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Mail call: Olympics, memorable innovations, Seahawks RBs, more

OK, let's get into what's important right away. Tony, of San Antonio, opens up all sorts of possibilities when he writes, "You're an old Olympic reporter. What's your impression of the Games so far?"

1) When I die and go to hell, hell will be beach volleyball -- for all eternity.

2) Jason Lezak swam the greatest race I've ever seen, anchoring the 4x100 freestyle. Sometimes you see a kick like that in track, but in swimming, never. To me it was the high moment of the Olympics, but in a lot of the papers it was merely a footnote to Michael Phelps' parade of medals. OK, I'm not totally stupid. Phelps is carving out a piece of history, but jeez, give his buddy a little credit.

3) Once again, the Olympics is a political story, with one of the world's more repressive governments cracking down on the slightest expression of dissent, and America's Olympic Committee Chairman, Peter Ueberroth, turning a blind eye to China's many human rights violations. How well I remember this same mentality, going back to the Smith-Carlos black gloves incident in Mexico City.

OK, enough. I'm getting all worked up again, and I haven't covered a Summer Olympics since Moscow in 1980. You ever been followed by the KGB?

On to serious matters, namely the ball that's struck by the foot:

Here's one from Chris, of Seattle, that he calls a "mind-bender."

"Offensive tackles are the offensive linemen furthest away from the ball, but defensive tackles are the ones closest to the ball on their line. Why is this?"

A long time ago the standard defense was the 7-diamond, seven players lined up opposite their seven offensive counterparts. In the 1930s and '40s, this gave way to the 6-2-2-1, six linemen, in other words. Tackles still played the offensive tackle head up, or maybe to the outside shoulder. There were two defensive guards inside. They were eliminated when the 4-3 came in, and the tackles now had to move inside or there would be a huge hole over the middle. So they became the guards of yesteryear, while the defensive ends became the tackles.

A slightly screwy question, I admit, but it was nothing compared to what's coming now. It's from Dan, from Takoma Park, Md., and I will summarize it for you. ("How about winterizing it?" says the Flaming Redhead, whom I must occasionally remind that one person tells the jokes around here. Got that? One. Uno. Ein. Adin.) What was the question again? Oh yeah, here it is.

"I read about something called the A11 offense in today's Washington Post. It's some crazy system that some California high schools are using, with three down linemen, two QBs and six receivers." OK, let's cut it off right here. Our man, Dan, was not in favor of this alignment, but he does favor innovation, and he wants me to tell some innovation stories, the weirder the better.

Well, there was this one game I saw in Kezar Stadium, when six Hell's Angels came roaring in with this wideout tied to the handlebars of the bike, then they shot him across the... "OH FOR GOD'S SAKE!" hollers F------Red----, still annoyed that I soured her act, 'ANSWER THE GUY'S QUESTION!" OK, Dan. Call off your dog. Everyone had a Muddle Huddle play, quarterback over the center, rest of the offense shifts wide to one side, ball is snapped and all hell breaks loose. Personally, I liked that gimmick the Steelers used to do when Mike Mularkey ran their offense and Kordell Stewart pretended he was getting mad at a wideout and turned toward him, and the the ball was snapped to a back, and everyone yells, "Surprise!" I loved those last drives in my favorite college football game, Boise State vs. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, when Boise coach Chris Petersen called all that stuff when the stakes were highest...hook and ladder, statue of liberty, etc.

Doug Flutie once told me that he was going to write an article called, "Ways To Win That Coaches Never Think Of," and one of his last minute drive ideas was to throw a pass to the kicker, cutting across the field, and then have him stop and dropkick one through. The idea died a couple of years later when the league outlawed kicks while the game was in progress, but Flutie got a chance to dropkick an extra point later on in his career. Once, I was awarded the honor of being allowed to call one play for the Newport Beach High School alumni against the Newport varsity, and I called a long pass off a quarterback kneel at the end of the half. The play was dead when the safetyman began screaming, "Trick! Trick!," but damned if Bill Walsh didn't do the same thing to the Cards, when Jim Hanifan coached them. What made his idea loony was that it was at then end of the game and served no purpose whatsoever, and Hanifan was so mad he chased him off the field, all the way to the locker room.

I remember calling Walsh a couple of days later and asking him what he was thinking of. The time to have done it was at the end of the HALF, not the game itself.

"A poor decision," Walsh said in that scholarly way of his. "Very ill advised."

You know something. I enjoyed this so much, going back through my rapidly fading memory, that I am anointing you, Dan Rothberg, my E-mailer of the Week.

From Charles, of Fairfax, Va.:"Counting chimpanzees, I got the Chinese national anthem at 41 seconds during Friday's opening ceremonies." As Ruth Cohen once said to my buddy, Al Ginepra, "It's a nice try but I'm afraid it won't do." 1) I don't understand the chimp reference. If this is some kind of ethnic thing, I'm ending the conversation right now. 2) Entries sent to me must be recorded on a minimum of two watches and must be signed and verified. 3) You have to be sure the anthem wasn't abbreviated in some way.

Cliff, of Chico, Calif., points out that two Brett Favre backups, Aaron Rodgers on the Packers, and now Brett Ratliff on the Jets, each quarterbacked Butte Community College in Chico. Hey, good one, Cliff. Personally, I can tell you that I already knew Chico was the ...what? County seat, something like that, of Butte County and I'll tell you how a New York City boy like me knows this, and I'd like a little room, please, because a story goes with it.

