I'll take you through the stories of an eventful Week 1 of the NFL season, but shouldn't that be singular? As in, "story?" Peyton Manning turned the clock back Sunday night, and he got the Super Bowl express rolling in Denver. He had help -- his weaponry on offense, and Tracy Porter's first interception return for touchdown since the Super Bowl-clincher off one Peyton Manning -- but it was a night to revel in the return of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
The headlines of a compelling weekend:
The win makes Manning 7-1 lifetime against defenses run by Hall of Fame corner/coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Of course, then there was one -- the crew in Arizona giving the Seahawks a fourth second-half timeout, instead of three, and the NFL observer on site not straightening out the mess when he had the chance. Bad error. Luckily for the league, the Cardinals hung on to win. Even with that error and game times that dragged, the league's not likely to give much ground if and when talks with the regular officials resume.
The first fair overtime game ever is played in Minnesota. Vikes get the ball first, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh kicks a 38-yard field goal. In past regular seasons, that would have been the game. Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23. But the Jags, because Minnesota hadn't scored a touchdown on the first possession of OT, got the ball with a chance to score a touchdown and get a walkoff win or a field goal to extend it. But Blaine Gabbert went four-and-out. Ballgame. Equitable ballgame.
There's more -- about the life and times of Art Modell, about the apparently no-longer-counterfeit Bucs, about Atlanta's new explosiveness, and about Houston showing Matt Schaub the money. On with the show.
I asked Neil Hornsby of ProFootballFocus.com, the site that examines plays by breaking down all 22 players' roles and performances on every snap, to look at a matchup of the week for me. He'll provide the breakdown of a specific matchup, or how one player performs in a big game.
For Week 1, fortuitously, I asked Hornsby to provide data for Robert Griffin III's first regular season NFL start at New Orleans. Here's what the ProFootballFocus.com study of Griffin's play showed:
After the game, I asked him about the 2nd-and-13 call with just over two minutes left when the Redskins were trying to run the clock out -- a telling call by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, a throw up the seam to Paulson. Big play, because if the ball's incomplete, the Redskins face a 3rd-and-13, and if they don't convert, they give the ball back to Drew Brees with about 1:53 left, and a touchdown/two-point conversion would tie the game. But the pass was perfectly thrown, and Paulson gained 22. Brees got it back with 22 seconds left. Not enough time to make anything happen.
"You can either be predictable,'' Griffin said, "or you can trust your players to make plays. I give a lot of credit to Kyle there for trusting me. When we were on the sidelines before that play, he asked me if I thought I could complete that throw. I said I was confident I could, and he called it.''
Griffin said he was confident even though, as he said, "We never ran anything in the preseason. We didn't want to show anybody anything. But then we went out, weathered the storm with their crowd early and played well. This is the pinnacle. It's what I've wanted to do for so long.''
He did it well. He said he audibled about 10 times, not necessarily to plays he thought would be big-gainers, but "changing from a negative play to a play that had a better chance.'' He didn't turn it over in a hostile environment, and Washington kept the ball for 39 minutes. Hard to think the Shanahans could have drawn it up any better.
The average time of the first 14 games this season is 3 hours 14 minutes, six minutes more than Week 1 2011. Average penalties per game in the first 14 games: 13.71. That's almost one penalty more than the 2011 full-season average.
I saw a few bad calls Sunday. The officials in Green Bay-San Francisco missed an illegal block in the back on Randall Cobb's 75-yard punt return. In Arizona, ref Bruce Hermansen gave Seattle a fourth timeout in the second half
This isn't the first time a team mistakenly got four timeouts in a half; it happened in a Browns-Ravens game in 2009. Still, the league's very lucky Arizona won this game. Imagine the outcry if Seattle, with the extra long timeout, had cooked up a play that would have been the winning points in the opener.
Midway through the late-afternoon games, NFL VP Ray Anderson told me: "Overall, we're satisfied with the performance of the officials, considering the unbelievable scrutiny they have been under. As we have said, we're not going to be as concerned with time of games as making sure we take the time to get the plays right.''
Anderson said the Week 2 assignments for all crews have been made, and by Wednesday, the replacement officials would know their assignments for Week 3.
