1. I think, now that we're down to one game, many fans' fancies will turn to the draft. Since I watch very little college football, and since I was a guest of Mel Kiper's on his talk show Saturday, I asked him my three most pressing draft questions during the break.
On who is the more likely top pick -- Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley or Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers: "Very tough. They're different obviously. Fairley is a big and disruptive three-technique tackle, and Bowers is sort of similar to Julius Peppers. I'd give Bowers a slight edge based on his body of work.''
On who is the likely top quarterback to be picked: Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. "I like his release, his size [6-5, 235], his mobility, his smarts. He's a young player  who will need some work with a good coaching staff, but I like his upside.''
On which big receiver, 6-4, 220-pound Julio Jones of Alabama or 6-4, 212-pound A.J. Green of Georgia, will be picked higher: [Actually, I phrased the question, "Which receiver will the Patriots trade up to get?''] Kiper likes the more polished Green slightly better, though he said: "Julio Jones is big, physical, tough, and blocks better than any receiver I've ever graded. But he drops the ball sometimes.''
So there are your draft nuggets to chew on: Bowers over Fairley, Gabbert going high, and Green over the more physical Jones in the receiver group.
2. I think this is what I liked about championship weekend:
a. You go, Mid-American Conference. On the Green Bay Packers' 53-man roster, the two conferences with the most players are the SEC (11) and the MAC (eight). Need to get more Ohio Bobcats in the mix.
b. Good job, Chris Mortensen, on fleshing out the Carson Palmer-wants-out-of-Cincinnati story. I buy it 100 percent. I've always thought he was dying to be the first quarterback of the new L.A. franchise. But now I think he figures he can't wait that long.
c. The start of Aaron Rodgers.
d. The block of Julius Peppers to the way-wide side in the second quarter, clearing the way for a 25-yard Rodgers scramble.
e. Sam Shields, for four quarters.
f. Brian Urlacher. Even though the season ended a game too soon for this all-time Bear, he was as good as he could be in defeat: 10 tackles, a sack, an interception and a pass defensed. Urlacher will be 33 in May, but the way he played this season shows me he has a couple of impact seasons left, if he can stay on the field.
g. Ben Roethlisberger. Stats can be deceiving. Very deceiving. His passer rating of 35.5 and rushing average of 1.9 yards (11 carries, 21 yards) don't show how he made five or six plays when his team had to have them, including the game-clinching completion to Antonio Brown.
h. Mark Sanchez. Much to be optimistic about in your morning gloom, Jets fans.
i. Jerricho Cotchery's fortitude. There aren't many players who come back from the kind of leg injury he suffered at the end of the first half.
j. Brett Keisel's beard. It belongs in the Smithsonian. Or Canton. Not sure which. One of the best sports beards in history.
k. That James Farrior hit on Shonn Greene with 12 minutes to go, keeping him one yard short of a vital first down, face-to-face, a monster shot on either side ... just an amazing thing that both men got up and walked back to their huddles.
3. I think this is what I didn't like about championship weekend:
a. Cutler scrambling on third-and-11 on the edge of field-goal range ... and sliding at the line of scrimmage. Dude, that's not the time to slide. That's the time to stick your head in there and try to get in field-goal range ... or close to a first down.
b. Chicago's ridiculous over-reliance on Matt Forte early.
c. Bears fans giving up on their team early. Two or three times in the second quarter, down 14-0, it was as if the Bears were practicing in the park on the corner. No noise. Crowd totally out of it.
d. The invisibility of Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, until it was almost too late.
e. The NFL asking Toyota to change a commercial showing a helmet-to-helmet hit ... that praised Toyota for advancing technology to limit concussions.
f. How is Antonio Cromartie complaining about that blatant hold on Mike Wallace in the second half? He should have been called for three holds on the play.
g. Too much to ask Jason Taylor to make a play in one of the biggest games of his career?
h. Just hoping ESPN and USA Today will stop repeating that I reported something between Tebow being "on the outs'' in Denver and the Broncos wanting to trade him. I said neither. What I said on NBC was club VP John Elway told me Tebow wasn't a good NFL quarterback right now, that if Josh McDaniels went to a team with a quarterback need, that he could urge that team to try to deal for Tebow, and that no such trade could happen until a new CBA was struck. Got it? Now that McDaniels didn't go to Minnesota and will coach Sam Bradford in St. Louis, maybe now we can let this thing rest.
