Sorry to have missed last week's edition of the mailbag, but hopefully this scattershot version will suffice.
HALL OF FAME THOUGHTS ("Power struggle," Nov. 2, 2006)
No mention of (Buffalo Bills owner) Ralph Wilson going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He is one of the few owners left who has been with his team since its inception (40-plus years) and (Kansas City Chiefs owner) Lamar Hunt is in the Hall. While I appreciate (Dallas owner) Jerry Jones' contributions, I think Ralph Wilson deserves mention before Jones or (former Cowboys/Dolphins coach) Jimmy Johnson.
Dear Anonymous, I think Wilson is a fine man and has been a good owner. I'm just not quite sure what he has really done for the NFL. Hunt had a much greater impact on the development of the league because of his hand in the creation of the AFL. To me, if you simply vote for every long-time owner, you have to put guys like William Ford (Lions), Bill Bidwill (Cardinals) and Art Modell (formerly of the Browns/Ravens) in the Hall and I'm not sure any of them deserve it.
You're nuts if you think Jimmy Johnson deserves to go into the Hall of Fame. Yeah, he turned Dallas around but that was due to the number of draft picks he had and the talent that was available. Another few years there would have shown exactly what kind of failure he was. … I give more credit to the Vikings for making Dallas great then I do Johnson. He completely ruined the Dolphins and they haven't recovered yet. They are just now getting into a position to get over his legacy.
Dear Bill, I'll respectfully disagree with you. Johnson was the guy who made the trade with the Vikings and the guy who picked the players who ended up winning three titles in four years. As for ruining the Dolphins: His four years there weren't a whole lot different than Don Shula's final four years there. Likewise, he set the table for Dave Wannstedt to have whatever success Wannstedt had there. In fact, picking players like defensive end Jason Taylor, linebacker Zach Thomas, and cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison was pretty effective.
I just wanted to comment on your article regarding players who should be in the Hall of Fame. How can you not include (former Bears defensive end) Richard Dent? He is one of the top sack leaders of all time and was one of the leaders of the 1985 Bears. It's stunning that he is not in.
Dear Brett, I'm not sure that just being among the top 10 sack leaders is that important, particularly when you consider that the stat has only been kept since 1982. There are other guys up there in sacks like Chris Doleman (Vikings/49ers), John Randle (Vikings/Seahawks) and Kevin Greene (Rams/Panthers) who aren't necessarily Hall material. That said, I think Dent is close and his role with the '85 Bears is part of that. I think Derrick Thomas (Chiefs) was better at what he did than Dent, but Dent may get there someday.
I just read your recent column regarding the Hall of Fame ballot and potential inductees. And, not to worry, this is not the typical fan going berserk because his favorite player wasn't mentioned; that's clearly a waste of time. Rather, I'd like to address something quite subtle which was contained in your reference to (former Raider) Ray Guy being the only punter who deserved to be in the Hall. Jason, I hate to break it to you and your fellow writers, but you guys are validating a blatant stereotype of punters being marginal figures on football teams. Obviously, I acknowledge they do not bring either a physical component to the team or sheer excitement for the fans. However, to imply that punters do not belong in the Hall is absolutely absurd from a football standpoint. Do me a favor, Jason: pop in a tape of the Giants- Buccaneers game. You know all about the wind gusting to 40 MPH, and, consequently, the defenses stacking the box, daring the offenses to run. It became a field position game and, by definition, special teams become the most valuable unit on the field. To that end, New York punter Jeff Feagles was the MVP of the game, burying the Bucs twice inside their five-yard line and hitting a 50-yarder against the wind. Any savvy Giants fan I knew agreed: Feagles was the single biggest reason why they improved to 5-2. So if punters can be the MVP of games during the season, like Feagles was [that] Sunday, why are their contributions to the NFL disposed of like cheap trash by sportswriters like you? Could there be more irony in the pencil pushers ridiculing the punters?
