Good Guy of the Week
Je'Rod Cherry, former defensive back, New England. Cherry, who played for New England, Philadelphia and New Orleans in a nine-year NFL career, is raffling his 2001 Patriots Super Bowl ring on Nov. 27 to raise money for children's charities around the world. "I was moved by some pictures I saw of a child in Africa on his deathbed, and in the background waiting was a vulture, in essence, to consume him,'' said Cherry, who lives in Ohio now. "What I saw there moved me to say, 'What can I do to make a difference?' What can I give sacrificially from myself to show I do have care and concern about this child's predicament as well as other organizations that help people across the world?''
Cherry says he cherishes the ring, and played football 21 years to get to the pinnacle of the profession. "But using this ring to help children who are starving ... and who have no hope will be a greater feeling than what I felt the day I actually won the ring.''
He's raffling the ring instead of auctioning it so all fans would have a chance to win it, not just the richest ones. Five tickets cost $10, and can be purchased at netraffle.org. Deadline for purchase is Nov. 27 at 9 a.m.
"After the decision to do the raffle was made,'' Cherry told me Saturday, "I said, 'Wow. I'm actually going to relinquish this ring.' It's not going to be easy. Before that season, I'd played football all my life, but I never won a championship. My high school team won one league game in Berkeley [Calif.]. I went to Cal. I started my career with the Saints, and we never won there.''
He got to the Patriots with the middle-class free-agency class of 2001, and as I reminded Cherry, that first Super Bowl team was a bunch of Je'Rod Cherries. It's fitting he won the ring with a bunch of blue-collar players like him.
Cherry's disappointed with the raffle kitty so far -- it's approaching $75,000 -- but he hopes even if the proceeds aren't what he hopes for, "I may spur someone who hears about this or reads about a person giving up such a prized possession to do something for others.''
What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
It is mid-November, and I didn't know this could happen: At least one NFL locker room does not smell.
You had to see the old Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice facility, called One Buc Place, to believe it. I'd be kind to say it was a shoebox. By the end of its run, in 2006, one office-sized room was shared by assistant coaches Raheem Morris and Jay Gruden, the NFL Network remote camera and backdrop and the airport X-ray machine the Bucs used to screen belongings before road trips (every team does this at its facility now, so officials and players and coaches can simply walk onto airport charter flights).
Food service was done in a hallway, and players ate on their laps at their narrow lockers. Mice, rats and opossums -- and the cats who chased them -- lived in, near and under the building and the adjacent office trailers for staff and the press. The trainers' room had no modern amenities, and if trainer Todd Toriscelli wanted rehabbing players to do pool therapy, he put them in his car at lunchtime and drove 10 minutes to then-GM Rich McKay's house, where the players would go in the shallow end of the family in-ground pool and jog for half an hour.
I visited the Bucs' two-year-old facility for the first time last Wednesday and Thursday and got a tour. It has the same kind of Ritz-Carlton luxuries that are becoming common around the NFL ... of which your father's football heroes would never have dreamed. (Dinner in the team dining room last Wednesday for the coaches and late-staying staff: Beef Wellington, Lobster Newburg, chicken-fried steak. (With a business channel on one high-def TV and ESPN on the other.) "It's like the Waldorf-Astoria!'' defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin gushed, filling his plate around 7 Wednesday night.
The place reminds me of what Paul Brown once said, shortly before he died in 1990, as some of the nicer training facilities started being built. "These places don't help you win,'' he said, and I agreed, but no one listened. One is nicer than the other these days, with the Bucs, Jets, Ravens and Seahawks the latest to build such palaces. I've softened a bit in recent years, because I realize one of the attractions is that teams like players hanging around when official work hours are over and before official work hours begin, so maybe they'll put in more film study or lift an extra weight.
But I write this note because of what I noticed in the wood-paneled, spacious, Wi-Fi-enabled locker room. The room, on an 78-degree Tampa afternoon, was odor-free. I've been in NFL locker rooms for the last 25 years, and the one thing I've never smelled in any of them is nothing.
"Isn't it fantastic?'' said punter Josh Bidwell.
"You should have been at One Buc,'' safety Jermaine Phillips said. "There was enough smell in there to last a lifetime.''
I was at One Buc. And there were enough smells to last lifetime. But here, before the place was built, coaches and executives and some veterans were asked for wish lists of what they'd like in the new facility. A couple of people wondered, "Can we cut down the smell in the locker room?'' And so each of the 69 oversized lockers was outfitted with a complicated system to suck out odor and dry sweaty and wet equipment.
Each locker has a 30-inch-by-10-inch fine-mesh metal screen high in the stall, where the helmet and shoulder pads rest, and then a 30-inch-by-16-inch screen at torso level, to dry and suck out odors from practice gear and shoes. Other than it smelling nicer in the locker room, there's a bacteria and infection benefit in sucking out many of the germs in the joint.
The exhaust from the lockers is removed when the temperature rises in the room (usually when a mass of bodies occupies it), and the air-conditioning automatically clicks on. That prompts a mechanism in the system that forces the air out of each locker through spiral ducts into a series of galvanized metal pipes, sent through a network of pipes 44 feet to the rooftop, and expelled into the air through a fan on the outside of the building. The theory: If the odor-causing items -- shoes, pads, helmets, practice gear -- are near or next to an exhaust system designed to suck nearby air out of the locker through two big vents, there won't be any smell to linger.
What a country.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
It's funny how you judge drafts sometimes. Look at the top of New England's draft in 2007, for instance, and here's what you see:
Round 1 (pick acquired from Seattle): DB Brandon Meriweather.
Round 1 (28th overall): Traded to San Francisco.
Round 2: Traded to Miami.
Round 3: Traded to Oakland.
Round 4: Traded to Oakland.
Round 4: OL Kareem Brown.
What a dud draft.
Upon further review:
· New England traded the 28th overall pick in 2007 to San Francisco for the Niners' first-round pick in 2008 and fourth-round pick in 2007. The fourth-rounder in 2007 was dealt to Oakland for Randy Moss. The first-round pick in 2008, the seventh overall, was dealt down three spots with New Orleans, and the Patriots took linebacker Jerod Mayo with the first-round pick and linebacker Shawn Crable, now on IR, with the third-round pick acquired in the swap with the Saints.
· New England traded second- and seventh-round picks to Miami for Wes Welker before the draft.
· The Pats traded their late-third-round pick to Oakland for the Raiders' seventh-round pick in '07 and third-rounder in '08. This year, they traded that third-round pick to San Diego for the Chargers' second-round pick in 2009.
Moss set the NFL record for receiving touchdowns, 23, last year.
Welker has more receptions, 184, than anyone in football since the start of the 2007 season.
Mayo is the favorite to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He has 85 tackles, 25 more than any Patriot.
The Chargers' second-round pick in 2009 could be a middle-of-the-round pick because of San Diego's current 4-6 record. The trade should end up being something like the 91st pick in 2007 for the 45th pick in 2009 -- in what the Kiper fraternity is calling a strong draft.
And Meriweather, second on the team in solo tackles, has been a good developmental defensive back.
Four morals of this story. One: It's amazing how misleading the fine print in draft records can be. Two: You can't judge a draft the day after it happens, which we learn over and over but still, for some reason, continue to try to do with Draft Report Cards. Three: Someday we may look at this draft as the one that propelled the Patriots to a second wave of championship contending, the way the 49ers look at the '86 draft (and trade for Steve Young). Four: Pats VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli is pretty good at his job, taking three picks at the bottom of the first three rounds and turning them into three of the 10 most important players on the New England roster.
It'll be interesting to see if Detroit, San Francisco or some other team that blows up its front office after the season goes after Pioli hard. Why wouldn't they?
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
On a Continental flight from Tampa/St. Pete to Newark last Thursday morning, we were delayed boarding by a few minutes. When we got on and sat down, there was a woman, 40ish, in one of the first coach rows behind me, who -- and though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I am not a substance-abuse specialist -- I fear might have a drinking problem.
As she sat down, at about 11:05 a.m., she asked the flight attendant: "Are you serving drinks before takeoff?'' No, the flight attendant said. A couple of minutes later, the captain announced there would be a 25-minute delay because of weather in the northeast.
