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The helmet is for protection


Thomas from Vernon Hills, IL

There's a story about Vince Lombardi that has him beginning every season showing the players that a fumbled football drops any which way because of its shape. I think he told them: "Gentlemen, this is a football." Any truth to it? Didn't the players resent it?

Vic: I don't know if there's any truth to it, but if there is, then it would simply have been a training camp ice-breaker, which was common in those days. Remember, they didn't have mini-camps and OTAs back then. When the coaches said goodbye to their players after the final game of the season, it may have been until the next training camp started. Coaches literally sent out invitations to players to report to training camp. I know a coach that did a little ritual at the start of training camp. He would have his players form two lines five yards apart. The two lines would approach each other and then the players in the one line would drop their hips, put their facemasks in the chests of the players in the other line, wrap their arms under the hips of those players, lift and carry them back to their starting point. Then it was the other line's turn to do the same. It was a slow-motion tackling drill used to deliver a message: This is how you do it and it's important. If Lombardi introduced his players to the football, it was his way of saying the shape of the ball will cause unpredictable bounces, so make sure you don't drop it. Why would a player resent it? Nobody is above tackling technique or ball security.

David from Sammamish, WA

I'm not saying you're dumb or wrong because it's obviously subjective, but NFL Network just showed their "Lost Treasures" episode with the mud games and then immediately a promotion for the 2010 top 100 and I gotta say that modern-day football seems a lot more attractive to me as a viewer than the mud days.

Vic: It is more attractive. The fields are prettier, the stadiums are more handsome and the presentation of the game, from the tailored fit of the uniforms to the high-definition television that sends the game to its viewers, is far more sophisticated than the lifeless uniforms and grainy black and white television productions of yesteryear. So, why is it that bad-weather football spikes TV ratings? That's not an opinion, that's a fact. One of the reasons the networks love to show late-season games in Green Bay and New England is because there's a strong chance the game will be played in snow. Do you remember the infamous Monday night rain game a few years ago, the one in which the punt stuck in the mud? The only points of the game were scored on a field goal in the final seconds. If ever there was a Rockettes game – one, two, three, kick – this was it. It was incredibly boring, yet, not only were the ratings strong, they got stronger as 11 o'clock approached. That's completely against the grain; usually the ratings decline as 11 o'clock in the east approaches. Why were people tuning into a game in which no points were scored? Because they wanted to see the mud.

Mike from Orange Park, FL

The lesson on the evolution of 5-2 to 3-4 was thought-provoking, and you've mentioned players getting bigger. If they keep getting bigger and football evolves, what's on the endangered list? Please tell me what wonders of today's game to enjoy now before they become as extinct as the Packers sweep, the most beautiful play in history.

Vic: As the game becomes more upright, and especially if three and four-point stances are forbidden, you begin to wonder about the role of the "big guy." Would he be legislated out of the game? Think about it: If he can't put his hand on the ground and dig his feet into the ground to hold the point against the run, then what good is he, and why would need someone of similar size to block players that are smaller and quicker? In a completely upright game, size might become unimportant; movement might be everything.

Doug from San Luis Obispo, CA

Do you think with the new "Steelers rule" and the way the players are reacting, the Steelers are the new Raiders of the NFL?

Vic: I don't remember the Raiders having been legislated against, at least not on the field. I was stunned that the league let that verbiage get out there. After I thought about it, I decided the league did it because they wanna use a high-profile team known for playing physical football to underscore the league's emphasis on player-safety rules. In other words, would "Panthers rule" create the same buzz? I don't think so. "Steeler football" is an old term that refers to a particular brand of play. The term "Steelers rule" is a way of saying the days of "Steeler football" are over. It's a pretty strong statement.

Jack from Salem, VA

Vic, I have heard from friends around the country that the workouts which were a big deal when they began have witnessed smaller and smaller turnouts as the days have gone by. Without the coaches pushing and prodding them, they are not all that the press has made them out to be. Is that true?

Vic: I don't know. I'm stunned to hear that. I figured they were excited to be mentoring. Hey, you can never have enough mentoring, huh?

