NFC North: Barack Obama
It's true the regular season runs from September to January, but I think we all recognize the NFL has become this country's first 12-month professional sports league. How deeply is the NFL embedded in our society? We got our latest example Friday.
Today is June 1, about six weeks after the draft, two months before the start of training camp and 100 or so days until the start of the regular season. On this day, the leader of the free world visited Minnesota to visit Honeywell, do some fundraising and speak on the issue of veteran employment in civil life.
Here is a link to the official transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks.
In his first sentence, Obama extended greetings to those in the suburb of Golden Valley.
His second sentence established that he was in the state of Minnesota.
His third sentence acknowledged Gov. Mark Dayton.
His fourth, fifth and sixth sentences: "On the way over we were talking about making sure the Vikings were staying. Now, that's a hard thing for a Bears fan to do. But I was rooting for the Vikings sticking around here -- and the governor did a great job."
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings' newly approved stadium bill was the first thing the president of the United States mentioned upon arriving in Minnesota. I realize it was a friendly warm-up on an otherwise serious and sobering news day, but still amazing, even if only to me.
That's all I've got. Have a great weekend.
On the morning of Super Bowl XLVI, someone finally got around to asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the quality of the Jan. 29 Pro Bowl, which Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers brought attention to by saying that some players "embarrassed themselves" with their lack of effort.
Goodell told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" that he was also upset about how the game was played. Goodell said the Pro Bowl will either be improved, the structure changed or the game eliminated all together.
Goodell: "I really didn't think that was the kind of football that we want to be demonstrating for our fans. And you heard it from the fans. The fans were actively booing in the stands. They didn't like what they were seeing. … We're either going to have to improve the quality of what we're doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes or even considering eliminating the game if that's the kind of quality game we're going to provide."
The NFL Players Association issued a statement in support of maintaining the Pro Bowl, which brings winning players an additional $50,000 and losers $25,000. But I'll be interested to see if the NFL can find a way to convince players to go harder in a meaningless all-star game, or if they will eliminate the game and replace it with something interesting but less dangerous. Regardless, kudos to Goodell for acknowledging a disappointing but obvious development.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Rodgers' MVP Award: "The only troubling thing is how Rodgers ended his season. He not only struggled against the Giants' pass rush, he looked as bad and unsure as he did during his earlier days as [Brett] Favre's understudy. Whether that one game was an anomaly or a preview of things to come when a season is on the line for the Packers is a question that still needs to be answered."
- The Minnesota Vikings are continuing to work on a plan to build a stadium next door to the Metrodome to prevent the need for a three-year stay at TCF Bank Stadium, according to Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com concludes his postseason grades for the Vikings.
- Re-signing receiver Calvin Johnson is going to be tricky for the Detroit Lions, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- The Lions could be competing in the Super Bowl next season, according to Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
- The Super Bowl wasn't the same for President Barack Obama without the Chicago Bears in it, according to a tweet to Obama's official Twitter page.
- Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk beat out Bears cornerback Charles Tillman for the NFL Man of the Year Award. More from AFC North colleague Jamison Hensley.
For the second time in three months, an NFC North team will be honored at the White House.
The Green Bay Packers visited President Obama in August to celebrate their victory in Super Bowl XLV. And Friday, the 1985 Chicago Bears finally will get their due for winning Super Bowl XX. That's right. As Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com writes, about 100 players, coaches and staffers from that team will be present for a ceremony that moved off the White House's radar due to circumstances in 1986.
Two days after the Bears' victory over the New England Patriots, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The White House hadn't yet planned a trip, and the tragedy pushed its priorities in other directions. Obama, of course, is a longtime Bears fan who agreed to host the team if there was still interest. There was.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bears players are openly campaigning for tailback Matt Forte to get a new contract, but they "shouldn't hold their breath," writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears have been looking at adding linebacker depth, including former starter Pisa Tinoisamoa, notes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press appreciates the trash talk of Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
- The Lions are in no rush to bring back defensive tackle Nick Fairley, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley was upbeat this week after a meeting with coach Mike McCarthy, notes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal on Brett Favre's comments about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: "A little defensive, a little jealous, a little revisionist, a little ambiguous and even a little gracious."
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com traces the development of Packers receiver Jordy Nelson.
- Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Vikings will keep close tabs on Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, writes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings players aren't ready to give up on the season, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
Earlier Friday, President Barack Obama jokingly suggested his Chicago Bears should acquire Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But it appears Obama wasn't willing to stand on what seemed like an unintentional slight at the Bears' current starter, Jay Cutler.
Believe it or not, the White House reached out to the Chicago Tribune late Friday to clarify Obama's joke. Via Brad Biggs: "The President understands the value of having a reliable backup quarterback -- and (Rodgers as a No. 2 behind Cutler) would make it more likely that he could greet the Bears at a similar ceremony at the White House next year."
