Ted from Amherst, NY
I agree about honoring the old-timers for toughness, even though most of us have never seen them play. It certainly seems like Clarke Hinkle belongs on that list and probably Cal Hubbard, too.
Here’s a look at Hinkle from Total Football, which I consider to be the bible on pro football history. TF includes Hinkle and Hubbard among the publication’s “300 greatest players.” On Hinkle: “The intensity of pro football’s oldest rivalry between the Bears and Packers was typified in the 1930s by the clashes of Bronko Nagurski for the Bears and Clarke Hinkle for the Packers. Nagurski was the prototype power runner. Hinkle, 30 pounds lighter, was determined to hold his own. His creed was ‘get to the Bronk before he gets to me,’ a tactic he used to perfection one day. Trapped on the sidelines by Nagurski, Clarke escaped his tackle by driving directly into and over him. The Bears’ superstar was helped from the field with a broken nose and fractured rib.” The reason tough-guy conversations have to begin and end with the old-timers is because that’s what the game was all about back then. It wasn’t a game of speed or finesse. It was a game of courage and toughness and that’s how players were judged.
Glenn from DePere, WI
I am an avid fan of your column but I’m sure you understand that I might disagree with you. While Jim Brown was great, I don't think he was the “greatest football player ever.” I really think that Jim Thorpe, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders have to rank with him. What is your response?
I’ve long considered the possibility that Thorpe is the greatest player ever, so I will acknowledge that possibility. The others you’ve mentioned don’t fit. Sayers didn’t play long enough, Sanders had too many minus-yards runs and too much of Payton’s great career was spent on losing teams in a low-profile manner. I never saw Thorpe play but I saw all of the others play and there’s no question in my mind that Brown was the best; it’s not even close. Great players such as Sam Huff and Chuck Bednarik couldn’t get him to the ground. Brown changed the game. Tom Landry invented the 4-3 for him. Brown rushed for 1,863 yards in a 14-game season at a time when most quarterbacks didn’t throw for that many yards in a season. He averaged 5.2 yards a carry for his career; 6.4 in a year in which he had 291 carries. I’m not a stats guy but you’d have to admit that those are eye-popping numbers in any era. I encourage you to study on Brown. By the way, he was also the greatest lacrosse player in history.
William from Savannah, GA
Vic, who made the personnel decisions on whom to draft for the Packers in the Lombardi era?
Early on, it was Jack Vainisi, who was in charge of personnel prior to Coach Lombardi’s arrival. Vainisi drafted Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke. Vainisi did masterful work in acquiring talent that Lombardi shaped into a championship roster. Later, Coach Lombardi assumed control of personnel.
Eric from Princeton, NJ
Vic, I just read about the story of Dock Ellis pitching a no-hitter for the Pirates in 1970 while under the influence of LSD. He said at one point in the game he thought Nixon was the umpire and Jimi Hendrix was the batter, swinging a guitar. Do you remember the game at all from your time in Pittsburgh?
Yeah, it was in San Diego. He walked a bunch of guys. The joke was that Ellis was high all night. How about those Pirates in Milwaukee, huh? They’re 3-33 at Miller Park since 2007. How did they ever win three games?
Jesse from Weslaco, TX
I just want to say thank you, Vic, and I appreciate the response to the question on who are some of the toughest Packers in team history, especially since down here in Texas the closest place I can go to and be surrounded by glorious Packers stories and fans is an hour away. The stories about Ray Nitschke, the Jim Taylor photo, ironman Ringo and Kramer playing with a 17-inch splinter in his gut are all great; keep them coming.
When I was a kid, I got a three-inch splinter stuck in the bottom of my foot and I literally did cry all night.
Keith from Annawan, IL
Vic, would you please list your top five running backs of all time. Mine would be: 1.) Jim Brown, 2.) Walter Payton, 3.) Gale Sayers, 4.) Barry Sanders, 5.) Paul Hornung. How close are we?
