I said it last week, and I'll say it again: The legitimacy of NFL games is at stake with officials who simply aren't suited to work games of the intensity and importance of Atlanta-Denver last Monday or New England-Baltimore Sunday night.
The replacement officials, collectively, are the headache that won't go away. Last night on "Football Night in America," I reported that the league and the NFL Referees Association (the union for the 120 real officials) negotiated much of Sunday, until close to 9 p.m., in New York with a federal mediator present. But talks broke off with substantial differences remaining on several key issues, and the two sides didn't schedule any further negotiations.
Even though the second half of Baltimore's 31-30 victory over New England was another screaming example of why the game needs the regular officials, and even though it should be the spur to get the NFL to open the wallet to end this thing, the fact that talks ended abruptly and with little hope for resolution in the next couple of days makes it appear we'll have another week with the replacements. If the lockout isn't solved by Wednesday or early Thursday, 25 percent of the season will have been officiated by the fifth-stringers from the NAIA and other such football hinterlands.
But the crazy thing Sunday was the infection spread into the replay booth. Little-known officiating fact: The NFL has officiating supervisors from the league office at every NFL game to review crew mechanics and scout the crews. Usually those supervisors -- retired officials or those who couldn't make the grade on the field -- sit in the press box. Now they're in the replay booth to act as another set of veteran eyes in case they're needed by the rookies on the field. A lot of help the supervisors and replay officials were in Nashville and Minneapolis Sunday. Two glaring examples showed it's not just the replacements who are messing up the games:
In Minnesota, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh got two free replay challenges he didn't deserve near the end of the second half (video below). When he called his third timeout late in the fourth quarter, he asked referee Ken Roan if he was allowed to challenge a play during the timeout because he'd noticed what he thought was a Minnesota fumble during the timeout. Roan allowed him the challenge, even though you've got to have a timeout remaining if you throw the challenge flag, because the penalty for losing a challenge is a loss of a timeout. Upstairs, the replay official, Tom Sifferman, and the unknown supervisor from the league, could have corrected Roan on this call, or on another challenge one minute later by Harbaugh. The veteran league reps didn't correct the disaster. Lucky for the league the Niners weren't able to score off the two extra challenges, and the game ended with Minnesota winning 24-13.
In Tennessee, the stunner of all stunners gave the Titans a crucial 12 free yards on what turned out to be the decisive field-goal drive in overtime, the drive that provided the winning points in Tennessee's 44-41 victory. Tennessee had 2nd-and-18 from its 44, and Jake Locker threw what was ruled a 24-yard completion to tight end Craig Stevens. At the end of the play, Detroit linebacker Stephen Tulloch was called for a 15-yard personal foul on Stevens. But the completion was reversed and ruled an incompletion.
Now the officials had to mark off the 15-yard penalty. Presumably, replay official Earnie Frantz or the officiating supervisor told the referee, Gerald Wright, to mark the 15-yard penalty from the Tennessee 44. But Wright marked it from the Detroit 44, giving the Titans a first down at the Detroit 29. If the crew had marked it from the Titans 44, the first down would have been from the Detroit 41. As it was, Tennessee, from the 29, was already in field-goal range. It's beyond inexcusable -- and to think the league office put an extra set of eyes in the replay booth to ensure debacles like a 27-yard personal foul wouldn't happen. It did anyway.
Many of you wonder why the league can't solve this puzzle after getting the jillion-dollar CBA and TV deals done last year. A couple of reasons. Many of you think for 120 part-time officials to get an average of $38,250 per year in pension contributions is excessive. But the regular officials are simply trying to keep a benefit they've had for the last several years. The league contributed $5.3 million to officials' pensions last year and propose to contribute $2 million this year; the cut, the league says, is in keeping with pension plans around the country going to a 401k pension plan, subject to the whims of the stock market, rather than guaranteeing retirees a fixed return on their investments. What's $3 million to the NFL? That's only partially the point. The league has made many full-time employees take the lesser pension, so how can they give part-timers a better deal?
And the league wants a plug-and-play farm system of three officiating crews to be developed, so that if, say, a back judge is struggling or has to retire, the league will have an immediate replacement. The officials are balking at the reduction in job security.
It's only a matter of time before some gaffe like a 27-yard penalty or two extra challenges costs some team a game it should have won. I think the league is going to have to compromise more than it wants to. The alternative is just too ugly. We've seen the alternative play out too often over the last eight days.
Now for some football:
So the Ravens wanted some prime time home games, eh? Monday night at home to open the season on ESPN. Sunday night at home in Week 3 on NBC. Thursday night at home in Week 4, on NFL Network. Four games, 18 days. "I don't think it's ever been done before, following a Sunday night game with a Thursday night game,'' John Harbaugh said after the Ravens won the frenetic 31-30 game over the Patriots last night -- the game I hope we'll always remember as the tipping point in getting a deal done to bring the real officials back to the field.
The anger, the frustration, the bad calls. Bill Belichick was so incensed he grabbed one of the officials coming off the field after the game, in a failed attempt to get the official's attention; he'll certainly get fined heavily for that. Harbaugh could get fined for his bump of an official near the Ravens' sideline in the fourth quarter, when he says he was just trying to get the official's attention to call time out. Harbaugh even told his players to make sure they watch him in dealing with the replacements during the game, because he can get pretty exercised. "These guys [the officials] deserve our respect,'' Harbaugh said after midnight. "This is a tough job, and they're doing the best they can. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not commenting on any of the calls. For us, it's got to be a non-story. You don't want to set yourself up to be thinking about the officials all the time.''
Harbaugh was thinking about Torrey Smith when we spoke. He'd just listened to Smith address the team after losing his brother in a motorcycle accident Sunday morning, and going out and catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the evening. "Unbelievable,'' Harbaugh said. "The last words he spoke to his teammates were, 'Thank you.' He's an amazingly mature young man. I'm so glad he's on our team.''
And then there were three ... Undefeated teams. Arizona, Atlanta and Houston are 3-0. The only 0-3 teams are Cleveland and New Orleans. Which means there are 27 teams among the great unwashed, with either one or two wins. I say it every year, but it's amazing how even the league is. "If you have a defense that's fairly consistent, and a quarterback who can move the ball, you're going to be in a lot of games,'' Marvin Lewis said the other day. "And right now, there's a lot of good quarterbacks in this league.''
Matt Van Gogh is one tough quarterback. "I feel fine,'' Houston quarterback Matt Schaub said after the 31-25 win in Denver. "I just lost a piece of my ear.'' He said matter-of-factly. The brutal helmet-to-helmet hit by Denver linebacker Joe Mays knocked Schaub's helmet, and Schaub, into next week for a couple of minutes. And it will surely result in a big fine for Mays. The hit was as violent a hit on a quarterback seen in the NFL since James Harrison de-cleated Colt McCoy last year. The early leader for Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end J.J. Watt, sacked Peyton Manning 2.5 times. Watt's ascension has been amazing in his 13 professional months. At 23, he might be the best 3-4 end in football.
The Falcons are at home on the road. Now 6-0 in the Mike Smith Era on the West Coast, the Falcons blew out to a 20-0 lead at Qualcomm and were never threatened. Matt Ryan improved to 46-19 as an NFL starter, and there's something about the way he's playing -- confident, fearless, accurate in the face of pressure. His previous season-best for accuracy was 62.5 percent in 2010; now it's 72.0. His previous best rating was 92.2 last season; this year he's at 113.9. He led three drives of longer than 72 yards Sunday. "I'm now realizing I can do it,'' he said Sunday. We see.
