Now this is a good idea.
The idea first surfaced when Michael Irvin wondered why the players entering the NFL knew next to nothing about the history of the game that was about to enrich them. "Why don't you have the rookie symposium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame?'' Irvin asked league people, and no one had a good answer for him.
This year, the league has moved the annual symposium to northeast Ohio, to take advantage of what it feels the Hall of Fame can teach rookies. "History, history and more history,'' the NFL's vice president of player engagement, Troy Vincent, texted me Sunday.
The symposium will be held at a hotel in Aurora, Ohio, with the NFC rookies meeting from June 24-27, and the AFC rookies gathering from June 27-30. On the last day of each session, rookies will spend a half-day at the Hall of Fame, 45 minutes away, taking a two-hour tour, watching a 20-minute football history film, and listening to a Hall of Famer speak about the lessons of the past.
It's not earthshaking, and it's not something that will be as valuable to the players as, say, the post-career transition training they'll begin receiving when they report to training camps this summer. But it's something I've long felt was missing from the modern player's football syllabus. I've found it amazing when players give you a blank stare when you ask the kind of question about a famous player from the '50s or '60s who any good fan in the street would know -- and the current player doesn't.
Vincent told me he made the decision to cut the symposium in half because it's tough to connect one-on-one with players with up to 300 players in the room.
Hey Rookies: Read This.
Rod Smith has been announced as the latest Denver Bronco to have his name memorialized in the team's Ring of Fame. Smith retired in 2008 after a 14-year career that saw him catch more passes (849) for more yards (11,389) and with more touchdowns (68) than any undrafted free agent receiver in NFL history. I'll always remember Smith as a player who practiced like it was a game, and played every game like it was his last. What Chris Spielman was to defensive football, Rod Smith was to the offense.
I was impressed with what Smith said the other day when the Broncos named him to the Ring of Fame. And if I were a coach with a slew of rookies about to embark on the dream of making an NFL roster, I'd slip these words into their lockers sometime before the first day of training camp.
Smith went undrafted out of Missouri Southern State in 1994, and the Patriots brought him to camp. He got cut. Then Denver gave him a shot, and he made the roster in 1994, largely on special teams play and desire. He stayed until two hip injuries drove him from the game.
Said Smith: "I was hungry. I stayed hungry -- I'm still hungry now. There is something about the human spirit; you just have to be hungry 24/7. A lot of guys now, and I'm a little bit on the outside, not too far removed, but a lot of those guys figure they have it made because they got to the NFL. The hardest thing is staying in the NFL, especially staying in as long as I did with the path that I had to take. I embraced the path and I didn't worry about the path. I knew where I wanted to go and I knew I was going to outwork everyone else. When they were gone, I was still working. When they were asleep, I was still working.
"That right there -- work works. I tell people that all the time, work works.
"I wanted to be the best teammate I could be. I knew if I was better, it made our team better. And thanks to [coaches] Mike Shanahan, Mike Heimerdinger, Gary Kubiak, Brian Pariani, Bobby Turner, 'Rico' [Rick Dennison] and all the offensive coaches and the defensive coaches. Coach [Bob] Slowik and a lot of the coaches, Ed Donatell, just all the coaches I ever played with -- they all had a hand in me being a better person and made me a better athlete on the field for the Denver Broncos.
"I watch a lot of young guys and they get all this money and they feel like they've arrived. Three years later you're looking for them. You have a flashlight in the daytime trying to find them because they think they've arrived. The work starts once you get there. My path to get there was hard and I sneaked up on my locker to make sure that my name was there for one more day. I don't see that with a lot of guys right now.
"But honestly, their careers are going to be short. Not that they don't have talent. Talent is what you're born with, skills are what you earn. You go out and develop that and I don't see a lot of guys working on their craft and developing skills. It's just hard to watch, but at the same time, I'm not in there. I'm not in that arena, so I just sit back and I'm like, 'Man, that guy has all that talent, and it's going to waste.'
"I just pray they all get it as far as figuring it out that this is a business and you have to treat it like a business and go in there, go to work. You have to clock in and sometimes you don't clock out. In the NFL, I never clocked out. The day I clocked out was the day I retired. Hopefully that'll help somebody understand that it's a dream business and you want to wake up when you want to wake up. Don't let them wake you up. That was just kind of my approach."
How many coaches read that and say, "Why didn't WE sign Rod Smith out of Missouri Southern in 1994?"
Monday Morning Wicket Keeper.
I have seen one long day of test-match cricket, and I can draw one major conclusion: It's incredibly civil.
My brother lives about an hour north of London in the countryside, and he's forever wanted me to come over to see cricket. No time like this quiet NFL offseason to break away. So we set off on the train Saturday morning for Day 3 of the five-day test match between England and the West Indies. Ten countries around the world play test-match cricket. We connected with Neil and got on the train in his town, Luton, around 8:30. At the same station, fans of the soccer team West Ham got on chugging Foster's, headed to their own game in London. Foster's. At 8:30. Then we connected with the Tube on the outskirts of London and got to Lord's, in a nice London Neighborhood, about 10.
