August 13, 2002

Delusions of grandeur in preseason

POST #    501

Delusions of grandeur in preseason
By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Have you ever walked onto the sand at South Miami Beach, or at Venice, Calif., or Nice, France, or some similar locale and allowed yourself to think, based on the private preferences that only you can know, "Any one of these hot bikini babes/ripped ultra hunks might go out with me?" Well, they might go out with you. A lot of things might happen. You can keep believing they might throw themselves at your feet until you ask, and dreary reality knocks you cold. Better, perhaps, to wander the beach, gawking at the babes and hunks, always dreaming and never learning the truth.

And that is where the NFL sits as the preseason opens. Every fan of every team in every city is wandering down the beach, dreamin'. Any team might have a good year. Any team might even win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The injuries haven't started yet. The coach hasn't started popping Valium yet. The 45-3 nationally televised loss is still over the horizon. In August, you can believe whatever you wish. Even fans of the Houston Texans are talking about how their expansionistas might have a winning first campaign.

Better, perhaps, never to learn the truth. Right now almost every fan is pumped; by Halloween, followers of a third of the league's franchises will speak of their clubs in thinly veiled disgust. Right now, every newspaper in every NFL city is running at least a full page every day of obsessively detailed training camp news, proclaiming countless undrafted free agents as sure instant superstars; by Thanksgiving, the instant stars will be stacking parcels for UPS, while news on many of the league's teams will be relegated to little update boxes far back in the sports pages. By December, half the league's faithful will already be looking forward to next summer -- when they can wander down that beach again, dreamin'.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback enjoys waxing philosophical on subjects like this, especially when there is still none of the wholesome, crunching violence of the NFL season to divert him. In fact, stand back, I am about to go haiku:

Preseason dream time.
Believe what you will; so far,
all L columns blank.

Actually, the injuries have started for some, such as Seattle QB Trent Dilfer.
Technically that's a senryu, not a haiku, since a haiku must include an allusion to nature. You knew that, right? And if I forgot to mention that TMQ will include haiku and senryu, too late now. Starting next week I'll roll one out for every team.

Though the preseason is ideal for reverie, even fans of Cincinnati, Detroit or Seattle daydreaming of playoff glory -- these fine teams have combined for zero postseason victories in the past decade -- the one drawback is that the preseason also includes preseason games. Spare us, please.

NFL preseason games are rehearsal sessions, and what other form of entertainment does its rehearsing in public, before paid customers drinking overpriced beers, to say nothing of a national television audience? American Ballet Theater, the Lyric Opera, the cast of "Cats" -- if you had to watch them rehearse, you'd wince. (TMQ is writing a Broadway musical called "10 Million Bucks Worth of Scenery"; the show dispenses with all pretense of plot or dialogue and consists entirely of makeup and scenic effects.) If you had to pay to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company or Dustin Hoffman or Jennifer Lopez rehearse, you'd be outraged. Check that -- there is no evidence Jennifer Lopez has ever rehearsed.

Worse, in preseason games the NFL is not even rehearsing the real plays, it's all bland "vanilla" stuff that no one wants to watch, executed by dragged-in-off-the-street gentlemen who will be back on the street by opening day. The Kennedy Center doesn't charge to make you watch recent drama school graduates, who will soon be mixing Rapazapafrapachinos at Starbucks, perform mock versions of "Macbeth," using substituted vanilla lines -- "all our yesterdays are hard to remember, you know what I'm saying?" -- designed to throw off scouts from other theaters. Alvin Ailey's dancers don't stage paid public rehearsal sessions in which they leap into the air but refuse to come down, so as not to reveal the company's true choreography.

J-Lo's surely been rehearsing even less without a certain choreographer hanging around.
TMQ obsessively watches every instant of real NFL action. Egad, I'd watch the Lions play the Panthers in a real game; I'd go to a real Panthers-Lions game. But preseason fare? No, thank you; Tuesday Morning Quarterback averts his eyes. Put it this way, you don't want to watch Anna Kournikova bouncing tennis balls to herself off a wall, you want to watch her play in a match. No wait, that's a bad example -- you don't want to watch her play in a match either. OK, amended declaration: You don't want to watch Anna Kournikova shave her legs, you want to watch her model the lingerie. That's my point.

