You can see it on the NFL Network beginning Saturday. The interview sessions begin today. Media will clog the hotels and ballrooms and various parts of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, the latest step in the run to the draft (and also an important scene for pre-negotiations by agents with clubs over pending free agents, all hush-hush). You’ll be able to watch the drills, see how they are conducted, collect times in the 40-yard dash and the three-cone drill (where I live now, it would more likely be a three-Cohen drill), keep your own little draft notebook. The funny thing about all of this openness is that the combine once operated in an air of secrecy. Information was expensive and closely guarded by the clubs. Some team scouts were accused of selling the master report — the collection of data on all of the invited players — to reporters. Some copies were bugged, with inserted mistakes so that the leaker could be invited. Securing a copy was cloak-and-dagger stuff. Media attendance was discouraged; now the media are credentialed. It is, of course, the right thing for the NFL. Everything about it is a product, and every product should be marketed and sold. The combine will probably get better TV ratings than some college basketball games, and it’s not really a competition. But it is a look behind the curtain, and fans enjoy that new closeness. Many teams say that nothing at the combine changes their draft board, but they do use the opportunity to interview the players, get the updated medical reports, and eat too much at St. Elmo’s steakhouse. It’s not a big year for quarterbacks, so some of the draft’s sex appeal just isn’t there. This one looks best for offensive linemen, especially tackles, and who even knows their names? Even so, fans love the draft and the intrigue that follows the opening of the free-agent period. So let’s get on with it. I want to know everyone’s arm length, number of bench-press reps, and I want to hear the rumors about teams moving up, teams moving down, and teams that won’t talk about either. It’s the closest we can get to football right now.
I was there when the NFL and the NFL Players Association approved the concept of a salary cap. At least I was covering those meetings for USA TODAY. I wasn’t a fly on the wall. But I was there when the NFL and the players ended a bitter labor dispute that started in 1987 and carried over into 1993. So I am endlessly amused now, some 10 years, a couple of labor-agreement extensions and a lockout later (in 2011), to find that NFL teams are facing cap issues in 2013. You would have to be in the Moron Club for this to happen. But remember the NFL approved the contracts the Redskins and Cowboys did going into 2011 to take advantage of the uncapped year, while penalizing them later. The league docked the Redskins a boatload of cap dollars ($32 million over two years) and the Cowboys a schooner-load, for following the rules and not collaborating in true antitrust style with the other 30 teams. How that has avoided nuking by the courts only speaks to a judiciary prejudiced to the right. Anyway, the New Orleans Saints are $21 million over the of about $121 million for 2013. The New York Jets are over, the Giants are tight, and other teams are suffering as well. The Green Bay Packers cut Charles Woodson. The Giants dumped Ahmad Bradshaw. These are not football moves. These are moves to teams motivated to save their financial bacon. Football is not the sport. Managing the cap is the sport. Football is the business (see North Dallas 40 for detailed reference).
Very sorry to hear of the passing of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. A unique, unusual character who managed to irritate his friends and allies as well as his enemies. I lived and worked in the New York area during some his lengthy stay as mayor (the New York Daily News always referred to him as Hizzoner). Everyone who enjoyed the vibrant and crazed Manhattan of Koch’s day has a favorite story about him and mine, of course, involves sports. My memory fails me on which of the Super Bowls the Giants had won under Bill Parcells, so it was either after the ’86 season or the ’90 season. The Giants, of course, had left New York State (and New Haven, Ct.) for the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., in 1976. Not so sure Koch knew whether a football contained air or Marshmallow Fluff but he knew how he felt about businesses leaving his town. So when the victorious Giants wanted a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan, Koch said no. “Let them have their parade in Manookie,” Koch said, referring to a tiny industrial burg hard aside the Rutherfords. Except it wasn’t called Manookie. It was Moonachie (MOO-nock-ee). I know. I worked in a warehouse there one summer. As a proud son of Bergen County in New Jersey’s northeast corner, I made it my business to know how to pronounce the many names derived from their Native American roots (Ho-Ho-Kus anyone?) Moonachie had not only a funny name but a funny intersection — Moonachie Road crossed Moonachie Boulevard. The Giants held their parade in the parking lot of the stadium, electing not to follow Paterson Plank Road into Manookie. I believe they have since been welcomed by New York’s leaders when they win the Super Bowl, which they have, of course, done twice in the last five years. I liked the plain-spoken ways of Hizzoner and the years he devoted to Congress and the city. I could talk quite a bit about his political roots and Allard Lowenstein and the whole Movement but that would become a lecture. Do you want me to go on with my lecture? As Groucho Marx said, “I wish you’d go on without your lecture.” And so I go … to Manookie!
