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Favre rematch may be worthy of personal top 10

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As the man in the middle of the most melodramatic matchup we have seen in many NFL regular seasons, Brett Favre(notes) could have gone one of two ways when assessing his return to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers this Sunday.

Option No. 1 for Favre, now the main man for the rival Minnesota Vikings: Give in to the hype and go over the top in his pregame interviews, revealing the many emotions he'll experience upon re-entering the stadium where he made so many memories.

Option No. 2: Lie like crazy.

Favre chose the latter, going so far as to describe Sunday's showcase game between the 6-1 Vikes and 4-2 Packers as "one of 16." That's technically accurate, in the same way that, to George W. Bush and Al Gore, Florida's electoral votes in the 2000 election were "25 of 538."

Fortunately, as someone who's flying in to enjoy the festivities, I don't have to downplay the drama. No matter how the game plays out, seeing Favre take the field in Titletown – his town – as a member of the hated Vikings will be one of the most surreal sights I've witnessed in more than two decades of covering the NFL.

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Favre tossed three 3 TDs in the Week 4 win over Green Bay.
(Getty Images)

I also have this very strong feeling that Favre, successor Aaron Rodgers(notes) and the rest of the principals will put on a show worthy of the immense buildup. For three hours, millions of us can put aside the growing concern over brain trauma, the looming lockout and other less cheery subjects and enjoy an escapist thrill.

However it shakes out, I know that as the opening kickoff soars through the Wisconsin sky, I'll be reminded more forcefully than usual that my job most certainly does not suck.

Often, I experience those magical moments in January and February, when careers are defined and championships are won.

Sometimes, the experiences that stick with me longest come before the playoffs begin. Of the hundreds of NFL games I've seen in person, 10 stand out as the most memorable, either because of what went down on the field, what took place in the immediate aftermath or what it all ended up meaning.

This list is based on a highly scientific formula: I went on a bike ride and thought about which games resonated, and then I wrote them down. And because these games are, by definition, the ones that are most memorable to me, it's pointless to argue that certain ones should have been omitted or included, though I know some of you will do so anyway.

And by Monday morning, when I finally put my head on the hotel pillow after the obligatory all-night writing session (but I do love my job, really), I'll have a much better idea of whether this Vikings-Packers matchup was "one of 10."

Here are the games, in chronological order:

1. Giants Stadium, Sept. 11, 1988, 49ers vs. Giants
Fresh out of Cal and coming off a summer internship at Newsday, I somehow talked the San Francisco Chronicle's sports editor into letting me supplement his paper's coverage with a sidebar – and man, did I feel lucky when all was said and done. This was the year that Bill Walsh was juggling future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and Steve Young started the game before being relieved by Joe Montana for the second half. The Giants had brutalized the 49ers in this stadium in playoff games in '85 and '86, with Jim Burt's massive hit knocking Montana unconscious and sending him to the hospital in the latter blowout en route to the Giants' first Super Bowl triumph. On this day, the great Lawrence Taylor and his fellow defenders were all over the Niners again, and when Phil Simms threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Lionel Manuel to put New York up 17-13 with 1:21 remaining and raised his arms triumphantly to the heavens, it looked like Bill Parcells would be getting his customary Gatorade bath. Then, on third-and-10 from his own 22-yard line, Montana dropped back and floated one of those deceptively lethal passes of his toward the right sideline, where Jerry Rice(notes) was racing downfield. Rice read it perfectly; defensive backs Mark Collins and Kenny Hill did not, practically colliding as the unparalleled receiver snatched the ball out of the air near midfield and sprinted past his celebrating teammates for the winning score. The '88 season would end with the 49ers as champions for the third time in eight years and Rice as the Super Bowl XXIII MVP. I'll never forget how quiet the stadium was and how unfazed Montana seemed when he was interviewed after the game. Then he disappeared into the training room and I heard about 10 of his teammates give him an impromptu ovation.

