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At the halfway mark, injuries are clobbering NFL teams as usual. Mike Brown of Chicago, Dan Morgan of Carolina, Mike Peterson of Jax, Chris Simms of Tampa and other important players already have sustained injuries that sent them to injured reserve. Daunte Culpepper and other big-name players also soon might go on the IR list. The annoying thing is that even if the wounds to any players on injured reserve heal -- Simms might recover in as little as a few weeks -- they can't return, because being placed on injured reserve means you're done for the season. Those on injured reserve receive full pay for the season, but are forbidden to dress again that season regardless of whether they recover. Which raises the musical question: Why does injured reserve exist at all?
Injured reserve seems to have two functions: to force owners to pay players to do nothing, and to prevent fans from seeing players who sustained injuries, then recovered. Gentlemen on injured reserve still count against the salary cap, so teams get no financial benefit from moving them to the IR list. From the team's perspective, players are placed on injured reserve solely in order to open a roster spot for a healthy player. But why should there be any limit on roster spots? The salary cap governs how much NFL teams spend on players, and is imperative to keep high-revenue teams on a roughly even footing with low-revenue franchises. But limiting roster spots is unnecessary to ensure competitiveness. Right now the NFL roster limit is 53, and players with injuries get shunted to injured reserve so their precious spots can be assigned to someone else. But if a team wants to have 55 or 58 or 62 or 371 players on its roster, what difference does it make so long as the team observes the salary cap? (Note: 371 is how many players you could have, under the 2006 cap, if all were rookie free agents earning the league minimum salary.) The injured reserve system means that every season by Thanksgiving there are healthy NFL players who are paid in full but not allowed to play. It is hard to see how this benefits anyone: player, club or spectators.
Doing away with the roster limit -- but still enforcing the salary cap -- would permit the abolition of injured reserve. Hurt players would remain on the roster. If they recovered they would tape their ankles again, and if they did not they would keep sitting. Houston put running back Domanick Davis on IR just before the season started, unsure if he could play this season and feeling his roster spot was needed for someone else; Davis' health has improved, but he's forbidden to come back. When Indianapolis defensive tackle Monte Reagor got into an auto crash in mid-October, the Colts faced the dilemma of whether to place him on injured reserve, freeing a roster spot for someone else, or to keep him on the roster for a month or so while he recovers. The Colts chose to keep the hospitalized Reagor on the roster, meaning the team's defense has been shorthanded in practice since then. What possible good is accomplished by the existence of an injured reserve in such situations? So long as the Colts or Texans have salary cap space, why couldn't they keep Reagor or Davis on the roster while also signing extra free agents at their positions, to let the new guys practice and see if any of them have what it takes?
To understand why injured reserve exists, it is important to understand that the roster limit itself is a presalary-cap concept that has outlived its usefulness. Before the cap, which began in 1993, roster limits were essential -- otherwise the New York teams, Dallas, Washington and other rich franchises would have stockpiled huge rosters while Green Bay and Indianapolis had trouble fielding a team at all. As recently as 1992, the league front office held an investigation of whether high-revenue teams essentially were redshirting young players by claiming they were injured when they weren't, then placing them on IR, circumventing the roster limit. The fear that rich teams were using injured reserve to beat the roster limit was one of the reasons the salary cap came into effect.
But now that the salary cap is here and working well, leveling the field regarding player spending, roster limits no longer are needed. There's no reason the Jets can't have 60 on the roster while the Packers have 56 and the Chargers have 63 and the Eagles have 54 and so on. Eliminating the roster limit would not result in big disparities, such as the Giants with 100 players and the Bills with 30, which might have happened if there were no roster limit and no salary cap. The salary cap prevents high-revenue teams from parking players on a bloated roster at the expense of low-revenue teams; this mechanism being in place, the roster limit has become a fossil.
College football has no roster limit, and the sun continues to rise while the Earth continues in its proper orbit. Because colleges don't pay players, in effect they have what TMQ advocates for the NFL -- no roster limit but equalized spending on players' salaries. (Equalized at zero in this case, but you get the idea.) The lack of a roster limit in college does not appear to have any impact on the competitive equation, but does insure that a player who is injured and then recovers can return. Brian Brohm is back for Louisville, for example, and college football fans are glad. If college had a roster limit, Brohm would have gone on injured reserve and would now be compelled to sit even though he's recovered.
That the rules force players on injured reserve to be paid for doing nothing is the larger version of the Free the Inactive Eight! problem TMQ writes about annually. Though 53 players are on the roster, before each NFL game seven or eight, depending on whether the team has a third quarterback, must be declared inactive. The inactives get full pay but watch from the sidelines. What does this accomplish other than forcing owners to pay players to twiddle their thumbs? The Inactive Eight actually make NFL play slightly lower in quality, by keeping off the field eight gentlemen who might contribute on special teams, and exiling to the bench the third quarterback, who might otherwise come in for trick plays. NFL coaches generally feel they can't risk the backup quarterback's health on trick plays, but the third quarterback would be another matter -- if he was allowed to come in.
