Nikola from Maribor, Slovenia

What is your fondest memory of Ali?

It’s from the first Liston fight. He was Cassius Clay then and he was all new, brash and bold, a symbol of my generation, the baby boomers, and the old-timers hated him. Clay kicked off the ’60s. Before Homer Jones spiked the ball, Clay celebrated himself. Before Joe Namath guaranteed victory, Clay entertained us with, “Hence the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money, that they would see a total eclipse of Sonny.” When Clay became Ali, the confrontation of youth vs. establishment became serious. We weren’t accustomed to our sports stars challenging the order of our culture. Now, it’s old hat. Ali changed our culture.

George from San Diego, CA

Vic, with the passing of Muhammad Ali, I wonder who your athletic idol was growing up?

I had many. I guess I was born a sportswriter, because my love of sports went beyond team lines. Close to home, I loved Bobby Layne’s bloody nose and Roberto Clemente’s basket catch, but I also loved Willie Mays’ wide batting stance and high-loop socks, the sound Sandy Koufax’s fastball made when it landed in John Roseboro’s glove, the statue that was Johnny Unitas standing in the pocket, the upright power that was Jimmy Brown (yeah, it was Jimmy back then). I could go on and on. Why limit yourself to one player when there are so many to savor? Nothing bothers me more than to see the word hate appear in my inbox. It’s sports. They’re games. They’re meant to provide joy. If sports make you hate, you’ve lost perspective.

Mark from Wausau, WI

Vic, my son moved to New York and found a Packer bar to watch the games. Why do you think the Packers have such a large following across the country?

The Packers, by nature of where they live, are the team of the small town. They are the only team of the small town and there are a lot of small towns and a lot of people who subscribe to small-town values and ways. Cheering the Packers is a means for those fans to express their identities.

Ron from Lees Summit, MO

Reading about T.J. Lang’s shoulder and how he has played in pain, it seems all of the offensive linemen have injuries they are working through. Turnover is inevitable and I wonder if it has always been this way. Savor this group of offensive linemen, as they are special and it’s coming to an end.

It has always been that way. An offensive lineman is engaged in physical confrontation on every play. He’s never a running back carrying out a fake, or a wide receiver running a meaningless route on a running play. The wear and tear offensive linemen endure slowly saps life from their bodies, yet, they are the ultimate play-hurt player. I love the big guys.

Adam from Turin, Italy

The best thing you and other relics still unable to let go can do for this game is to call it a day and let the next generation of sportswriters connect with the NFL’s target market. If you love this game as much as you claim you do, then stop being so selfish.

OK.

Bonnie from Tomah, WI

Lived in Orange Park, Fla., for 20-plus years. I couldn’t describe the magnolia pod any better than you did.

And the leaves are like dinner plates. When you cut the grass under a magnolia tree, it’s like mowing the inside of a dishwasher.

Andrew from San Diego, CA

Do you think what Coach McCarthy meant by his statement is that, in today’s game, controlling the middle of the field is just as important as winning on the outside?

I think he was saying the league’s enforcement of the defenseless-receiver rule has taken the bite out of defenses in the middle of the field, and that’s where tight ends and safeties live. I agree with that, but I’m still thinking on Coach McCarthy’s comments.

Adam from Racine, WI

Do you think Dallas would remember the “Ice Bowl” as fondly as we do here in Green Bay if they had stuffed Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer at the line? Would it still be an iconic game, or would it be relegated to a footnote in NFL history?

Cowboys fans would remember the “Ice Bowl” as fondly, but history wouldn’t have recorded the game with nearly as much celebration. Scoring is more celebrated than not scoring.

Ryan from Morton Grove, IL

Who is the best player you have ever covered who had his career cut short by injuries?

I only covered him for two games but it’s probably Nick Collins. I think Gabe Rivera would’ve become a star.

Scott from Escanaba, MI

Your three levels of perspective for an NFL player made me think, specifically the first level, make the team. I would imagine first- and second-round players are assured of making the team, just because of the investment. Do you remember any high-round draft picks that got cut the first training camp?

No, but I covered a first-round pick (Huey Richardson) who was cut in his second training camp. Making the team is about more than being on the roster as a rookie. It’s about establishing your professional football career.

Matthew from Green Bay, WI

Would Tom Brady have been successful in any era? The only time he had a deep ball was when he also had a Randy Moss. Brady might be the best dinker/dunker of all time, but I haven’t seen him throw a good deep ball in years.

No great quarterback has ever played with the varied cast of receivers Brady has. That would be one of my selling points for regarding him as the greatest ever. The notion Brady doesn’t have a big arm is ridiculous. I saw him make a throw to Ben Watson that clinched it for me. Watson was standing on the back line. Brady was looking for an open receiver as the rush closed on him. All of a sudden, he saw Watson and the ball was there now. It was a 15-yard touchdown pass thrown to the back line, which meant it traveled 25 yards, and it left a vapor trail. I don’t like the shenanigans that have become associated with his career, but Brady is as good as there ever was and he could’ve played in any era.

Mark from Portland, OR

Are there too many people in the Hall of Fame?

In my opinion, we’re inducting too many people annually.

John from Marietta, GA

Isn’t Joe Montana the exception to your definition of great quarterbacks? He relied on accuracy, touch and timing, while not having the big arm to drill throws into tight windows 20 yards downfield. How do you view him?

He’s one of my top three all-time quarterbacks, but I don’t think he would’ve been as successful if he had played in the pre-’78 era. Ken Anderson effectively played in Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense in the pre-’78 era, but Kenny had a big arm to go with his penchant for finding the outlet receiver.

Jay from State College, PA

I clicked on a headline about the most devastating losses in each team’s history. I was disappointed to find almost all the entries were from games played within the last 10 years or so, and none of the games preceded my window of enjoying the game. I am pretty sure that can’t be accurate.

Football and the men who cover it have always been dismissive of the sport’s history. The Giants’ loss to the Colts in the 1958 title game, for example, has to qualify as the most devastating defeat in Giants history. I gave thought to the most devastating defeats I witnessed in my time covering the Steelers, Jaguars and Packers, and what I decided is they all have a common theme: They were all in conference title games and they were all by what I consider to be the best teams of those three franchises in the years I covered them: 1976 Steelers, 1999 Jaguars and 2014 Packers.

Dave from East Burke, VT

Can you make any comparisons between golf and football?

They’re both lonely sports, especially football on Mondays during tape review. Football is a team game until the game is over, and then it’s every man for himself.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, let’s say you can enter a time machine and go back to the “Ice Bowl.” When you get there, the game is about to start and Coach Lombardi gives you two free tickets. Who would you bring along to watch the game with you?

I’d say, thanks, but no thanks, and then I’d jump back into the time machine and go back to South Carolina so I could watch the game on TV. I couldn’t sit in that cold for 10 minutes. I just don’t have the tolerance for it. The heat index hit 100 here yesterday and I didn’t turn on the air-conditioning until I went to bed.

Dave from Lake Zurich, IL

Would you describe Billy Kilmer as a pre-’78 quarterback, or was he in a category of his own?

He was a quarterback who also played running back. He was an amazing athlete whose reputation was betrayed by his wobbly passes.


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