We watched the teams warm up adjacent to the gigantic field (about 150 yards in diameter) where the match would be played. In warmups, players use baseball mitts to catch balls, though players catch bare-handed during the game ... Forget the rules. It'd take all day. Suffice it to say, though, I had no clue walking into the place what I'd be seeing, and halfway through the day, with the help of Ken and Neil, I understood about half of what I was seeing. It's like learning a language by speaking it with natives. If you watch a game with people who love it and are good at explaining it, you get it in a couple of hours.
Hours. Lots of those in a test match. It starts at 11 in the morning and runs until 1. Players and fans stop for lunch for 40 minutes. The second session is from 1:40 to 3:40. Then they stop for tea. (Or, in my case, beer.) The third session is from 4 to 6. Strange atmosphere in the stadium. At precisely 11, with no warning from the PA announcer or the scoreboard, play began. Just started. Through the day, I kept waiting for music, or loud videos, or something on the scoreboard. Nothing. The occasional replay, and that was it, other than the numbing numbers on the board.
I spent the first couple of hours getting the hang of the rules and hieroglyphics on the scoreboard, and soaking in the whole deal. An hour in, I went to the men's room and saw three kids, maybe 12, playing cricket in the concourse. One hit the ball toward me. I picked it up and tossed it back to them. "Cheers!'' one kid said with a smile.
Neil bought us tickets to the hospitality tent, where lunch was served. Cerviche of halibut, it was called (cold fish), with seared chicken breast and French wine. Would Jerry Jones serve Cerviche of halibut at Jerryworld?
We settled in for the afternoon session. There was an instant replay review of a close play, and Neil extolled the virtues of this replay system versus the NFL's. "Here, if you call for a review, and you're right, you don't get penalized -- you can keep reviewing calls if you're right,'' he said. "In the NFL, if you've exhausted your replay reviews, and you see an obviously wrong call, you can't challenge. That's bollocks.''
Bad, he meant.
Neil, as you may recall (I've written about him before) lives here but worships our football, and he's created this football-nerd site with all sorts of playing-time stats that he and his PFF crew get by dissecting TV tapes of games. But he's passionate about cricket too. "You come to a test match,'' he said, "and it's not always exciting. So you turn to the guy you've come with, or the people around you, and you talk. The conversation takes over. It's great. You relax, you have a beer, you talk, and then something exciting happens and it's back to cricket. It's a great dynamic.''
In the third session, one of the English fielders stepped outside the boundary to sign an autograph for a young boy in the first row of the stands ... while play was going on. It was Jonathan Trott, a big 49ers fan, I'm told. On the next play, the ball was bowled (pitched), and "CRAAAACK'' ... the ball rolled out to Trott, who'd just stepped back onto the pitch. He ran for it, caught it, and threw it in.
A few minutes later, a guy a few rows ahead of us announced, "It's my birthday!'' He passed a happy-birthday plate of Victoria Sandwich -- an English sponge cake -- around. I got the little piece with the "H'' on it, and passed it to the stranger next to me.
Another men's room trip. Outside, in the concourse, a boy about 8, his father, and (I presume) his grandfather played cricket, the little boy bowling to the old man, the father catching the batted balls. If you want to know how sport gets passed from generation to generation, even sport that seems mind-numbingly difficult to understand and endless like cricket, this was the snapshot to tell you why.
Now Shivnarine Chanderpaul was at bat for the Westies. Strange-looking guy. Short, with an odd stance toward the bowler. Most batsmen face the bowler (the pitcher) the way batters do in baseball. But Chanderpaul had an open stance, mindful of the old Tiger, Dick MacAuliffe. He's famous for being impossible to retire. In fact, on this weekend, he'd face 425 balls before being retired (not until Sunday afternoon). He was nearly retired on the funniest rule of the game: LBW. Leg Before Wicket. If you're batting, and you allow the bowled ball to hit your leg before it can hit the wicket behind you, and the umpire rules the ball would have hit the wicket, you are called out for an LBW. So Chanderpaul nearly was called out Saturday afternoon for an LBW, but upon review, the official ruled it would not have hit the wicket. Play on, then. On the next two balls, Chanderpaul hit them for four runs apiece. "Brilliant!'' Neil called out.
Chanderpaul reminded me of Ichiro, a smaller guy who plays with such precision (though Ichiro seems in decline now). Steady Eddie, not a big slugger, concentrating on surviving and nipping away at the English lead. I liked watching him a lot.
Then it was over. No big announcement. We got up, walked out, and I suggested that since Abbey Road was so close, we should find it and walk the most famous crosswalk in the world. Funny thing is, about 40 or 50 people had the same idea at 7:15 on a Saturday evening. So we waited as Beatles nerd after Beatles nerd did their best John-Ringo-Paul-George imitation. Too young to know what I'm talking about? Google "Abbey Road album cover.'' You'll see why 54-year-old men get really excited to see a silly crosswalk.
On Sunday evening, Ken asked me what I wanted to do Monday before he dropped me off at Heathrow around 3. "Let's go to the match,'' I said. Why not? Ten pounds apiece. So we'll go until lunch. I wouldn't say he's got a convert, but I'm interested. Fun sport, fun atmosphere, fun company.