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Since the NFL MVP always goes to a quarterback or running back, for a decade TMQ has conferred a Non-QB Non-RB MVP, the coveted "longest award in sports." This year for the first time, readers choose the winner! See the poll midway through the column.
The Non-QB Non-RB MVP must be a player from one of the Super Bowl entrants, my reasoning being that he who would wear the mantle of "most valuable" had better have created some value. This year's finalists in alpha order are Doug Baldwin of Seattle, Richard Sherman of Seattle, Danny Trevathan of Denver and Louis Vasquez of Denver.
There are capsules for each player below, near the poll. You won't see the count when you vote -- because the winner will be announced Thursday at noon ET. I will tweet the result, and you can check the NFL Nation blog for more on the winner. Beware that you may confer upon your choice the Non-QB Non-RB MVP Curse. The 2012 winner, David Diehl of the Giants, just retired; the 2013 winner, NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers, was injured last week, reportedly tearing his ACL and MCL.
During this pause between the conference championship games and that Super Bowl thing you might have heard of -- it is withdrawal rehearsal week, since football, America's national drug, is about to be taken away -- TMQ wants to shine a light on reform ideas for the game.
Football is a fantastic sport, the No. 1 sport of the No. 1 nation. The level of play has never been higher. But it's a sport with deep-seated problems that, if not addressed, could lead to long-term decline. Right now might be the peak moment of the football bubble, and not just because big-college attendance is mildly off and Super Bowl ticket prices are falling. The whole football bubble could burst if high schools begin to drop the sport owing to liability exposure.
My new book, "The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America," is about how to reform football so the game is "just as exciting and popular, but no longer notorious." Here is a fast-forward version of the reform plan:
For the NFL:
• Revoke the nonprofit status of league headquarters, and the ability of the league and individual clubs to employ tax-free bonds. A bill before the Senate, from Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, would end these and other sports tax breaks.
• Require disclosure of painkiller use club by club -- as anonymous data, with names removed. Painkiller abuse may be football's next scandal.
• Change law so images of football games played in publicly funded stadia cannot be copyrighted. The effect would be that the NFL would immediately repay all stadium construction subsidies, and never seek a subsidy again. Altering national copyright law seems more promising than trying to ban pro football stadium subsidies state by state, since the handouts originate with a broad mix of state, county and city agencies. (Yes, careful wording of such a law would be required to prevent unintended consequences.)
For the NCAA:
• Graduation rates should be factored into the new FBS playoff ranking system. Not the meaningless "Academic Progress Rate" the NCAA touts precisely because of its meaninglessness -- graduation is what matters. News organizations that rank college football should add graduation rates voluntarily, as news organizations have voluntarily agreed to many best-practice standards.
• For FBS players, the year-to-year scholarship -- which pressures them to favor football over the library, to ensure the scholarship is renewed -- should be replaced with a six-year scholarship. That way once a player's athletic eligibility has expired, typically after 4.5 years, and once the NFL does not call -- 97 percent of FBS players never take an NFL snap -- there will be paid-up semesters remaining for him to be a full-time student, repair credits and earn that diploma. Not all will need the extra semesters. But six-year full scholarships would change big-college football from a cynical exercise in using up impressionable young men and throwing them away, into a fair deal: The university gets great football, the players get educations.
• NCAA penalties should follow coaches. If a coach breaks rules at College A then skedaddles to College B, all College A sanctions should follow him. The NFL should agree, voluntarily, that the length of any NCAA penalties follows any coach who skedaddles to the pros. So if Coach A gets out of town just before the posse arrives and imposes a two-year sanction on College B, Coach A should face a two-year sanction from the NFL.
For high school:
• Football should return to being a seasonal sport -- no practices or events from January to July. Coaches can't be present at anything in shorts, not even conditioning.
• Once school starts, contact only once a week, and surprise inspections of practices. With one high school player in 2,000 advancing to the pros, and 40,000 to 60,000 high school football concussions annually, most of those sustained in practice, contact hours simply must decline.
