INDIANAPOLIS – More than virtually anyone in his profession, Reggie Wayne ignores the invisible force field that separates offensive and defensive players in social settings. The Pro Bowl receiver not only fraternizes freely with Indianapolis Colts defenders, he seems to prefer their company.
In January, three nights before the AFC Championship game, Wayne went to dinner at an Indy steakhouse with 11 other Colts, all of them defensive guys. One fellow diner, cornerback Jason David, was back in Naptown Thursday night for the start of the NFL regular season, now as a prized free-agent acquisition of the New Orleans Saints, and after a play midway through the first quarter he and Wayne gave each other dap and went back to their respective huddles on reasonably good terms.
Then, with a resounding thud, the goodwill turned to icy chill. With 11:32 left in the second quarter, Wayne caught a quick pass from Peyton Manning and spun back inside in an effort to make a first down. David adeptly stripped the ball, picked it up off the RCA Dome turf and raced 55 yards down the sideline for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
And suddenly, as his old friend JD gyrated happily in the end zone, "Weezie" wasn't feeling so great about their connection.
"I was pretty pissed," Wayne said after the Colts' resounding 41-10 victory that confirmed the defending Super Bowl champions' credentials as a threat to repeat and cast aspersions upon the Saints as the trendy choice to win the NFC. "To fumble and see the guy take it in, and at the same time it's Jason David … Man, that's a bad pill to swallow."
To his credit, after a "Keep your head up" shoulder pat from Manning, Wayne took his medicine and proceeded to carve up his ex-teammate with surgical precision. David, who'd already been burned by Marvin Harrison on a 27-yard scoring pass in the first quarter, got abused by Wayne (seven catches, 115 yards) throughout the second half. Included in the carnage were touchdown catches of 29 and 46 yards. The miserable experience was a blow to the ego of the cornerback who signed a four-year, $15.6 million deal with New Orleans in April.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't down right now," David said as he left the Dome early Friday morning. "I didn't give our team a chance to win, and that's what hurts the most. It wasn't anything physical – it was poor technique and mental breakdowns. Bouncing back is part of playing this position, and that's what I'm going to have to do."
As a member of last year's Colts, David learned all about bouncing back. As late as Dec. 10, Indy's defense was justifiably being derided as far too porous to win a championship, having just surrendered a preposterous 375 rushing yards to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 44-17 defeat. Somehow, through improved tackling, shored-up technique and an upgrade in emotional intensity fueled by hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders' return from a prolonged knee injury, the Colts got it together and performed impressively throughout the postseason.
When David made his dramatic strip-and-dash Thursday night, the Saints had a chance to make a statement of their own. They did, and it translated roughly to, "We're Not Ready To Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez." That doesn't mean New Orleans can't shake off this ugly game in which it gained just 149 yards in the first three quarters and prove that last season’s feel-good story won't take a dark turn amid the weight of increased expectations. But it was a disheartening start for coach Sean Payton's plucky crew.
Or look at it this way: Another ugly effort like Thursday's and the Saints may be able to sneak up on teams the way they did last year. "I know what the fallout will be," halfback Deuce McAllister said after the game. "They'll say, 'You're not a real team. You're a fluke.' We'll take it, I guess."
While the Saints and their new starting cornerback try to regain their mojo, Weezie and friends are movin' on up without a shred of remorse for having trampled their ex-teammate along the way.
Asked if he felt for David, Wayne made an "Are You Serious?" face and said, "Naw. Hell no. He didn't feel for me after he made his play. I (screwed) up, and I had to bounce back, and he was in the way."
It may sound cold, but that's the type of attitude champions need to maintain their edge. The rest of the season may not go so smoothly, but what Thursday's game showed David, and the rest of the sports-watching world, is that the Colts won't surrender their spot on the pedestal until someone knocks them off.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Brett Favre will creep closer to Dan Marino's career record for touchdown passes, but Donovan McNabb will put up the fat numbers in Philly's victory at Green Bay … Two new New England Patriots receivers will have big days against the New York Jets, and neither one of them will be named Randy… Bad news, Lloyd Carr: Michigan is going down again at the Big House, this time to Oregon.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
It's rare to get a Sunday afternoon season opener that's such a clear-cut choice, but Chicago Bears-San Diego Chargers has it all: Two teams that fell just short of a championship last season trying to prove they've got another run in them; dominant defenders like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Shawne Merriman waiting to unload; the great LaDainian Tomlinson; fish tacos at a Qualcomm Stadium concession stand. No matter what goes down it's a story, and Charles Robinson and I will have it all figured out for you by the time you turn on your computer Monday morning.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. If the Patriots, minus Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison, beat the Jets by more than two touchdowns, Bill Belichick will try to make out with Eric Mangini at midfield after the game.
