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Mike McCarthy most aggressive play-caller I've ever covered

Posted May 21, 2013

Worst play call I've ever seen was sheer genius

John from Appleton, WI

About 20 years ago, I remember reading somewhere that the strength, size and sheer speed of the players would become too great for the game. Has that prophecy come true, hence the rule changes?

I think that prophecy is in the process of coming true. Yes, I believe the players have gotten too big for the game. Here’s another prophecy: As the game becomes more about running and jumping, size and power will become less important and, as a result, the overall weight on the field will decrease. Let me know in 20 years how that turns out.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Stubborn with the run? How stubborn is stubborn? To the point of taking a loss early in order to win in December?

Yes, that stubborn. If you really want to run the ball, you must commit totally to it. You can’t abandon it or you’ll send a message to your players that you’re really not committed to it. In effect, by their failure to run the ball successfully, they’ll be calling the plays. That won’t work. Your opponents will see through anything less than a total commitment to the run. I can remember watching a documentary on Woody Hayes, and there was a scene from a practice in which he was going off about the inability to get the nose tackle blocked. He changed guards, he changed the center and they ran the same play over and over. At one point, in very terse and salty language, Hayes said they were going to stay there all night until they got that nose tackle blocked. That’s old stuff and it won’t work in today’s game, but talking about running the ball and doing what it takes to run the ball are very different things. I have two strong opinions about the running game: 1.) If you’re not running with power, you’re not running the ball. 2.) You really don’t know how good you are at running the ball until after Thanksgiving. That’s when the running teams come out to play.

Spencer from Las Vegas, NV

Vic, I always thought it was the role of the offensive and defensive coordinators to call the plays. What is Coach Clements’ role when Coach McCarthy calls the plays?

His role is to coordinate the offense, which means meeting with the head coach and getting his thoughts on the game plan that is the offensive coordinator’s job to create. It means communicating the game plan to the players and teaching them how it’s to be executed. It means breaking down tape of the opponent. Football is a lot more than calling plays.

Brian from Yakima, WA

Were quarterbacks still picked at the top of the draft prior to the rule changes of 1978?

In the 10 drafts prior to the rules changes of 1978, quarterbacks were selected first overall three times, running backs three times and defensive linemen four times. As you can see, the running game was still a big deal in professional football, especially when you consider that two of those defensive linemen drafted first overall were run-stuffers.

K.J. from Belt, MT

Vic, do you think the backup QB or starting right tackle battle will become more heated?

I think right tackle will be the featured battle of training camp.

Ron from Maple, WI

Vic, I don’t get this obsession with grading and rating everything a player does that goes far beyond preserving his legacy. Why not just watch, appreciate and enjoy, then move on. I assume this is all a product of fantasy football?

It might be, but I think it’s also a product of too much air time. The TV is full of sports-only stations and these rankings-type shows have become easy ways to fill time with something called “B roll.”

Sawyer from Aiken, SC

So basically, what you’re saying is Eli would still be the better of the two quarterbacks in the playoffs, even if he was on the Colts?

What I’m saying is he’s proven he’s the better quarterback in the playoffs; 9-11 vs. 8-3. Those samples, in my opinion, are big enough. Hey, what changed? New team, same result.

Clark from Raleigh, NC

Vic, I truly respect the players and style of play from decades ago, however, I cannot agree the players of then would look like the players of now in today’s game. For starters, the players of then made relatively inferior wages and the popularity of football was much lower 50 years ago. Huge paychecks and the exposure of football now draws the elite athletes into the NFL, whereas a percentage of those folks would have opted for a different sport or a more lucrative career path decades ago. Thoughts?

