by J.R. Lind
This Week In The 'Drome: elation, arrests, collapses, Charles Nelson Reilly. You know, the usual.
Nashville vs. Philadelphia : It had been an off-season that was, at best, an ocean of doubt.
And then, suddenly, with one announcement, all the recriminations, all the screaming, all the fears the Nashville Predators would be relegated for eternity as a plucky farm team for their well-heeled, geographically-advantaged rivals, it all disappeared in a cascade of exclamation points and majuscular text.
The Predators stepped up and shelled out. Superstar defenseman Shea Weber, to borrow again from Jason & The Scorchers, is their golden ball and chain. And that dalliance with Philly? Well, it was just business.
The announcement came Tuesday afternoon: The team matched the massive 14-year, $110-million, bonus-laden offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers.
After Ryan Suter's departure and Weber's apparent willingness to do the same, Predators fans were trapped in a car, its throttle stuck and aiming to fly off the cliffs of despair. And then the front office yanked on the emergency brake. The car 180ed and now things don't seem quite so bad.
It's hard to overstate the importance here. Sure, Shea Weber is a first-class player and the team's captain. But perhaps more importantly, matching the offer shows the ownership — a mishmash of local venture capitalists and health-care millionaires; rich, but certainly not, say, Comcast-rich like the Flyers' Ed Snider — really is as committed as they insisted.
A hot day couldn't keep the crowd away from an impromptu plaza party disguised as a press conference — in true Predators fashion, it took place outside the Nissan entrance with gratis Hunt Brothers' Pizza with the principals sitting in front of a backdrop festooned — in a smirking bit of irony — with the logo of Comcast property Xfinity. The fans were there. The sponsors were there. The ownership was represented. And the message was they are all in this together, because it's going to take a fortune to pay Weber his salary.
Weber, though, wasn't there. Perhaps the team should have delayed the dog-and-pony show until the thoroughbred could make the long trip from the mysterious corner of British Columbia where he spends his summers. But coming as it did less than 24 hours after the team made the match official, the logistics wouldn't have worked out.
Still, on a conference call — which also had its fair share of commercials, unintentionally piped into the feed via a technical mistake by a local radio station — Weber seemed happy to return, if a little surprised the ownership did what they did. He was committed. He said he wanted a no-trade clause, and although there are good reasons not to give him one, it at least shows he's not looking to bolt out of the deal right away.
And now, with one of the world's best players here until my infant daughter enters high school, the idea that top free agents might give Nashville a shot doesn't seem absurd. Weber, Poile and coach Barry Trotz all strongly hinted they were making an effort to woo Phoenix Coyotes' captain Shane Doan — the shiniest remaining free agent — and it didn't sound like the pleas of a toddler wanting a pony.
It seemed genuine. Like a 24-carat wedding ring.
The Week Behind
Drunk Tank: Minutes after last week's edition of The Hippodrome went live, news broke that Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt — who I had praised, with a nod to Scripture, as having put away childish things — did another very childish thing.
Kenny Britt and his knees were arrested at the gates of Ft. Campbell for drunken driving Friday. Now he has to answer to federal judge — and eventually NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Neither sound like much fun.
Insofar as Titanic arrests go, this one ranks among the stupidest (the funniest arrest remains and forever will remain Tyrone Calico's arrest for public indecency). Driving drunk, as a bazillion PSAs warn, is dumb. Driving drunk up to the gates of a military base, which in my experience are staffed by humorless men bearing weapons, is exponentially stupider.
Ahead of camp, the Titans put Britt on the PUP list. Expect Goodell to put him on the poop list, too.
Reversal of Fortune : Nashvillian Brandt Snedeker's reputation on the golf course is that of a closer — a guy who ekes into the weekend and then plays strong rounds on Saturday and Sunday to sneak up the leaderboard.
At The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's Golf Course, Hospital for the Criminally Insane, School for Girls and Tanning Salon, Snedeker had a record setting Thursday and Friday — carding a 36-hole 130.
But he couldn't get it done down the stretch.
Sneds finished third — tied with Tiger Woods — for his best-ever finish at a major, but he's got to be looking at that 130 and wondering what might have been.
Garbage Time : In the days before the Weber signing, the Predators took care of some of their other restricted free agents. On Monday, Jack Maclellan inked a two-way deal, with a $600,000 salary at the NHL level he'll never see, and Sergei Kostitsyn avoided arbitration with a two-year, $6 million deal. And an hour or so before the Weber announcement, the Preds signed forward Colin Wilson to a very reasonable, very well-structured three year deal which averages to $2 million per year. Wilson — who inspires the good and bad kinds of "Holy Cow!" exclamations — is but 22 years old. ... Vanderbilt brought on a former Alabama assistant to coach golf. ... MTSU tailback Benny Cunningham is on the pre-season Doak Walker Award watchlist along with pretty much everyone. ... Eddie George will join Fox Sports' in-studio team for college football.
Old Cheese : My colleague David Boclair suggested there may not be "anyone would want to see [Travis Henry] try" to make a comeback at the NFL.
Not so fast, my matchstick-chomping friend.
Sure, Cheese is nearly 34 years old — in terms of running backs, he might as well be 84. And, yeah, he spent a little time honing his skills in the penal league for his failure to pay child support for the nine kids by nine moms, but it's hard keeping up with all those addresses.
