December 31, 2002

Affiliate follies frustrate NFL fans

POST #    531

Affiliate follies frustrate NFL fans
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

On Sunday the nation's capital, where TMQ lives, did not see Miami at New England -- the consensus five-star matchup of the day, essentially a playoff contest and, as it turned out, among the most dramatic and exciting NFL games ever played. The local affiliate of CBS, which had the rights to Miami-New England, showed instead the meaningless Jax at Indianapolis collision.

Why this ludicrous result? Miami-New England was a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, and the sold-out Cowboys at Persons game was airing on the Washington Fox affiliate at that time. League rules forbid either CBS or Fox from showing any game while a sold-out home game is airing on the opposite network. The meaningless Jax at Indy collision kicked off in the late slot, the only time the league would allow Washington's CBS affiliate to show a game this Sunday.

Think about the rule: if a home date is sold out, the other network is forbidden to air any game at the same time. In effect, this penalizes the home city for buying all the tickets to a game. Only the NFL could come up with a rule that penalizes cities for selling out their stadiums. And once again the NFL goes to unlimited expense to create a fabulous product, then prevents the public from seeing it, for the sinister purpose of -- what? Miami-New England surely would have drawn better ratings for the local CBS affiliate, even across from the home game, than did the meaningless Jax at Indy contest.

Greg Aiello, the league's spokesman, told TMQ the rule that kept the fabulous Miami-New England game off the tube -- and has kept other fabulous games off the tube in other cities, while losing home teams play meaningless contests on the opposite network -- exists because, "Our emphasis has always been on the interests of the home team." So the league has an interest in protecting the home team from competition? If the home team is playing on one channel, and there's a better game on the other channel, why can't fans decide for themselves what to watch? The home team would need to be protected from channel-switching competition only if it was so bad that home fans didn't want to watch. If the home-team game was desirable, fans would switch to it of their own accord. The rule exists, in other words, to compel viewers to watch woofer games. Ye gods.

To top it off, CBS switched much of the nation to the final two minutes of regulation of the Miami-New England game -- then switched off the overtime. Fox had the doubleheader (late game) slot for the day, and another inane league rule says that CBS or Fox must turn off an early game that goes into overtime when the doubleheader game starts on the opposite network. That is, both networks are required to turn off overtimes, the most exciting moments in pro football, in order to show the first few minutes, the least exciting moments in football, of other games.

So the year in which the NFL renewed the DirecTV monopoly on Sunday Ticket, denying the chance to watch any game to the majority of the U.S. taxpayers whose taxes fund the stadiums that make NFL profits possible, concludes with the NFL denying the nation's capital permission to watch one of the most dramatic NFL games ever. (DirecTV fans, please don't bomb me with more e-mail. I have nothing against DirecTV, which is terrific if you can get it. The problem is that only about 10 percent of Americans get it, and millions cannot receive the DirecTV signal at any price, for technical reasons).

Adam Vinatieri
While Adam Vinatieri celebrated his game-winning field goal, some NFL fans could only wish they saw such a thrilling finish.
How is it that pro football remains the nation's most popular sport despite the constant, diligent, undaunted efforts of the league front office to prevent the public from seeing the best games? At least now we enter the playoffs, when the U.S. taxpayers, who are taxed to build the stadiums that make NFL profits possible, are at last set free from the NFL's inane rules designed to prevent the best games from being seen; all playoff contests are nationally televised.

In other football news, I love New York! (Which is, for NFL purposes, located in New Jersey.) The Giants and Jets staged back-to-back monster home games that propelled each team to improbable playoff slots. Has any stadium ever before played host to contests on consecutive days in which the home teams both won and both made the playoffs in so doing? One-hundred fifty-seven thousand five-hundred and fifteen people were standing throughout most of the length of both games. Surely among the 157,515 combined attendance must be at least someone who went to both games and that person, medical experts report, will be hoarse until Valentine's Day.

Miami Collapse Point No. 1: Leading by three, the Marine Mammals had first down on their 4-yard line with 2:42 remaining in regulation and the home crowd of the defending champion Patriots making so much noise you couldn't have heard an F14 catapulted off an aircraft carrier. The Dolphins spent an entire year preparing for exactly this moment -- when you must power-run in bad weather late in the year. Ricky Williams, acquired to give the Dolphins that ability, to that point in the game had carried for 177 yards. What did Miami do? Incompletion, incompletion, scramble on a busted pass, punt.

Dave Wannstedt said afterward that he knew the Patriots would be crowding the line and didn't want Williams stuffed for no gain; it's a fair concern. But the two incompletions stopped the clock, allowing New England time to get into position for the last-minute field goal that forced overtime. Even if Williams had simply run up the middle for no gain for three straight plays, the Patriots would either have expended their time-outs, or gotten the ball back with most of the clock expired. Ye gods.

