Before we get to this week's column -- very heavy on the Joplin tornado, and NFL-related relief, and the quarterback who had a flashback to the scariest day of his life because of it -- a few items of business.
Three MMQBs left until I take my annual four weeks of vacation. I'm open for nominations for guest columnists. E-mail them in, or Tweet them to me, and we'll try to line up four columnists you'd like to read beginning with the June 27 column. Football or no football, obviously.
Next week is my annual Fathers Day book review column. There will be other stuff in there, like some fodder from the oral arguments in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (what, when I mention labor, all you do is glaze over and hear "
Happy Memorial Day to all. Particularly for the majority of us who have not served our country, let's remember how fortunate we are to have so many brave people who have. Thank one today -- or every day. Enjoy the day, and remember what it's for.
Now to those who've lent a hand to Joplin.
In 1994, when Matt Cassel was 11, his home was at the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake in California. Water from the inground swimming pool came crashing into the Cassel home, and a huge marble pillar pinned his father, Greg, beneath it. The family home was condemned. That's a heck of a thing for an 11-year-old to cope with.
That was big. But last Thursday was bigger. Much bigger. Matt Cassel and his new teammate, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, drove two hours from Kansas City to Joplin, where a tornado the previous Sunday had torn a ruinous two-mile-by-six-mile path through what once was Americana.
"It was the most shocking thing I've seen in my life, and I lived through being in the epicenter of a major earthquake,'' Cassel said over the weekend from his Kansas City home. "The devastation is like a nuclear bomb went off. Huge trees, 100 years old, ripped out by the roots. A car thrown up into the middle of a tree. It's one of those things you can't imagine unless you're there.''
Both NFL teams in Missouri pitched in last week. NFLPA czar De Smith swooped into Joplin with four Rams, including Sam Bradford and James Laurinaitis, on Thursday, and the club donated $25,000 to relief efforts. The Chiefs mobilized greater Kansas City, loading up six semis of water (187,490 bottles, by their count) and relief supplies, $35,000 from the club and $21,000 of private donations. Cassel, Baldwin and several other players went on the same day as the Rams, lifting spirits and clearing clogged yards and roads.
"We may be in a work stoppage, but we're not in a life stoppage,'' Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said Friday. "This has given me a prime example of everything I was told this community was all about when I came here a couple of years ago.''
The Chiefs invited fans to bring supplies and water and cash (which Joplin leaders wanted more than help on the spot right now) last week, and the club was stunned at the outpouring it saw from the community. "This girl graduated from high school last, and she brings us all of her graduation money,'' Pioli said. "She says, 'They need it a lot more than I do.' People of modest means pulling up and pulling a case of water out of their trunk. This guy who'd just lost his job that day comes and brings us water, and the next day he comes back in the morning and says, 'Can I volunteer? I don't have a job now.' Three kids sold lemonade in their neighborhood and brought all the money. It's making me cry again, just thinking about it all.''
The three kids -- Jacob, Alaina and Rachel Straub, along with neighbor Ella Phillips -- "got very upset'' watching news of the tornado and wanted to do something, mom Regina Straub said Sunday night. "They get $3 for allowance every week -- $1 they can spend, $1 they have to save, and $1 that goes to charity. They thought they could raise some money for Joplin by having a lemonade stand after school, 25 cents a cup, and our neighborhood really responded. Parents, kids, came from everywhere. All they wanted to do was help.''
It's a Midwestern thing. It's an American thing.
Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas City's first-round draft choice, is a wide receiver from the hard streets of Aliquippa, near Pittsburgh. He was in town to work out with Cassel. When they finished a double-session of throwing Wednesday, Baldwin texted Cassel and said: "I think we should go to Joplin and help out.'' They were off to Joplin the next morning.
"They had places for us to go help, to help people dig out,'' Baldwin said. "Like, 'There's an elderly family that needs help. Can we get a couple guys over here?'''
One older woman sat forlornly on her porch -- it was the only part of her home not destroyed. And all she cared about was finding a picture of Jesus her daughter had painted years earlier. So they dug.
"Humbling,'' said Baldwin. "It touched my heart to be able to do something, anything. We felt we touched a few people's lives, and after something like that, you need to know people care about you.''
