• I've blown up the Fine Fifteen, promoting the Packers and demoting the Jets. I admire the Jets quite a bit for their late-game moxie, and it's all about the W's, but in the past three weeks they've had to fight to the death to beat two- (Detroit), three- (Cleveland) and four-win (Houston) teams. I'm giving Green Bay BCS style points for winning three in a row by a combined 85-10.
• Are you ready for your closeups, Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier?
• Cut the cord, Bud Adams. Vince Young must go.
• BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and James Sanders just beat Peyton Manning. What a country.
• Not trying to be Peter Downer on this Mike Vick story, but he's not the 11-week MVP. And I love watching him play -- he's got some Gretzky and Jordan in his game right now -- but I don't like his chances to survive if he keeps getting hit as much as he is.
• You'll never guess who's using Slingbox.
• Your Army buddy and mine, Mike McGuire, is back ... and he's getting ready for his fourth -- count 'em, four -- deployment into the most dangerous place in the world.
On with the show:
Green Bay is this week's Next Best Thing.
It's hard to not have great admiration for Aaron Rodgers. After the Packers embarrassed the Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome, Rodgers made a beeline for Brett Favre at midfield, and they embraced for a good 20 seconds, both whispering into each other's ear. It's obviously been an odd relationship; they were friendly but never tight in Green Bay, and now Rodgers is proving there is life -- very good life -- after Favre in Green Bay, a prospect that once seemed unthinkable.
I asked Rodgers if he could share anything he'd said to Favre at such an awkward and probably emotional time. Rodgers not only had played at a Favrian level back home in Green Bay, but now he'd come into Favre's new place and finished the process of ripping the team's 2010 guts out. Green Bay 31, Minnesota 3. Somewhere, in some deep place, Rodgers had to be feeling some measure of tremendous satisfaction, but he wasn't going to show it in that embrace, and no matter what he thought of Favre, he realized the moment and knew it was only right to treat Favre with the dignity he hopes he'll receive when replaced. Maybe sometime around 2024.
Hearing my question about what went on between him and Favre, Rodgers said, "I'd rather keep that private. I don't think it'd be right to share it.''
Just the right answer.
The Packers, for what it's worth, look like the best team in the league to me after 10 games for a couple of reasons (and if you want to say it's the Patriots, I couldn't argue much, or the Eagles or Falcons or Jets or even the Saints). The defense has gotten early instability settled; coordinator Dom Capers has figured out the right personnel combinations, and the corner combo or Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson -- who has turned into the kind of leader a head coach dreams of -- is playing as well as any corner tandem in the league. Green Bay's allowed 10 points in the past 12 quarters. The Packers shut out the Jets at the Meadowlands. In the past two weeks, they didn't let two bad teams breathe.
Offensively, it's been about Rodgers' dominance -- 75-percent passing, seven touchdowns, no picks in the past two weeks -- and about the rediscovery of Greg Jennings. A few weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy saw how Jennings, a legit number one receiver, was being overlooked in the offense week to week, and he began to emphasize more plays for Jennings, more shots for him as the primary target. And he's exploded since then. Check out the difference in Jennings' first five games and his second five:
On Sunday, Rodgers' first of three touchdown strikes to Jennings was a great example of the new emphasis about getting the ball to him, and about Rodgers' patience. Chased from the pocket, Rodgers kept surveying the field while keeping half an eye on Jennings because of what the Pack thought was a favorable coverage matchup. As he rolled left, Rodgers finally saw a wide-enough opening to get the ball through, and fired it, and Jennings caught it for the score. And the rout was on.
"This is exactly the way I saw us playing this year,'' Rodgers said after his four-TD, no-pick day. "No offense to them, but when we play a team and we're playing the way I know we're capable of playing, we feel there's no way they can stop us. And that's the way we're playing right now. It's a good feeling to work the way we have and then have everything go the right way.''
It's going to be a very odd year for coaching changes.
You're an owner, and you want to make a coaching change for 2011. Here's what you're thinking about as this disappointing (presumably) season winds down:
1. There's a very good chance the new coach won't have access to the players beginning in March, when a potential lockout would happen. He may not have access to the players until a new labor deal is signed, which seems more and more like it won't happen until at least the summer. And that's being optimistic.
2. The new coach won't be able to work with his new staff very much either, because most teams will put assistant coaches on varying part-time contracts. The new coaches won't be in the building much, if at all, during a work stoppage.
3. The big-name coaches -- Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden -- will be in play. But will you want to lock them in at a big number for 2011 if you're not sure when or if you'll be playing football?
"What all that means,'' one head coach not on the hot seat told me Friday, "is an advantage for the in-house candidate unlike there's ever been. Financially and functionally, the top coordinator makes sense more than it ever has.''
In Minnesota, after Monday's firing of Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier will have a six-week audition as interim coach to prove he's the man long-term as well. In Cincinnati, if Marvin Lewis leaves, firebrand Mike Zimmer could ascend to the job, with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski staying in place. In Dallas, Jason Garrett, who has righted the ship in just two weeks, might make the point moot anyway because owner Jerry Jones already seems to be thinking of giving him a shot to win the job in 2011*. In Carolina, there's not an obvious guy in-house, though owner Jerry Richardson wants to keep the coaching payroll down, so he could think of promoting from within.
*Jones inquired about whether he could make Garrett the permanent coach without opening up the job for interviews after the season. The NFL has a policy, known as the Rooney Rule, that requires each team with a coaching opening to interview at least one minority candidate. And Jones has been told that, whether he intends to hire Garrett or not, he'll have to abide by the Rooney Rule once the season ends.
