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A few things to clear up at the outset. Very sorry if I don't answer some of the league-wide queries with my usual perspective. I am currently in the tunnel-vision world of the AFC East, the division I will deal with in the magazine's upcoming Pro Football Issue. Hitting the five camps in blitz fashion, I'm not getting as much time these days to make my usual calls around the league.
Secondly, a number of readers are upset by the final line in last week's column: "Jesus, let's start playing the games already." It wasn't my intention to use a throwaway line to draw a reaction. I just used it as a figure of speech, kind of like "God, is it hot out," or, "My God, can he play," etc., which in a sense could also be considered blasphemous. Hell, I can remember when even the word "hell" could not be used and would be routinely edited out of one's copy. But using the word "Jesus" for emphasis seems to be more objectionable to some people, and for this reason I will not use it anymore. It's not that I'm showing the white feather under pressure from the religious right; it's just that I don't want to deliberately hurt anyone's feelings. And that'll cost you 10 bucks apiece. Just drop it on the drum Jimmy's holding over there.
Finally, from Clay of Denver: Do I discriminate as to which letters I'll answer based on the letter writer's opinion of me? No. I don't discriminate at all, in fact I don't have much of a hand in the selection process. Our man, Jimmy, wields the big club, and he tries to keep the rip-to-plug ratio of what gets through consistent with the mass of mail received. If anything, I'm a little sensitive to the idea of rippers not getting their fair say, going back to the days when I used to get disgusted by columnists who filled their mailbags with puff stuff. As far as what makes it into print and what doesn't, Jimmy offers the following bits of advice:
1) Ask a question. Missives such as "I don't care, I think the Lions are great" won't make it, unless, of course, you're referring to the Columbia Lions.
2) Try to avoid the multiple four- or five-question letter. I'd say three, tops, and you've got a better chance of seeing it in print.
3) Keep the profanity within reason. I don't mind being called a moron, but not a bleeping moron.
And off we go into Questionland:
Myles of Rivers, Manitoba asks why Mike Holmgren cut the receivers he did? The easy answer is always cap dough, but I think he also felt that it was kind of a mid-level pack and he wanted a burner or two. I also thought Derrick Mayes was pretty good, incidentally. Next topic: Evaluate Matt Hasselbeck. Can't tell yet. Haven't seen enough. As far as his ability to get the team to rally round him, first he has to do it, then he'll get the respect. The vice-versa doesn't work. Finally, questions about the Flaming Redhead. Sorry you've never seen her. We used to have her picture on the Web site and you could punch it up if you got lonely. I liked to look at it myself. Oh wait, here it is. I mean, how did a schlepper such as me get so lucky in his old age? She does not have a twin. Nor does she make trips to Manitoba. Nor does she go by the alias of Katie (the name of my first wife, incidentally). Nor play the piano. Not anymore.
Scott of Pilot Rock, Ore., wants to know where I place the Broncos, assuming Griese and the offense turn on the burners. If you can wait a few weeks for the magazine's preview issue, I'll have gone down the entire NFL schedule, game by game, and will have recorded every team's progression in the postseason. No? Can't wait? Well, right now, off the top of my head, I'd call them about the third-best team in the AFC, behind Baltimore and Tennessee.
To Pat of Boise: Thanks for the kind words and, honestly, I have nothing against the Pack. I think Sherman did a good job last year, but I feel that he's stretched himself too thin, taking on the combined coaching and GM jobs. As for your theory that, as an old Giants fan, I have a deep-seated prejudice against the Pack, there are two things wrong with that. As a youngster I was first a fan of Cleveland in the old AAFC, then, when I went away to Stanford, I was a 49ers fan, which stayed with me right up till they got good -- and arrogant. But I also liked the Pack a lot, too, and here's a story to back that up.
The first pro football game I ever covered, all by myself -- not doubling with someone else or doing a sidebar, etc. -- was Green Bay-Chicago in 1966. I went out to Green Bay on a Tuesday before the game to do my Lombardi interview, got there plenty early and very hungry, in the midst of a rainstorm. Asked the secretary in the ticket office if there was a place to eat nearby.
"You like German food?" she said. "Buffet? Meatballs and sauerbraten? Dumplings?"
I was practically fainting. "Oh, man, do I."
"Well, it's a few blocks away," she said, "but it's raining. Here, you'd better drive over," and with that she flipped me the keys to her car. That was my introduction to the city of Green Bay. Never forgot it.