2. Veterans Stadium, Sept. 24, 1989, 49ers vs. Eagles
As a first-year beat writer for a now-defunct Sacramento newspaper, I went on the road with the defending champs for the first three games of the season. The Niners had survived tests at Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, but this was the biggie – a clash with Buddy Ryan's Eagles which, most experts felt, would represent a shift in the NFL's balance of power. Sure enough, the Philly defense (Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Al Harris, Eric Allen, Andre Waters) manhandled Montana, sacking him six times in the first half and eight overall. First-year coach George Seifert was frazzled, and offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren decided his only choice was to spread out the Eagles with a one-back, four-receiver spread formation and take his chances. Trailing 21-10 early in the fourth quarter, Montana threw his second touchdown pass of the game, a 70-yarder to John Taylor. Yet when Philly's Randall Cunningham answered with a short scoring toss to Jimmy Giles, he and the rest of the stadium engaged in a "This Is Our Time" celebration. In fact, it was Montana's time once more: In the final 8:14, he threw three more TD passes, the last a 33-yard beauty to Rice off a third-and-short play-fake that clinched San Francisco's 38-28 victory. To this day, I can still hear the strange sound of 66,042 people gasping as though they had been simultaneously kicked in the stomach. So much for a sea change: The 49ers went on to win their fourth Super Bowl; Ryan's Eagles never did overtake them.

3. Arrowhead Stadium, Sept. 11, 1994, 49ers vs. Chiefs
I wrote about my memories of this game four weeks ago, before the first Vikings-Packers matchup, so I won't spend much time on it here. As a columnist for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, I remember wondering – after Young had literally given everything he had (trust me, it was one hell of a visual) and failed – if he would ever be able to avoid drowning in Montana's enormous wake. Four-and-a-half months later, I watched Young throw six touchdowns in a Super Bowl XXIX blowout of the Chargers with a Sports Illustrated credential affixed to one of my belt loops. That was memorable, too, though this day in Kansas City was far more dramatic.

4. Foxboro Stadium, Sept. 3, 1995, Browns vs. Patriots
This was my first season opener as an SI scribe, and when an unheralded rookie running back stretched over the goal line to give the Pats a 17-14 victory over the Browns, I couldn't believe my good fortune. While Parcells had done his best to seal off all access to his players on the Friday before the game (guess whom he wanted me to write about instead?), I'd managed to have a long, illuminating conversation with a third-round draft pick from Pitt about his incredible past. (In the fourth grade, he had come home to find his grandmother murdered in her bed, with a knife stuck all the way through her body.) The young man was polite and intelligent, but I figured there was no way I could justify making him the story of this game between teams who had met in the playoffs the previous year. It had been a wild week: Before arriving in Massachusetts, I had enjoyed a bizarre couple of days in Cleveland, where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was about to stage its gala opening. At the airport, I'd walked right past Bruce Springsteen; a few minutes later, Jackson Browne and Snoop Dogg walked off a flight from L.A. together. Then, at the Browns' facility, I'd had my first-ever meeting with Cleveland coach Bill Belichick, known for his surliness with the media. We'd talked about rock n' roll (he was buddies with Jon Bon Jovi) and within a few minutes we were like Mick and Keith. During practice, Cleveland's beat writers were stunned as Belichick brought me into a restricted area and kept chatting with me during drills as though my pen and notebook didn't exist. Then I had a long talk with owner Art Modell, who within months would move the team to Baltimore. I don't remember all that much about the actual game, except that just before his winning touchdown the rookie running back had gone over 100 yards, and I had two excuses to write about him. And that's how I ended up boarding the Curtis Martin(notes) bandwagon when there were no other riders.

5. Texas Stadium, Nov. 12, 1995, 49ers vs. Cowboys
I'd spent the week in Kansas City hanging out with Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono for an SI feature, and I was supposed to fly to San Diego to watch him face the Chargers. But I wanted to divert my route to Dallas, over the objections of my editor, who thought there was no point: Young was hurt, and with the 49ers (5-4) reeling and Elvis Grbac at quarterback, the Cowboys (8-1) were favored by 10. I had a weird feeling the 49ers could win, and fortunately I talked my editor into letting me go to the game – just in case. My belief that an upset was possible grew the day before the game when, after the 49ers' walkthrough at an Arlington, Texas junior high school, I'd sauntered away with veteran defensive backs Tim McDonald and Eric Davis. As we headed for my rental car, director Oliver Stone, who was doing research for his film "Any Given Sunday" (and to whom I'd just been introduced), jokingly hissed, "Hey, Silver – getting the scoop?" A few minutes later, I was: At an Arlington Hooters, the two defensive backs laid out the brainy game plan that had been drawn up by first-year defensive coordinator Pete Carroll. The next day I saw a blowout, all right – the Niners led 31-7 at the half and won by 18. It turned out offensive coordinator Marc Trestman had an even shrewder game plan than Carroll's: Thanks to formation shifts and motioned receivers, Rice was repeatedly singled up against linebackers. Sitting next to legendary SI writer Paul Zimmerman, I received a fascinating tutorial on how the Cowboys had been outsmarted on each of Rice's big plays. Finally, late in the first half, Rice lined up in the slot, caught a short pass and raced upfield while being chased by veteran special-teams ace Bill Bates, perhaps the league's slowest safety. "What happened there?" I asked Dr. Z. This time, he shook his head disgustedly and said, "I have no [expletive] idea."

