RENTON, Wash. -- My favorite draft weekend story: The Man Who Said No to the NFL.
I caught him as he pulled his car back onto his bucolic campus Sunday and prepared to buckle down for a long night of Italian homework. It's the kind of story we all need to hear, especially in a weekend like this one, when lives get changed forever, and visions of millions dance in 22-year-olds' heads. You see, on a New England campus, one player just said no to five teams that wanted him to come to their training camp this summer. I'll get to Scott Sicko later. But first, the news of the weekend, with some depth on the team that helped itself the most:
Thursday, 5 p.m. PDT, Seahawks Draft Room. Nervous place. Quiet. Tense. First draft as a boss for coach
Schneider hugs Carroll. "Needed that!'' Schneider said. "Here we go now.''
Schneider was around
The nerves are about to get worse.
After the sixth pick, Seattle likes Jimmy Clausen the quarterback and
A trade. Denver trades with Philadelphia. Hearts sink in the room. "It's got to be Thomas,'' Schneider said.
Exhale. "We got it!'' Carroll hollered, and began high-fiving scouts and coaches.
But my favorite bit of drama happened in the second round, on Friday night. On the Seattle draft board, two names sat apart from the rest as the picks began to come off the board: Clausen and wide receiver
My sense is that as these picks fell -- Seattle was at 60 in the second round, having traded down 20 spots in the round to get Whitehurst from San Diego -- there was no question Seattle would have taken Clausen if Carolina, at 48, didn't beat them to it. I'd seen Hasselbeck Thursday afternoon and told him I'd given Seattle Clausen at number 14 in my mock draft, and who knows, they loved him and they just might do it. "Whoa,'' he said. "Then I'm an ostrich. I've had my head in the sand. That would, uh, surprise me.''
Thank god for Carolina then. Look at the teams between 48 and 60, and figure one that would pick Clausen: San Francisco (maybe, but
So Clausen goes 48. Now Schneider's got to play GM. Far and away the best guy on their board now is Tate. But the calls start coming in. Lots of interesting players on the board and lots of teams trying to come up. Schneider's got an offer he likes a lot. If he'd go down a handful of spots (fewer than 15), into the upper third round, he could add two fifth-round picks. And if Tate had lasted this long, who's to say he wouldn't last an hour longer?
"You know, sometimes you reach a point in the draft -- we already had two fours and two fives -- where you say, 'How greedy do you want to be?' '' Schneider said. "There was so much separation between Tate and everybody else. Would we have lost him? I don't know. But at that point, the risk was just too great.''
They stayed at 60 and picked Tate. When Carroll called him to welcome him to the Seahawks, he told him to be ready for anything -- receiving, returning, rushing ... and yes, Wildcatting. Golden Tate might play
"The Jets,'' said Schneider, "had several teams interested in him. They were gracious enough to let our medical people interact with theirs. When you're talking about a pick in the fifth round, and a player like Leon Washington, who we felt was going to be healthy enough to play at his level this season, the risk-reward ratio was a no-brainer.''
Most teams come out of a draft happy. Seattle came out a little north of happy. "I am jacked,'' Carroll told me as Friday ended. "If we did this right, and I think we did, we just helped our team for years to come.''
That's usually the idea. It's so sobering to realize that top draft picks have about a 50-percent washout factor.
Last point about the Seahawks: What an interesting scenario would have emerged if Seattle hadn't traded for Whitehurst (for a flip of second-round picks this year and 2011 third-round pick. Pretty high price, if you ask me, for a guy who's never thrown a regular-season pass in four years and was third on the San Diego depth chart) and still owned the 40th pick in the draft. As I said earlier, I think at 40, they would have picked Clausen. So essentially, here are the two scenarios that Seattle faced, with and without the man who bears a slight resemblance to Jesus Christ:
WITH A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Whitehurst the quarterbacks and multiple threat Tate added to a decent stable of wideouts ... but without a third-round pick in 2011.
WITHOUT A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Clausen at quarterback. But no Tate. And with the entire 2011 draft intact.
Tough call. This team would love to have Clausen for the long haul. Schneider believes in him. But my gut feeling is they'd rather have the Whitehurst/Tate combo.
I love these draft scenarios, in case you hadn't noticed. Here's another one: In Cleveland, midway through the third round, the Browns already had addressed cornerback, safety and running back; now they had two more priority positions to fill: defensive tackle and offensive tackle. They had picks 85 and 92. They had their two guys lined up from about the 70th pick on -- Kentucky defensive tackle
"I had talked to
At number 83, two spots before the Browns were going to pick, Atlanta GM Dimitroff picked Peters, the defensive tackle the Browns had in their sights at 85.