Somewhere in the mists of yesteryear, like 1959, I was plugging away at my first newspaper job, high school reporter and other things at the Sacramento Bee. The Bee was a great paper on which to break in, but they had some unusual rules. If you were covering a story on the road, north of Sacramento, which was called SupCal, short for Superior California, when you datelined your story you also had to put the county in. So my dateline from your city would read, Chico, Butte Co.

In the Bee office, we used to tell the following joke. A gunman jumps into a cab in downtown Sacramento, sticks his gun in the driver's ribs and says, "Roseville, comma, Placer County."

Ralph, of Herndon, Va., wonders why the NFL doesn't maintain natural rivalries by scheduling them every year. The league is careful not to give an unfair advantage, and that would happen if a traditional rival, outside your division, gets bad (or good) and stays that way for a while. Also, rivalries often change based on recent prosperity. Traditionals such as Redskins-Cowboys, for instance, are relatively new.

Nathan, of Tampa, wants my take on Zach Thomas, who he calls "unfairly discarded." I will push very hard for Zach Thomas when his name eventually comes up for Hall of Fame balloting. A great run stopping LB, great nose for the ball. Good cover skills, too, and always had a tremendous responsibility in the passing game. I'm not sure if the Dolphins got rid of him because they were concerned about his health, or, cynically, if his chance of avoiding injury was not commensurate with his paycheck. I am very nervous about the concussions. I don't want to see anything bad happen to this terrific competitor and wonderful person.

Chris, of Philadelphia, asks for my thoughts on Shawn Andrews and his battles with depression. Will it cause other players who suffer from the same ailment to step forward and talk about it? Psychiatric problems are always very delicate things among professional athletes, especially when there's medication involved. Often the meds will stabilize him, but they'll take away other things, such as the edge in his fast twitch muscles. I don't know whether Andrews is trying to battle his depression without the use of meds. I'm not a doctor, but I'd like to know more about how he is being treated. Sorry if I didn't fully answer your question, but there's too much half knowledge going around about these kind of things.

Tiffaney, of Gresham, Ore., asks, "How do you think the Seahawks' new running game will do this year?" Where does the new part come in? Maurice Morris is a third-down back who can't carry an every-down load. Julius Jones was just OK in Dallas. Everyone always yelled for Marion Barber, for good reason. I don't like T.J.Duckett at all. A 254-pound jumbo who's unreliable in short-yardage situations. So unless there's something I've missed, I'm not too impressed with that cast of characters.

Bruce, of Fort Collins, Colo., which, as he knows, is a long way from Maine, wants to know about John Lynch joining the Patriots. He'll be 37 in September. He's an injury risk. The Pats already have that type of player, Rodney Harrison. I don't understand this move, but a lot of New England's most successful moves have been head-scratchers. And thank you very much for the nice sentiments about my work.

From Jon-Luc, of Boston: "Who, in your opinion, is the greatest blocking fullback of all time?" Pass blocking? Marion Motley. Blocking for the run? Now I've got to sit down and think this through. I just know that whomever I come up with, I'll think of five better ones as soon as this column is filed. Let's see ... I'm stalling now ... how about Rocky Bleier of the Steelers? Listed as a halfback, but he was more of a fullback and Franco the halfback. Wait. Maybe I can do better. Pat Harder of the old Chicago Cards was a real thumper. There was a pure blocking back in the old N.Y. Yanks' single wing named Lloyd Cheatham who we cheered for like crazy. The young Norm Standlee on the Bears was something special. Lorenzo Neal and Tony Richardson are good modern era guys ... good, not great. Walt Garrison on the great Cowboys teams would knock your jock off. Ah, memories. Sorry, can't come up with just one.

Z.E., of Bountiful, Utah, recites the sad litany of the 49ers' Alex Smith. New coordinator every year, new system, never really a tip-top line in front of him, so-so receivers. Z.E.'s last line made me very sad: "How long before the 49ers or the league, for that matter, close the book on him?" I don't know, but he'll have to be a very strong person to bear up under all this. Such an unfortunate thing, the way outstanding talent can get chewed up in the wrong system. I'm thinking of David Carr in Houston now. It happened to Jim Plunkett early in his career, too. The Raiders though, had the good sense to sit him down for a year and let him get himself together. Then he came back and was Super Bowl MVP. I wish the same for Smith.

Michael, of L.A., wonders whether or not Favre's off-again, on-again uncertainty about his career through these last few years might translate to a certain uncertainty during games and might lead to some pf the weirder picks he's thrown. Yes. I think you're onto something. Maybe not so much uncertainly, more of an impatience. Honestly, at times he has looked like he just wanted to get off the field one way or another. Then again, there's an age factor and the way people tend to wear down during games.

Wine question from Dileep of L.A., again. Nothing definitive from me on Brown Estate's Cab except that it's expensive, and I'm totally blank on Elizabeth Spencer. I'm sorry but there are so many boutique wineries springing up these days that your faithful narrator is overwhelmed. Good California reds for laying down for a few years? How about Dick Vermeil's Over the Edge Charbono, a rare and beautiful grape, not very well known. Look for the '05 vintage.

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