January 29, 2003

Derelict predictions

POST #    521

Derelict predictions
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

How sportswriters and TV broadcasters love to dash off NFL predictions, confident no one will remember what they foretold. Tuesday Morning Quarterback remembers. I have a mind like a steel vault -- that is, rusty -- but also write these things down. Welcome to my annual Bad Predictions Review.

Bad Predictions, Category One: Category One is offseason predictions, and "off" is the operative word.

ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli was early to the gate with his offseason prediction that the Bengals are a franchise "with more talent than people perceive." This is rather like saying "J-Lo sings better than people think" or that Merrill Lynch stock analysts have "more integrity than people perceive." Pasquarelli certainly was not the only one touting the Bengals in the offseason. Chris Berman of ESPN named Cincinnati his "sleeper" team of the year. Perhaps Berman meant to say his "sedentary fossilized" team of the year, as the Bengals finished with the worst record in the league.

Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News declared in the offseason that "no team did more to improve its defense than the Cowboys." The Cowboys defense plummeted from fourth-ranked in 2001 to 18th-ranked in 2002. Iyer further predicted that "Terry Glenn is an early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year" -- sure, and Howard Dean is an early candidate for Democratic nomination for president. Also, "the Chiefs have the talent to sneak away with the AFC West." The Chiefs finished last.

Dan Pompei of The Sporting News joined the early-predictions swirl by declaring that Miami's signing of tackle Leon Searcy "will be one of the steals of the offseason." Searcy was cut in training camp.

Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated devoted an offseason column to predicting Dwight Freeney would end up with more sacks than Julius Peppers. This turned out to be right, but Z couldn't resist predicting exactly how many sacks both gentlemen would record, and both predictions were wrong. It's one thing to predict that Player A will be better than Player B, quite another to predict that A will rush for 137 more yards than B. Trying to predict exact player season statistics is like those global warming computer models that try to predict what the atmospheric pressure will be in La Paz, Bolivia, at 10 a.m. on March 22nd in the year 2365 -- when no one can predict what the weather will be next Tuesday.

Jon Kitna
Shhh! You wouldn't want to wake Jon Kitna and the sleeping Bengals.
Bob McCollough of MSNBC warned in the offseason that "the Dolphins face an early playoff exit." Very early, since Miami failed to make the postseason. McCollough foresaw that the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons would win 10 games; they won seven. McCollough forecast Kansas City would be the first team in the AFC West to win nine games (K.C. won eight), but that after winning nine games, the Chiefs would be "knocked back" to a .500 record. This is one of TMQ's all-time favorite bad predictions, since it is impossible for an NFL team to have nine victories and a .500 record.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated declared during the offseason that Buffalo would make the playoffs (the Bills did not), and that St. Louis would be the NFL's top team. King was hardly alone in touting the Mouflons, who finished with a losing record. Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline had St. Louis his No. 1 club, declaring, "The Super Bowl hangover will drive this team." Well, at least St. Louis played as if it had a hangover.

Hmm, What Realistic Premise Could Justify a Movie About Wet Cheerleaders? Many readers including Maya Gutierrez of Laguna Beach, Calif., have pointed out that TMQ missed a flimsy excuse for the ESPN.com art department to ad cheesecake to the column by failing to praise the surfer-babe movie "Blue Crush." Maya, it's never too late for a flimsy excuse for cheesecake!

Surely "Blue Crush" was the date-night movie of the year, since double-Xs could appreciate the plot, which concerned a woman's attempt to break into the male-dominated realm of competition surfing, while their YX escorts could focus in on the crucial detail that most of the movie features wet bikini scenes. Mega-babe and real-world competitive surfer Sanoe Lake, who appeared in the film, told interviewers that during real-world surfing her top often comes off. Why was this critical realistic detail missing from the movie?

Michelle Rodriguez, Kate Bosworth, Sanoe Lake
Page 2 doesn't just show photos from "Blue Crush" -- we do entire stories on the movie.
The surfer-gear shop Pacsun.com now sells triangle-top suits inspired by "Blue Crush." Check a representative sample here. Note that it's $73 for a micro swimsuit containing perhaps three ounces of material -- not that TMQ is complaining -- which makes these bikinis $390 a pound.

Bad Predictions, Category Two: Then there are predictions that turn on the word "could." A lot of things "could" happen. North Korea could become paradise on Earth. An alluring woman could invite me to ride in her limousine. (Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, said the Super Bowl ad that the NFL vetoed wasn't about gambling but rather about "an alluring woman on a limousine ride through Las Vegas.") George W. Bush could be misunderestimated.

Before the season, Chris Mortenson of ESPN declared the Bengals "could make a playoff run." ESPN.com's Greg Garber foresaw that the Bills "could rise to the top." Peter King of Sports Illustrated predicted Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell of the Bucs "could" both make the Pro Bowl; neither did. Pete Prisco said the Bills "could move up in a hurry" while one or the other of the Bengals and Cowboys "could" make the playoffs. Pro Football Weekly declared the Patriots "could make another playoff run, or fall flat." That about covered it. ("And in Wall Street news, stocks could rise or fall, unless they remain unchanged.")

David Carr
Try telling David Carr that the Texans "could" have made the playoffs.
Best of this group: Sporting News devoted an entire preseason article to predicting the expansion Texans "could" make the playoffs.

Disclaimer of the Week: If you look up a route with the Yahoo driving-directions utility, at the bottom of the page this insight appears: "When using any driving directions or map, it's a good idea to do a reality check and make sure the road still exists." Please, don't sue Yahoo if you drive on a road that does not exist.

Bad Predictions, Category Three: Now it gets interesting: predictions made on the eve of the season start.

ESPN The Magazine's preseason forecast said that the Broncos, Dolphins and Rams would win their divisions; none even made the playoffs. Meanwhile, TMQ The Columnist still doesn't understand why this publication is not just ESPN Magazine. Or go the other way and make it ESPN The Company, a division of Disney The Conglomerate, located on Earth The Planet. ("ESPN The Magazine, Published on Earth The Planet.")

The New York Times ran a group forecast in which four sportswriters made dueling predictions of the final standings. Three of the four Times predictors had the Persons in the postseason; San Diego, Chicago, Miami, Kansas City and New England were all non-qualifiers the Times projected for the playoffs. The four Times sports nuts were unanimous on the Rams winning their division; St. Louis did not make the postseason. Times chief football writer Thomas George forecast that neither the Raiders nor Bucs would make the playoffs. They were, of course, the Super Bowl pair.

Deion Branch
"We also predict Deion Branch will eat Cheerios on the morning of the big game."
King of Sports Illustrated forecast the Bills to finish 8-8, just a few weeks after predicting they would make the playoffs. He predicted New England would take the AFC East over Miami via tiebreaker -- which seems another fit of excessive specifics but wildly, the Pats would have taken the division over Miami via tiebreaker had the Jets lost to Green Bay on the final day of the season. King then added a ridiculous specific-player prediction, that the Patriots would beat the Marine Mammals on the season's last day on a touchdown pass to Deion Branch. Branch had no receptions in that game. Yeah, someone actually took issue with that prediction, and it was TMQ.

Stretching prophesy toward Delphic highs, King forecast, even before the season began, the pairings and results of all playoff games. He divined that the wild-card round would be Cleveland over Tennessee, Jersey/B over Oakland, Tampa over the Persons and the Niners over the Eagles; the divisional round would be Cleveland over Pittsburgh, New England over Jersey/B, Green Bay over Tampa and the Rams over the Niners; the championships would be New England over Cleveland and St. Louis over Green Bay. Ten projected games -- all wrong!

Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z dueled his colleague King with a second attempt to forecast in advance every playoff game. The doctor predicted a wild-card round of Packers over Bears, Niners over Eagles, Dolphins over Raiders and Patriots over Colts; a divisional round of Rams over Packers, Bucs over Niners, Dolphins over Titans and Steelers over Patriots; a championship round of Rams over Bucs and Steelers over Dolphins. One of 10 actually right! (Bucs over Niners in divisional.) In compiling prediction lists, TMQ has learned that one-fer-10 is spectacular success by the standards of preseason forecasting.

Then there was the incredible ESPN.com meta-forecast. ESPN.com broke all records and bested all comers by having an astonishing 17 assorted experts forecast every aspect of NFL outcomes.

Did any one of the 17 ESPN.com meta-forecasters call all division winners correctly? Nein; the ESPN.com meta-forecast went oh-for-17 on that score. How did ESPN.com do on calling the conference champs? Terrible, too. Here were the ESPN.com NFC and AFC champion forecasts: Rams (10 votes), Steelers (eight votes), Niners (three votes), Titans (three votes), Jets (two votes), Eagles (two votes), Colts (two votes), Pats (one vote), Packers (one vote), Raiders (one vote). Not one single ESPN.com expert forecast City of Tampa to win the NFC, and just one of the 17 ESPN.com powerful insiders correctly forecast the Raiders as AFC champs.

The ESPN.com gentleman who did call the Raiders, and sees all and knows all, was NFL editor James C. Black. Though Black was wrong about practically everything else; he had the Dolphins, Rams and Vikings in the playoffs, and Mike Tice as Coach of the Year. Also in the ESPN.com meta-forecast, not one but two insiders -- Merrill Hoge and Russell Baxter -- predicted Dick LeBeau to be Coach of the Year. LeBeau's team went 2-14, and he was fired seconds after the season concluded.

Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner's Rams were a popular Super Bowl pick ... popular and very wrong.
In his preseason preview, Prisco of CBS Sportsline foresaw Kurt Warner as MVP, the Broncos, Saints and Rams as division winners (all failed to make the playoffs) and the Bengals and Cowboys as wild-card teams (both failed to make the playoffs). Prisco said "the surprise team in the NFC" would be the New Orleans Boy Scouts; they surprised only him, by staying home. And Prisco takes the trophy in this category for his canny prediction that the "biggest disappointment" of the season would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "There are simply too many questions for Jon Gruden to fix," Prisco prophesied.

How Am I Supposed to Satire This? National Geographic magazine will publish its first swimsuit issue. The cover, depicting a luscious young mega-babe whose breasts are only marginally covered by a sea-shell top, represents "nature, because they are sea shells," a magazine spokesperson told the Washington Post. Look for these other upcoming magazine covers:

Foreign Affairs: "The Girls of the State Department."

Journal of the American Medical Association: "Tan Lines: A Pictorial Analysis."

For female readers:

Architectural Digest: "Who Will Be the Next Joe Millionaire? Construction Workers Shed Their Shirts."

Sorry, I can't go on with this, except to say that since National Geographic is run by a tax-exempt foundation, the people who are working hard to produce honest, law-abiding free-market cheesecake now must compete with federally subsidized near-naked mega-babes.

Bad Predictions, Category Four: Then there's the midseason forecast. It's one thing to be way off when calling results before anything is known; to be way off when calling results after eight games have been played takes special flair.

At midseason, Allan Barra, sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal -- one of history's odder job descriptions -- predicted that the division winners would include Denver, New England and New Orleans. All failed to make the playoffs; remember, the prediction came halfway through the season, with 50 percent of game outcomes already known. Barra also declared there was no point in forecasting which team would take the AFC North because "No matter who wins they're going to lose in the first round of playoffs." Pittsburgh, the AFC North champion, won in the first round of the playoffs.

At midseason, Barra further divined that the Super Bowl winner would come from this group: the Broncs, Bolts, Saints, Dolphins, Eagles, Packers, Bucs and Niners. Aside from the fact that four of the eight did not even make the playoffs, what sophisticated system was used to single out these teams? They had the eight best records on the day the column was published! Barra added that he could "pretty much guarantee" that Cleveland, the Jets, the Colts, the Giants, the Falcons, Oakland and Tennessee would not make the playoffs. All did, with Oakland advancing to the Super Bowl.

Bill Parcells
Bill is also not picking the D-Rays and Expos to meet in the World Series.
In a similar feat of midseason clairvoyance, Bill Parcells declared in November that "circumstances would lead you to believe that there's very little chance" that Carolina, Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota or Seattle could make the playoffs. What circumstances would "lead you to believe" this? The teams were a combined 15-41, all cellar-dwellers, when Parcells made his bold forecast. Is this the kind of canny insider's grasp of football Parcells now brings to Dallas? Come to think of it, by recent Cowboys standards this is canny insider grasp of football.

Barra of the Wall Street Journal came back at the end of December to declare that City of Tampa possessed "the best defense in the history of the NFL," making it a sure Super Bowl winner. Oakland, Barra declared, was the only Super Bowl-quality AFC club -- never mind that one month before, Barra said the Raiders would miss the postseason -- but the Raiders "can't stay on the field long" against Tampa. Hmmm, maybe Barra really does see the football future.

Then, having in late December called the Bucs the best defensive team ever, in his January columns Barra strangely waffled, saying Tampa merely "may well have one of the best" defenses. What, exactly, had happened to the Bucs defense in just a couple of weeks? And in late December having said the Bucs would win the Super Bowl, come January, Barra proceeded to predict Tampa would lose to the Niners in the divisional, lose to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game and to lose to Oakland in the Super Bowl by the exact final score of Raiders 23, Bucs 16.

Barra claims to be in possession of an incredibly scientifically advanced computer program that allows him to predict game results. His incredibly scientifically advanced computer said Oakland would win the Super Bowl because Tampa would be incapable of running against the Raiders' line. The Bucs gained 150 yards rushing. Also, Barra's incredibly scientifically advanced computer said Oakland would jump to a quick lead, forcing the Bucs' slo-mo offense to play catch-up. It was Tampa 34, Oakland 3 in the third quarter.

Act Before Midnight Tonight and Get a Sierra Club Sticker for Your SUV: Join the Sierra Club and you actually will receive -- a free backpack! That offer appeared in TMQ's mailbox the other day, of a Sierra Club backpack "not just for trailblazing" but with "rugged good looks at home on the city streets." Surely this recognizes the reality that few contemporary Sierra Club members actually hike anywhere, they just want other people to think they do: just as Sierra Club members never actually drive their SUVs off-road, but want people to think they do.

Delightfully, the Sierra Club does not allow prospective new members to complete this offer on the Web, which would save precious resources. You've got to mail in the dead-trees application form, which came to my house enfolded in about 15 pages of sales materials. Which means Sierra Club bulk junk mail is now being tossed into the trash all across America.

Bad Predictions, Category Five: Reserved for TMQ's own bad predictions. This column has often warned of its motto, All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. Tuesday Morning Quarterback on ESPN.com is free, get it? So that if somehow one of my predictions was actually right, you would receive -- oh, never mind.

Miller Lite catfight
Until TMQ starts calling his shots, these ladies are out of reach.
At any rate, TMQ's central prediction for the year was that the team goin' to DisneyWorld would come from among the group that did not appear on Monday Night Football. I've made the same prediction four consecutive seasons, and been right the previous three times -- Rams, Ravens, Patriots. If I could call long-shots at the track or Powerball this well, I really would be riding around Vegas in a limo with an alluring woman. (Umm, actually I'd hire two; maybe the mega-babes from the Miller Lite "Catfight" ad.) But my prediction whiffed this year. Falcons at Eagles was as far into the postseason as a non-MNF team advanced. Raiders and Bucs were both Monday Night babies.

Next, since it has been the recent pattern for almost every division winner to fail to repeat the following year, I predicted that only two of last season's six division winners would repeat. Instead three did -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Oakland -- so TMQ whiffed there, too.

Finally, under intense pressure from ESPN corporate management -- which promised me free ESPN Zone tokens and never delivered -- I forecast the final records of all 32 NFL teams, which seems to me more challenging than just forecasting who makes the playoffs.

Let's see, TMQ's Sept. 3 column forecast that the Oakland Raiders would finish 11-5 -- exactly as they did. TMQ was also exactly right in forecasting the final records of the Eagles, Chargers and Seahawks. I was one game off in guessing the final records of the Cardinals, Ravens, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Colts, Jaguars, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Saints, Steelers, Titans and Persons. That means I predicted the final records of 18 of the league's 32 teams either exactly, or within one game -- which, I submit, is none shabby. The teams I was totally wrong about were the Bears (off by seven games) and Rams (off by five games).

Of course, I would not be reminding you of this if I had not done so well. What was my incredible insider secret? Blind luck.

Ontologically, the Solipsism of Her Esculent Navel Tergiversates into Desuetude, Don't Ya Think? "Our readers are interested in a sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon like that." New York Times editor Howell Raines rationalizing his super-respectable newspaper devoting a front-page article to the latest repackaging of Britney Spears.

Bad Predictions, Category Six: Now let's turn to who predicted whom would meet under the F18s in San Diego.

USA Today in various preseason previews ran no fewer than five Super Bowl projections: Steelers over Rams, Eagles over Steelers, Raiders over Eagles, Packers over Titans, Packers over Steelers. All wrong! And of 10 chances to predict a Super Bowl qualifier, the paper got only one correct.

The Washington Post predicted New England over Atlanta. Wrong!

Frank Easterbrook, federal appeals court judge and an Official Brother of TMQ, predicted San Diego vs. New Orleans. Wrong! Plus, neither made the playoffs.

ESPN's on-air folks predicted Packers over Titans (Sterling Sharpe), Niners over Broncos (Steve Young), Packers over New England (Bills Parcells), Rams over Titans (Tom Jackson) and New England over Philadelphia (Chris Berman). All wrong! Plus four of ESPN's on-air predicted 10 Super Bowl qualifiers failed to make the playoffs.

Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated predicted Rams over Steelers, while Peter King of the same outfit predicted Rams over Pats. All wrong! Plus, neither of King's predicted Super Bowl qualifiers made the playoffs.

