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Burning, or thoughts on the torch

It IS the offseason, after all, so I hope you'll allow me to step out of the football uniform for one brief moment and give voice to something that bothers me greatly. China. The Olympics, or more pointedly, Olympic blindness that sees the Games as an excuse for any number of excesses.

Per Heistad, our Emailer of the Week, from Lebanon, N.H., calls attention to the incident involving the Olympic torch's passage through San Francisco, in which Majora Carter, who runs a non-profit agency in New York, briefly carried the torch. In so doing, she pulled out a small Tibetan flag from her shirt sleeve, and she was immediately swarmed by Chinese police, on duty in the U.S., in their blue track suits. This mini-protest got her shoved back into the crowd.

Chinese police on duty in San Francisco? "What if we sent a SWAT team to China?" Mr. Heistad writes. "Do you think they would allow us to police their citizens?"

Of course not. That's only one thing wrong with this whole picture. Another is the wimpy position many Olympic people take when human rights clash with the Olympic movement. China, with its miserable record of abuses -- Tibet, Darfur, jailing their own dissidents -- never should have been awarded the Olympics in the first place, but now that they're the host nation, it's time to put pressure on it. And you do that by attacking its most visible image, the Olympic Games.

"Politics and sports should not mix," was the rallying cry of Avery Brundage, former president of the American and International Olympic Committee for many years, whose blindness to human rights was legendary. I've covered five summer Olympics, and the main story almost always was political. The only one I covered that was not was my first, Tokyo in 1964.

After that? In Mexico City there was the slaughter of the students in the Plaza of the Tres Culturas, neatly hushed up by the Mexican government. I remember I had to file my stories by giving them to a Pan Am pilot to hand carry back, because the government cut off our filing facilities. In Munich it was the death of the Israeli athletes by the Black September terrorist faction. In Montreal it was the steroid explosion, the full scope of which only was felt in the German athletes' lawsuits years later. In Moscow it was the American boycott.

And always, I heard the same bleating of the same sheep that I'm hearing now...kill the demonstrations, stay away from the Olympics, and so forth. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Browne now says he'll skip the opening ceremony in Beijing but send England's Olympic rep instead. Big deal. Why not skip the whole thing and show some guts?

But that's not the politician's way.

• OK, I'm off the soap box. Back to the innocent world of football we go, and thanks for listening to me (you DID listen, didn't you?). A deuce from Peterof Wethersfield, Conn. "Who was the greater safety, Jack Tatum or Brian Dawkins?"

Dawkins.

"Which one hit harder?"

Tatum.

• I'm getting ripped for my preference for the 15-yard interference penalty over the point of infraction call. It 's my own fault. I told Dom-baby, our new S.O.L. (Selector of Letters), replacing Paul F., who replaced Andrew, who replaced Jimmy, who replaced a poor chap who, unfortunately, lost his mind, that negative letters are to get VIP treatment, and he actually took me seriously.

So stepping in with a left hook to the groin is Brianof L.A. "You're off the mark on this one. I'm surprised the Redhead didn't stop that idea dead in its tracks." Hey, leave Red out of this, OK? I don't want her stepping out of the kitchen and getting mixed up in stuff that doesn't concern her.

Brian's complaint: cut the size of the penalty down to 15 yards and you'd kill the long passing game in the NFL. Receivers would be getting hacked to death downfield. Je voudrais poser un question a vous, monsieur -- How come this doesn't happen in the college game? Which is exactly the argument used by the rule's advocates some years ago when it was brought up before the Competition Committee.

The answer is that coaches aren't going to coach their DBs to hack people to death downfield. They don't want to give up 15 yards any more than they want to give up 40.

Jimof Zanesville, Ohio, agrees with Brian of L.A. (You guys get together or what?). To you I say that, as an Ohio man, you should be ashamed of yourself for suggesting that a beaten cornerback would go outside the rules and flog a victorious wideout to death. They certainly do not coach that in the Big Ten.

Gregof Marquette, Mich., noting that my colleague, Ross Tucker, ranked the OL positions according to degree of difficulty and placed them in this order (toughest first) -- LT, RT, RG, LG, C. Well, I guess that's the way it is in the NFL, but from my meager background, at a much lower level, I can only tell you my personal reaction.

