Related Articles: Football, All

Around the NFL

Notes From a From a Frazzled Mind

The life of a pathetically devoted sports fan can put a nasty strain on the heart, mind and, let us not forget, liver. As a member of Red Sox Nation since '77, one year before Bucky Dent's pop fly over the Green Monster prompted New Englanders to reward him with a new middle name, the American League Championship Series and subsequent World Series of the past two weeks have been an almost unendurable journey through despair, humiliation, nausea, disgust, hope, relief and elation, on the way to the final destination: frenzied joy, with a dash of jaw-dropping shock thrown in for good measure. Such journeys are often tempered by a shot of Jameson. Or five.

So you'll have to understand, if not excuse, my relative inability to concentrate on the subject of Week 8 in the marathon that is the NFL season. But the Fall Classic is over now, and attention must turn to the gridiron, where only two teams -- Terrell Owens' Philadelphia Eagles and Tom Brady's New England Patriots -- remain undefeated. That won't change this week, with the Eagles hosting an inferior Baltimore Ravens squad that will be missing its most valuable offensive weapon, running back Jamal Lewis, and Bill Belichick's stingy Patriots defense preparing to give Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger a nasty introduction to the pros.

Eyes of the World: will not be on the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, who will meet in the Windy City on Sunday to decide which team deserves a reputation as the Lowest of the Low. Both squads sport matching 1-5 records, and while home-field advantage is said to be worth at least a field goal to the bookies in Vegas, perhaps that logic doesn't apply here: Da Bears are 0-3 before the Soldier Field faithful, while the hapless Niners are 0-3 away from the familiar confines of Monster Park, or whatever it's called this week. This is interesting only because A) the target audience at SFStation.com presumably still cares about the fate of the 49ers, and B) somebody is actually going to have to step up and win this game. But who? The money here is on the hometown heroes, coming off a bye week and fully aware that Chicago's plan on offense will be to run Thomas Jones, a serviceable tailback marred by inconsistent production, down their throats. Of course, when your starting quarterbacks are named Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel, you don't have much of a choice.

Feel Like a Stranger: One year after leading the Oakland Raiders in catches (63) and receiving yards (869), Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver ever to suit up, was unceremoniously shipped to the Seattle Seahawks for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Rice, 42, requested a change of scenery shortly before the NFL's Oct. 19 trading deadline, citing his rapidly diminishing role in the Silver and Black's offensive schemes.

And so it ended with a whimper, Rice's storied career as the Bay Area's most enduring football legend, the owner of 22, 543 career receiving yards and 204 touchdowns (both records). Rice, the 16th overall pick in the 1985 draft for the dynastic Niners, is also the NFL's career leader in, among other things, receptions (1,525), yards from scrimmage (23,188) and consecutive games with at least one catch (274). A former Super Bowl MVP, he has been invited to the Pro Bowl 13 times. Another invitation seems unlikely, however, given his disappointing start to the 2004 campaign -- six catches, good for 77 yards and no TDs.

In Seattle, he has been reunited with an old friend: head coach Mike Holmgren was Rice's offensive coordinator 1989-1991 with the 49ers after serving as the team's quarterbacks coach starting in 1986. He has vowed to include Rice in his proficient offense, a key to the deal that Rice and his agent, Jim Steiner, facilitated. And so far, he has, even if Rice only managed a single catch for 10 yards in last week's 25-17 loss to the mighty Arizona Cardinals.

It's a bittersweet ending to an era for Rice, a San Francisco treat until his release in 2001, after which he quickly crossed the Bay Bridge to join Al Davis' gang of misfits, castoffs and motley bruisers. Some have suggested that Rice's ultra-low price tag in the Seattle deal should be reason enough for the savvy veteran to call it quits, but if he wants to play, he's earned that right. If Rice is hunting for new records, he'll have to look hard -- as a receiver, he pretty much owns them all. He plays the game he loves, possibly because he has known nothing but football for his entire adult life. Has he lost a step or two? Yes. But Rice is still a capable wideout, and speed was never the key to his game anyway. Bay Area fans should love him for all that he accomplished during his time here and wish him the best.

Help on the Way: Just hours after learning that budding receiver Reche Caldwell will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ligament in his right knee, the San Diego Chargers boldly dealt for former Pro Bowler Keenan McCardell, sending third- and sixth-round draft picks in 2004 for the Tampa Bay holdout. The move is significant, and not just for frustrated fantasy owners who had the misfortune to acquire McCardell on draft day: It proves that San Diego, sporting a surprising 4-3 record after a ho-hum 17-6 victory over the banged-up Carolina Panthers, are serious about winning now. And despite their reputation as the AFC West doormat, there's no reason they can't win in a weak division featuring only one legitimate threat, the Denver Broncos. McCardell, with 84 catches, 1,174 yards and eight TDs in 2003, is a prime-time receiver who will force opposing defenses to respect the Chargers' passing game -- making life even easier for LaDainian Tomlinson, their peerless rushing back.