Crennel, Quinn open up on Chiefs' inspired win through heavy hearts
On Sunday morning,
"In this crazy state of mind he must have been in,'' Linta said, "I truly believe he didn't go to the facility to make a spectacle of himself, or to do anything like Columbine. If you knew the kid, you knew how grateful he was for what he'd been given, with the chance to play in the NFL. I believe he went there for one reason -- to thank them. To thank Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel for helping make his dream of being an NFL player come true.''
Could it be true? Could Jovan Belcher, the undrafted kid from Maine signed by Pioli in his rookie season as general manager in 2009, really have had the presence of mind to go to the Arrowhead complex with one overriding intention? To thank the man who signed him and the men who coached him up, head coach Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs? To thank them as the last act of an underdog life gone terribly bad?
Linta didn't know how right he was.
In the fall of 2008, Joe Linta, who fancied himself a scout as much as an agent, watched some tape of an all-conference defensive end from Maine who'd come highly recommended by the coaching staff. Linta has some big clients -- Joe Flacco for one -- but he reps the lesser guys, low-round picks and college free agents. And he thought this ball of energy, Jovan Belcher, would work out well for teams and either be a late-round pick or find his way into someone's camp as a low-bonus free agent.
"In the undrafted free agent business,'' Linta said, "you've got to act quickly. The biggest word in that business is 'next.' If you wait even a few minutes, the team you think is the best fit is just going to move on to the next kid. It's like the commodities trading pit. I had a long relationship with Scott [Pioli] going back to his days with the Patriots, signing free agents there, and there was a trust built up. I didn't have many teams interested, but I knew Scott was interested. Jovan had the traits Scott wanted to build his team with: tough, smart, played hard, kept his mouth shut, exuded 'team.' Scott told me, 'Joe, I like this kid. I think he has a chance.' I wasn't getting much action on him the night the draft ended, and Scott was interested, so he signed with the Chiefs. In a way, because of my relationship with Scott, Jovan almost went in there as a teacher's pet.''
Belcher made the team as a special-teamer and backup inside linebacker. The next year, when Crennel arrived as defensive coordinator, Belcher became a two-down inside linebacker, starting and coming off the field on passing downs. He started 41 of 43 games under Crennel's tutelage, and he played well enough last season to merit a substantial raise: He signed a one-year deal for $1.927 million this offseason.
I have only one recollection of Belcher before Saturday. On a visit to Chiefs camp in 2010, I was going over the roster with Pioli, and he mentioned how Belcher was exactly the kind of player he wanted to build his team around -- a person of character who played hard and who could be trusted off the field. That's the only image I have of Belcher. On Sunday, Crennel told me: "I loved having him around because he sat in the first row in meetings and always paid attention. He was first in line in the drills, a very strong-willed individual. Football was very important to him. He was driven to succeed.''
A hard-trying everyman. Every roster has 20 of them: low-round picks or free agents, fighting to stay in the league, fighting for the big contract, hoping to make enough money to do what Belcher did -- buy a Bentley, lease a home in a prosperous neighborhood, invite his girlfriend to live with him, and welcome their child into the world, which Belcher, 25, and Kasandra Perkins, 22, did this year.
And that, until Saturday morning, is all we knew of Jovan Belcher.
Crennel spoke to me Sunday after the Chiefs game, but he said he didn't want to discuss specifics of what he saw and experienced outside the building. Pioli would not speak either -- to anything. Both men had been debriefed by the police for a lengthy police report, but have not spoken publicly about what happened.
But as I reported on NBC Sunday night, a source close to law enforcement on the scene Saturday told me the story had some differences from the one widely reported over the weekend. When Pioli arrived at the Chiefs' complex around 8 a.m., Belcher had just arrived and was out of his car. Pioli got out of his car and noticed that Belcher was in an agitated state, according to my source. As they spoke, Pioli saw Belcher had a gun. Though Belcher was clearly unstable, the source said Pioli didn't feel threatened because Belcher never pointed the gun at him. Belcher and Pioli were alone in the parking lot, a few yards apart, for several minutes.