4. I think the line I wished I'd written this week comes from Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe: "Lots of candidates to play the lead in 'The Rex Ryan Story,' but I'm leaning toward John Goodman.''
5. I think when I look back on my career, I'm not sure I will be able to say I was present for games on consecutive weekends that meant as much to the local populaces as Ravens-Steelers in Pittsburgh and Packers-Bears in Chicago, for the NFC Championship. Last week I told you about the insurance claims adjuster in Pittsburgh who prayed to a black-and-white photo of a cigar-chomping Art Rooney on his iPhone when the Steelers were down 21-7. And this week, Pittsburgh Phil prayed to the man again, and when the game was over, and the Steelers were going to another Super Bowl, he IMed the photo with this caption: "He is what did it.'' See, that's Pittsburgh.
6. I think Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is right when he says of the coming labor war in the NFL: "The owners and players are both literally and figuratively big boys and do not need Congress to referee every dispute for them." That's not going to stop either side from seeking relief in Washington as the dispute between players and owners is just getting revved up, though.
7. I think the hire of Jim Washburn to coach the Eagles defensive line is a smart one. Give you an example why: In his years coaching the Tennessee line, he'd always get lightly regarded players (Jacob Ford, Jason Jones) or veteran rejects (Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jason Babin) to produce in the pass-rush game. One of his secrets was charting every sack in the NFL each year to determine what kind of move was used (spin, bull-rush, stunt/twist) to get to the quarterback, and where exactly the sack took place.
So let's say Washburn's study determined that the average sacks of the teams Tennessee was going to play the next year occurred 5.5 yards behind the left guard. Washburn would then coach the following offseason to target the area 5.5 yards behind the left guard as the spot during drills his linemen would aim for. He took pass-rush science to a new level.
I thought the 2008 season was especially strong for Washburn. His Titans didn't have an end or outside 'backer with any pedigree (other than Vanden Bosch, who was hurt much of the year) and yet the team totaled 44 sacks, 10 more than the voracious Rex Ryan-led Baltimore D, and more than any other team in the AFC but Pittsburgh. Andy Reid's made a good hire there. You watch Trent Cole, who already is a terrific pass-rusher, challenge for the sack title now.
8. I think I'd be very surprised if Los Angeles didn't have a team, a franchise currently playing elsewhere, in downtown L.A. on opening day 2015.
9. I think those new conference championship trophies are really ugly.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Saw The King's Speech. Terrific. Wonderful. Great lessons. Emotional for me; more about that in a minute. Highly recommended, and I'd also advise parents that, though this is rated R, it's rated R because of cursing (which, as you'll see when you watch the movie, is pretty important to the story) and should not preclude you from taking a mature 16-year-old to see it, because it has something important to teach us all.
In case you don't know the story, it's about Albert, the Duke of York, a heir to the throne in England in the '30s who stutters terribly, and how he works to try to conquer the problem, and how so many things -- pride, badgering father King George IV and brother, nerves --conspire to hold him down for so long. Brilliantly acted by Colin Firth and his speech coach, Geoffrey Rush.
The movie hit home, hard, to me because I stuttered badly between about second and eighth grade. I don't know how it started or what caused it to end. But it became the scourge of my life. I can't tell you how many days I dreaded going to school, for fear of being called on in class or being made fun of on the playground. I had a fifth-grade teacher who was very good, but also very demanding, and I can still hear him yelling, "Speak up, King!'' Reminded me of King George IV in the movie, yelling at Albert to just say it! If I had a buck for every time a speech therapist said to me, "Relax, just relax,'' I'd be well off.
