PITTSBURGH – Joey Porter, by the assessment of Sports Illustrated, is the meanest man in pro football.
But when Porter, in the joyous aftermath of his game-clinching 42-yard interception return against Miami on Thursday night, excitedly planted a peck on Cowher's neck, it sent reporter's fumbling to find out, "What's up with that?"
Porter quickly grew tired of the subject, but did offer an explanation.
"I just was so happy and after all the things that went on in training camp, I wanted him to know how I felt about him," said Porter, who opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list and evidently was grousing about his contract. "Some people took some things to mean something it really wasn't and I want him to know that there was nothing personal. I'm with him."
So, Porter was asked tongue-in-cheek, "You're comfortable with your masculinity?"
Porter smiled lightly and said, "Yeah, I'm comfortable. That was like kissing your dad. You don't get in trouble for kissing your dad."
On the subject of the Steelers, second-year tight end Heath Miller showed he could be on the way to stardom at his position after scoring the go-ahead touchdown on an 87-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter. Miller finished with three catches for 101 yards and many observers think he has limitless potential with his combination of size and speed.
Still, earning a Pro Bowl spot in the near future is a tall order given the depth of talent at tight end around the NFL these days. In the AFC North alone, there's Miller, Todd Heap of Baltimore and Cleveland's Kellen Winslow, who's striving to regain the form that made him the No. 7 overall pick in 2004.
Around the rest of the AFC, there's Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City, Antonio Gates of San Diego, Dallas Clark in Indianapolis, Ben Troupe in Tennessee, Ben Watson in New England and Randy McMichael in Miami.
In the NFC, there's Jason Witten in Dallas, Jeremy Shockey with the Giants, L.J. Smith in Philadelphia, Chris Cooley in Washington, Vernon Davis in San Francisco, Jerramy Stevens in Seattle and Alge Crumpler in Atlanta.
"It's unreal how gifted the position has become," Gonzalez said. "People talked about how I was one of the few guys when I came out and I ran like a 4.8 at the [scouting combine in Indianapolis] and did maybe 17 reps on the bench. Not that I think the combine is that important. It's way overrated. But now you have guys running 4.5, 4.6 and doing 28 reps. It's amazing."
"I think it's great," said Gonzalez, the elder statesman of the group at age 30. "It just makes me have to work that much harder to keep up if I want to make it to the Pro Bowl … and I do. These guys keep me motivated."
There have been great tight ends throughout history, from the days of John Mackey to Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow Sr. But even Newsome, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who is now the general manager of the Ravens, said the depth is stunning.
"In the past, there were basically three of us who were going to make it to the Pro Bowl every year because everybody else was a glorified blocker," Newsome said. "Now, the tight ends in the college level really get to play the position because so many more schools will throw the ball."
The $2 billion problem
Washington Post reporter Les Carpenter wrote an interesting article on the NFL trying to return to Los Angeles, interviewing numerous Southern California movers and shakers.
The bottom line is that the proposition isn't going to be cheap. Carpenter's estimate that the cost could reach $2 billion is in line with what numerous NFL owners and executives told Yahoo! Sports when asked during training camp.
That price includes purchasing a team from a current owner (anywhere from $750 million to $1 billion), stadium costs (a recent NFL-commissioned estimate put the price for the stadium at $815 million at either an Orange County site or at the L.A. Coliseum) and the relocation fee that a team would be charged (anywhere from $250 million to $500 million).
The price could be less if the Spanos family moved the Chargers from San Diego to L.A. Aside from the Chargers, New Orleans and Oakland are the most obvious candidates to move. Word around the league is that Saints owner Tom Benson and Raiders managing general partner Al Davis are quietly looking for buyers.
Moreover, it's highly unlikely that either Benson or Davis would be allowed to move to the Los Angeles area. If the league is to return, it wants a solid owner who will have credibility with the public. Benson has little or no credibility around the league and Davis lost a lot after he bolted from Los Angeles following the 1994 season.
