April 23, 2002

Lies, Damned Lies and Hundredths

POST #    498

Lies, Damned Lies and Hundredths
By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

"We couldn't believe he was still there!" Well, Tuesday Morning Quarterback could believe it.

Of all the draft clichés -- and they abound -- "we couldn't believe he was still there!" is most grating. He was there because 31 other teams passed, and usually there's a reason. When TMQ was dating, he'd call some chick in desperation at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon and think happily, "I couldn't believe she didn't already have a date!" Later that night, straggling back to the apartment, I could believe it.

And on the subjects of clichés, how about "We're really, really happy about our draft." No coach has ever said, "Boy, what a bunch of who-dats and instant has-beens we just picked up." Though every team professes to be "really, really happy" on draft day, statistically most will not be happy once they've had the selectees around for long. Most can't be happy; this would only be possible if all players were above average.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is -- what else? -- really, really happy with top pick Jerramy Stevens.
Coaches say they are "really, really happy" about their picks because, when asked how the draft went, they are in effect evaluating themselves, and what are they going to do but award themselves praise? They made the choices; of course they will claim to have chosen well. Shortly after the Seahawks threw a second-round pick out the window to tab who-dat DE Anton Palepoi, whom most services rated a seventh-rounder -- and threw the pick out the window with Ryan Denney, a well-rated DE, still available -- Guru Genius Coach Mike Holmgren told ESPN, "I really like him." Holmgren surely wasn't going to say, "I just threw a pick out the window."

(Records note: Holmgren's predecessor Dennis Erickson was fired for going 31-33; the Guru Genius is 24-25 in Seattle, yet inexplicably viewed as secure.)

Actually, Holmgren's exact quote about the soon-to-be-forgotten Anton Palepoi was, "Quite frankly, I really like him." The oleaginous, politician-like habit of using these words -- diplomats say "quite frankly, the ocean is blue," while members of the United States Senate say "quite frankly, I'm going to have the turkey sandwich" --- has been sweeping the football world. Last season, Dan Dierdorf and Dennis Miller intoned this empty phrase once every 15 minutes. "Quite frankly" is employed to suggest false confidence, but carries meaning only when the speaker is normally evasive or dishonest. Is Holmgren normally deceiving us when he says he likes a player?

Quite frankly, still more grating about draft weekend is this obsession with minute quasi-statistics. You see players listed as 6-foot-2-and-1/8, as if an eighth of an inch had any meaning whatsoever. You see 300-pound athletes called undersized. For example, the $19.95 PFW Draft Preview, draft mania's best bargain, said the 6-4, 300-pound guard Frank Romero "lacks size" and declared the 6-4, 300-pound tackle Joaquin Gonzalez "limited in terms of size."

(NFL personnel guys, who pride themselves on their incredible insider information, would do well to study the PFW Draft Preview. For instance, in 1993, it cautioned that punter Ed Bunn had such terrible form, he sometimes kicked himself in the facemask. Unheeding, the R*dsk*ns -- TMQ will explain in a future column why he won't use that name -- took Bunn in the third round and the gentleman never played a down, though he did kick himself in the facemask several times in practice.)

The phony stat that drives TMQ to distraction is hundredths of a second. Covering the draft, ESPN on-air bobbleheads Chris Berman, Mel Kiper and Jimmy Johnson engaged in a preposterous symposium on the subject of whether Donte Stallworth ran the 40 in 4.23 seconds, 4.25 seconds or 4.26 seconds.

Does Donte Stallworth run the 40 in 4.23, 4.25 or 4.26? Oh, the horror!
(Except for this, the ESPN on-air crew was superb, insightful, magnificent;

TMQ plans to heap transparently self-serving praise on ESPN at every chance.)

One pundit on another network announced that OT Mike Williams is faster than OT Bryant McKinnie, because Williams runs the 40 in 5.28 while McKinnie takes 5.3. The New York Times ran an article with an extended section debating whether Dwight Freeney runs the 40 in 4.38 seconds or 4.45 seconds, and called this a big difference. Players weren't 4.4, 4.5 or 4.6. Everybody was a 4.37 or 4.48 or 4.52.

There is no statistical significance to a hundredth of a second. Set aside the standard-error problem, that small flaws in timing accuracy guarantee any measurements this small will contain approximations that void the supposed precision. Assume the timers are totally flawless. Comparing a 4.38 and 4.45 time in the 40, the first is 1 percent faster than the second. A distinction of 1 percent just can't matter. Suppose two gentlemen with these times ran a 40-yard race to the goal line, one as a receiver and one as a defender; the 4.38 player would arrive at the goal line 14 inches sooner. That might decide an Olympics sprint showdown, but half the length of a faceguard is not going to turn the tide of a football game. Please, announcers and draftniks: round all times to 10ths of a second, which do matter.

And did we ever hear about the Wonderlic test. The Wonderlic is essentially a simplified IQ test that can be taken in 12 minutes. Many NFL teams administer it to potential prospects. A perfect score is 50, and anyone who can read is supposed to be able to score a minimum of 10; according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, the Pack almost didn't draft first-round pick Javon Walker, because he scored a sub-literate 9. For details on the Wonderlic, see this sober and responsible analysis by Page 2's Jeff Merron. Sober and responsible -- Jeff, what were you thinking?

As an alternative to sober and responsible, click here to take TMQlic Test and see how you rate.

Enron certainly traded down

Both the ESPN analysts and others in the sports media worked themselves up Saturday about why more teams didn't trade down. Many said, for example, if the Bengals had wanted Levi Jones, who was expected to go late in the first, why not trade down from the 10th slot, acquire more picks and take him later? The draftniks class was adamant that the Bengals, Colts and other clubs should have traded down.