This week: Gregg Easterbrook on ...
• Stats of the week
Rosters limits and the inactive list are vestiges of the 1950s, when pro football was barely scraping by financially, many owners were tightwads and player relations were viewed in terms of old-fashioned labor-management confrontation. In the old system, some owners wanted to shaft players out of every last farthing, and fought for low roster limits in order to reduce salary outlays. An 11-man roster with everyone playing hurt both ways would have been the dream of some 1950s owners. Until 1973, the roster limit was 40, and antediluvian owners pressured to keep the limit low to hold down player costs. As the league became affluent and the limit gradually rose to 53, the antediluvian owner faction seemed to insist on injured reserve, the inactive list and the old "moves" system -- allowing a limited number of annual exchanges between the active roster and a temporary injury list -- as a way of preventing those uppity players from gaining increased employment.
Today the NFL is rolling in money, labor relations are constructive and all but two or three owners are happy to pay pretty much any amount to win a game. Still the inactive list and injured reserve, artifacts of a bygone era of money scarcity in pro sports, remain. Free the Inactive Eight! Abolish injured reserve! As of Friday there were 153 gentlemen on injured reserve across the league, an average of five players per club. Some of these men will be healthy again before the season ends, yet none will be allowed to don pads again until next season. Free the Injured Reserves! Let NFL teams have as many people on the roster as they please, so long as the salary cap is not violated.
In other football news, trailing 17-10, with 4:47 remaining, the Packers reached first-and-goal at the Bills' 1. Green Bay had rushed for an average of 4.9 yards per carry, against one of the league's weakest rush defenses. Thus if the Packers simply slammed the ball forward once or twice, the tying touchdown was nearly certain. Instead pass, interception run 76 yards the other way and the Bills scored the game-icing touchdown a few snaps later. What was going on? Brett Favre at that point needed 14 touchdown passes to take the NFL career record away from Dan Marino. Rather than make the high-percentage call to tie the game, the Packers' coaches seemingly made a call calculated to help Favre get the record. Shouldn't team needs come first? The complication is that in this disappointing Green Bay season, the Packers' faithful likely would rather see Favre get the career touchdown-pass record than win any particular contest.
In still more football news, everyone's asking whether Ben Roethlisberger bears all the blame for the defending champion Steelers' 2-6 start. For the second straight week, Roethlisberger launched a crazy interception in the red zone, heave-hoeing toward Champ Bailey when it was only Denver 14, Pittsburgh 7 with the ball on the Broncos' 14. Simply throwing the ball away would likely have led to a Steelers field goal. But perhaps the video game company Electronic Arts, not Roethlisberger, deserves the blame! Last August, I received this e-mail from reader Joe Bittner of San Jose, Calif.: "Just picked up the EA Sports game 'Coach.' On the cover is Bill Cowher. In recent history there has been a curse on the cover-boy players for the EA product, 'Madden NFL Football.' I am wondering if this curse will also be passed on to the game 'Coach' and if Cowher should be worried about having a terrible season."
In more football news, the guy who keeps making the spectacular plays for New Orleans, rookie receiver Marques Colston, was the 252nd pick in the draft, barely avoiding being Mr. Irrelevant. Reggie Bush was the second pick in the draft. To this point, Colston is hands-down New Orleans' Rookie of the Year.
In national news, it's Election Day. Stop reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback now, get out and vote, and finish reading later.
Stat of the Week No. 2: Jacksonville has won three of its past four games, by a combined score of 91-13. In the other game, Jacksonville lost to Houston.
Stat of the Week No. 3: After going 0-7 against New England, Peyton Manning is now on a 2-0 run.
Stat of the Week No. 4: Chicago and Denver gave up a combined 42 points in their first seven home games and a combined 62 points in their next two.
Stat of the Week No. 5: There were three field-goal attempts to win -- two by Washington, one by Dallas -- in the final 35 seconds of the Cowboys-Redskins game.
Stat of the Week No. 6: J.P. Losman was sacked once every four times he dropped back, and Buffalo won.
Stat of the Week No. 7: Buffalo and San Francisco combined for 317 offensive yards, and both won.
Stat of the Week No. 8: Jon Kitna had a better passer rating this week than Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Tom Brady.
Stat of the Week No. 9: Since the moment he jogged out to be introduced at the Super Bowl last February, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown seven touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
Stat of the Week No. 10: All teams in the NFC West, including 5-3 division leader Seattle, have been outscored.
