More twists and turns than normal around NFL
Since May, when Marc Trestman left the United States for his new job north of the border, the longtime NFL assistant has kept loose tabs on his old league by doing five minutes of power surfing on the Internet each morning.
As the first-year head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, Trestman has had to learn about 12-man formations, the rouge and other Canadian Football League intricacies – not to mention mastering enough French phrases to satisfy the locals. It has been quite an adjustment for the 52-year-old Minnesota native, but sometimes digesting the news from home which flashes across his computer screen as the sun rises is the most jarring part of his day.
“I’d read about the Brett Favre thing, but for a long time I didn’t understand it,” Trestman said Thursday from his office, where he was game-planning for his East Division-leading team’s game on Sunday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “He had decided to play, and then he was back with the (Green Bay) Packers, and then he was gone – and all I saw were little snippets of news, so I really had no idea what was happening. There’ve been a lot of crazy developments since I left, but isn’t it like that every season?”
I told Trestman I wasn’t so sure. Yes, every NFL season has its share of surprises and dramatic arcs, and certainly last year (the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal; Spygate and the undefeated season; Favre’s revival; Tony Romo to Cabo; and Plaxico Burress’ prediction of the New York Giants’ shocking Super Bowl upset) was juicier than most.
Still, haven’t the past three months been as tumultuous and landscape-altering as any stretch in recent memory?
It started with the jockeying between Favre and the Packers for public-relations points, a saga that included a tampering charge against the rival Minnesota Vikings which was later dismissed and, eventually, the trading of the legendary quarterback to the New York Jets.
During that period the Carolina Panthers’ star wideout, Steve Smith, broke cornerback Ken Lucas’s nose with a punch in practice – earning Smith a two-game suspension to start the season and provoking Lucas’ strange assertion that the incident was “a blessing in disguise.”
On the first Sunday of the regular season, Tom Brady blew out his knee, putting the New England Patriots’ dynasty on hold and shredding our sense of order. How much have things changed in Foxborough? Last week, linebacker Joey Porter – who since joining the Miami Dolphins had lost 17 of 18 games – talked pregame trash about the Pats and backed it up with three sacks in a 38-13 victory in which Bill Belichick was caught unprepared for a strategic wrinkle.
There was a Vince Young suicide scare – thankfully, one that was later described by both parties as an “overreaction” – followed by the unfathomable re-emergence of Kerry Collins as the starting quarterback of the Super Bowl-contender Tennessee Titans.
The Oakland Raiders, even by their standards, have turned the seemingly imminent firing of head coach Lane Kiffin into a really bad reality show.
The Detroit Lions finally fired president Matt Millen – three games into the season, after the owner’s son publicly ripped his dad for having failed to do so earlier.
Oh, and Super Bowl hero Burress, less than three weeks after signing a lucrative contract extension, failed to show up at the Giants’ facility on Monday and received a two-week suspension.
Other than that, everything is totally status quo.
“In a nutshell, it’s been a crazy few weeks, and even longer if you count the stuff with Brett,” said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, an ex-Raider and former Michigan teammate of Brady’s. “But it’s good for the fans. You look on the news and the Internet, and it just seems like every day there are different stories taking you every which way.”
Can you fault Woodson, an 11th-year veteran, for feeling a bit disoriented? So many of the truths he and the rest of us held to be self-evident – Favre in Titletown, Brady and Peyton Manning (still rusty after offseason knee surgery) as the sturdy leaders of contending teams; “Fire Millen” as the unrequited battle cry of a frustrated fan base – have been obliterated like the St. Louis Rams’ offensive line in the fourth quarter.
From afar, Trestman takes it all in and sees the recent madness as cyclical.
“Change is constant in the NFL,” he says, “and isn’t that why we love the game – because nobody knows what’s going to happen? And, really, we’ve seen all of this before.
“We’ve seen legendary quarterbacks like (Joe) Namath and (Joe) Montana change teams. Quarterbacks have gone down early and seasons have been destroyed – and sometimes new heroes arise, like Earl Morrall. Who thought he could win 14 games? And, this year, will Matt Cassel be able to do it in New England? And will Belichick be able to retool it somehow and make it work? It’s an amazing league because unexpected things always happen.”
