First week of training camp visits fun, exhausting and revealing
Seeing Albert Haynesworth one of the memorable moments of first week of camp
Mike Shanahan is visiting four camps this summer as he prepares for 2010 return
Matt Schaub is expecting big things out of Steve Slaton this season
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Fun, rewarding and exhausting, all at the same time, being back out on the road for training camps. Travel-mate Ross Tucker and I got into Ithaca last night around 11:30, and I immediately began cleaning out the notebook from a remarkable first week of camps as we head toward the NFL's 90th season. Off we go:
Tuesday, 10:50 p.m. (Bills camp, Pittsford, N.Y.) Strange day. Sad day. Brett Favre surprises the football world by saying he's not playing for the Vikings, and in the same hour, word comes down that one of the great defensive minds in football history, former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, has died from melanoma. The day is a mess of phone-calling, dictating from the side of practice fields and then, when I was settling in to watch some practice tape after 10 with old acquaintance John Guy, the director of pro personnel, up in his dorm suite, my cell rang. It was Favre, saying he just didn't trust his body to make it through 16 games, not given the way it felt after he worked it hard the past few weeks, getting it ready for the Vikings' grind. And he was pretty sure this was the end, but come midseason, if some team calls, who knows?
Favre was down. He just sounded beat, like he had nothing left to give, and a little depressed. "I'm sure I'll regret it down the road," he said.
I asked him about the toll this had taken on his reputation. "Two years ago you were 'Sportsman of the Year' and an American folk hero,'' I said. "Now there are kids and adults who are sick of you, who don't love you anymore. How does it feel?''
"Well, then they really didn't love me in the first place,'' he said. "Whatever. Nothing I can do about it. This whole situation, if I had it to do all over again, there're a few things I'd do different. But wouldn't we all? I don't expect everyone to like what I've done the last two years. That's life.
"For people who'd question why I did this, I didn't do it for any other reason than to try to play football for a team [Minnesota] I really wanted to play for. It had nothing to do with revenge against the Packers. Nothing. It wasn't about getting back at [Green Bay GM] Ted Thompson. How much more clear can I make it?''
Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. (Bills camp) For the second straight practice, the fans respond to everything Terrell Owens does. When he glances up at the bleachers at St. John Fisher College, the crowd cheers. Two teenage boys are bare-chested, one with a T painted on his chest, the other with an O. And I think: This is what it's like in the left-field stands at Dodger Stadium. Mannywood. I christen thee: T-O-town.
As with Manny Ramirez, the past is forgotten; what can you do for me today? The bitter voices from Boston don't matter to L.A. people, and in Buffalo, Dallas' loss is western New York's gain. OK. Fair enough. But if Owens stays longer than a year, you'll see. The volcano will erupt, and there will be collateral damage. Lots of it.
I talk to quarterback Trent Edwards about the risk involved (though T.O.'s track record is that Year One is always the honeymoon year), and he says: "Are you saying it was a desperation move?''
"If the desperate shoe fits, wear it,'' I said.
Thursday, 3:45 p.m. (Redskins camp, Ashburn, Va.) Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth looks very big and very happy after his first practice day in camp with the Redskins. He should be happy after signing a contract that will pay him $48 million over the next four years to be the centerpiece of the Redskins' D. But I've heard a few things recently about the crazy negotiating night that lead to Haynesworth going to Washington instead of Tampa Bay.
You might remember that first night of free-agency. The Redskins initially thought the price for Haynesworth was too high and arranged to send their team plane to pick up Chris Canty, the best defensive end on the market, at his home in Charlotte. Tampa Bay actually offered Haynesworth more money -- slightly more. But then Haynesworth heard the "R'' word from Bucs coach Raheem Morris. Rebuilding. The Bucs might go through a year or two of struggle before being back atop the division, and Haynesworth, already seven years into his career, wasn't signing up for that. So back the flip-flop went, talks were rekindled with Washington, and here he came.
He's moving well and looks in great shape. You know the whispers about Haynesworth -- now that he has the big money, Washington will never get the same value out of him that Tennessee got over the past two years, contract years.
Haynesworth is confident the money won't affect him. "Everyone says the contract's going to put all this pressure on me,'' he said, sweat pouring off him after the second practice of the first day of camp. "The contract puts ZERO pressure on me. I put pressure on myself. My challenge is to be the best defensive tackle in a great division.''
Oh, he can be that. If I were making up challenges for Haynesworth, my biggest would be to play a full season. He's done it once in seven years.
NFL Truth & Rumors