• New laws should impose on high school coaches the same "care and custody" standards that apply to teachers. There are 10 conscientious prep coaches for each one irresponsible coach. But when a high school player -- a child -- dies from heat stroke because a sadistic coach screamed at him to keep running though vomiting, or dies from brain injury because concussion symptoms were ignored, the adult responsible must be punished. Today, there is no oversight on most high school football coaches. If only a few go to jail, the negative culture of high school football will be transformed, leaving behind the positives.
For football at all levels:
• Eliminate kickoffs, the most concussion-prone down. After a score, the opponent starts on his 25. Basketball eliminated most jump balls; purists cried doom; basketball is just fine.
• Ban the three-point and four-point stance. Because of these stances, most football plays begin with linemen's heads colliding. No reform reduces helmet-to-helmet contact faster than requiring all players to begin downs with hands off the ground and heads up. Will this make football a sissified sport? That's what was said of the forward pass.
• Only four- or five-star rated helmets should be permitted. Some of the safest helmets are prohibitively expensive for public high school districts, but the four-star, $149 Rawlings Impulse is not. Only double-sided or Type III (individually fitted) mouth guards should be permitted. Double-sided mouth guards are the most cost-effective way to protect against concussions. Many players won't wear them because they look geeky. If everyone was wearing them, this would not matter.
A more general reform is needed, too. Football has become too much of a good thing. Tony Dungy told me for "The King of Sports," "If I could change one aspect of football, it would be that we need more time away for the game, as players and as a society. Young boys and teens should not be doing football year-round. For society, it's great that Americans love football. But now with the internet, mock drafts, fantasy leagues and recruiting mania year-round, with colleges and high school playing more games and the NFL talking about an even longer schedule -- we need time off, away from the game." We need less of everything about football.
In fashion news, the Broncos are the home team of record for the Super Bowl. The only significance is the home team of record chooses whether to wear colors or whites. Denver chose to wear orange. Denver has worn orange jerseys in the Super Bowl three times, and lost all three. The Broncos won the Super Bowl the time they wore blue, and are 1-1 in their whites. Surely Broncos execs choosing jerseys for New Jersey thought, "Superstition is ridiculous." Woe unto disbelievers!
Want to impress your friends while watching the game? If either the Broncos or Seahawks score on a pick-six, immediately announce they will win. Teams returning an interception for a touchdown are 11-0 in the Super Bowl. And see below for TMQ's Super Bowl pick.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB MVP: Previous winners: Alan Faneca, Steelers, 2001; Lincoln Kennedy, Raiders, 2002; Damien Woody, Patriots, 2003; Troy Brown, Patriots, 2004; Walter Jones, Seahawks, 2005; Jeff Saturday, Colts, 2006; Matt Light, Patriots, 2007; James Harrison, Steelers, 2008; Dallas Clark, Colts, 2009; Dan Koppen, Patriots, 2010; David Diehl, Giants, 2012; NaVorro Bowman, 49ers, 2013. This year's candidates:
Doug Baldwin, Seattle: A wide receiver may not seem the choice for a team that does not throw the ball well. Baldwin has played an integral part in the Hawks' success, with catches and with downfield blocking. Because Seattle doesn't throw much, avoiding drops is essential in the Bluish Men Group offense. Baldwin was thrown to 73 times during the regular season and had just three catchable-ball drops. That 4 percent drops number is quite low -- Wes Welker dropped 7 percent of the catchable passes thrown to him in the regular season. Baldwin has never dropped a pass in a postseason game -- of course writing that sentence guarantees a drop for him in the Super Bowl. Bonus factor: Baldwin was undrafted out of Stanford, and TMQ loves undrafted players.
Richard Sherman, Seattle: There have been eight 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL annals, and six have occurred since 2011. Into this pass-wacky moment steps the Seattle secondary, the league's best by yards allowed and yards per pass allowed, near the top in all other measures. Sherman is Seattle's best defender, and may be the most important man on the field at the Super Bowl: more important even than Peyton Manning. Bonus factor: His postgame diatribe after the NFC title contest was pretty silly, but the reaction was even sillier.
