August 19, 2003

AFC preview: not blacked out

POST #    490

AFC preview: not blacked out
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Who caused the Blackout of 2003? Tuesday Morning Quarterback doesn't know, but suggests this: Regardless, blame Canada.

It's about time Canada became America's universal scapegoat, as the United States is already and has been for decades the scapegoat for anything Canada doesn't like.

Canada is a threat to all we hold dear. Consider that millions of Americans cannot subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket -- the product TMQ desires more than anything in life -- because they cannot or do not get the satellite signal of the Rupert Murdoch-owned DirecTV, which holds a monopoly over Sunday Ticket. Yet in Canada, anyone may subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket over cable. That's right, Canadians have much better access to the viewing of NFL games than Americans do.

We apologize for making Rupert your first photo in this week's TMQ.

Plus in Canada, marijuana is close to legal. Same-gender marriage is recognized. So all these gay married Canadians are sitting around smoking pot and watching NFL Sunday Ticket -- enjoying total access to games made possible by the tax dollars of Americans! -- while in the United States, you can only drink beer, marry someone of the opposite sex and watch whatever awful woofer game your local network affiliate has chosen for you.

How long are Americans going to stand for this? If I were you, Canada, I'd drop the smug routine. The Army has to come home from Iraq someday, and it's going to be looking for something to do.

Plus, here is the news that absolutely made TMQ's week. During the blackout, there was looting in Toronto and Ottawa, while in New York City and Detroit, civic order was maintained. New Yorkers and Detroiters patiently abided by the law while Canadians engaged in pillaging! Time for our neighbor to the north to take a look in the mirror, it would seem.

Debate continues to swirl regarding what actually triggered the mysterious backward movement of electricity in those Ohio power lines where the blackout cascade seems to have originated. TMQ knows: Circuits were overloaded by a shower of muon neutrinos from the drive system of the starcruiser that, last Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern, departed Earth to return "Kurt Warner" to his homeworld. Reports from the Rams camp are that Warner looks human again. Maybe, finally, he actually is a human.

(Technical note: A spaceship lifting off from the Rams' camp at Western Illinois University would pass over Ohio, since all spacecraft launch eastward to take advantage of momentum from Earth's west-to-east rotation. View photos of the Cathy E. Early Women's Locker Room Suite at Western Illinois here. This is a locker room? It looks nicer than my house!)

Now for the Tuesday Morning Quarterback AFC preview.

Since Boller went to Cal, he can probably do the math: nine QBs in five years is not a good ratio.

Baltimore Ravens: Assuming Kyle Boller buckles his chinstrap this year, the Ravens will debut their ninth starting quarterback - Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Chris Redman, Jeff Blake and now Boller - in the five years of Brian Billick. Billick is supposed to be a Guru Genius with quarterbacks: How come he can't keep one on the field? And the sole quarterback who was a success in purple and black - Dilfer, now what did he do, oh yeah, won the Super Bowl - Billick immediately showed the door.

Bonus Billick defect: With Tom Coughlin now hawking Medigap policies or whatever he's doing, the foul-mouthed, insult-spewing Billick takes over the crown of league's worst-sport coach.

While attention has focused on the team's endless offensive disarray, Baltimore's storied Super Bowl defense has quietly declined to below-average: 22nd-ranked last year. The injury to Ray Lewis was a factor, but defensive play dropped off uniformly after coordinator Marvin Lewis departed. Free agency, injuries and retirements have taken their toll as well. The Ravens have just three defensive starters remaining from the unit that won the Super Bowl such a short time ago. Fans may still think of the Baltimore defense as dominant, but most of the gentlemen who made it so aren't there anymore.

Where will you find No. 1 choice Terrell Suggs this year? Getting suckered by the "under" draw play. In what seems to TMQ a terrible move, the Ravens gave Suggs a contract heavy with incentives based on sack totals. This insures he will go all-out for sacks - that is, for personal glory - while ignoring the run. Watch for draw after draw underneath this glory-boy as he charges up the field and out of the picture.

Baltimore fun fact: Last week, the Baltimore Sun ran its first-ever same-sex ceremony notice, for a lesbian nuptials. But the announcement did not appear in the weddings section of the paper - rather, it was buried amid lost-pet classified ads. Why? "We're just not ready to talk about that right now," said John F. Patinella, The Sun's general manager. This is what the Sun's general manager told a Sun reporter covering his own paper's decision!

Who says the CFL plays an inferior game of football?

Canadian Cheerleader of the Week: Real NFL games are still a few weeks away, but the CFL is already deep into its season. Surely it's too cold up in Canada for cheer-babes in revealing outfits. But no! The Edmonton Eskimos (whom TMQ, if he tracked the CFL, would call the Edmonton Inuits) boast a squad of impressive aesthetic appeal. A reader notes in haiku,

TMQ, did you
know? CFL's Eskimos:
have hot cheerbabes too.
-- Louis B., Edmonton

So in the interest of Canadio-American friendship, the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Roison of the Edmonton Eskimos. Roison has attended the National Ballet School in Toronto, where "the dancers are impeccably trained," according to the Toronto Globe & Mail. Now she's pursuing a degree in political science, and hopes to attend law school. Roison, please sue me!

