By David Fleming
Page 2

Seven hundred million people know exactly how Tennessee QB Steve McNair finished Super Bowl XXXIV: by leading the Titans on an eye-popping, last second drive, shedding would-be sackers like overcoats, willing his offense to within a sub sandwich of the Lombardi Trophy. But how many folks out there know how McNair started that day? How he starts every game-day Sunday?

With a nap.

That's right. After warming up a bit and beginning the tedious pre-game ritual of mummifying his battered body in athletic tape, McNair then wanders off by himself (sometimes to a trainer's table, a couch or even the shower-room floor) and snoozes for at least an hour. Honest. An hour. Preseason game or Super Bowl. Rookie year or MVP season. When the Titans are 1-4 or 4-1, doesn't matter.

McNair, like a majority of NFL players, can't survive without his siesta.

(Now if only someone would wake up his receivers.)

"It's just how I relax," McNair once told me. "It helps me prepare. It helps me concentrate. When I wake up, my head is clear, I'm refreshed and then it's time to go to work."

Some people envy NFL players because of the huge coin they make for playing a child's game. Others crave the fame. The cars. The jewelry. The babes.

Me?

I'm jealous of the naps.

Before the real world intruded on my nap time, in college I was considered something of a connoisseur of "re-bagging" -- later shortened to "rebag" and then just "re" because, you know, we were too tired to say the whole word. It's the ancient art of dragging yourself out of bed for an 8 a.m. British Lit class (after spending most of the previous night playing full-contact hockey on the beer-soaked basement floor instead of reading Beowulf) then sliding back into your loft, tacking up a beach towel over the window and cranking the AC to meat locker levels before dozing off for a brief respite until ... oh, I don't know ... say ... happy hour.

Oh, how I miss the rebag. Sack time. The kind of sleep where it feels like you weigh 800 pounds and the only thing that might possibly shake you awake is a free pizza delivered by The Donnas.

See, for anyone who doesn't weigh 325 pounds or run 40 yards in under 4.45 seconds those torpor-ific days usually end after college. I'm not a slumba hata. Honest. The truth is I'm not exactly sure if the snooze-fest going on in the NFL says more about professional football players state of suspended adolescence or, perhaps, the kind of daily physical torture they endure that requires extra, mandated fits of restorative sleep to make it through the day.

Hey, Einstein was a napper. So was Churchill, Edison and Napoleon. JFK napped. So did Clinton and Reagan. But they don't have anything on the NFL. These dudes have raised bed head to an art form.

A few weeks ago, just before noon, with the Detroit Lions collegial locker room about to reach maximum cacophony, I spotted a member of the Lions defense completely asleep on the carpet in front of his locker. I mean this guy was out cold, defcon 5, drool preparing to breach the lower lip.

The guy had a blue towel over his head. His feet were up on a stool. (A fellow connoisseur I could tell right away). And as teammates joked and laughed and stepped over him getting to their lockers, the cell phone laying on his chest continued ringing almost non stop. Dude never moved. He just kept right on dreaming about the Lions making the Super Bowl ... in 2083. That's big-time napping right there. HeHHhhhhI almost spontaneously combusted from envy.

It made me think: Hey, the Lions are 3-2. While Mister Jon 'sleep is for wimps' Gruden is 1-5. Perhaps the old saying is wrong. These days in the NFL its actually 'Snooze or Lose.'

First in training camp and now as the season begins to wear on, guys in the NFL plan their entire day around their naps. There are special blankets. Fans. Sleeping masks. White noise makers. Brad Johnson has a whole way he reconfigures his pads to turn his locker into a little napping nest.

According to a recent study -- one that I simply cannot name because I nodded off while reading it -- most Americans are sleep deprived. These same studies say regular naps have been proven to increase both productivity and performance. And they go on to suggest that employers should not only encourage the practice of napping but also provide facilities and pay for actually sleeping on the job.

Well, I never thought I'd say this about the NFL but when it comes to catching Z's the league is actually ... progressive. I mean, have you ever tried to stay awake during the commish's State of the League address? There are times -- like during the first half of last year's Super Bowl or any time Bill Belichick opens his mouth -- when NFL parity seems like nothing more than a giant plot to hypnotize the world into buying more beer. There are worse things, of course.

