By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

"For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher fumed after Tennessee missed an overtime field goal but running-into-the-kicker gave the Titans their successful second try. Many Steelers and bobbleheads opined afterward that zebras should not make calls that decide games. Let the boys be the ones who settle the outcome of games, they said; hitting the kicker shouldn't be called in overtime unless it's completely outrageous. Likewise, many Hurricanes and bobbleheads fumed that officials should not have called defensive holding on Ohio State's fourth-down incompletion in overtime that would otherwise have given the University of Miami the national championship. Let the boys be the ones who settle the outcome, Hurricane supporters insisted; holding shouldn't be called on fourth down in overtime unless it's completely outrageous.

That flags should not fly on decisive plays numbers among the strangest contentions in sports. Of course officials shouldn't make bad calls on the final play, but they shouldn't make bad calls in a scoreless first quarter, either. Running into the kicker is illegal. It's illegal during a scoreless first quarter and it's illegal on the decisive play of overtime. Don't want a flag? Don't break the rules.

It would be one thing to argue that Dwayne Washington did not run into the kicker or that the Miami defender did not hold the Ohio State receiver -- that is, that the calls were wrong. But Pittsburgh can't argue this, because Washington plowed into Joe Nedney plenty good. If you made an officiating instructional tape to show what constitutes running into the kicker, you couldn't pick a better play as an exemplar. The Miami holding question is not as open-and-shut. TMQ thinks it was indeed holding, but has certainly seen the same action before without yellow floating by.

At any rate, the notion that officials should ignore penalties on game-deciding plays -- essentially, that everything becomes legal when the outcome is on the line -- is what's "ludicrous." Want to legalize running into the kicker? Start a campaign for that. Don't tell me it should be legalized only when your team is trailing in overtime.

Penalty flag
Just for fun, show this picture to Steeler fans.

It's equally "ludicrous" to contend that when flags fly on decisive plays this means the officials, rather than the players, are deciding the game. If the zebras had allowed Dwayne Washington to do something illegal, wouldn't that be deciding a playoff game in Pittsburgh's favor? If officials at the Fiesta Bowl had allowed defensive holding when Ohio State faced fourth down in overtime, wouldn't that be deciding a championship game in Miami's favor?

There are examples of bad calls that decided games, including Vinny Testaverde's 1998 Phantom Touchdown given to the Jets on a last play against Seattle and the Phantom Interference in the 1998 Buffalo-New England contest. For the latter, the Bills were flagged for interference in the end zone on a Hail Mary on the final play; the Pats scored on their bonus down to win, while replays clearly showed their Hail Mary receiver was never touched. That call was "ludicrous" because it was a bad call. But if there had been interference, of course a yellow hanky should have sailed. Just because it's the deciding play does not make infractions temporarily legal.

TMQ admires those officials who throw flags on the decisive downs of big games, so long as their flags are correct. These admirable officials don't stop doing their jobs just because they might be criticized. Also, they have to live with people like Bill Cowher using them as scapegoats for a team's inability simply to win on the field.

In other football news, you'd think this would have been the greatest weekend of the year for NFL football -- eight top teams playing do-or-die, every minute on national television. But while you'd think the divisional round would be fabulous, often it's a letdown.

The divisional round pits four home teams which earned byes, and have spent a week off relaxing, against four weary road teams. Results are predictable. Divisional games are almost always won by the home team: 10 of the last 12, for instance. Many, such as the Niners-at-Bucs game, are disappointments which appear to pit an exhausted club that has just done early checkout at a Motel Six against a rested, healthy unit that spent two weeks in a whirlpool getting back rubs from a blonde named Chrissy. (See below.) The four best teams deserve a bye as a reward for doing well during the regular season; the wrestling for this mega-perk is one of the things that makes NFL regular-season games exciting. But the effect of granting byes is often that the divisional round is a letdown -- this year, only one top-notch game out of four.

And in still other football news, the last two overtime playoff games have now been ones in which the losing team never got a possession. Please, NFL, it's time to change the system. Ceremonial coin flips should not determine the winners of playoff games.

Bill Cowher
Stop, Bill. The Steelers folding in a big game has almost become tradition.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 1 -- Steelers at Titans: The pressure on Bill Cowher was so extreme, if he'd put a lump of coal into his mouth he could have spit out a diamond. Last year, Cowher had the league's No. 1 defense and No. 1 running game, yet honked the AFC championship at home to New England. This year, Cowher came into the postseason with the best-overall team statistically in the tournament -- fifth in offense, seventh in defense -- plus a hot passing game and a hot kick-return man. Cowher knew if he didn't make the Super Bowl, questions would be raised about his competence. That's why he went mental and made his childish charge across the field at referee Ron Blum as the game ended, then childishly charged into the locker room without congratulating the winning coach -- which is, Bill, what sportsmen do. Ron Blum didn't lose the Steelers-at-Titans game. The Steelers lost it.