The Edmonton Inuits pep unit also has cheer-hunks, and in the cross-border beefcake, here's Sean, a college student from Edmonton who hopes to become an actor. Overall, on the Inuits' cheerleading squad the women show significantly more skin than the men. This may be unfair to female and nontraditional male fans, but is fine with TMQ.


Don't miss's NFL preview, which rolls out on Monday with all the info you need from Len Pasquarelli, John Clayton and ESPN's host of NFL experts.

In the meantime, check out all the coverage from NFL training camps.

Buffalo Bills: For three seasons, the football gods have been punishing the Buffalo Bills: first for waiving Bruce Smith, a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer and best player in franchise annals, then for abandoning their handsome uniforms for cover-your-eyes duds a high-school kid would be embarrassed to wear. Not only did Buffalo toss out a good-looking uniform and bring in an ugly one, the Bills abandoned the colors of the American flag - not to put too fine a point on it, the single most successful color scheme in world history - for a look based on a color that appears to be Nineteenth Century Rusting Russian Dreadnaught Aft Bulkhead Cyanic.

Oh, the football gods gnashed their teeth when they beheld the hideousness of the new Bills uniforms. Verily, the punishment might continue even unto the seventh quarterback of the seventh head coach.

Buffalo's defense, underachieving since Smith was tossed out like the wrapper on a Snapple, came together in the second half last season. In the first half, the defense was 30th-ranked; by the end of the season, the defense had risen to 15th-ranked, which means it was one of the league's top units in the 2002 second half. Important free agents have been added, while no one was lost. This augurs well.

Yet offense, No. 1 in the first half of the 2002 season, finished 11th, which means it went out stumbling. During last year's first eight games, Drew Bledsoe threw 16 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, as the team averaged 30 points; during the second eight games, Bledsoe declined to eight touchdown passes vs. 10 interceptions, as the team averaged 17 points. Pundits (including TMQ) blamed this on pass-wacky play calling, but predictability was as much an issue.

Last year Bledsoe and his receivers started off hot by endlessly working the same few routes - intermediate outs and deep fades. By midseason, defenses were stacking against these routes, which meant other areas of the field had to be open. But Bills offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, archbishop in the Church of Pass-Wacky, never adjusted. Endlessly in the second half of the season, Buffalo receivers ran deep fades and intermediate outs: no crossing patterns, posts or tight-end routes for variation. When asked late last season why his offense was bogging down, Gilbride would testily snap that his plays were No. 1 in yardage earlier in the season and he wasn't about to change them now. That is a formula for wheeze-out.

Bengals president Mike Brown is aiming for worst executive in the history of sports.

Cincinnati Bengals: When Mike Brown's father died in 1991 and left him the Bengals, Brown inherited a perennial contender that had recently been within 20 seconds of winning the Super Bowl. Since the moment Mike Brown took over, the Bengals have become the laughingstock of professional sports. They're 55-137 under Mike: .286, worst record of any major sports franchise, worse even than the Los Angeles Clippers through the period. They change quarterbacks annually: Carson Palmer will be the sixth opening-day starter in as many years. They blow high draft choices annually: David Klingler, Dan Wilkinson, Peter Warrick, Akili Smith all lottery picks, all nonentities. (Ki-Jana Carter, often added to this list, was an injury casualty, a separate category.) The Bengals under Mike Brown are so pathetic they place clauses in contracts forbidding Cincinnati players from criticizing team management. And, of course, last year they had the worst record in the NFL.

Could this possibly have anything to do with the fact that the team's president is Mike Brown, its senior vice president is Pete Brown (Mike's brother), its executive vice president is Katie Blackburn (Mike's daughter), its vice president is Paul Brown (Mike's son) and its director of business development is Troy Blackburn (Katie's husband)? Imagine being Eric Brown, manager of Paul Brown Stadium, where the team plays. Eric Brown is actually not related to Mike Brown, the only one in this carnival of nepotism and incompetence who can say that. And note that, while the team constantly founders, the stadium is a fine, well-run venue!

Now Marvin Lewis takes the reigns, and brings with him high expectations: His Baltimore defense was fabulous, and his one-year stint at the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons upped that squad's defense from languid to fifth-ranked. Nobody's ever brought better credentials to his first head-coaching job than Lewis. But does Lewis have his brother, his son, his daughter and his daughter's husband on the payroll? He'll never fit in with the Mike Brown family, which is comfortable only with incompetence. TMQ expects Lewis to do well at his next head-coaching job, however.

Cleveland Browns Release 2.1: First there were the Browns of yore, and then no Browns, and then the Browns (Release 2.0). Now, having returned to the postseason, TMQ will dub them the Browns (Release 2.1).

The Browns (Release 2.1) have a quarterback controversy, with many asserting that since Tim Couch will make $6.2 million this season and Kelly Holcomb $825,000, team management must privately plan to hand the job back to Couch. But the Browns will be out the $6.2 million whether Couch is on the field or molders on the bench playing Donkey-Kong on his cell phone. All that matters is who makes the team likely to win, and Holcomb appears to be that gentlemen. Also, though some touts will blast the Browns for blowing the draft's first pick if Couch fades, by the same token, the Browns deserve credit for finding a gem unknown in Holcomb. All that matters is who makes the team likely to win.

Browns quandary: Two seasons ago, there was the weird "time travel" game where officials went backward on the clock to reverse a prior play, costing the Browns a last-second defeat at home; and one season ago was the weird Dwayne Rudd helmet hurl that cost the Browns a last-second defeat at home. What bizarre thing will happen in the stadium this year? Maybe the lights will fail just as a game-winning pass is sailing toward a Browns player's hands.

