Lewis leading Ravens by example

Michael Silver

BALTIMORE – As power trios go, it was the sports world's answer to Nirvana, Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Huddled together in a downtown club last Sunday night, breaking down the home team's disappointing defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a controversial touchdown call, were three potent athletic icons – MMA star Chuck Liddell, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Or, to put it more colloquially: The Iceman, Aquaman and The Man.

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Lewis sticks it to Redskins WR Antwaan Randle El in Week 14.

(US Presswire/James Lang)

In Baltimore, with apologies to the visiting fighter and sublime swimmer in his midst, no one stands out like Lewis. At first glance, it looked like the ultra-driven 13-year veteran was having a bit too much fun given the circumstances. In a hard-hitting showdown for AFC North supremacy between the NFL's top two defenses, Baltimore had lost 13-9 after surrendering a late 92-yard touchdown drive.

The last yard had been especially painful and controversial, given that it was granted by referee Walt Coleman following a replay review, without which the game likely would have come down to an epic, single-play showdown between the Steelers' offense and Lewis' fierce unit.

"How great would that have been?" Lewis wondered.

Instead, the Steelers (11-3) clinched a first-round bye and can set themselves up for home-field advantage in the AFC by beating the Titans in Nashville Sunday. The Ravens (9-5), meanwhile, are left to fight for a wild-card spot, with Saturday's clash against the Cowboys – the final game at Texas Stadium – looming as another pivotal test.

Shouldn't Lewis have been a bit more crestfallen about the day's developments?

"It was a tough game," Lewis said, his large eyes gleaming as he clutched a cold Corona. "It was a hard way to lose. But there are a lot of games, and next weekend there'll be another one.

"You have to put these things in perspective. You have to realize that this is not the only thing going on in people's worlds. My twin sisters are here celebrating their birthday. There are soldiers fighting in Iraq. People are living their lives – and life is beautiful.

"In my younger days, there's no way I'd have been out after a loss. I'd have been at home, reliving it, mourning it. But now I realize that it's important for me to be here and show that it won't break me. I need to show my teammates, and our fans, that we can stand tall and live to fight another fight."

This was a typically thoughtful response from one of football's most intelligent players and intrinsic leaders – and it's one that most casual fans might find surprising.

The Cliffs Notes version of Lewis, who on Tuesday was voted into his 10th Pro Bowl, is that he's a maniacal, fearsome playmaker whose aura of intimidation extends to his own teammates and coaches. From his infamous plea to obstruction of justice in a double homicide more than eight years ago to his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXV to his well-documented "What Time Is It" pregame rants, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year's career has not been a subtle one.

Yet Lewis' journey to the pinnacle of his profession, which will one day end with a Hall of Fame enshrinement, has been an extremely calculated ride. His proprietary interest in his franchise belies his era; he's more like a Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke in that sense. He's constantly trying to bring the people around him up to his standard and to translate the sport's brutality into mentally quantifiable probabilities. And for all of Lewis' ferocity, he's a generous, gregarious soul among his teammates, of whom very few have ever questioned or resented his leadership.

"Ray Lewis is the ultimate leader," says veteran fullback Lorenzo Neal, who signed with Baltimore in August. "His understanding of the game – and of what buttons to push to get the people around him to understand the game – is just amazing. If you were going to start an NFL team with one guy, and you wanted to make sure the locker room had the right values and culture, there's no question you'd pick Ray."

For all the talk that he has lost a step Lewis, 33, has been his usual menacing presence in 2008, as Baltimore bounces back from a 5-11 flameout the previous season. Lewis is first on the team with 104 tackles, and he has three sacks, a forced fumble, three interceptions and 9 passes defensed.

He also has one rookie head coach, John Harbaugh, firmly in his corner – something Lewis considers a point of pride. After Brian Billick, who seven seasons earlier had coached the Ravens to their lone Super Bowl championship, was fired last December, there was talk that he had lost the respect of Lewis and other defensive veterans, whose locker-room clout the coach had been careful not to challenge.

