PALM BEACH, Fla. -- New Orleans coach Sean Payton arrives at the NFL owners meetings this morning, with only seven days left in his 2012 season. Starting next Monday, Payton will begin his year-long suspension for looking the other way and, commissioner Roger Goodell ruled last week, tacitly approving the out-of-bounds bounty scandal and then misleading the league about it.
I'm told Payton is thinking of speaking to owners and coaches here, and he's undecided about it. But if he does, it won't be to blast the ruling, which he feels is patently excessive. If he speaks, I'm told it will be to say something like,
I've also heard conflicting stories about whether he'll appeal the year sanction from Goodell and try to get it reduced. That may come in the form of GM Mickey Loomis trying to convince the league it is he -- Loomis -- who should be punished the most severely because he is ultimately responsible for what happens under his watch. I don't think that has much of a chance, because of the power Payton wields in the organization. But it's at least being considered. Payton has until next Monday, the same as every person sanctioned in the bounty case, to decide whether to appeal the penalty.
Frankly, I don't think appealing would do any good. I spoke with league counsel Jeff Pash here Sunday. Goodell makes the final call on all sanctions, and Pash is his trusted adviser. People I talk to in the league are split on the discipline. Most like it. They like Goodell drawing a line in the sand and point to decisive, iron-fisted action like that as the reason why the NFL will stay on top of the sports world. But some feel Goodell's year sanction of Payton was over the top. I share that feeling, I thought eight games would have been fair. I understand why Goodell did it. He wanted to lay down the law so that, unequivocally, no coach or player would ever be tempted to put a bounty out on a foe again, ever. My feeling is it could have happened with an eight-game ban for the head coach.
"I would respond to that this way,'' Pash said. "The commissioner has been clear from day one that he wants to change the culture of the game. He wants to eliminate the gratuitous hits, and eliminate any excessive violence that has no place in the game. If accomplishing that includes harsh penalties that some people feel are excessive, then so be it. We are comfortable with the sanctions.''
Pash also said the NFL has no current evidence to show other teams have violated the bounty or pay-for-performance rules on the books. "If we found evidence of the same clarity that we found in the New Orleans case, we would take action,'' he said. "We have looked into some allegations. But as you know, allegations and accusations are not proof.''
One final point on the league's work on the Saints case: League investigators first talked to the Saints not after the Super Bowl two years ago, as had been thought -- but between the NFC Championship Game (in which Jonathan Vilma is alleged to have put a $10,000 cash bounty out on Brett Favre) and the Super Bowl against Indianapolis.
Pash refused to compare this scandal to the Spygate affair in 2007. I believe that by any measure this bounty scandal is more serious and worse for football than Spygate, which involved surreptitious taping of opponents' defensive signals, and using those tapings to gain an unfair edge in figuring out what plays the opponents would call. The bounty business involves violations of the salary cap and tax code by paying players a cash bonus off the book, and, more seriously according to the NFL's case against the Saints, involves players being incentivized to knock foes out of the game. That can't be tolerated in any form. I think we'd all agree with that.
But here is the game-suspension scoreboard in the two cases this morning: Saints Bounty Scandal 46, Spygate 0.
Gregg Williams 16 (maybe more), Sean Payton 16, Mickey Loomis eight, Joe Vitt six.
Bill Belichick 0.
And it will end up being much more lopsided. It's hard to imagine that a multi-game suspension (eight?) isn't coming for Jonathan Vilma, who is alleged to have offered mates $10,000 in cash to knock Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in January 2010. There may be other defensive players who, like Vilma, led the charge. I believe there will be more. At the end of this, the suspensions for Saints players, coaches and staff will likely approach 60 games. Or more.
There are more people involved in this case -- coaches, staff, players -- than in Spygate. So the penalty is going to seem more severe. But two high draft choices, and 46 games, with more to come, is one heck of a message to send.
Finally: I don't believe for a second this is a case of Roger Goodell protecting his pal Bob Kraft (you do a friend a favor by taking a first-round draft pick from him?) and coming down hard on Tom Benson. It's a case of laying down the gauntlet to the Saints, and to any other team foolish enough to keep any such system in place, that Goodell is going to have no tolerance.
In his letter to Williams informing him of the sanctions, Goodell has given Williams a clear path how to get reinstated in 2013. The commissioner wrote thusly to Williams on Wednesday: "I will review your status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether, and if so, on what terms, you may be reinstated and again eligible to be employed in the NFL. In making this decision, I will give considerable weight to the extent to which you cooperate with my office in any further proceedings, as well as developing and implementing programs designed to teach players and coaches -- particularly at other levels of the game -- how to play football in a way that is safe, fair, and that respects the game and those who participate in it ... I appreciate that this decision will be difficult for you. I hope you will use the opportunity to reflect on how you can return to the NFL in a way that honors the game and improves it for those who participate in it.''
