SALISBURY, N.C. -- A few NFL points after a few days on the road:
Barring a setback, there's little doubt Robert Griffin III plays the opener. Griffin had major knee surgery 21 weeks ago. Washington's opener is 13 weeks from tonight. After watching him run sprints around the practice field Thursday, I agree with what Griffin said post-practice: "Without a doubt'' he thinks he'll be practicing with the team when it begins training camp in Richmond in late July ... and, of course, that he'll be ready to go Sept. 9 against the Eagles. Here's what Griffin did Thursday: He sprinted without a limp the 53-yard width of the end zone. Then, at nearly full speed, he planted his twice-surgically repaired right knee and pivoted left, up the sideline of the practice field. It wasn't the planting and cutting he'll have to do in games, of course. But it's close. I get zero sense that the team thinks he won't be ready to play Sept. 9.
The Eagles will be rooting for an unseasonably warm day next Feb. 2, as will many northern cities. First thing I thought of Sunday when the Eagles announced $125-million in improvements for a stadium that opened 20 minutes ago: Jeffrey Lurie must be primping for a Super Bowl bid. The improvements are mainly for the in-stadium experience -- 192-foot and 160-foot high-def video boards in either end zone, 1,600 more seats, and vastly improved WiFi connectivity for fans. There's no question the Meadowlands Super Bowl next winter has emboldened owners like Lurie, Dan Snyder, Pat Bowlen, Robert Kraft, Steve Bisciotti and Paul Allen -- and mayors like Rahm Emanuel of Chicago -- to think about hosting Super Bowls.
That's a byproduct of why Lurie is doing this, but not the major reason. He just knows teams have to do everything they can to compete with the couch, with the improvement in the fan experience at home. Inside the Linc -- which turns 10 in August -- in time for the 2013 season will be the capability for 45,000 individual WiFi connections. The NFL has strongly encouraged teams to make their stadia more internet-friendly. And with no new concept being off limits to the Goodell commissionership, it's not going to shock me if northern cities with ultra-modern stadiums start getting considered for Super Bowls beyond 2017, when Houston will host Super Bowl 51.
The Cardinals are lucky there wasn't a death on the practice field Wednesday. Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens went through morning meetings at the Cards' Tempe facility and was OK. Out on the field for an OTA practice, the 38-year-old Kitchens was about to put the quarterbacks through their footwork drills -- not their favorite part of practice -- when he put his hands on his knees, bent over, and felt a little dizzy. When it's 103 degrees outside, these things can happen.
"Freddie is as tough of a guy as you will ever meet,'' said Carson Palmer, "and he's not about to miss a practice. He complained about some tightness in his chest, jokingly. It was kind of funny at first but then it wasn't funny. Freddie is lucky we have a phenomenal training staff ... They saved his life.''
The training staff, led by Tom Reed, told Kitchen to come inside, and he lay on one of the training tables. The trainers worried he might have a heart problem. He was dispatched to a hospital and, within four hours of walking off the practice field, was in surgery to repair an aortic dissection. He had a tear in his aorta, which can lead to very rapid blood loss. Eighty percent of the cases result in death, and 50 percent of the time death occurs before the patient gets to the hospital. Kitchens was lucky. Smart trainers, and nine-and-a-half hours of surgery, saved his life. "That was close,'' said coach Bruce Arians, who was at the hospital with Kitchens' wife 'til 1:30 a.m. Kitchens is recovering nicely, I was told over the weekend. He's a lucky man.
Tyrann Mathieu has impressed the Cardinals at safety. In OTA practices, players don't wear pads, and they're supposed to stay on their feet with minimal contact. When I watched the other day, Mathieu, working with the first unit for part of the practice, made a diving pass break-up of a Palmer throw and was buzzing around plays all through the workout. The first thing you notice about Mathieu is his size -- at 5-9, he's probably three inches shy of what's optimal for the position -- and the second is his instinct. He's clearly at home on the practice field, pointing out coverages pre-snap and changing direction smoothly. "He reminds of Troy Polamalu with his closing speed,'' said Palmer. "He might not be the fastest guy out there, but he can change directions and get to the ball really fast, like Troy.'' So far so good for the 69th pick in the draft, but June, obviously, isn't the time to make any judgments on rookies.
Think there's an SI cover jinx? What about a Bears draft pick jinx? The news that the Bears will trade 2011 first-round tackle Gabe Carimi to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round pick is just another brick in the wall of Chicago's recent disastrous high-draft experience on the offensive line. Not including this year's top pick (Kyle Long), and accounting for the fact that the Jay Cutler trade took away the first-rounders in 2009 and 2010 that may have been used on linemen, here are the offensive linemen taken in the top three rounds by the Bears since 1999: Rex Tucker, Mike Gandy, Terrence Metcalf, Marc Colombo, Chris Williams and Carimi. That's a six-pack of failure right there. Consider that the Bears' only first-round picks over a four-draft span (2008-'11) were Williams and Carimi, the Bears had to move them from tackle to guard to try to salvage their careers, then gave up on both. That's tough to recover from. And it's one reason there will be immense pressure on Kyle Long to be good, quickly.
