1. I think the travels of longtime NFL and college coach Jerry Gray ought to be a documentary for the Travel Channel. On Jan. 16, Gray was on the sidelines of Soldier Field, coaching the secondary in the Seahawks' playoff loss to Chicago. The next day he was named assistant head coach and secondary coach at Texas, his alma mater. He had that job for 24 days before taking the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator job under new coach Mike Munchak. In the past 14 months, Gray has had four employers: the Washington Redskins, Seattle, Texas and the Titans.
2. I think you'll recall my posting of the normally sedate Bob McGinn's optimistic long-term forecast of the Packers in this column two weeks ago. I thought I'd forward his thoughts about the season Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers just finished, from Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a piece I found to be right on the money, and quite reminiscent of something that might have been written about Tom Brady six or seven years ago:
"Opponents tried blitzing on 30.6 percent of passes, but Rodgers is almost impossible to blitz. His razor-sharp mind and ability to process information so quickly makes him almost like a coach on the field. Compared to mediocre passing in his first few years, it's almost as if he had been given an arm transplant. His accuracy is outstanding. He commands the huddle. He has great feet. His practice habits are excellent. He's secure with the ball, losing two of six fumbles. His ball-faking and footwork get better all the time. He didn't hold the ball as long as he did in '09, although his sack total didn't drop that much (16.5 to 13.5). As long as he doesn't suffer additional concussions or major injury, Rodgers puts the Packers in grand shape for the future almost by himself.''
3. I think there's an interesting book out that will make you think about things you don't think about enough. It's called "Scorecasting,'' by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, the latter a Sports Illustrated writer. It's basically "Freakonomics for Sports," a counterintuitive look at things we've taken for granted, perhaps wrongly, over the years. A couple of NFL-related points:
There's a lengthy chapter about how the Cowboys came to dominate NFL drafts, in part by relying on "The Chart," a draft-valuation guide. The conclusion: The top pick is the ultimate "winner's curse" and that teams are better off trading for more picks. The price slope is steep. The talent slope is modest.
There's a chunk on home-field advantage, including a finding that visiting quarterbacks actually have a higher cumulative passing rating than home quarterbacks, suggesting that all the fan yelling doesn't really have an impact. The book's belief: home-field advantage is determined largely by official bias. One piece of evidence: With the introduction of NFL instant replay, penalties and recovered fumbles called in favor of the home team dropped significantly.
The book discusses ref Mike Carey's non-sack-call before Eli Manning's pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII. Classic omission bias. One offshoot: If Carey calls that in-the-grasp (as the authors think he would have done, had it been the second quarter), the Giants lose and Brady has four Super Bowl rings.
Personally, I don't buy that Manning should have been called down there, but lots of people disagree with me, including the authors of this book. You can buy it here.
4. I think it's fruitless to talk, write and theorize about what teams are going to do in free agency when there's a very good chance there won't be free agency. Folks, this labor fight is going to be a long one. I believe it'll be Labor Day, at least, before a solution is found. Given that scenario, how can the league possibly say: We're playing real games in 21 days, and so you 495 free agents, go spend the next week flying from team to team, finding a home, and sure, you'll be ready to play two weeks after you sign with your new team in a new scheme. Surrrrre.
5. I think that while I am onboard with those who feel the Packers are going to be very good for a long time, I think declaring them this decade's Steelers of the '70s needs to take a reality break. The Packers were a rotten break away -- can you say Tampa Bay victory over Detroit on Dec. 19 -- from not even making the playoffs. They survived ghastly injuries to finish 10-6. Not taking anything from them, because they're the most beat-up team I've seen win a Super Bowl. But only one team in the last 12 seasons has repeated as champion -- New England, 2003 and 2004. It certainly can happen, but I believe I'll be choosing some team other than the Pack when, and if, the 2011 season is played.
6. I think I'd be hard-pressed to think of a big-money free agent who messed up his football life, and real life, more than Albert Haynesworth.
7. I think now that ESPN has backed my Twitter poll of 1,200 fans last week -- who said by a resounding 82-percent vote that they favor a 16-game season, not 18 games -- I hope we stop hearing the league and commissioner say fans want an 18-game regular-season.
8. I think that even though the Steelers lost the Super Bowl, I found myself wondering why Pittsburgh's been to five conference championship games over the past decade. I settled on consistency.
During Super Bowl week, watching the Steelers practice as one of the Pro Football Writers of America's pool reporters, I remembered being at Steelers camp in 2004. That was a summer when I didn't think the Steelers would be so consistent. Pittsburgh was coming off a 6-10 season and coach Bill Cowher had two seasons left on his contract. Though Cowher hadn't won a Super Bowl in his 12 seasons at the helm, and though he'd had three losing seasons in the previous six, owner Dan Rooney gave him a two-year contract extension through 2007. I wrote in August 2004 in SI:
"The last loyal team in sports was at it again last week ... The Steelers' loyalty feels laudable, emblematic of how sports should be. Yet there's one nagging question for Steelers fans: Why now? Why extend the contract of a coach when there is absolutely no internal or external pressure to do so? ... Football coaches and general managers say players must prove themselves every year. Why haven't the Steelers held their coach to that standard? Said club president Art Rooney II: 'We have a system where players come and go. I think the best way to deal with that is to have coaching stability, and we think the record that our last two coaches have had has proved it's a pretty good way to go about it.' There is, however, a difference between Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher that Rooney didn't mention. After 12 years coaching the Steelers, Noll had won four Super Bowl. Cowher has won none.''