Sounds like if Williams makes some come-clean speeches to high school and college football teams around the country at the NFL's behest, he'll be back in the game in 2013 -- assuming the Rams will still employ him. That's likely, but not certain.
This is a very solid first move, bringing in a better corner than two (Eric Wright, Aaron Ross) who got richer first-week contracts. The only X factor with any former Saint, however, concerns the bounty investigation, and whether any players will be suspended. We don't know whether Porter was involved, and whether he'll face any discipline.
Four points on Tim Tebow's arrival in New York:
1. In a strict football sense, Tebow as a Jet makes sense. He allows a risk-taking coach, Rex Ryan, and his Wildcat-loving offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, to experiment with different ways to use Tebow. Wildcat quarterback. Spreading the field on the two-point conversion. Maybe even the personal protector on the punt team where imaginative special teams coach Mike Westhoff can throw some changeups at the defense. But it's not always about football with Tebow.
On Saturday, he went to a Broadway play. The
2. Tebow and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, absolutely had a choice on where the Broncos would trade Tebow, despite Tebow's statement that only Denver controlled that. The Jags had a better fourth-round pick on the table than the Jets were offering -- by seven draft slots. The Jags were offering $500,000 more than the Jets in compensation for the advances paid on his contract. But Denver was willing to deal Tebow to either team. And it was a very difficult choice for the young quarterback, because he is from Jacksonville. But the decision made sense. The Jets wanted him more, and would use him more, ostensibly. It's simple.
3. One Jag quarterback point: the leash will be short on Blaine Gabbert this year, and Chad Henne will be the quarterback at some point if Gabbert is as bad as he was last fall. Why would Tebow want to be a third-string quarterback, with coaches who aren't big fans of the gimmicky stuff the way the Jets are? It would have made no sense, regionalism notwithstanding, for Tebow to go to Jacksonville.
4. I will be shocked if, one day before the end of his career, Tebow is not a member of the Jaguars -- assuming the Jags remain in Jacksonville long-term. When? I don't know. But unless he establishes a solid starting beachhead in New Jersey or elsewhere soon, he'll be a Jag one of these days. Just makes too much sense for a franchise that needs the juice of Tebow.
I completed a story for
"The NFL's in really good shape with these good young offensive minds,'' Manning said from Denver late last night. "I've got to say that's one thing that impressed me as I went from team to team, especially meeting a lot of guys I either didn't know or didn't know very well. Smart guys. I was really impressed.''
Manning's got a knack for remembering names, but this was impressive. As he went team by team, he picked out young coaches he liked. "Tennessee's got a good up-and-coming young quarterback coach, Dowell Loggains,'' he said. "Chris Palmer [Titans offensive coordinator] I know and really like, and Munch [coach Mike Munchak] ... I really like Mike. A lot. I would have loved to play there. Seriously, I would have loved to play at a lot of these places. Arizona's got a good young offensive coordinator, Mike Miller, who impressed me. Good quarterback coach, Mike McNulty. [Line coach] Russ Grimm and Whiz [coach Ken Whisenhunt], I love those guys. Mike Sherman and Joe Philbin were great when I talked to the Dolphins. And I just texted [49ers offensive coordinator] Greg Roman today. That guy's sharp now. And coach [Jim] Harbaugh is so sharp. That would have been a great place.
"But I'm really happy about Denver. Mike McCoy [offensive coordinator] is really flexible and smart. We'll work well together. [Quarterback coach] Adam Gase, I look forward to working with him. Seems really smart.''
After we finished talking, Manning sent an email about his mentor from the University of Tennessee, current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who's been spearheading Manning's workouts and throwing program this winter on the Duke campus.
"Last thing,'' he wrote. "Cutcliffe is the best coach of quarterbacks in America right now, college and pro. I can't thank him enough for all he has done to help me during this time.''
The recall Manning has -- and I mean about every coach he was met with over two weeks -- is remarkable.
The former Patriots head coach and Giants and Steelers offensive coordinator died in Florida Wednesday at 80. I'll always remember him for the great coaching job he did in Super Bowl XXV as the Giants' offensive strategist, one of the great game-planning and play-calling days I've seen in the years I've covered the NFL.
That season, 1990, there wasn't an off-week between the championship games and the Super Bowl. In the AFC title game, Buffalo steamrolled Oakland 51-3. In the NFC title game, the Giants, heavy underdogs, got five field goals from Matt Bahr at San Francisco and won 15-13. Forget the later heroics against the superior Niners. Now the Giants had to figure some way to stop the Buffalo offensive avalanche. When Bill Parcells got on the team bus at Candlestick Park after the game, he saw Erhardt and said three words: "Shorten the game.''