Trends? I don't want no stinkin' trends. Home teams were 14-2 last week, which fit rather neatly in the replacement-officials-get-intimidated-by-home-stadia story angle. One problem: In Weeks 1 and 3, home teams are 16-15 entering tonight's Green Bay-Seattle game.
The news could be ominous for Darrelle Revis. We should know by this afternoon, after he exits an MRI tube in New Jersey, if Revis will become the biggest loss any team has had this year. His left knee caved on the grass in Miami without being hit, the kind of awkward sight and subsequent crumbling of a player that makes you think it could be a serious knee injury. Why would the loss of Revis be a disaster for the Jets? Because they're not ready to put their recent first-round Boise State corner on Kyle Wilson Island.
Now starting for the Bengals at quarterback, No. 12, Mohamed Sanu. The rookie from Rutgers should frame Sunday's NFL gamebook, the one with "QB 12 M.Sanu'' where Andy Dalton's name should be in the lineup of starting players. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden drew a play up this week with Sanu as the shotgun quarterback and Dalton spread wide left, practicing it for the first time Wednesday. "I noticed when teams played the Wildcat against the Redskins, they lined up in cover zero [safeties crowding the line of scrimmage, corners with no safety net over the top], and I thought we might able to do something with Mohamed because of his arm.''
Sanu played quarterback at South Brunswick (N.J.) High, then went to Rutgers, where he was eventually moved to receiver. He did throw 18 college passes out of the Wildcat formation, so he had some experience. So when Gruden called the play on the first snap, A.J. Green was supposed to take a corner with him, with no safety help, and that's exactly how it played out. "I was supposed to throw the ball as far as I could throw,'' Sanu told me after the game. "I knew I could put it right on him.'' Sanu wound up and threw the ball 49 yards in the air. As he said, he put it right on Green, who caught it in stride. It looked so easy. "I can tell you,'' said Gruden, "he didn't throw it that good in practice this week." But it only counts when it counts.
Speaking of play-of-the-day candidates ... Twelve years ago, Tennessee special teams coach Alan Lowry called for one of the most famous postseason plays in history -- the Music City Miracle. On a kickoff return, the ball was caught by a Titan, passed backward across the field, and run in for a touchdown. One in a million. Or two. On Sunday, fourth-string Tennessee running back Darius Reynaud, out of football all last year, went back to return a punt, and he shaded toward the left hashmark. That's where Detroit punted it. "Every day in practice, just playing catch, I saw Darius throw it,'' said Lowry, still Tennessee's kicking teams coach. "He was left-handed. And I started thinking of putting him on the left hash during a punt return and throwing it across the field if we could get the right look.''
Here came the Detroit punt team, and Reynaud whirled and fired the ball about 28 yards to his right, and back about four yards. Tommie Campbell ran it back for a 65-yard touchdown. The oddity: Reynaud told me after the game that never -- in 11 years of high school, college and pro football -- had he ever thrown the ball. And now, in a tight NFL game, he threw a 28-yard strike that led to a touchdown. "Oh, definitely, definitely I was nervous. But I had a lot of confidence I could do it.'' That wasn't the end of the greatest day of Reynaud's career: He ran a kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. And Lowry was left to compare one miracle to another. "I always said the thing about the Music City Miracle was I hoped we'd never need it again. But we did, and we were able to pull it off. What a crazy game. Thirty-one years in the NFL, and I've never seen one quite like this game."
In Tuesday's column: The growth of Christian Ponder ... The Chiefs shocking the Dome.
Why the Giants win ... at least one big reason.
Patience wins in the NFL. Impetuousness rarely does, and when it does, it doesn't last. The 2009 NFL draft illustrates that well. That spring, the Giants picked Connecticut tackle Will Beatty 60th overall, Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden 85th overall and North Carolina State running back Andre Brown 129th. Until Thursday night, Beatty had been an oft-injured disappointment, Barden got passed -- and lapped several times -- in wideout impact by Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and Brown had been cut by half the free world. On Thursday, they were three of the 10 most important Giants in a 36-7 rout of Carolina on the road.
That's the strength of Jerry Reese as a general manager. He's not a knee-jerk guy. Last April, I wrote a story on Reese (and, in particular, how well he works with Tom Coughlin), and I sat in his office for a while talking about roster-building. The subject of the abuse he took from the talk-show set and fans came up for letting Steve Smith and Kevin Boss go in the 2011 offseason. He got a smile on his face and played me a couple of, shall we say, interesting, voice mails from critical fans after those players went to Philadelphia and Kansas City by way of Oakland, respectively. He asked me not to report what was said in the voicemails, but let's just say you need to have some blisters on your hide to be a general manager for a New York sports team.
"We don't have a template for how we build here,'' says Reese, and the Giants don't. But the one thing they have no problem doing is saying goodbye. They loved Boss -- loved him. But he wasn't worth a $6 million signing bonus to them. Gone. "Around here, when the money gets above X, we say goodbye,'' John Mara told me in the spring. They figured Barden could slide into Manningham's role and so they let Manningham walk to San Francisco. Brandon Jacobs had worn out his welcome; Brown and rookie David Wilson will have a shot to replace him -- and that looks good so far.
Charting players who have been good Reese picks in his first six drafts with the Giants:
2012: CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (Round 3, 94 overall)
Precocious and instinctive from day one of camp, Hosley's one of the best rookie DBs in the league. He intercepted a Cam Newton pass Thursday.
2011: LB Jacquian Williams, South Florida (R6, 202)
A top special-teamer from day one, Williams stripped Kyle Williams in overtime of last season's NFC title game, setting up the Giants win.
2010: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida (R1, 15)
Think the Eagles (Brandon Graham at 13) or Raiders (Rolando McClain at 8) would like to have a draft-day do-over?
2009: RB Andre Brown, North Carolina State (R4, 129)
Tore his Achilles as a rookie, and has been cut eight times since, but Reese brought him back, and Brown finally paid off with his big night against Carolina.
2008: WR Mario Manningham, Michigan (R3, 95)
Made the second-greatest catch in modern Giants history, but the Giants let him walk in free agency. "I don't agonize over anyone,'' Reese says.
2007: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Marshall (R7, 250)
Troubled in college, he was worth a seventh-round risk, to put it mildly. What I love about the Giants 2007 draft: All eight rookies on this Super Bowl roster not only made the team, but also were active for at least one of the Giants' four playoff wins that year.
Gone, but never forgotten -- at least if I have anything to do with it.
Before you read my tribute to Steve Sabol, who died at 69 last Tuesday, go here. Turn the volume low, especially if you're in your office this morning, but please open this up and listen to the musical stylings of Sam Spence, who created so much of the music you've heard over the years when NFL Films features have played, and the closeups on those spirals that filled the screen. (My favorite, "Let's Go Big O,'' begins at the 5:15 mark.).
I thought the best way to tell the story of Sabol's impact on football would be to find 10 people whose lives were impacted by Sabol and who can tell what he meant to them, and to the sport long-term.
Did you know he was once asked to be commissioner? That he had Bill Belichick eating out of his modest hands? That he and his dad made Vince Lombardi cry? That he's the reason Mike Mayock's on TV? That he's the inspiration for a 23-year-old photography student in a small town in Ireland? That he worked until Labor Day 2012, 15 days before his death? That his fingerprints are all over the last scene of the Ray Lewis documentary, which aired two days after his death?
Take it away, Jim Marshall.
