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Wail mail: Readers reject my XLIII prediction and notes from vacation

Usually I load up my first wailbag with a lot of self-serving stuff about the vacation, keyed on my return home from same. But this time the old letterbox was fairly bulging with so much stuff about my timid little prediction of the Vikings to win Supe XLIII, all sent to me in such a lighthearted spirit of good fellowship, that I simply had to address it now before I forget what these blokes had written.

• From Brandon of Stockton, Calif.: "Have you ever been right in these crazy predictions?"

No.

• From Joe of Abilene: "They actually pay you for your opinions?"

Yes they do.

(Joe. cont.): "I'm trying to think of the last time you got a Super Bowl pick right, Dr. Idiot!"

Packers-Raiders, Super Bowl II

• From A. Hambick of San Antone: "Hey, fatty, why don't you..." (remainder deleted by SI censor)

• From Tracy of Buffalo, Minn.: "You're crazy picking the Vikings."

I know.

(Tracy, cont.): "They're built all wrong for their home games. If they played them outside or in Chicago or Siberia they'd be tough to beat. Unfortunately they play in a bubble and because they're so good against the run, and bad against the pass, the other teams just throw at will against them and they don't try to run. Minnesota runs a special version of the Tampa 2 coverage where they only cover two receivers and leave the rest open. It doesn't work very well."

Wow, you ought to be a coach, Tracy. Three uncovered receivers on every five-man pattern? That could lead to all sorts of problems. I'm going to be sure to point it out to Coach Childress.

• From Bob of Hugo, Minn.: "If there were a way to send you tears of laughter in an email, this one would be soaked."

I think AOL offers that service.

• From Sully of Boston: "Who will the Vikes play in the SB?"

Patriots.

• Whoa, here's a guy trying to elbow his way through the angry mob. He's holding up a placard. It says "Z IS OK." What's your story, my good man?

Paul from Dallas: "I just want to applaud you for sticking your neck out there and picking the Vikings. They could follow the way of the Ravens the year they won it all with great defense, a strong running attack and a QB who doesn't lose it for them."

Wow, I'm touched. Thanks, and don't go out into the street again until that group thins out.

• From Brian of Seaford, L.I.: "If you give the Vikings a shot, then why not the Jets? The mold of the team is the same, with the same question marks. What is a reasonable Jets' '08 record?"

Can't say right now. I do the AFC East for the SI Football Preview, and I'd like to hold off on my prediction of their actual record until I've talked to Coach Mangini and watched some of his little people at practice. Oh, what the hell. Let's say 9-7.

• From Matt of Chicago: "Don't the Buffalo Bills fit all the criteria you have listed for the Vikings, and more?" He then goes on to draw parallels in every area, and yes, I see some similarities but I'm not ready to put Buffalo in Supe XLIII against Minnesota right now. I mean they ripped me to shreds for picking only one of those teams, can you imagine what they'd do to me if I set up that dream Super Bowl? Remember, the Flaming Redhead would like to see that same smiling, unbloodied face at breakfast in the morning.

Larry of Maple Grove, Minn., disagrees with my evaluation of Bryant McKinnie as a forceful left tackle and sees many errors there. Three years ago I thought he was a stiff. Two years ago I thought he had really improved. Last year I thought he was regressing a bit. I felt the coaches had allowed him to fall back into bad habits. I asked Childress about him specifically. He said he's poised to have the year of his life, and mentioned a few indications of why he felt that way. I believe the coach.

• From Artie of Forest Hills: "I know you don't like Don Imus. How do you feel about the mess he's gotten himself into now?"

I feel Imus is not worth the waste of discussion time. What bothers me greatly is that airheads like this seem, by a sort of brashness and poolroom bravado, to command some measure of public influence. As Capt. Lingard said to the renegade, Willems, in Conrad's Outcast of the Islands, "You are my shame!" (Not you, Artie).

• From Todd Christensen, former Raiders tight end and NBC network commentator: "I know you worked with the late Charlie Jones, as I did, at NBC. You must have some stories to tell."

I worked with him just once, as third man in the booth for the 1990 Seattle-K.C. game, the one in which Derrick Thomas had seven sacks. The second man in the booth was former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, a Brooklyn guy whom I could trace all the way back to his roots at Lafayette High. Oh we had a fine old time, whooping and hollering after almost every play, as Charlie, an extremely nice guy, a real gentleman, tried to keep things under control.

After the game, I heard one of the technicians say to his buddy, "Worst thing I ever heard in my life." Obviously he never heard what went on on my wedding night (first marriage).

Warren of Maryland Heights, Mo., wonders why one player can't handle both kicking and punting duties, and thus save his team a roster spot. Are the techniques so different? There have been some who did. Tommy Davis of the 49ers, Sam Baker of the Redskins and Eagles. I think what happens these days is that they decide, pretty early, say in high school, to make a decision as to what to specialize in, probably because the money is so good now. The feeling is that you probably could do both but excel in only one. As far as the techniques themselves, yeah, they're different, but I imagine someone who wanted to double his practice time could get fairly proficient in both skills.

