NFC South: Tom McEwen

TAMPA, Fla. -- In his office at the Tampa Bay Storm's headquarters last week, Derrick Brooks looked the part of a successful president of an Arena Football League team. He also looked as though he could still go out and play linebacker in the National Football League.

But something was different about the Brooks of past week and the one I've known since he entered the NFL in 1995. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I asked Brooks if he was nervous about being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2014 will be selected Saturday and Brooks, who played 14 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is on the ballot for the first time.

"I must admit I think about it every day," Brooks said. "There's a nervous energy about it. It's kind of like the feeling you get before you play a game. But here's the difference: If I'm playing a game, I know I can do something about it and I have a say in it. This situation here, you don't have any say in it.

"The résumé has been written. My career is what it is. If I could write the next chapter, I'd be going in with this class. But the nervousness about it is you just don't know. It's human beings making a vote and there's no guarantee of anything."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Brooks
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Brooks will find out on Saturday if he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
That's a stunning admission from a guy who always seemed to have supreme confidence. Brooks was ice to Warren Sapp's fire during the Buccaneers' glory years, which included a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Brooks, now 40, always seemed calm as he was earning 11 Pro Bowl berths, nine All-Pro honors, the 2002 Defensive Player of the Year award and the 2000 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

But now Brooks is nervous?

Sure he is and it's understandable. That's largely because he always has been a student of the game and knows plenty about its history.

"You talk about the founders of football," Brooks said. "You talk about the history of the game. You talk about the first African-American players. You talk about greatness for centuries. You get a chance to have your bust sit in that room and share that history."

That's where the nervousness kicks in.

"I always watched the process," Brooks said. "But now I watch it with a different intent, like, 'Am I worthy of being in that company?' I guess it presented more questions for me about my career. 'Am I worthy of a bust?'"

Absolutely. Brooks deserves to be a first-ballot selection. He's the best player I've ever covered and that includes Sapp, who went in on the first ballot last year.

More than anyone -- with the possible exception of coach Tony Dungy, who also is a Hall of Fame finalist -- Brooks was responsible for one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. Prior to Brooks' arrival in Tampa Bay, the Bucs had been a laughingstock for a generation. That point was driven home in 1996 when Brooks and Sapp were sitting in a San Diego hotel room, getting ready to play the Chargers.

"Playing a late game, we got a chance to see the pregame shows," Brooks said. "Those guys were making jokes about the Yucks, the Yuckaneers, the quarterback rating for Trent [Dilfer]. They were making fun of us. It kind of resonated with us and Warren and I just looked at each other. I was upset. But he was pissed. He went to a new level with his anger.

"I internalized and said, 'I'm going to do something about this.' But he externalized it. We went to pregame and he just went off on how we were being so disrespected by everybody. We went out there and went down 14-0 before you could sneeze. But then we fought back and won that game. I think the confidence that we built on the road that day was the turning point. I don't think it's ironic or a coincidence that we came back a few years later and won a Super Bowl in that same stadium."

In 1997, the Bucs turned the corner and made the playoffs for the first time in a generation. It also was around that time that two wise men got in Brooks' ear and planted the first ideas that he could have a Hall of Fame career.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Brooks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBrooks returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown in the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
Early in his tenure, Dungy, who had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their 1970s heyday, sat down Brooks and Sapp for a chat.

"He had a conversation with Warren and myself and said, 'You can be Joe Greene, Jack Ham or Jack Lambert,'" Brooks said. "It was intimidating. He laid it on the table what his expectations were for us."

Then, there was the late Tom McEwen. He was the legendary sports editor for the Tampa Tribune. McEwen was a grandfatherly figure who cared deeply about Tampa Bay sports. At the time, he also was Tampa Bay's voter for the Hall of Fame and he always was on the lookout for someone to join Lee Roy Selmon, the Bucs' first Hall of Famer.

"I had a ton of respect for Tom," Brooks said. "After the 1997 season, we started to have some pretty serious conversations. Tom kept telling me, 'Hey, you've started this turnaround. Keep it going and you can have a Hall of Fame career.'"

McEwen was a sage because Brooks only continued to become a greater player. He was a do-it-all linebacker, a leader and a model citizen. He also led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl championship and made the All-Decade Team for the 2000s.

Brooks played through 2008 and the Hall of Fame credentials are there. Still, the guy who seemed unflappable for so many years is nervous.

On Saturday, Brooks will make some appearances in New York and do a radio show. He knows the nerves will continue to grow as afternoon turns into evening.

"I'll just be sitting and waiting," Brooks said. "What's a couple hours more when you put up years of work to get to this position?"

