DANA POINT, Calif. - When she was the architect of American foreign policy, Condoleezza Rice put the portraits of four men who preceded her as Secretary of State on the walls of her office.
Thomas Jefferson. Dean Acheson. George Marshall. William Seward.
But before that, there was another cold warrior on a television set for a little girl.
"When I was growing up in Birmingham, Ala., we had no team," Rice recalled Sunday night after addressing the NFL owners. "The most popular team was the Cleveland Browns. Jim Brown. Paul Brown. I immediately took a liking to Paul Brown as a little girl, so when he was let go I transferred to the Bengals. I followed the Bengals for a long time."
Now Rice, 54, a baby boomer whose coach father taught her the game during the NFL's rise to prominence, is the world's most famous football fan. Once bandied about as a possible replacement for NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Rice smiled as the man who got the commissioner's job, Roger Goodell, told the owners he was glad she was too busy a few years ago.
So the NFL provided a perfect game plan for her to discuss the day's biggest international problems in her third month as a former Madame Secretary.
She took questions from the owners and guests.
The three most dangerous spots in the world, which, it turns out, are not Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore?
Pakistan-Afghanistan, the Middle East, Mexico. The best foreign countries to play pro football? Great Britain, Germany. Australia. "Anywhere there is a mass sports following," she said. The growing influence of China? She worries it is "a country of great interest" that doesn't have the flexibility of democracy.
But she is still a diplomat.
She admits "my heart is with the Browns these days," yet when asked her favorite Bengal of all-time there is no hesitation.
"I had a couple," she said. "Ken Anderson. Isaac Curtis."
Told Anderson's quote about Curtis that he was "Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice," Dr. Rice said, "Absolutely, absolutely," before admitting that she never did "The Ickey Shuffle."
"But I loved watching it," she said.
Nancy Brown loved watching Rice on Sunday. The daughter-in-law of Paul Brown wanted to make sure she knew how much she admired her. Rice got a kick out of her story that there is a fan in Brown's rooting section at Paul Brown Stadium that looks like her and she makes sure she waves and calls to here every game, "Hi, Condoleezza."
"It was like there was a hero talking to me," Brown said. "I think she represents the country so well, and I admire a woman who got into such a powerful job."
Asked who she roots for these days when the Bengals play the Browns, Rice said, "You don't want to know."
But Nancy Brown cut her a break.
"That's all right," she said. "She's a football fan. So that's good."It was, after all, a night for diplomacy.
OHER TO VISIT: With left tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe expected to be off the board and Andre Smith looking more and more like a guard, the Bengals have to decide if No. 6 is too high for Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher.
They'll get a close look at him soon in Cincinnati when they begin bringing in college prospects for on-campus visits. Jimmy Sexton, Oher's agent, said Sunday here at the site of the NFL meetings that his client is coming to Paul Brown Stadium in the next week or two.
Sexton is based in Oher's hometown of Memphis and while no one around the league seems to be questioning his client's athletic talents, the hiring of Sexton indicates that Oher has the maturity some scouts think he lacks. Sexton is one of the top agents in the game, represents several NFL head coaches (as well as Bengals tight end Reggie Kelly) and just got former Bengals backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a surprisingly big deal at $2.75 million per year with Buffalo.
Sexton says Oher's engrossing back story that formed the best-selling book The Blind Side shouldn't obscure the fact that he's been a highly productive player and always been highly-ranked since he arrived at Ole Miss.
Sean Tuohy, Oher's father in the adopted family that took him in at age 15 after a life of poverty, is no stranger to Cincinnati.
"He owns almost every Taco Bell in Cincinnati and Covington," Sexton said. "He's there all the time."
ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson popped into the hotel lobby Sunday and said he last talked to Ocho Cinco in a 20-minute conversation at the Super Bowl.
Johnson, a former NFL receiver, admits he's not as close to The Ocho like he was before. He said the split began when Ocho Cinco left Johnson's agent, Jerome Stanley, to go with Drew Rosenhaus.
"I think he wants to get back to playing football, but I don't know really where he's at," Johnson said. " It all depends on the mindset of the team."
The team's mindset is to replace Ocho Cinco's running mate over the last nine years in college and the pros, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, with another veteran in long-time Jet Laveranues Coles. Asked if Coles is going to enhance Ocho Cinco, Johnson says it depends.
"I don't know who is going to take the T.J. role," he said.
"They're two different guys," Johnson said of Houshmandzadeh and Coles. "Laveranues is quick, more of a vertical threat. At least he has been. T.J. is more of an inside guy going against linebackers and strong safeties. T.J.'s hands might be a little better. You can get some things out of what Laveranues can do and T.J. can't do."
Here is why Houshmandzadeh feels the way he was used in Cincinnati hurts his perception around the league:
"T.J. can't play outside," Johnson said. "I'm not talking about a two-yard slant. I'm talking about an 18-yard comeback (route) where you break a guy down. A skinny post where he sticks his toes in and runs a deep 18-yard in cut. That 's playing outside. Not three by two receivers and you're running a slant. That's not an outside guy."No doubt Houshmandzadeh will see this and he'll make sure Johnson knows he's going to prove him wrong. But he'll probably do it on his portal of choice, the NFL Network.
VIKES WAIT: The Vikings have five days to match the Bengals offer sheet on Minnesota fullback Naufahu Tahi and head coach Brad Childress said Sunday morning at the NFL meetings the Vikes had yet to make the call publicly.
BROWN QUESTIONS HIT: Bengals president Mike Brown wasn't happy with the Hines Ward blindside block that ended linebacker Keith Rivers' season with a broken jaw. He's all for a new safety guideline that prohibits blindside blocks to the helmet.
"I think the way the rule reads right now you can't do that," Brown said. "They just chose to interpret it differently, but my reading of it is it should be applied in that situation anyway. The result is it will apply now. Now they're going to enforce it the way it reads. That's better. It was the kind of hit intended to harm and there shouldn't be that kind of thing in football."Brown's point is it was an illegal helmet-to-helmet to hit already. Some have absolved Ward by saying he used his shoulder: "How can you break your jaw and it's not helmet-to-helmet?"
NO OT: Brown is also for the decision not to try and come up with a new overtime policy. He thinks sudden death is quick enough.
"It isn't fair in all cases if you want to argue both teams don't have a chance with the ball, but both teams have an equal chance to get a hold of the ball," Brown said. "To me, it's quicker, decisive and dramatic. I don't feel it's unfair."