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What if Lombardi lived and didn’t win in Washington?

Posted May 24, 2013

Jim Thorpe might've been the greatest player of all time


Justin from Watertown, WI

Vic, what do you think is the single-most important aspect of the game today?

I think it’s the passing game. I think you can win without a strong running game and without a strong defense, but I don’t think you can contend for a championship without a strong passing game.

Paul from Ossian, IN

Vic, If you could watch one player in NFL history that played before your time, who would it be and why?

It would be Jim Thorpe. There’s very little in the way of information on his great career, yet, he was clearly as dominant in his era as Jim Brown was in his. I’m intrigued by the story that if he was tackled hard on a play, he would demand to have the ball on the next play so he could punish the man that had just tackled him. Somebody capable of willing himself to be that physical, and with the ball in his hands, is a special player in any era. Statistically, all we know about his career is that he played in 52 games, passed for four touchdowns, rushed for six touchdowns, kicked four field goals and three extra points. We also know he was 6-1, 202, he had world-class speed and led a tiny Indian school to the national championship by traveling across the country and whipping the best teams in every region of the country. One of his most legendary performances was in the shutout win at Pitt that year. All of Thorpe’s punts traveled 50-70 yards. He was often the first Carlisle player to tackle the return man. On one punt, he caught his own punt out of the air, broke several tackles and ran the remaining 20 yards for a touchdown. There are accounts of him having games in which none of his punts traveled fewer than 70 yards. I’d like to see him play because I’ve never seen a player do the things he is said to have done. He might be the greatest football player of all time and we know almost nothing about him, except stories we’re not sure are believable. We also know he was buried in shame. A small town stepped up and agreed to provide a suitable burial place and memorial to him, in exchange for renaming itself so it might use the name to attract tourists. Thorpe’s talent and travails are so extreme that I have to believe he’s the greatest sports story of all time.

Jimm from Huntsville, AL

Vic, what do you consider an effective run game?

An effective run game makes a defense play run. If your run game doesn’t make defenses get that eighth man in the box on first down, you don’t have an effective run game.

Greg from North Little Rock, AR

Vic, I’m afraid fans still don’t understand that in football the Hall of Fame inductees go into the Hall of Fame as players, not as part of any team, in contrast to Major League Baseball, which does specify a team. It has to be explained too many times.

You’re right. Reggie White finished his career in Carolina, and it is duly noted in the Hall of Fame.

Keith from Greendale, WI

Vic, I don’t understand the concept of a soft football team. Sure, a passing offense should be considered soft, but a soft offense shouldn’t have any impact on the defense being soft. Why can’t a team have a passing/soft offense but a smash-mouth defense?

It’s difficult to do because that defense is practicing every day against a finesse offense. The Dolphins couldn’t do it during the Marino years, and Don Shula was a former defensive coordinator. The 49ers were able to do it, but not until Roger Craig gave them something more than a passing game. It’s been my experience that the more you pass, the worse you play against the run. Then the trickle-down effect kicks in.

Eric from Washington, DC

Vic, been following you since your time with the Jags. You mentioned Joe Gibbs as a coach who did it without “The Man.” How did he do it exactly?

It’s not that he did it without “The Man,” it’s that he did it with three different quarterbacks. Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien were all top performers in their Super Bowl seasons. How was Gibbs able to do it with three different guys? He did it with what I consider to be the most dominant offensive line in pro football history, and a lot of the credit has to go to Bobby Beathard for having assembled that talent. The Hogs were so good that Gibbs was not only able to win with multiple quarterbacks, he was able to win with multiple running backs: John Riggins, rookie Timmy Smith and journeyman Earnest Byner. It didn’t seem to matter who Gibbs plugged in at quarterback and running back, they instantly became stars. So what stayed the same? The offensive line, for the most part. I think it’s also important to note that all of this was pre-salary cap era, and the Redskins had one of the league’s deepest deep-pockets owners, Jack Kent Cooke, who made a lot of Beathard’s mistakes go away by throwing money at them. Gibbs was not working for a team in an austerity movement. He got whatever he needed to win.

Joe from Schaumburg, IL

Vic, since Tretter was taking part in OTAs, will he be eligible or not for the PUP list?

