Work in Sports
Hold everything, the rippers are back
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Many thanks for so many kind words in this week's mailbag selection. You know who you are. My flaming redhead's take on this is somewhat different. "Oh, God, you're becoming beloved," she says. "What happened to the snarling beast I married?"
John of K.C. is concerned about Rod Woodson's omission. Giddings and I agreed on this one. A great player, yes, with one weakness: At times he'd lose concentration and give up a big one, even in his prime. Terrific playing the force, though, and the best blitzing corner of all time. My scoring system, incidentally, wasn't based on numbers this time (although my yearly All-Pro selections follow a chart). I just tried to assess overall value over a decade, or part of it.
Keith of Tewksbury, Mass., rips Deion to a fare-thee-well, especially his lack of run support. O.K., Deion isn't too sturdy in that department, but he's not as bad as people say. At least he tries to get in the way, and he will come up to make the low, ankle tackle. The other night I saw a really bad force-corner, the Bears' R.W. McQuarters, former No. 1 draft pick by the Niners. Ducked his head, flopped to the ground and stuck an arm up as the ballcarrier scampered by. Deion never was that dreadful.
To Steve of Vancouver: Thanks for the kind words. Glad we agree about Steve Young, although Giddings went with Aikman.
To Tim of Raleigh, N.C.: Sorry about the omission of the Bills' trio of Kelly, Thomas and Reed. All three were very close. Reed -- top five or six, ditto Kelly, Thomas -- my No. 3 behind Smith and Sanders. But I did pick two players -- Bruce Smith, an easy choice, and Kent Hull, whom nobody else selected -- from a team I always rooted very hard for.
To Dave of Winnipeg: Thanks for the kind words ... whoops, hold everything. Just received a supplementary page from the e-mail bin. The rippers have awakened. Now that's more like it. I'm putting you on hold, Dave, while I address this barrage of hatred.
J.B. of South River, N.J., home of Joe Theismann, wants to know why I make pre-season picks when I'm "almost 100 percent wrong." Glad you put that "almost" in there, because I had at least two playoff teams right last year. Check back in your files, J.B. In 1986, the Giants' first Super Bowl year, I nailed every single playoff team. I was getting calls from around the world, mostly from gamblers who wanted me to handicap games for them, from racing degennies who wanted to take me to the track to you name it. How did I do it? My answer was the same. There was a legal reason. The law of averages. After so many years of screwing up, etc. Hey, I do the best I can, and believe me, I do take it seriously.
Tom of Duluth writes the kind of letter I like. The three C's -- concise, clear, complete. "You know nothing about football. Your commentary is hideously bad and biased. Please go away." O.K., Tom, I'm not going away because there are folks who depend on my paycheck. And I don't want to throw idle threats around, but you now have an aggressive redhead who's ready to put a contract out on you. Be careful.
On a more sane note, Brad of Litchfield, Minn., reminds me that I had Randy Moss as a washout, pre-1998. He wants my reasoning. My best look at him in college was in the Motor City Bowl, Marshall vs. Ole Miss. I was rooting hard for Marshall. First play, he catches a long TD bomb. Wow, says I, I'm looking at an all-timer here. So what does Ole Miss do? They played a pair of 5' 9", 5' 10", cornerbacks in tight coverage against Moss when he lined up on either side. Bumped him at the line and took him right out of his game. By the end of the night he was merely going through the motions, and that's when Marshall was trying to launch a comeback. What a dog! So, based on that, I wrote the line you quote -- "will be eaten alive by NFL cornerbacks." It was accurate, in reverse. He's been eating NFL cornerbacks alive, but very few of them play him in bump-coverage. They just let him go waltzing into his route, lah-dee-dah. Why, I don't know. Oh yes, I did pick him on my All-Pro team in '98. How could I not?
Good one from Oscar of Vancouver. Have I ever stopped myself while breaking down game film and jotting down some arcane reference, like "Wayne Chrebet: too slow off the ball to play the X," and simply thought: Am I wasting my life? First of all, I'd never write that about Wayne Chrebet because he's very quick off the ball. Second, he plays the Z, or flank side, not the X, or split end position. And finally, many lives are wasted, but few of the wasters get paid for it -- or enjoy what they do. How can a guy from such a pretty city write such a ... (rhymes with pretty) letter?
