Forget Harbaugh's handshake, his 49ers are the real top story
We all have opinions on what passed for Sunday Afternoon At the Fights in Detroit Sunday, and before I get too far into my 9,300 words this morning, let me give you my view of it so we can get on to the incredible story the 49ers are writing, what a NaVorro Bowman is, how Steve Young is playing a part (a small one, but a part) in the Aaron Rodgers story, the value of Andrew Luck, how Kurt Coleman might have saved the Eagles' season, WWAD (What Would Al Do) at quarterback, and the general flotsam, jetsam and mayhem of Week 6 of the season.
The NFL likes coaches to wear licensed casual apparel on the sidelines (not "likes;'' more like "mandates''), and maybe there'd be more dignity in sideline decorum if the league went back to allowing coaches to dress like businessmen. Maybe that would have prevented 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, after a huge win at Detroit, from flying off the sidelines like a bottle rocket and slapping Lions coach Jim Schwartz like a player on his team who'd just scored a touchdown.
And maybe it would have stopped Schwartz, though understandably ticked off at Harbaugh's exuberance, from chasing after him the way he'd chase the kid on the block bullying his fourth-grader. Harbaugh lit the fuse. Schwartz exploded. And if it weren't for a 49er security guy and San Francisco PR man Bob Lange interceding ("WhoaWhoaWhoaWhoa!!!!!!'' Lange shouted at Schwartz, in the middle of the two men, when Schwartz was about to get at Harbaugh and possibly do something he might regret for a long, long time), this story might be a lot more than three paragraphs on the top of this column.
The postgame handshake is supposed to be an example of the sportsmanship the NFL stands for, which is why I think the NFL has to discipline both coaches in the wake of what happened Sunday. On all the TV shows, including my stint on NBC, as much attention (maybe more) was paid to the bizarre sights of an orgasmic Harbaugh and a losing-it Schwartz than to an incredible game between two of the best teams in football, and certainly there were more sound bites pertaining to the fight than to what happened in three tense hours of football at Ford Field.
At NBC, we not only used the accusatorily mellow sound bite of Schwartz and the mea-culpa bite from Harbaugh, but also looked at the Baltimore-Houston game. Instead of celebrating another great game by Ray Lewis or another steamroller game by Ray Rice, Jim's brother John, the coach of the Ravens, joked about fights he got into when he was a kid with Jim. Not blaming us; the coaching confrontation was the wildfire story of the day at 7 p.m., for better or worse, and our job at NBC was to mirror that, cover it from all angles, and reflect what everyone was talking about.
Point is, the actions of Harbaugh and Schwartz took away from a great football game. I don't care who started it, or who was most at fault. Fines will be fine, but there's something else the league should do: Make each coach either do a PSA about sportsmanship, or appear at a school, with the local media covering it, to talk to student athletes about the importance of sportsmanship. Sorry if I come off like your nerdy, ancient high school gym teacher, but the NFL will be taking the easy way by taking $15,000 from each coach and leaving it at that. Make this a teaching moment.
San Francisco is 5-1, comfortably ahead by 2.5 games in the NFC West. The Packers look like overwhelming faves for one of the top two NFC seeds, and of course, if Green Bay wins the North, the second-place team in the division, at best, could be the fifth seed in the conference playoffs. With the egalitarianism of the East and the presumed knock-each-other-off dogfight in the South, why can't the Niners win 12 or 13? Have you seen them play? Mike Florio pointed this out at NBC last night, and he's right. There's no good reason the 49ers can't be home resting on Wild Card weekend while the Saints and Bucs and Eagles and whoever else are trying to survive.
And the schedule. San Francisco plays 0-5 St. Louis and 1-4 Arizona four times in its last 10 games. Combined record of foes: 21-31.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but in the words of teens everywhere, I'm just saying.
On to the game in Detroit. Tense. Tremendous. Not altogether pretty, but gritty. It reminded me of something Bill Cowher used to tell his Steelers before road games at hostile places. He's not the only coach who says it, but he used to preach it a lot. You've got to take their best shot early, and you've got to fight the crowd, and you've just got to hang in there in the first 20 or 30 minutes and not get too far behind. The crowd will shout itself out, and emotion will level off, and then it'll be a football game.
