Taking the bullet
Step forward, Chuck Turley of Lewiston, Idaho, because you're our E-mailer of the Week. And you know why, too. It was part three of your three-parter, of course. They were all good questions, though, in their own way.
Part one: Why couldn't they have given the MVP award to the Patriots' offensive line instead of to Tom Brady? For the simple reason that quarterbacks always get the awards and linemen's work goes unnoticed. I didn't see one Super Bowl story that mentioned the Patriots' O-line.
Part two: Nudity in the NFL, and now we're getting somewhere. Who was the player who mooned the camera, while in the background of a locker room interview, in the 1960's? Actually it wasn't a player, it was Squash Viglione, the 350-pound beat writer for the Bergen Evening Record in New Jersey. Just kidding. I vaguely remember the incident, but not the player.
Part three: "Forget Janet Jackson; I'd much rather see a photo of the mysterious Flaming Redhead without sunglasses!" Mysterious? There's nothing mysterious about her except, of course, for the fact that she was born in a tree and raised by birds. No, just kidding ... OK, honey, I'll let you answer this one. Here's Linda's reply: "Nobody's seen me without sunglasses. After a lifetime in the bright sunlight of Phoenix, I can't see without them. I am told, though, that my eyes were blue at one time."
Mark of Baton Rouge, La. worked with CBS-TV's Gus Johnson and Brent Jones and wants to know when my Commentator Awards column is coming out. So does Kevin of Hannibal, Mo., pointing out that it's later this year than it was in '03. Very sorry, fellas, but the networks, especially CBS, have complained that the column is not in keeping with proper family values, so it will no longer run. Moving on to our Levitra commercial, we find that ... OK, OK, check back Tuesday for the Commentator column.
Hall of Fame residue: Frank, a Cowboys fan from Memphis, Tenn. thinks it's a sad commentary that more Vikings players (four) than Cowboys (three) from the late '60s, early '70s -- a golden age for both teams -- in the Hall, although Minnesota won no titles. You can thank Tex Schramm for that. That old "America's Team" arrogance still burns deeply, and what better way to get even with the organization than to deny its former players enshrinement? Personally, I spoke on behalf of both Bob Hayes and Cliff Harris at the selection meeting the day before the Super Bowl. I voted for Rayfield Wright. In the past I've spoken for Lee Roy Jordan, and I've always felt that Chuck Howley, one of the greatest open-side linebackers who ever lived, certainly deserved enshrinement. Unlike you, I've never been a Cowboys fan. And thank you for the nice things you wrote about my work.
Raul of Houston is particularly upset, as I am, about Hayes' rejection. In answer to the argument that Hayes' postseason numbers were unimpressive, he suggests a look at Barry Sanders' playoff record, which was dismal. Yet it was the entire body of work that was considered in Sanders' case. What can I say? I agree with everything you dislike, including a lingering anti-Cowboys bias ... and the cloak of anonymity that surrounds the voting ... and the fact that voters come forward in other sports but not in football. I wouldn't mind at all if the ballots became public. But that's the NFL's way. Everything is hush-hush. You can't even talk to an NFL game official, as you can in other sports.
Larry of Danbury, Conn., is heartbroken about still another rejection for Harry Carson, the fine Giants' linebacker. Harry, one of history's great goal-line and short-yardage LBs, deserves to make it, but there simply wasn't room this year. Management cut the maximum allowable from seven to six. So you had the two seniors, Hayes and Bob Brown, whom I feel should have gone in. You had Sanders and Elway, who were slam dunks. That leaves Harris and Wright and Carson and Bob Kuechenberg to fight for two spots, plus Carl Eller, whom I didn't vote for but who got in. If the number had remained seven, Harry might have had a chance. As far as him not wanting to appear on the ballot again, that's the voice of deep disappointment speaking. Jimmy Johnson, the cornerback, the great J.J., said the same thing when he was rejected in the late '80s, but when he finally made it, all was forgiven.
Nathan of Indianapolis is anti-Senior. "Their stats haven't changed over time, so why should the Seniors get a second shot?" he reasons. "They weren't good enough 20 years ago, why are they all of a sudden good enough now?" Because people slip through the cracks. That became very clear to me when I first became involved in the Seniors Selection meetings. Benny Friedman was the first great passer. He had a tremendous impact on the game. He came close for years, but was always bumped in favor of others. Clark Shaughnessy, one of the real creative minds in the league's history, father of the modern T-formation with man in motion, never even was considered, at least not while I've been aboard. I'd argue myself blue in the face on his behalf. Your criticism surfaced regarding Bob Brown, the Seniors candidate who made it. I pointed out that he wasn't personally well liked by some players, especially by George Blanda, his teammate on the Raiders when Brown was at the end of the line. Blanda's comment that the big tackle played hard only when he felt like it followed Brown through the years and poisoned the well time and again. It's a sad fact that in an arena such as this, one negative comment will counteract a dozen positive ones.
From Ciaran of Praha, Czech Republic: If the Panthers' defense wore out from so many snaps, why didn't the Patriots' offense? Oh, the offensive guys got tired, too. Very tired. All the linemen told me that. But it's still more tiring to play defense than offense because of the nervous energy expended. An offensive lineman away from the play can kind of relax a bit, the defense never can. It's easier for a receiver to run forward than it is for a DB to turn and sprint after him. Thanks for your kind words and your hope that I become the first writer in the Hall of Fame. Actually I'm in it, along with a few dozen others, in a special writers section.
Tony of Davidsonville, Md., and Eric of Oakland, Calif., have picked up on the mistake the Panthers made in calling an instant time out with 1:43 left, thereby giving the Patriots too much time. How many times have I written this? Every team should have a regular clock specialist, a clockologist, to relieve the coach from clock decisions during the course of a contest. There's just too much madness taking place on the floor of the arena for the coach to be fully on top of everything at all times.
