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Can't win without 'The Man'


Baylor from Bloomington, IN

I like your proven-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt philosophy for people to get into the Hall of Fame. I was wondering if you could elaborate more on what you think qualifies a player for the Hall? Keep up the good work; love the column.

Body of work is No. 1. A player's body of work has to be long and distinguished. In cases such as Gale Sayers, in which the career is shorter than you'd like, the output has to be extremely dramatic, as his was. I also want a player with a defining postseason moment, though it's not always applicable. When it's not applicable, I think you have to lean harder on the body of work, which means there has to be more of it. An important criterion for me is significance to the game. Ultimately, it's the Hall of Famous; is the player famous? Joe Namath's and Lynn Swann's bodies of work are on the light side, but they each have big-time postseason moments that helped define and distinguish the game and the Super Bowl. A player can also have achieved significance to the game by having changed the game. Lem Barney invented bump-and-run coverage; he changed the game. Bob Hayes is in the Hall of Fame almost solely because he is considered to have changed the game. Those are the three big ones with me: 1.) Body of work. 2.) Defining postseason moment. 3.) Significance to the game. If I need more criteria, I'll turn to service to the game. Was the player good for the game? Did he treat it, his coaches, his teammates and fans with respect? Did he return the love the game gave him?

Adam from Belleville, WI

Vic, we all know the Packers will be good in the upcoming season. What do you think will be the biggest hurdle for them?

Keep the quarterback healthy; that's the biggest hurdle for every team that has an elite quarterback. When you have that type of player, you are a Super Bowl contender. Without him, you are not. Thus, it becomes real simple: Protect the quarterback. You can win without the other guys, which the Packers proved last season, but you can't win without "The Man."

Brooke from Sparta, WI

Just wanted to say I love your column. Anyway, my family is going to "Family Night." We are so excited. We are huge fans, yet, cannot afford to go to the games, so this gives us an opportunity to experience Lambeau without the cost. Do other teams host a "Family Night?"

Yes, though the formats vary. The Jaguars will conduct a free scrimmage on Saturday. In the past it was free and open to season-ticket holders only, which was a way of rewarding them for their loyalty, but the Jaguars need to expose the product to potential ticket-buyers, so this year it's free. When I covered the Steelers – I think they still do it – they conducted a scrimmage at the local high school where their training camp is. Proceeds benefitted a charity. One of my all-time favorite football stories comes from a scrimmage. It was from a time when the Steelers and Redskins participated in combined practices and alternatingly hosted scrimmages. It was the Redskins' turn to host the scrimmage and it was set for Carlisle (Pa.) High School, which has a football stadium that seats close to 20,000 people. It was pregame and the place was already packed. As the Redskins are warming up, their owner, Jack Kent Cooke, wanders onto the field and fearlessly sits down in a folding chair along the sideline, where the Redskins are doing down-and-outs. A big tight end named Don Warren catches a down and out, looks up and sees that he's going to mow down the boss, who was not a young man. Warren contorts his body to barely miss Cooke, causing Warren to slam head first into the driver's side door of a pickup truck carrying in its bed a TV camera that was going to send the scrimmage back to Washington. The truck rocked and the door got a huge dent in it, as though it had been struck by a rhinocerous, Warren was on the ground in pain and the TV camera was feared to have sustained damage, too, but Cooke saw none of it. It was truly a Mr. Magoo moment and the stadium exploded with laughter. When I get to the pearly gates and the Big Guy asks me what the five funniest things I ever saw on a football field are, that'll be number one.

Dana from Eau Claire, WI

You've covered a lot of teams. It seems to me a lot of teams have similar talent, maybe 2-3 star players. In your opinion, what divides those teams?

The quarterback is what separates them. The best teams have the best quarterbacks. Listen to me, folks, when I tell you that you have something so special that you may never see it again. I knew Aaron Rodgers was good, but I didn't know he was this good. He threw a pass in practice last night that made me swallow hard. It was one of those long sideline throws -- the first play of a two-minute drill – and he threw it late on the break and without stepping into the throw and it was right on the money. Do you have any idea what type of release, arm strength and accuracy is required to make that throw? I don't think there's another quarterback in the league that can make that throw. I sense a prevailing attitude that everything in green and gold is better than everything in any other color, and if that makes you feel good, go ahead and think it, but the truth of the matter is that it's one player in green and gold that separates the Packers from the other teams.

Carl from Jacksonville, FL

All throughout last season, we heard talk of the league wanting to go to an 18-game schedule. Was this something that can be done at any point in the future, or because it wasn't addressed during talks for the new CBA and we won't be hearing about it for 10 more years?

It'll resurface. When the financial gain of playing two more games becomes undeniable, the idea of playing 18 games will become more palatable for the players.

Mike from Bridgeport, CT

Warren Moon?

That's not the guy. Yes, I understand that Moon's NFL postseason record isn't very good, but it's not the NFL Hall of Fame, it's the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Moon's postseason record in the CFL, which is a pro football league, is exceptional.

Joe from Amherst, MA

Could you take a flyer on who will be on our practice squad roster? I have a feeling other teams are circling like vultures to see who the Packers will cut and try to swipe off our practice squad.

