Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of this week's NFL meetings:
a. I wouldn't expect much of a surprise about the first weekend of NFL games when that slate is announced today. Most of the free world believes Minnesota-New Orleans opens the season on Thursday, Sept. 9 (though since the ratings for the first game are going to be high anyway, I'd argue an NFC Championship rematch would be better held for sweeps month in November with, say, an Atlanta-New Orleans game in its place.) ESPN will still do two games Monday night of opening weekend, led off by the Jets hosting someone. Game 2? I'd love to see Pete Carroll's NFL re-opener before a loud crowd at Qwest.
b. It stuns me that in these economic times, the NFL can still print money, getting $720 million from Verizon for the mobile TV rights for the next four years. That's $22.5 million per team, on average, for a minor part of the media puzzle that no owner could have even imagined would generate a dime 15 years ago.
c. I can't see New York/New Jersey losing its bid for the 2014 Super Bowl, likely to be discussed here and awarded in May. I don't care what Woody Johnson inferred about the commissioner.
d. There's a rule likely to be approved that would make it illegal for teams to line a rusher up directly over the long-snapper. Not very significant (unless you're the long-snapper or his family, of course). The proposal that will get the football's-becoming-wussified crowd in a lather, if passed, is the one that says a defensive player can't launch himself into a defenseless receiver's head, just after the catch, with his head or shoulder or forearm. But it makes sense to me that all hits to the head should be outlawed anyway.
e. There's an unauthorized biography of Al Davis in the works by a reputable writer, and I hear Al's not pleased about it.
f. Come to think of it, who would be pleased about an unauthorized biography?
g. With the Donovan McNabb market dried up in Cleveland and, apparently, Seattle, Andy Reid will likely shake his head in incredulity and leave the meetings Wednesday with zero trade action on the quarterback.
h. It hardly constitutes a grave injustice with the slow free-agent market, but a 39-year-old center who's made the Pro Bowl as a player and an alternate the last two years is getting no action on the market. Is it a coincidence he's the president of the Players Association? "It's a slow market,' said Kevin Mawae, "but I'm sure being president of the PA doesn't help.'' Mawae knows he can return to Tennessee as a backup (Jeff Fisher has assured him of it), but he still thinks he can play full-time and will hold out for a team to give him that chance -- if it comes.
2. I think the movement of the umpire from the defensive side of the ball (in the middle of the field) to the offensive backfield -- as reported by Chris Mortensen Sunday afternoon here -- is so that none of the umpires get more seriously injured than they already have been. "Do you know how many times umpires got knocked down last season,'' outgoing officiating czar Mike Pereira asked Sunday. "Over 100. Our guys got two concussions, and there were three surgeries -- all a result of hits on the umpires. Is there any other official in sports who's put in the middle of the action the way an umpire is?''
I thought about that for a second and said to Pereira: "A second-base ump.'' He acknowledged the truth of that, and said, in essence, that's the only one. I asked his successor, Carl Johnson, about it, and he said you can see in games how some teams will run crossing patterns directly at the umpires, so they can use the ump as a pick.
3. I think San Diego got the better of the Charlie Whitehurst deal, and that's putting it mildly. This is a man who has not thrown a meaningful pass since the 2005 season at Clemson (and in his last two years at Clemson, he had a minus-11 TD-to-interception differential). If he's such a bright prospect, San Diego sure had a funny way of showcasing the lifetime third-stringer, sticking him behind a lower-tier backup, Billy Volek, and never letting him see the field in four NFL seasons except to hand off in two mop-up games.
For Whitehurst, Seattle gave a 2011 third-round pick and agreed to swap second-round picks this year, which means in the best draft the NFL has seen in years, the Seahawks agreed to move down 20 picks (from 40th overall to 60th) ... and Seattle rewarded Whitehurst with a two-year, $8 million contract. Seattle's new braintrust, coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, will be asked to justify the deal when they meet with reporters here.
4. I think I probably wouldn't draft a quarterback in the first couple of rounds if I were running the Steelers -- as football czar Kevin Colbert implied Sunday -- but I definitely would add a developmental quarterback somewhere in rounds four through seven. And develop him quickly.
5. I think new Arizona pass-rusher Joey Porter will be motivated, again, by wanting to show his previous team, the Dolphins, that they didn't use him right. He strikes me as one of those it's-never-my-fault guys.
6. I think because Darren Sharper is still on crutches, it's going to be after the draft before he could work out for any team -- which means he could just work out through the summer and decide on his 2010 team in July, just before camp. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him sign with NFL Network, though certainly he'd rather play with a contender one more year.
7. I think I'd consider signing Pacman Jones if I were Mike Singletary. If I'm the 49ers, I'd give Jones a one-strike-and-you're-out ultimatum, with no guaranteed money. That way you'd have five months to evaluate him in your program as virtually no cost, because non-guaranteed contracts don't begin paying out 'til the first week of the season; at that point, if Jones were still on the team, the Niners would have to pay him his salary for the year, whether he stayed on the team or not.
8. I think if I'm a Colts fan, I love Clyde Christensen taking over the offensive coordinator (and play-calling) duties from Tom Moore. Not that it's going to be any great overhaul of an already prolific offense. Peyton Manning likes and respects Christensen; I could see that watching three practices during the Super Bowl with the way they'd come together several times during practice and Christensen would make suggestions and Manning would nod. And I think Christensen, who has mentored all the receivers on the team (he's been huge in the development of Pierre Garcon and the quick ramping-up of Austin Collie), will have a better feel than Moore for the patterns each receiver can best run.
