Dr Z
Friday November 16th, 2007

Got a bit of response about my Peyton Manning column, but it didn't amount to much, so I want to get right into a very important question that was raised about the league rules on proper equipment. It seems that when they ... OK, OK, juuuusst kidding.

I got nailed to the wall for my poor little innocent acknowledgment of Peyton's struggles Sunday night. Rest assured, every one of the "waddya nuts?" letters will be dealt with, plus the few that sympathized with the point I was trying to make.

Matt of Milwaukee, after setting me up with some moderate praise, drops the big right cross on my poor head. He points out that I laud Manning for soldiering through with jayvee receivers, even praise him for spending a game throwing off his back foot when faced with intense pressure, when I've come down hard on Brett Favre and Tom Brady for exactly the same thing. And please don't forget all the subpar receivers they had to struggle with in previous years.

You're half right. I have never been critical of Brady, and I sympathized with his cause last year, when they cut his quality receives loose. Favre? You're right. It has been pointed out to me many times that I've been overly critical. I think it's the typical reaction of a contrarian who cannot stand the mass of similar praise, endlessly repeated, the same excuses, the same eagerness to blame everyone but him.

It's like watching a B movie and hoping that the blond, blue-eyed hero will slip on the banana peel. But I've been making a definite attempt to be more fair regarding Favre this year, which, of course, is easy, since he's having a sensational season. If you've been reading my stuff, you'd agree with that, wouldn't you, Matt? WOULDN'T YOU? Would someone wake him up, please?

There was just something very human that struck me about Peyton's ordeal Sunday night. Yeah, some of the picks were pretty bad. But he got himself together and brought them back, didn't he? I couldn't get the game out of my mind, and when the analogy of the ants and the beetle popped into my head, I was off and running.

From F.J.R. of Groveton, N.H. -- "You don't need to be a Manning apologist. There's enough of them already." Sorry. Just trying to present a picture of something that reached me on an emotional level, even though the effort proved futile.

More heat from New England. Matt of Canton, Conn., sees "no reason to slight Tom Brady ... who came within a minute of the Super Bowl with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney." The slight he mentions refers to the following line from my piece: "The quarterback who stands tall in the pocket, facing a minimal rush, throwing to an all-star cast of receivers is a pretty picture, but there's nothing about it that reaches me on an emotional level." Oh, it would reach me emotionally if I had a bet down on the game or if I grew up a diehard fan, but otherwise I don't think this is any slight of Brady, about whom I've never written a single negative word. It was just an attempt to present a situation in which failure sometimes might move you more than success would.

Gurman of San Ramon, Calif., which I happen to know is redhot Patriot country, lands a pretty good one when he points out that the Chargers were also missing starters, and "Cromartie's three interceptions were against Reggie Wayne, not some scrub." Absent from the Chargers' defense -- Castillo and Jammer. From the Colts' offense -- Harrison, Clark, Ugoh, Gonzalez. I'll take that pot. You're right about Cromartie. He turned in a magnificent performance, but I was doing a quirky kind of piece about the nobility of failure, not success.

New England returns. Vince of Winchester, N.H., defends Brady's record of achievement when he was short handed, as a response to the way I "gushed" about how good Peyton had to be to survive in that game. Did it really come off as gushing to you? If so, then I failed to get across the message I was trying to present. Generally I try to avoid that. Sometimes we tend to get a little carried away when a particular angle hits us.

Showing a merciful side, Paul, Le Gran Forestier, has decided to balance off these rippers with a group representing The Children of Light, who managed to find something redeeming in what has now become a highly controversial piece of literary pretension.

From Chris of Ottawa -- "It brings to mind Troy Aikman's performance against the 49ers in a losing effort in the '94 Championship game. I think that is one of my favorite games for Aikman, despite the loss. What do you think?"

Oh boy, do I remember that game. Dallas fought back from 21-0, down, in the first quarter. Came storming back at the end. Ran off 34-10 plays in the fourth quarter and 12 first downs to none. Field was a sloppy mess. It had rained for 15 out of 16 days. Floods all over California. Cowboy coach Switzer bitched about the conditions, and the officials paid him back with some atrocious calls.

