December 24, 2002

NFL's 88 percent solution

POST #    518

NFL's 88 percent solution
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

The Pro Bowl squads are out, and congratulations to the honored gentlemen, whom Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks should be called the 88 Percent All-Pros. TMQ continues to be dumbfounded that Pro Bowl balloting by coaches and players, which determines most of the outcome, is held with two weeks remaining -- that is, when only 88 percent of the season has been played. Why don't the last two games count? Why does playing well in Week 2 or Week 11 matter toward earning a free plane ticket to Hawaii, while playing well in Week 16 or Week 17 is irrelevant?

Announcing Pro Bowl honorees with two weeks to play creates an opportunity for some to take a bow before the home crowd. But TMQ thinks the selection of Pro Bowl players when the season isn't finished represents yet another instance of publicity trumping performance. It's assumed that whoever has gotten most buzz to this point must be best, regardless of what happens on the field in the final games. Picking the Pro Bowl honorees with two games remaining is like picking the president the week before the election, based on who's doing best in the polls (technical note: this might be a more reliable system) or picking your favorite mezzo-soprano based on the first two acts, disregarding the signature aria due in the third. The Pro Bowl should be a reward for how players perform for the entire season, not just in the first 88 percent.

Each year when the Pro Bowl names come out, TMQ has recurring complaints: that offensive linemen make it on rep, that defensive backs make it on interceptions and that the "fullback" usually isn't a fullback. Two of the three apply to 2002.

The NFC "fullback" is Mike Alstott of Tampa, a below-average blocker who lines up as a tailback. It's ridiculous that Alstott will once again fly to Hawaii as a "fullback" when he doesn't play fullback, and when, in the NFC, true fullback William Henderson of Green Bay has had a true Pro Bowl year. Or at least, 88 percent of a Pro Bowl year.

Once again this year, offensive linemen have made it on rep. Orlando Pace makes the NFC squad though he has been hurt most of the season and an average player when on the field; Ruben Brown of the Bills makes the AFC squad though he's been a slightly-above-average player on a line that is second-last in the league in sacks allowed. Derrick Deese of the Squared Sevens is much more deserving than Pace at NFC tackle, while Mike Compton of the Pats and Jamie Nails of the Marine Mammals had better seasons at AFC guard than Brown. (Nails has been the best run-blocker in the league this year; it's no coincidence that red-hot Ricky Williams suddenly looked human against the Vikings with Nails out injured.) Pace and Brown made it because they always make it; Pace has been picked three of the last four years, Brown seven straight. The fact that OLs make the Pro Bowl on rep, regardless of who's been best, shows that even NFL players and coaches don't pay much attention to offensive linemen and couldn't really tell you who's good.

Orlando Pace
Orlando Pace, who has played just nine games this season, makes the Pro Bowl on name recognition alone.
At least this year the DB selection was not based on interceptions, as is usually the case. At the 88 percent point, the highest interceptor in the league had just six picks, so voters had to choose based on coverage rather than picks, making the defensive-back selections more accurate than usual this year. Last year, in contrast, Deltha O'Neal made it as a CB based on nine interceptions; but he got the picks by gambling relentlessly and giving up big plays. Not only was O'Neal not Pro Bowl in his overall game, he was not as good as his own more cautious, and thus less interception-happy, teammate Denard Walker.

Scanning the Pro Bowl roster, researchers find that 48 of the gentlemen were No. 1 draft picks. They're all impressive. But the players TMQ has always admired most are the ones who perform well despite being unwanted. Thus my contribution is the annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback All-Trash All-Pros.

To qualify for the All-Trash All-Pros, a player must have been waived, gone undrafted, been exposed in an expansion draft or left as a free agent when the original team making no bona-fide effort to retain him. (Free agents whom their original teams really tried to keep do not qualify.) Here are the Tuesday Morning Quarterback All-Trash All-Pros, with an asterisk indicating those who have been shown the door more than once:

QB: Rich Gannon,* Raiders.
RB: Priest Holmes, Kansas City; Ahman Green, Green Bay.
FB: Lorenzo Neal,* Cincinnati.
C: Kevin Mawae, Jersey/B.
T: Lincoln Kennedy, Raiders; Derrick Deese, Niners.
G: Jamie Nails,* Miami, Mike Compton, New England.
WR: Joe Horn, New Orleans; Jerry Rice, Raiders.
TE: Ken Dilger, Bucs.

DE: Simeon Rice, City of Tampa; Brady Smith, Atlanta.
DT: La'Roi Glover, Cowboys; Pat Williams, Buffalo.
LB: Shawn Barber, Eagles; Hardy Nickerson, Green Bay; Donnie Edwards, Bolts.
CB: Aaron Glenn, Houston; Dewayne Washington, Steelers.
S: Lance Schulters, Flaming Thumbtacks; Brock Marion, Miami.
Kicker: David Akers, Eagles.
Punter: Chris Hanson, Jax.
Returner: Chad Morton, Jersey/B.
Special teamer: Tommy Hendricks, Miami.

Coach: Marty Schottenheimer,* Bolts.