Dear Frank, I don't know where you get the idea that I'm against Ray Guy just because I didn't have him on my ballot. Guy, who is one of the greatest all-around athletes in the history of the game, deserves to be in the Hall, in my opinion. However, I wouldn't include him in this year's group. There are other years when he could have and should have gotten in. This year, he just doesn't quite measure up. That said, I think extending the logic that if a punter can be the best player in a single game means that he should be in the Hall of Fame is a stretch.
How come you guys always leave out (former Raiders wide receiver) Cliff Branch in the Hall of Fame voting? Statistically, he was just as good as anyone during his playing days in the NFL. He led the NFL twice in receiving yards and was the all-time leading wide receiver in the playoffs when he retired. The Raiders were 3-0 in the Super Bowl with him and he caught 13 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Branch is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Wake up.
Dear Dave, you make a good point. Branch's career and postseason achievements certainly measure up, particularly when put up next to Lynn Swann. What's unfortunate is that Branch's career total of 501 catches doesn't measure up against today's numbers. In addition, Fred Biletnikoff is already in. I think Branch is deserving, but it will be hard for him to make it.
Here's a question I've needed answered for many years. Hope you will help me out. Does there have to be six NFL Hall of Fame inductees every year? It appears to me that the quality of inductees is steadily decreasing. When I look at your short list for this coming class, I think only one or two should be enshrined. It's not to say that the other guys didn't make significant contributions to the game. I just think the Hall is better for the NFL when it is tougher to enter. Six per year appears to be too many. Also, if Derrick Thomas belongs in the Hall, so does Richard Dent (126 sacks and a Super Bowl MVP).
Dear Jim, there doesn't have to be six inductees and there usually isn't. The minimum is four. In 2005, for instance, the only people to be inducted were Dan Marino, Steve Young, Fritz Pollard and Benny Friedman. In fact, only twice in the past 12 years have there been six inductees (there were seven in 2001). As for only one or two making it, I think your standards are pretty tough. I don't see a decrease in the quality of the inductees, but that's an eye-of-the-beholder view.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH REGGIE? (Also from "Power struggle")
Love the article on what's wrong with (Saints running back) Reggie Bush. Can you say typical media overkill? As usual, the people who I swear know the least about football – a side effect of being on the school newspaper instead of the school football team – couldn't heap enough praise on this overrated athlete only to find themselves now asking, "What's wrong with him?" The question should be: who pays you guys to pretend to be experts? Nothing is wrong with him. He's just an average player. Here is a name for you: (Colts running back) Joseph Addai. Have you seen this kid run? Nothing tentative there. That Laurence Maroney kid in New England is proving you media types wrong, too.
Dear Michael, I hate to break this to you, but the media didn't draft Bush at No. 2 overall. We might have overrated him, but a bunch of NFL personnel guys thought he was really good, too. As for Addai and Maroney, they're nice players. That's why they were first-round picks.
QUESTIONING AUTHORITY (Also from "Power struggle")
In a recent column, you made two assertions that aren't backed up with sources or facts. First, how is the suspension of (Titans cornerback) Pacman Jones indicative of (coach Jeff) Fisher winning a power struggle? You cite a few unconnected incidents as evidence that Fisher is gaining credibility with (owner) Bud Adams. Did you talk to anyone inside the organization or locker room? I understand if you don't want to reveal anonymous sources, but I hope this isn't just speculation. "Titans players are spitting at people, so Fisher is going to win out over (general manager Floyd) Reese" sounds shaky to me. Second, did you talk to either (Daunte) Culpepper or (Joey) Harrington about their supposed desire for payback against former teams? Do you know for a fact that Harrington specifically wants "a shot" at the Lions? Or are you assuming this because they parted ways under unfortunate circumstances? Did you speak to his friends, teammates, or agent? Again, you don't need to drop names, but I hope you aren't just speculating.
Dear Samuel, those are fair points. My general answer to you is that I talked to several people on both subjects. That's about as specific as I can get.
