Jimmy told me that an e-mailer promised to name his first-born after him (what if it's a girl?) if he put his question through. "So did you do it?" I asked him, positively delirious with anticipation. "No," said our man of the iron fist. "It was a stupid question." Wow, talk about a guy with principles! So in the course of conversation, I asked him if he could supply a set of guidelines, sure-fire tips for getting through the barbed wire.
"No. 1," Jimmy said, "it's got to be something that hasn't been answered already.
"No. 2, it's got to be relevant to what's going on today. I mean, we can only take so many 'What can the Steelers do in the offseason? What can the Jets do in the offseason?' questions.
"No. 3, and this is the big one, this question will NEVER get through: 'What do the (fill in the blank) have to do to get a little respect?' Just about every fan of a team with a decent record sends this one in."
Well, you heard it, folks. I'm just a bystander here. I sign what's put in front of me. But I do get to have final say on my weekly E-mail of the Week award. And this week we cast our gaze slightly north to the city with the fascinating Eastman Kodak Museum, Rochester, N.Y., and the winner is Scott Lancer, who supplies lots of observations in his three paragraphs, and asks one modest football question, but what got me was paragraph No. 1, and here it is, coming as an answer to my rhetorical question: "What is worse than hearing a pop star sing the national anthem a cappella?"
"On Sunday," Scott writes, "the only thing worse is hearing the vacuum cleaner fire up and knowing that no matter how much you protest, it's coming, as soon as there's one minute left in a close game, and it's not leaving until the points are scored or the drive is stopped."
Oh, man, did this ever produce a scary tremor of recognition. No fear of this kind of action from The Flaming Redhead. Of course not. But before she arrived there was Wife No. 1, who wielded that vacuum like Ivanhoe wielded the mace and chain, and my charts would tremble and so would the row of pencils and pens, and the cigars, as they heard the approaching juggernaut. "For God's sake..." I would whine, only to be repulsed by, "This room is absolutely FILTHY! I've taken it as long as I can," blah blah blah.
As to your comment about last weekend's Foxboro snowballs, Scott, I was told that it all wasn't as innocent as it appeared. The Dolphins' bench was getting bombed as part of the festivities. Yes, Jay Fiedler ducked his share, and I agree with you that he doesn't get a fair shake by the fans and the critics. Scott's football question involved the Bills' right guard situation. Well, Marques Sullivan, last year's starter, couldn't block me. Mike Pucillo, this year's starter, was better (who wouldn't be?) but still more of a drive blocker than a pass blocker. Ross Tucker, the new guy, struggled when he was with the Redskins last year, and he looks like the best of the three, but still no bargain.
Chris of Columbia, S.C., says the Patriots fans were throwing snow, whereas the Giants fans who got into all that trouble eight years ago were heaving ice. Nah, nobody throws ice. You can't aim it. I think the big difference, and I'm sorry I didn't think of it sooner, was that the Pats were winning but the Giants were losing when all the snow action occurred.
Oh my God, you got one from Siberia, the Redhead announced breathlessly. Problem was she was trying to read the letter upside down. It was from Serbia, from Belgrade, from Filip. So what's up, Phil, uh, Fil? How much difference, he asks, is there in trying to build a run-blocking O-line as opposed to a unit of good pass blockers? And can you be proficient in both? You can, but it would really be a special unit. I think the Chiefs come closest. Dallas, in the Emmitt Smith days, had what people, myself included, thought was an effective run-blocking line, but it was really Emmitt who made them seem better than they were, and when he started declining they were exposed as a bunch of fat guys who could pass block but didn't have much push or mobility, Larry Allen excluded, of course. The Broncos of a few seasons ago represented the converse -- great, mobile run-blockers -- but in the 2000 playoffs Baltimore overran them on the pass rush, and they simply seemed like a bunch of little guys who couldn't stand up to real muscle. In answer to your question, usually a line is better one way than the other, but it still can be OK in its lesser skill. That was a good question, Filip. I like questions like that.
