Armed with stuffed Wally dolls -- and the Green Monster himself -- five Red Sox players joined new manager John Farrell in paying a visit to Boston Children's Hospital on Friday, capping a week that saw athletes from all five of the state's major professional sports franchises participate in events raising money and spirits for that cause.
Part of the "Holiday Fest" tour that made visits to each of New England's six states, and saw the players manning Mass Pike toll booths a day earlier, the Red Sox' party included Ryan Kalish, Pedro Ciriaco, Mark Melancon, Chris Carpenter, and Ryan Lavarnway in addition to Farrell.
Three days earlier, former closer Keith Foulke represented the club at the hospital's annual Champions for Children's benefit. Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko was the highest honoree at that event, as he and his Movember mustache were presented with the 2012 Champion Award in recognition of the work he does on behalf of the hospital throughout the year, which now includes the ZoliOke karaoke fundraiser.
Joining Mesko on Tuesday night were current teammates Danny Aiken, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Stephen Gostkowski, Steve Gregory, Matthew Slater, and Nate Solder; ex-Patriots Eric Alexander, Joe Andruzzi, Rick Cash, Tim Fox, Ilia Jarostchuk, John Smith, and Jon Williams; Bruin player-turned-executive Bob Sweeney; Celtic Chris Wilcox and ex-Celtic Brian Scalabrine; Revolution players Matt Reis, Bobby Shuttleworth, and Clyde Simms; and Foulke.
(All things, even lists, are best when Foulke is at the back end.)
Here are some pictures from the two events, all courtesy of WireImage/Darren McCollester. (That's Melancon, Carpenter, and Kalish with Wally and Gary in the photo at the top. And yes, that is
J. Peterman John O'Hurley on stage with Mesko; he emceed the Champions event.)
Mesko laughs at O'Hurley while Jayda and Malia look on.
Mesko with (L to R) Malia, Nathan, Matthew, Jayda, Lily, and Parker.
Foxborough's kicking crew: Gostkowski, Reis, Aiken, and Mesko.
Mesko shares the stage with Lily, Matthew, and Jayda.
Ciriaco, Lavarnway, Wally, and Farrell hang with PJ and his family.
Farrell, Wally, Ciriaco, and Lavarnway visit Ian.
As he continued what has become an annual tradition by rappelling down the side of a 22-story building in Stamford, Conn., last December, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman issued a challenge to just-hired Red Sox Manager -- and favorite son of Stamford -- Bobby Valentine.
“I publicly challenge Bobby Valentine to join me on the building,” an elf-clad Cashman told the New York Daily News.
And apparently after being presented with such a dare, the out-of-work manager will take the physical challenge. Valentine, the city's former director of public safety, will join Cashman for a practice descent from the top of the Landmark Building on Friday, then participate in the real thing during the Heights and Lights festivities on Sunday evening.
(We'll resist making a joke here about how we've long known managing the Red Sox was a stressful job, but didn't realize the stress was enough to make a man willingly plunge from atop a city's tallest building.)
Complete with an introduction labeling Valentine as a "sports great," here is a release with all the details, courtesy of Star 99.9 FM, one of the event's sponsors.
STAMFORD DOWNTOWN IS REACHING NEW HEIGHTS & LIGHTS STARRING GUEST RAPPELLERS BRIAN CASHMAN, GM NY YANKEES and SPORTS GREAT, BOBBY VALENTINE
Brian Cashman, General Manager of the New York Yankees and Sports Great Bobby Valentine will rappel from the one of Stamford, CT’s tallest buildings, The Landmark Building. Santa’s Elf, Brian VanOrsdel will be on hand, strapping Brian and Bobby in and guiding them down the 22 stories of the building.