Meanwhile, in our NBC bunker watching the games Sunday, I viewed the proceedings with former league official Jim Daopoulos; NBC has hired him as an officiating consultant. He said the solidarity of the officials will be tested now that they're missing their average $5,500-per-week paychecks. "The wives are going to start saying, 'I miss that paycheck,' '' Daopoulos said.
This could be an interesting week in negotiations -- if indeed there are any. Negotiator and current ref Scott Green told me Wednesday he's never seen the officials more unified. That'll be tested, because I think with no game-turning crises in the first 14 games, the NFL will be motivated to hold a hard line against them.
Stat of the Weekend: San Francisco has not turned the ball over in the last 26 regular season quarters. That's six and a half games without a turnover.
Newcomer of the Weekend: Randy Moss caught the Niners' first touchdown of the season. He played about a third of the snaps, getting good separation from corners when he was in. And he blocked. That's right. Randy Moss blocked. This could be a ridiculously good pickup for Jim Harbaugh's offense, particularly if Moss doesn't have to play too much and can stay healthy for 16 games. Or more.
The Niners return the conference's best defense intact -- 11 starters and pass rusher Aldon Smith -- and after 45 minutes led one of the best offenses to take the field in years, Green Bay, by 23-7. The Pack made it close down the stretch, but you got the feeling this was San Francisco's game all the way. The Niners' motto is "The team, the team, and the team.'' They have a good one -- the one that looked the best in football in Week 1.
I like when coaches capture a moment and impart the kind of wisdom fourth-grade teachers can impart, but it sounds so logical and simple that ... well, let me throw this story from the Meadowlands at you.
Did you see the silly interception Mark Sanchez threw on the first possession of the Jets' season? Rolling out on second down at his 47, Sanchez neared the sideline when, for reasons known only to him, he tried way too hard to make something happen, flipping the ball in Favrian style to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But safety Bryan Scott picked it off, and the Jets' horrendous offensive summer seemed about to continue into an even worse autumn.
Sanchez looked disgusted with himself when Sparano found him.
"Listen son,'' Sparano said, "you didn't have to do that. You'd made six or seven positive plays in a row to get us there, and if you throw it away, it's third down and you keep the drive going. It doesn't have to be you winning the game by yourself. Cut your losses. Let your teammates help.''
Sparano told me last night: "It was an easy conversation to have. Mark's a very good kid. He knew. Every play doesn't have to be a home run.''
Some players -- and maybe Sanchez last year -- would have squeezed the football so tight on the next possession, and the next, and not been able to make winning plays. But on his next five drives, Sanchez went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown, with 266 yards of efficient, accurate drives. "Mark got the ball out on rhythm,'' said Sparano. "That's the way we've seen him play in practice. I think it was just a matter of getting all our receivers out there healthy and contributing as a unit.''
Winning 48-28 in the opener is important to any team. It was incredibly important to the Jets, and to Sanchez. They'd been the worst offensive team in the NFL in the preseason, and it seems like a matter of time before Tim Tebow seriously threatened Sanchez's job security, all the nicey-nice talk around the team notwithstanding. But Sparano never got to dip into his bag of tricks for Tebow on Sunday, basically because he didn't need to; the game was out of hand early. And Sparano figured: Why give future foes a chance to scout Tebow doing exactly what the Jets think can be dangerous enough to win a game down the road? "The kid is getting better,'' said Sparano. "We're going to use him in a bunch of different ways.''
Just not Sunday.
In honor of my friend Paul Zimmerman, the long-time
After the break, Sundberg, a third-year undrafted free agent from Cal, had the arm wrapped and snapped six balls to the punter and holder the rest of the game -- flawlessly. How exactly does one snap a ball on a line to a kicker or holder with a broken arm? "Well, it was my guide arm, my left,'' he said. "So if it had been my right arm, the arm I use to snap, I would have been in trouble. I was able to guide the ball through my legs and get it back OK.'' If you say so.
This was the first football weekend in 27 years that Hines Ward has not been either playing a football game, practicing to play a football game, or rehabbing from an injury suffered in a football game.