Danny Trevathan, Denver: Manning and his offensive line are the core of the Broncos, but Denver posted a reasonable defensive season despite the no-huddle offense often scoring quickly then sending the defense back out. Trevathan led Denver with 87 unassisted tackles -- the closest teammate compiled 58 -- and his 10 passes defensed is a high number for a linebacker. Bonus factor: Trevathan was drafted by Denver with a pick the Broncos obtained from Jersey/B in the Tim Tebow trade.
Louis Vasquez, Denver: Denver allowed a league-low 20 sacks in the regular season; Manning has yet to be pulled down in the playoffs. Manning has been hit once every 14 dropbacks; the typical NFL quarterback is hit once every seven dropbacks. Quick release is one reason it's so hard to reach Manning. Superior blocking is the main reason. As recently as December, your columnist thought Zane Beadles was having the Broncos' best year at OL. Vasquez has been spectacular in the playoffs, near perfect pass blocking and run blocking without help (Beadles has been double-teaming with the center). Bonus factor: The Broncos have been around for 53 years, and Vasquez is their first guard chosen to start in the Pro Bowl.
Stats to Ponder No. 1: Denver possession results in the postseason: five touchdowns, five field goals, two turnovers, two kneel-downs, one missed field goal and one punt.
Stats to Ponder No. 2: Discounting for the kneel-downs, Denver has scored on 10 of 14 postseason possessions.
Stats to Ponder No. 3: Seattle opponents' possession results in the postseason: eight punts, four touchdowns, four turnovers, two missed field goals, two turnovers on downs, two clock expirations at the end of a half while attempting to advance the ball, one field goal and one kneel-down.
Stats to Ponder No. 4: Discounting for the kneel-down, Seattle has allowed a score on five of 24 postseason possessions.
Stats to Ponder No. 5: If the Broncos prevail, they will be the second team to lead the NFL in passing yards and also win that season's Super Bowl. So far only the 1999 Rams finished first in passing and also won the Super Bowl. If the Seahawks prevail, their 26th rank in the NFL in passing yards will be the lowest ever for a Super Bowl champion. So far the 2005 Steelers, at 24th, are the worst team for passing yards to win the Super Bowl. Stat from reader Jeff Caveney of New York.
Stats to Ponder No. 6: The Broncos are the NFL's highest-scoring team ever. Of the previous 10 highest-scoring teams, only the 1999 Rams won the Super Bowl that season.
Stats to Ponder No. 7: Not only did the Colts defeat both the Super Bowl entrants, the Colts are the sole team on either the Seahawks' schedule or the Broncos' schedule that they did not beat this season (including the playoffs). Stat from reader Jack Epstein of New York City.
Stats to Ponder No. 8: The Jersey/A Giants and Jersey/B Jets, host teams for the Super Bowl, this season combined to commit 73 turnovers. Denver and Seattle combined to commit 27.
Stats to Ponder No. 9: Denver has recorded 111 scoring plays; Seattle has allowed 53 scoring plays.
Stats to Ponder No. 10: Teams with orange on their primary jerseys are 2-6 in the Super Bowl. Teams with green are 5-3.
The Road to the Swamps: Tuesday Morning Quarterback contends the outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl will be either a rousing success or total fiasco. If the former, New York will take credit; if the latter, New Jersey will be blamed. As expected, both the league and the national media are downplaying everything Jersey. TMQ is keeping the focus on the Garden State.
I asked readers for quirky facts about the location of the Jersey Bowl. Jason Zonca reported, "New Jersey is home to the first drive-in movie theater, which opened in Camden in 1933, and advertised as a movie option for families with noisy children." Stefano de Stefano of Houston noted that New Jersey combines to offer three of the top 20 most dangerous cities in the nation (Camden, Newark and Trenton) plus three of the 20 top richest counties (Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset). Many readers including Cassie Parker of Brooklyn, N.Y., reported there is a town in New Jersey whose actual name is Ho-Ho-Kus. Mike New of Belleville, N.J., reported the place that is now Clifton, N.J., originally was known as Acquackanonk Township.
