December 10, 2002

NFL talking heads stuck in reverse

POST #    534

NFL talking heads stuck in reverse
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

"It's a double reverse!" No, it's not. Chances are it's not even a reverse.

Of the many annoying football-announcer verbal tics -- and the total hard drive capacity of the entire Web combined prohibits listing every one -- the worst is shrieking "it's a double reverse!" on plays that are actually a single reverse or aren't even that. This is a equal-opportunity blunder, committed by all announcers on all networks at all levels of the sport. And it is time this problem were fixed.

In the first Dallas-Philadelphia game, Donovan McNabb gave to a gentleman running right; the gentleman handed off to James Thrash going back left, and Thrash ran for 32 yards. "It's a double reverse!" Pat Summerall cried. No it wasn't. It was a single reverse.

In the Seattle-Minnesota game, Daunte Culpepper faked up the middle then gave to a receiver coming around. "It's a reverse!" Mike Patrick cried. No it wasn't. It was an end-around.

In the Baltimore-Indianapolis contest, tight end Todd Heap took a handoff moving right and ran for 15 yards. "It's a reverse!" cried Brent Jones, who himself has run this play, and ought to know better. It was an end-around.

Blue Man Group
Like their Seattle counterparts, the Blue Man Group is hard to figure out.

In the Blue Men Group-Mouflons contest, Marshall Faulk lined up in the slot; there was a fake up the middle, and Faulk carried coming around. "It's a reverse!" cried Tom Jackson -- who himself has had to stop this play, and ought to know better -- of the highlight on NFL PrimeTime. No it wasn't. It was an end-around run by a slotback.

Summerall, Patrick, Jones and Jackson are merely mirroring current football culture, in which everybody gets this wrong. Many readers including Michael Bourn of Nashua, N.H., have written in asking TMQ to set this record straight.

A "reverse" occurs when the ball starts left or right, then comes back in the opposite direction. But the ball must start left or right.

Almost everything announcers call a "reverse" is actually an end-around or slotback-around, in which the ball was simply handed off to a receiver or slotback moving left or right parallel to the line. The result is a guy running from side-to-side but not on a reverse, because there was no initial motion to reverse. True, defenders yell "reverse!" to each other when they see this action, but only because it is cumbersome to yell "slotback around!" Announcers should use correct terminology.

A "double reverse" occurs when the ball starts off going left or right, then comes back in the opposite direction, then changes course a second time to end up traveling in the original direction. Almost everything announcers call a "double reverse" is actually a single reverse. Consider the Philadelphia play. The ball was handed to a gentleman running right; that's the initial direction. He then handed to Trash running left, making the play a reverse. But a single reverse: the ball started right, then went left. To cause a double reverse, Trash would have had to hand to a third gentleman running back right again.

The easy way to distinguish among the end-around, single reverse and double reverse is to count handoffs. On an end-around there's only one handoff, from the quarterback to the guy sprinting left or right. If there is only one handoff, it cannot be a reverse. (Slight exception -- when the quarterback sprints out in one direction then gives to receiver coming back the opposite way, as in the college veer-option flip reverse, there can be a reverse with only one exchange of the ball. This is the only exception.)

On the single reverse there are two handoffs: first to the man going in Direction A, then to the man coming back in Direction B. On the double reverse there must be three handoffs, first to the man going in Direction A, then to the man coming back in Direction B, a third to yet another man going in Direction A again. If you think you've beheld a double reverse, count the handoffs. Unless there were three exchanges of the ball -- and almost certainly there were not -- you didn't see a double reverse.

The reason teams usually run the end-around instead of the reverse, and almost always run the single reverse instead of the double reverse, is to reduce exchanges of the ball. Every time the ball changes hands is an opportunity for a fumble, especially when the gentleman doing the handing off is not a quarterback. And against ever-quicker NFL athletes, the true double reverse takes so long to develop that by the time the third gentlemen gets the ball, players from games held the previous week will be closing to make the tackle.

TMQ hasn't seen a true double reverse in the NFL since there were antenna-pointing control boxes on the tops of televisions. So far as TMQ knows, the last true double reverse in the NFL was called by Tom Landry in the 1978 Super Bowl. Fittingly, it resulted in a fumble.

In other football news, the Heisman Trophy winner is announced this Saturday on ESPN. This award's full name, TMQ believes, should be the Heisman Trophy for the Division I-A Quarterback or Running Back Who Receives Most Publicity.

The idea that the Heisman goes to "the outstanding college football player in the United States" is a total fiction. Sixty-one of 67 winners have been quarterbacks or running backs, although those positions account for just 14 percent of gentlemen on the field. (To make it sound as though more positions are recognized, the Heisman preposterously lists "running back," "halfback," "tailback" and "fullback" as four different positions.) No linebacker or offensive lineman has ever won, and just two defensive lineman and one defensive back were Heisman honorees. The last non-glory-boy to hear his named called was defensive end Leon Hart in 1949, half a century ago.

Joey Harrington
Harrington's boosters fell victim to the ink-equals-Heisman theory.

