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Who's better than the best team in the AFC?


Andrea from Lanuvio, Italy

"In a lot of ways, statistics are for losers," Coach McCarthy wrote yesterday in his column. I'd hope it's the final word on the stat-frenzy many fans show. Just win, baby.

It's a very simple concept: Winners can rest on their win-loss record; it defines them. Losers have to use something else, lest they be defined as losers.

Joseph from Chattanooga, TN

Vic, I'm glad the places you've lived and the teams you've covered stay with you. It makes your life and career a rich pageantry. Could you talk a bit about the first time you covered the Jaguars against the Steelers? The Jaguars won one of their four games of their inaugural season, while the Steelers eventually took the division and AFC title.

The best thing that ever happened to me was working in that sintering plant. That's when I found out what a wimp I am and I decided I needed to dedicate my life to sitting in press boxes and eating free hot dogs. I transitioned well and I wish every fan could travel the journey I have. It's allowed me to see the world of football, not just the game. I've lived and worked in three wonderful places. Each has passionate fans and distinct customs. When you open your mind to new ways and new ideas, you grow, and I think I've grown as a result of the stops I've made. Pittsburgh is my hometown and it's where I learned the game. Jacksonville was my first venture away from home and it taught me about the excitement of being new and the struggles that come with it. Green Bay is teaching me reverence. I wouldn't be nearly as rich today, metaphorically speaking, if I hadn't worked and lived in all three places. What you find is that living is loving. All three places are etched deeply into my spirit. The first time I covered a Jaguars-Steelers game, I was only a few months removed from 23 years of covering the Steelers, and I felt uneasy as I covered the game. I have no doubt I'll feel a lot of that same uneasiness this Sunday, and that's a good thing because it'll let me know that the years I've lived and the games I've covered have been meaningful. One day, I'm going to sit back in my mountain hideaway, where I'll have NFL Sunday Ticket and three TVs and I'll watch all three of my teams at the same time. Somebody has to win, right?

Jocelyn from Crawfordsville, IN

My college coach said, "If you need a pep talk to get fired up for a football game, there's something wrong with you." I feel like he's spot on.

Most players I've known dislike pep talks because they feel they distract them from the personal pep talk they've been giving themselves all week, as they've prepared themselves mentally and emotionally to win their one-on-ones and execute their roles and responsibilities. One man's perspective isn't always another's. Fans like pep talks because they're entertaining, but this isn't about entertainment for the players. This is their job and their careers are on the line every week. They have a routine for preparation they've been using since high school, and it's obviously served them well for their careers to have advanced to the NFL level. I think a lot of fans confuse pep talks with ice-breakers. Coaches might sense a little tension, and when they do, they'll use words or acts to break the ice. One of my favorite pep-talk stories is of Chuck Noll, sensing his team was a little tight, telling the story of the Corinthians sailing to Sparta to do battle. Upon arriving on Spartan soil, Noll said, the Corinthians burned their ships, so the only way they could return to Corinth was victorious on Spartan ships. "Men, we have to be that committed to victory today," Noll said. There was silence in the room. In the locker room after the game, after the Steelers had crushed their poor opponent, a player asked me, "What do you know about these (expletive deleted) Corinthians?" Usually, it was Rocky Bleier that had to explain the stories.

Felipe from Edinburg, TX

Vic, is it too early to crown Aaron Rodgers MVP, if his performance continues to be on fire?

What's the rush? Don't be afraid of success. Relax and enjoy it.

Nick from Water Mill, NY

What was it that enabled the Jaguars to be good so quickly after their expansion year, and what do you feel really kept them from getting to the next level?

The Jaguars rose to the conference title game level twice in their first five seasons for the same reason the Packers won the Super Bowl during that same period of time: They signed a lot of good free-agent players. The Packers signed Reggie White, Sean Jones, Santana Dotson, etc., and the Jaguars signed Leon Searcy, Carnell Lake, Kyle Brady, Gary Walker, Keenan McCardell, etc. The Jaguars traded for Mark Brunell and the Packers traded for Brett Favre. Free agency and the salary cap were new and teams were struggling to understand how to apply one to the other. The Jaguars and Packers are two teams that took advantage of the newness of free agency and the salary cap. The Jaguars failed to get to the next level because their aggressiveness in free agency caused a salary cap meltdown that forced them to dump much of their core players in the Texans expansion draft and gut what was left of the roster just to get under the cap. I'm not as familiar with the Packers' situation, but I don't recall a cap meltdown.

Tyler from Madison, WI

I was watching some old Packers highlights from the 1960s and I noticed none of the players had their name on the back of their jersey. When did the NFL start putting names on the back?