Last rip and possibly the best, from Paul of Toms River, N.J. -- Is it true that I'm negative about everything and everyone, and is this an indication of my personality? Five years ago the answer would have been, sadly, yes. Then I was in Phoenix, covering the league meetings, and there was this certain flaming redhead. Do you really want to hear more?
Where were we before the thunder and lightning interrupted things? Oh yes, Dave of Winnipeg. Wants to know how the Internet has changed my job. Two ways: It has 1) taken away my offseason, and 2) allowed me to write in a style I enjoy, since the editing is very light. Second query: Why do people make so much out of a runner's 1,000-yard season? Only because it's a landmark number. Most incentive clauses in contracts are more ambitious, like 1,200 yards.
Two questions about Steve Mariucci and the Niners. To Leo of San Jose: Yes, I think he's the right coach. He takes the hits for failures in the personnel dept. To Steve of Sarasota, Fla. (My mother used to love going to Sarasota because the Ringling Bros. Circus wintered there. Always envious of her for her stories of the fabulous characters she met. Introduced me to one of them once, a juggler named Truzzi, who taught me how to juggle three oranges): I think Mariucci's QB, Jeff Garcia, will be pretty good. Joe Montana has no interest in coaching the Niners. Ditto Bill Walsh. What do I think? Two good decisions.
Kelly of Houston wonders if Warren Moon ever will be in the Hall of Fame. A problem. I'll vote for him, but there'll be a lot of QB's coming up and he'll have to wait his turn.
Jim of Zanesville, Ohio, supplies Prince McJunkin for my name file. Not bad, but how about this one from the current rookie crop -- Earthwind Moreland? (Have I mentioned this already? If so, forgive me, but he's worth listing twice).
Kurt of Cleveland wants an evaluation of Chris Palmer. I'll be very honest. I haven't seen the Browns enough. Let's wait until they give him enough material to be competitive with, and see if he coaches up to it.
Marshall of D.C. wants my list of best-coached games in the last 20 years. I guess my No. 1 would be Bill Walsh in the NFC Championship game against the Cowboys in the '81 postseason. I particularly liked the job Norv Turner did against the Cowboys a few years ago when a ton of Skins' wideouts went down and they were bleeding first downs through sheer savvy. Also -- lots of the defensive jobs Bill Belichick did with the Jets last year. He really had a read on teams like Buffalo and Miami. Also Mike Holmgren, when he was the Niners' offensive coach and carved up Denver in Super Bowl XXIV. And when I finish this column and file it, I'll think of half a dozen more.
Jay of Bloomington, Ill., wonders how many more of the '85 Bears should be in the Hall of Fame. Dan Hampton. Possibly Gary Fencik. Dent and Covert? Not quite. Funny thing about the Hall of Fame. I couldn't make the induction weekend, much to my sorrow. Mike Giddings, Dave Wilcox's presenter, called me and said that when they showed highlight films the night before, and the Wilcox segment came up, all you heard were murmurs of, "My god." It justified, he said, all the hard work that went into getting him in.
Chad of McLean, Va., accuses me of hiding point-fixing in the NFL. Well, Chad, I grew up in a neighborhood in NYC in which the folks, uh, liked to make a wager or two. All you heard every Monday were the moans about how the games were fixed. We call it a "sucker's holler." I used to say those things myself. Then I reached my 15th birthday and outgrew it.
My take on the Pats, requests Scott of "Patriots Land." My take is 7-9. Bad O-line.
To Dave of Florence, S.C.: I don't like the Jags' pick of R. Jay Soward, either. I'd have gone offensive line. I don't think they'll be great, but I've got them 6-0 against Cleveland, Cincy and Pittsburgh, 1-1 against Baltimore, 0-2 against Tennessee, and then 4-2 against Indy, Washington, Dallas, Seattle, Arizona and the Giants. Which comes out to 11-5, best of the wild cards.
To Rick, "stuck in Plano, Tex.," and I'm truly sorry for you, who sees only five teams with a chance to go all the way and the rest, "just mediocre dreamers." Last year, at this point, Tennessee and St. Louis were also mediocre dreamers, were they not?