His last such autumn weekend came in 1985, when young Hines, in fourth grade in Forest Park, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, didn't play football. Since then, it was three years with the Forest Park Dolphins youth team, one season at Babb Middle School, four seasons at Forest Park High, four seasons at Georgia, and 14 seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Half my life ... three quarters of my life. Amazing,'' he said Friday, prepping for another day in his new job analyzing the game for NBC. "What's amazing is how it flew by. I'm a kid, playing, then it seems like I'm in Pittsburgh, just trying to earn a roster spot. And I got so much out of it. No one loved football more than I did. But now, I've got this new life, and I've got to work hard at it. It's definitely going to be weird, but it's OK to hang up the shoes and move on.''
"Oh man, I gotta get out of Cleveland.''
"It's like we were making up for lost time."
"I'm still feeling my way out. I still have some limitations."
What would those be, exactly?
I did enjoy the graphic our game guys used at NBC, the one that showed Manning throwing a sideline route, pre-surgeries, at 49.7 mph, and the same type of sideline route this summer at 47.6. His ball looks to be slightly less of the 100 percent perfect spiral it was three or four years ago. But the accuracy, and the way he fits it into small areas looks the same to me.
"We have 12 plays on the wristband. The terminology is the same as we used in New Orleans. The kids said, 'This looks hard.' But I said, 'I've seen your homework. That's a lot harder.' And they've done a great job with it.''
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's tweet on March 3: "Statement is I'm gonna lead the league n rushing this year save this."
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson's stat line in Sunday's opener: 11 carries, four yards.
Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, at that pace, would have to play 402 games this fall to win the rushing title, if it takes the same number of yards, 1,606, to win the rushing title this year as last year.
I beg you, Delta Air Lines and LaGuardia Airport. Please fix the insane asylum that is Terminal C and D, and the Marine Air Terminal, at the airport. For the unfamiliar, here's how it works if you've got a Delta flight at LaGuardia. Delta is at Terminal A (the Marine Air Terminal), Terminal C and Terminal D. When you approach the airport, the Delta Shuttle (flights to Washington and Boston) operate out of Terminal A. The other flights operate out of Terminal C or D.
If you print out your boarding pass a couple hours before your flight and head for the airport, you'll usually have the gate number on the boarding pass. If not, God help you.
Let's say you're not from New York, and you're just in town, and you have to catch a plane out of LaGuardia on Delta. Cab driver says to you, "Where to?'' You say, "LaGuardia. Delta terminal." Cabbie wonders if that's the Marine Air Terminal, Terminal C or Terminal D. You don't have your boarding pass. So you don't know. You approach the airport, and there should be some signage on site, telling you where your flight is flying out of. Nope. No idea.
And if you guess Terminal D, let's say, and it's Terminal C, you get through the rat's maze of security -- it's always long, because Delta is always busy -- and then have to get sardined into a bus downstairs for the ride to Terminal C. Or if it's the Marine Air Terminal, you've got a long ride on a different airport bus.
I mean, anybody at Delta ever hear of signage?
"Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year. 'Overreaction Monday.' ''
"Troy polamalu is the most instinctive safety in the history of the #nfl #pittsburghsteelers''
"Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin''
"The good news in all of this, is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there shall be no excuses at this point."
"I miss newspapers. It's weird hitting a dog on the nose with an iPad. @4thandpain"
You're a good man, Carriker.
Most memorable characters/figures I have covered in 29 years following the NFL, not necessarily in this order (but it's close):
1. Lawrence Taylor
Modell, who died in Baltimore Thursday morning, is so many things to so many people: TV pioneer, firer of Paul Brown and Bill Belichick, Browns killer, Ravens founder, hated in Cleveland, beloved in Baltimore, one of the funniest people ever put on the earth, heart of gold to the downtrodden, spender of money he did not have, benefactor who gave away millions that he did have. Unforgettable, in a word.
Modell was one of the most influential owners of his time, and certainly the most fun. I recall many league meetings when I heard an explosion of laughter from a circle of media people and figured, Art's in the middle of that. He married an actress, Patricia Breslin, and loved the Hollywood set. After one Cleveland game in the '80s, he invited coach Marty Schottenheimer and GM Ernie Accorsi to his box -- and there were Modell and Milton Berle in the box, seeing who could tell the best joke.
