5. Fifteen years later, and close to the scene of his prime, Heath Shuler returns to the field Tuesday night.
Shuler, 37, the third overall pick in the 1994 draft by Washington, is a Democratic congressman from North Carolina. He'll quarterback a team from Congress against the Capitol Hill police Tuesday night at 8 at the D.C. Armory, in a game benefiting the Capitol police. The other day, from the floor of the House, he talked to me about life today between votes. "Hold on!'' he said at one point. "Gotta vote on this investment for more solar energy research.'' Shuler went away for 45 seconds, voted yea, and returned.
Of course, Tuesday's flag-football game won't be the same for Shuler. His foot hurts every time he puts too much pressure on it or tries to sprint, the result of two surgeries late in his career after he broke the sesamoid bone in his toe. Still he'll hear the same thing he hears a lot around town these days, with the Redskins in such a funk. "People say to me, 'We need you back with the 'Skins!' '' Shuler said. "I tell them, 'You obviously slept through what it was like back then.' '' Ugly, he means. Shuler was a classic busted pick, winning four games in two seasons before being dealt to New Orleans, then hurting his foot so that he couldn't play anymore.
But he's always been a man of faith who thinks there's a reason for everything, so he hasn't moped much. And he thinks his training in football -- getting ripped by columnists and booed by fans -- helped him in his new life. "Football helped me in so many ways in this job,'' he said. "The work ethic. Leading by example. Having thick skin. Everything didn't go so great in the NFL, and you hear about it when you play. In politics, your opponent can make a 30-second attack ad and go after you. Football's no different from this life.''
6. NFL might try to find a home team for England.
On the heels of a third straight sellout in London Sunday, everyone's looking for the Next Big Thing in international expansion. Two games in England next year, probably, with the prospect of going to four in Europe by 2012. But I'm told reliably (and reported on NBC Sunday night) that one of the options the NFL will consider in the next year is choosing one team to play annually in London, so the league can work to develop a following over there.
If the league can find a willing partner -- Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote Sunday night, "Get ready for the London Shaguars'' -- it could be an interesting experiment. Say the Glazer family, owners of the Bucs and Manchester United, wanted to form some sort of marketing partnership. Particularly with an expanded schedule to 17 or 18 games, would the Glazers want to play a Buc Bowl over there annually? Would Jacksonville trade one of its non-sellouts for a crowd of 75,000 there each year? Or would Buffalo? Stay tuned.
7. Get ready for Brett Favre Hype Week.
Favre handled the friendly portion of the blood-feud home-and-home series between Minnesota and Green Bay quite well (24-of-31 passing in the Metrodome, 271 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions). None of those 31 passes were more than moderate-risks, and he didn't go nuts trying to make big plays in Minnesota's victory. I wonder how he'll react walking onto the turf at Lambeau for Sunday's late-afternoon game between the Vikings and Packers.
I think Favre believes he'll have more than a few supporters in the stands. But a longtime Green Bay resident told me recently what he thinks, from talking to the townies, that the crowd will be almost entirely anti-Favre, and the sentiment will be loud. I remember one time Jerry Rice telling me, "Lambeau Field's an amazing place. They don't really boo us much. When we left the field after one game there, a bunch of fans yelled to us, 'Good luck the rest of the year.' '' Well, I doubt there will be much of that for Favre Sunday.
"This is Brett's homecoming, let's be real about it," Packers safety Atari Bigby told the Green Bay Press Gazette. "Of course it's going to be special. Everybody wants to see this, everybody's going to be in tune with this game. It's more special than us playing in Minnesota.''
I checked out StubHub this morning to see the fervor. You can buy two for Sunday in the 14th row at the 30-yard line for $2,800. Later in the month, you can buy a pair against San Francisco in the 12th row at the 30-yard line for $458. Should be interesting to see how Favre responds to whatever comes.
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