Last season, Keith Bulluck approached a Tennessee teammate and suggested to the young man that he try harder to stay out of trouble. The teammate blew him off.
Bulluck had three interceptions for the Titans on Monday night. What is that teammate, Pacman Jones doing these days while sitting out a yearlong suspension? Other than consulting with his lawyers while he awaits trial on charges stemming from a shooting in which a man was left paralyzed.
The Bulluck-Jones conversation illustrates why bad too often prevails over good in the NFL these days. Because the spotlight falls on bad guys, mouthy guys and me-first guys who use their fame to advertise themselves.
Bulluck is an example of the best the NFL can offer, a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker who overcame a troubled early life to excel on the field and off it. Yet he was lumped in with the ``obscure'' Titans during one of Tennessee's few recent nationally televised games, simply a member of Vince Young's supporting cast until he started making plays that put him in the spotlight.
It's not only those athletes who end up in trouble with the law who get our attention.
Think of the guy known by his initials who spent the 2005 season in Philadelphia as the main character in what amounted to a soap opera carried hourly by the nation's 24-hour cable sports network. And think of:
-Larry Johnson, a classic me-first running back, who complained last week about Kansas City's play-calling because he has just 140 yards on 50 carries this season, a 2.8 average. The complaint came after a win. In other words, winning isn't everything, his stats are.
And a major reason Johnson has so few yards is the long preseason holdout he staged.
-DeAngelo Hall's meltdown for Atlanta, which cost the Falcons 67 yards of penalties on one drive, led to a Carolina touchdown and probably cost his team a win, of which there are likely to be precious few this year.
-The indictment of Michael Vick (again) by the state of Virginia, a charge that seems a little redundant, because Vick already has pleaded guilty to a federal charge for his involvement in dogfighting. That came a day before a judge disclosed that Vick had tested positive for marijuana.
Start with Johnson, who held out until after the second exhibition game for a six-year contract extension that got him $19 million in guaranteed money.
You'd think he should provide more than 2.8 yards a carry for that much, though there are extenuating circumstances: the retirements in the last two years of Pro Bowl offensive linemen Willie Roaf and Will Shields, and the lack of a top-drawer quarterback, which allows opponents to play eight and nine men up to stop Johnson.
But Johnson chose to shoot off his mouth.
``I learned a long time ago about coaches,'' he said. ``They're always going to do what they want to do. It's usually an ego thing rather than trying to be better or trying to get better or trying to listen to input. It's just hard to change a coach's perspective or change an offensive coordinator's plays when this is what they've been used to doing ever since they came into the league.''
There's actually some truth to that. And Johnson does have firsthand knowledge - his father is the defensive line coach at Penn State.
But it doesn't exactly contribute to harmony on a struggling team, especially coming from a guy who held out for his own selfish reasons and isn't overly popular with his teammates. When he worries about ``my'' average and ``my'' carries after a win, what message is he sending?
Then there's Hall, one of the NFL's top cornerbacks, but a first-class trash-talker.
In this case, the party of the second part was another talented bigmouth, Carolina's Steve Smith. Hall was doing well - Smith didn't have a catch and Atlanta was up 17-10 in the third quarter when Hall was called for pass interference on the Panthers' receiver, a 37-yard penalty.
One play later, Hall was penalized for roughness after he tried to jam Smith at the line. The Falcons' defense held, but Hall was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for mouthing off as the Falcons left the field. Two plays later, the Panthers tied the score.
Hall then got into a shouting match with coach Bobby Petrino and assistant Joe Whitt Jr.; at one point Hall had to be restrained by three players.
``The same things you love about me are going to be the same things you hate about me,'' Hall said. ``The same fire and intensity I bring on the field, it kind of gets me in trouble.''
The trouble turned out be a $100,000 fine by the team and the possibility he might be suspended for part of this week's game.
Back to that ``obscure'' Titan, Bulluck, the AFC defensive player of the week.
Last season, when he tried to dissuade Jones from his wayward ways, Pacman's retort was something like ``Why should I listen to you? You weren't the sixth overall pick in the draft like I was.''
If it makes any difference, Bulluck was a first-rounder, 30th overall in 2000. Who cares? Draft status disappears, except financially, once you start playing in the NFL.
But the ``obscure'' Titans demonstrate the modern NFL perfectly.
The best known is Young, a college superstar, the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, and one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. Good, he gets the headlines on merit.
Next? Maybe Bulluck, but maybe Albert Haynesworth, the defensive tackle who was suspended for five games last season after stomping on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode during a game. To his credit, Haynesworth says he's seen the error of his ways - he sought out commissioner Roger Goodell to tell him that during Goodell's visit to Nashville this summer. He's been playing at a Pro Bowl level for the first three games, but he's still known nationally as ``the guy who stomped on the other guy.''
In a sense, the modern media is to blame, as well.
Yes, a lot of attention was paid to Tiki Barber when he was averaging nearly 1,700 yards rushing per season in his last three years with the Giants. But we heard even more last year when he was bloviating about his impending retirement, and again this year when he used his platform as a talking head for NBC to go after Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, his former coach and quarterback.
Are we hearing less of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens these days? Yes, even though both are playing brilliantly for unbeaten teams. That's because they're content with their stats, their contracts and their wins.
But we're also guaranteed round-the-clock coverage if one or both starts popping off or does something untoward off the field.
As always, the way to become famous is by showing off or behaving badly.
The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play:

1. New England (3-0). 38-14, 38-14, 38-7.
2. Indianapolis (3-0). Have already accomplished what they couldn't last season, beating Tennessee and Houston on the road.
3. Dallas (3-0). Tony Romo looks more and more like the real deal.
4. Pittsburgh (3-0). Playing like 2006 never happened.
5. Green Bay (3-0). Favre is playing like it's 1996.
6. Tennessee (2-1). Keith Bulluck. Vince Young. Albert Haynesworth.

27. Cleveland (1-2). Not good, but competitive.
28. St. Louis (0-3). Injuries hurt.
29. Kansas City (1-2). A team in serious decline.
30. New Orleans (0-3). Things can fall apart quickly.
31. Atlanta (0-3). When you're bad, you don't need stupid penalties.
32. Buffalo (0-3). Injuries can hurt a good team. They kill a bad one.

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