Last year, in honking the AFC title game, Cowher, with the league's top-ranked rushing attack, inexplicably threw 42 times and rushed 22 times, this pattern starting long before the Steelers fell behind. TMQ wrote at the time, "Dance with them what brung ya. Some dull, dependable guy asks you to the dance, picks you up in a washed car, buys you a nosegay. Inside the dancehall there's a flashy guy who gives you a line. If this guy is so great, why doesn't he have his own date? Why not stay true to the one what brung ya?" The Steelers need to run to control the clock and allow their defense to dominate; when they go pass-wacky, they might occasionally get an improbable win, such as their comeback over the Oranges a week ago, but the law of averages says Pittsburgh will go home unhappy if it doesn't feature the run.

And that's what Pittsburgh did against the Titans at Formerly Named for a Mob Firm Coliseum -- 42 passes and 20 rushes, almost exactly the same distribution as from the honked title game of last season. This pattern held even when Pittsburgh was ahead. The low moment: Game tied with 2:08 remaining in regulation, the Steelers had first down at the Titans' 40. Wind at their backs, they needed 10 yards for a reasonable figgie and 20 yards a close-range attempt. They also should have been sure to bury the clock in the process, so that either they would win or the Titans would have no time left. What did the Steelers do? Incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, punt. Not only did Pittsburgh botch this golden opportunity, it left the Flaming Thumbtacks 1:43, with which Tennessee just barely failed to win in regulation as its field-goal attempt sailed slightly wide. Yes, Tennessee possesses a top-rated rushing defense. But by installing a game plan that essentially abandoned the run, Cowher gambled everything on his receivers' hands on a freezing day.

Jeff Fisher
Hey, hot dog guy! Report to my office immediately!

For his part, Jeff Fisher insisted that the Flaming Thumbtacks run despite the fact that Pittsburgh has the league's No. 1 rush defense. Tennessee rushed 36 times. Passes accounted for most of the yardage for the Titans, but sticking with the run kept the Steelers defense in its up-to-the-line sets that are inviting to pass against. Fisher also kept his head in the game, not obsessing over the officials as Cowher did. When Albert Haynesworth was called a body slam with two minutes left, giving the Steelers that golden opportunity at the Titans' 40, Fisher did not blow his stack; he knew it was a penalty and accepted his medicine with a grimace instead of screaming at the officials. Zebras remember things like that -- that Coach A (Fisher) hasn't spent the game berating them from the sidelines while Coach B (Cowher) has. When it all comes down to a crunch moment, the officials may look more kindly on Coach A, exactly what happened in Nashville.

Yes, The Blitz Sometimes Works: Game tied and 1:45 in regulation, Pittsburgh faced third-and-10 on Tennessee 40. Six-blitz, Tommy Maddox barely gets off an incompletion, the Steelers punt. This jailbreak was effective in part because Tennessee rarely blitzed, lulling the opposition blockers to sleep.

Sweet Play of the Day No. 1: Leading by seven at the start of the fourth, the Raiders got the ball on a Jersey/B turnover -- the first play after a turnover being when a defense is most vulnerable. Oakland came out in an unbalanced line, an extra tackle reporting as the tight end. Skillful Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell must have thought: Surely they're going to power-run and try to kill the clock. Eight Jersey/B defenders crept up to crowd the line. Play-fake and plenty of time for Gannon, considering he has six OLs on the field. Fifty-yard completion to Jerry Porter, the Long Johns score a touchdown on the possession and the rout is on.

Sweet Play of the Day No. 2: Scoring to make it 28-26 with 11 minutes left, Pittsburgh went for the deuce. Last week, a Steelers' deuce was the TMQ sweet play of the day, and this week as well. Maddox faked a handoff to Antwaan Randle El running left, then overhand-lateraled to Hines Ward running right; Ward tossed to Plaxico Burress in the end zone. Burress was uncovered, although, by this point, you'd think all defenses would know Pittsburgh deuce attempts are always trick plays.

Tina Redskins
That's right Tina, you have been immortalized by TMQ.

Cheerleader of the Week: Reader Brian Martin of Denver nominates Tina of the Personettes, pep squad for the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. According to her team bio, Tina has visited Croatia, Ecuador, Iceland and Micronesia on good-will trips sponsored by the Persons; TMQ was not aware that sinister Persons' owner Lord Voldemort (Dan Snyder) had any good will to share. Her favorite television shows include "Sportscenter." Tina, you have marvelous good taste! Her bio says her hobbies include "keeping up with fantasy leagues;" TMQ has a cheerleaders' fantasy league, but perhaps best not to go into the details. Fun factoid: Tina used to be a cheerleader for the Falcons. She's a free-agent cheer-babe!

