No matter that it's Labor Day and that no real games took place over the weekend. Things are happening. The NFL doesn't take a holiday when others do.
• Peyton Manning's back grew increasingly sore over the weekend, and even if that wasn't becoming a problem, he still hasn't made the kind of progress after summer neck surgery that makes him likely to play in Houston in six days. A radio report in Indianapolis said Manning was going to have another surgery to address his neck problem. President Bill Polian told me Sunday night: "I don't know anything about that. I honestly don't.''
My gut feeling is Manning misses the first start of his 14-year NFL career Sunday, and Kerry Collins starts.
• Lee Roy Selmon, Hall of Famer player and person (and founder of the South Florida football program that went to South Bend and upset Notre Dame Saturday, which John Romano
• On the way to defend their title, the Packers have crafted one of the quirkiest rosters I've seen in a long time: five tight ends, eight offensive linemen, 10 linebackers, six outside linebackers. "It wasn't a grand scheme,'' GM Ted Thompson said Sunday. "We just kept the best players.'' In Ted They Trust up there, and rightfully so.
• The Giants kept rookie free agent and cancer survivor Mark Herzlich as a linebacker and key special-teamer on the 53-man roster. Two years ago, he was considering having part of his left leg removed and replaced with a cadaver bone, which would have ended his football career. "Life is amazing,'' he told me Sunday. His certainly is.
• The Patriots and Ravens look like they're in some sort of arms race. The latest signings for both on Sunday: For Baltimore, a one-year, $1.5 million deal for ex-Cowboy Andre Gurode to provide Matt Birk insurance at center with the Steelers coming to town Sunday. For New England, five-time Pro Bowl lineman Brian Waters to, presumably, play right guard in Miami next Monday night.
Add Gurode to Bryant McKinnie, Ricky Williams, Lee Evans, Vonta Leach and Bernard Pollard. Add Waters to Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter. Strange thing is, look at the other teams in the AFC -- who's signing a lot of veterans? These two teams have captured the market.
• No one wants Tiki Barber.
• And the cuts, and signings ... 1,184 men lost their jobs over the weekend. Team by team highlights, some of them obnoxious, are available in this column.
• A podcast by me is on the way. Read all about it lower in the column.
Now to flesh out some of the headlines as you get that last day off to study your fantasy draft and think: What on God's green earth am I going to do about Peyton Manning?
How do you think Jim Caldwell feels?
Radio reporter Jon Michael Vincent of ESPN 1070 in Indianapolis reported Sunday night that Manning would need another neck surgery and would be out indefinitely. That prompted my call to Polian, who said he knew nothing about it.
This is what I know this morning: Manning, as you can figure, has been working like crazy to get his neck and right arm back to 100 percent. He had surgery 15 weeks ago today to repair a herniated disc in his neck, which had been causing pain in his throwing arm. When such a surgery is done, part of the disc is removed. That lessens the pressure on the nerve. But that nerve needs time to heal.
One neurosurgeon in Pennsylvania told SI.com's
Manning has been able to throw, I'm told, but not with the same zip or as long as he usually does at this time of year. That's normal, to be sure, for a guy coming back from a serious neck procedure. It's not good enough to think he can play in six days.
But I'm told that Saturday, when he reported to the Colts for his normal rehab work, his back hurt. And that pain was more acute Sunday. So it seemed natural for Manning and the Colts to call in the experts who had been consulting on his case for more discussion, which seems likely to occur today or Tuesday. Polian didn't want to discuss the case, but this much seems sure: The radio report may be premature, but there is definitely cause for concern about Manning's short-term recovery and when he might play.
My guess? Manning has been rehabbing to excess, which may have caused the flare-up in his back. It may not have; that's simply my guess. And no, it's not a spinal stenosis condition, like the one that ended his brother
You figure this has to be frustrating Manning. He had the procedure May 23 and couldn't meet with Colts personnel because of the lockout. So his rehab from the surgery didn't begin 'til late July, and that seems to be the difference in how fast he's been able to recover.