"I can't imagine what the landscape would be like,'' the current head coach said, "if a new coach walks into his first team meeting on August 11th and says to his team, 'OK, guys, we're switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3, so here's the new defense. And we're going to run the West Coast offense now. We play a game that counts in three weeks. Let's get to work.' I mean, it's impossible. That's why the in-house candidate will be more attractive than ever. When I talk to other coaches, we all see which way it's going. And I'd be surprised if there were a lot of changes that went to guys who planned to come in and change everything.''
I'm hearing more and more that Gruden could live with another year at ESPN -- he has one hard-and-fast year left on his contract there -- but would love to be in play for the right job. I think Cowher would go only to a place where the circumstances were right, and that job might not exist this year. The third-most desirable guy (unless John Fox's star is not totally tarnished by this awful season in Carolina) might be Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who I think would love an NFL job someday. This just might not be the day. Even if potential franchise quarterback Andrew Luck leaves Stanford early, the weirdness of the 2011 landscape may make college a lot more desirable in 2011 for Harbaugh.
So add that little wrinkle to what promises to be a year unlike any other in recent NFL history in 2011.
Can we all agree that Vince Young can be childish?
Well, at least you know where I'm coming from on this one. In Tennessee, Vince Young, who leads the NFL in rabbit ears, heard scattered boos in the first half of a 19-16 overtime loss to Washington and appeared to wave to the fans to invite more derision. In the third quarter, he banged his throwing hand on a Redskin helmet and injured his thumb; when he tried to throw a few balls on the sidelines to show he was able to return to the game, coach Jeff Fisher told me, the balls were off-target and sailed, and Fisher stayed with third-stringer Rusty Smith, with backup Kerry Collins out with a calf injury. Young thought he was ready to play and was angry.
On his way off the field after the game, he threw his shoulder pads and shirt in the stands and then, according to beat man Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, muttered under his breath while Fisher was addressing the team. When Fisher saw him ready to bolt the locker room, he told him not to quit on his teammates, and Young, according to Wyatt, said he wasn't quitting on them -- he was quitting on Fisher.
I spoke with Fisher about an hour after that, and I didn't know the details of the locker room drama at that point. I asked Fisher if Young, the up-and-down fifth-year quarterback, was still his quarterback of the future. "We'll talk about the future at the end of the year,'' Fisher said, then chose his words carefully: "I'm not going there now.''
As I said on NBC last night, this is bound to be an incendiary topic between the team and Young, and probably between the coaching staff and owner Bud Adams. Young is a 9-to-5 quarterback who doesn't work at his craft enough, either in the classroom or in rehabbing injuries. His leadership is poor because he doesn't show the commitment of many of his teammates. And though Young's played better this year (10 touchdown, three interceptions), I get the sense the coaching staff has tired of spoon-feeding him a version of the offense and not the whole thing, which makes Collins a more desirable option at this point, despite his age and creakiness.
Drama has surrounded Young since he was drafted by Tennessee in 2006 as a favorite of owner Bud Adams. Young is from Houston, like Adams, and was a big star at Texas, and Adams took great delight in drafting the local kid while the local Texans spurned him, and he hoped Young would be the kind of star who could help Adams defeat the hometown Texans for years to come.
Though he's had some good moments, Young has never grabbed the starting job and made it seem he was the no-doubt quarterback of the future. Now he may need season-ending surgery on his thumb. He's due $11.5 million next year. I find it hard to believe the Titans will move forward with such an emotional problem child as the quarterback ... unless Adams tries to shove him down the coaches' throats.
I'm told Adams still views Young as the franchise star, which is part of the problem. The Longhorn Vince Young is not the Titan Vince Young. He's not the leader or player he was in college. Is the petulant Iversonian figure who throws his uniform into the stands after a tough game the guy you build your franchise around? Adams would be foolish to think he is. Adams, I believe, is in love with a player who doesn't exist.
For now, the Titans, only a game out of first place in the AFC South, will go with sixth-round prospect Rusty Smith as quarterback entering a crucial stretch of four straight division games. It's not looking like their year. The worst decision they could make is going forward with Young into 2011 and beyond. Tennessee needs to cut its losses. Now.
Get ready for more Pats-Colts in 2011.
New England and Indianapolis will play for the ninth straight regular season next fall -- if they finish in the same position in their division standings in 2010. The game would be in Foxboro. So if the Pats win the AFC East, Indy would have to win the AFC South for the game to happen again. Or both teams would have to finish second, etc.
Why would it happen in November? The league likes putting big games where it can get the max ratings, because November is a sweeps month for television. And because the league doesn't want to put a mega-game like this one early, when a possible labor action could wipe out one or more weeks. If they meet, it would be the ninth straight year that the two non-division foes contested the Brady-Manning passion play, and the seventh straight year that the game would be in November. It's such a great series because it's so ridiculously close. Margins of victory in the past six meetings: 7, 4, 4, 3, 1, 3.
Two thoughts about Sunday's 31-28 New England survival test. One: Peyton Manning played a modern Favre-style game. Trailing 31-14 with 10 minutes left, he led the Colts on one 73-yard touchdown drive, then another 73-yard touchdown drive, making it 31-28. With just over two minutes left, he set out on what could have been a 74-yard touchdown drive to win it ... but, 50 yards into it, he underthrew a pass that James Sanders picked off to end the game with 31 seconds left. Scintillating, as usual, with a shocking late mistake.
Two: Amazing to me how the Patriots keep finding the bit pieces to win games. What NFL team would be comfortable playing the guts of its schedule with two street free-agents -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead -- as their primary ballcarriers? The Patriots are fine with it, and the duo's combined 28 carries for 165 yards (5.9 yards per rush) and two touchdowns show how much Bill Belichick is concerned with only production, not pedigree.
