By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

The Rams were nobodies, then a Super Bowl juggernaut, then lost five straight and now have won four straight. Former powerhouse Dallas is down in the cellar with the rutabagas and pickled beets, while former nobody New Orleans is drinking comped champagne in the high-rollers suite. And can you believe 15 of 32 NFL teams are one game above or below .500? An entire division, the AFC East, is one game above or below .500. Once again sportswriters, fans and bobbleheads across the nation are complaining that all this is the result of an insidious outburst of parity.

There's one problem -- parity is a myth. Maybe that's why so many people believe in it!

First, parity is claimed to result from "strength" pairing, a Pete Rozelle idea of the 1980s. Under this system, at the end of each season, weak teams are slated against weak teams for the following year, and strong teams against strong. Parity mythologists claim this pushes all outcomes toward .500.

But from the inception of Rozelle's plan through 2001, only four to five games of 16 were determined by strength pairing; the rest were dictated by division and conference formulas. That meant, at most, 30 percent of outcomes could be parity-related. Beginning this season and continuing indefinitely, NFL realignment dictates that 14 of 16 games be determined by formula and only two by strength pairing. The new formulas mean a mere 12 percent of the schedule can be influenced by league attempts to match poor teams with poor teams and strong with strong. Twelve percent is a pretty weak effect.

Want to know who the Raiders will play in the year 2008? The league's computer has already decided: their division home-and-home plus New England, Jersey/B, Atlanta and Carolina at home and Miami, New Orleans, Buffalo and Tampa on the road. Only two slots available to strength-schedule. Want to know who the Vikings play in 2009? The front-office computer has already decided: their division, plus the Niners, Seahawks, Ravens and Bengals at home and the Cardinals, Rams, Browns and Steelers on the road. Only two games left to strength-schedule.

Next, consider that the teams the league calls weak or strong in offseason scheduling may not be so once play begins. Last offseason, the Chargers were labeled a weak team for pairing purposes, and the Bears a strong team; now their positions are reversed, wiping out any parity-inducing effect.

Next, it's claimed that free agency, almost a decade old, means so much player shuffling that teams undergo wild swings of ability to win. TMQ hates the shuffling effect -- it's an outrage that Jerry Rice is not finishing his career in San Francisco, or Bruce Smith in Buffalo -- but statistically, free agency simply hasn't altered victory continuity as much as people think. Ups and downs in the standings are little different today than they were before free agency.

In 2001, only 41 percent of playoff teams repeated from the previous year. This is said to represent incredible upheaval, but how does it compare with the past? Step back two decades to 1981, supposedly the golden age of continuity. That year, 40 percent of playoff clubs repeated from the previous season. Variation in who makes the playoffs is not a recent parity-driven development. It is the NFL norm.

Now let's look at the muddled middle, with 47 percent of teams currently within one game of .500. Step back two decades to the golden era of 1983 (1982 was a strike season) and a higher number, 54 percent of teams, finished in the middle. Lots of teams fluttering around the middle is not a parity development. It, too, is the NFL norm.

Fluttering around the middle is also the norm in other sports. In major-league baseball, finishing 11 games above or below .500 is the same as one above or below in the NFL -- and last season, 40 percent of MLB teams finished in the muddled middle. In pro basketball, finishing six games above or below .500 is the same as one above or below in the NFL -- and last season 40 percent of NBA teams finished in the muddled middle. The middle, after all, dominates most statistics.

Drew Brees
Schedule strength pairing has little to do with the improvement of Drew Brees' Chargers this season.

As for complaints about paucity of dynasty clubs -- the Packers of the 1960s, Steelers of the 1970s, Niners of the 1980s and Cowboys of the 1990s -- these teams straddled all financial and scheduling trends. Occurring at the rate of roughly one per decade, true dynasties are sufficiently atypical that the current absence of a dynastic franchise means nothing.

Why sports nuts and bobbleheads complain about the supposed parity effect is a mystery to TMQ, since to the extent strength-pairing has any effect, it is to keep games competitive, by reducing the frequency of elite teams beating up on perennial losers. But overall, parity is a myth. With the reduction to two of annual strength-of-schedule pairings, the parity myth is over.

In other NFL news, the rash of fines for nasty hits may reflect bad intent or may simply reflect the ever-increasing speed of NFL athletes. But Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks it has one other impact: Monster hits are causing the epidemic of bad tackling.

Why? Defenders, especially safeties, are hurtling themselves madly at ballcarriers, hoping for the monster hit that will garner them a tough-guy rep, a bigger contract and a highlight-clip moment on "SportsCenter." But when you're playing for the big lay-out, often you fail to get the tackle. Many times this season, TMQ has seen safeties go flying harmlessly past ballcarriers in failed attempts to make a monster hit, when simply wrapping up would have led to a regular tackle. The reward structure for defenders has become perverse: Fans remember the big hits but not the clumsy misses in situations when a regular wrap-up tackle was called for. Until fans and sportscasters start praising the standard, good-form tackle and stop obsessing over the occasional big hit, NFL tackling fundamentals will keep declining.

Sweet Play of the Day No. 1: Leading 13-6 in the third, the plodding Chicago Bears took possession at the Patriots' 44. End around to receiver Marty Booker, who threw a perfect touchdown strike to fellow wide-out Marcus Robinson. The play made Booker the fourth Bear to attempt a pass in the game.

Sweet Play of the Day No. 2: Facing third-and-one on the Chiefs' 6, game tied at 10, San Francisco faked up the middle, then Jeff Garcia quick-flipped a backhand lateral to Kevan Barlow, who ran for the winning points as Kansas City had no idea where the ball was.