Deacon Jones Factoids of the Week. One of the great pass rushers of all time died last week at 72, and it brought to mind what a diverse person and player he was. In his first NFL regular season game, rookie Jones played left tackle for the Rams (offensive tackle, to clarify) and returned one kick for 12 yards. The Rams lost at Baltimore, 27-24 ... In his last NFL regular season game, 14-year veteran Jones kicked the extra point after the last touchdown of the game -- with Joe Theismann holding -- in a 42-0 Washington victory over Chicago. It was a perk George Allen threw his way, the only point Jones ever scored in an NFL game, ricocheting off the left goalpost for the point. "It was a little bank shot,'' Jones told the Washington Post after the game. "I like to make it exciting." ...
Remember the song "Why Can't We Be Friends?" It's by a group named War. Deacon Jones sang with many of the members of the band in a group called Nightshift and actually was a voice in the "Why Can't We Be Friends?" record. The Los Angeles Times' Sam Farmer wrote that "The Fabulous Deacon Jones" sang at a Lake Tahoe resort, backed by three "Deaconettes." ... Ran into Howard Mudd, the longtime 49ers guard-turned-offensive-line coach, at Cardinals practice. Said Mudd: "Once, when we played the Rams, our coaches assigned John David Crow to be a tight end, and to go in motion and crack on Deacon. That really pissed off Deacon. He came into our locker room at old Kezar Stadium and was in a rage. He thought it was dirty. I just remember him screaming about someone's mother." Mudd said Jones was Muhammad Ali of football, a big talker on the field, always, who backed it up, always.
Finally, a note from inside the White House. "Where are your dreads?'' Barack Obama asked Torrey Smith at the White House the other day when the Ravens went to be recognized by the president. Smith, in fact, has cut his hair, and the leader of the free world is such a fan that he noticed.
What a happy birthday it is for me today (56, for those counting at home): The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association is handing me the Sportswriter of the Year Award tonight. As you all know, I am not worthy, but in the words of the great Bob Ryan: If they're going to give me such a nice award and say such nice things about me, who am I to turn it down? Who doesn't like being told how great they are? You just wrote my speech for tonight, Bob. Thanks. Looking forward to being with lots of good people from around the country. And thanks to NSSA guru Dave Goren for running such a great event.
Do not get your father a tie this week. Get him a book.
Now for the Father's Day book section. I've been doing this for a few years, in part because we need to find more excuses to read in our lives, and in part because your father, brother, uncle and grandfather all told me last week they were dying for a good book for Father's Day.
Last year in this list I gave you The Art of Fielding, and before that Unbroken ... two of my favorite books ever. I don't have one I love as much this year, but I have several I like very much. I wouldn't put one on here that I wouldn't recommend to a good friend.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (Ecco/HarperCollins).
Thanks to Gregg Rosenthal for pointing this out to me; I'd missed this National Book Award finalist when it came out in mid-2012. It's a terrific story of a platoon of Iraqi soldiers -- led by the focal character of the book, 19-year-old Army soldier Billy Lynn, of Stovall, Texas -- that gets captured on tape by an embedded FOX TV crew wiping out some insurgents who'd put their platoon under fire. The video makes the men heroes, and the Army flies them back to the States to send them on a two-week ain't-this-war-grand tour of malls and monuments and cities, culminating in a garish display of Texas-sized patriotism during the Cowboys-Bears Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas.
First thing I thought: Wait -- a novel on men being paraded around as heroes? Isn't there enough of a chance to parade real soldiers around? I am an avowed amateur at the feelings and moods of 19- and 20-year-old kids thrust into life-and-death, kill-or-be-killed situations, though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But I did tour Afghanistan for five days in 2008 with the USO, and met quite a few 19- and 20-year-old kids thrust into situations like these men were. And darn if these characters don't seem exactly like some of the soldiers I met. Ben Fountain does a brilliant job capturing their hopes and dreams, many of which seem to be crushed by this patriotic tour.
This is my favorite book of the group. As I read, I felt that Fountain could write about anything and use dialogue and scene-setting and make something fictional incredibly realistic. This, I suppose, is the mark of a great writer. Speaking of writers, I guffawed at how he described the assembled media there to interview the hero soldiers in a press opportunity at the Cowboys game:
They don't even have to take notes, just hoover up his words with sleek little recording gadgets that look like protein bars. Merely by standing there they manage to be incredibly annoying, a middle-aged bunch of mostly big-assed white guys dressed in boring as hell business casual, such a sad-f--- sampling of civilian biomatter that for a moment Billy is actually glad for the war, hell yes, so much better to be out here shooting guns and blowing s--- up and shuffling around like scenery on a bad sitcom. God knows the war sucks, but he sees no great appeal in these tepid peacetime lives.
Gee, I always knew my life was important!
These heroes, time and again, are asked what it feels like to be heroes, and the real answer is the less than four minutes that it took to slaughter the attackers, they were just doing what they'd been trained to do. That plus the fact that they'd have been the ones slaughtered if they didn't act fast and attack the enemy. But over and over total strangers come at them and tell them what AMAZING AMERICAN HEROES they are, so that at the end of the Cowboys game, when they prepare to re-deploy, most of them actually want to leave and return to the front.