"Then,'' Holmgren said, laughing, "the fates were telling me something. We had to pick him. I said to Tom, 'Let's pull the trigger.' I tried to run this draft the way Ron Wolf used to in Green Bay. Everyone contributed. But I kind of pulled rank a little bit. I said, 'Let's do this.'''
At the podium in Manhattan, Texas coach
Talk about a scenario you couldn't see coming.
"I know we committed to
He's right. Clausen with the 48th pick isn't in the same league with some of the great steals of all time (I don't think) but I think it'll end up the biggest shock of this draft when we look at it 10 years from now. The guy plays hurt, throws well on the run, is smart and productive. Maybe he's not the kind of guy you want to go on vacation with. Maybe he is full of himself. But what's
In doing pre-draft research, not that he thought he'd have a chance to get Clausen, Fox talked to
Now for something completely different.
On Saturday, he sat at home in Stillwater, N.Y., about a half-hour north of Albany, with his parents, girlfriend and some other relatives. They waited for hours, pick after pick after pick. His name wasn't called. A few picks before the final choice of the seventh round, he started discussing with his family what was in his heart.
Sicko got a scholarship to play football at New Hampshire. But he always thought he was at college to get an education, then to play football. He majored in History with a minor in Political Science. He's set to graduate on time May 22, and he's considering returning to school to finish a double-major (taking more poli-sci courses), or going for a Master's in History, and then, if all goes well, maybe a Ph.D. in History. "I love American history,'' he said. "I love knowing where we've been as a country, and how we got to where we are today. I've had so many great influences as teachers, and I think it would be fun someday to teach, maybe in college.''
So with the final few picks winding down, Sicko told his family the truth: If he didn't get drafted, he wanted to go back to college full-time and see what direction the road took him. "I love football,'' he said. "I've been playing since I was seven years old, and playing in the NFL was always a dream of mine. I can't say if I would have made it if I'd have signed with somebody and tried to make it as a free-agent. I don't know. But this ... this just felt right.''
He said he had no bitterness, no anger at teams for not picking him. But when he thought about a football life on the edge of a roster -- possibly an itinerant life of an undrafted free-agent, working out day after day to try to get a shot in an NFL camp, or moving from one NFL practice squad to another, or possibly being on an active roster -- it didn't jibe with the life he wanted to live.
"I always lived my life for family first, education second and happiness third,'' he said Sunday afternoon as he drove from his home in upstate New York back to New Hampshire. "I've found the first two lead to the third. Being away, to some that would be an adventure, and I'm not saying it wouldn't have been fun. But let's say I made it for a couple of years. You always hear players say, 'I'm going to go back and finish my education.' How many of them really do? Not many. When I thought about where I was in my life and where I wanted to go, I figured most people don't make careers of it. I gave everything I could to football. I loved every second of it. But I love my family and school too. I just thought, I'm really excited about going back to school and seeing where real life will take me.''
But first there was a problem. Thirty-two NFL teams had his phone number. When the draft ends, teams start calling undrafted prospects to try to sign them to come to training camp. The Chargers called. Dallas called. The Jets, Jacksonville and Kansas City called.
"I told them, basically, 'I'm honored you called me, but I'm not going to play football anymore. I'm going to further my education,''' he said.
A couple of the teams were surprised, but he said they respected his decision and wished him luck.
"It was tough, telling NFL teams I didn't want to be in their camps,'' he said. "But it was the right thing.''
He knows people will think he's nuts. There aren't many athletes, given a choice, who would want to go work in the real world before giving their sport a major effort. To Sicko, it doesn't feel like quitting. It feels like just choosing to do something else he loves. There wasn't a sentence in a 25-minute conversation that had regret in it.
It felt logical to ask about why a mature kid like him wouldn't want to go to a camp, just to challenge himself and see if he could do it. Wouldn't he, for the rest of his life, question his decision? Wouldn't he wake up one morning 30 years from now feeling like some Moonlight Graham, a guy who'd give anything to go back for just one chance, to see if he was really good enough? He just didn't think he would ever feel that way. If I could convey how he sounded, happy and determined are the first two words that come to mind.
"How'd you feel when you woke up this morning?'' I said. "Any sadness at all?''
"No,'' he said. "I felt excited. It's been a long process in football, and it was all fun. This is going to be fun too.''