It's good the Polians persuaded Collins to come out of his short-lived retirement. The specter of Curtis Painter playing significant time for the Colts was not a good thing for their playoff survival prospects during a season in which the Super Bowl will be played in Indianapolis. The good news if Collins plays: The last five times he started for the Titans against Houston, dating to 2007, Tennessee scored 31, 31, 12, 31 and 38 points. He's still learning a strange terminology, but he's a bright guy, has been through the offensive systems of six teams and is used to playing the Texans. This won't be a mail-it-in Houston win if Collins has to go.
One last thing: Manning is 90 starts behind Brett Favre for the all-time consecutive games mark. He will reach it in November 2016 if he keeps this streak alive. That's the last thing on his mind this morning.
So glad that Lee Roy Selmon is being remembered for the kind of person he was and the post-career life he led, as well as the player he was. Tony Dungy, one year younger than Selmon, gave this great quote to me Sunday night, hours after Selmon died from a stroke suffered Friday:
"If you didn't know him, and you met him somewhere, you'd never know who he was. You'd never know why he was famous. He was the kind of person when you saw him, you knew it was going to be great. Certain people, you're just happy to see. He was one of those -- always.''
How many people could you say were the greatest player at a great college program and the greatest for an NFL team? Selmon might have been that, though Oklahoma certainly is a storied program. After playing for the Sooners with his two brothers on the defensive line, Selmon was the first pick in the 1976 draft, by the Bucs -- and proceeded to lose his first 26 games in the NFL. The league didn't keep sack stats until the final three years of Selmon's nine-year pro career, but he entered the league as a great pass-rusher and the Bucs played a 3-4 defense, in which, as an end, he had to play the run first and the pass second, and he had bigger offensive tackles working on him all game. "If he'd played for, say, Minnesota, with a 4-3 and good players around him, I think he would have been a 20-sack-a-year guy,'' said Dungy. Like Reggie White and Deacon Jones? "I think so,'' he said.
After his career, Selmon went into business, opened a family restaurant near the Bucs' stadium (it's where Dungy took son Eric, me, Dan Patrick and Mike Vick the night before we visited a prison in Florida last March), then became an associate athletic director and later the AD for the University of South Florida. There, he pushed for the founding of a football team that would make the commuter school more of a place to go and stay rather than just to go and drive home at night. As John Romano wrote Sunday, the current team loved Selmon, prayed for him at its chapel service in South Bend Saturday morning, and attributed the win, in part, to Selmon's belief that there could be a Division I football school on the west coast of Florida.
"He and Jim Leavitt built that program out of trailers,'' Dungy said. "Lee Roy was so positive, so encouraging. I have never met anyone in football who is a better person. He will be sorely, sorely missed.''
Mark Herzlich, the free agent linebacker trying to make the Giants, had all day Saturday to waste. The Giants were off, but 27 of the players would be called, told to come to the facility, and be sent packing by the team. All day, Herzlich had his cell phone handy, waiting for the call. At IHOP for breakfast. Going to look for an apartment in the morning, just in case he did make it; he'd have to vacate his training camp hotel room by Sunday night, so he needed to be prepared in case the news was good. Watching the Boston College-Northwestern game on TV at a Chili's. Then sitting back in his room with his family. Waiting.
Six p.m. No call yet, and he'd been told to expect that he could get one by then, and if he hadn't heard, well, that was good news.
He'd made it.
"We wanted to go to New York to someplace memorable as a family to celebrate, but we were all so tired from the waiting and the tension that we just ate close by, and then I went to sleep,'' Herzlich told me Sunday. "The celebration was a sigh of relief, honestly.''
But he didn't sleep before his best friend from when he was a kid, Zack Migeot, who'd gone through the cancer predicament with him, called to congratulate him. "Can you believe it?'' Migeot said. "You know where you were two years ago?''
Herzlich knew. In May 2009, he was coming off an all-ACC season, playing spring football at Boston College, when his left leg began hurting. Then swelling. An MRI discovered a tumor growing in his left femur. The rare cancer was called Ewing's Sarcoma, and it was serious. "They told me I'd never play football the rest of my life,'' he said. One doctor advised him to have surgery that would remove his leg bone from an inch above the tumor to an inch below; he'd be in a waist-to-foot cast for six months and never play competitive sports again. The bone would heal, assisted by a titanium rod, but not well enough to exert so much pressure on it.