On Sunday, December 2 at 5:00 pm Brian Cashman, Bobby Valentine Santa and friends are scheduled once again to make their dare devil descent down the 22 stories of the Landmark Building, for Reckson, A Division of SL Green Realty Corp’s Rappelling Santa. After the rappel, Santa’s busy holiday schedule will take him straight up Bedford Street to Latham Park where he will join the Stamford Community in Latham Park for music with The Jumpers Orchestra and the lighting of the Holiday Tree, donated by Bartlett Tree Company.
WHEN: Heights & Lights Rappel: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 5:00 PM
WHERE: Landmark Square, Broad Street Street for Rappel and Latham Park, Bedford Street for Tree Lighting, Stamford Downtown
Heights & Lights is presented by Reckson, A Division of SL Green Realty Corp. and sponsored by The Advocate, Bartlett Tree Company, Happyhaha.com and The First Congregational Church of Stamford and brought to you by Stamford Downtown and The City of Stamford. Free Cocoa at the Unitarian Universalist Society. THIS EVENT IS FREE!
A few of the Red Sox hit the road today to kick off the club's "Holiday Fest" that'll culminate in Saturday's Christmas at Fenway event -- but first will give fans in each of New England's six states and at the Jimmy Fund clinic a chance to meet some of the players.
Here's a rough itinerary of the two road trips that took to the pavement this morning:
- Tuesday: Mark Melancon, Ryan Kalish, and Chris Carpenter will be in Maine, including a visit to Briarwood Children's Home in Lyman.
- Tuesday: Ryan Lavarnway and Pedro Ciriaco will be in Vermont, including a stop at the Burlington Children's Hospital.
- Wednesday: Melancon, Kalish, and Carpenter head to New Hampshire, which will feature a visit to "Families in Transition" in Concord.
- Wednesday: Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow join Lavarnway and Ciriaco in Connecticut, with Breslow and Lavarnway each returning to his alma mater and stopping at the Yale New Haven Medical Center.
- Thursday: Melancon, Kalish, and Carpenter will be in Rhode Island for a tour that will include the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence.
- Thursday: Lavarnway and Ciriaco continue their trip in Massachusetts, heading to Rainbow Child Development Center in Worcester.
- Friday: Both groups of players are scheduled to make a morning visit at the Jimmy Fund, then join Manager John Farrell for the "Fenway Park Holiday Bash." Jarrod Saltalamacchia then joins everybody for Christmas at Fenway on Saturday.
The coolest part is that in addition to the pre-scheduled stops each morning, the groups will also be making spontaneous drop-ins at offices, stores, restaurants and other spots during the course of the afternoon. And those visits won't be totally random, either. Fans can request that the players pay them a visit by Tweeting with a specific hashtag (#SoxRoadTrip1 for Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island; #SoxRoadTrip2 for Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) or by commenting on road trip posts made on the team's Facebook page.
Give some credit to the Sox' players, too. (There's a sentence that hasn't been used very often around here over the last 15 months or so.) In 2011, the team's holiday caravan didn't travel outside the city limits of Boston, and none of its three days was scheduled to last any more than four hours, yet -- even after the brutal September collapse that stung their fan base -- only four players agreed to participate. Lavarnway and Saltalamacchia were among them then, as well, while the other two were Michael Bowden and Darnell McDonald, players the Sox eventually designated for assignment before the season was halfway through.
It's nice to see the participation and the scope of their reach expand a bit this time around.
If you thought a broken forearm would stop Rob Gronkowski from living life, think again. Bruins forward Milan Lucic tweeted this picture on Friday night, and the mischievous smile worn by the Patriots' tight end suggested he's not letting a little pain and a few screws ruin a fine night on the town.
We must ask, though: Does he know what the sling is for?
Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi will host the fifth annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 3 -- when he will himself be celebrating five years of living cancer-free. With Thanksgiving upon us, we asked the three-time Super Bowl champ to reflect on that anniversary and the experiences of his journey.
By Joe Andruzzi
Thanksgiving is undoubtedly one of my favorite holidays. The turkey, the mashed potatoes, the pie – and football! What’s not to love?