You’re not thinking broadly enough. If the players of yore were the players of today, they would be a product of today’s culture, just as the players of today would be a product of yesteryear’s culture if they played then. You don’t just step into an era and play. You have to live in that era. You have to be a product of that era. That’s what people don’t grasp in these types of debates. To bring Jim Brown into today’s game you first have to bring him into today’s world. Maybe fast food would ruin him, or maybe today’s science of nutrition would make him an even greater player. What we must understand is that the players of then and the players of now have one thing in common: They are great athletes, the greatest football players in the world during their time in the game. That’s a constant. Everything else is about style and that would change as you move those men in and out of eras.

Nick from Toronto, Ontario

What do you think are the most interesting NFL storylines heading into this season?

Are Colin Kaepernick, RG3, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson for real? Is the read-option here to stay or just a passing fancy? What do Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have left in the tank? How high can Adrian Peterson go? Those are some of the NFL storylines I can see. As for the Packers, I think the top two storylines will involve the running game and the defense.

Pat from Altoona, WI

Vic, I just read an article that sounds like the NFL is ready to alter the calendar. What are your thoughts on the effects of moving the draft from April to May with the NFL year starting earlier?

I don’t see any dangers. The new CBA has quickened contract negotiations between teams and their draft picks. If moving the draft back moves the end of OTAs closer to the start of training camp, it might keep some poor kid out of trouble during the “Dead Zone.” I’ve never liked that go-home dead spot after OTAs. Once you get those kids in the facility, I think it’s best to keep them there.

Kurt from Fond du Lac, WI

I once heard Pat Summerall call a college basketball game. Talk about a guy out of his element. It was painful to listen to. Football was his game; he should have never been put in that situation, but I admire him for giving it the old college try.

One of the things I love about Sean McDonough is that he could do a women’s field hockey game and make it sound as though he’s spent his life broadcasting women’s field hockey. Summerall was one of those guys who was made to broadcast the game he played. He knew it and he felt it. That’s what makes a good broadcaster or good writer; does he feel his subject? I had mentioned a baseball broadcaster by the name of Bob Prince. I grew up listening to him. His calls of Pirates games were so big that you couldn’t get away from them. I can remember delivering newspapers in the neighborhood and being able to follow the game pitch by pitch as I delivered the papers, because every house either had someone on the porch listening to the game, or the sound of the broadcast spilled out the open windows. Well, Prince was also a college-try guy and he’s infamous for his comical call of a hockey game. Exasperated by the speed of a game he really didn’t understand or feel, he finally gave up with who had the puck and said, “We got it, now they got it, now we got it again.” Beautiful!

Kurt from Fond du Lac, WI

Vic, I enjoy reading your column just like I enjoy hearing your take on game days. Too bad about no more Woodstocks.

What’s too bad is that we can’t do something that large and spontaneous these days because the security issues would be too daunting. That’s sad.

Mark from Yucaipa, CA

In talking about the 1978 rules changes and how offensive linemen were not allowed to use their hands, you forgot to mention they were being slapped in the head by men wearing the equivalent of casts on their arms.

The head slap was outlawed in 1977. Imagine grabbing the front of your shirt as the man across from you hit you on the side of the head with a hand that was wrapped in tape and soaked in water. What would the offensive linemen of today think if they were subjected to that brutality in today’s game?

Rick from Crown Point, IN

I, too, like Gus Johnson a lot and feel he is missing some well-deserved recognition.

I was being sarcastic, Rick. Nothing about Gus Johnson’s style of broadcasting is minimalist. I wouldn’t be surprised if he screams at his breakfast cereal.

Daryl from Junction City, KS

Is Coach McCarthy the most aggressive coach in the NFL? I don’t think I have watched anyone else call plays that are so aggressive. Thinking back, can you remember a game where you thought to yourself, did he really just try that play?

