The Chat House with Michael Wilbon: Redskins-Lions, Writing Lessons and Mike Singletary's Motivational Moment

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, October 27, 2008; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, Oct. 27 at 1:15 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Redskins-Lions, Mike Singletary's motivational techniques and offer some thoughts on sports writing.

A transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you explain why Rich Rodriguez has been demonized so much by WVU? (I understand UM's "Michigan Man" thing -- I don't really get it or agree with it, but I understand it.) College football coaches break contracts and leave for supposedly greener pastures every year. I don't recall other schools raising such hell when their coaches left.

Michael Wilbon: When college coaches depart a community and say, essentially, I prefer being someplace else bigger and better, the folks who were left behind get angry. I understand. Is it over the top? Probably, yes. But I understand.


Prince William, Va.: I think that with Cole Hamels on the mound, there's a reasonable chance the Phillies are going to close things out tonight. And what's interesting about this team is that two of its key players (Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard) are black, good for a franchise that has long had the stigma of racism attached to it and some of its fan base. (True, Garry Maddox was an integral part of the 1980 champions, but he wasn't on the same plateau of stardom as Mike Schmidt or Steve Carlton.) Moreover, both Rollins and Howard have understood their role in helping baseball boost participation and interest in the black community. As someone who loves baseball and wants it to thrive among all elements of our society, I think that's good news.

Michael Wilbon: I don't know if you guys got the first answer I tried to publish...I'm in Nashville for Monday Night Football, a big game between the Colts and Titans...I will sneak a peek at the World Series, which I thought the Rays would win...But I don't see Hamels, at home, losing. I don't see the Rays, gallant as they've been, winning three straight to take this series...So, the celebrating in Philly should come at some point.


Charlotte, N.C.: Mike,

I wonder if you felt like me and wanted to put on a helmet and pads after Mike Singletary's press conference. I hope the Niners give him a chance beyond this season.

Michael Wilbon: I love Mike Singletary and I think he sent the absolute correct message to Vernon Davis and all the other 49ers who've been losers for years now...I hope it works. If you don't want Singletary's signature intensity, then you don't hire him because what they got yesterday is what they're going to get and what they need around that locker room to change the culture of losing.


Rockville, Md.: In yards gained, third-down conversions, interceptions, etc., the Redskins look dominating. By the score, they look like they barely held off a worthy opponent.

The Redskins look pretty good; the record argues for itself. What do they need to do to look great? Is there a big piece still missing?

Michael Wilbon: They need to improve on offense, but I don't get all the anger about it, even the frustration Jim Zorn speaks of. Did he think it was going to all come together in an instant? In half a season? What's the point of peaking now when there's half a season to play? The Redskins are a good team, better than average. But they're not a great team. There is no great team in the NFL this season. The Giants could be great...they're close...but not there yet. The Redskins should just keep working at it and keep their own frustration level down, starting with the head coach.


Washington, D.C.: Are we headed to yet another BCS controversy? Penn State sure looks like a lock to finish unblemished, especially without having to go through a 13th game. Texas looks like world beaters, and Alabama just might be too young to know the gravity of what is happening.

BTW, sorry about your Wildcats. They still look like a great team headed towards a nice bowl game on New Year's Day.

Michael Wilbon: My Wildcats stunk the joint out...It was as if they didn't practice or prepare all week...Very disappointing as a Northwestern alum...Whether we have another BCS controversy depends on whether one of the Big 12 teams can go undefeated. If Texas goes undefeated, then we're looking at Penn State and Texas. I think Texas Tech is going to beat Texas Saturday night, leaving Tech undefeated, but perhaps not for long...If Texas Tech negotiates an undefeated season in the Big 12, then Tech plays in the BCS title game against Penn State, presuming the Lions beat Michigan State and remain undefeated...But this is the perfect season for a playoff, which would include the top two teams in the Big 12, probably Alabama and Georgia from the SEC, Penn State, USC, Boise State, and one other team...This would be the perfect set-up...


