The next 30 days are crucial in the squabble between owners, players
National Sports Concussion Cooperative could help improve helmet safety
Serviceman Mike McGuire on board to write one of the guest MMQB columns
Book recommendations for Father’s Day; thoughts on NBA Final, Stanley Cup
SEATTLE -- Today we have a little bit on the labor-thawing NFL front, as well as the annual Father's Day book list (with an offbeat sports bio I cannot recommend highly enough), a tribute to one of the giants of the sportswriting business you may not know, how one team's prepping for the resumption of football (let us pray), some encouraging news about helmet technology, and a death in the 49er family that means half of one of the great backfields in history is gone.
First, a tremendous moment Saturday night in the U2 show at Qwest Field, 10 songs in. Great atmosphere for a concert; imagine looking up a half-hour into the show, 9:35 p.m., and seeing a sky not yet dark, with the late sunset, and 60,000 or so singing along with Elevation. Fun times. A few songs later, Space Shuttle Endeavour commander Mark Kelly appeared on the video screen and held up some placards from space. Looked like he was going to introduce Beautiful Day, the favorite song of he and wife Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman infamously shot in Tucson in January.
"Imagine a man looking down on us from 200 miles up,'' said Bono, the leader of U2. "Looking down at our beautiful, crowded planet. What would he say to us? What's on your mind, commander Kelly?''
"Hello, Seattle,'' said Kelly, the crowd going wild. This was something he obviously taped before landing back on earth last Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to coming home. Tell my wife I love her very much. She knows.''
I've seen my share of cool concert moments -- beginning with Billie Jean King walking onstage in Foxboro on the Bicentennial to sing Philadelphia Freedom with Elton John. This one touched all the right chords. Brilliant.
The GM of the Seahawks, John Schneider, was in the house celebrating his 40th birthday with his brother, Bill, and wife Traci and friends, and they thought the same thing. "Blown away,'' Schneider said. "I love seeing people use their stage to do great works like that. It gave us chills.''
Quick hits on the events of the week:
The next month is crucial in the labor tussle. I wrote an essay for "Scorecard'' in SI that'll be out in a couple of days. It's about the importance of the owners and players getting something done (or making significant progress toward a deal) in the next three to four weeks -- before a three-judge panel rules whether the owners can continue to lock out the players. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say there are legitimate reasons for both sides to give a little, particularly with the ominous warning from one of the judges hearing oral arguments in the Eighth Circuit, Kermit Bye, that a ruling from the bench could be something neither side is going to like.
My hope is that both sides return to their secret lair and continue the bargaining that was begun last week in Chicago. It's a great idea. It's also an idea that needs to stay underground. There's a reason a gag order is a good idea sometimes. It prevents angry people from spoiling a chance at real momentum. There was no need, for instance, for the league's attorney, Paul Clement, to say Friday after the hearing in St. Louis that continued negotiations mean the union's decertification is a sham.
"How does that build any kind of trust?'' asked a players association spokesman. "Their lawyers risks crippling the process with remarks like that.''
Whether Clement speaks the truth is one matter; the point is, when the two sides are getting somewhere, why lob a grenade?
RIP, Tom McEwen. The longtime Tampa Tribune columnist, 88, died Friday night. He was from another time, when writers helped writers, when writers worked for community good as much as they were journalists. "Without him there are no Bucs,'' former NFL executive Jim Steeg tweeted Sunday. He was vital in pushing for an NFL franchise and counted three commissioners as close friends. Coach after coach in the area knew him and liked him; they knew all he wanted was for the local teams to win.
When I got on the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting committee nearly two decades ago, he was one of the first in the room to come up to me -- not I to him -- and say, "You'll be great at this. You've got a conscience. If there's anything I can do to help, you've got my number.'' McEwen had the power of a Will McDonough, only local. People in Tampa, and NFL people everywhere, will miss him.
Underrated Event of the Week. Simple -- the first meeting of the National Sports Concussion Cooperative, a group founded in March by the American Football Coaches Association, Rawlings, the University of North Carolina and the Matthew Gfeller Foundation. (The traumatic brain injury research center at UNC is named for Gfeller, a high school sophomore who died in 2008 from a head injury suffered in his first varsity football game.)
Two interesting things: An app for the iPhone and Android phones has been introduced to help non-medical people monitor head injuries when a medical professional isn't present (the Concussion Recognition and Response app, $3.99). "It allows people on the scene to witness what may be a head injury and walk them through a cursory exam of the athlete,'' said one of the app's developers, assistant professor Jason Mihalik of UNC.
Meanwhile, a Virginia Tech professor who has studied the efficacy of all helmets said he thinks the proper helmets and continued NFL vigilance of helmet-to-helmet hits could result in a 50-percent decrease in severe head injuries. "You can make a dramatic reduction in head injuries,'' Dr. Stefan Duma told me. "There's no doubt in my mind. If players wear the proper helmets, it would reduce the risk of concussions by a half.''
There's the rub, though -- forcing NFL players used to wearing a comfortable helmet to wear one with the most advanced technology. "We should look more aggressively at switching older helmets for the newer ones,'' Duma said. "It's pretty hard to defend not doing it. Let's face it: These players aren't driving Ford Pintos anymore. They shouldn't be wearing old helmets.''
The Top 100 update
Finally, we agree on something, me and the 415 players who voted for NFL Network's top 100 players: Brian Urlacher is the 49th-best player in football. We've had our share of disagreements as they've counted down from 100 to 41 so far (50 through 41 aired last night on NFL Network), and this week is no exception.
How is Ben Roethlisberger the 41st-best player in football, unless his peers docked him some for his off-field misdeeds? He's won two Super Bowls, he's 29, has a big arm and ... well, there's no justification for having him 41st, in my opinion. But the lists go on. I may have Mike Wallace higher than you'd figure. The same goes for Justin Smith, who has been reborn in San Francisco after being mostly invisible in Cincinnati. Watch out for Wallace. With so much speed (Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown) in Pittsburgh's four-wide formations, you can bet Wallace is going to see less safety help over the next couple of years when Roethlisberger throws deep.