Dr. Z: Picking an all-animal team and more mailbag - Sports Illustrated

Z-Mail: Picking an all-animal team and why coaching matters in NFL

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My editor loved the following email so much he nearly fainted. Last time I noticed, the ladies from the eighth floor were up there fanning away, furiously. So the correspondent who carries the near-anonymous tag of Bill of K.C. gets the Emailer of the Week Award this trip for the following:

"The ultimate football question: How would you compose an All-Animal Kingdom football team, assuming the species could be trained? My own team would be as follows:

OFFENSEFullback: Rhino; Running back: Wildebeest; Wideout: Cheetah; QB: Human; Center: Gorilla; Interior line: Hippo; Exterior line: Grizzly; Kicker: Kangaroo.

DEFENSETackle: Crocodile; Line: Elephant; Linebacker: Lion: Cornerback: Eagle; Safety: Tiger.

"It's still incomplete and has a few question marks yet. Can you do better?"

Hmmm, how about a scorpion for an owner? My trainer would be a snake, to help guard against a reptile dysfunction. And if I'd choose from the creatures of the sea I'd have a shrimp returning punts. But on to serious things.

Bill's little fable reminded me of the story about the annual game between the big animals and the little animals. Early in the game the big animals get a drive going, right down the field for a score. Later in the half they get off another one. Down they come, right down to the little animals' five-yard line.

First down, they run the lion off tackle and the centipede stops him cold. Second down, they run the zebra on a pitchout and the centipede breaks through and spills him for a loss. On third and long, the bear goes back to pass and the centipede sacks him. They call time out and kick a field goal just before halftime. On the way to the locker rooms, the bear catches up to the centipede.

"You're the one who stopped the lion and the zebra on the first two downs, aren't you?"

"Yeah," says the centipede.

"And then sacked me, right?"

The centipede nods.

'So where the hell were you while we were marching up and down the field?"

"In the locker room," the centipede says, "getting my ankles taped."

• Now on to personal stuff. Paul of Bridgeport, Conn., misses the Flaming Redhead. "Not even a mention?" he says of the Power Rankings, wiping away a tear with his sleeve. She's in Venice, that's the one in Italia, not California. She is, as I've explained, an artist, and she goes there for her annual art fix. "I'm pretty tired," she said via phone this morning. "Last night they threw a dinner for my friend and me that started at eight and lasted till a quarter to two."

Gosh, what a shame. Personally, I'm having just a swell old time here in Jersey, heating beans on the radiator.

• Aaron of Spartanburg, S.C., who is, I presume, an Eagles fan, is nervous about Andy Reid late in games. The screw up factor, in other words. Oh, I've seen instances in which he wasn't real sharp with clock management, but most of them are weak in this area. They just have too many other things on their minds. I will say, though, that I see more innovation on defensive coach Jim Johnson's side of the ball.

• David of Youngstown, Ohio, wants to know if I see Kurt Warner as a Hall of Famer if he has a big year. That's a tough one. His career had a brilliant start, then a big sag, which seems to have been conveniently forgotten, and now it's back on the beam. So we're seeing moments of brilliance, combined with some lean years. The injury factor (hand...wrist) figures in, but he was out there playing during that time. It's a puzzler. I'll have to think it through at the time. And thank you very much for your kind sentiments.

• Matt of Notown, which is right near Nevermore, asks if it's tougher to go 0-16 or 16-0. Well, the Patriots went 16-0 last year but no one ever has gone 0-16. Bad is harder, in life as well as in the NFL.

• Warren of Albertson, N.Y., ends his question with, "Your take, Doc?" Half off the top, and then a third of what you and your boys finish skimming.

Sorry. Just getting bored a bit and trying to liven things up, to which the Redhead would add, "and failing," if she were here instead of doing the waltz number with all those fancy dudes while I sit by the window and...OK, OK, I'll answer your question, Warren, since you've always been a reasonable person.

Twin careers: Kevin Boss of the Giants, and Jeremy Shockey, ex-Giant, current Saint. Which one gets the cherry, and which one the lemon? Boss is functional and durable. Shockey is a pain in the butt, just as he was in New York. Good move, getting rid of him, and I was saying that when the sun was shining, too. You could look it up? "Where?" says the little voice inside my brain that I'm choosing to ignore.