On two occasions Deion pinned Irvin's arm to his side on deep patterns. No call either time. But Brown got flagged on a chintzy little brush of Rice. Switzer came out on the field to protest and bumped the head linesman, Sid Sermon, with his hip, the 15-yard penalty killing a drive. A magnificent, courageous, comeback effort for Aikman. You bet I remember it. Thanks for bringing it all back. Old timers love the past, you know.

A real nice bit of praise from Jacob of Baltimore, which lifts my spirits immeasurably. "Excellent job with the bug stuff," he writes. Just what I told Termite Control of New Jersey yesterday.

But this one, from Matthew of Oxford, UK, gets my E-mailer of the Week award for its thoughtfulness (still need a last name, Matthew). The Manning piece, he says, "struck a particular chord with me as an English sports fan. Our supporters' culture here seems to be very different, and perhaps it has something to do with the draw, the tie, as a regular outcome of English sports." Makes a lot of sense. A hard fought battle that neither team deserves to lose ... why place so much emphasis on the advantage gained by a coin toss? "The pleasure of snatching a draw in the final minutes," he writes, "can often equal or exceed that of winning itself. Does this go in some way toward explaining the fact that, as far as I can see, US sports fans are more winning oriented?

I think so, although I'm no big fan of the soccer shootout, either. Actually when the tie was eliminated in the NFL I argued against the move, for pretty much the reasons you gave. Also, I felt that ties were great tie-breakers when standings were determined at the end of the season. You'd have fewer teams with the same record, and it would help eliminate those mind-numbing playoff formula situations. What I didn't understand was that the league powers love that formula stuff because it generates more controversy, consequently more publicity, and thereby sells more t-shirts.

The ugly suspicion of plagiarism falls on my poor, graying dome because of a passage of Hemingway quoted to me by Ryan of the Department of English, no college given, in Bath, N.Y. It's from A Farewell to Arms, in which Lieut. Henry talks about once having the chance to save a group of ants from a fire but chose to observe them instead. I swear to you, Ryan, on the head of my poor old grandmother, who used to wrestle main events in the Hippodrome, the incident I described was absolutely factual. I did read A Farewell a long time ago, but correct me if I'm wrong. Wasn't Lieut. Henry the guy referred to by Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye as "that phony Lieutenant Henry?" Just asking.

Thank you for the nice things you wrote. My journalistic idol was Jimmy Cannon. Jimmy spent a lot of time with Hemingway and his style was reminiscent of Papa's. So you might see a slight connection.

Another note of encouragement, from Chris of South Portland, who also wonders why more defensive coordinators don't come up with more imaginative rush schemes, rather than just blitzing from predictable spots, giving the QB time to hit his hot read. Yeah, it drives me nuts, too, how innovation seems to be departing. I remember Floyd Peters, architect of the 49ers' great Gold Rush, telling me, "Before every game I come up with a new pressure package, and then after the game it goes back on the shelf and I start working on a new one." That, to me, is coaching.

Phil of Yokahama, and thank you, sees the inconsistencies of quarterback selection, as well as the payment system, and wonders whether or not the whole thing is just wrong and they'd better figure out a new way of doing it. The biggest scouting errors are made at this position. Also the biggest financial errors. The whole idea of loading draft choices with cash before they've played a down flies in the face of everything we ever learned in Sunday school. Ed Garvey, the old Players Association head, once proposed a wage scale, which would have included the high-priced rookies. The hard-asses in the league, Tex Schramm, Hugh Culverhouse, etc., hollered "Communist!" and drummed him out of the regiment. I guess they prefer to pay dearly for their mistakes.

Jack of Harrison, N.Y., wants my take on Brodie Croyle, who he thinks could do big things at KC. Haven't seen enough of him. How about if I let you know after the Colts game? And thank you, Jack.

