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Duck -- because the pendulum is swinging, from offense back toward defense.
Seattle's decisive rout of Denver in the Super Bowl wasn't just a nice win for the Emerald City. The outcome will have long-term impact across professional football, and perhaps in the college and prep ranks as well. For a decade, all attention has been on offense -- best athletes on offense, new high-tech tactics, crazy pace, pass-wacky. It has been offense, offense, offense. Even Bill Belichick, who got his start as a defensive coordinator, has converted to high-speed offense as the new gold standard.
Now that's over.
Seattle proved a hard-hitting but very traditional defense -- conventional fronts, few blitzes, tight coverage and nasty disposition -- could roll over the highest-scoring offense in professional football history. Not just defeat that offense: everyone knew Seattle might win. The Seahawks' defense mopped the floor with Denver's offense, as emphatic a victory as any team sport has ever produced.
This offseason will be about NFL teams looking at their defenses -- personnel, styles of play, mindset. Head coaches will shift from focusing on offense to defense. Money and draft choices will go to the defense. Crazy defensive schemes will be tossed out and replaced with traditionalism. The idea that defense not only can slow down the other team but can itself win the game -- the Seattle defense outscored the highest-scoring NFL offense ever -- will be revived.
In Super Bowl matchups of No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense, defense is 5-1. Of the 10 highest-scoring teams in NFL annals, only one, the 1999 Rams, won the Super Bowl that season. Some thought the arrival of quick-snap, shotgun-spread, call-everything-at-the-line offense fundamentally had overcome the edge of pressure defense. Now we know that's not true. The highest-scoring, highest-tech team in NFL history was held to eight points in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl story for this year might as well be: Seattle Defense 9, Denver Offense 8.
Pro, college and high school coaches will re-evaluate everything they do. Keep your head low as the pendulum swings back toward defense.
In football safety news, for years this column has rolled the drums for the idea that although no football helmet can prevent concussions, newer designs reduce the risk. Three years ago at Super Bowl time, I wanted to know why the NFL would not disclose which helmet models its players wear; and why the NFL does not mandate that only improved models be worn: "This is a short-sighted policy TMQ has been objecting to since the Riddell Revolution, the first-generation helmet engineered to reduce concussion risk, went on sale." In July 2011, I detailed Virginia Tech research showing that the Riddell VSR4, the most common helmet, was dangerous compared to newer models. My new book "The King of Sports" details how James Collins, football coach of the public high school nearest my home, junked the school's VSR4s and replaced them with the modern Riddell Revo, owing to safety concerns. Collins did this in 2003, a full decade ago! Yet VSR4s are still on players' heads, including in the NFL.
Helmet manufacturers and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment -- to which the NFL defers, though NOCSAE seems to function mainly as a rubber-stamp -- criticized the Virginia Tech research as based on lab tests, not real-world data. Fair enough. Last week, Virginia Tech released the results of six years of real-world data comparing total head hits to concussions, by helmet types, at eight Division I college football teams. The finding: Correcting for incidence and severity of hits, a player wearing the Riddell Revo had a 54 percent lower risk of concussion than a player wearing a VSR4.
This study is a bombshell. For many years the NFL and NOCSAE have contended it is impossible to determine whether any particular helmet reduces concussion risk. Virginia Tech has now put hard data on the table. The study is another feather in the cap for Virginia Tech, which has become the national leader in seeking football safety. It also raises disturbing questions regarding whether the NFL has always been more concerned with avoiding legal liability -- the league believes that mandating a helmet type makes it liable for any concussion sustained in that headgear -- than with the health of players.
How many NFL concussions could have been avoided if the league had banned the VSR4? Far more importantly, since the VSR4 has been worn by millions of high school and college players, how many total concussions could have been avoided if NOCSAE did its job and warned about this helmet rather than approving its sale?
The Broncos, home team of record for the Super Bowl, could choose what to wear -- and chose orange, though the team came in 0-3 wearing orange in the Super Bowl. Now Denver is 0-4 in orange in the Super Bowl, versus 2-1 in any of its other uni looks. As TMQ noted last week, "Surely Broncos execs choosing jerseys for New Jersey thought, 'Superstition is ridiculous.' Woe unto disbelievers!"
As the season concludes, see below for TMQ's annual State Standings.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 1: Teams that return an interception for a touchdown are 12-0 in the Super Bowl.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 2: Peyton Manning has thrown interceptions returned for touchdowns in consecutive Super Bowls.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 3: At the 10:36 mark of the second quarter, the Broncos' league-leading offense recorded its first first down.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 4: Coming into the Super Bowl, discounting for deliberate kneel-downs, the Broncos scored on 10 of 14 postseason possessions. In the Super Bowl, they scored on one of 11 possessions.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 5: Discounting for kneel-downs, in the playoffs, Seattle's defense held opponents to six scores on 35 possessions.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 6: Wes Welker is 0-3 in the Super Bowl.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 7: Seattle finished plus-27 for turnovers; Denver finished minus-six.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 8: Mannings have started in five of the past eight Super Bowls.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 9: During the regular season, Denver's offense averaged a league-best 6.3 yards per play. At the Super Bowl, Denver's offense averaged 4.8 yards per play; only three NFL teams posted a worse regular-season average.
Stats of the Super Bowl No. 10: Teams with orange on their primary jerseys are 2-7 in the Super Bowl. Teams with green are 6-3.
Sweet Play of the Super Bowl: Seattle leading 5-0 late in the first quarter, the Bluish Men Group faced third-and-5 on the Denver 43. Of course, Denver might have trouble moving the ball against the Seahawks defense. But could Seattle move the ball against the Denver defense?