As much as he helped bring in $8.4 billion in TV deals over his time negotiating those contracts -- he and Commissioner Pete Rozelle were the key to the NFL becoming such a popular TV game -- I'll always think his greatest TV accomplishment was being such a strong proponent to the other owners of staging a weekly game on Monday night. Because Rozelle was brilliant, and I believe the TV deals would have gotten done, though it's clear, as long-time TV executive Dick Ebersol said Thursday, that the debt owed Modell for his TV efforts "is incalculable.'' The Monday night franchise was at least in part a triumph of Modell's persistence, and of the calculated risk that defined his career.
Before the 1970 season, Rozelle began experimenting with games on Monday night. The Packers and Lions played one in 1964, and they sold out Tiger Stadium for it. Between 1966 and 1969, Rozelle scheduled six more games on Monday nights, two on prime-time TV. But Modell wanted to make it a TV series.
Sports in the late '80s and early '70s were not dominated by football the way they are today. Modell and Rozelle thought football on TV could spike the sport's popularity. In early 1970, ABC was dead last in the network ratings, and Modell and Rozelle convinced it to put a game on in prime time every week. Some owners chafed, thinking their fans wouldn't want to go to a football game on a work night inside of the normal Sunday afternoon time.
"I'll take the first one,'' Modell said, meaning he'd put the Browns on the first week of the Monday night slate. "But give me Joe Namath for it.'' So the NFL scheduled Jets at Browns for the first Monday nighter on ABC, on Sept. 21, 1970. Three days before the game, Modell fretted that only 50,000 tickets had been sold; would the factory worker who had to be on the job Tuesday at 7 a.m. be downtown at a football game until after 11? But the crowd kept coming and coming Monday night. Modell had to rush extra ticket sellers to the stadium, and his biggest crowd of the year, 85,703, showed up ... including several thousand standing room fans.
"The only people angry that night,'' Modell said much later, "were the fire marshals."
Monday night became appointment NFL viewing. In high school, my favorite TV of the fall was the NFL halftime highlights; in those days, you had to wait until Monday night to see most of the highlights, and I always stayed up until those were shown. Modell and Rozelle made that happen.
In the mid-'80s, I got to know Modell, and he was always a great interview and source for information. But he was impetuous and maddening, at times, for those who worked for him. The Browns decided to hold the line in an ugly contract dispute with popular local nose tackle Bob Golic and got ripped on the talk shows and the papers for it. Modell didn't like the heat from his customers. "You're going to have to loosen up, kid,'' Modell told then-GM Accorsi.
In the Belichick years (1991-95), the joke around the office was that "ready, fire, aim" was Modell's motto. But he believed stridently in equal opportunity, promoting African Americans Ozzie Newsome and James Harris to GM and pro personnel director, respectively, after the franchise moved to Baltimore -- and giving Newsome a personnel job when he left the field in Cleveland.
My favorite Modell story: On a November Thursday night in 1995, I got a call around 10 or so from my managing editor at
"Sorry to bother you, Art, and I wouldn't call now if it wasn't important,'' I said. "But I hear you might be moving your team to Baltimore. Is that true?''
Pause. Two seconds, three. "I can't lie to you, Peter,'' he said. "The answer is yes."
I always appreciated that about Modell. First, that he gave out his home number; that's something owners used to do, and more than a few won't give out their cell or home numbers now. But he could have beaten around the bush or lied. Not his style.
From there, that was one of the craziest long weekends I've seen in nearly three decades covering the league. The Browns leaving Cleveland? Insane! The Packers leaving Green Bay would have been just as loony. The news spread like wildfire in pre-Internet days the next day. Modell found the financial situation in the old stadium in Cleveland untenable, and years later said he would have had to declare bankruptcy if he'd tried to stay.
I found out that in signing free agent receiver Andre Rison before the '95 season, he'd been turned down by two Cleveland banks when he tried to borrow the money for Rison's signing bonus -- and had to use personal collateral to get the $5 million loan.
I went to Cleveland for the game against Houston that weekend, and the crowd was vicious. I walked down into the Dawg Pound and found the unofficial leader of the fans, Big John Thompson, who was without his big dog mask that day. "You wouldn't wear a dog mask to your brother's funeral, would you?'' he said sadly. The fans congregated behind a stanchion outside the Browns' locker room postgame, and in a Barabbas-like chant, yelled "Bring us Modell!''
