Waving white flag: Draft e-mailers pummel narrator into submission

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I've made some pretty good calls -- I mean, I knew Lofa Tatupu was the goods right away -- and some spectacular errors, one of which ESPN can't get its fill of re-running.

You know the one. "Dan Marino's mechanics are all wrong -- he pushes the ball." Some day, maybe around the time when global warming has the seas boiling over, ESPN will move to some other form of torment. Nope, I don't mind handicapping a game or two, but calling the shots on these bozos before they've even reported to an NFL training camp is the pits.

So take your shots now, folks, while you still can, because I promise you, in the future there will only be a vision of me as a fleeting creature of the night.

• First up, Brendon of East Lyme, Conn. Loves my writing and all that, but can't see why I'm so critical of the Chiefs' mah-va-lous draft, just because it didn't contain a QB. All were taken, he says. Who would I have picked that's better than Brodie Croyle? And the rest of it.

OK, I don't know how much they liked Henne, Brohm and Flacco. Maybe not at all and therefore this is all academic. But with 12 draft choices, including three, count 'em, in the third round, they could have traded up for a young, strong arm, such as Henne, once again assuming they thought he had any kind of shot. Not Flacco, though. Ozzie Newsome had a bead on him. Check back with me in December. If Croyle has lit it up, then I'm just another dumb writer. If not, then I'm smart.

• Brian of Goffstown, N.H., was unhappy that the Patriots did not take an offensive lineman higher than the fifth round. "The Patriots' O-line looked old and tired in the Super Bowl," he adds. Tired, maybe. Lots of teams look tired in January, and let's give the Giants credit for bringing serious pressure. But old? From left to right, their Super Bowl line read 29, 25, 28, 31, 28, and for that unit, it's young. The Patriots drove and took the lead at the end, New York came back and nipped 'em. I can't blame NE for thinking defense.

• Chris of Houston begins his litany of my past failures with that deadly phrase, "Aren't you the same one who...?" OK, I'll be brief -- I gave them a pair of D's in '06 and '07 (but not this year because we've done away with the dreaded letter grades). Ripped them again, this time for their O-line choice, forgetting that Alex Gibbs thrives on coaching these lighter, athletic types. And his summation, which really must be considered: "Do you really know anything of which you speak? It's embarrassing."

I'll give you this -- I might have been too hasty in judging top draft pick, OT Duane Brown. The rest of the board doesn't thrill me. Do me a favor. Check back in December, and let's see how the year goes. If the record is about the same, or worse, you don't need to respond. If there's a real boost, and the rookie class has a big hand in it, remind me in an e-mail and I'll do the full mea culpa number for you, OK? Better take it, you're not gonna get a better deal anywhere.

• Next ripper, step right up, don't be bashful. Preston of St. Louis, "Have you ever seen Derrick Harvey or Quentin Groves play football?" was the way he begins, and down near the end he says, "I repeat, have you ever seen these guys play ball?" Now why would I be doing a silly thing like watching football when there are so many more interesting things to do in the fall.

Sorry you don't like what I wrote. I'm quoting from my piece in Sports Illustrated now, under the heading of Drafting For Need, And What's Wrong With That? "To beat the Colts, you have to get at Peyton Manning. The first two picks went for edge rushers, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, though trading up 18 spots to No. 8, for Harvey, was a bit of a reach." I wish to sincerely apologize, Preston, if this offended you. In the future, I will try to be more considerate of your feelings.

• OK, have you finished? No? You over there, lounging in the doorway, let's hear what you have to say for yourself. "How can you, staunch defender of men in the trenches that you are," writes David of Denver, "rip the Broncos for Ryan Clady? How can you not root for little 5-foot-9 Eddie Royal?" There's more. I'm going the "T.O.-attitude" route by praising the Iggles for DeSean Jackson, and...

Again, I'll indulge in a practice that's always bothered me, quoting myself, and I swear, this is the last time I'll do it. My capsule on Denver on our Web site: "Mike Shanahan feels that establishing the run (tackle Ryan Clady drafted first) is more important than stopping it, which the Broncos couldn't do last year, and far be it from me to second guess him..." My goodness, I don't blame you for being upset. What venom, what poison I made all you good folk read. For shame...shame!

Yo Dave! The Olympic flame is on its way to China, and what will they call the guy who has to transport it down the Yangtsee River? The Chinese Water Torcher. I made that one up myself.

