The collision was one of the scariest moments of the season, a helmet-jarring sandwich between a pair of Jets defenders that left Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin motionless and Kurt Warner so rattled that the quarterback contemplated retiring on the spot.
Lying there flat on his back in the Giants Stadium end zone on Sept. 30, Boldin viewed his situation in far less drastic terms.
"I think it was more scary for the doctors and my coaches and teammates," Boldin says. "But I just knew nothing was wrong and that I'd be back. I remember telling the training staff, 'Everything is fine. I'm cool. Can I get up and walk off?' "
That didn't happen – doctors insisted on a stretcher, and Boldin was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a fractured facial bone and nerve damage. But the sixth-year wideout soon bolstered his reputation as one of the NFL's toughest players, refusing pain medication after undergoing surgery on his sinus membrane the following week and resuming his sensational season long before doctors, coaches and family members felt it was prudent.
"The dude is a pure beast," Cardinals halfback Edgerrin James says of his good friend. "He's the toughest person and most loyal person you would ever meet."
A little more than three weeks after the operation that required seven plates and 40 screws, Boldin returned to the field and began taking out his pain on the rest of the league.
Following the NFC West-leading Cardinals' 48-20 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night, Boldin had a league-leading 11 touchdown receptions (along with 78 catches for 942 yards) and was looking forward to the first playoff appearance of his career. He remains an intimidating, irrepressible presence on an ascending team that may lose him after the season – depending upon how a contentious dispute over his contract plays out – but which has never been more aware of his value.
"They need to take care of that guy, to reward him for everything he's done for the organization – and for what he will do," Warner says of Boldin, who bristled when Arizona's other standout receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, signed a four-year, $40 million extension last March that essentially made him twice as well-compensated as the two-time Pro Bowl selection. "He's been underpaid for too long, and the other guy [Fitzgerald] doesn't go and do what he does without him, and vice-versa. People need to understand what he brings to the team, on so many levels, and reward him accordingly."
Boldin, who had three years and $12 million left on the extension he signed in the summer of '05, said during training camp that team officials had lied to him about their willingness to re-do his deal and that coach Ken Whisenhunt had crossed a line by becoming involved in negotiations. There were reports that Boldin and Whisenhunt were no longer on speaking terms – "At this point we have no relationship," the wideout told the NFL Network, "and I don't see that changing" – and that Boldin had requested a trade.
There was speculation that the standoff would affect Boldin's performance on the field – but not by anyone who knows Boldin well.
"Even in training camp, when he was strong with some of his words, I never saw it affect his production on the field," Warner says. "The guy is the consummate pro, in every sense of the word, and he's going to do whatever it takes to perform at a high level."
In other words, there is no quit in Boldin, who habitually reminds defenders that he's "a grown-ass man" at the line of scrimmage and uses every bit of his 6-foot-1, 217-pound frame to confirm it.
"I always feel like I've got something to prove," Boldin says. "I came into the league that way."
Slow 40-yard dash times (4.70 and 4.72 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine caused the former Florida State star to slip to the second round, a slight he addressed from his first game – a 10-catch, 217-yard effort that ranked as the most productive receiving performance by a rookie in seven seasons. It has only gotten better, from Boldin's long run of statistical excellence (last December he became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 400 receptions, accomplishing the feat in 67 games) to the crushing blocks he puts on opposing linebackers on the backside of running plays or on passes thrown Fitzgerald's way.
"Obviously, you appreciate the intimidation factor and the toughness he brings," Warner says. "I've seen a lot of guys get out of the way and do everything they can not to tackle him, but make it look like they're trying. You see him just destroy people. They may knock him out of bounds, but you see a wake of bodies along the way."
Yet Warner also reveres the more subtle parts of Boldin's game, specifically the receiver's mental preparation and ability to grasp the entire offensive scheme, rather than just his specific assignment.
"A lot of people talk about his toughness, and his hands, and his ability to gain yards after the catch," Warner says. "But I think what makes him great is what he does before he catches the ball. I'm talking about his patience, his understanding of what he's trying to attack and how well he sees the field.
"He can understand more than most guys what I'm seeing and what I'm looking at. For some receivers, it's 'Tell me what I've got to do and where I'm supposed to go.' But 'Q' really understands the big picture."
To Boldin's credit, he also has a knack for restricting his focus to the football field. Though it's unclear how his contract situation will play out – the Cardinals have said they still hope to sign him to an extension – he says he's back on good terms with Whisenhunt and isn't dwelling on the uncertainty.