And that principle should guide us when it comes to the NFL. I am moved to haikuize:

Low-scoring snorefests,
who-dat reserves. Yet they charge
for preseason games.

TMQ preseason schedule: Since it's preseason, for the next few weeks Tuesday Morning Quarterback will be using bland "vanilla" gags, so as not to tip off other sportswriters as to what the real column will entail come the second week of September. Once the real season starts, my sentence structures will be much less predictable, adjectives will go in motion and I will deploy three-, four- and five-joke sets. For now, it's pretty much obvious points straight up the middle.

Today's preseason subject is offseason low-lights. Next week the subject will be AFC team previews, plus a revelation of the offseason event that made TMQ run from the room screaming, "Aaaiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee!" (And I don't mean "Men in Black II" or the Jennifer Aniston movie; rather, the offseason football-related event that caused me to exclaim this.) The following week will be NFC club previews, plus an explication of why Tuesday Morning Quarterback not only refuses to use the team name R*dsk*ns, but won't even use the W*sh*ngt*n part. The week after will appear TMQ's completely worthless season forecast, under my column motto: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. Followed, finally, by real columns responding to the real nonsense of real games.

Offseason low-lights

Detroit saw no future with Charlie Batch despite a 436-yard passing game.
Transaction of the year: The Rams traded a draft choice to the Patriots for linebacker Kole Ayi -- whom the Rams cut last season.

No good deed goes unpunished: The two quarterbacks who had the best passing days in 2001 -- Charlie Batch of Detroit, with a 436-yard game, and Chris Chandler of Atlanta, with a 431-yard outing -- were both released by their teams.

Spanish Armada notches first victory since 1588: Spain needed fighter-bombers, assault helicopters, commando units, a guided-missile cruiser, several frigates and numerous support ships to evict six unarmed Moroccans from the disputed islet of Perejil.

There, but for the grace of God, goes Peyton Manning: Ryan Leaf, one of biggest busts in the annals of sports, officially retired a few weeks ago, though it can be argued that he retired immediately after being selected No. 2 overall by the Bolts in the 1998 draft. Ye gods, this gentleman was bad marmalade on burnt toast. There are many, many statistics to support the contention, but TMQ's favorite is that Leaf departs the NFL with a career passer rating of 50.

How to put that into perspective? Last year's lowest-rated "qualifying" NFL passer (224 attempts or more) was Jon Kitna of Cincinnati, who ran up a 61.1 rating. So Leaf was worse, on a career basis, than last year's worst overall. Under the league's cryptic formula, if you attempt 10 passes, complete five for 50 yards with no TDs or INTs -- and this is pretty damn anemic -- you get a 64.6 rating. Leaf did worse than that. If you attempt 100 passes and every single one clangs to the ground incomplete, 39.6 is your rating. Leaf barely did better than oh-for-his career.

How exactly does the NFL compute its passer ratings? Why, this like:

1. Complete passes divided by pass attempts. Subtract 0.3 and divide by 0.2.
2. Passing yards divided by pass attempts. Subtract 3 and divide by 4.
3. Touchdown passes divided by pass attempts and divide by .05.
4. Start with .095 and subtract interceptions divided by pass attempts. Divide that product by .04.
5. Add the sum of steps 1-4, multiply by 100 and divide by 6. Sum of each step cannot be greater than 2.375 or less than zero.

Ryan Leaf retired with 14 TD passes, 36 interceptions and a career QB rating of 50.0.
Ah, but Ryan Leaf was less than zero. Check out this link for more on the ratings formula.

