My politics, my personality, even my religion have been ripped in this latest collection of howdy do's. I'll give voice to the first two, but please accept my apologies, Holy Joe. We're keeping you mute today.
On a calmer note, Jay (no city given ... hmmm, sounds like Jersey City to me), is my mysterious E-mailer of the Week this trip because of his careful analysis of my comparison of QB's 20 years apart. Although we disagree, I will give full voice (baritone) to his points of disagreement. Basically, he thinks I was unfair to the current generation. His points, and my replies, as we prepared for the Biden-Palin, two-out-of-three falls, Brazilian chainsaw death match:
1) In 1988, the L.T. syndrome, i.e., the quick, edge-rushing LB, had not been fully exploited, whereas today we have Shawne Merriman, Adalius Thomas, Joey Porter, Terrell Suggs, DeMarcus Ware, et al. In other words, QBs didn't have to face the edge pressure they do now.
One question of my own. How many of today's pass rushers do you see as Hall of Fame candidates? In 1988, a quarterback faced the outside rushes of at least four future Hall of Famers: Howie Long, Andre Tippett, Reggie White and, of course, Lawrence Taylor, with another pass rusher, Bruce Smith, a sure bet to make it one of these years and a few more (Richard Dent, Kevin Greene, Chris Doleman and Clay Matthews) all having been mentioned for consideration.
This was LT's eighth year in the league and his unique value was fully appreciated, and LT clones were springing up all over the place, i.e., linebackers who rushed from the edge. In addition to those named, you had Charles Haley, Cornelius Bennett, Tim Harris, Mike Cofer, Rickey Jackson, Freddy Joe Nunn.
What? A reach, you say? The Cards' Freddy Joe was a demon coming around the corner. He had 14 sacks in '88. Do you know how many sackers topped that mark last year? Two. Oh yes, here are some more outside rushers the 1988 pack of QB's had to face, DE's this time: Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Bubba Baker, Greg Townsend, Mark Gastineau, one of the best pure rushers who ever lived. Had enough? I've got some more up my sleeve, if you want to pursue this argument.
2) Improvements in nutrition and training produce healthier specimens now, particularly pass rushers.
Anything physically wrong with the 1988 roster I've just named?
3) The quarterback talent pool was more condensed then, since there were only 28 teams, as opposed to today's 32.
OK, that might reduce the disparity a little, but I gave the edge to only nine of the 28 moderns.
4) We haven't seen enough of some of the rising young QB stars of today.
You're right, but I can only judge them on what they've shown so far.
Now if I were a reader, I'd want to know about the various personal attacks. John of Garner, N.C., "can't stand your political opinions," although he gives me decent grades, football and winewise. I'll take two out of three. My own town, Denville, N.J., isn't sold on my politics, either, but aside from occasionally shaving my wife's head, their citizens keep fairly calm about it.
And now we get to my personality, hammered flat by an intriguing fellow whose name I don't know because it is a riddle which I will try to solve for you. The signature is Vladimir Ignotus of Potemkin, Va. Potemkin was an artificial village designed to fool Russia's Empress Catherine. The Virginia designation was a little harder to pin down, possibly Britain's Virginia Rounding, who reviewed the book, Catherine and Potemkin. Ignotus refers to a character who called himself Ignotus the Mage, "a genuine neo-pythagorean charlatan," in other words, a con artist, although, as a romantic, I would prefer to believe it refers to the main character in the Max Bartoli film, Ignotus. Finally Vladimir. That required some thought, but it's got to be my idol, Vladimir Nabokov, one of history's great literary tricksters.
Our e-mailer, VP (initials standing for vice-president, perhaps, a nod to the debate?) feels that my own literary output is of a higher quality this year, since I am no longer half of the She Says, Z Says video that used to absorb one valuable day of the work week. As far as my presentation? "I've seen empty cans of beer with more personality. Please stick to what you do best." This is not bad advice. I am worse off financially, now that I'm no longer a video personality, but better off in my chosen profession, which is not to compete with empty pivo cans.
On to mundane matters, after our excursion into literary farce. The, ugh, rankings. OK, pour out your hearts, fellas. I'll lead with the most sentimental.
"We don't want you on our bandwagon, we have no room for you, and we'd prefer if you ranked us last EVERY WEEK. Love, Giants Nation." Nothing like ranking a team No.1 and producing, as a result, this package of hatred. Broken any windows lately, pal? Burned any houses down?
That one's going to be hard to top, but we'll give it a whirl. From David of Mississippi, "Saints fall a spot after a 14-point win? You've got some 'splainin' to do." Well, you see, Dave old boy, I didn't feel too good. Had this splitting headache and The Redhead had Dancing With the Stars on, real loud, and this thump, thump, thump ... what? You don't buy it? I didn't think so.
Bucs made a move, after the good showing against Green Bay, and shoved the Saints down a peg. Two-touchdown win over the Niners, with six new starters in the lineup, was a good one for the Saints, and since they already had beaten the Bucs in the opener, perhaps you're right and I acted too hastily. All I can do is repeat that tired old mantra that I imagine my readers are sick to death of by now. All together now ... it's a long season and things will sort themselves out. "Either that or they won't," says my redheaded child bride, who originally copped that expression from me and now uses it unmercifully.