Mike Vick's never going to make it to that big payday if he keeps exposing himself to so much punishment.
I bet Michael Vick hurts this morning. Justin Tuck sacked Vick three times Sunday in Philadelphia's 27-17 win over the Giants, and the Giants hit Vick another five times behind the line, and he exposed himself to more punishment in 11 rushes. Twice on the NBC telecast I heard the kind of audible hits that the announcers ooh and aah at, where shoulder pads meet shoulder pads or helmets. This is the torment coaches over the years have had when Vick plays: How much punishment can he take? He's already missed four starts this year, three after getting violently sandwiched by the Redskins on a run.
In the last six weeks of the season, Vick is at Chicago (with the fourth-ranked defense in the league), home to Houston (with sacker Mario Williams), at Dallas (with DeMarcus Ware) and at the Giants, then home with Minnesota (who knows if the Vikings will be playing hard by then) and Dallas. So it's a schedule fraught with some pass-rushing land mines for Vick, as well as one with some pushing tacklers on the front seven.
I'm not quite sure why, but in the past three weeks, since Vick has come back from his rib-cartilage injury, he's run the ball 29 times (too many), while LeSean McCoy, the bellwether back, has run it 41 times in those three weeks. Will the Eagles do a better job of getting Vick to stay at home, and a better job of distributing the ball to other playmakers? They'd better, if they want Vick to last well into the playoffs.
Vick's a free-agent at the end of the season, but I expect the Eagles to either franchise-tag him or sign him to a club-friendly multi-year contract, with his motivation being he needs money to pay off some long-standing debts stemming from his dog-fighting conviction. But for him to get any real money -- money the market would pay a top quarterback -- he has to stay healthy. Which he's been able to do for 16 games just once in his career. And forgetting the contract ramifications for a second, but Philadelphia might be making a magical run. The only way they can go on a great run is with Vick staying upright. So they'd better start designing plays to keep him close to home.
Bill Parcells is not coaching again.*
* The asterisk is there because of the Bill Parcells Quote of His Career, which he has said more often than he has breathed: "I reserve the right to change my mind.''
I talked to Parcells Saturday, and he told me regardless of the quote at the end of the excellent NFL Films documentary on his career (superb work, Chris Barlow) on NFL Network Friday night, he's not coaching again. He told me that Saturday, and I reported it on NBC Sunday night.
I know, I know. You can't trust Parcells on this. When he took the Patriots job in 1993, he said, "This is my last job.'' When he quit the Jets after the 1999 season, he said, "This is definitely the end of my coaching career.'' When he turned down the Bucs' job in 2002, he said: "Write this on your little chalkboard -- I'm not coaching again.'' And here was are, almost nine years later, and I'm believing him?
A couple of factors. One: He'll be 70 on opening day 2011 (if there is an opening day 2011). Two: The stress is too much for him. He told me Saturday he can't even watch the games any more because he gets too wound up; he woke up at 5 a.m. Friday and went to his computer to find out who won the Dolphins-Bears game because he hadn't watched it.
I don't expect him to be a day-to-day consultant again either. But -- and this is another Parcells cliché I've heard a lot over the years -- they don't sell insurance for these kinds of things. You want my gut feeling as a guy who has known Parcells? Those are my gut feelings.
1. Green Bay (7-3). Revolutionary move. But who's played better over the past month? Beat the Vikes 28-24, the Jets 9-0, the Cowboys 45-7, the Vikes again 31-3. On Sunday, they dissected Brett Favre and Brad Childress so thoroughly in Minneapolis that with 10 minutes to play and the Vikes trailing 31-3, the chant went up from the crowd, "FI-RE CHILD-RESS! FI-RE CHILD-RESS!'' The fans' wish was granted Monday.
2. New England (8-2). Tom Brady said he wishes he could have done more in the fourth quarter to help the Patriots win. Admirable, but 31 points is a good day's work in that rivalry. And oh, by the way, another tight-end touchdown for the Patriots. That's nine now, in 10 games.
3. Philadelphia (7-3). In Vick They Trust. Intelligently.
4. New York Jets (8-2). JV game for the Jets -- home against Cincinnati on Thanksgiving night -- before the Four Games That Try Fireman Ed's Soul: at New England, Miami (Dolphins have won three of the past four in the series), at Pittsburgh, at Chicago.
5. Atlanta (8-2). Matt Ryan's back to rookie-phenom levels: 18 touchdowns, five picks, four wins in a row, by a total of 35 points.
6. New Orleans (7-3). Don't be so surprised; I almost put the Saints much higher. Past two weeks: Saints 68, Carolina/Seattle 22.
7. Baltimore (7-3). Great CBS graphic during the rout of the Panthers, noting that 20 of Ed Reed's 50 career interceptions have come in the fourth quarter -- including his neat pick and lateral for touchdown in Charlotte.
8. Pittsburgh (7-3). Embarrassed by the Pats. Embarrassed the Raiders. Not sure what this team is with all the injuries.
9. Chicago (7-3). A nice little mini-bye for the Bears, giving Lovie Smith and the defensive staff nine days, not six, to prepare for Mike Vick's trip to Soldier Field Sunday.
10. Indianapolis (6-4). Silver lining out of Sunday? Remaining home-road schedule of the three AFC South contenders: Indy 4 home, 2 road; Tennessee 3-3; Jacksonville 2-4.
11. New York Giants (6-4). Giants were in it Sunday night with five minutes left in the second quarter, trailing 10-3, when Eli Manning threw a terrible pick to Asante Samuel. Eagles, 13-3, at the half ... and it wasn't worse only because of a terrible, Jackie-Smithian end-zone drop by Jason Avant.