SAY GOODBYE TO T.O. ("Second-half saviors," Nov. 10, 2006)
I'm a longtime Cowboys fan and native Texan. I've seen their best and their worst and their indecision at times. After losing to Washington, it seems to me that Dallas would benefit from letting go of (wide receiver) Terrell Owens since he is becoming a distraction to the rest of the team. In that game (against the Redskins in Week 9), it seemed that the team lacked focus. He dropped an obvious touchdown pass and that (mock) sleeping in the end zone would never have been tolerated by (Tom) Landry. I'm wondering what (coach Bill) Parcells is going to do. … Should Jerry get rid of T.O.?
Dear Michael, given that the Cowboys are No. 3 in the league in scoring, I think that Owens is part of the solution, for now. Is Owens a problem? Yes, no question. But he's also a gifted player and I don't think he's causing an absurd number of problems right now. As for the "sleeping" in the end zone and what Landry would have tolerated … well, Landry did deal with Hollywood Henderson and Duane Thomas. They weren't all choir boys.
BEARS-GIANTS GAME ("Quick fix," Nov. 12, 2006)
I just read your article on the Bears-Giants game. The Bears beat a Giants team that was nowhere near full strength. They lost (offensive tackle Luke) Petitgout and (cornerback Sam) Madison during the game, as you pointed out. The one gaping hole in your article was the fact that (running back) Tiki Barber was injured very early in the game and never quite recovered except for one long run. (Quarterback) Eli (Manning) doesn't have a lot of options right now. He should have gotten (tight end Jeremy) Shockey involved, but that guy (Shockey) has proven time and again that he doesn't step up. Maybe (running back) Brandon Jacobs should have gotten a lot more carries but he has had problems with fumbles in the past. The fact is that the Giants were killing the Bears until they more or less lost the league's leading rusher and the left side of their line. Madison went down again and their depleted defense couldn't recover. (Bears quarterback Rex) Grossman didn't get it together. The Giants just lost players. When the Giants are back at full strength, they'll beat the Bears at Soldier Field in the playoffs. I like your work and will continue to keep reading.
Dear Ryan, thanks for the kind words. I'm not sure I agree with the "killing" part of your analysis. The Giants had a 13-3 lead, which is really nothing in today's NFL. While I agree that losing Petitgout and Madison hurt the Giants badly (Madison couldn't run on that touchdown pass just before halftime), I think that New York missed some opportunities early in the game to build a much bigger lead and put pressure on the Bears and Grossman. Specifically, Manning was not sharp and that was before Petitgout got hurt. Manning is a very talented player, but he doesn't always seem able to take advantage of that talent. I know (wide receiver) Amani Toomer is out, but the Giants still have plenty of weapons for him to work with.
What game were you watching? Eli Manning did as well as can be expected with pass blocking that was nearly non-existent after the Giants lost Petitgout. He anchors that line – a weakness I noted for the last two seasons. He has become injury-prone and even if he hadn't received such a serious injury, he would not have made it through the season without back problems anyway. I do agree with you about abandoning the running game though. (Coach Tom) Coughlin needs to allow someone else to call the game or the Giants should find someone else to run the ship. Too bad Tiki Barber wasn't allowed to do the tempo setting.
Dear MagicDave (and I am really curious about the genesis of that name), my problem with Manning was that stretch early in the game when he completed four of eight passes for 20 yards and an interception. The Giants really had a chance to take control and that was before Petitgout got hurt. Manning has to be sharper than that, particularly given how talented he is.
There's no argument. Rex Grossman isn't great. He's good, not great. But he is an important part of the Bears' roster. So why is everybody so afraid to say the one thing that the Bears deserve to hear? The Bears are a great team. I'm not making a prediction here. Great teams don't always win or even go to the Super Bowl. (See post-Super Bowl champion Bears for reference). Can there be any doubt about whether or not they are the class of the NFC? Who else then? Seattle? Carolina? Philadelphia? No knocks on these teams at all. But if you want to put them in the same category as Chicago, then they need to quit losing to teams like Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. If any team deserves to be grouped with the Bears, it's a healthy Giants team. I think if these two teams meet in the postseason and are healthy, we're going to see a much tighter game with a lot more excitement.