Jim Marshall, former player
The former Minnesota defensive end was featured in a lead role in the 1968 NFL Films production of "Big Game America," a show Sabol envisioned as a way to humanize football players and the violent game they played. Sabol, just 26 at the time, and Marshall became good friends -- in part because Marshall appreciated Sabol's refusal to demonize him for running the wrong way for a touchdown in a 1964 Vikings-49ers game.
"In the '60s, most coaches felt cameras and microphones were an intrusion, and had no place inside a team, or on players. But it was a great, great positive for the players that America could get to see what we were really like. Steve wired me for 'Big Game America.' He showed me in team meetings, in games and he even showed me skydiving and skiing. When he came in to talk to me about participating in the project, he said, 'I want to show football players as they really are.'
"When you watched what Steve did, it was different than anything we'd ever seen in football. He made it seem every time you stepped on the football field you were stepping into a movie. He made me come to life so much as a human being that after 'Big Game America' was shown to the public, people would come up to me and instead of talking just football, they'd start discussing what was going on in my life.
"I also appreciated the fact that whenever my wrong-way touchdown was discussed, Steve made it clear that in that same game, I forced the fumble that Carl Eller returned for a touchdown [that won the game]. That was very meaningful to me, because football's a chaotic game, and sometimes you get turned around and get hit and don't really know which way to go when the ball pops loose like that. All you do is look for the end zone. What Steve did was important, because I didn't want to go down as a buffoon.
"Losing Steve is huge. His genius is such a big reason why the NFL is the biggest sport in America.''
In "Big Game America,'' immortal NFL Films voice John Facenda, reading a Sabol script, intoned over a shot of Marshall: "Jim Marshall is a defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. He lives to fight an anonymous and brutal battle in what pros call, 'The Pit.' There is no glory, there are no heroes in 'The Pit.' Finesse and style have no place here.''
Cut to a shot of Marshall. "I play football because I love the game ... You have to be a-GILE, mo-BILE, hos-TILE to play the game.''
David Maraniss, author
Maraniss wrote the definitive Vince Lombardi book, "When Pride Still Mattered,'' and used Sabol and NFL Films as resources. Sabol was on the ground in Green Bay as a cameraman and producer of several long Lombardi pieces, including a movie about the Packers in 1967 that got Lombardi very emotional. Sabol, at the time, was 25.
"Steve believed Lombardi's voice was something that separated him from others in history, and gave him his character. With NFL Films, the voice was central to the myth-making. They used John Facenda, and he was called the voice of God. But there was a practice in Green Bay once, and a dog got on the field and was interfering with practice. They couldn't get the dog to leave. All the players were laughing it up with this dog on the field, and Vince saw it, and he just yelled over, 'What the hell's going on here? Get that dog off the field!' The dog scampered away. That really did happen. Sabol witnessed it, and he thought it said something about Lombardi -- that his voice was so powerful, so controlling.''
In "When Pride Still Mattered,'' Maraniss wrote: "To Steve Sabol ... the secret of Lombardi was not so much what he said but the sound of it. 'It was all the voice,' Sabol said. 'The great leaders in history -- Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Roosevelt, Hitler -- all had these unique voices. And Lombardi's voice was so unique, so strident, so resonant, it could cut through anything.' The story of the little dog, in Sabol's opinion, revealed the power of Lombardi's voice.''
"After the [championship] '67 season, when Steve went to Green Bay to show Vince and a few of the players the film of their season, they ran it on the projector in Vince's rec room in his house. And they showed the film with that great NFL Films flair to it, and at the end of it, all you heard in the room was the film flapping over and over because Lombardi didn't turn off the projector. He was crying."
Greg Cosell, senior producer, NFL Films
One of Sabol's strengths was inventing television shows with people who had never done them. Cosell, the nephew of Howard Cosell, was an Xs-and-Os football junkie and one of many bright young producers at NFL Films when Sabol approached him in his office one morning in the spring of 1984.
"Steve said, 'I have an idea for a show, and I think you're just the guy to do it.' I'd been with the company for five years, and I guess he had a sense of who I was and what I could do. His whole point was that no one was doing a really inside football show, with the Xs and Os. He said, 'Let's experiment with this and see what happens.'
"I remember at the time people saying a show like that would never work, because people weren't interested enough in the real nitty-gritty of football. Steve used to tell me not to worry about what anybody said, just go do the best show you can. We started out with 'Monday Night Matchup' on ESPN, before, obviously, they had the Monday night game. Chris Berman hosted it. We've been through a lot of hosts and a lot of experts on the air, but I think there was only one year it didn't air. It's still on, so I guess Steve was right."
Cosell is being modest. He and his coaches-tape-studying staff in the current iteration of the show, "NFL Matchup'' on Sunday mornings on ESPN, have the best show on TV teaching the common fan about complex football schemes and plays. Sal Paolantonio hosts, and Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge do the on-camera tape breakdown. A show like this for football-mad fans would have happened eventually, but as often has been the case, Sabol thought of it 10 years before anyone else would have.
Mike Mayock, broadcaster, NFL Network, NBC Sports
A cold call changed his life.
"In the early '90s, I was a commercial real estate broker in south Jersey. I'd done two years of high school football games on the radio for free, and though I didn't hate the real estate job, I knew I couldn't survive without football in my life. So I got this idea. I'd gone to the same high school as Steve Sabol and I knew what a great man he was. I just figured I'd cold-call him, just walk into the NFL Films building and see if he'd see me.
"I walked up to the receptionist and said, 'I'd like to see Steve Sabol, please.' She said, 'Do you have an appointment?' I said, 'No, but I went to the same high school as him, and I played briefly for the New York Giants.' I can just imagine what she thinks of me, but two minutes later, Steve comes bounding into the lobby and says, 'Mike, how are you!' I told Steve my life story, and within five minutes he has me in front of a camera, making a tape I could show people in the business to try to get a job doing games on TV.
"I hope that tape never surfaces anywhere. What an embarrassment. I was scared, I was wooden, I was awful. Steve would say, 'Mike, let some personality out!' So I thanked him and walked out of NFL Films with this demo tape, and New Jersey Network hired me to be a sideline reporter on Princeton and Rutgers football games. I remember Pat Scanlon at New Jersey Network told me, 'Your tape was so bad that the only reason I hired you was you had the balls to send it out.'
"Where I am right now never would have happened without Steve. He was the biggest advocate in my career. He knew how much doing this meant to me. He felt like the only thing I didn't have was a name. Every minute I spent with him over the years -- in his office, in the hallways at NFL Films -- was so cool, so empowering. His curiosity -- amazing. Sometimes I'd find a sheet of legal paper on my desk from Steve. He'd have watched a game, maybe Brett Favre threw for 300 yards and was the talk of the league, and he'd have three or four ideas. 'Why doesn't anyone talk about this, or this, or this?' It was always different, always smart. Anyone can talk about a football play. Steve found something different in every football play.''
Brett Favre, former quarterback
One of the most wired players in history, Favre recalls laying in bed the morning of his first Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl XXXI in early 1997 in New Orleans, and hoping his dream would come true that day. The dream included Sabol.
"Just laying there that morning, watching Super Bowl after Super Bowl on TV -- I'm more of a history buff probably than most players -- and I was thinking about my dreams when I was a kid. I wanted to be a football player. My dreams came true, obviously, and that's an understatement. I loved NFL Films. I used to watch all those blooper reels, and I loved the way NFL Films made the game look. And here I am listening to Steve Sabol talk about all these Super Bowls.
"There was one play where they had Joe Montana checking to what became a big play. And I just thought: 'Wouldn't it be cool to have Steve Sabol, 30 years from now, talk about how Brett Favre fought through such adversity to get to the Super Bowl and to win it?' So many kids watching NFL Films, I'm sure, would grow up thinking what a thrill it would be to have Steve Sabol interviewing them, and showing some slow-motion play that made them look so fantastic.