Craig Cognetti of Scranton, Pa., wrote, "Several states, cities and areas in the U.S. start with New; New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, New England, New Orleans, New Haven and so on. New Jersey is the only 'New' that has so differentiated itself that people routinely drop the first part; Jersey Shore, Jersey Boys, Jersey tomatoes etc. No one roots for the York Yankees or goes out for Haven-style pizza. Only New Jersey is so distinctive it doesn't need the New."
The modern fad of having young women prance in swimsuits began in 1921 with the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, N.J. Thus the underpaid Denver and Seattle cheer-babes who will cavort on the sidelines at the Jersey Bowl -- see the cheerleader pay item -- have come home to where organized mass cheesecake began. Gambling was not legalized in Atlantic City until 1976, at which point the area became a modern boomtown -- though one whose economic function is to take money away from the gullible.
Jersey is the most densely populated state, and also the state with the highest percentage of suburban residents -- the latter causing it to be viewed as a bellwether by political consultants. New Jersey's federal tax disparity is highest in nation -- per capita, Jersey residents get less back in grants and federal benefits, compared to their taxes, than residents of any other state. An unusually large sign on the Warren Street Bridge in Trenton proclaims "TRENTON MAKES / THE WORLD TAKES." This statement was true for a century, when Trenton was a leader in manufacturing rubber, wire and industrial ceramics. Today the city has little manufacturing base: as state capital, Trenton mainly produces regulations and scandals.
The cult-status "Sopranos" episode "Pine Barrens" -- in which Chris and Paulie Walnuts wander incompetently through New Jersey's famed pine barrens searching for an equally incompetent Russian mobster they are supposed to whack -- was not filmed in the pine barrens. The episode was filmed in New York's Harriman State Park, whose tree species differ significantly from those of the pine barrens. Thus in the NFL, New York is located in New Jersey; on the "Sopranos," New Jersey was located in New York.
Crabtree Curse Revived: Early in Michael Crabtree's career, TMQ tracked the Crabtree Curse -- the 49ers were more likely to win when Crabtree was hurt than when he was in the lineup. Many readers, including Herman Hou of London, note the Crabtree Curse lives. Not only was the final throw of the NFC title game, intercepted by Seattle, targeted at Crabtree: all three of San Francisco's final throws of the 2013 Super Bowl, all incompletions, were targeted at Crabtree. Bad enough that the 49ers let Crabtree onto the field; when they try to throw him the ball, a Curse awaits.
Cheesecake Calendars Are Not Exploitation -- But Low Pay Is: Last week current and former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders sued the team, alleging violations of California labor law. Raiders cheerleaders are paid just $1,250 per season for 10 home dates, charity shows and rehearsal time; the lawsuit contends this equates to less than $5 per hour in a state with an $8 minimum wage. The suit further alleges Raiders cheerleaders must pay for what ought to be team expenses, such as club-mandated hairstyling, and are not paid at all for corporate appearances or bikini posing.
The Oakland situation is not unusual, as every NFL cheerleader is underpaid. TMQ noted in detail five years ago that for a sport that rolls in money, the only NFL faces who don't see a big payday are the only female faces. Financial exploitation of cheerleaders has also been covered for some time by Amanda Hess, who has supplanted Camille Paglia as the writer on sexuality whose views are hardest to predict. Obviously the TMQ-Hess campaign has done no good.
From my 2009 column on cheerleader low pay: "Cheer-babes dancing in short skirts, or posing for swimsuit calendars, is not exploitation. After all, you're supposed to look at the cheerleaders! Professional athletics is foremost a form of entertainment, and the scantily-clad dancing girl has a long history as integral to entertainment in theatrical arts as well as sport. It is, however, objectionable if everyone involved in an NFL contest is making buckets of money, except for the cheerleaders."
The NFL's attitude seems to be that cheerleaders are just frilly little things flouncing around, let their boyfriends look after them. Whether that attitude is paternalism or exploitation, take your choice of words. The basic premise of labor law is that because persons seeking employment can be pressured to agree to bad deals, there must be floors beneath which employers may not go.