The hiring of Harbaugh, billed as a no-nonsense authoritarian, was viewed as a direct response to those charges, and some wondered whether Lewis and his peers would be able to adjust.

"Let me tell you something," Lewis said, laughing. "He had to adjust to me."

His point wasn't that he is beyond coaching; it was that, as a man whose mission is to get the most out of his teammates, he implicitly had Harbaugh's best interests at heart.

"I want to win," Lewis said. "So why wouldn't I try to do everything I can to create an atmosphere for success? There's no doubt I was going to be all in."

This doesn't mean that Lewis, be it in film sessions or at practice or inside the huddle, is timid about asserting himself when he feels it's necessary. Last Monday night, as he and Neal sat together at a sports bar in Timonium, Md., the analytical veterans expressed their dismay over the drive that preceded the Steelers' winning touchdown.

Leading 9-6 with 4:28 remaining, the Ravens faced a third-and-8 at the Pittsburgh 27-yard-line. Lined up in the shotgun, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass and was sacked by Lawrence Timmons, who knocked the ball loose. Baltimore's Willis McGahee recovered at the 41, well out of field-goal range.

"I wish we'd have taken the field goal," Lewis said. "I realize a touchdown still would've beaten us, but [a six-point lead] would've changed the whole mood of that last drive. What it comes down to is, you play the odds. Football is a chess match. It's not that complicated! You play the odds. Sometimes coaches need to swallow their pride."

As Neal nodded his agreement, Lewis related a surprising anecdote: "In 2000 I went up to Brian Billick's office and told him exactly that. I held his face in my hands! I said, 'Brian. Forget pride. Please do it my way. Trust me.' And he did. We ran the ball 35 times a game, and we won the Super Bowl.

"The bottom line is this: Players make plays. Coaches make decisions."

If statements such as that make Lewis come across as someone who believes he's bigger than the team, the men who play with him beg to differ. So does Harbaugh, who in May told espn.com that "Ray is every bit the leader than probably anybody in the history of the NFL. That is a big statement. But I've been in the league 10 years now, and I can't imagine there being a better leader in this league than Ray Lewis."

Lewis is a leader who also happens to be in a contract year. His seven-year, $50-million deal is due to expire after the season, and though there have been rumblings about a five-year extension being negotiated, nothing has been finalized. The Ravens could retain Lewis with the franchise tag, and those who know him best believe the notion of him playing elsewhere is improbable.

"You have to understand where Ray was," says seminal rapper and longtime Miami booster Luke Campbell, who befriended Lewis during his standout career with the Hurricanes in the mid-90s. "He can't say it, but I'll say it – he played his first three years in the league dead broke, because [a person close to him] had taken advantage of him. Then all of a sudden the thing went down in Atlanta, and his whole world was crashing down."

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Lewis during trial in 2000.

(AP Photo/Kimberley Smith)

As Lewis was leaving a party in an Atlanta nightclub following Super Bowl XXXIV, a fight broke out that left two young men dying in the street of stab wounds. Lewis and two friends rushed away from the scene; all were subsequently charged with double homicide. He professed his innocence, and ultimately the charges were dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors. Lewis pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and was sentenced to a year's probation; his co-defendants, against whom he testified, were later acquitted.

"His life was crashing down, and it forced him to focus on who Ray Lewis is and to see who his real friends were," Campbell says. "We talked a lot around that time, and the way the Ravens organization stood by him meant everything – and it's something he'll never forget. I truly believe that the reason he plays so hard, the way he goes out there like a raging bull, is because he feels like he owes his life to the Baltimore Ravens, and to the fans of Baltimore."

Last Sunday night, as he cavorted with teammates and friends in the city he loves, Lewis politely turned down the chance to do a tequila shot with a group of well-wishers, explaining, "As I get older, I learn to take care of my body. Beer is about the most I can handle after a game."

That philosophy was most certainly not shared by Liddell, who has been close friends with Neal since their days as high school wrestlers in central California. "Ray is The Man, and it's a pleasure to watch him work," Liddell said while working the room as if it were his personal octagon.

