We are now gonna do the Jets, then the Giants. Scott of Asheville, N.C., asks me something I knew someone would ask, and here it is. Wasn't I the person who did the piece on Dick Curl, the Jets' clockologist, saying how great the whole idea was? And why wasn't he yelling in HermEdwards' ear while the clock was being butchered? That's exactly the kind of question I'd ask if I were out there, but my language would be so insulting that Andrew wouldn't put it through. I called Dick Curl. He was very friendly and very embarrassed. He would not rip anybody. He agreed with me that there should have been a greater sense of urgency. When I asked him why he didn't try to instill that sense of urgency himself, he retreated into that "it was a team effort" thing, as I knew he would. My take on this is that either he wasn't listened to or that he just neglected the ticking clock, as everyone else did.
Now Scott, let me ask you something: Do you know the town of Highlands, which is near Asheville? My ex-wife's great-great-grandfather, Samuel TrumanKelsey, founded it. And I didn't even know it was lost. (Seems that I've used that line before. "Wasn't funny then, isn't funny now," says Little Miss Grump. What's gotten into you, anyway?)
Dan of Long Island is outraged that Paul Hackett, the Jets' offensive coordinator, would not and will not grant interviews on the subject. Some teams won't even let you talk to assistants, or will, if you state your intent and clear it through the PR department and head coach and CIA. The Patriots are like that. There are others, too few now, unfortunately, where everyone talks. In the old days, we hung out with the assistants, had dinner with them, sat with them on the plane trips. We could ask them anything. Hackett was around during the talkative days, and he and I have had some good football conversations. He has also gotten hammered unmercifully, for some reason, during his Jets period. He has gotten wary, gunshy, a bit punchy, and in this instance, he simply can't face the battery of questions. I like Paul and I feel sorry for him, but if I were on the beat, I'd be one of the snapping hounds, too. I hope you don't find this answer unsatisfactory. I might, if I were you. You just have to understand what a complicated thing we're dealing with here, with human relationships being involved.
Giant questions (actually, normal-sized ones) from Tyler of Elizabeth, N.J., and thanks for the nice things you wrote: Does any team hold onto failed draft choices as long as the Giants do? Yeah, No. 1 draftitis is a widespread disease, and I take it you mean, failed No. 1 draft choices. When's the last time a No. 1 was cut in his first camp? Second question: Why can't the offensive coaches get the same production out of Jeremy Shockey they got in his rookie season? Beats me. In the Cardinals game, I saw him stay in to block, I saw him act as a decoy on some routes, I saw him do everything but make the kind of catches he once did. I don't know why they don't feature him. I heard murmurs that his route running was not as precise as it was, but those are just rumors. I would certainly let him stretch the field a little more.
Bryan of St.Petersburg (no, not the one in Russia, from where I get the mail order toy soldiers) sees a kind of parallel between the Giants' and Cowboys' situations. Flawed veteran QB, unproven youngster. Vince Testaverde, although ancient, is less flawed than Kurt Warner is. At least he can throw with some velocity. Warner can't, and it has affected his game. Getting the back up in there was more of a necessity on the Giants. The Cowboy problems are deeeeep. An ex-player with whom I correspond mentioned that the Cowboys were trying to do it with one cornerback. I wrote him that he was off by one. I count zero. Terence Newman was a player at one time, but something has shaken his confidence this year. They don't have a running game, but other teams don't either. But try to do it without corners in this league, and you'll get eaten alive. Which is what's happening to Dallas. Thanks for your take on my Warner article.
I knew there would be bitterness emanating from my Ray Lewis rip in the power rankings, and here it comes: Ron of Baltimore points to Lewis' overall influence on the defense, as its captain, and concludes with: "A football 'analyst' who measures a defensive player's ability solely on the number of plays on which he has a direct impact is himself a fraud." Uh, which analyst would you be talking about, Ron? Me? Me! Well, I'm sorry but when I grade a player, the criterion is how he performs on the field. That's the people in the business grade 'em, too. Lewis' influence on the overall defense? Don't be too sure that his teammates appreciate all that ranting and raving, and, of course, how often he's miked for sound. Especially when he's letting other people make the plays.