"I don't have a clue how it will play out," Boldin says. "After all the contract issues from the preseason, I put all that on the back burner. [Whisenhunt and I] are cool. We had our differences and talked as two men and got everything taken care of."
Boldin says Whisenhunt was one of the people who tried to keep him from coming back so quickly after his injury, which doctors had initially projected would lead to a six-to-eight-week absence. But Boldin was on his own program, as evidenced by his refusal to fill a pain-pill prescription after leaving the hospital following his surgery – "I don't like the way that stuff makes me feel; it's worse than the surgery itself," he said – and instead relying on ice packs to try to do to the job.
"I kept ice packs on my face constantly, and I could maybe sleep an hour or two at a time," he recalls. "They told me not to do anything for like a week or so, but I was so tired of sitting at home and icing my face and watching TV that I snuck over to the facility and got a workout in, some weights and cardio and elliptical work. From then on I kept pushing. Everybody tried to get me not to play – the medical people, the coaches, my family – but I wanted to get back out there."
From the first blow he absorbed upon his return, early in an Oct. 26 road defeat to the Carolina Panthers, Boldin felt like the injury was a non-factor. Warner, however, still hasn't gotten completely over the hellacious hit.
"The bottom line is I want him to be healthy, with no concerns or worries or possibility of injuring himself further," Warner says. "It's amazing, because in the back of my mind I still worry about it every time he gets hit. Even though I've seen him take a million hits, because of that one I've been extra cautious since he came back. I just take a quick second glance to make sure he's cool, and then we're good to go."
Naturally, Boldin believes his quarterback is being overly concerned. The wideout only knows how to play football one way, big bucks or big hits be damned.
"I knew I'd come back and be the player I've always been," Boldin says. "I won't alter the way I play the game, period. It's in my DNA."
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Matt Cassel Express will be derailed by the Steelers as Pittsburgh pulls out a dramatic victory over the New England Patriots in Foxborough. … Peyton Manning will throw for 400 yards – if he wants to – as the Colts eviscerate the Browns in Cleveland. … Bernard Berrian will come up big against his former team as the Vikings take sole possession of first place in the NFC North by beating the Bears.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
San Diego, so I can check out at least one team – the Atlanta Falcons – in the midst of a playoff drive. (And no, I didn't think there was any possible way I'd be typing that sentence back in September.) Have I mentioned that I'm obsessed with Mexican food?
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. In a tense meeting with Romeo Crennel earlier this week, Browns owner Randy Lerner told the embattled coach he wouldn't be fired before the end of the season but that "from now on you will address me as 'Juliet.' "
2. God does not have a sense of humor.
3. Al Davis could do better than Jim Fassel in his search for the Raiders' next coach, because so many other legitimate mentors will be interested.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Rap legend Luke Campbell made it to a fourth week by successfully predicting the Cowboys' blowout victory over the 49ers, and now he's picking on another flailing NFC West team – the St. Louis Rams. Campbell is going with his hometown Dolphins to romp in the Edward Jones Dome, and he believes he deserves some of the credit for Miami's resurgence. "The team has taken on the personality of its [vice president of football operations]," Campbell says. "When I was doing radio down there last year, I used to go on there every week for two months and say, 'Hey, [Wayne] Huizenga – are you listening to me? Reel in the big Tuna.' I wanted [Bill] Parcells in charge of the front office and Jimmy [Johnson] back as coach. That would've been man abuse." Speaking of abuse, Campbell took a shot at former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, with whom he has been feuding: "Somebody needed to tell the Dolphins to play or get the hell out, and Parcells was that guy. When your team's defensive leader is Jason Taylor, that says a whole lot about your team. Come on, man, that ain't no [Michael] Strahan or Ray Lewis. It's almost like having a wide receiver as the leader of your defense."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
These are frenzied times for UC Santa Barbara women's basketball coach, and not just because her Gauchos are coming off back-to-back road defeats (to Fresno State and Arizona) or because she chose to make a gonzo, 36-hour trip back to New York to spend Thanksgiving with her family. "The season is slipping away," Gottlieb complained after Gaucho Madness suffered its third consecutive fantasy defeat, dropping to 5-7 with two weeks remaining. "I don't know if I have any prayer of getting into the playoffs, but desperate times call for desperate measures." The first move before this weekend's matchup with McLovin (Brett Favre, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison) was to blow up her backfield, banishing underperforming runners Willie Parker and Jonathan Stewart in favor of Ricky Williams (at St. Louis) and Justin Fargas (at home vs. Chiefs). She's sticking with Aaron Rodgers (at home vs. Panthers) ahead of Gus Frerotte (at home vs. Bears) but "putting the rest of my roster on notice, because this is unacceptable." To send a message, Gottlieb released wideout Torry Holt, a season-long disappointment. She picked up suddenly hot Raiders wideout Ashley Lelie and Pats halfback Benjarvus Green-Ellis but is saving them for the season-finale and what she hopes will be a stirring postseason run.
