Page 2 columnist
The birds are in the oven, and once again the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys will be hosts for Thanksgiving Day games. The 'Boys have been hosts on Thanksgiving since 1966 and the Lions, who started the idea, almost every season since 1936. Why does the league grant these franchises an annual turkey-day home game? There's no rule, just a tradition -- a tradition that should end.
Any NFL coach or player will tell you that while road games are harder to win than home games, the hardest games to win are road games played at special times -- the Sunday night, Monday night and occasional Thursday contests. But while who gets to be host rotates annually as regards Sunday night, Monday night and the occasional Thursday-nighters during World Series week, season in and season out, Dallas and Detroit are guaranteed a special-time home game, one that is never allowed to any other team.
It's instant doomsday for the visiting team to play Sunday, then travel 48 hours later for a special-time away game on Thanksgiving against a team that has been resting at home. For all intents and purposes, the Detroit-Dallas lock on Thanksgiving host duties means the Cowboys and Lions begin each season with a half-game lead on all other NFL squads. Consider that since 1936, Detroit has won 46 percent overall, but 53 percent of games played at home on Thanksgiving. Since 1966, Dallas has won 60 percent overall, but 65 percent of games played at home on Thanksgiving. This works out to roughly a half-game annual bonus for the Cowboys and Lions, a windfall at the expense of all the league's other teams.
Surely some in the national television audience like the fact that Thanksgiving games always come from the same places and always feature the same two silver-trimmed clubs; this does possess the cozy feel of tradition. But it's inequitable that the league hands Dallas and Detroit a schedule advantage no other team is ever granted. Some owners, prominently Lamar Hunt of the Chiefs, have been quietly lobbying to end the Dallas-Detroit exclusivity and rotate the Thanksgiving Day home slot among all teams. If such a policy were begun next year, that would mean the Cowboys and Lions wouldn't be hosts again on Turkey Day until 2017. That seems reasonable to TMQ, and would level the Thanksgiving playing field. As an alternative, the NFL could offer Dallas and Detroit the option of keeping their home Thanksgiving slots, but they would then have to begin each season with a half-game penalty in the standings.
In other NFL news, Chicago and Indianapolis won overtime contests where the opposing team never got to touch the ball. Stretching back to last season, Oakland has lost three consecutive overtime games in which it never got a possession. This ain't right.
It is an urban legend that the team that gets the overtime kickoff always wins. Coming into the 2001 season, in 73 percent of NFL overtime games each side had at least one possession, while a narrow 51 percent of victories went to the team winning the OT coin toss. Still, it's just not right for a game to be decided by one team having a try and the other team having no try, based on a random coin flip. The NFL should either adopt some version of the NCAA's fabulous matching-possessions system -- almost always far more exciting play-by-play than anything that happens in regulation -- or at least amend the present system that if the team getting the overtime kickoff scores, the opponent gets a kickoff and one possession to match or exceed. Reforming the present system would have two effects: to make games more fair, and to make overtimes more exciting. Which of these outcomes, exactly, is undesirable?
Michael Vick Play of the Week: From the Panthers' 31 in the first, Vick sidestepped and dropped back to avoid a tackler; sidestepped and dropped back again; sidestepped and dropped back a third time. Vick retreated all the way back to the 43 before he looked downfield, still under pressure. TMQ thought, "Here comes the crazy interception." Perfect pass snapped off the back of the wrist, 35 yards in the air to Warrick Dunn, who made it in for the touchdown.
Sweet Play No. 1: Fake up the middle to Priest Holmes, then fake end-around, then screen pass to Holmes for a 64-yard touchdown. The Chiefs went on to lose to the Seattle Blue Men Group, but this play was sweet. Note to opposing defenses: Priest Holmes gets the ball a lot. Despite his incredible year -- 30 touches for 307 yards on Sunday alone -- defenses still act surprised about Holmes.
Sweet Play No. 2: Leading the New Orleans Boy Scouts (see below) by two, the Cleveland Oranges (Release 2.1) faked up the middle, then faked an end-around, then tossed to Dennis Northcutt for 40 yards. Cleveland scored on the drive, and the upset was under way.
Sweet Play No. 3: Earlier in the game, the Oranges put Northcutt as a slotback in a five-wide set. He went in motion almost straight backward to end up behind Tim Couch, then took the draw and ran 36 yards to the house. A few columns ago, TMQ complained that Cleveland playcalling had become predictable, especially in the five-wide. No such problem Sunday.
Best Calls Radioed In: In the scoreless first, the Eagles put three wideouts on the field, forcing shaky Squared Sevens nickel back Mike Rumph to cover one of them, and ran a left up to James Thrash, pass incomplete but not by much. On the following down, the Eagles called exactly the same play, except putting Todd Pinkston into Thrash's place to have a fresh horse, and completed it for a 32-yard gain that set the tone for the Philadelphia victory. Sometimes the best call is simply to call exactly the same play you just called; defenses don't expect it. In the second quarter, the Eagles ran the play a third time, 25 yards to Pinkston for the game's first score.