Dear Nels, I'm not sure what your definition of "great" is, but I'm not willing to assign that to any team after 10 games. The Bears are very good and clearly the best team in the NFC right now, in large part because they are healthy. But I'll reserve judgment for the moment.
A LITTLE LEINART SARCASM
What ever happened to that savior of the Arizona Cardinals? You know, the one that was crowned a Hall of Famer after his impressive debut on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears. I don't recall Vince Young getting any attention like that certain Arizona quarterback received nor do I remember any "reality" comments after that Arizona quarterback had a let's say … not-so-Hall-of-Fame few weeks.
Dear Robert, I don't know what happened to that guy because I've never seen anyone who was a Hall of Famer after two games. Matt Leinart is a nice player. We'll see if he becomes any good.
Dear Scott, Rivers is in his third year in the league.
VARIOUS COLTS QUESTIONS ("Bad to the bone," Nov. 5, 2006)
Why do you and other sports writers not recognize the difference between forced turnovers and just plain turnovers? (New England quarterback) Tom Brady's four interceptions (against Indianapolis) were hardly forced. He threw an errant pass (under normal pressure) into the end zone that could have been picked off by my grandmother. Nothing forced there. The other three were tipped balls that on any other Sunday are caught and which were thrown and located correctly, just not caught by the receivers. Those three passes were fortuitously tipped and landed in the hands of unsuspecting beneficiaries. Nothing was forced. Three nearly successful drives that would likely end in points come to a crashing halt and the Colts win by a narrow margin of one touchdown … Overall, the Colts got lucky. It was their day. Nothing was forced.
North Carolina Dear Mark, I'll agree with you on the first interception by safety Antoine Bethea. That was just a bad throw by Brady. As for the second interception by safety Bob Sanders on the pass down the middle to tight end Ben Watson, that wasn't deflected. It was overthrown against pretty good coverage. Finally, as for the two tipped passes in the second half that were intercepted by linebacker Cato June, the first of those two was tipped by Colts defensive lineman Robert Mathis. It was not tipped by a New England wide receiver. Thus, I think you have to give the Colts credit for "forcing" that turnover. The bottom line is that I think you're quibbling over language. You have a point, but it's a minor one.
What I want to know is why does everybody keep criticizing the Colts? Let's look at the past three years …. Despite how "bad" their defense has been, the Colts have not lost a game that they shouldn't have. Meaning, they don't lose to teams like the Texans, the Titans, the 49ers and the Cardinals … They have lost games to the once-good Steelers and the Patriots two years ago in the regular season and the Chargers last year. Any game they lost, it was either because the starters didn't play much, or they actually got beat by a good team. Not like when the "Oh-so-great-because-he-threw-for-three-or more-touchdowns-in consecutive-games" Michael Vick loses to the Lions or the Bears lose to the Dolphins. You don't see that from the Colts – ever. At least not for the last three seasons.
Dear Derik, I think you're looking at the situation through a pretty narrow prism. Nobody criticizes the Colts as much as they criticize the Falcons and Michael Vick. I'm not buying that argument for a second. However, I think that people take a long look at the Colts because so much has been expected of them for the past five years.
Another popular cliché is that the Colts cannot win in the postseason. It's not as if they are lacking some fundamental understanding of postseason play or desire to win that coach Tony Dungy has not been teaching. Twice in the playoffs, the Patriots took care of Indy with the great 3-4 defense they play. Last year, the Colts were reeling from a perfect storm of mourning, timing, (wide receiver) Marvin Harrison needing an arm cast – an absolute wreck of a team – and by no way a reflection of the coaching or drive to win. The Colts have not been to the Super Bowl, but not because they can't and certainly not because of the run defense. That's the way this team is designed. If I could choose a weakness, I'd pick run defense. Invite teams to run 200 yards while Peyton (Manning) throws for 350 and three or four touchdowns. It's working so far.
