Brett Favre called Wednesday, a few minutes before boarding his flight to Detroit for the Packers' Thanksgiving Day victory over the Lions, and it took a good seven questions before we started talking about his 38-year-old, broken-down body.
Favre is as tough as any quarterback I've ever been around, but he's also pretty honest about his physical fallibility. I vividly remember sitting with him in a ballroom at the Packers' downtown Philadelphia hotel back in January of 2004, the day before the Pack lost a divisional round playoff game to the Eagles in overtime, as he explained in graphic detail how his mangled right thumb would never be the same after it had been broken earlier that season.
I'll share more of the details from our most recent conversation in a later column, but for the record, here's what Favre said Wednesday about the prospect of continuing to play beyond the 2007 season: "It's tempting for most people to say, 'Why wouldn't he come back?' as opposed to the last two years, when it was, 'He should give it up.' With the year we're having, it's sure made my decision to come back that much more interesting. But there's no guarantee that next year will be like this year. And physically, there are things that bother me that people don't see."
Translation: Don't pretend to know how Favre feels without limping a mile in his cleats – and understand that even he doesn't yet know if he'll return in 2008. In the meantime, appreciate his revival and marvel at his uncanny ability to avoid the type of severe injury that can destroy a team's season.
If Favre, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady were to suffer a severe injury, their respective team's Super Bowl hopes would be in serious jeopardy. Thankfully, that hasn't happened. Some prominent players, however, haven't been so fortunate.
Here is a post-Thanksgiving look at the eight injuries that thus far have had the biggest impact upon the 2007 season:
8. Carlos Rogers, Washington Redskins: When Washington went to Gillette Stadium on Oct. 28 and got steamrolled by the Patriots, the 52-7 final score wasn't the team's greatest indignity. The season-ending knee injury suffered by Rogers, a talented third-year cornerback, dealt a brutal blow to the team's defensive approach. Before Rogers went down with a torn ACL, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had so much faith in his secondary (including starting cornerback Fred Smoot, nickel back Shawn Springs and safeties Sean Taylor and LaRon Landry) that he comfortably called the type of aggressive game plans he prefers. Now, however, the 'Skins are more vulnerable to getting burned on blitzes, and Williams has backed off. Taylor's recent sprained knee, which kept him out of the team's past two games, hasn't helped, either. With Washington fighting for a playoff spot, the loss of Rogers has made this team's margin for error that much thinner.
7. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: At the start of the '07 season, the Texans were one of the NFL's pleasant surprises, beating the Chiefs and Panthers in their first two games. New quarterback Matt Schaub looked commanding, and Johnson, one of the league's best receivers, was lighting up opposing defenders in his fifth NFL season, with 14 catches for 262 yards and three touchdowns. But Johnson sprained his knee late in the Carolina game and sat out the next seven weeks, and the Texans went 2-5 in his absence as Schaub cooled off considerably. Last Sunday, Johnson finally returned and caught six passes for 120 yards and a 73-yard touchdown to spark Houston to a 23-10 victory over the Saints. If he holds up down the stretch, the Texans (5-5) have an outside shot at their first-ever playoff berth.
6. Orlando Pace, St. Louis Rams: It's not just Pace who's missing for St. Louis in this lost season – virtually the entire offensive line has been plagued by health-related issues, and All-Pro halfback Steven Jackson has missed much of the season with groin and back injuries. But when Pace, who has long been one of the league's best left tackles, tore the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder in the Rams' season opener, it set the tone for the 0-8 start to follow. Many of us have long paid lip service to the notion that the offensive line is where football games are won and lost, but we nonetheless tend to become hyper-focused on skill-position players. Pace's injury, and the subsequent absences of St. Louis' other linemen, drove home the importance of the men in the trenches.
5. Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers: After leading Carolina to a surprising Super Bowl appearance four seasons ago and playing admirably in a close defeat to the Patriots, Delhomme seemed to be a rising star. But since then, even as the Panthers reached the '05 NFC Championship game, Delhomme had his share of "Shaky Jake" moments. Heading into '07, some Panthers fans actually advocated for Delhomme's benching, heralding the offseason signing of former Texans quarterback David Carr. They're not thinking that way anymore: When Delhomme went down with an injury to his throwing elbow in late September that would ultimately require season-ending surgery, he had eight touchdown passes against one interception and was completing 64 percent of his passes. Since then, Carr has struggled, ultimately losing his job to 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde (wooed out of retirement in October), and the punchless Panthers have lost four in a row to fall to 4-6.
4. Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints: New Orleans, coming off an NFC Championship game appearance, was already reeling when McAllister suffered a torn ACL for the second time in three years in the team's Monday night home defeat to the Tennessee Titans in Week 3. After falling to 0-4, the Saints ran off four consecutive victories and appeared to be back in playoff contention. But the team's inside-running inadequacies have been exposed over the past two weeks as New Orleans has slipped to 4-6. Reggie Bush, for all his game-breaking abilities, seems ill-suited for his sometime role as a power runner. If only Sean Payton could lean on McAllister, a tough veteran who is immensely respected by his teammates, the Saints might have a shot at revisiting last year's postseason excitement.
3. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts: When Harrison left Indy's Week 4 victory over the Denver Broncos with what was described as a bruised knee, it seemed like a minor bump on the defending champions' road to another AFC Championship game showdown with the Patriots. But Harrison, who has sat out five of the past six games, doesn't seem to be healing. On Wednesday, team president Polian told the Indianapolis Star that the perennial Pro Bowl wideout has a minor left knee strain with a "pretty big blow" to the bursa sac – and, most significantly, that there was no timetable for the 12th-year veteran's return. Gulp! Harrison is Peyton Manning's favorite target, and his presence opposite fellow Pro Bowl wideout Reggie Wayne was a key to Indy's exceptional passing game. Now? The Colts had a season-low 163 passing yards in Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Chiefs, and Manning had produced his worst back-to-back games, statistically speaking, since his rookie year prior to Thursday night's strong outing (22-32, 272 yards, 3 TDs) against the Atlanta Falcons. With backup wideout Aaron Moorehead (back) on injured reserve, this is a real problem for a team with just a 1½-game lead in football's toughest division, the AFC South. And we still don’t know if Harrison, should he return, will ever be the same.
2. Mike Brown, Chicago Bears: Brown has had horrible injury luck throughout his career, and when the eighth-year safety went down with a torn ACL in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 14-3 defeat to the Chargers in the season opener, the Bears knew their NFC title defense would be much tougher. It's too simplistic to blame Chicago's 4-6 record and sharp decline in defensive productivity on one man's absence – the Bears, after all, have endured other health-related difficulties in '07, and in fairness Brown suffered a season-ending foot injury in the sixth game of '06. But Brown, a savvy, steady presence in the middle with a knack for big plays, could have helped steady his teammates as they struggled through their rough patches, and he has been sorely missed.