Punk Play of the Day: Green Bay trailing City of Tampa by seven, the Packers had reached third-and-three on the Bucs 21. Brett Favre called a quick slant to Terry Glenn. Glenn took two steps, pulled up, then simply watched while the ball zinged to Ronde Barber for the interception. Whether it was a missed communication or a missed sight read doesn't matter; Glenn made zero attempt to do his job, which at that point was to knock the ball down and prevent the pick. On the next Packers series, Glenn's running mate Donald Driver, emulating his pampered teammate, lazily watched a Favre pass float for another INT, making no attempt to break up the pick. It has taken until November for Terry Glenn to turn back into Terry Glenn. Now the transformation is complete, and woe betide the cheesehead demographic.
Best Use of Prehensile Appendages: Joe Jurevicius of the Bucs, Dez White of the Bears and several others had beauty catches Sunday. But for the normally woeful Seattle Blue Men Group, three gentlemen -- Koren Robinson, Jerramy Stevens and linebacker Orlando Huff -- made "wow" snags.
Dwayne-Rudd-Class Plays: Under pressure in the first quarter, Arizona (Caution: May contain football-like substance) Cardinals QB Jake Plummer tried to flip a no-look behind-the-back lateral to running back Marcel Shipp. The no-look isn't working for Michael Jordan this year; why did Plummer think it would work for him? Raiders recover.
With the Nevermores leading by six, the Flaming Thumbtacks intercepted a Baltimore pass and returned it for a touchdown. Thumbtacks linebacker Keith Bullock roughed Ravens QB Jeff Blake long after the ball was gone; touchdown nullified, and the Thumbtacks eventually lose by one.
On James McKnight's game-icing 77-yard reception late in the third for the Marine Mammals, after a short gain McKnight fell next to Bolts defender Alex Molden. All Molden had to do was touch McKnight -- he didn't even have to pull his flag! -- and the play was over. Molden didn't, McKnight jumped up and ran and ran.
Worst Call Radioed In: Leading by three in swirling snow, the Broncos faced third-and-five on the Indianapolis 40, 1:51 remaining, the Colts out of timeouts. Owing to conditions, numerous passes had already been dropped. Anyway, Denver is sure to run and grind the clock. It's a pass! TMQ screamed at the screen, "Aaaiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee!" Has Mike Shanahan taken leave of his senses? Clang to the ground goes the dropped pass, stopping the clock. Indianapolis ended up hitting its improbable overtime-forcing 54-yard field goal with eight seconds showing, then winning in the fifth session. Had the Broncos simply run up the middle for no gain, 40 seconds would have ground off the clock; subtract 40 seconds and the final Indy drive would have petered out in Colts' territory. Ye gods.
Coaching Blunder of the Week: Winning the toss at the start of overtime, Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg elected to kick. Had Mornhinweg taken leave of his senses? Does Ford Motors (the Ford family owns the Lions) advise buyers to visit a General Motors dealership? Forget the wind, take the ball! It is very difficult to score without the ball! Nobody's made this blunder since the 1962 title game of the old AFL, when Hank Stram of the old Dallas Texans won the overtime toss against the old Houston Oilers and took the wind instead of the ball. (Stram's charges prevailed in the second OT.)
Just to prove it was no fluke, Mornhinweg offered another mental blunder moments later. On their first possession in OT, the Bears threw an incompletion on third-and-eight from the Lions' 35, and were also called for holding; Mornhinweg took the penalty, rather than forcing Chicago into fourth-and-long. The Bears wouldn't have tried a 52-yard field-goal attempt had Mornhinweg declined the penalty, because the kick would have gone into the very wind Detroit had sacrificed the ball to get. How can we be sure Chicago would not have kicked? After the repeat of third down, the Bears faced fourth-and-three at the Lions' 30 and did not try a field goal owing to the wind. The Bears went for the first, converted, and ended kicking the winning figgie from the 22. Detroit never touching the ball in overtime. Ye gods.
Old Waived Guy Play of the Week: Against San Francisco, 13-year veteran Brian Mitchell, already the NFL's all-time leader in kick-return yardage, took a punt 76 yards to the house untouched by human hands. Bear in mind that the evil Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) of the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons waived Mitchell as washed up three years ago. Afterward, in one of TMQ's favorite NFL moments, the first time Mitchell played against the Persons, the aging, washed-up gentleman hit the large, youthful LaVar Arrington so hard that Arrington was knocked out of the game.
Hidden Play of the Week: Often key plays don't show up in the box scores because they are plays that sustain or stop drives. Trailing by three with a minute remaining in the third, Indianapolis reached second-and-goal on the Denver 2. Peyton Manning raced backward to the 10 and rolled out under pressure; everyone was covered; TMQ thought, "Here comes the crazy game-killer interception"; Manning launched it so far out of the end zone the ball practically made the field-goal net. The Lucky Charms (see below) scored six on the next play, and suddenly a monster game was in progress. Sometimes the greatest move a quarterback makes is throwing the ball away; Manning's rocket-propelled incompletion was the biggest hidden play of the NFL week.
Best Defensive Play: Clinging to a two-point lead with 1:24 left, Jersey/A on the Houston 33, the Moo Cows ran what sportscasters call a zone blitz and TMQ calls a zone rush -- a total of only four gentlemen coming, but two were linebackers, while a defensive end dropped into the slant lane to stop the quick "hot read" pass. Kerry Collins threw a hot-read slant and the ball went directly to unheralded DE Jeff Posey -- who's having a better year than the extremely overpaid Michael Strahan -- for the interception. Collins threw poorly in part because a Moo Cows linebacker came straight at him untouched, despite Jersey/A keeping back six to block four. If only Collins had thrown the ball away, he might have been a Hidden Play of the Day.
