Packers, Steelers, Goodell on center stage as Super Bowl nears
DALLAS -- Welcome to Super Bowl XLV prep week, where Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has done everything in his power to make Pittsburgh and Green Bay feel at home when they arrive this afternoon in the Metroplex. He's even imported northern practice weather, this wonderfully considerate man has. When the Packers and Steelers practice Wednesday through Friday -- Green Bay at the Cowboys' complex in Irving, Pittsburgh at the Texas Christian University facility in Fort Worth, 38 miles west of here -- the daily high temps will be 27, 36 and 38, respectively. Oh, and with snow showers and wintry mix off and on. Gotta love these temperate Super Bowl sites.
Just for fun, let's look at the high for those three days in East Rutherford, where the Super Bowl, ridiculously, is scheduled to be played in 2014. The highs: 40, 22 and 31. So, the average high in and around Arlington, where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday, 34 for the three practice days. In New Jersey: 31.
Miami: 80. (True: Miami is predicted to have highs of 82, 79 and 79.) Hey, but who's counting?
It's the calm before the Super storm, with one NFL team taking advantage of a quiet week to fire one more coach, while I started looking forward to Saturday's raucous Hall of Fame debate with some startling stats about the (non-) East Coast Bias of the Hall; listened to a skeptical and hugely respected knight of the keyboard gush over the Packers; found out what has increased in sporting value 246 times in 44 years; discovered the best remake of a film maybe ever; and learned something about the most upstart draft prospect of 2011. Fellow named Colin Kaepernick.
We'll start off with a tease for a project of mine. I've spent some time this season following Commissioner Roger Goodell around for a story due to run in
You'll like the stuff about his showdown with Michael Vick, how much his mother worried about him as a kid, a racist drunk with a gun who tested Goodell in college, and how he solved a crisis with Tank Johnson, but there are some pretty good things I didn't get in, just because it's been a very interesting life so far. So this morning I want to give you the five items that I hope you'll find interesting in advance of this week's magazine story, and then some Super Bowl and Hall of Fame nuggets.
The owners opted out, of course, meaning there would be guaranteed football through 2010 instead of through 2012. That's where we stand now. Tagliabue said then-NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw had a clear understanding that the deal would be shortened, with the implication being that Upshaw understood the owners would need some relief from the deal if it became too one-sided for the players. That's what the owners are claiming now and what the players don't accept.
I had never heard it said that Upshaw had such an understanding -- he died of pancreatic cancer in August 2008, three months after the owners opted out. I asked longtime NFLPA lawyer Richard Berthelsen if Upshaw ever shared that with him. "I don't recall Gene ever saying this was going to be a deal that was destined to be reopened,'' Berthelsen said. "Paul was not saying that to Gene either, before we reached the settlement or in the wake of it, to my knowledge.''
This is the deal that looks so bad in retrospect. It's the deal that might well be keeping Tagliabue out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the thinking being that he shepherded the deal through ownership without being concerned about the aftermath. Though the league is finishing its 23rd straight season with labor peace, and Tagliabue has been out of office for 53 months, he'll get the lion's share of the blame if there's a lockout come March 4, as currently forecast.
He seemed nonplused about it. "Would it have been better,'' he asked me, "If we'd had a lockout in '07 or '08? No. Not at all. The league has had three or four great seasons of football since then.''
He's got that right. And it's also correct to say the 30 owners who voted for the deal in 2006 will have to take their share of the blame too if there's a lockout. They voted to approve a deal -- all but Mike Brown of Cincinnati and Ralph Wilson of Buffalo -- knowing they were giving up too much of what they held dear. But it won't take the spotlight off Tagliabue if games are missed in 2011. And there seems little hope for a resolution in short order.
"History shows there's no real pressure to get a deal 'til you get to September,'' Tagliabue said. Cue the ominous bass drums.
And Richardson did say to me: "He's a workaholic, whether it's Congress, the owners, the CBA, player behavior. I have told him he can't keep going at this pace.''
Richardson is not the only owner who feels this way. One of Goodell's staunchest allies, New England's Robert Kraft, told me: "I am afraid he's going to burn out. He is indefatigable.''
Goodell works out for 60 to 90 minutes, six mornings a week, starting at 5:30. It's almost like he knows if he doesn't train for the exhausting duty ahead, mentally and physically, he won't make it. "His intellect at so many different projects is much greater than we gave him credit for during the interview process,'' Kraft said. "And his demeanor, everywhere, is so positive. When he meets people, it's not just a banquet-circuit how-you-doing. He has legitimate conversations with total strangers. It must go back to the values his dad and mom instilled in him.''
