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NFL's best tackling team, why I still use a VCR and more from Z-mailers

I have a problem. It concerns the E-mailer of the Week award that I have set up to honor those questioners who are particularly astute or perceptive or witty or, in some cases, brutally critical, for good reason. But what about the puff? Oh, it's good for the old ego, but I know that if I read some bloke issuing awards to people who merely liked him, I'd roll my eyes and... but wait. I can bounce this thought over to someone who never has lied to me or tried to inflate neither an ego nor a tire.

Linda, what kind of E-mailers of the Week do you prefer?

"Honest ones. Those who mention that you tend to repeat yourself, and use analogies half a hundred years old, and lose track of things, and..."

OK, that'll do. Thank you, honey. Our E-mailer of the Week is Anand Kelkar of Kokomo, Ind., who says he is relocating to India and would I make sure, since he counts on me for information, not to:

-- Die-- Go completely crazy ("any more than you already are")-- Join ESPN as a TV guy

Well, that's two weeks in a row that sentiment has guided my choice of an award winner, and that will be the end of it, I promise. But first I must mention to my kind Kokomokian (Kokomoker?) that I was an ESPN guy once upon a time. For a number of years I was at the anchor desk at the NFL draft. What sunk me, in the late '80s (and I'm SURE I've mentioned this at least three or four times ...I guess Linda was right...oh, what the hell) was the seemingly innocent question: What will the player of the 1990s be like?

"Bigger, faster, stronger," etc., said Chris Berman, a sentiment echoed by Joe Theismann. But Dr. Z? Oh no, I had to be different. You know, colorful. So I said, "The player of the '90s will be so sophisticated that he'll be able to pass any drug test they come up with." The sentiment behind that came from a talk I once had with the East German track coach, who told me that the drug labs in Leipzig were "so far ahead of the IOC that they'll never catch up." You know, I was going to say that the masking agents were ahead of the tests... all very educated and so forth. I was waiting for someone to get back to me so I could explain it, but that never happened.

Chris looked horrified and said, "I'm not touching that one." Ditto Joe T. Then they went to commercial. And the switchboard lit up. And when we came back, I was off the set, and an ex-employee of ESPN. And I swear to you, your honor, that's just the way it happened.

• My innocent reference to the method I use to tape and watch my games has produced roars of laughter from the tech-set. A VCR and tapes. I guess that's funny, but not to me. "VCR's? My God, Grandpa, do you take the Iron Horse into town, too?" writes Peter from Napa, who concludes, "I'll let you go because it might be getting dark and you strain your eyes when you have to read by kerosene lamp."

Kerosene? What's that? Is that what the candle is made of?

"You are still using VCR's and cassette tapes? Wow," writes Ed of Jacksonville.

Wow yourself, Ed. Bow wow! Woo!

James of Friday Harbor, Wash., wants me to get some digital equipment, so "the amount of time you'll save in rewinding to a good play will give you more quality time for food, wine and the Flaming Redhead."

Flamboyante is doing just fine, thank you. She makes me a nice Costco prime sirloin Sunday night, after she's changed over to the late games, while I'm out seeing something live. The whole operation runs like a military precision drill team.

Brian of Philly actually is trying to help, presenting what he believes I'll understand about the magic of Tivo (Wasn't that the guy who ran Yugoslavia for a while?).

OK, everybody, I'll tell you how it is. Steve Sabol of NFL Films got me in contact with a guy who set up a complete system for him, a wonderful thing in his life, "and I was as dumb about it, at first, as you are," he added. I resent that. Nobody's as dumb as I am. So I phoned the gentleman and he explained how the system would work and how easy it would be for him to set it up, etc. And it was like bouncing a handball off a wall. That's the impression it made. Then he tried again, and still again. The penny never dropped. He said I could contact him when I was ready and that was the end of it.

Some people, you see, just don't have minds that work that way. Linda still tells the story about how I poured water, in lieu of oil, into the crank case of the car and cracked the block (is that the right word?) and there was a big WHACK! and we were two and a half grand poorer.

When I was in the army, they taught us, in basic training, how to break our rifle down into little pieces, and clean the thing and put it back together again. Barely literate country boys needed one brief lesson and they were pros at it. Your faithful narrator? Well, I got to the point where I could do it. But I had to do it every day. If I missed a single day I was sunk. The whole thing would whizz out of my mind. And I could only do it on the same portion of my bunk, with the same background, and any noise or other distractions would throw me for a loop and I'd have to go through the whole thing again.

Ditto with Tivo or any other miraculous bit of digital equipment. My brain just doesn't work that way. But I can quote lines from movies half a century old, and memorize rhymes I learned to match classical musical themes, in grade school, and rattle off the names of Napoleon's marshals or the 20 wine growing regions of Italy. Granted, I specialize in the useless over the useful, but that's just the way it is.

Tivo?Heave ho!DVD?Not for me.VCR,Is by farWhere I are.

• The Broncos' poor tackling Monday night has produced a veritable beehive of questions in the e-mail of Nick of Charlotte. Best tackling team in the NFL? (Steelers). Is tackling a result of good players or good coaching? (Both, but not being ashamed to go back to basic drills helps). I guess that's it. Not exactly a beehive. More of a mothhive.