This roster might beat the formal Pro Bowl team, given that waived gentlemen might have more incentive. Reserves for the All-Trash All-Pros would include Jeff Garcia at quarterback; Garrison Hearst* and Antowain Smith at running back; Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe* and Frank Wycheck at receiver; Roman Oben, Corbin Lacina, Jeff Christy, Mark Dixon and Tom Nutten at offensive line; Ted Washington,* Sam Adams, Daryl Gardener, Gary Walker, Greg Spires and Eric Hicks at defensive line; Jessie Armstead and Derek Smith at linebacker; Donnie Abraham and Rod Woodson* at defensive back; Brian Moorman, Joe Nedney, Dante Hall and Fred McAfee* on special teams.

Note that both defensive ends for City of Tampa -- Rice and Spires -- were guys nobody else wanted, and now start for the league's No. 1 defense. Note that the entire Denver receiving corps of Smith, McCaffrey and Sharpe are guys nobody else wanted, and now start for the league's seventh-rated passing attack.

In other football news, you could practically see Dolphin players chortling as 43-year-old waiver-wire gentleman Gary Anderson lined up for an improbable 53-yard last-second kick to grant the Vikings a huge upset. A few seconds later, the football gods did the chortling.

Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson gets the last chortle.
In the spirit of the All-Trash All-Pros, TMQ loves the fact that Anderson, the all-time leading NFL scorer, has been waived five times. Here are the kickers that general managers kept instead of the all-time leading NFL scorer: Nick Mike-Meyer, Norm Johnson, Chris Boniol, Wade Richey and Doug Brien. Johnson had a terrific kicking career, but none of these gentlemen will, like Anderson, be the second kicker ever to give an acceptance speech at Canton, Ohio.

They Once Were Kings The Ravens defense, just two years ago allowing the fewest points ever, had the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) pinned on their own 8 with 2:18 remaining, trailing by six, holding no timeouts and the Baltimore home crowd thundering at jet-afterburner decibels. Baltimore let the low-voltage Oranges go the length of the field to score for the win with 38 seconds showing. Ye gods.

The Football Gods Smile on the Courageous Before the above-cited drive, the Ravens faced fourth-and-two on the Cleveland 35 with 2:31 remaining. Go for it and certain victory? (The Oranges had no timeouts.) Have Matt Stover, one of the league's best kickers, try for a field-goal and a touchdown-proof margin? Baltimore punted.

Hidden Play Often games turn on snaps that don't show up on highlight reels, but sustain or end drives. Game tied at 13 with 7 minutes left, Cincinnati faced third-and-five against the Boy Scouts, after just having an apparent first down called back by penalty. You know the Bungles will fold now, right? New Orleans certainly thought so. Thirteen-yard completion to Ron Dugans for the first. Cincinnati keeps marching, gets the touchdown just inside the two-minute warning and there is major panic on the New Orleans sideline.

Hidden Player On the above-cited drive, unknown 267-pound fullback Nick Luchey broke New Orleans' back by rushing eight times for 45 yards -- including six consecutive carries, beginning at the Boy Scouts' 36 and concluding when he punched it across.

Nick Luchey
We know it's embarrassing to be a Bengal, but TMQ has blown Nick Luchey's cover.
Who Was That Masked Man? The "NFL 2002 Record and Fact Book," the league's source authority, calls Cincinnati fullback No. 30 "Nick Williams." On Sunday as No. 30 was scoring twice against New Orleans in the fourth quarter, the NFL's official game center listed the touchdowns by "N. Williams" and rushing yards by "N. Williams." (The game center page has since been changed.) By Sunday evening, sportscasters were calling the gentleman "Nick Luchey," and that's how news accounts of the game read on Monday morning. Yet on Sunday the official NFL index of players had a Nick Williams, but no one named "Luchey"; the name did not appear until Monday morning.

What gives? In September, Nick Williams changed his name to James Nicolas Williams Luchey. No one had noticed because until Sunday, he hadn't carried the ball and anyway, he's a Bengal.

Who Was That Masked Man? No. 2 Marc Boerigter, who caught the 99-yard pass, is such a who-dat that the website does not post his picture on Boerigter's bio page.

Cheerleader of the Week This week's TMQ Cheerleader of the Week is Acacia of the Minnesota Vikings, a University of Minnesota student studying education and hoping to be an elementary school teacher. Yes, she's yet another cheerbabe-teacher unlike any teacher you or I ever glimpsed in school. Acacia has 18 years of dance experience and one of her hobbies is "competitive running;" TMQ bets she could beat all the washed-up ex-jocks in the ESPN empire in the 100 meter, 1,000 meters or the relay. Her team bio also says she "enjoys volunteer work and being involved in the community." Acacia, I'm a volunteer coach of county football and basketball teams, which is community involvement, and I could really use an assistant, though there would be a lot of late-night strategy sessions.

We admire Acacia for her altruistic features.
According to the Vikings' cheerleaders' audition information page, in addition to not being paid to dance, aspiring cheer-babes are charged $15 for auditioning! TMQ repeats, if Hubert Humphrey were still around, this labor abuse would not be taking place. Squad members must also attend, without pay, a weeklong training camp. Considering that Vikings owner Red McCombs is one of the richest men in the United States, this seems astonishingly cheapskate on his part -- McCombs makes millions and flies everywhere in a private jet, but his cheerleaders are supposed to work for a week without pay? That's exploitation. (TMQ is concerned about financial exploitation of cheer-babes; the cheesecake exploitation part is fine.) From the Vikings website: "Crop tops and hot pants will be required during training camp." And you're not broadcasting this on pay-per-view!