Thomas of Eden Prairie, Minn., feels if Michael Strahan gets a first ballot Hall of Fame selection, then Richard Dent surely deserves entry as well. Strahan was better playing the run. He lined up on the left side, the power side. Dent was a DRE, playing the sacking side. He was a great pass rusher, Strahan was, I believe, a better all-around player.

• More Hall of Fame. Brandon of Arvada, Wyo., feels that Pro Bowl selection meant more, when considering someone's Hall of Fame qualifications years ago, than it does now. It's more of a popularity contest now. I agree 100 percent, and I try to point that out at our Selection Committee meetings when the number of Pro Bowl selections is always brought up.

• Here's a tough one from Tim of Arlington, Va.: "What position in the NFL is most overvalued?" He includes either paycheck or number of roster spots it eats up. Let me phrase it another way. Which position is best for hiding a weak sister? In the old days it was center. Then the Chiefs put Curley Culp on the nose, over the center, in Super Bowl IV and the whole thing changed. Let's see, if I had a starter right now that I had to cover for, I guess he'd be the free safety. But a great one really can help your defense, so he might not fall into the overvalued class. Oh hell, they all have a certain value. Don't ask me things this tough. I'm just back from vacation, remember?

• There's always one every column, and here it comes. Tony of Dayton asks me to "settle a bet. A good friend argues that the main reason why goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone was not because of the obvious obstruction issues, but because wide receivers were hooking them with their arms to get a quick change of direction and instant separation from defensive backs for easy touchdowns. He is nuts, right?"

And he ain't the only one.

Actually what was happening was that zookeepers were bringing out their monkeys, to give them a chance to swing on the crossbar, thus creating too many game stoppages. And if you believe that I'll tell you about the real live dolphin that tried out for linebacker in Miami.

• OK, I know I haven't awarded anyone Emailer of the Week yet. Jerry Zezima of Long Island bemoans the loss of sleeves. Guys cut them off, trim them; they create vest, or shieldlike appurtenances out of their jerseys, exposing "hairy armpits," the ends of shoulder pads, and God knows what else. Jerry, the armpits have done it for you. Emailer of the Week, tra la la.

Players always want to remove equipment to lighten themselves. I always thought it looked silly on the college level when they cut off the bottoms of their jerseys, exposing muscular bellies (seems that the fat guys never did it). I mean what if a guy got hit right in the bare belly, whoof! I'm kind of, well, a half-assed traditionalist, as you are, and the Roman gladiator look doesn't seem exactly right to me, either. But I can tell you from experience that in hot weather, heavy sleeves are no one's friend. You sweat and they get heavy and it's no fun hauling those things around.

Jerry is not a fanatic. He suggests a compromise -- jersey sleeves that reach the middle of the upper arm, thus keeping those hairy armpits where they belong, in the, uh, pits.

Big Nate from Chandler, Ariz., asks me (and thank you) about the old vacation. "You always share at least a part of it with us," he says, adding the usual, where'd you go, books you read, top-rated restaurant, best wineries you visited, prisons you avoided, and so forth.

Anacortes and Orcas Island in northern Washington this time, thence to Vancouver Island, BC, spending time in the lively pioneer towns of Tofino, Ucluelet, Cowichan Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Sooke, Sooke Harbor and Victoria. The meal I'll remember when I've forgotten all the others is the Bengal Buffet at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. For fine dining, we gave very high grades to Shelter in Tofino (their signature drink, the Bellini, is modeled after that of the originator, Harry's Bar in Venice, but believe me, this one blows Harry's away), also Pescatores in Victoria (best raw oyster selection ever).

Wineries are still finding their way in this part of the world, but the best selection we had was at Venturi-Schulze in Cobble Hill, north of Victoria. The signature wine is called Brandenburg No. 3, a dark, Madeira-like blend of late harvest Germanic grapes, a dessert wine, with hints of dates and coconut. The name comes from a revelation the co-owner-winemaker, Giordano Venturi, had when he was a boy and heard, for the first time, the great Third Brandenburg concerto by old Johann Sebastian and fainted dead away, being revived only by liberal applications of ancient Apostelwein.

Oh yes, to see for yourself what we saw on this trip, kindly repair to the Redhead's blog.

This was a trip for reading -- a great, hidden masterpiece about World War I, The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning; the new Tobias Wolff short story collection, Our Story Begins; Donna Leon's latest Commissario Brunetti murder mystery in the alleyways of Venezia; a brief stab at Linda's Cougar Annie's Garden, all about an old settler of the western islands of BC (which lasted until the Redhead snatched it back); and of course, there had to be some football books.

I wanted to see what the fuss was about, concerning Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever, Colts-Giants '58. What I found was some real good stuff about Raymond Berry that I never knew, plus 32 factual errors. Yeah, the book was interesting from a historical point of view, but I would have preferred more careful research.

So on that bitter note I leave you, to get ready for my next wailbag column and my next round of accusers.

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