But I also truly appreciate the opportunity to step back each year and reflect on everything I’m thankful for. Number one: I’m still here.
In May of 2007, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, expected to double within 24 hours. It was a life-altering event that set my course for the future. While it spelled the end of my football career, it also signaled the beginning of another profound chapter in my life, and the launch of my nonprofit, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation.
I was playing for the Cleveland Browns, having signed on as a free agent after leaving the Patriots with three Super Bowl victories. I was a successful offensive guard with four young children, at the top of my game. But with a single shocking sentence from my doctor, everything had changed. You have cancer. My wife Jen and I packed for Boston as quickly as we could, so that I could immediately begin treatment at two of the country’s best cancer centers: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
I was in and out of the hospital all summer, undergoing chemo for five to ten days straight. I spent a lot of time lying up in the hospital, getting poked by needles, getting spinal taps, and experiencing a level of sickness a guy like me had never known.
But I came through it, and in just a few months I was well enough to permanently go home, where I was focused on my recovery for about a year. I couldn’t have done it without my wife, who was at my bedside every day, even as she managed to run our household and care for our kids.
Which brings me to the second thing I’m thankful for: my wife and family. See, Jen is an impressive woman. Because even as she was caring for me, she was already plotting how we could help others with cancer. We were already active in the cause, having established a fund for pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital in memory of a young friend who passed away, C.J. Buckley. I had spent years visiting cancer patients during my time with the Patriots. So as I healed, we started our Foundation. And when our fifth child was born a few years later, we were proud to name him after C.J.
We were critically aware of our good fortune (another thing for which I’m infinitely grateful) – financially, cancer did not derail my family. But so many families need both parents working, and when one has cancer, they lose half their income. Or one loses their income while caring for a child. Chemo protocols generally last for a year or two.
That’s a long time to scrape by. Jen and I knew we wanted to ease some of the burden, by assisting families with crucial rent or mortgage payments, or making sure the lights stayed on. We also wanted to continue our support for pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital.
This is a big year for us – a big Thanksgiving: I am celebrating five years of living cancer-free. And our Foundation is celebrating five years of hard work and success. We’ve now assisted more than 400 families with household expenses during cancer treatment, and we’ve donated more than $300,000 to the cutting-edge research of Dr. Mark Kieran at Children’s. Every year, we’ve more than doubled our giving and added more sponsors and partners. Every day, I give thanks for the opportunity to help our beneficiaries, and I remain so grateful to all those who help us realize our mission.
We’re on a roll and we just want to keep moving, raising as much money as we can to help as many families as possible.
I’m also grateful that we can mark the fifth anniversary of our New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala. On Dec. 3, we’ll come together with all of our supporters for our signature fundraising event at Gillette Stadium. It’s the first time we’ve held the event at the Patriots home field. The stadium is full of good memories for me, and I’m looking forward to bringing together all my friends – old and new – to raise money for cancer patients and their families. We hope you’ll join us as well.
This Thanksgiving, as I gather with Jen, my five kids, and our family to watch my old teammates take on the Jets (and feast on our families’ favorites), I’ll be celebrating life and all that it brings - family, good friends, and the humbling opportunity to help those in need, at a time when they need it most. I wish the same good fortune to everyone.
Emceed by Scott Zolak, the Gala will feature a special symposium, cocktail hour, dinner, and speaking program, along with live and silent auctions offering sports memorabilia, Boston sports tickets, and luxury dining, spa, entertainment, and travel packages.
If you'd like to head into Thanksgiving with a little bit extra of the holiday's spirit, do yourself a favor and click through the slideshow of the Patriots granting wishes by way of the Make-A-Wish Foundation a day before hanging a franchise-record 59 points on the Colts.
Specifically the wish of the four kids brought to Foxboro by the Foundation was to meet Tom Brady -- but the Patriots did even better, as soon enough the entire team joined their quarterback on the practice field and started signing autographs. The team posted 20 images of the experience on its own site Tuesday; click the photo above to see the rest. It's well worth the time.