A couple of months went by. Herzlich asked his doctor about the option of radiating the tumor and using some chemotherapy on it. His surgeon, Rich Lackman of Philadelphia, and oncologist Arthur Staddon, agreed to try it. "I wasn't going to do anything to give me five more years just so I could play football,'' he said. "I wasn't going to do anything stupid. But this seemed like it was a real chance to get cured and be able to play.''
Some doctors told him they didn't think radiation and chemo would leave the leg strong enough to withstand the insertion of a titanium rod to give it strength. Another opinion was the insertion could spread the cancer through his leg. But the tumor eventually shrank and disappeared, and the rod went in just fine. Sixteen months after the diagnosis, he was back playing for BC.
But after skipping 2009 to deal with the cancer, Herzlich last fall didn't play to the level of his 2008 season. He wasn't drafted last April. And then, because no undrafted free agents could be signed by NFL teams until there was a new collective bargaining agreement, Herzlich had to wait to see which team, if any, would go out on the limb to sign a player who was cancer-free now, but with no clue of what the future would bring. It made sense -- from a need standpoint mostly -- to go to the Giants. And coach Tom Coughlin is bullish on the cancer cause. His Jay Fund charity raises half-a-million dollars a year (sometimes more) to help families of cancer patients deal with the expenses of the disease. That fund, named after former BC football player Jay McGillis, came about after McGillis died of cancer while Coughlin coached Boston College. The fact that Herzlich got cancer at BC, and was kept by the former BC coach who had an epiphany when a player on his team died of cancer, only adds to the Hollywood side of this story.
"I know some of Jay's family,'' said Herzlich, "and he is just a legend at Boston College. We fed off the strength he left the program. And I've had lunch with coach Coughlin a couple of times. He'll coach you hard, but then he'll sit with you and talk about life. We talk about grandkids, how things are with him, but nothing too football-related.''
The knock on Herzlich at BC last fall was he lost some of his speed with the new configuration of his left leg. Could he go sideline to sideline and tackle 262-pound tight ends and catch 195-pound scatbacks? More importantly, could he run down on special teams and become a fixture there? This summer, Herzlich had a sack, an interception and, on national TV against Chicago, burst through two blockers on the Bear kick-return team and made a tackle of the returner. He became a fixture on the kickoff and punt teams, and both return teams, and he assumes that's going to be his first job in the NFL.
"I love special teams,'' he said. "I always have. So that helped me. But really, we had a bunch of young guys at linebacker competing for jobs. I just played like I played when I was trying to make the team at BC. Work hard every day, leave the facility, get back around 9:30, study my plays for an hour and a half, then get up and do it again the next day. Before you can play the way you know you can play, you've got to learn the system so you're playing, not thinking.''
One more weird irony here: Ahead of Herzlich in camp on the depth chart at strongside linebacker was a second-year player, Clint Sintim. Both were all-ACC players in 2008 and they got to know each other. When Herzlich fell ill, Sintim texted and called and wished him well quite often. When Herzlich reported to Giants camp, Sintim was one of guys who showed him the ropes. And last Thursday, Sintim suffered a season-ending knee injury. Certainly, that didn't hurt Herzlich's chances to make the team; it probably helped him a lot. "One of my best friends,'' Herzlich said over the phone, glumly. "I feel terrible for him.''
Herzlich has no pain running now. He says he feels faster than he ran preparing for the draft, and certainly faster than he was last fall at BC. And he knows nothing will be handed to him if he can't do the job. "I know I can get cut anytime,'' he said. "I have to stay humble, keep improving. I'm happy right now, but I also know the only time we can celebrate is when we win.''
One final note:
I had arranged with Giants' PR aide Peter John-Baptiste to have Herzlich call me Sunday afternoon. "He'll call at 1,'' John-Baptiste said. At 12:54, my cell phone rang. Herzlich.