(The source did not tell me if Pioli knew exactly what Belcher had done before he arrived, but he said clearly Belcher had shot someone and spoke of the police coming for him soon.)
At one point while the two men were alone in the parking lot, the source said, Belcher said to Pioli: "I came here to tell you thank you. Thank you for my chance. I love you, bro.''
The source said Pioli tried to calm Belcher, but had little success. At one point, Belcher asked Pioli, "Can I talk to Romeo and Gary?'' Crennel and Gibbs, he meant.
Pioli took out his cell phone and called Crennel, asking him to get Gibbs and come outside. (Imagine what Pioli had to be thinking here: I'm calling two of my closest coaching friends to come out into an open parking lot with an unstable man with a gun, who apparently has shot someone, and is impervious to any attempt to calm him down. How dangerous is that?)
Within minutes Gibbs and Crennel appeared. They, too, tried to calm Belcher, to no avail. Belcher thanked them for his NFL opportunity, and he began to walk away from them.
"I wasn't able to reach the young man,'' Crennel said softly over the phone from Kansas City Sunday.
Belcher walked a few steps away, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.
There will be counselors, for players who felt they didn't do enough to recognize Belcher's desperation, and for the three men who witnessed a man killing himself with a gunshot to the head. The counselors, according to one grief counselor I spoke with Sunday, will probably say something like this: Jovan made a decision by himself, having nothing to do with any of you. To Jovan, personal business had to be taken care of, and there was nothing that you could have done, so you can't punish yourself.
Now, for better or for worse, the Chiefs made the decision to play Sunday's game against Carolina. I asked Crennel what he said to his team Saturday night.
"Words,'' he said, "there are not many you can say. I just told them, 'What has been done cannot be undone, and we have to live with it. The way to get through it is to lean on each other, lean on your family, lean on your faith.' It's what we do -- we play football, we coach football. And for a couple of hours, we could brush the misery aside and do something we love to do, and maybe that would help us and help the community.''
The fans at the game, Brady Quinn told me, "were amazing. We haven't given them much to cheer this year, but they came out and encouraged us from the minute we came out of the locker room. It was emotional. You just can't thank them enough for making the day OK.''
Then some things started happening that hadn't happened to the Chiefs in this miserable, fire-everyone year. The Chiefs had turned it over a league-high 32 times in their 1-10 start, and here they were, efficient. Touchdown, field goal, touchdown by halftime, and they led the Panthers 17-14 at the break. At one point, Quinn, a career 53 percent passer, completed 14 passes in a row -- the longest consecutive-completion streak of his NFL career. "I don't know what happened,'' said Quinn, a very religious man. "I'd like to think maybe I had some help, somewhere, from No. 59 [Belcher]. But no, I can't explain it.''
Dormant players, disappointing players, woke up. Jonathan Baldwin caught his first touchdown pass of the year. Peyton Hillis ran for his first touchdown of the year. Tony Moeaki caught his first touchdown pass of the year.
A rookie left tackle, Donald Stephenson, in his second start subbing for the injured Branden Albert, held the Panthers' $12-million-a-year defensive end, Charles Johnson, without a sack -- and to just one tackle. A undrafted free agent (like Belcher) free safety, Tysyn Hartman, led the team in tackles with six. Another undrafted free agent (like Belcher) cornerback, Neiko Thorpe, stopped Pro Bowl Carolina receiver Steve Smith twice on the Panthers' desperation last drive.
Watching the game in New York, I noticed safety Eric Berry leave the game in the second quarter, and he was gone until late in the third quarter. When he returned, he had a giant wrap on his hand, like the hand had been casted, and he played the last 20 minutes of the game favoring the hand. I didn't hear a report about it, but with regular secondary players Brandon Flowers and Abram Elam out, the Chiefs couldn't afford to lose Berry -- and they didn't.