"It's funny. It used to be when I first got into the game nobody wanted to wear those wires for games. It was like, 'Get that camera out of my face.' Late in my career, it was, 'Hey, I'm wired today! Cool!' Numerous times I would tell [Packers PR chief] Jeff Blumb or [Vikings PR men] Tom West and Bob Hagan no, because I thought they wired me too much. But now, thinking back, I wish I would have done it more. It shows a side of the game you want to remember forever.
"He changed the face of the NFL without ever playing a down in it."
Bill Belichick, coach, New England Patriots
The New England coach allowed Sabol to follow him, fully miked and on camera, for much of a year of his life, including the entire 2009 football season. The resulting two-part documentary, "Bill Belichick: A Football Life'' provided the best look at Belichick anyone has ever gotten. It captured his acerbic nature with coaches and players better than anything I've seen, as in a staff meeting when he was unhappy with the effort and work ethic of his receivers. In a staff meeting after a practice, he spat: "Wednesday practice is over and where do the receivers go? Straight in. We've got it all down. We don't need extra work. That sums it up for me.'' How Sabol got the secretive Belichick to become a reality show:
"Over the years I have been approached for hundreds of different projects. Commercials, books, movies, interviews, documentaries, you name it. It's impossible to do all of them. Most get consideration and then a few wind up happening. Of them all, there were two exceptions that I really never gave a second thought to. One was from David Halberstam and the other was from Steve Sabol. When they approached me for their book and film ideas, there were no 'what's the angle, what about this, what about that?' questions. That's nothing against anyone else, but I figured if these two special men, whose genius stretched far beyond today and even beyond sports, are interested in doing something special with me, then who am I to ask questions? You trust them and go with it.
"I can remember a couple of times sitting with Steve as he pitched an idea. He'd be rattling off something unique he did with Vince Lombardi or some of the great teams and on and on, probably thinking that might hook me on what he's trying to do. I'm just thinking to myself, 'Does he know I'm going to agree to whatever he wants anyway? Why are we even going through this?' Looking back, it was probably because as much as he enjoyed telling his first-hand experiences with every notable NFL figure over the past 50 years, I loved hearing them more. Like those legends he helped create, Steve will be impossible to replace and, to me, one of the biggest reasons is one word: trust.
"Steve Sabol was an innovator, motivator and salesman with the leadership and talent to execute ideas that others never even thought of. I mean, look at what he did with something as simple as a football spiral. He put it in slow motion to an orchestra and made it into an art form. That is one of countless examples of Steve's pure passion for the NFL's participants, the fans and the game itself. My condolences to the Sabol family and everyone at NFL Films."
Bruce Allen, general manager, Washington Redskins
A football lifer, Allen got to know Sabol while his father, George Allen, was the coach of the Los Angeles Rams in the '60s. They remained close, and Bruce Allen had a love for NFL Films' reverence for football.
"Sabolvision. Many of you have might not be familiar with that word, but you know the product. I know thousands of players and coaches, millions of fans and every team have benefited from it for the last half-century. Fortunately, tens of millions of people over the next century will also be able to appreciate the genius of Sabolvision.
"This week the NFL lost its most acclaimed person. Beginning in 1962, Steve Sabol and his Hall of Fame father, Ed, built the NFL's version of Fort Knox: NFL Films. It has been nice to hear the outpouring of love and gratitude from all corners of the sports world for the brilliant work and personal stories about Steve Sabol. However, as usual, the best features are the ones that have replayed Steve in his words with his vision and his attitude. So, if I may, modify one of Steve's great lines from a team highlight film, it would be rewritten to say: 'There are thousands of writers, directors, editors and producers in the country .... And then there is Steve Sabol.'
"You don't have to be a NFL insider to appreciate that the NFL has 33 different personalities and 33 different viewpoints of any play or game. While never compromising on NFL Films' standards and authenticity, Steve had an unequal ability to tell the story in a manner that was universally accepted by all the teams and fans. When the league was considering people to follow Pete Rozelle as commissioner of the NFL, I thought Steve Sabol would have been the perfect candidate. Because there was no one who was more articulate or passionate about the game than Steve. He was already every team's historian and the NFL's best promoter. When I suggested my idea to him at a league meeting, Steve quickly asked: 'Can I keep my current job at NFL Films? Because that's the best job in the world.'
"NFL Films cameras didn't just show the world a play and a scoreboard. Thanks to their ethical and genuine appreciation for coaches and players, they were able to show the world how that play was designed in a meeting room, practiced, called on the sideline, executed, and then the emotional result of success or failure of the play in the eyes of the gifted players and coaches. For anyone not affiliated with Steve or Ed Sabol, it's difficult to appreciate how they got the access and the inside view on everything in the NFL. There is really only one word that can explain it: trust.
"In the early 1970s, Steve and the crew from NFL Films came to do a feature on my father, who was the head coach of the Redskins at the time. They interviewed him for three hours in his office at Redskins Park prior to the season starting. A few weeks later, Steve called my father and said: 'Coach, we need to come back and re-shoot your interview.' Dad, who famously didn't like his routine during the season to ever be disrupted, said: 'How did you goof up?' Steve responded: 'While we were editing the film, we noticed that on the credenza behind you that you had copies of the Cowboys, Eagles and 49ers playbooks and we don't want you to get in trouble.' After thinking about that for a few seconds of silence, my father responded: 'Heck with it. They know that I know. You can use it.' I don't know if they ever used that video clip or not, I do know that type of integrity is invaluable to the sport.
"Although I will miss my friend, similar to all the great artists, their work lasts forever. Steve's commitment to football and films will allow all of our grandchildren and their children to see the greatness of Jim Brown, Deacon Jones, Jerry Rice -- through the eyes of Sabolvision.''
Alex Sinclair, film student, Bray, Ireland
One of the 9,000 or so readers of this column who took the time to write to Sabol after they learned he was suffering from a brain tumor in 2011, the 23-year-old Sinclair says NFL Films, and Sabol, made him a football fan.
"I will always be thankful to Mr. Sabol for the 'Game of the Week' series. One of the first episodes I found featured the Giants, in a Super Bowl that I had stayed up watching with my brother two years previous. Now, I was faced with what seemed to be an extended highlight reel of a game I had already sat through.
"I say this in earnest, and some of you may question the relative impact that this actually had on me, but watching that episode was one of the most significant decisions in my creative life. I'm currently in my fourth year of studying photography at Dublin Institute of Technology. I've always had a passion for image-making. What immediately captured me in the Giants Super Bowl video was the fact that it was unlike any piece of sports footage I had ever come across. It had staggeringly vivid colours, a true affinity for great imagery and most of all, it had a story. It was fine-art documentary filmmaking; it just so happened that the subject was football. They even filmed it all on analog equipment. As a photographer with a penchant for shooting film, you must understand that this was a big deal for me.
"I discovered this during a deferred year of college, which I wasn't able to attend because of an anxiety disorder; I was on more medication than I felt comfortable with. My days didn't have much purpose and, a lot of the time, even lacked basic activity. What Mr. Sabol did was provide a gateway to a sport that I previously didn't follow. I was drawn into the stories he told. I was hooked. I've been a diehard Giants fan not since the first time I saw that Super Bowl, but since I saw it through the lens of Sabol.''