But to say no one wants to see the Running Punchline have another go in the NFL? That's a little much.
Who doesn't love an underdog story of a disgraced former college star trying a late-in-life attempt at relevancy? And who among us wants to deny parental support to Henry's brood? Man's gotta make money somehow, right?
Only the truly humorless don't see the value here.
Eventually This Won't Be News: Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was at the ESPYs for some unholy reason, but while he was there Outsports caught up to him on the red carpet.
In an interview Hasselbeck said he and his fellow two-toner signal-callers — back-up second-year man Jake Locker and clipboard-holder nonpareil Rusty Smith — had conversations about what it would be like to have a gay teammate. And they had no problems:
“The quarterback room conversation was that, ‘Hey, has anybody played with an openly gay teammate?’ And nobody had,” Hasselbeck told Outsports. “And it’s kind of irrelevant to the discussion in terms of how we would view that person as a teammate or how we would view that person as a friend, or how we would trust that person.”
“The question did come up, well, what about in the shower? And those are tricky, delicate issues. But so are female reporters in the locker room. There’s rarely a clear, black and white answer on a lot of tricky issues. But I think, at least for the three quarterbacks in our room, it was kind of a shrug, yeah, so what?”
“Statistically, it’s a fact that any of us who played in the NFL for a period of time has played with a gay teammate,” Hasselbeck said. “That’s just a fact. If somebody came out, I think it would be brave of him, because of what the culture has been. But I’m sure we all have.”
The Week Ahead
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue : Legitimate quarterback battles for NFL teams are pretty rare, but Titans coach Mike Munchak has promised we'll get one, saying that Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker enter camp — which starts officially tomorrow — on equal footing to get the call as the Week One starter.
I echo the call from last season: unless the Titans think they have a real shot at the post-season with Hasselbeck, it's time to turn it over to Locker. Missing the playoffs with a vet is no different than missing it with a second-year guy. But, unless Munchak had a drastic change in philosophy in the off-season — and despite his public pronouncements — the job is Hasselbeck's to lose, this "quarterback battle" as artificial a construct as passer rating.
With Kenny Britt's knee-and-judgement issues looming, there is even more motivation to get first-round draft pick Kendall Wright under contract as soon as possible. The Titans won't have the luxury they have with Locker of easing him in as Britt's knee(s) are troubled and lord knows how long he'll miss if he's suspended. The hang-up seems to be the amount of guaranteed and offset cash Wright will get — the latter is the amount of the contract the Titans would be required to pay if Wright ended up on another team, an unlikely scenario, but one that must be prepared for. With salary slotting introduced in the newish NFL CBA, this really shouldn't be taking this long, but twas ever thus.
And finally: Will the upgrade on the offensive line with the addition of Steve Hutchinson improve Chris Johnson's fortunes? Conventional wisdom would say yes, of course, but more important is the entire off-season CJ had to ready for the 2012 season. Plus, if Wright proves a downfield threat, if Jared Cook develops and if Kenny Britt can come back — the be-grilled speedster should have no problem finding holes up front.
Worthless Prediction: Hasselbeck starts until he doesn't (bold, I know). Britt misses at least two but no more than four games. Wright emerges. CJ answers the bell.
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! : It's pleasant that the Summer Olympics are scheduled during the high heat of the pre-election summer.
I don't buy the trope that America is more divided now than at any time in its history — maybe I'm just naive. But even if we are just a loose confederation of red and blue, held together by the ginger strands of duct tape and tradition, for 16 days we can all be Americans together.
And nothing shows the world how great America is like America beating them at sports. That's why I love the Olympics.
What's your stance on abortion? Who cares? Wanna watch judo? Oh, Chik-Fil-A has people divided! Whoop dee doo, fencing is on.
Did you hear the president doesn't think you built your own business or that Mitt Romney's adviser said something goofy about Anglo-Saxon heritage? I did, but I stopped caring once LeBron dunked on some Angolan guy.
There are things to hate about the Olympics, sure. And maybe the widespread infection of jingoism is one of them, but not to me, because few things make me remember what a great country we've got going like some 15-year-old whose name I'll forget in two months nailing a perfect dismount on the balance beam, forcing even the insidious Romanian judge to score it a 9.9. (Fair warning: I will be an insufferable expert on even the most obscure of Olympic sports by the time July becomes August; just wait 'til I hold forth on modern pentathlon.)
To me, the worst part about the Olympics is that the U.S.A. doesn't win everything, especially in sports we really ought to be good at, like the sneakily exciting team handball. This is a sport that combines the offensive tactics of playground hoops with the throwing style of dodgeball, and you're telling me we're awful at this? Were I to have a fortune, I'd fund a program which takes 25 guys from Rucker Park and teaches them the finer points of embarrassing Croats.
Anyway, by all means, let's erase the battle lines for a couple of weeks and focus on the real menace: Chinese swimmers.
Want to hear my precious memories about other obscure SEC games from the George H.W. Bush administration? Probably not, but you can e-mail me at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com anyway. And remember, I've moved to the 6 o'clock hour on Tuesdays on 102.5 The Game. It's a good time, even if the traffic is a lot worse.