Not much I guess. But Brooks shouldn't have to be nervous. He did his work. Now, it's time for the Hall of Fame voters to confirm him as what he made himself into -- a first-ballot Hall of Famer. With no reason to be nervous.

Around the NFC South

May, 14, 2012
Lots to catch up on as several NFC South teams held rookie camps over the weekend. Let's take a quick spin through some of the headlines from around the division.
  • Carolina first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly went through the team’s rookie camp working at weak-side linebacker. He could end up staying there, but I don’t think anything is set in stone right now. The Panthers want to get a look at middle linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis in training camp before making any firm decisions. Beason and Davis each are coming back from major injuries. Beason has played a little on the outside in the past and Kuechly spent most of his college career in the middle.
  • Receiver Plaxico Burress caused a stir last week when he mentioned the Panthers as a team he’d be interested in playing for. I think the real question is, do the Panthers have any interest in Burress? I strongly doubt it. Burress will turn 35 in August. I just don’t see general manager Marty Hurney signing a receiver that’s about to turn 35. Besides, the Panthers have lots of young options -- Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams -- to go with Steve Smith. Also, Carolina history has shown that it’s not always a wise idea to bring in big-name receivers (see Keyshawn Johnson). There only has been one guy who has truly fit well opposite Smith and that was Muhsin Muhammad.
  • Speaking of Carolina receivers that never really worked out, Dwayne Jarrett has signed to play in the Canadian Football League. Maybe Armanti Edwards can follow?
  • Mike Triplett has a good overview of the contract standoff between Drew Brees and the Saints. He points out this situation isn’t all that unusual, it’s just unexpected because many fans thought the team would give Brees a blank check or the quarterback would give the Saints a hometown discount. Don’t be surprised if this one drags on until close to the July 16 deadline for Brees to sign his franchise tag.
  • New Orleans fifth-round draft pick Corey White caused a bit of a stir when he said he was looking forward to intercepting passes from Brees in practice. Brees had a good-natured response, but made it clear he doesn’t expect the rookie defensive back to be picking off very many of his passes.
  • With middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leaving for New Orleans as a free agent, Atlanta outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said he needs to become a more verbal leader. That’s a good idea. It’s pretty obvious new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has big plans for Weatherspoon. He’s Atlanta’s most athletic linebacker and the Falcons believe he can be a playmaker. They wouldn’t have let Lofton go if they didn’t think Weatherspoon was ready for the next step.
  • Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi showed up at Atlanta’s rookie camp weighing about 260 pounds. That’s about 15 less pounds than Massaquoi carried in his final season at Detroit. The weight loss was by design. The Falcons believe Massaquoi can make more of an impact as a pass-rusher if he’s not carrying as much weight.
  • After his first practice with the Falcons, rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz broke into the “Dirty Bird’’ dance that was popular when the 1998 team was on its way to the Super Bowl. Although Konz grew up in Wisconsin, he became a fan of the Falcons during their Super Bowl run.
  • Keeping with the league-wide trend of getting draft picks signed much earlier than in past years, Konz and the Falcons agreed to contract terms. The Falcons also signed three other draft picks.
  • Bradley Handwerger writes that the NFL should show all its evidence related to the Saints’ bounty program. Fans have been screaming for more evidence after the team was hit hard by suspensions of coaches and players. I understand the frustration and I also would like to see more evidence. But the fact is, this isn’t a court of law. The NFL isn’t required to show all its evidence. If grievances, appeals or lawsuits (or some combination of the three) can get this situation into a court of law, that’s the only way we’re going to see all of the NFL’s evidence.
  • Those of you that have been reading this blog regularly through the years know that I’m forever indebted to legendary former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen. He gave me my first job in this business. As the one-year anniversary of McEwen’s death approaches, McEwen’s family and friends are making sure his legacy of helping young journalists continues. University of Florida journalism student Emily Padgett is the first recipient of a scholarship established in McEwen’s name.

Around the NFC South

March, 20, 2012
Let's take a look at the top Tuesday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

We mentioned Monday that legendary Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Furman Bisher had died at 93. I knew Bisher only vaguely, having sat in the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting room with him a few times and met him at various Super Bowl gatherings while with one of my mentors, legendary Tampa Tribune columnist and sports editor Tom McEwen, a Bisher contemporary. I read a lot of Bisher columns through the years, but didn’t know the man well. That’s why I strongly suggest you read this heart-felt tribute from his long-time colleague, Jeff Schultz.