UGG on Monday debuted the ad campaign it'll use to try and get men to want their boots this holiday season -- which, of course, means another commercial for Tom Brady. Here's the spot:
Compared with some of his early work, we can say this: Brady's acting is getting better. But then again, this one should've been pretty easy, given that it cast the quarterback in a familiar scenario. The ad shows a teammate finding a pair of UGGs that were left in his locker by Brady, and in recent years that's a practice has taken up in real life, too. First it was just the offensive linemen who protected him, then about a year ago he gave boots to "half the locker room."
UGG's hoping this year he can get men beyond the walls of Gillette Stadium wearing their boots, too.
This year Vince Wilfork will spend his Thanksgiving in New Jersey, where his Patriots will take on the Jets in a primetime contest during which much of a tryptophan-filled nation will probably at some point doze off. But even if he may not have a chance to enjoy a turkey dinner with his family that day, the big defensive lineman will make sure that others can.
For the third straight year, the Vince Wilfork Foundation will join Florida-based Cheney Brothers to lead a Thanksgiving Turkey Drive that provides turkeys to churches and community centers for people in need. In total, the Drive is expected to give away 700 turkeys in Gainesville, Fla., which is where Bianca Wilfork, Vince's wife, spent some of her formative years.
Wilfork's charitable endeavors don't end there, either, as the holiday season approaches. In homage to his late father, who passed away from complications related to the disease while Wilfork was in college, his Foundation earlier this month kicked off its "Tackling Diabetes" campaign, and through the end of November the life-science research company EMD Millipore will match any donations made to the cause. (That can be done in $10 increments by texting VINCE to 50555, or by visiting vincewilfork75.com; everyone who donates will be entered to win tickets and tailgate passes to a December Pats game.)
And as Christmas approaches, Wilfork has become a spokesman for Eastern Bank as its 94 branches become drop-off locations for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. In fact, donors are encouraged to Tweet a picture to Wilfork himself -- @wilfork75 -- when they bring a new, unwrapped toy to the bank and help Wilfork in seeing that these will, indeed, be happy holidays.
Tyler Seguin is sure staying busy while he's locked out of the NHL. He's scored 13 goals in 15 games for EHC Biel of the Swiss National League. He's posed like He-Man. He's showed up at the Celtics game. He's even tweeted a photo of his seemingly fun-loving grandmother.
And now he's posted pictures showing he's a schwinger.
Before your mind races somewhere else, "schwingen" is a form of wrestling in Switzerland, and the photos Seguin tweeted show him and Biel teammate Patrick Kane taking part in a photo shoot for a magazine with a man the 20-year-old Bruins' forward describes as "Switzerland's top wrestler." That's sawdust filling the ring he's standing in, and those chap-like things the hockey stars are wearing are actually called "schwingerhosen."
He and Kane look like they're having a good time. (Too good a time, actually.) But the rest of us can only hope it's not long before Seguin takes off the schwingerhosen and replaces them with hockey pants bearing a spoked B.
The case could be made that the grinning, goofy Rob Gronkowski has long lived life in a way that allows him to have his cake and eat it, too.
But Tuesday that took on a whole new meaning for the Patriots tight end.
As part of a luncheon where Dunkin' Donuts welcomed winners of the "Great DD Gronk Off" to Gillette Stadium, Gronkowski was presented with a life-size cake of himself made by Montilio's Baking Co. of Brockton -- which once made a similar cake for Rocky Marciano. According to a Globe story it's made of enough ingredients to bake 15 sheet cakes, but as you can see in the photo above (which was tweeted by @Patriots), even that's still not quite enough to capture the true mass of New England's favorite 6-foot, 6-inch man-child.
