6. I think I can't believe the sentiment out there for Alex Smith to win the 49er quarterback job. Unless Smith has had an arm transplant with Jay Cutler, how can anyone who has watched the last two San Francisco seasons think he's better than Shaun Hill? I'm not saying he can't win the job. But the sentiment in the Bay Area is so strong that Smith enters camp with the edge. It's not based on what has happened on the field. At all.
7. I think these are my thoughts on the headlines of the month:
a. "Michael Jackson Dies.'' Five observations: Best song, all-time, at a Super Bowl halftime show is Black or White, at the Rose Bowl 16 years ago when Michael Jackson was the greatest performer in the pop world. And this comes from a U2- and Springsteen-aholic ...
I was a kid when Elvis Presley died, but this man, and this death, reminds me of Elvis in so many ways -- the overuse of drugs, the sycophants around him not telling him what an idiotic figure he'd become, the outpouring of real emotion by fans who act like they won't be able to live without him ... I think he was the most famous person in the world at the time of his death. Think of it: Is Ali more famous? Obama? I don't think so ...
Brooke Shields made me laugh at the memorial service when she got all emotional about her deep friendship and ultra-close relationship with Jackson -- while admitting she had not seen him in 18 years ...
Why, when a famous person dies, do we feel the need to vastly overstate this person's importance to the planet? Jackson may have been -- probably was -- the greatest singer, performer and dancer of this era. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sheila Jackson Lee, got up at his service and said a lot of politicians were in office directly because of Jackson. "He called us into public service,'' Jackson Lee said. Let me understand this. A man sings wonderfully and dances better, and that leads a cadre of regular citizens into public service? Why, why, oh why?
b. "Man Dies During Running of the Bulls.'' Maybe if this happened more often, the authorities in Spain would do what civilized people do with inhumane customs: Ban them forever.
c. "Alexis Arguello dies of gunshot wound.'' I covered boxing for a couple years at The Cincinnati Enquirer in the early '80s, and spent a day with Arguello at his home in Miami before his first big junior-welterweight title fight with Aaron Pryor in 1982. Great guy. Gentleman. Seemed bright and more interesting than your run-of-the-mill pug. We'll never know what was in that secret bottle that Panama Lewis kept in the Pryor corner that night, but to Arguello's credit, he never complained about it or, to the best of my recollection, never questioned Pryor's incredible staying power in that brawl. I mean, this was a Balboa-Creed night. Years later, I still can't believe how each man survived the incredible pummeling each took.
d. "Joey Chestnut Wins Hot-Dog Eating Contest.'' Whoever at ESPN thought of televising the Fourth of July contest from Coney Island and giving it some form of sporting glory ought to not only be fired but also sent to a class for education on world hunger. Here's a stat for you, according to world hunger organization Bread For The World: One in seven people on earth suffer from severe hunger daily. That's 963 MILLION people. The ratings suggest we are all guilty of promoting this grotesque custom. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for giving ESPN reason for showing this.
e. "Legendary Iowa High School Football Coach Ed Thomas Murdered.'' Had a couple of conversations with Thomas after a tornado wiped out his town and his school 14 months ago, in part because he was the coach who started the careers of four current NFLers. What a class guy, a hard-working beacon for all coaches. Eerie thing: A couple of days after Thomas died, Casey Wiegmann, the Denver center and one of his NFL alums, told our Sirius NFL Radio show that Thomas seemed to have a feeling of his mortality this offseason, telling Wiegmann that wherever he was in the world when Thomas died, he wanted Wiegmann to be one of the pallbearers at his funeral. "It's almost like he knew what was going to happen,'' Wiegmann said.
f. "Walter Cronkite Dies.'' On South Road in Enfield, Conn., in the Sixties, Cronkite's word meant everything. My father and mother listened to whatever he said and bought it. And so I did -- and later I found out how right he was about so many things, Vietnam in particular. For those of you too young to know Cronkite only as a name, understand he was Anderson Cooper, Charlie Gibson, Wolf Blitzer and about 10 other news people, all rolled into one iconic voice.
g. "Armstrong Third in Tour de France.'' It's a great accomplishment that a man can sit out of such a competitive sport and then return as one of the oldest men in the race and finish third in the biggest bike race in the world. But as a teammate, Lance Armstrong strikes me as more Manny Ramirez than Tom Brady.
On the day when Astana teammate Alberto Contador virtually clinched the 2009 Tour de France title -- quite precisely, minutes after the stage was over and Contador all but copped the Tour -- Armstrong announced on his Web site, on a Twitter page and on a corporate Web site that he was forming a new team for 2010 in conjunction with RadioShack. How distasteful. How selfish.
Why couldn't Armstrong wait a few days? This day was a day to congratulate Contador and give the champ his due; instead, the New York Times (and I'm sure papers and media outlets around the world) focused on Armstrong forming a new team in that day's story about the Tour, rather than on Contador.
h. "Ben Roethlisberger Accused of Sexual Assault in a Civil Suit.'' I don't know the truth. I don't know if Roethlisberger knows Andrea McNulty or not. None of us do. But if I were Big Ben, I'd be sleeping pretty easy. How does McNulty, the woman making the charges, not go to the police, wait a day before telling a superior anything, not seek medical attention, never file a criminal complaint, then wait a year before filing a civil suit? How are we not supposed to think this is a money-grab?