Denver Broncos: What is it lately with Denver and defensive linemen? Two years ago they hugely overpaid for run-of-the-mill free-agent DE Kavika Pittman, who has since departed. Last offseason, they gave a $3 million bonus to free-agent DT Lionel Dalton, who didn't even start for his own previous team, and now are offering him around as trade bait; the Broncos will take a $2.8 million cap penalty on the day Dalton departs. Denver reeled in and then tossed back into the lake the fading Chester McGlockton. Four years ago, they threw a second-round pick out the window on low-rated who-dat DT Montae Reagor, who has since departed. Two years ago, they threw a second-round pick out the window on low-rated who-dat DE Paul Toviessi, who is already OOF -- out of football. And now they drag in Daryl Gardener, giving him $5 million. How long until that money turns into a cap penalty that must be written off?

Here's a reason Miami let Gardener go, and it rhymes with quirk. There's a reason the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons let this guy go, too. When Gardener was released by the Marine Mammals, he immediately took to the papers to rip his former teammates. Gardener then visited the Houston Texans for a tryout, and upon meeting his prospective new coaches, complained bitterly that the team had only sent a car service, not a limo, to pick him up at the airport. The Texans said "no thanks" in record time. Arriving at the Persons' camp, Gardener declared, on his first day, "They love me up here." He wore out his welcome in just one season. And now he's in Denver where he will do the same.

TMQ thinks the Broncos have average talent, but playing in the depleted oxygen of Please Don't Buy From Invesco Field essentially gives them an automatic one-game lead in the standings. Denver has the best home record in the AFC in the last decade, and though John Elway might have been a factor in that, the air was the key. Also, the football gods seem to favor the Broncos because of their high-aesthetic-appeal, outdoorsy-babe cheerleaders.

For some reason, TMQ thinks the Broncos should be making more MNF appearances this season.

Why do Denver cheer-babes seems so healthful and appealing? Possibly, radiation. Owing to altitude, Denver is exposed to a higher natural "background radiation" than other U.S. cities; high altitude means more zap in cosmic rays arriving from space. And although big doses of radiation are obviously dangerous, very low doses appear beneficial, for reasons that are not understood. Denver residents live longer than Americans as a whole, despite being exposed to higher background radiation; could it be that a constant low dose of radiation actually is good for Colorado residents?

Check out Colorado native and Broncs cheerleader Renee Herlocker; cosmic rays have certainly had a beneficial effect on her. A college student, Herlocker says the two people she would most like to have dinner with are the Dalai Lama and Madonna. Let's hope not together!

TMQ Insider Exclusive! Daryl Gardener is currently recuperating from a wrist injury sustained in a brawl at an International House of Pancakes in Colorado. You want to watch your step in those cowboy pancake joints. The boys get a little maple syrup in them, and hell breaks loose.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that at the IHOP, Gardener ordered two steak-and-cheese Super Stackers with extra mushrooms, a side salad and a cookies-and-cream shake. He left a $5 tip on a $20.64 bill, sat at a four-top in the northeast corner of the restaurant reading the Denver Post, and asked the waitress twice for water. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive. No other sports website has this information!

Houston Texans: David Carr was sacked a record 76 times last year, almost five sacks per game. The run blocking was cover-your-eyes, too: Houston was second-to-last in yards gained rushing, last in average per rush. So what did the Texans do in the offseason? Brought in one second-tier offensive line free agent and waited till the third round in the draft to take an OL. Ye gods.

According to ESPN's John Clayton, Carr has manfully declared, "I told the guys on the offensive line if I can put my foot on the ground and step up, that's all I need." Wait -- Carr thinks the blocking is so bad he can't even step up? That takes about one second in the shotgun. Carr apparently is reduced to pleading with his blockers not to let the pass rush beat the snap into the backfield. Ye gods.

Houston -- call us back when you get an offensive line.

TMQ Would Like to Inspect Those Tongues Personally Decide for yourself if you believe the actresses in the movie "Thirteen," which opens tomorrow, are actually 14 years old, as the production company claims. True, in today's Hollywood, the majority of 25-year-old performers make their livings pretending to be teens, so having 14-year-olds play 13-year-olds is verisimilitude by comparison. But the "14-year-olds" of Thirteen look awfully like 17- or maybe 22-year-olds. And if you believe for one single instant the production company's claim that an actual 13-year-old wrote the movie's script, then TMQ has some Enron stock he'd like to sell you.

These two don't appear to be from the Mary-Kate and Ashley school of personal expression.

TMQ asks that you look closely at the movie's main publicity photo, which shows two gorgeous "13-year-old" girls sticking out their alluring pierced tongues. At first glance, this picture is erotic and provocative; at second glance, phony. Examine closely the "13-year-old" on the left. Not only does her tongue cast no shadow, the front is disproportionately larger than the back (actual human tongues taper toward the front) while the back seems to have been cut-and-pasted directly onto the girl's incisors.

So it's a highly realistic movie about being thirteen, starring girls who aren't 13 and who have digitally-superimposed tongues.