Busted Play of the Day Trailing 17-13 against Jersey/A, the Lucky Charms went for it on fourth-and-inches. An off-tackle dive; Giants linebacker Brandon Short came through the Colts line untouched by human hands to stop the play in the backfield. TMQ watched the tape four times, and has no idea what the Colts line could have been thinking. No one made any attempt to block Short -- and he was at the point of attack!

Sweet Play of the Day On the big play of the Oranges' winning drive, running back Jamel White caught a dump pass at midfield and motored to the Nevermores' 27, where Chris McAlister hit him late out of bounds in a Dwayne-Rudd-class move, advancing the ball to the Baltimore 13. (Dwayne Rudd himself, watching from the Oranges' sideline, must have been pleased.) To the untrained eye, this seemed just a lucky play; actually, the Oranges set it up. Raven Peter Boulware had been all over Tim Couch, and had two sacks to that point. During the fourth quarter, Cleveland moved White to whichever side Boulware was on, and had White double-team him. Before this snap, White moved to Boulware's side; the defenders assumed he was setting up for yet another double-team. Instead White immediately sprinted for the pass that Couch threw on his third drop-set. No Raven bothered to cover White.

Best 99-Yard Play Trent Green to rookie Marc Boerigter, Hasting alum.

Marc Boerigter
Even after Marc Boerigter's 99-yard pass play, we still can't see his face.
Mega-Babe Professionalism It was 22 degrees and snowing at the kickoff, yet the Vikings cheer-babes came out in Santa's-naughty-elf numbers that, as the columnist Dave Barry would say, "Just barely meet the legal definition of clothes." OK, so the game was played indoors at the Metrodome. Nevertheless the football gods were pleased, and rewarded Minnesota with victory.

Now that most NFL coaches have wised up to TMQ's immutable dictum that the overdressed coach's team always loses a game, cheerleader professionalism appears increasingly to determine cold-weather victory: Professionalism in this case meaning skin, or at least skin-tight. More proof; a 56-degree at kickoff at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, yet the high-aesthetic-appeal Raiders babes came out in two-piece numbers with cleavage, bare midriffs and miniskirts. The football gods, very impressed, handed their team victory.

Converse proves the rule: kickoff temperature 50 degrees at Empty Stadium in Tempe -- Arizona is on a pace to be last in the league in attendance yet again -- and the Cardinals cheerleaders wore bulky, frumpy Santa overcoats that left everything to the imagination. Needless to say, their team lost.

Reverse Psychology: Leading by one with 2:31 remaining, the Lightning Bolts saw the Chiefs go for it and succeed on fourth-and-one. San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer challenged the call, though the runner appeared to have made the yardage and at any rate the spot of the ball is a judgment call; replay rarely reverses judgment calls. The challenge cost the Bolts their final timeout. Kansas City got a figgie on the drive to lead by two. San Diego found itself at midfield with 50 seconds left, needing a figgie to win and one of the best pressure kickers ever, Steve Christie, at the ready. But without a timeout, the Bolts' drive was discombobulated and excessively hurried. Reche Caldwell, looking nervous, fumbled on the Chiefs' 45, ending the game.

In a Similar Fake, Trent Lott Said He Favored Affirmative Action: Against the Marine Mammals, the Vikings ran the flea-flicker -- running back takes a handoff and starts up the middle, then turns and flips back to the quarterback for the deep pass. Randy Moss was by himself at the Miami 15, and would have had six had not the pass been badly off target. Why did the setup work so well? At the snap, Moss lackadaisically leaned against the defender in front of him: doing what Moss does on every running play, refusing to block. Moss' non-block was so realistic it convinced Miami the play had to be a run, and no one paid heed when Moss took off deep.

Best Real Block: In Week 15, Minnesota knocked off New Orleans on a Daunte Culpepper run for the deuce on the game's final snap; the key to this play, as TMQ pointed out, was a fabulous pull block by Vikings guard Corbin Lacina. As Minnesota knocked off Miami, the hidden play was a Culpepper 3-yard run on fourth-and-two to sustain a last-minute Vikings drive. Once again, the key was a fabulous pull block by Vikings guard Corbin Lacina. Culpepper also got fabulous blocking on his 60-yard completion to Moss in the early fourth. TMQ counted "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five one-thousand, six one-thousand" before the ball was away, giving Moss the opportunity to run a time-consuming deep Z-in. (A deep Zed-in to Canadian readers.)

Drew Bledsoe, Vonnie Holliday
Vonnie Holliday and the Packers were a few steps ahead of Drew Bledsoe in the red zone.
Worst Failure to Read Tuesday Morning Quarterback Twice TMQ has run items about the Bills passing too much at the goal line -- especially regular drop-back passes, which rarely work in compressed goal-line space, as opposed to play-fakes -- and about Drew Bledsoe sprinting backward in goal-to-go situations.

