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The town and the team grow on you


Mike from North Aurora, IL

In all of your years covering the NFL, which player is your favorite interview, considering their honesty, openness or interesting stories?

Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Fred Taylor and Tony Boselli were all great interviews. They liked talking to sportswriters. That's the difference. If a guy thinks he's above talking to the media, he won't be any good at it. I can already tell that Donald Driver is a fantastic interview. Driver clearly understands that when you're talking to the media, you're talking to the fans. We're merely your representative. If I was a coach, that's what I would tell my players: Talk to the media as you would talk to the fans. Tell the media what you want the fans to know.

Chris from Coral Springs, FL

When Ted Thompson scouts this team to reduce the roster to 53, does he know all the offensive and defensive play-calls, or does he look to Coach McCarthy and his staff for their breakdown?

Ted can take one look at the coverage and know whether it's cover one, two, three or 300. That's not, however, what he's looking at. He's looking at the one-on-ones. He's looking at guys to see if they can beat their man. That's how you evaluate talent. You don't evaluate scheme. You evaluate skill.

Sean from Lake Villa, IL

I just watched the draft day memory video for Aaron Rodgers. Is he now happy he ended up with the Packers, contending for championships yearly and being a superstar?

Most players don't play where they grew up. If they were football fans as kids, they probably had a favorite team for which they dreamed of playing. Rodgers' team was the 49ers. Changing allegiances is one of the demands of becoming a pro. When you're a pro, you play for the paycheck. In the process, you develop closeness with your teammates and your team's fan base. You develop a bond with the town for which you play. Look at the identities of teams. Was Vince Lombardi from Green Bay? Joe Namath from New York? Jim Brown from Cleveland? The Packers' three greatest quarterbacks are from Alabama, Mississippi and California. The transition from college to the NFL is huge in many ways. The heart doesn't take instructions. You can't tell it to love something or some place. Attachment comes slowly; it happens on its own time. Yes, I think Rodgers has developed a strong attachment to Green Bay.

Art from Marshfield, WI

Don't you find that the Packers' colors make them stand out? You immediately know who is playing.

That's what colors and uniform design should achieve. When I see green and gold, I think of the Packers, even if I'm watching the Edmonton Eskimos. When you've achieved that kind of branding, only a fool would change it.

Andre from Kalamazoo, MI

As we all know, the Packers work on strip drills (to great effect), but how and how much do they work on the fundamentals like form tackling? Do they do one-on-one drills or do they just maul tackling dummies?

The Packers do a drill I had never previously seen done. At half speed, a tackler uses proper form in tackling a teammate, both of whom then fall onto a huge, high foam pad. The first few times I watched the drill, I had to look away; that's the curmudgeon in me. I must acknowledge, however, that the drill is, yet, another example of Mike McCarthy's coaching acumen. He's a high-tech, forward-thinking coach. He leaves no stone, so to speak, unturned. He conducts fumble-recovery drills for offensive linemen. He conducts a ball-security drill for running backs that involves a ball that has been soaked in a bucket of water. This is modern-day coaching. The days of nine-on-seven until your shoulders ache are over. The best coaches these days are the ones that cover all of the bases but without causing their players undue physical punishment.

Hans from Front Royal, VA

Love the column. Love your sarcasm. Keep it up. I believe you said once that you believe Charles Woodson is this team's Reggie White. Do you think Woodson has done enough to get in the Hall of Fame?

First ballot; done deal. He's got all of the credentials, and that little speech in the Soldier Field locker room last season won't hurt him, either. It's the Hall of Famous, and Woodson achieved a large measure of fame with his statesmanship, as he did at the White House. How many NFL players could verbally spar with the President of the United States and do it in a manner that dignified himself, his team and the game? Woodson did. I was really impressed by that.

Rob from Mishawaka, IN

Vic, what did you do? You must have miffed President Obama off something terrible. He decided to broadcast his speech on the same night as our Packers open the season vs. the Saints. Not good, Vic, not good at all.

We talked about that at the White House. I said, Prez, you being a Bears fan and all, if you preempt that game, you won't get a vote in Wisconsin. He said, "Tell Packers fans not to worry. I'll be done before kickoff time." I told him that if he finished his speech with a little "Go, Pack, go," it would really help him in Wisconsin. He just smiled.

Adam from Bismarck, ND

I know weight isn't everything when discussing an offensive lineman, but what do you think of the Wisconsin Badgers having a starting offensive line that collectively weighs 80 pounds more than the Packers' starting line?

