From Charles, of Fairfax, Va.:"Counting chimpanzees, I got the Chinese national anthem at 41 seconds during Friday's opening ceremonies." As Ruth Cohen once said to my buddy, Al Ginepra, "It's a nice try but I'm afraid it won't do." 1) I don't understand the chimp reference. If this is some kind of ethnic thing, I'm ending the conversation right now. 2) Entries sent to me must be recorded on a minimum of two watches and must be signed and verified. 3) You have to be sure the anthem wasn't abbreviated in some way.
Cliff, of Chico, Calif., points out that two Brett Favre backups, Aaron Rodgers on the Packers, and now Brett Ratliff on the Jets, each quarterbacked Butte Community College in Chico. Hey, good one, Cliff. Personally, I can tell you that I already knew Chico was the ...what? County seat, something like that, of Butte County and I'll tell you how a New York City boy like me knows this, and I'd like a little room, please, because a story goes with it.
Somewhere in the mists of yesteryear, like 1959, I was plugging away at my first newspaper job, high school reporter and other things at the Sacramento Bee. The Bee was a great paper on which to break in, but they had some unusual rules. If you were covering a story on the road, north of Sacramento, which was called SupCal, short for Superior California, when you datelined your story you also had to put the county in. So my dateline from your city would read, Chico, Butte Co.
In the Bee office, we used to tell the following joke. A gunman jumps into a cab in downtown Sacramento, sticks his gun in the driver's ribs and says, "Roseville, comma, Placer County."
Ralph, of Herndon, Va., wonders why the NFL doesn't maintain natural rivalries by scheduling them every year. The league is careful not to give an unfair advantage, and that would happen if a traditional rival, outside your division, gets bad (or good) and stays that way for a while. Also, rivalries often change based on recent prosperity. Traditionals such as Redskins-Cowboys, for instance, are relatively new.
Nathan, of Tampa, wants my take on Zach Thomas, who he calls "unfairly discarded." I will push very hard for Zach Thomas when his name eventually comes up for Hall of Fame balloting. A great run stopping LB, great nose for the ball. Good cover skills, too, and always had a tremendous responsibility in the passing game. I'm not sure if the Dolphins got rid of him because they were concerned about his health, or, cynically, if his chance of avoiding injury was not commensurate with his paycheck. I am very nervous about the concussions. I don't want to see anything bad happen to this terrific competitor and wonderful person.
Chris, of Philadelphia, asks for my thoughts on Shawn Andrews and his battles with depression. Will it cause other players who suffer from the same ailment to step forward and talk about it? Psychiatric problems are always very delicate things among professional athletes, especially when there's medication involved. Often the meds will stabilize him, but they'll take away other things, such as the edge in his fast twitch muscles. I don't know whether Andrews is trying to battle his depression without the use of meds. I'm not a doctor, but I'd like to know more about how he is being treated. Sorry if I didn't fully answer your question, but there's too much half knowledge going around about these kind of things.
Tiffaney, of Gresham, Ore., asks, "How do you think the Seahawks' new running game will do this year?" Where does the new part come in? Maurice Morris is a third-down back who can't carry an every-down load. Julius Jones was just OK in Dallas. Everyone always yelled for Marion Barber, for good reason. I don't like T.J.Duckett at all. A 254-pound jumbo who's unreliable in short-yardage situations. So unless there's something I've missed, I'm not too impressed with that cast of characters.
Bruce, of Fort Collins, Colo., which, as he knows, is a long way from Maine, wants to know about John Lynch joining the Patriots. He'll be 37 in September. He's an injury risk. The Pats already have that type of player, Rodney Harrison. I don't understand this move, but a lot of New England's most successful moves have been head-scratchers. And thank you very much for the nice sentiments about my work.
From Jon-Luc, of Boston: "Who, in your opinion, is the greatest blocking fullback of all time?" Pass blocking? Marion Motley. Blocking for the run? Now I've got to sit down and think this through. I just know that whomever I come up with, I'll think of five better ones as soon as this column is filed. Let's see ... I'm stalling now ... how about Rocky Bleier of the Steelers? Listed as a halfback, but he was more of a fullback and Franco the halfback. Wait. Maybe I can do better. Pat Harder of the old Chicago Cards was a real thumper. There was a pure blocking back in the old N.Y. Yanks' single wing named Lloyd Cheatham who we cheered for like crazy. The young Norm Standlee on the Bears was something special. Lorenzo Neal and Tony Richardson are good modern era guys ... good, not great. Walt Garrison on the great Cowboys teams would knock your jock off. Ah, memories. Sorry, can't come up with just one.
Z.E., of Bountiful, Utah, recites the sad litany of the 49ers' Alex Smith. New coordinator every year, new system, never really a tip-top line in front of him, so-so receivers. Z.E.'s last line made me very sad: "How long before the 49ers or the league, for that matter, close the book on him?" I don't know, but he'll have to be a very strong person to bear up under all this. Such an unfortunate thing, the way outstanding talent can get chewed up in the wrong system. I'm thinking of David Carr in Houston now. It happened to Jim Plunkett early in his career, too. The Raiders though, had the good sense to sit him down for a year and let him get himself together. Then he came back and was Super Bowl MVP. I wish the same for Smith.
Michael, of L.A., wonders whether or not Favre's off-again, on-again uncertainty about his career through these last few years might translate to a certain uncertainty during games and might lead to some pf the weirder picks he's thrown. Yes. I think you're onto something. Maybe not so much uncertainly, more of an impatience. Honestly, at times he has looked like he just wanted to get off the field one way or another. Then again, there's an age factor and the way people tend to wear down during games.
Wine question from Dileep of L.A., again. Nothing definitive from me on Brown Estate's Cab except that it's expensive, and I'm totally blank on Elizabeth Spencer. I'm sorry but there are so many boutique wineries springing up these days that your faithful narrator is overwhelmed. Good California reds for laying down for a few years? How about Dick Vermeil's Over the Edge Charbono, a rare and beautiful grape, not very well known. Look for the '05 vintage.