Cheerleader of the Week: Shamea of the Atlanta Falcons is majoring in psychology, which means your lines will not work on her. According to her team bio, Shamea was a child actress in television commercials and danced in the movie "Drumline." Her favorite sport to participate in is flag football. Also, according to her team bio, her current reading list includes geology textbooks, and her favorite Atlanta player is T.J. Duckett -- um, who was traded.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 1: Ravens leading 7-0 after the first possession of the game, Cincinnati faced a third-and-12. Carson Palmer threw deep; Samari Rolle intercepted and returned 24 yards; under tackle, Rolle handed off to teammate Ed Reed, who ran 25 more yards for a touchdown. That made it Ravens 14, Bengals 0 with less than five minutes gone, and the visitors never recovered. Occasionally you see a lateral between defenders after a turnover -- in this case, Rolle executed a regular handoff.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Denver leading Pittsburgh 14-10 at the start of the second half, the Broncos had a second-and-8 on their 28. Many NFL and college teams run an action in which a receiver fakes the end-around, but first the quarterback actually has handed off up the middle -- meaning when the quarterback fakes a handoff to the end-around, the quarterback's hands are already empty. Denver set this action -- then instead faked up the middle and gave the ball to Javon Walker coming around. Walker ran 72 yards for a touchdown, an unusually long rush by a receiver. As he was starting up the field, two-thirds of the Steelers' defense was still chasing the fake man in the middle.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: A while back TMQ asked who devised the play on which the quarterback fakes up the middle then backhand flips to the tailback running full speed outside. Reader Derek Falb of St. Louis reports this play was drawn up by Mike Martz for Marshall Faulk, and called Flip 90. The Redskins ran Flip 90 to Clinton Portis for a sweet looking 38-yard touchdown run. But what was up with Portis waving the ball for the final 10 yards? When you're 2-5, you should not be waving the ball.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 4: On Eli Manning's game-winning touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey, the play-fake was so good that a Houston defender tackled running back Brandon Jacobs after Manning had cocked his arm to throw to Shockey.
Sour Play of the Week No. 1: Game scoreless, Indianapolis faced a second-and-goal on the New England 5. The Colts ran up to the line without a huddle; Marvin Harrison went in motion right; Harrison, who had already caught two touchdowns on quick slant passes on close-in downs this season, ran a quick slant; all New England's defenders totally ignored Harrison; touchdown. The Flying Elvii's Ellis Hobbs was near Harrison and simply stared at him. Endlessly TMQ marvels at how often the key aspect of a football play is that someone on the field does nothing at all. Hobbs did nothing as Harrison ran exactly the pattern any scout would expect him to run, and that was sour. "Man, they make that look easy," TMQ mumbled under his breath after the first two Indianapolis touchdowns.
Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Tampa might have fallen on hard times, but at least it still has the Tampa 2, the philosophy that two safeties deep makes long gainers rare. The United States Saints leading 7-0 and facing a second-and-14 on their 48, Devery Henderson ran the deep post and got behind everyone -- including the deepest Tampa safety, Will Allen -- for a touchdown that looked so easy, Henderson jogged the final yards. And the Bucs weren't blitzing on the play, they were in their standard set. When Tampa's own Tampa 2 is giving up easy deep passes, you know the season is lost.
Sour Play of the Week No. 3: Game tied at 10 in the fourth, Buffalo faced a second-and-20 on the Green Bay 43. Lee Evans went deep against Packers corner Al Harris -- who made no attempt at all to cover his man, but rather stood there committing the high school mistake of "looking into the backfield" to guess the play. Evans caught the touchdown pass that proved to be the game's winning points. This play was double sour because not only was Harris taking the lazy man's way out by looking into the backfield, Buffalo quarterback J. P. Losman was staring at Evans the entire time.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Leading 7-0, Kansas City had a first-and-goal on the St. Louis 3. Damon Huard dropped back, no one covered tight end Tony Gonzalez on the quick turn-out, easy touchdown. That was sweet. But the play wasn't a play-fake, just a regular drop-back pass -- yet the entire Les Mouflons defense totally ignored the opponent's best red-zone receiver. That was sour.
TMQ's Immutable Law Not Observed: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's immutable law, Take One Till the Fourth, holds that unless a team is way behind, the 99 percent chance of a single PAT is better than the 40 percent chance of a deuce. Forget those "coach's cards" that say when to attempt one and when to go for two; Take One Till the Fourth, as the endgame scoring situation becomes clear. In the second quarter, Dallas scored a touchdown to make it Cowboys 6, Redskins 5; the "coach's card" says go for two when ahead by one, so Bill Parcells went for two. No joy, and oh how Parcells later wished for that point back. At the endgame, the score was tied at 19, and Dallas gained possession with 31 seconds remaining with Washington down to two timeouts. Had the Cowboys taken the single PAT earlier, they would have knelt twice, then jogged off the field victorious. Instead they had to gamble and perhaps you've heard the rest.
