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My Thanksgiving message to you


Ben from Columbus, OH

I'm a huge OSU/Big Ten fan and I was stunned that they added Maryland and Rutgers. I might have misunderstood you before, but I thought being members of the AAU was why the Big Ten wouldn't add another school; that there are billions of dollars behind research, and that the Big Ten kept their small group of schools for that reason. Am I wrong?

You have it a little confused. Maryland and Rutgers are each members of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious academics club. Nebraska is the only Big Ten school not in the AAU; it lost its accreditation shortly after joining the Big Ten. It makes me wonder if they would've been extended an invite had they lost the AAU membership prior to joining the Big Ten. Big Ten schools have always had one thing in common: They are research universities and AAU membership usually accompanies those types of schools. Federal research money makes the money athletic departments generate look like chump change. It helped Maryland and Rutgers that they are research institutes with AAU memberships. It especially helped Maryland that it has a relationship with neighboring Johns Hopkins, one of the kings of federal grants for research. One of the keys to Maryland's invite is that it broadened the Big Ten's footprint to include D.C., just as Rutgers gives the Big Ten a foothold in the New York market. The big thing with Rutgers is that its invite pleases the Big Ten's TV partner, FOX, which owns 49 percent of the Big Ten Network and owns the YES Network in New York, which includes Yankees games. FOX needed another New York team for its YES cable subscribers. OK, now let's all sing some college fight songs. The line between the NFL and college football is getting a little blurred, isn't it?

Scott from Palos Park, IL

Dark meat or light meat?

I always thought the dark meat was reserved for the man of the house. That's because my father and grandfather always took the dark meat. Then I found out the real reason: It was so there would always be enough light meat for everyone else to eat. We'll have plenty of light meat on our turkey today, but I'll take the dark meat first.

James from Chicago, IL

I came down from my tree stand and took a break long enough to ask you this question. Clearly, players are being held out of extra games/practices due to injuries, the league seemingly redefines a legal hit on a weekly basis and constantly fines players for hits. Do you think the league is following this course to protect itself from future accusations that it's not concerned about player safety?

Sure it is. It's trying to send a message to everyone that it not only expects the players to change their culture, but that the league is taking the necessary steps to change its culture, too. It sent the message to the players during the 2011 CBA negotiations and I think that was a big factor in getting a new deal. Now go back up in the tree stand and don't fall.

Jon from Warsaw, IN

Does anyone at NFL headquarters have any idea how inevitable your prophecies are? I have a feeling you're from the future and there are things you're just not telling us.

I get these headaches and things stick in my head. This week, I can't get the year 1964 out of my head. I wake up and start thinking about it, and I know what it's all about. In '64, my dad took me to the Pitt-Notre Dame game. It was a big deal for me. I was excited all week waiting for it. The Irish were undefeated, ranked No. 1. Parseghian was the coach, Huarte was the quarterback and Snow was his favorite receiver. I expected them to kill Pitt, and that's the way it looked when the Irish took an early lead. But then the game slowly started to change. Pitt rallied and began to dominate, and it appeared the Irish would lose as Pitt moved the ball down the field toward the end zone on a late-game drive. The deciding moment in the game was a fourth-and-two play. The Pitt quarterback gained four or five yards, but one of the officials ruled the quarterback's knee touched the ground when he slipped in the backfield. Film footage later showed the quarterback's knee did not touch the ground. It was a bad call that saved the Irish's unblemished record. Then, in the final game of the season – Notre Dame did not accept bowl bids in those days – the Irish got jobbed at Southern Cal and lost. You see where I'm going with this? Notre Dame jobbed Pitt a couple of weeks ago, and the Irish are again taking an undefeated season to Southern Cal for the final game on their schedule this weekend. Is this 1964 all over again?

John from Myrtle Creek, OR

Do you really think there's a home field advantage?

It seems to have lessened through the years, and I think that's the result of teams being forced to deal with crowd noise, but crowd noise will still cause a visiting team to false start a couple of times in a game, and if one of those false starts occurs at a critical time in the game, that's an undeniable home field advantage.

Spencer from North Las Vegas, NV

Vic, after reading your column for the last season and a half, I have gained a whole new respect for James Starks' playing style this season. I've noticed him dropping his pads and running defenders over for extra yards. How say you?

Starks has a unique running style. He's a slasher and a pounder. That's why I like him so much. He's a wiggle guy, a cutback runner who has the size and power to drop his pads on you and make you go backward. He's a very physical runner and that's my kind of back because I believe very strongly that if you're not running the ball with power, you're not really running the ball. The next challenge for Starks would seem to be execution. He needs to blend his game with the scheme.

Nathan from Olympia, WA

What do you think of Coach McCarthy's chances of winning coach of the year?

I think the coach of the year race is wide open, as is the MVP race. I think Mike McCarthy is a candidate and how his team plays over the final weeks of the season will determine the fate of his candidacy. I think Jim Harbaugh and Mike Smith are candidates in the NFC, and Gary Kubiak is the top candidate in the AFC. What we don't have this year is a rags-to-riches candidate.