Mature teams do that. The 49ers, led by Harbaugh and the quarterback no one believed in, look very much like a mature team. Here were the first nine snaps, making up the first three 49er series, by San Francisco at a cacophonous Ford Field:
1. First series: Alex Smith strip-sacked by Kyle VandenBosch. The turnover led to a Lion field goal. Detroit, 3-0.
2. Second series: False start, tight end Delanie Walker.
3. False start, tackle Anthony Davis.
4. Frank Gore up the middle for 1.
5. Smith incomplete to Ted Ginn.
6. Smith pass to Gore for 8. Punt.
7. Third series: Kendall Hunter around left end for minus-2.
8. Smith pass to Michael Crabtree for 7.
9. Smith incomplete to Ginn. Punt. The punt led to a Lion touchdown. Detroit, 10-0.
Over the next 49 minutes, the 49ers, having taken the Lions' best shot, outscored Detroit 25-9. One of the best run defenses in football -- more about inside linebacker Patrick Willis and his trusty sidekick NaVorro (I Love That Name) Bowman later -- held the Lions to 66 yards, and though Calvin Johnson got his catches and yards (seven for 113), he was held touchdown-less for the first time all season. And really, while the Niners battled back to take their first lead, 15-13, Johnson was invisible. In the first 35 minutes of the game, he managed three catches for 29 yards, well-blanketed by an intent secondary.
At the same time, the players Trent Baalke drafted and Harbaugh showed faith in came through. Baalke signed Gore to a contract extension in the summer and drafted Kendall Hunter in the fourth round last April; they combined to rush for 174 yards (141 by Gore). Smith was chased by a marauding Lions front and didn't have a great day, but he still exited Ford Field as the league's eighth-rated quarterback, and after six games has thrown just two interceptions. This kind of move-the-pocket, move-the-sticks passing game is the closest he's felt to his days at Utah. The Niners admittedly reached to make him the top overall pick in 2005, and there is no quarterback who has had more lives with his current team than Smith. But maybe, just maybe, he's found the right offensive match in his fifth offensive scheme.
And the draft picks. Baalke, in charge of the last two drafts, has every right to light up a fine Dominican cigar today. Last year, he chose to rebuild the offensive line with guard Mike Iupati and tackle Anthony Davis and get a defensive piece to pair with Willis, Penn State linebacker Bowman. This year, pass-rusher Aldon Smith came with the seventh overall pick (way too high, some said). Bowman had a game-high 13 tackles. Smith had two sacks for a loss of 29, plus four tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defensed.
Harbaugh's made the mix work. What's amazing about the job he's done is that he didn't know most of these players before July 25. He was installing a new offense, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was tinkering with what the Niners did on defense, and the results have been other-worldly. How does a new head coach come in and build a team in seven weeks that wins five of its first six games? How does a West Coast team play three Eastern Time Zone games in 22 days and sweep them?
Harbaugh left this message on my voicemail afterward: "That was as good a victory as I've ever been a part of. I was talking to [defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio, and he said it was the best defensive performance he's ever been a part of.''
That's one of those calls on the busy postgame Sundays I wish I hadn't missed, obviously. Topical day for Harbaugh.
"Jim was tough and gritty and smart and competitive as a player,'' Fangio told me. "He just tries to be himself. And we've got good players. Jim's smart enough to know he doesn't know it all, and he relies on his coaches to coach.''
Now for a bit on the dynamic inside linebacker duo. When's the last time a 3-4 had two inside guys who played all three downs? I mean, played every snap? Entering Sunday's game, Bowman and Willis had missed 15 of a combined 666 San Francisco defensive snaps. They have the quickness to play laterally and the speed to chase plays down. Bowman is still learning to drop in coverage, but his pursuit ability is already at a Pro Bowl level. He caught a juking Michael Vick, preventing a key third-down conversion, in Philadelphia two weeks ago.