But, for a number of reasons, the biggest issue is the stadium. First, with so much construction taking place overseas in China, the competition for resources is driving up costs. Second, building any large structure in California is difficult because of all the state, country and city restrictions. Finally, we have seen little or no support for building new football stadiums. San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco have among the oldest and worst stadiums in a league where new stadiums have been built almost as fast as Peyton Manning throws touchdown passes.
Denver owner Pat Bowlen, who is head of a league committee working to get a team back in L.A., even said that the cost of building at the Coliseum could be much higher than the estimate. Bowlen is a former construction man himself. He wants a team in L.A. very badly, but he sees the cost estimate at the Coliseum as Pollyanna.
"The problem that I have is that we don't know what the price tag is going to be and the problems that are going to arise, such as with USC (which plays at the Coliseum)," Bowlen said. "They have different needs. Then, doing construction at the L.A. Coliseum – it's a national historic site. Having played at the Coliseum a couple of times, I can tell you, it's not meeting any kind of modern-day status."
So the $815 million figure is a little low?
"I would be absolutely, 100 percent shocked if we could do it for that price at the Coliseum site," Bowlen said, adding that he thinks the cost could top $1 billion for the stadium alone. "That is a daydream. Now, if you're giving me a clean site, yeah, $700 or $800 million. Yeah, that could be done.
"Again, in my other lifetime, just knowing the things I had to go through just to build office buildings (in California), it's going to be a lot more than people think," said Bowlen, who says that he understands that people in Los Angeles might not take well to a team in Orange County.
Adding to the problem is that there doesn't seem to be a strong consensus around the league about how to build the stadium. Some owners believe the league should provide financial help so that pro football can return to the country's No. 2 media market. Others think the league should wait until there's an owner in L.A. who can command public support.
• The Dolphins worked hard this offseason to revamp their secondary and had four different starters from last year's opener. Unfortunately, improving a secondary isn't as easy as just changing players. The Dolphins had a crucial error in coverage to allow Miller to get free for the 87-yard touchdown pass. Moreover, the Dolphins desperately need first-round pick Jason Allen, who was slated to be the starting free safety before he missed more than two weeks of training camp in a holdout.
• If you like serious football analysis, check out the 2006 edition of Pro Football Prospectus, which is put together by Aaron Schatz and a group of experts from FootballOutsiders.com. The prospectus has taken great strides this year and reads very much like sister publication Baseball Prospectus, which is peerless in its evaluation of players. Bottom line: For less than $20, it's a great read.
•Yahoo! Sports draft expert and personnel analyst John Murphy came up with a terrific bit of research. The Saints have 6-foot-4, 232-pound rookie Marques Colston starting at wide receiver now after the preseason trade of Donte Stallworth. Colston, who is from Hofstra, was selected in the seventh round with the No. 252 overall pick. According to research dating to 1994 when the NFL shifted to only seven rounds, Colston stands to become the lowest player selected in the modern era of the draft to start the first game of his rookie season. There have been a number of excellent players taken in the seventh round, including Denver Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen (No. 218, 1994), Arizona safety Pat Tillman (No. 226, 1998), former Jets defensive tackle Jason Ferguson (No. 229, 1997) and former New England wide receiver David Givens (No. 253, 2002).
• New England wide receiver Deion Branch continues to hold firm on his decision to wait to report this season until the middle of the season. Branch is seeking what he thinks would be a fair offer. That's essentially something similar to the six-year, $40 million deal that Reggie Wayne got from Indianapolis. The big question is how long quarterback Tom Brady will go into the season before he loses his cool with all the receivers he doesn't know very well?
• This is one of the many reasons that Kansas City coach Herm Edwards is one of the best guys in his profession. In talking about coaches who say that some players are too dumb to play in the NFL, Edwards said: "Don't tell me that. You're telling me that a kid went to a major college program and contributed there and was able to do things and is too dumb to play? That's wrong. Everybody learns differently and it's our job to find out how they learn and teach them what do. Don't tell me that a guy can't learn. All that means to me is that you can't coach."