I'm returning to seriousness in my Emailer of the Week Award. No more good guy. Only deep thinkers need apply. Step up, Chris Guhin of Brooklyn because you have driven me to my charts, which is a world I much prefer to the one in which I have to spend most of my time. My charts don't yack on TV like schoolgirls. They don't find people like Joe the Plumber to quote. They don't make up lies and justify them in the name of politics.
They are nice, solid, silent, creatures ("just like you," says Flamante Rossa, whom I would advise to pipe down when I'm trying to be lyrical)...nice, silent creatures...ah, forget it, the image is blown now. Chris draws attention to a statistic about Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who, reportedly, has had eight passes directed at him in seven games.
He's shutting down a side of the field, Chris says, adding, "at what point do we discuss Nnamdi Asomugha as the best ever." Oh, you can discuss it all you want, but the two best I've ever seen are Deion Sanders and J.J. Johnson, the latter having gone through whole games without seeing any action whatsoever. Besides, I don't trust statistics such as that unless I keep them myself.
When a QB is merely throwing the ball away, under a rush, and it goes to a particular corner's side of the field, I don't consider that a pass thrown at him. Also, there's the question of whether he was in zone or man coverage. It matters. I remember one year I had a thing about the Giants' Phillippi Sparks. He was going to be my sleeper corner of the year, but they played so much zone in those days, I was really having trouble. So I used to phone him after games and recite each play involving him and he'd tell me what the coverage was. Yes, I did pick him.
And here's a big one, unique to my own system. When a game no longer is in doubt I don't record those kind of stats because they come in garbage time and thus are meaningless. My own stats are what I call, "competitive stats."
Here's what my charts show about Nnamdi. I've seen three Raiders games so far. Against Denver in the opener, one pass was completed against his coverage, a six-yard hitch to Eddie Royal. That was his only action. Against the Chargers on Sept.28, again, one pass was thrown his way, a forced incomplete to Chris Chambers. The Jets on Oct. 19 completed one, a hitch for no yards to Jerricho Cotchery. Asomugha stopped it cold. He also was guilty of a five-yard chuck penalty. And that's what I've got. Dr. Z All-pro credentials for sure, but best ever? Not yet.
PS: Glad you enjoyed my tips on the Oregon Wine Country...No, Linda, absolutely not. Absolutely not the reason I picked him for my award. The very idea.
• My little diatribe (see No. 2) on play calling and designation of blocking holes drew some holers, uh hollers, basically that everyone knows that even numbers mean right side and odd numbers mean left and the zero hole is over the center and the 2-hole is between guard and center, and so forth. Well, tell that to Capt. Marvin Roach, coach of the 1956 WACOM (Western Area Command) Rhinos, Rhine League Champs, US Armed Forces in Germany. He numbered it and designated it the way I described it. Someone asked him if it shouldn't be the other way around and he said there are no rules, and this was the way he wanted to do it. I think he'd just gotten through reading a Patton biography. But what the hell, we DID win our league although we were crushed by the eventual champs, the NACOM Black Knights, in the USAREUR quarterfinals.
Oh yes, almost forgot. This lengthy diatribe, complete with usual digressions, is in answer to the email of Clinton of Columbus, Ohio, who says he reads my column in class when he should be paying attention. Clint -- may I call you Clint? -- you never can tell when your professor just might throw in a pop quiz on my latest rankings. And you will nail it cold!
• Which brings us to the accursed rankings themselves. I know they inspire fury. I know they're not fair. But of the 1,500 or so letters to that affect, Dominic B. has chosen only one to illustrate the point. Therefore I will not give it the usual "wait 'til next week" tapdance; I'll try to answer it honestly and fairly.
Bob of NYC, showing remarkable restraint, makes the following point: The Browns beat the Jaguars, in Jacksonville yet, and still find themselves nine (9) (nein), a mind-boggling nine places below said Jaguars. "In three weeks this ranking will look foolish," he adds. Bob, you're a nice chap and I like the way you handle yourself, so I'm going to be brutally honest. Coming off a win at Denver and then the bye, the Jags were at 12, heading into Cleveland. The Browns, with a worse record (2-4 to 3-3) were ranked 27th. When Cleveland beat Jacksonville I proceeded cautiously, dropping Jax three spots and vaulting the Brownies up three, to 24th. Since they were so far apart to begin with, I couldn't very well close the gap much more, and...
