A USO guest list for the ages, Ten Things, Harrison unplugged & more
The NFL has established a long legacy of visiting troops overseas
Rodney Harrison brings his passion and unfiltered thoughts to NBC this fall
Mike Mayock would bring excellent insight to the NFL Network gamecasts
Four weeks from Fourth of July weekend, I'm whistling a patriotic tune this morning, and alerting our men and women overseas that they're about to have some interesting visitors. There's more today -- including my thoughts on Brett Favre (who is going to have his own network, Web site and galaxy before his career's over). I've got Rodney Harrison as unplugged as he can get, the motivation of NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, the eye-rolling in New Orleans over Jeremy Shockey and an update on your favorite college southpaw, Austin Wood, the Texas reliever who threw 13 shutout innings last week.
We'll start by waving the flag.
In 1966, the USO began a tradition of sending NFL players and commissioners to visit American troops around the world by dispatching future Hall of Famers John Unitas, Sam Huff, Frank Gifford and Willie Davis to Vietnam. That's probably the starriest lineup ever for a USO trip. But this year's roster is in the same headline-grabbing ballpark -- and I predict the speeches will be a little more colorful, with more neck veins popping.
Later this month, three Super Bowl-winning coaches from this decade -- Tom Coughlin (Giants), Bill Cowher (Steelers) and Jon Gruden (Bucs) -- will join one AFC Championship coach, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and the AFC Championship runnerup last year, Baltimore's John Harbaugh, in traveling to the Persian Gulf to visit our troops.
"This is something I've wanted to do for years,'' Coughlin told me, "and I can't tell you how excited I am, and all the coaches are, to be making this trip. It's a great chance for us to recognize the real heroes of this country. Our troops need to know how much we appreciate what they're doing, and I mean every one of us in the NFL and every one of us in the country.''
Coughlin knows the trip will be as memorable for him as for anyone he visits. A military history buff, he is good friends with the current commanding general of the multi-national force in charge of the Iraq invasion, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a Giants fan. Coughlin also had a double-amputee Iraqi veteran, Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, speak to his team often during its Super Bowl run in 2008. In his coaching career, he has often incorporated military themes into his talks to his teams.
The Giants' coach is not alone. You can bet all five coaches use war stories to motivate their men. For that reason, it's going to be strange for them to be talking to military men about football players rather than the other way around.
"It's going to be a challenge, figuring out what to say,'' Coughlin said. "I've already started to write some things. But it's important to me not to be off the cuff. This is too important for that. I want my words to mean something to them.
"One of the things I know I'll talk about is how we talk about team all the time. I know they talk about team all the time. One of the things I've learned from Gen. Odierno is you realize how important it is to be able to trust the men and women next to you. You place your lives in their hands; they place their lives in your hands. And when Greg Gadson talked to our team, he talked about vigilance, about being ready. Always.
"That's a fastball right down the middle for me. I've got to have everyone ready every day, because I don't know when the next guy is going to be needed. In Greg's case, he told us they worry about the soldier who didn't fire his weapon in his last day on patrol. So maybe he figures he doesn't need to clean it the next day to have it ready to fire, and when he needs it, maybe it doesn't work properly. Just that one moment of not being ready could really cost the entire platoon. Same with us. You don't want to be the man who is not prepared and lets down the entire team.''
You can bet Coughlin, at some base in Iraq or Afghanistan, will tell a room full of soldiers the story of David Tyree, the last receiver on the roster, who caught four passes in the first 18 games of the 2007 season, and then, because of injuries, stepped up to catch four in the Super Bowl upset of New England. Including the helmet catch, of course.
I hear the league didn't have a difficult time persuading the time-challenged coaches (well, the retired ones have some time on their hands, of course) to clear their calendars for a week. Commissioner Roger Goodell went last July, and he's been an outspoken advocate of not only what his trip did for the troops, but also what it did for him.
"Several things about the trip were very striking -- how our service men and [women] never complain about anything, how much I admired them, and how much the NFL meant to them,'' Goodell recalled last week. "You can never complain after seeing the conditions our troops work in. The positive attitude and pride they take in their mission and our country are inspiring. You go over there thinking you're doing something for the troops, but you return recognizing it is one of the most meaningful things you have ever done for your own sake.''
Having gone to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan to visit troops 15 months ago, I can tell you Goodell's right. Doesn't matter what you feel about the war itself. You're dropped into a National Geographic special, into the most interesting place you've ever been, and you realize right away how much these people love everything about the NFL. My advice to the five coaches: Get ready to sign 750 autographs a day, minimum, and pose for 300 pictures a day, minimum. Get ready to fall into an exhausted sleep every night and never get more than five hours of it, because there will always be more people to see and bases to visit. In the Persian Gulf, you'll be like the Beatles were in New York in 1964 ... without the shrieking girls.
The meaning of the Brett Favre surgery -- per an ESPN report last night claiming he had his damaged right biceps tendon repaired recently by detaching it -- is simple: The man wants to play football for the Vikings, and they Vikings have obviously given him enough of an indication that if he's healthy and ready to throw full-throttle by early July that they'll be interested in signing him.
My guess is Favre had the surgery 10 to 12 days ago. An NFL medical source told me if Favre's biceps tendon was indeed "hanging by a thread,'' as I heard it was, that Favre would be able to throw a football in about two weeks and should be able to throw without pain in about four weeks.
The reason Favre could go to the Vikings late in the game, theoretically, is that it's the same offense with the same language that he ran in Green Bay. But there are a couple of X factors that could stand in the way. All indications are the Vikings haven't agreed to a contract yet with Favre; what do you pay a man who will turn 40 and is coming off shoulder surgery two months before the start of training camp? Minnesota can't guarantee him $12 million -- or shouldn't. More likely the contract would have to be for a year at $8 million to $10 million, max, with some incentives. Then there's the matter of how Favre feels. I believe if he's throwing in early July with pain, or with impingement, he won't go through with it.
It's hard to imagine Favre getting the surgery done by renowned orthopedist James Andrews if he didn't think he could be healthy and ready to go within a month or six weeks.
It'll be an upset if Favre doesn't attempt a comeback with Minnesota now.
I don't think Jeremy Shockey is out of the woods in New Orleans. Not at all. He wasn't working with the first team in this weekend's full-squad minicamp, in the wake of his May 24 removal from a Vegas hotel for "dehydration.''
I asked Drew Brees if he was worried about Shockey. He paused for a few seconds, then said, "Oh boy ... I'm not worried about him. I don't care who you are, here I feel like we can win without him, just like I feel we can win without Reggie Bush or Marques Colston. If he fits in, I'd love to have him.''
Different, isn't it, than last year, when Shockey came to camp as the quasi-second coming, and the Saints thought he'd be the most productive tight end in the league, and he finished with 50 catches, a pedestrian 9.7 yards per catch and zero touchdowns. Zero. His practice habits and route discipline weren't great, and now the Saints appear to be saying, Whatever we get from the guy is a bonus. We can't count on him to play a full schedule.
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