5-at-10: Monster Friday mailbag with UT-Bama preview and beating the Manning Curse, fixing Thursday night NFL

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee center Cooper Mays (63) turns his attention to Alabama defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe during last season's game in Tuscaloosa.

Let's handle our business

Rushmore of NFL receivers not named Jerry Rice. Side question: Is there a more unquestioned positional GOAT across sports than Jerry Rice? And this one surprised me because it’s tougher than you’d expect. Because the advent of the pass-happy offenses — and the rules changes to reward pass-happy offenses — are clear on career stats. Want to know the all-time leader in receiving yards who never played an NFL snap in the 2000s? Yep, that’s James Lofton, who was a bona fide dude. And what do we do with Larry Fitzgerald, who boasts one of the coolest WR stats ever in that he has more career tackles in his 17 years in the NFL than drops? Or Andre Johnson — or even Calvin Johnson — who spent Hall of Fame careers in QB purgatory? I will go — and with apologies to T.O. — with Fitzgerald, Moss, Calvin Johnson and Don Maynard, who put up Ruthian numbers compared to his peers with almost 12,000 receiving yards from 1958-73.

Rushmore of non-MLB PED users. Lance Armstrong has to be far left, right? And boy knowing what you did and the stack of lies on which you stood, how do you shoot that scene in “Dodgeball” if you’re Lance Armstrong? Do you think he told the lie so many times that he actually believed it himself? OK, that’s entirely too deep this early on the Friday of Fall Break. Marion Jones, Ben Johnson and Tyson Gay round out this one for me. Man, lots of PEDs in the track and field world friends.

All-time SNL Rushmore. Wow, this was incredibly tough and I expect several folks to bemoan the choices. Lorne Michaels, the creator and forever poohbah of the show is there. John Belushi made it cool. Eddie Murphy made it cool again, and redirected the narrative, and the final spot for me goes to Tina Fey, who pulled it from the doldrums and was one of — if not the best — writing/performing combos in show history.

Rushmore of movie dogs. OK, two categories here. There’s the legendary movie dogs of Lassie, Old Yeller, Lady (or Tramp, take your pick) and Toto. Then there are my personal favorites like Baxter (“Anchorman”), Monchi (“Mitchells vs. the Machines”), Puffy (“Something About Mary”) and the Dog Van in “Dumb and Dumber.”

Thoughts?

You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on the magnitude of Saturday’s UT-Bama face-off.

To the mailbag.


From more than a few of you

UT-Bama, how’s it going to shake out?

Gang — 

So I made my pick, but a slew of you wanted more preview.

Alright. We go hyper-sports when we need to.

Hendon Hooker does not have to be perfect, but he needs to be really good. He’s experienced. Dude has made a bunch of starts and he’ll be 25 in January. That’s a huge plus.

He’s been great at protecting the football. In 443 attempts with UT, he has thrown 3 picks. Yes, three. Total. His stat line in Josh Heupel’s offense is staggering: 304-of-403 (68.6%) for  4,377 yards and 41 TDs. Running he has 843 and eight TDs on 211 carries.

That’s crazy good over an 18-game stretch, people.

He’s going to have to be good — maybe even very good — Saturday, but he’s been that throughout his UT career.

That said, he’s going to need some help because no one is better at trying to make an opponent beat them with their second- or third-best pitch than the Dark Lord, Nick Saban.

Will Anderson will be coming from everywhere. (I’d expect if his offsides outnumber his sacks, it would be a really good indicator of how the game is progressing.)

They will spy Hooker more often than not, and they will rotate where the safety will double. 

This will be a great chess match between two of the best minds of their respective sides of the ball in a while in this league, and how Josh Heupel tweaks his offense in preparation for Saban’s designs to make someone else be the difference will be fascinating.

I expect Alabama will score a lot of points. (I like the over more and more as we get closer and closer to kick.)

I expect the Neyland to be a madhouse, which will help both sides. There is no program in the history of college football that has become more accustomed to playing in a frothy environment in enemy territory amid a tsunami of vitriol than Saban’s Tide.

And a fast start from the visitors would assuredly get the crowd’s attention, which will only magnify the pressure on a UT roster, which has nowhere near the big-game experience that Alabama’s players do.

I think Tennessee wins. I think it will be one of ‘those’ games, which is quite the testament to each program and coach.

Because none of us could have reasonably expected Heupel and Co. to come this far this quickly.

And there is no bigger compliment to be paid to Saban and the Tide than every potential close game is billed as the game of the year by someone.

Who’s ready?    


From J-Mac

What about Jaylen McCollough? Should he be able to play? Wouldn't be a good look for Heupel. I understand the situation is different from the other two Vols dismissed.

Want to change your Fab 4 UT-Bama pick since Peyton is going to be the guest picker on Game Day?

Go Braves, Mocs and Vols!

J-Mac — 

Thanks as always for playing along with the silliness.

The Jaylen McCollough deal is a tough one. The police report reads like a bad late night movie in which Tom Green, Seth Green or even a Sasha Baron Cohen (Green) wanders into someone’s apartment liquored up and gets pummeled.

That McCollough followed the intoxicated intruder into the street and beat him down is bad.

The optics of playing him, though, would be worse. And according to this Thursday story, mum is the word.

Look, if a player is in NCAA limbo, who cares? If a player has a pile of parking tickets, big deal. Heck, even some conversations about some of the not-good-but-not-terrible offenses could be debated and even rationalized by a UT fan base that is as jacked for a single game as any I can remember in a long, Long, LONG time.

But you don’t play kids if there are allegations of sexual nature or felonies until you get to the bottom of it. And McCollough was charged with felony assault. Do we know what happened? No, not yet, but the guys paid to find out what happened — KPD — found enough evidence to charge him.