Though all Heisman laureates are good, awards are clearly decided with publicity first in mind. Oregon was smart two years ago when it paid $250,000 to have that giant mural of Joey Harrington painted near the Downtown Athletic Club, sponsor of the Heisman; this did as much for Harrington's chances as any play on the field. Charles Woodson's surprise victory in 1997 as the first defensive Heisman winner since Hart came about mainly because Woodson received an extraordinary amount of press attention. Though Woodson was worthy, it was the ink that swayed voters.

Publicity-as-the-measure-of-all-things prohibits Heisman voters from even considering players from beneath Division I-A, though it is at the small-college level that the true spirit of competition for its own sake is honored. If the Heisman is an award for best quarterback or running back, by a huge margin the dominant running back in college ranks this season was Ian Smart of C.W. Post, who ran for 2,203 yards and 30 touchdowns while finishing his career fourth all-time in collegiate rushing and first all-time in collegiate scoring. Ian Smart is the highest scoring college player ever, yet he'll be brushed aside by Heisman voters because he was not hyped.

And by a huge margin the dominant quarterback in college this season was Curt Anes of undefeated Grand Valley State, who has thrown for 3,331 yards and 44 touchdowns; his two-year total is a phenomenal 93 touchdown passes vs. just eight interceptions. Anes will be brushed aside, too.

John Heisman
Heisman wouldn't even be considered for his award today.

Today the Heisman actively mocks the memory of John Heisman himself, who was a tackle in college and then spent most of his career coaching teams now below the Division I-A level -- Akron, Penn, Washington & Jefferson. John Heisman himself would not be considered for the Heisman Trophy! This statuette should be promoted for what it is, an award for receiving hype at a big school.

"Wow" Plays: Terrell Owens' leaping one-hand touchdown catch and Quincy Morgan's game-winner were doozies, but the best was the Dantzler kick return. Former college quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, trying to hang on with the Cowboys as a special-teams player, was hammered and knocked sideways four separate times on his 84-yard touchdown return against the Squared Sevens, and each time recovered his balance to keep running. This man wants a job!

Once They Were Kings: On his game-icing 6-yard touchdown run, Deuce McAllister went straight ahead through the once-mighty Nevermores defense untouched by human hands.

Sixty-Minute Men: The Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) trailed the entire game, taking their first lead on a conversion attempt after time expired.

Where Was the Defense? No. 1: It was Jax 20, Oranges 14 with Cleveland exactly at midfield, 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Everybody knew the Hail Mary was coming; Morgan made the improbable catch. But check the tape, where was the defense? Cleveland had to get across the goal line, yet a mere two Jacksonville defenders were in the end zone. Three were rushing, one was near the line of scrimmage and five were clustered around the 20-yard line. Why was Jax defending the 20-yard line? In a Hail Mary situation, most defenders should spot up in the end zone, for the reason that is obvious to everyone except, apparently, Jaguars coaches.

Proof of the rule: The Jersey/A-Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons game ended in an identical situation, the Persons trailing by six with the ball at midfield, 10 seconds left and no timeouts. A Hail Mary, of course. Seven Giants defenders were clustered in the end zone, where the pass clanged harmlessly to the ground.

Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia
Happy about the touchdown, or laughing at the 'Boys D?

Where Was the Defense? No. 2: Trailing by three with 15 seconds to play, the Squared Sevens were on the 'Boys 8-yard line. Let's see, Terrell Owens leads the league in receiving touchdowns. He'd scored earlier in the game, on a play from close to the Dallas goal line. Hmmmmmmmmm. Oh who might San Francisco throw to? Yet Dallas left Owens single-covered -- singled by underwhelming nickel back Dwayne Goodrich -- while the Cowboys triple-covered tight end Eric Johnson. Three defenders on the legendary Eric Johnson and one guy on the biggest receiving threat in the league! Owens even ran the same pattern as on his previous touchdown, a simple down-and-in. Dallas coaches appeared shocked that the pass went to Owens. Ye gods.

Where Was the Defense? No. 3: Game scoreless in the first, the Marine Mammals faced third-and-3 on the Chicago 5. Jay Fiedler faked a pitch left, rolled right and threw for the touchdown to backup tight end Jed Weaver, who had brush-blocked then cut into the end zone. No one covered Weaver. Sure, sometimes the tight end slips past uncovered on a play-fake on first-and-goal. But on third-and-3? Aye caramba.

Miami cheerleaders
The American work ethic in action.

Mega-Babe Professionalism It was raining and the wind was snapping flags Monday night in Miami, but the high-aesthetic-appeal Dolphins cheerleaders came out in their skimpy two-piece numbers. Seeing this professionalism, the football gods rewarded their team with victory.

Since TMQ began writing about the overdressed-coach factor three years ago, word seems to have gotten around the league, and it has become rarer for one coach to wear significantly more than his opposite number. In cases where neither opposing coach overdresses -- as was the case in Miami, Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron both sporting light windbreakers -- the onus of propitiating the football gods shifts to the cheerleaders. Miami's cheer-babes rose to the challenge.

Contrast to the Indianapolis at Denver game last month, when the equally high aesthetic appeal Broncos cheerleaders came out in such heavy parkas and bulky snow pants they looked like Michelin Men, and their team was denied victory.

Thus comes the time to add a corollary to TMQ's immutable law of the sideline, Cold Coach = Victory. The corollary: If Coaches Equal, Cheerleader Professionalism = Victory. In this usage, professionalism means skin or at least skin-tight.

