NEW ORLEANS -- It's rutting season in The Big Easy, where we came for the Super Bowl but are staying for the Creepy Hunting Supply Expo.
Thanks to Ray Lewis, antler velvet is on everyone's lips, not on the sides of oak trees where it belongs. There's something about an antler velvet man, and something mind-boggling about the controversy that alleges Lewis acquired the gunk from a supplier of steroid alternatives in exchange for an endorsement, instead of doing what I just did a moment ago: going to a website and determining that I can purchase two vials of the stuff, 100 percent legally, for 70 bucks.
In short, a company provided Lewis with an easily and legally obtained banned substance as an alternative to a different banned substance in exchange for an endorsement that would immediately implicate him as a policy violator and invalidate the company's entire "alternative product" business model if he provided it, which he did not. Or so the story goes.
The media-savvy Lewis knew that the best way to defuse controversy was to invoke Satan, calling the allegations "The trick of the devil," which is not an '80s metal album but should be. Only three things are now missing from this story: 1) An explanation as to why a deer would want to molt away something so incredibly useful; 2) Sympathy for the poor NFL employee who decides which quack remedies make the banned list (antler velvet, bad; stoat pellets, bad; powdered okapi hoof, under consideration); and 3) an invisible girlfriend.
There is more to the antler story than meets the eye, but the same can be said of most stories around the NFL. Rob Ryan's tenure in St. Louis ended before it began, as the Rams parted ways with their prime defensive coordinator candidate somewhere between the "welcome aboard" and "we need a routing number for direct deposit" stages of employment.
According to the official report, the Rams suddenly became uncomfortable with the fact that Ryan prefers a 3-4 defense to the 4-3 scheme the team used last year. This sounds like the kind of thing that should have come up earlier in the interview process, or a Web search, or an interview with the world's least-informed beat writer, or something. The Rams were also shocked to discover that Ryan is outspoken and has a brother with awful tattoos. Ryan is back in the availability pool, but future employers beware: HE RUNS A 3-4 DEFENSE, no matter what he wrote on LinkedIn.
There is nothing wrong with make an informed inference or two, so long as you are sure you are doing it. Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings put his Green Bay home up for sale last week, meaning that Jennings is either leaving via free agency or wants to, you know, move. Here is a picture of the home. Judging from the thin veneer of ice on the roof and lawn, the photo was taken in August. Here is a more recent picture.
There is nothing like a realty website to cue you in on what a player does in his spare time. "Recent updates saw the addition of a spacious master suite with hardwood floors, which features a spiral stairway leading to a walk-in closet and spa-like master bath, while a spacious lower level boasts a large family room with a built-in bar, putting green and theater room." The term spa-like leaves much to imagination: Jennings' home may come equipped with Windham Hill CDs and an angry woman shouting into her cell phone.
Jennings is not the only Packers wide receiver thinking of selling his patch of frozen tundra. The Vikings are reportedly interested in signing Donald Driver, according to Fox 11 Sports in Green Bay. Driver has appeared on that network's programs for years, so a non-sourced rumor from an outlet with a possible stake in the results may not have the hard-news value of a local realty listing. Driver sounds like he is mulling his options: the broadcast booth, or a year or two of stalk-blocking for Adrian Peterson. "The question is, do I want to see myself in another uniform? Will my family want to see that? If nobody wants to see it, at the end of the day, it will still be a tough decision because I've always said I only want to wear that green and gold and nothing else." If Driver stays in Green Bay, there is a great house with a spa-like bathroom he can settle down in. (**UPDATE**: Driver announced his retirement, with an event to be held next Wednesday at Lambeau Field.)
Message control is vital for both players and organizations, and no organization on Earth is worse at it that the Jets. New general manager John Idzik has looked like someone who did not have a chance to stop by his hotel room and freshen up since arriving from Seattle. He has had to diffuse a random Darrelle Revis-Antonio Cromartie trade rumor, clarify that "competition is coming" for Mark Sanchez and finally sidestep the NFL's most embarrassing controversy, a tire-kick of JaMarcus Russell. The Newark Star-Ledger described the Jets' Russell discussions as "very exploratory," another sign that dealing with the Jets and having invasive surgery are startlingly similar.
The new book Coaching Confidential by Gary Myers grants some insight into the pain Idzik must be enduring. Myers interviewed Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who revealed that he fired right-hand man Vinny Cerrato after Cerrato allowed him to hire Jim Zorn. "The general manager needs to prevent the owner from hiring someone who's not qualified," Snyder says in the book. "And that's why Vinny is no longer here, to be truthful with you. He's not here because his job was to prevent the owner from hiring a not-qualified coach." Snyder, you may recall, made his fortune from mining double negatives. Idzik's predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, is on the talk-radio circuit accepting full responsibility for the Tim Tebow trade, perhaps so he is not remembered as the general manager who could not stop his owner from acquiring a quarterback who was not qualified.
Suddenly, hiring a coach known for a scheme you do not want to run and rubbing forest secretions on your body suddenly make sense.
The roiling at Jets headquarters may just be aftereffects of last-year's boil-over, and goodness knows what is true among the Revis rumors and Russell explorations. (Admit it, the phrase "Russell speculations" conjured an image of guys in pith helmets marching across Russell's belly.) If we cannot figure out why an NFL veteran would leave an evidence trail to acquire something that is both banned and sounds like it should be sold out of the back of a carriage by a man with a fancy hat, we have no chance of probing the mind of Woody Johnson and those assigned to save him from himself. All that is certain is that there are many things going on far from the Super Bowl hive, and many of them are as mysterious as the things that are happening here.
Here is one story that can be confirmed: Zorn has interviewed to be the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes. You can almost hear a general manager shouting "Mais Non!" to no avail, though in Canada, they know what to do with a pair of antlers.