Atlanta Falcons left tackle Wayne Gandy is about to finish his 13th season, continuing one of the most consistent and dependable careers in the league. Although 35, Gandy is still planning to play two or three more seasons. He's played well enough this season that the goal seems within reach.
But the most intriguing fact about Gandy is not that he has only missed one start in his career because of injury. That impressive mark, which has survived through a shoulder injury that forced Gandy to sleep in a chair for three months, is trumped by his impressive perspective of the game.
In particular, Gandy has a pretty interesting take on why black quarterbacks such as current teammate Michael Vick undergo so much public scrutiny. Gandy has watched teammates – Vick, Aaron Brooks in New Orleans, Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh, Tony Banks in St. Louis and Dameyune Craig at Auburn – operate under a different set of standards.
Gandy, who could have a post-football future in anything from broadcast to working as a team executive, has seen the same situation play out from team to team.
"When fans and coaches see a black quarterback, it's automatic that they expect to see a guy who is more athletic," Gandy said. "So what happens when you get around the goal line or you get in those situations where most quarterbacks are taught to throw it away or get rid of the ball for a short gain if the play breaks down? The black quarterback is told, 'Do something, make a big play.'
"That's where you see a lot of Michael's sacks come from. He's supposed to make something happen in a situation where it's probably not going to work. You see where the coaches and fans are expecting that, but it's not really teaching him the right way to play.
"It's all about the tutelage they get from the time they're in college on. I saw that with Dameyune Craig. He was told, 'If your first read isn't there, take off and run.' Do you think that anyone ever told Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to do that? Again, it's about the tutelage they get."
Over the years, Vick, Brooks and Daunte Culpepper have consistently been sacked more than the likes of Manning and Brady. Vick has been sacked 39 times this season – one more combined than Brady (24) and Manning (14) – which is just under three per game. That's an odd number for someone who's seemingly hard to catch.
Furthermore, mobile quarterbacks such as Vick, Brooks and Culpepper have consistently had worse interception rates than Manning and Brady.
To Vick's credit, he is showing some progress this season. He has 19 touchdown passes, putting him one short of his first 20-touchdown season of his six-year career. Also, Vick's TD-interception ratio of 19-11 is the second best of his career to the 16-8 mark he had in his second season, which was also his first as a starter.
Vick has done that while also setting an NFL record for rushing yards (990) by a quarterback. He is a virtual lock to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and is currently averaging a stunning 8.5 yards per carry, meaning that Vick also appears to be picking the optimal times to take off.
Is that progress enough for a player of Vick's caliber? No, but the problem may be that he's being asked to do too much. Unlike Manning, for instance, Vick has played in an offense that has constantly changed. He began his career under Dan Reeves. Now, under coach Jim Mora, the offense has morphed from allowing Vick to be a runner to trying to rein him in as a passer to again being a more freelance offense.
Manning, by comparison, has played in only one offense with the same offensive coordinator (Tom Moore) his entire career. Moreover, Manning has played while surrounded by great skill players the entire time. The Falcons have struggled to find consistent receivers, although a significant share of the burden falls on Vick.
"The offense here has been different over the years," said Gandy, who was acquired by the Falcons via trade in the offseason. "Sometimes they've tried to make Michael work with a certain offense and sometimes they've tried to make the offense work to his skills. I think we've gotten back to making it work around his skills this year and he's made progress."
Gandy said one of the biggest problems the Falcons have had in running a conventional offense is that the timing is always off because Vick sets up so quickly. In most offenses, by the time the quarterback sets up on a standard three-step drop, the wide receiver is coming out of his break, ready to get open. With Vick, the receivers are still in their patterns. The problem impacts the entire timing of the offense, leading to further problems. On top of that, the Falcons wide receivers have had way too many drops this season.
"I see why people get on Michael, but there have been stretches where our receivers haven't made the catches. We had a lot of drops and the receivers have to help him out," Gandy said.
On the subject of Gandy, he again didn't make the Pro Bowl this season, but that shouldn't take away from his impressive career. After taking over as a starter midway through his rookie season, Gandy has missed just one game and one start because of injury.
This season, Gandy has been a stalwart on Atlanta's offensive line, justifying the trade the Falcons made with New Orleans before the season. Over his career, he has played through a variety of injuries. The worst was during his second season in Pittsburgh in 2001, when he had a 90 percent tear of his rotator cuff.
He was forced to sleep in a chair for three months because lying down would allow the shoulder to pop out of place and put him in constant pain. Sleeping in a chair was about as restful as living upstairs from a bar.
"I saw every hour of the day for those three months," Gandy said. "I'd wake up at 3:01 [a.m.], go back to sleep. Then it was 4:17, then 5:08 … Yeah, I fell asleep in meetings all the time because I could never get a good night's sleep. I just told them what was going on. The Steelers were good to me and told me that if it got to be too much, they'd put me on [injured reserve]."
Gandy never took them up on the offer. He'd tough it out during games. By halftime, the pain medication he took would wear off and he'd play through pain that brought tears to his eyes.
"I had to go to the dentist at one point and they put me in the chair laying down, but I had to have them let me up every five minutes because the pain was too much in my shoulder. I'd be in tears from the pain," Gandy said.
Still, Gandy showed up.
"That's something I'm extremely proud of over my career," Gandy said. "Everybody is always looking for the most talented guys they can find and there's nothing wrong with that. But what good are you if you're talented and you get hurt a lot. There's a value to being dependable. The team knows you're always going to be there, that you're going to show up and play and give them everything you can. That's important."
PRO BOWL MUSINGS
There has been a fair amount of talk this week about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady not making the AFC Pro Bowl team. Manning, Carson Palmer of Cincinnati and Philip Rivers of San Diego made it ahead of him.
