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Will define season

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Will from Jacksonville:
Let me start off by saying I love the site and your columns. Now for my question: I have tickets to the game on Sunday night; are there any restrictions on what you can wear as far as costumes or outfits? I have a costume I want to wear. Would it be OK as long as I take my mask off going inside the stadium and I consent to a search? Who might I need to contact to find out what I can and can not wear?

Vic: You will not be permitted into the stadium wearing anything that is judged to be obscene or in poor taste, and you may not wear anything that would present an obstacle to the viewing or movement of other fans. Otherwise, knock yourself out.

Tom from Orange Park, FL:
I've been a season ticket holder since the first game and have been through the good and bad seasons. With the scheduling formula, drafting order and salary cap do you think it's possible for a team to avoid the up and down cycles without being mediocre?

Vic: Is it possible for teams in the salary cap era to avoid a fall? In my opinion, the answer is no. Eventually, the system is gonna get you. The issue is: How long can you avoid the inevitable? A five-year winning cycle is outstanding. The Patriots are currently in year four of their cycle. I think free agency and the draft can be used to massage each other in such a way that a team can remain a playoff contender over an extended period of time, but the salary cap is the great equalizer. Success is costly and, eventually, there has to be a repair period.

Ryan from Toronto, Ontario:
Score touchdowns in the red zone and stop the run. That should equal a win, right?

Vic: You got it.

Patrick from Morgantown, WV:
"This Sunday's game will be a test for the Steelers and will tell us something about how good they really are." That's what you said to Tony on Dec. 1. Don't you think it's the same for the Jags?

Vic: It's absolutely the same for the Jaguars. In fact, it's more so for the Jags. The Steelers are going to the playoffs. This game will not define their season. What happens in January will be the true measuring stick of what the Steelers accomplished and established in 2004. But the Jaguars must win this game to have any chance of going to the playoffs. This game absolutely will define the Jaguars' season, win or lose. This is a must-win game for the Jaguars, in terms of their season and in terms of our overall opinion of the Jaguars' position and place in the league.

Eddie from Jacksonville:
If the Jaguars were to win out the rest of the season, would there be any chance of a home playoff game?

Vic: It would be very unlikely. The Jaguars would have to be the fifth-seeded AFC playoff team and hope for an all-wild-card AFC title game.

Corey from Altamonte Springs, FL:
How does it feel to you whenever the Steelers come to town. Considering you spent much of your professional career there, I can imagine you get all kinds of goose bumps and butterflies. I know I would. It's very interesting for me to know what it would be like in your position.

Vic: It's just not like that when you've done this for as many years as I have. For starters, I work intensely during the game, updating the game story so a new version might be posted at the end of each quarter. That means I am constantly revising the story and, frankly, it requires all of my attention, leaving no time for thoughts other than getting the story right. Emotionally, I have ties to both teams because of friendships, but I also have that with other teams in the league where I have friends on coaching staffs and in front offices for whom I quietly root. At about this time of the season two years ago, I faced a rather stern medical emergency, and the support I got from my friends caused my doctor to threaten to turn off my hospital phone and forbid visitors if I didn't start discouraging the attention. Discourage the attention? I've never enjoyed anything more in my life. All of the time I've spent covering football games ought to be good for something, and it is. It's good for building friendships. Tom Coughlin was a constant source of encouragement during my medical emergency. I remember saying to him one day, "coach, we belong to a great fraternity," and it sparked a spirited conversation. It's the fraternity of football and it includes coaches, players, media people and fans. We're all united by one thing, our passion for the game of football. That's where I get my goose bumps.

Harsha from Tampa, FL:
Now that more than half the season has gone, what do you think of the impact of the no-chuck rule? There was some perception that this would really affect the strong defensive teams, but it doesn't look like that this has occurred?

Vic: The five-yard chuck rule has been in existence since 1978. This season, however, the league announced a "major point of emphasis" in enforcement of the chuck rule. OK, I have no problem with that. A rule is a rule and the game should be played by the rules. I disagree with you, however, that enforcement of the chuck rule has not had a major impact on the game. I think it absolutely has had a major impact. The league's "major point of emphasis" has sensitized officials to pass interference in general, and that's resulted in ridiculous calls such as the one against Dewayne Washington in the first Jaguars-Colts game that literally won the game for Indianapolis. What bothers me most is that the league has completely turned its back on offensive pass interference, especially picks, screens and rub-offs. That's how the Colts are getting their receivers so out in the open. They're literally blocking pass-defenders. The Patriots feel as though the league is going out of its way to favor Peyton Manning and, frankly, I do, too.

Alan from Buford, GA:
One of my favorite memories from previous Steelers-Jags games was watching Bill Cowher on the Jumbotron go off on how he hates mascots, especially Jaxson de Ville, and then seeing Jaxson de Ville tackle a Cowher look-alike on the field. This got me thinking: The Steelers have no cheerleaders or mascots. What other teams around the league don't?

Vic: The Browns, Jets, Giants, Packers, Lions and Bears don't have cheerleaders, either. There are eight teams that do not have mascots. Those teams are the Steelers, Giants, Jets, Redskins, Chargers, Rams, Packers and Raiders.

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