The Seahawks set two men left, including undrafted Doug Baldwin, a finalist for TMQ's Non-QB/Non-RB MVP. In "combo" moves, the first guy always sets the pick and the second guy always is the target. Defenders should know this. A receiver cut in front of Baldwin and set a pick. Baldwin did a quick stutter, then ran an "up" for a 37-yard gain, roaring past the Denver defense like it wasn't there. Though the Hawks were held to a field goal on the possession, this down set an aggressive tone for Seattle's offense. It sent the message that not only was the Seattle defense potent, the Seattle offense could cause problems too. The victors would end the night with four offensive downs longer than any gain recorded by Denver's offense -- plays of 37, 30, 24 and 23 yards. These gains mattered almost as much as the defensive stops.
Sour Play of the Super Bowl: Denver's record-setting offense opened the game with a goofy safety, but the Broncos' defense held Seattle to a field goal following the free kick. So it's Bluish Men Group by 5-0. No problem for the highest scoring team in NFL annals. Denver took possession, advanced to fourth-and-2 on its 43 -- and punted. What good is the highest-scoring offense in NFL history if the Broncos are afraid to try on fourth-and-short from midfield?
Highlight reels will show Seattle's touchdowns on interception and kickoff returns -- but to TMQ, this was the pivotal moment of the contest. Facing the league's best defense, Denver needed to set an aggressive tone. Instead the Broncos set a passive, retreating tone.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Seattle leading 8-0 at the end of the first quarter, Denver faced second-and-5 and prepared to quick-snap. Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor, who often plays "low" but almost never lines up "high" as the free safety, came down to the line of scrimmage on Peyton Manning's left. Chancellor seemed to read a key, because Manning handed off for a run toward where Chancellor was now standing. Loss of two.
Now Denver faced third-and-7. This time free safety Earl Thomas comes to the line of scrimmage to blitz: one of Seattle's two first-half blitzes is about to happen. Chancellor drops back into a high Cover 1 position, as if he were the free safety. Six men rush, Manning is hit as he releases, and the pass goes directly to Chancellor for Denver's first of many turnovers. The play caused an electric reaction in the stands, people seeming to think. "Peyton is going to self-destruct again!" My reaction was that Manning had no idea Chancellor would be where he was. The play showed Seattle's game plan was superior to Denver's.
Though it is hard to argue with the Super Bowl MVP going to a linebacker rather than a quarterback or running back -- Seattle's Malcolm Smith, 10 tackles and a pick-six, hoisted the award -- Chancellor got TMQ's MVP vote. His early interception, his pick, nine tackles, two passes defensed, including a jarring legal hit that caused Wes Welker to drop what would have been an important completion, and a bone-jarring early tackle on Demaryius Thomas, set Seattle's physical tone.
The Chancellor play was sweet for Seattle and very sour for Denver. A slow start would have been one thing for the Broncos offense. An early careless interception gave the impression Denver was in over its head.
New York Times Corrections on Fast-Forward: From the past six months of the corrections page in the Paper of Record:
• Retracted a statement that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had been a "brat" as a child.
• Referred to the pop singer as Justin Timberland. Perhaps for an endorsement fee, he would change his name.
• On at least seven occasions, including twice in the same story, confused a million dollars with a billion dollars. Maybe Geithner edited the story.
• Confused a billion dollars with a trillion dollars. Hey, is this the New York Times or a White House budget briefing?
• Confused plants with animals.
• Of the show "Homeland," "misidentified the setting where Carrie and Brody first had sex. It was in a car, not a lakeside cottage." Baby, I was going to take you to a romantic lakeside cottage, but let's just do it in the back seat.
• To illustrate how much $20 billion is, a Page 1 lead story said this amount could "finance the Yankees' payroll for 10 years." That would be a baseball payroll of $2 billion per season: for 100 years is correct.
• "An obituary about the conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch erroneously included one singer on a list of those Mr. Sawallisch recruited to perform with the Bavarian State Opera in 1971."
• Said Boise, Idaho, is the "most remote" large city in the United States. Then someone remembered Alaska, and the paper ran a correction stating Anchorage is the most remote large city. Then someone else remembered Hawaii, and the paper ran a second correction naming Honolulu.
• Of Gov. Abutment (aka New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) and the Bridge Too Fargled scandal, "referred incorrectly to recent Hoboken mayors who were imprisoned." Only two of the three most recent Hoboken mayors went to jail for corruption, not all three.
• The headline of a Page 1 article mixed up the difference between ADHD and hyperactivity. Those Times headline writers need to focus!
• Erred in describing how Japanese actors in monster suits attack models of Tokyo in movies about Gamera, a Godzilla competitor. The correction, the Times huffed, "was delayed for research." Research into an imaginary fire-breathing giant bipedal turtle?
• "An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a movie Mr. Goldstein starred in. It is 'Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Are Screwed,' not 'Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Get Screwed.'"
• For the sixth consecutive year since TMQ started doing a New York Times corrections item, the paper mistook a woman for a man. The Times also mistook a man for a woman, calling Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland, "she" on second reference. The Times mistook a dress for a skirt. The latter mistake occurred in a fashion article.
• Corrected an error the paper made in 1877.
• Erred about who owns the most expensive penthouse in Manhattan. This means someone called to complain, "Mine cost more!"
• "Referred incorrectly to the testing of counterfeit Viagra." Chemical testing, not the other kind.
• Acknowledged that certain "stellar events" must have occurred far more than 4.5 billion years ago, the dating given in an article. The Times huffed, "A reader pointed out the error in an email two months ago; this correction was further delayed for research." Research into events before the formation of the Earth?
• An article "described incorrectly the criticisms that many Israelis have voiced about Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara. While her purported temper has been widely faulted, her child-rearing methods have not." Netanyahu yelling into the phone to the paper about comments on his wife must have melted several transatlantic cables.
• Admitted confusing whether President Clinton said of Monica Lewinsky that he "did not have sexual relations" with her or that the two "did not have sex." Perhaps Clinton called Times editor Jill Abramson to complain about the crucial distinction between sex and sexual relations.