Best Pratfall: Trailing by three and facing fourth-and-20 with a minute remaining, Bears quarterback Jim Miller dropped back, fell to the ground, got up and zinged a 33-yard completion to Dez White for position for the field goal that forced overtime, in which Chicago won. This play was actually helped because Miller fell. Lions defensive backs, busy making the high-school mistake of "looking into the backfield" trying to guess the play, immediately abandoned their coverages when Miller fell, assuming the play would end. Often, especially on kick returns, defenders drop their discipline when they see the ballcarrier fall. Tennessee's Music City Miracle postseason-winning kick return worked in part because the play began with the Thumbtacks' runback man fumbling the ball, causing the Bills coverage unit to drop its discipline and try to converge on the fumble.
Best Deuce : Scoring to take a 12-7 lead in the third, the Bucs violated a Tuesday Morning Quarterback immutable law of football -- Take One Till the Fourth -- by going for the deuce.
But the play was sweet. Last week on the key snap of the Bucs victory over Carolina, a fourth-and-goal, Keyshawn Johnson lined up as a slotback right and crossed behind the formation; the Panthers lost track of him, touchdown. This time, on the deuce attempt, when Keyshawn lined up as a slotback right, the Packers clearly expected him to go behind the formation again; a Green Bay defender immediately jumped into the left-side spot from which Johnson appeared against Carolina. Instead Keyshawn took two steps upfield and then came left on the defensive side of the front. The Packers defender at the left-side point decided Johnson wasn't coming, and departed to chase someone else; Keyshawn ended up with linebacker coverage across the middle and caught the deuce pass exactly where he had been the previous week.
Best Use of TMQ: The defending-champ Patriots must have read TMQ's item praising the Keyshawn-behind-the-formation play, because, facing second-and-goal at the Vikings one, New England lined up in precisely the same formation as used by Tampa last week, brought Christian Fauria across the field behind the formation in precisely the same action and hit him uncovered for six.
Cheerleader of the Week: The Colts' huge win at Denver inspires the naming of Jen of the Indianapolis squad as TMQ ESPN Cheerleader of the Week. Her team bio doesn't offer much, although her swimsuit photo (found on the Colts Cheerleader Calendar preview) certainly does; Jen works as a property manager and likes Huey Lewis records, music this column views as a threat to Western civilization. Jen's favorite books are the "Left Behind" series. Are we to conclude she is a fundamentalist mega-babe? TMQ did not know such things were possible.
Cheerleader Blunder of the Week: OK, so there was driving snow in Denver. But this does not excuse the high-aesthetic-appeal Bronco cheerleaders coming out looking like Michelin men in bulky parkas and ski pants! Broncs babes, where is your professionalism? Last year, for two December home dates, Denver cheerleaders defied the elements, sporting Santa's-naughty-elf numbers; both times their team jogged up the tunnel victorious. For the Broncos-Colts contest, Shanahan and Tony Dungy followed TMQ's immutable law, Cold Coach = Victory, and dressed in simple varsity jackets rather than ridiculous K2 survival gear. That left the outcome of the game in the hands of the home-team cheerleaders. (Generally, NFL visiting teams do not bring cheerleaders.) The Broncos cheer-babes wore too much, and thus Indianapolis was crowned with victory.
Also overdressed: Despite a kickoff temperature of a clement 55 degrees, Marshall Faulk wore a parka and knit ski cap on the Mouflons sidelines. Naturally, his team lost.
Stat of the Week: Kansas City recorded 552 yards of offense, had 32 first downs and only one turnover -- and lost.
Stat of the Week No. 2: San Diego is 7-4, but has lost three games by a combined 100-25.
Stat of the Week No. 3: Carolina and Chicago began the season a combined 5-0 and since have gone a combined 1-16.
Stat of the Week No. 4: In two meetings, Atlanta outscored Carolina 71-0.
Stat of the Week No. 5: Former Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel, a six-year NFL veteran, set a personal career-best for passing yards in a game -- by the second quarter, at 140 yards.
Stat of the Week No. 6: Despite being the only NFL team whose base defense is the gamble-everything-for-turnovers burned-to-a-crisp "46," the Bills are last in the league in takeaways and have failed to register a takeaway in seven of 11 games this season.
Stat of the Week No. 7: Rich Gannon is on a pace to throw for an NFL-record 5,142 yards. And if he doesn't, the mark looks safe, as Drew Bledsoe has slipped to a pace for 4,666 yards and is all but out of this race. (The season record, held by Dan Marino, is 5,084 yards.)
Stat of the Week No. 8: David Carr is on a pace to be sacked an NFL all-time second-worst 84 times. (Philadelphia once surrendered 104 sacks, and Arizona is second at 78 sacks allowed.)
Stat of the Week No. 9: Kurt Warner may be the league's all-time quarterback ratings leader and have the best starting record of any active QB, but he is 1-2 lifetime when Marshall Faulk does not play.