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 2 -- Falcons at Eagles: Atlanta was outmanned and plagued by injuries, while the Eagles were rested and ready; the Eagles looked rock-solid and the Falcons have made nice progress, but as for the game, rarely has a playoff contest contained less drama. In fact, the game did not matter because the outcome was predestined before kickoff when several Falcons' reserves came out wearing balaclavas as if preparing to ascend K2, not to stand next to heaters under heavy cloaks on a 29-degree night. You couldn't see their faces, only eye slits; they looked like Tusken from "Star Wars." The football gods must have had a good chortle.

Wade Philips has done an impressive job with the no-name Atlanta defense, which kept the Falcons in the game till the middle of the fourth as Michael Vick had his inevitable letdown -- hardly helped by his offensive line, which registered one of the worst blocking games TMQ has ever winced through. Falcon guard Kynan Forney needs a new first name and a new occupation, because he certainly doesn't seem interested in blocking. It was Philadelphia 10, Atlanta 0 at the end of the first and T.J. Duckett of the Falcons was dropped for a loss on third-and-inches when three Eagles hit him in the backfield. What a pitiful blocking performance. At any rate, TMQ thinks the reason Philips is doing well is that he's finally wearing a headset. When at Denver and Buffalo, he was the league's sole head coach who refused to put one on.

Taking over the ball with a 10-0 lead late in the first, on first down the Eagles threw deep to James Thrash -- 42-yard gain, field goal on the possession and the Falcons are looking upward from the bottom of a hole. This was a nice example of the killer instinct, of not taking a 10-point lead for granted. The Eagles showed killer instinct again when it was Philadelphia 13, Atlanta 6 with 6:34 remaining and the Eagles facing fourth-and-one on the Falcons' 35. Play-fake, touchdown pass, game over.

James Thrash
Apparently, someone forgot to pack the defensive playbook.

Best Use of TMQ: Trailing by a point late in the third, Tennessee moved to first-and-goal at the two. "Since it's first down, this will be a play-fake," TMQ exclaimed aloud; and so it was, to uncovered tight end Erron Kinney for six. As TMQ endlessly laments, offensive coordinators should call their goal-line play-fakes on first down, when the defense is thinking run, not on second or third downs, when the defense has stuffed a run and is thinking pass.

Predictable Disaster: Eddie George fumbled to start the second half, and Amos Zereoue ran 31 yards for the touchdown on Pittsburgh's next snap. The most dangerous moment for a defense is always the first play after something terrible happens on offense.

Predictable Miss: Twice Steeler rookie linebacker Larry Foote blew in untouched by human hands, only to sail by Steve McNair and tackle air. McNair is shifty, but Foote was making a classic mistake. When a rusher has a clear lane to the quarterback, he must slow down slightly just before arriving. If moving at maximum warp, you are easily sidestepped. Most linebackers who sail past quarterbacks when they seem to have easy sacks have failed to slow down on the final two steps.

Yeats Said, "The Center Cannot Hold," But Obviously He Hasn't Seen a Falcons Game: Falcons fans are gnashing their teeth over the holding that nullified Michael Vick's 20-yard third-quarter touchdown run, and would have tied the score at 13; Atlanta ended up doinking a figgie on the possession. But there are times when a spectacular play would not have happened but for something illegal. This call was a quarterback draw over the left guard and left guard Travis Claridge tackled his man in the hole. Without the holding, there would have been no flashy run.

Contrast to the death-knell play of the Niners-at-Bucs game. City of Tampa leading 31-6 at the start of the fourth, San Francisco returned a punt to the Bucs' 30, affording a dim ray of hope. Human mistake-machine corner Mike Rumph was called for push in the back, which, after negating the return, and the walkoff, cost the Squared Sevens 41 yards and drew a curtain over their dim ray of hope. Though the official was right to throw the flag, the run would have happened regardless of the penalty, which had no impact on the play.

Jerry Rice
Quickest fade into oblivion -- that's still your's Thurman.

Stat of the Week: Jerry Rice acquired one of the few possible records he does not already own, most yards in postseason play -- 2,132. Whom did he surpass? Thurman Thomas, who played seven years fewer than Rice. (You'll hear the postseason yardage records, rarely discussed, mentioned a lot when Thomas is a first-ballot Hall of Fame entrant.) Rice also tied Thomas and Emmitt Smith for one of the few other possible records he does not already own, most touchdowns in postseason play -- 21. If your names happen to be Thurman Thomas or Emmitt Smith, don't expect to keep your share of this record.

Stat of the Week No. 2: After giving up 875 total yards of offense in their final five regular-season games, the Steelers gave up 875 yards in two postseason games.

Stat of the Week No. 3: In the Jets-Raiders game, there were three turnovers in 47 seconds.

Stat of the Week No. 4: The Falcons lost despite having more yards, first downs and better time of possession on the road.

Stat of the Week No. 5: The Raiders did not pass more than they ran for the second consecutive outing.

Stat of the Week No. 6: Pittsburgh lost despite being plus-three on turnovers.