Phelps, a rabid Ravens fan, kept a lower profile at a table near the back of the club, which featured a secret entrance. "I love Ray Lewis and [safety] Ed Reed, but we'll only have them for so long," the swimmer fretted. "I just hope that while our rookie quarterback grows into the job, we don't miss that window."

On the big screen TV above, the Cowboys were in the process of defeating the Giants 20-8 to keep their playoff hopes alive. Lewis smiled and nodded his approval.

"That's good," he said. "They'll be riding high. And the game will really mean something."

Lewis may win Saturday's game, and he may lose, but one thing is certain: No one will play it with more passion. If he can get his teammates and coaches to share his mentality, he likes his odds of winning.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Titans – somehow, some way – will win a close one against the Steelers; capturing the rematch in the AFC championship game will be a much bigger challenge. … The Giants will snap out of their two-week funk and bring their 'A' game, which is what it will take to topple the Panthers and earn home-field advantage in the NFC. … I said it before and I'll say it again: Get ready for the Lions' singular moment of glory.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Tennessee, Tennessee, ain't no place I'd rather be … to see the best and most physical teams in football battle for home-field advantage in the AFC. This will be one Sunday on which my job most assuredly doesn't suck.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Alarmed that Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher failed to make the Pro Bowl, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald launched an investigation into whether Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had sold the spot to the Panthers' Jon Beason.

2. Asked how he would punish caddie Steve Williams for making "inappropriate" remarks about Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods replied, "I'm going to make him walk with a leather carrier full of metal clubs around an 18-hole golf course, over and over again, until he screams, 'Tiger – I love being on your bag!' "

3. After learning that first-time Pro Bowl selection Cortland Finnegan was contemplating renting a cruise ship to transport him to Hawaii, several members of the 2005 Vikings called the Titans cornerback and offered to take care of the arrangements

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

While Campbell and I continue our trash-talk in anticipation of the Dec. 27 Emerald Bowl showdown between Miami and Cal, the iconic rapper has a job to do: Close out the season like a sage and keep picking winners through the Super Bowl, so I don't have to deal with finding a replacement. Uncle Luke made it six straight with Indy's victory over the Lions last Sunday, meaning the Colts, Chargers, Cardinals, Cowboys, Dolphins and Panthers are off-limits until the postseason. This week, he's banking on the Broncos – who clinch the AFC West with a victory or San Diego defeat in Tampa – to handle the Bills at home. "First of all, Denver has to win," Campbell says, ignoring the possibility that the Chargers could lose to the Bucs before the Broncos' game begins. "If Jay Cutler can't get this one done, he might as well be Jay Cut and Run. The Bills were hot early in the season, and then they realized that they're a team without a home. They're like draft-dodgers – they had to go to Canada. They might as well have two flags on their helmet."

MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE

At about noon Pacific time last Sunday, my buddy Malibu's world began to crash down upon him like a treacherous shore break at Zuma Beach: The two teams he loves most, Hand of Doom and the Chargers, were both about to be eliminated from contention. That he got a miracle reprieve on the latter, what with San Diego's wild comeback in Kansas City (and Denver's subsequent defeat at Carolina), helped take the sting out of the former – Hand of Doom's 147.9 to 106.4 drubbing by Gravity Rebels in the Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football league's semifinals. "It sucks," Malibu said via phone as I walked from M&T Bank Stadium back to my hotel in Baltimore's inner harbor Sunday night. "The bottom line is our big players didn't play big. But the Chargers have life, so it's all for the best. I mean, Steve Smith was the guy that killed me, but he also killed the Broncos, so I'll take it."

In breaking down the wreckage, here's what conspired to end Hand of Doom's season: A subpar effort from Drew Brees (18.2 points); Matt Ryan's worst game of the season (10.6); a typically non-transcendent performance from No. 1 overall pick LaDainian Tomlinson (18.8); and a really lousy day by the Cardinals (Tim Hightower, 7; Neil Rackers, 2). Meanwhile, Gravity Rebels got big efforts from Smith (28.2), Maurice Jones-Drew (23), Donovan McNabb (23.1), Darren Sproles (14), Le'Ron McClain (13.3) and the Bears' defense (11).