Felipe from Edinburg, TX

What are your thoughts on Finley complaining about not getting the ball?

John Stallworth complained about not getting the ball. Keenan McCardell complained about not getting the ball. That's what receivers do. I have no problem with complaining about not getting the ball, as long as you catch the ones you get.

Jeff from Loves Park, IL

Do you believe the Packers should target a running back with their first pick in the 2013 draft?

If by targeting you mean identifying a running back you want to draft and fits where you're picking, or moving to a spot in the draft where the back fits in the order, I'm all for it. He must be at the top of your board when you pick.

Joe from Brightwaters, NY

I am a shareholder and have been a proud Packers fan since 1958. I know there are thousands of shareholders across the country which I believe makes the Packers the real "America's Team." Can you tell me why the sports world would give the Cowboys this title?

The sports world didn't give the Cowboys that title; the Cowboys gave it to themselves. They dubbed themselves "America's Team" back in the '70s, when the NFC was horribly weak with teams nobody wanted to see play, which is the reason CBS put the Cowboys on their national telecasts every week, because the Cowboys were the only team in the NFC that delivered ratings. Because they were on national TV every week, the Cowboys dubbed themselves "America's Team."

Joseph from Staten Island, NY

We can learn a lot from Eli in Israel just matter of factly inquiring into the state of his favorite team's state of mind. Here's a worn-torn land in the beginning stages of a major crisis, with his very life in jeopardy, and he's using the Packers as a diversion to real problems.

When we give thanks later today, it might be a good idea to give thanks for living in a country that's not being bombed.

Gary from Chippewa Falls, WI

Walter Payton was the greatest 1-yard leaper ever. Is it a lost art or are guys not doing it for injury reasons?

Guys don't do it because coaches tend not to like it, because leaping usually causes the leaper to loosen his grip on the ball. Fumbles often accommodate leaping. Sam Cunningham was the best goal-line leaper I've ever seen.

Michael from Madison, WI

Jim Harbaugh hinted at a rotation between Smith and Kaepernick. Is he the innovative coach that will change the game by have a running QB and a throwing QB, as you predicted, possibly using them simultaneously?

I don't think that's it. I think Harbaugh is using the Smith-Kaepernick controversy to keep his team fresh late in the season. This is the slump time of the season. It's a time when the routine can become stale and boring. Justin Tuck talked about that yesterday. He said that doing the same thing every day can cause a team to plateau. Harbaugh is giving his team some excitement. He likes football with an edge.

Conor from Glen Mills, PA

Why do we have games on Thursday night instead of, say, Friday night?

Because Friday night is high school football night and there would be a lot of local push back if NFL teams started playing on Friday night and stealing the high school crowd. High school football is one of the two hands that have fed the NFL for a long time. Don't bite it.

Andrew from Jacksonville, FL

I'd like to be able to read a memoir from your career someday. Your writing style, along with the stories of the great Steelers teams, the expansion Jags and the potentially great Packers team would be a unique take on the NFL and life.

I'm going to do it someday. That's why I'm saving that crate of cigars I brought here with me from Jacksonville. One day, when I don't have to write anything else and I don't have to worry about saving anything for later in the game because I'm at the two-minute warning, I'm going to sit down and write for fun. I'm going to write about what a joy it has been to cover the great teams, players and coaches I've had the pleasure to watch, and I'm going to tell stories that belong in books. I'm going to do all of that because it will be my way of reliving it all.

Travis from Seattle, WA

Do you believe Green Bay will perform better in the postseason if they enter as a wild card team instead of as a division winner or have a first-round bye?

I love the movie "Slap Shot." There's a scene in it where the police knock on the team's locker room door. Paul Newman opens the door and the policeman says, "The Hansons." Well, imagine you're Paul Newman and I'm the policeman. The Seahawks.

Les from Agat, Guam

We would like you to put an end to our debate. Who made the 49ers defense, Singletary or Harbaugh?

A lot of those players were assembled during Mike Singletary's watch, but what Singletary wasn't able to do with demanding words, Jim Harbaugh has been able to do with rugged reserve.

Dan from Calgary, Alberta

What is the best experience you've had since you started to report for NFL teams?

It's probably a tossup between seeing Racquel Welch in the Orange Bowl press box at Super Bowl X, or sitting in front of the president on the White House lawn in 2011.

Randy from Medicine Hat, Alberta

This to wish your family Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks to you for providing me with a column I enjoy daily. I particularly enjoy the contributors from around the world. No blog or column comes close to this one.

Thanksgiving is a great day. Thanksgiving and Fourth of July have always been my favorite holidays. My wife put up the Christmas lights outside last night while I was watching the basketball game, and the house will be filled with the smell of turkey when I get home today. We'll sit down for dinner and give thanks, and then repair to the old CD player for our Thanksgiving traditional. It's all part of the experience. What I want to do right now is give thanks for the fans that read this column. You give me something to do in the morning while I'm drinking coffee. You inform me of the day's news. You wake me up and give me a little edge for the day. You make me laugh and look forward to another day of no heavy lifting. You make it possible for me to earn a living without working, and for you, I give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.

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