Mike Vaccaro has been the lead sports columnist for The New York Post since November 2002. Previously, he was a columnist at the Newark Star-Ledger, Kansas City Star and Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record. Vaccaro has also authored two books: "1941: The Greatest Year in Spots" and "Emperors and Idiots: The Hundred Year Rivalry Between the Yankees and Red Sox"
RCS: Well, first things first: the Super Bowl. We live in a time when people are quick to label games and plays as "the best ever," and Super Bowl XLIII is no exception. After a few days to fully digest it, where do you stand - was it the best Super Bowl ever?
Vaccaro: I think it was definitely the most frantic fourth quarter ever. Best game? I'm still partial to last year, because of the historic nature of the upset. And I've always thought the Montana-to-Taylor Super Bowl and the Giants-Bills Super Bowl were the gold standards before that. I guess that would make it top-four, at worst, which isn't too shabby.
RCS: Included in that fantastic 4th quarter, of course, was the Santonio Holmes catch, about which you wrote, ""Somehow, defying the laws of gravity and balance, Holmes' feet smooched the red turf half an eye blink before he was plowed out of bounds." A game-winning touchdown with less than a minute left in the Super Bowl is impressive, but was it better than David Tyree's helmet-catch last year?
Vaccaro: I think what we all tend to forget about that Tyree play was the start of that play, when Eli Manning -- Earth's most immobile quarterback -- avoided a crushing Pats rush. I mean, in the press box it looked like he was dead, and suddenly here he was, heaving the ball downfield. That alone was remarkable. And forget the crazy nature of the catch -- don't forget he was being covered by Rodney Harrison, and for one of the few times in his life, Harrison was unable to just pummel a guy as prone as Tyree was. Start to finish, I think it was every bit as incredible as the interception return that closed the half Sunday …
… But …
The fact is, Holmes' catch WON THE SUPER BOWL, so to me it belongs in a higher category, same as I thought Plaxico Burress’ catch last year deserved higher mention than Tyree's. And the fact that Holmes' catch was as acrobatic as it was … well, that cinches it for me.
RCS: Switching gears to baseball if we may (amazingly, pitchers and catchers report in just seven days). Recently Manny Ramirez turned down a one-year, $25 million contract from the Dodgers, and despite ongoing talks, rumors persist that the Mets (and maybe even the Yankees) could be interested. Where do you think 'Manny Being Manny' occurs in 2009?
Vaccaro: Well, my personal credo has become to never count the Yankees out when it comes to any player until that player lands somewhere else. That said -- and although I think and have written he makes perfect sense for the Mets, who seem disinclined to pull the trigger -- I have a hard time believing the Dodgers won't ultimately do what's necessary to bring him back. As bad as the backlash is among Mets fans who want him, I have to think Dodgers fans would mount a full-scale revolt if he lands elsewhere
RCS: Sticking with the LA and New York baseball teams, many columnists, including you, have criticized Joe Torre in regards to his new book, "The Yankee Years." In fact, you wrote a column titled "Torre Managed to Ruin a Legacy." Considering that it "…is not a traditional as-told-to biography…[it] is really a narrative [Verducci has] written about the Torre years that includes a great deal of input from Torre," why haven't more people criticized Verducci's role in the book?
Vaccaro: Because Verducci didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't Tom Verducci who made his reputation preaching about trust, and honesty, and what's-said-in-the-clubhouse-stays-in-the-clubhouse. That was all Joe. I've read the book and it is a superb job of reporting by Verducci, great job of storytelling by him. It isn't on Verducci to explain to Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier or Jonathan Broxton that he won't violate their confidences, the way Joe does the Yankees. Verducci's only standard was to be true to himself as a journalist, and once you read the book there is no denying he did that.
RCS: Of course, Torre is currently the manager of the Dodgers. Do you think he’s lost the trust of his current players, and if so, what can he do now to repair that trust?
Vaccaro: Torre is nothing if not smart and savvy; you know this is the first thing he will address at spring training. And it's funny: the very thing that always caused the Dodgers so much pre-Torre angst -- the age and makeup of the kids on the roster -- might help this. Kids probably won't be as prone to being wary and holding grudges as vets might be. Plus, whenever I was around that team last year it was evident they like playing for Joe. That's the biggest thing he'll have going for him.
