Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Championship Weekend:
a. Enjoy the inauguration, Dan Rooney.
b. Jason Garrett didn't strike while the iron was hot last year, when he could have coached Atlanta or Baltimore. And he may be paying for it for years to come. When he lost out on the St. Louis job, Garrett, barring the absolutely misguided idea of getting involved in Oakland or the longshot chance in Kansas City if that turns over, likely bought himself another year in the slippery coaching slope that is Dallas. And no one on the Cowboys coaching staff should be buying a big home in Texas anytime soon. So Garrett could go from turning down the Ravens gig in 2008 to -- just maybe -- being someone's quarterback coach in 2010.
c. Speaking of career-wreckers and Garrett, no, I do not think Terrell Owens will be a Cowboy in 2009. It's not going to happen soon, but I believe Jerry Jones will come to the smart decision that Owens is a cancer and needs to be cut out.
e. Julius Peppers wants to go elsewhere. The Panthers aren't going to let him, not without significant compensation. Look for this one to last a long time, for the Panthers to franchise Peppers and try to entice an offer of at least a first-rounder for him. Wouldn't be surprised to see Miami offer its first-round pick for him. It'd be a fair offer. Peppers and Phillip Merling would be a nice combo in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme.
f. You won't be disappointed with Rex Ryan, Jets fans.
2. I think I have no idea who's going to win the Super Bowl. I'm tempted to pick the Pittsburgh bonecrushers with the really good defense, but I've seen the Cardinals do too many explosive things to dismiss them. "They've got two of the best receivers in the league,'' said linebacker James Farrior of the Steelers. "Kurt Warner's on fire. We don't know them that well, but we know they can score a lot of points quickly.''
3. I think I speak for most of my peers when I say I'm going to miss Mike Pereira, the NFL's officiating czar, who, as Fox's Jay Glazer reported Sunday, will be retiring at the end of the 2009 season, when he will be 60. I talked to Pereira after the news broke, and there's nothing sinister or cloudy about the move. He's not being forced out and he's not having a nervous breakdown because of the stress of the job -- coaches call him every Monday asking why his officials stole the game from them.
"Certainly there's stress in the job,'' said Pereira, who'll be moving back to his native California. "But the good thing about officiating is you learn how to handle stress early in your career, when you're on the sidelines of a Pop Warner or high school game and you have parents get all over you. This is more about wanting to spend more time with my life, and figuring this is probably about a 10-year job, and at the end of next year I'll have had the job for 12 years. Plus, I'm a West Coast guy, and my parents are aging, and I think it's best if I'm there for them.''
What Pereira has done is make officiating less of a deep dark secret. It's more open, so fans can understand quickly whether a call was correct and why it was made. The NFL needs to make sure his successor enjoys (or at least tolerates) spending about 10 hours a week talking to people like me so we can get the bizarre calls explained to our viewers and readers.
I remember this year at NBC when the Santonio Holmes touchdown-reversal was made in the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game, and I had about 90 seconds to get Pereira on the phone to explain what he saw, then try to translate it to the guys on the set during our Football Night in America pregame show (the game was a late game, and the play happened while we were on the air).
He was concise, firm in his view without being bullying, and very good in his interpretation of the rule. It so happened Cris Collinsworth and I didn't quite see it his way (we thought there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the call), but that's not something Pereira would ever hold against you. Good man.
4. I think the Ravens are going to have to pay Ray Lewis. I know he's 33, and a 13-year vet, and logic says you don't pay someone really big money at that stage of his career, but how about $15 million to sign, and a three-year deal with low base salaries -- say, totaling $9 million? He made as many heart-and-soul plays as anyone playing this weekend on the defensive side of the ball, and I think he must be rewarded.
5. I think this is what I liked about Championship Weekend:
a. Good point by Joe Buck: The Cards didn't have a rushing first down in the entire game at Philadelphia on Thanksgiving night. They had three in the first minutes Sunday.
b. Donovan McNabb's 22-yard run on the first Eagles snap of the game is the best run I've seen him make in years.
d. You got away with blatant interference, Ralph Brown. Good for you.
e. Fourth-and-inches, biggest drive in Arizona Cardinal history, and Tim Hightower ran with confidence around right end for the crucial conversion, and he goes on to score the decisive touchdown. Nice afternoon for the young guy.
f. Terrell Suggs can play for my team any day.
g. Everyone in this business underrates Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith.
h. The Arizona crowd sounded important over the TV. I heard the Pittsburgh crowd myself, and I'd be stunned if it didn't have some influence on the AFC game
6. I think this is what I didn't like about Championship Weekend:
a. Just curious, Leonard Pope: Why'd you tackle Larry Fitzgerald at the goal line on the first touchdown of the game? Strange play.
b. The Cards sure looked like they were lining up in the neutral zone a lot -- and never got called for it.
c. As smart as Jim Johnson is, and as successful as he's been in shutting good offenses down, he had a bad day against a blazing offense. He didn't set up to defend the screen and short swing route all day. Then again, that's what happens when you've got two big receivers to defend against all day.
d. You have the gall to argue about an interference call, Asante Samuel, when you plow over Larry Fitzgerald a second before the ball is coming to his grill? Save your protests for when you're remotely innocent.
e. For a great player, Ed Reed was absolutely invisible Sunday. The stats say he had two tackles and a pass defensed, but I don't remember him doing a thing.
f. Joe Flacco: six negative plays Sunday (three picks, three sacks taken, zero fumbles lost) after zero in the first two playoff games.
g. Did it seem like the AFC game took five hours? Twenty-eight possessions in 60 minutes ... brutal. A 3-hour, 34-minute game. Interesting to watch, but so many stoppages.
