Page 2 columnist
So nobody can run anymore. During the 1970s, the top rushing club averaged 180 yards per game. Through the last decade, the top-rushing team has averaged 163 yards per game, which is exactly the current average of the Kansas City Chiefs, the best rushing team of 2002. Eleven teams are rushing for an average of less than 4 yards per carry. On Sunday, Oakland ran for 37 yards at home. It's been 24 years -- the 1978 New England Patriots -- since an NFL team rushed for 3,000 yards in a season. Just about every barometer of running success is down.
Deep thinkers attribute the problem to pass-wacky modern offenses. A TMQ reader warns in haiku of the pass-wacky folly,
If you can't run in
call for a tee time.
-- Evan Sandman, Venice, Calif.
But Tuesday Morning Quarterback has a simpler explanation for the decline of the run: depletion of room in which to run. Linemen have gotten too big.
Consider that the starting offensive linemen at the 1972 Super Bowl averaged 248 pounds; at the 1982 Super Bowl, 262 pounds; at the 1992 Super Bowl, 281 pounds; and at February's Super Bowl, 304 pounds. That's an average gain of 15 pounds per decade for NFL offensive linemen. Long-term, this means that for the 2152 Super Bowl -- when, depending on longevity-drugs research, Clarence Thomas may still be a Supreme Court justice -- offensive linemen will average 529 pounds. At the moment, this means runners are running out of spaces to squeeze through. The sheer bulk of linemen is clogging up the holes.
And the overall average for NFL linemen is probably higher than the Super Bowl average. Super Bowl teams seem to tend to be relatively light, nimble OLs, which may correlate with victory. Lower down the echelon, Detroit's starting offensive line now averages 319 pounds; the Cowboys' averages 325; Arizona's averages 326 pounds. In turn, these are merely official weights. Just as your actual gas mileage will be lower than the EPA estimate, many linemen's actual weights are higher than the listed number.
The gentlemen on the opposite side of the line are not exactly withering away, either. During the 1970s, starting defensive linemen averaged 270 pounds. Today's Bears defensive line averages 324 pounds, and that is if you believe Ticonderoga-class DT Ted Washington, currently injured, actually is his listed 355. If you really believe Ted Washington only weighs 355, you believe Enron will hit $125. (This is what Ken Lay actually predicted in public, while privately cashing out like mad.) Philadelphia lists linebacker Levon Kirkland at 275 pounds; Seattle cut him this summer partly because he stepped onto a scale and proved to be 314 pounds. He's since slimmed to an actual 295 or so.
With all this bulk in the trenches, there's ever less space to run through. Many short-yardage rush attempts resemble freight trains colliding on a dark siding; so many huge bodies pressed into such a small area that the runner can't see daylight from the opposite side of the pile. As NFL players keep getting bigger and bigger -- today Daunte Culpepper, a quarterback, weighs more than the starting linemen in the 1972 Super Bowl -- breathing room at the line of scrimmage will keep getting smaller, rendering running ever less productive. Runs are getting ever less pretty, too, since today's offensive guards are often too oversized to pull well, unlike, say, the 265-pound guard Larry Little, who pulled with such grace and effect for the Dolphins' 1972 perfect-season team. Maybe in the future, field size should be adjusted upward annually, based on linemen girth.
Why are NFL linemen getting so much bigger? Partly, they merely mirror the national trend toward being overweight. According to the WorldWatch Institute, the typical American each day now consumes 682 calories of sugar -- the equivalent of four candy bars. Today the typical American is overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with 65 percent of Americans exceeding the recommended "body-mass index" figure for their height. Fully a third of today's Americans are obese, versus 12 percent in 1960. According to this article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, obesity and weight-related maladies now kill 280,000 Americans annually -- almost seven times as many as die in automobile crashes.
Huge NFL waistlines are also a consequence of the league's strict anti-steroid rule, of which TMQ certainly approves. In major-league baseball, where drug use is now practically mandatory, even the infielders are bulked up, but imagine how sick these guys are going to be (especially their orthopedic degeneration and cancer rates) in 25 years. Because NFL players cannot use steroids, they have turned to the grocery store to gain size. True, better to snarf down tuna fish, steaks and protein shakes in astonishing quantities, as opposed to shooting steroids. And true, it's hard to imagine how the league could start conducting random tests for overeating. But in the NFL, line size has become an arms race, with the offensive and defensive fronts both eating themselves up to record girths. This is making runs between the tackles almost impossible, while reducing potential marketing-to-women income from beefcake photos of shirtless linemen.
In other NFL news, once again the New York Times failed in its quixotic attempt to predict -- wait, stop the presses! Notify the president, put NORAD on alert! Somebody get Madonna off that beach and tell her! A puff of white smoke has risen from The Times building on West 43rd Street. The Times predicted a final of Detroit 23, Chicago 20 and that is how the game ended. A reader celebrates in haiku,
but never, ever, ever,
right. Until today.