Cassel called me Saturday afternoon to tell a few stories about the impact of the day on him. And he said he was thinking of not calling, because he didn't want to draw attention to himself; there were loads of volunteers there, all doing the same thing. He didn't want his name splashed out there. I understood, but in a case like this, with at least 126 dead and people's lives destroyed, a forlorn city needs all the help it can get. It's good that the two quarterbacks of the Missouri teams -- and eight or 10 more players from the two teams -- are helping people when they do it most.
And now, hopefully, we'll do our part, from communities far and wide. If you can help, go to
Well, not really. Not
As I have for the past few weeks, below I give you NFL Network's just-released list and mine. For a look at both lists in their entirety (at least, what's been relased so far),
Surprised at a couple of things on the players' side here: Matt Ryan (52) and Justin Tuck (60) being so low for the players, and Andre Gurode (57) making the list at all. On my side, what might surprise you is Ed Reed, Charles Woodson and Ray Lewis so low, relatively, at 54, 57 and 60. Lewis is 36, Woodson (coming off a broken clavicle) turns 35 in October, and Reed, who turns 33 on opening day this year, has been breaking down; he missed 10 games due to injury in the last two years.
I attended Friday night's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final between Tampa Bay and Boston, won 1-0 by the Bruins.
A few observations:
1. Not since the U.S.-England World Cup match last June in South Africa (and rarely if ever before that) had I heard as much noise 20 minutes before the game, with no one on the field/ice. I kept looking around the arena at about 7:50 p.m., wondering if there was a reason for all the noise. But there wasn't. The crowd, anxious for the Bruins to make the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990, was just jacked. I mean, it was noisier before this game than it was for the first game of the 2004 World Series between the Cards and Red Sox at Fenway. Easy.
2. No penalties for 60 minutes. Loved it. And you know what? It's arguable there actually were no infractions. A great, clean, hard-hitting contest between two teams that desperately wanted to win. Hockey just seems more important deep down to the players; it's hard to describe. I'm just telling you how it seems.
3. The traditions. Terrific. NFL teams absolutely, positively should line up and shake hands after playoff games. I waited around to see it, and to see the emotion on each side, and the genuine congratulations between winner and loser ... it's what sports should be. It honors the game. And Boston winning the conference championship cup and not touching it -- the superstition is if you touch that chalice, you won't be really hungry to work for the Stanley Cup. Silly, of course, but everyone around me was waiting to see if any Bruin touched the thing, and when they didn't, the real fans were thrilled. When it was over, and I took the T home (the Boston subway), you got the feel of a crowd that was hungry, but not rudely so. "We want the Cup! We want the Cup!'' was the chant. Just a tremendous event, and I'm glad I was able to be there as a fan.
4. I don't know how two teams could be more even than Tampa Bay and Boston were. Consider:
• Friday night was the 100th game for each team this season. In the regular season, each won 46 with 25 losses in regulation. Each accumulated 103 regular-season points. Tampa scored 247 goals, Boston 246.
• Each team won its first playoff series 4-3 and second playoff series 4-0. And, of course, this one was 3-3 through six games, and 0-0 for 52 minutes, until Nathan Horton scored the only goal of the game for Boston.
• Aggregate score of the Boston-Tampa series: Bruins 21, Lightning 21.
Now for the travel note of the hockey fortnight: Say you're a hockey fan, and you live in Boston, and you're very wealthy, and you want to go to every game of this series in person. In the first half of the month of June, you'd fly across the continent six times -- Boston to Vancouver for Games 1 and 2, Vancouver to Boston for Games 3 and 4, Boston to Vancouver for Game 5, Vancouver to Boston for Game 6, Boston to Vancouver for Game 7, and Vancouver to Boston when it was done. Assuming you lived through that. Can't do that trip on John Madden's bus and see every game, I'll tell you that.
"Most players are approaching this fight with the long term in mind. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Most players feel that way ... There's this perception that the players should capitulate now ... Some of the owners underestimate us. There is far more resolve among the player base than the owners know.''
"[I should] show up on the sidelines in this.''
Belichick had a great line to the 127 grads -- that there's no "I'' in team, but there is an "I'' in win. He talked about the best leaders he'd ever seen being guys who just went out and did their jobs with the right attitude, humbly.
"This is one of the most critical times in the league's history and so you're happy to be covering that up close. On the other hand, I never thought I'd miss covering OTAs so much.''
You've got a lot of company, Judy.
The other day, chatting with former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson on SiriusXM NFL Radio, I was surprised (stunned, almost) to hear Anderson talk about this part of his legacy. "My yards-per-attempt were the same as Dan Marino's,'' he said. "I don't think anyone would think that.''
So I went to the trusty ProFootballReference.com, to the leader section, and checked yard-per-attempt. There, tied at 7.3 yards per attempt, were Anderson and Marino.
More than that, if you take it out to another decimal place:
"The misnomer in our offense was it was a dink-and-dunk offense,'' Anderson said. "Not so. You had to be able to throw it deep.''
Interested, I went on.
Neither won a Super Bowl. Both played in one. Both lost to Joe Montana. Each was two games below .500 as a post-season quarterback. I'm not saying Anderson belongs in the same breath with Marino. Of course he doesn't. Marino did it better, and for longer, and had to carry a franchise on his back for most of 17 years. But what Anderson did for 16 years in Cincinnati is rightfully getting some attention today -- as in Hall of Fame consideration kind of attention. I'm not saying he belongs -- I've always thought of him as a Hall of Very Good member -- but I have to say I'm open to the argument. This being the biggest reason: Ken Anderson was scouted and hand-picked by Paul Brown and his offensive assistant, Bill Walsh, and when Anderson got drafted, he was trained in the same basic offense Joe Montana would be trained in less than a generation later by the same coach, Walsh.
"The system was the same system as Bill taught Joe,'' Anderson said.
It'll be interesting to see if the Anderson candidacy can gain some traction with the Seniors Committee, the subcommittee of the 44-member Hall of Fame voting committee. Anderson is eligible for the Senior vote in February 2012, 25 years after he finished his last season (1986) in pro football.
Oh, the far-reaching impact of MMQB. Why, even the folks in Hickory, N.C., are big MMQB fans, and it seems they've figured a way to help improve mental health in the Hickory area -- and help get their own minor-league mascot out of the dumps at the same time.
In the column two weeks ago, I mentioned how much the King traveling partiers enjoyed our day at the Hickory Crawdads game on a trip to North Carolina. But, as you may recall, I questioned the zeal of Conrad Crawdad. A bit laconic, we thought, and my buddy Don Banks remarked that he'd never seen a mascot with such low self-esteem.
I love the Delta Shuttle between Boston, New York and Washington. In my experience, it's rarely sold out, and because coach is first-come, first-served, if you board early enough, you can get the bulkhead with all the leg room anyway.
But that's not the travel note of the week. On my way back from the Tom Coughlin charity golf tournament in Jacksonville last Monday night, there was a weather delay in Charlotte, so we didn't end up leaving Charlotte for Boston till about 9 p.m. I got a bulkhead middle seat in coach, and across the aisle was a young girl, maybe 20, on the aisle, with two older men in the middle and the window. The flight was uneventful -- or maybe it was very eventful; I slept most of the way -- and when we landed, the flight attendant said to me, "I thought we were going to have to take your pulse. You're a great plane sleeper.'' And across the aisle, the young gal slept through the landing, the taxi, and the door opening. We're all getting up and getting our belongings, and the guy in the middle seat nudges the gal and says, "Excuse me.'' Nothing. "Uh, EXCUSE me,'' with the same nudge. The girl was stunned, and woke up and looked around her and for a second had no idea what was going on.
"Well!'' she said, a little too loud.
Nothing untoward happened. The kid was asleep, in a deep sleep, and had to be awakened. I was behind her as we walked off the plane, and she started getting very emotional on the phone with her mother.
"What a HORRIBLE experience! The worst flight of my life!'' she said, again a little bit too loud.
No. Not a bad flight. Couldn't have been, or I'd have woken up. And what would she know? She was sound asleep.
"Don't tell ME TO CALM DOWN!'' she said, walking through the terminal, a few of the late stragglers looking over at her. "I'm just sleeping there, and this guy SCREAMS at me to wake up. How can people be so rude? What an a------!''
At baggage claim, I gave the gal a wide berth. She walked back and forth, gesturing, while she talked to her mother. And I thought: This girl is going to have a tough life. As is her mother.