On Saturday night, Crennel had told the players to simply focus on the task at hand. Play football for three hours. Concentrate on your job as well as you can.
With five minutes left in the game, the butterfingered, careless Chiefs had zero turnovers and zero penalties. This is the 50th season of the franchise. The Chiefs had never played a game without a turnover and without a penalty. Everything can't be a movie. With 3:36 left, Quinn was called for delay of game. That was it ... 56 minutes without a penalty, and a grand total of one on the day, for five yards.
When it was over -- Kansas City 27, Carolina 21 -- Quinn buried his head on Crennel's shoulder, and they embraced for five or 10 seconds. "I was fighting tears,'' said Quinn. "I just said to Romeo, 'I am so proud of you.' He is a leader of men. To witness something like that, and to get us ready to play a football game, that is what a leader of men does.''
In the locker room, weary Chiefs players didn't know what emotion to have. Crennel told them to be sure to remember the family of Kasandra Perkins. And he told them there would be a long road of healing ahead.
"It's not over yet,'' Crennel said. "For some of us, it will be with us for the rest of our lives."
The show went on around the league in Week 13, with a cloud over it. And this is what happened in a league that promises less December drama than usual:
That, folks, is the best message I can leave you with today.
To understand the addictive effects of some performance-enhancing drugs, and the fact that the NFL is about to set a record for PED suspensions this season, here's how the NFL's program for banned substances works.
The NFL tests separately for performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids, and for other banned substances, like recreational drugs. The threshold for punishment is far different too.
NFL statistics show a remarkable rise in suspensions for PEDs: 21 in 2012, and that number doesn't include the two pending cases of Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, reportedly for positive Adderall tests. That would bring the number to 23. (I doubt they will win their appeals, because of the rigorous process for erasing positive tests, which is nearly double the 12 PED suspensions in 2011.) "We have probably seen an increase in the improper use of Adderall,'' said the NFL's senior vice president of labor policy and player development, Adolpho Birch. "It is probably more of a societal problem now.''
"Probably'' is an understatement. "Adderall has become a problem in the high schools,'' said Dr. Leah Lagos, a sports psychologist who has consulted for several NFL teams, worked at seven NFL Scouting Combines and worked at Rutgers with athletes. "The kids are taking it to sharpen their focus and for recall on the SATs and big tests. And parents don't understand this is a highly addictive drug that changes the chemistry of the brain. It's not an Advil."
A friend at NBC, a young producer, told me his four freshman-year college roommates all took Adderall before tests and to focus while studying, even though none had prescriptions to do so.
Adderall has been prescribed for about the last 10 years to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, or ADD), because it calms a hyperactive person and allows the person to better focus on the task at hand. Used by people without ADHD, it acts as a stimulant or amphetamine that can make a player feel, as one told me last week, "super-caffeinated and incredibly focused'' during games, practices or workouts. "It's the type of drug,'' Birch said, "that from a performance-enhancing standpoint, if Player A is using it, it will compel Player B to use it because of the advantage it is.''
"I feel very strongly it should be on the banned list,'' said Lagos, "and not only because of the competitive advantages it can have, but because of the addictive problems that come with it. The overuse of it can lead to terrible problems. It can mimic the effects of schizophrenia in some cases, with the psychoses that come with it -- like feeling ants crawling under your skin.''
Final point: The NFL allows for players to take prescriptions drugs like Adderall, but only after completing an arduous application process called the Therapeutic Use Exemption. "It's an understatement to say it's rigorous,'' said Birch. "Adderall is being over-prescribed in society. If a player comes to us with a prescription for Adderall, we would look at the medical history of the player, how he was diagnosed, whether there is a management plan associated with its use. Just because the player has a prescription doesn't mean it's going to get you over the hump with us."
I'll be at FedEx Field tonight for the Giants-Washington game. I've got a good Sunday conversation with Russell Wilson in my notebook, and I plan to write about the rookie quarterback class for my mailbag Tuesday ... that is, unless something else in the league intercedes.