They'd been part of the halftime show, alongside Beyonce, and used as props by the Cowboys owner (a satirical Jerry Jones-a-like), and it was absolutely not what they'd hoped a day at the football game would have been. One of the soldiers, alongside friend Crack in the car leaving the stadium, says to the limo driver to hustle up, let's go, vamoose.
"Before they kill us,'' Crack seconds. "Take us someplace safe. Take us back to the war."
You'll find this 307 pages of your time very well-spent, I believe.
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf).
This is a memoir, a compelling and very tough book to read. I know I have never read a book about loss and grief -- numbing grief, year after year, over the nearly eight years the tale encompasses -- such as this. It's also one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time.
On Dec. 26, 2004, a tsunami hit the coast of Sri Lanka. There at a Sri Lankan National Park was the author, a professor, with her husband, Steve, and children, Vikram and Malli, and her parents. The tsunami that killed some 230,000 in several countries claimed five members of this family. Everyone but the author, the mother whose life was devoted to so many things, but first to take care of her children.
You know there's something bad coming when the first sentence of the book is, I thought nothing of it at first.
The description of what happened is wrenching. The aftermath of not knowing where your family is is wrenching. The accounts of waking up every morning without them are wrenching.
Just imagine if, in the span of two minutes, you go from your little 7-year-old reading the first pages of The Hobbit and staring out at the sea eagles in the distance, your other boy playing with Christmas presents, your husband reading in the bathroom, parents relaxing in the next room. And a friend tells you she wants to start a family soon because, "What you guys have is a dream,'' a life being as placid and normal and perfect as it can be ... to jumping into a Jeep and speeding away and trying to get away and -- well, I don't want to do the spoiler act here. But the tsunami is random, cruel, vicious and deadly.
Deraniyagala lives the next few years alternating between trying to move on with her life, drinking way too much, trying to bury the past, trying to remember every second of the past. It's harrowing. Even four years later, she pines achingly for her kids, with guilt:
I let my children go, when I was their mother ... I wasn't there when they most needed me. I know I was too powerless in that raging water to get to them, not that I knew where they were. Even so, I failed them. In those terrifying moments, my children were as helpless as I was and I couldn't be there for them and how they must have wanted me. Their helplessness I can't bear to consider, just as I turn away from the memory of Vik crying in fear as we sat for a few minutes in that Jeep before the water filled up. How can I hold the truth of being their mom when I have all this to live with? There's more. I didn't even look for them. After the water disappeared I let go of that branch, and I didn't search for my boys ...
On and on it goes. So emotional. So real. If you can take the pain, I recommend it. Wave is unforgettable.
Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion).
Mike O'Hara told me to read this book, and when Mike tells me to do something, I just do it. I've known the former Lions beatman for three decades, and he is a trustworthy soul. So the day he told me to get it, I ordered it on Amazon. It took me three nights to read. The only reason it didn't take me one is I didn't want the next day to be wasted for lack of sleep.
Willie Sutton is probably America's most famous bank robber in history. He robbed about 100 banks in a 25-year career starting in the late 1920s until the '50s, and spent half his adult life in prison. He got out for the last time on Christmas Eve 1969 and, incredibly, agreed to spend the next day, Christmas, with a reporter and photographer for a New York newspaper, visiting the places where he robbed, was caught, loved, hid and robbed some more. Wrote Moehringer:
The resulting article, however, was strangely cursory, with several errors -- or lies -- and few real revelations. Sadly, Sutton and the reporter and the photographer are all gone, so what happened with them that Christmas, and what happened to Sutton during the preceding sixty-eight years, is anyone's guess.
This book is my guess.
It's also my wish.
Moehringer writes 327 pages without a quotation. Historical fiction is what it's called. As he says in the beginning, it's his wish -- and mine, too, because it's so compelling.
Amazing to read so vividly of bank-robbing and escaping and robbing some more, and a New York judge -- Moehringer believes -- chastising Sutton when he sentences him to 50 years in 1932 for a spree of bank and jewel robberies.
Willie on the bus to Sing Sing. February 1932. He can still hear the words of the judge echoing off the marble pillars in the moon-pale walls of the courtroom.
Sutton you are the type of criminal whose misdeeds have shocked the American people. You are regarded by the police of New York as one of the most dangerous men ever to prowl our streets. In point of daring, defiance of law, absolute disregard of property in life, your crimes are among the most brazen ever committed in this city. When we read about holdups of this kind in the old West, we marvel. We say such crimes could no longer exist. But you were the equal of those bygone desperadoes ... My duty is clear. Though you're only thirty, I must sentence you to a period of time greater than you are years of age. Fifty years.
