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Back from Kiwi-land
Vacation notes and Flutie's wacky ways to win a game
Posted: Friday June 3, 2005 3:53PM; Updated: Friday June 3, 2005 5:07PM
Lote Tuquiri of the Waratahs is one of the rugby players readers think could make a transition into the NFL.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
My head is still in New Zealand, after a month's vacation in that wonderful country, so you'll forgive me if I lead off my welcome back mailbag with kiwi queries (quiwi kweries?). Wine and food kwestions, uh, questions, although always welcome, annoy some folks when their answers usurp football space, so if you click here you'll be transported to that happy world.
From Richard, a serious rugby man from London: "We were wondering if you'd decided to emigrate to New Zealand." This is not as much of a reach as it sounds. The Flaming Redhead and I had dinner in Whangerei with a real estate lady. I tried to open a savings account in the Bank of New Zealand in Auckland (was refused). Take that for what it's worth, and if you say, "not much," that's OK, too.
"The white wines are good, but surely the reds don't support such a move?" says R. of L. Wrong, sir. The best wine we had on the trip was a Neudorf pinot noir, Home Block, and ... oh oh, we're drifting off into wine. Sorry, check out Mailbag No. 2.
Moving on to rugby, of which The Redhead and I saw plenty -- everything we could find on TV (there's a special rugby channel), plus the Highlanders vs. the Australian Waratahs live in Dunedin's Carisbrook, the House of Pain. Yes, it was the Redhead, God bless her, who procured those tickets ... 30-yard line, not bad -- and we sat amidst one of the most polite crowds I've ever been involved with. "We're in the grandparents section," Linda whispered to me. We did our share of cheering for the Highlanders because they had a bagpiper and sang right along with everyone else when they flashed the words of the team song on the screen ..."Welcome to the House of Paaaiiiiiin," etc.
Here's one for you: Not knowing what the parking situation would be like, we showed up waaay early for the contest. Sure enough, they were in the process of roping off the street the stadium was on. So I drove down to the end of the block, where it met the main thoroughfare, and checked out Otago Tyres, which was also a garage. There were some empty spots and I asked the guy there if I could pay somebody to leave my car there. It was a perfect getaway spot.
"No charge," he said. "Just leave it here." Well, I felt I had to do something for this nice fella, so I gave him a pin from the NFL draft. "What the hell's this?" he said, and I explained that it was a rare and valuable piece of the American sporting scene. I mean what could I do?
Anyway, Richard mentions a few of the ruggers from the Hurricanes, the champions of the Super 12 league, many of whom will play for the All Blacks, New Zealand's national side, and wonders if there could be a place for them in the NFL. Lote Tuquiri, the star runner? Great moves indeed, but I think it would be a very tough transition (although when Charley Casserly was with the Redskins he made some serious inquiries about the Blacks' 250-pound Jonah Lomu). Chris Jack, the 6-8 lock? Uh, no. Athletic and rawboned, but I fear the NFL's 320-pound weightroom freaks would break him in half.
Richie McCaw, the speedy forward? Ah yes, now we're getting somewhere, because of all the ruggers I watched these were the guys who impressed me the most -- the compact 235-245-pounders who could run like the wind and do some serious smacking. I haven't seen much international-level rugby live in quite a while, but what really got me this time was the caliber and ferocity of the hitting.
Not so much in the tackling of the ball carriers. It's still a twisting, bulldogging type of tackle, and head shots are severely penalized. I'm talking about the way these guys go flying into the loose rucks and take out anybody who's not paying attention. What's a loose ruck? The milling scrimmage that takes place when a runner is downed. I used to enjoy this part of the game when I was playing because it was a cheap-shotter's paradise, but I never saw anything to match the waves of frenzied forwards pouring into the middle of things that I saw in NZ. They had "special teams" written all over them.
I was talking to an NFL personnel director a few days ago and I told him he really ought to take a look at these guys. He said, "Well, we've a rugby kicker in camp who we're looking at," and I gave him much the same pitch you've just read and he took the news calmly. The problem is why would a dedicated rugger give up his All Blacks competition, which brands him as sort of a god over there, to try out for NFL special teams, at minimal salary? Besides, ruggers get paid now.
Richard's final question: How many NFL linemen could survive rugby? A lot of the sleeker ones, but it would take a special kind of training for a fairly long period.
NZ question No. 2, from Jim of Redmond, Wash.: Which city do I prefer, Auckland or Wellington? An easy call. I like Auckland, but Wellington is kind of magical, with the mists and the hills. Reminds me of San Francisco.
Still more rugby, courtesy of Andrew, who was named meanest player during the Northern England's professional League, in the days when he was a mill worker in Leeds. Wait a minute, it's not a rugby question, it's a Kiwi travelogue. Ed of Lone Tree, Colo., suggests the Botanic Gardens in Dunedin. Missed that one, but we did see the albatross breeding colony and the yellow-eyed penguins in the nearby Otago Peninsula. Then he hits me with a bungee jump from a cable car in the Queenstown area (No way, friend. It's not a sport for a 500-pounder). Then a fjord trip (did that three years ago) and a side trip to the power plant near Doubtful Sound. Now we're just getting silly. I make doubtful sounds when I'm near power plants, most of which grow in our backyard. And yes, I was being real silly before, with that stuff about Andrew.