Game scoreless in the first at Lambeau, Buffalo faced third-and-goal on the Packers' four; the Green Bay Achilles' heel is the league's 26th-rated rushing defense. Did the Bills pound the ball, and either get six or then settle for three and the all-important first points when playing on the road? Regular pass from a regular set; Bledsoe sprinted backward 7 yards before throwing off his back foot, interception. Trailing by a field goal in the third, Buffalo faced third-and-goal on the Packers' five. Did the Bills pound the ball, and either get six or then settle for the tie? Regular pass from a regular set; Bledsoe sprinted backward almost 10 yards before being sacked, the suddenly longer figgie into the wind missed. Ye gods.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 1: Trailing by three with 10 minutes remaining and the home crowd thundering at afterburner decibels, the Patriots had Jersey/B facing third-and-nine. Since the average NFL pass attempt yields 5.9 yards -- anyway, it's a blitz! Six gentlemen including a CB cross the line. Thirteen-yard completion for the first, Jets score a touchdown two plays later and suddenly the defending champs are on the ropes. (In the first half, the Pats also had the Jets facing third-and-six; New England blitzed, Jersey/B converted and scored on that possession too.)

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 2: Trailing 14-0 in the second, Denver had Oakland facing third-and-five on the Broncos' eight. It's a blitz! Touchdown pass to Charlie Garner split wide left, and the rout is on.

Stats of the Week: Cincinnati won at home for the first time in 357 days.

Stats of the Week No. 2: In the Jersey/A-Lucky Charms game there were 731 passing yards and 153 rushing yards; the football gods winced.

Stats of the Week No. 3: San Francisco has not been shut out in 401 games, by far the longest such streak in league annals.

Stats of the Week No. 4: San Francisco just barely won despite advantages of 174 yards of offensive, seven first downs and nine minutes time of possession; turnovers were even.

Rich Gannon
Rich Gannon needs a huge game in the season finale to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record.
Stats of the Week No. 5: The Atlanta-Detroit game was close until 3:49 remaining in the fourth despite Falcon advantages of 325 yards of offense, 15 first downs, 17 minutes time-of-possession and plus-one in turnovers.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Trailing by a field goal in Green Bay, Buffalo staged a 15-play, 9:42-minute drive that resulted in no points.

Stats of the Week No. 7: In his last three games, Drew Bledsoe has thrown for one touchdown and six interceptions, while losing four fumbles.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Because the Raiders finally played a game in which they ran more times than they passed, Rich Gannon is on a pace to miss the NFL record by throwing for 4,917 yards The season mark, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards. Gannon must throw for 475 yards in the season-ender to break the record.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Of the 31 games Butch Davis has coached for the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1), 18 have gone down to the final play.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Indianapolis lost despite scoring 14 points in seven seconds. (Touchdown, onside kick recovered, touchdown.)

Stats of the Week No. 11: In its last three games, the Pittsburgh defense has surrendered a total of 303 yards and 22 first downs.

We're All Professionals Here: In the Chicago-Carolina game, there were 21 punts and seven fumbles.

Buck-Buck-Brawwwccckkkkk Trailing 17-0 at home on the first possession of the second half, City of Tampa faced fourth-and-one on its 36. Sure fourth-and-one is a gamble, but down by 17 points you've got to take a few chances and a fourth-and-one chance is about as good as they come, since most fourth-and-one tries succeed. The Bucs punted. The football gods, disgusted, sent them on to defeat.

Charisma Carpenter
Charisma Carpenter ascended from cheerbabe to "Buffy," and her character ascended to a higher plane.
This Week's Chargers Cheer-Babe Item: Reader Ryan Bowers of Annapolis, Md., has conducted a close textual analysis of the San Diego Chargers cheerleaders site and concluded, "None of them can match one-time Charger cheer-babe, and now actress, Charisma Carpenter. I hope this will provide an opportunity for the art department shamelessly to place a photo of her in the column." TMQ agrees that Carpenter was one of the most scrumptious sights on television. Why the prodigious babe output of San Diego? Must be something in the water.

Carpenter had a good recurring comic role, first on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then on its lethargic spinoff Angel, as a vain high-school girl who grew into a vain aspiring actress, and was so outlandishly self-obsessed as to become realistic by Los Angeles standards. Then in last year's season finale of Angel, Carpenter's character was chosen by a mystical being to ascend to a higher plane of existence. Supposedly this happened because she had become enlightened, but TMQ assumes Carpenter wanted release from her contract and her character had to be written out of the plot. At the moment Carpenter is off the tube, so far as TMQ can determine.

Buffy note: Now there's an all-new Sunnydale High School, built on the site of the old. Inexplicably, no one at the new Sunnydale High appears to know what happened to the predecessor a mere three years ago. At the graduation ceremony of the old high school, Sunnydale's mayor turned into a 50-foot-long serpent demon in full view of hundreds of witnesses. The enormous serpent devoured the old high school's principal in full view of hundreds of witnesses, then was led back into the old high school by Buffy, who trapped the serpent there and escaped with seconds to spare as the old high school exploded in full view of hundreds of witnesses.

Sunnydale High
Sunnydale High has been as resilient as David Carr.
Now it's three years later and no one in Sunnydale has the slightest recollection of any of these events. No parents seem worried about sending their kids to a school built on a site that was recently attacked by a 50-foot-long serpent, and then exploded. Buffy wanders into the new high school and its new principal says something like, "Oh yeah, I heard about you," while appearing to have no clue that the previous principal and the entire high school were supernaturally destroyed in front of hundreds of witnesses.

NFL Knows Aliens Better Than Steven Spielberg: Wow, five-time Pro Bowl quarterback A.J. Feeley sure looked at the top of his form dissecting Dallas. What's that you say? It was only his fifth NFL game?