Perhaps Trestman’s right, and this is just another year in a turbulent league. Then again, it’s only September. I wonder how many more significant twists are on the immediate horizon.
If the Patriots struggle and a certain star receiver continues to experience a decline in his numbers, will Randy Moss keep it together? Or will he become detached – or disruptive?
Will the star-studded Dallas Cowboys, including the quarterback with the celebrity girlfriend and the cornerback trying to shed a past marked by consistent police activity – and, oh yeah, a dude named Terrell Owens – keep rolling toward a possible sixth Super Bowl championship? Or will something go down that messes up the chemistry and spoils the party?
Can the Giants, already facing a leadership void after Michael Strahan’s retirement, overcome the Burress suspension (and other distractions) and cope with the pressure to defend their title? Or will New York’s back pages stay fixated on the Jets, either because Favre lives up to billing or fails spectacularly?
Tragically, I don’t have the answers. Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea whether to pass or punt on third-and-1 from the 55-yard-line.
On a positive note, I do have more than five minutes every morning to keep up with the latest NFL happenings.
God bless America.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
That feel-good story in Atlanta will take a dark turn in Charlotte, as the fired-up Panthers make Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan look like a confused rookie. … The Cardinals, meanwhile, will make coach Ken Whisenhunt look like a sage for letting them spend the week back east by throttling the Jets in New Jersey. … It’ll be Brady Quinn time in Cincinnati, one way or the other.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Oakland, for an AFC West battle between the Chargers and the Raiders … or a battle between the Raiders and reporters … or between reporters and reporters … or Al Davis and the world.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. The Patriots won’t suffer much of a drop-off without Tom Brady, because this team isn’t overly dependent on its quarterback.
2. In last Monday’s infamous, caught-on-video confrontation between a Raiders employee and a sportswriter, only one of the principals was an insecure, grandstanding embarrassment to his profession.
WORLD’S SIMPLEST POOL
The Patriots weren’t the only ones who got pummeled by the Dolphins last Sunday. Miami’s upset also ended the two-week run of soccer legend Brandi Chastain, who probably wanted to spend the second half with her jersey over her eyes. Her successor is a man who has spent the decade running a professional sports franchise in Detroit (no, not that man) with the same understated excellence he displayed during his championship career with the Pistons. “The New Orleans Saints win this week (against the 49ers),” Joe Dumars proclaims, “because I’m a born and raised Louisianian and you never go against your childhood team.”
MY BUDDY’S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
When UCSB women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb sent a text message near the end of Sunday night’s Cowboys-Packers game, informing me that Gaucho Madness was in a tough spot, I was riding the elevator from the Lambeau Field press box and didn’t have a lot of compassion. Mindful that her opponent, Tiggers, had running back Thomas Jones waiting in the wings on Monday night while Gottlieb was about to be finished for the week, I told her to get over it and accept defeat. “I’d rather hold out hope and torture myself,” she replied. Amazingly, she was rewarded: Aaron Rodgers got some garbage yards and a touchdown pass to keep hope alive, putting Gaucho Madness up by three points going into Monday. When Jones took a first-quarter hit from Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins and coughed up a fumble, Gottlieb leapt into the air like Candace Parker. With the Jets losing by a large margin, Jones was held to 37 rushing yards (3 points) and 17 receiving yards (one point) – and the lost fumble (minus-two points) turned out to be the margin of victory as Gottlieb, now 2-1, pulled out a 66-65 squeaker.
This week Gaucho Madness takes on Dear Meat, and some lineup juggling was in order. With Willie Parker hurt and newly acquired Ricky Williams in a bye week, Gottlieb needed another running back to team with Jonathan Stewart. Though skeptical, she took my advice and picked up Bills change-of-pace back Fred Jackson, whose team takes on the sieve-like Rams on Sunday. She made room by waiving tight end Alge Crumpler and also swapped the Vikings’ defense (which came up huge for her last week but is at Tennessee) for the Chargers, who play at Oakland against you know who.