At least the NFL gets its big joke out of the way early in Super Bowl week. Tuesday is Media Day, in which your everyday media get its first full crack at all the players, coaches, general managers, and owners of the two teams playing in the epic game. Once upon a time it was called Photo Day. Mostly because it was a photo op. Then it grew and grew. Way back, when the only Roman numerals involved with the game were in single digits (now there’s a mixed metaphor), reporters visited players and coaches in their rooms. At Super Bowl III, Joe Namath was interviewed at poolside in Miami, and there are only a half dozen or so guys talking to him in the famous photo of that gathering. Good luck with that today. Now Media Day is a festival of fools, or at least foolishness. “Real” reporters try to get their interviews while an array of assorted entertainment types help hype the Super Bowl through non-sports channels. I can remember a Don King impersonator. A scantily-clad woman who claimed to have won the title Miss Twin Peaks. Goofy ambush interviews, with silly and embarrassing questions of the ‘boxers or briefs’ type. … Hey, publicity is publicity for the NFL. Even those who hate Media Day’s antics wind up reporting on them. Goes with the territory these days. I will leave you with this bit from Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) of the New York Daily News from his Twitter feed. “Media Day in a nutshell (pun intended): A TV Azteca reporter is interviewing a yodeler who was interviewing a clown, while I Tweet about it.” Ha! Let the good times roll.
There are athletes who will do anything for attention. No one can forget Dennis Rodman’s antics, try though they might. Few want to remember Ricky Williams posing for a magazine cover in a wedding gown, with Mike Ditka dressed as the groom (this was when they were both with the New Orleans Saints). I don’t know whether Kris Humphries married Kim Kardashian for fame, for love, or for a reason to be named later. And I don’t care. It certainly raised his profile, though maybe not in all the ways he’d have liked. LeBron James and his famous televised “decision” to take his talents to South Beach ranks up there. These all, however, were planned. Maybe they backfired, but no gambit is idiot-proof. What to make, however, of Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s star safety and jilted lover? His grand romance, conducted via Twitter, phone, and internet, ended with the death of a girlfriend he had not only never seen but who apparently never even existed. (Excuse me as I go back and read over that part. I still have trouble accepting this). Could this really have been a hoax in which Te’o got played? Is it really possible? Hundreds of stories were written or produced for TV about this guy as Notre Dame reached the No. 1 ranking and the BCS championship game, so often built around the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend. I am taking at face value that he had met his grandmother. Notre Dame and Te’o have some ‘splainin’ to do. Te’o will also face some interesting questions from NFL teams at the scouting combine and elsewhere as they work up a psychological profile of a talented player and balance these two aspects of the young man. There will be more coming in the days ahead and the smart money says this gets stranger still. Allow me to leave you with the words of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, from its hit song Imaginary Lovers, released in 2000: Imaginary lovers/Never turn you down/When all the others turn you away/They’re around … That’s all for now.
What will be left for us to learn when Lance Armstrong’s TV interview with Grand Old Oprah finally lights up our screens? For a guy who passed so many drug tests, you would think controlling leaks would be a bit easier (unless he’s setting up a play to advertise Depends, given how many other sponsors have quit him). Armstrong, you remember, invented bicycle racing (nah), won some French race seven times (true, but not anymore) without cheating (nah) in a sport rife with abuses, beat cancer (true), denied cheating (true), got ratted out numerous times (true) by other riders, and now wants to bare his soul (this could be a true/false, where the emphasis is on what he wants and not what he must now do). A lot of good, investigative reporting ferreted out fudged results of tests over the years, always met by denials from Armstrong. Other riders — his teammates, in many cases — finally spilled what they knew, some losing their careers as they got squeezed by the various testing organizations that try to keep a dirty sport from staying dirty. All of those years denying the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and now Armstrong will PED-dle his story to the woman who gave us Dr. Phil. Sure, we’ll want to see the pictures with Oprah. But we know Armstrong is confessing, apologizing, getting clean (so to speak). There’s been more leaking (news bits, video) than in a drug lab’s testing room. … So he did it. After writing a couple of books that said he didn’t do it. After making threats, ruining careers, hiding, sneaking, cheating, he’s going to come clean. I hope Oprah asked him to take a drug test right then and there when she interviewed him. I’d like proof that there’s truth serum in him.
That’s going to be one strange induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., at baseball’s Hall of Fame. There is no class of 2013, in part because of the class of the class. The vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America, announced Wednesday, gave none of the candidates the required 75 percent for admission. The Hall struck out for the first time since 1996. Why? Roids. Steroids and hemorrhoids. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, all are tainted by their real or perceived involvement with performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was also such a pain in the butt to baseball writers that it’s easy to understand them enjoying this vote just a little more than they should. It also opens up the question, as it always has, whether writers should decide the fate of people they cover. Some newspapers do not permit it because it can be a conflict of interest. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa were on the ballot for the first time and all could have been considered first-ballot entrants if not for that little extra chemical edge, or the widespread belief that they had one. . You can make the argument that Bonds may be the best player of our time, if not all time. He was a seven-time MVP. Lucky seven for Clemens as well in Cy Young Award wins. All tainted. They join Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits, on the outs with the HOF. Rose, due to his gambling on games as a manager, cannot even be considered. So the HOF voters won’t award “cheaters,” but it didn’t honor those who came by their achievements cleanly (we think), achievements that naturally don’t quite meet the standards set by the “cheaters.” Jack Morris won 254 games pitching for Detroit, Minnesota, Toronto, and Cleveland, but he can’t get it in. Next year will be his 15th and last of eligibility in voting by the BBWA. Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP, also failed to qualify in his 15th season. Bad guys out, good guys out as well? Perhaps this will be the best summer to visit the Hall of Fame. Who’s going to need a hotel room? … Actually, there is an induction July 28. Added a month ago by a 16-member panel evaluating persons in the game before integration were New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O’Day, and bare-handed catcher Deacon White. No Bonds (762 home runs). No Clemens (354 wins), no Sosa (609 home runs). No matter how baseball tries to put its inflated numbers and PED era behind it, its history will resonate each year, with every vote for the Hall of Fame. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are eligible for 14 more years.