Here’s an item that says the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t a great fit for Tim Tebow because they don’t need fans screaming for him any time Josh Freeman makes a mistake. Agreed because the Bucs are trying to re-establish Freeman as their quarterback. But there are more reasons why Tebow wouldn’t fit in Tampa Bay and the biggest is he’s not a pure passer. We’ll have a chart later Tuesday that gauges each NFL team as a landing spot and I did the NFC South portion. Let’s just say it’s a real long shot that Tebow ends up anywhere in this division.

The agent for fullback/running back Mike Tolbert said his client signed with Carolina even though San Diego offered a bigger contract to keep him because he wanted to come “home." Charlotte technically isn’t Tolbert’s home, but it’s much closer to that than San Diego. Tolbert grew up in suburban Atlanta and went to college at Coastal Carolina.

Former Carolina tight end Dante Rosario has signed with San Diego. Ironically, Rosario had the biggest catch of his career against the Chargers, a game-winning touchdown in the last second of a 2008 game.

The New Orleans Saints hosted free-agent linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley on Monday. There’s no definitive word on if a contract was offered to either. But the Saints are going to have to trim some cap room if they’re going to sign many more players.

New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter will make a free-agent visit to Tennessee on Wednesday. Porter already has visited the Bengals. It’s highly unlikely he’ll return to the Saints, who used draft picks the past two years on cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick.

Around the NFC South

March, 19, 2012
Time for a Monday morning run through the top headlines from around the NFC South.

— We’ve been hearing a lot of rumblings that we could find out the punishments for the New Orleans Saints for their role in the bounty program this week and that seems likely to remain true. We could hear something as soon as Monday. But here’s a little twist. Although we could hear of fines and potential lost draft picks for the Saints and suspensions for general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton and former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williiams, there now is speculation we might not hear everything this week. There’s speculation that it could take longer to get news on player suspensions. More than 20 players were reportedly involved in the program and the league still could be figuring out the involvement of each or working on a way to stagger suspensions so the Saints aren’t sitting the majority of their defense at the same time.

— The Panthers have San Diego running back Mike Tolbert in for a visit and already have begun contract talks. Don’t be surprised if Tolbert signs with Carolina by the end of Monday. When the Panthers are serious about a free agent, their goal usually is to make sure he doesn’t leave the building before signing a contract.

What happens if the Panthers do sign Tolbert? There is speculation they could put incumbent running backs DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart on the trading block. I think the Panthers would have a hard time getting anything for Williams because teams would be hesitant to take on the huge contract he signed last summer. Stewart would be much more appealing in a trade. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract that’s not nearly as big as Wiliams’ deal. The Panthers also might be wise to get something for Stewart now rather than losing him as a free agent next year.

— Although a civil lawsuit has been filed against Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib following a traffic accident, no criminal charges were filed and no police report was written. Tampa police now are saying the lack of a police report is because the department changed its policy four years ago to save man hours and officers aren’t required to write reports on what they consider minor accidents. In a separate matter, Talib is scheduled to face trial on an assault charge in Texas next week. On that charge, he could face prison time and disciplinary action by the NFL or the team also is possible.

— Sad news out of Atlanta. Legendary Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Furman Bisher has died. He was 93. Bisher was a contemporary and close friend of my mentor, The Tampa Tribune’s Tom McEwen, who passed away last June. Like McEwen, Bisher played a big role in making what is now the NFC South important.

— New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter continues to make the free-agent rounds. He’s expected to visit the Oakland Raiders in the next few days.

Remembering Lee Roy Selmon

September, 4, 2011
Lee Roy SelmonMalcolm Emmons/US PresswireLee Roy Selmon was the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer elected to the Hall of Fame.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I remember precisely where I was the moment Lee Roy Selmon was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I was standing outside a hotel ballroom in Miami in 1995. It was the day before the Super Bowl. A few minutes after the privileged voters inside the room had voted Selmon in, the door swung open. Out walked Tom McEwen, the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune.

"He’s in," McEwen said.

For the rest of that afternoon, evening, the media brunch and all during the Super Bowl, I kept seeing writers, league officials, former players and even Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco coming up to McEwen and offering congratulations.

The response was the same every time.

[+] EnlargeLee Roy Selmon
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireDefensive end Lee Roy Selmon was the first draft pick of the expansion Buccaneers and the top overall pick in 1976.
"Why are you congratulating me?" McEwen said. "Lee Roy’s the one who got into the Hall of Fame. He’s the one who played the game."

That’s the first story I thought of when I heard Selmon had been hospitalized Friday after suffering a stroke. It kind of sums up the story of the first Buccaneer elected to the Hall of Fame and the first member of the team’s Ring of Honor.