I can't tell you who, except that I expect the majority of the practice squad players, if not all of them, will be players in the Packers' camp. I think it'll be that way all around the league this year and I don't think teams will be trying to swipe players off other teams' practice squads, at least not early in the season, because the lost practice time during the lockout makes it most important that teams have on their practice squads guys that know the team's system. The rookies' heads are swimming right now and it's gonna be that way for a while. Why waste the time you're spending on teaching them your system? I don't think there are enough players on any roster that know their teams' systems well enough to start throwing them out and bringing in players that don't know the system at all.

Benjamin from Chippewa Falls, WI

What are your pet peeves with NFL commentators? My biggest one is when a team runs an end-around and all the idiot commentators call it a reverse.

I don't like to hear TV analysts throw around a lot of terminology that fans don't and shouldn't understand. Leave that in the locker room or, if you must use it, explain it. That's what I liked about John Madden. When he felt a need to speak footballese, he explained it and he did so without talking down to the viewer.

Mark from Yucaipa, CA

With all the substitutions and changes of personnel from one play to the next, how do they keep track and marshal the correct players for any given play?

Personnel is usually employed according to down-and-distance personnel packages and teams practice getting those personnel packages, known as sub packages, on and off the field in practice. Fans don't take that into account when they criticize play-calling. It's not just call a play, it's call a play and either have the personnel you need on the field to run that play or have it at your beck and call along the sideline. I'll tell you how important the coordination of all this is: The Jaguars and other teams do something in training camp called a mock game. They even practice standing along the sideline for the national anthem. The intent of the mock game is to practice the chain of command, meaning how the plays come down from the press box in the headset to the coach that relays the plays through the communicators. A mock game provides down-and-distance practice for making substitutions. It's a way for coaches to practice where they'll stand along the sideline and where their players are to sit on the bench so they can be accessed by their position coaches. It's choreography and good coaches have disciplined sidelines. Coaching is a lot more than drawing up plays.

Jesse from Tavernier, FL

In the comment section of Thursday's column, someone guessed you were referring to Y.A. Tittle when you mentioned a QB with poor postseason stats. I am willing to bet you are referring to Dan Fouts.

The guy to whom I was referring threw five interceptions against an Oilers team – Ted Thompson knows the game – that was without Dan Pastorini, Earl Campbell and Ken Burrough.

Andrew from Columbia, MO

I stumbled onto an article on the Eagles' official website. Do you think they are just being modest, or do you think they are being legitimate? "We're playing catch-up. The only dream team I know about is the Green Bay Packers," (Eagles owner Jeffrey) Lurie said on Thursday at his annual State of the Team address. "We dream to become as good as the Green Bay Packers and hold that trophy. Going into last year, you could say the New Orleans Saints because those are the dream teams. They are the ones holding the Lombardi Trophy. We're consciously trying to play catch-up in an aggressive way."

It's nice to be nice.

Dan from Oconomowoc, WI

Do you believe anyone will ever break Don Hutson's NFL record for most points scored (29) in a quarter of football?

Yes, I think the Eagles will do it.

Kent from Carbon, UT

Has there been an effort to make the exterior of helmets a softer material, rather than hard plastic, to make them a lesser weapon and more padded for helmet-to-helmet collisions?

Yeah, Ohio State and some other schools did it in the 1960s. They put a pad down the center of the outside of the helmet. Willie Lanier wore that type of helmet throughout his career. I wore one in high school. I remember that it made a different sound; instead of the thwack sound you got with the plastic helmet, the padded helmet produced a kind of sickening thud, like the sound of a watermelon being dropped on cement. When you got hit right on the sweet spot on the crown of the helmet, you'd instantly get this bees-in-your-head feeling that made you want to hold your head with your hands. You'd hear a thud and see a guy bent over with his head in his hands and everybody would laugh because they knew what just happened. That helmet is the reason I'm a sportswriter. It wasn't the answer and it was replaced by the Riddell suspension helmet.

James from Philadelphia, PA

Which side of the ball do you see the Packers improving on more this season, offense or defense?

I expect the biggest improvement to be on special teams.

Mike from Manitowoc, WI

You were talking about D.J. Williams, the rookie tight end, and you said he had soft hands and heavy feet. I understand the soft hands, but what do you mean by heavy feet?

It's a way of saying he has a powerful lower body. When his feet strike the ground, you hear them, and that means he's got the lower body to run through tackles.

Jordan from Livermore, CA

I feel like a team's success is starting to be very dependent on the quarterback, despite having other strong points on the team. Do you feel this is a result of the 5-yard rule with the wide receivers?

It's a result of whatever the league has to do to make it that way, and the chuck rule has been the league's most effective way for promoting the importance of the quarterback. He's the star; he's the headliner, the player the league sells, and it's been the way for a long time. Joe Namath was that type of player. When the game has shifted away from the quarterback, the league has jumped in with changes to shift the game back to the quarterback. The game shifted away from the quarterback in the 1970s. Look at the Super Bowl MVPs from that time: Chuck Howley, Jake Scott, Larry Csonka and Franco Harris in a five-year period. The Super Bowl went six straight years without a quarterback being named MVP. What did the league do? Rules changes of 1978, which included the 5-yard chuck rule. The result? Quarterbacks were MVPs of the next four Super Bowls. Fast forward to 2000. The Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback and two years later the Bucs won with Brad Johnson. What did the league do? Major point of emphasis of the 5-yard chuck rule in 2004.

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