9. I think these are my quick observations about March Madness:
a. Never seen a game that two teams wanted less than Texas-Wake Forest.
b. Looked like Robert Morris, losing to Villanova, got robbed to me. Wouldn't the Big East be hiding its head in shame this morning if that Thursday afternoon game got called right?
c. Jordan Crawford -- isn't that the Xavier kid who dunked on LeBron? What a player. Glad we'll see him another weekend.
d. Great Pete Thamel story in the New York Times about how NCAA tournament needs more Northern Iowas, fewer Minnesotas.
e. Indictment of northeast hoops that there are no teams from the Northeast Corridor in the Big Dance -- Boston (BC), Providence (Providence College or Rhody), Connecticut (UConn), New York City (St. John's), Newark/North Jersey (Rutgers, Seton Hall). There must be some good reason for it, but it's amazing how consistently bad the basketball has been in the greater New York area for the last generation. Three Big East teams, as competitive as the Pirates, Nationals and Royals. I mean, St. Johns hasn't won an NCAA game in 10 years.
f. Good for Seton Hall, firing hair-trigger misfit Bobby Gonzalez.
g. Hire Steve Donahue, Seton Hall. That's the Cornell coach who's built a nice little Ivy powerhouse up in Ithaca.
h. I hear three-point-shooting machine Ryan Wittman of Cornell won't find a spot in the NBA. Why? Considered a plodder, he got his shot off consistently and accurately against Temple.
i. Spent a nice Thursday night watching my Ohio (Class of '79) Bobcats beat Georgetown at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, leading for 39 minutes along the way. When I sat down to watch, I thought: We look like a high-school team, all under-developed and slim, and they look like an NBA team. And we smoked 'em. Two amazing things about Georgetown: No defensive intensity until it was way too late. Didn't GU scout OU? Didn't John Thompson III know the Bobcats loved shooting the three? And too few times forcing the ball down into the low box to let Greg Monroe have his way against the smaller Ohio front line. Loved the guts of the rail-thin freshman Ohio guard from Chicago, D.J. Cooper, who rained 10 threes combined in the MAC Championship Game and the win over G-town. What I really admired about the Ohio players: They weren't afraid in a game they had every right to be. Oh, and our band and cheerleaders ran roughshod over Georgetown's. That was a dominating win on the scoreboard and the sidelines.
j. Tennessee played defense against Ohio. Simple difference in the two games.
k. It took me a long time to love the three-point shot, but I'm a convert now.
l. Nice facility in Providence. Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal was nice enough to leave two tickets for my wife and I in one of the last rows of the lower bowl, up from one of the baskets, and we sat next to the Rhode Island governor, Donald Carcieri, and his wife. He was proud of the $80-million renovation of the arena, which paved the way for regionals like this to come to the area, and he should be proud. Comfortable, good sight lines, attractive building ... with the slew of fine restaurants on Federal Hill a 10-minute walk away. Said hey to former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi on the Hill, headed into a place to eat.
m. Jim Boeheim really looks young for a guy who's won 44 games in this tournament.
n. Lookalikes: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and Chargers GM A.J. Smith.
o. Wish I'd seen more of the Northern Iowa-Kansas game, but watching the highlights, it struck me that fearless good players on any level are the best players.
p. Thursday night, 10 eastern: How can you not watch Kentucky-Cornell?
q. Friday night, 9:40 eastern: How can you not watch Northern Iowa-Michigan State?
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week (Feel free to skip the last item of this column if you have no interest in my political views on health care.):
a. "Five For Fighting'' update: As you know, I'm asking $5 (or a donation of your choice) to help the men and women in our Armed Forces -- particularly those who serve at remote bases with only life's necessities and no creature comforts. The goal is to help with recreation equipment for the troops in need in Iraq and Afghanistan. And you continue to respond superbly. You've donated $162,000 for the TV, video games, sports equipment and weights for the 135-soldier company of Mike McGuire, the longtime MMQB friend and Army First Sergeant (to be deployed to Afghanistan this year), and for seven more companies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please keep it coming; I'd like to get at least 10 companies or platoons outfitted. If you know someone who would like to keep the donations coming, please pass along the link. All I want is $5 for our troops. As an additional way to support the "Five For Fighting'' campaign, the USO has created a virtual wall, which we will share directly with First Sgt. McGuire. If you'd like, please take a moment and offer a few words to let those men know that they're in our thoughts back here. Clink on this link and send your best. Thank you.
b. Thanks, too, for your continued words of support for Paul Zimmerman, who continues to work hard to speak again and overcome the effects of three strokes suffered 16 months ago. I know Dr. Z and his wife Linda appreciate it.
c. Tiger can't win the Masters, can he? Probably not, but those will be some all-time-high golf ratings for ESPN.
d. RIP, Fess Parker.
e. I am very much against Michael Jordan's number being retired by all NBA teams, following in the footsteps of baseball with Jackie Robinson's number 42. Robinson was a trailblazer. Michael Jordan was a basketball player.
f. Coffeenerdness: Good Tweet from Marc Schaub, a teacher in Winston-Salem (@marcschaubjr) the other day: "Why do I have to tip the people at Starbucks, but not McDonald's. They're all working pretty hard.''
g. Don't go, Christiane Amanpour. Don't leave CNN.
h. Congrats to SI.com/NFL for winning the inaugural ASME National Magazine Award for best section. A big honor for Paul Fichtenbaum, who runs SI.com and put good people in place to make it happen. I especially want to thank the inside men at SI.com who should get much credit for this -- NFL senior producer Dominic Bonvissuto, smart and tireless and full of good ideas, and the indefatigable Bobby Clay, the NFL senior editor at SI.com. Thanks, all. It's an honor to work with you.
i. Very proud to be an American today. Thanks for thinking of the uninsured, Washington.
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