So it's still September, only one month of play is in the books, yet you can already forget about seeing a pair of undefeated NFL teams. The Bills, Giants and Titans are the only remaining clubs without a loss -- and they don't play each other in the regular season. Considering there was no pairing between undefeated teams this weekend, Cowboys-Packers in Week 3 was all but certainly the final game of the 2008 season pairing undefeated teams. Week 3!
True, it is possible Buffalo and Tennessee could meet as undefeateds in the playoffs. But that could only happen if both reached 17-0, and since just two teams, the 1972 Dolphins and last year's Patriots, have reached 17-0, the odds that two teams in the same conference will accomplish this in the same season are not good. (If Buffalo and Tennessee both finished the regular season undefeated, by seeding they could not meet until the AFC Championship, at which point both would be 17-0.) And true, either Buffalo or Tennessee could meet Jersey/A in the Super Bowl with both entrants undefeated. But that could happen only if both the AFC and NFC champions were 18-0. And since only one team in football annals, last year's Patriots, reached 18-0, the odds that two teams will accomplish this in the same season seem astronomical.
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• Stats of the week
• Cheerleader of the week
• Sweet and sour plays of the week
• Mega-babe news
• Stop giving to Harvard!
• Europe acts, America doesn't
• Obscure college scores
• Just one bailout thought
Only one month in the books and, already, you won't see two undefeated NFL teams meet again this season. And at the rate college upsets are proceeding, you won't see any undefeated pairings in the football-factory ranks either. Unless, of course, Vanderbilt meets Oklahoma in the BCS Championship.
In other football news, "Friday Night Lights," the acclaimed series about small-town high school football, returns to television Wednesday. But only on DirecTV -- and have I mentioned that I can't get DirecTV? In an unusual arrangement, "Friday Night Lights" will have a 13-episode original run on DirecTV, then the episodes will air next winter on NBC, where the series began. TMQ has conspired to get copies of the episodes, and my "Friday Night Lights" update item will resume next week with appropriate spoiler alerts -- I won't give away what happens to the characters, but will tell you what happens in the football games. Assuming there are any. At the end of last season, "Friday Night Lights" had inexplicably become a series about girls' high school volleyball.
In other sports news, if the Chicago White Sox win their tiebreaker game with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, both the White Sox and Chicago Cubs will be in the baseball postseason and it will become possible they will meet in the World Series. Please be on the lookout for seven-headed dragons or armored locust. Maybe you should store canned tuna fish in a remote location, though probably it won't do any good. If the Cubs and White Sox meet in the Series for the first time in over a century, surely the End of Days will be upon us.
In football-like substance news, going into this weekend, the Arizona Cardinals were 2-15 since 2003 in games on the East Coast. Considering the Cards had just played at "Washington" (that is, in Maryland) and were scheduled to play next at "New York" (that is, in New Jersey), Arizona coaches decided to keep the team on the East Coast for the week, in order to avoid a double dose of jet lag. That made sense. But rather than find some pleasant countryside location or college campus where the team could train and concentrate, the Cardinals stayed in this hotel in Tyson's Corner, Va. In case you haven't had the misfortune of visiting Tyson's Corner, it is the mega-mall for the nation's capital -- a hellish conjunction of stores, parking lots, sprawl, gridlocked roads, beltway cloverleafs and cars, cars, cars. Here's what it looks like where the Cards stayed. Between the concrete, fumes, gridlock and screaming commerce, Tyson's Corner may be the single most unpleasant place on planet Earth. You couldn't pay me to stay in a hotel in Tyson's Corner! Small wonder the Cards stunk up the joint in Jersey on Sunday, committing seven turnovers in a 56-35 loss to the throwback-clad Jets led by Hackensack Brett. If you'd stayed in a shopping-mall hotel for a week, you'd play terribly too! But perhaps Arizona coaches got some good deals on Dockers.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
What the Cards saw from their hotel window for a week.
In other football news, Ryan Fitzpatrick of Harvard started at quarterback for Cincinnati. Ryan, didn't they teach you at Harvard not to get involved with the Cincinnati Bengals? Cincinnati has been to the playoffs only once since 1990. Fitzpatrick didn't do so well, and now has 11 interceptions in 170 pass attempts in his NFL career. At least teammates on the sidelines kept him fired up with cries of "pip pip!" and "cheerio!" After the game, Fitzpatrick skipped the news conference to attend sherry hour. As for Harvard itself -- rich people, stop giving money to Harvard. Harvard, Yale and Stanford have far more money than they know what to do with. The rich should be giving to Berea College, Morehouse College or dozens of other colleges where the money can make a difference: see more below.
Stat of the Week: At 1:37 p.m. ET on Sept. 28, 2008, the Kansas City Chiefs held a lead for the first time since December 2007.
Stat of the Week No. 2: Arizona gained 468 offensive yards, recorded 33 first downs, scored 35 points -- and lost by three touchdowns.
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
"I threw for 472 yards and my team got clobbered. I must play for the Arizona Cardinals."
Stat of the Week No. 3: Six days after allowing 48 points, the Jets scored 56 points.