Of course cheerleaders make eyes-open agreements to accept low-paid work, but that does not rationalize mistreatment. NFL teams know there are more qualified women auditioning to be cheerleaders than there are spots on the squad, so offer next to nothing. That puts NFL cheerleaders are in the classic position of workers without unions -- they can't bargain collectively for decent pay, and those already hired know if they complain about wages or work requirements, replacements are waiting. As society becomes more white-collar, the need for unions may seem to wane. NFL cheerleaders are an example (albeit a minor example, since there are fewer than a thousand of them) of why some workers still need collective bargaining. There are more athletes who could play in the NFL than there are roster spots. But the players belong to a union, so the deals they sign are for the most part great deals. Cheerleaders don't belong to a union, so are exploited by management.
NFL cheerleaders are women who are being taken advantage of financially by a male power structure, yet feminists and intellectuals have shown no interest in their situation. Feminists may not like pretty girls dancing in miniskirts, though NFL cheerleaders are a fit, assertive interpretation of sex appeal (most can do military pushups), as opposed to the emaciated Victoria's Secret model. Intellectuals may find cheerleaders uninteresting because an attractive woman's looks are due mainly to good luck with genetics; though good luck with genetics contributes to intellectuals' IQ.
In 1972, Texie Waterman, a Broadway choreographer, was hired by the Dallas Cowboys to bring a showgirl mentality to then-plain NFL cheer squads. She invented the bombshell cheerleader, and bombshell cheerleaders have proved very popular with audiences. But she did not bring to Texas the union-wage concept found in most Broadway performances, which pay $1,000 to $6,000 per week, more than the Raiders' cheerleaders are paid for a full year. Given that NFL owners likely will never care whether cheerleaders are adequately paid, collective bargaining seems the solution. Pundits and bookworms should support fairness for cheerleaders, even if pundits and bookworms look down their noses at eye makeup and bikini calendars.
Jersey Bowl Preview: The Broncos-Seahawks Super Bowl pairing is not just No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense: It's high-tech fast-forward versus traditionalism. Denver is pass-wacky, calls everything at the line, wants the opponent confused and gasping for air. Seattle runs more often than it throws, plays conservative conventional defense, wants to pound the opponent into submission. The Broncos stand for digitized chaos -- they are the smartphones of sports. The Seahawks stand for your grandparents' dinner-table customs -- they are throwbacks, if in radioactive colors.
Can a hurry-up-shotgun-spread offense defeat a sticks-like-glue defense? Can a team with a monotonous ball-control offense win a 21st century Super Bowl? I don't know about you, but I find this the most interesting Lombardi matchup since the 18-0 Patriots faced the mega-underdog Giants.
No Super Bowl pairing has ever generated such a waterfall of interesting stats. Denver enters the contest with 59 touchdown passes completed, Seattle with 18 touchdown passes allowed. Denver has totaled 76 offensive touchdowns scored, Seattle 24 offensive touchdowns surrendered. Denver averages 36 points per game scored, Seattle averages 15 points per game allowed. Seattle gave up 172 passing yards per game and 5.8 yards per pass attempt, both league lows. Denver gained 340 passing yards per game, the league high, and was third with 8.3 yards per attempt. Something's got to give.
It may be that Denver's offensive numbers and Seattle's defensive stats both were amplified by schedules. The Super Bowl will be the first time this season Denver has faced a team that finished in the top six for defense, in contrast to 12 outings by the Broncos against teams that finished in the bottom third. Even adjusting for Denver's output knocking down opponents' defensive stats, the Broncos simply have not yet seen an elite defense. Over on the green side of the ball, the Seahawks compiled their great defensive numbers against a schedule rich in underperforming offenses. Seattle faced New Orleans twice, both times at home; the Saints were the sole top-rated offense Seattle had to contain. The Seahawks simply have not seen an elite offense on the road, and the Super Bowl is a road game.
