Monday, February 8, 2010
What were the highlights from Super Bowl XLIV? And, what does the future hold for the Chargers, now that we know LT will not be back with the team next year? We speak to Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton about the end of the NFL season.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Mardi Gras came about a week early for New Orleans this year. The party started just moments after the Saints marched to victory in Super Bowl XLIV last night. It's the first Super Bowl victory for New Orleans and the game's MVP was none other than, former Charger, now Saints quarterback, Drew Brees. The 31-17 upset victory over Indianapolis proves that the New Orleans team ain't the ‘ain'ts’ no more. Joining me to talk about the Super Bowl and, a little bit later on, about what the Chargers need for next season is my guest Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton. He’s sports talk show host on XX1090, and a sports columnist for SDNN.com. And, Lee, good morning.
LEE ‘HACKSAW’ HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning. How are you? Have you stopped celebrating?
CAVANAUGH: I think so. I kind of wound down.
HAMILTON: I wish we were all on Bourbon Street. That would be a lifetime experience right now.
CAVANAUGH: That would be – It sure would. Now, tell us, overall, what’d you think about the game yesterday?
HAMILTON: It was a surprise the way it ended up. Most everybody, I think, nationwide had picked Indianapolis to beat New Orleans. I think the general consensus was that Drew Brees was a great story but Peyton Manning was the greater quarterback. But at the end of the day, Brees is the one that made the whole difference in the game because he kept making plays and Peyton Manning could not get back on the field. And when he finally got on the field, he made one mistake and that turned out to be the game-deciding touchdown…
HAMILTON: …on the interception. I thought it was a really good game. I think it’s the epitome of what NFL games are. You know, the record book says 60 minutes of football. Well, the way you start is not necessarily the way the game finishes up and I think that was really proof in the pudding. I thought it was a fun game and, of course, when you link it to all the storylines that we all know about, the city, the quarterback, the organization, the economy down there, it’s just a phenomenal story.
CAVANAUGH: Now talk to us about the matchup between the Colts and the Saints. Were they really the best two teams in the NFL this year? Should the Chargers have been playing in this game?
HAMILTON: Well, those are two separate questions.
HAMILTON: Understand this, Indianapolis and New Orleans at one point were 13-0.
HAMILTON: I mean, they had rolled through the competition. And Indianapolis might well have finished the regular season 16-0 had they not pulled their players from games in the final two weekends of the season and wound up being losses. They wanted to protect their players from injuries but in doing so I thought that Indianapolis really robbed its players the chance to be a forever team. Nobody had ever gone 19-0 and won the Super Bowl. And, you know, had they left their players in to play those final two meaningless games and they won them, they would’ve roared through the playoffs and they would’ve been 18-0 playing yesterday.
HAMILTON: But Indianapolis was exceptional and New Orleans was really good on offense and although they gave up a ton of yards on defense, they always took the ball away and they did it again last night. So they deserved their recognition, too. Yeah, they were the two best in the big picture. In terms of the Chargers, I don’t know that we can say they were the best because they compiled a 13-3 record playing in a really substandard division and then when it came time to play the most important game of the season, at home against the New York Jets, they got punched in the mouth, they played poorly and now, after the fact, we find out a bunch of their players partied going into that game
HAMILTON: …and acted poorly, too. So San Diego probably was not as good as we all thought it was going to be and obviously is not quiet the same team that we saw on the field last night.
CAVANAUGH: Well, the MVP of the Super Bowl is a former Charger, Drew Brees. Does it seem like New Orleans turned out to be the perfect fit for Brees?
HAMILTON: I – Yeah, exactly. And it was not necessarily by design because I think once the Chargers decided they would not bring him back for fear they thought he was too short, that he didn’t have a strong enough arm, and he was coming off surgery, the question was where would he wind up? Miami had an opportunity. Had Miami made a legitimate offer, a leap of faith forward that Brees would come back from the shoulder surgery, Miami might’ve been the landing spot for the quarterback. But Miami hesitated and New Orleans, which was in a huge makeover of their roster…
HAMILTON: …and their team, because they had been down, they made the dive into the water and they came up with Drew Brees. Now, it wasn’t as easy as that. He had to go through a lengthy rehab coming back from the shoulder surgery. He had to really prove that he could strong-arm the football down the field. There was never any doubt that he was a real bright light intellect in terms of being a quarterback and a student of the game. And then they linked him with a coach they hired that nobody really knew very much about. A guy used to be at San Diego State, Sean Payton, head coach, and those two guys got this thing rolling and they improved year by year by year to the point, as I said, they were sitting in there at 13-0 in December with a chance for a perfect season. So, yeah, right time, right place, right quarterback, right coach, right system, right situation.