Stat of the Week No. 4: San Diego has beaten Oakland 10 consecutive times.
Stat of the Week No. 5: Buffalo has outscored opponents 45-10 in the fourth quarter.
Stat of the Week No. 6: In four games with Jersey/B, Brett Favre has 12 touchdown passes; Jersey/B quarterbacks totaled 15 touchdown passes in the entire 2007 season.
Stat of the Week No. 7: Stretching back to last season, the Minnesota Vikings, picked by many touts to reach this year's Super Bowl, have lost five of six.
Stat of the Week No. 8: Arizona, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland and St. Louis all lost despite outgaining their opponents.
Stat of the Week No. 9: Denver is second-best in points scored and second-worst in points allowed.
Stat of the Week No. 10: Two divisions -- the NFC Central and NFC West -- have no teams with a winning record.
DeAnna of the Top Cats -- from the snows of the Carolinas.
Cheerleader of the Week: DeAnna of the Carolina TopCats, an Appalachian State graduate who is pursuing her master's and who, according to her team bio, hopes to "work in news and media" plus "travel to Peru." Also according to her team bio, her hometown is Snow Camp, N.C. How can there be a town called Snow Camp in a state where it never snows? Snow Camp hosts a renown outdoor drama about the Underground Railroad.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 1: With New Orleans leading San Francisco 7-6, Drew Brees pump-faked a short throw into the right flat, then play-faked a draw, then threw deep to Lance Moore for a 33-yard touchdown. You often see either a pump fake or a draw fake; you don't often see both on the same snap.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Trent Edwards of Buffalo had just hit Lee Evans for a 39-yard touchdown on a go route, making the score Bills 26, Rams 14. Because it was the fourth quarter, Buffalo went for two. Normally a running back or wide receiver who has just made a long gainer comes out on the next play to rest; Evans stayed in and caught the deuce pass. That was sweet. This contest, pairing TMQ's two silliest cognomen -- the Budgies versus Les Mouflons -- also featured St. Louis rookie wideout Donnie Avery lining up in the backfield and running for a 37-yard touchdown on Flip 90, an old Mike Martz play. The quarterback fakes a handoff one way, then no-look backhand flips the ball to a runner going the other way.
Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
Jerry just loves to be on the field, doesn't he?
Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: With Dallas leading 7-0 in what was likely the final game the Redskins will play at affordably priced Texas Stadium, "Washington" faced second-and-goal on the Cowboys' 3. Backup wide receiver James Thrash went in motion one way, then spun and motioned the opposite way, then spun again and motioned the original way. Boys cornerback Terence Newman, assigned to cover the motion man, fell down on the second spin; Thrash was alone for the touchdown that sparked the Potomac Nanticokes in their 26-24 win. During Dallas' desperate fourth-quarter comeback attempt, owner Jerry Jones came down to the sideline and stood near the Cowboys' coaches. That must have been very, very helpful.
Sweet Defensive Play of the Week: Now it's Buffalo 28, St. Louis 14, and the Rams go for it on fourth-and-2 from their 45 with 8:19 remaining. Needless to say it's a shotgun spread pass: can't anyone run up the middle anymore? Buffalo zone blitzed, with two linebackers rushing but a defensive end dropping back into the slant lanes to confuse the quarterback. Avery, the first wide receiver selected in the draft, who runs a 4.3 40, was covered by Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. The defensive end broke up the pass intended for the 4.3 guy. That was sweet. Note: Les Mouflons coach Scott Linehan is now fired, replaced for the rest of the season by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The Rams' defense has given up 147 points, by far the worst in the league. So put the defensive guy in charge!
AP Photo/Reinhold Matay
At Tampa, Aaron Rodgers had his first bad day -- cheerleader professionalism must have been a factor.
Sweet Defense of the Week: City of Tampa held the Packers to 181 offensive yards. The Bucs' speed-based Tampa 2 defense is staging a renaissance, and if I were an offensive coordinator, I wouldn't be real thrilled about playing this team right now.
Semi-Sweet Plays of the Week: The Ravens have been using a lot of unbalanced line formations, and after reaching first-and-goal on the Pittsburgh 3-yard line with 28 seconds remaining before intermission Monday night, they tried two unbalanced line variations. The first resulted in an illegal formation penalty, but a receiver was uncovered because the Pittsburgh defense was confused. Two plays later, different unbalanced line confusion caused the Steelers to lose track of little-used blocking tight end Daniel Wilcox, who caught a pass for a touchdown. But on the night, the Baltimore offensive line played too unbalanced, allowing five sacks -- one caused the fumble-return touchdown that was pivotal to the game.
Sour Play of the Week: With the score tied at 14, Chicago faced third-and-9 on the Philadelphia 20 with 1:23 remaining in the first half. Devin Hester lined up as a wide receiver. The Eagles blitzed five, and kept two linebackers close to the line, meaning there were four secondary players to cover the three receivers Chicago sent into the pattern. Yet Hester, the only Bear headed for the end zone, was singled-covered deep, and caught the touchdown pass that turned the game Chicago's way. The half is almost over, where oh where might the pass go? Maybe up the field!
Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Jersey/B scored a touchdown with a few ticks remaining in the first half, making the score Jets 31, Cards 0, as Brett Favre Brett Favre Brett Favre (TMQ contends he should legally change his name to this) hit the third of his six touchdown passes. After the kickoff, Arizona had the ball on its 20 with 10 seconds remaining. Probably no team is going to go the length of the field in the final 10 seconds. But this is the Arizona (Caution: May Contain Football-Like Substance) Cardinals! The coaches called a pass play. Kurt Warner is sacked and fumbles the ball, which is recovered by the Jets. Jersey/B kicks a field goal on the final snap of the half to make it 34-0 at intermission. Arizona coaches, next time stay at a Motel 6!
Intense deep-space energy discharges from an unknown source appeared from nowhere, then disappeared. What if it was a weapon?
Another Voorwerp Found? TMQ has noted the creepy possibility that gamma-ray bursts, powerful energy spikes from deep space, are the muzzle flashes of awful weapons used in distant combat. Reader Chris Crooks of South Reading, Va., notes a creepy astronomy finding by Kyle Barbary of the University of California at Berkeley: SCP 06F6, a region where very powerful deep-space energy discharges appeared seemingly from nowhere, existed for about 100 days, then vanished. The strange energy glow lasted much longer than a gamma-ray burst, but lacked the technical characteristics of supernova explosions: "The transient's spectrum, in addition to being inconsistent with all known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey," which so far has mapped roughly one-quarter of the heavens. Cosmologists are now trying to puzzle out what SCP 06F6 might be, and assuming, of course, that it is natural. What if instead this is a glimpse of a region of ancient, horrific war -- ancient because it is billions of light-years away, thus billions of years in the past -- in which the combatants employed weapons too terrible to contemplate? Ancient combat that continued about 100 days until the last participant was wiped out, and the region of space fell cold and lifeless.
The Big House in the old days, before average men and women were taxed to make the rich comfortable in luxo suites.
College Stadium Economics: Eric Abney of Huntsville, Ala., a University of Michigan alum, notes the original 1927 Michigan Stadium, plus expansions and improvements, have to this point cost about $150 million in present-value dollars. Now the Big House is in the midst of a $226 million renovation to add luxury boxes and club seats, ending the stadium's 81-year tradition of treating all spectators equally. According to the school's odious marketing brochure, club seat buyers will enjoy "upscale cuisine" and "climate-controlled" lounges with "exclusive elevator service." An indoor club seat requires a $4,000 annual "donation" to the university, plus the cost of the ticket; luxury suites require up to an $85,000 annual "donation." The school says 80 percent of the "donation" -- which does not include the price of tickets and parking passes -- is tax deductible. Though the IRS typically allows 50 percent deductions for business entertaining, apparently the "donation" appears on paper to be a gift to the school, not a purchase of luxury sports accommodations.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
She's hot all right, but how can we be sure she is of this Earth?
Abney notes public money is being thrown in to make the Michigan Stadium super-lavish for the well-off, even as the university's tuition price has risen almost two-thirds in this decade. He writes, "Not only are public funds being used to build luxury suites the average fan and typical university alum will never be able to afford, the cost to purchase access to said seating areas is considered a charitable contribution and therefore billed to the federal taxpayer." Michigan's odious brochure provides this illustration, on Page 7: a 16-person suite at $85,000 per year annual "donation," including 16 season tickets and four parking passes, would generate a $58,080 tax deduction. That would be worth about $17,000 to a wealthy person or to a profitable corporation, meaning the $85,000 suite actually costs $68,000, with the balance shifted onto the taxpayer. My rough estimate is that if the IRS allows 80 percent deductibility of Michigan Stadium luxury accommodations as "donations," federal taxpayers will be hit for about $16 million in a year in subsidies for the rich people sitting in the fancy new parts of the facility. That's fairly disgusting. Perhaps a fitting punishment for all those subsidized wealthy twits is Rich Rodriguez. The football gods have, after all, a sense of humor.
Editor's note: On Thursday, Oct. 2, Gregg Easterbrook added the following item in response to reader feedback about the previous Michigan Stadium item.
TMQ fact checks TMQ: Readers have questioned the assertion that "public money" is being used to support the Michigan Stadium renovation, which the school says is being financed only by donations, bonds and revenue generated by the athletic department. First, the bonds: the University of Michigan sold $225 million in commercial bonds last winter, to finance stadium renovations and construction starts for a new hospital and business school. The university is now carrying about $1.2 billion in bond debt, according to the industry publication Bond Buyer, using tuition fees and state funding as collateral. If something goes wrong with the bonds, taxpayers could be dragged in. Since there is a limit to how much the school can borrow, bond money spent on stadium luxury boxes is money that can't be spent on education, or must be made up by Michigan taxpayers in some other area.