Best 95-Yard Drive: The Saints' field-length drive for the winning touchdown against Carolina, with 37 seconds left, consisted of eight pass attempts and three Aaron Brooks runs, meaning Brooks carried the load on every play. TMQ doesn't like this approach, not even if the quarterback is a guy named "Brett." But the Panthers seemed to have no clue New Orleans would put it in Brooks' hands to win or lose.

Brett Favre
Brett Favre's so good, he gets his own category.

Guy Named "Brett" Play of the Day: With first-and-goal at the Lions' 5 and trailing 7-3, Favre stepped left, pumped left, then rolled right and tossed to Bubba Franks for an easy six.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 1: Reader Eric Ratinoff of St. Louis wrote in asking why TMQ does not zing the Eagles for backfired blitzes and suggests the lack of anti-Eagles items proves blitz-happy Philadelphia is profiting from this tactic. Eric, be careful what you wish for!

Leading 7-3, Indianapolis faced second-and-13 at its 43. Since the average NFL passing attempt yields 5.9 yards (note to fans of the blitz who write in protesting this stat -- that is the 2001 whole-season average, yes; this year the current average is 6.4 yards per attempt), all Philadelphia needs to do is play straight defense and the odds favor a stop. Instead, it's a blitz! Seven gentlemen cross the line, 57-yard touchdown to Marvin Harrison. Technique note: Peyton Manning pump-faked, and this froze Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent. But Harrison did not run a stop-and-go, he ran a standard "up." This means Vincent was paying no attention whatsoever to his man; rather, he was looking into the backfield to try to guess what Manning would do.

Converse proves the rule: On the Horsies' next possession, they faced third-and-six and called the same play. Philadelphia was in a standard defense and got the stop.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 2: Indianapolis 28, Philadelphia 6, and the Horsies faced second-and-10. Since the average NFL pass attempt yields -- anyway, it's a blitz! Forty-eight-yard completion to Reggie Wayne and the icing touchdown three snaps later. Yes, the blitz sometimes works, and this season the Eagles have profited by it more than any other NFL team. But by TMQ's count, on Sunday, Philadelphia blitzed Indianapolis 11 times on long-yardage downs. Six of the plays were converted for the first down or more, four were stops and only one resulted in a loss of yardage.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 3: Leading 30-19 with three minutes left, Chicago had New England facing third-and-four on the Bears' 36. It's a blitz! Seven gentlemen cross the line, touchdown lob to Kevin Faulk and the defending champ's improbable last-second comeback is under way.

Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice is one of the best weapons against the blitz.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 4: Trailing 27-10 early in the fourth, the Broncos had the Raiders facing second-and-long on the Denver 34. It's a blitz! Seven Rollerball gentlemen cross the line, touchdown pass to the marvelous Jerry Rice, and TMQ writes the words "game over" in his notebook. True, down by 17, you must take chances. But Denver was in the game until it did exactly what the Raiders wanted by big-blitzing in an obvious blitz situation.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 5: Trailing 7-3, the Moo Cows had the Flaming Thumbtacks facing second-and-10 in the third. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, touchdown pass to Shad Meier, bye-bye upset hopes.

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! No. 6: Trailing 16-7 at the end of the third, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons had Jax facing third-and-long. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen cross, 48-yard completion to Bobby Shaw. The Jaguars scored on the next play, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.

Dobby note: During the game Dobby the Elf (Steve Spurrier) at various times threw his clipboard, his headset and his visor. This isn't going to help, Dobby, unless your evil master Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) can apparate Rutgers as your opponent.

By the Hammer of Grabthar, He Was Avenged! Running back Leon Johnson, who was drummed out of New York City (which, for NFL purposes, is located in New Jersey) when in 1997 he threw an interception at the goal on an option pass in the waning seconds of a season-ending loss that kept Jersey/B out of the playoffs, connected on a perfect 27-yard option-pass gain for the Bears.

Fraidy-Cat Play of the Day No. 1: Reaching the Falcons' 33 with five minutes remaining in overtime at Ketchup Field, the Steelers punted on fourth-and-10 rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal for the win; the game ended in a tie. Yes, Steeler kicker Todd Peterson already had a 48-yard attempt blocked, and yes, Bill Cowher continues to be the Joe Btfsplk of coaches when it comes to placekickers. But you've got to break a few bottles if you want some ketchup on your omelet. Pittsburgh had a shot to win, and passed on the chance. Ye gods.

Fraidy-Cat Play of the Day No. 2: Leading 24-14 at the start of the fourth quarter, San Diego faced fourth-and-10 at the St. Louis 32. The game was being played in the ideal kicking conditions of the Dome at the Center of the Observable Universe; surely the Bolts would try a field goal? It's a punt, downed at the 15 for a laughable net of 17 yards on the exchange. This mincing, fraidy-cat play set the tone for the Mouflons comeback.

Fraidy-Cat Play of the Day No. 3: Trailing 10-0 at the end of the first, Denver faced third-and-two at its own 39. It's got to be a run, right? Pass, incomplete, punt. This mincing play set the tone for the Broncos' evening of half-hearted effort.

Non-Fraidy Play of the Day: Facing fourth-and-three with 54 seconds left, New England called a quarterback sneak for the first. The Patriots then alertly ran a super-fast spike play to stop the clock, spiking the ball before zebras could signal a measurement for the first down, which New England almost certainly did not get.