CAVANAUGH: And when you were assessing the Colts and the Saints, though, you said that Peyton Manning is the better quarterback. He’s starting to be viewed as one of the best quarterbacks of all time and yet he gave up a pick to the house at the end of the game. What happened?
HAMILTON: Oh, I just think that New Orleans studied tape, they saw certain things in certain formations, they guessed right, it’s a chess match when you involve Peyton Manning. He is such the bright intellect in terms of quarterbacks. He reads defenses. He normally makes the right decisions. You know, I went back in my mind and thought, well, Tracy Porter intercepts that pass and goes 74 yards for a touchdown, based on the formation that he saw line up. He thought the ball was coming his way.
HAMILTON: Well, what if they did something a little bit different out of that formation, and that’s what the chess match of the NFL is.
HAMILTON: What if that wide receiver, instead of running straight and stopping and waiting for the ball to get there, what if he ran a double move and Tracy Porter jumped the first move and Reggie Wayne went right by him wide open and Peyton lofts it over Tracy Porter for a touchdown? I mean, it’s all a chess match and it’s all about matchups and how you exploit the other guy. Historically, Manning is one of the greatest. Yes, he has only one Super Bowl ring. Yes, his career record is only 9-9 but just look at the accomplishments of the franchise. If you take Peyton Manning off the Indianapolis roster, Indianapolis is probably less than a .500 football team, so he is one really special quarterback. But I’ll tell you what, the country today views Drew Brees as one special guy, not just as a football player…
HAMILTON: …but I also think as a special person for what he’s meant to that community.
CAVANAUGH: Just one last question about Peyton Manning. There was a lot made of the fact that he did not go over for the customary handshake at the end of the game. He – This must’ve really hurt.
HAMILTON: Well, I think it did and if you saw the expressions on his face through chunks of the game when they couldn’t get the offense on the field – There was one stretch of time where New Orleans ran off 31 of 37 plays. Peyton sat and sat and sat, and his defense couldn’t get off the field because New Orleans made some changes, went to a shorter passing game and allowed Brees to find his rhythm and Peyton had no rhythm sitting on the sidelines. So I think it’s, you know, I think he wanted to see Brees but there was such – just a race to get to the field and everybody cheering, everybody congratulating. He, you know, he’s good friends with Brees. I’m sure they’ll communicate a little bit down the road. But I will tell you, there’s so many snapshots coming out of that game that are so special, Maureen.
HAMILTON: You know, at the end of the game, you know, Brees is holding his infant son and…
HAMILTON: …he’s holding him over his head and in the background is the neon lights that say ‘champion.’ And when you understand who Brees is, I mean, he’s involved with 12 different charities in the city of New Orleans from education to homeless families to Red Cross. He’s just one really special guy. Such – I just thought it was a great, great finish to what really was a great story when you consider that as Drew said in the press conference late last night, at one point 85% of New Orleans was underwater when I was going there to sign my contract, and now look at where the city is now, celebrating with one thing: a Super Bowl trophy. And he’s kind of the face and the heart and soul of what New Orleans represents.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX1090, and we’re talking about the Super Bowl but now moving on to our local football team, the Chargers, and the story about running back LaDainian Tomlinson. It made headlines around the league last week when he said ‘I’m not coming back, I don’t believe I’ll be back in San Diego. I’ve accepted it.’ That was in an article in the U-T. Were you surprised to read that headline?
HAMILTON: No, because he had said that on our talk show two days earlier…
HAMILTON: …here at Double-X. I think he was speaking out of frustration. I think it’s always hard for great players to face the twilight of their career. Now, I happen to think that, excuse me, LaDainian Tomlinson still has a lot of good football left in him. He may not be a 1700-yard-per-season running back but what happened to him was three injuries. What happened to him is an offensive line that is not what it used to be. And what happened to him is a change in philosophy. It is a Philip Rivers pass first football team, not a LaDainian Tomlinson run first team. I was surprised that he was as outspoken as he was because that’s usually not how he acts but I think he’s frustrated. I think he wants a chance to win a championship and he wants to go to a team that is going to run the football. And I think all that potentially will happen. San Diego must release him from the contract but they – I’m sure they will whether it’s next week or whether they wait until early March, I think they will and there’ll be plenty of time for him to go find the right fit. And the right fit may be the New England Patriots who run the football.
