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Now that the NFL has realigned, the cartographic accuracy of pro football is notably improved. Atlanta isn't in the "west" anymore, Tampa no longer in the "central" part of the country. Indianapolis is suddenly in the "south," but nobody's perfect. The map of football now at least reasonably resembles the national map.
There remains the Jersey/A and Jersey/B conundrum. The Jersey/A franchise styles itself the "New York" Giants, but plays in Springsteen-land. They don't even have the dignity to maintain an office-of-record in the Empire State. The Giants' business address is:
"New York" Giants
East Rutherford, N.J. 07073
The Jersey/B franchise does a little better. They play in Jersey -- ignominiously, at a venue called Giants Stadium ... would the Giants be willing to call Jets Stadium home? -- but maintain their headquarters in Hempstead, N.Y. That's Long Island, not New York City, but at least it's a nice gesture.
Though TMQ approves of the trend of moving sports facilities back downtown, he does not necessarily object when a stadium is not within city limits. The Patriots' old Foxboro Stadium and new Gillette Field, for instance, are in Norfolk County, not Boston's Suffolk County. But the counties are adjacent and anyway it's the same state -- close enough. When the team is in a different state, it's another matter.
If merely being near a state allows you to use its name for status-seeking, which is the Giants-Jets situation, then the Arizona Cardinals should start calling themselves the California Cardinals; that sounds classier. For that matter, they should call themselves the Los Angeles Cardinals and claim that the City of Angels does have an NFL franchise. By the standards of the "New York" Giants and "New York" Jets, there is no compelling reason why the Phoenix team could not become the Los Angeles Cardinals.
Of course, they'd never get away with it. The Jets and Giants get away with fake names because the league front office will confer any favor on New York. How else did Keyshawn Johnson get to wear No. 19? No other NFL WR is permitted a non-80s number, and several have asked. But Keyshawn was drafted by the Jets, demanded No. 19 and got it. If he'd been drafted by Kansas City, or for that matter by Tampa, there's no way his request even would have been entertained.
For the cartographically challenged, nothing tops "Washington" R*dsk*ns. Tuesday Morning Quarterback won't use R*dsk*ns, because this name is in fact offensive, which we'll get to in a minute. But TMQ won't even use the "Washington" part.
The franchise in question has its offices and practice facility in Virginia, and performs in Maryland. Which of these, exactly, is Washington? The team does not even have the dignity to maintain an office-of-record in the nation's capital, its business address being:
21300 R*dsk*ns Park Drive
Ashburn, VA 20147
The R*dsk*ns fled Washington for lower taxes and better parking, yet seek to benefit from the city's prestige while paying naught for the privilege. This is sneaky, low and lacking in character. ("Sneaky, low and lacking in character" would be a nice adjectival phrase for R*dsk*ns owner/menace to western civilization Dan Snyder, but there's a topic for another day.) Honorable franchises should call themselves what they are. And speaking of honorable, the name R*dsk*ns is not.
Redskin is a derogatory term, intended to disparage. Of course, contemporary R*dsk*ns fans don't mean it that way, nor want to hurt anyone's feelings. To fans it's just a traditional name, lacking inherent significance. Fans may chant a team name without giving any thought to what it means -- what's a Laker or a Hoya?
But although fans do not intend R*dsk*ns to be offensive, it is nonetheless. And the fact the name is long-established constitutes no validation. Suppose that, since its founding in 1932, the team in question had been called the Washington Darkies. Today this name would be long-established and fans, inured to its meaning, would sing, "Hail to the Darkies!" without intending to hurt anyone's feelings. Even some African-American ticket holders might sing, "Hail to the Darkies!" That wouldn't make it right.
On such grounds TMQ rejects R*dsk*ns, but not Chiefs or Braves, since chief and brave are terms of respect. Sure, these can be spoken with a sneer -- "You got a problem, chief?" But any term of respect, even "your honor," can be used with a sneer. The standard ought to be whether a team name is inherently derogatory. R*dsk*ns is, Chiefs and Braves are not.
Which leaves us with the Cleveland Indians problem. Given that "Indians" themselves are unable to agree on whether "Indians" is proper, this is a muddle. Obviously "Indian" is a misnomer, but many Native Americans use Indian, including in formal writing, preferring it to Native American and not considering it derogatory. In parallel, the Celtics use an ethnic byname, and it's OK because celtic is not inherently insulting. (Actually the Knicks use an ethnic byname too, but at this point not even most history students could tell you what a "knickerbocker" once meant, or which ethnic group it referred to.) Until such time as we may generally agree that "Indian" is a slur, and it is not clear that time has or will come, Cleveland Indians seems OK.
But R*dsk*ns definitely is a slur. Unlike the disputed word Indian, which is usually accepted in polite speech, the word redskin is intolerable in polite speech and has never served any purpose but as a slur. "Redskin: Offensive Slang. Used as a disparaging term for a Native American." (American Heritage Dictionary.) Any child calling an Indian kid a redskin on the school yard would be disciplined by teachers, and properly so. Why are the grownups who own and profit from the R*dsk*ns given a pass on use of this slur? President Bush could call someone an Indian at the White House, and it would be no story. What if he called someone a redskin? All R*dsk*ns officialdom would have to do is address their charges as the Darkies for a single day -- "Come on, you Darkies, let's show some hustle out there!" -- and the rest would be obvious.