2. After signing a lucrative, five-year contract extension, Nebraska coach Bill Callahan (23-15 in four seasons) told Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson, "You must be the dumbest AD in all of America!"
3. Given his aptitude for hand signals, Idaho Senator Larry Craig has been approached by the NFL to gauge his interest in becoming a referee.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
It's not complicated – pick one team to win a game outright each week, survive if successful and eliminate that team as a possibility for future weeks – but it's a lot tougher than it sounds. Last year I somehow managed to make it to Week 10 before turning things over to a few of my friends in the sports and entertainment worlds, and I'm hoping I can avoid the "any given Sunday" phenomenon for at least that long in '07. So here goes: I'm picking the Houston Texans, the team that ruined it for me last season by stunning the Jaguars in Jacksonville, to take down the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. I'm going with Houston partly because I'm dubious about Kansas City's chances of doing anything this season, and partly because I have a serious hunch the Texans and new quarterback Matt Schaub are about to step up to the big time. That's right, I'm putting it all on the Texans. I'm not joking; this is my job.
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY FOOTBALL ADVENTURE
Last year my buddy Malibu staged a fantasy draft online and called me 39 times in two hours to hit me up for advice. He did OK in his league of entertainment-industry types, but that didn't stop him from harassing me on a weekly basis when my picks didn't pan out. After the season, he ripped me for having advised him to select the Texans' Andre Johnson. That seemed weird, so I looked up Johnson's stats. "He had more receptions than anyone in the league," I protested. "He made the Pro Bowl." Alas, I was informed, he didn't produce enough fantasy points.
This year, two things changed. First, during a cram session while getting pounded by waves at Drainpipes Beach last Sunday afternoon, I made an honest effort to learn the rules of fantasy. And, shortly thereafter, I saved myself the over-the-phone hassle and showed up for Malibu's first-ever in-person draft, featuring 12 festive dudes with spread sheets and an utter conviction that they knew more about football than anyone else in the room. They were especially dubious about my credentials when I advised Malibu to make some picks that defied conventional wisdom: Adrian Peterson in the second round; Clinton Portis in the third; Santana Moss in the fifth; and Kellen Winslow in the sixth. (You'll be pleased to know he once again picked Andre Johnson in Round 4.) Malibu got grief for some of the selections he made without my assistance as well: Carson Palmer with the fifth overall pick and San Diego non-stars Michael Turner, Craig Davis, Brandon Manumaleuna, and Malcom Floyd. (Can you guess which NFL franchise is his favorite?)
I did get some love for advising Malibu's son, A-Man, on picks like Wes Welker (seventh round), Ladell Betts (eighth) and Dallas Clark (11th), but that might have just been the Coronas talking. And when I tried to get anyone who'd listen to take Matt Schaub (he went in the ninth round 106th overall), one player, Dan the Man, screamed, "This is my eighth draft, and Matt Schaub has never been picked!"
"Uh, right," I replied, "but this is the first time he's been a starting quarterback."
In Week 1 Malibu's team, Beat the Gypsy – he's obviously a Borat fan – takes on newcomer Jason's team, which I'll call Bangers (you don't want to know the full name). Bangers are trotting out a lineup that includes Brian Westbrook, Reggie Bush, Brandon Jacobs, Torry Holt, Vernon Davis and Alex Smith. And, sure as the killer Malibu sunset, my buddy is already complaining. "Dude, Yahoo! projects me to lose in Week 1 by more than 24 points," Malibu said Thursday. "According to everyone I had a terrible draft."
Right, I explained, because that projection is based on cold numbers and weighted heavily on how players performed last year. "The computer doesn't know how big a stud Adrian Peterson's going to be," I insisted. "It doesn't know what Schaub will do for Andre Johnson."
"OK, dude," said Malibu. "We'll see if your expertise is worth a damn."
We'll revisit this Monday … and each Monday and Friday throughout the season, as the annoying adventure continues in all its splendor.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Gary Baxter, back on the Browns' active roster after blowing out both knees in a game against Denver last October. Hospitalized for two months and told he might not walk again, Baxter was an extreme longshot to make it back at all, let alone early in the season. Yet here he is, adjusting to a switch from cornerback to safety and presumably getting ready to play as soon as Cleveland's third game of the season. However the Browns decide to do their pre-game introductions when Baxter plays in his first game at home, he should be announced, and announced last.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Djokovic Nadal impressions."
