Lightning Fans Dominated by Canadiens
People in my line of work are fortunate enough to get a silly amount of freebies, especially at gigantic events like the Super Bowl, so I was happy to entertain my brother Matt and a few of his friends at the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. The tickets were courtesy of the Super Bowl XLIII host committee. Although based on how many season ticket holders were trying desperately to unload their extras outside the St. Pete Times Forum right before the drop of the puck, Lightning tix are in less demand these days than jumbo mortgage loans in Clearwater.
Anyway, at 3:08 in the first period, Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone scored a goal for a 1-0 Lightning lead, as he was greeted by generous clapping from the home crowd. But then at the 7:15 mark just a few minutes later, Montreal's Maxim Lapierre lit the lamp for the Canadiens, which led to a thunderous ovation by the throng of Les Habitants faithful – and they were the ones with all the cushy seats down in the 100 section. This caught me off guard since I'm used to seeing the Blackhawks have a distinct home-ice advantage in the United Center back in Chicago.
The Lightning went on to beat the Canadiens 5-3, much to the chagrin of at least half of the hockey-haired attendees.
Mark my words, the NFL will do whatever is necessary to get back into the second biggest market in this country – the aforementioned City of Angels – before too long. I believe the Jaguars are the most likely candidate, as Jacksonville has never truly embraced the franchise, can't sell out home games consistently, and flat-out doesn't pay attention unless the team makes an improbable playoff run. Florida, for the most part, is inhabited by people that originally hail from other parts of the country, which is why they remain loyal to the Eagles or the Red Sox or the Knicks or – as was the case Tuesday night in Tampa – the Canadiens.
I might have been able to add all kinds of intelligent thoughts on this particular topic, but I couldn't help but be distracted during the game. Upon traveling more than a thousand miles from Chicago to Tampa for the week, who just happens to be sitting two seats to my left in the arena? None other than Les Grobstein, the Grobber himself, charting the game in his notebook like Rainman documenting his latest injury and reminding me repeatedly that Scotty Bowman is in the building to scout the talent on hand.
Now I know exactly how Jerry felt when he ended up getting stuck next to Newman on Super Sunday.
Moon Believes Orton Has What it Takes
But it's been a revolving door at the game's most important position for decades, as Jim McMahon was the last Bears passer to make the Pro Bowl back in 1985 – and that was only because he piggy-backed arguably the best defense in league history all the way to Hawaii. Kyle Orton had a respectable season in 2008, but the front office is on record saying they still need to find a long-term answer under center. Be it from a veteran free agent or a rookie draft pick, Orton will have competition for the starting job in training camp.
However, according to Hall of Famer Warren Moon, the Bears would be wise to stick with Orton in order to stop that revolving door.
Hall of Famer Moon likes what Orton brings to the table. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"They haven't made the greatest choices at that position in Chicago probably the last 10 years or so," Moon told me at the Steelers' Media Day session. "They just haven't had any consistency at that position, and that's one position on your football team if you want to consistently be good, is you've got to have a good trigger guy. And they just haven't had that. But I think Kyle Orton is a guy that has shown a little bit of consistency over the last couple of years, and maybe he's a guy they can stick with for a little while."
Orton doesn't have a great group of pass catchers at his disposal, so perhaps an upgrade or two at wideout is all it will take for him to step it up a notch.
"Quarterbacks are only as good as the people around them," said Moon, "and you've got to have good talent around you. I was really surprised at the job he was able to do this year with the receiving corps that he had to start the season out with and an unproven running game. ... So for them to do as well as they did offensively really surprised me."
Moon knows something about patience at QB, seeing how he didn't make the first of his nine Pro Bowls until he was 32 years old.
Tomlin, LeBeau Back Smith's Decision
Not only did Smith shuffle the deck of his coaching staff on D, saying goodbye to three assistants before hiring Rod Marinelli to be his new defensive line coach, but he will also be calling the signals from the sideline in 2009. Embattled defensive coordinator Bob Babich maintained his title, although he has also gone back to positional duties as the linebackers coach – it's a demotion any way you slice it. Should the defense fail to live up to expectations again next season, Smith will have nowhere left to look but in the mirror.
AFC champion Pittsburgh featured one of the top defensive units in recent memory on the way to Super Bowl XLIII, and head coach Mike Tomlin, a former defensive coordinator himself, believes Smith can pull double duty.
Tomlin feels Smith should be able to call the signals. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
"Lovie is a great coach," Tomlin told me during the Steelers' Media Day session. "He's a great defensive coach. If he feels that puts him in position to win, I see no reason why he shouldn't do that."
Some pundits suggest that Smith runs the risk of undermining Babich's authority in the eyes of his players, but Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who has been one of the best in the business for quite some time, doesn't believe so.
"It wouldn't bother me any, let's put it that way," said LeBeau. "The head coach is going to call the defense if he wants to anyhow. It'd just be good to have one that's as good as Lovie is calling them."
But Tomlin knew better than to tell the legendary LeBeau what to do, going so far as to leave Pittsburgh's 3-4 intact even though he was running a 4-3 in Minnesota.
Boldin Isn't Going Anywhere Next Year
Even though he missed four games this season because of a few injuries, he still caught 89 passes for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns lining up opposite arguably the best pass catcher in the game, Larry Fitzgerald. Not only was Boldin vocal about his displeasure with management back in training camp, but his highly publicized sideline shouting match with offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the NFC championship game fueled even more speculation that the two-time Pro Bowler could be on his way out of Arizona. One way or another, Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo has to get on the horn with Cards GM Rod Graves and have a conversation.
But according to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, Angelo needn't bother pick up the phone if he's trying to pry Boldin out of the desert.
Don't expect a trade market for Boldin to develop in the offseason. (Elsa/Getty Images)
"Larry Fitzgerald is going to restructure his contract to make sure that Anquan Boldin doesn't go anywhere," Schefter told me during the Cardinals' Media Day session. "And they might be willing to trade Anquan Boldin, but it would take a small fortune to get him out of there. I don't think Chicago would be willing to give up what Arizona is going to want."
If Bears fans are looking for someone to blame because they won't be able to get Boldin this offseason, Jerry Jones, the free-spending owner of the Cowboys, is the best target.
"Roy Williams went for a 1 (first-round draft pick), a 3, and a 5," said Schefter. "Who would you rather have, Roy Williams or Anquan Boldin? You think the Chicago Bears would be willing to give up a 1, a 3, and a 5 for Anquan Boldin?"
Apparently, Schefter has cornered the market on rhetorical questions in Tampa.
Off to the Stadium for Media Day
Priority No. 1 is Media Day at Raymond James Stadium, where every player and coach from both teams will be made available for the seemingly endless crowd of press representatives like myself. It's always so much fun to see the outfits my fellow sports writers put together for an event such as this one. People in my line of work will wear just about anything if it's free. No doubt I'll see a polo shirt from the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla or something like that. One of the Spanish-speaking channels inivitably sends a smoking-hot reporter to conduct puff-piece interviews, too.
Two players I'd like to talk to today are Cardinals offensive tackle Mike Gandy, a former Bear, and Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, a Niles West graduate, so we'll see how that goes.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.