Thanks to Andrew of Toronto for his nice words about my work, and I'd like to give him an in-depth answer about which rookies I think will shine brightest, but as I said, I've been locked into the AFC East and am unable right now to give equal attention to the rest of the league. What I would give you would be dated and not current, i.e. the progress so far in camp. So I'll grudgingly have to pass on that one for now. Are the Eagles due to beat the Giants in the division this year? Could happen if Duce Staley is 100 percent back. If not, then it's a no.
To Clay of Denver on his second go-round -- and thanks for the compliments-- I'm worried about Terrell Davis. Last year, before he got hurt, he seemed way below top form. I hope he's fully recovered now, but we'll have to wait and see. The system helps him, of course, but in his prime he was an exceptional cutback runner, perhaps the best of the decade.
To Fremont, Nebraska's Charlie Hoffman, who gets the first and last name designation because he's a former ink-stained wretch, just like me. First, a heartfelt thanks. As far as the Jaguars' O-line, I think it'll have problems. As far as your nephew-in-law, Zach Wiegert, and his prowess as a pulling tackle, well, you seldom see it anymore, mainly because these guys are too big to play in space. Roosevelt Brown, of course, was the most famous. Personally, the part of the game I hated most was trying to block in open areas, on kickoffs and especially downfield on running plays. I used to look like an idiot. I mean the DB would take one step to the side and I'd go on my face and he'd stand there laughing at me. Damn little punk.
Nick of Tallahassee defends Dallas and gives it to me good for letting my Cowboys-hating tendencies show (Power Rankings, July 12). OK, here's the way it is. When they were America's Team I hated them, of course, but so did everyone else. When Jimmy Johnson arrived and they were terrible, I felt sorry for them. Since then, I've respected them, mainly because I respected Johnson's ability so much. Now? Well, somebody's got to be placed last. Any team I put there would have its share of loyal fans giving me just as much heat as you did.
To a pair of Jerseyites, Dave of Ridgewood and Ray of Clementon, who feel that I mistreated cornerback Will Allen last week: I was just wondering how the kid collected all that jewelry. I didn't accuse him of anything illegal. And the point that I tried to make later was: let's not waste time ripping kids like that when the mature, adult world that's supposed to set an example for them is so corrupt. Follow-up football question from Ray concerns Deion and whether the Redskins would really want him around, assuming the salary cap had nothing to do with it. Well, of course, the question is moot now, but if Marty Schottenheimer had looked at last year's films, I don't see how he could have chosen Deion as his starting right corner. I mean the guy looked through.
Mike of Temple City, Calif., wants to know about Mike Shanahan's future as a Hall of Famer. Not only that, but as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I see a long and glorious career for him with, yes, the Hall of Fame at the end of it. First ballot? Not sure. There are selectors who like to make people wait for a year, out of some kind of perversity. Happened to Bill Parcells this year. How would I vote? Probably yes, unless there were more worthy candidates who came up at the same time.
Intriguing question from Fred of Orem, Utah, and once again, thank you for your kind words. Do I see a Cinderella team this year, someone rising from obscurity, as the Rams, Falcons and Saints (all in the same division, incidentally) did the past few years? San Diego, maybe, but elevating them eight or nine games up to playoff level would be kind of a reach. I see the Cardinals improving quite a bit, too. But as I said before, right now this is quickie thinking, and when I play the schedule, game by game, in a few weeks, I might come up with something different. Man, I know it's a copout, but this predicting stuff ain't easy.
To Mike, a former college prof from Greencastle, Ind.: I used to keep a chart on graduation rate, by school and by college conference, for NFL athletes. I got it out of the Football Register, which puts an "attended" or a "graduated" alongside each player. Then I gave up because it really didn't tell me much, only that a small percentage graduates, which I knew anyway. And besides, the Register wasn't completely accurate. I mean, for a few years all the University of Miami guys were getting their degrees, even the outlaw types, and it was always in Criminal Justice. I would have liked to have sat in on those courses just to see what they did there. Maybe they passed the course if they could identify a pair of handcuffs. (OK, all you Miami people, hold off on the rips. I haven't the foggiest of what goes on down there). I have a much higher regard for a guy who studied engineering and fell a few credits short of a degree than a player who graduated in, say, playground management. The hypocrisy bugs me, of course, particularly the designation "Scholar Athlete" that the NCAA insists upon. Puh-leeze! Let's not make it worse. I think of all the good students who are rejected by mainstream universities, all of which have, of course, a back door for athletes, and it makes me sick. It's been going on forever, but every now and then something jolts you anew. My son, Mike, was the captain of his wrestling team in high school, finishing fourth in the state, and when he had his interview at the University of California, the guy was unimpressed. "How about in a revenue-producing sport?" he was asked. That phrase always sticks in my mind.
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