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Passion play

There's nothing as depressing as internal congratulation, except maybe for an NFL Network think piece, but I've simply got to stop and take note of the truly superior brand of e-mails this week. So let's have a real Morris Plains round of applause for our man in the control booth, Paulie Forrests! OK, Doctor, let's hear from the first stiff ... uh, first e-mailer.

Oh oh, not a smiling face do I see. Jamie from Port Matilda, Pa., is upset that Myron Cope, once a real heavy hitter for Sports Illustrated, rated no more than a routine AP obit, pulled off the wire, on our Web site. I can't answer for others here, and I think you'll see more in the magazine next week, but personally, I had a lot of fun with Myron through the years. I've been a guest on his radio show numerous times, I've always enjoyed honking his horn, when the opportunity presented itself, and I'd always get a big screech of a reaction, followed by a punch in the ribs. Which was OK. He was a little, skinny guy. Didn't hit very hard.

Of course I read all his freelance stuff when I was just starting out in the business, and I remember being very surprised when he became a full-time Steelers radio man in 1970. I asked him about it.

"I'm doing what I like to do," he said in that whiny twang of his. "I'm having fun."

Nothing wrong with that.

Here comes the draft. Well, almost. First, we have about 75 mock drafts to wade through. Ben of Montreal wants to know if there's a formula, any formula, to help a team zero in on talent. None that I know of, except for monitoring a team through the years and seeing how it stacks up against the competition. Then after about two decades of careful noting, you'll be as old as me and ready for retirement ... check that ... you'll be ready to come up with a definitive analysis of how your team matches up. Of course by then, everyone you're trying to impress will either be defunct or in a nursing home. One slight indication, though. Running backs usually are called pretty closely. ("Either that or they're not," says my redheaded number, intoning one of her favorite mantras).

Here's one that's straight from the shoulder serious, and there will be no smart aleck remark or cheap one-liner from my end of the table. Anthony Turrietta from El Paso, and I am throwing in his last name not because he's E-mailer of the Week but because he is setting your faithful narrator straight, writes the following. And it refers to my mention of "the phony war in Iraq."

"As someone who has been in a war, I can tell you that there is nothing phony about the current fiasco in Iraq. Our troops and Iraqi citizens are facing real threats daily. The reasons for going over there may have been made up, but for actual war ... it can be referred to in many ways, but not phony."

It's a heavy matter. I'll never go along with our being there, but no, you're right ... there's nothing phony about the sacrifices young people are called upon to make.

Steve of Vegas feels that the one thing American sports fans detest more than a cheater is a cheater who lies about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, Steve, but you're hinting about a certain something that might have taken place up where the murmuring pines and the hemlocks grow, right? Where tapes mysteriously disappear, only to turn up later destroyed. Where soft footsteps piddy-pad around a practice field, and strange, shadowy cameramen later turn up as golf pros in Hawaii. Wow, give me the movie rights, please! Steve, you're right, of course; the only things worse than cheaters who lie are cheaters who lie and then forget about your birthday. I predict that Spygate and all its relatives will disappear into the mists of time, that we will never know the extent of the shenanigans, the material destroyed, the secret promises, the whispered threats. Maybe in the next world we'll find out, but not in this one.

Man, this thing just won't go away. OK, bring on the next executioner. Richard of Elk River, Minn., where spying goes back to the French and Imbecile War, finds at least a dozen reasons to distrust the whole handling of this matter. Yeah, I agree, right, dozens, and sorry to be abbreviating you, Rich, old boy, but time's running short and they're waiting to use the hall.

OK, I'll take one more and that's it. Alejandro from Horizon City, which is, I believe, in Texas, although you didn't spell it out, sir, and that's after I've asked everybody to do it, Lord knows, I've asked and I've asked, and still you won't do it ... that's OK, Paul, I'll feel better after I have this glass of water. Now where was I? Oh yes, Alejandro writes the following: "I just read your article on the evolution of cheating. Do you think some forms of cheating are admired because it involves skill, as compared to cheating through technology or advances in chemistry?" Now Alejandro, let me ask you this. Which one would be your type of guy, the one who rigs up an elaborate spying device, complete with high tech recording equipment and sensors and lasers and razors, or the guy who sneaks into a locker, grabs a playbook and runs like hell? (Accepted answer to be revealed next week).