• Said a rare Moroccan brandy is sold in bottles holding 750 liters. That would be 200 gallons; 750 milliliters is correct.
• "Misidentified the source of the image of a magnolia. It is from 'The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands' (1771) by Mark Catesby, not from 'Florilegium Amplissimum et Selectissimum,' a 1612 catalog by Emanuel Sweert."
• Said a documentary called "Mansome," which is about metrosexual men trying to look handsome, was about serial murderer Charles Manson; and said a company that stages reality shows is called Psycho. Syco is correct.
• Corrected a description of the video game "Super Mario Bros. 2": "The brothers Mario and Luigi, who appear in this and other Nintendo games, are plumbers, not janitors."
Final State Standings: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's annual State Standings are based on the states in which teams actually play: Maryland teams are the Ravens and R*dsk*ns, and so on. State news: it has now been 18 years since teams from California or Texas, the centers of football culture, won a Super Bowl.
Washington state: 16-3
North Carolina: 12-5
Indiana, Louisiana: 12-6
Missouri, Pennsylvania: 18-15
New Jersey: 15-17
Michigan, Tennessee: 7-9
New York: 6-10
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Michael Appell of Hartford, Conn., emailed last Tuesday morning to note that mayor Kassim Reed of Atlanta was named Georgian of the Year for 2014, though the year had barely begun. What happened a few hours later, as Reed was accepting the award at an elaborate luncheon? Snow struck; the city, utterly unprepared, was hit by the worst traffic jam in American history.
Officials would blame "an unexpected storm," though the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning at 3:30 a.m. It's not like the mayor of Atlanta receives so many snowstorm warnings that he thinks forecasters are crying wolf. Seems Mayor Reed was more interested in getting an award than doing his job. The first month of 2014 wasn't even over, and already Chris Christie of New Jersey had a rival for the local politician who looks worst.
Next Fall, Northwestern Cheerleaders Chant: 'Let the Bosses take the Losses!' Three cheers for the Northwestern University football team's effort to unionize.
TMQ continues to think that getting a college diploma is a better reward for football than any amount of pay players might receive; but with only a 55 percent graduation rate in the FBS, obviously the diploma emphasis is not there at many programs. (It is at Northwestern, where football graduation rate is 97 percent.) The NCAA will never do anything to shift the focus of intercollegiate athletics toward education. Indeed, the NCAA actively attempts to prevent education from interfering with football and basketball income, using Potemkin actions such as the Academic Progress Rate, which is intended to generate an illusion of reform. So with the NCAA uninterested in education, players must take matters into their own hands. Let's hope the Northwestern initiative succeeds, and sets a strong precedent.
Wouldn't it be just wonderful if college athletes themselves were the ones to drive the nail into the coffin of NCAA institutional corruption? Last week, Packers general manager Mark Murphy cryptically declared, "If the college players unionize, there will be more pressure on the NFL to establish a developmental league." What he seemed to mean was: If they unionize they will demand actual education, and the big FBS conferences will cease being an unpaid junior league for the NFL. That would be great!
More good sports-and-academics news: the son of former Cowboys star Larry Allen turned down FBS offers to pick Harvard. Most high school athletes, even those who do well in the classroom, won't have a Harvard option. But they could prioritize recruiting offers by graduation rates. Suppose a potential FBS player has offers from, say, USC and Wisconsin. USC is dismal at 53 percent graduation, Wisconsin is strong at 72 percent. The smart recruit factors likelihood of a diploma into his choice. Check any colleges' athletic graduation rates.
News of the Northwestern union push produced this witty sardonic tweet from Binyamin Appelbaum:
This Northwestern unionization push illustrates the danger of allowing college football players to obtain decent educations.- Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) January 28, 2014
How Did Seattle Do It? The Seahawks won the Super Bowl by 35 points, and so they deserve heaps of praise. But given the Broncos came in as among the most-hyped teams ever, an assessment has to start with the many shortcomings of Denver.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback noted last week, "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. Short and sideways is not the formula for defeating Seattle."
Yet in the first half, the Broncos threw short almost exclusively, as if they either hadn't looked at the the Seahawks' defense or were so overconfident they believed all they had to was snap fast and victory would follow. Denver didn't try to move the ball down the field until the contest was out of hand -- the Broncs' longest first-half gain was 19 yards.
In addition to constant sideways throws -- continuous short-hitch actions that never accomplished anything -- Denver mainly rushed sideways, zone-blocking with tailbacks moving laterally behind the line of scrimmage. Though Denver was held to a miserable 27 yards rushing, Broncos coaches never adjusted and called traps between the tackles. Everything went sideways. This played into the hands of Seattle's speed-based defense. The football saying is, "Run toward speed and away from strength." Instead of rushing straight ahead -- toward speed -- Denver tried to run sideways, away from speed. Didn't the Broncos look at the Seahawks' game film?
Obviously, Peyton Manning had a horrible outing, but his worst downs were not the two interceptions. In the second quarter, three times Demaryius Thomas lined up as the inside man in a trips. Three times, no Seattle defender lined up across from him. Audible to a go! Throw deep! Three times Manning not only did not audible to take advantage of what looked like a coverage error by the Seahawks, three times Manning had Thomas run a short sideways junky rinky-dink pattern that accomplished nothing.
Then Seattle leading 22-0, Denver going on fourth-and-2 from the Seahawks' 19, the Broncos had Thomas and Wes Welker left. Welker beat his man and was open in the end zone; Manning looked that way, then threw incomplete to Thomas. A touchdown would have pulled Denver to within two scores at the half, changing the game's psychology. Instead, Manning missed an open man in the end zone on fourth-and-2. Rarely has a quarterback read the field as poorly as he did in this contest.
