"Ask Vic" will publish on Mondays and Thursdays through the offseason.
Fred from Florida
Vic, I just read about the passing of Cliff Branch. What are your memories of him? I remember watching a TV show with Al Davis, who said Mel Blount had trouble with Branch. Was that true?
Davis was probably referring to Branch beating Blount deep in the 1974 AFC title game, which the Steelers won. Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson benched Blount for allowing Branch to get deep, and that began a bit of a feud between Bud and Mel that resulted in the Steelers selecting Dave Brown in the first round of the 1975 draft. Brown was picked to move Mel out, but it didn't happen because Blount's career blossomed in '75. Brown was left unprotected in the expansion draft and he went on to have a great career in Seattle. What I remember most about Blount and Branch is Blount picking Branch up, turning him upside down and driving his head into the turf. It was retaliation for the Raiders targeting Lynn Swann. It was also prominent in the criminal element trial, causing Coach Noll, under oath on the witness stand, to include Blount in the "criminal element." Mel countered by holding out of training camp for more money, but Noll's testimony did not drive a wedge between Noll and Blount, as Davis had hoped. Mel always spoke fondly of Coach Noll. Bud? Not so much.
Tim from Sun Prairie, WI
If Kevin King and Jaire Alexander are healthy this year, will they be the best cornerback tandem in the league?
Alexander is on his way toward becoming one of the best, maybe the best, cornerback in the league. Given a choice between Alexander and Jalen Ramsey, I'd take Alexander. King has played well when he's been healthy, which hasn't been often. If King can stay healthy — he’s out again — they could rank among the best cornerback tandems in the league.
Lori from Brookfield, WI
What was your perspective on "Family Night?"
When I covered the Packers, it reminded me of a school picnic.
John from Gladstone, MI
Twenty inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020?
It's becoming the Hall of Names.
Lonny from Aberdeen, SD
Why do I read this column? For you.
I write this column for you and for everyone who exploded my inbox with their responses following Thursday's "Ask Vic." I read every response. They give me a feel for what my readers want and expect from this column. I'll try to deliver on those expectations.
Sam from Nashville, TN
Vic, Gil Brandt is being inducted into the Hall of Fame for his extensive work on player scouting. He helped us embrace the use of predictive analytics for forecasting a player's career trajectory. Prior to the emergence of analytics, how in the world were players' future abilities predicted?
They were predicted with a crystal ball by legendary scouts such as Fido Murphy, guys who crowded their homes into their cars and traveled the country in search of football talent. Identifying the prospects has never been a problem. Fitting them to the teams has always been the issue. Some teams are going to get the good ones and some teams are going to get the busts. What's changed?
Kirsten from Madison, WI
I've been watching the Packers for 30 years and know the overall game (offsides, pass interference, etc.). But I'd really like to better understand who's doing what, when and why. It's hard to pick it all apart, though, on the fly. So, do you have any tips? What are five things to focus on to start being able to break the game down?
1) Where are the safeties? 2) Where is the true tight end? 3) How wide are the offensive line splits? 4) Are the cornerbacks playing up or off? 5) What is the offense trying to accomplish by formation and motion? Kirsten, those are five questions I try to answer while watching a game. The answers give me an indication of the teams' game plans. I've got something a little more to the point for you to watch: What are the Packers going to do with all of those pass rushers they acquired? Are they going to load up at the line of scrimmage and bring the house, so to speak? They've rebuilt their secondary with high picks and a free agent safety. Go light in the back and crowd the line of scrimmage? Try to answer that question.
Alex from Orlando, FL
Vic, what are your thoughts on Fred Taylor’s public display of frustration about not being voted No. 1 former Jaguar?
I think it goes back to his "Fragile Fred" days. He was deeply hurt by that cut, especially in 2001 when he suffered a devastating injury in which he tore the groin muscle off the bone. He was angry at being listed as questionable each week, a ploy by Tom Coughlin to deceive opponents but which Fred felt fueled "Fragile Fred" criticism. All these years later, I think Fred is voicing his hurt and frustration. I voted for Fred as No. 1 and Tony Boselli as No. 2. My reasoning is Fred's big plays are just too many and too important in the team's history to ignore, plus, he had the longer career. Fred's career spanned two eras of Jaguars football, the franchise's early rise and its post-Coughlin reconstruction. If I was making a case for Tony as No. 1, it would be for a few years in his all-too-short career, Tony was the best player in the league at his position. I'm hoping this 25th anniversary celebration will give Fred the closure he needs. He was a great player, the most talented running back I've ever covered, and arguably the greatest player in Jaguars history.
Nathan from Plymouth, MN
You've talked before about how you think it's a little too easy to get into the Hall of Fame. I looked up how many people are members, and the count currently stands at 326. What's your gut reaction to that number? Too many? Just right? In 100 years of NFL football, do you think there have been 326 men worthy of the honor?
The Pro Football Hall of Fame didn't open its doors until 1963, which means it had a lot of induction catching up to do if it was going to attract visitors. I think it's caught up and it's time to slow down the induction train.
Matt from San Luis Obispo, CA
Vic, when you started out in the '70’s, were fans as interested in what we would call the soap opera side of football as they seem to be today? I can do without it.
The soap opera side, yes, but not as much with crime and punishment. The league and its fans were content to allow the police and the courts to enforce justice. My opinion has always been if a guy's not in jail, put on the pads. I think the league, especially in the Roger Goodell years, has become way too concerned with punishing players who've become embroiled in flaps with the law. In some cases, players were punished by the league without even having been charged with a crime. I want the league to rule on football matters, such as deflated balls and bounties, and leave the big stuff to the police.
Dan from Westboro, WI
Did you catch your fish? How did you cook it?
I caught two spot tail, four croakers and something with a blue spot near its gill. I released them all; the spot tail were just shy of the 15-inch limit. When I bought the shrimp (bait), I thought to myself, "I'm either going to have fish or shrimp for dinner tonight." As it turned out, I had shrimp and it might've been the best shrimp I've ever eaten. I have a feeling the shrimpers are having a great season.
Travis from Oshawa, Canada
It seems like Matt LaFleur's word is "urgency," whereas Bill Belichick is known for the phrase "Do your job." What word or phrase do you remember being emphasized in practice by Noll, Coughlin and McCarthy?
Coach Noll was big on leverage. He spoke often of that word. "Play with leverage," he would say. "Under and up; strike the rising blow." When I think of Tom Coughlin's practices, I think of precision. Coughlin possesses a military-like discipline. I can remember his travel itinerary including the words "secure lunches." During practice, a horn would blow, an intern would hold up a huge card with "Period 2" on it and a voice would boom, "Period 2, Period 2." Tom was fond of the words "crystal clear," and everything about his practice regimen was precise and crystal clear. Mike McCarthy's buzz word was tempo. He was vigilant about maintaining a fast tempo. He would count reps and it was a good practice if his team squeezed extra reps into the timed periods. Coach McCarthy's teams were good in the heat and in shape to begin the season, despite his starters having played little in the preseason, and I think it was the tempo of practices that were the reason for their conditioning.