"Tell him the real reason," says a grim-faced redheaded person, who has suddenly become my emailer's ally.
Honey, what exactly do you mean?
Tell him. TELL HIM!
All right, all right already. I was, ahem, pretty upset that they unloaded on Kellen Winslow for telling the story about all the staph infections. I admit I might have been a little bitter and, uh, might have let it show in the rankings.
And now the hanging jury has got real grounds for capital punishment, and fingers are being taken out of their finger-cases and being pointed. This is grounds for court martial, for torture and worse. What should we do, to teach you a lesson?
Well, I hope you're happy now, Bob. Just look what you stirred up. This will never happen again. I swear it. I mean someone made me admit it. Can we move on now, please?
• I need an upper real bad. And here it is. From Liz. No address given. But hers is a message of hope, of light in a dark place. "Just wanted to tell you," she writes, "that we still use our VCR. It's simple. It works and we don't have to buy new equipment and more programming." Thank you.
• All of you who want to hear a story raise your hands. OK, I spotted you over there, sir. This is in answer to Chris of Stamford, Conn., who says I remind him of Hunter S.Thompson, and by the way, comma, did I ever have any dealings with the Gonzo Journalista himself?
On second thought, I think I've told this story already.
"Tell it. They can hear it again," says Linda B.Z., who's trying to get on my good side after that vicious number she pulled.
Super Bowl VIII, 1974, Miami vs. Minnesota in Houston, Hunter is covering it for Rolling Stone, I'm covering it for the NY Post. I'm also running the writers' dollar pool. One buck to join, pick a winner and score, closest wins the whole pot. It's a week before the game and I'm in the press room, putting up my pool sheets on the bulletin board. Hunter Thompson walks in. I recognize him. He's squinting at my pool sheet, trying to get his eyes to focus.
"What's that?" he asks. I tell him.
"How much to get in?"
"Are you gonna let me in it?" He's looking for rejection, I can tell.
"Only if you've got a buck."
"Well, I've got a buck!"
Now he gets this crafty look. "Can I get in more than once?"
"Use different names. A dollar for each pick."
"I'm gonna win this thing," he says. I tell him I hope he does.
So he enters five or six times. None of his selections comes close, incidentally, but he kind of likes the idea that his little bit of larceny didn't disturb me.
"You want to go out somewhere tonight?" he says. I tell him OK. We wind up in, I kid you not, the toughest bar I've ever been in. Nothing but 250-pounders with scars and ponytails. The kind of a place where you drink your drink and stare straight ahead and speak when spoken to. So we're sitting there, and the interesting thing about him, which I find out later, is that when he's stoned, it's hard to tell. He gets real quiet, which he did -- for a while. Then all of a sudden he blurts out, "This place ain't so tough."
I'm conscious of a kind of stirring around, a shifting of weight. He repeats it, louder this time. The bartender comes over to me and says, quietly, "You'd better get your friend out of here."
I tell him, "Hunter, let's go someplace else." Now he's shouting. "Nobody's running me out! The hell with them, the hell with this place!"
I tell him very frankly, "Hunter, I've got two little ones at home and they'd like to see their daddy again, and I don't know about you, but I'm leaving." He snarls something I can't understand, and out into the Houston night I go. Next day he shows up in the press room with lumps all over his forehead. God knows what they did to him.
I buy a copy of Rolling Stone when it comes out. I'm dying to see how he covered the Super Bowl. I've always felt that his "Hell's Angels" was one of the finest pieces of journalism I've ever read. His Super Bowl piece is a bitter personal diatribe, as I figured it would be. There's nothing about the night in that bar. But a lot about the press, which he flayed alive, totally. All except for one dude.
"Paul Zimmerman of the NY Post ran the writers pool in a professional manner."
Hooray! I came away clean. Might not have if I'd have hung around that bar.
• Whew, that story wore me out, thinking about it again. Lance of Norcross, Georgia, wants to know if I ever attend college games. High school? Chart them? Write about them? What?