Low-Gear Drive of the Week: Taking possession at their 24 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, leading 20-7, the Oakland Long Johns (see below) staged a 14-play, eight-minute touchdown drive that ended the Bolts' hopes. Everything on the drive was a run or an under pass, the longest gain being 15 yards.

Marty Mornhinweg
It's OT Marty, not rocket science.

The Happiest Man in America: Marty Mornhinweg of the Lions, when Arizona won the overtime coin toss.

The Unhappiest Man in America: Marty Mornhinweg of the Lions, when his charges committed penalties on three of the first four plays of overtime, including a flag that wiped out a Detroit interception returned to the Cards' 11-yard line. Arizona kicked a figgie to win a few plays after the penalty-nullified interception.

We're All Professionals Here: Three successive downs in the New Orleans-Baltimore game: blocked punt, turnover, turnover.

Fraidy-Cat Play of the Day No. 1: In the first Buffalo-New England contest, the tastefully named Gregg Williams waved the white flag in the third quarter on a play TMQ calls the Preposterous Punt: trailing by 10, facing fourth-and-2 on the Pats' 32, Williams punted. Pumped up by the Bills' mincing timidity, New England drove for a touchdown and never looked back.

In the third quarter Sunday, Buffalo trailed New England 20-0 and this time faced fourth-and-inches on the Pats' 8. Surely Williams learned from his mistake at this point the last time. You must, if you are anything but a disoriented former high-school coach who's in way over his head, go for it. In came the field-goal unit. TMQ thought, Got to be a fake. The figgie launched, TMQ lamented, "Aaaiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee!". Only possible explanation: an onside kick would follow. Regular kickoff.

Thus the tastefully named Gregg Williams followed up the Preposterous Punt with the Fraidy-Cat Figgie. Both times Williams would have been better off going for it and failing -- but sending his team the message that he was challenging them to win. By kicking, he sent his team the message he expected to lose and was in too far over his head to do anything about it.

There are numerous examples of gentlemen who were solid assistant coaches -- Williams was a successful defensive coordinator at Tennessee -- but flops as head coaches because they lack leadership, game-day skills or ability to perform under pressure. Game-day skills are an especially overlooked factor. Head coaches aren't just standing there, they make the key decisions and are looked to by players for inspiration. Twice at critical times this season, Bills players looked to Williams and saw that, far from providing inspiration, he was signaling that he couldn't take the pressure. Before getting the Buffalo helm, Williams' sole head-coaching experience was in high school. Drew Bledsoe deserves better than a high-school coach.

Fraidy-Cat Play of the Day No. 2: Leading 27-24, Dallas faced fourth-and-1 at the San Francisco 28 with 2:21 remaining. That's a 47-yard field-goal attempt and the 'Boys field-goal kicker, Billy Cundiff, is having a shaky year -- among qualifiers, second-to-last in the league in kick scoring. If the attempt misses, the Squared Sevens get the ball at the 37. Even if the field-goal hits, a touchdown still wins it for the Niners. Most important, San Francisco is out of timeouts. The Cowboys gain a single yard the game is over: kneel-downs will exhaust the clock. And the Cowboys can't make the playoffs anyway, why not go for it and play to win? In came the field-goal unit. TMQ thought, Got to be a fake. The kick launched, TMQ lamented, "Aaaiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee!". Clang, Niners' ball and you know the rest.

Dave Campo is auto-fired as of Dec. 30 anyway, so no need for a coaching analysis on this one.

It's a shame it's so cold up there.

Cheerleader of the Week: Minnesota might be having a cover-your-eyes season, but everything is going swimmingly for the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week, the scrumptious Laura of the Vikings. According to her team bio, Laura is a student at the University of Minnesota who has 16 years of dance training, whose career aspiration is to work in the fashion industry for a well-known designer and whose "favorite memory as a Viking cheerleader is putting on the uniform for the first time." Considering her swimsuit pose, hundreds of guys will think their favorite memory is Laura removing her uniform for the first time.

According to the Vikings' cheerleader FAQs page, Minnesota cheer-babes aren't paid, receiving only two game tickets and a parking pass. TMQ recommends they unionize and demand a fairer deal; if Hubert Humphrey were still alive the Vikings cheerleaders would be union-shop and filing grievances about their eyeliner allowance, that's certain. The FAQs page further explains that all Minnesota cheerleaders "lift weights and participate in numerous cardiovascular activities in order to improve our endurance," the primary test of that endurance being watching the Vikings this year.

Best Schemes: Touts are buzzing about how City of Tampa stopped Michael Vick by having Derrick Brooks "spy" him -- having Brooks ignoring normal responsibilities to mirror Vick's every move. It worked, but only a top-ranked defense with a pure-athlete as fast as Brooks will be able to get away with this.

Michael Vick
Vick was without his schtick when he faced the Bucs.

Tampa's offensive schemes were also impressive. The Bucs went "bunch" on key plays, but varied the bunch each time. Game scoreless in the second, first-and-goal on the Falcons' 10, Tampa lined up a tight end with a receiver directly behind him in a slot split on both sides, plus a back set right. The back ran to the short right flat, drawing up the Falcons defense; the right-side tight end ran to flag, dragging out the safety; Joe Jurevicius, the receiver behind the end on that side, ran a quick down and turn-in for the touchdown.