Meanwhile, my buddy Malibu is spending Thanksgiving in New Zealand, where he still couldn't escape being tortured by his beloved Chargers. "I can't take it anymore," Malibu screamed into his iPhone after Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal Sunday night. "Now 'Hand of Doom' is the only hope I've got!" Fortunately for Malibu, HOD's 24-point triumph over Bangas, led by Drew Brees' 41-point masterpiece, put the 8-4 team alone in third place with a week to play in the regular season. Better yet, Doom faces second-place Gravity Rebels (Donovan McNabb, Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew, Peyton Hillis, Steve Smith, Vincent Jackson, Eddie Royal) in the finale, meaning a first-round bye is in sight. My recommendations to Malibu: Play Darren McFadden (who killed the Chiefs the first time around) ahead of Tim Hightower; pick up the Bills' defense (at home against the 49ers) and lose the Panthers (at Green Bay); consider playing Devin Hester (at Vikings) ahead of Chris Chambers (at home vs. Falcons); claim Falcons rookie receiver/returner Harry Douglas as playoff insurance; spend the weekend counting sheep (or sheep-herders) rather than watching the Chargers-Falcons game.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
There's no way the disheveled, change-seeking homeless woman I saw Wednesday on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica was wearing a black Detroit Lions sweatshirt by coincidence, right? It must have been some sort of reality show/hidden camera stunt or something, because you just couldn't make that up.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Sean Taylor, who was murdered a year ago Wednesday, leaving behind an imprint that will be perceptible in NFL circles for a long time. And on a much more uplifting note, I'm breaking out the grenadine shots for Shango, a U-14 girls soccer team which gave me and many other lucky parents a fall season's worth of relentless fulfillment. Congratulations to Annie, Aubrey, Bee, Bianca, Cheyenne, Frances, Gaia, Lea, Mariah, Natalie, Nikki, Patty, Stephanie and Torrie – and coaches Jeff Pelz and Chris Kelsch – for continually pushing yourselves, never backing down and taking home a pair of well-deserved medals.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
In the wake of a glorious Saturday at Memorial Stadium, all is well in the Lair of the Golden Bear. Cal's women's basketball team is now ranked No. 3 despite the fact that its star center, senior Devanei Hampton, has yet to play while recovering from offseason knee surgery. The Bears' ninth-ranked soccer team moved into the Sweet Sixteen with a 3-2 victory at UC Santa Barbara Tuesday on Andrew Wiedeman's goal in double overtime. The previous day, President-elect Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate economics professor Christina Romer to chair the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Lest you think UC Berkeley is all brains and brawn, check out this pop-culture product placement (courtesy of reader Jonathan from San Francisco) from an upcoming Adam Sandler flick. Welcome to Bear Territory, Waterboy.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
A rough week for Reading began with the team's first home defeat of the season and ended with a controversial sendoff – yet the Royals remain in the thick of the Football League Championship's promotion chase. Last Saturday at Madejski Stadium, Reading got outplayed and defeated by a plucky Southampton side, with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring twice for the Saints in a 2-1 victory. Three days later at Cardiff City, a 1-1 game turned in the home team's favor when, in the 30th minute, Andre Bikey's hard foul on an aerial challenge of Cardiff's Michael Chopra earned him a stunning red card, triggering a three-match ban and forcing Reading to play a man down. A Ross McCormack penalty kick late in the first half – after Chopra had backed into Royals keeper Marcus Hahnemann without a foul being called – put Cardiff back in front. Reading, despite being shorthanded, rallied to equalize early in the second half on Brynjar Gunnarson's half-volley off a Stephen Hunt cross. In that context the 2-2 draw was a satisfying result for the Royals, who remain third in the League Championship table (four points short of second-place Birmingham) heading into Monday's matchup with Coventry City at Madejski.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"I agree with you all the way; Detroit will beat the Saints. Watching them for 20 years, I realized they have a knack for making terrible teams look competitive and giving winless teams their first win. Last year, they lost to Rams at home, a team that was 0-8. We also gave Tampa Bay their first ever franchise win. During 2002 season, the Saints had to win just one of their last three games to make the playoffs and lost all of them and one of those losses was to the Bengals, a team that was 1-13. I could go on but the list would be too long. I am happy that for once, someone sees what's gonna happen."
Thanks. It isn't always easy being a seer, but it's a gift I feel an obligation to share.