He died Sunday at the age of 56.

A humble, exceedingly gracious man, Selmon never was one of those people who would go around seeking attention or adoration. He simply earned it by his play on the field and the way he carried himself off it -- during and long after his career ended in 1984.

McEwen, a powerful man, might have twisted some arms to get the votes. But Selmon was the one who did the grunt work. He was the one who beat double-teams and chased down quarterbacks every Sunday. He was the one who endured the 0-26 run the Bucs went on as a 1976 expansion team.

He was the one who made the Bucs seem like miracle workers (long before the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars entered the league under a different set of rules in 1995) when they reached the NFC Championship Game in the 1979 season.

Yeah, the 1979 team had some guys like Doug Williams and Jimmie Giles who made some big plays on offense. But John McKay’s first winning team won with defense and Selmon was the center of that.

Selmon still was the center of the team in subsequent years when Williams left and things went bad. He left the game after the 1984 season because of a bad back, but he remained the icon of all icons in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs were bad for the next decade, but fans and the team could always point to Selmon as a point of pride. He stuck around town and stayed active in the community. He eventually joined the staff at the University of South Florida and helped the college start its football program.

Selmon remained an ambassador for the Bucs as the late 1990s arrived and things got better. Even if you weren’t in Tampa Bay for Selmon’s playing days, you knew who he was. There’s a Tampa expressway named after him and I have to drive by one of the restaurants that bears his name to get just about anywhere.

I’ll think of him every time I go by that restaurant and I’ll have one lasting memory of the man. Last November, Selmon was a guest speaker at a luncheon to honor McEwen at Saint Leo University.

At one point, Selmon said he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it hadn’t been for McEwen. No doubt, McEwen played a role. But, like McEwen said, Lee Roy was the one who got into the Hall of Fame and he was the one to play the game.

He played it with uncommon grace and dignity and he lived his life that same way. That’s why the legend of Lee Roy Selmon is going to keep lingering in Tampa Bay.

NFC South programming notes

June, 13, 2011
I’m back at it Monday morning after burning some time off, which I figured I’d better take because there won’t be a dull moment for months once the lockout ends.

First off, although things were pretty quiet while I was gone, there are two things I’d like to weigh in on.

Friday’s memorial service for legendary Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen was every bit as spectacular as you would expect. Steve Spurrier, Lee Roy Selmon and Leonard Levy (a Tampa businessman, community activist and McEwen friend) were outstanding with their eulogies. Spurrier, in particular, had everyone laughing as he delivered an uplifting speech that made us remember Tom’s legacy is staying with us. There was also a moment when McEwen's true power really hit me. As a general rule, a lot of guys don’t sing out loud in public and I’m one of them. At one point, a song was being played and I looked across the church. In my line of vision, I saw football’s Jon Gruden, hockey’s Phil Esposito and baseball’s Tino Martinez all singing. Only McEwen could have created that scene.

On a lighter note, there was a little bit of excitement in Carolina last week when center Ryan Kalil sent out a tweet that suggested the Panthers will be the team featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ this summer. That’s not happening. The Panthers haven’t had any conversations with the people who run the show. There have been a lot of rumors about “Hard Knocks’’ and NFC South teams in the last few months. Let’s just clarify what’s real and what’s not. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers received an offer to be the featured team. They declined. There have been no talks with the Panthers or Falcons. I’m not sure if the Saints were ever approached or not, but they have no interest in being on the show. In other words, even if training camps take place, “Hard Knocks’’ is not coming to the NFC South this year.

Moving forward, I’m responsible for writing our story on the Power Rankings for left tackles that will appear Tuesday afternoon. I can’t reveal results yet, but I can tell you Carolina’s Jordan Gross and Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn were on my ballot. We’ll see if the rest of the voters thought enough of them to put them in the top 10.

We’ll stay on lockout watch, continue to monitor player workouts and be ready to dive into free agency if something breaks. Also, we’ll resume the NFC South chat Friday at 1 p.m. I’ll put up a reminder and a link later in the week.

NFC South links: Saints staying sharp

June, 6, 2011
Atlanta Falcons

In his upcoming autobiography, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick admits his "propensity for trying to lie [his] way out of trouble" -- to police investigators, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, owner Arthur Blank, his own defense attorney -- "only made [his] consequences more severe."

The Falcoholic takes an early look at which Falcons will make the Pro Bowl in 2011.

Carolina Panthers

Several Panthers players will take batting practice from 6 to 6:30 p.m. Monday with the Charlotte Knights.