Dear Louie, first of all, that's a lot of excuse-making. I think Tony Dungy is a great coach, but I think even he would concede that the Colts haven't done as much as they are capable of doing the past four years. As for picking run defense to be your weakness, that's counterintuitive to how football is played, particularly in the playoffs. If you allow opposing teams to run all over you, you take the chance that you'll never have the ball enough to score, which is what happened last year against Pittsburgh. Furthermore, when the game gets more physical in the playoffs, it gets tougher to throw for the yards you're talking about. It's not impossible, but the likelihood is not as strong, as history has shown time and again.
Why is it that some quarterbacks seem to take less hard shots than others? You never see Peyton Manning get drilled, but others like Brett Favre (Green Bay), David Carr (Houston) and Drew Bledsoe (Dallas) look like they just got run over by a train. Has Manning learned to not take the shot or do defensive players have that much more respect for him?
Dear Aaron, I have actually seen Manning take some tough shots (former Dolphins defensive end Lorenzo Bromell gave him a nasty chin shot back in 2000). That said, Manning doesn't take a lot of hits because he doesn't hold the ball too long. He also has a great sense of where the rush is coming from because he has great awareness. Guys like Carr and Bledsoe don't have that awareness.
I'm writing in response to a few of the supposed NFL gurus who were blasting you about your comments concerning the Denver-Indy game and how neither had a defense. I have a tendency to side with your opinion that neither looked like a Super Bowl-caliber team. If Denver had shown any sort of defense, the outcome would have been much different. Same goes for Indy. Football is based on man's oldest sport – war. Before you "attack" your opponent, you better have the defense of your "home" in place. Once you can safely defend yourself, you attack.
Camp Bucca, Iraq
Dear Chet, thanks for the support. More important, be safe and get home soon.
What do you make of the progress made by coach Mike McCarthy and (general manager) Ted Thompson in Green Bay? Seems to me they have the team on the right track. Considering all the rookies that are starting for this young team, I think they have some promise for the future.
Green Bay, Wis.
Dear John, I think they have a nice nucleus. However, a lot has to play out. It's pretty typical for a team that flushes its roster to all of a sudden having a lot of rookies playing. Those rookies tend to look artificially better because they play a lot. To me, the biggest concern I have about the Packers is whether the team will progress fast enough for it to be good while Brett Favre is still playing well. If not, they could be out of synch with the quarterback situation for awhile.
TAKING ON THE PATS
Which is a better measuring stick for NFL teams: Number of wins, number of losses or who the wins and losses came against? Every year in the NCAA Tournament, the selection committee and media scrutinize the quality of wins in the selection and seeding of the 65 teams. If sportswriters would do the same in the NFL, many of the supposed elite teams lose a lot of luster … The Colts, Broncos, and Ravens are the only teams with enough quality wins to be considered elite.
Dear Ryan, I hate to be snide, but I don't see any category in the NFL standings for the "elite" division. However, I think that New England deserves plenty of respect given that it has won three Super Bowls in the past five years. That's pretty impressive stuff. Are the Pats a great team this season? It's too early to tell. However, comparing the NCAA Tournament selection process to the NFL is simply foolhardy. The disparity among the top and bottom teams in the NCAA is far greater than in the NFL. Any win in the NFL is essentially a "quality" win, even when teams are going against Arizona and Oakland. By contrast, the NCAA is loaded with teams that just don't measure up to the top programs.
ON THE RULES ("Unnecessarily harsh," Nov. 5, 2006)
If spiking the ball was made illegal, the quarterbacks would just spike it about six feet to the side where the tight end is. Since everyone is now aware of the rule, how come no team has used an illegal formation to stop the clock?
Dear Andrew, I think the problem with using the illegal formation penalty is that you subject yourself to the whims of the refs. Beyond that, when you're in those last-second situations, I think it's dangerous to expect someone to know that they are supposed to line up in the wrong spot. What happens if the guy who is supposed to be out of place either doesn't remember or isn't on the field? Spiking simplifies the whole thing.
