My latest installment of the mailbag features some spirited reaction to my take on:
Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Some weary reaction to San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer's play-calling.
And and a smattering of other issues.
My comments, as usual, appear in italics.
HAYNESWORTH THOUGHTS ("Vengeful reaction?" Oct. 5, 2006)
Albert Haynesworth should have received a suspension for the rest of the year. It would have been a powerful statement from new commissioner Roger Goodell that criminal behavior will not be tolerated on the field, especially in front of a viewing audience. Instead, Goodell is soft on crime just like his predecessors. I hope the district attorney's office steps in and files charges against Haynesworth [charges will not be filed]. Your argument is silly and disregards the fact that these athletes are conditioned both physically and mentally for years to dole out these violent acts in a controlled manner. They are paid professionals and when one of them acts like a thug, the system should throw the book at him. Kevin Gogan deserves no respect and is certainly biased. Remember, Andre Gurode lay helplessly on the field while Haynesworth attacked him with impunity.
Ed, my point is not whether the punishment is right or not. In my opinion, you could just as easily suspend Haynesworth for the rest of the season as you could for two games. You also could throw him in jail, if you like. My point is this: What Haynesworth did is not isolated. Gogan, who happened to play for 15 years in the NFL, makes that point as well. If you think this incident is isolated, you're kidding yourself.
OK, Jason, I'll try not to overreact and kick someone in the head at work today. The guy said he was sorry, but then you see him kicking a player on his own team two years ago in the stomach. I think the guy was sorry because he knew he'd be suspended. Whatever happened to the saying, "Real men don't kick?" I think he should have been suspended for the year and should be charged.
Joe, I've never heard the "Real men don't kick" line before. In fact, there's a famous picture of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Joe Greene kicking a Cleveland Browns player in the testicles during a brawl from the 1970s.I would never say to him that he's not a real man.
You sir are an idiot. Comparing the Denver Broncos' blocking scheme to kicking someone in the face after tearing off his helmet, is stupid, [irrelevant] and inaccurate. The Broncos are not breaking the rules. Get over it jerk. It's obvious you don't understand the game of football. Maybe you should study up on the game before making such obtuse comments about it. And while you're at it; improve your vocabulary. "Aforethought?" It states you are an award-winning writer. It must have been an award for being a dumb [butt].
Todd, you're right. It is stupid to compare Haynesworth's actions to the Broncos' blocking scheme. What Haynesworth did was in the heat of the moment. What the Broncos do, which results in broken legs and other career-ending injuries, is completely premeditated. They are trained to do it. Sure, it's legal. That doesn't make it right. I've run into at least four assistant coaches who handle either the offensive or defensive line who detest what the Broncos do. One of them went so far as to call it "unmanly." The problem is that the NFL hasn't been able to write a rule properly preventing it.
Haynesworth is getting off light, and your comparing his actions to something Marty Lyons did during a legal play is ridiculous. Lyons on the play you described didn't go after Dwight Stephenson's knee. You can say that the hit was unnecessary, but all football players know you play to the whistle. Since I doubt you ever played a down of football, you might not know this. Sadly, cheap shots are a part of football. The problem with Mr. Haynesworth's actions is they went way beyond the realm of being a cheap shot. He got off easy, and your rationalizing his actions, by quoting Gogan, is insulting.
Mike, I have always believed that Lyons just made a terrible mistake and had no intention of hurting Stephenson. As for "all football players" knowing you play to the whistle, you might want to throw that logic at Don Shula sometime while discussing the Stephenson play. Shula will then chew your head off the way he did with Lyons after that game. As for quoting Gogan, I don't know why that is silly. He played and you only seem to respect people who played. If you don't respect my opinion and you don't respect Gogan's opinion, who do you respect? Perhaps only people who agree with you?
CRAZY ABOUT MARTY ("Pro and con," Oct. 1, 2006)
I read your recent mailbag and enjoyed a few chuckles. I do think you were a bit harsh on the soldier/firefighter. Your extrapolation of the concept was a bit extreme. In that light, I have been a firefighter, a soldier, and a sportswriter (albeit high school sports 40 years ago). Please, tell me what you think of the call for the Chargers taking the safety? Good, bad or do we blame the ever-failing "prevent defense?" Certainly, young Mr. Philip Rivers did an excellent job of playing "Marty Ball." I would have punted and not taken the safety.
