Legends of the Fall. Two of the great players we've seen in the last generation, Jason Taylor and Jim Kleinsasser, retired Sunday. They come from different worlds. Taylor's a city kid from Pittsburgh who went to Akron and got discovered by Jimmy Johnson in the third round of the 1997 draft. Johnson made him a pass-rusher, and 139.5 sacks later, he walked away. Kleinsasser, a farm boy from North Dakota, went to the University of North Dakota and became one of the game's best blockers. Just ask Adrian Peterson. "One more year! Come on -- one more!'' Peterson said to Kleinsasser this fall. But there won't be another year for either man after a combined 28 years in the NFL. I talked to both late in the final week of their careers.
First day in an NFL locker room ...
Taylor: "I don't know. I had big dreams. I just thought that first day, 'I hope I can make the practice squad.' But hey, I got the winning lottery ticket. I was drafted by a guy [Jimmy Johnson] who knew exactly how he wanted to use me. Right place, right time.''
Kleinsasser: "Now, you've got to understand. I came from North Dakota. Here I am in the Vikings locker room. That was the team. Randy Moss to the left of me, Cris Carter to the right, John Randle across the locker room. I'm like, 'Holy crap! What planet am I on? What am I doing here?' But soon you realize how everyone's got a job to do, and if you do your job, you belong.''
Most memorable day in the NFL ...
Taylor: "Tough to pick one. Very tough. One game I loved came in 2007 when we were 0-7 and the Bears were 7-0, and I got my 100th sack and an interception of Rex Grossman. That was memorable. Another day I loved -- and please don't get mad at me for this, Miami fans -- is when I played for the Jets last year and we beat the Patriots. What a great feeling that was. Winning was always the most important thing. I wish we did more winning.''
Kleinsasser: "Remember Adrian Peterson's record-breaking game against San Diego? [Peterson rushed for a single-game-record 296 yards against San Diego as a rookie.] I had a block in that game I'll always remember. It was a kick-out block to the sidelines, I think it was Shawne Merriman, and Adrian got a huge run, and he went on to make history. That was always important to me, because it was my job.''
Happiest day in the NFL ...
Taylor: "Well, I never met a win I didn't like. But like I said, we didn't win enough. I really wanted to win a ring.''
Kleinsasser: "I've always been waiting for that one. I had a great career, but I had two disappointing NFC Championship Games. I wanted to win a Super Bowl. It's such a team game, and if you don't win that last game, it hurts.''
Lessons of the game ...
Taylor: "The first day of your professional career is the last day you'll be 100 percent healthy. But ... I think the rewarding thing to me about football has been the ability to make someone's day, to have an impact on people's lives. That is something I really appreciate, and something I hope I can continue to do. And one more thing: We belong to the best fraternity in the world.''
Kleinsasser: "Everything comes full circle. The same things that are important in life -- teamwork, hard work, work ethic, family -- are important in football. I was lucky to have such great parents who taught me the lessons I would need to know in football. Determination, sacrifice, having pride in your work ... Sometimes you say, 'There's no way I can do that,' but then you keep working with your teammates, and you realize you can do it. It taps into who you are as a person.''
The future ...
Taylor: "Maybe TV. Maybe something in the media. I don't know. Maybe nothing for right now except being with my family.''
Kleinsasser: "Take some time. Be a dad. Find my path. Find my passion. I don't know what that is. But I have time.''
Matt Flynn just made himself a lot of money
Before I get to Flynn, a few words on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford was brilliant Sunday at Lambeau Field. What he should do with that game is take every offensive snap, put them on a DVD, and put it in a drawer. When he's 45 and his kids are old enough to understand football greatness, put the DVD on and show them what a special player their father is. Not just for throwing for 520 yards, but for hanging in and dueling the Packers (he can't play defense) on a foul-weather New Year's Day on which he became the fourth quarterback ever to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. It's going to be fun to watch Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and maybe Jay Cutler duel over the next eight or 10 years.
Okay. Now onto Flynn. Imagine the value of a 26-year-old unrestricted free agent quarterback in a market with four quarterback-needy teams (Indianapolis, Miami, Washington, Seattle and maybe Cleveland) who won't all be able to move up to get one of the two quarterbacks expected to go very high in the draft -- Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. That brings us to Flynn. He'll either be a free agent and get to choose whatever team he wants, or have the franchise tag put on him by the Packers and be traded in March or April to the team that likes him the most. My early money's on Washington or Seattle. The Redskins have to have a quarterback if Mike Shanahan is going to have any chance to win, and Seattle GM John Schneider worked for the Pack when Flynn was drafted by Green Bay. But we'll see.