I think the key to coming out of it -- maybe -- was my mother's emphasis on reading, and me being so confident reading above grade level that when asked to read aloud I could do it without fear. I rarely stuttered reading out loud. And somehow, then it stopped, gradually; I still stammered a little bit all the way into college, but nothing very noticeable.
What Colin Firth does so well in the movie is show the painful effort of trying to speak, along with the clucking mouth sounds, which brought me back to being a kid and having the same problems with getting the simplest words out.
b. One more nugget, from Firth, interviewed by David Mermelstein of the Wall Street Journal, about the role he played: "My profession can so often be completely frivolous, which is one of its virtues. But whenever I play someone who suffers, I feel that there's a danger that I'm an impostor. So it's a relief that people who stammer haven't felt misrepresented. The reason why people tell stories and read stories and see films is to feel less alone. And if there's a story that takes everyone through something like this, it's a way to say to others, 'Now you live through it and see how it feels.' And if my profession gets that wrong, we've lost that opportunity. So it's a great relief not to have dropped the ball.''
You didn't drop it, man. You carried it well. All the way to an Oscar, I hope.
c. Still haven't seen True Grit. Plan to get to that this week, time permitting. Finishing a project for the magazine, then comes movie time.
d. Noticed on my Peanut Toffee Buzz Clif Bar that it contains green tea and roasted soybeans. Now I feel much better about what I ate all weekend, with that as my nutritional balance.
e. Good to get the old gang back together in Chicago: Mike Silver, Jeffri Chadiha, me. Where's Josh Elliott?
f. And a tip of the journalist's hat to Jim Corbett of USA Today for his piece on Aaron Rodgers Thursday, and for pointing out something I never knew -- that, since sixth grade, Rodgers has visualized all the throws he's going to make in a game as part of his mental preparation for it. Then, his theory goes, he's not surprised when the play happens in a game, because he feels like he's already seen the play once or more.
g. Coffeenerdness: That Starbucks trenta, the 31-ounce cold-drink size, looks like the Big Gulp. Seems a bit serious. I mean, an iced green tea or whatever is in there is going to keep you up for two days.
h. Beernerdness: I'm living in Boston now, and this has been the kind of snowy-slushy winter (with, ugggghhhh, two months to go in it) that makes you say, "Why exactly are we not living in Tucson right now?'' But it's given me an excuse to get to know Harpoon beer better. And the allspice/hint-of-clove Winter Warmer dark beer can't be beat. Might be hard for you to find, but if you can, it's worth a swig. Slowly.
i. You go, Kim Clijsters. That's a great TV moment, Clijsters calling the Australian Open court reporter on his text message that Clijsters "looks pregnant.'' Might be one of the great sideline-reporter moments in TV history.
j. Friend of mine is working to aid a charity, Asia's Hope, attempting to save orphans from exploitation in Cambodia, and is raffling off chances to win a donated 2010 Camaro SS to help the cause at http://www.charityraffle.org/, if you can help. Thanks.
k. Two terrific nuggets from FOX's Ken Rosenthal on baseball, in the wake of the Vernon Wells trade from Toronto to the Angels: "The Angels will pay a combined $52.4 million to three center fielders next season -- Wells, Torii Hunter and Gary Matthews Jr., who no longer is with the club. And, if the team commits to Peter Bourjos in center, it is possible that none of them will be in center field!''
I don't even know who that Bourjos is, but it would have been an amazing note without it.
Number two: The Rays have 10 of the top 79 picks in what's supposed to be a deep draft next June. Tampa's going to be good for a very long time, and I don't care who the Rays have just lost.
l. Manny and Johnny Damon with the Rays? Interesting, but probably not very important.
m. Is it a rule at ESPN that Ed Werder must work in subfreezing weather?
n. RIP, Jack LaLanne. Thought you would live forever. You lived a life of fitness we should all aspire to.
o. At the risk of inviting you to see a self-immolation, I'll be interviewed by Mary Carillo on HBO's Real Sports show Tuesday night at 10 Eastern. But the real treat in the piece, if it makes the cut, will be Bailey the golden retriever chasing a tennis ball on a frozen field near our Boston home. That is one good dog.
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