Grant from Plymouth, MN

The NFL is worried about safety of players and mostly head contact. Why not just make every player wear the new helmet that Rodgers wore? If those are safer and better, wouldn't it make sense to have everyone wear that?

Vic: Yes, it would, when the league gets to the point that the helmet is no longer being used to deliver a blow, only to protect its wearer from one. Try to distinguish the difference. As you add padding to the head, you increase the force with which it can be used to deliver a blow. It's akin to boxers wearing heavier gloves. The more padded the hands are, the more blows they can deliver without getting sore. Once the league can convince players to stop leading with their heads in tackling, then the sole purpose of the helmet will be to protect players from unintended impact. The key is changing the attitude toward the function of the helmet.

Andy from Abbotsford, BC

After reading about the players' weekly schedule, I was wondering about how many hours, on average, do players typically work a week?

Vic: What are we counting, practice and meeting time only, or all time spent at the facility or with the team at the hotel? Do we count the hours spent after the player leaves home on Saturday morning and doesn't return until after the game on Sunday? You see, Andy, it's not about work hours, it's about making football and the team their life. During the season, football is their life. Even their off day is about football because that day is spent feeling sore from the game they just played.

Mike from Wonder Lake, IL

What are the benefits to having the team stay in a local hotel, even during home games? Does every team do this without exception?

Vic: The main advantage is that everyone is present and accounted for. You have a captive audience and it allows a coach to make sure his team is focused and prepared. In the old days, it was a way of getting players away from two o'clock feedings. The intent is much more specific now. Saturday nights are spent brushing up on the game plan and tape study. It's also a way of controlling what the players eat and, of course, when they retire for the evening. I don't know if there's a team in the league that doesn't spend the night before home games in a hotel; it's the norm that teams do that and have done that for a long time. I remember that when Sam Rutigliano became the coach of the Cleveland Browns, he waived the Saturday hotel ritual for home games; he did it to help build morale and sell his program to veteran players.

Rob from Oshkosh, WI

Wouldn't outlawing three and four-point stances get rid of down linemen and basically turn defensive tackles and ends into really big linebackers?

Vic: I've considered that possibility. All of a sudden, modern-day players wouldn't be bigger and stronger, would they? So, what impact would a "smaller" game have on injuries? These are just thoughts.

Dan from Charlotte, NC

How about the coaches' schedule? It seems to me they never take a day off. Even on the players' day off, they're working late into the night. What does a typical position coach, coordinator and head coach's weekly schedule look like and how many hours do they put in during a typical week?

Vic: Arrive at work in the dark, go home in the dark and do it seven days a week from training camp until the end of the season. Once we start to lose the light in the fall, that's really not an exaggeration. Coaches work 12-hour days, seven days a week for half the year.

Evan from Sand Creek, WI

Love reading your article to hear some football talk during this lockout. Has there ever been a true ambidextrous quarterback in pro football?

Vic: I don't know if he was legitimately ambidextrous, but George Mira was a right-handed quarterback that could throw with his left hand. I saw him do it.

Garrett from New Knoxville, OH

I saw on your all-time team you had two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. That would indicate you're leaning toward the 4-3. Why?

Vic: First of all, I wanted to assemble a team that could play a game, as opposed to manufacturing positions to fit selections. For example, it was very important that the offensive linemen be fitted to the specific positions they played. I call it my "Forrest Gregg rule." Gregg was a right tackle, which was the premium position on the line in those days. Nowadays, it's almost as though being a right tackle is a mark against a player; only left tackles are considered for honors. I wasn't going to penalize Gregg because he played in another era. Secondly, I decided on making the 4-3 the standard, instead of the 3-4, because the 4-3 has been the standard defense of pro football over the last 50-some years. Also, if I went to a 3-4, the tackle would have to be a nose tackle, and that means the best tackles in the history of the game would have to be ignored. Also, Bruce Smith is absolutely not a 3-4 type of defensive end. Here are a couple of thoughts I had after doing the all-time team: 1.) Reggie White might be the second-greatest defensive player in history. 2.) If Darrelle Revis continues to play as he has since entering the league, he'll push somebody out at cornerback.

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