"It reads like it," says the Flaming Redhead. Now I'm in a bad mood again.

• OK, bring on your worst, Dominic, I can take anything today. Oh oh, except for that pair I see heading this way. Fric and Frac. What'll it be, boys? "Dr. Z, I think you're just about the smartest guy there is writing about professional football," and the card he handed me had the four of hearts on one side, and his name, Win of Arlington, Va., on the other.

OK, so far so good. How about you, yeah you, with the porkpie hat and the toothpick between your teeth. Your name is what? Ryan of Chicago. OK, let's hear it.

"Why are you such an idiot?"

A fair question. You see, when my mother was eight months pregnant, there was this electrical storm, and...

"Oh, for God's sake, it's not a question to be answered," says the Flaming Redhead, rudely interrupting this elevating dialogue. "It's rhetorical, see, rhe-tor-i-cal."

Oh, an idiot, huh? Think that's funny, do you, Ryan? Who you calling an idiot? Do you know that in grade school I was so smart they called me Bright Paul? Huh? Do you? DO YOU?

• OK, Linda, I'll move on. Who's the next reader to misinterpret my remarks. I see Scott of Minneapolis holding up his hand. Yes sir, what's up?

"Regarding Caleb Campbell, so you're saying it's OK for someone else to go to Iraq in his place so Caleb can ride a bench in the NFL? My son should go so Caleb can be point man in the kickoff wedge? Why doesn't he just head for Canada. Oh wait, no need, HE PLAYS FOOTBALL!"

Congratulations, Scott, you hit it right on the nose. Here's what I wrote. "The deal is that if he catches on in an NFL camp, he doesn't have to report to active service, which most likely includes Iraq. Tell me, please, the coach who would be evil enough to cut him?"

"I thought you weren't going to quote yourself anymore?" my loyal wife reminds me. Just this one time, OK? Once, when I was starting out in this business, I was told by an old timer, "Two topics you don't mess with. Religion and the military." And I messed with the military, made a kind of joke of it, played it light, and look what happened. Scott, a taxpayer and solid citizen, is sacrificing his hypothetical son (they're the worst kind) so Caleb can bust wedges on Sunday. I can't begin to tell you how ashamed I am. So I won't.

• Dominic, my new selector of e-mail entries, you really have outdone yourself in your attempt to drive SI.com's faithful narrator insane. I need one more to push me over the edge, and you've found it. Leroy of Olpe, Kansas. I should have known it would be him. I dreamed about him the other night. He points out that the Rams' second-round draft pick, WR Donnie Avery, is big, fast, lateral, horizontal, clean, loyal, diligent and brave, even if (expletives deleted, which is a shame because I was looking forward to them) people like you and the Mel Kipers of the world.... OK, OK, I get the point. We'll see. Check it out in December and get back to me. My private phone number is tacked to a tree in the Olpe town square, right across from the Courthouse for Horrendous Crimes.

• You know something, I think that does it. Dominic's Gallery of Rippers has departed, seeking new tortures, and calm has returned. Brock of Apalachicola, Fla., wonders whether or not the Dolphins made a mistake in not going for DBs. Oh, I don't know. They had five of them on injured reserve last year. I guess they feel that enough will be coming back to fill their hand. And I thought CB Will Allen had a hell of a year.

• Not exactly a draft question, but Steve of Naperville, Ill., read that if Chris Long might have wound up a Raider, it would have angered his dad, Howie. Why? This is deep, and very little of it has come out. To put it in its simplest form, Al Davis said at one time that he felt that Howie retired a few years too early. The problem is that Howie's body was pretty well shot when he packed it in, and he always resented that statement. Even now, he's looking at extensive corrective surgery to get his shoulder right, his back, and God knows what else. Why is it so bad? Because he spent a whole career facing the meat grinder. He played left end, the power side, in the base defense, and he'd drop down inside at other times. Not once did he ever get to put on a wide rush from the open side, as Greg Townsend did. Howie, coming off the edge at RDE, would have raised all kinds of hell, but he never got the chance to find out.

• John W. of Red Bank, N.J., says he kept reading about how the Giants liked to "draft size and speed." Doesn't everybody? Yeah, but sometimes you can go overboard on the numbers. The Giants have had some fast guys, and their oversized running back, Brandon Jacobs, creates the impression that they're in love with big guys. Actually they look pretty normal to me.