Miami Collapse Point No. 2: The kicking-game errors that catch the eyes of sports bobbleheads are blocked kicks, missed figgies or fumbled returns. But subtler events can be killers, too. The reason the Marine Mammals were mired on their 4 with 2:42 to play was that return man Travis Minor spent several crucial seconds staring at a New England kickoff, doing nothing. Miami had its return team up, in case of an onside; New England kicked away. The ball bounced around close to the goal line and Minor seemed confused about whether it was a punt -- returners are coached never to touch punts inside the 10 -- or a kickoff, a live ball. As Pats descended to dive on the live ball, Minor finally woke up and fielded it, but was buried at his 4. Had he simply fielded the ball like any normal kickoff, the Dolphins would not have been mired near their goal line.

Dave Wannstedt
Dave Wannstedt ponders the many reasons for Miami's collapse.
Then, following the perplexing all-passing series, Miami punted from its 11 with 2:18 remaining in regulation. Mark Royals shanked a hideous 23-yard punt, putting New England in business at the Mammals' 34. After the figgie that forced a fifth session, the Pats won the toss. Olindo Mare kicked off out of bounds, putting New England in business at its 40. Combined, these kicking-game blunders handed the Patriots about 50 yards of field position in the game's closing moments, about the same as New England itself gained.

Miami Collapse Point No. 3: The Mammals missed the playoffs when their defense, ranked third in the league, could not hold fourth-quarter leads in consecutive weeks, including an 11-point lead with three minutes to play against New England.

Worst Stationary Packer No. 1: Game scoreless in the first, the Packers had Jersey/B facing second and eight. The Jets called a fly to Laveranues Coles on the right sideline. Packers corner Mike McKenzie simply let Coles go by, McKenzie being busy making the high-school mistake of "looking into the backfield" trying to guess the play. The play was a pass to his man, completed for 43 yards. The Jets score a touchdown two snaps later and suddenly the heavily favored Pack has a problem.

Worst Stationary Packer No. 2: Now trailing by that touchdown, the Packers had third-and-goal at the Jets' 4 late in the second quarter. The play was a roll-out right. Inexperienced Pack receiver Robert Ferguson cut across the end zone from the left and his man fell down; Ferguson came to an all-stop halt and stood waving his hand. Brett Favre, meanwhile, was scrambling on the right. When the quarterback is scrambling, the rule for receivers is that they either come back toward him or break deep for the end zone. Since you can't break deep toward the end zone when you are already in the end zone, Ferguson should have come back toward Favre. Instead he stood like a statute and by the time the pass was launched his way, a Jersey/B defender had reacted and managed to knock the ball down. Green Bay had to settle for three and suddenly the heavily favored Pack looks shaky.

Worst Stationary Packer No. 3: Wayne Chrebet of Jersey/B cooked the Packers' goose by twice catching touchdowns on third-and-12. Both times he was covered by corner Tod McBride. Both times he ran the spin-Z-in (spin-Zed-in to Canadians). Both times McBride, who was backed off, just stood there watching Chrebet, not even moving until the reception had been made and the small green gentleman was headed toward the end zone.

Honestly, Cindy, you're too principled for acting or advertising.
Cheerleader of the Week: We can't bid adieu to the high-aesthetic-appeal Miami cheer-babes till next summer without honoring one more, so the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Cindy of the Dolphins. According to her team bio, Cindy has nine years of ballet training, including at the Joffrey in New York. She aspires "to become an actress or work in the field of advertising." Cindy reports that she is ethnically Hispanic, likes Thai food and the one thing she can't stand is "dishonesty." But she wants to go into acting or advertising?

Future historians will pour over the Marine Mammals' ultra-serious Cheerleader History page, which among things recounts how over the years the Miami cheer-babes first had, then discarded, and now have again go-go boots.

Why Are You Punting? Trailing 6-0 in the late third, Chicago faced fourth-and-seven on the City of Tampa 38. Go for it? Hoist a 55-yard field goal attempt with a strong-legged kicker who earlier this year hit from 53? Bears coach Dick Jauron decided to punt; the punt rolled into the end zone for a touchback and a laughable net of 18 yards; emboldened by Chicago's mincing fraidy-cat play, the Bucs staged a 16-play drive that put the game out of reach. The 4-11 Bears came into the night with nothing to lose. Trailing, they punted from the opposition 38. Aye caramba.

Why Are You Kicking? Trailing 20-0 with 27 ticks remaining in the half, the Bengals faced fourth-and-goal on the Buffalo 2. Cincinnati coach Dick LeBeau decided to kick the field goal. Now he's only behind 20-3; whoopee! The 2-13 Bengals came into the game with nothing to lose. They're behind by 20 points. Trailing big you've got to take some chances, and there aren't going to be many chances more attractive than a snap on the opposition 2-yard line. LeBeau seemed more concerned with avoiding a shutout than trying for victory. Aye caramba.

They Once Were Kings No. 1: The Ravens defense, just two years ago allowing the fewest points ever, had the Steelers at midfield, nine seconds remaining in the half, Pittsburgh out of time outs. The Steelers can either Hail Mary or throw a deep out hoping for field goal position. Since the Ravens know these are the only options, there's no way Baltimore will allow a Pittsburgh receiver to get to the sidelines, right? Deep out to Plaxico Burress, who immediately steps out of bounds at the 25, stopping the clock; the Ravens DB looked like he had absolutely no idea this was coming. Field goal on the next snap and the Ravens trail 20-14 at the half. Yumpin' yiminy.