6. Arrowhead Stadium, Sept. 8, 1996, Raiders vs. Chiefs
Assigned to write a game story for SI, I'd run into a bit of a problem during the week when the Raiders, not for the first time, banned me from their training facility. So I went to Kansas City, and rather than doing the smart thing – blanketing the Chiefs' locker room for as many potential story angles as possible – I jumped into Derrick Thomas' Mercedes and went on a 36-hour joyride. The night before the game, I hung out at Thomas' house with a crew that included rapper/actor Kid (from Kid N' Play) watching Mike Tyson defend his heavyweight crown against Bruce Seldon and laughed my ass off. (Tragically, that was the night when Tupac Shakur, who'd attended the bout, was shot in Las Vegas.) Then it was Sunday, and I was a bit hung over and utterly unprepared for anything other than a story on DT. Midway through the third quarter, the great pass rusher had done nothing, and it even looked like the Raiders might win. I was in trouble. Then, in an instant, Thomas blindsided Oakland quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, and the ball popped loose, and K.C. cornerback James Hasty was going 80 yards the other way for a score – and I knew I had a hell of a story. Thomas later added a safety in the Chiefs' 19-3 victory. After the game, I decided to start by interviewing some Raiders, but when I approached the locker-room doorway a team official whispered something to an armed police officer, and the cop blocked my path and said sternly, "Sir, I cannot allow you to enter." I thought about doing the passive/nonviolent-resistance thing I'd seen protesters try while being arrested in Berkeley – for about two seconds. Instead, I went to the Chiefs' locker room to get some more quotes from Thomas. The NFL later fined the Raiders $10,000 for having violated its media policy, and we all eventually moved on. Five days after the game, Shakur died in a Las Vegas hospital, and hip-hop has never been the same.

7. Mile High Stadium, Oct. 3, 1999, Jets vs. Broncos
Denver was coming off back-to-back championships, and I'd spent a ton of time with Mike Shanahan and his players over the previous few years – but this was destined to be an unpleasant visit. In the wake of John Elway's retirement, the Broncos were 0-3, and in this case their best player, All-Pro halfback Terrell Davis, suffered the brutal knee injury that essentially killed his career. Many of the Broncos learned following their 21-13 defeat to the Jets that Davis' injury was season-ending, and the players I knew best were shockingly candid with me in the locker room, admitting the obvious – "We're finished" – in unambiguous terms. Afterward, a couple of players invited me to go get some dinner at The Chophouse, where it turned out nearly half the team had gathered. It was gallows humor to the max, with one player screaming "We're done!" as he stuck a salad fork against his chest and another pointing at a metal vat of microbrewed beer and saying, "See that tank on the right? That's exactly where I'm headed." To say the resulting SI cover story and headline ("We're Finished"; The Broncos' Season Is Over; Just Ask Them) caused a, uh, snowstorm in Colorado would be a vast understatement. I did the best I could in terms of damage control, more successful with some principals (i.e. Shanahan) than others, and I've been waiting for the Broncos to get their championship mojo back for a decade. Perhaps, at last, it's on the verge of happening.

8. Trans World Dome, Oct. 10, 1999, 49ers vs. Rams
The very next week, as I coped with the fallout from the Broncos story, I was sent to St. Louis to chronicle the stunning emergence of an unknown quarterback who'd guided the Rams, a 3-13 doormat the previous year, to a 3-0 start. I told Rick Smith, the Rams' director of public relations, that I wanted to fly in Friday and hit the town with Warner that night. "He doesn't really hit the town," Smith said. "On Fridays, he has dinner with his wife and kids and then they go to church." Thankfully, the Warners let me into their still uncomplicated lives that night, three hours of which we spent at the St. Louis Family Church. On Sunday, he threw for five touchdowns (three in the first quarter!) in a 42-20 blowout of the 49ers, and I was a true believer. Four months later, Warner was an NFL and Super Bowl MVP after the Rams' thrilling victory over the Titans, and Warner and I were in the process of landing a book deal. And, of course, he reminded us again last season that all things are possible.