Think tank note: "Thirteen" is being hyped by the New America Foundation , a rising Washington, D.C., think tank devoted to advancing "new voices and new ideas to the fore of our nation's public discourse." The foundation hosted a special preview of "Thirteen" for Washington journalists, and foretold that the movie will "trigger much public policy discussion about the state of real families today." Real families whose daughters are actresses with digital tongues?

Indianapolis Lucky Charms: Jim Mora was given a ride to the airport because he couldn't win in January, and now Tony Dungy has lost with the Colts in the playoffs, too. Dungy is eerily like Mora - successful in the regular season (Dungy .571 regular season, Mora .541), a washout in the postseason (Mora 0-6, Dungy 2-5). And the Colts didn't just lose their playoff game last January with Jersey/B, they stunk. No effort, no enthusiasm, no game plan, a final of 41-0 -- and no emotion from Dungy on the sideline.

TMQ thought the Colts' lay-down in that game was the worst NFL performance all year; Cincinnati tried harder down the stretch than Indianapolis did in the playoffs. Dungy barely seemed awake on the sidelines during that non-game, to say nothing of not blowing his stack, as he should have. Dungy's a great guy, and his arrival in towel-land amped up a bottom-quartile defense to eighth overall. But, Tony, how can you stand by listlessly as your extremely overpaid team lays down?

Bad sign: This offseason, the Colts gave $2.5 million upfront to acquire the legendary Montae Reagor, one of the countless Denver bust defensive linemen. Reagor has one career start in four seasons. One start in four years despite playing on a weak line. Yumpin yiminy.

In My Crystal Ball I See -- Wait -- I See No. 22 Having a Bad Season and Ending Up With Much Less Money: You can follow the Duce Staley saga at the back's own website, Instead of just admitting he is engaged in a ploy for a raise, Staley asserts that he is boycotting camp because he is "just interested to know how I fit into the team's plans;" and yet, shockingly, "not one person in the Eagles front office has given me any idea of what the future holds for me as a player." What the future holds? Duce, you can hire your own fortune teller. As for being informed of the team's plans:

The phone rings.

Word has it Duce is quitting football to become a NASA engineer.

DUCE. Hello.

ANDY REID. This is Andy Reid, head coach/executive vice president of football operations. (Note: his actual title.)


REID. I just wanted to let you know we are planning to use you at running back. That's where you fit into our plans.

DUCE. Oh! Well, that clears it up. Why didn't you say so in the first place?

When a player or draft choice is unsigned, it's up to him to decide how to handle the business-end question of whether to report. But Staley has a contract. No one put a gun to his head to make him sign it. Both by law and word of honor, the contract commits Staley to report to the Eagles and do his job. Time to keep your word, Duce.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Three seasons have now passed since the most disastrous event in Jax franchise history, the Jags' 62-7 victory over Miami in the divisional round of the 2000 playoffs.

Up until the moment of that disastrous 62-7 win, Jax had been everyone's plucky sentimental favorite. Barely removed from expansion status, the Jaguars had gone 38-14 in the three years to that point, including two playoff wins, and seemed poise for the Super Bowl. But after the disastrous 62-7 victory, Jacksonville players bragged, bragged, bragged about how they were No. 1. The football gods dictate that in the NFL, only one team per season can boast and brag, and such strutting cannot begin until the end zone clock shows double-zeros at the Super Bowl. After the disastrous 62-7 victory, insult-spewing coach Tom Coughlin, the league's worst sport, snapped and snarled and acted like a vain, arrogant fool. If only it had been a 16-13 win rather than a disastrous 62-7 victory!

Verily, the football gods exacted vengeance on Jacksonville for its rodomontade. The following week, Jax lost the AFC Championship Game at home to the Titans, fumbling repeatedly. Since the moment of the disastrous 62-7 victory, the franchise has gone 19-29 with no postseason appearances. Oh ye mortals, trifle not with the football gods.

But three years of punishment might be enough. Jax had a stout defense in 2002, and many near-misses, losing five games by a field goal or less. Jacksonville has offloaded the insult-spewing Coughlin for Jack Del Rio, whom TMQ has a good feeling about. It's added Byron Leftwich, whom TMQ has a good feeling about. A more modest, less boastful Jacksonville could be a force this season.

Danger sign, since we're on bad DL deals: Jax gave Hugh Douglas $6 million up front to come south from Philly, and Del Rio says Douglas has been "very average" so far. This is a good sign for Del Rio's coaching instinct -- he is calling out a high-paid player, as he should. But Douglas was very average throughout 2002; and if he was on the field for the Eagles during the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay, TMQ certainly did not notice. Douglas is over the hill, and now that he has his six million, where is his incentive to put out?

Harvard Should Give Him His Money Back: Last night's MNF warm-up included a charming United Way commercial (watch it here) in which Vikings center Matt Birk, a Harvard graduate, amazes a little boy with knowledge. Standing at a blackboard, Birk explains that the nucleus of an atom is composed of positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons, and that "this dynamic is called the electromagnetic force." The voice-over then boasts of Birk, "He's from Harvard."

TMQ's reaction: "aaaiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee!"

Birk has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Apparently, neither does anyone at the United Way. Electromagnetism is the force that mediates radiation and waves: radio, electricity, light and other energies propagate via electromagnetism. Because "electromagnetism acts between all particles possessed of electric charge" -- see basic definitions of physical forces at the University of Hertfordshire physics page -- electromagnetism has no effect on neutrons, which carry no charge. Further, electromagnetism doesn't govern the nucleus of the atom. That is done by the strong force, which holds nuclei together by overcoming the tendency of positively charged protons to repel each other.