Joshua of San Diego and Mrs. Joshua hearken back to a column I wrote longer ago that I can remember ... at least two months back ... about our getaway place, which is Mendocino, Calif. You're right, we go there every year, and we'll be there in the middle of March, and somehow you've decided to pay the place a visit yourselves, and you want to know where to start. Gimme room, everybody, this is serious.

First thing to do is get yourselves a map and get up to Mendocino. North from San Francisco and off of US 101 at Cloverdale, due west on US 128, through the curvy road and the old Moonie outpost of Booneville, pushing westward, still west, through the Anderson Valley wine country and the 12-mile redwood swamp, finally emerging full blown, high above the blue Pacific, where you will catch your breath and marvel at some of the most spectacular ocean scenery you've ever seen. And now you need a place to stay. Unfortunately you forgot to mention how much coin of the realm you expect to change hands.

There's the town of Elk and the Elk Cove Inn, also the Harbor House, both about six miles south along Coast Highway No. 1. Nice places, medium-priced. Farther north there's the Heritage House, fancy and high end. You pass Albion and Little River and cheaper places abound, and then you're into Mendocino itself and its rather antiquated hotel. A 10-mile stretch northward runs you up to Fort Bragg, and you can find plenty of cheap lodgings on the way up, not all of it on the ocean side. BUT, and here's the ultimate snapper, if you can afford $150 to $300 a night, check out Mendocino Coast Reservations on the Internet and get a house for the week or part of it. Rates vary, but you'll get a pretty good picture of what's available. It's what we do, and it's really not that hugely much more than individual lodgings.

RESTAURANTS: Booneville Hotel, when you go back to the Anderson Valley to check out the wineries. Odd, funky, interesting, creative. Libby's in Philo. Good solid Mexican food. A lot of wine growers hang out there. Get the carnitas. Queenie's in Elk on the Coast Highway. Terrific breakfasts. Ask for Queenie, whose real name is Lynn Derrick. Drop our name on her and see what happens. Harbor House is beautiful, closest to best there is. Albion River Inn is classy, too. Ledford House after that. Moosse Café in Mendocino is pretty good, despite the funky spelling. They'll all try to send you to the Café Beaujolais, also in town. Eh? Possibly, but you can do better. Egghead's in Fort Bragg is almost as good as Queenie's for breakfast. Check out Noyo Harbor in the same town for seafood. It's hit or miss. You might get lucky. After you've eaten all that food up, check back with me and I'll start on my list of second stringers.

WINERIES: Pacific Star north of Fort Bragg on the coast. Nice drive, wines are a bit heavy but solid. In the Valley, and I'll just do my real highlights, Navarro -- wonderful for the ultra sweet late harvest numbers, and you can taste everything they make in the place. Greenwood Ridge -- only if they're letting you taste the late harvest Riesling. Husch -- OK for late harvest sweet ones. Claudia Springs -- rich, high alcoholic. Try to develop the habit of spitting, rather than swallowing everything. Not kidding. You don't want to have a DUI hung on you. Scharffenberg -- pretty good sparkling wines. Roederer -- ditto, especially the Ermitage, which is really special. Breggo -- good Pinot Noir. More,too, but I'm running out of steam. Oh yes, avoid at all costs, Goldeneye. Expensive and awful.

If you're out there in mid-March and you decide to hook up with Mendocino Coast Reservations, get the number for Sea Arch and give the Redhead and us a call. We'll raise a few dead ones.

Patience, football fans, we'll get through all this wine and stuff pretty soon. Luke of Bloomfield, N.J., needs some low-budget wine. Check out Gary's wine stores around Bernardsville. They're always running good specials on stuff. Try to get hold of Gary himself. If you can go just a trifle higher than the tenner you mentioned, try the Pinot Noir or Syrah from Hahn Vineyards, any of three different Castle Rock Pinot Noirs, anything from Cline or the Cellar No. 8 Zinfandel.

NEWS FLASH: This just came in. Christy Wilson has left the Harbor House and is now cooking at the Elk Cove Inn. This is for you, Joshua, and Mrs. Joshua.