Arafat walks out of peace talks, demanding that replay booth reverse on-the-field result of the 1967 War: The Raiders rose en masse and walked out of the annual getting-to-know-you meeting that NFL officials hold in each training camp. Now that's really going to help, isn't it? Yes, Oakland ought to be steamed about the reversal that decided the Pats-Raiders Snow Bowl; in common sense terms, what happened was totally, utterly, completely a fumble. The problem is, according to the rule book, it was an incomplete pass. The "tuck" rule may be an awful rule, but the replay decision was right. So what's the point of insulting the zebras with a walkout, when all they did was correctly enforce a bad rule? How is this stunt going to help Oakland get the next controversial call?

Tuesday Morning Quarterback doesn't understand why gentlemen in all sports never seem to figure out that the coaches and players most likely to get calls in their favor are the ones who don't scream at the refs, since publicly screaming at the refs is, in effect, publicly calling them incompetent. Refs are human; are we supposed to believe they will like those who try to embarrass them in public? Some coaches scream after every flag because they think this will get them the next flag tossed in their favor. It's the ones who don't hurl the clipboards and don't curse -- who discuss their complaints with the officials quietly -- who get the next flag their way. Trust me on this.

Of course, the Raiders complain because they are convinced the league is trying to screw them. After the Snow Bowl, Oakland executive Al LoCasale declared darkly, "Suspicious calls are disproportionate against the Raiders," contending the league is trying to retaliate against Al Davis. Who better to retaliate against, considering Davis' hobby is trying to destroy the NFL through litigation? Trouble is, every team believes that "suspicious calls are disproportionate" against it.

If you wonder why the reversal at the Snow Bowl was correct, here's the rule, as it applied during that game and still stands, since the league was unable to agree on a revision in the offseason:

Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2. Whenever the quarterback moves his arm forward to pass and the ball ends up coming out, it is a forward pass and not a fumble.

Brady moved his arm forward to pass, then decided to pull back the pass, and the ball ended up coming out. But think about this premise: Whenever the quarterback moves his arm forward to pass and the ball ends up coming out, it is a forward pass and not a fumble. Doesn't that mean that a QB who is about to be sacked could legally ground the ball by moving his arm forward as if to pass, then stopping and deliberately letting the rock fall on the turf? By Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, that would be a regular incompletion, not grounding -- if it's an incompletion "whenever" the ball comes out this way. Another reason why this is a bad rule.

A simple orange jumpsuit can be so tasteful: Recently TMQ wolfed down a double cheeseburger and strawberry shake at a diner called Annie's Kitchen in the well-named Accident, Md., near the Maryland-West Virginia border. (The town appellation derives from a pre-Revolutionary surveyor's error when a Stuart or a Hanover or some other doddering inbred was passing out grants of North American land in return for kickbacks even Enron might find unscrupulous.) Hanging on the wall of Annie's Kitchen was a placard that read,

Martha Stewart Would Die
If She Saw This Place
So Let's Invite Her Over

Martha, Martha -- this is what The People think! But now it seems you've never really been interested in The People, only The Money.

Martha Stewart's already trying to figure out how to cook up profits from the pokey.
Let's pause to point out that the accusations against Stewart are strictly that, accusations, and she has not been charged with any crime. But suppose the accusations are true. Her actions wouldn't just be insider trading -- that is, trading based on information not available to the public -- her actions would be fraud. If you sell someone stock knowing that the pieces of paper are moments away from becoming worthless, this is no victimless transaction. You've just conned the buyer out of the purchase price. Stock buyers these days are not necessarily faceless corporations or the super-rich -- stock buyers are as likely to be average people, retirees, teachers' pension funds, charities. If the charges against Stewart are true, she deliberately defrauded whoever she sold the stock to.

Martha, that's just not very tasteful! You already stood for snobbery and excess materialism; now you seem to stand for deceit. We're at least supposed to pretend that we care about our integrity.