12. Tampa Bay (7-3). At some point, I'm going to have to respect these guys.
13. Kansas City (6-4). It's not hard to beat Arizona badly. But the one thing I like about what the Chiefs did against the Cards was extend offensive drives, and get a good, steady game from quarterback Matt Cassel. He needs to link a few of those together.
14. San Diego (4-5). Seems like the Chargers haven't played in about six weeks.
15. Jacksonville (6-4). You could have told me a lot of things about this season that would have surprised me, and the Jags being ahead of the Colts in the AFC South (both 6-4, but Jacksonville has the tiebreaker edge) after 11 weeks would surely have been one of them. A tribute to a team that wouldn't listen to all of us geniuses about its mediocrity.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Last six weeks: Beaten Flacco, Rivers, Favre, Roethlisberger, Peyton; lost to McCoy. Colt McCoy.
2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Looks like Rivers is going to have to be great tonight without all his weaponry again. When the Chargers travel east to play in Indiana on Sunday, Rivers and Peyton Manning will have much to talk about.
3. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. That's one fearsome defense; allowed 10 points in the past 12 quarters, and Matthews, the NFL sack front-runner, is the leader of the pack.
4. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets. In the Jets' past three pulse-pounding wins, Sanchez has had the three most productive passing days of his career. A valuable player is one who plays great when the important games matter, and that's exactly what Sanchez is doing.
5. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Strafed three teams in a row and put up 68 points in the past two weeks. Beginning to feel a lot like 2009 all of a sudden.
"Bad throw. I just didn't get everything I wanted on the throw. I'm just sick about not extending the game ... If you're asking if I'm stewing about it right now, the answer would be yes.''-- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, after throwing his third interception of the game, this one in the final minute while driving to tie or win at New England. His underthrown ball was picked off by New England safety James Sanders, sealing the Patriots' 31-28 victory.
"We are terrible. Terrible. I'm sorry. I just don't have a sound bite for you guys today.''-- Cincinnati wide receiver Terrell Owens, after the Bengals blew a 28-7 lead and lost to the Bills 49-31.
But T.O. -- that's a sound bite right there. Thank you.
"I've tasted the caviar now, so eating out of the garbage is not where I want to be.''-- Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, on the current quarterback-troubled, Kurt Warner-free days with the Cardinals, to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic.
I have one compound word for you Cardinal fans: Uh-oh.
"You just really don't want to come to work. You get yelled at like you're a kid and you just did something wrong.''-- New England center Dan Koppen, on our Sirius NFL Radio show last week, when I asked him about coming to work after a Patriot loss. In his eight years with the team, the Patriots are 23-2 after a loss.
Offensive Players of the Week
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City.
In catching a touchdown pass for the sixth consecutive game -- the longest such streak of the 2010 season (and he ended up with two) -- Bowe is trying to take away the hottest-receiver-in-football title from Roddy White. In those six games, Bowe has had two, two, one, one, two and two touchdown grabs. His pair Sunday against Arizona keyed a 31-13 Chiefs win.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans.
The Saints are looking like they looked during their Super Bowl run last year, and Brees is the reason. He's distributing the ball very well -- seven receivers have at least 23 catches for the Saints -- and in the 34-19 win over Seattle, Brees completed 29 of 43 passes for 382 yards, with four touchdowns and two picks.
Defensive Players of the Week
Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago.
The force behind the Bears' beatdown of Miami quarterback Tyler Thigpen Thursday night, Peppers had six tackles and three sacks (for 14 yards of losses), leading Chicago to a 16-0 win over the feeble Fish. Peppers' sacks came in a 26-minute span starting late in the second quarter, and snuffed out three drives. Chicago is paying Peppers a million bucks a game, on average, and on Thursday, he played like a million bucks.
Justin Tuck, DL, New York Giants
One of the most versatile outside-inside defensive linemen in football made life tough for Mike Vick Sunday night at the Linc. Tuck, the sixth-year player from Notre Dame (who spoke at the Fighting Irish pep rally in Manhattan Friday night before their game versus Army), sacked Vick three times, forced two fumbles, had two more tackles for loss. The Giants' D did its part to win this game, led by Tuck.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Bryan McCann, DB/PR, Dallas.
The Cowboys trailed 12-7 midway through the third quarter when McCann picked up a batted punt and returned it 97 yards for the touchdown that turned the tide in the Cowboys' first home victory of the year.
Coach of the Week
Raheem Morris, head coach, Tampa Bay.
The Bucs had a tough decision to make Friday -- where to draw the line for sudden party-guy Mike Williams, an absolutely vital cog to their offense, when he was stopped for driving-while-impaired in Tampa early Friday morning. Because Williams didn't test over the legal limit for being drunk, Morris and GM Mark Dominik took deep breaths and let Williams play, hoping it wouldn't set a bad precedent. We'll see if it does. But again, everything Morris touches turns to gold. The Bucs shut out San Francisco 21-0, and they're a stunning 7-3.
Goats of the Week
Richard Seymour, DL, Oakland.
With the Steelers up 14-3 in the second quarter at Heinz Field, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass in a chippy game and let one fly for the left corner of the end zone. Just after he threw -- and it turned out to be a touchdown toss to promising rookie third-round Emmanuel Sanders of SMU -- he walked upfield and got slugged in the face by Seymour. How odd. Seymour's been the perfect leader on and off the field for the Raiders. Amazing that it's the reliable vet who loses his poise, which will cost him at least $20,000 from the league office, and perhaps a one-game suspension.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants.
Third-and-five, 4:42 left in the game, Giants up 17-16, Eagles ball. Mike Vick goes back to pass ... incomplete. But wait. Pierre-Paul jumped maybe eight inches -- if that -- and got flagged for offside. If he didn't jump offside, the Eagles likely would have punted on fourth down and tried to pin the Giants back. But the drive revived, the Eagles went on to score, and score again, and what might have been a tight loss turned into a win.