The next day, in a parking lot in downtown Baltimore, Modell stood uncomfortably with city and state leaders announcing he'd signed a deal to move the Browns to Baltimore. Part of his agreement with Maryland was he'd join in a lawsuit against the city of Cleveland or the NFL if either sued to stop the move. How incredible to consider the ultimate league man, Modell, in a legal tiff with the league -- and the league never did sue to stop him. As I wrote then, "The NFL suing Art Modell would be like Ward Cleaver suing the Beaver.''
After the announcement that day, I asked Modell what he thought of the view back in Cleveland -- the view expressed by Cleveland mayor Michael White, who said, "Like a thief in the night, our NFL franchise has been snatched from our community.''
The quote made Modell furious. "Thief in the night!'' he told me. "I'd better count to 10 before I respond to that. I've given my life -- my blood, my sweat, my tears -- to the Cleveland Browns and to Cleveland. They were too late!''
But the city never forgave Modell -- even though, after a four-year hiatus without football, the Browns got the shiny new stadium Modell had always wanted, and a fabulously wealthy owner, credit card scion Al Lerner, who lavished heretofore never-seen-in-the-NFL perks on his players. Valet parking at the stadium, free grocery shopping and dry-cleaning for the players, and pickup service at night if they'd ever had too much to drink.
The four years without football, and that the Browns haven't built a consistent winner since that fateful weekend in 1995, led to the Modell family, wisely, asking the Browns Saturday to have no tribute to Modell inside Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday before the season-opener against Philadelphia. It would have been a debacle, with 17 years of pent-up boos directed by some portion of the crowd -- who knows how much -- at the late Modell.
Cleveland and Baltimore are 375 miles apart. They're worlds apart, obviously, when it comes to feelings for Modell. There's the hatred in Cleveland, and there's this: On Saturday, the Ravens held a viewing of Modell's casket (the funeral is Tuesday morning, 12 hours after tonight's Chargers-Raiders game ends, fittingly) at M&T Bank Stadium, and about 3,000 fans came to pay their respects. One was an elderly man, who brought his son and grandson to Modell's son David. "I want to introduce my son and grandson,'' the man said. "I just wanted to say thank you. We didn't have football until your dad brought it here.''
That's why Modell is the most polarizing figure in modern NFL history. There will be time to debate his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which I'll do this fall as the winnowing process for the Hall continues. But the history lesson with him is so deep and so interesting. That's where I wanted to take you this morning.
"Don't go. I don't know if I can do this without you.''
"Absolutely. Absolutely killed him ... As time passed by, it was more difficult for him to satisfy himself that he wasn't responsible in some way for at least some of the harm there, some of the harm to the fans' passion.''
"Scribes and pundits who believe in fairness and honesty dropped the ball today in allowing Art Modell to pass from this Earth without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. In addressing this in Baltimore, you speak to the choir; in addressing this to those around the country, who grasp the contribution Mr. Modell made over five generations of being a pioneer and visionary in this great game and great league -- highlighted by his leadership in negotiating TV contracts and being an owner for two NFL Championship teams -- you speak to the choir. But, there is a narrow-minded corps of individuals who came up small today. Very small."
"Remind me not to have my bar mitzvah here.''
"There is lots of laughter in heaven today. Art's arrived."
a. The plane over MetLife Stadium Wednesday night before Cowboys-Giants carrying this banner: FREE SEAN PAYTON.
b. Chris Berman re-signing, apparently for life, with ESPN, where he belongs. I must be thick. I don't get all the hatred for the guy. I know his Two-Minute Drills are usually closer to Twenty-Two-Minute Drills, but the way he keeps history -- football and otherwise -- in his essays ... I can't get enough of that.
c. Great interpretation by Ron Jaworski on the opening "NFL Matchup" show of the season. Jaworski showed how the 49ers attacked Dallas' outside linebackers early last season, running Delanie Walker out of the backfield against Anthony Spencer on a wheel route for a surprise touchdown. Green Bay, Jaws inferred, would need to be on the lookout for plays like this with converted college defensive end Nick Perry playing his first game at left outside linebacker for the Packers Sunday. Smart.
d. The confidence of Drew Brees in Jimmy Graham, to throw him a jump-ball between two Washington defenders in the end zone.
e. Mark Sanchez, after an awful shovel-pick, coming back with a good TD pass to Jeremy Kerley.
f. That sack of Tom Brady from behind is why they're paying you the big bucks, Kamerion Wimbley.