From a statistical standpoint, it's hard to argue. Manning, Palmer and Rivers all had superior numbers. But numbers don't serve as a proper measure for Brady, who is not surrounded by anything close to the type of talent that the other three have right now.
Or as Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas said: "Do you have to game plan for a guy? I don't care about stats. Stats don't tell the whole story. What really matters is if you have to prepare for a guy. You look at Tom Brady, he's a Pro Bowler. When we face New England, our whole game plan is about how to deal with him.
"Some guys might have more yards or more touchdown passes, but Brady is better than those guys. It's like on defense. You can have a lot of tackles if you're on a bad run defense because you're on the field so much."
SHULA TAKES SHOT
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula made his feelings known recently about the University of Alabama's decision to fire his son Mike. The younger Shula went 6-6 this season, was unable to beat rival Auburn during his four years there, but also never had the advantage of being at full strength. The Crimson Tide was on probation for earlier violations until this season ended.
"I think it's time to evaluate the evaluators," said the elder Shula, who won more games than anyone in NFL history while coaching 33 years with Baltimore and Miami. That was an obvious criticism of Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, who fired Mike Shula.
While that comment is obviously tinged with emotion, it's hard to argue with Shula. Moore was unable to hire anyone immediately after the decision and failed in his attempt to woo West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez. At this point, Moore will have to wait until the college bowls and NFL season are done. Moore has expressed interest in Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who has become somewhat close with the elder Shula since taking over in Miami.
Saban has said consistently that he will not leave the Dolphins. However, there was concern on his part recently about a story regarding a possible sale of the team by owner Wayne Huizenga to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., advertising exec Jordan Zimmerman. Huizenga and Zimmerman, who have extensive business ties, have both publicly denied the report. Still, Saban talked with Huizenga personally on the matter to gain reassurance about the future of the team and the owner told Saban that he wasn't selling.
At least not at this point. Huizenga has said numerous times that he will listen to any offers for the team and the stadium (which he also owns). The price for the entire operation is expected to be well north of $1 billion.
The San Jose Mercury-News put together an interesting story Sunday detailing letters between the San Francisco 49ers and the City of San Francisco regarding maintenance at Monster Park, the team's stadium at Candlestick Point.
The letters detail the high level of disrepair for the stadium. It includes talk about how a large speaker broke off its mounting after rust developed, how cement structures are beginning to crumble and how a one-ton lighting fixture in the parking lot fell at one point. All of the instances could have caused significant injury.
Furthermore, the article pointed out that the city spent only $3 million in repairs to the stadium last season, far from enough to maintain it properly. The 49ers also repeatedly used the word "negligence" in referring to the care of the stadium.
Of course, it's obvious where that language is going if ever there were to be an accident that caused injury because of deterioration of the stadium.
But the bigger point is that as bad as the article made Monster Park sound, Qualcomm Stadium (home of the San Diego Chargers) may be far worse. Chargers officials are continually worried about wiring and electrical issues in the upper deck of the stadium, leading to fears that some people could be electrocuted under the wrong conditions. Even more, water from the upper deck doesn't drain properly. Signs of that were obvious Sunday night during the game against Kansas City. At one spot on one of the concourses, a garbage can was set out to catch water leaking from the upper deck to keep a walkway from getting wet. Steel bolts and braces in several areas were unhinged by rust and cement structures around the stadium are showing obvious signs of decay.
Thus, while many citizens may decry the idea of investing in stadiums where private enterprises play, they may be playing with a much bigger problem if current stadiums aren't maintained or replaced.
THIS AND THAT
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens' appeal of his $35,000 fine for spitting on Atlanta cornerback De Angelo Hall last week is not expected to be heard until after the season, according to an NFL source. The hearing's delay is a product of the league's busy calendar this time of year.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and third year in the league. Although Rivers has three years remaining on his contract after this season, the Chargers are already talking about extending the contract. Don't expect a lot to happen, but the Chargers could be in an interesting situation after the 2009 season. Not only will Rivers' contract be up, so will left tackle Marcus McNeils. McNeil, a second-round pick, has outplayed No. 4 overall pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets as the top rookie tackle in a very good season for first-year players.
It's appearing more and more that the Tennessee Titans will keep coach Jeff Fisher, picking up the option year on his contract. Word around the Titans is that general manager Floyd Reese, who is in the final year of his contract and has feuded with Fisher for years, is in the process of hiring an agent to negotiate his next contract. That would be a clear indication that Reese is about to leave. The one catch with the Titans is that there's some concern that Fisher and rookie quarterback Vince Young have a somewhat strained relationship. Young took note when defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz yelled at offensive coordinator Norm Chow after the victory over Jacksonville last Sunday. Schwartz was upset over a pass by the offense late in the game. Young had audibled to the pass play.
Speaking of Schwartz, count him among a list of dark-horse candidates for a head coaching job this season. Prior to the rebuilding stage, when the Titans had to unload veterans because of salary cap reasons, Schwartz' defenses consistently ranked among the best in the league. This season, Schwartz kept together a mediocre unit after it allowed more than 40 points twice in the first half of the season and also had to deal with the Albert Haynesworth controversy. The most talented defender the Titans have is cornerback Pacman Jones, who also happens to be their most erratic. In short, kudos to Schwartz.
Chargers team president Jim Steeg, who formerly was the lead man with the NFL for years in terms of planning the Super Bowl, has taken to wearing a pair of "lucky" shoes this season. Steeg said he has had the shoes for more than 40 years and wore them on the day of the Super Bowl each year. He started wearing them this year for San Diego games and the Chargers are now 6-0 in "shoe" games. The shoes look like something you might find at a '50s party or, more likely, at a bowling alley. Very lucky. Very ugly.