I saw Goodell, at a Skyline Chili parlor in downtown Cincinnati, spend four or five minutes with a fan. He invited the two city cops assigned to escort him around town in for lunch with his party. The motorcycle cop said to me, "This doesn't happen in this line of work.''
"He is a very well-trusted man,'' Richardson said. "He has always given me a feeling that I could trust him, going back to when we in Charlotte were one of about eight cities vying for an expansion franchise. Either you have that or you don't, and he protects confidence as well as anyone I've met.''
"The one thing I take a little bit of issue with is when guys tell me they're being screwed,'' Goodell said. "[Most often] they're not recognizing they have a role in it.'' Regarding Roethlisberger, Goodell said when he was investigating what to do with the quarterback, he talked to "I bet two dozen players ... Not one, not a single player, went to his defense. It wasn't personal in a sense, but all kinds of stories like, 'He won't sign my jersey.' ''
And finally ... This is what Goodell told me about how he wanted to live his professional and personal life: "The one thing I would hope would go on my tombstone is, 'I made my parents proud.' ''
I wrote a little Xs and Os forecast of the game in
But around the Steelers, you hear good things about the life and times of the guy. I don't blame women who won't forgive Roethlisberger for the story in Georgia last winter (including some very, very close to me), but the fact that he's been chastened and knocked down a few pegs by Goodell and others in his life has had a big impact on him this year.
"Other than my son and my daughter,'' said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, "I've never been prouder of anyone in my life than Ben this year. I trust my kids' judgment, and they have known Ben for a long time. They've both told me, 'Dad, he's different. He's himself again.' ''
Like Vick, Roethlisberger will to have to prove it over time. A long time.
Saturday was the 16-year anniversary of one of the most interesting postgame experiences I've had at a Super Bowl: the aftermath of the 49ers' 49-26 rout of the Chargers in Miami.
Steve Young threw six touchdown passes in the game, and afterward, Young's agent, Leigh Steinberg, had him do about 20 postgame live shots with everyone from Chris Berman to the guy from Petaluma. I trailed Young for the magazine, listening to him do every one of the live shots, answering the same questions over and over. Young was thirsty, and hungry, and at one point asked if I could find him some Gatorade or something to eat. I went under the stands and found a food service area doing inventory, explained the situation, and finagled four bottles of red Gatorade, a couple of apples, and about eight or 10 sugar cookies. That's it.
Young drank two of the Gatorades like a dying man in the Mojave, and munched down the cookies, and soon we were in his limo riding back to the Miami airport Marriott, their team hotel. Steinberg was in the car, and after a few twists and turns out of the parking lot, Young said, "I'm not feeling so ...'' RALPH! Out came what must have been 30 ounces of the Gatorade in its bright red splendor. Some of it came to rest on the right shoe of Steinberg. "Well,'' the once-super-agent said. "I'll never wash that shoe again.''
After a few more minutes in the car, and then traffic, Young needed air, so he walked the last quarter-mile to the hotel. In his suite at the hotel waited his parents, his four siblings, his girlfriend, some college friends (including punter Lee Johnson of the Bengals) among a gaggle of 44 friends and relatives. Young greeted everyone, and then felt dizzy. He still hadn't had anything to eat or drink other than the Gatorade and cookies (I don't think he ate the fruit), and that hadn't stayed down. After playing a game on a humid south Florida night, he was going to need something. Then he looked pale. Then he had to lay down. "Call the paramedics!'' someone said.
Quickly, two EMTs from a rescue unit arrived. Young was given intravenous saline solution for dehydration in each arm simultaneously, and he lay on his bed, acting like an old man with a very strong spirit. He was too excited to be dormant. He talked about enrolling at Brigham Young in 1980 as a raw kid. He talked about the greatness of the night. "Is this great or what?" he burbled. "I mean, I haven't thrown six touchdown passes in a game in my life. Then I throw six in the Super Bowl! Unbelievable."
And this is what I'll never forget: Someone in the crowd yelled, "Joe Who?"
Young was swift and borderline angry. "No, don't do that," he said. "Don't worry about that. That's the past. Let's talk about the future."
Even though he lay on the bed for the longest time with two needles in his arm, he wanted the night to go on forever. You could just tell. Gradually, the color, and a smile, returned to his face. The last thing I heard when I was about to leave (someone had to work that night, after all) was Young calling out to me at the door
"Don't go," he said. "You can stay. Stay! I'm fine. Really, I'm fine."
It's a pretty good job.