Jay Glazer of CBS Sportsline predicted Niners over Titans, Pete Prisco of the same outfit Rams over Jets. All wrong! NFL Insider, in a quasi-official prediction posted on the league's own website, offered a 10-segment meta-prediction: Steelers over Rams (predicted twice), Rams over Steelers (predicted twice), Packers over Steelers, Eagles over Steelers, Rams over Oakland, Niners over Oakland, Colts over Tampa, Packers over Colts. All wrong!

Steve Spurrier
We hope Steve Spurrier didn't clear space in the trophy case for that Coach of the Year award.
The New York Times offered four predictions: Rams over Jets (predicted twice), Rams over Steelers, Steelers over Eagles. All wrong! The Sporting News -- which predicted Steve Spurrier as Coach of the Year -- forecast Rams over Steelers. Wrong!

The CBS on-air broadcasters forecast Rams vs. Steelers (Deion Sanders, wrong), Steelers vs. Eagles (Dan Marino, wrong), Packers vs. Colts (Boomer Esiason, wrong) and Raiders vs. Bucs (Jim Nantz). To TMQ's knowledge, Nantz was the sole person in the entire space-time continuum of the local star cluster to foretell a Raiders versus Bucs Super Bowl. Note to anyone else who might have predicted Raiders-Bucs before the season started; remember, this is the annual bad predictions review.

Then there was the Chris Mortenson dividing-cell constantly-mutating Super Bowl forecast. In his preseason preview, Mortenson forecast Packers vs. Steelers. Then, at different points in the season, he changed his forecast to Raiders vs. Eagles, Packers vs. Broncos, Packers vs. Raiders, back to Steelers vs. Packers, Packers vs. "Don't Know," and Bucs vs. Raiders. This last was forecast on Nov. 26; later, Mortenson changed his prediction away from Bucs vs. Raiders to other different pairings. TMQ's guessing that Chris Mortenson has now been caught saying at least to his mirror, if not in public, "See? I predicted Raiders vs. Bucs!" But Mortenson forecast at least seven Super Bowl pairings that TMQ saw, maybe more on the air. At best he's one-fer-seven.

Finally the incredible 17-person ESPN.com meta-forecast projected Rams over Steelers (predicted four times), Titans over Rams (predicted twice), Rams over Colts (predicted twice), Steelers over Rams, Steelers over Packers, Steelers over Eagles, Steelers over Niners, Rams over Jets, Rams over Pats, Jets over Niners, Raiders over Eagles, Niners over Titans. All wrong! And of 34 chances ESPN.com's team had to forecast a Super Bowl qualifier, just one was correct.

Swelling Music Plays: The clichés, cheap shots and recycled jokes in this column are intended for the private use of the audience. All snide references are the property of Tuesday Morning Quarterback and cannot be reused or rebroadcast without the express written consent of the United Nations Security Council.

Condoleezza Rice
"Saddam Hussein copied my Super Bowl pick!"
Bad Predictions, Category Seven The seventh and final category is predictions once the Super Bowl contestants are known. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice picked the Raiders. Fun note: last week the National Security Advisor accused Saddam Hussein of plagiarism. That's worth a cruise missile right there! Suppose the inspectors catch him cheating at Yahtzee, will the bombing begin immediately?

The incredible Harmon Forecast, which boasts that it uses an incredibly scientifically advanced mathematical formula to "pick winners correctly between 72 and 78 percent of the time," forecast an exact final of Oakland 26, Tampa 21. For the 2001 season, the incredible Harmon Forecast was actually right only 63 percent of the time, and this is picking straight up, not against the spread. The Harmon Forecast continues to claim it is correct "between 72 and 78 percent of the time," and has solved the embarrassing track-record problem by ceasing to publish its cumulative performance, so no one has any idea how it did.

The joint CNN-Sports Illustrated website offered five dueling exact final score predictions, all wrong. A few clairvoyance highlights. "There is no Buccaneer who can make a game-breaking difference:" B. Duane Cross. "The key to the game will be the Raiders defensive backs, who will gamble and jump routes and come up with turnovers:" Paul Zimmerman. If only Dr. Z had written exactly the same sentence with "Buccaneers" instead of "Raiders" before "defensive backs," he'd be dining out on this for months! "The game will be low-scoring and close:" Peter King.

Newsweek, the Washington Post, The Sporting News, the New York Times MCNBC, the NFL's own website and many others offered exact final score predictions, all wrong. "The game figures to be close:" Newsweek.

Zo, Vat Deep-Seated Childhood Inadequacy Made You Vant to Become a Psychoanalyst, Ya? According to figures in this article by Erica Goode, 20 percent of the nation's psychoanalysts live in New York City. Three percent of the nation's population lives there. TMQ's theory is that the psychoanalysts all have each other as patients.

Single Worst Prediction of the 2002 Season: Many candidates are worthy, but the nod goes to Allan Barra of the Wall Street Journal. Please, don't complain that you weren't chosen!

In late December, Barra called Tampa the best team in the league, predicted it would win the Super Bowl and, specifically, would pound Oakland in any Super Bowl matchup. Mere weeks later the same columnist predicted that Tampa would lose every playoff game, then predicted Tampa would be defeated by Oakland in the Super Bowl. TMQ foresees that you will search a long time for worse clairvoyance than this.

TMQ Sign-Off: Now begins that long, lonely offseason, without any excuse to spend Sunday nailed to the couch drinking half-honey heavy-light twice-unfiltered pale triticale instant microwaved blueberry-almond ale. And with the season ended, Tuesday Morning Quarterback folds its tent and steals off into the desert till August, except for sporadic special-guest-star appearances.

TMQ recommends that you spend the offseason engaged in spiritual growth. Read the classics, Herodotus in the original Greek is particularly enlightening. Do Buddhist breathing exercises: Thich Nhat Hanh advises repeating to yourself, Breathing in I relax, breathing out I smile. Take long hikes through scenic nature preserves and don't think about mega-babes or ultra-hunks. Read Deborah Tannen on why men and women have such difficulty communicating and then, if you are a woman, spends hours discussing her work and, if you are a man, say, "Yeah, that book was OK." Join a faith-based organization. Eat a healthful diet of fresh foods, avoiding fats and sweets. Slowly sip decaffeinated herbal tea. Do these things and you will feel justified racing back to the couch, the beer, and the swimsuit calendars when the NFL resumes next fall.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 4:47 PM

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January 28, 2003

Why are you punting?

POST #    489

Why are you punting?
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Say this about the City of Tampa Buccaneers: They saved the best for last. Sports lore holds that great teams play their best game as their last game, and the Bucs passed that test. Some clubs arrive at the Super Bowl thinking, "Okay, we're here, better not blow it." Others arrive thinking, "This is what it has all been building up to," and play their finest game ever. That's what the Patriots did in the Super Bowl last year, what the Ravens did in the Super Bowl the year before that, what the Broncos did against the Packers a few years earlier, what the Cowboys did against the Bills a few years before that.


Great teams develop a belief that everything is leading toward one magnificent performance. Tampa showed that spirit Sunday. Coulda-been-great teams view getting to the Super Bowl as their vindication and, of course, hope to play well, but are not totally focused. The thought "oh well, we'll get the ball back" runs through the minds of coulda-been-great teams at the Super Bowl -- Buffalo of the 1990s, Minnesota of the 1970s -- while for the great teams every play, every second-and-six, is the single most important thing the players have ever done in their lives.


Great teams understand that all of their hard work transpired exclusively to create the moment of championship, and that they must leave everything on the field. Tampa left everything on the field Sunday; the Raiders left quite a bit back at the hotel, if not in safety-deposit boxes in Switzerland. The Buccaneers may never play like that again, and if they don't it doesn't matter. They saved the best for last.


These things said, to TMQ the determining factors were not the Tampa zone nor the big interceptions, but the Tampa offensive game plan and the breakdown of the Raiders' offensive line. Throw in rookie coach Bill Callahan going fraidy-cat with what may be the Single Worst Call in Super Bowl history, and you've got a formula for being punched out. Let's take these in turn.


Tampa's Offensive Game Plan: A top defense stopped a top offense for the nth consecutive time in the Super Bowl. But the performance of the Bucs' offense was as important.


Bear in mind that it was Tampa 6, Oakland 3 in the middle of the second quarter, very much anybody's game. Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden then did the smartest thing a Super Bowl coach could possibly do -- he took TMQ's advice. Last week, TMQ's Super Bowl prediction was, "The game will be won by whichever team surprises the other with a rushing-oriented game plan." At the eight-minute mark of the second, Gruden switched out of an ineffective hurry-up passing game and went to the ground game.


The Bucs put in two tight ends, while, much to TMQ's pleasure, Pro Bowl "fullback" Mike Alstott actually lined up at fullback and threw blocks. For the remainder of the half, Tampa rushed 11 times for 49 yards, threw five times for 43 yards and picked up three first downs on Oakland penalties, as the Raiders defense, expecting a pass-wacky look, seemed to have no idea how to respond to power running. Tampa scored touchdowns on both these second-quarter possessions when it went to the ground, making the count 20-3 at halftime. Everything about the switch to running worked. Two touchdowns in two possessions; Oakland's offense kept off the field while the clock ground; Oakland down 20-3 at the half, its drip-drip-drip attack not designed for comebacks.

Looks like the Raiders forgot about Alstott.
Then, on his first possession of the second half -- knowing the Raiders spent halftime adjusting to the run -- Gruden went play-action, to fine effect. Tampa's first possession of the second half was an 89-yard, eight-minute touchdown drive that put the Bucs ahead 27-3 and caused TMQ to write the words "game over" in his notebook, though considerable entertainment remained. On that drive, the Bucs ran seven times and passed seven times, four of them play-action. This was masterful manipulation of an opponent. The effect carried over to help Tampa's defense; the Oakland offense lost heart trying to climb out of a scoreboard hole.


As for TMQ having called this shot -- I am available, my price is two No. 1s, two No. 2s and $8 million.


Oakland's Cover-Your-Eyes Offensive Line: Just how bad was Raiders Pro Bowl tackle Lincoln Kennedy, winner of the TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP award? Game tied at three in the first, Oakland on the Tampa 43. Kennedy barely so much as brushes Simeon Rice as he blows in to pressure Rich Gannon into throwing a pick; Kennedy looked like he was courteously stepping aside for the Queen's carriage. Instead of Oakland moving into scoring range, the Bucs drive for a field goal the other way. Kennedy gave up two sacks, had no push and once appeared simply to let go of Warren Sapp to give him a free shot at Gannon as the pass was released. Maybe the international publicity and nonstop mega-babes went to Kennedy's head after he was named TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP, but he looked seriously awful. On one snap, Tampa's Greg Spires blew past Kennedy to sack Gannon. Spires is a waiver-wire gentlemen who has bounced around the league. Kennedy made him look like Derrick Thomas in his prime.


The desertion of Raiders Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins -- see Single Worst Play below -- was treated by bobbleheads and sportswriters as an odd sidebar, but may have been the determining moment of the Super Bowl. Oakland denied that the disappearance of a key player on the night for the Super Bowl had any affect, but that's complete hooey. Pregame, the team was visibly deflated by this distraction, and by knowing it would take the field short-handed. Once the whistle sounded, the Long Johns offensive line played its worst game of the year.


TMQ has done several items on the fact that OL play is the essence of Oakland's league-leading offense. Rich Gannon was sacked on average less than twice per game during the regular season, despite the Raiders passing constantly, and as important, consistently had time to scan defenses and wait for those infuriating Oakland "rub" routes to develop. In the Super Bowl, Gannon was under constant pressure, sacked five times and forced into numerous hurried throws that went clang, or into the wrong hands.


The Oakland OL produced one of the worst blocking performances TMQ has ever winced through, in part because its schemes were disrupted. On most plays, one of the guards, Mo Collins or Frank Middleton, helped reserve center Adam Treu handle his man, leaving the Raiders' tackles "on islands." Left tackle Barry Sims usually gets guard help. With Robbins out and Treu getting the help, Sims was cover-your-eyes, too, on two occasions barely so much as waving at Rice before the gentleman blew in to paste Gannon.

Kennedy looked more like a matador than TMQ MVP.
On the first Tampa sack, for example, four minutes into game and the Raiders facing third-and-seven, Sims let Rice fly by, at best gesturing in his direction. The Raiders had five blocking four on that play, and Gannon was sacked before he could finish his drop-back. On another sack, Middleton turned to help Sims with Rice; but no one even touched Warren Sapp, who blew in to paste Gannon. Tampa blitzed eight times in the game, meaning there were usually at least five Raiders blockers on four Bucs rushers. Nevertheless, protection was awful.


Note that the game's final phase, when the Tampa defensive line was tired and Gannon had time to scan the field, the Raiders put up two fairly easy-looking touchdowns. Once Gannon had time, suddenly his offense was powerful again and the City of Tampa defense was human again. What we saw in the final 17 minutes of the Super Bowl was the tight, tense, exciting duel we would have seen through the entire game, had Robbins not flaked out and the Oakland line played per usual. In this sense, by disappearing AWOL, Robbins not only shafted his teammates, he shafted the nation, depriving us of a tight, tense, exciting Super Bowl.


Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkk! It's 20-3 at the half and everything has gone wrong for the Raiders. But they still have the league's top offense and get the ball to start the second half. They know that if they put up two scores, the pressure will shift to Tampa's underwhelming offense.


Oakland takes the kick, runs three plays and faces fourth-and-two on its 35. Bill Callahan sends in the punting unit. No! No! A thousand times no! You're behind by 17 and must make something happen. There's no tomorrow, there is no ranking computer that gives credit for margin of victory or defeat. The Raiders have the No. 1 offense; if the No. 1 offense can't gain two yards, you might as well concede and go get a blueberry-almond martini and watch the ships put out to sea. This is the Super Bowl, there is no tomorrow. Why are you punting?


Over TMQ's house, the sky darkened and lightning flashed on this play as the football gods showed their displeasure. TMQ was screaming at the tube, "No! No!" The football gods exacted prompt revenge; Tampa took the punt and staged the 89-yard, eight-minute drive that made it 27-3 and caused TMQ to write the words "game over" in his notebook. As I wrote, I felt that the football gods were controlling my hand.

Gannon was running for dear life for most of the night.
TMQ endlessly rails against fraidy-cat NFL coaches who punt when way behind, in order to avoid criticism. (If the players lose, it's their fault, but if the coach orders a gamble and the gamble fails, it's his fault.) Sure fourth-and-two is a risk, but down by 17, you've got to take some chances, and you won't find many chances more attractive than fourth-and-two. Plus there's no tomorrow. Plus it's the Super Bowl. Why are you punting?


Callahan might have been better off gambling and losing than punting. When coaches try for it in situations like these, they are challenging their own players to win the game. When coaches go fraidy-cat in situations like these, they are announcing that the coaches have quit, so the players might as well too.


After touchdowns made it Tampa 34-9, then 34-15, then 34-21 late in the third through the mid-fourth, Callahan never ordered an onside kick, either. Sure an onside is a gamble. But you're behind and time is running out and it's the Super Bowl. Why aren't you playing to win rather than for a respectable final margin of defeat? Driven to mighty fury, the football gods denied Oakland even that.


Cheerleader of the Week No. 1: In the Super Bowl spirit, the column will name two, and the first TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Danielle Dolen of City of Tampa. According to her team bio, Dolen is a college student whose favorite place to go is South Beach in Miami -- in this age of free-agent cheer-babes, perhaps the Dolphins will recruit her. South Beach is among the world's top gawking locations for men wishing to gawk babes; maybe there are ripped ultra-hunks there too for women to gawk, but, come to think of it, I've never noticed. Danielle admits to having once passed herself off as Britney Spears. Why, we'd know that navel anywhere!

Super Bowl champs, cheerleader of the week -- it's a dream come true.
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: Super Bowl tied at three at the end of the first quarter, Oakland faced third-and-two on the City of Tampa 43. It's anybody's game. The Bucs stopped a short run on the previous play, so won't be expecting another run, and they have the league's No. 1 pass defense, while their run defense is human. You can't win the Super Bowl unless you can run for two yards; plus, given the field position, if you pick up one yard, then you go for it on fourth. Run! Instead it's an empty-backfield roll-out play, Rich Gannon sprints backwards, bad pass, intercepted, Tampa scores on its possession. You can't win the Super Bowl if you can't run for two yards.


At the start of the third quarter the Raiders again faced third-and-two and again Gannon sprinted backward, this time for an incompletion. You can't win the Super Bowl if you can't run for two yards.


Single Worst Play of Super Bowl XXXVII: The Single Worst Play happened on Saturday when Robbins went AWOL. At this writing it remained unclear why. Maybe Robbins has some genuine psychological affliction that we should not judge; maybe he's an incredible jerk. Whatever the reason, he totally shafted over his team, setting up its offensive line for its collapse.


Stat of the Week: The Tampa defense outscored the Oakland offense, 21-15.


Stat of the Week No. 2: In three playoff games, the Buccaneer defense allowed three touchdowns while scoring four touchdowns.


Stat of the Week No. 3: Oakland recorded 19 yards rushing.


Stat of the Week No. 4: Bill Romanowski became the 12th player to appear in five Super Bowls. Just one gentleman has played in six: Mike Lodish. You knew that, right?


Stat of the Week No. 5: Jerry Rice acquired one of the few possible records he does not already own, most touchdowns in postseason play -- 22 -- passing Thurman Thomas and Emmitt Smith.


Stat of the Week No. 6: Tampa can't run? The 2003 NFL postseason rushing leader was Michael Pittman of the Bucs.

Sorry fantasy fans, Pittman was the man in the playoffs.
Stats of the Week No. 7: Through its 17 games, Tampa's pass defenders allowed 11 touchdown completions while recording 40 interceptions and running back eight for touchdowns.