Stat of the Week No. 10: Through Week 10 Favre, Aaron Brooks and Bledsoe had combined to throw 55 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. In the last two weeks, they have combined for six touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
The Football Gods Chortled: Denver has the best home record since the NFL-AFL merger, owing to the effect of oxygen depletion on visiting teams. But this year, Miami and now the Lucky Charms (see below) have beaten the Broncos in Please Don't Buy From Invesco Field on the strength of improbable last-second 50-plus-yard field goals. Mile-high air is hard for the visiting team to breathe, but long field goal attempts sail through thin air very nicely, thank you.
Globalization Hits the Rocks: The oil tanker Prestige, which sank off the Spanish coast, is registered in Liberia, flies the flag of the Bahamas, is operated by a Greek firm and chartered by a Russian company based in Switzerland. On the plus side, all this insures that dozens of lawyers will eat well for years.
Beefcake -- Run for Your Lives! Jason Taylor of the Marine Mammals, posing shirtless for female and nontraditional male readers. Check the website of the photographer, Reggie Casagrande.
Yes, Coaches Matter: Indianapolis gave up 31 points per game last year and is giving up 18 points per game this year, without a major personnel overhaul. Two words: Tony Dungy.
Yes, Tactics Matter: Through their first five games, the Jets surrendered 17 defensive touchdowns; through their last six games, nine. Some of it is new personnel finally learning a system, but much of the improvement was defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell making a simple change. For the first five games he had Sam Cowart, a speed linebacker with mediocre strength, playing "sam" directly over the tight end and charged with jamming the TE. For the last six games, Cowart has played backed off seven yards from the line, been told to avoid entanglements with the TE and to use his speed to run down plays. Suddenly, Cowart looks like a Pro Bowler again.
Chicken Wings of the Week: Peyton Manning endlessly points and gestures before the snap, trying to distract the defense. Usually his first few gestures are fakes and can be ignored. Against Denver, every time Manning wildly pointed and gestured as if he was calling some complex audible pass, the play was a run. The Broncos never caught on to this, jumping backward in expectation of a pass when Manning flapped his wings like a chicken before his team's two key runs on the winning overtime drive.
Shake 'N' Bakes of the Week: On his game-icing touchdown bootleg, Jersey/B QB Chad Pennington faked Bills linebacker Eddie Robinson so utterly that Robinson fell on his keister without being touched. On his game-icing touchdown run, Dolphins RB Ricky Williams faked Bolts Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison so utterly that Harrison fell on his keister without being touched.
You Are Wrong: Charles Barkley just published an as-told-to titled, "I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It." Evidently, this book is intended for senior citizens, as the type seems unusually large and there is so much white space -- white space between the lines of type is known to printers as "air" -- that the pages might be used for flying lessons. This couldn't have anything to do with padding to reach hardback length, could it? At any rate, "I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It" was the title of a book by the late columnist Mike Royko, who was to newspaper writing what Barkley was to the low post. Royko never stole any of Barkley's moves; Barkley should dream up his own title, not pilfer someone else's.
Legal note: It's an honor system, as titles cannot be copyrighted. Anyone may write a book titled "Gone With the Wind." Rumor has it the publisher rejected "The Sun Also Rises" by Charles Barkley as too pretentious.
They Tackled the Air: Two weeks ago, TMQ complained that the quest for big hits that will be shown on SportsCenter is causing NFL safeties to blow routine wrapup tackles. On Sunday, Curtis Martin ran 9 yards for the touchdown after Buffalo safety Coy Wire hurled himself wildly through the air seeking the SportsCenter-class hit and instead missed Martin completely. Joey Galloway of the 'Boys went 43 for the touchdown when Jax safety Marlon McCree tried for a SportsCenter-class hit and instead went flying past; a simple wrap-up tackle would have stopped Galloway shy of the first.
Disclaimer of the Week: The warning statement for Ambien cautions, "Side effects may include drowsiness." Ambien is a sleeping pill.
Coaching Blunder of the Year: The tastefully named Gregg Williams appears to have shattered his team's promising season with the coaching blunder of the year, if not of the decade. As a previous TMQ noted, three weeks ago, trailing defending champion New England by 10 at home in the third, the Bills faced fourth-and-two on the Patriots' 32. Did they go for it, with what was then the league's No. 2-rated offense? Attempt a field goal to close the deficit to one score? Williams punted from the opposition 32. The ball rolled out at the 17 for a laughable 15 yards on the exchange; New England marched the length of the field for the touchdown that turned an anybody's-game into a runaway.
It now appears this mincing, fraidy-cat call undid the Buffalo season. To the point of the Preposterous Punt, Buffalo was 5-3 and the second-highest scoring team in the league. Since the moment of the Preposterous Punt, the Bills have gone 0-3, been outscored 79-29 and dropped from first in the division to all but mathematically eliminated. By punting when he did, Williams not only made an unfathomable blunder, he sent his offensive unit the message that he didn't think it could gain 2 yards at home in a critical situation. Williams sent his whole team the message that he personally wasn't up for the pressure of a playoff run and planned to phone in the remainder of the season.
Never underestimate the extent to which NFL teams do, in fact, respond to the messages coaches send them. Since the Preposterous Punt, the Buffalo offense has lost confidence, scoring two touchdowns in 10 quarters, while the team as a whole has followed the coach's example and begun phoning it in. Williams would have been far better off to have gone for it and missed on that fateful play, sending his team the message that he was challenging them to succeed, then to have gone fraidy-cat, sending his team the message that he expected a losing season. At least Williams will get his wish!