This week is a little different. I noticed that Jovan Belcher played only three defensive snaps in Week 12 against Denver in his first non-starting game of the season; he'd averaged 34 snaps a game on defense prior to last Sunday. So after the murder-suicide that took the lives of Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, I asked PFF.com czar Neil Hornsby to analyze just what kind of player Belcher, an undrafted free agent from the University of Maine in 2009, was.
"Perhaps the first thing to explain is why Belcher only got three snaps last week when he'd averaged playing 56 percent of the defensive downs prior to the game against Denver. That number fell off a cliff against Peyton Manning's Broncos. But the three snaps on defense with Belcher were based on the scheme the Chiefs chose to employ to combat Manning -- a dime (six defensive backs) defense on all but those three plays, meaning Belcher wouldn't be in the game on those plays.
"In Kansas City's base 3-4 defense, Belcher was the inside linebacker playing alongside Derrick Johnson, and in that package he was one of only two players (the other being Eric Berry) to be in on every one of the 318 plays it was employed. However, he was also the first one off the field when the Chiefs went to their sub-packages. They rarely use nickel (only five times all year), so for passing downs their package of choice is 2-3-6 with Belcher being the odd man out among the linebackers.
"While he lacked the ability to be an effective coverage guy, Belcher, in his two-down role, looked to have settled nicely into his job and was playing the best football of his career. His Week 4 performance against the Chargers was probably his finest game, as he led the team with nine solo tackles, six of which were "stops" (a tackle considered a loss for the offense) and rightly took his place in our "PFF Team of the Week."
"He was at his best coming forward, a run-stuffing defender with the ability to take on and beat guards. Perhaps the best examples of his skill set from this year came in Week 5 against the Ravens, with 12:19 remaining in the first quarter, getting inside top guard Marshal Yanda to make the tackle on Ray Rice for no gain; and in Week 8, at home to the Raiders, getting outside veteran guard Cooper Carlisle to take down Darren McFadden for a loss.
"When I told my wife, who works as a grief counselor, she became visibly emotional at the incomprehensible nature of it all. Needless to say, the thoughts and best wishes of myself and everyone at PFF goes out to the Belcher and Perkins families, and to the Chiefs."
(OK! I hear you! Time to stop the stupid Patriots schtick!)
I'm sorry. Really. I don't mean to waffle, but there were five performances so tremendous on offense that I have to acknowledge all of them.
Atlanta wasn't sad to see Brian Van Gorder take a job with Auburn after the team was 12th in defense in the NFL, but 20th against the pass in 2011. The Falcons have improved from 18th in points allowed last year to fourth with four games to go, and much of it has been accomplished without ace corner Brent Grimes and now with cover man Asante Samuel hurting with a chronic shoulder issue. Nolan can walk into the defensive team meeting room and tell his team with pride today that they just forced the first five-interception game of Drew Brees' career -- and stopped at 54 his consecutive-games-with-a-TD-pass streak. Great hire by head coach Mike Smith.
In Week 12, Smith picked the Raiders to lose to Cincinnati 34-10. The Raiders lost to Cincinnati 34-10.
In Week 13, Smith picked the Raiders to lose to Cleveland 21-17. The Raiders lost to Cleveland 20-17.
I have just hired Smith to pick my California Lottery numbers this week, but under one condition: We have to buy them in Oakland.
" 'The fog of war' is a kind term for what he's seeing right now.''
"I would dare you to find someone that does."
Cups are passé in football after the high school level.
When former quarterback Sage Rosenfels texted the other day, "When was the last time a guy got injured and it cost him real time by getting hit in the nuts?" I answered: "I do not recall a single one.''
"The person yelling at you probably was picked last in dodgeball all through high school. So do you care about the opinion of them? No."
In the wake of the Cardinals' eighth straight loss, 7-6 to the Jets in New Jersey on Sunday, the professional frustration of Larry Fitzgerald has to be growing. And Ken Whisenhunt had to wonder on the flight home last night: "Do we have a quarterback on our roster who can complete a pass?"
