So much to get to this morning. Maurice Clarett will be cut by Denver today. (Does someone have the movie rights to this kid's train wreck of a career?) ... The Saints had to fly out of New Orleans yesterday because of Hurricane Katrina. I just heard the governor of Louisiana on CNN, asking the people of America to pray for the state. ... Cedric Benson, the last remaining unsigned first-round pick, is unsigned no more, having agreed to terms last night. ... Kyle Orton, the seventh quarterback picked in the draft last April, is the new starter for the Bears.
And then there's the Corey Simon story. What a doozy. Simon's a franchise defensive tackle for Philadelphia who was almost traded to Baltimore on draft day and who is due to make $5.18 million this year for the Eagles. Boom! Because of Philadelphia's embarrassment of defensive-tackle riches (Hollis Thomas, Darwin Walker, Sam Rayburn, rookie first-rounder Mike Patterson), because its first-team defense has allowed three points in 13 preseason possessions and because now it can use that $5 million to wrap up other players (not Terrell Owens, so don't get excited) to long-term deals, Simon's a former Eagle this morning.
We're 10 days from Randy Moss at Tom Brady to open the season, but I have to write a few paragraphs this morning about the uncertainty surrounding the 49ers. As in, how are they going to deal with the harrowing experience of seeing a teammate die before their very eyes?
"There are some things ahead of me, ahead of this team, that we just cannot predict,'' Mike Nolan, the 49ers coach, told me the other day. "They don't write about this in any coaching manual. ... How this is going to affect all of us as players, coaches and people? I just don't know if any of us can answer until maybe a year from now."
Fallen 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion was buried by his family on Saturday in Texas. A large delegation from the team was there, including all Herrion's offensive line-mates, Nolan and owners John York and Denise DeBartolo York. The organization has received praise from the Herrion family, players and employees for handling the death with the dignity and respect as befits such a horrible event as a promising player and man dying in the locker room after a game. When I talked with Nolan, he did not want to relive the moments after the collapse in the locker room, because he didn't think it was respectful to Herrion's memory. But he did agree to talk about how the team was coping and how he'd handle things moving forward.
In the days since Herrion's Aug. 20 death, Nolan has been touched by the outpouring of support from other coaches and people from his past. The advice of two men who've experienced this in recent years -- Arizona coach Dennis Green, whose Vikings lost Korey Stringer, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, whose team lost Darryl Kile -- has particularly helped Nolan. He appreciates it all. But there is one thing no one can assist him with.
"The difference in this situation is our players witnessed this," Nolan said softly. "This was not the case of a man dying apart from his teammates. They were right there, cheering him on, trying to help bring him around. And when that happens, how do you know how the impact is going to be over time?"
You don't. That's why Nolan has done things like make counselors available for teammate's loved ones as well as payers themselves, so wives, girlfriends and moms will know how to deal with the days ahead as well. And of course players will be allowed to get help when they need it. "Only God knows if what we're doing is the right thing, but we're doing the best we can,'' he said. "Who prepares for something like this happening? But the one thing I know is we can't ignore it, now and in the future. If you ignore it, that doesn't mean the wound has healed."
Nolan has few specifics to discuss, because he's not sure exactly what he'll do if a teammate runs into trouble at some point this year. Not that he thinks that'll happen, but he can't be sure. He did know he had to get this team back to normal, as normal as possible, as soon as he could. Which is why the 49ers practiced, made decisions (naming Tim Rattay over Alex Smith as the No. 1 quarterback, because Smith just wasn't ready) and played a game (a win over Tennessee). Life moves on, though it may stop and start a few times this year in Herrion's memory.
Nolan knows he'll have more to do as a rookie coach than just coaching. He's like the doctor here. And you know what they say: Doctors can't get sick.
Nolan can't sit down and cry. I asked him if he was still stunned, days after the tragedy, and he took a long time to answer.
"I haven't time to think about 'stunned,' '' he said. "Oh my.''
Then another pause.
"My role here is to help,'' he said. "That's what I do. That's what I have to do.''
Quote of the Week
"Has a dog, Elaine, named after the Seinfeld television show character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.''
-- Last line in the Chicago Bears 2005 media guide profile of fourth-round pick Kyle Orton.
That's one reason to root for Orton, now that he's been named the starter (if he doesn't screw it up this week in the final preseason game) in the wake of Rex Grossman's injury and Chad Hutchinson's ineffectiveness. I can see it now: I'm sent to Chicago to do a story in midseason on phenom Kyle Orton and the shockingly good Bears, and instead of going out to dinner to talk, we go to his condo and watch a Seinfeld DVD.
Stat of the Week
Chad Pennington has never thrown a red-zone interception in 41 regular-season games. During the first half Friday night against the Giants, he threw two.
