Kudos to the Cincinnati Bengals on making it into 3 of the last 4 Out-Takes! That's a .750 "winning" percentage! (In this case, the third time in no way constitutes a charm.)
Recently, Marvin Lewis & Friends took another step toward completing their commemorative "Troubled NFL Vets" set, in signing defensive tackle Tank Johnson - of the "personal conduct, schmersonal conduct!" Johnsons. Suspended for eight games in 2007, Tank joins the ranks of these current, former and possible future Bengals who've run afoul of the law:
FROSTEE RUCKER. Anyone can get busted for battery, but how many have the creative gusto to throw in a charge of vandalism? Really, Frostee? "Vandalism?" What were you, hangin' with a tough crowd, nothin' to do but bust up storefront windows, spray-paint a street sign? Oh, and by the way, could your name sound any MORE like the result of a spit-balled Hollywood pitch?
INT. A HOLLYWOOD STUDIO BUNGALOW - DAY
A TYPICAL SMARMY PRODUCER sits on the edge of his seat, hoping like heck to put the EXEC ACROSS THE ROOM on the edge of his. His eyes dance with possibility and dollar-signs...
TYPICAL SMARMY PRODUCER: Think "Brian's Song" meets "Major League!" The main guy, see, he's a grizzled vet running back on his last legs, hoping to go out in a blaze of glory. We'll make an offer to Wesley Snipes, I know his people, one call and - hm? The name? Of the character? Oh, um...I dunno...Frostee. Frostee...Rucker. Bang, done! Frostee Rucker. Oh, and hey - we'll spell it with double-EE's! The 13-18 male demo LOVES double-EE's! Anyway...
CHRIS HENRY. (Pardon the transition, name-wise, from Frostee Rucker to Chris Henry. I'll give you a sec to recalibrate.) You'd think a guy with two wholesome names like "Chris" and "Henry" would manage to keep himself on the straight-and-narrow, but not so much. In one 14-month span, the talented (and, apparently, busy) wideout was arrested FOUR times, resulting in his very own 8-game suspension in '07. So, hey, he's got that in common with his new teammate. Maybe "Hank" and Tank can form a Meet-Up or start a Facebook Group! Gotta "team-build" somehow!
CEDRIC BENSON. Last year the former Longhorn, once touted to be "the next Ricky Williams," which I guess on some level he was (until Ricky got good again), came to the Bengals via the Bears, who'd cut him after he was charged with driving under the influence. Twice. In less than a month. Gotta hand it to Cedric (I mean, unless you feel like averaging *more * than 3.7 yards a pop), he really puts the "double" in double-whammy. You see, Benson was cited not just for a DWI, but also for a BWI (the rare and hilarious-as-long-as-no-one-gets-hurt, "BOATING While Intoxicated"). How this guy didn't wind up in Minnesota - those Vikes love their booze 'n' boats! - is a mystery of almost Stonehengian degree.
LEON HALL. The latest of the Cincinnati trouble-makers (I smell a name-change!) was charged during Easter week with a DUI. (Y-a-w-n.) Hall is widely regarded as a promising young corner, especially if by "promising" you mean "promising to continue the trend of making Mr. Nice Guy Marvin Lewis turn gray while simultaneously not sleeping at night and somehow managing to spin in his grave prior to what we can only assume will be his stress-induced premature death."
There are, of course, others who fill out the set in Cincy. Secondary member MIKE DOSS, for instance, who gives new meaning to the phrase "fired up!" (Feel free to Google. We'll wait.) But I prefer not to dwell on the past, to instead look toward the future, so...
WHO'S NEXT? (Besides noted dog-enthusiast MICHAEL-MIKE VICK, I mean.) My hope is that it'll be Henry's former college roommate PACMAN JONES. (I wonder if their dorm parties were more raucous than mine.) Honestly, given the track record of both Pacman AND the Bengals, he's gotta be lurking somewhere around the bend - and Pacman knows his bend, what with having gone 'round it so many times. If the Bengals do add Jones to their Henrys & Johnsons & Bensons (oh my), all I can say is "Buyer Beware," "Gentlemen, start your engines" and "Ladies - don your visors. This one's a spitter."
Trumpeting "Voluntary" - Volume I
Last week MAURICE JONES-DREW became just the latest to join the not-at-all exclusive club of high-profile players threatening to skip voluntary workouts. FYI, Maurice: T.O. and OCHOCINCO serve as co-chairs on the Nickname Committee (the former as an Emeritus only - see below). You can check in with them at the hospitality table where they'll give you a nametag and your "Then they shouldn't call it VOLUNTARY!" packet.
The reason for MoJo's threat to be a no-show for mini-camp? Believe it or not, it's money. (Weird, right?) Seems he wanted a new deal that includes 20 mill in guarantees - and really, who doesn't? (Other than half the NBA, for whom 20 mill constitutes chump-change.) On Wednesday, according to the Florida Times-Union, the strategy worked. Jones-Drew landed a pact reported to include - all together now! - 20 mill in guarantees. Here's the thing: as dynamic a playmaker as we all know the UCLA alum can be, he hasn't earned that kind of coin, not yet.
Jones-Drew has been a full-time running back for exactly as many NFL seasons as Corey Haim and Corey Feldman combined, and even when you throw in their elder counterparts (Charlie Sheen and his brother, alias "that Mighty Ducks guy from Breakfast Club"), it's still a tie. The kid's stat-sheet shows four - count 'em, FOUR - career starts, and he's averaged just under 850 yards per season - impressive for a part-timer, but hardly elite. One more thing. (Maurice, meet me in the next paragraph...)