Would we agree that Fitzgerald, outside, and Wes Welker, inside, are two of the best handful of receivers at their positions in the league? I think so. Let's examine how Fitzgerald has performed in the last three weeks, which have mostly featured struggling rookie Ryan Lindley at quarterback, versus Welker, with a slightly better quarterback, Tom Brady.
Welker caught 66.7 percent of the balls thrown his way in the last three weeks. Fitzgerald caught 19.2 percent of the balls thrown in his area code in the last three weeks.
Our new college football maven at
Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin to play his last season in 2011 because he had a baseball career option and wouldn't commit to playing spring football for the Wolfpack. And coach Tom O'Brien wanted his quarterback to play spring football, which backup Mike Glennon would do. Add to that the fact that Glennon might have transferred with two seasons of eligibility left if Wilson had been the starting quarterback for his final year in 2011.
There was a method to O'Brien's madness: Wilson, as good as he'd been, had a year left to play. Glennon had two. O'Brien, without a top quarterback behind Glennon, knew he'd be in good shape at the position for two years if Glennon stayed.
When Wilson transferred, he didn't have to sit out a year because he'd already completed his undergrad degree work. So he had the great year at Wisconsin and got drafted 75th overall by the Seahawks. He's started all 12 Seattle games this season, and was the league's highest-rated quarterback in November.
Glennon, a 6-foot-6 prospect who should be picked in the top 50 of next April's draft, threw for 6,702 yards in two years, with 61 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
Everything worked out great for all involved. Except, I guess, for O'Brien, who was fired last week. The 15-10 record in Glennon's two seasons wasn't good enough.
One of the best young wide receivers in football, Cecil Shorts III of the Jaguars, has to be the only starting player in football who has more than $50,000 in student loans to pay off.
"When I tell guys about my student loans,'' Shorts said Friday, "they go, 'Dang! You didn't get a full ride?' They're shocked.''
Shorts went to Mount Union (Ohio) College, an NCAA Division III school, which like its counterparts, doesn't give athletic scholarships. In Shorts' four years, tuition and fees added up to about $125,000 -- and he had to borrow more than half of that to make ends meet. He also had work-study jobs in the university's weight room, refereeing intramural basketball and mowing lawns on campus.
So now Shorts, though he's earning $493,000 in this, his second season in the league, will space out his payoff of the loan and begin to put away money for the rest of his life.
"It was good for me because I've had to work for everything I've ever gotten,'' Shorts said. "When I didn't get a Division I offer, I thought I let my family down. But it just motivated me to work harder than everyone else to get farther.'' And in the misery of a lost Jacksonville season, Shorts, his student loans and how he's become a deep threat helps form the kind of story this moribund franchise can be thankful for.
This is a San Antonio Spurs travel note, and a rebuke of the ridiculous $250,000 fine NBA commissioner David Stern gave. Before I get to that, notable $250,000 fines and above in the NFL this century:
• To Ray Lewis in 2001, for his obstruction-of-justice conviction in connection with a double-homicide in Atlanta.
• To the New England Patriots in 2007, for Spygate. (The team was docked a first-round pick, and Bill Belichick $500,000 for the scheme as well.)
• To Tennessee owner Bud Adams in 2009, for flipping both middle fingers at some taunting fans during a Titans game.
The Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich got a $250,000 fine for resting four stalwart players on the fourth road game in five nights. I believe David Stern has a trophy waiting on his desk this morning, with the inscription: "Overreaction of the Year Award."
To give you some idea of the schedule of an NBA team and why Popovich would do this, look at their schedule in the last week:
Sunday: Day game at Toronto. Fly to Washington after the game. Arrive at hotel Sunday night.
Monday: Night game at Washington. Fly to Orlando after the game. Arrive at hotel after midnight.
Tuesday: Practice in Orlando.
Wednesday: Night game at Orlando. Travel to Miami after the game. Arrive at the hotel after midnight.