1. Dwight Freeney, Colts: This one really hurts. Indy battled the Patriots gamely in a 24-20 defeat in early November, and even after it choked away the following week's game to the Chargers, this seemed like a team capable of going into Foxborough and taking down New England in January. Then it was learned that Freeney, the team's star pass rusher, had suffered a season-ending foot injury late in the San Diego game, and suddenly the Colts looked mighty flawed. Not only does Freeney make an ample share of big plays, but he changes the way teams attack the Colts, causing running backs, tight ends and other blockers to account for his presence. Now teams may be able to get away with using a single blocker on each of Indy's defensive ends, making an already potent offense like New England's that much more dangerous. For awhile now we've been hearing that safety Bob Sanders is the key to Indy's defense, and there's something to that statement. But without Freeney, the Colts may be even worse off.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Now that Andre Johnson is healthy, Matt Schaub looks a lot more comfortable – and they'll both show up big for the Texans in an upset victory at Cleveland. … If the St. Louis Rams, who started the season 0-8, take down the Seattle Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome, they'll be three games out of first place in the NFC West. With Steven Jackson back and a nothing-to-lose mentality, I say St. Louis pulls it off. … If you fundamentally believe, as I do, that the AFC is better than the NFC, then you have to pick the Broncos to defeat the Bears in Chicago.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Jacksonville mayor John Peyton and numerous residents of my least favorite Super Bowl host city will be thrilled to learn that I'm making my first trip back since Tom Brady walked off with championship No. 2 while Donovan McNabb was turning a grotesque shade of green. The Jags, too impressive to ignore, host the recently bludgeoned Buffalo Bills, and if Marshawn Lynch makes the trip he and I will exchange shrugs and focus on the retention of The Axe a week from Saturday.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Now that they've been branded as shameful rule-breakers, the Packers and coach Mike McCarthy will punish their remaining opponents by running up big leads, going for it on fourth down and being really grumpy during post-game handshakes.
2. Nick Saban's is a wise man who places football in its proper perspective.
3. NFL honchos lack the authority to put the squeeze on the halftime show on the Gate D ramp at Jets home games, but they would like to be kept abreast of the situation..
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Like Brandi Chastain before him, rap legend Luke Campbell got things rolling by bottom-feeding, as the Eagles' 17-7 victory over his hometown Dolphins kept Miami winless. And now, lest you think he show any loyalty to the Birds, Campbell is picking against Philly in what could be another Sunday night snoozer. "I'm going with New England," Campbell says. "It's because of (Bill) Belichick. That man has a problem with the whole NFL, and he's out to punish people. Every time he scores a touchdown, he looks to the sky and glares at the football gods and says, 'Take that, Roger Poo-dell.' And he won't shake anyone's hands after the game, either."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
All season long, I've been telling my buddy Malibu that Santana Moss is due for a big game. It finally happened on Sunday, as Moss caught nine passes for 121 yards and his first touchdown of the season in the Redskins' 28-23 defeat to the Cowboys. Naturally, he was not on Beat The Gypsy's roster, with Malibu having played Kevin Curtis instead. Not to worry: Even with Adrian Peterson out, BTG rolled to a 17-point victory over Tom Brady Is God to improve to 7-4 and remain in a first-place tie in the prostitutes division of his 12-team league. Buoyed by the return of Andre Johnson (finally!) and a huge game from Chester Taylor – Malibu smartly picked him up on waivers weeks earlier as protection for a possible Peterson injury – BTG survived four Carson Palmer interceptions and off-days from Clinton Portis, Kellen Winslow and Joey Galloway. This week BTG faces Team 420 (4-7), and Malibu had planned to reinsert Moss into his lineup. But I talked him out of it. "Remember how I told you to pick up Kolby Smith a couple of weeks ago and it paid off so handsomely?" I asked sarcastically. "Well, with LJ hurt and Priest retired, now comes the payoff." Meanwhile, Team 420 has Holmes on its roster and will have to come up with a replacement. "Whatever happens now, it's all good," Malibu said. "I've clinched a playoff berth, and it's all about fine-tuning. The key for me is whether Adrian Peterson comes back – and whether Carson Palmer stops sucking."