Not only is Feeley an unknown who was cut by the Eagles in preseason, then later called up from the practice squad when injuries struck Donovan McNabb and his backup -- Feeley didn't even start in college! He spent his university days at Oregon holding the clipboard for Joey Harrington; Feeley attempted just 13 passes as a senior. Now he's won four straight as an NFL starter and played with poise and precision. Feeley also won the season-ending game for the Eagles in 2001, rendering a guy who didn't start in college 5-0 at the pro level. Apparently the extraterrestrials who had previously been using their neutrino transference array to assist "Kurt Warner" are now training their equipment on "A.J. Feeley." What the sinister alien purpose is, TMQ wishes he knew.

A. J. Feeley
A.J. Feeley proves that those old stories about little green men aren't just Hollywood fantasy.
TMQ's Perfect Evening: Genny Cream Ale Served by Tall Danish Blonde in Swimsuit Last week's item on the mysterious Copenhagen-to-Buffalo flight listed by Scandinavian Airlines -- SK925/SK8979 in your travel agent's computer -- speculated that Danes seeking a holiday wanted "someplace cold and desolate, with good beer." Comes now reader Shari Gerber, who lives in Norway, to protest that Denmark's Tuborg is better than any U.S. brew and to insist, "no American beer is regarded as imbibe-able by any Scandinavian, except under the direst of circumstances."

TMQ would stack Genesee Cream Ale, a Snow Belt brew and two-time gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival (only a bronze this year, sadly), against any continental beer. But it's true that Tuborg is fine stuff; the Tuborg once made under license in the United States was swill compared to the real thing as poured in Europe. Weirdly, the Tuborg website encourages customers to post bad pictures of themselves. Before sending Tuborg a bad picture of yourself, be sure to read the 531-word disclaimer, which cautions, "There are times when we may collect personal information from you."

Worst Crowd Response As their team trotted off at halftime trailing Jersey/B by 17-10, the home crowd loudly booed the Patriots. Sure you guys won the Super Bowl last year. But what have you done for us lately?

Note on the Pats' lovely new Gillette Field: it has a large advertising billboard from Braun razors.

Further Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization Going into Sunday, the Baltimore Nevermores and the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1), each with records of 7-7, were still alive for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: Trailing by a touchdown, New Orleans took over on its 26 with 1:37 to play and a timeout. Plenty of time to call anything in the playbook, including any running play. Instead incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, game over.

Darrell Green
Darrell Green should go out in style Sunday, if Dobby the Elf actually has a conscience.
Free Darrell Green! Sunday will mark the final time in pads for the remarkable Darrell Green, a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame entrant. His coach, Dobby the Elf, has said Green will get the courtesy start before the home fans, then trot back to the bench where he has spent the year, handing the position back to the legendary Fred Smoot.

Attention Steve Spurrier: the only meaningful thing about the 'Boys-at-Persons season-ending contest, matching two eliminated clubs, is Darrell Green's final game. The fans are not paying to see Fred Smoot. No one cares a fig about Fred Smoot. If you don't play Green the whole game, Dobby, you will not only be screwing the team's fans, you will be cementing your growing reputation as a gentleman who has no detectable idea what he's doing.

Free Emmitt Smith! Weirdly, San Francisco seemed actively anxious to be rid of Jerry Rice two years ago when he was no longer a superstar and merely a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who had spent his entire career with the team. Weirdly, Buffalo seemed actively anxious to be rid of Bruce Smith three years ago when he was no longer a superstar and merely a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who had spent his entire career with the team.

And weirdly, Dallas now seems actively anxious to be rid of Emmitt Smith when he is no longer a superstar and merely a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who has spent his entire career with the team. Against the Eagles, in what might have been Smith's final game in the stadium with the big white star, Emmitt carried eight times for 30 yards, then was offered a seat so that the legendary Troy Hambrick could carry six times for 4 yards. The game meant nothing to long-since-eliminated Dallas. The fans were not paying to see Troy Hambrick. No one cares a fig about Troy Hambrick. Why, exactly, is Cowboys management trying to show Smith the door?

He Didn't Even Grab His Flag! The Panthers trailing by a touchdown, Steve Smith caught a short slant in front of Bears DB Williams. Inexplicably, rather than tackle Smith, Williams simply touched him with both hands -- exactly what you'd do in a game of two-hand touch. Smith looked stunned for an instant, then took off for a 69-yard gain; Carolina scored on the next play and never looked back.

The Play's The Thing: Jersey/A fortunes have veered upward since Jim Fassel took over playcalling duties at midseason; Sunday's 44-point outburst on the road against the Colts, who went into the game with the fifth-ranked defense and badly needing to win, was remarkable. Playcalling was as sharp as TMQ has ever seen -- which usually does not mean calling lots of long passes but means, as it did in this game, calling plays that are different from the week before, and varying the attack to take advantage of whatever the other side was conceding. The Giants also reached into last year's playbook. Leading 10-3 on the first snap of the second half, Jersey/A had the ball at its own 18. Tiki Barber took the handoff right, then fired a throwback lateral to Kerry Collins, who heave-hoed to Amani Toomer for an 82-yard touchdown and the rout was on. What made this play was not so much that it was flashy but that it was different from what the Giants have been running.