Stat of the Week No. 8: The cumulative passer rating of Tampa opponents through all 17 games was 44.8. Ryan Leaf's career rating was 50.


But Does She Rip Off Another Alluring Woman's Clothes Over a Miller Lite? Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas, on the Vegas ad that the NFL thumbs-downed for the Super Bowl telecast: "Sure the ad is racy. It features an alluring woman on a limousine ride through Las Vegas. But this is Vegas, after all."


The Deuce Disasters: The Raiders were right to go for deuces after every touchdown. Normally, TMQ says take the 99 percent chance of one over the 40 percent chance of two, but Oakland was so far behind it needed every point.


All three Oakland deuce attempts, however, were regular passes from regular sets. TMQ's immutable law of the goal line says that you can power-run, play-fake or rollout, but a regular pass won't work because at that point the defense has so little territory to defend. Pittsburgh, for all its faults this season, was awesome on deuce plays, because every call involved rollouts and trickery. Oakland, poised at the goal line, used a regular pass from a regular set three times and went oh-fer-three. Ay caramba.


This Week's Sci-Fi Complaint: On a recent episode of "Star Trek Enterprise," the entire crew of 83 hid in an air shaft next to the warp engines while aliens took over the ship. All sci-fi fans groan in unison: How many times have intruders taken over "Star Trek" ships? It's as if anyone boarding is handed a pamphlet titled, "Helpful Hints for Seizing Federation Vessels." My favorite occurred in an episode of "Star Trek Voyager." A sinister Hirogen seized control of Voyager by pushing aside two security guards, ripping a panel off the wall and punching some buttons really fast. On the bridge, Tom immediately yelled, "I've lost helm control!" Set aside that the Hirogen knew exactly where to look, exactly how to operate a control panel designed using the technology of another planet and exactly what codes to punch in. Where was the secret master control panel located? In the mess hall, behind the wok! Apparently, Federation starships are engineered so that anyone can seize control from the kitchen.


But what really drives TMQ nuts about science fiction is the enormity of the air shafts. Eighty-three men and women hide in an air shaft; there's sufficient space for them to play cards and set up bunks. In another episode this fall, the Enterprise had been taken over by yet a different set of aliens. Hoshi had to recover control by crawling through air shafts which turned out to take her anywhere on the ship and were large enough for a person, though ostensibly all the shafts are for is ventilation. In a 1960s episode, Kirk and Spock escaped from a 23rd-century prison by crawling out through the air shaft. A prison had an air shaft large enough to crawl through, covered by a grate easily popped off.

"Don't worry guys, Ziggy will leap us out of here."
Related complaint: Countless times on the Kirk, Janeway, Sisko, Picard and now Archer iterations of "Star Trek," there have been scenes in which our imprisoned heroes discuss in detail their escape plans -- as if future societies could build faster-than-light starcruisers, but had no idea how to put a microphone in a jail cell.


Last year, in an episode of the Showtime series "Stargate SG1," the good guys were captured by the highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy. Thrown into the brig aboard a starcruiser of the highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy, almost immediately they unscrewed a huge, flimsy panel that easily popped off and led to an air shaft large enough for several people to crawl through simultaneously. The air shaft was so commodious, it might have had a hamburger stand and a drive-through car wash.


Look around your home, workplace or starcruiser. If there is forced-air ventilation, the vent is a few inches across. Maybe there's a large main shaft somewhere, but how would you get to it? We're supposed to believe that something in future engineering causes designers to build air shafts wide enough for a dune-buggy race, and to do so even on starcruisers, where presumably space is at a premium. The sole sci-fi air shaft TMQ ever found believable was the one on the alien flagship of the aliens-invade-Earth novel "Footfall," which would make a much better Hollywood flick than most of what gets produced. The air shafts were believable because the aliens in this case were highly advanced pachyderms; everything aboard their ship was gigantic in human terms.


Speaking of the "Stargate" serial, TMQ is willing to suspend disbelief on its central premise: that a highly advanced evil species threatening to enslave the galaxy uses teleportation gates on various worlds, and that the plucky, wise-cracking team of American commandos figures out how to employ the gates to travel to distant planets without the highly advanced evil species being able to stop them. But while TMQ will suspend disbelief on that premise -- otherwise, no serial -- I put my foot down regarding the recent X303 episode.


Turns out that the Air Force has built the X303, an enormous starcruiser with a faster-than-light drive system copied from an alien ship that crashed in Wyoming. What happens in the episode? Suspicious persons seize control of the ship -- though not from the kitchen -- and blast off for deep space. How do they accomplish this? The X303 is unguarded.


Now if the Air Force possessed an actual starship, and if the Earth was in danger of invasion by a highly advanced evil species that threatens to enslave the galaxy, that ship would be considered pretty important, right? Yet a handful of people with sidearms effortlessly steal the ship. (Colonel O'Neill, lead character in "Stargate," promptly bellows, "I can't believe this happened!" Colonel: in science fiction, spaceships are always getting taken over.) To top it off, the X303 hyperdrive works perfectly, though the ship has never been flight-tested and, presumably, was built by the same defense contractor who just announced the latest cost overruns and delays for the F22.

"I'm touched, eh. Beers are on me."
Peter Jennings Should Have Introduced Her: "God Bless America" was sung before the Super Bowl by Celine Dion, a Canadian. The NFL officially billed her as an "international singer". TMQ found it discordant, to say the least, to hear someone who isn't an American belting out "God bless America, my home, sweet home!" at a quintessentially American event. Was there no American citizen capable of rendering this tune?


Raiders: Don't Walk Out Over This One, Okay? Going for two after making it 34-21 with six minutes left, Oakland threw to Jerry Porter, who appeared to catch it in the air and be pushed out. TMQ thought it was a classic force-out and that the catch should have counted; the zebra on the scene thought otherwise; Callahan challenged and announcers talked about how a force-out cannot be reviewed, as by quirk, some rulings including force-out are not subject to review; after review, the play stood as called, no catch. Please, Raider Nation, don't claim this is more evidence of the international Zionist-Hindu conspiracy against you. (When TMQ lived in Pakistan, local newspapers were full of talk of "Zionist-Hindu" schemes to control the world.)


Everyone missed that the zebra on the scene did not rule that Porter was out of bounds -- he ruled pass incomplete. Porter held the ball, flew through the air and then, as he came down, the ball hit the ground and bounced. NFL rules now say that if a receiver catches in the air and appears to have possession and control, but the ball bounces when he hits the ground, it's incomplete. TMQ has doubts about that rule -- in common-sense terms, Porter's play looked good to me. Just as, in common-sense terms, Charles Woodson sure made Tom Brady fumble in the Snow Bowl. But in terms of the rules, Brady didn't fumble and Porter did not make the catch. Zebras were right both times.


The only reason referee Bill Carollo allowed the Raiders to challenge is that what they were challenging was a ruling of incompletion, not force-out: a complete/incomplete judgment can be reversed. All you had to do to know this was to watch the zebra immediately give the sign for incompletion, not the sign for receiver out of bounds.


Cheerleader of the Week No. 2: In the bipartisan Super Bowl spirit, the co-TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Rebecca Guerrero of the Raiders. Born in Oakland to parents from Guadalajara Jalisco, Guerrero has sung the National Anthem both at Raiders games and at sports events in Mexico. According to her team bio, Guerrero's hobbies are working out, water skiing and "shopping with a fetish for shoes." Wait, a mega-babe has a shoe fetish? Isn't it supposed to be middle-aged chain-smoking French matinee actors who have shoe fetishes?

The Imelda Marcos of cheerleaders.
Sweet Play of the Day: Leading 13-3, Tampa had first-and-goal on the Oakland five with 34 seconds in the half. Receiver Keenan McCardell split right, covered by Charles Woodson. For this situation, NFL teams have fallen in love with the "fade," in which the receiver runs shallow to the pin at the corner of the end zone, looking over his shoulder back across the defender. McCardell took off as if for a fade, and Woodson turned to defend a ball coming over his head. Brad Johnson then deliberately underthrew the pass, and McCardell turned the other way to catch it behind his body as Woodson kept watching for the fade action. This is a modern variation on the old deliberate-underthrow that Joe Namath used to Don Maynard, on plays that cornerbacks thought were fly patterns, and it was the beauty play of the Super Bowl.


Sweet Play If It Had Come, Oh, Two Quarters Sooner: Oakland trailing 34-15 with six minutes left, Gannon hit Jerry Rice on beauty post route for a 48-yard touchdown and the Raiders' last-gasp. Fifty-four minutes had ticked off the clock, and this was the only the second time Gannon had thrown down the deep middle. No one has ever beaten a two-deep zone defense by throwing nothing but outs and to the short middle, which is what the Raiders had tried to this point. The post is Rice's best route -- remember how he killed the Bolts with it in the Niners-Chargers Super Bowl? -- yet Oakland had Rice spend the day running sideways. Yumpin' jiminy.


Chat Joke Saved From Dustbin of History: Here is the transcript of one exchange during TMQ's appearance on the ESPN.com live chat last Friday:



Yonaton (Buffalo): Gregg, is it fair to compare Mike Brown to Kim Jong Il? Think about it: famous dads, old-school philosophies that run their respective organizations into the ground, aloofness. What would happen if they switched places for a year? Would Brown refuse to hire spies?


Gregg Easterbrook: Yonaton, if Mike Brown and Kim Jong Il switched places, the North Korean economy would decline, while all Bengals would begin to glow from the plutonium hidden in the locker room.

Precision Blitzing: Though many local-newscast-class sportswriters attributed the dominant City of Tampa defensive performance to blitzing, the Bucs blitzed eight times on 55 Oakland snaps -- 15 percent blitzing, less than the league average of about 20 percent. But when Tampa did blitz, it was often effective because, rather than blitz on third-and-long as every NFL offensive coordinator expects every defensive coordinator to do, the Bucs blitzed when the Raiders weren't expecting it.

Don't be fooled by the ring that he's got. He's still Monte from the block.
Monte Kiffin did not call his first blitz until the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, and it came on a first-and-10. Gannon appeared so rattled by a corner blitz on a non-blitz down that he sailed the ball right to Dexter Jackson for the interception, though Gannon had time. On the first snap of Oakland's next possession, again first-and-10 and the first play after a corner blitz -- you'd never expect that twice in a row, right? -- Kiffin called the same thing, forcing Gannon to throw the ball away.


And In My Memories, I Was Constantly Being Asked Out by Hot Babes: After Oakland missed its third of three two-point conversion attempts and trailed by 13 instead of 10 points as it would have been had the Raiders taken singletons, John Madden reminisced, "When I was coaching in this league, I never went for two until the very end, regardless of the scoreboard. I believed in always taking one point unless it was the very end."


Surely, Madden is in sync with TMQ's immutable law of the conversion: Take One Till the Fourth. But John -- when you were a head coach, there was no two-point option. Madden ran the Raiders from 1969 to 1978. The old AFL two-point rule was ended when the AFL and old NFL merged in 1967. The deuce conversion option was not reinstated until 1994.


Jesus Said, "How Hard It Will Be for Those Who Have Wealth to Enter the Kingdom of God" The gift shop of the new $190 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles sells a house chardonnay for $24.95 per bottle. The main doors of the Cathedral weigh 25,000 pounds each, while the altar "is made from a six-ton, thick slab of Turkish Rosso Laguna marble and was fabricated, cut, polished and shipped from Carrara, Italy. Because of its size, the altar had to be lowered 128 feet into the Cathedral by crane before the roof was installed." The Cathedral's conference center is "equipped with full catering services, can be utilized for business meetings, cocktail parties, wedding receptions, galas, and seminars. Guided Cathedral tours with lunch from the simple to the elaborate are also an option. Parking is convenient and easy, located directly under the Conference Center with weekday space for several hundred cars. Valet parking is available for evening or Saturday events."


TMQ doesn't mean to offend Catholics; lots of Protestants (and members of all other religions) are hypocritical about wealth. Still, it's a good bet Jesus would look on this monument to money in horror.


New Yorker, CNBC, What's the Difference? Tina Brown, who at one point was going to rule the publishing world, will now produce financial specials for CNBC ("The Network for People Who Can't Get On MSNBC").


$72, $4, What's the Difference? Missing from Super Bowl advertising was another big-budget E*Trade chimpanzee commercial, breaking a four-year string. Remember the E*Trade Super Bowl ad that showed the chimpanzee crying while surveying a wasteland of failed dot-coms, such as TieClasp.com? That commercial ended with the legend, "INVEST WISELY." Let's hope you took the message to heart and did not invest in E*Trade, which has fallen from $72 to $4. TieClasp.com was probably a smarter buy. Last week E*Trade's CEO Christos Cotsakos resigned in disgrace -- he expropriated $59 million for himself in 2001, even as the firm was losing money. Wonder how much the chimp embezzled.

The chimp would have been a better CEO than Christos.
Anything You Bark May Be Used Against You in a Court of Law: Geneva, the Official Dog of TMQ -- a Chesapeake retriever, noble state dog of Maryland -- has a large heart and a brain the size of a walnut. She barks at everything, including blowing leaves. Recently, I received from the county a barking complaint against the Official Dog, on which the complainant was listed as: "neighbor, anonymous." I called the county animal control division and said, "This is America, the Constitution guarantees a right to confront your accuser! Who is this anonymous accuser?" The county animal- officer told me: "Sorry, dogs don't have Constitutional rights."


It turns out the Montgomery County animal-control division knows its law well! Federal courts have ruled that dogs have no rights. See this appellate court decision, Dye v. Wargo, finding that a dog cannot be sued and also that a dog cannot be a municipal employee. Check out this case, Miles v. Augusta, which finds that Blackie the Talking Cat must pay income taxes -- or at least, that her owners must pay a local amusement levy if they charge people fees to listen to the talking cat -- while concluding that a cat is not a person. Miles v. Augusta includes this judicious description of the judge's inspection of the defendant: "Suspecting that the cat in question was Blackie, I thought twice" before saying anything the talking feline might repeat.


Maybe it's just as well that dogs do not have Constitutional rights, as then they would have a First Amendment right to bark. Although such barking could be restricted to the Constitutionally protected topics of politics, science, the arts and personal expression, including the forms of personal expression that TMQ thanks the Supreme Court for consistently holding is safeguarded under the First Amendment, namely, naughty movies and topless dancing.


But though dogs have no rights, apparently pandas do. Last spring, D'Vera Cohn of the Washington Post asked to see the medical records of the famed pandas of the National Zoo. She was told she could not see the records, because this would violate the pandas' privacy rights! What, couldn't they sign a waiver? National Zoo officials further told Cohn that Constitutional rights apply "in principal" to animals residing in the federally owned National Zoo. Does that mean they get a lawyer? Oh, if only someone could convince the Official Dog of TMQ that she has a right to remain silent.


As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jimmy Carter Once Noted, "Life Is Unfair." The sports catalog Eastbay offers 86 authentic jerseys of NFL players, and only one is of an offensive lineman.

Is that the Meadowlands in the background?
And How Can They Prove Washington Crossed the Delaware? Maybe It Was All Faked on a Sound Stage: NASA, whose space-station project is more than a billion dollars over budget, will pay a $5,000 contract cancellation fee to halt a planned pamphlet aimed at convincing people the Apollo moon landings really did occur. Apparently, NASA is actually worried about the talk-radio appearances of one Ralph Rene, a New Jersey carpenter with a self-published book saying that the moon landings were faked and also, for good measure, that Isaac Newton was wrong about the laws of motion.


Order Rene's bizarre book, "NASA Mooned America," containing "a simple arithmetic proof that Newton's gravity of attraction of mass for mass is erroneous." Go here. to order an excellent book that does not claim to disprove Newton, "Red Star In Orbit," about the old Soviet space program during the Moon-race era. "Red Star In Orbit" is by NASA-engineer-turned-writer James Oberg, who was scheduled to pen the pamphlet proving the Moon landings.


This leaves TMQ wondering two things. One, if Newton was wrong about the laws of celestial motion, wouldn't all communication satellites be spiraling off into the void? No wonder I can't get DirecTV! And second, what other claimed events need to be proven?


Reader Mike Cannon of Germantown, Maryland, recommends this site, in which astronomer Phil Plait of Sonoma State University debunks all claims that the Moon landings were faked and, for more fun, debunks movies and television shows that contain bad references to astronomy or depict space flight in ways that are physically impossible.


Modern Economics: Many coupons in newspaper food sections lately have been denominated at 55 cents. Why that curious value? Because grocery stores with coupon-doubling deals will double a coupon up to 50 cents but not above. This means a 50-cent coupon costs the manufacturer a dollar, while a 55-cent coupon looks like more yet costs the manufacturer less. Now a 30-cent coupon is worth more to the buyer, since it doubles to 60 cents, than a 55-cent coupon that stays at 55 cents. Right now the most valuable coupon is denominated at 45 cents; since it doubles to 90 cents, a 45-cent coupon is worth more than an 85-cent coupon. Only in America!


Look, Mr. Spock! Life-Form Readings on the Maine Interstate: Chomp, Inc, "inventors of pet candy,", has begun an aggressive campaign to market Yip Yap, a breath mint for dogs. Packaged in pocket-sized tins to resemble what the company calls "human breath mints" -- how can breath mints be "human?" -- Yip Yaps are promoted with testimonials such as these, from a Joan Perkins of Maryland: "I keep the Yip Yaps in my car with my Altoids so that when I take my dog to someone's house I give her a Yip Yap first."