That's the way the life story of Willie Sutton is told -- with some evidence and some clues, but the best guess of Moehringer as to how things really did go down. The robberies and the costumes and the disguises and the surprising minimum of violence. I always love the way history collides with events from other walks of life. Sutton walked out of Attica five days after Joe Namath and the New York Jets, the defending world champs, played their final game in American Football League history. On that exact day, Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause in baseball, leading to the revolution of free agency. I wonder how big a deal it was that Willie Sutton got out of jail. Reading Moehringer, it sounded very big indeed. We'll never know how true his read of the situation is, but Moehringer tells a great story.
The Racketeer, by John Grisham (Doubleday).
I am a sucker for all things Grisham (Harlan Coben too, though I haven't gotten to Six Years yet). Have been since A Time To Kill. What I love about The Racketeer is how tough it is to figure out until the end. Many times in Grisham books, you get about halfway into them and have a good idea who did it or the reasons it was done. In this one ... I have to admit Grisham did a heck of a job writing a different book with a different ending.
Usually, he's preaching about some form of the law, with the underpaid lawyer working to right one of The Man's serious wrongs. In this one, a disbarred and jailed lawyer is the protagonist, and the machinations that lead him to a new life and to run circles around the FBI to acquire that new life are told tightly. It's a page-turner.
In fact, there's a phony documentary, millions in gold bars, a philandering-turned-dead federal judge, a few trips to Jamaica, a badly fooled former meth dealer ... In other words, good times, good killings, good and twisted plot.
The National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football's First Fifty Years, by Dan Daly (University of Nebraska Press).
We don't appreciate pro football history. We never have. We know so much more about the old baseball players, the old boxers, and the old basketball players than we do about the footballers of the '30s, '40s and '50s. Sad, really. Did you realize that, after a quarter-century of pro football, Don Hutson retired with nearly three times the number of catches, yards and touchdowns of any who'd ever played? Or that in 1943, Sammy Baugh led the league in passing accuracy, average yards per punt and defensive interceptions? I mean, the man played defensive back and intercepted 11 balls. That's the greatest year a football player has ever had. Has to be. But few people know it.
You love pro football. You're still reading about it in June; you must love it. So hear my plea: The league turns 94 this year. Take a few hours to learn about the fun days, the early days, the first half of the NFL's life. If you read this book, you'll learn hundreds of things you never knew -- such as the fact that Bill Belichick's father, Steve, began the 1941 Detroit Lions season as equipment manager and ended it as the star fullback on the team. Daly reports Steve Belichick was so grateful to get the chance from Detroit head coach Bill Edwards that he named his son after him. Now you know.
I was very happy to see the esteemed Dan Daly, who just might love football history as much as he loves football, take a crack at a living, breathing tome dedicated to the great stories and players who laid the groundwork for the mega-game football has become. Such as this one that he dug up on Otto Graham's friendship with a famous doctor found guilty of murdering his wife. As Daly reports:
In 1954, America's most famous quarterback found himself linked to one of America's most infamous murders. It just so happened that Otto Graham, the Browns consummate QB, was a good friend of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the suburban Cleveland osteopath who was found guilty of bludgeoning his pregnant wife to death. The case became a national sensation and Graham, out of loyalty to Sheppard, didn't shy from the publicity. Otto told syndicated columnist Bob Consodine, "Friendship comes first. I'd do the same thing over again. I don't know if he did it or not."
The Grahams and Sheppards lived just a half-mile apart in the exclusive community of Bay Village. They often went water skiing together on Lake Erie. Three days before Marilyn Sheppard was killed the two families took in the stock-car races. Graham said years later he was also one of the select few allowed to visit Sam in the hospital where the doctor was recovering from injuries he claimed to have suffered while fighting a 'bushy haired' intruder who had murdered his wife.
Over time Graham changed his mind about his friend. Following his release from prison Sheppard married a German divorcee who had written to him in prison. The woman's half-sister -- you can't make this stuff up -- was the wife of Joseph Goebbels. So not only was there a connection between Otto Graham and Dr. Sam Sheppard, there were just three degrees of separation between Otto and Adolf Hitler's propaganda chief.
There's a hundred more where that one came from. You know how Daly finds such stories? He's curious. "I really wanted to read some old Bob Consodine columns,'' he said Sunday. "He was a syndicated writer who was really more of a modern sports writer than a lot of guys from his time. His stuff holds up 50, 60 years later. Nobody else in Cleveland was writing much about Otto Graham and Sam Sheppard, but Bob did.'' Good reporter, that Daly. His buddy, Dave Kindred, calls Daly's book "The Book of Genesis of pro football." It's needed, and it's good.
Francona: The Red Sox Years, by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
I read the book because I've been a Red Sox fan since I was 6. I recommend the book because it's a blunt, fair, insider's view of what managing or coaching a high-profile sports franchise is like in this very public era.
For instance: I always felt Francona coddled the immature and disruptive (and, as this books shows, likely disturbed) Manny Ramirez, for instance. But Shaughnessy gives a clear picture of what happened with Ramirez, and how Francona constantly had to weigh what was best for the team winning games with keeping the team together. How do you deal with a player who, for instance, takes himself out of the lineup more than a few times, once complaining of vague knee pain, but when the team MRIs both knees not even a minor irritation shows up? As GM Theo Epstein told Shaughnessy: "We were constantly walking a tightrope with Manny. We understood if we asked Manny to live up to everything we expected from the other players, we wouldn't even get past the opening series of the year.''