Andrew of Enid, Okla., feels that the Cowboys are overrated, inflated, dilated, ill fated and, reading between the lines, much hated. Why do I have them so high, when they have so many things going against them? And then he names a quite a few of those things, all legitimate. My answer is that they already have beaten two good teams -- Green Bay and Philly -- and lost only to a team that I've ranked higher. That's the way it works. You go by what's happened, and if what happens to them happens the way you think it's going to happen, why then they'll happen to move down and down on the Z-mobile.
From Tim of Gainesville, Fla.:"You are right on the money with current power rankings. It's neat to see that not all sports writers do their thing while still being asleep." You hear that, all you kapustas ... Andy and Dave and Giants Nation and mysterious Vlad? I've found him. My one fan. Tim, do you ever come to New Jersey? Would you like a free chai tea at Starbucks, a free magazine at United Cigar?
From Phil of Baltimore: "Enough already" about Favre's never having missed a start. The record was achieved through massive use of pain killers. "The streak should have an asterisk next to it." Phil, I've got news for you. Pain killers are the reigning currency in the NFL. Many players wouldn't be able to get by, week to week, without them. Sure, they make a lot of money, but boy, do they earn it.
Chris of Hornell, N.Y., likes Herman Edwards' personally, but "why does he continue to fly under the radar and is barely ever mentioned as being on the hot seat?" For one thing, he's a very nice guy, well-liked by his players, the press and, most important right now, Carl Peterson, the Chiefs' GM. So what happens if Carl fires Herm? Who will the spotlight be turned on? As long as Herm's there, the GM ducks it.
Paul of Essex Junction, Vt., asks, "Does the NFL hold a dark secret? What's the real story behind the role played by steroids, HGH and other unknown exotic elixirs of strength and never-ending youth within today's NFL?" The secret is that steroids are passé but HGH, in my humble opinion, abound because it's so hard to detect. I have said this many times. No one ever will convince me God could naturally create a man weighing 320 pounds and carrying only eight or 10 percent body fat. Nature never intended humans to be contoured that way.
More QB stuff. Eric of Madison, Conn., wants to know if the quarterbacking is worse now or the defenses composed of bigger, faster, stronger people? How would Bernie Kosar, Dan Marino and others without great mobility have survived? Just fine. You saw my list of the pass rushers they had in '88.
Two Hall of Fame quickies. Hugh, of Italy, wonders about Roger Craig's chances. Only if he comes up in an off year. Terrell Davis is the running back most deserving right now. I'd put Floyd Little in there ahead of Roger. It's a crowded position.
Why no coordinators or position coaches in the Hall, asks Aaron of Richmond, Va. I agree that there should be a place for them, but I've said this forever ... they should come in by a different door. There should be a special wing for great team doctors, trainers, assistant coaches, etc. They shouldn't have to compete against players.
Mike, a Ravens fan from Fredericksburg, Va., has some ranking problems, but I'll deal with a question I'm always asking myself. Why, at the end of a game, do coaches abandon an aggressive defense that seems to be working, and pull in their horns and go conservative? It's not exactly what you describe as a "prevent defense," but the philosophy is the same. When I ask that question, which I always do, the answer is, "We've studied the percentages. You haven't. It doesn't look good, but the percentages really are in your favor." Well, I don't buy it. I'd like to see those figures. It just seems to be a natural inclination to get conservative in crunch time.
Good one from Craig of West Lafayette, Ind., that got me thinking. Why do coaches known for their offensive inclination, such a Brian Billick, wind up with great defensive teams, whereas defensive thinkers, such as Tony Dungy, produce good offenses? Well, I have my own theory. I think that if they're more proficient on one side of the ball, they go out and hire the best man they can find to run the other operation and then leave him alone. Thus, Billick had Rex Ryan, Dungy has the Tom Moore-Peyton Manning brain trust, Bill Belichick had Charlie Weis, and so forth.
Mike of Arlington, Texas, thinks there are too many formations. Why not have the same amount of plays, but run them from fewer formations? The thinking is that you'd make it too easy for the defense that way. The more formations the defense has to prepare for, the more work you give it. But it's interesting that some of the most proficient offenses, such as that of the Colts, don't work from many formations. They just do what they do extremely well.
Finally a tough one. How have my opinions of Al Davis changed over the years? What I see as the greatest change in the Raiders operation involves personnel. They used to be one of the best teams at filling holes. When there was a weakness, it was immediately addressed the next season, with excellent results. Then Al, whose operation was so astute in personnel judgment ... call it Al himself, or Ron Wolf, or a combination of both ... began slipping. A problem remained a problem for more than a year, commitments were made to the wrong people, a perfect example being the Randy Moss fiasco two years ago. Organizationally, I think the team's legal arm, Amy Trask, who bears the title Chief Executive, has too much influence.