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Get ready for shootout on Sunday


Agustín from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Vic, could you explain how the hash marks being moved toward the center of the field produced the explosion of thousand-yard rushers?

Moving the hash marks in balanced the field. It created balanced open space to both sides of the field, which caused defenses to have to play both sides honestly, instead of shading to the wide side and using the boundary as a defender on the short side. The league thought coaches would use that new balance to favor the passing game. Instead, they used it to favor the running game. What the league didn't understand is that the hash marks weren't the problem. The problem was with the penal nature of the combined threat of sack/holding, in conjunction with bump-and-run coverage. Offensive linemen couldn't use their hands in blocking, which meant offenses were vulnerable to the sack, especially since defensive backs were permitted to play bump-and-run until the ball was in the air, which meant quarterbacks had to take a deeper drop and wait for receivers to come open. Quarterbacks needed more time to throw back then. On top of all of that, holding was a 15-yard penalty, and if an offensive lineman got his hands the least little bit away from his body, he got called for holding. A sack or a holding penalty was an immediate drive killer, and that's why teams ran the ball more often than they threw it. When the league understood all of that, they changed the rules in 1978 to successfully favor the passing game.

Gorgas from Rockwall, TX

Who will win the NFC North, the team with the best overall record, or the team with the best record in the NFC North?

If one team has a better overall record than the other three teams in the division, that team will be the division champ. Best won-lost-tied percentage within the division is the No. 2 tiebreaker behind head-to-head.

Dan from Eau Claire, WI

I have seen a show that names Joe Montana as the best quarterback of all time. How do you think Aaron Rodgers compares to Joe Montana?

I hadn't given that any thought until I read your question. Now that I think about it, I think there are some strong similarities between the two. Both were born to play the position. They're smooth and they seem to always flow in the right directions. They scramble in intelligent ways and they always seem to find the open receiver. There are two differences: Aaron Rodgers has a stronger arm, and Montana has three more rings.

Ted from Coleman, WI

How about Johnny "Blood" McNally?

That's a good one. How about Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, "Bullet Bob" Hayes, Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Eugene "Mercury" Morris, Elbert "Golden Wheels" Dubenion, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, Charles "Boobie" Clark?

Joel from Saint Louis Park, MN

You didn't mention "Hacksaw" Reynolds or "White Shoes" Johnson. What gives?

Oh, yeah, how could I forget those two? How about Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski? How about "Whizzer" White? How would you like to be called "Whizzer"? You just don't figure a guy named "Whizzer" to go on and become a Supreme Court justice. When did the nicknames stop? When did we start taking everything so seriously?

Mark from Stelmach, WA

Vic, as a person who's been around football for almost all your life, what do you think the game will look like in another 25 years?

My inclination is to say we need to go full circle. We need to go back to the day of big pads. I genuinely believe a lot of these injuries could be avoided by padding the players' bodies as they were padded 20-30 years ago. Padding the head has had an opposite effect, but I think it would be different for shoulders, hips and thighs. I think more padding would cause players to play differently. I think it would cause them to play lower, and that would help direct them away from the head.

Brenda from Sioux Center, IA

Vic, you just need a disclaimer at the top of your all-important power rankings article.

I pretty much did that, but it didn't work. It all came to a head on Christmas Eve, 2007. I was on the first tee when the phone rang. It was my boss telling me the owner was flipping out about my all-important power rankings, and that I had to do something fast. That's when I decided that I would never again permit something as meaningless as power rankings to ruin something as important as a round of golf. From then on, I just dumbed it down. I said nice things about everybody. The fun was gone and so were the complaints.

Aaron from Washington, DC

Vic, since the topic of injuries keeps coming up, what is the worst injury you've observed a player play through without missing games?