With a third-place game still to be played against Pure Hell (Tyler Thigpen, Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, Thomas Jones, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall, Deion Branch, Tony Gonzalez, Redskins defense, Ryan Longwell) – and, amazingly, with money still on the line – the crestfallen Malibu has taken a drastic measure. "I'm giving you full control," he said. "Let's see what you've got – if anything." I'm accepting the challenge by shaking things up and getting, as my man Lo Neal would say, craseeeeeee. First of all I'm doing something Malibu would find unthinkable: Benching LT, who is facing the fired up Bucs in Tampa Bay. I see a shaking pirate ship and cannon smoke and a lot of guys in red and pewter swarming to the ball. I'm also sitting Hightower, whose team will have its hands full at New England, and playing the Patriots' Kevin Faulk (this is his kind of game) and the Raiders' Darren McFadden (I just have a hunch that coach Al Davis – er, Tom Cable – will finally take the wraps off his high-profile rookie at home against the Texans). I also replaced Rackers with the 49ers' Joe Nedney (Mike Martz's offense back in St. Louis should put up some points). And, unofficially, I'm changing the team name from Hand of Doom to Foot of Robiskie. Thank you. OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

OK, so Carl Peterson has been forced out in Kansas City, and now there are at least two teams (Chiefs, Lions) searching for general managers, and potentially others (Browns, Jaguars, Bills, Raiders, Rams) to follow at season's end. We keep hearing the same old names in conjunction with those openings, and I'm hoping that the people doing the hiring look beyond the usual candidates and heed the lesson of the 2008 Atlanta Falcons. After being rebuffed by Bill Parcells last December, Falcons owner Arthur Blank chose a relatively unknown but highly regarded scout, Patriots director of scouting Thomas Dimitroff, to be his general manager. Dimitroff's hiring of the equally stealth Mike Smith as coach, and his moves in the draft and free agency, helped the Falcons make a remarkable transformation from the post-Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino disaster of 2007. Wouldn't it be great if the next Dimitroff could be unearthed? If I were an owner, I'd talk to shrewd talent evaluators like Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta, Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye and Cardinals director of player personnel Steve Keim. Hiring one of them might not make for sexy headlines, but if the goal is to build a winning football team, this is the way to go.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

President George W. Bush. Look, I've ripped the man regularly for the better part of the decade, and there have been numerous times when I've wished I could pelt him with footwear or rotten eggs or spoiled fish. I retain the belief that he is the worst chief executive in our nation's history. But you have to give the President a lot of credit for the way he handled the surreal shoe-throwing incident during his press conference in Iraq last Sunday. First of all, how deftly and calmly did he duck down and avoid each of the flying foot-odor missiles? I'm sorry, but if that happens to John Kerry or John McCain, he's got an eggplant-sized lump on his head. Secondly, could anyone have struck a better tone after unexpectedly dodging objects from a soon-to-be-former journalist who, albeit in his own language, just called him a "dog"? Flying to Afghanistan on Air Force One, Bush told reporters, "I didn't know what the guy said, but I saw his sole." Brilliant!

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

President-elect Barack Obama added some more blue and gold – and green – to his cabinet earlier this week, nominating UC Berkeley physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Chu to be the next secretary of energy. (They're not booing, Mr. President-elect … they're saying "Chuuuuuuuuuuuu.") At a press conference in Chicago, Obama said that Chu "blazed new trails as a scientist and teacher and administrator, and has recently led the Berkeley national laboratory in pursuing new alternative and renewable energies." Speaking of energy, congratulations to tireless Cal softball coach Diane Ninemire, who was announced last Saturday as one of three members of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's 2009 Hall of Fame class. Ninemire, entering her 22nd season as the Golden Bears' coach, has 932 wins – second-most in Pac-10 history – and has guided Cal to 21 straight NCAA regional appearances, including seven consecutive College World Series berths from 1999-2005. I look forward to watching her compete for a second national title this spring.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Boeheim microphone