In a TMQ consumer update, the Stewart empire is based on the magazines Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Baby and Martha Stewart Weddings, plus her "everyday" and "signature" product lines. Tuesday Morning Quarterback suggests her new publications will be:

Martha Stewart Bookings
Martha Stewart Minimum Security Living
Martha Stewart Markin' Time

New "signature" products will include decorative electronic ankle bracelets, pure Scotland wool orange jumpsuits with hidden shiv pocket and Early American lacework wall hangings just perfect for steel bars. In the "everyday" category, tips on how to dress for jury sympathy, plus the most fabulous recipe for bundt cake with fresh raspberries, peaches, crème Anglais and baked-in key! (For an actual Martha Stewart bundt cake recipe, click here.)

Vikes GM posts 40 time of 4.6 minutes: Minnesota picked one slot after Dallas in the NFL draft, and wanted DT Ryan Sims. Dallas used up its allotted 15 minutes attempting to trade its pick, and was "off the clock." Any Vikings official could have simply run to the podium and handed in a card with the team's choice. Yet the Minnesota delegation did nothing, later asserting that in the three minutes this unusual opportunity was in force, they didn't have time to write the words "Ryan Sims" on a piece of paper and run about 20 feet. The window of opportunity closed when a Cowboys official sprinted to the podium to say that the pick, and Sims, had been traded to the Chiefs. Since then the Vikings have been lobbying the league to award them an extra draft choice in 2003 as compensation. Compensation for ... their own clueless inaction. ranks ancient Rome as fifth-best empire: In May, the NFL power rankings listed the Patriots as fifth-best team. Didn't New England just win something?

Nude mom fad sweeps California: The Capital Christian Center of Sacramento, Calif., expelled a 5-year-old from its kindergarten after learning that her mother, Christina Silvas, worked as a nude dancer. But this is empowering! (TMQ believes women should wear revealing clothes because it is empowering and helps them get in touch with their sensuality.) Besides, the rules section of the Capital Christian Center elementary school website lists 25 highly detailed regulations but does not say anywhere that your mother cannot lap dance. Though the Capital Christian Center elementary school does ban "games involving wild running, pushing or shoving," which pretty much rules out football.

Silvas, a former Sunday school teacher at the Capital Christian Center, was dancing nude partly so she could pay her daughter's church tuition. Just wait until the kid gets into Harvard! And why were there no lap-dancers running the classes when TMQ went to Sunday school? Anyway TMQ, who's a churchgoing Christian, finds it weird that the Capital Christian Center should expect one of its members to feel ashamed of the way God made her. Or, if you really believe that letting people look at your body is sinful -- I must have missed that in the Bible, though there is one passage (Genesis 9:20-3) where Noah gets so drunk he rips off his clothes and embarrasses his sons -- why expel a church member for it? As pastors say, the best place for a sinner is in the congregation.

What TMQ likes best about this story is how the Capital Christian Center found out about the nude megababe mom scandal: A church member was perusing the website of Gold Club Centerfolds, where Silvas worked, and saw her picture. One of the church members just happened to be checking out local topless clubs and noticed … Does anyone sense the H-word here? The woman gets penalized, while the leering church member no doubt got applauded by other H-ocrites. TMQ certainly volunteers, in this devoutly religious spirit, to check out Gold Club Centerfolds next time he's in Sacramento; the place looks hot, which is why I can't offer a link. But if you're wondering how Christina Silvas looks fully clothed, click here.

In a barometer of modern media news judgment, nearly every newspaper and newscast in the country offered some snippet about the naked Sunday-school lap dancing megamom. This provided a legitimate excuse to leaven tediously responsible stories about global warming statistics and infrastructure funding with much more interesting phrases such as nude women, topless dancers, bare-breasted and strippers. Isn't it shocking how the media will stoop to nothing to get such lurid sex references into stories? Hmm, which TMQ just seems to have achieved here.