In the army, and before, I played both tackles and found them equally hard. Then for a week my army coach decided to shift me to center. Oy vay! Nose tackles -- middle guards they were called in those days -- were taught to beat up the center. I had a headache every night. I wrote my mother that I wanted to come home. Then my buddy, Joe Palmieri, our fullback from Fordham, said, "Schmuck, just keep screwing up your assignments and they'll figure you're too dumb to play center, and they'll move you back."

Bingo! And thank you, my paisan Joe! Back I went to tackle. Yeah, center was toughest for me. Later I was a guard in the semi pro leagues and I didn't like that much, either. Didn't like much of anything, actually. A wideout! That's what I was born to play. But there weren't too many of them in our league who ran a 6.8 forty.

• The name, Bob Kraft, comes up, not once but twice. Ah, that name, "mixing memory and desire" (The Waste Land). My cavalier treatment of his mea culpa that climaxed the League Meetings produced the response that "your anti-Patriot venom-ness grows wearisome." And the response was from Billof Peru, Vt., as if you hadn't known.

"You could of included more of what Mr. Kraft had to say that elicited the standing ovation in the first place," he adds. I could of, uh, could have, if said ovation had actually taken place. The actual incident elicited a smattering of applause, a few owners getting doused by the smatter. The only thing he could have said that would have induced an ovation would have been, "Drinks are on me."

I particularly liked friend Bill's closing remark: "Upon further review maybe it is time for you to move on as your constant cynicism has clouded your ability to do your job. Bring on the redhead."

Hold on a minute. " Linda! Hey Linda, put down that needlework for a moment and listen up! Has my constant cynicism clouded my ability to do my job, and do you want to start writing a mailbag column? No, you say? You say that I ought to go in the other room and play with my charts for a while and stop bothering you? Say, that's not such a bad idea."

This Kraft thing gets deeper. Next email is signed Bob Kraft, Boston. Oh gosh, a frisky chap is having sport with your faithful narrator. First of all, if Kraft were writing me, he'd have some reference to the Lions, you know, the Light Blue of Columbia, fight fight! We're both aluminum. Secondly, "obduracy," is a word he'd never use in a personal letter, and third, if he were really as scorched as you pretend him to be, he'd never underplay my senility with "a little." He'd say, "you poor crazy bast...uh, chap."

Dom-baby, you really had fun with these, didn't you? I mean I haven't had a collection like this since the old Rush Limbaugh days.

• Whoops, this next one is halfway sane. From Billof Westlake Village, Calif. -- "If it is so important to protect QBs from the blind side rush, why don't teams routinely line up the tight end on that side?" Because then the defense would load up its pass rush on the other side of the offense, its right side, or new weak side. Some defenses like to rush from that side anyway, the quarterback's front side, in other words, because they want him to see the rush coming, especially if he is a bit timid.

Mark of Holliston, Mass., said I showed the white feather in my Roger Goodell interview by not unleashing my negative feelings about the NFL Network when he came on in favor of it. Well, I told him I disagreed. I just didn't write that part of the conversation. Why do it? To show what a hero I am? We didn't carry on a debate, and I'd already made my views known in print. You don't like the Network, I don't like it. The league has a lot of money invested in it. How do you expect it to come on?

Jeff of New Orleans/Bozeman, Mont. (a sicko parlay if ever I saw one) disagrees with both of us and thinks the net is simply wun-der-fooool. He writes, "I like Eisen (disagree), I like Dukes (disagree), I like Faulk (agree, when he's doing a game in which he's interested), get rid of Sanders (except when he's teaming with Faulk on a game)." You're forgetting Mike Mayock. I think he's just fine on the draft. I'm leaning so far backward here to be absolutely fair that it's giving me a neck ache.

Erik of Buffalo makes such a moving, impassioned pitch for Ralph Wilson's enshrinement for the Hall of Fame that, 1) he would be my EM of the W in any other week, and 2) I'm really going to seriously consider Wilson when his name comes up. Among Wilson's strengths pointed out by said Erik was never having moved his team, lending money to a budding franchise and calling the turn correctly on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Add to that, the fact that he's a good guy who never once has cursed me out for misquoting him or taking a statement out of context, nor has summoned up a biting remark about my sloppy, unprofessional appearance. Yep, we could do well to consider Ralph before it's too late.