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Chrebet makes his game-winning grab.
(Scott Audette/AP Photo)

9. Raymond James Stadium, Sept. 24, 2000, Jets vs. Buccaneers
Tampa Bay wideout Keyshawn Johnson(notes), bless his loquacious soul, set up this matchup against the team that had drafted him No. 1 overall four years earlier by dissing former teammate Wayne Chrebet. When asked about the undersized but productive Jets wideout by reporters, Johnson said dismissively: "You're trying to compare a flashlight to a star." (If only Favre were so accommodating.) I immediately flew to Tampa, where SI colleague Josh Elliott and I hashed this out over drinks at Bucs defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu's restaurant with a crew that included Keyshawn and the equally outspoken Warren Sapp(notes) – a clash of big personalities not prone to socializing with one another. So there were a lot of ways I could go when it came time to write about this battle between 3-0 teams. When the Bucs went up 17-6 and held that advantage into the final two minutes, I figured I'd been stuck with a game that hadn't lived up to its promotional potential. I was wrong – the Jets scored two touchdowns to secure a shocking 21-17 victory, the second one with 52 seconds left on an 18-yard halfback pass from Curtis Martin (yeah, him again), the first game-winning touchdown pass thrown by an NFL running back in more than three decades. The receiver who leaped up to catch it? Mr. Flashlight himself. Problem: I'd never interviewed Chrebet. Problem solved: Elliott, my young sidekick, had been out with him earlier in the week and handed over his notes.

10. Heinz Field, Jan. 6, 2002, Browns vs. Steelers
Since coming to Pittsburgh to cover the 1994 AFC championship game at Three Rivers Stadium for SI, I'd always enjoyed my time in the Steel City – partly because Steelers coach Bill Cowher had always been very open and accommodating. But I'd seen Cowher when he was angry – at me – and it was a bit unnerving, which is why I started to get a bit jittery two days before the Steelers' 2001 regular-season finale as I sat with quarterback Kordell Stewart at a Dave & Busters restaurant. Stewart was enjoying a surprising revival as the Steelers' starter, and he spoke candidly about his past struggles and said some very critical things about his head coach. Journalistically, it was awesome, but I was dreading the moment when I'd have to tell Cowher, whose team had secured the top seed in the AFC, that he'd be starting his playoff push by dealing with a public rip job from his quarterback. About an hour after Pittsburgh's otherwise unremarkable 21-point thrashing of the rival Browns on a snowy afternoon, I was summoned to Cowher's office at Heinz and told to close the door. I stammered for a few seconds before finally blurting out, "Bill – basically, your quarterback took some shots at you, and I'm here to get your side." Cowher never got even the slightest bit irritated. He shrugged off some of Stewart's criticisms and copped to others, essentially telling me, If that was a motivational ploy by me, I guess it worked, huh? After about 30 minutes he cut me off and said: "Michael, go write this story the way it needs to be written – you'll get no complaints from me." And, with his blessing, I remember doing just that and feeling incredibly loose in the process (not unlike the way Stewart had played all season). Three weeks later, I was back in Pittsburgh and even more fired up about the Steelers story I had brewing when it all ended so suddenly – Stewart struggled in the AFC championship game, Drew Bledsoe(notes) came off the bench to lead Belichick's Patriots to an upset victory (before Tom Brady(notes) returned to guide New England to its shocking Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the Rams), and the next September, Tommy Maddox became Pittsburgh's starting quarterback. Two years later, Ben Roethlisberger(notes) – another quarterback who would clash with Cowher – took over. One thing I can tell you with certainty: If, years from now, Big Ben comes back to face the Steelers at Heinz, it won't be "one of 16."

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Rodgers will lead the Packers to victory over You Know Who in a game that, amazingly, will live up to the hype. … Meanwhile in Detroit, with about 28 people paying attention, the Rams – why the hell not? – will end their 17-game losing streak by beating the Lions. … The Eagles will hand the Giants their third consecutive defeat in a back-and-forth battle in Philly.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Green Bay, obviously. Hey, I made my hotel reservations in the spring, as soon as the Favre-to-Vikings rumors started flying. This weekend I'll be flying in on the redeye, so I can do some trick-or-treating with my kids before taking in this adult Scooby Snack.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. After Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) proclaimed that the Jaguars were the best team in the league, an NFL official showed up and asked the Jacksonville halfback to take a "random" drug test.