Nice of you to wait until Jax management - my euphemism for "alone time" in high school - allowed Fred Taylor to walk. That was their way of showing faith in, and commitment to, YOU. Would it have hurt to send a little back their way? I'd say they've earned it, especially in light of what's happened to their '08 receiving corps. (Ex-Jags Reggie Williams and Matt Jones seem to be in a knock-down-drag-out to see who gets to room with Andy Dick on Dr. Drew's Sober House '09.) So, best of luck with the screen game, MoJo! And say hi to those 250-pound LBs who'll be waiting for it!
Post-Script: As mentioned above, TERRELL OWENS showed up for Buffalo's off-season conditioning program, after all. Good for him. Maybe T.O. stands for "turning over..." We'll take a wait-and-see approach in terms of the "N.L." part. (For the slow-pokes who don't get "N.L.," that stands for "new leaf," and we don't mean Ryan. For the slow-pokes who don't get "and we don't mean Ryan," PLEASE STOP READING MY COLUMN. Not you, Mom. I'll send you a footnoted e-mail later.)
*Look for Volume 2 in next week's Out-Takes, where we'll delve into this same issue, but with a player who has absolutely NO BUSINESS missing any form of football practice whatsoever.
Blooper Reel (NFL Schedule Version!)
The NFL made a humongous deal out of its rest-of-the-schedule release Tuesday night, blowing a would-be bit of bookkeeping out of proportion and into a prime-time event. A rundown of highlights off the top of my head...
~ Week 2: Battle of the Beli-"chicks," McDaniels v. Mangini. Guess which one gets pre-game hints from the Foxboro-based henhouse Rooster? (Yeah, I know. Neither. But you get my point. There's a right way to do things. One did, one didn't.)
~ Week 3: A match-up of two prolific offenses, each down one man: the Marvin Harrison-less Colts take on Arizona minus Todd Hayley (and Anquan Boldin?). Fireworks on Sunday night!
~ Week 5: Pats at Broncos. McDaniels tries to do what past Belichick lieutenants have failed to do, with home field his only advantage.
~ Week 7: Taking on Tampa in the U.K., Brady-to-Moss looks to go all intercontinentally ballistic, in hopes of showing Wembley that Obama's Navy & the Seals aren't the only Patriots who can pull off a Buccaneer beat-down.
~ Week 9: Philip Rivers visits - and, let's face it, probably trash-talks - Eli & the Family Manning, as we all reflect on a draft day debacle that wound up a win-win, Coast to Coast.
~ Week 12: Aptly named Turkey Week. One Google Generation compound word of advice: NetFlix.
~ Week 16: A trio of division match-ups that look good on paper in April...
Jerry's Rehabbed Cowboys ("nice"-point-0 version!) v. Haynesworth and whoever else Snyder could fit under the cap (I believe Keanu will be the Replacement behind center)
Minnesota and the Rosenfels take on a Bears team that knows better than to cheap out when it comes to acquiring an impact QB. Overpaying is a bad thing, true, but it sure as Hell beats under-getting. Just ask Joe Q. Viking fan, circa week 16.
A re-re-re-match between the mouthy Ravens, their big, young QB and a set of daunting linebackers and the mouthier Steelers, their big, young QB and a set of daunting linebackers. (I wonder if the fans'll show up with those neat yellow towels again!)
~ Week 17: KC visits Denver, and the Mile High faithful get to see, up close and personal, what's so great about this Cassel guy that he actually made a grown man cry (his way out of town).
~ JOHN MADDEN. Congrats on a well-earned retirement and thanks for...your seminal 70's look (call it "slovenly chic"); bringing back the Bus (and we don't mean Bettis); years of exclamations reminiscent of the old-school, live-action Batman series ("Bam!" "Pow!"); the Turducken (we guess) and, most of all, for a video game that led to my favorite interaction ever with a browsing stranger in a Best Buy: "Hey, how's the new Madden?" "Dude. I quit my job."
~ MARK FIDRYCH, you never played football so being in this column doesn't make much sense. But then, not making much sense feels somehow "right." You often reveled in not making much sense, and the way you went out certainly didn't make much, either. RIP, Bird. Thanks for the memories. (Tell the ball we say bye.)
~ Earlier this week the National Football League and its legion of fans lost not just a broadcaster but a true Storyteller; a man for whom phrases like "giant in the industry" and "living legend" represent more than boilerplate eulogizing on ESPNews.
He wasn't a player with a highlight-reel skill-set, jaw-dropping production or a flair for the clutch; nor was he a coach slapped with the "Genius" label, doused with Gatorade or carried off the field, his championship game-plan encased in Canton. But as much as any Montana or Taylor or Payton or Swann, as much as a Shula, a Tuna, a Landry or Noll, he is responsible for defining the game, for so many of my generation, in mythical terms. HARRY KALAS imbued the experience of boys enjoying football with a sense of wonder, of storybook, that never grew old, even when we did. He made what is ultimately frivolous seem important, dramatic and, at his best...timeless, just short of holy.
His friends at NFL Films, where he worked from 1975 until his passing, issued a statement that put it better than anyone - certainly I - ever could: "Harry is the narrator of our memories."
He was 73 and he died doing what he loved. God blessed him, and God bless him.