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Halfway through the Football League Championship season, Reading is in excellent position to make a run at promotion to the Premier League – and the Royals seem to be getting stronger as they go. Reading's 2-0 triumph over Norwich City last Saturday at Madejski Stadium was its fourth consecutive victory, as a Stephen Hunt penalty kick in the 84th minute and a Shane Long header two minutes later provided the scoring. With American keeper Marcus Hahnemann sidelined by a calf injury, 23-year-old Australian Adam Federici came up big in his full league debut. After 23 games the Royals are third in the league table with 46 points – one shy of Birmingham, which like Reading was relegated from the Premier League last May. The two teams meet for the first time this season on Saturday at St. Andrew's, Birmingham's home pitch. Said Royals striker Noel Hunt on the team's website: "We need to go up there and put in a big, big performance because it's a massive game."

TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)

My holiday gift to you: We're going long this week because Live Trippin' is on a holiday hiatus until Tuesday, Dec. 30.

"Michael, while I see the point you were trying to make about [Jim] Zorn and the 'worst coach in America,' I think everyone in the media needs to cut the guy a break. Perhaps to a fault, he has been the best thing for anyone covering the Redskins in a long time. He takes time to talk to the media and explains things – sometimes too much maybe. First you guys call out Zorn for 'not being in control' of the locker room. Then some people say the players are tired of him, saying it's 'execution' that's not working (i.e. the players) and that he's not shouldering responsibility. Now this column saying he's shouldering too much. After the crazy hype and a 6-2 record, they will probably finish 8-8 or 7-9, which is probably a little bit better than many of us expected in January 2008. I think Zorn will get better, but the roster needs a remake. There are too many veterans who are old dogs tired of learning new tricks with coaching changes. Some – like London Fletcher – have earned the right to stay. Others, like Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington, etc. – need to move on."

Graham Gillen
Herndon, Va.

I see your points as well, and I'll only take issue with one of them: I would always want Shawn Springs on my team, and he happens to be having a very good year.

"Dallas just kicked the crap out of the Giants and you rank the Giants higher? That makes sense!"

Hiran
Rocklin, Calif.

The aggregate score in the two games between the teams: Giants 43, Cowboys 34. But beyond that, what difference does it make where I rank them?

"Way to play down the Jets potential and keep them stacked dead center in your little rankings. They play better as underdogs anyway. Good luck with your Packers by the way.

Kyle
Michigan

Did you see the Jets' game against the Bills? They looked pretty awful. As far as my rooting interest, at what point will you understand that it's all about the Golden Bears, in every sport? Considering that I hit you over the head with it constantly, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out.

"I love how you ridicule Calvin Johnson for getting excited for making a catch in double coverage, when the game is on the line, and when its the fourth quarter. Why can't he celebrate after that play? Should he not celebrate because they are 0-13? I would love to hear your response."

Justin Hanning
Holland, Mich.

Because I aim to please, here it is: He should win the game (or, in this specific case, win a game) and then celebrate. What can I say? I'm an old dude.

"Dear Mr. Silver, I enjoyed your article on Ben. I enjoy watching NFL fans across the nation vilify you each week because most of us are so blinded with loyalty that anyone who calls into question the absolute stunning brilliance of our particular team must be hanged in effigy if not in the flesh. I would like to influence you if you have a vote on the Defensive Player of the Year. Pick James Harrison. He is so good, that holding is not a penalty when that illegal tactic is employed against him. Choke holds are encouraged as a viable means to stop him. Chop blocks are next. Keep fighting the good fight of a voice of neutrality in a football world shaded with factional blindness akin to the Sunni/Shiite battles."

Pete Wilton
Oakmont, Pa.

Thanks. I totally appreciate it. Tragically, I don't have a vote for defensive player of the year. But if I did, pending the outcome of the last two games, it would come down to Harrison and the guy he replaced.

"Love the Big Ben 'sack' comment. I will forever read your work just for that! Haha"

Chris
Rome, Italy

Thanks for appreciating the latest "What I Never Could've Slipped Into Sports Illustrated" offering.

" 'Too much information.' You immediately follow this with a discussion of bathroom strategy. Dude."