Monday Night Football Professionalism Watch: It was not exactly clairvoyance to predict Seattle would defeat Oakland. Nevertheless as the teams trotted onto the field for the coin toss, TMQ said aloud, "This game's over." The kickoff temperature was 62 degrees with rain and wind, and Raiders coach Art Shell came out enswathed in a ridiculous North Sea oil-rig worker's survival suit, while the high-aesthetic appeal Seattle Sea Gals came out in miniskirts and bare midriffs. Game over! Just in case there had been any doubt, it's the second quarter, Seattle leading 13-0. Oakland faces fourth-and-1 on the Blue Men Group 49. In trots the punt unit. I think, "This has got to be a fake." Boom goes the punt, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in the notebook. You're 2-5, trailing by two touchdowns, have fourth-and-1 in opposition territory. Seventy-four percent of rushes on fourth-and-1 are successful. Why are you punting on fourth-and-1 in opposition territory? And now you are 2-6. Note: Just to prove it was no fluke, still trailing 13-0, Oakland punted again near midfield on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, and still trailing 13-0 in the fourth quarter, punted from the Seattle 39.
Nineteen People Steering 191,000 Tons: If you've driven by a port recently, you know the shipping business has been taken over by container vessels whose holds and decks are stacked high with rectangular crates known in the trade as TEUs. In August the Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk christened the largest container vessel ever, the Emma Maersk. She is 1,300 feet long and displaces 191,000 tons. By way of comparison, the last of the Nimitz-class supercarriers, the George H. W. Bush, launched this fall, is 1,100 feet long and displaces 97,000 tons. Container vessels bigger than aircraft carriers drive down the price of shipping, keeping stores full of affordable goods. They also pose a challenge to the nation's bridges and dock facilities, as the dimensions of the largest commercial vessels are set to the width of canals and bridge-support spacing on their expected routes of service.
Here's what creeps me out about the enormous Emma Maersk -- her crew complement is 14. That's almost 14,000 tons of responsibility per crewmember. Shipping lines have been reducing crew complements relentlessly, to cut costs, and that does mean lower prices for consumer goods. It also means the 191,000-ton Emma Maersk, churning through the water at 25 knots and requiring miles to stop, has a couple people on the bridge, a couple people in the engine maintenance area and a couple people in the galley. Crews of newly built merchant vessels are supposed to do little more than monitor instruments, fight fires and send out a mayday if pirates attack, increasingly a threat in Asian seas. No matter how good the automated systems of modern ships might be, it seems inevitable there will come a time when a small crew is overworked or fatigued and someone makes a colossal error that results in a 191,000-ton boat slamming into something. Bear in mind Germany's max-tech, cost-no-object magnetic train prototype, which was designed to save money via automated operation, just slammed into something, killing 23 people -- and that train operated on a dedicated line without any other traffic. Giant container ships and oil tankers with minimal crews operate in busy waters where there are many other ships moving unpredictably, plus bridges and underwater obstacles. The momentum of the Emma Maersk would be more than sufficient to, say, bring down the Golden Gate Bridge.
Because merchant ship crews are now usually small, many sailors are expected to be on duty pretty much round-the-clock, increasing the chance of a fatigue blunder. Merchant vessels increasingly also are expected to sail straight through the center of storms, to cut delivery time. The situation is worst for bulk transport ships that carry wheat, potash and so on. Because the cargo of a "bulky" is worth less pound-for-pound than the cargo of a container ship, shipping companies tend to understaff bulkies, use marginally trained crews, and demand such ships take risks with rough seas. Bulkies have sunk in the blue water with disturbing frequency in recent years, and no one seems to care so long as Wal-Marts are stocked with inexpensive goods. I commend to readers the excellent 2004 book "The Outlaw Sea" by William Langewiesche, which describes in harrowing detail how the ocean transport industry cuts corners and mistreats sailors.
Chicago Ming Ding Xiong ("Bears Whose Outcomes Are Decided by Fate" in Chinese) Might Be Facing More Fate Than They Wish: Don't look now, but Chicago has 17 giveaways, one of the worst figures in the league -- only San Francisco, Cleveland, Oakland and Pittsburgh, all well south of .500, have more giveaways. Chicago might be 7-1, but it's not going far into January if it can't hang on to the ball. On Sunday the Bears appeared careless and clumsy against a 1-6 team, and this just two games after looking careless and clumsy against Arizona, then 1-4. Carelessness was epitomized by the Jason Taylor interception return. Miami had just scored to go ahead 7-3 in the second quarter; the Bears had a first-and-10 on their 23, and Rex Grossman threw it right into Taylor's hands. Sure Grossman was under pressure -- so take the sack! Meanwhile Taylor did not trick Grossman by dropping into coverage on the play, as sports-yak types said. Taylor lined up at defensive end and rushed. As the pocket collapsed, Bears tight end Desmond Clark ran into the right flat for the safety-valve pass. Taylor noticed, chased Clark and cut in front.