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
After Levi-Strauss chairman Bob Haas set the bar higher than Jerry Garcia at the Greek Theater last week, ESPN sideline reporter extraordinaire (and my fellow mid-80s Golden Bear) Michele Tafoya offers a similarly severe sacrifice in advance of 10th-ranked Cal's game at Colorado State this Saturday. "If Cal beats Colorado State on Saturday, (or I should say, 'WHEN Cal beats CSU on Saturday'), I will give up my morning coffee for the remainder of the calendar year," Tafoya declares. "This will not only be excruciating for me and my brain, it will make it incredibly difficult for my family, friends and colleagues to deal with me as well. Hey, I think everyone should have to suffer along with me. Go Bears!" Thanks, Michele, and if we see you beating Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick over the head with a microphone Monday night, we'll know why.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
The Gameface debuts its newest feature with a dedication to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Lodi."
"Just about two years ago
I set out on the road
Seeking my fame and fortune
Looking for a pot of gold
Things got bad, and things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oh Lord, stuck in Green Bay again"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Stop being such a homer. Arizona is still a marginal team. Their O-line and defense would need to take significant steps forward to thrust them into contention. They will win more than five games and may even shake the label as the biggest paper tiger in the league, but winning in the NFL requires more than offense. Rams fans will attest to that. As for the Saints analogy, I didn't recall the Cardinals gaining the rights to Reggie Bush."
Baton Rouge, La.
Actually, I'm pretty sure Rams fans would attest to the opposite or did you think St. Louis's defense was largely responsible for that run of two Super Bowls (and one Lombardi Trophy) between the 1999 and 2001 seasons? And last year, Indy (375 rushing yards allowed to Jacksonville last Dec. 10) reinforced the notion that in today's NFL, offense basically can carry a team very, very far. The Cardinals don't have Bush, but Sean Payton would give up virtually anyone on his roster and his new (as-yet-unreleased) Kenny Chesney CD for either Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald. Finally, as far as your "homer" comment, do I look like a guy with a George Hamilton tan and hopelessly chapped lips (don't answer that)? I live in Northern California and am a homer only for my alma mater, as most of you have probably figured out by now.
"Mike, I had hoped you would come off as less of an idiot when you came over from SI.com. Unfortunately, I realized I'm almost as dumb as you for having thought this. The Cardinals? Come on! Now I'm prone to thinking the Seahawks will take the NFC West (I'm a homer), but it's not impossible for St. Louis or San Fran to win it. But the Cards? Two reasons why they won't win: 1) There's just not enough talent on the offensive and defensive lines, meaning (Matt) Leinart and (Edgerrin) James are going to get killed; I believe Edge is about due for a season-ending injury. 2) The players they do have don't have experience winning at this level. Phoenix has the Suns, they don't need false hope about their football, it's still going to suck … this year."
Bad karma about James and the season-ending injury. If I were you I'd watch my step; it's slippery up your way.
"Just a word of warning regarding your pick for the Cardinal's winning the NFC West: Nearly the same things that are being said about (Ken) Whisenhunt were said before when Dennis Green took over the job. And look where that got them: 6-10, 5-11, 5-11. I understand that Arizona always seems to be that 'trendy' pick every year before the season starts, but looking at history, it makes me wonder why people pick an organization that always falls on its face."
Because we're crackheads. And we're not getting the help we need.
"Mr. Silver, Ya know, I've been trying to figure out where I stand on your column since you got on Yahoo Sports, I hadn't heard of you before. Now that you've picked Arizona to win the NFC West in 2007, I can safely say I really do think you're a microencephalic slather-brain. The Cardinals do have weapons. And I cringed when Matt Leinart fell to them his draft year. I will even give you credit for mentioning some components of thir defense, whom I think are largely unheralded (Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson et al). Someday, Matt Leinart will remind Seahawk fans like me of the times when year after year, John Elway ripped our hearts out and played mumblypeg with our playoff hopes. But this ain't that year. Whisenhunt is nowhere near Sean Payton in terms of football IQ, although I suspect he'll be a competent coach. But, all you need to do is take a look at the Cardinals roster (all NFL teams post them, you should look one up sometime), and realize that one key injury, and they are in Nowheresville. Even if the injury gods are nice to 'em, they don't have enough of the pieces yet. If you had picked the 49ers to upset us, I would have been mad but would've understood the train of thought. But, the Cardinals?? THIS year?? Bro, they're aiming for respectability and competitive respect, not the playoffs. And Seattle has re-armed more than what you think. Look up the names Brandon Mebane and?Baraka Atkins and oh, scan the trade wire: Jason Babin. I'll give you a hint … they're gonna help end the Seahawks' problems at the line of scrimmage and yeah, I know about Marcus Tubbs. Doesn't matter. Bottom line: Seahawks win their fourth NFC West title in a row by going 11-5. Michael Silver loses his prediction for the third year in a row. And you'd better believe Seahawks fans will want a nice, gold-plated apology when it happens. Slather-brain. P.S. I'm willing to bet you won't even post this and comment on it because unlike many of your other detractors, I can conjugate, use proper grammar and spell. I notice you only post the people that are deficient in those areas so you can take a quick wisecrack."