In 2007, Francona exploded at one of Ramirez's agents, Gene Mato, on the phone, screaming, "You're half the f------ problem here, telling Manny all that s--- about being disrespected ... Knock this s--- off!" In the last year of his contract, 2008, Ramirez got worse and worse. At the end of June, Ramirez assaulted the team's traveling secretary, Jack McCormick, in a spat over player tickets to a game in Houston. As Shaughnessy writes:
... Francona called Epstein. "Theo, we've got a bad problem,'' said the manager. "We've got to do something. We've got to send Manny home.'' Manny was not sent home. Ramirez was brought into a meeting with Francona and McCormick and apologized to McCormick. He started in left field the night of the incident and hit a game-winning home run a day later.
Once again, Francona had to go before the media and say things he did not believe ... He had to bite his tongue, more than at any time in his tenure as Red Sox manager.
Ramirez was a great talent. He knew he could get away with murder, and did. The ownership group had the attitude: Don't tell me how tough the pregnancy was, just tell me if you delivered the baby. And it was up to the manager to make it all work. The book is a succession of those stories explaining how, through it all, Francona helped deliver the first two world titles the Red Sox won in a zillion years. Even if you're apathetic about baseball or the Red Sox, it's a very good sports read.
Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, by Elizabeth Becker (Simon & Schuster).
Maybe it's because when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, the family never traveled and I always yearned to, or because the day I drove to enroll at Ohio University I'd never been west of Philadelphia in my life. But travel has always excited me, and, mostly, I still enjoy it. Overbooked is a global tour of the travel industry and its impact -- economic, environmental and cultural -- on people from France to Costa Rica to China and Zambia. It is a journalistic journey that captures the depth and breadth of the travel industry in the 21st century.
Tourism became an industry, despite its old reputation as a frivolous pursuit, when the end of the Cold War ushered in the era of tourism as a legitimate interest of business and governments. Writes Becker: But just as tourism is capable of lifting a nation out of poverty, it is just as likely to pollute the environment, reduce standards of living for the poor because the profits go to international hotel chains and corrupt local elites ... and cater to the worst of tourism, including condemning children to the exploitation of sex tourism.
Case in point: Cambodia. With its brutal history of invasion and atrocity, it is also a beautiful land that houses breathtaking temples, colorful coral reefs and stunning beaches. It is also a home to the tourist sex trade and to a massive shoreline sell-off to private owners and developers. What were once pristine beaches and small towns, are now a "mix of seedy hotels, private luxury resorts, and rampant sex tourism."
Becker saves most of her criticism -- and she has quite a bit of it -- for the proliferation of giant cruise ships, polluting the waters and the air and off-loading thousands of tourists to shop in over-priced tourist stops that don't support many of the local business people and artisans, but rather cruise-ship-recommended businesses. Cruise ships often float along largely unregulated, dumping waste into the oceans, underpaying their employees, and creating a tourist market for shopping rather than for exploration, discovery and insight into other cultures. The EPA says that in one day "the average cruise ship produces 21,000 gallons of wastewater ... 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water from the massive engines, 25 pounds of batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals and 8,500 plastic bottles." Becker suggests we multiply those numbers by 400 ships that cruise year-round.
But for all the tales of tourism pollution and plunder, Becker takes us to places like Costa Rica with its Green Tourist economy devoted to preserving and protecting natural beauty and culture, and then on safari in Zambia, where wildlife thrives as small groups of respectful tourists look on in quiet wonder. They are examples, she cites, of places that have "put the brakes on industrial-strength tourism." She explains in detail how France managed, by making tourism an important part of government planning, to become the most visited country in the world while maintaining its heritage and character. France, though, will be overtaken by China around 2020 with its ever-expanding efforts to lure tourists and export its own people as tourists to other countries. Chinese tourists spent $55 billion traveling in 2011.
Becker, a seasoned journalist, has written a thorough history and financial scrutiny of an industry that runs slightly under the radar, compared to other multi-billion dollar industries. It's not a breezy read, but an important one.
Now that I'm through with those, do you have any for me? Email me and let me know your favorite new ones, or relatively new ones. Enjoy the reading.
Quote of the Week I
"Every single player has strengths and weaknesses but regardless of that, for anyone to have represented that is the way I feel about Tim Tebow is completely untrue, baseless and irresponsible. It is unfortunate that something so inaccurate was reported."
-- Bill Belichick, to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, on the heels of Yahoo! Sports reporting that Belichick "hated" Tebow and had no interest in signing him to the New England roster.
Quote of the Week II
"Good timing on that contract.''
-- President Barack Obama, to Joe Flacco, when the Ravens visited the White House Wednesday.
Flacco turned down a fat Ravens contract offer last July, played out the final year of his deal, and was a Super Bowl hero, making him (for a few minutes) the highest-paid player in NFL history in March.