Stat of the Week No. 7: Four of the eight starting divisional-round quarterbacks (Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, Brad Johnson and Tommy Maddox) have been waived.

Black box
Exclusive zoom-in photo of the black helicopter used after Sunday's game.

You Didn't See the Helicopters? Well, They're Black! Air Force search-and-rescue teams evacuated survivors in the closing moments of the Pittsburgh at Tennessee game. "Conditions were brutal," said Tech Sergeant Arnold Yafnaro. "People were going down with concussions, ACLs, high-ankle sprains. We prepped the LZ with pyrotechnics -- some may have mistaken them for fireworks -- and took out everybody who was injured. There were barely enough healthy bodies left for a kick-defense unit on the last play." Yafnaro said Titans running back Eddie George was flown directly to a military field hospital, where his head was replaced. "Since he's a football player, his head is considered expendable," Yafnaro explained.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 3 -- Niners at Bucs: Sure, the Squared Sevens defense was hit by injuries, but aye caramba! Although the San Francisco braintrust has carpet-bombed the defensive side of the ball with draft choices attempting to get a unit to balance the team's offense -- the Niners offense remains strong despite management not affording it a high pick in three drafts -- it is amazing how little the Niners have to show for their defensive investment. The Niners boast four recent No. 1s and four recent No. 2s on defense, yet in two postseason tries surrendered 69 points to the middle-of-the-pack Giants and low-low voltage Bucs.

Meanwhile, Tampa is having a beauty season despite the many draft choices the Bucs surrendered to sign Hooters-loving Jon "I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden. Why didn't this transaction wipe out City of Tampa from a talent standpoint? To understand why, we must "discount to present value."

In the NFL, the present-value of future draft picks is discounted by one round per year. San Diego gave up its 1999 No. 1 for a 1998 No. 2 from Tampa. Miami gave up its 2002 No. 2 for a 2001 No. 3 from Philadelphia. Atlanta traded its 2000 No. 6 for a 1999 No. 7 of San Francisco. And so on. If you want someone's X-round pick right now, you give up your X+1 pick a year forward.

Thus, the 1997 transaction in which Bill Parcells went from New England to the Jets for third and fourth picks in 1997, a second pick in 1998 and a first pick in 1999 discounted to one No. 2, two No. 3s and a No. 4. That's what the Patriots really got for Parcells -- measured by what they could have turned around and traded the Jets future selections for on the open market, their "present value."

Bill Parcells
Whoa! I was told there would be no math.

In the Raiders-Bucs deal, Oakland received a first and second pick in 2002 when the transaction was consummated, a future first pick in 2003 and a future second pick in 2004. This discounts to one No. 1, two No. 2s and a No. 4. This is a heady price but not a total wipeout, considering there is more than one example of teams that come away with nothing to show for a group of such picks. Though high, the "present value" of the Tampa selection explains why their surrender did not clobber the team, because much of the real cost was delayed to future years -- just like tax cuts!

Now let's "cancel out," as they do in middle-school math, the Parcells and Gruden transactions. Usually, you can trade two No. 3s for one No. 2. So simplify the Parcells deal to two No. 2s and one 4, and simplify the Gruden deal to one No. 1, two No. 2s and a 4. Cancel out and you find that Gruden changed teams for a full No. 1 more than Parcells, a Super Bowl winner. Yikes.

Why Are You Punting? Trailing 31-6 with 12 minutes remaining, the Squared Sevens faced fourth-and-nine from their 36. This is a playoff game, there's no tomorrow. There's no ranking computer that takes into account margin of victory or defeat. Sure it's a long shot, but San Francisco has no choice but to go for it! Instead, Steve Mariucci calls a punt. Why not just call a cab and head straight for the airport?

NFL Apologizes Again: The league front office, which in the last week has apologized for the blown call on the final play of the Giants-Niners game and for an error in determining Dallas' position in the upcoming college draft, today apologized for supporting Strom Thurmond in the 1948 presidential campaign. "We are reviewing our campaign-donation procedures to insure this never happens again," commissioner Paul Tagliabue told reporters.

Tagliabue further apologized for saying that Tuesday Morning Quarterback was published on Wednesdays. "What I meant to say was that I never finish it till Wednesday," Tagliabue explained. League officials will form a committee to read the column for him.

Strom Thurmond
Man! I can't believe the NFL sent us a check.

Super Bowl Menu Tips It's not too soon to start planning what to serve guests at halftime of your Super Bowl party. TMQ suggests this menu:

Vanilla roasted pineapple duck confit potstickers
Banana-leaf steamed salmon with date quinoa and ancho-white chocolate glaze
Sea urchin soufflé with burst grape tomatoes
Beet ice cream

These are all real dishes! See the TMQ Challenge below.