TMQ is cheered by the fact that the R*dsk*ns lost a federal lawsuit recently regarding the red-guy image on their helmets. Copyright law forbids registration of offensive words or images, and plaintiffs contended the red-guy image was offensive; the case is currently on appeal. If the R*dsk*ns are bested on appeal as well, they will no longer enjoy copyright protection of their helmet image; anyone would be able to market R*dsk*ns-like images without paying Snyder's team a fee.
Loss of copyright protection for the helmet image would be the beginning of the end for the R*dsk*ns name. Note that this year the team is wearing a throwback helmet with an arrow rather than the Indian-guy image. Supposedly, the arrow helmet is to celebrate the team's 70th year. TMQ thinks it is in anticipation of losing legal control of the R*dsk*ns helmet image, and that will be a step in the right direction. (Keeping our logic here, of the hauntingly-FSU-like throwback helmet, TMQ would not object to Florida State calling its team the Seminoles, because Seminole is the name of a nation, not a derogatory term.)
TMQ's solution to all this is that teams with an Indian-related name problem do some suave marketing by choosing a new name that is an actual Native American word. For example cho nnee in Apache means "large people." The Washington Cho Nnee -- that's cool. In Navajo, dzeel means the strength that comes from courage. The Washington Dzeel -- very cool. Very promotable. Hail to the Dzeel!
Until such enlightened time as the R*dsk*ns fix their name, TMQ is left with the problem of what to call them, since the asterisks will get annoying.
TMQ has been calling this franchise the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons. But cartographically adept readers have protested that the Chesapeake watershed includes Baltimore, which has its own team, and stretches as far as Utica, N.Y. So, based on a reader suggestion, TMQ will rechristen Snyder's club the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. The first true "regional" franchise designation, and it is fitting to see the word drainage in apposition with the name Dan Snyder. They'll be the Persons for short.
Cheerleader of the Week. One of the important public-policy themes TMQ will develop through this year's columns is that the Broncos, Dolphins and Raiders have the best-looking NFL cheerleaders, by a significant margin. (Dallas has slipped to fourth, just one of the many 'Boys aspects to slip downhill under Jerry Jones; on the plus side, the pep squads of the Rams, Eagles and a few others are showing significant aesthetic improvement.) Of this elite, the Broncos come first in alphabetical order, so this week let's name Katy Rohrig of Denver as TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week.
According to her team bio, Rohrig teaches first grade in Cherry Creek, a Denver suburb. How come the teachers didn't look like this when TMQ went to school? She holds a master's in education, was captain of the University of Florida dance team and "has aspirations of becoming a school administrator." A school administrator? TMQ can hear hundreds of guys saying, "Punish me! Punish me!"
Now for TMQ's vaguely serious NFC preview
Arizona Cardinals: This franchise has existed in various guises for 82 years, and during that period won exactly two postseason games. The Cardinals are the veritable epitome of loser-hood. George McGovern could have beaten them for president.
Everything about the Cardinals is fouled up. The team drafts pathetically, having in the past decade spent lottery picks (that is, Top 10) on Garrison Hearst, Thomas Jones, Tom Knight, Jamir Miller, Simeon Rice, Eric Swann and Andre Wadsworth with essentially nothing to show for it -- only Jones remains on the roster, and he's played poorly. Seven high No. 1 draft picks blown in a single decade, has any team ever drafted worse? (Hearst and Miller turned out well, but only after Arizona discarded them; Swann was briefly good, then flamed out.) And despite the number of defensive-front gentlemen on that high-picks list, in 2001 Arizona was last in the league in sacks.
As its reward for perpetual awfulness, Arizona perennially is worst in the NFL in attendance, last year averaging 38,414 suckers, barely more than half the league norm. But then why go to a game? Since moving to Arizona in 1988, the Cards are 3-11 on opening day, worst opening-day record in the league. In the last five seasons, this club is 29-51, which is .363 ball.
And a new stadium is in the works! TMQ says don't even bother trying to sell the naming rights, no one will want them. Just christen it Empty Stadium. The lack of paying customers represents vengeance on owner Bill Bidwill by the football gods. Bidwill yanked the team out of St. Louis, which supported the Cardinals well and supports their replacement, the Rams, well.
This year the Cardinals will field ... well, it makes absolutely no difference who the Cardinals field.
Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta is now 18-33 since Dan Reeves had his heart attack. Not to put too fine a point on it, but why is this guy still coaching? Reeves has a fabulous career record -- he's the seventh-winningest coach all time, and the leading active coach in wins. But Reeves has visibly lost steam since the heart problems began. This is only natural; his health must come first. But for three years now, the whole Falcons operation has become lethargic.