Aggravating/Enjoyable Travel Note of the Week
Every week during the preseason and regular season, Jets defensive line coach Denny Marcin commutes to his New Jersey home three nights a week and stays on Long Island in a private home the rest of the time.
In his Long Island suburb, Marcin lives on Sackville Road.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Sometimes the NFL schedule doesn't make much sense.
The Dallas Cowboys play three games between Halloween and Dec. 3.
That's a 34-day span. Those three games are crammed into 11 days -- Monday, Nov. 14 against the Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 20 against Detroit, and Thursday, Nov. 24 against Denver.
Dallas is off for 14 days before the Philly game and for 10 more after the Denver game.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think, after watching the Jets-Giants game the other night, I have to wonder what kind of year Chad Pennington is going to have. I like the Jets quarterback a lot. But Pennington threw two interceptions the other night that make you wonder whether he's going to be the premier quarterback he was on the verge of being before his shoulder injury and surgery last season. One was understandable. He had Laveranues Coles in the corner of the end zone with a Giants corner (rookie Corey Webster) closely guarding him. Pennington threw it up, obviously figuring Coles had a good chance to win the battle. But Webster made a spectacular play for the interception. Clearly, in close coverage like that near the corner of the end zone, Pennington has to throw it away and take the chippy field goal. The second was just dumb, a no-touch, no-loft short pass right into Michael Strahan's breadbasket in the end zone. The Jets' seven drives under Pennington on Friday night: 74 yards, then 3, 4, 5, 5, minus-2 and 5 yards. And the Giants' D doesn't exactly rival the '85 Bears. The Jets, like most teams, won't play the first team much at Philly in the preseason finale. And so Pennington will have to go into Arrowhead Stadium knowing he'll have to put up maybe 31 points to beat the league's best offensive team over the past three years, Kansas City, on opening day. And I wouldn't be very confident about that if I lived in Jetville.
2. I think if I'm a Bengals fan, I have been teased again. This team is going to break my heart one more time. First off, was that Kim Herring covering Terrell Owens on the first play of Friday night's exhibition game in Philly? Herring, a safety, matching up with T.O., only the best wideout on the planet, with no cornerback help -- at least none after the first few yards past the line of scrimmage. Ridiculous. Stupid. Idiotic. Cincy deserved to get burned for a 64-yard touchdown. It just reinforces the problems I believed Marvin Lewis had fixed. I thought these weren't the same old Bengals. And then, on the Eagles' second offensive snap, Owens catches a ball for 31. Jam him! Double him! Hit him in the mouth! Do something! In all, Owens had five catches for 131 yards in the first 26 minutes of the game. And it would be nice if this offense that is supposed to make fans forget about Esiason and Collinsworth could manage one touchdown pass between Carson and his two millionaire wideouts, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. There's no question the schedule should prevent Cincinnati from falling into a huge hole early; the Bengals open with Cleveland and have only one returning playoff team, Minnesota, among their first six 2005 games. But it won't matter if they play like they did on Friday night, when their first-teamers got totally embarrassed by Philadelphia's first-teams, 27-3, in the first half.
3. I think the Bears are making the right call, giving Orton a shot to be The Man. Hey, I only saw one Chicago practice, and I don't pretend to know much about how Hutchinson was playing in camp. But I saw enough to question whether Hutchinson's going to be anything more than an NFL backup. And Orton's arm is rare. He's got an incredible fastball. If, as offensive coordinator Ron Turner told me last week, Orton's doing a terrific job picking up the offense, why not give the guy with the great arm a chance to use it and get the ball deep to Muhsin Muhammad and a guy I like a lot for his potential, Justin Gage?
4. I think pausing for a moment of silence in honor of Thomas Herrion during every preseason game over the weekend was a great touch by the NFL. Interesting to see the players at three of the games I saw either live or on NFL Network emotionally affected during the moment.
5. I think the Seniors Committee of the Hall of Fame did a nice job nominating Rayfield Wright and John Madden as the two senior candidates for the 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. I believe both are deserving and I am supporting both. (I am disappointed that one of the veterans nominated was not Mick Tingelhoff, but I'm confident Tingelhoff's candidacy will be re-aired in the next couple of years.) Now, a couple of things about Madden: I heard two national voices recently say Madden should be a lock, and his renown as a broadcaster will help his candidacy. Wait a minute, people. The only thing that matters to the candidacy of a coach or player is what he does on the field. Broadcasting has no impact on whether a guy gets in or not. I also was asked the other day on a West Coast talk show: "Why has it taken so long for Madden to get in?'' Three reasons:
• He coached only 10 years. Of the 14 modern-era coaches in the Hall (guys who coached in the '60s and beyond), only two coached for that short a period. Vince Lombardi won five world titles in 10 seasons. Bill Walsh won three championships in his 10 years. Madden won the Super Bowl once in his time. The last five coaches to make the Hall have coached 17 (Hank Stram), 12 (George Allen), 17 (Marv Levy), 33 (Don Shula) and 14 (Joe Gibbs) seasons.