Dre' Bly, Curtis Conway, Reche Caldwell
After the prevent defense failed, Curtis Conway, left, and Reche Caldwell couldn't prevent Dre' Bly from grabbing the onside kick.

It Only Prevents Punts: Leading 24-14, San Diego had St. Louis pinned at its 6 with 4:58 remaining. Everyone groan in unison: The Bolts shifted into the prevent defense. As the Mouflons marched for the touchdown in seven plays, San Diego had but three defensive linemen on the field the entire possession.

St. Louis recovered the onside, and had the ball at its 46 with three minutes left, needing a touch. Surely the Bolts went back to their regular defense? No, it's still the prevent with three DLs -- remember, this isn't a last-second Hail Mary situation, there are three minutes remaining! San Diego did not finally send its regular defense back into the game until the Mouflons reached first-and-goal in the final minute. In the prevent defense, the Bolts allowed 143 yards on 16 consecutive plays -- an 8.9 yard average per play. The prevent makes sense against the Hail Mary, or when you've got a big lead and the clock is almost dead. To shift into the prevent with five minutes left is nuts unless you're up by 30.

Just to prove the team's poor tactics were no fluke, San Diego worked the ball back to the St. Louis 30 with 18 seconds left and a touchdown still wins it for the Bolts. Drew Brees drops back and pump-fakes for the stop-and-go. Now really! Who is going to fall for a stop-and-go in this situation? Interception, game over.

Worst Defense Snap: Minnesota let Ron Dayne, the Giants' slow back, run 30 yards to the house untouched by human hands.

Best Blocks: Many, including TMQ, have taken potshots at overpaid Falcons tackle Todd Weiner. But, wow, what a block on Warrick Dunn's 59-yard touchdown run on third-and-one; Weiner single-handedly sealed the right side of the line.

Also, the much-criticized Horsies OL shoved Philadelphia around.

The Longest Yard: With 2:27 left and the lead, New England out of time outs, Chicago faced second-and-one, needing only a single yard and the Bears could have knelt to kill the clock. Stuffed. Same situation on third-and-one. Stuffed.

Erin
Personette Erin has the same credentials as the Official Wife of TMQ.

Cheerleader of the Week: TMQ dislikes the offensive official name of the team he calls the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons, and dislikes the official owner, whom he calls Lord Voldemort. But there is something TMQ likes about this organization -- the Personettes, otherwise known as the Redskinettes.

The TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week is Erin, a hot redhead who holds a master's degree in international studies. TMQ very much approves of this combination as the Official Wife of TMQ, Nan Kennelly, is a hot redhead with a master's in international studies. According to her team bio, Erin has taught ballet and jazz dance and currently works for a political consultant. Her hobbies are dancing, running and the violin; she hopes to get her PhD. Unfortunately, Erin says she values "high moral standards," which would pretty much rule out any chance any TMQ reader might have with her.

Stat of the Week: Carolina and Chicago began the season a combined 5-0; these teams have since gone a combined 0-13.

Stat of the Week No. 2: After opening a combined 1-8, St. Louis and Pittsburgh have gone a combined 8-0-1.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Every field goal attempt against the Miami Dolphins this season has been successful.

Stat of the Week No. 4: Pittsburgh tied Atlanta despite advantages of 198 yards of offense, nine more first downs, one more takeaway and 70 fewer penalty yards. San Francisco just barely beat Kansas City despite advantages of eight more first downs, one more takeaway and 17 minutes in time-of-possession.

Stat of the Week No. 5: Chicago could not hold a 21-point third quarter lead at home -- bearing in mind that for NFL purposes, Chicago is located in Champaign, Ill.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Kansas City has a losing record despite outscoring its opponents. Buffalo, Jersey/A and Tennessee have winning records despite being outscored.

Stat of the Week No. 7: Rich Gannon is on a pace to throw for an NFL-record 5,152 yards. And if he doesn't, the mark looks safe, as Drew Bledsoe has slipped to a pace for 4,981 yards. (The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards.)

Stat of the Week No. 8: The Broncos and Raiders combined for 612 yards passing but just 104 yards rushing. The football gods winced.

Mike Myers
Dr. Evil is taking the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons and the points against the Giants this week.

Together, Dr. Evil and I Could Rule the World: Reader Roger Denning of Phoenix has conducted an incredibly scientifically advanced analysis:

    Have you noticed that teams play much better -- and win more often -- in the week after you pick one of their women as Cheerleader of the Week? Setting aside Week 8, in which Miami had a bye following your selection of a Dolphins cheerleader, teams are 6-3 on the Sunday after you feature one of their cheerleaders. And it's not that you just pick babes from winners; those same teams are a combined 32-33 over the rest of the season. Can you control the weather, too?

If NFL teams wish to bribe me to select Cheerleaders of the Week from their squads, a Swiss bank account number can be arranged. It would be money better spent than many of the bonuses teams hand out. Also, individual cheer-babes are welcome to attempt to influence my rigorous selection process!

And Her Ring? The Federal Budget Deficit Just Increased: Middle-aged White House spokesman Ari Fleischer married 26-year-old Rebecca Davis, described in the wedding announcement as a "confidential assistant" at a government agency. So Fleischer is married: What TMQ wants to know is, has he already denied it? And what's a "confidential" assistant: Does this mean no one knows who she works for? Here is an actual excerpt from the wedding transcript:

Rabbi: "And do you, Ari, take this confidential assistant to be your wedded wife?"

Fleischer: "I have no comment at this time."

Rabbi: "Will you love her and cherish her, forsaking all others?"