Keep the ball in Jeff Hostetler's hands and away from Jim Kelly. Play power football. Power football wins, the Giants preached all week. Snap the ball at the end of the play clock. Stay inbounds. Run the clock. Erhardt kept the plan simple. He didn't ask his backup quarterback to do too much, preferring to let his big back, Ottis Anderson, execute the Giants' elementary plays in the running game.
The Giants were so brute-force in that game that bruising Buffalo linebacker Shane Conlan had his facemask snapped on a running play. "That never happened to me before,'' he said after the game. New York had scoring drives of 11, 10, 14 and 14 plays. The Giants held the ball for 40 minutes and 33 seconds. The Bills, of course, were mashed up by a physical Giants defense and missed the field goal at the end of the game that would have won it. The Giants survived 20-19.
The other day, after Erhardt died, I asked Parcells about "Shorten the game.'' How big of a reason was it in the outcome of the game?
"It wasn't a reason,'' Parcells said the other day. "It was the reason. Ron had a terrific plan that day. He was a great football coach.''
Postscript: When Dick Vermeil took the Chiefs coaching job in 2001, he brought in one offensive coach to talk offensive philosophy to his staff and his team: Erhardt. "I loved the way he coached basic offensive football, done right all the time,'' Vermeil said.
From knowing him, I can tell you Erhardt would love that to be his legacy.
I asked new Kansas City tackle Eric Winston, who was unexpectedly cut by Houston and signed a four-year deal with the Chiefs, to write a short piece about what happens when a veteran player gets whacked and has to find a new home. His thoughts:
"He liked my performance. I hope I like his performance.''
"Okay, so Peyton Manning was a tremendous MVP quarterback, but he's been injured. If that injury comes back, Denver will find itself without a quarterback. And in my opinion, it would serve them right."
"[Ross] said they had been shopping him for a couple weeks. Nobody would return their phone calls about getting him. If Chicago didn't take him, they would have ended up cutting him very shortly after that."
"Did you hear Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos? When Tim Tebow heard the news, he dropped to one knee and prayed, 'Don't trade me to Cleveland!' ''
A former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals Ben-Gal squad, Laura Vikmanis, has written a memoir. It's called
(Some of you might say, The Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me should end right there. A cheerleader writing a memoir. But I will plow forward.)
According to the
If there were a Kardashian Best-Seller List, this
I wish I had a better travel note than this, because I traveled to Denver and Florida in the last seven days, but I cannot top ESPN reporter Josina Anderson's, as she returned on American Airlines from a trip to New Orleans reporting the Saints bounty story.
As she sat eating Corn Flakes on the plane Saturday morning, the man sitting next to her took his shoes off and, barefooted, put his feet on the wall in the bulkhead seat in front of them.
That is worth combat pay, ESPN. Reward the woman.
"Pretty funky visual during breakfast,'' Anderson observed.
I can think of a couple of words stronger than funky, Josina. I know travel is increasingly sardine-cannish, but I draw the line at four things:
1. Excessive security lines. Twice since January I've waited in a 50-minute or longer line. If airlines are going to schedule so many packed flights out of the same terminal at times close to each other, they should open up more security lines. Advice: Ask the Indianapolis airport people how they do it. Even those returning from the Super Bowl and using the airport late in the week marveled at how quickly the lines moved, and how many lines were open. Obviously that's a smaller airport. It's going to be worse at JFK or O'Hare or Atlanta, naturally. But JFK ... it's a total guessing game whether you need to get to the airport 100 minutes early or 40. So of course you have to get there almost two hours before flying.
2. Bare feet on display, and placed on seats or bulkheads.
4. Being an idiot to flight attendants. As in the woman on my United flight to Denver early Tuesday morning, who twice rang her flight-attendant call button to ask for a blanket, which, in coach, often either doesn't exist anymore or only does if there are extras from first class. The second time, she said, "It must be 55 degrees in here. Can you please do something!'' It wasn't. And happily, the flight attendant did nothing, and the woman shivered in normal temperatures most of the way across the country.
"Jets scrambling furiously to set up Tebow presser. Pews for beat writers only''
Good chance it'll be the first backup quarterback's press conference in NFL history carried live on ESPN.
"So Tebow goes back to where 1/2 of Florida is from.''
"There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last....''
Imagine getting drafted in the first round, and barely producing, and there are the Bengals, with a nice soft landing spot. The only saving grace is the money, which is minor.
I'm not crazy about Cincy giving $3 million a year for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is not a make-them-miss runner and whose biggest attributes are that he catches the ball well and doesn't fumble. But he's a good, unselfish guy to have on the roster.
What it comes down to is the Broncos need Manning to give the team three mostly injury-free seasons for this contract to be worth it for them. Three years, $58 million for Manning is fair -- if he's Manning of old, or a reasonable facsimile.