I hate to fast-forward to reality in a serious case, but two other observations: It's ridiculous for ESPN to not cover this story for two days because of the apparent flimsiness of it, seeing that it's a civil suit and not a criminal one. When a lawsuit is filed in a courtroom somewhere in the United States of America involving the Super Bowl champion quarterback, it's absolutely, positively news and must be reported.
Two: I don't buy that this will be much of a distraction to Roethlisberger this summer, or to his team. The preponderance of evidence just isn't there to make anyone think this is a serious issue for him.
i. "Michael Vick and Roger Goodell Meet in New Jersey." Hearty congrats to Don Banks for breaking the unusual story of Vick and Goodell meeting in a leafy suburb in New Jersey, hoping to avoid being noticed. Nice job, Brasco.
8. I think one of the guys we'll all have eyes on this summer is the first-round pick of the Raiders, wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey. Seems like a classic boom-or-bust pick. His college coach, Ralph Friedgen, is a huge fan of Heyward-Bey's, but he also says the wideout needs to improve his hands. "There would be times in practice he would really struggle,'' Friedgen said.
9. I think the one player I'm really looking forward to seeing under a new coach is all-purpose back Leon Washington of the Jets, whose head man, Rex Ryan, is certain to use Washington more liberally than he was used a year ago. I wouldn't be surprised to see Washington -- assuming he reports to camp on time, seeing that he's in a contract dispute with the team right now -- touch the ball 300 times this year. Last year, he had 76 rushes and 47 receptions, to go along with punt- and kick-return duties (77 returns total). He touched it 200 times last year, 123 from scrimmage.
That number from scrimmage has to get to 200, whatever the Jets choose to do in the return game; Washington is simply too explosive to let him touch the ball 7.7 times per game from scrimmage. "I hate defending against players like that,'' Ryan said last week. "He had six touchdowns on 73 carries last year. That number has to go up -- drastically. And it will.''
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the month:
a. I give up on the Black Berry Storm. I was seduced into buying it when it was The Next Big Thing, but the weird and hard-to-use keyboard should make it the Edsel of mobile phone and e-mail devices.
b. Incredibly, I sat behind the man who invented the hard-to-use keyboard of the Storm at Fenway one day when I was off ... and ended up telling him what I thought of the keyboard. A tad awkward, but someone's got to address how hard it is to hit each key just so when you're trying to send a text. I need those upraised letters.
c. Tweetup sites in the near future: Aug. 3 (next Monday) in Troy, N.Y., adjacent to Albany, at Joseph Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats, at 6 p.m. ... Aug. 10 in downtown Indianapolis, at Victory Field, before the Indy-Columbus Triple-A game. You can get tickets for both games at the stadium the day of the game by asking for the Peter King section; in Indy, it's section 101. In Albany, I'll be there with football mavens Ross Tucker and Adam Schefter. In Indy, I'll be there with football/baseball man Will Carroll.
d. Coffeenerdness: I had a lot of coffee in a lot of places over the last month, but the coffee shop coffee, a dark roast, at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle -- biting and intense but smooth, almost an Italian roast -- was easily No. 1.
e. I've seen a lot of John Smoltz over the last month. Doesn't look like the Smoltz we've all gotten to respect. The game looks too hard for him. He's gotten abused by three of the worst teams in baseball -- Washington, Oakland and Baltimore, including Sunday's stinker at Fenway against the Orioles. You give up 16 earned runs in 16 innings in three starts to the Nats, A's and O's, and you're punching your ticket out of town pretty quick. Six starts, 1-4, 7.04 ERA, 42 hits in 30.2 innings.
f. Not a good sign, either, for Mike Lowell that on dribblers or bunts he looks like Walter Brennan. The Orioles got two hits on those Saturday night. A few more nights like that in the field and Adam LaRoche at first and Kevin Youkilis at third will become a lot more commonplace.
g. Pretty amazing that the Red Sox aren't six or eight games out the way they've hit. Good thing the bullpen's been good. We might have to accept David Ortiz as a .225 hitter. As July dawned, he was batting .225 with a .321 on-base percentage; today, he's .227/.316. Where's the evidence that he's got a hot streak in him?
h. If it's true that Manny Ramirez had his street clothes on underneath his uniform when he hit his pinch-hit grand slam last week -- Nick Cafardo wrote that in the Boston Globe Sunday -- well, I'll just say this: The zebra doesn't change his stripes. Oh, let's all get a kick out of that wacky Manny. Just wait. The worm will turn. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But it's coming.
i. It's not the Yankees the Red Sox have to worry about. I've never felt that way the whole season. Yanks, playoffs, fait accompli. It's Tampa Bay.
j. HBO did one heck of a job on that Ted Williams documentary. As did CBS on its one-hour Cronkite special eight days ago.
NFL Truth & Rumors