Little gets done in the offseason; players leave in free agency while no one arrives. Atlanta doesn't have a true general manager. Reeves, who also holds the title of "executive vice president," sort of does it himself, lethargically. Practices are low-key and game days practically solemn at the good-seats-always-available Georgia Dome. (The Falcons average 53,000 in a stadium that offers 71,228 sitzenplatzen.) Since its first Super Bowl appearance three years ago, Atlanta has eroded from a hot team to one that fans don't even realize is in the league. Seriously now -- when was the last time you saw a Falcons game on TV? How many Atlanta starters can you name? TMQ traces this all to Reeves' health. It is not his fault that he got sick, but at this point he should step aside. He seems to work up more enthusiasm for his Zocor ads than for Falcons business.
If he steps aside, don't give Wade Phillips the job. Phillips was a top-notch defensive coordinator at Denver and Buffalo but, after being elevated to boss in both places, constantly looked like a guy who got up to give a speech only to discover he'd forgotten his notes. Among other things, he was the sole head coach in the league who wore no headphones on the sideline; the staff, it seemed, did not need to consult him during games. Probably Phillips will improve the Atlanta defense, but he should remain at the DC level, where he's good.
As for Michael Vick, the question is not will he be good, but will he live to see next season? The Atlanta offensive line surrendered a shocking 64 sacks last season, second-worst in the league. Lethargically, Reeves did little about it; the highest-drafted OL was a fourth-rounder and the OL free agent signee, Todd Weiner, is average at best. During the offseason, Arthur Blank, the Falcons' credulous owner, on Reeves' advice handed out $13 million in bonus payment to free agents Warrick Dunn, Allen Rossum and Weiner, two situation players and an nondescript tackle. Ye gods, this club is poorly run.
Carolina Panthers: And ye gods, this team is just plain poor. Fifteen consecutive defeats in 2001. The Panthers are so bad they chewed up and spit out George Seifert, who came to Carolina with the NFL's all-time best winning percentage by a coach with 100 or more career wins.
It's something of a mystery why Seifert accepted the captaincy of this sinking ship in the first place. Carolina has perhaps the least talent of any club in the NFL, partly owing to consistently terrible drafts. The Panthers picked Tim Biakabutuka over Eddie George; Jason Peter over Vonnie Holliday; Rashard Anderson over Ahmed Plummer; the inventory of draft folly marches on. The team has made nine No. 1 draft picks since coming into the league, and only two are still with the club, Dan Morgan and Julius Peppers. Everybody else has been a bust or a criminal (Rae Carruth) or a dope head (Anderson) or left in free agency, and already there is considerable nervousness that Peppers merely hasn't yet had time to reveal his bust-ness.
Equally bad, Carolina traded away two No. 1 picks for Sean Gilbert. This had two unwelcome results: first, further draft depletion, and second, the Panthers got Sean Gilbert. This worse-than-useless player is another of those gentlemen who projects an incredibly scientifically advanced negative-energy field, making everyone around him worse instead of better. Panther free agency decisions have also been pitiful. This year, the team is carrying $10 million in salary cap penalties for Biakabutuka, Peter, Jeff Lewis and the legendary Tim Morabito. None of these guys were any good, yet all received large bonuses before being waived.
TMQ's question: Could the Carolina Panthers defeat the Charlotte Hornets? Now we'll never find out.
Chicago Bears: Two years ago the Giants were the league's best slow team; in 2001, this distinction went to Chicago. The Bears were consistently fun to watch, so long as you only covered your eyes whenever the offense trotted out. Actually, you could have had more fun just watching safety Mike Brown -- long, wild touchdown returns to win games on the final play in consecutive weeks -- than watching the entire Panthers or Cardinals season.
The plodding Bears offense was lucky to finish tied for 26th. Chicago in 2001 was the first team in NFL history to try to gain yardage by calling only plays designed to go sideways -- it was sweep, screen, receiver hitch, quick out on every play. Someone needs to install a GPS receiver in Bears quarterbacks' helmets so they can be constantly updated on where the other team's goal line is; the Bears seemed to think the sideline was the goal line.
Since the Bears get no true home games this year -- they play at the University of Illinois, 150 miles from Chicago, while Soldier Field is torn down and then rebuilt in order to make it more expensive -- their record may suffer. Here, as a public service to Bears fans, are MapQuest.com driving directions from Soldier Field to Champaign, Ill.: TMQ suggests you leave early, traffic is unlikely to be to your liking.
Fun Bears Factoid: Pro Football Weekly said Ticonderoga-class DT Ted Washington, conservatively estimated to displace 400 pounds, "looked thinner" in training camp. Since it would be impossible for Ted to look any bigger, this is like saying Rosie O'Donnell "looked sexier." Details of the Ticonderoga class cruiser, displacing 10,000 tons, can be found at this site maintained by the Federation of American Scientists. Amazingly, though the Navy sails cruisers of this class with impressive christenings such as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown, there is no guided-missile cruiser named the Ted Washington.
Dallas Cowboys: Owner-tower of ego Jerry Jones essentially named himself general manager 10 drafts ago, after dismissing Jimmy Johnson for the sin of winning two straight Super Bowls. What has happened since? Let's forget Jones' canny decision to bring in Ryan Leaf and look just at his use of first draft picks, acknowledging that it is too soon to know anything about the latest, Roy Williams.
