As a few Packer fans may know, Cliff Christl, the long time Green Bay Press Gazette, Milwaukee Journal and now Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sportswriter, who has covered the Packers since the 1970s, has announced his retirement. Those of us who regularly read his work will miss him. As the elder fool laid it out recently:
"For my money, there isn't another sports writer in the state even close. I'm not aware of a sports writer anywhere in the country, for that matter, that I think is as good. He uses logic, does research, tells you what he doesn't know and is never a know-it-all. Plus, he's been covering the Packers forever and knows the team history like the back of his hand."
I also hold Cliff responsible for my own education in pro football. Specifically, his insistence that talent, particularly elite talent at the skill positions, is what wins games. In truth, I dind't really think about it much before. I probably gave more credit to coaching, and would have believed that having a team of all pretty good players would get you further than a team with two superstars and a bunch of average players. If the idea that having elite talent is what really matters strikes you as wrong, you should get a Packer Insider subscription and read some of Cliff's work from this off-season. (Actually, if you're a Packer fan, you should get an Insider subscription regardless.)
In an article Cliff wrote before this year's Super Bowl, he noted that 27 of 40 Super Bowls (now 28 of 41) have been won by teams with Hall of Fame quarterbacks. (This counts Brady and Manning as HOF locks.) That's just over two-thirds. Another recent article laid out how nearly every Super Bowl winner has had several dominant players--players that most league scouts would rate in the top 50 overall, regardless of position--and usually had a player who was among the top 5 or 10 overall. This year's Super Bowl was no exception. Manning is certainly one of the top five players in the league. Harrison and Freeny are probably both in the top 50. Urlacher is probably in the top 10, Harris and maybe Briggs in the top 50.
For the Packers, he's traced the team's decline to Favre's slow devolution-- from great, prime talent, to a player who might be a top 50 guy on his good days-- and to the team's inability to surround him with elite talent following White and Butler's retirements. He noted that Ahman was an elite player for a few years, as was Walker for the 2004 season, and the emergence of these players returned the Packers to semi-serious contention. Cliff has also documented how truly great players are almost never free agents, but rather are locked up by the team that drafts them for most of their professional careers. Thus, if you want a great player, you usually need to draft high, or get luckly later in the draft. (This spawned my "root for the loss and the high draft pick" strategy this past season; Cliff, of course, scorned any team or player that would do such a thing.)
In recent seasons, Cliff has also been reknowned for his internet chats, where he's answered questions or responded to comments submitted by readers. He usually spent these chats being brutally honest, (such as noting after the Seahawks loss this past season that "this was the first time that the Packers had allowed an opposing back to rush for more than 200 yards in 17 years. That's a disgraceful effort"), reiterating that elite talent is what tends to separate good teams from mediocre teams ("I'm sure Bill Belichick would admit that without Brady and Seymour he wouldn't own any Super Bowl rings"), and explaining that the Packers will continue to struggle until they acquire a few elite players ("They just need a great player. It doesn't matter what position, as long as it's a skill player on offense, a left tackle, a defensive lineman or a DB."). In addition to providing wonderful insight on pro football, Cliff's chats could also be quite hilarious, as Cliff would chastize fans for second-guessing coaches, criticizing general managers, and launching ad hominems at him. What follows is a not-so-thorough selection of those greatest hits, though the last question posted says it all for me:
Q: What do you think the chances are that the packers will fire Ted Thompson as GM and attempt to Hire Barry Alvarez. We sure could use a running game.
A: Cliff Christl - Zero in one zillion. Why is it that some people find it necessary to target a scapegoat after every loss? And sometimes it seems like all they do is pull a name out of a hat. The Packers, a 4-12 team last year, had the defending NFC champions on the run into the fourth quarter. And the Seahawks had won 12 of their last 13 home games. For the Packers to be leading in that venue through three quarters was pretty impressive. I'm not suggesting this was a moral victory or anything. The Packers lost a game they could have won. But why tonight would someone suggest firing Ted Thompson? It makes absolutely no sense to me.
Q: - Cliffy, Another pitiful season for the Motor City Kitties. Another year for you to defend your boy Matt Millen. Until you finally admit your were wrong (without offering up pathetic excuses) you have zero credibility.
A: Cliff Christl - You know that's the ultimate compliment: To tell me that I have no credibility and to suggest that you don't like me, but that you still read me. Thanks.
Q: - This team is a joke! I have more confidence in the Wisconsin Badgers than this team. Is there any information you can give me about where to mail my resume for the position of General Manager? The first 5 games of this season clearly shows me this man Thompson and his hand picked coach McCarthy don't have a clue what it takes to build a professional football team. They have over $20 million under the cap - can you do SOMETHING with that money??? The Years of Darkness have begun and I'd like to thank everybody in the Packer front office for this foul up - You guys are No. 1 in my book for termination. Thank You. From a former heavy equipment operator, hoping to be the next General Manager of the Green Bay Packers.