2. An investigation sparked by the dollar bill that Jerry Jones signed for newly minted pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware(notes) revealed that despite our apparent healthy relationship, the Cowboys' owner is actually one of my most strident critics.

3. Before being suspended until Nov. 9 by the Chiefs, halfback Larry Johnson(notes) texted Vikings counterpart Adrian Peterson and congratulated him for running over Steelers cornerback William Gay(notes).

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

Well, I survived that trap game – by a mere 36 points. With the Colts' 42-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams, I can now cross Indy off my list of eligible teams, along with the Patriots, Redskins, Ravens, Texans, Eagles and Packers, as I try to survive for an eighth week. And though I'm tempted to pick on the Raiders and play my Chargers chip, I'm instead putting it all on the Chicago Bears to bounce back from that blowout defeat in Cincinnati by punishing the Browns at Soldier Field. (And yes, as I've noted before, I am loving the fact that no rule prevents me from picking against the same team, over and over, if need be.)

MY BUDDIES' ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

Like many people in her profession, UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb is tough to satisfy. Even after a 30-point thumping of Petoriates that improved her team, Harsh Reality, to 4-3, Gottlieb was in search of an immediate upgrade. Her reasoning: Two of last Sunday's big guns (Carson Palmer(notes) and Chad Ochocinco(notes)) have byes this weekend; the third, tight end Vernon Davis(notes), can't be counted upon to score 27 fantasy points (or anywhere close) every week; this week's opponent, South Beach Playas, has a league-best 6-1 record. And besides, our 30-point victory was in spite of one-point "contributions" by stopgap halfback Mewelde Moore(notes) (Chris Johnson and Marion Barber(notes) had byes) and wideout Braylon Edwards(notes), the bane of her existence.

Our solutions? First, while witnessing Shonn Greene's(notes) breakout game in Oakland, I advised Gottlieb to snag the Jets' rookie halfback, and she got him on a waiver claim. Secondly, when offered a straight-up trade of Edwards for Terrell Owens(notes), we jumped on it faster than Drew Rosenhaus yelling "Next question" on T.O.'s front lawn. Both newcomers are starting for us this week against Playas (Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy(notes), Reggie Wayne(notes), Devery Henderson(notes), Roy Williams, Marcedes Lewis(notes)), joining Barber, Johnson, Greg Jennings(notes), Mason Crosby(notes) and the Packers' defense (have I mentioned that we're heavily invested in the Pack?) – with Chad Henne(notes) filling in for Palmer. Skeptical that Henne will enjoy the same success he did against the Jets three weeks ago, I threw out the idea of cutting him and going with Alex Smith against the Colts; Gottlieb rejected it like a weak scoop shot in the lane. She bit on T.O. over Bernard Berrian(notes) and newly acquired Chaz Schillens, however, because she buys my reasoning that Owens: is due; is obsessed with stats (earlier this week he said his goal for the season is to outperform Williams, his former Cowboys teammate); always plays hard (unlike, say, the guy we traded for him); and is right with God, or doing a good job of pretending to be. "He sends me Bible verses every night before I go to sleep," I assured her, speaking for each of T.O.'s hundreds of thousands of followers on Mogotxt and Twitter. "I think the football gods will take note."

I'm not sure what more there is to say about my buddy Malibu and his last-place team, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, which fell to 1-6 with a 61-point defeat to Man Up Willis U …, the much more intelligently assembled outfit put together by Malibu's son, A-Man. Suffice it to say that when you are playing against breakout competitors like Ochocinco and Owen Daniels(notes) and your high scorer is a defense (the Packers, with 19 points), it's going to be a long weekend. I tried to do what I could for Malibu, but even that was a fiasco. Somehow, even with his last-place record, he was beaten out on his waiver claims for Greene and the Chargers' defense (I know, I know – but they're playing the Raiders). So, against Team 420 (Philip Rivers(notes), Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Bell(notes), Calvin Johnson(notes), Derrick Mason(notes), Davone Bess(notes), Zach Miller), Sabbath – with top scorer Hines Ward(notes) on a bye – will field a rag-tag lineup that includes Johnny Knox(notes), Pierre Garcon(notes), Steve Breaston(notes) and Donald Lee(notes). We're hoping Kurt Warner(notes), LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) (in previous years – you know, when he wasn't always hurt – he has killed the Raiders; and yes, we're playing him over Darren Sproles(notes)), Marion Barber and Joe Flacco(notes) come up big (OK, bigger than big) and carry us to 2-6.