Fassel has always had a knack for playcalling, having made one of the best pressure play calls of all-time. Going into the 2000 NFC Championship Game against Minnesota, the Giants had a play -- fullback fly pattern along the sideline -- they were sure would work, and were debating whether to call it early to get on the board, or save it for crunch time. Jersey/A scored on its first possession, then the Vikings fumbled the kickoff. As the Meadowlands crowd thundered at afterburner decibels, Fassel screamed, "Use it now!" to his offensive coordinator. Fullback fly along the sidelines for the touchdown, Minnesota trailed 14-0 just minutes into the game and the Vikings were already broken.

Making smart play-calls under gametime pressure is among the NFL's underappreciated arts. Buffalo's Bledsoe-led offense has disappeared in the second half of the season, for instance, because Bills offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride keeps endlessly calling the same handful of actions -- mainly quick outs and deep fades -- from the same formations on the same down-and-distance situations. Defenses have learned to take away the Bills plays that were working in the first half of the year and are offering other opportunities, such as the deep post. But Gilbride has made no adjustments, endlessly calling the same things.

Squared Sevens Warning Lately, TMQ has not liked what he sees when the Niners take the field. Two weeks ago they just barely beat the 'Boys, whom Philadelphia this weekend used for target practice. A week ago they lost at home to Green Bay, making mental errors on their final drive. Saturday they just barely beat the awful Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals and did not look sharp. Leading by 10 with 7:48 remaining, San Francisco faced third-and-nine on its own 22. Arizona came out in the American Ballet Theater Defense, with seven DBs, three DLs and one LB. This lightweight alignment fairly begs to be run against; TMQ was sure the Niners would audible to a draw. Instead Jeff Garcia forced the ball into double coverage, INT, Arizona gets a quick touchdown and suddenly the Niners are fighting to survive against a team that couldn't beat Mount Union. (See below.) Tuesday Morning Quarterback gets a bad feeling about this.

David Carr and his Moo Cows also came out in a third-and-seven to find the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons in the American Ballet Theater Defense with three DLs and seven DBs. Did Carr audible to a draw? He also forced it into double-coverage, interception.

Marcel Shipp
Marcel Shipp and the Cardinals should dread the red.
For female and nontraditional male readers: ABT principal dancer Jose Carreno.

Tommy Hilfiger Must Be Advising These Teams: Arizona became the eighth team this season to sport a monochrome jersey-pants combo, joining Buffalo, Chicago, Jax, Jersey/B, Miami, New England and Seattle. To TMQ, all these revisionist unis look like malfunctioning screen savers. Couldn't we please just return to the uniform status quo of last season?

The Football Gods Smiled: David Carr was sacked for a record 73rd time -- most any quarterback has ever gone down in a season -- by Bruce Smith, who still has a chance to end his career with most all-time sacks.

This Week's Science Fiction Complaint: The Steven Spielberg sci-fi marathon "Taken" is finally over, and what a relief. So far as TMQ could tell, everything in this series was recycling of clichés. The alien who manifests as a Kansas farm wife offering lemonade and cookies was all but identical to a Star Trek scene. The large group of average people who feel called to assemble where a UFO will land was identical to the final action of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The involvement of the aliens in World War II, the look of their ship and the suspended bodies on which experiments have been performed were identical to scenes from a BBC miniseries called "Invasion: Earth." The master plan of the aliens, to hybridize with humans, was identical to "The X Files." The wisecracking band of commandos wearing eyepiece cameras so the control room could watch their every move was identical to the movie "Aliens." The Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA that was inexplicably covering up for the aliens was identical to the old series "Dark Skies." And of course there were the endless scenes of people walking toward blinding white lights, copied from too many movies and television shows to count. Twenty hours produced by Spielberg and not, so far as TMQ could tell, one single original minute. Aye caramba.

Joel Gretsch
If they're going to recycle clichés on "Taken," then we'll recycle this photo.
Beware the Curse of Parcells Bill Parcells has postponed his election to the Hall of Fame for at least another year by flirting with 'Boys owner Jerry Jones, who continues to remind TMQ of vacuum-cleaner impresario Dave Oreck. Coaches aren't supposed to be tapped for Canton until they have left the game on a bona-fide basis. Parcells' flirtation with City of Tampa kept him from being chosen last January. No matter what happens with the Cowboys job, the private-plane meeting with Jones will keep Parcells out of Canton this January too.

Parcells is a crackerjack coach but has a peculiar obsession with shafting employers. After winning the Super Bowl for Jersey/A, Parcells resigned in April, when he knew it would be too late for the Giants to find a top-shelf replacement; his post ended up in the hands of the forgettable Ray Handley, and mediocrity descended. In some weird way, Parcells seemed to want his resignation to ensure the Giants would have a couple of losing seasons, since this would make it seem as if the Tuna was irreplaceable.

Then, during the run-up to the Pats' 1997 Super Bowl appearance, Parcels shafted the Patriots by openly discussing his desire to leave; New England's Bowl moment ended in distractions and defeat. Jumping to Patriots' rival Jersey/B, Parcells semi-shafted this club by staying only three years, then doing his best to queer the agreement that Bill Belichick would replace him. In both cases Parcells seemed again to wish ill for his previous team, hoping it would decline so that people would wax on about how the Tuna was irreplaceable. Finally Parcells quasi-shafted Tampa by openly discussing Tony Dungy's job on the eve of a Bucs playoff game, which ended in distractions and defeat, only to walk away once the damage was done.