Savage Negative Ads Distort Record of "None of the Above": Every recent election season has seen negative political advertising sink to a new low, and this fall, once again, new lows were reached. This nonpartisan Web site, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, washes the mud off both party's ads. Here National Public Radio offers video of some of the worst ads of the election season. Bad enough that negative advertising diminishes the quality of political debate; it also turns people off to voting, as Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania has argued.
This year some negative ads seem to make no attempt at all to characterize politicians' positions accurately. For instance, the Michael J. Fox ad attacking Republican Maryland senatorial candidate Michael Steele makes it seem Steele opposes all stem cell research. Steele opposes research on embryonic stem cells, not on other types of stem cells; there's a big difference, and surely Fox knows that well. Here Jacob Weisberg of Slate argues that on balance, Republican attack ads are more irresponsible than Democratic attack ads. Weisberg notes, for example, that one Republican ad attacking the Democratic contender in an Arizona congressional contest said she had been "president of the ACLU." She had never been any kind of ACLU officer -- rather, she had once taken a legal case involving the organization.
The most offensive attack ad of the season is the "Harold, Call Me" spot run by the Republican National Committee against Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. The woman who declares in the spot, "I met Harold at a Playboy party" has, in fact, never met Harold -- she's an actress reading lines. All the people who give opinions about Ford in the commercial, presented as men and women on the street, are actors. That is to say, the commercial consists exclusively of lies. You can't go any lower. The ending lie is especially repellant on the part of the Republican National Committee, as viewers are not warned that the person presented as knowing the candidate personally actually has never met him. Ken Mehlman, the hack who runs the Republican National Committee, appears beyond shame. But there are lots of responsible, admirable people in Republican politics. Why have they allowed the Republican National Committee to descend so low?
Attacks ads have been heated on both sides in the Virginia senatorial race, where sitting Republican senator George Allen, son of the football coach, is struggling to hold off Democratic challenger James Webb, former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. Here, based on this race, is Tuesday Morning Quarterback's quadrennial take on the state of political advertising:
REPUBLICAN ATTACK AD
Soft, lilting female voice. Because voters worry that Republicans are too right-wing, the voice-over in Republican attack ads is always a sweet, reasonable-sounding woman.
"Did you know that Jim Webb reads novels? That he thinks about sex? Jim Webb has never denied thinking about sex! Jim Webb has been known to receive money. The exact amount of money he has received has never been disclosed! Many drug dealers drive their cars on highways, and Jim Webb drives his car on highways. So what's the difference between Jim Webb and a drug dealer? While serving in the Vietnam War, Webb frequently used profanity, and is rumored to have thought about sex. When five brave firefighters died trying to stop the California wildfire, Jim Webb did nothing to rescue them -- nothing! As a Democrat, Jim Webb advocates mandatory homosexuality, tax-funded Cadillacs for welfare recipients, the abolition of religion, surrendering our country to the United Nations and letting Saddam Hussein out of jail on a technicality. If Jim Webb is elected, Osama bin Laden will be placed in control of the United States military. Why won't Jim Webb release the details of his thoughts?"
DEMOCRATIC ATTACK AD
Booming, macho voice. Because voters worry that Democrats are too squishy, the voice-over in Democratic attack ads always sounds like a steroid-swilling bodybuilder.
"Maybe George Allen is no longer a Satan-worshipper, but many Satan-worshippers are skilled at hiding their true allegiance. The postman, the school principal -- can you be sure they are not Satan worshippers? Can you be sure George Allen is not? As a Republican, George Allen favors mandatory pregnancy, nuclear war against Canada, and the resumption of the Atlantic slave trade. George Allen never has explained adequately where he was on May 23, 1983. Investigators have found many documents related to George Allen. George Allen has been observed leaving meetings. Some of these meetings occurred in private! If George Allen is re-elected, major oil companies will charge for gasoline. George Allen has never denied that George W. Bush is President of the United States. George Allen, George Bush. Powerful insiders don't want you to know that both have the same first name!"
Jags' Fan's Dream Battery -- Garrard to Wilford: David Garrard is 6-1 as the Jacksonville starter. Jacksonville is 7-1 in games in which Ernest Wilford catches a touchdown pass.
Why Tactics Matter No. 1: All football commentators, including TMQ, have praised Bill Belichick so much, praising him further seems repetitious. But on Sunday, the Patriots actually had a bad game plan. The Colts arrived at Next One Will Have Seven Moisture-Sensitive Vibrating Heated Titanium Blades, Make Espresso, Raise Llamas, Monitor Atmospheric Pressure on the Moons of Meepzor, Improve Your Love Life and Play a Constructive Role in the Middle East Peace Process Field with the worst rushing defense in the league, while the Pats arrived with red-hot tailback Laurence Maroney. Yet New England called 35 passing plays and 33 rushes. Going pass-wacky led Tom Brady to suffer a four-pick night.