Jared X. Thomas
Jared, thanks for proving that you don't have to be a lousy speller to sound foolish. I'm willing to indulge the fact that you seem to believe you know as much about football as I do (though realize that while you were asleep the past 13 years, I was out talking to players, coaches, G.M.'s and others who actually understand the game and writing weekly articles for 20-plus million readers), but kindly let this microencephalic slather-brain handle the clever phrase-turning from now on.
"Wow, Arizona as No. 1 in the NFC West? Congratulations Silver you are to football sportswriters what Andy Kaufman was to professional wrestling."
Awesome. Want to see my Elvis (Grbac) impression?
"Mike – picking Arizona to win their division these past two years was flawed in only one aspect – Denny Green as their head coach. He's another example of a coach riding the coat-tails of someone else's successes – (see your comments on Norv Turner). When they tapped Green, I wrote off Arizona until he resigned or was fired. Now, with Whisenhunt, the Cardinals now have the coach to put all those great pieces together in what will be the most competitive division in the NFL. And thank you for pointing out that 1st Down FG kick by Appalachian State . Being overseas and limited to ‘watching' this game unfold over the Yahoo! Sports' ‘30-second update' was interesting. I had to rub my eyes when I read 1st 5; 27 yard FG; 26 seconds remaining. Huh? Going 'conservative' that late in the game? Head coach Jerry Moore was the luckiest man alive that day. P.S. By the way, I have only one(!) ESPN channel outhere on the Orbit Satellite Network but lucky for me, I get to watch my New England Patriots' first three games of the season. I agree with you that the Pats will win it all this year. Your three cohorts at Yahoo! are going to be disappointed when the Chargers implode with Norv's coaching."
Arabia from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Let me let you in on a little secret – if San Diego isn't hosting playoff games in January, every sportswriter in America will be disappointed. Three words to describe my NFL rooting philosophy: Location, location, location.
"Silver, thank you for pointing out Moore's mistake. I couldn't believe what I was watching when it happened. What blows my mind is that you're the only person who has been willing to point this fact out. But, anyway I wanted to compliment you on your fine work since moving to Yahoo! Sports. I love reading your columns, keep 'em coming."
Thanks, and don't worry, I'll be posting columns like Michigan fans blogging on "Fire Lloyd Carr" web sites.
"Seems like you have been preaching forever that the Cardinals will make the playoffs. What, did you cut and paste this article from one of your old SI articles?"
No. But if I had, my man Jared X. would never have known the difference.
"Hey Michael, first of all, with all the angry letters you seem to get, ever wonder why this people are reading your column in the first place, or if they know what the concept of a columnist is? I read your article about Tony Romo, so I gotta say that the Cowboys had two games in the preseason where they looked fantastic, and two where they looked horrible. What is your prediction for their season, are they going to shine like they should with the amount of talent they have, or are they going to just be mediocre and disappointing at best?"
I think the Cowboys will have a terrific season that could get them all the way to the NFC title game. I'm convinced that Wade Phillips' aggressive defensive schemes and no-B.S. coaching style will help propel this already talented team to greater heights. And to answer your first question, my guess is that many people read me in the vain hope that I'll confirm their highly informed opinion on a particular subject.
"Propecia is taken orally. Douche-bag. =) --"
Newport Beach, Calif.
I stand corrected. The light emanating from your forehead must be blinding me.
"You don't even pick Seattle to make the playoffs, but you're going to pick Arizona to win the NFC West? I dunno where your head is, but I think it's sharing a place with my foot – in your ass."
That's your foot? Are you sure it's not a Propecia suppository?
"Hey Michael, love the column. It may just be me, but I hope Jeff Van Gundy swings by and picks me up. Plus, his ride will be loaded with Diet Coke in every hidden compartment."
Good call – I'm glad somebody got that joke.
"So do you only print comments that are misspelled and/or have grammatical errors, or do you actively change them to make people sound stupid because even you realize that you are a hack? Nice …"
Oh, trust me, they do it on their own, and do it well. Exhibit A …
"Your an idiot. Don't quit your night job … Why are you wasting my time with picks like Washington. Please resign ASAP, I'll even through something in for the 401K going away party."
I hate to tell you, Tom, but this is my night job. And given that I've only been at Yahoo! for about five minutes, that 401K party might be a bit under-funded, despite your generous contribution.
"Mr. Silver, if I got a dollar for every time you say something dumb I would be quite a rich man. Why don't you join your loser tree huggers in Berkeley?"
Because money doesn't grow on trees.