In sum Parcells the coach is totally self-centered and appears to enjoy leaving those who trusted him hurt and angry. The perfect fit for Jerry Jones!

Jerry Jones, David Oreck
Similarities between Jerry Jones, left, and David Oreck go beyond appearances: Both of their products suck.
Need a last-minute holiday gift? Try these incredible Dave Oreck air purifiers which offer "the same technology that U.S. Navy submarines use." Nuclear technology in an air purifier?

What Alcor Is Actually Freezing Is Assets: News reports say the children of Ted Williams have resolved their dispute and now agree to keep his body frozen at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz. This maintains the macabre possibility that Williams' genetic material will someday be used -- possibly on orders from a MLB marketing firm -- to create a clone. Though it should be kept in mind that the result would only be a physical clone. Since environment and experience determine personality, clones will be entirely different people from their "parents," just as identical twins, who are physical clones, are often entirely different otherwise. A clone of Ted Williams might have no interest in baseball.

Officially, the Williams children want their father kept in cryogenic deep-freeze against the chance that future medicine cures the disease of which Williams died. Officially, this is why Alcor exists: in case "future advancements in science and technology will be developed to allow the scientific means to repair the ravages of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or the effects of aging, thereby potentially restoring the individual back to good health," its site declares. There's just one problem with all this: Williams is dead. If a cure for his disease is someday developed, this will mean nothing to Williams, because he will still be dead. There is zero possibility of "restoring the individual back to good health" when the individual in question has died.

Alcor's claim to offer "life extension" is complete hooey. The lives of the living may be extended; the lives of the dead have concluded. All bodies being held in cryogenic tanks at Alcor, at a cost to their bilked relatives of a $120,000 fee, are corpses of the dead -- the freezing itself is lethal -- and will still be corpses no matter what cures are discovered in the future. Suppose someone died, and five minutes later a medical researcher rushed into the room screaming "eureka!" and holding a vial of medicine that cures the disease in question. That would not help the person who had died five minutes before, because he would still be dead. This is the situation for all the frozen corpses at Alcor, which is a swindle targeted at grieving relatives of the rich.

Orlando Pace Wins National Book Award: The Pro Bowl voting coming with only 88 percent of the season played is nothing compared with the National Book Award. Each year this prestigious prize -- check the current laureates here -- is announced in mid-November when, judged by weeks, only 88 percent of the publishing season is complete. Harmonic convergence? Hardly, because in order to be considered for the National Book award, nominations must be received by July 15 while the books themselves, or galleys of same, must reach judges no later than Aug. 19. This means the National Book Award should really be called the National Award for Books Published Between January and August. If your book comes out in the fall, you're toast.

One author whose book came out between January and August, and ended up a very deserving finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction, is Official Friend of TMQ Steve Olson, a former writer for the National Academy of Sciences. Steve's book, "Mapping Human History," is an extraordinarily well-documented account -- he traveled all over Africa, China and, at great personal hardship, Hawaii -- of what science has learned about the genetics of race and who's related to whom. Basically, Steve concludes that our DNA proves all human beings are much more closely related than generally assumed; in terms of what's in our chromosomes, the differences among an African, an American and an Asian are about the same as the difference between a blonde and a brunette. "Mapping Human History" also presents the evidence that modern travel and movement are causing people to mix at such an historically unprecedented pace that within a few centuries, the whole concept of "race" will lose meaning. This excellent book is becoming a word-of-mouth bestseller; buy it here.

Tradition Carried On Two weeks ago, TMQ declared there had not been an actual double reverse in the NFL since the 1978 Super Bowl, mainly because a double reverse requires three exchanges of the ball and that in turn creates a high chance the play will end, as it did in the 1978 Super Bowl, in a fumble.

Many readers including Julie May of Coronado Island, Calif., have written in to note there was a play -- though not a double reverse -- with three exchanges of the ball in the Bolts-at-Bills contest. Drew Brees gave to LaDainian Tomlinson running right; Tomlinson handed to Tim Dwight coming back left; Dwight flipped the ball toward Brees, who was supposed to throw deep. Result of the play? Fumble.

On Monday night, Pittsburgh tried a similar three-exchanges action. There was a handoff right, followed by a reverse left, followed by a flip back to the quarterback. Result of the play? Incompletion.

If Rix Is Ineligible for Missing an Exam, Why Isn't Price Ineligible for Being a Hypocrite? Oh, That's Right, the NCAA Does Not Penalize Hypocrisy: Hard on the heels of Dennis Franchione walking out on his commitment to Alabama, Washington State coach Mike Price pulls a Chuck Fairbanks by walking out on his commitments just before a postseason game. Price leaves the Cougars to take the 'Bama job two weeks before Washington State is to play in the Rose Bowl, which TMQ readers call The Invesco Bowl at Rose. Like Franchione, Price lied to his players by saying he was staying, then bolted the instant the money was right.

TMQ finds it hard to believe Price the promise-breaker will be allowed on the sidelines when Washington State takes the field for The Invesco Bowl at Rose; a man to whom grabbing cash is more important than his commitments should be kept far, far away from players and for that matter from grandmothers with money to invest.