Cindy of Dallas, and I thank you for your nice comment, wonders how I could rank the Dolphins over both Denver and Baltimore, when the last two were coming off big wins, and the Dolphins were shut out? Miami played hard and lost to a better team on the road, no sin there. Three weeks previously the Dolphins beat the Ravens in OT and looked like the tougher club. As for the Broncos, last week they were seven spots back of Miami. I narrowed the gap by five. Moderation in all things, I sincerely believe.
Sean of Cleveland backs up my one-game assessment of Orpheus Roye as a DT who's really special. Good. Thank you. Now I'll go back over all the other Cleveland games I have on tape and do a work up on the young man, as part of my all-pro checklist.
Another question that I threw to the e-mailers was answered. What's with Seattle's road miseries? Chad of Toronto weighs in with the theory that defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes is the culprit. His D-line can't rush the passer and he won't call any blitzes, so middle-of-the-road passers have big days against the 'Hawks' D. Yeah, I knew all that, but why does it happen on the road and not at home? A lot of defensive players like to play on the road because the home team's fans are quiet when its offense is on the field and the defensive guys can make their calls without worrying about not being heard. Sorry, Chad, you've got to think it through a little better.
Mike from Charlotte, N.C., nails the poor old doc, but good. He's a TV guy, you see, and he picked up on my rather idiotic use of the terms "fadeout" and "dissolve," in my Jimmy Johnson fantasy the other day, and set the record straight. "In order to dissolve, you must have something to dissolve to," he writes. "Also, one usually fades to black, not out, unless one is being smacked around." Well, I'm getting smacked around so I'll fade out, but not until I answer this gentleman's football and wine questions. Wine question: Is Jake Delhomme holding the Panthers' offense back, or is it the personnel and supporting cast? Wait a minute, isn't that the football question? I keep confusing the two. The offense is proficient when Stephen Davis is running the ball effectively. When he's stopped, it becomes seat-of-the-pants, and sometimes Delhomme comes through and sometimes he doesn't. The pick at the end of the Atlanta game wasn't his fault. Muhsin Muhammad quit on his route. These run-oriented offenses are OK as long as the defense keeps it close. But if the D cracks just the wee bit, then it's up to the QB to earn his money, and I don't think Jake can do it on a consistent basis.
And now that that's over, we turn to The Black Wine of Cahors. What do I think of it? Not much. The problem is it's not The Black Wine anymore. At one time the merchants of nearby Bordeaux would use these wines to give their own wines body and color. Tasted on their own, as I did during an extensive visit to the region (which has always fascinated me) 30 years ago, they were big, muscular knock-'em-dead numbers that would age for a long time. Through the years they've gotten thinner and thinner and more commercial, as the co-ops took over, and when the Redhead and I were there two and a half years ago, we were disappointed at the nondescript nature of what once were magnificent wines. Some of the smaller properties produce tasty things, minus the power.
Jimmy, I want to thank you for sending this one through, because never again will I disrupt my whole board just to make Patriots fans happy. Finally, after unbearable pressure, I raised them to the No. 1 position, but do I get any thanks? No, I get Michael, a Pats fan from Clifton, N.J., whose only comment was, "It's about time. Amazing that it took you so long to figure out the obvious." Hey, how'd you ever get through? Jimmy owe you money or something? You got a question, or you just want to kvetch? A question? Let's hear it. Does the idea make any sense, as some pundits are saying, that the Patriots are better off losing one of their last three games in order to take the pressure off and refocus them? What pressure? It's not like they're undefeated or something. The more they win, the more playoff games they'll have at home. Nevertheless, I've always felt that if a team clinched anything too early, it would flatten out and come into the playoffs on a dull note. I think the real answer is that it depends on the team, how focused it is to begin with, how mature.
