Vanderjagt an Indianapolis Dolt
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

No need to wonder what Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy were thinking last week when Mike Vanderjagt had everybody out Manning and Dungy hunting.

Mike Vanderjagt
Mike Vanderjagt was dancing to the wrong beat last week.
"Blooming idiot," they thought. Peyton came out and said it. In this situation, we find out about people -- how they think, what they know, how vulnerable they are, and where. We live for this stuff.

That's why you can definitely say that some of us sort of suck, too.

In a sense, we are to be forgiven. We are all suffering football withdrawal. The game infects and reflects our national soul, which appears to be defined by a need to get away from women for hours at a time, unless they are busily ripping off their clothes for us.

Football is thus a good game in which to know what you're talking about. Knowing the game will help you live longer and bet smarter, which, as we know, is often one and the same thing.

Here are the facts: Vanderjagt said he wasn't much of a Colts fan, in spite of the fact they were in the process of paying him $7.7 mil over five years, not to mention a playoff check this year that apparently he cashed as well. Under those circumstances, football and common social decorum dictate that you must say you're a Colts fan, even if you're not. But for some reason Vanderjagt felt compelled to say he wasn't, implying this was so because Manning and Dungy were enough to turn his stomach; they were soft, and worse, they were the same kind of soft, and that you had to "get in somebody's face," to be a good coach. He implied he had asked Peyton the week of a playoff game with the Jets to join him, get fired up with him, they were going to do this together -- as if Sam Garnes, John Abraham, Mo Lewis & Co. were going to be beating on Vanderjagt as well as Manning, which is not the case. No one knows this better than Manning, but certain mediaflies did not seem to know it all. In fact, Vanderjagt appeared to strike a vein of agreement in many people, if not in Manning and Dungy.

Forget logic. Forget the fact that the last four Super Bowls have been won by the likes of Brad Johnson, Tom Brady, Trent Dilfer and Kurt Warner, only one of whom (Brady) is all that physically gifted. The other three were fortunate to play with strong, fast men, and for fairly shrewd coaches, and to be lucky. Two of them are through already. You mean to say Peyton Manning does not have those capes? Where is that made manifest? Not in his ball. Not on the field. If you asked me to take one of those QBs today, even after the others have won Super Bowls, only Brady would make me pause. I'd take Brady, but Peyton throws at least as good a ball as the others, moves better, is quicker, is better. It's not a question of past passing numbers. It's a question of the next play.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning, left, is just as capable at winning a Super Bowl as Brad Johnson.
Manning's playoff won-lost record? The key there is that he has a playoff won-lost record. He regularly makes the postseason, even when his running back, Edge James, has thrown a shoe. What Manning does there is mostly or as much a function of the men who play with him, whether they are big, strong and fast enough.

As for Dungy, all he did was turn the laughingstock team of the NFL, the Tampa Bay Bucs, into a team with championship-level D, that, when healthy, was in the playoffs every year and won division championships and played in conference championship games and divisional championship games and wild-card games. In the end, this wasn't enough for Dungy to have done. Dungy knew that part of the job when he took it; but he had rep by then, so when he got fired he was hired by a 6-10 team in Indy and, with essentially the same roster, went 10-6 in his first season.

Yeah, he must be pretty terrible, all right. And his demeanor is key in his ineffectiveness. It might have helped when he turned the Bucs around him, it might be honest, it might be him, what he is, how he is, he's even-keel, low key, and that won't work, not with these donkeys today. This was Vanderjagt's thinking or lack thereof, and he was like a conjoined twin with many hunters out there. Forget the fact that Tom Landry and Bill Walsh won Super Bowls being even keel and low key and specializing in one side of the ball, but that was then. This is now, and right now is Chucky, and the NFL is the Land of Do What Has Been Done Lately. There are now 31 teams clamoring for a guy who scowls and makes a great fist.

Only problem is, only one team wins the Super Bowl every year. So, change your identity and style every season based on the team that wins the Super Bowl to fit the current mold, thereby driving your fans crazy and yourself out of a job? You could do that. Or, if you're Tony Dungy, you could be yourself. I'm going with Ghandi on this one. In the desire to be like Chucky, there has been talk of bringing that hellion Ditka back to pound some podium. Yes, please do bring him back, and guarantee yourself no shot; turn your municapility into Chernobyl ... see if anybody else in the division cares.

Tony Dungy
If not for a few bad breaks in the 2000 NFC Championship, Tony Dungy -- and not Jon Gruden -- might have led Tampa Bay to its first Super Bowl title.
Dungy's best skill perhaps is his eye for defensive talent. Anybody can adapt the Dungy Cover 2, as he prefers it played. Hell, the Bucs just won with that, Kiff just got paid for that, along with Chucky's well-designed O, and timing. Picking out the people to play D on a future team is more difficult. Two more drafts and Dungy's team in Indy will be stuffing people again. It's not really speculation; he's still relatively young and this is what he does.

Hey, Chucky called him a great coach right after the Super Bowl, and if anybody knows it's Chucky. He knows there was more than just him coming in to winning a Super Bowl There's a lot behind any resurgence in the first place. Dungy was one play away from going to the Super Bowl instead of the Rams in 1999. The Ricky Proehl miracle and perhaps replayable touchdown catch, and the definite catch by Bert Emanuel that was taken away on the last drive, and the Bucs lost 11-6 to the Rams in St. Louis. Were those Rams a better offensive team than these old, doddering Raiders, without their All-Pro center?

Get real. A lot of success is timing.

No skin off anybody's nose. Everybody's probably happier where there are and with the way things are now. I know Warren Sapp's relieved.

I would expect a football player to know some of this, which explains why Vanderjagt didn't. He is a kicker, no more a football player, no matter what he thinks, than Garo Yepremian was. Trying to have style after he makes a kick, incorporating teammates into his celebrations. He's a Disco Guy -- he thinks he can dance better than he actually can. He's five years behind, and kind of pathetic.

As such, he doesn't disappoint me, but some of my colleagues do. The young ones, them I can understand, they don't know; but you'd wish the older guys would at least open one of their eyes.

"We can kill the messenger, but Vanderjagt had a good point."

Yeah? If some new editor coming in screaming at you that you'd better make your deadline even though you can't remember the last time you missed one is going to make you writer better?

Peyton Manning can play championship caliber QB (see above).

Tony Dungy can coach (see above).

Period. End of story.

You're just going through withdrawal. That's all.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



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