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
I know Tony Kornheiser has been a very good sportswriter for a long, long time, and I'm not one of those people who spends a lot of time or energy worrying about the announcing quality of post-Cosell Monday Night Football announcers. But I am a little surprised that he seems to treat every conversation he and the crew have with a player or coach in their pre-game production meetings with the wonderment of a toddler watching his first Teletubbies episode. The next time I hear Kornheiser exclaim, "So-and-so looked us in the eye yesterday and told us &helip;" the sentence had better end with "he has discovered the cure for Tourette's Syndrome" or the equivalent.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
The 11th-ranked Cal women's soccer team, which suffered a heartbreaking road defeat in sudden-death penalty kicks to rival (and second-ranked) Stanford last Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Trailing 1-0, the Bears got the equalizer with just 1:50 remaining in regulation, as cannon-legged goalkeeper Gina Pelligrini moved up to boom a free kick and freshman Alex Morgan headed it into the net. The Bear does not quit, the Bear will not die – and the seven departing seniors (Courtney Hooker, Laurie Gartrell, Nicole Jarbo, Caitlin Hannegan, Caroline Lea, Kristine Relja and Stephanie Wieger) leave a rising program that will continue to abide by that mantra. Thanks for the thrills and the passion, ladies, and take heart – angry young men in shoulder pads will return to the scene of the crime shortly and do their best to help ease your pain.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Cal band video game tribute"
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
The Royals, like the rest of the Premiership, got last weekend off, as England (by the grace of Israel's upset of Russia) played Wednesday. Reading returns Saturday at third-place Manchester City. (And in case you were wondering, Cal has the week off, too, though I'm told by those who sat in the rain in Seattle that it took last Saturday off as well.)
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Please don't take this too literally, but how can I resist this rendition from the Miami Dolphins' new starting quarterback of a classic penned by his ultra-talented namesake, to the tune of Beck's "Loser"?
"In the time of Brady Quinn I was a rookie
butane in my veins so Cam and Randy took me
after pickin' Ted Ginn and
ticking off the masses
now I'm hittin' nine of 22 passes
first and goal and put it in neutral
13-yard loss and Feeley's on cruise control
Lemon's on the sidelines with the headset and the clipboard
Trent's in the meeting room all scrambled eggs
Wayne keeps sayin' I'm insane to complain about
Gettin' thrown into the worst year ever
don't believe the defense is a sieve
How you gonna tell my man Ricky-Dub how to live?
so save some face and send me on a mission
savin' your bad team like those people out in Portugal
(yo cut it)
Soy un perdedor I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?
Soy un perdedor i'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?
(I'm a driver I'm a winner things are gonna change I can feel it)
Soy un perdedor I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?
(Wayne can't believe you)
Soy un perdedor I'm a loser baby so why don't you kill me?
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Michael, just wanted you to know that I loved-loved-loved your column about Nick Barnett. I'm a Packers fan and obviously biased, but I couldn't stop laughing. I've read tons of articles about Brett (obviously) and the receivers, but here's a guy I knew little about. Thanks for the fun read."
My pleasure. I have a feeling I'll be writing about Mr. Barnett for a long, long time.
"In response to your 'Horror Flick' article, I just wanted to say you did a tremendous job putting it together. It must have taken a while to write it. Very interesting, well written in details, and humorous. I'm sure you get more criticism then praise for your work, so I just wanted to say you did a great job writing this article. That Barnett sure looks like a mean dude. LOL. He rightfully deserves this year's Pro Bowl (berth)."
Thanks, and for what it's worth, it took about 10 hours to put it all together – until about 4 a.m. central time, at which point I just had to spend another hour watching the classic Star Trek episode "Edith Keeler Must Die" on the hotel TV.
"How can you say that Green Bay's fans are the classiest? What the bleep is wrong with you? I agree with you on (the Christian) Fauria celebration; it was unnecessary. However, Green Bay's fans are notorious for 'mooning' the players as they arrive in buses. Is that how you define classy?"
Not necessarily, but I would call it funny.
"As an Argentine who is more versed in what you people call soccer, I find the concept of 'running up the score' quite intriguing. When a team is up 7-0 in soccer (equivalent to 49-0 in the NFL), it's out there trying to score the eighth. Not doing so is considered a sign of disrespect, telling the other team it's so weak it inspires pity and compassion. Playing fancy, after you've been playing hard, is frowned upon. I can dig that. Why play differently solely because you're winning by a large margin? But are you supposed to stop playing after you've gained a certain advantage? If I were on the losing team, I'd be pissed. Who the (expletive) do they think they are, showing mercy? It goes against the competitive nature of sports, and I don't get it. I guess that's precisely my problem."