HAMILTON: The right fit may be Philadelphia, which desperately wants a power running back to go with the quarterback Donovan McNabb. And the right fit might be the Houston Texans near his home who also need a running back. So I think Tomlinson will land somewhere but to get back to your original question, I was a little bit surprised that he let the frustration boil over the way he did.
CAVANAUGH: And tell us why the Chargers kind of have to cut LT.
HAMILTON: Well, they owe him a $2 million roster bonus and if they pick up the option – if they pay the roster bonus then they owe him $5 million more in salary for next season. He’s not a $7 million running back any longer, especially in a passing offense. Now, you know, my theory was go back to him and renegotiate a restructured deal in which you pay him less base salary and you keep him and put incentives in. If he has a 1500-yard season, then he gets the big money. But he’s been stoic in his public stance and he’s said this as far back as the end of last season, that he would not take a major pay cut. So I think he’ll leave. And the Chargers have other issues. They’re going to have to upgrade their offensive line. They’re – definitely got issues in their defensive front. And I think they got some locker room issues. They’ve got young players who spend more time partying rather than getting ready for the Jets playoff game, the stuff that has filtered out about guys, not necessarily breaking curfew but guys going out, you know, the day before the game and staying out partying all night. That doesn’t sit well. And that – they lost their focus and they lost the game and they lost a chance to go play in Indianapolis. And I’ll tell you, in the AFC Championship game, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning in Indy, I’d take my chances with Philip. And if they’d won that game, they would’ve been playing last night in the Super Bowl. So they’ve got a whole bunch of things to deal with, Tomlinson, one, but also I think the maturity, de-maturity, and the culture of their locker room has to change. And their leadership is going to have to find a way to get tougher on these players.
CAVANAUGH: And who’s responsible for tightening that up for the Chargers?
HAMILTON: Well, there’s a whole cadre of people. One, it’s Norv Turner but that’s – he’s so passive. I just don’t think that’s him. The other is the general manager, AJ Smith and this is his roster of players. And I, you know, he walks around town with, quote, a heavy hand, well, he needs to use that heavy hand, I think, on what’s gone on in that locker room and what’s gone on with some of the players on the roster. So I can see some people exiting here. But, you know what, if you hit the eject button on some of your younger players—and most of the party guys are on the defense—if you’re going to run those guys out of town, then you’re going to have lots of holes to fill, too. So there’s something that’s just not right within that locker room in terms of leadership and dedication. And it’s too bad because he’s put – he’s one of the better general managers in the league. He’s put together a really good roster but they’ve just not come together as a group of mature people yet.
CAVANAUGH: Hacksaw, this is not fair but can you, in about 90 seconds, tell us, give us a 2010 San Diego Padres preview?
HAMILTON: Oh, it’ll be very interesting. The acquisition of John Garland, excuse me, who came as a free agent a couple of weeks ago, gives them three established veteran starting pitchers. They’ve got a whole group of very good young pitchers. Their lineup is going to miss a little bit the homerun power of Kevin Kouzmanoff but I think they got a lot of guys that put the ball in play. I’d say they’re probably a middle of the pack team in the National League West right now. They could be upper echelon if their number one starter, Chris Young, stays healthy. When he has been healthy, he has been very good. If he goes down, then they’re going to be – they’re going to be a younger pitching staff. But I think the arrow’s pointed up but there’s still health questions that have to be answered and do they have another homerun hitter to put behind Adrian Gonzalez, who I think they’re going to keep this season. They might trade him a year from now because they cannot afford him. But the arrow’s pointed up. I’m kind of intrigued to see what it’s going to be like as we go towards the start of April, the start of the baseball season.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re going to be talking lots more Padres as we go on in the next few months. Lee, thank you so much.
HAMILTON: Thanks, Maureen. Talk to you again.
CAVANAUGH: Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX1090 and a sports columnist for SDNN.com. If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, is the military ready for a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell?’ That’s next as These Days continues here on KPBS.