That matters. Yes, so does innocent until proven guilty, which is why no one in their right mind is asking for McCollough to be dismissed.

But regardless of the stakes and the opponent and all of it, playing McCollough this weekend would be a bad look in my opinion.

As for The Sheriff coming to town, I find it to now be appointment TV. And yes, we all know about the Peyton Manning curse, in which he’s what, like 0-for-his-14 with losses in the last dozen-plus UT games he’s attended.

Personally, unless Dolly could have made it, I can’t think of a better guest picker. And considering the stage, I would move Corso and Desmond out and hustle Chesney, Dolly and Kane — the Hall of Fame WWE wrestler who is now the Knox County mayor — on stage. Let Manning run the show because he’s Manning — “Omaha, Omaha” — but at some point Kane and Pat McAfee have to go at it too.

As for the curse, I think it’s an amazing testament to Peyton Manning’s true love of UT and everything about the school that he a) has been true Orange through the worst football drought of the program’s existence and b) shrugs off the online hate — Vols Twitter can be a black hole of angst people — about the curse.

Saturday is going to be wild.     


From Ted

Jay, thanks for the Eliminator Contest. Did you know that I won?  

I love football but I have to know if you think there is any way to save Thursday night football?

Thanks and when’s the next contest. I love the 5@10.

Ted — 

OK, last part first, you saying you “love the 5@10” made me think back to Denzel near the end of the criminally great “Glory” saying, “I love the 54.”

Denzel is an all-timer with an all-time catalog, and he has never been or never will be better than he was in “Glory.” He may have roles as good, but never better.

Not sure who has been or will be. Jackie Mason in “Caddyshack 2” was close. The Fat Boys collectively in “Disorderlies” maybe. Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s” was dead on too.

But none have been Denzel from “Glory.” I love the 54.  

Congrats, Ted, and yes, I did know that you won. In fact, it’s kind of my job to know those things. Send me your address and we’ll get you a gift card for lunch on me. Deal? Deal.

As for Thursday night football, well, the issue, like most NFL items, is complex.

First, because the TV numbers are so extremely good. Wait, strike that. It’s streaming numbers now, not TV numbers. So, take any two college football games this season and add those audiences together, and that’s what the dreck of Thursday night NFL has garnered heading into last night.

So the patient is far from dying. It’s more of a really, Really, REALLY ugly man who is in perfect health, and I am sure Amazon is loving the ROI at this point.

But the ugliness is there. Remember last week when Al Michaels, desperately trying to put lipstick on last Thursday’s Colts-Broncos pig, wryly noted to broadcast partner Kirk Herbstreit, “Sometimes a game can be... so bad, it's almost good. You know what I'm saying?"

Herbstreit’s answer during the 12-9 Colts’ win that featured no TDs was a quick, “No.”

This week, Michaels was on a Chicago sports talk show and offered this gem of wisdom before last night’s Bears-Commanders game: “If we don’t have a better game than we had last Thursday, then I may retire. I’ve done pretty close to 800 NFL games, and with all due respect, guys are trying. I understand and we all know that, but that was grim.”

Well, break out the balloons and the cookie cake, because Washington 12, Chicago 7 was worse than grim. It was the baby only a mama could love. It was the NFL game only bettors and fantasy owners could stomach.

As for fixing it — because it’s not going anywhere any time soon because of the monster audiences — the first thing has to be figuring out how to juggle byes the weekend before these teams start playing on Thursdays. Especially after October.

The physical toll will be well-discussed, but the preparation time is minute, and that greatly affects the offenses. Yes, there will be the occasional shootout between teams with accomplished QBs and long-term relationships between coach and QB.

But I saw this stat: Of the last 30 Thursday night NFL games with an over/under less than 40 — which, like last night means Vegas sets the total points around 37ish so the expectation is for the game to be in the high teens — the under is 28-2.

Chew on that. The numbers show it, and the league certainly knows it.

In fact, here’s betting the league is more than willing to discuss changes to make Thursday night more aesthetically pleasing rather than the ESPN report on Daniel Snyder’s antics as the Washington owner.

Thanks Ted, and congrats again.


From Lunch Bunch

Jay, 

I know it’s been a while and most of us still read your column every day now that the glitches are gone.

Last week during our lunch conversations one of my friends asked “Which player from your childhood would have the most success in today’s version of his sport?” and it generated a ton of names and suggestions.

What is your suggestion and I wonder if your readers have some too? Thanks and GBO!

LB — 

Such a great question and one I have been pondering for more than a day or three.

First, I have to do one in each of the big three leagues. Can’t intelligently speak about hockey — maybe Paul Schultz — Hi Paul — or Spy could share an NHL suggestion or three but I however can not.

Hoops, it’s 100% Dale Ellis. Dude was 6-8 and could stroke the 3-ball. I watched him play in high school at Marietta and followed his career at UT. Hard to follow most of his career in Seattle, but simply put, that cat was ahead of his time.

In baseball, there were a ton of stars in the 1980s that kind of planted the seeds of today’s “go deep into the stands, go deep into counts and go deep into the dugout after striking out 180 times a year” offensive mantras.

Schmidt averaged 30 homers and 92-plus Ks a year in the 1980s and was thought to be less of a hitter because he only hit .277 in that decade. Same with Murphy who averaged 30-plus homers and 120-plus Ks over that same time frame.

But those guys each won multiple MVPs and multiple Gold Gloves, so they were already superstars.

How about Jack Clark, the first baseman for the Giants and Cards through the 1980s and after? He hit 340 homers — averaging 28 over a 162-game stretch in his career — and had an on-base percentage of .380, which was well more than 100 points higher than his career average.

Football, for me, would have been Roger Craig, who was a dude who had more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

And I hated the 49ers back then.

Great question. Gang, fire away.

And enjoy the weekend.