During a Timeout, the Lads Sampled Ballottine of Foie Gras with Razor Clam Jelly (See Below): It was Pittsburgh 20, Tennessee 14 early in the second half and the Flaming Thumbtacks facing third-and-one. The Titans came out in a four-wide spread; the Steelers came out in a dime, rushing three. At the snap, Steve McNair sprinted backwards. Isn't this supposed to be football? Third-and-one, and a dropback spread pass versus the American Ballet Theater Defense. Ye gods. For female and nontraditional male readers: American Ballet Theater principal dancer Ethan Stiefel

Gruden Is Afraid to Go into Topless Clubs Because He Knows He'll Get Carded: The Bucs compensated for lack of draft choices in part by signing free agents. According to's John Clayton, free agent Ken Dilger signed with Tampa in part because he was impressed that Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden took him to lunch at Hooters. Dilger was especially wowed that when the time came to pay the bill, Gruden whipped out a Hooters card.

Jon! Ken! Tampa numbers among the world capitals of high-class naked-dancer clubs. You can do a lot better than Hooters in Tampa. How about Tampa's renowned Beach Bunny Topless Club, worth a trip for the name alone? Or the Diamond Dolls Club, which advertises that it has been "voted Tampa's No. 1 topless club for the 7th straight year." The Diamond Dolls Club website -- to which I won't link for thong- and cleavage-based reasons -- offers many entertaining photos of recent featured dancers, including the Bond-movie-named Chrissy Mountjoy.

Hooters Fan Card
Gruden, couldn't you switch to someplace a little more classy -- like Chili's?

When the Giants and Ravens played their Super Bowl at Tampa, Jersey/A coach Jim Fassel had a Tampa police officer address the squad about the city's topless clubs. Not to warn them away, rather to explain the etiquette in such establishments -- Big Rule: the dancer can touch you but you can't touch the dancer -- so they would not land themselves in a lockup before game time.

Jon, how can you be in Tampa, haven of Florida beach babes, a high-class topless paradise, and be hanging out at a Hooters? TMQ says go to TGI Friday's when you want lunch, go to a topless club when you want to have fun but, ye gods, never go to a Hooters. As for the Hooters card, it awards a $100 gift certificate for every $1,000 spent. Jon "I Was a Teenaged Coach" Gruden spends more than $1,000 at Hooters? Saints defend us.

Local civic pride note: Reader Mike Byrnes of Las Vegas counters that his town, not Tampa, is the capital of lap dancing. "I have lived in Las Vegas for two and a half years and can flatly state that there is not another city, state or country in the world that provides better outlets for the under-appreciated art of lap-dancing than Las Vegas," Byrnes writes. Vegas lap dancers specialize in "imaginative ways to use dental floss as clothing," Byrnes adds. He haikuizes,

    Lap dancing cloud nine?
    Vegas, baby! Mega-babes
    clad in dental floss.
    -- Mike Byrnes, Las Vegas

Mike, you are now a published poet! Mention that to the under-appreciated performer as you are commissioning your next lap dance. That's sure to impress her.

Coming soon: TMQ defines "high-class" topless.

Chad Pennington
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, Chad.

Playoff Coaching Pressure Analysis No. 4 -- Jets at Raiders: Good coaching and exceptional player effort can make a team hot, as Jersey/B glowed red-hot during its surprise late playoff run and first-round demolition of Indy. But luck also plays a role, and at Oakland the Jets' luck ran out. They had turned the ball over but seven times in their previous nine games, an amazing streak. The football gods knew the law of averages would iron this out -- and it did, four turnovers at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum. You'll not win many road playoff games with four turnovers. The Jets have also been making every catch, sometimes making fabulous catches. Five drops at Not Bankrupt Yet Coliseum -- one that would have been a touchdown, two on third down that stopped drives.

Herman Edwards and his staff, who've done so well in the stretch run, were outcoached by the Raiders on several technical aspects, including the out pattern. Anybody who's watched Jets film in the last month knows they were getting away with an inordinate number of intermediate 12-to-18-yard outs, a pattern Chad Pennington throws well. Oakland coached its defenders to "jump" the out, and even had linebackers sprinting toward the sidelines when they saw an out pattern. The result was two interceptions against Pennington on outs, and that's twice as many as he had pitched on all patterns in the preceding month.

Bill Callahan, who, like Jon Gruden, signals in his own offensive plays, called a wonderful game, hitting the ideal 50/50 run-pass mix. During the third quarter, the network bobbleheads were zinging him for not passing on every down -- that's why they are bobbleheads and not coaches! -- but his game plan came to fruition in the fourth quarter. By then, Jets defenders were tired and Oakland stuck to the run, rushing 11 times for 76 yards and burying the clock. Callahan did not make the mistake that Jim Fassel and Butch Davis made in comparable situations the week before. Once it was the fourth quarter and he had a two-scores lead, Callahan knew the official timekeeper had become his opponent, and stayed on the ground to defeat that opponent.