John Fox and the other Denver coaches seemed bored to be in the Super Bowl. Not only did Fox order two of the lamest punts in all football annals. After the failed fourth-and-2, Seattle had the ball on its 19, 1:01 remaining before Bruno Mars, Denver holding two timeouts. Had Denver called its timeouts, Seattle might have been forced to punt, giving the Broncos a chance to block. Instead, Fox stood by doing nothing as Seattle killed the first-half clock, just as Fox stood by doing nothing at the end of regulation of the Broncos' postseason collapse last year to Baltimore. Now the unused timeouts can be donated to charity.
Obviously, Seattle's performance was magnificent. Early, the Seahawks showed a conventional Cover 2, the defense that Manning sees most often. Then they began switching to unorthodox coverages, and Manning never caught on. For much of the contest, Richard Sherman was defending Eric Decker one-on-one, as if it were a basketball game. Seattle seemed to decide to take Decker out of the game, which it did. The Seahawks knew this would open up opportunities for Demaryius Thomas, who made 13 receptions. But Seattle also knew the rap on Thomas is that he's mistake-prone. Causing Denver to throw to Thomas worked beautifully -- he lost a fumble, and twice pulled up and quit running when he might have caught slightly overthrown deep balls. Decker had one reception for 6 yards. Sherman ended the Super Bowl invisible statistically, but had a great night shutting down Decker.
Seattle got terrific pressure on Manning using a conventional four-man rush. Bear in mind, this is how the Giants twice defeated the high-scoring Patriots in the Super Bowl -- not funky blitzes, conventional four-man rush combined with tight coverage so the ball doesn't come out fast, allowing the rush time. Over the course of 19 games, Manning dropped back to pass 805 times and was sacked just 19 times. That's once per 42 dropbacks, a sparkling stat. But in the Super Bowl he was repeatedly pressured, and hit as he threw on both interceptions. Manning seemed so sure he would not be hit in the pocket that on those interceptions, he heave-hoed when he would have been much better off just taking the sack.
Another thing the Giants did to the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl was force them to keep a tight end back to block, taking away the five-man patterns Tom Brady likes. Seattle took away the five-man patterns Manning likes. Often, Cliff Avril or Chris Clemons lined up in the "wide-nine" stance, far outside the offensive tackle, which forced tight end Julius Thomas to stay back to block. Thomas is a potent receiver and weak blocker; forcing him to block played into Seattle's strategy. Denver has confounded defenses with the long gainer to the tall tight end. In the Super Bowl this didn't happen.
Seattle managed to "roll" its defense -- subbing freely to keep players fresh. All season, Denver has tried to snap so fast that the defense can't sub, and becomes exhausted late. Each time Denver came toward the line of scrimmage, the group of Seattle defenders who would come in before the next snap was already standing with Pete Carroll, ready. This was a fine feat of team organization.
Denver has downplayed kick defense all season, having some of the league's worst stats. The Broncos' attitude seemed to be -- We score so much, who cares? Not only did this attitude lead to a Seattle kickoff return for a touchdown, three times the Seahawks stopped a returned kickoff inside the Denver 20, meaning the Broncos would have been better off with a touchback. This was an impressive demonstration of what disciplined kick defense can accomplish.
Seattle ahead 43-8 with six minutes remaining, the Super Bowl became Senior Night for the Hawks, as every active player got in for at least one snap. Of the 2012 Young Gun quarterbacks, Russell Wilson is now 28-9 with a ring, Andrew Luck is 23-12 with one playoff win, Ryan Tannehill is 15-17 and Robert Griffin III is 12-17.
TMQ warned early this season of the Peyton Paradox, then throughout the season had warned that high-scoring teams -- the 1990 Bills, 2007 Patriots, 2010 Oregon Ducks, 2011 Patriots and 2012 Ducks and Baylor Bears -- tend to peter out at the last.
"The main cautionary note for Denver faithful is that the formula the Broncs are using -- fantastic pass-wacky offense, middling defense -- is the formula the Patriots have used for the last five years, and the Patriots have petered out in the playoffs," your columnist wrote in early October. "TMQ has been reminding Denver Broncos fans this season that high-scoring teams tend to tail off late," TMQ said as January arrived. Just before the Super Bowl: "One of TMQ's themes this season has been the warning that scoreboard-spinning teams tend to peter out at the last. Until this season, the highest-scoring NFL team ever was the 2007 Patriots. They averaged 37 points per game in the regular season, then dropped to an average of 26 points in their two home playoff games, then scored 14 points in their Super Bowl loss. This season, the Broncos became the highest-scoring team ever. They put up 38 points per game during the regular season, then dropped to 25 points during their two home playoff games. Will the third part of the pattern repeat?"
Obviously, the pattern repeated. I note all my warnings not so much to pat myself on the back (OK, a factor) but to show that Denver should have had plenty of notice about this common football phenomenon. Instead, the Broncos seemed shocked and unprepared when they didn't fly down the field.
But why do high-scoring offenses peter out late? Most rely on rhythm: bang, bang, bang; gain, gain, gain. In the playoffs, defensive intensity cranks up and rhythm is disrupted. High-scoring offenses become frustrated. Plus for a college bowl or the Super Bowl, there's extra time to break down film of the offense's tendencies and know what's coming, as Seattle often seemed to. As the pendulum swings back toward defenses, offensive coaches need to bear in mind that the scoreboard tends to spin early in the season but not late.
Brie and Chablis Circuit Shrugs at Jersey Bowl: The two great highbrow publications of New York City, the New York Times and the New Yorker, seemed strangely uninterested in the Super Bowl in their midst. (There is no great highbrow publication of New Jersey, though the Newark Star-Ledger wonderfully maintains the feel of the old-fashioned crusading tabloids.) The New Yorker ran a short comment on the Richard Sherman circus, but avoided the subsidies and social impact of the NFL. Two months before the game, the New York Times reported that public handouts made possible MetLife Stadium -- but buried the story on page A30, and did not return to the subject. The Paper of Record offered ample sports reporting and some amusing slice-of-life material about Jersey, but nothing on the No. 1 issue of the NFL -- the social impact of football.