It's easy to say the Bengals could have got Levi Jones later in the first round. The problem for Cincy was getting a pick "later in the first round."
The problem is that every seller requires a buyer. Cincinnati can't trade out of the 10th position unless there is a team making an offer for that slot. Often, after the premium players go in the first few picks, there isn't much difference between who's available from the late single digits until the late first. So teams in that area of the round want to trade down, but can only do so if another team wants to trade up, surrendering extra choices and taking on the larger bonus of the higher-drafted player. If nobody wants to trade up -- and trading up is often foolish -- the team that wants to trade down cannot do so.

It's not like this is the stock market, where there is always a buyer for every seller. (Whenever stocks are falling, keep reminding yourself, for every buyer jumping out of the market today, another is jumping in; only when stocks are offered and no one wants them should you worry about the economy.)

Two-phase trade of the year

At the end of the 2001 draft, the Falcons panicked and swapped a fourth-rounder in 2002 to Denver for three seventh-round choices in 2001, surely one of the oddest deals ever. This year, the Falcons panicked and swapped a third-rounder in 2003 to Houston for a fourth to replace the pick promised to Denver the previous year. In effect, this means Atlanta traded a third-round choice for three seventh-round selections. Ye gods.

Tom Brady was glued to his laptop endlessly pressing "refresh"

In a sign of the times, news of the Drew Bledsoe trade came not via a press conference or a sportswriter's incredible insider access, but when the Patriots posted an announcement on their Web site.

Running Items Department:
Reader Animadversion

Reader Chris DeMay of Walnut Creek, Calif., asked, "What the hell does TMQ stand for?"

Chris, the phrase Tuesday Morning Quarterback was all over the column! TMQ his ownself often writes for The Atlantic Monthly magazine. Someone once walked up to me at a party and said, "Atlantic Monthly, how often does that come out?"

Many readers, including Eric Keningsberg of San Francisco, knew that HAL stood for "Heuristically ALgorithmic" computer and was a little joke because the letters are each shifted by one from IBM. Many readers, including Steve Ross of Denver, knew that HAL's programmer taught the evil computer to sing "Daisy, Daisy."

Don't worry, TMQ readers. We won't make you wait until next fall for a Raiderette photo.
Reader Benjamin Keys protested in haiku -- actually, in senryu -- the lack of any links to scantily clad women:

What? No mega-babes?

Britney hardly suffices!

We miss Raiderettes.

Keys refers to TMQ's practice, when this column appeared on Slate.com, of using any possible flimsy excuse to link to shamelessly prurient cheesecake photos of Anna Kournikova, Jennifer Lopez and aesthetically appealing NFL cheer-babes such as the Raiderettes. Well, fear not, Benjamin, Cheerleader of the Week will return when the season starts.

Oh, and did I mention that a lot of TMQ will be in haiku? Brace yourselves. When the season starts, "Reader Animadversion" will each week feature the best complaints about this column -- with TMQ getting the last word, of course. Start devising your clever comebacks now.

Nan's 80 Percent Chili

We had some friends over for the draft, and Nan Kennelly, Official Wife of TMQ, made peppery vegetarian chili. A few minutes after dinner, one of the five at the table stood up, looked around unhappily and fainted, mumbling about "Oh, this American food." OK, so she had just flown in from France, and was jet-lagged. The dish has now been named Nan's 80 Percent Chili, since 80 percent of those who partook did not faint. It will be marketed under the slogan, Most of Your Guests Are Sure to Like It®.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback Challenge

Last week's challenge was to find the phony entry amongst the 49 names in TMQ's preposterous forecast of the seventh round of the draft.

Many readers found the distracters -- Courtland Bullard of Ohio State was listed as being drafted twice, by Carolina and Miami (the real Bullard went to the Rams), while the compound names Marlon Moye-Moore and Antwan Kirk-Hughes were deliberately listed in the wrong order. Some readers supposed that Kojo Aidoo or Monsanto Pope or Syniker Taylor had to be made up. But these names are real, oh so real.

To TMQ's amazement, an incredible 125 readers identified the actual phony entry: San Francisco choosing "Dans LaPoubelle, LB, Indiana of Pennsylvania." Dans la poubelle means "into the trash" in French. That so many spotted this hidden touch of frog tells us that hundreds of people smart enough to remember their high-school language classes were spending valuable time poring over names of obscure football players in marching columns of tiny type on ESPN.com.

Readers -- you have your priorities in order!

On a completely arbitrary basis, this week's Challenge, and a stylish TMQ cap, goes to Carol Hamlin of New York City, greatest city in the world, who was among the many who caught LaPoubelle. Best comment goes to Kevin of Montreal, who supposed that LaPoubelle wouldn't be drafted by the Niners since, being bound for the dustbin, he was clearly "a Cincinnati or Arizona kind of guy."

There won't be a Challenge this week because the next Tuesday Morning Quarterback will not materialize on your screen until mid-August. Then they'll come weekly, till you scream for mercy.

Midway Point Warning

The draft marks the halfway point of the NFL offseason, that long, cold, lonely period between the peak of football hype and absurdity at the Super Bowl, and the resumption of same on opening day. This year NFL opening day is a Thursday -- don't they realize that's a school night? Nevertheless, consider yourself warned, we're halfway there.

Waitress, I need a blueberry-almond martini* quick!

(*Official Drink of TMQ.)

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 9:40 AM



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