OK. So now it's a (friendly) rip on Rodgers?
And they call the NFL the "No Fun League."
Before Friday, I had never had the remote inclination to watch a championship team's visit to the White House. So while I have no context for comparison, the Green Bay Packers' visit Friday afternoon was fun and particularly interesting for its NFC North angles.
Among them: the president of the United States' request to trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the Chicago Bears. More in a bit.
President Barack Obama, of course, is a longtime Bears fan who provided the Packers some bulletin-board material in January when he said he would attend Super Bowl XLV only if the Bears won the NFC Championship Game. After the Packers' victory, cornerback Charles Woodson told teammates that if Obama didn't want to see the Packers play in the Super Bowl, "we'll go see him" by winning it.
On Friday, Obama said he had learned something during that episode: "Don't mess with Charles Woodson."
In light-hearted remarks during a 10-minute ceremony, Obama said: "I'm just going to come out and say it: This hurts a little bit. This is a hard thing for a Bears fan to do."
He added: "You guys [are] coming into my house to rub it in. What are you going to do, go to Ditka's house next?"
Packers fans, Obama said, should "enjoy it while it lasts" because Bears fans "have two dates circled" this season -- the two Bears-Packers games. Joking, I think, Obama reminded the Packers that "if you guys are on a roll" late in the season, "just keep in mind that there is only one person here who can ground all planes in and out of Green Bay if he has to."
Obama got in the obligatory joke about linebacker Clay Matthews' hair and, after Woodson presented him with an honorary share of Packers stock, Obama said: "If I'm a part owner, what I'm thinking is we should initiate a trade to send Rodgers down to the Bears. What do you think?"
Woodson then clarified that Obama is "a minority owner."
(An aside: Jay Cutler just can't get an ounce of love -- not even from the president of the United States!)
Meanwhile, Packers players filled Twitter with some cool photographs from their day at the White House. Some of the best:
- Linebacker A.J. Hawk, tight end Spencer Havner, linebacker Brad Jones and Rodgers in front of an Abraham Lincoln portrait.
- A view of the White House you don't normally see from tight end Tom Crabtree.
- Safety Nick Collins' view of Obama's entrance with coach Mike McCarthy, team president Mark Murphy and general manager Ted Thompson (not shown).
- Receiver Greg Jennings' photo with Woodson and Obama.
Yes, they'll make a long-awaited visit to the White House on Aug. 12 to celebrate their Super Bowl XLV championship with President Barack Obama. For one day, at least, Obama will have to subordinate his status as the nation's No. 1 Chicago Bears fan. I'm guessing cornerback Charles Woodson won't let him forget the result of the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
An excerpt from Woodson's post-game speech that day: "President don't want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We'll go see him. White House on three. One, two, three. White House!"
White House visits usually take place during the offseason, but the NFL lockout forced the Packers to delay their trip. As a result, players (and presumably coaches) who have signed with other teams won't be able to join their 2010 teammates in Washington, D.C.
That will no doubt come as a bummer to players like guard Daryn Colledge, who started all 16 games last season but has signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Linebacker Nick Barnett, who finished the season on injured reserve and has since signed with the Buffalo Bills, tweeted: "Unfortunately don't get to go to the white house guess I'll make the trip next year ;-)"
It's already clear that NFL team executives will need their heads on a swivel during this unprecedented transition from the lockout. Here's an example:
Monday afternoon, the NFL announced that teams would be eligible to begin negotiating and signing undrafted rookies on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. But late Monday afternoon, Minnesota Vikings vice president Rick Spielman received a surprise email while waiting his turn at a quick media availability: The instructions had changed. Negotiations with those undrafted rookies were now allowed immediately.
Moments later, ESPN's John Clayton confirmed the news. After answering questions from reporters, Spielman hustled up to a meeting room where personnel staffers had set up a make-shift phone bank to begin the recruiting process.
I'm guessing there will be a few more curveballs along the way. But barring any immediate changes, NFL teams can formally sign those undrafted rookies starting at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday and can also begin negotiations with draft picks, their free agents and undrafted free agents. Be prepared for a wild few days of news.
Unless that changes, of course.
Here's a quick roundup of news and notes from around the NFC North:
- The Chicago Bears are moving Chris Harris back to his more natural strong safety position, opening up the free safety spot for Major Wright. Danieal Manning, a free agent, isn't expected to return. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
- Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has an early look at the undrafted rookies the Bears are pursuing.
- Dan Pompei of the Tribune considers possible veteran free agents for the Bears, including Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl of the Atlanta Falcons.