More important, as my item notes, the university is claiming the annual "donation" required of luxury box holders is 80 percent deductible, which will cost federal taxpayers $16 million a year and Michigan taxpayers a million dollars or so annually, assuming the boxes are sold. Most economists view tax deductions as expenditures of public money, since the deduction cost must be added to the tax of other taxpayers, or added to the deficit. The mortgage interest deduction for primary homes, for example, clearly is a public expense -- a fact that renters, who receive no comparable subsidy for their housing expense, complain about bitterly. Tax deductions are supposed to encourage activities of general benefit to society: home ownership, building schools and museums, and so on. Repair and maintenance of Michigan Stadium is arguably of general benefit to the public. Luxury boxes are not, yet are being subsidized. The University of Michigan could solve this problem by dropping the pretense that luxury box fees are "donations" to the school. That would make the renovation truly self-supporting. But would the rich pay $85,000 per year for a box if they couldn't deduct it?
Mega-Babe News: Lad mag Maxim just named Megan Fox "Earth's hottest girl." What kind of contest is that, if only women from Earth are allowed to enter? Personally I'd go for an Orion slave girl of "Star Trek" fame any day. Bet all the judges were from Earth, too.
An Orion slave girl from a 1960s "Star Trek" episode -- they're irresistible, especially if you like green.
If the Citizens Named the Stadia: Last week reader Lauren Steinberg proposed that since New Jersey taxpayers are being hit for $330 million in subsidies for the new Giants-Jets stadium, they should be the ones buying the naming right. So I asked for names that Jersey taxpayers might choose for the stadium, disqualifying in advance any Hoffa-related entries. The proposals:
Matt Cohen of Summit, N.J., proposed the turnpike-dominated state call its stadium Next Exit 13 Miles Field.
Jeffrey Sbergel of New York proposed Springsteen Field. To make it sound more formal, perhaps B. Frederick Springsteen Stadium.
AP Photo/Mike Derer
Most New Jersey residents will never be able to afford to go here -- but all are being taxed to support those who will.
Kimberly Loux of Hoboken, N.J., proposed the facility simply be called New Jersey. That way the NFL would be forced to tell the truth about the Jersey/A and Jersey/B franchises: "The New York Giants play today in New Jersey."
Adam Rauscher of Plainfield, N.J., proposed When We Say New York What We Mean Is New Jersey Stadium.
Taha Jamil of Morrisville, Penn., across the river from Trenton, N.J., citing highway signs that are ubiquitous in Jersey, suggested: Wipers On, Lights On Field.
Bryan Smouther of Hamilton Township, N.J., wrote, "Let's see, it's a huge taxpayer-financed project built on a swamp, serving the interests of large corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the average person. The perfect name: Washington, D.C."
Adam Stone of Los Angeles proposed that if the stadium had a roof, it could have been called the Guidome.
"My tires got slashed and I almost crashed but the Lord had mercy/My financing is a dud out stuck in the mud somewhere in what the NFL won't call Jersey."
TMQ proposed: Don't Worry, Most of the Stuff Those Mob Trucks Dump After Midnight Is Biodegradable Field.
Fully in tune with the ethos of the Garden State, Murdock Buffkin of Charlotte, N.C., proposed: You Want A #$%^&*! Name? I Got Your #$%^&*! Name Right Here Stadium.In similar veins, Carol Cunningham of Chatham, N.J., proposed: You Got a Problem With Our Stadium? Stadium. Joe Breslin of Avalon, N.J., proposed: Yo! Stadium, to be known as "The Yo."
Many readers, including Eve Maria Vitto of Madison, N.J., proposed that the venue be named The Swamps of Jersey. If this were the name, spectators inside the stadium could call out on their cell phones and say, "Yeah, I'm here at the game, I'm by a beer and pizza stand, I'm somewhere in The Swamps of Jersey." Sarah Jayne Moffett of Hoboken, N.J., proposed the stadium simply be called Somewhere, which has existential appeal. In the end, do any of us really know what state we are in?
AP Photo/Mike Derer
Workers put the finishing touches on a luxury box in the new Giants-Jets stadium.
Better still, Michelle Butler of Cherry Hill, N.J., proposed calling the stadium Somewhere, while renaming the town around the facility -- a commercial zoning district and parking-lot complex more than a town -- from its present moniker, East Rutherford, to the Swamps of Jersey. Thus announcers would be forced to say, "Tonight's game comes to you from Somewhere, in the Swamps of Jersey."
The winner? Many, many readers made this suggestion, and I drew from a hat Josh Schultz of Hoffman Estates, Ill.: Bada Bing Field. To be known of course as "The Bing." This name nicely encapsulates Jersey milieu and lore. Plus, it would force the Giants to hire scantily clad cheer-babes.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
After seven years of round-the-clock investigation, the FBI noticed that Matt Millen was running the Detroit Lions.
Fannie Mae Thought Millen Was Doing Great, Offered Him Subsidized Mortgages: After a league-worst 31-84 record during his era, numerous poor high draft choices and no playoff appearances in seven years, it finally dawned on Detroit Lions ownership that maybe things weren't going so well under Matt Millen. At the rate it took the Lions' owners to fire Millen, by 2015, Ford Motors will be featuring fuel-efficient cars and by the year 2674 the federal budget will be balanced.
20th Century Fox/Getty Images
Hurry! We've got to get to Macy's! It's September!