g. Great FOX stat midway through the third quarter at New Orleans: The Saints had 23 three-and-outs all season last year. Through two and a half quarters, the Saints had four on Sunday.
h. Greatness of Adrian Peterson Dept.: He is 27. The Vikings are 52. He is now their all-time leading rusher.
i. Tim Tebow: best onside-kick catcher in history.
j. What a deflection by Minnesota rookie safety Harrison Smith in overtime. Biggest play on the game-clinching drive.
k. Alfred Morris. Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.
l. Now all you Washington fans know who DeJon Gomes is. Second-year corner from Nebraska, 146th player picked in 2011, opportunistic kid who got the clinching interception for the Redskins at New Orleans.
m. Never have there been 169 more meaningless rushing yards in a game than C.J. Spiller's, but the man did run hard.
n. Colt McCoy.
o. Agree or disagree with the men, but you've got to applaud Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind on same-sex marriage, and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for having a strong opinion,
p. Great play-calling day by Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator. And maybe this is the year that Ahmad Brooks, the linebacker who came up huge down the stretch in pressuring Aaron Rodgers, starts to be recognized as a top player.
a. The Bills.
b. Giants rookie running back David Wilson's hands.
c. My forecast of the Jets: awful. I mean, I thought they'd get wiped by the Bills, and it was the Jets who did the wiping.
d. The headache Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur are all waking up with this morning after watching Brandon Weeden's 5.1-rating, four-pick performance against the Eagles.
e. Snakebit Brown of the Week: Undrafted free agent linebacker L.J. Fort from Northern Iowa. With the Browns up 16-10 in the final two minutes over Philadelphia and trying to keep Mike Vick out of the end zone, Fort dropped into coverage and dropped a catchable interception that would have sealed a Cleveland victory. Vick threw the winning touchdown pass moments later.
f. Victor Cruz's hands. He even took to Twitter to apologize for his three drops Wednesday.
g. Schoolmarms in Greeley, Colo., banning Peyton Manning jerseys because the district thinks the No. 18 has a gang connotation. In the immortal word of Jimmy Johnson, "Puh-leeeeeze."
h. The Vick pick, one of them. Horrendous throw, five feet over LeSean McCoy's head.
i. Matthew Stafford. Three first-half interceptions, with a fourth dropped.
j. Patrick Robinson, slow getting off the field on a Washington punt, which drew a flag and gave the Redskins a fresh set of downs. A disgrace.
k. Catch that pick, Brian Orakpo. Come on. The Redskin rusher's dropped pick gave the Saints life.
l. Why throw 30 yards downfield, into double coverage, on 4th-and-three, down three in overtime, on what is essentially the last play of the game if it's incomplete? Why, Blaine Gabbert?
m. Mike Adams, an injury replacement at right tackle for Pittsburgh, continues to be a disaster. Allowed a late sack and a half in the last two minutes to Denver.
n. The constant, and erroneous, impression that long-time Browns beat writer Tony Grossi is keeping Art Modell out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Regardless what Grossi said or didn't say inside a Hall of Fame selection meeting a decade ago, I've been in those meetings for 20 years now, and I can tell you the other 43 voters are not sheep. We have minds of our own. I'd say a good half of the men whose cases I've tried to buttress with passionate argument have failed to get in -- and some haven't gotten close.
The good sign for the Rams: Long and Laurinaitis could have played their contracts out and seen what the landscape was like for them in the rest of the league. Obviously the security of huge dough helps. But they had to have some belief that another 12-52 four-year run wasn't happening, and some confidence in Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead.
a. One of the scariest sights I've ever seen on a baseball field was A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy taking the line drive to the head the other night during Angels-A's. Turns out he got a fractured skull, and his life was touch-and-go for two or three days. Reports Sunday out of Oakland were more encouraging, and as you can see by my Tweets of the Week, he's into fantasy football.