And that's it for rugby and New Zealand, all you faithful NFL fans who have had to wade through all this ... but tell me honestly, isn't it still more interesting than this dullest of all offseasons? Randy (no last name given, or I'd print it) wins our E-mailer of the Week award because he touches on a topic ... well, more than touches on; his query and observations run more than a full page ... a topic that I love to yack about. Odd strategies. Gadget plays. Weirdies. Fringe-illegals. OK, gimme room, everybody. I'm off and running.
Randy presents me with a lot of gadgets, some of which I've heard of before, but I'll tell you my favorite. You're in fourth down. You pull your offense off the field, but instead of sending on the punt team, you come in with a back-up offense and run a quickie play at a defense -- actually a punt-return unit -- that's trying to figure out what's going on. I think the ref might blow the whistle on such a deceptive thing, but even if he didn't, the other guys probably would call time out. So you've forced them to burn one. Big deal.
Yes, the fumblerooskie is legal, but for some reasons only the collegians call it, and very rarely. When he was the Steelers' offensive coach Mike Mularkey did zany things, such as having his QB step away and yell at someone, and then having the ball snapped, etc. Haven't seen the Bills do it, though.
When Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals of the USFL he ordered more gadgetry, so they ran an off-balance goal-line muddle huddle thing they called the Trump Tower. Doug Flutie was the QB, and if ever a man was born for this type of football, it was Flutie. Once he told me about a bunch of his ideas he called "Ways to win a game that a coach would never think of."
My favorite was this one: "What do you do when you're down by a point and you're near midfield and you can call only one more play? Line your kicker up on the flank, run him across the field, throw him the ball and have him try a drop-kick." A drop-kick? During the live action? "It's legal," Flutie said. "Three points." Yeah, but who knows how to dropkick in this day and age?
"I do," Flutie said. "I practice it."
I don't want to flatter myself into thinking that the subsequent story I wrote had anything to do with it, but a few years later the league ruled the downfield dropkick illegal during the course of play.
Once I watched a night game between Newport Beach High and the school's alumni. A friend of mine was coaching the alums and he said I could do a guest number and call one play. I called one for the end of the half -- a pass off the quarterback kneel. It didn't work because the QB didn't sell the kneel hard enough, but once I spent some time asking coaches about such a play.
"Absolutely ridiculous," Bill Walsh said, and everyone else agreed.
So what happened? A few weeks later Walsh actually called one, at the end of a game against the Cardinals. Which didn't make sense, because a team kneeling at the end had won the game anyway. I was talking about at the half, when the team was backed up deep. Walsh's play was a deep pass and the ball was knocked down, but Cardinals coach Jim Hanifan was so mad that he gave chase to Walsh after the game. God knows what he would have done to him if he'd have caught him.
I called up Walsh on Monday and asked him what in the world he was thinking. "Oh, I don't know," he said. "Point differential or something like that. It was a very poorly thought out decision."
My E-mailer of the Week has many more observations, mainly about clock management, and I agree with them, but we've had enough, right? And thanks for the compliment.
Now being served in the main dining room -- humble pie. Mike of San Diego severely takes me to task for my phrase, "plagued by deafness," when referring to the family of Panthers rookie QB Stefan LeFors. It's far from a plague, Mike says. It's a challenge and many people emerge more strong from it. Please accept my apology. It was one of those throwaway phrases you use without thinking. There was absolutely no malice intended.
I'm having trouble typing this because the dunce cap keeps falling down over my eyes, but if I'm seeing right, Andrew has lined up two Francais in a row, Gilles from Paris and Matt of Toulouse. Et le premier est Gilles. "Hope your trip in NZ is going well and you enjoyed the Super 12 game." Merci and oui on both counts. And now we move on to ... no, just kidding. Gilles likes the fact that I admitted I knew little about the guys the Patriots drafted and commends me for admitting it and asks if there's a general consensus among writers that the Pats are such smart drafters that they are above criticism.
Thank you. It just meant that I didn't have enough time to watch enough college football last season. And yes, I won't argue about anything the Patriots do, personnel-wise, because they've been so successful at doing the unusual, but a few other people take occasional shots.
Matt starts with a compliment. And I start with a thank you. Next, he offers his feelings about how he's tired of reading about players holding out for a new contract when they're already signed. Well, yes and no. Sure, there are guys who are greedy, but what if someone greatly out-performs his contract, and say he's a free agent, tied up with a low-paying long-term deal? What do you do?
"You re-do his contract," Bobby Beathard, the old Redskins GM used to say. "When a player clearly out-performs it, and you hold him to a bad contract, all you're doing is creating an unhappy player."