"They're athetic enough to play three downs,'' said Fangio. "Patrick is probably the fastest inside linebacker in the league. NaVorro is not too far behind. They are not one-dimensional. That means they can stay out there in the sub packages.''
About Bowman: He played three years at Penn State. Being from suburban Washington, he followed the Redskins, and when he went to Penn State, linebacker LaVar Arrington, a Nittany Lion himself, followed him. In his third year at PSU, Bowman was asked by Arrington to wear his old No. 11, which hadn't been given out since he left the school. Bowman played well enough to be a third-round pick by the 49ers last year.
"I take pride in seeing things before they happen,'' Bowman told me. "I run well, and I think I diagnose plays well. LaVar helped me with that, and now, playing next to Patrick, it's like having another teacher on the field with me.'' Pupil is fifth in the NFL with 56 tackles. Teacher has 47.
About the name "NaVorro:" "I was named after my Godfather, who is Cherokee Indian. When my mom sees the name misspelled, she always corrects people, even the capital 'V.'
Have a feeling we'll all be learning that name over the next few years. On Sunday, in Detroit, Bowman was as much of a sideline-to-sideline factor as Willis.
The 49ers are in the midst of one of the most challenging travel schedules I have seen in 27 years covering the NFL: five trips to the Eastern Time zone in a 61-day span. The first four trips (the third of which happened over the weekend, to Detroit) are 1 p.m. Eastern Time games, 10 a.m. on the body clocks of the players. The fifth trip, a 2,431-miler from San Jose (the Niners' home airport) to Baltimore, will be for a Thanksgiving night game.
The fifth never would have been scheduled if San Francisco had hired Jeff Fisher as head coach last winter. But the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh, and suddenly San Francisco-Baltimore became a made-for-TV, feel-good story, with brothers Jim and John the two head coaches in the game.
The 49ers played their third Eastern Time game in 22 days against the Lions Sunday. The two-month Odyssey they're in the midst of, along with a little color from each trip, is listed below:
Just for fun, on New Year's Day, the Niners will play another morning game on their body clocks, 10 a.m. Pacific Time, at St. Louis.
But I'm not sure he needs much help. You haven't heard all that much about the relationship between Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers, and both men probably like it that way. They are not everyday texting or calling friends, and I believe Rodgers would have handled the last six years of his landmine-turned-golden life pretty well without Young's occasional advice, because Rodgers was raised by parents with excellent perspective.
But Rodgers and Young do have one very important thing in common: They took over for all-time great quarterbacks, and the succession in both cases was not smooth. But Young learned enough in the awkward years aside Joe Montana, and then replacing him, to be a good sounding board for Rodgers, particularly in the rough times when a) it seemed like he'd never have a chance to play and b) mayhem swirled around the 2008 Brett Favre retirement/unretirement and distracted Rodgers and the Packers daily.
And when Rodgers would seek Young out, the advice would be the kind of sound stuff that hit a home run with Rodgers. Paraphrasing, this was the kind of counsel Young gave Rodgers over the years: Never, even to your mother, say something that makes you a victim. Human nature being what it is, you'll want people to know your side of the story, and you'll want them to know how hard it all is for you. But if you complain publicly even one time, you'll be a crybaby. That's how people will see you. And they'll remember.
Instead, if you just hold it in, and you just focus on football, it may take a few years, but respect will come back to you a hundred-fold. And when you begin to have success, people will look at you with tremendous respect because you didn't fall into the trap of complaining about your circumstances.
Is that exactly what happened or what? I mean, what tremendous advice. I was reminded of this last week when I had Rodgers on my SI podcast (a 34-minute talk you can hear
Rodgers doesn't take questions about his relationship with the man he took over for in 2008, because they basically have no relationship. I figured, why throw ice cubes on the conversation? If it came up in the conversation, so be it. And it did, sort of. I asked him what he thought he'd learned from Favre in his three years as his backup. There was a pause, and I thought he would say some version of no comment, but he said something educational. "I think his eye control,'' Rodgers said. "He was great with his eyes, moving defenders and throwing look-off passes all the time. If you watch film on other quarterbacks, there's not a lot of guys in the league who are consistently using their eyes to move players. I think it's a learned trait. It's something you have to work on. The top guys in the league are doing it just about every play. But that was something I watched, I saw, and I really tried to incorporate into my own game."
