It's D-Day in Minnesota.
Actually, it's the first of two D-Days. Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives will debate and then vote on the proposal for a $975 million, fixed-roof stadium next to where the Metrodome stands in downtown Minneapolis. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate will vote. The vote must pass in both bodies for the stadium to be built. If it passes -- and the smart political money says it will pass, barely -- the new stadium will be ready for football in 2016. If it doesn't pass, well, no one is saying what will happen. But I can tell you what is likely:
The Vikings will be the prime candidates to move to Los Angeles, following the Lakers and North Stars out of town. When commissioner Roger Goodell went to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago to sound the alarm about football's future in Minnesota, he told legislators and civic leaders that now they controlled the fate of the Vikings. But if a stadium bill wasn't passed, and soon, the control of the team would be out of their hands. And he's right. The wheels will be in motion for Los Angeles quickly if, by Tuesday night, the stadium deal hasn't passed.
The owners of the team, the Wilfs, have offered $427 million in stadium construction costs plus $13.5 million per year in operating fees (65 percent of the cost of operating the stadium annually). The rest of the cost would be borne by the city ($150 million toward the stadium) and state ($398 million toward the stadium). Because the Vikings were third in line in local stadia -- the Twins and University of Minnesota's football team were in line first -- this will be the final stadium project the city and state will have to support for a while. Even though the Wilfs are offering the third-most money any NFL ownership group has ever offered in stadium construction, it's still a difficult time for politicians to spend public money to support millionaire owners. If the project fails, that will be the reason.
But one other point is clear: If this stadium initiative does not pass, the end of the Vikings in Minnesota will be in sight. And the politicians are in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position. Some fear voting for the bill and getting voted out by the Tea Party types. Some fear voting against it and getting voted out by the Vikings fanatics. Watch for a very interesting week in Minnesota.
The end for Patriots left tackle Matt Light comes this morning in Foxboro.
After the death of Seau, I wanted to find a story this morning of a man leaving the game who -- at least in my opinion -- could be a good model for the NFL for players' lives after football. Light, drafted in the second round by the Patriots in 2001, had a very good 11-year NFL career and played in five Super Bowls. I've gotten to know him pretty well as a player and as a person off the field, because of his extensive charity work, both with his foundation and other pet projects, including the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Light will retire at a ceremony in Foxboro at 10:30 a.m. today. He may do some TV work, but I know he's going to work extensively with his Matt Light Foundation, which is devoted to helping troubled teenagers around the country by putting them in a rural setting in Ohio for part of every summer. The foundation gets them to work together and do charitable community ventures in an effort to help them turn their lives around. I asked Light to write a piece of the column this morning about retiring and about life after football. Here's his take:
The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are long. Not only are you trying to get ready for a game while working out travel plans and tickets, but also everyone wants in on the action. Having been through this process a few times, I made sure to think of all the little things that become big problems the closer you get to game time. In the past I'd always start with my immediate family and work my way through the family tree and close friends. This one was special because it would be my last. I hadn't told that to anyone but it was something that I'd known for most the season. Kind of nice that the Super Bowl would be my last stop. For those of you who know the outcome of the game you are perhaps laughing or feeling sorry for me. All that hard work and effort for nothing ... The last memory in pads forever ruined by the Giant hands of defeat ... So close to a world championship. But those were never my thoughts.
Sure, I was upset about the outcome. I've never gone into any game thinking we would lose. It seemed like déjà vu. Same team, same stakes, same outcome. But there was a big difference this time. Instead of hanging my head, I actually felt blessed. As my teammates struggled to find the words to express their disappointment, I was reminded how fortunate I'd been during my entire career -- and now, in the last game, I was reminded with an exclamation point in the week leading up to the game.
See, I decided to raffle off two tickets to the game. Throughout the week we used the media hype to bring awareness to our foundation, The Light Foundation. We had been working on plans for a new turf field, timber frame pavilion and restroom facility, and through the raffle, we raised $272,000, enough to make these significant improvements on our 400 acres we've developed as a camp to work with at-risk teenage boys near my hometown of Greenville, Ohio. I'm sharing this story with you because I think it helps illustrate the best of the NFL.
The day after the Super Bowl, I headed back to my home in Ohio to begin clearing the land for the turf field. In the last three months we have completed the turf field, finished all the construction on the timber frame, and now we are near completion on the restroom facility. We held our fourth-annual youth turkey hunt at Chenoweth Trails, our outdoor camp, one of the events we run through the year for kids from around the country. It's truly incredible to watch a team of people, all donating their time, work together to create opportunities for kids. The work we've done will certainly outlast anything I could ever accomplish on the field.