Mel Gibson looks for gullible moviegoers amid his cornfield in "Signs."
It's like this, officer. I was trying to outrun my fears and insecurities: Two months after being arrested for driving 126 mph, Ricky Williams of the Dolphins announced he had social anxiety disorder and had begun taking the nerve-calming drug Paxil. Now, some people do suffer from anxieties, and anything that helps them is good. But in the defense-attorney business, it is a long, time-honored tradition when your client has done something stupid and been caught to suddenly discover he or she suffers a medical condition, preferably something trendy. What's the judge of whether a medical condition qualifies as trendy? Will it get you onto a morning talk show. Sure enough, Williams promptly went on the "Today" show to tell Matt Lauer, "I am different and unique, but not strange." He also declared that while Prozac started off as "a girl's drug," now men need it, too.

Very mysteriously, people are paying good money to see this: In the Mel Gibson movie "Signs" -- the slowest-moving thriller of all time -- Gibson has an enormous field of corn that's "high as an elephant's eye" and ready for immediate harvest. Yet he does no farming. No agricultural implements of any kind are visible anywhere, and Gibson performs not a moment's worth of farm work. Where did this corn come from? That, not the crop circles, is the real mystery of the movie.

Meanwhile the supposedly strange phenomenon of crop circles, which supposedly cannot be made by any known technology, has long been known in England, where this all started, as hoaxing. There is even an English association of crop-circle hoaxers with a website that gives instructions on how to do with a few simple tools that which cannot be done.

Further proof of the decline of western civilization: At Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., fans began parking RVs and campers in stadium lots to start tailgate parties two days before a preseason game.

Oh, Monica. to think what might have been: The Steelers hired Arisko Iso, the first female full-time athletic trainer in the NFL. Previously, she had been head trainer for the Portland State University football team and an intern with the Steelers.

NFL teams have interns?

All Jax sal cap figures certified by Arthur Andersen: At one point in May, Jacksonville was only $129,000 under the salary cap -- which means 0.2 percent of its cap was available, and the team could not even have signed an undrafted rookie free agent.

Drew Bledsoe to New England fans: "It's not you, it's me."
All WorldCom figures actually were certified by Arthur Andersen: The MCI Center, where the Washington Wizards play, may lose its name, since MCI was owned by WorldCom; perhaps it could be rechristened the FraudCom Center. WorldCom had a hook into the Wizards? TMQ checked, and finds that the Wizards media guide claims the team has won 26 straight NBA championships and that Michael Jordan is averaging 184 points per game. Also, it seems the Wizards have been booking free throws as field goals.

The football gods were impressed, to a point: After being traded away from the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe took out full-page ads in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, thanking the city for cheering for him. In a day when many star athletes leave town with middle fingers raised, the football gods must have been pleased. Except that the ad text, a letter from Bledsoe to fans, was full of chick-flick relationship talk such as, "You helped me to learn how people should treat other people."

And we never found out what planet Ally was from: The series finales of "The X Files" and "Ally McBeal," airing on consecutive nights on Fox, both involved the lead characters being able to communicate with the dead. Communicating with the dead turns out to be boring, though this was not, strictly speaking, the point of the episodes, both of which set new records for plot recycling, which perhaps conserves precious resources.

In "The X Files" finale, nine years of untied loose ends concluded with the X Files themselves inexplicably vanishing -- TMQ always liked that the X Files themselves were just sitting in a standard FBI gray-metal filing cabinet marked "X" -- and Mulder learning that Earth will be invaded by aliens in December 2012. Just 3,774 shopping days left till interstellar invasion! Also, Mulder learned that the government knows all about the scheduled invasion, but rather than building defenses, is killing anyone who finds out. Why, so as not to interfere with fund raising for the November 2012 elections?

Mulder's and Scully's hard work seems to be for naught, kind of like Jake Plummer's.
And Mulder finally confirmed that all events everywhere are controlled by An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA. The existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing and yet seemingly totally incompetent Agency Far, Far More Secret Than the CIA is becoming one of the worst and most worn-out clichés in Hollywood. More on that in future TMQs.