• Aaron of Salamanca, looking back at my offhand remark that I didn't think Derek Anderson was coached too well, wonders how much does coaching really matter, once the players have attained NFL level. The thing that does not really matter that much, and to which outsiders attach great importance, is that soppy area known as motivation. I've already expressed myself too much on this point. At any level of the game, you just can't get away from superior coaching. For years, when Bill Cowher was with the Steelers, their drafting and dealing in free agency were subpar, but once the players got to Pittsburgh they were coached up to a fine level. And do you think it was an accident that Bill Walsh had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and so did Weeb Ewbank? With other teams, not to mention names, it's the reverse.

• Still on the Anderson subject, Jerome of Long Beach, Calif., mentions my offhand remark about Derek going to Seattle. I think I was answering a question about which QBs were out there who could conceivably help a team. I'm not predicting a move. Your question about Jim Mora reuniting with Michael Vick produces nothing but a shrug from yours truly. Animals are very special to me. So are people who get pleasure from torturing them.

• Ed of Charlottesville wonders whether Mike Leach's Texas Tech offense would succeed in the NFL. What impresses me about his operation is the waves and waves of talented wideouts he can keep throwing at people. Defenses tire, especially when they keep getting assaulted by fresh troops. I don't think he'd have that kind of talent overmatch in the NFL. He's got some pretty good guys on both sides of the line, too, you know.

• The sophomore slump concerns Andrew B. of Champaign, Ill. Why does it seem to hit runners and QBs? I don't think the tape study catches up to them, as you suggest, because they're pretty well studied that first year, too. I wish I could answer this definitively, but I'm not really sure. Management types have said sometimes the hunger seems to go out of them after they've cashed a year of those big pay checks. That's too right wing for me, even if some of it might be true. This is a good topic for a research project, to see how often it really happens. I hereby commission you to undertake it, Andrew, as a twisted kind of reward for saying such nice things about my work.

• Jay of Charlotte, N.C., gives me a tough choice. The Giants must decide which runner to keep, Jacobs or Ward. "So which one?" Jacobs, because he sets the tone of the team. Guys somewhat similar to Ward are easier to find.

• From Lisa of Jackson, Tenn. How do you handle the Titans' QB situation, looking ahead to next year? You nailed it with your second option. Draft a promising young guy to learn from Collins. He's only 35, you know. I think Young will continue to be a worry. Teams won't give up much for him, either. Most of them have a good feel for other people's problems.

• Simon of Uppsala, Sweden, draws a very interesting comparison between the Titans and the unbeaten Dolphins of 1972. How well do you remember them, Simon? They had not two, but three great backs, Csonka, Kiick and Morris. Zonk was a Hall of Famer. How many do you see on the Titans? On the Dolphins' O-line, the middle three of Kooch, Langer and Little ranks with the Packers of the early '60's as best ever. Two Hall of Famers, and Kuechenberg should be there. How many on the Titans, please?

Based on this, the Dolphs put a running attack out there that would march down the field with merciless efficiency. OK, the Titans like to run the ball but they don't terrify anybody. Oh yes, when the Dolphins wanted to throw, they had Hall of Fame Bob Griese throwing to Hall of Fame Paul Warfield. The same level passing combination on the Titans? Tell me, please. I forget the names. Yes, it was an intriguing exercise on your part, but, I'm afraid, pure nonsense.

• John of Falls Church, Va., points out that I overlooked the Jets' Darrelle Revis when I mentioned my mid-season all-pro check list. The piece got trimmed. Others got chopped, along with Darrelle, who is a strong candidate.

• Brian of Canada asks something I never thought of... make that of which I never thought. Could the Jaguars' defensive collapse possibly be due to the loss of Mike Smith? It could, it might be, by gosh, I think you might have something here. Quick Watson, my gloves and flashlight.

• From Matt of New York: "One simple question. If you had to bet your life, house, whatever, on a team going to the Super Bowl and winning, would you pick the Titans or the Giants?" Giants. The line would be 4½ and they'd cover.