Worst Failure to Read TMQ: Tampa leading by seven in the first, San Francisco had first-and-goal on the Bucs' five while the game was far from the blowout it became. Did the Niners follow TMQ's law of the goal line -- power-run, play-fake or roll-out, but no regular passes? A possession of one run and two regular passes, they settled for the figgie and the Bucs were smiling.

Maybe Saddam University Can Play Indiana of Pennsylvania: Check the official Iraqi government website, to learn about prestigious Saddam University, the Saddam Center for Cardiac Surgery, the Saddam Center for Islamic Sciences and dozens of other institutions that by the strangest coincidence all begin with the same word. Not even Stalin named this much after himself!

Iraq tourism
Come for the enchanted desert, stay for the deadly nerve gas.

The official Iraqi tourism site, helpfully explains, "Iraqis are of the unique countries which have integral tourist supply." The Baghdad Institute for Tourism and Hotel Services teaches front-desk management and hospitality, "hospitality" in Iraq meaning not to execute guests. If you're interested in a Baghdad holiday, book and travel immediately. Between cool weather for wearing NBC protective suits and low probability of dust storms that disrupt helicopter operations, early February through late March is the ideal invasion season in Iraq.

I Know Fullbacks, Fullbacks Are Friends of Mine, and You, Sir, Are No Fullback: TMQ has already complained that City of Tampa's Mike Alstott perennially makes the Pro Bowl as a "fullback" even though he does not play this position. Against San Francisco, this became a farce as, on several downs, including his first-quarter touchdown, Alstott the tailback lined up behind a true fullback, Darian Barnes. The "fullback" needs a fullback as a lead blocker! Yumpin' jiminy.

Christmas Present Update No. 1: Grant, an Official Child of TMQ, got EA Madden NFL 2003 and is, of course, playing it obsessively. He had some friends over, and one who already owns the Madden software chose to line up as the Falcons because he swears the electronic Michael Vick is the fastest player in the game.

(John Madden works for's corporate parent. TMQ shamelessly sucks up to's corporate parent and considers this fine so long as it's disclosed. Get EA Madden NFL 2003 today!)

Rich Gannon
Even cyber-Gannon can light you up.

Christmas Present Update No. 2: Mara Rose, the Official Daughter of TMQ, got the edited version of Eminem's Eight Mile soundtrack. She reports that every other word is "beep." Lyrics sound like this:

"I wanna {beep}your{beep} with my {beep}, you {beeping}{beep}."

Reverse Psychology: "It's a double reverse!" Greg Gumble cried as Santana Moss took a handoff from Laveranues Coles and ran seven yards against Oakland. "A double reverse!" Phil Simms seconded. No, it wasn't. Chad Pennington gave the ball to Coles running right. Then Coles gave it back to Moss running left. That's one change of direction -- a single reverse, off the end-around.

Do sportscasters and bobbleheads scream, "It's a double reverse!" on plays that aren't a double reverse because they don't know what they are seeing, or because they think the word "double" pumps air into the moment? Maybe I should employ more double entendre!

Single Worst Play of the Divisionals: Game tense and tied at 10 in the third, Oakland had first down on the Jersey/B 29. Jerry Porter ran the stop-and-go left; Rich Gannon pumped; Jets corner Aaron Beasley covered the stop, then made no attempt whatsoever to stay with Porter as he rocketed toward the house for the touchdown that changed the game.

Beasley utterly ignored Porter because he was busy making the high-school mistake of "looking into the backfield" trying to guess the play. The play was a deep pass to his man! The Jets were in a two-deep zone on that snap, but having safety help does not mean that a cornerback is supposed to stand around doing nothing; otherwise every time a defensive coordinator called two-deep, the offense would be playing 11 on nine.

Note to readers: TMQ will chose a Single Worst Play of the Super Bowl. Start sharpening pencils for your nominees now.

Running Items Department

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Guesses returns to its habitual 0-4 in its triumphant attempt to predict an exact final score, bringing the New York Times Final-Score Score to 1-781 since TMQ began tracking. Misery loves company: eight ESPN sports nuts forecast the winners for the weekend and but three were right, even though all you had to do was pick the home team in every game.

Leila San Jose
Don't judge this book by its cover.

Reader Animadversion: Reader Brian of Chicago urged TMQ not to overlook the cheer-babes of the defending champion San Jose Saber Cats of the Arena League, whose season opens the week after the Super Bowl. Here's Saber Kitten Leila Wright, a dance teacher and business management major at San Jose State. Wright is a former Rockette, a former Miss Almaden Valley and a former Miss Gilroy. She lists "reading" as a hobby. From having looked at a lot of cheerleader bios, TMQ can assure you that this is somewhat rare in the mega-babe business.

Reader Whitley, also of Chicago, objects to "frozen tundra," now spouted by many sports bobbleheads in imitation of Chris Berman. Tundra, Whitley notes, must be frozen.