For the moment, what drove Tuesday Morning Quarterback nuts about "The X Files" finale was all the stuff Mulder, and thus viewers, did not find out. We never find out who stole the X Files, or why the aliens want to attack Earth, or why if the plan was to launch a surprise attack on Earth, the aliens were engaged in numerous seemingly pointless projects that would give them away (in light of the finale, much of what the aliens did in past "X Files" episodes made little or no sense), or most of all, why sinister government officials seemed eager to cooperate in their own destruction. The series is over. What was the point of ending the series without explaining what was really going on? Was this some kind of postmodern statement, or an admission that for nine years the writers were just making things up at random? Tuesday Morning Quarterback is going to miss that spooky opening music, but must conclude: The truth is not out there.

Worst lyrics of the year: The Lenny Kravitz song "Dig In" contains this oft-repeated refrain:

Once you dig in
You'll find it comin' out the other side

Now, this might by the motto of any number of fast-food chains. And it's certainly better than the song's chorus, which is the witty, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" But really, shouldn't rock lyrics at least appear to make sense? The Kravitz line may be the worst rock couplet since Spandau Ballet's:

I bought a ticket to the world
but now I've come back again.

Check this karaoke page, which helpfully specifies that a refrain in the Spandau song is, "Huh huh huh hu-uh huh." Wouldn't want to accidentally lip-synch, "Huh huh hu-hu huh huh," now would you?

Actual anti-Christ insulted, insists he doesn't take as many sacks: Rob Johnson, ensconced in Tampa, declared that in Buffalo, "I was the Antichrist." You mean Doug Flutie was Jesus?

And he fishes there, but has trouble with the fishing tackle; Deion hates everything to do with the word "tackle": The Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- known to locals as the Startle Gram -- reported that after the Cowboys drafted Roy Williams in the first round, former 'Boy Deion Sanders invited Williams to visit him "at his private lake." Deion owns a lake?

Transaction of the year, part 2: The Bears refused to trade Shane Matthews, then cut him.

Transaction of the year, part 3: The Bears matched a contract offer to restricted free agent D'Wayne Bates, then cut him. TMQ just loves the concept of the "restricted free agent" -- free, but restricted. How postmodern.

He waived his campaign manager to stay under the cap: Michael Bloomberg spent $74 million of his own money to be elected mayor of New York City. This figure -- exceeding the NFL salary cap -- worked out to $99 per vote Bloomberg received. How much more good would he have done for the city if Bloomberg had just handed each voter $99? Included in the $74 million tab was $4,156 for pizza, $8,960 for copying at Kinko's, $45,000 for an election-night party and $720 for parking tickets. The guy who wanted to be mayor parked illegally during his campaign? And now he wants to tow diplomatic cars? Bloomberg also spent $34 million on advertising, $1 million to print campaign literature, $17 million to mail the literature, $11 million on polls and $1.6 million on campaign staff -- or seven times as much for polls as for staff.

Alyssa Manzi's students keep finding creative ways to serve detention.
TMQ cheerleader of the week: The Patriots won the ring, so the first 2002 TMQ Cheerleader of the Week -- hmm, let's make the official title the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week, so the winners can use it on their modeling résumés -- must be from the victors. She's Alyssa Manzi, who graces the cover of the Patriot cheer-babes' obligatory swimsuit calendar.

Manzi's bio says she has danced for the Pittsburgh Ballet and also at Epcot Center -- surely in Epcot's production of "Giselle" -- and now works as an elementary school teacher. How come the teachers didn't look like this when TMQ went to school?

TMQ trailer: As the real season approaches, keep your eyeballs polished for such upcoming running items as obscure college score of the week, New York Times final-score score, reader animadversion, and, of course, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback challenge, which certainly is not a contest, but does give readers the chance to contribute to the column in return for some worthless trinket delivered to your door by a uniformed agent of the federal government. Challenge questions tend to be quirky, your submission will almost certainly be rejected, and the final decision is always completely arbitrary. That's what makes it a Challenge!

See you next Tuesday.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 9:47 AM



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