- David Fleming, ESPN The Magazine
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"This is how we start? A team that couldn't beat Girl Scout Troop #143 is calling the Texans a practice game? A debacle. Humiliating. An embarrassment. Oh goodness god, we have more Pro Bowlers on defense than the Hall of Fame. Where were they? Jason Taylor, where did you go bro? I read where the team sat at their lockers after the game in stunned silence, just like after losing to the Pats at the end of last year which means after all this time, NOTHING HAS CHANGED. (Dave) Wannstedt? He's a boob. Let's cut bait with him right now. Oh yeah we're going to (the Super Bowl in) Houston for sure -- only we're going to caddy for whatever real NFL team makes it."
Flem File Five
Top Five Slogans for Philly's new stadium
5. TIE: The new Sombrero or Where Offense is the Missing Linc.
4. We traded the Rats nest for a goose egg.
3. We Stinc at the Linc.
2. Seats so Close you can Boo in Andy Reid's ear.
1. Ennui Ready for Some Football?
Wherein we continue to follow the exploits of FlemFile mascot and Washington TE Zeron Flemister.
Z-Flem has gone batty. As a distinguished member of Redskins special teams, Z is after the personalized Louisville Sluggers the team now gives out for big hits on Sundays. (Last year they gave out boxing gloves.) Although he was in on at least two tackles against the Jets (he also blocked well and had a nice 6-yard catch in traffic on third down) the bat went unclaimed this week.
"Special teams are crazy and wild, but fun," says Z-Flem who trained in Colorado for most of the offseason. "It's a free-for-all out there with 250-pound guys running full speed and colliding into other 250-pound guys going 100 MPH. But if you don't love doing this it shows up on film. So I guess I'm just a worker-man type of player because this is the toughest job out there." And the most dangerous. While blocking during a first-half punt return, Z gave one final shove and felt a twinge in his ankle. Gulp. Most players consider an Achilles injury worse than an ACL. "Thought I tore it," says Z, who came back and played most of the second half but is now day-to-day. "Doc said it's just a strain. I heal fast, I'll be back." And then, it's batter up.
The WHYLO (Who Helped You Log On) of the Week
Thoroughly enjoyed my chat last week on Dotcom. Tune back in next week for Round 2. All in all, I got lots of great, funny, insightful questions and had a blast, especially with my patented "speed round." Nick, from California, however, did not enjoy the festivities. He didn't like the fact that we managed to interact intelligently about a lot of inside football stuff while having some fun and managing to not take ourselves too seriously. So for becoming the Woody Hayes of football chats, (Three yawns and a Cloud of Stats) Nick wins this week's WHYLO award.
So Nick, let me type in a question for you: Who Helped You Log On to my chat?
Philly Scene No.1: They went by the book with the grand opening of the Linc in Philly last night. Fireworks and lasers? Check. AC/DC? Check. Big name singer (Irish tenor Ronan Tynan who could double for Curly)? Check? Sappy video montage? Check. Jet fly by? Check. Paratroopers? Check. Sylvester Stalone? Check. Anemic offense? Oops. ... I think the Bengals wore black this week in a failed attempt to disappear. ... Congrats to the Lions on a job well done with their Arizona bye. ... You wanna know what a physical corner looks like? Check out the Bucs Brian Kelly, the anti-Deion. ... PSN2: The way the stands are stacked so close to the field and so tightly on top of one another give The Linc the feel of an outdoor basketball arena. ... Here is the biggest adjustment going on in Atlanta: Doug Johnson is right handed while Mike Vick throws with his left. It's like asking the other 10 guys to learn to write with their left hands. ... PSN3: The stadium was all of seven minutes old when I first heard "new stadium, same old offense." No town goes apoplectic like Philly. Reid's an idiot now. McNabb stinks. The Vet wasn't that bad. Today has been like watching an entire city have a nervous breakdown. ... Please, John Mayer, just move to Orlando and join a boyband already (or Aerosmith). Speaking of weak bands, Good Charlotte is to punk rock what Poison is to heavy metal. BTW is there a better old CD to pull out and have fun rediscovering than License to Ill? ... That horrendous noise you are just now hearing is word of the Browns Week 1 performance finally reaching my dad who is vacationing in Russia. I know, who vacations in Russia? ... In the time it took you to read this note the Raiders were flagged for three more penalties, disproving the notion that wisdom comes with age. ... PSN4: Vera Wang says it took hundreds of drawings to design the Eagles cheerleaders new (bikinis) outfits. Now you know why her dresses cost so much. ... NFL players complaining about the exaggerated characters and storylines in Playmakers is like sportswriters getting mad because Ray Ramano never seems to actually do any work. ... PSN5: A little after 1 a.m. Donovan McNabb made his way out of the Eagles locker room, toward the players' parking lot. To get there he had to squeeze between a wall and the Bucs' bus. An hour after the game he was still getting pinched by Tampa Bay. A bit earlier safety Brian Dawkins had limped out of the x-ray room and hopped in the other direction. These two scenes seemed like an appropriate way to end the first night at The Linc.
THIS COLUMN WAS WRITTEN WHILE LISTENING TO: The White Stripes.