Two possessions later, leading 7-0, the Bucs had first-and-goal on the Falcons' 13. This time they bunched three in a slot split right and put the back and a receiver on the left side. The right-side tight end ran to the short right flat, drawing up the Falcons defense; the right-bunched receiver ran to flag, dragging out the safety; and you'll never guess what pattern was run by Joe Jurevicius, the left-bunched receiver on the right. Quick down and turn-in for the touchdown.

Worst One-Man Olé Block: Eagle N.D. Kalu got to the Seattle Blue Men Group punter so fast he didn't even have to block the punt; he simply tackled the punter, who had received a good snap. How did Kalu get there so fast? Blue Men up-man Heath Evans, assigned to block anyone breaking through the line, stepped aside to let Kalu pass untouched by human hands.

Worst Group Olé Block No. 2: Runner Corey Dillon was tackled five yards deep in the end zone for a safety after the entire right side of the Bengals line was driven backward by assorted Panthers. The play started on the Cincinnati 3-yard line! Ye gods.

Worst Group Olé Block No. 3: Trailing by a touchdown, San Diego went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Oakland 31 on the opening possession of the second half. The call was sweep left, and TMQ hates slow-developing plays on short yardage. LaDainian Tomlinson lost three yards when the entire left side of the Bolts line was driven backward by assorted Raiders. Several San Diego players, including left tackle Damion McIntosh, simply stood watching, making no attempt to block anyone. It was the defining play of the Bolts crash-and-burn.

Dobby the Elf
Spurrier! Get off the bed!

Hey, It Used to Work Against Western Carolina: Facing third-and-2 against Jersey/A, Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) sent his charges out in a flag-football trick-play formation with the center, quarterback, a running back and two guards in the middle of the field; a tackle and two receivers split wide on each side. The back ran straight ahead for the first, but you could almost hear Giants coaches saying to each other, "Spurrier is starting to lose it."

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Leading 17-7 with 45 seconds left in the half, the Detroit Peugeots (see below) had the Cards facing third down. It's a blitz! Seven gentlemen cross the line; touchdown pass to Nate Poole, and the Arizona comeback is on.

The Sort of Offense That Rolls Up 47 Yards: Facing third-and-1 with three minutes left in the half, Houston not only didn't run, David Carr sprinted backyards 10 yards before throwing the ball away; punt. Sprinted backwards 10 yards on third-and-1.

Worst Heave-Ho: Brian Griese's game-ending interception at the Jets' goal line with Broncos trailing by six was a pass forced into triple coverage. And it was first down from the 23 with 1:32 left, plenty of time and downs to throw the ball away and try anew. Plus Brian, if there are three guys on the man you are looking at, what might your instinct tell you about the other receivers?

Stats of the Week: Kansas City has won its last two games by a combined 98-10.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Kansas City, the league's highest-scoring team, is in last place in the AFC West. (The Chiefs are tied for last in record, but trail in tiebreakers.)

Stats of the Week No. 3: Houston beat Pittsburgh by 18 points despite compiling just 47 yards of offense and three first downs. The Steelers lost despite advantages of 375 yards of offense and 21 first downs.

Stats of the Week No. 4: San Francisco just barely won despite advantages of 144 yards of offense, 16 first downs and leading in takeaways.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Despite being the sole team in the NFL that uses the gamble-everything-for-takeaways "46" defense, Buffalo is last in the league in takeaways. Its defense has failed to force a turnover in 10 of 13 games.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Despite using three top-10 draft picks on defensive linemen in the past decade (Simeon Rice, Eric Swann and Andre Wadsworth) plus several No. 2 picks, the Arizona (caution: may contain football-like substance) Cardinals are last in the league in sacks.

Stats of the Week No. 7: David Carr of the Moo Cows was sacked 26 times in September, 18 times in October, 15 times in November and so far has been sacked nine times in December. He is on a pace to be sacked an all-time record 84 times. (Randall Cunningham holds the record at 72 sacks absorbed in a season.)

Stats of the Week No. 8: San Diego is 8-5, but has lost three games by a combined 127-32.

Rich Gannon
Come see Gannon before his arm falls off.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Rich Gannon is on a pace to throw for an NFL-record 5,175 yards. The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards. And despite a league-leading 546 heave-hoes, Gannon has been sacked just 26 times.

Texas A&M Would Have Fired Dwight Eisenhower; World War II Victory Margin Not Large Enough: Texas A&M showed the door to coach R.C. Slocum, whose record at the school was 123-47-2 and who never had a losing season. But this year the Aggies were 6-6, get him out of here!

This tells you that Texas A&M administrators and boosters are spoiled little ingrates whom the football gods will now punish. This also bares the shameful secret of the football-factory universities -- namely, that it's assumed an orangutan could go 6-6 coaching Texas A&M, Miami, Georgia or any similar school.