RCS: Torre’s old team hasn’t won the World Series since 2000, and they missed the playoffs last year -- is the rivalry between them and the Red Sox still as fervent? Will the Yankees’ off-season spending ignite another 100-year rivalry between the two teams?
Vaccaro: I think it's dormant, for sure, given the fact they haven't faced each other in a playoff series in five years (amazing as that number is). But there are always going to be ancient embers burning in this rivalry and I think it'll be fascinating whenever it does happen again because the dynamic has changed entirely; the Yanks are where the Sox were, and vice versa; the hunter becoming the hunted.
I still think, until proven otherwise, the Sox are the team to beat. And if nothing else, the Yanks are certainly more fortified to do that than they've been in recent years.
RCS: In your book, "1941: The Greatest year in Sports," you wrote about how sports provided a distraction for America as WWII raged in Europe. Do you think that sports can serve a similar role during the current economic situation?
Vaccaro: I owe you one for the plug! Kidding aside, I hope so. I hope that incredible Super Bowl helped people forget their trouble for a few hours. I hope when baseball season finally gets here it can provide the kind of daily buffer it always provides.
Here is my one fear: that fans will grow more resentful than ever at the growing chasm between themselves and the recession-proof athletes they cheer for. I think we've always understood there's a bubble that will someday be popped and fans stop believing sports is worth the trouble anymore. Hard economic times surely could usher that in. But I hope not.
RCS: In 1991, while just 24 years old, you became sports editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, making you the youngest sports editor at a daily newspaper in the country. What advice would you give to an aspiring young sports writer?
Vaccaro: I know this is going to sound awfully easy for me to say, because I have a job now that a thousand people would kill for. But what I would tell a 24-year-old now is simple: do everything. Learn everything. Write stories, and features and columns. Do investigative pieces. Write headlines, attend news meetings, learn how to expertly shoot video.
The key is still what it has always been: make yourself invaluable. Make it impossible for someone not to hire you because of how vast your expertise is. That is especially important now, of course, as jobs become scarcer but it really has always been that way. Some can get by just on the elegance of their talent; most (like me) got where we are because we worked hard, worked smart and somehow developed skills others deemed essential.
RCS: One looking for advice could also read your column after last year’s Super Bowl, “Amazing March,” which was featured on the Wall St. Journal’s Best Sportswriting of 2008, with the praise, “Writing on deadline after one of the most remarkable Super Bowls ever, Vaccaro re-created the game’s most remarkable drive….[and] captured every crucial moment.” Speaking about yourself and others, what distinguishes a great column from a good one?
Vaccaro: Man, I love that question because it really does get to the essence of what I do for a living. To me, writing a column is beyond fun, to the point of privilege; we really do have more license than anyone else to do certain things, and it's a crime, in my mind, when we don't.
A great column must have four elements to me:
You start with superior writing, which is one foundation.
You add quality reporting as the other bedrock; to me, a column can never be great if it is written entirely off the top of your head (and I've done my share of those; if you write 200 of them a year, some are done almost through meatball surgery, so a sad fact is they can't all be great).
Third: your voice has to be in there. Has to be. There are some talented writers who have their picture in the paper but what they do is write glorified sidebars. To NOT utilize your voice is cheating the reader, I believe. He or she HAS to know you have a perspective or a point of view in what you're saying.
Last, a great column reads like a miniature book: a beginning, a middle and an end, all of them thought through, all of them interconnected.
You may not get many great ones in the course of a year, but when you do I can't think of a higher high.
RCS: If that is your higher high, we must bring up a lower low. We selected two of your articles as the second and third-most erroneous columns of 2008. First, how much do you hate us? And secondly, that's only from last year –- what are some of the most erroneous of your career?
Vaccaro: Hate you? Ha! Any columnist who tells you they aren't flattered whenever anyone remembers something they've written, positive or negative, is lying. And hey, the two columns that earned those prominent places on the list were hideously wrong, as it turned out.
And in my very first job as a columnist, in Middletown, N.Y., I remember once writing a column lauding the Jets ... For hiring Rich Kotite. I think that's my own Waterloo, that one. I've always wanted to go to all the upstate libraries and burn the microfilm evidence of it…