Mikayl from Providence, RI
I found it interesting that Landry invented the 4-3, as it's been the base defense in the NFL, I believe, since before I was born. What defenses were used as the base in the NFL prior to the 4-3, and what changes in offense necessitated the advent of the 4-3?
The “53” (five linemen, three linebackers) defense was a 1930s invention. It was followed by the “52” – the Greasy Neale version, not the Bud Wilkinson version – which took away one linebacker and added a defensive back. Do you see what’s happening? Defenses were already moving toward the passing game. Then came the “Umbrella” defense, which Landry helped create as the Giants’ defensive captain in 1950. Six linemen and one middle linebacker were backed by four defensive backs positioned in the shape of an umbrella. Then came the 4-3, which tightly packed seven men up front to clog the running lanes, but also allowed for greater pass-coverage. Landry invented the 4-3 not only with the pass in mind, but also with Jim Brown in mind. The Giants were about to meet the Browns and Brown in a postseason game, after having been flattened by Brown a few weeks earlier. The intent of Landry’s 4-3 was to keep the blockers off middle linebacker Sam Huff and let him range to the ball. It worked. Ironically, the “Stunt 4-3,” a defense that cocked defensive tackle Joe Greene at a 45-degree angle, was invented by Steelers defensive line coach George Perles for a playoff game against O.J. Simpson. It stopped Simpson cold and led a charge to the Super Bowl, where the Steelers held the Vikings to 17 yards rushing. The 3-4, of course, was the next step in the evolution of defenses, and the league is now nearly split between teams employing the 4-3 and 3-4.
Phil from Albuquerque, NM
Do you have a favorite sportscaster, current or past?
I liked Howard Cosell. I thought he was very entertaining. I don’t like too much analysis; all that wheel-route, nine-route jargon drives me crazy. I wanna listen to someone who speaks in plain terms. John Madden did that; I enjoyed listening to him. I want to be entertained. I want to listen to someone who isn’t afraid to say something. I like Cris Collinsworth’s work because he says things. Cosell was the best at saying things, and he did it in an entertaining way. He called it years ago; he predicted the onset of what he referred to as the “jockocracy” in sports broadcasting, and he was right on. In my opinion, we need less analysis and more commentary.
Patrick from Hopkins, MN
Can you comment on the old “46” defense the Bears used? I'd like to know some of the nuances it involves. What position needs to be especially solid for this defense to work?
The “46” was and still is a pressure defense that applies “cover one” (single-high safety) and “cover zero” (no safety) in the secondary. The corners are on an island and against the “46” the offense is going to attack the corners deep; that’s where the “46” is vulnerable. You could say you better have good corners, or you could say you better get home with the rush. The Bears got home with the rush, which is what happens when you have Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson and Mike Singletary on your defense. If you don’t get home, that defense is gonna get burned. It always comes down to players, not plays. Players make plays work. The Jets use the “46.” They have, of course, Darrelle Revis in their secondary.
Belto from Canton, NC
The first time I heard about Charlie Conerly was in “The Glory Game.” Just going off the fact that he served military time and that he didn’t get to play until some games were in crunch time, I gained a lot of respect for the old-timer. Sounds like he was as cool as the other side of the pillow, despite having to wait to get into the game and his age. Why was a two-quarterback system so popular back then? If I had Conerly on my team, he sure as hell wouldn’t have been on the sideline.
Conerly’s career was split between the old era and the new era Johnny Unitas was ushering in. Conerly was an old-school quarterback. He wore No. 42 and I remember him doing a lot of rollout stuff. The “new” game was all drop back and the Giants traded with the 49ers for Y.A. Tittle, a pure drop-back style quarterback who eased the Giants out of the Conerly era and into the modern era.
Keith from St. Louis Park, MN
You mentioned that sports reporters don't cheer in the press box because they're at work and I believe you but it is still hard to comprehend. There's a scene in “Mr. 3000” in which Bernie Mac hits a homer and a lady in the press box cheers (but stops suddenly when she realized her misstep). I felt it perfectly showcased what you were trying to point out, that it’s inappropriate and unprofessional. Thanks again for all the interesting articles; makes the offseason much more bearable.