Interesting. But back to Young. I gained a lot of respect for him after the Super Bowl 17 seasons ago, when he threw six touchdown passes to crush the Chargers. In his suite a couple of hours after the game, one of his relatives or friends in the back of the room, with some giddiness, called out, "Joe Who?'' And Young, who could have said something to stick a dagger into Montana, instead said, "No, don't do that. Don't worry about that. That's the past. Let's talk about the future.''
Sounds like something his protégé would say.
No player in history has had six straight games with a passer rating of 110 or higher -- until now. Rodgers (119.6 in the 24-3 win over the Rams) is the man, and as he continues to put up transcendent numbers, consider this: He is on pace to throw 45 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, and to challenge the holy trinity of single-season quarterback records. How Rodgers lines up against the best single seasons in three major passing categories:
Not a lot of people would know, because there have been very few times in NFL history when a relatively sure-fire quarterback prospect such as Luck comes out in the draft. So I asked the only general manager in history (I believe) who has been in position twice to take the top quarterback in a quarterback-heavy draft: Ernie Accorsi. In 1983, he was the rookie GM with the Baltimore Colts who set a high price tag for John Elway. In 2004, he was the veteran GM of the Giants and juggled Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger at the top of the draft, considering all and trading for Manning.
Accorsi told me he has seen Luck on TV but would be doing an injustice to scouting by having an opinion on Luck, the player. But he did tell me if Luck is in league with Elway as a prospect -- which is the widely held view of many scouts; not better, and maybe not as good, but in the same league -- then the Elway situation is a good barometer. Accorsi set a price tag of three first-round picks and two second-rounders for the first pick of the '83 draft, which certainly would be used on Elway. He never got the deal he wanted, so the Colts picked Elway No. 1.
But Baltimore owner Robert Irsay commandeered the trade negotiations for Elway once he found out signing him would cost $5 million over five years. (Exorbitant at the time, ridiculously reasonable in retrospect.) Irsay dealt Elway to Denver for the fourth pick in that year's draft (tackle Chris Hinton) plus Denver's first-round pick in 1984 and marginal quarterback prospect Mark Herrmann. Two ones and a backup quarterback, basically, for Elway. Turned out to be dirt-cheap compensation. Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two. "Five Super Bowls? You can't overpay for that,'' said Accorsi. "It's like overpaying for Joe DiMaggio. In retrospect, three ones and two twos would have been very fair. A bargain, really.''
I think three first-round picks for the first selection in the 2012 draft is more than fair if the team that earns that right is in a dealing mood. One of those picks would have to be in the top 10 of the 2012 draft. "If he's as good as everyone says he is, absolutely it's a realistic price,'' Accorsi said.
In 2004, Accorsi traded for Manning's rights with San Diego in a deal that essentially was two firsts, a third- and a fifth-, with one of the firsts being the fourth overall pick in that draft. (The picks were made, Manning by the Chargers and Philip Rivers by the Giants, and then swapped by the teams.)
But that's not a bad template for a Luck trade. Let's say the Rams have the first pick in the draft next year, but because they've got Sam Bradford, don't feel a need to take a quarterback. The Dolphins, let's say, are picking fourth. The negotiations would have to start with two ones, a three and a five, but I think they'd have to be ratcheted up in value. Luck, in 2012, will likely be much more of a sure thing than Manning or Rivers were in 2004.
But if I were the GM of any bad 2011 team, with any current or near-future quarterback need (and that includes Indianapolis, where the owner is already talking about a Peyton Manning-Luck tag-team for three or four years), I wouldn't take any offer for Luck. I'd sit there and pick him. When you don't have a quarterback, and you're in position to take the surest of things probably since Peyton Manning himself came out, you have to take Luck.