As for my buddy Malibu, Hand of Doom is also 2-1 following a 16-point victory over Cleveland Steamers (and yes, helpful readers, I was well aware of the connotation all along) as his switch from Matt Ryan to David Garrard in the second quarterback slot paid off in a big way. This week, against the powerful Pure Hell (Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, Tony Gonzalez, Frank Gore), Malibu (as I advised) is switching back to Garrard and – perhaps coming to the party a week late – picked up the Cowboys’ Miles Austin in case Joey Galloway and Devin Hester are too banged up to play. Oh, and Malibu won’t be making any last-minute Sunday morning adjustments; he’ll be at the Chargers-Raiders game, trying not to get swallowed up into the Black Hole.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
LET’S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Tennessee Vols coaching legend Pat Summitt, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery after dislocating the joint last March while tussling with a raccoon who was messing with her Labrador. I don’t care what animal is involved – lion, tiger, bear, oh my – but in that situation, I’m putting my money on Summitt.
THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
If you want to know how octopi get down, you know where to go for answers.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
John Clayton morning
ROLLIN’ WITH THE ROYALS
There’s nothing like getting a phantom score to boost a team’s spirits, and the Ghost Goal that the Royals were gifted by a linesman (who, if he had another eye, would be a Cyclops) at Vicarage Road Stadium last Saturday helped them to a 2-2 tie with Watford. Had the travesty happened in the opposite goal, said Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann (via email), “I think I would have gone mental. But we have to respect the refs.” As if referee Stuart Attwell hadn’t had enough of an impact on the game, he had the guts to award Reading a penalty kick with five minutes remaining when Shane Long was taken down inside the box, and Stephen Hunt slammed it home for the draw. Karma may have caught up to the Royals on Tuesday when, in a third-round match, they were bounced from the Carling League Cup in a road defeat at Stoke City. Following a 2-2 draw, Reading lost a 4-3 PK shootout when Leroy Lita put one over the bar. The Royals, now sixth in the Football League Championship table with 11 points, return to Madejski Stadium on Saturday to face Swansea City.
TRIPPIN’ ON E(MAIL)
“As much as everyone is lauding the Cowboys for all of their skills and talent and potential, I’m sticking by my Boys in Blue. Keep us at No. 2, Mike. Hell, drop our position in the ranks even. We may not be the best team out there right now, but we weren’t considered that even after winning the Super Bowl. And just like the Patriots ‘fans’ who jumped off the bandwagon after losing the Super Bowl and then Brady, the Cowboys ‘fans’ will show their true devotion once Romo fails to advance in the playoffs yet again. P.S.: I think it’s sexy how you correct everyone’s grammar. Fix mine, Mike! Fix mine! ;)”
Is that an exclamation point on my laptop, or am I just excited to read this?
“ ‘and Romo’s need to flex seemed as conspicuous as his girlfriend, Jessica Simpson, flaunting her assets on a Hollywood red carpet. …’ Plleasse! Don’t you think this is a little insulting to the women who read your articles? You write great articles until you regress to being a 15-year-old hormonal mess and start making analogies of female body parts. I mean, come on already … women enjoy football and read your articles too. You can do better than writing sexist remarks and degrading women.”
Los Gatos, Calif.
Perhaps you missed the humor in the remark, but whatever your read on it, are you really asking me to apologize for goofing on Jessica Simpson’s penchant for wearing scantily clad outfits in an attempt to generate attention? Really? OK, you asked for it: I regret the implication that the esteemed Ms. Simpson should be perceived in any way as a sex object, and I concede that the intended splash she makes in Hollywood (and other public) circles is purely a result of her intelligence, talent and body of work – no pun intended. OK, the pun was intended. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure Ms. Simpson wasn’t bummed out by the analogy.