You wake up anybody else in the world with a phone call and they say, "no ... no ... I wasn't sleeping, no way." Not NFL players. Uh uh. These guys nap. They nap often. They nap long. They get those thick pillow creases in the sides of their faces and they show 'em off like fresh tattoos.

A few years ago at training camp in New Orleans I had to whisper my questions to safety Tebucky Jones inside a completely dark locker room because the rest of the team was sacked out on air mattresses, bean bags, benches and any open plot of real estate napping before the next practice. Cell phones subbed for night lights. Players had special comforters and sleeping bags. Some had headphones on. Others used playbooks to cover their eyes. (This actually explains a lot.)

It looked like, well, Jags DE Marcus Stroud is a lot bigger than I am so I'll let him say it: "nap time at day care?"

Yeah, pretty much.

Stroud should talk. His buddies back in Georgia say he's the king of the rebag. They tell me he could sneak in a nap waiting for his turn on PlayStation. I think one of the things Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez enjoyed the most about his summer studying Spanish in Mexico was the daily, municipally mandated naps.

After a horrible start to the 2003 season Philly QB Donovan McNabb retreated to his home in Phoenix during the team's bye week where he got his head right by relaxing on a lawn chair out on his expansive back deck. Before these McNaps the Eagles were 0-2. Since then they're 17-2.

Did a simple nap save the Eagles franchise as well as the entire city of Philadelphia as we know it?

Perhaps. But I'm not 100% sure.

Better let me nap on it.

FLEM GEMS -- NFL WEEK 6
30-SECOND COLUMN
"You feel like you're 17?"

This one line of dialogue between two high school football players sums up everything that's missing in the new movie Friday Night Lights, director Peter Berg's adaptation of H.G. Bissinger's best selling book that chronicled the sad season of a Texas high school football team. The gritty, subtle beauty of Bissinger's tale was how a bankrupt oil town had burdened a bunch of teenage jocks with its own emotional survival. A theme that has since begun to play out on a national scale. Yet instead of focusing on this dysfunctional yet ultimately interesting relationship and the toll it took on the team, Berg turned the film into a hyper-violent high school version of On Any Given Sunday. Through his video-game lens every pass becomes a perfect slow-motion spiral, every tackle a spine-cracking car crash and every jersey dramatically soaked in crimson blood. Sure, we get bits and pieces of the real emotional pain that is central to the book, like shots of barren store fronts, the aforementioned dialogue and country singer Tim McGraw's film-stealing portrayal of a 'Glory Days' dad trying to live through his son. But once the movie abandons the heart of Bissinger's book all that remains is a borderline absurd portrayal of high school football.

FLEM FILE FIVE
Top Five Sporting Events to Nap To:

5.) MLS ... My screen saver is more exciting. They should rename this league Major League Snooze.

4.) NASCAR ... the cars spread out, round and round they go and ... zzzzzz.

3.) Andy Reid's Monday morning press conference. He's a good coach and even better person but I once heard Reid refer to four TDs and a 137.5 passer rating as a "nice day."

2.) New Years Day bowl games ... see, here's one good thing about the BCS.

1.) Golf&has the same effect on me as Big Gulp of Nyquil.

T-FLEM FILE
For NFL players Tuesdays are supposed to be quote-unquote 'off-days'. Not for Titans rookie fullback and FlemFile mascot Troy Fleming.

Tuesday began bright and early with an appearance at a Nashville hospital and ended with a speech at an elementary school. In-between Fleming closed on his first home. In fact, when we talked he was in the middle of the final walk through before the purchase went through.

As usually he was as amped up as Al Gore.

"Tuesdays go by fast," he said flatly. "All you want to do is lay around at home and relax. And the next thing you know it's 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and your back in the team meeting room."

After his breakout performance on MNF, TFlem came back down to earth last week against the Texans. Coaches came in to the locker room before kickoff and told the team that tight end Shad Meier had undergone an emergency appendectomy at 6 a.m. Sunday and would miss the game. This forced the Titans to use more spread formations and multiple-receiver sets, severely reducing T's role. He was solid again as a kick returner and the one series he did play with the offense the Titans scored, but it was a bit of a let down after MNF.