One last point: Pete Thamel of
Now for the rest of Sunday's headlines:
Immense credit goes to Zimmer for cutting a touchdown a week off the Bengals' defensive totals and for refocusing a no-name group to playing playoff football again. I just hope the owners in position to make coaching hires after the season will do the smart thing and at least interview Zimmer to be a head coach. Long overdue, in my mind.
Think Jimmy Graham's become Drew Brees' go-to guy? He's not only Brees' key receiver now, he's the most-used receiver in recent weeks of the best passing teams in football. Look at the top five passing teams (in yards per game) and where Graham ranks related to the favorite targets on the other four teams in their last three games:
"Somebody went after Jim? Lemme put it this way: I've been in fights with Jim before myself. I won a few early. Then it got slanted the other way after a while.''
"When you stink, they're gonna let you know you stink. And I'm all kind of all right with that.''
"As we look at the one-year anniversary, we can say it's a pretty happy anniversary. As we have studied it over the past year, there is no question in our minds that players have adjusted their target areas. There is no question they are aiming lower. I think we have a safer game than we had a year ago.''
"Kind of like going from the Wood Memorial to the Kentucky Derby.''
The attendees at former Broncos, Titans and Jets assistant Mike Heimerdinger's memorial service Friday night in Nashville: Former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher; Head coaches Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak and Jim Schwartz; club execs John Elway, Mike Reinfeldt and Rick Smith; assistant coaches Alan Lowry, Sherman Smith, Bobby Turner, Kyle Shanahan, Bob Slowik, Frank Bush, Dave McGinnis, Chuck Cecil, Rick Dennison, Alex Gibbs and David Gibbs.; players Benji Olsen, Brad Hopkins, Donnie Nickey, and Zack Piller. The wife of longtime friend and fellow Titans coach Jim Washburn drove to the service from Philadelphia.
Friends and relatives packed the church Friday, and I've mentioned only the ones you might know. But it's a pretty good sign of a man when that many people fly in during an in-season game week to pay their respects.
Lived in Jersey for 24 years, and in all those years I never actually walked in the Meadowlands. (Not many people do and live to tell about, I suppose.) Finally did on Saturday, taking my dog Bailey for a 90-minute walk on the roads and paths near the tall reeds and grasses in the area around the stadium there. My wife and I were in the area for a few days while waiting for the closing on our apartment in Manhattan; the timing of this move didn't exactly work out in a golden way, as you can tell. Have to say it was a very nice walk. At one point, Bailey ducked off a path and spent a good two minutes sniffing at one specific spot. I had to cajole her to come out of there.
"Jimmy Hoffa?'' I said.
Bailey had no comment. Smart dog. She knows what's good for her.
"Somehow, I'd never stood next to Calvin Johnson before. Jesus. Built like Karl Malone.''
"Derrick Mason: Rexiled."
a. Are you trying to imitate Dwayne Bowe, Brent Celek? What a catch, tipping the ball to himself twice and catching it while on the ground.
b. Devin Hester. Said the same thing about Wes Welker last week: There's a good chance we'll be sitting in judgment about Hester for the Pro Football Hall of Fame some year.
c. Fred Jackson is so good. You know what's so impressive about him (and I knew this before his 80-yarder against the Giants)? His instincts. Such great feel for when he has tacklers around him.
d. Lots of tackling the right way Sunday -- like Terrence McGee of the Bills on Mario Manningham of the Giants.
e. Not Donovan McNabb's fault. Not at all. But Christian Ponder showed enough Sunday night that, if I'm Leslie Frazier, five games out of first place with 10 to play, I'm playing the kid. "I've got a lot of things to think about Monday,'' Frazier said after the 39-10 embarrassment in Chicago Sunday night.
f. Michael Irvin's right: Never thought I'd see an Eagle back as good and as versatile as Brian Westbrook for a while. Shady McCoy is.
g. What a hit by Nnamdi Asomugha on Chris Cooley, preventing Cooley from converting a third down into a first.
h. Loved the CBS iso-camera on Fred Jackson as he changed fields.
i. Didn't know you still had that leap in you, Kellen Winslow. What an athletic play, leaping a Saint in crunch time.