Quote of the Week III
"She is so smart. She is so good. I can sit there and watch those cases all day. I really could. It's fun to watch just somebody who does their job well. And I could watch Judge Judy do cases all day. I could watch people play football that do their job really well. People that direct traffic. I get a real kick out of watching people that are good at directing traffic do it. I've done it for hours, watched it. I like football the most. But Judge Judy's right up there.''
-- San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who took his father to a taping of the syndicated Judge Judy TV show. They had lunch together. From the sound of it, he liked what he saw.
My only question: What about Wapner?
Quote of the Week IV
"Played some cards with her. She won. No surprise there."
-- Harbaugh, on the Judge.
Stat of the Week
Since Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, none of the six teams in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones has won a Super Bowl. The Time Zone Super Bowl tote board of winners of the last 14 big games:
Eastern Time teams: 11.
Central Time teams: 3.
Mountain Time teams: 0.
Pacific Time teams: 0.
Of course, with the 26-6 gap of teams within and outside their borders, the East and Central should have a big edge. But a 14-zip shutout?
Of course, 2013 could be the end of the streak; Seattle, San Francisco and Denver are pretty good.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Forty-five years ago last Wednesday, New York Sen. Robert Kennedy died. He was shot in the head, in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel, the Ambassador, by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian.
That created a vacancy in the United States Senate, which lasted for three months. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed a New York Republican congressman, Charles Goodell, to replace Kennedy.
Charles Goodell, father of Roger.
As I wrote in a Goodell profile two years ago, Charles Goodell soon became a sworn enemy of President Richard Nixon when he opposed Nixon's policies on the war in Vietnam. (Imagine a Republican today saying, "That Barack Obama has got some great ideas.")
Charlie Goodell told the boys it would probably be the end of his political career. The Goodell family faced an onslaught from the right. Vice President Spiro Agnew called Charles Goodell "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party,'' referring to a woman who'd had a sex-change operation. Nixon put Goodell on his noted Enemies List. "We were ticked off,'' said Roger Goodell. "You can imagine five boys being loyal to our father. But the real lesson was my father never, never rapped the vice president, the president, or anyone else. He loved the legislative process, and that was just part of it.''
Prior to the election for Senate in 1972, security around the Goodell family got beefed up because of a threat on Charlie Goodell's life. "JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy all had been shot,'' Roger said, "We were concerned our father was going to be assassinated because he was speaking out.'' That didn't happen, but Charlie Goodell was routed in the election.
Now you might know why Roger Goodell doesn't chafe at being the patron saint of unpopular causes in the NFL sometimes.
By the way: Sirhan has been in state prison in California for 44 years, since being convicted in April 1969 of murdering Bobby Kennedy. His 14 parole hearings, the most recent of which was in 2011, have been fruitless. He is 69. If Robert Kennedy were alive today, he'd be 87.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Have you noticed we use our cell phones too much in this country?
This is one half of a conversation I heard (the first three or four comments are close but perhaps not exact quotes, because by the time I got my pen out to write it down, the man was about a minute into the conversation) at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix Wednesday afternoon, waiting for a flight to Washington:
"Hi! Just waitin' to board here. What are you doing?"
"Well, went to the Burger King. Got a burger, some fries ... Yeah, pretty good, okay, you know. A burger ... Now just sittin' here, people-watchin.' You know.
"A little warm in here, you know. Better than that oven out there!!! ... Yeah, checked in. Got 7A. Window seat ... Yep. Like those window seats, you know.
"No, no, not that crowded. Guess people flew early today. Hardly had any wait at security. Maybe five, 10 minutes.
"Yeah, got some M&Ms at the little shop. Bag of chips. It's like, four hours or so. Was thinkin' of gettin' a sandwich, but I think that burger will hold me. Not too hungry now. I can get something when we land ... Yeah, yeah ... Well, yeah, don't think so.
"Okay, what else you got goin'? ... Yeah? Any good? Yeah, always liked that show ... Nope. Just sittin' here. Yeah, not much else up.
"Yeah, it'll be past dark when we get there ... I don't know, just go to sleep I guess. Maybe watch some TV at the hotel. I'll see what's on ...
"They're millin' around. Looks like we're gonna board here ... Yeah, no, no, I ain't in any hurry. What else you got goin'?''
On it went, until the guy, about 55, had to hang up to board.
I just wanted to yell: "THEY GOT NOTHIN' GOIN' ON! OR THEY WOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING BY NOW!''
I don't know. Maybe it's nice to keep in touch when you're apart from someone you like. But these phones. They severely reduce silence and thought. Both of those things are still legal in America, I hear.
Tweet of the Week I
"@penguins you guys wanna grab a drink later?''
-- @LAKings, less than an hour after Chicago scored in overtime to beat the Kings and end the Western Conference playoff series Saturday night in Chicago.
Tweet of the Week II
"DE Chris Long on why he is cutting back on Twitter: 'Twitter is where logic goes to die.' ''
-- @hbalzer721, St. Louis journalist and radio host Howard Balzer.
Tweet of the Week III
"I understand saying what u want on social media but some of y'all need a good ass kicking when u post immature and racist comments."
-- @SimplyAJ10, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones, after people posted immature and racist comments toward Jason Collins online Thursday.