I didn't grow up wanting to play football. Never thought a college would pay for me to join their team. The draft was just a reason to throw a party and I'd never seen a pro football game in person until I played in one. Yet, this unbelievable journey has provided my family and I with more than we could ever ask for and the ability to help those around us. That is the biggest victory of my career and why I will forever be grateful to the Patriots organization and the NFL.
I don't remember plays from games or any other details that involve what most fans watch. I've never gone back and watched a tape from one of our games on TV. So while I'm sure I will miss a lot of what's been my life as a lineman, the things that have always been the most important to me will still be. I love a good challenge and the art of negotiation. Problem-solving and hard work are actually fun. Being a dad is still the greatest part of my day and the friendships that were created over the past 11 seasons will forever be cherished. The game of football has taught me more about life than X's and O's. It's about patience, humility, honor, perseverance, and the Belichick way-at least to me, that's what's important to have the best chance to win, and to build a long career.
Today, on the day I retire, I'd be remiss if I didn't pay tribute to my former teammate, Junior Seau, who we lost last Wednesday. His death is a sad reminder of how much we ALL struggle with life. And finally, to all my fans, friends, teammates and family: Thank you. I'm so grateful for all your support and guidance throughout my career. I look forward to civilian life.
The Suggs Factor
The first reaction to Terrell Suggs being out for most, if not all, of the 2012 season with a torn Achilles suffered 10 days ago -- the Ravens' All-Pro pass-rusher is due for surgery Tuesday -- is Baltimore's defense will take a nosedive. And it's quite possible the Ravens won't be able to recover, and they'll fall back in the AFC North.
But a closer look will show the Ravens have three things going for them in Suggs' absence: Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw. And as much as the Ravens were gnashing their teeth during Round 1 of the draft 11 days ago, when they failed to hit on any of the players they really wanted and had to dump out of the first round, how fortuitous does it now look that they traded down to the 35th overall pick ... and Upshaw, stunningly, was still there?
It's likely that Upshaw, one inch shorter and 10 pounds heavier than Suggs, will take his right-side (End? Linebacker? Suggs plays a hybrid spot on the right side) rush spot from opening day. That would leave McPhee and Kruger on the left side to rush, and that's not such a bad thing. They combined for 11.5 sacks in just 762 defensive snaps last year (the snap count per ProFootballFocus.com), and the Ravens were already thinking about giving the precocious McPhee more playing time this year anyway. Surely Upshaw as a rookie won't be able to be as productive as Suggs as a vet, but he did have 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles behind the line for Alabama last year, and he'll have the benefit of a stout defense around him.
One other point from Pro Football Focus to consider. Last season, in 375 fewer combined snaps than Suggs, McPhee and Kruger, according to the football website that charts every individual play in the game, had 49 quarterbacks hits and pressures -- the exact same number as Suggs. Maybe if they play more they won't be able to mathematically increase the production, particularly without Suggs on the other side for offenses to worry about. That's why Upshaw should be one of the most significant rookies in the league this year. Instead of the Ravens being able to take their time with Upshaw this year and patiently teach him the defense and his role in it, now they'll have to do the teaching more rapidly, and the pressure will be on him to produce early.
There is one compelling free agent available who some observers might think would interest the Ravens: Andre Carter, who had a 10-sack season in a reborn years for the Patriots last fall. He turns 33 Saturday. The Patriots could have interest in him again, but would the Ravens kick his tires too? From what I hear, it's unlikely, even though he'll be ready to practice full-speed in training camp after a late-season quad injury landed him on injured reserve in New England.
If you're a Ravens fan, and you want to look on the bright side with the Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs, it's this: Only one time in Suggs' nine previous seasons with the team has Baltimore played its first game against Pittsburgh later in the season than the team will this year. In 2006, the first Baltimore-Pittsburgh game was Nov. 26; this year, it's Nov. 18. Suggs thinks he'll be playing football in November, though no one will know that until he has the Achilles surgically repaired Tuesday.
But with the first game between AFC North behemoths 28 weeks away (six-and-a-half months from yesterday), the Ravens can hang on to at least faint hope that Suggs will have a chance to mend for it. Baltimore plays the Steelers twice in a weird late-season-too-close-for-comfort 15 days (Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh, Dec. 2 in Baltimore).
Breaking down how Suggs has fared in his nine seasons as a Raven against his division rivals, including playoff games:
Breaking down how Suggs has fared against Pittsburgh, and against all other NFL teams:
So you'll see a pretty big leveling of the field if Suggs isn't dressed Nov. 18 or Dec. 2 for the Ravens-Steelers games.