In an interview with the Fayetteville Observer, coach Ron Rivera talked about what the team might do when free agency finally arrives. "Well, I think there are a couple of positions we most certainly need to make sure there are some good veteran depth there. ... We made a couple of moves here in the draft, but we’d still like to see if we can find a veteran defensive line guy who could help us. You look at our linebackers and we’ve got a couple of guys who are coming back after injuries, so we’ve got to see if there’s potentially if there’s a veteran guy we could bring in. The same thing with the defensive back position."

New Orleans Saints

Leaders such as Jonathan Vilma make sure the Saints' players stay sharp. "... [W]e know this is a time when a player can slip through the cracks. You can get soft. You can say, 'I'm taking this week off. I'm partying tonight.' And pretty soon you're out of shape. No one on this team is doing that because of guys like Drew [Brees] and the leaders we have on this team. Everyone is working twice as hard because they don't want to relax a minute and get soft," Vilma said.

Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune has a story on Paige Cothren, the first player to sign a formal contract with the Saints.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reflecting on the life of former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen, who died on Sunday at age 88, here, here and here.

Bucs salute Tom McEwen

June, 5, 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just issued a statement on the passing of legendary former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen.

"Tom McEwen was a legendary difference-maker in journalism, sports, and the Tampa Bay region,’’ the team said. “Had Tom decided to dedicate his trademark smarts, gusto, and energy to something else, there would be no Buccaneers. If Tampa Bay had its own Mount Rushmore, Tom McEwen would be etched on it. Thank you and rest in peace, friend."

That part about there not being any Buccaneers if McEwen wasn’t around is absolutely true. The man was sort of the sports mayor of Tampa and he lobbied long and hard for the area to get an expansion team. When it looked like the Bucs might be looking for a new home in the 1990s, no one fought harder than McEwen to make sure they stayed.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It’s a sad day in the land of the NFC South.

Tom McEwen, one of the men who helped build this division, has passed away. The long-time sports editor and columnist for The Tampa Tribune was 88.

[+] EnlargeTom McEwen's memorabilia
Pat Yasinskas/ESPN.comA display of Tom McEwen's memorabilia at Saint Leo University. The long-time sports editor and columnist for The Tampa Tribune died June 5 at his home on Davis Island, Fla. He was 88.
This one is hitting very close to home because McEwen was the man who gave me my first full-time job in this business. He also gave me a lot of career advice throughout the years and, most important of all, was a great friend. My decision to leave the Tribune for The Charlotte Observer in 1999 was made on McEwen's dock after a lengthy conversation with the greatest mentor of all. When I got hired by, McEwen was one of the first people I called and he was thrilled that I was moving back to Tampa.

For those who don’t know the back story on McEwen, he was the point man on Tampa Bay’s effort to get an expansion team. He fought hard to keep the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay when it looked like they might be moving in the mid-1990s. He also was instrumental in bringing the Super Bowl here four times and getting Raymond James Stadium built.

But don’t think McEwen was just an advocate for Tampa Bay. If you’re a fan of the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, you owe this man some gratitude because he helped your teams along the way. McEwen was a power broker in NFL circles and he encouraged the league to give franchises to Atlanta and New Orleans because he knew that putting other teams in the south eventually would help bring a team to Tampa Bay. He also pushed for Atlanta and New Orleans to host Super Bowls.

When Jerry Richardson started trying to get an expansion team for the Carolinas, he found a friend in McEwen, who went to bat for the team that became the Panthers. McEwen also did a lot in bringing hockey’s Lightning and baseball’s Rays to Tampa Bay.

It’s a tragic day and my heart goes out to Tom’s wife, Linda, and their family. It might take some time, but I’m going to try to focus on all the positives I gained from knowing Tom.

One recent one comes to mind. Saint Leo University, my alma mater, is home to “Tom McEwen: A Tampa Bay Treasure’’, an exhibit of McEwen’s memorabilia. I had the honor of picking up the memorabilia at McEwen’s house and driving it up to Saint Leo.

I’ve always been a pretty confident driver. But that 45-minute drive was the most nerve-wracking of my life. The cargo in my car that day included photos of McEwen with the likes of Johnny Unitas, Bear Bryant and George Steinbrenner. It included autographed footballs and hand-written notes from Steve Spurrier and Roger Goodell.

It also included Tom’s Red Smith Award. That’s the highest honor given in sportswriting. I put that in the passenger’s seat, locked the doors and drove as cautiously as I ever have. I’m not sure I exhaled until we got everything under lock and key at Saint Leo.

The cargo I was carrying that day was precious and I’m glad I can stop by Saint Leo and look at the memorabilia and think of Tom. But I don’t need the visual reminders to recall all that was great about Tom.

He’ll never really be gone. There are thousands of people who were impacted by this great man and we’ll all carry pieces of him for years to come.

Tom’s legacy was built over the course of many years. Now, it’s time for that legacy to shine brighter than ever.

Around the NFC South

April, 28, 2011
Time for a quick trip through the NFC South headlines.

Although there has been all sorts of speculation about Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers tumbling in the draft, he says his knee is just fine. He says reports about having arthritis or needing microfracture surgery are not accurate. Bowers says the surgery was simply to repair a torn meniscus. Still, he’s been falling in a lot of mock drafts, and if those are correct, Bowers could be available at No. 20 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Would they take the risk? I think they might. The last time a defensive lineman, who many initially thought would be the No. 1 overall pick was tumbling this fast, the Bucs took him. It was Warren Sapp. The reasons for Sapp’s fall were much different, but I think there’s a point where you have to take a shot on Bowers and No. 20 could be that point.

D. Orlando Ledbetter scratches defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Adrian Clayborn off Atlanta’s board and suggests five names the Falcons could be targeting at No. 27. I agree with all five names, but I’d also add Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin. If the Falcons don’t trade up and still decide to go with a wide receiver at No. 27, it will be either Baldwin or Maryland’s Torrey Smith.

Michael Irvin says the Carolina Panthers need to surround Cam Newton with better players, if they do make the quarterback the No. 1 pick tonight, as is widely expected. I think there’s a misconception here that’s tied directly to Carolina’s 2-14 record last season. Coach John Fox and his feud with ownership and management had a lot to do with that record. This isn’t the typical roster of a 2-14 team. At least at the moment, Steve Smith is still on it. So are guys like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Shockey, a good offensive line and the Panthers like young receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis.

Mike Triplett lists the likely targets for the Saints. I agree totally with Muhammad Wilkerson, Cameron Heyward, Adrian Clayborn, Phil Taylor, Mark Ingram and Gabe Carimi. But I’d scratch UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers off the list. I’ve gotten some indications one thing the Saints won’t do is take an outside linebacker in the first round. Yes, they have a need. But that’s a spot they think they can address later in the draft or via free agency.

Now, let’s skip to two very positive items that aren’t related to the draft.

Tampa Bay offensive lineman Ted Larsen reportedly rescued three teens from dangerous waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

This one’s personal because Tom McEwen is the man who gave me my first job in this business. Tom’s the legendary former columnist and sports editor for The Tampa Tribune. He will be presented an honorary degree from Saint Leo University during graduation ceremonies Saturday. I’ve got a degree from Saint Leo that I’ve always been proud of. But I think the value of that degree gets multiplied by 100 once the man who largely built the sports world in Tampa Bay also has one. Congrats, Dr. McEwen. Wish I could be there to see it, but obviously the draft will have me occupied on Saturday.

Around the NFC South

November, 3, 2010
With the help of the many fine beat writers and columnists around the NFC South, let's take a look at some of the division's headlines.

Martin Fennelly has a great column on Tuesday’s event, where Tom McEwen was declared a “Tampa Bay Treasure’’ by Saint Leo University. Martin sums up the event very nicely. When you click on this piece, be sure to check out the photo of McEwen with Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lee Roy Selmon that was taken by Bill Ward. I promise there soon will be a copy of that photo hanging on the office wall at NFC South Blog Headquarters.

Joseph Person has a nice story on Carolina practice-squad player Shawn Murphy. He’s the son of legendary baseball player Dale Murphy.

Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine, who has missed the last three games with a strained quadriceps, said he will attempt to practice this afternoon.

Jeff Duncan has a feature on New Orleans cornerback Leigh Torrence. The guy has been a career backup and special-teams player. But he came up big for the Saints on Sunday night.

I don’t think there truly is a “best team in the NFC’’ right now. But I think Jeff Schultz is right on when he says the Falcons have a chance to prove they deserve that tag.

Big sports day in Tampa Bay

November, 2, 2010
Over the next few hours, you’ll see some of our regular Tuesday features pop up. We’ll have the updated Power Rankings, High Energy Player of the Week and Decisive Moment of the Week.

I’ve already future posted those items and I’ll be monitoring any other news via cell phone and computer from temporary NFC South Blog Headquarters this afternoon. I’ll be setting up shop at Saint Leo University, my alma mater, which will be hosting a luncheon and ceremony to unveil what will be contained in the display “Tom McEwen: A Tampa Bay Treasure.’’