In the next two seasons, Cowher won 31 games, including one Super Bowl. Not only did the Rooneys make the call at the right time, but also they probably got Cowher under-market, as it turned out. In the seven seasons since that day in Latrobe, the three winningest teams in the AFC are New England (95 regular- and postseason wins), Indianapolis (94) and Pittsburgh (87). The big difference: Pittsburgh has two Super Bowl victories since then. No other team in football has more than one.
9. I think the most interesting thing I heard about the labor situation in the last week or so has nothing to do with the actual negotiations themselves, but rather with something Peyton Manning supposedly said to NFLPA union boss DeMaurice Smith during the weekend of the Super Bowl: "Wish I'd been a union rep.''
Imagine alternate rep Tom Brady and NFLPA board member Drew Brees being joined at a big union meeting someday by Colts player rep Peyton Manning. Now that'd be something to see, the three most famous passers in the game facing off against the football establishment.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Happened again Saturday night in a hotel in San Francisco. Found The Godfather on TV, midway through, and I was spellbound for the last hour. How do you turn it off when Al Pacino is about to rub out the dirty cop and the rival mob boss at the Italian restaurant in the Bronx?
b. By the way, speaking of Francis Ford Coppola, if you visit the Napa Valley anytime soon, you have to stop at Coppola's Rubicon Vineyard in Rutherford. Not only is it a place of beauty, but also the wine kills too. His Cask cabernet is one of the best glasses of wine I've ever had.
c. Name five better cities in the world than San Francisco. You can't.
d. A few days off gave me the chance to polish off one of the books I've been dying to read: Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand, who got our attention a few years ago with the masterfully told horse-racing epic Seabiscuit. I've read but one living-history book in my life as good as Unbroken, and that's the riveting account of the Bataan Death March, Tears in the Darkness, by Michael and Elizabeth Norman.
Unbroken is a tale I'll carry with me for years, a story of a World War II hero I'm shocked I never heard of until a week ago, because Hillenbrand's incredible narrative of Louie Zamperini makes him one of the most unforgettable characters I've ever read about. There should be schools named after Zamperini. Towns.
I don't want to give away too much, but if you get this book only to read about surviving adversity and surviving more adversity than a man has ever encountered (if Zamperini doesn't win the gold for survival, I can guarantee he's on the medal stand), you'd be well off. I recommend this book highly, and for reasons having nothing to do with war. As with the Normans' incredible narrative of soldier Ben Steele in Japan, you get so attached to Zamperini and his roller-coaster life that you are magnetized to Unbroken. Ever read a book late into the night and look over at the clock and see that it's 2 o'clock and know you're going to be in big trouble in the morning because you'll wake up fatigued, but you can't put it down anyway? This happened to me twice last week with Unbroken.
e. Michael Kay, you're married! Congratulations! And a lucky man you are, finding the sweet Jodi Applegate. Sounds like the nuptials were terrific on Saturday. Wishing for a long, good life for you both, and 50 years of bliss.
f. I'm not saying the Devils are bound for the playoffs (they still lead the league in losses from a disastrous first three months of the season), but they've won 12 of 15 and Jacques Lemaire has them playing that defensive kind of hockey everyone hates outside of north Jersey, and at least they're going to make the next two months interesting in the East.
g. Coffeenerdness: Peet's, I beg you to come to the South End of Boston. In all seriousness. You need no market studies -- I'll keep you in business personally. Experiencing the superb lattes of Peet's over the past two weeks in Dallas and northern California reminds me of Kramer after he's had a chance to play the Westchester Country Club, and says he's spoiled and can no longer play the public courses around New York. "I can't go back, Jerry!'' he says. "I can't! I won't!'' Like me with coffee. C'mon, Peet's. Boston needs more of you.
h. Beernerdness: Tried Cristal, a pilsner from Peru, at a Peruvian restaurant in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco the other night. Very nice. Smooth, with a nice bite. A little like Peroni. "Beer from the Andes,'' the label said. Don't believe I've ever consumed anything from the Andes before. A nice experience.
i. Seems weird to be in the offseason, doesn't it? The season sped by at blinding speed. I miss it already.
j. Next Tweetup: Downtown Indy, on Friday, Feb. 25, during the Scouting Combine, at a brew pub I'll advertise next Monday.
k. I got the top pick in my Rotisserie League draft the other day. The dreaded top pick. I hate it. It's a 12-team league, with a serpentine draft, so if you pick first, you don't pick again until 24 and 25. I'd much rather have the eighth pick, though I hope there is some value choosing first. But with the best 36 players off the board (we all protect three players from last year's team), I'm going to be in dire need of baseball knowledge.
l. Hey! My new best buddy, John Legend, won three Grammys last night! Way to go, John.
Avs rally in 3rd period, beat Wild in overtime
Alexander Steen, Blues beat Blackhawks in triple overtime