-- Bryan Martin Firvida, Washington
Champagne, cigars and bobbleheads are being passed around at the Times sports desk: its long, national nightmare is over. Still, this does leaves the New York Times Final-Score Score at a relatively humble 1-621 since TMQ began tracking. In order to keep the item alive, next week we'll delve into the odds of picking a correct final score solely at random.
Best throwback play: Leading 20-9 in the fourth, Green Bay had first down at the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons' 8. The Packers lined up in a modified wing-T formation, with three running backs. The Persons appeared never to have seen a wing-T, and Ahman Green scooted in untouched for the icing touchdown.
Best junky-looking play: Facing fourth-and-four at the Houston 32, score tied at 17 in the third, the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.0) went for it. A shaggy, junking looking quick hook got the first, and on the next play the Oranges hit a 25-yard touchdown pass and began to pull away. The NFL even celebrated the new Halloween look of the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.0) by making their banners in the official play-by-play account bright orange.
Wow play of the week: Michael Vick's happened-in-a-blur 44-yard run. Was he on impulse engines, or did he engage the warp drive?
Coverage so disguised even the defense didn't know what it was No. 1: Leading 24-13 early in the fourth, San Francisco defenders jumped around like mad to try to confuse Aaron Brooks before the snap. So totally did they bollix themselves that linebacker Julian Peterson ended up man-covering Joe Horn, New Orleans' best receiver, deep. Easy touchdown, and the Saints' comeback was on.
Coverage so disguised even the defense didn't know what it was No. 2: On Pittsburgh's first touchdown against the Horsies, Hines Ward came in motion from right to left across the formation. Indianapolis defenders were jumping around like mad to try to confuse Tommy Maddox before the snap. As Ward reached the left side, Colts DE Chad Bratzke realized there was no one available to cover him, so Bratzke bounded out of his stance and wound up covering Ward deep: 17-yard touchdown catch. Note to Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks -- it's impressive that a lineman noticed a blown coverage scheme, but neither of your safeties noticed, ignoring Ward deep to double Plaxico Burress on the short curl.
Cover-your-eyes play: Offensive linemen are not necessarily moving at random, though often it looks that way. Sometimes their job is to push defenders to certain points to create a passing lane -- an open area through which the quarterback can see his primary receiver. Trailing by three, the Vikings faced third-and-four at the Jersey/B 17. They called a blocking scheme designed to open a passing lane in the middle. The line executed perfectly, and Culpepper had a clear view of Chris Walsh down the middle. Culpepper also had a clear view of the two gentlemen double-covering Walsh. Culpepper threw anyway, interception. Ye gods.
Cover-your-eyes October: A week ago Sunday, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions. This Sunday, they turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions.
Best gift touchdown: Leading by one, New Orleans scored a touchdown on the play after the two-minute warning. But the Saints were flagged for 12 on the field, which would have pushed them back to first-and-goal from the San Francisco 6. Niners coach Steve Mariucci then declined the penalty -- declining a penalty that would have prevented a touchdown! But the Niners had only one timeout. From first-and-goal at the 6 with 1:58 left, the situation after the penalty, New Orleans could have knelt to expend the remaining clock. By handing the Saints the touchdown, Mariucci kept alive a chance that San Francisco could get a last-second score and two-point conversion to force overtime -- and the ploy might have worked had San Francisco not been called for tripping on the kickoff, stranding the Niners at their 9. As for New Orleans, the Saints would have been better off penalized -- the penalty would have created an extra snap for New Orleans, which was all it needed to bury the clock. But there's no way a team can insist a penalty be enforced against it.
Matt Murphy: Tuesday Morning Quarterback Player of the Week: Trailing by three with the ball at the Chicago goal line, five seconds remaining and no time out, the Lions inexplicably decided to try one more pass. You're crazy! What if there's a sack or the ball is downed in play, you'll never get the field goal off! Sure enough: snap, sack, game over.
But wait -- rookie tight end Matt Murphy of Detroit jumped offsides. As motion against the offense is a dead-ball foul and negates the play, the Lions were marched backward 5 yards and awarded one more down. The field goal hit, and Detroit went on to win in overtime. The Bears would have been better off declining the penalty, but there's no way a defensive team can insist it does not want a dead-ball foul against the offense enforced. Murphy finished the game with no catches, no carries, not even a special-teams tackle, and is the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Player of the Week.
This Bud's not for you: Under tackle after a short pass early in the game, former beer-truck driver Michael Lewis of the Saints tried to lateral to an offensive lineman. Fumble, San Francisco recovers.
Worst calls radioed in: Trailing by 10 on the first possession of the fourth quarter, Jax faced fourth-and-seven at the Baltimore 24. A 41-yard field goal attempt, right? The Jaguars went for it, incomplete, and ultimately lost by seven. True, novice kicker Hayden Epstein had missed from 39 earlier. But if insult-spewing Tom Coughlin, the league's worst-sport coach, doesn't think Hayden can hit a 41-yarder, what is this gentleman doing on an NFL roster? Trailing by three, the insult-spewing Coughlin also ordered a punt from the Baltimore 31 because he didn't think Epstein could hit a 48-yarder. The ball rolled into the end zone for a touchback and a net of 11 yards.