The Times ran a fawning profile of Seahawks owner Paul Allen that never mentioned a man with a $15 billion net worth keeps almost all revenue from a stadium that cost Washington State taxpayers $425 million, adjusting to current dollars. Allen was lauded for liking Jimi Hendrix and for creating an institute that he named after himself. The money Allen gave to found the institute represents less than 1 percent of his net worth. To the Times this made him a great benefactor, while the public subsidies he benefits from weren't important.
Having the Super Bowl come to your city seems big, so why did the New York Times and New Yorker not respond with enterprise reporting? A friend who for years has been near the top of the New York City media establishment had this to say: "Football has never been big in New York City high schools like basketball is, so much of the city is out of touch with football culture. There is little youth football -- lack of space. Top personnel at the Times and New Yorker send their children to private prep schools that don't emphasize football, if they even have it. Basically, it's a class distinction thing. New York high society thinks football is for rubes in the boondocks."
This Week's Owl Item: Most people don't normally turn to sports columns for news on the migratory patterns of North American owls, though TMQ has been way ahead on the snowy owls story. Last week a snowy owl, normally found in the sub-Arctic, was hit by a bus in downtown Washington, D.C. Reader Morty Gaskill reports that snowy owls have been observed on a North Carolina coastal island. What is all this an omen of? That's what I cannot figure out.
College Board Scores an 800 on Fleecing Kids: It's scandalous that the mega-profitable NFL has a tax exemption for its Park Avenue headquarters. But football surely is not the only offender when it comes to hiding behind tax exemptions.
Benjamin Tonelli, a senior at Garfield High School in Seattle, noted in last week's Wall Street Journal that he and his parents have paid a total of $750 for the many SATs now administered by the College Board, plus another $534 for the Board's Advanced Placement tests. A generation ago, there were two SATs, in math and English. Now there are three basic tests plus 20 "subject tests," many overlapping with the basic tests. High school students are encouraged to take the basic tests at least twice, to take at least two subject tests and to take several Advancement Placement tests.
All this testing drives profits for the College Board: it pushes the Advanced Placement tests despite knowing that many colleges neither factor them into admission nor accept them as credits. Tonelli and his family spent about $1,250 on College Board tests, plus endless rounds of driving back and forth to testing centers -- and then were hit with a $11.25 charge for each college the scores were reported to, though this is done electronically at close to zero cost to the College Board.
College Board CEO David Coleman pays himself a $750,000 salary, Tonelli noted, though the mean salary of CEOs of large nonprofits is one-third that amount. "The college board should behave more like the nonprofit it claims to be," Tonelli concluded. The NFL is fleecing taxpayers; the College Board is fleecing students and parents; both hide behind nonprofit exemptions as their top personnel enrich themselves.
Just Between You and Me, the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow: Verbal tics such as saying "you know" may be human nature. The one that drives TMQ to distraction is "frankly." This verbal tic is either void of meaning -- many United States senators would order lunch by saying, "Frankly, I'll have the turkey club" -- or communicates that most of the time the speaker in lying, but just this once has decided to tell the truth.
That "frankly" means "most of the time I am lying" is disturbing when one considers how often politicians employ this interjection. Newt Gingrich: "Frankly, the courts have become arrogant." Barack Obama: The Benghazi controversy "frankly has a lot to do with political motivations." Mitt Romney: "Congressman Akin's comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong." John Boehner: "Frankly, I don't think there is a way to fix Obamacare." "Frankly, I would never want to see that repeated," Paul LePage, governor of Maine, said of the Holocaust (when comparing the IRS to the Nazis).
Some speakers may believe that adding "frankly" causes an otherwise routine statement to gain heft. "Frankly, raising marginal tax rates on the highest-income earners is not helpful for creating a meaningful economic recovery": Robert Barro, Harvard economist. Or that using "frankly" causes a statement to sound like scintillating insider information. "Frankly, government officials made mistakes," Rachel Maddow said of the Atlanta ice storm. Or that "frankly" transforms a statement of routine bloviation into something powerful. "Making Coloradans pay for unemployment insurance for millionaires is, frankly, irresponsible," Colorado Sen. Mark Udall said. Mostly the word is verbal foam, unless the speaker actually means to admit that he or she usually lies.
"Frankly" has been so devalued that now often "very frankly" or "quite frankly" seems required. An industry analyst was quoted recently in the Wall Street Journal on why high-end cupcake sales are declining: "Quite frankly, people can bake cupcakes." So at last you are coming clean and telling us what you really think about cupcakes!
Jersey Atmospherics: Many Super Bowl guests, including your columnist, stayed in the days before the game in Manhattan, where New Yorkers were blasé: "Super Bowl, that's all it is?"
The all-mass-transit plan for the game had huge potential for fiasco, and results were mixed. The choice was train or bus. Those who chose the train that stops at MetLife Stadium faced hourlong delays to board before and after the game, were put at one station into a superheated holding area that had people stripping off all outerwear, then once on the train, were packed like Tokyo commuters -- again in heavy outerwear that there was no space to remove. Train service (for which New Jersey gets blamed) was a fiasco.
Public buses in contrast ran smoothly. I boarded one at Lexington and 51st in Manhattan and was dropped off at the MetLife gate in 45 minutes; coming back from the game, it was less than an hour from walking out of the stadium to being dropped off in midtown. That's better service than any limo company could provide. Do not know whether New York or New Jersey should get credit for the great bus service, but there were lots of people directing buses, dispatchers to help passengers, and a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel blocked off for mass transit. A friend who was there wrote, "Ironic that for once driving to the stadium was quick and convenient while traveling by train was slow and uncomfortable."
As the teams came out, the Broncos were led by Thunder, their white stallion, who was flown from Denver (riding a horse trailer was deemed too cold for this valuable animal). The Seahawks had their team hawk present (there is no bird called the seahawk), named Taima, which means Thunder. When Seattle won, Thunder the bird should have gotten to ride on Thunder the stallion.