Warren Sapp planted himself in the west end zone of the Eagles fancy new stadium and for 15 minutes, leading all the way up until kickoff, he glared at the fans in Philly. Sapp never moved. He just stood there, with his hands on his hips, as still as a statue, until it looked like he'd take a penalty flag for 12 men on the field. And all the while, darting around in front of him was Bucs linebacker and NFL Defensive MVP Derrick Brooks.
Where Sapp stood, Brooks bounced. Where Sapp froze, Brooks frolicked. Sapp stared. Brooks smiled. Sapp boiled. Brooks bubbled. Sapp gobbled up the spotlight. Brooks worked in the shadows. Sapp made it up as he went along. Brooks went by the book.
At work in that end zone was the Yin (Sapp) and Yang (Brooks) of the Bucs D, the very unique and dynamic balance of the two players and two personalities that have become the driving force behind one of the best defenses in NFL history.
In Tampa, Cover 2 doesn't represent where the safeties play. Cover 2 means the Bucs D, which shut out the Eagles for the first time in four years and has every possible angle 'covered' by these 'two' -- Sapp and Brooks. Sapp, the 1999 DMVP, is an earthmover and trash talker. He devours double teams, microphones and moonpies. Meanwhile Brooks, the 2002 DMVP, has become the game's best defender and its finest citizen while barely uttering a word on his own behalf.
One is strength. The other speed. One is wide. The other tall. There is loud. And quiet. Class clown. Valedictorian. Felix. Oscar. Fire. Ice. Yin. Yang. Hey, thousands of years of Chinese philosophy can't be wrong. The Bucs have it. So do the Ravens, with Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis. And look at what happened to the Eagles D when they let the Yin (Hugh Douglas) to Troy Vincent's Yang leave via free agency -- Yin-yang-thank-ya-man.
"We've got the full spectrum of personality on this defense with those two," says Bucs second-year linebacker Ryan Nece. "That's what has made this defense special-like a family. Families aren't all the same. This works because it's not a dictatorship. And so no one --quiet guys, loud guys, guys who relate to Warren and guys who relate to Derrick -- feels left out. Everyone feels special and part of this defense. And we all want the same thing, to be the best D in the NFL, no matter how different guys are away from the field."
Last night inside The Linc, Yin and Yang's lockers couldn't have been farther apart-in measure and metaphor. Just like at the Super Bowl, while the media horde around Sapp spilled over into the trainers' room ("Hello genius," he roared to some of the Philly media) Brooks dressed by himself, his luggage, shoes and toiletries all neatly arranged in a row; a strong, satisfied smile the only giveaway on his normally steely face.
On the other side of the room Sapp howled with laughter recalling his catch as a tight end and joking about perhaps getting re-signed as a pass catcher. Meanwhile I couldn't help but recall my time with Brooks last week in Tampa when I asked him about his amazing coffin-closer interception returned for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. "I just ran without falling," is all he said.
You wanna work with the offense, you know, like Sapp? He was asked. "No," said Brooks who had four picks returned for TDs in 2002. "I like catching passes on defense."
During dinner in Tampa last week, when fans constantly interrupted him by tapping on the glass of the restaurant as if Brooks were a goldfish, the NFL's Man of the Year in 2000 just smiled and warmly waved. Earlier, sitting on a weight bench eating trail mix before a linebacker meeting, he pretty much summed up his interview/life philosophy. "When you let other people talk for you," he said, "the sound just carries much farther."
Yet there is harmony between the Bucs Yin and Yang -- flawless football Feng Shui, if you will. They are similar in different ways, I guess. Brooks got his Masters in communication from Florida State, yet Sapp's the master communicator. And while Sapp can make QBs cry, Brooks has brought a room full of CEOs to tears talking about his charity work. They are roomies on road trips. And Brooks is one of the few people who, before last night, had seen Sapp catch a pass (during a prep game in the panhandle).
And here's a little Tampa Bay locker room secret: many of the classic sound bytes you hear from Sapp -- like "Mike Vick has been hot for eight weeks, this defense has been hot for eight years -- were first whispered into the big guy's ear by Brooks. "Most of my thoughts, I tell them to Warren," says Brooks. "Then he runs them through his filter, adds some trash talk and whatnot and broadcasts them back to the team." In return, Sapp the socialite tells Brooks the recluse what movies he should go see.
They also work perfectly in concert on the field. Because, for all the attention he may take away from Brooks off the field, Sapp still does much of the dirty work that feeds plays right into Brooks' wheelhouse, like harassing QBs into the quick throws that can be picked off and taken all the way to SportsCenter.
Off the field, Sapp is often made out to be worse than he is while Brooks, known for his ubercharity "The Brooks Bunch," hates to be portrayed as a saint so much he'll even point out his faults for you (He stinks at golf he doesn't always take out the trash when his wife asks him he held out of camp a few years ago.). Yes, he says, they are very different men, but when it really counts -- getting the job done on the ultimate football stage -- Warren and Brooks are like twins.
Twins that came into this league a handful of spots apart in the first round of the 1995 draft. Twins that will likely one day share the same mustard colored sports coat in Canton. Twins that will now haunt The Linc forever.
"One of my fondest memories from the Super Bowl was standing next to Warren and Derrick on the sidelines at the end of the game," says safety John Lynch. "We were all standing there -- yeah, all of us different guys who play different games from different backgrounds -- and we were all standing there doing the same thing: crying our eyes out, world champions."
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com .
Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are different in many ways. But together, they make Tampa's D work.