Best blocks of the week: Guard Randy Thomas, on the trap pull, and fullback Jerald Sowell, leading to the hole, absolutely pasted their men as Curtis Martin waltzed in from 5 yards out to turn the Jersey/B-Vikings game into a runaway. The entire Niners OL also had great blocking on Garrison Hearst's 8-yard touchdown run. Heading straight up the middle, Hearst wasn't touched till he reached the 3.
Stop me before I blitz again! Leading by seven with 2:27 remaining, Kansas City had Denver facing fourth-and-six at the Chiefs' 29. Since the average NFL pass attempt yields 5.9 yards, all the Chiefs had to do was play straight defense and the odds favored a stop, if by a 10th of a yard. Instead, it's a blitz! Note to Greg Robinson, defensive coordinator of the Chiefs -- a blitz in this situation is so predictable! Completion for the first down, of course. The Broncos score six plays later and force overtime.
In overtime, it's Denver facing third-and-seven, again at the Kansas City 29. Since the average NFL pass attempt yields 5.9 yards ... anyway, it's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross the line, Rod Smith is singled on a cornerback deep and beats him, corner Eric Warfield grabs to prevent the catch. After the walkoff for pass interference, it's a short field goal for the Denver win. Note to Greg Robinson, a blitz in that situation is so predictable.
Note to outraged fans of the blitz: Yes, it sometimes works, such as the Eagles blitz that caused the clinching interception against the Bucs, or the Colts blitz that caused Maddox to throw an interception just before halftime Monday night. But chart the tactic, and you are likely to find that the blitz backfires more often than it works.
Speaking of Greg Robinson ? Against Robinson's charges, Shannon Sharpe set an NFL single-game record for tight ends with 12 receptions for 214 yards. The outing included a 82-yard touchdown, a 28-yard touchdown and a 26-yard snag. Not only were all three big catches simple "up" routes on which Sharpe sprinted straight down the center of the defense, ignored; on all three big catches, no one jammed Sharpe. What happens to any tight end trying to get off the line? A linebacker jams him. Sharpe was torching the Chiefs, yet no Chiefs coach ordered that Sharpe be jammed, and no Chiefs player took it upon himself. Ye gods.
It helps to know what you're doing: Early this year in the Mouflons-Bucs game, Kurt Warner's two fourth-quarter killer interceptions came when rookie Lamar Gordon, subbing for Marshall Faulk, ran the short curl pattern over the tackle that St. Louis loves -- but never looked back for the ball. Sunday against the Hawks, the first St. Louis touchdown was the short curl pattern over the tackle to Faulk, six points.
Message from the football gods: Emmitt Smith needs 92 yards to eclipse Sweetness for the all-time rushing record, and Sunday the Cowboys will line up against Seattle, which sports the worst run defense in the league. The game is at the stadium with the big blue star; following that, the 'Boys are on the road two straight. TMQ has consulted the football gods, and they have foreseen that the record will be surpassed in front of the Dallas home crowd. TMQ prophesies that the transfer of history will take place by 3 p.m. Eastern.
Stat of the week: Marshall Faulk (235 yards) and Shannon Sharpe (214 yards) outgained two entire teams, Tampa Bay (207 yards) and Carolina (205 yards).
Stat of the week No. 2: In the seven Kansas City games so far, a total of 469 points have been scored -- almost as many as the 568 points scored in last year's entire Baltimore Ravens season.
Stat of the week No. 3: Marty Schottenheimer is on a 14-4 coaching streak -- during which he has been fired.
Stat of the week No. 5: Rich Gannon is on a pace to throw for an NFL-record 5,461 yards. And if he doesn't, the mark looks safe, as Drew Bledsoe has slipped to a pace for 5,028 yards. (The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards.)
Stat of the week No. 6: If every pass you throw clangs to the ground incomplete, your number is 39.6 under the NFL passer rating system. On Sunday, Ray Lucas achieved a rating of 26.3.
Stat of the week No. 7: The Bills recorded their first interception since 2001.
Cheerleader of the Week: On the critical public-policy issue of who has the hottest cheerleaders, Tuesday Morning Quarterback believes the Broncos, Dolphins and Raiders lead the pack. (Though the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders lingerie calendar puts this squad on the map -- we'll get to Eagle cheer-babes soon.) This week's TMQ ESPN.com Cheerleader of the Week, from the Dolphins, is Paula. According to her team bio, Paula is Brazilian, a student, and her goal is to be a professional dancer. Paula likes yellow Audis, and she says her worst habit is, "Being trusting and gullible." So, Paula, I promise I can get you an exciting career as a professional dancer, if you will agree to meet me at the couples massage suite of the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. Trust me!
Gawking paradise: you can collect Dolphins cheerleaders "video trading cards." Be sure to click "flip," which turns over the card for a swimsuit photo.
Sominex presents the NFL Game of the Week: Arizona 9, Dallas 6 ... in overtime.