Fleischer: "That depends on her poll numbers."

Rabbi: "I now pronounce you spokesman and confidential assistant."

Ari Fleischer
Ari Fleischer promised to respect and honor a confidential assistant, at least until they decide on a regime change.

Fleischer: "This is off the record! The marriage license should only say Rebecca married 'a senior administration official.' "

Rabbi: "You may now go on deep background with the bride."

From photographs of the happy couple, TMQ is guessing she married him for his looks and he married her for her access to power. Of equal interest, Ari registered at Target while Rebecca registered at Macy's. They already have the $249.99 Lennox McKinley coffee pot, but still need 10 Waterford Maeve drinking glasses at $75 each. Now's your chance to suck up to powerful insiders!

Skinny Guy Play of the Week: With his team trailing by four and a minute left, Bolts kickoff returner Ronney Jenkins broke into the clear at midfield and had only Mouflons kicker Jeff Wilkins to beat. Wilkins ran him down in the open field. Oh, you do not want to be Ronney Jenkins when it's time to watch game film.

Beefcake -- Run for Your Lives! TMQ has gotten countless requests from female and nontraditional male readers to balance the cheesecake with a little beefcake. Officially, I give in. Here is James S. of the Ravens -- one of the few NFL clubs with cheer stud-muffins. For one week, James S. may hold the temporary designation of TMQ ESPN Ripped Ultra Hunk of the Week.

James S.
James S. will tumble 4 ya.

According to his team bio, James S. likes cute puppy dogs, walks on the beach at sunset, flowers, candlelit dinners and long, serious relationship talks. Not! Well, for all TMQ knows he does like these things, but actually his bio says James S. is a college student who works as a tumbling coach, owns a hamster named Spartacus, listens to 99.1 FM (the alternative station in Baltimore, so he must be cool) and if he could meet anyone from history, would choose Frank Lloyd Wright. Sorry, female and nontraditional male readers, though the Ravens' buff mega-babe cheerleaders are scantily attired, their ripped ultra-hunk cheerleaders always appear fully clothed. As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jimmy Carter once noted, "Life is unfair."

Reader Haiku: Submit yours at the Reader Animadversion link below. Joe Basile's notes that Green Bay cheeseheads are made of foam, not plastic, as was erroneously stated in last week's TMQ. Bill Swayze's notes that two of the year's most boring low-scoring games have involved the Cowboys on the road. Anne Schuette's notes that Bird of Prey originated neither with Boeing nor the Klingons but with Charles Dickens in his novel "Our Mutual Friend." Paul Kaufman, your wish is my command -- see below. Emily Beck, your wish is my command -- see above.

Packers fan
A species all their own, Green Bay's Cheeseheads pack lots of love for the Green and Gold.

Joe Sedon's plays on the fact that the popularity of last week's TMQ links to swimsuit photos of scrumptious mega-babe Bolts cheerleader Sarah Reichert caused the entire San Diego Chargers official website to crash last Tuesday afternoon. Tim Bryner of Anchorage, Alaska, must have read the column during that period, as he wrote to complain, "Why no link to the Charger cheerleaders' 'we-are-definitely-not-shy' swimsuit calendar?" The reason is that after TMQ readers hosed the Chargers' system, ESPN.com removed the Reichert and swimsuit-calendar links from the column for a few hours, at the Chargers' request, so team techno-persons could reinitialize the server. The links were restored later when the Chargers' system came back up.

Here, as a public service, is a repeat of the Sarah swimsuit pose and of the swimsuit calendar link. At the calendar link, click "sneak peek."

Though foam, not plastic,
cheeseheads do not represent
every Packer fan.
-- Joe Basile, San Jose, Calif.

Browns on second coach:
should now be known as Cleveland
(Release 2.1)
-- Mike Rubin, Salt Lake City

Sarah Reichert
Because you asked nicely, here's the Charger Girls' Sarah Reichert again.

Babe in bikini
causes website to be jammed;
long wait on Tuesday
-- Joe Sedon, Allentown, Pa.

First Bird of Prey was
craft for seeking dead bodies --
Dickens' "O.M.F."
-- Anne Schuette, Manitowac, Wis.

Articles which mix
football with aerospace tech
should win Pulitzers.
-- Beth Christensen, London, Ohio

Fans at Yale Law School
have but one request: More Frank,
Official Brother.
-- Paul Kaufman, Yale Law School

How to guarantee
Sominex Game of the Week?
Cowboys on the Road.
--Bill Swayze, Southfield, Mich.

The game that proves truth
of "Stop Me Before I Blitz!"
Eagles vs. Colts.
-- Steve Haack, Hockessin, Del.

Even worse broadcast
city -- San Antonio.
Cowboys. Texans. Bleh.
-- Adam Gallegos, Dallas

First: Check out cheesecake.
Second: Read fine article.
Hooray, it's Tuesday!
-- Jim Moran, Madison, Ohio

The Houston Moo-Cows
was my favorite team name.
Why don't you use it?
-- Emily Beck, Franklin, Mass.

It's not just the Hawks
unis, but also Hawks fans
who are feeling blue.
-- Scott Armstrong, Olympia, Wash.

Kordell Stewart benched,
Tommy Maddox now in charge.
Thank you XFL!
-- Corey Clayton, Lancaster, Pa.

Women, gay men not
stroked by Star Trek beauties. Try
Zach Thomas shirtless.
-- Lisa Smith, Montclair, Va.

Lisa, Page 2 will ask for a beefcake photo of Thomas, but we expect to hear that, while the cheerleaders will disrobe for the camera, the players will not. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter once noted, "Life is unfair."