Jones traded two No. 1s for Joey Galloway, who last year rose to the level of average -- stats trailing Darnay Scott, who was available on waivers. Jones traded out of the first round three times, in order to snag such legendary talents as Kavika Pittman and Sherman Williams. He drafted two pure busts, Shante Carver and David LaFleur, and two solid-but-not-special DLs, Greg Ellis and Ebenezer Ekuban. Had this been the track record of any hired general manager, the gentlemen would have been fired long ago.
Jerry Jones has not, however, fired himself. We can only dream.
And is it me, or does the owner-towering inferno of ego remind you of vacuum cleaner magnate Dave Oreck? Who, at least, has a respectable job. Check out Oreck's incredible 40th Anniversary Edition Commemorative vacuum cleaner. Haven't you always dreamed of owning a commemorative-edition vacuum cleaner? And it comes with an ultraviolet dirt-finding headlight and a cordless iron. Just think of all that hidden dirt in your house that could only be detected by ultraviolet. What are you waiting for?
Last year, as the 'Boys played stout defense but otherwise went glub-glub-glub, TMQ rechristened them the 'Girls -- and in saying this, I certainly did not intend to insult girls! They may conditionally be the 'Boys again, but that could change depending on performance.
Detroit Lions: This franchise hasn't won any kind of title since 1957, a mere 45 years ago. Hmmm, and it's been about 45 years since Ford built the last great Thunderbird, and the Ford family owns the Lions, and the Lions are losing like crazy and Ford Motors is losing money like crazy. Must be some kind of harmonic at work.
Detroit also hasn't had a quarterback invited to the Pro Bowl in 31 years, and now has Joey Harrington. The Lions changed starting QBs four times last season -- Charlie Batch, then Ty Detmer, then Batch again, then Mike McMahon. TMQ is betting on at least two changes this year, if nothing else because standing behind the woeful Detroit line jeopardizes one's health. Despite carpet-bombing the OL with recent high draft picks -- two No. 1s and two No. 2s -- the Lions gave up 66 sacks last season, worst in the league.
The Ford family has entrusted the Lions to former broadcaster Matt Millen, who so far has shown himself to be a former broadcaster. Just be glad they didn't name him president of Ford Motors ... your 401(k) would be in even worse shape! This year's Millen Special was to cut Johnnie Morton, the team's sole reliable receiver, while awarding $9.5 million in bonuses to free-agent WRs Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder, the former of whom has never been a starter and the latter of whom distinguished himself in Green Bay mainly by doggin' it whenever the play was not to him. At least there is one sense in which Bill Schroeder is like Randy Moss! For next summer's preview, TMQ will write about how the Lions' big number is up to 46 years.
Green Bay Packers: Ah, TMQ loves the Packers. The team, the lore, the weird colors, the 12 titles, the public ownership (NFL's only publicly owned franchise), the success despite small-town status (69th-largest television market in the United States, trailing Roanoke-Lynchburg) and, of course, Brett Favre. TMQ loves that Packers fans have the simple common sense to wear cheese heads. TMQ loves that the renovation of Lambeau Field does not include luxury boxes. TMQ loves that if you fired Brett Favre out of a cannon at the circus, he would complete a touchdown pass before hitting the net. The only flaw TMQ can find with the Packers: no cheerleaders.
The Packers look strong at most positions this year, and have been playing well -- stretching back to the end of the 2000 season, the club is on a 17-5 run, normally Super Bowl numbers.
TMQ's only concern is turmoil in the receiver corps. Green Bay let go Antonio Freeman, Corey Bradford and Schroeder to replace them with Terry Glenn, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker, who rang up a combined 14 professional receptions last year. You tell me why the Pack wants Glenn, a negative-energy-generator who not only has been suspended repeatedly but who, last November, filed suit against the NFL, claiming his latest suspension had caused clinical depression, which, in turn, meant he should get preferential treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Arriving in Green Bay, dressed in a powder-blue jumpsuit, Glenn announced that he hoped to be "normal, basically."
And the first- and second-round picks the Packers traded for Walker seem puzzling, since higher-rated receivers (Josh Reed and Jabar Gaffney) were available for less, and Walker dropped a lot of passes at Florida State. Walker's Florida drops came under ideal conditions, sunny days with light breeze. What's he going to do when it's 10 degrees out, the Lambeau windsock is snapping, small-craft advisories are in effect on Lake Michigan and Favre hits him directly in the hands with the football equivalent of a 105mm high-energy antitank round?
Minnesota Vikings: Let's put it this way. The Vikings are a team that just waived the NFL's all-time leading scorer, Gary Anderson. I'm having a hard time seeing this as a favorable omen.
This club has been whammed by salary-cap losses and cursed by possessing Randy Moss, who is a great talent but a crummy person and an awful, awful teammate. The way Moss quit in the second quarter of the 2000 NFC Championship Game against the Giants was shameful, refusing to run out his routes or even make a pretense of blocking. Quitting in a championship game! Quitting in the first half of a championship game! Moss' repeated boasting during last season about quitting on plays just made things worse. His claiming to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that a conspiracy kept him out of the Pro Bowl was crybaby stuff -- somebody hand this man a rattle, a pacifier and a blankee. Players who boast about quitting during games don't get a lot of Pro Bowl votes from other players; the director of the conspiracy against Moss was Randy Moss.
