Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I truly dislike training camp at teams' home facilities. This is the one time of year when fans can be hands-on with the teams they follow 365 days a year, and the one way teams can say thanks to fans is to allow them to watch practice up close for a few days and to shake hands with players and coaches and maybe get an autograph. But some teams that hold camp at their home facility tend to hibernate and cut off most access between fans and players.
Go to the Ravens' camp in Westminster, Md., or the Steelers' camp in Latrobe, Pa., and you'll see what I mean about access at camps on the road. Last year, I watched Derrick Mason sign for 45 minutes after practice one day in Baltimore's camp; I mean, he quite literally signed an autograph for everyone who wanted one at the practice that day. Players should be exposed to fans more, not less.
2. I think one of the reasons for the move of the draft to Thursday, Friday and Saturday, obviously, is getting the draft into prime time. Understandable, on the surface. But I have this question for the NFL, now that the league has announced that Round 1 of the draft is moving to Thursday night, with Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday and Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday: If you're so intent on maximizing the exposure of the league, why not move the Super Bowl to Thursday night?
This year, 36.7 million people watched at least part of ESPN's draft coverage -- according to ESPN -- and if those numbers are accurate, how much of a boost can the draft possibly get by moving? Will some of the draft buzz be neutered by moving from a time when the only competition is April baseball to a time when the competition is American Idol, The Office and other prime-time giants? I'm not crazy about this either way, other than the fact it drags out an event that fits nicely into two days.
3. I think Twitter America sends this message to the NFL: Moving the draft stinks. I asked on my Twitter account Sunday afternoon whether you favor the NFL moving the draft to one round Thursday, two Friday and four Saturday. In three hours, 462 fans responded. Of those with a yes-or-no opinion, 345 said no, 117 said yes. That's 74.7 percent of my Twitter followers against the move. (I'm not the only one who found this result. Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe posed the question on boston.com, and it was an overwhelming no.) A few comments to me from Twitter:
a. David Goodman: "Let's not water down something else in sports, please.''
b. Bigperm71: "No. The NFL Draft is something I will always think of as an all-day Sat. event with college roommates, pizza and beer.''
c. Harlen Coben (the real one): "Why not start right after Super Bowl and have two picks every day till start of season?''
d. Armen Keteyian (the real one): "Not me. One more example of milking and marketing; a league seeking desperately even more buzz. More like zzzzzz.''
e. Ricky Lacey: "Yes. I think it will create more action with trades and negotiations.''
f. Dale Walker: "Shortening the draft was progress in the right direction. Now they're going backwards.''
g. Shaun Gordon: "No. That Saturday was like another holiday, and the NFL took it away.''
4. I think I've got a few words about a book I've come across this summer while on vacation -- The Class of Football: Words of Hard-Earned Wisdom from Legends of the Gridiron, by Adam Schefter. Interesting concept. Schefter takes the speeches of the inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the speeches of those who presented the inductees. The few that I read have some undiscovered nuggets that could inspire or simply inform the fans who love the game. I'll pick out a bit from Carl Eller's acceptance speech in 2004.
"Young men of African-American descent, hear me now. It breaks my heart, and it breaks all of our hearts. This is not the future your forefathers have built for you. This is not the future that we fought for in the '50s and '60s and '70s. What breaks our heart is to see you involved in gangs and selling drugs and killing each other. That breaks our hearts. We put our lives on the line so that you could enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today. We put our lives on the line yesterday so that ... there could be a Barack Obama today. And there could be a Carl Eller today. And there could be other Hall of Famers sitting before you today."
How about that? Eller referring to Obama three or four years before America really knew him. A very good read.
5. I think it's tough to write Steve McNair's legacy thoroughly, 23 days after he was murdered. But the popular question after his death centers around whether he deserves to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I've always found the five-year waiting period for players a valuable one, because it eliminates all the emotion from the equation. When Michael Strahan retired after the 2007 season, I read more than one "first-ballot Hall-of-Famer'' phrase attached to Strahan ... but upon further review, we noted that Chris Doleman, whose numbers suggest he was at least as impactful as Strahan as a pass-rusher, is thought to be a marginal Hall candidate. So it's a good thing Strahan didn't come up right away -- we need to let his career breathe so we can logically compare it to men of his era and before and so we can be sure that his career is truly over.
My feeling is that except for the true gimmes over the years -- Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, John Elway -- I like to wait to make a definitive judgment on a player.
At first blush, the road for McNair will be hard. He played five 16-game seasons in his career. Some of that was bad luck; injuries happen. Some was a result of his aggressive style. Some also was because he was never a fitness nut, was often not in peak condition, was prone to be a few pounds overweight, and his career ended earlier than most good quarterbacks' careers, at 34.
He was broken-down when Brian Billick mercifully removed him from his last NFL game, an embarrassing home loss to Cincinnati. The woeful Bengals led 18-0 when Billick replaced McNair, who had a sore groin.
In his favor is the fact that he won an MVP and appeared in a Super Bowl. But here is a list of other quarterbacks who won MVPs and are not in the Hall (quarterbacks who won after 1998 are not included because most are still playing): Roman Gabriel, John Brodie, Ken Stabler, Bert Jones, Brian Sipe, Ken Anderson, Joe Theismann and Boomer Esiason. Keep in mind, McNair shared an MVP and lost his only Super Bowl appearance.
Theismann won one Super Bowl, lost another and won the MVP outright in 1983. Stabler won one, while Esiason and Anderson lost their Super Bowls, as McNair did. He's 28th on the all-time passing yards list, and 46th all-time in touchdown passes. By the time he's up for the Hall, he'll likely be 35th or so in yards and not in the top 50 in touchdowns. I liked McNair as a player and competitor and won't make final judgment on his Hall candidacy until he comes up that year, but as I said, it's going to be tough.
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