Christmas Creep Watch: Reader Manny Castro of Minneapolis reports that on Sept. 25, the shopping-mall area of downtown Minneapolis hosted a Christmas parade. Sara Keenan of Walnut Creek, Calif., reports she has already seen television advertising for "Bedtime Stories," a children's movie that opens on Christmas. Joe Tobin of San Francisco notes that Fox Movie Channel aired "Miracle on 34th Street" on Sept. 24. Josh Macy of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, reports, "I walked into my local Dispensa Familiar yesterday to stock up on groceries and was greeted by a full fledged Christmas bonanza." Meanwhile, John Fekete, who lives in Moscow, notes, "The picture alongside last week's Christmas Creep Watch is of a tree in the GUM department store in Moscow. The architecture is distinctive and if you enlarge the picture you can see the Cyrillic 'Merry Christmas' on the right and a Russian soldier sitting by the base of the tree. Was this some type of hidden message?" Well, actually, if you expand the microdot at the base of the tree, you find a set of plans to
Stop Giving to Harvard! Harvard University just announced it received $651 million in donations in the fiscal year that ended this summer. Harvard's FY 2008 donations alone exceed the endowments of Brandeis University, Carleton College, Colgate University, College of the Holy Cross and Washington and Lee University, respectively, just to name a few great schools, and of the entire state university system of Louisiana. Harvard's 2008 donations exceed the entire endowments of Spelman College and DePaul University combined. Harvard's 2008 donations alone exceed the entire endowments of Alfred University, Beloit College, Millsaps College, Randolph-Macon College, Ursinus College and Xavier University (Ohio) combined.
AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki
Why doesn't Harvard bail out the United States economy?
The amount of wealth being hoarded by the top few schools in the U.S. now borders on obscene. Harvard has a $37 billion endowment -- that figure exceeds the Gross Domestic Product of Kenya, where 40 million people live. That figure exceeds the GDP of Iceland and Honduras combined. Yale has an endowment of $23 billion. Stanford had a $17 billion endowment last year, and is expected to soon announce an increase. (Fiscal 2007 endowments for all colleges are here.) Princeton, MIT and the University of Texas system also have ginormous endowments of many billions. Yet Whitworth University, to cite a typical liberal arts school, has an $87 million endowment. Harvard holds $425 for every $1 Whitworth possesses. The kinds of colleges that serve people of average means have still less. Appalachian State University has a $52 million endowment, Concordia University (Nebraska) has $28 million, Averett University has $24 million, Worcester State College has $12 million, to cite a few of many underfunded schools. Yet the rich keep giving to Harvard, Yale and Stanford, which already have too much. Give to underfunded schools where the donation might change someone's life!
Not only does Harvard have way too much money, Harvard hoards the money. Most philanthropies are required to spend 5 percent per annum of their endowment, in order to retain tax-exempt status. Five percent of Harvard's endowment is $1.9 billion per year: That's enough for all Harvard undergrads and graduate students to attend absolutely free, with the school still having $1.3 billion to spend. Many Harvard students come from families that can afford to pay, and so they should. But across the top of education -- the Ivies, Stanford, the top liberal arts colleges -- a requirement of 5 percent annual endowment spending would enable practically any student below the level of upper-class family income to attend without charge. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont are among members of Congress pressing for legislation to require college and university endowments to spend 5 percent per year, or lose their tax exemptions. With the troubled economy threatening the ability of the middle class to send kids to college, the elite schools hoarding endowment billions is shameful. Also, it is a terrible example from institutions that boast about the examples they set.
Many of the rich keep giving to Harvard and Yale because their "gifts" are not gifts in the true sense -- that is, transferred selflessly. Many "gifts" to Harvard and Yale are actually quite selfish, intended to boost the donor's ego at the expense of the federal taxpayer, since the gift will be deducted. A million dollars would do far more good at Lake Erie College or Texas College than at Stanford or Princeton -- but the ego payoff is at Stanford or Princeton. For that matter, the bang-for-the-buck of donations is 10 times higher in the developing world. Carroll Bogert, Harvard '83, is among the founders of Harvard Alumni for Social Action, which is urging the school's alums to stop giving to Harvard and give instead to African schools such as University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. There, a "gift" is really a gift, since it serves the poor rather than the donor's ego.
Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All: Isn't Denver supposed to be the league's master of the rush? Trailing woeful Kansas City 26-16 with 2:26 remaining, the Broncos reached first-and-10 on the Chiefs' 15 and went incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, field goal. Then the onside kick failed, and Larry Johnson iced the game with a touchdown run.
Scouts Notes No. 1: Charles Woodson now has six career interception returns for touchdowns; four of the six have come in the past three seasons of his 11-year career. Maybe Woodson is just having good luck, but Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks that with his playing days winding down, Woodson is jumping every stop and short-out route, gambling for interceptions, trying to establish a statistical case for admission to the Hall of Fame. He knows the electors will gush over how many picks and touchdowns he had, but have no stat on how many times he was burned deep when gambling. If I were game-planning for the Packers, I'd use stop-and-go, out-and-up and sluggo moves on Woodson.
