Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson always was the classic football captain, solving problems before they became crises for the Giants of a generation ago. So it's fitting he took on one of the most difficult tasks he's had since retiring from football: organizing the 1986 Super Bowl championship team's 25th reunion.
I always found Carson to be one of the more blunt players I've covered, which is why I'm not surprised by his sales pitch to every coach and player on the Super Bowl XXI champions. "It's pretty likely,'' he said, "that this will be the last time we'll all get together. We got a bunch of guys who really were a great team together, and I just wanted to make sure we did everything we could to get the group together this one time.''
He's not being morbid. He's being realistic. Some of the coaches getting up there in years. And even though the team is spread all over the country, when Carson called, everyone said yes.
One of the ways Carson sold the event is by promising to split the profits evenly, without more going to the big stars. In fact, Phil Simms, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick will take nothing from the public reunion. It's Sunday, starting with a breakfast at 8 a.m. and running until 4 p.m. at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J. That's a few long spirals from where Giants Stadium stood, and where the new stadium stands. Tickets are $199, with VIP packages available for a premium. All players but quarterback Jeff Hostetler (on a family trip to Africa) and running back George Adams (on a college trip with his son) will attend, and the coaches (except for the late Len Fontes and the ill Lamar Leachman) will be there as well.
Some of the players need the money. Some were stunned to hear from Carson that a reunion would include them. But Carson set out to contact every player. The paper trail on a few was difficult, but the last two (center Brian Johnston, found by Steve Serby of the New York Post) and Vince Warren (living in the southwest) got found in the last month, and 51 of the 53 active players from that team will be on hand.
Warren "was stunned to hear from me,'' said Carson. He was a rookie on that team, a fifth-round pick, and he played only that one season. Actually, he played in only four games, never catching a pass. But he was on the team, and Carson wanted everyone there.
That team had a strong connection with its fans. Carson has gone to funerals of fans when he's been able. He's sat with dying Giants fans. He's answered calls from fans who somehow find his phone number, who see him on the street in New Jersey and New York. He hopes the fans will appreciate the last time they all meet.
"I know it'll be emotional to see everyone, because it's been so long,'' said Carson. "But what means so much is that guys like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick said yes right away, like, 'Whatever you need me to do, just let me know.' And Phil. That's the kind of team we had.''
Many of you were angry with my placement of Troy Polamalu as the 50th-best player of today on my list of the top 100 players (which I'm counting down alongside NFL Network's production weekly). As @steeler560 Tweeted: "Ranking Polamalu at #50 is proof that NFL needs to extend drug testing program to include sports writers!''
Here's why I put the reigning defensive player of the year where I did: This list is not based entirely on how a player played in 2010, or where his current body of work places him today. It also includes how a player will play in 2011 and the future. The past is important for establishing greatness, and Polamalu has certainly been a great strong safety. But what is he now? I'm not sure. He's missed 13 games due to injury in the last two seasons. He was mostly invisible in the Steelers' run to the Super Bowl last season.
I've got tremendous respect for Polamalu as a player (and just as much for him as a person), but I'm trying to be realistic about where he is in his career. And right now, I've seen too many signs that he's not going to continue to be vintage Polamalu for a full season. That counts. Players have to play.
But keep those cards and letters, and that venom, coming.
Now onto your email:
• GOOD QUESTION. I THINK THEY'LL TRY. "The helmet thing bugs me. Why can't the league or the players association step in and MANDATE the players wear the best/safest helmet? To me, the players can't whine about new rules meant to make the games safer while at the same time refuse to wear helmets that keep them more protected.''-- Daniel, Kansas City
I've been saying the same thing for a couple of years, as has one of the league's most responsible and progressive students of head injuries, Dr. Joseph Maroon of the Steelers. This must be done. I urge you to write to Roger Goodell and demand it.
• GUARDS ARE NOT VERY FAMOUS. "I consider myself a pretty big fan (have the DirecTV package, go to two to three games a year, own a jersey, play fantasy football, etc.), but I have to be honest: I never heard of Saints guard Carl Nicks before you had him ranked No. 41 on your list of top 100 players in the NFL. How are you making your list? Are you talking to others about it, or just going off the top of your head? I'm not questioning you, just genuinely curious. And I'm looking forward to having a new player to watch for when the Saints play my Giants.''--Sean Young, Brooklyn
My list is my opinion. Nicks is coming off a season when he was elected to the Pro Bowl and was second-team All-Pro, which means he was considered one of the four best guards in football. He's number 77 for the Saints. Huge guy. Road-grader with good feet. Watch him. You'll appreciate him.
• WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER HERO. "You mentioned Dan Rooney won't be a part of the labor talks, but my question is who, if anybody, will be 'the hero' if these talks get done? It seems like Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith already have the fans booing them at every turn, and you mentioned the lawyers not being a part of the process. So who will save football -- John Mara? Jerry Jones? Jeff Saturday? Kevin Mawae? David Stern?''--Gavin, Chicago
That remains to be seen, but I think "hero'' might be overstating it a bit. Someone on the players' side needs to say to De Smith, "Their last offer is a decent starting point.'' Someone on the owners' side needs to say to Goodell: "You know we've got to give the players a chance to make a percentage of the profits going forward if we make insane money, particularly on the net TV contract.'' That's it. That's "reasonable negotiating,'' not "heroism.''
• HMMMMM. "Thanks for the book recommendations. My dad, who's about your age, hates to read. Any other good ideas, in the $50-100 range?''--Leonard, Providence, R.I.
Find a good photo of you and your dad, maybe get it blown up to 5-by-7 if you can, have it framed at one of those reasonable frame-and-save places, and write him a note telling him you're glad to have him as a father. That's something I'd like. Either that or a $50 Starbucks card. Oh, you're NOT shopping for me! I see.