Reader Alan T. of Philadelphia suggests that the ending of the Giants-Niners game actually wasn't unfair to Jersey/A, because there should be no pass interference call whenever an ineligible receiver is downfield. "When there are ineligible players downfield, how is the defensive team supposed to know which of the players needs to be covered?" he asks, especially when the ineligible gentlemen in question all have linemen's numbers, and normally linemen can be slammed into legally. Alan T. proposes that ineligible receiver be made a loss-of-down infraction, like intentional grounding. Under such a rule, the Giants-Niners ending would have been correct as called.

Many readers including Pritham, also of Philadelphia, noted that in addition to shifting to the woebegone prevent defense in the final six minutes, Butch Davis of the Oranges used all three of his timeouts in the third quarter of the Cleveland-Pittsburgh contest, burning two rather casually. The game, of course, ended with Cleveland trailing by three and the clock expiring because Davis had no timeouts left as one of his charges made a reception in field-goal range.

Jeff Leinbach of Allentown, Pennsylvania, proposes that the TMQ cognomen for Cincinnati be the Garfields. "The colors work and the Bengals have been playing like an overweight, lasagna-loving tabby for quite a while now," Leinbach notes.

Unlike the Bengals, you are supposed to laugh at this cat.

Many, many readers including Teresa Ridley of Berlin, Wisconsin, defended the honor of Packers wideout Donald Driver, whom TMQ had derided as oft-injured. Driver, Teresa noted, missed only three games this season and did his best to play hurt against the Falcons. TMQ is now persuaded by sheer weight and volume of e-mail that Green Bay fans are satisfied with the effort afforded by Donald Driver. Also, many Driver defenses came from female readers. Could this possibly have anything to do with Tuesday Morning Quarterback running a beefcake photo of Driver a few columns back?

Rachel Clough of New York City defended the honor of Marv Levy against TMQ's statement that Tony Dungy was the new Levy, great during the regular season but consistently outcoached under playoff pressure. "Last time I checked, Tony Dungy's postseason record is 2-5 or .286 while Levy's postseason record was 11-8 or .579," Rachel noted.

A few columns ago, TMQ asked if any science-adept reader could compute how large a space mirror would need to be in order to power the death ray depicted in the Bond flick "Die Another Day." No one leapt into this breach, so TMQ His Ownself has performed the computation.

First, according to this NASA paper, the energy value of sunlight in low-Earth orbit is 130 watts per square foot.

Now, how much power would a death ray require? The closest thing under actual construction is the Air Force's Airborne Laser, designed to shoot down missiles rising from their pads. According to this article by Nora Wallace, the Airborne Laser pumps one million watts. So to collect one millions watts at 130 watts per square foot -- we assume a perfectly efficient death ray -- the space mirror would have to be 7,692 square feet. ("Assume a perfectly efficient death ray" is a little engineering-students' joke, har har.)

Airborne Laser
Be the first kid in your neighborhood to vaporize your friends.

But wait, the beam of the Airborne Laser is about the thickness of a pencil, whereas the beam of the death ray in "Die Another Day" is depicted as far wider. How wide? Let's estimate 200 feet wide, from the scene in which it is chewing up huge swaths of the DMZ between the Koreas. To go from one inch wide to 200 feet wide, our death ray would require not one million watts but 2.4 billion watts. The space-mirror size jumps to 18.5 million square feet.

Wait again, the Airborne Laser is designed to overheat a tiny patch on the ultra-milled aluminum skin of a missile, whereas the death ray in "Die Another Day" is capable of boiling rock formations in seconds and slicing the sides off glaciers. This means the death ray must be considerably more energetic than the Airborne Laser. How much is hard to say, but let's estimate three times more. Now the mirror spec jumps to 55.5 million square feet.

And wait again. The range of the Airborne Laser is classified, but published estimates have said around 100 miles. The death ray would need to orbit at least 200 miles above Earth to prevent atmospheric drag on its huge mirror, meaning the ray would have to fire across at least double the distance of the Airborne Laser. Some of the death ray's bolt would travel through space, where transmission losses are slight, but unlike the Airborne Laser, the death ray would need to penetrate the ionosphere, where transmission losses may be a factor. Better double that power requirement again, to 14.4 billion watts.

This works out to an orbital sunlight collector of 111 million square feet. Assuming a circular mirror, its diameter would be 164 miles. TMQ is going out on a limb to assert that at present, the North Korean economy cannot support the construction in outer space of an object 164 miles across. (Thanks to James Collins, math teacher and jayvee football coach at Churchill High in Montgomery County, Maryland, for grading TMQ's calculations.)

Bonus reality check: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama hopes to test collecting solar power in space and transferring it to Earth. The project goal is 78,000 watts, less than one ten-thousandth of one percent of what the Bond movie death ray would require.

Die Another Day
The Energizer Bunny has nuthin' on the Death Ray.