Scoring mystery of the week: Julius Peppers deflected a Michael Vick pass, which spiraled around and was caught by Falcons tackle Todd Weiner 12 yards behind the line. Weiner lateraled back to Vick, who ran for a net of 16 yards. Yet the official NFL Game Book scores this play as a 28-yard pass reception by Vick.
First, Vick didn't gain 28 yards, he gained 16 yards. When a screen receiver catches the ball 5 yards behind the line and ends up 5 yards downfield, he is not credited with a 10-yard reception. Second, Michael Vick did not catch the pass. Weiner caught the pass. Weirdly, Weiner is credited with a reception for negative 12 yards -- how could Weiner lose yards when he was never tackled or downed! -- while Vick's line in the Game Book says "zero receptions for 28 yards."
Best replay: Two weeks ago against Jax, Todd Pinkston of the Eagles dropped the ball in the end zone on a right-sideline fly pattern. Looking at game film, the Buccaneers appear to have said, "There's one play we don't have to worry about." On Sunday, 42-yard right sideline fly pattern to Pinkston for the touchdown.
Miss Universe update: Apropos the many Miss Universe items, reader Amy Yu of Karlsruhe, Germany, reports that the original 2002 Miss Germany, Katrin Wrobel, resigned in protest over a clause in the pageant contract that prohibits the winner from posing nude. This is the kind of principled protest movement that thousands of guys worldwide could get behind! Read about Katrin's dramatic blow for freedom here. Check out Katrin on her personal site. Regrettably, the photos she posts of herself are tasteful. Katrin, where's the follow-through?
Apropos of the all-important Miss Universe swimsuit pictures, a reader from Uruguay haikuizes,
TMQ fan club
tends toward vanilla tastes.
Try Miss Curacao!
-- Sergio, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Reader Haiku: Eira Rojas of Miami Beach offers a triptych on the ongoing controversy regarding whether TMQ should run beefcake as well as cheesecake. Gary Hart's refers to the 1948 perfect season of the Calgary Stampeders. And Mark Rose of Seattle points out that 1948 was a very good year -- the Browns of the old AAFC also went undefeated.
agrees with TMQ. Don't
add male cheerleaders
Forego men with pep;
quarterbacks are so darned hot.
Gimme Brett, Kurt, Rich.
Can't do topless babes
on Disney-owned site? How 'bout
shirtless QBs then?
-- Eira Rojas, Miami Beach
commercial. Exciting game
slows to a snail's pace.
-- Tom M., Washington, D.C.
New Seahawk unis --
where have I seen that color?
Blue Man Group plays ball!
-- Ryan Horsfall, Sacramento
About those beer ads:
Forget the unreal parties,
who drives those drunks home?
-- Kate Goetz, Pittsburgh
Handoff to Ron Dayne,
once again he goes nowhere.
They call this offense?
-- Kevin Koffenberger, Timonium, Md.
CFL counts too!
Perfect Stamps of '48,
Champagne is on ice.
-- Gary Hart, Toronto
Trapped in Ireland,
so I must read TMQ
for both sports AND news.
-- George Chaplin, Dublin
links entertain. His work? Nah.
Must have an intern.
-- John Trenholme, Kingston, Ontario
George! Pick up the Irish Times at any newsstand! It's even in English, mostly. And Ryan Horsfall, thanks for creating a new TMQ cognomen. To this column, Paul Allen's team will henceforth be the Seattle Blue Men Group. Maybe they will start painting their faces!
As for John Trenholme's speculation, sadly, TMQ is a one-man show, though the ESPN.com art department finds the photos. I have no intern, and certainly would be interested in one with Monica-like devotion to duty. Please send résumé and swimsuit photo.
This Week's "Star Trek" complaint: The cute little doggie Porthos contracts an extraterrestrial disease while accompanying Archer to a meeting with some aliens on their homeworld, and the episode turns on scenes of the cute little doggie lying in sick bay. Archer fumes that the aliens failed to anticipate his beagle's vulnerability to their pathogens, even though he transmitted the dog's DNA sequence before the visit.
What good was the dog's DNA sequence supposed to do? They're aliens, they don't know anything about canine biology. More importantly, why is a dog going along on an important meeting with space aliens? It's ridiculous enough that in all "Star Trek" serials, the captain constantly assigns himself or herself to lead various dangerous missions away from the ship. The captains of aircraft carriers do not lead landing parties, TMQ assures you. Set that aside. Now a dog is part of the Enterprise away team. Aye, caramba!
Compensating virtue of the episode: we did get to see T'Pol, the Vulcan mega-babe, and cute Ensign Sato strip to underwear in the "decontamination chamber," then slowly rub themselves with a decontamination medium that looked suspiciously like massage oil. But TMQ wonders, if the purpose of this scene was medical, why were T'Pol and Hoshi still clad in underpants and scanty tank-tops. Wouldn't they have had to decontaminate their entire bodies?