Namath has lived in Florida for more than 30 years, and before this Rays-Marlins game had never attended a spring training or regular season baseball game in the state. That's one notable note from Namath's day with the Rays.
The other: While in high school in Beaver Falls, Pa., Namath was good enough to be drafted by the Cubs. And his team once played a state playoff game in Forbes Field, right around the time the Pirates were the hot ticket in town for beating the Yankees in the 1960 World Series, four games to three. When Beaver Falls took batting practice before the state playoff game, Namath homered over the fence at the venerable park.
a. North Carolina 73, Ohio U. 65, overtime. Imagine your best player (D.J. Cooper) shoots 3 of 20, you get outrebounded by 30, you lose, and the best player on the other team, Tyler Zeller, says after the game, "Ohio played the better game.''
An odd game by my alma mater, but a nobly played one. Proud of the Bobcats. That doesn't mean the end of regulation is something soon forgotten.
I'll remember the missed foul that should have been called on a Cooper drive to the basket, when he got hatcheted in the face in front of the trail ref. The ref called nothing, Cooper fell to the floor and North Carolina got a 5-on-4 and a vital last-minute three-point basket.
I'll also remember Walter Offutt's missed free throw that likely would have been the winning point with 27 seconds left; and Cooper's halfcourt rimmer at the buzzer of regulation.
But that's sports. OU would never have been in this game had it not been for Offutt's great shooting against South Florida in the round of 32 -- and OU would never have been close in this one without Offutt's 26. But as coach John Groce said afterward: "There's nothing I can say to them at this point that's going to take away the sting of getting beat in that one.''
b. I guess this means Groce is a prime candidate for some big job now. He certainly deserves one, but I hope he stays in Athens.
c. This week's sign that journalistic priorities are out of whack or I am a ridiculously old fart: The
d. Wait. I am an old fart. It is official. In a Sunday morning
e. If Fred Wilpon really loved the Mets, he'd sell them.
f. What would possess a man, other than having feelings of hatred or vengeance I suppose, to tweet out another man's cell phone number? I don't get the joke, C.J. Wilson.
g. Are you serious, Pirates? Erik Bedard the opening day starter? Whoa.
h. I feel for Joba Chamberlain. And for those wondering why he'd do such a "hazardous'' thing as be on a trampoline with his 6-year-son, two things: Ever have a child? Ever play with your child? Those are the kinds of things you do with a 6-year-old child. And don't tell me you've ever heard of an accident the type of which Chamberlain suffered on a trampoline. Weird, freaky, one-in-a-million. If you want to call him irresponsible for driving under the influence, fine. If you want to call him irresponsible for jumping on a trampoline on an outing with his son, just stop.
i. My rotisserie team, after last Thursday's draft for our 12-team league in New Jersey, which none of you care about: Buster Posey catching, Adrian Gonzalez at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Elvis Andrus at short, Chase Headley at third, Michael Bourne, Jayson Werth, Carlos Beltran, Corey Hart in the outfield, David Ortiz as DH/extra hitter, a rotation of James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Beachy, Shawn Marcum and Max Scherzer, and Jordan Walden, Grant Balfour and Brandon League as the main closers. (Silly rules of the league -- three relievers.) I know, I know. I am trusting Werth to rebound too much. But by the time I picked him, I needed power so much I was desperate.
j. Thanks for the drafting help, Matthew Berry, in between watching the Syracuse game the other night. Interesting preaching by the roto expert: I kept telling him about the run on closers. "Sixteen closers are gone,'' I told him. "I've got to take one.'' He said, Don't worry. You'll find closers you can use. You always will. He was right. Closers in fantasy baseball are made and broken every May. This year I'm counting on Addison Reed of the White Sox to be my midseason ace-in-the-closer-hole.
k. Coffeenerdness: Best $2.05 I spent last week: the medium French Roast at the Caribou Coffee in Terminal B at the Denver Airport. Best French Roast I've had.
l. Beernerdness: Thanks, Colorado Avalanche, for having New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire on draft at your games. Albert Breer of NFL Network and I were very grateful for your beer-stocking choice last Tuesday at Avs-Flames.
m. Don "Donnie Brasco'' Banks tells me I missed a great show Friday night in Tampa, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band finished a three-hour concert with Tenth Avenue Freezeout. I am very jealous, Brasco.
n. RIP, Bert Randolph Sugar, one of the great raconteurs in sports history, and certainly the pre-eminent boxing historian. He died Sunday at 75 of cancer. Too many good people dying. It's depressing. Sugar was a friend to all in the boxing game and the media, and he loved football. A fixture at the NFL Draft every year, he was no one-trick sports pony. He knew every game, and his stories will live on.