Thursday: Night game in Miami. Fly to San Antonio after the game. Arrive home after midnight.
Then, Saturday, the Spurs had to play the team with the best record in the league entering December, Memphis, at home.
Five games in five cities in seven days. Taking it back further, seven games in seven cities in 11 days. Popovich has a veteran team. Translation: old. And his responsibility is to his team, and not to TNT or the NBA. He should respect the league and the network televising the games, which he did by his team playing the a great game against the Heat and actually leading with a minute to go before losing.
I understand Stern trying to protect the best interests of the NBA. But in baseball, older star players get days off often, at least a couple a month. In football, many teams with nothing to play for in Week 16 or 17 (or both) take the week off. I'm sure the same thing happens in hockey. A coach should do what's best for his team, and if some fans are ticked off about it, I've got a suggestion for Stern: Don't ask teams to play a grueling sport four times in four cities in five nights.
"There are a lot of things in life that I'm proud of: West Point, serving my country, etc. But today, I'm proud that I was a KC Chief.''
"After McElroy touchdown pass, Sanchez jots onto clipboard: 'Throw ... ball ... to ... players ... in ... green ... jerseys.' ''
"here's a recap of yesterday's hearing 'blah blah blah blah bounty bulls**t still dragging on blah blah blah witchhunt blah blah blah blah' ''
Reading between the blah-blah-blahs, sounds like there was some testimony Vilma thought was bulls**t.
"Please, somebody take the Big East behind the barn and put it out of its misery.''
As one press-box wag (me) wondered, what's next for forlorn, forgotten, unwanted UConn? The Atlantic Sun?
a. The Atlanta secondary, rising up to play great against Drew Brees.
b. John Abraham, the Atlanta defensive end, perennially underappreciated.
c. Kroy Biermann, the other Atlanta defensive end, getting better and playing the role Ray Edwards was supposed to be playing.
d. Greg McElroy being active, I think for the first time since Tuscaloosa.
e. Great stat by the Bears' PR staff: Lovie Smith's Bears had the 300th takeaway of his coaching tenure Sunday.
f. Said it before this year and I'll say it again: Green Bay wide receiver James Jones is as underrated as any other receiver in the league. Look at the highlight of the first touchdown of the Green Bay-Minnesota game, how Jones picked the touchdown pass off the head of the Vikings DB in the end zone. What hands.
g. Amazing, isn't it, how quickly Randall Cobb has become the go-to guy for Aaron Rodgers?
h. Catch of the Day, and this was an easy choice: The one-handed, reaching-behind-his-back job by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Only one word for that one: Wow.
i. Runner-up Catches of the Day: the one-handed pick of Tom Brady by Miami safety Reshad Jones, the Patrick Peterson interception of Mark Sanchez ... and the one-hander on the right sideline by Calvin Johnson.
j. I didn't like the story, but it's a heck of a story, Jay Glazer's report that a Browns groundskeeper hanged himself at the Browns' practice facility Saturday.
k. Congrats on your first NFL touchdown reception, MMQB guest columnist/Colts tight end Coby Fleener.
l. Good camera work, FOX, catching Adrian Peterson looking up at the scoreboard for intelligence on the defenders chasing him on an 82-yard touchdown run.
m. Good hustle, Jaime Maggio. (For those who don't have nine monitors to keep up with on Sunday, Maggio ran off the field at halftime with Pete Carroll, moving at the pace of a 9-minute mile and interviewing all the while.)
n. Colin Kaepernick, saving the day (and his job?) with the longest run by a quarterback in San Francisco history, 50 yards, to set up a fourth-quarter field goal at St. Louis. And the Rams answering with a field goal of their own to force overtime, and another one in the extra period to claim the win.
o. The Rams' pluck against the best team in their division. Ten quarters this year against the NFC West leaders: Rams 40, Niners 37
p. Brandon Weeden, 364 passing yards, and he's got a great rookie weapon to grow with in Cleveland, Josh Gordon.