Seems like a good fit, the Giants and Herzlich. He's already on Coughlin Time.
Meriweather twice back-doored the phony-baloney Pro Bowl by making it as an alternate. Emboldened by thinking he'd arrived, he never worked like he should have to be a great player. The difference between Rodney Harrison and Meriweather? Harrison worked every day like he was trying to be great; Meriweather thought he was great before he really was.
By the way, kudos to Belichick for letting Sanders walk last Monday, when he had time to catch on with a team and have some extra time to learn the defense well enough to play opening day.
I had heard throughout the offseason that Tiki Barber had a suitor, a team that would sign him after his four-year hiatus from football. I knew it wasn't Tampa Bay, where his twin brother Ronde prepares to continue his remarkable career. I figured it was Pittsburgh, where Mike Tomlin, Ronde's former position coach with the Bucs, knew the Barbers well and had very high regard for them. But the Steelers never came through.
And when the phones stopped ringing Sunday night, and the musical chairs of roster spots around the league had ended, and the teams had their 1,696 players set for the 2011 season, not a single team had called Barber or his agent, Mark Lepselter. It's easy to justify that, given that Barber is a 36-year-old man trying to play the position of players 13 and 14 years younger. And it's probably understandable, except for one fact.
At 29, 30 and 31, Barber's final three seasons in the NFL, he led all NFL backs in total yards from scrimmage (rushing-receiving yards), averaging 138 yards from scrimmage per game. Miami worked him out and chose to not sign him. The Giants released him and never would have brought him back because of bridges burned. And don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying this is some sort of outrage.
I tried to reach Barber on Sunday, but he wasn't talking. I hear he's devastated that no team gave him a chance. You might wonder if teams would bring him in after the first game of the season, so his contract wouldn't be guaranteed, and that could still happen. But with no team calling Lepselter with even a hint of interest, it's more likely teams would start with backs who've been in some football competition this summer.
Lepselter told me Sunday: "We are flabbergasted that Tiki has not had an opportunity with any team, especially when rosters were at 90 players this year. I certainly thought some team would be intrigued to see what he had left in the tank.''
I'm not flabbergasted that a 36-year-old trying to play for the first time since 2006 doesn't get a sniff. I just thought after his career-twilight performance that he was worth a look.
"I love acting. I always have, since I was a little guy ... The similarity is we're all on the big screen. The difference is we [in football] don't really get do-overs. In acting you can always try the scene again. If you get beat for a touchdown they're not going to rewind.''
"Play hard. Eat well. And don't forget to share.''
That slogan is so fitting.
"Every [cut] that you make is not fun. You have young guys that have been crushed. Their dreams have been shattered ... veteran guys with families involved, and wives just arriving in town and have to turn around and leave again. So everyone has its own story and none of them are easy, that's for sure."
"I told Mark Ingram we're not playing Kent State this week. We don't get a couple of warmups.''
"I hope these guys in New England bring their 'A' game, because the Jets are coming flying. In and out, in and out. Dropping bombs on these guys, and we're ready to take over. We want it to be a clean sweep if possible, and I know that's the attitude every guy on this team has.''
The Jets and Patriots play Oct. 9 and Nov. 13. Let the unending hype begin.
Last season, including playoff games, Belichick started the year 14th on the NFL's all-time wins list for coaches, with 163. He passed Bud Grant (168), Paul Brown (170), Joe Gibbs (171) and Mike Holmgren (174), and finished the year 10th, with 177 wins.
This year, if the Patriots get off to a hot start and begin 6-1, Belichick will have 183 wins, tied for ninth on the all-time list. Belichick will go for win number 184 at home on Nov. 6. Against the New York Giants. To break a tie with Bill Parcells.
Too bad the Chiefs cut Shane Bannon, the fullback from Yale, over the weekend. Or maybe it's good after all. He can get back to the work of a politically conscious being at a time when there seem to be too few young people who care about the issues of the day.
Bannon's senior thesis at Yale: "How Social Media Will Change Presidential Campaigns.''
During training camp, Bannon, who didn't own a TV in camp, would go onto CNN.com to digest the news of the day during free late-night minutes.
