It seems everyone is talking about the way Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp blindsided Green Bay's Chad Clifton, a hit that ended Clifton's season. I wanted to speak to the parents of the Packer tackle to get their perspective. So I looked up the Cliftons, who live in Martin, Tenn., and gave them a call.
Mrs. Clifton answered, and I quickly introduced myself and explained the nature of my call. I told her I understood it was a sensitive subject and I promised not to take up too much of her time. She thanked me for that and in a motherly tone agreed to talk for a few minutes. Our conversation went something like this:
"When the hit comes on TV, can you watch?" I asked.
"I couldn't at first," she said. "But I can now."
"Have you forgiven Warren Sapp?"
"That was hard," she said. "I was very angry about it. But I've found it in my heart to forgive him."
"Mrs. Clifton, according to the Green Bay media guide, Chad played in a charity softball game for a paralyzed boy. Do you remember that?"
"I don't remember that game. He's done a lot for charities in this area, but I don't know if that's accurate."
I didn't want to bother her any longer. I thanked her for her time, told her I'd keep Chad in my thoughts, and told her how much I appreciated her discussing her son with me.
"Oh, I'm not Chad's mother," she said.
"I'm sorry," I said, embarrassed. "You're his grandmother?"
"No. I don't know Chad. We have the same last name, and we both live in Martin, but there's no relation."
Just goes to show you, everyone has an opinion on that hit.
I finally got ahold of Clifton's father, Harold -- his real father -- and he told me the whole family has been distraught about the situation.
"It's terrible, just terrible," Harold said.
Chad is still using a walker to get around, and doctors are considering implanting a metal plate to stabilize his pelvis. Although he experienced some numbness in his extremities immediately after the collision, he has regained feeling in those areas. Doctors told Clifton his spine moved fractionally to the left, but nothing was cracked and everything should work itself back into alignment. He plans to keep playing football, too, even though the Packers put him on injured reserve this week, meaning his season's over.
As for lingering bitterness, his dad said Chad doesn't have any.
"Chad's such a good kid, he wouldn't say anything bad about Sapp," said Harold, who confirmed his son did, indeed, play in that charity softball game.
Harold and his son, Greg, are still angry at Sapp -- who hasn't tried to contact Chad or his family -- and the league, which did not penalize or fine the Tampa Bay star.
"I'm not going to call him, [but] I've thought about it several times," Harold said of Sapp, who maintains a Web site, www.qbkilla.com. "I started to get on the Internet to speak my mind about it. Chad's so low-key, he probably wouldn't want me to say anything to him."
Hey, if that other Clifton lady can forgive him ...
Players talk about keeping their head on a swivel when they're around Sapp. They must be talking about his locker-room routine. After every game, he packs his lower lip with Copenhagen, lays a white towel at his feet, and uses it as a makeshift spittoon.
Sort of the red-carpet treatment in reverse.
Around the League
AFC EAST -- Buffalo quarterback Drew Bledsoe has lots of good memories of his years playing for New England. Old Foxboro Stadium isn't one of them. "I wanted to be the one to push the button to blow that place up," Bledsoe said this week as he prepared for his first game at New England as a Bill. "That place was horrible. It rained in the training room. If I came out after the game and spent too much time with the media, then I had to take a cold shower. The rooms were small. The weight room was terrible. The locker room was horrible. The whole place was bad. The only thing that was good about the old Foxboro Stadium was that on Sunday, when you were on the field, the fans were really close to you. That was cool. The rest of it absolutely [stunk]."
AFC NORTH -- The Browns are 2-4 at home this season, and those victories came against Cincinnati and Houston. Quarterback Tim Couch hasn't been the same since an Oct. 6 loss to Baltimore, when the home crowd booed him and "cheered" when he went out with a concussion and was replaced by Kelly Holcomb. In his four years as a pro, Couch is 6-15 when playing at Cleveland. This season he's 1-3 at home and is coming off a loss to Carolina in which he lost a fumble and three of his passes were intercepted. Before that game, Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson said Couch was too inconsistent to be the Browns' quarterback of the future. That didn't sit well with Cleveland Coach Butch Davis, even though he and Johnson are friends from their days coaching the Miami Hurricanes. "I really don't care what Jimmy Johnson thinks," Davis said after being apprised of the Couch comments. "He's an announcer. Unless he's the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, I don't care."