"That's an easy trap to fall into, to be thinking about that right now, but I can't let my mind wander to that, because I love this team too much, and this team has been too good to me,'' Flynn told me after his masterpiece against the Lions. He threw for more yards (480) and touchdowns (six) than any passer in the storied history of the franchise. "I have to be focused on doing whatever I can to help this team win now. So I won't let myself get caught in that.''
Flynn called it "humbling, unbelievable,'' to have played the game he did. "It just got to be a shootout,'' he said of the 45-41 Packer win. "During the week, I had a feeling I might play, and [coach] Mike McCarthy just said to me, 'We're going for it.' We were going to do whatever it took to win with the players who were playing. Aaron [Rodgers] really helped me. The history of developing quarterbacks really helped me, because I've learned to prepare like a starter, and I've learned to physically mimic him as much as possible because he does everything so well.''
Flynn now has started two games in the last two seasons, and you can bet sometime soon (maybe this week) Shanahan and his peers in Miami and Seattle and Cleveland will be putting on the tape of these games:
Finally, just one more reason to kvetch this morning if you're a Dolphins fan.
In mid-March 2006, the Miami Dolphins were trying to decide between trading for quarterback Daunte Culpepper with Minnesota or signing free agent quarterback Drew Brees of the Chargers. One problem: Brees was in the early stages of rehabbing after major shoulder surgery, an operation that left in doubt whether he'd be near 100 percent for the start of the 2006 season. Brees had a generous (all things considered) offer from New Orleans of six years and $60 million, which seemed a little risky considering the surgery.
On the night Miami had to decide which way to go, owner Wayne Huizenga was out to dinner with a friend in Palm City, Fla., not far from his personal golf club, The Floridian. "I want them to sign Brees,'' Huizenga said at one point. "They want Culpepper.'' He said coach Nick Saban and the Dolphins' football people were worried about Brees' shoulder. Huizenga got a call on his cell phone and walked outside.
When he came back inside the restaurant, Huizenga said his football people were insistent that Culpepper, for reasons monetary and football and health, was a better choice than Brees. "I told them, they're the football guys, not me,'' said Huizenga. But the owner repeated that if it were up to him, he'd have signed Brees.
Miami is 38-58 since, with zero playoff wins; the Dolphins will have their fifth head coach since that night (including interim boss Todd Bowles) sometime in the next month. New Orleans is 62-34, with a Super Bowl win, with one coach.
Amazing how much damage one shortsighted decision can do to an organization.
So You Think You're a 2011 Expert? Take the first annual (oh, no -- now you're going to hold me to that) Peter King NFL Year-in-Review Quiz. Think you know what happened since the last Super Bowl? Then you should ace this. Fifty questions, with no time limit.
Before you start, two words of caution: No Googling. Anyone can use the internet to be a big hero. I'll print the answers Tuesday, and though I'd love to give an all-expenses-paid trip to the inside of my disturbed brain to the winner, this is for entertainment only. No prizes. But if you're feeling brave and think you've gone 50-for-50, send me an email to brag, with your answers, to email@example.com.
I've broken the quiz into three sections -- general knowledge, identifying the speakers of the quotes of the year, and feats of the season. Here goes.
General, Sublime and Ridiculous Section
1. What team, in a January playoff game, had 11 defensive backs dress for the game -- a quarter of the active roster -- and won the game because of that defensive depth?
2. A 40-yard-line seat at the first Super Bowl cost $12. A ticket to watch the Super Bowl last February in Arlington on a big-screen TV in an exclusive roped-off area outside Dallas Cowboys Stadium cost how much?
3. Which first-round pick in the 2011 draft has sisters named Passionate and Peace?
4. Five hours after the players and owners broke off talks in March in the nation's capital, which two negotiators were seen at the Westend Bistro in Washington with five empty beers bottles on the table -- and, I might add, were not very happy to be seen?
5. What Midwestern NFL franchise has traded up in the draft twice in its history?
6. Which father and son were taken with the exact same draft pick 24 years apart, the son being picked last April?
7. An NFL kicker competed in the Preakness Cornhole Tournament in the infield at the famed horse race in Baltimore. Which kicker?
8. Which NFL player's new book had readers standing in line to buy it 31 hours before it was placed on the shelves last June?
9. Under the new labor agreement, how many padded practices per season can an NFL team have?
10. Owners voted 31-0 in July to approve a 10-year labor agreement with players. Which team, not surprisingly, abstained?
11. One of the big keys for players in the new labor deal was earning a bumped-up percentage of all future television revenue. What percentage of TV revenue will players get over the 10 years of the current agreement?