Mike Vick may deserve the MVP after 16 games. But not after 11. Let's let him earn it, shall we?
As of this morning:
Vick has played 58 percent of the Eagles' offensive football this year -- 23 quarters to Kevin Kolb's 17.
Vick has thrown 55.5 percent of the Eagles' passes this year and started six of Philly's 10 games. (He is 5-1.) Four other candidates for MVP have started all of their teams games and have these comparable numbers: Drew Brees, 100 percent of his team's passes; Peyton Manning, 100 percent; Philip Rivers, 99.7 percent; Tom Brady 99.4 percent.
I can't imagine a player who's played 58 percent of his team's minutes on either side of the ball ever being in the discussion for MVP. Now, if Vick plays injury-free the rest of the season, and plays every quarter of every game, that would lift him to playing 73 percent of the Eagles' offensive time. If Vick continues to be the intergalactic player he's been in the past couple of games for the rest of the season, I could see voting for him, even with the major disparity of playing time. I'm not sure I would, but it would be tempting to do so, because we've seen what an incredible difference-maker Vick can be.
The sentence I never thought I would write: Dan Rooney is using Slingbox.
Rooney is the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, and instead of relying on seeing the odd Steeler game on satellite TV in Europe, he does what so many travelers in the United States do -- he syncs up his computer with his home TV in Pittsburgh and watches the NFL on his computer.
"I have to be sure they never change the channel on me,'' Rooney said the other day.
"Level 5 pissed right now ... One of my teammates stole my room key, flipped my bed n destroyed my room!!'--@ClayMatthews52, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, at 3:21 p.m. Central time Saturday, after the Pack arrived in Minneapolis to prepare to play the Vikings.
Matthews' Twitter profile reads: "I'm just an average American ... with extraordinary hair!!''
I have never liked JFK Airport in New York. It's hard to get to (except at 2 a.m.) because of traffic. Its eight terminals are spread out, making connections on different airlines a royal pain. The modernization of some of the terminals (like the one with JetBlue in it) helps, but, in general, you have to allow for so much more time flying out of there that I avoid it whenever possible.
Last Wednesday, it was not possible. I spoke to SI writer Jon Wertheim's class at Princeton at 2, then attended a program of Write On Sports, the invaluable New Jersey youth writing and mentoring program run by former Associated Press editor Byron Yake, in downtown Newark at 6:30. I had a 10:30 p.m. American flight back to Boston, so I figured if I left Newark around 8:15 and returned my rental car, I should make it just fine.
The airport is 47 miles from downtown Newark, on the kinds of roads they must have in Kabul. Narrow, potholed, very New-Yorkish. But I pulled into the Hertz lot at 9:15. No luggage. I had 30, 35 minutes to get to Terminal 8, the American terminal. With the airport tram, which travels between terminals, it'd be easy.
I got up the escalator into the waiting area for the trams, and maybe 30 travelers were sitting around. I waited. Six or seven minutes passed. Still no train for the airport. I found a red-coated attendant and asked about the delay for a tram to the airport. She said, "Oh, that's stopped for the night. You gotta take a bus.'' Grrrrrrr. No signs anywhere. No notices, verbal or otherwise, about the trams being closed to one of the busiest airports at 9 in the evening. Now it was about 9:35. I hustled out to the bus area. Two buses were there, waiting. I went to the first.
"Does this bus go to the terminals?'' I asked.
"No,'' the driver said. "Gotta take that tram upstairs.''
"They're done for the night,'' I said.
The driver pointed behind his bus, and so I tried the next bus. Same deal. Driver said I should take the tram.
9:39. Semi-panicsville. Jogged back into the car-rental place and asked how to find the bus to the terminal.
"No bus,'' the guy said. "Take the tram.''
"Out of service for the night,'' I said. How can so many airport employees not know the time when the tram knocks off for the night?
Car Rental Guy said I should look for a bus, and pointed to the place I had come from. I found a red-coated guy, who pointed to the bus that was now first in line. I ran there.
9:43. No time to spare.
The driver, alone, on the first bus, said to me: "I'm not going to the terminals. Try the next bus.''
The red-coated guy saw me come off the first bus, and I told him the guy said he wasn't going to the terminals. "Yes he is,'' Red Coat said, and he walked to the first bus and said, "Take this guy. Go ahead. You don't have to wait.''
9:45. We leave. He would have had to be parked to be driving any slower. After five minutes of him meandering toward the terminals, with me as the only passenger on board, I said, "Can we go straight to Terminal 8? Flight leaves at 10:30.'' He said no, we had to go to every terminal, in order. I asked if he could make an exception.
"You wanna get me fired?'' he said. "You gonna find me another job?''
9:51. Terminal 1. "I'll get off here,'' I said, and jumped off, and ran to the taxi line.
Behind a crowd of about 50.
9:52. Aaaaarrrrrghhhh. I forsake the taxi line for the limo line. I go to the first limo driver and ask if his pickup's flight has landed yet. Nope, he said. "Give you 40 bucks to take me to Terminal 8.'' Nope, he said. Can't leave. Asked two more, and neither would take me.
9:58. Back to the cab line. It's over. Got to the front of the line in about 15 minutes, and got to the Terminal 8 about 10:22. The American counter guy said, "You missed it.''
"Can you book me on the first flight to Boston in the morning?'' I asked.
"Sure,'' he said. "Let me check ... OK, 6:25 a.m. ... LaGuardia. Or 8:30 here.''
Grrrrr. Fifty-buck cab ride to LaGuardia.
