The voice of Tony Corrente was ebullient, as ebullient as a man who stared down his own mortality within the past few months and lived to tell about it.
"How are you doing?'' I asked Corrente an hour after he refereed his first game -- Niners-Jets at the Meadowlands Sunday -- since his tongue and throat cancer eradication of last winter.
"Wonderful, fantastic, perfect!'' he practically shouted into the phone. "Never been better, and I mean that. I am elated. I have a new lease on life."
Corrente checked into the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston the day after his final game of the 2011 season -- the Detroit-New Orleans Wild Card game -- for treatment of a thumb-sized malignant tumor at the base of his tongue, where it connects with the back of his throat. He had 13 chemotherapy treatments and 33 zaps of radiation in a short period, to attack the tumor aggressively. Doctors told him if the tumor had been discovered as little as three weeks later the news would have been very dark for him. But they began treatment in time, and in the spring, they found that the tumor was under control. He's had two thorough checkups since, and both have given him a clean bill of health.
This is why, as the National Anthem played Sunday in New Jersey, Corrente said a long prayer of thanks for his doctors and for those who supported him during the ordeal.
"I did not ever in my wildest dreams think I'd be back on the field,'' Corrente said, his voice catching.
Corrente looks a little slim still. He's having trouble putting weight on. And he said, "I still carry some of the fatigue with me. But I'm ahead of the curve in physically rebounding from this, so I consider myself lucky in that regard."
In many regards. It's good to see Corrente back.
And on the Left Coast ...
Lost in the weekend of the officials returning and all the other mayhem from Week 4 in the NFL was the City Council in Los Angeles voting 12-0 on eight separate measures to approve construction of a 75,000-seat NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to the "LA Live''/Staples Center area downtown.
Tim Leiweke, the CEO of AEG, the company intending to build the stadium, knows he still needs a team to play in Los Angeles, and he still he needs a Daddy Warbucks to be a partner to the owner of that team. But as he told me over the weekend: "This is a moment we've never been at in Los Angeles. There was a lot of doubt that after 20 years of false starts and false alarms we'd ever get our act together enough to be on the verge of finally getting the NFL back in Los Angeles.''
Leiweke said he was confident AEG -- which is for sale -- would have a major investor "by the end of the year,'' and "he is prepared to make a deal to get a team.'' The usual suspects have been rounded up, and include San Diego (still having trouble making a stadium deal there), St. Louis (the status of renovations at the Edward Jones Dome will determine whether the Rams legally can move) and Oakland (totally up to owner Mark Davis). Jacksonville and Buffalo are further down the list, but not impossible.
The best point Leiweke made was about the area in Los Angeles where the stadium would be built. It's a Super Bowl slam dunk. If there's something NFL owners understand, it's the power of synergy between pro football and the entertainment business, and having Los Angeles in the Super Bowl-site rotation.
'It's the perfect Super Bowl site -- maybe the best Super Bowl site ever,'' he said. "We have a 100-acre campus with the Staples Center, hockey and basketball teams, all the hotels. No one has to get in a bus once they come. It's all here. Everyone raved about the convenience of Indianapolis. We'll be like Indianapolis on steroids."
Now for your email:
I CERTAINLY HOPE SO. "It might be an overreaction to last Monday's call but is the Competition Committee going to put some more meat behind the definition to the term simultaneous catch?''-- From David Propper, of Brookfield, Conn.
I would be in favor of that -- particularly the kind of catch that happened in Seattle, when one receiver has possession in the air and the other has feet on the ground. The NFL should make this a point of emphasis for the 2013 season.
THANKS FOR POINTING THIS OUT. "I felt inclined to send an e-mail comment regarding all the attention that has been focused on Steve Gleason over the past year regarding ALS. I have been a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan and one of my favorite players during the mid to late '90's was Kevin Turner. As you may or may not know, Kevin Turner was also diagnosed with ALS and has been going through many of the same issues that plague Steve Gleason as well. I felt it necessary that his contributions to the fight against ALS should also be duly noted in this column as well. I hope that attention can be brought to his foundation, The Kevin Turner Foundation. His documentary movie, "An American Man,'' which documents Kevin's daily struggle with the disease, has just come out, and he is also a tremendous inspiration to all people who live with this terrible disease.''-- From Mark, of Hamilton, N.J.
Thanks for the opportunity to draw attention to Turner and to his foundation. As is the case with many charitable ventures, sometime one person gets the lion's share of attention and contributions, and it just so happens in the ALS/athlete world it has been Steve Gleason. But you are right -- he should not be the only one whose story is told.