The coddling Moss receives from the Vikes staff is equally shameful. Dennis Green is gone because he licked Moss' boots, which was bad coaching, and not good for Moss. After Moss' latest tirade that teammates were being allowed to touch the ball, the new Vikes staff committed to a "Randy Ratio," that 40 percent of passes must be directed to him. If you were looking for a way to make Moss even more spoiled, you couldn't come up with much better.
Any Minnesota fans who hope to find solace in the Vikings other than Randy Moss will not have many places to turn. The team finished 25th in offense and 27th in defense last year, and its No. 1 pick is not in camp. Don't get your hopes up.
New Orleans Saints: Can someone please explain to TMQ the trajectory of the Saints? Eighteen months ago they earned their first playoff victory and looked like the league's next elite club. Since that moment, the Saints are 7-10 and at times have been cover-your-eyes awful, losing their final four in 2001 by an average 27-point margin of defeat.
In the last 18 months, the Saints have shed good players like they had West Nile virus, waiving or letting go Jeff Blake, Mark Fields, La'Roi Glover, Joe Johnson, Keith Mitchell, Alex Molden and Chris Naeole and trading away Willie Roaf and Ricky Williams. While this roster depletion was in progress, the Saints used the cap savings to bring in Albert Connell, who had been whispered around the league to be a head case and ended up playing only sporadically before being waived, and Dale Carter, who wears a bright flashing light that says CAUTION: HEAD CASE APPROACHING and was back on drug suspension even before training camp could start. The Saints also signed Grady Jackson, an Arleigh Burke-class DT who officially displaces 330 pounds but looks as if it's 330 kilograms. (To see the real Arleigh Burke, displacing 6,691 tons, click here). How could anyone possibly think the team would be better off after these bungled transactions? Just give us back the Saints that existed in January 2001 before management decided to improve the team!
Jim Haslett, the Saints coach, may claim that since he only recently got football-operations control, these deals were not his ideas; but he could have vetoed them. And it was Haslett who made the decision to ditch Blake for the refuses-to-mature Aaron Brooks. Blake was 7-3 as a starter at New Orleans; Brooks is 11-13 since replacing him. Haslett said he preferred Brooks, and showed Blake the door. Ye gods.
New Jersey Giants: In 2000, the Jersey/A franchise bickered, quarreled and squabbled, players denouncing each other in public, coach Jim Fassel at one point calling a press conference to denounce the players. Result? The Giants went to the Super Bowl. In 2001 the team was put on a charm offensive. Players were told not to make public spectacles, and kept politely circumspect. Result? The Giants finished 7-9. All this just shows that in New York, public quarrelling is a healthy thing. New Yorkers are constitutionally incapable of working things out in private; they can only get in touch with their feelings at press conferences. Thus, it's a good sign for Giants fans that the team is back to angry strife, Michael Strahan and Tiki Barber denouncing each other in public. If the Giants keep this up, they should have a good year.
Fun Jersey/A Factoid No. 1: The Giants signed Kerry Collins to a long-term contract extension despite the fact that he set an all-time NFL record for fumbles in 2001, losing the ball an incredible 23 times. Giants management said it was concerned about keeping Collins off the market in 2003, which assumes someone else would have wanted him.
Fun Jersey/A Factoid No. 2: Despite sinking a high draft pick into return speedster Ron Dixon, the Giants were last in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging just 17.7 yards per. This means that, on average, they would have been better off downing the ball in the end zone rather than attempting a runback.
Fun Jersey/A Factoid No. 3: The team has a total of 24 officials with the words "director" or "vice president" in their job titles, including Doug Murphy, Director of Creative Services.
The Eagles' biggest problem was no depth behind RB Duce Staley; when he went down hurt, the offense became McNabb 24/7. Yet the Eagles acquired no RB help and go into 2001 once again gambling that Staley won't get hurt. Philadelphia finished free agency with a near league-high of about $5 million in unspent salary cap space -- which could have been used for the extra players that might put the team into the Super Bowl, but will instead be, what, donated to charity?
Nothing has changed! Once again the Eagles took no meaningful action in the offseason to acquire help for the oft-injured Staley, and once again they lead the league in unused cap, now with about $9 million in empty space. Is the team still planning to donate this unused cap space to charity? And no, cap space cannot be carried forward to the future, like a tax loss. Use it or lose it.
Philadelphia's chance to return to the Super Bowl is right now, this year -- the Eagles came up just a few yards short in January -- yet the team is declining to stock up with players. And this year their roster is slightly thinner, owing to the losses of Jeremiah Trotter and Damon Moore. Yet all that cap space goes unused. Had the Eagles so much as signed last offseason's two bargain backs, Priest Holmes or Antowain Smith, they might have been goin' to Disney World. When this season is over and the team has come up short again, what player will it be that Eagles fans wish some of the surplus cap space had been used for?