If it came off as harsh, so be it. I just get tired of that "If you didn't play, you have no right to say anything" approach. It's shallow thinking. As for the safety, it was a decent call. If you remember, San Diego punter Mike Scifres was banged up on the previous play, a punt that was called back because of a penalty on San Diego. Between his injury and the fact that the Chargers were trying to push Baltimore farther back on the free kick, the safety decision was sound. The problem was that the defense wasn't. Furthermore, the Chargers didn't play pure prevent. They blitzed on the first three plays. They just couldn't rattle Steve McNair.
Right on, brother. You preach the good word. The Ravens didn't quit, but it was Marty's ineptitude in closing out good teams by sitting on the freakin' ball that did the trick. I appreciate your article letting all see this travesty that we have for a coach. I like Marty, but he simply cannot and will not bring a team farther than making the playoffs. Good writing and good analysis. Look forward to more erudite articles in the future.
Amen. I really wish Marty would get more aggressive on offense. It's the only thing holding him back.
You were right on the mark when you said San Diego lost the game due to ultraconservative "Marty Ball." We used to [play] a drinking game for every time the Chargers ran off- tackle for no gain, but abandoned it because everyone would pass out before the fourth quarter.
Sounds like Marty might have pushed a few of you into rehab as well.
WITH THE FIRST PICK …
Jason, a friend and I have been debating the best pure receivers in the NFL. If you were a GM in the NFL and could choose any receiver in the league, who would you pick?
Mike, that's a tough question. Two years ago, it would have been easy: you take Randy Moss. But Moss has come back to the pack a bit. Terrell Owens is probably the most gifted receiver right now, but I wouldn't go there. From there, it comes down to Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison and Larry Fitzgerald. The first two are proven, but Fitzgerald probably has more potential. I'll give the nod to Fitzgerald.
PENURIOUS PATRIOTS ("Business as usual," Sept. 17, 2006)
You seem to suffer from the same problem that everyone else suffers when critiquing the New England Patriots. You assume that the Patriots should sign this player or that player. This time it's Deion Branch. Well, if the Patriots had an infinite bankroll or could break salary cap rules, then they could sign everyone. However, with the salary cap rules and finite money, the Patriots have to make tough decisions. People should know that if Branch is signed and some other integral player isn't signed, that your ilk would attempt to make the same complaints. The fact is that Branch, kicker Adam Vinatieri and even linebacker Willie McGinest received reasonable offers from the Patriots and turned them down for more money. Good for them but you can't [call] the Patriots [arrogant] because of this. The Patriots are not playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. As an aside, people only speak highly of Branch because he was given an opportunity to succeed in New England. Believe me, two years before Super Bowl XXXIX, basically nobody even knew his name.
Tony, if the Patriots were really battling to stay under the salary cap, I'd agree with you. Truth is that the Patriots are more than $10 million under the cap. As of Thursday, they had the fourth-most money under the cap in the entire league. That means that they easily could have re-signed Branch and fellow wide receiver David Givens and probably kept either Vinatieri or McGinest. They chose not to, which is their prerogative. But I think it was short-sighted given their cap situation and how the cap will increase in the future.
STRATEGY CORNER ("Panthers beat Saints," Oct. 1, 2006)
How come no one's mentioned that Carolina Panthers running back DeShaun Foster made a mistake by scoring on that 43-yard run rather than intentionally going down somewhere between the first-down marker and the goal line? If he goes down, the Panthers have a first down with less than two minutes remaining. The Saints were out of timeouts, guaranteeing the Panthers’ win. However, by scoring, he gave the Saints the ball back and gave them a degree of control over their fate that didn't otherwise exist. Had the Saints recovered that onside kick, they would have had a chance to win – a chance that wouldn't have existed had Foster simply gone down after picking up the first down. An understandable mistake – who passes up a sure touchdown? – but a mistake nonetheless.
Sol, you make a good point, but I think you also answer your own question. In 15 years of watching practices, I've never seen a coach go over what do in that situation. It just doesn't come up that often. You teach players to score anytime they can. It would have been a brilliant play by Foster if he had gone down at the 1-yard line, but he's also probably thinking that an 11-point lead with less than two minutes to play is a great position.