Europe Acts, America Twiddles Its Thumbs: TMQ has noted that already Detroit automakers are trying to weasel out of the fuel-economy standards Congress enacted last year, which require a 15 percent overall improvement in MPG by the year 2015 -- easily done on a technical basis, yet nevertheless, Detroit is already asking for special waivers to stop the rule. That's the sort of long-term vision that has cost the big three half their market share in a single generation! Last week, European Union lawmakers did what the United States Congress refuses to do: enacted no-excuses MPG rules. The new European standards require an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy by 2012, not only a stricter goal than the U.S. counterpart, but harder to reach considering European cars are already more fuel efficient than American cars. The Euro standard also in effect bans large SUVs, high-horsepower luxury cars and high-horsepower Autobahn sports cars unless they are hybrids, run on fuel cells or employ other green powertrains. Europe is not afraid to act against petroleum-import dependency, and the Euro is strong on world currency markets. America is afraid to act, and the dollar keeps falling. These two facts couldn't be related, could they?
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: With the game scoreless, Jacksonville lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-4 at the Houston 41. Punting on fourth-and-4 inside opposition territory -- another buck-buck-brawckkkkkkk! Except there was no punter on the field for Jax. Instead, third-year obscure college (Maine) running back Montell Owens, who had never carried the ball in the NFL, lined up as the punter. He took the snap and ran 41 yards for the touchdown; that was sweet. On the other side, the Moo Cows were tricked by a fake punt from their own 41. That was sour. The Moo Cows failed to notice there was no punter on the field for a punt formation. That was an Extreme Sour Warhead.
Hart Preston//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Charles Ponzi pours cognac for potential marks. Today, he would be a hedge fund manager.
Fast-talking guys snow their marks with mumbo-jumbo about hidden patterns in the movements of stocks or hush-hush tricks for outsmarting the real-estate market. Such strategies could represent a path to supra-normal returns only if the fast-talking guys had figured out something no investment banking firm or MBA in the world had ever thought of before -- and what are the odds of that? If there actually were secret investment formulas, they would not be in the hands of guys who are hustling up business at parties. Goldman Sachs, which still exists, would quickly write a $1 billion check to purchase any actual automatic-success investing formula.
Athletes are not the only ones who fall for thieves claiming to have secret investment formulas, when what's really happening is a Ponzi scheme. Think about the sort of person who says he possesses a sure-fire money-making secret. Why is he offering to share it with you? If anyone actually had a sure-fire double-your-money secret, he'd use it to make himself rich while keeping the formula to himself -- so that it would not cease being effective! Here is an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report of the conviction of a swindler who claimed a sure-fire money-making formula, promised incredible returns to gullible wealthy investors, then spent the cash on himself. He had a secret, all right. The secret: He was a criminal.
Even people who ought to know better seem vulnerable to claims they can attain quick, outsized returns based on astonishing secret knowledge. Here, a con artist was just convicted of swindling well-to-do Washington, D.C., clients of more than $1 million, claiming he possessed a secret real-estate investment formula that produced instant huge returns when, needless to say, he was simply pocketing the investors' money. (The Washington Post reports one of the people who fell for the swindle was "an analyst for Freddie Mac," who lost $25,000. Great, a Freddie Mac officer who did not detect an obvious real-estate con job. Surprised they didn't make him CEO.) Right now, supposedly savvy Wall Street investors are losing their shirts because they signed up for debt-backed deals that seemed too good to be true, and were. Many people seem to exhibit a subconscious desire to believe that wealth is found not via hard work or some useful innovation; rather, by knowing amazing insider tricks. Consider that hedge funds have become super-trendy by telling the rich they can attain extra-high returns using the hedge funds' confidential econometric insights. In 2006, hedge funds returned 13 percent after fees while Standard & Poor's index funds, a plain-vanilla investment, returned 14 percent after fees. Of course it is possible to get lucky and score a big return on an investment. But there are no secret investment formulas. Anyone who claims to possess one is a con artist.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
If your "investment advisor" drives one of these, pull your money back immediately.
Pro athletes, or others who suddenly come into money, may indeed need help managing their accounts. Those in this situation should retain a legitimate financial manager from any of dozens of reputable firms -- Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, A.G. Edwards, there are plenty. If you hand your money to some guy you met at a party who says the reason he drives a Ferrari is because he has an investing secret -- the Washington con artist liked to show marks his brand-new Corvette -- you might as well be tossing that money into an incinerator. Here's an easy test: Any financial adviser who promises more than a 16 percent annual return is a fraud. Why that number? The top money administrator of our era, Yale University endowment manager David Swensen, has posted a 16.3 percent return for the past decade. That's fabulous. That is world-class money management. Yet con artists snow athletes, celebrities and others who have come into money by promising 50 percent annual returns or more.