For man's wintergreen scented best friend.
TMQ lives in Maryland, and now must be ever-vigilant to avoid running into this Joan Perkins. Joan, do you get the tins confused, and give the dog Altoids while popping a few tasty Yip Yaps yourself? And just why does your dog need breath freshener so badly on social calls -- are your friends planning on kissing your dog?


Check out this company press release:


SIDNEY, Maine -- Motorists will be able to buy candy bars and dog treats from the same vending machine when they pull into rest stops along Interstate 95 in central Maine. Chomp Inc. began stocking Yip Yap, a doggie breath mint, and Sniffers, a moist chewy beef and cheese candy for dogs, alongside Reese's Nutrageous bars and Wrigley's gum at a vending machine at the northbound rest stop in Sidney.


Chomp, based in Lebanon, N.J., said it was the first company to stock dog treats in vending machines that also contain candy for humans.


The "first company in the nation to stock dog treats in vending machines that also contain candy for humans" - now there's something to boast about. And when, to candy marketers, did "people" become "humans"?


San Diego Super Bowl = Excuse for Charger Cheer-Babe: Gawk at Bolts cheerleader Angie Rameriz, a student who, sadly for the world's men, is married. According to her team bio, Rameriz says she wants to visit "all of Europe." Better hurry, Angie, since Europe gets larger every day. Just a few years ago the European Union contained 12 nations. Now it's up to 15, with 10 others to be admitted next year and many formally designated "candidate countries".


TMQ can't forget to give props to our Super Bowl hosts.
If you are of the sort who finds bureaucratese more entertaining than babes in swimsuits, check this European Union discourse on the question of whether Corsica can achieve "island status." But isn't Corsica an island regardless of what European Union committees think?


Oh Ye Mortals, Trifle Not with the Football Gods Jerry Porter of the Raiders had the incredible gall to call the Tampa defensive backs, who outscored the entire Oakland offense, "awful across the board, they're awful". The football gods will exact vengeance on Porter for this.


But note that the story, from the New York Daily News, says that not only did Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden play Rich Gannon in Bucs practices: he told Bucs defensive players the Raiders' audible code-words, and the Raiders came into the Super Bowl not having changed their code words. Oakland knew Gruden knew its audible codes and yet kept them! The Daily News says that during the game, when Gannon barked audibles, Tampa defenders immediately called out the play. Ye gods.



Astonishing New York Times Insider Exclusive! One of the goofy staples of American journalism is the front-page story in the New York Times which, in somber, deadpan tones, presents as a stunning revelation something absolutely everyone in the United States, European Union, Hapsburg Empire and Hanseatic League has known for years.


An exemplar of this form was a page-one piece, "Super Bowl Insiders Watch Before Snap of Ball," in last week's New York Times, purporting to give the astonishing skinny on how "insiders" would watch Tampa versus Oakland. The lead of this shocking piece -- on the front page of the world's most important newspaper! -- disclosed that "coaches and executives will scan their television screens Sunday for the tell-tale signs of strategy in the Super Bowl." Holy moly -- tell-tale signs of strategy!


And what might these signs be? "The insiders will study the battle at the line of scrimmage, getting a general sense of where the holes are." Wow -- talk about insider information, who knew that? Insiders further possess the astounding knowledge that if quarterbacks hold the ball too long, "It means their receivers are covered ... and eventually, the pass protection will break down." Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite, who could have known this! Insiders possess additional earth-shaking insights, such as, "They will look to see if there is a running back behind the quarterbacks," because if the backfield is empty, "this will put more pressure on the defense." Hey, if an empty backfield puts more pressure on the defense, why don't teams always go empty? Only the insiders know!


"The insiders" also have some puzzling exclusive information. Much of the piece dwelled on corner Ronde Barber coming up to the line in the Bucs-Eagles NFC championship. Insiders know, according to the Times, that he "repeatedly blitzed from this position." Funny, Barber blitzed twice in that game. The Times further asserted that having Barber come to the line was a "radical twist" insiders had never before seen. Funny, a corner has come to the line in almost every game that Monte Kiffin has coached the City of Tampa defense during the past the seven years. In December 2001, when Tampa was pounded 27-3 at Chicago, Barber came to the line so often the Bears killed the Bucs by throwing over Barber's head to Marty Booker, and the tactic didn't even stop the run -- Chicago rushed for 207 yards that day. Did only "insiders" know this? Ummmm, TMQ wrote a column about how the Bucs were bringing Barber to the line too often.

Apparently the Raiders coaching staff doesn't read the Times.
Best line from the preposterous "insiders" article: "Television's preoccupation with quarterbacks, coaches, nutty fans and cheerleaders" can frustrate insiders. Preoccupation with cheerleaders? It's the reverse. Get out your stopwatch during any NFL telecast on any network.


Incredible insider tip: If you want to know who's ahead, look at the scoreboard! Please don't mention this to the New York Times.


The Football Gods Chortled: TMQ hopes the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) apparated right out of his Potomac, Maryland, mansion watching Brad Johnson, the quarterback he had so cannily ordered benched and then let go, win the Super Bowl. In his final nine games this year, Johnson threw 19 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Lord Voldemort ordered him banished because, in Voldemort's canny judgment, Johnson had no arm.



TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Tiki Barber played cornerback for Tampa in the Super Bowl, while Ronde Barber watched in the stands. Hey, try to prove me wrong! Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive!


Running Items Department
Final New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses ran not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven different predictions of the exact final Super Bowl score, and all were wrong. This makes the Final New York Times Final-Score Score 1-272 for the 2002 NFL season and a cumulative 1-833 since TMQ began tracking. (Note: Includes correction for math error TMQ discovered in an earlier column.)


Reader Jim Kupcik of Medina, Ohio, reports that some offshore sports gambling websites offer to double winners if you predict an exact final score. Kupcik asks, "As evidenced by the fact that the New York Times is 1-833 trying to do this, shouldn't the payout for predicting an exact final score be a little better?" But Jim, the whole point of gambling is to fleece you of your money. TMQ disapproves: Put your spare dollars in the bank where they belong.


Reader Animadversion: Many readers from New Zealand objected to TMQ's expression of horror at the Kiwi Burger for sale at New Zealand McDonald's. Paul Hope of Christchurch noted that "kiwi" in New Zealand usage for recipes means neither the fruit nor the flightless bird but local flavorings, as New Zealanders are sometimes known as "Kiwis." The Kiwi Burger sold in New Zealand McDonald's turns out to be a Quarter Pounder with beetroot and pineapple blended into the beef, topped by a fried egg. TMQ called this another sign of the decline of Western civilization, and I stand by my statement.


Note: owing to PC trends, it can't be long until the city of Christchurch changes its name to Inclusivechurch, New Zealand.


Many readers including Andrew Moeschberger of Hobart, Indiana, objected to last week's TMQ quote of a reader who suggested the NFL fix its overtime problems by instituting "the NHL system" of a full additional period. As Moeschberger noted, NHL overtimes are sudden-death; it just seems like they're not because they often end in ties. The reader quote should have said, "the NBA system." In haiku,

"Fifth quarter" OT
in NHL? Frostback sports
lost on TMQ.
-- Dave Sommer, Montreal

Last week, commissioner Paul Tagliabue acknowledged the overtime system needs to change. Since overtime came to pro football in 1974, 28 percent of games have ended on the first possession, but in this year's record 25 overtime games, 40 percent ended on the first possession. As Tagliabue correctly noted (hmm, there's a phrase TMQ has not exactly loaded into his AutoText), since the kickoff spot was moved back to the 30-yard line in order to improve starting field position and boost overall scoring, the team winning the overtime flip has often been only three first downs away from the field goal that wins the game without the other team ever having a possession.


Last week TMQ proposed a modified version of the NCAA alternating-possessions overtime. How's this for an alternative proposal instead:


Reader Todd Hill of Williston, Vermont, suggests that the opening overtime possession begin on a team's 20, with no kickoff. TMQ adds these details. The winner of the overtime coin toss gets a choice of the ball on its 20 or the wind, in which case the other team starts on its 20. If Team A relinquishes the ball without scoring on its initial possession (turnover, punt, missed field goal, downs), from the point at which Team B first has possession, the rest is traditional sudden death.

"I would like the thank God that the game didn't go into OT."
But if Team A scores on the initial possession, Team B then gets the ball on its 20. If Team B exceeds Team A's score on its possession, Team B wins; if it fails to exceed Team A's score on that possession, Team A wins; if Team B matches Team A's score, overtime continues. From that point it would be traditional overtime; Team B would kick off after its matching score, and next score wins. The point of this system would be to insure that each team had at least one possession in overtime, while keeping the rest of the game (field position, turnovers, punting) as similar as possible to regular action.


Last Week's TMQ Challenge: Playing on the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are among NFL teams that ask prospective cheer-babes to submit to an interview, TMQ wondered, if you were a judge interviewing would-be cheerleaders, what question would you ask?


Ben Denker of Kansas City proposes, "If a bus is traveling 49 miles an hour northeast at 3 p.m. toward a solar eclipse, would you be willing to wear nothing but paint as an outfit?"


Jack Walter of Marlborough, Massachusetts, suggests, "What is the true airspeed of a swallow?" Monty Python fans know that the correct answer is, "African or European swallow?"


Hans-Werner Egerland Abingdon, Maryland, proposes, "Paper or plastic?"


Scott Cyr, a Navy man serving in Naples, Italy -- we know we're free because you are on guard, Scott -- suggested thus: "I would ask prospective cheer-babes to explain the infield fly rule. It has nothing to do with the NFL, but if a woman can answer that, she is not only a babe but most likely a sports goddess as well."


A la the controversy over points added for being black to applicants at the University of Michigan -- where TMQ feels it's hard to understand why this is a racial flap, since being from the beautiful, scenic, all-white Upper Peninsula of Michigan gets you the same bonus admission points as being African American -- the cryptically identified Todd of Arizona proposes this U-Mich-like point scale:

Are you married? (10 point deduction)


Are you engaged, but not really sure? (five point deduction)


Are you dating this guy but he's, kinda, you know -- ? (neutral)


Are you single? (five points added)


Are you single and actively in the market? (10 points added)


Are you single, in the market and have low standards? (makes squad)

In a similar vein, Jason Hernandez of San Antonio says he would "ask the only meaningful question that any short, scrawny, research assistant would ask, 'Would you date a guy like me?'" Jason, don't ask that.


Brian Lundmark of Norman, Oklahoma, suggests, "Explain the replay-reversal rule using interpretative dance."


Brad Crawford of San Marcos, California, suggests, "What would be the diameter of the space mirror needed to power the death ray in the new Bond movie?"


And the winner of this week's Challenge is Ron Burgess of Twinsburg, Ohio, who proposed, "If you could meet anyone in history, what would you wear?"


This Week's Challenge: This week's Challenge is to wait patiently until next September's kickoff, when the TMQ Challenge will resume.


Tuesday Morning Quarterback must fold his tent and steal off into the desert till next year. Yet yea, verily, do not despair. TMQ will appear sporadically during the offseason, whenever there are flimsy excuses for cheesecake photos -- I meant to say, important public-policy questions to address. My special-guest-star appearances will be scattered and unpredictable.


No wait, check it, another one tomorrow! How's that for service? Watch tomorrow for the annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback Bad Predictions Review.

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 9:05 PM

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January 21, 2003

The weekend the gods winced

POST #    495

The weekend the gods winced
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Okay, so it's two pirate-themed teams in the Super Bowl. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! TMQ plans to have a parrot sitting on his shoulder all week.


And okay, so the Super Bowl pits two pirate-themed teams that could not run the ball off the plank, let alone against a defense. TMQ sees this in dialectic terms. The NFL's pass-wacky current fashion had to bottom out with a Super Bowl pitting two teams that don't even try to run. The football gods, upon their hallowed couch above, will refuse to watch this game. From all-passing, the antithesis of football, a new synthesis will emerge in which teams try to balance passing and running. I understand that's a radical idea.


These things aside, let's cut to what really matters -- the Super Bowl is the only NFL game each year with two sets of cheerleaders.


Traditionally, NFL teams don't bring cheerleader squads to away games. The Super Bowl, played at a neutral site, is the exception, with both teams in most cases flying in their pep units. So a double-mega-babe event is coming, with sun-drenched San Diego the venue. And the Raiders' and Bucs' cheer squads are both high-aesthetic-appeal.


The great uncovered-by-the-national-media story of last year's indoor Super Bowl was how little was worn by the Rams and Patriots cheerleaders. Rams cheer-babes sported two-piece outfits that were essentially glittering bikinis. Patriots cheer-babes countered with two-piece numbers whose bottoms were barely more than flaps over thongs. Astonishingly Fox, which had last year's Super Bowl coverage, gave viewers naught but a passing glimpse of the cheer-babes. All ticket holders near the field were torn about whether to watch the babes or the game.


Eagerly awaiting Sunday at VI:XVIII Eastern, TMQ calls on the Raiders and Bucs cheer-babes to surpass last year's mark by wearing even less than the Rams and Patriots cheerleaders! Also, TMQ calls on ABC, which has this year's game, to wise up and show viewers the cheerleaders, rather than excruciating close-up after excruciating close-up of the neck veins bulging on Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden.

Ladies and gentlemen -- TMQ's pregame MVP selection.
Surely Oakland's win of the AFC title was foreordained by the mega-babe professionalism shown by the Raiderettes, who came out in two-piece numbers with hot pants despite a kickoff temperature of 52 degrees. Conversely, doom for Philadelphia was foreordained when the high-aesthetic-appeal Eagles cheerleaders wore bulky down vests rather than the sprayed-on unitards they have previously sported in cold-weather games.


Yes, it was 26 degrees at kickoff at Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field. But Gruden and Andy Reid, taking note of TMQ's immutable law of the sidelines -- Cold Coach = Victory -- both wore varsity jackets and light headgear. This activated TMQ's immutable corollary, If Coaches Equal, Cheerleader Professionalism Determines Outcome. "Professionalism" in this sense means skin or at least skin-tight, and the Eagles cheer-babes, like the Eagles themselves, ruined a great season with a final-game letdown. As soon as TMQ saw the Eagles' cheerleaders heavily dressed for pregame warm-ups, he said, "This game's over. Bucs win."


In other football news, both the NFL's championship contests pitted a black quarterback against a white quarterback. The white guys won, though mainly owing to superior teammates in each case. What struck TMQ was that no one really noticed, or cared, about the racial angle. The whole can-blacks-be-quarterbacks thing is so over.


Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 1, Bucs at Eagles: Two straight years the Eagles have come into the NFC championship game with a homogenized vanilla game plan. Two straight losses. Both times, zero reaction from Andy Reid on the sideline. On defense, Philadelphia not only rarely blitzed -- though the Eagles have a blitzing personality and do it better than any NFL club -- but played a cautious, backed-off coverage scheme as if they were facing the greatest offense of all time. They were, instead, facing the low-low voltage Bucs, whom Eagles coaches seemed determined to make look like the greatest offense of all time.


The Eagles rarely even showed blitz by bringing linebackers or safeties to the line; it was always easy for the Tampa linemen to tell who was rushing, and always easy for Brad Johnson to read the coverage. The Eagles didn't jam receivers to disrupt their routes. Philadelphia rushers failed to sack Brad Johnson, allowing themselves to be neutralized by Tampa's below-average offensive line. In their earlier meeting this season, the Bucs had tried long passes, which allowed the rush to sack Johnson five times. On Sunday the Tampa game plan was quick throws off three-step actions. Philadelphia coaches never adjusted, still calling defenses well into the second half that assumed the Bucs were deep passing.

Yes, Andy. You will have to give back the coach of the year award.
Because the Eagles seemed to be re-playing the earlier meeting and ignoring what the Bucs were actually doing, on most passing downs the defensive backs retreated as if facing incredible speed merchants, when Tampa has among the slowest receiving corps in the league. TMQ was simply stunned by Philadelphia's defensive meekness on the game's central play. Score tied at 10 with 2:31 remaining in the half, City of Tampa faced third and goal on the Eagles' nine, going into the wind. Not only did Philly show mincing backed-off coverage, Al Harris, guarding Keyshawn Johnson, lined up in the end zone. Johnson took a quick slant in front of Harris for six; Harris didn't even step toward Johnson till he was crossing the goal line. Ye gods.


On offense it was more vanilla, not even the occasional strawberry to say nothing of Baskin Robbins flavors. The Eagles ran the same six or so plays over and over. There was no formation variety, nothing Eagles opponents have not seen repeatedly, not even the reverse Philadelphia has run to good effect this year. Donovan McNabb didn't throw down the field until desperation time -- the Eagles' first pass attempt over 20 yards, a 24-yard completion to Todd Pinkston, came with 6:31 remaining. You've got to throw deep now and then even if incomplete, to keep the defense honest. And the Philadelphia offensive line, despite two Pro Bowlers (Tra Thomas and Jermane Mayberry) and two others with big contracts (Jon Runyan and Hank Fraley), played one of the worst blocking games TMQ has ever winced through; see more below. On consecutive Philadelphia possessions, McNabb lost fumbles after Pro Bowl left tackle Thomas barely so much as brushed his man, who blew in for the tomahawk move. The lightly regarded Bucs OL outplayed the hyped Eagles OL by a huge margin.


Through it all, Reid showed no emotion, seeming to expect to lose. Reid called the same mincing weak-side screen four times, though it never yielded a first down. He didn't switch to A.J. Feeley when McNabb was ineffective, and paid the price on McNabb's season-killer interception with 3:27 remaining. (McNabb was playing hurt, and it showed; he also seemed emotionally out of it, perhaps reflecting his coach.) When the Eagles jumped to 7-3 lead and then intercepted Tampa on its second possession, setting up a golden opportunity on the Bucs' 46, Reid was incredibly tentative, calling dives and short passes and then punting from the Tampa 32. Yes they were facing the wind, but the Eagles have the league's best placekicker!