At the football-factories, an annual winning season is nearly guaranteed owing to recruiting advantages and the scheduling of weak innocent-bystander schools having no chance of victory. How often in recent decades have any of the teams currently in the Top 25 had a losing season? Remember how shocking it was last year when Penn State actually finished below .500? It might seem impossible that the football-factory universities can all have winning seasons every year when they also play each other; the explanation is their annual guaranteed-win dates against cupcake teams.

At the football-factory level, it's hard to win a national championship but falling-down easy to have a winning season. That is why when a football-factory coach goes 6-6, he is perceived as having become a loser -- everyone knows he starts the season with built-in victories. (Louisiana-Lafayette and Baylor in Slocum's case this year.) It is also why when someone like Steve Spurrier jumps from college to the pros, he is stunned to discover that instead of half of the year's games being walkovers and only three or four being really contested, every game is contested. Coaches who go in the other direction, from the pros to the football factories -- like Al Groh jumping from the Jets to Virginia -- are making the safe move. Groh is all but guaranteed of being a winner every year; Spurrier, once a guaranteed-winner, now flounders; Slocum lost favor for failing to do that which is perceived to automatic, finishing above .500 at a football factory.

Dennis Franchione
When the goin' gets tough, the tough apparently bail on their contracts.

To Exact Their Vengeance on A&M, the Football Gods Sent Franchione: After cashiering Slocum, the Aggies hired Dennis Franchione of Alabama. Set aside that Franchione had five years left on the contract he casually broke; set aside that he'd urged 'Bama players to stick with the school through its NCAA probation, then cleared out the instant someone offered him cash, breaking his word to his charges; set aside that he showed up at A&M to take the new post without having the guts to tell the 'Bama players he merrily screwed; set aside that Franchione's own website was declaring just a few days ago "Coach Fran has stated repeatedly" that Alabama "is where he wants to be." (The site,, just disappeared; Franchione's promise to stay was found here. Just remember, Texas A&M, what you getting in Dennis Franchione -- a liar who walks out on his commitments. The perfect fit for your program!

Why, TMQ wonders, can coaches take a hike the instant it benefits them, but when players want to leave a team for greener pastures there is anguished outcry? TMQ is reminded of 1978, when Chuck Fairbanks of the Patriots agreed to a job with the University of Colorado in December, the NFL season still in full swing and his club just having made the playoffs; the subsequent distraction screwed New England's postseason.

Fairbanks didn't care, all he cared about was the money Colorado gave him. But why didn't Colorado stop to think about what it was getting -- namely, the kind of guy who walks out on his commitments. That message didn't stay hidden long. Fairbanks arrived at Boulder promising to "turn this program around." He sure did! His predecessor had been 35-21; Fairbanks lead the school to its worst three years in history, 7-26, before being jettisoned. How long, A&M, till you're wishing you had Slocum back?

Halle Berry
Cars, gadgets, blah, blah, blah -- bring on Halle!

TMQ: Official Column of James Bond: OK, so James Bond drives Aston-Martins and Thunderbirds and has his own an action game. But when Norelco became the electric razor of 007 -- get your Limited Edition James Bond Spectra razor here, limited, surely, to the number they can sell -- this went too far. Not so far, of course, that it can't be used as a cheap, flimsy excuse for the art department to append the Halle-Berry-in-the-Ursula-Andress-bikini shot from the new Bond flick "Die Another Day."

Local Affiliates Outrages of the Week: Wow! Look at the monster games on the Sunday card -- Atlanta at Tampa, Oakland at San Diego, Indianapolis at Tennessee, Buffalo at New England. Which of these USA Today five-star contests were shown in the nation's capital, where TMQ lives? None.

Nationally, less than half of the country saw Atlanta vs. Tampa -- forget how it turned out, this was clearly the headliner of the day's card -- while the one-star Vikings at Packers matchup was beamed to entire United States.

Not every local affiliate drops the ball. As reader Joe Ghory of Concord, Mass., reports, affiliate WJPR in Roanoke, Virginia, aired the Bucs-Falcons game despite normal regional affection for the hapless Persons; San Diego affiliate XETV showed Bucs-Falcons after numerous viewers protested its initial plan to air the two-stars Cowboys at Niners. Forget that Cowboys at Niners turned out to be the better game; Falcons at Bucs was clearly the headliner of the card.

The NFL simply must put Sunday Ticket on cable, so viewers can make up their own minds about what to watch. It's absurd that the league produces such fabulous games and then prevents most of the country from seeing them, offering viewers a steady diet of stinkers and clunkers as the five-star pairings go unseen. After all, it's not like the Atlanta at Tampa game increases in value if unseen. It only has worth to fans, or economic value, in the moments it is being played.

If nothing else, preventing fans from watching the best games cannot be in the NFL's long-term financial interest. Economically it constitutes taking two accounts receivable -- ad revenues from viewing of the top games, and fees to Sunday Ticket -- and hurling them out the window.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 1: From the moment at end of the third quarter when Minnesota took a nine-point lead over the Packers at Lambeau, to the beginning of the Vikings' last-second desperation drive, Minnesota called seven rushes and 10 passes. Had the Vikings simply kept running up the middle for no gain but not stopping the clock with incompletions, Green Bay probably would have run out of time for its score to take the lead with 1:111 left.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 2: At Kansas City last month, Buffalo lost by repeatedly passing on short-yardage downs. The Bills threw on a critical third-and-inches; incompletion, punt. Reaching first-and-goal at the Kansas City 5, the Bills threw three straight times, all incompletions, then settled for the field goal. They were defeated by one point.