Fans earned their way into the lunch, which included a Q-and-A session with Gronk as well as the cake's unveiling, by posting pictures of themselves posing in a Dunkin' Donuts store with a cardboard cutout of the tight end, or by posting a video of themselves -- what else? -- spiking a football.
Indeed, the legendary life of Gronk just keeps getting better.
Despite the Red Sox' gaping hole at first base, it doesn't appear likely that free agency will lead Kevin Youkilis back to Boston this winter. But the two-time World Series champion apparently hasn't forgotten how beloved he was by the fans of New England -- nor about his pledge to help them.
Following through on a promise he made in August, on Tuesday morning Youkilis' Youk's Kids charity presented a check for $20,014 to the Goffstown, N.H., Babe Ruth league, which lost thousands of dollars worth of bats, balls, batting cages and other baseball equipment this summer when its storage shed was struck by lightning and the ensuing fire destroyed all of the gear within. The presentation was made at Town Hall by a pair of board members from the nonprofit, with Youkilis joining the festivities via phone.
It's an admirable gesture under any circumstances, not only as a means of aiding a community but as a measure of helping to grow the game of baseball -- which needs all the help it can get as far as maintaining the interest of teenage athletes. But maybe the most impressive part of the donation was the timing of it all.
Youkilis was dealt to Chicago on June 24. The lightning strike didn't happen until Aug. 4. That means he'd already been out of town for six weeks by the time he learned of the fire and what had been lost, and just as far along in the process of trying to move on with his career, yet the swiftness of the foundation's promise to help in Goffstown suggests the organization didn't think long about the decision to make such a significant donation when a need arose in Red Sox Nation.
And although he won't be returning here to play for the home team, Youkilis is bringing his nonprofit back to Boston next month, when he hosts the third annual Not Your Average Idol charity event. Slated for Dec. 6 at Royale in Boston's theater district, the event will be headlined by singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton, feature food from some of Boston's best restaurants, and include appearances by local and national celebrities. Already there's an auction underway online where interested parties can bid on holiday wreaths decorated by Youkilis and other big names -- specifically the Bruins, Gavin DeGraw, Jenny Dell, Kevin Faulk, Chelsea Handler, Jordan Knight, Mike O'Malley, Doug Flutie, Jason and Catherine Varitek, as well as Youkilis' brother- and sister-in-law (you know them as Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen) -- and tickets are on sale now.
Three days before its scheduled release, MobiSquad has posted a video showing Patriots' receiver Brandon Lloyd "jumping" over a SmartCar steaming toward him at 35 mph.
We use quotation marks because Lloyd told reporters that there were some "camera tricks" involved in the making of the video. Additionally, accompanying the video on the company's website are a couple other clips that have clearly been touched up with special effects -- but we'll let you come to your own conclusions.
Here it is:
(Also, if you're trying to decipher the validity of the video, it should be pointed out that MobiSquad strongly suggested Thursday that the leap was made during the season, and on Wednesday the company said on its Facebook page said that Lloyd had "just left MobiSquad headquarters" -- though that day Lloyd was, of course, at practice in Foxborough. On the contrary, Lloyd told the Boston Herald that the video was shot during the summer, and thus he didn't need to clear it with Bill Belichick.)
If you thought former Red Sox pinch-runner Joey Gathright was the only athlete with Boston ties who had a thing for jumping over cars, you were apparently mistaken.
Brandon Lloyd does it, too.
And apparently when the Patriots' receiver does it, the cars are moving.
According to MobiSquad, a mobile technology company, Lloyd accepted their challenge to jump over the company's purple SmartCar while it was traveling 35 mph and they'll release video of his daring leap on Monday night.
The company didn't divulge when the jump happened, saying only that it occurred "recently," though it did apparently come during the season and with the Patriots idle last week it stands to reason that it happened sometime after Lloyd scored two touchdowns against the Rams on Oct. 28.