Rick of Jackson, Miss., and I thank you for your kind words, wants my take on the Dan Reeves situation. Two days ago I wrote that it was a mistake to fire him, and I haven't changed my opinion since then. I don't know if someone else will hire him right away. Older folks don't have it so easy nowadays, and I know that for a fact. Hall of Fame? Well, for a coach to be considered, I think he should have at least one of two attributes. A fabulous record, or the fact that he really left his stamp on the game. How would you rate Dan in light of those two criteria?
Tom of Ann Arbor, Mich., provides an interesting juxtaposition of two ideas in my last column. "Is there anything worse than hearing a pop star doing the national anthem a cappella? Listening to TV analysts such as Boomer Esiason , Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders..."
From Bill of Scarborough, Ontario: What is the biggest reason for Kansas City's weak defense? Marginal players at some positions.
Chris of Toronto says I chided the Vikings for going deep to Randy Moss, and yet I despise dink-dunk pass offenses. What gives? I wasn't chiding them, I was just having a little fun at the expense of the TV guys who can see things in only one dimension, so that when Daunte Culpepper went deep he was making them happy. Perish the thought that I would knock them for going downfield.
Finally, an old-fashioned rip. From Thomas of Baltimore: "Ray Lewis No. 3 on your MLB depth chart? Puhleeeez (Is that really the way you spell it?).... Thank goodness the fans have a say in the Pro Bowl voting, because if it was left up to moronic voters like you..." etc. Ray Lewis is not what he once was. He arrives later than he used to. He doesn't have the same impact. But what he does do is raise a big hullabaloo if he's anywhere near the play, thereby creating the impression that he was the principal party involved. Nevertheless he's still highly effective. For the first half of the season, Dallas' Dat Nguyen was my front-runner at the position. Then he wore down, and the last two times I've seen him, he was overrun. Al Wilson is pretty close to the top. I still have to grade all his games. Zach Thomas is having a good year. No MLB has as much coverage responsibility as he does. Maybe I'll go 3-4 and pick only one DT, since I'm having so much trouble finding a good pair of them, and fudge my vote and pick two MLBs. Lewis might be on my team if that happens.
Brock of Cookeville, Tenn., wants to see more no-huddle and wonders why he doesn't. Not every QB is sharp enough to run it. A lot of the play calling would fall to him. No-huddle can tire an offense out while it's tiring the defense. It's tough on the road because football was meant to be played on a field, not a road. OK, I'm sorry ... tough on the road because the fans will drown out the signals. Finally, I agree with you. I'd like to see it used more, too.
Matthew of Haslemere, England ... Linda, sit up straight in your chair ... has an interesting question about the authority of coaches. Does the fact that no Jaguars player popped off about the Chris Hanson ax incident mean that Jack Del Rio really has control of the team, or that no one really cares about punters? Neither. It means that loony motivational gimmicks usually draw the tee-hee from the players, but only in private. Some day I'll do a piece about a contest some old Bengals had, in which they tried to come up with the worst pregame speech they ever heard. Say, next time you're up in London, try an Indian restaurant called Noor Jahan, off the Old Brompton Road, and tell me what you think of it. The Redhead and I love it.
To Mike of Seattle: You drew a laugh from Jimmy when you said you were getting ready to file a discrimination suit against him because none of your e-mails had made the mailbag. Keep the laughs coming and you'll get through. I guarantee it. The serious question is: How many truly great players are there now who are at the top of their game? Well, looking for All-Pro candidates, I'm struck by the lack of consistency at a lot of positions. I'd say Michael Strahan is a great player at the top of his game, but I didn't pick him last year because he dropped off a bit. There's one really loaded position right now, though, and that's running back. I saw that just the other day when I wrote that Travis Henry, a terrific little ball carrier, probably wouldn't make the Pro Bowl because there were too many other good guys at the position. Putting it in a statistical context ... a 5.0 average is the holy grail all runners search for, right? Well, look how many of the top guys are at 5.0 or better right now... Lewis, Portis, Tomlinson, Green of Green Bay, McAllister. It's an impressive list, and at the end of the year, the yardage figures are going to be out of sight, too. Thanks for the compliment, Mike.