Keith Cossrow, NFL Films senior producer
Cossrow and another NFL Films veteran, Ken Rodgers, ran herd on the "Hard Knocks'' series, which was Sabol's pride and joy. Cossrow, until Sabol fell ill, would screen hours of "Hard Knocks'' segments that had to be trimmed to 55 minutes per show with Sabol at his side in the NFL Films offices in south Jersey on Saturday. That all changed this year.
"I don't think people realize how important 'Hard Knocks' was to Steve. He viewed it as the culmination of his entire career as a filmmaker and story-teller. 'Hard Knocks' was our Super Bowl to Steve. He was always determined that it have a cinematic quality, and each episode would be like a short motion picture. You're producing this cinematic narrative in real time. Imagine how difficult that is, when, at the start of each week you're shooting, you have no idea how the movie is going to end. Steve described it as building an airplane in mid-flight, and he loved every second of it.
"So many of these stories on 'Hard Knocks' end up having Steve's signature. Two years ago, when we had the Jets on the show, Ken Rodgers walked into my office one night and said, 'I've got to show you something.' He plays Rex Ryan speaking sternly to the team, and he finishes with, 'Let's go eat a goddamn snack!' And I just sat there, laughing for five minutes. I couldn't believe it. When Steve saw it, he loved it too -- no one understood the value of humor better than Steve. But he wondered if there was a way to subtly point out the team actually had a team snack scheduled, and that's where they were headed after the speech. He didn't want people to think we included the scene just to take a shot at Rex's weight. He said, 'Put in a shot of the whiteboard outside the room where it shows they have a team snack.' That was Steve -- he got the story, and he had a big heart about it.
"So in a normal year of 'Hard Knocks' preparation, Steve would come in on Saturday and we'd watch segments for 10 or 12 hours, and Sunday he'd be back to see the rough cut of the show. This year, because he was sick, he was able to come in on four of the five Sundays to see the rough cut. But his input, though limited, was as cogent and indispensible as ever. In the first show, for the opening scene of the series, we'd been arguing about whether it should begin with a shot of the Dolphins' old locker room getting torn down, or a beautiful helicopter shot over the water in Miami. The way Ken and I had it was like a double-intro -- the locker room rebuilding for 12 seconds, then the helicopter shot. Steve could barely speak, as I said, and he heard us out and just said: 'Lose the first 12 seconds. Start with the helicopter shot.' Of course, he was right.
"I will never forget show four, the Vontae Davis trade show, because as we put it together it was a complete disaster. Steve comes in. It's 4, maybe 5 o'clock in the afternoon. We've got 45 minutes of show, with no ending. And he's in rough shape. He could hardly speak. He couldn't move his right side. He was in this 'Jazzy,' one of those electric wheelchairs, and when he came in, he had almost a sheepish look on his face, like, 'Can you believe this crap?' I'm telling you, the show was a disaster. You know the feeling you have when you show your boss something that you know really stinks? I just wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I'm thinking, 'This is Steve Sabol, and he feels like crap, and I'm making him sit through this!' It may have been the worst 45 minutes of my career.
"So it ends, finally, and I say to Steve, 'Obviously, we have our work cut out for us.' I don't know what to say. At that moment, Ken Rodgers walks in and says, 'Well, at least we have an ending. Vontae Davis just got traded.'
Now Ken and I turn to the corkboard in my office, which is covered with index cards reflecting each scene currently in the show. We're trying to figure out how to rearrange these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to make it work, asking each other which scenes need to go. The editor, David Stiles, and I are basically in a panic. Out of nowhere, Steve says, 'OUT!' We're wondering which segment he wants out. He says it again: 'OUT!' We have no idea what he means. Then he points his left thumb toward the door and says a third time: 'OUT!' He just wanted to get the hell out of there so we could get back to work, because he knew how much we had left to do and he couldn't do anything more to help us.
"I'm particularly proud of how that fourth episode turned out. When Steve came in two days later and watched the final version of the show, he pointed his thumb in a different direction: up.
"Steve couldn't have cared less about being an executive. He just wanted to sit in a room with a bunch of guys he trusted and make a great TV show. I still feel his creative force. I always will. That's why next to that corkboard in my office, there are four more index cards taped to the wall, spelling out the letters, 'WWSD.' What Would Steve Do? I'll always think that way.''
Bob Angelo, senior producer, NFL Films
Angelo did much of the camerawork and the interviewing for the NFL Films show -- "Ray Lewis: A Football Life" -- the company was producing as Sabol lay gravely ill in New Jersey. Sabol wasn't able to contribute to the final edit of the show, which aired one day after his death. But he was in Angelo's head for one of the most memorable camera shots of Angelo's 37-year career, and what turned out to be the last shot of the Lewis documentary.
"What's the classic shot of Ray Lewis pre-game? You see it almost every week -- Ray coming out of the tunnel in Baltimore, with all the smoke and fireworks, going crazy. Everybody's seen it a million times.
"Obviously, in a show like this, you want something memorable. So I'm behind Ray as he's going out for a game in Baltimore. Steve always said, 'The shot is about composition and framing.' I learned how to do this job by imitating Steve -- how he shot pregame, how he shot the sidelines, how he shot action. So I'm behind Ray, and you see the fog and the fireworks, and it's framed by the tunnel. When he goes out and screams on the field, it's going to be out of my view, and the shot is so good right where I am with the fog and the fireworks -- because everybody's seen the other shot, with Ray in plain sight -- that I say to myself, 'Stop! Go no further!' And the shot is Ray, being enveloped by the fog, and you can hear him but can't really see him. He's screaming.
"Now, all I can think of is Steve saying, 'Ang, when you get your shot, don't blow it!' I just wish Steve would have been around to see that last shot. Just that last shot. I can hear him, though.
" 'Ang, you got the shot!' "
1. Houston (3-0). The AFC South race could be over before the American League East race is.
2. Atlanta (3-0). Mike Smith is going to get hired by those multinational companies that deal with employees getting travel burnout. The Falcons are 6-0 on the West Coast since Smith took the coaching job in 2008. And this one -- 27-3 in San Diego -- was a tour de force game from the opening kick.
3. San Francisco (2-1). Sunday, in Minnesota, was the first real sign that the Niners might be mortal.
4. Arizona (3-0). I am very nearly a believer. I love what Ken Whisenhunt did with the offensive game plan, moving the chains with Kevin Kolb. And giving up 13.3 points per game -- that is one impressive defense. By FOX's count, 20 pressures and hits on Mike Vick.
5. New York Giants (2-1). Sitting in a good position after three weeks. They're the hottest offense in football -- Giants 61, Foes 14 over the last five quarters -- and they now sit back on their mini-bye, three days away from football, while the Eagles wake up after a long trip home from Arizona and a very short night. The Giants will be well-rested when they arrive at the Linc next Sunday night.
6. Green Bay (1-1). Looks like Greg Jennings plays tonight. I'll change the old training-camp saw about injured rookies of "Can't make the club in the tub,'' to something special for the 29-year-old Jennings, who's in the last year of a contract at a quite-low salary of $3.89 million: "Can't make $12 million a year in the tub."
7. Baltimore (2-1). Never heard a manure chant that loud in my life, Al Michael said Sunday night. Imagine what those fans would have done if the Ravens had lost.
8. New England (1-2). So much for the mothballing of Wes "8 for 142'' Welker.
9. Chicago (2-1). Mayhem turns to fine working order in the span of a week. The Bears held St. Louis to 160 yards, and physically handled the St. Louis offensive line.
10. Minnesota (2-1). Wins over Jacksonville and San Francisco have nearly convinced me, as Christian Ponder tried to do with me late Sunday afternoon, that the Vikings will be a major factor in the NFC North.