Washington, D.C.: The Redskins' difficulty scoring TDs in the red zone seems related to the fact that Clinton Portis isn't the type of bruising runner who pounds out three yards up the middle with sheer force. My question is, whatever happened to the strategy of bringing in the big man to power in for the score? I'm thinking of Refrigerator Perry with the Bears in '85, or Gerald Riggs with the Redskins in '91. Couldn't the current Redskins use, say, Mike Sellers for this role more often?

Michael Wilbon: I've been screaming for Mike Sellers to carry the ball inside the 5-yard line for three years and nobody's listening...I don't get it. A 280-pound guy who can explode into the line like he can. He should have BEEN in that role, perfected it by now...


Falls Church, Va.: Mike...thanks for the chat and hope you enjoy what should be a good game tonight.

Please explain to me this 100 years of no championship garbage that I keep hearing about Philly. First of all 25 years is not 100 years no matter how many teams you have and 2nd in my short lifetime (about 35 years) I have distinct memories of the Eagles, Sixers and Phillies being serious contenders and reaching championship games. It is not like it is a town void of success or teams to root for. Am I just insensitive or is there that much need to manufacture drama and stories that this junk is being covered so heavily.

Michael Wilbon: Don't listen to it. It's garbage. Ignore anybody who tells you that Philadelphia is the long-suffering city of no champions. It's garbage. It's a lie. The 76ers won in 1983, the Phillies in 1980. I don't want to hear any of their new math. It stinks. Cleveland is long-suffering. Anything else is nonsense.


Gloucestshire, UK: Mr. Wilbon, Why does the NFL even bother having games in England if no team is ever going to play there. Can you imagine players being willing to make 13 hour flights to play a game. Any team there would have a huge disadvantage.

Michael Wilbon: It's about selling T-shirts and hats and foam hands with the team and league logos. Europe doesn't want American professional football. The efforts there have failed time and again. But clearly football sees the money there being spent on international soccer, the NBA, the NHL and says, "Where's ours?" But those sports are all played in Europe. American pro football is not...And don't let a sold-out single game in the middle of the season fool you. Yes, one or two games a year can be staged there, but it doesn't help the product, and history says Europeans don't want American football.


RE: Mike Singletary's Intensity: Maybe it will help, maybe it won't. But the main thing the 49ers need to do to change their culture of losing is stop drafting busts like Vernon Davis and Alex Smith, and get good players. The people in charge of player personnel for an organization are just as,if not more, important than the head coach. The "head coach is God" mindset you find in the NFL is one of the biggest myths going...

Michael Wilbon: I agree with the most of that, and the "head coach as God" model...It's flawed. Still, you need a great head coach. I don't think anybody can reasonably debate that, given the history of the NFL...But drafting more wisely is the absolute place to start. But you can look at some pretty talented teams right now and wonder whether head coaching is enhancing or hurting the team...


Washington, D.C.: Perhaps part of the Redskins' problem is playing down to the level of their opponent? I can't argue in detail about their situation, but I get the sense that they are one of those teams that will be up for the tough opponents and then mentally lapse a bit for the ones that shouldn't be that tough. My hockey team has done that a lot in recent years, much to my consternation.

Michael Wilbon: Perhaps there's no problem, since the Redskins are 6-2. Perhaps the Redskins are pretty darn good, but not great. I wonder if anybody thinks of that possibility...No? Maybe it's just me.


Re: Rodriguez: I think you hit on the answer, but didn't delve deep enough. It's not that someone's essentially saying "this other team is better," but it's one of your OWN saying that with Rodriguez! He was a WVU player, remember, so it's an extra little slap in the face that he would abandon his alma mater to go elsewhere. As a Hokie fan, I remember going through the same thoughts when it looked like Beamer was going to UNC some years back. Losing a coach is bad, but a coach AND alum? Even worse.

Michael Wilbon: Yes, yes, yes...I missed that very, very important fact. Yes. Thanks.


Washington, D.c.: I just have to say that the '85 Bears didn't need the Fridge for those goal line plays. You telling me Walter Payton wouldn't find a way in to the end zone? I wish No. 34 could have had a TD in Super Bowl XX.