When Pinkston pulled up at the Tampa 45 and simply watched Ronde Barber run the rest of the way for the touchdown that iced the Super Bowl for the Bucs -- sure, Barber was ahead of Pinkston but maybe Barber will slip, maybe he'll bobble the ball, this is a championship game! -- TMQ was at first furious at this display of no-heart quitting on Pinkston's part. But then I thought: The Eagles' coaching staff has quit on the game, so why shouldn't the players? Reid seemed to assume that since the Bucs always collapse in Philly, they would collapse again and no particular planning or heart would be required. Rarely has a coach, or an entire coaching staff, wilted worse in a big game.

It's going to take more than Chunky soup, Donovan.
For his part, Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden looked like a guy worth trading two first-round draft choices to acquire. He had the Bucs' linemen with bare arms -- bare-armed linemen are the classic sign of a team unafraid to play in cold. He had Martin Gramatica out of that ridiculous balaclava he used to wear whenever it was below 40 degrees, and taking the temperature like a manly man. He had Johnson in gloves which, it turned out, he'd been making Johnson wear once a week since training camp in anticipation of a northern January outing. (Why the Fox announcers denounced Johnson's gloves was beyond TMQ; quarterbacks ought to wear gloves on freezing days, so long as they are accustomed to them.) Most important, he had a game plan.


Gruden correctly guessed that the Eagles would expect a reprise of the long-passing plays that failed for Tampa in the clubs' earlier meetings, and instead called quick three-step plays. His offensive staff designed new stuff, which worked; see below. And when he had a fourth-quarter lead and the official timekeeper had become his opponent, Gruden went boring, as the smart coach does in this situation. Leading by 10 and getting the ball at his own 34 with 11 minutes remaining, Gruden called four runs, a shovel pass and a flat pass -- both passes completed inbounds -- to keep the clock grinding. He punted back to the Eagles with 6:31 left, the burning of these five minutes, via boring calls, placing the game almost out of reach.


Cheerleader of the Week: As we warm up for San Diego -- next week's column will surely find a flimsy excuses for Chargers' cheer-babes photos -- the TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Beth of the Vikings, who makes the cut because she is a cheerleader with a master's degree ... in sports management, but we'll take it. In addition to abs that bullets would bounce off, Beth has, according to her team bio, 16 years of dance experience and her goal is "to have a successful career and family." So your family has to be successful too! Beth, you've got your work cut out for you.

Beth's abs could even stop Randy's SUV.
The auditions section of the Minnesota cheerleaders' site explains that not only must a woman pass three levels of tryouts, there is also an interview requirement on current events and other topics: "Interviews are closed to the public and will be before a panel of judges." Let's hope not before French skating judges! TMQ would be happy to serve as a cheerleader judge and would accept bribes, but only in the form of -- well, never mind. The auditions page also cautions, "It can be cold in the fieldhouse, but as you warm up, you will be asked to discard clothing." Cheer-babes being asked to discard clothing: how can this not be on pay-per-view?


Sweet Play No. 1: Trailing 7-3 in the first, Tampa faced second-and-2 on its 24. The Bucs came out in a three-bunch right. This is a formation they had previously shown only in the red zone, and previously from this formation they had sent two men to the left and then hit Joe Jurevicius right on a version of the zee-out (Zed-out to Canadian readers) that receivers call "crack the whip." Check the December 10 TMQ for more detail on how Tampa ran this play against Atlanta. Seeing the set, the Eagles expected the play to proceed as it had on film of the Falcons' game. But this time two men went to the right and Jurevicius went over the middle left, where he ended being guarded by Barry Gardner, the middle linebacker. His 71-yard catch-and-run set up the touchdown that put Tampa ahead for good. Eagles defensive backs seemed to have no idea where the ball was even after Jurevicius was halfway to the goal line.


Sweet Play No. 2: Leading by seven late in the third, Tampa faced third-and-4 on the Philly 34. The Bucs put a two-bunch right. Jurevicius ran the over-the-middle again, this time drawing a cast of thousands to cover him; Keyshawn Johnson ran a fly; tight end Ken Dilger paused, then sprinted into the right flat, where no Eagle was to be seen. His 20-yard reception set up a field goal and panic time at Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field.


Sour Play No. 1: One TMQ hobby horse is offensive linemen sprinting downfield on screen passes, as if they themselves were running for touchdowns, rather than pasting the first defender they see. Trailing by three at the start of the second, the Eagles faced third-and-10 on their 26, and called the weakside screen. When back Bryant Westbrook took the ball with OLs Fraley and John Welbourn ahead of him, and Derrick Brooks the sole defender in sight, TMQ said aloud, "This one's going to midfield." Instead neither Fraley or Welbourn laid a hand on Brooks, charging downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns while Brooks nailed Westbrook just shy of the stick and the Eagles punted.


Sour Play No. 2: Later, trailing by seven in the third, Philly faced second-and-10 and called the same screen. Once more Fraley and Welbourn were ahead of the runner, Duce Staley, once more only one defender in sight. Once more neither lineman laid a hand on the defender, this time Dexter Jackson, so intent were they on charging downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns. Jackson stopped what looked like it should have been a big play for a one-yard gain; Philadelphia ended up losing a fumble on the series.

We don't need no stinkin' running game.
Stat of the Week: The winners of the championship games combined for 545 yards passing and 138 yards rushing. The football gods winced.


Stat of the Week No. 2: The Buccaneers, who won the NFC championship despite rushing for only 49 yards, are only the third of the last 28 Super Bowl teams to average less than 100 yards rushing per game during the season. The football gods winced.


Stat of the Week No. 3: The Raiders won the AFC championship despite calling 49 passes and nine rushes. The football gods winced.


Stat of the Week No. 4: Philadelphia, second-highest scoring team in the league during the regular season, recorded three offensive touchdowns in its final three games, two of them played at home.


Stat of the Week No. 5: Tennessee lost two fumbles in 39 seconds.


Stat of the Week No. 6: Tennessee and Oakland combined to complete their first 15 passes.


Stat of the Week No. 7: In two trips to Oakland this season, the Flaming Thumbtacks surrendered 93 points and turned the ball over six times.


TMQ's Candidate Was P.T. Barnum, Who Could Establish a Rapport With the Clowns in the Cincinnati Front Office: Marvin Lewis accepted the job of head coach of the Bengals. "My other offer was Defense Minister for Iraq," Lewis told a news conference.


Next You're Going to Tell Me San Francisco Would Waive Jerry Rice: Steve Mariucci was fired after going 57-39 as head coach of the Niners. "He failed to win five Super Bowls," explained San Francisco "owner's representative" John York. "Also he never won the Nobel Prize for physics, United States relations with Mauritania are a complete mess and as perhaps you know, cancer still has not been cured." Separately, Tuesday Morning Quarterback demanded that ESPN give him the additional title of Vice President of Column Operations.

This guy has more miles on him than a '69 Beatle.
Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 2, Titans at Raiders: In December, Miami demonstrated how to stop the Raiders' league-leading offense. The Marine Mammals played Oakland receivers very tight -- "watch his waist" coverage, as an earlier TMQ explained -- disrupting the endless crossing routes the Raiders run, while allowing the rush time to get Rich Gannon's jersey dirty. Tight coverage engages the risk of giving up the big play, but as used by Miami, proved the only scheme this year that has thrown Oakland off its game. So TMQ expected the Flaming Thumbtacks, who have a defense-minded coach in Jeff Fisher, and the personnel to play tight coverage, to try this approach. Instead the Titans hung back in timid zones, exactly what the Oakland offense is designed to attack. Tennessee surrendered no big plays. But the Oakland offense doesn't seek big plays; what it seeks are first downs and points. Tennessee surrendered 25 of the former and 41 of the latter.


TMQ has always liked Fisher, who keeps his head in the game -- he never blew his stack at the zebras despite losing three of three borderline reviews on Sunday, for example. And TMQ has always liked the Titans. Moreover, TMQ assumes the football gods like the Titans. After all, they endured a period of wandering, and gods are supposed to reward that sort of thing.


But Fisher had nothing special planned for the AFC championship. The Raiders ran their offense exactly as they like to, aided by their fine-blocking, Nimitz-class linemen. (Oakland guard Frank Middleton cannot be only 330 pounds, as his fact sheet claims; his butt wouldn't fit in two airline seats, let alone one.) The Titans were psychologically prepared, handling the initial Oakland surge and crowd noise at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum, and seemed poised for an upset with a 17-14 lead and the ball with two minutes left in the half.


But then Robert Holcomb fumbled when trying to run up the middle against an eight-man Raiders front -- where was the audible out of that call? -- and Tennessee fumbled the kickoff after the Raiders' scored. No team can withstand giving up 10 points on turnovers in the final two minutes of the first half in a road playoff game.


Bill Callahan looked like a bearded veteran rather than a rookie head coach and a guy most sports nuts had never heard of when he became the Raiders' boss. At San Diego, the media nonsense will focus on the ultra-hyped Gruden, while no one will pay heed to Callahan. If I were a rookie head coach going into a Super Bowl, I'd think that could work to my favor quite nicely.


Sweet Play No. 3: Trailing 24-17 on their first possession of the second half, the Flaming Thumbtacks faced second-and-20 from their own 34. The call was a rare "pull draw" -- tackle Fred Miller pulled toward the center and got a great block as Eddie George ran 17 yards. On the next play, Tennessee converted the first.

Steve hopes to be fully recovered by the 2006 season.
Sour Play No. 3: Facing third-and-8 from the Oakland 22 on the continuation of the above-cited drive, the Flaming Thumbtacks knew that regular kicker Joe Nedney was out injured for the rest of the game. Punter Craig Hentrich also kicks placement, but is a punter. So it's crucial here to move forward, not backward, to insure that any Hentrich attempt is from inside 40 yards. Plus, gain five on the play and you'd probably go on fourth. All this means a draw or conservative quick pass. There's the snap -- Steve McNair sprints backwards and is sacked for an 11-yard loss. Unwilling to let Hentrich try from 50, the Titans ended up punting from the Raiders' 33. Punting from the opposition 33 while behind in a playoff game with light winds! Yumpin' jiminy.


The Football Gods Winced: Still trailing 24-17 in the middle of the third, the Flaming Thumbtacks now faced third-and-10 from their 24. Coaches called an "up" pattern to seldom-used Eddie Berlin, one reception for 14 yards on the year. Sometimes defenses ignore seldom-used receivers breaking deep. Oakland totally ignored Eddie Berlin. McNair put the pass right on his numbers at midfield for a sweet, sweet 76-yard touchdown play -- except that Berlin dropped the ball as if it were a rabid ferret. On the next snap, Oakland tackled Hentrich attempting to punt. The Raiders scored on the possession and the sun began to set on another Titans' season.


The Football Gods Chortled: As the Titans recovered Tim Brown's second-quarter fumble, rookie Tennessee safety Tank Williams became so excited that he furiously jumped up and down pointing the wrong way -- as if trying to convince the officials to give the ball back to Oakland.


Law of Averages Alive and Well: After losing four consecutive appearances in Philadelphia and being outscored there 89-35, City of Tampa won 27-10. After throwing no touchdown passes in his last three appearances in Philadelphia, Brad Johnson dominated the game. After scoring no offensive touchdowns on 36 consecutive possessions in Philadelphia, the Bucs got two on 13 possessions.


Raiders Staff Reads TMQ; Do Raiderettes? Trailing 17-14 with a minute in the half, the Long Johns had first-and-goal on the Titans' one. "Since it's first and goal, this will be a play-fake," TMQ pronounced. And so it was, to uncovered tight end Doug Jolley for the touchdown that changed the game.

"Hey, let's ask Bush is he has two $10's for a $5."
The Matter Will Be Referred to the Department of Repetitious Empty Threats: Let me see if I can follow this. President Bush has said that if North Korea ends its nuclear program, the United States will extend energy and food aid. But that was already the deal, signed between Washington and Pyongyang in 1994, that North Korea just broke! We've been giving North Korea fuel and food in return for its claim to have stopped its nuclear program, a claim which Pyongyang now admits was always a lie. So we are offering them gifts again in exchange for a fresh set of lies?


TMQ thinks this is as if you turned on the radio on September 2, 1939, and heard: "In response to the invasion of Poland, the governments of Britain and France today offered to recognize German annexation of the Sudetenland."


A North Korean official reacted to Washington's proposal of more fuel and food in exchange for more lies -- which to TMQ seems a fairly good deal if you are a North Korean official -- by calling the plan "pie in the sky." White House spokesman Air Fleischer noted the reaction was "unofficial." TMQ wondered, what kind of pie? Blueberry? Pecan with chocolate crust?


Listen to a National Public Radio "Morning Edition" piece about how the DMZ between the Koreas has weirdly become a favored site for Japanese tourists, who take bizarre pleasure in watching Koreans point artillery tubes at each other. (Go here, then "Tensions Along DMZ Remain High.") Also, according to NPR, there is now a DMZ gift shop where you can buy authentic snips of barbed wire.


But I Still Have to Push the Button for the Power Running Boards. That's Really Inconvenient. When Will They Offer Automatic Power Running Boards? "An automobile review of the Lincoln Navigator misstated its fuel consumption. In city driving, the car travels about 11 miles on a gallon of gasoline, not on a tankful." Actual correction in the New York Times.


TMQ, who hates SUVs -- see the anti-SUV argument in detail here, a key point being that despite the assumption that SUVs are safe, you are more likely to die inside an SUV than inside a regular car, according the National Academy of Sciences -- thinks 11 miles on a tankful of gasoline is probably the real-world figure for mega-SUVs. Though the Navigator does now offer "power running boards." How has Western civilization gotten this far without power running boards?

TMQ would not kick Gwyneth out of bed for eating crackers.
Last week TMQ his ownself appeared on CNBC ("The Network for People Who Can't Get On MSNBC") to denounce SUVs and was accused by the fire-breathing Larry Kudlow of the military-afterburner-decibels Kudlow & Cramer Show of "being in bed with Hollywood celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow." TMQ can only wish he was in bed with Hollywood celebrities! That would be considerably more fun than being on CNBC.


Auto note: you can now get a Honda Accord in Eternal Blue Pearl. Do Honda's designers claim to know what color things are in the afterlife? Honda also offers a special-edition Civic in a swirly custom paint job called the Honda Incubus. Guess they're not planning to sell a lot of these to Catholic customers.


Reader Haiku: Last chance to offer yours for the current season; use the link at Reader Animadversion. Here are a reader and a staff effort:

Joe: acting this time?
Nedney gets his comeuppance,
cosmos realigned.

-- Benjamin Keys, Washington D.C.


Just two remain, and
one must fail. Much like real life:
so Darwinian.

-- TMQ, 2003

Offseason Cheer-Babe Update: As the NFL is about to fold its tents and slip off into the desert, leaving the Arena League cock of the walk, reader Cameron Perry of Miami Beach nominates cheer-babe Bobbi Claar of the Dallas Desperados. According to her team bio, Claar's most embarrassing moment was "Talking to a sixth-grade class and later finding out that my zipper was down." Bobbi, isn't this something that happens to guys, not mega-babes?

Bobbi has sworn off all zippers.
Check out the Desperados' cheerleaders' "3-D scrapbook." The pictures sure looked 2-D to TMQ, though the women themselves are distinctly three-dimensional.


Garish Yellow Sportcoat Update: This weekend the Hall of Fame loya jurga will meet in secret, chant incantations and name those gentlemen who will don a garish yellow sportcoat next August.


Tuesday Morning Quarterback's position is that the Hall of Fame should induct nothing but linemen for the next five years. Of the modern-era members, 40 are quarterbacks or running backs and 49 are linemen -- though on the field, linemen outnumber quarterbacks and running backs three to one. The Canton selectors have a preference for offensive backfield glory boys, and this does not reflect well on their appreciation of what makes football tick. It's inevitable that, say, Time magazine or Entertainment Tonight would only be interested in quarterbacks and running backs, but the Hall of Fame should treat linemen as every bit the equal of glory boys. Toward that end TMQ will endorse only linemen for five years. That means of this year's finalists, TMQ votes for Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, Claude Humphrey, Bob Kuechenberg and Gary Zimmerman.


Though the selectors are reputed to do a conscientious job of debating the merits of various candidates -- note that selectors are sportswriters, not television bobbleheads, which is the Hall of Fame's way of acknowledging that most bobbleheads have no idea what they are talking about* -- do not be deceived. Selection is political. For one, candidates who have made friends with selectors get a better hearing than those who are prickly, a reason the personable Howie Long was admitted ahead of other candidates with equal credentials, while the aloof Art Monk still waits. For another, lobbying is furious. Last season, Bill Parcells twisted arms like crazy to get himself named, so that he could take another coaching job and become the first Hall of Fame member since George Halas to work the sidelines. Only stiff political resistance stopped this sinister Parcells plan. (Coaches aren't supposed to make Canton until they have left the sport on a bona-fide basis.)


* ESPN bobbleheads excepted.

Welcome to the O-fer Hall of Fame Jim.
One political problem facing the selectors is the ever-worsening Buffalo Bills dilemma. In the last two seasons, Canton has tapped two from the Bills' failed Super Bowl run, Jim Kelly and Marv Levy. Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas are deadbolt locks in their first years of eligibility. Bills' owner Ralph Wilson and semi-Bill James Lofton (who bounced around, but started for Buffalo in three of its Super Bowls) are finalists this year; Wilson is a lock at some point, and Lofton will get a hearing. Steve Tasker may become the first special-teams player named to Canton, Andre Reed has a reasonable chance and Kent Hull, the best shotgun center ever, is probable over the long term. (Running backs and quarterbacks get recognized right away, while offensive linemen are usually eligible a decade before anyone notices.)