The list of things I don’t have answers for stretches on to the horizon and across the miles. And that would be too many to jam into a blog post. So I’m going to limit myself to a few notables on this Monday …
I don’t know why an NFL team hosting its first home playoff game in 13 years would allow its field to be in such stunningly poor condition. Sure, January is not the prime time to grow turf in Landover, Md., but FedExField was a particular fright on Sunday. An NFL spokesman said earlier on Monday that neither the Seattle Seahawks nor the Washington Redskins had complained about the condition of the field, as if the Redskins were going to do that anyway. Now Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has called the turf “horrible” and Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons’ agent is blaming his client’s knee injury at least in part on the footing. Additionally, the NFL Network’s Albert Breer reports the Seahawks have now filed a complaint with the NFL. And then there’s that RG3 fella who took a nasty tumble near his goal line after earlier tweaking a sprained knee encased in a brace. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is obfuscating about the injury as I type and I expect litte clarity (but plenty of divots). Shame, shame, and shame.
I don’t know why I follow the the NFL’s “coaching carousel” reports in the media (well, I know why, but I think what I mean is why do I put any stock in what I hear?). Everything and anything gets reported and turns out not to be true. Reporting is not a guessing game. The unnamed source gets a reporter in trouble more times than he/she provides a solid scoop in this particular area, I believe.
I don’t know why the Buffalo Bills hired Doug Marrone as head coach. I’ll probably be saying that in three years as well. I appreciate how he turned the disaster in Syracuse into a 25-25 record over four seasons, but two trips to the Pinstripe Bowl qualifies him to work at Brooks Brothers more than to be head coach of an NFL team. Good luck, enjoy the wings, dazzle me.
I don’t know why I should care about the NHL. The NHL doesn’t care about me. Half a season? Charge half for the tickets (they’re probably doing the LOL at league HQ right now) to the upcoming games. Interesting how I have seen players apologizing to the fans. Apologizing for getting locked out? First the owners hand out ridiculous contracts, then they lock the players out because their pay is too high. Funny how these sports indulge in lockouts and then come back and hardly need a preseason or practices to get ready. Except it’s not funny.
And that’s a little bit of what I don’t know today.
The next voice you hear will tell you something about the NFL coaching search that will be completely true. Maybe. And false, probably. Or some combination of both. There is so much Spy vs. Spy reporting going on that the lonely voice of youth no longer asks what is truth. It just asks for quiet. Two reports the other day — one from Philadelphia and one from Arizona — had Andy Reid 95 percent locked into the Cardinals job. So today the big story is that he is interviewing with the Kansas City Chiefs, who may have the inside track. Last night, former Bears coach Lovie Smith was going to have no interviews until next week. Except he has at least one now, with Buffalo. Scott Pioli is out as Kansas City’s general manager, unless he is in. That’s just a sample. … I’ve been in on this before, and it’s smoke, mirrors and manipulation, and some unfortunate chest-beating by some reporters. In Philly, one reporter wants to know why others aren’t keeping up with his Reid-to-KC scoop. He’s the one who had Reid signed, sealed and delivered to Arizona the other day. Do you want to be first and wrong? Remember the 19th century politician Henry Clay, who said: “I’d rather be right than President.” I don’t recall the issue, or whether he was right, but he stood on principle and there was no President Clay (though plenty of them had feet of clay). Teams will hire when they hire, will interview whom they choose, and do it with as much stealth as possible (except when they don’t). Until then, we’re looking at half-developed pictures and chasing rumors. Deals are done when they are done and not until. I can think of plenty of times when coaches were completely sure they were the new hire, right up until the very second they weren’t. It all makes for fascinating theory, but once again reporters prove they’re better at covering themselves with gravy than glory. … I’m done for today, according to unnamed sources with access to me.
I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Mark Solway, who runs TheHogs.net, a popular web space for Redskins fans to gather. He remembered my work as a sports writer at USA TODAY and remained a fan when I moved over to work on the Redskins’ website and TV and radio properties in 2009. We’ve stayed in touch and he put together a wonderful story about me and what I’m doing now. Please go to his site and wander around, and check out his interview with me. I’ve spent a lot of years asking the questions. It’s a little odd to answer them.