Jeremiah Smith
Holyoke, Mass.

What can I say? I put the flush in Morning Rush.

"Can you please stop with all of the 'how about such and such' for MVP consideration. Every train you hitch your wagon to comes to a grinding halt. No more so than Eli Manning. Since you started pumping for Eli to be considered as a potential MVP candidate (ridiculous at the time, and even more ridiculous now), he has gone 31- 62 for 314 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs and 8 sacks. The fact that he has the same amount of Super Bowl rings as his brother is both a travesty, and an injustice to Peyton. Eli is an average QB at very best. His career QB rating (75.9), completion rate (55.8 percent), and 1.31 TD to interception ratio confirms this."

Syd Diggers
Toronto

Easy, big fella. I'm not hitching my wagon to trains; I'm simply trying to figure out a very close MVP race as I go along, with two huge weekends of football still to be played. I believe I made one comment about Eli, and while he wouldn't get my MVP vote today, trying to discredit his tremendous performance down the stretch last season &ndash and the championship it helped produce – is a travesty. Last year I wrote in mid-October that Tom Brady had essentially won the MVP derby, and a lot of people complained. Let's try to have fun with this year's wide-open field.

"Hey Michael, love your work. Your Morning Rush is the only thing I can look forward to on Monday morning before my 9:30 marketing class. The article on Ben Roethlisberger is great, but nothing on Matt Cassel? I mean come on, that was a toss-up, a gimme. I know Brett Favre has already been there, done that, but Cassel isn't even supposed to be here. The courage and heart that Cassel has shown all season was not even close to the performance he put on this past Sunday. Anyways, keep doing what you do best, and know that us Bostonians think your articles are wicked pissah!"

T.J.
Malden, Mass.

Sweet. I typically focus the main section of my column on the game I attend (though not always), but Cassel definitely showed a ton of courage, heart and focus on Sunday.

"Hey, I don't know if these things get answered, but what is your opinion of the Pittsburgh/Baltimore [game]. … When do you think its time for [Roger] Goodell to step up to the refs and have some kind of 'meeting' or some[thing] to prevent these things from happening [Call at end of game]? Seeing that the Ravens didn't receive the same set of rules for when they stood the halfback up at about the 40-yd line or whatever it was … but the ball was marked a first down? Latter not changed because 'lack there of evidence' when it was sure apparent. I would just like your opinion on this."

Marshall Richards

I don't know about the whole meeting thing – "No more screwing up, dammit!" – but I will give you my opinion of the calls in question: I don't believe that there was indisputable evidence that the [Santonio] Holmes catch was a touchdown, and I do believe there was indisputable evidence that halfback Gary Russell was stopped short of a first down.

"Yo Mike … you stole my 'merry pranksters' line from an email I sent you a couple weeks ago … lamenting how lame the Giants 'humor' was. Just so you know, that is a trademark line which I own the rights to. You'll be hearing from my attorneys soon … unless I see a cold Heinekin at C.B. Hannigans in Los Gatos … with my name on it. Cheers."

Garry Howard
Los Gatos, Calif.

Uh oh, now LenDale White is going to give me an unflattering nickname. Though I fear that Ken Kesey's estate could sue both of us, a beer sounds like a very reasonable settlement. But I'm not sure about the Heiny part.

"I agree with much of what you say … but I think you and the rest of the sports media should lay off T.O. Yes, he's spoken at times when he shouldn't. Yes, he's a bit immature. But he's not out shooting guns and the like [and to my knowledge never has]. He wants to win. That is why he is hired. That is a good thing … not bad. He does not deserve to be lumped in with the bad boys of football. Since he has been [with] the Cowboys – I think he has tried to avoid controversy. But the media just is relentless – not writing the news, but trying to create it. In my opinion, dude, that is just not cool. That would be kind of like a wide receiver trying to throw the ball to himself. And you guys criticize TO? Why not look for good things to report about him? You might find that you like him. I'm just saying."

Michael Myers
San Andreas, Calif.