Michael Wilbon: Clinton Portis, good as he is, ain't Walter Payton. Don't ever get that confused. And Mike Sellers, unlike Fridge, is a running back, not a gimmick. Your analogy is miles off.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Mike, I know your focused on sports such as football, but as the NBA season begins this week, what are your predictions on how the Wizards are going to do? Missing Haywood for the entire season and Arenas gone for at least the first month, can the Wizards make some noise in the East? Which, may I, add has gotten better! Thank you.

Michael Wilbon: I'm never too focused on football to miss out on the NBA, which is a huge part of my responsibility for ESPN/ABC. As far as the Wizards "making noise" in the Eastern Conference this season, I don't really foresee it. Boston, Cleveland, Philly, Detroit, Orlando are all better than the Wizards. Miami could be. I think the Wizards will have enough, even without Haywood and Arenas for an extended period, to make the playoffs. I like the young guys, especially McGee and Nick Young...But with Arenas and Haywood out, the Wizards can't be special...unless Blatche becomes a monster in this, his fourth season. If Blatche, Young and McGee can help gradually and increasingly as the season goes on, I'd be happy to change my forecast. But right now, I've got them 7th in the conference.


Washington, D.C.: Funny or sad, the player that Eddie Jordan vilified two summers ago now appears to be the MVP and cog on defense that they're hurting for right now, Brendan Todd Haywood.

Michael Wilbon: MVP of the team? Brendan Haywood? Uhhhh, no. Now, I wrote last year that I thought Haywood was having his best season...And I think his absence is going to hurt the team, yes...Do I think he's the main cog on defense? Maybe. That's damning him with faint praise though because the Wizards don't really play defense...Okay, it was better last year but still not what you'd call "good defense."


Baltimore: Hi Mike. Big fan of your work. This is more of a "how you approach being a columnist" question...

I thought Sally Jenkins' column today was outstanding. Seemed such a great concept, tied in with the context of yesterday's game, to opine on the team's future...So my question is, how hard is it to get to that next level and produce something really fresh/original, etc.? I think anyone around the country who wanted a sense of the Skins could read Sally's work today and completely get where this team is... Casual Display Wears Thin On Zorn (Post, Oct. 27)

Michael Wilbon: It's not hard at all a lot of days, especially if there's some kind of snapshot that ties it all together in your mind...I very much enjoyed Sally's column and thought it was right on...I'm surprise nobody had asked yet about the Portis/Zorn dust-up, which I didn't find to be that big a deal...Singletary's sending Vernon Davis to the locker room was a much bigger deal...I thought Zorn overreacted given Portis's explanation, but it was good they worked it out. And anyway, this is what happens on the sideline and on the bench in sports all the time...When TV catches it live people go crazy, but it happens in some form or fashion all the time...


Richmond, Va.: Given how Matt Ryan has played this season, is it possible that Michael Vick's departure from the Falcons may have actually worked out for them?

At the time, it seemed like it would set the franchise back 4-5 years. However, now they have a QB who seems much better suited to the NFL game. Vick hadn't matured much as a passer in his five years or so in the NFL. While his talents are (were?) unique, finding a coach who could successfully exploit them was proving to be extremely difficult. Now they have someone who appears to be a leader and appears to have a great chance to develop into an excellent QB.

Michael Wilbon: Yes, I think it has worked out for the Falcons so much more than anybody could have thought. There are still deep wounds in Atlanta where Michael Vick was so much more than a football player, so much more than a QB. He was the symbol for millions of black folks throughout the south as a new kind of sporting hero of the south...It didn't resonate with me, but my family is from Georgia and I have a sense of how important Vick was there. Ryan's great play as a QB doesn't begin to replace that...But that's of less concern to the Falcons and probably of little to no concern to the football community. The kid has been great. The Falcons, by the way, got robbed in Philly yesterday. They should have had the ball, down only six, with a couple of minutes left and a couple of time outs...Ryan and Michael Turner and Co. could have won that game, too...They were robbed, trust me.


Arlington, Va.: This college basketball season, I'll constantly hear from "experts" that this or that coach is doing a "wonderful" job. Yet not everyone can be above average; someone has to be below average. Could we please start to hear about coaches who do a terrible job?

Michael Wilbon: On TV? No, you won't.


