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An afternoon spent watching games in the press box is as good as it gets

Updated: Monday October 4, 2004 7:09PM
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a Sunday Ticket holiday. I've got a 4 o'clock game, Atlanta at Carolina, and my favorite Sundays are when I can be in a press box, watching the 1 o'clockers. I think if I didn't do this job, what I'd want to do is have three TVs at home, games on each and a clicker in my hand. Al Davis gave me a tour of his TV paradise last spring, with four big TVs positioned like a big diamond in his silver-and-black office near Oakland. Now that's the life. It's pretty good in Pantherville, too. In the Bank of America press box here, the Panthers have nine TVs, in a big square at the back of the box. I pull up a chair, and this is the lineup on the 29-inch monitors, left to right, rows one through three:

New England-Buffalo, Oakland-Houston, Cincinnati-Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis-Jacksonville, New York Giants-Green Bay, Philadelphia-Chicago.

Washington-Cleveland, Colorado-Houston pennant race baseball, EA Sports 500 (the NASCAR race from Talledega).

You didn't think there'd be a wall of TVs at a sports event in the Carolinas without one of them tuned to a car race, did you?

I am a cheater in the salt mines of life. Others have to work. I am forced to toil at a job while sitting in a paneled, air-conditioned room with a few media pals -- Don Banks from SI.com, Charean Williams from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Rick Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News, and later the immortal John Clayton -- and (darn these gosh-awful working conditions) having a Mexican food spread just to my left, with all the cold soft drinks you can stomach. I spread the iBook out and spew -- in between soft tacos, of course.

Half one:

Bengals uniforms are just awful. Worry about the product, Bengaldom, not fashion. Those things are 1963 AFL rags. ... Bills come out too taut against Pats. Penalties on first two snaps. ... Carson Palmer's pressing. These things happen when you've piloted 31 straight fruitless possessions. Relax, kid. Let your talent flow. ... L.J. Smith drops a TD pass in the end zone. Can't do that, son. ... Boy, Tom Brady is a hell of a quarterback. First drive of the game, against the wind, first and 35, perfect rainbow to David Givens. ... Dan Koppen opened a beautiful hole for the Pats' first score, a run up the gut by Corey Dillon. ... Eight minutes after I said, "Boy, Johnny Grier looks heavy,'' (I swear I did; ask Banks) the ref pulls up lame -- a calf strain, it appears -- and stops Buffalo from going no-huddle. ... Ron Dayne, reborn. Still the same guy. Still can't make a hole bigger than it is. ... Kurt, Kurt, Kurt. Throwing into triple-coverage at the goal line?. ... "He ripped off a long one,'' said Banks after we saw Jerome Bettis score on a marathon (for him) two-yard scoring burst ... Ahman Green -- that fumbling is becoming a concern. ... "TV timeout might hurt the football team,'' Phil Simms said after a huge play in Bills-Pats. Buffalo corner Terrence McGee looks like he intercepted a Brady pass in the end zone. Bills celebrate, CBS goes to commercial. By the time the break is over, the Pats have seen the replay enough to know the ball wasn't caught. And so it got reviewed and reversed. Pats kicked a field goal instead of surrendering the ball. ... I am starting to get a pounding in the head. How can one keep all these games straight? One can't. ... Brandon Stokley can play for my team anytime. Apparently Peyton Manning agrees. ... Love Lovie, but dude, how in the world can you single-cover Terrell Owens with R.W. McQuarters? What are you thinking? ... Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator of the Raiders, is coaching on the sideline in an untucked white T-shirt. You've got to be kidding me. An untucked T-shirt! ... Donovan McNabb is absolutely unconscious: 18 of 22 in the first half. He's 71 percent for the season as I write this. How is that happening? The guy was a 57-percent career thrower a month ago.

Half two:

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The Favre legend grows. He gets a concussion, comes out of a scoreless game early in the third quarter, goes back in for one play, throws a touchdown pass to Javon Walker, comes out of the game for good. I can see the Tuesday morning headlines now. Pack erred in letting Favre re-enter game with concussion. ... "Most dominating lineman of his era,'' the NFL Network announcer intones about Lincoln Kennedy. That is one of the funniest lies I have ever heard in my life. Lying does not attract listeners, Park Avenue. That's been my experience, anyway. ... The Giants are really surprising to me. You? The line protects Kurt Warner, the defensive front is better than I ever thought it would be, and that secondary. Much, much better than geniuses like me thought possible. Feisty. Tough. Coughlin-esque. ... Four games tied in the second half, 17-17. What a product this league has. No wonder a TV type in the league office told me recently they wouldn't allow teams to participate in reality shows because, as he told me, the game is their reality show. ... Tiki Barber is a heck of a plucky football player. ... Massive scribe argument when Jags score a touchdown to make it 17-15 with 10 minutes left in the fourth against Indy. Go for one or two? "Gotta go for two," I say. "Tie it now." Scribes are split. "Too early," Charean says. Moot. Jags go for two, make it. ... My God, the Bengal uniforms. Ugh. Burn 'em at sundown! An all-time fashion disgrace. ... The Browns! The mighty Browns! Lee Suggs scores to put the Redskins on the verge of 1-3. In six days, Clinton Portis has gone from all-world to barely all-Anacostia. Might want to think about not making him burrow behind tackle so much, Joe. ... Daniel Graham. The new Ben Watson .... Raiders go interception-fumble-interception-punt. And so the Kerry Collins era begins. ... "I don't know what's a penalty anymore. Good gosh,'' said Joe Buck, followed quickly by "I'm glad you said that" from Cris Collinsworth. This exchange followed a clear shot to the head of a Pack wideout by New York corner Will Peterson -- and inexplicably, no flag ... Travis Henry, 4.4 yards per carry in the middle of the fourth. Keep going to him, Mike Mularkey ... Norv walks off a loser. Where have we seen that before? ... Belichick thrusts two hands up in the international sign for "touchdown.'' Where have we seen that before? ... Favre looks like he needs a nap. Vacant stare. ... Marvin Lewis walks out of Heinz Field with a "This was so much more fun last year'' look. ... The Colts are good. If Edgerrin James doesn't fumble twice in the red zone on opening night, they'd have road wins in Foxboro, Nashville and Jacksonville in the first month of the year. As it is, the latter two will have to do.

Key lime pie and the stadium PA guy shake me out of my drooling stupor.

"Feely to kick off for Atlanta. ...'' And now we go live.

I am reminded of the singing Steve Martin line from -- well, I forget which movie. You might remember.

"And I,'' Martin sing-songed, "get paid ... for doing ... thissssss."

THE FINE FIFTEEN

1. New England (3-0). Tom Brady is giving Peyton Manning a run for his money as the best quarterback in the world.

2. Philadelphia (4-0). Four wins, all by double digits.

3. Indianapolis (3-1). Lots of depth-related things to like about the win in Jagland. Brandon Stokley and Dominic Rhodes especially.

4. Seattle (3-0). St. Louis at Seattle, next Sunday. Pretty good game, if Marc Bulger shows up big.

5. Atlanta (4-0). After a quarter of the season, Alge Crumpler's my All-Pro tight end. Strong, fast, sure-handed, trusted outlet for Mike Vick.

p1_leftwich.jpg
After Jacksonville played conservatively on offense in their first three games, QB Byron Leftwich completed 29 of 41 passes for 318 yards and one TD in the Jags' loss to Indy on Sunday.
AP

6. Denver (3-1). It has come to this for Mike Shanahan: Ruben Droughns, who wasn't good enough to play for the back-hungry Lions, is getting quality carries for the Broncos. Tatum Bell, get healthy.

7. Jacksonville (3-1). Byron Leftwich begins to emerge. A little.

8. New York Jets (3-0). But I have no idea what they proved yesterday at Pro Player.

9. Carolina (1-2). The venerable USA Today scribe, Larry Weisman, binocularing Falcons-Panthers in the press-box seat next to me, leaned over in the middle of the second quarter and said: "Ever get the feeling the day you type your last word that Ricky Proehl will still be catching footballs?''

10. Minnesota (2-1). Mike Tice is a big Yankee fan, you know. "But I've got to pull for the Twins," he tells me. "I love Gardy." Ron Gardenhire, the manager.

11. Baltimore (2-1). I knew this would happen. Deion Sanders, because of long stretches without playing in this new nickel role, got cool in week two and strained a hammy. So the Ravens will have a bicycle on the sidelines tonight for The Prime One to stay loose.

12. Dallas (2-1). Sure is good to see Bill Parcells swearing off one-on-one interviews this year. My understanding of his interpretation of his self-imposed rule is that it's OK to do one-on-ones with octogenarian hosts of the best news magazine show in American history, but not with anyone else.

13. Pittsburgh (3-1). This is the silliness of Fantasy Football: Jerome Bettis is more valuable than most backs now, simple because he's scored five touchdowns.

14. New York Giants (3-1). I'm sure some marketing-wise Giants fan woke up this morning, drove to Chinatown, got some of the ladies at sewing machines to embroider "WWTD" bracelets. You know. "What Would Tom Do?" Coughlin, that is.

15. Vacant. There are only 14 teams worth ranking.

THE AWARDS SECTION

Offensive Player of the Week

Oakland RB Amos Zereoue, the third option (after Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas) in the Raiders offense, gave them the offensive spark they've been missing early in the season. He rushed eight times for 104 shifty yards in the first half -- including two touchdown bursts -- to key Oakland's offense. For the game, he rushed for 117 yards in one of the most out-of-nowhere performances of the year. If the Raiders don't turn it over five times, Zereoue might have had 200, because Oakland would have been playing ball-possession a lot more.