Andy Reid, who is both head coach and head of Eagles operations, is good at the former and bad at the latter. He's the one who for two straight years has decided to sit on his cap space. And Reid made the Trotter negotiation into a silly personal spat. Yes, Trotter was asking too much, but Reid took it personally rather than waiting stoically till things cooled down, which is the professional general-manager approach. Get Reid out of the front office and back onto the sideline where he belongs.
Fun Eagles Factoid No. 1: Despite finishing second in the league in pass defense in 2001, Philadelphia used its first three draft choices on defensive backs -- a Reid decision.
Fun Eagles Factoid No. 2: When Moore, a rising young star, ripped an ACL in the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles immediately let him go to avoid having to pay him during rehabilitation. Reid must have said, "Sorry, son, this is a business." Yet when Trotter declared his contract position was just a business negotiation, Reid ripped him for not showing loyalty to the team.
Seattle Seahawks: Dennis Erickson was 31-33 as the Hawks coach and got run out of town on a rail. Guru Genius Mike Holmgren replaced him, is 24-26 and has total job security. What gives?
Holmgren not only hasn't done any better than Erickson on the field, he has been a terrible general manager. The Guru Genius left the Packers because Green Bay would not give him GM authority, which in retrospect was a wise move on the Pack's part. In Seattle, Holmgren is both coach and final authority -- his actual title is "executive vice president of football operations, general manager and head coach" -- and has made wrong call after wrong call.
Holmgren waived Sam Adams, who promptly won a ring and went to the Pro Bowl for the Ravens. Holmgren traded Ahman Green, who promptly went to the Pro Bowl, for a gentlemen who is now, as is said, "out of football." Holmgren insisted on playing the underwhelming Matt Hasselbeck over Trent Dilfer, who came to the Hawks riding an incredible 16-1 streak as a starter. Hasselbeck was 5-7 for Seattle last year, Dilfer was 4-0; the result was a 9-7 finish and a miss of the postseason by a single W. Had Dilfer played more -- the Guru Genius didn't switch to him till the bitter end -- Seattle probably would have gone to the playoffs. Yet Holmgren's job is secure, while Erickson was a bum.
Fun factoid: The "interim name" of the team's new field is Seahawks Stadium, because owner Paul Allen has been unable to find a corporation willing to buy naming rights. Forget the outrage that Washington state voters basically gave this megabucks palace as a gift to Allen, who is one of world history's richest men. (Allen put up only a token portion of construction costs; taxpayers paid the rest, and Allen keeps virtually all stadium-related revenue.) What TMQ wants to know is why Microsoft won't buy the rights? Is Microsoft afraid it will curse itself? Even Bill Gates must be leery, considering PSINet, CMGi, Adelphia and the other new-economy firms that bought stadium names and immediately rolled over.
San Francisco 49ers: Every time TMQ hears media praise of the undrafted Kurt Warner -- note please that last year's leading passer, Warner; leading rusher, Holmes; and leading receiver, Rod Smith of Denver, all were undrafted -- he thinks, "But what about Jeff Garcia?" Sure, Warner is terrific, though as a space alien who wears a phased-muon singularity converter in obvious violation of league rules, he ought to be good! (Kurt Warner's extraterrestrial origins will be a theme developed during the year's columns.) But in stats, leadership and coming-out-of-nowhere status, Garcia has been nearly as good as Warner. TMQ loves to watch this guy. While Ryan Leaf sits at home denouncing people for not praising him enough, and Akili Smith mopes about why he didn't become an instant overnight superstar, the unknown, undrafted Garcia worked, worked, worked, worked until it happened for him. Only in America! OK, also in Canada, since Garcia is a CFL alum, but Canada may be viewed as a suburb of America.
With horrible cap problems at the end of the 1990s, the Niners swallowed their medicine all at once by having a horrible 2000 season in which confused rookies blew coverages and collided with each other (they were horrible, especially, on defense), then reaped the reward in 2001 when the new components began to jell. The defense improved from horrible to 13th overall, and allowed an average of only 11 points in the final five Niners games. The running game rose to second overall. Though the Niners are thought of as a soft finesse team, the key to their offense is that they run the ball much better than most clubs that boast about physical style of play.
The excellent running stats, and the fact that on passing downs the Niners were fourth-best in sacks allowed, is yet another testament to the anonymous San Francisco OL. Year in, year out, the Niners take gentlemen no one has heard of and turn them into top-shelf blockers. The current Niners OL has no prominent names and no first-round draft choices; the Niners have not taken an offensive lineman in the first round in 15 years. Yet year in, year out the Niners unknown OLs perform well. Seriously, can you name an offensive line starter for San Francisco?
St. Louis Rams: League's No. 1 offense and No. 3 defense in 2001. How did they lose the Super Bowl to the statistically below-average Pats? The Rams smelled overconfident and seriously swell-headed to TMQ when that game began. Were acting like they'd already won the title by beating the Eagles in the NFC championship. The football gods notice this type of thing and do not look kindly on it.
Since the Rams look loaded and cocked once again, what TMQ wonders is what to call them. Here are the candidates:
First candidate, the St. Louis Mouflons. A mouflon is a wild European sheep, Ovis musimon, indigenous to Sardinia and Corsica and "having large curving horns in the male," according to the Columbia Encyclopedia. Isn't that a fine nickname for the Rams? Better than the Ovis Musimons, surely. Large curving horns in the male -- just like Rams helmets. Curving aspects of the mouflon female are not specified by the Columbia Encyclopedia. In the spirit of science, TMQ will, however, conduct intensive study of curving aspects of the Rams cheerleaders.