11:12 -- Thirsty woman: "So will they bring the drink cart out now?''
11:25 -- Thirsty woman: "You've got to be kidding me. They can't bring the drink cart out with a delay like this?''
11:33 -- Thirsty woman, after summoning the flight attendant with the call button above her seat, in an annoyed voice: "Why don't you serve drinks now?''
We took off around 11:40.
11:57 -- Thirsty woman, noting the first-class passengers were getting their drink orders taken: "They're getting drinks up in first.''
12:16 -- A double scotch on the rocks arrives. There is peace in our time.
1:08 -- Thirsty woman sings a few bars of Amy Winehouse. The scotch has taken effect. It was about this time I wished I could have directed her to the Je'Rod Cherry netraffle.org site. I have a feeling she was feeling pretty generous right about then.
The Way We Were
Cortland Finnegan vs. Ronnie Lott. Wait a minute. I've compared some pretty good players to some all-timers, but I've never reached on a comparison like this one. I'm not saying Finnegan is in Lott's league. I am saying there are some facets about Finnegan's story and style that make me think of Lott.
1. It's a very rare thing to make the position switch Finnegan and Lott did. Finnegan, a college safety at Samford, was switched to corner when he got to the Titans in 2006. Ditto Lott, a safety at USC who was switched to corner by Bill Walsh as a rookie. (One big difference: Lott was the eighth-overall pick in 1980, Finnegan the 215th pick in 2006.) What other players recently have switched from college safety to pro corner? Rashean Mathis for one, also Nnamdi Asomugha. I can't think of a third.
2. Finnegan plays feisty, productive and bigger than his size -- 5-10, 185. Lott, at 6-0 and 203 pounds, hit like he had an anvil in his shoulder pads. Finnegan is showing the same signs.
3. Finnegan plays to the whistle, perhaps to a microsecond beyond; three times a game he's in Hines Ward-type scrums. Lott was a chippy player from the day he walked onto the field with the Niners.
4. Lott was respectful, well-spoken and a leader from the first year he started. Ditto Finnegan, who's a little quieter right now because he knows his place. But it's only a matter of time before he becomes a defensive spokesman.
5. Through 25 starts in his first two seasons, Lott totaled 157 tackles and nine interceptions. Through 25 starts since winning a starting cornerback job full-time in 2007, Finnegan has 142 tackles, five interceptions and 28 passes defensed, a stat not officially kept when Lott played.
The major difference between the two is that no one's ever going to move Finnegan to safety. Lott went there in his fifth season in San Francisco.
What's notable about Finnegan's ascension is he entered the league as a virtual unknown, and was entrenched as a starter by training camp of his second season. Lott, a two-time all-America at USC, had the heritage and background to be the big man on campus in college and in the NFL. He was every bit the star coming out of school that Marcus Allen was around the same time. (Allen was the 10th player drafted in 1982, two spots and two years later than Lott.)
Finnegan went to little Samford, in Alabama, because no Division-I school wanted him. "I was 5-9, 150 coming out of high school,'' he said with a laugh last week. "And 5-9 and a buck-fifty won't get you any D-I offers.''
At Samford, coaches put him at safety because he was a playmaker and they didn't want to see him isolated on one side of the field at corner. NFL teams passed on him 'til the seventh round because of his size, even though he ran a 4.36 40- in an on-campus workout. Sometimes the scouts just miss.
In Tennessee's first game in 2007, Finnegan got burned for a 47-yard touchdown pass against Jacksonville in the first quarter. On the Jags' subsequent drives, David Garrard started going after Finnegan consistently. "It was sink or swim for me,'' Finnegan said. "There was blood in the water, and my job was on the line.'' From the Titans' four-yard line in the second quarter, Garrard threw a fade in the end zone to Matt Jones, who had seven inches on Finnegan, and the corner broke it up.
Now he's progressed to where he's occasionally pitted against tight ends -- his most memorable hit this year was a helmet-to-helmet job with Todd Heap of the Ravens -- and, like 5-8 Antoine Winfield of the Vikings, Finnegan never shies away from contact. He likes it. "When you do something you love, you don't worry about the risk,'' he said. Spoken like Lott.