j. Brett Keisel: six tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed. Thought he was just a run-stopper.
k. Paul Posluszny: 16 tackles.
l. Michael Turner: 27 carries, 139 yards.
m. Rashard Mendenhall: 23 for 146. Is the run making a comeback? Some good days on the ground Sunday.
n. Corey Peters, that's one of the best big-man interceptions we've seen in years. You're a Wilfork.
o. Can't get over another Fassel making his name as an NFL coach. You go, John Fassel.
p. Looks like NFL Network might have good-fortuned its way into a great game in the Nov. 10 debut for Thursday night football: Oakland-San Diego.
q. I see Dallas Clark has rediscovered his hands.
a. What happened to your man coverage in the red zone, Colts?
b. Saturday, noon, college football, Louisville at Cincinnati. Attendance: 40,971. Sunday, 1 p.m., pro football, Indianapolis at Cincinnati. Attendance: 52,068 -- and it absolutely didn't look like that many.
c. Notice that every screen is now called a "bubble screen'' by every announcer?
d. Hey, Jermaine Gresham: A.J. Green's on the team now, and if you drop many more like the wide-open drop you had in the second quarter against Indy, Andy Dalton's going to throw the ball elsewhere.
e. It's always something with the Cowboys late in games.
f. What a bizarre, idiotic throw by Vince Young.
g. "Dirt on the face'' of Michael Vick? That's the reason Vince Young was in the game long enough to throw one of the silliest interceptions of the year?
h. I'm not exactly Joe TV, and I definitely learn something when I speak to him about football, but I really don't like all the screaming Steve Mariucci does. It's a communication business, not a circus.
i. I'm not writing a lot about it, and I don't fault Mike Carey for making the replay call he made allowing the touchdown catch by Nate Burleson. But we at NBC showed the Burleson catch and last year's Calvin Johnson catch side-by-side, and I don't know how you watch both of those catches -- with receivers stumbling after the catch, steadying themselves on the ground with the ball, the ball laying on the ground instead of in the receivers' hands at the end of the play -- and say one's a touchdown and one isn't.
Now, the league has made it more a point of emphasis this year that if there's significant time between the ball being possessed by the receiver and the ball leaving his grasp, and the player is able to make a football move in the process, then it should be a catch. Watch those two catches side-by-side. Other than the fact Burleson put the ball down out of the back of the end zone and Johnson put it down in the end zone, tell me the difference.
Ironic: Last week at practice, Payton was bragging to some players about how he never had to have surgery while he played college and pro (briefly) quarterback in the '80s. Days later, he'll miss the two game-planning days for the Sunday night game against Indianapolis because of the surgery. Expect him back at work sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.
It's the Carolina Panthers on the bus with kids, then getting off to exercise with them. There's Cam Newton, nodding in tune with the song, and Steve Smith, and Ron Rivera, and Jon Beason, and other players ... and -- spoiler alert now -- when the front door of the bus opens up to let everyone out, you see the driver. Jerry Richardson, the Carolina owner. In a spiffy blue suit. "When we heard Mr. Richardson would be the driver, we were all like, "Whoaaaaa,'' said Beason. Beason agrees with me: "The music is very catchy.''
But for those who say, "Anyone can do that with Tom Brady throwing the ball,'' I would say this: In 2007, with Brady his quarterback, Welker caught 112 balls for 1,175 yards, a 10.5-yards-per-catch average. In 2008, with Matt Cassel his quarterback, Welker caught 111 balls for 1,165 yards, a 10.5-yard average. Now, if you want to argue that slot receivers don't have the value of outside receivers, I'd almost get that one -- except that in many offenses, the slot receiver is as important as the outside receiver.