A: Cliff Christl - The Packers aren't very good. This was another game they could have won and didn't. But the more I see of McCarthy, I think he has a chance to be a successful coach. I think he's bucking some tough odds. I don't see him having the personnel to win for three, four, maybe five years and by then he might be gone. So it will be tough for him to succeed. Also, I think Thompson has the right philosophy building through the draft. You might be able to fill in some gaps with free agents. You're not going to win anything meaningful by trying to buy a team. So there are a lot of factors why the Packers aren't winning. Ron Wolf deserves some blame for the 2001 draft. Mike Sherman for some of his personnel moves. Also, Thompson for some of his. But if you want a blunt answer, I think your analysis is also a joke.
Q: - Just tuning in. I was at the game today, and my take live is that this is not one to get overly excited about. My sense is the 49ers are just a bad team. Watching Nick Barnett is painful with the "club", but if we need so badly to start him with the cat, does that not mean we need to pay him and sign him to a new deal.
A: Cliff Christl - I think you're right about Barnett. He's really having problems wrapping up. But they don't have anybody else. Hodge was just awful against the Seahawks. And I think you're right about the game. There were plays to be made by the 49ers; they just couldn't make them because of Smith. But, hey, the Lions will be even worse.
Q: Daniel - Interesting that you run a list of deficiencies and you fail to even mention Favre's name. I know he must be beyond reproach with you. But face it, the tone of the game was set on the first play from scrimmage. He has all day to throw off play-action and he underthrows the receiver by 5 yards. He missed wide open receivers all day long. He counts 12.6 million against our salary cap (double that of the next highest guy) and he didn't even show up. I know we aren't in the Patriot's league but our quarterback didn't even give us a chance to compete. You fail to say it because you're afraid to criticize the legend. So i will.
A: Cliff Christl - Daniel, nobody had asked about Favre yet. I guess you're one of those little people that I can't stomach when I meet. Sorry, but that's how I react to people who can't ask a question without making personal accusations.
Q: - Seriously Cliff, even after Ted Thompson's vote of confidence on Robert Ferguson playing for the Packers next season, do you really think this is a possibility with his 2.5 million dollar salary?
A: Cliff Christl - I can't believe it. You don't pay a pedestrian player $2.5 mil.
Q: - These Personnel experts, GMs and scouts you quote as rating Brady as #1 overall, are these the same GM's and scouts who rated Brady as the 199th best player of the 2000 draft, a 6th round talent? "based on a survey of GMs, scouts, personnel directors, etc., rated Brady the best player in the league"
A: Cliff Christl - Probably some are the same. And they've probably come to grips with the fact that they were wrong. I gather from your tone that you never are. My hats off to you for being smarter than the rest of us.
Q: - Awful, just awful! It looked like we were a division 4 high school team playing against a division 1 team. Not even worthy of playing on the same field. So outcoached, outplayed, out efforted? is that a word? Gosh, this stinks!
A: Cliff Christl - No question. It was about as ugly as ugly gets. I don't know if the Packers have ever been behind 31-0 at halftime at home. Before I started this chat, I looked up the 40-0 loss to Detroit in the 1970 season opener and the score at halftime of that game was only 13-0.
Q: James - Hi Cliff. As bad as the Packers were today, they weren't as wretched as the Vikings. Do you think the Pack will finish with the number two record in the North? Does it matter, except maybe for team morale?
A: Cliff Christl - I don't think it matters. James, I'm not picking on you. It's a fair question. But based on last off-season's chats, I thought the Vikings had the answer for everything with all their free agent signings. I didn't see their game today, but those of you who think free agency is the answer, tell me what's gone wrong there.
Q: - What team do you cover? You ask, do you give up a number one for an unproven quarterback? And the quarterback even plays for Atlanta? Go read your Packer history and then have a cup of coffee so that we know you're awake.
A: Cliff Christl - I haven't seen much of Matt Schaub. So I'm no expert. But how much do you want to bet that he isn't another Brett Favre? That he never comes close to being another Favre? But, then again, you're probably one of those fans that figured Abdul Hodge was headed for Canton after the Family Night scrimmage. Also, how many times have you watched Matt Schaub play? Are you basing that on what you've seen or just having another one of those Packer fan pipedreams? That's the one easy cure for all that ails your team. Keep fantasizing.
Q: - Nice response to my previous question, thanks for your insight. It shows that you have a grade school journalism degree, and that you are pathetic in your job. Not being able to provide insight to what goes on in the Packer Lockerroom with players and what their thoughts are towards how mangement deals with them, would seem to be valuable to fans. Of course as you have said before you are no fan, don't care about fans and only like elementary school football?
A: Cliff Christl - Ok. Let's play like little kids and start calling names. Based on your question, you seem to know all the answers. If so, why should I bother trying to change your mind? In talking to players, I have not sensed in the least bit that they don't like playing for McCarthy. In fact, I've sensed just the opposite: That they like his direct approach to communicating with them. But you've drawn a different conclusion sitting down in Prosper, Texas, probably without ever talking to a single player. And in your own mind, you obviously have determined that you are right. So what sense would it make for me to try and convince you otherwise?
Q: - You Rock Cliff! Your no nonsense, no fluff, anti-homer, could care-less, we are all morons attitude makes your chats fun to read. You never know what is going to set you off and what blunt "knee in the goin" response you are going to give. Keep it up!
A: Cliff Christl - Some like it, some don't. That's what makes the world go round. Good night.