Memo to Matt Birk: if you're going to go on national television to brag about being from Harvard, don't sound like an illiterate, OK? Mumbling fancy-sounding gibberish does not make one educated.

Memo to United Way: we know you've had all kinds of financial scandals, but set a little cash aside for a fact-checker, OK?

Memo to ABC, which ran the ad: no one at the network knew enough elementary physics to catch this science illiteracy?

We predict that if Priest Holmes isn't 100 percent Dick Vermeil will be shedding plenty of tears.

Kansas City Chiefs: Last year, Kansas City tied Jax for the league-low in turnovers -- 15, less than one per game -- yet neither team made the playoffs. In Jacksonville's case, this was because the football gods intervened to exact more punishment on the team for rodomontade. In Kansas City's case, having the NFL's worst defense pretty much explains it.

The Chiefs didn't do much to change that in the offseason. The plan still seems to be to score lots of points, allow lots of points and win the game with a last-second free throw. Being fifth in offense and last in defense, Kansas City was the mirror image of Carolina, which was second in defense, 31st in offense. Neither formula spelled postseason.

With public crying in vogue for men, TMQ considers it only a matter of time until Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil cries at a postgame press conference, if not on the sideline after a bad call. Vermeil cried at the Rams' press conference to announce he was "retiring" from coaching, then cried again at the Chiefs' press conference to announce his inevitable "surprise" comeback. All those tears seem to have worked; Kansas City gave him $3.3 million per year. Maybe every coach should cry at press conferences.

But It's a Reality Show. And the Reality Is, Big Corporations Lie: Last year, a West Virginia man supposedly won "$315 million" in Powerball; but as TMQ noted, the actual prize was $170 million -- heady enough. The ersatz larger figure was arrived at by expressing the $170 million as a long-term annuity. Any amount can appear to be roughly doubled by expressing it as a long-term annuity; all that matters is the "present value" of money. TMQ found it annoying that news reports all hyped the total as "$315 million" when it was really $170 million.

This is Erin. In case you were wondering.

Now it turns out that Erin Brodie, the hot-chick software developer who supposedly just turned down $1 million on the reality show "For Love or Money," actually turned down $465,000. NBC was projecting out its prize as an annuity making small payments for 40 years; if she'd taken the money up front, Brodie would have received the smaller figure. Now Brodie is supposedly playing for "$2 million" on the show's sequel, but that's an annuity projection. The real figure she's now playing for -- the present value of the money -- is less than half of the figure NBC is claiming. In this year of Jayson Blair and the phony British government Iraq report, wouldn't it be a nice gesture if NBC told the truth about this?

Miami Marine Mammals: Last year seemed like the year the Dolphins finally cured their generation-long fault, lack of a running game, as Ricky Williams led the NFL in rushing. And it was classic power running, the kind that saves the bacon in big games, especially late in the season in cold weather.

So what did Miami's 2002 run come down to? Ahead by three in New England in the final game of the season, a victory puts them into the postseason and a loss tosses them out, Miami takes over at its own four with 2:46 remaining. On the road, cold weather, own 4-yard line, almost to the two-minute warning, the Marine Mammals are going to grind the clock, right? Incompletion, incompletion, incompletion. The Patriots get the ball back with plenty of time for the field goal that forces overtime; the Patriots win in overtime, and Miami steals off into the desert for the season. Ye gods. Had the Dolphins simply handed the ball to Williams on that drive, even if he'd been stuffed three times for no gain, the clock would have kept moving and Miami might have prevailed. Instead three incompletions, three clock stops. Miami took just 24 seconds off before kicking the ball back to New England. Ye, ye gods.

Fun fact: Opposing teams missed only two field-goal attempts against the Dolphins last season, going 28-for-30. Miami's consecutive season-ending losses, which denied the team the playoffs, both came on last-second field goals. The football gods were punishing the Marine Mammals for their midseason decision to bring in the me-first whiner Cris Carter, who contributed nothing -- eight receptions -- while spreading the me-first whining virus into the previously team-spirited Dolphins' locker room.

Warning! Serious Comment! In the hours after the blackout, Toronto's mayor Mel Lastman declared that the problem must have started in America but, "Have you ever seen the United States take blame for anything?" Mel, we've taken the blame for more awful errors than anyone can count -- the bomb that hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the destruction of the Iranian Airbus among many others. Just a few months ago, in a case that every Canadian except, apparently, the mayor of Toronto knows, America took the blame for the four noble Canadian soldiers whom United States forces killed with friendly fire in Afghanistan. America accepts lots of blame because we are out defending the free world: and equally important, defending the notion of freedom. Year after year, liberal democracy spreads and tyranny continues its retreat, because year after year the United States surrenders blood and treasure in this vital fight. Canada sleeps well, with very small defense expenditures and thus more money to spend on itself, because the United States stands guard.

Canada's recent track record at taking the blame? In 1993, a Canadian commando unit in Somalia tortured a civilian to death. The Canadian military and the Ottawa federal government denied responsibility, then engaged in a three-year cover-up. Here is a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation summary of the cover-up and investigation, plus CBC's lament that "The government's decision to cut the inquiry short left many questions unanswered." So people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, eh? Regardless of whether the power is on in the glass house.