The Sacajawea defense (Coins, think about it): Late in the second quarter at Your Trademark Here Stadium in Miami, the Dolphins faced third-and-seven. Since the average NFL pass attempt yields 5.9 yards ... anyway, it's a blitz! Completion, first down. Later in the drive, the Dolphins faced third-and-10. It's a ... wait, Buffalo rushed just two. Ray Lucas was so flustered he threw underneath to a safety valve receiver, and the Marine Mammals punted.
Federal judge predicts Super Bowl! Frank Easterbrook, Official Brother of TMQ and a federal judge on Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- whose "filing tips" guidelines warn lawyers not to submit briefs longer than 14,000 words, and to check the count-footnotes box if word-counting using Microsoft Word -- has conducted an incredibly scientifically advanced analysis of the relationship between performance and appearing on national television.
The below chart shows currently scheduled nationally televised night or doubleheader-slot games per NFL team, followed by the combined winning percentage of the teams in that rank. (Disclaimers: doubleheader schedules may change later in the season, and the lead-announcer 1 p.m. selection for CBS and Fox is not included as the lead 1 p.m. contest generally shows in less than half the country.) For example, San Francisco and Denver are each scheduled for 10 national TV appearances and are playing a combined .692; St. Louis and Oakland are each scheduled for nine national TV appearances and are playing a combined .461; and so on. The chart:
10: San Francisco (4-2), Denver (5-2) = .692
9: St. Louis (2-5), Oakland (4-2) = .461
8: New England (3-3) = .500
7: No team with seven scheduled appearances.
6: Green Bay (6-1), Philadelphia (4-2), Potomac Drainage Basin (2-4) = .631
5: Chicago (2-4), Miami (5-2), Jersey/B (2-4) = .473
4: Jersey/A (3-3), Tampa (5-2), Pittsburgh (3-3) = .579
3: Minnesota (1-5), Dallas (3-4), Seattle (1-5), Indianapolis (4-2) = .360
2: Arizona (4-2), Baltimore (3-3), Tennessee (2-4) = .500
1: Detroit (2-4), New Orleans (6-1), Atlanta (3-3), Cleveland (3-4),
Cincinnati (0-6), Jacksonville (3-3), Houston (1-5), Kansas City
(3-4), San Diego (6-1) = .465
0: Carolina (3-4), Buffalo (4-3) = .500
Official Brother Frank notes that for each of the last three seasons, the eventual Super Bowl winner was a team (the Rams, then Ravens, then Patriots) downplayed by the league in terms of national television exposure. This year San Diego and New Orleans stand out on that basis, both 6-1 yet scheduled for just one national television appearance. Based on this incredibly scientifically advanced insight, the Official Brother picks the Saints to meet the Bolts in the Super Bowl.
We're all professionals here: The Dallas-Arizona snorefest went into overtime after the clubs combined to miss three field goal attempts in the final 3:28.
Great moments in management No. 1: After giving up 218 yards rushing to the Rams and falling to 1-5, the Emmitt-friendly Seahawks are last in the league in run defense. Bear in mind that Guru Genius coach/general manager Mike Holmgren cut Sam Adams and Levon Kirkland, the team's two best run defenders.
Great moments in management No. 2: Detroit won despite the distraction of Matt Millen -- whose actual title is president and chief executive officer -- saying one of his own players was a "devout coward." Bear in mind that Millen, who had no management experience before starting at the top with the Lions, in 2000 inherited a team that had just gone 9-7 and missed the playoffs only by virtue of an improbable 54-yard field goal on the final play of the final game. Millen immediately declared that he would make his mark by cleaning house, firing the coach and releasing players left and right. Since this canny decision, Detroit has gone 4-18 and become the punchline of bad-team jokes.
Point one: Maybe this same canny personnel judgment is one reason the Ford family, owner of the Lions and effective owners of Ford Motors, is running both into the ground. Point two: To show his total commitment to the job, Millen refused to move to Detroit. He lives in Pennsylvania, air-commutes, and is unavailable on some working days.
On the plus side, they were nice punts: NFL Game Book drive chart entries under "how ended" for Miami's final seven possessions Sunday:
On the plus side, they've played six and Spurrier hasn't been fired yet: "It's frustrating, but I can't get all mad every week" -- Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) on the latest loss by the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. But Dobby, your evil master Lord Voldemort (Dan Synder) gets all mad every week! Lord Voldemort got all mad at Marty Schottenheimer when he didn't win the Super Bowl despite having one entire season to work with. Since being cashiered by Voldemort, Schottenheimer has gone 6-1.
Dobby note: Spurrier has already ordered his third quarterback change. Now, that's sure to establish consistency and confidence. Dick LeBeau at Cincinnati and Bobby Ross at Detroit come to mind as other recent coaches who couldn't make up their minds about starting QBs, and you can see how well this worked out for them.
NFL takes anti-globalization stand: Following the Terrell Owens "Have Sharpie, Will Travel" incident -- which TMQ thought was fun -- the league announced that henceforth players will be fined for "foreign objects" on their person. What, you can't have something from France? And the NFL front office needs to realize that, if enforced, this would compel players to trot out half-naked, as much of what they wear is manufactured in China. Possibly half-naked players will expand the league's appeal to the female demographic, so long as they aren't offensive linemen.