I don't have a feel for the worst, but I certainly remember the most dramatic. It was the elbow injury that ended Terry Bradshaw's career. He missed all of the 1983 season, except for two drives. Here's the story: It was late in the season and the Steelers needed to win at the Jets to make it into the playoffs. It was a Saturday national TV game and it would also be the final football game ever played at Shea Stadium, which is another story altogether. Brad always had a flair for the dramatic but this time he went overboard. At the beginning of the week, he decided to leak it to the media that he was ready to go. That kicked off a week of hilarity that culminated with someone bringing what they claimed to be a mynah bird with magical powers to the stadium to sit on Bradshaw's right arm. Brad played along, claiming he could feel the bird's healing powers working. It was great fun, until the day before the game. I decided to go to the team's walk-through the day before the game, just to put a top on my story that Bradshaw threw and was ready to go. When Bradshaw got on the bus, he sat down next to me and said, "I can't throw," and he didn't throw one pass at the practice. I heard they hit his arm with the magic needle so many times the next day that he couldn't feel the ball in his hand, but he wobbled that ball into his receivers hands often enough to throw a touchdown pass to cap a 75-yard drive on the first possession, and another touchdown pass to cap an 80-yard drive on the second possession, and that was it; he never played again.

Pat from San Francisco, CA

You've said repeatedly how much you admire Lombardi's admonishment to play with "reckless abandon" and appreciate that football is a violent sport not played by well-adjusted individuals. Shouldn't sports writers at least give some moral support for this if they believe it?

We can't do it. The injuries are just too many and too severe. This is a different game. Life changes. Little about it is as it was when Lombardi was the Packers' coach. What's good about change is that it protects the past. Lombardi and the '60s Packers are unique, and they will become more unique as time passes, and their mystique will grow. That's a good thing.

Chris from Voorhout, Netherlands

That end-of-the-season game against the Vikings is potentially looking quite significant.

We didn't give it enough respect when the schedule came out. We didn't give the Vikings enough respect. I watched them against the Lions. They're for real.

Scott from Palos Park, IL

Do you think there should be a stat for interceptions thrown on "Hail Mary" passes at the end of a half?

No, but I think there should be an awareness for how a "Hail Mary" interception negatively impacts a quarterback's passer rating. Don't let stats tell you how it is. Know how it is.

Jeremy from Antigo, WI

Vic, with the NFL embracing the offensive game, why doesn't the NFL require all stadiums, mainly cold-climate teams, to build a dome for their stadium so there aren't some of those boring, low-scoring cold games?

I wouldn't favor a rule requiring teams, regardless of the climate in which they play, to build domed stadiums, but I think the next wave of stadium construction will likely include more domed stadiums because they offer the potential for multi-purpose use. Plus, they also offer the potential to host a Super Bowl and other national events.

Jacob from New Bremen, OH

How do you see our rushing attack matching up against the Lions defense?

I think Sunday's game is going to be a shootout between two top quarterbacks.

Charles from Port Saint Lucie, FL

I'm happy we don't have a coach that calls out players publicly. Have you ever known that strategy to work?

I've never covered a coach that called out his players that he didn't later regret it. It's tough to sell unity when you do something like that. Tom Coughlin called out his defense after the loss to the Steelers; he called them soft. It didn't exactly work. Go ahead and light them up in the locker room, but what's said in the locker room has to stay in the locker room. It's a mistake to give the media material that can be used against the players you're asking to play for you.

George from Millersville, PA

During the offseason, I asked you if Peyton Manning has even a decent season, is he a lock for comeback player of the year? You responded, "It would take a one-armed wide receiver." With Adrian Peterson coming off an ACL tear and playing lights out, I think we need to examine this further.

I do, too, but I think I can tell you what the result will be. Manning will win. I'm not certain 2,000 yards rushing by Peterson would be enough to beat Manning. He might be the most popular player in NFL history.

Cliff from Sioux Falls, SD

This is to all those whiny Notre Dame fans. Pitt got screwed. They can thank the refs for their undefeated season.

An Irish blessing: May your helmets sparkle with gold, and may the officials for the game at USC be from the Big East. Get ready for 1964 all over again.

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