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Keep the stat boy, give me a winner


Nathan from Dubuque, IA

Vic, you said cutdown days were some of your best writing days and that every kid had a story. Is there a particular story that sticks in your mind?

Vic: There are several that stick in my mind. There was the kid who was cut but didn't leave camp and managed to lay low and stay in his room and eat in the cafeteria for an extra week before he was detected. When he finally was confronted and asked why he didn't leave when he was cut, he said: "Because I have nowhere to go." There are a lot of those kids. My favorite story, and I've told it before in this column, is of a journeyman wide receiver named Johnnie Dirden. He was signed by the Oilers off a cement truck and he was in his final try to stick with a team when I was lucky enough to tell his story. He was playing well in camp and I went to his room to interview him. The door was slightly ajar but the room was dark. I knocked but nobody answered so I began to walk away when I heard, "psst." I stopped, looked back at the door and I heard it again, "psst." I walked toward the door and it opened, but the room was still dark. Then I saw him and he waved me in and I told him who I was and that I wanted to do a story on him, and then I asked him why the room was dark and he explained that he was hiding from the "Turk." He said, and I'll never forget this: "They can't cut you if they can't find you." This guy was a veteran of cutdown days and he knew that if they can't find you on cutdown day, maybe they'll cut somebody else and by the time the next cutdown day arrives, there will have been a run on injuries at your position and you'll stick another week. These were the old days when there were no roster limits; you could bring as many guys to camp as you wanted and guys got cut just about every other day. So, this journeyman wide receiver/kick-returner positioned himself in his room so he could see who was at his door but they couldn't see him. It was a wonderful story of the desperation to play professional football. I'll never forget him. I hope he is well.

Scott from Palos Park, IL

With the new kickoff rule, do you think special teams coaches will be implementing more returns from the end zone?

Vic: That's not what I'm inclined to believe will result from the new kickoff rule. My first instinct is that we're going to see bigger, stronger, sturdier men used as kickoff-returners. I think we're going to see a move toward running backs returning kickoffs, instead of smaller, Dante Hall types. I'm inclined to think that will happen because I'm inclined to believe returners will be running in tighter quarters. On the short, high kicks, the returner will need to be a guy who can take a shot and hold onto the ball. I think this is a rule that will favor running backs in their quest to make the roster.

Gabe from Jacksonville, FL

In reference to your response to Andi, could you explain how the money for the jersey gets split between the players vs. the team? This could enlighten everyone on why the last CBA was such a bad deal for the teams.

Vic: I'll give you a simpler example of how the money was split and applied, according to the CBA that just expired. We did an "Ask Vic" golf tournament in Jacksonville. It was purely a for-fun event; one year we somehow and mistakenly were left with a nine-dollar profit, which we put into the next year's tournament in the way of prize money. For the first several tournaments, golfers sent us a check and then we cut a check to the golf course. After the CBA of 2006, however, when the league went to a Total Football Revenue (TFR) model, we had to make sure we didn't touch any of the money. From that point on, the golfers had to pay the golf course directly. Why? Because if they had paid us, 60 percent of the money they sent us would've gone to the players off the top, leaving us with 40 percent of that money to pay 100 percent of the costs. That's not a good formula for doing business. I think you can easily see that we would've had to build in some serious margins just to break even.

Josh from Harrisburg, PA

You could just say that BAP-drafting is future need-drafting.

Vic: You are, without a doubt, da man. I kneel at the feet of your greatness.

Rand from Genoa, NV

If team A wants to trade spots with team B to move up to draft their guy at that spot, does team A normally identify the player they want to team B while negotiating the spot swap? Does team B typically demand to know the player team A wants prior to making the spot swap? By the way, I like your style.

Vic: I asked a personnel director friend of mine the answer to your question and he said teams trying to trade up normally don't divulge the player for whom they're attempting to trade up and draft, but he always asks who that player is and if he has a good working relationship with the team that's trying to trade up, they might reveal who that player is.

Trey from Jacksonville, FL

Pouring salt into the water?

Vic: Yeah, it was believed that by adding salt to the water, you were increasing the player's ability to retain water and, therefore, aiding his hydration. In reality, all they did was make the water taste so bad that nobody wanted to drink it, and it wasn't offered much, either. The thinking back then was that keeping players thirsty made them tough. The primitive training practices used back then would be comical if they weren't so frightening. Coaches would schedule practices so they would be conducted at the hottest time of the day. Vomiting was revered. I can remember literally being forced to take salt pills at breaks. Everybody got two salt pills and you were observed to have swallowed them. My favorite is the dipper from which everybody drank. Even back then, it just didn't sit right with me.

Jake from Aurora, IL

What would you say was the best football game ever played in the NFL?

Vic: There are three time-honored candidates: 1.) The 1958 NFL title game, which bears the title, "The Greatest Game Ever Played." 2.) The "Ice Bowl," which has long been a favorite of mine. 3.) The "Immaculate Reception," which wasn't a great football game but offered a moment of intrigue, suspense and drama as I have never witnessed at any other time in any other sport. I'll go with the '58 title game. It was a great game and when you couple that with its impact on the future of the sport, I think it truly was "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

Chuck from Hartland, WI

With today's 16-game season and pass-happy offenses, how has "Night Train" Lane's 14-interceptions record set in a 12-game season stood for so long? Speaking of long-standing records, do you see Don Hutson's NFL record of 29 points scored in a quarter ever falling?

Vic: I'm not big on records because most of them tend to be anomalies, but when they serve to distinguish the careers of great players, such as Lane and Hutson, they have worth. Lane was a "killer" on the field. He was a vicious football player. Imagine the fines he would've accumulated in today's game; he'd make James Harrison blush. Hutson, in my opinion, should be considered a legitimate candidate for greatest player ever. Here's another record I love: Johnny Unitas' 47 consecutive games having thrown a touchdown pass. Nobody has even come close to breaking that record. Unitas, in my opinion, is the greatest quarterback of all-time.

D.J. from Cottage Grove, WI

Would you be in favor of putting an additional referee in a replay booth so he can insure all calls are correct?

Vic: Cottage Grove; what a wonderful name. I wish I was from Cottage Grove. No, I'm not in favor of putting an additional referee anywhere. I'm in favor of fewer referees.

Allen from Tampa, FL

Do you think teams picking at the end of the first round, such as the Steelers and Packers, bother to spend as much time researching and scouting players that are projected to be drafted in, say, the top five, as they would players projected to be taken later?

Vic: As much time? Probably not. Time? Yes. You have to be thorough. You need to do scouting reports on every draft prospect so that you have those reports in your files. You'll need to refer to those reports when you play against those players and you may need to refer to those reports if and when the day comes that those players are available in free agency or on the waiver wire. Good personnel departments are thorough.

Kyle from Halifax, Nova Scotia

I'm surprised the tackle Rodgers made on Urlacher was not mentioned in the plays that saved the season.

Vic: You're right, it may have saved the season. Ten of them? No, there were a lot more than 10 plays that saved the season. Change one play and the whole season might've changed. Aaron Rodgers' tackle of Brian Urlacher didn't look like much, but he got him down, didn't he? Peyton Manning didn't get his guy down, did he? Quarterbacks don't get enough credit for being football players; the ones that actually are football players. There are no stats for blocks made on end-around plays, or tackles following interceptions, or passes thrown away while in the grasp of a pass-rusher. I don't want a stat boy; I want a quarterback who's a winner. Bart Starr was a winner.

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