Mauricio do Pico
Buenos Aires, Argentina
That's a great point, and I'm glad you brought it up. I once threw a ping-pong paddle at my buddy Andy when I realized he had started playing left-handed after taking control of a match. Never mind that he was a nationally ranked tennis player – no one likes to be patronized. All of this forces me to think about why the Patriots have been bothering me, because I'm really not a don't-run-up-the-score guy at heart. In this case, I think it has more to do with the perverse pleasure the coach and some of the players seem to be taking from the gratuitous points, as well as lovely touches like Bill Belichick's 'you-just-went-to-the-bathroom-without-toilet-paper' post-game handshake with Tony Dungy. But the bottom line is that it doesn't really matter what you and I think, and I don't know why the Patriots would bother caring.
"Without question, you sir, are a boil on the buttocks of humanity. While I understand that many of your ilk view yourselves as a 'part of the show,' I believe your decision to instigate dissension within the Chargers clubhouse when making the inflammatory remarks about Mr. (Shawne) Merriman in your latest 'YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT'' segment hinges upon defamatory. I love how reporters rely so heavily on 'anonymous' sources. No credibility is required; roughly the same amount as you now have. Good day sir."
Dude, get it straight, I'm the boil from "How To Get Ahead In Advertising," not the … wait, hold on, I have to field another phone call from a disgruntled Chargers player. Seriously.
"Mr. Silver, thank you for honestly reporting the internal criticism Chargers players levied at Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. After the Chargers' loss to the Jags, Norv Turner said the following in his press conference: 'We had some tough plays in the second half. It seems some breakdowns, one player here, one player there are keeping from what we want to get done.' This is from the same man who refused to take responsibility for the embarrassment in New England or Minnesota. What led A.J. Smith to hire this .415 lifetime winning percentage head coach? What will it take for the Chargers to fire Turner? Again, I really appreciate your honesty and regret that a San Diego sports talk show treated you so rudely for simply reporting the truth in the Chargers' locker room."
Santa Maria, Calif.
Smith hired Turner, I believe, because he wanted somebody submissive, and he thought so highly of the talent he'd assembled that he thought the presence of an accomplished play-caller was all that was needed to ensure the team's success. I don't know if Smith would have the guts to admit his mistake and cut his losses by firing Turner after the season, but a case could be made that Smith should be in danger of losing his job as well. As for that radio thing, thanks for the support, but Trippin' On E(Mail) steels me for even the most scathing of assaults.
"Michael, I'm all for free speech and lettin' opinions fly off the keyboard, but, please get your facts and adjectives straight before you dis (Mike) Bellotti … The players' privacy act has been enacted at Oregon, however belatedly, because of the media's mauling of our football program."
I'll take your word for it, but I don't see how that or anything else changes the fact that Bellotti let a pro prospect with a torn ACL take the field, then tried to absolve himself of responsibility when the truth was revealed.
"Hmnn, Ronnie Lott has his finger cut off in order to play in an NFL game. He is regarded as one of football's greatest 'warriors.' Bellotti allows Dennis Dixon to play with a torn ACL (after being cleared by doctors) in order to keep their championship dreams alive and he is the worst, according to you. Don't you think that's a bit melodramatic?"
No. Ronnie Lott was a professional athlete. Dennis Dixon is an unpaid student athlete, and it's his coach's job to protect him from foolish decisions that could impact him long after this season.
"I want to commend your diatribe! As a former student and longtime fan, even I can't believe the audacity of Bellotti. There was too much at stake in that game to not prepare Leaf just in case. Not to mention he let a student athlete talk him into it, risking the rest of his career. What the hell?"
Thanks, and good luck in the Rose Bowl (or wherever the Ducks end up).