Some fine Canadians do believe in Canadio-American friendship it. Here's their web site. Among other things, it reports on a huge pro-American rally staged in Toronto in April. Toronto's mayor appears not to have attended.

Tom Brady threw for 3,764 yards and 28 TDs last season. Wait, that's a totally straight sports caption. What's it doing in TMQ?

New England Patriots: A mere season and a half ago, the Patriots shut down the league's No. 1 rush offense (Pittsburgh) one week and the No. 1 pass offense (St. Louis) the following week to win the Super Bowl. Last season, New England slipped to the bottom third on defense, and at times seemed uninspired, especially when surrendering 30 points to the low-voltage offense of the Bears. Possibly, the team's return to the 3-4 alignment it used in its Super Bowl year, supplanting the 4-3 of last season, will help.

The Patriots went into the 2003 draft with two first-rounders plus several extra middle-round picks, and seemed likely to invest this surplus in top defensive talent. Instead, on draft day New England executed a series of deals that essentially banked first- and second-round selections until 2004. True, the draft class is expected to be stronger in 2004 than it was in 2003, but so shortly removed from a Super Bowl win, shouldn't New England have spent everything trying to stockpile talent now and make a second run?

Hmm -- the New England entry is a totally straight sports item. What's it doing in TMQ?

Jersey/B: Last year, the Jets were the league's best slow team, superseding the best slow team of 2001, Chicago, and the best slow team of 2000, Jersey/A. With those high-top black shoes and Eisenhower-era uniforms, at times it looked like Jets players were churning their feet through excelsior as they tried to run. But somehow it added up to a playoff appearance, courtesy of the Jets' magnificent season-ending thrashing of Green Bay. Jersey/B's performance against the Packers was the best pure-effort game TMQ saw last year, other than City of Tampa's Super Bowl win.

Chad Pennington, in his first year as a starter, quietly was the league's highest-rated quarterback -- the only one to finish above 100. Pennington's first-year stats included 22 touchdown passes vs. just six interceptions. Wow.

Will Jersey/B be undone by offseason losses? Owing to personnel depletion the offensive line looks thin, while it's hard to believe the Jets are better off with green rookies Dewayne Robertson and Derek Pagel than with Pro Bowl-quality veterans Laveranues Coles and Chad Morton, plus a first-round draft pick -- which is essentially the choice Jersey/B made in all of its bungled dealings with "Washington." Derek Pagel, whom the Jets took in the fifth round with the pick they obtained for Morton, better have a big year, because Morton certainly just had one. Last season Jersey/B enjoyed the best average drive start in the league, the 32-yard-line, owing largely to Morton's explosive kickoff returns. Now, instead of Morton, the Jersey/B dresses Derek Pagel. Ay caramba.

Fun fact: When the Jets traveled to Oakland last January for the playoffs, it was the team's fourth appearance at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum in just 53 weeks; Jersey/B played at Oakland in the 2001 and 2002 regular seasons, and was sent there both for the 2002 and 2003 playoffs. Where do the Jets play this Nov. 9? At Oakland. That will be the fifth Jersey/B trip to Not Bankrupt Yet in less than two years. The Raiders, for their part, have not had to play at the Jets since 1997.

SI Jinx Spreads to Kids' Edition: Michael Vick got injured immediately after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids.

Note to accountant: This mention just made my son's subscription tax-deductible.

Oakland Long Johns: Sometimes a team will have a wonderful season, reach the big event with legitimate high hopes, and afterward fans end up saying, "Super Bowl? Sorry, I'm not familiar with any Super Bowl. That some kind of college game?" The Bills of 1991 come to mind, as do the Broncos of 1987 and the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons of 1983. Now the Raiders of 2002 join this group, whose collective motto might be: What Just Hit Us?

Everything went wrong for Oakland. The offensive line, best in the league in 2002 -- the Raiders' passing attack was premised on plenty of time for Rich Gannon to wait while those annoying Oakland "rub" routes developed -- was horrifying. Barret Robbins going Section Eight (military personnel will know what that means) was one factor, but everybody on the Raiders' front played his worst game of the year; worst of them all was Lincoln Kennedy, who had just been named TMQ NFL Non-QB/Non-RB MVP.

Gannon, in turn, didn't take the pressure well. During 16 regular-season contests, he threw 10 interceptions (one per 62 attempts); in the Super Bowl he threw five interceptions (one per nine attempts). Afterward, Gannon said he forgot to look to see where the safeties were before the snap, which is rather like a pilot saying he forgot to lower the landing gear. The farther one advances in the postseason, the better defensive game-plans become - and quarterbacks who don't look at the defensive set, just assuming everything will work as usual, pay the price. In the 1992 Super Bowl, Jim Kelly threw four interceptions. "Washington" defenders were moving around in an usual way just before the snap, and Kelly didn't look.

The coaching letdown was as bad as the players' letdown. Though Oakland was playing its prior-year leader in Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden, incredibly the Raiders did not change their audible codes for the game: Tampa defenders were calling out many plays before they started. (Oakland did change its audibles by the second quarter.) At the start of the second half, Raiders coach Bill Callahan made one of the worst buck-buck-brawckkkkkkk calls ever. Trailing 20-3, Oakland faced fourth-and-2 on its 35; Callahan sent in the punting unit. Why are you punting? Trailing big, Oakland's league-leading offense has got to be able to gain two yards with the season on the line. Instead the Raiders punted, Tampa drove for a touchdown and the game became a yawner. TMQ foresees a dark season for Oakland; the football gods will not smile upon a team that punts on fourth-and-2 with the Super Bowl in the balance.