One interception was not Brady's fault, bouncing off the hands of the receiver. But the others were, including a nutty heave-ho into triple coverage around Ben Watson. The Watson pass seemed especially odd because New England had a first-and-10 on the Indianapolis 40 with 28 seconds remaining in the first half, trailing by a field goal. Given the clock, two Colts safeties were lined up 25 yards deep when the play started. How could Brady have seen how deep the safeties were and thought he could throw deep? Anyway, if New England had rushed more, Brady might not have been trying to heave-ho into coverage.
Why Tactics Matter No. 2: Detroit led 10-7, but Atlanta had just stopped a Lions' fourth-and-1 attempt from the Falcons' 2, and you figured that would swing the momentum back to the favorite. Michael Vick dropped back from his own 4, danced around in the pocket, saw a rusher approaching and zinged the ball directly into the hands of Detroit's Dre Bly. Interception, the Lions score a touchdown on the next snap, and the upset was on in earnest. But why was Vick standing there in the pocket in his own end zone? In recent weeks Vick has been a hot passer, and part of the reason is the Falcons have been using a high-school-inspired offense in which they run, run, run and then play-fake and have Vick sprint out. Please don't tell me a few weeks of success with this back-to-basics approach has convinced the Falcons' coaches that Vick is now a refined, classic passer. On Sunday at Ford Field, Vick did too much standing up straight in the pocket, and the result was more interceptions than touchdown passes.
News from the Edge of the Universe: The Infrared Space Observatory satellite, operational from 1995 to 1998, sent back so much data that some is only now being analyzed. Recently, researchers studying ISO data logs said they had detected, in very deep space, the formation of stars with 100,000 times the luminosity of our sun. The discovery is a serendipitous result of a clever idea by a German researcher named Dietrich Lemke. Operators had programmed the ISO satellite to "slew" its instruments from one point in the heavens to another, in order to collect data on locations that various scientists had deemed promising. Lemke realized that ISO was doing nothing while repointing itself, and asked that the cameras simply be left on during that process; the resulting incomprehensible streams of data were dumped in his and some colleagues' laps. Looking at countless blurry images, Lemke and others had a eureka moment when they came across this. Now it may turn out these ultra luminous suns are ISO's major discovery -- extremely bright stars have been seen before, but these are the first images of such stars forming.
Cosmologists have begun using other telescopes to study the region, trying to imagine what conditions could lead to the formation of objects so big and so bright they defy standard theories of stellar creation. Of course, everyone's assuming the objects Lemke discovered are natural. Readers of TMQ know what when astronomers produce evidence of puzzling events in deep space, such as very powerful gamma-ray bursts, and then astronomers say they are at a loss to explain what natural process could cause the phenomena, TMQ wonders if what we are really seeing is the muzzle flashes of cataclysmic weapons built by advanced civilizations. What if, in these new images from the ISO satellite, we are witnessing the engineering shakedown trials of an extremely advanced artificial power source?
News From the Edge of the Solar System: In September, the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn took this magnificent photograph of Saturn eclipsing Sol. The camera was facing back toward the inner solar system, so the sun is behind the ringed planet. Look closely at the 10 o'clock position relative to Saturn's disk, and just inside the outermost ring. The little dot you see is -- Earth.
Wacky Food of the Week: At Soleil in Palo Alto, Calif., TMQ was confronted by a dish containing "xerez infused crimini mushrooms." I went to Google and typed in "define xerez." Nothing! And it took Google 0.44 seconds to find no definition, which is practically slow at this point.
Freeze! Keep Those Press Releases Where I Can See Them! The sole item of bipartisan consensus in the current Congress has been the stern insistence of both Republican and Democratic leadership that the FBI was wrong to raid the office of Rep. William Jefferson, seeking evidence of bribes. Since the Constitution confers special status on the legislative papers of members of Congress, there was a legal issue. But what do you suppose the real reason was that Democratic and Republican members of Congress united in opposition to the FBI raid -- concern over separation-of-powers doctrine? Republican and Democratic members of Congress alike agree they don't want the Justice Department investigating bribes to members of Congress.
Related point: Jodi Rudoren and Aron Philhofer of the New York Times recently reported that 1,421 state and local governments have hired Washington lobbyists, who in 2004 spent $110 million on lobbying in order get more than $60 billion designated as "earmarks," or special budget favors to specific places or programs. That is to say, $110 million in state and local tax money was expended to divert $60 billion in federal tax money -- most of which came from people who live in states and cities, state and local taxpayers being the sources of most federal taxes. To get these favors, state and local governments hire as lobbyists former members of Congress or former congressional staffers, who then use their insider status to fleece the taxpayer. This is a classic "sliver strategy" -- Congress hands out $60 billion in favors so that cronies of members of Congress can rake in $110 million in lobbying fees. Because what goes directly into the cronies' pockets is only a small sliver of the overall waste, the sliver goes unnoted. I bet there is bipartisan consensus that Republicans and Democrats alike both don't want this investigated, either!