It also stands to reason that the receiver in the first year of a $12 million deal would have to clear such a stunt with Bill Belichick beforehand. If not, you can bet Lloyd has a conversation coming with his coach -- though in a quote attributed to him in a press release, the Patriots said he did it in support of the small businesses that "are the soul of this country" and he "didn’t ask for anything, I just wanted to do whatever I could to help the cause” when MobiSquad founder Nate Reis asked him to participate.
“I was obviously nervous to jump a racing Smart Car, but I’ve had 10 years of practice jumping over health hazards like Ray Lewis,” Lloyd said. "We had all of the proper safety precautions in place. I knew I could do it.”
Check back Monday, as we'll have the video here when it goes live -- and in the meantime, here's some behind the scenes footage of Lloyd in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Former Celtics guard Keyon Dooling appeared on Katie Couric's syndicated talk show this afternoon, participating in an episode titled "Confronting a Dark Past" to tell his story as a victim of sexual abuse.
Joined by his wife, Natosha, Dooling told Couric that while growing up in Fort Lauderdale he was introduced to pornography and forced to perform oral sex by a friend of his brother at 5 years old. He also said that when he was 7, Dooling's father -- who the 12-year pro described as a "pillar of the community" -- showed him more pornography as a means of explaining sex.
A well-respected executive in the NBA players' association and long known as a player who served as a motivator and councilor to his teammates, Dooling helped the Celtics to within a game of the NBA Finals last season, then re-signed with the club this summer. In September, however, he abruptly retired because he could no longer repress the memories of his childhood and was admitted to a mental hospital for a period to help treat the anxiety. Since then, Dooling said that other pros have come forward privately to credit him for his decision to speak out publicly, and some have even told him that they have had similar experiences.
This week it was revealed that Dooling has accepted a position with the Celtics in player development, though he told Couric he intends to travel the country to speak with and advocate for other victims of abuse. His message is already resonating with some, and after the show Dooling said he was asked for his thoughts on some recent high-profile sexual abuse cases, including that of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky. He said he could relate to the victims, and was proud of them.
"I was happy because of the courage that they were able to show in coming forward -- the courage that I didn't have initially," he said. "I would definitely say the victims in this case turn out to be the heroes, and they inspire people like me to come out and try and make a difference."
The person behind the Twitter handle @strombone1 is officially a mystery, one perpetuated by an avatar that features a question mark on a silhouette and the social network's inability to verify its owner -- but it's widely believed that the account belongs to Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. A Vancouver Sun sports blog made a compelling case in support of that theory in February.
And then the evidence grew again with one antagonizing tweet on Wednesday night.
Some people say 4 more years of Obama. I look at it more like 4 more years of disgruntled goalie politically charged Facebook rants! #I❤TT—Strombone (@strombone1) November 8, 2012
"TT," it would seem, is a very thinly veiled reference to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the counterpart whose style Luongo criticized when they faced off in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, who said he didn't realize it was his job to "pump (Luongo's) tires" when Luongo complained that Thomas never paid him any compliments, who ultimately outplayed the Canucks'
captain netminder on the way to Boston's championship -- then who used the platform made more prominent by that title to take a stand against President Obama and liberal-leaning politics.
Thomas' infamous Facebook page has been quiet throughout this recent election season, and that didn't change even after Obama was reelected on Tuesday. Maybe he doesn't have time for it anymore as he spends his time focused on friends, family, and faith, which are the three reasons he says he wouldn't be playing hockey this season even if the NHL wasn't locked out.
But it remains to be seen if that silence sustains. After all, we know Thomas thrives when challenged. We also know Luongo has a knack for getting him going. Now we wait to see if a rebuttal could be forthcoming.
If, of course, the man behind the mask of @strombone1 is really who we think he is.