I actually do like T.O. – I've been writing about him for a long time – and I've certainly defended him on numerous occasions. But I thought the comments he made about [Jeff] Garcia were completely absurd, and I will continue to slam him for it. It was in the context of those comments that I evaluated his most recent behavior. Oh, and since you were kind enough to give your full name … behave baby.

"Wow, all this season I considered you a biased writer and a Favre hater, but now, after reading some of your latest articles and the link to the story about Favre before SB XXXII – don't know why I brought that up … gonna go cry now … OK I am back – I realize that you're not biased, you're just a writer that will not be afraid to say what he really feels, and I respect that."

Vitaliy
Milwaukee

Thanks. I respect your willingness to reconsider.

" 'Meanwhile, for all you excited Texans fans, realize that this is the second consecutive season in which your team has played its best football only after its season ceased to have any meaning.' Considering the New Orleans Saints have the opposite affliction and have been looking towards Houston for the past few years, I propose a merger. If nothing else, bags with horns on them would look pretty cool."

Mike
Yokosuka, Japan

Hmmmm … and put a team in L.A. to make it an even 32? You may be on to something.

"How do the Jets and Dolphins not lose the rest of the way but neither make the playoffs? A: The Patriots win out and NY and Miami tie the last game of the season. The final records would be: Patriots 11-5, Jets and Dolphins 10-5-1. With a tie, another AFC team at 11-5 would get the sixth seed instead of the Fins or Jets. Just a scenario to think about in Week 17."

Scott Cayouette
Winslow, Maine

I hear you, but don't you get the feeling that if it came down to that, Eric Mangini would rather lose on purpose (in the final minute of overtime) than allow the Pats to win the division?

"Your friends' fantasy adventures are anything but annoying. In fact, I skip straight to that section before going back to read the rest. It's like eating dessert first. I'd like to know more about their leagues' settings next year (if you don't put it in, you'll become the Vick to my PETA) so I can better evaluate roster moves throughout the season."

Christopher Benz
Windsor, Pa.

Before I take a drastic step like that, we may have to do a poll on Live Trippin' to see if anyone out there agrees with you. As for the title, trust me, I'm annoyed by them.

"Why isn't someone looking into a conflict of interest here in Minnesota for the local judge that put a stop on the NFL suspensions? I think that its just wrong."

Gary
Elk River, Minn.

Yeah, how dare that judge consider hearing the arguments of a dispute on which a much higher authority – the National Football League – has already ruled? He really needs to learn his place.

"The Pretenders now owe you a slice of their iTunes sales. 'Bad Boys Get Spanked' is going to rocket up the charts. By far your best lyric twist, though your take on Margaritaville is a close second."

Mike O.
York, Pa.

Thanks. I couldn't do it without tremendous songwriters like Chrissie Hynde and sloppy screwups like John Daly, Matt Jones and Odell Thurman.

"You've had some great guests in past columns, but rap legend Luke Campbell is priceless. I know Cal will win their upcoming bowl game, but I can't help but root for Miami – especially with the possibility of a 'naked protest' on the Cal campus as a bonus."

Mike
Yokosuka, Japan

If it happens, consider it an homage to the late, great Naked Guy.

" 'The Chiefs, with Dwayne Bowe abusing Antonio Cromartie in the process, will make their season by beating the Chargers (and officially clinching the AFC West for Denver)' Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Glad you're not my bank cuz you and Bowe are about as dependable as getting a Christmas bonus in this tough economy! I'm sure you'll say it wasn't the Chargers' heart that won this but more of a Chiefs collapse! But it was damn good to see the Bolts get a brake finally this season!"

Christian Lass
San Diego

Dude, the Chargers were down 21-10 with less than two minutes to go, were an unsuccessful onside kick away from defeat and survived a missed field goal on the last play to beat a team that was 2-11 coming in by one point … and you are actually taunting me? I applaud the Chargers for showing some heart, but give me a 'brake' (or, better yet, a break).

