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I got tremendous heat last year when I picked Chicago to go 6-10 in my preseason forecast in the magazine. I mean, look at the way Gary Crowton's offense had come on the year before, and with the additions of defensive standouts Phillip Daniels and Tom Smith and Shawn Wooden, the Bears were truly ready to take off and why was I so blind and so prejudiced against this team that I couldn't see it? Etcetera. So I gave it another thorough look. Why was I so prejudiced, indeed? I went down the schedule again and played it game-by-game and nope, no change, it still came out to 6-10.
Well, they ended up 5-11, and a lot of my offseason mailbag has dealt with why this franchise is so screwed up. And this week's heat comes from loyal Bears fans who have used the following descriptives for your faithful narrator, who, in good conscience and with no malice intended, ranked the Bears 30th in the NFL:
Senseless, idiotic, eater of crap sandwiches (I don't appreciate this one at all, since it reflects on poor Linda's cooking) ... person who's lost his mind, ridiculous, "football expert" (the quotation marks denote sarcasm, in case you're wondering) ... Bears Basher, moron, smoker of too much weed (how much is too much?). And those are just from the three letters that got through. Who knows how much worse stuff is still out there, rattling the gates for entry?
Let me identify the three architects of so many descriptives: James of Chicago, Mark of Chicago, Orestes of Miami (How did you get in with these guys, Orestes?). They have supplied many reasons why the Bears will be vastly improved, possibly even to playoff level. Most of the reasons involve personnel, and yes, logic is on your side, gentlemen, and I agree with you that picking Chicago 30th was a bit harsh, and I'm sure I'll tone it down when I play my schedule game-by-game and assign the Bears a won-lost record next month. What I did was go by a kind of instinct, a feel for the direction that this franchise has taken. It was right when dealing with the Bears last year, it waswrong about teams like the Vikings and the Saints in 2000. Wait until the NFL Preview Issue comes out and then you can fire your next round of missiles, assuming you can wait that long.
Tom of Arlington, Va., rips me for ranking the Rams "and their wimpy defense" ahead of the Ravens. But that's exactly the point. It's not wimpy anymore, it's a ferocious, gathering force that will remind people of the old Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen outfits. You don't buy that? OK, it'll be improved to the point where it won't be an embarrassment once again, and if Warner and the offense get timed up as they were in the old days -- see that's the key, that's the out I left myself, ever the tricky Fra Diavolo, the offense has to be back in sync. You know something, I'm getting tired of all this pie in the sky. Let's wait till some games are played before we get all cranked up, OK?
Now I'm wound up. Next ripper, step up to the plate and I'll stick one in yer ear. Whaddya got for me, Jimmy? Who? Andrew of Lancaster, Pa., home of the horses and buggies of the Amish, home of Cerebro, who puts out the catalogues of cigar box labels, which I avidly collect. A gentle, polite soul is Andrew, who asks a sensible question and thanks me for taking the time to read his four-liner. Now I'm truly ashamed of myself for my tirade. Which QB is better, Grbac or Brad Johnson, which one will help his team the most and will these guys meet in Supe XXXVI? (Is that the right number? I remember Super Bowls by dates not Roman numerals.) I think Brad Johnson is better, if he stays healthy. I think Grbac will have a better year because he'll be in a better offensive system, getting better coaching. I don't think they'll meet in the big one because I like the Rams better than the Bucs. Sorry your previous queries never got through. Glad you didn't give up.
Dave of Tempe, Ariz., thinks Philly is a solid playoff contender, with the key being how quickly the young WRs develop and whether or not Duce Staley is all the way back. Dave feels the receivers need a full season to absorb Andy Reid's system before the Iggles contend for the Supe. I haven't found a single point of disagreement with your thesis, Dave. Not one.
Highly personal questions from Michael David of Long Beach, Calif., and let me remind you that not every mailbagger would answer intrusive and penetrating queries such as these, but we answer everything here, every single thing, do you hear, except, uh, for IRS stuff -- until the matter is cleared up. My line, "Such levity would land me back in prison," calls for clarification. M.D. wants to know if I was really in the joint, and if the food really as starchy as they say." (No, the last bit is my own.) Yes, I was. Just out of college. My best friend, Al Ginepra, and I found ourselves in Tijuana on a blurry Saturday night. We had this routine we'd worked out, pretending we were getting into this big fistfight, and we thought this would be a neat time to pull it, so we did. Just two idiots on a crowded street. A lady screamed. Screech of tires. Black and white patrol car. Hands against the wall as we're getting frisked, then a night in the pokey. Released in the morning. Next personal question: Do I lift weights? This seems like kind of a non sequitur, but what the hell? When I get up enough energy to go to the healthy club, I do about an hour and a half routine consisting of some aerobics, some resistance work with both machines and free weights. Pretty standard stuff except for a neck exercise on a bench that involves lying on my back and doing three 15-rep sets with a 50-pound weight on the forehead, then turning it over and doing my trio with the weight on the back of the head. Someone is always coming by with a real serious look, cautioning me about this "extremely dangerous" exercise. I thank him or her, without mentioning that I've been doing it since age 16 when I wanted to be a fighter and felt that a strong neck would improve my ability to take a punch. I can hear your next question. But how about now? How many punches do you take these days? Well, there's a different reason entirely, and I'm going to be brutally honest, even though it means exposing myself to ridicule. I do it for cosmetic reasons, to have a firm jaw line, minus the double chin blubber, minus that rooster, cock-a-doodle-doo stuff that old people get under the chin. You understand, once again, that not every Joe would reveal all the stuff that I've revealed here.