11. Seattle (1-1). Barometer game for this franchise tonight. Congrats, by the way, to Trent Dilfer. He'll be the representative of the fans, the 12th man, in raising the flag in the south end zone before the Monday night game against Green Bay. Glad to see the franchise embracing him like that.
12. Cincinnati (2-1). I get it. The defense (34 points per game surrendered) can't hold up. Maybe -- probably -- it can't. But I love the offensive explosiveness, and let's give Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins (seven tackles, two sacks, five quarterbacks hits on Robert Griffin III) a chance to play with the relentless Michael Johnson before we say they're going to stink on D all year.
13. San Diego (2-1). Atlanta 27, San Diego 3. Mulligan, Norv said. Looked like an overwhelmingly bad shank to me, but we shall see.
14. Dallas (2-1). I can't figure the Cowboys out. But they beat the Giants on the road, then took all the roundhouses the Bucs could throw and won again.
15. Denver (1-2). For those who'd like to throw Peyton Manning out with the trash, here's a stat for your consideration. Yards per attempt in his last healthy season, 2010: 6.9. Yards per attempt this season: 7.2. Time, people. Time.
Offensive Players of the Week
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore. Playing 19 hours after learning of his younger brother's death in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, Smith caught six passes for 127 passes in the victory over New England Sunday night, including touchdown catches of 25 and five yards. Before the game, a heavy-hearted Smith tweeted: "Can't believe my little brother is gone. Be thankful for loved ones. This is the hardest thing ever."
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City. With his team down 24-6 and facing a season gone down the drain before the leaves even start turning in Missouri, Charles bailed the Chiefs out. He ran 33 times for 233 yards and was breathtaking in the third quarter. With Kansas City trailing 24-6 and pinned back at its nine, Charles broke through the line for a 91-yard touchdown. That was the start of a 21-0 run that gave the Chiefs a stunning win.
Defensive Player of the Week
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City. Three sacks is terrific enough, but one of them was a vital play in the Chiefs' first win of the season. With 5:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Chiefs down 24-19, the Saints had the ball at their 7-yard line, and Houston burst through the line and nailed Drew Brees for a sack in the end zone. Safety; 24-21. Ryan Succop went on to kick the tying and winning field goals after that. Houston went on to have the best day of his young career: four tackles, three sacks, another quarterback pressure and two passes deflected, helping a shaky (early) Chiefs' defense settle down and beat the Saints.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Darius Reynaud, RB/KR, Tennessee. For a guy no team wanted last season -- Reynaud worked out at home in Louisiana while the phone never rang -- he had the kind of day very few special teamers in history have ever had. After fielding a punt late in the first quarter Sunday against Detroit in Nashville, Reynaud executed a perfect backward pass, a lateral 35 yards across the field that Tommie Campbell caught at the 35 and ran back 65 yards for a touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Lions up 27-20, Reynaud took a kickoff midway through the end zone and ran it 105 yards up the right side. Touchdown. "Never had a day like this in my life, at any level,'' Reynaud told me after the game. Few have.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes suffered in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Will Beatty, T, New York Giants. Except for two late pressures allowed, Beatty, in his first start of the season, provided a safety net for Eli Manning and paved the way for Andre Brown, in his first start in the NFL, to run for 113 yards. More lithe and agile than he seemed as a rookie out of UConn, Beatty's going to be a vital part of the New York offense. He showed against Carolina he's ready.
Coaches of the Week
Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati. What a smart game he coached in Washington. On the first snap of the game, he called for rookie wideout Mohamed Sanu to throw a bomb to A.J. Green. Sanu, a high-school quarterback in New Jersey, threw a strike 49 yards in the air that Green caught and ran in for a touchdown. Later, Gruden called for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take a Wildcat snap and bash his way through the Washington goal-line D ... and that worked for a touchdown too. Good day for the less-famous of the Grude-dog brothers.
Pat Flaherty, offensive line coach, New York Giants. Preparing on a short week, going on the road ... those are problems enough for a team playing on a Thursday night, and playing a team that just beat up the New Orleans Saints. But add this: Flaherty had to prepare an offensive line that would be starting in tandem for the first time ever -- and with a right tackle, Sean Lockler, starting his first game at right tackle for the Giants, and with Will Beatty starting for the first time this season at left tackle.
Flaherty's the unsung hero on the Giants' coaching staff, and he proved it again Thursday night. Eli Manning was sacked once in 51 minutes of play time, and rarely under duress. A first-time starting back, Andre Brown, rushed for 113 yards, and the Giants held the ball for 36 minutes. It shouldn't be this easy, but Flaherty's line made it look that way.
Goats of the Week
Dan Carpenter, K, Miami. Missed a 47-yarder, wide left, in regulation -- in a game that went to overtime. Missed a 48-yarder, wide left, on the second possession in overtime, a kick that would have won the game. I know Carpenter's 41-yarder in the final minute forced overtime. Goody goody. A kicker can't miss two kicks in the 40s.
The officiating crew in Oakland. The crew missed an egregious helmet-to-helmet hit on Darius Heyward-Bey that landed him immobilized on a back-board and sent to the hospital overnight with a severe concussion.
Detroit's mode of offensive communication. I tried to ferret around to see who on the Lions was at fault for the bad call midway through overtime, when the Lions, who could have tied the game with a chip-shot field goal, instead of going for it on 4th-and-inches in overtime. Turns out they snapped the ball, ran for it, missed -- and lost the game. "Miscommunication,'' said coach Jim Schwartz. "We were trying to draw them offsides, not go for it." Didn't work.
"You know what we're here for! Revenge! It's a meal best served cold!''
-- Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, captured by the NBC cameras before the Patriots-Ravens game Sunday, referring, presumably, to revenge for losing the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots last winter.
"Insecurity drives me. I don't want to go back to Needham. I don't want to be the man in the frozen-foods section of the grocery store, the guy who, 10 seconds after I pass by with my peas, people whisper, 'That guy used to be the GM of the New York Jets.' ''
-- Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, raised in Needham, Mass., in a story by Nicholas Dawidoff in this week's New Yorker.
"Who wants to support something that puts on a performance of embarrassment? If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers, I would be holding my head down in shame of the product that was out there today."
-- Cam Newton, after his Panthers lost to the Giants 36-7 Thursday night.
Get a hold of yourself, fella. A bomb didn't fall on Charlotte.
"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build.''
-- From a NFL Players Association Executive Board letter to the NFL's 32 owners on Thursday, sharply critical of the league's continued lockout of the 120 regular game officials.
The Detroit Lions have more issues than the health of Matthew Stafford, and that is putting it mildly. In the last five games, dating to last season, the Lions are 1-4, with the only victory coming in the last minute of the opener against St. Louis at home, and these are the ugly defensive numbers in that 1-4 disaster:
Points allowed per game: 36.8.
Passing yards allowed per game: 349.6.
Touchdown passes allowed: 14.
Interceptions by Lions: 1.
Completion percentage allowed: 70.3.
At Colorado College, Steve Sabol nicknamed himself "Sudden Death Sabol,'' because of his love of drama and love of football.
Sabol's email address included the phrase "SuddenDeath'' before the internet service provider.
The NFL always wants the focus to be on the players on the field. The focus is on the field, all right, but it's on the men in the striped shirts. Look at one of the biggest papers in the country last Wednesday.
The first four pages of the New York Daily News sports section contained nothing but coverage highly critical of the replacement officials.