It's nice, in the midst of a weekend when football seems more important than breathing to some, that we have a different kind of role model for our kids. I hope they read everything Scott Sicko just said here.
"Are we rockin' and rollin' or what?!''
"Let's get through the draft and we'll evaluate all aspects of it, including talking to our clubs and seeing what worked and what has not. We'd like to wait until we have concluded with the entire event, but to see the kind of extraordinary increase in viewership I think does reinforce the idea that we can put the draft on a bigger platform, and that's great for everyone."
"We got another T.O.''
Always have found it interesting that a man who appears so buttoned-up in front of the media and on the sideline in Philly can be so pithy and funny when he's not doing everything he can to say nothing in front of the Philadelphia press.
"Feed your kids! Feed your kids! Feed your kids!''
"He went to Oxford. That's scary.''
And isn't that the perfect example of what the NFL thinks of a guy who put the draft on hold in 2009 to further his educational goals. Good for
Not that there's going to be much pressure on
The Cowboys long searched for a franchise receiver to replace Galloway and thought Williams was the one -- but
Three months ago, I wrote about dining with some sportswriter friends the night before the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans. Eight in the media gathered at Emeril's Delmonico, along with
Tebow, of course, went to Denver. Angela picked Denver.
"Shocked?'' Angela asked over the weekend. "I'd have to say yes, because I only picked the Broncos because I lived there for 10 years and that was my team for a while. But it's crazy. Can you believe I won the pool with all that football expertise at the table?''
Well, frankly, yes I can.
So I asked her: "Angela, I need to know your next prediction. We all might go to Vegas on it.''
"The Saints are going to the Super Bowl,'' she said. "Again. You can quote me on that.''
One more note, and a good reason why Angela Craig is now my favorite prognosticator in the world: She said she would donate her $45 in winnings to Five For Fighting, to support the troops overseas with the USO recreation program I've written about in this space in recent weeks.
You've got a good one there, Jeff.
Seattle is ... just different. I mean that in a good way.
And there's the Fuji apple the size of a basketball that I found at the Pike Place Market Friday and that served as a meal Sunday. And Safeco Field, which leads the major leagues (by a wide margin) in microbrews through all concourses (I'd highly recommend the Pyramid Curve Ball Blonde Ale).
"So it rains,'' Pete Carroll said to me the other day, dismissively. "There's something about every place you'd live.''
"Patriots collecting draft picks like
"Ohio U has pick before Ohio State.''
"LenDale White traded for a ham sandwich, which he ate.''
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of 32 teams on draft weekend. Though I am loathe to give grades, I have a few observations on each team, particularly the ones I didn't cover much in the top of this column:
Plus, there's no defensive player on the planet who can walk into the Baltimore locker room and NOT get into line behind
The Ravens topped things off by picking two tight ends, one of whom will be the starter in 2011, and a productive one.
Instead of taking Dan Williams at nine overall, the Bills waited 'til pick 41 to take potential nose-tackle starter
I didn't like the trade for
But the thing about Colt drafts is they pick guys they know who will fit their scheme, like blocking tight end
Smith said he's fine with taking the slings and arrows from people in the media who would criticize him for this, because he has the courage of his convictions to take players where he feels they should be taken. And though he didn't say it, I could tell he felt this way: if he watches every snap of 25 games that Alualu played in the last two years and he gets criticized for reaching for him, just who is doing the criticizing? People -- other than the
Here's a guy who picked two starting tackles in the first two rounds last year,
The Patriots again got great volume, and even set themselves as the power brokers of the 2011 draft; they already had the Raiders' 2011 first-rounder, then pilfered the Panthers' second-round pick next year by dealing them the 89th pick in this draft -- way at the end of the third round. But I don't know whether they got the playmaker on defense they needed, and there's going to be tremendous pressure on a receiver with only average quickness,
The pick I like: middle linebacker
By the way, I got an email from GM
By drafting Davis and
Now for my normal 10th Thing I Think.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. The New England Locker Room Luncheon, benefiting the
b. We've also had some help from our good friends at charity-conscious Tonic.com, who wrote a feature story on the event on their site, so please support them too. The link
c. The best TV on TV right now is when
d. I've got to get to that
e. Coffeenerdness: Bus Stop Espresso, in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood, might be the funkiest espresso bar I've been in. Recommended. Good stuff. You'll need to ask for it hot, but it's a very good plain latte.
f. Thanks for dinner,