If the Guy in Charge of The Masters is Named Hootie, Wouldn't the Woman in Charge of the Mistresses Have to Be Named _______? TMQ thinks the solution to the galimatias over Augusta National -- and why would any woman want to join a club composed of such creepy guys? -- would be for a double-XX organization to found a women-only golf redoubt, which would hold an annual tournament called the Mistresses. Entrants would be required to play in 5-inch heels and leather harnesses. Caddies would be shirtless ultra-hunks with oiled muscles, and if one of the caddies drew the wrong club his punishment would be -- well, that's about as far as I can take the joke. But if the ESPN.com art department can use it as a cheap excuse for some kind of dominatrix-with-submissive-hunk graphic to please female readers, that's OK by me.
On the assumption the ESPN.com art department will not provide an illustration of a steamy mistress cracking the whip on a submissive hunk -- hey, female readers, you're getting Jason Taylor shirtless -- TMQ offers the latest dominatrix news. Catherine Bell, hot-tomato actress and only person ever to predict an exact final Super Bowl score, was recently asked by FHM magazine, "What's the sexiest bit of clothing you own?" Bell replied, "Black stiletto pumps -- Manolo Blahniks -- that wrap around my foot and have grommets in them. They're a very classy version of a dominatrix heel. I could wear those with anything: jeans, lingerie, or even better, by themselves." Manolo Blahnik stiletto pumps are what Sarah Jessica Parker teeters on for "Sex and the City," and TMQ would certainly like to see Catherine Bell dressed in nothing but same. I am, however, willing to settle for whatever pinup shot of Bell the ESPN.com art department can produce.
Next week: Catherine Bell explains what makes for a "classy" dominatrix.
Other Dean Smith Advice to Eagles: Sign Michael Jordan: Former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith liked to say that a team plays its best game of the season in the first game after losing its star to injury; the games that follow are the ones to determine the team's fate. This principle was on display in the Eagles' pasting of the Niners at San Francisco. Losing Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia performed on pure adrenalin and toyed with the home favorites. But nobody's glands can secret pure adrenalin week after week. Beware, Eagles, the upcoming Rams date.
Reader Haiku: Submit yours at the Reader Animadversion link below. Greg White, noting how similar the Saints fleur-de-lis and Boy Scouts symbols are, proposes this team's TMQ cognomen become the New Orleans Boy Scouts. (Note: does not apply to Kyle Turley.) Steve Koers finds the Horsies too obvious a cognomen for Indianapolis and proposes this horseshoe-wearing franchise be called the Lucky Charms. Tie-in departments, contact the cereal maker.
Sarah Sawle and Michael Farrell object to TMQ's declaration that the Packers have no cheerleading squad because it is impossible to find mega-babes in central Wisconsin. Farrell offers this link to the Miss Wisconsin finalists who are, regrettably, tastefully fully clothed. Also, many readers noted that although the Packers have no formal babe contingent, cheerleaders from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay often perform at games. Finally Mark Sherrill and Jynne Martin offer dyadic haiku.
"Tommy Maddox" heals
too quickly for a human.
-- Cindy Closkey, Butler, Pa.
TMQ did it again.
One more website crashed.
-- Mitch Fadem, Salinas, Calif.
Green Bay babes unite!
Midwest farmers' daughters fear
-- Sarah Sawle, Washington, D.C.
No mega-babes in
Cheeseland? Check out the Miss 'Wis
pics. Not too shabby.
-- Michael Farrell, Atlanta
McNabb's ankle snaps:
Four TDs. Cards contain no
-- Bryan Brooks, Oklahoma City
Saints logo same as
Boy Scouts of America:
New Orleans Scouts?
-- Greg White, Plainfield, Ill.
"Horsies" shows no thought.
Horseshoe often sign of luck,
call them Lucky Charms!
-- Steve Koers, Indianapolis
Chunky ads are cursed,
so many stars get injured.
Time for Progresso?
-- Joe, Washington, D.C.
Nevermores gives too
much credit to Baltimore.
Poe born in Boston,
and lived mostly in
Richmond. Perhaps Baltimore
-- Mark Sherrill, Houston
Tuesdays my husband
dines alone with long printout.
At last I ask: what?
He panicked. No need --
I seized, read, laughed and found new
life love: TMQ!
-- Jynne Martin, New York
Imagine If MacArthur Had 250 Plans for Inchon: In the 'Boys-Jax game, insulting-spewing Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin was waving around a play chart so enormous, with so many fine-print entries, that it looked like a human genome sequence, or perhaps the FAA air-traffic control route diagram for commercial flights on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Coughlin is said to have 250 plays on his placard. How can that not be counterproductive? TMQ coaches a county eighth-grade flag football team -- we're a half-game out with two remaining, thank you -- and going into Saturday's contest there were five runs, seven passes, one goal-line play and one trick play on my color-coordinated chart. Even so, several times I hesitated trying to decide what to signal in. Somehow, methinks Coughlin is not scanning 250 possibilities every 25 seconds.
TMQ, Grammar Snob: "The police have no motive in the slaying." Local-news bobbleheads constantly use this construction. Well, of course the police have no motive. They didn't do it!