- Former Bears punter Brad Maynard, speaking to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times after learning he would not return to the team, implied that he did not get along with special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Maynard: "I'm not surprised at all. There was one person there, and he and I didn't see eye to eye. I did the best I could with what I was asked to do. There were times I was asked to do things where I told myself, 'There's no way I can do this,' but I kept my mouth shut and did the best I could."
- Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "We've got a plan that we have laid out for quite some time now about how we want to build this team, and that was a philosophy that we communicated to you guys back a couple years ago. That philosophy is shared by [general manager Martin Mayhew] and [coach Jim Schwartz] and myself, and we're going to stick to that philosophy about how you build the nucleus of this team and how we have built the nucleus of the team."
- John Niyo of the Detroit News expects the Lions to be active in the trade market.
- The Lions will have meetings and a conditioning test for players Thursday, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Most of the Green Bay Packers' training camp practices will be scheduled during the evening, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Pete Dougherty of the Press-Gazette wonders if the Packers will move Bryan Bulaga to left guard.
- The Packers are hoping to visit the White House to meet President Barack Obama sometime this month, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers running back John Kuhn plans to test the free-agent market, writes Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel.
- Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wants the Vikings to sign veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
- It hadn't been rumored to be an issue, but Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said tailback Adrian Peterson will report to training camp on time, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Peterson is in the final year of his contract.
- The Vikings will add about 30 players over the next week, notes the Star Tribune.
During his season-ending news conference at Lambeau Field, McCarthy was asked if he was in favor of the 18-game proposal. As you might have heard, the Packers finished the regular season with 15 players on injured reserve and had several more suffer significant injuries in Super Bowl XLV.
"I know what the company line is," McCarthy said. "But you are talking to a guy that just barely made it through 16. You can figure that one out for yourself."
Theoretically, a coach doesn't have a financial incentive pulling him between 16 and 18 games. His only concern is preserving his assets -- players -- over the course of the season. The Super Bowl-winning coach has a bit more latitude to speak his mind than others, but I'll be interested to see if anyone else speaks out on the topic as the offseason progresses.
You can read the entire transcript of McCarthy's news conference on the Packers' website. A few other highlights:
- Receiver Jordy Nelson, who was on crutches Tuesday at the Packers' "Return to Titletown" event, has a bruised bursa sac in his knee, an injury he played the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl on. It's not considered serious.
- Linebacker A.J. Hawk will have arthroscopic surgery for a chronic wrist injury.
- McCarthy received a congratulatory phone call earlier this week from President Barack Obama. McCarthy said the conversation began with, "This is a tough phone call for a Bears fan to make," but added: "It was a neat conversation. He was very complimentary of our football team and what we endured as a football team. Very complimentary of Aaron Rodgers [and] Charles Woodson."
- McCarthy said he had nothing to report on a possible contract extension but reiterated he hopes to remain in Green Bay as long as possible: "My family, we're very comfortable here. We want to be here, and we hope [life] stays the same. I still go to Starbucks every morning. Got a cup with 'Congratulations' on it today. That was nice. But other than that, they still charged me. So everything's staying the same."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the face of the franchise, a captain and a top leader. But it's clear that cornerback Charles Woodson has emerged as the Packers' soul. Woodson spoke for about a minute, delivering a thoughtful, well-planned and rousing talk that exceeded most anything you'll hear in the incoherence of most postgame NFL locker rooms.
Perhaps you've seen video of it circulating around the Internet. If not, here's what Woodson said:
"Think about one thing. One. For two weeks, two weeks, think about one. One mind. Let's be one heartbeat. One purpose. One goal. One more game. One. Let's get it! And check this. President [Barack Obama] don't want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We'll go see him. White House on three. One, two, three. White House!"
"He took the words kind of out of my mouth," Rodgers said.
The Packers rotated captains during the regular season but recently voted Woodson, Rodgers, linebacker A.J. Hawk, receiver Greg Jennings, place-kicker Mason Crosby and special-teams cover man Jarrett Bush as captains for the postseason. That group pushed Woodson to the front as their lead speaker. His history as an elite player has always engendered unspoken respect among teammates, but now more than ever, he is capitalizing on it for leadership purposes.
"I think he's starting to realize he has a lot of respect in the locker room," Rodgers said. "And guys listen to him. They appreciate what he has to say. And he's pretty good at it, too."
Said Woodson: "I feel like I've played this game a long time, played it at a high level. I feel like the things I can say to the team are things that mean something to them, and I can give them something that maybe I've been through and just shed a little light on this process. So it just kind of happened that way. But it's a road that I feel comfortable with."
Those of you who read Jeffri Chadiha's profile of Woodson last year know he was once a cocky young player who "literally would walk into a meeting room, put his playbook on the floor and go right to sleep," according to former teammate Bucky Brooks. Now, Woodson not only leads Packers defensive backs through their film study, but he also spends time preparing his postgame speeches.
