Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think when I lived in New Jersey a few years ago, there were always whispers about how star high school linebacker Brian Cushing got so big and so strong so fast. And no matter how Cushing spins it in the wake of being suspended for four weeks for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance (Cushing denied to friend and workout pal Jay Glazer that what he tested positive for was a steroid), it doesn't matter. He'll have the scarlet letter on his chest for the rest of his career. It doesn't go away.
Cushing admitting that he appealed the positive test in February makes it virtually certain that he derived benefit from whatever illegal substance he took during his rookie season. And if this suspension is the result of a positive test at any point during the 2009 season, I'm in favor of stripping him of the defensive rookie of the year award and giving it to second-place finisher Jairus Byrd of Buffalo. These are awards lorded over by the Associated Press, not the NFL, so this is not an NFL decision. I plan to have more on this in my Tuesday column.
2. I think neither side should be expecting much -- and neither side is -- from the straight-up trade of Dallas linebacker Bobby Carpenter for St. Louis tackle Alex Barron. Carpenter does fit better as an outside 'backer next to James Laurinaitis in the Rams' 4-3 than he ever fit in the 3-4, but he had enough chances to make plays in Dallas that he's likely no more than a stopgap guy for St. Louis. Barron, a first-round pick by the Rams in 2005, has been a disappointment his entire pro career. His work ethic was never good. Maybe it's changing now that he's staring his football mortality in the face, but I doubt it.
3. I think one of the sad things about Lawrence Taylor is the rush by his supporters and attorneys to say he wouldn't have been in the wrong if the girl who visited him in the hotel the other night in New York was 19, as he thought she was. Right. It's perfectly normal for a 51-year-old married man to go to a hideaway hotel for a tryst with a teen.
4. I think, by the way, that you won't get anywhere with me when you say men like Taylor and O.J. Simpson, who have had post-career trouble with the law, should be removed from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's not the Moral Pro Football Hall of Fame. Never has been and it shouldn't be.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame was created to honor the men who played the game for what they did in the game, not for what they did off the field or what they did when their careers ended -- good or bad. If we start removing people from the Hall after they've committed a crime, what crime is serious enough? DUI? Sexual assault? A double murder that a man is found not guilty of? (And believe me, I'm not trying to convince anyone Simpson is innocent of double murder -- just making the point that Simpson was not convicted of the crime, so in the eyes of the justice system, jaded eyes though they might be, he is not guilty.)
5. I think I got a kick out of watching the media make a big deal last week of the quote in this space on Brett Favre. The one of him telling a friend in the game after last season that he was 100 percent sure he wouldn't put on the pads again. I realize anytime Favre says anything it's going to be news. But I put the quote in the context it deserved -- very low in this column, with the perspective that Favre has changed his mind so often in the past 26 months about playing or not playing that it's not very important right now. All that matters is where Favre is in mid-August. Before that, we're all guessing.
6. I think the 49ers did right by rewarding a good player, leader and person, Patrick Willis, with two years left on his rookie contract. Of course, the five-year, $50-million extension isn't as good as he could have gotten had he played out his deal. But that's the tradeoff -- Willis gets $26 million guaranteed and the peace of mind to know if he suffers a serious injury, he's already hit it mostly big. "This is where I want to be,'' Willis told me the other day. "It's where I feel comfortable, and I see us doing everything we can to try to win now. Why think about playing anywhere else.''
That's the rub -- the Niners never would have let him walk anyway. If I'm him, I take the money now because you don't know what's around the corner, either in terms of health or in the financial structure of the league.
7. I think one of the reasons San Francisco did right by rewarding Willis is he's the perfect on-field representative of coach Mike Singletary. "I like how he coaches, and I agree with how he coaches,'' Willis said of Singletary. "Straight, old school, me versus you, go through me if you want to make the play. As a defense, we don't believe in tricking anyone, or running around people. I'm fortunate that coach Singletary got me at the beginning. He was able to mold me from the start of my NFL career.''
Singletary was the Niners' assistant head coach and linebackers coach when Willis was drafted in 2008, then became the interim head coach when Mike Nolan was fired in October 2008. It's not that Singletary tried to re-make Willis in his image; he didn't have to. But it's interesting to see that a young, aggressive, talented inside linebacker takes mentoring from a guy whose career was peaking the year Willis was born (1985). Singletary's not a guy Willis would have watched much on TV as a kid. I like that he trusts what Singletary says in his coaching, and even can kid him a little bit, which he did after watching some tape of his coach and seeing him run around an offensive lineman rather that run through him the way he now preaches. These two guys were made for each other.
8. I think the Saints, with the Vicodin lawsuit hanging over the franchise, did two good things in the last week. GM Mickey Loomis' signing of Darren Sharper (for the right money, I hear about a third of the franchise figure of $6 million for a safety) and the long-term signing of the best guard in football, Jahri Evans, were done at the right time and for the right pay.
9. I think I'm starting to get nervous. Next week is my column ranking the teams 1 to 32. I'm always so good at these things, like last year -- when I picked the Saints 24th entering the season and wrote: "This defense is not going to be good enough to win eight games.'' They had a nice little season, as you'll recall.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Dallas Braden. Who knew? (You too, Ubaldo Jimenez.)
b. Paul Konerko. Who figured?
c. Jonathan Broxton. Who kidnapped him?
d. This is what you're getting for your $17 million a year out of Josh Beckett, Sox fans: In his past six starts against the Yankees and Rays, the two best teams in the American League East, Beckett has one win, a 6.75 ERA and has allowed 52 baserunners in 36 innings.
e. The AL East is not trending the Red Sox's way. Boston has played Tampa Bay and the Yankees 10 times this year, all at Fenway Park, and won two. The Rays are 14-2 on the road. The Yankees are beat up and are 21-9. Not looking good for a competitive summer in New England.
f. Not to be all New England-centric this morning (guilty, as charged), but I've been neglectful in praising two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe photographer, writer and editor Stan Grossfeld, a unique talent in the business today. He takes his own photos and writes his stories about topics out of the mainstream (the recent Bernie Carbo drug-confession piece should win multiple awards), and they are absolute gems. Pleasure to read him regularly now.
g. Never figured the Red Wings would land with such a thud. San Jose must be really good.
h. I must admit I'm rooting for a Pittsburgh-Boston Eastern Conference final now. It would be fun to see hot Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask try to stop Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
i. After witnessing Rajon Rondo's phenomenal game Sunday in Boston -- the Celtics point guard led all players in points (28), rebounds (18) and assists (13) in his team's series-evening win over the Cavaliers -- I am reconsidering my distaste for the NBA. The smallest guy on the floor achieving that? Incredible.
j. Thanks to all who supported the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Matt Light Foundation in advance of the Tuesday New England Locker Room Luncheon (featuring Matt Light, Julian Edelman, Mike Reiss, me) to benefit both at Davio's. Followers of this column are as generous as people come.
k. Coffeenerdness: Had one of those Dark Roast Dunkin' Donuts iced coffees the other day. Not bad at all. Suitably dark.
l. I'm in the market for a good movie. Got any good ones?
m. RIP Ernie Harwell, a man who was as important to one state over the last half-century as any other broadcaster. Great voice, and a fine, fine man.
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