Mike of Baltimore agrees with me, and adds, "Did you notice I am not giving my whole name? I still have to live in Baltimore." And did you notice, Mike, that I didn't include your last initial, as I sometimes do. Torture will not drag it out of me, unless that torture involves listening to another Terrell Owens interview. Thanks for what you wrote, Mike. It means a lot.
Finally, the tie-breaker, and it's from Kevin of Spring Hill, Fla. Oh oh, Florida ... Lewis played at the U. of Miami ... looks bad. I'm opening the envelope now. What's this? What's this? Wait, I'll read it to you. Linda, fetch my monocle: "Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying the truth! Ray Lewis is the most overrated LB since Brian Bosworth. If the Ravens are on TV, especially if Lewis is miked, I will turn the sound off. If the Ravens are on ESPN, I'll watch The Simpsons. Oh, the horror! Why does the NFL have this lovefest with him?"
Beause he sells T-shirts. You know, we're being awfully harsh here. We're making it sound as if Lewis were overrated all along. He wasn't. He has only slipped in the last couple of years or so. At one time the thing I liked best about him was his burst to the ball, once he'd identified his target. This was especially noticable in his pass coverage, when he'd close like lightning, and hold a plus-three completion to plus-three, with no further yards after the catch. I thought he was the best I'd ever seen at this, and therefore deserving of a spot in the pantheon of great MLBs. He's only 29 now, but his game is on a strange kind of cruise control. Maybe it's just too much ink, too much miked for sound, too much yack and not enough whack. Maybe the edge has gone off, physically. It's puzzling.
Eric of Providence, who doesn't like the league's deadly seriousness, makes a second appearance. As a HofF voter, how would I evaluate AdamVinatieri's chances some day? OK, let's say he makes a few more big clutch kicks. We fast-forward to the selectionroom itself, assuming Adam would have cleared the prelims. A few negative voices, pointing out how kickers A, B and C were ahead of him, both in accuracy and volume, are heard. Adam's presenter stands up and eloquently discusses how the essence of performance in any sport is to do your best when the stakes are highest. No, it won't be me, because I'll be too old by then. I'll be merely an ornament, sitting in the corner, nodding my head, drooling a little. A convincing enough presentation, and Adam will have an outside shot. Anything less will sink him.
Randall of Huachuca City, Ariz., home of the army base, corrects me. It's 19th and McDowell, and for those of you who are mystified, Randall and I(wink, wink) know what we're talking about, right? His question is one I've never heard before. Why have a coin flip before the kickoff? Why not determine it by having a croupier at one of the Atlantic City casinos spin the wheel, and determine it that way. Yes, of course, I'm kidding. (Linda is pointing to her watch to emphaze the lateness of the hour and the fact that once again, the wheels are falling off.) OK, a coin flip is traditional. Good Lord, mate, they can't just have homies kick to visitors, as you suggest. No, would never do. Let me tell you a story.
I'm the beat man, covering the Joe Namath Jets. One year the defensive captain, Ralph Baker, a linebacker from Penn State, is calling all the coin flips. I tell him to call tails because of the little-known fact that a large coin, such as the one used in games, has more metal on the head side, which pulls it down and causes the tail side to be up. It wasn't mentioned again, until he came over to me before the last game.
"You know, it really works," he said.
"What works?" I'd forgotten what I told him.
"Tails. Tails works," he said. "I'm 5-1 on coin flips. How'd you come across that, anyway?"
"I made it up," I told him. He shook his head. Didn't believe me. Probably still doesn't. It's true, I swear it, and you believe me out there, don't you?
Finally, a beautifully expressed thought from Rick of Montreal, who finds literary merit in my little description the other day of my redheaded Diogenes, carrying her lantern of truth through these darkened hallways of deception and deceit. Rick wants to know if it's made up or quoted. Made up, out of my own little noodle. I always wanted to be a real writer, like Gary Smith or one of those guys, instead of the putzer that I am.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.