Disparity in pass-or-run is as sharp between Denver and Seattle as it's ever been in a Super Bowl. Adjusting for sacks, during the regular season Denver called 695 passes, while Seattle called 464 -- that's 14 more called passes per game for the Broncs. (Bear in mind that called passes are not necessarily a formula for victory -- Cleveland led the league in called passes.) Seattle rushes 52 percent of the time; for the 2013 season just two teams, the Seahawks and the 49ers, ran more than they threw. (Bear in mind that grinding the clock is not necessarily a formula for victory either -- Buffalo outrushed Seattle.)
Because of its fast pace, Denver ran 1,156 plays, versus 973 plays for Seattle's take-your-time-boys tactics. That's 11 more plays per game, quite an edge in the little-noticed snaps stat. When the Seahawks did drop back to pass, bad things happened -- 44 sacks allowed, versus Denver's 20 sacks allowed on more dropbacks. Twenty-four NFL players ended the season with at least 1,000 receiving yards, and not one was a member of the Seattle Seahawks. So far in the postseason, Seattle has just 296 passing yards, versus 630 yards rung up by Denver.
Seattle was plus-20 on turnovers, versus Denver being even: a stat as dramatic in Seattle's favor as Denver passing numbers are dramatic in the Broncos' favor. A close game seems nearly assured: Russell Wilson has never lost an NFL contest by more than a touchdown, while at the Broncos, Peyton Manning has lost by more than a touchdown only once. Between them with their current teams they have posted 55 victories, 15 closes losses and one two-score losing margin.
Seattle's special teams are statistical marvels. During the regular season, the Seahawks allowed just 3.9 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kickoff runback; Denver allowed 9.8 yards per punt return and a league-worst 29.3 yards per kickoff. Seattle has not allowed a punt return yard in the postseason, Denver has gained 66. If the Broncos score a lot, kick returns will be the least of Seattle's problems. If the Seahawks make the Super Bowl a slow-moving struggle for field position, kick defense could be a game-changer.
TMQ's keys to the game:
1. The Broncos must throw deep, even if that means Peyton Manning holding the ball for more than 2.36748790345 seconds or whatever his average is supposed to be. The drip-drip-drip short passing Denver has lived on this season will be difficult against Seattle's in-your-face press coverage. Nobody covers short better than the Seahawks, and their corners have the green light to jump short sideways throws -- ask Matt Schaub. Manning gave up a pick-six on a short throw in his last Super Bowl appearance, and it proved the decisive snap of the Saints' win. Short and sideways is not the formula for defeating Seattle.
2. Seattle must take the electronic governor off Russell Wilson, who does not need to outperform Manning, but can't just hand off either. The Seahawks' best game this season was a 34-7 defeat of New Orleans in which Wilson aired the ball out, 30 throws for 310 yards. TMQ keeps noting that high-scoring teams tend to peter out at the end; that may happen to the Broncos, too. But Denver is the highest-scoring team ever. Seattle's game plan needs to be aggressive, in case the Jersey Bowl becomes a touchdown festival.
3. The Broncos will be without Ryan Clady, Chris Harris and Von Miller, three of the team's best players. The Seahawks will be missing only Sidney Rice, who is not integral to what they do, and Brandon Browner, who's been an on-and-off presence for two seasons. In the NFL, often the last man standing is determined in no small part by who has the most men standing.
My pick? I journeyed alone to a distant mountaintop -- OK, a distant parking lot -- and the football gods revealed unto me: low-scoring game, Seattle by a field goal. Whoever wins, let's hope both teams honored sports lore and saved the best for last.
The Latest Owls Items: Most sports websites do not provide adequate coverage of the migratory patterns of North American owls. This season, TMQ has run several items bucking that trend. One noted that the snowy owl, normally found in the sub-Arctic, was ranging as far south as Wisconsin. Spoke too soon: Last week a snowy owl was photographed perching in downtown Washington, D.C. The accompanying story reported that a snowy owl was observed recently in Florida. This omen either means the end times are upon us, or peace is coming to the Middle East.