Second candidate, the St. Louis Lakers. Considering that most people would get the joke, and similarities in scoring pace between the Rams and their former civic NBA cousins, the St. Louis Lakers still might work pretty well as a nickname.
City of Tampa Buccaneers: While we're on cartography, the name of the city is Tampa. Tampa Bay is a body of water. Do the Bucs represent a municipality or a body of water? To TMQ, they are the City of Tampa Buccaneers. (The Pack's name is accurate because Green Bay is the name of the town.)
So Tony Dungy is out and Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden is in. Bryan Glazer, one of the wacky Glazer clan that runs this franchise -- the first four officials in the team director are named Glazer -- said Gruden is "the finest young mind in the game." Maybe, but then how come his record is all but indistinguishable from Dungy's? Dungy is .563 lifetime in regular season games, Gruden is .594. Dungy has his problems in money time, but so does Gruden, with defeats in each of his last two postseason appearances. So what's the huge difference between the two? None that TMQ can detect. The deal that brought Gruden to Tampa was some weird result of the weird Glazers deliberately undercutting Dungy in 2001, then trying to humiliate him by negotiating with Bill Parcells while the team was preparing for a playoff game, then panicking when Parcells turned them down, finally wanting to do something they could claim had been the plan all along. "We took our time and got the man we really wanted," Glazer declared in a bit of preposterous spin.
A later column will "discount to present value" the price Tampa paid for Gruden, as TMQ contends the deal can only be understood using this tool of economic theory. For the moment the question is: Why would Gruden want to take over a team that had just given up two No. 1 and two No. 2 draft choices for him? This all but assures a down-cycle in Bucs talent. But oh, the ego gratification!
Gruden gets to believe that he personally is so incredibly valuable that he is not only worth more than any NFL coach has ever changed teams for, he is worth more than any NFL player since Eric Dickerson, the last gentleman to be traded for two No. 1s and two No. 2s. And if he has a rough ride in Tampa, Gruden can give as his excuse that some irresponsible owner denuded the team of its draft picks.
Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons: It's Year Four of the Dan Synder Era, and the Persons are on their fourth head coach, fourth defensive coordinator, fourth GM/operations boss and fourth starting quarterback. Does anyone sense a trend here?
As Synder fumes, tirades and fires left and right -- essentially everyone on the Persons staff, even low-level employees, has been fired since Snyder took over, and some job slots reflect two or even three firings -- TMQ constantly wonders: How did this guy become a successful businessman? Synder obtained wealth by founding a marketing firm, which he sold in 2000 for $2.1 billion to the French advertising conglomerate Havas, timing his move perfectly -- just before the market free-fall. Havas proceeded to have a brutal year after acquiring Snyder Communications, losing millions and laying off 1,200 employees. Thanks, Dan! And how did Synder convince Havas to pay $2.1 billion for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues? That's revenues, not earnings. Was Arthur Andersen in on this deal? (Actually the CFO of Snyder's firm was a former Arthur Andersen official.)
Now Synder joins forces with Steve Spurrier, and the first time their ego fields interact, as inevitably they will, sensors will register on NASA space probes moving beyond the heliosphere of the solar system. Snyder fired Marty Schottenheimer after just one year, though Schottenheimer did a good job finishing 8-8 with a team that was having a cap crash owing to Snyder's mismanagement; the issue was that Schottenheimer would not allow Snyder to interfere with the team. Presumably, Spurrier has agreed to allow the Owner/Menace to Western Civilization to interfere with the team. It's not going to be pretty.
As for whether Spurrier's offense will work in the NFL, his passing attack has been running up mucho yards and points in the preseason -- which is a bad sign. Preseason success has nothing to do with what happens once the light goes on, and can backfire by making teams overconfident. Once Spurrier rolls out his offense in a game situation, rather than against cannon-fodder gentlemen, we'll see what we shall see. Also we will see if Spurrier can make the adjustment from the college atmosphere in which four or five games per year are contested and the rest are walkovers of the hapless East Carolinas of the world, allowing coaches plenty of time for golf and income-booster deals, to the pro atmosphere in which every game is contested and successful coaches sleep in their offices.
Fun Persons Factoid No. 1: When Snyder bought the team from the estate of Jack Kent Cooke in a messy, lawsuits-flying-everywhere sequence of events, to help close the deal he privately promised Cooke's children that the stadium would forever bear their father's name. Three months after the ink was dry, Snyder sold the stadium name to Fed Ex.
Fun Persons Factoid No. 2: Cooke had arranged for postage-stamp acreage near the stadium to be incorporated as the town of Raljon, an amalgam of the names of his sons Ralph and John, so that the field address would be Raljon, Md. Yes, this was ostentatious. But just to make certain everyone understood he was raising his middle finger to the late owner's memory, Snyder immediately had the word Raljon removed from all team documents and stadium signs. Broadcasters now say the stadium is in Landover, Md.