UNLV could probably answer that question better than I can.

David from Berlin, MD

Being a diehard Packers fan, I decided to take the trip to Lambeau with my wife. We were shocked how the stadium seemed to be right in the middle of a small neighborhood. Are there any other stadiums that have that small-town feel?

Nope. I've covered NFL games in nearly 70 stadiums, and I can't think of a one that sat or sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore came close. I remember the first time I came to Lambeau Field to cover a game. Bart Starr was the coach. I remember looking out the back of the press box at the houses and thinking to myself, "You gotta be kidding me." Lambeau wasn't much of a facility back then. It was showing its age and, frankly, I didn't feel the charm. Now I do. That's what the renovation did. It updated the stadium to make it state of the art, and it also gave it charm because it defined the franchise's commitment to its past. Before the renovation, Lambeau Field was just an old stadium. After the renovation, Lambeau Field became a new stadium with a charming old feel.

Bob from Cambridge, Ontario

With Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams being one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, what is the best duo you have ever seen play the game?

It's probably Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes. They were truly dominant.

Loftur from Columbus, OH

Now that we have the best and worst teams you ever covered, which team you covered was the greatest disappointment and which one was the biggest surprise?

The 2008 Jaguars were the biggest disappointment; the 1989 Steelers and 1996 Jaguars were the biggest surprises.

Ross from Green Bay, WI

You seem to be very high on Aaron Rodgers (as I am) but, being only 20 years old, I missed out on seeing Montana, Unitas, and Graham Otto. I was wondering how A-Rod's playing stacks up against some of the best.

He can play with any quarterback in any era. All he has to do now is do it for another 10 years.

Dwight from Athens, WI

Officiating in any sport is quite challenging, especially in the NFL. How do NFL officials get their start in the league? Do they apply for positions or are they recommended by established officials? What are the career backgrounds of some of these men in stripes?

My high school football and baseball coach is a head linesman in the league, so I know his background and it goes like this: Teacher, coach, school administrator, high school football and basketball official. I didn't know he had made the move into officiating until I came across him one day while covering a high school state basketball playoff game. The next time I saw him was while I was covering an NFL game. When I arrive in the press box on game day, the first thing I do is check the flip card to see what officiating crew is working the game. If I see his name on the card, I'll make sure I stop at the officials' dressing room to say hi, or get down to the field before the game is over and talk to him for a few minutes after the game. Often one of the sideline guys in Jacksonville would say to me after the game, "One of the officials was asking about you." How do you graduate to the ranks of an NFL official? You work your way up from the high school ranks. If you're good, the NFL will find you.

Kurt from Tampa, FL

I saw that Chris Johnson got a big extension. I am wondering what the contract actually means when it says he is getting $53 million with $30 million guaranteed.

It means that if the Titans cut him, he gets $30 million, but not the remaining $23 million, which is salary he must earn by being on the team.

Jared from Minneapolis, MN

I'm becoming more and more convinced that as players become bigger, faster and stronger, a key quality personnel evaluators and general managers will need to look at more is injury history.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that as players before bigger, faster and stronger, the game must become softer or injuries will become too many for the game to absorb.

Terry from Junction City, WI

What's the story with all the gloves players wear now?

It's a game of hands and feet, not shoulders and hips. Once upon a time, players got sore shoulders, so they padded them as much as they could. Now they get sore hands, which is why they pad them with gloves.

Tou from Fresno, CA

Do players on the PUP list count as players on the 53?

Not until between weeks 7-10, at which point a PUP player must either be assigned to his team's 53-man roster, or be moved to the injured reserve list.

Chad from Middleton, WI

How would you rank the pretzels in other stadiums around the league?

If you're talking about the giant, hot pretzels, most stadiums don't offer them. It's a northeastern thing. "The Linc" in Philadelphia and Gillette in New England have the best giant pretzels. The mustard in Philly is better than the mustard in New England.

Jared from St. Clair Shores, MI

I enjoy your take-it-or-leave-it writing style. How has working in media changed over the years, particularly with so many people being so sensitive to everything? I believe you have been called sexist and racist since you have been with the Packers.

Word processors and the Internet have made sportswriting more immediate, and I love that about the evolution of the business. Everything is faster. The readers' participation has increased dramatically. Instead of having to send a letter to the editor, readers can let it fly any time they wish via email. I prefer it that way. Men have died for our right to free speech; go ahead and express it. The question becomes: How do you elect to express it, responsibly or with disregard of thought and decency?

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