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Notes from paradise

Dreams of beating the Pats and other Hawaii tidbits

Posted: Monday March 21, 2005 10:44AM; Updated: Monday March 21, 2005 7:26PM
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Figuring out how to beat the Patriots will be a priority for Colts coach Tony Dungy this offseason.
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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Greetings from an overcast Eden. For the first time since 1987, the NFL has chosen to have its annual meetings at the end of the earth, here in Maui. There's a crowd of 800 or so NFL employees and family members, all trying to avoid the reportorial vermin patrolling the posh hotel lobby and pool, a Kerry Collins spiral from the Pacific Ocean.

About all I can tell you that has some news value -- other than some serious saber-rattling about stalled negotiations for a new bargaining agreement with the players -- is that late Monday, the NFL announced Monday that the Patriots would host the Raiders in the now-annual Thursday night opener of the season on Sept. 8. The league has begun a tradition of the Super Bowl champion opening at home on a Thursday, and this should be a pretty compelling game. It's not Peyton Manning trying to get off his Patriots' schneid; Indy is scheduled to travel to Foxboro again in 2005, but it won't be for the opener. This will be compelling because it'll be the Patriots opening their attempt to threepeat, and it'll be Randy Moss' first game with the Raiders.

I'd heard talk Sunday of a New England-Pittsburgh opener, but the league will stick with the defending Super Bowl champ playing at home.

The other national TV games were announced by the league, too. FOX will have the doubleheader game on the opening weekend, and that will be Drew Bledsoe making his Dallas debut at AFC West champ San Diego on Sept. 11. The ESPN Sunday nighter will be Indianapolis at Baltimore. And on Monday night, ABC has an NFC Championship Game rematch: Philly at Atlanta.

Aside from that, it's a pretty slow week. (Unless you think commissioner Paul Tagliabue saying talks with the players are "at a dead end'' is newsy. The problem with making too much of this is that the league still has two seasons, plus an uncapped year, before the players could go on strike, or make any sort of job action. So even though Tagliabue's words will raise some eyebrows and make some headlines, you can't get too nervous over some problem that's three years down the road.)

There's Bill Cowher, stopping by the coffee urns, pulling for North Carolina State, successfully, in the waning moments against UConn. Bob Kraft, in his Patriots shorts and polo shirt, heading for the workout room. Jerry Angelo and Terry Bradway, sweating the mainland out in the workout room. The FOX TV guys, heading out for a round of golf. Jim Haslett, getting in some pool time. The families of sons-of-NFL-royalty Jonathan Kraft and Stephen Jones playing touch football, Camelot-like, on the carpet of a lawn. Kraft scoring and doing an exaggerated Terrell Owens-wing-flapping display in the end zone. In short, one of the few leisure times this league has each year.

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This league meeting could set a record for meaninglessness. "Smallest packet of scheduled stuff I remember getting at a league meeting,'' Indy coach Tony Dungy told me yesterday afternoon in the lobby. Some discussion of future Super Bowls (ho-hum), some minor tinkering with instant replay (ho-hum); some around-the-lobby-but-no-voting discussion on Reggie Fowler's ownership candidacy with Minnesota; a (scary, from what I can tell) update on the stalled negotiations with the players over a new collective bargaining agreement; and an update on TV negotiations with the networks.

I'm sitting in the lobby in mid-afternoon, staking out the joint with Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, wondering where Monday Morning Quarterback's going to come from. "Come on, Zim,'' I said. "Help me. I've got to find something for Monday Morning Quarterback.'' "There's Tony Dungy,'' Zimmy said. "How's he going to find a way to beat the Patriots?'' Ah, Zimmy. The Sage.

There was one thing I'd wanted to ask Dungy since the 20-3 divisional playoff loss at Foxboro in January: How did he feel about the Patriots choosing not to cover the Gillette Stadium turf during a sleety, rainy week leading up to the game? Was that, in his mind, home-field-advantage gone mad? The Patriots are more comfortable with a slow, plodding game. The Colts like the game on the carpet or on a fast surface. By not covering the field during the week and ensuring the game would be played in a bog, New England's power running game and its suspect secondary would both have an edge over the Colts. And should the league take over field management during playoff weeks to ensure a quality pitch for both teams?

"No, I don't see anything wrong with what they did,'' he said. "To me, that's what home-field advantage is all about. There aren't any rules on the books about field management before a playoff game, so that's part of the mystique of winning home-field in the playoffs. We're not going to sit here and make excuses about the condition of the field.''

Noble. But if I were the Colts, I'd be putting forth a bylaw this week asking for the league to oversee field preparation for all playoff games.

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