All this means there could be nine Buffalo representatives in the Hall of Fame from a team that went oh-of-four at the Super Bowl, close to the record 11 representatives from one team, the 1970s Pittsburgh team that went a slightly better four-for-four. Cornelius Bennett might even sneak in, giving the oh-for-four Bills 10 busts in Canton. To top it off, the Hall has to take Joe DeLamielleure soon. Though not on the Buffalo Super Bowl squad, this former Bill is one of only two starters from the NFL's official Team of the Seventies yet to don a garish yellow sportcoat.


TMQ's proposed solution is two-fold. First, the Hall of Fame names nothing but linemen for five years; at the end of that period, equity between grunt-boys and glory-boys will have been established. Then, Canton has a year in which it accepts nothing but Buffalo Bills, inviting as many as it can stand. After that, things return to normal and the electors can resume favoring quarterbacks and running backs.


In Another Canny Personnel Move, Snyder Advised Senate Republicans to Pick Trent Lott as Majority Leader: Viewers of the NFC championship game beheld numerous players who were once members of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons and sent packing by the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder): Brad Johnson, Shawn Barber, James Thrash, Brian Mitchell, David Akers among them. These gentlemen weren't good enough for Voldemort but good enough to appear in a title game, where Voldemort's team has not been observed under his evil reign. Snyder ordered Johnson, now on his way to the Super Bowl, discarded because he had merely thrown for 6,510 yards and 35 touchdowns as the Persons' starter. As the Bucs' starter, Johnson has thrown for an all-but-identical 6,455 yards and 35 touchdowns -- translating to a Super Bowl invite for City of Tampa -- while the stats of the gentlemen who replaced him for the Persons have been, collectively, cover-your-eyes.


Modern Economics: Next time you're in McDonald's, check the pricing of Chicken McNuggets. On the East Coast, at least, four McNuggets are $1 and six McNuggets are $2.29. So if you want eight McNuggets it will cost you $2 but if you want only six, it'll cost you $2.29. Only in America!

The high-level economic theory that is the McDonald's menu.
This reminds TMQ of a Marx Brothers exchange in which Chico is playing a band leader and Groucho a potential customer.


Groucho: How much do you get for playing?
Chico: $25 an hour.,br> Groucho: How much do you get for practicing?
Chico: $50 an hour.
Groucho: How much do you get for not practicing?
Chico: You couldn't afford it.


More sign of the decline of Western civilization: McDonald's in New Zealand offers a Kiwi Burger.


Single Worst Play of the Championships: Trailing by 10, Philadelphia has first down on the Tampa 10 with 3:21 left. The Eagles have just moved from their 18, showing life for the first time since their opening possession, and the Can't Demolish It Too Soon Field crowd was making military-afterburner-decibel noise. A score here and the Eagles, holding all their timeouts, shift the pressure to the visitors.


Ronde Barber creeps up to the line to show blitz . Donovan McNabb calls a quick slant, every team's standard anti-blitz play, to Antonio Freeman. Barber jumps back directly into the slant lane, intercepts the pass and returns it 92 yards for the icing touchdown. Barber made a fine play, and the scheme of this defense -- show an open slant lane, then jump into that lane -- was well-designed. But McNabb was looking directly at Barber when he sailed the ball. Ay caramba.


TMQ's Super Bowl Prediction: The game will be won by whichever team surprises the other with a rushing-oriented game plan. (Caution: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's motto is, All Predictions Wrong Or Your Money Back.)


TMQ Insider Exclusive! According to the Elias Sports Bureau, TMQ has never written a funny column when the office temperature is below 40 degrees. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.


Running Items Department


New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-2 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-783 since TMQ began tracking.


Misery loves company No. 1: Since the playoffs began the Wall Street Journal has taken to imitating the silliest thing about the New York Times by also forecasting exact NFL final scores. Needless to say, all predictions have been wrong. Late in December, the Journal's football columnist predicted City of Tampa would win the Super Bowl. Then, in forecasting final playoff scores, the same columnist predicted Tampa would lose to the Niners and lose to the Eagles.


Misery loves company No. 2: ESPN asked eight bobbleheads to guess the winners in the championship round. All eight were wrong, though there was a 25 percent probability of being correct by blind chance. (A 50/50 call times a 50/50 call equals 25 percent chance.) Apparently the incredible insider information possessed by the ESPN bobbleheads hampered their accuracy. Had they guessed by blind chance, they would have done better.

Come for the contest, stay for the illegal banking.
Reader Animadversion: Many readers including Karen of Alexandria, Virginia -- see her additional contribution at the Challenge -- rose to defend the honor of Hooters. This, apropos TMQ chiding Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden for hanging out at the local Hooters, rather than at Tampa's world-renowned topless clubs. "The Tampa-St.Pete-Clearwater Hooters, original home of the franchise, has some of the finest-looking women I have ever seen," Karen reports. She notes she is a "traditional female" -- which in TMQ-speak means she was at the Tampa Hooters on a date, perhaps, rather than scoping for her own purposes. Mike Kroeger of Overland Park, Kansas, adds this link to the annual Miss Hooters Offshore Bikini Contest. "Offshore?" So they don't have to pay taxes on the bikinis? There is little to tax.


Apropos the lap dances available at Tampa's world-renowned topless clubs, Bill Epner of Toronto boasts that "Canadians have a distinct advantage over our southern brethren, as our laws allow for completely nude lap dances in Canada." Setting aside what the difference might be between "nude" and "completely nude," TMQ's reaction is that this is more evidence of the frostback conspiracy. First, all Canadians can access NFL Sunday Ticket on cable, while in America, Sunday Ticket via cable is denied to the taxpayers who are taxed to build the stadiums that make NFL profits possible. Now it turns out that Canadians get completely nude lap dances, while in the United States it's only topless. Why this fixation on invading Iraq when Canada is the real menace?


Lance DuBos of Singapore was among many who objected to TMQ saying that Bill Cowher should not claim running into the kicker ought to be ignored "only when his team is trailing in overtime." Lance inquires, "How can anyone trail in sudden-death overtime?" Believe me Lance, when the other team's kicker is lining up to try a figgie from 26 yards, you are trailing in overtime.


Many math whizzes, including Susan Spennett of Copenhagen, Denmark, pointed out that TMQ's calculation of the size of the space mirror needed to power the death ray in the latest Bond movie "had methodological faults, such as being wrong." Thanks, Susan, for putting it so delicately. TMQ used the wrong conversion factor for square feet into square miles, making the mirror seem too large. On the other hand, as readers including Jeff Milner of San Jose, Calif., noted, TMQ also failed to take into account that doubling the distance an energy beam must travel requires quadrupling its power, making my square-foot estimate too small.


Roll these two concerns together and it looks like the death-ray space mirror would need a diameter of six miles, not 164 miles as last week's column speculated. Hey, TMQ lives in Washington, where "one thousand" and "two hundred billion" are considered very similar numbers for budgeting purposes -- so a 158-mile error would be viewed as dead-on accurate here. At any rate, the conclusion is unchanged, namely that the North Korean economy could not, as this particular time, support the construction in outer space of an object miles across. Also, as readers, including Jill Howden of Albuquerque, noted, a six-mile-wide object in low-Earth orbit would be visible to the naked eye, whereas in the Bond movie, no one knows the death ray exists until the North Korean super-villain turns it on.

TMQ, we'd like you to meet your new tutor.
Jose of Lima, Peru, protests that "ay caramba" is correct, not "aye caramba."


Finally many readers including Ruth Chilton of Bellingham, Wash,, suggested that NFL solve its overtime problem -- two overtime playoff games in succession decided with the losers never getting a crack at the ball -- not by going to the NCAA system but to the NHL system. That is, play a full fifth quarter. Fine maybe for the regular season, but Ruth, what if the fifth quarter ended tied too? In the playoffs, there would have to be a sixth quarter. What if the sixth quarter ended tied?


TMQ believes the pros should adopt a modified version of the nuthin'-but-exciting NCAA system. Alternating possessions, but with possessions starting at midfield, not the downhill 25, so that scoring is hardly automatic. Also, turnover returns would count. A team getting a takeaway and advancing it would start its possession at that point, rather than the 50. A team returning a turnover for a touchdown would simply win (Team A has the ball and Team B runs it back, equal number of possessions), allowing for retention of a partial sudden-death effect.


Last Week's Challenge: TMQ asked for the goofiest "Miss ______" title.


Ben Rogers of Knoxville noted that Tennessee's Mule Day Festival elects a Mule Queen. Philip Jacobs of Centerville, Tenn., reports that the annual Milan, Tenn. celebration of no-till farming chooses a Miss No Till. Lanna Keck, Miss Tennessee of 1997, got her first break in the business as Miss No Till. Jamie Paquette of Brooklyn proposes Miss Rodeo Idaho, whose current title holder, Amanda Kent, has won competitions for "barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping and team roping."

Power tools and bikinis -- it's like bacon and eggs isn't it?
Marv Murray of Augusta, Ga., notes that Ridgid Tools, whose swimsuit calendars hang in every garage and body shop in the country, hands out a Miss Ridgid Tool. Preview the calendar babes here

. Tom Vasich of Costa Mesa, Cali., noted that Marilyn Monroe got one of her first breaks being named the 1947 Artichoke Queen. According to the history page of the California Artichoke Festival, "It's a little-known fact that Marilyn continued to enjoy her love affair with artichokes and it is rumored this contributed to her marital troubles with Joe DiMaggio." Huh? Artichokes contributed to Marilyn's martial troubles with Joltin' Joe? Is the California Artichoke Festival trying to suggest that she preferred using artichokes to -- ?


Rhett Hall of Bayville, N.Y., notes that the annual Morgan City, La., Shrimp and Petroleum Festival names a King and Queen. "Shrimp and petroleum" sounds like something on the menu in a Cajun restaurant.


Karen of Alexandria notes that the county fair in Charles County, Maryland, a tobacco-farming area, chooses a Queen Nicotina.


Josh Hummert of Madison, Wisc., conveys that Angela Hemauer is the current reigning Alice in Dairyland, spokesqueen for Wisconsin dairy products. According to her official bio, Angela is a Cornell University grad with her degree in animal science, and relaxes by running marathons. No swimsuit photo, sadly.

Greta Jordan of Ayden, N.C., reports that her town annually names a Miss Collard Greens. She could not find any pictures of past winners, and adds, "Maybe that's not such a bad thing."


Andrew Heath of Baltimore notes the annual Ugly Truck contest in Hampton Roads, Virginia, names a Miss Ugly Truck; hazy snapshots of the mega-babe candidates are available here.


Keir Johnson of Woodbury, Minn., notes that the annual Minnesota State Fair chooses a dairy spokesqueen with the odd name Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Winners get a bust of themselves sculpted entirely in butter; see Stephanie Hoeft being sculpted here. See the current reigning Princess, Sarah Olson, here. The pageant's sponsor sternly warns that a winner must accept "duties on behalf of the dairy farmers in your county," including touring with the exhibit "Milk: From Cow to You"

Somehow we don't think this is the dream of most Arizona girls.
Brad Twarowski of Spring Grove, Ill., notes that the Miss Arizona Dream Girl competition spreads the wealth by choosing someone every month; gawk at Miss Arizona Dream Girl of January, Aubry Ballard, here.


Gary Ward of Cranberry, Penn., reports that each year the town of Geneva, Ohio, names a Miss Grapette. A past winner reports here that "Being Miss Grapette has been the most amazing experience ... I had to learn to properly do the queen wave, act like a queen and smile, smile, smile."


Many female readers, including Sheila Woodward of Yankton, S.D., and Tina Miles of Upland, Ind., expressed horror over the Iowa Pork Queen. Reigning queen Dawn Kruger and her princess Stacey Schmidt may be gasped at here.


This week's Challenge goes to Kristy Bowie of Ithaca, N.Y., who reports that the annual Spring Ho Festival in Lampasas, Texas, chooses a Miss Spring Ho. The current reigning Miss Spring Ho is Elizabeth Rollins; sadly, TMQ could not locate her likeness.


Promoters depict the Spring Ho Festival as a family event. "I never thought something with the word 'ho' in it would be described as family-oriented," Kristy notes. But Kristy, Eminem is now being pitched as a mainstream act, and every other word he speaks is "ho." Probably soon Eminem will have a zany, laff-riot sitcom called "The Ho and Me."

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses -- yearning to eat the other white meat.
This Week's Challenge: If you were a judge interviewing prospective NFL cheer-babes -- or cheer-hunks, for female readers -- what (printable) questions would you ask? Explain here.


TMQ Season Finale! Be sure to read next week to find out:

Will the football gods send a typhoon to force the Raiders and Bucs to run?
Will Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden get carded at the San Diego Hooters?
Were the Moon landings faked?
What is the sinister conspiracy behind dog candy?
Do dogs have constitutional rights?
How many cheap, gratuitous swimsuit photos can be crammed into one column?
Who finished last in TMQ's annual Bad Predictions Review?
Who will commit the Single Worst Play of Super Bowl XXXVII?

Don't miss the incredible season finale of Tuesday Morning Quarterback!

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January 7, 2003

Blitz happens

POST #    532

Blitz happens
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

If you would know one thing about the 2001 NFL season, know this! In November 2001, the Patriots played the Rams, blitzed 39 times and lost. Two months later in the Super Bowl, the Patriots played the Rams, blitzed eight times and won. Of course the blitz sometimes works -- mainly when unexpected, such as on first down. But as Tuesday Morning Quarterback has relentlessly emphasized this season, the blitz usually backfires when expected, such as on third-and-long.

All season TMQ has been offering examples of blitz-expected plays in which blitzes led to big gains for the offense, whereas straight defense might have led to a stop. Readers have protested that these may be isolated examples. TMQ responded by promising that, once the postseason rolled around and yours truly obsessively watches every play of every game, that I'd chart the blitz versus straight defense. This weekend I did and the evidence leads to an irrefutable conclusion: Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!

TMQ's incredibly scientifically advanced methodology was as follows. I charted every snap on which a blitz is expected -- third-and-long (four yards or longer, considering that in the modern NFL many teams line up in the shotgun on third-and-one); second-and-10 or longer; and goal-to-go if five yards or more. For the Colts-Jets and Falcons-Packers blowouts, I stopped at the end of the third quarter, on the assumption that stats in the late stages of blowouts don't mean much. For the awesome Browns-Steelers and Giants-Niners tilts, I logged every snap.

Through the weekend's four games, there were 93 blitz-expected downs. Teams blitzed on 33 of these snaps. The 33 blitzes resulted in eight stops, meaning incompletions or completions short of the marker; one interception; no sacks; six touchdowns for the offense; 16 offensive first downs; and a total of 357 yards passing. That's nine positive results for the blitzing defense and 22 positive results for the blitzed offense. (Results don't add up exactly to the total snaps owing to plays that resulted neither in drive stops nor first downs.) Overall, in expected-blitz situations, offenses averaged 10.8 yards per pass against the blitz.

Teams played straight defense on 60 of the snaps in expected-blitz situations. The 60 straight-defense snaps resulted in 34 stops; five sacks; three interceptions; four touchdowns for the offense; 11 offensive first downs; and a net after sacks of 313 yards passing. (Again, totals don't exactly add up.) That's 42 positive results for the straight defense and 15 positive results for the offense against a straight defense. Overall, against straight defense in expected-blitz situations, offenses averaged 5.2 yards per pass play.

James Farrior
Obviously someone on the Steelers reads TMQ.
Breaking these stats down, the blitz was 60/40 positive for the offense and allowed 10.8 yards per passing attempt, almost double the 2002 league average of 6.5 yards per attempt. The straight defense was 70/30 positive for the defense and allowed 5.2 yards per passing attempt, somewhat less than the 2002 league average.

Your Honor, I rest my case.

In other NFL news, this is the moment the whole season has built up to -- eight teams left, seven games left, someone will snatch the One Ring from Sauron -- and you'd think fan interest would be peaking. But at this point each year, interest begins to decline.

During the regular season, no matter how badly any game goes, each team's backers can dream that next week will be better. (Note: does not apply to Bengals.) Now for most there is no next week, with 24 of 32 cities out. Most fans are already dreaming of next year, already scanning draftnik web sites and free-agency lists. A week from now all but four cities will be out. By the time the Super Bowl kicks off, in theory the biggest football event of the season will be happening, but in practice the faithful of 30 of 32 teams -- 94 percent of the NFL fan base -- won't really care that much. Hold the draft! Start training camp! That's what millions are already thinking. Note: does not apply to Bengals.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 1 -- Colts at Jets: TMQ loves Tony Dungy, but the guy is the new Marv Levy when it comes to the postseason. Like Levy, Dungy believes a playoff game is just another game. They emphatically are not just another game. Dungy teams have been blown out in their last three playoff appearances, losing by a combined 93-12. TMQ wrote in his preseason AFC preview, "Some harmonic force has drawn Dungy, who can't win in January, to the NFL's current exemplar of can't-win-in-January syndrome, the Horsies having honked both their postseason appearances with Peyton Manning." Peyton has now honked three of three. Dungy is now 2-5 lifetime once it's money time. Ye gods.

Like Mike Sherman (see below), Dungy stood impassively as his team imploded in the game the entire season had been leading up to. Like Mike Sherman (see below), Dungy seemed not to have prepared for the fact that his quarterback has a history of pressing in playoff games, and like Mike Sherman (see below) had nothing special in the way of a game-plan for the Jets. How about a rushing game-plan to take the pressure off Manning? In the first half, the Lucky Charms passed 17 times and ran nine times. True, the run wasn't producing much, but the run often starts off poorly on the road. Indianapolis went into all-passing panic when it was only the second quarter; the rest was silence.