If you want to criticize the decisions the 44 voting members (including me) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame make Saturday in Dallas for the Class of 2011, feel free. We deserve to be put under the microscope. But you're going to have to do better than blaming whoever does or doesn't get in on New York bias, or East Coast bias, or whatever kind of regional bias you might think we have as a voting body. It's silly, and as someone who's been in the room for nearly two decades, I can tell you it doesn't exist.
I'll give you as much proof as I can. First, let's look at the voting results in the 11 classes in this century.
If that's New York bias, then I'm doing a pretty poor job of getting my guys in. George Young, Bill Parcells, Joe Klecko, Paul Tagliabue (a New York guy, if you consider a New York-based commissioner one) ... zippo.
Now for the exact regional breakdown of voters. Each franchise is represented in the room by a voter, and there are 12 at-large voters, totaling 44 in all. Let's look at the voters on the Eastern Seaboard, and then the California voters. For fairness, I've assigned three voters who have recently moved (Ira Miller, Peter King and Len Shapiro) to the places they worked for the vast majority of their careers:
So do the math:
Two New York-area teams, four of the 44 voters from New York (if you count me as a New Yorker) ... 6 percent of the teams are from greater New York, and 9 percent of the voters.
Three California teams (I don't know quite how to count the Rams, who have been gone for 16-plus seasons), six of the 44 voters. If you count three California teams, and it's a difficult thing to do, because two Los Angeles Rams have been voted in since 2000, that's 9 percent of the league from California, and 14 percent of the voters.
Now let's say you don't think that's fair, because California's a big state, and you think to compare apples to apples, you ought to add in the rest of the Washington-to-Boston megalopolis. Fair enough. Then you'd add four more teams (New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington) and six more voters. The six voters: Ron Borges (New England), Paul Domowitch (Philadelphia), Scott Garceau (Baltimore), David Elfin (Washington), Jarrett Bell (at-large, Maryland) and Len Shapiro (at-large, Washington).
So the six teams on the Eastern Seaboard from Washington to Boston are represented by 10 voters, and the three teams in California by six voters.
Study the recent results, with as many Oilers (two) and Broncos (two) as New Yorkers since the turn of the century, and if you'd like to continue harping on New York or East Coast bias, you're welcome to do so. But you'd be wrong.
There is no local beat man I respect more than Bob McGinn of the
A few excerpts from a column he wrote for the
"One of the most annoying remarks in sports is when a coach or a player for some down-in-the-mouth team says his goal is to win championships. If any player, coach or scout for the current Packers failed to use the plural case to state his objective, he would be guilty of grossly underselling the capability of what has been built in Green Bay or not telling the truth. I'm spending my first non-football weekend in what seems like forever trying to make sense of a team whose future appears brighter than at any time since the Lombardi era. Get ready, Wisconsin. You ain't seen nothing yet. Think about the 68 players (69 with Johnny Jolly) under contract to the Packers. Consider the coaching, the personnel department, management, financial resources, facilities and fan support. In all areas, Green Bay basically is as good as it gets right now ...
"Look at the overwhelming strengths of this team. The only thing that can stop [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers would be concussions or major injury. Jermichael Finley, 23, will be back wanting his piece of the action, and coupled with three ace wideouts in their mid-20s and perhaps venerable Donald Driver the Packers will have almost an embarrassment of receiving riches.
"Bryan Bulaga, just 21, didn't play a terrible game all season and should do nothing but get better. Josh Sitton, 24, is a robust, high-caliber guard. Center Scott Wells does the job, too. The 24-year-old [Clay] Matthews played hurt most of the year yet still was exceptional. Desmond Bishop is entrenched inside, but either Nick Barnett or A.J. Hawk will have to go because neither deserves to sit and neither has the height or weight to play right outside in a 3-4. Tramon Williams ... played at a Pro Bowl level, and Sam Shields is able to outrun many of his mistakes and improve dramatically as the nickel back. Nick Collins plays safety as well as anyone in the NFC. Nick Barnett will return. Old pro Charles Woodson will fit somewhere. Tim Masthay has a chance to become the Packers' best punter since Craig Hentrich ...
"They will average 26.2 years per man and 27.4 years per starter on Super Sunday ... Unless Thompson should retire prematurely, the Packers should have him finding the players, Mike McCarthy coaching them and Rodgers leading a formidable roster for years to come. Late last February, a personnel man for one of the four playoff semifinalists walked up to Thompson and told him that after careful study he had evaluated the Packers as the best team in the 2009 playoff field. Arizona and Kurt Warner extinguished the Packers' chances 12 months ago. The worthy Steelers could do the same thing next Sunday. No matter what happens, the Packers will not be going away ...