Since you brought up the NBA ...: Who's your pick for a potential sleeper this year? And is John Hollinger really as stats-smart as he seems?

Michael Wilbon: Potential sleeper as far as a team? Miami? Can a recent league champ be a sleeper? Yeah, I think so. I have Miami somewhere between 6th and 8th in the east, but I know forecasters who have them in the conference semifinals. Yet, I think SI has Miami 15th in a 16-team conference...I like what Milwaukee is doing, love rookie Joe Alexander. The GMs like the Chicago Bulls. I don't get it. Way too early. Out west, I don't see a sleeper. Somebody will emerge from the group of Lakers/Rockets/Hornets/Spurs/Jazz/...Okay, the Suns of all teams could be a sleeper because for the first time in four years nobody is paying them attention because they're going to be so conventional...I think the NBA is in the best shape the league's been in since Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls.


Alexandria, Va.: Jason Campbell has come a long way but there are still some weaknesses in his game. Do you suspect that practice and good coaching will fill in the gaps? I'd like to think that he has a long a glorious future ahead of him but I'm not quite sold yet. Your thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: Tell me this...what other starting QB has no interceptions through eight weeks? None...Nobody. Campbell is doing just fine, I think. He needs to be really, really good this year. And I think he is.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think the chances are, after the requisite apologies and public shaming, and if he's still got something in the tank, that Michael Vick gets another shot in the NFL? Detroit, SF, Minnesota . . . ?

Michael Wilbon: Oh, I think he'll be back. Absolutely. I don't know where but I do think somebody will take a chance on him, even if it's not to play QB.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Mike, are you sure that an undefeated Penn St would play for the BCS title over an undefeated Alabama team? Penn St is still only 3rd and their remaining schedule will not help. Alabama still has several tough teams left to boost its profile. Or are you assuming that Texas and Bama will both lose a game?

Michael Wilbon: Penn State's schedule is nowhere near as tough as Alabama's or Georgia's, but I think if Penn State goes undefeated they're going to be move into the top 2...


Mike Singletary: All you gotta do to know what kind of intensity he will bring is remember that one vintage photo of him with the Bears: a close up of his face, his eyes wide open and looking like a complete maniac. In a good way.

I hope the man succeeds! From Sports Illustrated:

Michael Wilbon: I do too...


Bristow, Va.: Mike -- I would like to see ESPN or the Washington Post send you to South Africa to write on the World Cup in 2010. I think you would bring an interesting perspective on the world game. Any interest in doing this kind of assignment?

Michael Wilbon: You're way behind the pace, Bristow. I'm going to South Africa for The Post in 2010 and will likely do some work there for ESPN as well...I'm thrilled about it.


Washington, D.C.: Michael,

I am so excited for the NBA season to start. What do think will be some of the exciting stories in the NBA this season? Any players you are excited to watch?

Michael Wilbon: The Rockets and whether they can control Ron Artest and keep Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady healthy

Whether Andrew Bynum's presence in the Lakers lineup (which will also allow Pau Gasol to slide over the forward) will help the Lakers get past the Celtics...

Whether the Celtics can repeat?

Whether the Sunshine Boys--Shaq, Steve Nash, Grant Hill--can make another run...

I can think of 20 story lines but I won't go on and on.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Michael,

Please thank John Feinstein about his article in last week's Washington Post about It's Past Time to Recognize Lefty. After winning 786 games with 4 different schools, do you think he will ever get elected in the College Basketball Hall of Fame or do you think the Len Bias tragedy will prevent him from getting elected? Thanks.

Michael Wilbon: John would be better to consult on that question. I don't know the people doing the voting well enough to be able to predict that. I, if I had a ballot, would vote for Lefty to be in the Hall of Fame...I'm as familiar with the Len Bias tragedy as anybody can be; I covered it for The Post as a reporter and I covered Len's first two years at Maryland. It was a watershed moment in the history of college sports. Having said that, it would be totally naive to suggest Lefty Driesell's body of work isn't good enough, or that the Bias tragedy should keep him out...I think he should be in.