"Thanks for criticizing Bellotti's questionable handling of Dixon's knee injury. I agree wholeheartedly that Dixon would have done anything to help his team win the national championship. Considering Dixon's future potential in either the NFL or MLB, Bellotti should have thought a bit harder about the implications of allowing his starting quarterback to play with a torn ACL. Cheers to you and the other Cal fans I spoke with in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. As easy as it may be to dislike the Bears, I enjoyed the kind words of support surrounding Dixon's unfortunate injury."
For Cal fans, it was much better to be in Washington, D.C. last weekend than in Washington state.
"Since you clearly have all control over nickname creating for pro sports, I want to bring up one of the biggest travesties in the nicknaming world, Yao Ming. 'The Ming Dynasty' really rolls off the old tongue. What he should be called is Yaoza. Now that's a name that would be fun to say especially after a dunk or block. I think with his limited marketing potential (he's from some small eastern country), this nickname could put some shark fin soup in his bowl."
"I'm sure you've gotten this one already, but: Apparently your English composition and grammar courses got in the way of your geography courses. Springfield is the capital of Illinois. Urbana-Champaign is the drinking capital of Illinois. And your classical and modern elitist socialism courses got in the way of your sports writing courses. My bad, maybe geography class was at 4:20. Die Pats!"
Duh. My bad. Soy un perdedor …
"Is your buddy Malibu the same Malibu from American Gladiators?"
Shibukawa, Gunma, Japan
No. But he's really, really buff, and sometimes he oils his chest just for fun.
"Someday, when your time has come, I think your headstone should read: 'Here lies Michael Silver, the man that saved sports journalism.'"
I hope your time never comes, but if and when it does, I think your headstone should read, "Here lies Jamie, the nicest emailer ever."
"You are either holding some hidden secrets over your boss or he/she is just plain dumb. You should have never been hired, let alone allowed to be put in a position to be fired. I won't bother to ever read your 'posts' again. You are definately the worst writer I have ever read … Hmmm, maybe … just maybe a tad bit ahead of Ann Landers. You should switch to writing on toilet paper so at least you it will be of some service to people, then go get a job that suits you … ever consider picking lettuce?"
Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Why would I pick lettuce when I have a much easier time picking the low-hanging fruit provided by witty emailers like you? And for the record, I don't "post" – I write. There's a difference, just as there's a difference between "definately" and definitely.
"Hey, next time can you sing the song on video? I don't know the song well enuf to make it work. Also, is there any more room on Yahoo! Sports reporting? I would really like to travel around and watch games and make opionated comments about the games and teams. I'd probly be pretty good also. Someone's got to cover the other 31 games. I didn't quite get you're reference to English soccer and the 'Royals.' Was there a point to it?"
I think the rest of us can all agree that the music-video idea probably isn't the best, especially when the song in question is an Elton John tune. As for the sports-columnist gig, my bosses are real sticklers for spelling and grammar. Or maybe I just am. Whatever. At some point, we all may just throw up our hands and say, " Your right."
"High praise for correctly pairing 'none' with 'is' ('exactly none of them is') in today's column. Not even the NYT gets that right."
Thanks. Want to travel around and watch games and make opinionated comments about the games and teams?
"Reading? Come on – relegation time. Their diabolical lack of funding has left them hung out to dry. Combined with an embarrassing lack of home-grown talent (where is Leroy Lita right now?) they smack of an organization just biding their time 'til the balloon payment of relegation. They played well last year, but the loss of now-Chelski benchwarmer Steve Sidwell is apparent. I believe they are 12th right now only because there are even worse teams already throwing in the towel. At least Wigan fights (unlike Derby). Do you think Reading will stay up this year? And a little bit of Man City in third applause should be given."
Future Wetlands, La.
How dare you insult my recently adopted English Premier League team, about which you clearly know far more than I do. As for whether they'll stay up, all I can say is that if they don't, I'm going down with them.
"I hate football. Aint's Fan"
So do I. Cal fan.