Running Items Department
Simulated Mega-Babe News: New Line Cinema admitted the supposedly electronically generated babe who is the central conceit in the Al Pacino comedy "Simone" was not an actual computer simulation but a character played by model Rachel Roberts, who had been "digitally enhanced." Wait -- you mean the fake thing wasn't actually fake, but real? They had to use reality to simulate a sham? And at this point what Hollywood babe isn't "enhanced"?
In "A Night at the Opera," Groucho Marx is talking to Margaret Dumont, who plays a diva wearing a plunging, bosomy outfit. Dumont announces, archly, "I have a falsetto." Groucho replies, "I knew they were too good to be true."
Actual Mega-Babe News: The Rockettes unionized, and among other things won generous severance payments for when their flouncing days are over. In order to ensure press coverage of their brief boycott outside Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes marched in miniskirts and four-inch heels. This press relations tactic was a success, as evidenced by dozens of television camera crews. TMQ certainly would have been there exercising his First Amendment rights if only he'd known.
Britney Calls Press Conference to Demand Privacy: The tabloid and talk show worlds are atwitter with rumors that Britney Spears has lost her virginity. TMQ believes her denials. In fact, he feels certain, because when this big event occurs, it will be broadcast on pay-per-view! Can there possibly be anything about Britney that won't be sold?
The NFL Is Sustainable, Randy Moss Is Not: TMQ his ownself appeared on Monday night's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, talking about sustainable development. (This was in my secret identity as a Brookings Institution visiting fellow.) Then today, TMQ his ownself was interviewed by NFL Films for an upcoming special on the ridiculousness of football predictions. This makes TMQ the first ESPN representative ever to be interviewed by public television about sustainable development -- and there's been a lot of competition around Bristol for that distinction, let me tell you. More, it makes me the first person in world history to be interviewed by PBS and NFL Films on consecutive days. Man, this is going to be huge. The glamour, the women -- OK, I'll take the garbage out in a minute.
Times Correction of the Week: Appearing in the Aug. 16 New York Times and concerning McSorley's Old Ale House in Greenwich Village, a drinking establishment with which numerous readers of this column might have some personal familiarity:
An article yesterday about New York City's increasing hostility to smoking referred incompletely to the situation at McSorley's Old Ale House, a smoker-friendly redoubt in the East Village. While it indeed forgoes ashtrays in favor of the sawdust on the floor, souvenir ashtrays are for sale. The one shown in the picture was being used by a waiter.
The Times "referred incompletely to the situation at McSorley's Old Ale House" and this error must be corrected! The New York Times yields to no one in its determination accurately to describe the ashtrays in taverns! Surely a reporter -- perhaps an entire platoon of journalists, dropped by helicopter -- fanned out to get to the bottom of what an ashtray was doing in a photo of McSorley's bar, and came to the shocking conclusion that, "The one shown in the picture was being used by a waiter."
What Tuesday Morning Quarterback wants to know is why, if the New York Times is so admirably responsible when it comes to correcting incomplete references to the situation in taverns, during football season the same paper each week prints an entire page of NFL score predictions that are never, ever, ever right. Watch TMQ's upcoming New York Times Final-Score Score feature for the details.
I Told Nan's Father This Was His Last Chance to Get His Daughter in a Fine Romance, and He Replied, "Huh?" Speaking of the Times and of Springsteen, a couple years ago an article about the latest Bruce tour was datelined, SOMEWHERE IN THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY. Nan Kennelly, the Official Wife of TMQ, a Jersey girl and graduate of Milburn High, picked up the paper and said with disgust, "More New York snobbery against the Garden State." Nan did not recognize a Springsteen lyric. Investigators are probing the incident.
The Article Wasn't Too Well Written Either, Which Was Nice: Last week's Times also offered this article about the phenomenon of schadenfreude, or finding pleasure in someone else's misfortune. The Times lavishly quoted Richard Smith, a professor at the University of Kentucky, who was identified as an expert in schadenfreude, and ran his picture. I noticed Smith was prematurely balding. Hey, that made me feel better.
The Football Gods Chortled: Bengals defender Takeo Spikes will miss the rest of the preseason after injuring himself while attempting to injure Drew Bledsoe. In the first week of ersatz play, Spikes was attempting to lift Bledsoe for the illegal body-slam maneuver when he suddenly gasped and clutched his chest; attempting the body-slam had caused Spikes to tear a pectoral muscle. "I was trying to pick him up and dump him," Spikes admitted to The Associated Press.
ICouldHaveRuled@TheWorld Also Available: The website TheWorld.com provides free email address. TMQ just checked, and the alias "rules" is available. Get it? You could be "rules@theworld." Now, how many seconds after this item appears on ESPN.com will that alias be taken?
Incredible Season Premiere Approaches: Next week, TMQ will offer his worthless predictions, under the motto All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. Also, an incredible 32 NFL haiku -- one for each team! Then, finally, kickoff of the real action with the Tuesday Morning Quarterback season premiere.Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is believed to be the first Brookings scholar ever to write a pro football column. You can buy his football book, the incredibly cleverly titled "Tuesday Morning Quarterback," here.