My initial read was Denver's night because the Broncos cheer-babes showed great professionalism, starting the game with bare midriffs and plunging necklines, while the Seattle cheerleaders wore track suits. But after a quarter, the Denver cheerleaders donned coats. Like John Fox, they seemed to quit on the game. After the Broncos finally scored to pull within 36-8, the Denver cheerleaders did an elaborate victory dance in the end zone where Denver scored. Perhaps they'd come in planning that dance often. Following Seattle's many scores, the Seahawks cheer-babes did not take over an end zone to dance.
Minutes following the double-naughts signal, the Empire State Building and the old New York Central Building (owned by MetLife) were lit up in blue and green. Not only was it pleasant to behold undrafted players performing well in the Super Bowl: the Hawks' Steven Hauschka is a graduate of Middlebury College, a renowned small liberal-arts school, meaning there was a Division III starter in the Super Bowl. Best postgame comment, from Russell Wilson: "I wanted to facilitate the ball to the right guy."
Returning to the hotel, I clicked on ESPN coverage -- and the first thing I beheld was a Peyton Manning endorsement commercial. Manning is accessible to the media, and of course does endless endorsements. How much time in the week before the Super Bowl was he doing interviews rather than watching film of the Hawks?
Pregame, the many ESPN, Fox and NFL Network crews seemed to spend more time debating Manning's legacy than on all other subjects combined; postgame, ESPN was back talking about his legacy, while NFL Network appeared as concerned with reviewing his news conference as his on-field performance. Many football commentators, especially former NFL stars, seem obsessed with the notion that Peyton must be revered as someone of historic stature -- not just a good quarterback, but a figure whom future generations will revere. Ray Lewis pounded on this theme repeatedly, making Manning sound like the peer of Churchill or Mandela. Perhaps former NFL stars like the idea that NFL stars should be viewed not just as successful athletes -- isn't that enough? -- but as great men astride the landscape of history. Peyton himself was the only one who seemed to have this in perspective, saying during the week, "I'd have to be, like, 70 to have a legacy."
I couldn't help thinking if Manning didn't grant so many interviews and make so many commercials, there would not be a debate about his legacy, since he would not have flamed out so often in big games. His fellow Broncos must be pleased to have made the Super Bowl, whatever the result. One can't help but wonder how they feel about being extras in the endless video clip that is Manning's life.
Kutztown to Canton: As a loyal son of Buffalo, N.Y., your columnist has been stumping for years for the notion that Andre Reed belongs in the Hall of Fame: "He came from a small-college program, Kutztown University, and when he retired he had the third-most receptions, trailing only Jerry Rice and Cris Carter. Reed's accomplishments were compiled despite playing for a cold-weather, rush-oriented team while Rice played for a warm-weather passing team and Carter played most of his career indoors." But Reed also threw his helmet in the Super Bowl, and it doesn't matter that defensive pass interference should have been called on the play. That knuckle-headed moment cost him eight years of nail-biting waiting as a passed-over finalist -- sort of Canton purgatory.
Now his wait is over, and the Bills' woe-for-four Super Bowl team has five players in the Hall of Fame: Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Marv Levy and Reed. Since the first four were shoe-ins, Reed was the one true sons of Buffalo worried about. Had that team ever won a Super Bowl, Buffalo's civic fortunes would have enjoyed a renaissance: I am not just saying that, I actually believe it. If the current Bills were to win a Super Bowl, the Buffalo renaissance still would come -- though there seems no threat the current Bills will create a chance to see if that belief is true.
Remaining from the Bills woe-for-four squad are Hall of Fame candidacies of the late Kent Hull, the first really good shotgun center, and Steve Tasker. Hull will be considered someday in the old-timer category, and if the shotgun continues to dominate offenses, his chances will be solid. Tasker should be invited promptly. He's the best special teamer ever, plus the only special teams player ever named MVP of the Pro Bowl (1993). While there is a place-kicker and, with the Ray Guy selection, a punter in Canton, there is no special teamer. If launching punts is important enough to deserve Hall of Fame recognition, isn't blocking punts and stopping punt returners? Tasker had seven blocked punts and 204 special teams tackles; he returned kicks, was the holder for placement kicks; and when pressed into service as an emergency wide receiver, had a 108-yard day in a playoff game. At 5-foot-9, 180, pound-for-pound Tasker was one of the top modern-era performers in football.
Football Teams Should Wait Their Turns Like Everyone Else: Your columnist pounds the table about police escorts and stopped traffic not for visiting heads of state but for minor government officials, celebrities and football teams. A friend who lives and commutes in the near New York part of New Jersey wrote last week, "Police escorts everywhere. Today I saw troopers blocking the eastbound on ramp to Route 24 just south of Morristown Airport, as well as local the side streets, so when the Broncos left the Jets facility they could cruise right onto the highway. This was at 5:15 p.m. -- height of rush hour and caused an incredible traffic backup. Thankfully, I was heading west."
Your Honor, the Runner Pleads the Fifth: A leftover from TMQ's notebook: During the Dolphins at Bills contest, the referee announced, "Miami is challenging the ruling on the play, alleging that the runner stepped out of bounds."
Season-Ending Book Thoughts: Last week in New York for that Super Bowl thing you might have heard about, I lunched with my literary agent. I feared he would tell me the book market was in such a swoon that I should change careers. Actually he said my chances of another book advance this year were strong, which was music to my ears.