Follow-up from Tony: He feels that Brady, as good as he is, might be getting over-hyped. That's always the way, isn't it? Over-praise, then, when they falter, over-punish. Heat without light. Thanks for the nice things you said, T.D.
More Brady. Mike of Sutton, Mass., in discussing the Brady-Montana comparison, points out that Brady hasn't had a Jerry Rice to throw to. How many quarterbacks have? I think his cast of catchers is pretty good ... Brown and Givens and Branch and Fauria and Faulk and now Graham. I'd mention Centers, too, but he was basically a non-factor in their offense.
Media Day question from Shawn of Fayetteville, N.C.: "What is your solution on how to prevent this circus in the future?" Birth control. Most of these people never should have been born in the first place.
Sean of Dublin, Ireland, doesn't care for the idea that the Patriots awarded the Panthers a gift three points with that God-awful squib kick at the end of the first half. He wants to know why more hasn't been made of it. Two reasons: The first is that postgame coverage is all hoo-ha and the wonder of it all and how great thou art, without much attention paid to the strategic nuances of the contest. The second is that things that happen in the first half of a big game tend to get lost. Most stories are written on deadline, and it is only at midnight, when the writer is driving home, exhausted, that he remembers, "Gee, maybe I should have mentioned that squib kick."
Troy of Washington, anticipating that this Super Bowl might be ranked No. 1 of all time, possibly by me (you don't have to worry about that, Troy. i'll try to put a rating on it when I've had more time to reflect), has his own favorite contest, Denver-Green Bay in '98. I liked that one, too. Everybody has his or her own No.1. Jets-Colts was the most significant one I ever covered, but for no particular reason except that it happened to reach me on a deeper level, I always liked Steelers-Rams, 1980.
Jim of Storrs, Conn, home of the Huskies, feels that in addition to costing the Panthers yardage, John Kasay's out-of-bounds kickoff gave New England valuable extra time. How much time? Five seconds? Six? I don't really feel it's that big a deal.
Aaron of Atlanta feels that against a secondary that likes to muscle the receivers and play a bump coverage, you should go deep often and early, and it took Carolina a while to figure this out. The Patriots were physical with the Rams receivers two years ago and the Colts receivers in the championship game this season, but against the Panthers they didn't play all that much bump and they weren't roughing them up, or re-routing them, as they call it, as much as they were dropping a lot of people back and trying to confuse Jake Delhomme. And for a while they did, witness his opening 1 for 9. Then the Panthers just said "the hell with it, we'll go deep no matter what they're doing," and Delhomme was effective at it.
Footing seemed bad in the second half, probably because of the halftime extravagizzard, says George of New Brunswick, N.J. Hmmm, interesting. Why didn't I notice that? I'll ask some people by the by and mention it in a subsequent column. George further points out that Kasay's out-of-bounds kickoff was so wildly off the mark that his plant foot must have slipped. You know, I did actually check that plant foot in the locker room. And a curious thing it was, too. Ferns and weeds and a ficus or two growing out of it. I immediately called a botanist. (That latter bit of nonsense is to cover for the fact that I didn't notice it and am embarrassed that I didn't).
Part two: Could I recommend some widely available and inexpensive wines? I owe you one, George, so I'll get serious about a couple that we've enjoyed recently. Syrage, 2001, by Maramonte, a cabernet-syrah blend produced at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. It'll cost you $12, full retail mark-up. Big, forward cherry-chocolate flavor. I don't know how many stores in your area carry it, but if they don't, tell them that Winebow is the distributor, and they ought to be able to get some through them. If you want to spend a bit more money ($18, full mark-up, but cheaper on the shelves) try the 2002 Cline Cellars of Sonoma Ancient Vines Mourvedre, a Rhone Valley blending grape. First night in Houston, right off the plane, we ate at the hotel restaurant, which we don't like to do, but we were tired. Typical over-priced wine list, but this Cline Mourvedre was the third-cheapest on the list, at $37, and it was just a knock 'em-dead wine, with all sorts of violet-exotics. It made us feel very smug and superior to enjoy our cheapie while everyone else was knocking down their $75 cabernets. Finally, in the next few weeks I'll be buying some Baron Herzog Zanfandel and Cabernet (about $10 each), kosher for Passover, if that doesn't scare you. Everybody seems to enjoy them, including me. So does all this cover for my copping out on your footing question? Please let me know how you enjoy these wines, and mark your entry WINE RESPONSE, so Jimmy will let it through. Thanks, incidentally, for the kind words.
Steve of Houston is wintering in Moscow, and I'm afraid that I have no sympathy because it's been, on the average, 15 degrees warmer there than in Morris County, N.J. You don't believe me? Well, Napoleon braved a winter invasion of Russia but never dared take on Parsippany or Whippany or even Morris Plains. Being a loyal Houstonian, he wants to know what kind of a job his town did hosting the Super Bowl. People seemed to have a good time. Early in the week, the Redhead met up with a casual acquaintance and was taken on a nice tour of the city. "Everyone's really friendly here," she reported. That was early in the week. Toward the weekend it turned into Party Central -- which I guess everyone loves -- so it was tough to get around. The brand new press hotel, for instance, the Hilton Americas, was completely overrun and could barely handle the waves of humanity, and it was not a pleasant place to be. Is that Houston's fault? I guess it's just mine for being old and grumpy. I never really heard any serious complaints.
How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished!
Mark of Worcester, Mass., last week's E-mailer of the Week, largely on the strength and validity of his rips, now holds out the olive branch, which this side gracefully accepts. That's about all there is to say, other than Linda and I were touched by your sentiments and really appreciated your taking the time and trouble to write them.