Finally, many readers, including Chris Meyer of Newark, Delaware, wrote to suggest that TMQ should have claimed prescience for warning that Jeremy Shockey would be punished by the football gods for his strutting and boasting. Shockey, Meyer and many readers noted, proceeded to drop the touchdown pass that would have sealed the Giants-Niners game for Jersey/A. A fine point. But when have I ever blown my own horn about being right? Wouldn't want to tempt the football gods myself!

Last Week's Challenge: TMQ described encountering white chocolate jalapeno mousse on a menu and asked readers what's the most wacky or pretentious ingredients combination they had seen.

Benjamin Dover of Millsboro, Delaware, reported that he had ordered the chilled peach and shrimp soup at Trilogy Wine Bar in Boulder, Colorado. "Happily, this item is no longer on the menu," Dover says of his taste-test.

Josh Sinnett of Bellingham, Washington, reported that "While staying at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Washington, I had a chance to peruse the menu for The Herbfarm, a formal restaurant on the grounds of the hotel. When I saw the sea-urchin soufflé, I knew it was time to go find a cheeseburger." The Herbfarm's website includes the warning, "Each day's menu is finalized only hours before the meal."

Tory Tomlinson of Arlington, Virginia, nominated the Pound Hound sandwich at the Lost Dog Café in his town -- "Three layers of French toast, turkey breast, hickory ham and melted Swiss, served with strawberry preserves on the side." The strawberry jam must make it healthy!

Reader Julie Snowe of Washington, DC, notes she recently savored a dish at the fabled Red Sage restaurant in her town that included "burst grape tomatoes." Julie inquires, "What, exactly, caused them to burst?"

Jon Jacoby of New York suggests this delicacy from his town's Bistro Moderne: "Sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles." Sells for $29, though a steal at $28 at lunch.

Banana leaf steamed salmon? Yeah, that is odd.

Jake of Minneapolis suggests this yummy dish from Oddfellows restaurant in his hometown: "Banana leaf steamed salmon with date quinoa and ancho-white chocolate glaze."

Dave Robinson writes that Memories in the town of Regina, Saskatchewan, serves a desert called Strawberries and Peppercorns. "Strawberries and green peppercorns are sautéed in a pan with Amaretto and bandy and then drizzled over ice cream," Robinson reports. He adds, "It's quite good." Too much exposure to that long summer Saskatchewan sun must have altered Robinson's palette.

Jay Silverman of Cincinnati reports that Dal Met Fu, a popular eatery in Skopje, Macedonia, offers "freyed crap" -- garbled English for fried carp. Perhaps the freyed crap is first sauterned in sauté!

Taran Grigsby of Boston says the pretentious Truc restaurant in beantown offers black pepper ice cream. "Out of curiosity, I ordered it," he reports. "Lo, it tasted like cold black pepper. When I made this comment to the waitress, her snooty response was, 'It's very popular in Japan.'" Taran, in Boston the waitresses are supposed to insult the customers.

Mike Rucki of our nation's capital notes that its pretentious night spot DC Coast serves "seared La Belle farm foie gras with black mission figs, verjus port demi and fleur de sel." Considering that fleur de sel means "flower of salt" (not "sea salt") and port demi means "half a port," Rucki theorizes that this dish must contain "a lot of whatever verjus is."

Steve Ross of Denver notes that the Bronco's official entry in the Taste of the NFL is not some manly-man beef-and-cheese dish but tuna and pineapple ceviche with ginger-scallion vinaigrette. Run for your lives!

Daryle LaMonica of Massapequa, New York, notes that Felidia on 58th Street in Manhattan was a few months ago offering beet ice cream.

Sam Greene of New York City reports that during the excruciating fad for fusion food -- French-Mexican, etc. -- Manhattan's super-expensive Atlas restaurant offered:

Lamb with coffee and cardamom fumet
Candied grapefruit with scallops
Fresh-water eel with watermelon cubes and candied violets
Ballottine of foie gras with razor clam jelly

Buffalo Wings
Where have you gone spicy buffalo wings? A nation turns its hungry stomachs to you.

"Mmmm, just like Mom used to make," Greene notes. TMQ's response: "Razor jelly?"

This week's Challenge goes to Evan Reich, also of New York City, who provides these pretentious selections:

Fois gras sautéed with cocoa and mango pie -- Le Cottage in St. Martin's

Roasted squab with celery coconut cream and nettles -- Aquavit in New York

Vanilla roasted pineapple duck confit potstickers -- AZ in New York

It's that super-pretentious St. Martin's reference that puts Reich over the top. And aren't "nettles" thorns? At the super-expensive Aquavit in Manhattan, they put thorns in your food?

This Week's Challenge: Leila Wright was Miss Almaden Valley. The alluring temptress in the football novel "North Dallas Forty" was Miss Farm Implement. What's the goofiest "Miss ______" title of which you've heard? Register it here with as many specifics as possible, especially websites or winner's photos if available.

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.