Legal note: Al Davis, whose hobby is to attempt to destroy professional football through litigation, is already suing the league and Los Angeles, and now he's even suing his own city, Oakland. It's only a matter of time till Al Davis sues the Raiders. Meanwhile with the Bears having the first-ever NFL corporate sponsor, TMQ suggests that the Raiders be sponsored by the American Trial Lawyers Association.

One last time: Crop circles are not made by aliens.

Mysteriously, the Aliens Left Simulated Human Footprints: Four teenaged boys confessed to making crop circles on a farm near Travis Air Force Base in California in July. When the circles appeared, one "Nancy Talbott, of BLT Research Team (which is) based out of Cambridge, Mass., and has hundreds of people worldwide who investigate crop circle sites for authenticity" told the Fairfield, California Daily Republic that the mysterious shape of the main circle "strongly indicates it's not man made." Strictly speaking, the hard-hitting Nancy Talbott might be right; the circles were boy-made.

Last year, TMQ noted that supposedly eerie crop circles, which supposedly cannot be caused by any known technology, are easily made by teenagers using common tools and instructions provided by this website. What TMQ loved about the crop circles near the Air Force base (read the Travis Air Force Base privacy policy here) is that they were connected by mysterious crop pathways about the size of two teenagers walking abreast. Advanced aliens in hovering spaceships are making crop circles, yet they mysteriously have to clear a footpath from one circle to the next. Mysterious!

Check here for the home of BLT Research, whose "primary goal is the discovery and scientific documentation of physical changes induced in plants, soils and other materials at crop circle sites by the energy (or energy system) responsible for creating them." Read a hard-hitting Nancy Talbott "eyewitness account of crop circles being formed." She reports joining forces with "Dr. William Roll, whose work with recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) phenomena had led him to question whether there might be a human consciousness element involved in the crop circle process."

They traveled to a Netherlands farm where, it was claimed, "flash photos at night inside crop circles, when developed, show single or multiple strange semi-opaque orbs and other light phenomena not usually visible to the naked eye." At 3:15 a.m., from her bed Nancy observes "a brilliant, intense white column, or tube, of light -- about 8 inches to 1 foot in diameter from my vantage point -- flashed down from the sky to the ground, illuminating my bedroom and the sky as brilliantly as if from helicopter searchlights." Mysteriously she got no pictures -- what on the website appears to be a picture of the alien light tube is labeled "computer simulation" in tiny letters -- but a companion "reported that he had heard the dog next door barking furiously just prior to the appearance of the light-tubes." Barking: That's pretty mysterious. The following evening, Nancy inspected the field, and sure enough some of the crops were slightly yellowed, just as if they'd been in summer sun! Or, perhaps, impacted by "energy-forms or life-forms currently unknown to us."

Pittsburgh Steelers:The Steelers gave corners Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington fat contracts before the 2002 season, and these gentlemen celebrated by taking the season off. Pittsburgh's pass defense was shaky all year, and vanished during the team's home playoff game, as Kelly Holcomb threw for 426 yards at Ketchup Field. But the karma-enhanced effect of finally getting Kordell Stewart out from under center enabled Pittsburgh to have a good season; and with Stewart finally a time zone away, the Steelers should be strong again.

At this point, TMQ will give up saying that Stewart could have been a great wide receiver instead of a crummy quarterback. From Stewart's standpoint, he made a ton of money and got to play quarterback in the NFL; he has nothing to apologize for, except those two home AFC Championship opportunities he honked. But probably Stewart had nothing to do with the dam breaking on African-Americans playing quarterback in the league. That was inevitable anyway -- and if anything, Stewart's struggles were a minus in the cause.

San Diego Chargers: Recently, the football gods have not been kind to teams that send a fading great player into exile. The Bills were punished for two years for cutting Bruce Smith; the Niners won the year after waiving Jerry Rice, but internal dissent began, the coach ultimately fired; verily, in Dallas this year there will be rending of garments and gnashing of teeth as the Cowboys are punished for waiving Emmitt Smith. What could Bolts management have been thinking by discarding Junior Seau?

Like the Bills, Niners and Cowboys in similar situations, San Diego seemed actively anxious to get rid of its most accomplished player. Sure, Seau is reaching the end of the line, just as Rice and both Smiths were in the similar situations; none of them when waived was playing near his peak. But are San Diego fans going to be psyched about watching Zeke Moreno, Seau's replacement? A Hall of Fame athlete in twilight is more interesting and entertaining than a who-dat in his prime, and the NFL is, fundamentally, a form of entertainment. San Diego just discarded its most entertaining performer. Woe unto the Bolts!

Last year the San Diego pass defense was among the league's worst. Now the Bolts have two No. 1 picks, a second-round pick and two third-rounders, all recent, at that position. If there's any relationship at all between drafting and NFL success, the San Diego pass defense must improve.