MONEY MATTERS and ODE TO ODELL ("Show him the money," Sept. 29, 2006)
Your column analyzing the contracts of the last NFL draft was painful to read. Did Yahoo! Sports just switch writers with Yahoo! Finance? When that much space is given to how much "escalator" money players may make when and if they play five years from now, it does nothing but take the sport to a low level, where money means more than wins, or yards, or catches. At that point, the season is only three weeks old, hardly long enough to analyze any contract deals. Oh, sure, maybe someday fans will be interested in which player got the most "guaranteed money-per-sack produced" in their rookie year. I can't wait. I'm looking forward to joining a Fantasy Football Agent league where I can beat my friends when I play Tom Condon vs. Drew Rosenhaus in Week 4.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Joe, that's hysterical, truly. Thanks for making me laugh at myself. As for the fantasy agent league, Yahoo! will have that up and running for the NBA season. I'm doing my football agent rankings right now.
Regarding Odell Thurman being out for the year after he was arrested on a DUI: The guy deserved due process, don't you think? As far as a favor goes, tell me this, what favor was done for him? Take a year's pay and possibly his career is over? So five years from now, when the money has dried up, Thurman will be out on the streets looking to get paid. How would you feel if you were accused of something before being convicted, then all your employers suspended you for a year. How would you support your family? The witch hunts have to end. Convict and then punish, fine. Accuse and punish was done in Salem, Mass. back in the day.
Tom, Thurman received due process before the incident. He made an agreement with the NFL not to drink again after failing repeated tests under the league's substance-abuse policy. He broke that agreement. It's not about the legal system, which will deal with him separately. It's about what he agreed to do under NFL policy.
CORRECTION ("Strings and stitches," Oct. 3, 2006)
Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye was born in Brooklyn NY, and not in Nigeria. Your column stated he was born in Africa. Maybe the NFL and the other source I searched had it wrong. Can you please clarify.
Babatunde, it was my mistake. Ogunleye lived in Nigeria for a good portion of his life, but was born in Brooklyn.
MORE BUSH TALK ("Cash and carry," Sept. 14, 2006)
I just don't understand why Reggie Bush's parents just didn't make him fork over the money to pay back Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels. This would so be a non- issue because those guys would probably also have to sign a confidentiality agreement. … I think they'd be OK with just getting their money.
Michelin, believe me, we're all a little confused about that very point.
Do the agents and their staff ever get in trouble for interfering with the collegiate/high school athletes lives the way that they did with Bush? I don't think I have heard anyone bring them to justice for this type of violation? With regard to collegiate athletes violating NCAA rules, generally neither coaches, players, athletic directors nor their support staff are attorneys. The NCAA rules, which may seem easy to understand for [some], may not be that easy to understand for the players, coaches, athletic directors and their staff who are busy enough trying to educate our youth.
Newport Beach, Calif.
There have been laws passed to deal with agents, but most of them are too vague and difficult to enforce effectively. In addition, be careful not to take the position that athletes are completely innocent in these transactions. The players know what's going on. As for the NCAA rules, they really aren't that complicated. It doesn't take a law degree to understand them.
Maybe I'm just misunderstanding you, but I can't understand how a player like Reggie Bush receiving NCAA help in getting "low-cost loans contingent on … getting insurance" is any different from the preferential treatment he already got. For me, the reality is that NCAA players are paid. I am certain Reggie Bush went to school on a full-ride scholarship that probably would cover my student loans, car payments, and cost of living for a year. Not only that, but the kid is an instant millionaire the day he announces his eligibility for the NFL draft – it's just a matter of which endorsement contract he signs. On top of that, the NCAA should help him get loans while in school so he avoids the "temptation" of sports agents? Come on. The majority of college students will graduate with some kind of debt. I don't think the same can be said for most NCAA athletes. If that's not preferential treatment, I don't know what is.
Unfortunately, this is a long and complicated discussion that can't be adequately addressed in this space. You bring up some fine points, but my contention is that the NCAA rules are unreasonable in the real world. Does Bush deserve preferential treatment on top of what he already received? I don't see why not. The idea that all college athletes or even college students should be treated the same is silly. Some people are simply more talented and work harder, be it in football, journalism or computer science. The fact that the NCAA doesn't allow athletes to earn extra money during the school year is just wrong. Now, I don't believe that players should be paid at the college level. That's silly. However, giving them loans based on their future earning potential is teaching them about smart business practices while also keeping them away from the shenanigans of agents.