DEFENDING SABAN ("Reconstructing Culpepper," Oct. 13, 2006)
How can you sit there and say no one Nick Saban has brought in has produced? What NFL are you watching? Ronnie Brown is a top 10 RB. (Linebacker) Channing Crowder is a future star. Travis Daniels will be a great cover guy. I think sometimes "writers" like yourself just write things to hear themselves talk. Saban was dealt a horrible hand. The Ricky Williams fiasco, bad draft picks, bad trades for Lamar Gordon and A.J. Feeley, the Marty Booker-for-Adewale Ogunleye trade and a horrible offensive line. He has done a great job turning hopes in Florida around and in a year or two he will have all his pieces in place. You can say Drew Brees is the better option. Sure, he is doing better in New Orleans now, but to (believe) he would have the same numbers in Miami is absurd. The real culprit behind Miami being 2-6 now is (offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey. The guy is a joke. He has always been a joke, and is living off his overrated days at Pittsburgh. What did he do in Buffalo? He should have been fired three weeks ago. His play calling and horrible usage of Brown is amateur. Miami and Saban will be fine. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid in South Beach. It's messing with your credentials.
New York City
Dear Jaret, I think you might want to go back and read what I said again. I agreed with Saban's decision to trade for Culpepper and I think he has made many good moves so far. It hasn't worked this season, but I think Saban will get it done in the long haul. At least I think he has a good chance to succeed, which is all you can ask. That said, Saban is the guy who hired Mularkey and Saban is ultimately responsible for the play-calling and direction of the offense.
I LIKE MIKE ("Vick still a mystery," Nov. 19, 2006)
Everyone seems to give Vick so much grief. Instead of concentrating on what he does right everyone talks about how he isn't like Tom Brady or the Manning brothers. Has anyone ever considered that Vick doesn't have a Plaxico Burress (Giants) or a Marvin Harrison (Colts) or any playmaking receiver that those other quarterbacks have? Even Tom Brady might not have a big-time guy but he has an assortment of decent guys who all do their jobs, which is catching the ball. The only dependable, sure-handed receiver Vick has is tight end Alge Crumpler. I hear so many analysts blast (Vick) for running instead of throwing, but nothing ever gets said about the times when he does throw well and those guys just drop passes right and left. Vick might not be a conventional quarterback, but he is a great talent. What's more, he is a leader. There are a bunch of good quarterbacks around the league who just flat-out can't lead. When he is on the field, the Falcons win more often. When he isn't, they lose. Say what you want about his numbers but the guy finds a way to win and that's what a leader does.
Dear Chris, over the years that the Falcons have had Vick, they traded for Peerless Price and have used first-round draft picks to get guys like Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. Vick never seems to get better as a passer, yet many people such as yourself continue to blame the receivers. I don't get that. I've seen Vick play plenty of times, including one of his best passing games ever last season at Miami. That said, he's just not an accurate passer. He is an amazing talent and the type of player who can win games on talent alone. But he is not a guy who has worked to harness his talent on a consistent basis. There is no question in my mind about that.
I just wanted to respond to a question in your last column … (about) why can't NFL teams find quarterbacks? My theory is that today's NFL teams seem extremely reluctant to develop young talent at quarterback because even if the guy has Peyton Manning's brain in Michael Vick's body, it's still going to take him at least a year to get accustomed to the NFL, and he will cost his team some games. Losing a few more games in exchange for developing a future star quarterback isn't worth it to NFL teams because as soon as the guy gets reliable, he's already hitting free agency. In most situations, it hurts teams less to go with some unspectacular-but-reliable veteran already developed by some other team like a (Drew) Bledsoe or a (Jon) Kitna or a (Jake) Plummer. So if you're a quarterback entering the NFL who didn't start at USC, good luck getting any snaps. You'll be on the bench for a long time behind a guy with an eighth of your talent. Good quarterbacks are hard to find because teams aren't developing young quarterbacks actively enough.
Dear Brendan, you make a very good point. In fact, both Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson essentially made that point at different times when I covered the Dolphins. Not every NFL coach agrees with that, which is why New England was able to develop Tom Brady. However, enough do buy into that philosophy that it makes it harder and harder to develop quarterbacks. I have always thought it was short-sighted thinking. But the NFL by nature is a short-sighted league that puts a premium on winning now.