Pure-class play of the day: In the closing seconds of a 23-10 game, Buffalo linebacker Eddie Robinson intercepted beleaguered Marine Mammals quarterback Ray Lucas. Robinson ran the ball back to the Miami 18 and then stepped out of bounds, though he had blockers and a path to six. The 11-year veteran said afterward he didn't want to embarrass his opponent. Huh? What? Tapes of this should be sent to Randy Moss, Owens, "Dobby" Spurrier, etc.
TMQ insider exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Cowboys tackle Flozell Adams has tested positive for Count Chocula. "Levels in his bloodstream were incredibly high," sources told TMQ. Adams is believed to be "mainlining" Count Chocula by eating directly from the box, without milk. League investigators plan to subpoena his grocery-store receipts. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.
Running Items Department
Obscure College Score of the Week: Bemidji State 37, Southwestern of Minnesota 0. With a lovely lakeside campus in Minnesota, Bemidji State is so marketing-oriented you can't even access its FAQs page without filling out a six-screen questionnaire that demands your Social Security number, address, and home telephone, the latter surely to be used to harass your parents with telemarketing. It also demands your birthdate -- TMQ had to answer 1977, the lowest value the screen would accept, though not exactly precisely correct in my case. You even have to fill in extensive information about your personal interests. TMQ selected Bahai Club and the Lutheran Campus Ministry, which the Bemidji State computer did not seem to find an odd mix. (After all, it already had my Social Security number and home phone, which is what it really wanted.) Once I was finally in, I discovered the FAQs area held such super-sensitive information as, "Is there a place where I can learn to skateboard or snowboard on or near campus?" Sorry, TMQ can't tell you the answer unless you send your Social Security number and home phone.
Bonus Obscure Score: Walsh 55, Taylor 0. Established in 1958 by the Brothers of Christian Instruction, Walsh showed no mercy as it ran up the score.
Double Bonus Obscure Score: Mary Hardin 42, Howard Payne 17. One single woman beat one single man! But at what, tennis?
TMQ Obscure College Game of the Year: It was Indiana of Pennsylvania 20, California of Pennsylvania 9 in steady rain before 2,577 people at George P. Miller Stadium in Indiana, Pa., in the incredible Tuesday Morning Quarterback Obscure College Game of the Year. Click here for the line score. Elice Parker -- he's a guy, TMQ is reasonably sure -- scored all three touchdowns for the Indiana of Pennsylvania Indians, whose symbol is a bear, as the team advanced to 7-1. (IUP alum and honorary mega-babe Lori Smith, who attended the incredible Tuesday Morning Quarterback Obscure College Game of the Year, suggests the school solve the problem by changing its byname to the Indianans.) The California of Pennsylvania Vulcans showed no emotions in defeat.
Little college tidbit of the week: Oberlin, which is on an 8-117 streak, defeated Kenyon by a final of 56-17. This raises two questions: First, did the famously ill-tempered female students of Oberlin play in this game? That's pretty much the only way TMQ can imagine college football's worst-ever team winning by 39 points. Second, how bad is Kenyon?
Big college tidbit of the week: Alabama, on probation by the NCAA, plays at Hawaii in November. Tide fans have booked many excursion trips to the island game and printed T-shirts that read, To heck with the NCAA, we're going to Hawaii to get lei-ed. Alabama newspapers are now engaged in earnest debate about whether they can print the slogan. TMQ adds, since this is Alabama fans we are talking about, all that's going to happen is wearing leis around the neck, trust me.
Reader animadversion: On the continuing debate regarding 23rd century Vulcan technological development, TMQ asserted that the Vulcans acquiring a Federation-designed starship would be "kind of like Pakistan buying our F16s." Reader Faraz Ahmed of Silver Spring, Md., notes a crucial difference: At least the Vulcans took delivery of their starship.
Pakistan has one wing of F16s. In the late 1980s, Islamabad paid the United States for an additional wing of F16s but never received them, owing to congressional unhappiness with Pakistan's atomic program. People are even unhappier with Islamabad this week, owing to reports that it traded atomic secrets to North Korea for missiles. Pretty bad, if true. But if you were a poor nation wedged among three nuclear powers -- Russia, China and India -- wouldn't you feel your national security required a missile deterrent?
Even after Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf sided with the United States in the war against al Qaeda, placing his own body and the stability of his country at considerable risk, Washington has refused to authorize additional F16s for Pakistan, or to lift trade barriers against Pakistani textiles. America is not exactly sagging under the weight of its Islamic-nation allies. Pakistan is one: Why is it that we treat the Vulcans better than our Pakistani friends? Lamenting in haiku,
Vulcans received ships
while Pakistan still awaits
paid shipment of jets.
-- Faraz Ahmed, Silver Spring, Md.