"I'll take the 6:25,'' I said.
"OK,'' he said, and punched a few things into the computer, and then said, "That'll be, uh, let's see, $174.''
"Change fee is $150, and the rest is the difference in the fare.''
"You can't let me slide on the change fee? Your airport made me miss this flight.''
"Nothing I can do,'' he said. "But you might be able to stand by. Flight looks fairly open.''
"I'm not paying the $174, so I'll take my chances,'' I said.
10:56. With a crazy cabbie. We went midair a couple of times, I think. On the way to LaGuardia, I called my travel agent, looking for an airport hotel. An affordable airport hotel. "You got anything like a Fairfield Inn?'' I asked.
"Yes,'' she said. "Fairfield Inn LaGuardia ... $239 a night.''
Not in Kansas anymore. "Take it,'' I said.
The $45 cab ride, followed by the $239 (actually $276.58, with the tax) hotel tab, did buy me four hours of sleep. And the 5 a.m. shuttle to the airport was only five minutes late, and I did get a seat on the 6:25 to Boston, and it was on time. This didn't turn into Planes, Trains and Automobiles II. But I'd like to send along my thanks to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- Sign and Tram Division -- for stealing a night I'll never get back, and costing me $321.58 out of my pocket for the privilege of spending another night on the road.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:
a. Cameron Wake, the Miami outside linebacker, who rushes the passer the way Pete Rose ran the bases. Irrepressible.
b. Everything about Brian Urlacher. He's having one of the best years of his career after three straight years of being All-Trainers Room. The instinctive way he played in the 16-0 whitewash of Miami reminds me of the Urlacher of six years ago.
c. Maybe Adrian Peterson heard what Merril Hoge was saying about him on the "NFL Matchup Show'' Sunday morning. "Adrian Peterson looks tired,'' Hoge said. Peterson didn't run tired against the Pack.
d. "Dez Bryant is the Adrian Peterson of wide receivers,'' Rodney Harrison said when we were watching the games in the NBC viewing room Sunday. I second that.
e. The more I see of Fred Jackson, the more I wonder why the Bills didn't give him the starting job and 300 carries a year about two years ago.
f. Beautiful throw to the corner of the end zone by Donovan McNabb, on the TD to Santana Moss. It shouldn't take until Nov. 21 in a Shanahan offense for a quarterback to get to 10 touchdown passes, but that one was a beauty.
g. Beautiful job, too, of buying time in the pocket by Aaron Rodgers, roaming left before nailing a perfect strike, across his body, to Greg Jennings.
h. Tony Dungy on what the Titans should do with their dissatisfied quarterback: "I think you've got to cut ties with Vince Young.'' Bold. Beautiful.
i. Terrific overturned replay by referee Ron Winter in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia, giving the ball back to the Giants after a called fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw, because the ground can't cause a fumble, and the back of the hand and the wrist hit the ground after he appeared to have been contacted, causing the ball to be jarred loose. Smart call.
j. Marques Colston looked 25 and the Seattle DBs 17. Imposing guy, that Colston.
k. Nice Stewie Griffin image shaved into your head, Tracy Porter. If I were you, though, I'd have used Brian the Dog.
l. Congrats, Ronde Barber, for your 40th interception, a Buc team record.
m. Josh Freeman to Mike Williams ... if Williams stays out of trouble, that's going to be one of the game's great combinations.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 11:
a. Tyler Thigpen. I realize he was put in a tough spot, and I realize the Chicago Bears are no team, on a short week, to debut against. But I thought of Lawrence Taylor's words after sacking Ken O'Brien of the Jets back in the day: "Son, you're gonna have to do better than that.''
b. The Miami running backs. Seven carries, 12 yards.
c. Tough loss for the Denver family. RIP, Rob Lytle. In his time, the Fremont, Ohio, native was a heck of a Bronco back.
d. Ridiculous Carolina secondary play, letting the moderately speedy (which is to say, fairly slow for a wideout) T.J. Houshmandzadeh get behind it for an easy 56-yard TD throw from Joe Flacco, early in the first quarter.
e. 1:07 p.m. Baltimore 7, Carolina 0. Game over.
f. Stephen Tulloch's dropped interception of a Donovan McNabb pass in the red zone. I mean, can a catch be any easier?
g. Nothing personal, Jim Mora. But please, don't deify Randy Moss' impact on the Titans' locker room the way you did in the first half of the FOX Eagles-Titans game. If I hear one more time what a wonderful influence Randy Moss is in the locker room, I'm going to puke. What kind of great influence can he be if he keeps getting kicked off team (Oakland) after team (New England) after team (Minnesota)?
h. Terrible ruling by referee Ed Hochuli in Cincinnati-Buffalo, giving the Bengals a second left on the clock at the end of the first half.
i. GRAHAM GANO! THREE YARDS SHORT on a 47-yard field goal that would have defused all of the debate that Donovan McNabb can't win the close games inside the two-minute warning! Short?!
j. Jim Schwartz was right to be volcanic on what was called a horsecollar tackle in the Dallas-Detroit game, when all the defender did was yank Marion Barber down by the hair hanging out of his helmet.
k. Wonder if Ron Winter's ever put a lampshade on his head at the office Christmas party? Doubt it.
l. I know the buck stops with Mike Tannenbaum on the Jets, and so it's Tannenbaum who has to feel sick about the impact Danny Woodhead is making on the Patriots after the Jets cut him and allowed him to find a home in New England. He had a 36-yard touchdown run, New England's last TD of the afternoon, and clearly has become the most dangerous back in New England's stable.
m. Matt Dodge, the Giants' punter, is a disaster waiting to happen.