Defensive Player of the Week

Houston LB Jamie Sharper. Considering the way the Houston offense has been playing since the franchise came back, the defense has to score points for the Texans to win. No exception against the Raiders. Sharper sprinted up the gut at Raider QB Kerry Collins, blasted into him, forced a fumble, picked it up at the Oakland 16 and ran it in for a touchdown. That gave Houston a 10-3 lead. He led the Texans in tackles with nine and had a pass deflection.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Buffalo KR/CB Terrence McGee, whose weaving 98-yard kickoff return for touchdown -- after breaking a tackle at his own 33 by Patriot Shawn Mayer -- broke the momentum of the Patriots and tied the game at 10 late in the first quarter. This came minutes after McGee foiled a Tom Brady touchdown pass with what looked like an interception but ended up a pass-broken-up. Nice quarter by the second-year corner from Northwestern State. I watched a lot of this game, and McGee, at left corner, did a heck of a job frustrating a host of New England receivers.

Coach of the Week

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. You can only go by results in this game. Nothing else matters. Not fines, not petty rules, not what time the clocks are set to, not the color of the socks the team must wear on the road. Wins. Losses. That's it. I appreciated Tiki Barber saying on the ESPN pre-game yesterday, that the man's got some strange rules, but who cares? And I would argue that the Giants being 3-1 right now is the biggest surprise of the first quarter of the NFL season. Since Coughlin's been zinged his share in the last two months, let's let him take a bow, particularly for the attitude of that defense. What a difference between this year's D and last year's.

FACTOID THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME

The first quarter of the Dallas-Washington Monday-nighter ended at 10:01:23 p.m. last week. Time nerd that I am, I know that because I clicked online to the U.S. Naval Observatory clock site at the exact moment the end of the quarter came.

There were probably more stoppages than usual in the quarter -- two replay reviews, seven penalties, one scoring play -- but a 51-and-a-half-minute quarter is absolutely inexcusable. The NFL is paying lip service to respecting the fans on the East Coast, but as long as the second half of a Monday night game starts after 11 -- as this one did, it's no mystery why the ratings don't rise the way the league wishes they would. The national rating for the renewal of the Gibbs-Parcells rivalry, clearly one of the marquee games of this Monday Night Football season, was 13.0, the highest of the year. That would seem to say fans don't care what time the game starts -- or that the rating could have been a couple million people higher if it was played at a decent hour.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I called my mom after the game, and she told me, 'Well, if people had the over in that game, they won in the first three minutes.''

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre last week, after the Colts and Pack put 76 points on the board in a nine-touchdown-pass game against Indianapolis. Memo to Bonita "Get Me To The Sports Book On Time" Favre: For the record, 35 points were scored in the first 11 minutes.

STAT OF THE WEEK

The Bengals last won a road game against a team with a winning record in the last century.

SON OF STAT OF THE WEEK

The winner of the last three Pats-Bills duels has scored 31 points each time. 

ENJOYABLE/AGGRAVATING TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK

Someday, I expect, America won't have train travel. I will rue that day. I had to take Amtrak (no, I should say, I chose to take an unreserved coach train from the Newark Airport rail station to Baltimore last week. I sat by a window, got out my laptop, worked on the 59-minute ride to Philadelphia, read the papers for a while on the 21-minute ride to Wilmington, Del., (hey, there's the Wilmington Blue Rocks stadium), then worked for the last leg, the ride to Baltimore. Industrial parks, backyards, junkyards, rivers, cities ... you see it all. No tolls. Naps included.

I would love to take a train vacation someday. Maybe here. Maybe Canada. Maybe somewhere else in the world. Anyone out there got ideas? The prettier,  the better.

TEN THINGS I THINK I THINK

1. I think this sums up how hard it will be for Peyton Manning to break Brett Favre's consecutive-starts record by a quarterback. Manning started the 100th game of his NFL career Sunday in Jacksonville, and that's also his 100th straight start. The day Brett Favre retires, whenever that will be, Manning will have to play every game for six years beyond that day to pass Favre.

p1_cardinals_defense.jpg
The swarming Cardinals defense ranks sixth in the NFL in scoring defense.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

2. I think it was not hard to predict that the Saints would lose at Arizona yesterday. First of all, the Hasletts cannot stand prosperity. Secondly, Denny Green's Cardinals play their rear ends off at all times. Finally, the young new kids who Clancy Pendergast is working with on defense -- guys like Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby -- are so full of promise and vim that you know you'll get a solid effort from them at all times.

3. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I am convinced Laura King has more jobs than classes up there at Tufts.

b. Coffeenerdness: While Ichiro was tying and breaking the all-time hits record Friday in the Land of Espresso, I tied the all-time King record Friday, a busy work day for me, with four grande hazelnut lattes. Ichiro got an ovation for his feat. I hung my wired head for mine. That's eight espresso shots in one day. Might be time to acknowledge the disease.

c. So interesting following the Cub collapse. Continuing my stat from last week, in the last nine days of the baseball season, Chicago sent Mark Prior and Kerry Wood to the hill four times -- twice against the Mets, once against the Reds and once against Atlanta. The Cubs went 0-4 in those games. Having nightmares yet, LaTroy Hawkins?

d. You may have missed this story in New Jersey this week. Some kids in Summit, N.J., found the Wachovia Bank corporate Yankee playoff tickets and turned them in. Very nice. Noble. So the Wachovia people decided to reward the kids. Seems to me a real reward would be tickets to one of the Yankee playoff games, right? Nope. The Wachovia reward was tickets to a Nets game in December. Wow! What would second prize in the Wachovia reward contest be? Tickets to two Nets games?

e. My baseball awards: MVP: National League, Barry Bonds by the smallest smidge over Adrian Beltre. American League: Vlad Guerrero. In the last 17 days, when his team charged to the AL West pennant by overtaking the A's with a 10-6 run, and while shaking off the effects of taking a fastball in the helmet early in this run, Guerrero put up these numbers: .463, 15 runs, 15 RBIs, nine homers and 57 total bases in 16 games. That's what I call the man. NL Cy Young, Randy Johnson over Roger Clemens. Re: the not-enough-wins argument -- a pitcher controls how many runs his team scores as much as I control who's on the cover of SI this week. Which is to say, not much. AL Cy Young, Johan Santana. NL Rookie, Khalil Greene, who will be a big star, over Jason Bay, barely. (Don't look at the stats on this one, people. Look at how Greene plays. He'll be a great shortstop for a long time.) AL Rookie, Bobby Crosby. NL Manager, Bobby Cox. AL Manager, Buck Showalter.

f. Have you seen Sidney Ponson lately? Geez, he'd be overweight in Ted Washington's house. It's absurd. Have some pride, fella. How about this guy, who everyone in baseball thinks should be an ace, or at least a quality No. 2. He threw 215.2 innings and put 334 men on base. That is just pathetic. How long can a career last when you're putting 1.6 men per inning on base?

g. Jason Varitek embodies everything that is good about baseball and sports.

4. I think one Panther who doesn't get talked about much, but who is a really impressive player, is middle 'backer Dan Morgan. I'm not sure how many middle linebackers are faster, but I'm sure you can count them on one hand. On one third-quarter play Sunday, Morgan changed fields to chase Warrick Dunn around left end. You know how quick Dunn is. Morgan caught him from the side and smothered him. Reminded me of Ray Lewis catching Tiki Barber from behind in the Super Bowl four years ago.

5. I think this about the Chargers: You can't stop them. You can only hope to contain them.

6. I think the Terrell Owens situps were cute. Harmless. I still don't get his whole gig, but I guess he likes to say, "Hey, look at me." That shouldn't overshadow what he's doing as a player. You can't have a more impactful month than he's had as a receiver.

7. I think Jim Mora's getting happy to see me at his games. I saw Falcons-Cards last week, then the 27-10 gem his defense pitched here. "We're flying you down next week,'' Mora told me after the game. "You've got to come.'' Not to Lions-Falcons, coach. I'm hoping to see Pats-Dolphins for the record. Hope you understand.

8. I think if Houston hadn't turned the ball over seven times against Detroit and San Diego, we'd have another 4-0 team in the league right now.

9. I think Mike McKenzie is on the verge of forcing his way out of Green Bay. Looks like he could be playing right now with his slightly injured hammy but doesn't want to play hurt for the Pack. Look for him to go to New Orleans, Seattle or Kansas City in the next week or so.

10. I think one of the most unfair whackings in recent NFL times was the Pack's scapegoating of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after the debacle in Philly last year. Spent some time with Donatell Sunday after the Falcons' 27-10 win, and it's really satisfying to see a good man making the most of a horrible situation and piloting a strong defense into a dominating one.

WHO I LIKE TONIGHT AND I DON'T MEAN AL MICHAELS

I suppose there is a Martian or someone on Mount Kilimanjaro who hasn't piled on the Chiefs yet. If anyone still hasn't, tonight's the night. Kansas City is last-gasping, and the stage will not be friendly -- Baltimore, sold-out Ravensville, really good defense, Ray Lewis frothing at the facemask. I don't like Kansas City's chances, unless Trent Green plays the perfect game and lives on the five-step drop. I say Jamal Lewis shows Baltimore what they'll be missing in a big way. Baltimore, 24-13.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.

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