"Why so many haters of the Bears' draft?" asks Travis of Genoa, Ill. Let's see what I wrote (here we go again). Hmmm, I wrote, "I absolutely hate their draft." Just kidding. I felt that they didn't address their primary needs. But we make some of our biggest mistakes criticizing teams for not drafting for what we feel are their needs.

• From Chris of Palmyra, Pa. "Something I don't understand. Why does the NFL put so much emphasis on 40 times when the players aren't even wearing equipment? Wouldn't it make more sense to have them run the 40 in full gear?" It probably would, but I don't think you could get them to do it. They're always trying to lighten themselves. And that pro day doesn't make sense either, running on souped up tracks. This is just my opinion, but when they get into the range of the 4.4's and 4.3's, it becomes kind of a blur. I think what they're looking for is guys who come up unforeseeably SLOW in the 40.

• You know something? I think we've finally broken free from draft questions. And I feel like kissing the ground, like a coal miner who finally lands a job topside. Greg of Atlanta wants to know how I prepare for the draft and all the junk, I mean the analysis, that I provide. I try to call at least one person from each team with a pick in the first round. Some I know will never return my phone call, such as Jerry Angelo, the Bears' GM. Not sure why. Guess he doesn't like me, can you imagine? I talk to the agents who don't lie too outrageously, scouts on different teams who will pass along scuttlebutt. I once kept track of how many phone calls I made during the week leading up to the piece I had to write. I think it came to 355 (are you paying attention, T&E, when my expense report comes in?) Thanks for the nice words, Greg.

• Ike of Richmond liked my Vermeil wine piece (thanks) and wants to know how he, as a 21-year old, can get to learn something about wines. Here's the best way. Find a few people who share your love of wine. Get them together for regular tastings, each one to be plugged into a certain theme, the narrower the better. For instance -- German wines, Kabinett level and higher, of the 2005 vintage. Or maybe California Syrahs of the last two years.

If you're the organizer, you'll have to be the recorder as well. Have them tell you, in advance, what wine, or two if they can afford it, they'll be bringing, and check them off against a master sheet, so two people won't bring the same thing. If you do it right, and you can find a store or stores with wide varieties, and if you round up, say, 10 people, then you'll have a tasting of 10 or 20 wines of the same variety, and you've got a real event going.

Make sure everyone takes notes. Try to train yourself to spit the wines, rather than swallowing each one. There are no taste buds in your throat, and afterward you can socialize and drink a glass or two. Discuss the wines. Write down the various comments. Now you're into record keeping, and you'd be surprised at how valuable all this will be in the future, especially when you're reading all the bullsh....uh, all the hokum fed to you by the various experts.

• Lance of Norcross, Ga., wants to know what I would do as a GM. How I would handle the draft and salary cap, what kind of owner I'd want to deal with, how I'd....whoa there, podnah. I am an outsider and always will remain so until someone in the NFL wants to take me into his strictest confidence and confide in me the secrets of the universe. The best mistake writers can make is to assume we have more inside knowledge than we do. I found this out the hard way in my younger days, when I was trying to show off and got put in my place -- hard!

• I'm saving my e-mailer of the week for last. Mikil Taylor of Nashville. It's not that his question is so wonderful, it's just that he touches such a nostalgic chord from my own humble background. He wants to know how and why football originally came up with 11 men per team. But what got me was his statement that, "I was putting off studying for final exams last night and wondering exactly why..." and then he gets into his questions about history.

Oh man, does this bring back memories. Midnight, and exams loom for the following day, and all of a sudden I've got to try to fix the clock that's been broken for two years. Or compile a list of every state I've been in, and how I rate them. Mikil, do your parents know that right now instead of cramming in the knowledge, you're pestering some unbalanced writer about the number of men on a team?

OK, brother, I feel for you. Let's get this out of the way quickly. In the murky past they played a brutal game called Mob Football, which could have any number of participants. Early American football was played with 15 on a side, rugby style, and then in 1878, Walter Camp, at a meeting of the Intercollegiate Football Association, proposed trimming the number to 11, to speed things up. He was turned down, but two years later the idea went through. And there the number stayed. Now get back to studying for those exams, or I'm going to feel guilty all week.