Antwaan Randle El, Lee Mays
Antwaan Randle El, left, celebrates after burning the Baltimore defense.
They Once Were Kings No. 2: "One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five one-thousand, six one-thousand, seven one-thousand, eight one-thousand." That's how long TMQ counted as Tommy Maddox scanned the field before heave-hoeing the winning pass to Antwaan Randle El in the fading moments against the Ravens defense, which just two years ago allowed the fewest points ever.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 1: Leading by a touchdown with 6:08 remaining in the fourth, San Diego got the ball on its own 24. On the possession the Bolts, the league's seventh-ranked rushing team, ran once and passed six times. Four of the six passes were incompletions, stopping the clock. After the punt, the Seattle Blue Men Group staged an 18-play drive to score with five seconds remaining and force overtime, during which San Diego lost. Had the Chargers simply rushed up the middle for no gain on every snap of their possession, Seattle would have run out of time.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 2: In terrible conditions at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, Kansas City passed 13 times and rushed eight times while the game was close in the first half; Oakland passed 11 times and ran 28 times through the same period. Sure, the Chiefs did not have Priest Holmes. But how could they possibly have thought passing was going to work in a downpour?

Stats of the Week: Kansas City, the league's highest-scoring team and the league's second-best in turnover differential, finished last in its division.

Stats of the Week No. 2: In the past two seasons, San Diego has started a combined 11-3 and finished a combined 2-16.

Stats of the Week No. 3: In the past two seasons, New Orleans has started a combined 14-7 and finished a combined 2-9.

Stats of the Week No. 4: In the past two seasons, Chicago has gone on streaks of 13-3 and then 4-13.

Stats of the Week No. 5: The Giants won to make the playoffs despite fumbling seven times at home.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Miami lost and missed the playoffs despite a 140-yard edge in rushing yards and being plus-two in turnovers on the road.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Before this season, no defending Super Bowl champion had ever allowed three opponents to exceed 200 yards rushing. New England allowed four.

Stats of the Week No. 8: San Diego's season finished on a downer when its defense could not hold a 14-point lead at home with seven minutes to play.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Since the moment two years ago when the tastefully named Gregg Williams junked the cautious, position-oriented scheme of Buffalo's perennially high-ranking defense in order to install the gamble-everything-for-takeaways "46," the Bills have recorded the fewest takeaways in any two-year period in franchise history. They finished second-last in takeaways in 2001 and last in takeaways in 2002.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Former Cowboys coach Dave Campo was 5-1 against the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons and 10-32 against all other teams.

Stats of the Week No. 11: The Boy Scouts collapsed to miss the playoffs by dropping their final three to Minnesota, Cincinnati and Carolina -- three losing teams which finished a combined 15-33.

Stats of the Week No. 12: Jersey/B, Seattle and Tennessee opened a combined 4-14 and finished a combined 23-7.

Shawn Barber, Tiki Barber
Of the league's top rushers, only Tiki Barber is still running.
Stats of the Week No. 13: Just one of the top-10 rushers, Tiki Barber, will appear in the postseason. Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, Clinton Portis, Travis Henry, Deuce McAllister, Jamal Lewis, Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon will watch on television.

Stats of the Week No. 14: The City of Tampa defense allowed only 10 touchdown passes while making 31 interceptions.

Stats of the Week No. 15: Marvin Harrison bested the single-season receptions record by almost a fifth, finishing with 143 catches; the previous mark was 123.

Stats of the Week No. 16: Rob Johnson of Tampa attempted 43 passes in the season's final two games and was sacked 10 times. This rate of one sack per 4.3 attempts was much worse than the sack rate of David Carr, who went down once per 5.8 attempts. Had Carr gone down at the same rate per attempt as Johnson, he would have been sacked 103 times.

Stats of the Week No. 17: Starting the last nine games for the Blue Men Group, Matt Hasselbeck finished on a pace to break the NFL all-time passing yardage record, with 5,288 yards. The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards.

Matt Hasselbeck
Look out, Dan Marino. Matt Hasselbeck's gunning for your yardage record.
Stats of the Week No. 18: At 12-33, Dick LeBeau managed to compile the worst coaching record in Bengals history -- .266 versus .267 for the previous title holder, Dave Shula.

Mega-Babe Professionalism: In driving rain and a kickoff temperature of 50 degrees at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, the high-aesthetic-appeal Raiderettes came out in cutoff jackets and hot pants. The football gods, impressed, rewarded their team with victory. The entire Kansas City coaching staff wore full-body rain suits with rain pants and hoods, dressed to crew a trawler headed for the North Atlantic to take cod. The Oakland sideline wore windbreakers and baseball caps. A football-gods-appeasing double for the Raiders!