Names on the backs of jerseys was a creation of the AFL. The NFL adopted it fully when the two leagues merged in 1970.

Eric from Neenah, WI

I've read your thoughts on the effects the Madden video game has had but I haven't read your opinions about John Madden as a coach and then analyst. I'd like to know what you think of him.

I like him as an analyst, but I'm more intrigued by him as an historical coaching figure. I genuinely believe that had it not been for the "Immaculate Reception," Madden's Raiders would've dealt the Dolphins their only loss of the 1972 season in the AFC title game, which would've been played in Oakland. I believe the Raiders would've gone on to beat the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. I think he was a great football coach whose legacy was victimized by one play. He shouldn't have angered Art Rooney's brother, a priest, the day before the "Immaculate Reception." I think that Irish curse got him.

John from Port Edwards, WI

Can you explain what a route tree is? I hear more and more coaches bring it up.

The vertical part of receivers' routes is known as the stem. Imagine all of the receivers' stems, and then the moves they make off those stems as branches, and you should be able to envision a tree.

John from Elliott, IL

It was commented over the weekend that 46 of the 53 players on the roster have never played anywhere else in the NFL. That shows how good of a GM we have in Ted Thompson.

When you have a roster with that kind of home-grown talent on it, you're doing it the right way. It's one thing to espouse the virtues of draft and develop; it's something else to execute that philosophy and win. Free agency is very enticing. It eliminates 50 percent of the work in draft and develop, and reduces it to just sign. The problem is it doesn't make you younger, and your cap doesn't like it, either. The Packers have a general manager who does it the right way and is strong enough in his commitment to it that he can weather the storm of protest from fans that demand the instant gratification free agency offers.

Julian from Amelia Island, FL

So why do you think the officials didn't err on the side of caution when Suh took Cutler to the ground on Monday night? That hit looked really vicious.

I think it really says something about the attempt to change the culture that this play is even an issue. Suh took Cutler down the way he did because it was a continuous and necessary part of the action for the defense to succeed. I didn't give it a second thought. The fact that it's become controversial would suggest two things: 1.) The fan and media culture is clearly changing. 2.) We'll do anything to create controversy.

Daniel from Sugar Land, TX

I work at a chemical plant in Texas. We have been having quite a few spills lately. Up until this point, we have been trying to improve the system and procedures for the operators to help reduce the spills, but haven't seen any improvement. I'm guessing it's time to start hiring better operators. Operators, not procedures?

When it comes to chemical plants, it's "Operators and gas masks, not procedures."

Nate from Omaha, NE

I love your column. I find it funny and educational. So with that, who is the best team in the AFC, and how many NFC teams are better than that?

The best team in the AFC, in my opinion, is Houston. I know of at least one 4-3 NFC team that is better. The question that remains to be answered is: Who WILL be the best teams when the season ends? The way it is now is meaningless. It's all about what teams are going to become in December, when the weather turns cold and the games get colder. That's when we find out which teams get it done at crunch time. This is all window dressing right now. Have a good time. Enjoy the entertainment, but don't wear yourself out because the important part of the season is still way off in the distance, and some teams will improve and some teams will fade away, and then one team will emerge as better than all the rest, and the conference it represents will have nothing to do with it.

Derek from South Point, OH

Vic, if you don't mind me asking, were you at Kent State when the tragic events unfolded on May 4, 1970? What do you remember?

When you go to Lambeau Field for the first time, you ask: Which end zone is it? When I tell people I went to Kent State, they ask: Were you there? Yes. I remember the sound of the sirens on the ambulances. That's when I knew it was real.

John from Port Edwards, WI

Did you get to see the piece on ESPN with Jim Brown and Earl Campbell?

I saw the tease and it instantly gave me a sad feeling. I thought about it for a while and I started to think to myself, "Is it a good thing that these guys don't exist anymore?" Brown, Campbell, Taylor and Hornung, Sayers, Payton, Franco, Csonka, Dorsett, Sims, etc., all gone from the game. Is it a good thing that we've made the men that would've followed in their footsteps disappear? I don't think it is.

Andre from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Do you think the improvement of our defense is proof of Ted Thompson's quality on draft day?

Perry was a no-brainer. He fit and he addressed the team's most pressing need. Worthy and Hayward are examples of Thompson's draft-day genius, because he was able to position himself to draft players the Packers needed and where they fit in the order. The scouting department gets the attaboy for McMillian. They found him where others weren't looking. The Packers selected him higher than McMillian fit on most boards, but now he's proving that the Packers' grade was the right one. It's a dynamite need-meets-BAP draft class and it could be the difference-maker for the Packers this year.

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