I can tell you he's a huge NFL fan. A few years ago, when McCarthy was pitching for the White Sox, I was assigned by the magazine to preview the American League Central for the baseball preview issue (Yippee!! Free trip to spring training!), and wandered into the White Sox clubhouse, then in Tucson. This tall string bean walks up to me and says, "Hey, I'm Brandon McCarthy. Good to meet you. Love 'Monday Morning Quarterback.' Gets me through the winter."
b. Anything I can get you, Brandon? A hot towel, perhaps? Some warm milk?
c. Seriously, by the volume of tweets I've seen, you've got half the country pulling for you. Get well.
d. Thanks for your support so far on my Hamptons (N.Y.) Half Marathon quest to raise $50,000 for former Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason's efforts to build a residence for ALS patients in New Orleans.
e. This is what the Red Sox have gotten for the final four years of the six-year Daisuke Matsuzaka contract: 17 wins, a 5.52 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP. For $37 million. Matsuzaka, Lackey, Beckett. Boy, the Red Sox really know pitching.
f. I've got a great idea. Let's pay Zack Greinke $17 million a year.
g. The freebie Red Sox calendar I got last spring extends to January 2013, with a different man each month. Just checked it out the other day. October: Josh Beckett. November: Carl Crawford. December: Clay Buchholz. January: Bobby Valentine. Three out of four ain't bad. Weirdest thing about Valentine's radio diatribe is he sounded like a man who is either already unglued or within five minutes of being there. Scary.
h. Be careful, Clay Buchholz. That's some bad omen.
i. Buck Showalter must be one heck of a manager.
j. Never in the history of rotisserie baseball has a team tanked the way the 2012 Montclair Pedroias have tanked. In two weeks, I've gone from second place to sixth -- and you know if you play the game how impossible it is to do that this late in the season. I stink so bad I can smell my team through the laptop.
l. I saw a photo of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln -- he's playing Honest Abe in a movie that comes out in November -- and there's a very good chance there's never been an actor who looks so much like a famous subject. Eerie.
m. Springsteen at Wrigley update, from my former producer at CNNSI.com, Dave Wilke, who was on hand Saturday night: "Halfway through the show it started to pour. Bruce could have finished the show playing on stage under the canopy but instead he spent the next hour and a half running into the audience and dancing in the rain. He busted out 'Who'll Stop the Rain'
n. Coffeenerdness: It's a rough night when there's one pot of Italian Roast going at 11:45, then another at 4:15. I may have to take Florio's advice soon, and give the 5 Hour Energy a try, at least on Sunday nights.
o. Beernerdness: I hate to be teetotaling this early in the season, but other than the Allagash White I had before dinner the other night, I don't have a good beernerdness story for you. Promise to do more research this week and come back with a good new beer next week.
p. Missy Franklin in Denver last night at the midfield coin flip, Michael Phelps in Baltimore tonight. Great ideas by the Broncos and Ravens.
q. Thinking of you, Devon Walker, and your family, and the Tulane football team.
Every week during the regular season, I'm going to praise one writer or person in the media business for something I've read or seen during the week. I just figured this was a good place to do it, because I've had the end of the column based with a "Who I Like Tonight'' ending for awhile now when picking the Monday night game. The two things don't fit together very well, but I don't fit together with logic either.
Pereira, the one-time NFL officiating czar, had this to say about the replacement officials
"One game doesn't make a week, but it was definitely a good start,'' he wrote. Pereira also leveled criticism at NFL VP Ray Anderson for saying that some officials get out of shape during the season, which Pereira feels should remain private. But he's willing to give his opinion, and he's willing to praise a group of men, the replacements, because he doesn't blindly stick to some script like some political talk-show hack. That shows you can trust what Pereira writes, good or bad. He's trying his best to write without bias. And as a journalist, I appreciate that.
Now onto the two games that will cap a newsy Week 1.
Emotion second: I couldn't see the Ravens losing this game before the death of Art Modell, and I certainly can't see it now. It'll be an emotional stadium Monday night -- the same ground where Modell stood 17 years ago this November with city and state officials declaring they were going to build a state-of-the-art stadium for the relocated NFL franchise. And here the Ravens will be, four days after Modell's death, in their first game, a game that will marry the pomp of football, the national televising of football and football in Baltimore -- three things vital to Modell.
"It was Art's vision that married the NFL and TV together like nothing else in the history of sports and entertainment,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Art also started 'Monday Night Football.' How great it is that we are playing in the 'Monday Night Football' opener this week?'' Pretty great.
One other note about this game: Undrafted free agent left tackle Michael Harris will start in place of the injured Jared Gaither. If Harris cares for a little motivation entering the game, all he has to do is read the website of the