Currently, 28 F16s for which Pakistan years ago paid $685 million are in storage in Arizona at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, the Air Force's "Boneyard." Read the sad saga of the grounded fighters. The United States tried unsuccessfully to resell the planes to Indonesia and then the Philippines, after painting them with USAF designations, presumably so Filipino buying agents would not ask, "Hey, guys, how come this F16 says 'Property of Pakistan' on the side?" Islamabad's money has been returned, though without interest. If you'd like to bid on the planes, please contact the Cost Overruns Division at the Department of Defense.
Check out the official government website of the Islamic Republican of Pakistan. Check current Pakistani weather conditions here
Planning an exotic vacation? TMQ recommends the Hunza region in the Pakistan Himalayas, a high-altitude valley that was the inspiration for "Lost Horizon." You fly to Gilgit on a Fokker prop plane that feels 1930s-vintage, seeming to float amidst the Himalayas at 26,000 feet. You then spend hours in a Jeep climbing toward China on the one-lane Karakoram Highway, a Himalayan mountain road blasted out of sheer rock; it has no shoulders and a 5,000-drop to certain doom at many switchbacks. Oh, and there are "dacoits" -- bandits -- along the highway, so bring a bodyguard! TMQ and Nan Kennelly, Official Wife of TMQ, traveled the Hunza Valley around a decade ago. The region receives perhaps a few hundred Western visitors per year. At the only hotel in Karimabad, we bumped into someone we knew.
A reader asks in haiku,
Rams are called "Mouflons"
I have no clue why this is.
Tell me, TMQ.
-- Daniel Burke, Notre Dame, Ind.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback had been planning to nickname the St. Louis franchise the Lakers, in a nod to its L.A. origins and Kurt Warner's high-scoring ways. When these gentlemen stumbled out of the gate, they were instead nicknamed the Mouflons. A mouflon is a wild European sheep, Ovis musimon, indigenous to Sardinia and "having large curving horns in the male," according to the Columbia Encyclopedia -- just like Rams helmets. Should the St. Louis franchise begin to play less sheeplike, its cognomen may change.
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TMQ Challenge: Last week's Challenge noted that Bruce Smith has entered twilight, and asked readers to name the best-ever defensive end: Was it Reggie, Bruce, Deacon Jones or someone else? TMQ received 58 pages, single-spaced, of replies. I didn't even try to count them, and must admit could not read every one. Another reason I need a babe intern with Monica-like devotion to duty!
Many readers suggested Lawrence Taylor, an entry TMQ disqualified on the super-hyper-technical grounds that Taylor was not a defensive end. TMQ believes Taylor does not belong in Canton either: though great on-field, his off-field activities crossed the line of injurious to the sport. His runaway ego is also insufferable. Moments after his Canton induction ceremony, Taylor denounced the sports press corps -- the very persons who had just voted him into the Hall of Fame, as sportswriters make the selection. Taylor is an egotistical, mean-spirited man without a milligram of class. I suppose I'd want him on my team, but I sure wouldn't want him in my home.
Luther Miller of Timonium, Md. -- what are the odds of two comments from Timonium, Md., in the same column? -- said Gino Marchetti, for his combination of prowess and best hamburger chain ever established by a defensive end.
Jeffrey Staggs of Baltimore nominated Norm Willey of the Eagles, who on Oct. 26, 1952, recorded 17 sacks in a single game. Sacks were an unofficial stat then -- tackles behind the line on running plays tended to get mixed in -- but Staggs sees this as the equivalent of Wilt's 100-point night. The official record is seven sacks in one game, held by the late Derrick Thomas.
Chris Begley of Vancouver, British Columbia, voted for James "Quick" Parker of the CFL, whose 26.5-sack year exceeds Michael Strahan's Favre-flop-aided "record," and who led his team to four Grey Cups. A reader notes in haiku of Strahan,
Michael Strahan must
be the best DE ever;
you just need ask him!
-- Chad Jackson, Savannah, Ga.
Andrew Rush of Albany, N.Y., proposed that "The best defensive end of all time is easily William Jefferson Clinton. Not only did he have to defend himself from hundreds of screaming Republicans and thousands of screaming citizens, he had to defend himself against Hillary."
Noting that last week's Challenge specified "Howie Long not eligible to submit entry," a reader commented in haiku,
Howie can't enter
as best end ever. Maybe
Teri will write in.
-- Mike Limrick, Indianapolis
Reader C. Crincoli of Seattle proposes Mark Gastineau, whose career, Crincoli notes, was sacked by his Delilah, the once-renowned once-mega-babe model Brigitte Nielsen. TMQ does not believe Gastineau belongs with the other elite players here. He is mentioned solely to create a cheap excuse for the ESPN.com art department to append a dated cheesecake photo of Nielsen.
Another reader haikuized,
Lee Roy Selmon, since
enshrined at Canton, OH.,
despite John McKay.
-- J.V. Colvin, Orlando, Fla.
Eric Nungesser of New Orleans casts his lot with Alan Page, noting he was the sole defensive performer to win the MVP award. Several readers voted for Charles Haley, only gentleman ever to wear five Super Bowl rings.