By Saturday I'm kind of puffed, so I watch the college games recreationally, on TV, taking notes on potential draft prospects. Don't go. High school? Afraid not, although I really would like to get a look at the pure single wing that Xavier in NYC runs. In answer to question No. 2, my book will not be updated. My personal memoir is on hold, until the agent and I can straighten out some matters.
• Dan of Arlington, Va., says if I could choose one from the trio of John Riggins, Clinton Portis and Stephen Davis, which one would it be? The young Riggo, the Jets' No. 1 draft choice who was more of an oversized halfback than a fullback and was faaaast. Also a fine pass catcher. Then he went to Washington, George Allen lined him up a step behind the center and said, "You're my fullback," so he became the Big Diesel and developed a real nose for the end zone. But his burst was gone.
• John of Memphis wants to know which wideouts use gloves and which go barehanded, how much easier is it to catch a ball with gloves and which do I prefer, a French Burgundy or a West Coast Pinot Noir? Can't answer the first, except to tell you that the old timers who didn't use gloves didn't drop the ball as much. Tommy McDonald used to sandpaper his fingertips. I think that answers parts one and two. I love Burgundy, but the inconsistency drives me nuts. You never know when the grower's wife wants a new fur coat, so the guy over-crops or stretches his yield and the wine doesn't taste as good. Besides I can't afford the really good ones anymore. Some U.S. Pinots are remarkably Burgundian in taste. If you really love these wines, try to get to the International Pinot Noir Festival in McMinnville, Ore. You'll get all the Pinot and Burgundy you want.
• Adam of Johnson City, NY, asks: "Do you think the Giants and Titans would make the best Super Bowl?" To quote a famous Ebbets Field regular, Big Abe, a legendary Dodgers' fan, who would holler each time a Dodgers pitcher delivered and the ump called, strike: "It could be nah'tin else!"
• Now we're into mythology. Mike of Army (what kind of address is that?) sees "large, powerful, imaginary beings" in my top two ranked teams, Titans and Giants, and large cats as the bottom two...Bengals and Lions. "Coincidence? I think not," he writes.
Well, I'll be swoggled. OK, Mike, try this one. The Cleveland Browns were named for a person, Paul Brown. So was one other team. Without methodically going down the complete list, and right off the top of your head, tell me which one.
Answer will be found in next week's column. "You can't do that," says my Redhead, a real army brat. OK, at the end of this column. "No, no and no," she says. "Tell him now."
OK. Buffalo Bills.
• Jordan of Montreal wants to know how much of the Cowboys' troubles were caused by the departure of Bill Parcells. How would they have played, had he not left?
I can only find easy answers. They'd be more consistent, which is hardly news. I don't think they'd have gotten blown out by St. Louis the way they were. Jerry Jones wouldn't be quoted as much. Had Parcells have stayed on, it wouldn't have been as a coach, but as a GM, and I imagine Tony Sparano would be the coach. I know what you want me to say. You want me to say they'd be selling out on every play, fired up, a Marion Barber at every position. I'm not really sure. Don't forget that Barber came in behind Julius Jones under Parcells. As I go on, I find this what-if game almost impossible to answer. Sorry. See the cashier for a full refund.
• John of Houston would like something anecdotal from the Jets' 40-year Super Bowl Anniversary reunion I attended. I was going to write something but was told not to bother. There are just so many stories, so many old faces I saw, reviving so many memories. I sat at the same table with the starting guards, Randy Rasmussen and Dave Herman, both considerably slimmed down from the 255 or so in their playing days. Actually they passed the weight along to yours truly.
Good guys, solid citizens. "Football," Herman once said, "is like life. You come in crying, you go out crying." Randy was a thick-legged Nebraska farm boy, who came in as a rookie in 1967, my second year covering the club. One day they had this barbecue in camp. Randy said, "We'd really have a feed if my father'd bring one of his critters down here." The remark followed him for the rest of his life.
"They're still kidding me about it, 40 years later," he said at the dinner. "Hey, Randy, how are your critters doing?"
• Ed of Austin is upset I don't show my top-ranked team, the Titans, more respect. "I've seen shotgun weddings with more affection than you gave the Titans," he writes.
I beg to differ. I'm very fond of the Titans. Al Dorow and Bob Reifsnyder and Larry Grantham, and Sammy Baugh, the coach, even Harry Wismer, the owner. Love 'em all.