Imagine that you’re doing something that is requiring all of your concentration. Do you want somebody yelling in your ear as you do it? That’s part of the basis for no cheering in the press box. It’s a place where people are working. My job is to get information to readers as quickly and as accurately as possible, and to do that I need to be able to concentrate on my work without being distracted. It’s not only my job, it’s my passion. It’s what I like to do as I watch a football game. Fans cheer; it’s how they express themselves. I write; it’s how I express myself. That’s all it is. Don’t obsess about the no cheering thing.
Alexander from Virginia Beach, VA
I like the fact that you made a top 10 all-time quarterback list. How about you start to slowly do that with other positions?
I’ll post a running backs rankings editorial today.
Ken from Chatham, NJ
Since you have an affection for the old days, you may enjoy this. Back in the early 1960s, the Giants and Browns had a great rivalry and were two of the best teams. Before one of their games, Sam Huff, the Giants’ middle linebacker, told his teammates that when they were able to tackle Jim Brown, Huff would say to Brown, “You stink Brown.” This went on for awhile and finally Brown broke loose and on his way to the goal line looked back and hollered, “How do I smell from here, Huff?” I heard some time later that Huff confirmed this. Don't you love it?
Yeah, I really do love it. Football is the best storytelling sport of all time.
Tim from Tucson, AZ
Have you ever done top stadiums?
I’ll do it, but I’m not going to rank stadiums based solely on how pretty they are. I’m going to rank stadiums for my personal experiences and emotions for them, too.
Peter from Livingston, NJ
Reading your description of offensive linemen and their positional importance, you must make reference to left-handed quarterbacks, because most teams being right-handed, they tend to run to that side and also right-handed quarterbacks are exposing their backs to the rushes from the left defensive end. Offenses with a left-handed quarterback need a reversal in their offensive linemen’s responsibilities.
I disagree. I covered a left-handed quarterback, Mark Brunell, and his front-side blocker was Tony Boselli, the first draft pick in franchise history, and that was just fine with Brunell because regardless of the hand with which the quarterback throws, the defense’s premier pass-rusher is usually the right defensive end (not the left), and you want your best pass-blocker assigned to the defense’s best pass-rusher. In other words, when Bruce Smith is in your face, you’re happy Boselli is blocking him. Also, despite Brunell being left-handed, the Jaguars liked to run right because that’s where the strongest run-blocker, Leon Searcy, was. It’s about your personnel and how it matches up with the defense’s personnel, not your quarterback’s right or left hand.
Colin from Ludlow, England
I brought up the question of muddy fields on a tour of Lambeau last October, to be told the reason is the TV companies want green fields so the NFL gives them green fields, even going to the lengths of painting the dirt when necessary. It's such a shame, as some of the greatest images ever caught come from those mud baths.
Then why do TV ratings for games spike when the weather is bad? Nothing spikes ratings like a field covered by snow.
David from Chuluota, FL
I like what you said about football players being sportsmen. I always respected Barry Sanders in that regard. He'd score a touchdown and then calmly hand the ball to the ref and jog to the sideline. Who are some of the great examples of sportsmanship in the NFL?
Larry Fitzgerald is the Barry Sanders of the game today. I like the way Fitzgerald plays the game and conducts himself following a touchdown.
Richie from Truckee, CA
Baseball and hockey players typically have some interesting superstitions: playoff beard, not washing particular items of clothing, or avoiding line of chalk at all costs. Have you ever come across any fun ones while covering football?
I don’t know if it was a superstition or what you might call it, but I covered a running back that treated a sprained ankle by putting his good foot in a bucket of ice water.
Travis from Gulfport, MS
I have to give you credit for how you deal with stupid people and their idiotic remarks. Seems like they forget that you are giving your opinion. With that being said, what was your favorite pick in this year’s draft and why? I liked Randall Cobb and Davon House.
I’m intrigued by Ricky Elmore. I know very little about him but all indications are that he’s Brooks Reed with a slow 40 time, but then I read in Mike Spofford’s recent story on Elmore that he outruns attack dogs. Whoa! Something’s amiss here. I get the feeling that if Elmore had arranged for that dog to chase him while he was running his 40, he would’ve been a high-round pick. When we interviewed him shortly after he was drafted, it was obvious he had an edge; he was probably angry that he wasn’t picked until the sixth round. Football is an edge game and I like guys that have an edge. I’m looking forward to seeing Elmore play. For Spofford's full story, click here.