I AM WAY OFF ON MY ROOKIE OF THE QUARTER. "That's nice of you, Peter, to recognize Greg Zuerlein for the fantastic start to his career. However, to call him the best rookie thus far is patently absurd. There have been some kickers that have had fantastic seasons over the past couple decades, but it has been 30 years since a kicker won an MVP award. The reason: comparing the performance of a kicker to that of a QB is apples and oranges. No, Greg Zuerlein has been fantastic, but the best rookie this season, and in fact the best rookie QB I have ever seen, is Robert Griffin III. Andy Luck so far has been a distant second. No, Greg Zuerlein has been great, but if the vote was today, he'd get 0 votes for rookie of the year and anyone who did vote for him should have his vote taken away.''-- From Jack Bartram, of Waterville, Maine
I heard a lot of this Monday from fans of Griffin. Totally understood. The reason I picked Zuerlein is that over the first four weeks of the season, he's been the best kicker in football, and that cannot be disputed -- 12 of 12 in field goals with seven of them 46 yards or longer. I believe if a man is the best player at his position, he deserves to be recognized for it. Do I think he'll be the best player at his position by season's end? I don't know, but if he far and away is, I'll strongly consider voting for him for offensive rookie of the year. Now, if Griffin continues to complete 69 percent of his throws with a rating over 100, or even approach this level of achievement for 16 games, it's hard to envision not voting for him either. If Griffin has the best rookie season ever by a quarterback, it'd be very hard not to vote for him. Let's let the season play out and see where we stand in late December.
ALL GOOD IDEAS COME FROM IOWA. "I am surprised the Jets aren't simply using Tebow as their full-time fullback. First, they would get an excellent blocker and get their money's worth that way. Second, he's in the equation every down, which has to be a good tool to use for confusing a defense, and having more plays available. And wouldn't he rather do that than sit? Would be interested in your take on this.''-- From Steve Bosking, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Not sure the Jets value his blocking more than, say, John Connor's, but it's an interesting idea -- especially since Tebow would give the Jets a good blocker plus a player to use as a wild card. You know what I wish? I wish the Broncos would have dealt him to New England. After seeing Bill Belichick play a tight end, Aaron Hernandez, as a running back for 21 snaps in a playoff game last year, I'd love to see the uses Belichick could find for Tebow. Maybe someday we will see that happen.
ANOTHER GOOD POINT. "You write: 'Is a Hail Mary a pass play? Yes. And is there anything in the NFL Digest of Rules that says you don't call offensive or defensive pass interference on a last-second pass into the end zone?' Is a Victory Formation a snap? Yes. And is there anything in the NFL Digest of Rules that says you can't rush your defensive linemen when there is still time on the clock? In both cases the rule should apply, otherwise where do you draw the line? Love your column.''-- From Lionel Susini, of Lexington, Ky.
Thanks, Lionel. I never said storming the line on a victory formation should be illegal; I simply said if I were a defensive coach, I wouldn't do it because of the risk of injury -- to both teams -- and to the risk of vengeance against my own team.
AN ILLINOIS FAN CRITICIZES THE PACKERS -- AND ME. I AM SHOCKED. "You've selected your Coach of the Year thus far not because of coaching but rather his attitude in the face of a bad call and his control over his team in the face of perceived adversity. That'd be great if he didn't make these "Refs are human, too" and "Keep fighting!" comments two days after every player on that team was on social media and Jim Rome complaining about the refereeing. Not only is your logic for selecting him flawed, but it isn't even true. A true leader -- a great coach -- would have walked into the locker room in Seattle, said all the right things, and then told his players he'd fine any one of them that whined publicly about this. No matter how bad that call was, it's a coach's responsibility to control his players and start getting ready for the next week. Instead, he let Josh Sitton go on national TV and gripe. The same Josh Sitton whose linemates gave up eight sacks in a half. Fantastic job keeping them focused on the real issues, coach McCarthy."-- From Dan Harmon, of Oak Park, Ill.
Wait. You don't think they were focused when it counted, late in the fourth quarter of a game in which they got jobbed on the Darren Sproles fumble-not-called-a-fumble, when their defense prevented the Saints from scoring and when James Jones made an impossible catch to allow the Packers to run out the clock in a one-point victory? You'd rather the coach muzzle his players. That's the real important lesson here. I see.