Joe of Bridgeport, W. Va., is my runner up for the E-mail of the Week award, because he speaks of a crusade that many people have mentioned undertaking, but only one has actually done so. Sacks. (No, Linda, I didn't say sex. Relax, OK?) Joe suspects that Deacon Jones would hold the true lifetime sack record if they counted them before 1982, when sacks became an official stat. That is correct. He would. Joe also feels that someone would be doing the world a real service if he would "lock himself into the film room for a week or so and watch old game films of the Rams and simply count the darn things to see how many he really had." Someone has. Using game films, which unfortunately are incomplete, and backing them up with play-by-play sheets from each game, not only Rams games, but everyone's, a young man from Alamagordo, N.M., named John Turney has made the unearthing of old sacks his lifelong project. He is a dedicated and honest researcher, very knowledgeable about the game and extremely hard working. These qualities, naturally, earned him nothing but scorn from the NFL establishment and its member clubs, since he was outside the establishment himself, and therefore, in their neolithic minds, not to be trusted. He asked for access, they told him to take a hike. I ran into John about 10 years or so ago, realized what he was doing, and tried to get as many people as I could to help him with his project. Gradually, as more and more writers began calling him, and quoting him, and leaning on his research material, the doors started opening. He has gotten as close as anyone can to compiling a complete set of old-time sack totals ... numbers for such people as Jones, Coy Bacon, Harvey Martin, Al Baker -- all of whom, unofficially, topped Strahan's single-season record of 22 1/2 -- plus the great old sackers on the Raiders, Vikings, Cowboys ... the list is endless. You can write to him at the following address: John Turney, 2615, 18th St., Alamagordo, N.M. 88310. As a PS, Joe wants my thoughts on Terry Bradshaw's comment that he "isn't all that impressed" with Bruce Smith's all-time sacks record. No comment until I hear the full quote. You can make anything sound bad if you take it out of context.
Dave of Minneapolis, and thank you for your nice comments about Linda's photographic work found at www.pbase.com/baileyzim, feels that the Patriots' Willie McGinest has just about had the schnitzel. End of the line, time to get off. Let that one great play against the Colts a couple of weeks ago be his legacy. Nope, sorry, I don't agree. McGinest has gone from Primary Sacker in the old days, to a Belichick role player, which, as you know, just about everyone is in the front seven. First of all, McGinest is not a linebacker, as listed. He's mainly an edge rusher, which means the Pats line up in a 4-3, seldom in a 3-4, since McGinest has little coverage responsibility. Now look and see where their pressure comes from. Blitz package yes, but for constant pressure, from the guy you always have to account for, McGinest. He's smart and he's valuable in the scheme, even though he isn't a premier player anymore. He is also unselfish, which is the true mark of a Belichick-type athlete.
Andrew of Kingston, Ontario, wants to know who I'm looking at for All-Pro at OT. It begins with Willie Roaf. Not as effective as he was last year. Jonathan Ogden? Well, yeah, if he didn't have to pass block. He and Ed Mulitalo are an impressive side, clearing the way for Jamal Lewis. Flozell Adams ... a maybe. Ditto Walter Jones of the Seahawks. I thought I'd really be impressed by the Jaguars' Maurice Williams, but I guess I have to see more on him, because nothing he did knocked me out. The Vikings' Bryant McKinnie? Sorry, I don't agree with you there. Yeah, he's improved -- from terrible to OK -- and those aren't All-Pro credentials. You say you saw Mike Williams of the Bills punishing the Jets' Shaun Ellis last weekend? I've got the game on tape but haven't watched it yet. I've got Williams rated as a major disappointment. Punished him how? Spanking, or what? And thanks, incidentally, for your generous comments.