"The reason I don't consider you a credible sports journalist stems from your continuous pandering and sugar-coating of things you decide require such treatment. Daniel Snyder is an overbearing, egomaniacal, intrusive, football-ignorant owner who made his money via the dot com/one-hit wonder method (a la your other buddy, Mark Cuban) who then crowned himself king (a la that other midget with the complex ‐ Napoleon), began pushing his 'weight' around and became somewhat of a joke around the NFL. You, of course, deify him and allege he's a 'good owner' … this despite allowing his relationship with Portis to embolden Portis to stand up against Zorn. Obviously, Silver, you've never owned a company or sat in the Big Chair – the place where the proverbial buck stops. You've always been a drone, a nobody, a worker who has no sense of priority or structure. Snyder's relationship with Portis, Snyder's allowing Portis to believe he has someone at the top who allows him to oppose his immediate boss (Zorn) shows me you are a first-class jerk. How about a simple test: Your best friend and some guy from your office get into an argument and start to fight. You want to break it up, so you (a) grab you friend, which is the thing people like you do, people with no street smarts, no savvy, people who don't know what it's like to run a show or (b) you grab the other guy … which is what people from the street, people who know how structure and organization should operate, would do. Go lick Snyder's boots, Silver. It's the one place I recognize you best."

Jake Cook

Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but from the tone of this email you seem like someone more likely to be in the fight than to be an expert on how to break it up. And now, as the CEO of Trippin' On E(Mail), I am going to provide some structure by calling it a day. Like Jackie Earle Haley in 'Breaking Away,' make sure to punch the clock on your way out.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

America's Soap Opera continued this week when it was revealed that – gasp? – Tony Romo didn't attend Terrell Owens' birthday bash on Monday night, citing back pain (as opposed to the fact that the moody wideout can be a giant pain in a slightly lower anatomical region). But look at it from T.O.'s perspective: First the quarterback and tight end Jason Witten are meeting behind his back to talk football, and now they're snubbing him on his special night? Now picture Owens, after cavorting with various teammates, C-list actors and rapper Ludacris, all alone in his bedroom, busting out the Auto-Tune machine and channeling some serious heartbreak, Kanye West style. To the tune of "Heartless":

In the night I hear 'em talk,
The coldest story ever told,
Goin' over every throw
He lost his soul,
To a player so heartless
How could you be so heartless?
Oh … how could you be so heartless?

How could you be so Dr. John York
Cold as Andy Reid when he releases you?
Just remember that you suckers is see-through
And Witten – don't ever be talkin' to me, fool
I mean after all the things that we been through
I mean after all the tears I shed for you
Hey yo I know of some things that you ain't told me
Hey yo I crushed QBs but that's the old me
And now you wanna have passes
You won't throw me
So you walk round like you don't know me
You got a new friend
Well I got Rosie
Next question – go on and ask Tony

In the night I hear 'em talk,
The coldest story ever told,
Goin' over every throw
He lost his soul,
To a player so heartless
How could you be so heartless?
Oh … how could you be so heartless?

How could you be so Dr. John York?
Reminding me how it was in San Francisco
I told Coach Chilly we wasn't gonna speak
Then Philly slapped me down like Santa yo
What Jeff Garcia mad at me for?
Saying he's all hot for Russell Crowe?
Told everyone how McNabb threw up
Then my man Jerry Jones gave me a home
You run and tell Witten you ain't seein' me,
You run to Ms. Simpson, now she's schemin' me,
You wait a couple months then you gon' see,
You'll never find no one more open than me

In the night I hear 'em talk,
The coldest story ever told,
Goin' over every throw
He lost his soul,
To a player so heartless
How could you be so heartless?
Oh … how could you be so heartless?

Talkin', talkin', talkin', talk
Tony let's just knock it off
They don't know what we been through
Don't just throw to 82
If I dream of a new QB
Well you just gon' keep hatin' me
And we'll get tore up by Ed Reed
I know we can't achieve
Winning a Super Bowl
If we don't make it right
I'm all alone tonight
Turn out the light …

In the night I hear 'em talk,
The coldest story ever told,
Leavin' me out in the cold
He lost his soul,
To a player so heartless
How could you be so heartless?
Oh … how could you be so heartless?