Tweet of the Week IV
"Dear person in front of me on plane: If you move your seat back just a little more I could probably remove that molar for you.''
-- @JPosnanski, NBCSports.com national sports columnist Joe Posnanski.
Feel your pain, Joe. Feel your pain. Assuming that was USAirways.
Tweet of the Week V
"Selig not a hugger like Goodell on draft night. Handshake and a back clap. #MLBDraft"
-- @josephperson of the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte-ly observing the annual major league baseball draft Thursday night on MLB Network.
Tweet of the Week VI
"I have the victory in the name of Jesus. Satan (@ProFootballTalk) is under my feet. I am not moved by adverse circumstances."
-- @terrellowens, unhappy with the tenor of the reporting by the website on his attempted comeback at age 39. PFT wrote recently that Owens "has a history of dividing locker rooms and pitting players against each other."
I asked Satan for a comment. Through email, the devil responded.
"I realize Terrell is frustrated about the fact that no one is interested in giving him a roster spot,'' said Mike Florio, the founder, czar and conscience of PFT. "If my willingness to point that out or to analyze the possible reasons for it or to mention some of the many ill-advised things he has done throughout his career for which he since has expressed remorse makes me the devil, then give me my pitchfork and feel free to play ring toss on either or both of my horns."
My only question: What football player believes he's being legitimately jobbed at age 39.5 by not having teams flock after him to sign him?
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think we all have our opinions, and they're all fine, and I haven't given one about the NFL players' top 100 list because I don't think the players take it seriously, and so I don't value it at all. But I saw that ESPN just named Paul Brown the sixth-best coach of all time. To me, that's like naming Bill Russell the sixth-best basketball player of all time, or Babe Ruth the sixth-best baseball player. Have some respect for history, fellas. Here's a guy whose inventive fingerprints are all over the modern game, whose Cleveland Browns -- another Brown invention -- played in the championship game of their league for 10 straight seasons. Sixth. Riiiiiight.
2. I think Josh Gordon being suspended for two weeks to start the season -- he says it's from taking cough syrup with the banned substance codeine in it -- will make it very tough for the Browns to get off to a good start. They open with Miami at home and a rested Baltimore on the road (Ravens have the mini-bye after playing on Thursday at Denver to start the season), and there's no question Gordon is the best receiver Cleveland has. A three-receiver set of Greg Little and ex-Bill David Nelson, with Davone Bess in the slot, isn't going to throw fear into the Dolphins or Ravens.
5. I think Sean Payton spoke for all lovers of the two-point conversion -- I am one -- when he actually talked about the play as though he thinks about using it more often than current wisdom says it should be used. "People have all sort of thoughts on the two-point play and yet if they ever talk to someone who is actually calling a game, we might have five plays we might like inside the five-yard line, and then certainly, one of those five would be a two-point play candidate,'' he said. "Often times our top two-point play we ran it in the second quarter, so when someone says that you should go for two here, we historically typically don't look at that chart until the fourth quarter. And then when we are looking at it in the fourth quarter, is there a play you like? If you already ran one of your two two-point plays then chances are you are down to your third one and maybe you don't feel as confident about it. There are games where you just can't wait to call that play inside the red zone or as a two-point play, so a lot of it depends on what has been run prior."
6. I think, and always have thought, that a team with a mobile or very smart quarterback and a good spread attack should just go for two after every touchdown, except when one point is needed late in a game. The logic is simple. Say your team scores 40 touchdowns in a season. If you practice your top, say, five plays weekly during a short-yardage period (which all teams have on their weekly practice list), and you've got a smart quarterback who you trust to make good decisions, the likelihood is that you'll be able to convert from the two-yard line more than 50 percent of the time. Much more, in my opinion. Of those 40 touchdowns, let's say five are scored late, and a certain one point is more advantageous strategically than a risky two. Now we're down to 35 touchdowns. If you go for two every time, let's say you make 23. That's 46 points you'd score instead of 35.
7. I think the other thing you do when you try the two-point conversion is you take the most boring play in sports, the PAT, out of football. And it's time for the PAT to go.
8. I think it always has been just a matter of time before Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers finished building a bridge. And from the sounds of Brett Favre's comments to WGR in Buffalo, that bridge looks to be pretty much built, and the Packers will soon bring him back to Green Bay to honor him. He's begun to patch things up with Aaron Rodgers, and he has a high regard for club president Mark Murphy.
As he told WGR: "So the things that transpired that led to us 'breaking up' if you will, to me, are over and done with. When will that happen? I don't think either side is trying to push the issue. I think Mark Murphy -- and Mark really came in the last few weeks of my career in Green Bay -- he kind of came into a hornet's nest if you will. He's been extremely great in trying to make this work. In our discussions, it will happen. I think both sides are genuine. I know they are. And that's the way it has to come across because that's the way it should be. We don't want to go out there waving to the crowd with our backs to each other. And I don't think that's going to happen. Aaron has said some very nice things. He and I have a good relationship. I had a chance to present an award with him at the Super Bowl and that was for real. It wasn't for show. And so I think everything will be fine.''