7. I think the happiest guy in the world this morning has to be Mike McGuire, my Army buddy who is back in Iraq, ridding the country (he hopes) of improvised explosive devices. Mike loves two things above all in sports: Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams. Warner's his hero because of the rising-from-the-ashes nature of his comeback in football, and because Warner is such a good everyman kind of guy. McGuire's from St. Louis, and loves football, so he'd love the Rams, obviously. And I think he'll love the attacking defense Steve Spagnuolo installs, because he really thought the team needed a defensive coach. Clear a good seat for McGuire to watch the Super Bowl over there.
8. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Oh, Working On a Dream, by Springsteen, is going to be one of his best efforts -- ever, I think. The Wrestler is going to be a classic. It's a terrific song, and would be even if the lyrics weren't poetic. What a moving song. My Lucky Day will be a hit, too.
b. I think I listened to The Wrestler 22 times Saturday while writing in the hotel room.
c. I have given the floor here for a moment to Mark Godich, the college football editor at Sports Illustrated. This is not some talk-show caller yelling about something, or some TV critic with some ax to grind about something. This is the college football editor at SI with as strong an opinion about how ratings-needy Friday Night Lights absolutely must stay on the air.
Godich said: "Don't do it to us, NBC and DirecTV. Don't give us a season of Friday Night Lights like that, don't tease us with a season finale that was spectacular, yet ended with so many compelling story lines to explore. This is as good a show as there is on television. The characters are so real, the casting and writing superb, the chemistry between coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, remarkable. Football is played for four quarters. Friday Night Lights has been around for only three. Give it the fourth season it deserves.''
d. Coffeenerdness: Love your hotel, Omni William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh. Classic old tarry-and-talk lobby, very friendly and helpful bellmen. Starbucks in the lobby. But the hotel coffee ... more like coffee-flavored water. You can do better. Just try.
e. Spent Saturday night at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 in the shadow of Heinz Field with some of my NBC comrades, both football and hockey, seeing that the hockeyites were in town to do the Rangers-Pens at the Igloo on Sunday afternoon. Great people. Doc Emrick, fresh in from New Jersey-Columbus in central Ohio on Friday night, and Pierre McGuire filled with so much Devils knowledge that I'm about to burst. Asked McGuire if I wanted to make one hockey pilgrimage where I should go, and he said Montreal was a must. Montreal it will be, someday.
f. Speaking of the Bettis restaurant, it's a gem. (I recommend the spicy shrimp, especially when someone else is paying.) But it has the strangest men's room in the history of the United States. When you stand at the urinals, you find yourself looking straight out through a one-way window at the mobbed floor of the restaurant.
On Saturday night, a fellow at the next urinal asked if he could shake my hand outside, after I'd washed my hands. Uhhhhh, OK. He left the men's room, went outside, got his buddies together and started pointing at me, and soon a bunch of people were craning necks, looking to see if they could see through the window. Using the urinal, as you may know, is not the best pastime for an audience.
Explain yourself, Bettis. The scoop, as he told me Sunday: The people who run the restaurant run others, and they did the same sort of thing in Eddie George's place in Columbus. "Let's do it!'' Bus told them. But he admits it's strange to see people a few feet away while you're in the process of relieving yourself, and it can make for a longer urinal experience, shall we say.
g. Office chatter: Dueling for Angela? No thanks. Now, a duel for Pam, that's understandable. But Angela ... Not worth it.
h. Saw Revolutionary Road. Powerful movie, but you need a few shots of something stronger than coffee when you walk out of the theater. Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates should be up for whatever acting prizes there are for their roles in it.
9. I think you can write this in stone: Tim Tebow will not get past the end of the first round in the 2010 draft. I've talked to too many people around the league who love him. "He will not get past us in the first round whenever he comes out, I can guarantee you that,'' said the coach of one of the 12 playoff teams. "I don't know where he'll play right away, but I do know that he will play starting opening day, somewhere.''
10. I think the one offseason story I'm begging gets no legs is the one about whether McNabb has a long-term future in Philadelphia. He played great down the stretch, he was durable, he carried a team one series shy of the Super Bowl. The Eagles should sign him to a deal that makes sense for both sides ... after he and Andy Reid have a nice chat about their future together.