"There are highs and lows in every season," says TFlem. "We have to come together as a team and try to win all of these final 10 games."

In the meantime TFlem has some painting to do at his new home. The walls had all been decorated in light blues and pea greens. Not exactly the color palette of a fullback.

"I'm more of a forest green and maroon type guy," says TFlem.

WHYLO
Since we are now required by Page 2 bylaws to focus a majority of our work on the ALCS, Sean begins this week's mailbag with, "Your column really (stinks). However, for reasons I am unable to explain, I find myself logging in week after week, just to see if you have anything dumber to say. It may have something to do with being a Red Sox fan, and being a glutton for punishment. Flem, I think you may be my daddy."

Kent then sends a letter through the looking glass. "What the (potty word) is this (potty word)? Have you gone all corporate on us?" he writes. "If we wanted to read something legit we wouldn't be looking at Page 2. You seem concerned about making a point, supporting it, and leaving the reader with something to consider going into the this weekend game. It is almost enough to make one think you were a professional journalist."

Seemingly torn by his feelings, Ben writes, "I have heard your claim referred to as refreshing, new and important. I have also heard people refer to it as feces and as out and out lies. I don't really know about any of that but it sure is funny. Keep it up Flem."

Forgetting for a moment that the term "baddest" is subjective (and that Steve Smith led all NFL receivers in the playoffs last year) Sean writes, "If you didn't make stupid statements like Steve Smith is the baddest pass catcher in the game everyone wouldn't think you were such a (dumb person)."

Even though he misspells 'thoroughly' Satyen says I'm the one who is stupid, "I enjoy your column. Even though it can be throroughly stupid sometimes, I can still get into it."

Richard writes, "I like Kenny Roger's music. I do not particularly like your writing."

Getting right to the point, Steven writes, "Yo (potty word) you. Carolina will pull together and do all right, and even if they don't break even doesn't necessarily constitute a SBH."

Proving once again that my hatemail has no geographical boundaries, Sinai writes, "I am writing you from Israel so you must excuse my English. First of all your article used to be really good but now it's pretty boring. The reason I am writing to you about (besides just plain boredom) is the music your listening to. YOU MUST UPGRADE YOURSELF!!! The Clash?! PUNK?! HA!"

Sean gets precariously close to WHYLO status by questioning the veracity of my hatemail. He writes, "I enjoy reading your column, it is original and a nice change of pace. I must ask though ... is the hate mail real? I just can't believe that people get that angry over random nonsense like what Archuletta can bench press or the fact that Steve Smith digs Kenny Rogers. These people are insane. Sweet mother ... where are we headed?"

Matt beats him out for WHYLO runner-up by writing about a semantic pet peeve of mine regarding my alma mater, "Now, I'm reading your article and what do I read? ' ... and T Jacob Bell from FOOTBALL POWERHOUSE Miami of Ohio (the very same Lil' RedHawks who destroyed Kent 47-27 last week)' While I do enjoy the props you gave your alma mater, why won't people start calling the school by its actual name, 'Miami University'? Maybe people would then learn that the Hurricanes are in fact from the University of Miami." (FLEM NOTE: Whatever. I, and every other non-pretentious alumnus with far more important things to worry about, go by Miami of Ohio. Big deal. Relax. If you don't like it you can tune into all the other national columnists who, this week, are talking about how THE LIL REDHAWKS OBLITERATED BUFFALO.)

Finally, Joe writes, "Flem-tastic! The Flemmer! Flem-O-Licious! Thanks for the pub and all in last week's column, but I still didn't feel the love for the HOGS! Just a couple sentences about the College football version of the Atlanta Braves. This week's test at Auburn makes or breaks the year ... "

Even though this is an NFL column, last week, out of the goodness of my heart, I printed one of Joe's emails about his beloved Arkansas. This week he wrote back-not to thank me, no of course not-but to complain that I didn't give enough pub to his mediocre team. (Funny, isn't it? How the ugliest hate mail doesn't bother me in the least but a lack of gratitude just fries my eggs.)

Well, I have the perfect solution for Joe and his pub-starved Razorbacks:

They can get all the attention they deserve as this week's WHYLO.

Joe? Who Helped You Log On?

THIS COLUMN WRITTEN WHILE LISTENING TO: Beastie Boys.

David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.




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