9. I think my guess is 2014 for the renewal of the Favre-Packers wedding vows.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I can't get over this police dog in Kentucky helping mourn his ambushed handler, a 33-year-old Bardstown, Ky., police officer named Jason Ellis. Figo, a German Shepherd, partnered with Ellis on the beat. Ellis died when stopping to pick up some debris on a road, and police say it was a trap.
b. Godspeed, Jim Kelly, in recovering from your cancer surgery.
c. Pete Abraham is the best. The Boston Globe Red Sox beat man is a great Twitter follow (@PeteAbe) and good nicknamer. Dustin Pedroia is "Scrappy McScraperson.''
d. Great FOX graphic Saturday night: Pedroia has five more two-strike hits than any other player in baseball.
e. David Ortiz (413 homers) catches Mike Piazza on the all-time homer list with 14 more, Cal Ripken with 18, Carl Yastrzemski with 39.
f. Looked up at one point Saturday and Josh Hamilton was batting .217 and Albert Pujols .241. Combined on-base percentage: .296.
g. For $15.5 million a year, free agent C.J. Wilson has given the Angels a 17-15 record since arriving at the beginning of the 2012 season.
h. Anaheim: Where free agents go to cash checks.
i. Kevin Slowey and Shawn Marcum combined to pitch 15 innings of one-run relief Saturday at CitiField. I'd like to say that's some swell pitching, but I'm more inclined to say the Mets and Marlins scoring three runs in 20 innings Saturday afternoon (and evening) is more about the sticks than the arms.
j. Penguins: two goals, 0 for 15 on the power play, four games of Eastern Conference Finals action. Crosby, Malkin and Iginla, zero points in 253 minutes.
k. And you wanted to be my latex salesman.
l. Seriously, that's the greatest offense of this era in hockey?
m. We bow to you, Tuukka Rask. And the Bruins clearly were the better team throughout. But still, that's one of the most underachieving playoff series I've seen by the Penguins.
n. Gregory Campbell of the Bruins played 50 seconds in Game 3 with a broken leg, as it turned out, blocking a shot yet staying on the ice to help defend his goal. Year after year, we hear more of these stories about hockey players. Amazing.
o. I don't mean me, personally, because I don't talk much about the NBA. But why don't we as a sporting nation talk about Tony Parker more? Shouldn't we think of him more as a great basketball player than as the former Mr. Eva Longoria?
p. Coffeenerdness: I know I'm tough on Amtrak coffee, because it is swill. But Delta's coffee is, if possible, worse. Tastes like the hot water passed through a filter that may have one day long ago come into contact with coffee or some coffee beans from an area code far, far away. It'd be nice, when traveling, if you could get some hot liquid that bears a slight resemblance to what Juan Valdez meant for us to drink.
q. Beernerdness: Best thing about a three-hour flight delay at Dulles Airport outside Washington: sampling Old Dominion Ale, from Dover, Del. Quite malty. English-type. Compared it next to a Fat Tire, and the Old Dominion won, hands down.
r. I am a week late with this, but happy Bar Mitzvah, Devon Schefter. Not sure if you thought this was as cool as the rest of the partiers did, but the video someone verrrrrry close to you put together just might be the best Bar Mitzvah advice video in the history of Judaism. Everyone from Peyton Manning to the energetic Harbaugh brothers to Adam Sandler with words of wisdom for young Devon. My favorite was Sandler's, seated alongside his young daughter in their car: "Everyone in the family thinks you're a man now. One thing I ask of you: Don't touch this kid. You leave her alone. Don't touch her when you get older or you get this.'' [Clenched fist gesture]. Cool stuff.
s. You go, Emily Kaplan! Good luck at the Globe this summer.
t. You too, Tess Quinlan! Good luck at Yahoo! in New York.
u. And you, Evan King ... a published writer! Congrats to you.
v. Hard to write a better story than the Washington Post's Eli Saslow wrote about life moving on for a pair of anguished parents in Newtown, Conn.
w. We still haven't forgotten, and never, ever, ever will I stop being ticked off at the chicken politicians -- I'd say something worse, but this is a family website -- in this country who refuse to vote for common-sense gun responsibility. Please read that story and tell me that we, as citizens, should sit idle while the country does nothing to prevent future massacres. And current ones.
x. Finally, kudos to the Diamondbacks for drafting paralyzed Arizona State outfielder Cory Hahn in the 34th round of this year's MLB Draft (he wore number 34 at ASU) ... and not just making a ceremony out of it. The club is going to offer Hahn -- paralyzed from the chest down on a freak 2011 head-first slide when his head hit the knee of an opponent -- a job.
y. I'll be away from this space for the next four Mondays, and, as I've done for the last five years, I have replacements to write the column. They are: June 17, Former Saints safety Steve Gleason; June 24, Oakland punter Chris Kluwe; July 1, New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer; and July 8, TBA. See you back here on July 15, when we'll be one week from debuting our new football-centric site, The MMQB.
The Adieu Haiku
RGIII looks good.
Saw him sprinting on Thursday.
Opener? A lock.