He’s the most aggressive play-caller I’ve ever covered, by far. There were several instances last season when I turned to Mike Spofford and said, “Are you kidding me?” I remember that fourth-and-one, fake-punt run by John Kuhn from deep in the Packers’ territory, with the season kind of on the line against the Saints. That was a big, “Are you kidding me?” Chuck Noll is the most conservative play-caller I’ve ever covered. He made what I consider to be the worst play call in the history of football on fourth-and-four and protecting a four-point lead just inside the two-minute warning in Super Bowl X. The ball was just inside the Cowboys’ 40. Noll ran Rocky Bleier into the middle for a yard gain; burned a whole four seconds off the clock. It was so bad it was good. Noll didn’t want to risk having a punt blocked. He wanted to put the game into the hands of his defense. It was sheer genius. With that play, Noll effectively turned to his defense and said, “Gentlemen, the game belongs to you.” On the final desperate play of the game, Roger Staubach was intercepted; game over. I don’t think Mike McCarthy could live with himself if he ever made a play call that bad. It all goes to prove that you can do it this way or you can do it that way, just do it. Players make it work.

Jake from Westminster, CO

Vic, love the column. It was an epistemological crisis for me as a young fan to realize the players weren’t as passionate about their teams and the game as the fans were. I believe part of the misconception begins with former players who become sportscasters. Are they lying about leadership, mentorship, teamwork and heart?

They’re not lying, they’re just not willing to tell you where their real emotion is for the game. They won’t tell you about their fear of losing their job, being cut, not having a locker room where they can be with the guys, not having a team to give them the sense of belonging with which they have always come to associate with football. All that stuff is deeply guarded. I believe they use team as a metaphor for self. These men are deeply passionate about football, but in ways fans don’t understand. What I’ve always sensed about the football players I’ve covered is that football is a deeply personal thing for them. It’s about personal challenges. It’s about their self-esteem. In many cases, it’s about their manhood. I wish they would talk more about themselves and their personal challenges. That’s where the real emotion and drama of this game is played. It’s played inside the minds of the men who have to make sense and achieve order from something that thrives on mayhem. For them, a sport that is very cold is a very warm thing. That’s the yin and the yang of the game I love.

Jeremiah from South Bend, IN

So if pep talks are a myth, and it’s about players and not plays, what in your opinion is the difference between a good, winning coach and a losing coach? What do you think makes McCarthy successful?

It’s about the ability to tell your players, “This is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it,” and they believe you. They must believe in you. Hey, whatever it takes. Bill Cowher was a big pep talk guy, but look at the players on his team. Look at his coaching staff. In my opinion, the words just made it fun. Cowher was a much better coach than people think. Don’t be fooled by the jaw and the spit and the rough exterior. Cowher knew talent and he knew what to do with it. That’s the kind of coaching skill that makes a team believe in its coach when he says, “This is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it.” Mike McCarthy has good players, and they believe in him. That’s the winning combination.

Joe from Saint Paul, MN

What were the physical traits of an offensive lineman before the 1978 rules changes? It seems to me they would need to be extremely light on their feet in order to keep their bodies between the defender and his target.

If you can’t use your hands, you have to use your feet, right? Today’s offensive linemen “lock up” defenders with their hands. The offensive linemen of yesteryear pulled and trapped and chop-blocked. A 40 time was a big deal for guards. If they couldn’t get out in front of a play, they couldn’t be a guard. The game has evolved, but we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The evolution of the game over the next 20 years, in my opinion, is going to be mind-boggling.

Jocelyn from Crawfordsville, IN

Any chance McCarthy praised Angelo Pease because he wanted to make a statement to the rest of the running backs?

For OTAs? Easy, Jocelyn, easy. With that, allow me to provide an alert for those interested in attending this year’s “Ask Vic” get-together. It’s set for July 23 at Lambeau Field. The event will include lunch, a stadium tour, a Packer Hall of Fame visit, a live “Ask Vic” and a special guest appearance. Tickets are limited and we expect to announce registration soon.

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Do you have a question for Vic? Your question could be posted on packers.com. Vic has covered the NFL through 42 seasons, including 23 years covering the Steelers and 16 years covering the Jaguars.

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