Look at what Peyton Manning did with Dallas Clark in the slot, following what Brandon Stokley had done. In today's offenses, the slot receiver is a vital chain-mover. If the Patriots have had one of the two or three best offenses in the game over the last half-decade -- which they clearly have had -- the most valuable receiver for them over that time (save for 2007, with Randy Moss) has been Welker.
a. What a week it was for birthdays: Favre 42, Steve Young, 50, Jerry Rice, 49, Jerry Jones, 69.
c. And very nice job, Gary Myers,
d. I see the Big East is interested in adding Boise State. Boise is east, after all. Of Walla Walla.
e. Air Force at Central Florida. Now that's a great Eastern rivalry.
f. Almost as good as SMU versus Boise State.
g. Imagine a year when Boise State has road trips to play UConn and South Florida. That's 2,578 miles to Storrs, 2,629 to Tampa. That's what I call conducive to great regional rivalries.
h. My reaction to the Bob Hohler's
But overall, the story was very good. So good, in fact, that it drove my brother-in-law (and I assume quite a few others) to say he was finished with paying a dime to the team. He told me he'd be dropping out of our little season-ticket consortium. I'll be very curious to see how much company he has.
i. Hooray for Curt Schilling on WEEI, ripping the players involved, particularly the three pitchers named (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester) for often staying in the clubhouse when they weren't pitching to drink beer, play video games and eat fried chicken. (Nice bit of detail there, Bob Hoehler.) I wondered how common it was for players to not be on the bench during baseball games when they weren't playing. It seems wrong, unless they're getting some sort of medical attention or taking extra batting practice to prepare to pinch-hit.
Evidently, it's not common, and in fact, it's frowned upon. Which makes the added insult of beer-drinking even worse. (My other question: What if Lackey pitched three innings Monday, got shelled, threw only 58 pitches, and was in the clubhouse after five beers Thursday ... and the game went long. In the 15th inning, what if the manager called for Lackey to warm up, which starters once or twice a year have to do in extra innings -- and learned he was tanked? That's a good use of $16.5 million a year, which is what Boston pays Lackey. Is it too much to ask for the beer to stay unopened until after the game?
j. Anyway, here's Schilling on WEEI: "The amount of disrespect that the players involved here showed to each other, to the organization, to Tito [Francona], to the game, is staggering to me. Probably as staggering are some of the names that are on that list. I'm blown away. I'm incredibly disappointed. Things have changed here for a long, long time, and I think it's for the worse. I think the way that this was handled by the organization is pathetic and embarrassing. Why would you want to root for this team?"
And Schilling on what to expect next April: "This could be the most abysmal Opening Day in the history of sports. These guys are going to get booed. They are going to get booed. No matter what they say in the winter time, can you imagine John Lackey jogging onto that field? . I'm saying, John is going to get a Yankee-like reception.''
l. Really happy, by the way, for the Midwestern teams in the baseball playoffs. Tony LaRussa should be a miniseries. Or a reality show.
m. Congrats, Jon Daniels. Good man from New York who followed his dream of constructing a major-league baseball team and got it done in Texas.
n. Coffeenerdness: Green Mountain Keurig Cups, I'm getting used to you at Versus on Fridays. I use the French Roast pods, flush six ounces of boiling water through one, and then another, and have a very nice 12 ounces of bold-roast coffee.
o. Beernerdness: Had the Flying Fish Exit 4 American Trippel Ale the other night. Though you don't want to drink just one, the alcohol content (9.4 percent) almost forces you to. (Me, at least, because in the middle of the second one I was practically nodding off.) Mindful of the Dogfish Head 90 in taste and impact. Delicious and bold. But drink it slooooow. Hey, how about a really good beer from Jersey? Good job, Flying Fish.
p. Help out a good man, Buster Olney. The ESPN baseball writer is organizing a roundtable discussion in November in Vermont to help the flood victims of that suffering state. He's got a great event scheduled, plus an auction of
q. And this, much to my delight, came in this morning at 2:51, from St. Louis native and Army First Sergeant Mike McGuire, the biggest Cardinals fan I know: "Peter, how about them comeback Cardinals? They come from 10.5 games out to make the World Series! Last time they won, I was deployed in Ramadi, Iraq. I will take a World Series title for this deployment! Take care, Mike."
Well. I can see MMQB has a rooting interest in the Series now. Thanks for writing, Mike.