Best Deliberate Foul: Taking a one-touchdown lead with three minutes left, the Steelers kicked off to the Bengals, whose T.J. Houshmandzadeh broke into the clear with only kicker Jeff Reed to beat. Reed grabbed Houshmandzadeh by the facemask, drawing a 15-yarder that put the ball on the Pittsburgh 31. But without this penalty, Houshmandzadeh would have scored; as it was, the Bengals drive petered out in the closing seconds. Face-masking is touchy because it can injure; otherwise, sometimes, as in basketball, a deliberate foul pays off.
Longer ago than I'd rather admit, TMQ was playing in a local-league basketball tournament alongside Neil Easterbrook, Official Brother of TMQ. At a critical moment, Neil was trailing an opposition player headed for a breakaway lay-up. Everyone yelled, "foul him!" Not wishing to injure, the peace-loving Official Brother half-heartedly pushed the gentleman, the result being a basket and the free throw. TMQ remonstrated with the Official Brother that when you deliberately foul, you've got to foul.
Later, after the league game ended, guys stayed around to play pickup, and TMQ and the Official Brother were on opposing teams. I had a breakaway with Neil trailing, and heard his new teammates cry, "Foul him!" Next thing I knew, I was under a row of tables 10 feet beyond the basket, seeing cartoon stars shimmer around.
Frostback of the Week No. 1: Mike Vanderjagt hit an improbable game-tying 54-yard figgie with eight seconds left in the swirling snow in Denver, then hit an even more improbable 51-yard figgie into the wind for the overtime win. Cold, cold blood runs in this Canadian's veins, eh?
Frostback of the Week No. 2: After a senior Canadian government official called George W. Bush "a moron," Jean Chretien, prime minister of Canada (Official Name: America's Suburb), said with astonishing diplomacy, "He (Bush) is a friend of mine, he is not a moron at all." Jean, thanks for the vote of confidence! Actually, TMQ expected the Canadian official to wriggle out of this one by declaring, "I was misquoted, what I said was that President Bush is a 'Mormon.' " Maybe the target on all those battle plans should be changed from "Baghdad" to "Ottawa."
Polls Show Majority of Americans Believe the Ten Commandments Were Given by God to Charlton Heston: Last week, a federal judge ordered that Alabama remove a display of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse, saying the display violates the Establishment Clause because it "promotes one specific religion, Christianity." Whoa there! First off, TMQ always thought the Ten Commandments were given to a Hebrew leader, Moses, and that they can be found in what Christians call the Old Testament and Jews call the Bible, and that the Ten Commandments are the bedrock of Judaism. For that matter, since Muslims also revere Moses, the Ten Commandments are a part of Islam too, though admittedly a secondary part. So setting aside whether this display belongs in an Alabama courthouse, the Ten Commandments don't promote "one specific religion." Actually, the Ten Commandments are an element of all three major monotheist faiths. If they represent any one of the three, it's Judaism, not Christianity, considering that Christians believe the New Testament amends the Old, while Jews consider the Old sacrosanct.
More, while Christians obviously do recite the Ten Commandments, it can be argued that Christianity actually has Six Commandments, not Ten. Jesus was once asked (at Matthew 19:17-19) which Commandments should be kept. The answer: "And Jesus said, 'You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " That's Six Commandments! Can you name the missing Four? These are the Commandments that Christ leaves off his inventory: "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make yourself an idol. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy." (From Exodus 20:3-8, NSRV.)
That is, Jesus consciously edited the Ten Commandments down to Six, deleting the commandments concerning formal religious observance. You can read more on the theological implications of this here, or for that matter, buy my book "Beside Still Waters," which goes into considerable detail on the history of Christ's alterations of the Commandments and why established churches prefer to pretend these verses don't exist. At any rate, what matters from the standpoint of the current political debate is that the Six Commandments could be posted in any public building without the slightest constitutional complaint, as the Six Commandments concern morality among people, saying nothing about religion.
Hello Faddah by Operant Conditioning: TMQ's two middle-schoolers had a great time last summer at Camp Twin Creeks in West Virginia. I was especially impressed that they wrote home every day! On their return, I found out the only way you can get candy at Twin Creeks is by turning in a letter to your parents. Plug: Twin Creeks is terrific for boys or girls who want a noncompetitive sports atmosphere.
Ted Washington Auditioned for the Part, But Was Too Big to Be Believable as Godzilla: Reader Tom Kelso reports that he caught the new flick "Harry Potter and the Global Marketing Campaign of Doom" and "cannot escape the eerie resemblances of Voldemort and Dobby to their NFL brethren," Dan Snyder and Steve Spurrier.
The new movie TMQ wants to see is "Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla," 26th installment of series, just premiered in Tokyo. Check out this article on Tsutomu Kitagawa, the actor who wears the Godzilla suit. Because the suit weighs 110 pounds, Kitagawa has an unseen assistant who specializes moving his tail. The new Godzilla cost about $8.5 million to make, less than 10 percent the price of "Star Wars Episode Two." But though all the "Episode Two" price bought was computer pixels, the Godzilla price includes the latest miniature Tokyo to get smashed, a one-25th scale model that's supposed to set records for fidelity -- tiny trash bags on curbs say "garbage" on the sides, while billboards show accurate miniature reproductions of current ad campaigns. One-25th scale product placement!
Lord Voldemort Decided to Keep Him on Another Week: Coming into Sunday, Dobby the Elf had called 355 passing plays and 250 runs, compiling a 4-6 record. Against the Mouflons, he called 39 runs and 24 passes -- Spurrier's first more-runs game in the pros -- and won.