Here's a realistic assessment of our chances, courtesy of Y! Sports guru Brad Evans:

When it comes to wideout prima donnas, Coach Gottlieb has the market cornered. Though she washed away Banana Hand's Curse (Edwards), T.O is equally hexed. Until Trent Edwards(notes) emerges from the cerebral fog, Owens could be more unreliable than the damned receiver she exchanged. Hopefully Da Coach has plenty of garlic stockpiled. If not, Owens, who doesn't cast a reflection in the mirror, will suck the life out of her WR corps. The Bible passages are a cover up.

Despite the endless receiver drama, Harsh Reality made arguably its savviest move of the season, holding the winning ticket in the Shonn Greene sweepstakes. The rookie from Iowa, who is averaging a stupid 6.5 yards per carry this season, is one Thomas Jones(notes) strain away from becoming this year's Pierre Thomas(notes). His bruising between-the-tackles style could prove unstoppable running behind one of the league's most unyielding offensive lines. The Noise is convinced he was a vintage Buick Electra, better known as a deuce and a quarter, in a previous life. The man maims tacklers. Even if she can't subdue the heavily favored Playas this week – the Rodgers-Peterson- Wayne trio will be difficult to overcome – her long-term outlook is bright. Greene will be a difference maker.

Meanwhile, our resident Larry Johnson, who similar to the potty-mouthed running back is trapped in football purgatory, is destined to dig a deeper grave (Seriously, the Browns have more talent at key skill positions than Sabbath). Even if LT were to magically abandon his zombified state and regain his '07 form, it likely wouldn't be enough to overcome the pint-sized power of the Oompah Loompah, MJD.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

I've known Raiders defensive coordinator John Marshall for 20 years – he was the 49ers' defensive line coach when I started covering the team for a Northern California newspaper in 1989 – and I've always had a ton of respect for him as a coach and as a person. The 30-year NFL assistant was undoubtedly put in a tough spot as a witness to the "accidental" bumping that left since-exiled Oakland defensive assistant Randy Hanson with a broken jaw. According to Napa County (Calif.) district attorney Gary Lieberstein, Marshall was one of three "credible" witnesses who didn't corroborate Hanson's charges that Raiders coach Tom Cable had caused the injury by blindsiding him and that the coach had threatened to kill Hanson. I know this was a surprise to Hanson, because when I spent seven hours interviewing him on Oct. 9, he told me that Marshall had tried to contact him several times in the two months following the incident and that the two had spoken by telephone in late September. Marshall, Hanson said, had been at Ricky's Sports Theatre and Grill, a San Leandro bar known as a hangout for Raiders fans, and had told one of the owners he missed Hanson. Shortly thereafter one of the owners called Hanson and handed the phone to Marshall, who according to Hanson told him, "We could use you back" and expressed a desire for Hanson to return. (On Thursday, two sources at Ricky's confirmed that Marshall and Hanson spoke by phone. A voicemail message left for Marshall was not returned.)

None of this is particularly scintillating, but I did happen to notice that once his boss was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in Napa, Marshall laid it on pretty thick when discussing Cable. "I've been around Hall of Fame coaches," Marshall told the Contra Costa Times' Cam Inman, "and Tom Cable has all those qualities, plus some." Whoa – on that count, at least, I'm officially questioning Marshall's credibility. I don't think I've heard that kind of shameless butt-kissing out of Raiders headquarters since Joe Bugel's introductory press conference as Oakland's head coach in 1997, when he told reporters with a straight face, "I don't mean to embarrass him, but I love Al Davis. This love affair has been going on for 22 years." For the record, Bugel's tenure as Davis' head coach lasted one year; he was fired after a 4-12 season.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old folk singer who was killed by coyotes Wednesday while hiking alone in her native Canada, a country that already gave the world a legendary singer-songwriter by that surname. I'm not familiar with the music of Taylor Mitchell (no relation to Joni), but it sounds like she sang from the heart.

DISPATCHES FROM THE LAIR OF THE BEAR

After Cal's second consecutive victory, a 49-17 triumph over Washington State at Memorial Stadium last Saturday that evened the Bears' Pac-10 record at 2-2 (5-2 overall), sophomore kicker David Seawright was feeling pretty upbeat. Then real life intervened – a Cal lacrosse player became severely ill, and a family, as Seawright reports, was shaken to its core.