• From John of Harrisburg: "If the Patriots miss the playoffs, say go 8-8, could Tom Brady get some MVP votes?" Yes, but from places where they don't let them use sharp objects to vote with.

Jim, a PhD from Dickerson, N.D., wants to know who the real geniuses are in the NFL, the ones who appreciate grate buks and fein whine and stuf. Also, who the dummies are. Yeah, right, I'm going to start making dumb-dumb lists. Just my style. Players of a literary bent, and I assume that's what you mean? Well, Tim Green, the old Atlanta defensive end, wrote a murder mystery. Pete Gent is a best-selling author...North Dallas Forty, etc. Mark Bavaro, ex-Giant tight end, has just come out with a novel called Rough & Tumble. Gary Fencik, former Bears free safety, was a lit major at Yale. I used to get on him about the failed rhyme scheme in the Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle.

"We ain't here to cause no trouble... we're just doing the Super Bowl shuffle." As a guy with a minor in poetry, how could he have let that go through? Trouble? Shuffle? Such an easy fix... "We ain't here to cause no scuffle," etc. It got to the point where, whenever he would see me coming his eyes would whiten and he'd shy like a horse and head in an opposite direction.

Donald of Mena, Ark., wants me to recommend a Syrah or Cabernet under 40 bucks. Then he would like my opinion of the best team in the last 25 years. I'm going to cheat on both questions. Go and find a 2005 Charbono from On The Edge Winery, which, as you might know, is Dick Vermeil's place. This is a rare and exotic wine that costs about $25.

There are only 14 Charbono makers in the world, and 12 of them were represented at our Wine Media Guild luncheon a few months ago. Dick was there and lectured about his 2005, which was judged the best in show. Now it's not going to be easy to find. You might have to write to the winery, which is in Calistoga. Address it to Paul Smith and say that the doc told you to lean on him.

Best team? I'm stepping out of your 25-year limit and going back 32 years, to the 1976 Steelers that did NOT win a Super Bowl.

John of Newark would like my thoughts on the Hall of Fame guard, Gene Hickerson, who just died. In the early '60's, maybe '62 or '63, my paper sent me to Yankee Stadium to do a sidebar to run with Joe King's Giants-Browns story. Usually that meant covering the opposing team's dressing room, which I did. The Browns had beaten the Giants on a big day by Jim Brown, and when I got into the locker he was standing on a bench, holding forth, while all the peons clustered below, hanging on his every word.

Screw this, I said, and headed for the offensive linemen. Got them all to myself...Hickerson, Wooton, Schafrath, etc. And they were great guys, really colorful talkers. People just didn't talk to offensive linemen in those days. I remember Hickerson had a wound in the middle of his forehead that looked like a bullet hole. I couldn't take my eyes off it.

I even remember the headline the World-Telegram put on my story: "Don't Forget Those Toughies Who Clear the Way for Jimmy Brown." That was Hickerson, a toughie who cleared the way.

John of Arcadia, Calif., can't see a reason behind the grounding rule. Image. Doesn't look good to have too many passes deliberately grounded. You'll notice that it's seldom called when a guy throws the ball way into the stands. As far as your hope that a grounding call would be missed once in a while, forget it. That's one infraction they seem to have down cold.

• Oooh, dark suspicions from Matt of Milo, Maine. Crummy defense by Scott Linehan's coordinator, Jim Haslett, but then, when Has takes over, the unit miraculously improves. Could he have built a tunnel under poor Linehan, thus getting the job? What can I say? If I knew it for sure, I would have written it by now. Or someone else would have. I've known Haslett since his playing days in Buffalo. Always seemed like a decent guy to me. It's a pretty nasty thing you're speculating about.

AJ of North Fork, N.Y., says he would defense the Wildcat by putting a linebacker on the flanked quarterback and have him treat him as a blocker and plow into him at the snap. Not a bad tactical idea, but even a quarterback, if his whole function was to keep the searchlights going and avoid trouble, would, I believe, be able to get out of the way. But when they go waltzing downfield and throw one of their half-assed blocks, I have to wonder why the defense is being so nice to them.

• From Jim of West Lafayette, Ind. What's the advantage of double-tight end over two-back formation? Depends on the personnel. If you have a pass catcher, such as the Broncos' Tony Scheffler, as your second tight, then, obviously, you have another receiver to go out in the pattern. And he'll be in a better position to get downfield than the fullback will. I like it when the second TE is a great big guy, giving the offense almost another lineman for run blocking or max protecting for the pass. Examples -- Brandon Manumaleuna of the Chargers, Jason Dunn, who used to play for the Chiefs, Jim Kleinsasser of the Vikings, when he was younger and healthier. Bill Walsh never liked the two-tight end formation. He preferred the better blocking angles afforded a fullback.

• From Gary of St. Louis. "Don't you find it a little unsettling that people take your rankings seriously enough to write you hateful e-mails?"

Who wants to be settled?

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