Mine are: 1.) Brown, 7.) Earl Campbell, 8.) Sayers, 9.) O.J. Simpson, 10.) Emmitt Smith. I like power runners, but Sayers had big-play ability like I have never seen in any other runner. Had he played a full career, it might’ve been a tough call between him and Brown. Campbell was worn out too quickly. He was the closest thing I ever saw to Brown. I covered games in the late-’70s in which I can honestly say he instilled fear in the “Steel Curtain.”
Frank from Barrington, IL
Instead of retiring a player’s number, why doesn't a team retire the jersey. That way you don't run out of numbers.
I think I know what you’re trying to say; yes, save the player’s jersey and display it, and I’m all for that. I just have never understood the mania for retiring numbers. Once that number is retired, it’s out of sight and out of mind. I like the idea of seeing that number again. I like the idea of some hot-shot quarterback wanting to wear the number of one of the great quarterbacks in franchise history. I like the idea of seeing some of the old pro in the new pro and making comparisons between the two. It’s also a way of traveling down memory lane; when the new pro makes a great play, it harkens memories of the great plays the old pro made while wearing that number. Hey, it’s just me; to each their own, but that’s how I feel about retiring numbers. It’s as though we’re attempting to bury the past. Why bury something so wonderful?
Randy from Medicine Hat, Alberta
Do you think the NFL wants parity for its teams to the point that they all finish the schedule 8-8? I think what makes the league great is having a team rebound from the depths to playoff contender.
The league doesn’t want leaguewide mediocrity. That’s not the intent of parity. The intent of parity is helping teams avoid long stretches of irrelevance. I don’t think the league has any problem with 16-0 or 0-16, but it doesn’t want any one team staying down too long, and that’s what can happen if a team can’t quickly acquire the talent it needs to get out of its doldrums. He who is first shall be last and he who is last shall be first; it’s a good system.
Steve from Plymouth, WI
Not sure whose side I'm on but I do not think it is fair that a top draft pick can/will be making more money than a Pro Bowler before they even put on a uniform. Your opinion, please?
I agree with you. It’s not fair and it’s not good for the game, but too many of the people who want to regulate the salaries of rookies also preach free markets. OK, which is it, free markets or regulation?
Steve from Fredonia, WI
Mike McCarthy definitely is viewed by many as a creative coach. What new offensive scheme or plays do you foresee with the Packers in 2011 season?
I have no idea what they’re doing down the hall but, I promise you, they’re doing something and it likely has to do with scheme and the usage of personnel. Figure it out: The coaches come to work early and stay late every day and they have no players to coach. What do you think they’re doing down there, huh?
Ryan from Cincinnati, OH
Scott from Las Vegas made “Ask Vic” twice in the same day. That's the first time that has ever happened. Somewhere in Indiana, Vince and Debbie are both crying.
Yeah, I did that on purpose. Scott’s my buddy. I wanted to brighten his day.
Dan from Charlotte, NC
Vic, you talked about how teams had the ability to spend as much as they wanted before 1993. Were there teams back then that actually did spend twice as much as everyone else and, if so, what teams were the big spenders? I'm thinking through the dynasty teams and I can't imagine the Rooneys overspending, although I could believe the Cowboys and 49ers. If I remember correctly, the 49ers got busted for violating the salary cap after it went into effect.
The Cowboys and 49ers were, indeed, big spenders. They so overspent that when the salary cap was instituted in 1993, the league allowed for a window in which teams could sign players to contract extensions or renegotiated contracts and the signing bonus wouldn’t count toward the teams’ caps. It was instituted solely with the Cowboys and 49ers in mind because they were the heart of the league at that time and the cap would’ve gutted their rosters had they had to abide fully by its rules without some sort of dispensation. The Redskins were also big spenders. Jack Kent Cooke threw money at Bobby Beathard’s mistakes.
Gary from Chippewa Falls, WI
When Charles Woodson was pursued by the Packers only, he lamented about coming to Green Bay. How is it when a star player such as Reggie White tells how great a football city Green Bay is, the city still has a stigma attached to it?
We fear the unknown and Green Bay is a great unknown for a lot of us. All we know is that it’s very cold in the winter and not many people live there. Then, we move here and get to know the town and the people and we find things we really like about it. I remember White talking about how he came to love Green Bay and I’ll bet Woodson would echo White’s comments.