Peyton Manning
Manning's chicken dance is available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
That Dungy prepared nothing special was shown especially in Manning's pre-snap arming flapping, which against Jersey/B reached the point of seeming a Monty Python sketch. Manning looked like an inebriated chicken approaching center. How about preparing a game-plan surprise by having Manning not do any chicken dancing? The Jets spent all week rehearsing switching their defense at the last conceivable second, after Manning finished flapping -- and anybody who simply reads the New York newspapers knew the Jets were rehearsing this. Had Manning not danced, Jersey/B would have been taken by surprise. Instead the Colts did exactly what they'd done in every recent game, which played into Jersey/B's hands.

Manning's chicken-wings act actively backfired on the down that sealed the Colts' season. The Jets leading 17-0, Indianapolis faced third-and-one with 2:21 remaining in the half. Before the snap, Manning waved and flapped like one of those 19th-century loons who pasted feathers on his arms trying to fly; Manning then walked up and down the line whispering a fake audible to every lineman. Snap, and Edgerrin James is dropped in the backfield for a loss; the Colts punt; the Jets score quickly and it's a depressing 24-0 at the half. Not one but two Jersey/B defenders came through untouched by human hands to maul James. Blockers have to make their reads and concentrate before the snap; Manning doing his impersonation of a chicken served only to distract them on this play.

Worse, as things went downhill, Dungy simply quit. See "Why Are You Punting?" below.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 2 -- Falcons at Packers: Just 10 days ago, Green Bay looked like the team to beat. Coming off a monster Week 15 win against the Niners in San Francisco, and a win against Buffalo a week later, the Packers were 12-3. They controlled their destiny for home-field and had never lost a playoff game in the state of Wisconsin, where they were guaranteed at least one date. Now the Packers are a blasted hulk, outscored 69-24 in a six-day period, defeated at home in the postseason for the first time, embarrassed at home. TMQ likens the Pack to the Russian battleship Suvorov, lying on its side after going from glorious flagship of a vast imperial fleet to flaming derelict in just 45 minutes of the battle of Tsushima Straight. (For tips on how to build a model of the Suvorov, click here.

True, Green Bay was beset by injuries. In retrospect one reason Sherman must have gotten so mad about the legal-but-nasty hit by Warren Sapp late in the Packers-Bucs game is that he knew the teams that do well in the postseason are the ones that have good fortune in avoiding injuries, and the loss of tackle Chad Clifton on that play seemed to begin an injury cascade for Green Bay.

Mike Sherman
"Hello, Delta? What's the fastest flight out of town?"
But injuries are a fact of life in football, and where was Sherman's response? He had the Packers totally unprepared for their date in Jersey and the chance to win a bye and critically needed rest for the injured. Green Bay came in acting like victory would be automatic over a dejected Jersey/B squad that would have learned, just before kickoff, that it had been eliminated from the playoffs. Sherman seemed not to have considered that New England and Cleveland might pull upsets, and the Jets would learn before kickoff that a victory would put them into the postseason. When the Meadowlands crowd went berserk just as the Green Bay-Jersey/B game was about to begin, Sherman had a look about him of, "I had no idea this might happen." He should have been prepared for a worst-case scenario.

And where was Sherman's determination? The punt-muff when it was Atlanta 14, Green Bay 0 in the second quarter sums it all. Sherman didn't challenge though replays showed the rock hit a Falcon first. At first the Green Bay coach claimed a zebra told him the play, which was reviewable, could not be challenged. After the zebras denied saying this, Sherman blamed the no-challenge on his own upstairs staff.

Whatever the zebras or booth guys said or didn't say, Sherman rolled over. He should have thrown his flag and pushed his button and demanded a challenge regardless, because if Atlanta gets the ball deep in Green Bay territory and has a chance to go up 21-0, the Packers are pretty much finished. TMQ's experience watching coaches work the sidelines -- and working the sidelines himself in the county league -- is that if you doggedly, passionately insist on something the officials will almost always listen, so long as you don't use curse words. (This later was what the insult-spewing Tom Coughlin never figured out.) Green Bay's season turned on whether Sherman would doggedly, passionately demand a review of the punt-muff call and he just stood there, mute. Atlanta got the ball deep in Green Bay territory, went up 21-0 and the Packers were pretty much finished.

Green Bay coaching breakdown footnote No. 1: Scoring on the first possession of the second half to make it Atlanta 24, Green Bay 7, Sherman should have onside kicked. Sure it's a gamble, but trailing by 17 in the playoffs, you've got to take chances. The Falcons were not in an onside formation, expecting the Packers to kick away. They did and Atlanta went on a 13-play clock-grinding drive that killed seven minutes and made it 27-7. Even the football gods sending snow couldn't help Green Bay at that point.

Hailey
Attention Seattle fans!
Green Bay coaching breakdown footnote No. 2: In both its last playoff appearances, Green Bay has resembled the Russian fleet at Tsushima. In these games, defeats by the Rams and Falcons, the wonderful Brett Favre has thrown eight interceptions. Knowing that Favre's Achilles' heel is pressing and throwing picks under postseason pressure, Sherman might have come into a Wisconsin-in-January bad-weather contest with a running game plan. (Ahman Green was hurting, but so were the Pack receivers; William Henderson was available to run, and in good health.) Instead in the game's opening drives, the Packers threw 11 times and ran just eight times. By going pass-wacky early, Green Bay quickly fell behind, and everything after that was desperation.

Green Bay management breakdown footnote: In my preseason preview of the Packers I wrote, "TMQ's concern is turmoil in the receiver corps. Green Bay let go Antonio Freeman, Corey Bradford and Schroeder to replace them with Terry Glenn, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker, who rang up a combined 14 professional receptions last year. You tell me why." Walker played pretty well, but Donald Driver, who ended up the go-to guy, was perpetually injured. Against Atlanta, Robert Ferguson was cover-your-eyes awful, dropping four passes, two of which should have been touchdowns. Green Bay management ditched an efficient if aging receiver corps to bring in a guys who drop passes in big games. On Saturday, the chickens came home to roost.

Cheerleader of the Week: The TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Hailey of the Seattle Blue Men Group, who has caught the eyes of many readers because, according to her team bio, her profession is "company director for Victoria's Secret." Hailey majored in business administration and has 13 years of dance experience. Obviously, she knows how to suck up to a bureaucracy: on the Sea Gals team page she declares that the most influential person in her life is, "Our Sea Gals director." She also says she would like to visit "Italy, or any place with sunshine and white sand." Hailey, Iraq has sunshine and white sand.

Karen
Forget the Colts, Karen would have been captain if she suited up in Seattle.
Check out Ms. Fitness USA, Hawks cheerleader Karen. By the looks of things, the Colts could have used her at linebacker against the Jets.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 3 -- Browns at Steelers: Butch Davis came in with a very aggressive game plan. He expected the Steelers to choke up against the run; they did, and Davis was ready. Cleveland passed often on first down and attempted 20 throws of 20 yards or more, with several long completions. Davis was not about to go down quietly, which the football gods admire. His charges were also stoked for the hostile Ketchup Field environment.

So Davis prepared well by TMQ's playoff yardstick, which holds that the farther into the postseason you go, the more important game plans and psyche-ups become. But achieving a big lead in the fourth, Davis erred under the pressure. First, he kept passing even once the moment had come that the opponent was not the Steelers but the official timekeeper. Cleveland got ball with 8:40 remaining and a lead of 33-21. From that point on the Oranges ran on five snaps and passed on 10, including five incompletions that stopped the clock. Aye caramba! Had Cleveland in the final 8:40 simply rushed up the middle for no gain on every snap, keeping the seconds ticking, Pittsburgh would have run out of time for its last-minute comeback. Davis either authorized or failed to stop this blunder by his offensive coordinator.

Davis also either authorized or failed to stop a blunder of similar magnitude by his defensive coordinator. The error had nothing to do with blitzing. Many sportswriters and bobbleheads decreed that the Steeler comeback occurred because the Browns had been blitzing through the first three quarters but backed off in the fourth. This shows how little attention certain professional sports nuts pay to what's actually happening on the field. TMQ, who charted the game, can assure you the Browns blitzed just twice on long-yardage downs throughout the contest, once in the first half and once in the second. A principal reason Cleveland was in good shape untill the end is that it played straight defense, resisting the urge to blitz.

But at the end, everything changed. The Steelers got the ball with 5:30 remaining, still trailing 33-21. To that point the Browns had allowed 229 yards in the game's first 54:30. Everyone groan in unison: Cleveland shifted to the prevent defense. For the remainder of the game, except on two goal-line plays, Cleveland rushed just three, allowing Tommy Maddox to scan the field. After giving up 229 yards in the game's first 54:30, Cleveland gave up 138 yards in the final 5:30. All the prevent defense prevents is punts!

Butch Davis
"Sorry if I don't make eye-contact. I'm already drunk."
In the game's final minutes, what Cleveland needed was conservatism -- running to kill the clock, and straight defense instead of the dreaded fraidy-cat prevent. Davis failed to see this. Some coaches can manage sideline decision-making under pressure and some can't.

For his part, Bill Cowher adjusted by having his offense switch to no-huddle after falling behind 27-14; immediately things got better. Cowher did make one deeply puzzling call. Trailing 17-7 on the first possession of the second half, the Steelers faced third-and-one at their 38. Cowher sent in the always-injured-in-big-games Jerome Bettis, who had not appeared to that point. Looking sluggish, Bettis took the handoff and lost two. The Oranges scored on their ensuing drive to make it a 24-7 lead. Bettis was immediately yanked, this being the sole snap on which he appeared. If not for the Steeler comeback, purists would be pointing to putting in an injury player for a critical play an incredible boneheaded move.

Mega-Babe Update: Ads for ABC's new show "The Bachelorette" aren't shy about displaying its mega-babe subject, dancer Trista Rehn, looking scrumptious in a bikini. Rehn was runner-up in "The Bachelor." You mean to say that Alex "The Bachelor" guy chose Amanda, the event planner from Kansas over Trista the mega-bod because he was actually attracted to Amanda for her mind? Talk about lack of realism!

(ESPN.com and ABC are owned by the same corporate parent. TMQ shamelessly sucks up to ABC and considers this fine so long as it's disclosed. Watch "The Bachelorette" season premiere Wednesday at 9!)

Stats of the Week: On Sunday, the home teams fell behind by a combined 71-35, then came back by a combined 40-0.

Stats of the Week No. 2: In a six-day period, Jersey/B scored 83 points.

The Bachelorette
How many guys are on this show? Um, no thanks.
Stats of the Week No. 3: In a three-week period, the Lucky Charms lost to Jersey/A and Jersey/B by a combined 85-27.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Jersey/B, which in a six-day period beat the Packers and Colts by a combined 83-17, two weeks earlier lost to Chicago.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Indianapolis finished just 17 of 28 on third-and-one snaps on the year.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Five players finished the 2002 season with a passer rating of 158.3, highest possible under the NFL's cryptic formula. All were non-QBs who threw a single pass, complete for a touchdown. Who finished with the highest rating among starting quarterbacks? Chad Pennington.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Of the 33 games Butch Davis has coached for the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1), 20 have gone down to the final play.

Stats of the Week No. 8: The new streak for playoff victories when the game temperature is below freezing is held by Atlanta.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 4 -- Giants at Niners: Steve Mariucci fell behind big at home. Was his team overconfident? Unprepared? TMQ had been warning in recent weeks that the Squared Sevens looked unfocused. But whatever mistakes Mariucci made in preparation, he compensated for by an outstanding sideline performance.

Jeff Garcia
Hottest dancing in Cali since Mark Madsen.
Once the Niners were behind 38-14 in the third and a full-bore emergency was in progress, Mariucci didn't shrug and concede as Tony Dungy did in a comparable situation. (See "Why Are You Punting?") Mariucci and his assistants made two significant adjustments. First, they let the offense go no-huddle, and immediately it snapped out of its funk. The tempo of no-huddle seemed to cure whatever had been ailing the Niners' attack. San Francisco even went no-huddle when the clock was stopped, several times rushing to the line for a quick hike after an incompletion. The Giants seemed incapable of sustaining such a pace -- it helped that their bodies were three time-zones off. By the mid fourth quarter, the Jersey/A front seven was sucking air, visibly exhausted.

Mariucci and his staff made a significant shift on defense as well. The Niners opened in a man-to-man, crowding the line to stop the Jersey run, about which San Francisco was concerned -- Tiki Barber was the only top-10 rusher to make the postseason. In the first half, the Giants reacted correctly, throwing against the man. And despite the fact that San Francisco has carpeted-bombed the cornerback position with high draft picks (three No. 1s and two No. 2s in recent years), Niners corners needed only butter and jam to make toast. All six Giants' scoring drives came against man defenses. Late in the third, the Niners switched to a two-deep zone. This made Jersey/A passes more difficult, and the Giants failed to score again in the game. Of course, the two-deep has its own weaknesses; see below. At any rate Mariucci's two tactical changes sparked a 24-0 run and the second-best playoff comeback in the known history of the universe.

As for Jim Fassel, he obviously has done quite a bit right. From the early-November point at which he took over playcalling, and at which Fassel is clearly gifted, the Giants went 7-3, made an improbable playoff run and came within a botched snap of glorious victory on a distant field. Fassel, like Butch Davis, also came into a hostile stadium with an aggressive game plan and executed it well through the first three quarters.

But like Davis, Fassel did not adjust as game conditions changed. When the Niners shifted to a two-deep zone, they offered the visitors the run. Leading by 24 points with only a little more than a quarter remaining, a deep zone against which to run should have been exactly what the Giants wanted. Rush! Grind the clock!

Jim Fassel
"Hey! My offense still scored 38 points!"
Yet from the point that Jersey/A took its 38-14 lead with 4:30 remaining in the third, until the Giants began their frantic final-minute drive to recover from the collapse, Fassel called seven passes and five runs. Had the Giants simply run up the middle for no gain on every one of those snaps, they probably would now be preparing to play Tampa. Yet Fassel seemed incapable of doing the obvious and simply grinding the clock. He appeared so in love with the thought of running up the score and getting praised for another offensive-genius performance, so eager to see Jeremy Shockey and Amani Toomer dance and finger-point anew, that he ignored one of the most basic premises of football tactics: when ahead late, go boring and run. And he ignored this basic premise when the Niners were showing a run-friendly defensive look. Ye gods.

The killer stat about the mother of all playoff comebacks, Buffalo rallying from a 35-3 deficit in the third to beat the old Houston Oilers, was that from the point at which the Oilers took their 35-3 lead, they passed 22 times and rushed six times. This was in the pass-wacky "run-and-shoot" era, when Houston did not even have a tight end on the roster. Still, had the Oilers simply rushed up the middle for no gain on every snap after taking the 35-3 edge, Buffalo would have run out of time, and the mother of all comebacks would not have happened.

Sunday's daughter of all comebacks was different, as Fassel did make some attempt to rush after attaining the big edge. But the dynamic was the same: neither the Oilers, ahead by 32, nor the Giants, ahead by 24, could accept that the timekeeper was now their opponent, and the way to defeat the timekeeper is by going boring. The Oilers of 1993 and the Giants of 2003 each seemed obsessed with more points so there would be more to boast about in the morning; each kept putting the ball in the air; each paid the price, and the football gods chortled.

Giants coaching breakdown footnote No. 1: Leading by five with three minutes left, Jersey/A faced fourth-and-one at the San Francisco 24. The Niners were down to two timeouts.

Matt Bryant
Somewhere, Scott Norwood is laughing hysterically.
Normally you'd say kick for an eight-point lead and two chances to win the endgame: first by stopping a touchdown, second by stopping a deuce try. But the Giants have had shaky kicking all season, and changed long snappers last week owing to an injury. In his heyday, Trey Junkin was one of the best snappers ever, lauded in TMQ's disquisition on snappers. But Junkin is also a 19-year vet who retired after the Cowboys released him in training camp. He was awakened from a sound sleep last Tuesday morning with an offer to report to the Giants on Wednesday. Junkin was such a recent arrival that the team's official roster for the Niners gamelisted him as a "rookie" and was blank on college and age.

At any rate the options Fassel faced were try for the first -- at least a 50/50 chance -- and the game is probably over; or kick and hit; or kick and miss and the Niners get good field position. Since the run was going well, the Giants averaging 4.1 yards per carry, going for it seemed attractive. Instead, Fassel kicked and missed, following a bad snap. The memory of the failed fourth-and-one in the Giants' season opener against the Niners must have been in Fassel's mind. But that was then and this was now. Knowing, as Fassel did, how bollixed his snapper situation was, why did he take a long-shot chance on a field goal that only somewhat helps, rather than a 50/50 chance on victory?

Best Loss of 15: With Cleveland leading 14-7 and two minutes left in the half, second-and-goal, Oranges wideout Kevin Johnson got the ball on a trick play that was supposed to be a pass back to the quarterback. Black-clad gentlemen in his face, Johnson simply took the sack, losing 15 yards. "What a great play!" TMQ exclaimed. Most trick-play men in this situation heave-ho a crazy pass. As it was, Cleveland notched a field goal on the possession and had a solid 10-point lead when the boys went in for hot cocoa at the half.

Best Self-Actualization: Three weeks ago, the Squared Sevens lost to the Packers in part because Jeff Garcia passed rather than running on several key downs. TMQ wrote, "The ethos of the quarterback -- enforced by sports pundits and bobblehead comments -- is that passing yards somehow count more than scramble yards. Though the gentleman in question scrambles effectively, you could almost see Garcia mentally calculating that it is more impressive to throw for the deciding gain than to run for it. Oh, how the Niners would later wish he had run." The item concluded, "Memo to Jeff Garcia: come to terms with yourself. You like to run. That's okay. Just run."