Tim "Eater X" of New York (Am I reading that right? Is this a typo or what? Or a clever play on words, X really meaning eggs, indicating I'm in the presence of an egg-eating champion, like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke?) respectfully asks what, exactly, "pendulum-style" kicking is. I referred to it last week in my mention of the old star, Bullet Bill Dudley. Simply, it is standing flat-footed and kicking an extra point without taking an approach step with your non-kicking foot. Thus the swinging foot, from a motionless start, creates a pendulum effect. And let me tell you from one who's seen it, it looks weird as hell.

• Pittsburgh's division-winning 10-6 in a so-so division shouldn't get as high a playoff seed as Jacksonville's 11-5 in a tougher division, the AFC South, says Tom of Kansas City. Well, I'm enough of a traditionalist to feel that if you wrap up early, it should be a reward that entitles you to rest people and get them healthy. The non-division winner might have done well, but it still failed in one important task. Also comparative strength of different divisions is a changeable thing, although some seem to stay in the dumper for an awfully long time, don't they?

• How have disasters befallen Cincinnati, let me count the ways, is the cry of Scott from Queens. What can I tell you? Don't look at me, I didn't screw it up for them. Hollywood is going to make a new movie, Bengals of Boys Town, with Spencer Tracy playing Father Flanagan. And anyone old enough to tune in to what I'm talking about regularly uses a walker and a hearing aid, I'll betcha.

• Hey Kris of Lisbon, Me., I'm going to be brutally frank and admit something to you that I've never told another living soul. Your reference to "funneling" as well as "beer bong" washed over me like the tide at Damarascotta. I'm ashamed, but Red Flame had to explain all this to me. Which term do I prefer, you ask, and since it pertains to Matt Leinart and his quartet of chickadees, I'd say (Linda, what do I say? Funneling? You're sure?) funneling, you bet, much preferred.

Oh oh, here's another one. What the hell are they doing to me? Richard of Atlanta asks, if I were the Cardinals coach, which would anger me more, Leinart in the hot tub with the quartet, Leinart with the beer bong or Leinart, with all that money, too cheap to go for anything but beer? I'll tell you what REALLY bothers me. Being so old and square, sigh, that I can't really get into this whole frolic and meet it with anything sensible.

• Now here's an email I can really sink my teeth into. Rich of Chicago, referring to my taunting my poor wife for flavoring a lasagna with cinnamon, spits out the following: "What's wrong with cinnamon in the lasagna? I'm full blood Italian and I add cinnamon to my pasta sauce, including the lasagna. Just a pinch adds a nice flavor. So if you won't eat your wife's lasagna, I'll have your portion, ya old grouch!"

You've given me a lot to chew on, so rather than giving you a biting reply, I will turn it over to said Redhead for an address. And here it is: "Next time I make it, I promise to send you an eight-pound block of it. With cinnamon. If groucho doesn't like it, tough."

Yan of Charlotte, N.C., was born after 1985 in a foreign country, he says. Thus he cannot figure out whether or not the character, Sidd Finch, is real or fictitious. He is fictional, a creation of the pen of George Plimpton. Hey, wait a minute...you mention April 2, as subsequent to April 1st, and you know what that is. Are you, perhaps, toying with the poor, brain dead Doc?

• Three good ones to close this chapter, accompanied by the tinkle of wedding bells and shrieks in the night...no, make that cries of delight. Brooklyn Decker, the swimsuit model who has shared a video with yours truly for two years, is engaged to Andy Roddick, he of the 150-mph serve. The one-liner possibilities arising from that one are immense, but I'll play it straight this time, out of respect for Brookie, who's really a good kid.

What do I think of it, asks Victor of Manchester, UK. "Say it ain't so. You have pull, talk her out of it," says Jim J. of Wilmington, Del. Will this somehow compromise the animosity between us in next season, asks Matt of Rochester, Minn.

Personally I think it's a good deal all around. They're both pairing up with nice people, Andy with a bright, clever young woman, Brookie with, well, that's hard to say. He visited our taping two times last season. The sight of me drove him wild. He was heard to tell a technician, "I can't stand the sight of my Brooklyn with that obviously paid gigolo." After the show he challenged me to a duel. I declined because I didn't feel it would be professional to hurt the lad. The pipers struck up My Bonnie Lassie and everyone went home happy.

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