12. In training camp, which owner, after watching a stretch of hard practices for his team, arranged for two ice-cream trucks, with chimes ringing, to drive onto the practice field?
13. Who are the Buffalo Bills' offensive and defensive coordinators?
14. Who is the only man to play for Joe Paterno at Penn State and go on to be a head coach in the NFL?
15. Which team, with six playoff appearances in the last seven years, is 5-25 in its last 30 preseason games?
16. According to commissioner Roger Goodell, a female is likely to be doing something in an NFL game for the first time in league history within three years. What will a female be likely to do?
17. In Cam Newton's first four games, he threw for 374 yards or more three times. In John Elway's first 170 games, how many times did he throw for 374 yards?
18. This NFL tackle tweeted on his iPhone that he didn't know who Steve Jobs, the inventor of the iPhone, and many other things, was.
19. Speaking of tweeting: Name the player who tweeted this season: "One of the reasons I don't tweet much is cause the weed jokes get kinda old."
20. The Rams scored four points in the third quarter at Arizona Nov. 6. How many times had that been done previously in the 92-year history of the NFL?
21. Name the team that started the season 1-4 and finished the season 0-3 and made the playoffs.
22. What coach took his team to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery the day before playing a road game at Washington this year?
23. What team had two players whose names ended in "kowski'' who combined to outscore the New York Jets by themselves, 25-16, in a 2011 game?
24. This Villanova product and urban poet was signed to the active roster, released or signed to the practice squad a total of 21 times by one team in the past five months -- and had a grand total of two tackles in 2011.
25. According to an SI story in 2011, this NFL executive turned down an opportunity from the Jets in 1983 to be an offensive quality-control coach on Joe Walton's staff?
Who Said It?
26. "In this society, everybody wants to fire the coach all the time. We don't do that here.''
27. "I've been underestimated. I always find that to be a wonderful competitive advantage.''
28. "I hope John does better than I did, because I stunk at it.''
29. "I spent a lot of time in school psychologist offices. I didn't apply myself. I might have had some learning disability, but they used to give me these IQ tests, and one day my Mom told me, 'You blew away the IQ test -- there's nothing wrong with you.' I said, 'Mom, I just don't like studying.' ''
30. "They talk about heaven, and I don't know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. Nothing. That life cannot be better than the one I've lived down here, the football life. It's been perfect.''
31. "If [Ryan Mallett] is not a top 10 player in this draft, then I quit.''
32. "If Roger's in office for 25 years, this will be the toughest challenge he'll ever face. However it turns out, it's a resolution he'll have to live with for the rest of his career.''
33. "Albert Haynesworth can do almost anything he wants. He doesn't want to do anything. To me, that's the issue. He's one of those you walk into a meeting and tell him, 'Put the phone down.' The next day you have to tell him to put down the phone. The next day you tell him to put down the phone.''
34. "Robert Kraft is a man who helped us save football. Without him, this deal does not get done.''
35. "I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts.''
36. "It's good to be in heaven.''
37. "We don't have a chip on our shoulders. We've got a bag of Doritos.''
38. "When I was sitting in that Green Room at the draft in New York, and I was dropping, and no one would pick me, the last thing I was thinking was it was a good thing. But I'm glad I got to fall way down. I should be here. It's the place for me. The game is bigger than us. The team is more than us. It's a community team, blue-collar and understated and not at all about self-glorification. Vince Lombardi put it that way: Winning is the only thing that matters.''
39. "I was told, 'Mayor Bloomberg just went on TV, said you should be, you know, punished to the full extent of the law.' I said, 'Who is Mayor Bloomberg?' ''
40. "Al Davis and I would talk for a solid hour, two or three times a month. Nighttime, weekends -- it didn't matter with Al. In all those hours and hours of conversations, Al gave me a Harvard Business School degree in pro football. It's something I could never repay.''
41. "The NFL would fall apart without me.''
42. "As a coach, your only job is to put your players in the best position to win, with all the different skill sets they have. What kind of coach would I be if I didn't look at what my players do best, and try to capitalize on those things?''
43. "Have a good day, Mr. King. And God bless you."
44. "Hey Ben! You Tebowed 'em!''
45. "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.''
Big Players, Big Games
46. He threw for 854 yards in his first eight NFL quarters.
47. He set an NFL record for field goals in a season.
48. They committed nine false-start penalties in a very loud road stadium.
49. He sacked Matthew Stafford six times this season.
50. He had games of 19, 17, 16 and 16 tackles but was not elected to the Pro Bowl.