Sapp Is Right, But Don't Get Used to That: Everyone hopes Chad Clifton is OK, but Warren Sapp hit him cleanly. There's no exemption from being hit just because you are trailing the play. TMQ is guessing that in that game, Clifton had taken shots at Sapp when he got the chance. When Sapp got a chance, he took a very hard, but clean, shot.
Throwbacks of the Week: The Niners looked great in throwback uniforms and got pasted at home just as their California brethren, the Bolts, looked great in throwbacks and were pasted at home last month. But at this point we need a statute of limitations on the term "throwback," since the San Francisco duds in question were throwbacks to maybe 1989.
Bonus Anti-Gregg Williams Item: Bobbleheads are buzzing about why Drew Bledsoe has receded from red-hot to ice-cold. The main reason is the unfathomable vote-of-no-confidence the tastefully named Gregg Williams gave Bledsoe on the Preposterous Punt, as noted above; and, of all games, against the Patriots, which mattered most to Bledsoe's ego.
But the decline is also tactical. Through Week 7, as Bledsoe threw at a record-setting clip, he was hitting not just flashy wideouts Eric Moulds and Peerless Price but rookie slot-man Josh Reed and the tight ends; in Week 2, for instance, Reed caught eight for 110 yards. Since the point in Week 7 when Moulds and Price were ranked one-two in the league in receiving, Bledsoe has begun to force the ball to these gentlemen even when they are doubled, as though they are superhumans who arrive at the stadium in capes and can only be stopped by DBs carrying green kryptonite. Defensive coordinators have noticed Bledsoe is forcing the ball to Moulds and Price and are choking up on these two, offering Drew the throw to the tight end or slot man. On Sunday, Jersey/B doubled either Moulds or Price on every down, often leaving Reed in linebacker coverage. Yet Bledsoe threw 16 times toward Moulds and Price, only four times toward Reed.
Coaches are supposed to notice such tendencies and correct them. But then, the tastefully named Gregg Williams has already quit on the season, so why shouldn't his offense quit?
Hidden Indicator The Mouflons are 5-0 when "Marc Bulger" starts, 0-5 when "Kurt Warner" starts and 0-1 when Jamie Martin starts. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider's understanding of the game. Unfortunately, only the sinister alien masterminds on the Bulger-Warner homeworld know what this means.
Running items department
Obscure College Score of the Week: Indiana of Pennsylvania 27, Saginaw Valley State 23 (Division II playoffs). Located in University Center, Mich., near Lake Huron, Saginaw Valley State boasts that its "faculty are dedicated to student-centered learning," which is a reminder that the higher you go up the academic chain, the less the teachers are likely to give a hoot about the students. Student organizations include a mysterious Tall Readers Club.
Bonus Obscure Score: Muhlenberg 55, Massachusetts-Dartmouth 6 (Division III playoffs). Located in Allentown, Pa., symbol of Rust Belt decline, Muhlenberg must look with longing on adjacent Bethlehem, Pa., which is booming and gentrifying despite a similar Rust Bowl profile. Last week, Muhlenberg joined 15 other colleges in the 10th annual European Union Simulation, in which students play-act the positions of European Union governments. A European Union simulation? Hmmm, they'd have to talk for years, eat fabulous meals, travel in limousines and accomplish nothing other than dissing Turkey.
The European Union is a kind of quasi-official meta-government that seeks out the cost, bureaucracy and ineffectiveness of each member nation's worst ministry, then tries to impose it on all of Europe. The symbol of European Union effectiveness is a giant $600 million complex the organization built in downtown Brussels, which sat for more than a decade ago unoccupied, swathed in enormous sheets of plastic, because there is asbestos in the walls, though there is no evidence that asbestos in walls has ever harmed anyone. (Workplace exposure is dangerous.) TMQ particularly likes the European Union Ombudsman, which exists to receive complaints of "maladministration" by the European Union. The Ombudsman must be busy! You can file an online "quick complaint" against the Committee of the Regions, a typical European Union top-heavy maladministrator. The Ombudsman warns, "even a confidential complaint must be sent to the Community institution or body concerned." And what's up with the name University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth? It is not an affiliate, just located in the town of Dartmouth. This means there could be a University of Illinois-Yale and a University of Kentucky-Stanford, among others.
Double Bonus Obscure Score: Washington & Jefferson 24, Christopher Newport 10 (Division III playoffs). Well, of course two guys would beat one guy! Washington & Jefferson's football team is known as the Presidents. Does this means the cheerleaders are called the Interns?
New York Times Final-Score Score. The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-16 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-695 since TMQ began tracking.
Misery loves company: Each election season, The Washington Post asks pundits and insiders to predict the exact final results in the House and Senate. This year the panel included Tucker Carlson of CNN, William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, Ralph Nader, Travis Smiley of NPR, columnist Armstrong Williams, lobbyists Anne Wexler and Sheila Tate, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, John Micklethwait of The Economist and Amy Walter, an analyst for The Cook Political Report, an insider's bible. Also, two high-school civics classes picked numbers. And which of these many accurately predicted the exact final score of 228 Republicans in the House and 51 in the Senate (assuming Mary Landrieu wins the runoff in Louisiana)? None, of course. No one was right about both; two were right about 51 Republican senators; and the only one to pick 228 Republican members of the House was the 12th-grade government studies class of Herndon High School in Herndon, Va.