I wrote about this several weeks ago and, for those who don’t recall, McEwen is the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune and played a big role in getting the Buccaneers, Lightning and Rays to town as expansion teams and also helped clear the way for the University of South Florida to start a football program.

Saint Leo will be the permanent home to a collection of McEwen’s work and memorabilia that will chronicle the history of sports in the Tampa Bay area. The luncheon is private and the permanent display case is still under construction. I’ll let you know when it’s ready and open to the public, which should be sometime in the next 60 days or so.

But much of the Tampa Bay sports world will be gathering at Saint Leo to honor Tom this afternoon. ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio will serve as master of ceremonies and the guest speakers will include Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lee Roy Selmon, veteran Tampa Tribune writer Joey Johnston and a certain NFC South blogger.

The Bucs, Lightning and Rays each will be sending representatives and there will be a large collection of media members who started their careers working for McEwen. In fact, if you’re in the Tampa Bay area, you’ll be able to hear from a lot of the guests.

“The Fabulous Sports Babe’’ will be broadcasting live from right outside the luncheon room on ESPN Tampa Bay (1040 AM) from noon to 3 p.m. I’ll join her for a few minutes at some point. A bunch of media friends also have committed to chat for a bit and you might even hear from some representatives from the Tampa Bay professional sports teams.

'Tom McEwen: A Tampa Bay Treasure'

October, 8, 2010
I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier to post an item on the NFC South Blog than this one.

Let’s go ahead and declare Nov. 2 a holiday or day of celebration throughout the entire NFC South. On that day, Saint Leo University (my alma mater) will host a luncheon to announce the exhibit “Tom McEwen: A Tampa Bay Treasure.’’

McEwen was the longtime sports editor and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. For those in other NFC South cities, don’t stop reading because McEwen also had an impact on each of your franchises and cities.

In fact, I’m going to make a case right now that McEwen is the single most important figure in the history of the NFC South -- owners, players and coaches come and go, but Tom has been a presence through all of it. Tom came from a different era, when columnists were more like ambassadors or sports mayors of their cities. In that regard, McEwen was the king.

He was the driving force behind the effort that landed Tampa Bay an expansion team. The NFL granted the franchise to Tampa Bay before it even had an owner in place and the Bucs began play in 1976. That’s when McEwen really started to develop clout with owners across the NFL and in the league office in New York.

He’s a big part of the reason Tampa has become a regular Super Bowl host. McEwen also was instrumental in keeping the Bucs in Tampa Bay when they were looking for a new stadium in the mid-1990s. McEwen worked behind the scenes with NFL officials and owners to make sure the Bucs didn’t leave and that resulted in the construction of Raymond James Stadium.

The greatest demonstration of the power of McEwen might have been when he helped get Lee Roy Selmon elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’ve been in that room on a couple of election days and I know how things work. Unless you’re the prototypical first-ballot guy, your candidacy depends largely on the guy who is making your case. I wasn’t in the room the day Selmon got elected, but I spent most of the rest of the day with McEwen. Other voters repeatedly came up to him and said he made the most convincing case they’d ever seen.

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Daryl in Springfield, N.J., writes: Thanks for the recent blurb about the Bucs not being cheap. From what I remember, a lot of people called Tampa cheap when they let Antonio Bryant walk instead of giving him a long term contract. Bryant has yet to take part in the Bengals training camp due to lingering injury issues. The Terrell Owens signing seems like further proof that Cincinnati doesn't trust Bryant to be a starter. What looked like cheap in the offseason appears to be a brilliant move now.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, if people called the Buccaneers cheap for not re-signing Bryant, then they had no idea what they were talking about. The decision not to re-sign Bryant had nothing to do with money. Bryant made that decision for the Bucs with his actions last season and the decision was made long before the season was even close to being over. Bryant was a receiver who the Bucs rescued off the scrap heap and he responded with a big season in 2008. After that, Bryant began making a lot of noise about wanting a huge, long-term contract. The Bucs wanted a little more evidence that Bryant really had turned his life and career around before making a long-term commitment. That’s why they made him a restricted free agent last year, which basically guaranteed Bryant $10 million for one season. Bryant kept griping about that, didn’t really produce on the field, blamed his sore knee on the plane trip home from London, took repeated shots at rookie quarterback Josh Freeman and questioned the coaching staff. That’s the textbook version of how to play your way out of any town. I wrote multiple times late last season that Bryant was on his way out. The first time I wrote that, a pretty important figure with the Bucs called me up and said, “That’s a pretty good read on the AB situation." Again, that one wasn’t about money and the Bucs are looking pretty good right now for letting Bryant walk.

