunning, particularly since John Kennedy picked his arch-rival to be his vice president in 1960. I quibble a bit with the writing style, though. Caro, on page 21, uses 14 dashes, four colons and six semi-colons. I like punctuation as much as the next guy. Caro tries to set records for it. But don't let that obscure your love of what Caro does, which is highly admirable.
Oh, almost forgot: Thanks to the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners of the New York-Penn League for hosting me on Peter King Bobblehead Night, which, from what I understand, was under serious consideration for SI's "This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse'' award. Great time, great staff and a very handsome bobblehead. You know that we live in a wacky world when they're making a bobblehead of me. Of course, I do have the distinction of being the lone King who showed up on his bobblehead night. The night after mine, Stephen King was absent on his bobblehead night in Lowell.
"BBC sideline reporter flown to heaven to interview President Lincoln: 'Going to see that overrated play really didn't help, did it?' ''
-- FOXSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock, after a reporter at the British Open, with one of the worst questions in post-match or -game history, asked Adam Scott, who bogeyed the final three holes to blow the tournament, "Those three bogeys didn't help you, did they?''
"They will leave the Joe Paterno statue up but they're going to have him look the other way.''
-- @AlbertBrooks, the comedic actor.
Well, times have changed in the span of a month.
1. I think -- no, I know -- that one of my favorite books every year just landed in the email box the other day: "Football Outsiders Almanac 2012." The reason I always love the book is the guys writing the team-by-team essays are thoughtful, smart and fun-loving. You can tell they love football. The intelligence comes through in every page. (Click here to buy the book in PDF form. If you want the physical book, go here or visit Amazon. Cost is $22.95.) Try five of my favorite tidbits on for size:
a. How good was Aaron Rodgers last year? He threw just six picks, but he's even lower in a stat Football Outsiders calls "adjusted interceptions." Two of his picks were catchable balls that bounced off the hands of his receivers before being picked off, and Rodgers didn't throw a single "dropped interception" (a pass that would have been a pick except the defender dropped an easy catch).
b. Tony Romo last year averaged 8.6 yards per play without pass pressure, but only 2.3 yards per play with pass pressure, the biggest gap of any regular starting quarterback except Rex Grossman.
c. The Jets used seven or more defensive backs on 11 percent of pass plays, far more than any other team. In fact, only one other defense used seven or more defensive backs on more than 1.5 percent of pass plays -- Dallas. Rex and Rob Ryan sure think alike.
d. Opposing kickers were a mind-blowing 29-for-30 against the Jets last year, with the only miss by Sebastian Janikowski from 56 yards. That's just absurd bad luck for the Jets, unlikely to carry over to 2012.
e. Miami's Cameron Wake led the league, drawing 13 offensive holding calls last year. Nobody else had more than seven.
2. I think one of the notes that caught my eye over the vacation was Saints owner Tom Benson retaining Sandusky investigator Louis Freeh to investigate the Saints case. But Freeh got hired, I'm told, to look into that ESPN story that said the Saints bugged the visiting coaches box for three years. The Freeh group will have access to all Saints correspondence to look into the allegations and report back to Benson.
3. I think I couldn't care less if Michael Vick thinks the Eagles have what it takes to be a dynasty. What's he supposed to say? "Our ceiling is 10-6?"
4. I think it's good to see Rex Ryan down 106 pounds, and I hope he can keep it off when the stress of the season hits. I see he told Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger he's been getting advice by someone he calls "my little sensei'' this offseason. Rex, you've lost a little sensei.
5. I think if the Lions don't cut cornerback Aaron Berry -- arrested Saturday night for pointing a gun at three people outside a bar in Harrisburg, Pa. -- after his second arrest in 26 days, they're simply not serious about cleaning up what's become a total embarrassment of a roster. Seven arrests in one offseason ... ridiculous. The Lions have to put some teeth in cleaning up their act, and the only way to start doing that is to cut Berry. Today. (Editor's Note: The Lions cut Berry later Monday.)
6. I think the excitement level in Denver for Peyton Manning looks like it's off the charts. That's good for the franchise. The key for him, I think, will be seeing how his neck and shoulder hold up on consecutive days of hard throwing. I know he's done a lot of it already, but there's something about doing it with pads and your wideouts being covered downfield. I'm sure that's what Manning's looking forward to seeing too.
7. I think it's a great sign to see Cam Newton reporting with the rookies today in Spartanburg, S.C., for the Panthers. The more you hear about Newton, the more blue collar he sounds -- just the way Ron Rivera likes his quarterback.
8. I think it's a great piece of Gene Upshaw's legacy that a new cancer center in his name was dedicated over the weekend near his former home of Truckee, Calif., near Lake Tahoe. Upshaw died of pancreatic cancer in 2008, and his family donated money to help fund a needed new cancer center.
9. I think I'll miss most of the Olympics, hopping from city to city over the next month. Hard to believe the opening ceremony is Friday. It's always one of my favorite TV events. I'm excited for that Denver-area swimmer, Missy Franklin, who seems like such a good kid, with her head on straight.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. A former colleague at Newsday, reporter Manny Topol, died early this month. He's one of the best reporters I've ever worked with. If you lived on Long Island over the past 30 years and read that great newspaper, you were fortunate to have read Topol, a great digger and truth-seeker.
b. This is the best story I read in the past month, about an inmate in Indiana who murdered both parents in 1993, at age 14, and now is trying to prove he belongs out of prison.
c. Had a great time running in the Run To Breathe 10K race, Boomer Esiason's run to raise money for cystic fibrosis research, in Central Park Saturday. Boomer's son Gunnar, a rising senior at Boston College, has CF as many of you know, and Esiason has been a tireless fundraiser in the two decades since Gunnar was diagnosed. The Esiason Foundation has raised and contributed $60 million in those 20 years to the cause, and that's helped the life expectancy of CF patients rise from 19 to 27 years.
d. Regarding Saturday's race. You want the good news or the bad news? Well, I ran it in 65:10 (the official time was 65:44, according to the New York Road Runners website), and I'm not sure if that's good or bad. But the good, I guess, is I beat 995 other runners in the 4,822-person field. The bad: I lost to 3,826.
e. I'll be running another half marathon in the fall. Details to come soon.
f. Red Sox: 55-68 since last Sept. 1. I sense a pattern developing.
g. Tim Lincecum and Jon Lester should have a long phone call. Lots in common.
h. I find myself as a Sox follower not being angry with Lester, but rather pitying him. He doesn't want to be this horrible.
i. My biggest problem with the HBO series "The Newsroom" is some of the unimaginable things that happen when the real fur is flying during newscasts. Such as a lowly associate producer telling the all-powerful anchor during a commercial break on election night that maybe he shouldn't parade his new bimbos in the newsroom in front of his former lover, the executive producer of the newscast. I mean, are you crazy?
j. I don't know how I missed The Descendants when it was out a year ago. But that's one great movie. Not a good movie. A great one, a great slice of real American life.
k. And I watched Crimes and Misdemeanors the other night again. Next to Annie Hall, it's Woody Allen's best, in my opinion.
l. Coffeenerdness: Nothing better than sidling up to a tiny coffee bar in Venice, ordering a cappuccino, and getting black-as-coal espresso with a little milk frothed in. For about $2.
m. Beernerdness: Best beer I had in Europe, and I think it had more to do with the day and the scene (busy square in Venice, sidewalk café, 90 degrees) was a cold Italian lager I'd never heard of, Castello. Cold beer, shady table, watching the world go by on a square twice as old as the United States. Cool.
n. Good to be back. Looking forward to hitting the road.