"Retro Sexy" Is The Way TMQ Always Felt the Morning After a Failed Date: Last week, TMQ praised the swell powder-blue throwback jerseys the Chargers sported whilst being pounded by Jersey/B, and wondered why the team does not revert to these on a permanent basis. Reader Pam Holmberg of San Diego, who attended the game, reports that Bolts cheerleaders also went throwback with replicas of 1963 cheering outfits. "Definitely had the nice, old-fashioned girl with a naughty streak look going on," Holmberg writes. "The women really got into it, teasing their hair into a frenzy. But somehow, 1960s innocent cute doesn't work when you are bumping and grinding to the latest Eminem." Pam did, however, find the overall effect "retro sexy."

Tommy Maddox
After rewriting Steelers passing records, Tommy Maddox will target broadcasting and long-distance ads.

Pittsburgh, Your Long National Nightmare Is Over: It took Tommy Maddox exactly six starts to set the Steelers' all-time single-game passing yardage record, eclipsing Hall of Fame and four-time-ring QB Terry Bradshaw and old-time great Bobby Layne. The inexplicable seven-year Steel City experiment of playing a good wide receiver, Kordell Stewart, as a bad quarterback is finally at its end.

Facing Fourth-and-Long, Warner Barked Out an Audible: "Press to MECO!" In The Sporting News, NFL writer Dan Pompei recently described "Max Q, the NASA goal of having all systems performing at their highest levels simultaneously."

But that's not what Max Q means -- it means the moment of utmost aerodynamic vibration during launch. Max Q for the original Mercury spacecraft came at T+1:29, or a minute and 29 seconds after launch: Watch a Mercury launch simulation here. Max Q for the space shuttle occurs at a speed of 2,257 feet per second. And though Max Q is nerve-racking, all systems do not perform at their highest levels simultaneously. Prior to this event, the shuttle's main engines are throttled down to 65 percent power to reduce oscillation, returning to full thrust only after Max Q has passed. TMQ knows this sort of thing from tracking the approach to Earth of Kurt Warner's starcruiser.

Don't understand the item headline? See TMQ Challenge below.

Silver Is 25, Gold Is 50, So 500 Must Be -- the Gadolinium Anniversary! "Monday Night Football," longest-running show in broadcast history, celebrated its 500th game. Greatest show on television! Other than the old ESPN bikini beach-volleyball games.

Linda Hanley, Misty May, Holly McPeak
Did somebody mention beach volleyball?

Note: TMQ policy is to shamelessly suck up to ESPN.com's corporate-parent company. This is fine so long as it is disclosed.

Don't understand the item head? Look on a Periodic Table. Silver is element 47, gold is directly below as element 79, then look directly below gold.

And Then, the Heavens Opened No. 1: In the early Sunday slot, CBS showed much of the country Indianapolis at Philadelphia. When this game became a blowout at Horsies 35, Eagles 6 early in the fourth quarter, rather than air every sleep-inducing snap while another good game went unseen, the network actually switched to the down-to-the-buzzer Bolts at Mouflons. How to be, CBS! Many readers including Michael Grandfield of Virginia Beach, Va., wrote in to praise the Black Rock network for this progressive decision. Let's hope it is repeated.

And Then, the Heavens Opened No. 2: On Michael Bennett's 78-yard touchdown run for the Vikings, Randy Moss threw a block.

And Then, the Heavens Closed: After the Vikings lost to Jersey/A, Minnesota tackle Bryant McKinnie, last No. 1 pick to sign, boasted of his performance, declaring, "Not too many people could come in with one week of practice and play that well." On the Vikings' final possession, McKinnie was beaten by Giants journeyman Kenny Holmes, whose sack and forced fumble ended the game. This is what McKinnie considers top play? He and Moss will make perfect roommates.

Un-Fun Mega-Babe News: The Web page of the Miss World pageant, to be held in Nigeria in December, prominently displays the bizarre announcement, "Nigerian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs: We restate that no person shall be condemned to death by stoning in Nigeria." Why such strange words on a beauty pageant promotion? Because women from all over the world are boycotting the event owing to the status of Amina Lawal, a 30-year-old Nigerian whom an Islamic law or "sharia" court has sentenced to be stoned to death for having an out-of-wedlock child.

Shirley Alvarez
Combining politics and beauty pageants will get Costa Rican Shirley Alvarez's photo in TMQ.

TMQ, who knows a few Muslims (I once lived in Pakistan, explaining why TMQ is pretty much the only ESPN.com columnist with a pro-Pakistan bias), can offer assurance that although most of the world's adherents to Islam are to the right of U.S. culture, most are also horrified by the Nigerian situation and generally by the fanatics who have hijacked their faith's name and heritage.

Obviously, no one should attend or watch the Miss World event. Yes, Americans and Europeans disagree on the morality of the death penalty, and this should not prevent Europeans from attending events in the United States. (TMQ is anti-death-penalty for religious reasons, though not Muslim ones.) But there's quite a gap between whether capital punishment should be imposed for the taking of life by murder, which is the question between the United States and European Union, and whether a woman should be tortured to death for a moment of romance in an unhappy world.

This item won't end without a picture -- of Shirley Alvarez, Miss World contestant from Costa Rica, who is boycotting. How to be, Shirley!