"Great wedding last night! Great friends celebrating together! That's what life's all about!''
"Is it weird Vanderbilt's Mike Yastrzemski (grandson of Carl) is facing Florida's Cody Dent, son of Bucky in the SEC tourney finals on ESPN2?''
Weird. Just as weird as Mike Yastrzemski and Al Kaline's granddaughter being classmates at Vandy. Strange flashbacks to the final weekend of the 1967 American League pennant race (Yaz-Kaline) and 1978 American League one-game playoff (Yaz-Dent).
1. I think Greg Bedard made a very strong point in his
In his new book, Ryan wrote about getting Roger Goodell to come to the Jets' facility in New Jersey. Ryan said he told Goodell he wanted him to "rip my a-- in front of Santonio ... Then I asked if he would turn and give both barrels to Holmes ... He chewed us out, and I think it actually brought Holmes and me closer.'' As Bedard asks, what business is it of Goodell's to help a coach get closer to a player? Goodell told Bedard he was simply trying to help Holmes stay on the straight and narrow, and maybe that's his view of what happened. But it's certainly not how Ryan portrayed it.
Two other points: By Ryan writing about this the way he did, he's clearly not going to make the commissioner happy, because the way he writes about the nudge-nudge/wink-wink incident is going to draw the ire of teams around the league who think Goodell favors the New York franchises anyway. And when Holmes reads about this -- if he does -- how will he feel about his coach wrangling the commissioner into the building to play-act a scene to make Holmes feel closer to his coach?
2. I think it's one thing for Ryan to have done this, but to write about it totally compromises the effect of it with his player, and it certainly won't endear Ryan to him. Imagine Goodell doing a favor for a coach like that, and then Ryan crowing about what a great idea it was in his book.
3. I think the NFL rule about fining teams in the event of their players getting more than a couple of fines for excessive hits is not the latest example of picking on the Steelers. It's a continuation of what the league has done with personal conduct policy. It's reasonable to me to think that if a team has, say, three players who get fined for hits the league views as over the line, that the team isn't emphasizing with the players enough the rules they have to play by. (Reasonable, I said; not a certain fact.) So why not fine the team?
4. I think it's interesting to note that Marvin Lewis will break a franchise record this season (if there is one) by coaching a ninth year in Cincinnati. Paul Brown and Sam Wyche coached eight.
5. I think it just seems ... weird ... for a Pittsburgh Steeler, particularly one of the toughest ones, to win "Dancing With The Stars.'' I mean good for Hines Ward. But I don't know many Steelers fans who held DWTS parties to watch the other night.
6. I think when Plaxico Burress gets out of jail a week from today, and when the NFL resumes, he'll have two or three teams very interested. My guess is the Jets, Eagles and Raiders will be involved (the Jets if they don't sign Randy Moss), and I'll tell you a team that should be interested: Cleveland. A reborn Burress would do a good job giving Colt McCoy a threat he doesn't have right now-if Burress is in shape and as interested in resuming his career as I've heard.
7. I think, responding to many, here are updates on Paul Zimmerman, recovering from March 2 spinal surgery in addition to the effects of his 2008 strokes, and on Steve Sabol, undergoing treatment for a brain tumor: Zim has been slow to regain strength in the leg most affected by the surgery, and it's been a frustrating time for Paul and wife Linda in New Jersey. They'd appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Steve Sabol got a recent visit from Bill Parcells and Dan Henning, retiree coaches migrating north for the summer, and that boosted him quite a bit. He hasn't been in the NFL Films offices much as he's in an intense part of his radiation and chemotherapy treatment. He's still aiming to attend the Aug. 6 induction ceremonies for his dad in Canton. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Best wishes to both.
8. I think if I was about to lay out $120 million, or whatever the five-year price tag for Peyton Manning will be for the Colts when the contract gets done, I'd be a little nervous about the last couple of years of that deal after seeing him undergo two neck procedures in 16 months.