Reader Animadversion: TMQ continues to get as much mail on the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders lingerie poses as on any other subject other than the blitz. Today we gawk at Deborah P., nominated by many, many readers. She is studying criminal justice and aspires to be a police officer. A reader haikuizes,
Show Deborah P.!
Future police officer:
Cuff me now, I beg
-- David Shewchuk, Nashua, N.H.
Apropos TMQ's blasting Hollywood for violence in movies marketed to children -- adults should watch what they please, but studies show that images of violence harm young minds -- reader Darren Wah of Feasteville, Pa., asks, "Is it possible that football could be construed as violent, and that watching football could have a similar violence enhancing effect on kids? Do you believe that football really shouldn't be marketed to kids?" Another reader adds in haiku,
Ironic, I think,
TMQ picks on movies,
not football violence.
-- Brendan, Boulder, Colo.
This is a solid point, but I think there are significant differences. First, although what happens on the football field is violent, it is not the point of the game to cause harm; injuries occur, but are (usually) accidental. Football differs here from prizefighting, which TMQ can't stand, because the point of prizefighting is to cause harm. And the fact that football players routinely endure unpleasant pulls, breaks and assorted bodily pain doesn't count out football as an entertainment.
Dancers, among others, also endure pain and ruin their backs and knees. Few dancers for Alvin Ailey or Twyla Tharp make it much past 30 owing to the deterioration of their bodies, and this doesn't cause anyone to object to modern dance. (Sometimes the pieces have that effect, though.)
The meaningful difference between Hollywood violence and football violence is that, though both synthetic, Hollywood depicts people being killed, and many Hollywood movies depict characters having fun by killing others. This is the sort of thought you don't want to place into the brains of impressionable young people. Studies by Leonard Eron, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, have shown that after about age 19, viewers can watch unlimited violent images without temptation to imitate because their personalities are formed, but before that age, when personalities are not yet formed, viewing of violence can instill a desire to imitate. It's glorification of violence that a typical person could actually do -- buying a gun and using it to kill or rape -- that inspires imitation. Most average people can't imitate professional football violence because most people cannot make a football team; the worst they can do in terms of imitation is throw elbows during touch games. There, I think, is the distinction.
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TMQ Challenge: Last week's Challenge was to compose a warning label that would be placed on movies, politicians, football players or mega-babes. Unfortunately, all proposed mega-babe warning labels were unprintable; many had to do with element No. 14, a joke that chem majors will get.
Reader "Porkchop Lipschitz" of St. Louis proposed that all NFL players who test negative for steroids be allowed to wear the label, CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
Edwin Hill of Evansville, Ind., suggested the Lions be labeled CONTENT MAY SETTLE DURING FUTILITY and Mike Martz bear the disclaimer, EGO IN THE MIRROR MAY BE LARGER THAN IT APPEARS.
(On that point, TMQ asks, Why do cars have side mirrors that make other cars appear farther way than they really are -- to increase accidents? TMQ also noted the disclaimer on the new flick "Femme Fatale," warning of "strong sexuality." TMQ likes strong women, but does this mean there's a sex scene in the weight room?)
Matt Holden of City of Tampa proposes the Nevermores safety Ed Reed, who had the ball stripped when he started celebrating at the 10-yard line, be labeled, END ZONE MAY BE FARTHER AWAY THAN IT APPEARS.
Ken Bailey of Ypsilanti, Mich., proposes that Lions games be labeled, DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY WHILE WATCHING, owing to the risk of drowsiness.
Brian Bauman of Morristown, N.J., proposes that City of Tampa's Bucs be labeled, DO NOT EXPOSE TO COLD WEATHER.
Reader "PJ" of Compton, Calif., proposes that the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders' lingerie calendar boldly be stamped, WARNING: THONGAGE.
Todd Covert of Knoxville, Tenn., proposes that the movie "Jackass" bear the warning, YU MUSK B THIS SMARTT TOO SEE THIS MOOVY.
Marty Trautman of Battle Creek, Mich., proposed that Randy Moss be labeled, CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE.
Todd Warner of Ironton, Ohio, suggested that the Cowboys be rated NC-17 because there is "no chance they will score more than 17." Sunday was a small exception; the basic principle is sound.
And the Challenge goes to Robert Carlisle of Arlington, Va., who proposed that Dobby the Elf, coach Steve Spurrier of the Persons, be stamped, "Expiration Date: Dec 30, 2002."
This Week's Challenge: We've compared NFL figures to Shakespeare and to characters from Shakespeare's replacement as the titan of English letters, J.K. Rowling. This time, it's personal: Who in the NFL reminds you of a "Star Trek" character? You can compare to any of the shows -- the Archer, Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko serials -- or any Trek "movie." TMQ says "movie" in quotes because the Picard-era Trek films have been no different from two-hour television episodes, except that you pay $8 to find out how poorly written they are. (TMQ feels sure the upcoming "Star Trek: Nemesis" will reflect the current Hollywood vow of "millions for special effects, not one cent for writing.") Submit your proposal and clever comments here, bearing in mind that the final decision will be completely arbitrary.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 book, "The Here and Now" here ... and now.