Which leaves us with Reggie, Bruce and Deacon Jones.
Many voted for Jones, whose career sack total is disputed, owing to the official sack having been instituted midway through his career. Probably the figure is 173.5, which would put Jones third all time. A reader notes,
Must be the Deacon:
the NFL invented
the sack stat for him.
-- Anderson Coppack, Vista, Calif.
Reader Joseph Finn of Chicago notes that Jones was a man of courage, since he appeared on "The Brady Bunch." Reader Chad Owen of Louisville, Ky., notes that Jones was a man of seriously misplaced priorities, since he told an interviewer, "To me, a sack was better than sex." But seriously misplaced priorities are behind many great athletes! TMQ believes there were times when Deacon was pure disruption like no other. But it's hard to be sure how much was him and how much the other members of the Fearsome Foursome -- Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. Being on the Fearsome Foursome meant Jones was rarely double-teamed, while his fellow DLs amassed an amazing 18 total Pro Bowl appearances, meaning Jones had more help than any other great DE.
Next comes Bruce. Vincent Girardi of Buffalo, N.Y., notes that Smith played most of his career in the 3-4, a defensive scheme where ends are supposed to hold territory while linebackers make sacks. "See if you can name one Steeler DE over the past 15 years," Girardi proposed: Pittsburgh, a 3-4 club, has produced many star LBs supported by anonymous ends. Girardi continues, "The top sack-artists of all time are all either 4-3 ends like Reggie or Chris Doleman, or 3-4 linebackers like L.T., Derrick Thomas or Kevin Greene." Matt Drabczyk of Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., adds that Bruce was better against the run than given credit for -- a DE must play the run in the 3-4 set, while a 4-3 DE can be a glory boy. For instance, in the 1991 Super Bowl, Smith dropped O.J. Anderson for a loss on fourth-and-one; Smith once caught and dropped Barry Sanders in the end zone for a safety, one of the best athletic plays TMQ has ever seen.
Reader Jim Bonsignore nominates Smith because he starred in one of the coolest-ever sports ads, the "baaadd things, man" commercial with Dennis Hopper. In haiku,
Bruce Smith is the best,
just go ask Dennis Hopper.
Verdict: Baaadd things, man.
-- Jim Bonsignore, Oakville, Conn.
TMQ would add that Smith attained his level of disruptiveness without great DL mates. In 15 years at Buffalo, Smith saw just one Pro Bowl appearance by a fellow on the defensive line, Fred Smerlas. The combination of a 3-4 front and lack of top linemates meant Smith was double-teamed more, TMQ thinks, than any defender in NFL history. (Many pass rushers claim, "I'm always double teamed," just like receivers claim "I'm always open" -- watch tape, actual double-teams are fairly rare because they leave the rest of the offense outnumbered.) Downside argument: Smith had four Super Bowl chances and came up big only once, against the Giants.
Now to the Minister of Defense. Three readers laud him in haiku,
Best end was Reggie.
Twenty-one sacks in 12 games,
Won't happen again.
-- Tony D'Alonzo, North Wales, Pa.
Minister of D:
He created the swim move.
The best end ever
-- Jonathan Storfer, Bedford Hills, N.Y.
never to a store he goes,
already has sacks.
-- Kraig Krueger, Plum City, Wis.
White's swim and also his "rip" move had no peers. Owing to size and strength, he was the best of the big three against the run, and of course Reggie is No. 1 all time in sacks, his mark likely safe from the fading Smith. Reggie wears a ring; he had two Super Bowl chances and made both memorable. Even some of his goofy political views must be given a grain of notice. For example, Reggie got in trouble for saying that slavery was worse than the persecution of American Indians because the latter were defeated in war, whereas the former were enslaved, and society generally recognizes the results of wars (otherwise the United States couldn't own the United States), whereas slavery is now universally considered invalid. Reggie made this position sound anti-Indian, but there's a weird honesty to it.
White may well have been best ever. His downside: The majority of his sacks were piled up playing with fabulous teammates. The Eagles line of White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons and Mike Pitts might have surpassed the Fearsome Foursome as best ever. This meant Reggie had great support, and really wasn't double-teamed much till the late phase of his career. Of course, being great, he still brought it even when doubled.
It's the double-teaming factor that makes TMQ side with Bruce Smith as best-ever. He accomplished about the same as Reggie or Deacon, while playing with significantly less-potent linemates. TMQ would guess that Bruce has faced two blockers on at least half the downs of his career, whereas for Deacon and Reggie, it was perhaps a quarter of their downs. Fighting through more guys, with less help from linemates, makes Bruce best ever, and the Challenge goes to Vincent Girardi.
This week's Challenge: Now that we've settled best-ever DE, the question of best-ever running back will come up if Emmitt passes Walter Payton. So who was best ever -- Emmitt, Sweetness, Jim Brown or some less-lauded gentleman? Present your clever reasoning here. (Muppets and gentlemen whose password is "Catch-22" not eligible to submit entries.) Be sure to include your e-mail address in the unlikely event your submission is chosen.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.