9. I think I've thought all along that Kerry Collins would be back for a training-wheel season for Jake Locker in Tennessee ... until I heard what veteran guard Jake Scott of the Titans had to say. "I'm not sure Kerry isn't going to say, 'I'm done,' and ride off into the sunset,'' Scott told Ross Tucker and me on the radio last week. "I don't think he wants to come back and be a nursemaid to a young kid. Money's not an issue to him.'' The Titans will certainly need a vet, and a better one than a Rusty Smith-type, in 2011, and maybe beyond.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Happy Memorial Day, everyone. And thank you, everyone who is serving and has served, for what you have done and continue to do for all of us. The other day, in the Charlotte airport, I heard some clapping and looked over in a US Airways gate area and saw a soldier waving to the folks waiting to board. Nice effort.
b. "I'd made that move all day and thought I could do it again.'' The words of Indy car driver J.R. Hildebrand, who is going to think for a long, long time of his move around a slow car into the wall when he should have coasted home to win the Indianapolis 500. Buckner-like.
c. I know nothing about auto racing. Less than that, though friends like Bryan Broaddus have offered for years to teach me. But what I saw was a guy with a clear path to victory get very slightly greedy and move to pass a slow car on the last turn. If those guys have the pit crew in their ears, shouldn't the pit crew have said, "Don't take any chances ... Coast home!'' I doubt there's any way Dan Wheldon could have caught him.
d. Just watched the highlights of that soccer title game in London. Wish I'd seen more. How exciting is that Messi?
e. So this is why they play the games: Remember how we thought the Texas Rangers, midway through April, were going 140-22 this year, and the Red Sox 22-140? Consider this: Since Boston started 2-10, the Sox are 28-13. Since the Rangers started 9-1, they're 19-24.
f. Sorry for ruining baseball and all, but I think collisions at home plate in baseball ought to be what they are when I coached travel softball. Runner has to avoid the collision at home plate. What's so hard about having to dive around the catcher rather than having to plow into him? And what I'd do if I had a great young catcher is teach him to stand a few feet in front of home, and make a sweep tag. I just don't think it's worth potentially ruining the catching career of one of the two best guys (along with Joe Mauer) just for the principle that home plate belongs to the catcher, damn it, and if it means we're going to lose our best player for the season, then so be it.
g. I heard Aaron Boone the other night say you shouldn't mess with the fabric of the game. In other words, it's a necessary evil to lose Posey, and for him to undergo the kind of surgery that could materially affect his chance to be a great catcher from here on out. Part of the game. I don't buy it. It's good and macho, but you poll 100 Giants fans right now and ask them if they wish Posey had been standing a foot or two in front of the plate, leaving a clear path for Scott Cousins to either score or be tagged out without a collision with a sweep tag.
h. Just think how significant that Cousins run was. It probably cost the Giants any chance they had to repeat as world champions.
i. What a long, strange trip it's been for Tim Wakefield (2-1 as a Boston spot starter and bacon-saver). Here's how long and strange: In Wakefield's first summer in the Red Sox rotation, 1995, my daughters were 11 and 8 and we took a vacation to the national parks of Utah and Arizona. Wakefield's back in the rotation (for now), and my daughters are 27 and 24, with full-time jobs on the West Coast.
j. And he says he wants to keep playing for the foreseeable future.
k. Great stat prompted by Peter Gammons: Tim Wakefield has 195 career wins, David Cone and Doc Gooden 194.
l. Bobby Abreu 535 career doubles, Lou Gehrig (who died 60 years ago this Thursday) 534.
m. Experienced one of those clicker-in-the-hand moments where time stopped for an hour the other night. Flipped past "Planes, Trains and Automobiles,'' and had to go back. Well worth an hour of my life. "Everybody Doin' The Mess-Around,'' might be one of John Candy's best five movie scenes.
n. Coffeenerdness: Tyler Kepner, in Sunday's New York Times, said Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has a 33-step routine to every day during the season. One of the steps: "Find a Starbucks.'' Wonder if Long's nickname is "Latte.''
o. Beernerdness: With the weather turning hot all of a sudden, I'm back in the Peroni mode. Cold weather, heavy beer. Hot weather, it's Peroni time.
p. Speaking of summer mode in Boston: I realized the other afternoon, passing an empty, sun-baked sidewalk-seating café in the South End of the city (it must have been 93 degrees) that the weather had gone from intolerable to intolerable in the span of a week.
q. Good luck in retirement, Ken Schanzer.
r. Remember, please, our neighbors in Tornado Alley: Give to the American Red Cross (redcross.org), and the United Way (liveunited.org). Thank you.