Then we discussed the transition from printed books to electronic; next up is electronic books that generate sound effects. I'm far from the only one who wishes this were not happening. But ever since Gutenberg, the book business has been in turmoil from innovation, and almost always weighed down by predictions of doom. Charles Dickens often said he believed he was part of the final generation that would write books. (Then the issue was lax enforcement of copyright law.) Electronic books have many virtues: you can carry a 1,000-page history book -- or 20 1,000-page history books -- when traveling. Soon it should be possible to have the equivalent of the Great Library of Alexandria in one small device, and the contents of the Library of Congress won't be far behind. Professors' offices may no longer be book-lined, but that seems a small concession to nostalgia.
In theory, authors should be OK, though the situation has far from shaken out. Write a book that sells 55,000 copies (my best result, for "The Progress Paradox," published 2003) and the royalty would be about $2 per hardback and $1 per paperback. Electronic books sell for half the price of printed books, thus half the royalty, and all the price pressure is downward. Suppose electronic formats enable authors to sell far more copies, with lower royalties per sale. There's no reason an author could not have about the same income, but with a far larger readership while offering better deals to readers. This version of the electronic book market has not quite developed yet -- the Big Worry is that total sales won't change much, cutting author's royalties in half. But a thriving electronic book market is not a fantasy either. Early on, mobile phone markets were troubled. Eventually everyone was happy with huge sales volumes at low prices.
But there is an aspect of electronic books that worries me deeply: their impermanence. When a book is printed the author must always live with any factual errors or dumb sentences -- trust me, I have plenty of experience -- but no government agency or corporation can make anything controversial in the book disappear. Electronic books are easily changed, and this can be done remotely. If I broke into your house and ripped pages out of a controversial book, you'd know it. If I sent an electronic command to make pages disappear, you might not realize that for years: then when you did, you might not be able to prove they'd ever been there.
A few years ago, Amazon remotely deleted from Kindles several books that Amazon discovered it did not have the legal right to sell. That the books deleted were works of George Orwell made the whole thing seem amusing. No one should have been amused. Police have no idea what printed books are on your bookshelf, would need a search warrant to find out, and you'd know when they entered the door. Electronic books can be tracked, altered or deleted remotely, without your knowledge that it's happening.
Many authors I know are fretting that electronic alteration means a book will never really be finished. Write a book about Topic X, it's six months from when the author signs off on the galley pages till when the book is in stores. Today, readers understand that with printed books, whatever happened regarding Topic X in recent months cannot possibly be in the text. With electronic books, readers may come to expect current-events updates. Maybe they'll expect updates daily. A book will never be finished.
But the far larger concern is censorship. Books contain information the White House or some big company doesn't want the public to know. What if those passages mysteriously disappear? ("We did it for the public's own good," the Justice Department may tell a judge in secret.) Books that upset some rich person: The person may hire lawyers, and the electronic publisher may cave rather than fight the suit, electronically altering the text. The model for Office 365 -- software continuously altered via Internet connections, whether the user wants it or not -- may be a good model for workplace productivity. But it's a horrible precedent. Books containing controversial political opinions, books with erotica, books that have any words some censor thinks people should not be allowed to read could lead to alterations of literature. In the early 19th century, Henrietta Bowdler famously went through Shakespeare expurgating all references to sex. It's a horrible precedent that remote electronic commands can alter not content as presented to the market by someone but content already owned by someone else.
If you're thinking, "My party holds the White House right now so I like the idea of electronic control of what people are allowed to read" -- remember how often control of political and academic institutions changes. Remember that a monster might one day sit in the White House. The framers' solution, the First Amendment, was to protect all speech, period. Remote alteration of electronically stored books, articles and art may be the next First Amendment frontier.
If you have an electronic book that might be altered remotely, the only way to be sure would be to print it out and keep the printed copy. Which may be the best case for the future of printed books.
But No One Thinks 13 Is an Unlucky Number: With the Seahawks' victory, now there are 13 teams, of 32, that have not won Super Bowl: Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego and Tennessee.
Hidden Play of the Super Bowl: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels, but help win championships. Denver threw a quick sideways screen to the tailback -- and the play was run down in the flat for a gain of only 1 yard by Seattle defensive tackle Michael Bennett. When a defensive tackle is catching a tailback in the flat, your defense has speed and your mind is in the game.
Season-Ending Book Recommendations: At the close of each season, TMQ recommends recent meritorious books that deserve more attention than they so far have received. Among them:
"The Upside of Down" by Charles Kenny. Shows that for the United States' position in the world to decline somewhat because China, India, Indonesia and Brazil are growing is not bad: rather, the morally desirable outcome for all parties, including America. Demolishes the argument -- made mainly by wealthy elitists of the west -- that increasing resource consumption by the developing world will destroy the planet.
"Probably Approximately Correct" by Leslie Valiant. Speculates on whether naturally occurring algorithms are a factor in evolution.
"The Center Holds" by Jonathan Alter. Not a football book! Alter's second volume detailing the inner workings of the Obama White House. Invaluable to anyone interested in the American presidency.
"The Public School Advantage" by Sarah Lubienski. Poor public schools are a problem in many places. But the good public schools, this book contends, do a better job than any private school at any price. Lubienski thrusts up a mountain of data to show that a good public school is the ideal choice for most young people: both in educational quality and in exposing students to the cross-section of society missing from the snobby prep schools.
"Denial" by Jonathan Rauch. The Jason Collins story seemed hard to believe. What do you mean the woman engaged to marry him didn't know he was gay? Read this book in which a very smart, accomplished intellectual shows it took him 25 years to accept his own gayness.
"The Sea and Civilization" by Lincoln Paine. With a historical sweep going back 10,000 years, this book seeks to show that the seas -- in use for commerce, exploration, battle and migration -- have played a far greater role in human affairs than commonly understood.
"Brainwashed" by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld. An all-guns broadside against the notions the neuroscience can explain human behavior, and the trendy argument that brain science can prove there is no free will. Satel, a practicing psychiatrist and frequent commentator on health care policy, is one of the nation's most provocative public intellectuals.