A number of those who are active in social media thought better of delving into politics at a time when the topic tends to be even more of a hot button than usual, but here's a sampling of what some of Boston's pro athletes were tweeting about election day -- both before and after the reelection of President Obama became essentially official:
ELATED!!!...— Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen) November 7, 2012
Am I the only person who feels like its New Years Eve when they show the ppl in Chicago dancing to music? Lol feel like we all countin down— Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen) November 7, 2012
I hate when people start saying negative and violent things towards these two candidates that are trying to help US at the end of the day.— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) November 7, 2012
If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all... So whose moving to Jamaica with me??— Dane Fletcher (@Dane_Fletcher) November 7, 2012
Whether Democrat or Republican? Whoever you voted for,may God continue to Bless America.— Deion Branch #84 (@deionbranch84) November 7, 2012
ONE nation, under GOD, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL!!— Stevan Ridley (@StevanRidley) November 7, 2012
AND HE'S BLACK... I MEAN BACK!! :)— Shane Vereen (@ShaneVereen34) November 7, 2012
#ClintonGore1992....— Jake ballard (@TheJakeBallard) November 7, 2012
Congratulations President Obama!— Ras-I Dowling (@RasIDowling) November 7, 2012
Go vote and make a difference. We need it! twitter.com/IamCodyRoss/st…— Cody Ross (@IamCodyRoss) November 6, 2012
And one from the Fourth District's new congressional representative, sent out a few days before the election when by his office came a Boston athlete -- who he just so happened to know from their days at Stanford:
Listen to sports radio long enough and you'll inevitably come away feeling at least some level of concern about the Patriots and the direction they're headed as an organization -- be it ownership's willingness to spend to the salary cap, Bill Belichick's autonomy, their scouts' blind spot when evaluating defensive backs, or the players' collective commitment in comparison to the glory days.
But apparently those shortcomings aren't as apparent to those forced to compete with the franchise. When the Sporting News asked NFL players to name the best organization in pro football, the Patriots were voted No. 1 according to a poll that heard from 103 players on 27 teams, gaining 34 votes to easily separate themselves from the second-place Steelers (21).
Despite twice beating the Patriots in Super Bowls over the past five years, the Giants were third (19). And despite going 15-1 last season, after winning a title of their own in 2010, the Packers placed fourth (15).
"Patriots," responded an NFC defender. "Just their history of winning -- it speaks for itself."
At the other end of the spectrum, the Cleveland Browns were rated as the NFL's worst organization, while all three of the Pats' AFC East rivals received at least two votes. The Jets in particular appeared frequently on the two other negative polls, as well, with Rex Ryan voted the game's most overrated coach (Belichick was second), and both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow among the seven most overrated players (Michael Vick was No. 1).
In other categories, Houston's Gary Kubiak and Atlanta's Mike Smith, current conference leaders, tied for the most nominations for most underrated head coach, while Alabama's Nick Saban earned twice as many nods as Ohio State's Urban Meyer in response to the question of which big-time college coach players would most like to see in the NFL (some apparently forgetting his failed stint with the Dolphins).
A year ago, Brad Marchand -- dressed as the Nutcracker -- joined the far-more-ridiculous Zdeno Chara as part of a Bruins contingent that visited the kids at Children's Hospital near Halloween. But this year, with Chara playing overseas and the NHL locked out, Marchand took the ridiculous upon himself:
My little Spiderman & Brad Marchand twitter.com/jaee_owens/sta…— Jaelyn Owens (@jaee_owens) November 1, 2012
That's Marchand as Thor, the comic book superhero whose Wikipedia page describes him as a "superb hand-to-hand combatant" -- which is a trait that Daniel Sedin, for example, can attest is as true of Marchand as his alter-ego. Based on the photos, though, he was in more of a peacekeeping mood as he wore his costume in South Boston.
This is where we might suggest that it's time the NHL and its players struck a deal because Marchand clearly has far too much free time on his hands these days. But Paul Pierce and a few of the Patriots (including Robs Gronkowski and Ninkovich) did their part to prove that at Halloween the in-season athletes have time to play dress up and act like kids, too.