“Thank you for saying what I think a lot of us Raiders fans have been thinking. I have been a Raiders fan since I was about 8 years old … following the footsteps of my grandfather and my godfather. But it has been so frustrating these last few years watching Al Davis ruin our reputation and causing us to be such an embarrassment to the NFL because of his ego. It is a sad state when your team has players with such great potential who cannot focus on the important things like playing a game of football without all of crazy antics the owner is laying on their organization on a daily basis. I will always be a Raiders fan, but I’m looking forward to the day when this tyranny comes to an end.”
I expected a steady stream of highly critical emails from defensive Raider loyalists – and, to my surprise, at least 90 percent of the responses from those identifying themselves as fans of the franchise were along the lines of Andrea’s. Something tells me Davis won’t be especially moved by that stat, but it does convince me that the natives (understandably) are getting restless.
“Hey Michael, you were right on with Alzheimer Davis! First off I’d like to say I am grateful to Al for the good years, but when he (got rid of) Gruden is when he started losing his mind. I am so sick and tired of his dim-witted games! For once Al has seemed to piss off Raider Nation. I take my family once a year to Oakland to watch a game and spend (an) incredible amount of money. Not this year or next or the year after. Not until Al is gone off to a old folks home. Thanks for the article and helping me and other real Raiders fans vent! By the way, I remember that SI article. I actually wanted you to eat crow, now I am appointing you to be our eyes and ears from the media to put pressure on the dumb ass moves by old Alzheimer Davis! Get him for us! Aloha!”
Now the Hawaiians are getting restless. That’s heavy, brah.
“I have just a general statement about the Raiders owner, Al Davis. … I truly believe that Mr. Davis needs to see his physician to determine if he has dementia! I don’t say that to be mean, however he has to have some sort of mental disability at his age to make the business decisions he has made over the past few years regarding the ‘winning’ attitude he currently exudes. I think that he deserves his kudos for what he has contributed to the football industry however, he needs to find a nice little home and hand his reign to someone who is mentally in tact. Please do not take the message lightly when I tell you from my own professional standpoint that I can clearly say that Mr. Davis has a severe case of dementia. I only hope that he comes to grip with it soon before there are no more diehard Raiders fans! In addition, I have to say although he has been somewhat of an icon in football history it is time to go Mr. Davis – that
means you’re not the current administration of your team. Sincerely, Samantha Johnson, Administrator for a Dementia and Alzheimers Care Facility and diehard Raiders fan!”
I have no idea if Davis’s mental state is compromised. All I know is that, as this absurdly prolonged period of uncertainty over Lane Kiffin’s job status drags on, my head is spinning.
“Blazing Saddles is one of the greatest movies ever. Do you think the Broncos will start playing defense any time soon? Is Hedley Lamar in charge of the Raiders? Or is it Mongo?”
Seoul, South Korea
Or is it Gov. William J. Lepetomane? Work, work, work, work, work, work. Hello boys, have a good night’s sleep? I missed you. … Why do I always get a defective one?
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
There’s a Giants receiver who got in trouble this week for playing hooky, not too long after signing a five-year, $35 million contract extension, and that has Eli Manning singing the (upbeat acoustic) blues. To the tune of James Taylor’s “Mexico,” with Peyton on bongos:
When you’re here you give me reason to groove
Freakin’ fools runnin’ your sweet X-Fly
Lose your load, throw it high and smile, Young Eli
You had it so good why did you have to go?
Why did you mess around when we were 3-and-0?
Guess you killed my flow, bro
‘Plaxicano’ got the sleepy eye
But Coach Coughlin’s still shaking like a live wire
Sleepy ‘Rosenjita’ with his cell on fire
Think of all the coverages the ‘Hawks will blow
Alarm clock stalled and you never called
And now we’re all appalled
Hixon’s hungry and Amani’s all primed
In Foxborough don’t you think they’re aglow?
You called out a score at the Super Bowl; nailed it cold
Oh, down on Plaxico
I never been before so I don’t really know
I thought you were a pro
I’m thinking of the fade I’d sure like to throw
I guess I’ll have to check down
Playin’ without Plaxico
Come back and you won’t have to practice, yo