q. What a tremendous catch and dive at the pylon by Heath Miller to help the Steelers stun Baltimore.
r. Speaking of clutch Steelers, how about the forced fumble by James Harrison? You just don't count the Steelers out.
a. David Whitley of AOL FanHouse, for writing this about Colin Kaepernick and his tattooed arms: "NFL quarterback is the ultimate position of influence and responsibility. He is the CEO of a high-profile organization, and you don't want your CEO to look like he just got paroled." Does that news organization have editors who care about their writers writing something really dumb? Because criticizing players for having tattoos is something that might have been written in 1978, not today. And even then it wouldn't have been right.
b. I don't like the Chiefs-Panthers proceeding as normal, but I can't get too exercised about it, for a few reasons. First: The NFL's not going to cancel the game, so the game has to be played by the end of the regular season, Dec. 30. So if you postpone the game, when will you play it? Anything beyond Monday night and it makes players play on a short week, jammed in between games each team has every Sunday in December.
Second: Does it really matter if the game is pushed to Monday? Is that time enough to mourn and heal and get over the incomprehensible? Is playing 31 hours later much of a difference? Third: A source with knowledge of the decision to play Sunday told me: "There's no right answer, but the team felt it was better to be doing something they love to do Sunday rather than sitting around thinking about it.'' Four: As Jay Glazer reported Sunday, the team captains were unanimous in their desire to play the game.
c. Don't like Oakland owner Mark Davis wanting to see more passion out of coach Dennis Allen. You can't force a coach to be someone he isn't, and it's a mistake trying to do so. Think the Steelers wanted Chuck Noll to be more passionate in his 1-13 rookie year, 1969? Or Eddie DeBartolo, when Bill Walsh was in the middle of his 2-14 first season, did the fiery owner want Walsh to be similarly raging? A coach has to be who he is. It doesn't work if he fakes it.
d. I wanted to watch the Hoge-Suh interview, ESPN, because I heard how good it was. But I have a personal rule: After the 64th tease, I turn off the TV. The end of the planet isn't worth as many teases as you gave Hoge-Suh, ESPN.
e. Andrew Luck makes too many careless downfield throws. Terrible late-first-half pick in Detroit.
f. The Patriots are good enough on offense, Brandon Fields. They won't need you to give them a short-field, seven-point gift with a dropped punt snap deep in your territory.
g. Didn't see enough evidence to overturn that Braylon Edwards touchdown catch from Russell Wilson in Chicago. But it was overturned by Mike Carey.
h. Christian Ponder. Too shaky for this far into his second starting season.
i. Brian Robison lost contain on Aaron Rodgers way too often at Lambeau, allowing the Pack QB to get out of the pocket and have a clear lane to throw on the right side of the formation.
j. Delanie Walker, with a drop of what would have been the winning touchdown catch and a holding call on successive plays inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter of a tie game at St. Louis.
k. Questionable clock management and playcalling by Jim Harbaugh late. That's being nice.
l. There were quite a few bad throws by quarterbacks Sunday, about half by Ryan Lindley. But I'll put the wafting, foolish duck of an interception thrown by Joe Flacco into the hands of a lucky Ryan Clark very high on the list. It's almost like Flacco had a hot potato and said to Clark, "Here! You take it!''
m. Philip Rivers with another red zone interception at a crucial moment of the game. It's becoming a fatal flaw.
n. Doug Free. The Cowboys made a bad signing there, and it was on display early Sunday night as he got turnstiled by Brandon Graham for a big early sack by the Eagles.
4. I think the Raiders did the New York Giants a huge favor in 2010. Al Davis chose Alabama middle linebacker Rolando McClain eighth overall, and he was a player the Giants, drafting 15th, were very interested in as the middle anchor for their defense. With McClain gone, the Giants settled for inexperienced South Florida pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. What a stroke of good fortune for the Giants and GM Jerry Reese.