In the Niners' daughter of all comebacks, Garcia ran seven times for 60 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown off the naked boot. Jeff Garcia has come to terms with himself. He likes to run. That's okay. Just run.

Tony Dungy
No, Tony it isn't the swamp. It's your team that stinks.
Why Are You Punting?Trailing 27-0 in the middle of the third, the Colts faced fourth-and-eight from their 43. There's no tomorrow. There's no ranking computer that takes into account margin of victory or defeat. Indianapolis has no choice but to go for it! Instead Tony Dungy calls a punt. TMQ writes the words "game over" in his notebook, and for emphasis the Jets score on their ensuing possession. Sure fourth and eight is a long shot, but trailing by 27 you've got to take some chances, and this is a chance at midfield. Bad enough that NFL coaches, more concerned with avoiding criticism than going all-out to win, punt when trailing big late in regular-season games. But in playoff games there's no tomorrow! Why are you punting?

Why Are You Kicking? Behind 27-7 at the end of the third quarter, the Packers faced fourth-and-ten at the Atlanta 26. There's no tomorrow. There's no ranking computer that takes into account margin of victory or defeat. Green Bay has no choice but to go for it! Mike Sherman calls a field-goal attempt, and TMQ writes the words "game over" in his notebook; outraged, the football gods push the try wide. Even had the field goal hit, the Packers still would have trailed by three scores. Bad enough that NFL coaches, more concerned with avoiding criticism than going all-out to win, listlessly order field-goal attempts when trailing big late in regular-season games. But in playoff games there's no tomorrow! Why are you kicking?

Also, Pepsi Blue Would Be Great Without the Blue: Over the holidays, the Official Family of TMQ sampled new Vanilla Diet Coke. Official Brother Frank exclaimed, "This would taste pretty good if they took out the vanilla." Hey -- what a marketing concept! Coke, are you listening?

Music City Miracle; Candlestick Memory Lapse G-Person fans are groaning on this admission from the league that offsetting penalties should have been called on the final play of the Niners-Giants game, allowing a re-kick. And it's worse than the league admission makes it sound. Check the official Game Book, and you will see that guard Rich Seubert, who had reported eligible, was the one flagged for being illegally downfield. He was a legal receiver and should have drawn the pass-interference flag. Another Giants OL was downfield illegally, which is why the correct call would have been offsetting penalties and do-over for Jersey/A.

This is a reason why OLs should not play end in field-goal formations. Zebras are human beings, and they judge who's allowed downfield by the numbers on their jerseys. Some coaches believe you should never have linemen in the end positions for field goals, have tight ends or fullbacks there -- because if they do wind up downfield, by human nature the zebras might not remember which one was supposed to be eligible. This problem doesn't happen on tackle-eligible trick plays, because there's only one OL reporting as eligible and the fact that he is reporting is unusual and sticks in the officials' minds. Linemen reporting eligible on field goal attempts, on the other hand, are routine events and 99.9 percent of the time mean nothing to the play. The one time it did, the zebras forgot.

Bonus measure of human nature: none of the Fox bobbleheads who talked about the replay on and off for 15 minutes noticed this, either. Most telling, even the Giants coaches did not notice! Fassel did not protest to officials at the time that Seubert was eligible, and no Giants coaches mentioned it in the immediate aftermath of the game. Only after reviewing film did the Giants' own staff realize their man was eligible. Like many teams, the Giants before kickoff told the officials they would have linemen in eligible positions on every field-goal play; by the time the crunch happened almost four hours later, both officials and Giants staff had forgotten. Teams should avoid this problem by having gentlemen with eligible numbers in eligible positions on field goals, and lining up blockers as eligible only on trick plays.

TMQ Non-QB Non-RB MVP: The Associated Press MVP award has gone to Rich Gannon. Or rather, one should say the Associated Press Best QB/RB award has gone to Gannon. The AP trophy, generally recognized as the official NFL MVP designation -- the league itself treats it this way -- has been handed out to 47 gentlemen over the years. Just five were neither quarterbacks nor running backs: Gino Marchetti, Joe Schmidt, Alan Page, Mark Moseley and Lawrence Taylor.

The Sporting News NFL Player of the Year award, due soon, should likewise be called the Sporting News Best QB/RB award. This prize has gone to 53 gentlemen over the years and a mere two, Taylor and Lou Groza, were not offensive backfield glory boys.

Which brings us to the really big award of the season, the TMQ NFL Non-QB Non-RB MVP.

Rich Gannon
You don't win an MVP without someone making sure you don't end up eating turf.
TMQ is a purist and views "most valuable" through the lens of meaning: Whose loss would have hurt his team most? Linebacker Derrick Brooks, the only non-QB non-RB to receive a vote in this year's MVP balloting, would be an attractive choice. He led the Bucs defense to a No. 1 finish, and scored three touchdowns on pick returns. Jason Taylor was a legit Non-QB Non-RB MVP candidate until he went mental in the closing minutes of Miami's collapse at Disposable Razor Field, but then the entire Marine Mammals team went mental along with him. Pittsburgh's Joey Porter is also a legit candidate. Lance Schulters might have meant more to his defense than any other player in the league this season, including Brooks; he was the main reason Tennessee's defense rebounded from an awful year in 2001 to monster status in 2002. The Philadelphia offense would have been going nowhere fast without Tra Thomas. Same for Jersey/B without Kevin Mawae.

Worthy as these gentlemen are, the 2002 TMQ NFL Non-QB Non-RB MVP is Lincoln Kennedy of the Raiders. Oakland finished first in offense in part because no one bothered Gannon while he sat back watching those crossing routes and "rub" patterns develop. Everybody knew Oakland was pass-wacky; everybody knew another pass was coming; nobody could put a sweaty hand on Gannon's jersey. Fine line play was the key to the Raiders' success this season. Kennedy was the best Raider lineman, maybe the best lineman of 2002 period, and is the TMQ NFL Non-QB Non-RB MVP.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 1: Leading 33-28 with the Pittsburgh comeback in progress and the Ketchup Field crowd generating afterburner-decibel noise, the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) had the ball at their 23 with 3:06 remaining and the Steelers holding two timeouts. The Oranges went run, incompletion, incompletion, punt; Pittsburgh got the ball back at 2:35 remaining, Cleveland having burned a paltry 31 seconds - and left the Steelers holding a timeout, since the incompletions stopped the clock.

Both Cleveland incompletions were drops beyond the first-down marker; had either been caught, the Oranges probably would have won. Especially here, had the Oranges simply rushed up the middle for no gain on all three plays, the Steelers might have run out of time. At the least, Pittsburgh would have been nervous about the clock on the closing plays. As it was, the Steelers arrived in the shadow of the Cleveland goal line with a minute left, sufficient time to feel confident.

TMQ, Grammar Snob:"It looks like we'll have cold temperatures tomorrow." Weather-bobbleheads constantly use this construction. But temperatures are mathematical concepts. Temperatures can be high or low, weather can be cold or warm: there cannot be cold temperatures.

Genie costume
I think it's safe to say we all dream of genie now.
TMQ Is Better Than Other Football Columns Because It's Raunchier: Officials of Frederick's of Hollywood, which is attempting a comeback, recently told the Wall Street Journal their wares are better than those of Victoria's Secret because Frederick's is "raunchier." Hailey of the Sea Gals, you'd better discuss with the marketing department the need to get raunchier. This is, after all, a long-term national trend. Check the latest in erotic corset technology here. For the holidays, any babe would look like a present in a genie-themed teddy. Frederick's naughty French maid's costume is much better than the one in the Budweiser ad, but is the model holding a duster or a whip? Frederick's signature feather boa now comes in four colors.

In another sign of the decline of Western civilization, the company has begun selling men's apparel too. Female and nontraditional male readers, check out the washboard abs of the hunk displaying the tiger kimono robe.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 2: Trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, the Packers had first-and-goal at the Falcons' one. Did Green Bay pound, pound, pound for the 99-percent likely score? Passes on two of four snaps, both incomplete, turnover on downs, ye gods. "Why is Green Bay passing so much from the one?" asked Grant, an Official Child of TMQ. To which TMQ could only reply, "Because they plan on ending their home playoff winning streak."

Maybe It Could Be Steven Spielberg's The Park at Candlestick Directed by Steven Spielberg: "Here at the -- what is this stadium called?" Joe Buck asked while broadcasting the Giants-Niners. The other bobbleheads couldn't answer, and several times through the broadcast referred to the mystery of what the field is called now.

3com Park
Forget the scoreboard, the name on the park should be digital.
Once it was Candlestick Park, one of the storied names in sports. Then it was 3Com Park, a storied name in tech stocks just long enough to bilk thousands of investors. The Visa card commercials (the ones that show a Garcia touchdown pass) still call it 3Com Park, and the Niners official site does too. When, however, 3Com stopped payment on its checks, the San Francisco City Council renamed the venue The Park at Candlestick Point. Please! The new name sounds like a condo development, or a fern bar with chardonnay at $12 the glass. Why not just revert to Candlestick Park, one of the storied names in sports?

From now until it gets a real name, TMQ will refer to this facility as Ye Olde Parke at Candlestick Pointe.

Two Cheers for Terrell Owens: What to make of Terrell Owens? After the Niners scored to take a 39-38 lead with a minute left, he committed personal fouls on successive downs -- first taunting, then a late hit. Either might have given Jersey/B excellent field position for a field goal to win, had not the Giants' Shaun Williams each time jumped in and committed an offsetting, equally boneheaded foul in retaliation against Owens. Williams ended up the Dwayne-Rudd-esque idiot of the game.

But imprudent as TO made himself seem, TMQ must note that when the Niners scored to make it 38-20 with barely more than a quarter remaining -- it's over, right? -- Owens went absolutely nuts, exhorting his teammates, screaming at them on the sidelines that they had to pull it out. He continued to be emotionally pumped throughout the contest, going nuts after almost every play. Owens' emotion might have helped the Niners more than any of his catches or deuces as the daughter of all comebacks proceeded. The football gods might not approve of dumb penalties Owens committed, but they smiled on his commitment. Great comebacks start with someone who refuses to lose.

Antwaan Randle El
Thanks to Antwaan, you'll have to take the Browns to the Super Bowl in private.
Sweet Play of the Day: Scoring with 54 seconds left to take the lead at 34-33, the Steelers wanted a deuce -- when the endgame is clear, even TMQ favors the 40 percent deuce try. Tommy Maddox sprinted off the field. Hines Ward lined up at quarterback, then went in motion. Antwaan Randle El took the direct snap and rolled right, then threw to Jerame Tuman for two. What a sweet play. But -- can't anyone on the Steelers use standard first-name spellings? ("Jerame" is pronounced "Jeremy.")

Maybe the Jets Line Should Be the Non-QB Non-RB MVP: As TMQ endlessly notes, screen passes, which should be high-percentage plays, often wheeze out because linemen charge downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns, neglecting to paste the first guy they can put a pad on. Often screen blockers end up hitting no one, so intent are they in charging downfield as if they themselves were running for touchdowns. Also, screen blockers tend to ignore pursuers behind the ballcarrier, though screen runners are often caught from behind.

Game scoreless in the first, on Jersey/B's first possession Richie Anderson took a screen 56 yards to the house owing to perfecto blocking. Guard Randy Thomas and center Kevin Mawae led the play. Thomas pancaked the first gentlemen he could put a pad on -- screen blockers, never try to guess where the play is going, just take out the closest guy and let the runner make the decisions. Mawae saw a gentleman coming up from behind, peeled back and pancaked him. Beauty-to-behold blocking.

Aging, knees-creaking Jets guard Dave Szott also pulled and pancaked Colts DE Brad Scioli at the corner on Lamont Jordan's second-quarter touchdown. Other Jets' blocking was consistently outstanding, Chad Pennington having that clean, freshly-pressed-uniform look throughout the contest. The Jets put up one of the best blocking games TMQ has ever seen.

Or Maybe Scott Gragg: Though Jeff Garcia dropped back to pass 48 times, the Giants sacked him zero times. All-boasting Jersey/A end Michael Strahan, who has celebrated his mega contract by taking much of the season off, never got close enough to advise Garcia to use Rogaine. Strahan was a non-factor - no sacks, two tackles - despite the Niners' line missing two starters during the furious fourth-quarter comeback. Strahan was neutralized by the almost-tastefully named Scott Gragg, who pushed Strahan around as if the extremely overpaid gentleman were a practice squad player. And when TO danced after the touchdown that made it 38-20, Strahan did an act too, screaming at Owens to look at the scoreboard. Strahan, however, did not back his boasting with play; Owens did.

Hidden Play: Sometimes the biggest downs don't show up in the box scores, but sustain or stop drives. Jersey/A 38, San Francisco 30 with 10:36 remaining, the Squared Sevens faced fourth-and-one on the Giants' 29. A stop by Jersey/A and the furious Niners' comeback might wheeze out. Jeff Garcia play-faked, then eyed his primary, then checked off to his secondary, then checked off to Tai Streets over the middle for a junky-looking four-yard gain. The Niners score a field goal on the possession and go on to win by one. This junky-looking four-yard gain was the biggest hidden play of a fantastic NFL weekend.

Also, note that the Niners took a chance on fourth-and-one in the fourth while the Giants did not in nearly identical circumstances. And whom did the football gods smile upon?

Dippin' Dots
They can invent this, but I can't get a signal on my cell phone.
In Star Trek, the Ice Cream of the Future Has Been Altered by Time Travel: Many sports facilities now sell Dipping Dots, "the ice cream of the future." TMQ is content to eat the ice cream of the past.

Football Gods Make Good a Debt One man was involved in both the Mother of All Comebacks, Buffalo-Houston in 1993, and the Daughter of All Comebacks, San Francisco-Jersey/A on Sunday. Bruce DeHaven was special-teams coach for the Bills in 1993, and is for the Niners now. DeHaven has now twice had the out-of-body experience most coaches never have, that of seeing his charges overcome an impossible lead while feeling the energy of a home crowd going nuts.

DeHaven was also the Buffalo special-teams coach for the Music City Miracle play; he was fired the following day, which is why he now toils in San Francisco. Pretty much everyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line continues to feel the Music City Miracle should have been flagged as a forward lateral. But if the football gods were cruel to DeHaven then, they repaid him Sunday as another blown call enabled DeHaven's kick defense unit to stop the Giants on the final play.

Harmonic Convergence: The last two playoffs games at Giants Stadium have both ended 41-0 for the home team.

Running Items Department:
Fiesta Bowl Bonus Coverage: Both of Miami's passing touchdowns came on big-blitzes by Ohio State, while the Buckeyes' third-and-10 interception, and several other third-and-long stops, came with Ohio State playing straight defense.

Reaching first-and-goal at the Ohio State one in the second overtime, needing a touchdown to ensure a third extra session, did Miami simply pound, pound, pound for the 99-percent likely six? Two runs and two incompletions, Ohio State is national champion. "Why is Miami passing so much from the one?" asked Grant, an Official Child of TMQ. To which TMQ could only reply, "Because they plan on ending their winning streak."

Ken Dorsey
To sum up, TMQ is always right.
The final play, fourth-and-goal from the two, was governed by TMQ's immutable law of the goal line, Regular Pass = Defeat. At the goal line, the defense has so little territory to defend that you can power-run, play-fake or roll out, but you can't regular pass. What did Miami call on fourth-and-goal from the two? Regular pass, and to top if off, Kenny Dorsey sprints backward. The defensive set, in which linebacker Cie Grant forced Dorsey into throwing the ball into the turf, might have looked like a big-blitz but wasn't. Four gentlemen pass-rushed.

Between the Miami-New England NFL game and this, Miami the city has been involved in two mega games in two weeks, and come out on the losing end of both. As fantastic as the BCS finale was, however, TMQ continues to believe the event in Tempe should be renamed the Fiasco Bowl.

New York Times Final-Score Score:. The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-4 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-779 since TMQ began tracking.

Reader Animadversion: Quasi-suspended this week as TMQ did not read email over the holiday break. Though in our continuing coverage of the vital public-policy issue of the Eagles' cheer-babes lingerie calendar, many readers have asked to see the pose by Michelle, whose team bio says she is a professional dancer who is studying for her degree in elementary education. Once again unlike any teacher you or I ever had! Buy the calendar, which arrives in plain brown wrapping, here.

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

Michelle
I believe Van Halen said it best: "I'm hot for teacher."
TMQ Challenge: Last summer TMQ and the Official Wife of TMQ dined in Aspen, Colorado, on the tab of the super-respectable Aspen Institute, at the ultra-chic Pacifica restaurant. We do not know if our presence caused those sitting nearby to cease feeling ultra-chic.

One item on the menu: a dessert of white chocolate jalapeno mousse. Chocolate jalapeno! Wacky or pretentious combinations of ingredients have taken over restaurants; TMQ expects to see reduction of blueberry-alioli-asiago-seaweed compote on the menu at Denny's soon. A few years ago, I began to think that every possible weird combination of food ingredients had already been used. Evidently I was wrong.

What's the most wacky or pretentious thing you've seen on a restaurant menu lately? Submit here, identifying the establishment by name and city and including a Web address if the restaurant has one.

A final note. According to my contract, negotiated for me by Jon Kitna, I get a huge bonus if this column runs just six words longer. So, Happy New Year to -- .

{To ESPN.com editors from ESPN corporate management: please delete the word "you" at the end of the Easterbrook column.}

Posted by tien mao in TMQ at 5:12 PM

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