Saturday, 9:35 p.m., Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport
Hustling through the Atlanta airport to make my flight to the next camp (Miami's, in this case), and on the phone I've got one of the very good guys I've covered in my career, Pats/Eagles/Steelers/Cardinals/Seahawks special-teamer Sean Morey. He's explaining his post-concussion-syndrome-prompted retirement, and I ask him: "What do you feel like right now, physically?''
"Like I just finished playing a tough game,'' he said, speaking softly from a Starbucks in Seattle. "Like I'd just made six or seven tackles.''
And, of course, it's been almost eight months since the 34-year-old Morey played. In the past couple of years, it had taken him longer each offseason to get back to his baseline, to feeling well with no lingering headaches from the season. This year, that time never came. And though he signed a multi-year deal with Seattle in the offseason to rejoin Pete Carroll, coach of the team that drafted him from Brown in 1999 (New England), he couldn't live a lie and pretend he was OK. Over the weekend, he was making arrangements to pay back the signing bonus the Seahawks gave him in March.
At least two independent doctors told him he shouldn't play. And as co-chair of the NFL Players Association's concussion and traumatic brain injury committee, Morey knew he couldn't be a good union leader if he swept such an important injury under the rug.
"He's unlike any player I've ever met,'' said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith Sunday night. "In a game known for passion, Sean surpasses that with his dedication to players past, present and future. He's doing more than his part to make the game safer. He has an intensity for all that is right that is, frankly, all-consuming.''
Morey has walked a tightrope as a player trying to be one of the best special-teamers of this era (he was my special-teamer of the decade for 2000-09) and as a union man trying to get his peers to respect the brain trauma that so many players try to hide. "In many ways,'' he told me, "all the education I've gotten on the subject is a curse, but it also gave me the proper perspective to be able to make a decision like this one. I am held to a higher standard, and I should be. I owe it to the players in the game to help make changes that will help players going forward.''
Carroll told his first Seattle team about Morey's decision at his first team meeting the other night. He said Morey scratched and clawed to make the NFL, that his way to the league was paved with hardship and being cut multiple times. He even drove to Foxboro once in a furniture truck for a company he worked for, trying to get the Patriots to take another look at him after he'd been cut. That, Carroll said, is the kind of player he wanted with the Seahawks, and the room broke out in applause for Morey.
When Morey knew he had to tell Seahawk GM John Schneider and Carroll his decision last week, Carroll took it well. He picked up a football, and the two men went out to the field. They played catch.
"You know,'' Carroll said to Morey, throwing the ball in a tight spiral, "people ask me the best part of my job. I tell them, 'I get to go out and play catch.' ''
A couple of days later, the memory made Morey go quiet.
"That,'' he said, "was a nice touch. Football's the kind of game you love so much that you want to hold on 'til it throws you off. Because someday, for all of us, it will throw you off, no matter how tight you try to hang on.''
Sunday, 5:40 p.m., Davie, Fla.
On the first pass play of Dolphins training camp Friday, Brandon Marshall had run one of the common routes in the Miami playbook, a slant and go. Some teams call it "sluggo.'' Whatever, the Dolphins called it a touchdown, because Chad Henne threw it long downfield, perfectly, for a score. "I got chills,'' said quarterbacks coach David Lee. "I don't know how it's possible to get chills in 95-degree weather with 90-percent humidity, but I did. What a beautiful thing that was to see.''
I remember going to Denver last summer and interviewing Marshall, who I've known for three or four years. Every answer was forced, clipped. He was ticked at the world then, a combination of being labeled a malingerer and feeling like he was lied to about getting a new contract. In the players' cafeteria Sunday, he grinned like a madman ... even when I asked him what he would have done differently in Denver before finally getting his wish via a pre-draft trade and new contract in Miami last April.
He paused, and I said: "Would you have punted the ball in practice that day?'' You remember the infamous tape, when he was a disruptive force in practice.
"I wouldn't have punted the football,'' he said. "There were a few things last year I didn't handle well. But what I've learned is that sometimes the more powerful lessons are the most painful lessons.''
Marshall doesn't want to return to the nightmare that was last year. He's married now -- to a different woman than the one he says caused "90 to 95 percent'' of his problems in the past. But he realizes talk is cheap, and no matter what he says now about being a different person in a different place, he's got to show it, day after day, week after week.
He has a five-year, $47-million contract extension, and he's on a team that he thinks is more suited to his physical style. "I've always had the attitude that I'm going to impose my will on the defense,'' he said. "So I fit in well with the philosophy of this team. Everyone in the building, everyone in the organization, has a toughness here. I like that. It's all football. We don't play games here. I see Bill Parcells, and he always says one word to me: 'Stamina.' I know I'm going to be happy here.