McClain has given the Raiders some good football on the field, but he's been a source of immaturity and divisiveness as well. He was convicted of firing a gun near a man's head while in Alabama for a funeral last year -- he appealed and the charge was dismissed when the alleged victim opted not to cooperate in the case. Last Wednesday, McClain was kicked out of a practice and posted on his Facebook wall, "Looking forward to playing for an actual 'team.' ''
Said GM Reggie McKenzie, who has to figure out the McClain mess: "From a leadership standpoint, you cannot do what he did and call yourself a leader. Period. Now, what to do with him afterwards, you're talking about post-suspension, we'll let that play out. I don't want to make a decision or announcement at this time. But, you know, it's not good to act and do what he did ... So far, he is not apologetic.''
Don't hold your breath.
NFL Players Association executive director De Smith is. "He was a mentor to me, and we spoke often and at length,'' Smith said. "His most powerful message was that players would remain unified during labor strife if they remembered the sacrifices made by previous generations to make the game better. His passion for the players never faltered, and men and women across all sports are in a better place thanks to his tireless work."
I've seen the show, and a couple of things about it. One: Everything Greenburg touched as the former HBO Sports czar was quality storytelling, and it goes without saying that NFL Films is superb at stories too. This is on the level of that great storytelling, particularly about Campbell having risky spinal surgery and his sons, Tyler and Christian, stridently urging him to go to rehab to beat his addictions.
Two: If you're 35 or younger, you didn't see Earl Campbell play, at least in his prime. And you missed one of the greatest big backs in NFL history. What made Campbell special, and what this documentary shows, is the combination of power and speed that only Jim Brown can match in NFL history. (Sacrilege here, but Jerome Bettis is very close, and give credit to Bettis, because he was 20 pounds heavier than Brown and Campbell and could still run past some safeties.)
I'll never forget sitting in Athens, Ohio, in my senior year in college, watching the Houston-Miami Monday-nighter in Campbell's rookie year, 1978, and seeing him run over and around the Dolphins for four touchdowns, including the winner, an 81-yarder, late in the fourth quarter. You need to experience Campbell's greatness, if you haven't already, and this show's a good introduction to the great career, and the great post-career pain, of Campbell.
a. Rick Majerus won't go down as the greatest basketball coach ever, and many will remember his girth as much as his victories. But the man had 517 college coaching wins. Imagine averaging 21 wins a season. That's what Majerus did. Not many men in the college game can say that. It took Majerus 538 games to reach 400 wins. It took John Calipari 537. When Majerus died of heart failure in Los Angeles Saturday, college basketball lost an excellent coach.
b. Regarding the Old Navy ad with Chevy Chase reprising
d. "DEREK EATER,'' screamed the back page of the
e. Be Glad You Don't Drive And Live in New York Dept.: Live in Jersey and go into the city through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel, and your toll rose from $8 to $12 in September 2011. This weekend it went up to $13. Just another reason for the rest of the country to shake its head at New York City.
f. Bowl fever, baby. The Military Bowl, in Washington. Bowling Green versus San Jose State. The weirdest matchup, in a place a combined 3,700 miles from the two campuses.
g. Jon Heyman says the Red Sox might be interested in Josh Hamilton. Didn't they just shed a bunch of Josh Hamilton contracts?
h. Coffeenerdness: I have not a nerdy thing to say about coffee this morning. Other than that I need it mainlined right now, and fast, to finish this column.
i. Beernerdness: In Boston the other day, I realized how much I miss Harpoon, particularly the Harpoon UFO White. They've got to get that stuff on tap in New York.
j. Had a swell time at the Boston Ad Club's Sports+Entertainment Summit Thursday. Thanks for the invitation and the chance to talk to some good people.
k. I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened. But the tape loop at the Starbucks near Rockefeller Center Sunday morning had the Carpenters' "Top of the World" playing, and I couldn't get it out my head watching football all day, or on the train to Washington in the wee hours of the morning, or polishing off the column in a D.C. hotel this morning. There are a lot of songs I wouldn't mind being stuck in my head for a day or two, but that is not one of them.