"Our Common Wealth" by Jonathan Rowe. Rowe, a fine journalist and a better person, died in 2011. This volume collects his writing on how to reconcile free-market principles with society's common needs. Among other things, he argues for replacing the GDP -- "car crashes and lawsuits contribute to the GDP," Rowe wrote -- with measures of overall well-being.
"A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper" by John Paulos. Amusing, snarky analysis.
"For Discrimination" by Randall Kennedy. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race," Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared in a 2007 case. In this book Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, argues that affirmative action is a social good even though it is also inarguably a form of racial discrimination. Really takes the bull by the horns on a topic most commentators dance around.
"Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric" by Ward Farnsworth. If you'd like to sound better educated than you are, this volume shows the way.
"Churchill's Bomb" by Graham Farmelo. It may seem hard to believe there is more to say on World War II. But 2013 produced a well-written bestseller, "The Guns at Last Light" by Rick Atkinson. This important volume details the little-known story of how Churchill agreed to trust England's fission research to FDR, even knowing The Bomb would make the United States king of the postwar world.
"Toms River" by Dan Fagin. Carefully researched, calmly written book about the impact of a chemical production plant on a New Jersey community.
"Scatter, Adapt and Remember" by Annalee Newitz. Some really long-term thinking. Suppose there is never any way to move faster than the speed of light, but suspended animation is developed, and future technology allows construction of space arks that can reach distant star systems. Colonists take one-way trips to other Earthlike worlds, knowing there will never be any way to come back. Once humanity is living on many planets, no disaster or war on any one of them would lead to the extinction of the race. Then people will adapt, including genetically, to other environments. A visitor arriving in the Milky Way an eon hence would find it hard to believe all the human offshoots were descended from the same hominids in the Olduvai Gorge.
"Life on Mars" by Tracy Smith and "Aimless Love" by Billy Collins. Can't give a logical reason why but lately have been reading poetry rather than fiction. Of recently published poetry, I recommend these. Both are middle of the road in prosody and literary ambition, but what's wrong with that? Both are wise and accessible. Plus Collins goes by "Billy Collins" rather than "W. James Collins," that alone gets bonus points.
At twilight, hearing the engines flare, the horns
not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
one notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
Already I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
"Why that dude's older than Cheerios."
The way they used to say why that's as old as the hills.
Only the hills are much older than Cheerios.
You Can Really Like Something and Still Know It Needs Reform: I've done a fair amount of radio in conjunction with the release of "The King of Sports," and now finally pay attention to Twitter. Something I've heard more than once this season is that the column has never been better -- people do actually say that! -- but that my enthusiasm for football seems to be declining.
Here's the deal. Football as a sport engages me as much as it ever did, more perhaps, as with each year my understanding improves of both tactics and the culture of the game. The quality of football on the field is the highest it's ever been -- pro, college or prep. Audiences have enjoyed a decade-long run of close, competitive Super Bowls, including several instances of the best game of the season being the Super Bowl, allowing football to take its bow on a positive note. The sport itself never ceases to interest me.
But as the years have passed and my understanding of the social impact of football has improved, I've acquired reservations about the harm football does to health, education and public finance. I don't see football as the new cigarettes, as some people say -- I see it as a fantastic sport with many positive social roles but also with many negatives that require substantive reform. (The core topic of The "King of Sports" is how to reform football.) Sportswriters and sportscasters tend to steer clear of the reform needs, giving football the smile-and-wave treatment. Pundits and intellectuals seem to scoff at football or give all athletics the "harrumph" treatment.
How many commentators extol football as a sport but also are advocates for substantial reform? A few to be sure, but only a few. I'd like to think that TMQ's ability to love the game and also sound the call for significant change has become the best aspect of the column.
Single Worst Play of the Season -- Final Edition: The highest scoring offense in football history trailed 29-0 when the Broncos began their first drive of the second half. With a fast-paced attack, Denver's hopes were not foreclosed. The Broncs moved quickly from their 23 to first down at the Bluish Men Group 38. The most important Seattle defensive series of the night then occurred, though without any flashy play -- incompletion, incompletion, loss of a yard. Now it's fourth-and-11 on the Seattle 39, and in trots the punting unit.
Not only was Denver punting when down by 29 points in the second half of the Super Bowl, not only was the No. 1 offense in pro football history punting when down by 29 points in the Super Bowl, a team trailing by 29 points in the second half of the Super Bowl was punting in opposition territory.
Who cares if it was fourth-and-11? The Broncos absolutely had to score on that possession. As the punt team trotted in, Peyton Manning trotted off with his head hanging, not protesting the decision. There is no way on God's green Earth that Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Brett Favre would have trotted off passively in that situation. They would have gone to their coaches agitated, demanding a try. This play, not any of the interceptions -- trotting off without trying -- was Manning's worst down in any of his many postseason flameouts.
In the NFC title contest, Seattle's low-voltage offense faced a similar choice -- fourth-and-7 on the San Francisco 35 -- and went for it. Result of the play: touchdown. Was John Fox saying Denver's offense could not do something that Seattle's offense could do? Or had Fox simply quit on the game with nearly a half remaining? That is: Did Denver head coach John Fox quit on the Super Bowl?
As the punt boomed, your columnist thought, "This is the single worst play in all of football history." And yea, verily, you don't need to know anything about the remainder of the game.
Exit Stage Left: Tuesday Morning Quarterback folds its tent and steals off into the desert, though it will resurface briefly during the draft. As usual, I recommend you employ the offseason to engage in spiritual growth. Take long walks. Attend worship services of any faith. Appreciate the beauty of nature. Exercise more and eat less. Perform volunteer work. Read, mediate, serve others: Do these things, and you will feel justified in racing back to the remote, the swimsuit calendars and the microbrews when the football artificial universe resumes anew in the autumn.
Next Week: The stadium lights are turned off, the film rooms are dark and the cheerleaders put their miniskirts away in very small drawers. Tuesday Morning Quarterback will return weekly in August.
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.