What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
Derrick Brooks not only is not finished, but at 35, and with a bad hamstring, he's suddenly vital to the Tampa defense.
A year ago, in an effort to conserve him, the Bucs stopped playing Brooks on every down. Last Tuesday, on his off-day, Brooks spent nine hours at the Bucs' facility. Four hours were spent on stimulating and treating the hamstring, five on film study of a quarterback he hadn't played before, Aaron Rodgers.
"Actually, I spent Tuesday looking at 2007 tape, when Brett [Favre] was still there,'' Brooks said last night. "I wanted to see exactly what they were doing on offense, so I could compare it to the first three games this year. When I did that, I learned the system is exactly the same, they've just changed the quarterback. I learned we had to prepare for the system, not the personnel.''
Tampa Bay has always been able to rely on Brooks' sideline-to-sideline play in the middle of the defense; now the Bucs have a bona fide pass-rusher and defensive end who can drop in coverage, Gaines Adams, who dropped about 10 yards deep to make the interception that locked up Sunday's win over the Packers. Watch for Brooks down the stretch. If his injury allows him to remain the instinctive player he's always been, Tampa will be a serious threat.
Good Guy of the Week
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner.
Karen Crouse of the New York Times wrote a good feature on Warner in last Friday's paper, with a prescient story as the lead. Seems that Warner, wife, Brenda, and one or more of the Warner children have a practice the night before football games. They sit at their table in a restaurant, look over the dining room, and pick out one family. Warner then informs the wait staff that, anonymously, he'd like the dinner tab of that family of strangers added to his.
Crouse wrote the Warners have been doing this for several years "as a way of instilling in their children the joy of giving,'' and quoted Warner thusly: "We want our kids to grow up knowing that because of football we are so blessed.''
Just another reason why you can never say enough good things about Kurt Warner.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
"Big win today, Eric,'' I said to Eric Mangini a little after 6 last night. "But it's not the biggest event of your day. You know what's bigger?''
"Sure do,'' he said. "It's the season premiere of Family Guy. ''
In no particular order, Mangini is a big fan of The Office, The Office (British version), Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras. Sense of humor: wry.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
Not mine. Mangini's.
"I love New Jersey,'' he said on his drive home Sunday. "I just love New Jersey. So much less traffic than we're used to. The land, the schools, the towns, the deer ...''
"My kids never saw deer before we moved here,'' he said.
I smell a call from Gov. Jon Corzine's office, and a commercial with the Mangini family petting a deer at the new Florham Park facility, with not a car in sight.
The Way We Were
Tom Nalen vs. Mick Tingelhoff.
Two terrific centers, overshadowed by teammates: Tingelhoff was overshadowed by a cadre of Minnesota stars (Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page and later Ron Yary), as was Nalen in Denver (John Elway, Rod Smith, Terrell Davis and later Champ Bailey). Both had tackles on their line for parts of their careers -- Gary Zimmerman with Denver, Yary in Minnesota -- make the Hall of Fame.
Underappreciated by history: No center in history has been named first-team All-Pro more than Tingelhoff (five times), while Nalen is a five-time Pro Bowler with two All-Pro nods. Yet, Tingelhoff hasn't gotten into the Pro Football of Fame, and it's likely Nalen will struggle to get in as well.
Both ironmen: Tingelhoff has the never-matched-for-an-offensive-lineman streak of 259 straight regular- and postseason games played, while Nalen played every regular- and postseason game for 10 of his 15 years and 201 games in all.
Slightly undersized: Tingelhoff at 237 pounds, Nalen at 286. Both with the same team: Tingelhoff for 17 years, Nalen for 15. And both came out of the shadows, Tingelhoff as an undrafted free-agent from Nebraska, Nalen as a seventh-round pick who spent much of his first year on the Denver practice squad.
Nalen was put on injured-reserve last week by the Broncos with a knee injury, likely ending his career. No one will ever know him, because he rarely spoke to the press. The Broncos, I believe in a weird, off-putting, stupid tradition started by Zimmerman, enforce a policy of anonymity for their offensive linemen. And last week, I approached two coaches who have mentored him over the years. One wouldn't talk, out of respect to Nalen. The other talked, but insisted his name not be used. "Tom wouldn't want anybody to say anything about him anyway,'' the former Bronco coach said.
"I don't know much about Tingelhoff except the name,'' the coach said, "but it sounds like he had a lot in common with Tom. Tom would not leave the field. He wouldn't miss a play. He shared one quality with John Elway and Terrell Davis: When the [stuff] hit the fan, he'd be the strong one. He'd take that line on his back and steady it. He is, by far, the toughest player I ever coached. He's got to go down as one of the best centers of all time.''
Nalen and Tingelhoff were heady players, both quiet off the field. The job of a center -- then and now -- was to make the line calls and adjustments just before the snap of the ball, then block ferociously at the snap. Nalen was probably more of a plowhorse than Tingelhoff, who occasionally could get overpowered. But Bud Grant always credited Tingelhoff with being a great pass-blocking center, able to keep bodies off the diminutive Tarkenton.