American University: Had Patrick Hruby in the Sports Writing class at AU last week - we'd love to have you next. While discussing a column he wrote on cricket, Hruby admitted that "expertise" in a sport is generally faked by journalists, as they are obviously in the writing business, not the coaching/playing/scouting/whatever else business. When I read your work, I find the NBA columns more authentic than the NFL columns, and both more authentic than, for example, an Olympics column. Whether or not that's actually the case, my question is: are you an "expert" in any sport? Are you more happy writing some sports than others? Do you feel obligated to write about some sports in which you are not an expert?

Michael Wilbon: I wouldn't call myself an expert, nor would I agree with my friend Patrick Hruby's assertion that journalists "fake" expertise, if that's really what he said. I dive deeper into basketball, football and other things than I do the Olympics. My expertise, as Patrick suggests, is story telling. And I try to tap into the expertise of players, coaches, former players and coaches, owners, executive, league and conference officials, referees...anybody who is involved in the game, to tell a story. Now, do I know more about pro basketball than pro football? Yes, and I know that. Do I have sources in pro football that can help me understand and explain, with nuance, the issues of the day that relate to pro football? Yes. I just had 15 minutes of post-breakfast football talk with Emmitt Smith...If I don't learn from conversations with people like Emmitt...


Reston, Va.: Re: Michael Vick. I admittedly don't understand the racial issues around the celebration of Michael Vick in Atlanta. But he was NEVER, EVER a leader of any sort whatsoever. I read multiple times he was the last to show up to practice and the first to leave. He always blamed others for his poor play. And then the obvious criminal problems.

If finding a black QB to be proud of is important, why didn't the black community embrace people like Warren Moon, Donovan McNabb or Doug Williams instead. Why was Michael Vick still so important?

Michael Wilbon: It's not "instead." And your question shows you truly don't understand anything about it. Black folks did embrace Warren Moon and Doug Williams, especially. That has nothing to do with Michael Vick. Nothing. The people who in a great many cases celebrate and identified with Vick weren't even alive to see Williams and Moon. This isn't the forum to write 2,000 words about why some people--some, not all--identified with Vick. Whether or not the issue speaks to you, Vick had/has huge support...Not universal but huge. Please understand the difference.


Los Angeles: Are there any particular losses by your favorite teams that you still can't seem to get over?

Mine would have to be 1985 Georgetown-Villanova. I still can't watch the highlights.

Michael Wilbon: Cubs in 2003...Bartman game. Bears to the Redskins in 1986 and 1987 playoffs. Blackhawks in Game 7 (I think 1972) to Montreal Canadians, after leading 2-0...Esposito was tired from playing virtually every game that season...let in a 75-footer...Killer. Northwestern Saturday to Indiana...Still salty about it.


Arlington, Va.: In light of Brad Johnson's performance down in Dallas, will the Cowboys be calling Daunte Culpepper or maybe Chris Simms?

Michael Wilbon: Brad won, didn't he? He's just holding the fort until Romo gets back, so don't get crazy.


NBA preseason: I feel like the NBA preseason has been going on longer than the election campaign. I know you're not a fan of the NFL's preseason schedule; what about the NBA? Too long? Just right?

Michael Wilbon: I'm not a fan of the NFL preseason, of the NBA preseason, of Spring Training, of any of it...I understand the need to have it...I don't want any of them abolished. But I don't want to hear about the preseasons from media companies as if the games really count. And none of it is covered as breathlessly and as obsessively as the NFL preseason...Not close...


Washington, D.C.: If I said the over/under for Texas-Texas Tech this weekend was 80, which would you take?

Michael Wilbon: I'd take the over. Could be 48-41...something like that. I can't wait for this game to be played. Again, I'm picking Texas Tech, playing at home...Should be quite a scene...Okay, gotta run...Time to prepare for PTI...Next week we'll do the chat on Tuesday, the day after Redskins-Steelers on Monday Night...I know, I know, it'll be election day...maybe you guys will send some feedback to and convince editors to cancel me, which would be okay...But I figure many of you will overdose on election talk and can switch over to sports for an hour...or even 45 minutes...Unless I hear otherwise, see you Tuesday, the day AFTER Redskins-Steelers!


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