Wouldn't taxpayers come out way ahead if the salaries of members of Congress were raised to, say, $1 million per year, but in return all forms of outside income were banned for senators and representatives while retired members were permanently banned from lobbying? Raising congressional salaries to $1 million per year would cost the federal taxpayer $535 million -- a bargain compared to $60 billion in earmarks and other wasteful spending that Congress approves for reasons of cronyism.
Washington, D.C. -- Nov. 7: Former president Jimmy Carter leads a team of international observers that will monitor elections in the United States today. Observers from Nicaragua, Guatemala, North Korea, Mexico, Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan and the West Bank will watch polling places for signs of fraud or suppression of the vote. In recent years, Carter has led many international teams to monitor elections in fledgling democracies plagued by voting scandals. This is Carter's first election-monitoring mission to the United States itself. International observers wearing blue armbands will be stationed at polling places across Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Nevada. "We hope to help the American people vote freely and see their votes counted," Nicaraguan team member Daniel Ortega told the Associated Press. Observation team member Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria said, "Once America learns to hold elections without irregularities, further intervention by the international community should no longer be necessary."
Best Blocks: Only one defender touched LaDainian Tomlinson on his 41-yard touchdown run, and no defender touched Tomlinson on his 7-yard, off-tackle touchdown rush that put the pretty-in-powder-blue Chargers ahead for good against Cleveland. It's pretty fun to run for touchdowns in powder blue when everyone ahead of you has already been knocked to the ground. On Larry Johnson's early run for 45 yards against St. Louis, no defender touched the Kansas City tailback until he had gained 40 yards. And that run came on third-and-9 from the Kansas City 2 -- a passing down, meaning there were plenty of extra secondary types on the field for the Rams, and all were blocked. Pulling guard Brian Waters and tight end Tony Gonzalez got the monster blocks on the play. And Deuce McAllister walked in standing up for the 3-yard touchdown that put the game away for New Orleans against City of Tampa. Whenever a running back goes in standing up at the goal line, the blocking was fine.
"Peace on Earth," Copyright United Nations: The United Nations now has a marketing slogan and claims copyright control over its materials. Wait, wasn't the whole point of the United Nations that it belonged to everyone?
At Happy Hour in Hell's Sports Bar, Well Drinks Are 99 Cents and Top Shelf Is Only $2 -- But the Line Takes an Eternity: Hell's sports bar has 28 wide-screen plasma TVs, and on Sunday all were showing San Francisco 9, Minnesota 3 in a game without any touchdowns. For the highlight program, all 28 screens in Hell's Sports Bar showed nothing but, over and over, Terrell Owens dropping the winning pass and then, after the game, being interviewed about his complaints about not getting the ball enough.
The Dogs Have Their Day: The four bye teams of Week 8 -- Buffalo, Detroit, Miami and Washington -- were 6-22 coming into Sunday. All won.
We're All Professionals Here No. 1: Minnesota's possession results against San Francisco: field goal, fumble, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble, downs.
We're All Professionals Here No. 2: Reaching first down in Seattle territory in the first quarter, Oakland surrendered sacks on three consecutive downs.
Huh? What? Scoring to make it San Francisco 6, Minnesota 3 in the second quarter, the Niners onside-kicked and recovered. Three snaps later, the Squared Sevens faced fourth-and-1 on the Minnesota 47 -- and punted. So Nolan the Younger was willing to take a relatively long-shot gamble with a surprise onside kickoff, but then, on the same possession, not willing to take a likely-to-succeed gamble on fourth down in opposition territory.
Wacky Beer of the Week: The tastefully named Gregg Liddick of Athens, Ga., notes a Georgia brewery is offering a coffee-and-stout drink intended to be consumed at breakfast. Note that the beer is 8.1 percent alcohol, roughly double the usual content of beer. Have one of these for breakfast and your plan better be to go straight back to bed.
Dear, the Garage Enhancement Truck Is Here: Recently TMQ included an item about fancy garage appliances as the new frontier in suburban acquisitiveness. How soon, I asked, until garage renovation strikes? Answer: not long! Many readers, including Jayne Mulholland of Charleston, S.C., alerted me to this new company, Premiere Garage, which calls itself "The Leader in Garage Enhancement." Let's hope that's natural garage enhancement! Check the company's photos, which showcase spotless garages unlike any that have ever existed in human history. These garages remind you of car ads that feature a guy in a convertible roaring down the open road with not one single other vehicle anywhere for miles around. The Premiere Garage FAQs page has this exchange:
"Q. My garage is full of stuff. What do we do with it while the floor is being coated?"