Why Buy the Cow If the Milk Is Free: Sharpie markers, preferred pen of autographing athletes, got invaluable publicity when Terrell Owens of the Squared Sevens whipped a Sharpie out of his socks and signed a ball for a fan during a nationally broadcast game. This weekend, Sharpie unveiled a television commercial spoofing the moment. But did Owens appear, or were any Niners uniforms or symbols seen? The commercial is strictly a generic affair with actors dressed in generic logo-free blue uniforms. Apparently, Sharpie's way of saying thanks is to avoid paying a commercial-use fee to Owens or the Niners.

Dwayne-Rudd-Class Plays: The football gods chortled when Ed Reed of the Ravens, seemingly on his way to a touchdown with an interception return, began waving the ball over his head at the 10, only to have it tomahawked out with the Bengals regaining possession. As for Plaxico Burress yet again spiking a live ball when he had gone down without contact, seeming to think the ball was dead as it would have been in college ... no, TMQ has no idea why zebras let the Steelers keep the ball. Perhaps Burress yelled, "Down!" In the old days of leather-helmet football, if the ballcarrier yelled, "Down!" -- even when standing up -- the play immediately ended.

Afterward, Oakland Players Threw Him Fish: At kickoff on Monday night in Denver, it was 32 degrees with a 6 mph wind. Nevertheless, Oakland coach Bill Callahan came out in ridiculous K-2 survival gear, ultra-heavy parka and triple-sized snowmobile gloves so enormous he had trouble holding the play chart. Callahan looked like a character from "The Pebble and the Penguin." Mysteriously, the Raiders went on to win, violating TMQ's immutable law that for cold-weather games, the team with the overdressed coaches always loses. Investigators are probing the incident.

New Frontiers in Sports Management: During the offseason, Jax and the Persons, who met Sunday, conducted the first off-the-books salary-cap trade. Jacksonville released defensive end Renaldo Wynn to save cap space; the Persons signed him. The Persons then released defensive end Marco Coleman to save cap space; Jacksonville signed him. This may sound like a perpetual motion machine -- how could both come out ahead in cap terms on the exchange? Both teams took penalties in the present year, but shifted a larger amount of cap fiction into the future, via bonuses and other details of the new signings.

Marc Bulger
Marc Bulger remains the best option for the Rams.

Fox Mulder, Call Your Office! Does anyone seriously believe "Marc Bulger" is of this Earth? A reader haikuizes,

The Rams quarterbacks?
Must be St. Louis water.
Or -- they're aliens.
-- James Smyth, Irvington, N.Y.

Page 2 Sympathy Card: Two night road games in six days, and three out of four games being night road games: Miami Marine Mammals, TMQ feels for you.

TMQ Insider Exclusive! Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned on an exclusive basis that Jamie Nails of the Mammals, who lost 40 pounds in the offseason, has tested positive for Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies. "He's relapsing," said an informed league source. Remember, this is a Tuesday Morning Quarterback exclusive.

Running items department
Obscure College Score of the Week: Lambuth 41, Virginia-Wise 6. Located in Jackson, Tenn., Lambuth is a we-are-definitely-not-shy university, asserting that it has "academic quality" and "premier fine-arts institutions" and a "beautiful campus" and is also an "athletic powerhouse."

Bonus Obscure Score: Linfield 35, Whitworth 0. Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth recently spent $20 million on a new athletic complex and fitness center. So far the school is not getting its money's worth.

Double Bonus Obscure Score: Pittsburg of Kansas 48, Southwest Baptist 13. Located in Pittsburg, Kan., Pitt State's claim to fame is that it is the sole institution of higher learning in the United States whose sports teams are called the Gorillas. "Home of the Nation's Only Gorillas," read Pitt State banners; presumably, this means the Bronx Zoo has been put on probation by the NCAA. The men's teams of Pitt State have always been Gorillas; recently the women's teams, who were known as the Gussies, voted to be Gorillas as well. Missing their chance to become the Hussies!

Obscure College Statistical Feat: Reader Sam Wade of St. Louis reports that in the recent Principia-Luther contest, Lewis Howes of Principia College caught 17 passes for 418 yards, setting the record for most receiving yards in a game by any player at any level, college or pro. Principia lost.

Guy Morriss
Even the photographers went home before Guy Morriss was drenched and LSU doused Kentucky with a Hail Mary.

Collegiate Football Gods Divine Intervention: Kentucky coach Guy Morriss was showered with Gatorade while LSU still had a million-to-one chance. Sensing hubris, the football gods intervened on LSU's improbable length-of-the-field final-second winning play. In haiku,

Morriss doused early.
Football gods frown on such things,
and exact vengeance.
-- Pat Casslmen, Sacramento, Calif.

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-14 in its attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-663 since TMQ began tracking.

Misery loves company: The Miami Herald numbers among many papers engaged in quixotic attempts to predict an exact NFL final score. Needless to say, when TMQ checked this week, he found all Herald predictions wrong.

Reader Animadversion: On the item comparing the low-priced Boeing Bird of Prey to the astonishingly expensive F22 Raptor, reader Ryan Drake of Palmdale, Calif. -- location of an important Air Force production facility -- was among many to protest that the Bird of Prey is a modestly equipped subsonic test bed while the Raptor is a supersonic mil-spec finished product crammed with weapons and gizmos. True enough, but TMQ still finds the glacial pace of the F22 project stunning. The prototype flew 12 years ago, and it has taken 12 years, and tens of billions of dollars, to get the Raptor to the stage of finished product crammed with gizmos. Full deployment status still isn't planned until 2005: 17 years from prototype to patrolling the skies. Worse, each F22 will cost a stunning $200 million, more for a single-seat fighter than for the latest model of the 747.