Last Week's Atmosphere Item: I said that in the NFC title contest, Pete Carroll twice passed on long field goal tries because the day was cold and humid, calling that a worst-case scenario for kick distance. Reader Brian Goller of Cincinnati notes, "Cold is indeed bad for kickers but it's a common misconception that humid air is more dense than dry air. Actually wet air is less dense than dry air at the same temperature. Water molecules contain two atoms of hydrogen, the lightest element; they have a lower atomic weight than nitrogen or oxygen, the main constituents of air. Kicking a football, expect the most favorable conditions to occur at a high altitude on a warm day with plenty of humidity."
Bad Predictions on Fast-Forward: TMQ's all-bad-predictions column has been retired, but a few howlers are always welcome.
"I am behind Lane Kiffin 100 percent." USC athletic director Pat Haden, three weeks before firing him. Perhaps Haden meant he was standing behind Kiffin and planned to push him down the stairs.
"Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere. I am telling you we are very committed to Leslie Frazier." Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, one month before firing him.
The new book "The Firm," by Duff McDonald, about consulting giant McKinsey & Company, reports that in 1980, McKinsey did a mobile-phone market study for AT&T, billing several million dollars for seemingly sophisticated research that concluded that by 2000, fewer than a million Americans would own mobile phones. The correct number for that year would be 109 million.
New York University economist Nouriel Roubini became a media darling, and a player on the big-bucks lecture circuit after his 2006 prediction that a housing bubble would cause recession proved correct. Does that make him a seer? Roubini had predicted national economic misfortune many times before and been wrong -- and he has continued to predict it since, again being wrong. If you endlessly predict the clock will strike midnight, you will be right once a day.
In 2010, Roubini said big banks would nosedive further as they lost another $1 trillion on mortgages; instead, big banks have recovered spectacularly. In 2011, he told NPR there was "more than a two-thirds likelihood of another recession, and if it happens, it will be severe, with 12 to 13 percent unemployment." Growth since 2011 has been close to the historic norm, with unemployment now 6.7 percent. In 2012, Roubini predicted the entire global economy would collapse in 2013. Instead, the United Nations says global economic growth was 2.1 percent in 2013. Want to pay for Roubini's highfalutin galimatias? He will sell you some.
One wonders -- how could Roubini possibly be doing his job as a professor if he's also running a "global macroeconomic and market strategy research firm" for corporate clients, plus flying around the world giving paid speeches? This is setting aside how he could possibly have time for the academic work he is supposedly basing his predictions on.
Left-wing smooth talkers aren't the only ones making daffy economic predictions. Arthur Laffer, Ronald Reagan's favorite economist, in 2010 predicted that in 2011 "the train goes off the tracks and we get our worst nightmare, a double-dip recession." The economy grew 1.7 percent in 2011.
In 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta predicted Israel would bomb Iran by spring of 2012. The day before the 2012 election, political consultant Dick Morris predicted Mitt Romney would win "by a landslide." In 2011, with gold at $1,510 an ounce, a panel of experts said the price would get much higher. Gold is currently $1,270.
TMQ likes hyperspecific predictions and also predictions that extend so far into the future that by the time the day arrives, everyone will have forgotten what was predicted. This 2013 study on thunderstorm frequency combined these qualities -- forecasting there will be 2.4 more days per season with thunderstorms in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, but not until 70 years from now.
Marriage Equality Means the Marriage Penalty on April 15: Your columnist backs same-sex marriage, with the caveats that gay unions will produce just as many fights, therapy sessions and divorces as straight ones; and that while marriage offers benefits to the wedded, it also offers burdens.
Now that 2014 has dawned, one of the burdens becomes clear. The IRS has issued regulations spelling out that same-sex married couples must file as married (either jointly or separately) even if their 2014 state of residence does not recognize their union. That causes two-earner gay marrieds to face the marriage penalty. As of 2014, married high-income gays also will pay the ObamaCare tax increases embedded in new rates for Medicare, capital gains and dividends; they might have avoided these new rates if single, but there's no escaping them if the m-word is on the 1040. The IRS has further clarified that in keeping with United States v. Windsor, as of 2014, the survivor of a gay married couple owes no estate tax regardless of inheritance size, as has long been the case for married heterosexuals. Gay married bottom line: Pay more now, big tax break on death.