Dean of Monroe, Ga., wants to know who was the better corner, Mike Haynes or Deion. I thought Mike Haynes was one of the top 10 corners of all time. But Deion is my No. 2 (behind ex-Niner J.J. Johnson ). Fantastic speed, closing on the ball. Great read and break on the squareouts. Only weakness, and I'm talking about Deion in his prime, not the current Deion, was that he got bored playing zone coverage.
Rob of Allentown, Pa. (Hey, Rob, this is only between us. Did you ever run across a lady named Janet Halchak from Allentown? Wonder what ever became of her ...) asks who will be the top QB of 1999's Big Five. My candidate is Donovan McNabb.
Thanks to Azmat of Martinez, Calif., for the kind words. Wants to know about Mike Martz and his offense. All good coaches add their own wrinkles, based on personnel. The breathtaking speed of the Rams was built for his down-the-field, work-the-seams approach to the True West Coast Offense. But his mentor, Ernie Zampese, struggled with the offense in New England last year. Talent wins it. Strategies get the ink. Question No. 2: Whose offense this season will mimic that of the '99 Rams? If his people stay healthy, I think Norv Turner's offense might remind you of it, the difference being that Stephen Davis doesn't have Marshall Faulk's speed and moves. Finally, can Bill Walsh do a reclamation on Rick Mirer? Uh, no.
Chris of Phoenix wonders if TV announcers watch the action on the field or the TV feed in the booth. Don't know about now, but when I did it, we were always told to be aware of what was on the screen and to play off that. So you kind of have to have your head on a swivel and watch the field, and then break away to the TV screen. Which is still another reason why I lost my mind.
To Dave of Boston: Again, thanks for the compliments, and your "love Linda, too," line (She says, "Prove it!" No no, just kidding. My god, still another remark in bad taste). Who are the current assistants who'll make good head coaches? You have to be careful to avoid the loyal veterans who are quite happy in their jobs. Off the top of my head, if Sean Payton, the highly touted young offensive coordinator of the Giants, lives up to his rave reviews, he'll be a hot commodity, although I think it's too early for him. Dave McGinnis, Arizona's defensive coordinator, is a good man. So is Buffalo's defensive coach, Ted Cottrell, although at 53, he might be a bit settled. Will Bill Cowher last the entire year at Pittsburgh? I'd say it's about an 8-5 shot he will.
To Larry of Nutley, N.J. (Once, when I was covering schoolboys, I picked a Nutley High QB, George Hossenlop, on my all-Met team. What ever happened to him?): Was Mike Ditka overrated as a head coach? When the Bears hired him, no. He was the right coach at the right time. A whip-cracker. Toward the end of his career, he simply didn't work hard enough at it. Buddy Ryan was a friend of mine and a terrific defensive coach, but it made me cringe to hear the one-liners he tossed off about his boss.
Ed of Holton, Kan., (thanks for the compliments, Ed) wants to know the difference between coaching in college vs. in the NFL. College coaching is recruiting. Then you let your assistants put in the game plan. In the NFL it's a bit more subtle. You're dealing with money and the draft and working the salary cap -- plus the game-planning, of course, although the assistants handle the bulk of that. Greatly overrated is the ability to get along with the press, which seldom is reflected in the won-lost. In the colleges it's usually not a problem, since many of the writers are house men.
To Lisa of Brentwood, Tenn.: Corey Dillon and the Bengals? Well, so many players have taken shots at this organization that they should be used to it. But, of course, they're not, since they tried to put that loyalty clause into the contract. Dillon is on a one-year deal. He'd better play hard. If he goes in the tank, it'll cost him big $$$$. My prediction on the Titans? I've got them in the Super Bowl vs. Tampa Bay. I told Linda you said hello to my "lovely wife." She said hello and wants to know why there aren't more women sending in questions. Lisa, if you send in around eight per week, under different names, then there will be.
Jay of Kings Park, N.Y., asks if we might see a Bill Parcells return. The book he's done seems to indicate he's closing the door, but of course, you never know with the Tuna. One coach told me, "Whatever he tells you, you can write on the blackboard. Just make sure you have an eraser."
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