"So think Super Bowls, and think championships ... Nothing should be beyond the realm of possibility for what the Packers have assembled.''
But think of a public place, maybe a roomy bar or restaurant, where we could have a two-hour chat and get all your questions answered. I've already gotten suggestions from several of you to have it at the Flying Saucer in Addison, but other ideas are welcome. Send me your ideas on Twitter @SI_PeterKing, and I'll have the place picked out by Tuesday, and I'll let you know where via Twitter and in my Tuesday column here at SI.com.
No Fine Fifteen this week, due to the small, complicating matter of the lack of football games over the weekend. There will be a final Fine Fifteen next Monday, with Pittsburgh (currently number one) and Green Bay (two) battling it out. And I may take a few liberties with last week's list, as events of the offseason warrant.
"I've been coaching for 25 years, and I think I'm tired. I need a rest.''
"I'm not happy about it, and they know I'm not happy about it. I'm not going to be happy about it, for a long time. I expressed that throughout the whole time it was going on, I expressed how much I didn't think it would be good for us. My opinion isn't going to change. It's kind of an attack on me, I feel like. Usually when you fire the position coach, it's because you're not really happy with how that position did. And when I look back on my season and on our season as a team, I mean, we won 13 games."
"We need to teach our kids it's not only the winner of the Super Bowl who should be celebrated, but the winner of the Science Fair.''
Last week, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told me he hates to even use the phrase, "Next man up,'' because the inference is someone went down with an injury for the next man to have that opportunity. So the Packers say nothing when a player gets hurt, and simply tell the backup to get in the game, or just post the new depth chart and the backup sees it's his turn to play. Who knows if that kind of ignoring injuries means anything, but the Packers have done a remarkable job dealing with the injury bug that put 15 players on IR this year, highest of any team in the NFC. Again, credit Bob McGinn for the stat of stats on the best illustration of the Packers overcoming injuries to get to the Super Bowl:
Green Bay had 31 players miss a total of 180 games due to injury in the 2010 regular season.
Tickets between the twenties at the first Super Bowl, 44 years ago, cost $12, and the game had about 33,000 empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The worst seat inside Dallas Cowboys Stadium, in the last row of the upper deck in the corner of the end zone, was selling last night on a legal scalper's website for $2,950.
And of course, that doesn't count the 4,000 people who, as I pointed out higher in this column, will spend $200 to watch the game outside the stadium on a big-screen TV.
So I've been looking for the perfect work chair at a hotel, and I believe I've found it. The Dallas Sheraton, which is housing the media at the Super Bowl, has these high-backed, red swivel chairs, with a firm back and just cushy-enough seat. For those of us who spend hours a day in them (and, unfortunately, I expect that to be the case several days this week), I applaud your décor director, Sheraton.
I cannot say the same for your fleecing of guests with the $14.95 daily charge/ripoff for in-room Internet service. Question for hotels that do that: Do you have someone behind the counter with a bandanna over the nose and mouth, with a wide-brimmed black hat, laughing an evil laugh when the poor saps throughout the hotel press the button to approve the daily surcharge? Unconscionable. Worse than the daily charge to use a treadmill at the old Providence Westin.
I'm staying here for eight nights. If I used the Internet through the hotel for all eight nights, it'll cost $119.60. A rapacious $119.60. Glad I have the wireless DSL card on this machine.
"Please, somebody put the Pro Bowl out of its misery.''
And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the extent of my Pro Bowl coverage for the year. You want the score? Go find it somewhere else.
1. I think I understand Mike McCarthy wants to make sure his team doesn't overplay injuries, and wants to be sure his team doesn't use injuries as an excuse. But to think that NOT putting injured veterans in the Super Bowl team photo would go over well ... well, that was a big surprise. And I applaud Nick Barnett for standing up and crying foul on it. The Pack will now take a real team photo, with the injured players in it. Rightfully so.
2. I think you can't win by telling the truth, as when Aaron Rodgers said Saturday the Packers had rallied around the replacements for trusted vets like Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley. Some of the injured players, Rodgers said, "are still a part of this team, but some of them didn't choose to stick around.'' Uh-oh.
Barnett, for one, said he could get better individual attention elsewhere, instead of in the Packers' crowded training room. And he and Finley were fuming about Rodgers' remarks.