Took the train home Sunday, the Acela, after spending three days in New York. Somewhere around Stamford, I walked into the café car to get coffee (the watery Acela coffee, I can still report with confidence) and got behind a cheerful man about to get something to eat. When it was his turn to order, he asked: "How is the raisin bran here?''
How is the raisin bran?
How is any raisin bran? Bran flakes with raisins, I think.
":There was the Rams-K Warner Sup year./ There was Patriot 2001-Brady Sup.year.--- Every year. is interesting n unpredictable in NFL!!!!''
"Dont fret about whats lost, embrace/appreciate what's given. Opportunities are abundant, make most of them #illbeback''
a. Woodson was born with club feet.
b. Great visuals of Rodgers being snubbed in the green room at the 2005 draft, when he had to wait hours to be picked.
c. Rodgers on the reaction by Brett Favre to Rodgers being drafted in the first round: "I think he was offended by it.''
d. Rodgers on having his life threatened when he took over for Favre: "I don't understand it. How am I the bad guy?''
e. Cool McCarthy motivational ploy at the start of the 2010 season -- a blank picture frame in the team meeting room, left there for the team to figure where the next Packer Super Bowl team photo would go. Woodson said it gave the players goose bumps.
f. Great Super Bowl wiring of Greg Jennings, including his incredible emotion after converting the third-and-10 pass play from Rodgers midway through the fourth quarter with the Packers trying to get some insurance points: "OH ... MY ... GODDDDDDDDD!!!!!'' he screams after catching the pass that was ever-so-slightly tipped by Steeler cornerback Ike Taylor.
"The very first ball he threw to me in warmups was a fastball that nearly broke my hands. Johnny told me, 'Always aim for the receiver's nose when throwing a pass.' I asked, 'Why's that?' He said, 'Because if they don't catch it, it'll break their nose. That will make them better receivers.' I learned all of these great little things from him that year.
"Cam needs to be a sponge and soak up every last bit of knowledge he can this year. What concerns me about this young man, though, is that he's only experienced success on the football field. How will he handle failure? How will he handle the boos?''
Great stuff on Johnny U.
• Monday: Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com, posted by 8 a.m.
• Friday: My "Friday Morning Gameplan'' column on SI.com, which should be posted shortly after noon ... A new TV show on Versus from 6-7 p.m. Eastern, previewing the football weekend with Mike Florio and host Russ Thaler. That could be some good fun ... A couple of radio gigs: with Mitch Levy on KJR in Seattle at 8:45 a.m. Pacific Time, and with Mutt and Merloni on WEEI in Boston at noon eastern.
• Saturday: Notre Dame halftime shows on six Saturdays this fall on NBC.
Other assignments will float in and out. I'll let you know when they're coming.
a. Hey Papelbon: You guys have your fantasy draft tonight up there in Toronto, right? My advice: Tim Hightower in the third round, Antonio Brown in the ninth, Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 10th, Kyle Rudolph in the 13th. You'll thank me someday.
b. Enough of Lackey. Please.
c. Happy Labor Day. I hope you spend it, uh, not laboring.
d. Looking forward to speaking at Marquette University in Milwaukee Tuesday. I was invited by my friend and former softball outfielder Tess Quinlan, a sophomore there. Between now and then I'll try to think of something good to say, Tess, but I can't guarantee anything.
e. Thanks, ESPN, for making me one of the six "Famous Alumni'' (sic) of Ohio University on the OU-New Mexico State football game Saturday. I think.
f. Coffeenerdness: There's something wrong with a business model when the coffee on the expensive East Coast train, the Acela, is far worse than the coffee at a 7-Eleven. And that's a fact.
g. Beernerdness: Took the extended family to Yanks-Sox at Fenway the other night and introduced them all to Allagash White, the white beer from Portland, Maine. I think they were wild about it, if chugging the beer is any indication.
h. Good to see you adjusting to college life so well, Evan King. Proud of you.
I. Trying to figure out what to do with my last day off in a while today. Any ideas? Thinking of a movie. And some sleep. Have a great week. Football's back. Fun times.