With the Super Bowl champion Giants due to play the next evening at Carolina, 2,511 words of the paper's sports coverage were all about the replacements. Mike Lupica wrote, "It seems ... the league has put a bounty on itself." Tim Smith wrote of the Thursday night game: "All eyes will be waiting for Goodell's replacements to turn another NFL game into a farce.'' Beat man Ralph Vacchiano quoted Mathias Kiwanuka as saying it was inevitable that someone will get hurt because of the officiating incompetence. Further back in the sports section was a story about Eagle LeSean McCoy saying one of the replacements told him he needed him to produce for his fantasy team.
Not a travel note per se. More a lifestyle, world-we-live-in-today note.
Drove over to see Bruce Springsteen at the Meadowlands Wednesday night. Tailgated with our friends Jack and Karin, and a few others joined the parking lot party, including two women from near Sydney, Australia, celebrating their 50th birthdays this year by touring New York and New England and seeing Springsteen for the first time.
So the show starts. We're in an upper tier, last row. The fourth song is "Hungry Heart," which has the crowd going. The fifth song, "We Take Care of Our Own," is one of my new faves, from his latest album. I notice the four guys next me, maybe in their late 20s, all have their iPhones out, texting or reading email during the song. Next song: "Wrecking Ball." Now a few others, including the three people in the row in front of us closest to us, have their phones out. They're texting or reading. "Death to My Hometown" is next, and I look around, and it seems half the section is fooling around with phones.
We're such cellaholics. I get that. But outdoor concert events like this one, these are the nights where the experience should be enough to make you put away the phone (or at least stash it until you get in the bathroom), unless you're just writing down the setlist or something like that. If Steve Jobs were still here, I wonder whether he'd feel triumphant that the masses can't live without his invention for three hours, or despondent that the masses can't live without his invention for three hours.
-- @BrandonSpikes55, the Patriots' linebacker, at 12:41 this morning.
"Can someone please tell these f------ zebras foot locker called and they're needed Back at work !!!! #BreakingPoint''
-- @BrandonSpikes55, the Patriots' linebacker, at 12:43 this morning.
"Lee Corso has that look about him like he could go all 'Naked Grandpa' without too much provocation.''
-- @SC_DougFarrar, watching the Saturday morning ESPN college football preview show (evidently).
"Players who lost $$ investing w/Rosenhaus/Rubin remember lesson#1-never get financial advise from guy who buys u a lap dance 2 sign u"
-- @SageRosenfels18, former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels, on agent Drew Rosenhaus' relationship with financial adviser Jeff Rubin. The NFL Players Association is investigating Rosenhaus for allegedly steering clients to invest with Rubin, who lost millions in players' money.
As some of you know, I'm running a half-marathon to try to raise $50,000 to help former Saints special teamer Steve Gleason build an ALS Residence for ALS-afflicted patients in New Orleans, a project that will cost between $750,000 and $1 million. I can't thank enough the friends and strangers who have helped the cause so far. We're a tad over $35,000, so we're about 71 percent toward the goal -- but now there's only five days left until race day. I'm running/slogging-through the Hamptons Half-Marathon, on the eastern edge of Long Island, on Saturday.
The other day, I found myself with two Red Sox club seats to Tuesday's game against Tampa Bay at Fenway Park that I couldn't use, so I posted them on Twitter, saying I'd give the two seats to the first person to donate $250 to the cause. (What's second prize? Four club seats to a Red Sox game?) Within minutes, a fellow named Kevin popped up ... with a $250 donation.
I reached out to Kevin Johnson, 36, a history major at the University at Albany (non-traditional student who worked for a while, then went back to school), to make the details on getting him the tickets, and to thank him.
Turns out Johnson works 20 to 30 hours a week at a Target store in the Albany area. "I've been saving up a little bit and I wanted to give to something,'' he said. "This seemed like a good cause. I used to donate money to charities when I wasn't in school, and it's something I really want to get back to doing.''
"But $250,'' I said. "That's a lot. I mean, I can't thank you enough. It's incredibly nice of you to do this."
"I've been saving up a little,'' he said. "So I had a little to give.''
Johnson remembers Gleason from the Monday night game in 2006 when he blocked the Falcons punt in the Saints' first game back at the Superdome post-Katrina. He's sad about Gleason having ALS, and he said he wanted to wanted to reach out to help the Gleason cause.
I'll be thinking of Kevin Johnson Saturday morning on Long Island. Wow. How humbling.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 3:
a. Great idea of new Raider boss Mark Davis to bring Marcus Allen back into the fold at the coliseum in Oakland Sunday. He'd been away too long. He's a Raider. I don't care where he finished his career.
b. How amazing is Tony Gonzalez: nine catches, 91 yards, a touchdown and a heck of a smooth fadeaway jumper from the top of the key, over the crossbar.
c. Maurice Jones-Drew always says he'd be his own first fantasy draft choice. Maurice Jones-Drew the GM would have been a good scout Sunday. MJD: 28 for 177.
d. What a throw by Mohamed Sanu. Forty-nine yards in the air, perfectly thrown to A.J. Green on the first snap of Bengals-'Skins.
e. What an instinctive play by Washington linebacker Rob Jackson, diving for the interception in the end zone to score against the Bengals.
f. And the jarring hit by Ryan Kerrigan on Andy Dalton that caused it.
g. Jason Witten, for passing Ozzie Newsome on the all-time yardage list for tight ends. Newsome played until he was 34. Witten is 29. Quite an achievement, even with the air being filled with footballs.
h. Doug Martin, who runs every attempt like it's his last.
i. Look at you running, Jay Cutler.
j. Jamaal Charles, 17 for 199. In three quarters.
k. Michael Johnson, meet RGIII: three sacks, four quarterback hits.
l. Told you everyone was writing off Gerald McCoy too soon. He was in Tony Romo's grill all day -- too close, on one helmet-to-helmet play that will get him fined -- but he was the disruptive force the Bucs drafted him to be.
m. Jason Hanson, 4 of 4 (47, 53, 33, 26) in field goals, and three punts for a 39.3-yard average, looking like he'd been punting all his life.
n. Akeem Ayers, the anonymous Titans linebacker, with 16 tackles and a sack.
o. Nice commentary on Cutler, John Lynch of FOX.
p. Israel Idonije's a hidden gem on that Bear front, but he won't be if he has many more 2.5-sack days, as he did Sunday.
q. Heck of a bomb, Blaine Gabbert.
r. Congrats, Kevin Kolb. That had to be a huge win for you, beating the Eagles.
s. Good instincts and intelligence, Jayron Hosley, the Giants rookie cornerback. Hosley, on a blitz of Cam Newton Thursday, wasn't faked out by the nimble Newton. Then, when he contacted Newton as he released the ball, Hosley had the presence of mind to not drive him into the ground, but to slide off him and avoid a possible roughing penalty. That was a five-year-vet play by a third-round rookie.
t. Brian Anger, the Jacksonville punter, with six for a 53.5-yard average.
u. Tashard (20 for 91) Choice of Buffalo: best third-string back in football.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 3
a. Tebow shirtless again. Come on, Tim. You're on the verge of becoming the girl who wants to be respected for her brain dressing in next to nothing.
b. The protection for Drew Brees. He must have gotten hit 15 times after releasing the ball by various and sundry Chiefs.
c. RGIII passing yards, first half: six.
d. How do the officials miss the helmet-to-helmets on Tony Romo and Darius Heyward-Bey? Seriously. How?
e. You realize, of course, that Mike Vick cannot last the season getting pummeled like this. I'm not sure he can last the month. G-Men at Eagles Sunday night.
f. Not a big fan of the BS chant. Don't think I've ever heard it louder than it was in Baltimore.
g. Seven straight home losses for Washington. Seriously?
h. Hands to yourself, Bill Belichick.
i. And going freaky on the officials doesn't help you either, Kyle Shanahan.
j. Collinsworth was right in ripping the Patriots' attempt at tackling on the Dennis Pitta touchdown in the first half. Devin McCourty's try was abysmal. Wait until Bill Belichick gets hold of that piece of tape.
k. Wasn't Devin McCourty good at some point?
l. Josh Freeman, too?
m. Train for Hail Marys much, Titans? There's a rule even rube sportswriters know: Knock it down! Knock the ball down!