In our era of garish cover-your-eyes bad uniforms, the Chargers continue to sit on the sharpest-looking uni of all time, their 1960s-era powder-blue edition. No uniform in any sport has ever looked so sweet, and the powder blues sell well on the merchandising market, which proves popularity. Why, oh why, don't the Chargers just switch back to this design? They'll wear their powder blues for a September home date against the Rams, but that's it. What a waste. Plus, TMQ continues to like the fantasy of a Charger cheer-babe in a 1960s powder-blue jersey, and nothing else: hemmed extra-short, please!

For now on, we'll call the Chargers the "men of Troy."

Speaking of Chargers' cheerleaders, here is Troy, who has played bit parts in the movies "Titanic" and "Traffic," and whose favorite food is "anything from Pat & Oscar's."

Tennessee Flaming Thumbtacks: Assuming Jevon Kearse is really back, and assuming Eddie George has been cybernetically re-engineered, and assuming Steve McNair sustains fewer than 10 injuries per quarter, Tennessee could be the team that nobody wants to play. Last season, the Titans lost four of their first five and were written off; they ended up 11-5 and playing into the divisional round. Returning to the power-defense, power-running formula that put them in the 2000 Super Bowl was the key to the team's rebound, and there's no reason this cannot continue -- assuming the three things above.

TMQ has always liked level-headed Titans coach Jeff Fisher who, entering his 10th season with the same club, is now practically a Supreme Court justice by NFL coaching standards. (They never leave, get it?) Fisher is the sort that the football gods should single out with a ring. Plus his team wandered in the desert, and the gods are supposed to reward that sort of thing.

For financial reasons, the Flaming Thumbtacks had better make this season count: Their cap accounting, perilous for three years running, has WorldCom potential. For 2004, a mere 10 Tennessee players will generate $68 million in cap charges, with the cap expected to be about $80 million. Since the 2000 Super Bowl, this franchise has remained a contender by delaying cap charges: a tactic that works for a while, but always, ultimately, causes a roster purge. Tennessee fans, enjoy your favorites while they are still on the team.

The Parable of the Pushed Knee: Verily, take heed from the football gods of the parable of Matt, son of Stevens.

Verily, in the year 1996 was a college corner, Matt, son of Stevens, expected to be a No. 1 pick. Then Stevens ripped a knee at the end of the college season, verily his ligaments were like unto ox entrails at an altar sacrifice. He slipped till the end of the third round, where the Buffalo Bills drafted him. "Wisely will they red-shirt Matt, son of Stevens, this year and have themselves a player following the next harvest," prophesied the touts in the marketplace.

But lo, Stevens did make an astonishing recovery. He threw away his aluminum crutch, rose up and walked! By late summer 1996, Stevens was practicing; on opening day he was in the lineup. Those who beheld called it a miracle, or the result of advanced surgery. Only nine months after lying on the table for a serious knee zipper, Stevens played, and well. Verily, the touts spoke of a rising star.

But by October, the knee that had only been swollen a bit after each September game was swelling up for a few days. And lo, by November the swelling wasn't subsiding. By December, Matt, son of Stevens, was skipping practices and saving his knee for games. And with each game throughout the season, his performance declined. Gentlemen he could stay with in September blew past him by Thanksgiving. Stevens began visibly shying from hits. "Give us Barabus!" cried the home crowd, or might have cried; that is to say, the rabble wanted anybody but him. Stevens was lustily booed as a bum, and at the end of the 1996 season, was waived.

Since then he hath wandered the NFL desert to many and multiple clubs, drawing the league minimum, toiling upon punt-coverage units and trying to recover his lost promise. But verily the promise is lost, for Matt, son of Stevens, came back too soon. Sometimes an injury can seem already mended, and an athlete can play on it awhile. But stress a knee that isn't finished healing, and yea, verily, you wreck it for good.

Which brings us to Willis McGahee. He says he feels great and has made a miraculous recovery. He wants to prove himself right now. But it's barley eight months since the surgery. McGahee should take a seat at least 'til Thanksgiving; the Bills might be wise to stamp "IR" next to his name for 2003. Next year could be McGahee's first as a great NFL back. Trying to play too soon is a road that leads to dashed promise, disappointed fans, recriminations all around and a young man bitter about a great career that never happened.

Fox is also suing Al for no longer being funny.

Rupert Murdoch Demands That Foxes Stop Calling Themselves That: Fox News has sued the comedian Al Franken, Fox asserting it has exclusive trademark right to the expression "fair and balanced." What next, Fox -- Rupert Murdoch trademarks the expression "hot enough for you?" How Fox or any company could possibly have registered a common figure of speech is beyond TMQ. And Fox, have you registered the phrases "Bill of Rights" and "First Amendment?" Perhaps Murdoch will claim that he owns the Bill of Rights, and anyone who wishes to express an opinion must first give him a royalty payment.

As for the concept of "fair and balanced," in practice this means, "whatever supports my views." Conservatives don't like CNN or the New York Times because they are mainly liberal; Fox News is mainly conservative, which seems to conservatives fair and balanced. National Public Radio, which is mainly liberal, seems fair and balanced to liberals. If there were a revanchist krypto-Trotskyite anti-cosmopolitan news channel, and it ran a report saying that secret councils of European bankers ruled the world, all revanchist krypto-Trotskyite anti-cosmopolitan viewers would consider that fair and balanced.

As for me, I'm comfortable with the news in Tuesday Morning Quarterback. It's fair and balanced.

Next Week: NFC preview.

Posted by tien mao in Sports at 9:04 AM



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