Then again, even if you've come into money, chances are you do not need a financial adviser. Follow this non-secret strategy that turns on buy-and-hold -- buy-and-hold being the strategy endorsed by Warren Buffett. Place $100,000, the maximum federally insured amount, into a CD, to have some money that will always be secure; max out whatever retirement instrument you qualify for; ignore gold, art and similar investments that are volatile; ignore commodities options, short selling, derivatives and similar complex investments that often trip up even specialists; ignore anything that's "securitized" (assets packaged into securities, there is no chance you can evaluate the underlying assets); buy real estate or real property only if your plan is to hold it for many years; place the remainder of your funds in a plain-vanilla 60-40 Standard & Poor's index fund (one that invests 60 percent in blue chip stocks, 40 percent in corporate bonds and Treasury bills); buy that fund from any reputable investment firm open to the public; let the money in the 60/40 fund simply sit there, regardless of what's happening in the markets. For goodness sake, don't make frequent stock trades trying to "beat the market" -- studies show that only about a third of investors and brokers who actively pick stocks do better than simply buying and holding the Standard & Poor's. For goodness sake, hang up on anyone promising "confidential tax avoidance strategies" or "a once in a lifetime opportunity." For goodness sake, never deal with any funds or money managers who say they use "secrets" or have "exclusive information." For goodness sake, don't purchase real estate, or any form of real property, thinking you will "flip" it. For goodness sake, don't panic and sell just because the market is falling. If the market is falling, do nothing -- at some point the market will rise. A few years ago, Buffett had his brokers calculate how Berkshire Hathaway would have done had the company not made a single stock trade all year, and merely held its positions. The answer was the company would have come out ahead. This paragraph contains all the investment advice most people will ever need. Send TMQ a one-third percent commission when you get a decent return and don't lose any money.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Minnesota at Tennessee matched Gus Frerotte versus Kerry Collins -- and this caption is from 2008, not 1998.
Scouts' Notes No. 2: Today everyone's saying Lane "Hey Mom, I Got My Learner's Permit" Kiffin of Oakland is about to be fired, and gushing over how San Diego outscored the Raiders 25-3 in the fourth quarter. Yet that game was contested till the end; trailing 21-18, Oakland had the ball at midfield with 1:23 remaining. Only a long LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown in the final minute, after Oakland's final thrust failed, made the final score appear what scouts expected. San Diego looked shaky throughout, especially the Bolts' offensive line. The Chargers need to play quite a bit better if they are serious about contending. San Diego's 25 fourth-quarter points were aided by possessions that began on the Oakland 13 (fumble recovery), Oakland 35 (kick return) and Oakland 44 (downs) and at midfield (kick return). Coming into this game, Oakland was on a 1-14 streak against AFC West teams at home: San Diego should have punched Oakland in the nose, not struggled till the final minute.
Scouts' Notes No. 3: Kerry Collins has quietly won a couple of games as the Tennessee starter. After being a first-round draft choice (No. 5 in 1995), then an instant star for the Carolina Panthers, then falling out of favor and bouncing to the Saints, Giants, Raiders and now Titans, Collins has pretty much been forgotten by the NFL. Collins hasn't started regularly since 2005, and since he lost the starting job at Jersey/A in 2003, has been viewed as the guy you call when you can't think of anyone else to call. This means that right now Collins is in a zero-pressure situation -- nobody cares about him and nobody expects him to accomplish anything. A guy playing under zero pressure can be dangerous.
European Space Agency
Artist's conception of the futuristic blastoff of a 50-year-old rocket.
Fly in a 747 to Watch a Soyuz Rocket Launch? You Could Have Done That 40 Years Ago: Today is the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747, designed for an airline, Pan Am, which no longer exists. The 747 is commonly described as an advanced aircraft, yet is four decades old. Forty years is the same span of time between the Sopwith Camel, a World War I biplane that barely made 100 miles per hour, and the F-104 Starfighter, a Mach 2 jet. A lot changed year-by-year early in the aviation era; in recent decades the rate of change has almost stopped, with the Boeing 787, the company's latest airliner, being improved compared to the 747 but still operating at about the same speed and range, and offering nothing different for passengers than airliners offered in the 1960s. A surprising number of old aerospace designs remain in use, including military use and space flight. The Air Force's F-15 and F-16 fighters are three-decade-old designs. The F-117 stealth fighter, often referred to as futuristic, is a quarter-century old; the B2 stealth bomber, also called futuristic, has been flying for 20 years. The European Space Agency is building a launch facility in French Guiana that will orbit satellites using the venerable Soviet-designed Soyuz rocket, which is 50 years old. (The Russians are worried about their ability to launch the Soyuz and similar rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the old stronghold of the Soviet moon-race program, because it is in what is now Kazakhstan, a region increasing dicey toward Moscow.) NASA's nutty moon-base program requires the agency to engineer a new rocket, dubbed Ares V, which will be amazingly similar in size and performance to the Saturn V, the Apollo Project workhorse the agency decommissioned 35 years ago. One version of the Ares rocket will use an upper stage called Centaur; the Centaur upper stage first flew into orbit in 1965. Anybody have a fundamentally new idea for powered flight? The aerospace business would be interested; there is not much new going on.