This Week's Marty Mornhinweg Forehead-Slapper: Early in the fourth against the Vikings, the Peugeots scored a touchdown to make it Minnesota 35, Detroit 30. Mornhinweg went for two, clang. Later Minnesota kicked a field goal, then with 16 seconds left the Peugeots scored to make it Minnesota 38, Detroit 36; this time the home team had to go for two and again clang, game over. Had Detroit simply kicked the singleton on the earlier touchdown, it could have forced overtime with a singleton at the end. Though technically Mornhinweg's decision conformed to the TMQ immutable law, Take One Till the Fourth, TMQ reiterates that unless the hour is very late or you're trailing big, you are almost always better off with a 99 percent likelihood of one than a 40 percent chance of two.

The New Threat to Marino Is Matt Hasselbeck? On Saturday at 8:08 p.m. ET, Dan Marino lit a cigar as the Raiders game concluded with Rich Gannon pulling up shy of the season passing yardage record. It'll sit on the Marino mantelpiece quite a while longer, TMQ thinks.

Jeremy Shockey
Two words for you, Jeremy Shockey: Brian Bosworth.
Memo to Jeremy Shockey: You're hot, but you are also dancing on every catch, throwing a fit on every zebra call, spiking the ball after short gains and when you snagged the touchdown against Philadelphia, you screamed boasts of prowess into the face of Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, who has done a lot more at this level than you have. Oh ye mortals, trifle not with the football gods. The sort of behavior Shockey is exhibiting can only lead to woe.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Leading by seven in the second quarter at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, the Raiders go for it on fourth-and-five from the Kansas City 27 -- weather conditions ruled out a figgie attempt. Big-blitzing on such a down is totally predictable in the NFL. It's a big blitz! Completion to Tim Brown for the first, and the Long Johns score a touchdown three plays later. (To be fair to the last-ranked Kansas City defense, in the third quarter the Raiders faced fourth-and-seven again on the Chiefs' 27 and again went for it. This time Kansas City rushed three, completion to Jerry Rice for the first and Oakland scored five plays later.)

But Verily, Football Gods, How Doth Thou Explain Denver? The Broncos finished third in total offense and sixth in total defense -- best in the league in combined yardage efficiency. (Pittsburgh was second by this yardstick, fifth in total offense and seventh in total defense.) Yet Denver didn't make the playoffs. True, the Broncs' turnover differential was a negative five, but Cleveland, Indianapolis and the Jets, all playoff teams, also had negative turnover differentials. And it wasn't the kicking game, as Denver did well on field goals and returns and about average on kick defense. So how could the Broncos be the best combined offense-defense team in the league and not make the postseason? TMQ can't explain it either.

Since It Was a Bengals Contract, He Was Required to Throw Those Interceptions: Had quarterback Jon Kitna played six more downs in the Buffalo game, he would have hit a contract performance milestone and earned a $1.6 million bonus. With 3:19 remaining, Kitna threw an interception. The Bills promptly fumbled the ball back. With 1:37 remaining, Kitna threw another interception.

Worst Coaching-Staff Failure to Read TMQ No. 1: Lately this column has repeatedly warned against throwing regular passes close to the goal line, where regular passes are hard to complete because the defense has so little territory to defend; at the goal line only runs, roll-outs and play-fakes are effective. Eagles 7, Giants 0 and Jersey/A faces second and goal at the Philadelphia five. Run! Or play-fake! Regular pass, interception.

Worst Coaching Staff Failure to Read TMQ No. 2: And lately this column has repeatedly pointed out that several NFL offensive coordinators, including in Buffalo, Houston and Oakland, have developed the peculiar habit of having their quarterbacks sprint backward in goal-to-go situations.

Late in the third, the Moo Cows trailed the Flaming Thumbtacks by six and faced second-and-goal at the Tennessee 6. David Carr -- who to that point in the game had not been sacked -- sprinted backward. Sack, loss of 8. One third-and-goal, Carr sprinted backward again. Sack again, loss of 10. The Texans ended up kicking a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 24!

When you're close to the house, power-run, play-fake or roll out. Don't sprint backward More proof of theorem, though Detroit games may not count. Needing a deuce conversion to force overtime with 13 seconds remaining, the Peugeots came out in a shotgun, and on fielding the snap the already far-from-the-line Mike McMahon immediately sprinted backward. Incompletion, game over.

James Thrash
TV announcers reversed their double-reverse call about James Thrash's touchdown run on a reverse.
Best Booth Reading of TMQ: Philadelphia handed off to an end going around right; he handed back to James Thrash going left, and Thrash ran for six. This is the very play, executed by the Eagles previously in the season, that TMQ cited a few weeks ago as the exemplar of the action that announcers describe as a double reverse, but is actually a single reverse. The ball started in Direction A and came back in Direction B. That's one reverse, not two.

How did the announcers call it? "It's a double reverse!" Joe Buck shrieked. "Wow, a double reverse!" Chris Collinsworth seconded. As these bobbleheads gushed over the replay, four times the phrase "double reverse" was used. Cut to commercial. Coming back, Buck and Collinsworth both pointedly called the play a "reverse" without noting they had previously called it a double reverse. During the commercial, one of the booth guys must have whispered into their earpieces, "TMQ is going to have a field day if you keep calling this a double reverse."

What Really Matters About Sport: Thirteen-year-old Grant, a Marine Mammals aficionado and an Official Child of TMQ, was inconsolable after the Dolphins' collapse at Disposable Razor Field. Reason: he got a Ricky Williams jersey for Christmas and, he explained, "Now I have to wait a whole year, till they win the first time next fall, to wear it to school. If I wear it now, the guys will make fun of me." What can a parent say to that?

Playoff Coaching Watch: It's money time, which means that on the field we separate the men from the excessively pumped XY-chromosome individuals. And it means that we separate the mojo coaches from guys who merely schedule practices and toss out balls.

One Tuesday Morning Quarterback immutable law of the NFL is that the farther a team goes into the playoffs, the more important game plans and psyche-ups become. During the regular season, coaches who just schedule practices and toss out balls may be enough for a talented team to get Ws. As the postseason advances and the pressure ratchets, game-plan details and psyche tactics become paramount.

Note, for example, that during the same period when the Buffalo Bills were losing four Super Bowls to teams from the NFC East, the Bills pasted the NFC East during the regular season, through the 1990s compiling a 14-2 record against that division. The regular-season Bills of that era beat the Cowboys in Dallas, beat the Giants in Jersey, beat the Persons in Washington (when they actually played in Washington); when postseason rolled around, they lost to these selfsame teams. Although Buffalo had an admirable Hall of Fame coach in Marv Levy, he was a toss-out-the-balls type. Levy's practices were known as Club Marv; he disparaged the importance of game plans and often said it was up to the players to prepare themselves psychologically. During the regular season, this laissez-faire approach sufficed. During the playoffs, Levy was consistently outcoached.

For the remainder of the year, TMQ will hyper-analyze with special emphasis on whether the coaches can take the pressure.

Brandi Bragg, Jewell Whittaker, Andrew
Powerball jackpot winner Andrew "Jack" Whittaker Jr., center right, made like an NFL player and got as much cash as he could up-front.
Next Powerball Prize: Billions of Shares of WorldCom! "West Virginia Man Wins $314.9 Million in Powerball," headlines read across the country. Except he didn't win $314.9 million, he won $170.5 million by the organization's own accounting. Now, $170.5 million is heady enough. The fictional claim of a $314.9 million was achieved by Powerball offering to space the payments out over 29 years as an annuity, making the sum in question appear almost twice as large as it actually was.

Today's money ("discounting to present value") is always what really matters. The West Virginia winner, who seems to understand economics better than the TV talking heads who were screeching about $314.9 million, wisely chose to take the entire $170.5 million immediately. If your salary was $100,000, and your employer offered you the option of $185,000 paid over 29 years, would you fall for that?

Many state-run lotteries -- whose primary function is to trick the poor and working-class into throwing their money away, but that's a separate argument -- use calculations of drawn-out payments plus interest to inflate the apparent prize. Which is one means to trick the poor and working-class into throwing their money away, but that's a separate argument. The national media invariably play along, breathlessly reporting the fictional future value of lottery prizes rather than their actual present value. These are the same journalists and talking heads, bear in mind, who constantly get wrong financial details about corporations, lawsuits and the federal budget, and who hyped tech stocks as gold mines.

Best Line Play: The Jets' skill players made the flashy plays, but the Jersey/B lines on both sides of the ball had a fabulous day against Green Bay. And the William Green 64-yard touchdown run as the afternoon light was fading over Oranges Stadium, putting the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) into the playoffs, came behind fabulous line blocking. You could run 64 yards too if no one touched you.

Though Anything That Gets Halle Berry Into a Bikini Can't Be All Bad:This recent story, headlined US RECEIVES WARNINGS FROM NORTH KOREA, says Pyongyang has warned Washington of "uncontrollable catastrophe" if the United States makes any move against the North's nuclear program.

Pyongyang threatens Washington? This causes TMQ to think that North Korean diplomats have spent too much time watching the new Bond flick "Die Another Day," in which a rogue North Korean colonel almost brings the world to its knees using a satellite death ray.

One must suspend disbelief on many Bond premises like death rays, of course. But what drove TMQ crazy about the rogue North Korean colonel in "Die Another Day" is that he is depicted as phenomenally ultra-rich. He lives in extreme opulence; mansions, race cars, private armies of henchmen. He builds from scratch a four-star luxury hotel in remote Iceland just to call a meeting of some celebrities he wants to impress, then as soon as the meeting is over, destroys the hotel. He's got an airborne hideout in a modified Antonov-225, the largest plane in the world. And he controls a super-advanced satellite capable of taking over the world.

How could a North Korean colonel afford all this stuff? North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, with a GDP of just $22 billion, 50 percent less than the GDP of the state of Rhode Island. Nobody in Rhode Island can afford a death star capable of controlling the world, so how can a North Korean?

NASA's International Space Station -- see how many seconds it has been in orbit -- weighs about 500 tons; TMQ scientifically estimates that the huge death star depicted in "Die Another Day" would have to weigh at least half that amount. To launch 250 tons to low-Earth orbit would require about 10 flights of the largest United States, Russian or French rockets. The launch costs alone would exceed $2 billion, and 10 heavy-lifter launches (or even one) would be impossible to conceal from the world intelligence community or from NORAD. Then there's the cost of the object itself. Even assuming the death-star technology were licensed free, the rule of thumb is that the manufacturing expense of space payload is about $100 million per ton. So construction of the rogue North Korean colonel's death star would cost perhaps $25 billion -- more than the entire GDP of North Korea. How could a rogue North Korean colonel afford all this stuff?

There is some brief babbling about him profiting from the sale of African "conflict diamonds," but in the movie's only diamonds scene the rogue colonel is buying diamonds, not selling them. At any rate since the global retail diamond trade is about $56 billion per annum, and wholesale represents about a third of that, the rogue North Korean colonel would have had to take over the entire world diamond business for more than a year to raise the money to fund his death star, and don't we think the Israelis and South Africans might have had something to say about that?

Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry
Buddhists, bellies and Berry: Pierce Brosnan gets cozy with Halle in "Die Another Day."
Satellite note: the rogue colonel's satellite is depicted as using a huge mirror to collect sunlight into a pulsating death beam. A few years ago Glavkosmos, the old Soviet space agency, unfurled a large mirror satellite named Znamya to see if it could be used to bring sunlight to the parts of Siberia that experience endless night in winter. Znamya turned out to reflect, into a small area, less light than that of a full moon; calculations suggested a mirror satellite would have to be thousands of feet across just to collect enough photons to simulate weak daylight. Can any physics-avid TMQ reader perform an incredibly scientifically advanced calculation of how large a mirror satellite would have to be to collect enough sunlight to power a death ray? Use the link at Reader Animadversion, below. Assume a perfectly efficient death ray. And if you can provide detail on how it would work, you and I could rule the world together from an airborne command post.

Raging Buddhists note: South Korean crowds have rioted against the showing of "Die Another Day" because they contend it defiles Buddhism by depicting Bond and Berry having sex in a Buddhist shrine. Shouldn't a real Buddhist be able to let go of such concerns? Attachment to the symbols of the world can only cause sorrow. At any rate, Bond and Berry are not depicted having sex in the shrine. She's laying on the ground distressingly over-clothed, and he's putting diamonds into her navel. This is what passes for erotic in contemporary Hollywood.

Bond sex note: Elsewhere in the movie, a Chinese mega-babe masseuse comes to Bond's elegant hotel suite. Using his acute double-oh instincts, Bond senses the Chinese secret service has set up a hidden camera to film him having sex with the masseuse, in order to use the pictures for blackmail. How could you blackmail James Bond with pictures of him having sex with a mega-babe? You'd blackmail James Bond with a film of him not having sex.

By the Hammer of Grabthar, He Was Avenged! Mark Fields, cut by New Orleans two seasons ago shortly after he had returned from representing the city in the Pro Bowl, now plays for Carolina. When the Boy Scouts went for it on fourth-and-seven from the Panthers' 30, trailing by four with three minutes left and their playoff invite on the line, Fields sacked Aaron Brooks.

Canny Management Note: On the above sack, Saints all-boasting left tackle Kyle Turley blocked air, standing and watching as Fields shot by. Recall that last season, Willie Roaf was the Boy Scouts' left tackle. The same New Orleans braintrust that waived Fields unloaded Roaf to the Chiefs for a middle-round draft pick. Roaf proceeded to make the Pro Bowl, while the Saints had all kinds of offensive line problems during their December fade.

Miami Collapse Point No. 4: All-boasting Cris Carter, brought in by the Marine Mammals at midseason, dropped a touchdown pass that would have won Miami's Week 16 game and put the team into the postseason, then had zero catches in the New England showdown. TMQ warned the week that Carter was signed that his yapping, me-first attitude would introduce a virus into the Dolphins' bloodstream, jeopardizing their reputation for winning with average talent because they are one of the league's team-oriented, high-character squads.

Evidence of the virus was seen when Miami, leading 21-13 with eight minutes to play, intercepted a Tom Brady pass and seemed positioned to ice the game. Jason Taylor, normally a high-character team-oriented player, staged a Jeremy-Shockey-like tirade, screaming boasts of prowess into Brady's face. TMQ cannot recall, under Wannstedt, ever seeing a Dolphin lose it like this -- until Carter joined the team. For the remainder of the afternoon, as the Dolphins collapsed and their season imploded, Taylor was a nonfactor -- his name does not appear in the Game Book until New England's second-to-last down, when Taylor had an assist as the Pats reached the Miami 17, whence they lofted the winning overtime kick. Cris Carter contributed nothing to the Dolphins except urging players to think me-first. Miami would have been much better off without him.

Darrell Green
Drivers wanted: Darrell Green had a fahrvergnugen career.
Creaking Old Guy Highlight No. 1: TMQ's favorite Darrell Green anecdote: he used to drive a Volkswagen Beetle of the old, 1960s variety. Why? Because, Green said, he liked the fact that he could outrun it.

Creaking Old Guys Highlight No. 2: On what might have been Emmitt Smith's last carry as a Cowboy, he was dropped for a loss by Bruce Smith.

Cleveland Release 2.1 Makes Playoffs; Download Patches Immediately: The Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) staged a monster stand in the closing seconds to stop Atlanta's second-and-goal at the 1. Inexplicably, both the final Falcon plays were handoffs to 180-pound scatback Warrick Dunn, though enormous fullbacks T.J. Duckett and George Layne were available. On the key snap, third-and-goal, when the play called for Atlanta's Brian Koslowski to pull right and trap at the hole, Koslowski inexplicably jumped into the air to avoid the defender he was supposed to block. TMQ watched the replay four times and has no idea what Koslowski may have been thinking.

Buddhists Know That Time Is An Illusion, Except When You're Rioting Against a Bond Flick: Trailing by three and their playoff fate in the balance, the Nevermores had the ball and the two-minute warning during which to regroup. Lining up out of the two-minute warning, Baltimore quarterback Jeff Blake called time. That's right -- in a two-minute-drill situation, Blake called time when time was already out! Ye gods. Baltimore ended up on the Pittsburgh 11 with 18 seconds remaining and a field goal forces overtime; Blake appeared visibly shaky because he now lacked a time out. The gentleman threw into double coverage, INT, game over.

Lord Voldemort Watch: Brad Johnson, whom Lord Voldemort (Dan Synder) benched and then released in one of his first canny decisions during his evil reign over the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons, finished with 22 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. Jeff George, whom Lord Voldemort started over Johnson, did not play for anyone this year but did warm the Seattle Blue Men Group's bench.

Got a Question About Your Files? Please Call 1-800-I-Luv-KGB Speaking of NORAD, its annual track-Santa map just closed for the year. NORAD was once a super-duper-ultra-classified organization designed to search for signs of a Soviet missile attack -- this is the outfit buried inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., and often used by Hollywood as the model for An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA. How can we be sure the Cold War has ended? The command now offers a toll-free number that is 877-Hi-NORAD. Check out the current NORAD/USSPACECOM master plan here.

TMQ Plans an NIH Grant Application: TMQ can normally put on weight just by looking at sweets, yet over the holidays consumed an estimated 500 Christmas cookies without gaining a pound. Two possible reasons:

1. God loves us and wants us to be happy.
2. The variable contaminant theory.

TMQ would certainly like the answer to be (1), which readers may recognize as Benjamin Franklin's explanation of why beer exists. The variable contaminant theory must, however, also be recognized. This holds that your body punishes you more for feeding it the same contaminants all the time than for alternating contaminants. Thus if you consume the same types of deli sandwiches, chips and cookies on a regular basis -- not that I do, this is speculation -- your body objects by gaining weight. An annual foray into Christmas sugar cookies and snickerdoodles, on the other hand, varies the contaminant and is not penalized; though if you ate Christmas sugar cookies all the time, this would backfire.

A corollary is the hypothesis of rotating shampoos. TMQ has encountered more than one female individual convinced that if you use the same shampoo all the time your hair loses luster, whereas rotating brands of shampoo results in healthy hair. Researchers, how about a controlled experiment?

Cady Huffman, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick
Wait'll the Chinese government deciphers "Springtime for Hitler" from "The Producers."
Note to Chinese Secret Service: Please Confine Your Activities to Mega-Babe Masseuses: According to this news report, Beijing has been sending agents to Manhattan to study the success secrets of Broadway musicals.

Aside from imagining the hilarious competition for this assignment -- "Say, comrade, would you like to leave our pollution-choked dictatorship for a few months to gawk at chorus girls in New York at the people's expense?" -- TMQ worries about Broadway secrets falling into the wrong hands. The chi-coms may have a sinister plan to use Broadway musicals as a tool of world domination. Hey, there's the next Bond movie plot.

Besides, there's nothing about Broadway you can't figure out merely by glancing at the roster of the last 20 hit shows. Here are Broadway's innermost secrets, as learned by Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises in development of the upcoming TMQ musical, "Ten Million Bucks Worth of Scenery":

1. Use a well-known story, preferably a remark or a movie adaptation. 2. Swelling crescendos.
3. As little dialogue as possible. Ideally no dialogue, just costumes and special effects.
4. Numerous chorus girls in states of undress.
5. Never, ever, ever challenge the audience to think.

That's everything the People's Musical Comedy Collective or whatever it is called needs to know.

Development note No. 1: Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises also is working on a science-fiction movie treatment, "Godzilla Versus MotoFoto."

Development note No. 2: Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises also is working on a television series treatment, "365," in which you watch Keifer Sutherland every single day of the year.

Savvy Crowd Response: During the Cincinnati-at-Buffalo game, the Bills crowd cheered warmly whenever Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes made a play. Why cheer someone for plays against your team? Spikes will be an unrestricted free agent this winter, and the Bills are expected to make a run at him.

Once Again, TMQ Thanks the Football Gods the NFL Is Not the NBA: Seven NFL teams finished at or above .500 but did not make the playoffs. This is a healthy sign!