Wacky Food Card of the Week: The other day, TMQ placed an online order from a local Tex-Mex joint that has an affinity card. To get credit for the purchase, a customer must type in the affinity-card number, which bears 16 digits. Ten digits are needed to assign a unique number to each person on the Earth; 16 digits should assign a unique number to every sentient being in the galaxy; yet there's a 16-digit number on the Tex-Mex card. And it's not a card linked to credit or debit accounts -- account numbers of such cards are generated by algorithms that resist hacking but add length. It's just a card that issues a burrito discount.
The same day, I needed to file a complaint with the Postal Service: I was issued a 12-digit reference number. Does the USPS really get a hundred billion complaints per year? Don't answer that!
Just Say No to the Press Box: Yours truly will be freezing his keister off at the Super Bowl -- let's hope nothing goes wrong and the New Jersey Generals don't trot onto the field. I ordered fleece-lined jeans from L.L. Bean. Cold would be fine by me; light snow would be entertaining for the television audience; worst-case scenario for those in attendance would be freezing rain. So I also ordered a reporter's notebook that claims to not to run in rain.
This is because I'll be sitting outside. After a few trial runs, your columnist eschews the press box -- it's the worst possible place to watch a football game. In most NFL press boxes, there are TV monitors, desks or counters to set up a laptop, free sandwiches, assistants who hand out stat sheets, and of course protection from the elements. But sportswriters may end up talking to each other or surfing the web rather than watching the game. Observing a few press boxes, I came to the conclusion that so many sportswriters and sportscasters focus on stars' personalities or coaches' postgame comments, but rarely discuss in-game tactics, because they weren't paying much attention.
Outside, there's nothing but paying attention. At a high school game, I watch the first half from the highest stand at midfield, then in the second half put a press pass around my neck and prowl on one team's sideline for the third quarter and the other's for the fourth quarter. That seems the ideal way to understand what happens in a game. This is not practical for the NFL or big-college football -- typically there is one sideline reporter stipulated by contract with the network carrying the contest, and everybody else is shepherded into the press box. My solution is to sit in the stands. A low seat allows one to hear what is being said on the field and get a clear view of line play. It's better than being in the press box. Though at the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami, when there was steady rain, being outside made it hard to take notes. Shivering may do the same this year.
"Stay the Heck Out of Our Hemisphere," President James Monroe Tweeted: Last week Caroline Kennedy, new U.S. ambassador to Japan, offended many Japanese with a tweet about slaughter of dolphins. Whether an ambassador should flatter her host country or challenge it is a long-standing debate in international affairs. At least Kennedy's post had substance. Consider these typical politician's tweets:
Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund:
International cooperation is precisely what is needed at this time to forge a better future– we need to keep the momentum going #188together— Christine Lagarde (@Lagarde) October 13, 2013
Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:
Political leaders must resolve divisions democratically–can't escalate situation. #SouthSudan has come too far to relapse into violence now.— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) December 18, 2013
John Kerry, Secretary of State:
#SecKerry: We stand in solidarity with journalists the world over. | @StateDept honors #journalists of courage: http://t.co/pbswdkoaWw— Department of State (@StateDept) November 12, 2013
It's too much to expect politicians to go off script on Twitter -- give Kennedy credit for trying.
Picture Worth a Thousand Tweets: Check this composite illustration.
If Only They'd Been Picked for the Same Team: In October, TMQ noted the Super Bowl would need to be Saints-Browns in order for audiences to behold Cameron Jordan versus Jordan Cameron. As pointed out by many readers including Alvarado Vargas of Texcoco, Mexico, these gentlemen faced each other in Sunday's Pro Bowl.
Absurd Precision Watch: Kevin Clark in the Wall Street Journal: "According to Pro Football Focus, Peyton Manning takes a league-shortest 2.36 seconds to throw. Russell Wilson takes a league-longest 3.18 seconds." Even assuming the hundredths of seconds claimed are accurate, that's a fourth-fifths of a second difference between the fastest and the slowest. Such a difference would determine the winner at a track or swim meet, but it's hard to believe can determine the victor in a football game.
Next Week: That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.