3. I think the NFL will consider seriously suspending Richard Seymour for his clocking of Ben Roethlisberger. When Seymour sent his stunning punch/slap to the side of Roethlisberger's helmet, it appeared to be unprovoked. But even if anything was said, it won't help Seymour's case. The NFL will examine Seymour's discipline record over the past two years -- he has had fines of $7,500 and $10,000 for two unnecessary-roughness incidents -- and then judge whether this rises to the level of a suspension. My feeling is that it does. There's enough violence in the game without a 300-pound lineman slugging an unsuspecting quarterback. This would send the right message to players, I think.
4. I think we now know why the Jets have been so high on Santonio Holmes. Three games, three huge plays helping them win -- a 52-yard catch to set up the winning field goal at Detroit, the winning 37-yard scoring pass to beat Cleveland, and then the winning touchdown catch as time wound down Sunday against Houston. Rex Ryan always said he was the most dangerous weapon for the Ravens to stop over the years, and, well, if you can't beat 'em, recruit 'em.
5. I think my first reaction when the Bucs announced wide receiver Mike Williams would play Sunday in San Francisco after being pulled over at 2:46 a.m. Friday for suspicion of driving while impaired in Tampa was, "Big mistake.'' The Bucs were one of only two or three teams that seriously considered drafting Williams last April after his checkered history at Syracuse. And this is the thanks they get -- seeing Williams take the wheel after drinking and being out at 2:46 in the morning, two days before a big game?
What made the Bucs go mild on Williams, quite simply, was that he blew a .06 on the blood-alcohol content field meter, below the legal limit of .08. And that he voluntarily took a urine test requested by the arresting officer. "If the blood-alcohol content comes back with a higher number over the limit, we'd be having a different conversation right now,'' Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik told me. "He didn't do what [recent DWI offenders] D.J. Williams or Braylon Edwards did. I'm not going to suspend a guy for testing below the legal limit.''
Now, if the urine test comes back with signs of any other substances, Dominik will likely come down hard on Williams. But Williams said he hadn't done anything illicit, and Dominik bought it. "I was disappointed he was out at 2:45, and I told him that,'' said Dominik. "He was somber and remorseful, which he should have been. But this is a kid who didn't have a drug problem at Syracuse. He didn't have an alcohol problem at Syracuse. He did have a curfew problem at Syracuse.''
This is my conjecture, but the Bucs rescued Mike Williams from landing in the United Football League, and if he's smart, he'll be in by midnight for the rest of his Tampa career, at least from September to December.
6. I think that Parcells documentary on NFL Network brought back a lot of memories. I covered the Giants from 1985 to '88 and was on the receiving end of so many mind games over that time with him -- and since.
Parcells used to come down to the windowless press room in Giants Stadium (we called it The Dungeon) every Thursday night around 6:30 or 7, when most of the beat guys were wrapping up their stories for the day. He'd pull up a chair, light a cigarette and announce, "Well, what are you subversives writing today?'' We were all subversives, commies, communists, socialists ... depending on his vocabulary of the day.
Anyway, the understanding was that everything on Thursday night was off the record, and if you didn't want to be in on the conversations (a couple of guys didn't), you'd leave and Parcells would go on and chat for a couple of hours. Nothing incendiary or all that informative. But let's say you wanted to file away some knowledge about the battle between Joe Morris and George Adams at running back, or you wanted to know how worried he was about cornerback Elvis Patterson staying on the straight and narrow. By his tone, by his inflection, you could tell who was in favor and who was out of favor, and when you wrote, you felt a little more confident in what you were writing.
Not that he wasn't above planting some information he felt could help him in the locker room. But it was a balancing act you had to figure out, and if you played the game long enough -- veteran football sage Vinny DiTrani of the Bergen Record was like our resident Kremlinologist with Parcells -- you could always get something important out of the sessions.
One other note I recall. Before the Giants went to the Super Bowl in 1986, my paper, Newsday, assigned me a story on Parcells' Jersey roots. So I asked and got permission to ride to work with him one morning from his north Jersey home, past his old home and haunts, including the bowling alley on Route 17, a mile or so from Giants Stadium, where Parcells had set pins by hand. That documentary brought back many of those memories and reminded me how much the media business has changed. You think Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are spending two hours on a Thursday night schmoozing the press with off-the-record deepness? I don't think so. I'm glad I was a beat guy in those days, not these.
7. I think Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is one special player. (Wow. Stop the presses.) Not just as a thrower either. The run he made against Cal Saturday shows everything NFL scouts need to see about the mobile side of his game. Put it this way: Without mobility, he'd still be the first pick in the 2011 draft. With the mobility, I could see teams fighting over him. But if Buffalo has the pick, forget it. Buddy Nix might be getting up there in years, but he's not stupid. He won't trade away the right to pick Luck.
8. I think, just to make it clear from my Friday item on Peyton Manning and Tom Moore holding substantive conversations outside the locker room the last time they played in Foxboro, I don't believe there's any way the Gillette Stadium locker room was bugged. I just think in this hugely intense rivalry, the paranoia antennae are raised pretty high whenever they play.
9. I think, as I did a month ago, that a fine is more likely for Brett Favre than a suspension. Nothing has changed my mind on this, basically because of his 14 years with a clean record (since the Vicodin rehab in 1996), and no prior violations of the league's personal conduct policy. Usually -- and I have to stress that word, usually -- the league doesn't whack a guy with a suspension on his first personal-conduct violation.