It wouldn't be Mailbag Day if there weren't a Hall of Fame question, and this week's vintage comes from Michael of Akron. Are some positions especially targeted? How about, say, special teamers? Yeah, the glamour positions are looked at first, unfortunately. A pure special teamer, such as Steve Tasker, never has made it. Nor a punter. The positions seem to come in cycles. Or in psychos. Hey, thanks for the nice words.

Rich of Chicago wants my take on the plan to reseed the playoffs. All they're trying to figure out is a way to squeeze more interest out of dead games. Leave 'em alone. Things are fine, everyone's making money, even guys like Danny Boy and King Arthur.

Wouldn't you know that our E-mailer of the Week failed to include his last name? To James of Kalamazoo -- how can we ship your prize if we don't have your full name? Nevertheless, I will reproduce his words, because I like the swing of them. "First we got Daniel Snyder, now we've got Arthur Blank. Starstruck millionaires who act like kids who found the cookie jar unlocked. What makes these guys tick? Why do they feel the need to be in the media all the time? How do they end up in such bad deals with these used up players? Why can't they turn around these franchises? There are a ton more questions, I suppose."

They understand their business -- unless they just inherited it. Sometimes they get conned by coaches or personnel directors or GMs. Other times they fool themselves into thinking they've actually picked up knowledge it took others a lifetime to learn. Some inherited their money. Some made it quickly. Others feel that the way to turn things around is to pound a shoe on the table and holler, "I want to win and I want to win now!" If they get lucky they find a good coach or GM to run their team, then they have to be dragged away from him, so he can be allowed to run things.

From Jeff of NYC: "You skipped your best spy story, when Walt Michaels went nuts thinking Al Davis had spied on him." Which time? Every time the Jets went out there, Al was suspected of something. I loved covering those games. They were thrilling, like going to a war zone. The time you're thinking about was when Walt was head coach and some screwball got on his locker room phone at halftime and Walt went nuts, thinking it was Davis, trying to break up his halftime instructions. My favorite, though, was when Al planted one of his cronies, big fat Maury Schleicher, the ex-linebacker, on the Jets' team bus, from the stadium to the hotel. Weeb threw him off in the middle of Highway 17.

To Kelly Baxter of College Point, N.Y., and my heart said to make you my award winner, but it was pointed out that too many of those lollipops go to New York area folks. But I can still use your last name, and offer a thank you for what you said. "What did he say? What did he say?" they are all yelling. Should I tell them? Ah, what the hell. He said that if I would run for president, he would ... wait a minute, that's not it. He said that he wishes other writers would stay away from the combine workouts if they specifically indicate that we are persona non grappa.

Tom of Overland Park, Kan., notes that every year some outlandishly good combine performance seems to throw everything out of whack. Does that really make sense? Sure, scouts aren't always perfect and there always are diamonds in the rough to be found. Maybe this was the first time the guy really was healthy.

A rested Jay Alford coming in fairly fresh and recording a late Super Bowl sack tells Chuck of Lewiston Idaho that maybe guys should pace themselves a bit and save the big stuff for the right time. Oh, they do. Older guys such as Michael Strahan certainly do. Younger ones, such as Justin Tuck, went hard on almost every play, and that's why he got the big payoff at the end of last season.

Jon of Ellicott City, and is this the famous Haunted House of Ellicott City, Md.? I'll bet it is. Linda, was that your ghostly breath that just brushed my shoulder? Anyway, Jon wonders what's happened to fair play. To the idea of saluting an opponent? Why are the owners and the media only concerned with ratings? Why is the commish a puppet for the owners? OK, OK, I agree, sort of, and please get your ghostly fingers off my nice, clean flannel shirt. Let's face it, sportsmanship is fading fast. And so am I (it's getting late, folks).

From Charles of Atlanta -- "Why is Fred Dean deemed Hall of Fame worthy and Harvey Martin is not?" Dean was considered a "modern," candidate (career ended within the last 25 years). Martin, more than 25 years removed from the game, is considered a "Senior." Three times as many moderns as seniors can come in in a year.

Finally this sneaky one from Scott of Minneapolis: "Can you tell us the root of Dr. Z? Who first called you that and when? How did it stick?" Dr. Z was the brainchild of Sports Illustrated's managing editor, Mark Mulvoy, who stuck it on me when I joined the magazine in 1979. It stuck because he made sure it would stick. I'm happy to say it fought off the challenge from that German car guy.

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