I don’t wanna go through all of the PUP rules, but as it pertains to training camp, until a player participates in a practice, he’s eligible for the PUP list. OTAs are voluntary. They don’t count toward PUP eligibility. That begins in training camp.

Rhonda from Appleton, WI

Vic, I applied for Packers license plates that say WINSUM. ASKVIC is available, too, so now I’m torn.

Go with WINSUM. I have a feeling that fits you perfectly.

Ben from London, ON

Vic, just want to take the time to say I love your column, I enjoy your honest answers and unbiased insight. You remind me a lot of my grandma, who was thick-skinned and didn’t care what others said.

She sounds like a great girl.

Luke from Dorchester, England

You said veteran players don’t or shouldn’t mentor the rookies that join the team, so I was wondering what you made about James Jones’ comments about giving advice and help to the new receivers joining the Packers?

It gave me a warm feeling.

Jeff from Albuquerque, NM

Vic, in your opinion, is Coach McCarthy going to lead us to another Super Bowl victory in his time here?

Yes.

Nick from Water Mill, NY

Aside from the obvious of having to block a premier pass rusher, what abilities does a left tackle have to possess that differ from what’s expected of a right tackle?

He has to be able to slide his feet to the left and punch with his left hand. For a right-handed person, that’s not always natural to do.

Nick from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, my teams are the Packers because I’m an owner, the Badgers because that’s my alma mater, the Brewers because it’s always awesome to tailgate in MKE, Marquette because it’s my grad school, and Notre Dame. My question is: how/why did you ever leave Pittsburgh sports, as that’s your hometown and it appears you had great experiences there with great teams. Then you decided for a transfer to Jacksonville and wound up at Titletown. I understand it’s your profession and I sincerely respect your work, but I just wanted to know how you conceptualized the work after those significant transitions, especially after the Pack defeated your hometown Steelers.

I really don’t think you understand, and that goes for a lot of fans. I was able to do what I’ve done because this is MY JOB and it matters most to me. This is what I do to provide the best life possible for my family. They don’t hire people in this business based on their love of team, they hire them based on their ability to do their job. Aaron Rodgers is from northern California. He was a 49ers fan growing up, but it appears he has been able to do his job despite those emotions. Why? Because his job is what’s important to him. Joe Greene grew up in Dallas and Dan Marino grew up in Pittsburgh, yet, they each were instrumental in scoring big wins against their hometowns that were hurtful to the people that once were their neighbors. They were able to do it because their job is what was most important to them. It’s no different for me. All of us have to be born somewhere, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay there. We’re allowed to grow. We’re allowed to see other places, meet new people and view life from their perspective so that it might broaden ours. Jacksonville broadened me. Green Bay is doing the same. I am indebted to both places. It’s difficult for me to understand why so many fans have difficulty understanding what I’ve just explained. If it wasn’t that way, then only people from Wisconsin could play for the Packers. I don’t think you want that.

Bart from Sanibel, FL

It’s very early, yet, so everything has to be taken for what it is. Still, what do you think an even part time move of Mike Neal to OLB brings to the defense?

A part of me thinks Neal’s brief time at linebacker in OTAs practice on Tuesday was either meant for the media to see, or Mike McCarthy used the opportunity to be playful. We’ll see.

Tim from Indianapolis, IN

Regardless of how good of a football player they were, who is the best pure athlete you have ever covered?

Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson and Rashean Mathis would be strong candidates. Charles Woodson would be the obvious candidate from my time with the Packers; I wish I had covered him in the prime of his career.

Andrew from Jacksonville, FL

Vic, Lombardi doesn’t have the coaching tree success to match other great coaches. What say you?

Bill Austin and Phil Bengtston struck out as head coaches, and they were regarded as top assistants. So what? Frankly, Lombardi wasn’t a head coach long enough to have developed much of a tree. What if Lombardi had coached for 10 more years? What if he never won another title? How would history then record him? Would he still be No. 1? We just assume he was going to win in Washington. I don’t get that. He was headed for quarterback problems. If he didn’t get the right guy, he wasn’t going to win championships, and I don’t think you can ever assume you’re going to get the right quarterback. Based on history, I think we have strong reason to believe Tom Landry would’ve won round two. You can’t do it with coaching alone. The Cowboys had a sensational personnel department. The Cowboys machine was beginning to dominate the NFC, and Lombardi would’ve had to face them twice a year every year.


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