Drew Bledsoe
If you ask Pats fans -- they'll say it was classic Drew.

On Sunday, Buffalo had second-and-goal at the New England 1-foot line, trailing by 17. Did the Bills pound, pound, pound for 99-percent-likely touchdown? A pass-wacky roll-out on which Drew Bledsoe sprinted backwards 15 yards -- 15 yards backward on goal-to-go from the one-foot line - interception, overall team collapse promptly follows. It's hard not to think the Buffalo sideline is more concerned about getting touchdown-pass stats for Bledsoe than about winning games.

Reader Haiku Matt Grau of Richmond, Va., was among many who noted that the Chargers' official site froze for a yet third time last Tuesday afternoon owing to TMQ's link to Bolts cheer-babe swimsuit photos. Another reader proposes a solution to this dilemma.

Charles Moylan of Arlington, Mass., noting the Raiders have no TMQ cognomen, proposes they be known as the Long Johns -- as in Silver, and pirates. Me likey! Two readers propose new TMQ cognomens in haiku, and a third proposes that the Ravens/Nevermores, named for Poe, yield to Baltimore native John Waters.

Proceeds from sale of
Bolts' cheerleader calendar
fund server upgrade?
-- Charlie Zegers, Tuckahoe, N.Y.

Logos, track records
identical: I give you
the Detroit Peugeots!
-- Doug Gillett, Birmingham, Ala.

Need a new nickname?
The Pittsburgh Hypocycloids.
Hint: It's their symbol.
-- Keith Hart, Triadelphia, W.Va.

Baltimore Ravens
should nod to Waters, not Poe:
Baltimore Divines.
-- Joe Gindhart, West Bridgewater, Mass.

OK for guys is
Catherine Bell half-naked:
Equal time, where's Harm?
-- Sue Bogumil, West Seneca, N.Y.

Rams to UFO:
Thanks for the quarterbacks, but
fingers don't fit right!
-- Eric Zasada, Rochester, N.Y.

7-1 in day.
Are Broncos solar-powered?
0-5 in dark.
-- Matthew Jacobs, Pittsburgh

With Mammals defense
playing Gannon week 15,
Dan's record is safe.
-- David Campomizzi, Toronto

Normally thirty,
TMQ extends my lunch
to fifty minutes.
-- Eric Klooster, Ann Arbor, Mich.

TMQ's Christmas List: The first item on my list this year is the Evolution 2100 roof-top carrier, which will enable you to haul around an extra 21 cubic feet of cargo -- if your SUV doesn't have enough room for all your stuff!

Official Child of TMQ Christmas List: My 13-year-old boy was writing his Christmas list when I thought I heard him ask how to spell "cologne." I replied while thinking, Oh man, this is starting early. Later he handed me the list. One entry: "For Game Cube: Star Wars Attack of the Colognes."

Gil Bellows
Gil Bellows, who takes career advice from David Caruso, stars in "Second String".

And You Thought "Lord of the Rings" Was a Fantasy: The premise of the upcoming made-for-TV movie "Second String" is that the Buffalo Bills finally win the Super Bowl. Oh -- so it's science fiction!

TMQ Question of the Day No. 1: Aaron Glenn's first of two long interception returns for six against the Steelers came when he "jumped" a simple three-step slant by a receiver and cut in front. Since NFL teams run short slants constantly, why don't more DBs step in front?

TMQ Question of the Day No. 2: Why will Jennifer Lopez pose nude for GQ but not for Page 2? Don't say nobody's told her about the free bobbleheads!

I'd Rather Be Playing Attack of the Colognes: TMQ continues to be driven crazy by the Star Trek "prequel" serial Enterprise, which is set 100 years before the old Captain Kirk episodes, yet contains plot elements inexplicable in light of what happens 100 years later. The official excuse is that the invention of time travel has altered continuity in the Star Trek universe. Yet any time-travel-altered events would have occurred in the past relative to Captain Kirk, who would have known about them. The whole thing still makes absolutely no sense.

For time-travel nonsense, nothing tops the preposterous TNT summer series "Witchblade," now thankfully in remission. The show's second-season premiere began by declaring that, owing to time-travel, the entire first season never happened. The second season was presented as a remake of the first season. That's some kind of postmodern record.

In the first season, New York City police detective Sara Pezzini, bearer of the ancient, magical witchblade, sees her partner Danny killed in the pilot episode; Danny becomes a guiding ghost. In the second season, he's fine because Sara went back in time to rescue him. (Danny must have scored well with audiences in Q-testing.) In the first season, the Ian character was secretly protecting Sara while she battled the evil industrialist Irons; in the second season, it's the same events all over again but Irons immediately dies while Ian is now trying to kill Sara. (To scriptwriters "evil industrialist" is a conjoined phrase, like "fading hippy" or "fugitive financier." Won't it be fun to see a kindly industrialist in any Hollywood product?) In the first season, Sara extensively explores the powers of her witchblade; in the second season, it's the same events but Sara barely knows how to use the magic device. And in the second season -- Sara is now the reincarnation of Joan of Arc!