Chad in Las Vegas writes: Peter Finney is going to be honored at the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Can you give the people that aren't familiar with his work with the New Orleans Saints some background on him? I grew up in N.O. and enjoyed his articles and commentary with The Times Picayune.

Pat Yasinskas: I am thrilled that you asked because I don’t want Peter to be overshadowed by the players inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday. Peter is the legendary sports columnist for The New Orleans Times Picayune. He will receive the Dick McCann Award for long-time excellence in writing about football. I’ve known Peter since I’ve been covering the league, but have gotten to be around him even more since I’ve been doing the NFC South Blog. He’s one of the true gentlemen in our business and a man who doesn’t have to ask for respect because he’s earned so much of it. I think of Peter a lot like I think of Tom McEwen, the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune and the man who first hired me in this business. I had the honor of sitting next to McEwen at hundreds of games. I didn’t get to work that closely with Peter, but my buddy Jeff Duncan has. So let’s turn it over to Dunk to go a little deeper on the Finney story. One other thing on Finney -- he's the guy that made the presentation to the voters that helped get Rickey Jackson elected to the Hall of Fame.

Jeff in Charleston, S.C., writes: I was dumbfounded when I read (on another media outlet) that one of the biggest defensive-line stories in Falcons training camp is Jamaal Anderson. He supposedly has impressed from the DE position since camp started and continues to improve. Is this legit or just coaches being hopeful?

Pat Yasinskas: I’ll be able to tell you more Monday when I get up to Atlanta’s camp and see Anderson in person and have a chance to talk to the coaches. However, my gut reaction on this is it’s the old hope-springs-eternal story. There are guys everywhere ever year that we all write about how this might be the year things are really going to turn around. Think Dwayne Jarrett and Michael Clayton. Hey, I think I’ve even written about high hopes for Anderson at some point in the past couple of preseasons. You never know. But the bottom line is that Anderson, so far, has been a flop as a defensive end. He’s been adequate when he has moved inside to defensive tackle.

Adam in Columbia, S.C., writes: The feeling so many fans and media have that Panthers will not be good because of their "youth movement" just doesn't make sense to me. Take for example the Chargers. They have a younger roster than the Panthers and are once again considered to be an elite team in the NFL. Why does youth in the Panthers camp spell doom, but it is ignored on the side of the Chargers? Smells like a double standard to me.

Pat Yasinskas: Valid point and I think the Panthers will have a winning record. However, to answer your question, I think the perception on the Panthers is that they have a lot of question marks and a lot of people really don’t know anything about Matt Moore. That isn’t the case with San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
I just sent in my final ballot for the Pro Football Writers of America annual awards and it’s fair to say there were a number of NFC South votes on there.

The ballot had been narrowed down to five finalists for each award. I had made an NFC South nomination in each of the five categories and I do have to admit I’m a little disappointed that former Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen was not a finalist for the McCann Award and former Carolina fullback Brad Hoover didn’t make the final cut for the Good Guy Award. I had nominated both and felt very strongly about those nominations.

Anyway, we’ll move on to the people who are finalists for each of the awards. Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams, who has overcome two major knee injuries, is a finalist for the Halas Award, which is given to the person who overcomes the most adversity.

Atlanta’s top-notch public relations staff of Reggie Roberts, Frank Kleha, Matt Conti and Brian Cearns is a finalist for the Rozelle Award, for the league’s most helpful PR staff, for the second straight year.

Longtime New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Peter Finney is a finalist for the McCann Award, which goes to a writer for long-term contributions to the business. That helped me absorb the McEwen blow. Finney is to New Orleans what McEwen is to Tampa Bay -- a sports face of the area. McEwen gave me my first job in the business, so I’m admittedly partial. But I’ve gotten to know Finney through the years and he’s a fine gentleman and a very worthy candidate.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is a finalist for the Good Guy Award, which goes to the player who does the most to help the media do its job. No argument against Brees. One other thing on Brees I should share with you: A lot of times, the media might paint a guy to be better than he is just because he can throw a football -- or run fast or whatever. But Brees is one of those guys who is every bit as good of a person as you'd imagine.

There is no NFC South tie to the five finalists for the Horrigan Award, which goes to a person who is not a player or public relations worker, who does the most to help the media do its job. I made a nomination for a certain NFC South executive. He didn’t make the cut, so I won’t name him. He’d be embarrassed (and turn red) anyway because he doesn’t like attention.