3. I think it's logical, on both sides, that Jeff Fisher, the longest-tenured coach in the league, was forced out by the team last Thursday, in a story first reported on SI.com by colleague Don Banks. Tennessee has no defensive coordinator after Chuck Cecil was forced out. Its offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger, has been battling cancer. The team's best defensive assistant, Jim Washburn, left for Philadelphia. There is no quarterback of the future. Why on God's green earth would you want to scotch-tape some semblance of a coaching staff back together and force Kerry Collins to be the quarterback for one more meaningless year?
It's much smarter to go ahead and make the switch now and bring in a quality young assistant with the hunger and energy to make the most of a head-coaching chance with a good general manager in Mike Reinfeldt ... either that or hire Dom Capers the week after the Super Bowl. You can be sure Capers wants one more shot at a head job before he finishes coaching.
4. I think Jeff Fisher will have a nice, comfy chair on some ESPN set, or NFL Network, for 2011 (assuming the league is playing football), and then he'll throw his mustache in the ring for a head-coaching job in 2012.
5. I think, for the 73rd time, there can be no trades until the first day of the new league year, and there can be no free-agency movement for the league's 495 free-agents until then, which almost certainly means there can be no trades or free-market moves 'til there's a new CBA. That's a long way off. So could we please have a moratorium on the Carson Palmer-to-Arizona or San Francisco or anywhere rumors, and can we please stop speculating where Kevin Kolb's going to go? Come on. This stuff's months away.
6. I think, not to beat a dead Eagle, that Kevin Kolb is going nowhere, unless Philadelphia gets a sick offer. Why would the Eagles trade a quarterback Andy Reid loves, for anything, when he's not sure Mike Vick can play 16 games? There may come a time, like in 2012, when the cost of keeping Kolb would be so prohibitive the Eagles would let him go. But that time is not now. It's just not smart.
7. I think I'd like to add my condolences to the rest of the football world over the death of Bears VP Tim McCaskey, a good man who died of cancer over the weekend at 65. The grandson of George Halas was a well-respected man around the league.
8. I think when Kevin Mawae said to Sirius' Chris Russo the other day that he "can't sell'' the 18-game schedule to players, I was glad to hear it ... but the real question is this: If the league raises salaries across the board 15 percent, and if the league offers 10 years of post-career health care instead of the current five, and if players get vested at, say, 1.2 years of credited service for every year of an 18-game schedule played, then I'd like to hear if Mawae can sell it.
9. I think the player who helped himself the most at the Senior Bowl was Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who could have jumped from the fourth round to the bottom of the first by showing off a very big arm and pro poise and smarts.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
Second: I love John Wayne; who doesn't? But Jeff Bridges, growly and a lush and heroic, was at least his equal as Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon was top-notch too. But there's a good chance this kid, Hallie Steinfeld, stole the show. So precocious, so good at the dialogue of the day, so incredible sure of herself. To put her in the Best Supporting category is wrong. She's the star of the movie, a heroine of the first order.
b. Now I'm confused on the order of the top three movies of the year that I've seen. I'll go 1.
c. I feel for Hallie Steinfeld. She's 14, and I haven't seen acting talent in such a young kid since Natalie Portman in
d. Now the only movies I absolutely have to see before the Oscars are
e. Congratulations, Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, for your insightful documentary on the fall of the American economy,
f. How the documentaries about the plight of American schools (
h. I say barrel of fun with Carillo because she sat in our home one night telling great tennis stories, including the one about the only Grand Slam title she ever won (mixed doubles, French Open, 1977), that was also the first Grand Slam title for John McEnroe, her Long Island tennis pal.
i. Coffeenerdness: Unhappiness is landing in Dallas after 10 Sunday night, running into a Starbucks while rushing to the hotel to write this column and still get one hour of sleep, and getting two miles away from the place when you take your first sip of the quad venti whole milk latte, and discovering it's a quad venti soy latte instead. I know whole milk. I know soy. Yo no soy. Now that puts a damper on the typing, let me tell you.
j. Tremendous time was had by all at the Fenway Park Writer's Series the other night in Eastern Standard, a Copley Square restaurant, with Jane Leavy, the author of
k. Beernerdness: Great beer selection at the Leavy affair. I opted for Abita's Save Our Shore pilsner, which, aside from being delicious, is donating 75 cents per bottle sold to recovery of the Gulf of Mexico following the oil spill.
l. Nothing's worse than the Pro Bowl, but the NHL All-Star Game, with that dumb pick-em format, is close.
m. Stat Line of the NBA Weekend (bet you never thought you'd see me write that): Russell Westbrook, Thunder, vs. Wizards, Friday: 35 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists. What a player.