As a former student-athlete, let me say this: The NCAA is the most corrupt and hypocritical organization on the face of the planet. Why was it wrong for Matt Leinart's father to pay the difference in the rent for the apartment that his son shared with another player? It's his father for God's sake! Isn't that what parents are supposed to do for their kids, help them out? Did Reggie Bush take extra benefits? Probably. Did he deserve/earn them? You bet he did. Is USC now selling "game-worn" jerseys and other collectibles to make even more money off of Bush, Leinart, Lendale White, et al? Yes it is. Can coaches break NCAA rules, break their contracts and move from school to school without any punishment? All the time. When you reporters turn an unflinching and critical eye on those money-grubbing clowns at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis … then and only then will I criticize the Reggie Bushes of the world for taking what they can get their hands on.
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Charles, I hear your anger, but I don't think it's really that simple. There's a solution out there and it requires some deep thought and open discussion. As for Leinart's dad, he can help his own kid. But when he helps Dwayne Jarrett, that's where it gets into a problem area.
Does accepting money/gifts make (Reggie) Bush win games? Does it put the other team at a disadvantage? Is it cheating? Does it enhance his performance? I am just curious to why this rule exists. I am not satisfied with the simple answer of "it's the rule." Without reasonable justification behind the rule, blindly following it is pointless and an immature display of ethics. The rule should be followed because it is the right thing to do. In Bush's case, I don't know if it is. I must confess, I don't know much about the NCAA or college sports. I apologize if this question is something all sports fans understand, but I don't know.
Matt, you ask a legitimate question. The point is that accepting benefits begins a vicious cycle of schools openly competing for players. That's dangerous for colleges and, if allowed, would quickly lead to many schools being unable and unwilling to compete. Does it still happen? Yes, but at least there is some fear of repercussion if it gets out of control.
The thing that I walk away from concerning the NCAA and its rules regarding student-athletes taking money, goods or services is that the rules themselves are silly and based on specious logic. The argument, as I understand it, goes like this: Athletes should have no advantage that is not available to the rest of the student body. Big schools should be able to offer nothing to athletes that small schools can't. It should all be equal and level. The NCAA wants pure student-athletes. Assuming for a moment that such a thing is possible, that would make college athletics a foreign country to the rest of the academic world. Research grants don't get doled out evenly. Faculty isn't paid the same at small schools as they are at bigger ones. The truth is, the rest of the academic world is highly competitive and every advantage is pressed in the name of expanding the prestige of the institution. Success always follows success in every endeavor in life and college athletics are no different. Therefore, I believe it is disingenuous at the least and delusional at the worst for the NCAA to maintain this complicated matrix of rules regarding what athletes can and cannot accept. It would be clearer and more honest to simply accept that college football is the minor leagues of the NFL and adjust their expectations accordingly. In short, the rules are based on make-believe. Give it up, NCAA.
Grass Valley, Calif.
Don, I couldn't have written it any better myself.
Bush "backlash?" No, more like the usual. Having lived in Las Vegas during the time when Jerry Tarkanian and his boys won the Final Four, I watched the press destroy what could have been a dynasty at UNLV. That being said, where was your reporter savvy on the Rhett Bomar incident? Funny, didn't see you out front on that one, Ace. I guess he was a little too "pale" for you to point out. The more things appear to change, the more guys like you make sure they stay the same.
Did the press destroy UNLV or did Tarkanian's actions do that? As for Bomar, what was there to report? Oklahoma kicked the kid off the team. But don't worry, if I get a chance to report on another Bomar or Billy Joe Hobert situation, I'll be glad to.
A FINAL THOUGHT ("Bush backlash," Sept. 28, 2006)
Not a bad first effort for a mailbag. But is it absolutely necessary for you to print letters in which you are denigrated? You might be right or wrong or somewhere in between on a particular question or issue, but how does that position make you somehow less intelligent, a scumbag, or a four-letter word, or even some of those hyphenated words you hear in machine shops? So go ahead and make your mistakes. But I wish you didn't have to give the terminally snarly a place to let them vent.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
I think disagreement is essential to this process. If I didn't give voice to those who disagree, they would think I was dodging them and I would lose credibility. The key in communication/journalism is to give everyone a voice. But I love the expression "terminally snarly."