You don't often hear, "Did anyone tape Witchblade?", at the office.

Read the preposterous Witchblade narrative summary here. Check the official description of Sara's partner: "Danny does not know about the Witchblade and its powers, but he often questions Sara's erratic behavior and might suspect that greater forces are at work in her." She's just used time travel to raise him from the dead, and he "might suspect" she has unusual power. Man, this guy is a natural-born detective!

The subplot of the "Witchblade" second season is that An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA is killing people left and right with total impunity for no clear reason and, inexplicably, has an unlimited budget without anyone in Washington knowing about it. The ghost of JFK appears in one particularly excruciating episode to warn Sara she is humanity's last hope to stop the Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA! As a kicker, the ghost of JFK reveals that he was assassinated not by Oswald but by the Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA. Apparently Witchblade has used time travel to steal this gimmick since the old television show Dark Skies also had as its subplot that JFK was actually assassinated by An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA.

Why do so many television shows and movies, produced by people who live in freedom and luxury owing to the American system, relentlessly present the United States as a place of runaway evil government agencies? Sinister U.S. government conspiracies are even a standby of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies! ("Eraser," "Collateral Damage," etc.) And if An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA is scheming to destroy the country, how come almost everything is getting better for almost everybody?

Donald Trump's Legacy: The Eagles put Sean Landeta on injured reserve. That leaves just one former USFL player still dressing for NFL games, Doug Flutie. TMQ's favorite Flutie moment came in 1998, when this gentleman was making his NFL comeback. The Bills were at Indianapolis, and the 6-foot-5 Peyton Manning had a pass batted down. "He's too short!" Flutie screamed from the sidelines.

Daniel Snyder
Snyder has cut more people than a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.

Synder Files Protest Against League Rules That Forbid Firing Coaches During Games: Last week, Lord Voldemort (Daniel Synder) cut another kicker, James Tuthill, for having the impudence to miss a field-goal attempt. This means the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons are now on their ninth placekicker during the Voldemort era -- bet that makes the new guy feel relaxed and confident, huh?

The new guy, Jose Cortez, missed his first attempt Sunday. As TMQ endlessly points out, in the four years of Voldemort's evil reign, in addition to nine kickers the Persons have had six starting quarterbacks, four head coaches, four defensive coordinators and four general managers.

Hidden Indicator: In the Bengals-Panthers game, there were two kick return touchdowns, two fumble return touchdowns, a safety and 15 penalties. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential for an insider's understanding of the game. In this case, it means Cincinnati was on the field.

Running items department
Obscure College Playoff Score of the Week: Valdosta State 21, Texas A&M-Kingsville 12 (Division II semifinal). Kingsville's "prospective students" page begins:

Start your first year at A&M-Kingsville with Hoggie Hysteria Welcome Week, six days of events and activities to welcome you to campus. Close out your first year with Spring Fling, a celebration of the season that includes music, dancing, and booths sponsored by student organizations. In between, join in the fun at Homecoming, Family Day, Fall Carnival, the Miss Texas A&M University-Kingsville Scholarship Pageant and the other events sponsored by the Office of the Student Activities. Join some of the more than 130 campus clubs and organizations, an intramural team, or a community service project. It's all part of student life -- what goes on before and after your classes -- and it's an important part of your A&M-Kingsville education, an opportunity to make friends, learn new skills and develop new interests.

Note that the school says almost nothing about learning or classes; this is the Texas A&M system we're talking about! Bonus factoid: Kingsville calls itself TAMUK, which sounds like an Iraqi biological facility on the United Nations inspection list.

Bonus Obscure Playoff Score: John Carroll 16, Brockport 10 (Division III quarterfinal). One guy beats an entire city! The president of Brockport, with 8,500 students one of the largest schools to compete in Division III, declares "we have identified student success as our primary mission" as if this had previously been a point of controversy. Located on the buckle of the Snow Belt near Rochester, N.Y., Brockport advises potential students, "Canada is but a 3˝-hour drive," as if assuming they will be anxious to flee.

Double Bonus Obscure Playoff Score: McNeese State 24, Montana State 20 (Division I-AA quarterfinals). What counts as news at a school at beautiful Bozeman, Mont.? A one-day delay in a professor's appearance on "Good Morning America" to talk about ... snow.

What are they thinking about in Bozeman besides snow? "It is a primary expectation of President Geoffrey Gamble that the University will engage in an open, data-rich budget development process that is directly linked to the maintenance of a long-range plan, the identification of specific strategic priorities, and a detailed assessment of resource allocation outcomes."

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 1-727 since TMQ began tracking.

Eagles cheerleader
OK, you asked for it.

Reader Animadversion. A mere one-week absence of a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader lingerie calendar photo -- buy the calendar here, advertised with the line, "we haven't pushed the envelope, we've ripped it open" -- caused such an avalanche of email that TMQ is forced, forced to show another.

