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Without Lombardi, are the Packers still in Green Bay?

'Ice Bowl' would be played with far less difficulty today


Tim from Santa Monica, CA

Do you have any recollections of the 1976-77 Bucs? I was watching NFL Films footage of just how bad these guys were. I did like John McKay's multiple quotations about the team's performances; I couldn't stop laughing.

The 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs are the only team I have ever heard an upcoming opponents' coach disregard in his comments during the week leading up to the game. I'll never forget it. Chuck Noll couldn't force himself to say something fearful about the Bucs. He actually smiled and winked when someone asked him about the game against the Bucs. It was clearly our cue not to go there because Noll didn't want to embarrass his opponent or its coaches. There was just no chance of the Bucs winning this game, against arguably the greatest defense in the history of professional football, a defense that shutout five of its last nine opponents and allowed only 28 points. I can remember thinking that this might be the only game I ever cover that there's no chance of an upset. The final score was 42-0 and I can't remember one thing about that game except that I really liked the Bucs' uniforms. The Bucs got next to nothing from an expansion draft that was loaded with duds and medical rejects, but the real problem was that they didn't get the depth from their draft class that was expected of a team with multiple picks in rounds 2-5. Their top pick, Lee Roy Selmon, is a Hall of Famer, but the Bucs didn't get much else from the class. It wasn't a great draft class leaguewide. The stories about that Bucs team are legendary. When the Bucs were penalized for having 12 men on the field, an assistant coach was said to have asked one of the officials, "Which one was it?" An injured Bucs player said to Coach John McKay, "Coach, I got the x-ray, but I don't feel any better." Meanwhile, McKay acted as though he was doing a comedy routine and his team was his foil. The '76 Bucs were a sportswriter's dream.

Ray from Kingman, AZ

How about 16 playoff teams? How would they do it?

No more byes. I'm not against expanding the playoff field and here's why: It'll make it more difficult to get to the Super Bowl. Hey, that's the prize, right? Win twice at home and you're in? I don't think that's tough enough. I understand that you devalue the regular-season games when you expand the playoff field, but isn't the season all about the playoffs? I think the Stanley Cup is the most difficult championship to win among the big four pro sports. The idea of having to win 16 games in a high-velocity contact sport to win a championship is daunting, to say the least, especially if you have to play 28 times to win those 16 games. Two at home? I think we need to do better than that. I would not be opposed to 16 playoff teams and having to win three times to make it to the Super Bowl. If we have truly achieved parity, and I think we have, there's nothing wrong with the top half of the league making it into the postseason. For me, the season has always begun after Thanksgiving. That's when the real teams surface. I might be an old-school guy when it comes to other things, but when it comes to expanding the playoffs, I'm a raging progressive. Go ahead, give me more games that really matter. Give me more win-or-else games. Give me crunch time any time. I don't want the stats, I want the drama, and the postseason delivers the drama.

Fats from Pleasanton, CA

You always say wait until the pads come on in practice to judge a player. With the new rules limiting contact in practice, is it harder than in the past to get a read on a player? In the end, I guess you have to wait until kickoff to really judge a player, but I was interested if you saw any real change here or not.

You're absolutely right. It's getting more difficult to find a practice that can really tell you something about a guy.

Jim from Appleton, WI

Vic, what's a typical Sunday like for you during the regular season?

Arrive early, stay late. There are two negatives about being a sports writer: 1.) When the game is over, you begin. 2.) Everybody else's leisure time is your work time.

Anne from Seattle, WA

Competition breeds violence. It's a sociological principle that continues to be proven, whether it's related to business, relationships or parents at Little League games. It's no coincidence that we are the most competitive country in the world and the most violent.

So we have that going for us, which is nice.

Joe from Sherman, IL

Vic, I know you've already noted the San Francisco and Atlanta games as ones to watch, but which NFC North game has the most intrigue?

I'd have to be clairvoyant to answer that question, but from a personal standpoint, the Vikings got my attention last year and I'm really looking forward to those two games.

Eric from Ft. Worth, TX

If you're going to quote from Army football, use the best one: "I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission," George Marshall declared in a post-Pearl Harbor America. "I want a West Point football player." The players all touch this plaque while running onto the field.

The connection was always about the discipline football and the military each demand. Way back, training camp was conducted with a boot camp-like quality. We're losing that connection.

Andrew from Clermont, FL

Dan Marino was "The Man" for his team, but he never won a Super Bowl. Was everyone else around him not good enough, or was there a different problem?

Whoa! You're forgetting the dirty little secret. The Super Bowl isn't the goal; the goal is to make the playoffs every year and fill your stadium. Marino made it into the playoffs 10 times in his 17-year career. That's pretty good.

Mike from Niceville, FL

What role do you see DuJuan Harris playing in the offense with Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin as potentially the primary running backs?

I see Harris as a change-of-pace back. That's my view, but that doesn't mean that's the way it'll be. Maybe he'll grab the starting job and keep it.

Jason from Klamath Falls, OR

With the drafting of Lacy and Franklin and the emergence of Harris last season, what does the future look like for Alex Green? Is he under a tremendous amount of pressure to prove to the coaches that he can be better than their two draft picks?

Yes, he's under a tremendous amount of pressure to prove he's worthy of playing time, just as Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris under the same kind of tremendous pressure. There's tremendous pressure everywhere. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are under tremendous pressure to lead their team back to the Super Bowl. That's what the game is all about, tremendous pressure, and everybody can't win. Some will lose and they'll have to leave. That's what drives everyone in this game: If you win, you stay; if you lose, you leave. This game is for people who like that challenge. If a guy doesn't like the pressure, he'll fold on you at crunch time.

Michael from Watertown, WI

Vic, the question yesterday about a player you've covered who just had a nose for the game immediately made me think of Jack Ham. Any good memories of Jack?

He was the best tackler I've ever covered, and also the best coverage linebacker. He played in the right era. Had he played today, in a game that reveres linebackers only for their ability to sack the quarterback, he would've never made it into the Hall of Fame. Ham's era was about linebackers tackling and covering.

Don from Torrington, CT

Vince would have been 100 years old today. As a Packers fan, I thank God he decided not to enter the priesthood. He would have missed his true calling.

There is genuine reason to believe that had the Packers not hired Coach Lombardi, the franchise might be somewhere else today. With the league heading toward a merger and the go-go '70s, it's difficult to imagine little Green Bay being able to keep up, had it not been the symbol of winning it had become under Coach Lombardi. I don't think he gets enough credit for that. His true calling was to save pro football in Green Bay, and he did.

Matthew from Maffra, Australia

Vic, do you believe the coach is ever to blame for the lack of success of his team?

If his compass pointed in the wrong direction, or if he compromised and changed course, he is to blame. The coach determines his team's direction and then leads it on its journey. The rest is up to the crew. All crews aren't the same.

Koigi from Lynchburg, VA

Vic, I just watched the "Ice Bowl" and I can't help but think that given the same conditions, that game doesn't get played in 2013.

I totally disagree. It's played and with not nearly as much difficulty as it was played on Dec. 31, 1967. Today's sidelines have heated benches and heaters blowing hot air at each end of those benches. Today's players have gloves with stickum on them, and fabrics that insulate against the cold but are so sheer they allow for complete freedom of movement. The fans? They could duck into the Atrium to get warm. No, the game would've been played, and with a far less degree of difficulty, the question is: Would it be played as well today as it was played by those brave men 46 years ago?



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