A Schott of courage

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

They'll save similar pleasantries for after tomorrow's game -- if at all -- but there was a point last season when Marty Schottenheimer placed a friendly call to Bill Parcells.

The message from one veteran of the coaching fraternity to another was:Keep your crusty double-chin up.

Parcells was in the midst of seeing his Dallas Cowboys struggle to a 6-10 record while Schottenheimer's San Diego Chargers were headed the other way, finishing at 12-4.

The two teams meet tomorrow in San Diego in a game that will give an early look at potential contenders from opposing conferences.

Parcells appreciated the call then, but expects it won't be necessary as this autumn unfolds.

"I'm sure he'll be a little embarrassed, but Marty helped me a little bit last year," Parcells said. "He kind of gave me a good talking to. It kind of hit home because he had gone through the same thing the year before. He kind of relayed his experience to me, just talking as a friend.

"I appreciated that and took it very much to heart."

The Cowboys, infused with a new quarterback in Drew Bledsoe and a running back, Julius Jones, seen by some as the next great stud, are a wise-guy pick to be surprise contenders in the NFC.

Parcells, who spent most of last year seething, demands it. And it wouldn't surprise Schottenheimer, who is entering his 20th year as a head coach to Parcells' 18.

"I have great admiration for him," Schottenheimer said. "We're good friends and I think he has shown the ability to take football teams and mold them in the way that they can be successful."

After doing so with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets in the past, many feel Parcells is ready to do the same in the Lone Star state. The 'Boys will get a good early indication of where that progress is playing the Chargers on the road.

"Anybody who watched football last year knows they're good," Parcells said of the AFC West champion Chargers. "But that represents a very good opportunity for us. It really does. I think somehow, if we're able to pull that off, I think it will go a long way for our confidence."

BOOING THE BOO-BIRDS

Opponents know enough not to mess with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of the most ferocious hitters in the league.

Now Ravens fans are getting a taste of his wrath.

Lewis lashed out at the Baltimore faithful who have been riding quarterback Kyle Boller throughout a sloppy pre-season. Ravens followers feel their team is back to being a playoff contender providing they get a reasonable output from the Boller-led offence.

"If they boo our quarterback, they boo our team," Lewis said of Boller, a third-year starter who was picked off four times in the regular season. "There is no one person that makes us lose ball games. To point fingers at Kyle ... anybody who does that is dead wrong."

"I know many times Kyle's been hit when he wasn't supposed to get hit. Kyle is our quarterback right now and we're going to win with him."

Ravens coach Brian Billick made a similar plea, urging fans to save their venom for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in the prime time opener tomorrow.

NO MERCY FOR SAINTS

As rough as the past two weeks have been for the New Orleans Saints and their fans, the players know empathy will end at kickoff tomorrow.

The Saints play the Carolina Panthers, whose late run for a playoff spot was derailed in January when they lost 21-18 to the Saints.

"I don't expect for the Panthers to feel sorry for us," Saints receiver Joe Horn said. "In their heart I'm sure they will.

"But when that whistle blows and that clock starts, I'm not going to run around and catch a football and not expect Julius Peppers to knock my head off."

Added Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, a former Saint and Louisiana native: "We all know we play a child's game and (the situation) is a lot more than a game. But I know these guys are going to come to play. There's no doubt in my mind."


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