To Glyn of Estill Springs, Tenn.: Thanks for your support for my mixing in the personals with the footballs. I prefer it that way, too. Regarding your question about whether Steve McNair will ever be a successful down-the-field thrower, consequently worth the really big bucks, I can only say that every year my doubts increase.
Thank you, Bryan from Laramie (currently) for the same support shown by the previous correspondent, and also for your kind words and your pointers on calf roping ... no, no, just kidding, we know you're a transplanted Brooklynite. What were your questions again? Oh yeah, here we go. Importance of RBs or OL to a running game. It's got to be a mesh. One won't function without the other. A good offensive line blocking for a mediocre runner will produce a steady drumbeat of three- and four-yard gains. But if the back has the ability to make people miss, then something special will be created. A sensational runner operating behind a sub-par-to-average OL? Well, as an old lineman, my first instinct is to say it has no chance, but then we have the phenomenon of Barry Sanders intuitively doing wild and wonderful things behind units that were hardly distinguished. But he had more than his share of minus 2s and 3s as well. Part 2: A restaurant in Berkeley for your first anniversary. Well, Chez Panisse is the showpiece number, and yes, they'll give you good vegetarian fare, but I'm kind of put off by their snooty reservations procedures. If you can put up with that, then you'll have a good meal there. Upstairs is where everyone goes. More of the bistro approach. Downstairs is expensive and impressive, but you'll hear all the action going on upstairs and wonder why you're where you are and not where everyone else is. Personally, I prefer Bay Wolf. Don't know what they'll create for you, veggie-wise. You could ask. Which leads us to Part 3, my opinion of vegetarianism and whether I've ever considered it. A long answer is coming ... needs another paragraph.
My daughter is a vegetarian. Well, sort of. She eats fish. I haven't considered joining the veggies. I love meat too much. But, when I was blitz-writing a book that required some real deadline pressure -- I had to knock off a chapter a day when it came down to the crunch -- I called a nutritionist and said, "Give me a diet that'll give me staying power and the ability to remain creative for long stretches." She prescribed the following: No sugar, no alcohol, no red meat. So I followed it religiously. The alcohol and sugar were no problem. The lack of red meat was a radical departure. In the past, when I was doing a book with a tight deadline that called for lots of writing each day, I'd generally start at around 8 a.m. and hit the wall at 5 or 6 p.m. I mean at that point I was just putting words on paper. There was no mind at work, and anything I'd done thereafter had to be written the next day. But with the new diet I found myself venturing into all sorts of terra incognita; I was going until 10 p.m, even midnight sometimes, and was still able to remain creative. Plus, my whole body felt lighter. When I told my daughter all this, she practically screamed at me, "You see! You see!" So I decided to cut red meat out of my diet, a resolution that lasted, oh, maybe a week, until I started craving a nice steak.
To Rob of Austin: Thanks for the tax info. I'll summarize the events at a later date. This is serious. Regarding your query as to why Trent Dilfer is still on the beach, well, the price is a bit high, and right now he's a Yes, But quarterback. Yes, he might fit in, but we like so-and-so better -- and he's cheaper. Finally, your question about Tokaji, anglicized to Tokay. A region of Eastern Hungary producing wines of varying degrees of sweetness, labeled as Tokays. Those of lower sugar are pleasant. The sweetest of all, the Eszencias, or essences, can be spectacular, at least the old ones are. And I do mean old. The longest-lived wines in the world are Madeiras. The second-longest, at least from my experience, are Tokays. I've tasted maybe two in my life that were really old, 100 years or more. They did tricks. They kept changing in flavor, presenting a whole spectrum of tastes. Rumor has it that in the days of the Hungarian nobility, when a dying baron or bishop was just about ready to conk out, they'd give him a bit of Eszencia and before you knew it he was up and about, riding the hounds, or whatever they did in those days.
To Emily of L.A., and I DO appreciate letters from the fair sex, who wants to know why the Bucs won't win this year. Oh, I think they'll win because their defense is so good. I just can't see them going all the way until they have a coherent offensive philosophy. Just look who they got last year -- two Pro Bowl linemen plus a high-powered receiver -- and they were still nowhere. And, once again, their offensive coordinator was replaced.
Tough question from Beau of Houston. Compare Pete Rozelle to Paul Tagliabue. Pete was a football guy, Tagliabue is a corporate lawyer. I remember once asking Pete about an upcoming Vikings-49ers game. He said, "Well, you've got to take the seven. The Niners can run the ball." He knew me and he knew I'd never write about the commissioner talking so off-handedly about a point spread, a big no-no in the NFL. But he was a fan. I'd never ask Tagliabue about something like this, and if I did, his answer probably would be, "Well, I'm not prepared to answer a question like that." (He starts every sentence with "well".) Thanks for your nice words, also your switch in philosophy concerning my work.
To Bob of Atlanta: Thanks for your support. Will the Steelers make the playoffs? Gee, I don't know. The formula in previous years seemed to be: Lose a ton of players through free agency, gain none, draft well and rely on the coaches to do a fine job bringing the young guys around. Now I think things are slipping. Billy Cowher seems distracted. Kordell has his good moments, but he's still a spray passer when he has to air it out.
Pat of Orlando wants to know if Vince Testaverde can duplicate his magnificent '98 season,or are his best days behind him? He has a chance, if the Jets can come up with a receiver like Keyshawn. I don't think they can. I don't think Vince can. Sorry. I like Vinny. He's a very nice guy.
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