"A. It is the homeowners' responsibility to remove all possessions from the garage."
Worst Crowd Reaction: The New England crowd lustily booed Adam Vinatieri when he returned to Foxborough as a member of the Colts. All Vinatieri did was win three Super Bowls for New England! All three were decided by a field goal, remember. And Vinatieri left after receiving only a perfunctory offer from Patriots management, which didn't want the kicker back. Booing your former homeboy when departure was not his idea was pretty classless, New England fans. And speaking of class ...
"Class" and "Cheapskate" Both Begin with "C": Drew Bledsoe may have taken a seat for good, but recall that when he was traded by New England in 2002, Bledsoe bought a full-page ad in the Boston Globe to thank the team's fans for cheering for him. When Daunte Culpepper was traded by Minnesota in 2006, he sent the team's fans an e-mail.
Obscure College Score of the Week: La Verne 21, Clarement-Mudd-Scripps 14. The defeated team is a consortium of Clarement McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College. Three schools combined and they still couldn't beat La Verne! Located in La Verne, Calif., the University of La Verne offers a College of Education and Organizational Leadership that confers a doctorate in education. Read this page that describes the doctorate in education program and see how many grammatical errors you can find.
Bonus Obscure College Score: Worchester Polytechnic Institute 46, Mount Ida 20. Located in Newton, Mass., Mount Ida College lists a Top 10 reasons to attend. One is "the college is easily accessible from major highways."
Obscure College Basketball Score: California of Pennsylvania, a Division II team booked by powerhouse University of Maryland for an easy rout, instead came within a point of upsetting the Terrapins. The California of Pennsylvania is known as the Vulcans, University of Maryland basketball is the program that's allergic to education -- a miserable 18 percent graduation rate for the men's team. Perhaps Maryland simply couldn't handle a basketball offense based on pure logic! In football, next Saturday is TMQ's Obscure College Game of the Year -- Indiana of Pennsylvania at California of Pennsylvania.
Running Up the Score Watch: Two weeks ago TMQ took another shot at Pittsburg of Kansas, college football's worst offender at running up the score -- in 2004, on the way to the highest-scoring season in college football history, the Gorillas faked a punt when leading 63-7. I noted that Pittsburg of Kansas had relentlessly run up the score on its weakest opponents this season, winning one game 87-0 and another 63-20. I pointed out that not only is running up the score bad sportsmanship, but also such little-bully behavior makes you psychologically weak, and you fold when confronted with an equal opponent. Following its record 2004 regular season, the Gorillas lost the Division II championship to Valdosta State of Georgia. "Presumably when Pittsburg of Kansas meets a real opponent it will collapse as usual," TMQ wrote of this year's iteration. As noted by many readers, including Ian Carlson of Maryville, Mo., Pittsburg of Kansas met Northwest Missouri State on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium and collapsed as usual, losing 41-14.
November's Biggest Jerk in Sports: Once your columnist lived in Chicago, and besides the pizza and theater scene, what was great about the Windy City was that just when you thought that every conceivable form of civic corruption imaginable to the human mind had already been tried, you would pick up the morning newspaper and learn on the front-page news of a new, entirely original type of graft. Similarly, one might think every type of bad sportsmanship has already been tried. You might think that until you read this. In a front-page story in the Washington Post, Timothy Dwyer reports on a youth football league commissioner who fired a team's coach, on the eve the playoffs, because the coach failed to play the commissioner's son exactly as the commissioner demanded. How could the commissioner get away with this firing? Many youth leagues are not affiliated with any county, school system or accrediting body, and are essentially the private fiefdoms of their commissioners. Reader Darren Rusakiewicz of Odenton, Md., wrote, "I had to read this article twice before I really believed what this guy did. Are there any words stronger than 'reprehensible' to describe this chump?" The bad sport's name is Dan Hinkle, and reading this story I thought, first, Dan Hinkle is an astonishing jerk; second, imagine being his son, exposed to general ridicule because of a jerk father. The son's team's seemed ruined, but nobly so. All the other players refused to participate in the playoff game after their coach was fired. So ESPN salutes the middle-school boys of the South County Raptors: boys, you showed admirable good sportsmanship, while the adults around you were letting you down. As for the commissioner of the South County Association of Fairfax County, Va., there's no need to wait until the end of the month -- Dan Hinkle is TMQ's Biggest Jerk in Sports for November. Good sportsmanship footnote: The Fairfax County Youth Football League, also private, just arranged for the South County Raptors to play a "bowl game" against its champion, and the fired coaches will be the ones to coach.
Reader Animadversion: Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com. Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I may quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: Giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.
Next Week: The United Nations sues YouTube for copyright infringement.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.