Once again TMQ wonders why it is that coaches and other tie-wearing sports management types can break any promise and depart any team the moment there's money in it for them, but players are roundly denounced if they seek new pastures. And TMQ notes to Alabama what he noted to Texas A&M when Franchione slithered the Aggies' way: What 'Bama is getting is the kind of coach who cares exclusively about himself. The perfect fit for the Alabama program!

Donald Driver
Mark your calendars. It's not often that a beefcake shot of Donald Driver will run in this space.
Beefcake -- Run for Your Lives! Carrie Schmidt of Carol Stream, Ill., is among many female readers who have asked that TMQ leaven its cheesecake with beefcake from the Green and Gold Calendar, a pinup production of Packers shirtless and flexing. Carrie, your wish is my command. Here, for female and nontraditional male readers, is her favorite flexing shot, of Green Bay receiver Donald Driver. You can buy the calendar here.

TMQ's Christmas List: Besides, of course, the San Diego and Miami cheerleader swimsuit calendars, and the Eagles cheer-babe lingerie calendar, what I hope Santa brings me is a gift certificate to Christmas Sleigh, the new Christmas shop just opened in Middleburg, Va., by Linda Tripp.

Wasn't Linda telling sob stories about her heartrending poverty -- where does she get the money for cosmetic surgery, then to open a store in one of the most expensive towns in the world? (Middleburg is a celebrity hang-out, like Sag Harbor.) TMQ assumes she must have received hefty checks from right-wing sugar daddies. Checks to thank her for these achievements: betraying a friend and creating a pointless faux-scandal that kept the president of the United States from paying attention to what should have been the three big issues of the late 1990s, namely al Qaeda, Saddam and corporate lying. Great work, Linda! (Note: Linda Tripp says her favorite coaches are Mike Price and Dennis Franchione.)

Anyway if you buy a gift at Linda's store for heaven's sake don't tell her who it's for. She will immediately call the person and spoil the surprise.

Was It a Ranch-Style or a Bungalow Modest Castle?The Times obituary of Warwick Charlton, an eccentric English entrepreneur whose life's work was to build an exact duplicate of the Mayflower, contains this remarkable sentence: "He lived in a modest castle in Ringwood, Hampshire."

Hidden Indicator: Pass-wacky New England rushed 23 times, for a 4.2-yard average per run, and passed 37 times, for a 3.1-yard average per attempt. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider's understanding of the game. In this case, everyone knows what it means.

Running items department
Big Red
Western Kentucky's Big Red celebrates the Hilltoppers' Division I-AA national championship.
Obscure College Score of the Week: Western Kentucky 34, McNeese State 14 (Division I-AA championship). Located on a hilltop overlooking bucolic Bowling Green, Western Kentucky is one of those schools with a campus that could be used as a movie set of a college campus. Check Western Kentucky's incredible organization chart. Note that the "government relations" office -- meaning the school lobbyist -- reports to the president only and on the chart is more important than any academic division. Note the College of Education & Behavioral Sciences has a "talent search" division. Note that like many universities in the Title IX world, Western Kentucky has women's volleyball but not men's. Memo to all parents with tall teenaged girls: there are scholarships for women's volleyball.

Bonus Obscure Score: Mount Union 48, Trinity of Texas 7 (Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl - Division III championship). Located in Alliance, Ohio, Mount Union has sent its football team to six of the last seven Stagg Bowls, has won 96 of its last 97 games and boasts an NCAA-best 42-game winning streak. Basically, Mount Union is a football factory without scholarships. Check out the "Bracy webcams" to watch construction of the school's new science hall from four angles. Trent Lott would still be majority leader if he had only attended Mount Union's annual Multicultural Retreat.

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-16 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-759 since TMQ began tracking.

Jade H.
I think it's broken, Jade.
Reader Animadversion Many readers have asked for a chance to gawk at cheer-babe Jade H. of the Ravens, whose team bio says that her favorite thing to do in Baltimore is ESPN Zone. Jade, you have marvelous good taste! She's studying to be a radiologist. How come no medical professional who ever examined TMQ looked remotely like this?

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Last Week's Challenge The Challenge was to propose a slogan for the new Department of Homeland Security.

Mea Davis of Chicago suggested, KNOWING YOUR BUSINESS SINCE 2002.

Myk Zagorac of Tallahassee, Fla., suggested the musical, EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE, EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, WE'LL BE WATCHING YOU.

Many, many readers including Kimberly Mathews of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., proposed, WE KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

David Manning of Fairfax, Va., suggested ARE WE THE NEW KGB? NYET!

Carlos Goenaga of Houston proposed, ROUNDING UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS.


Hanson Tipton of Knoxville, Tenn., suggested, SOMEDAY YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CONSTITUTION BACK.



TMQ his ownself proposes, paralleling the British Home Office slogan noted last week, BUILDING A TENSE, NERVOUS AND PARANOID NATION.

And the Challenge goes to Jeffrey Cook II of Baltimore, who proposed, OUR SLOGAN IS AT AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION.

This Week's Challenge No Challenge this week because TMQ has no intention of reading the mail on Christmas Day.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback sends holiday wishes to all football enthusiasts, space aliens and mega-babes. Bells are ringing all across the local star cluster!

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 4:41 PM



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