"In your wildest dreams. The Lions will not get their lone win against the Saints. They better concentrate their efforts on beating someone else, cuz they will not defeat the Saints. Do I make myself clear?"
Rev. Kevin R. Sponholz
Absolutely. Or, as the good, churchgoing people of Rockridge (and particularly Gabby Johnson) said in "Blazing Saddles": "Reverend!"
" 'Detroit Lions: If you insist upon watching all four quarters of their game against the Titans on Thursday, how much do you hate talking to your in-laws?' This is the line of the year Michael. Thanks for the early morning laugh. Fortunately I will be 700 miles south of the in-laws and their snowy Central New York home."
As one of the lucky souls who actually loves hanging out with his in-laws, all I can say is. … ouch!
"Eli Manning's wife needs to get over herself. They guys were just having a little fun. It's not like they put a roasted pig's head on her doorstep. What did she have to do that day, her nails? Puhleeze."
"Can you waste anymore time writing a useless column. They pranked Eli's wife with a text message to show up at the stadium on family day … WOW &helip; ha ha ha … that's hilarious. If that's a prank, I think you can find more student/teacher pranks in kindergarten that would've have topped that. What a waste of writing space to go on and on about the other little things they do. Come on … did you actually do research on this, and your employer paid you for this garbage article? It's sad when a bias columnist thinks something that is so lame is so funny. Maybe you can be their waterboy next week and they'll let you in on their next prank. But for now the prank is on all the people that wasted their time reading the first sentence of your article … isn't it?"
A "bias" columnist? You do know that the word 'bias' is a noun, right, and not an adjective? Or are you a 'cluelessness' emailer? I'll tell you what, John – let's send you into the Giants' locker room after a game, have you interview the five linemen and Eli Manning and stay up all night filing a column. My employer wouldn't pay for that, but I definitely would.
"Yes, petty people of Earth … run to the store for my Apple power jack. Dude, it must really suck when you can no longer figure out that you have become the same (expletive) that I'm sure you hated during your younger years. Get your own (expletive) charger … you piece of (expletive). (Expletive) you and (expletive) your time."
God AKA Yawhah
Here's the deal: I was at a stadium covering a football game that ended after the Apple Store closed for the night. So, in order to provide fodder for Sam, kgakid, John W. and my many other fans, Nicole the awesome concierge had to step in and save the day.
"As a huge fan, as well as an Apple employee at the Apple Store in Southlake, TX, should you ever be covering football in this part of the country and find you are without your apple juice (your MacBook power adapter) you get ahold of me and I will bring you one myself."
Right on, brother. Hey "God AKA Yawhah": How do you like THEM apples?
"Why would write a piece glorifying a loud mouth like Joey Porter? He's not brash in a good way; he is brash in an 'I need attention, I am a moron …' way. After his recent comments discussing Michael Vick, stating he doesn't understand any of it because 'It was just dogs he killed,' he went from just an annoying punk, to a complete scum-bag. Nice job Mikey."
I don't want to be accused of profiling, but let me guess: Patriots fan?
"I had this funny feeling I would regret reading your column today (sensitive Pats fan that I am!). And I was right. You have ruined a song (Take A Walk On The Wild Side) that I love from my younger days (and don't listen too often as my son asks too many uncomfortable questions about the lyrics!). Thanks. Sigh. Perhaps a win on Sunday will get me over it!"
In fairness, I'm pretty sure that if Lou Reed read the column, he regretted it a lot more than you did.
"Does it bother you that it will take a decade or more to catch up to Stanford's wins in the Stanford-Cal rivalry? That is if Cal can even catch them. Stanford 27 Cal 17"
After Cal 37, Stanford 16 (a game which ended with Cal about to score … again), not a whole lot bothers me about anything. It's going to be a great decade, too.
"Hey Michael, I don't really have a question but I just wanted to say that your writing is pretty much … amazing. I'm sure you get this all the time, or you really don't consider it to be that great because you write for a living. I wish to major in journalism and covering sports is a huge aspiration of mine. Your writing is truly phenomenal and I wanted to say thank you for inspiring me even more to fulfill my dream in writing. Thanks again."
Actually, even if I did get this all the time, it still wouldn't be enough. So thank you. And please come join the party.
"Jets are dominating. If Green Bay loses [Monday], maybe you should think about a career in real estate."
Green Bay, Wis.
I think you may have a misunderstanding of my job. Thankfully, my employment doesn't hinge upon a mandate to be proven correct about every single thing I write. Even though, over the long haul, I usually am. Thank you. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
- Ken Whisenhunt