Chuck from Lawrence, KS
Vic, nice to have you on board. I rarely looked at this site for the nitty gritty about the Packers, but I enjoy your responses to some tough questions. That said, do you think Clifton has one more good year left? He held up well at the end of last season.
Mike Spofford has watched Clifton play for all of his career and Mike told me that, toward the end of last season, Clifton was arguably playing the best football of his life. “Toward the end of last season;” those are important words when evaluating an older player because the tendency of players that are nearing over-the-hill status is that they wear down late in the season and their performances decline. That didn’t happen to Clifton, which would suggest to me that he’s got something left in the tank. You know, Jonathan Ogden played guard in his rookie season. Maybe Derek Sherrod will do that. It’s a wonderful way to work your way into the lineup, especially on the left side. You get a chance to learn the calls on that side and you get a chance to block a blindside pass-rusher every so often on a stunt or a twist; you get a feel for what it’s like over there.
Brian from Los Angeles, CA
I recently went to see the Lombardi play in New York. In the lobby, they had a black and white cardboard cutout of Coach Lombardi and a player with number 19, whose face wasn't shown so that play-goers could put their face in its place for a photo op. Do you know who that number 19 could have been?
No one wore number 19 during the Lombardi years, which kind of interests me. Remember, Lombardi was the Giants’ offensive coordinator in 1958 when Johnny Unitas led the Colts to an overtime win over the Giants. You know what I mean? Maybe Coach Lombardi had a bias against that number. It was worn in 1951 by Dan Orlich, but not again until Carlos Brown wore it in 1975.
Tom from Sacramento, CA
Recently, when listening to a national NFL radio show, they were discussing what teams do to help players adjust to the league, especially in the small markets. They specifically praised what the Packers do to help the new players adjust to moving to the Green Bay area. I did not hear what the team actually does. Can you give some insight on the Packers program?
Teams help players find housing and help them integrate into the lifestyle, etc. There are some things that are a little different in Green Bay. The weather is colder and the fans are more rabid. I found myself confused by the sight of so many boats jammed into a small area of the Fox River in DePere. I couldn’t figure out what kind of incredible fish must be in that water to make people sit in such terribly cold, windy and wet weather and try to catch that thing, and the fish must like cold weather because that’s the only time the boats are there. I went down to the river and asked a guy what everybody was fishing for, and I found out it’s a little fish. I asked if you can buy it in the store and he said you can. All I can figure is that it must be very expensive to make men, and women, suffer so just to catch it. Hey, what’s not to like about Green Bay? The people are super-friendly, there are no subway accidents, and you can go to work and leave work any time you want and not have to worry about getting stuck in rush-hour traffic. I love it here.
Mitch from Milwaukee, WI
Why is pass-interference not reviewable? Since it is such a big penalty, wouldn't it make sense to let a team challenge it?
It’s not reviewable because it’s a judgment call. That’s the short answer. The long answer is that even if they made it reviewable and assembled a 10-man committee to review all pass-interference calls, five of the guys would probably say it was pass-interference and five would say it wasn’t. I kind of wish they’d just change the rule so that no defensive player may touch an eligible receiver at any time until after he catches the ball. I mean, that’s where we’re headed, right? Let’s just get it over with.
Scott from Las Vegas, NV
The question about wide receivers is an interesting one. Jerry Rice is considered by almost everyone to have been the greatest wideout that ever played, however, he had Joe Montana and Steve Young throwing to him all those years. If Rice had gone to the Lions or Bengals, for example, what would have happened? It is such a hard call to say someone is the best of all time.
Rice benefited from Montana and Young, and vice versa. Graham and Lavelli, Unitas and Berry, Namath and Maynard, Bradshaw and Swann, Stabler and Biletnikoff, Marino and Duper, etc. Great quarterbacks and great receivers go hand in hand.
Mark from Yucaipa, CA
Who was the last outright owner of the Packers? When did the Packers transition to the executive directors system we have now? Do you think the Packers would be doing as well if not for this system, in which all profits are not for the purpose of enriching one man but, instead, for enriching the team? Here’s a recent story I did that should answer your questions.