This week was supposed to be different.

After a few consecutive serious dispatches, two consecutive Pac-10 wins had my sights set on a more humorous delivery.

Perhaps I would have shared that Jeremy Ross' freestyle raps are as hysterical as he made Washington State tacklers look Saturday. Or, instead, I might have boasted of my superior talent on the ping-pong table – just ask Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen.

But all that changed on Saturday. Tighe Hutchins, a senior on the women's lacrosse team here, was home alone save for the mother of one of her roommates when she had a seizure.

After being taken to the hospital, doctors discovered massive internal bleeding and were forced to perform numerous surgeries over a couple of days. Late Monday night, things got bad enough that a pastor was called to the hospital.

Yet Hutchins kept on fighting. Even with at least three more weeks in intensive care ahead of her, her family and closest friends tell of astonishing courage and high spirits.

The response from my fellow athletes at Cal has been utterly remarkable. After word spread that Hutchins, who has the rare O-negative blood type, was going through blood faster than her hospital could supply it, some teams canceled offseason workouts so their athletes could donate blood in Tighe's name. The support allowed the Hutchins family, with the help of the Cal athletic department, to use blood reserved for other patients with the assurance of more to come.

On Wednesday night, a crowd of more than 300 athletes, coaches and even athletic director Sandy Barbour gathered on campus for a candlelit prayer ceremony put on by Athletes in Action.

This week, I was more proud to be a Cal athlete than ever before. And with weeks of fighting ahead for Hutchins, she can be sure that her fellow athletes will continue to fight for her, both on and off the field.

More blood is needed and can be donated to the Red Cross specifically for Tighe while prayers, positive thoughts, and support from the Cal community will continue to flow freely.

I guess this week was different after all.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Jack Straw Halloween

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Well, it's official: Reading is below the relegation line, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it) with a long way to go in the Football League Championship season. Still, if it were to end today, the Royals – who two years ago were coming off a stunningly successful first season in the English Premier League – would be sent down to League One. Last Monday at Madejski Stadium, Reading dominated Leicester City but still managed to lose 1-0, on a Martyn Waghorn header off a Matt Oakley corner kick. Now 22nd in the 24-team League Championship table, the Royals face Coventry City on Saturday at Ricoh Arena. And the hits just keep on coming: Striker Noel Hunt, one of the few Reading players capable of consistently finding the net, underwent knee surgery Wednesday and will be sidelined indefinitely (and possibly for the remainder of the season). Brilliant.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Back in 1970, a Canadian group called the Five Man Electrical Band came out with a song that railed against exclusionism and discrimination. Twenty years later, the Sacramento band Tesla put out an album called Five Man Acoustical Jam that included a memorable cover of "Signs". Now, nearly two decades later, here's my hypothetical Five Man X's and O's Clan (Cowher, Holmgren, Shanahan, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick) serenading Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in the wake of the franchise's latest limitation on self-expression.

(Cowher)
And the sign says glorified coordinators need not apply
So I tucked in my chin just like Russ Grimm and I went in to ask Dan why
He said, "You look like a Bill Cowher disciple, I think you'll do"
Then I stood up and spat, I said, 'To hell with that – huh, me working for you?' Whoa! …

(Everyone)
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that
Can't you read the sign?

(Gruden) And the sign says, "Welcome to D.C. Jon Gruden, King of Monday Night:
Fished it out of the trash and yelled in my mic, "Hey! Don't be so uptight!
You could've had Gregg Williams or Fassel but you wanted Zorn instead"
Now Sherm is here straight from the Bingo place
Man, you think this is better?

(Everyone)
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that
Can't you read the sign?

(Holmgren)
Now, hey you Vinny! 'Member me?
If I get hired you will be fetchin' my coffee
I'll work nine to five and still succeed
I'll get a real team here
(Billick)
And the sign says if you wanna see my ring drive up I-95
Uh!

(Shanahan)
And the sign says, "Hi To My Husband In Afghanistan Love You"
But you made the lady surrender it like Campbell throwin' against Cover 2
So I got me a pen and a paper and I drafted a contract to sign
It said, "Thank you, Dan, for overpayin" – sign here on the bottom line'
Oh-oh-oh-oh …

(Everyone)
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that
Can't you read the sign?

(Everyone)
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that
Can't you read the sign?

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