I can't imagine the investigation is going to take much longer. The league met with Jenn Sterger for three-and-a-half hours 11 days ago, and as Adam Schefter reported Sunday, the NFL is using advanced technical forensics to try to trace the origins or the lewd photos sent to Sterger via cell phone.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Good to see Bill Walton typing away on the laptop on the Acela on Saturday morning, the day after Furthur (the vestiges of the Grateful Dead) played Worcester, and the day the band would play Madison Square Garden. Lots of leg room for 6-11 men with bad backs.
b. So great to hear from Mike McGuire the other day, as he and his men make final preparations for their next dangerous tour of Afghanistan. McGuire is the Army sergeant who became a friend of mine when we met at a St. Louis Cardinals game in 2005, when he was on leave from his job finding and dismantling Improvised Explosive Devices with a platoon of young soldiers in Iraq. Now he preps for his fourth tour -- his final one on the front lines of the madness of the wars.
"Sorry did not answer right away,'' he began. "Busy as hell. Final packout for Afghanistan. Yes, our deployment was pushed 'to the right,' or postponed. But it is full steam ahead now. We packed out our containers and gear, and they're on the way now to Afghanistan. Things are going 100 mph here. Need to take a breath. We have our pre-deployment leave here in a few weeks, then we are gone.
"I am actually going home to the states to see my grandson before I deploy again for the FOURTH time ... the FOURTH deployment. Should have kept you posted on our time frame but we have been living in the 'field' preparing for this deployment. I can honestly say that we are more prepared for this deployment than any other. Lots of training and prep time. We are ready. Because of the location we are going, our time was pushed back. All is good now, nice to know our stuff is gone and we are following.
"Kind of excited, new place. Never been to Afghanistan before. A routine will be nice. Since we have got back I have not been able to work out very often. At least down range, I get to do it every day. Hard to believe that down range I could bench-press 400 pounds. Pretty good for a 5'6 guy that weighs 220. Anyway, I will keep you posted and sorry for leaving you in the dark. On the upside, I have been able to watch some football. Weird year. Take care and look forward to hearing from you. Mike.''
c. Great to hear from you, Mike. I know I speak for everyone who reads this when I say: Strap the armor on tight, and step lightly.
d. I'm a great uncle! Congrats to my niece Katie and her husband, Jon Cormier, up in Vermont -- and to my sister Pam and brother-in-law Bob for being grandparents -- on the birth of little Evie Cormier Thursday morning. That is one cute bundle of joy. Good luck to all.
e. Good luck to my best buddy, Jack Bowers, on his surgery Tuesday in Baltimore. It's a big one. You've got many communities praying for you, Jack.
f. And one piece of advice to all of you, everywhere, especially you fair-skinned ones like me: Monitor the moles and freckles and marks on your skin. Skin cancer is not picky. It chooses everyone, particularly you sun-worshipers. And just because it's cold, that doesn't mean you should go out without sunscreen on the face and neck.
g. Coffeenerdness. I have finally figured out the mystery of Starbucks discomfort. They've taken out the comfy chairs in most of the shops so you don't buy one coffee, hang out for hours and use the free Internet for the whole time. In other words, if you want an office, pay for it somewhere. And about as long as I can take in one of the shops, working on my writing (and thanks to all of you who offered Manhattan suggestions, by the way) , is about three hours, sitting on those chairs like I sat on in seventh grade.
h. Who's that Westbrook guy for Oklahoma City? What a basketball player.
i. Great story -- and highly disturbing -- in Saturday's Wall Street Journal about a decent middle-class town in northern Mexico being abandoned because of the multi-gang drug war going on in the country. In May, a man was hung from a tree and dismembered in Ciudad Mier, a town on the border with Texas. How is this not the lead story in that country and on our front pages every day?
j. The creative thoughts of a great storyteller, Stieg Larsson, will be revealed Friday when On Stieg Larsson is released. The new book contains e-mails from the late Larsson -- whose three Millennium books have sold 46 million copies -- to his editor, and the Wall Street Journal excerpted a couple of them Saturday. It is amazing to read Larsson's words to editor Eva Gedin 12 days before he dropped dead of a heart attack. He had no idea that his books would sell a single copy -- none of the three was in print yet -- and he'd just finished the fixes on the books, and was waiting for them to hit the bookshelves.
"Hmmm,'' he writes, according to the Journal. "I cannot be sure, but I have the impression that you ... people are seriously enthusiastic about my books. OK, I know they are not bad, and of course, I am delighted to read such flattering judgments: but I hope that you are not, for whatever reason, holding back negative comments. I am perfectly capable of coping with criticism.''
Stieg, if you only knew. The saddest thing about the cop/thriller genre is that you aren't around to write more about the adventures of one of the best characters in fiction in my lifetime, Lisbeth Salander.
k. If you see me at the Manchester (Conn.) Road Race Thursday, come by and say hi. Will be running/walking (after a minor surgical procedure) with my daughters and niece and nephew and sister-in-law. Really excited about being in such a grand old race.
l. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all. My favorite holiday of the year. You didn't know? I love to eat, and there's nothing on the Thanksgiving table I won't touch -- as you can probably tell.
San Diego 31, Denver 28.
Why so close? A few reasons. I respect the Broncos' ability to put points on the board, obviously. But there was this tweet from ace Charger beat man Kevin Acee late Saturday afternoon: "Injury report: Naanee, Gregory and Mathews doubtful. Gates questionable.''
The fact that Antonio Gates has not played a football game for 22 days and still is 50-50 to go tonight is a sign that the Chargers won't be full-speed in the first of four games they need to take over the AFC West pennant race (Denver, at Indianapolis, Oakland, Kansas City). At 4-5, they need to take at least three of those four, and you figure this will be the easiest of the four. But with a so-so Gates, and with two other prime offensive weapons hurt even more -- running back Ryan Mathews and wideout Legedu Naanee -- it's going to be up to Philip Rivers to be the human highlight film tonight.