"Ask Vic" will publish on Mondays and Thursdays through the offseason.
Brad from Tucson, AZ
So the Vikings have extended Kyle Rudolph, and by my reckoning have not lost anyone significant in free agency over the past few years. Isn't this supposedly unsustainable? What is the expiration date for their championship hopes and roster as currently comprised?
Pushing money into future years' caps is a slow death. The expiration date is the point at which you have to replace the players you've restructured. Simply put, you're spending the cap room of future players on current players. We've been over this a million times in this column. Eventually, the hurt is felt; the collapse is inevitable. The Vikings know this. They're willing to suffer the future consequences to take their shot now at winning a championship. That decision was made when they went all in on Kirk Cousins. My guess is if they don't win this year, they'll go after a veteran coach who'll give them new hope of salvaging this win-now strategy. There's no turning back, and patience is not part of the plan.
Steve from Hudson, WI
How much of special teams success is coaching vs. players?
The best special teams coaches are the ones who can convince each player the execution of his role is the difference between winning and losing. It can be as simple as staying in your lane, but good special teams coaches can make his players believe it is of monumental importance. In my opinion, special teams play is all about the execution of football fundamentals. I can still hear Frank Gansz yelling "Come to balance, come to balance." Bill Cowher cut his teeth on special teams and leverage was his buzz word; "We lost leverage," Cowher would say of having allowed a long return. Offense and defense are thick with schemes; special teams are almost solely about the discipline of execution. You don't need great players to have great special teams. You need great discipline and execution and those virtues are the responsibility of the special teams coach.
Jacob from Green Bay, WI
Was Green Bay really that much colder than Pittsburgh?
Yes. It surprised me, too.
Tom from Bismarck, ND
Vic, for a young guy you have a pretty good recall of happenings in the 1970's NFL, at least in Pittsburgh. You rarely mention the Pittsburgh teams or players from the '60's. I think Roy Jefferson, and especially Andy Russell, were two of the most underrated players in the game in the late '60's. What Pittsburgh players from that era have been overlooked? I assume you were up and alert in the '60's.
There weren't many. The late '60's were an especially dark time for the Steelers. John Baker was a very good defensive end, but I don't think anyone would remember him if he hadn't cracked Y.A. Tittle's head like an egg. The '60's were a decade dedicated to war with the AFL, and poor franchises such as the Steelers struggled just to pay the bills; competing for a title was out of the question. Buddy Dial was a good player the Steelers somehow managed to develop during the Buddy Parker trade-picks-for-veteran-players era, but the Steelers traded him to Dallas for the rights to Texas tackle Scott Appleton, who the Oilers signed by throwing Bud Adams money at Appleton. The Steelers spent a first-round pick on West Virginia running back Dick Leftridge, solely because he would agree to sign for what the Steelers offered him. Jefferson was the only blue-blood talent the Steelers had when Chuck Noll became the head coach in 1969, but Noll traded Jefferson when Jefferson challenged Noll's resolve. Russell and Ray Mansfield bridged the eras. For me, the highlight of the '60's was Jim "Cannonball" Butler getting hit on the butt by a snap from center during a punt play.
Nick from Owego, NY
Best football name you ever heard?
Wayne from Beavercreek, OH
Vic, once years ago, I remember you asked the questions and the readers answered. I remember the answers people gave were so wishy-washy. It seemed as if people were afraid of offending anyone or afraid of criticism. It gave me an appreciation for what you do. Why do you think people answered that way?
I didn't get it either. It was as though they were all trying out for Packers PR man.
Mario from Lemon Grove, CA
If the "Ice Bowl" changed the Packers, how did Bart Starr's quarterback sneak change the Cowboys?
It changed the Cowboys in the same way the Steelers' wins in Super Bowls X and XIII changed the Cowboys: It kept some of them out of the Hall of Fame.
Ben from Alameda, CA
Before "Sunday Ticket" and other cable packages, how did you write about teams and players you didn't see in person? Were you given access to coaches' tape?
You mean film, right? No, we talked to people. We talked to other reporters and we talked to coaches and scouts. We had something back then called the five o'clock club. Coaches and reporters would meet in the beer room and we'd talk. What was said wasn't off the record but it was understood it wasn't to be directly quoted. It was a wonderful way to exchange information because you created bonds with others in the game. You earned each other's trust.
Jason from Austin, TX
That question about reporters overly laughing at a player's bad joke was really funny and, I think, transcendent amongst jobs (laughing at your boss's bad jokes). What was the most over-the-top response or gesture you saw a reporter make to gain a players approval?
I don't remember any particular instance of laughing to gain favor, but I remember laughing to the point of having to leave an interview huddle. It was after a game in which Bubby Brister threw several interceptions. A bearded reporter asked Brister what he did after bad days like this. Brister jokingly said he'd go home and "kick the dog." The reporter asked what kind of dog Brister had. Brister looked directly at the reporter and said, "One with a beard." I couldn't stop laughing.
Scott from Sauk City, WI
"A great coach whose teams seemed to always find a way to lose in the postseason." The details and the situations are different, obviously, but I feel like you could almost say the exact same thing about Mike McCarthy. At the end of the day, Brandon Bostick and Larry Fitzgerald may have cost him two more Lombardi trophies. I'm thankful for the one he got us, and don't blame him for the ones we let slip away.
If Bostick had caught that onside kick, McCarthy might be headed for the Hall of Fame.
Brian from Baltimore, MD
There are days I wonder how many have ever played sports, spontaneous or organized. I believe the great teachers are not coaches, but the games themselves. There are valuable lessons in a 12-year-old getting bruised and dirtied a little playing unpadded, helmetless tackle football in the yard with friends. Fewer and fewer kids learn those lessons anymore. Someone could get hurt; social services called. What do you remember of your days playing sandlot pickup? What lesson might you have taken away for lifetime reference?
We played in a narrow yard that included a brick path down the center. I remember trying to avoid being tackled on the brick path. It's not a lesson, just a memory, but memories make us rich.
Paul from Cumming, GA
Much has been made about competition and edge helping to sharpen a position group. How do coaches balance the necessary edge without allowing the atmosphere in the room to become toxic?
What's wrong with toxic? Some years ago, when I was in Jacksonville and the Steelers and Jaguars were still in the same division, I remember the Steelers having a big fight in the locker room during OTAs. I remember thinking to myself, "They're gonna be good this year." They were. Fans worry too much about feel-good chemistry. Tom Coughlin once said to me, "I don't want guys walking around here with smiles on their faces." Football isn't a feel-good game. Toxic isn't necessarily a bad thing. Comfort is a bad thing.
Randy from Medicine Hat, AB
Why doesn't the Howard Cosell style work these days? You may not have agreed with him, but at least what he said had substance, as opposed to Tony Romo, who doesn't seem to have a shut off switch.
The Cosell style can still work. John Madden had a lot of Cosell in him. Madden is probably the last guy who had the talent to do what Cosell did. Today's TV analysts are ex-players who are more concerned about being right than they are about being entertaining.