Many readers nominated Christina, a La Salle University student who, according to her bio, does tae kwon do, aerobics six times a week and lifts weights five times a week; the results are admirable. A reader haikuizes of her highly literary pose,

The Road Less Traveled?
Cheer-babe reading or telling
mortals our chances?
-- Kim Lynne, College Station, Texas

On TMQ's question of why, if in the "Lord of the Rings" Sauron once made an all-powerful ring, he simply doesn't make another, many readers including Chris Benfatto of St. Louis replied that Sauron put all his dark power into the One Ring; his weakened spirit is incapable of making another and seeks the first to recover full vileness. Rob Hartsock of Anchorage adds that the elves who made the ring at Sauron's behest mysteriously lost the knowledge of how to make another; it's the One Ring or nothing now. Another reader suggests Sauron's mistake was to name his creation the One Ring, making it impossible for him to forge a second:

Sauron trapped in own
tautology: One Ring means
can be just One ring.
-- Joe Mette, Mars, Pa.

OK, but then if the One Ring has that much power how come Prince Isildor, a mere human, took it from Sauron in the first place by defeating the ultimate bad guy in a swordfight? How come Isildor himself was later killed in battle while wearing the One Ring?

Our deepest apologies Jennifer.

Reader Tim Donahue of Fishers, Ind., was among many who pointed out that the Lucky Charms cheer-babe identified in the column last week as "Jennifer DeMotte" was actually Jennifer from DeMotte, Ind. The Colts' site is not a model of clarity, leading to this mistake. And for some techno-reason, could not import Jennifer's swimsuit picture. TMQ urges readers to exercise their First Amendment rights by going to the Colts site, clicking cheerleaders, then calendar preview, then Jen. It's worth the effort.

Robert Kemp of New Orleans was among many who noted it was Jake Reed of the Boy Scouts, not Joe Horn, who made last's week's "wow" catch while being hit by four Bucs defenders simultaneously. "There were so many Tampa players around him, it was hard to tell who he was," Kemp notes.

Brian Straub of Ames, Iowa, was among many who pointed out that Marty Mornhinweg's decision to kick after winning the overtime coin toss was not the first time this had happened since the 1962 AFL title game. In 1997, Denver won a kickoff coin toss at Buffalo, choose to kick to get the wind, and was victorious on a figgie after getting good field position when the Bills' opening drive into the wind stalled. Denver went on to win the Super Bowl that year, so its tactical choices must be respected.

Finally, Chad Kubicek of Lenexa, Kan., noted that in choosing to kick after winning the overtime coin toss in the 1962 AFL title game, Hank Stram accomplished the double futility of surrendering both the ball and the wind. Stram wanted the wind, and told his captain Abner Haynes to take it if winning the toss. At midfield Haynes said, "We'll kick toward the clock," meaning the clock tower at the downwind end of the field, but zebras heard only "we'll kick" and allowed the Oilers to pick direction, and they picked toward the clock. Stram's Texans won anyway in the second OT, and the moment created some fine lore. In haiku,

"Kick to the clock" in
'62 championship;
a double-whammy.
-- Chad Kubicek, Lenexa, Kan.

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

TMQ Challenge Last week's Challenge was to come up with new bowl game names.

One reader suggested in haiku that the Challenge was unwinnable because there has already been a name that can never be topped:

Truth's always stranger:
Can Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl
ever be outdone?
-- Jeff Vance, Washington, D.C.

Many, many readers, including Bryant Kiedrowski of Cleveland, suggested the Kellogg's Cereal Bowl, to be played in Battle Creek, Mich.

David Dirgo of Omaha suggested the Diminished Expectations Bowl, which this year would pit Nebraska versus Florida State. Hey Dave, Florida State made the BCS! Oh, I get it, that's part of the joke.

Neil Towler of Worcester, Mass., suggested the Victoria's Secret Bowl, where the real viewer interest would be on the sidelines. The site would have to be warm-weather. In like spirit Nick Bremer of Eagan, Minn., suggested the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Mega-Babe Bowl, with teams composed of Cheerleader of the Week winners. Nick, I will give this proposal very serious study, as soon as I can arrange for the Cheerleaders of the Week to meet me for a secret practice session.

I got your bowl right here!

Mark Givarz of St. Louis suggests HBO Presents "The Sopranos" Bowl, played, of course, at the Meadowlands.

Curtis Gilchrist of Huron, S.D., suggests the Hostess Cupcake Bowl, matching the two big-name teams that did the most padding of their schedules with cupcake opponents. Curtis, how would you narrow it down to two?

Josh Bell of Raleigh, N.C., suggested the Manute Bowl, sponsored by the former NBA player. Sam Gupta of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, suggested the Erskine Bowl, sponsored by the unemployed former Senate candidate.

TMQ's nominee is the Fiasco Bowl. Watch this space for more on that.

This week's Challenge goes to Noah Abrahamson of Iowa City, who suggests The Invesco Bowl at Rose. Since Invesco has already ruined the most majestic place name in professional sports, Abrahamson reasons, why shouldn't it also ruin the most majestic name in collegiate sports? The Invesco Bowl at Rose would, of course, be played in Miami.

This Week's Challenge: OK, the Heisman Trophy only considers big-hype glory boys. Which non-quarterback non-running-back from any division deserves to be lauded as "the outstanding college football player in the United States?" Propose your candidates here and try to give concrete reasons -- not just, "he's really good" -- considering that TMQ will not have seen many of your nominees play.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 5:17 PM



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