"You have to give it some thought, absolutely," he said. "You don't want to just go up there and rant. You want to give it some thought because you're talking to your peers, and at the same time you're talking at a time where the games are bigger than ever.
"So you put some thought into it, and you want to be able to tell them something, something that they could feel. You don't want to just talk and cliché guys to death. You want to give them something they can feel. So that's what I try to do."
One more to go.
Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Bears' triumph in Super Bowl XX. To commemorate the event, ESPN.com produced a really cool "Moment in Time" feature that broke down one that game's most famous plays -- William "The Refrigerator" Perry's 1-yard touchdown run -- with video insight from many of the participants.
Among those interviewed are Perry, who is recovering from an extended bout with Guillain-Barre syndrome, and Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. In retrospect, Perry says he would have preferred the carry go to Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. As Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com writes, Payton was not happy with the play call.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times on Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: "The general managers who do the best job preparing for the unknown will have a distinct advantage when the expected lockout ends and teams are allowed to replenish their rosters."
- Former Bears safety Gary Fencik told ESPN 1000 that the Bears were too slow to release information on quarterback Jay Cutler's knee injury.
- The Bears hired Kevin O'Dea as their assistant special teams coach, replacing Chris Tabor, who left to join the Cleveland Browns as special teams coordinator.
- Do the Bears need to give running back Matt Forte a contract extension? Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune looks at that question.
- Green Bay Packers special teams stalwart Jarrett Bush is aware of his perception among fans before this season. Bush, via Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "It was unfortunate what they thought of me, but what I thought of them didn't change. I thought they were still the greatest fans in the world. But it was up to me to change their perception of me and the way I played the game, the way I played football."
- Packers cornerback Charles Woodson sent an autographed jersey to President Barack Obama, a noted Bears fan, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. The autograph read: "To President Obama. See you at the White House. Go Packers. Charles Woodson."
- A Super Bowl repeat of the Packers' wild 2009 shootout with the Pittsburgh Steelers is unlikely, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has sought guidance from other players who have appeared in Super Bowls, including quarterback Kurt Warner. Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal has more.
- Have the Pittsburgh Steelers already ruled out center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) from the Super Bowl? Teammates are indicating yes, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News: "If you consider that Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew was less than a year removed from a major knee injury (ACL), it's pretty amazing what the second-year player accomplished this season."
- The Minnesota Vikings are having discussions about a stadium site in suburban Arden Hills, according to Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The stadium would be located at the intersection of Intestate 35W and Highway 10, according to the Star Tribune.
"I'm glad to see that one of the greatest rivalries in sports is still there," Obama said. "And we will get you next year. I'm just letting you know."
Obama had predicted a 20-17 Bears victory in the NFC Championship Game. Wednesday, he said: "In the spirit of sportsmanship, I wish you 'good luck' in the Super Bowl."
Until next year, of course....
It appears he has already learned the final score.
Full security clearance can do that for a guy.
The Chicago Tribune reports Obama has predicted a 20-17 victory for the Chicago Bears.
(Is he having a flashback to the teams' Week 3 game?)
If you're the Green Bay Packers, you now know the stakes of this game: It's you against the (leader of the free) world.
According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, Obama would be the first sitting president to watch a Super Bowl in person.
Here's a thought: Maybe at halftime he can pull NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith into a side room and negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Halftime at the Super Bowl is twice as long as a normal game, after all.
Thursday was a busy day by the NFL's standards in July, and hopefully we can catch up here on Friday. We had a major contract extension, the signing of a draft pick, another installment of the Brett Favre saga and a head coach speaking at a political fundraiser.
Yes, Chicago's Lovie Smith briefly addressed the crowd at an event Thursday night for President Barack Obama, the longtime Chicago resident. Here's part of what Smith said, according to this account on Politico.com:
Smith: "I'm honored to be a part of the welcoming group to welcome home my favorite son. I have the audacity of hope that the Chicago Bears will some day be visiting the White House giving the president a Chicago Bears football to toss around on the South Lawn."
(One of Obama's books is entitled "The Audacity of Hope.")
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears safety Craig Steltz, who will get the first opportunity to replace safety Mike Brown in the starting lineup.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wonders if Detroit has wasted the talents of place-kicker Jason Hanson.
- Lions linebacker Ernie Sims on the team's new defense: "I just like the position that the coaches put me in. It's enabling me to go out there and have fun and fly around and hit people." Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press has the full story.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette examines the Packers' looming competition at right tackle.
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "To get an idea of how important Antoine Winfield is to the Vikings, consider this: He continually has challenged authority, been outspoken, and rubbed against the grain. And yet he has just agreed to another long-term contract from an organization that loathes all of the above."