SAN FRANCISCO — Even now, nearly seven years after experiencing a sports-obsessed politician's worst football nightmare, Gavin Newsom can't bring himself to look at John York's Field of Dreams.
When Newsom, California's progressive, popular and sometimes polarizing lieutenant governor, drives past the San Francisco 49ers' future home in Santa Clara, he shields his eyes from a resplendent facility that is set to open next summer. The symbolic weight of Levi's Stadium is still too much to bear for the former San Francisco mayor, who lost both the team he loved and a chance to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics when Niners owner John York set his sights on the Silicon Valley.
So, while Newsom is pragmatic enough to herald the NFL's announcement in May that Super Bowl L will be staged in the stadium in early 2016, he still gives the joint the invisibility treatment as he cruises up or down U.S. Highway 101.
It began, chillingly, with a traumatic injury that could have turned tragic: Franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe was rushed to the hospital after suffering a sheared blood vessel in a 2001 game at Foxborough Stadium, and Tom Brady came in and spurred the New England Patriots to a prolonged run of excellence.
Did it end, symbolically, with Wednesday's disquieting arrest of discarded Pats tight end Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge?
Surely, it is far too early to draw that conclusion. Yet as Hernandez sits in a jail cell for what prosecutors allege was the cold-blooded execution of a former associate — and the Patriots try to move forward from perhaps the darkest chapter in franchise history — it's not unfair to wonder whether an era has ended.
The last time the New England Patriots played a football game, their fans at Gillette Stadium were unwilling witnesses to the penultimate act of pro football's greatest redemption story.
As Ray Lewis celebrated the Baltimore Ravens' 28-13 AFC championship game victory over the Patriots, and the future Hall of Fame linebacker prepared to head to New Orleans for the Super Bowl triumph that would cap his legendary career, it was a stark reminder that dramatic turnarounds are possible.
Bill Belichick threw Tim Tebow a lifeline Monday, giving the disenfranchised football icon a spot on the New England Patriots' roster and, in the process, making a certain Y! Sports columnist (and a knowledgeable organizational source) appear dead wrong in public, which is always an awesome sensation.
As the journalist who a month ago quoted that source as saying Belichick "hates" Tebow as a player – a contention Belichick strongly disputed last Friday – I'm tempted to call Tebow's agent and ask for a cut of the signing bonus. After all, my column urged NFL teams to give Tebow a chance, and if Belichick's desire to spite me ended up producing that outcome, I'm happy to have played a role in extending the kid's NFL career.
Unlike the conversations he had with reporters during his six-year stint with the New England Patriots – whose coach, Bill Belichick, scrutinizes his players' public comments with NSA-like zeal – Welker felt no urgency to walk the line between bland and unrevealing.
"I feel like I can be myself a little more for sure," said Welker, who signed a two-year, $12-million deal with the Broncos on March 13, a day after becoming an unrestricted free agent. Asked if he'd received any pre-interview lectures about what subjects to avoid, Welker laughed and said, "Here? No. … All they told me was, 'Just be yourself.' "
Long regarded in player circles as one of the funnier, edgier NFL stars, Welker may finally reveal that to fans after six years of mostly pent-up plainness. Indeed, the switch from playing with one future Hall of Fame quarterback (Tom Brady) to another (Peyton Manning) may not be nearly as jolting as the shift in organizational climate – or, to borrow from Jimmy Buffett: (and, in this case, farewell to platitudes).
While the physical struggles Manning experienced in returning to the field following four neck surgeries and a 19-month absence have been well-documented, the quarterback's transition to a new city, team, coaching staff, system and set of teammates was a similarly jarring endeavor, one he managed to navigate with far less fanfare.
The transition was so overwhelming that Manning, who has always regarded his penchant for impeccably detailed preparation as his greatest edge, had to adopt a less stringent standard in the name of self-preservation. That he thrived so conspicuously in the process, putting up one of the best statistical seasons of his phenomenal career while leading the Broncos to an AFC-best 13-3 record, earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors and a second-place finish in the MVP balloting, as the NFL's only four-time winner of that award was edged by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Because this happened as May turned to June – and because so many consumers have an insatiable appetite for NFL-related happenings – it qualified as a nationally relevant story, with the added intrigue of a certain Yahoo! Sports columnist having his sentiments redeemed on a widely read pro-football-obsessed website.
Understandably, many fans have since questioned why a firing that has industry insider written all over it should be assigned any relevance, particularly to an already frustrated fan base pining for its first winning season in more than a decade.
I'm here to tell you why, as a member of Raider Nation or as an NFL fan in general, you should care why Zak Gilbert got the axe.
While Davis is easy to criticize, and seems to be living down to the Tommy Boy nickname I bestowed upon him after the 2011 season, he is the boss, and I can somewhat sympathize with the frustrations that may have triggered this transaction.
As a ninth-year veteran who has yet to experience a winning NFL season, Richie Incognito views offseason hype with the same eye-rolling dismissive demeanor that most voters reserve for politicians vowing to end the gridlock in Washington.
While it seems as though virtually every other member of the Miami Dolphins' organization has conspicuously talked up the team's 2013 prospects over the past two months, the Pro Bowl guard prefers an approach more consistent with his surname.
"Yeah, I have noticed that everyone's looking through rosy-colored glasses," Incognito says. "It's a combination of things: We got more talent. We have our starting quarterback set. Our coaches and coordinators are back for another year. And we've got a good foundation here, and we work our asses off.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Carson Palmer didn't see the safety coming, zipping a pass into the right flat that was destined to end up in the wrong man's hands toward the end of a two-minute drill. The accompanying rebuke from Bruce Arians, the Arizona Cardinals' first-year coach? That was easy to read.
"We can't have that," Arians growled after an errant Palmer throw during organized team activities (OTAs) earlier this week, accentuating his sentiment with a couple of choice expletives. Palmer, the Cards' newly acquired starting quarterback, nodded dutifully and kept smiling on the inside.
It's only May, but Palmer is thrilled with his third and perhaps final incarnation as a presumptive franchise quarterback, and nothing is going to stomp on his buzz. Seven weeks after the Oakland Raiders shipped the 33-year-old passer to the desert for a pair of late-round draft picks, the NFL's version of CP3 begins each workday with the giddy excitement of a kid rushing to the tree on Christmas morning.
Brian Urlacher said "Peace out" to pro football Wednesday, ending an iconic 13-year career that will absolutely lead to a bronze bust in Canton at the end of this decade.
In responding to a chillier-than-a-Windy-City-winter market for his services, I believe the great linebacker was, in essence, making another two-word statement to the NFL's 32 franchises, this one of the unprintable variety.
Did you really expect Urlacher to go out any other way? Does it make sense that a fierce competitor, who once told me that after a game "win or lose I'm up all night" in a self-flagellating stupor, would let his storied career bleed itself to an undignified conclusion?
While Urlacher may well have arrived at this decision after considering a multitude of personal factors — including, most important, the state of his body, which has more cause to be broken down than virtually any other skeletomuscular structure that has worn a football uniform this century — a business-driven blow to his pride clearly pushed him in this direction.