3. I think the United Football League did a smart thing in matching Brian Banks, the former wrongly imprisoned top linebacking prospect, with Jim Fassel's Las Vegas Locos. Banks is a longshot to be a pro football player, but Las Vegas gets the benefit of a player desperate to make the big time, and it gets a story that warms everyone's heart. "I had the opportunity to work out with NFL teams, was evaluated, got constructive criticism on what I needed to work on,'' Banks said last week. "This is big, a giant step to my overall pursuit of playing in the NFL. I think this is the best way to gain experience.''
4. I think Chris Johnson is costing every great running back of the future about a million bucks a year. Pay the guy big and he disappears.
5. I think the more the Saints lose, the worse it's going to be for Roger Goodell in Super Bowl week. I mean, the man will not be able to leave his hotel.
6. I think the best news about the end of the stalemate between the NFL and Time Warner Cable is that, after nearly nine years of fighting about carrying NFL Network, we finally don't have to hear about it anymore. NFLNet debuted in the homes of the 12.3-million Time Warner Cable subscribers, in 29 states, on Sunday.
7. I think, in case you didn't catch my drift about Cam Newton, I objected to three things he did Thursday night, aside from playing his worst all-around game as an NFL player. One: Scoring in the third quarter to make it 23-7, and then pulling the Superman act in the end zone; bush league. Two: Setting himself apart on the bench late in the game when things were going bad, causing Steve Smith to read him the riot act for being a baby. Three: Talking postgame about the loss like his dog just died.
Bernie Kosar once had a great line about a quarterback's job once the game ends. He said the postgame interview scrum is like the fifth quarter, where you help set the agenda for your teammates and, in part, your organization, for the next week. When you do that, you can't be an all-is-lost guy, which is what Newton looked like after the Giants beat Carolina.
8. I think Torrey Smith should teach Life Lessons 101 to Cam Newton.
9. I think the Dallas Cowboys did the right thing in defending their quarterback running out the clock against Tampa Bay: They blocked Tampa's front. It's pretty easy to police things like this, and Jason Garrett did. I still think I'd like to see the shotgun tried against this. Wouldn't it be less risky for an offense to snap the ball back seven yards?
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. The Triple Crown is a pretty big deal. The last time it was won, 1967, I was sitting on the couch in my living room in Enfield, Conn., nerdily keeping score of the final Red Sox game of the Impossible Dream season. That's the weekend my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, went 7 for 8 as the Sox swept the Twins in a two-game series to win the pennant, and it's the weekend Yaz won the Triple Crown. (Yaz homered in the seventh Saturday, his 44th, and Harmon Killebrew followed two innings later with his 44th.) Yaz won the Crown, tying Killebrew in homers and winning the Batting and RBI titles outright. It hasn't been done in the 45 years since.
If the season ended Sunday, Miguel Cabrera would do the exact same thing -- win the batting and RBI titles, and tie Josh Hamilton for the homer run title with 42. I admire the ridiculous season of Mike Trout, but if the season were over and I had a vote, Cabrera would be my MVP.
b. Happy 50th birthday (Sunday), John Harbaugh.
c. Happy 63rd birthday (Sunday), Bruce Springsteen.
d. Why I really like Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe: He wrote this weekend that the Red Sox had trailed in each of their previous 32 games, and that Jacoby Ellsbury, as of Saturday, had played in 246 of the last 476 Red Sox games. Play 246, sit 230. That'll give you pause about paying him $15 million a year starting in 2014.
e. Dodgers: 11-16 since The Trade.
f. Coffeenerdness: Order of the week, at the Starbucks at 50th and 2nd in Manhattan: "Could I have a triple doppio in a grande cup, with eight Splendas?'' Cashier looks up. "You mean six shots of espresso with eight Splendas?'' That's right.
I like my espresso, but I'd have to be strapped down with a dental device holding my mouth open to get that down my throat.
g. Beernerdness: There's something about Pyramid Hefeweizen in the parking lot of a huge stadium on a warm September late afternoon that's, well, pretty good. Experienced that at Springsteen Wednesday night at the Meadowlands. I would imagine a few of you out in Seattle tonight will experience the same thing in the lots outside CenturyLink Field.
h. Book I Wish I Had Time To Read This Month: "When Saturday Mattered Most: The Last Golden Season of Army Football," by Mark Beech, my friend at Sports Illustrated ... and a 1991 West Point grad. I love books that transport you into a place you wish you'd been, and the one great anecdote from this book that illustrates how Beech does this comes from the Army-Pitt game on Oct. 25, the only blemish on the team's 8-0-1 record; it ended in a 14-14 tie.
As Beech writes, Army halfback Bob Anderson had been an All-American in 1957, and he admits now that when he saw that the Panthers end he would be blocking was a sophomore, he didn't pay much attention to the scouting report on the hulking underclassmen. But Anderson's attitude got an adjustment in the first quarter, when he had his helmet knocked askew while attempting to lay a block on Ditka. "He hits me with a forearm and my chinstrap pops off," Anderson told Beech. "He broke my nose and he made the tackle. And as I'm lying there on the ground in pain, I hear this voice over me, 'Hey, kid' -- I'm a junior and he's a sophomore and he's calling me 'kid' -- and he says to me, 'Here's your chinstrap, kid.' " This one goes on the offseason bookshelf. High on it.
i. That Mike Ditka, he was a man. Still is.
j. Book I Will Get To In the Offseason Right After Beech's: "Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country and Football at West Point," by Joe Drape, about how the 2011 Army prepared for football and battle. I've heard nothing but great things about it.
Story of the week that has the NFL buzzing: Yahoo!'s Mike Silver on how NFL scouts hated Greg Schiano at Rutgers because of the restrictions he placed on them. There is no question Silver's piece, which I believe to be on the mark, will cause the Bucs and Bucs fans to circle the wagons around their coach. And I like the fact that Schiano's not just some nice guy who's come in to do a nice job for a nice family of owners and nice GM. Schiano is smart enough to know that when you make rules or run plays that tick people off, you're going to be a target. And if I'm someone who loves the Bucs, I like the fact that my coach has the guts to do things to tick people off.
Green Bay 21, Seattle 20. To a lesser quarterback than Aaron Rodgers, I would make Seattle's cacophonous 12th man crowd a big factor tonight. And it still very well could be; Rodgers calls a ton of stuff at the line, and he changes plays with alacrity because Mike McCarthy gives him immense freedom in the no-huddle offense at the line.
But you can bet the Packers worked overtime on hand and non-verbal signals in practice this week. So I say this comes down to five Green Bay receivers -- Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley -- making enough plays against the top five Seattle secondary men (Seahawks should be in nickel a majority of the time) -- Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Marcus Trufant at corner, and the punishing pair of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety. By the score, you can see I believe this game could go either way, and Rodgers just has enough to beat everyone's second-favorite Cheesehead quarterback, Russell Wilson.
So long, Steve Sabol.Do those slo-mo spirals lookas good from up there?