I hear a plaintive wail in the night. Wow, it's traveled a long way, all the way from Mexico City, where Jesus O. says, "Dr. Z, please help me. I don't know what to do." Stay calm, my friend. First of all, was the other driver insured? You what? You're writing about the 49ers? You want to know where the major fault lies? It began when Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark fled to Cleveland in the late 1990's after putting the Niners in Salary Cap Hell. After that, start at the top, Dr. York and Mrs. Doctor. Amateur hour. And then with them in control, down, down, down we go.

Following this up, Steve of Santa Rosa, Calif., wonders what the team would look like now if Eddie DeBartolo still were running it. Not sure. Everybody would be happier, for one thing, because they never would have had to live through Dr. York's penny pinching. But that salary cap situation, all the dead money and everything, would have been tough to cope with down the road, even for Eddie.

From Brian of Ellicott City, and you're supposed to put the state in, and I had to google it to find out it's in Maryland, and for all you future E-mailers, if you fail to include state, country or planet, your question will not be used and your payment will not be refunded. Now on to Brian, whose question, incidentally, is quite interesting, despite his geographic failings: "You mentioned being down on media types that don't do their work. What is your impression of ESPN's NFL Matchup show with Hoge and Jaworski?"

I love it, but you'll notice that the network keeps it pretty well buried at 8:30 a.m. on Football Sunday, reserving its 11 a.m.-1 p.m. slot for two hours of yakity yack. Jaws is great at blackboard stuff, and he was great in the booth, too, when he worked with Dick Vermeil in one memorable game last year. Given the current context, though, it's impossible to be anything but a host for whatever guest they schlep in there. I did notice, however, an edge developing last week in his dealings with Tony K... "That's wonderful, Tony, you got all involved in the game..." It might not be long now before Jaws wigs out completely and they'll have to rush Michele or Suzy up to the booth to administer a Heimlich Maneuver.

Chris of Seattle is a Steelers fans and he wonders whether or not he should be worried about Big Ben's "need to bounce out of the pocket so much ... I'm concerned that it is going to catch up to him eventually." Well, with some QB's, you get the feeling that they take off early because they just can't read what's going on. Not with Big Ben. I think he's right on the money, and if he can move around and shrug those rushers off like flies, more power to him. No, I think he's terrific this year.

Mark of Cornelius, N.C., is annoyed about the lack of balance in the awarding of bye weeks. Once upon a time I couldn't understand it, either, and they explained the intricacies of scheduling and planning ... one stadium has to be used for a rock concert, another for a hog calling contest etc. ... and all these things must be worked out. It left me dazed and exhausted. I am just starting to recover now.

Joe of Plano, Texas, can't understand the media's love affair with Adam Vinatieri, when his own favorite guy, Jason Elam, is just as good and has a bigger leg. OK, let's look. Counting post-season, as of today, right now, Vinatieri, in nine seasons, is 344 out of 418 for .823. From 50 to 59 yards, he's 10 for 22 for .455. Elam, in 15 years, is 397 for 495 for .802 and 38 for 59 for .644. You're right. Much more range for Elam. But Vinatieri has done it on a bigger stage, in more dramatic surroundings.

From Jim of Troy, Mich. -- "Does the latest Lions' loss prove that the first half of the season was merely a tease for Lions fans?" No, for people like me who try to handicap the games.

Aaron, a Ravens fan from London (Isn't there a team called the London Ravens? Or maybe it's the Raving Londoners?), feels that with Baltimore's season about to collapse, maybe it might be a good time to plug in rookie Troy Smith and see what happens. Not so quickly, mom ami. Their 4-5 record, plus their defense, still has them within sniffing distance of the playoffs. And Kyle Boller did lead them to a division championship once. So it's not time to cash in the season just yet. Don't worry. I'll let you know when.

Matt from Green Bay says he read that Hines Ward was quoted as saying he heard Alan Faneca yell at Big Ben to take off on his 30-yard TD run against Cleveland. So he wants to know if, conversely, blockers warn QB's that pressure is coming. Oh yeah. You ever hear of the "lookout" block? A guy loses his man and all he can do is yell, "Look out!" I remember Dave Herman, the guard, telling me about a moment in Super Bowl III, when Bubba Smith slipped his block, and he started yelling to Joe Namath, "He's loose! He's loose!"

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