• Whereas other short-termers like Lombardi and Walsh commandeered their personnel departments and picked their own players, Madden had Al Davis as team architect.
• Madden competed against lots of premier coaches , nine from his era of whom are already in the Hall: Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Stram, Weeb Ewbank, Shula, Paul Brown, Bud Grant, Sid Gillman and Allen. How many coaches from one period of history should be in the Hall of Fame?
Having said that, how many coaches in history have averaged 11 wins a year for at least 10 years? Madden averaged 11.2, including postseason -- and he coached nine seasons with only a 14-game schedule. Gibbs is at 11.2 also, but he was a 16-game schedule guy. Other numbers of some Hall coaches: Lombardi 10.5, Allen 9.8, Landry 9.3, Noll 9.1, Levy 9.1, Stram 8.0. The bottom line is, I see Madden as a Hall of Famer.
6. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Anyone who thinks the Yankees aren't going to catch the Red Sox is a lot more of a Bostonian than I am. Just look at Boston's pitching. And last year, the Red Sox had a couple of stoppers. This year Pedro's in New York and Curt Schilling's some impostor.
b. I repeat: How is Kevin Millar still in that lineup? Someone, anyone, please tell me.
c. Roger Clemens has to win the Cy Young Award. I mean, how do you blame a pitcher for non-support? He's had one of the best seasons a modern pitcher's ever had: 24 of 27 quality starts, 11 times allowing no earned runs, 18 times giving up one earned run or less. Imagine a pitcher in two of every three starts over the course of a season allowing zero or one run. Historic.
d. Great Little League World Series. It always is. Imagine hitting a walkoff jack in the biggest game of your life. It's a great moment at 12, 22 or 32.
e. Empty-nesting again. Interesting contrast dropping daughter Mary Beth, the Colgate sophomore, off the other day. Last year there were quivering lips and averted eyes. This time, I think she couldn't wait for us to go. And how unusual it was to leave the middle of New York State at 8:15 p.m., drive a few miles out of town and see the temperature gauge in the car hit 54 degrees; three hours later, in New Jersey, it was 71. The other interesting thing is how incredibly bright the stars are in the night sky up there. Mary Beth's taking Astronomy this fall. I envy her.
f. Coffeenerdness: I have discovered the perfect Starbucks drip coffee. It's got an odd name -- Komodo Dragon -- and it's too expensive, at about $13 a pound. But I've got to have it. Dark and rich and not at all bitter.
g. Great job by Pete Thamel in the New York Times yesterday, writing about the proliferation of the spread offense in college football. Good color. Look it up online.
7. I think, watching Raiders-Cards on TV the other night, I noticed a few good and bad things about Oakland's offense. Kerry Collins' play-action fake is a thing of beauty. It ought to be on coaching tapes league-wide. The result in this game: Collins' fake to LaMont Jordan was so good in the first half that Randy Moss was wide open on a 41-yard touchdown pass. Perfect. Jordan looked very strong, particularly running to the outside. But the protection was leaky. Twice right tackle Robert Gallery -- who's getting paid far too much money to allow this to happen -- was beaten on the outside by Arizona defensive Chike Okeafor on a speed-rush; both times Okeafor strip-sacked Collins -- the second was negated by a replay review. But Gallery's got to be quicker to prevent that from happening. In the opener, New England's going to send rushers from the outside too.
8. I think Maurice Clarett's biggest mistake wasn't missing two weeks of training camp with a bum groin. I was there the day he made his most critical error in camp -- going to plead with Mike Shanahan to let him run with the first team so he could show what he could do. Shanahan told him to wait in line. And Clarett did that with a bad groin -- knowing he couldn't practice that day and probably not for a day or two beyond that. That day or two turned into two weeks. Shanahan knew he couldn't trust Clarett to give his all as a special-teamer, which the rookie back would have had to do to make a contribution to this team. That's why he's an ex-Bronco today. Talk about a dumb pick by Denver.
9. I think the Steelers won't be cooked against Tennessee if they have to play Willie Parker at running back. With Duce Staley out for at least another month and Jerome Bettis likely gone for a while with a calf injury, Parker's up next -- and he's done it before on a pretty big stage. Last January, in the season-finale at Buffalo, with the Bills playing for their playoff lives, Parker was the best Steeler on the field -- 19 carries for 102 clock-eating yards. Don't go jumping off any tall bridges, Steelers fans. Parker will give you a good game against the Titans and longer if he has to.
10. I think we're all praying for you, New Orleans.