The most interesting debate around the NFL media in the past week was LaDanian Tomlinson's assertion that he would prefer a place in the Hall of Fame to a Super Bowl.
While there may be an element of hubris to Tomlinson's assumption of inevitability for his election to the Hall, it isn't much of one. Although it's ironic that the biggest career mark against him is probably his failure to deliver his best performances in the post-season. But Tomlinson sparked a lot of response, and a few questions to the mailbag, the first of which was twitted direct to me (@carlsonsports)...
LaDainian Tomlinson would rather have his place in the Hall of Fame than a Super Bowl ring. Which would you choose?
There's a big difference between asking me and asking LT, in the sense that he is one of the very few players who can consider the Hall a realistic possibility. For most players, a Super Bowl win would be the pinnacle of their careers, and that raises another point: you win your ring WHILE you're a player; you get your Hall jacket AFTER you're a player. It's a small, but telling distinction. Football is a team game, perhaps the ultimate team game, and the aim of the game is to win. So winning the biggest game in the sport is the ultimate victory. You play as part of a team, and there is something special about that. My first thought was I'd prefer the ring (although I doubt I'd ever wear it) but of course I find it hard to conceive of NFL Mike being a Hall of Famer.
However I did play on two undefeated teams, one in prep school (where we 'won' nothing except every game on our schedule) and one in college (where we won the Little Three and the Lambert Cup). In both cases, I did very little celebrating the night of the last win (I was 15 and starting for Milford Academy in the first one, not even old enough to drive, all our other starters were 19 or 20). But in the case of my college team, I find as the years pass, the remarkable nature of our achievement means more and more to me. Our team was recently inducted into the University's Hall of Fame, and I don't think I'd trade that for my chance to have been inducted by myself, having played for a team with just one loss.
But news this week that Jay Ross, who won a Super Bowl ring only a couple of years ago as a practice squad player with the Packers, has put his ring up for sale makes me wonder. Maybe he didn't feel as much a part of the team because he was only on the practice squad; yet I know for a fact many teams take great care to make those guys realise they are part of the team. So maybe it's a case of the team achievement not meaning that much. I would have thought the ring would mean even more to a guy, like Ross, who obviously is not on a Hall of Fame career path.
Is all the attention focussed on the MVP award justified, when performances depend so much on teammates, more than any other sport?
This is an interesting corollary to the previous question. The reality is the MVP generally goes to the quarterback from the best team, or the best QB on a very good team. The Associated Press MVP is the big one: LT, Shaun Alexander and Marshall Faulk are the only non-QBs to win since 2000. Lawrence Taylor (1986), Alan Page (1971) are the only linemen to win, though even AP gets confused about whether or not Gino Marchetti won in 1958 (before they even called it MVP) and Andy Robustelli won the Bert Bell Trophy in 1962.
Faulk's 2000 MVP is an interesting one: his all-around play rushing and receiving led the league with 26 touchdowns, but St Louis finished only 10-6. No quarterback dominated the season the way Rodgers, Brees and Brady did last year. I thought at the time you could have made a very strong case for Ray Lewis as MVP that season, even before he took the Ravens to the Super Bowl. So in general I think your point is a good one, and although it's almost a case of vote by rote (and not Kyle Rote or Tobin Rote) for the NFL MVP, occasionally it becomes a very difficult choice.
Why don’t the New York Jets just make Tim Tebow a running back?
The short answer to that is that Tebow's running style wouldn't necessarily be as effective from a T formation, so playing him as a shotgun tailback (wildcat, pistol, whatever you want to call it) leaves the option to pass open, and makes him more effective as runner. He's strong, but not built low to the ground for pushing piles and hitting inside holes every down: though had he come up in the 1960s he might well have been a fullback.
I hate the developing imbalance in NFL where the passing attack has become too easy at the expense of defense and running the football. As a corrective, wouldn't extending the contact allowed by defensive backs on wide receivers from 5 to 10 yards help to reward defence, accentuate the value of a good running back, and reduce the instances of concussion as short passes wouldn't have to be defended by vicious hits?
The more I think about that proposal the more I like it, because it might also put pressure on defensive backs to release their contact once the ball's in the air, instead of the sneaky ways they try to maintain it now. One anomaly of the chuck rule has always been on play-action or other slow developing pass plays, where the receiver is in effect a blocker, and this would make it easier for defenses to cope with that.
The five yard rule was put in when Bill Walsh was on the rules committee, one of a few designed to open up the passing game, and it certainly worked to open up the slant patterns that Walsh's west-coast offense thrived on! I'm not sure extending it to ten yards would reduce the number of vicious hits, and it might help the running game, but I think what would really happen is that more teams would be willing to play press man-to-man coverage, because the defender could maintain contact longer, and thus be less likely to be beaten. So more defenders would be available for other duties, and that would tilt the balance back to the D, so it's unlikely to even be considered!
With the advances made recently in the NFL with regard to concussions, what effect do you think it might have on other sports?
Good point, Andrew (any relation to Russell?) because I think we are seeing it already, at least in the NHL, where it would be a good idea if the leagues worked together on research, and in MLB, where players hit on the head are being rested almost automatically now. The obvious areas for research are better monitoring and treatment; how you make better protective equipment, and in the case of football, reduce its use as a weapon; how you tweak the rules to allow the contact that makes the games but minimise the chance of long-term damage; and the possible effects of both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs (including alcohol) in relation to brain damage.
What do you think Dallas will do with the four starting cornerbacks on their roster?
Always good to get a team and position specific question, Darren, and it makes a couple of good points. The first is that, although you nominally have two starting corners, the reality is most teams play in a sub package (nickel or dime) more than half the time, so you really need three corners with starting ability (some teams will use a third safety as a slot corner, or in zones). The second is Dallas are not necessarily as deep as you might think, even though they keep patching the same hole in the hull: Terence Newman, Pacman Jones, Anthony Henry etc. I thought Brandon Carr was a great pickup, and he will of course start, and I like Orlando Scanbrook's physical skills a lot, but he's best suited for a nickel role (or even safety). You have to remember that, good as Morris Claiborne looks, he is a rookie and unproven and needs to learn the defense (though he played in a similar one in college). The key is Mike Jenkins, who's rehabbing a shoulder injury, and might not be ready to go. Reports of friction between Jenkins and the team have fuelled rumours that he's trade bait—he's young and affordable, but he's also been up and down in his career. An up year from Jenkins and Claiborne justifying his selection, as cricket fans might say, would make the Cowboys as deep as anyone in the league at corner. But bad years from either, continued (or new) injuries, or a trade, and it's back to playing shootout in the JerryDome.
Why is the NFL off-season so loooonnnngg?
That's specifically to allow me time to write columns like this! Actually, I think the season is long enough as it is, and the off-season is amazing in that there seems to be NFL buzz almost all the way through it. In the old days, when baseball was really America's National Pastime, they called it The Hot Stove League; guys sitting around stoves in winter talking about what went wrong the last season and what's going to go right in the next. Of course, when it gets really slow in football, like right now, things like Aldon Smith's party (I can see the Hollywood pitch: it's North Dallas 40 meets Gunfight At The OK Corral!) grab the headlines, and let sports reporters play moralists, which they love to do.