Rocket note: NASA's choice of Ares as the name of the new moon rocket is puzzling. But then the space agency can't even get names right anymore. Here a NASA official declares, "It's appropriate that we named the vehicle Ares, which is a pseudonym for Mars." First, NASA, look up the meaning of "pseudonym." Second, the rocket is designed to carry payloads to the moon, not to Mars. (The NASA press release says Ares rockets will "return humans to the moon and later take them to Mars." There is no possibility this hardware will ever be used for manned flight to Mars, though such flight is sure to happen someday.) Third, Ares in Greek mythology was the god of war -- the god of slaughter and bloodlust, to be precise. His adjutants Deimos and Phobos, words that now grace the Martian moons, have names that mean "terror" and "fear." In Roman mythology, Mars isn't quite so bad, but remained the personification of war. Couldn't NASA come up with a better rocket name than one that means war and terror? Or does the space agency assume Americans are now too poorly educated to know what classical concepts mean? Don't answer that! Meanwhile the return-to-the-moon initiative is called Project Constellation, missing the chance for the cool name Project Artemis. You recall, of course, that Artemis was the sister of Apollo.
Raymond K. Gehman/Getty Images
Artemis, sister of Apollo -- why isn't the nutty new moon landing plan named after her?
Sweet Special Teams Play of the Week: The Atlanta-Carolina game may not exactly have been a headliner, but Falcons megabucks defensive end John Abraham did block a Cats punt in the second quarter. It's always nice to see highly paid, high-profile guys performing on special teams.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 1: Trailing New Orleans in the second quarter, San Francisco punted on fourth-and-inches. Needless to say, the Niners went on to lose.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: Trailing 30-17 at the two-minute warning, holding no timeouts, Minnesota punted. Who cares if it was fourth-and-13? Why are you punting??????? Vikings coach Brad Childress said after the game, "I thought we'd have a chance to get it back." You were down by two scores and had no timeouts! After fair-catching the punt, Tennessee simply knelt to conclude the contest. Plainly Childress was trying to hold down the margin of defeat, hoping to avoid being fired, rather than taking every possible chance, however slim, to win.
Obscure College Score of the Week: California of Pennsylvania 21, Indiana of Pennsylvania 19 in the annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback Obscure College Game of the Year. Here, the California of Pennsylvania mascot, a Vulcan -- god of blacksmiths, not the space alien -- strikes his hammer.
Bonus Obscure Score: Black Hills State 48, Mayville State 2. The Comets' faithful lament -- if only we'd gotten 24 more safeties! Located in Mayville, N.D., Mayville State calls itself The Nation's First Tablet PC Campus.
Not playing a football game for 24 years made the Thunderwolf really, really mad.
Double Bonus Obscure Score: Colorado School of Mines 21, Colorado State at Pueblo 14. Reader Jody Templeton of Denver nominates this game in recognition of CSU-Pueblo resuming football in 2008 after the program had been shelved in 1984. See the Thunderwolves' freshman-dominated roster here. Check the school's who-you-lookin'-at wolf logo here. Located in Pueblo, Colo., Colorado State University at Pueblo will make you a Distinguished University Fellow for a gift of $100,000 -- which means donations to CSU are far more cost effective (in many senses) than donations to Ivy League schools. Those who give $10,000 to CSU-Pueblo receive "a lapel pin they can wear with pride" plus "e-mail messages."
College Spirit Lacking in Idaho: Reader Mark Glassman of New York City points out this story, which fairly dooms the University of Idaho to continued low status in sports. Note the story made the International Herald Tribune, meaning overdressed cheerleaders is considered important news in Europe.
Just One Bailout Thought: As Congress continues to debate whether they are going to hand over $700 billion of your money to the wealthy who screwed up Wall Street and the banking industry, you will be relieved to learn that top executives of the bailed-out firms temporarily will be limited to a strict $500,000 a year in tax-subsidized income. Surely you receive $500,000 a year in tax-subsidized income, don't you? Anyway, supposing we assume the bailout is required, here is what bothers me about the plan so far: Taxpayers don't get stock, what they get is warrants that can be exchanged for stock, and nonvoting stock to boot. This means that once media attention switches to the next crisis that everyone will claim in retrospect to have seen coming, the Wall Street rich can quietly lobby to have the warrants never called, thus keeping the entire bag of gold for themselves. Even if the warrants are called, taxpayers get no voting positions -- meaning the boards of directors of the bailed-out firms can do anything they damn please with taxpayers' money.
A week ago, Warren Buffett rescued Goldman Sachs by injecting $5 billion in capital. Did Buffett bargain for warrants that can be exchanged at an unknown later date for nonvoting shares? No: He is not a fool. Buffett gave Goldman Sachs $5 billion in return for senior preferred stock, the kind that votes and also is more valuable than ordinary shares. That is to say, he used his money to buy something. Goldman can now employ the cash to fix its liquidity problems. The United States Congress and the White House should use the public's $700 billion to buy something, namely senior preferred shares. Why are Congress and George W. Bush not simply following the road map laid out on this problem by the smartest investor of our era? Either Congress and the president are a bunch of blithering fools -- or what they actually want is to insure the public's money is never seen by the public again.
Next Week: Tom Wolfe buys naming rights to the new Giants-Jets stadium, names it Fuggeddabouddit Field.
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 also is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly.