By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by
July 27, 2004

NFL notes: Patriots need Gronk to be Gronk
James White dual threat for Patriots
Kevin Duffy's Top 10 indispensable Patriots
Karen Guregian's Top 10 indispensable Patriots
Keegan: Tom Brady under pressure, but still the 1

Instead of boring the daylights out of you with another tired training camp preview, let's instead take a minute to discuss l'affaire Ricky Williams; it's clearly the NFL story du jour (Those French lessons are really paying off, eh?)

Upon hearing the news, I yelled out with a Howard Dean-like scream of joy and shock. Then the fifty-cent analysis you've come to expect from this column started to set in. First, running backs, more than any other position, have every right to call it a career early. It is the most punishing position in the game and their shelf life reflects it. And Williams has the right to lead his life the way he wants whether you agree with it or not. But what is not cool, however, is to pull this on your teammates one week before training camp starts when all that is left to replace you is either the immortal James Stewart or Stacey Mack. It's an act of betrayal that will be difficult for the team to recover from as training camp opens.

A rational person might rebut by saying: "Sure, but how about when the Patriots rebounded last year after Lawyer Milloy was released and they were devastated early on by all the injuries? And the last time I checked, ‘Bling, Bling' was the Town of Foxboro motto.”

The Boston Globe's Michael Smith had a column that took on this theme Tuesday. He pointed out that the Dolphins have posted just two losing seasons since 1970 and usually without the services of a decent running back to carry the load. Smith surmises that Williams' leaving the team and the world doubting them will be the Dolphins inspiration this year.

True. But do you really expect lightning to strike twice? Let alone in the same division and in consecutive years? And under the slightly-above average tenure of Head Coach Dave Wannstedt? And with an aging defense? We'll find out; but I'm going to bet non right now.

According to Smith (who's writing is must-read material, by the way), Williams was the one back that the Patriots (and other teams I suspect) feared could punish them instead of the other way around. Not since the great Earl Campbell has another running back exhibited such a bruising style. The Dolphins offense was designed around him touching the ball 25-30 times a game and then stretching the field with passes to David Boston, Chris Chambers, and Randy McMichael. No longer will Dolphins' opponents be forced to put eight men in the box on defense while defending their receivers one on one.

And it's not like its been a harmonious offseason in South Beach before this disaster. Let's see: Dan Marino gets cold feet at being a yes-man for owner Wayne Huizenga. Then they couldn't figure out who was the offensive coordinator, stripped Wannstedt of personnel control, brought in four new starters on the offensive line, and re-signed Jay Fiedler after trading for A.J. Feeley to "replace” him.

Bienvenue au Miami, A.J. Feeley.

Not exactly the offseason recipe for improving on a 10-6 non-playoff record.

And then this.

Frankly, watching a dejected Dave Wannstedt press conference never gets tiresome for these eyes. Whether it's another end-of-the-season, non-playoff explanation or just being thunderstruck while trying to explain life post-Ricky, it always looks like he just got turned down for membership at his local Curves gym and can't understand why.

The other delicious footnote to this story is that the Dolphins held a "Select-A-Seat Day” last Saturday with the knowledge that Williams wouldn't be entertaining any of the unsuspecting Selectors anytime soon (Williams had told Wannstedt of his decision on Friday). The team sold 15,000 individual game tickets and more than 200 season tickets during the promotion. Think any of these fans are bitter about plunking down good money for a non-Ricky Williams Dolphin team?

Obviously, the Patriots, Jets, and Bills all benefit greatly from this news. The Bills, however, are the biggest winner out of the three. If you believe the Patriots are the leader going into the clubhouse for the division title, that leaves three teams battling for second place and a potential wild card spot. The Jets could be bad this year. Real bad. But the Bills should rebound with a coaching staff that might know what to do with a decent defense that added Jason Gildon and Troy Vincent. If Drew Bledsoe can get any semblance of pocket protection, he should be good enough to carry the load. With the loss of Ricky Williams, the Bills clearly move into second place in the division past the Dolphins.

The beauty of the modern NFL is that I could be absolutely wrong. There is no way to predict what will happen once the games start to count in September. The unpredictability of the League and the fact there are only sixteen regular season games (the equivalent of ten baseball games) are the two main reasons that this game is king. Even as a kid, I always looked forward to this time of year and the start of another season of stories, entertainment, heroics, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, if I'm lucky, a dream that will be answered in January.

Idle Zinger thoughts while telling Mrs. Rousseau that if she ever needed proof that I love her, please picture me in Motherhood Maternity trying to buy her a blouse for her expanding belly:

Patriots Football Weekly had an interesting factoid: Would you believe that only 21 Patriots were members of both the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl teams?

And did you know that only Brett Favre, Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Rich Gannon, and Steve McNair are the only quarterbacks left who started for their clubs in 2000?

There is some talk that starting with the next television contract, game times might get pushed back an hour to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. All to placate West Coast TV markets. What about those of us on the East Coast who need a pot of coffee to stay up for the fourth quarter of Monday Night Football?

Reno 911 on Comedy Central is indeed the funniest show on standard cable. Period. End of discussion.

Practice squads will be expanded from five spots to eight for the upcoming season. This could be the saving grace for rookie wide receiver P.K. Sam and running back Cedric Cobbs.

It's easy to pick a Priest Holmes, Deuce McAllister, or LaDainian Tomlinson to start your fantasy football team, but if you are looking for a second tier back, may I suggest Domanick Davis of Houston, Travis Henry in Buffalo, or Eddie George in Dallas?

My dark horses for this year are Tampa Bay (bargain basement New England-style approach to free agency may be just the ticket) and Houston (Besides Davis' talent, it's time for David Carr to step up in his third year and make second-year Andre Johnson a legitimate number one receiver).

And even if you didn't shop for your wife at "Motherhood Maternity,” I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at [email protected].