All the buzz is that the Raptor is the best flying machine ever, but it's so overpriced and behind schedule that even the richest nation in the world cannot afford many. Originally there were supposed to be 648 F22s. Today the "buy" is down to 295 and likely to keep declining, owing to cost. There may end up being so few Raptors that each one can be named after a state, like submarines.

TMQ was wrong to say, however, that the Raptor program had yet to produce "operational aircraft Number One." Apparently Number One was accepted by the zoomies a few days before last week's column. A reader notes in haiku,

First F-22
rolled out just one week ago.
Still far too pricey.
-- Beth Christensen, London, Ohio

Janet
Eagles cheerleader Janet might put a lot of TMQ readers out of joint.

TMQ got barraged by mail about the Philadelphia Eagles' cheerleader lingerie photos, which you can peruse by going to philadelphiaeagles.com, then clicking cheerleaders, then 2002 squad, then choosing a name -- if a mysterious, unexplained paper clip appears in the upper right corner, that takes you to a lingerie pose. Last week's column urged readers to gawk at scrumptious Eagle cheer-babe Kelly T., a chemical engineering major at Penn State, whose lingerie pose we may link to but not show for thong-based reasons. This week TMQ highlights this classy, showable portrait of Janet, a chiropractic assistant. TMQ can hear hundreds of guys saying, "Adjust me!" Readers expressed themselves in haiku,

Kelly T.? Mercy!
First Philly gives world cheesesteak,
now leads in cheesecake.
-- Jason White, Providence, R.I.

Risk termination,
clicking Philly babes at work.
It was so worth it.
-- Craig Lile, Indianapolis

On the continuing debate regarding 22nd century Romulan technological development, many readers objected to TMQ's contention that a cloaking device could hide a Romulan battle cruiser via bending starlight only if that vessel had at least a solar mass, because the Einsteinian bending of starlight requires powerful gravity, such as that of a star. Peter Clark of San Mateo, Calif., among many readers, pointed out that an episode of the Captain Picard version of "Star Trek" reveals that Romulan ships are powered by an on-board black hole, and black holes do generate enough gravity to bend starlight. Though it's never explained how the Romulans keep the black hole from swallowing up the ship, or for that matter from making the ship so heavy that it cannot move. A reader haikuized,

Romulan power?
Quantum singularity.
That's one heavy ship.
-- Michael Kasten, Houston

Even heavier than Ted Washington! The technical specification would have to read, "Warbird displacement: infinite tons." Is the Romulan on-board black hole some sort of advanced artificial singularity that can be turned off and on? In that case, reader Chuck Hagenbuch of Somerville, Mass., wondered: When the cloaking field is turned on, why doesn't gravity from the singularity distort space around the Romulan ship -- placing it at the bottom of a curved bell, as Einstein conceptualized gravity -- and cause all asteroids, starcruisers and planets in the vicinity to come crashing inward toward the cloaked ship?

Frank Easterbrook, Official Brother of TMQ and a physics buff, ventures this incredibly scientifically advanced explanation:

"It is quite possible for a "small" black hole, let's say the mass of Mount Everest, to exist, and it would be tiny enough to be placed aboard a starcruiser. Compress the mass of Everest to the size of a molecule, and its gravitational distortion will be so great that light could not escape. But it would not suck in the rest of the Romulan ship any more than Everest sucks in mountain climbers. The tiny black hole would trap only things that got inside its "Schwarzschild radius," which is very tiny for Everest-size masses. And tiny black holes could produce a lot of power, via Hawking radiation. The entire mass of a tiny black hole eventually is turned directly into energy!

"But the rate of conversion is too slow to power a starship, and the ship would become invisible (that is, light would be bent around it) only if the event horizon of the black hole were at least as large as the ship. That would require a great deal of mass, probably planetary mass at least; and if the event horizon encompassed the ship, then nothing could ever emerge, including the ship. The Romulans would remain cloaked until the black hole evaporated through the Hawking process -- and they'd evaporate with it! Then there is the problem that, cloaked or not, the Romulan ship has to tug all the extra mass around. Who wants to expend enough energy to accelerate Mount Everest to the speed of light, let alone Warp Five, and then slow it down again to come into an orbit?

"Would natural black holes swallow up passing Romulan or Starfleet vessels? Not unless they had terrible pilots. We don't crash into the sun, which projects strong gravity, because we are in motion relative to it. Likewise, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way (estimated at 3 million solar masses) does not suck in the rest of the galaxy; as long as we keep moving, we stay in orbit around the galactic gravitational center. A ship that keeps moving on the proper trajectory could skirt even a very massive black hole. Anyone flying along in a starcruiser ought to be able to recognize that any area from which they are receiving no photons must contain a black hole, and simply set course somewhere else."

Glenn Frey, Maria Pitillo, Aries Spears
The forgetable "South of Sunset," starring Glenn Frey, Maria Pitillo and Aries Spears.

Regarding the item asking whether, by being canceled after just two shows, the latest David Kelley assembly-line product "Girls Club" had set a record that will never be broken, many readers, including Jeff Pasquale of Mississauga, Ontario, noted that the excruciating "South of Sunset," starring Eagle Glenn Frey as a hipster detective, was canceled after a single airing. Reader John Munn reminds us that such was also the fate of a "Laugh In" clone called "Turn On," possibly the worst show in the history of television -- which is a lot like saying the worst game in Cincinnati Bengals history -- and turned off after a single airing. A reader haikuizes,

Kelley's "Girls Club" death:
Just the shortest skirts, not the
fastest guillotine.
-- Tory Tomlinson, Arlington, Va.