Consider that last season, eight NBA teams finished at or above .500 by a comparable fraction, and six of them made the playoffs. It's a shame that an NFL team can go 9-7 and not advance, and it's a shame there are only a total of 11 NFL postseason games. (That's all that remains of the season -- count 'em and weep.) But because the NFL postseason is so hard to enter, this means almost every NFL regular-season game is important. In the NBA the majority of regular-season games mean nothing, and don't get me started on the NHL.

If the pro football playoffs weren't so hard to join, regular-season games would lose significance. TMQ thinks it is this fact -- that almost every regular-season NFL game really matters -- that, more than anything else, creates the air of excitement that separates pro football from all other sports.

Running items department
Seneca Wallace
Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace plays it blue for Humanitarian reasons.
Obscure College Score of the Week: This item snuggles into bed for a long winter's rest, as all collegiate teams performing from here on out are pretty well known.

Depending on when you read this column, be sure not to miss TMQ's favorite holiday game -- the Humanitarian Bowl, which will be in progress on ESPN when this column posts. The Humanitarian Bowl features people slamming into each other in the name of world peace. And they do their slamming on blue turf. Don't you think that if all artificial turf were blue, the world would be a more humanitarian place?

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Bowl Special: Trailing by seven with a minute remaining, Wisconsin faced fourth-and-10 on the Colorado 29. The Badgers had just 137 yards passing in the game to that point. TMQ thought, "As long as Colorado doesn't blitz the game is over." It's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line, 28-yard completion to the Colorado 1, Wisconsin scores on the next play and wins in overtime. Ye gods.

Double-X Bowl Special: In the Las Vegas Bowl, Katie Hnida of New Mexico became the first woman in NCAA Division I-A football history to have a kick blocked; or, to play.

Katie Hnida
We wouldn't make up a story about New Mexico kicker Katie Hnida.
Having women attempt placement kicks in major-college football games seems to TMQ basically a stunt, and one wonders what the point is of this stunt. Since women have shown themselves equal to men in almost all endeavors -- doctor, lawyer, fighter pilot, corrupt CEO etc. -- why stage stunts that pretend women and men are the same in the one arena, physical strength, where they obviously are not? If there is ever a women who can play major-college or pro football on her own merit, then of course she must be allowed to do so. (Note: TMQ hopes not to meet that woman.) But making special deals to get a 140-pound woman on the field for the purpose of a publicity stunt mocks the 99 percent of circumstances in which men and women really are the same. No 140-pound male kicker who couldn't get the ball over the line would be granted special permission to play.

TMQ urges future historians to study The Associated Press photo of Hnida watching her kick clang backward. She's wearing a helmet, pads -- and eyeliner! Unless she's really confused about how to put on the lampblack.

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 1-775 since TMQ began tracking.

Stacy Keibler
Cheerleading led Stacy Keibler to the big time.
Reader Animadversion: On the vital public-policy topic of NFL cheer-babes who have gone on to greater things, such as actress Charisma Carpenter, a reader suggests Stacy Keibler, formerly of the Nevermores cheer squad, and now a presence in the WWE. Stacy's claim to fame is exceptionally long legs, which can be gawked at here, a photo we can link to be not show for thong-based reasons. In haiku,

Stacy's ringside now;
hottest former cheerbabe. Why?
Forty-one inch legs!
Lawrence Benedetto, Chicago

Apropos the Ravens' cheer squad -- which includes ripped cheer-hunks as well as buff cheer-babes -- Jim Breuckman of Farmington, Mich., conducted a close textual analysis and found the Baltimore cheerleading roster contains a Napoleon and a Josephine.

Mike Hamilton of Newark, Del., was among many readers who pointed out that the Eagles have also joined the odious monochrome uniform fad, bringing the total to nine: Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Jax, Jersey/B, Miami, New England, Philadelphia and Seattle. Only two made the postseason -- surely an omen from the football gods! TMQ advocates uniform amnesty. All teams will be given a one-time opportunity to return to last year's uniforms without penalty, no questions asked.

Jim Miller of New York points out that NFL announcers have begun to refer to mass confusion at the line of scrimmage as a "scrum." But a scrum is a relatively orderly event used in rugby to put the ball back into play after an infraction. Mass chaos in rugby, Miller notes, is properly called a "maul" or a "ruck."

Stacy Keibler
Now you can see more of Keibler ringside than on the sidelines.
Many readers including Aaron of Washington, D.C., wrote to note of the huge Braun billboard at Disposal Razor Field that Gillette owns Braun. Also, Aaron notes, while Gillette says it makes razors, Braun asserts that it makes only "shavers." This reminds TMQ of Boeing's longstanding contention that it does not make airplanes, rather, "air frames."

Got a comment or a deeply felt grievance? Register it here.

TMQ Challenge: None this week either, as Tuesday Morning Quarterback intends to watch bowl games, not read mail, on New Year's Day. The Challenge will resume next week with incredibly tough single-elimination playoff-caliber questions.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 5:09 PM



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