Finally, Matt asks me if I've ever been to Toulouse. Sadly, no. It's one of the regions in France I still have to visit. But I do like the wines of the Southwest, particularly Gaillac. Do you know what "ac" at the end of a name means? It means that at one time it was near water, the ac being a derivative of the Latin "aqua."
"Are you still writing a football column?" The Redhead asks. Hey, I'll let you in on a secret. She didn't ask that at all. I made it up. Actually she's in Denver with her sister, Gail.
From Jim, the Auckland-Wellington guy previously heard from: What's keeping Kenny Anderson out of the Hall of Fame? Nothing, as far as I'm concerned. I voted for the great Bengals QB every time his name came up. Strong competition generally was the reason he was stiffed.
Two Ricky Williams e-mails. Rich of Clark, N.J., cites a lack of pride and respect as the reason a guy can treat his teammates so miserably and still find a way back. Let's wait a bit. I still can't believe he'll actually rejoin this team. I smell a sandbagging attempt to get his trade value up. Thanks, Rich, for your kind wishes.
Josh of Paducah, Ky., reminds me of my comment a few months ago: "There's no way under God's blue sky that Williams will ever set foot in a Dolphins locker room again." Well, he's still not there. OK, I get a little carried away at times. Would you like me better if I were Joe Cool?
Sean of Iowa City, Iowa, and I just know I've answered a question or two from you before, asks for my reaction to DrewPearson's assertion that the Hall of Fame voters tend to snub ex-Cowboys. Yeah, I think he's right, and I'm not even listing him among the four Cowboys I think definitely belong: Rayfield Wright, Cliff Harris, Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan.
This is a complicated one. Jonathan of Shell, Ecuador, is a "huge Titans fan." Just how big are you, Jon, 6-8, 6-10? What? Atta boy, Z, you have just picked an 8th grader to bounce a one-liner off of ... uh, off of whom to bounce a one-liner. Hey, kid, I'm sorry, but here's the thing: He wants to know how the Titans will do, and he wants to know it for an essay he's writing for school. But unfortunately the deadline for his essay (May 16) has passed. Well, I can't help it, I was on vacation. You could ask anyone. Ask those guys at the Barcelona Restaurant whom I told to pipe down, who then told me a few things. Ask the traffic cop who reminded me that people drive on the left in New Zealand.
But if you still want my answer, I'll say that the rookies will have to come through if the Titans are going to make the playoffs. Losing Derrick Mason was a big one. They got nothing in free agency. Their QB might be showing the effects of long-term punishment. Right around 8-8 looks right.
Robert of Tampa, Fla., thinks it would be mean spirited of the Browns to take bonus money back from Kellen Winslow when he missed last year because of a broken leg he suffered on special teams, of all things. Yeah, it was the onside kick team, and right away it struck me as real goofy that he was on the field in such a situation. So Robert believes that to make up for this blunder, the club ought to let him keep his bonus after his motorcycle accident. I wish I could pound the table and give you a thundering opinion in some direction, but I can't. Sorry to cop out, but I just don't feel that strongly about it, one way or another. If both sides would care to venture into New Jersey to present their arguments, I promise I'll render a decision.
I'm saving this one for last because it's going to require a long, anecdotal answer. Ron of Green Bay, Wisc., is fed up with the praise Brett Favre gets for his screwups ... well, not exactly praise, but shrugs. Well, that's just Brett, boys will be boys, etc., whereas another player would get hammered. I couldn't agree more. His greatness is undeniable, but he's thrown a lot of picks and made a lot of screwy decisions in big games, and the way they laughed off that underhand toss over the line against the Vikings made me cringe. And I actually lost it and started yelling at the TV when John Madden reminded us, for about the eighth time, how much fun the QB was having out there. And now the story, which has nothing to do with football. It's about fun.
I'm working for the New York Post in 1977. Rupert Murdoch is about to take over the paper. I'm watching a talk show on PBS, kind of a roundtable discussion about what this means. I don't recall all the panelists, but PeteHamill, a former colleague at the Post, was one of them, along with a British journalist who knew Murdoch well. "It's gonna be fun, this town needs fun," Pete was saying, and the British guy would say, "But you don't understand. You don't know what this man is capable of."
And then it would go round the horn again, and Pete would repeat his thesis about how it would be fun for the city, and the British guy, like a modern day Cassandra, would repeat, in ever mounting frustration: "But you don't know him. I do."
Fast forward to the gossip columns. Hamill is going with Shirley MacLaine, the actress. They are often in print, but nowhere more often than on the Post's Page Six, the gossip page. At times it seems a little rough to me. What has the paper got against this twosome? Finally they break up. People whom I knew, who also knew Pete, said the Page Six stuff was part of the reason. I was almost tempted, repeat almost, to call Hamill and say, "Hey Pete, having fun?" Now that would have been mean.
“Hit them in the mouth, bloody their nose, throw them to the ground and step on their throat!”--Brooking, Pregame Huddle 2009