Many readers, including Brian Stokes of Jacksonville, Fla., objected to TMQ's item praising obscure Fort Lewis College for rolling the dice with a two-point conversion attempt in overtime against Western New Mexico, with the score WMU 66, Fort Lewis 65 and a PAT insuring another overtime, a deuce meaning victory and a failed deuce meaning defeat. Readers pointed out that under NCAA rules, beginning with the third overtime, teams are required to go for two, to increase the odds of ending the contest. But the all-or-nothing Fort Lewis gamble occurred at the end of the second overtime.

Of the TMQ item saying he wished to see Thomas More College, named for the Catholic saint, play Luther College -- the losers would be burned at the stake -- Theodore Kufahl of New Ulm, Min., reported that Luther College (Iowa) could play Martin Luther College (Minnesota). German princes could serve as the referees! A reader haikuizes of a possible Thomas More-Luther game,

Thomas More-Luther:
Each team is flagged for taunting
on every play.
-- Tom Kreitzberg, Silver Spring, Md.

Last week Canadian readers taunted TMQ with the annoying fact that while few Americans can get NFL Sunday Ticket owing to its exclusive availability on DirecTV, which goes into only 10 percent of U.S. homes, anyone in Canada can get Sunday Ticket on cable and it even costs 40 percent less than here. Comes now reader Will Weissert of Mexico City to report that anyone in Mexico can get Sunday Ticket on cable for 789 pesos, or about $79 -- 60 percent less than it costs here. Only the NFL could devise a master plan under which viewers' choice on NFL games is denied to most Americans, but subsidized in Canada and Mexico.

And on the question, "How bad is Hiram?" reader Scott Lee of Cleveland, an alum, reports that the correct answer is "real, real bad." Eight games into the season, Hiram had been outscored 330-31 and failed to record a point in the second half. Check Hiram stats here. TMQ especially likes the red-zone stat -- Hiram has allowed 42 scores in its red zone, while itself scoring three times. New question: Could the Cincinnati Bengals beat Hiram?

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

Last Week's Challenge: In keeping with election fever, TMQ asked what NFL figures should run for office, and what their campaign slogans would be.

Many, predictably, locked in on Randy Moss. Terrence Watkins of St. Louis suggested his slogan be VOTE MOSS: WORK WHEN YOU WANT. Nathan Rockwell of Berkeley, Calif., added that, as a half-effort type, Moss would make an ideal vice presidential candidate.

Ed McDonough of Burlington, Vt., proposed, ELECT DOUG FLUTIE: HE'S FOR THE LITTLE GUY.

Bob Cook of Oak Lawn, Ill., suggested that Jeff George run on the Libertarian ticket under the slogan, GEORGE: HE WON'T LISTEN TO ANYBODY! Cook further suggested that John Shoop, offensive coordinator of the low-low-voltage Bears, run for office under the slogan, MOVING AMERICA AHEAD 2 YARDS AT A TIME.

David Carr, Keith Bulluck
David Carr certainly wouldn't mind a rebuilt offensive line.

Robert Hays of Houston suggested that David Carr of the Moo Cows run for president, because the Secret Service could protect him better than the Texans' line.

Fiona Parks of York, Pa., suggested Tuesday Morning Quarterback run for office with bringing NFL Sunday Ticket to the masses as his issue and under the slogan, A SUNDAY TICKET IN EVERY POT.

TMQ's own proposal is that Ricky Williams run for office using the bumper sticker, HE'S ON PAXIL SO HE WON'T START ANY WARS.

Edwin Hill of Evansville, Ind., suggested that Daunte Culpepper, who has already turned the ball over 21 times on fumbles and interceptions, run with the slogan, HE'S DISTRIBUTED MORE BENEFITS THAN ANYONE SINCE THE NEW DEAL.

A reader calling himself Confucius from Beijing, China, proposed that Lincoln Kennedy of the Raiders run for president offering the historic ticket, LINCOLN-KENNEDY IN 2004.

Brad Fagan of Denver proposed that Keyshawn Johnson run under the inevitable slogan, JUST GIVE ME THE DAMN VOTE.

The Challenge goes to Zach Zimmer of Champaign, Ill., which for NFL purposes is Chicago, who suggests that the entire Bengals' front office run under the slogan, BRING BACK THE KNOW-NOTHING PARTY.

Endeavour
Wait, don't press to MECO yet!

This Week's Challenge: "Facing fourth-and-long, Warner barked out an audible: 'Press to MECO!'" In NASA argot, MECO means Main Engine Cut-Off. During a space shuttle ascent, there is a phase after the solid-rocket boosters burn out in which pilots can change their minds, throttle down the main engines and return to land. Then the shuttle reaches a point at which it's too high up to go back to Florida and moving too fast to decelerate in time for the emergency landing fields in Gambia, Morocco and Spain. At this point, around eight minutes after liftoff, flight controllers call out "press to MECO!" No matter what may go wrong, the crew is to keep the main engines roaring till the shuttle reaches orbit, and then try to deal with any problems in space. To TMQ, "press to MECO!" sounds like it would be a great NFL audible. Sense of urgency, totally cryptic, it's got everything.

Since aerospace items have been popular lately, this week's TMQ Challenge is to think of a NASA or fly-boy phrase cool enough to be used in football, or in any regular walk of life. Propose your clever idea here. We promise nothing, the rules are kept secret even from the judges and the final decision will be completely arbitrary. That's what makes it a Challenge!

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.




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